Infestation 11.6

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“Is he for real?” I looked to Lisa for an answer.  “Can they do that?”

“Don’t think he’s lying.”

The crowd roared, and I turned to see why, just in time to see the aftermath of the first attack.  One of the Merchants in the ring had just bludgeoned someone with a length of pipe.  Backing away, he found someone he knew, and through some unspoken agreement, they drew together, each protecting the other’s back.

Others were having similar ideas.  Groups of friends were banding together, leaving others alone.  One of the loners found another guy without any friends around, shouted something I couldn’t hear, and they drew together.  His new ‘friend’ turned and struck him down from behind not two seconds later.  The traitor got his just reward when three young men and a grungy looking old man tackled him to the ground and started beating him.

At the corner nearest to us, a woman got smashed in the nose.  The spray of blood landed in the area of Skidmark’s power and shot straight back into the melee.

Inspired by this sight, a man who stood outside the ring grabbed a piece of rubble and threw it down at the edge of the ring.  The chunk of concrete flew into the massed people, striking a man who was crouching and trying to avoid the worst of the fighting.

This act started a chain reaction.  The audience turned on the man who’d launched the chunk of rubble, clustering around him, punching and kicking him, and shoving him to the ground.  Others were inspired by his idea, and did much the same thing, using Skidmark’s power to pelt the people in the arena.  One man helped by a kid who might have been his son upended a trash can on the glowing ground to send rotted food and other rubbish flying into the ring.  Others moved to stop them or shove anyone who got close enough onto the colored ground.  The violence was escalating and it didn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

“We should go,” Lisa said.  She turned to Jaw and ordered, “Bring the boy.”

Jaw grabbed Bryce by the shirt and hauled him to his feet.  He pointed at the girl who had been sitting next to Bryce, “And her?”

“Leave her.” Lisa called out, raising her voice to be heard over the screams and cheering.  She said something else, but I couldn’t make it out.

The crack of a gun being fired went off somewhere.  Instead of stopping the crowd, it seemed to provoke them, pushing those who hadn’t been participating into action, like runners who’d been waiting for a starter’s pistol.  It was as though the Merchants felt more secure with their hands around people’s throats than they did trying to get away.

Skidmark gripped the railing as he hunched over it, grinning a smile with teeth that seemed to be every color but white.  His eyes were almost glittering as he watched the chaos he’d set in motion.

We moved as a group, Lisa’s soldiers in a tight circle around us with Bryce, Lisa, the rescued girl and me in the center.  We made our way toward the nearest exit, but our way was barred by an unfolding brawl between two groups a good distance from the main spectacle.  Rivals?  Enemies seeing an opportunity to exact vengeance for some past event?

The girl who’d been on the bench with Bryce ran for the thick of the melee surrounding the ring.  She was shouting, almost screeching, “Thomas!  Mom!”

Bryce struggled in an attempt to go after her, but Jaw held him firm.

I almost missed what happened next.  A woman from the group fighting in front of us ran, and a band of young men charged after her, which brought them just in front of us.

We collectively backed out of the way, but Bryce had other intentions.  The boy wrenched out of Jaw’s grip and threw his shoulder into the small of Senegal’s back.  The man was only barely able to keep from stumbling forward into the charging Merchants, but with his attention elsewhere, Bryce managed to slip past.

I joined Minor and Brooks in giving chase, and though Minor was bigger and stronger, I had the advantage of a slight build.  I ducked between the people and followed Bryce into the thick of the ‘audience’.

Bryce had reached his girlfriend, and wrapped his arms around her.  Still holding her, he turned to see us approaching.  I was in the lead, and Minor close behind me.

He looked the other way, past the glowing perimeter of Skidmark’s arena, and I followed his gaze to where a middle-aged woman with bleached blond hair and a taller black man with a scar on his lips stood.

I recognized them from Sierra’s description.  They were the same people who had attacked the church.

The man -Thomas?- beckoned with a wave of his arm, and Bryce and his girlfriend ran, dropping to the ground as they touched the border of the ring.

“No!” I shouted, as the effect of Skidmark’s power sent them careening into the ongoing free-for-all.  My voice was lost in the cacophony of the screaming, shouting, hollering crowd.

I stared helplessly at the unfolding scene.  The two teenagers managed to get to their feet and gather together with Thomas, the mother, and one or two others.  They were soon lost in the jumble of people that were all punching, kicking and strangling one another, spurred on by adrenaline, self-preservation, alcohol, stimulants and greed.  There was little enough room that when someone fell, they were trampled by those that were still fighting.

Minor reached me and ushered me back to the others, and we backed as far away from the fighting as we could.

The moment I saw Lisa, I asked her, “Should I-” I left my question unfinished.  Should I use my bugs?

“No.  The moment an enemy makes their presence known, Skidmark might try to break this up and send the crowd after any unfamiliar faces.  Not saying they’d get us, but they could, and there’d be other victims too.”

“Fuck.” I looked at the ongoing fighting.  “We should do something.

“I’m open to ideas,” she said.

“Can we- can’t we run?” the girl we’d rescued asked.

“Look, um, what’s your name?” Lisa said.

“Charlotte.”

“Charlotte, we came to get that kid.  My friend feels it’s important, and she’s usually got a pretty damn good reason for doing what she does.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“So it’s up to her, what we do here”

What were our options.  Using Lisa’s power?  I wasn’t sure how it applied here.  If she had a way of addressing the audience, maybe there was something she could say to turn the tide, or turn them against their leaders… but the only way to do that would be to get the microphone Skidmark had.

We had Lisa’s soldiers, but no matter how well-trained they were, there was a certain point where fighters in quantity overcame fewer fighters of higher quality in a brawl.  Not to mention that some of the Merchants had guns.  The great equalizer.  I was pretty sure Lisa’s soldiers would be packing, but the problem with guns was that they drew attention, and we definitely did not want to fall under too much scrutiny.

This was what the Merchants were.  Even less organized than the ABB, they were humans reduced to pack behavior, with Skidmark and his people acting like kids who would put animals in a cage and shake it set them on each other, instead of house-training them.  None of this made the Merchants any less dangerous, though.  Just the opposite.

