From now on, I’m going to assume that Alan is a coincidence and we’re simply breaking the One Steve Limit.

But if that’s really what’s going on, it will reflect negatively on the chapter, because this is a really bad time to break that rule with this particular name. The Nine are fresh in our minds, and especially the name Alan for Mannequin. Using the same name for this character, if he’s a new one and not, like, alternate universe Sphere or something, leads to a ton of unnecessary confusion.

She shook her head.

“Talk to me.”

Carol sighed.

He sat down on the corner of her desk, reached over and turned off the scanner.  “Talk.”

“When I agreed to join New Wave, Sarah and I both agreed that I’d keep my job, and I’d strike a balance between work and life in costume.”

Well, okay, fuck my “before capes” theory then. Sure.

I guess this has to be the present, then, given the condemnation thing. That, or the city has nearly been condemned before, early in Carol’s career, while Sphere was still Sphere.

He nodded.

“I felt like I had to keep coming, even after Leviathan destroyed the city.

Present. Definitely the present.

Took me long enough to be sure of that.

So why is there an Alan?

Keep that promise to myself, keep myself sane.  This filing helps, too.  It’s almost meditative.”

“I can’t imagine what it would have been like to stay in the city, with everything that’s gone on.  I heard things in the news, but it really didn’t hit home until I came back.”

Yeeah, this is something you gotta experience to fully get.

I say while simply reading about it.

“That’s it.  What are you doing?  Are those the files from downstairs?”

Carol nodded, glancing at the crate of paperwork marked ‘1972’.  “We’ve been saying we would copy them over to digital format the next time business got slow.

Old files… very old for anything relevant to this story, given that it took another decade before Scion showed up.

It won’t get much slower than it is now.”

“The idea was that everyone in the office would pitch in,” Alan answered.

“Everyone in the office is pitching in.”

So… Carol?

“Except you’re the only one here,” Alan said.  His brow creased in worry, “What’s going on?  Are you okay?”

I too would like to know what’s going on. We’ve got two people here with names that possibly break the One Steve Limit, only two chapters after the name one of them is bearing was last mentioned. Neither of them are acting like the people they should be by their names…

Maybe we are in the past, even more than I thought. Maybe this is in the 70′s or very early 80′s, before capes were a thing, and that’s why they’re both businesspeople of some description? Hell, maybe we’re even about to see these two learn about Scion’s, uh, arrival?

There’s also the question about whether the dark room scene happens before or after whenever this is. Is what I’m reading right now a flashback from the perspective of the lady in the darkness, who may or may not be Carol? (We haven’t had any descriptions looking into Carol’s head in the scene with Alan yet. Though Alan did just say Carol was the only one here.)

“I knew you were here when I was a block away,” Alan spoke.

Woah.

Either we just broke the One Steve Limit at an inopportune time, or we’re in the past.

With that in mind, who is the POV character? Burnscar?

And why are we reading about this in this particular Arc?

“The number of lights on in these offices is asking for troublemakers to notice and come by.  And the doors were unlocked.”

Carol looked up in surprise.  Composing herself, she answered, “I’m not concerned.”

Carol, as in Brandish? She knew Alan before he became Mannequin?

So is Carol our POV lady in the dark?

The man laughed, “No, I imagine you aren’t.”

“You’re back?”

“For a little while, at least.  The partners asked if I could come by in case we had to close up shop in a hurry.”

Partners? Close up shop in a hurry? None of this sounds like something I’d expect Sphere to be talking about.

“In case the city is condemned?”

What.

We’re in the present.

And there’s an Alan.

Did we just break the One Steve Limit? Or is everyone mistaken about who exactly Mannequin was? I think that would take away from Mannequin’s character, though.

I’m confused.

He set down the food and then turned to leave.

“Thank you!” she called after him.  She saw him hesitate.

You okay there?

The door slammed shut after him.

If I’m right about who we’re dealing with here, Trickster’s behavior surrounding this situation has changed. It seems like he’s no longer giving Noelle the time of day, possibly out of guilt.

