“And me?” I asked, feeling a pang of alarm.

“He knows your weak points.  The gaps in your power, your dad, your identity, your morals.  You already know that.”

Right. That might be an issue.

I did, but hearing it said so clearly, it was one of those cases where having the details laid out in front of me didn’t make me feel more confident.

“So this is going to be a different kind of fight,” Brian mused.  “It’s about control and subterfuge.  If he figures out what we’re doing, if we clue him in, he’s probably better equipped than any of our past opponents when it comes to knowing how to deal with us.  If the city gets condemned, we’re boned.  And if Dinah gets her powers back, he’ll be impossible to beat.”

Dinah and Coil’s powers complement each other really damn well. She can tell him where his choices lead before he, uh, starts his free timeline demos.

Control and subterfuge. It’s a chess game against a chessmaster, and the key is to not let him realize he’s playing.

Which ties very well into his power’s weakness, which is surprise attacks that don’t give him time to split the timeline soon enough for one of his copies to succeed/survive. Don’t let him know he’s playing until it’s too late for him to win.

“That’s the gist of it.  Even I don’t know what he has planned for his endgame, here.  It’s looking pretty ugly, to be honest.”  Lisa counted off the points on her fingers.  “The Chosen will be gunning for us, Coil’s got a small army of pretty excellent, well-equipped soldiers at his disposal, he’s got some pretty fucking heavy hitters with the Travelers, the heroes are going to be going into overdrive to establish some sort of control and last but not least, he’s Coil.”

Things are gonna get wild.

“What?” I cut in.

“It’s arguably more expensive to fix the problems here than it is to abandon the city entirely.  Depends on what the consensus is from the President and all the other folks in charge.”

“If that happens, what will Coil do?” Brian asked.

Probably not rule the city, huh.

“Leave.  Start over somewhere else, transporting any resources he can, leaving behind all liabilities.  He might bring some of you with him, offering some hefty bribes.  Somehow I don’t think he’ll bring Skitter.  Even my own currency is running pretty thin,” Lisa shrugged.

Alec in particular might be very, very useful to Coil.

Not sure why Lisa wouldn’t be, though. Even with Dinah and various other information sources, what she can do should be a huge boon.

“He can’t afford to lose you,” Brian said.  “You’re too dangerous as an enemy.”

Oh yeah, that too. Especially since he can’t control what she knows about him very well.

“Oh, I think he’s studied me enough to feel pretty confident he can off me if he wants to,” Lisa said. “Trick is making it a sure enough kill that there’s no chance of it backfiring on him.”

What? I don’t think it’s about ability to off you.

I suppose there is the risk of you setting up something to spread his information if he kills you.

“I don’t necessarily want to end it,” I said.  “I’m not talking about taking Coil head on, and I do want to preserve my territory, if I can help it.  It’s helping people.”

Oh hey, I sure asked that question just in time.

So basically you want to be sneaky about getting Dinah out?

If it’s a stealth mission, don’t do it at night. Coil has two worlds going all night, so if you do this at night, things will go his way where they can. He’ll likely be present at the base himself.

If it’s manipulation… how?

“So what do you want?” he challenged me.

“For right now?  I mainly wanted to know you’re on my side.  I really appreciate that you are,” I said.  I looked at Bitch and repeated myself, “Really.”

It is good to know, yeah.

Still, though. You didn’t really answer the intended question.

“And for the future?”

“We’ve got an awfully small window,” Lisa said.  “One and a half weeks, roughly, before Dinah’s power is back online.  Once that happens, Coil becomes a thousand times harder to take on.

Oh yeah, good point! Her power being on the fritz does help a lot.

There’s the mayoral elections, the question of whether the city gets condemned-”

…oh hey, did you forget to tell the others about that particular tidbit?

Also, can I just say? With the state of Brockton Bay right now, I’m not sure how much of a difference condemnation makes.

Brian sighed.

“Bitch?” I asked.  “I know Coil’s set up your dogs in those shelters, and we’d be asking you to potentially lose that, depending on how this plays out, but…”

“I’ve managed without money before,” Bitch said.  “Smarmy bastard conned me.  Promised me I’d be left alone if I joined the group.  That hasn’t happened.

Huh. That’s actually a good point.

So far it’s actually looking like Rachel is 100% on board here.

Everything’s backwards. I theorize on Rachel being against changing status quo and somewhat on board with Coil at this point, but Alec’s the one who brings up status quo, and Rachel doesn’t even seem to hesitate to go along here.

