From Within – 16.5

Previous Chapter                                                                                       Next Chapter

I took Kenzie’s keyboard-sized bit of tech that she’d brought with her, slinging it over my shoulder with a strap she’d attached.  I would have let the others do the carrying, but the others were working.  Huntsmen, Tristan, and Sveta pushed a car that had been put into Neutral out of the middle of the road.  Rain still had his silver blade and was chopping down the fully-grown wooden growths.  With Backwoods out of the way, they didn’t seem to be triggering with proximity.

If I’d been in costume, I might have felt like I needed to do more while in the public eye.  Instead, I surveyed and I took a break to cough violently for a minute.  My head pounded.  I’d taken the time to go talk to the people who’d lost property.  Kenzie had taken pictures, she said, of the damage, license plates, and what she’d seen of the looting.  I’d asked the car owners where they were headed.

Kenzie stood next to me, and it wasn’t the normal kind of standing-next-to.  We all had our normal expectations of personal space, and she stood within mine, as close as she could get to hugging herself against my side without actually touching me.  I’d nearly elbowed her in the head while attaching the strap for the keyboard not-cube.

I put a hand on her shoulder.

“Tonight?” Kenzie asked, looking up at me.

“Hm?”

Making the sound made me cough.

“Rain’s thing that we were just talking about.  Tonight.  Um.  It’s about noon now, I think if I got some things together and checked old readings, ummmm… I think I still have readings from the Shin prison.  And he’s slept over at other times.  I have most of what I need.  I could really use some tips from Ashley, um, Damsel, but that’s not super needed.”

“Tonight was sooner than I was thinking,” I admitted.  “Damsel?”

“Tonight is better, isn’t it?  They’re saying things could break like they almost did here, sometime today or tomorrow.  Isn’t it better to be soon?”

“Yeah.  Yeah, it’s better.”

“Cool,” she said, before dropping her head, hands up to her hair.  “Shoot!  Not cool, ugh.”

I could feel her shoulder tense beneath my hand.  “What?”

“Some things I need are back at my workshop.  The one I set up with my other team.  Uuugh.”

“Alright,” I said.  “It’s up to you.  It doesn’t have to be tonight-”

“But it should.”

“Probably.  And we were talking about this as a conversation that needed to happen.”

“Ugghhhh.”

I rubbed her shoulder.  She let her head wobble with the motion.

“They’re out of the city, by the way,” she reported.  “They got into a pair of cars.  Ash- Damsel of Distress is riding shotgun.  There’s less cameras near them now.”

“Okay.  But you can track them?”

“I put a tracker on Torso.”

“I’d say that’s perfect, but I don’t like you getting that close to the action, especially with an unknown power.”

“Sorry,” she said.

I gave her shoulder one last rub, then stuck my cold hand in my pocket.  What was I even supposed to say here?  What would Ashley have said, that would be so out of sync with normal expectations but so right for Kenzie?

Who’s going to stick around to tell me I’m awesome if you go and get your head smashed in?

No, not that blatant about the ego.  But…

“Who’s going to tell me to use challah for French toast if you go and get your head smashed in?  I like having you around, Kenzie.”

After a pause, she let her head tilt left, resting against my arm.

“And for the record,” I said.  “I’m saying that to Kenzie, not Lookout.  I like Lookout too, but I think we got along from the start, when we first met.  That was before tinker powers came into play.”

“I always get along with people at first.  Usually, when it counts.  Then I ruin it.  It’s dangerous, saying stuff like how you like having me around.”

“I can handle dangerous,” I said.

Of course, finishing that sentence made my throat tickle, and I had another coughing fit.

At the very least, when I was done, I could feel Kenzie’s head trying to find its place resting against my arm, while she laughed to herself.

I craned my head down to see, and there wasn’t a smile on her face.  If anything, she looked pensive, jaded, eyes half-lidded and downcast, even as she shook with the last few chuckles.  I felt in the moment like she’d grown up by years in the past few months.

It was a fucking shame, in so many ways.

The others rejoined us.  Tristan signaled, and I nodded.

My hand on Kenzie’s back to give her the initial impetus, we started walking, heading over to the Huntsmen.

“Good work,” Snow White said.  Etna was just a bit behind her, floating while leaning against a car, still holding the glass spear.

“I mentioned we might be able to trace them.  We can, we have a tracker on them, and we know they’re leaving the city, heading into the woods to the west.  Do you think you’d be willing to negotiate to know where your rivals’ HQ is?”

“What are you looking to negotiate for?” Snow White asked.

“A ride.”

“As much as I’d like to accept, we have other obligations.”

“The moving trucks?” Etna asked.

“Yeah.  They’re only available for a few hours,” Snow White said.  She turned to us, to me.  “Packing up our base.  I’d invite you to come and see if there’s a chance to make a detour, but we’ll be loading up two of our apartments as well.”

“I just helped someone move,” Sveta said.  “It’s a pain.”

“Any other time, I’d put off the moving trucks, but they’re booked solid.  They’ve taken trucks from the city’s construction companies and they have them hauling houses twenty-four seven, and it’s still not enough.”

That made me regret not packing up more, kind of.

“I can take ’em,” Etna said.  “It might be a bit cramped.”

“Yeah?” Snow White asked.

“I don’t have anything to move.  It lets me be useful, I can bring some of the info back.”

There was a brief confab within the Huntsmen.  I took the opportunity to check with the others, more in the sense of looks and shrugs than anything else.

No objections.  If anything, my own reservations about Etna, however small, were probably overblown compared to everyone else’s.

“Good luck,” Snow White said.

“You too,” Tristan said.  He shook her hand.

“Hey,” I said, just to get their attention before they left.  “If this thing happens, this shattering of the worlds, the damage, whatever Teacher was working for.  What are you going to do?”

“How bad are we thinking it’s going to be?” Snow White asked.  “Gold Morning bad?”

“Maybe.”

“We survive.  Scatter.  I think we stick together as a team, we keep doing what we’ve been doing for a while.  Put arrows in the worst bad guys and manage the rest.”

“That simple, huh?”

Snow White shrugged.  “Simple yes.  Easy no.”

I nodded.

She gave us a short wave by way of farewell, then left with the rest of her team, leaving us with Etna.

Etna led us back to the portal, a couple of blocks and an elevator ride away.  From there, we crossed a part of the complex to reach another portal that extended further out.

It felt like an interminably long time, especially because Etna was the type to kill any conversation or small talk by giving short answers that were impossible to follow up on.  I would have thought she didn’t want to chat, but her responses were earnest, and what little I could see of her expression suggested she was trying to be nice and she was pleased and bewildered that we were taking her switch from villain to hero in good stride.

And I wanted to reflect that attitude of hers so much, but I was mostly being quietly down and introspective, all of my defenses up so I could fend off intrusive thoughts.  I was doubly annoyed with everything and doubly distracted because I couldn’t fly.  I’d stopped flying to try to make an ‘I’m disarming’ point to someone who didn’t see it as me being armed, and I couldn’t conscience using my power until we were away from the highest danger part of the city.

Fuck it.  I was grumpy, I was letting myself be grumpy.  My ego felt bruised after Mockument’s had hatched that creation, and I felt so many different instances of bad for people that I felt bad overall.

Felt bad for Kenzie.  Felt bad for Tristan.  Felt bad for the dozen or so people or families that had seen their cars get trashed and their life’s possessions totaled.

It felt so petty, to go after these guys with half our rationale being to get jewelry and clothes back, but… it was important too.

We found ourselves back outside and the group trudged along sidewalks that hadn’t been cleared of snow in the last day.  I spent a minute tuning everything out, my head pounding, my heart trying to channel every bit of negativity into hating the snow and the winter.

As long as the trudge felt, the use of portals had let us cross some surprising ground.  Flying, the trip might have taken me fifteen or twenty minutes.  As it was, it took maybe twelve, and the rest of the team got to come with.

