Infrared – 19.10

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“…so they had to tranquilize her,” Chicken Little finished.  “I think that’s what it was.  Syndicate cut Lookout out of our network after that.”

I nodded.  I looked over, and I noted the lack of any message or appearance from Imp or Tattletale.

Question was: did I trust them?  Their judgment call?  All we had was Chicken Little’s report that Kenzie had gone for a lie-down, got to talking with Candy, and then got into an agitated conversation with Candy before being frozen, being forced to take pills and then passing out.

Could we afford to get distracted?

“How many pills?” Number Five asked.

“I barely remember.  I could feel them on her tongue.  More than one, but there was a hard edge.  One and a half?”

“One hundred and forty-seven centimeters of height, seventy-nine pounds.  Not injected, which makes it more likely it’s something to help with sleeping.  There are four likely possibilities, but with conventional dosages, we can rule out two, unless they weren’t thinking about body weight or they wanted her to overdose.”

“Let’s assume they’re not idiots,” I said, though I tensed up a bit, worrying it was a kid that had provided the dose, or Imp, who I wasn’t sure I had the best judgment of.

“Two possibilities.  Given conventional fifteen and thirty miligram loads for tranquilizers in pill form, accounting for body type…”

“Who has insomnia?” Chris asked Chicken Little.

“Um.  Tattletale.  Darlene too, she wakes up with nightmares a lot, scares the crap out of the rest of us if she forgets to disconnect from us when she falls asleep.  But Darlene doesn’t take anything for it.  She hates the feeling of being drugged.”

“Tattletale wouldn’t want to be confused all day,” Chris told Number Five.  “Not triazolam.”

Number Five nodded.  “Mmm.  They gave her a lower dose than they had to, even accounting for body weight.  She’ll be out for one and a half to two hours and fifteen minutes, not accounting for fatigue.”

“She doesn’t sleep enough.  I bet Tattletale thought that if she could get Lookout sleeping, she’d stay that way,” Chris said.  “She’ll be groggy but alert-ish and wanting to throw herself into things as soon as she’s awake.  Chuck in some drug interactions on powers, she’ll be wonky in more ways than one.”

“How long do we have before that comes to pass?” I asked, indicating the wall, which was now showing random scenes of Contessa handling drugs and syringes.

“Not two hours and fifteen minutes,” Rain said.

“Okay,” I said.  “That’s a problem.”

“Long shot,” Byron observed.

“Maybe you should start by explaining your plan,” Sveta said.  “You want to communicate with the Titan?”

“No,” I said.  “I want to communicate with the person inside the Titan.  We’ve been going about this entire thing all wrong.”

“I could have told you that,” Chris said.

“You did tell us that,” I told him.  “They’re stronger than us, we can’t win a fight like this, it’s all stacked against us.”

“Look at that,” Chris said.  “You went to go pick up Chicken Little, and you came back with Chicken Little and a brain.”

“Shut up, Chris,” Sveta told him.  “Where is this line of thought going, Victoria?”

“In my old sparring matches with my uncle Neil, before I had powers, and even after, he taught me how to fight someone bigger and stronger than you.  If you’re fighting someone like Ashley, like Swansong, you can’t take what she’s dishing out, so what do you do?”

“Pray,” Rain said.

“You get out of the way,” Chris said.

“Exactly.  You get out of the way.  These guys, they’re precogs.  They aren’t dishing out punches or blasts that shred spacetime to disintegrate everything in their paths.  They’re dishing out destiny.”

“You want to get out of the way of destiny?” Rain asked.

“One of my plans,” Chris muttered.  “I was ready to go, but that went to hell.”

I shook my head.  “Not getting out of the way, exactly, because there’s another component to fighting enemies bigger and stronger than you are.  I even used this against Titan Oberon.  Use their strength against them.  If they swing for you, help them move in the direction of the swing, and they stumble.  It’s a principle in Judo, and other grappling martial arts, to use your enemy’s momentum against them.”

“You want to seize destiny… and help it along?” Rain clarified his question.


“Is it too late to rescind the ‘came back with a brain’ statement?” Chris asked.

“Let’s assume they have clear goals.  The Simurgh wants… that.  Whatever that was.  Humanity under her sway, her with Titans, Endbringers, and an army of capes brought back from the dead to protect her.  Titan Fortuna wants to bring about the end of our world so their species can try their hand at replicating.  Both have similar endpoints.  But those are just that.  Endpoints.  What happens after the end?”

“The world is enslaved, or the world blows up,” Byron said.


“The slavery, it seems like.  The world blowing up… don’t know.”

The scenes played on the walls around us as we talked about them.  By the time Byron was done talking, there was one scene on one wall, and another on the other.  Cracks spreading, the entire world turned to crystal, and the entire world with their heads in their hands.

“It takes a short while to roll out when initiated,” Number Five said, pointing.  “Forty minutes.”

“Then that’s our goal and our window of opportunity,” I said.  “Titan Fortuna wins, she pushes the world to the brink.”

“And we push it back?” Rain asked.

“Let’s hope,” I told him.  “We need to talk to the person inside the Titan to figure out if there’s room to negotiate.  It’s possible she might not need to eat or drink, but she has other stressors.  That fuckery with the Simurgh- sorry, Chicken.”

“Imp swears more than that.”

“It’s a stressor for the Titan,” I said.  “Which means maybe there’s room to steer this, or maybe she’s so focused on her end goal that she can’t see what lies beyond it, but a lot of that depends on talking to the person, and that means we need to access Kenzie’s tech.”

“Which isn’t doable,” Rain said.

“I really, really hope she’s okay,” I said.  I looked back at Chicken Little.  “Thanks for the info.  Tell us if anything changes?”

“Yeah.  For right now, I’ll get her stuff,” he said, quiet.  “I’ve got a sheet of instructions.”

“I’ll help,” Chris said.

“Be nice,” I told him.

“I’m a tinker,” Chris said.  “I might be able to warn him about stuff he could mess up.”

