Dying – 15.8

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The collapsed section of the facility was vast enough that the people at the edges had to organize and travel to reach us.  In the gloom, they were visible as white-clothed figures scrambling around us like ants, illuminated by red emergency lighting.  Fabric chutes were unfurled, and people began sliding down from the ruined edges of upper floors to the sea of rubble below.

In a dormitory room two stories above us that had been sliced in half, one person stood at the ruined border, a person a few steps behind him.  They handed him a tinker gun, which he immediately started using.  The person behind him had a gun a moment later- a relay line like firemen passing along buckets, but kind of the opposite, because they were laying down fire.

They weren’t alone.  The evacuation chutes were acting like slides for people to drop down to the floor we were on, and there were multiple points like the dormitory room, where a single person with a tinker gun became two, which became three, then four, until they were shoulder to shoulder, wall to wall, using up the available space.  A shitton of resources were being dumped on us, a lot of guns aimed our way.

I flew up, to get above the ambient dust cloud and assess the situation.

They weren’t accurate, which-

I winced as the Wretch blocked a shot that had come at me from behind.  Sparks flew from the impact, and sizzled audibly as they landed on my costume, refusing to go out.  I had to use my armguard to scrape them off, while swiftly descending into the dust again, crook of my elbow over my lower face.

For the most part, they weren’t accurate.  Not accurate in a special way.

I was working under the impression that Teacher had gone with the tinker guns because of a weird sort of practicality.  Creating two hundred tinkers and have them each make their own guns was more discreet than acquiring two hundred normal guns of any quality, when the options were salvage from Bet, Cheit, or Shin.  Side benefit: there was more chance that a tinker gun of a particular variety or style might work against a parahuman attacker.  If he were to grab two hundred ordinary assault rifles and the first one didn’t work against an attacker, then there was a good chance the next one-hundred-and-ninety-nine wouldn’t either.

Drawback?  They were tinkers who were shooting.  People who knew how to use the specialized guns, but who didn’t have any thinker tricks, enhanced vision in the dark, or added accuracy.  With that in mind, it was the muzzle flashes that didn’t look like tinker guns that worried me.

There was a lot to unpack, thinking about it.  Could he have created one hundred tinkers and then one hundred people with powers that made them better gunmen, to partner with them?  Probably.  Why not, then?  Because he wanted to bog us down.  He was willing to kill, but time and delay were more important from his perspective.

And it was probably working.

There were some faster capes in the air now, and some tinkers with jetpacks.  They buzzed past our guys on the ground, one flier with a beam power was flying around Chastity, focusing the beam in her direction, while she struggled to keep cover between them.  I went after him.

Another tinker with a jetpack zipped out of the dust cloud around us, passing within two feet of me.  She was engaged in a bombing run, flying over Rachel’s group, lobbing what might have been grenades.  Yips, growing by the second, went bounding over to Rachel, and put himself directly into the way of the grenade that Rachel was guiding the other dogs away from.  He flew ten feet, only missing Rachel because she ducked, tried to stand for a second, then crumpled.

Couldn’t chase.  It’d be starting from square one, and this tinker was favoring the dust clouds.

Rachel spun on her heel, turning her full focus toward Yips.  He began growing faster, regenerating, the wound closing.

The flier with the beam turned his focus my way.  The beam hit the Wretch, and I brought my buckler up, putting it in the way while I closed the distance.  When the Wretch failed, the beam hit the little shield, warming it enough I could feel it radiating through another layer of metal and a padding of bandages.

I got in close enough to hit him.  I crashed into him, shield pressed against his chest, and he lurched, flying awkwardly to get out of the way of the heated metal.  He didn’t react like he was in pain, but wore an expression like, ‘yeah, this white hot bit of metal is a concern’.

He tried to dive, and the metal stuck to the burned skin, which made him flounder in the air.

I took advantage of it, catching him while he didn’t have his spatial orientation one hundred percent, then whipping him around.  He flipped head over ass, arms and legs spread-eagled, into the dust.  I chased him, diving to kick him before he had his full bearings.

He fired the beam again, and I twisted in the air, bringing knees to chest and shield up to make myself a smaller target.  My leg-guards caught the beam.

I found him in the dust, because I could chase the beam to its origin point.  I caught him, only I was upside-down as a result of my earlier aerial acrobatics.  He fought to get free, using his own flight and the propulsion it generated in the air to try to separate us.  Seeing the way he was going, I let him.

Within the cloud of dust from the fallen section of building, still yet to fully settle, he flew up and away from me.  Except I was upside-down and at an angle, so his ‘up’ was really down.  He flew up and sideways into a pile of rubble, crushing his own shoulder and ribs at high velocity.

I flew down to him to check he was alive, feet planted on his wrists, finger at his pulse.  My face was turned upward; I blinked dust out of my eyes and tried to spot motion.  The jetpack tinker- where?

I spotted the glow of their munitions, and with the assurance the wiped-out flier was unconscious but not outright dead, I gave chase.

They saw me, and took maneuvers to rise up and fly away.  They were a bomber, which meant they wanted the high ground.  They… didn’t stop turning.  The maneuver they’d started didn’t stop, as they hauled on one of their controls and kept hauling on it.  Their arc in the air was a lazy circle, flying up, over, down, and then across the ground, face and upper body grinding against concrete and leaving a red smear as the abrasive ground sanded away flesh.  I flew after, but I couldn’t reach them before they hit a piece of rubble, which saw them bank off, spiraling violently in the air with the ruins of half their jetpack spitting out smoke.  They crash-landed.

I would have wondered why, but the distraction of movement in the corner of my vision interrupted the thought and answered the question in the same moment.  Juliette was resuming her run, rejoining Chastity, who put a hand on her shoulder, supporting her as they ran across uneven ground.

Rachel was already moving again, darting from cover to cover while her wolf and a hound flanked her, shielding her from stray fire.  If Parian and Foil were here, they hadn’t been with Rachel or gotten instructions from Contessa.  I hoped they were okay.

Capricorn trailed behind her, with Love Lost running behind him, Colt floating above, wearing her breaker form.

When the shots from the tinker guns didn’t fly as fast as bullets, Colt was agile enough in the air to weave around them.

Ashley had shot the ground, carving out a furrow, and crouched in it, one hand at her side, Rain was in beside her, trying to peer through the dust.  They looked up at me, waiting for the go-ahead.

Sveta was out of the box, emerging from the dense rubble of the collapsed hallway where the box had been stored.  She passed between the Harbingers, who had found their own ways to survive the devastation.  She stayed low, her body breaking down into tendrils that allowed her to crawl lower than a person otherwise might.

That was everyone, then.  Dusty, a few scrapes.

Us being okay this far felt like it was a bit tenuous.  This was the prelude, the calm as our enemy organized and did their best to recover from the shock of an entire section of the facility collapsing.  Dust hung heavy enough in the air that every light, glowing fourteen year old, and shot from a tinker gun had their own nimbus.  That dust had nowhere to go, because we were still indoors, and whenever rubble belatedly collapsed or a shot from a gun hit something it would kick more dust into the air.

It didn’t feel like we were the major players in this, though.

No, that would be Contessa, who took no cover.  It would be the capes, who were coming at us from one direction.  I made note of the capes who wore white costumes, not the one-size-fits-all white tunics and slacks that the rest of the thralls were decked out in, which gave them cleaner, meaner silhouettes.  One of the capes was giving them the ability to float down to the ground, riding on pieces of rubble.

There were others.  Capes who wore costumes that weren’t generic white.  With the dust and distractions, I couldn’t do a lot of figuring out in the moment.  The Speedrunners were definitely among them.  There was a woman in a short skirt.  There were others.

“Decision!” Contessa raised her voice.  She threw a chunk of debris she had picked up.  A bullet struck it, that might have been on course to hit a member of Breakthrough.  Either the bullet or a fragment of the debris hit another projectile in the air, prompting a mid-air detonation.

Fuck me.  It could have been that she had done it to save two lives or prevent two injuries with one throw.  It could have been that she casually did it to punctuate her statement.

I flew down to the others, where they were using Ashey’s furrow to gather together.  Rachel caught up, but her dogs were big enough they couldn’t use the same pile of debris as cover.  The whistles and orders to get them into just the right position were constant, over the course of what felt like a minute and was probably closer to fifteen seconds.

Enemy capes are marching or flying our way.  More gunmen are gathering at the flanks.

Chastity coughed violently.  Byron passed her a Capricorn-made water bottle he still had on him, threaded to his belt with a wire.  She drank some, then splashed more water into her face, rinsing dust out of her eyes.

I huddled a little closer to the others.  My hood was up and by clustering together we could shield one another from the dust around us.

“We wrote it down on papers,” Byron said.  “Do we show them to one another all at once, tally them up?”

“B,” Rachel said.

B had been the vote to let hundreds of thousands of citizens die.  They included people close to us.

“What?” Chastity asked.  “What?  But Cassie.”

“B.  I don’t like it either, but it’s the simplest.”

“It’s not simple at all!” Chastity raised her voice, with an emotional hitch.  “Cassie.

“Chastity,” Rain said.  “You can’t-”

“I can,” Chastity said.  “She’s my most important person.  If you all vote to kill her, then you’re kind of killing me too.”

Rachel reached out.  Chastity pushed her ‘aunt Rachel’s’ hand away.

“The first option is bad,” Rachel said.  “Undersiders die, city goes to shit, more people die, only good thing is Teacher is dead.  Last option is bad, if we let him go, he will hurt others, and Tattletale says he always steps up his game, steps up his scale.  He will keep doing what he’s doing fucking worse until we catch him.  We made the choice to let him go when we fought him last time.  Now this.  We can’t do it again.”

“We don’t have to.  I picked A,” Chastity said.  She dropped her eyes.  “Imp picked the same thing, told me to pass it on.  I know it means Undersiders die.  It might mean you or Imp die, or Foil or Parian.  It might mean Heartbroken die, maybe me included.  But I can’t sacrifice Cassie, I agree Teacher needs to be stopped now, and this gets less civilians hurt in the short run.  I can’t conscience the choices that let me and my loved ones get off scott-free.”

“B,” Juliette said.  “I can conscience it.”

Byron was already unfolding one paper.  Ashley’s hand went to her shoulder, where she’d written it and then covered it with her dress strap.  Sveta reached out to cover Byron’s paper.

Love Lost and Colt settled into cover.  Noting the conversation, Love Lost pointed at Rain.

“What?” he asked.  “No.  I don’t make your vote for you.”

She tapped the side of her head.

“I know you have Cradle’s tokens.  I know you’re not yourself.  Pick yours.  Just… work at it.  Colt said you can fight through it.”

“Yeah,” Colt said.

Love Lost dropped her hand, hiding one claw beneath the other.  She made a sign with only the barest pretense of hiding what it was.  Colt made her own choice, glowing fingers extended and pointing down much as Love Lost had done, just a different set.  Love Lost glared at her, then looked away.  Colt barely reacted, staring down at a point on the ground, fingers unmoving.

This would divide us.

Putting all of her feelings aside, because she didn’t trust herself under Cradle’s influence.

I peeked, and the dust was starting to clear more, flashlights were out to better illuminate the battlefield where the red lights in surrounding areas didn’t reach, and thralls and capes were making their way across.

But the Custodian had dropped the equivalent surface area of a town.  We had a few minutes.  I made a hand motion for Rain to keep an eye out, since he was positioned at the far end of our cover.  He nodded, twisting.

We were ready, but-

-But we were distracted, because Chastity was saying something else, momentarily drowned out by chaos.  “-leaked it to Lookout.”

What?” Swansong asked.

“We wrote it down,” Chastity said, “because we couldn’t remember the options, but then Capricorn looked, and Lookout can see through his eye.”

Byron looked Swansong’s way, one eye glowing behind the eye-slit of his helmet.

“Idiots and imbeciles,” Swansong said.

“It’s too late to do anything about it,” I said.

Swansong banged her head hard against the concrete behind her.  “Use Lookout’s time camera tech, work out a way to go back in time, and make sure these idiots aren’t deprived of oxygen at birth.”

Her three extended fingers indicated the Heartbroken and Capricorn.

“Go easy,” I said.

Byron answered, “I’m sorry.  Heat of the moment, I was making sure everyone was present.  I had a lot to do in a short span of time.”

“What does it mean?” I asked.  “Lookout saw, so…”

“Lookout tallied votes from her team and Tattletale,” Byron said.  “We have their votes.”

I blinked, to bring up the communication log from Lookout, as I worked to get my glove off.  My heart was heavy.

“It doesn’t matter,” Sveta said.

I stopped, my hand at my glove, the injured hand making me very aware of how injured it was, as I held it in place.

“We have to make a call,” Rain said.

“No, we don’t,” Sveta said.  “Fuck this, and fuck her.  She’s too scared to make a decision, so she foists it off on us, and… what?  We have to live with the fallout?  Just so she can have an easier time of it?”

“It’s more complicated than that,” Chastity said.

“Do you really believe that?  Or are you standing in for Imp now?” Sveta asked.

“Can we really afford to debate about this?” Byron asked.

“No,” Sveta said.  “So we jump straight to making her decide.  Because if we decide, then it utterly destroys us, no matter what we choose.  Why?  For her convenience?  Because she’s a coward?”

“Says the coward,” Juliette said, her tone dry.  “You don’t want to make a hard call.”

“I made a call.  I heard the three options and decided which one I liked most before she was done, because of course I did.  But I’m not going to share it, and I’m not going to give my choice to her,” Sveta said.  “Knowing what we know, it’s-”

Something detonated close by.

“-tantamount to murder, with what we’d be putting into motion.”

Sveta looked at me, looking for allies, for help.

I so badly wanted to be that for her.

“We all made our choices,” I said.  “Lookout made her choice, as did the other Chicken Tenders.”

Juliette snorted at the name, a small sound, badly out of sync with the scene and conversation.

I’d already kind of wanted to slap her because she had called Sveta a coward, that didn’t help.  Except want was just that.  Want.  I held my temper.

“We’ll still feel guilty, if we made the choice and we see the fallout.  We’ll feel resentful if we make her choose, she chooses something different, and we feel like the alternative we wanted would have been better.”

“I’m okay with resenting her,” Sveta said.  “I’m less okay with resenting each other, because we picked different things, or things we think are unconscionable.”

“If it helps,” Byron said.  “I think the money is on me or my brother being the ones who end up dying or suffering for a long time.  I don’t know what happens when a case seventy dies.  I won’t hate people if they pick that option.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Sveta said.

“We made the decision and we have to live with it, even if we don’t make the call,” I told her.  “Isn’t it better to own it?”

“Uh,” Rain said.  “Just going to say… you asked for my input on killing the Leper.  You did give me the option to back down, told me why.  But you did ask.”

