Interlude 13½ (Donation Bonus)

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“Sam!  Sam!”  Celia’s voice was grating and nasal.

“I’m coming!”  The heavyset man grumbled, as he made his way into the living room.  Celia sat on the floor between the couch and the coffee table.  The white of her t-shirt and panties was a stark contrast to her dark skin.  Sam leered at the woman.  She was good-looking for her age, slim, though her breasts sagged behind her shirt without the benefit of a bra.

“You said you were five minutes ago, asswipe.  Takes you five minutes to find your wallet?”

“Needed to piss.  Your fatass friend was in your bathroom, so I pissed in your sink.”

Celia kicked under the coffee table to strike his shin.

Sam just smiled and stepped back.  “Kidding.  I went off the fire escape.”

“That’s not any better!”

“It’s all water and shit down there.  Any place that doesn’t smell like hot garbage smells like a toilet.  Here.  Stop bitching.”  He threw a plastic movie rental card at her.

She cut open a plastic wrapped block of powder and shook a small amount of the powder onto the coffee table.  She used the laminated card to cut it into lines, a set on each side of the table, with none in front of her.

“You’re not having any?”

“I told you.  I’m pregnant.”

“You’re too old to be pregnant,” Sam commented.  She kicked him again.

“Not that old!”

Jennifer emerged from the washroom and stopped in the doorway, staring at the scene.

“I didn’t think you’d actually use any of the stuff.”

“Jen, hon,” Celia said, “We’ve got enough to go around.  Even if we only sold half, we’d be made in the shade for five or ten years.”

“And you just took it?”

“Leaders of the Merchants got killed, everyone else decided to run off with what they could carry of the stockpiles.  Sam and I decided to play it smart.  Sam got his truck, and I guarded the stash from the other assholes.  Paid off.”

“I… what is it?”

“Little bit of everything.  Come, sit.  Try some.”

“What is it?”

Sam seated himself at the table, by one set of the lines of powder.  He picked up a pinch and put it on his tongue.  “H.”

“No way,” Jennifer said.  She dropped into one of the felt-covered chairs at the far end of the room.

Aisha had to hop out of the way so she didn’t get sat on.  She watched the dialogue between her mother, her mother’s boyfriend of the week and her mother’s new friend with a dispassionate expression.  Seeing this scene, she didn’t really feel much.  A little disappointment.  Embarrassment.  Disgust.

No, it was less this scene and more the discovery that her mother was pregnant that nailed her in the gut with a profound kind of sadness.

The first place her mind went, before joy at the idea of having a brother or sister, before anger at her mom for letting it happen and not using protection, was hope.

“Sam, do you have any papers?”

“Rolling papers?  I thought you were going clean.”

“It’s just weed.  I need to have something.”

“Isn’t that bad for the kid-in-progress?”

“It’s weed, dumbass.  Nothing they tell you about it is true.  Kid isn’t going to wind up addicted from birth or anything, ’cause it’s not addictive.  Right?”

“Sure,” he reached into his back pocket and slipped a packet to her, along with a dime bag.

Aisha bit her lip.  Maybe hope was the wrong word, because she didn’t really feel anything on the subject.  But she knew it would probably be better if her mom miscarried and the kid was spared this shit.

How much of Aisha’s problems were because of her mom’s lack of self-control and how many others were because of this environment?  She’d grown up with a mom who’d never mentally or emotionally aged past fourteen or fifteen.  A new man in the house every week or two, with his own idea of how things should work, Celia generally content to let him run things however he wanted.

Aisha tried not to think about the men.  It was like having a broken arm; so long as she didn’t move it, so long as she didn’t think about it, it was okay, a dull throb in the back of her mind.  Something she could ignore.  But even a stray thought could remind her that the arm was broken, and then it sometimes took days before she could get out of that head space.  There was no distraction that worked, because the fact that she was consciously looking for a distraction only reminded her of what she was trying to distract herself from.

Of course, there was no way to avoid the countless reminders in everyday life that would remind her of Guy, or Bridge, or Darren, or Lonnie.  Thinking about a broken arm was one such reminder.

Being ignored by her teammates and told to go to her room and play along for everyone else’s sake was another.  How many afternoons had she come home from school, only for her mom or one of her mom’s boyfriends to shoo her off or bribe her to leave the apartment for a bit?

Pissed her off.  She didn’t need that from her brother, too.

“Come on, Jennifer,” Celia urged her friend.  She took a long draw from the spliff she held in her fingers. “Oh fuck!  Sam, you jackass!  This isn’t just weed, is it?”

“Thought it was.”

“There’s a kick to it.  Amp or something.”  Celia took another puff.  “Amp.  Hey, Jen, join in. Have some of what Sam’s having.”