I had no options here, in the face of this.  The most I could do would be to use my power on the entire crowd, and that would turn this already disturbed situation into something else entirely.

“We hold our ground,” I told Lisa, “Unless things get bad enough that we’re at risk.  We wait for the fight to end, we see if we can find him, and we make our exit.  Sticking around also means we can get more info on what Skidmark’s got in those vials and where he got them.”

“Okay,” Lisa confirmed.  “That works.”

The minutes that followed were among the longest I’d experienced in my life.  It wasn’t a tedious, slow, agonizing passage of time like I’d experienced in the hospital bed, waiting to find out if I was being arrested or if my back was broken.  No, these minutes stretched on because there was so much going on, and I couldn’t lose my focus, look away or pause for contemplation for a second.

Different groups tried to pick fights with us.  It was nonsensical, given that we weren’t even in the ring, but adrenaline was running high and we stood out because we were apart from the rest of the fighting, isolated.  We had stuff they could take, and warm bodies they could… well, warm bodies.  It was enough.

We tried to hold a formation, with the bodyguards holding the outer perimeter and the less experienced combatants, myself included, in the center.  It quickly became apparent that these things didn’t really hold up in a real combat situation.

For one thing, our enemies quickly figured out what we were trying to do and tried to force Lisa’s soldiers to break ranks.  They would hang back and throw things, or stay just out of reach as they held weapons at the ready, looking for a moment when our front-line fighters were distracted or otherwise occupied.  It forced Lisa’s soldiers to move out of formation to deliver with the enemy with a few decisive hits, then back up to close the gap in the line.

That was the plan, anyways, but sometimes the opponent was too nimble to be taken down, and other times, they delayed Lisa’s people enough that someone could slip through the line and attack one of our less capable combatants, myself included.

I held a knife in each hand – my combat knife and the one I’d taken when we’d rescued Charlotte.  When I was forced to fight, I avoided lethal strikes.  I had a sense of where the major arteries were and avoided them, even when I knew I could make a quick cut at someone’s wrists or neck.  Holding back didn’t do me any favors, and I got smashed in the left ear once, struck in the gut and chest a few times, and a nail that was stuck through someone’s makeshift club sliced the back of my upper arm.

Still, Lisa’s soldiers afforded me time to breathe.  I remained vigilant for any break in ranks and incoming attacks.

My arm smarted where I’d been cut, and my ear throbbed.  I swallowed hard, glancing towards the ring, where people lay in heaps, and only two-thirds of the combatants were either injured, unconscious, dead or playing dead.

Feeling pressured, Senegal reached for his gun, but was forced to duck back and to the side to avoid being bludgeoned by a heavy metal lock one of the Merchants had clipped to the end of a length of chain.  The follow-up swing knocked his weapon from his hand.  Someone else, a stocky man with eyebrows like caterpillars, moved through the gap to charge for me bare handed.

Could be worse.  I set my balance and readied to strike with my knives, waiting until he closed in and-

And I was somewhere else.  It was like remembering something profound that I’d forgotten.  I’d seen this before.

Huge creatures filled my perception.

It was hard to say how I knew they were two different creatures, when each of them existed in multiple parallel spaces all at once.  Countless mirror moved in sync with one another, each occupying the same space, just as solid as the others, differing in how they moved and the worlds they interacted with.  Each of them folded, unfolded, expanded and shifted without taking more or less space.  I couldn’t wrap my head around it, even as I felt there was something like a pattern there.

Some distant part of me realized I’d seen something similar to that folding and unfolding once, in a much simpler form.  A tesseract, a fourth dimensional analogue to the cube.  The difference was that while the cube had six flat faces, each ‘side’ of the tesseract had six cubes, each connected to the others another at each corner.  To perceptions attuned to three dimensions, it seemed to constantly shift, each side folding or reshaping so that they could all simultaneously be perfect cubes, and each ‘side’ was simultaneously the center cube from which all the others extended outward.

The primary difference between these things and the tesseract was that these beings I was looking at were alive, and they weren’t simple models I was viewing on a computer screen.  They were living entities, lifeforms.  There wasn’t anything I could relate to any biology I knew or understood, nothing even remotely recognizable, but they were undoubtedly alive.  They were enigmas of organs that were also limbs and also the exteriors of the creatures, each simultaneously some aspect of the entity as it flowed through empty space.  It didn’t help that the things were the size of small planets, and the scope of my perceptions was so small.  It helped even less that parts of them seemed to move in and out of the other dimensions or realities where the mirror images were.

The pair moved in sync, spiraling around one another in what I realized was a double helix.  Each revolution brought them further and further apart.  Innumerable motes drifted from their bodies as they moved, leaving thick trails of shed tissues or energies painting the void of empty space in the wake of their spiraling dance, as though they were made of a vast quantity of sand and they were flying against a gale force headwind.

When they were too far away to see one another, they communicated, and each message was enormous and violent in scope, expressed with the energy of a star going supernova.  One ‘word’, one idea, for each message.

Destination.  Agreement.  Trajectory.  Agreement.

They would meet again at the same place.  At a set time, they would cease to expand their revolution and contract once again, until they drew together to arrive at their meeting place.

-the Merchant caught me off guard, as I reeled from the image of what I’d just seen.  He caught me across the cheekbone with his elbow, and pain shot through my entire skull, bringing me halfway back to reality.  Someone grabbed me, her chest soft against my back, her grip around my shoulders painfully tight.  Charlotte?  Or Lisa?

The shift from what I had seen to relative normalcy was so drastic that I could barely grasp what I was sensing.  I opened my mouth to say something and then closed it.  I couldn’t unfocus or take in the scene as a whole, as the entirety of my attention was geared for seeing… what had I been looking at?  It escaped me as I tried to remember.  I shook my head, striving and failing to see past the countless minute details or the shape of things: the way the Merchant’s facial features seemed to spread out as he advanced towards me, the contraction of his body as he bent down, the nicks and brown of rust on the knife he picked up, the one I’d dropped.  I still held my good knife.

