Interlude 6

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Paige’s jaw hurt.  Being muzzled like an animal did that.

The other restraints weren’t so bad, but that was only in a relative sense.  Her hands were buried in a pair of reinforced metal buckets, each filled with that damn pastel yellow foam.  The buckets themselves were linked together behind her back, with comically oversized chain links.  It would have been intolerably heavy if it weren’t for the hook on the back of her chair, which she could hang the chain on.

Strips of metal had been tightened just under her armpits, near the bottom of her ribcage, her upper arms and waist, with two more bands around each of her ankles.  Chains seemed to connect everything to everything else, preventing her from moving her arms or legs more than a few inches in any direction before she felt the frustrating resistance and jangling of the chains.  The heavy metal collar around her neck, thick enough around it could have been a tire for a small vehicle, blinked with a green light just frequently enough that she forgot to anticipate it.  She got distracted and annoyed by its appearance in her peripheral vision each time it flashed.

The irony was, a pair of handcuffs would have sufficed.  She didn’t have enhanced strength, no tricks to slip her restraints, and she wasn’t about to run anyways.  If any of that was a real possibility, she wouldn’t have been allowed in the courtroom.  The prosecution had argued that she could have enhanced strength, that she could be a flight risk, and her lawyer hadn’t done a good enough job of arguing against it, so the restraints had gone on.  Which meant she got trussed up like Hannibal Lecter, as though she were already guilty.  Unable to use her hands, her hair, the vibrant and startling yellow of a lemon, had slipped from where it was tucked behind her ears and strands now hung in front of her face.  She knew it only made her look more deranged, more dangerous, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it.

If she had been able to, she would have had a comment or two to make about that, or at least she could have asked the lawyer to tidy her hair.  She would have argued with the man that had been hired as her defense, instead of waiting hours or days for a response to each of her emails.  She would have demanded that her basic rights be met.

But she couldn’t say anything.  A leather mask reinforced with the same metal strips that were on her body and a cage-style grille of small metal bars was strapped over her lower face.  The interior of the mask was the worst thing, because the arrangement extended into her mouth, a framework of wires keeping her mouth fixed in a slightly open position, her tongue pressed down hard against the floor of her mouth.  The barbaric setup left her jaw, her tongue and the muscles of her neck radiating tension and pain.

“Silence.  All rise, please.  This court is now in session, the honorable Peter Regan presiding.”

It was so hard to move with the restraints.  Her lawyer gripped the chain running between her armpit and her upper arm, to help her get to a standing position, but she stumbled anyways, bumped into the table.  There was no way to be graceful when you were wearing restraints that weighed half as much as you did.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?”

“We have, your honor.”

Paige watched as the clerk delivered the envelope to the judge.

“In the matter of the state of Massachusetts versus Paige Mcabee, as to the count of attempted murder, how do you find?”

“Not guilty, your honor.”

Paige sagged a little with relief.

“In the matter of the state of Massachusetts versus Paige Mcabee, as to the count of aggravated assault with a parahuman ability, how do you find?”

“Guilty, your honor.”

Paige shook her head as well as she was able.  No!  This wasn’t fair!

She almost missed the next line.  “…sexual assault with a parahuman ability, how do you find?”

“Guilty, your honor.”

Sexual assault.  The words chilled her.  It wasn’t like that.

“Is this your verdict?”

“Yes, your honor.”

“Paige Mcabee, please direct your attention  to me,” the judge spoke.

She did, eyes wide, shellshocked.

“Determining sentencing for this case is not easy.  As your lawyer has no doubt made you aware, you do fall under the umbrella of the TSPA, or the three strikes act.  At the age of twenty three, you have been convicted of no prior crimes.

“According to the witnesses heard in this court, you first demonstrated your abilities in early 2009.  You were vocal about not wanting to become a member of the Protectorate, but you also expressed a disinterest in a life of crime.  This state, in which an individual does not identify as hero or villain, is what the PRT classifies as a ‘rogue’.

“It is in our interests to promote the existence of rogues, as the proportion of parahumans in our society slowly increases.  Many rogues do not cause confrontations, nor do they seek to intervene in them.  Instead, the majority of these individuals turn their abilities to practical use.  This means less conflict, and this serves the betterment of society.  These sentiments mirror those that you expressed to your family and friends, as we heard in this courtroom over the last few weeks.

“Those facts are in your favor.  Unfortunately, the rest of the facts are not.  Understand, Miss Mcabee, our nation uses incarceration for several reasons.  We aim to remove dangerous individuals from the population and we do it punitively, both for justice against transgressors and to give other criminals pause.

“Each of these applies in your case.  It is not only the heinous nature of the crime that must be addressed by the sentencing, but the fact that it was performed with a power.  Laws are still new in the face of parahuman criminality.  We become aware of new powers on a weekly basis, most if not all warranting careful and individual attention in respect to the law.  In many of these cases, there is little to no precedent to fall back on.  As such, the courts are forced to continually adapt, to be proactive and inventive in the face of new circumstances that parahuman abilities introduce.

“It is with all of this in mind that I consider your sentencing.  I must protect the public, not only from you, but from other parahumans that might consider doing as you did.  Placing you in standard detention proves problematic and exorbitantly expensive.  It would be inhumane and harmful to your body to keep you under restraint for the duration of your incarceration.  Special facilities, staff and countermeasures would have to be arranged to keep you in isolation from other inmates.  You pose a significant flight risk.  Finally, the possibility of you re-entering society, by escape or parole, is particularly concerning, given the possibility of a repeat offense.

“It is with this in mind that I have decided that there is sufficient cause to sentence you outside the scope of the TSPA.  Guilty on two counts, the defendant, Paige Mcabee, is sentenced to indefinite incarceration within the Baumann Parahuman Containment Center.”

The Birdcage.

The noise in the courtroom was deafening.  A roar of cheering and booing, movement, people standing, reporters pushing to be the first ones out the door.  Only Paige seemed to be still.  Cold, frozen in stark horror.

Had she been able, that might have been the moment she lost it.  She would have screamed her innocence, thrown a fit, even swung a few punches.  What did she have to lose?  This sentence was little better than an execution.  Some would say it was worse.  There would be no escape, no appeals, no parole.  She would spend the rest of her life in the company of monsters.  With some of the people that were kept in there, the ‘monster’ description was all too literal.

But she wasn’t able.  She was bound and gagged.  Two men that were bigger and stronger than her placed their arms under her armpits, practically carrying her out of the courtroom.  A third person in uniform, a burly woman, walked briskly beside them, preparing a syringe.  Panic gripped her, and with her having no way to express it, do anything with it, the hysteria only compounded itself, making her panic more.  Her thoughts dissolved into a chaotic haze.

Even before the syringe of tranquilizers was jammed into her neck, Paige Mcabee fainted.

Paige woke up and enjoyed five seconds of peace before she remembered everything that had happened.  Reality hit her like a splash of cold water in the face, somewhat literally.  She opened her eyes, but found them dry, the world too bright to focus on.  The rest of her was damp, wet.  Beads of water trickled down her face.

She tried to move, and couldn’t.  It was as though something heavy had been piled on top of her.  The paralysis terrified her.  Paige had never been able to stand being unable to move.  When she had gone camping as a kid, she had preferred to leave her sleeping bag unzipped and be cold rather than be confined inside it.

It was that foam, she realized.  The restraints weren’t enough, they’d sprayed her with the stuff to ensure that everything below her shoulders was covered.  It gave a little to allow her to exhale, she could even shift her arms and legs a fraction, lean in any given direction. The harder she pushed, however, the more resistance there was.  The second she relaxed her efforts, everything sprung back to the same position with the foam’s rubbery pull.  She felt nausea well in her gut, her heartbeat quickening.  Her breathing increased, but the mask made even her breath feel confined.  The water made her mask damp, so it clung to her mouth and nose.  There were slits for her nostrils and mouth, but it was so little.  She could not take a deep breath without drawing water into her mouth, and with her tongue depressed, she could not swallow easily.

The room lurched, and she had to stop herself before she lost her breakfast.  Puking with the mask on, she might choke.  Dimly, she realized where she was.  A vehicle.  A truck.  It had passed over a pothole.

She knew where it was taking her.  But if she couldn’t get free, she was going to lose her mind before she got there.

“The little bird’s awake,” a girl spoke, with a hint of a nasal Boston accent.

“Mmm.”  A man grunted.

Paige knew the ‘bird’ reference was due to the stray feathers that stuck out of her scalp.  Her powers had come with some extremely minor cosmetic changes, turning her hair the bright yellow of a banana or baby duck.  It affected all the hair on her body, even her eyelashes, eyebrows, the fine hairs on her arms.  The feathers had started growing in a year ago, the exact same shade as her hair, only a handful at a time.  At first, alarmed and embarassed, she’d clipped them off.  Once she’d realized that no further changes were occurring, she’d relaxed and let them grow in, even showed them off.

Paige turned her attention to the two people in the vehicle with her, glad for the distraction from her burgeoning panic.  She had to force her eyes to stay open, painful as the light was, wait for her eyes to focus.  Sitting on the bench beside her was a girl about her own age.  The girl had an Asian cast to her features.  Her eyes, though, were a very pale blue, betraying some Western heritage.  The girl wore the same orange jumpsuit as Paige, and every part of her except her shoulders and head were covered in the yellow-white foam.  Her straight black hair was plastered to her scalp by the wet.

The man sat on the other bench.  There was more foam around him than there was around Paige and the other girl combined.  Topping it off, a cage of metal bars surrounded the foam, reinforcing the setup.  The man was Asian as well, no less than six feet tall.  Tattoos swept up the sides of his neck and behind his ears, into the midst of his wet black hair; Red and green flames, and the head of what could have been a lizard or dragon, drawn in an Eastern style.  He was glowering, his eyes hidden in shadows, oblivious to the endless spray of mist that sprinklers in the truck’s roof were generating.

“Hey, little birdy,” the girl sitting across from Paige spoke.  She was staring at Paige as if those cold eyes of hers could look right through her.  “Here’s what we’re going to do.  You lean to your right as hard as you can, then shove yourself left on my signal.  But you keep facing the back door there, alright?”

Paige glanced to her right.  The back door of the truck looked like a vault door.  She quickly glanced back at the Asian girl.  Did she really want to turn her back to this person?

The girl seemed to note Paige’s hesitation.  She lowered her voice to a hiss that made Paige’s skin crawl.  “Do it.  Unless you really want to gamble on the chance that I’d be able to find you in the prison, if you don’t do as I say?”

Paige’s eyes widened.  This was the sort of person she was going to be locked up with.  She shook her head.

“Good, little birdy.  Now lean to your right, look at the door.”

Paige did, straining her body to move as close to the door as she could.

“And back!”

She heaved herself the other way, eyes still on the door.  Something heavy cracked against the back of her head.  She tried to pull away, sit upright again, but was stopped as the mask caught on something.

When she felt hot breath on the back of her neck, she knew what she’d caught on.  The other girl had gripped the strap of the mask in her teeth.  There was a tug, then the girl lost her grip, and the two of them were pulled back to their individual positions by the rubbery foam.

“Shit,” the girl growled, “Again.”

It took two more attempts.  On the first, the strap came free of the buckle.  On the second, the girl gripped the mask itself and pulled.  Paige turned her head in the girl’s direction so the pacifier-cage on the inside of her mouth could be pulled free.

Tendrils of drool extended down from her mouth as she worked her jaw and tongue, trying to swallow properly.  She let out a little whimper as sensation returned to the parts of her face that had gone numb.

“Two qweshionsh,” the Asian girl mumbled, her teeth still gripping the mask’s leather between them, “Youh poweh?”

Paige had to work her jaw and mouth a second before she could speak, “My power?  I sing.  Really well.”

The Asian girl frowned, “Whaf elth?”

“I… it makes people feel good.  When I get going, I can affect them, alter their emotions, make them susceptible to following instructions.”

The girl nodded, “Teh collah?”

Paige looked down at the heavy metal collar around her neck, “It’s set up to inject tranquilizers into my neck if I sing or raise my voice.”

