Sundown – 17.10

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I walked, both because I was restless, and because I knew I was being watched.  Kenzie’s filter made it appear like I wasn’t talking or holding my phone to my ear, and it got weird if I was standing in a dim, damaged hallway for an extended period, staring at a wall and doing nothing else.  It would raise concerns.

So, for that matter, would talking to Tattletale.

“How does she think?” I asked.

“Contessa?  She’s lava,” Tattletale replied.

“The only volcano references in my recent memory are an analogy to the well of the agent’s power with broken triggers and… someone I hucked into a hillside.  Why lava?”

“Because I was going to say Molasses but there’s nothing sweet about her, she’s dangerous, and saying she thinks like molasses implies she’s slow.  Which she is, but not like I want you to imagine.”

“Okay,” I said.  I could get on board with this kind of thinking, at least.

“Lava can spurt, it can reach surprisingly far, when we’re talking about molten rock that breaches the surface.  If you get too close to it, you can get burned.  It can do a shocking amount of damage, start fires that rage for days, whatever.  But mostly if you leave it alone, you get a steady stream that lands close to home and then pools out from there.”

“I’m on board with the line of thinking, but explain that last bit for me.”

“She starts every day with questions.  Anticipating, countermeasures, how to secure herself, how to secure her immediate goals.  Drop her into a new situation with just her power and no context, and before she’s formed a complete thought, she’ll guarantee she’s safe from the most immediate threats.  You can’t touch her.”

“Like you can’t touch lava.”

“Then the lines of thought expand out from there.  The pooling out.  Finding the cracks and exerting herself along them.”

“How do blind spots factor in?”

“For my metaphor?  Bodies of water?  I don’t know.  I’m ass-pulling, as Imp would put it.  But the idea applies.  The lava pools up and around, it builds… walls, peaks, accumulations.  She sets up stuff in the periphery or vicinity that impact or constrain the blind spot in question.  For Scion, it was case fifty-threes, it was specific teams of specific power levels in various Earths, stuff hidden out of sight and stuff in plain sight.  The PRT.  It was distractions, it was delays and it was encouragement for him.  To get him where they needed him and when.”

I kept silent, digesting that, trying to imagine it in this context.  There were people walking toward me in the hallway, and so I was forced to play nice and not say anything that would turn heads or get talked about in earshot of the others.

“Why do you ask?” Tattletale asked.

The coast was clear.  “Sorry, there were people, had to wait before I replied.”

“I knew that, it’s why I waited to reply.”

Ah.  Her power.

“I can see you on camera,” she clarified.

Oh.  “My line of thinking is… if she is a problem, knowing the angle helps.  If she isn’t, knowing the angle helps.  If there’s a threat that slipped her notice, it’s possibly something that escapes her blind spots and it’s helpful to know how she sets things up and how something could slip by.  If she set something up-”

“It helps to know how she sets things up.  Right.”

“Right,” I said.

I didn’t know the exact way to where I was going, but I had some ideas.  I’d come this way once before.  This place was massive, and a lot of the time navigating it was like traveling across a city and marking the transition from suburb to commercial to high-end residences and then to industry.  Once one knew the general feel of an area, it was a question of knowing whether to head north, south, east, west, up, or down.

Up.  Out toward the exterior wall.

“What do we look for?” I asked.  “Groups?”

“She pools out, remember?  Finds the channels and cracks.  Teacher catching her reset everything, put months of distance between her and her… pawns, for lack of a better way of putting it.  So she deployed-”

“-And she started with herself, then reached out for tools closest to her.  Worked out from there.”

“If it helps, I can’t imagine it was personal.”

I reached the top of the staircase, walked past some people who looked like refugees that were getting the low-down on the work being done, and through a gate.  The area was an interior roadway primarily meant for moving cargo and materials.

Off to the right, there was a long corridor that led to the outside, with an extension that combined balcony, road, and helicopter landing pad, all running along the outside of the building.

To my left was a drop, blocked off by a short railing.  Cargo containers were scattered around, some recognizable from Gimel, others a little odd, adhering to different standards.

There were scuffs of battle damage.  Abrasions, claw marks.  Stains.

“She said that if we took the route that would see Teacher captured, two members of my group would be dead or gone.  Paraphrasing there, but…”

“Yes,” Tattletale said.  “And you lost one.”

“Option A was that one member would suffer for so long it might as well be forever.  I got the answer about that.  Precipice, stuck in the doorway or something.  The idea was that the city would lose its heroes in a hard fought battle.”

“Makes a kind of sense.  Something like what we did last night, but more… obstructive than penetrative.”

I didn’t miss the ‘we did’, as opposed to the ‘you did’.

“Mm,” I made a sound.  “Option B was that we let him win.  Back off, let him finish his plan.  Subvert control over his people, close the portals… I can sort of see how that might have played out, now.”

“I can too,” Tattletale said.  “It would have been last night, except we wouldn’t have been in a rush.  You at that same crystal near Teacher.  No.”

“No?”

“No, not you.  Rain.  One of the members of our group with a natural facility toward the crystals, instead of your brute mindset of ‘break it’!”

I rolled my eyes.

“Saw that.”

“You can not see that on surveillance camera,” I spoke into the phone.

“I can see enough for my power to fill in the blanks.”

“It would have cost hundreds of thousands of lives if we took option B,” I said, quiet.  “Or so she said.  She described it as being helpful in the long run, good somehow.  Kind of like how she thought Teacher was close to being on the right track.  She said so, when we confronted him at the very end.”

“A clue about how she thinks and what she prioritizes.  She’s taking a tack very close to that.  I don’t think she was lying when she said she was trying to find an outcome that would make our side happier overall.  I do think she’s liable to expand out beyond that after a week of mulling things over and expanding her reach and considerations.”

I leaned heavily into the railing, the hard, narrow bar biting into my arm.  I looked down at the loading deck below.  At the gouges.  Repaired parts where Swansong’s power had kissed the metal floor.

“So we’re useful and we get consideration after freeing her, we get to be the pawns but she appeals to our interests in a general sense… and then she moves on?”

“It’s all about the shortest path, Antares.  Her power doesn’t say, walk for two days to get to this location, talk to that person, if it can say that she should talk to the person next to her.  Her goal was self preservation, your group, Imp, and the Heartbroken were next to her, and making you happy ensured you didn’t hurt her or stop her.  You just happened to be close enough to the lava to get burned, too.”

“So the goal was survival.  Even reaching out to us, the A, B, C, thing, it was survival, or partially survival.”

“Partially revenge against Teacher, yeah.”

“What is it now?”

“Equilibrium.  A manageable, balanced state where things don’t break down further.  A foundation things can be built on.  Probably, the reason she liked the ‘hundreds of thousands die’ eventuality is that a smaller population is easier to manage.  Probably it has to do with reminding humanity why we’re needed.  That there are scary monsters out there that only the capes can stop.  And, you know, I don’t think she’s given up on her dream.”

“Her dream?” I asked.  I imagined Cauldron’s control, influence, and power.

“Standing on a beach, her power turned off.  Being free.  It’s an uncharitable view, but with my power supplying next to nothing, I’ll build on what it’s told me in the past and say that she’s someone who let millions die, often in horrible ways, for the greater plan.  I think it’s possible she tells herself it’s okay to let more than half of the population die so long as things are stable thereafter, things can be built up right, no overcrowding, no hunger, no resource dependencies on Cheit or Shin, a better balance of cape and non-cape… and she gets to stand on a beach with her powers turned off without being ambushed.”

Swansong died, and for what?  We won that day, but…

I missed my friend.

There had been something fun about wine and crackers and old movies, about being challenged.  I wouldn’t have been talking to Tattletale now if I held the views I had even two months ago, about heroes and villains.  White hats and black hats.  I wouldn’t have changed my views if it hadn’t been for Swansong.  The kernel of caring for Kenzie at the background, and the willingness to reinvent herself in the foreground.  Seeing that look in her eyes after she had killed Beast of Burden.  The willingness to go to jail.

“I don’t think that’s Contessa,” I said.  “I’m not basing this on anything I can really define over a phone conversation.  Gut feeling.  But… we talked to her and I saw the look in her eyes as she outlined it all.  How far away she wanted to be from the decision, which Sveta eventually foisted on her.”

“Hmmmm,” I heard Tattletale.

Gut feeling, I thought.

“Wish I could tell you more, hon,” Tattletale said.  “I don’t have enough data.”

“Hey, Kenzie?” I asked.

No response.

“Do me a favor, don’t listen in?  Don’t look back at this past recording and dig this up to relisten?  I want this bit to be me and Tattletale.”

A pause.  I wondered if she was listening after all.  Surely Tattletale would-

“Okay.”

“There she goes,” Tattletale said.  “Straight to the puppies.”

“There’s puppies?” I asked.  “Damn.  Almost wish I was there.”

“It’d be awkward.  Like how awkward your kid is feeling right now.  You and this current… project you have her handling, connecting you to your team, it’s her only connection to Breakthrough right now.”

“I know.  Just… gotta get through today,” I said.  I gripped the railing with my hand that had the bandage around the missing fingernail.  Gripped the phone.  “My power changed.”

“Yep,” Tattletale said.  “Floating phone earlier kind of gave it away.”

“I’m worried I changed.”

“Wouldn’t rule it out.  Is that a bad thing?”

“It’s a thing.  Could be bad.  It’s hard to separate it out.  How much is me, how much is her?”

“And how much is the fact that you almost died last night?  You were burned all over, you got a very concrete reminder of how mortal you are.  You got a massive wake up call about just what exactly it is we’re dealing with.  Powers, greater forces.  It takes a while to wrap your brain around that, once you’re faced with the reality of it.”

“That feels like a cop out,” I said.

“Or is saying it’s your power doing the talking the cop out?  Didn’t it work for Amy because it was a cop-out?”

I gripped the railing harder.  “I’m really hoping that’s not what she takes away from it.”

“Or you’ll ask your dad to off her?”

“Okay,” I said.  I closed my eyes.  “This isn’t exactly what I was hoping to get out of this conversation.”

