Plague 12.3

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“Fuck!” Grue swore the second his boat hit land.

“Let me guess,” Regent remarked to Bitch, “He’s been swearing since we left.”

Bitch nodded.

The Travelers had already arrived.  They stood in a huddle by the water while Genesis disintegrated into several vague floating body parts.

“Coil just bent us over and fucked us,” Grue said.

“I dunno,” Tattletale answered.  “That might have been the only way for him to play things, with the way his power and operations work.”

“That would do a hell of a lot more to ease my concerns if I had any idea what his power was.”

Tattletale only offered an apologetic half-smile and a shrug to that.

I tried to help her out.  “Look, we do know that Coil is smart, he’s proud, and he’s at his best when he’s managing his enterprise.  Being cooped up, he’d be hit hard in all three areas.  Limited tools to work with, limited access to his people, and he’d be less powerful in a way that everyone would be aware of.”

“That doesn’t excuse how thoroughly he just screwed us, without even trying to help us out.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think he’s completely screwed us over.  We know Coil’s got at least one undercover agent, Trainwreck-“

Tattletale interrupted to say, “He’s got a whole lot more than one.”

“Thought he might.  Doesn’t it make sense that he’d assist us by being one himself?  I get the impression he likes the control it affords him and the amount of information he can get this way.”

“Maybe,” Grue conceded.

“We should focus on where we go from here,” I said.

“Agreed,” Trickster called out.

Genesis had finished disappearing, and Trickster was walking over to our group, followed by Sundancer and Ballistic.  He extended a hand for Grue to shake, then turned to Tattletale, me, Regent and Bitch to do the same.  Bitch didn’t take his hand, turning away to focus on her dogs instead.  Trickster took the snub in stride.  “If nothing else, I’m glad we get a chance to talk.  Unless things get a lot worse from here, I’m hoping we’ll all be working side by side for a little while.”

“Let’s hope,” Grue agreed.

Trickster said, “We just sent Genesis back in a more discreet form to listen in.”

“Imp is staying behind as well,” Tattletale informed him, “So we’ve got redundancy there.”

“Christ,” Grue snapped his head from one side to the next, as if he could spot his sister that way.  With a note of alarm in his voice, he asked, “Imp’s still there?”

“She’s okay,” Tattletale reassured him, “They won’t notice her.”

“They could.  We don’t know how consistently her power works, or if it works in a group that large, and we can’t be sure we know every power the people there have, if anyone has some extra senses that might bypass her ability.  Fuck!  This is the exact type of situation I wanted to keep her away from.  The whole reason I let her join this group was to keep her close enough that I could rein in this sort of recklessness.”

“She’s a bit of a rebel, but she’s not stupid,” Tattletale said, “Trust her to hold her own.”

“I wouldn’t trust myself to hold my own in her shoes,” Grue told her.  “Christ.  Skitter, can you send a few bugs over that way, tell me if she’s in one piece?”

I nodded, while Trickster slapped his forehead.

“The bugs,” he said, “I could have told Genesis to stick around while you scouted, wait, no.  Why send Imp if you have the bugs?”

“I can’t see or hear through the swarm, really.  Not well enough to listen in.”

“You did once,” Tattletale told me.

That surprised me.  “When?”

“After the fight with Bakuda.  You were doped up, hurt, you had a concussion, but you were able to tell us the kind of music someone was listening to, and he was way out of earshot.”

“Seriously?  And you didn’t tell me this?”

Grue shook his head.  “Just speaking for myself, I had a lot on my mind, between you and the others being in rough shape and the ABB setting off bombs across the city.  I completely forgot until just now.  Sorry.”

Tattletale nodded.

“That’s huge,” I said, “Do you know how much I could use something like that?”

“Why can’t you now?” Trickster asked.

“Bugs sense things so differently, my brain can’t translate what they see and hear into something I can process.  It’s all black and white blotches, high-pitched squeals and bass throbs.”  I paused.  “Imp’s perfectly fine, by the way.  At least, I can’t find her, but nobody’s reacting like they found a spy in their midst.”

Grue sighed, “Okay.”

“So this sensory part of your power, you stopped trying?” Tattletale asked.

The way she phrased that nettled me.  “In the three months between my getting my powers and first going out in costume, I saw zero improvement in that department.  None, zilch.  When I did start going out in costume, I was worried the useless sights and sounds might distract me at some crucial juncture.  Between that and the fact that it was like hitting my head against a metaphorical brick wall…”

“You gave up,” Regent said.  He was trying to get on my nerves, I knew it.

“I stopped trying.  But now that I know it’s somehow possible, I dunno.  I can start looking for a way.”

The degree to which it would expand my capabilities, it was tempting.  That kind of expansion of my sensory abilities could be a matter of life and death at some point.  I could theoretically listen in on most of the people in my territory.  Would I want to, though?  The invasiveness of that kind of creeped me out, and I had a pretty high creepiness tolerance.

“It might be like your range boosts.  Tied to your mental state,” Tattletale said.