I closed my eyes, trying to blink and fix the distorted focus, and it only helped a little.  I looked to my left for help, saw Minor and Jaw with their hands full, their movements too hard for my eyes to follow.  To my right?  Lisa was slumped over, and Brooks held her.  Merchants were closing in on them.  Senegal stood in front of me, and though his gun was gone, he was using the length of chain that he’d taken from one of the Merchants to drive our opponents back and buy us breathing room.  It wasn’t enough.  Three capable fighters weren’t able to protect seven people in total.

I used my power, and wrenched my eyes closed.  It helped more than anything, as the tactility of my swarm sense gave me a concrete, solid sense of the things around us.  Many of the Merchants had lice on their skin, in their clothes and on their hair.  A small handful of flies buzzed around the area.  With a bit of direction to guide those flies to where I needed them, I had a solid sense of my surroundings and what the enemy combatants were doing.

With panic and disorientation nearly overwhelming me, I had to resist the urge to use my power to call a swarm together.  Using this many bugs, to get a sense of what was going on?  It wouldn’t attract undue attention.  I let bugs gather on the ceiling of the mall, drawing them down through the large crack where part of the roof had caved in, as a just-in-case.

I kept my eyes closed as I fought back, pulling out of Charlotte’s grip to strike at the Merchant, cutting him across the forehead.  He growled something I couldn’t make out and charged me.  Knowing I wouldn’t be able to beat him in any contest of strength, I threw myself to one side, landing hard on the ground and nearly tripping Senegal.  I brought my knees to my chest, and then I kicked outward to strike him in the calf with both heels.

I wasn’t thinking straight.  I should have predicted that he’d fall on top of me.  His shoulder hit my chest, his body weight heavy on top of me.  His knife hand was trapped under his body, near my waist.  I was more fortunate, with my right arm free, and I pulled the knife’s point across his ribs, aiming for a shallow cut that hurt more than it injured.  He screamed and dropped his weapon, and I scrabbled to slide it back towards Charlotte, Brooks and Lisa.

Senegal turned and kicked my attacker away from me.  While Senegal used the lock on the end of the length of chain to strike the man in the jaw, I tried to stand.

Stupidly, I’d opened my eyes as I stood, instead of trusting to my power to keep a sense of the immediate situation.  Motion sickness hit me like a sack of bricks, and I nearly fell over.  Charlotte caught me to keep me from tipping over, only narrowly avoiding stabbing herself on my good knife.

“Oh my god,” she murmured.  “You’re…”

Had I given myself away?  I hadn’t used that many bugs.

No, it was something else.  I could tell from the flies I’d placed on her head that she was looking up.  Her attention turned to me, then Lisa, and then back to the higher object.  I forced my eyes open, controlling my movement and my breathing to reduce the threat of nausea, and saw she was looking at Skidmark’s platform.

Skidmark was slumped against the railing, struggling to his feet.  Squealer, Mush, Trainwreck and their other subordinates weren’t faring much better.

Skidmark grabbed his microphone and broke into laughter, the nasty chuckles echoing through the area.

“Seems like one of you assdrips just earned his stripes,” he cackled.

I saw a flash of white from within the ring and it dawned on me what had just happened.

Another flash sparked in the ring, then a second.  Both were in close proximity to a boy no older than I was.  White smoke poured from his eyes, nose, ears and mouth, with smaller traces flowing from his scalp, stirring his hair.

He flinched as someone whirled on him and raised their weapon, and a burst of white light appeared two feet to the other person’s left.  A miss.  The person swayed toward where the flash had been, as if it had pulled at him.  The glowing boy stuck one arm out, towards his target, and another flash of white appeared a yard behind his target.

The man charged, and the boy tried a third time.  The blast intersected the man, and when it faded, the man’s upper arm, forearm, elbow, and the right side of his torso and hip were gone.  Blood gushed from the area where his flesh had been carved away by the light, and his dismembered hand dropped to his feet.

The boy screamed in some combination of horror, pain and rage, and flashes of the whiteness erupted randomly around him.  Some caught people who were lying prone on the ground, others hit standing combatants, while most simply hit thin air.

A trigger event.  I’d just seen someone have their trigger event.

But what had happened to Skidmark’s group, Tattletale and I?  I could vaguely remember something, thought about trying to put it into words, as if describing it could help call it to mind in a way that I could describe it, but they disappeared as I reached for them.  I was reminded of Imp’s power.  Before I could get a handle on it, I’d forgotten entirely, and I was struggling to even remember what I was trying to do, my thoughts muddling the idea of it with my attempts to get my bearings.

And Charlotte, who was helping me stay balanced on my feet, was staring at me wide-eyed.  I remembered her exclamation of surprise.

If everyone on stage with powers had been affected, and Lisa and I were reacting the same way, it couldn’t be that hard for her to put the pieces together.  Charlotte knew.

I looked to Lisa, for advice or ideas, but she was still slumped over, and she wasn’t recovering.  Why?  If this was some kind of psychic backlash from someone else having their trigger event, had she maybe been hit harder because of her power?

I hurried to her side, while Brooks turned to rejoin the fight and help re-establish our front lines.

“Lisa!” I shook her.  She looked at me, her eyes unfocused.

“They’re like viruses,” she said.  Her voice was thin, as if she were talking to herself.  “And babies.  And gods.  All at the same time.”

“You’re not making any sense, Lisa.  Come on, get it together.  Things are pretty ugly right now.”

“Almost there.  It’s like it’s at the tip of my tongue, but it’s my brain, not my tongue,” her voice was thin, barely audible, as though she was talking to herself and not to me.  “Still fillin’ in the blanks.”

I slapped her lightly across the face, “Lisa!  Need you to come back to reality, not go further into your delirium.”

The slap seemed to do it.  She shook her head, like a dog trying to shake off water.  “Taylor?”

“Come on,” I helped her to her feet.  She almost lost her balance, but she was still recuperating faster than I had.