“You wanted mollycoddling.  Sorry hon, Mollycoddle is a whole ‘nother cape out there somewhere.  You get the Tattletelling.  Annoying, hard to confront truths and possibilities.  Last night you dove literally headfirst into powers and everything there was out there.  You had a near death experience.  You found out things you weren’t ready to learn.”

“So none of it’s the power?” I asked.

“Antares, honey, you’ve been in this business longer than I have.  You lived it even before you triggered.  You should know the answer to that question.”

“Last night, when Dragon questioned me, I didn’t even know my own name.”

“Isn’t that telling?” Tattletale asked.

There was something in her tone there that reminded me of who I was talking to.  The villain who used information against people.  I was baring my every vulnerability to her in this moment.

I almost, almost ended the conversation there.  My thumb moved to the button to cancel the call and a twitch or accident could have seen it make contact.

“Just tell me,” I said.

“If you’re blaming the power to that extent, you’re probably wrong.  Just like the people who don’t take it into consideration at all.  It’s a worm, wriggling through our heads, too slippery to nail down with a neat, pat explanation.  The only correct answers are ‘I’m not sure’, or the mathematician’s ‘yes’.”

“That doesn’t help narrow things down or figure out a way forward,” I said.  “For me, for my fucking sister, for Contessa.”

“I think it does.  Just so long as you don’t reduce.  Focus on the totality.”

I stared down at the loading dock, as a bunch of teenagers in winter jackets clambered onto a big metal cargo thing and attached hooks to bars that were inset into the metal.

There were gouges on that, too, spray painted a bold yellow to warn people to look out.

Swansong had been as influenced as anyone I knew.  The agent close to the surface because she was a clone, not so different from Valkyrie’s flock.  From Dennis, from Christopher, from my aunt Sarah.

I thought of every single member of Breakthrough.  Each of us had unique relationships to our passengers.  Fighting it daily for control over her body, having to meditate to even find a semblance of functionality.  Caged by it, portioning out life in turns.  Caught up in manufactured dreams and chained to fanatical enemies.  Pulled in deep, with tragic qualities and habits turned into tools that fed those same qualities, in maybe the deepest spiral I’d known a parahuman to have.

Wearing it, like a fragile piece of armor.

Could it be dismissed or swept up or brushed aside so easily?  Each person considered a totality, rather than a person and a problem to either be embraced or defeated by?

“I don’t know,” I whispered.

“Now you’ve got it,” Tattletale said.

I thought of the situation room, which I was overdue to return to.  Of the situation, of Contessa, of Teacher, and how Teacher had ended up.

“I don’t know what to do.  I’m afraid to step back from this.  I’m being aggressive and acting on instinct, but if I stop, I might lose what I gained last night.”

“I guess you have to weigh whether the cost of being aggressive instinct girl is heavier than the cost of losing what you got.”

I clenched my fist.  My skin pulled tight, and the missing fingernail throbbed.

I shook my head.  “I can’t tell what instincts might actually be my agent telling me things.  I know what you said, totality, not assuming anything, but…”

“Welcome to my life, hon.  Every hour of every day for the last few years.  For what it’s worth, I like your instincts.”

“That doesn’t make my decision easier,” I said.  It was only as she’d said it that I realized I was imagining myself tilting more toward the ‘ignore the instincts’ option.

“That’s not my job.  Hard, annoying truths.”

I’d come here hoping for a revelation, at the same time I’d wanted to touch base with Swansong, remember my friend by visiting the place she’d died.

But of course it wasn’t that simple.

None of this was.

“How long has she had her power?” I asked.  “Con-”

“Contessa?  Since she was Kenzie’s age.”

“In totality, what does that make her?  As person and power together?  You said she was defensive.  Because she has the weight of the world on her shoulders?  She can’t afford to show weakness.”

“Or disaster strikes.  Any number of forces like Teacher would co-opt her.”

“Does she want to destroy those forces?  To ensure she can walk on that beach without her power active?”

“She might now.  I think she probably wouldn’t mind if the especially problematic forces were destroyed in the process of her doing what she thinks she needs to, here.  It would even play into her goals with laying a solid foundation.”

“Do you qualify?” I asked.

“I might,” Tattletale said.  “Why do you think I have the Undersiders and Heartbroken here?”

I tensed.

“No, I’m bullshitting,” Tattletale said, but it was a humorless statement, almost dark.  “I wasn’t really dwelling on that.  I kind of assumed I’ve kept enough of a distance from her to be a factor.  It is possible.”

“Is Breakthrough?” I asked.  “Two of us were supposed to leave the picture for the long term.  Only one has.”

Tattletale didn’t immediately respond.  I could hear Rachel raising her voice in the background.

Kids laughed.  A girl was shrieking, ‘she peed on me!’

That would be one of the puppies.  I really hoped.  It was hard to tell with the Heartbroken.

“If you’re combat ready and your blue Capricorn guy is on his way back to fighting shape… I’d keep expecting that shoe to drop.”

I pulled my hand away from the railing.  I’d left a faint hand-shaped imprint in it without meaning to.

“I feel like we don’t lose anything by clarifying the blind spots, clarifying how Contessa operates, or clarifying what her motivations might be,” I said.

“Two ways we could go about that,” Tattletale told me.  “I’ve got stuff to handle, and I’m putting it off while I’m on the phone.  I can handle the Contessa talk later, or you can handle it now.”

“I could use the cred.  If it’s even that,” I said.  “And I could use an excuse to go.”

“Go then.  I’ll wrangle kids and puppies, deal with a crampy, cranky kid who’s feeling very worried and out of place right now, and get my team prepared.”

Meanwhile, my own team is scattered and on the front lines.

“Thanks for looking after her.”

But Tattletale was already gone.

I looked down at the loading dock and the signs of battle.  Repaired, subtle, or glaring in how they’d been highlighted, so workers wouldn’t cut themselves on sharp edges.

“I feel like you’d know exactly what to do for that kid at a time like this,” I said, to the empty air.

I gave the part of the railing with the handprint a pat, then stepped away.

It took everything I had not to fly.  Technically, the damage here wasn’t nearly as bad as it was in the heart of the city, but again, technicalities were a really bad argument when faced with a contingent of angry capes and staff.

I took the stairs back down two at a time, not touching the railing as I navigated by the people who descended more slowly.  In the worst case scenario, flight or invincibility would break my fall.  I didn’t end up needing either.  I hit the landing at the base of the interminably long staircase and jogged from there.

What are you missing, Contessa?  What lurks near your blind spots or what serves your purposes?  Which is it?

What does Dinah fail to ask?

I couldn’t do anything about Dinah, not in this moment.  But I could get details on Contessa.

This wouldn’t be easy.  On so many levels.

I almost got lost, trying to find my way to the situation room.  Only the fact it was as central to this particular floor as it was saved me.

Then the familiar hallway, where I’d talked to Jessica.  Where heroes seemed to be perpetually stationed, waiting for orders or standing guard.

None were familiar.

If this isn’t the last time I enter this damn room

A few heads turned at my entrance.

Eric saw me and rose to his feet.  Before he reached me, however, I reached the end of the table.  Holding up one finger, telling him to wait, I pulled up a chair.

I could see the irritation on his face.  Good.

But I didn’t want enemies.  I just… needed to focus on priorities.  I made a hand gesture to him, hands pressed together as I mouthed a ‘sorry’.

A part of me anticipated him stopping me.  I prepared a response, a debate, something to buy some time.  But he simply stepped down.  Waited.

Amy was back on the giants, I saw.  The Machine Army had lost a bit of ground, but constructions riddled with hooks were capturing giants, teaming up with three machines to every one giant.  Tearing the giants to pieces, harvesting the chunks and carrying them away in assembly lines.

The giants were appearing at a new rate that roughly replaced the lost ones.

I looked away.  Refocused on the matter at hand.

Citrine still sat to my left, dressed in black with a yellow gemstone at her breast.  She still wore her wedding ring, which looked like damascus, with layers of something golden in there, without having any gold to it at all.

I was sure there was a story as to why.

“Can we talk?” I asked her.

“I’m here to answer questions, offer help and resources,” she said.  “I’m undecided if this qualifies as the captain at the helm when her ship sinks, or if I’d have to be in the city for that.”

“My questions may not be easy ones,” I said.

“That’s good,” she said, her tone and expression dispassionate.  “You should have all of the easy answers already.”

I decided to fall back on my knowledge and training in dealing with loss.  Just as doctors had to sometimes deliver bad news, I’d been taught to do the same.

“What’s your understanding of Contessa right now?”

I could see her expression change.  A slight narrowing of the eyes, lips pressed together a bit, like she would refuse to talk to me.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because I can’t shake the notion that this isn’t about Amy Dallon, it isn’t about Dauntless, it isn’t about the Machine Army, Pastor, Nilbog and the goblins, Sleeper, the Blasphemies, Teacher, or any of the other major threats we’ve been keeping an eye on.”

“Teacher’s been captured,” Eric volunteered.  “They’re bringing him in.”

“Really good to know,” I replied.  “I’m relieved.”

“Your suspicions turn to Contessa, then?” Citrine asked.

“No, not suspicion, exactly,” I hedged.

“You wouldn’t be the first.  Another precog brought it up.”

“I’m curious what you know or think,” I told her.

She sat back in her seat.  I wasn’t sure if it was the black outfit or weariness, but she looked older.  More like a queen weary of her throne than the princess at a festivity.

“You know that she sent one of the boys to us.  We were preparing.  We are not- we were not frontline fighters.  Kurt could manage quite well, but in a warzone?  We preferred to wait, strike surgically and with great precision, to optimal effect.”

“I imagine if he had a thinker power, it would be too many inputs.  Thinker headache?”

Citrine pressed her lips together again.  Displeased.  She almost seemed more bothered by the fact I’d mentioned any kind of weakness than the fact I’d brought up her husband’s de-facto killer.

Was he alive?  A factor?

It was hard to imagine.  She wore heartbreak in a way that I was familiar with.  Maybe even more heavily than I was familiar with.  I’d lost Dean and maybe Dean had been my soulmate, but… I could believe that the Number Man had been Citrine’s soulmate.  Conveying that loss took more acting skill than I was willing to believe she had.

