Sundown – 17.9

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I’d crossed the ‘everything is fucked’ threshold, by my personal measure, which was by no means official, considering it came from a fourteen year old.

Back when I’d been in high school, Amy had drawn a lot of initial attention when she’d triggered and got her power.  A friend, excited, had shared an anecdote from her dad about health issues: you knew that health problem that had been nagging at you for a while was serious when you woke up simultaneously shivering uncontrollably and drenched in sweat.

That was the general metric, when your body ceased making fundamental sense.  When I’d technically slept a full night but felt exhausted.

When I’d had a hot shower an hour ago and felt scummy and cold now.

When I’d had someone in my arms an hour and ten minutes ago, and felt cold and empty now.

When I was ravenously hungry, with maybe the best chicken dish I’d had in my life in front of me, lightly fried chicken strips with none of the moisture loss I tended to associate with frying, with spices I’d never had before, salsa utilizing new, better vegetables I’d never had before, and a dollop of sour cream to dip in.

And I felt too nauseous to eat.

I’d walked away from the situation room and the Amy situation wanting to climb into bed and pull heavy covers up around me.  Not an option.  I needed to do what I could here, or I’d regret it forever.

I wanted another shower, but it would have felt weird, and my skin always prickled and itched if I showered too much in close succession.  If my skin did that now then there was a good chance I’d drag nine fingernails through it until it stopped or I didn’t have skin anymore.

I’d needed to get out, and my instinct was to meet my basic needs.  Late morning, roughly time for lunch.  There were cafeterias in the Wardens Headquarters.

It was supposed to be me coming up for air.  That was what the situation room was becoming, for me.  Being pushed beneath the surface, a brief, furious struggle, victory, a gasp of air.  Pushed beneath again.

I wanted out and away.  Actual freedom, extending as far as my fist, stopping at the enemy’s face.  The Wardens were suppressing me.

But… stretching out that metaphor, I was aware that the drowning could latch onto rescuers, even fight them in their desperation.  Another case of our bodies and biology being counterintuitive, uncomfortable or dangerous.  I was acutely aware of the contradictions and hints that surrounded me and myself now.  Extending myself to offer Amy that benefit of a doubt meant I had to extend the doubt to myself at the same time, sans benefit.

I ate the chicken, despite my body sending me five different signals saying I shouldn’t.  Too full.  No you’re not, stupid body, you ate a light dinner last night and had a meal barely bigger than your fist this morning.  Nauseous.  You’re being stupid.  Overwhelming.  It’s mild, actually taste it.  Unfamiliar poison!  The Wardens wouldn’t poison everyone on site by serving something dangerous in the cafeteria.  Probably.  Slimy.  No, shut up internal voice, it’s a motherfucking delight of texture.

It was a policy of mine to never throw away food that an animal had contributed its life to, even if it was two strips of bacon on an egg sandwich.

I kept my mind busy, mulling over what I needed to go over with, with Tattletale.  There were two key areas that were high-risk, if I was discounting Amy as the principal threat.  Those areas had overlap.  Contessa had blind spots.  Dinah did too, but they seemed to operate differently, and Dinah had seen more clearly through the end of the world than Contessa had.  According to Dinah.

For Contessa, it was blind spots.  The biggest threats, giants, portals, and areas powers had maximal sway.  There were a few capes who she couldn’t get past, and some were explicit, ones that were officially on the record, like how Teacher’s doorway to the source of powers had blocked her vision.  Mama Mathers was explicit too.  A whole area that even Contessa couldn’t turn her attention toward.

Other blind spots were implicit, threats that I had to assume were still threats because they were major and she hadn’t eliminated them yet.  But that got hinky.  It wasn’t as cut and dry as that, and my mind ticked over the various files and major cases, class-S threats… and there was a lot to unpack.  A lot to consider, and dimensions to consider when weighing why Contessa hadn’t tackled them.

Then there was Dinah.  The other circle in my little venn diagram.  She was better at seeing past blind spots, as far as I could tell.  But she had to ask.  No solutions were neatly handed to her.

Which raised the question: what was insignificant enough to avoid being asked about or get attention, but capable of lurking close to a blind spot?   Were we underestimating someone?  Missing a signal or sign?

Eating was mechanical, bringing myself to put meal to mouth, chewing, acknowledging that the texture was top notch, the taste better.  That it was good, that I was hungry.

How much of this was my body rebelling because this whole mess was taking so much out of me, and how much of it was that I’d ceded more ground to my partner in this partnership?  If I had to analyze I had to wonder about its tastes, its feelings about sleep.  Surely my fragile, violent partner wanted me to be well rested, thoroughly and warmly fucked, assured, and nourished.  Surely these things were qualifiers for me being a capable and efficient host for the power it laid across my brain like a queen might lay a sword on a knight’s shoulder.

Meaning it was me.

My phone ringing was a relief.  A distraction from that thought process.

Unfamiliar number.  Tattletale?

“Hello?” I asked.

“You up and disappeared,” Eric said, on the other end.

“Am I needed?” I asked.

“You’re not not needed,” he said.  “Where are you?  We were going to debrief on that situation.  Discuss your part in it.”

It made sense that they’d catch on.

“I thought my part in it was to advise, fill you in on my team, my family, answer any questions.  You decided you didn’t need me.  That’s fine.”

“It would be appreciated if you came in.  We accessed your login, looked at your computer activity.”

Up to you, Kenz.  Trusting you.

I picked up a chicken fillet, layered with salsa, a daub of sour cream at the end.  I took a small bite, waiting, swallowed.  He hadn’t followed up.  “Sorry, I thought you were going to add something more.”

“You were doing a lot of typing, we saw your notes and they don’t add up lengthwise.”

“Deleted everything that wasn’t relevant.  You wanted full writeups if I was going to contribute anything,” I said.  You didn’t really.  You wanted to shut me down and pretend to let me help while not actually allowing any contribution.  Which is fucking stupid when the stakes are what they are.   I took a drink of iced tea.  “Whenever the scene moved beyond what I’d typed, I deleted it down to notes I could provide if something came up.  What was it, notes on Fallen, the prisoners who moved to Shin, my team, my sister?”

“Yes,” he said.

He didn’t elaborate.  I didn’t fill the silence.

Who broke first?  If Eric wanted to play that kind of little dominance game, he was in for a fight.  I had four give-a-fucks left and Eric didn’t deserve one.

I was convinced he’d hang up on me when he ventured, “Good notes.”

Were they in front of him now?

“Thank you.”

“Your dad is on the line.”

“Oh, good.  Kind of expected that.  Can you patch him through?”

“We’d rather you come in for a chat.”

“Soon.  Dealing with my sister is hard for me.  You’ve read all the files, right?  You know what happened?”

“Yes.”

“I’m taking ten minutes.  If you could connect me to my dad it would be appreciated.”

He didn’t immediately answer.  It was quiet enough on his end that I could imagine he’d muted his end of the call.  Asking question?

What else are you going to do?  Not allow thorough communication about someone who just attacked one of our hero teams?

Hero teams around me were huddled at their tables, talking.  A few isolated capes sat alone.  Heroes that had never attached to a team, but who wanted to help.  The mood was one of a forest fire, all hands on deck, people waiting to be deployed to the latest area that was getting out of control, hoping to get things back down.  Keep it under control for long enough, we pretended, and maybe the fires would burn down.  Things would be okay.  The healing would start.

I ate another chicken strip.  The peppers were small and heavy enough that they’d piled up toward the bottom of the salsa.  They weren’t ones I’d ever had before, but they nicely captured a bit of earthiness, like a root vegetable, with a bit of smoky heat, like barbecue over charcoal.  The tomato in the salsa balanced it out.  The sour cream cut straight through the worst of the capsaicin heat.

With no fanfare, response, or further communication, the phone clicked, buzzed for a moment, and then rang once.

“Victoria?” was the familiar voice.

“Hi, dad.”

“I just talked to Amy.”

“Can you get her to that therapy appointment?” I asked, closing my eyes.  “I’ll work something out.”

“I’ll try.  I wanted to tell you that I’m proud of you.”

I felt numb.  I didn’t trust my instincts, not when I couldn’t be sure if I trusted my appetite, desire to sleep, or my desire for human contact.  I had no idea if I could trust my dad’s words, or trust myself to accept them.  What was he proud of?  That I’d reached out?  Found a way?  Faced down the monster?

I felt angry at the words and I shouldn’t have.  Proud of me?

“What are you doing, dad?”

I felt like he’d expected the question.  His response came faster than it would have for ninety percent of people who got a response like that.  “I don’t know.  Wishing it was ten years ago, so I could do everything differently.”

“Ten years from now, assuming we’re all still around-”

“Don’t even joke about that.”

“-Are you going to be wishing that you could go back to now and do this differently?”

“Possibly.  Probably.  I’ve felt like I was at least one step behind things my whole life.  Like a conversation with friends and family, but every time you’re ready to speak, people have already moved on to the next topic.  Except… events.”

“Can you do anything about it?  Take a minute, figure out a game plan?  Refocus your priorities, figure out what the biggest priority is, target the problem and tackle just that one thing?”

“I can.  Absolutely,” he said.  He even sounded energized as he said it.  “I’m an expert at that.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that.

“That’s the cycle.  Being one hundred percent convinced I can do better this time, putting in the effort, falling back into old ruts and routines.  Falling behind.  Coming away from it with regrets both sharp and dull.”

“Like an alcoholic, but it’s not booze.”

“It’s people, I think.”

“Is it the enemy or the ally that’s the problem?” I asked.

“Enemies absolutely.  This is the time I can get the Empire out of the south end of the towers.  This is the time we make enough of an impact that the heroes rise in prominence and the villains suffer.  Maybe then that kid who is on the fence about joining her neo nazi family might instead decide to reject hate and be a contributing member of society.  I don’t know.  Ally?  Hm.”

“Hm,” I echoed him.

“Not ally.  Family.  Family absolutely a part of the problem.  I have a complicated relationship with your mom.  She has her own struggles.  If I stay close to her I’m validating decisions and behaviors I don’t like or respect.  Her treatment of Amy.  Of you.”

I sighed.

“But, holy hell, Victoria.  I love her.  She brings out the best in me, and I think my being close to her helps her good side shine.  When I’m not with her I don’t feel like a whole person.  So I tell myself that this time, I’ll push her harder, draw a firmer line, call her out.  But it takes resources I don’t always have.”

“Yeah.”

“Same with Amy.  But I won’t get into that.”

“Yeah,” I said, quiet.  In a way, I wanted him to get into that.  I wanted explanations.  Those explanations could wait.  “Thanks.”

I hadn’t really heard my dad go into stuff like this before.

“The only time life makes sense, the only time it feels right, is when your mom and I are on a battlefield together.  Lights in the darkness.  I almost never have regrets or dread when it comes to that.”

“Almost?”

“I tell myself every day that we fought as hard as we could, because we had to.  But Neil and Eric still died.”

“I’ve had the same thoughts.  Dean too.”

“I’m getting distracted from what I wanted to say.  Which is that I’m proud of you.  You’re the only family member that I don’t harbor that kind of regret about.”

I wanted him to have regrets, because I had my resentments.  My dad had been the one to escort me to the asylum.  Riding with me all the way.  Talking to me.  He’d visited with regularity, paying for a motel room, coming in daily.

But when he’d found out I was aware, that I could communicate, the visits had tapered off.  He’d moved back home.  I had no idea how conscious that was.  If it came down to having someone he could take care of and support with no real obligations, and that had been spoiled… or if it was because communicating was hard and involved a deeper look at the problems I was dealing with.  More personal stuff.  Or if it was just coincidence.

