Snare 13.10

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I slept, but it was less like parking a car and more like running one into a ditch.  I’d fallen asleep not by any choice on my part, but because I’d ceased to function.  Over the past few days, I’d hit my limits of endurance, only to push past them over and over.

We’d made our escape without incident.  When we’d gotten Brian settled, I’d planned on staying awake and keeping an eye on him, only to drop off to sleep within a minute of sitting down.  I’d tried to push my limits once more and I’d discovered them.

When I woke up again, it was dusk.  I was curled up in a chair with my head on the armrest.  My eyes were sore and itchy, and I wasn’t sure why.

We’d settled at Brian’s headquarters, because it was close, and there had been the unspoken agreement that it would be better for him to be somewhere he’d be comfortable.

I was still tired, and I kept my head on the chair’s arm, clutching the blanket that someone- I suspected Tattletale- had draped over me.  I could see her in the bed in the other corner of the room, lying beside Aisha.  When I’d dozed off, it had been Brian and his sister sitting on the bed.

The blanket’s presence unsettled me, and I couldn’t put my finger on why.  It was thoughtful, nice, and the fact that I didn’t know who’d done it or that I’d been unconscious and helpless when they’d done it, it shook me from the twilight of near-sleep.

Which meant I was now wide awake when I desperately wanted to get back to sleep, to stop thinking for just a few minutes.  The second I started worrying about things, my shot at a good rest would be gone.  Worrying about things like Dinah, and Cherish’s hints that Coil wasn’t on the up and up about our deal.  Worries about what that could mean in the long run.  The newest were my anxieties over Grue.

No, I wouldn’t be getting to sleep any time soon.  I turned my attention to checking my surroundings, rousing my swarm to check the surrounding streets and rooftops, count the nearby civilians, and get a sense of who was around.

Sundancer was out cold in the bunk beds in another room, and Bitch was sleeping in another bunk, in a heap with Sirius, Bastard and Bentley occupying the open spaces.  Trickster and Ballistic were walking outside, maybe keeping an eye out for trouble.  Genesis was off-site.  She had to be awake for a while to recharge her power, so she’d told us she was going to report to Coil and check on Noelle.  If my bugs were any indication, she wasn’t back yet.

Parian had gone her separate way.  She’d had stuff to deal with; her family was dead or surgically altered, their faces changed to make them near identical to some of the most hated individuals in the western hemisphere.  I felt bad about leaving her with the aftermath of that scene, but we’d been prioritizing Brian.

Seems Brian’s commentary to me on the morning we’d found out about Dinah, the morning Leviathan came, was ultimately on target.  When the cards were down, we protected and helped the people we care about, and we ignored the greater suffering of the world beyond that.

I shifted restlessly.

My bugs ran into a wall of Brian’s darkness in the living room, on the couch.  I could feel it seep through them, tracing their internal organs.  I didn’t move them further.  I didn’t want to wake him if he was sleeping.

He wasn’t.  A hand settled over my bug and covered it.  I felt him scoop up the cockroach and lift it into the air, holding it on the flat of his palm.  The darkness dissipated, and the cockroach heard the bass rumble of his voice.

I made myself rise from the bed.  My ribs didn’t hurt anymore, and my burns were gone, but my muscles had kinked up from my sleeping in the fetal position on a piece of furniture meant for sitting.  I stretched as I made my way to the living room.  He was sitting on the couch with his feet firmly on the ground.

“You say something?”  I asked.

“I said you can check on me in person, if you want.”  The words were kind, but the look in his eyes wasn’t.

His stare reminded me of Bitch.

“Okay,” I replied, feeling dumb. I’d come to do that anyways, hadn’t I?

And now I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I hadn’t mentally prepared or planned for this conversation.  I stood there, feeling an impending panic as I tried to think of what to say.

I couldn’t ask if he was alright.  That might be the last reminder he wanted, in much the same way that I’d been trying to avoid dwelling on my own anxieties and worries.  Could I approach closer, or would that bother him?  If I left, would I be abandoning him?

“Keep me company?” he asked.

Gratefully, I approached the couch and sat.  I could see him tense as I jostled the couch.

“Are you hurt?”  I asked, stupidly.

He shook his head, but he didn’t offer another explanation.

“Can I ask about the new power, or-”

“Yeah,” he interrupted.

There was a pause.  I saw him raise his hand and create a slithering mass of darkness around it.

“Feels different,” he said, “And I can tell where it is, more.  Slower to create, spreads faster.”

“But the other powers?  I counted at least four.”

“One new ability.”

I nodded.  Didn’t want to argue, so I waited.

From the other end of the couch, he raised one hand and pointed it towards my head.  I stayed utterly still as a tendril of darkness snaked through the air, taking its time as it approached.

I stood up, abruptly, and he jumped to his feet in alarm.  I could see his hands clenched, lines standing out in his neck.

An awkward, tense silence reigned, as we stood facing each other.

I waited until he’d relaxed before I spoke.  “Had a bad time with someone else trying to get into my head, not so long ago.  Um.  Can we- can we just skip the demonstration?  Or make it more blunt?”

“Right.”  It was like a shadow had passed over his face.  He stared hard at the shuttered window at the end of the room.

I sat down,  pulling my knees up in front of me so I could wrap my arms around my legs, and I waited for him to rejoin me.  He’d healed himself, but he hadn’t exactly bounced back.  It wouldn’t be right to expect him to.  Was this the kind of interaction Tattletale had wanted to avoid, when she’d urged Aisha to go to Brian, instead of me?

“I’ve talked to Tattletale about this.  My power’s always had some effect on capes like Shadow Stalker.  Her powers didn’t work as effectively in my darkness.”

“Velocity struggled, too.  He was slower, but I wasn’t sure if it was because of the increased air resistance or something else.”

“Yeah.  So we think I always had some effect in that department.  That’s stronger now.  Affects more powers, according to Tattletale.  She’s making an educated guess that this aspect of my power is going to be more effective on capes with a physical power.”

“Right.”

“And when it works, I feel… a circuit?  It’s like the darkness comes alive, a cord or wire between me and the people in my darkness, and I can actually see it.  If I focus on it, it gets bright and hot, and I have access to whatever my power’s sapping from them.  A fraction of a power, one power at a time.”

“So the healing?”

“Othala.  I was so worried she’d escape my darkness before I finished giving you guys regeneration.  I couldn’t just use her power on each of you, because it was only lasting a few seconds after I touched you.”

“And the regeneration was… Crawler?”

He nodded.  I could see that dark look pass over his face.

“And then the duplicate you created would have been Genesis.”

He shook his head.  “No.”

“No?”

“She wasn’t in my darkness, I’m almost positive.  And my power’s weaker than whatever I’m stealing.  It doesn’t make sense that I was able to form myself as fast as I did.  It wasn’t like she’s described it, either.  Remember, I worked with her when we were dismantling the ABB.”

I nodded.

“It was more like… a forcefield.  Except not.  A hole in reality, and it took something out of me to feed and shape itself.”

I blinked a little in surprise.  If Brian was stealing a share of other people’s powers, then-

I blinked again.  My eyes were itchy.

“Damn it,” I groaned.

He gave me a curious look.  Or at least, that’s what I took it for; I was having a hard time reading his expressions.