“Except my range boosts are probably linked to me feeling trapped, and I somehow doubt I felt that way when I was doped up and waking up in that hospital bed or ambulance or wherever.”

“It’s something you can work through,” she said.  “And now that you know to look for it, you should push yourself to use that part of your power so you can see when it’s stronger or weaker.”

I nodded, and willed myself to tear down all the mental barriers and safeguards that walled my brain off from the sights and sounds the bugs wanted to send my way.

It was every bit as grating and annoying as I recalled.  This would take some getting used to.

“Listen,” Trickster said.  “Ballistic’s HQ is close by.  Since my group is going to be waiting for Genesis, and you guys will want to hang around and pick up Imp when she’s done, maybe you want to come by and we can discuss strategy in the meantime?”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Grue said.  “Thanks.”

Ballistic gestured toward a nearby street and we all started walking in that direction.

Grue started us off.  “Number one, we know that they were here to recruit.  Who were they recruiting?”

“Me,” Regent said.  That drew a few looks of surprise from the Travelers.  He elaborated, “My sister is their newest member, replaced Hatchet Face.  She did it to fuck with me more than out of a genuine desire to have me join.”

“Armsmaster is another,” I pointed out.  “According to Miss Militia, Mannequin wanted him.”

“The, uh, sixth member of the Travelers is the next recruit, I guess,” Trickster admitted.  “Crawler hit Coil’s place.”

“Sixth?” I asked.  “If there’s four of you, then-“

“We have two group members who don’t see any combat.  They spend most or all of their time at Coil’s headquarters.  I understand if that raises a lot of questions, but I –we– would really appreciate it if you guys could leave it at that for now.  I’m thinking we’ll introduce you to the others soon.”

“I’m okay with dropping it so long as you’re not withholding anything crucial,” Grue said.  “I’m happy to stay on topic as much as possible anyways.”

Trickster tipped his hat.  “Appreciated.  Looked like Hookwolf got hit.  His entire group did.  Shatterbird?”

“Yeah,” Tattletale replied.  “Can confirm that one.”

“Shatterbird, Crawler, Mannequin and…” I trailed off, looking at Regent for help in placing the name.

“Cherish.”

“If the condition of Faultline’s crew was any indication,” Tattletale said, “We can make an educated guess that Burnscar paid them a visit.  Thing is, I can’t even begin to guess who she visited.  Spitfire’s too nice, and none of the others really have the, I dunno, edge?”

“In any case, that leaves the people who Jack, Siberian and Bonesaw nominated.  Any ideas?”

I glanced across our groups.  Nobody moved to reply.

“Maybe they’re not done?” Sundancer spoke up, “Or maybe some of them aren’t picking new members?”

Maybe they’re not done,” Tattletale spoke, “But I think they are.  From what I’ve read on them, and from what my power is giving me, I have the distinct impression they all would have made some kind of move by now.  They either hit all at once, shock and awe, or they draw it out.  This is the former.”

“But are they all picking new members?”

Tattletale shrugged.  “No clue.  We know of four, at least.”

Ballistic led us into a parking garage.  We walked between rows of cars that had been pummelled by the floodwater.  Panels had been dented, windows shattered, and some of the cars had been lifted and pushed into one another.

Sundancer formed a tiny ‘sun’ and held it up for light, while Regent turned on the flashlight he’d brought.  We descended into the bowels of the garage, and stopped at the ramp between the second level down and the third.  It had collapsed, and both rubble and two or three cars sat in the water that flooded the floor below.

“This way,” Ballistic said.  He grabbed a length of pipe that stuck out where the ramp had collapsed and climbed down.  Trickster gestured and we moved to follow.

Clever, clever.  Out of sight from any vantage point on the level above, short walls had been set around the fallen ramp.  They ensured that the flooding and the wreckage were all contained to one area to sell the illusion, and kept everything else on the lowest level of the basement dry.  Cars had been removed, clearing the area for use as an underground base.

Ballistic pulled off his mask and tossed it onto the bed that sat in one corner.  He cleared a few dirty dishes from the table in the middle of the area and invited us to sit while he fetched some extra seats.

He had a bit of a heavy brow and a snub nose, and his short brown hair, damp with sweat, made me think of the jocks that always seemed to gravitate towards Sophia.  Still, he wasn’t a bad looking guy.  If a guy like him had asked me out in some alternate universe where Emma had never stopped being my friend and I’d never been bullied?  Just going by his looks, I might have said yes.

Trickster unmasked as well.  He definitely didn’t remind me of one of the jocks.  His hair was longer than many girls wore theirs, he had light brown skin and an unfortunate hook nose.  Combined with his intense stare, he gave me the impression of a hawk or some other bird of prey.

Grue, Tattletale and Regent all unmasked as well while they got themselves seated.  Trickster offered each of them a cigarette, then offered one to me.  I turned him down, as did the others.