I met the glowing eyes of his mask.

“I’m glad I didn’t have to own that.  You were the one to kill the Leper,” Rain told me.  “And I think Sveta’s right.  We shouldn’t have to own this.”

“We’re not the ones who pick the targets or pull the trigger here,” Sveta said.

“Aren’t we?” Chastity asked.  “We’re the triggers, we’re her pawns in this.”

“We’re the bullets that fly out of the gun.  It’s not great, but it’s necessary,” Sveta replied, her expression tense.  All of this, it was too close to her heart.  Cauldron had stolen her life, made her kill so many people already, by way of making her a monster.  To accept this would be to condone that, and I couldn’t blame her for refusing to condone what she’d gone through, any more than I would willingly accept any healing from my sister, knowing what she could do, and that she hadn’t meaningfully changed.

Quiet, Sveta asked, “Any objections?”

Juliette raised a hand.  Chastity made her put it down.

Nobody objected.

“Contessa!” Sveta called out.  “We decided we’re not going to choose!  You make the damn call!”

There was only the noise of chaos, gunfire, of rubble collapsing, choking dust in the air.  No voice in response.

“Contessa!” Sveta raised her voice.

“Come,” Contessa said.

Make the damn call, Sveta said.  But we’d chosen.

I’d seen Ashley write hers.  C.  Letting teacher go, knowing two members of Breakthrough would die.

In the chat log, Lookout said she’d seen Rain write his.  Rain had picked C.

Byron’s unfolded paper, before Sveta had covered it.  C.

Lookout had broken from pattern.  Her vote was in the chat log, visible through the eye tech she’d given me.  A.  Heroes die, city suffers later as a consequence.  One member of Breakthrough suffers long term.

Maybe that was the problem solver’s mentality.  Suffering wasn’t gone.  Suffering could be fixed.

She’d listed the votes of her teammates.  C, B, C.  No idea who was which.

Love Lost had been angry, glaring at Colt, because Colt had extended two fingers for the second option, B.  Love Lost had chosen C.

We’d fucking chosen.  We’d made the call.

Why did that seem to bother me more than it bothered anyone else?  I was the last one to leave the huddle, last to face this decision.  I procrastinated, even, by checking the state of things.

I could see the light of flashlights.  People halfway to us.  The area was dark, but frequently illuminated by flashes from gunfire and passing projectiles, but capes and thralls had flashlights, and the light from those was ongoing, steady.

Let’s do it, I thought.  A, B, or C?

I rounded the corner just in time to see Contessa standing beside Rain.  He was doubled over, my teammate stiff, tense, or reaching.  Contessa was stabbing herself in the heart.

Scattered gunfire passed the group, closely enough that Sveta reached out for Rain, pulling him back and toward cover.

He, for his part, reached for the pocket at his side, that had a hard case where belt flowed into legging.

Two syringes.  We’d had three, and she had stabbed herself with one.

“She powered up?” I asked.

He shook his head.

Changed the variables? I thought.  the dosage was supposed to keep the power the same, but adjust it, gain something, lose something.

“Based on the doses that are left, she took the power dampening one.”

“Nullifying, in my case,” Contessa said.  “He was seconds away from temporarily disabling my power.”

“But you just disabled your power entirely for a while,” Rain said.  “Can you even do anything now?”

“I have practice recalling what I plotted out earlier in the day.  I just won’t have perfect execution.  Harbingers?”

They were lingering in the fringes, using cover, and using slingshots.  Both turned her way.

“I need one of you to go to Citrine.  Tell her to go home, right away.”

“I’ll stay,” one said.

The other turned, running.

“What option is this?” I asked.

She didn’t answer.  “Capricorn, that way.  Find the stairs, defend them, stay there until everyone’s back.  They’ll pass through once.”

She extended an arm, pointing.  Pointing fucking through the mass of capes with flashlights, Teacher’s elite, and innumerable thralls.

“I’m going alone?  At first?” Capricorn asked.

“You’ll have company soon, and you’ll have backup.”

Byron turned and ran, shifting to Tristan for that little bit of added strength and the speed that came with it.

She took two long steps forward, grabbed Colt by the neck, and pulled her closer.  Colt initially resisted, then followed.  A glowing pellet passed through the space she’d been occupying a second ago.  It splattered like a giant paintball and melted the concrete and rebar.

“You shut off your power,” Rain said.  “Are you even-?”

“I remember what needed to be done,” she said.  “But I will remember less accurately if you pester me.  Give the needles to Swansong.”

He did.

“You, Love Lost, and Colt, go that way, you’ll face the Fallen.  Be aware of how far a voice reaches.  Circle back toward Capricorn at the stairwell, then keep going forward.  You’ll find the ones taking custody of Chevalier.  Save him.  Then go back to the stairwell.”

My heart sank.

“I-” Rain started, another question or statement.

Love Lost grabbed him, pulled him closer, then pushed him away, all in a fluid movement, managing not to shred him with her claws in the process.

They left.

“Swansong, Sveta.  You go together.  Go up to the second floor.  There is a thrall commander you need to remove.  Cut through to the outside and go in opposite directions.  Sveta will target the Dragonslayers.  Deal with them-”

“Kill them, you mean.”

Contessa paused.

“What?” Sveta asked.

“I assumed kill when I interpreted the step, but didn’t consider the alternative.  Too late now.  It should be fine, whatever you do.”

Should be fine.”

“Saint has a key on his keyring that’s a disguised override.  Take it, find the slot in his machine.  Insert it.”

“Machine.  Okay.”

“Then return to the stairwell.”

“What am I doing?” Swansong asked.

“Valkyrie.  Do not wake her up.  There is a member of her flock wearing yellow.  Make sure she takes the syringes.”

Swansong looked at Sveta, nodded, and then the two of them headed off to the side, heading for the least occupied gap in the enemy rank and file.

“Heartbroken, Rachel Lindt, assist the others in leaving, rendezvous with Imp in the process.  Then I want you to head to the stairwell, use the third floor because the way will be blocked.  Then go to find Narwhal and Miss Militia.”

“Why?” Juliette asked, looking back at Rachel.

“Because she said so,” Chastity said.

“Because you need to stop and knock out Miss Militia.  Then surrender, or the subordinate heroes will retaliate.  If she’s gone her team won’t get in too deep.  Once you answer their questions, bring them back to the stairwell.”

My heart was pounding, getting worse with every statement.

I looked at Breakthrough, as they ran for it.  Swansong wasn’t as fast as she normally was, and it was more noticeable when Sveta was moving quick.  Still, they both managed to get up to the second floor.

Rain was focused, in the zone, and I saw him jump at a nearby parahuman power in a way that suggested he was scared out of his mind.  But he persevered.  Love Lost was, the occasional glare excepted, almost emotionless, unflinching.  Colt…

I had no idea about Colt, but an uncharitable part of me was inclined to think that she was too oblivious to be scared.

Capricorn was at a piece of cover.  He was creating a constellation, which drew attention and gunfire to his end of things.  It didn’t help that he was alone out there.

Fuck me, I hoped she wasn’t going to trip up and get something wrong while depowered.

“Antares,” Contessa said.  “Support Precipice and Capricorn.  Then focus on Teacher.  Try to cut off his retreat… I can’t be sure how that will go.”

“Just tell me, did you cheat?  Did you actually decide, like Sveta wanted, or are you throwing away lives while you… I don’t know, used your power to decide what would make people least mad?  What you could convince us of?”

“Precipice needs help now.”

I shook my head, and I flew after Rain.  I could see flashlights, and I could see people who weren’t using flashlights ducking in and out of cover.  A large group, not wearing white tunics and slacks, not wearing white costumes either.  I thought I saw the look of the Advance Guard uniform, but it was hard to say.  They were following instructions, moving through the wreckage and ruins in an organized way.  Big tough guys to the top of rubble piles.  Other snuck around.

Not our guys.  Not anymore.  First wave attackers that had been co-opted with Teacher’s power or-


He was there, giving instructions.  He held a cane but didn’t move like he needed it.  Beside him-

My vision in one eye blurred.

Automatic blurring, because Kenzie had tech resistant to Mama Mathers’ profile.  I hurried to turn my gaze away, because I only had tech in the one eye.  Slivers and flickers danced in my peripheral vision.  I tried to keep an eye on Valefor, and her hand slipped into my view, blurred and pointing my way.  Telling him where I was.

I twisted away before he made eye contact, diving for cover.  I slammed into the ground, classic, practiced landing, sufficient to crack concrete.

“Valefor’s here!” I called out.  “He has a jaw and eyes, and he has a squad of capes he got from the first wave!”

“Shit,” Rain said.

“He has Mama Mathers with him.  I got a glimpse.  it’s fucking with me a little bit.”

“Shit, shit, shit,” Rain said.  “That means she knows exactly where you are.  Don’t try to be sneaky.”

“Okay,” I said.

The squad moved through the piles and low points between slabs.  They were organized, I could tell, one person moving forward, his buddies covering him, then the next person in the relay moving forward.

I saw the blur of Mama Mathers and looked away again, to be safe.  I kept my other eye closed, but she was playing tricks there.  Slits of light split my eyelid like it was being torn.  A line of brightness crossed it like my eye was being cracked open, and I saw something like a sea of grasping hands, all covered in sores.

“Fuck this,” I whispered.  “Why didn’t you warn me?”

I knew the answer though.  I’d stayed to quiz her instead of listening.  With her power temporarily nullified, she was playing a little sloppy with the end results.

More movement darted across my eye, like something was lunging at me.  I twisted my head away.

“Fuck,” I muttered.

“Shh,” Rain said.

I could hear concrete break under the weight of the people who were creeping over it.  I moved, pointing to let Rain, Love Lost, and Colt know the direction.  Rain and Love Lost nodded.

Colt ducked into a nook in a fallen section of roof that had landed on a desk. There was a small hidey-hole there.  She stayed out of breaker form, no doubt to avoid giving away a telltale glow.

I crossed the distance, taking up Colt’s spot near Rain.

Someone shouted an order, distant, while I was in transit.  Nothing about me, as far as I could tell.

“There it is,” I heard Rain.

“There what is?” I asked.

“She said to be mindful of how far a voice reaches.”

My vision continued to flicker at the periphery, twisted, and became something lunging at me from the side.  I looked away, my neck tense.

“Sniper’s dilemma,” Rain said.

“What’s that?” Colt asked, from her hiding spot.

“When two snipers found themselves at odds, each gun capable of holding a round with a long reload, firing first put you at the disadvantage,” Rain said.  “It gave away your location with the muzzle flash, and it left you unarmed, while they got a bead on you.  The only way to survive was to wait for them to crack, or get to a position where you could take them out, guaranteed.”

“The voices?  Love Lost and Valefor?”

“Yeah,” Rain said.  “Whoever shouts first loses.  We have to be certain we’re in range.  If we go too early and we don’t reach him, he runs forward a bit and shouts something while Love Lost catches her breath.  If he goes too early, we can do the same.”

Love Lost nodded.

“Can’t be certain of range without looking to check,” I whispered.  “That’s hard to do, gives us away.”

“I could stall him,” Colt said.

“Not without looking,” I said, again.  “Mama Mathers.”

I wanted to move to flank, to grab stuff and lob concrete at them until they were no longer an issue, but they had hostages.  I couldn’t risk the collateral damage.  Not when it was innocent capes with brainwashing.

I could try to locate them, guess at distance, but that put me at risk, and it meant Valefor could catch me with eye contact.

I did move to flank, leaving Rain behind, but I didn’t do it with the intent of mounting a direct attack.  I circled around, and I came within ten feet of a cape surrounded by what looked like a personal sandstorm of black sand.  A big cape.

Brute, was my thought, as he reached out, arm forming a rough hand shape as the sandstorm expanded and extended out.  He tore into cover and hauled it away, and his sand stripped away at the material of my costume, scraping up my armor, and taking off flecks of my chin.

I took evasive action, ducking around one piece of cover, then around to another.

I looked back.  He’d kicked up a lot of dust, in addition to the ambient particles of his power.

Could I confront him more directly, while Valefor and Mama Mathers were in the cloud?

Work with me, I thought.  Grab it, then freeze.

The long shaft of metal had been a beam holding something up, and now lay amid the rubble.  The Wretch gripped it, and with the noise and the dust that created, it gave away my position.

Which meant more black sand, meant I had a cape slipping into the floor near me, racing along as fast as my eye could track, then popping up, throwing out a lasso of what looked like wire.  A device, not a power thing.

I ducked away from both, circled around.

I was mid-air when the black sand cape swept his arm to one side.  The dust cloud that ensconced Mama Mathers and Valefor was cast away in an eyeblink.

Valefor seemed to think he wasn’t in earshot, because he didn’t waste his breath.  I didn’t meet his eyes.

I flew up and back, then brought my feet up, using then to help hold up the beam, my abs and thighs tight.  My hands gripped the end.

I was the crossbow that launched it, Wretch strength kicking in, my legs providing the support at the front end while keeping it more or less stable.

As big and accurate a strike as I could manage, that didn’t have collateral damage.  It didn’t strike home, but it got close enough to graze him.  He grunted, even coughed as more dust was kicked up by the metal beam spearing into the rubble he was perched on.

Love Lost heard the cough.  She stepped around cover, and she screamed.

She’d always been too rash, and she was worse under Cradle.  Even knowing the game at play that Rain had talked about, she jumped the gun.  The black sand cape threw out his hand, extending a wall of black sand in front of Valefor.

Her scream didn’t touch him, didn’t bring him into a headlong run.  Not quite close enough.  She seemed to realize it, and urged Rain and Colt to run.

They had a harder path than Valefor did, and three people moved slower than one.  He could close the distance and use his own shout.

Valefor shouted something the others were more likely to hear than I was.  I wasn’t close enough to hear it.  He continued to shout, closing the distance, while I dove for something else to throw, and was blocked by more black sand.  He used his power in two violent bursts- one to knock out the Wretch, the other to hit me.  I covered my ears and my face at the same time, rising up and out of reach.

Below, I saw the tableau.  Precipice and Love Lost had stopped.

And at the same time, Valefor was no longer running.  Mama Mathers was, a blur that raced toward her child.

Love Lost closed in, moving with one arm and both legs, her eyes closed, her other hand pulling her mask away from her face.  Rain spoke, giving her instructions.  Telling her where to go and where to aim, urging her to be quick, when every step threatened to move a piece of concrete or tile and roll the ankle.  She had her power, but she wasn’t weightless.

Juliette stood off to the side, Chastity watching her back.

Valefor was frozen, unable to do anything to get clear of danger, while Love Lost positioned herself.

But Rain was partially blind too.  He avoided eye contact with Valefor.

I flew to get closer.

“Five feet to the right, turn to ten o’clock!” I screamed the words down at them.

How far does a scream reach?