It was hard to imagine any confluence of circumstance where pretending her husband was dead would benefit her or her agenda, or even benefit the city.

Easier to believe she wanted to protect the Harbinger boys who had the same power and weakness.

“Sorry,” I said.

“Because of her message, we rushed where we normally wouldn’t, we trusted her, Kurt went to open the door for me and his body shielded me from the worst of the blast.  The boys came and administered medical care.  She killed him.  Is that what you want to hear?”

“I want to hear the context, or… anything that fills in the gaps.  Sheds light on how she thinks.”

“You could have just asked.  We were acquainted.”

“I’ll ask in a moment, if that’s okay.  I just… do you know why?”

“It’s impossible to know anything for certain when it comes to that woman.  If she wants you to reach another conclusion, she’ll ensure it.”

“I’d like to take a shot at it,” I said.

“She apologized.  She said she was hurrying to act against Teacher, and she didn’t double-check the outcome.”

“Her waking up from Teacher’s influence meant she had to reset, rebuild her infrastructure of checks and balances.  Starting with herself.  She extended out from there by using the tools in reach.  My team.  Heartbroken.  Wardens.”

“Makes sense.”

“But you weren’t in reach.”

“It’s not about reach, like you picture.”

“Ease?”

Everything’s easy for her.  If she wanted you to die in this room at a specific time with a… I don’t know, a specific antique pen jabbed into your eye socket, she could do that easily.  A few statements and actions taken at the right times and places.”

I was aware that I was broaching a delicate subject with Citrine, and that seemed to coincide with the sudden emergence of a violent hypothetical situation.

“What then?  Time?”

“Time.  The number of steps required.  All easy, but why do in twelve steps what you could do in three?  Sending someone we know with a specific message we’re inclined to trust may be easier than any number of distractions she had at her disposal, to corner Teacher.  She didn’t have the time and she took the most expedient route.  We accepted her apology.  The children and I.”

“Just like that?” I asked.

“No, Antares,” Citrine said.  Her demeanor remained queenly, but I could imagine she was the type, now, who would order beheadings.  “Not ‘just’ like that.  But we know what we keep company with.”

“And as a person?  I said I’d ask.”

“As a person… stunted.  Limited.  Childlike.  Composed, certainly.  Graceful.  Proud.  Educated, even.  But not fully formed.  She may never be.  Maybe that’s just.”

So much for forgiving her.

“A baby learns to trust.  All she’s ever trusted is her power and the woman who ran Cauldron.  That woman died.  At your teammate’s hands, as a matter of fact.”

I kept my expression still.

“A child learns autonomy.   She’s had her hand held every step of the way.  Industry and work ethic, or how to pursue something?  As we just discussed, everything is easy for her.  How can you have work ethic without work?”

“Identity?” I asked.

“I imagine the style she wears provided the shortest number of steps to ensuring Doctor Mother was listened to in meetings, or to ensure she was given due consideration as a bodyguard.”

“Intimacy?” I asked.  “Does she like anyone?”

“Doctor Mother, maybe?  But then you have to wonder.  If you take in a dog, virtually any dog, of any breed, any personality.  If you feed it and treat it with kindness, won’t it love you?”

“She’s a dog?” I asked, my tone twisting despite my intent.  I didn’t like dehumanizing.

“You have to ask similar questions.  She depended on and was cared for by one person.  Wouldn’t loving that person be inevitable?”

“Does she think she made a difference?  Was it worth it, to do the kinds of things she did, for Doctor Mother?”

“I couldn’t tell you.  I don’t think we would have won without Cauldron.  But I’m biased.”

“Does she regret it?”

“To answer that question, I think you have to start by asking how much was really by her design, when Doctor Mother made the choices and her power dictated the how.”

Fuck me.

I pressed, “Does that impact the decisions she makes?  Call them into question?”

“She remains forward thinking.  I think she’s been at it for so long her brain has adapted to it.  She thinks of the future more than the present.  Her decisions are sound.  No, I don’t think it impacts anything of note.”

“Agendas?  Motivations?  Drives?  You make her out to be a robot, like this.”

“None that I’m aware of.  And I think she’s grown since she finished her mission, but I can’t know in what direction she grew.  I could guess, but it would be just that: a guess. What I can tell you is that if you think she’s going to betray us all… she’s too young.  Too stunted.  She’ll be too busy finding her own way to decide ours.”

“She could make you think that,” I said.

“She could.  She would do so perfectly.”

I fell mute.  It was my turn to press my lips together.

If not an attack or scheme, was it a blind spot?

“Tell me what you’re after?  Why this line of inquiry?”

She asked, and I could have answered.  But even though Citrine’s Mortari group had set us up with funding, provided research, and cooperated… I hesitated.

I didn’t understand her.  I didn’t like her.  I felt like it was weird, having her at the table, saying so little, watching it all.

“I’m worried about some stuff that’s going to come to pass later, I think.  I’m worried,” I said, telling her the truth.  Then the lie, “I’m wondering if there’re ways to circumvent her, work around blindspots, or if blindspots are a consideration for what comes later.”

A story I imagined anyone aware and mentioned by Contessa’s power might have echoed.  Contessa had been Cauldron and I had to imagine each member of that loathsome organization had faced that reality and asked a similar question before.

The only reason I didn’t was because I knew it was futile.  I’d read literature on precogs.  Determinism.  Frankly terrifying.

I wanted to believe that the blind spots would accrue or change the result, but wanting to believe wasn’t actually believing.

It still made for a story to tell that was apparently believable and pitiable.  Citrine’s expression softened for the first time.

“No, Antares.  I don’t think there’s a way to change the course of events.  If she said it, then you can hope she lied because the lie required less steps than the truth.”

I nodded, giving that nod extra emphasis, to sell the act.

“I don’t want to give you false hope,” she said.  “Lies are very rarely less convoluted than truth.  It’s not how she operates.”

I nodded, again with emphasis intended to betray an anxiety I didn’t feel.  That was my excuse to backed out of my conversation with Citrine.  My pretense for the conversation that didn’t betray too much

Which wasn’t right.  I did feel anxiety, but it was about other things.  About my team, about the imminent disaster.  About god-damned Amy, and doing what it took to ensure she got help, as harrowing as the doing was.

Amy.  Fuck.

I walked over to a new seat, not next to or especially near anybody.  I got my phone out, laying it on the table.  I leaned over the table without sitting, thinking about framing.

First steps first.  I looked Eric’s way.

“I want to have a discussion,” he told me, before I could open my mouth.

“Disciplinary?” I asked.

“Yes.  More or less.”

“I’ll listen to what I have to, do what you require.  But can I please call my therapist first?  If you haven’t arranged one?”

“We haven’t.  And no you can’t.”

“Is this because you have a missile flying toward Amelia Dallon-Lavere?  I wouldn’t agree with taking that approach before giving her a chance, but-”

“No missile,” he said.  “For now, sit in this chair next to me.  We’ll review things.”

“Just tell me the Wardens are doing something to follow up on the action earlier.  My teammate almost died putting herself on the line, working with Tattletale to get across to someone very powerful and very ill.  I have a trace of hope here.  I need to know it’s justified.”

“I don’t have to tell you anything,” Eric said.  “You’ve been uncooperative every step of the way.  Why should I extend you any favors?”

I stared him down, taking mental note of the situation.  Armstrong wasn’t present.  Citrine wasn’t on my side.  The only other people I could name were Megan and Ysmine, Goddess’s cluster, and Pearce, who I only knew as the person who tended to stick near the computers.  She was there now, and she and her underlings were agitated.  The only scene that matched that agitation was the ongoing fight against the Machine Army.  Soldiers running this way and that, to move rubble and adjust the forward defense.  Here and there, they used explosives to deal with larger robots.   The flash on the screen drew Eric’s eye, as he broke eye contact first, and I looked too.

There was a machine that was as tall as a house, with spindle legs, and a kind of open coffin for a head.  A person was in the coffin, machinery threaded into their eyes and mouth.  They groped blindly at the air as the machine spider-walked its way forward.  When the giant smashed the machine, it bled from the resulting cracks, lurched back to a standing position, and then began firing lasers from turrets at the side.

While Eric wasn’t looking, I slid my phone across the table.  I took the seat next to him.

The machine was hit with a rocket.  The person at the head was given a merciful end, but the general shape of him and the giblets were held more or less in place by the machinery that threaded into the mouth, out the other end, all along bones and around organs.

Eric looked away.  He seemed surprised when he saw me sitting next to him.

I turned my palms upward, keeping my expression unimpressed.

“I sat.  May I please call?” I asked.  “This is in the Warden’s favor, the city’s favor, your favor, Shin’s, mine, and Amy’s.  The only logical alternative to this is dealing with her for good.”

“We know,” Eric said.  “Your stance on the matter.  Your father called us after he talked to you.  You asked your father to kill a foreign dignitary?”

Was that it, then?  When the going gets tough, the tough get going?  Or at least deflect responsibility, deflect everything, set up an escape route from responsibility and commitment?

I just wanted you to go to mom if you couldn’t hack it in Shin, or get Amy to therapy, or… ensure we didn’t have to worry about Amy ever again.

Damn it, dad.

I just felt a profound sadness.

“I told him to go see my mom, because she’s not at her best.”

“Earlier you said she was capable.”

“Earlier I was respecting her pride and dignity.  She knows her limits.  But she’s far from her best.  I told my dad to go to her.  If he couldn’t do that, he was supposed to focus on ensuring Amy gets to therapy.  Again, win for everybody if that happens.  She’s the scariest damn person in the world.  It makes sense.  Murder was a last resort, if it even comes to that.  I wanted to drive home how important this was.  How serious.  I kind of want to do the same for you.”

“Are you threatening me?”

No.  I’m saying the world is about to end, and it’s going to be a very complicated end if we don’t have the Red Queen handled in some fashion.  Let me make a phone call and give her someone to talk to.  That’s all I want.  I’ll do whatever else you require.”