“So what are we discussing here?” Sundancer asked from behind me.  I turned and saw a rather attractive blonde girl with a long neck and delicate features.  Her hair was expertly pinned up behind her head.  “I was under the impression that the Slaughterhouse Nine were pretty much unbeatable.”

“No,” Brian said.  “Some of them, maybe, but others are as vulnerable as you or me.  Thing is, Dinah told us that our odds against these bastards aren’t good.  Our chances of winning are pretty low, and it’s pretty damn likely we’ll get killed if we confront them head on.”

“So we don’t confront them head on,” Trickster said.

Feeling conspicuous as the only one with a mask on, I pulled mine off.  It took me a second to adjust to the blue tint that everything had after I’d spent over an hour looking through the pale yellow lenses of my mask.  I realized Trickster was setting up a laptop.  He placed it at one corner of the table, facing the rest of us.

“Oliver?”

“I’m here, Trickster,” a male voice came from the computer.

“Feel like patching in Noelle?”

“Sure.  She’s in an okay mood.  A little drowsy.  I’ll be right back.”

Trickster pressed a button on the keyboard and then turned to us, “Tattletale.  I’ll be as quick as I can.  Coil promised he’d get you to help us, but he’s taken his time introducing you to our group.  The cynic in me suspects there’s a reason, and the pessimist in me says that reason is that he’s already figured out what you’re going to tell us, and it isn’t going to be pretty.”

“Okay.”  Tattletale was all business.

“Noelle’s going to ask you for help.  Lie to her.  Tell her you’re already on it.  Roll with it if she gets angry, or if she gets impatient.  She’s sensitive.  I don’t know how your power works, really, but if you realize whatever it is that Coil doesn’t want us to know, don’t tell Noelle.”

“She’s the one Crawler visited?” I asked.

Trickster nodded once.

“Hello?’  A girl’s voice came from the computer.  Trickster hit a key, which I assumed was to take himself off mute.  He hit another combination of keys and a webcam feed snapped up to cover the screen.

Noelle had long brown hair and she wore a red sweatshirt.  She looked like someone who was ill.  She was horribly pale, she had dark circles under her sunken eyes, and her lips were chapped.  I was reminded of drug addicts in an early stage of addiction, where they were deteriorating because the drugs took a higher priority than taking care of themselves.  Was Coil drugging her too?

”Noelle, “ Trickster said, “You’ve asked to be included more.  I thought you’d be okay with this?”

She nodded.

“Left to right, we have Grue, Regent, Skitter, Bitch and Tattletale.”

There wasn’t a flicker of a smile or any interest on her face until she heard that last name.  “Tattletale?”

“Noelle,” Tattletale spoke, “It’s nice to finally meet you.  Listen, I’m working on your situation.  Coil’s filled me in on the basics and I’m chasing down some leads, but something’s come up with the Slaughterhouse Nine, and everything’s on hold until we can be sure they won’t try to kill us in the meantime.”

I could see Trickster tense.  Was Noelle so high strung or desperate that she’d throw a tantrum over being asked to wait?

“Coil was telling the truth,” Noelle said, in a small voice, “You can help?”

“Honestly?  I don’t know.  But I’m a fucking genius when it comes to getting answers, and Coil’s got all the resources in the world.  If there’s help to be had, we’ll give it to you.”

“How soon before you know?”

“No idea.  I don’t think it’ll be as fast as you want, but it’s doable, and it won’t take so long that you should give up.”

“Okay.”

“In the meantime,” Trickster cut in, giving Tattletale a thumbs-up gesture from a position outside of the laptop’s  field of view, “We need our old field commander’s brain on the Slaughterhouse Nine sitch.”

“A distraction would be nice,” Noelle smiled for the first time.

Field commander.  She used to be the leader of their group?  I wondered if I could dig up any information about her if I hunted far enough back.

I could see Brian fidget under the table.  He wasn’t liking the constant distractions from the subject at hand.

“Eight enemies,” Trickster said.  “Now, I’m not a serious player of the game, I’m sorry to any of you Undersiders who are irritated by the way I’m about to butcher it, but the way I see it, their leader is like the king in chess.  More raw power than a pawn, but in the end, he’s simultaneously the second weakest piece in the game and the one everything hinges on.  We take him down without getting massacred in the process, I think we win.”

“Jack Slash,” Noelle said.

“Right.  Siberian’s like the queen.  She’s fast, mobile, one of the strongest physically, and the bitch of the matter is, she can’t be taken off the board, and she can’t be contained.  A special queen, if you will.  Physically she’s an unstoppable force and an immovable object any time she wants to be.”

To my right, Bitch picked up the puppy and settled it in her lap.  It curled up and nestled against the cupped circle of her arms and hands.

“Then there’s Crawler, who visited us the other night.  Maybe not as fast or agile as Siberian, and he can be contained, but he can’t be taken off the board.  A special rook.”

“I’m wondering how far you can stretch this chess analogy, Trickster,” Ballistic commented.

