From Within – 16.12

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Lights flickered, dancing from the feet of agent to person, person to person, and off to the distance, neurons in a larger system striking like lightning.  But in this too-bright corner of a dark, living landscape, these lightning strikes could only travel so far.

This world was like a broken window, the landscape cracked, and the fact the light didn’t travel to where it needed to go served as a suggestion of just how broken it was.

The others approached, and I motioned for them to duck their heads down as they peered over the cliff’s edge at the group on the other side of the ravine.  Three agents and fifty people dressed in Teacher’s pristine white garage-worker coveralls.

The workers were just numerous enough that in an ordinary situation I wasn’t sure one wouldn’t look in our general direction and make out the masks, helmets, and heads of hair that stood out against the consistently dark background and landscape.  But these weren’t regular workers, they were thralls, and they were wholly wrapped up in what they were doing.

The agents were the really scary thing, and as much as they seemed fixated on picking at and adjusting the edges of the portal, the notion that they might turn and give us their full attention was a hell of a lot scarier.

We didn’t make a sound, aside from the occasional scratch of armor on crystal or harder than normal exhalation.

Off to the side, Tattletale motioned, indicating something to Sveta.  I saw her hold up five fingers.  Then six.

I could count the flashes and where those flashes were traveling.  Six flashes moving from the group to a specific point in the distance.  Our flashes had a consistency too, messages transferred along these neurons, dancing along the hard edges of the crystal, always to the same destination.

But these guys… they didn’t have powers.  By all rights, they shouldn’t have had a common source.  Except for Teacher.

Except we couldn’t get over there.  A canyon separated our section from theirs, and the failures of lights to find any means of connecting suggested we were on an island.

Scenes of the city in winter painted many of the crystals, growing fainter for those scenes appearing on crystals further from the tear in reality.  I watched as they worked, and I saw as they reached out to touch crystals as certain images came up, which seemed to highlight related images on other crystals.  Through a relay, they selected certain things, bringing up selections a few feet away, which the next person chose from, until they were affecting what was being managed on crystal faces well away from the aperture.

Others were setting up tech, with monitors showing data that was way too far away to make out.  But those monitors were plugged into crystals around the edges.

I watched as crystals rearranged near the portal, and cracks widened.

A chasm separated us from them.  Ability and capacity to understand and work in this system separated us further.  If we wanted to change anything from the inside, we’d need a system at least as good at that.

We had no powers and we were up against fifty thralls in very much the same boat.  If knowing how to function in this world offered us any advantage, then it offered their side a hundred times the same advantage, because it was pretty clear Teacher had granted them some natural ability and awareness.

Frustration seized me, and it came with a panicky feeling that I was not expecting.  Not like that, not like this.  I was used to danger, used to that fight or flight drive.  I could fly, and I was pretty good at using it to deliver the fight part of things.

But this- it didn’t come from facing down a cape with an unknown power.  It didn’t come from memories of Crawler and acid, or the idea of Amy coming when I didn’t expect her.  Those were people, they were things I could stand against.

The panicky feeling delivered a sensation of being paralyzed, of not just being unable to breathe, but being unwilling to.

Paralysis wasn’t a stranger to me.  I had to remind myself of that.  Suffocating, too.  Had to find my way to the right line of thinking.  Thinking of flying so high that the air was thinner.  Tricking my brain to think of coming down from that high place.  Easier if I thought of this blackness as the night sky.

I resumed breathing, resumed moving, turning my head away from that situation while I processed.  Why?  Another power?  Were they doing something?

I hadn’t seen a flash from them.  I was pretty sure it wasn’t Rain’s power and it wasn’t Darlene, who was the most active of all of us.

Just me.  Wholly internal.  The light flickered beneath me and darted off to the distance, in a near-continuous stream.  We were fortunate that the group over there wasn’t in a position to see, as the lip of the canyon rose up and blocked their view.

Being burned, being that hurt, it had left its traces behind.  I hadn’t forgotten it, and remembering it was very easy when tied into the deep feeling of frustration.

Sveta touched my arm, jarring me back to reality.  Had I been making a noise or acting strange?  No.  Staring off into space, thinking hard?  Yes.

She motioned to Tristan, who repeated a gesture he’d no doubt made earlier.  I nodded.

Go.

Retreat.  We gained nothing by watching too much longer.

We pulled back from the canyon’s lip, sliding down the hill and finding a recess to gather in.  Breakthrough at one side, kids further down, Love Lost, Damsel, and Tattletale sitting around the periphery, on higher ground.

I was breathing harder than necessary, even a minute later, and controlling my breath took focus.  I didn’t want this latest bit of trauma to be yet another thing that sneak-attacked me when I didn’t expect it, another arrangement of mines in the minefield that I had to navigate.

The idea frankly terrified me, and the anger and bitterness that gripped me as I bit the inside of my cheek was bad enough I didn’t want to be the first one to speak, in case it colored my tone.

“Ideas?” Tristan asked.

I didn’t answer.

I handled my shit.  I made my peace in that moment.  What’s a little pain?  I’ve been hurt before.

“I can take a stab at this,” Tattletale said.

Please distract me.

“Caveat,” she went on.  “This isn’t me using my power.  This is just me using my head, a bit of educated guessing from earlier uses of my power, and the fact I was one of the first handful of people to really cotton on to… this.”

She indicated the valley around us.

“Anything you can give us.”  I tried to keep my voice normal.

She gave me a funny look.  Normal voice failed, I supposed.

“Syndicate is firing zaps back the way we came.  That nexus or… landing between slopes that we passed through, people, relationships, wants?  The faces of people you’d all lost?  I think some combination of that and the cluster are serving as our current hub, connecting us.”

“That was the principle of it,” Kenzie said.  “I think.  I don’t really have access to the mental blueprints while I’m in here.  Which is weird.”

Tattletale continued like Kenzie hadn’t spoken, “Syndicate hubs us up, and it’s why our little territory here is bigger than some of the others nearby.  The big golden asshole died, individual areas with individual focuses all got broken apart.  Or… when he was around there was something more active, bridging things here on a permission basis.  Dunno.”

“I thought of them as islands,” I remarked.

“Sure, if you want to be pedantic, go ahead.”

“So it might be possible to make connections,” I said.  “To connect one of the islands to another one.”

Tattletale shook her head.  “The connections we know about were set up outside of this space.  To create a bridge over there like we have here, we would probably need Darlene to wake up, find Teacher, and use her power on him.”

“Other ideas, then,” Tristan said.  “There has to be a way.”

“Can we hack it?” Rain asked.  “Form a connection from within?  If we can use crystals to access functions, isn’t it possible to get one of these areas or things to form a bridge?”

“Could,” Tattletale said.  “Or it could be a safety measure that says sections can’t be bridged without the big golden guy handling it.”

“Put a pin in that.  Other options,” Tristan said.  “You motioned toward the lights.  Teacher?”

“If it’s about connections, and finding a bridge, we need to figure out a place to cross over that’s reaching out outwardly,” I said.  Focusing on the abstract theorizing helped.  “My power has an aura.  I could see that radiating out and connecting to others.”

“But it’s not on, and they aren’t nearby,” Tattletale said.  “Love Lost, Colt, and Rain are out, we’ve been to their… I dunno, their centers of power, the key processing units that handle their powers, as those powers have currently manifested?  Yes?”

“Yes,” Rain said, looking back.

“Yeah,” Colt said.

“Capricorn twins are structural, no reaching out there.  Sveta reaches out but not in the sense we want, with continuous, lasting connections to other parahumans and their power sources.  Chicken Little… same idea, I don’t think it bridges any gap between him and another parahuman.  Lookout would bridge to her tech.  Darlene we’ve seen.  Damsel’s focused on destruction.  From a pure, shard-focused perspective, that leaves… me?”

“Does it though?” I asked.  “I know you’ve given up some details, but I don’t know specifically what you do.”

“I get information, I pick up extra info, abstractly related.  I can aim it, both at people and at certain topics I want to fill in.  It’s constant and ongoing, which is what we want.”

“I’m worried that isn’t a strong enough connection.  I’d rather pick Decadent,” I said, indicating Candy.  “You’ve used your power on capes?  You oversaturate them with happiness and hallucinated sensory inputs, but there’s a lasting suppression effect, right?”

“Yeah.  I’ve used it on family, non-family,” Candy answered.  She clasped her hands together, looking less secure than I’d seen her in a long while.  “Bunch of people.  Bunch of capes.”

“Has your power hit them… in the powers?  Taken away their joy of-”

“Of being artificially beautiful, yeah.  Of running, for one super fast guy.  Um-”

“You hit that Gammarod dork,” Darlene said.  “Who got hard-ons while irradiating people and giving them probable cancer.”

“What.” Chicken Little said.

“-And that other one Papa worked with sometimes,” Darlene went on.

“I barely remember that one,” Candy said.

“He slid between people’s skin and muscles and took over their bodies.  He always had to have an eye appear in a hidden spot, like, so he could see, because he didn’t control the eyes.”

“I- yeah.”

“He was going to take over me.  I was so scared Papa hit me with calming emotions and it didn’t even make me stop freaking out.  Some of that was calming emotion, but-”

“Yeah,” Candy said.  “I remember.  We weren’t that old.”

“You stopped him and it was the first time I remember you being a real sister to me.  And it was only a week after I pushed your plate of spaghetti into your lap because we were fighting.”

Candy nodded.  “We don’t know if they’re all alive.”

“Gammadoc is,” Tattletale said.  “But that particular incident happened in Brockton Bay and I’ve kept tabs on our old enemies.  Unless he bit it in the last week or so, there’s an active link to the guy.  And, last I checked, the guy was pulled out of retirement to work for Teacher in the facility.  That’s the good.”

“The good?” I asked.

“If we go over there to Candy’s thing,” Tattletale said, pointing back in the general the way we came, maybe a bit to the right.  “There’s probably a good bridge, or a few of them.  Can’t say how intact it’ll be, but it’s a good bet.”

“What’s the bad?” Byron asked.

“The bad is Candy’s area is way back over there… and Teacher’s is way over there.”

Tattletale pointed in two different directions.

“Travel’s deceptively fast here,” I noted.  “It’s our best bet.  We go over there, we circle around, we go for Teacher.”

“Other option,” Tattletale said.  “My territory, count on links seeking information to form bridges.”

“Even while you’re here?” I asked.

“Even while I’m here.”

“We don’t have time to argue,” Tristan said.  “I vote Tattletale’s.”

“Antares’s,” Byron said.  Tristan looked annoyed.

“Tattletale’s,” Chicken Little said.  “I’m mad at her but I know she knows some of this stuff.”

“With her power,” Darlene said.

“Even with.”

“Ok, then I vote Tattletale,” Darlene added.

“Tattletale,” Sveta said.  “Sorry.  I get the reasoning, but-”

“No, no need to apologize,” I said.

“-We need to do this fast.  We don’t have long.”

In this bizarro world with a pitch black sky and a floor of something alive, something we were technically inside, as we dwelt within the crystal’s interior as simulations, I was advocating for the conservative, sure route.  Tattletale preached the direct, unreliable route.

“Antares,” Rain said.

“Antares,” Kenzie joined her voice to his.

“Tattletale,” Candy said.

“I assume we’re going to be working together, if we get out of this in one piece,” Damsel told Tattletale.  “I’ll make my token effort to build something by giving you a small, miniscule amount of my faith.”

“That’s a bad basis for-”

“It’s more than I give others, Tattletale.  Don’t be greedy.”

“Sure,” Tattletale said, sighing.

Everyone else made their quick vote, Love Lost pointing a claw at Tattletale to make hers.

Byron, Rain, and Kenzie were the only ones in favor of my path.

We started off.

Have to find a way over, have to see if we can’t work something out with these panels and getting into the guts of this system.  Have to see if we can’t slow Teacher down or at least figure out what he’s doing here.

Easy enough, right?

The panicked, frustrated feeling hadn’t quite been extinguished, and the tension of the moment sat uneasily within me.

I didn’t like that this was the second time we’d voted, and that I had to reconcile that I’d hated that I’d gone along with the decision to split up when I’d known deep down inside that it wasn’t the way to go… and now I was accepting another lost vote.