But as he’d tapered off his visits, went home, only came every once in a while, my mom had stepped it up.  As I became more able to communicate, she had visited more regularly.  Never enough, but she’d come.  Never looking me in the eye enough, or talking directly to me enough.  The doctors had been a safe proxy.  She’d studied the paperwork and documentation, the treatment options and she’d listened to the doctors.

But if my dad had stuck it out, tried a bit harder, faced the hard stuff… maybe she and he would have met.  Maybe it would have been possible to drag them into therapy.  Maybe we could have established boundaries, found a framework, and been able to deal with Amy when she re-entered the picture.

But he hadn’t, so that hadn’t happened.  Was it a slim chance?  Yeah.  But it was a chance.  All of us had shit to deal with.  But so often it felt like I was the one going the extra mile to wade through the shit to the far end, stick my hand out.  To fucking try.

I wanted him to regret that.  That he hadn’t.

“You have so much of your mother in you, and so little of me,” he said, in response to my silence.

The image that jumped into my head was of my mom and Uncle Neil kissing, hands finding the zippers or buckles in their old Brockton Bay Brigade outfits.

Holding the bottom end of the phone away from my face, I bit into the chicken strip, past the fried crust into the meat.  It had gone lukewarm, the salsa soaking into the fried part, and made it soggy.  Which was easier.  It made it easier to reconcile my body’s reaction with the meal, which made it easier to eat.

“What are you doing, dad?” I asked, again.  “Right now.  What’s the goal?”

“I’m trying to keep her from going off the deep end.”

“She came close.  She attacked Sveta.”

“I know.  Well, I didn’t hear about Sveta, specifically.”

“Dad, if you’re over there, we need more.  Forewarning or steering the car she’s in away from the cliff’s edge.  Or put on the brakes.  Something.”

“I’m one voice out of ten that are talking to her.  Three different factions in Shin, Marquis, Hunter, Dot, Lab Rat, and then me.  I’m one voice.  I’d like to think she wouldn’t have stopped when she did today if it weren’t for me.  I know that sounds feeble-”

Dad,” I said, stern.  A few heads nearby turned.  “…Give me a minute.  I need to step away.  There are a few people in earshot.”

“Okay.”

I took part of that minute to finish the chicken, standing from my seat as I ate the last of it.  I disposed of it, then left the cafeteria.

Fuck.

It took me another minute to find a spot where I was comfortably out of earshot of any bystanders.  A hallway that had been damaged in the raid.  Lights in the ceiling were ninety percent gone.  There were a couple here and there that flickered but spent more time on than off.

At the far end of the hall, I could see two capes taking a moment.  Two guy capes, one with two left wings, both of which were folded around his… boyfriend?  Husband?  Said partner had his head on the winged guy’s shoulder.  Just holding each other.

It was so sweet to see that my chest physically hurt.

I missed Dean.

To give them privacy, and to ensure nobody approached while I talked, I leaned against the wall with one shoulder, my back to them.

“Dad?”

“I’m here.  Waiting for you to verbally tear me down.”

I could have.  Letting Amy build those giants without stopping her?

But if my dad’s issue was dwelling on the past and always being a step behind… maybe we could take a tack where he thought more about what was to come.

“Dad, academic question.”

“That’s not the direction I thought you were going with this.”

“No.  Academic question.  You’ve been there for various steps in the process, overheard stuff, I imagine.”

“The giants?”

“The giants, yeah.  What happens to them if Amy dies?”

There was a telling pause.

“I think they die, eventually.  They’ll need upkeep.  They can’t eat.  They burn through power.  But eventually is a long time.  Maybe a year.  They can do a lot of damage in the meantime, and I don’t know if they can be controlled.”

“How are they controlled?”

“What’s your line of thought, Victoria?”

“How?” I pressed.

Four give-a-fucks  left, my dad didn’t get one either.  Even if he cared enough to call to say he was proud.

“I don’t know.  I think that lies with Lab Rat.  Remote piloting.  Implants.  From what Amy said, some would have to be biological imperatives.  Like instincts, but more focused.  Salmon knowing they have to swim upstream, even if they haven’t done it before.  Can I ask what you’re thinking, or are you going to do what your mom does when she’s agitated and bulldoze right past me?”

“Working out our emergency measures, in case things take a downturn.”

“I’m hoping they don’t.”

“If they do… if Amy won’t go to therapy like she agreed?  If she prepares to make more giants?  Could you bring yourself to kill her?” I asked.

Constantly holding the phone up was hard, especially with the fierceness I’d been gripping it.  I adjusted my hold, then brought my hand down, rubbing at the soft part between thumb and index finger, cracking my knuckles individually, then doing the same with my other hand, fidgeting.

Because the horrified silence was almost as bad as the words that would inevitably follow.

Jesus, Victoria.”

“You were saying something like your role there is aimless.  You regret what you didn’t do in the past and find yourself feeling lost in the present-”

“That isn’t even close to being the most important thing here.”

“If you have a job to do, if you pretend there’s a job to do, even, with a chance of following through.  Doesn’t that make it okay to be where you are, feeling behind, feeling like you don’t have a voice?  You’re being vigilant.  Watching her like heroes at a quarantine site keeping an eye out for any leaks or cracks in the wall.  At those sites, they have big red buttons they can hit if things turn ugly.  Burn the area with fire, call in the big guns.  Because that’s the danger.”

“Don’t depersonalize her, Victoria.  I know you have your trauma.  I know she has her problems.  But you said she was a person.”

“If a person has the potential to drop a biological weapon on humanity that wipes out the population, I’d hope someone out there is capable of putting a gun to their head and pulling the trigger.”

“I took her to her first day at school.  I brushed her teeth, I read her stories at bedtime.  I took her to her first day at school, holding her hand.  I went to the sports days, attended her grade school and middle school graduations, chaperoned her middle school dance.”

Your, our, I mentally corrected.  It was always her and me at the same time.  Me going to the middle school dance, dragging Amy with.  Me who was invested in the sports days.

“She’s not that little girl anymore,” I said.  “You can’t go back to ten years ago, dad.”

“I can’t- do that.  I can’t take a gun and hold it to the head of a girl I helped raise.  A girl I carried.  When she was small enough I could comfortably hold her in my arms.  Does that make sense?  I can’t pull that trigger.”

“I was thinking more like a light-bomb at her feet.  Maximum power.  You can put holes in concrete walls.  You can make it quick.  You’d pick your moment, drop a bomb where she can’t see or kick it over.  She’d be gone in one moment.  Dealt with.”

No.  Jesus.”

“You’d have to run, after.  Because Shin, and her team.  Or surrender.  Their criminal justice system is pretty forgiving.  Some corporal punishment, but forgiving.”

“You’re- you’re running away with this idea, Victoria.  I can understand the desire for an out.  I need you to understand that this isn’t a good or fair way of going about things.  For one thing, Shin, who you brought up, they could get in the way.  They may stop her from leaving.  I expect them to.”

“I expect you to do whatever’s necessary to get her to therapy.  Flashbang the guards.  Force Amy.  Manipulate her.  Because the alternative to making her is dropping that grenade at her feet and extinguishing her.  That’s how important this is.  I fought like hell to even get that admission out of her, dad.”

“I know you did.  I’m proud of you.”

“Then act on it, fuck it.  Follow through.  Grab the baton I’m extending your way, run with it.  Help to carry this the rest of the way.  To her sitting in an armchair talking her way through that stubborn maze of self-deceptions in her head, or to bits of that little girl you carried and took to school being cleaned up with a rag.”

“That’s enough!”

His shout was loud enough to almost hurt my ear, coming through the phone.  Rather than risk damaging my phone by reflex, I dropped my forcefield, let it fall, and caught it with my hand.

That couple at the end of the hallway- I glanced to see if they’d seen.  They had their eyes closed.

I didn’t bring it back up to my ear right away.  When I did start to raise the phone, I saw the notification.  A call from another number, a minute ago.  I hadn’t noticed the buzz.

“-side of you I don’t like,” my dad was saying.  “I know this is hard, believe me.  I respect you so much for enduring it as much as you have.  And I know exactly what it’s like to think about escape routes, options to get away from it all or magical solutions.  Sometimes that’s all you have.  But we’re not there yet.  We made progress today, and I’m so proud of you for making that progress.  Don’t fixate on that ugly kind of outcome.”

He wouldn’t do it.  He couldn’t.

“I’d do it.  I reached out to her again.  I had no obligation to do it, and I would have been entirely, one hundred percent within my rights to fly out there and wipe her from the face of the earth.  I’d accept any jail time. I’d accept the fight it brought with Shin’s parahumans and monsters.  Because it’s still a better outcome than what she wants to do.”

He didn’t immediately reply.  “…I know you would.”

“Dad.  These are the stakes.  This is where we’re at.  Fight to get her to that therapy appointment, come home and look after momm-”

I’d almost said mommy, like I was a little kid.  I dropped my eyes to the floor.

“-because she needs you.  Or out of respect for the other little girl you took skating, gave baths to, took to school, helped with her homework, read stories to at bedtime… stop Amy, so I don’t have to.  Any one of those three things, and I’ll forgive you.”

“Forgive?” he asked, like the word was as startling as my murder request.

“I’ve got to go.”

“Am- Victoria.  We need to talk about this.”

“I’ve got another call.  I’ve said what I need to say.  I love you, dad.”

“I love you too, but-”

I hung up.

Not wasting any more energy on this, I thought.

I checked my phone, and tapped on the notification for the missed call.  The phone auto-dialed.

“Hey, kiddo,” Tattletale said.

“Yeah, maybe don’t call me that.  It’s better than Glory Hole but not right now.”

“Whoa ho,” Tattletale said.  “What were you doing before my call came in?”

“I was asking politely.”

“Yeah but there’s a lot of emotion beneath the surface there, hon.  Is ‘hon’ okay?”

There was noise in the background.  A voice I was pretty sure was Imp crowing ‘Tattletale has a hon!’.

“Sure.  If you have to.”

“I get it, you’re just barely tolerating me.  I won’t take it personally.”

“I’m just barely tolerating everything right now,” I said.

“Which is why I won’t take it personally.  I get it.  I know if my dad called, I’d be pretty pissed during and after,” Tattletale said.  “Also, hi, I’m looking at you through a camera.”

I looked and spotted it.

“Yep, that’s the one.  Lookout has a thing running, making it appear to the camera like your lips aren’t moving and your arm is at your side, not holding up your phone.  Which is good, because she says you’re being watched by… thirteen people, right this second, myself not included.”

I sighed.  “Tell her thanks.”

“She hears.  As for us, we can talk.”

“Good.  Typing was inconvenient.  Thank you for your help back there.  The warnings about the dangers, so my friends didn’t walk into traps.  The little word changes that probably made a big difference… sainthood and intensities and alienation.  You got the ‘second generation’ trigger wrong, though.”

“In my defense, I was typing fast.  Keeping up with speech while processing what my power gives me can be hard.”

“It was good.  I’m grateful.”

“Wow,” Tattletale said.  I heard a chair creak.  I also heard commotion that might have been kids running around.  Or dogs.  “You’re trying real hard to be nice, aren’t you?”

“Try really hard to let me be nice without making a big deal of it or using it to be a festering pain in my ass.”

“Will try.  No promises.”

“Kenzie’s safe?  The kids are good?” I asked.