Etna and I at least floated above the snow, but I flew low enough that my toes trailed in the snow, so I could give Kenzie a hand if she reached up to get over the snowbanks that piled up at each intersection, barring the way to crosswalks.

“Any tips on making weapons with a power?” Tristan asked.  Most of the attempts at conversation seemed to be him taking stabs at it.

“Not really,” Etna said, holding up her glass spear, as if to launch into another bit of conversation or explanation.

Nope, her arm dropped.

“I know we come at it from pretty different directions, but there are factors like weight, balance, edges… the sharper the edge, the more brittle it’s going to be.”

“I run into that with making knives,” Rain said.  “I made a mistake using too pure a steel once.”

“Exactly,” Tristan said, enthused.  “Do you run into that, Etna?”

“Oh.  I guess so.  I figured that out as I went.  I never really thought about it.”

“Ah, so it’s instinct,” Tristan said, “But even with instinct, there are different kinds.  For a parahuman, there’s the instinct that comes from you, and there’s the instinct that comes from the connection between you and power.  Or you and agent.”

“I like that a lot,” I said.  “You could say there’s an instinct that comes straight from the agent.”

“You can definitely say that,” Sveta said.  “I’ve been fighting it for all my life.  It’s only recently I got to stop fighting and finally relax.”

“I think most of my instincts are learned and come from me,” Rain said.  “Or is it more accurate to say I’d like to think that?  How do you know?”

“You know,” I said, at nearly the same time Sveta did.

“Then I think I know it’s me,” Rain said, his tone a little different, like he’d been subdued a bit.

“Three kinds, then,” Tristan said.  There was an energy to his mannerisms and tone that wasn’t always there.  I might have thought it was related to him being away from the hospital bed or energized from the fight, but it wasn’t.  Not exactly.  He turned to Etna, “Any theories or thoughts?”

“Hmmm,” she said.  “Not really.  But I’ll think about it.”

“Are the Huntsmen treating you well?” Sveta asked, her tone bright.

“Yes, they really are.  Nice, but they’re very serious when it comes to the cape stuff.”

“Good serious?” Tristan prodded.

“Yep.  It’s good.”

Tristan was strong enough to move through the snow without difficulty, due to that small boost his powers gave him to his physical capabilities.  He put a hand back to give Kenzie a hand, while I took her other hand.  We lifted her up and over a tough patch of footing.

I could just see how much agony he was in.  The energy he was putting into bashing his head into this brick wall was a consequence of his stubbornness and his extroverted nature catalyzing together.  I could picture him dragging fingernails down his cheeks.

It was comically amusing at a time comical amusement felt out of place.  My thoughts were on Mockument and on Swansong, on Kenzie and on Byron.

“You remind me of my brother when he was a kid,” Tristan told Etna, his tone still light.

“Really?  Should I take that as a complement?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “He’s a good guy.”

“Neat.”

More agony for Tristan.  Ten or fifteen minutes of this.

“Here’s my car.  Sorry it’s a bit of a mess.”

The hatchback had been painted a bold red, but aside from some rust on the passenger side door, there wasn’t much mess that I could see.  Her car was cleaner than just about anyone I knew, and even the back was mostly vacant, with a second spare tire within.  She had to unlock all four doors manually with her key.  It was one of the post-Gold Morning cars.  Early-era by the look of it.  In a world where everything went perfectly, humanity got over its current crisis and we found our equilibrium, I could imagine it being a collector’s item.

Everyone climbed in.  I took the back seat, Kenzie on one side of me, keyboard not-cube on the floor by my feet.  Sveta took the next spot in the back seat, followed by Rain.  Tristan in front.  Sveta loosened up her body, looked for a space to occupy, and then went over the back seat into the trunk area, looking over the top.

“You drive, huh?” I asked.

“Yep,” Etna said.

“I can, but I couldn’t convince myself to get a car when I fly most of the time.”

“Oh, that makes sense,” she said.

I wondered if I’d given her any brain damage after all.

The car was in the process of pulling out when something struck the windshield, which made Etna hit the brakes, hard.  Cracks spiderwebbed out from the point of impact.

Some of us climbed out, to look for the source of the attack.  I was one of them, floating up to get a better perspective.

There were maybe ten people close enough to have thrown- it looked like a car part.  Ten people close enough, twenty people in total all standing along a street with mostly one-story businesses.

They stared.  Their attention was wholly on us.  The classroom dynamic of every kid looking at the class clown that had just disrupted things wasn’t in effect.

“Let’s go,” Etna said.

“You’ve had this happen before?”

“No,” she said.  “But I’ve heard about incidents with capes and angry people.  Let’s just go.”

“Are you sure?” Sveta asked.

“I can fix windshield damage.  I don’t know what I can do if other parts of the Etnamobile get damaged.”

There was none of the eager awkwardness from before in her voice.

“Ballsy,” Rain said.

Tristan was looking around.  “It’d be more ballsy if they stepped up and admitted who did it.”

“I know who did it,” Kenzie said.

Of course.

“Let’s leave it alone,” I told her.  “If we make an issue of it, we make ourselves look worse, not better.”

“I joined villains because it seemed fun and easy,” Etna said.  “Everything else seemed so much harder.  There’s money in being a villain.  The costumes are better.”

“Ehh,” I said.  I remembered Etna’s skimpy fire sorceress outfit from Hollow Point, before the weather had cooled.

“They really are,” Kenzie said.

Traitor, I thought, with no venom to the thought.

“But it isn’t easier.  It wears on you, you have to worry about being caught.  People will like you from a distance because you’re cool, you’re dark, you’re edgy.  Then they hate you to your face, even if they don’t talk about it because they’re afraid.  I went hero and… they hate us anyway?”

“Might be because so many people chose being a villain first, because they thought it’d be easier and more fun, even if it meant stepping on the civilians along the way,” I said.

“Oof,” Etna grunted.  She sounded genuinely wounded as she said, “That’s fair.”

“It’s fair but a little mean of Antares to say,” Sveta said, poking me.  “She’s in a mood.”

“Sorry,” I said.  “I really do think it’s great you joined the side of the heroes, and I think the costume looks cool.”

“Thank you.”

“That’s not just me saying it because Tress is jabbing at me.  I don’t have the energy to be fake.”

Etna made an amused sound, which had the benefit of not being another conversation aborter.  At the same time, Sveta stopped poking me.

“Turn right,” Kenzie said.  “Then head pretty much straight until we’re out of the city.”

As Etna turned right, I let my head go left, resting it against the window.  I partially closed my eyes, tuning almost everything out.

The buildings to our left grew thinner, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been in a vehicle to watch the city go by, that hadn’t been me with the Patrol.  Jasper, heading to the community center.

As the buildings got thinner and further between, I could see past them to the city proper.  I could make out the slice of the highest density portals all mixed in together, like a pane of glass that had broken, each segment a different piece of sky, many of them brighter than the sky we had here.  The wind that came through seemed to repel clouds and storm, as they emanated high-pressure air.

Was that going to be the entire city?  How much of the rest of our world would follow it?

I didn’t sleep, but I wasn’t wholly awake either.  Kenzie used the windshield to start talking about glass and lenses with Etna, and Etna didn’t seem to know how to disengage from a conversation with a tinker who was deep into her subject material.  Kenzie needed the distraction and we’d exhausted our collective conversation starters with Etna inadvertently shooting every single one of them down, so I didn’t expend the energy to steer Kenzie away.

My thoughts turned to the upcoming conversation, ways to handle it, and from there they spun off in a bunch of different directions.

I brought up a few with the team, and we had a back and forth, before the conversation died for reasons having nothing to do with Etna.

I lost myself in thought and in the absentminded tracking of the sensations of power.  If I paid attention to my flight while sitting in the car, could I feel the difference as we got further away, like I’d felt a difference while rising in the air?