“Your job, this entire time, Antares, Glory Girl, Victoria, whatever you want to call yourself, has been to sit down, be quiet, answer any questions if explicitly asked.  Get the hint.  Accept that you’re benched.

He was a bit pissed now.  A few heads around the room were looking.

“Will you make the phone call then?” I asked.  I held out my phone in his direction.  “Please.  Doc-”

He took my phone out of my hand and slapped it down against the table, face down.

Incensed.  Breathing hard.  Glaring.

“Last night you told Defiant and Dragon that you wanted to submit to the authority of the Wardens.  That you’d accept any decisions and punishments from our group in exchange for our continued resources.”

“Eric,” I said, meeting his eyes.  “With all due respect, I’ve seen nothing to indicate you have any authority at all over me.  I’m going to go make my phone call.  I’ll stick around, I’ll offer advice, and if and when Chevalier or another member of Warden leadership shows up, I’ll accept their decision.  If they decide my actions here warrant kicking Breakthrough out?  Fine.  This?  This phone call you’re ignoring?  It’s important.  This imminent disaster?  Important.”

I was so tempted to add something along the lines of ‘You?  Not so much.’

I was pretty sure I conveyed it with the look I gave him.

I was so done with this.

I collected my phone, noting the crack on a screen that had remained intact through more than a dozen cape fights, and slipped it into my pocket, turning to head out to the hallway.

He grabbed me by the upper arm.  The same arm that had the bullet wound that still hurt sometimes.

Down girl, I thought, before my power could do anything.  We exist as a totality of me.  I get a say.

I twisted, using my hand to disengage his hand and push it back toward him before stepping back.

It was something I’d learned very early on into having my powers.  Everyone had known.  I’d been able to show it off in class.  Enhanced strength.    Lifting the teacher’s desk with ease.

That it made people uneasy.  That it scared them.  Awed them at the same time.

I hadn’t used my aura, my flight, my forcefield.  I hadn’t relied on any intuition.  Only hand to hand training and assuredness that came with knowing I had the bigger stick when it came down to it.

And that was enough.

Galled, spooked, wounded, Eric glared at me.  Others looked alarmed, like they thought a fight might break out.  Pearce wasn’t even following the Machine Army fight in this moment.

“You’re supposed to listen to the unpowered,” Eric said.  I was hard pressed to think of anything more impotent he could say.

“You’re supposed to earn it,” Citrine said, from the head of the table.  “It used to be default, because you built society and we came to it.  The rules changed when it was a city we had a big part in building, defending, and feeding.”

I didn’t want you on my side here, I thought.

“Not what I was going for, Citrine- Mayor Wynn,” I said. “I’m okay with following the rules, but it can’t be arbitrary.  I’ll follow the law if it comes from a lawyer or judge.  Not a random citizen.  It’s their city.”

“It’s ours too.  We keep bleeding and dying for it but we’re not supposed to claim any part of it.”

“Maybe, but it’s not the time or the place, madam Mayor,” I said.

“Probably not,” she said, to me.  To the rest of the room, she said, “Ignore me.  I’m grieving and saying silly things.”

I remained where I was, facing this claustrophobic room of tired people who had shucked off suit jackets and hung them on the backs of chairs.  Who looked like every last one of them had no idea of where to stand.  It had emptied by half and by the design of it, I felt like it could empty by half again and it would still feel like there was nowhere to stand that wasn’t uncomfortably proximate to someone else.

But the emotion was heavy in the air.  Tension.

They were trapped in a cage with a lion and a panther, and both animals focused on them, rather than on one another.

And I was the dreaded lioness.

“I’m sorry for the disruption,” I said.

I was going to say more.  But I was taking in the faces.  I was aware Jeanne was leaving.  That she’d played a part.

Was this that spurt of lava, reaching this far?

“Are we keeping tabs on the anti-parahumans?” I asked.

The words froze Jeanne at the door, as she was making her exit.  Not a single person replied to me.

I reached for a laptop someone had left open and logged in, pulling it over to me.  The motion saw Eric back away a step.

I brought up the screen.  The list of objectives.

A possible concern that would fly under Dinah’s radar.

Something useful to Contessa?  I wasn’t following that thread anymore.  I could dismiss it.  I trusted Citrine in that, at least.

But was something Contessa had made use of.  Citrine had lost her husband when they’d rigged a bomb to her car.

The list showed them.  Anti-parahuman groups and cells.  All toward the bottom.  The ones that were active threats and the ones that had already been suppressed.  There were two dozen listed, but only fourteen remained ongoing problems.

Fourteen with fourteen minor teams or groupings of independent capes assigned to them.  The most minor capes, sent to deal with the ordinary humans upset at losing their city, or the shit-stirrers from foreign worlds, or both.

I could discount the ones obviously outside of blind spots.  Narrow it down.

Contessa had gone to Cheit to get Teacher.  She’d had to bring a team with her because she couldn’t see clearly around his tech.  The portal tech, anything close to that.

Cheit, who had sent the people who had blown up the portals.

The name of the team ‘Major Malfunctions’ caught my eye.  They were on the list.  Part of a group of eight keeping the peace at the Cheit-Gimel border.  I checked, and sure enough, they were close to an area that was likely rigged with some of Teacher’s countermeasures.

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44 thoughts on “Sundown – 17.10”

  1. Wow. Brilliant character interplay, tension, I loved everything about this chapter. Every visceral word had weight, every emotion tense. Am really loving this new Antares, in harmony with herselves.

  2. -Nice explanation about Contessa’s power but I’m kind of pissed that Tattletale sees her like she’s being the most evil piece of shit on the face of the earth. I think that Contessa is no longer the ruthless Cauldron Contessa, now she cares about other people too not only about herself and her plans. She grew up, she matured into a better and wiser person. Yes, Citrine confirmed that Contessa was the one who killed Kurt but she did that to help the heroes against Teacher, she had to sacrifice one single person to save so many from being killed or enslaved by Teacher. It was cruel (for Citrine) but necessary. However I’m sorry for Citrine,

    “Because of her message, we rushed where we normally wouldn’t, we trusted her, Kurt went to open the door for me and his body shielded me from the worst of the blast. The boys came and administered medical care. She killed him. Is that what you want to hear?”

    Maybe Kurt was not a good man, but she surely loved her a lot and died for her. I don’t believe that Contessa is a threat. I love Lisa but I don’t think she’s right this time about Contessa. Not even Victoria is so sure anymore, her “gut feeling” telling her that something else is the threat, not necessary Contessa.

    “Amy was back on the giants, I saw. The Machine Army had lost a bit of ground, but constructions riddled with hooks were capturing giants, teaming up with three machines to every one giant. Tearing the giants to pieces, harvesting the chunks and carrying them away in assembly lines.

    The giants were appearing at a new rate that roughly replaced the lost ones.”

    -Welp, Machine Army learned and evolved and this is pretty bad for Amy and her giants because Amy is barely enough fast for it. Machine Army reminds me of Borgs from Star Trek and techno-organic virus from X-Men with its ways to infest humans beings and turn them into machines. Machine Army is a much more threat than I took in consideration.

    -Mark told Wardens about Victoria’s plan for him to kill Amy. Good decision. Hope that they’ll keep an eye closer on Victoria so she’ll not manipulate her parent again in the future.

    -I’M SO DAMN WORRIED FOR Major Malfunctions. Their situation doesn’t look good for them.

    1. -Lisa on Contessa: to be fair she’s working on the information she has and admits herself that her power is generally geared towards the negative and harsh. I think Citrine clears things up with Victoria, giving her the additional information TT probably doesn’t have and can’t necessarily glean from Contessa’s perfect actions.

      -Amy: to be fair, they never expected the Mother of Mother/Nursery creations to defeat the machines directly. That same quoted portion mentions that the machines are carting away chunks of the giants which is the real attack, poisoning their well so to speak. The faster Amy can produce those giants and the faster the machine army can chew them up and assimilate them the faster they’ll only poison themselves.

      -Mark: wouldn’t surprise me if they were listening in and just made the excuse that he told them, but the alternative is they likely called him straight after and asked what was discussed rather than him make contact with them to discuss.

  3. The name of the series ‘Ward’ caught my eye. It was on the list. Part of a group of twenty or so web series that we could vote for. I checked, and sure enough, they were close to an area that was first place.

    topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=ward

  4. Typo thread.

    > She’s had her hand held every step of the way.
    > The flash on the screen drew Eric’s eye, as he broke eye contact first, and I looked too.
    > Lifting the teacher’s desk with ease.
    (There are too many spaces before these sentences.)

    say Molasses but > say molasses but (capitalization)
    Ah. her power. > Ah. Her power. (Or “Ah, her power.”)

    “That feels like a cop out,” I said.

    “Or is saying it’s your power doing the talking the cop out? Didn’t it work for Amy because it was a cop-out?”

    Should it be spelled “cop out” or “cop-out”?

    excuse to backed out of > excuse to back out of

    1. “the Warden’s favor,”
      > Wardens’

      “But was something Contessa had made use of.”
      Missing something.

  5. Well, Citrine’s opinion that Contessa is not a fully formed, mature person would go a long way to explain why at the end of arc 30 of Worm the bogeyman, who just lost her Doctor Mother, appeared to be looking for some sort of life guidance from a troubled woman less than half her age. Not that it is really surprising – Contessa’s admission in arc 15 that she made only five big decisions ever since she triggered suggested the same.

    For now we probably need to hope that Taylor’s answers actually helped Contessa become a better person, though she probably could use similar advice that Ciara got from Jessica in the epilogue of Worm. After all according to Jessica Ciara suffered from a not-so-different lack of maturity back then…

  6. Yes, Lisa still see Contessa as a ruthless utilitarian, maybe she’s right but she also added that Contessa wants peace for herself AND for other people, no more hunger, no more dependencies, showing that Contessa cares for people’s wellbeing too, or at least this is what she convinces herself. At least she’s not someone like Teacher to rule over the survivors with an iron first, she just want peace for herself and everyone else. Yes, her methods are disgusting, but can we blame someone who got these powers when she was at Kenzie’s age and always had to use them in order to stop the impeding doom? I see Contessa more like a victim of her own powers and she’s tired of always watching her back and always fighting. She wants to find her peace. I feel so sorry for her and I hate when everyone seem to treat her like a monster without feelings.