She listened.  She crossed the distance, stumbling over rubble, turned, and then screamed.

She caught Valefor in the same moment Juliette was forced to break her hold on him due to incoming fire.  He began a reckless run in Love Lost’s direction, heedless of the dangerous footing.  Mama Mathers turned to run the other way.  Her troops, no doubt coordinated by phantom images of her, turned to do the same.

Abandoning her son.  Someone I had to assume she cherished.

“Claw out!” I called out.  I flew down, avoiding the black sand that was cast out to distract, and flew in so I would be right behind Valefor.

Valefor grabbed a piece of rebar as he ran, moving to attack Love Lost, while she couldn’t be sure she could open her eyes.

He swung, hitting her extended claw, rather than run headlong into it.  What followed was a short, violent melee, as Love Lost fought blind at first, swiping and lacerating chest, stomach, then arm.  She got swatted across the scalp, and this prompted her to open her eyes, maybe thinking she needed to do it to save herself.  She froze mid-swipe.

Valefor twisted around, pointing at me.  Love Lost leaped, using Valefor’s shoulder as a springboard.  I chucked the concrete at Valefor, and met Love Lost in the air.  Juliette froze Love Lost, and I had to catch her and ease her to the ground to keep her from falling in a dangerous way.

It was Colt, in her breaker form, who broke out of the cover she’d taken, slicing through, then dropping out of her breaker form to tackle Valefor.

Bleeding from where the concrete I’d chucked had hit him, bleeding more from where Love Lost had caught him with her claws, he snarled curse words, and in the midst of them, he used his voice as a power, aiming it at her.

“Die!” he directed the words at Colt.

She stumbled back, twisted, and no doubt looked for the most convenient place to throw herself.  A jutting row of rebar spikes.

I intercepted her, tackled her, and threw my hands around my ears to muffle all sounds.  I twisted around to look, and kept my gaze below Valefor’s shoulders.  He’d stopped moving, but not because of Juliette.

A bullwhip encircled his throat.  He grunted, veins standing out from rage and lack of circulation both, hands fumbling.

“Do I?” Rain asked.

My turn to answer.

Aware of Colt, I nodded.

The silver blade caught Valefor around the middle.  Chastity pulled him off balance, and he landed firmly and uncomfortably in a sitting position atop a jagged heap of concrete.  The concrete didn’t matter as much as the solid landing, which made the silver line split.

Upper half slid from lower half with an audible sucking sound.

Chastity had to get close to unwind her whip from Valefor’s neck.  I just focused on Colt, waiting to see if the instruction would wear off.  When Rain was able enough, I let him take over, while I flew into the air, ready to intercept any incoming fire.

There was less dust now, and there were still a lot of thralls, albeit distant ones.  More thralls on the same level as us, but they had to expose themselves by standing on the highest heaps or otherwise weave through the valleys and tunnels that the debris made until they were close enough.

But they were getting close.  We needed to bail.

Valefor’s power wasn’t fading.  Chastity opted to walk up and slap Colt unconscious.  A moment later, she slapped Colt awake.

Reset button, it seemed.

We were alright.  Valefor was dealt with.

But the way ahead was long and violent.

I motioned for others to follow.  They did.

While I guarded the group, keeping an eye out for Capricorn, Ashley blasted  a segment of the second floor, bringing it down near a squad of people.  Sveta dove in, to bind limbs and drag them into the dust and debris.  Capricorn created a gout of water.

As we moved one step forward, a dozen squads of men with tinker rifles headed a couple of steps in the same direction, or formed a pincer in front of us, or a pincer behind us.

A hundred steps forward, and there was an army in the rooms, corridors, and ruins to our left, an army in the rooms, halls, and debris to our right.

I could see the hallway, and Capricorn used Tristan’s natural strength to get ahead of our slower runners, while I flew over and up to ensure there were no ambushes waiting, Sveta right on my heels.

I found one gunman, and hurled him out of cover, keeping hold of his gun.

Tristan ran halfway up the stairs, and began drawing out the comprehensive diagram that would solidify into walls.  So long as he held this point, they’d be a lot slower at chasing the rest of us.

The last people caught up, reaching the base of the staircase.  A wall flashed into existence, black stone with orange-red veins.

I wanted to say something.  I wanted to be encouraging, to tell people I loved them.

Nobody had words.

We knew what option this was.  That we were saving heroes and gathering forces here.  We weren’t gunning straight for Teacher, so it wasn’t A.  We weren’t abandoning this point either, and this point was presumably where stairs led up into Teacher’s area.  It was C.  Driving Teacher to run, plan abandoned.  Some heroes died.  Few civilians would die.

It was the option I’d chosen.  I’d been ready to vote for it, A if it wasn’t feasible.  Never B.  Not that many lives.  Not that there were any guarantees with the blind spots.

Two of us die, one suffering for ‘quite some time’.

I wish I’d thought to ask if that meant one of the two suffered or not.

The building shook as someone used a power on the wall Tristan had erected.  Without a goodbye, without a commentary, without final strategy, our team split up, running footsteps sounding hollow in wide hallways and corridors.

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175 thoughts on “Dying – 15.8”

  1. This is great, absolutely fantastic… I’m disappointed in Breakthrough for deciding to pass the buck though.

  2. You know what? From a writing angle, this was well handled. We know what the outcomes are, but not which one it’ll be. Or even if it’ll play out correctly, at that.

    1. Yeah I like it too!

      Although, I wonder if contessa’s presents “the best way” to attain victory.

      I mean, we know that if it exist, it will give a “Path to Victory”… But what if there are many paths to “Victory” as it is defined?

      1. It’s also possible that the true “Path to Victory” was to give 3 false options that didn’t matter because it would somehow set everybody up to be in the right place at the right time.

        1. I think that is a given that such an option is possible, I mean, IF Contessa used her power to ask what was the best way to get people to agree to her plan with the least resentement, then she knew that the outcome would be for her to be given the choice. Thus it doesn’t even matter if the other options are true or not since it was already determined that they would not be taken!

          But my point is more that there might be better way to attain “Victory”, but those are discarded in favor of the CERTITUDE of victory. Contessa offers a path devoid of risk, but does that means precluding “better” outcomes by setting the outcome in stone…

          1. It may be possible, but considering what she said in chapter 30.7, and assuming she was sincere, I don’t think that Contessa would want to cheat like that. She could do it if there was no other good way, but I think she would prefer to actually give everyone an honest choice if possible.

          2. Actually, that gives me an interesting thought:

            Is Contessa’s power able to account for whatever upgrade to planning it’d get from the power boosting formula?

            If it can, it’s probably safe to assume any upgrade would be superfluous. Contessa’s power is either already maximum, or if not, is already strong enough to find the best paths for the situation.

            If it can’t account for its own boost, then is there anything lost in juicing her and asking again? On the one hand, it already incorporated the booster shots into another plan (which isn’t necessarily the same as accounting for /its own/ boosts), but what if PtV would become able to brute force its way past a blind spot? Or Contessa herself gets an option she can personally use, when normally her chief limitation is that she can only ever do what a Contessa could do?

            On the other hand, the boost formula was described as being like a second trigger, and IIRC second triggers work by breaking past what limits the power previously had. Fortuna didn’t have limits before Eden slapped a hotfix on her, so there might not BE anything to boost?

            I mean, it’s obviously too late now.

          3. @alfaryn

            Well, technicly, even if her power can take into account the power-boosting vial, she’d still need to use it if it’s on her PtV.

            Something like:
            1. Something something
            2. Take the vial
            3. Does something that needs the vial used
            4. …
            X. Victory

            All of this depends on the particular effects of the vial, though. I could very well see that vial as a blind spot.

          4. I think a power-boosting vial for Contessa would improve her reflexes. At the moment, they’re extreme, but she can’t move faster than a human, she just starts moving first. So I think it’d give her… Not super-speed, or super-agility as such, but rather pushing her body so she’s actually got super reflexes, rather than just honed prescient human reflexes.

  3. YES, Valefor died :). What an ugly but satisfying death. A monster is down. Next one, please.

    Mama Mathers will always love herself more than anyone else, of course. She never cared about her children, she only cared about power and her status. When this bitch will die too?

    Bitch choose B. I’m disappointed by her choice but I understand her. She doesn’t want to lose people she cares for. B is the only option where she’ll not lose anyone. She’s one of the most loyal persons and I love her for her undying loyalty.

    So, C is the option of majority, especially Breakthroughs? I expected it and now I’m convinced that Capricorn will be their huge sacrifices in the name of being HEROES and saving as many civilians as possible. I’m ready to cry (I like Byron) but as long as their sacrifice will not be in vain then I can help but agreeing with it.

    What a good and eventful chapter. It was worth the waiting.

      1. As an objective reader, my choice is C and I’m happy they choose C (sacrifices are necessary to save so many people; this is what heroes should do- fight and sacrifice themselves to protect innocents) but if I was a character in Ward and had close teammates like Bitch, I think I’d have been torn apart between B (save my teammates) and C (save civilians). What a hard choice! I don’t know what I’d choose. Depends of how close my relationship will be with my teammates….Hmmm…I’ll still choose C. I’m more like Vic than Rachel.

        1. Still maintain the correct answer is always D. But I’m not writing this, so probably “Fuck those options, somebody start playing Guile’s theme, we’re getting a flawless from here on out” probably isn’t valid.

          1. Ah! Sticking to choice of a person with more hope than reason! Just like in that preverb I mentioned in the previous chapter. I like it. This is precisely why I think that sometimes “fools” can actually be the people who make world a better place.

          2. Then again perhaps some people (both the readers and the characters) chose C for similar reasons? Ensure that the short-term losses are low, and hope that since thanks to blind points’ influence the far future is not set in stone, it can be made good enough. Perhaps even as good as the one predicted in option B?

            From this point of view C seems to be a less radical, more realistic version of D, doesn’t it?

          3. Oh, and in case it wasn’t clear, please don’t take the “fool” comment personally. I obviously didn’t mean to suggest that you are a fool. I just wanted to point out that option D seems like a choice that represents naive, extremely optimistic hope that you can get better results by not following Contessa’s advice – an approach that is traditionally attributed to fools who wouldn’t consider a possibility of getting a disastrously bad result by following option D (worse than any of the three outlined by Contessa in her opinions) even if such result realistically appears to be almost certain.

          4. I like the way you put that =)

            If these options are no good, then the only way Contessa can get new ones is by getting closer to her “blind spots”, not farther away. Risky as heck though, and thanks to her ability and history she’s more keenly aware how badly it could all go. On the other hand, that’s kind of how Taylor managed to do what Contessa couldn’t.

          5. What can I say? Perhaps looking at the calendar reminded me about that old Polish saying about hope and fools, and to add something about risks involved. The 1st of August 2019 is a 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising after all.

            Of course since Ward is a story about heroes, it also seems appropriate to mention how Stanisław Jerzy Lec (one of my favorite Polish aphorists) expand this preverb:

            “Hope is the mother of fools, that does not prevent it from being a great lover of the brave.”

    1. It’s important to realize that for C two of Breakthrough’s members will be “removed from the equation”. That’s not the same as being killed.

      Given the one that will suffer for a long time, it might be worse.

  4. I must’ve missed something. Vic seems to be saying that the path Contessa has chosen is the C one, since she says “it’s the one I’d chosen”. At the same time, she sats they’re letting Teacher pull the trigger, which corresponds to path B. What gives?

  5. 1. “Contessa!” Sveta called out. “We decided we’re not going to choose! You make the damn call!”
    What? Stupid…
    “We’ll still feel guilty, if we made the choice and we see the fallout”
    But if you don’t make the choice you will feel guilty for your inaction could have lead to worse fallout.
    You all decided to vote and voted for good choice, for self-sacrifice. And then sent this result to crap… My disapproval, Sveta.
    Still, looks like Contessa decided C as well.

    2. “Nullifying, in my case,” Contessa said. “He was seconds away from temporarily disabling my power.”
    I did not get it… What happened and why? Who was “seconds away”? Rain?

    3. “Dust hung heavy enough in the air that every light, glowing fourteen year old”
    Is this some kind of reference or idiom? Fourteen looks pretty specific to be random

    1. 2) Teacher was. When in doubt, pull the plug yourself instead of letting an enemy power do it to you – better odds to turn it back on later that way.

      3) Colt is the only glowing-in-the-dark teenager around.

      1. > Teacher was.
        Ah. Last mentioned ~20 paragraphs back…

        > When in doubt, pull the plug yourself
        Yes, good move.

        > Colt is the only glowing-in-the-dark teenager around
        Damn, English did not stop to surprise me. I thought “glowing” refers to “dust”.

    2. 1. Yeah, calling Contessa a coward for not choosing and then refusing to choose herself was quite silly.

      2. I have no idea… she nullified her own powers to avoid having her powers nullified? Weird. PtV must have told her that this would lead to better outcomes, though how exactly… only her shard knows.

      3. I’m pretty sure she’s referring to Colt’s glowing breaker form, although it surprised me that Colt is that young.

      1. Maybe the power nullifier has some sort of”spider-sense” that allows him/her to sense parahumans, similar to how when Rain got his emotion power amplified in the Cradle Egg arc, he could sense the locations of Cradle’s soldiers in the building. Contessa nuking her own power would thus make it harder for Teacher to track her.

      2. If Teacher nullified her she would not be able to turn them on without dealing with Teacher. This way she gets them back on her in a few hour’s. Definitely the smarter choice.

        1. Or vice versa: if Teacher turned her power off, captured her, and reenabled her power after teachering her, it would be far worse for their plan than if she gets captured but remains powerless.

      3. 1. No, I get it. It’s a matter of principle. Tress made her choice, and while she opted not to articulate her preference among the three options, she chose not to choose., that’s her choice. She’s not letting Contessa wriggle her way out of taking responsibility for her own actions, which is important to Sveta because of Cauldron and the Case 53s, where Contessa handed all that off to Doctor-Mother. Can you blame Sveta for not wanting to repeat that?

        We can feel like Tress is throwing away her chance to influence the outcome of things, of dodging the responsibility thrust upon her, but we can also view it other ways. Sveta’s possibly taking the longer-term view here. The hero grind will continue, and a world with Contessa not letting someone else dictate what she should do (oh! Although, that’s arguably exactly what Rain and Victoria are doing with their “confirm before kill” thing, and Contessa’s actions impact a lot more lives than their’s.) could very well be better than one where Contessa marches to the beat of another’s drum.