Did I believe this to be wrong?

No.

Not exactly.  I could think of supporting arguments.

But I didn’t trust Tattletale.  I’d seen a glimpse of who she really was, and I’d seen how very real that glimpse of her still was, when the first sign of anyone sympathizing or trying to connect with her over it had seen her go straight for the jugular.

Blaming me for what Amy had done to me.

Shitty, but understandable.  And only minimally to do with my lack of trust for her.

Take this ‘Livsey’ kid out of the equation, and all that was left was the power and the identity the power had helped build up.

And we were rushing toward it.

There had to be other options, and I focused on sorting them out.

“Damsel,” I said, a little out of breath.  We couldn’t slide downhill in the direction we wanted to go.

“What?”

“When you do the transition, from injured to healed, you did your own, right?”

“So?”

“So… how do you control it?”

“Be less incompetent.”

Damsel,” I said, my voice hard, serious.  “Don’t fuck around.  You’re the expert, somehow.  Strut your fucking stuff.”

“You’re all of the choices, already.  Find the face you want, move toward it, let it move toward you.  Pass each other.”

“That’s…”

“Instinct,” she said.  “When we die, we all end up in a place like this.  Images in crystal, flickering memories.  But it wasn’t this broken up before.  The next death will be worse.  Shallower, more intense.  Lonelier.”

“Swansong’s death is worse than it was before?” Kenzie asked.

“Who cares?” Damsel asked.

“Me, duh,” Kenzie said.  “All of us.  You.”

Damsel shook her head, only visible from behind, and picked up the pace in a way that was sure to tire her legs out.

It didn’t help that we were getting into thickets of crystal.  Spikes that soon appeared often enough that we’d take two steps, find a crystal in front of us, have to circle around it to get past, and find another crystal in our way, if the way wasn’t blocked.  With a black sky and crystal faces that were black if they didn’t have any light coming from directly behind them, it was easy to not see them until they were in arm’s reach.

It was Sveta and Love Lost who had the most luck navigating, and they became our guides, the rest of us taking the paths they chose, as the crystals grew taller and came to rest at diagonals and horizontals, forcing us to duck and crawl.

The images that popped up, at least, were vague, with no coherency.  Closer to watching a television show with someone who was endlessly channel surfing, but the scenes were from our lives.  Sitting in a car.  Getting up from our seats in class.  Opening the fridge to find the contents.  Lacing up a bit of armor.

Tattletale’s next flicker gave us further guidance, then picked up in intermittency.

We emerged from the worst of the thicket to a spot where a tear across the landscape had felled most of the crystals and sent them somewhere else.  And to our left, head the size of a house, was the thin, tall woman, with spikes radiating from her head to infinity in each direction, empty eye sockets staring us down.

One of the kids shrieked on seeing her.  One of the guys said something to the tune of ‘hofuc’ in a short exhalation.

Shit.  We did absolutely not see her coming.  Is she that fast?  Something else?

We scrambled back, as she reached out and over the chasm.  Ducking into the thicket of crystals slowed us down.

“Hello there, you shitty bitch,” Tattletale said, her voice low, angry.

I looked over, and I could see that past the tear in the landscape, Tattletale’s agent was an extension of the landscape, built almost like a cone poised on another cone, except it was a person’s body in a toga-cut dress, twisting and rotating in jerks, like every movement snapped its own spine.

It had an abstract, eyeless, mouthless head bearing a full head of thick cords that could have been wires, that trailed down to the crystal below her.  Each jerky rotation suggested a different number of arms, as she interacted with the forest around her, bringing up images just by facing each crystal.  Each image that was brought up sparked off transmissions for elsewhere.

And, I could see now that we were closer, there were more, small, almost imperceptible sparks traveling from each spike to elsewhere.  It was barely visible, but with a thousand spikes all together…

Sharp fingertips scraped the already damaged section of crystal.  It got Tattletale’s agent to pay attention, upper body and main head craning over in the direction of the spike-headed woman.

Lowering her face to be almost on the same level as the spike-headed woman’s.

They began communicating, clumsy and at range, bringing up disparate images.

Tattletale motioned.

We used the distraction.

Into the forest, that was alive with the arms.

A crystal lit up to my left.  Slaughterhouse Nine.

Like a punch to the gut.

Mama Mathers, throwing herself in Rain’s direction, like an animal at the zoo hurling itself against the glass.  Then, when I passed that same crystal, it was Crawler, puking.

Kenzie, a few steps behind me, saw a black woman with a serious expression.  Not her mother.  Hand reached out- bandage pulled away.

I looked back because looking forward was to wade into a storm.

Into Leviathan.  Into the hospital room.

Many-sided crystals where every side was a different image and every image was the hospital.

And then not the hospital, but flesh.  My flesh, my features, my belly with gaps on either side so it was still my torso and my silhouette, but the armpits webbed out to more torso and to arms and to legs, and the slope of belly meant to connect to pelvis bridged out to another torso instead, like the queen of spades in a deck of cards, joined to her other half at the ribcage.

Sad eyes, without hope.

It got my guard down, made my heart sink.  More images around me flared to life, so visceral and visual they seemed to have sounds to them.  Violence, being drenched with acid.  Violence, having my arm shredded.  Over and over again, injuries, my body being torn apart with battle wounds, until I felt like I might look down and find myself in tatters.

That paralyzed, frustrating feeling was building up, and with it came the terror that if I couldn’t push through, if I lost strength now, then that feeling would be with me forever.

And at the same time, if I pushed forward, then it would mean risking doing something reckless and stupid.

The violent images shifted, as Kenzie became the closest person to that cluster of crystals.  Kenzie, viewed from across a dinner table, as her face was smashed into a plate.

I’d seen that, captured in still image, on the projector box in her workshop.

Candy took her hand, and Kenzie looked over, gratitude clear on her face, even though she didn’t smile.  But the image changed, to an Asian woman holding a dark-haired girl down, fingers hooked into the child’s ear, twisting.  The child wasn’t even of an age to attend kindergarten, but the woman’s face was contorted as she shrieked and wrenched the child’s ear enough it bled.

It was Love Lost who jumped to the rescue, before I could backtrack.  Love Lost’s arrival coincided with a shift to images filling the area as if viewed by a dozen different sets of eyes.  Every angle, every detail.  Mother holding daughter in the midst of a stampede that threatened to tear her child from her arms.  The little girl leaned heavily on a bunch of tables that were folded up and resting on their sides, flush to the wall.  One slipped from its position, and with it, she went down like she’d been pulled or thrown down.  Her face collided with the edge of the next table.

Love Lost faltered, then wrapped her arms around the two girls’ heads, claw-less hands covering their eyes.

Rain helped Darlene, who might have slipped or fallen behind when we’d dodged the reaching hand.  The images became a jumble of ramshackle accommodations, a little boy being thrashed.  Corporal punishment in ten different forms.  A small Darlene fighting a boy she had to be related to, like her life depended on it, scratching, biting.  Legs of adults were visible, standing around unmoving, more like the fenceposts of an arena than anything human.

“Your idea fucking sucks, Tattletale!” Tristan bellowed.

“Shut up!  It’ll hear you!”

“It can see us!” Sveta called out.  “Everything’s lighting up around us while we run!”

I heard Tattletale mutter, “Shit.”

We were closer to Tattletale’s agent now.  Precarious, teetering, ever-examining.  As we got closer, though, the functionality seemed to change, much as the many-handed ‘Mr. Hugs’ had seemed to multiply the number of hands and the amount of tinkertech it could produce.

Building false crystals that looked like smoke but held a crystal-like shape, propping them up.  Moving crystals.  All while facing down the other creature, which I could track because it was close enough its spikes seemed to extend out as far as the eye could see to sky, to either horizon, and downward at angles, raking the landscape.

The way it sets up crystals and moves them.  That’s how it builds bridges.

“Get to the edge!” I called out.  “Don’t get spotted by spike-head!”

The images around me changed.  A woman in white, standing dangerously close to the portal.  One of Teacher’s flunkies.  Two more flunkies were standing nearby.  Nobody I recognized.

I let Love Lost and the kids pass me.

“Teacher,” I said.

The images changed.  I took one step to the side to see better, as I realized which ones were responding.  Flickering, vague images showed a doorway, thralls standing at the ready.  Then a scene before that, Teacher stepping through the door.

He’s here.

“Amelia Lavere,” I said.

My sister, talking to two members of the Shin council, emphatic, while Chris wore a monstrous form and prowled behind her.  It was pretty clear that what she was talking about was important.

“Mark Dallon.  Is he okay?”

My dad facing down Amy, both of them in civilian clothes.  He looked so much like he had when I’d stayed with him.  He asked a question, and Amy’s face turned to fear, her mouth moving as she shook her head.

My dad looked as disappointed as Amy looked scared.

I had a good sense of what he’d asked, and my disappointment was for entirely different reasons.  I knew he still had depression.  Amy had never fixed it.  It was a kind of hell, especially when he was so capable, but…

He shouldn’t have asked her to do anything to his brain.  Not if he knew and understood everything about the situation.

“Amy Dallon,” I tried again.

Amy, wearing Earth Shin nightclothes, lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, her hand flat on her stomach.  It traveled southward, to the waistband, passing beneath.

I looked away, but not before I saw a sudden movement from her.  She lay on her side now, hand trapped and unmoving between her thighs, expression angry.

“Yeah, I know who you were fantasizing about,” I muttered, disgusted.

The image changed.  Me, sitting on the cot in the little cell in Earth Shin.  Amy sitting across from me.

I didn’t- I’d known, but I hadn’t wanted to know.

This wasn’t some crystal ball I could rub, ask my question, and get a happy answer.  Not with the names and questions I wanted to bring up.

I prepared to walk away.

“We can’t get down!” Tristan called out.  “Look for another way!”

The images changed.  Dancing from scene to scene, showing this place.

With no way down, only the sheer drops if one were to jump across the narrowest parts of the gap.  Hundred foot falls.  I had an idea as to how to handle that, but…

I stayed.

“Panacea,” I tried, again.

Dot, clambering up her arm, excited, cheerful.  Amy pulling her hand away from a young girl, a blonde, who was chattering madly, as excited as Dot.

Amy looked at the boy who stood on the far side of the room, flinching every time Hunter gestured too wildly.

That was there.  Here, spike-headed woman was still out there, struggling to reach across the chasm.  Barring our way.  In the background, I could hear another scrape, the raking claws of the giant woman with spikes that extended to infinity.

And here, beneath my feet, the lights flickered.

“The Red Queen,” I said.

It was Amy, in full battle dress, such as it was.  Marquis stood beside her, and Dot perched on her shoulder.

A long, long line of Earth Bet and Earth Gimel cars were making their way in through the portal, bumper to bumper, the snow nearby red from all of the brake lights.

Refugees.  I knew what she’d been arguing for, now.

And she would save so many lives by having won that argument, by having made the promises she’d made.

I hated that I couldn’t hate her for it.

“Carol Dallon,” the words left my lips.

My mom, startling in how she was younger than I was now, less tight and precise in her movements than I’d ever known her to be.  Even with the brain injury, she moved with more control and less abandon.

Her hand reached up, fingers running through beard.  And my dad had never had a beard.  An Uncle Neil that was Tristan’s age pushed young Carol up against the wall, kissing her.

“It’s lies you know,” Tattletale said.  “Inconsistent information, jumping to conclusions, filling in blanks wrong.  Start from a faulty premise.  In this case, I think I thought of all of you heroes in suits with way too much white in the design as being oversexed and deranged.  I was right on one count.”

The image became Amy again, wearing her Panacea costume for warmth, working furtively in a room too dark to even see what she was doing, arms wet with blood up to the elbows.  She wiped her hand over the gore and there was only pink skin streaked with blood after the hand moved away.

A hand, my hand, gripped hers.

That frustrated, panicked feeling felt like it was swelling, reaching out to grab all of the other emotions that had gotten tangled up, too dangerous to even think about, like the sun was too bright to stare directly into.

At least, I thought, and the words were meant to be humor, a way of shrugging off this bad feeling.  At least I don’t have to see my mom and uncle Neil fucking.

It didn’t work as humor, didn’t put a smile on my face or ease the weight that felt like it had settled directly onto my heart, suppressing each beat.