“But H is fucking scary,” Jen protested.

“So you hear.  But why is it scary?”

“It’s addictive.”

Aisha tuned out the sound of her mother and Sam cajoling the woman and walked over to the table.  Her mom didn’t notice her.  Nobody ever noticed her, and they noticed even less ever since she’d gotten her power.  It was like a dark joke, a grim comedy.  Just when she’d started to figure things out, grow up and catch people’s eye, the world went to hell and she got her powers.  Now she became invisible if she lost her concentration.

Not that it was invisibility, really.  It was memories.  People forgot her as soon as they saw her, to the point that they didn’t register her presence.  She could feel it, her power rolling over her skin, jabbing outward, invisible to sight, touch and anything else, making contact with the people around her and pushing those memories away.

And like her metaphor comparing her memories to a broken arm, her power seemed to respond to the attention of her subjects; the harder they tried to remember and focus on her, the faster she slipped through their minds.

The metaphor applied in another way, too.  Her power operated on its own, doing its thing, and if she very casually noted what it was doing, without pushing it forward or holding it back, she could feel it doing something else.  As if it was ready to push away memories that didn’t relate to her, exactly.  It never did.  Any time it built up enough that it came close to doing anything, she noticed, and it retreated like a turtle pulling its head into its shell.

Frustrating.  Her power didn’t do anything because she wanted it to.  It worked only if she surrendered to it, let it act on its own.  Pushing it to work harder had the opposite effect.

How easy would it be to just carry this stuff away?  She could hand it to Coil for some brownie points, and he could decide what to distribute.  It would be out of her mother’s hands, and money would become a limiter on her mother’s habit.  If the drugs weren’t around, maybe Sam would leave.

Maybe, if Aisha got rid of the drugs, her mom would have an excuse to get things back on track, somehow.  The city was paying people who joined the clean-up crews.  Three square meals, simple and bland but they gave the essential nutrients, and they gave you twenty dollars for nine hours of work.  Fuck around or slack off, and they just kicked you off the crew for the day, no pay.

Idle hopes.  Aisha had spent long years wishing her mom could pull it together, dating back to just after the divorce, when a bad day was still better than most good days were now.  Or maybe that was nostalgia and a child’s eye view.

No.  If she got rid of the drugs, it was more likely that someone would erupt in anger.  Sam or her mom, getting violent, verbally or otherwise.  It would do more harm than good.

She sat down on the coffee table, directly opposite her mother.  Reaching forward, she plucked the spliff from her mother’s lips and dropped it, grinding it under her toes.

Her mother blinked a few times, then reached for her rolling papers.

Aisha used her hand to cover the papers and whispered, “No.”

Again, the dazed blinking.  Her mother asked, “Sam?  Got any more papers?”

“I just gave you a full package.”

“The hell?  Maybe that hit me harder than I thought,” Aisha’s mother giggled.

Aisha stared her mother in the eyes.  She didn’t deactivate her power.  “Mom.  You gotta stop.”

“Where are the rest of the papers, Sam?” her mom asked, oblivious.

“Kitchen.”

“But I don’t want to get up.  I’m comfy,” Celia whined.

“You keep going down this road, your kid is going to be born without a face or something,” Aisha said, her voice quiet.  “You know how hard school was for me?  Even as far back as kindergarten, I couldn’t sit still.  Teacher tells me three things, and by the time they’ve gotten to the third, I’ve forgotten the first.  And Brian doesn’t have any of that.”

“Go get some papers, Sam.  Sam McSamsam.  Sammy-sam.  Samster-”

“I don’t want to get up any more than you do,” Sam growled.  “You’re not one of the talkative ones, are you?  I like it quiet.”

“Mom,” Aisha said, as if she could get her mom’s attention.  Ironically enough, she knew that if she deactivated her power, she’d have even less chance of talking to her mom.  It wasn’t just the horned mask and the black costume.  She’d never had anyone just sit down and listen to her.  Dad ignored her, mom was self-centered and Brian was too focused on what needed to be done that he ignored everything else.

“Mom.  You’re going to have some fucked up kid, and then you’re going to die of an OD before it’s even grown up.  It’s not fair that you leave some kid that’s more retarded than me, or some deformed freak for Brian to take care of.  Not fair on him, and it’s not fair on the kid to make them put up with the dick, either.”

“Fine,” her mother said, standing.  “I’ll get the papers myself.”

Aisha sighed.  Was it cowardice that kept her from confronting her mother, or the knowledge backed by years of experience that it wouldn’t make a difference?

Maybe, if everything with the Nine worked out and Coil got control of the city, maybe she could get her mom some help, or report her to the police.