        1. > world with Contessa not letting *someone* else dictate what she should do
          > could very well be better than one where Contessa marches to the beat of another’s drum

          Decision with hundreds of thousands lives at stake should not be made by anyone single handedly, Contessa or not. The price of error is too high. And to err is human and parahuman. Such decisions should be made by groups whenever it is possible.
          So when some*one* dictate Contessa what to do (and so Contessa looks like not responsible) could be, yes, worse than Contessa making her own decision and so being responsible. But both case are worse than Contessa is operating under command of legal authorities who are being responsible for results.
          Breakthrough and Co to some extent are representatives of Wardens and Mayor, which are closest thing Gimel have to legal authorities. They are better to make that decision than Contessa alone.

  6. The first typo thread never survives contact with the enemy:
    “using Ashey’s furrow”

    “Letting teacher go,”

    “creating a constellation, and”
    Missing expected em-dash cut.

    “glimpse. it’s fucking”
    With her capitalisation as well.

    “When two snipers found themselves at odds,”
    >find ?

    1. the dosage was supposed > The dosage was supposed

      > He was creating a constellation, and
      This sentence is unfinished.

      using then to help hold up > using them to help hold up

      > Ashley blasted a segment
      There are two spaces between ‘blasted’ and ‘a’.

    2. a person a (maybe another)
      have them each > having them each
      one flier (maybe and one flier)
      blasted a (extra space)

    3. > I intercepted her, tackled her, and threw my hands around my ears to muffle all sounds. […]
      > “Do I?” Rain asked.

      Victoria threw her hands around her ears in order not to hear Valefor, but she could hear Rain? Maybe a logical oversight here.

      1. Presumably she moved her hands after the bullwhip. Can’t talk when you’re being strangled.

  7. Well, I must admit that Wildbow still knows how to surprise us. We’ve extensively discussed options A, B, and C. There was some talk about option D. And yet Sveta managed to convince everyone to take option E we haven’t even came up with – make Contessa choose.

    And the interesting thing is that maybe this is exactly what Contessa needs – a reminder that sometimes she needs to be the one who makes her own choices.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if she quickly asked how she could determine the other’s choices then simply applied it. Alternatively she knew it would go this way but went through the explanation and options for other purposes.

      “Removed from the equation”

    2. There are two reasons why Contessa needs to learn to make her choices in my opinion.

      First is that she apparently needs to learn how to take full responsibility for her actions, to stop giving herself a luxury of always having someone else making tough decisions for her. This is what Sveta wants.

      The second reason is related to the first, maybe a little more subtle, but in my opinion may be also more important – Contess probably needs to overcome a fear of choosing. I feel that from Contessa’s subjective, emotional point of view three disastrous outcomes and two neutral ones since creation of Cauldron may be enough to make her afraid of choosing victory conditions by herself, but objectively speaking this is probably a too small sample to be sure that her future decisions are more likely to be bad than good ones.

      1. I probably should have said that the second reason is not just that Contessa needs to overcome a fear of choosing – this probably overlaps too much with the first reason, and may be a bit inaccurate at the same time. A better way to phrase it would probably be that she may (at least in my opinion) be afraid that she is for some reason doomed to make the disastrously wrong choices more often than not.

        1. This could be an interesting discussion about free will.

          I wonder whether Contessa’s power does deny her the ability to make choices for herself, though. In the previous chapter, she said that accomplishing the chosen path meant everyone must decide decisively upon what victory looks like, so it may not simply be due to fear that she is making everyone choose.

          Even if Contessa is scared to choose for herself and has had a small sample size to generalise from, she might still feel it would be irresponsible to test herself now in making such a momentous decision right at the key moment.

          From another perspective, without having had any positive results to show for it before and knowing that it may backfire, choosing for everyone else could be seen as a selfish decision made without regard for the other characters’ free will.

          One could say Contessa is in a bit of a catch-22, since deciding for others with her power is one of the critiques Sveta and the other case 53s have of her, and yet she is forced to use her power.

          I imagine some of the characters might prefer to have the choice given to them and some would prefer not to know.

          Makes one wonder which option the readers would prefer in we were in our heroes’ shoes.

          1. Actually I could imagine an even worse situation. Can you imagine a worse tyrant than Contessa always unilaterally deciding which definitions of “victory” are the right ones, basically deciding fate of humanity by herself? Would anyone else’s free will matter at all in such situation? Remember that this was more or less what Eden was trying to do right before crashing on Earth.

          2. > Can you imagine a worse tyrant than Contessa always unilaterally deciding which definitions of “victory” are the right ones, basically deciding fate of humanity by herself? Would anyone else’s free will matter at all in such situation?

            Many everyday decision have nothing to do with fate of humanity, so they still could be made under Contessa-tyrant. She will not be able to impose her decision for every human if they are 1000+.

            And yes, I can imagine a worse tyrant. For example, General Artificial Intelligence going exponential, observing and controlling everyone and every move. Like in “Friendship is Optimal” but then AI will NOT satisfy your values, only its own 🙂

          3. Really?

            Path to assuming total control over lives of all humans:
            Step 1. Make Defiant hack Dragon so she has to follow all your commands…

            Obviously I’m not saying that real Contessa would do it, but a hypothetical tyrant with Contessa’s power could… In fact if Teacher managed to master Contessa, I wouldn’t be surprised if he at least considered forcing her to follow a path like that.

    3. > maybe this is exactly what Contessa needs – a reminder that sometimes she needs to be the one who makes her own choices

      Hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake, it is not right time to use the situation as a lesson for anyone. Such decision should not be made by anyone alone, at least if there is possibility for discussion.

      1. Maybe. I must admit that I haven’t read the whole thing yet (I’m actually still somewhere in the middle of the first thread), and that I skip reading the voting and accompanying discussion there almost completely, and just focus on Wildbow’s updates, so I may have either missed this sort of thing there or not reached it yet.

          1. As opposed to sudden appearance of “secret option E”? I wasn’t very surprised myself that the votes were fairly evenly split. It was obvious that each option would get some votes – both because Contessa did ask her power for three scenarios that would be most satisfying for the voters, and because it was a perfect opportunity for Wildbow to show how different worldviews these voters have through their votes. There is a reason why elsewhere in this comment section I asked everyone why in their opinion each character voted the way they did.

    4. Perhaps worth mentioning that despite her appearance as a adult, Fortuna/Contessa has had Doctor-Mother making the decisions since Fortuna was 11 years old or thereabouts, and after Gold Morning Contessa stopped following a path to victory and was immediately snatched by Teacher.

      Lookout and Colt have perhaps had about as much or more experience “adulting” than Fortuna, in self directing their own actions with the responsibility squarely on their shoulders. In many ways, Contessa was just a thug for Cauldron much the same as Coil’s mercenaries or Teacher’s thralls.

      Contrast that with Dinah Alcott Enterprises, Ltd. and it’s easy to see Dinah, who faces a similar weighty responsibility/power, had taken a much different approach that both shows stronger leadership, and somehow simultaneously shifts the choice on others at the same time. I’m not sure that’s the route Contessa should take, but it’s interesting to compare and contrast them.

  8. Ok, so why do you think each person chose the option they did, and what it says about their personality? Also which Chicken Tender (except Kenzie of course – we know her vote) chose which option in your opinion?

    1. Bitch: In A, Bitch will lose a teammate for sure and in C one Heartbroken will die for sure (Bitch is close to Heartbrokens too). She’s sentimental and loyal. Plus she hates Teacher’s guts and don’t want to even think that he’ll possible escape.
      Chastity is ready to sacrifice her family for Cassie (but Contessa never said that Cassie will certainly die, it was only a “maybe”) and civilians, showing that she’s a girl with a heart of gold capable of making huge sacrifices for the greatest good.
      The same goes for Imp but I think that Imp also like to be a villain and knowing that villains will rule the city in A, she’s happy with this idea.
      Juliette (she probably care for her family more than for strangers).
      Ashley, Rain and Byron can’t allow so many people to die and we know that they’re self-sacrificing people (especially Rain).
      Kenzie: I’m not sure I understand her choice but maybe she just want to see Teacher dying no matter the consequences.
      Colt: she doesn’t give a fuck about anyone anyway.
      Love Lost: She likes to be a villain anyway.
      Victoria: her heart is always in the right place. No way she’ll sacrifice so many lives. She’d rather sacrifice herself/her teammates. Just like Taylor.
      I think Aiden choose B (not because he wants to see the world burning but because he doesn’t want to lose one of his Chicken Tenders and Darlene choose C.

      1. Another thing about Love Lose. Imagine how many children will die in B, maybe hundreds. No way Love Lost will agree with this idea.

        1. This is hard. She choose C. She said that B is better on the long term but still she choose C. What if she lied when she said that B is better on the long term because she wanted to test everyone else and see how far they’re willing to go and how united they’re? What if she always knew that C was the best option but pretended that B is the best option just to see if they’re ready to sacrifice so many lives if someone is telling them that people will be happy on long term even with so many sacrifices? An ethical test and most of them passed this test. Then Contessa choose the REAL best option, C, and now she knows more about their personalities and their choices, more than they know themselves.

          1. Or she’s not entirely convinced that B was better on long term because of so many blindspots and she got tired of sacrificing so many lives for probably an unsure and fragile future.

        2. Anything really. Up to and including “if you are indifferent – well, so am I. maybe when you’ll have to deal with Teacher later, you will decide something then”.

      2. My interpretation:

        Imp: Votes for A because C has a chance of letting Teacher escape, which she doesn’t view as acceptable. Guessing she doesn’t go for B because in spite of how she projects herself, Aisha can be a bit of a softie. Likely already views life as pretty hard, given the Undersiders line of work so she’d be willing to weather a pretty anarchic world under the rule of villain warlords.

        Chastity: A. Pretty self explanatory. She loves her friend Cassie, and sees the need put Teacher down now as well. Chastity is an interesting case. She obviously cares for her family members, as is demonstrated in previous chapters. However, of all of them she seems the most well-adjusted and realizes that her family is pretty screwed up, which is pretty evident given that she’s willing to choose an option that results in the death of two Vasils. Life under Heartbreaker likely gives her a similar view to Imp about living under villain rule.

        Juliette: B because she’s a cold one. Even if part of it’s a feigned, she hasn’t quite developed beyond in terms of emotional maturity or the damage done by Heartbreaker.

        Rachel: B. Bitch is pretty direct about threats so of course she doesn’t want to let Teacher go so he can haunt them another day. Other than that, she prioritizes things, once again, in a straightforward manner; A results in the death of three people she cares about (or two as well as herself) while B only results in Cassie’s death. Not to mention, Rachel would likely be worried about preserving the lives of the dogs she took with her to the facility, which Contessa didn’t mention in any scenario.

        Vic, Byron, Sveta, Ashley, Rain, and Love Lost: C. Likely because they find the consequences of the other two unacceptable. All of them (except perhaps Byron) has a death on their conscience and would like to avoid adding to this, much less with the hundreds of thousands of innocents that would happen in route B.

        Colt: For a similar reason to Juliette. Her sense of empathy and emotional maturity haven’t quite developed. Her naivety that is frequently alluded to showcase this well enough — Colt’s world is very Colt-centric.

        Kenzie: A. Option B would leave a high number of civilians dead, which she wouldn’t find acceptable. I’m guessing she’s likely a little scared of Teacher at this point, so that’d be a good reason to choose A over C. However, a darker reason would be that it would cut the Undersider and Heartbroken circle short, possibly driving those on Team Chicken closer.

        Aiden: C (Guess). This was another hard one. Part of me thinks that it would be fairly plausible that a QA shard host would go for the option that shuts down the big bad and accepts the losses. However, Aiden seems pretty innocent and soft-hearted, so I’m guessing her wouldn’t go for A and have so many big heroes, an Undersider, and two Heartbroken die(not to mention, I don’t know that QA would influence in favor of villain rule…and yes, I know how wrong that sounds given the events of Worm). Meanwhile, he wouldn’t go with B for much the same reason — he’s too compassionate.

        Darlene: C (guess). Even beyond the obvious answer that Darlene would lean toward whatever Aiden chose, I doubt she’d choose A and possibly kill Imp as well definitely get rid of two of her family members. Meanwhile, she seems pretty sensitive for a Heartbroken, so I’m guessing she wouldn’t be comfortable with B either.

        Candy: B (guess). Candy has not only “cousins” in the facility but a sister.

        Contessa: C. Contessa likely chose based on the decision at which the others collectively arrived because her power clued her in. If not, she would’ve likely gone with C for much the same reason as the others who chose C — she doesn’t want to pile on the deaths of hundreds of thousands upon herself. Even beyond that, a moderate ending as opposed to the bad ending that A would give will give her more to work with.

        I think somewhere in there Tattletale was informed, but I didn’t see her decision listed. Makes me curious. Though, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lisa didn’t cast a vote at all.

      3. I’m not convinced on your logic for Chastity and Juliette. They’re family, sure, but a super-dysfunctional family brought together by the emotional manipulations of one bored narcissist and raised to compete with each other to please him, and furthermore also taught that powers are meant to be used, and your family is a good choice to practice on. Juliette would pick an option that harmed her family in the hope it’d kill her brother, Roman (not Romeo any more) and whilst Chastity cares for her younger siblings, I have no idea how she feels about her older ones.

    2. I had assumed Contessa would just do the math (with her power), which is not the same as making a decision. Most votes were C. If she was going to make a decision she might choose whatever is best for everyone directly involved which is, uh, exactly what she accomplished.

      This should get us back to a place where the author can regularly kill his darlings.

      1. > This should get us back to a place where the author can regularly kill his darlings.

        Actually, option C has BT members “removed from the equation”, not necessarily killed. This might be an option where no heroes actually die, in spirit of Ward.

  9. Oh, fuck here it comes. Buckle down the hatches, sound the air raid sirens, hide your women and children and your little dog too. Shit. Is. Happening.

    Knowing fucking valefor, he will just get better. But points for effort, Rain!
    Um. Speaking of Rain. In his wonderful knack of making people loathe him, he started a war that destroyed the Fallen, then he killed Mama Mathers son. And we all know being Rain is suffering. So. Um. Wildbow? Please don’t hurt my poor boi Rain. I know he’s basically your personal chew toy. But please please don’t give him to the fallen.

    1. Even Valefor isn’t coming back from that. I’d see Mama Mathers getting some revenge though

  10. Note that we don’t know what will happen to Contessa when option C is chosen. She could be fine, could die (she said that no notable heroes will die, but she is hardly a hero, isn’t she?), but I expect her to be mastered, at least temporarily. If this is the case, I think that she disabled her power to make herself useless to anyone who will end up mastering her in the short term. Perhaps the fact that she said not to wake up Valkyrie might have something to do with the fact that she may be the only way to stop Contessa once the shot wears off?

    1. I agree she’s likely to be mastered and she timed the injection with the cape disabling her powers so he would think it was his doing, keep that ability locked on her instead of other capes and spend resources to capture her. Then, sure enough, she’ll be useless when mastered.