“I can’t believe you hid that from us,” Rain said.

Chris only shrugged, loping over to the box with an apelike body and mostly ordinary head.

“Can we do this?” Rain asked.  “Because I’m hearing all of this and my head is spinning.”

“Oh good,” Chicken Little said.  “It’s not just me.”

Rain put out his hand, and Chicken Little gave him a high five, before crouching down by the box and straightening out the folded piece of paper he’d been given.

“The mountain of a crisis we’re trying to overcome here is deserving of head spinning,” I said.  “It’s scary, it’s big.  I don’t disagree with you two.”

“I’d rather go with my plans,” Chris muttered.

“Which are?” Sveta asked.

“Not doable, anymore.  So let’s do this instead.”

“Let’s say we can get to this window of opportunity you’re talking about,” Sveta said.  “What do we do then?  You wanted them to stumble?”

“That’s the basic idea.  And for that, we need… something big.”

“Big in what sense?”

“Big in the messy sense.  In the… blood, guts, altering our machinery sense.”

Sveta stared at me.  Behind her, Rain and Byron exchanged a look.

Sveta’s eyes narrowed.  “You don’t mean Chris.”

I shook my head.

“What happened out there, between the time you left and the time you caught up with us again.”

“I found Chicken, and I saw some things in the crystals that helped clarify things.  The pieces to a puzzle I didn’t know I was trying to solve.  I feel… I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I feel like you seemed to feel after you got your body.”

“We went to a spot where I saw… someone who was important to me once,” Chicken Little said.  “Someone who looked like her mom, and some older guy, and a teenager.”

“My first instinct is to ask if master-stranger protocols are in order,” she said, and her voice was quieter than it had been.  “You were worried about keywords or implanted phrases… and we never technically rescinded that, did we?”

“Nothing to do with my sister.  My mom, my uncle Neil, and Dean.”

“But you want to go to her, and collaborate?”

“She’s the scariest damn person in the world-”

“Still?” Sveta asked.

“Still,” I said, my expression like stone.  “If it comes down to pointing her at the monsters we’re trying to stop, then that’s what we do.”

“Let’s get packed up,” Sveta said, not taking her eyes off me.  “While we’re heading out, we can catch Victoria up what we were able to figure out while she was gone.   we’ll see who we can convince without getting imprisoned or locked up by the Wardens.”

Our arrival at Cauldron saw a bit of a splitting up of our group.  Imp was sitting on the stairs, wearing her black bodysuit and gray mask, a black scarf wrapped around her neck, and a leather jacket for the added warmth.  Aiden ran over to her to ask questions, then ran back to Chris, who was carrying Kenzie’s tech.

There were others present too.  Jessica.  My mom.  Aunt Sarah.

I veered in Imp’s direction, before she could disappear on us.  I flew to get there faster, landing on stairs.

“Hey,” Imp said.  “There was a whole thing.”

“I know.”

“We thought you might.  Darlene said she was connected to the Chicken.”

“What happened?” I asked.

Imp shook her head.  “Capricorn dying, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  She confessed feelings for Candy, apparently, and didn’t take being turned down well.  There’s more to it, but Tattletale told me to let her share that, when you come up.  She thinks I’ll be undiplomatic or some bullcrap like that.”

I sighed, heavy.  “Did you talk to Jessica, over there?”

“She came by.  Talked with Tattletale.”

“Okay.  Okay, I’ve got… I’ve got stuff to figure out, she’s going to be unconscious for another forty-five minutes minimum?”

“Tattletale figured an hour to two hours.”

“The Number Boy estimated lower, but okay.”

“Okay,” Imp said.

Aiden and Chris caught up with us.  Chris still carried the tech.

I gave him the side-eye.

He growled, “I’ll carry it up.  After seeing you manhandle that gun, I have to.  My tinker pride can’t endure anything else.”

“Will we catch up with you after?  Do we meet up?” I asked.

“No.  I don’t know.  I have to check on my giants.  I told them to rest after the big retreat.”

I nodded.

“We might need them, depending,” he said, his back to me as he started trudging up stairs, already leaving.  “I’ll fill them in.”

“I can do that after.”  I’d rather do that, than have you give them the wrong impressions.

“I’ll do it,” he said, more firmly.

I relented.

It wasn’t worth fighting, and Chris was too… problematic.  One didn’t poke a bear, and he was an especially surly bear.

Already, I was conserving my energy, preparing.

The breath I took felt like a full lungful of air, still.

“Thanks for the help, Chicken Little,” I said, as Chicken followed Chris.  “Really.”

“Sure.  Happy to.”

Good kid.

Fuck me, was I worried about Kenzie.  I was worried about Byron.  I was worried about Sveta.  Even Rain looked dog tired, his nice new costume caked with mud and dust.

I felt a pang of guilt, seeing them greet Jessica.

I’d wanted to protect them.  I’d failed.  Two dead, one imprisoned, and if I counted Rain, the only reason he wasn’t in prison as well was that the prison had been attacked.

It took more willpower to approach that dynamic than it had taken for me to hurl myself into physical contact with Titan Skadi.  I floated over the railing of the stairwell and down.

“…would really advise contacting your mother.  If you wait, she may see it as a betrayal.”

“I know,” Byron said.  “A part of me was hoping for a magic solution.  Kenzie was saying she might have ideas, but then she went silent.  We just heard…”

“Yes,” Jessica said.  “I talked to Tattletale.”

“Yeah,” Byron said.

“Focus on your family for right now.  Kenzie is resting, but even if she were awake, I don’t think there would be much you could say or do.”

“I’ll contact my mom next.  It won’t be easy.”

“Do you want help?  We could talk about how to go about it,” Jessica said.

“That would be appreciated,” he said.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” she told him.  “For Rain, Sveta, and Victoria as well.  You must be so anxious about Byron and Kenzie.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “That it happened.”

“All of this was a long time in the making.  It’s unfortunate it came to a head today, but… it’s understandable.  Everyone is frightened, and she’s young.  Battlefields don’t make good therapy couches.”