“Safe, fed, and given a mood-altering quantity of double-chocolate cookies, with Candy going the extra mile to look after your kid.  Most of the five-feet-tall-and-shorter gang is watching the feeds and listening in on conversations.  It’s like putting a normal ten year old in front of the television with streaming t.v., complete with them accidentally catching the PG-13 and R-rated stuff.”

I winced.  “What stuff?”

“Byron and Tristan regaling Golem and Ava with the story of Tristan’s almost first kiss.  The gay chicken story, if you’ve heard it.”

“Is this a ‘cock’ joke?”

“Truth or dare thing, where mean middle schoolers single out-”

“Redundant.”

“Hm?  Oh, mean middle schoolers.  Yeah.  Well, the idea is they single out the homophobic or closeted members of their friend group and dare them to one-up each other in pretending to be lovers, until one gets too embarrassed to continue and gets the punishment game instead.”

“Ahh.  That sounds like it could get uncomfortable.”

“It was a good almost-memory for him, I think, which is nice.  But it got a bunch of mischievous Heartbroken brains into a particular mode and mindset.  I recommend no sleepovers at Aunt Rachel’s for a while.  If they do happen, it’s at your place instead, and you deal with the aftermath.  I recommend extra hands on deck.”

I missed my team.

“No sleepovers, then, I don’t think I’m jumping on top of that particular grenade,” I said.  “Good warning, that.  Though I have to wonder how Rachel would even handle that kind of mess.”

“Stable duty,” Tattletale said.  “You should see the way Amias and Nicholas stopped dead in their tracks when I said those two words.”

Small voices piped up in the background, unintelligible.

“What the hell are we doing, Tattletale?” I asked.

“Right now?  I know it’s not what you’re really asking, but for now we’re talking civilly.  What’s important is getting you calmed down enough that you can go back to that situation room you’re avoiding right now without… I don’t know.  Dropping something on that Eric fellow from a great height?  That seems to be a recurring theme with you.”

“Ah fuck.”

“You gotta go back.  After that, we’ll be mulling over options and where we need to allocate our resources.  First things first, bureaucracy was the issue?”

“Yeah.  Twat named Eric is shutting me down at every turn.  I don’t suppose you could dig up some dirt on him or get him off my back?” I asked.  I stopped for a second to consider.  “How dangerous a question is that to be asking?  Like, in terms of what could happen to him?”

“Not too.  In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that Lookout over there is looking into him.  Ooh, look at that.  Kid shoots me a guilty look.”

Kenzie’s voice cutting into the call was startling, not too loud, but still an input I wasn’t expecting.  “Do you want the dirt?  I’ve got dirt on him, Larue, Pearce, a couple of other names around the table.  Mauk, Hicks, Cabezas.  I found surveillance camera footage, home PC stuff…”

I leaned against the wall, looking up at a flickering light.  Fuck.

“Not unless he’s a Cheit plant or anti-parahuman agent or something equally nefarious.”

“Nope.  He is really opinionated about the old PRT, though, instead of the current Wardens-”

“Lookout,” I said.  “Reiterating: you shouldn’t give it to me.  You shouldn’t go get that stuff of your own initiative.  It makes enemies, it’s invasive, it’s not right.  Not unless we have more of a clue there’s something nefarious at play.”

“Okay,” Kenzie said, sounding crestfallen.

Crestfallen was okay, when she was getting a lecturing for breaking the rules.

“Remember what I said.  Follow the law, do what’s right, reach out, minimize regrets.”

“Yeah,” she said.  “Gonna go do stuff now.  Sorry.”

“Thanks for the help with Amy.  Let’s work on the other stuff.”

“Uh huh.”

As far as I could tell, that was the point she was off the call.  Probably still listening in.

“Threats,” I said.  “What are we chasing?”

“That question?  That’s you procrastinating, hon.  You and I are focusing on getting you back into that situation room.  Because networking with the Wardens and having full access to them is important.  We can’t rely on our backdoor.”

“Entertain me,” I said.  “Threats.  I’m thinking they’re… blind spots for Contessa, and-or they’re threats so minor Dinah hasn’t thought to ask questions about them.”

“Okay, walk me through it.  I’ll fact check.  Blind spots.”

“Simurgh.”

“Yes.”

“Mama Mathers.  Soft blind spot.  She can look but doesn’t want to.”

“Yes.”

“Portals.”

“They are a factor.  So is the epicenter of the cracking, city’s heart, near the old Wardens HQ, but we’re lucky because that’s where the Simurgh is, too.  We can ignore it.”

“Powerful capes.  Valkyrie.”

“We have eyes on Valkyrie, and she’s self-aware that she’s a possible crisis point.  So are her flock members.  Only, like, five percent higher chance of being our breaking point, but, y’know.”

“Sleeper.”

“Restless but still around.  Earth Zayin in the palm of his hand.  He started to emerge, Legend faced him down.”

How?

“Leveled about thirty square kilometers of city.”

I nodded.  “He’s dormant now?”

“For now.  If he had motivations for making one attempt, he’s going to budge again soon.  But I don’t have the instinct he’s our threat.  He’s background.  Someone else’s problem.”

I nodded.  This was good.  Well, not good, but this was progress.  “What am I missing?”

“For other blind spots?  Teacher’s tech.  His portals, a lot of the cracking, and a few traps he set using tinkered replications of Mama Mathers-”

“Using what?”

“Nothing like you’re picturing.  He had tinkers scan her, copy her power, and work out stuff like… quantum tripwires, tripping when you look at them.”

There was a commotion, with a rustling of the phone microphone.  I heard Tattletale’s protest.

“Hi!” a more unfamiliar voice said.  I heard more indistinct grumbling from Tattletale in the background.

“Hi?”

“Imp here.  I thought it was important to notify you that whenever Tattletale says ‘quantum’, she is talking out of her ass.  Every last syllable is enunciation by way of butt.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Duly noted.  I’d really like to get back to the conversation, though.  It’s kind of really important.”

“Aww, that’s sweet,” she said, before handing the phone to Tattletale.

Not sweet.  Necessity, I told myself.

“Sorry about that.  There’s a reason I hole myself up in an office for days on end.  It’s because this lot plus a thinker headache add up to a quantum headache,” Tattletale said, sounding like she was speaking in a direction that wasn’t to the phone.

“Not a thing!” I heard Imp.

For all her complaints, Tattletale sounded more like the cocky, confident villainess I tended to imagine  than she had since our… reunion in New Brockton Bay, for lack of a better word.

“Quantum tripwires,” I reminded her of the conversation.

“Yes.  Devices that trip in response to being observed.  With big flashes that stick in your vision or mind’s eye.  But mostly it’s the portals.  Contessa is on her way back from Cheit.  She’s got a captive Teacher with her.  She led a group in there and leaned on them pretty heavily to get around the special countermeasures he put in place.”

“She’s got Teacher, so he’s out of the picture?”

“You dealt the knockout blow.  Reset his thrall network, took away the addictive impulses of being under his sway.  His thralls took him hostage and kept him while fending off inquiries from Cheit government.  Custodian and Ingenue are still in the wind, one of them literally”

One off the mental checklist.

“Any other blind spots?”

“Only that Contessa is still malnourished, with slight atrophy of the limbs, it’s slowing her down.  She’s also slowed down because she’s having to reset her layers of defenses.  Stuff she’d ask herself regularly, to guard herself against every eventuality in the days and weeks.  After her trauma of being captured during her one taste of freedom and independence, I think she’s being extra slow and extra careful.  Not blind spots, but factors.

“Okay,” I said.

“Moving on to Dinah?”

“Before that… still on the subject of Contessa.”

“Shoot.”

“Big threats.  There’s a lot of shit that a precog of her caliber could have gone after, right?”

“A few things.  Machine Army?”

“Stuff like the Machine Army.  It’s hard to ignore the evolving, endlessly reproducing machine hellscape that’s encroaching on our front door, so I think the Wardens have that base covered.”

“Fair,” Tattletale said.  “You want to make sure we’re leaving as few stones unturned as possible.”

“Yeah,” I said.  For what it was worth, I was happy to be focusing on the task.  I felt more me than I had when trying to sleep, showering, eating, or playing the secret commander and shot caller in the situation room.  “Okay so… my mind goes straight to the files.”

“Imp told me about your little library.”

“Yeah, uh, don’t remind me of that.  I’m still pissed about the kerosene she poured on my stuff.  And the fact she tried to burn down Swansong’s apartment.  So- okay.  Quarantine sites are a starting point when you want big and problematic, while still being easy to forget about.”

“Not something I ever dwelt on.”

“Most of the quarantine sites around America became places to send the PRT capes who weren’t palatable for public consumption, or the ones who couldn’t play nice with others.  Tall walls, patrols, specific duties.  Right?”

“Sure.  Armsmaster could have ended up there, if they hadn’t found busywork for him.  Maybe.  They might have thought he’d rebel.”

“Pastor.  I was just thinking recently, when Sveta was getting care, it would have been great to take the guy out of commission or bring in for study, because he would have given us a ton of hints about broken triggers and case fifty-threes.  Which makes me think-”

“We’re in the right department.  Dead.”

“We’re sure?”

“Yep.”

“There was Ellisburg of course; Nilbog.”

“In custody.  Cooperating.  Effectively retired.  Turns out that living off of cupcakes made of goblin puke and having next to no mental or social stimulation kind of grinds you down.”

“Flint.”

“We don’t know about Flint.  Nobody knows about Flint.”

“Between Dragon and Jeanne Wynn, I got access to almost everything and there were details in there.  A cape popped up who made a lot of people in their vicinity develop coronas and trigger.  They’d organized a villain group put together from as many of their triggers as they could, and that villain group had mutinied, deciding to slay the goose that laid the golden eggs, cut it open, and see if they could find what ticked.”

“Oh.  I see where this is going.”

“Not even that metaphorically a carving up of the golden goose.  They cut the cape up, each member of the villain organization took a literal pound of flesh.  With a lot of members, it was a lot of pounds of flesh.  Teeth, eyes, ears, limbs.  Everything taken with care, to keep the cape alive just in case it was important.  And they’d scattered, and they’d gone after victims to force-induct into their fucked up villain group.”

“I remember them. Didn’t know about the, er, what, pound of flesh placed near the victim?  Induced triggering?”

“Or fed to them along with the forced trigger situations.  I don’t know.  But it worked for at least a few years.”

“But that’s before our time.  The dark decade after the Siberian murdered Hero,” she said.

Uncomfortable to think about.

“That’s about it, for North American quarantines.  A lot of the unquarantined Class-S threats died in the fight against Scion.  Uh.”

I could have elaborated on motivations, but I felt like that might have spoiled our little hero-villain truce here.

“Yeah,” Tattletale said.  “Intentional, I think.  As much as anything was, then.”

I had so many frigging questions on that subject, but… no.  Again, it would have spoiled things.

Khepri had let them die while fighting Scion.  Tattletale agreed with the hypothesis.

So many questions.

“The Blasphemies, if you want to go international,” Tattletale supplied.

“My files don’t go that international.  It’s mostly PRT stuff and what I was able to dredge up online.”

“A group of tinkers get a spark of inspiration, dig up the resources and start building.  Each one of them builds something almost perfectly identical.”

“Huh.”

“But,” Tattletale said, with dramatic flair and what I imagined was a smug grin at knowing something I only had situation and battle notes on.  “Here’s the thing.  They’re each in a different country.  A few thousand miles apart, in one case.”

“Talking online?” I asked.