“Okah,” the girl mumbled, “Take teh mahc.”


“Take ih!”

Paige nodded.  They leaned away from each other, then swung together, the girl passing the mask to her.  She clenched it in her teeth, feeling her jaw ache.

“Drop that and I’ll turn you inside out,” the girl spoke, “Lung.  Hey, Lung?  Wake up.”

The man sitting opposite them raised his head a fraction, opened his eyes.  Maybe.  Paige couldn’t quite tell.

“I know it’s hard with the stuff they pumped into you, but I need your power.  Birdy, lean forward, show him the mask.”

Paige did her best to push herself forward against the foam that was layered against her chest and stomach, gripping the strap in her teeth, the mask dangling below her chin.

“I need you to heat the metal, Lung,” the girl spoke.  “Get it fucking hot.”

Lung shook his head.  When he spoke, there was no Boston accent in his voice.  The accent that was there made his words clipped, clearly not the voice of a native English speaker.  “The water.  Is too wet, too cold.  And I cannot see it well.  My eyes have not healed entirely, and it is hard to see through this spray.  Do not bother me with this.”

Try, you miserable fucker.  Failure of a leader.  It’s the least you can do, after getting your ass kicked by a little girl, twice.”

“Enough, Bakuda.” he growled.  He slammed his head back against the metal of the truck’s wall behind him, as if to punctuate his statement.

“What?  I couldn’t hear that,” the girl, Bakuda, grinned with a hint of mania to her expression, “Your voice is too fucking high pitched for my range of hearing!  You pathetic… halfbreed… eunuch!”

“Enough!” he roared, again slamming his head against the wall of the truck.  “I will kill you, Bakuda, for these insults!  I will tear your arm from your socket and I will shove it-“

“Pissed off?!” she interrupted him, practically screeching, “Good!  Use it!  Heat the motherfucking metal.  The metal strip around the edges!”

Still panting with the exertion of shouting, Lung turned his attention to the mask.  Paige winced at the blast of heat against her face, started to pull away, but stopped as Bakuda spoke.

“Focus it!” Bakuda shouted, “Focus on the edges!”

The radiation of heat ceased, but Paige became aware of a stringent, smoky smell.

“Hotter!  As hot as you can get it!”

The smell was too strong, too acrid.  Paige coughed a few times, hard, but she didn’t lose her grip on the mask.

“Now, birdy!  Same maneuver as before, but don’t let go!”

Paige nodded.  She leaned away, then swung in Bakuda’s direction.  What followed surprised her more than when Bakuda had bitten into the strap of the mask.

The Asian girl set about savaging the red hot metal with her teeth, digging into it even as they had to pull away.  Softer with the heat, the thin metal strip pulled free of the mask itself.  The metal that ran along the strap cut Paige’s lip as it came off.  She almost -almost- dropped the mask, but managed to snap her teeth to catch the buckle in her teeth before it could fall to the floor.

As the strip came free, Bakuda pulled back and jerked her head to one side, hard, impaling herself in the shoulder with one end of it.  She screamed, and blood ran from one of the burns on her mouth.

Paige looked at Lung.  The huge man did nothing, remaining silent.  He only watched dispassionately as Bakuda’s chest heaved with the exertion and pain, her head hanging down.

“What the hell are you doing?” Paige breathed.

“No hands, have to make do,” Bakuda panted, “Again.  Before my body realizes how badly I’m hurting it.”

Paige nodded.  She wasn’t about to argue with the supervillain that was threatening to turn her inside out.

The ensuing attempts weren’t any prettier or easier.  The second long metal strip was freed and Bakuda impaled that one in her shoulder as well.  The metal grilles from the exterior and interior parts of the mask were next to be pulled free.  Paige was left holding only the leather portion of the mask, the straps and the covering that had gone over her mouth and nose.  Seeing Bakuda gingerly balance the metal grilles on her free shoulder, against the tacky foam so they wouldn’t slip down, Paige did the same with the leather of the mask.

“What did you do to get sent here?” Paige asked.

“Last I heard, before we lost power to our neighborhood, the body count was almost at fifty.”

“You killed fifty people?”

Bakuda grinned, and it wasn’t pretty, with her lips as ravaged as they were.  “Injured more, too.  And there were those who got brain damage, one or two might’ve gone homicidally insane, and I know a bunch got frozen in time for a hundred years or so… it gets blurry.  Crowning moment was the bomb.”

“Bomb?” Paige asked, eyes widening.

“Bomb.  They said it was as powerful as an atom bomb.  Idiots.  They didn’t even understand the technology behind it.  Philistines.  Sure, it was about that powerful, but that wasn’t even the real damage.  Amazing thing would’ve been the electromagnetic wave it generated.  Wipe every hard drive, fry every circuit board for every piece of machinery over a full fifth of America.  The effects of that?  Would’ve been worse than any atom bomb.”

Unable to even wrap her mind around that, Paige glanced at Lung.  “And him?”

“Lung?  He’s the one who told me to do it.  Man in charge, he is.”

Lung’s head moved fractionally, but with the shadows under his brow, Paige couldn’t tell if he was watching.

“You?”  Bakuda asked Paige. “What’d you do to get sent here?”

“I told my ex to go fuck himself.”

There was a pause, then Bakuda started cackling.  “What?”

“It’s complicated,” Paige looked away and down.

“You gotta explain, birdy.”

“My name’s Paige.  My stage name was Canary.”

“Ooooh,” Bakuda spoke, still cackling a little as she gripped one of the metal strips that was spearing her shoulder and pulled it free.  Holding it in her teeth, she spoke, “That’sh no good.  You calling yourshelf Canary in prishon?”

“I didn’t intend on going to prison.”

“Who doesh?”

“I mean, I’m not even a supervillain.  My power, it makes me a fantastic singer.  I was making a lot of money doing it, there was talk of record deals, we were moving to larger venues and my shows were still selling out… everything was perfect.”

Bakuda let the strip swing from her teeth until it dangled, then carefully maneuvered it until she was gripping the far left side of it.  She leaned back, her head facing the ceiling, as she slid the other metal strip, the one impaled in her shoulder, into her mouth as well, so she was holding one end of each strip in her mouth.  Pausing, she asked, “Whaf haffen?”

Paige shook her head.  It was the testimony she’d never been able to speak out loud, at her trial.  “I’d just finished my biggest show yet.  Two hours on stage, a huge hit, crowd loved it all.  I wrapped up and went backstage to rest, get a drink, and ran into my ex.  He told me that since he was the one who pushed me to get out on stage in the first place, he deserved credit.  Wanted half the money.”  She laughed a little, “Ridiculous.  Like I’m supposed to ignore the fact that he cheated on me and told me I was never going to make it for real when he left.”

Bakuda nodded.  She pulled away from the strips, where she’d managed to tie them in the semblance of a knot.  She used her teeth to bend the now-joined strips into an L-shape.  With the end that wasn’t impaled in her shoulder now in a position in front of her, she closed her mouth on it.

“We argued.  Then I told him to go fuck himself.  He left, and I didn’t give it a second thought… until the police showed up at my door.”

Bakuda pulled her mouth away from the end of the strip.  She’d bent it into a loose ‘v’ shape.  She frowned at it, then glanced at Paige, “And?”

“And he’d done it.  I- I guess I was still amped up from my performance, and my power’s effects were still empowering my voice, or he was in the audience and was pretty heavily affected.  So when I told him to go fuck himself, he, um, he did.  Or he tried, and when he found it wasn’t physically possible, he hurt himself until…”  Paige closed her eyes for a moment.  “Um.  I won’t go into the details.”

“Mmmm, shucks to be im.  Oo ‘oo” Bakuda raised her eyebrows, still working the metal strip inside her mouth.  She pulled away, verified the end as being in a rough ‘o’ shape, and then gripped the strips in her teeth to pull the entire thing out of her shoulder with a grunt.  She placed the end she’d just reworked against the bench and slid her mouth down the length of the metal, so she could get a grip on the other end.

Taking hold of it in her teeth, she turned her attention to the wall of the truck between herself and Paige.  There were locks placed at regular intervals against the wall, meant to secure the chain of standard handcuffs in place, for those not doused in foam.  She began feeding the metal strap through the loop of the lock.  Beads of sweat mingled with the water running down her face as she worked.

The knot joining the two straps jammed in the hole.  Bakuda pushed a little harder, and wedged it firmly in place.  The L-bend in the metal placed the closed ‘o’-shaped loop of metal close to Paige’s shoulder.

“Any bets on Oni showing up?” Bakuda asked Lung.

“I would be surprised,” he rumbled his response.

She gripped one of the metal grilles in her mouth and began working at it with her teeth.  It was all one thin piece of metal, bent and woven like chain link fencing, albeit a tighter mesh.  Now that it was no longer held securely in place by the metal strips, Bakuda was free to start unwinding and straightening it.

When it was almost completely unwound, she adjusted her bite on it and clenched the second mass of wire, the one that had been in Paige’s mouth, in her jaws, bunching it together into a cylindrical mess about four inches long and one inch across.  Still biting it, she turned her head so the mostly straight four-foot length of wire was pointing at Lung, not two feet away from his face.  Her mouth still around the tangle of wire, she mumbled, “Need end hot.”

Lung growled, but he did as he was asked.  When the end was white hot, Bakuda quickly adjusted her grip, letting go and biting again until the tip was near her mouth.  Lips pulled back, she bit down on it.

“How can you do that?” Paige asked, “Doesn’t it hurt?”

“No uffing hit ih urhs,” Bakuda growled.  She pulled away, set it so the handle was against the bench, the length of wire against her shoulder, and examined her handiwork.  “But tooth enamel is tougher than you’d think.”  She spat a measure of blood out onto the floor of the truck, then bit down twice more, pausing between bites to turn the length of metal with her teeth, lips and tongue.

When she extended the length of wire in Paige’s direction, sliding it through the ‘o’ shaped end of the metal strip, Paige realized what Bakuda had spent this much time setting up.  She didn’t even need to be asked to bend down against the foam restraints and crane her neck to one side, to put her collar in reach of the overlong makeshift screwdriver.   The metal strip with the loop in the end served to hold the portion closest to Paige up, so Bakuda could direct it more easily.

It wasn’t fast work.  Bakuda had to use her teeth, jaw and a turning of her head to rotate the screwdriver, and it was a chore to get it back in position if she lost her grip on it.  Ten long minutes of silence and grunting were broken only by the sound of two screws dropping to the metal bench, before Bakuda stopped to take a rest and ease her jaw.

“You won’t be able to do anything to my collar without setting it off,” Paige spoke.

“Dumb bitch,” Bakuda muttered, sticking out her lower lip and peering down as if she could investigate the degree of damage to her own lips.  “I’m a bomb expert.  I understand triggers and catalysts on the same fundamental level you understand walking and breathing.  I can visualize mechanical things in a way you couldn’t with five college degrees and a hundred years.  Insult me like that again and I’ll end you.”

As if pushed to prove herself, she gripped the screwdriver in her teeth again, and set to work again.  A panel was pried off, and the unscrewing was resumed, deeper in the collar.

Paige hesitated to talk again, knowing how easy the girl was to provoke, but the silence was crushing.  “I guess it’s a good thing this is a long drive, from Boston to British Columbia.”

“You were asleep a while,” Bakuda pulled away from the screwdriver, talking softly, as if to herself.  “Not as long as you think.”

Paige felt something come free from the heavy collar around her neck, saw Bakuda tilt the screwdriver upward, sliding a glass tube with something glowing inside down the length of the metal bar  After another few minutes, another piece of machinery joined the glass tube, as though it were a high-tech shish-kabob.

“Tragic,” Bakuda spoke, on her next rest.  “This is beautiful work.  Not the actual assembly, that’s crap.  It’s obvious the tinker that designed this intended it to be put together by regular schmoes.  Wouldn’t have screws and shit, otherwise.  But the way it’s designed, the way everything fits together… makes a scientist proud.  Hate to butcher it.”