“Forgot to take my contacts out.  My eyes are going to be sore for a while, and I don’t have a spare pair of glasses to wear.”

He nodded.

“Sorry.  So small a problem in the grand scheme of things.”

“You need to be able to see.”

I reached into my utility compartment and got a small case with the spaces for the individual contacts and contact lens solution, then pried my right eye open to pinch the thing out.

A few seconds later, my other contact was out, and I was half blind.  The way the shadows fell over Brian’s face, the shadows of his eye sockets made him look like he was wearing sunglasses.  I couldn’t see the lines of tension, anger or anxiety.  Whatever it was that’d had him awake, sitting up and staring into space at ten or eleven in the evening.

Maybe I should have left them in.  Risking an eye infection was small potatoes compared to fucking up this interaction.  Except I couldn’t put them back in without having to explain why.

Why was this so hard?

“You get any sleep?”

He shook his head.

“None at all?”

“Didn’t need to.  Didn’t want to.  Felt better about keeping an eye out for trouble than about sleeping.”

“Trickster and Ballistic are out there.”

“I know.  I saw them step outside after Rachel came back.”

I smiled a little.  “Wasn’t so long ago that you were getting on my case for not sleeping enough, mandating that I get a certain number of hours before we moved on the Nine.”

He didn’t respond, and he didn’t move.  I couldn’t read his expression.  Had I said the wrong thing?  Should I not have mentioned the Nine?

“Yeah.”  His reply was delayed, almost begrudging.  It didn’t sound gentle, or kind, or anything like that.  It was more like I’d expect someone to sound if they were giving up the password to a safe at gunpoint.

“Sorry,” I said.  I wasn’t sure exactly what for, but the apology was genuine.  The smile on my face was gone.

For a minute or two, neither of us said anything.

What had we ever talked about that wasn’t about our costumed life?  At first, it had seemed like common sense.  I was new to the cape scene, it was exciting, he was experienced, and he’d wanted to share his knowledge.  We’d talked about our recent jobs, the implications, even jobs we were considering.  I could count on one hand, maybe two, the times we’d done stuff that hadn’t been centered around powers and fighting and violence.

Now that I couldn’t raise those subjects without reminding him of what had happened earlier, I was lost.

“You shouldn’t have come for me.”

“What?”

“Should have left me there.  I was as good as dead.  Throwing away your life and the rest of the team, to try to rescue me?”

“You’re not thinking straight.  There’s no way I’d leave you behind.”

“Right.  Because you’re supposedly in love with me, so you go rushing off to rescue me.”

That stung, more than it should have, and it would’ve hit me hard anyways.  I couldn’t read his expression, so I went by his tone of voice, by the anger, the bite in his tone.  The fact that he’d brought it up so casually.

Emma jumped to mind.  She’d been my best friend once, as I was friends with Grue. She’d also flipped on me, turned hostile, and used private thoughts and feelings I’d shared with her to attack me.

I took a deep breath.  “That wasn’t why we came to help you.  And it wasn’t just me making the call.”

“Really?  Because I remember you were the one who stopped Ballistic from putting me out of my misery.”

I clenched my fists.  Any resolve I’d had to remain calm was gone.  “I would have done the same thing for Bitch!  Or Lisa, or Alec, even!  Are you seriously telling me you wish I’d let you die?  You’re alive now!  It worked out!”

“Because we got lucky!  Christ, you always do this!”

Using my power, I checked on the others.  One of the dogs had perked its head up at the shouting, but nobody else had roused.  I didn’t take my eyes off Brian, though.  The look in his eyes was scary.  Angrier than I’d seen him.  I’d unconsciously defaulted to the same defenses I’d used against Bitch: Eye contact, pushing back when pushed.

I deliberately lowered my voice.  “Always do what?”

“You’re smarter than average, so you count on your ability to think up solutions on the fly, you throw yourself into these reckless situations, push and vote for the risky plans because you know that’s a situation where you thrive, where you offer the most to the group.  Every step of the way, you do it.  Pushing the all-out assault on the Wards at the bank, charging in to fight Lung after taking on Oni Lee, the fundraiser, confronting Purity, attacking Leviathan with zero backup, the attack on the Wards’ HQ-”

“Stop,” I said.  I was getting flashbacks to my conversations with Armsmaster, now.

“You say you’re not manipulative, that your undercover operation was pure in motive, but you are.  You throw yourself into those situations solo, or you join in on whatever fucked up plan the others come up with, and you do it because it makes you useful, because you know we’d struggle without you, you’re making us dependent on you.”

I swallowed past the lump in my throat.  “That’s not- not what I’m doing.  Every step of the way, I had other reasons.  Strategies, or there were people I needed to help-”

“Maybe Bitch was right about you all along.”

“That’s not fair.”  This isn’t him.  He’s still reeling from what Bonesaw did to him.

That excuse did little to shake my worries that this was what he really thought.  Was this the stuff he was holding back, every day he was with me.

“What’s not fair is that I’m the one who’s tried to keep things sensible, to keep this group sane, and when push comes to shove, when I go with the majority because things won’t go smoothly if I don’t, I’m the one who gets captured and tortured.  Your plan!”

“Don’t.”

“Are you going to tell me I’m wrong?”

“It- it wasn’t fair.  You’re right.  But I don’t deserve all of the blame here.  I volunteered to be the person Trickster swapped out.”

“Knowing there was no way you could, with your injury.  So you let me.”  He stared at me with an intensity that I couldn’t meet.  I broke eye contact, looking down at my gloved hands, which were clutched together in my lap, fingers tangled.  “Tell me, Taylor.  If you don’t deserve blame, who does?”

The Nine.  Bonesaw.  But I could hardly say that.  Not after seeing his reaction when I’d casually brought up the Nine before.  However intent he seemed to be on hurting me, I wasn’t going to retaliate in kind.

“That’s what I thought,” he said, to my silence.

I looked up at the ceiling, blinking to get the tears out of my eyes.  “Okay.”

“What?”

“I’ll own up to it.  My fault.  The blame is at least partially mine.  Maybe mostly mine.  I’ve been reckless, and others have suffered for it.  Dinah, my dad, Bitch, the people in my territory.  You.  Maybe I am toxic.  Maybe me and my motivations, my issues, are causing everyone misery.  I can leave the team if you want.  Give me the word, and I’ll leave.”

There was a long pause.

“Christ,” he said.  “I’m not telling you to leave.  I’m just-”

“You’re making it clear I should.  And you’re probably right.

“I’m frustrated, and I went too far.  That’s not what I’m trying to say.”

“Sure sounds like it.”

I stood up and turned away.  I didn’t want to see that look in his eyes.

I tugged my armor into position and made sure I had everything I needed.  It wouldn’t do to get ambushed and killed as I left.  My modified costume was heavier than my old one had been, and between that and the blanket, and this place’s lack of air conditioning, I was sweating.  My hair was stuck to the back of my neck.

He wasn’t saying anything.

“I’m going to go.  Half my territory burned to the ground, my people need some attention.  If you decide everyone’s better off with me gone, just pass on the word.  I won’t make a fuss, I won’t say you wanted me gone.  I’ll just make an excuse and leave.”

I drew some bugs around my lower face and eyes as a makeshift mask.  My real mask was still in tatters.  I noted that the modifications I’d made were no longer necessary.  I wondered if I would go back to skintight leggings.