“Nope.”

“Phone.”

“Nope.  No contact.  They weren’t even very similar tinkers.”

“Three coincidental builds.  That to me says something about the agent’s network, the landscape we saw, interplay…”

I trailed off, expecting Tattletale to pick up the slack.

She didn’t.

“What?” I asked.

“More than three.  We think it was eight, but it could have been ten.  They required specific materials to make.  Once the first two showed up, the heroes started getting ahead of the tinkers.  Two tinkers weren’t very experienced, one died around then, one got arrested.  One made it past heroes to build the third.  Five were foiled in their robbery attempts.”

I nodded to myself.  Good fucking job on the heroes part.  The notion of there being five or seven more spooked me.

“Are they active?” I asked.

“They were active but aimless, in our general Gimel-Europe area.  Operating separately.  Now they’re together again.  As of the last week.  Make of that what you will.”

Make of that what I will?

Big ask.

“To me, that sounds like a symptom of overall weird agent behavior.”

“I don’t disagree.  Thing is, none of those are really considerations, Vic,” Tattletale told me.  “Except the Machine Army.  Except the Blasphemies.  Where does that get us, except you procrastinating on going back into that room to not blackmail the lacrosse player in the purple shirt who may or may not have a powerful relative who got them into the same University you applied to.”

I pulled the phone away from my ear, halfway hoping I could see a video image of Tattletale’s face.

“You read the dirt?”

“The point is that you’re procrastinating.”

“I’m stopping to think,” I said.

“Emphasis on the stop.  Don’t get me wrong, hon.  Not faulting you.  Sometimes I need to shut off the lights, send the kids away to muck stables or be horrible to each other, and retreat from the world.  Just don’t pretend that’s not what you’re doing.”

“Emphasis on the think part,” I stressed.  “Collaborating with you.  If we think about those guys and how they existed in the first place… there’re questions.”

“You’re doubting her.  I heard about the Kid Cassandra’s accusation.  Now you’re back to that?”

“It’s hard to ignore, isn’t it?  You have to ask a few different questions when you consider that those people and things existed.  One, the obvious answer, is that they’re blind spots.  Too powerful, too messy, whatever.”

“Certainly applies.  They give me headaches, and I’m seeing this stuff in sudoku-vision.”

“What?”

“Nevermind.”

“The second answer is… she’s Cauldron.  She was.  Might still be, in some way.”

“I don’t think you make Cauldron-level decisions for three-quarters of your life and then move on without carrying some of that with you,” Tattletale said.

“How many of those threats were allowed to go on being threats not because they were blind spots, but because they were useful to Cauldron or their goals?” I asked.  “They made case fifty-threes, for fuck’s sake, and speaking on behalf of my best friend, it was an evil thing to do to people.  To children, sometimes.”

“Our focus is on the present, not on the past.  Do you think she’s still keeping some useful pawns on hand?”

“I think we start by asking if she’s even on the same page as the rest of us.  If she even wants to stop this calamity.  Then we start asking what she’s using in the way of pawns.”

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91 thoughts on “Sundown – 17.9”

  1. It is so nice seeing someone relate and understand Antares. No half measures or maybe kinda getting it. TT gets what Antares is going through and understands how hard it is for her. really helps the TT/Antares ship get goin.

  2. -Man, Victoria SCARES me more than whatever Contessa is planning to do (pretty karmic for Teacher to become her prisoner. He’s utterly fucked in her hands. I want to feel sorry for him, but…nope:)).

    “I expect you to do whatever’s necessary to get her to therapy. Flashbang the guards. Force Amy. Manipulate her. Because the alternative to making her is dropping that grenade at her feet and extinguishing her. That’s how important this is. I fought like hell to even get that admission out of her, dad.”

    -She manipulates her father to kill Amy. This is so very creepy and Victoria should STOP before she’ll get crazy with so much hate. Yes, I understand her but I don’t like the way she manipulates such a nice man like Mark into killing his other daughter. This is creepy and very uncalled for. For the sake of her own mental health and Mark’s mental health, I don’t want to hear her talking like this with him again.

    -Legend is such a BADASS for confronting Sleeper (in my mind Sleeper looks and act like Galactus, only on a smaller scale) and no dying. Legend is truly a Legend.

    -Kenzie and Lisa are so nice for wanting to help Victoria with Eric but I see Eric mostly like a harmless little guy who kind of like to have some power at workplace than someone malicious and dangerous. I don’t particularly like him but I don’t want him to be hurt either.

    -A name for Lisa/Victoria ship? A Tale of Victory or Glorious Tale.

  3. I’m so worried for Victoria’ sanity more than I was worried before. What she told to Mark still TERRIFY me.

    1. @Lulu, We are talking about the woman WHO ripped her own fingernail out of hatred and spite. The fact is, Victoria is mentally ill.

  4. @Rojito TT/Antares is far on the open sea, out of sight of land. The question is, will they adopt Victoria’s flayed skin, Kenzie, or the Heartbroken, when Ward takes its true form as a family comedy.

  5. Victoria plays off of Tattletale way better than most of the Undersiders. There aren’t a lot of people Tats can really converse with, so you really gotta appreciate how good a combo they make. It also shows how smart Victoria is. She would have made a good Undersider, honestly.

  6. Except that it *is* called for. If the Wardens looked purely at her actions and the threat she poses, they’d be like ‘she needs to go.’ But they’re looking at how she has the hero background, has also been a victim. B/c of her background, its easier for them to remember that she’s mentally ill, that she needs help. But back in Worm, it was known that members of the S9 were often coerced, threatened into manipulating and staying in the Slaughterhouse Nine right? But there was still a kill order on S9 members, despite the fact that many of them were being manipulated by the ultimate manipulate Jack or were threatened/forced into those actions. Right now, Amy poses more of a threat in terms of power than basically any of S9 member I can think of. Not only does she have the insanely powerful, versatile bio-shaper ability, she’s in the position of political power with the correct resources and allies (freakin Lab Rat) to create *more* Endbringer-level entities in *her* and *Lab Rat’s* control. Lab Rat is a monster and Amy is deluded as fuck at this point. She’s simply too dangerous right now. Either she goes into much needed therapy or they tranquilize her and somehow force her into much needed therapy, somehow take away her powers or just take her out.
    If someone is about to set off a bomb because they are in a really dark place mentally, ideally you could talk them down, dismantle the bomb and the person some help. But if they’re in the process of pushing the detonator and they’re not listening, what are you gonna do? Let the bomb go off? No. You take them out.

  7. Yes, Vic is right, but I’m still shocked because of how she wanted to get rid of Amy. You just don’t ask a father to kill his daughter, no matter how bad she’s. She should have cared about Mark’s own feelings and conscience, at least, instead of coldly and cruelty demanding from him to end the life of a daughter that he basically raised.

  8. Yea agreed. However, I don’t judge Victoria for it. I’m just scared for her. If she were in a better place, clearly she wouldn’t have asked that of him. But she clearly isn’t in a good place. I’m not really scared of Victoria since she doesn’t have the same level of power as Amy. I’m more scared for her.

  9. Typo thread:

    Asking question? > Asking questions?
    give-a-fucks left (extra space)
    of your own initiative > on your own initiative
    tended to imagine than (extra space)
    from Cheit government > from the Cheit government
    literally” (missing fullstop)
    but factors. (missing quotation mark)
    bring in for study > bring him in for study
    “I don’t disagree, Antares.” (by right should not have the last quotation mark)

    1. > Were we underestimating someone?
      > I took a drink of iced tea.
      (Too many spaces before these sentences.)

      venn diagram > Venn diagram (capitalization)
      wipe her from the face of the earth (capitalization of ‘Earth’?)

      > I’d accept the fight it brought with Shin’s parahumans and monsters.
      (Not enough spaces before this sentence.)

      Class-S threats/class-S threats (two differently capitalized instances of the term in this chapter)

  10. I’ve been imagining for a while now that this might end in Mark grenading Amy.

    I see the logic.

    Firstly, it’s a motivator for Mark. He’ll got the extra mike and beyond it to encourage, manipulate or force Amy to the therapy, putting his life on the line and holding nothing back if failure means unlocking the splatter bonus achievement.

    Second, this really is it for Amy either getting help or becoming a whole other S Class. She literally just had a moment of saying “fuck reality” not only verbally but with actions, attacking heroes in attempts to kill and very nearly actually killing adversity when the addition of LabRat/Cryptid’s vial was foiled. This is the precipice where she either turns back or her next leap is beyond recovery and Wardens would have kill-at-all-costs orders on her anyway.

  11. Gotta say, this casual and habitual circumvention of the rules on Victoria’s part of late is reminding me a lot of Weaver-era Taylor. Especially the bits about working together and cooperating and feeling like she knows better than anyone else what needs to be done. Maybe she does, probably she does, but I’m starting to wonder… maybe she’s ceded more ground than she really realized.

  12. The Many Blasphemies are so cool.

    I was always rooting for “they can do anything, but not everything” as an explanation for the quarantined (etc) threats.

    Victoria… man. At least the chicken was technically nice?? She needs pleasant non-threatening hugs. And for the world to stop ending.

  13. 1. The list of potential blind spots which could be Contessa’s threats while not necessarily being obvious that Tattletale and Victoria discussed in this chapter seems incomplete. No mention of:
    – Endbringers other than Simurgh,
    – the two broken triggers mentioned by Contessa that the authorities didn’t know about (though maybe they have been already handled?)
    – sealed Earths (though maybe Victoria and Tattletale don’t realize that they may be blind spots?)

    The most puzzling thing however is how Khepri was treated in this conversation. We know that since she lost her powers, and basically retired, she shouldn’t be a threat. But shouldn’t Victoria or Tattletale mention Khepri as a potential threat, instead of just considering her past actions? After all they don’t know what happened to Khepri after GM. At the same time:
    – in the last chapter of Glow-worm Victoria clearly realized that there is no proof of Khepri’s death,
    – Victoria (and probably also Tattletale) shouldn’t know if becoming Khepri turned Taylor into Contessa’s blind spot or not, while at the same time Lisa should realize that Dinah can’t see Taylor anymore – suggesting that during the epilogue of Worm Khepri either was Dinah’s blind spot herself, or was hidden by one (and presumably still is).

    So why did neither Victoria nor Tattletale mention Khepri as a possible threat? Taboo making both of them subconsciously assume that Khepri can’t be a factor anymore? Consideration for each other’s feelings? Belief that Khepri wouldn’t cause the disaster (unlikely, I think, since they discussed Valkyrie)? Some reason we don’t know about (or I don’t realize) why both of them actually do know that it couldn’t be Taylor (and probably also realize that the other one does)? Or did they simply not get around to the topic of Khepri yet?

    2. Doesn’t it feel like Tattletale and Victoria put a lot of focus on things that may be powerful enough to be Contessa’s blind spots and S-class threats, but much less on things that could be simply forgotten by Dinah?

    3. Considering that Victoria’s big realizations/hypothesis she got to at the ends of chapters usually weren’t red herrings so far, I guess that the real threat may be that Contessa is bringing Teacher back not to imprison him somewhere in the bunker or Cauldron complex, but to use him (his knowledge, power and/or tech) to cause the disaster on her own terms. It would actually mesh well with this exchange between Teacher and Contessa in the last interlude of arc 15:

    Teacher smiled. “This is the best option. You’re on my side.”