Paige nodded.  She didn’t know enough about that sort of thing to risk commenting.  As scary as this situation was, as curious as she was, she felt the lingering effect of tranquilizer in her system, an impending boredom.

She closed her eyes.

It didn’t feel like her eyes were closed for more than a minute before she was woken by a shout of “Birdy!”  Paige jolted awake, turned to Bakuda, and saw the work was done.  Bakuda hadn’t just disabled the collar, but had assembled components into a roughly sphere-shaped setup of metal and wires.  It dangled from the remains of the mask and strap, which Bakuda held in her teeth.

Lung spoke, his voice low, slightly accented, “We have stopped.  Her device will buy us time, and you will use it to sing.  The bomb will not do much damage, but it will slow them and dose anyone hit with a small amount of sedatives.  This will make it easier for you to control them, Bakuda says.  You will then get them to free us.”

Paige’s eyes went wide.  She nodded.

There was a loud sound outside the truck, and Bakuda started swinging the device left and right like a pendulum.  The metal doors at the back of the truck slammed open, and Bakuda let go.  The device rolled out the door.

Paige sang, not stopping as the device detonated, rocking the truck.  Her song was wordless.  She was her own accompaniment, using the acoustics of the truck’s interior to generate echoes.  She charged her voice with her power, willing those who heard it to obey, to submit in a way she’d never done before.

It might have worked, if there was anyone around to hear it.

A giant metal claw entered the back of the truck, closed around Lung, and dragged him out.  When the claw returned to claim her, she stopped singing, started shrieking instead.

“No!” Bakuda’s screams joined her own, behind her, “Fuck you!  No!  No!  I had a fucking plan!”

The arms moved along slats in the ceiling, carrying them through what looked like a massive underground bunker.  Everything was concrete, and the room was so vast that Paige could not even see any of the walls.  There was only the ceiling twenty or thirty feet above them and the floor, extending endlessly around them, lit by florescent lights at regular intervals.  The only thing breaking up the empty expanse was the armored truck bearing the PRT identification on the side and a black square attached to the ceiling, further down.

The arms arranged them in front of the black square – an oversized monitor.  A face, clearly a CGI rendering intended to mask the real identity of the speaker, appeared on the screen.  When the voice came from the speakers, the filter intended to disguise the woman’s voice didn’t quite hide her strong accent.  Paige tried to place it.  Not Southerner, not Cockney, but maybe similar?  She’d heard someone with that accent before.

“Prisoner 599, codename Lung.  PRT powers designation Brute 4-9 asterisk, Blaster 2-6 asterisk, fire and heat only.  Individuals reading or viewing this log are directed to see page three and four of prisoner’s file for particulars on powers.  Recommended protocols were properly carried out with sprinkler system and added restraints.  Chance of escape following interment in the Baumann Parahuman Containment Center rests at a fairly steady .000041% with no gross deviations in any likely scenarios.  Within acceptable limits.  Will be processed to cell block W.”

“You’re Dragon,” Bakuda spoke, eyes widening, “No shit.  Best tinker in the fucking world.  I’d say I’m a fan, but I’d be lying.”

Paige couldn’t help but react to that as well.  Dragon had designed the Birdcage and much of the gear the PRT used, including the containment foam.  She was head and shoulders above any of the other tinkers that went out in power armor.  Dragon sported a wildly different suit each time she deployed.  Her stuff was so advanced that a group of criminals who had gotten away with stealing a damaged suit of her armor were now using that same technology to operate as top of the line mercenaries – the Dragonslayers.

Dragon was also Canadian, which was the detail Paige needed to peg her accent as that of a Newfoundlander.  Not an accent one heard very often, these days.

“Prisoner 600, codename Bakuda.  PRT powers designation Tinker 6 with bomb speciality.  Recommended protocols were not properly carried out.”  The formal tone of the voice dropped away as she muttered, “I hate to get someone fired, but I’m going to have to report this.  Supposed to be in an S-class containment truck and placed no less than six feet from other prisoners… well, at least nothing came of it.”

“Fuck you, Dragon,” Bakuda snarled.

“…Chance of escape from the Baumann Parahuman Containment Center is .000126% with potential gross deviation in the event of introduction of contraband material or a matter producer.  With monitoring this chance drops to .000061%.  Will be processed to cell block C.”

“Prisoner 601, codename Canary.  PRT powers designation Master 8.  Recommended protocols were properly carried out, with provided restraints and no human personnel being brought within three hundred yards of said individual’s position.  Hi Canary.”

Paige blinked a few times in surprise, “Hi?”

“I followed your trial.  I thought it was a damn shame things went like they did.  I get that it was a reckless accident, but you don’t deserve to be here.  I even wrote a letter to your judge, the DA and your governor saying as much.  I’m sorry it wasn’t enough.”

The sympathy hit Paige hard.  It was all she could do to stop herself from bursting into tears.

“I’m afraid I’ve got to do my job, and that means carrying out my role in enforcing the law.  You understand?  Whatever my feelings, I can’t let you go.”

“I- Yes.”

“Listen, I’m sticking you in cell block E.  The woman that put herself in charge of that cell block goes by the codename Lustrum.  She’s a pretty extreme feminist and misandrist, but she protects the girls in her block, and it’s also the block furthest from the hole the men opened into the women’s half of the Birdcage.  If you’re willing to play along, buy in or pretend to buy into her way of thinking, I think she’ll keep you safest.”

Paige didn’t have words to reply.  She just nodded.

“Ok.  Prisoner 601’s Chance of escape from the Baumann Parahuman Containment Center is .000025% with no gross deviations.  Do you three understand why I’m telling you this?”

“Our chances of escaping are pretty slim,” Bakuda spoke.

“Yes.  The Baumann Detention Center is a structure so complex I had to design an artificial intelligence to put it together.  It’s situated inside of a hollowed out mountain, the walls of which are lined with layers of a ceramic of my own design, each such layer separated by volumes of dormant containment foam.  If you punched a hole in the outside of the mountain, you’d only wind up with more foam than you knew how to handle.

“That’s the mountain.  The prison itself is nicknamed the Birdcage because it is suspended in the center of the empty mountain, hanging only by the same network of tubes that supplies prisoners and food to the cell blocks.  Both the interior of the tubes and the interior of the mountain itself are vacuums.  Even if an individual were to have powers allowing them to navigate the vacuum, I have three thousand antigrav drones in position at any given time, laying dormant in that lightless void, waiting for any signal, motion, energy or air leakage to awaken them.  Once awakened, a drone will move to the location of said anomaly and detonate.  Many of my drones contain a loadout of containment foam, but others contain payloads designed to counteract various methods one could theoretically use to traverse the vacuum.  Some are quite lethal.”

“These are not the only measures I have taken, but it wouldn’t do to inform you of everything I have done to secure this facility.  Know only that your chance of successful escape is negligible, and the chance of you dying or being maimed for attempting it is much higher.”

“Know that while I do retain control over the structure and the ability to observe those within, enabling me to respond to emergencies such as natural disasters, you will not be able to manipulate this to your advantage.  I will not, cannot intervene should a hostage be taken, or if an individual should threaten or perform damage to vital or luxury resources.  There was no other way to run the prison effectively than to have you police and protect yourselves.  I stress: nothing you do can convince me to free you.  The elevators to the Baumann Detention Center go one way.  Down.”

“I will be depositing you in the elevators now.  You will be provided with a limited measure of oxygen, sufficient only to carry you safely to the bottom.  Should you slow or stop the lift, or attempt to scale the interior of the tube, I expect you will likely fall unconscious, suffer brain damage or die for your trouble.  A counteragent for the containment foam will be applied as you descend, so that you are free before you reach the bottom.”

Lung and Bakuda were carried off in different directionis.  Paige was the last to be carried away by the robotic arms.

“I am sorry, Paige Mcabee,” Dragon’s tinny voice sounded, as the arm set her down.  “Good luck.”

The ground beneath her shifted, and then she descended.

Lung walked with confidence to the ‘hole’, a word with double meaning, as it referred to the actual hole in the wall, as well as the more vulgar term for why many in the men’s half of the Birdcage went there – it was the sole route into the women’s prison.

A group of women were on guard on the other side of the hole, standing or sitting at various vantage points there.

“Who’re you?” one of the women asked him.  She was a striking woman with coffee colored skin and a mouthful of teeth that looked like knife blades.

“I am Lung.”

“You’re new?”


“Which cell block are you in?” this question came from a heavyset woman that looked more like a middle aged soccer mom than a prisoner.  Lung noted, however, how each of the other girls that were on guard turned to listen when she spoke.

“W, ma’am,” he spoke, taking extra care to not offend.

“You want a girl?”

“I am here only to visit one of my subordinates.  Cell block C.”

“Even if you aren’t buying, can’t let you through for free.  Gotta pay something.  Marquis runs your cell block, still?  Divvies up the cancer sticks from his food crates fairly enough?”

“Yes.”  Lung reached into his pocket and retrieved a half-carton of cigarettes.  He handed them over.

“Good boy.  Listen, Glaistig Uaine runs the cell block you’re going to.  You keep some of these sticks, you give them to her, so as not to insult her.”

“I will.  Thank you for this advice.”

“I do like a polite boy.  You run along, now.”

He bowed his head in respect, then walked briskly to the next cell block.  A smaller contingent of guards awaited him there, and he handed over the remaining cigarettes, specifying them as a gift for Glaistig Uaine.  The guards parted to let him through.

He found Bakuda in a cell all to herself.  The walls of the prison were all metal of some sort, painted a dark blue, but Bakuda had scratched formulas and sentences into the walls of her cell, where they glittered silver-gray in the right light.  Her cot was pulled into the center of the room to give her more surface to write on.

“Bakuda,” he spoke.

“Lung!  This place is amazing!” she grinned maniacally, her scarred lips spread wide, “I thought it would suck, but it’s… it’s like being inside the fucking Mona Lisa of architecture.  Genius shit.  She wasn’t lying about this place being inside a vacuum, but what’s amazing is what happens when you breach the outside.  See, she didn’t make this place tough.  It’s fragile.  Like she built the most complex house of cards ever.  You knock a hole in the wall, and you’re not only pretty much guaranteed to off yourself, but the change in air pressure changes the room configuration, seals off the space so the breach doesn’t affect anyone in other rooms.  And even if you stop the main bits from sliding down, the drop in air pressure carries into the next room, and that room seals off.  I could spend a decade figuring out how she did this.  And that’s the simplest part of it.  In busier areas-“

“I do not care about this,” Lung interrupted her breathless rambling.

Bakuda stopped and wheeled around, still grinning.  “Ok.  How you doing?”

“Satisfactory.  My eyes are healing, but I am still having trouble seeing color.  I do not like the leader of my cell block, but he is a fair man.  He has given me his favor in exchange for telling him about Brockton Bay, a place he once operated.  This has helped ensure I am not bothered.  That, and the prisoners seem to wait to see what each new inmate can do before they pick him as a target.”

“Yep.  It looked pretty grim for me for a few days, but when the freaky girl in charge of this block found out I could fix the televisions here, things suddenly got a lot easier.”

“I see.”

She raised an eyebrow, smiling.  “So.  Why the visit?  Feeling lonely?”


She dropped the smile in the blink of an eye.  “Then explain.”

“This is your first time in a prison, yes?”


“I was in prison before I came to America.  There are four ways one can survive in such a place.  You can join one of the gangs or groups in charge.  This was not possible for me then, for I was known to be half Japanese, half Chinese, and there was no gang willing to include such a person.  It is not a possibility for me now, either, for I am too used to being in charge to bow and scrape for any length of time without losing my patience.  It is the route I see you have taken here.”

“Sure,” Bakuda eyed him warily.

“The second option is to be somebody’s bitch.  They give you their protection in exchange for the most base of services.  You understand why I would not take this route.”

“I get it, yeah.”

“The remaining options are to either kill someone or to be seen as a madman.  In such cases, one demonstrates he is too dangerous or unpredictable to be fucked with.”

“So what are you doing?”

“I thought I would choose the third and fourth.”