But not now, not when things were like this, when she had to prove she deserved her place in the group.

Abandoning her mother to a noisy search of the kitchen, Aisha headed into her old room.

Her room smelled like sex, and faintly of urine.  Her mom had apparently had a party since Aisha had left.

Holding her breath, she opened her closet door.  She pushed past the clothes she’d stolen, shoplifted and bought, and past the old clothes she couldn’t or wouldn’t wear anymore.  Her closet was in layers, and each layer held clothes and trinkets from a different era.

Her girl guide stuff was in the very back, too wrinkled by years to wear.  Her dad had pushed her into that.  He’d wanted her to have structure.  After a year and a half, even he had pulled her out.  A bad fit.  She didn’t have the personality type for it.

Around the girl guide stuff, she found a small tape recorder and an old pair of binoculars.  After finding an old backpack that had never been emptied of the school supplies, she found some notebooks that had only been filled in about a third of the way.  She tore out those pages and tucked the notebooks under one arm.

Everything went into a compact black handbag, along with her taser and knives.

Small things.  Nothing she couldn’t have bought in a well stocked convenience store, maybe.  But she would operate best if she was relaxed, and having some personal items made her feel better.

That only left the problem of finding them.

They’d attacked the Merchants, and observing her mom had given her the chance to find out where.  It was a starting point.

It was worse than she’d expected.  She ducked under the police tape and pushed one officer out of her way as she stepped into the area.  Police cars and PRT vans had formed a broad perimeter, with police tape strung between them.  She momentarily wondered why they didn’t have the wooden barricades.  It was flimsy as security went.

It was drizzling, and the small amounts of rain did little to clean the streets of the blood that spattered it.  Water soaked into the white and brown sheets that had been draped over the bodies that still waited for someone to clean them up.  The brown, she realized, was dried blood.

Aisha picked her way through the fallen.  The worst of the carnage was at the edges, as if some invisible line had been drawn that nobody was permitted to cross, and in the center, where the masses of people had gathered before being murdered together.

She’d hoped for a lead.  A piece of evidence, or an overheard tidbit of information from the cops.

No such luck.

There was an overabundance of evidence.  By the time the cops processed everything here and managed to identify the bodies, the leaves would be falling off the trees and the Nine would be long gone, one way or another.  The cops weren’t talking, either.  They were working silently, or the things they were saying weren’t interesting.  Catching the Nine wasn’t their job.  If they found something worthwhile, they would pass it on to the local capes, probably.

No.  If there was something to be found, it wouldn’t be here.  She headed to the edge of the scene, where the police cars had all stopped.  There were still spots and spatters of blood here and there, and bloody footprints, but not much.  She walked around the police and the cars to check each set out.  In every case, it seemed, the bloodied victims had either fallen where they lay or disappeared.  Ambulances?

Having checked the area, she moved further down the street to see the next closed-off alleyway.  The same thing.  A few more bloody footprints, but nothing beyond that.

The third blockade offered something.  There was a spot where the blood was thicker, which didn’t match up with the other spaces.  The trail extended further than it did elsewhere.

Looking around, she spotted a smear of blood on the side of a building, three stories up.

Okay.  So maybe they’d gone this way.

The trail of breadcrumbs that the blood provided were slowly being eroded or masked by the light rain.  The water raised the oils from the cracks in the road, giving the ground a rainbow sheen.

The signs of blood faded too soon, and Aisha could only guess whether she had taken the wrong road, gone too far or if the rain had cleared it away.  She might have given up right then, but she saw a group of men standing outside of an apartment building.

It was only when she got close that she saw the badge clipped to the front of one of their jackets.  A detective.  There was blood on the door that led into the apartment lobby.

The elevator wouldn’t be working.  She headed for the stairwell, only to find more blood.  It was as though a body had been dragged.

Going forward was a stupid idea, she knew.  Brian and Skitter had gone into way too much fucking depth about the risks.   Still, that hadn’t stopped her before.

She got her taser and knife from her bag and made her way upstairs.

Third floor up, blood on the door leading into the hall.  More blood trailing down the hallway, stopping at one apartment.

She double checked that her power was active and pushed her way inside.

Only a few of the Nine were present.  Crawler slept with his ponderous head on paws that were crossed over one another, his back rising and falling with each deep breath.  He was large enough that the highest part of his back rose nearly to the ceiling with each breath he drew in through his nostrils.  Only half of the eyes on his body were closed, covered with thick, dark gray lids.

Shatterbird and Burnscar were on the couch, Burnscar stretched out with her head on the armrest, her feet propped up on Shatterbird’s lap.  She held a graphic novel on her stomach with one hand and created flames in the other, shaping them to match the people she saw as she flicked from page to page.  Shatterbird was sitting upright, a novel in her hands.