The drive felt like it took the question mark at the end of that question and dragged it out into a long, unconscious drone.  A question without firm answer.

My eyes opened as the car slowed, rumbling over a frosty dirt road that had barely been looked after.  Kenzie was leaning into me, fiddling with a button, a needle-thin screwdriver, and what looked like the world’s smallest arc-welder, her cupped hand containing the brilliant light.

“Slower,” Kenzie said, without looking up.  “We’re close enough they could hear us coming.”

“Okay,” Etna said.  She slowed down considerably, to the point the car had trouble making it over roots that cut across the top of the road.

I opened my car door and slipped out while the car was still moving.

The woods were dense on either side of the road, and the ‘road’ such as it was, was just a strip of dirt cutting an irregular path through the trees, less like it was intended to take a straight line and more like they’d cut down as few trees as they could get away with while still getting where they wanted to be.

The house itself was half concrete and half prefab, thick walls on the lower section and the side facing downhill, slabs like shipping container walls locked into each other on the other faces.  The prefab slices were construction yellow, but it had been painted over in a paint that wasn’t entirely sticking.  The effect was almost cool, because it looked like it was glowing through.

The chimney smoked, and two cars were parked under one corner of the building, which was held up by a pillar.

The others gathered below, Etna momentarily looking like a deer as she bobbed up and down to avoid branches above and annoying undergrowth below.

“Do we knock?” Rain asked.

“We could,” Tristan answered.  “But I don’t think that would go over well.”

“Wait,” Kenzie said.  “This is my specialty.  Here, Etna, take this.”

Etna took the button.  “What do I do with it?”

“It’s a gift,” Kenzie said, while she busied herself with her phone.  “For giving us a ride.  It gives you a cool effect, but probably only for thirty minutes.  Use it to look intimidating and cool or if you have an event and want to look cool for the cameras or some junk like that.  It was supposed to be for a friend, but I swapped out the aesthetic tiles and mapped in molten glass and regular fractal glass patterns.  Just press the button when you want to use it- not here!  Not here, or you’ll give us away.”

“Uh, okay.  Thank you.”

“And use it before the next year is up.  Then dispose of it somewhere far from any people, or deplete its battery.  Just to be sure nobody gets hurt.”

“A-alright.  Thank you.”

“Here,” I said.  I had my wallet in my jacket pocket.  “Money for gas, and for the windshield, while we’re at it.”

I forked over the bills.  Etna handed me back a twenty-five New Dollar bill, waving it off as too much.

Kenzie got Rain to pull out his phone, because he’d apparently let her tinker with it, then had it display a feed from an external camera outside the forest headquarters.  I could see us- or the general area where we were, though we were too small and muted to be easily made out.

Her own phone showed the interior.  The villains were settling in.  A few were working on first aid.

She motioned for me to get my phone out, then positioned herself so she wasn’t looking at any of the phones, instead staring out toward the cabin.

My phone flickered, then showed an image similar to the interior shot.  All villains were highlighted in yellow, their names above their heads, while the rest of the place was there in shades of blue.  X-ray vision.

“I’m going to point out again that you’ve got way too much tech packed into your eyes, Lookout,” Precipice said.

“I used the concepts from the contact pads you showed me, to have eyeballs outside the head, remember?”

“I remember.”

“And then I figured, why not just have eyeballs inside my head like a normal person?  Phase them in, each one on a different channel, with the contact pads going straight on or near the brain?  Fake optical nerves, minimum connection issue.  Like how you talked about your stuff working better if you planted the pads nearer to the spine or the median nerves of the arms.”

“I have about six different problems with that,” Rain said, his voice low.  “Seven, now that I think about it.  How hot are you running?”

I put my hand on her forehead.  “I’m not feeling anything.”

“I’m not running any side routines on my brain,” Kenzie said, sounding exasperated.  “Look, first of all, we have a job.  If I zoom in, focusing in on the car… the trunk is still in there.”

The phone I was holding up had the x-ray vision.  Kenzie had tuned the view to capture the loose luggage shape in the back of the car.

“We could sneak down there, crack that open, and steal it.  No fight, obviously we wouldn’t get a chance to talk to Ashley, or it would be an ugly and unfriendly talk, but it’s an option, okay?”

“I feel like you’re distracting us,” Rain said.  “I have six problems with your tech load and how you’re carrying it.  I’m not even a good tinker and there are red flags here.”

“Can we deal with it after?” Kenzie asked.  She pointed.  “Mission.  Ashley.

“Damsel,” I said, quiet.  “Not Ashley.”

She sighed.

“I get it.  I’ve been doing the mental flip-flop in my head, myself,” I told her.  “That’s Damsel, that’s Ashley, that’s Damsel.  But that first talk was to look for Ashley and reach out.  This time, we’re here for Damsel.”

“And Damsel’s here for us,” Kenzie said, turning her head.  “Did they see us?  Do they have a thinker?”

“No thinker,” Etna said.

The Deathchester group was leaving the headquarters.  They fanned out at first, which suggested they hadn’t directly seen us.

“I was careful with the camera,” Kenzie protested.  “Shoot!”

Tristan reached out to touch my shoulder.  We looked at Sveta, who nodded, then at Rain, who didn’t protest.

We stepped out of the cover of the trees, away from our parked vehicle.

Deathchester lined up, facing us.  A few of them had stayed inside.  Sidepiece was thankfully one.

Gibbet reached for a log from a stack of firewood, and broke off a stretch of bark.  She dropped into a crouch and pressed it into the ground before turning it like a key, ignoring the hardness of the ground she was turning it through.  All around her, like a ripple expanding out, jagged, thin walls of wood stabbed up and around us.

Until we were surrounded, walled in.  Not that it was much of a wall.  Cardboard thin.

I supposed her use of the gallows before had been a style thing.

“We didn’t see a tail,” Trophy Wife said.

“How did you know we were here?” Kenzie asked.

“I’ll tell you our secret if you tell us yours,” Damsel said.

More at ease, even surprised with a situation like this, than she’d been back in the city center.  Oddly so.  Because she was further from the thin ice?

“Can I?” Kenzie asked Tristan, before looking to me.  “It’s a security thing.”

“Yeah,” I said.  I saw Tristan nod at the same time.

“Tracker,” Kenzie said.  “On Torso.”

“I told you to check yourselves over, you in particular,” Damsel hissed the words, before striking Torso on the back of the head.  He toppled, landing on frozen earth, the back of his head scuffed by the claw-marks.

“How did you find me?”

“You’re getting sloppy,” Damsel said.  “I hired someone because I had a sneaky little suspicion that a sneaky little heroine would be snooping around.  Epeios.”

Kenzie groaned.  “He’s going to have his greasy fingerprints all over my stuff, now!”

“With way too much of that stuff in your head,” Rain muttered, under his breath.

“No whispering,” Damsel said, extending a bladed finger our way.  She seemed pleased with herself.  “We might get paranoid, and I destroy anything that might make my underlings paranoid.”

“You got your trial run as leader, Damsel,” Trophy Wife said.  “It doesn’t mean we’re all underlings.”

“Shh,” Damsel said.  “I’m leader until someone says otherwise.  If you want to oust me, do it formally, not in front of the riff-raff.”

“Can we talk?” I asked.  “You scored your win, walked away.  I want to strike some deals.  Think of it as walking away with something more.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite understand you, with that mask in the way,” she said.  “Mockument, could you do us all a favor and bring us out an impartial translator?”

“Do that and you’ll be picking a fight,” Tristan warned.  “We can’t negotiate with a distraction like that.”

She waved Mockument off.  “Since you’re pleading with me, I’ll be gracious.”

“Sure,” Tristan said.

“Three things we want,” I said.

“Greedy.  You know, it’s really hard to take you seriously, Antares, when I’ve seen the ugliness that lies within you.”

I tensed.