Trickster ignored him.  “Shatterbird and Burnscar are like bishops.  They’ve got mobility, reach, and they can bury you damn fast if you don’t have the right kind of cover.”

“What about Mannequin?  Another rook?”  I asked.

“I’d peg him a knight.  He’s more close range, but he’ll catch you from an oblique angle, maybe slip past whatever defences you think you have.”

“Which leaves Cherish and Bonesaw,” Grue said.  “We’ll have to trust Regent to give us the details on Cherish.”

Regent nodded and tapped his finger against his chin, “My sister.  I don’t know if you could call her a third bishop or a knight.  Long range on her power, gets stronger as she gets closer.  Affects your emotions and as far as I’m aware, there’s no way to defend against it or to take cover.  If she decides she wants to hurt you or make you hurt yourself, she can find you and she’ll make it happen.”

“But she has no special defences,” Grue cut in.  “She’s vulnerable to pretty much any knife, gun or power we can hit her with.”

“Can we gang up on her?” Sundancer asked.

“She can affect multiple people at once,” Regent said.  “So it’s not that easy.”

“That means we have to beat her at her own game,” Trickster mused, “Track her, beat her in long-range warfare.”

“I could use puppets to go after her,” Regent said, “But she can paralyze them with the kind of uncontrolled physical reactions I can’t cover with my power.  I am immune to her, for all the good that does.”

“How far does her offensive range extend?” I asked.

“No clue.  I’d guess she can sense emotions across the entire city, which is how she’s finding people, but in terms of attack? I don’t have any basis to make a guess.  Farther than my dad, Heartbreaker, but not city-wide, no.”

“The ability to track us by our emotions is a good enough reason to take her out of action ASAP,” Trickster said.  “So long as she’s active, it’ll be that much harder to catch the others off guard.”

“Maybe…” I started, then I hesitated.  Feeling the pressure of everyone’s attention on me, I said, “…Maybe my power will outrange hers?  Not in terms of what we see and sense, but in terms of who can do more damage from further away?”

“It’s a thought,” Grue agreed, “Risky, but we don’t have many options.  Trickster, where does Bonesaw fit into your analogy?”

Trickster shook his head, “She doesn’t.  She’s relatively weak in terms of raw power, but her presence on the field threatens to change the rules.  She’s a medical tinker.  The medical tinker.  So long as she’s in play, we can’t be certain of our enemy’s attack power, we can’t know that any enemy we clear from the field will stay gone, and there could be harsh penalties if they catch or kill one of us.  It sucks to think about, but if Bonesaw got her hands on, say, Sundancer, I’d be a hell of a lot more worried than if Hookwolf or Skidmark did.”

Sundancer muttered something to Ballistic, but I couldn’t make it out.

“What about our side?” Noelle asked.

“Lots of playing pieces, not all cooperating, and we have one debatable advantage,” Trickster said, “We know in advance, pretty much for a fact, that if any of us, Undersider or Traveler, try to fight these bastards, we’re going to lose, and we’ll lose hard.”

“Tattletale say that?” Noelle asked.

“Coil did,” Trickster answered.

Odd.  So Noelle was staying with Coil, but she didn’t know about Dinah?  Another secret or white lie from her team?

“I can’t help but think of the Desecrated Monk scenario,” Noelle said.  I saw Trickster, Sundancer and Ballistic all nodding.  When I turned to my team, they looked as confused as I was.  Was this Desecrated Monk someone the Travelers had gone up against at some point before they came to Brockton Bay?

“Go on,” Trickster encouraged her.

“The rules are unfair.  Half of our opponents are pretty blatantly cheating.  But we have to deal with them anyways.  So either we cheat back-“

“Which we can’t.”

“Or you guys handle it the way we did it before.  You don’t fight the way they want to fight.”

“Okay,” Trickster nodded, “So the first question we ask ourselves is how they want to play this.  What do they want?  In terms a five-year-old could understand.”

“They want their ninth member,” I said.

“Right.”

“They want to hurt, scare and kill people,” Tattletale put in her two cents.

“Why?”

“Reputation, entertainment,” Tattletale said, “These guys are monsters, and pretty much anyone who watches T.V., surfs the web, or reads the papers knows it.”

I saw it out of the corner of my eye.  Noelle’s expression shifted all at once from being animated and engaged to the same look she’d worn when the webcam feed first went live.  Disinterested, hurt, hopeless.

She’d been scouted.  Unlike Regent, it hadn’t been to mess with her.  It had been because a freak like Crawler legitimately thought she was one of them.

If Tattletale was sitting next to me, I would have kicked her under the table.

Noelle suddenly perked up, saying, “They want to hunt.  They’re predators.”

“Okay, how can we use that?” Trickster leaned forward to look at the screen.

“They want to be the predators, we make them prey,” Noelle said.  She was looking more animated again.

“Not sure that’s possible, but keep going.”

“It’s not possible because, um.  You described them like they’re chess pieces, and we’re thinking in terms of a chess game.  What if we changed the game?”