It felt like a condemnation.

“This world of ours doesn’t let children off easy,” my mother said.  “Sometimes you can’t avoid the battlefield.  Life goes on, life gets hard, and we have to live it regardless.”

I expected Jessica to say something to that, a rebuttal like one of the ones she’d given me, when I’d argued about cape society versus her ideal world for capes, but instead, she was silent.

“I want to avoid this battlefield,” I filled in the silence.  “Circumvent it.  It’s part of why I wanted to talk to my sister.”

“We were discussing that while we waited,” my mother said, looking over at Jessica.

“Darnall has been talking to Amelia Lavere,” Jessica said, and her tone of voice had changed from compassion to something more guarded and measured.  “It’s been hours, with breaks for Darnall and Amelia to rest and eat.  Wayne needed to take a break to check on other patients in crisis.  I wouldn’t expect miracles.”

“I’m not looking for miracles,” I told her.  “I’m not expecting miracles.  But… I guess this is a hail mary.  A long shot attempt at trying to get the stars to align, make something happen.”

Rain snorted.  I looked at him, but his mask covered his face, and I couldn’t read his expression or guess about the nature of the snort.

“Can I talk to her?” I asked.  “It’s kind of critically important.  You know it would have to be, for me to even ask.”

“I don’t-” Jessica started.

“We can ask,” my mother said.

“I don’t think it would be good for anyone involved,” Jessica said.  “Not Victoria, and not Amelia.”

“I’m not expecting it to be,” I told her.  “Not for either of us.  But there are billions or trillions of other lives out there, who die if this planet isn’t in one piece.  I just have to ask, get answers.  To avoid putting a hundred kids like Kenzie on battlefields, avoid a losing fight.”

“Thousands more deaths,” Byron said, from the sidelines.

I nodded, somber.

Jessica didn’t give me my answer.  Or she already had.

My mother, though, told me, “She’s downstairs.  I can show you the way.”

I nodded.

“I’ll stick up here,” Byron said.  “Talk about this phone call I gotta make.”

“I can’t imagine this will take long,” I told him.  “But if there’s anything you need me to do, I’ll do what I can.”

“I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do.  Gotta face the music,” he said.  His helmet was under one arm, his expression was… it made him look a lot younger than he was.  I was used to viewing Tristan and Byron as veteran capes, with years under their belt, and more than enough hardship giving them a measure of grit.

And here, Byron was a boy who wasn’t old enough to vote, preparing to tell his mom that his brother was dead.  He looked scared.  Rain laid a hand on his upper arm.

“Do you need me?” Sveta asked me.

I thought about saying yes, but… she’d known Tristan.  She and he had bonded, over their fan-worship of Weld.

“No.  You do this.”

She nodded, but she looked wary.  She glanced back at the Number Boy.

Nobody here was sure about what they were doing.

Fuck.  What the hell were we doing?

If we saw another battlefield, if we saw that battlefield, that the Simurgh had been on, I wasn’t sure our minds wouldn’t shatter into a million pieces before she even screamed.

“The elevator is this way,” my mother said.

I followed her.  Aunt Sarah floated along, and I took to the air, floating at a similar height, feet a few inches above the ground.

The elevator was beneath the big set of stairs that led from the lobby to the upper floors.

Sveta had covered the general layout when we’d been looking into raiding Teacher’s headquarters.  She’d studied the entire structure when the Irregulars had been planning the attack.

We headed toward the dungeon.  The cells.  Where thousands of lives had been stolen away and kept.  The elevator box was large enough to fit a car in, but we were the only occupants.

It jolted and then began descending.  If it had been the size of an ordinary elevator, the ceiling would have hit my head before I remembered I needed to fly down.

I shifted orientation, lying against the ceiling so my back was flat against it, and I pulled out my phone.  I navigated to Vista, and I sent her a quick message.

Busy fighting.

I told her to check in with Byron regardless.  He’d probably need it.

I looked down at my mom from above as the elevator, then descended, moving down a bit faster than the elevator did, to return to ordinary height.

“You’re planning-” my mother started.

But I put my arms around her, hugging her from the side.

She was hesitant, but she returned the hug.

“What’s this about?” she asked.

“I love you.  I saw stuff in the crystal, I felt the need to reaffirm that.”

“This feels like a goodbye,” she told me.

“It’s not.”

I broke the hug as the elevator came to a stop.

“Would you mind if I leaned on you?” my mother asked me.  “I’m still unsteady.”

I floated down until my two feet, now uninjured, were on the ground.

She leaned on me.  We walked down the hall, and we rounded a corner.

These weren’t the cells where the prisoners had been held captive, but it was close.  The ceiling was high, supported by pillars, and the rooms were solid and blocked off, in much the same way the apartments on the upper floors were.  The difference was that each structure was its own building, contained within one floor of a larger building.  It wasn’t warm in the slightest, owing in large part to the spacing of the lighting.  It made me think this was a defensive position, and some of the evidence of cleanup efforts told me I wasn’t wrong.

I felt trepidation.  I’d made internal resolutions and I wasn’t sure I’d abandoned them.

Wayne was sitting outside one building.  He stood as he saw us.

Aunt Sarah took over supporting my mom.  I flew over.

The building he was beside- she was in there.  Not quite a cell, but… a solid concrete structure paneled in white tile, reinforced doors and windows… it wasn’t not like a cell.

“Thank you for doing this,” I told him.

“There are ten different things wrong with this,” he said.  “Conflict of interest, the timing, the seriousness of it…”

“Were you able to talk to her?”

He nodded.

“Can I talk to her?” I asked him.

“Is it a good idea?” he asked.

“It might be a necessary idea,” I said, but even as I voiced the thought, I was aware of contradictions.

“You wanted this, and the fact you wanted this was a good part of the reason I accepted.  Jessica agreed.  Someone needed to talk to her.  Pulling her away from therapy, after that?”