If he thinks I’ll forget that because of what he’s given me, I’d like to see the look on his face when he finds out how wrong he is.”

Hell yes.

“Thank you,” I said.

I mean, it’d still be kinda cool to have the other Undersiders up against Rachel at some point, but sure, this works very well for me too. The back and forth of Rachel and Taylor’s relationship has honestly had enough major bumps right as they start to connect by now.

“So we’re all in?” I asked.

“It was fun,” Alec shrugged, “That’s why we got into this, wasn’t it?  Easy money, fun, get to do what we wanted.  No pressure, no responsibilities.  It’s become something else.  So maybe we end that.”

…it was, wasn’t it. Fun and friends and easy money.

Let’s go back to the roots.

Taylor’s territory. What are Sierra and Charlotte and all the other people living there going to do if they lose Coil’s support? Sierra knows Skitter is considering going up against her boss, so it might not be too surprising to her, but it might still be bad. Would Taylor still work to run the territory, her Colony?

I suppose I didn’t actually talk about my own stance on prophecy, acceptance and that whole deal.

The thing about that is that as far as we know, Alec is right. This kind of thing depends a whole lot on how time works in the setting, and while Worm’s time mechanics are normally ideal for getting around prophecy (this being why precogs are considered unreliable), Dinah’s specific brand of precognition counteracts that, and this particular prophecy was given with 100% certainty. Meaning she saw this happening in every possible outcome. Unless time in Worm has more to it or Dinah’s power is somewhat less reliable than we thought, there’s literally no way to avoid this, no matter how hard Taylor tries. Any timeline Taylor makes by trying is already factored into the prophecy, unless it involves something like time travel to create a timeline outside Dinah’s scope.

That doesn’t mean I can blame her for wanting to try. It’s admirable, and Taylor has less real reason to believe that Dinah’s power is reliable than we the readers have.

Meanwhile the Triumvirate and Cauldron have been trying to figure out not how to prevent the event, but how to run damage control and reduce the casualties. That’s also a very legitimate take on this, maybe moreso than Taylor’s, though the Triumvirate have even less reason to believe that this is objective cold hard fact.

And so it’s Rachel’s turn, unless we’ve got a couple more paragraphs of Alec.

There was a long pause where nobody spoke.

Nice, Alec.” Brian said.

Pffft. :p

Alec chuckled.  “What?  It’s true.  That Dinah kid said it was.  Don’t pretend it’s not going to happen.  Might as well live it up before everything goes to hell in a handbasket.”

You know, I’m seriously very glad it’s this brand of nihilism. It’s far less insufferable than the “why bother” variety, and actually kind of lines up with my own philosophies, except mine have a somewhat more optimistic bent.

“There’s a chance it won’t,” I replied, my voice quiet.  “And with the sheer variety of powers out there, there’s got to be an answer.”

You know the situation is globally fucked when Taylor is speaking up as the optimist in the conversation.

“That optimism’s bound to be wearing thin by now,” Alec commented.

“Enough,” Brian said.

I mean, to be fair, it’s not the first time she’s done it, but still. If Taylor’s the one holding onto hope you’re probably in a very bad situation.

“Why are you guys freaking out?  Because I’m calling you out on your willful blindness?  The world’s gonna end, and I’m okay with that.  Therefore I’m saying I’ll go along with your plan, whatever it is.  Why argue with me?”

There’s a distinct argument about resignation in the face of prophecy here too.

I’m already reexperiencing the Wheel of Time on the side. That story’s main theme is “it’s not that great to be bound by prophecy” and it has enough on this subject to talk about it for an Age. So, uh…

Crossover potential?

During an exhausting mission in the countryside near Brockton Bay, the Undersiders and Charlotte take a rest by a stone covered with strange markings. When they wake up, they find themselves far from anywhere they’ve ever seen before, unfamiliar mountains visible in the distance. As they explore their new surroundings, they discover a world in turmoil as the Dragon Reborn, savior and destroyer in one, breaks all bonds of culture and inspires wars, scheming and more and creatures of the Shadow advance on the world. And it all only gets worse when the residents of this odd new world begin to have trigger events…

Anyway, Taylor’s not going to stand by idly and watch the world end, whether she can help it or not. She’s proven that kind of determination already.

“That’s vague,” Alec commented.