      ALTERNATIVELY, she really wants to leave this life behind and did it on purpose so she could. I can’t quite tell if the injection is permanent or just long lasting. She’s on her home Earth/Reality so she could just abandon it all now and get what she wanted

      1. According to Rain Contessa’s power will be disabled “for a while“, which would suggest that the effect is not permanent.

      2. Actually this is a good point about Teacher spending resources to get Contessa. He really wants to have her, and as soon as she realizes that her powers were temporarily disabled, he would know that this is a perfect moment to capture her. In other words Contessa turned herself into a perfect bait.

        1. Now all Contessa needs to do is to occupy Teacher’s forces long enough that other heroes will be able to carry out their tasks relatively unopposed.

          1. Actually now that I think about it, Mama Mathers probably abandoned her son because Teacher ordered her to go after Contessa instead. She probably is the second best master Teacher has in the field after Valefor, so it would make sense for her to be ordered to focus on capturing Contessa.

          2. Looks like Teacher was too greedy to learn the lesson about what happens to people who try to turn powerful precogs into their pets…

          3. On the other hand I suspect that despite what Contessa said about the chance that Teacher may die before leaving the facility, he will actually manage to get away. This is because Victoria was the person Contessa sent to cut off Teacher’s retreat, and due to Vicky’s slip-up Mama Mathers now knows exactly where Victoria is, and can warn Teacher that she is coming.

          4. If Vicky thinks about MM sure, while she’s distracted she should be fine… I wonder if Imp can be MMed while she’s in stranger mode, or if Chastity’s power can reset MM’s Power (doubtful). No idea if Rain is still immune, don’t recall him getting his own eyes and hearing back but it feels like something that would have happened.

            MM is also important for her power over the the people of Earth C. With that in mind I suspect she’ll live through all this.

      3. There’s very, very few ways to permanently remove a power. Most involve either hunting down and destroying the alien brain-crystal that powers the power, radically altering the DNA to the point the alien brain-crystal can’t recognise it, severing the connection using a now-deceased Cauldron cape, or going in and deliberately vandalising the brain. Any of these which don’t work, particularly the DNA and brain damage, may simply alter the way that power manifests, rather than removes it.

        Popping a pill, no matter how special, isn’t likely to do any of these. Except perhaps the brain damage one, if it’s overdosed- and that’d likely have other serious side effects. Like turning off parts of the brain needed to live.

  11. Keep in mind PtV is very specific with how Contessa does things, especially how detailed or vague her words are to get the right effect. She lead Imp, Rachel, and the Heart Broken to realized that Cassie would be their cost in option B without outright saying it. She won’t say who lived or died because that changes the results.

    Contessa was VERY clear in options A and B on the numbers of deaths in each group and made a distinction between death, suffering, and personal impacts from civilian losses. There is a reason in option C that she says ‘removed from the equation’ and not death. I also don’t believe for a second that options A and C don’t have any group significant civilian deaths. Contessa just isn’t mentioning them because if she does they’ll weigh against the heroic sacrifices which at first blush are a more immediate cost to list.

    Option A:
    -Highest general loss of involved heros, fallout tips scales in the villain population’s favor.
    -2nd highest civilian losses, no specification on if casualties are important to the group. There is no specification that there won’t be.
    – 1 Undersider dies.
    – 2 or more Hearthbroken die.
    – No Breakthrough deaths but a member suffers indefinitely.
    -Contessa dies.
    -Teacher’s plan is triggered but damages are mitagated. Teacher is stopped in the Facility.

    Option B:
    -Minimal losses from heroic forces, fallout will tip into the heroes favor due to Contessa’s assistance.
    -Most civilian deaths with group significant civilian casualties being named or alluded to.
    -No mentioned Undersider, Heartbroken, or Breakthrough deaths or sufferings mentioned outside of civilian losses.
    -Contessa lives.
    -Teacher’s plan is executed to full effect but he stopped in the facility.

    Option C:
    -2nd highest heroic losses, no mention of how it will impact the cape scene hero/villain balance.
    -Least civilian fallout, but no specification on if casualties are important to the group. There is no specification that there won’t be.
    -No Undersider deaths.
    -1 Heartbroken dies.
    -2 Breakthrough members are ‘removed from the equation’, 1 member suffers for quite a while. No specification if the member that suffers is separate or not from the two being removed. No specification if ‘removed from the equation’ is death, power shenanigans, power loss, or a fate worse than death. It’s very telling that this isn’t specified.
    -No specification on whether or not Contessa lives or dies.
    -Teacher’s plan is derailed and is able to evade immediate capture. There is a small chance that he dies as he tries to escape.

    Honestly the thing I’m getting from these options, especially now that we’ve gotten insight into how the group has interpreted them is that the most important details lie not in what Contessa specifies, but what she doesn’t and why she doesn’t. Could it be that it’s a non-issue? Maybe. But with her it’s pretty much a given that what she explicitly says will happen will actualy happen, so you can’t really afford to make assumptions the what she doesn’t say is just as guaranteed. And with PtV there is a reason she does or doesn’t say something, it matters and definitely contributes to the execution of the path.
    Option A is favorable to no-one. The Undersiders and Heartbroken won’t touch it because it costs them the most member wise. Breakthrough will only consider it as their fallback because as heros the moderate civilian losses is more important that their own single casualty.
    Option B is favorable to the majority of the Undersiders and Heartbroken since it only comes with one significant civilan casualty for them, allegedly Cassie, which is better than member deaths for some. Breakthrough won’t touch it because minimal heroic losses at the cost of huge civilian casualties, especially with some of those casualties being significant to them, goes against the very things they stand for as heroes.
    Option C is the most reasonable middle ground for all involved parties. Undersiders lose nothing and Heartbroken only suffer one death. For the lowest civilian casualties Breakthrough assumes that 2-3 of their members dying is worth it.

    But that is only assuming that the costs are as cut and dry as Contessa leads them to believe by omission. Civilians die in all three options, but only option two mentions specifics. There is no way that the difference between A and B and then B and C are so drastic that all of the named civilians survive in those options. Any of those named civs being mentioned in options A or C could be enough to sway votes or priorities.

    Contessa says that she could lead them to any conclusion she wants without giving them options is not the same as outright saying that she currently isn’t leading them to the conclusion that she wants to lead them to.

    Tldr; Contessa is full of shit and this whole thing has been rigged from the get go by PtV either omitting or emphasizing details for each option.

    Still, I’m excited to see the fallout!

  12. They really didn’t pick up on the fact: Contessa said “die” when she meant die; for other groups and for Breakthrough. For option C she did not say they’d die, but that they’d be “removed.”

    A slip of the tongue that was not.

    1. Technically correct, but this is also the kind of setting where “that which doesn’t kill you might make you wish it had.”

      Being removed from the equation might be no worse than being permanently depowered (mid-fight, which would be very lucky to not end as a death sentence), or it could be as bad as getting locked in a Capricorn off-switch. Or you’ll die, but “live” via Valkyrie because PtV might have trouble distinguishing between a cape and the copy their shard recorded and insists is totally them. On that note, we know Grue is running around (because Valkyrie), and he might count as the Undersider member for that same reason. Or maybe Teacher really does have access to a clone-maker, and one of Breakthrough gets cloned and the clone gets subbed in… because if the shard can’t tell the difference and hands its power off to both of them, how the heck is PtV going to know any better when it’s also a shard?

      If we’re super optimistic and assume the only ones who die/suffer/get removed are Flocks and clones, then maybe Contessa couldn’t have told them because they needed to fight like their lives were on the line.

      Just stuff to consider.

    2. Very good point. She said “die” in the other cases and removed in this one. That could mean a lot of different options. Two could simply leave the group and retire. One of those could be traumatised and suffer.
      Curious how that will play out.

      Again, Contessa proves to be a grade A plot device 🙂

    3. One possible way how a Breakthrough members may be “removed from equation” without dying could be if they become unfit for hero duty – for example if they lose their powers, became insane, are too exposed to Mama Mathers’ power without a chance to be cured from the effect (which means they effectively become useless in all conflicts in which Mama supports the opposition) etc.

      Another way could be if they simply decide to, or are forced to leave the team for some reason.

      1. Heck, they may even end up trapped in another world with no way to return to Gimel. For example:
        – they may still be exiled for their past crimes or future crimes (Rain and Swansong ar obviously most likely here, but definitely not the only possibilities)
        – thanks to contact with Teacher’s tech (which included the “skeleton key” able to open the way to sealed worlds) they may end up in a place like Aleph,
        – they may simply be trapped in Cauldron complex after everyone else leaves and close all portals leading to it.

        1. Yet another way to be both removed from the equation and suffer a prolonged torment would be getting trapped in a Gray Boy’s loop or a similar power-made prison. Valkyrie could theoretically do it, because she has access to Gray Boy’s power, though I doubt that Contessa would be talking about her – a little bit because she is on the heroes’ side, but mostly because she is one of Contessa’s blind spots, and I doubt that her simulations could account for something like that.

          By the way – why are Teacher, Valkyrie and Eidolon Contessa’s blind spots? Perhaps her power recognizes them as proto-entity-hubs and being unable to see them is just a (possibly unintended) side effect of whatever Eden did to stop Contessa’s power from seeing actual hubs of shards network?

  13. When I got to “Contessa was stabbing herself in the heart,” my first thought was that her response to their refusal to choose was, “Fuck y’all! Path to suicide? HURK!

    1. I thought the same thing on first reading that line. That she had simply said “screw this life”

  14. Why do i have this feeling that Contessa knew they’d refuse to choose? And planned around it, giving her option four which wouldn’t otherwise have been available…

    1. I entertain the idea Contessa secretly agrees with Sveta about the whole free will thing and this put them on the path that leaves them the most willing to fight for their own future, which will actually have the most interesting results.
      Once all is said and done, the death tallies may not match; Contessa will just shrug it off with a smile and a one-liner about needing worthy goals.

  15. That fight with Valefor was top notch! So satisfying to finally see him go down, and at the hands of Rain no less?

    Sucks for Rain’s conscience though.

    1. Or a balm, since he’s killed one of the architects of the events that led to the previous deaths Rain’s responsible for, as well as the man who brainwashed his best (unpowered) friend and an individual who has killed, maimed, and caused havoc for most of his life and who, if he’d not been stopped, would have continued to cause havoc, kill and maim.

  16. Dear Sveta:
    What the fuck?

    You are throwing a hissy fit because a person is offering you the chance to get two of the big things you want, instead of all three, when previously you were going to get Zero. You are wasting EVERYONE’s time in a time sensitive situation, where every second wasted is a second that could save lives and increase certainty of success, and you are taking everone else’s votes and ignoring them. Don’t be so self centered.
    If you refuse to vote, fine, your bussiness. Everyone else’s vote should go to Contessa and ignore you hang ups.

    Also: unrelated;

    Contessa’s PtV is so powerful not just because of the perfect path, but also perfect execution.
    Contessa is kind of a sitting duck here, which is really fucking scary, especially with Black Lamb running round ready to unload “Thralldom” on people.
    … like… chances of Contessa ending up mind whammied seem disturbingly high, and when that happens someone is going to need to kill her, BEFORE her power comes back online, and thats…. really sad.

  17. I have to say – I really fucking hate Sveta after this chapter. She’s far worse than Chastity, who was willing to sacrifice anyone and everyone for her dear Cassie. At least Chastity was honest with herself and with others about it, and she really valued someone. And what Sveta really values is the fucking BLAME GAME, above lives and deaths of everyone.
    There is no way to “not choose”. Inaction is also an action. Refusing to choose is also a choice – one that says “I’m okay with either option”. And actually making a choice and withholding it is yet another choice – one that says “I care about some option somewhat, but what I care about even more is putting myself into a position where I can bitch about any option being selected, including my preferred one”. And for those who think I’m being too harsh: just think about it, bitching is what she’s already doing (despite far more pressing matters being all around), and if any outcome were more important for her than this, she would do something for it instead. If she would value someone’s life, like Chastity does, or civilians’ lives, or fate or the City, or anything affected by the outcomes really, she would act on it. She would do something that increases the probability of saving something she values. She would vote. But nooo, her vote is “make Contessa choose, say that any choice is tantamount to murder, and then accomplice her in that while shifting all the blame on her”. Well, if any of the three choices is “tantamount to murder”, and you don’t want to be responsible for it, wouldn’t it be logical to refuse to help Contessa in implementing any of them? But nooo again, she knows that everything will be even worse in that case – and what’s even more important, that would be her own decision with no one to shift blame to. That’s why she will follow Contessa’s orders while designating her to be a scapegoat for anything bad happening along the way. No, Sveta, there’s no way to escape responsibility for your own actions, as there’s no way to escape causality itself.
    And Victoria seems to be following suit. “Did you actually decide, like Sveta wanted, or are you throwing away lives…” If you want to see who’s “throwing away lives”, look into the fucking mirror. Of course, Contessa has to look into her own mirror, and Capricorn has to, and the fucking crybaby Sveta has to (though of course she won’t), and everyone else too, but that does not negate your need to look into your mirror.
    By the way, Vicky, you wanted to slap Juliette for calling Sveta a coward. Maybe you should actually have done it, if you so value your friendship with Sveta? It would be immensely dumb and possibly harmful for everyone, but hey, it would signal how do you value your friendship, and signaling is what Sveta is all about. Remember how she fought guards on Shin? Dumb, hopeless, without a possibility to actually help you but quite likely to fuck everyone over, including you – but signaling friendship. Signaling readiness to help over actually helping. And here again, signaling wanting to save lives over actually saving lives. And you didn’t signal now. Maybe she will consider you less of a friend now, if she pays attention to it?
    And such a shame that no one sided with Juliette. She’s the only one who resisted the temptation to cop out until the very end.

    1. Funny thing about refusing to choose – in a way it makes Sveta similar to Contessa whom she hates so much. Assuming they both survive, I wonder if it will make those two will eventually become friends or cause them to become even more hostile towards each other.

      1. By the way refusing to choose may in my opinion be caused by a deeper similarly between Sveta and Contessa – I think that both of them killed or caused suffering of so many people, and made so many choices they regret, that they are afraid that whatever decision they would make right now would later turn out to be disastrously bad later on.

        1. I also think that there is a certain similarity between Tattletale and Contessa – they desperately need someone who would understand them and help them deal with their issues – almost certainly a professional therapist, but at the same time their powers make it all too easy for them to render such help ineffective (I believe that Lisa put it more or less along these lines – “A psychotherapist can’t help me because my power makes me psychoanalyze them faster than they can psychoanalyze me).

          Perhaps they both need to get more of those Shin-made power-suppressing drugs and attend their therapy sessions under their influence?

      2. No way they become friends, with Contessa being Sveta’s scapegoat no matter how the events will go. As for Contessa’s feelings towards Sveta, I don’t think she’s hostile to her – rather indifferent, I’d say. And hopefully this event can help her being more used to choosing and deciding (by showing the alternative from the outside and establishing a bad example).