    All in all, she saved the heroes and Breakthrough and I really don’t care if her main motivation was survival. She did something very good, making her a hero rather than a monster, no matter her real motivation.

    1. The only correct answers are ‘I’m not sure’, or the mathematician’s ‘yes’.

      She’s breathing in the meta and is fully aware of it.

  7. Dammit. I had discounted the anti-parahumans because Dinah had been so invested in them i figured it wouldn’t be something she’d ignore, but I guess she focused on the big and obvious causes of catastrophe… wondered when this Cheit war thing would come around though… I guess thousands of citizens being mind whammied by MM would do to tip the balance. Damn Teacher and his endless contingencies.

    1. Anyone else briefly wondering if Eric is an anti-parahumans agent or at least sympathiser? I was discounting the idea as I figured they’d all be pretty heavily vetted but now I can’t help but notice he falls back to separating the powered and nonpowered when he suggests they should be listening to unpowered and stepping back when Antares moves for a computer.

      Naturally he could easily be spooked by Antares and weary of her but my first thought was maybe he was worried he’d been found out and took her move as one to deal with him.

      1. Yep, I defended him so far but right now Eric became a bit annoying with his arrogant behavior and probably (CERTAINLY) anti-parahuman personal feelings. He seems like he harbors a kind of hate for parahumans but he’s not so brave to admit it, like Nieves, so he expresses it with his “authority” he believes he have over Victoria. He doesn’t have the same “authority” over the other capes so he’s content with what little he have over Victoria. I finally realized that he’s anti-parahumans and he likes having power over them.

        Victoria should have give him a nice non-powered punch in the face but that action would have complicated more her already complicated relationship with the Wardens so it’s pretty good for her that she controlled herself.

        1. Here’s my take on Eric. Admittedly one that may be strongly biased by the fact that we saw him only from Victoria’s perspective so far.

          I think that any anti-parahuman feelings Eric may have are probably just a symptom of a deeper problem. He appears to lack humility. He appears to come from a rich, influential family, and probably feels entitled to be in a position of power. The fact that he is one of the very few students in the city, or that he managed to get a job as an assistant of one of the leaders of the most prominent hero team in the city probably only fuels his conviction that his natural place is near the top of social hierarchy.

          He probably resents parahumans because they have the sort of power that he can’t buy (he probably wouldn’t be able to do so even before GM – say what you will about Cauldron, but they were really selective about who they sold their vials to, and money wasn’t the primary issue for them. A proper mindset to be a hero was more important, and someone who desires power for power’s sake – as Eric seems to – probably doesn’t qualify). In the previous chapter Kenzie said that Eric was “really opinionated about the old PRT”, but the rest of that sentence seemed to indicate that he didn’t have such strong opinion about the Wardens. It doesn’t fit an anti-parahuman whose primary concern is that the parahumans may be out of control. After all as ineffective the old PRT was about ensuring non-parahuman oversight over the heroes, the current situation where the mayor and the entire Wardens top leadership are parahumans is even worse. It does fit however if Eric wants a position of power more than anything else – he may argue that the PRT was corrupt and did not do enough to keep parahumans in line, but he won’t say a word against the Wardens as long as he needs them to climb the social ladder.

          Of course as Cinereal’s assistant Eric actually has very little power within the organization he is working for, and it must bug him a lot. Remember that his position probably gives him only as much power as Cinereal is willing to delegate at any given moment, and that he is surrounded by people (both parahumans and the unpowered) who have far more experienced than him. He is just a very small, easily replaced cog in a very big machine. So when Cinereal asked him to ask Victoria some questions and to otherwise “look after” and generally assist Victoria (see chapter 17.6 for exact wording), he intentionally misinterpreted his orders in a way that let him lord over Vicky. He justified it as “keeping an eye on potentially dangerous parahuman” – a job someone like a PRT director (and not someone in Eric’s low position) would be doing on Bet, but he really just wanted to strike his ego wounded by the fact that he ultimately was little more than a simple intern.

          Moreover after Eric claimed this position, he did all he could to not only make it perfectly clear to Victoria that at the moment he is her superior, and to avoid being put in a situation that could diminish his power in any way, like contacting Cinereal to clarify his orders, or even asking unpowered veterans in the room for advice before shooting down all Victoria’s requests to allow her to communicate with her teammates in emergency situations. It shows not only Eric’s lack of respect for Victoria, but also his inability to take responsibility that should with the power he claimed. Of course it only shows that Cinereal was right not to give him that power in the first place.

          Despite all of the above I don’t think that we should judge Eric too harshly. He is obviously a rookie, who has a wrong idea about what his job is supposed to be, and about his importance. Nothing that can’t be corrected by some light punishment (even just a harsh words from Cinereal behind closed doors may do the trick), and ensuring that he is no longer in position to claim as much power over another person as he did. At least not before he proves he can use such power responsibly, and treat people under his supervision with respect.

          Apropos respect – I think that reassigning him from his current position under Cinereal to a similar one under someone like Armstrong (at least for a while) may help Eric learn some respect, and who knows – maybe even sympathy – for capes. After all Armstrong – a former academic who in his interlude said “I got into this because powers are neat. Now I’m seeing the people behind the powers and I’m thinking about getting out.” may be able to understand and guide someone like Eric, who probably needs to understand the “people behind the powers” better.

          Finally – a word about the fact that Eric managed to get into the university that refused to admit Victoria. I love how we don’t know if there was any foul play involved. Eric’s family connections or money could give him that, but it is also entirely possible that his academic record was just that good. After all brilliant people may be assholes too. Moreover we don’t know if Victoria simply wasn’t good enough to make the cut (which is entirely possible, considering how few universities there are in the city), or someone out there might have made a decision that universities simply shouldn’t accept parahumans for now (especially ones whose powerset doesn’t really benefit too much from university education – a flying brute like Victoria would certainly qualify). Such decision wouldn’t even have to be a result of some anti-parahuman sentiment, but a simple economic calculation – in a post-apocalyptic world where there are very few universities (and presumably far more demand for university graduates than these universities may be able to supply) it may simply be a waste of resources to educate capes who tend to live shortly. Not to mention that even the capes who don’t die young tend to focus on their activities in costume enough that it cuts into time and effort they can devote to their civilian jobs. After all how many parahumans can tell that they managed to have as successful civilian career as Carol had?

          1. Ahh yes, the reminder that TT already vetted him as not an anti-parahuman with the “dirt” Lookout dug up… Probably more of the mind that the “nonpowered” should have done more to assert their authority over the parahumans and maintain control considering his last comment and supposed criticism of the old PRT.

            The thing actually in his favour is that supposedly 13 people were observing her on camera, although that might merely have been him putting her up on one of the monitors in the room to display to the rest of the situation room. But if there really were other monitoring rooms setup to keep an eye on her and report it certainly suggests a stronger level of concern by the Wardens that her actions warranted THAT much scrutiny.

  8. Alfaryn, what is your honest opinion about Contessa? Not about her shard but about her as a person. Is she the pure monster as she is described by man, including Lisa, or she’s just a victim of her power and the knowledge of the impeding doom and she had to commit atrocities because the alternatives were too grim for humanity? I personally see her as a monster, as a savior but also as a victim empowered with responsibilities regarding the humanity as a whole even since she was a child. Too much heavy responsibilities on the shoulders of one human. This chapter made her sympathetic in my eyes.

      1. Tattletale kind of believe that Contessa is a threat. I agree with Victoria and I don’t believe that Contessa is in any way a threat. I find Tattletale’s opinion a bit biased because of what Contessa did to her best friend (you know, maybe Lisa believes that Taylor is dead and she’s just pissed on Contessa for killing her).

    1. @lulu

      Sorry for posting this reply so late. I originally intended to write it soon after finishing the one on Eric, but… let’s just say that things happened in real life that took away a lot of my motivation to write comments here, and that I still have one big worry that may make me unwilling to comment much for a while. Moreover, while I’ve rarely been very happy with quality of my comments here, I’ve been particularly disappointed with it over last few weeks. On top of it I’ve seen some people here who expressed some rather strong negative opinions about my general behavior here, and I’ve noticed that some people I regularly had long, interesting discussions with me here either stopped posting here at all, or at least do it much less often, and rarely respond to my comments. You are one of just a handful exceptions lulu.

      All of it makes me think I that it may be a time for me to take a break from commenting for a while. At least for the most part. I’ll probably keep contributing to typo threads, and I may post a few other short comments per chapter, but probably no more than that. This does not mean that I’ve lost interest in Ward (which I still love), or in what the other commentators here have to say about it here.

      In fact if you asked me to give you my opinion on some other character, I might not even write this wall of text, but since I actually like Contessa a lot (to the point of shipping her with Danny Hebert several times in this comments section), I decided to try, even though I don’t think that the result is good – in fact it may be just as bad as my post about Eric above.

      —————————————————-

      I don’t want to focus here on whether Contessa is a savior, a victim, or a monster. There were plenty of such discussions like that here already, some of which I participated in. Just search for ‘Contessa’ and ‘Cauldron’ in the old comments sections if you want to see my opinions on that. Instead I want to focus on Contessa’s future – start from who she is right now, and try to answer if she can she become a better person (and in what way she could be “better” than she is), how it could happen, and if her dream of being able to live without constantly using her power can be achieved.

      I’ll begin by saying that I’m not entirely sure what to think about Contessa right now. She’s always been a bit of an enigma to me, and in recent arcs different characters have expressed very different opinions about her, and her power makes it difficult to trust any of these opinions anyway. I would probably need more time and more reliable information about her to give you anything resembling a final opinion. On top of it the fact that I like her as a character so much (despite the fact that I hate a lot of what she personally, and Cauldron as an organization did) I any opinions I could give you about her would be strongly biased.