“I always preferred Go,” Trickster said, “But Go is about territory, give and take, less about aggression than an educational sparring match between two master swordsmen, each walking away with a new kernel of knowledge.  Go applies more to taking over the city than it does to this scenario.”

“Shogi?” Noelle suggested.

Shogi.  I got her meaning almost immediately, and I wasn’t alone. Tattletale, the Travelers and I all looked at Regent.

Regent, Bitch and Grue, for their parts, were left looking bewildered.

“Maybe you should clarify?” Grue suggested.

“Shogi is an Eastern variant of chess,” I said, “Some of the pieces move a little differently, though I can’t remember how.  But the big difference is that there’s a rule that says you can take any of the opponent’s pieces you’ve captured and place them on the board as your own.”

“More or less right,” Trickster said.

“So the question becomes,” Grue thought aloud, “Who can we beat in an indirect confrontation, capture and control?”

“Jack, Bonesaw-“ I said.

Grue shook his head.  “They know they’re vulnerable.  Either they’ll be watching their backs or the others will watch their backs for them.”

Regent said, “Siberian is out, and while we might theoretically be able to catch and contain Crawler or Mannequin, I dunno if we could keep them still long enough for me to use my power on them.  If I can.  Their bodies are different.”

I counted the enemies off on one hand, “Leaving Cherish-“

Regent shook his head, “She knows me, has measures in place.”

“Burnscar and Shatterbird,” I finished.

“The bishops,” Trickster said.

“Easier said than done,” Grue sighed.

Noelle’s face disappeared from the webcam, and a blond boy popped up in its place.  Oliver?  “Trickster, Genesis is waking up.  She’s done whatever you had her doing.”

“Long stint,” Trickster replied, “She’ll be groggy.”

“That means Imp is probably done too,” Grue spoke.

“She’ll need a ride back,” I finished his thought.

“Should leave her there for a bit as punishment for staying behind,” Grue grumbled.  Still, he stood and pulled on his helmet.  “But it’s not worth the grief she’ll give me.”

“Softie.” Tattletale grinned.

“Are you coming back?” Trickster asked.

“How long will it be before Genesis is able to brief us on the meeting?”

“Fifteen, twenty minutes?”

“Then we’ll be back to finish the strategy session,” Grue responded.

Trickster turned to his teammates, “Mind giving Noelle and me a minute to talk?”  Sundancer and Ballistic stood.

Joined by the two Travelers, we made our way up the disguised ladder to the second sub-level of the parking garage.  As one of the last to head up, I saw the adorable sight of Bitch managing the sleeping puppy, tucking it against her body with one arm so she could scale the ladder one-handed.

As she reached the top, I could hear Sundancer cooing, “It’s so cute.  Is it a he or a she?”

“He.”

“What’s his name?”

“Bastard.”

“I’m guessing you named him?” Regent asked, as I reached the top and stepped down onto solid ground.  I missed Bitch’s response.  Had she nodded?

“I was surprised you brought him tonight,” Grue said, being remarkably delicate about the fact that Bitch had undercut any presence our group had by bringing the cute ball of fluff.  It would have been better if he’d brought it up earlier, but he might have felt the same way I did about provoking Bitch before a major event, when she’d been so short tempered lately.

Bitch’s response was surprisingly verbose.  “Had to.  For the first year and a half, he’s going to be like a dog.  Need to train him as much as I can, get him used to me.  It’ll be too hard if I wait.”

Like a dog?” I asked.  In the corner of my eye, I could see Tattletale’s expression change as she looked at the dog, clearly realizing something.  As fast as I could turn her way to try and piece together what that was, something else got her attention.

“Shit,” she breathed.  She clutched at my arm with one hand and at Bitch’s with the other, stepping back to pull us with her.  Bitch pulled her arm from Tattletale’s grip, looking angry at the invasion of personal space.

“Oh fuck,” I muttered, as I saw through the darkness to spot what Tattletale’s power had noticed first.

Four of the Slaughterhouse Nine were stepping through the entrance of the parking garage.  The Siberian was in the lead, her waist-length hair blowing in the wind from outside, her eyes practically glowing in the gloom.  Behind her, Jack Slash held Bonesaw’s hand as the young girl skipped to make it so she only walked on the yellow lines that divided the lanes.  They were accompanied by a young woman who might’ve been eighteen or so years old, who bore a striking resemblance to Alec.  Cherish.  None of them wore costumes.  The Siberian didn’t wear anything.  She was as nude as the day she’d been born, her skin patterned with stripes of alabaster white and jet black.

Jack Slash noticed us, and his his eyes drifted around the arch that led from the parking garage to the wet outdoors.  He smiled, “This is not an exit.”

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45 thoughts on “Plague 12.3

  1. Honestly I would think with Trickster’s teleportation gimick it would be too dangerous to bring vulnerable targets like Jack Slash and Bonesaw around him. At least when his teammates are willing to kill them.