Bonesaw stood over the dining room table, with a mechanical spider-thing on the opposite side of the table, assisting her.  A young man was on the table itself, his wrists and ankles tied down.  His torso was open from collar-bone to crotch, his ribs splayed apart.  Bonesaw and her mechanical spider were elbow deep in the contents of his torso.

The spiders.

Aisha moved quickly aside as a spider moved from the kitchen, past her and to the table.  Whatever cameras or artificial intelligence it used, it didn’t seem to notice her.  It handed Bonesaw a diet cola that the little girl opened with bloody fingers and drank.

With a little more confidence, Aisha moved further inside, giving a wide berth to Crawler and Burnscar’s foot-high images of flame.

Holding her weapons, Aisha stood next to Shatterbird, at one end of the couch.

Aisha had never killed anyone, but here she was, holding a lethal weapon.  She could slice Shatterbird’s throat and they wouldn’t even realize she was there.

They would, she suspected, realize that Shatterbird was dead or dying.  There was a fifty-fifty chance, anyways, that it would force them out of whatever effect her powers had on their brains.  It had happened to her before.

Except that Shatterbird would kill her in her last moments, using the glass that had been swept to the corners of the room, or one of the others would.  Burnscar or Crawler could deal a hell of a lot of damage, even if they didn’t know who they were attacking.

Slowly, she walked over to Bonesaw, navigating around the drones.  Could she kill the kid?

On the one hand, Bonesaw was the one who kept the other members going.  Removing her would take a lot of problems off the board.  She could finish off Bonesaw and run for cover in the kitchen, out of Burnscar and Shatterbird’s line of fire.  From there, it was only steps to the front door and safety.

On the other hand, it was still murder, and it was a kid.  A kid that had a hundred kills under her belt.

A squeaking sound distracted her from her thoughts.  It was like air being let out of a balloon, but in shorter spurts.  Bonesaw?  No, the girl wasn’t making any noise.  The mechanical spider?  No.  Not the spider either.

Stepping as close to Bonesaw and the spider as she dared, Aisha investigated the sounds.  Where were they coming from?

Bonesaw smiled, “You’re going to have to speak up if you want me to hear you, Jonathan.”

Jonathan?

Aisha looked down at the body, and realized the heart was beating inside Bonesaw’s hands.  The man’s eyes were moving, and his lips moved as he struggled and failed to make words come up through his windpipe.

The surge of horror and disgust gave Aisha the strength to cast aside her doubts.

“Sorry kid,” she said.

She plunged the knife into Bonesaw’s bare throat.

Bonesaw screamed, shrill and loud, which caught Aisha off guard.  With a knife in her throat, the girl was screaming?

Reacting more on instinct than wit, Aisha pulled the knife out and then slashed it horizontally across Bonesaw’s throat.

She’d expected a spray of blood or gurgling.  Neither happened.  Bonesaw screamed again.

So she pulled the knife free and stabbed Bonesaw in one eye.  The blade scraped against the bone of Bonesaw’s eye socket.

Flame erupted and pieces of glass came to life around Aisha.  She backed away quickly as a wall of flame rolled over Jonathan on the table and divided her from Bonesaw.  There was a rumble and the sound of falling furniture as Crawler stood.

“Ow, ow, ow, ow!”  Bonesaw shrieked.  “It hurts!”

Why isn’t she dead?

Aisha yanked the knife out and then gripped her taser.

“Is it Jack?” Burnscar asked, looking around, then turning to the window, “What the hell?”

“It’s not Jack,” Bonesaw said.  She snapped her fingers, and the mechanical spider leaped on top of her, beginning to suture the wounds in her neck.  “I gave Jack the same safeguards I gave us, he would have succeeded if he tried it.”

Shatterbird scowled.  “Then who or what was that?  Crawler, do you know?”

Aisha backed toward the front door.  She stopped as Crawler appeared in the doorway that led from the kitchen to the front hall, looking through to see his teammates on the far end.  His voice was a mangled mess of sounds that only barely approximated anything like speech.  “I don’t smell anyone.”

Smells can’t find me, then, Aisha thought.  Still, she didn’t have her escape route.

“Torch the apartment and make a break for it?” Burnscar asked.  “We can meet up as a group later.”

“No.  Cherish has a hard time tracking Mannequin, and he won’t know how to find us,” Shatterbird said.

“I’m okay,” Bonesaw piped up.  She held one hand to her eye socket, which had trails of smoke rising from it.  “You don’t need to worry.  I can put my throat back together easy, after I get my kit out to check the sheaths for my vitals to make sure there’s no abrasions, and I’ve got spare eyes.  I could go with green eyes.  Or one green and one blue, or if I alter them, I could have-”

“Quiet,” Shatterbird cut in.  “It’s less about you being hurt and more about the fact that someone had the audacity to attack us here.  Burnscar, put out those fires.  We don’t want attention.”