She smiled.

The cast of figures around her were either stone-faced or masks covered their faces.  Mockument was utterly still and expressionless, as were Trophy Wife and Nailbiter.  Gibbet and Backwoods had masks, and Hookline and Sidepiece were inside.

I answered, careful to keep my voice steady.  “We could have come after you hard, with the stunts you were pulling and the risk you were putting all of us in.  The only reason we’re here talking to you is that we’ve seen what lies within you.”

Her smile dropped away.  She went completely, dangerously still.

Maybe it wasn’t the best move from a diplomacy standpoint, but it was satisfying on a visceral level.

“We want the loot back.  That’s thing number one.  it’s not a lot to you, but it means a ton to those evacuees, sentiment-wise.  We’ll pay you more than it’s worth, you won’t need to fence it.  Provided you agree to our other terms.”

“What if we want to keep it?” Gibbet asked.  She still crouched.

“Clothes too big for you and random jewelry?” I asked.

She shrugged.

“It makes sense,” Trophy Wife said.  “And we need to sell it to give the boys their cut of the earnings.”

Damsel cleared her throat.

“But-” Gibbet started.

Damsel’s power flickered along the blades of one hand.  Gibbet shut up.

Maintaining control.

“Two,” I said, while she remained silent, glaring.  “Swansong provided the Wardens with information about dreams.  She got money for it.  She’s gone now.  Lookout wants some details to prep something we’re looking to do tonight, you want money, do you think we can talk about a short term deal?  Brief twenty or thirty minute conversation, couple hundred New Dollars to share with your team?”

“What dreams in particular have your kiddie all up in a tizzy?” Damsel asked.  She paced a bit, now.  Pacing was better than dangerous stillness.  “Do you want to know if I have any fond memories of Swansong?  Are you having a service tonight?”

“No,” Kenzie said.  “No service yet.    All the places we’d normally hold one are evacuating.”

“We can get into which dreams when we’ve agreed on prices,” Tristan said.

Damsel shrugged.  She flexed her claws.

She was dangerous.  In another time and place, I wouldn’t have wanted to work with her.  But Damsel of Distress was chaos, and we needed chaos under control.  The only alternative was to extinguish her, and I was pretty sure that the ramifications of that would be far far worse than at least trying this.

“Third thing,” I said.  “We can’t have repeat incidents.  We need you to back off, for real.  We need to know we don’t have to worry about you attacking our most vulnerable areas or causing interdimensional disasters because you’re willing to take those risks.”

“But Antares,” she said, putting an inflection on the name.  “You’re prostrating yourself before me, offering me all of these things.  Money, free reign, escape.  I bet I could ask anything of you.  I know you like your discussions over tea or bread and wine with black and white movies.  I know our deluded Swansong enjoyed her breakfasts with her desperate little supplicant, but those things don’t have any hold over me.  Why would I tie my hands?”

She moved her claws to demonstrate just what hands would be tied.

I could see too much of her eyes, too much energy in how she moved and moved those claws.  She was bringing up details she had no right or ability to know.  Things she’d picked up from the dreams, from Swansong.  Ashley.  Using them.

Earlier, I’d thought maybe she was less on edge because she was further from the thin ice.  Now, I was thinking it was different.  She’d been caught off guard back there, and any variation of Ashley or Damsel that was caught off balance would often rebound the opposite way, violent, devastating, and unpredictable.  It had been the case even in our first match against one another.  In many unfamiliar situations.

Here, she wasn’t off guard.  She’d had time to consider the situation, and while I’d been thinking of how to approach this conversation and what to offer, she had been coming to terms with that glimmer of Swansong within her.

She felt in control, poised, and powerful now because she was harnessing that glimmer.  She’d used knowledge of Kenzie to hire Epeios, probably before today given the timing.  She was using knowledge of me and Kenzie to get at us on a personal level, show how much she knew.

“Think of it less as you tying your hands, and more about… elevating them,” I said.  “Moving up in the ranks, big-picture.”

She didn’t immediately respond.

That blade cuts both ways.  I know you too.

“You’re a new team, pulled together, you can tolerate each other for the most part, okay.  You’ve got power, a first win, some credibility.  Geography’s changing.  We put you in contact with Semiramis, Prancer, and the Undersiders.  The rules we’re suggesting are the rules they want to play by too, I guarantee you.  Play by their and our rules, you can sit at their table.”

She betrayed nothing in her expression, but her team sure did.  I saw Trophy Wife smile a bit.  Gibbet was nodding.  Torso, still lying face-down, stopped trying to get up and twisted his head around to look up at Damsel.

They were transparent, but I felt like I knew her well enough that I was more sure about her answer.  She would quibble, but she would say yes.  She’d called her group Deathchester, after the territory she’d wanted back in Boston.  Where she’d almost but never quite claimed her seat at the table among the local villains.

I could take a stab at giving her that.  Give her exactly what she wanted, while embodying so much of what and who I didn’t want to be.

Previous Chapter                                                                                       Next Chapter

63 thoughts on “From Within – 16.5”

  1. Oh, Victoria. I hope you can live with yourself after all this slippery slope sliding catches up to you.

    In other news, Kenzie is a cheater who cheats. You don’t get to use so many cortex implants AND keep your high Essence score! The DM is gonna get pissed!

    Finally, I fear that Etna may actually have brain damage. Also, she calls her car the Etnamobile. This is wonderfully sweet. Ratcatcher failed to become Victoria’s morality pet. Maybe Etna will do?

  2. -Dark Victoria is the BEST Victoria. I like dark heroes more than usual ones. They’re delicious and fun to read about.

    -Kenzie is smart but Damsel is smart too. I know that damsel will never replace Ashley but I hope that she and Kenziue will become friends in the future.

    – Etnamobile is awesome and Etna is now my new favorite villain turned reluctant hero. She was a bit annoying when she was a villain but she’s pretty sympathetic now :).

    -Can hardly wait for the whole dream clusterfuck. Its going to be so exciting!

    1. > -Kenzie is smart but Damsel is smart too. I know that damsel will never replace Ashley but I hope that she and Kenziue will become friends in the future.

      Well, they definitely already like each other. Just remember how they interacted in chapter 11.3 before Imp payed them a visit…

    2. > – Etnamobile is awesome and Etna is now my new favorite villain turned reluctant hero.

      As nice as the Etnamobile is, I think she could do better. For example she could invest in the absolute marvel of 1970s Italian engineering called Fiat 126, or one of its variants. Just think about it:
      1. No need to wait for it to become a collector item – it would be one already.
      2. No need to run around it with her keys – once she opened one door and got inside the switches to open the other doors would be within very easy reach.
      3. Even without using Sveta’s power you can fit 17 people inside of it (proven on our Earth in 2015).
      4. Since she apparently likes to apologize for having a messy car, she would get far more rust to apologize for.

      Apropos apologizing for having a messy car – I guess that Etna is in no way, shape or form related to Pelhams?

    1. “Because I’m pretty sure you gave me a mild case of brain damage and Villainy doesn’t have that kind of health coverage. Thanks, by the way.”

    2. Perhaps the best “conversation starter” Victoria could use would be a simple “Sorry.”

      In the last chapter Victoria may have told Etna “We’re good,” and get her to somewhat reluctantly agree, but it is not exactly the same thing as offering at least a token apology for crashing Etna at the hillside. “We’re good.” may suggest that everything that happened between them on N was Etna’s fault, and Victoria sees nothing wrong in her behavior then. Considering that after that adventure on N Victoria was actually quite concerned that she ended up killing Etna then, the way Vicky handled that fight wasn’t exactly the best. Even if we agree that Etna had to be stopped somehow, Victoria clearly escalated too far then. It is understandable why she did that – having her friends and kids in her care chopped up obviously doesn’t predispose anyone to be gentle with anyone standing between you and the person who did the chopping, but it doesn’t make what Victoria did then right.