    “Objectively, it’s so close to the best option it’s almost indistinguishable. […]

    If Contessa was convinced that what Teacher was doing was so good, why wouldn’t she use him to do something similar at slightly later date – after the city was evacuated, and Teacher was no longer in position to grab all power he might get from causing the disaster on his own terms?

    1. Re. 1. I think I may have more potential bog threat an one possible blind spot to add to the list – Jack Slash (who may even be able to defeat Contessa), and Blindside respectively. I guess that Blindside may also seem unimportant enough that Dinah may forget to ask about them.

  14. Alfaryn, what do you say about Victoria continuing to HATE Amy so much that she’s basically asking her father to kill her before she becomes unstoppable? Do you agree with this SHOCKING request, do you think that the only solution to stop Amy if she’ll refuse therapy is to be killed by her own adoptive father? What this request tells you about Victoria’s current mental state? What Mark should do from your POV?

  15. Yep, that conversation with her Dad was scary, yet very necessary. I will explain why.

    Victoria has gone through a LOT to make an impact on Amy and try to stop the spiral she was going onto. Now, while I personally appreciate Amy and think that she needs and fully deserves support (She takes impressive measures to improve her Karma balance, even with her poor mental health), she needs therapy NOW.

    But the standing problem now isn’t that Amy is fighting therapy (she is doing her homework), it is that Shin WILL desperately fight to keep her away from therapy on Earth Gimel. They simply won’t accept the keystone of their endbriclone defence network possibly being kidnapped by a foreign power.

    This means that they will need to be FORCED to accept a team of therapists from Earth Gimel taking residence, or Mark gets to carve a bloody path to Earth Gimel with Amy on a fireman carry.

    And Mark WILL need the desperation of thinking Amy will die, one way or another, if he doesn’t win the most tense argumentation of his whole lifetime.
    Mark is too nice and non-confrontational, he NEEDS to be aware of the absolute gravity of the situation, so he can bring his A-game. It is sad that such a nice person on such a shitty world gets so much on his plate, but when mankind extinction is in the balance, there can be no rest for the weary.

    As somebody who has been struggling with an ugly, irrational, innate depression propensity manifesting since adolescence, what the doctor is calling for is a good old “DO or DIE” adrenaline shot to sort things through the next 48H.
    Funny fact? No matter how caring a parent is (especially if he is), parents always minimise mental health issues until it is too late. It is one of the hardest things to properly internaluze for its magnitude and consequences, so it always, always happens.

    Any discomfort or horror now will be worth it later, Mark. From my own experience, there are FAR worse things than death or whatever you will go through in order to save the day. Not completing this mission is one.
    Amy can make it fine, or she can wind up like Jack Slash or Ash Beast, besides losing control of the endbriclones during the process.
    She wants that therapy, your mission is to get the therapist delivered over stupid bureaucratic objections. NOW you are in the right mindset to achieve it.

    It was a cold ultimatum, the kind of reasoning that the Old PRT and Alexandria were so fond of.
    It might have been a monstrous conversation. But believe it or not, it was a necessary one. I prefer Victoria having been altruistically manipulative and throwing herself on that sword than to see the consequences if she didn’t.
    With what is at stake, the ends will sadly always justify the means.

    Now it is on you, Mark. Get assertive or berserk,whatever you may need, but Victoria cannot do more to get this done.
    It is your moment to shine.

    1. I’ll also push the slightly unpalatable angle that Victoria genuinely considers Amy off the picture to be a win, so it’s slightly more than just a manipulative pep talk.
      It brings up mission A (bring Amy to therapy, do or die) and mission B (in case of die, bring her along) in a single package.

  16. @lulu
    I know you are asking Alfaryn and not me, but I had to say it, for the first time in weeks Im 100% behind you. This is beyond arguing if Amy should be killed or not. This is asking a father to kill the daughter he raised, and not any father YOUR father. Thats beyond cruel to do, thats just horrible. She is bulldozing her own father and his feelings, manipulating him, and making him feel guilty for not wanting to kill his own daughter. And Mark is right, Victoria is jumping right at it, is fixated on that outcome, because she is so poisoned by her hate, that is just the outcome she wants, she is looking for an excuse to kill Amy.

    Victoria is every day more and more the manipulative Victoria from the diary. Teacher is truly the prophet of our time

  17. Its manipulative and cruel, no doubt, to ask that of Mark.
    But at this point, can anyone argue that Victoria is wrong *in general?* That if Amy doesn’t get help immediately, she needs to be neutralized? Sure, she shouldn’t have put that on him–ideally, ther should be someone else she could ask. But if Amy doesn’t get therapy SOON, *someone* is going to have to take action and eliminate the threat she poses.

  18. I managed to load this chapter when there were 0 comments!
    Lots of great conversation here, and really good description of how Victoria is feeling.
    Now I really want chicken.

    I had a couple of other sentences of appreciation of things I liked in the chapter but the internet at my first attempt at posting (my bad, I forgot I turned my wifi off) and now I can’t remember what I wrote.
    …oh, I remember now.
    When Victoria dropped her phone, I had to scroll back up cos I’d missed the indication that she was holding it with her forcefield. So that was a good doubletake moment 😀

    More Sleeper hints, oooooh!

    Tattletale has a quantum hon!

        1. Taking the time to write a word scores much higher in my book, so I’ll thank you for it regardless.

      1. Considering that Imp’s power is apparently involved, it’s probably some superposition of a thing and not a thing.

        1. On a more serious note, the confirmation that Tattletale knows little to nothing about quantum physics reminds me about our attempts to interpret the symbols that Lisa traced on Victoria’s hand in chapter 11.12. Plenty of explanations we considered then revolved around the idea that these could have been mathematical symbols of some kind, possibly used in physics. Now this entire line of thought probably needs to be abandoned…

          My current leading theory (something I wondered about even shortly after chapter 11.12 was posted, but I don’t think I actually wrote about it then) is that these symbols weren’t actually Lisa’s attempt to communicate. That in fact she might not even be aware that she traced them. That instead it was something that Tattletale’s shard that made her hands do it.

          I don’t think that Victoria ever mentioned these symbols to Tattletale, much less ask about their meaning. Perhaps she should have?

  19. TAP_M113, yes, Amy needs therapy and if she’ll ever turn into a second Jack Slash then she needs a kill order, of course, but what Victoria is asking Mark is to KILL her if she’ll refuse therapy (or Shin will refuse to give her the therapy she desperately needs). This is not good for Victoria neither for Mark. Not only that Victoria manipulates her father but she manipulates him straight into murder. Murder someone who isn’t very dangerous yet.
    “If they do… if Amy won’t go to therapy like she agreed? If she prepares to make more giants? Could you bring yourself to kill her?” I asked.”
    This is beyond any “keep an eye on Amy and take her down if she goes batshit insane” this is more like “kill Amy if you can’t convince her to go to therapy. She might become batshit insane in the future”. As much as I hate Amy, I hate more when a father is manipulated to kill his daughter. Worse, his manipulator is another daughter. Disgusting. What Victoria did now is simply disgusting. I can’t agree with her this time.

  20. Seriously? She’s either already batshit insane or so close that she may as well be. She’s well on her way to committing atrocities just as bad as Jack Slash. The only difference is that where his was deliberate malice, she’s just becoming so deluded that she’ll think its necessary or worh it.

  21. Naoru, I didn’t mind when Victoria manipulated Amy, it was necessary to save Sveta’s life and stop a war. I wouldn’t said anything if Victoria would have proposed to Dot to kill Amy. Or to any other person who is not family with Amy. But she proposed such incredible difficult thing to do (taking a life is not easy if you’re not a psychopath or ruthless crime lord) to their own father, knowing how nice and peaceful he usually is and how much he loves both his daughters. It would have been less shocking if Carol was in his place since she’s more ruthless than him but even so would be cruel because Carol is still a mother, even if is not a very good one. You can’t ask one of your parents to kill their other child that they raised and the love just as much as they love you. It’s total amoral and pretty evil, I must say.
    Victoria scared the crap out of me. I like her but she needs therapy just like Amy. Lot and lot of therapy.

  22. High confidence I see something important Wildbow hid in this chapter that no one else has mentioned.

    Not sure about sharing… almost a spoiler, if reading for plot. But in case I’m right: 4 words.

    1. There’s a lot of ‘4’ references. She’s only got 4 fingernails on that one hand.
      Coincidence ?

  23. I will focus on the “ethical manipulation angle”. Victoria is going full “scary heroic ethics” on this manipulation, also known as “going full Kephri”

    She does NOT wish Amy dead, and decidedly does NOT want Mark to kill her. AT ALL.
    She is doing this because it is the SHOCK that Mark needs to fight tooth and claw through Shin policy-makers to ensure Amy therapist gets delivered.

    She has provided Mark the cattle-prod shock he needs to get through his depression and emerge into “GRIZZLY DAD MODE”to save the day. I get the feeling that she “Tattletaled” him. The talk of trigger-related conditions for Mark was no coincidence: he is ANGRY and in a bad place, his agent is going to be at full cooperativity the next 24th.

    The conflictual, yet effective talk is yelling “Tattletale shard learning” to me.

    And, more importantly, I am feeling that Tattletale is not letting Victoria go, the same she clung to Taylor for dear life.
    She KNOWs what Victoria is feeling, and I suspect her power told her that Victoria is about to commit “suicide by Kephri”.
    So Lisa has decided to stop by the dog pound and adopt a puppy called “Victoria”, and damn the world, entities and whatever the hell may spit upon her lap, NO ONE HARMS HER FAMILY DAMMIT.

    Tattletale is the most pure person in a world gone to hell, and no one will convince me of the contrary. It is no coincidence that Imp, Kenzie and Candy are around, great minds and golden hearths tend to gravitate towards each other.

    1. She does NOT wish Amy dead, and decidedly does NOT want Mark to kill her. AT ALL.
      She is doing this because it is the SHOCK that Mark needs to fight tooth and claw through Shin policy-makers to ensure Amy therapist gets delivered.

      @TAP_M113, that was the most impressive nonsense sprouted in this comments section.

      At this point to say that Victoria doesn’t wish Amy dead, is akin to saying that Amy doesn’t wish to have sex with Victoria.

      Victoria hates Amy utterly.

      1. I actually agree with TAP_M113 here. In my opinion Victoria wants to give Amy the best chance she can. The problem with it is that Vicky is convinced that Amy will invent a hundred reasons to wiggle out of her promise to visit a therapist, and that if Amy doesn’t go to a therapist, she will cause some sort of disaster eventually – a disaster big enough that she will be killed for doing it.

        This is why Victoria asked Mark – a person who loves Amy – to be the one who gets her to the therapy appointment, and to be the one who kills Amy if necessary. If Victoria wanted Amy dead, she would ask someone who cares about Amy less than Mark does. Someone who could decide to kill Amy even if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. In fact I suspect that Victoria wouldn’t trust herself with the task she burdened Mark with, because she understands that her negative feelings for Amy could make her kill Amy too easily.

        Of course it doesn’t change the fact that the method Victoria used to ensure that Amy goes to the therapy is ethically quite horrible. But apparently in Victoria’s mind the end (maximizing the chance that Amy takes her chance – goes to therapy, and eventually gets better, while minimizing the chance that Amy will end up doing something horrible, and likely ends up getting killed for that) justifies her manipulation, and the pain she is causing Mark (and Amy) with it. Which obviously brings up a few questions:
        – The old good “Where the roads paved with good intentions lead to?”
        -Is Victoria right to assume that the therapy is the only chance for Amy, and that without a therapy Amy will end up doing something that will truly hurt a lot of people?
        – Is there a way Victoria could check this assumption, and if so – what could it be (maybe a precog, or a social thinker whose power is more reliable than Tattletale’s?), and why didn’t Victoria use it? Is she simply so sure she is right that she didn’t even think to check?
        – Even if Victoria’s assumption is correct could Victoria use less drastic methods, and should she use these methods instead even if meant that there would be a higher risk that Amy wouldn’t be successfully reformed? Is there a better compromise between the chance of achieving the goal, and ethical acceptability of the means employed?