The wall of flame shrunk and faded away.

“Really hope you don’t have another way of sensing me, big guy,” Aisha said to Crawler, ducking between his legs and stepping towards the door.  “I’m gonna make my exit now.”

None of the Nine reacted as she shut the door behind her.

Lesson learned.  The more ‘vulnerable’ members of the Nine weren’t as vulnerable as they looked.  Sheaths, Bonesaw had said?

Stepping into the lobby, she stopped in her tracks.

One of the detectives who’d been standing by the door was dead, his throat slit.  He laid in the center of the lobby.  Two more blood trails ran to the side of the lobby opposite the stairs.

Manager’s office?

Her weapon drawn, she reached for the doorknob, and collided with Jack as he strode out of the office.

“What’s wrong?” Cherish asked.

Aisha backed away.

“Nothing,” Jack said.  “You grab the last body and then find a mop.”

“Me?”

“I think I’ve been exceedingly generous, giving you a second chance.  You can repay me by doing the heavy lifting.”

“Ever the gentleman.”

“Go on, now.  I’ll wait here.”

Aisha watched as Cherish walked past her, grabbed the heavyset detective and began dragging him inch by inch toward the office.

She only remembered one other time when her heart had pounded this hard.  It had been when the fledgling Merchants had attacked her and her father.  It was another chance.  While they were separated, she could go after one.  But which?

She held the taser and the knife, adjusting her grip so she was secure.

Jack was the key figure.  Aisha knew she could attack him, knew she maybe should, but would she succeed any more than she did against Bonesaw?  Cherish might be able to lash out with some kind of blind fire, affecting the emotions of everyone nearby.

No.  Cherish was the newest member, wasn’t she?  There were better odds that Cherish didn’t have the protections that Jack and the others did.

Exhaling slowly, Aisha followed behind Cherish as the girl tugged the body into the other room.  She stepped inside and shut the door.

“Put the weapon away,” Cherish said, her voice quiet.

Aisha gulped, realizing the trap she’d just stepped into.  “You can hear me?”

A second passed, and there was no response.

“Put it away, or I’m going to leave you quivering in a corner, shitting your pants.”

“You can’t hear me.”  Aisha gripped her weapon and stepped closer.

Cherish whirled around, her eyes flitting right and left, searching for Aisha.  “I’ll scream.  He’ll come in here, and a couple swings of his knife, he can cut you down, invisible or no.”

“It’s not invisibility,” Imp said, uselessly.

“Put your weapon away,” Cherish said, her voice quiet and carefully measured, “We only have a few seconds before Jack gets suspicious.  Listen.  I want to strike a deal.”

Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

51 thoughts on “Interlude 13½ (Donation Bonus)

      • It’s be a bit of work, but you could ctrl+r all the double-spaces out, then put them back in by looking for “. ” and turning them into “. ” or something. Although, that is a lot more work than might be warranted.

  1. I think it’s interesting how Bonesaw’s first thought was that Jack was attacking her. That’s… maybe it’s a reaction that makes sens within the Nine, but it seems a bit odd, all the same. It implies that Jack is prone to violence without clear cause, which makes him even more dangerous than he was seeming before.

    Also, it’s lucky Cherish is the only one able to really notice Aisha. It’s still going to be a problem, but that’s better (hopefully) than Burnscar or Crawler finding her.

    I really, really hope Bonesaw doesn’t end up with her, though. That would be terrifying.

  2. Cool, another bonus chapter.

    I think you got Spitfire and Burnscar mixed up at one point.

    Was Bonesaw’s victim Jonathan supposed to be someone we know?

    I found it interesting that the first thoughts of the members of the Nine after being attacked were that it was their Leader.

    Aisha is reckless bordering on suicidal and seems to have a host of other problems. I wonder If Panacea’s power would be able to cure Aisha at least of the biological parts of her mental problems. As long as she is sliding down the slippery slope of brainwashing people that might be a good idea if Aisha agreed. For the rest a spanking might help.

    • Yeah. Got a lot of donations the Tuesday before last (thanks, guys!), and this is the last of the bonus chapters until you guys hit the benchmark again. I don’t mind having a bit of a break. Writing that much more (50%, or 75% more if you count the fact that the last bonus update was more than twice the usual length) for two weeks in a row takes a bit of a toll, especially when it winds up being a busier set of weeks.

      Fixed the spitfire bit. My bad, mixing up the flame-themed capes. Thanks for pointing it out.