I couldn’t disagree.

That was the hellish contradiction here.

If I was going to use her, then I was asking her to abandon therapy, and I had already resolved to kill her if she did just that.

And that didn’t even touch on what Chris had told me about.

“Isn’t it better to leave this alone?” Darnall asked.

My heart was pounding.  I wanted to say yes.

I wasn’t even sure if I could have explained my full rationale for saying no, or if I could have explained my plan.  I was going to have to, I knew.  I was mentally preparing for the Wardens to admit they didn’t have an idea.

Then I’d tell them I wanted to skip ahead to where our opponents won and use their momentum against them, and hope the Wardens were on board.

It was all I could think of, but we didn’t even have the initial elements we needed to make it happen.

“Can’t,” I said.

The door squeaked.

I wasn’t the only one who tensed.  Darnall, my mom, my aunt.

She stood with her body leaning against the door, wearing the same clothes that had been issues to the refugees that had been moved into this building.  Plain, simple.  Her hair was tied into a loose ponytail, her arms exposed, those damned tattoos showing.

The way she stood, her back was to me.  She could, I imagine, see Darnall out of the corner of her eye.

“I don’t recommend this,” Darnall said.

“You were just telling me I need to develop my listening skills,” she replied.

“That was not an invitation to not listen.”

I exhaled, and the exhale came with a shudder.

I really couldn’t think of better ways.

There was a bit more peace at the end of that exhalation and shudder than there might otherwise have been.

“Dove into the architecture of powers, a bit ago,” I said, raising my voice to be heard.  “We got some insights, got some clarity.  The world’s due to end in two hours.”

“That simplifies things, doesn’t it?” Amy asked.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to her.  On a level, her talking made my brain flinch away, made me feel stupid.

How much of me had wanted to do this just to prove to myself I was stronger, that the revelation back there had meant something when it came to Amy?  Had I blocked off thinking about other avenues out of a desire to inflict this on myself?

“I saw scenes from our childhood.  Stuff to do with mom, Uncle Neil, and Dean.  You were there.”

“Fucking up?” she asked.

“Nah,” I said.  “Just there.  Talking about Roaraxia and fantasy books.”

“The talk,” Amy said.  Still without turning around.

Dot crawled up Amy and perched on her shoulder, sitting backwards so she could watch me.  Wearing purple overalls with no shirt.

“Yeah.  The talk.  I’d mostly forgotten.”

“I didn’t.  I couldn’t pick up another book in the Roar series without thinking about mom getting on my case in front of everyone.  Amy with no friends, no hobbies, she’s small.”

I looked at my mom.  My mom was frowning.

“Thanks for doing this.  Talking to the therapist,” I said.  I avoided using his name, so the conflict of interest wouldn’t be so jarringly obvious a conflict.  If he hadn’t told her he’d seen me, I wouldn’t provide the missing piece of information.

“You don’t need to do this,” Amy said.

“Do what?”

“Talk to me, like it’s you fulfilling your end of the deal.  Don’t worry.  I’ll keep my appointments, I’ll talk about my feelings, I’ll-”

“The world’s ending, Amy,” I told her.  “Two hours.  You could sit down to watch some movies and the world would end before you’re done.”

“People will save it.”

“Multiple precogs are locked into that end result.  Titan Fortuna, the Simurgh.  It seems pretty inevitable at this point.”

The door creaked as she stopped leaning against it.  She turned to face me.  I didn’t look directly at her, instead staring down the long aisle or ‘street’ that ran between the solid buildings on this level of Cauldron’s dungeon.

“You really believe that,” she said.

“I know it.”

“No.  That’s… no.  I refuse to believe that.”

“We could use some raw power.  Talking to you, like this, it’s scary, but-”

“I’m not-”

She didn’t finish the sentence, but I could tell how tense she was.

“But I thought I’d bite the bullet.  See if you were willing.  I can’t think of any others who really fit the bill for what we want, who are still around.  Lab Rat said you understood a lot of what was happening before others did.  Both times the world ended.  As scary as it is to do this… we could use insight.  We could use your power.  We’re trying to stop a greater lifeform’s life cycle.  You shape life.”

“My power stops where the passengers begin,” she said.  “You know that.”

“We’ve figured out ways to tweak powers.  I’ve altered mine.  Depending on what you were willing to do, we could alter yours.”

“And the last time I broke rules I created Khepri.  She played a big part in stopping the last end of the world.  But things are different now.”

Khepri.  The words were intimidating to hear, especially spoken so frankly.

“You said things are different now.  Different how?” I asked.

“The last time, I thought I’d done something unforgivable and irrevocable.  I ruined you.  It’s… freeing, you know?  To hit rock bottom.  To lose everything.  I was in the deepest, darkest pit on earth, surrounded by monsters, in what a lot of people would call hell.  It gives you courage, to know that there’s nothing you could do that would be worse than what’s already happened.”

“Amy,” I said.  “What you did was unforgivable and irrevocable.”

She shook her head.

“You… I live with what happened to me every minute of every day.  I slept with a guy yesterday morning, and you’d better believe it impacted every second of that experience.”

“You’re just saying that to hurt me.”

“A bit, yeah!”  I told her.  “But more importantly, that’s… nothing’s changed from back then.  Whatever courage or bullshit you’re saying is linked to you being at rock bottom… fucking hello, Amy, you’re in a dungeon in a strange Earth, and the world’s about to end!  Where the hell do you think you are?”

“Is this productive?” Darnall asked.

“She’s at-” I turned.  “You’re at fucking rock bottom, Amy!  In that vision I saw us being friends.  I saw us happy we might be in the same art class together.  I loved that girl who retreated into books and hated ninety percent of middle school and high school, but stuck her chin out and did stuff because she was brave.  We lost that and that’s a fucking tragedy.  And I am sorry, I really am, for the parts I played in that tragedy unfolding.  But don’t pretend that what you did -a set of choices you made- isn’t something that I’m going to be carrying until the world ends in two fucking hours!”