        1. A couple more things. In the early part of their conversation Mark admitted to Victoria, that he is capable of focusing on a singular task for a while, but after a while he tends to fall “back into old ruts and routines” once his depression catches up with him. Victoria probably realized that he could be a great asset in her plan to make Amy undergo a therapy, but only if he was sufficiently shaken to make doing so his focus.

          So Vicky did her best to do exactly that. She did not just ask him to simply escort Amy to a therapist. She painted it as a big undertaking that may require swift, decisive and forceful actions:

          “I expect you to do whatever’s necessary to get her to therapy. Flashbang the guards. Force Amy. Manipulate her.[…]

          This ensured that Mark would treat his task as something big enough to give his singular focus to, and at the same time made Mark feel that the matter is urgent, which serves to not only ensure that Amy will go to her therapy before she does more damage than she already gas, but also, just as importantly, made sure that Mark will complete his task before his depression makes him stop trying hard enough anymore. A person like Mark simply shouldn’t be given long-term tasks, or ones that they weren’t 100% committed when they started, because they won’t stay motivated long enough to complete them. And Victoria probably worries that Amy will procrastinate long enough that Mark’s task will end up being long-ter enough for him to stop devoting enough of his focus to, and eventually abandon it.

          …And then Victoria further reinforced Mark’s motivation by painting a particularly dramatic picture of what Mark will have to do if he will fail to make Amy visit the therapist:

          […]Because the alternative to making her is dropping that grenade at her feet and extinguishing her. That’s how important this is.

          She even repeated the entire process – telling Mark that he has to act to bring Amy to therapy now, and painting an outright gruesome picture of what he will have to do if he fails to do so to ensure that Mark was properly motivated. That he treated a seemingly simple task of taking his daughter to a doctor, and doing it quickly, as a matter of life and death – something he would be able to devote his entire focus to for long enough time to actually succeed:

          “Then act on it, fuck it. Follow through. Grab the baton I’m extending your way, run with it. Help to carry this the rest of the way. To her sitting in an armchair talking her way through that stubborn maze of self-deceptions in her head, or to bits of that little girl you carried and took to school being cleaned up with a rag.”

          Ugly manipulation for sure, but one forced by Mark’s own admission that he is unable to handle tasks he isn’t 100% devoted to, or one that turns out to be a long-term project.

  24. Lena27, she’s not entirely crazy otherwise she’d have refused the therapy and continued to attack the heroes and probably kill Sveta. She still have a tiny bit of sanity left in her head. I know that if the tiny bit of sanity will be gone, then she’ll be beyond any salvation, but until then there’s still a small chance for her to not get full Jack. I doubt the therapy will solve something in her case but it’d good that she can’t
    see, yet, beyond Victoria’s manipulation and she believes that Victoria probably want to forgive her. This beautiful lie give her hope and stop her from destroying everything in her way. I fear the moment when Amy will become smart enough to realize that she’s played.

  25. TAP_M113, oh, so you’re saying that Victoria asked Mark to kill Amy because she wanted to make him TAKE ACTION, like…to man him up, not to really convince him to kill her because she’s an unstoppable evil force. Ok, your interpretation, I won’t argue with you because everyone is free to interpret what the characters wanted to say how they feel like.
    But I really, really liked what you said about Lisa. Unless you weren’t sarcastic, I feel like she’s your favorite character (or one of your favorite characters). Good. She’s one of my favorite characters too, Wildbow created such a great character with Lisa, she’s one of the most intelligent, loyal, cunning, protective and strong (not power wise but personality wise) characters :). I’d kill to have a friend like her in reality.

  26. A crazy hypothesis:
    I get the feeling that the Blasphemies are manifestations of Abaddon, the entity that killed Eden….and “Egg”, the case 53, is incubating several more. The machine Army may also be one.

    Remember Abaddon? Feels like the strategy he would use. Infect the host “path to victory” shard and other C53 shards as a subversive program, then assemble like a Virus and reconstruct yourself using the host shards as material.
    This would explain the fact that Contessa seems to be doing sneaky things, that shards seem to be getting increasingly desperate and agitated, including Victoria’s, and the convergent apparition and worsening of self-replicating, drastic threats (Blasphemies, Machine-Army, Lab-Rat manufacturing EndbriClones)

    I bet that if you look at the Oort Cloud, you will see Abaddon entering the Solar system….
    Tinfoilhattery or good guess?
    Your choice.

  27. Indeed. Lisa for the win. We need to make a multi-billion trust fund that delivers a steady stream of gift cards, hugs and puppies, she has a deficit on everything but puppies the size of USA economic production for the latter 50 years.

    (Puppy levels are adequate because Rachel has learnt from Taylor and become the ultimate dog-whispering, child-rearing incarnation of Buddha. She is also awesome, dammit. I bet Lisa and Amy would be on the way to recovery if they took more puppy baths, for ChrIstanbul sake! Why it hasn’t already become a staple of Cape therapy is beyond my ken.)

  28. I wonder how Amy will react to puppy therapy. Will she take good care for her puppy or turn it into a stuff of nightmares?

  29. Victoria can be right about Amy all day. And Amy will always be her rapist.

    AND Victoria will always be the person who pressured a man to murder his daughter.

    It’s natural enough to armchair the ethics here, as it was in Worm, but recall:

    “‘Would you do it all over again? Knowing what you know now? Knowing that you end up here, at gunpoint?’
    ‘I… know I’m supposed to say yes,’ the words made their way past my lips. ‘But no. Some-somewhere along way, it became no.’
    ‘Just about everyone comes to this crossroad,’ she said. ‘Some get seventy years, some only get fifteen. Enough time to grow, to take stock of who you are. Enough time to do things you’ll regret when you run out of time.’
    ‘Don’t- don’t regret it. Was- had to. Saved lives. But I would do different, given a chance.'”

    And years later, this:

    “‘There’s right and there’s wrong,’ she said. ‘You can do everything right, moment by moment, and still end up on the wrong side, too beaten down to fight things anymore.’”

    Victoria never shot a baby in the face. She will leave a 2nd book without having deliberately and pointedly ended the life of a toddler. Debate Gray Boy victim ethics forever (ha); Taylor did so, Vicky did not.

    And this… Taylor never did this.

    I’m not 100% sure she would have.

    1. Well, the truth is that Taylor DID something similar with what Victoria is doing now. Taylor forced a father (Brockton Bay’s mayor) to choose between letting his son (Triumph) die or comply to her demands. I wonder what would have happened if he didn’t complied.

  30. Something I’ve been thinking about since Heavens.all:

    Back during Zion’s interlude, he looked at Contessa and saw “a shard that was alive, but not one of his”.

    We know now that in entity parlance, “dead” means “disconnected”.

    Eden’s shards were “dead” because her hub had been disabled/killed by Contessa and the Doc. Zion’s shards were “alive” because there was still a working hub. They are now “dead” because the warrior hub was blown to smithereens during Gold Morning.

    The question now is – what could Contessa’s shard have been connected to, back then, to count as “alive”? We know definitively that it wasn’t Zion, and Eden was long gone by then.

    So then… it would have to be a third hub, no? What other option could there be?

    Did Abaddon – the third entity which exchanged shards, particularly Contessa’s shard, deceive them? Circled around and landed on a set of alternate earths hidden from sight?

    There are clear range limitations to how far away a shard can connect, the hub Contessa’s shard is attached to would have to be on an Earth or, perhaps, on an alternate moon, adapted to reach to Earth.

    And if Contessa is still connected to a hub, just how much influence does that hub have on her?

    Further oddities:
    – even accounting for the depths of his ennui, that Zion did not investigate the oddity of an alive but foreign shard is more than a little strange. was he actively manipulated, his attention diverted?
    – the question of Contessa’s shard’s energy stores has come up before. We know PtV is one of the, if not the most costly ability entities have available. Now it’s possible that she is burning out and just doesn’t realize it due to lacking awareness of the energy levels. Wbow suggested as much in a WoG. Or perhaps the stores are so big even at her rate of use it will take centuries to deplete. But Contessa uses her PtV a ton, at least dozens of questions on a slow day, every day for decades. Could it be she is being fed energy by her hub, which is fully focused on that one shard, sharing PtV’s load across all its shards?

    Just one geek’s thoughts on the matter.

    Sincerely,
    Tieshaunn

    1. Your comment made me have a look at Scion’s and Fortuna’s interludes again, and I’ve noticed something there that I apparently missed before. Something that may give us a clue about Abaddon’s mind and the methods it could use to influence humanity – whether through Contessa, its other shards, or directly (assuming it ever comes to Earths).

      It seems that after colliding with the third entity the thinker experienced something like a revelation about humanity (from Contessa’s interlude):

      This entity struggles to move as it works to reorganize these new shards, to convert them into a form it can use.

      It will see this cycle through, and regain what it lost in the union with the Warrior.

      This entity sees new possibilities, now. Not simply conflict, but philosophy and psychology. Imagination. It is in these new patterns of thought that it can see a possibility for the future.

      Philosophy, psychology, imagination? Looks like the thinker got a lot of understanding of human mind from the third entity. If this is the sort of understanding that can be found in Abaddon and its shards, then I suspect that Abaddon’s shards may be able to influence their hosts in far more subtle ways than thinker’s or warrior’s could.

      And the third entity itself may be a much harder opponent to defeat than the other two were.

      1. On the other hand if the third entity is not about conflict, but about things like philosophy, psychology, and imagination, it may not be humanity’s enemy. At least not in a traditional sense. Though I’m not sure if it makes possible Abaddon’s involvement with humanity (past, present, or future) any less problematic than warrior’s and thinker’s…

  31. Victoria is either going to manipulate someone else into killing Amy (maybe Sveta? She is still on Shin and would kill for Vic) or do it herself. Amy is being forced into therapy at gunpoint and probably not going to do the work needed to get better. Even if Amy is ready to try, therapy isn’t some instant cure, it will take time and Amy will fuck up. Victoria understands that the therapeutic process is not perfect. Given her current state of mind, I think Victoria will use even the slightest mistake to justify killing/exiling Amy. It wouldn’t surprise me if the upshot of Mark’s call with Victoria is him telling Amy to not turn herself-Amy probably has a better shot of survival on Shin.*

    Imagine the “warrior monk” from Daybreak telling her father to blow his other daughter into pieces and wipe it up with a rag in order to prove his love for her. Maybe killing Amy is when Victoria goes full tyrant.

    * Unless the Shin coalition kills her for leaving them at the request of Gimel. It was established this chapter that Lab Rat can control the endbringer lites, so they may not need Amy anymore.

  32. No way. Amy should have been under a kill order the second she left for Shin. She is BY FAR the biggest threat out there if she ever breaks completly. If Amy stopped caring what people thought of her she would murder the world and it would be unstoppable by any hero. She could make a bug that would dissolve the corona pollentia in all parahumans, just before turning everything living into tapioca pudding. Even worse she doesn’t have to. She could make everyone love and worship her even more thoroughly than Goddess.