  3. Idiots. I may advocate drug legalization, but not drug stupidity. Addiction is one problem, sure (and Imp stopped listening before she made any more), but then there’s the fact that the bunch of amateurs working out of backrooms, basements, and friends’ pickup trucks are prone to all kinds of mistakes. They do the chemistry wrong, or they mix in the wrong thing, or they use containers that aren’t clean, or they cut it with something else, and in the end someone winds up rotted because they snorted something they weren’t supposed to. There’s a big difference between someone cooking with a proper setup, and someone cooking in a single-wide.

    There’s also the fact that you shouldn’t just be mixing stuff. Drug interactions are deadly things, even if the drugs in question aren’t so bad on their own. Alcohol is fine, but not so fine with sleeping pills added to the mix, for instance, and those are completely legal. Weed’s not so bad on its own, but she wasn’t just having weed now was she?

    And even if it’s not all that bad, don’t smoke it while you’re pregnant. Smoking is contra-indicated for pregnancy anyway, whether tobacco or cannabis.

    Finally, there’s the amounts. A bunch of opportunistic addicts with a truck full aren’t going to settle for just what they need. No, they’ll throw a big friggin’ party and try to use up as much as they can. If they don’t overdose, they’re still likely to be stoned for so long that they neglect to do some important things, like find a bathroom or eat, consistently over the course of a few days. Any good dealer will tell you not to get hooked on your own product. Isn’t that right, Senor Montana?

    There are maybe two good things I can say about their use of drugs. 1. They’re not doing them in public. and 2. They’re not driving.

    Also, it does make sense that Bonesaw would give people unslashable throats with Jack around. I’m guessing bony sheaths that encase the arteries and windpipe. I’m guessing Bonesaw has probably improved the strength of her bones as well. Should be slightly easier for her as a girl given how bone density shifts much more smoothly in women than in men. If someone is attempting to create a less killable human, there are lots of ways to improve on them.

    • Actually, since Bonesaw has been shown to use mechanical/electronic devices for many of her creations (and then there are the spiders), it’s not unreasonable to think she’s sheathed her vital tubes in something artificial and more pliable, such as ballistic cloth, or even fine-mesh surgical steel chainmail. A tinker has many options, and she is clearly one of the best.

      Hg

      • Hg is thinking along the right lines. Rigid bone sheaths pose problems. If you insisted on using bone (say, if you were Marquis), you could do something like the fine bone constructions of the inner ear (that connect to the eardrum, IIRC), which are the smallest bones in the human body. An interlocking design would give you flexibility.

        • My thinking was because she’s a biological tinker. I didn’t rule out the possibility of artificial upgrades though, given that she did use some mechanics and that she’d be capable of integrating some of that into a body with less of a problem. At this rate, she could have gone the Dick Cheney route and have her heart replaced by something artificial.

          Fallout: New Vegas has the DLC Old World Blues in which the character’s organs are stolen and replaced, actually making them stronger. The lack of a heart confuses robotic enemies and I think makes you immune to poison. The spine replacement lets you carry more and makes it harder to cripple the torso. I can’t seem to remember too much about what happens when they take your brain out. Maybe helps your addiction rate and makes it harder to cripple the head.

          I just focused more on the purely biological part of her tinkerness, with organs and immune system stuff taken into effect.

          • Even with biological substances there’s a lot that can be done with, say, spider silk- it makes great sutures(with a few side effects that someone like Bonesaw likely wouldn’t have trouble with) and Skitter’s costume alone shows the potential as armor.

          • Can you really blame me for wanting to see more bone in the world?

            *Unveils a children’s choir with a backdrop of a picture of the earth from space with the words “Bone the Earth” written underneath it*

            Won’t you support our cause of boning the world today? Do it for the children!

  4. I really like Aisha now. Once she tried to slash Bonesaw’s throat she made it into my list of characters to root for. Admittedly her actions were insanely risky and probably a little bit suicidal, but it is very nice to see someone act against the Nine and get away with it.

  5. I only noticed one typo: “manged” should be “mangled”.

    Man, that was an exhilarating chapter. My blood was pumping hard the whole time.

    I’m afraid the thing with Cherish isn’t going to work; everybody but Jack is on the alert. What can Cherish add? Presumably, everybody is protected against her abilities, even the temporary one.

    Poor Aisha. What a horrible life she’s had so far. And I can’t imagine Siberian is going to let her go after this.

  6. I take back everything I said about Imp. She’s awesome. Took a lot of nerve to get that close and then to attack Bonesaw! Plus, it’s cool to see one of the “good guys” for lack of a better word be willing to do a dirty deed, even for a good cause. Imp’s more mature than I thought. Sometimes you have to put someone down, and at least she tried.