      I do think however that there are some reasons to think that Tattletale’s assessment of Contessa is probably too harsh, and at the same time rather inaccurate. At least more inaccurate than Tt’s usual judgements of people’s characters. This is in part because Tattletale openly admitted, that her power gives her no information on Contessa, which I suspect is because of Contessa’s own self-defense measures. After all it would make sense for Contessa to ask herself something like “How do I avoid giving any clues about myself, or about secrets I’m trying to keep to thinkers like Tattletale?” around the same time she asked questions about other potential threats – like the one about strangers which let her catch Imp sneaking around during one of the meetings Cauldron organized back in Worm. This means that as far as figuring out Contessa is concerned Tattletale is likely as good as just a regular, unpowered person. A very intelligent one, but also conditioned by her past experiences to see more bad than good in people.

      (By the way, I think that this sort of defensive measure is one of the big reasons why almost everyone on Gimel and connected worlds seems convinced that Taylor is dead. I think that if Contessa didn’t use her power to find some sort of path to keeping Taylor’s survival a secret, someone like Tattletale or Dinach would figure it out by now.)

      Another reason why Tattletale may be wrong about Contessa is that she doesn’t have some important information. In particular I’m thinking about Contessa’s conversation with Taylor at the end of Worm. During that conversation Contessa not only expressed her desire to make her own decisions more, not only judged if Taylor could be saved, but also implied that she had her own regrets, which would in turn suggest that she wants to become a better person. I believe that Contessa did not deceive Taylor about that, because she simply had no reason to lie to a person she was about to either kill or send to sealed world, and because someone as lonely, as afraid to ever show weakness to another person as Contessa had to be (and probably still is) had to be very tempted to do so when someone as similar to her, and at the same time as unlikely to ever be in position to harm her as Taylor was at the time, was available. This was a rare opportunity for Contessa to open up to another person (at least able to truly understand – thanks to her similar life experience – and sympathize with her) to that extent. Possibly the first one since she triggered.

      There is also the fact that if we assume that Contessa was honest with her rescuers – really gave them with options that would lead to effects she described, and neither manipulated the results of their vote, nor used her power to determine what the result would be before she presented these options, and was ready to execute any of the three plans, then she isn’t as selfish as Tattletale described her. Remember that according to Tattletale Contessa prioritized her own survival during the battle in the complex, but Contessa explicitly said that executing plan A would result in her own death.

      That is not to say that Tattletale’s worries about Contessa should be completely dismissed. For example I don’t exclude the possibility that Contessa could kill millions of people if she was forced to act by something unforeseen, and had no time to form a better plan, but I do believe that if she had time to come up with something better before acting, she probably would do her best to do so. Both because she already had her regrets at the end of Worm, and because causing Number Man’s death must have deeply shaken her. After all he appeared to be if not her friend, then at least close enough for her to care about him quite a lot.

      I would say that the problem with Contessa right now is that while she wants to be a better person, and even got some good advice on where to start, she is probably terrified by what she would need to do in order to make it happen. She would need to start making these big, difficult decisions she fears so much. Decisions that Doctor Mother made for her just like a real mothers usually make difficult decisions for a ten years old children. Contessa said that ever since she started Cauldron she made only five such decisions, and according to her three of them ended up with disasters, while none had a really good outcome. With such results she is probably afraid that she will end up causing more disasters.

      A related problem is that Contessa probably doesn’t trust in her ability to make morally good decisions. Or at least ones she wouldn’t regret later. She de-facto asked, and got some advice on this form Taylor. You could argue that she also got some more similar advice she didn’t ask for from Sveta – if angry protests and accusations count. But it probably won’t be enough. Contessa needs to find more good people, who in the short term can help her make her own big decisions without actually making them for her. After all Contessa is probably not ready to just start making these decisions herself, especially since she is often faced with choices too important for many regular people to make, and considering:
      – three decades of having almost all of her decisions done by Doctor Mather,
      – Contessa’s fear of disastrous consequences of her own decisions due her past track record – three out of five big decisions ending with a disaster, one of them leading to her imprisonment by Teacher,
      – three decades of living in Cauldron with its shall we say ‘extreme’ morality,
      Contessa is in many ways less able to make good decisions than an average person from a street would be.

      Long term however Contessa needs to rebuild her own system of values, and learn to make decisions more independently from others, while at the same time keeping her grounded – warning her if for example her morality becomes too skewed again (always a risk for someone witch so much power, especially if they spent most of their lives as a member of an organization as sketchy as Cauldron’s inner circle). In my opinion there are people out there who could help her with that. People like Jessica who set Ciara on a similar path, people like Crystal who called Valkyrie on doing morally dubious thing, or people like Valkyrie herself, who can serve as an example of a person who also ended up with more power they could handle, but managed to get better with time and help.

      And obviously Contessa would need a lot of people like that. Not only because no person has a perfect moral code (is there even such thing as an objectively perfect moral code). Not only because learning how to make your own decisions must involve an ability to , but also because if Contessa had only one such person, the relationship with such person could easily devolve to something Contessa had with Doctor Mother – a single individual whose opinions ultimately decide all Contessa’s actions, and who is liable to become morally corrupt because of the degree of control they would have over Contessa, and indirectly – Contessa’s immense power.

      The main problem with finding many people who could serve as Contessa’s “moral guides” and “anchors” is that it would require mutual trust between Contessa and these people. And it may be difficult to build such trust. Partially because according to Citrine Contessa never learned to trust anyone and anything else than her own power, and Doctor Mother. Partially because it would be very difficult for pretty much anyone else who understands what Contessa’s power can do to trust them. In theory Contessa could probably “solve” this second part of the problem by using her power – she can always ask for a path to make almost any other person trust her, but this would go contrary to Contessa’s desire to become a morally better person, wouldn’t it? So ultimately both sides would need to make huge leaps of faith, wouldn’t they?

      Finally – Contessa’s dream to be able to live without using her powers. I think it is a beautiful dream, and I would be really like her to be able to make it a reality, without having to pay with years of imprisonment for a couple days of freedom from her power. But I think that Contessa tried to achieve this dream wrong – there obviously always be people who want to abuse her power, so unless Contessa would be willing and able to take her own power away, just like she took Taylor’s (and it would probably be a bad idea to do so for many reasons), she would need to find a way to prevent another Teacher from abusing a moment of Contessa’s weakness that would come with her freedom.

      Killing millions to prevent this scenario from repeating itself may be tempting to Contessa, because with her power it ay seem lie an “easy” solution, but is obviously morally unacceptable… and in my opinion probably wouldn’t even fix the problem for good – as long as there are people who can reach Contessa, and some of these people have powers, someone out there will have both the means and the will to do what Teacher did to her. Even if she killed billions instead of “mere” millions.

      However there may be a better way for Contessa to ensure her safety. She simply shouldn’t go to that beach alone, like she did when she was captured by Teacher, but instead should do it with a bunch of people she can trust to protect her. These people could even be some of the same ones who could serve as her “moral guides” and “anchors” I’ve mentioned above.

      So to sum it up – I think that the best thing that Contessa could do (other than becoming Mrs. Hebert of course 😉 ) is to stop manipulating people with her power so much, find a way to trust and be trusted by enough good people who could teach her how to make her own decisions instead of making them for her like Doctor Mother did, to let her make small mistakes, but stop her if it looks like her decisions are horribly wrong, and to protect her so she doesn’t have to constantly do it with her power.

      Sounds too good to happen, especially in a Wildbow story? Perhaps it is, but I can always dream… and it is not like good things don’t happen to characters in Parahumans series, so perhaps the author has at some of the above in store for Fortuna?

      1. Perhaps more realistically, I think that Contessa may be a woman at a tipping point. She has suffered a trauma of her dream of being free from her power turning into a nightmare of two years of imprisonment by Teacher. A nightmare from which she was thrown straight into a multiversal crisis which may end up being as big as Gold Morning. On top of it she has lost Doctor Mother during GM, and Number Man right after she was released – likely the two people she was closest to since she abandoned her family. One of whom sheltered her from having to carry a full burden of making horrible decisions running Cauldron required (though obviously not from the guilt of implementing these decisions – after all Contessa has been an adult for more than two decades, and it was her decision to keep following Doctor Mother – who Contessa must have known was not a very good person). She is at a very low point, and, considering that as a long-term member of Cauldron she is so used to destroying lives of millions of people for what she considered “the greater good”, she may end up doing something really bad if she falls into these old habits again. Possibly even kill millions of people for personal gain just like Tattletale predicted.

        On the other hand we want that she has her regrets, wants to change, got some advice on how to do it, and I believe that she may actually succeed if she manages to find people willing to give her a chance, and show her a better way. I think that Sveta may be such person. Perhaps Legend could be one too.

        In fact perhaps the big personal demon Sveta is supposed to face in Ward was not her guilt over the people she killed, but having to give Contessa a second chance, becoming Contessa’s savior, and perhaps ultimately forgiving the bogeyman. Just like Victoria’s biggest personal challenge – the truly heroic act she is supposed to do – may be doing the same for Amy.

        1. And to give Contessa a second chance Sveta will need to first realize and admit to herself that the bogeyman is a complicated person, not just a monster. Just like Victoria did the same with Amy. The difference between Victoria-Amy and Sveta-Contessa pairs is of course that Victoria knew Amy well enough to eventually reach this conclusion more or less by herself. Sveta however barely knows Contessa. So maybe the role of the Number Boy who wanted Sveta to live is to tell Sveta about Fortuna’s redeeming qualities?

  9. @Lulu
    >Nice explanation about Contessa’s power but I’m kind of pissed that Tattletale sees her like she’s being the most evil piece of shit on the face of the earth. I think that Contessa is no longer the ruthless Cauldron Contessa, now she cares about other people too not only about herself and her plans. She grew up, she matured into a better and wiser person.

    See, my read on this was not that TT was expressing that Contessa was bad… but more that she was expressing that Contessa isn’t *safe*. Not because she’s evil, but because if you get in contact with her, there are like… 700 things going on that are more important than you. Lisa is trying to convey Contessa’s thinking in terms of threat assesment, and in those term, “I win” powers, combined with survival instinct combined with… I’m going to say a lack of creativity…. well it gives you lava.