  33. @ lulu

    >Well, the truth is that Taylor DID something similar with what Victoria is doing now. Taylor forced a father (Brockton Bay’s mayor) to choose between letting his son (Triumph) die or comply to her demands. I wonder what would have happened if he didn’t complied.

    I mean… yes and no?

    There Taylor was very much “Please please please agree to the thing.” and immediately afterwards stuck with the “I have gone to far. What is wrong with me?”
    Like… that moment is one of those ones that stuck with her as “Shit is fucked”. And that was when she was dealing with an `enemy’.

    Here Victoria is very much “Hey Dad, could you kill her. You know… just in case.” – in some sense death is presented as the preferred option. And afterwards she’s think “Yup, that was the right thing to do.”
    The situation has some similarities, but also some very important difference.

  34. @lulu – I have to say no, not at all. These two things are not “similar.”

    Holding someone’s child hostage is not the same as manipulating a person to murder their child. It’s a connection, sure. Not similar.

    Again, I think Victoria’s reasons could be argued, and it’s clear that at least a large part of her intent is to hold up a Horror to Mark so that he pushes harder for the therapy to avoid it. She knows he doesn’t take therapy seriously. But she still did what she did.

  35. Admiral Matt
    But Taylor kind of manipulated the mayor to listen her otherwise she would have killed his child making him indirectly responsible for Triumph’s death, because he refused to listen her. Well, not exactly similar, but both Taylor and Victoria used horrifying methods of manipulation of some desperate fathers to get what they want.

  36. Huh. And here I’d been assuming that at least a small part of the reason Mark stayed in Shin was so that he’d be in position to stop Amy if things got too far out of hand. I can understand being upset about the way Victoria was talking about it, but it is something he should have been thinking about and preparing himself for.

    Not that it really matters now that she’s got all those giant dead man switches walking around. Besides, they’re probably going to need those things to fight whatever the real threat turns out to be.

  37. Leaning heavily towards Congress being and Abaddon shard now.

    For some reason, I seem to remember that when the entities met, there was a comment about the strange entity using a mode of propulsion that the others no longer used. Obviousky, Abaddon couldn’t give up that shard, but an offspring formed from it would need a similar shard for long term survival, from somewhere, more than any other shard even.

    Even if the other entities considered it waste.

  38. > You just don’t ask a father to kill his daughter, no matter how bad she’s.

    Strongly disagree. A real man shoots his own dog. He doesn’t ask someone else to do it.

    It’s not *pleasant*, but it’s part of taking responsibility for things.

  39. Just occurred to me. Shouldn’t Chris be coming up much higher in the list of possible causes of the end, especially after hearing that he apparently is the one who installed controls in the giants, has a form with hair to stymie Amy, and is a blind spot to Victoria because AMY?

    Additionally, he’s been far more central of a character than Contessa, and his departure totally feels unresolved.

    Plus, he’s a clone who had access to stories of the dream realm long before Victoria, and plays routinely with shard shenanigans.

  40. Alright. I’ve been keeping my mouth shut until now but damn, do I have strong opinions about how this story’s going.
    First off, Victoria’s everything but a hero now. She’s basically a rape victim looking for revenge. She seems to be aware of her own biases, but she’s vastly underestimating just how much her hate for Amy colors her actions. And that’s okay, I’m obviously not gonna say Amy did nothing right, even though I see a lot of people confusing that with saying that she did nothing right. She fucked up Victoria, unredeemably so. Except people like Bonesaw (who did worse things to way more people) got amnesty, and she’s getting a lot less hate. Amy’s worthless, because everyone kept telling her that, and she started living up to expectations. I’ve lost hope of her finding redemption, she no longer deserves it. She didn’t get help when she needed to, and now she’s sunk so deep that death is pretty much the best outcome for her. No one will ever trust her again and she’ll never amount to anything good.
    To go back to Victoria, she asked a father to kill his daughter. Alright. I get it. She loathes Amy, and as I just said, she’s utterly right about wanting her dead. Except there’s no justice system where the victim chooses the culprit’s punishment. Victoria should never have been allowed to talk to Amy. I’d say I’m proud of her for choosing therapy , then death as an emergency measure, except she obviously didn’t. Does she really want Amy to go back to a healthy mental place, to be cleared by psychiatrists and be reinserted into society ? Does she believe it to be possible ? Fuck no. She just wanted to stop her.
    Moreover, Victoria’s been acting in a very hypocritical and immature manner for… I actually don’t remember the last time she made a logical, honest, careful decision. Going to shardspace was an uncalculated risk, yes, but it was an honest mistake. However, the way she goes against the Wardens, making their life harder when they’re fighting the second apocalypse just because she doesn’t agree with how they treat her ? The way she keeps reminding people of said apocalypse while doing everything but working against it ? The way she keeps disobeying the Wardens’ instructions for utterly ridiculous reasons ? And the way she breaks every one of her four “Rules” ? Remember those rules ? Follow the law, do what’s right, ask for input, do nothing you might regret ? She keeps breaking them. The Warrior-Monk is dead, or at least the Monk, and she’s basically useless as a Warrior in this situation. She’s just a meager source of information, and she at least seems to be focusing on that. Except she’s clearly overestimated herself. Right now she’s acting like a benched teenager with an overblown sense of self-importance. She thinks she has valuable information that people like Tattletale, Kid Cassandra, the whole Wardens roster and bloody Contessa have missed. She thinks being on the field would be a critical asset for the Wardens. She basically thinks she’s gonna stop the end of the world on her own. Spoilers : she will. She’s the protagonist, it’s her purpose. But that victory’s going to feel very unsatisfying if things keep going this way.
    Also, does Victoria really think she can demand answers from Contessa ? Did Amy give her Alzheimer’s in the prison ? Contessa’s just going to say what people need to hear to advance her plans. It’s astonishing how many times people have clearly forgotten that her power’s ltterally “I win.” It’s also surprising that Victoria, and more importantly Tattletale, haven’t figured out that Contessa planned on using S-Class threats during Golden Morning instead of taking them down. And it’s quite ridiculous to see people still worked up against Cauldron. They dosed, what, thousands of people ? Killing them or ruining their life forever ? When they were on the verge of dying or living a pitiful life anyway ? I’m certain they wouldn’t get nearly as much hate if they’d found “the” Case-53, the one that could end Scion. As for letting monsters like Grey Boy alive in the hope that one of them could do it… so what ? At least they tried. Their only crime is failing their mission. Same thing here as for the Amy-Victoria conflict. One is doing unspeakable things because they think it’s the right thing to do, and the other hates them viscerally, to the point that they try their best to stall their efforts without ever exploring the idea of them being right. I’ll even evoke the fact that this was the whole theme of Worm. Maybe we’re just seeing the other side of that coin here.
    Lastly, I’ll say that the problem with this story is the internal monologues. Victoria spends lines and lines justifying everything she does. No wonder every reader sides with her, we’re given an overwhelming amount of data coming from a single point of perspective. I’m honestly tired of it. I miss the days where I’d wait excitedly for a new chapter, to see beautifully written characters get thrown into extraordinary action scenes, interact in astonishing dialogues and evolve in a wonderful universe. Now it’s all : Victoria has a problem, Victoria bitches about that problem for half a chapter and thinks about a solution for the rest of it, next chapter Victoria solves the situation in a stupid way, then Victoria spends another chapter both regretting and justifying her actions, ad nauseam. Where has the rest of the world gone ? Was it swallowed in the supermassive blackhole that is Victoria’s ego ? I used to love this story, but right now I don’t. I’m desperately wishing for something to prove me wrong when I say that Victoria’s awful as a protagonist. Maybe her shard’s influence is stronger than she thinks, maybe Amy actually changed something in her brain, maybe Victoria will finally get some time to think and realize how wrong she is about nearly everything, or maybe, and I hope that’s the case, I’ll see something that will make me rethink my positions and agree with her after all.
    Sorry for what’s obviously become mindless ranting at this point. I loved Ward, and I fucking hope I will love it again, but right now reading each chapter is a chore. I’m slowly losing hope that Ward will be better than Worm.
    Please, Wildbow, make me realize how wrong I am.

  41. Let’s say that Vic is right and Contessa turns out to be evil, manipulating and using everyone for her nefarious plans. How Vic is going to stop her? Capture her? Teacher only captured her because she stopped using her powers. Kill her? Good chance with that. She will kill Vic, her buddies and all the Wardens by herself (yes, including Valkirye) and there’s nothing they can do to stop her as long as she’s using her powers. Use Dinah against her? I doubt that is going to work, they’re both blind spot to each other. I mean, it more easy to stop Amy, Chris and their monsters than Contessa. Of course I want an evil or troubles maker Contessa to be stopped through any means, but I just don’t know how or if it’s even possible.
    Gosh, I don’t want Contessa to become the biggest threat. She’d be unstoppable. More than Amy in her full Red Queen role.

    1. There may be one more way to defeat Contessa, though it would require opening a rather nasty Pandora’s box. I think I remember something about a WoG which says that Contessa wouldn’t be able to use her power to win against Jack Slash, so it might be that all that is needed to kill her is to release him from his prison, convince him to kill Contessa, and hide him in a blind spot so she won’t be able see him coming and avoid the fight altogether. And if the Number Boys blame Contessa for Number Man’s death, they may actually try to do so – after all their original used to be Jack’s partner, if not friend.

      And by the way, shouldn’t Jack also be on the list of threats big enough to potentially cause a disaster in the city, but small enough that they may have been missed by Dinah if he hides in a blind spot? Or does Jack’s history with Dinah ensure that would make sure to ask questions that would let her figure out it is going to him? And even if this is the case, could it be that Dinah hates or fears Contessa so much that she would not inform anyone that Jack is going to be released just to ensure that he will have his chance to kill the bogeyman?

      1. And of course if Jack’s goes after Contessa, her death may not be the worst thing that could happen. Imagine what could happen if she became a member of Slaughterhouse Nine instead.

  42. david
    I think I know how they can stop Contessa from doing whatever super-shady stuff she’s doing now.
    Step one: Find her fedora.
    Step two: Hold her fedora “at gunpoint” and force her to surrender, otherwise she’d risk for her fedora to be destroyed.
    Step three: Profit.
    🙂

  43. perlhaqr, a daughter is a daughter, a dog is a dog. Maybe Mark will have an easier work to put down his dog but we’re talking here about the kid that he was raised even since she was only 6. Even if Amy will become an absolute monster, I can’t see Mark having an easy time to put her down, like she’s some kind of a rabid dog not a daughter that he loves and treasure.
    Victoria should do what she thinks that is right by herself, not force other people to do something that they’ll never forgive themselves for. She should assume the responsibility of her actions, not pass it onto other people, especially people that have THEIR REASONS to not get their hands dirty.
    Victoria is a great main character all over, but there are moments when I want to just want to beat the living daylight out of her. Not even Taylor, with all her huge flaws, was more responsible than Victoria. Victoria, this chapter, kind of disappointed me because of the whole Mark thing.

  44. “How many of those threats were allowed to go on being threats not because they were blind spots, but because they were useful to Cauldron or their goals?”

    Victoria should probably ask Dinah how many of these people are her blind spots, and assume for a second that Dinah and Contessa share most of their blind spots. It could lead to answer to the above question.

    By the way, here’s a thought about a possible difference between Dinah’s and Contessa’s goals – Dinah fears capes, and probably wants them supressed as much as possible. Chances are that if she could take powers away from everyone – she would. On the other hand the “army” of parahumans that Cauldron created may be more than just a useful tool for Contessa – it is life’s work, her legacy. She may be perfectly willing to sacrifice some capes to achieve her other goals, but perhaps she wants to do everything in her power to ensure that long-term the “army” as a whole survives as intact and powerful as possible?