Charlotte took over the job of ensuring Lisa was okay, and I moved forward to help back up the other guys.  With a knife in each hand, I stood behind the trio of Brooks, Senegal and Minor, ready to stop anyone who tried to slip by.  I kept my eyes closed.  I could manage so long as I didn’t try to move and keep my eyes open at the same time.  It was swiftly receding.

The last group to tackle us had largely been beaten back.  Another group made some threatening moves, but they seemed to be in rougher shape than us.  Their leader was an amazon of a woman with a wild look in her eyes and matted hair, and I could see concern flash across her face as she looked us over and noted the disparity in the condition of our groups.  It struck me she was in a bad spot, knowing her group would be thrashed if she took us on, but at the same time, she couldn’t order her guys to back off without looking like a coward.

Whatever decision she would have made, we didn’t get to find out.

“Stop!” Skidmark hollered into his microphone.

It took a full minute for everyone to break off in the fighting and back off to a point where they didn’t feel immediately threatened.

So many injured.  How many of his own people had Skidmark just lost in this stunt?

Did he care?  He stood to gain five new parahumans for his group.  Six if you counted the guy who’d had his trigger event.

“If we wait any longer, there’s only going to be one of you cockbiters left in the ring!  We got five of you fuckers left, and that’s all we need!”

Only five?  There had been at least eighty in the ring at the beginning, and still more had joined the fight afterward, one way or another.

I could see the remaining five as the audience moved back to give them space.  A family of three, it seemed, a woman with a gaping wound in her stomach, her hand crimson where it pressed against the injury, and the boy who’d had his trigger event.  I didn’t see Bryce or his new ‘family’ in the mist of the people retreating from the scene.

A flash of light marked another uncontrolled use of the new cape’s power.  It struck close to the ground, removing the leg of someone who lay unconscious or dead on the ground, but it left the ground perfectly intact.  Why?  When it consumed clothing and flesh but not the building itself?

“Boy,” Skidmark pointed, “Approach the stage!”

The ring flashed and disappeared.  The boy turned, as though in a daze.  He flinched as another burst of light sparked a good ten feet away.  He limped toward Skidmark and stared up at the Merchant’s leader.

“You’re gonna need a name, kid, if you’re going to join the Merchant’s upper circle.”

The boy blinked, looking around, as if he didn’t quite understand.  Was he in shock?

“Come on, now.  Let’s hurry it up.”

There was a spark of the boy’s power, and the flash removed a beachball-sized section of rubble beneath Skidmark’s ‘stage’.  The boy stared at it.

“E-Eraser?” he answered, making it a question.

“Like the puny pink nipple on the end of a pencil?  Fuck that,” Skidmark snarled.

“Um,” the boy drew out the noise, all too aware of his audience, probably unable to think straight.

“Scrub!” Skidmark shouted, and the crowd roared.

How in the hell was Scrub better than Eraser?  In what insane reality?

Skidmark waited until the noise of the crowd had died down before he raised the vial, “No point in you having a drink of this shit.  Wouldn’t do sweet fuck all.  Pick someone.”

The boy stared at Skidmark, processing the words.  He flinched as another flash occurred near him.  A hand clutching one elbow, he turned toward the crowd.  When he spoke, his voice was shaky, “R-Rick!  Doug!”

Two people emerged from the massed people who stood around where the audience had been.  One had blood running from his scalp to cover half his face, while the other was coughing violently, blood thick around his mouth and nose.

“Can…  Can I give it to both?  Can they share it?” the boy with the glowing hair asked.

Skidmark chuckled, and it was a nasty sound with very little humor to it.  “No, no.  You definitely don’t want to do that.  Pick one.”

“Doug.  Doug can have it.”

The boy who was coughing looked up, surprised.  The one with blood on his face, Rick, suddenly looked angry.  “What the fuck!?”

A flash of white high above and to the right of the boy with the powers made everyone nearby cringe.  It tore away a chunk of a metal beam that was helping to support the damaged roof.  People were giving a wider berth to the boy with the powers.  I suspected his abilities and his apparent lack of control were the only things keeping Rick from running up and punching him.

Was this division & the hard feelings on purpose?  If it was intentional, if Skidmark was dividing his allies from their former groups and cliques so they couldn’t gang up against him, I’d have to adjust my estimation of him.  Not that I’d like him any more, or even respect him, but I’d give him credit for intelligence.

“You didn’t help me when I got pulled into the ring,” the boy with the powers told Rick, “Doug at least tried.  He gets my prize.”

As Doug approached the stage, taking the long way to keep his distance from his newly empowered ‘friend’, I became aware that my bugs were dying on the roof, where I’d gathered a swarm in preparation during the chaos.  A patch here, a patch there.

No.  Not dying.  They were stunned, their senses obliterated by bursts of chaos and false sensations.  I had an idea of what it was.  I’d felt the same thing before.

I turned to Lisa.  Moving my left hand from the scratch on the back of my upper arm, I discreetly pointed up and murmured, “There’s company on the way.  We should go before there’s trouble.”

She looked up, then nodded assent.  Tapping Minor on the shoulder, she gave him a hand signal, and he notified the others.  We began moving.

The person on the roof was joined by others.  Some bugs died beneath their footfalls.  More bugs were stunned as the first individual crawled forward on all fours, around the lip of the roof and onto the ceiling of the mall, hanging off of it by his hands.  With the building largely unlit, I couldn’t make him out.

Newter was here, and the rest of Faultline’s crew.

We reached the first exit, and no sooner had we reached for the door than the handle disappeared.  The gaps separating the door from the wall filled in, as though wax matching the color of the door was dripping through the gaps.  There were similar things happening at the other entrances, I saw, the doors fading into the walls, becoming little more than discolored blotches.  Nobody else had seemed to notice, with their attention wholly focused on the woman who was making her way down from the stage with the vial for ‘Doug’.

When the fighting had started, Lisa had dissuaded me from using my power, out of a concern that the ensuing riot and chaos would get people hurt, and that the mob might start to hunt for strangers in their ranks.