“It’s lies,” Tattletale said, standing between me and the biggest crystal.

Off to the side, claws longer than I was raked crystal with a nails-on-blackboard sound.

“Aren’t the guesses those crystals made of smoke?” I asked, indicating the nearest one.

Tattletale sighed, but she didn’t correct me or convince me otherwise.

My mom and Uncle Neil.  Twenty-one years ago, if I had to guess.

It was all so shitty.  The number of people I could count on-

I looked down at the ground.  The flashing light was almost continuous, on for nine tenths of the time, flickering out for that last one-tenth.

“Crystal,” I said.

Crystal and my mom in Crystal’s kitchen, a surprising number of things boxed up and stored off to the side.  Clutter reduced by… maybe twenty percent.  Crystal was washing something in the sink.  My mom was at the cutting board.  I’d seen her cook before, and this wasn’t her usual self.  Moving with deliberation, care, and still not getting carrots to coins of equal thickness.

She said something, and backed away from the cutting board.

Crystal used lasers, and finished the job in a jiff, before returning to the washing.  I could see her expression, sad, and my mom, lost in thought as she hung back, no longer helping to make dinner.

Not so bad.

No deep betrayals.  No horrifying weaknesses.  Crystal was good.

“Did you ever figure out what Contessa’s failure states were, specifically?” I asked.  “What was option A?  One member of Breakthrough, suffering eternally?”

The scenes changed.

“If you ask here-” Tattletale said.

It was the room where the Wardens had confronted Teacher.

Rain pulling away from our group to stride into the door, silver blades in hand, and driving those blades into the door’s edges.

Second by second, Rain was overtaken by the portal energy, consumed by the silver blades that could set anything up to be sliced through.

“I think if you ask and find out specific answers, you’ll screw up Contessa’s odds and spoil things.  Don’t ask for…” Tattletale trailed off.

For the particulars about the option we took?

Dinah was unreliable, Contessa was… if she was on the up and up she was playing with big moving pieces in a way that was awfully scary and hard to extend any trust to.

My family was a mess.  Physically, mentally, emotionally.

We faced the end of the world, and… I wasn’t sure I trusted we.

We… Breakthrough?

I thought of the different names I could invoke.

Tristan and Byron?  I had seen Tristan’s mad stabbing, in the trigger analogue.

Kenzie?  I already knew she’d done some sketchy things before she knew better, and that the well of loneliness inside her was profound.  She had never been dishonest about who or what she was.

Rain?  I’d already seen that ugliness he would’ve wanted to hide.  The maniacal laugh, as we’d reached the final stage of the dream.  That made it so easy to understand how Love Lost could hate him, even now.

Sveta?  I’d had glimpses, and I had ideas.  Where she came from had always been important to her.  I had seen her hometown, the black rocks.  The place her art came from.  Her original self, in a way, through the trigger analogues, run through a translation program from the original footage to ‘mall’.

She’d told me that her body felt like it was hers for the first time ever, after Orchard had finished with her.  That she could breathe for the first time ever.  I could see why.  She’d want to bring it up once she’d digested it.  I wouldn’t push her and I wouldn’t pry.

No, I wouldn’t raise her name.

“Chris Elman,” I said.

The scene had the same impact as the aggressive visions.  Chris in a bestial form, as big as car, quadrupedal, with a human face that over-enunciated, by the way it seemed to move as it uttered words.  It faced down Amy, pressuring her, barking words at her.

She backed away one step.  The beast that was Chris Elmann, that was Lab Rat, advanced five steps, traveling a quarter circle around her, ending with his face inside Amy’s personal space, scowling.

She hung her head.

“It always gives the worst details,” Tattletale told me.  “Stuff that cuts right to what’s most important, what’s most visceral.  Hard details, weaknesses, the key elements that make us us, that would be hardest to uncover otherwise.  Stuff you’d never want to admit or let out of the box.”

I had a chance to get answers, as ugly as those answers were, to face down those people who were most incomprehensible and get that key insight.

“You could ask it a million questions and understand everything, I bet.  There are less filters while we’re in here, probably,” Tattletale told me.

“I always thought of myself as an answer-seeker,” I said.

“Yeah, sure.  Absolutely,” Tattletale said, quiet.  “Here’s the deal, though.  By the time you’re done asking a million questions, I guarantee you that you’re going to hate everyone and everything.  You’ll abhor them, despise them, be afraid of them.”

I looked away from the crystals, which had gone dim.  Tattletale’s expression was sad.

“Sometimes you gotta just pick a few promising runts out of the litter, and just plug in that one big assumption,” she told me.  “Start with the assumption they’re good people and build on that belief.  Sometimes they step it up and live up to what you think of them.”

“What if I did that, and they disappointed me, and I need to know why?”

For every fucking name I’d brought up so far.

Tattletale shot me an apologetic look.  “Kiddo, you could go down that rabbit hole forever.  Do you want to go there, or do you want to do what you came here to do?  Help us find a way down.”

“I have an idea,” I said.  “Lead the way to the safest part of the ledge?”

The crystals around us shifted, showing a few example sites.  Tattletale took a second to absorb it and track it, then took off.

I started to follow, then hesitated by a small fraction.

“Jessica,” I murmured.

I’d thought the scene with Chris had been high impact.  This- a whirl of intensity, Jessica reaching out with a bleeding arm, grabbing a thin wrist, slamming it down into rocky ground until the attacker dropped the blade.  Frantic, even though it meant losing traction, Jessica reached out and swiped the knife, sending it flying ten or fifteen feet.

The hands that grabbed her arms were small.  Fingernails dug into forearm, and came away with fine white lines caught beneath small fingernails that had been painted pink.

Jessica knelt on the offending hand, pinning it down, and strangled-

Strangled Bonesaw.

The pressure in my chest felt like it squashed my heart flat.  No beat, only hurt.

Yeah.

I turned away from the scene.  I chased Tattletale, following her route.

The white light beneath my feet was solid now, ten units of time out of ten.  A hundred out of a hundred.  Zero out of zero.

I reached the cliff’s edge.  Rain, Kenzie, Love Lost and Colt were at crystals, fiddling.  Trying to decipher the system.

I doubted they’d be making any bridges appear, but it was good they were doing that.  The other kids were staying safe, Chicken Little holding Darlene’s hand, talking constantly, like he couldn’t stop.

The others were huddled.  Hiding.  The spike-headed woman was approaching, navigating cracks that forked off from the rest.

I looked down, and saw a darkness with no bottom.  A bottomless canyon.    The other side of the chasm was fifty feet down and twenty feet away.

“How long do you think you’d fall before something terrible happened to you?” I asked.

“A good while,” Tattletale said.  She looked up at me.  “I’m just guessing.  My word isn’t gospel.”

“It’s never gospel,” Chicken Little piped up.

I nodded.

“How long do you think we have?” I asked.

“Minutes,” Tattletale said.

“So you figure… maybe a two minute fall?” I guessed.  I sounded like a far away person.

“It could be ten seconds and it could be ten thousand years,” Tattletale said.

“That’s even better,” I said.

“What are you doing?” Sveta asked.

“She’s acting unhinged because she got to see some family stuff she probably shouldn’t have,” Tattletale said.

“What stuff?” Sveta asked.  She touched my arm.  I looked at her, and saw her looking down at the bolt of lightning that was firing off to one side.  “Hey.”

“Mom stuff.  A lot of Amy stuff.  I knew I shouldn’t have looked,” I said.

Bonesaw never came back.  Jessica quit being a therapist. 

“I told her she shouldn’t have looked,” Tattletale said.

“Talk us through this?” Sveta said.  “Why even talk about falling?”

“Because… we need to get down there,” I said.  “If we go by the median, five thousand years is a pretty good bet, isn’t it?”

I pulled away from her hand, walking away from the chasm.

“For what?”

“You’re insane,” Byron said.  “You can’t-”

The spike-headed woman was getting too close.  Past this point, the window of opportunity threatened to close.

I used the steps I’d walked away from the ledge to get a running start.  Sveta tried to grab me, and if she’d still had her powers, she might have succeeded.

Arms out in front of me, legs behind, flying without flying.

Over a chasm that might have been bottomless.

If I didn’t clear the chasm, then the odds were in my favor, probably.  I’d fall into the darkness below, and I was betting the chances were pretty good I’d still be falling in a few minutes, when we woke up from the dream.

I cleared the chasm.

Meaning only hard crystal lay below me.

I twisted, angling my body, saw my reflection-

And I slammed hard into the crystal, terminal velocity.  I felt bones break.

I brushed past her, she brushed past me.

I slipped away into oblivion.  She knelt with one knee on hard crystal, hand balled into a fist, fist flat against the surface.

She was me and I was her.  Switching places.  Thankfully with no momentum conserved between the two selves.

I looked back in time to see Damsel jumping.  I smiled.

The spike-headed titan gave chase, and I ran.  To lead it away from Damsel, and to have any chance of getting where I needed to be in time.

The titan was like a cyclone behind me, tearing everything up, but it was the spikes that radiated down, the claws that extended into crystal, and she didn’t whirl.  She only charged my way, picking up speed as she went.

I saw her claws bite deep, her body reflected across the path in front of me, and I followed that reflection, looking up again, to see she stood in my way.

Operating by different rules.  Spikes and claws of infinite length and that seemed to extend to weird rules about reflections and placement.

I barely slowed, only heading left, because Damsel had landed, emerged in a tattered black dress and gnarled black mask across the eyes, and she was running to the right.

Because she was competitive enough she wouldn’t let me succeed while she stood back.

I had that competitive streak too.  I’d had it as a basketball player.  The drive to prove myself.

The spike woman extended hands to either side.  Spikes plunged down, directly for me.  I twisted mid-stride, knowing I’d fall, but her accuracy was good, and a claw as wide across as my hand was plunged into that hand.  Bones shattered, and flesh became a ring of meat no wider across at any point than a pencil was, fingers barely hanging off of the wreckage of it.

Pinned to the crystal floor.

Why was Teacher afraid to let me in here?  Why had he backed down, at the end of the raid on his base?

Because I’d been in tune with the Wretch.

Come, I thought.

I twisted my thinking and my every sense of where my hand was, which was strangely easy to do when my hand was in about five different places at once, in mutilated tatters.

I pushed my hand into, through, and pulled it out in another interpretation.  Another side of the same die, another facet of the same me.  Buckler attached.

The spike woman reared for another attack, turning her head so the spike that stuck down at an angle would sweep my way.  A pillar so wide across I couldn’t have wrapped my arms around it tore its way toward me with surprising swiftness.

And a figure of what could only be described as glass, gold, and glory crashed into her.  Golden lights and outlines, a fragile shell with nothing within, all radiating out like light through a prism or a lens flare, except what radiated out had some substance to it.

She broke like a christmas ornament might when hit with a sledgehammer, when the spike woman hit her.

And then she was back, moments later.

I picked myself up, and I ran.

Damsel, off to the side, ran too.

They’d noticed us, or the spike woman had tipped them off.  Some of the same fifty were in our way.

And behind them was Teacher.  Teacher… broken.  Teacher if Teacher had been caught in a lawnmower and the substance of him wrapped around the blades.  But the blades were a figure, and the figure was many-spoked.  Black and radiating dark lines that stabbed into the ground at an angle, and traced webworks between crystals and thralls.

The figure moved thralls around it like puppets, using the spokes, the threads, the lines.

How long has this agent been in control?  I wondered.  Because what you’ve been doing makes a kind of sense if I imagine it wasn’t you, but it.

The thralls weren’t fighters, but they didn’t need to be.  They just needed to buy a minute or two.  Maybe less than a minute.

The edge of my buckler smashed into one nose, the flat of the shield struck someone in the ear.

Behind us, the Wretch was losing its fight against the spike woman.  She advanced, and she swiped out.

I threw myself to the side, shield up.  It helped with the debris of shattered crystal, but not the general impact of it.

But she’d stopped short of hurting Teacher’s thralls.  She turned her focus to Ashley, who was attacking the ground.  Clawing at the lines, maybe.  Scratching the crystal?  I doubted she could get deep enough, but they seemed to care.

I turned, looking the other way, while I still had a distraction.