Bakuda’s eyes went wide.  She backed away, then realized the futility of the move.  Lung stood in the middle of the one doorway that led out of the cell.  “Why?”

“You insulted me.  You failed me.  Because I must kill someone, and killing a subordinate of mine who others have cause to protect should also mark me as sufficiently unpredictable.  Others will fear me after this.”

“I… I insulted you to get your power going, you know?” she squeaked, “I did it to help our escape.”

“I might have overlooked it for this reason, but we did not escape. You failed me, both here and in the city.”

She flicked her arm, and an arrangement of bedsprings and twisted scrap metal dropped from her sleeve into her open hand.  “I’ll punch a hole in the outside of the cell if you come any closer.  Air flows out of the room, door seals shut, we both suffocate.”

“You are not fast enough.”

“Wanna bet?”

He did.

Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

99 thoughts on “Interlude 6

  1. Interlude 6. It wound up being a long one (7500 words, about?). I briefly considered splitting it in two, but it didn’t feel right. So if you’re happy with the length, consider it a thanks for your votes/reviews/continued reading, and if you’re not happy with it, consider this my apology.😉

    • Also, what kind of fool decided to refer to peaceful people with power as rogues? That isn’t something that you name a group that you are trying to encourage people to join!

      • It was a term that first would’ve come up when superheroes were fresh & being a superhero was assumed to be the norm for powered individuals, with anyone not being a superhero being seen in a negative light, but not so negative as to warrant the title ‘villain’.

        In short, it predated the realization of the societal ramifications & dangers of large numbers of superpowered individuals duking it out on the streets.

      • A damn miscarriage of justice. Indefinite detention, going overboard on her restraints. And to make matters worse, it’s a prison run by the prisoners?

        Not like there’s anything to stop someone from committing suicide…

        Geez, bury my damn reservations. It’s revolution up in this bitch!

        Someone get me my Sonic Quad Tank and a copy of Backstreet Boys’ Greatest Hits.

        …Hey, and these fuckers are cutting her off completely from communication with the outside, so how the hell is she going to get an appeal?

        That’s it, I’m gonna find a copy of the Necronomicon and bring down the Zombie Founding Fathers on their asses. It’s on now.

        No, seriously, there would have to be backlash. If rogues wind up with minor, justifiable mistakes like this getting them sent to the same place as Lung, why would they stay neutral? They might as well just go out and start trying to take over the world if that’s how they’ll be treated anyway.

        Also, it makes sense that Lung is a Brute and a Blaster. Still, he’s got the survivability of a Tanker. With the Traps powerset, though, I’d think Bakuda could have been some sort of Corrupter or something. It seemed like City of Heroes powersets to me, at least.

    • More on the classifications in the next interlude, assuming I don’t change my mind on what I feature there (or get the donation box up and running, and hit a landmark amount before the end of arc 7).

      As for the Canary situation – yeah. Rogues are put in the position of having to stay under the radar or not be considered a rogue anymore (since the definition of a rogue indicates a lack of confrontational attitude – push too hard for one issue or the other and people start to label you hero/villain), which makes it hard to step forward and stand up for themselves as a separate group. This is coupled with the fact that yeah, they are rare. (You outlined one reason – they get a raw deal – and there’s the added problem that having powers tends to draw trouble to oneself, from those who would exploit them or powered sorts spoiling for an easy fight). As a final note – I should point out that most low-end villains are liable to argue they’re ‘rogues’, hoping for a better deal/outlook. Canary’s lawyers would’ve made the same argument, and would’ve had to argue it with testimony from family and friends. So it gets to be murky ground.

      Brockton Bay has only one clear-cut rogue, who hasn’t been named yet. She’ll likely feature in a while, and there’ll be more expanding on that whole dynamic then. As is, it was a setting element I wanted to touch on here & now (as I sort of did with the Dealer & tattooed ‘monsters’ in the prior interlude).

  2. A scary and unpleasant thing is that those “precautions” that were taken with Paige? They were arguably necessary. Trials are generally based on the idea that mind control doesn’t exist. The miscarriage of justice and the lack of appeal are not defendable, but the restraints could be, despite how unpleasant they were.

    There are powersets that could escape from the bird cage fairly easily, given the description. Teleportation could work, given sufficent range, if they don’t have a super-tech means of blocking it, but that depends on what super-tech is availible and the “game-system”. However, that’s only the most obvious. Taylor and her friends would be pretty much screwed, though.

    • Actually, Paige’s precautions were mostly unnecessary. She had no super strength, super speed, or anything that required all her restraints. All it would have taken is the throat restraint. Literally. She even could have testified at her own trial, given her side of the story, if that thing had been left on. Remember, it activated only if she started to do her singing vocal power thing and was built by a tinker to be incredibly advanced over what Parge could ever hope to disarm.

      Most teleportation needs some idea of where you’re going. Either you remember the spot, or you can see it. Not a good idea when you’re stuck inside a hollowed out mountain of indeterminate size. Pop out in either the mountain or that vacuum and it’s curtains for you. And I don’t mean anything in mauve.

      But yeah, Taylor, Grue, Regent, and Bitch wouldn’t do well there. Maybe Tattletale could manage something, but probably not enough to get them out as a lone group.

      …I really just want to see Paige get out of there. I oughta get back over to the Legion of Nothing commentary section and scrounge up another dimension bomb. The Gecko must cross over and save Paige!

      Don’t worry, it only makes slightly more sense if you know what I’m talking about, while also plugging another story I enjoy that linked me here. This is what happens when people calling themselves Psycho Gecko are sleep deprived.

      Along those lines, I’ve also pulled up the Bill of Rights here to see what all got violated.

      1st Amendment: abridging freedom of speech, right to peaceably assemble, and petition government for redress of grievances.

      They’re skating on thin ice with the 4th amendment. The only way they could trust the word of the crazy guy trying to shove his own severed junk up his rear would be to use psychics, something that should be problematic for courts. Otherwise, why trust that guy when he says the super canary girl made him do it? She’s known for her voice and its powers, so it could literally be a case of saying “TV made me do it, rock n’ roll made me do it, that singer made me do it.”

      5th Amendment: By being forceably kept from speaking, the defendant’s state was used to testify against her by claiming that even just her speaking voice as it normally is could be harmful, when they knew it was only her singing voice.

      6th Amendment: Assistance of Counsel was denied. She couldn’t speak, so she was unable to fire her counsel and select competent representation or even represent herself.

      8th Amendment: duh

      9th Amendment: The defendant was denied her right to hum while fixing a pizza and riding a unicycle, a most egregious offense by the court in this matter.

      Don’t change the story on my incredibly vocal, addled account, but this is why supervillains make the best lawyers. You think many good guys ever had to find a loophole after selling their soul to demons? How can they ever have proper respect or knowledge about the rights of U.S. citizens when they haven’t had to protect their own?

      Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that is why I must be found innocent of this conspiracy to commit public nudity charge. And remember, if I am found innocent, group hug in the parking lot later.

      • The restraints? Any halfway competent defence atourney could argue that they are there to sway the jury and there is no evidence that his client had superhuman strength. However, this is the one part where there is room to disagree. It depends on precident. Have there been cases where things happened the other way around?

        The trial itself sucked. Paige did not have a proper chance to defend herself. The judge seemed to be unfamiliar with the concept of mens rea. The fact that she cannot appeal against her sentence could be torn apart by anyone who’d even heard of a law book.

        The prison itself. Jesus. Where to start. A mixed prison without guards or health care or parole. The fact that it appears to function as a society is the strongest possible evidence that the inmates don’t deserve to be in there and twists my suspension of disbelief. And unless the mothers died in childbirth or “during conception”, there are almost certainly children that have been born in there. Utterly unjustifiable.

        The restraints, however, can be argued.

      • The violation of amendments & human rights was something of a commentary on my part, with many of the ones you’re listing, Gecko, being ones that were grossly violated or are about to be violated (SOPA/PIPA) in recent memory.

        People let some pretty crummy stuff happen when they’re scared, and people with powers are scary. This leads to stuff like the institutionalization of heroes (Protectorate/Wards), and some circumstances where a minority that isn’t in a position to defend itself can get swept up in public hysteria and fear.

        At the same time, though, how do you create effective incarceration for individuals who include people that can violate the fundamental laws of the universe, control minds, walk through walls, etc? The Birdcage was my stab at what it might look like. The inverse of the paper bag prison. Kept from disaster only by the fact that you’ve got a superintelligent overseer, someone that can place new inmates and resources where needed (the girl who can fix TVs in a block where the TVs are all broken, the vulnerable girl in a block where the inmates will defend her), to maintain a delicate balance of power.

        How do you carry out proper court procedure when the defendant (as indicated by the very crime she allegedly committed) could possibly force you to do anything (even maim yourself) if she spoke? You adapt, you respond to pressures, and being scared, being pressured, you fuck up somewhere along the way.

        Maybe it threatens suspension of disbelief, reading it like this, but as I see it, society’s let some pretty crummy stuff slide in the past. This setting isn’t so different – there’s just another major complicating factor at play.

        • I liked most of the features of the birdcage, but one major flaw in the design is the free transit between blocks. If they were each separately contained, there would be many advantages over a single system. Redundancy, her social engineering would be more effective, etc…

            • Well, yes. It was the one project that got every super on the men’s side of the wall to work together. This is not about something as silly as escape, this is about sex! Obviously more important.

              • Also, more importantly, the design of the structure does not allow for repair? Create some repair bits? No?

      • You are right about it being based on reality. After all, indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without a trial is legal now. We have a whole prison area with people taken from around the world who are denied legal rights on a regular basis. According to some of the reports out of Gitmo, that even includes some fellows that haven’t hit puberty yet. I can almost imagine that one got decided.

        “Mr. President, these boys haven’t even hit puberty yet?”
        “They’re trying to hit puberty? We’ve got to stop these heinous evildoers of the axis of evil!”

        …yeah, maybe it doesn’t help matters that our previous president was claiming it was a crusade against an axis of evil, which would be a good alternate name for the Legion of Doom. It’s not the prison itself that got me riled up, just the way some woman got sent there that didn’t deserve to. I’m assuming that’s probably our real problem with it. Lung and Bakuda can get tossed into the Birdcage all you want, we’re just all on Canary’s side.

        And personally, I think there was a minor conspiracy. Bakuda, Lung, or Oni paid off the judge to sentence Canary, someone who can control people with her singing, and arranged things so she wound up transported along with Bakuda and Oni, knowing Bakuda could get her loose and she could help them escape.

        • I don’t think any of them had heard of Canary. Note how wildbow says that there is a single, so-far-unnamed rogue in Brockton Bay? I’m pretty sure Canary is from farther away.

          And yeah, the Birdcage and such are pretty horrible. Sadly, when we get supervillains, there’s no good answer. You can violate human rights or you can risk having some of the most dangerous individuals in human history escape.

    • I think its mentioned somewhere that nobody has ever escaped Birdcage, so its “abandon all hope ye who enter here” kind of deal. As the target “customer base” is worst sort of supervillains im thinking having an interesting powerset will not work.

    • If someone had true teleportation without any constraints (e.g. teleport to france at will), then it’d be hard to capture them to get them in the birdcage in the first place. With such a strong power, it seems unlikely that they’d have any other power either, so if they were attacked, the easiest way to put them down would be to kill them, and that’d likely be the only way to deal with them anyway. Despite the classifications, we haven’t seen any repeat powers, so pure thought-triggered teleportion might be something that would only occur once…

      • I think the issue is that there are a lot of conceivable powers which, barring some sort of power nullifier, would make them able to escape any prison, and there are even some ways that this prison is more vulnerable than it needs to be. Off the top of my head:

        1. Teleportation has already been heavily discussed. If someone can teleport without any heavy limitations, they’re free unless killed, put under indefinitely, or subjected to a power nullifier.

        2. Interdimensional transportation is another method for easy escape, for reasons that should be extremely obvious.

        3. Time travel without limitations. Travel to a time before the prison was built, walk out, travel forward in time to whenever you want.