I had no idea why they were here, but it seemed Faultline was about to crash the party in a far more direct way than we had.  We were about to see that bad scenario unfold, and our escape routes had vanished.

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55 thoughts on “Infestation 11.6

  1. I thought Faultline might show up to get a look at the empowering stuff, Also it seems that Miss Militia’s memories were right on the money.

    • Good catch with the Miss Militia interlude. I wonder what the significance is to there only having been one of the things for her and two this time, as well as hers dying while the two in today’s chapter appeared healthy and communicating. Was it just Taylor already having been ‘touched’ by an entity or something else?

      Since I can’t visualize tesseract double helices very well, I will assign them the appearance of giant cosmic humanoids as drawn by Jack Kirby when reading the story. It seems appropriate.

      The babies, viruses and gods, thing makes me fear that superpowers might just be part of some vast beings lifecycle and that when a critical mass of capes is reached the metamorphosis begins incidentally killing most of the human population in the process. The Endbringers are just some sort of antibodies trying to prevent the end of the world or maybe hasten it.

      • Same. I sort of imagined them as giant water bears (look it up) only each part of them connected and intersected by tesseract mirrors… Very interesting.

        Can’t see them as humanoid. Doesn’t really work…

  2. Affected Lisa harder because her power is to fill in gaps. She was trying to fill in gaps her mind isn’t supposed to handle and the failure of it didn’t help her feel any better.

    Really glad to see Bryce and his new family didn’t get the powers.

    The whole event makes me wonder then…perhaps the thing Jack Slash might cause is a trigger event, which would otherwise be caused by something else at a later date.

    Also, the tesseract thing was hard to visualize, but that might be the point.

    Now they bring many interesting possibilities to all this. Perhaps trying to fix the universe due to some sort of corruptive break that originally occured in reality that first allowed superpowers, thus having to redo things every time a new being has a trigger event. Maybe when a trigger event happens they just notice and project their awareness there out of some sort of enjoyment of what the mortal is undergoing, which causes a localized distortion in reality that leaves the person with powers. Possibly they are anthropomorphized ideas, chaos, or cracks in reality that use sufficient emotional distress to locate prime incubators for young that generate powers in an individual and feed on the resulting disturbances caused by living as a powered individual. Or the universe is truly a being attempting to figure itself out via the many minds that make it up so that when one suffers far, far too much, these beings act like white blood cells but then wind up supercharging the injured portion of the universe (overpowered allergic response?). I was also going to throw in something about a connection between string theory, music, and emotional responses, but I don’t want to be planting more epileptic trees than Poison Ivy watching a banned episode of Pokemon, now do I?

    Now, who do I see about my bullshit slinging award?

  3. I was amused at the bit with Scrub’s name.

    You really can’t trust a guy named Skidmark to name anything. That said, it’s nice to now another visual to accompany the name instead of the underwear stain that comes most quickly to mind.

  4. I know this completely changes the subject, but would anyone be interested in me using the comments to drop a story of my own in quiet times like these? Something to try and entertain, make me feel awesome, or give people who don’t like me a chance to point and laugh?

    Subject to Wildbow’s decision to allow or not allow it, of course. That last sentence is very important. Go back. Read it again. Better yet, a third time. Now throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care. The story I have in mind is not set in the Wormverse, nor does it even feature the character of Psycho Gecko.

    I won’t do it though unless people think I should.

  5. Is it going to be a superheroe story? Will it be as off the wall as most of your comments? Not that they arent freakin hillarious but it would be great to see a story that takes itself seriously for a change. Either way i’m going to read it

    • It’s a one-shot supervillain story. I hope the cheesiness factor is enjoyable, but it’s not so crazy or humor-oriented. I’m a little weak at some of the names, though.

  6. The Fall
    A Story by Psycho Gecko, but not about the character of Psycho Gecko, and most likely in no way in the Worm universe due to a certain aspect of the story.
    Subject to removal by Wildbow
    Based on a story by Psycho Gecko’s unconscious mind. Adapted by Psycho Gecko’s conscious mind.

    Bwahahahahahahahahahaha!
    I don’t usually indulge in such megalomaniacal displays, but it’s perfect timing and my plan is brilliant. Brilliant, I tell you!

    I, Rex, have just finished transmitting my challenge to the city. Its preeminent superhero, my archnemesis, is sure to have heard it. My message wasn’t really for Degonville’s number one hero, however. His teammates were the true targets.

    I challenged my enemy, The Auxiliary, to prove who is the better man at the Mall at the Fall and claimed to have finally devised a way to negate Auxiliary’s powers with my own masterful genius. Not that he has any real weakness, like lead or radiation, but most don’t know that. I threw in some sufficiently sci fi-style lingo to make things believable to the whole lot of them. Auxiliary and his superhero friends are only in high school, after all, and they spend a lot of their time playing hero or hanging out or partying. Whatever mere reactionary forces to a genius such as mine do in their spare time. The Auxiliary even has a girlfriend that he DOESN’T DESERVE!

    The jerk doesn’t even hide his face or his identity with a mask. The cops know exactly who he is and cooperate with him, of all things. This is not the way things are meant to be.

    I power down the machine I used to make my announcement and arm a mine under the keyboard. I need a decoy more now than I need a lure. I can always build another transmission resolver.

    In the minutes after my broadcast, I check my power armor and equipment again. My armor isn’t bulky, but it’s hardly smooth or skintight. The material is meant to react instantly to a certain range of hostile behaviors and alter itself a little to provide added protection, usually adding physical resistance, conducting electricity safely away, or by insulating me from excessive heat. I must confess to some conceit in my suit’s decoration. The armor’s network of grooves is colored a rich Tyrian purple, as are the pointed shoulder pads and the accents of my helmet. It contrasts well with the grey. There is a short purple cape as well, but I have a way of disconnecting it should it be grabbed or caught on anything.

    I have only a single weapon system on the power armor, my left forearm laser. However, I make sure to carry a pistol and several grenades based on my advanced energy research. I have also set down a few innocent-looking crates that convert into automated gun turrets when I give them the signal, but I don’t expect much out of them. They’re slow and clunk, and who ever heard of a mere bullet stopping a superhero?