To take it in.  This pillar of a being, this controller.

To see the lines, the systems by which it operated.

The tech that had been carted in and arranged around it.

I broke into a sprint, staggering because my right leg was more hurt than I’d thought, and didn’t like having my full weight on it.

But in a minute, that wouldn’t matter.

Thralls grabbed me, struck at me, tried to tackle me.  The shield helped, but only a little.

Anger helped a lot.  Anger at Teacher, at Amy, at my dad, at my mom.

I punched the shield into wires, and I felt the electricity run up my arms like snakes writhing through my tissues.

And tech all around us went dark.

The woman with spikes stopped what she was doing.  Thralls turned to face her.  Some began climbing up to Teacher, to help extricate him, when he looked much like my hand had a minute ago.  The more they pulled, the more human his shape became.

It’s the agent.  They’re organizing, and Teacher’s a prime organizer, I thought.

At least I broke his hold over his pet.  What had that been, a generator?  Tech to carry his power outside the bounds of the portal?

Whatever it was, it was a distraction.  Only ten thralls were focusing on me now, because there was something way more threatening in play.

She reached out for me- I’d freed her from control but I was still the enemy, but I could put Teacher’s apparatus and agent between myself and her.  She scratched at the ground and severed more wires.

I stumbled, my leg still hurting, and walked a half-circle around the apparatus, keeping a healthy distance from everything.

Watching the lines of power and control that didn’t require any tech, because they were operating from here to here.

I decided on a crystal that seemed to be doing a lot of heavy lifting.

Damsel was climbing Teacher’s apparatus, clawing her way up as thralls fought to get in her way.  She reached a band of flesh that was Teacher, and stuck her claws into it.

But as his head was pulled free by thralls, Teacher looked my way, not toward the wound.

“No!” he hollered.

I was in the midst of charging toward the crystal, buckler raised high.

Was that a no, the world will end?

He was someone who wanted the world to end, because he wasn’t a man anymore.  He might not have been for a while.  He’d gone down the same path as Khepri.

Was it a no, my plans, then?

My whole life was fucked and had been fucked from the beginning.  My mom was… not even disappointing.  I was angry at her, but most of all I pitied her, and that was so much worse than just about any other feeling.

But she’d taught me from the start that I should take away what the bad guys wanted most.

I smashed the buckler’s edge into a crack in the crystal.

Then I took a few steps back, and used the twenty seconds or so that were left to watch the fallout.

I stirred, and phantom pains danced around my body before mercifully fading.

“Everyone okay?” I asked.

I looked, quickly checking.  Nobody was brain-dead, by the looks of it.

Candy had a cut on her forehead, but it was apparently from falling from where she’d been sitting on the desk.

A thousand horrible images danced in my mind in the span of a second.  The dreams, the horrible insights.  The agents, and the magnitude of what we were attached to.

Because the agents were only one small part of a much bigger system, the crimson landscape had been the real system, and the smaller agents had been capable of reaching to what I could well believe was close to infinity.

It was dizzying to consider the implications.

“World didn’t end because of us?” I asked.

“No,” was the deep, vaguely digitized growl from the door behind me, as angry as if the world had ended.  I looked, and I saw Defiant standing next to a very alarmed looking Natalie.

“That’s good,” I said, quiet, with a calm I didn’t feel.

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129 thoughts on “From Within – 16.12”

  1. I’m reading Wildbow already 5 years. Started from the russian localization of worm, and could not wait for continue. So i decided to learn english atleast a bit for understanding Wildbow and his magnificient works. I have read all his works and i finally decided to write a comment here
    Why now? Because this chapter, i think, most beautiful and dark chapter in all his works. This is so sad and magnificient in his own psychological dark ways.
    Thank you Wildbow for not even for your works, but for your being. I think you are a good guy and best writer i have read in my life. And i read thousands of them

  2. -” This- a whirl of intensity, Jessica reaching out with a bleeding arm, grabbing a thin wrist, slamming it down into rocky ground until the attacker dropped the blade. Frantic, even though it meant losing traction, Jessica reached out and swiped the knife, sending it flying ten or fifteen feet.” So, Jessica killed Riley in SELF-DEFENSE because Riley went all psycho again and tried to kill Jessica. I don’t blame Jessica. Looks like Riley was incapable of becoming a normal person, much less a good guy. I feel stupid because I believed in her change and I feel bad for liking her. A psycho will never change. Good, Jessica, she saved her own life and possible the world from a crazy little bitch. Now I have doubts about Nilbog too.

    -Teacher because one with his Agent. Just like Taylor. But unlike Taylor, who saved the world with the help of her Agent, Teacher and his Agent wanted to rule over it.

    -Victoria just ruined their plans. Probably all of them.

    -I’m worried about Legend. Where he’s? Did he was turned evil by Teacher? I’d hate to see Vic having to fight against such a heroic man turned evil against his will. Hate it and be worried. For Vic.

    -Wrench helped her host. Wrench is the best Agent.

    – “You stopped him and it was the first time I remember you being a real sister to me. And it was only a week after I pushed your plate of spaghetti into your lap because we were fighting.” Candy and Darlene’s relationship is adorabloodthirsty.

    The best chapter of this Arc. Trippy, crazy, surreal, tense, suspenseful, dramatic, awesome, excellent.

    1. 1) Believing in people’s redemption is never something to regret.
      If Riley let Bonesaw resurge, that’s on her. You don’t have to feel bad because she failed our common expectation, and shouldn’t generalise that reaction over to everyone else in that situation. Pretty please with a shard on top.

      5) Wretch is also apparently unshackled from the divisions in that landscape. Maybe a property she got from budding from both parent worms.

  3. Wait, Victoria’s dad isn’t her biological dad? And here I thought that the New Wave family drama couldn’t get any worse than it already was.

    Well, on the bright side, it means that Crystal is actually her sister rather than her cousin, I guess.

      1. Of course considering the context of double_blammit’s comment, he could mean that it was Neil’s shard that was a “father” of Victoria’s shard, in which case I figured out that Neil was Victoria’s biological father, though not entirely myself. I’m certain I wouldn’t come up with that theory if I hadn’t seen double_blammit’s comment first.

    1. What if the Shards lied about her family, just like they probably lied about Jessica killing Riley? Lisa said that they should not trust Shards’ lies. I just can’t see Carol as a woman cheating on her husband like this.

      1. Remember that in interlude 12.all Victoria’s shard clearly called Carol Victoria’s mother, while at the same time it called Mark “the man who raised [Victoria]”, not her father. I think that Tattletale might have either been mistaken, or (more likely) she was simply trying to spare Victoria’s feelings, and she failed, because Victoria realized that Tattletale shard’s “guesses [were] those crystals made of smoke?”

        As for Jessica and Riley, I’m not sure that the latter is dead. It is entirely possible that Jessica simply strangled Riley to unconsciousness, until someone else arrived and helped Jessica subdue Riley, or until Riley simply surrendered herself. It would still be a major development, because it would probably be the first time when one of Jessica’s patients attacked her, and it could explain why Jessica didn’t trust Victoria when she saw the fake diary. Being attacked by a patient could make Jessica become prone to suspecting, or even assuming that her other patients may be more dangerous than she’d judged them earlier.

        1. Then why her shard didn’t explicitly call Neil her father if it knows that he’s her real father? It could have said something like “the man was not her father. The other man was her father” or something along the lines. This sounds very vague and I’m inclined to give Carol the benefit of the doubt until I’ll get the confirmation that she was indeed a cheater from sources more credible than Tattletale’s shard.
          As for Riley, at the second read, I concluded that its hard to believe that someone so intelligent and calculated like Riley would have attacked Jessica without any preparations or without stabbing a vital organ (the fact that she stabbed Jessica’s arm is not something that Riley would do; she’d go straight to vital organs or if she was feeling sadistic, destroy any capacity of Jessica to defend herself before turning her into a monstrosity as she did with Grue and her other victims). This is so much unlike Riley to attack Jessica like that. But maybe something really bad happened to make Riley snap like this and lose her calculated sadism for a moment, allowing Jessica to defeat her.

          1. Re. Riley. I also think that Riley didn’t try to commit a premeditated murder. She probably wouldn’t use a knife for it, but something more elaborate and difficult for Jessica to avoid. This was probably a momentary slip-up, or a bout of hysteria. We know that Riley is capable of slipping back into “Bonesaw” habits. For example remember that someone (wasn’t it Amy?) had to point out to her that she tried to weaponize the pipes that were supposed to become bases for hero-Ashley’s new hands.

            As for Mark I have a theory that is in some ways even uglier than just the idea that Carol cheated on him. Remember that Victoria was upset when she saw Mark and Carol practically glued to each other as if they were on some second honey moon, and the fact that in one of the visions in the current chapters we saw Mark disappointed, and Amy – scared after some sort of exchange of words between them, which would suggest that Mark asked her to do something with his brain – other than to cure his depression, and she refused then, but apparently did it later because Victoria remarked that she knew that he still had depression. There is also a fact that when Victoria saw the vision with Neil and Carol, she didn’t appear to be very surprised, and immediately jumped to a conclusion that this was a moment of her conception. I think that there is one simple possibility that could link all these facts:

            Until recently Mark had loved Carol only platonically, because he was completely impotent, homosexual or asexual (and Victoria knew it).

            In arc 12 the elder Dallons appeared to be on their “second honeymoon” because Amy “fixed” this problem for him. It would explain so much:
            – why Mark seemed to have more severe depression back in Worm than he appears to have in Ward (he probably felt that he failed Carol as a husband),
            – why Carol ended up being so abrasive now, despite apparently not being this way when she was young (two decades of sexual frustration did it to her),
            – why Mark wanted a second daughter, because Victoria was a constant reminder of his failure,
            – why in Worm Carol preferred Victoria over Amy so much (Victoria was not only her biological daughter – she was also a living reminder of the time when she got sexual satisfaction she desired),
            – why Carol’s affection seem to have switched so much to Amy in Ward (because thanks to Amy Mark can finally satisfy Carol’s sexual needs).

          2. And the really tragic part is that if the confrontation between Amy and Mark shown in the vision happened before Bonesaw’s visit to Dallon’s home, and Mark really asked Amy if she could “fix” his sexual orientation, then it would mean that he might have put the idea of using her power to mess with people’s sexuality in Amy’s mind… which could mean that he might have contributed to the fact that Amy ended up doing it to Victoria back in Worm.

    1. A whole lot of ketchup, and a game of monopoly gone wrong.
      I’m standing by that until further proof is delivered.

  4. Its also a possibility for Shards to lie. I missed what Tattletale said here:

    “It’s lies you know,” Tattletale said. “Inconsistent information, jumping to conclusions, filling in blanks wrong. Start from a faulty premise. In this case, I think I thought of all of you heroes in suits with way too much white in the design as being oversexed and deranged. I was right on one count.”

    Maybe Riley is alive and Jessica never became a criminal (even one in self-defense) and Shards just lied like assholes.

  5. So, Jessica’s fuckup with the diary came on the heels of her killing someone, even if it was a crazed Bonesaw?

    That doesn’t make things easier, but it makes things clearer.

    Other things cleared: Vic’s sisterly domestic life with Crystal at story start; Sveta confirmed as trans; Waste-chan is best shard waifu; Teacher went Khepri but Victoria messed it up for him.

    Was the entirety of this sequence inspired by the Lawnmower Man movie? A ton of the imagery seems to come from there, up to and including the broken-up avatar of Teacher.

  6. This chapter/arc has been a goldmine of information. Teacher is less human than shard, the crystals are basically Scapegoat’s power (which explains how Shard Teacher knew it had a lot more potential), Tattletale’s power actively seeks not just true information but the worst possible information unless you’re very specific with your question, likely as an extension of conflict seeking… So since the shards’ limitations seem to be aimed at making them do what the shards want anyway, does this mean TT is more prone to exhaustion/migraines if she doesn’t want the worst possible info and is seeking a better/more peaceful option? Could explain quite a bit. That would also be a power that would be very near to impossible to utilize properly as a hero compared to as a villain.

    Defiant is very unhappy and Natalie is highly alarmed. I’m guessing some serious shit went down due to their invasion of shardspace. Did each agent that noticed them knock their respective hosts out to pay more attention to the invaders…? Or did most powers go down across the board in the meantime?