  2. Oh God, I just had the horrible thought of what Taylor would be like if she wanted to kill someone.
    “It’s not the wasp that’s going to kill you, nope. It’s the imported Hydrophis Belcheri venom that I coated the stinger in. It’s arguably the most deadly snake in the world. You have oh…roughly 15 minutes. Maybe 30.” She could be terrifying, if she fell off the edge. Which I suppose is the point. It’d be so easy, and that’s what scares me.

    P.S.
    I bow to you for making such wonderful…people. Really, it’s what you’ve made, and what most writers hope to do. Make a person. With loves, hates, hopes, weakness, Flawed and at the same time, Perfect. A slow clap that builds into a roaring wave of joy to you.

    • Any bug will be deadly if she really lets loose and have ants, centipedes and beetles (to a lessor extent) attack a human the same way they kill small mammals and birds; they might not be able to break the skin, but they just bore their way into the soft orifices of the eyes, mouth, and anus, then ravage the internal organs from the inside out.

      If Skitters willing to kill she doesn’t need anything more than the average small bugs of the city environment, she just needs a good deal of them (a rucksack’s worth or so).

      She was a terrifying monster from day one, the discussion on black widows and other fancy bugs is just adding sniper rifles and mortars to an already deadly infantry bridge.

  3. To the egress!

    If this is a test, it is slightly less likely to be one of Regent or Bitch.

    If this is a straight up fight, then things are about to get very, very bad for our protagonists, though a couple of things can help. How do the Slaughterhousers feel about their members being taken hostage?

    This MIGHT be them stopping by to talk. In their current, unprepared state, that is the best the Undersiders and Travelers can hope for.

      • …Or that Skitter can convince Bonesaw that building a giant enemy crab is more fun than killing her. Then she can control its weak point and do massive damage.

      • The best they can hope for is that Trickster swaps himself with Jack, then swaps out with some other object out of range, and one of the other villains kills jack. Repeat with Bonesaw, and then teleport juggle the other two off into the distance.

        • Remember, distance doesn’t actually matter with Jack. He can cut you from anywhere. Presumably behind any cover or armour. And I’m sure his blades are kept extra sharp.

          As the King on the chess board, he’s a special king, who can take out any pawn anywhere on the board at any time.

          Hg

    • Unless they find out that Bonesaw’s control mechanisms work about the same as an insect’s brain, they better hope for a long talk. My reason believing that they aren’t there for testing is because, as Jack Slash said, they don’t normally test their own nominees. Since Cherish and Siberian are there, and they nominated Regent and Bitch, it is unlikely to be those two. Since Noelle isn’t there, that makes little reason for them to come for a test.

      The Undersiders could get away via giant dog, seeing as Siberian and Hack Job are the best that group of Slaughterers could bring in terms of mobility.

  4. Let’s hope they’re here to talk, a fight won’t go well.

    Regent and Bitch are wildcards but perhaps Alec is reliable because he told them he got scouted up front. Bitch likes the puppy so maybe she sides with Siberian and then they’re physically outmatched. Cherish counters Regent but can maybe mess with everyone else simultaneously.

    Bonesaw probably brought unseen friends if it’s a fight, not seeing them so far might be a good sign. Skitter should bug and track them while working on listening in.

    Is Siberian vulnerable from a distance? A juggernaut “when she wants to” sort of implies it takes awareness. A poisoned bug or Regent’s power might help when she’s distracted.

    • I remembered her about halfway through. Wondered if she’d actually been left behind, or if she was using her power so effectively that our narrator couldn’t tell she was there and so didn’t mention her.

      It makes me wonder how long she’s actually been with the Undersiders, in fact. Maybe she was there all through Taylor’s introduction to the group, just keeping herself hidden??

  5. Since Lisa has already figured out that the cub is wold not a dog and jump to the conclusion of where she got it and what that means, in ensuing fight Bitch either ends up stabbing her teammates in the back or will have some explaining to do after the fight. If she manages to figure that out by herself it might actually prompt her to take the former course of action to avoid the latter.

    Of course if they fight and actually mange to take out or at least wound one of the nine by a lucky shock, it would really enhance their reputation, but giving the power levels displayed here this might not be that easy.

    Possible scenario:

    Cherish uses her power on Skitter accidentally switching her powers into overdrive while trying to cripple her with feelings of despair and helplessness. (Creating negative feelings in people whose powers get enhanced by certain negative feelings has to be a real danger for Cherish in general when using her power on capes). Since Jack and Bonesaw are too important to the story, it will either be Cherish herself or the Siberian who would become the victim of such and attack. I can’t see how the Siberian would be vulnerable to insect attacks, maybe Noelle breaks out an eats her in the confusion. They don’t appear there for Noelle since the member who tried to recruit her is not with them and they might not be prepared for her if Cherish’s power did not locate her.

      • I missed that, I assumed that the video-link was just to some vault deeper in the base and did not realize that she most likely, unless otherwise noted, was in the same place she was seen last.