    Aside from that, my powers consist of low-level enhanced durability, strength, and the ability to fly. To my knowledge the heroes and police consider those to be a product of my armor, and my knowledge is considerable. I had to build myself up as a threat using my intellect, unlike the drooling power dependent teen gossipmongers who will show up any minute now to dare pit themselves against my genius.

    I hope they arrive soon. They wouldn’t realize that time is of the essence. After last week’s fiasco at the planetarium, those two city detectives have DNA and perhaps my face on camera if they do the due diligence. I want my scheme completed before the revelation of my identity complicates matters. I may not know when that will be but I do know that I’m planning to finally defeat the superheroes tonight.

    Yep, as soon as they decide to show.

    Any minute now.

    After a half hour of waiting, I begin to suspect that my future victims are putting actual thought into how to approach this situation. Then a wall bursts inward and proves otherwise. There they are, the light of the moon and streetlamps framing them. The girl with the horned helmet, the one whose name I never remember, says something along the lines of “Blah, blah, blah now your reign of terror is at an end, evildoer” before her head snaps back thanks to a blast of plasma to the face. Eat hot plasma, whatever your name is!

    Since they’re all grouped up, I press a button on my gauntlet and activate the guns. Before I can watch the crossfire chew into the teen attention brigade, my face takes a sharp right turn, courtesy of Manicman the superspeedster. While he’s stopped to gloat and reverse position, I swing my left arm up and activate the laser. He rushes at and past me in a burst of speed. I have to fight against doubling over from the force of the blow to my stomach, but I hear a voice call out for him to disable the guns. He zips off to leave me for his more threatening friends.

    The next few minutes are a furious interplay of melee and plasma bolts as I simultaneously fight off the team and divert Manicman’s attempts to get close enough to destroy my turrets with my laser. I admit I have a lot of fun in this base conflict, but my poor armor pays for it. When that horned girl closes with me while I’m too busy blowing off one of her friends’ arms, I chuckle at how easily I’m countering them. It DID hurt when she drove her knee into my face, but my visor prevented a broken nose. As I crash into a hanger of skinny jeans, I smile at the explosion of the grenade I dropped at her feet during the blow that knocked me to my current position. Of course, an anthropomorphized saber-tooth tiger then jumps me and shreds one arm of my armor, but I notice my transmission resolver nearby and tackle her against it. Cats hate fiery explosions at least as much as they hate water.

    At this point, the fight is down to just four on one, with Manicman still on the board. My guns are down, but so are most of my enemies. I’ve got maybe five shots left in my plasma pistol’s energy cell, one grenade, it’s dark, and my helmet has a cracked visor. I know just how to beat that superspeedster.

    I aim first for the guy holding his arm across his stomach and squeeze the trigger. I recognize him. Mike Andre, 17, plays basketball, can focus sound with his mouth to use as a sonic weapon. Then I fire at the brunette next to him, Jessica Monday, a nice 15 year old pyrokinetic on the student council who hasn’t done anything mean to me that I know of. Last, I squeeze off a bolt at Tracy Padgett, whose red, white, and blue costume is a stark contrast to her goth civilian identity and the numerous piercings she normally wears. She has no powers.

    At that range, all of them within 10 feet of me, they don’t stand much of a chance. Manicman comes to their rescue. Unable to push them out of the way without injuring them further, he darts in front of them and blocks the blasts. Hurt, he then crashes into a perfume display case, throwing up a horrible stink. Note to self: look into perfume-based weaponry.

    Yeah, I used his own heroism against him.

    The three heroes look to their fallen savior, then back to me. I too looked at their fallen savior, then back to them. Mike opened his mouth, only to have his powered shout cut off with one of pain as I burn a hole in his foot with my laser. I step toward him and cut the flow of coherent light to his extremity so I can increase the uppercut of coherent fist to his chin. Egads, even fighting them is making me sound moronic.

    A blue and white arm comes down through my line of sight and wraps around my neck as a heavy weight settles on my back. I call out “Get off, fatty!” That’s right, I’m insulting her weight in the middle of a fight. What’s she going to do, choke me?

    While she’s trying to choke me from behind, I spin, attempting to locate Jessica. There’s resistance as I attempt to do so the first couple of times, then I notice her on the ground with a bleeding nose and a bootprint on her face that probably matches that of Tracy.

    I reach behind me to hold Tracy on and fly up, then flip and drop so that I come down on my back. Despite what any of the heroes would likely imagine took place, I don’t grab her ass at any point while I gain altitude, lose altitude, or just before I stand over her and the rest of her fallen team in victory. Slander and lies, I tell you!

    I stand triumphant. They had played into my plan perfectly. Sure, I have a way to disable Auxiliary’s powers, but I want a fair fight between the two of us. So I made my announcement and counted on his teammates to come after me instead, since they expected me to be expecting him. I hurry to unpack my greatest invention from its case behind the customer service desk and ignore the inquisitive squawking of my absent archenemy from horned girl’s radio. The Metawave Manipulator’s time has come! Thanks to my knowledge of the shared origin of myself and the Auxiliary, and with the origins of these lesser super beings a result of the same burst of energy from that meteorite affecting the community, I created a device capable of shifting the loci of meta-empowered quantum strings. Tiny words for tiny people: I can steal superpowers.

    Luckily, the tight mask under my normal helmet protects my identity as I swap the helm for my secret weapon.

    Sonic blasts, super speed, super strength, pyrokinesis, electricity generation, forcefields, skin of stone, the ability to partially or wholly shift into a sabertooth tiger, and flashbang bursts are all mine now, as opposed to their owners. I also pull out the length of rope I brought to hold them in their powerless states. Yes, ropes. What, you expect me to invent a super rope when cheaper conventional rope will do just fine? Ha!

    I hear the squawk of a radio coming from the horned girl once more, then the voice of my greatest enemy, “Everything looks quiet now. Is he down? Is his machine destroyed?”