    1. > That would also be a power that would be very near to impossible to utilize properly as a hero compared to as a villain.

      The way I see it, Tattletale could still be a “proper” hero, if she somehow learned to keep things her power tells her about people to herself better, though I agree that it would be very difficult for her to do. Not only because of migraines (assuming she really gets more of them if she doesn’t use her power to provoke conflicts). There are other, possibly more important, reasons too – the sort of information she tends to get makes it really difficult for her to trust people, and the fact that her power is so useful at keeping other people off-balance by hitting the most valuable points of their psyche probably conditioned her to use this ability the way she does.

      Note that Tattletale quite obviously already censors herself a lot, especially around people she cares about, or simply wants to have good working relationship with. If she used all dirt her power gives her on other people, she would be very lonely, hated by everyone, and responsible for a lot more disasters like the one with Victoria and Amy.

      By the way, if Lisa did learn how to keep her mouth shut better, and “become” a hero, she would likely have to change her cape name. Not because of some PR reasons, but simply because Tattletale would no longer fit her behavior.

      1. Maybe Victoria could help Tattletale with her power? The big reason why Tt has such problems seems to be that she can never turn her power off completely, or fully control what sort of info she gets. Between mastering her own aura, figuring out how to use Rain’s power to give Sveta more control over her body, and recently discovering a method to make the Wretch behave in more or less predictable ways, Victoria seems to be one of the better experts in figuring out how to master difficult to control powers without using such drastic methods like Teacher’s or Ingenue’s powers or something similar to Shin drugs.

  7. Because replies are broken:

    @nick012000
    Did you miss the part where Tattles explained that her power is the embodiment of bad fanon?

  8. That was interesting.
    Building bridges via Heartbroken. Seems like they’ll be more than sidekicks afterall.
    Tattletale is strange. First she lashes out, now she is playing nice. I guess she and Victoria now have somewhat of a common ground, with Victoria knowing how Tattletale works.
    Bonesaw, hm. Wasn’t it mentioned that she had been working on Valkyrie’s capes at some point after the portal incident? It would mean Jessica didn’t actually kill her. Although Victoria explicitly mentions that Bonesaw didn’t return, so I take that as Bonesaw being confirmed dead.

    Victoria thinking about calling for Waste came a bit too suddenly imo, would’ve been better if it had been hinted at a little earlier, that she is aware of it being an option. This would then also explain how Waste managed to appear so quickly for the resque.

    The ending is so uncertain. Nobody brain dead, Defiant is there, world didn’t end, but only Victoria woke up?

  9. I wonder if Lookout’s dimension display showed what was going on after they left Rain’s meeting room, if it could or tried to follow what was going on in the shardspace, since she would have been trying to follow them once they were in there anyway.
    How long were Defiant and Natalie there and how much of that mess did they see through that display lol. He might have been altered to something when Cradle suddenly died after Rain asked about contacting him, and that they sort of brought up the plan to Defiant earlier as well.

    Victoria saw into matrix and pulled off some awesome moves, going to have to go over that action again a couple times. Hope we get to hear about the fallout she saw after messing up teachers hub or whatever that was.
    I’m not sure what was going on with the Agent they were fighting but I guess Teacher needed that tech next to the portal to help control or stay connected to people across Dimensions? Since breaking it freed an Agent but the Thralls were still under his control.
    And I would have to guess he started connecting/mixing himself with his Agent after Gold Morning because of the power/control he saw/felt from Khepri at that time. Though he might have had enough thinkers and tinkers in his group to mess with that idea before then as well.

  10. Typo thread:

    > The other side of the chasm was fifty feet down and twenty feet away.

    There are too many spaces before this sentence.

    > I didn’t like that this was the second time we’d voted[…]

    Isn’t it the third time the Heartthroughsiders have voted? Once to determine whether to split into smaller teams when they went after Love Lost, Cradle and March, once to choose one of Contessa’s options, and once in this chapter. Sure, the group of people voting each tome was a bit different, and Victoria obviously took part in other votes, but in this context I would expect her to have these three in mind.

    > I looked over, and I could see that past the tear in the landscape, Tattletale’s agent was an extension of the landscape,[…]

    Maybe consider rewording this one to avoid repeating the world “landscape”.

    > if she was on the up and up she was playing with big moving pieces in a way that was awfully scary and hard to extend any trust to.

    Shouldn’t there be a comma after “up and up”?

    > Teacher’s a prime organizer
    Shouldn’t it be “Teacher’s the prime organizer“?

    1. “Except we couldn’t get over there.”
      Kinda feels like it comes out of nowhere. The chasm is described later, and Victoria didn’t think about wanting to cross it beforehand either.

      ““Aren’t the guesses those crystals made of smoke?””
      Something missing there. Maybe a second ‘made’, or a different way to say it ?

      1. >“Except we couldn’t get over there.”
        >Kinda feels like it comes out of nowhere. The chasm is described later, and Victoria didn’t think about wanting to cross it beforehand either.

        I think that it is author’s conscious choice, and it is meant to be a bit confusing at first – before the reader gets a bit deeper into the chapter. Wildbow has been dropping little puzzles like that at the beginnings of chapters for a long time, and it is an especially common in Ward.

        Personally I like this writing technique. It helps build tension, and it engages readers intellectually as soon as they start reading the chapter. However… I feel that perhaps Wildbow has been abusing it a little lately. In my opinion it works great when there is a natural scene shift between the chapters caused by the fact that time has passed and the protagonist has moved to a different place and ended up in an entirely new situation as a result. For example in my opinion it worked great with Kenzie’s “rotoscope” in chapter 10.7 or the skirmish at the polica station in chapter 11.1. On the other hand in a chapter like the current one, which is a direct continuation of the previous one with practically nothing happening in-between, it feels a little bit forced.

        Once again – it is just my personal opinion. For example in this comment:
        https://www.parahumans.net/2018/12/18/blinding-11-1/#comment-62563
        Sengachi seemed to say that they generally wanted more context for what was going on early in the chapter, which (if I interpreted their words correctly) probably means that they enjoy this particular technique less then I do.

    2. > My mom and Uncle Neil. Twenty-one years ago, if I had to guess.

      If the above bit is supposed to suggest that Victoria’s conception happened twenty-one years ago, then it doesn’t match the following information from chapter 1.8:

      “Gave me a body again. Um. She made me seventeen again. Walked back the clock, as if it… I don’t know. So she didn’t take two years of my life from me in body, like she did in everything else. I’m physically nineteen now, apparently.”

      Chapter 1.8 happened in early to mid July 2015. The current chapter – probably in November or December 2015. That is 4-5 months of difference. If you add 9 months of Carol’s pregnancy, you get over a year, which means that if what Victoria saw was indeed a moment of her conception, then she may still be twenty-one years old, but what she saw must have happened at least twenty-two years ago.

      1. Sorry for messed up blockquote in the above comment. Here’s the corrected version:

        > My mom and Uncle Neil. Twenty-one years ago, if I had to guess.

        If the above bit is supposed to suggest that Victoria’s conception happened twenty-one years ago, then it doesn’t match the following information from chapter 1.8:

        “Gave me a body again. Um. She made me seventeen again. Walked back the clock, as if it… I don’t know. So she didn’t take two years of my life from me in body, like she did in everything else. I’m physically nineteen now, apparently.”

        Chapter 1.8 happened in early to mid July 2015. The current chapter – probably in November or December 2015. That is 4-5 months of difference. If you add 9 months of Carol’s pregnancy, you get over a year, which means that if what Victoria saw was indeed a moment of her conception, then she may still be twenty-one years old, but what she saw must have happened at least twenty-two years ago.

        1. I’ve checked again and it looks like I was slightly wrong about the timeline. Chapter 1.8 happened in September 2015, not July. It still doesn’t change the conclusion though. From what Victoria said, she must have been 17 in June 2011, when she was “wretched”. The current chapter happened 4 years and 5-6 months after that.

          9 months of Carol’s pregnancy + at least 17 years between Victoria’s birth and her “wretching” + 4 years and 5-6 months after that is still more than 22 years.

  11. Typo Thread:
    Gammadoc (earlier was gammarod. intentional?)
    the general the way > the general way
    Even with the brain injury (is this right? a brain injury on carol?)
    as big as car > as big as a car
    infinite length and that seemed > infinite length, and that seemed

    1. > Even with the brain injury (is this right? a brain injury on carol?)

      It is correct. Carol suffered a brain trauma (along with other injuries) when she run into the Wretch at the end of chapter 12.8, and was never fully healed by Amy, who admitted in chapter 14.6 that she wasn’t confident enough to fully heal Carol’s brain in one go because of her recent mistake.

    1. I guess that It could put Teacher’s words from Fortuna’s interlude about “Saving us from ourselves” in a new light. What if by “us”, he meant “the shards”, and he saw Weaver as a threat because at the time she had a good chance to kill the Scion-hub?

  12. Trans Sveta CONFIRMED. I’m always happy to see more positive trans characters and Sveta is one of the best characters.

  13. I wonder… Jus how bad epidemic may be caused by mass migration of people from Gimel to Shin? I guess Amy may need to do a lot of work similar to that trick she used to undo the effects of Bonesaw’s plague back in Brockton Bay.

  14. Man, Heartbreaker is a gift that keeps on giving. Every time he comes up, you think “Jesus Christ, this is revolting. Surely it can’t get worse, we’ve managed to hit the nadir of power-related horror”, but then you read the next chapter and turns out he’s also best buds with Radiation Boner Dude.

    Also, was Tattletale telling the truth when she said Chicken Little can’t coordinate between shards, or is she just desperate to avoid some kind of Horakhty Scenario?

  15. Considering that Old Man managed to use his power on Tattletale, do you think he will see what happened in the dreamscape during this arc?

    1. Checkhov’s grandpa

      I think the Old man only sees your memories up to when you ate his food. To get more recent memories, you have to return for seconds.

      1. I’m afraid it is exactly the other way around – once Old Man uses his powers on someone, he will have a way to see some things that person did from that point on. From chapter 13.9 about how Old Man’s powers work:

        “When he slept, if people he was linked to were sleeping at the same time, he’d get their memories from the day. Vague, not complete memories, but enough to piece most things together. It gave him other advantages, an instinctive knowledge of how people would react or respond, after he slept. Made it more effective if he went after them, presumably, but he was careful, favored sending people instead of going himself, or attacking them in subtler ways.”

        And about how long the efect lasts:

        Tattletale nodded. “Two, three days?”

        “Maybe five,” I lied. As far as the PRT figured it out, it was indefinite. So long as he was alive.

        1. Whoops, sorry for missing blockquotes. Looks like I misspelled “blockquote” as “blockqoute” when I was preparing the above comment, and then, to make it worse, copy-pasted the misspelled tag around the parts that I quoted.

  16. Okay, so Carol cheating… that’s kind of pathetic… with her sisters husband? … honestly at this point I’m not sure why we need this detail, it just feels like more of the same. Oh well, sure, that’s a thing I guess.

    Also, Yamada killing Bonesaw…. does that even make sense given what we know from Valks interlude?
    It totally makes sense as the kind of conclusion that Tatts and the negotiator shard would make given the info avaliable (Jessica a bit weird, Bonesaw goneburger)… but we’ve SEEN Bonesaw hanging out happily in far off lands and not looking dangerous in the slightest, and that was when Yamada was rescued. We as readers have information that Lisa doesn’t and the information we have seems at odds with that conclusion.

    Also, super nice having Lisa basically sit Victoria down and explain “I have a shard which makes it very very very easy to hate everyone. Sorry for being a bitch, but you can see what I’m working with here.”

  17. Wonder what would have been shown if Vicky thought of Armstrong.

    Anyway, glad to be out of that setting, I had headaches visualizing the place.

    1. > Wonder what would have been shown if Vicky thought of Armstrong.

      What if Sveta asked the shards about Armstrong? …or about Weld?

  18. I thought Bonesaw had reinforced her veins, airway and spinal cord such that multiple stabbings to the neck wouldn’t even incapacitate her. Was adopting an orthohuman body plan part of her clemency?