“You thanked him?” The words were accusatory.

She couldn’t justify it.  Her heart was pounding.  She stared at the plate.  Soup and bread: enough food for one person, barely enough for two.

This feels wrong too. Coil has resources above all else, and even with the mess Leviathan and the Nine have made of Brockton Bay, he should be able and willing to give these two more food than this.

She could have said she did it in the hopes that he would feed them more often, but she wasn’t sure she would be telling the truth.

“Let’s… let’s just eat,” she spoke.

“Thank you for feeding us anything at all!”

It’s… hrm.

Reaching out, she fumbled, felt the dim warmth of skin.  An arm so thin she could wrap her hand around it, middle finger and thumb touching.  Her hand slid down the arm and her fingers twined with those of a hand smaller than hers.

A child?

The physical contact seemed to put the physical sensations of air on her skin into a kind of context.  The sense of pressure faded.

Maybe if it’s fading, we can figure out what’s going on here.

“I’m hungry,” the girl beside her spoke.

“I am too.”

“I want to go home.”

“I know.”

Hmm.

How about this: Cauldron test subjects?

There was the sound of a key in the lock, and her heart leapt.

The light felt like knives being driven into her eye sockets, but she stared anyways.  A man, tall, tan and long-haired, entered the room, a lantern in one hand and a plate of food in the other.

…Trickster, is that you?

If not for the child I would take this to mean we’re in Noelle’s head… that might still be the case, but we need to figure out what’s going on with the child.

Is it Dinah? Did Coil decide to store her with Noelle while she’s recovering? That seems like a tremendously bad idea.

Darkness.  Almost a physical presence, bearing down on her as though she were deep underwater and the weight of all of the water above her was pressing against her head and shoulders.

Alright, so we’ve got a female POV. There go most of my suggestions.

Is this Grue’s darkness, which is indeed a physical presence with a sense of pressure and resistance?

And if so, who would be describing it as if unfamiliar? Are we dealing with a female Coildier here? Except this is not the kind of tactic the Undersiders were going to go for, at least not to begin with.

Civilian bystander?

Some of that was fatigue, some of it was hunger, some was thirst.  She had no idea how much time had passed.

I guess it’s not Grue, then?

Where is this person? Lost in a desert or something?

She might have been able to guess from her period, but her body had decided such would be a waste of precious resources.

Okay, wow, if she’s right about this being the reason and not just “it hasn’t actually been that long”, it’s been pretty damn long.

It hadn’t come, and she had no idea how many weeks or months it had been.

Darkness, so absolute she couldn’t tell if her eyes were open or closed.  As she breathed, it almost felt like the dark was pressing down on her, making exhaling harder with every breath.  It didn’t help that the room smelled like an open sewer mingled with body odor.

Again, the implication that the darkness is a physical thing.

Whatever the case, this gal is clearly not having a great time.

I’d suggest Shatterbird, but from Regent’s Interlude, it doesn’t seem like being under his control should make things like this.

Hmm. I do suppose this sounds a bit like Cherish’s predicament, but a second Cherish Interlude would break what’s been a pretty solid rule so far: No repeat Interludes.

Interlude 15 (Donation Bonus)

Well, that’s a surprise! An Interlude this early in the Arc? Sure, why not.

So who are we following today, then?

I’m inclined to think we’re about to learn a thing or two about the Travelers and their perception of Coil. Maybe one of them finds out what the Undersiders are up to somehow.

Perhaps more importantly, a Traveler Interlude would give us a chance to find out what the hell their deal actually is. I’m thinking Trickster’s perspective would be ideal for that, but Ballistic is more likely because we don’t know him as well as the other main Travelers. Maybe Ballistic finds out the 325?

If it’s not the Travelers… I have no clue who it’d be. Who else is relevant to this Arc that hasn’t had an Interlude? Brian, I suppose, but I don’t think we’re getting him right now. Rachel’s minions (I feel like Barker and Biter might be put to use at some point), but they don’t seem important enough to get an Interlude yet…

I don’t know.

So let’s find out!