It’d be good to get back to my people.  To check on them, and ensure they were okay.  Maybe they’d be better off without me.  If Tattletale or Regent took over the-

“Stop,” he said, cutting off my train of thought.

Didn’t need to hear more of his accusations, his condemnations.  I ignored him and headed for the front door.

“Please.”

His tone had changed.  I stopped walking.

“I’ve never really said anything like this to anyone,” he said.  “But I’m scared.  I’m more powerful now, but I feel more insecure than ever.”

How was I supposed to respond to that?  A part of me wanted to sympathize, to hug him and tell him it was okay.  Another part of me was angry, wanted to slap him, scream at him, because he was still focused on himself, himself, himself, after he’d just attacked me.  I understood why he’d done it, but that didn’t make his barbs hurt any less.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I’m on edge.  I’m spooked.  I can’t calm down.  I shouldn’t have said what I did.”

“And you can’t stop thinking?  I feel like that, all the time, and I have for a while.”

“They had Aisha.  So much of what I’ve done, I’ve done because I wanted to support her.  Make up for the fact that I wasn’t there when she needed it, before.  Only we’re putting her in more danger, and she doesn’t respect me enough to let me keep her out of danger.”

I turned around.

“And as long as I’m being honest and upfront,” he said, “I was thinking about you when I had my trigger event.”

I swallowed.

“I won’t lie and say I’ve suddenly realized I’m in love with you.  I don’t really know what I feel, so I can only comment on what I think.  I can say I respect you on a lot of levels, even if I can’t figure you out.”

“Sure as hell didn’t sound like you respected me thirty seconds ago.”

“I worry about you.  You throw yourself into these situations like you don’t care if you die, like you’ve got nothing to stick around for except for those people you insist on protecting.  Dinah, the people from your territory.  People you barely know, if at all.  And then you actually make it out okay, so you do it again, only more so.  Riskier stuff.”

I folded my arms.  This was uncomfortably close to what he’d been saying before.

“I start thinking about how I’m supposed to protect you, get you to stop, get you to focus on a goal that’s actually attainable, because you’re so capable that you could be amazing if you stopped acting suicidal.  Then I get pissed at myself and I get pissed at you, because I can’t figure you out, and you move forward so fast that I can’t keep up.  I let my guard drop for one evening to focus on other things, and then I find out you’d gotten in a fight with Mannequin.”

“It’s not your job to look after me.  If you want to get on my case because I’m putting you and the others at risk, that’s fine.  It’s your right to yell at me for that.  But don’t make me feel bad because you can’t be the macho guy, protecting me.”

“That’s not-” he stopped.  “No.  I’m trying to say I think about you more than I should.”

I looked away.  I might have asked whether he thought about me more than he should because he cared, or because I was a fuck up.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear the answer, either way.

“Stay?  When I asked you to keep me company, I was being genuine.  Rather not be alone with my thoughts.”

I sighed.  “I could do with some tea.  I could make you some coffee if you wanted.”

He shook his head.  “Jumpy enough already.”

“I’ll be right back.”

I headed into the kitchen, put a kettle on and began digging around for teabags.  It wasn’t easy, when I was half-blind.

Once I had the teabags and a mug set, I got my cell phone out.

“Cranston here,” the woman on the end of the line replied.  “What can I do for you, Skitter?”

Cranston was the woman Coil had assigned to me, as he’d assigned employees to the others, so he wasn’t personally dealing with each of us when he had other things to focus on.

“Need glasses.  Coil has the prescription on file from when he got me my contacts.”

“I’ll have them for you by morning.  Anything else?”

“No- wait.  Yeah.  Can you pass on a message to the PHQ?”

“Coil has contact information.  Hookwolf’s contingent exchanged contact details with the other teams, including the PHQ.”

“No.  I mean, without going through Coil’s channels.  I need to give them a message from me.”

“That can be arranged.  I have a pen and paper, if you’d like me to take dictation.”

“Tell them Burnscar’s dead and Bonesaw’s missing a pair of hands for at least a little while.  Four and a half members left.  If they were being honest about waiting for the right moment to strike, this is probably a good one.”

“Mm hmm.”

“We can give them the location of the Nine if they’re interested.”

“Should I give them your contact information?”

“They have enough tinkers that I’d be worried about them tracking me down.  No.  If they want to get in touch, I’ll leave it to them to figure it out.  Not going out of my way.”

“Alright.”

“And one last thing.  Tell them ‘thanks for the help’.”

“I’ll get the message to them promptly.”

I hung up.

I returned to Brian with a mug of tea for myself and a glass of water for him.  The television was on, and he sat in the middle of the couch.  He patted at one cushion.  With the way he was positioned, there was no way for me to sit a distance from him.

At the same time, when I did sit, he didn’t reach out to touch me, to put a hand on my shoulder, or any of that.  We watched terrible late night TV with the volume so low we could barely hear it, not talking, not making body contact, barely even looking at each other.

He’d confessed feelings for me, after a fashion; I had a special place in his thoughts, even if he didn’t know what that meant, exactly.  We were sharing personal parts of ourselves we’d never let others see.  We even cared about each other.

I just hadn’t wanted it like this.

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102 thoughts on “Snare 13.10

  1. Ah, the awkward couch moment. It has been the beginning and end of many relationships.

    I wonder how long until Psycho Gecko comes up with a tale involving Grue borrowing someone’s power and doing something silly.

    • And since Scrambles had to say something…

      The next part of their plan was very important, and relied on Regent and Grue working together, both of them making use of Regent’s abilities. Shadows emanated forth from Grue, concealing him, Regent, and the captured heroes…

      The following evening:

      Action News 3, Gex Burgundy reporting.

      This morning, the 1st National Bank in Brockton Bay was robbed in what some are calling, “A cult classic of a robbery!” “4 stars, and who knows how many felonies!” and “Cross dressing and crossing the line, heroes gone naughty, but oh so nice.”

      As witnesses go on to describe, the bank was robbed by four heroes and a big cloud of smoke. “I had too many beans this morning,” Legend is quoted as saying. However, it was noted that the heroes were not in their usual costumes. The full impact of this was realized when assembled police and reporters began to hear music from hidden speakers around the exterior of the bank.

      The felonious turncoat heroes burst out of the bank one by one. With outrageous makeup, feather boas, fishnets, and high heels, four members of the Protectorate and Wards proceeded to sing portions of the “Floor Show” scene from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Miss Militia took on the role of Columbia, even recreating one of the accidental nipple slips of the movie. Weld tried on the role of Rocky Horror, though many agree that his description of only being able to trust his orgasms seemed to fall somewhat flat. It was also generally agreed that he didn’t have the legs for the role. Legend performed admirably as Brad, singing for his mommy and wondering about how he now feels sexy. Battery’s lustful, moaning singing as Janet is suspected to be the cause of increased pants dry-cleaning bills among the Brockton Bay PD that responded, as well as 4 domestic disturbances that night, and 1 officer getting a divorce. The officer in question, Caitlin Rapach, claims to have discovered something about herself and that while she can’t go on being married to a man, she still cares greatly for him. General consensus is that this revelation was sad, but rather hot.

      It was at this point, when the male officers were unable to run easily, that notorious supervillain Regent revealed himself, singing Frank N. Furter’s role and attempting to escape with the heroes by swimming away, which quickly reverted to general cavorting and groping in the water. Another voice was heard attempting a German accept, possibly as Dr. Scott! (or should I say, Dr. VON Scott!)