    Imagine his surprise when I answer instead, “Get in here, oh great hero. Let me show you how I beat up your friends.”

    It takes him thirty seconds to crash in via a skylight and land in front of me.

    “You’ve hurt my friends over this sick rivalry between us, Rex?” he growls.

    I grin, shrug, then rush forward before he can react, trying to shove my fist through his chest as hard as my speed and strength will allow before returning to my original position. He’s knocked back and through a wall, tiles launching into the air as he skids along the floor.

    I call out to him tauntingly, electricity arcing from my hands to crackle against him, “They started it you know, just like I knew would happen. I was banking on you being too much a coward and now the playing field is leveled as a result.”

    He launches himself through the air at me, his fist seeking my jaw. I juke to the side and hook his arm with mine, diverting his trajectory into a spin that flings him against a different, as yet unbroken, wall. I speed forward and stop to ready a mighty haymaker, but he takes advantage of the time this takes. He yanks me around by my armor, tearing pieces off in the process, then pins me against the wall I threw him into and pushes me through. Pushes, not throws. It’s much more painful when done that slowly. “This is the last time you will ever hurt anyone for this insane rivalry!” he yells at me.

    I have enough room to maneuver in the parking lot outside, however, and slam my fists into both his ears at the same time, setting off a burst of light and sound to stun him. Then I shove my shin up between his legs. I’ve wanted to do that for 16 years. Unfortunately, I doubt he hears me when I tell him, “The last time? Just like every other time? Face it, you can’t catch me, nor can you kill me!”

    He smacks my arms away, crushing my laser in the process. Then he knocks my jaw all the way to the small rise of concrete at the top of the arch-shaped dam nearby that gives the Mall at the Fall its name. Being attached, my body feels obliged to follow. I gather my wits about me and realize my helmet felt no such obligation. At least I still have the mask. I may have figured out the identities of the various teen superheroes I go to school with based on body shape, voice, and as much of their face as the mask does show, but their mental abilities can’t be held up to my personal standards. Naturally.

    The Auxiliary speaks as he approaches, “I’m a protector, not a killer.” So smug and confident. The favorite of everyone, from the girl who should know better to the school that rewards his physical exertions far more than it has ever rewarded my intellectual ones. That arrogant face that’s gotten the better of me my entire life. We exchange more blows at the dam and even knock a guard rail off into the reservoir below.

    “You’ll be a failure when I’m through with you!” I call as I prepare to attack again.

    It feels as something snaps away from me and I fall to my knees. The fight catches up to me quickly without the stolen powers to compensate for it. That’s when I notice Tracy and the horned helmet girl holding my ingenious device. I avert my gaze to the ground in frustration at the unfairness of such a sudden reversal of fortune. Am I destined to always lose to a higher quantity of designated heroes?

    Fuzziness, achiness, and tiredness overwhelm me. I’m unable to focus on the taunts, until I hear “Did we get everything he stole?” I look up to find Tracy settling my helmet on her head. “Yeah,” she says, “but this thing says he still has some of his own. How about we take those too?”

    “No. If you do that, you’re just as bad as he is,” answers Auxiliary, wind blowing through his cape.

    Why does he have to defend me too? Why?!

    I roll back off my knees and hover in the air over the side of the dam. “You feel like killing me in the process?”

    Then, a voice cries out. Tracy jumps at the sound and I feel my superpowers wrenched away from me, even as the rest of the group turns to see those two long-awaited detectives. All I can make out before I drop out of hearing is “He’s your br-!”

    Look at that. He’s flying down after me to catch me. Oh so ‘sorry’ but I don’t take losing well. You should know that after our whole lives, and especially after…her. I detach my cape as he closes in on me. It whips into his face and stays, forcing him to slow as he struggles with it. Even when he manages to pull it off his face, my last grenade detonates at point blank range. Not enough to kill him or really hurt him. Just enough to slow him down.

    I look down at the rapidly approaching water, sure that he’ll be too slow to catch me, save me. He’ll just have to watch as I smack into the water and get swallowed up by it at the end of a fall caused by his friends. I smile one last time at that thought.

  7. Never underestimate the power of envy. The villain’s not entirely reasonable, and the exact way it ended can provide some minor insight into that. He didn’t blow himself up. He had a grenade, no powers, and his armor was in bad shape. Killing himself wasn’t as important to him as hurting the heroes, though. It would be a lot worse for the heroes to have depowered him, sent him plunging to his death, and be unable to save him(despite his desire to not be saved).

    People do some pretty bad stuff for unreasonable reasons, though. Check out some Weird News stories sometime and you’ll see some examples (Awww, a couple had their first date…and dined and dashed…and were chased down and caught with crack paraphenalia…romantic. Maybe the injured guy that hijacked the ambulance that arrived so he could drive himself to the hospital can be their getaway driver next time).

    For one thing, you can tell he’s real egotistical and it’s all about himself. He’s also a little hypocritical. He is downplaying the importance of the unpowered heroes even as he thinks negatively of power-reliant heroes, and using a scheme that relies heavily on powers and would have gone much better if he’d done the smart thing and just depowered his enemy instead, even after making it a point to beat the heroes in smart ways. Even though he’s depicted as smarter along certain lines, I think he’s really lacking in other areas that would aid him socially. He wasn’t running around in power armor before he got his superpowers, though, so maybe he’s changed more than he has realized…

    Thanks for the positive responses. I know the names stink, but the original way this story came to me didn’t have anything named. This story stuck with me so much because it was a dream I had. Obviously some things were expanded to make it work as a story, but almost all important things were in there, including his plan for defeating his nemesis by luring the other heroes in that way. The dream itself ended just before Tracy and Horned girl showed up with the device, although the part about the identity and detectives was in it too.

    None of the names I used belong to anyone or anywhere I know, so if you run across someone with those names, it’s just a coincidence. Also, I like the idea of a no-good seeming goth kid with piercings being the one to go all Captain America super patriotic, but that was somewhat influenced by a short story I read once. In that, it was more like a latino gangmember-looking kid going out as a dark, Shadow-type hero at night, but that’s also a slight spoiler if I tell the name of the story.