        1. Sveta blames Contessa because she sees Contessa as a heartless monster, but we know this is not exactly true, and in my opinion Sveta has enough empathy and emotional intelligence (not to mention tendency to find ans focus on the best sides of people she gets to know well) to figure it out too. If this happens, I think that the relationship between the ladies may improve quite a bit. I doubt it will happen quickly or painlessly, but I can see them getting to that point eventually.

          One more thing that makes me believe that Sveta may reconsider her opinion on Contessa is Sveta’s relationship with other C53s. Remember that they not only shun Sveta right now, making them unable to reinforce her hatred towards Contessa if it happens to waver, but that Sveta was one of the very few Irregulars who wanted answers from Cauldron more than they wanted bloody vengeance.

          1. By the way, I can imagine Sveta pressuring Contessa about the fact that she supposedly never cared about suffering of individual people to the point where the Contessa breaks and defends herself by saying that she ended up saving Khepri despite the fact that it served no greater goal.

            I imagine that for this to happen Contessa would have to have her powers supressed at the time, and/or to be guilt-tripped into not using them during such confrontation with Sveta. What do you think are the chances of that happening?

          2. I wonder if Contessa (or anyone) is ever going to get round to mentioning “Sveta, before we picked you up you were literally dying. As were all the Case 53s. What we did wasn’t the best, but seriously- if we hadn’t intervened you would be dead. No ifs, no buts.”

          3. Doctor Mother explained this to Sveta in chapter 29.7 of Worm, and Sveta’s answer basically boiled down to “You should have explained what you were about to do, and asked me for permission, because if I had a choice between what you did to me and death, I would choose to die.”

          4. I’m on the same page as Sveta with that, assuming the explanation about what they were going to do mentioned a high chance or certainty of all the death she’d cause. On the other hand, if they didn’t know how she’d turn out and were just like, “Hey, we can save your life but you’ll probably end up looking like a monster and we’ll leave you stranded on another Earth with amnesia,” I’d sign right up.

            And in all fairness, they did get parental permission to take Sveta, even if they didn’t ask her personally. Given that she was a child, dying, and probably delirious, that seems perfectly reasonable. The only things they really did wrong were taking her memories and then setting her loose instead of working with her to improve her control or delivering her to somewhere like the Parahuman Asylum.

          5. > in my opinion Sveta has enough empathy and emotional intelligence (not to mention tendency to find ans focus on the best sides of people she gets to know well) to figure it out too

            I’m tempted to say that if she actually had enough empathy and emotional intelligence, she would have acted on it now to increase odds for those who she feels empathy with, but I guess it needs to work together with regular intelligence for that purpose. So let’s say her emotional intelligence is misguided enough for it not to be the case.

            > You should have explained what you were about to do, and asked me for permission, because if I had a choice between what you did to me and death, I would choose to die.

            Of course asking for permission would be better (though with what Pizzasgood said, we may even count that as covered), but whatever Sveta might think now, her answer might be very different back then. Imagine how this explanation would sound. “We can leave you to die, or we can take you with us and give you an experimental drug. Its possible effects are curing you from all diseases and giving you superpowers, making you into a monster, or a violent death, we don’t know in advance what exactly it would be. But you can refuse and choose a certain death instead”. This being said to a dying person. I’d suppose most people would take the chance.

          6. On the subject of parental permission instead of Sveta’s own. Don’t you think it is not enough in this case? Even if we don’t take whatever laws regarding parental permission Sveta’s society had into account, shouldn’t there be things that even parents shouldn’t be allowed to decide for their children?

          7. Ideally yes, but there are situations when a person isn’t in a position to make decisions, and nearing death is one of them. It’s kind of like a question whether to perform euthanasia for a patient in a vegetative state: if a person didn’t leave instructions about what to do if such a situation occurs, then there’s no other choice but to allow others to decide their fate.

          8. And of course it is entirely possible that despite of what she said in chapter 29.7 of Worm Sveta might have chosen to take the vial if she was given a choice beforehand. After all at that point nobody could predict everything that followed for certain (including Sveta getting a body of a monster, getting her memories wiped, killing hundreds of people against her will etc.). It is also true that Sveta from chapter 29.7 couldn’t be certain what dying Nayet would choose if she was allowed to do it.

            So yes – Sveta’s argument clearly has some holes in its logic. But this is not the point. The point is that she was never allowed to choose at any point of the process – not only before she was forced to take a vial, but also before her memories were wiped, and before she was dumped in Russia (which by the way in my opinion invalidates the argument about the patient in vegetative state – depending on how delicious she was she might or might not have been able to make a choice about taking the vial, but she should have been able to make her own decisions about the other two things).

            Since she wasn’t allowed to choose, all that happened to her and to everyone her power made her harm or kill was ultimately because of Cauldron’s choices, and that gives her every right to blame them – both for taking away her right to choose her own fate, and for all this death and suffering that followed.

          9. Another thing is that even if you are dying it doesn’t give anyone the right to perform experiments upon you. I have little doubt that Cauldron had ways to heal Sveta without using a vial on her, and this is what they should have done. Only after she was healed to the point where she could make her own decisions Cauldron could maybe ask her and her parents (assuming they were still alive – by the way sinc Cauldron was already there, they should have evacuated everyone who was in danger of dying in Sveta’s villages – something they apparently didn’t bother to do) if she could agree to help them with their research.

            In other words – if the vials had to be tested, the tests should have been performed only on well informed volunteers, and the people who ended up being broken by their powers should have been given best possible care, not have their memories wiped and abandoned somewhere where they become someone else’s problem.

          10. But then again keeping their little conspiracy a secret was always more important to Cauldron than respecting anyone’s rights, and using volunteers (and personnel they would need to properly care for victims of their experiments) would endanger this secret. It was their argument to justify almost everything they did – nobody’s individual rights take precedence over increasing chances of humanity’s survival. No matter how small or uncertain the increase would be, and what sort of harm and suffering they would cause to the individuals in question.

          11. > I have little doubt that Cauldron had ways to heal Sveta without using a vial on her, and this is what they should have done. Only after she was healed to the point where she could make her own decisions Cauldron could maybe ask her and her parents (assuming they were still alive – by the way sinc Cauldron was already there, they should have evacuated everyone who was in danger of dying in Sveta’s villages – something they apparently didn’t bother to do) if she could agree to help them with their research.

            Again – ideally. But then Cauldron would effectively switch its goals and become a charity for treating terminally ill, like Panacea was doing. Even without considering possible information leaks and their adverse consequences, it would be a huge spending of time and resources for a goal almost entirely unrelated to averting the apocalypse. Kind of like taking almost all the funding from NASA and spending it to feed children in Africa. Yes, feeding children in Africa is goodm but what does NASA have to do with it? Especially if humanity has to develop means to evacuate from Earth soon because there’s an asteroid heading to it.

            By the way, another thought regarding getting consent. Imagine that everyone in the Wormverse would sign a paper saying “In a hypothetical situation, if I were dying and some weird guys would propose to take an experimental drug with such-and-such possible results, I would consent to it / I would prefer to die instead”, and Cauldron would go by what’s written there. And then realize that this information is already written in the neuron structure of each person, and Cauldron has means to access it. Path: know what this girl would answer to our proposition if asked. Or even better – path: find someone who is about to die and would be willing to take our proposition. 100% ethical solution with zero additional costs, and you don’t even need to ask because you already know the answer. Though subjects may have issues with it afterwards, because they didn’t know what you know and weren’t actually asked. But apparently their emotional comfort wasn’t a consideration for Cauldron.
            Though what happened afterwards (not helping in any way, erasing memories and dumping to some random location) was definitely unethical. It was kinda explained by “throwing Scion off the scent”, which sounds not 100% convincing to me, but I think it’s rather a worldbuilding question.

          12. > Though what happened afterwards (not helping in any way, erasing memories and dumping to some random location) was definitely unethical.

            “Definitely unethical”? Let’s be straight – Cauldron behaved as if the fact they saved someone’s life meant they owned it.

          13. Regarding parental permission, it’s plenty. When it comes to life or death, children don’t get to opt out. If you take your children to the hospital after they played with the chainsaw and the doctor says they need blood transfusions, you are the one who authorizes that, not the children. It doesn’t matter how creepy the kids think having other people’s blood in them would be, how irrationally afraid they are of getting HIV, or how strongly they believe that God shuns people who’ve had transfusions. They are children, so their suicidal opinions count for jack shit.

            As for healing Sveta before administering the vial, that would certainly be a nice thing for them to have done, but it was not in any way an obligation. Consider how much time you’ve spent writing comments here — time you could have been doing something actually productive, either to directly save lives or to make money that you could use to save lives. Instead, you chose to let people suffer and die so that you could argue on the internet. It turns out that we are not obligated to offer our every service to anyone who needs help, and hardly anyone looks down on us for it. Hospitals and doctors do have some requirements to follow, but Cauldron were just a group of individuals with no such obligations. They offered what they were willing to offer. I’m not arguing that they weren’t monstrous, but their monstrosity wasn’t due to offering vials to desperate people. That was a good deed.

          14. I’m not saying that Cauldron had any obligation to save Sveta or any other particular person (which is also why I will admit that while they should have saved everyone in Sveta’s village for moral reasons, they were not necessarily legally required to do so). I’m also not saying that parental permission shouldn’t be enough to let them save Sveta’s life. In fact I think that in most situations (especially in emergencies like the one Sveta ended up in) saving someone’s life should not require any explicit permission at all – whether parental or the person’s being rescued (though obviously it is better to ask for it if possible).

            But Cauldron didn’t just save Sveta’s life – they experimented on her knowing fully well how bad the results could be, they erased her memories, and they abandoned her in Russia knowing fully well that she will end up killing multiple people there because she couldn’t control her powers. There is no way parental permission is enough for that. In fact in any civilized country parents (or legal guardians) are obligated to care about their children, and if they agreed to subjected those children to what Sveta went through they would go to prison for a very long time.

            I will admit that it may be not a good idea to bring law into this discussion, because we really don’t know what laws applied in Sveta’s village, and since Cauldron complex was not even on Bet, most Bet laws may not apply there too. Another problem with bringing law into this is that technically all crimes Cauldron committed before GM may fall under post-GM amnesty.

            All this discussion about laws doesn’t change the fact that in my opinion Cauldron members should have felt morally obligated to respect certain human rights of people they abducted regardless of whether those people were about to die or not, and regardless of whether any they were legally bound by any codified human rights or not. But Cauldron never really cared much about traditionally understood morality (just see Number Man’s opinion on morals in his interlude in Worm; I actually even quoted it in the comments section of the previous chapter). For them their goal justified absolutely any means, and sure – it was an extremely important goal, but the problem is that they were never even certain if what they did was necessary to accomplish it, or if everything they did would make any difference. At some point they apparently just decided that forgetting about morality as anything than a convenient tool they could use to achieve certain things makes it easier to pursue their ultimate goal.

            You could say that Cauldron took an extreme position where it comes to answering one of the most important questions Worm asked – whether a goal can justify the means. For them their goal justified all means, and this is something that even Taylor disagreed with during her conversation with Contessa at the end of arc 30 of Worm. Many other characters disagree too of course. One great example in my opinion is Crystal and her reaction to the news that Valkyrie “reaped” one of her opponents to interrogate him in interlude 9.i:

            “It’s capturing someone’s very essence. It’s deeply, deeply uncomfortable. If you’re capturing guys on our side with permission and bringing them back like I’ve seen, I’m okay with that. Otherwise, I’m not cool with it. I’m not going to shoot you or fight you or anything, but… not cool.”
            “I don’t believe in the ends justifying the means, sorry. I think once you start thinking that way, you stop looking for those hard-to-spot answers. But I’m a flying blaster girl. Pew pew. It’s shitty of me to judge you when I got the easy, awesome power, and you got the power with the built-in moral dilemmas.”

            Note what Crystal said about not looking for those “hard-to-spot answers”. This is basically what Cauldron did. I must say that I agree with Crystal on this point. Even Valkyrie said that she may be right, and the world has actually shown her one of many reasons why by making this entire interrogation of captured enemy unnecessary right after their talk:

            Legend sighed.

            “I have one captive. My team has two more,” Valkyrie said.

            “Doesn’t matter,” Legend said.

            “What doesn’t?”

            “The warlord of this area is surrendering. We still need to see how the politics fall down, but they think the army will return to its prior state, and they’ll serve the state, not the challenging party. There’ll be some tidying up to be done, but they will protect the portal.”

            How could Cauldron know that everything they did would not end up just as unnecessary? In fact you could argue that a lot of what they did was exactly as unnecessary as that interrogation Valkyrie planned to do.

          15. > But Cauldron didn’t just save Sveta’s life – they experimented on her knowing fully well how bad the results could be

            These are not two separate things. They could not save Sveta with a vial without also subjecting her to the experiment of consuming a vial. Whether they could have saved her some other non-vial way is as irrelevant as whether I could offer my home to a homeless person instead of five dollars.

            > they erased her memories, and they abandoned her in Russia knowing fully well that she will end up killing multiple people there because she couldn’t control her powers. There is no way parental permission is enough for that.

            Good thing that’s not what I’m arguing! I’ve already said twice that this part was not okay. I even used the word monstrous last time. So, kindly stop molesting the straw-people. They have rights too.

          16. > So, kindly stop molesting the straw-people. They have rights too.

            Whoa, whoa! First you give them rights, then they get to vote, and then what? No way my daughter is going to marry one of these filthy straw men! (because I don’t have one, but that’s beside the point)

          17. @Pizzasgood

            The reason why I brought up the fact that aside from turning Sveta into a monster they also erased her memories and abandoned her in Russia isn’t because I thought that you disagree that the two latter actions weren’t monstrous. I did it because in my opinion you can’t consider those three actions separately. This is because considered together they show that, unlike what you argued, saving Sveta’s life was no good deed at all. Cauldron simply wanted to test a new formula, and had to do it on someone. That someone happened to be Sveta. The fact that the vial happened to save her life doesn’t change the fact that Cauldron’s goal was not to save her, but to use her for their purposes. The way they treated her from that point on was just a continuation of the same thing really – they continued using her. Remember that Cauldron abandoned C53s not in places where they could get help (or at least not in places that were selected because those C53s could get help there), or in places chosen randomly. Cauldron placed those C53s where they thought those C53s could somehow further their goals. If they could find no such place for a given C53, they generally kept those C53s imprisoned not because of any goodness of their hearts, but because they thought that any powered individual could be a potential asset in fight against Scion.