        4. State reset. If someone can reset their state to a previous situation (asleep in my bed, like I was two weeks ago).

        5. Flying + phasing (or intangibility) + lack of need for oxygen (or portable oxygen supply). This requires a combination of powers, but it’s a combination that seems to have appeared many times in superhero stories, and multiple inmates using similar powers in concert could accomplish the same thing.

        6. Transportation through electrical wiring. A lot of electricity-themed superheroes and villains in various media have this ability, where they can hop in a power jack and jump out of another. It has already been established that The Birdcage does have power, and that it’s not on a closed circuit (otherwise Dragon wouldn’t be able to view the inmates and the TVs wouldn’t get any reception)

        7. Transportation via memetic transfer + long-range telepathic communication. Thought this one up myself – if a cape could move their body through the communication of an idea (i.e. thoughts about him could cause him to appear in another location), and if they could communicate those ideas via long-range telepathy, he could simply send himself in a telepathic message to… well, anyone, really. For another idea of how this could work, think of the Weeping Angels from Dr. Who, who could escape from pictures. Well, inmates are on video, which is essentially tons of pictures taken one after another, so…

        8. Megaton explosion. If a cape didn’t give a shit about other inmates, and could cause destruction of a high enough magnitude, he could theoretically blow up the entire mountain the prison is in.

        9. Long-distance duplication. This works a bit like teleportation, except one of his bodies would still be stuck in prison. However, he could just have the “left behind” body commit suicide, and it’d essentially be like he escaped.

        10. Shapeshifting into a microscopic form or forms. Picture a cape who could transform into any life form, who chooses to transform into a particularly resilient microscopic life form like a bacteria, slowly traveling up the elevator shaft, If the Birdcage safeguards are airtight on a microscopic level, then we just need to one-up it by saying the theoretical cape in question can shrink to an atomic level (and presumably have super-speed as well, to compensate for the huge relative distance he’d need to travel).

        11. Summonable. Kinda’ works like teleporting, but isn’t… not quite. You know how you’re supposed to be able to summon “Bloody Mary” if you say those words three times in front of a mirror in a bathroom? Like that. If a cape’s power is the ability to be summoned with some sort of codeword or device, anyone could break him out easily… or he could simply have some sort of failsafe set to do it if he doesn’t check in for a certain number of days.

        12. Turning into air molecules (or something). After all, Dragon can’t very well have CO2 building up in the prison indefinitely, so the stuff must be pumped out *somewhere*.

        13. Delayed travel via fixed point in space. This would be tricky, but a particularly clever cape with the right power and a *very* good grasp of time and space could do it. If a cape is able to disappear at a fixed point in space, then reappear at that same point later (after the Earth has rotated, for example), and if they’re able to make that point relative to something that *isn’t* their location on the Earth. This would really depend on a lot of factors to make sure that the cape in question doesn’t end up embedded in the Earth, floating out in space, or stuck in the middle of the ocean, but it is theoretically doable.

        14. Reality warping. If a cape can change their surroundings as they see fit (like Labyrinth does, only to a greater extent), then what’s a prison one minute could be a simple stairway to an “Exit” door the next.

        15. Long-distance consciousness-swapping. Cape switches brain patterns with an otherwise healthy comatose vegetable. Instant freedom and second shot at life. Even better if comatose person is a cape.

        16. Anything that threatens to become an Earth-destroying (or at least a very large-scale) calamity. Dragon may not be able to break you out if you hold another inmate hostage, but she and the other capes will certainly want to do something if you hold the Earth hostage. This works better if the calamity is *guaranteed* to happen if you are incapacitated or killed. Given enough time (and access to the right materials), Bakuda may well have been able to construct a bomb that would do this. Actually, it’s even easier – Bakuda could have set a time bomb to do this *before* being caught, with only her release able to stop it.

        17. A break-in. At least some of the measures intended to keep inmates from escaping (such as the vacuum) aren’t really any hindrance to someone attempting to break in to the prison to rescue others. Granted, it would still be a challenge, but it’s theoretically doable (although there are undoubtedly other security measures in place to combat the possibility of that happening).

        18. Omnipresence. Any cape who technically exists in all places at once was already outside of the prison when you put him in there. Technically, he was already in the prison before you put him in there, too.

        19. Long-distance travel through dreams. You know, kinda’ like Freddy Kreuger. Even if a cape that could do this *wasn’t* able to manifest elsewhere, he’d still be capable of threatening others even while in prison.

        20. Long-distance mind control. What’s this? The governments of the world suddenly voted to dismantle the Birdcage and transport its prisoners elsewhere? Eeeexcellent.

        That’s off the top of my head.

        Granted, many of these assume rather extraordinary powers (albeit powers that aren’t necessarily unheard of in sci-fi or superhero stories), and there are any number of additional unknown security measures in place in the Birdcage, but anything a man can invent, another man can tear down, especially if we’re talking about men who can do things that are, for all intents and purposes, supernatural.

        For people with powers such as these, they’d have to be killed, put into an indefinite coma, or have some sort of power dampener that specifically nullified their powers. However, all of those solutions assume that the authorities actually know and correctly assess what those powers are.

        The Birdcage is a horrifying prison, but sadly, it’s all for naught. No prison is inescapable. Even Alcatraz had escapees. Given a long enough time, a break-out (or break-in) of the Birdcage is inevitable.

        • Dragon prolly has countermeasures vs 6,10 and 12,he is the smartest inventor alive.11,13,16 and 17 are feasible.Everything else sans 19 is a superpower that either would not allow ts owner to get caught without getting killed,or would allow him to escape before reaching it.19 is curious,as it requires either not getting caught or not caring if you get caught,but it proly would work

          I’d say a feasible power that would allow one to escape (ie a not OP one)would be atmosphere control.It would allow one to breath,fly (helium)and crush all robots from afar,survive the vacuum too….of course,the problem here is:either a power is too OP for one to be escorted to the prison,requiring death as the only option,too strange for the person to care (19and 20,though bothof them are prolly too op to be caught too),or mundane enough that the smarters inventor in the world would think something (including my suggestion),so ingenuity seems to be the only realistic escape (considering Dragon aknowleges his prison is breachable,even with incredibly low odds….)

          Or,it could be a team of supervillains that can easily manage such things,after all,Dragon only calculates indivindual odds.

          • I could see potential safeguards against 6, but it would likely require very strict regulation of electrical impulses in and out of the prison. I have reason to suspect this isn’t the case, but can’t discuss them without going into spoiler territory.

            I can’t imagine how one would safeguard against 10 if someone is actually capable of shrinking to atomic form. By virtually any measure that we know of, it would simply look like the inmate had disappeared. Additionally, matter is permeable at an atomic level.

            I suppose that 12 could be defended against, but it would require containment for all CO2 released from the prison… which would eventually grow to be a considerable stockpile. It’s doable, but it would be highly inconvenient.

            I suppose you are right though – most of these powers make someone who has them pretty much uncatchable in the first place, unless they are somehow incapacitated.

        • Hate to say it, but 17 has a pretty big problem. Most pressure based damage is based around change of pressure, and a material not being able to adapt to it. If you got past the foam, you would then be left with a massive whole drawing air in from the surroundings, destroying anything near the hole, and then the structure of the cage would give out from the wall of air smashing into it. The prisoners would likely be killed by the debris, or the high pressure front itself as it passes them.

        • CaspianX (and anyone else interested in exploring “imprisoning impossible things” territory), you should read some SCP foundation stuff. It’s one part horror (picture a written version of Canary’s “go fuck yourself” that doesn’t wear down. They’ve got things like that, and unkillable monsters, and universe-ending cakes) and one part coming up with containment procedures for things like “an idea you can’t think about”.

  3. I never said that the trial being unfair was unrealistic. However, the Judge should know that it is unfair. And the unfairness of the situation should have realistic consequences.

    The heroes should be uncomfortable, because the same could happen to them.

    The criminals should go to great lengths to avoid being caught and sent there. If you’re going to hell prison anyway if you’re caught, there’s little reason not to kill the cop.

    Dragon should be the next thing to a prisoner herself, since if she stops monitoring the situation inside for a moment, everything could go to hell.

    • I have to agree with you on the cop killing thing. If I was at risk of getting a 3rd strike and going to the birdcage I wouldn’t be following any of the unspoken rules about not killing heroes or police. With absolutely no change of release from the birdcage there is no reason to follow any codes of good behavior.

    • We don’t know what the judge thinks about the sentence. We don’t know what the heroes think about the trial, and the sentence was mostly due to the highly dangerous nature of her power if I’m reading correctly. The supervillains seem to be doing so. And finally, yes she is isn’t she. Why do you think she’s monitoring remotely? The Birdcage probably isn’t the only thing that the best tinker (probably with some kind of Thinker abilities, too) is overseeing.

    • Judges know that mandatory minimum sentences are unfair, but that doesn’t stop them from continuing to use them. Politics in the real world is largely totalitarian like this.

  4. I agree that in a society where individuals started geting powers something like the birdcage would be needed.
    This said, since sentencing to the birdcage = sentencing to death, the same care taken in the case of a death sentence should be needed.
    Canary was sentenced out of sheer mass hysteria. People realised that someone that could comtrol minds with her voice had been singing to huge audiences. Imagine the danger implied.
    Basically, she was already damned from the moment that her power manifested. Or she used it to take control of the world or people would “kill” her out of fear of the fact that she could use her power to control anyone.
    BUT, this trial and other similar ones, plus a system that allows things like what happened to Taylor will lead to turmoil, perhaps revolution.
    Since Taylor is not from the upper crust of society she is not studying in Arcadia High and since she is not there she doesn´t matter, she is commom born. How could she dare raise her voice against her betters? Specially against the daughter of a famous layer, much higher in the hierarchy than her ?
    This, guys, is almost an oligarchy. Only the upper crust matter, only they can talk and only they can be elected (the others do not have enough money to try).
    It is not a perfect oligarchy because the commom born can vote and there is some social mobility, but it gets closer.
    It is better to be ruled by a prince than by a whole social class … (not copying it here, read “The Prince” by Machiavel).

  5. There are three things I always expect to see when this kind of facilities are built. I guess I am still expecting them, since I didn’t see them here either;

    1) The problem with superprisons isn’t innmates trying to escape. It is (or should be) about people outside wanting them gone. This kind of facility takes a great deal of time and money to build – probably years and billions of dollars (a supercarrier costs $5 bilion and takes at least 4 years and this is way bigger). All it takes to be destroyed is a big enough bomb or a big rock falling from low earth orbit or a fairly powerful bunker buster, which cost around $100 million and less than a month to build if you don’t care about collateral damage. Supervillains that don’t want to go to prison for their future jobs or want bragging rights or want to put the government down a couple dozen billion would simply destroy it. Destroy such facilities more than a couple of times and the government wouldn’t have the money to keep building them.

    2) Why would villains accurately display their powers? We’e already seen Tattletale pass her powers off as psychic. All it takes for the prison to go bye bye is a serious misconception about a villain’s powers. Imagine someone who is technokinetic – has the ability to supernaturally sense and control technology from a distance – be mistaken for a tinker and be taken in only to take over those 2000 drones and blast a hole to the mountainside. Or a superstrong flier that only seemed able to hit like a truck and fly like a helicopter that’s actually capable of hitting like a bunker-buster and move as fast as orbital craft – strong enough to smash their way through the mountainside and fast enough to fly through the inner vacuum in less than a second.
    And those are just the most immediate of the bad possibilities.

    3) The greatest superhero tinker in the world is capable of building and maintaining a prison as large as a mountain, with thousands of droids and tens of thousands of other machines to keep it safe and artificial intelligence to help run it. But while he is doing that, what is the greatest supervillain tinker in the world doing?
    Essentially, the premise is to take someone of superman’s weight class (if of different powers) off the hero roster – atleast for the time and effort needed to build/maintain the prison. Imagine how many situations resulted in less than a supervillain’s victory because superman was there. Now, imagine removing superman from active duty – what happens if such situations are repeated?