    It feels awesome to realize you came up with a brilliant supervillain scheme like that in your sleep. I just don’t feel so good about pointing out stuff about the villain’s mind like this because while I know this stuff can’t all be obvious, explaining it feels like I did a poorer job of writing.

    • “For one thing, you can tell he’s real egotistical and it’s all about himself and what he wants.” would work better, as his goal at the end is in direct opposition to most peoples’ goal of staying alive. Still, he didn’t know he was going to be depowered (that smart plan backfired). And he was NOT gonna be depowered and sent to jail.

      • Looking it up, that’s a little bit eerie too. Never heard of the whole “Mall” thing before, but I wasn’t really going for any Holmes parallels. It’s just that for some reason I dreamed of a mall being right by a big ole dam, which wouldn’t be a horrible way to merge sightseeing and commercialism.

  8. I noticed the same things, at least the first two, also this:

    “So it’s up to her, what we do here”

    Missing punctuation mark. Confused me as to who was speaking. I got the impression that Charlotte would’ve phrased it as a question and Lisa would’ve simply stated it.

    • Punctuation still missing from “So it’s up to her, what we do here” (also, not sure the comma should be there).

      Unrelated: wildbow, do you have a favorite Skidmark quote for his Sir Swearsalot entry on TV Tropes?

  9. For what it’s worth, I’ve been picturing the tessaract beings as resembling jellyfish, octopuses and those intricate little deep sea creatures.

  10. “people acting like kids who would put animals in a cage and shake it set them on each other”

    Looks like there’s an error in there, either missing a comma or just a forgotten edit to take out part of the sentence.

  11. “To perceptions attuned to three dimensions, it seemed to constantly shift, each side folding or reshaping so that they could all simultaneously be perfect cubes, and each ‘side’ was simultaneously the center cube from which all the others extended outward.”

    This is wrong. The video/gif you’re thinking of shows a *rotating* tesseract. The projection of a non-moving tesseract into 3 dimensions won’t move for the same reason that the projection of a non-moving cube into 2 dimension won’t move, it will just show a figure (usually a square) that’s perfectly still.

    • Also, a tesseract has eight cubic hyperfaces, not six as mentioned. If also contains infinite cubes, just as a cube contains infinite squares. It is quite impossible to visualize a tesseract, or anything above four dimentions, really.

  12. “Knowing I wouldn’t be able to beat him in any contest of strength, I threw myself to one side, landing hard on the ground and nearly tripping Senegal.”
    I’d go for landed and tripped here – you’re describing finite actions.

    • That would be smart, but since Dragon has already figured her out, it’s probably pointless, though Taylor does not know that. I wonder how much psychology Wildbow put onto that, maybe Taylor subconsciously wants to get outed. It would end her victim status, and obviate all the lying to her Dad, etc. Take off the mask, put the cards on the table. The part where she might end up in the birdcage is not so attractive, but subconciouses say the damnedest things.

      • Quite. I suspect she’s only maintaining the masquerade at this point for her dad’s sake (even though it means every conversation with him has to be a lie): if she was out, others would know that he was important to her, and would try to get at her through him.

        (This is, as far as I can see, the only justifiable reason for a masquerade at all. I don’t know why on earth the Protectorate bothers with one: sure, it’s a bit cheaper than giving the families and friends of those with powers police protection, but it’s also a lot less safe, given that the masquerade fails the moment someone’s mask falls off. Though superhero masks *do* seem to be incredibly hard to remove accidentally, far harder than masks in the real world, more like masks in opera.)

    • This is something that bugged me on my first read, and now going back through it this is the first chapter that I can ask this question without spoiling anything for new readers:

      If nearby capes can tell when someone triggers, why did Sophia not realize her bullying had triggered Taylor? Did she push her in the locker and immediately haul ass, or something?

      • I don’t think Taylor triggered as soon as shoved in – she probably did after at least some minutes in the cramped space, after all hope of rescue had gone. Who knows how long she was there?
        Also, the visions seem to fade from memory… and Sophia doesn’t know their significance. What if she did see something. but didn’t know what it was, and later just forgot?

  13. Oo … rainbow colored gravity well! Heinlein on psychedelics, anyone? Though most of the Merchant’s don’t strike me as big readers.

    Edits:
    ” … move out of formation to deliver with the enemy with a few decisive hits … ”
    Several ways to fix; I think I’d just drop both withs (that sounds weird, but you know).

    I think I’d use something larger than single hyphens for the breaks for Taylor’s vision. Maybe em-dashes?

  14. Oooh I love this chapter if for nothing else, for the tantalizing hint at the greater depth and mythology arc to this story. So all powered people got glimpses of whatever it was that Miss Militia saw during her trigger event when this new kid triggered near them. Interesting. Very interesting. And it’s a 4D multidimensional creature? Multiple 4D multidimensional creatures? “Like viruses.” That does not bode well for a multidimensional something that is as big as a planet. Doesn’t bode well at all…Damn it Taylor why did you have to go and knock Lisa out of letting us in on the overarching plot! Oooh I can’t wait to see where this heads! Plus we have the whole thing coinciding with Faultline’s crew researching the bottled powers. A cleverly disguised seemingly innocuous chapter which in actuality is likely a major plot mover.

    Hmm, so Charlotte has figured out that both Taylor and Lisa are supers. And she was saved by Taylor. I sense a minion in the works here…busy little bee our Taylor, already has successfully repelled an invasion attempt and has two potential minions less than a day after taking her territory. The girl would make an exceptional evil overlord at this rate.

    Also typo in “Countless mirror moved in sync with one another” should be “mirrors”.

  15. A tesseract is made up of 8 cubical chambers, 24 square faces, 32 edges, and 16 vertices. This comes from the way the paths along which the 6 faces of the original cube are “dragged” trace out a cube each, the 12 edges trace out faces, and the 8 vertices trace out edges, as well as the 2 cubes, 12 faces, and 16 vertices of the “beginning” and “end”.

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