“I’m not pretending.  But it’s still different now,” she said.  “I made all these resolutions, I told myself I’d use what I figured out about passengers to help save the world, if only I could get out of the Birdcage.  I put everything on the line.  I thought that was it.  I was convinced you were dead.  And then Khepri drops you off, a few feet in front of me.”

I was still breathing hard from shouting.  I watched her, her eyes on her feet.

“I could fix things,” she told me, and her eyes met mine.  “Erase your memory, alter your emotions.  Whatever happened to your body, I could alter it.  Change it back.”

“Like you fixed Hunter?” I asked her, my throat tight, a feeling like if I swallowed wrong bile might rise in my throat.

“I was getting to that,” she said.

“Please get to that, then,” I told her.

“After I fixed you, the Wardens were protective of me, watching me, I was on my own for the first time ever, even if I did talk to Carol and Mark.  But… always with an awareness that I had the absolute power to fix my situation.  I don’t think, um, that there’s anyone out there who wouldn’t break down, if they were that alone and that all-powerful.”

“I can think of a few names,” I told her.

“I was on a long, slow path to getting nothing, before, and then every fuckup gave me everything except the one thing I didn’t realize I needed.  I needed rock bottom, I told myself I wanted other things, but I needed the safety of having nothing left to lose.  Instead, I got Goddess, and then I got Shin.  A nation of my own.  My parents with me.  You came to me.”

I pulled off the bandages at my hand, and I held it up.  Fingernail still missing, nail bed still raw.

“Yeah,” she said.  “I fixed you, then hid the fix.  I changed your emotions, you know.  To flirt with the idea of it.”

I felt like my body couldn’t generate warmth.  Something inside of me dying from the wrenching cold.

I couldn’t let her see me flinch.

“I fucked up Hunter,” she told me.  She looked genuinely sad as she stroked Dot, who had settled into her arms.  “I promised myself I’d fix her, and it would be my first step.  I couldn’t.  That’s when I realized about the rock bottom.”

I shook my head.  My volume wasn’t enough that I was sure she would hear.  “I don’t see how what you did to me couldn’t be your rock bottom.  You’re telling me you got over it?”

“My dad likes his personal rules and I think I operate the same way.  I could say that?  What happened to you?  Never again.  Until it became clear that that was reversible.  I reversed it, on the eve of Gold Morning.  It wouldn’t have even been hard to go further.  I could have changed the minds of everyone in our family, everyone we knew.  I care, it… crushes me.  I have nightmares about it.  But…”

I looked away.

“I hurt Hunter.  I changed her personality without meaning to and then I let her become a Titan.  I couldn’t fix it.  I feel clarity again, like I did in the Birdcage.  I… don’t think I could bring myself to use my power on you again.  Old guilt is mixing with new guilt, and I… don’t feel like it’s all reversible.  I don’t feel omnipotent.  I know I hurt you.  I feel sick about things that seemed matter-of-fact before.”

“All it took was another life ruined?” I asked.  “Hunter’s?”

Her posture seemed to crumple at that.  I could think of that crumpling in the face of Carol’s withering criticisms.  Of struggles in school.

I could have done more back then, maybe.  Possibly.

I relented.  I turned so I couldn’t even see her in my peripheral vision.

“Can we count on you?” I asked, and my voice was softer.  “We need help.”

“No,” she told me.

“No?” I echoed her.

“I’m going to keep talking to Dr. Darnall as long as he’s willing to listen.  Even if it’s only for the next two hours.  He was telling me about doctors, nurses and burnout, the effects it can have.  Um.  He said other stuff, it made sense.  I can give you guys information if it helps, I have a good mental picture of how a lot of this fits together.  But… I think it might be better if I never use my powers ever again.”

“Even to keep that thing you tucked into your bra alive?” I asked her.

There was silence.

I looked at Dr. Darnall, at my mother, at Aunt Sarah, who hung back at the corner, not quite in Amy’s view.

“I fed it to Dot after waking up this morning, while Dr. Darnall was getting coffee and breakfast.”

I looked over at Amy, staring into her eyes.

Had she moved in that instant, or flickered an eye to look at my mom, if she was even in sight, lurking at the corner of a building, or had Amy said a word, I would have used my aura.  Full strength, tuned just to include Amy and her pet goblin in its range.  I would have explored it and checked to see if it tapped into other feelings.

But she didn’t move a hair.

And I believed her.

I hated that I believed her, but I believed her.

Hated it, because this end result, this particular course of the conversation, with contradictions like me needing her help and me wanting to kill her if she gave up on therapy, or the things I wanted to hear her say, and my unwillingness to believe her if she said those things…  This was the only way I could imagine the conversation would have ended where I didn’t kill her before, during, or after the matter of the world ending.

Leaving me with a vague plan and none of the pieces or powers I needed to pull it into place.

I flew away.

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46 thoughts on “Infrared – 19.10”

  1. That was a surprisingly civil conversation. Good on Victoria.

    Typo Thread:

    miligram > milligram
    Victoria up what > Victoria up with what
    was gone. we’ll see (seems to be missing a “Then”)
    Two dead, one imprisoned (who is the imprisoned one, or is this double counting ashley?)
    above as the elevator > above
    not an invitation to not listen.” (shouldn’t this be “to listen”)

  2. Okay. Let’s talk to the definition of a Fuck-Up to intentionally fuck-up so that a team of heroes can get fucked-up enough to survive past the END OF THE FUCKING WORLD so they can save such world.

    There are faults. So many fucking faults in these plans.

    1. Yeah, but any plan which involves stopping it will be countered.

      It’s kind of like how Scion used his victory power to get Taylor’s throat in his grip. He saw the path as far as ending up there, strangling the life out of her but then she protected Foil and he got distracted with his other objective to experiment in causing pain and torment, so he stopped short of killing her and targeted her friends… Simply because Taylor accepted the end result that he would get her and chose to stop Foil herself rather than let her end up as collateral damage in Scion’s path to victory.