“We can’t exactly share our game plan with you if we’re going to wind up on opposite sides,” I pointed out.

…fair point.

“It’s a hassle.  Why make things complicated for all of us, because one member of our group has a moral quibble?”

Also a fair point from the perspective of someone who doesn’t really care about Dinah. It’s a very believable stance for Alec to take here. He doesn’t want to deal with this shit.

“A preadolescent girl was kidnapped, with our help, and she’s spent the last few months in a dungeon, drugged out of her mind, all so Coil can use her power,” I said.  “That’s not a quibble.”

Alec sighed dramatically.  “I’m just pulling your legs.  World’s going to end in a couple of years.  Won’t kill me to help you make peace with yourself before it does.”

…well, okay then! Glad we got that sorted.

So Alec’s on a nihilistic streak, apparently, though thankfully it’s the “why not” variety, not the “why bother”.

“And mommy’s on a bender,” Aisha said.  “Don’t think it’ll end anytime soon.”

It was odd, but Brian looked more upset at hearing that than Aisha was about saying it aloud.  Hadn’t he grown up with his dad?

I think he’s more upset about the fact that Aisha’s been living a life that led to her seriously saying this kind of thing casually. Like, it’s something she’s used to, a fact of life, and Brian hates that.

Of course, it may also be that he has sentiment for his mom too in spite of how much of an obstacle she has been. Growing up mainly with his dad doesn’t preclude that.

“So it’s really down to you two,” I addressed Alec and Rachel.

“If I were to say I wanted to stick around?  That I like the status quo?” Alec asked.

That’s not entirely hypothetical, is it?

“That’s fine,” Lisa said.  “You’d be an asshole and a prick, but we’d work around you.”

Pfft.

But yeah, besides the joke (I choose to interpret that as a tongue-in-cheek joke rather than manipulation), what Lisa is saying here is actually not a good thing, at least not to the team as a whole. “Working around someone” is exactly what would lead to a schism.

“You aren’t responsible, I know,” I told her.  “I get the impression you’d side with Brian, Lisa and me if it came down to it.  The people I’m really directing this question at are Alec and Rachel.

When I realized I forgot Aisha, I decided not to expound on her reaction the way I had just done for Alec and Rachel because a) the post would be funnier without that and b) there really wasn’t much to say at all. I’m with Taylor here – I don’t think Aisha has a strong opinion on this beyond sticking with Brian whether she wants to or not.

I’m under the impression they’re the least invested in helping Dinah out, and they’re most interested in what Coil has to offer.”

Oh look, another reason why this might lead to a schism.

“Doesn’t Brian have a stake in this?” Alec asked.

Not nearly as much as when this plotline started, since Aisha’s on the team now and their mother is no longer an obstacle thanks to Aisha’s power. Earning money to convince the social services and to take care of Aisha the mostly legal way isn’t quite as big a deal anymore.

Brian shrugged.  “Coil approached me a few days ago about increasing my pay.  I think he knows I’m not that reliant on him anymore.  I got into this because I wanted to get Aisha away from my mom.  With the way things in the city have been turned upside-down, I know and Coil knows that I don’t need help.

Pretty much. Brian’s goal was to give Aisha a way out, but then Leviathan went and did it for him.

Well, probably. We still don’t know for sure that Leviathan was responsible for Aisha’s trigger, though it makes a ton of sense both with regards to her power and to the timeline.

The fact that I can say I’ve got money saved up, I can arrange to get a place and Aisha’s safe and sound with me?  That’s almost enough to decide the court case as is.”

Oh, he’s still going through the legal stuff?

I suppose Aisha’s power doesn’t always stop her mom from knowing about her daughter. Whenever she turns it off to talk to her teammates, her mom probably remembers again.

That had their attention.

“I guess the question is, how keen are you guys on continuing to work for Coil?”

Straight to the point.

“Are we talking quitting in the short-term or what?”

“I don’t know exactly what we’re talking about, because so much depends on how you guys respond and how things unfold in the next while,” I said.  “But this thing with Dinah, I’m not happy with it.  I know Lisa and Brian have their issues with that, even if they don’t share my perspective in how culpable we all are in that.”

“That again?”

“I’m not responsible at all,” Aisha pointed out.

True.

“Aisha,” Brian’s tone was a warning.

“Just saying.”

Hehe. I appreciate it, at least.

And hey, if there’s anyone here who should have a free pass to remind others about themself, it’s Aisha.