      Unfortunately, the entire show was broken up when Kid Win and Flechette, dressed as Riff Raff and Magenta respectively, appeared and jumped the gun on their cues, Kid Win attempting to blast Regent before he’d even got to sing “I’m Coming Home”. It really was unsporting and ruined the entire production. Oh, and Regent got away with $3.7 million dollars. In other news, Legend has been offered a role in the traveling production of Cats while Battery is reportedly the subject of a bidding war between several local topless bars.

      We now go back to Will McAvoy in the studio.

  2. This update completely blew away idle thoughts as to how much dog biomaterial would need to be grafted onto a cockroach to let Bitch grafted onto Skitter(Bitter? Skitch?) turn it into a monster.

    Grue really aired out a lot of things that needed to be said for a long time about the team’s tactics, though we pretty much lack info as to how they operated without her(at the casino for instance) that he has, so it is hard for us to separate her influence this way.

    “I was thinking about you when I had my trigger event.” I was really, really hoping that this was the case.

    Couple things-
    “Tinkers than I’d” That. Also, should tinkers be capitalized?
    “Cranston here” needs a comma.
    “The Television was on” television is capped.

  3. That thing with putting bugs on her bare skin (her face, no less)? She would NEVER have done that at the beginning of the story. Heck, she basically said half the reason her costume covered everything was to make sure to keep a layer between her and the bugs.

    I’m not sure if she’s just generally more relaxed around creepy crawlies now or if she’s forgetting they’re actually creatures and not just extensions of her power.

  4. Added a gallery link to the bar at the top of the page. Includes the map I put in the comments of the last chapter & thumbs of the fanart people have drawn.

  5. Brian: Alright, real talk bro.
    Taylor: Wtf is real talk?

    Aw, I kid.

    It was a good chapter. A very good catharsis for the arc, or another way to put it, it’s the cherry on top of the sundae.

    I love this team interaction stuff. We haven’t had it in a while, and it’s always nice to see Grue’s perspective on things. He has some valid points too. I like how he has a completely different take on the exact same events.

    I think you did a good job of showing Grue’s recovery/trauma from last chapter. On the one hand, he’s got a strong sense of normalcy, but it’s also obvious that’s just covering up the damage.

    We, also got to see Skitter be all socially awkward again. It’s easy to forget she’s what, 16? I have to wonder what the Taylor of one year ago would think if she met herself now.

    Also, noticed how Skitter just casually covered the *lower* half of her face with bugs. Gross. And she didn’t even think twice about it.

    I’m interested in seeing how Grue’s power up is going to affect him. What happens when he channels Tattletale? Sudden knowledge and understanding of his teammates can change relationships. Same goes for with Skitter. I wondered if he talked to the cockroach, cause he could understand speech through bugs when he borrowed her powers. (If he did, either when she felt the loss of connection in last chapter, or just to try his new power out while she was asleep.)

    Oh, one last thing.

    Tsk tsk Skitter. You KNOW Bonesaw’s got new arms by now. I’ll chalk that one up to not being fully awake yet – this time. ;P

    • There is nothing for or against Bonesaw having new arms. If she was a surgery-type, losing her arms may be a critically dangerous situation. Still, with the amount of capability she has, starfish regeneration is definitely not out of the question, perhaps even amped up a few orders of magnitude. Would require a lot of bio-mass/resources, though… and low-stress.

      What should be more of a concern is will PHQ actually *do* anything, or continue to do the “Oh, we can’t act at all” stance. Even with the changing of the scenario on the ground, if they don’t move *soon* they may run into the situation where they ‘lose’ the city to the ‘villains’ because at least the ‘bad guys/gals’ are getting up and *doing something*.

      Analogy: There have been many organized criminal groups in the past that have provided services, taken care of their neighborhoods, and generally done a heckuvalot more than anything the government could provide…

    • I don’t think that Grue’s power works on all powers. If it doesn’t some power like Tattletale’s would be the least likely to be copied. If he does get that, I would be more worried about catching Bitch’s social handicaps.

      As for the Bonesaw thing, at least Taylor was smart enough to realize that the disarment was only temporary.

  6. Oh, and as for the explanation for the powers, I really like it. I’d been considering that he might have become a power mimic akin to the shadow evocation type spells in d&d, though it did raise the question of what powers he was mimicking. Regen seemed pretty obvious but the shadow dude… I was thinking that might have been Jack(which would imply that Jack’s use of knives might be symbolically/psychologically required), but Brian’s description of it as a void(and that he can’t remember who it came from even though he could identify/remember Othala) actually leans towards Imp of all people- that might be the ‘something more’ that she’d considered her power to be capable of Of course, it might also be Siberian or one of the Chosen- maybe the levitating rock gal, and he used her power to impart enough kinetic energy into the half solid shadows to do damage… I’d completely missed the thought of Othala or the other Chosen, which definitely fills in the missing pieces for how he regenerated everyone else, which had bothered me the most.

    I like how the power works, too- the circuit idea is neat. I do wonder whether it will render Skitter’s special spatial awareness less important, assuming this connection has fine directional sense as well. On the other hand, detecting/identifying powered people at range is useful but it is not the extend of her power in that area.

    I really want to see how he will interact with bugs now while skitter is in the dark. Will he and she be able to tandem control a bug and use it to pass messages?

    (Sorry for going on about it but I feel slightly obliged after mentioning my reservations on the powerup last episode.)

  7. Superheroes: “But we CAN’T go after them! They’re too dangerous!”

    Skitter: “Hack Job and Burnscar are dead and Bonesaw’s missing a pair of hands for at least a little while. Four and a half members left. Thanks for the help.”

    Superheroes: “Help! I can’t get my head out of my colon! It stinks in here!”

    Also, I’d really like to know where that ShadowGrue came from if he can now copy powers that he’s draining. That’s certainly interesting. Maybe some version of Parian’s dolls that use shadows?

      • But…the problem is that it probably wouldn’t actually get changed just for him. I can guess something like Siberian due to an odd idea about her, but I have no illusions about my track record on such things. I also just wonder if part of it has to do with an experiment by Bonesaw. Maybe she had something that could manage something similar laying around, just not currently working. I doubt it’s that simple. We pretty much just have to wait and see at this point.

    • I think the heroes might get the wrong impression about Skitter from the fact that she did the last two communications with them ‘herself’.

      Sure she die speak as the representative of a group, but the thing that sticks in mind is the fact that bug-girl told them about two captured members of the nine and asked for help. They refused and told her that she might as well kill her captives. Then they get some confused rumors about a big fight and a note from Skitter telling them that one member of the nine is dead and another maimed.

      Without knowing who did what and why, this paints a picture of a far more ruthless and dangerous villain than she really is especially to the out of towners who haven’t interacted with her much outside of the Leviathan attack and its immediate aftermath.

      • It also gives another impression, this one a bit more positive (one can hope.)