            Of course you could still argue that Cauldron’s actions were justified because they ultimately served to save the many, but I don’t really buy this argument. This is because in my opinion you always need to draw the line somewhere. You need to say – “I’m willing to do this much to individuals to increase the chance of saving the many by this much, but I won’t go any further than that.” Once you draw that line, you will be obviously judged by where you put it, but in my opinion refusing to draw it anywhere is worse than almost any place you could draw it.

            And before you argue that Cauldron drew the line by deciding that they are only going to experiment on people who were about to die, remember that the main reason they chose this policy was that using such individuals as opposed to volunteers for example was that it minimized a risk of information leak. Similarly it is hard to argue that sacrificing Sveta increased the chances of humanity’s survival in any significant way, because when Sveta asked Doctor Mother if her sacrifice had any meaning, Doctor’s answer essentially boiled down to “it was one formula we could discard” – hardly a significant contribution to everyone’s survival, wasn’t it? I could forgive them if Sveta’s case was rare, but we know that it is almost certainly not the case. Cauldron used thousands of experimental subjects, and considering the number of their prisoners, C53s they released, and the number of “subjects” that died right after being given their powers, I think that it is quite obvious that Sveta was a typical case. And even if some experiment lead to someone getting good, useful powers, that person still ended up as Cauldron’s prisoner, just in a slightly better cell – think of Doormaker or the clarvoyant as examples.

            Even Khepri drew some lines despite the fact that it arguably slightly reduced her chances against Scion. Aside from choosing her anchors and deciding not to master them no matter how useful they could be she also refused to arm civilians and throw them at Scion (too little gain for too much cost in lives). Moreover she retained other moral qualities of a decent human being that Cauldron apparently forgot. She remembered to do a good deed when it cost her nothing (this is basically why she ended up putting Amy next to Victoria instead of some random place at the end). She also refused to keep even a single cape improsoned by her power when keeping them served no purpose higher than ensuring her own survival.

            I wonder by the way if it was one, some or all of those deeds, those lines she refused to cross that ultimately not only inspired Ciara to not only turn against Scion, but also to become a hero and to ultimately let Taylor go instead of reaping her power like she originally planned. I also wonder if those same deeds were the ones that ultimately convinced Contessa to save Taylor’s life (which probably gave her just as much benefit as putting Amy next to Victoria benefited Taylor) or to try harder to not “loose sight of the little things” in general as she put it in chapter 30.7. It is actually one of the biggest yet unsolved puzzles about Contessa’s character in my opinion – was her decision to change her behavior after GM something she planned to do ever since the beginning of Cauldron, or was it inspired later by people like Taylor at some later point?

          18. > saving Sveta’s life was no good deed at all. Cauldron simply wanted to test a new formula, and had to do it on someone. That someone happened to be Sveta. The fact that the vial happened to save her life doesn’t change the fact that Cauldron’s goal was not to save her, but to use her for their purposes.

            That just doesn’t make any sense. A doctor saves his patient’s life, but his goal was not to save him but to earn money for his own living – therefore saving a patient’s life was no good deed at all. It only can be a good deed if the doctor doesn’t receive any compensation for his work (and doesn’t even hope to receive it), but still continues to save lives. Though wait – he might do so because he seeks approval from other members of society, so it’s not a good deed even in that case.

          19. By the way that last paragraph obviously wasn’t a part of my argument here. I just thought that since I already discussed the difference between Cauldron and Khepri in that the latter made sure to set some limits for herself while pursuing her goal of defeating Scion (anchors, refusal to throw civilians at him), and how it helped her to retain her humanity afterwards (putting Amy next to Victoria, refusing to keep anyone enslaved to ensure her own safety), it seemed a good opportunity to say a couple words about how those decisions might have inspired people like Ciara and perhaps also Fortuna to try to be better human beings.

          20. @T.T.O.

            A difference between Cauldron and a doctor who saves lives strictly for a paycheck and/or society’s gratitude is that ultimately the doctor doesn’t do any harm to his patients. I won’t call such doctor the best human being out there, because he is acting for less-than-noble reasons, but I also won’t find any reason to blame him for anything, because he caused no harm. And I would pay him – if he wants to make his job a business, not a calling, I’m fine with giving him money just like I would give money to any other businessman who delivered what his client wanted from them (in case of a doctor – life and health of their patient).

            I would however argue that whether you are a doctor or not, if you decide to save someone’s life you are both morally and legally obligated to do it in a way that causes as little harm to the person you are trying to save as possible. In my opinion doing any more harm, especially for personal gain or to further your own goals like Cauldron did makes you just as responsible for causing it to the person you ended up saving as you would be if you caused this harm to a person who didn’t need any help. Therefore I think that Cauldron carries a full weight of guilt for turning Sveta into a monster while saving her life, because they had means to save her without causing her such harm. Everything that followed (erasure of her memories, her abandonment in populated area in Russia where it was obvious she would kill many people) only added to that guilt and further proved that Cauldron’s actions had no moral justification, but even if they didn’t do it it wouldn’t change the fact that they caused Sveta harm by turning her into a monster just to test their formula, and the fact that the formula ended up saving her life doesn’t change my opinion about their guilt, because her survival was not their goal, but just a side effect or their actions they knew would hurt her one way or another. After all even in the unlikely best case scenario that Sveta got some power that would cause her no harm, she wouldn’t be free to just leave Cauldron without her memories intact – she would be their slave or an unwitting tool one way or another.

  18. A question for everyone who wants to channel their inner Dinah right now:

    What sre the chances that we will get a series of interludes or a multi-PoV interlude soon (perhaps even starting next Saturday) that will show us how each of the people and groups that Contessa sent to different places managed to handle their tasks?

    Also what do you think those two syringes will do to that member of Valkyrie’s flock who is supposed to take them? Remember how their effects were described in chapter 15.6:

    One to boost raw power, only to be used if we had absolute confidence in our control. One to boost range, at a loss of power, same stipulation about control.

    A boost to range without loss of power (or even coupled with increase of power) at a cost of complete loss of control?

    1. Flock!Grue could benefit from an increase in range at the cost of power. He never really had control issues to speak of, and his second trigger ability is a gamebreaker with extra range, even if he won’t get much oomph behind anything.
      Wonder if he can tap into Valkyrie’s… the shards probably have some sort of setting against recursive exploits.

      The power boost could go to so many of them that I won’t even try at that one.

      1. > “Valkyrie. Do not wake her up. There is a member of her flock wearing yellow. Make sure she takes the syringes.”

        There may be more than one interpretation of this command leading to different outcomes, but I think the most obvious is that the woman in yellow is supposed to be injected with both remaining drugs at once. In this case Grue gets no boost.

      2. > Wonder if he can tap into Valkyrie’s…

        Heh, this is an interesting variant, but it would be far too broken 🙂 Even more broken than Tohu imitating Eidolon and Valkyrie with shadow-Eidolon. Maybe the limiting factor would be the same as for Valkyrie herself – she can summon more than three shadows, but they would be progressively weaker, so if a shadow-Grue summons more shadows, they will be even weaker. + Grue’s copying by itself gets him weakened powers.

        1. My guess is that he may gain an ability to “harvest” shards and summon “shadows” of people he collected this way as long as he stays connected this way, though not necessarily an access whoever Valkyrie collected.

          Another thing to consider is that even Khepri found it difficult to use Valkyrie’s power directly:

          Glaistig Uaine offered some offensive power as well, but it was tricky and time consuming to dig for the capes I could use. She knew them personally, I had to find them.

          so even if Grue got access to all Valkyrie’s shadows, I wouldn’t be surprised if he couldn’t use them effectively unless he kept Valkyrie’s power long enough to familiarize himself with all of them (that is assuming that being one of the shadows for a couple of years didn’t give him this familiarity already).

  19. Absolutely fantastic chapter. Sveta’s call is pretty much the only way this was going to work out. I guess I assumed it would be a democratic vote, but it seems obvious in hindsight it’s not really possible — everybody needs to agree with it. If the majority chose “B”, was Chastity going to fight them? If they chose something other than “B”, would Bitch get her dogs to stall them, so Teacher can do his thing? Would Kenzie slow her hacking down if it’s not “A”?

    Making Contessa choose cuts the Gordian knot — nobody knows what’s chosen, and they probably all hope it’s their preferred option (Is it really “C”? Or is that Victoria’s wishful thinking? Seems kind of important there was no clear confirmation). Which makes me think it was Contessa’s plan all along — if she hadn’t given them any options, they probably wouldn’t follow her instructions as well. With this, she both has a convenient excuse for people dying (“I gave you the choice, and you threw it back at me”) and everybody is doing their best, as “her bullets”.

    Not that Sveta’s choice came from this kind of logic, but given how much guilt both her and Rain are saddled with, it’s sort of understandable (and probably calculated) for them to wish to avoid responsibility. Not to mention she asked for objections, and it turns out dodging the burden is just fine by everybody else, too.

    I just hope Sveta doesn’t pay for it by being killed by the remaining Harbinger :/.

    1. Interesting point! Maybe Contessa needed for Sveta to refuse to choose. But like Antares noticed, they really did chose – majority voted for option C. But everyone was able to vote without feeling responsible for their choice. This way, Contessa could get a democratic vote, and be able to implement the majority decision without any resistance.

      I don’t think a Harbinger would kill Sveta here – not when there’s so much at stake. -Maybe- one would try something at some other point in time, but I think the Number Lads understand how serious this situation is, and I think they would prioritize eliminating Teacher and keeping the attackers as safe as possible over petty revenge. They’re a pragmatic bunch of boys, after all.

      1. I think that if the Harbingers try to kill Sveta or their wayward brother, they will most likely try to do it either in a blind spot or after the fighting is over. No reason to risk an attack in a situation Contessa was likely to predict and implement a countermeasure for in her past orders.

      2. Maybe they aren’t planning to kill anyone.
        Maybe they’re just going to…. remove them from the equation.

  20. Does anyone else think that it is fitting that Advance Guard apparently got themselves mastered? They always wanted to rush into things, and I think that while attacking a large complex full of masters and traps the right thing to do is to advance slowly and carefully.

    1. To be fair to the Advanced Guard, when was the last time capes attacked a stronghold with this much master opposition?

      1. If we’re measuring in terms of Master QUALITY, then probably last month, when Goddess took over the prison. If we’re talking quantity, then probably two months back, when they attacked the Fallen compound (Where half these masters came from).
        So…. fairly recently?

  21. WTF. I didn’t post anything for several hours, but now I can’t post because I’m posting “too quickly, please slow down”, and my comment gets eaten by WordPress.

    1. It happens from time to time. The problem has been discussed at least a couple of times since I started posting here. It is by no means certain, but the most popular theory at the moment is that this message pops up when the entire server that hosts this comment section receives too many connections in a short time, and hs nothing to do with individual behavior of any individual commentator.

      1. Yeah, I got the same message yesterday when I tried to post in last chapter’s comment section, even though I hadn’t posted anything in a week. Definitely a server issue.

    2. Regarding your comment being eaten, did you press the browser’s back button or did you use the link inside the “please slow down” notice? I use the link inside the notice when this happens, and I don’t think it’s ever eaten my comment. I usually follow that by re-clicking the “Reply” button for whatever thread I’m replying to just to make sure the comment ends up in the right place, though, because I’m not confident that part is automatically preserved. (I might just be paranoid.)

      1. Yup, I used the link and tried to post again. First time it gave me the same message, and the second time it silently ate the comment without giving any messages at all (and if I try to post the comment again, having copied it beforehand, it says that it’s a double post, so probably it got posted but marked as spam or something).

        1. This happened to me too a few times. Sometimes such “eaten” comments never reappeared, sometimes they suddenly popped back after a quick refresh of the site, or only after a few hours or even days of waiting. I guess it means that at least some of the comments are marked as potential spam and stopped for moderation in such situation, and whoever later decides whether to allow them to be displayed here or not takes into account if I successfully posted something similar before they got to moderating those stopped comments. On the other hand if I remember correctly there was at least one time when my comment that got “eaten” never reappeared (or at least not in some reasonable time – like a week) even though I decided not to “force the issue” and re-post what I wanted to discuss after it got gobbled up, so I guess that some “eaten” are truly lost.

          As a side note you may want to know that comments containing more than one link apparently also get held for moderation, I had at least one such comment reappear after a couple days after I posted it. On the other hand I never tried to post more than two comments containing links in rapid succession, so I don’t know what happens if you spam those, and frankly I’m not in a hurry to learn.

  22. I wonder how much Chastity’s ability to “reset” people’s minds can achieve? Can it deal with other master effects? Can it help with brainwashing done without powers?

    Once again it seems that the Heartboken tend to trigger with powers specifically designed to counter their dad’s abilities.

    1. Not remotely surprising. He frequently used his powers to control, manipulate, and torment them, with many of them triggering from this directly, or from situations where it was a background factor. It’s pretty much a given that their powers will be geared towards interrupting other power effects on people, either through direct nullification or by scrambling the power.

      If anything, I’m more surprised we haven’t seen a “type nine” trump from the Heartbroken, those being the masters whose minions have their own powers or power interactions (comes from situations where powers enforced the master-like situation that caused the person to trigger). Then again, that could’ve been Regent.

    2. Difficult to say with Chastity’s reset powers. I had the impression from the last encounter with Valefor that his mastery power is strong and thorough but temporary and easy to break others from, remembering how firings of Swansong’s power appeared to disrupt its hold.

      I suspect Mamma Mather’s power would more likely be reset on all by Chastity maybe slapping MM herself and reawakening her.

      1. As far as I can tell Valefor’s power has long-lasting or perhaps even permanent effects, at least under some circumstances. For example maybe he needed to have a really close, prolonged eye contact to plant a long-lasting suggstion?

        Here are a couple examples of Valrfor’s long-lasting suggstions.

        From chapter 21.3 of Worm:

        He’d played up the telepathy angle before people caught on, and the costume that echoed the Simurgh was a token to that. The fact that he could leave suggestions that only triggered under certain conditions was another part of it. ‘Attack so-and-so next week’. ‘Set fire to your workplace the next time your boss pisses you off’.

        From interlude 4.c (what Valefor said to Rain after he was “disciplined” by Mama Mathers’ shortly before the attack on Fallen compound):

        “Only the guilty are as upset as you seem to be,” Elijah said, his voice smooth, silky, and dangerous.
        “It’s hard, I know,” Elijah said. “I had a hard time with it for the first few years.”
        “I fixed it myself, after getting powers,” Elijah said. “Looked myself in the eye, mirror right in front of me, and I told myself to enjoy it. To like it, my own mother a mere thought away. To be loyal.”

        1. His power also hasn’t reset on Langton, or whatever his name is- Rain and Erin’s friend. And he gave people the order to forget the orders they’d been given until it was time to activate them in Worm.