    • Re: #1 and #2, rest assured, there’s more details on the Birdcage at a later date, and questions such as these are likely to be answered.

      #3 – Rather than talk about Superman, think more in the context of Batman. How much in the way of time and resources does Batman invest in going after villains he’s already arrested and incarcerated? How much damage has, say, the Joker done (even in a given continuity/timeline/reboot) following his first escape from Arkham? Dragon has taken the perspective that it’s better to be the warden than the detective, to keep her (and the rest of the civilized world’s) most dangerous foes under lock and key rather than spend the time and effort catching them again and again. And there’s nothing saying she can’t/doesn’t find the time to participate in crimefighting, helping in major events or updating her gear. I think you’d find it hard to convince the good guys of this setting that Dragon’s time is ill spent.

      • Her time is not ill-spent. It is just that her time is less effective. Passive defenses, no matter how powerful. cannot move and cannot be proactive. And it is always easier to destroy something than build it.
        Suppose there’s a tinker close to her level of power (no need to actually match her) that puts the same effort she put in that prison into building an army of doombots, for example. And then sends that army of doombots to bust out the bad guys in the prison. It is far easier to bust someone out than keep them in. Or use the same amount of effort into active villainous ends,

        My point is, she could simply put each villain into a cryogenic stasis pod powered by a radiogenerator then bury the pod. No way whatsoever for a villain to escape. No way for people to bust the villain out without using supertechnology to thaw them out slowly or they’d die. No expenses in running a security system required at all and the technology would be not nearly as costly or hard to build. Plus, the prisoners would not be maltreated. Thed just stay frozen for long enough that the world would have advanced and a better way to handle them would have been founnd.

      • Which doesn’t work so well if your villain is has ice powers, or is a robot, or is some sort of elemental thingy like a rock man or a metal man, or enough superspeed or heat control, or if they can send their mind out psychically, send out an astral form magically, or is a tinker, or a technopath, or was expecting it enough to implant an explosive device inside their own body to be detonated if they become cold enough…

        Plus, if you just want to put it off until later, you’ve got a problem. Either the person was somehow concious enough that they’re probably insane after all the years of paralyzed confinement in a sense-deprived body, or they were entirely unconcious and thus wake up exactly the same as when they went to sleep. So, no rehabilitation or just making things worse.

        Plus, Superman’s a bad choice. He made use of the Phantom Zone, another dimension where people there are powerless to interact with the world. Difference is, if they serve their sentence, they actually get out. Now there’s a huge incentive to not escape or keep being evil.

        The problem with many of Batman’s enemies are that they’re mentally unfit to be held in normal prisons. Joker is crazy. Two Face has another personality, an obsession with 2, and is driven to use his coin to decide things. The Ventriloquist and Scarface…well, Ventriloquist is bossed around by his dummy, which is just a dummy. Riddler can’t help but leave clues at his crimes. Literally, can’t help it. Just like Penguin has an obsession with birds. Scarecrow is like some sort of phobiaphile. And I hear Hugo Strange has a thing for mannequins with bat cowls on them.

  6. Impossible to think in a prision from where a certain set of powers can`t be used to escape. A teleporter associated with a guy capable of generating a force field so strong that it can trap air would escape the birdcage easily.
    But, most vilains will show the full extent of their powers in combat before being sent to the birdcage, Dragon will notice that this combination is dangerous and simply refuse entrance to the force field guy.
    This is not true for rogues. A rogue that tried to use his force field to make money and was sentenced due to a stupid accident will not have shown all his powers yet.
    Someone like Dragon can make more than enough money to build and keep the birdcage operating, the money does not have to come from the government.
    Withough something like the birdcage the only viable option for someone like Lung, or Bakuda, would be a death sentence. But, there is an unspoken code of honor still being followed by everyone (the fights, as a rule, are not to the death) and the vilains would break this code more often if they would die anyway.
    Not related rant:
    Here in Brasil, there are two state police forces. The civilian and the military.
    Governors are always promissing to unify these forces but no state up to now was capable of doing this.
    Civilian police is investigative, they are the ones responsible for solving crimes, their hierarquy is civilian and I do not know how it works.
    Military police exists to patrol the streets, contain tumults, deal with hostage cases, … They have special units to deal with drug dealers (urban warfare).
    Military police is organized like an army, soldier, tenent, comander, …
    Sometimes military police is called to do very unpopular duties. Recently they had to take a group of firefighters out of the fire station that the firefighters had occupied while on strike for better wages and send this large group to jail while their families watched and cried.
    In the end, the governor did not press charges for insubordination and the firefighters were released.
    The heroes in this story are doing the job of military police. I can see them being used to dismantle the barracks of the occupy wall street movement, for instance.

  7. It was the best of chapters, it was the worst of chapters.

    On the ‘best’ side I really liked the whole ‘about to escape’ bit in the beginning.

    On the worst side, the language (and concepts) seemed gratuitous and unhelpful, and the ending was very morbid.

    A question, though. Forgive me if someone has already brought this up.

    The boyfriend problem (which is a take-off from Alpha’s, not sure if that was intentional) seemed (both in Alpha’s and here) to be contradictory. With the particular power we have heard about, the last thing that seems even possible is a ‘boyfriend problem’. The ability to manipulate minds in this fashion means, at least to me, that ‘personal relationsships’ (the more personal the more true) are the very last thing someone like this should have a problem with. Even assuming that she has a problem (say, getting bored) with the perfect husband/boyfriend/lover there is absoloutely no reason to have a problem with it. Simply making him very, very happy to quit the relationship would seem to work very well… say have him fall deeply in love with someone else of her aquaintance that is a little lonely at the moment.

    The issue of Rogues seems to reinforce what I said some chapters ago, namely that it is very important that super’s integrate themselves into normal economic life.

    I find it odd that a society faced with these problems would abolish the death penalty for them. Odd, and stupid. But, unfortunately, consistent with most superhuman literature.

    • Someone sufficiently forward-thinking, rational, and detached could indeed use mind control powers to prevent problems like that. But most people aren’t that forward-thinking, rational, and detached, and being in a relationship isn’t likely to help on that front either.

    • I agree. Then again. She’s a high profile parahuman who has not taken the basic precaution of having a good lawyer. Obviously, Canary is good ol’ fashioned dumb. Not criminally so (… or well, yes, criminally so), but at least dumb enough not to think of basics. I.e: she has no problem profiting from her powers and with MIND CONTROL she only manages to be in “the talks of a record deal”. Just writing this made me feel less bad about her fate.

      • Considering that the very idea of mind control is fundamentally terrifying, a crime without moral precedent, but which can be more easily compared to slavery or a form of rape than anything else?

        My guess of the girl we’re introduced to in this chapter is that while she plainly used her powers to make her music, well, really something special, she did so without violating her audience’s free will or even keeping that information from them. (It was a selling point, I’m sure.) The accident with her boyfriend was just that, I imagine, considering that she stood a good chance of evading arrest in the first place if she had used her power to do so. In fact, it’s stated she wouldn’t run even if she could.

        That’s not stupidity, it’s conscience. Applied far more rigidly and nobly than I would, in her case. (Or perhaps it’s surrender to her recent trauma?)

  8. Re: Modeling the prison after the American system…

    Keep in mind that Dragon is Canadian, and the prison is in British Columbia, Canada. The Canadian justice system is (or was, prior to recent years) considered a model for the civilized world. So perhaps it is more understandable that Dragon would go that direction.

    Re: Segregation

    Segregation is for the safety of the prisoners, and PR. It’s also because parahumans tend to breed more parahumans, which introduces a complicating element into the numbers.

    Re: Cell blocks

    A few reasons. Cell blocks exist as set layouts, more of which can be added (or in the case of a dire situation, they can be removed & dropped from the structure). Also, sectioning off the prison serves tactically, on Dragon’s end. You’ve got 20 individual cell blocks, each serving a smallish number of prisoners, each provided with its own supplies… that much harder for one group to take over. Encourages a territorial mindset, where one group can (as we see with Lung’s journey to Bakuda’s block) hold off access relatively easy, while Dragon maintains a delicate balance of power by choosing where new inmates go. She can ensure that every group is relatively equal, and that no area has too many charismatic individuals liable to fight for control. Naturally, there’s complicating factors (the fact that the cell block next to the women’s side is valued territory, that prisoners can move to different locations) but if things are balanced enough, most of these situations will work themselves out somehow. Those that don’t serve as good discouragement toward repeated mistakes on the same front.

    Re: Boyfriend

    Treads on villain territory, and she has the unfortunate factor that she can’t tell someone to ‘forget’ what she instructed them to do (not that she’d practiced this aspect of her powers). Telling her boyfriend to be happy with an amicable breakup (and not to tell anyone, I assume) would lead to her being charged with assault with a parahuman weapon in a fashion not much different from what happened in this chapter, as soon as he found another way to communicate it to someone, as soon as someone else found out, or as soon as the effect wore off.

    • Seems so unlikely that Dragon’s view & planning for a workable prison society would have recognizable results. She’s a tinker, good with machines, and these are people, who are unpredictable, and villains, so the unpredictable of the unpredictable. Just the group power differential that would immediately arise would prevent multiple groups from existing, it’d be a dictatorship from the first few minutes, and then they’d all be acting as a terrorized, subdued single group on the next obvious problem: getting out.

      Of all the parts of the birdcage, I find the suggestion of any human society being so predictable and regular the hardest to swallow.

      • Since powers are diverse and their usage heavily dependent on the creativity of the user a balance of power system is very possible. Just think rock<paper<scissors<rock.
        Besides, most supervillains sent to the birdcage are likely to have been criminal leaders or lone wolves and unlikely to bow under an individual. People are people. That means every human society has similarities.

  9. Typo alert:

    “I need you to heat the metal, Lung,” the girl spoke.  Get it fucking hot.”

    You missed the amsecond set of opening quotations.

    Just trying to help.

    • No, no. It’s helpful, thanks.

      Generally, given my writing style, and how I started the serial as a way to force myself to write forward rather than get trapped in endless revision, I’m not going out of my way to fix old stuff unless someone points it out. BUt if it’s egregious enough to draw your attention, then I definitely want to fix it.

  10. You know, when I read the bit about how her power being persuasion, I had an entirely different idea of how she might have committed ‘sexual assault’. What’s consent in such a situation, after all?

  11. Well, this does indeed seem like an inescapable prison. Maybe outside help could blast their way into the prison, but it is inside a mountain, so you’d need a bomb just powerful enough to get in without killing everyone. And even then, there’s going to be security to get past.
    Anyway, Canary’s sentencing seems very unfair. How hard would it really be to leave the collar on her and stick her in a regular prison? It seems to me that this kind of “justice” will turn a lot of rogues into supervillains as soon as they commit a single crime to try and evade the law.
    Anyway, what happened at the end? I guess it’s deliberately vague to keep us wondering whether lung succeeded or was blown to bits!

    • Powers can be sneaky, and surprisingly adaptable. If you keep reading you’ll get to see someone in exactly the position you suggested for Canary doing more than should have been possible.

  12. i get the feeling they actually dont *like* rogues. i think they secretly want to sort everyone into hero and villian, and use the birdcage to store the roguess and the villians that go to far. that way they have nice orderly fighting going on constantly between the heroes and there *enemies* while keeping out those with powers that dont fit in. this has the added benifit of being useful against endbringer attacks, you have a lot of powered people that are trained from constant endless war with eachother.

    • I came to a similar conclusion…I don’t remember when, but I do remember that I didn’t put much store by it at the time.
      Still. It’s possible. Laws (and games) tend to work best when the cops and robbers can be clearly differentiated…

      Still. With most powers, you’d be hard pressed to accidentally commit a crime. Canary got a bad hand for self-control.

  13. Typo in the following line : Lung and Bakuda were carried off in different directionis.
    Apart from that, this has been brilliant, thank you for blessing the Internet with your Narrative.

  14. so i’m on a reread and..
    >>I know a bunch got frozen in time for a hundred years or so…

    this stuck out to me. assuming bakuda knows the effects of her own bombs.. there is hope for dauntless after all! ….sorta.