        Of a far more powerful and useful towards the service-of-Order (which seems the love of the Protectorate far more than truth, justice, or goodness.) As a group that is essentially, as pointed out before, wrapped in red tape, that does have advantages, a few: IE, there is probably a report somewhere in triplicate about how dedicated Skitter is to restoring order to gain power, yada-yada…

        And so they might fit that into a pattern and come up with the somewhat-true, somewhat-false conclusion ‘Powerful, maybe a leader of the Undersiders, might be useful as a ‘stabilizing’ force’

    • Right Psycho Gecko it not like the heroes were justified in being cautious because hero teams tried plans like Taylor’s against the 9 and just end up getting killed and the 9 getting away with vary little damage. And it’s not like Taylor’s lane failed and the only reason their alive is because a deus ex machina powered up Grue. That would be just silly.

      • And it’s not like having a big group of people with some other very diverse powers couldn’t have made a difference. I mean, just imagine if Weld had walked into that room with Bonesaw right there. I’m sure he’d have been tranqued in an instant! Oh wait, no… Well, what about if Clockblocker was running around tagging all the decoys, that wouldn’t have worked out, especially for Parian…well, ok, it probably would have, even with Siberian or Crawler there. And it’s not like Jack Slash could be killed by a sufficiently large gun like the type Miss Militia or Kid Win can use..except he can. And having Legend with all his laser-y goodness, no way that would have helped deal with the Nine at all, I’m sure.

        Every person and power that didn’t go with them denied them another tactic or another avenue of planning. They couldn’t plan on Hookwolf’s people either since they were an element outside their control. The plan you don’t like was desperate because they had a duty towards Grue. Because no matter how bad it would have happened or could have happened, it would have been one hell of a lot worse for him had no one tried anything. If the Protectorate had gone with them, there’s a good chance that no ex machina would have had to drop a deus.

        Remember one of the most important aspects of a zombie movie: humanity is doomed because they won’t work together.

  8. I’m thinking Siberian for the shadow-self, because it had white spaces as well as black ones and at the time it was confusing, given that he showed so much new power in such a short space of time and until now it’s been based on darkness.

    If Siberian is a forcefield projection, kind of like a walking hologram of solid light, it explains how she gives her invulnerability to other people and the things she touches. And it means Siberian is actually vulnerable, if someone can pinpoint where the real Siberian is when she’s manipulating her forcefield self — unless she can surround herself with it, in which case it will be trickier to break past the field. Either way, it’s more information about how her power works than before, which makes it possible to finally figure out a way to get around it.

    All in all, great chapter and a great arc — I like how we know Skitter’s psychology and motivations from the inside and can see her reasons and understand her desperation in the midst of bad situations, while Brian’s insights are equally consistent and make sense. He’s right that she goes to extremes — the only flaw in his logic about being more cautious would lead to the fact that then there would have been zero progress against the Nine at all, they’d just be making a playground of the city. It’s not like she chose Leviathan arriving and then being followed by the Nine — she’s just trying to deal with it.

    Just a note — if “Tinker” is an official classification, then it needs to be capitalized. “The Hulk is a bruiser” is a description of him since he’s a brute, but if it’s a category then it’s proper to say “The Hulk is a Bruiser” and “Professor X is a Master” etc. (I don’t actually remember all the designations, but as designations they become proper titles.) Basically, capitalizing it shows the difference between it being a description (lower case) or a title (upper case). It’s not just a general term in this story. Otherwise it would be difficult to tell the difference between description and classification if someone was reading a paragraph describing a character. In your “Cast List” it’s done properly, and changing the titles to lowercase would make the entries a lot less clear.

    • I’m thinking that you may be right, I’m also thinking that Siberian’s biggest weakness may well be that she has a stated habit of eating bits of her foes while they still live. And that I’m thinking her ability might not protect her from the inside as well (otherwise how would she function at all) so Skitter just needs to get some nasty bugs in her food and…om nom nom arggghhh chestburster!!!

      • We’ve been told that Siberian doesn’t actually need to eat (in the Jack interlude, I think), so there’s no reason for her to be vulnerable on the inside.

        Also, people seem to be assuming that Siberian is invincible or has a forcefield. Everything from her shrugging off damage to casually inflicting devastating force to standing and jumping on things that shouldn’t support her fits with one single, odd description: Immunity to physics.

        She’s immune to kinetic force and other forces directed against her. She was immune to the weight of the rubble she was digging out of. She’s immune to the durability of objects (and people?) she hits. When she chooses to extend her power by touch, she makes the surface she lands on similarly immune to her weight and the force of her impact.

        This touch requirement is probably a significant part of why she runs around naked. If she couldn’t make a wall immune to her unstoppable force, she’d tear right through it like tissue paper. Deciding when to extend her power and when to not gives her a huge host of options.

        This power, combined with her savage, ruthless personality, may make Siberian the most threatening member of the Slaughterhouse Four and a Half.

        • Certainly it makes her pretty ridiculously threatening. Crawler could probably be killed by anyone who got him in the right set-up and had Clockblocker and Sundancer handy.
          Bonesaw and Jack and glass cannons, one good hit to the head and they’re gone.
          Siberian though…all I can think of is a powerful Breaker. Though Narwhal should be able to kill her as easily as she could kill anyone else.

          • It really depends on the specifics, but I’m inclined to think that there is a difference between not being affected by stuff (immunity from physics, shown when Brian’s double shattered the floor, or she resisted a mini-star) and not undergoing the consequences of a change in your body (immunity from causality itself).

            Narwhal sticking a forcefield through her is not imposing a force on her, it’s simply appearing where it is and thus getting in the way of atomic bonds. If her power could resist that then it would also allow her to outright phase through stuff. It doesn’t, thus she does actually intersect with physical objects. Thus making an object appear inside her has Consequences.

            I may be wrong, but this is about the only way I can accept the Siberian as not having already ripped the world apart by sheer impossibility. Not to mention assuming that she isn’t truly unstoppable at the cosmic scale (hence sticking on the planet) since that’s outright paradoxical.

            Now the real question therefore is whether or not she can stop a power making something appear within her in the first place, I say no.

            What we know of her ability is that it is not Hatchet Face’s. She is not immune to powers, nor does she cancel them out, they just don’t do anything to her, which I assume ties into Cherish’s grand plan. So she can stop a power from doing anything to her, but if that power has moved an object inside her, then that’s it. Her power would have to outright override reality, force the new object out of existence, which going by her lack of phasing she cannot do. She just gets to enhance a vector or decrease it, no matter deletion going on here.

            End conclusion, she relies on the Manton effect (making capes like Flechette or Narwhal a serious problem) for true invulnerability. Quite possibly this is also why she doesn’t just go pick on an Endbringer for her fun (still don’t get how Crawler avoids that one) but in any case I’m sticking with this theory. It’s almost certainly false, but hey.

          • Who says Crawler hasn’t duked it out with one of the Endbringers?

            Primary thing is, there’s the problem where you can’t predict where the Endbringers are going to show up, and how are you going to get from Kansas to, say, Moscow, with enough time to actually duke it out with one of the big bads? Hell, before Armsmaster & Dragon’s early warning system, most arrived well after the battle had begun.

            The heroes have stuff prearranged so they can arrive promptly, as do/did a few of the baddies (Bambina). Crawler/The Nine don’t really have anything that gives them that sort of traveling ability.

          • Which is more something I don’t get about some of the nine, Crawler especially. His stated goal makes the Endbringers and Scion his core targets, so surely his goal would have been waaay easier if he just waited for an Endbringer and then had an agreement arranged so a hero would teleport him there? Siberian seems more about hunting weaker people then fighting strong ones, but Crawler I don’t get.