    1. Tattleshard’s trying to come up with a reason why Riley never came back while Jessica did with the limited info it has. It’s the reverse of a magic 8-ball, will always find a complete answer for any question asked, but the result’s truth is highly questionable.

  19. I’m wondering if it’s maybe Nilbog who snapped, and Jessica killed some kind of Riley clone. Just because the vision is “true” doesn’t mean it can’t be misleading.

    1. Contrast the point of view of her trigger when they entered Rain’s dream (16.8) with her memories of it (13.z).

      1. @grinvader So you’re putting “her body felt like it was hers for the first time ever” and the fact that only Nadia fell on the rocks in 16.8 (vs Dimi fell & Nayet cut rescuing in 13.z) together to come up with the idea that Sveta is not Nayet, but Dimi? That seems like quite a stretch.

        1. I was more thinking of the part where we know Dimi looks at the ground ashamed, and the POV-scene does exactly that. It might very well be another memory bleed thing – Cauldron kidnapped both Nayet and Dimi – assuming they both got a similar mix of shards, some confusion might have happened between the two of them.
          However, due to the memory wipe, Sveta could have been influenced by what the shard ended up with. She might be Nayet’s body, with some of Dimi’s memories and feelings. Or the other way. Or both, and Cauldron told her the other died but they just got amalgamated into that mess of tentacles.
          Hard to say for sure.

      2. @grinvader
        > Contrast the point of view of her trigger when they entered Rain’s dream (16.8) with her memories of it (13.z).
        OK, I read both pieces twice and I still not get it.
        “You’re looking good, Nadia. Almost like you’re a real girl” + “She’d told me that her body felt like it was hers for the first time ever”?
        I would say it is pretty vague…

    1. No, the shards we meet here are Victoria’s, Lisa’s and those from 3 Teacher capes outside the shardspace, including that spiky-woman thing (probably similar to Nailbiter’s shard, now that I think about it). See the part starting with

      “Get to the edge!”

      for that last guess.

  20. Okay so, I need someone to help me out. What’s the implication here?

    ->The image changed. Me, sitting on the cot in the little cell in Earth Shin. Amy sitting across from me.

    ->I didn’t- I’d known, but I hadn’t wanted to know.

    I want to comment that some portions of the chapter were janky to read. Not in a “this is so trippy” manner, but in a “I feel this needs a bit more polish” way. Other than that, though, gosh, heck. So much info to parse, so many things happened, Vicky you are fucking _cool_ and wait, Sveta is trans?! Yay! That had flown past me (I thought 13.z was from her perspective) but I looked it up and the explanations make sense.

    1. The crystal Victoria’s speaking to at that point is essentially Tattletale’s power. It changes accordingly to the last line she says out loud.
      The previous one was

      “Yeah, I know who you were fantasizing about,”

      and so this scene must be linked to that phrase.
      Tattleshard is assuming that Amy was also fantasizing during that time in the Shin cell and Victoria also guessed as much, without really wanting to think about it.

  21. Alfaryn, your theories are smart and fascinating, but even if you are right and Mark turned out ex gay or impotent, this is still not an excuse for Carol cheating on him and on her own sister with her brother in law. This is an act of horrible betrayal and I can imagine how much hate she will get if is true. Why she stayed married with him if she was so sexual frustrated? She could have left him and find a better man, not cheat around and betray both him and her sister. Or sleep with a gigolo and use protection, for God sake. Neil is equally guilty btw. Crystal and Vic are the only good member of their screwed family.
    As for Riley, if she snapped, them its Jessica fault. She wasn’t such a good therapist to Riley. She allowed her to snap. She made a mistake. Just like she did with Vic diary. She blamed Vic and treated her like she was an evil mastermind, without thinking twice. Jessica is not the perfect therapist as we wanted to believe.

    1. I don’t disagree that if Carol cheated on Mark, it was a horrible betrayal. But… here’s another very crazy theory – what if Mark and Carol wanted a child, knew that Mark won’t be able to impregnate his wife, and Dallons and Pelhams agreed to do it this way instead of involving a sperm bank and artificial insemination?

      1. You are officially the king (or queen) of crazy theories. OMG, lol, you’re killing me with your theories. If its true then Sarah probably loved her sister very much to agree with this craziness. Very, very much. Not many women would have agreed to help their sisters like that.

        1. Thank you, I guess?

          I think that one thing to take out of this crazy theory is that we should remember that while Tattletale’s shard is unlikely to lie as long as it is provided with sufficient information, it may (and I suspect it often does) try to select information it gives, and the context (or lack of it), to provoke conflict. In other words it tries to give the exact amount and kind of information to make Lisa either draw most unflattering conclusions about people she can, or to make her tell what she learned to the exact people who can be harmed in worst possible way by hearing what she has to say when she says it (as was the case with Amy in the bank). At least Lisa is aware that her power is feeding her this sort of information, and that it (as pretty much all shards do) is trying to generate some conflict this way, and is wise enough to at least try to censor herself, and at generally think twice before she acts on information that may really hurt someone. I even suspect that Lisa’s role in what happened with Amy is one of her most important reminders why she should always be careful how she uses the information she gets.

          By the way, I suspect that Lisa’s power never intentionally lies, just sometimes when it has insufficient information – for example when Lisa is trying to force it to give her some answers about a topic she has not enough data about – it speculates, and is sometimes mistaken.

          Oh, and if it helps – I’m a man, not a woman.

          1. The only way your theory can be confirmed is…Carol’s reaction once Victoria will inevitable ask her about her affair with Neil. If Carol will get too defensive then you’re right. If Carol will admit then there’s no doubt about the affair But what if Carol will deny? Do you think that Victoria should ask for DNA paternity testing?

            1. Several DNA tests would also help confirm the thing with Victoria not being made from entirely human tissues anymore due to Amy’s ministrations.

      2. Alfaryn, I really, really don’t think WB would go there, especially considering how deeply homophobic the very premise is in the first place. The theory is built on Mark’s (presumed, on your part) homosexuality needing to be “fixed”–which is homophobic rhetoric that I don’t think even WB would touch with a ten foot pole. Plus, you gotta occam’s razor this stuff–simplest answer of “just plain unhappy marriage” is probably the correct one.

    2. As for Jessica, perhaps a big part of the problem is that this incident (assuming it as just Riley’s momentary setback) is that after experiencing something like this Jessica herself believes she is as good as she thought she was?

  22. I’ve been wondering about Tattletale, what losing Skitter means to her, and the fact that none of the Undersiders seem to be able to help Lisa fully deal with the pain of this loss – either because of their own problematic personalities (Rachel, Aisha), or because they didn’t know Taylor well enough (pretty much all others).

    Perhaps it would help Lisa if she could talk about it to some Chicago Wards, especially Theo (or Everett a.k.a. Tecton, if he is still around)?

  23. It is interesting to see how Victoria appeared to be second-guessing herself when she was trying to decide whether she should have destroyed the “crystal that seemed to be doing a lot of heavy lifting.” She even had to bing up this argument to make her decision:

    [My mom’d] taught me from the start that I should take away what the bad guys wanted most.

    Is Vicky really that much “in tune” with her shard now? Because I think that neither her shard nor her old Glory Girl persona would need such rationalization to find the “correct” answer the question “To smash, or not to smash?” when an opportunity like this presented itself. 😉

  24. I see commenters concluding that tattle’s power sees the worst in you because that’s what the crystals around her did, but why would it be that simple? None of the other guys’ powers related to the crystals that were them, seeing people you know, or your past, or your loss. In fact, EVERY agent has to have and use data on their person’s past. So surely tattlegent can see more than just the bad stuff, right?

    1. Of course Tattletale’s agent may give her more than “the bad stuff”, but between this bit:

      “It always gives the worst details,” Tattletale told me. “Stuff that cuts right to what’s most important, what’s most visceral. Hard details, weaknesses, the key elements that make us us, that would be hardest to uncover otherwise. Stuff you’d never want to admit or let out of the box.”

      I had a chance to get answers, as ugly as those answers were, to face down those people who were most incomprehensible and get that key insight.

      “You could ask it a million questions and understand everything, I bet. There are less filters while we’re in here, probably,” Tattletale told me.

      “I always thought of myself as an answer-seeker,” I said.

      “Yeah, sure. Absolutely,” Tattletale said, quiet. “Here’s the deal, though. By the time you’re done asking a million questions, I guarantee you that you’re going to hate everyone and everything. You’ll abhor them, despise them, be afraid of them.”

      and the things Tattletale’s power kept telling her (especially about Foil) in her interlude, I think it is obvious that Tattletale’s power at least defaults to telling her the “bad stuff”.

  25. @Alfaryn (I hope this works) I can see it being believable/coincidental that Lisa’s power reads “the bad stuff” since that’s where tattlegent was, but how is it consistent for the other agents and powers? None of them gave their hosts powers or intuitions based on their dreamscape theme.
    Otherwise, it’s insinuating that Lisa can change her power if they walk her agent to a different section, something that the other agents have already been doing constantly if slowly. She could hack her power to stop being so negative and instead give her any theme information she wants, even across islands (see: Wretch).
    Surely it can’t be that easy, and why doesn’t the dreamscape locale affect the other powers?

    1. Well to me this:

      “Syndicate is firing zaps back the way we came. That nexus or… landing between slopes that we passed through, people, relationships, wants? The faces of people you’d all lost? I think some combination of that and the cluster are serving as our current hub, connecting us.”

      looks like a thematic connection between Darlene’s power (and personality) and the section where her agent is. Darlene is, after all, all about connections between people, and about “wants” (just look how much she wants her Aiden for example).

      The way I see it, either the agents tend to settle in areas that have properties related to the powers they grant, or their presence shape the areas around them to reflect these powers.

  26. So Teacher is mostly a shard puppet at this point! That makes SO much more sense. His plans really didn’t make sense from the understanding that he was a human being who cared about the continuation of his species

    1. Jack wasn’t controlled by his shard yet he planned the destruction of humanity despite him being a human so it wasn’t hard to believe if Teacher acted the same. Or maybe Jack was also his shard’s puppet?

      1. While Jack was obviously to some extent influenced by his shard, he probably wasn’t a puppet – just a person whose own personality and behavior has been very much in line with his shard’s from the very beginning. At least according to Bonesaw in interlude 25.x in Worm:

        Jack had a different kind of connection. A deep connection. He was in alignment with the particular nature of his passenger. The passengers naturally sought conflict, and Jack had fed that need from very early on, and he had sustained it for years. The line between the two was so thin as to be impossible to mark, but Jack’s personality remained his own. Altered, but not subsumed.

        1. So, Jack was a psycho (obviously) and he made his shard proud of his psycho nature. I think that the same thing can be said about Teacher: he is power hungry and his shard is proud of his willingness to create conflicts based on his desire for total power. I realized that he’s not his shard puppet, he works with his shard (he’s partially subsumed in this shard landscape but he still have his free will).

  27. … Wait, the moment of Crystal’s betrayal that the shards showed Victoria that seemed strangely tame, where Carol was weirdly emotional while chopping carrots. Could that be Carol informing Crystal that Victoria might be her half sister or something?

    1. Or it could be simply that Crystal is just a really nice girl who isn’t keeping some horrible secrets from Victoria. The fact that capes (especially natural triggers) all seem to be messed up by their powers somehow doesn’t mean that all of them have to keep some horrible skeletons in their closets for Tattletale’s power to discover.

  28. We know that Riley was alive when Valkyrie found Jessica and co.

    Therefore this happened after that or Jessica didn’t kill Riley.

    So the possibilities are:

    1. It happened after they were found. This doesn’t seem to leave much of a gap for the incident to happen- maybe Riley pitched a fit when she found out about Amy leaving for Shin?

    2. It happened before and Jessica didn’t kill Riley but just subdued her. Perhaps in the immediate aftermath of the portal incident. Maybe Riley had a reversion incident as a result of it and Jessica had to defend herself and being in a panic herself she nearly went too far.

    3. It’s a lie…

    1. I don’t think it was a lie. In fact I don’t think Victoria saw any lies in the crystals. Here’s why:

      “It’s lies,” Tattletale said, standing between me and the biggest crystal.

      Off to the side, claws longer than I was raked crystal with a nails-on-blackboard sound.