      I think that miss “I will break your bones mister Nazi gangbanger” may still have a bit of a problem with apologizing for anything she did to the “inferior” beings known as villains, and it usually takes her establishing some personal connection with one of them to see an actual human being behind the villain label.

  3. @Noelemahc
    >Ratcatcher failed to become Victoria’s morality pet. Maybe Etna will do?

    Morality pet? What’s that supposed to be? It sounds condescending. Don’t like it.

  4. Typo thread.

    > All the places we’d normally hold one are evacuating.”

    There are four spaces before this sentence.

  5. Chaotic typo thread.
    “put into Neutral”
    “number one. it’s not”
    Capitalisation.

    “free reign”
    -g

  6. Talking about potential WordPress weirdness, I noticed a bit ago that the pages lost their Ward icon.
    Intended ? Maybe related to the reply issues ? Can anyone using other browsers still see it ?

    1. I also noticed that the icon is missing. On more than one browser. But with the reply buttons not working correctly on a buch of popular browsers it just seemed too trivial to even mention it.

  7. 1. I know that the general mood of both this chapter and everything that happened since Swansong’s death is probably the most important (if not the only) reason for what I’m about to describe, but I still can’t shake a feeling that how moody Victoria was in this chapter, how unfocused her thoughts were when things slowed down, how she didn’t seem to have any energy to do simplest things at times, suggests that Victoria is mildly feverish. She probably returned to activate hero work way too early, and is going to feel much worse tomorrow than she is feeling today. It is not a new thing with her by the way – she threw herself into hero work to the point where she didn’t take a proper care of her health before (missing psychotherapy and physiotherapy appointments, fighting before her wounds from previous engagements healed up properly – to the point where she was told during the battle in Cauldron compound that she may lose a had if she doesn’t stop, etc.)

    2. Remember how Etna could never hit anyone with her balls of molten glass, to the point when she was both completely surprised and terrified when she hit Kenzie’s hologram back in Cedar Point? I wonder how she is doing with her spear now. If she does fine, then maybe it means that her shard sabotaged her when she was using molten glass balls, because it never wanted her to use her power in such crude way, and wants her to actually create some tools with it, and test how they work?

    3. I wonder how hiring Epeios will influence Damsel’s relationship with the Undersiders. Relationship between Epeios and Lisa goes back to Worm (in chapter 10.4 of that book we learned that the Undersiders used a virus they got from him against Dragon, who said she was more insulted that they “went to that hack” than with the virus itself – which seems to mirror Kenzie’s comment about “greasy fingerprints” we saw in this chapter), but it seems that it may be not so good these days, because during her recent interlude she described it like this:

    He’d been a friend once, or he had pretended to be, and she had let him pretend.

    Looks like Wildbow might have put quite a lot of thought into this whole Epeios character that we, as far as I can remember, haven’t even seen yet. Could he be setting up something bigger involving him in not too distant future?

    1. 2. I think you might be onto something there: I know Wildbow has mentioned that blaster powers are considered throw-aways by the entities, the holders meant to act as threats for more interesting shards to face. The data they gather is mostly about picking up new trick-shots from the host. At the least, getting more creative with her power would be of interest to her shard even if it would normally prefer the “kill everyone with molten glass” option.

      Etna’s comment about being able to fix the windshield, though, has me wondering whether its really meant to be a primary-combat power at all. Maybe it really wants to be used as a toolkit for creation rather than a raw weapon- more like a striker-shaker power, creating structures and items from glass. It was making her miss not because she was trying not to kill people, but because it gave her a toolbox and she’s been angsting about how to hit people over the head with it without hurting them too badly.

      1. Now that I think about it, perhaps Crystal seems to have such easy-going relationship with her shard, because she managed to take her relatively simple, straightforward power effects (including a blaster effect), and come up with so many small, but creative ways to use them? Cooking, heating up her hands by using her lasers in a piece of metal suspended with her forcefields right above them, making improvised, temporary furniture, applying heat-transfer designs to clothes, cutting various things with them to the point where she may not even own any scissors or knives (see chapter 2.1)… Her shard is probably really happy that she gets and tests all of these ideas.

        By the way, I wonder if apparent, steady growth of Taylor’s powers throughout Worm was caused not only by the fact that she threw herself into so much conflicts, but also (or maybe especially) because she found so many various applications of her bug control? Same with Vista – could it be that her power apparently got stronger between Worm and Ward because she shifted her focus form affecting space on large scale (like she did pretty much always when we saw her in Worm) to working on small details, as she told Rachel in Teneral e.4 and actually did several times in Ward?

        Could it be that while capes may get temporary boosts to their powers when they end up in high-stakes, high-stress conflicts, they are more likely to get permanent power upgrades for finding new, creative ways to use their powers, even if these uses don’t necessarily have anything to do with participating in conflicts?

        1. By the same token, could Victoria’s problems with the Wretch be caused not only by the fact that her shard was reduced to “pliers and screwdriver”, but also that during the time between Worm and Ward Victoria apparently refused to use her powers, and even during Ward used them sparingly compared to her Glory Girl days?

          By the way, I wonder how her, and Amy’s shards took the news that traumatizing their hosts too much can make these hosts actually stop using their powers at all, instead of deciding to use them more.

          1. On the subject of Amy’s shard – it is probably getting desperate by this point. This is probably where Amy’s “mistakes” are coming from. Amy’s power has so much potential that’s going to waste! Even Dot understands it, yet ever since Gold Morning Amy refuses do use it for anything but “boring” healing.

  8. Well, it’s nice of Vicky to offer Damsel a big girls chair. Too bad I don’t think Damsel has really learned the important lessons that Swansong did. In the end I think this will end up like her first Deathchester. Crumbling around her.

    And Kenzie, take better care of yourself. You’re worrying your fans.

  9. @Alfaryn, re Epeios- He seems to be a computer Tinker, and I believe in Lisa’s interlude she refers to him specifically as being the person her complex database of junk files and random encryption is supposed to foil, as she can always find the right file and read it properly using her power. I think he’s probably hacked Kenzie’s tech, here.

    Kenzie’s taken Rain’s nerve-pads, whacked them into her phasing technology, shoved them into her eyes and can now change vision modes by thinking, because she’s stacking at least four or five different cameras in her head that way. That’s… Pretty cool. Hopefully the batteries won’t wear out any time soon and rematerialise in her face, but if she hasn’t included a battery monitor bar for them in her HUD she’s not the Tinker I thought she was.

  10. It’s interesting that the thinner this “glass” is between them and the agents, the more easily they can influence the parahumans… but Sveta has actually gotten better at controlling it.

    I wonder if we should read into Rain not being controlled at all. Maybe more separation with his dreamscape having the entities walled off.

  11. More typos

    Mockument’s had > Mockument had (or Mockument’s power had)
    said, “But > said. “But (or said, “but)
    Etna, “Any > Etna. “Any
    complement > compliment
    one. it’s > one. It’s
    yet. All (too many spaces)

  12. I’m amused that Etna has switched from glass spheres to glass spears.

    As for the damaged reality… between how far it reaches horizontally and how thin it is vertically, the solution seems pretty obvious: airships. Of course, it’s too late for that now. All that time they spent making redundant shopping centers, internet, dresses, and cow statues, they should have been building a massive fleet and electrolyzing the Great Lakes, but those dirty self-indulgent capitalists preferred to wallow in the mud, and now they’ll be slaughtered like the pigs they are as the shards sharpen their crystalline knives and preheat the Earth’s core in preparation for bacongeddon. Unless an eleven year old saves the day.