            Also, did Bambina survive that fight? What was her power anyway?

          • Bambina’s power was the ability to provide body shots that would instantly cause the To Catch a Predator crew appear to haul the person off to jail.

    • So I’m not the only one to suspect that, given the markings and abilities of the ShadowGrue. I figured that with all the dead bodies the Nine keep around, no one would realize that one of them wasn’t really dead and kept getting brought along. Something where Siberian was like Genesis, but with one really powerful form. The way Bonesaw keeps them around, might explain a little bit of her and Siberian’s closeness.

      Unfortunately, that guess is doomed now. DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMED!!!!

  9. You know, being a decent, social human being, one who isn’t a monster, does have certain downsides. In that people hold back, make errors and…
    Like that part where he said she was to blame. Besides being wrong, it gives the Nine a free pass. The mental association being, I’m assuming, that the Nine are like a bunch of rabid dogs, and you should just expect them to do evil things. They aren’t, it is their choice.
    So instead Brian, understandably, lashes out at someone close to him.

    Now, about his accusations. Maybe reading it again with his words taped to the side of my computer, I would see a lot more of it, but I’m not really seeing it. As often as not she advocates, at least at first, restraint. Maybe I’m wrong, but I remember more than a few times where she hesitated and openly advocated caution. I even remember that that was her ‘thing’ at least in the first half.

    She was the one who advocated caution (wheras now she is more the planner and can even be a temporary leader) and reason. I swear the Bank example was more complicated, with her not wanting to do it at first.

    And, of course, much of it is reaction to other things, though I can also see his point there. People don’t always want to blame random occurances, they want control and order. So they believe in conspiracies, and blame their friends (potential love interest, who knows) for something sick, twisted, intelligent psychopaths did to him, and put planning and manipulative reason when, really, Skitter is just skittering about (heh, heh) doing the best that she can in desperate circumstances.

    Another thing that sucks about being a decent person (hero or villain) you are less willing to pay the price. Grue’s death for the damage done to the Nine, from some objective, cold place where the leaders of nations and large groups sometimes have to life was a fair trade.

    Hurt and confused and lashing out in multiple, self-contradictory directions (blame her for getting him captured, accuse her of cold manipulation, then blaming her for hotly trying to rescue him rather than abandoning him in the manner the manipulator would): well, that’s something I can understand. I’ve done so with far less justification–fortunately, as I am weak, and such things would break body and spirit–than Brian certainly has.

  10. I really like how Brian is lashing out in this chapter. It is just about the least broken I can tolerate him being after what happened to him.

    How long do we have to finish off the 200$ donation for the big interlude update?

    • Don’t want to tie my hands, winding up in a situation where it feels more natural to add a shorter arc to tie everything together vs. feeling obligated to keep to my word & rushing things to a conclusion, so I’m staying pretty tentative.

      At the very least, there’s two more arcs I have in mind. Maybe slightly more. If I were to adjust that timeframe, it’d be to add more time, rather than reduce it.

      In short: There’s easily enough time.

  11. Reading this one thing that stands out to me is that Taylor genuinely cannot see why her suicidal recklessness is a bad thing. Brian was mainly lashing out in contradictory fashions, but one thing that seemed to be grounded in all of it was his issue with Taylor and not being able to help her. I especially liked the comment about her moving too fast for him to keep up.

    Which now I think about it would link to his equivalent problems dealing with Aisha, similarly caring and wanting to do what he can, but held up by his horrendously stunted emotions, controlling nature and helplessness to do anything. This and Aisha’s interlude (which showed us that her perspective is also reasonable, which is one thing I love about your interludes. Everyone seems sane and sensible to their own viewpoint) make me wonder if a good chunk of Brian’s issue is that he cannot accept other’s viewpoints and try and see it from their side, meanwhile in selfless tendencies he and Taylor are too similar. They are literally arguing over who gets to take the bullet. Neither of them can see it from the other’s side so they end up blaming them for what is ultimately a reasonable objection.
    Don’t try to get yourself killed and don’t try to stop me from contributing, respectively…I think.

    Chapter itself was exactly what I was hoping for, great stuff. I love some emotional development after all this exhausting action and tension. That they do care for each other was a heartwarming core to the bitter pastry of trauma and doubt.

    As for tinkers, I felt like it could have been cpaitalised or not in the circumstances, but it would probably have been more consistent as Noman said.

  12. So…in borrowing Crawler’s regeneration, has Brian put himself back together a little less human? It didn’t seem like the changes were something Crawler had conscious control over after all.

    Though I have confidence in Wildbow, power copiers are always something to be careful using in your narrative, if not least for the massive permutations of interactions it enables ;).

      • Well, I hope that once Grue’s new powers are explored a bit more they will turn out to be sufficiently nerfed not to completely unbalance the story. It would be a shame if future chapters would have to regularly come up with an excuse all the time why Grue’s powers won’t be able to save the day this time or what he still needs teammates for.

        Him having a weaker version of the power, perhaps not knowing how to use it for the best effect and having a limited range are a good start. The upcoming fights with whats left of the nine should be useful to demonstrate why Brian is not all powerful. Jack seems like the sort of person who would quickly work out the drawbacks and weaknesses of such a power.

        • I think Grue’s powers are already pretty nerfed. While his power copying ability will make him really effective in large-scale battles involving lots of supers, he’s not very well off in small-scale engagements against foes that don’t have primarily physical powers. For instance, Mannequin probably wouldn’t have any trouble killing Grue quickly in a one-on-one fight; Grue would have nothing to copy and I doubt Mannequin would have any trouble seeing through the darkness. But the situation would be very different for Grue if people like Glory Girl, Crawler, Legend or Siberian were in range to borrow physical amplifications from.

          • I don’t quite get what you mean, Hydra. (For some reason this won’t let me reply directly to you.)
            I’m sure Grue’s power still works like before, affecting people’s powers within his darkness, but as stated in Chapter 13.03, his power doesn’t affect Mannequin at all. Also, as stated here, he doesn’t permanently keep borrowed powers; for instance, he was worried Othala would leave his darkness before he could finish using her powers to heal his friends. So in a one-n-one encounter, he doesn’t necessarily have any extra advantages, unless someone with exploitable powers is within his darkness. I doubt Tinkers are exploitable in that fashion.

      • that was the main thing i was wondering about (just read that part and a bit further):

        grue (later) elaborates how he only got aspects of amy’s power (i.e. the manipulation without most of the insight on how a body works). but for most others he just seems to get a all-around equal, yet weaker version of the same powers.

        that means he either only got crawler’s regeneration (without the “grow permanent protection against what hurt you”), or he’s now (partially) cut-resistant.

    • Maybe this distiction isn’t important in how this setting manages powers, but I’ve often felt that there could be someone who gets only a power, like stealing some of Hulk’s super strength, regeneration, and radiation absorbing, but without being able to actually steal copying a piece of the Hulk’s body. He wouldn’t be as strong as Hulk still because while he’d have the super strength, he wouldn’t have any strength that was merely a consequence of some different muscles that were really large. There is a way around it like that.