      • I’m guessing, Wildbow, that you’ve given away the fact that Trickster’s powers don’t work that far away. Either that or you’re engaging in a little authorial meta-indirection, which hasn’t been your style in the past.

        Heck, if they DID work at that distance, he could swap Noelle with one of the Nine (maybe Siberian) who would then be all locked up nice and tight. (Although how long that would hold her is anyone’s guess at this point.)

        Hg

        • Trickster’s powers are sight dependent, and his speed/ease of being able to swap is dependent on distance (not as much as one might suspect) and difference in mass – too much of one or the other and it’s not doable in any reasonable amount of time. The problem here is both awareness (he doesn’t necessarily know what’s happening) and sight: He can’t see Noelle (who is at Coil’s base with Oliver & Genesis) or the Slaughterhouse Nine (who are upstairs, while he’s downstairs talking with Noelle via. webcam).

  6. Cherish, Siberian, Bonesaw and Jack against Skitter, Grue, Tattletale, Regent and, perhaps, Bitch.
    Low chance of survival for this second group.
    Besides, the rest of the Slaughterhouse must be around.

  7. I just got through reading everything up to here in the past week or two. Excellent story.

    Baaad place to run out of updates, on my part. Waiting until Saturday to even begin learning how screwed everyone is? Going to suuuuck.

    In all seriousness, this is one of the best superhero stories I’ve read, your variety of powers and characters is impressive, and the only thing that seemed “missing” was an ability for Skitter (or others, but she’s the protagonist) to increase her powers in some way, which it now sounds like she might be about to start working on, if she lives (though I never expect her to be a pure powerhouse, the fact that she CAN gain more ability and control over her power to go along with her other skills is exciting for reasons I’m not entirely sure on).

    Basically, this is a wonderful and inspiring work of fiction. Many thanks!

    • Thanks for chiming in, GGG. I know all too well what that post-archive binge withdrawal feeling is like.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying. I wrote Worm to be the kind of story I’d want to read, and it’s gratifying that others are liking it. If it’s no trouble, a review or star rating out of 5 on Webfictionguide would be much appreciated, and I hope you do recommend the story to friends.

      • Been pointing this serial out to folks who have a ‘power’ sort of interest.

        Would like to note the rather disturbing imagery of previous chapters in regards no power or running water or the like is not that far from the truth. After losing power for two and a half days this week (no, no Leviathan attack) and struggling with food supplies and trying to stay cool in a horrific heat wave the reaction of the survivors in Skitter/Taylor’s AoR (Area of Responsibility) is definitely genuine and understandable.

        As far as this ‘meeting’ I suspect a different agenda on the part of the Nine. One of their traditional methods of spreading chaos is to offer themselves as mercenaries in a given community–then slaughtering the people who thought they could hire them. By showing up at this juncture, they’re putting a tremendous amount of pressure on the Undersiders and Travelers (even if they don’t reach an agreement) by the potential of being ‘seen’ with them. Especially after they refused the truce.

        Jack could also be trying to set the stage for the Nine to ‘leave town’ for a while so his prospective recruit can get ‘leveled up’. How that would happen would be anyone’s guess, but a ‘mock’ fight that was ‘thrown’ could potentially disrupt the city more than the Nine staying (and Jack would be alive to cause the mass death scenario a lot sooner somehow).

        • Thanks for spreading the word.

          Sorry circumstances suck. Though it is interesting to know things aren’t too off the mark as far as story goes. (I did research people’s reactions to disasters of a civilization-crumbling scale, but anecdotal verification is neat too).

          • 55 hours without power from 1230PM on Sunday until Tuesday evening. Fortunately, the water still worked and there was gas for the stove, but even with those amenities, 95+ Farenheit/high humidity made it rough. The refrigerator food (a month’s supply of various refrigerated and frozen items)–gone. It was too hot to cook. About the only ‘plus’ side to the whole scenario was being able to get a brief respite at the workplace, which had power and air conditioning (even if the break room was hotter than outdoors due to a cooling fault caused by the same storm system).

            And I was lucky. There’s still folks in our area without power and may not get it back for a week or more…

          • In an emergency like this, take the meat out of the refrigerator and salt it.
            Never happened to me, but people that passed trough it suggest coming back to this old method if the refrigerator is out for more than 12 hours.

          • Unfortunately, I had to work 16 of the first 24 hours and there was no one on hand to salt the meat. Good idea if you have the time and resources for it, though.

  8. I’m going to guess that the best we can hope for is that Tattletale can turn the Nine on each other. So far, the group seems to be surprisingly cohesive, but let’s hope that that’s more a matter of convenience and of shared goals than any actual loyalty.

    I’m also going to guess that Mannequin, at the very least, is hiding in the rafters somewhere.

    • Actually, I was guessing at a different possibility… that the other four are confronting the coalition…

      Also, it’s been pointed out in at least one chapter that they really *don’t* care for each other all that much, that the vast majority of them see each other as a ‘means to an end’ and Jack (if I remember correctly) has stated that if any of them slipped up they’d be replaced–including him.