  15. Life imprisonment for assault and sexual assault.

    For a first offense.

    Are you fucking kidding me? What the hell was the judge thinking?

    • Not much. Basically the general populace (including the legal system) are VERY wary of parahumans.

      Basically they barely trust government sponsored heroes. Sure, the heroes spark people’s imaginations. But the first time someone ACTUALLY gets near a super-brawl, they realize quite quickly EXACTLY how dangerous even “minor” powers can be to people at large. At that point, they stop drawing distinctions quite so easily. They look at “normal people” and “those dangerous freaks”.

      They trust unsponsored heroes (like New Wave) even less. No supervision by honest, upright, NORMAL PEOPLE. They could be up to anything.

      They trust rogues even less than that. They’re getting by on their powers. They have a cheating advantage over unpowered people. They have things easily fall into their laps, things I’d kill for. It’s not fair. I don’t trust them because they’re cheaters. What’s the difference between them and villains?

      And then villains…trust? What trust? Kill them all! Lock them all up! Kill them all AND lock them all up! Who cares what can be “proven”! They’re dangerous! The fact that they’ve woken up this morning is enough for a death sentence! If they can’t “follow the rules” (see: be a normal, unpowered human), they need to be put to death! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

      Like Tommy Lee Jones said in Men In Black.

      “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

      And with parahumans, there’s this thin veneer of adherence to “Rule of Law”. Enough for The Mob (not organized crime) to believe that appearances are being kept up. While trampling these peoples’ rights and essentially tossing them down a dark hole and ensuring they never come back.

    • “Mind-controllers are highly dangerous. If she can convince someone to do that without even trying, who can tell what she’ll do next–regardless of if she means to?
      “In addition, we need to consider other Masters. If they see that a single offense sends them to the Birdcage, they’ll reconsider before abusing their power.”

      Basically, “-with a parahuman ability” seems to make every crime require more punishment, both as precedent and–more importantly–because they’re often so impossible to stop.

      Look at it this way: If Bakuda was an automotive mechanic, and she accidentally turned the engine of a car she was fixing into one of those bombs (any kind will do; let’s say that little Manton-effect-using bomb she stuck up Grue’s nose), and it detonated, what would you do as the judge? Risk more people getting maimed by letting her return to the auto shop, or make sure that no other bomb-tinkers decide that they can set off bombs in metropolitan areas without a first-class trip to the Birdcage?

  16. On my first reading, this chapter was when I lost faith with the PRT and the “system” at large, when I realised it was truly broken. I was still holding out a little bit of hope before then. Not that I decided it all deserved to burn or anything foolish and melodramatic like that, more that it was built by people who were terrified and ignorant, and is desperately in need of sweeping reform.

    The chapter retains all it’s impact on the second reading. Indeed it even gains an extra poignancy given later events, and knowing when you start reading the chapter that Paige really is going to end up in the Birdcage by the end.

    The ability to evoke sadness, disgust, and rage in one chapter as easily as joy, exhilaration, and laughter in another is testament to wildbow’s prowess as a writer.

  17. You hinted at the nature of the birdcage enough before this that I felt terrible for paige. Like sick in the stomach.

    Then you finally explained the birdcage… The more I think about it and the ramifications of its workings the more I feel slightly ill. Because I’m not sure if there is really any alternative other than a difficult to administer death sentence.

    And I could only think “Glory Girl wanted to call in favors to get Taylor sent straight to the birdcage.”

    Then I was horrified.

    This is a wonderful story that I am so glad to have found. It’s wonderfully evocative. (I’ve been all over the place emotionally while reading.) The concept is probably the most realistic take on a world with super-powered beings. The characters are relatable and interesting.

    TL:DR This story is good and you should feel good.

    • For the majority of criminal parahumans, the alternative to the Birdcage is therapy and rehabilitation, within an overall structure that tries to reach out to them and coopt them from the outset. The vast majority are not nearly so far gone that they’d be unreceptive, especially if you got to them early, and made them believe that they had a future outside crime, and that someone actually cared about them. Contrast Norway’s criminal justice system with that of the US (or Canada for that matter), and observe which delivers better results for both criminals and the general public.

      Breakout attempts are much less of an issue if you can convince the “prisoners” that they still have a good future awaiting them, if their imprisonment is humane and comfortable (again, see Norwegian prisons), and if they accept that they wouldn’t get especially far in any case if they escaped. The latter certainly isn’t impossible with the level of ingenuity that went into the Birdcage, and one would expect a culture with this approach to parahumans to have a lower proportion of villains to heroes and rogues anyway, meaning you can base heroes near to the rehabilitation centres, ready for quick response to an escape attempt.

      With the minority of villains where this approach won’t work, you place them on a spectrum with more secured rehabilitation on one end and kill orders at the other end of the spectrum.

      As I said in my above comment, the Birdcage and the culture surrounding it was built out of a public and government’s fear and ignorance, not to mention the already broken US criminal justice system that existed beforehand. Our world may not have girls in the exact same position as Paige, but there are literally thousands of young women like her in the US and elsewhere being thrown into a hell for years of their lives because a small bag of a some herb was found in their bag, or they ran afoul of a “three strikes law”, or something equally moronic and obscene. wildbow was drawing on that here, as well as the commentary he made on what happens to human rights when governments get scared.

  18. When I read this, I immediately thought of the alignment system ( Let me know what you think of my analyses (also, please note that Lawful is not necessarily Good and Chaotic is not necessarily Evil):

    Lung: Seeks to increase his own power at the expense of others (Evil). Willing to kill loyal subordinates in order to increase his own standing (Chaotic). But, can act polite when necessary (indicating lawful awareness). Chaotic Evil.

    Bakuda: Wants to blow up the world to see the pretty colors. Chaotic Evil.

    Canary: Wants to continue her dream job of making large numbers of people happy (Good). Initially, trusts system to do good (Lawful). Failing that, wants to not be punished for accidentally acting like a normal person (Neutral). Neutral Good.

    Dragon: Obsessed with (or simply programmed to) uphold the law (Lawful). Shows sympathy for unjustly imprisoned girl (good), but is unwilling to help her in any way that would go against the legal system, however corrupt it is (neutral at best). Lawful Neutral, bordering on Lawful Stupid (saved only by her sympathy for Canary).

    Armsmaster: Cares about himself, and is unwilling to admit responsibility — when he took credit for Lung’s first takedown and then got slammed for using excessive force, he blamed Taylor for not knowing how to take down a super villain on her first night on the job, rather than admitting that he had a bad idea (not good, not lawful, neutral at best). Resents Dauntless for being better than he is without trying. Arrogant, willing to threaten Undersiders with an “accidental” killing in self-defense (outright evil). When Tt called him on it, he sucker-punched her with a grappling hook rather than admit she had a point (admittedly, not that unusual). When he thought that Tt was a telepath, only made psychic shields for himself and not his teammates (showing a blatant disregard for their well-being in the face of his advantage). Somewhere between Neutral Evil and Chaotic Evil, while pretending to be Lawful Good.

    Glory Girl / Glory Hole: Arrogant, righteous, violent, borderline sociopath or psychopath. Thinks that you can justify hurting people if they have been designated bad guys. Thinks she’s Lawful Good (and would be if the world was a black-and-white morality like she thinks it is), commits Chaotic Evil acts in service of a Lawful Stupid goal.

    Panacea: As far as I can tell, an actual good person. The only two people we’ve seen her hurt were (a) a skinhead, who had previously assaulted someone else for being black, and whom she actually healed physically (the only harm she did was standard, non-powered psychological warfare re: maybe I didn’t heal you all the way) and (b) an invertebrate-controlling bank robber who tried to hold her hostage with venomous spiders, whom she partially incapacitated using feedback from the spiders. Also, goes around to hospitals and heals terminally ill people, feels guilty about not being able to heal more, and even feels guilty about feeling guilty. Neutral Good.

    Kaiser: The thing about Nazis (and really, most real-world ideologies) is that they don’t perceive themselves as evil. To someone who truly believes in the Nazi ideology (note: NOT me, just wanted that clear), exterminating everyone who isn’t Aryan is actually a rational solution to all the world’s problems. They seek to bring order to the world, as indicated by their emphasis on discipline and structure (all Lawful traits). So from Kaiser’s perspective, he is Lawful Good. However, given that Nazi ideology advocates exterminating everyone who isn’t Aryan as a rational solution to all the world’s problems, he (and most other Nazis) are Lawful Evil. (Again, I am not trying to justify anything the Nazis or people like them did, I just know too much about human self-perception to pretend that things are as simple as Nazis=EvilEvilEvil).

    Coil: Yes, he wants to take over the city. But from what he says (and yes, he is a super villain and could be lying) his plan involves improving it, not sucking it dry for his own benefit. He’s not selfless — he plans to profit greatly from the coup — but he also plans (see previous disclaimer) to better the lives of many other people, not just himself. He also plans to accomplish this (at least, this was how I interpreted it) by secretly improving the current system, not marching up to City Hall and donning a crown. If he isn’t lying about it, this makes him Lawful Good.

    Taylor / Skitter: Wants to be a superhero, but only so she can do good (ergo, Good at least in intent). Has learned first-hand that the system does not work (thus precluding Lawful). Does what she believes to be the best option available at the time, even if it takes her a while to figure out what that is. Chaotic Good.

    Brian / Grue: Does illegal and arguably immoral things (robbing a bank, crashing a fundraiser to humiliate the upper crust and heroes) for money (in itself, evil and chaotic traits), but uses said money to help his little sister. He has realized that the large-scale system does not work — that one cannot be both Lawful and Good in this setting — and has thus abandoned large-scale goals like “save the world” and “fight for justice” in favor of bettering the lives of the people he cares about. Lawful Good within the microcosm he serves (his sister and friends, whose interests he is willing to put above his own), Chaotic Neutral in the big picture.

    Rachel / Bitch / Hellhound: Thinks like a dog. See: Blue and Orange Morality

    Danny: Cares about his daughter, but doesn’t know enough to help her properly. Neutral Good.

    The Triad of Bitchiness: Barring some comprehensible motive that I haven’t read far enough to know about yet, Chaotic Evil. They inflict physical and psychological harm on someone who has done nothing to deserve it, for no apparent reason other than their own amusement.

    The Judge, The Government, and pretty much everyone involved with Canary’s trial: Chaotic Evil, with a healthy dose of Stupid. They are motivated by irrational fear of something they do not understand, and move to eradicate it instead of trying to understand it. This also applies to multiple real-world countries, past and present, which shall remain nameless in order to avoid flame wars and outbreaks of idiocy.

    Note to Author: I really enjoy this kind of analysis, but I can imagine an author taking offense at an incorrect conclusion. If it offends you, please take it down, accept my humble apologies, and keep up with the awesome writing. That said, if it doesn’t, I would really like to know what you think. Bear in mind that I’ve only read this far, and I know how fast alignment can change.

    • Coil (assuming we believe what he says) is Chaotic Good and Armsmaster is Lawful Evil (or more likely Lawful Neutral). Lawful just means you respect the laws. Armsmaster is the epitome of the distinction between Lawful and Good. Think riot police. Coil wants to improve the city, but by using organised crime, and he’s even planning to keep using crime when he does. Brian is Chaotic Good like Taylor. The judge and legal system are Lawful Evil: they work within the laws, following them as they see it, for what they believe to be the good of society but they’re sadly mistaken.

    • Coil cannot be LG. He is using crime and corruption to get power. He is N or CN. I’d never pin Brian as LG either. Loving your sister is NOT good enough (hello, Lannisters). He benefits a lot from the money and honestly: he could have tried to do a Wards program – that would probably give him enough leverage (and money) to accomplish his goals. Also he is not so hesitant with non-lethal violence. I’d call him N. The Judge and other officials are LN or LE. Imagine if you actually believed that Canary had done it on person: used her power to make someone sexually molest themselves… That is a pretty bad thing. I still leave the LE in there just because of the judge doing something, I find unforgiveable: he is punishing Canary as if she’d done 3 strikes while she’s only done 2. He is, in other words, hititng a first offender too hard for them to ever recover or prove that they could change -> evil. I’d put Armsmaster in LN/LE. He plays (roughly) by the book and remember his perspective: Taylor did hold a lot of people ransom AND carve the eyes of a subdued opponent out. Were I her, I had probably gotten the hamstrings as well, nevertheless: that is pretty damn evil.