    Very interested in finding out about this deal. If Cherish is the only one who can track Imp then Imp can pretty much attack with impunity. Hopefully Imp tells the rest of her group where the Nine are and Coil Firebombs the place. But I think Imp might have left before she got a phone?

    Also, one question. Did Shadow Stalker lie when she said Imp could teleport through Shadows? It’d be easy for Skitter to forget about, but Imp didn’t do it here to escape.

    • Imp did leave before she got a phone. I would have fit that in, but there was no really solid way to phrase it.

      Teleporting through shadows: A lie, a misdirection to get the Wards to let their guard down (as opposed to the safety measures they would’ve put in place for a cape with unknown powers). Trivia: It was one of the ideas that I considered for Imp, initially. Scrapped it pretty quickly. Another was far too complicated to understand; she had a breaker power that undid any action she performed after a few minutes. It didn’t fit her as a character (well, sort of. Carrying a battleaxe, chopping someone’s head off, laughing maniacally, person is fine a few minutes later), it left a hell of a lot of bizarre/screwed up interactions, and it didn’t fit with the in-universe logic of powers & power granting.

  7. One of the things i like to do is brainstorm powers that would suite this story.
    Before aishas awakening I’d been pondering what would become imps power. I thought it wouldn’t be cool enough.
    Then you gave brians kid sister a fireaxe.
    So yeah, I happily stand corrected. Also nice chapter, aisha is definitely more likable now shes fleshed out. Quite a few interludes turn a minor-ish character into somebody’s new favourite.

      • Selectively allowing molecules to diffuse between containers based on their energy perhaps, like Maxwell’s Demon!

        I was expecting a darkness related power. I really wasn’t expecting what she turned out to have- I wonder how much public knowledge of ‘Imp’ there is among the protectorate and people in general at this point. After all, Dragon’s local data was lost and given the lack of response from the spiderbots it is unclear whether cameras remember her. It might be some other aspect of Dragon that allows her to maintain the memory. Perhaps it is actually the way that she stores data that is different.

        Also, it seems that even scent molecules leaving her body are scrubbed of their association with her.

          • I read the spiderbots not noticing her as being a small cyborg. Basically Bonesaw made a small little creature that can obey, and slapped it in a spider robot. Which is why it didn’t notice Imp, it’s a living creature like any other.
            And that’s why Dragon did notice her. AI isn’t affected.

          • There is that, except that dragon was using a living brain to operate her dragon bot.

            It could, of course, be that the spiderbots are just far too stupid to care about an extra person being there.

          • Or their optic sensors are made of human eyeballs perhaps, with perhaps a portion of the memory provided by human brain? Maybe it has to do with a disconnect between an objective sensor, like a camera, and the data storage.

            Though I really would have thought it’d affect the portion of the brain handling short term memory, which may affect Dragon unless her dragonlings are sufficiently different from a human brain to not be affected. She wouldn’t be too good against an Endbringer either if that’s the case.

  8. It seems to me that the Nine picked the wrong undersiders.

    The ones I think would be the scariest (if they went homicidally insane) would definitely be Skitter and Aisha. Even without gaining further powers -which I’m guessing might be part of the idea of the tests, to induce secondary triggers as the recruit is broken down- they both have the potential to be the same kind of uniquely terrifying as the rest of the Nine, in both cases you’d die without ever knowing something was up…well I suppose Skitter (maybe she’d change the name in this AU, Swarm perhaps or Locust) would give a bit of a hint but not enough to get away.

    But fortunately they’re both mentally resiliant and pure hearted, especially Skitter.

    • Haha, you want to know something funny?

      The first iteration of the Nine, back when I was writing a story with Glory Girl and Panacea as protagonists, the members included many of the same people. Crawler (then named ‘Troll’), Shatterbird (‘Breaker’), Bonesaw (The Maiden) and some who aren’t in this iteration. One of the people who didn’t make the final cut was called ‘Nice Guy’.

      The basis behind his character was that he was the guy you’d never suspect, who faded into the background, and faded from your attention, until you didn’t even realize he was attacking you.

      Sound familiar?

      If Aisha had become a candidate and wound up on the Nine, it would have been a hell of a circle.

      Anyways, the Nine picked their members largely based on Cherish’s emotional profiling rather than by powers. The way they (probably) figure it, they’ll get someone suitably powerful by culling the weaker ones through the testing procedure.

      • That does make sense, and being somewhat ridiculous about world building any time I write something myself (though comparing your writing and mine is a mite wide a gap XD) I must say that I love how much you put into these stories. It really does shine through with how much thought is in every chunk of the setting.