      “Aren’t the guesses those crystals made of smoke?” I asked, indicating the nearest one.

      Tattletale sighed, but she didn’t correct me or convince me otherwise.

      The way I see it Tattletale was trying to convince Victoria that these visions could be lies to spare Vicky’s feelings. Unfortunately Victoria called Tattletale on it, at which point Lisa simply gave up.

      Of course the fact that these visions were just short glimpses with no sound or wider context means that either 1. or 2. are entirely possible.

      1. Or they’re lies and Tattletale doesn’t like butting heads with Vicky while she’s in her current mindset.

        1. I don’t think that Tattletale’s shard needs to resort to outright lies to provoke such reactions. I suspect that it may even understand that in long term sticking to truth as much as possible can let it cause far more pain. In my opinion the only times when it is not telling the truth is when it simply has not enough information and is forced to give its best guess, which may not always be correct. It is the simplest way to explain why Tattletale’s power is particularly unreliable when Lisa has little data about the topic she is trying to get some superpowered insights on.

          1. I also think that Tattletale’s shard has one more way to cause pain if an opportunity to put Lisa in a situation resembling her trigger presents itself – shutting up, and not warning Lisa in time. I think this is exactly what caused Lisa to not figure out that Taylor was going to surrender to PRT before the fact, and that she was going to ask Panacea to mess with her brain.

            Of course in both situations it is not entirely impossible that other factors were to blame:
            1. Taylor probably intentionally chose to surrender on the day when Tattletale had a strong thinker headache, so it is difficult to tell if Tattletale’s shard chose to play along with Taylor (or QA), or was simply unable to give Tattletale anything useful even if it wanted.
            2. At the end of chapter 29.9 of Worm Tattletale may have been distracted or otherwise prevented from realizing what was about to happen by Simurgh. I know that when people suspect that Ziz was responsible for something, she probably wasn’t, but IMHO in this case the manipulation would be subtle enough to fit Simurgh’s usual MO. And Ziz had a perfect opportunity to do it at the end of arc 28…

  29. @Mya:
    >where Carol was weirdly emotional while chopping carrots.

    Pretty sure this is recently, with brain damaged Carol struggling to cut carrots straight (due to being punched by waste-chan).

    @ Alfaryn
    >I don’t disagree that if Carol cheated on Mark, it was a horrible betrayal. But… here’s another very crazy theory – what if Mark and Carol wanted a child, knew that Mark won’t be able to impregnate his wife, and Dallons and Pelhams agreed to do it this way instead of involving a sperm bank and artificial insemination?

    See- I was tossing that theory around too, especially as Mark apparently REALLY wanted a kid, and Carol has enough trust issues that she would only have anything to do with a man she could really really trust. But…. Sarah and Carols discussion in 15.x of Worm 1: mechanical boogaloo doesn’t really suggest anything like that (just after Marquis capture, discussing Amy’s adoption). At the very least, if it is a thing, lady Photon is very much NOT mentioning it… which would seem odd if your theory was correct. It seems… possible. But there’s also a chunk of evidence pointing elsewhere. If nothing else, if Mark was in on it, I feel like he would have told Vicky some time after “uncle” Neil died.

    1. > If nothing else, if Mark was in on it, I feel like he would have told Vicky some time after “uncle” Neil died.

      And why would they break Victoria’s heart even further after she lost family members, and her lover to an Endbringer? It seems likely that everyone who knew thought that it is these secrets that are best never revealed. Note that if Neil really was Victoria’s father, there is no way Amy wouldn’t realize it out using her power as soon as she had a chance to compare DNAs of everyone in the family, which probably happened not long after she triggered. And she never told Vicky…

    2. Regarding Carol’s interlude in arc 15 of Worm. Do you mean that bit that I quoted in response to thistledown’s comment below? If this is she case, then I agree that at the very least Sarah seemed to not know that Victoria was Neil’s child.

  30. @Grinvader
    Ooooh. That’s horrible 😡 Ew. That makes a lot of sense, though. Thank you for explaining.

  31. Well I think I have an idea why Photon Carol gave her husband and sister’s illicit love child the cold shoulder.

    She popped up in the real world as a Bonesaw-modified Nilbog template and started having Ashley style dreams about the shards she was closest to in life.

    “Oh hi! You’re back? With memory problems? Here, I’ve got all these great memories saved of when two of the people closest to you totally overlapped. I’m halping!”

    1. I think you could be on to something here. Could it be that in chapter 15.3 Photon refused to call herself a “Lady”, because she doesn’t think she deserves the title as long as she keeps this sort of a secret from her husband’s daughter, and Victoria could hardly hear her answer beyond the word “someday”, because the answer wasn’t really meant for Victoria? Maybe Photon simply promised herself to reveal that particular secret to Vicky “someday” – when they were both better suited to handle emotions that would be involved in this particular talk?

  32. heh.. trying to protect the children?
    might still be hope left for you, Detective….

    im..trying to remember-was there word/consensus on how “reparable” the bleedover-induced mental damage is?as in,m if the alterations to the subject’s mental balance are set once, or constantly being reinforced by the Tokens?
    i mean, if he isnt braindead, Poor little “emoshuns hurt!” Ryan can rot for all i Care, but the Romantic in me still wants to see the grieving mother who he warped into Love Lost get a somewhat better ending….

  33. @Alfaryn

    Why? Out of respect for the dead. In order to recognize what this person did for Vicky and her family? And anyway- I meant SOME TIME after, not immediately after…. which come to think of it probably wouldn’t have time for due to S9 attack.

    Regardless, I like your theory, but I still don’t think it stacks up with the Sarah/Carol conversation around adoption Amelia.

  34. > But… here’s another very crazy theory – what if Mark and Carol wanted a child, knew that Mark won’t be able to impregnate his wife, and Dallons and Pelhams agreed to do it this way instead of involving a sperm bank and artificial insemination?

    I don’t think it’s what happened in this case, but I don’t see what’s “very crazy” about it. It’s a sane, obvious, and well-established solution to infertility. It might be unlikely compared to the simple affair theory, but it’s not very crazy.

    A “very crazy” theory would be to suggest that the man in the vision was actually Marquis, not Neil.

    1. I would say that this theory is crazy because it hinges on a number of rather unlikely assumptions. I think that the most important one is taht for everything to be fully consensual Carol, Mark, Sarah and Neil would have to agree to it, but if all of them were this comfortable with letting Neil, who at that point may or may not have been married with Sarah, but was already Crystal’s father (at least assuming that the elder New Wave members did not lie about Crystal’s parentage too), then I don’t think they would keep this secret from Victoria as long as they did. Sure – despite what ninegardens said above about the respect for the dead, I think that after Niel’s death the remaining New Wave members would be less inclined to tell Victoria (out of concern for her feelings – after all it is probably less shocking and painful to be told “the man you always thought was just your uncle, is actually your biological father, and you can talk to him about it whenever you feel ready” than “the man you always thought was just your uncle, is actually your biological father, and now he is dead”), but at the start of Worm Victoria was seventeen. Glory Girl might not be the most mature person for her age, but do you think that four people so comfortable with the idea of “borrowing a husband” to solve an infertility problem would think that Victoria would be unable to handle the truth about her origins by then?

  35. Unsure of what was happening to Teacher here. He seemed to be trying to physically merge with his shard (? at least I think it was his shard and not some apparatus); then Victoria broke his tech, it made him lose control of the spike-woman shard, but then his thralls started to untangle him from his own shard. Why? His shard didn’t seem to become hostile, nor should it.

    In other news: Victoria using Scapegoat’s power, then Tattletale’s, then summoning her shard… Wow. And moreover, she’s able to put aside all of the all-too-human BS of who was sleeping with whom and whether she should hate Amy for whatever, and focus on the issue at hand. I thought this kind of power would be far beyond her (especially after asking about Amy again and again, when she’s not really relevant right now), but even more points for her then.
    By the way, I somewhat expected Victoria to ask Tattletale’s power about herself in all her different identities, like she asked about Amy.

  36. And Jessica winning a fight against Bonesaw – HOLY FUCK. Don’t think she killed her though. It might have been a part of the therapy:)

    1. Wait, did Lisa ever talk or even meet Dr. Yamada ? I don’t think so. Her power’s only got hearsay to work with. Cue random murdery conflict-generation for random kicks and giggles.

      1. I don’t think we ever saw any mention of a direct meeting or conversation between Jessica and Lisa before. I suspect that Lisa might have researched Jessica at some point, especially if she learned that Yamada was Taylor’s therapist, but I doubt that she went much further than answering questions like “Is this person dangerous to Taylor? Could she useful to the Undersiders somehow?”

        In particular I don’t think that Tattletale ever seriously considered getting a psychotherapist (not necessarily Jessica) for herself, because if I recall correctly Tattletale thinks a psychotherapist couldn’t help her, since her power “analyzes” psychotherapists quicker than they could analyze her. This leads me to a conclusion that Lisa wouldn’t be interested more than a minimal contact with Jessica, if even that.

        Which is a shame really, since, outside of the fact that Lisa could be wrong, and there is a possibility that a professional therapist could help with her mental issues, there is also a less “professional” and more “humane” thing Jessica could do for Lisa – in my opinion Lisa could use a shoulder of a less messed up and more mature person than her fellow Undersiders to cry on after losing Taylor, and while most capes consider the topic of Khepri taboo, Jessica actually wanted to know more about Khepri (or at least this is what she said to Chevalier in Teneral e.1), so she would most likely be perfectly willing to listen to everything Tattletale would want to get off her chest about Taylor.

  37. It’s possible that the Tattleshard visions show true inferences, but in a context of false supporting details. For instance, it would be easy for the shard to look at Victoria in the present and infer that she is the biological daughter of Neil and Carol rather than Mark and Carol. However, the exact circumstances of the conception would not be so easy to infer. The shard could made up a scene about Carol and Neil making out in order to convey the idea of Victoria’s genetics, but the actual conception could have been done via artificial insemination (i.e. using the brother-in-law’s sperm instead of a random donor).

  38. @grinvader & boonerunner: given that guesses are represented by smoke-crystals (makes total sense, and Lisa not denying it is a pretty solid confirmation in this situation, I think), I think everything shown in the regular ones is literally true (or a simulation of what would be literally true, when asked about a hypothetical situation). And Lisa didn’t need to personally interact with anyone to get this information: Bonesaw is a parahuman => everything what happens to her and around her is recorded in the shard-network. Ditto for Brandish. So what Victoria has seen is not even Tattletale’s power as Tattletale herself gets it, it’s the raw data and the search engine used by it.

    By the way, Teacher had an access to the shardspace for who knows how long, and he was getting such information about lots of parahumans which he could only get by constantly reading their minds somehow (without even interacting with many of them). Now it fits quite well.

    1. > And Lisa didn’t need to personally interact with anyone to get this information: Bonesaw is a parahuman => everything what happens to her and around her is recorded in the shard-network.

      Alternatively the landscape around Lisa’s shard could provide information based on what the person invoking its power already knows. Out of the dream-land it would always be Lisa – the person the shard is always connected to, but the visions we saw this chapter were based on Victoria’s knowledge. It seems to be a general rule for the images the crystals showed in this and the previous chapter – all images reflected in crystals seemed to be about the people who invoked them, or about topics, scenes or people closely tied to them.

  39. Neil & Carol could easily be from BEFORE Mark & Carol became a couple. Maybe it didn’t work out so she settled on the brother instead. Vision is given because it makes Victoria and Forum-goers jump to worst conclusion.

    1. I’m afraid this is not the case. At least this exchange between Brandish and Lady Photon from Carol’s interlude in arc 15 of Worm seems to suggest the opposite:

      Brandish shook her head. “I… you know I never planned to have kids?”

      “I remember you saying something like that. But then you had Vicky.”

      “I only caved to having Vicky because Mark was there, and I had to think about it for a while.”

      By the way this was an interesting choice of words by Carol in that last line. Just as if she wanted to avoid straight up saying that Mark was Victoria’s father. On top of it the fact that Carol said that she had to think about having Victoria “for a while” suggests that Vicky’s conception wasn’t an accident, which… doesn’t seem to fit the theory that Carol and Neil had a “simple affair” (as Pizzasgood put it a few comments above), so maybe my “very crazy” theory that all elder Dallons and Pelhams agreed for Carol to have Neil’s child isn’t as crazy as I thought?