    On that note, I know what’s in the fifth spot in Rain’s dream space. It’s the set of a 1960s era game show, hosted by Teacher. On the set there will be three closed doors. Teacher will say that one leads to Shardspace, and the other two are useless. Rain will select one. Teacher will open one of the other two to reveal Scapegoat, then ask if Rain wants to change doors. The chapter will end there as a cliffhanger, and the comment section will spend two hundred posts arguing about the Monty Hall problem. In the next chapter, Rain will choose one of the remaining doors to open, but it will also lead to a Scapegoat. Rather than accept defeat, he’ll fight past Teacher to open the final door, only to reveal… another Scapegoat. It is at this moment that Kenzie — in contact via tech, but not present in the room — will have a breakthrough and inform Rain that the solution is to have Scapegoat take Rain’s clusterness into himself. Tristan will reiterate that sometimes he misses having Chris around, and Victoria and Sveta will swat him. Meanwhile Teacher sneaks up and tries to poke Rain, but Kenzie warns Rain to look out in time for Rain to disarm him, then the two Fallen kids have their bonding moment and William gains supreme power over reality. Except when they made contact, a bit of Kenzietech Rain was trapped with gets planted in William and allows Kenzie to seize the goat’s reins and whip the world into shape. Specifically, the shape of a great big human heart with a rainbow halo around it. She then resurrects Swansong and they live happily ever after in a massive underground mansion within the left atrium.

    1. The idea of airships was probably scrapped because all these winds in the city resulting from air pressure differences between Earths linked with portals would make keeping them in place a pain, and because electrolyzing the Great Lakes only gives you hydrogen, not helium, which coupled all these whacky parahumans throwing their powers around would mean that you would need to name each of these airships “Hindenburg”.

      1. The shards are still extremely disappointed that the “world of giant flying fuel tanks” option was quickly rejected. They had popcorn ready and everything.

        Also, that can’t be right for the dreamspace because there’s no Chicken Little and Kenzie flying off into the sunset on Chicken Large’s back.

  13. > electrolyzing the Great Lakes only gives you hydrogen, not helium, which coupled all these whacky parahumans throwing their powers around would mean that you would need to name each of these airships “Hindenburg”.

    Of course it would only give you hydrogen, but helium is a PITA to harvest. Hydrogen is far, far easier to obtain in the bulk quantities they’d need to lift over 50 million people and their infrastructure off the surface and keep them afloat.

    And yeah, it’s potentially dangerous stuff, but so what? The dangers are known, not actually that severe, and can be engineered around. Besides, people routinely drive around at terrific speeds with twenty gallons of energy dense fuel strapped to their bottoms while an endless series of total strangers zips past in the other direction with just feet of clearance. “Danger” is a routine part of human existence. People are just bad at recognizing it, since they tend to assess danger based on familiarity rather than math (because they’re fucking stupid).

    For example, do you know how many people actually die in America due to school shootings? It averages about 20 per year. For comparison, 200 Americans get struck by lightning (just get struck, not necessarily die), 20,000 die from homicides (15,000 from gun homicides specifically), 35,000 die from car accidents, and I’ve seen estimates that obesity is responsible for 300,000 deaths per year. In other words, hamburgers are more than twenty times as deadly as guns are, and Ronald McDonald and his ilk have 15,000 times as blood on their hands as all school shooters combined.

    Anyway, it’s neither here nor there. Gimel had their chance to be a steampunk wonderland, and they blew it. They deserve their impending apocalypse. Maybe next time they’ll get it right.

    1. I would agree with your danger assessment of hydrogen-filled airships if we were talking about our reality, which has certain interesting characteristics… like a distinct lack of unhinged pyrokinetics. Unfortunately I’m afraid that Gimel isn’t that lucky. You could say that basically the same logic lead governments of Bet to get rid of all of their nuclear weapons, while their Aleph counterparts kept theirs.

      1. Apropos being worried about “unhinged pyrokinetics”, I wonder if Number Boys’ fixation about keeping things “regular” indicates that they got some memories from Number Man’s old acquaintance Accord, just like Ashleys got some of theirs from Edict.

  14. I love this bitch, having a small no good gang and already all high in arrogance like she is fucking Jack Slash. Damsel was pathetic and this Damsel is pathetic and petty, and I cant wait to see her world crashing around her when she realizes how insignificant she is amongst the actual powerhouses.

    I know people like her, and Im not sorry about this, her smiling and taunting Vic about her unner ugliness as if she isnt fucked up herself is some nasty, petty, disgusting shit and I just hate her.

    1. prettymuch what I was thinking last episode-
      she makes a big fuss over respect/class,
      but she’s eagerly hurling herself RIGHT back into small-time petty thuggery like her clone template, WITHOUT the excuses the -Real- Damsel of Distress had for her situation-she’s on the path to turning into BOB 2.0
      its really quite sad, really- such a waste of potential….

      1. I mean, for pete’s sake- stealing clothing (the former MIGHT have some level of value in the coming weeks/months, to be completely fair), Jewelry, when an entire city is being evacuated?
        look through the BANKS, lift a stockpile of preserved/ canned goods, steal VECHICLES or medical equipment/supplies- take a chance and lift some electronics/ computer hardware,stuff that’ll be worth FAR more then pretty-colored glass/metal given that society’s just been knocked tits up again- she’s thinking SO SMALL its genuinely sad- her “sister” would be disappointed on multiple levels, even before her Face-Turn set in-SHE was savvy enough to spend time playing nice picking up experience/connections/resources instead of …well…this..

  15. > I would agree with your danger assessment of hydrogen-filled airships if we were talking about our reality, which has certain interesting characteristics… like a distinct lack of unhinged pyrokinetics.

    If Bet had done away with fuel-burning cars and jets, stopped building houses out of wood, and stopped using natural gas for heating and cooking, then that argument would carry weight, but they didn’t. It turns out that people are totally fine with being in close proximity to highly flammable substances, even with parahumans in the mix. And that was before Gold Morning made risk aversion more difficult.

    1. It’s all about managing risk. There are no materials you can build a house of that would make it 100% safe, especially in the world of parahumans. For example you could in theory build houses entirely of glass and steel making them almost completely fireproof, but imagine what could happen if Shatterbird decided to “sing” in a place like that.

      It’s also about dealing with scarcity of resources, and tradeoffs forced by them. Imagine if you had a tinker that could build one almost completely power-proof house just big enough for a mediom-sized family per month. Something next to which Endbringer shelters would be considered deathtraps. Would you make him build all buildings in the city instead of using cheaper, more widely available methods to make sure that no person who moves in will die because their home was destroyed? How many people would freeze to death before your “city” was complete?

      The problem with the hydrogen-filled airships is that as far as a risk of fire is concerned they are both less safe than buildings (not only because the airships are generally more flammable, but also because as a general rule it is easier to escape from a burning building than from a burning airship), and require more resources to both build and maintain. Sure, airships may have some advantages – for example they can move out of the area that is predicted to become a ground zero of an interdimensional disaster within next few weeks, and you could say that they look cooler than your typical apartament buildings (although I would risk fashion police’s ire here and say that
      De gustibus non est disputandum
      , and some people may have a different opinion on that), but at he end of the day in a post-apocalyptic world you can’t afford to build them for everyone, and as Scorpion451 pointed out above the shards probably can’t wait for the humans to try.

      1. By the way, sorry for the late answer Pizzasgood. I’ve been busy overthinking what your power is exactly. It is already pretty much established that you are some sort of a fashion-based clairvoyant, but this whole discussion about the airships makes me think that you must also have some sort of fire-related ability, and I’m still trying to figure out where your apparent fascination with zebras comes from.

  16. Remember this bit from chapter 16.1?

    The folder to the right was Professor Haywire. Multiple personalities, with each personality living in one Earth. He’d gone full mad scientist and opened the first portal we’d known about. We’d later found out there was one in Europe and, apparently, the one in Cauldron.

    While it seems natural for cape geek Victoria to research Haywire after what she saw at the ond of the previous arc, I wonder if this is also some sort of a foreshadowing.