  9. Four of the Slaughterhouse Nine were stepping through the entrance of the parking garage. The Siberian was in the lead, her waist-length hair blowing in the wind from outside, her eyes practically glowing in the gloom. Behind her, Jack Slash held Bonesaw’s hand as the young girl skipped to make it so she only walked on the yellow lines that divided the lanes. They were accompanied by a young woman who might’ve been eighteen or so years old, who bore a striking resemblance to Alec. Cherish. None of them wore costumes. The Siberian didn’t wear anything. She was as nude as the day she’d been born, her skin patterned with stripes of alabaster white and jet black.

    Jack Slash noticed us, and his his eyes drifted around the arch that led from the parking garage to the wet outdoors. He smiled, “This is not an exit.”

    Ten minutes later, we all sat in a circle around a roaring bonfire. Jack Slash had his guitar out, leading a singalong of “Kumbaya.” Or, he tried to at least. Alec was too busy being creeped out by the way Cherish was looking at him and suggestively posing, Grue was asking Siberian if she wanted a little bit more black on her, and Bonesaw’s thumbwar with Bitch was escalating into what might soon become a low-grade nuclear exchange. Only Lisa sang, and she seemed to be the only person who knew the actual words.

    Looking annoyed, Jack Slash lowered the guitar and pulled Bonesaw away from Bitch. He whispered something sharply into her ear, causing her to roll her eyes. I tensed as they both reached inside their pockets, but relaxed when they produced a bong and a bag of Brockton Bay Brown. Everyone knew about the finest local herb and its special place in the criminal underworld.

    It didn’t take long to put a circuit in place. Bitch tried to steal my puffs, but Grue elbowed her in the boob, so she passed it along to me with a wince, followed by a cough. Lightweight. We were all feeling much more mellow as Jack Slash took up the guitar again to begin his rendition of “Purple Haze” which bled into Slayer’s “Raining Blood” (which caused Siberian to smile wistfully like she was remembering good times) and then Erasure’s “A Little Respect”. Unfortunately, that’s when Bastard whined to Bitch and we all realized we had a horrible case of the munchies. I think Bonesaw was about to mention something about faces when Lisa cut her off and suggested we all hit up an all-night Chinese restaurant.

    That was how the group splintered. We lost track of Regent and Cherish somehow on the way there, but I’m sure they’ll be fine. Bitch stopped to pee behind a dumpster, and we tried to wait but after five minutes we decided we were too hungry and kept going. Around the city zoo, an escaping hippo, lion, giraffe, and four penguins grabbed Siberian and ran off for some reason. I swore I heard someone talking about freedom and being wild.

    We had a nice meal at the restaurant, but then the group split further as Lisa suggested to Bonesaw that she go look at what their food really was before they cooked it and called it duck. She then dragged me to the bathroom and told me, “We’re ditching. Give me a boost out of the window and help you out too.”

    “What about Grue?” I asked, not really feeling the idea. For some reason, man, the sound of that water flowing through the pipes really made me want to groove out.

    “If what I suspect is true, Grue’s going to be fine tonight. Now come on, we’re getting out of there.”

    So we made our escape, leaving Jack Slash and Grue alone in the restaurant to pay the bill. I didn’t think about Grue again until the next morning, when I was woken up at 7 am by an irate Grue. He was trying to yell at me while whisper, “What the HELL was that all about? You left me alone with Jack Slash!”

    I shook my head to clear out the cobwebs and to clear my face of hair. “What? Did something happen? And why are you trying to be so quiet?” I asked through parched lips. Why do I always forget about the cottonmouth?

    “Yeah something happened! That’s why I’m being quiet!…Jack Slash took me back to his place to…show me his knife,” Grue said, ending the sentence much more quietly than he began.

    Biting the insides of my cheeks, I tried to draw out enough spit to respond. “Huh? Are you hurt? Where are you?” I spoke frantically as I hopped out of bed and began to grab some clothes from my dresser.

    “I’m not hurt, just hurting…I’m right here by him…he’s asleep. That’s why I’m trying to be quiet. Skitter, he penetrated me last night. He sheathed the knife. Wet his stone. Sliced off a cut of dark meat. Engaged in swordplay. Carved the turkey. Buttered my bread. Butterflied my ham. What I’m trying to say is, he dual wielded katanas and got acquainted with my five rings. I hate you and Lisa so very very much right now.”

    • It’s moments like these when I feel really rewarded for reading all the comments during this pass through the story.

      It must have been quite an experience for Grue, too, given how far Jack can extend his blade…

  10. Good chapter, Wildbow. I, for one, deliberately refrained from commenting and speculating, putting Worm out of my mind so that the cliffhanger woudln’t drive me insane.

  11. Even before TT apparently sussed it, I found Bitch’s silence about her Siberian encounter to be truly ominous.

    ” … and his his eyes … ” I find it funny that PG copied the same double ‘his’ into his, um, addendum!

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