  3. -Every part of the story showing Rain and Aiden friendship, no matter how small, its something wonderful to read. I love their friendship and I will read an entire Arc featuring only them being cool friends :).

    -Victoria is a true heroine if she is willing to ask her worst enemy for help because she cares more about billions of innocents than about her personal feelings. Victoria <3.

    -FINALLY, Amy admitted her atrocities and she feels sorry for what she did to Vic and Hunter. Good start. But isn't enough for full redemption if she doesn't want to help. Its good that she realized how messed up she is but its not good that she refuses to help when she have THE POWER to help. Amy, Amy, probably she is afraid that she can do more harm than good in her condition and she is trying to avoid it. Probably.

    1. -FINALLY, Amy admitted her atrocities and she feels sorry for what she did to Vic and Hunter.

      It doesn’t change anything. Amy is an evil, rapist monster, she deserves to be raped, she deserves to suffer, and she deserves to die. That is all she is, and all she will ever be. Carol was right the entire time and Amy should never been adopted.
      Wildbow designed Amy to be evil rapist monster. He worked hard to depict her as such in Ward, and succeeded. Now it is too late for some redemption. And as this half hearted, hamfisted chapter once again shows, Wildbow is neither interested nor capable of redeeming her.

      1. 17.1:
        “If I had to, if I was challenged to, I kind of felt like the way Amy had said ‘just‘ was the kind of way the old me would have said it. The old me who had faced down a human trafficker that had coerced and sold teenage girls into prostitution and knocked his literal teeth out.
        ‘Just’ was only a good word if the person leaning on them felt like they were making the concession. I want to see her die burning, but I have to grudgingly admit that would be wrong and barbaric. Ten years in prison and a course toward rehabilitation is ‘just’. Justice.
        But if it came from the top, from a place of paramount power, from a place of satisfaction, then ‘just’ changed from ‘justice’ to ‘justification’. Justification for revenge. Justification for wrongs.”

        “In another situation, if she’d been in reach and I’d been confident in my ability to safely act on her, I might have mangled her hands until they weren’t recognizable as hands and those fucking tattoos would be unrecognizable forever.
        Hurt her, tell her never to think of me again, and send her on her way.
        Except I knew that was unfair, that it was barbaric when I didn’t want to be barbaric. She was… ill. I could hate her, but what she needed was to be removed from people she would hurt and treated with kindness.”


        Its not about redeeming her but bringing her to the point that she can see her own actions as wrong. “All it took was another life ruined”. For Rain, all it took was a building full of burning, trampled people. For Tristan he seemed to understand he was wrong immediately after the act but still didn’t seek to resolve it willingly.

        By the logic of “Rapists deserve to get raped” Victoria deserved much of what she endured for her own, excessive brutality as Glory Girl and manipulation of Amy and others with her Aura to get what she wanted.

        1. You have the logic slightly wrong though. Knocking a few teeth loose from a kidnapper / sex slave trafficker is not the same as raping an innocent person. It’s the difference between a serial killer murdering innocent people and stopping him by putting a bullet in his brain. He murdered people, but stopping him or handing down a execuation order doesn’t make you a murderer.

          Plus Vic is not the same as Amy. What Amy did was far worse than knocking some teeth out of some asshole that deserved it.

    2. >FINALLY, Amy admitted her atrocities and she feels sorry for what she did to Vic and Hunter. Good start.

      Except she didn’t, she really didn’t. She didn’t admit to anything except how it related to her alone, she didn’t apologize, and she still doesn’t listen and denies what Victoria is saying.

      This is so unbelievably fucked up:

      “Last time, I thought I’d done something unforgivable and irrevocable. I ruined you. It’s… freeing, you know? To hit rock bottom. To lose everything. I was in the deepest, darkest pit on earth, surrounded by monsters, in what a lot of people would call hell. It gives you courage, to know that there’s nothing you could do that would be worse than what’s already happened.”

      “Amy,” I said. “What you did was unforgivable and irrevocable.”

      She shook her head.

      “You… I live with what happened to me every minute of every day. I slept with a guy yesterday morning, and you’d better believe it impacted every second of that experience.”

      And despite being told to her face Amy still denies it and continues talking about how it related to her alone instead of how she hurt others. She’s not remorseful in the least because she still thinks everything is okay because she “fixed” it and therefore others’ suffering doesn’t matter in the end. She’s like those horrible people that think rape “isn’t that bad” and/or they say victims have a “victim mindset when they aren’t ‘actual’ victims” because there’s no physical injury or death. Yes there are actual people that believe that crap.

      Compare that to Tristan, who was legitimately sorry, who recognized he did wrong, that it affected others, ACTUALLY apologizes, and tries to make amends.

  4. Yikes. When all else fails, try something crazy and hope it works, right?

    Except, apparently, Amy is no longer crazy enough to go along with the high-octane crazy Victoria wanted then and there.

  5. Yes, Victoria’s plan is crazy but there is no other solution to stop the world from ending and if a crazy plan is the only one that ca save the humanity then I don’t have anything against it, I guess. Crazy situations demand crazy actions.

  6. Coming soon, Victoria has an even CRAZIER idea and asks Tattletale to convince Amy to help, in person.

    “Honour Taylor’s legacy, save us again.”

    1. “You have turned the girl I love into an abomination, and she sacrificed herself. Now to honour her legacy turn the girl I currently love (who you also love) into an abomination again, so she can sacrifice herself.”

  7. So… why did Victoria have to be the one to propose this plan?
    Couldn’t they have sent someone else down to talk to Amy first instead, and if that didn’t work THEN get Victoria to discuss it.

    Also, hasn’t 15 minutes passed by now.

    Also, oh god, we just know that Amy is going to “Pull herself togeather”, and do something whacky (on Victoria’s encouragement) later on… which will either save the day, or screw up whatever plan that ACTUALLY have working.