    Consider that Teacher’s power was supposed to be able to make only weak thinkers and tinkers, and despite it his students managed to open a portal to a “shard occupied space” (likely a place where Scion’s or Eden’s main body was, since Teacher apparently wanted to use it to control at least a large part of the shards network, and a dead body of one the hubs used to be seems like a natural place to start), which is something that all tinkers Khepri controlled actually failed to do (at which point they switched to the Sting-argumented gun), not to mention all other portals and portal-sealing devices. Maybe what allowed Teacher’s students to succeed where “proper” tinkers failed is the fact that the students’ work was based on Haywire’s? Since one of Haywire’s portals lead to Cauldron, he was one of Cauldron’s old members, or at least a person indebted to them because he bought his power in a vial?

    A few other problems possibly connected with Professor Haywire – if he was the one who opened an early portal to Cauldron, how did Contessa and Dr. Mother get to Bet after killing Eden? How did they put Eden’s body beneath a mountain? Or maybe they put a mountain on top of Eden’s body somehow? Was Haywire involved in any of this? Was he Cauldron’s first method of interdimentional travel, or did they get Doormaker first? Does the fact that Haywire used another personalities (identities?) on different Earth mean that we heard about him under different name? Where does Haywire’s portal in Europe lead to?

    If Haywire worked for Cauldron, does it mean that his notes were in the archives Contessa gave Kenzie access to in chapter 15.7? Does at least some of Victoria’s information on the Professor I quoted above come from these archives? Is Kenzie’s work on the device that is supposed to let Rain access the portal in the dream room based on these notes? Just how much should we be worried about Kenzie and Rain, considering that according to Victoria Haywire was a “full mad scientist”?

  17. Regarding Khepri’s inability to reach Scionspace vs. Teacher’s apparent success, it seems to me that there are two large differences that might explain it. The biggest is that Scion was still alive back then, so maybe some of the blocking mechanisms have gone offline now that he’s dead. The other big difference is that Teacher’s tinkers had two and a half years to work on the problem, whereas Khepri gave hers, what, five minutes? Fifteen?

  18. Theory: Kenzie’s and Teacher’s doors won’t actually go to the same place, and their parallel efforts will result in the creation of two separate baby entities who will then do battle and/or mate. In the end, Dauntless will have to pry them apart and take them as his wards so that he can serve as a positive role model as they grow up.

  19. Between the fact that Hunter is in Gimel’s Europe, and Professor Haywire’s European portal mentioned in chapter 16.1, I started wondering what’s Victoria’s cruising flight speed, and how long could she keep flying. Could she for example grab some thick clothes, a bagpack full of food, water, some camping gear and navigation equipment, and use her power to fly from the city to Europe, possibly stopping to sleep in Northeastern Canada, Greenland, and/or Iceland along the way?

    This is obviously a purely academic question (at least at this point). I’m not trying to suggest that Victoria has any reason to do it, or that it would be a good idea – especially now, in winter. I’m just trying to figure out how limited her flight range would be in practice, if she decided to push it as far as she can.

    1. And before someone shouts at me that I don’t know basic geography – yes, I know that Iceland is a European island (or that it is usually classified as such). I obviously meant to ask if she can reach mainland Europe. Similarly I’m aware that it could make sense for Victoria to make at least one more stop along the way to mainland Europe – somewhere in the British Isles. But let’s face it – if she made this far, it should be relatively easy for her to reach any other part of Europe from that point.

  20. I don’t think we’ve ever seen Victoria get tired from flying, and in Worm she mentioned flying nearly 80 mph. If she can keep that up indefinitely, she could cover 1200 miles in 15 hours. If she launched from the tip of Newfoundland, she could make it to the Azores, sleep, and then reach Portugal the next day. Or she could launch from a little further north and head straight to Ireland, but that would take a solid 23 hours of flight. Yuck.

    That’s all assuming dead air, of course. Unless her flight power somehow ignores a tailwind, she should be able to more than double her speed while heading east by riding the jet stream. She’d need to bring a breathing solution though, as air’s about a quarter normal pressure at that altitude.

    If she wanted to play it safer, she could head north through Quebec to Cape Dyer in Nunavut before crossing to Greenland, then go from there to Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Scotland, and then mainland Europe. That route never requires crossing more than 270 miles of sea at a time, which as far as I can see is the smallest maximum gap you can find without taking the long way around. She should be able to handle that easily.

    (Of course, in practice she’d skip all that nonsense and just have Kenzie open a portal. Might have to transport her tech out of the city first, but that’s still less hassle than a transatlantic flight.)

    1. It sounds like a good solution in an ideal world, but I think there may be some practical problems with it. First is the navigation – I think we shouldn’t assume that Victoria could use radio navigation or satellite navigation to find her way. We don’t even know if the required infrastructure has ever been set up on Gimel, or that it is still functioning on Bet. We know even less about the situation on other Earths in this regard. This means that we need to assume that Victoria would be reduced to such basics like a compass, sextant and a watch. I think it may also mean that she would prefer traveling along loxodromes instead of orthodromes, since the former are easier to follow with a compass. This obviously means increased travel distances. Another problem with navigation without depending on external infrastructure is that it tends to be imprecise (especially if someone without good education and experience with it – like Victoria tried to do it), so it could be problematic for her to find small islands she was trying to get to. This is precisely why I haven’t even mentioned Faroe Islands or the Azores.

      If we assume she was trying to make her transatlantic trip on Gimel, she may have to skip Faroe Islands and fly straight from Iceland to Scotland roughly a 530 miles trip along a loxodrome, if I’m not mistaken. Even assuming no interfering wind it would be over six and a half hour trip. And we really can’t assume it over Atlantic, especially since no working satellite infrastructure also probably means no reliable weather forecasts for Atlantic, barring some thinker/tinker solutions of course – but if Victoria had access to those, then why not simply to portals or at least some perfect navigation system? Let’s see how far Victoria could get using only her own power here – six and a half hour trip assuming perfect weather, more if winds interfere. May be doable, but certainly not easy.

      It could be even worse if she tried to do the same on Bet. Depending on what Scion did when he kicked off Gold Morning exactly, there may simply be no British Isles for Victoria to fly to. This means that it would be best for her to fly from Iceland to Norway. About 650 mile trip along a loxodrome if I’m not mistaken. Even if winds don’t interfere and she can maintain 80 mph relative to the ground it still would be a little over eight hours of flight. May be possible in theory, but it sounds tough to me in practice, especially since it would be one of multiple days of journey in a very cold climate.

      1. Another questions to consider:
        1. How much cargo (thick clothes, food, water, survival gear etc.) would Victoria need to carry for such trip, and how much it would slow her down? In chapter 3.2 Victoria used the Wretch to fly carrying that Kenzie’s box which according to Victoria weighed around three hundred and fifty pounds, but using the Wretch is probably not a good idea if you want to carry a heavy load across the Atlantic, both because it tends to mess Victoria’s aerodynamics, and because it would likely destroy the cargo soon after liftoff.

        2. Could it be easier or more difficult for Crystal to make the same journey? On one hand we know that Crystal can fly faster, on the other hand she is (if I remember correctly) a smaller woman, so I guess she would be more susceptible to cold, and could carry less cargo, unless she can use her forcefields to work around this problem. Can she even make them move relative to the ground?

        1. 3. A more general questions to keep in mind – considering that we will most likely have a huge disaster in the city, and even without it the evacuation probably means cutting many “mundane” means of transportation (for example these ships crossing Gimel’s Atlantic may have to return to Europe and stay there if all ports in Gimel.US will be destroyed), how far can each cape can travel using only their own power? How quickly? How dangerous such long-distance travels could be for them? If they can travel far, can they take someone who can’t do it alone with them?

          Also, how long can various capes even survive “in the wild” without external aid? I imagine that Rachel, and certain capes who don’t have usual biological needs (like Weld) may be particularly good at it, though for different definitions of “good” – Weld would likely be able to survive far longer than Rachel, bit she could probably keep a group of other people alive in such situation.