    I never got the feeling that TT was saying Contessa was a bad person – hell, Lisa knows full well how easy it is for a thinker power to take over your brain and skew your world view. She’s just saying that IF you want to tango with Contessa, this is what you are dealing with. This is how she operates. You will get burned.

    Remember- before the Teacher raid, Sveta was lambasting Cauldron etc, and Imp and Lisa’s reaction was pretty much “We won. Cauldron’s plan *worked*. We beat Scion.”
    I don’t think Lisa has any grudge against Contessa… and I didn’t read one here.

    1. Lisa still believe that Contessa can be a major threat ready to kill millions of people to fulfill her purposes. Victoria’s “gut” feelings tell her that Contwssa is not a threat. Lisa can be biased because of what Contessa did to her best first, Taylor, even if it was necessary.

  10. Also @lulu

    I’m also not convinced that Contessa really “Matured into a better and wiser person” THAT much.
    Remember, she’s been awake for all of one month since Scions attack. (Good god, this woman never gets a break).

    I think its more that Vs Scion there was victory, and the absolute certain that you and every other human in existence would die were the *only* options. Option B was unacceptable, so she went all in on option A.
    ALL IN.

    Currently….. I don’t know. Maybe just the cities at stake? Maybe one earth, maybe three. Whatever. But she’s facing a more nuanced question, with different stakes. Not just “Win or die”, at which point she reacted like many other people would react: with desperation.

  11. I’m glad to see Vic’s progress with her agent increasing chapter by chapter now.

    I’m still worried about the Number Lads’ schemes for Sveta. They don’t seem the type to forgive and forget, even if one of them is supposedly trying to help.

    I wonder if Teacher found a way to erase or forcibly breakdown the barriers between agent and host, or if they’re Mathers-style master traps, or what. These countermeasures seem terrifying. Everything teacher does is terrifying.

    I wonder now, too, if Contessa knew in advance that Vic and co. would go into the shadow realm, and that’s why she warned Teacher at the end of the raid? What did that change? Did delaying that give Breakthrough a more opportune time to reset his power? Is bringing the man back into his stronghold a good idea? Seems like a pretty bad idea actually, if they’re bringing back to the Cauldron base. Hopefully Tattletale can make sense of those countermeasures. Or maybe she shouldn’t try, because thinking about them activates them! Who knows!

    ALSO I really hope we get to see Sleeper in action sometime soon man.

    1. It’s certainly all coming to a head. Wouldn’t surprise me if he started some of his contingency plans with the anti-parahumans upon their successful attack on Citrine and his new setup in Cheit. But here we have Teacher under arrest, coming through a portal from Cheit, under arrest, Those portals and the fragile area, together with his countermeasures, causing numerous blind spots to Contessa and a lot of his contingencies appeared to be around blowing up the city to ensure his victory or freedom… And the Simurgh is there.

      As for sleeper… It’s interesting enough that we didn’t know what happened to Legend after he was taken along for the ride with Teacher’s escape and now we learn he’s delayed Sleeper.

  12. And there goes any last shred of respect I had for Eric. He’s right to be frustrated with the pain in the ass Victoria’s being, but nothing that has happened here calls for striking at and accidentally damaging her phone. He can go ahead and die now.

  13. @Pizzasgood
    I’m surprised you only mentioned the phone– to me, him grabbing her was decidedly worse and more objectionable behavior. I mean, cracking her phone is also really shitty, and part of his escalating attempts to assert dominance, but trying to physically stop her from leaving felt more viscerally repugnant than being rough with her stuff.

    I’ve been generally confused by comments on the last few chapters saying that Vicky has been overreacting, or downplaying the many red flags Eric’s been throwing, and here too I’m not sure I see how she’s being a pain in the ass.

    When he was first introduced, Cinereal gave him these instructions:
    “Eric, look after Ms. Dallon. I have a brief set of pending questions I was going over that I’ll send to you. Run them by her. Get any final statements from her, if she has anything to add outside of the notes she gave Defiant. Transcribe them. Stay close enough that she can ask you if she wants something. Send us your notes in the next ten or fifteen.”
    We learn he’s a student, and he’s been “kind of” working under Cinereal for only a month. That… doesn’t sound like much authority. And at no point did Cinereal mention that Vicky should follow his instructions– he’s supposed to take her statement, and be around in case she wants something.

    She does take a near-immediate dislike to him, but I don’t think that’s unwarranted. in quick succession, he: unabashedly ogles her multiple times, keeps making jokes while she’s clearly trying to get to business, and tries to touch her (to “get her attention”, but it’s literally 10 seconds after saying something to her). I don’t think she’s making snap judgements or being uncharitable; a lot of his behavior indicates he doesn’t appreciate the gravity of the situation, or that a lot of people’s lives, including Vicky’s friends, are on the line.

    Even so, I think she’s been sufficiently polite. She starts out brusque but cooperative, and even when she brushes his hand away she’s gentle about it and basically just says “please respect my boundaries”. She still observes little pleasantries when she’s pissed at him (“I have earbuds, thanks though”). She’s definitely on edge, and it shows (particularly when Eric refuses to pass on her messages), but the conversation with Amy was very obviously difficult for her, and she did it to (successfully!) avert an interdimensional war– she deserves some slack. In this chapter especially, she’s deferential while voicing her concerns (“I’ll cooperate, can I please call my therapist first? No? I think this is very important, so can *you* make the call?”) until he resorts to violence, and even then she just says “This is too important, and I don’t think you have any legitimate authority over me, so I’m doing this and will accept the consequences” (plus a disparaging look).

    Idk, I get that we’re viewing all this from her perspective and so it’s inevitably filtered through her biases, and I do think (especially in 17.8) that Vicky pushed too hard on things that probably weren’t necessary. But I think she’s mostly justified in her reaction to Eric, and it’s been surprising to see a lot of comments to the contrary, even before this chapter.

  14. I think Eric gets a saving grace in that he’s, of course, completely in the right. One hundred percent right. Might-be-stealth-Thinker levels of right.

    If Wardens vetting says “don’t involve this person in this operation”, it means don’t involve this person in this operation. It does not mean “don’t involve this person in this operation, unless she feels like she has good reasons for getting involved, in which case her probation doesn’t matter and she can do whatever she wants”. Eric has every reason to suspect bad things coming from her actions, power-informed or orderwise, because his superiors asked him not to get her involved, and because her most recent (known) involvement was literally calling for murder.

    He crossed a line in getting physical, and that was a big line to cross, so I can’t bear myself to like him. But agree with him? Absolutely.

  15. I hope Cinereal will do with Eric what Narwal did with Vista, meaning criticizing him in public for the way he threats Victoria and the excessive amount of authority he manifests despite being just a college student with the role to question and supervise Victoria not to behave like he’s her master. He deserves some harsh words coming from his parahuman superior.
    If Amy will go crazy and will doom the world, will be only Eric’s fault because he refused to make the phone call and give Amy a therapist as Victoria suggested. He’ll be the only responsible if everything will go wrong. Its like he wants to make sure that something bad will happen between Shin and Gimel. I don’t trust him. The way he behave is very weird and suspicious, almost like he’s an agent of anti-parahumans or Shin. Kenzie said that he’s neither but how sure she can be that he’s not a mole? What if he’s a blind sport for Kenzie?

    1. Yep, I’m starting to have doubts about him too. He seems pretty smart for just a student. What if the person behind him can outsmart the Wardens, planting this guy as a mole and use him for their purposes? What if…he’s Dinah’s man? He seems to criticize the old PRT and Dinah never had a good relationship with them and even showed his frustration with parahumans and we know that Dinah is behind anti-parahumans. Hmm, I have to pay more attention to Eric. He’s smarter and probably more dangerous than people give him credit.
      Yes, Dinah can outsmart Lisa and Kenzie, making them fail to find something suspicious about her mole.

  16. @ohJohN

    One of the reasons I mentioned the phone instead of the grabbing because the grabbing seems less like an actual attack to me. Grabbing somebody by the shoulder or upper arm can be an attack, but in most contexts it’s a socially acceptable — if very rude — way of halting somebody for a moment, especially if they’re doing something rash. It would be a different matter if he’d fought to maintain his grip instead of letting her break it, or if he’d grabbed her again. Those actions would indicate a refusal to let her leave, but that’s not what happened. He only made her pause. He also wasn’t trying to hurt her; Victoria does have that old injury on that arm, but Eric didn’t know that, and she didn’t describe him as grabbing her hard. No mention of fingers digging into her flesh, bruising her, etc. He’s being a dick and overstepping his bounds, but the act’s wrongness level is on par with saying, “Hey, fuck you!” Rude, but not violent.

    Eric’s behavior to the phone caused permanent damage. That seems clearly worse than being rude. Victoria will get over being grabbed. Her phone will not get over being cracked.

    As for my comment that Victoria’s being a pain, I don’t mean with respect to her attitude toward Eric. She probably is being a little unfair to him, but even if I try hard to view him in the best light, he seems pretty bad at this. The nicest way I can interpret his behavior is that he’s a well intentioned douche-bro who thought that being friendly and showing a little interest in this insecure heroine might help to lift her spirits. My actual impression of him was not quite so sunny as that; I assumed he was intentionally trying to take advantage of her.

    The reason Eric’s right to be frustrated is because Victoria keeps trying to insert herself into everything going on, whether that’s the Amy situation or just mothering Kenzie. He doesn’t seem to know that she went behind the Wardens’ backs to interact with Tattletale and Kenzie, but he does know that she went around them to talk to her dad and in an attempt to influence events, and he knows she did a suspicious amount of typing during the Amy negotiations. Then there’s those 45 minutes with Anelace that she refused to account for.

    Note that being nosy about that wasn’t Eric being a dick. That was Eric doing his job. He’s a glorified secretary, but he’s not just there to be Victoria’s assistant or liaison. He’s her chaperone. The story has been clear that Victoria is supposed to have somebody in charge of watching her. At first that person was Crystal. When they met up with Valkyrie, Valk put Vista in charge. Eventually they arrived at the situation room and Narwhal took over that duty. When Narwhal left, Cinereal was in charge. Then Cinereal left Eric in charge. The degree of authority he actually has over Victoria is unclear, but some amount of authority is implied, and part of that authority is monitoring her position and activities.