  8. I guess the plan makes sense. Another weakness of Contessa’s we never considered is that she planned to an endpoint. So if you can accept the endpoint as inevitable, you can plan for what happens immediately after that endpoint and the entities haven’t planned that far… effectively you’re getting one or two steps ahead of them for once.

    Obviously, world cracking in readiness to explode or Simurgh enslaving all with an army of capes, Endbringers and Titans at her command is a hell of a path to get past. If I was talking Chess It’d be like accepting your opponent isn’t exactly going to check-mate you but the’ll take all your non-king pieces, so you’re aiming for stalemate while they’re busy thinking checkmate is inevitable once you’re King is all that remains.

    Heck a new form of trolly problem. One person and then another five are on the track BEFORE the switch and will be hit and killed… but you decide where the cart goes AFTER that, and what is or isn’t on the track.

  9. Well okay. This is something. It’s not helping Victoria save the world exactly… but it’s good, sorta.

    > This was the only way I could imagine the conversation would have ended where I didn’t kill her before, during, or after the matter of the world ending.
    It’s also probably the only way we’d be somewhat okay with Amy’s continued survival 😛

    And as for the world ending… we’re in the endgame now 😛

  10. > 2 hours until the world ends.
    Why does that feel like a “5 minutes until namek explodes” situation???? XD

  11. Is it me or did this whole scene with Amy have the aura of “welp, I forgot to resolve this plotline before the end of the story so I gotta cram what used to take two arcs before into one chapter”?

    On another note, Aiden being best buds with Rain is the best thing ever.

    1. It probably comes across a bit better in a single sitting.

      Amy kind of lays out how she came to this point from everything we’ve been reading about her before. She was always of the mind that she could fix it. It’s sort of a part of her power and her mindset. People get injured “I can fix it!”, I raped my sister “I can fix it!”, I mind fucked Hunter “I can fix it!” (too much Fix It Felix Jr. from Wreck it Ralph). She had a rule to never fuckup like she did with Victoria again but then she fixed Victoria and with the notion she could make everyone forget it ever happened, got the impression she hadn’t fucked up after all… she could do it again because it could always be fixed. She’d set out this plan where fixing Hunter was the first step and she had tunnel vision, ignoring everything else while that remained a possibility. Then Hunter goes titan and finally she can’t fix it, There’s no light at the end of her tunnel vision plan and she starts paying attention to things outside it. She’s not “omnipotent”.

      So we had all of their history and Amy denying her role and justifying her actions more and more and comforting herself with the idea that she could wipe the slate clean at any time if she wanted to, toying with the idea when she had Victoria in prison, not going through but still comforted that she’s not actually at rock bottom since she could if she wanted… Right up to her last arc where she’s said “fuck it” to this world and is talking about kidnapping Victoria, killing everyone in her path and then simply going through and fixing it all… Then Hunter goes Titan and the whole stack of cards that Amy’s built collapse.

      So really, its less like “I forgot to resolve this plotline” and more “here’s the final piece to resolve the plotline and a summary of how all the previous story fed into this final resolution to that plotline”… Sherlock Holmes explaining things, that were all there in the story, to Watson at the end, if you will.

      1. What you said doesn’t change the fact that this is a last minute excuse grabbed out of thin air. It is both “I forgot to resolve this plotline” and “I have written myself into a corner, and I have no idea how to resolve this plot.”

        1. We might have to agree to disagree. Victoria said that Amy builds up walls or pillars to support her fantasy world or ideas and you need to knock them all down at once or by the time you’ve knocked down a second or third wall or pillar she’s rebuilt the first.

          All Amy’s summary points in this page make sense and you can follow them through all the interludes with Amy and others, together with the story, on how this has been playing out the entire time. This doesn’t feel like a rushed resolution because it all lines up over a long period. It feels like it’s been planned and reasoned this way from the very beginning and Wildbow is just doing the “Sherlock Holmes explains it to Watson” by having Amy lay it all out and confirm her failure to fix hunter as the move which knocked all the support pillars out from under her fantasy.

          If he had written into a corner he’d have jarring portions that don’t make sense with other portions but both Amy’s interlude’s and Marquis’ let this make sense as the resolution to Amy finding her way. Easiest/rushed, resolution would have simply been to have Amy killed randomly or by Victoria for all this crap and nobody really care with the end of the world at hand anyway or play further into grey areas of right and wrong from killing Amy.

          It’s not grabbed out of thin air because we saw all of this through the entirety of the story and Amy’s just summarised it. So it’s less telling instead of showing that it is telling after all the showing has been done.

    2. My take is that Amy got tenderised essentially the entire story into admitting more responsibility, culminating into the previous scene (and this one). We didn’t get to experience the pivotal instant(s) or much of her (very recent) personal progress since we only got a few spots worth of her point of view earlier.

      As a reader, I would have been fine with Amy accepting therapy being the final bit we got of her. The plotline, as you say, was already tied. This exchange gives it a nice finishing touch.

      1. We didn’t get to experience the pivotal instant(s) or much of her (very recent) personal progress since we only got a few spots worth of her point of view earlier.

        And did you ask yourself why we didn’t get to experience the pivotal instants?

        Or to put it in another way, why should Wildbow be praised for his inability to understand and follow the concept of “Show, don’t tell”?

  12. So, the main character has a plan to prevent the end of the world, but none of the needed key players are willing to play ball and the main characters power is not able to do anything here. Buuut there is a theoretical, half-understood way to tweak the power at great personal risk.

    Why am I getting this sense of Deja Vu? D:
    (No, I don’t really think that Victoria will go down the same road that Taylor did. But this was too much fun to not make the connection. :’D)

  13. Sethur I think you’re right. The only option for Victoria is to intentionally go Titan. Then the Fragile One will have the range to hold the Earth together throughout the universe. The original Atlas was also a Titan.