      1. Alternatively Sarah (and possibly also Mark) never knew that Neil was Victoria’s father (which in my opinion would fit Sarah’s line I posted in the quote above better), but Carol slept with Neil for the explicit purpose of becoming pregnant with a child Mark couldn’t sire for some reason.

        1. (Which would mean that Neil cheated on Sarah, and Carol possibly cheated on mark, but the whole thing wasn’t exactly a “simple affair” – but something Carol did for Mark, who wanted a child, but for whatever reason couldn’t become a biological father.)

          1. I guess there could be one more explanation. Mark could be perfectly heterosexual, and in fact the only thing he originally wanted from Carol was some safe sex with no strings attached, while Carol wanted him to marry her. Carol could “solve” this “problem” by becoming pregnant with Neil, and then telling Mark something like “Looks like one of the condoms we used broke. Now take responsibility Mister, and marry me!”

            Question is – could Carol me this manipulative?

            1. The answer is yes, Carol has a profession that involves presenting truth in different ways. Lame lawyer jokes aside, we are talking about the woman who arranged the meeting of Amy and Vicky at the BBQ in the beginning of the Ward.

  40. @Alfaryn: I think our ideas don’t contradict each other. Knowledge of the person invoking images is a search query, and search results are taken from the shard database. Keeping and accessing those records seems to be a common function of all shards, much like a shardspace-analogue of Scapegoat’s power, and what makes Tattletale’s power special is that it has a search function + can not only output the results contained in the database, but also use it to make guesses about something not contained in it (e.g. a password set by a non-parahuman). Most likely, Tattletale can’t tell the difference between guesses and search results when using her power normally, but the difference is visible in the shardspace.

  41. > Neil & Carol could easily be from BEFORE Mark & Carol became a couple. Maybe it didn’t work out so she settled on the brother instead. Vision is given because it makes Victoria and Forum-goers jump to worst conclusion.

    Yeah, I was actually just doing the math on this. We don’t know Carol’s age, but Neil was described as between 35 and 40 in Worm, at a time when Crystal and Victoria were 19 and 17. That means he was 16-21 when Crystal was born and 18-23 when Victoria was born. In the vision he was described as being Tristan’s age, so that would put him around 17. His time with Carol could therefor have happened up to six years before Crystal was born, though I doubt it’s that extreme. Also, if we take Victoria literally and assume that she just saw herself being conceived while Neil was 17, that would mean Crystal was conceived when Neil was 15. That’s possible, but it’s more likely that Victoria was either jumping to conclusions or underestimated Neil’s age in the vision.

    Personally, I suspect that this was shortly before Sarah realized she was pregnant with Crystal, and that their various relationships weren’t really locked in yet. Maybe Neil was cheating on his girlfriend, or maybe they’d recently broken up and only got back together when they realized Crystal was coming. The shards might even have purposefully decided on Neil being Victoria’s shard-father instead of Mark on purpose to seed suspicion of infidelity and inject a little internal conflict into New Wave.

  42. Reading through the Carol bit some more times – I’m still not seeing anything about conception. Just that they were together. Where’s the speculation about conception coming from?

    1. In my case a smaller part of it is Victoria’s reaction to the vison. A bigger part is this bit from interlude 12.all:

      She thinks of the man who raised her, holding a glowing orb in his hands, the light shining through. Of her mother, gripping a blade made of energy in her hand, the light shining between fingers that are clenched hard around the weapon.

      Note that Victoria’s shard explicitly called Carol Victoria’s mother, while it called Mark just “a man who raised her.

      There is also this bit from 12.all:

      Our mother-host discarded the greater shape of her inviolable defense. Our father-host discarded explosive strength and power. Our ability to fly comes from the waste common to most of our kind, because we had to fly to get to our destinations.
      […]
      And another, dead and broken, consumed and connected anyway, was so vainly trying to broadcast that it communicated as my host and I connected and ‘went live’.

      But in this one it seems that the father-host could mean a person from whose shard a part of Victoria’s shard came from, not necessarily Vicky’s biological father, and besides while “explosive strength and power” may describe Mark’s power, I think it also could describe Neil’s.

  43. Victoria’s guess that it was about 21 years ago. Vicky is 21. Nothing stated outright, but the implication is there

    1. Actually while Victoria may still be 21 (depending on when her birthday is exactly), enough time has passed since the beginning of Ward, that her conception must have happened at least 22 years before the current chapter. I’ve already made a note about it (with a relevant quote and a slightly more detail about the timeline) in the typo thread.

  44. Since people are confused about the Sveta thing and her dream sequence wasn’t written quite as clearly as it could have been, I will spell out the logic for those who need it:

    In 13.z, the non-Bet sequence focused on Nayet, a girl who made lewd jokes with the boys and drew dicks and profanity on the stones. Her older brother Dimi blushed and kept his head down at the laughter, and he drew more creative things like swirls, fish, and birds. Then the storm came and he fell from the rocks, and Nayet had to rescue him.

    In 16.8, the mallified dream sequence shows Nadia cheerfully making crude jokes and spelling profanity, while Dimitri is embarrassed and upset. These are clearly Nayet and Dimi, and the natural assumption at first is that the POV is Nadia’s. However, as the dream proceeds we see the POV character crying and drawing swirls, birds, and fish in a visibly agitated manner, at the same time that Nadia is continuing to be her cheerful self. The POV was not actually Nadia after all, but rather Dimitri. This is reaffirmed when the POV character proceeds to fall just as Dimi did, rather than rescuing somebody who fell.

    Combine this POV with Victoria’s recognition of the swirls Dimitri drew and Sveta’s comments about never feeling comfortable in her body, and the obvious conclusion is that Sveta was Dimi/Dimitri, not Nayet/Nadia. The Nayet POV sequence was just an imported memory fragment like the Edict memories in Ashley’s arc.

  45. Here’s a thought – in the last couple of chapters Victoria seems to have made multiple guesses and leaps of logic about how the dream-space works (including what the crystals show exactly) that seem almost inspired by something similar to Tattletale’s power. Could it have something to do with the fact that she is supposed to be so well “in tune” with her Shard?

    1. I’m pretty sure that’s why Teacher didn’t want her in. The natural curiosity and desire to learn about powers she displays might indicate a heightened grokability re:Shards and he anticipated that her going in there would never work in his favour.
      As in, maybe she’s underestimating her Thinker rating because she never really flexed it the right way… or maybe she’s just that good at understanding how aliens would interact with humans.
      When punching enemies out solves most of the problems, one’s head tends to take a break.

  46. Which also earns Sveta’s shard this cycle’s HALPING award. Here’s a woman who is uncomfortable in her body and likes swirls! I’ll go ahead and give her a body that is feminine and full of swirls!! What could go wrong?

    Also glad Victoria didn’t ask about her, because that’s a good way to get a “Sveta’s still the best, but she’s also a stealth Case 70 and Nayet was trapped inside her in some form. The intent was for Sveta to control the body and Nayet the power, but the shard messed up due to the forced trigger. Nayet was fully conscious but in near-total sensory deprivation for years, and the only way she could express herself was by lashing at vaguely-sensed stimuli, and this was why Sveta’s “agent” operated on raw survival instinct and wouldn’t follow her commands. And by the way, I’m talking in past tense because Mr. Bough killed her and you’re an accomplice.” kind of answer.

  47. So…. just a question, but did we EVER find out what project it was Jessica Yamada was being pulled away to work on when she passed Victoria team therapy?

    Because it seemed pretty important, but from my understanding Bonesaw and Valkryie were ALREADY on her roster, so it would have to be a step up from THAT…. and she sounded *really* excited about it.
    It just seems…. like an odd detail. Out of place, and important.

    Personally I think it was a Dinah Alcott plot to get Vicky involved… but that still doesn’t answer the question of what Yamada was transferring TO.

  48. Other things on my mind:

    How long has Teacher been Shardmerged? If its recent, what is the current state of Host-Teacher? If it is long term…. that kind of indicates that Shard-Teacher has been doing a damn fine job of pretending to be human (all be it, a creepy human).

    Is the Spike Agent Mama Mathers? It kinda feels like it, in which case, did Vicky just unshackle Mathers to Wreck havoc on Earth Gimel. Or if it isn’t Mathers, did she unshackle something ELSE to wreck havoc.

    And…. pretty sure whatever Teacher didn’t want you to touch at the end there really WAS something that you shouldn’t have touched.

    Basically, I’m putting all my chips on “Nice Job breaking it, Hero”, and quietly wondering just how broken they’ve made it.

    1. > How long has Teacher been Shardmerged?

      Now, that’s a question I have been asking myself too. The answer may be particularly important if you consider that Victoria thought that “He’d gone down the same path as Khepri,” and the strange ways in which he behaved as far as Taylor was concerned in arc 30 of Worm – in chapter 30.3 he ensured Taylor, he wasn’t her enemy, in chapter 30.7 he offered to “teach” her, and I think it may be possible that his goal then wasn’t just to master her and gain control over her power, but something more subtle – after all it looked like he tried to offer something to Taylor, though obviously we don’t know what exactly, since she couldn’t understand him at that point. There are also his cryptic words at the end of Fortuna’s interlude (in a scene which probably happened around chapter 30.4, since in that chapter Taylor saw Teacher and Contessa together in the Cauldron complex).

      Which begs a question – was he “shardmerged” at that point already, and saw Taylor as a person in a similar situation, and maybe also a potential ally because of it, or did seeing Taylor “shardmerged” during GM inspired him ar his shard to do something similar to their passenger-host connection after GM?

      1. There is also the question of Khepri’s puzzling behavior regarding Teacher (and I think also his students). Why didn’t she make them a part of her army?

    2. The only “bad thing” that Vic did was to save the world from being destroyed by TeacherShard. That’s all she did. TeacherShard screamed at her “No” because she was messing with his plans and of course that he didn’t want to lose. All he cared was for his plans not being destroyed, not because Victoria was “doing something wrong”.
      Defiant confirmed her that the world wasn’t destroyed so this mean that what she did was actually good. He was a big angry because they didn’t told him about their crazy plan to stop TeacherShard. He acted like a father worried for his children’ safety.

  49. > Is the Spike Agent Mama Mathers? It kinda feels like it, in which case, did Vicky just unshackle Mathers to Wreck havoc on Earth Gimel. Or if it isn’t Mathers, did she unshackle something ELSE to wreck havoc.

    I doubt that an un-teachered shard of whomever (rather than unshackled, which would be something Khepri-like) would be in any way worse than a teachered one.

    > And…. pretty sure whatever Teacher didn’t want you to touch at the end there really WAS something that you shouldn’t have touched.

    And that is quite probable, I think.

    1. @ninegardens too; re: Spike lady – unlikely, see the bit about the three Teacher flunkies outside the portal. Tattleshard shows them when Victoria talks about staying away from the agent, so it’s probably linked to one of them, same thing with the two others.

  50. A thought occured to me, could the vision of Jessica strangling Riley push Victoria to take a similar action towards Amy?

  51. I reiterate what I said before: Ward’s spot for Best Chapter is ever-changing.

    And of all the things to comment on, I’ll just quote the one that resonated with me the most:

    »“You’re all of the choices, already.  Find the face you want, move toward it, let it move toward you.  Pass each other.”

    I know that this addresses something concrete in the story, but if it’s read as a metaphor…

    Thanks for writing these lines. Thank you, really.

    On the other hand…

    »“Can we hack it?” Rain asked.  “Form a connection from within?”

    Heh.

  52. Jessica… Killed Bonesaw? T_T

    It’s totally believable. Jessica has spent her whole life rehabilitating criminals, its fully possible Bonesaw said a few things that broke her code. Christ this is sad. I know Riley had done terrible things, but going down that way after spending so much effort to rehabilitate is a tragedy.

  53. Always amusing to see Wildbow send incompetent, and unprepared teenagers against world/multiverse ending threats.

    Of course, they will flail around, get wounded grievously in body and mind, experience despair and win by the last straw. Hollywood physics.

    Makes for good drama and sells, because a competent character that just snipes this Teacher from 3 miles away would be too easy.

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