      There’s a difference between physical natural abilities and powers. Can’t steal anything from Batman, a starfish, or a bird because all they have are their bodies (and gadgets) even if those bodies do things that are unusual or super to normal humans. To make it more applicable to this situation, he took Crawler’s regeneration, but that didn’t mean he could suddenly slap someone with a tentacle and climb a wall because he didn’t have tentacles or the claws due to those being part of its body.

      Just thought I’d point that out. I mean, if he can suddenly copy things dependent on a body part, he’d certainly be one strange mess around Taylor’s swarm.

  13. So I joined a local writer’s circle, meeting monthly, a few months ago. August’s circle was focused on critiquing two works, one of which was mine. The circle looked at chapters 1.1 to 1.6 and the first interlude, and I’ve started incorporating some feedback to clean them up and make for a better reading experience (and hopefully avoid the situation where people read those chapters & lose interest very quickly). I’ve touched up 1.1 today and I intend to visit the other chapters in turn, as I find the time. It’s bugged me for a long time that the writing in the first few arcs is a little shaky/clunky, but I avoided it because I wanted to focus on moving forward and because I’ve reread those chapters so often I’ve lost any objectivity.

    So, 1.1 is changed. Nothing major – just some language adjustments and reorganization, clarification on some stuff. The early chapters don’t tend to get a lot of feedback, so if anyone happened to be rereading the story, any commentary on typos, confusing bits or examples of less stellar writing in the first 3-4 arcs would be very much appreciated.

    • Oh, thank goodness. I was just thinking this past weekend about how your earliest chapters weren’t quite as engaging or as high quality as the rest of your oeuvre. (Seriously. I’m not being sarcastic, which is, admittedly, rather unusual.)

      Hg

      • I do think that over writing the last 583,632 words of Worm that I’ve gotten better. Far from perfect, I know, but better.

        I’m open to suggestions/feedback. Let me know where the weak points are. Like I said, I don’t have the objectivity to know exactly what to fix, and I don’t have the time to just plain rewrite them. If you have something to say on the subject but don’t want to share it in the comments section, my gmail is Wildbowpig.

          • That’s more words than one of the translations of War and Peace. And not too far behind the other one. Be careful that The Atomic Tolstoy doesn’t come after you for daring to surpass him in length.

          • As far as break points go, the obvious one would be after…9, I believe, with the end of the Endbringer Saga. Not sure how you’d do the interludes, and for potential Book 2 there’d be a heck of a lot of problems to deal with involving the Slaughterhouse Nine Interlude Saga, and the Protectorate Arc…I’m not sure how to solve those, but I’m sure you can.

          • Here’s the rub, though. The typical length of a print book (and I do want to release as print in addition to ebook, ideal world) is 80,000 to 100,000 words. Doing everything up to and including arc 9 would be 341,500 words. Roughly twice the length of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, for comparison.

            Even doing arcs 1-4 (with a bit of adjustment to wrap up that leg of the struggles with the ABB) is 120k words.

            Exceeding the typical word counts (Sometimes 90k words) means that manufacturing costs go dramatically up (exponentially) and that cuts directly into any profits earned.

          • Well, you could always break it up into much smaller chunks (i.e. a single arc) and publish them that way, a la Lemony Snicket. That way there’s less risk for the publisher, and if they become popular, then larger collected volumes be be put out.

            Hg

        • Well, generally, with professional editing things tend to get shorter, so you probably could do the first four books at get around the average length, or at least close enough to approximate it. If you publish it and it does half-way decently–and you certainly seem to have quite a fanbase online, and that might well translate–then you’d probably be able to do Arcs 5-9, despite the increased length.
          It could be something, like, well…hmm.

          This is more a represnetation of my way of doing things (I too am an author, and addicted to parts and segments) but it could go something like this…

          Book 1: The Rise of Skitter (or some other title that works better.)
          Part 1/Volume 1: The birth of Skitter
          Part2/Volume 2: The End

          Book 2: The Slaughterhouse
          Part 1: ((Everything up to here, perhaps, unless there is a better endpoint coming, or just another Arc or two left.))
          Part 2: ((The rest, maybe, this section is speculative.))

          ((It’d require some editing if it was done that way in order to have begginings/ends that are clear and definate and yet leave room for the sequal and so on…just some thoughts, which might not be good ones.

          • A transition (purely uninformed opinion coming through here) to print form would inevitably involve some degree of rewriting just to go from internet format, one huuuuuuuge tale to book format with beginnings and endings.

            Honestly I find it hard to find any such things in this story as it stands, points when things really settle down and start anew, other then the Endbringers but then even that then goes straight into Sentinel which would be an odd way to start a book.

            So surely the length problem would likely sort itself out in that same editing process?

            Anyway, while I am eager for a tangible copy of Worm at some point because that would be several flavours of awesome sauce, ultimately I prefer the freedom that online format gives a work. Novel length is entirely arbitrary and relates simply to logistics and manufacturing, I rather like that electronic works can go wild with length or stay very short.

            Well whatever happens this story is excellent and a paper copy would be worth the annoyance of obtaining a book from overseas. Though the profit breakdowns I have seen recently of it would suggest that unless you’re going for Hardcover ebook would be more profitable.

            http://www.reddit.com/r/bestof/comments/yw5oi/author_michael_j_sullivan_on_how_hardcover_and/

  14. I think that in addition to losing her inhibitions about letting her creepy-crawleys crawl over her and everything else, Skitter is also getting better at the whole living swarm thing.

    The first time she used it, it was just a distraction, with a bit of buzzing to mask the sound of her voice. Since then she has used it multiple times without her inside the swarm. She has even learned how to use the swarm like a ventriloquist’s dummy, to talk though it and not just add an alien touch to her own voice. the main thing holding her back is her inability to see or hear though the insects. She used Lisa’s spying equipment as a stop-gap measure, but I think she is getting closer to hearing and seeing though her exoskeletal minions without any technological help. Her sort of hearing Brian seems to point in that direction.

    I think that once she can reliably sense the world through her creatures she will hit a whole different level. She could potentially use her power similarly to the way Genesis does and since earlier it was mentioned that she had no problems multitasking she might have a number of ‘drones’ out and about at the same time.

    The fascinating thing is, that she is not actually training or working towards such a goal in particular, but it seems mostly the result of some unrelated improvisations and random things she does.

  15. One thing that I still do not understand: Why trow Brian out of a building instead of another doll, manequim, swarm of insects, stone, statue, … ?
    And, I will repeat something that came to mind while Taylor was fighting bonesaw. Against such adversary she can use magots, geographical worm, foot worm and all those things that eat you from inside. I know a lot of those, had a few in my body (Brasilian) and … well, a lot of them could really eat a person alive.

    • Which would be great if she was in the rainforest. brown recluses are awful enough — most really uglies don’t survive in temperate regions.

    • What Kimmi said is precisely the issue.

      Cooler climates miss out on the really nasty insects–at least to the same degree. We’ve got tapeworm and other parasites, but the impression that I get is that warmer places end up with nastier bugs.

    • Maggots eat dead tissue, not living.

      Luckily, all the truely bowel-loosening bugs don’t seem to be anywhere around too close to us in the U.S. though we did get scared of killer bees awhile back. It would be interesting to know why there aren’t such nasty critters roaming around up here, though.

      For my next trick, I’m going to pull an explanation out of this hat of scorpions, snakes, squids, and squirrels.