  14. Ooohhhhh yeah!

    You can keep your magical alien apocalypses, Wifflebat, this is the stuff *I’m* here for. Raw emotional drama, complicated, grey situations where the superpowers are metaphors for (and exacerbations of) the character’s problems.
    Watching Victoria and Amy try to make some kind of peace with their past is so very, very good.
    Sure, I guess saving the world will be worth doing too, but please don’t let that get in the way of Vicky and Byron and Kenzie and Rain’s stories (AKA the important stuff)…

    -Also, considering it’s been, what – two days? – since the beginning of the new apocalypse and her agreement to take therapy, Amy appears to be making some pretty good progress. From the damn-near-insane wretch that she was in Shin, she seems to have gained a surprising amount of self-awareness and control.

    – Also massive credit to Victoria for being able to stomach the sight of Amy at all. She only got distracted trying to hurt her sister once.

    – @ ninegardens: Yeah, I get WHY it’s Vicky being forced to talk to Amy on a thematic level, but yes, the smart move would well have been to get someone else to pass on the plan. Also, can’t Bonesaw help?

    1. -Also, considering it’s been, what – two days? – since the beginning of the new apocalypse and her agreement to take therapy, Amy appears to be making some pretty good progress. From the damn-near-insane wretch that she was in Shin, she seems to have gained a surprising amount of self-awareness and control.

      That is because Wildbow has no idea how to resolve plot in a belivable way, and rushed everything.

  15. So Victoria’s body is made from mutated rats/random stray animals, and Amy fed the cloned Victoria flesh-patch to Dot who is also a subject of biokinetic powers…hope no weird shard interaction goes on there!

  16. The whole time Vicky was talking to Amy- even just planning to talk to Amy- my heart was in my throat like I was reading about a titan battle. Bravo, Wildbow.

  17. Yo- team.
    Didn’t like… Teacher have some sort of plan for like… precisely this situation?
    Any word from Teacher?
    Even if its just “Yeah, you set fire to my plan. Too late. Can’t be done.”, that would be cool to here.

    Cause… at the moment I’m REALLY wondering what his plan was.

    1. Good call… I think Amy said she’d still give pointers and advice but Teacher also had a great understanding of the shard “landscape”.

      I suspect that’s what Victoria is primarily after. Someone who understands the Entity’s lifecycle/s and how all the shard pieces fit into it so she can see if there’s something to adjust it in it’s final moments or even change it completely.

      I think Scion’s interlude (matching a corresponding chapter) said “Parasite” so maybe see about tweaking it to something much more symbiotic? Victoria possibly already discovered the key points in the shardspace where it’s been tweaked to allow for a kind of warden-ward situation to bud off new shards and multiply in that sense… I’m still wondering if there’s a way to expend the energy into creating new alternate dimensions and letting them multiply that way out.

      1. Note: most of the worm’s superpowers already tap into the local multiverse for energy sources. Trying to use these powers to create more dimensions sounds a lot like perpetual movement, and even the worms can’t defeat the second principle of thermodynamics (which is why they dispersed from their homeworld to begin with).

        Maybe finding an actually sustainable way for them to live is the way to save the Earths from complete destruction. Where’s my magic 8-ball when I need it…

        1. Yeah but if the Entities haven’t figured out a quick and easy way to be sustainable, it feels a bit strange that Victoria or someone suddenly would. I mean the whole Heat Death thing (or whatever it’s called) is kind of universal, so even if they survived sustainably in Earth, presumably the entire universe is destined for decay and they’re such long lived and long term thinking entities (the Scholar anyway) that they’re focused on that.

          Whatever the end solution here is I’d say it’s some grudging compromise. The only reason Titan Fortuna is (or would be) willing to negotiate down from destroying the world outright and simply spawning out is that it’s in a battle with the Simurgh who’s planning to keep the world but enslave and torture all.

          Best example I have is the compromise Victoria made with Amy to use the Mother of Mothers instead of the G-Knight to attack the machines. Ideally the Wardens wanted Amy and Shin to completely retreat while Shin wanted the G-Knight to do the Machine attacking. Instead they got the G-Knight diverting the K-Titan and Simurgh away and the Mother of Mothers attacking the machines is a much more organised fashion which didn’t break the containment.

          I’m not sure what the Fortuna Titan’s compromise might look like, but apparently it and Contessa herself have already made some kind of agreement on a target outcome so possibly Victoria and others are actually doing exactly what the Titan planned in the way of compromise anyway. I could easily imagine that the reason the Simurgh was ahead was that it knew the Titan’s end goal of species reproduction and targeted all possible victory paths, planning for years against that outcome… So if the Titan and Contessa were smart enough to plan victory for a different outcome the Simurgh hadn’t anticipated and been planning against, she could be out maneuvered.

  18. Wow. Amy explaining how she felt all-powerful and thus remorseless after witnessing she could revert Victoria to her former state…and then losing that delusion once Hunter proves her wrong…actually makes a lot of sense.

  19. Are the Major Malfunctions a possibility? One shard recalled their Tinker’s goop was part of another species’ attempt to stop the cycle in the past from finishing it’s final phase of blowing the planet. Then you’ve got someone with invulnerability provided they stay still and Finalle with some kind of explosive rhythm power that might be some component of the Shard’s final phase… mis in Syndicate and Juliette to connect everyone and keep them still, share out the power and expand Victoria’s field to protect from that first blast and some other funkiness then you’ve got the beginnings of a Hail Mary.

  20. I can’t believe that Victoria came up with a plan so absurd that Chris sounded like the voice of reason…or that it might be humanity’s best chance of survival.

  21. > This chapter was really that rushed and hamfisted.

    I dunno, man. It seemed fine to me. If anything, you’re the one with the ham fists. It’s getting to the point where it’s comical. Any time someone mentions Amy, your bacon-scented ass comes screaming out of the woodwork to rant about how she deserves to be raped and tortured. We get it, dude. You don’t need to keep hamming up and reminding us of the raging hate boner you’ve got for her; it’s already been firmly pounded into our heads by your porky fists. So if it’s not too much trouble, would you kindly put your meat away and leave that poor dead horse alone? Thanks!

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