  21. @Naoru
    THANK YOU. Damsel is being so petty given she’s insignificant enough that her cred is only because of her sisters and her danger is only because she keeps nipping at important things. Like an attempted robber on a store’s grand opening who thinks the concessions are because she’s in the big leagues.
    I actually want her to agree just to see the faceoff between Damsel and those like Ramis. What does the mediocre pickpocket who nabbed a bank exec’s checkbook do after experiencing the big life and less chaotic things?

  22. Been a while since I’ve last commented, hard to keep up with the chapters alone admist real life obligations. Same way how Victoria’s struggling to keep up with the functionality of the team and heroic cape work while still getting a grip over Swansong and Bryon. Though she did well this chapter and last with negotiating with Deatchester, and harking to Damsel’s wants. We’ll see if Damsel learns from how the Boston games went.

    And for the love of god, please don’t lose your essence over your tech Kenzie!

  23. @Alfaryn I disagree. I think Victoria pushing Etna into the hillside is exactly the type of wake-up call she needed to change her affiliation from villain to hero. I know people and even Victoria herself had doubts about whether she killed the ex-villain, but I sincerely doubted a push would be enough to kill. Now Vic could apologize but the “We’re good” conversation basically amounts to an apology and Vic’s headspace right now isn’t and shouldn’t be concerned with Etna’s past actions, when the recent villainous actions are much worse, and Etna also doesn’t seem concerned with wanting an apology.

    1. I would say that I agree that Etna needed some sort of wake-up call, but I strongly disagree that it should be something as brutal, traumatic, and life-threatening as Victoria did. It wasn’t my point anyway – after all convincing Etna to “go hero” wasn’t even Victoria’s goal then.

      My problems with Victoria are that she is becoming to slip into old Glory Girl’s habits as far as using excessive force is concerned (which is probably unavoidable, considering that she’s a brute), and that while she notices when she is doing too far, and actually feels guilty for it (which is definitely an improvement compared to her “Glory Girl” days), she still hasn’t learned to clearly express this guilt, to apologize for her actions in a way that is clear for both her and the people she’d harmed that she was wrong, and admits her guilt.

      “We’re good” may or may not count a sort-of-apology in Victoria’s head, but I’m under impression that Etna’s perception was very different – my guess is that Etna understood Victoria’s words as “I’m not going to continue going after you now that you’re a hero”, or maybe even as “I’m not going to hold your villainous past against you anymore” (which is actually something that Etna may be wrong about – remember what Victoria wrote about “forgive & forget” in Glow-worm 0.9), but not as Victoria’s apology for coming this close to killing or crippling Etna. After all at least as far as they’re concerned it was only luck that allowed Etna to come out of that fight without some major damage (though as far as I remember form perspective of Victoria’s Shard things looked a bit different… as if it was Etna’s Shard who saved her host’s life)

      I think that Breakthrough’s conversation with Etna never went anywhere because Etna was waiting for a clear, explicit apology from Victoria. She seems to believe in those to the point where she apologizes that her car is a “mess”, even when it really isn’t.

  24. Do you remember how in chapter 16.3 Dinah told that if she saw Christine Mathers’ future, Mama would start appearing in all futures? Could Imp’s power work on Dinah in a similar way? Maybe Dinah failed to predict Contessa’s release not because Contessa is Dinah blind spot (or at least not entirely because of it), but because the bogeyman was released by Imp, and Imp’s power somehow caused Dinah (who undoubtedly asked herself plenty of questions, and maybe actually looked in a possible future or two to see if there was anything that could derail her plan) to forget ever seeing any timelines in which it happened?

  25. This has to be one most delightful chapters in a while. Etna adds so much to it while saying so little. It’s just… hilarious in a wonderfully understated way.

    Replying to posts worked fine for me before, but today the reply buttons have stopped working completely. And they don’t work in my non-normal browser either.
    The point is, I want to tell grinvader that I’m pretty sure that Seph’s reply to Noelemahc regarding morality pets was not a question requiring a response, but in fact was written in-character as what Ratcatcher would say upon hearing the term ‘morality pet’. (But minus the lisp.)

    1. Ah well, a tvtropes link can’t hurt (aside from burning a few hours getting lost in there…).

  26. Re airships, I’m not seriously arguing that they should have abandoned the surface. That was a joke. What I am arguing is that if they were going to do it, helium would be far too scarce for consideration regardless of safety concerns. It takes about a cubic meter of helium to lift a kilogram, and there are at least 3.5 megatons of people in the megalopolis. Lifting them all would therefor take 3.5 km³ of helium, and that’s just their bodies, not their supplies, infrastructure, factories, farms, and the airships themselves. I’m talking about a full migration into the sky, not just passenger ships carrying people from point to point, so the total requirement is going to be a lot more. For the sake of argument, let’s very optimistically say you’d need to float a hundred times a person’s weight, meaning you’d need 350 km³ of helium total.

    Unfortunately, that much helium is very hard to come by. In 2011, Earth IRL’s helium reserves were estimated to be just 40 km³. Of course, that was after we’d been using helium for a century. Gimel, being untouched, would have more. How much more? Well, we were using it at a rate of about 169 million cubic meters per year in 2008. If we naively multiply that out under the obviously incorrect assumption that we’ve always used helium at that rate since we first isolated it in 1895, then we arrive at almost 20 km³ consumed by 2011, for a very generous estimate of 60 km³ of helium per virgin Earth. So, they’d require the full helium reserves of at least 5.8 Earths.

    Hydrogen, on the other hand, is practically infinite. When you split water, the volume of hydrogen you get out of it is about 1,200 times the volume of the water. Lake Erie alone contains almost 600,000 km³ of hydrogen — 100,000 times the lifting capacity of an entire Earth’s helium reserves. Of course, it’s not free; at 75% efficiency, electrolyzing water takes 17 MJ per cubic meter of hydrogen produced. Making 350 km³ of hydrogen would therefor require 6 EJ; that’s 7% of the real-world’s 2014 electricity generation. That would be very impressive, but it’s still a lot less outlandish than somehow acquiring almost six Earths’ worth of helium. I could see helium being used for a small fraction of the airships (especially residential ships catering to the rich and powerful), and phasing hydrogen out on all airships (especially high-pop ones) would definitely be a long-term objective, but in the early days the bulk of them would simply have to be using hydrogen. It’s the only way to make this remotely feasible, and even then it’s a pretty massive stretch.

    1. I knew you were joking. Sorry if my last not-so-joking response made you think otherwise. You also don’t need to tell me about helium’s scarcity or hydrogen’s ubiquity on Earth. (Though if you seriously wanted to make your fleet of helium-filled airships, perhaps Northen America wouldn’t be a bad place to do it, considering that US is the world largest producer of this gas?)

  27. > 100,000 times the lifting capacity of an entire Earth’s helium reserves.

    Whoops. Meant to say 10,000, not 100,000.

  28. What? Only sixty comments?

    Comment while you can, you fools!

    The Ice is breaking and WordPress’s glitches are a signe!

    ..

    .

    Uh…

    Great chapter, by the way.

  29. So… thinking about Etna’s recent turn to heroism….
    I don’t think it was Victoria that got her to switch sides.

    It was Prancer:
    >“How’re we supposed to call this place home if they bring this garbage here?” Prancer asked, almost snarling. “If you help them?”
    >“If you thought it would be any different, you were lying to yourself,” Etna said. “This is the default. The way things are staying. It’s the best we get.”
    >“Fuck that,” Prancer snarled.
    Heaven, 12.3

    This was After Etna almost drowned (twice), but before Victoria Yeeted her into a hillside.
    This is however the only person who I actually say TALK to Etna about any of this, and reviewing the scene, Prancer is fucking fabulous.

Comments are closed.