      It’s easier for things to live in a constant environment, especially one that stays warm all the time. Wide temperature swings, as seen further from the equator, aren’t as easily adapted to, and land life doesn’t seem to like the cold. To compare it to humans, it’s just easier and cheaper to own one environmental set of clothes, like shorts and t-shirts, and it’s not as fun having sex when you’re freezing.

      With more living things around, especially those that don’t live very long lives and have lots of kids, there’s increased chance of mutation and speciation, especially as increased population makes it advantageous to exploit resources that others can’t when conventional resources are in short supply. More biodiversity occurs.

      My best guess, I suppose, is that in areas where biodiversity is greater, the increased number of various species competing against each other causes more dangerous adaptations. A matter of escalation. Because of that biodiversity creating some very specialized wildlife and then other wildlife relying on those other specialized creatures, it can be hard for them to spread out from that. I sure hope it can be hard, at least. A new environment that has no natural predators for a species can quickly be dominated by the new species provided this new thing is capable of surviving there.

    • I doubt that Bonesaw’s body chemistry is entirely amenable to being eaten. We already know she’s immune to bug deliverable quantities of neurotoxins and hemotoxins, at least.

        • I was thinking on a combination of a bug that we call berne in portuguese and that usually attacks ox, together with a smaller bug that is commom in curals, is a bit weater resistent and that i had to take out of my foot with a needle more than once and magots to increase the size of the holes.
          But bonesaw is really not very eatable.
          Anyway, why trow Grue out of a building and not something else humam sized?

          • Sorry for the bad English in the post above.
            Let me explain a point:
            There is this little parasite called “bicho de pé”, the direct translations being “animal of foot” and a better translation: foot bug (can look for it on google).
            This little fellow can be found in the hole brasilian country, from the highlands and the cold southern weather to the amazon forest. So, it IS resistant to some weather changes.
            I had plenty of experience taking this out of my foot using a needle or, in the worst cases (when there were eggs or the place was difficult for me to reach) asking people to take them out of my feet.
            The first trick to deal with this bug is knowing that around the hole in you skin the meat is dead, you will not feel pain if you excavate only the dead meat. The second trick if to know that you can´t stab the bug with the needle, you have to try to dig under the bug (with scraping movements) and take it whole or else there will be a nasty infection.
            Guys, I already had this parasite laying eggs in my feet (difficult to extract since the damn things are white and hard to see). A hundred of them would be very inconvenient to the host.

            • Necro- reply:

              Although it’s never directly stated, Bonesaw seems to have toxic flesh, probably to a stupidly insanely lethal level. Or maybe something similarly awful to discourage anything from eating her, like insta-awful explosive plague epidemics to wipe life off the earth. Why? Because Crawler hasn’t eaten her yet.

              We know crawler is sticking around the S9 at least in part because he thinks Siberian could push his transformation if she attacked him in earnest. From Jack’s interlude regarding carrots and sticks, he seems aware that Crawler might decide to force the issue if he gets bored. Siberian is protective of Bonesaw. Want Siberian to fight you? Eat Bonesaw, fight ensues. Like Jack said, that would get… messy.

              Same logic applies to even the nastiest bugs getting a hold of her. Hell, for all we know, the reason Bonesaw thought Taylor’s previous bug attack was annoying might be because she kept having to manually override her “Rocks fall, everyone dies” virus from triggering. Which would have been an ironic and awful way to end the story, if a bit ironic.

  16. Something interesting just occurred to me: Brian had his second trigger when he was focused on someone else. Given the paired nature of the power’s source, that might be significant.

    • Isn’t that just due to his own nature. His first Trigger event was due to him protecting someone he cared about, or more accurately him feeling he had failed to protect them and then protecting them.

      First time it was Aisha. This time it appears that it was either Taylor, or Taylor was the focal point and it was Aisha, Taylor and everyone else.

      Weaponised Big Brother/Protective Boyfriend instinct. Which in turn fits very well for a guy who has almost no decent social skills but seems to hold protecting those close to him as his highest priority.

  17. Probably not the right time or place to ask this, but have we had a traveller interlude yet? It seems like in this chapter and the last one that they are actually *scared* of the Undersiders. It kinda makes sense since they seem to prefer to make simple robberies and the like, while the Undersiders regularly get into damn tough fights. I have to wonder if Trickster and the others are wondering if they’re in over the head by signing up with Taylor and crew, especially after she explicitly compared her group to the nine.

    • Well, from the perspective of any outsider with a knowledge of the Undersiders, they are showboating at best. They have a bunch of powers eminently suited to being sneaky and yet they keep going and making big booms.

      It has to raise questions as to their goals.

  18. Is there are any good reason why we’re calling them the Four and a Half? Mannequin may not be able to test any new recruits, but he’s still capable of general mayhem, right? Regent has probably lost control of, uh, Shatterbird? I think that’s the name. Broken Glass Girl, anyway. She just needs to stay away from Regent long enough to get Bonesaw to immunize her nervous system.

    And that’s only in terms of pure numbers. Jack had to attack Bonesaw. I’m sure that Siberian is going to have something to say about that, one way or another.

    One last comment: Bitch hasn’t been mentioned in awhile. Did she make it back yet?

  19. It just occured to me that there is something bizarrely…romantic in the imagery of Brian talking to that cockroach. I like to think he was whispering.

    So well done, I honestly never thought I would find the idea of a guy holding a bug and talking to it to be fluffy. And in universe it fits too given that her teammates seem to share her view of the bugs as functionally an extension of her.

  20. “then pried my right eye out to pinch the thing out.” <– think you might mean pried her right eye open. What an amusingly spooky typo.

  21. I didn’t notice this until just now, but it snapped into focus for me when I noticed that Skitter said, “I would have done the same thing for Bitch! Or Lisa, or Alec, even!”: I think Skitter likes Bitch better than she likes Lisa.

    That’s kinda awesome, and sweet.

    • Or possibly because she subconsciously wanted to emphasise that she’d do it even for the team mate who has been most aggressive to her, whereas saying Lisa first has less of an impact.

      But yes, without invoking spoilers, Taylor definitely seems to “get” Rachel, and likes her on a level that the others don’t.

  22. Been reading though the archive for the last month.
    Pretty much dropped all other reading materials, and last night I had my first Worm related dream… To put that in perspective, I usually sleep FAR too heavily remember that I have been dreaming, let alone remember the subject!

    This is one of the best things I’ve read in a LONG time. The fight with Leviathan was unlike anything ever ever seen… Your characterization of Mannequin (and the rest of the 9) is terrifying and fascinating in equal measure. The characters are deep and complicated, and the previous comparison to George Martin and his Song of Ice and Fire (The 5th book being one of the things I’ve put on hold to read through Worm) is well earnt.
    Thank you! Superb! Please keep writing!

    J

    P.S. Awaiting the pay-cheque so I can make a donation :-p
    P.P.S. I realise I am not even half way through, and new posts are being made every week! How will I ever catch up?! :D

  23. I’m thinking the reason Tattletale had Aisha approach Brian last chapter is because she realised Taylor was the catalyst for his trigger event, and thought he might be conflicted about interacting with her in that fragile state.

  24. “It’d be good to get back to my people. To check on them, and ensure they were okay. Maybe they’d be better off without me. If Tattletale or Regent took over the-”

    that line of thinking is heartbreaking for me on many levels.

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