          I think Chastity’s effect is power-by-power basis. Works on Elijah’s hypnotism, might work on Heartbreaker’s empathic control, probably wouldn’t work on Regent’s puppeteering. Also wakes up Rain from his dream-room.

          1. You mean Lachlan? I think he may be a very different case than most Valefor’s victims. Remember that Glow-worm 0.3 suggests that Lachlan was kidnapped after GM, when Valefor was already blind, but later could be exposed to prolonged brainwashing which could even incorporate other methods than just Valefor’s power. This means that he was probably never exposed to full Valefor’s power (which would presumably require eye contact), but at the same time we don’t know how much it helped him, just like we don’t know how much other factors I mentioned above might have hurt him.

            Perhaps for example Valefor’s commands are only and always permanent if he can make an eye contact, but because the Fallen had so much time to break Lachlan’s mind, and so many brainwashing methods (from repeated sessions with Valefor, through exposure to Mama Mathers’ power, to ordinary torture without any powers involved) they could ensure that his recovery is very slow. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chastity’s power interacted with Lachlan’s brainwashing very differently than it did on Colt due to any of the above factors.

          2. One thing seems clear though. The effects of Valefor’s power did not go away after his death, so there is no chance that Lachlan has just been magically freed from his compulsions. This actually ties all the way back to Worm when Taylor noted in chapter 21.3 that “There was no guarantee that Valefor’s influence would end with his death.”

      2. > I suspect Mamma Mather’s power would more likely be reset on all by Chastity maybe slapping MM herself and reawakening her putting a 2m long Foiled pole through her head, then dumping the body in a pit filled by Byron’s water and switching it to stone.


        1. Killing her might work on its own, but it might not. Killing her after slapping her out has better odds, but it still might not be enough. It might require not only slapping her out, but also slapping her back in to trigger the reset. But there’s also the possibility that knocking her out only suspends the effect, and anyone already affected would resume being affected as soon as she regains consciousness. Therefor, I propose that the execution is only performed after a triple-slap. Slap her out, slap her in, slap her out again, and then murderize her. This probably covers the most bases it’s practical to cover right now, unless the Flockian in Yellow is Canary.

          1. Canary? Interesting thought. Counterintuitive on one level to see her among to flock because we know that she survived until Khepri released her in chapter 30.7, but not impossible after all. And having Canary with more range (presumably a louder voice or something along those lines), and more power (maybe enough to override other mind-affecting powers, especially master effects) could mean lead to a massive breakthrough in the battle for Cauldron complex. Imagine if she could for example just release Teacher’s thralls out of his control (even temporarily), or simply make them stand down long enough to be cuffed.

          2. Well, maybe not cuffed, because who would do it (unless Canary could make them physically restrain themselves), but for example covered in containment foam, which I guess is easier to do, especially if Dragon is still out there and can use something like one of Saint’s suits (or even her own if she still had some small enough other than her “human” body to bring into the complex) to pour it on the thralls – especially those inside and on the edges of the collapsed section.

          3. I love this idea. So if it’s canary her voice presumably becomes more powerful in its hold and gains greater range but she looses control. Not sure control has ever been much of an issue but it could simply mean she can’t give people orders or such.

            Can’t imagine the thralls having much power to resist her influence even if it was at low power though. I guess allies wear headphones, the flock probably already has measures for this anyway. Other than that, if she can still give orders then she just needs to tell everyone to kill/stop teacher and the Allies keep doing what they’re doing while Teacher’s subjects turn on him.

          4. > I guess allies wear headphones, the flock probably already has measures for this anyway.

            Or you just clean up everything with Dragon, who I suspect may be completely immune to Canary’s power. As for the flock’s countermeasures, I think you are right that they would have them… assuming that Canary is with them of course.

            To be clear, as much as I like Pizzasgood’s idea, I doubt that the cape in yellow is Canary, and I will be very surprised if this turns out to be the case. Maybe even to the point where I will propose giving Pizzasgood a thinker/precog rating or something along those lines if their guess turns out to be correct?

          5. You know what? Scratch the precog idea. An ability to identify a person based purely on color of their costume is clearly a…

            fashon-based clairvoyance*

            * the best kind of clairvoyance according to FPD.

  23. From the description, it sounds like the boost formula does something to modify the power in a boosting capacity but also takes something away.

    My immediate thoughts are for Taylor who gained the ability to control people but lost range. I think Grue’s second trigger did something similar. His darkness didn’t smother an area so much but now afforded him powers of those it did touch. The vial likely does something similar to a second trigger or what Amy modified in Taylor.

    …anyone else wondering if Swansong’s desire for power will overwhelm her and cause her to take one of the syringes herself? I could even imagine Contessa accounting for it and picking her for exactly that reason.

    1. > …anyone else wondering if Swansong’s desire for power will overwhelm her and cause her to take one of the syringes herself? I could even imagine Contessa accounting for it and picking her for exactly that reason.

      I don’t think it is very likely that Swansong would want to take these drugs. Both of them are recommended only for people who have perfect control over their powers. Remember that the original Ashley struggled for that control until the time when Bonesaw gave her new tinkertech hands. Remember that her lack of control caused her to accidentally do some horrible things – including killing her own parents. Also remember that Swansong’s current hands give her good, but not perfect control over her power (something her “sister” never let her forget). If Swansong will end up taking those drugs, it won’t be because of her desire for power. It will be an act of desperation.

      1. From 15.6:

        “No cracks, no fractures. It won’t slow me down. Besides, if I took other drugs, I couldn’t safely take the drugs Shin gave us.”

        The power altering drugs the Coalition government of Shin had given us. One to boost raw power, only to be used if we had absolute confidence in our control. One to boost range, at a loss of power, same stipulation about control. One to just scupper every aspect of a power and render it useless, if we could get it into someone’s bloodstream.

        “You want that, huh?” I asked, as I got my breastplate on.

        “More power? Of course.”

        1. Whoops, I somehow managed to forget about this one already. Looks like Damsel of Distress may end up causing some disaster again. Would remorse after accidentally killing a Heartbroken or a fellow Breakthrough member after taking a drug which reduces control count as enduring a torment? Would getting exiled for it count as “being removed from the equation”?

          That said, I still think that Swansong is unlikely to take the drugs. She keeps saying that she wants to get all more power in almost every meaning of the word, but when was the last time she actually did something to get it? I think that a lot of her talk about it is just that – talk. She tries to maintain her old image, but deep down she is perfectly aware of what the cost of getting more power could be, and seems less and less willing to pay it. Remember for example how she reacted when Shin’s authorities offered to give her what would basically be a private kingdom.

          1. On the other hand perhaps Swansong’s comment about not taking other drugs also means that she hasn’t taken her meds for bipolar syndrome after returning from Shin, and presumably also while she was there? If this is the case, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was currently more irrational and thus likely to take Shin drugs that she knows may make her loose control than her behavior over last few arcs would suggest.

          2. Sorry, looks like I screwed up again. I’ve just run a quick search in Google, and it appears that what Ashley has is never, or almost never called bipolar syndrome in English. The preferred term seems to be bipolar disorder.

          3. I tend to think she had the smarts to recognise Shin’s offer as a trap. In addition, they had seen by then that the other supposed parahuman rulers appeared to be very under foot.

            As Vicky noted in the same 15.6, Ashley is driven to ascend. We haven’t seen misfires for quite some time, or suggestion of caution, so it’s possible they worked out something with her hands to turn Her power completely off and on.

            I agree however, that with her control issues, it would likely be a very regrettable act. She has some control over a narrow, longer blast of her power or wider and shorter by adjusting her hands, the power boost might well cause her to loose that nuance or even leave the power permanently on which would certainly torment her for quite some time. Alternatively, the power finds other avenues of release, such as her feet, eyes, mouth or even her entire body which would make clothes from her hair all the more important.

          4. The thing is Shin’s offer is just one example. Another would be a conversation between Brandish and Damsel during the expedition to Earth N. Remember when Damsel argued for grabbing wealth and power, while Brandish said that having a satisfaction coming from a knowledge that she was successful both as a professional and a mother was something more valuable? Swansong seemed to have some doubts which side of the argument to support. Later, when Damsel announced her decision to leave and purse her dream of building her villainous empire Swansong stayed with Breakthrough.

            This makes me think that there are things Swansong values more than power – like friendship with her teammates, and some other people (mostly certain Heartboken). Taking Shin drugs puts this friendship at risk, so I think it is not something that Swansong would do lightly.

  24. 4. > This would divide us.
    This actually the only point (IMHO) good enough to justify Sveta’s option E “we’re not going to choose”. But it is not good point, it is selfish when so many lives at stake.
    Сlose vote could solve the issue with arguing and blaming each other. But time was short and there is Kenzie observing.

    I support lulu’s suspicion (above) that it was test from Contessa for the company…
    Like – choose A or B and you are villains, start fighting on the options – and you are not worthy as a group.

    1. On the other hand, no one in the company should be blind spot for Contessa, so she should have known the result of votes, following debates, Sveta’s decision and conclusion. If yes, then given choices and result should have another purpose than choosing path. And it could be to show Breakthrough that they actually united, ready for self sacrifice and not villains. This should help them won over Teacher’s army.

  25. Here is an unpleasant thought – if Sveta gets killed by Number Boys, I wonder if she could be “resurrected” as a member of the flock… but only in a body that looks and acts like it did before Mr. Bought got his hands on her? It would be just like loosing her prosthetic body, but much worse, wouldn’t it?

    1. Difficult to say. As far as we know, the bodies are made by a combination of Goblin King and Riley, then Valkyrie puts the shadows into the body. With that in mind you would think they could make whatever body the shadow wanted.

      BUT, in Valkyrie’s arc she noted that their bodies didn’t have all their original characteristics with some incorporating elements of their costumes or other factors.

      This might be about the body needing to be compatible with the shadow, so maybe GK or Riley needed to incorporate those elements for the shadows to integrate with it or the body changes as part of the shadow integrating with it.

      1. The fact that members of the flock end up having bodies that incorporate certain oddities, like elements of their old costumes (similar to how Valkyrie’s shadows look) makes me think that their bodies have to match how they looked as shadows for the “resurrection” to be successful. In other words if Sveta’s shadow would look like her old body, then it wouldn’t correctly attach to a body that looks more like Mr. Bought made for her.

        In other words it would be Sveta’s shard that would decide how Sveta is supposed to look like, and I think there is a good chance the shard would prefer a shape close to what it originally gave her.

        1. I figure some of the oddities are the fact that the bodies are made by Nilbog, and he doesn’t have total control over what his creations look like, or alternately doesn’t have the ability to perfectly reproduce the human form. Most of the egregious Nilbog-caused distortions are probably polished out by Riley, but likely not all, and if they’re building bodies based on the shadows- which are really the only thing they might have to tell them what some capes looked like, bearing in mind the world ended 2 years ago- then some distortion is inevitable.

          And if Sveta became a shadow, she’d look like she does now- at first. She’ll distort as her shard forgets what she looked like, but she won’t go back to looking how she did, I think. Her shard is probably happier now with her- she’s using her power more, and in interesting ways, and best of all, she’s not fighting it as much. It’s sacrificed some of its control, but now Sveta’s going off and doing things in a way that she’s not done before. She’s been involved in five big events now- the Attack on Cauldron, Gold Morning, the Fallen Raid, the Prison Siege and now the Second Attack on Cauldron. In the first two, Sveta played a minor part, spending a lot of time enclosed in a metal sphere. In the next two, she was still enclosed, but in a mechanical body-suit. Now, she has a humanoid body and no suit and is not restrained in any way at all, using her power to its fullest extent.

        2. > In other words if Sveta’s shadow would look like her old body, then it wouldn’t correctly attach to a body that looks more like Mr. Bought made for her.

          Make a body which looks like her old one, get the shadow to settle in it, remake the body. If it worked so fine once, why wouldn’t it be repeatable. Besides, the shard has already got some experience with a more human body.

    2. Unpleasant indeed, and the suspense of every time the Numboys get mentioned in relation to Sveta was bad enough already 😛

  26. Interesting how Contessa giving terrible advice without her true power is still a powerful precog.

  27. Work with me, I thought. Grab it, then freeze.

    The long shaft of metal had been a beam holding something up, and now lay amid the rubble. The Wretch gripped it, and with the noise and the dust that created, it gave away my position.

    At this point I’m wondering how much longer it will take Victoria to realize that her passenger can not only hear her every thought (something she probably knows already), but is actually doing its best to do what she wants it to, and is getting better at it…

    1. I suspect she’d only realise that if the shard directly acknowledges direct orders from her at one point, else Victoria may consider those better results a simple consequence of getting the hang of her new forcefield – she’s been using it relatively consistently the last few months, contrasting with almost never for the 2 years between GM and Ward. Plenty of powers demand practice.
      She could think that better concentration is key, that ‘Work with me‘ is a keyword that puts her in the right mindset, or simply that she got used to managing all the extra limbs she never had to before, with the precision required to do the right movement.

      1. > I suspect she’d only realise that if the shard directly acknowledges direct orders from her at one point

        This makes me think again about that method of communication based on blinking that Victoria used during her early days in the asylum, and later from the other side – to communicate with Nailfarer. If the Wretch can blink, it could be enough to establish a direct two-way communication. I guess later it could evolve into something like “one scratch for yes, two scratches for no”… and who knows, maybe one day Victoria’s forcefield will even manage to learn how to use something like that keyboard Victoria herself ended up using later in the asylum?

  28. I have to say I really love how Contessa’s power turned from an “I win” into a sort of trolley problem, and I also really love how the characters discussed it and how it turned out, and the suspense of wondering what was going to happen.

    Goodbye, Valefor!

  29. Why do you think Contessa sent Citrine back to the city? Could there be another political crisis brewing? Maybe connected to the fact that most heroes left, while most villains remained, or to the fact that without the heroes the city is likely to be especially vulnerable to external invasion? Or could it be that Citrine’s power will be needed there? Remember that according to Victoria she can probably save people from time effects, and I guess that her power may mess with certain other kinds of areas altered by other powers. Maybe even portals or something that may be created by broken triggers, or whatever Teacher may be planning to unleash upon the city?

    1. >Why do you think Contessa sent Citrine back to the city?

      Later, it turns out that Contessa just really doesn’t like Citrine, and is sending that Number Man stealing bitch back to the town so that she can arrive just in time to be hit by Teacher’s Power-nuke.

      Never mind the fact that for the past decade “Path to making Number Man love me” has been returning straight “404, path not found” errors three times per day, this is personal.

      1. As fun as an idea of shipping Contessa and Number Man is, I have little doubt that she knows just how amoral (and probably completely psychpathic) he is (unlike Contessa herself in my opinion). Contessa can do better, and if you compare Number Man’s interlude from Worm with Jeanne’s from Ward, I think that you will find that those two are a perfect match.

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