      • This is a fun one…I’ll just chime in briefly to say that to my eyes, Coil appears (thus far, and assuming we take him at his word) to be True Neutral, or Neutral Evil. He indicates that he wants to control the government/etc., which means he wants to subvert the system, so he can’t be totally chaotic. At the same time, he’s quite comfortable with criminal methods, so lawful is out. On the Good-Evil side, we don’t have a clear sense for how dirty his hands are, but his men seem to be professional and he hasn’t displayed any tendency toward sadism or even power games, except for his ultimate objective. He buys loyalty with money or by finding out what people really want. The fact that he admits he wants to improve the city partly to feed his own ego may be a bit of a point against him, but on the other hand he is honest about it, and there’s too much we don’t know at this point to say for sure.

        TL;DR: Coil probably Neutral Evil or True Neutral, depending on your point of view.

  19. As crazy as it may seem I’m kinda sad to see Bakuda go. She was pretty awesome in a manic sense and her quick wit and unpredictability made her expertise in bombs pretty cool. Her relationship (or how she may have seen it) with Lung was pretty sad too. Gives a lot of perspective as to how a person as unhinged and prideful as Bakuda would vow allegiance to someone like Lung. I think she genuinely liked him, and not the kind of admiration that would expire due to boredom. Overall I would like to see how they met each other and how Lung was able to subdue and gain the respect of such a person as Bakuda.

    I always think of Bakuda as the kind of person similar to Deidara of Naruto. I’d imagine her saying stuff like “art is a bang!” (Pun intended)

  20. Wait. Carp.

    Um, wildbow, my sleep deprivation seems to be showing…I made a comment on someone else’s comment about one of Bakuda’s bombs yesterday and just realized it referred to an event that doesn’t happen for a couple arcs.

    Although rereading, it seems that the other guy also referred to that event…

    Could you redact the spoilery bits of those two comments? They’re definitely a lot more spoilery than that compliment I asked if was spoilery a while back.

  21. Azkaban for superheros? Judicial action in direct violation of law? No chance for appeal? Are the non-powered _trying_ to start a war with parahumans?

  22. The problem I have with this is that Canary was sentenced for power not her crime. She got sent to the birdcage on her first offence not because of the actual terribleness of her crime which with mens rea and the fact she had no idea she could do it, etc she should have had leniency, maybe forced entry into the Protectorate, but because her power is scary.
    And finally her boyfriends actions before she told him to fuck himself weren’t taken into account, he was demanding money he didn’t deserve and really he wasn’t smart enough to find a dildo?

    • It seems that Canary’s powers are taken more literally the more entranced you listen to her. So: boyfriend was in the audience; she was also ramped up by already using her power. He comes in, acts like a jerk. She (without considering the repercussions) tells him to leave AND screw himself, while accidentally putting a little more “juice” into her power than she meant to because her power has already been “turned on”. This interpretation of events means that he is incapable of attempting to find “loopholes” in the orders: they are followed, to the letter.

  23. All right, I’ve been avoiding the comments section for fear of potential spoilers up until this point but I am now forced to ask for one.

    A grave miscarriage of justice has happened to somebody I’m reasonably sure we can all agree is a good person and I’m reasonably sure we can all agree they don’t deserve it.

    Question: Is this wrong ever righted somehow, anyhow, at any point between this interlude and the latest chapter?

    I ask because I can tolerate a great many things, however; extremely bad & effectively permanent life altering things happening to good people who clearly don’t deserve them is one of the few things I absolutely most certainly can *not* tolerate, especially with a setting / story / world / whatever I’ve become emotionally invested in. There’s plenty of things I don’t like and a number that can make me angry but this is one of my extremely rare true berserk buttons.

    I enjoyed more or less everything up to this point but my continuing is dependent upon the answer to that. If Canary escapes the birdhouse or something, anything at all no matter what kind of ass pull has to happen to achieve a reversal of her (mis)fortune even if the morons who did nothing to abate her current situation get off scott free just as long as she’s okay – fine I’ll keep on reading. If however that’s it and her life is effectively over then I really don’t want to read another word of Worm beyond this.

    • I, on the other hand, hope that she doesn’t get out. Not unless the whole system is toppled. To be honest: this and worse happens in real life. Does that also press your berserk button? (I.e. taxi driver sent to Guantanamo; wrong place, wrong time, lost I don’t know how many years of his life and was tortured and humiliated on a daily basis. I still can’t wrap my head around the West silently allowing Guantanamo to exist, but it does (and other places like it)).

    • I think a good non-spoilery way to answer your question is to say that the story so far is just a spark, that lights a fuse, that sets off a bomb. At the end of the story, their society is almost unrecognizable, and the relationship between humans and parahumans has changed. I can’t quite make up my mind whether the basic issue got resolved or just rendered almost irrelevant.

  24. People have raised some interesting points here. I do find the idea that people/society/the government react poorly to the emergence of supers quite believable, because powers are a nightmare. Detaining Skitter, Oni Lee, or Lung in a normal prison would most likely be plain impossible, and the same holds for Canary. With Bakuda it might actually be doable, though I don’t think I’d want to risk it, and her crimes certainly justify incarceration in the Birdcage if anyone’s do. I do wonder if they have the death penalty at all for supers; is it state-by-state, or what? The legal questions (in terms of writing laws and enforcing them) are incredibly tough, and relatively new.
    Using the birdcage as a threat could backfire horribly. If I were Canary, and I knew what was waiting for me – a prison with some of the worst superpowered criminals the world had ever seen – I might pull out all the stops to escape it. If I were trying not to go too far, that would mean careful use of my mind control power, but if I got scared enough or was unhinged enough to start with, it could extend to such horrors as ordering pursuing cops to shoot themselves in the head, or turn on their partners. Sending Canary to the birdcage does send a message to other capes, but it isn’t just “follow the laws and don’t abuse your powers.” That’s the message I think the judge was trying to send…but if I were another rogue or low-tier villain, I’d interpret it to mean: “If you slip even once, you cannot be confident of fairness, let alone mercy, even if it was a genuine accident. The system is not forgiving, and it is more interested in protecting people from you than in respecting your rights. You may not even be able to speak in your own defense.”
    So if I were the next Canary, and I accidentally abused my powers the same way? I’d probably become a supervillain, because the law has effectively warned me it will make that assumption regardless of my actions. I have everything to lose and nothing to gain by playing by the rules the instant I’ve screwed up once. Given who lives in the birdcage, being shot trying to escape is not necessarily a worst-case scenario; you could end up the toy of someone as tough as Lung but far more sadistic. There are a lot of nightmarish possibilities.
    As for deterrence, well, a lot of people commit crimes despite knowing the potential penalties. The three-strikes system may even encourage it, to an extent, especially since most criminals probably want to believe that they are strong and smart enough not to get caught three times, an idea that may be reinforced by past escapes of convicts who have been sentenced to the Birdcage.
    Ultimately, the Birdcage is probably doomed to fail in the long run. Put enough powered individuals in one place, and sooner or later some combination of them will figure a way out, especially if many of them are on the more powerful end, which is likely given the Birdcage’s purpose. Of course some could be imprisoned elsewhere; given time, there will probably be other prisons designed expressly for supers. That might also allow for more appropriate sentencing, which could help.
    Regardless, their system as it stands violates all kinds of rights. If I were a rogue sentenced to the Birdcage, I might ask for the death penalty, given the choice. It sounds pretty horrifying.


  25. ” … blinked with a green light just frequently enough that she forgot to anticipate it.”
    Do you really mean INfrequently enough?

    ” … about to run anyways.” That would be anyway.

    I do love the whole story, I just find things like these drop me out of the flow now and then.

  26. Seems to me if ex-boyfriend had broadened his concept of fucking, he might’ve escaped hurting himself with a mere hand job. Though he might’ve pressed charges of sexual assault anyway, of course.

  27. Wow. Lot of complicated events and info to process here. ^^
    Whoever’s going to get fired for screwing up the transport procedures REALLY earned it. Lung already escaped, in transit, twice. Bakuda is fucking terrifying and shouldn’t be sitting next to anybody. They have history of working together. And you think “yeah, sure, let’s put ’em in the same van”?
    Canary’s lawyer should also get fired, but that’s a separate issue.

    Really glad this turned out not to be the story of how Taylor’s nemeses got loose. That kind of incompetence in prisoner handling is usually one of the Accepted Breaks From Reality of superhero stories, so I could’ve lived with it… but it’s very nice to have an alternative, especially when Taylor’s present situation is already so interesting without these two.

  28. Poor Canary.

    Sex between inmates clearly exists, and the obvious question I can’t get out of my head is whether there are (and what happens to) children born in the Birdcage. Irrelevant plot-wise, I know, but it niggles.

  29. I feel there’s a bit of a contradiction between the events of this interlude and what Tattletale describes earlier. What happened to the “cops and robbers” game? Is it only relevant for villains? There’s no question that Canary is nowhere near as dangerous as Lung or Bakuda, nor did she break of any of the unspoken rules. So how did she find herself in the birdcage?

    • I believe this is clarified later. Sufficent to say, Tattletale is not always right, and Canary has a type of power that is universially revield for a number of reasons.

    • She broke the unspoken rule of “don’t use your powers on unpowered people”. Also, her ex-boyfriend almost DIED.

  30. After breaking so many human rights, one could argue just executing everyone would be more humane. Also this procedure boggles the mind considering more and more people with powers will show up over time, will this twisted society just go on like this or ultimately collapse under the strain?

  31. So once you go in to the Birdcage you never go out. Okay so question. What happens when they find out they’ve chucked someone who is innocent in? Because it will at some point happen. No judicial system is so perfect you don’t ever get wrongful convictions. Factor in the possibilities of shapeshifters, being controlled, Holograms, etc… It’s just a matter of time before not only does it happens, but it ends up emberissingly public and then they have a gigantic PR nightmare on their hands.

  32. “The elevators … go only one way. Down.”
    But the elevators are physical structures- they’d have to be, to contain the specific volume of air that Dragon says they do.
    So once the elevators get to the Birdcage, what happens to them? They can’t just sit there forever; there has to be room for the next one to come in…

  33. Hmm. This is completely unimportant, but when I imagine Dragon, behind the CGI, I imagine Mindf[][]k from Empowered. I just get the same vibe from the two of them, and it’s reasonable enough, given their lack of ever being seen except by proxy, that somewhere under those layers of tech might be a similar-looking character with a similar (but differently-purposed) visor.

  34. And this just confirms my belief that the entire Wormverse runs under the assumption ‘bad people have power, good ones are powerless’.

  35. I’m just reading this for the first time (and enjoying it, obviously), and wow, this chapter is the most powerful thing I’ve read in a while: well done, it leaves me disturbed, as I think it was supposed to.

    Most of my thoughts about this chapter (terrible court case, etc) have already been said, so I’ll only say new stuff:

    After her power was explained and before her “para-name” was revealed I’d mentally named her Songbird, making the significance of her going in the Birdcage even more blatant than Canary.

    This world clearly has no way of testing someone’s powers if they assume Canary has super strength, but then she was only at the trial to scare the jury with Hannibal Lecter since there were no attempts to prevent other powers she didn’t have.
    If the court had actually wanted a fair trial they’d have let her speak; or since her power might have made that dangerous they should have let her write.

    Canary was public about having powers, but did she explain exactly what they were? If she did she’d have been an excuse for anything anyone who heard her did (besides potentially causing paranoia), if she didn’t then the show trial would have charged her with mind controlling countless innocents every performance (in fact, I’m surprised it didn’t do that anyway).

    I hope Canary was REALLY careful with her lyrics, especially if her power works from those records.

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