    And none of this is to say that Victoria didn’t have valid points about the various things she’s tried to do, even including the unsanctioned invasion of Shardspace. But people — including Vicky herself — keep assuming that the things Vicky knows are the full and only truth. Vicky didn’t know of any plans by the Wardens to intervene in what Teacher was up to, but that doesn’t mean those plans didn’t exist and weren’t in play. Now she’s assuming that the Wardens are just going to ignore the Amy situation if she doesn’t personally make a call, but what data do we have to back that up? Eric didn’t say that they’re not taking action; he merely refused to tell Victoria whether they were taking that action. Victoria is not a Warden, and right now she’s not even in good standing with the Wardens. They are not obligated to share that information with her at all, let alone the instant she demands it. Eric was trying to prioritize a discussion about the way Victoria was behaving, but she refused to hear it and kept acting like she was the one in charge when she’s supposed to be in the dog house by her own agreement.

    In the end, I can’t blame Eric for trying to stop Victoria when she was about to storm out unsupervised again with clear intent of taking actions that have not been vetted by the Wardens’ thinkers toward a volatile person at a volatile time. I can blame him for breaking her phone when she was only holding it out toward him and making a request. If he’d slammed it down because she was in the middle of dialing somebody, that would be a different matter, but she wasn’t. He was just lashing out and behaving with a total disregard for other people’s equipment.

    I didn’t have a lot of respect for Eric to begin with, and that lapse of control killed it. I can still sympathize with the frustration he must be feeling, but if he wanders into one of Teacher’s traps and gets disemboweled on the way to the bathroom, I will give a small cheer. That cheer will be short-lived though, because several seconds later I will remember that this is a Wildbow story and begin to worry that it will look to the Wardens like Victoria crossed paths with Eric and lashed out with the Wretch.

    1. The phone can be fixed or replaced, not big deal. The problem with him is that I’m very suspicious about him being a mole planted by someone whose plans are not necessary in line with Wardens’ plans. Someone who can even outsmart Kenzie.

  17. @lulu

    >Hmm, I have to pay more attention to Eric. He’s smarter and probably more dangerous than people give him credit.

    Thing is, if he’s Dinah’s plant, its entirely possible that he ISN’T smarter… but being the right person with the right prior beliefs in the right location can make him look smarter (or stupider) than he might otherwise appear.

    … Actually come to think of it, given that Victoria failing to get into university is quiet possibly a dinah plot (I rate it at 75%)…. and this guy DID get in… that maybe raises the chance he is a Dinah plant slightly.

    Personally though, I still think he’s just a regular grade asshole, and nothing to do with the ongoing plot.

  18. I think that Eric is doing his job. Victoria has come back from Shardspace realm with altered personality, is being confrontational, is detracting time from following a real-time evolving crisis situation, and is suspected to be an infective, mastered plant from the shards, at worst. The Wardens have BENCHED her, and are VERY wary about what she might wind up doing. Eric, whatever he may be competence-wise, has been able to withstand the scrutiny of such a no-nonsense, notorious hardass as Cinereal and gain her trust.
    Now, besides being run ragged monitoring lots of different crises from several days ago he has as evidence that:
    -Victoria is hovering close to a mental breakdown and has concerning mood swings.
    -In words of her OWN father, tries to get the Red Queen, her own sister assasinated, in an unsecured channel SHIN was certainly listening to.
    -Has partial evidence that she was interfering in Amy´s-Sveta conversation.
    -Has TOTAL evidence she was interfering with Mark & Amy with that phone conversation – and she is under Master-Stranger, she shouldn´t even have done the (fully excusable) mistake of taking the call.
    -Something about her wandering off was VERY wrong, and the coverup wasn´t 100% succesful, given 13 people were watching her – they know SOMETHING happened.
    AND he is being distracted from his ACTUAL job of monitoring the crisis situation, taking notes and coordinating people with boots on the ground.

    A potentially Mastered Brute let loose in Earth Gimel´s military HQ when only the Thinkers are at home and few powerful combat capable capes near (the powerful ones are fighting on the trenches) is one of the closest thing to a security officer nightmare. If Victoria gets ballistic, she can decapitate the chain of command, comms and the intel office in a single stroke.

    And now Victoria comes up with the typical monomaniacal insistence of a Mastered person, after having a conversation about potentially killing her own sister. To anyone not in the intimate know about the situation, you have a MASTERED person with Brute powers, which could kill anyone in the room if crossed. Not a nice situation to be. If I had been in that situation, I would have got Victoria to an side room, listened to her demands, tell her nicely you decide if you follow her advice after 5-10min. deliberation time and some consultation, THEN sic powered cape security on her ass. The problem is, he can´t – most of the important capes and bosses are busy on life-or-death struggles – , so he has to go by ear and try to his best. Dealing with a Brute cape that may be mastered, can splatter you with a mere glance, and is proving absolutely uncooperative, without any force or authority to back you up.

    Eric just has had a VERY rough day, and has got legitimately desperate. Let´s face the fact, one of the paraverse long running tropes is that capes don´t really “get” non-powered people in positions of authority – the only instances where orders were obeyed without question is where an officer cape was close to back up the non-powered official authority. See Gary Nieves evacuation mission, the Wards and officer Pigot, the Russian army experience with parahumans, or Weaver and her experience in the PRT, until she saw better. The non-powered can get leverage as therapists, friends or advisors, but when they assume command, something does not “click”, even if most capes genuinely try to comply. It always feels less intuitive or satisfying – and the Fact that the Warden command structure acknowledges this factor by putting capes in charge has obtained an unprecedented success at incorporating villanous and vigilante capes that would otherwise never cooperate.

    Coincidence, good management, or conflict imperative? I get the feeling that it is the latter – Shards reward influencing, fighting and socializing with other capes, so a cape commander “clicks” much more intuitively than a normal one, not even getting into the genuine kinship and understanding that comes from sharing a trigger experience and having powers. It is not malicious, just a cape subconscious bias let running for >30 years. And I bet the Wardens realized its importance, besides the need of having a more Parahuman-friendly environment. Even if this has boosted warden competence and cut Villain populations via enrolment dramatically, it is obvious that this is… Bad, when it comes to non-parahuman governance and rights, let alone survival. Eric is technically right to be pissed, and to feel powerless – in front of a cape, a non-parahuman has only so much power as his advice is useful, or the threat of violence (again, only from a lawful cape) can carry. This has become a sad fact of life in the paraverse.

    So yeah, Eric is dislikable and overreacted -but he is WAY above his paygrade, without backup available, with lives on the line, and a situation he DIDN´T ask for. I would cut him some slack, have a private stern-talking to with him in private, and get a senior officer with authority to break Master-Stranger protocols have serious, yet fast Thinker-assisted conversation with Victoria regarding the Therapist requisition for Amy.

  19. Just a thought: Eric has prompeted a STRONG dislike gut feeling from Victoria from second one.
    And he just smashed a phone screen that has survided a lot of harsh fights and strong impacts with casual ease when he lost a bit of control.

    May Eric be a cape going incognito? It would make sense that Cinereal would have a cape with some moderate Brute rating monitor the other Brute cape, what with the lingering Master/Stranger concerns. Otherwise, you have a ticking timebomb sitting unsupervised in your situation room – a potential disaster.
    I don´t think it is that likely, but it would explain some things….

    UNRELATED musings: Jessica Yamada, Epeios, Hunter as protagonists for the 3º book of the paraverse?

  20. Everyone keeps asking if Contessa is a monster,a child, a villan, or a stealth hero. I’d say all of the above.

    She is a monster in that when she is walking the path to victory, nothing and no one is sacred. She will kill you with out guilt, and without a second thought. She is dangerous to be near, and potentially even dangerous to allow to exist. When walking the path she is absolutely the puppet of her agent, and as such is truly inhuman.

    She is also a hero, who did all she could to prevent the end of the human race and making huge sacrifices on the way there.

    She is also a villian, involved in assassination, kidnaping, human trafficking, just to name a few.

    She is also likely a child, she has never really had to make choices, has had few friends, and little if any parenting since she ‘triggered’ , and likely is quite lonely and emotionally stunted. It’s no surprise that at the end of Worm she was as lost as she was. Her whole life up til then had been one project, and it was finally done, and she could relax for a moment, and she was not ready to cope with that.

  21. Considering what Admiral Matt said in the comments section of the previous chapter (here: https://www.parahumans.net/2019/10/29/sundown-17-9/#comment-105170 ), I suspect that Mark’s call to the Wardens was caused by the fact that he is just as concerned about Victoria’s mental health as about Amy’s right now.

    Of course Victoria interpreted Mark’s call as a betrayal by her father, because she is so fixated on her radical solution to “Amy’s problem”, because she learned about the call from Eric (who she is already confrontational with), and because even at the beginning of Ward she got that foolish idea that Carol is unable to love both her daughters at once – something she may have extended to Mark right now. In other words Victoria may not realize it, but is probably jealous of the affection her parents have shown Amy after GM, and is inclined to mistrust them as long as they don’t behave as if she was the “favorite daughter”. A bit like Missy’s mother and father are jealous about any signs of their daughter’s affection for the other parent, only in reverse direction.

    I wonder how Amy reacts to the whole situation. How is she affected by the fact that for the first time in her life all her parents seem to give her more attention and outward signs of love than they give to Victoria?

    1. By the way, if Victoria feels she is not loved by her parents anymore (not to mention that after last night she is no longer sure who her father actually is), then it is not surprising that she makes drastic moves – from wounding Carol by asking her in Neil is her father, through sex with Analace, to looking for a pretext to kill Amy, or at least to do something despite the fact that it could provoke Wardens ire – from intervening with Chicken Tenders situation, through joining her team on the frontlines, to just flying over a place like pre-GM Bet to calm her nerves.

      Feeling unloved is Victoria’s trigger situation after all, and being unsure of her parents love coupled with recent reminders about Gallant’s death AND separation from her friends must be quite a torment for Vicky.

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