        This interlude was I think my favourite tied with Dragon’s and the one in which we discovered Bitch’s kind side. It may be that I can empathise a lot with Aisha in the opening chunk but this really took her from a character who had depth but little draw for me, to being one of my favourite Undersiders. She comes across as much less confident when you get inside her head and a lot more thinky then I expected. The nailbiting awesomeness of her attack was similarly a draw even if her powers are kind of looking like they might be so powerful that they’ll seldom work on big opponents, similar to illusions in action series.

        • Someone else commented on how thinky she is here, but one has to consider that Aisha’s been alone for much of her life, with only her thoughts for company.

        • Also, if you’re into world building, you should check out Scrivener as a way to keep track of everything. Individual character profiles, separate tabs for research, scene/chapter notes, and all that nonsense.

          I don’t use it (though I’ve dabbled with it), but it comes highly recommended.

          I think a big advantage for me in writing Worm is that I wrote no less than a hundred attempts at superhero stories before I settled on the story I wanted to tell (most only got to 1-2 pages and didn’t even make it past the opening, let alone making it to the climax or the conclusion, admittedly). Virtually every character had their turn as a protagonist or major character, and I took something away from each story and used it to build Worm’s setting.

          Which makes me wonder how I’ll manage when I move on to other stories & other settings. Either way, though, I think the moral & the point to take away from it is that you can’t hurt yourself by just practicing the craft. If you want to write a story, write. Even if it doesn’t take off, you’re honing your abilities and you’ll always take something away from the attempt.

  9. - I knew that was going to happen. Bonesaw is the most dangerous member of the team because (a) she’s really freaking versatile and (b) she provides buffs for all the others. Funny how most superhero series ignore this when they have a gadgeteer/tinker/cog on the team.
    - Aisha is … sympathetic and kind of a badass? Lovely.
    - haha, Cherish. Look at you thinking you’re not doomed.

    • Cherish is pretty certainly doomed, but her cutting a deal with Imp could help our protagonists nonetheless. I’m going to look forward to seeing this dangling thread come back, in however many chapters’ time it may be.

  10. Remember how I thought that maybe Mush’s sandy body being lit on fire was a gift from Burnscar to Shatterbird?

    “Shatterbird and Burnscar were on the couch, Burnscar stretched out with her head on the armrest, her feet propped up on Shatterbird’s lap. She held a graphic novel on her stomach with one hand and created flames in the other, shaping them to match the people she saw as she flicked from page to page. Shatterbird was sitting upright, a novel in her hands.”

    Booyah! Near-meaningless prediction correct! Suck on that, people making meaningful hypotheses of what they think is going to happen!

    I don’t think Jack made a note about that relationship, so who knows how/if it plays up any.

  11. Aisha should carry a fluorine thrower. Basically a flamethrower only instead of common incendiary it fires fluorine. Fluorine has the nasty tendency to burn even things that can’t burn, like ice, iron, ceramics and the like. The byproducts of such flames are ridiculously poisonous or corrosive in their own right – such as hydrofluoric acid being produced by burning things with high water content (like, say, people) The best thing is that it’s ridiculously easy to make – 1920′s tech would be enough. Just don’t get it wrong or you might need a closed-casket funeral.

    Also, if she can walk up to people just like that, why not carry a couple of explosive collars? Walk up to someone, hang 10 pounds of high explosive around their necks then detonate. Antitank grenades have only half a pound of TNT. Using modern explosives, you could get nearly 30 times the explosive power for 10 pounds.

    With either device, Bonesaw’s protections aren’t going to be very effective if the target is reduced to slag.

    • She doesn’t carry the lethal stuff because she wasn’t going into the situation with the anticipation of killing anyone. Binoculars, notebooks, recorder – her intent was gathering information. She only realized the opportunity when it came up.

    • People forget Imp is there, but maybe they would notice some explosive collars hanging around their necks.

      Crawler smelled her, but forgot that her smell doesn’t belong.

  12. Going back through the archives briefly, I just noticed another typo: “invisiblity” is missing an i. It’s almost at the end of the chapter

  13. How is Jonathan (Poor Jonathan) breathing, I wonder…

    Aisha is strange because even though she’s been in the story for ages now, it feels like she hasn’t been because Skitter is always forgetting she’s there. We barely know her.

  14. I still feel like Imp is just a shadow of a character — I want to know more about what’s happening with the other Undersiders, but I ‘forget’ about her involvement. Maybe if she opened up a bit more to one of them?

    Edit-ty bits:
    ” … Brian was too focused on what needed to be done that he ignored everything else.” Either “was so focused … that he” OR “was too focused … so he” .

    In the US, there were never Girl Guides — it was (is) Girl Scouts. Proper names, with caps.

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