  45. “We have eyes on Valkyrie, and she’s self-aware that she’s a possible crisis point. So are her flock members.

    I wonder if it is something that Grue told Tattletale today.

  46. I think it was barely a week ago we had a poster arguing that the new Amy information, rather than being reveals of the core unspoken foundation the story was built on, were ACTUALLY Wildbow sacrificing the story to validate his protagonist.

    Set aside how distant that is from the manner in which the Canadian Word Machine is known to build plot. Set aside how naturally compatible the current plot developments are with themes established back in Arcs 1 and 2.

    Even then…. “validate the protagonist.” Yeahhhh. Turns out sisters the same age know each other better than institutions or bad parents (who were constantly struggling with mental illness while juggling multiple careers). News at 11.

    Victoria is quickly proving to be a number of things. After this chapter, “correct about Amy’s flaws” is not the most significant among them.

  47. “-because she needs you. Or out of respect for the other little girl you took skating, gave baths to, took to school, helped with her homework, read stories to at bedtime… stop Amy, so I don’t have to. Any one of those three things, and I’ll forgive you.”

    “Forgive?” he asked, like the word was as startling as my murder request.

    “I’ve got to go.”

    “Am- Victoria. We need to talk about this.”

    What do you think was Mark’s slip of tongue in that last line? “Amy”? Why did he say that? Was it because Amy was with him in the room and head the phone call (or at least Mark’s end of it)? Or maybe because he recently had similar conversations about forgiveness with Amy? Note that while Victoria has been thinking that Mark has done things she has yet to forgive him for (like visiting her less in the hospital once she was able to communicate again), the beginning of this quote was the first time when she spoke it out loud. Has Amy also been telling Mark that he had wronged her in ways she has yet to forgive him for?

    And by the way, I wonder if Mark’s slip-up is one of the reasons why Victoria took her sweet time talking to Tattletale? Is Vicky not only afraid to face the music in the command center as Tattletale pointed out, but also because she is afraid that as soon as she stops talking to Tt, she is going to get a call from Amy?

    1. Or maybe Mark was simply trying to finally tell Victoria what he thinks about everything she told him during this conversation, and Victoria simply didn’t wait to hear his side of the argument? Just like Mark said earlier he feels his conversations with friends and family usually go – “every time you’re ready to speak, people have already moved on to the next topic.” Except in this case Victoria seems to have moved to an entirely new conversation altogether.

      It is probably something that both Carol and Victoria need to learn – once they say their piece to Mark, they need to shut up, give him time to gather his thoughts and let him respond at his own pace. Something that any decent psychotherapist would likely point out to them if the Dallon family group ever happened. But as Vicky pointed out – it never did.

  48. It just occurred to me… Have anyone noticed how the two names Victoria chose for herself early in Ward – Warrior Monk, and Scholar – seem to be closely related to the “labels” the Entities used to describe themselves – the warrior and the thinker respectively? Could this be part of the reason why her shard considers her so valuable? Could it indicate she is destined to play a role of a new hub (or something similar) for all shards of both Entities?

    And if Contessa’s shard is indeed Abaddon’s, does it make these two women fated to oppose each other?

    1. And let us not forget that Victoria’s shard is rare, perhaps unique, in that it is descended from both the warrior and the thinker shards. Could it make Vicky’s shard, and by extension Victoria herself something like these two entities’ rightful heir?

      1. Ok, perhaps not a “rightful” hair in any sense other than symbolic, but at least uniquely suited to inherit both warrior and thinker shards?

  49. Alfaryn, are you freaking crazy? Release Jack just to kill Contessa? Heck, I would rather have Contessa alive and safe even with the risk to become a threat than the biggest monster of Parahumans world to be ever free? Contessa, at her worst, is still a better person than Jack was and will ever be. No way, that will be the biggest mistake of anyone who’ll release Jack, a fatalistic mistake.
    I’d rather let Contessa win in whatever she wants to do than ever think at releasing Jack, even under heavy surveillance. I’d seriously hate Dinah if she’ll ever think to release the “mother of all nuclear bombs” before his few thousands of years inside the bubble will expire. Hope they’ll forget Jack there and accept Contessa’s path of victory which- no matter how much nasty will be- is still much better than the alternative.

  50. Besides, I’m sure that Contessa will avoid hurting civilians as part of her plans. She’s not so ruthless anymore as she was when she worked with Doctor Mother. The worst thing she can do is to go on Teacher’s route now that the city was evacuated and she’s sure that civilians are safe on Shin. She still wants to help the humanity and do the right thing as we saw her helping against Teacher.

    1. I wasn’t trying to suggest that unleashing Jack just to kill Contessa is necessarily a good idea, just that:
      – If the scenario david outlined happens, and the heroes need to defeat her somehow, it may be one of the very few methods that could work (and let’s face it – there probably is no easy, safe way to defeat Contessa, especially since now she is particularly paranoid because of the last two years she spent in Teacher’s captivity).
      – The Number Boys may actually consider doing it, considering Number Man’s old fondness for Jack, and the fact that the Boy’s may blame Contessa for their original’s death. On the other hand I expect that if the Boys considered doing something like this, they could end up being very divided on the issue (possibly even more than about Sveta) – both because they must understand how risky releasing Jack would be, nad because at least some of them might have inherited Number Man’s fondness for Contessa herself. Any differences between Boy’s personalities might end up becoming very significant when it comes to this issue. Possibly to a point that they would end up splitting into two or even more opposing groups.

      1. By the way, considering that the Number Boy’s personalities are supposedly very rough approximations of Number Man’s, since Bonesaw did not have too much data about him, I expect that hey may eventually become far more different from each other than the two Ashleys who survived GM Ward were. One thing that may be different between them is who each of them ends up being loyal to – Jack, Contessa, Citrine, Sveta, the original Number Man and his legacy, their group. That already are more possibly conflicting loyalties than there are Number Boys left! So I wouldn’t be surprised if each of them ended up going his own way, making his own decisions, and eventually becoming a person very different from the others.

  51. Yes, I can see Number Man doing this bullshit (and Sveta agreeing because her personal hate for Contessa will probably make her take irrational decisions), but heroes…no, I can’t see them being so stupid, like trying to stop an evil with another evil (you can’t fight fire with fire). They know that once free, Jack will be unstoppable and uncontrollable (capes have no chance against him, there’s no more Gray Boy to take him by surprise- maybe Valkyrie can deploy her Gray Boy but I’m sure that Jack’s shard learned from experience and will not allow its host to be take by surprise the second time) besides no way he’ll be convinced to kill Contessa (he loves seeing the world burning so if Contessa will set the world on fire, he’ll probably want to recruit her rather than kill her). Imagine Jack recruiting the Number Lads, Contessa and maybe visiting Riley and convincing her to join him again (he’s very convincing because of his shard). They together will make Chris and Amy seem like the lesser threat in comparison. No way heroes will be so stupid to allow such atrocity to happen. I still have trust that Wardens aren’t such huge dumbasses.

    1. > No way heroes will be so stupid to allow such atrocity to happen. I still have trust that Wardens aren’t such huge dumbasses.

      Hopefully this is the case, but I feel like I need to point out that between their not insignificant powers, the time they cooperated with the mayor, the memories about Cauldron they may have inherited from the Number Man (which probably contain a lot of sensitive information, including weaknesses of some of the most powerful capes – like Wardens leadership, and powerful precogs like Dinah and Contessa, plenty of S-class threats and possibly some not yet widely known information on powers themselves) the Boys may be some of the people best equipped to figure out how to deal with any measures Wardens and their allies may have in place in order to prevent something like releasing Jack from his loop.

      Moreover let’s not forget that Number Man and the Number Boys were some of the very few people who managed to leave S9 when it was controlled by Jack. They may know (or think they know) something that may let them deal with Jack without becoming effectively controlled by him like most S9 members were.

  52. Let’s hope that the Number Boys will be so different that some of them will refuse to release Jack, remaining loyal to Contessa and even warn her about the others’ plan. Then they’ll have to fight between themselves, with Contessa, and the chances for Jack to be released will become very slim.
    I’d rather see Contessa’s win (I also kind of like her so I’m subjective here) than seeing Jack being free even for a second (from a subjective pov, he deserves to stay there and suffer forever- preferably one year for every life that he directly or indirectly destroyed; from an objective pov, he’s too dangerous for the whole world. Besides, his shard must be experienced now so I doubt that Number Lads will be so lucky to escape his control like they’re when Jack and his shard were younger and inexperienced).

    1. The bad news is that it would probably take just one of the Boys to release Jack. The good news is that at least for now both Contessa and Citrine are probably keeping a close eye on them. These two women should be perfectly aware just how dangerous the Harbingers can be. So probably this whole idea that they could release Jack is not something we need to seriously worry about… at least not yet.

      Should Contessa go rogue, and become a new public enemy number one however I wouldn’t be surprised if Citrine and some blind spot like Valkyrie allowed the Boys to act in ways that Contessa couldn’t predict.

  53. “Am- Victoria. We need to talk about this.”

    I finally got it. In this conversation, she’s behaving like Amy. She’s totally fixated on one point; she’s completely ignoring any negations (and it was clear up front that Mark’s answer was the Normal Human Father Answer: no); she responds to someone reaching out by verbalizing and doubling down on negativity and worst-case outcomes.

    Huh.

    1. > Huh.

      You know what Admiral Matt? Now that I saw your post, I’m 90% sure that you are right. ‘Huh.’ indeed.

      Just how may times Mark tried to have a similar conversation with Amy after they were re-united on Shin, to the point where he used the same words? How many times Amy simply ignored his arguments, if she listened to him at all? After all both Carol and Mark were perfectly aware that Amy was not “well” even back in arc 14. Carol even said it outright in chapter 14.5. And patient persuasion is precisely the route I imagine Mark would take if he had to deal with a headstrong, and dangerously self-deluded relative. After all this is likely how he was trying to deal with not necessarily as deluded as Amy appears to be right now, but pretty much always as headstrong family members like Victoria and Carol whenever they had ideas he disagreed with.

      1. As for Mark’s opinion on the necessity of Victoria’s radical solutions, he clearly told Victoria what he thinks about it:

        “-side of you I don’t like,” my dad was saying. “I know this is hard, believe me. I respect you so much for enduring it as much as you have. And I know exactly what it’s like to think about escape routes, options to get away from it all or magical solutions. Sometimes that’s all you have. But we’re not there yet. We made progress today, and I’m so proud of you for making that progress. Don’t fixate on that ugly kind of outcome.”

        And just like you said Admiral Matt – Victoria’s reaction to these words was to insist on forcing Amy to go to therapy, or on killing her even further.

        I wonder just how much Mark wishes at the moment that he could be in two places at once, so he could help both his daughters…

        1. One more thing. If Victoria realized that Mark was about to give her a line he usually said to Amy these days, then it is no wonder that she hung up on him right after that. After all Victoria’s trigger has a lot to do with feeling unloved and ignored by her parents, so whether she realizes it or not, she is probably extremely prone to being jealous of any signs of affection her parents show to Amy (especially if it looks like they may favor Amy over her). This is also probably why she reacted so negatively to the fact that Mark mentioned all good things he did with little Amy without explicitly saying that he was doing the same things with Victoria at the time.

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