Monarch 16.7

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Living in a city meant dealing with some recurring issues.  Crime, having to lock the doors, congestion on the roads, crowds getting in the way on footpaths; stuff we dealt with so often that we considered it routine.  We considered it background noise or we managed without even thinking about it.  Construction work was something we couldn’t dismiss so readily, something that always seemed to elicit groans and complaints.  Maybe because it was so blatant, so grating, and it changed in tone, location and degree often enough that we couldn’t adjust.

Not today.

No, I felt a level of satisfaction and security as the bulldozers and piledrivers went to work in my territory.  For every car on the road, there were ten trucks carrying debris out and five trucks bringing materials in.

A lot of that would be Coil’s doing, I knew.  There was construction and clearing going on throughout my territory and building inspectors were checking blocks, all despite the warnings that were going around regarding big, bad, unpredictable Skitter, and that would be because he greased palms or the construction companies at work were his.

Damn it, I felt restless.  I wanted to go to Coil’s territory and discuss Dinah, and I might have, if Trickster hadn’t been the first to speak up and declare he was going to confront Coil.  I suspected that Coil wouldn’t release Dinah this soon, and if he was under too much pressure to hear Trickster out, he certainly wouldn’t listen to me.  If he did have something to offer Trickster, he wouldn’t welcome my distraction.  I had to wait.  I hated it, but I recognized it as the sensible route.

Trickster’s focus was on Noelle, though, and nothing I’d seen indicated that Coil had made any advances on that front.  All I knew, really, was what Tattletale had told me and the little things that had come up in our brief discussion with the Travelers about our strategy.  She’d been a girl, maybe not in the best of health.

It was possible Trickster had been trying to save Noelle in the same way I was trying to save Dinah.  The circumstances were different, obviously: Coil was the best answer the Travelers had to Noelle’s situation, but he was the cause of Dinah’s.

Still, it made me think.

I was officially hands-off in my territory.  I wasn’t going to deviate from orders now and risk upsetting Coil.  That meant no costume, no showing my face, no intervention in the management of things.

Which turned my thoughts to Sierra.  As far as my ability to sense things with my swarm went, Sierra was easier to identify than many.  Her dreads gave her a distinct profile.

I couldn’t find her.

could find Charlotte.  That wasn’t a problem; she was in the company of the kids, half a block away, giving each kid two six-packs of plastic water bottles to ferry out to the various work sites.

“You’ve been lying there since I woke up, eyes half-open, staring off into space.”

I blinked hard, then rubbed my eyes.  “Hey.”

“Hey.”

I looked at Brian.  He was pulling himself up to a sitting position, the covers over his lap.  I glanced over his upper body.  None of the battle wounds I’d seen him sustain in the past were there anymore.  The scars from the shallow cuts Cricket had carved into his chest were gone, as were the defensive wounds and old scars on his hands and arms.  He was in perfect shape, physically.  Physically.

But I’d sort of explored enough to discover that last night.  It hadn’t been a perfect night, not even excellent, but it had been nice.  Considering all of the other humiliating or awkward possibilities, I was happy to take nice.

Thinking about it made me self conscious.  I pulled the sheets up to my collarbone.  “You sleep any?”

“Some.  Woke up in the middle of the night, I made some noise.  I’m surprised I didn’t wake you.”

I frowned.  “You should have.”

He shook his head.  “You were exhausted.  Once I saw you there, it helped me to realize where I was, dismiss them for the dreams they were.  Took me a bit to relax, but it wasn’t bad.  Being here.”

Hated that, that he was struggling like that and I couldn’t help fix it.

“Do you need to talk to someone?  A psychiatrist?”

I could see him flinch at that, his entire upper body stiffening in some kind of knee jerk resistance.

I waited, not pushing.

He sighed, and I watched that battle-readiness slowly seep from him, the tension leaving him.  Up to a point.  “Don’t we all?”

“Probably.  But you’re the one I’m worried about.”

“I’ll figure this out myself.  Have to do this myself, or I feel like it won’t count, it won’t really be a fix.”

I didn’t like that response, but it was a hard one to argue with.

“I won’t pester you about it.  But can you at least tell me that if this goes on for any length of time, you’ll go get help?”

“It’ll get better.  Has to.  I feel like I’ve taken strides forward, forcing myself to let down my guard, to be here with you.”

I tensed, “Forcing yourself?”

“That’s not what I mean.  I mean, you know.  I… I can’t relax.  Can’t stay still, can’t stop watching over my shoulder or make my brain stop replaying scenes in my head.  Except I can, if I’m active, if I’m doing something like we were against those Dragon suits, or if I’m with you, and I’m lying here in your bed, trying not to wake you up.  Then I know I can’t get worked up, it gives me these boundaries I can force myself to work inside.”

My eyebrows drew together in concern.  “It sounds like it’s causing you more stress in the long run.”

“No,” he said.  He reached out and used both of his hands to seize mine.  He squeezed.  “Come on, no.  Is that really what you want to talk about right now?”

“I’d love to talk about other stuff,” I said.  I wasn’t sure I was telling the truth.  Things were more awkward in the light of day.  Only seconds ago, I had prodded a sore spot for him by raising the idea of psychiatric help.  Offended him.  If I didn’t clear my head and get centered, I wasn’t sure I trusted my ability to avoid another misstep.

“But?”

“But I made plans with my dad.  It’s…”  I paused, closing my eyes, “Nine-twenty-eight.  I figure I need to shower and get dressed, which might take an hour, eat, do a quick walk around my territory in civilian clothes, then head over.  I want to spend time with you, but after the intensity of the past little while, taking things slow this morning feels like a nice idea.”

“How do you know the time?”

“Bugs on clock hands,” I said, pointing toward my bathroom.

“Ah.  You want company?”

My eyes widened a little.  “In the bathroom?”

He grinned.  “For breakfast.  And the walk-around, if you want.  I could learn stuff.  We’re liable to lose track of time if we share a shower.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Please, we’ll have breakfast, walk.”

I climbed out of bed, tugging one of the sheets free of the bed so I had something to wrap around myself as I made my way to the bathroom.

With my bugs, I could sense Brian getting out of bed shortly after I’d abandoned the sheet, climbed into the shower and pulled the makeshift shower curtain into position.  He made his way downstairs and began putting breakfast together.  He set two plates down, and then said something to the empty room.

I still had the scene in mind a little while later, as I ventured downstairs.  I was dressed now, a tank top, jeans and sweatshirt around my waist, my hair towel dried but still damp.  “Were you talking to me?”

“I was saying it probably isn’t very hygienic to have houseflies landing on dinner plates.”

Ok, so he wasn’t going crazy.

“They landed on the edge, and they’re mine.  From the terrariums upstairs.  They’re in as sterile an environment as you’ll get.”

“Okay.  Just saying.”

“I can’t hear you through my bugs, by the way.  It’s not the first time you’ve done that.”

“Right.  Wasn’t sure, because Tattletale said you were working on it.”

I shook my head, “No progress.”

“And I’m getting used to talking to empty rooms.  Sometimes catch Aisha off guard.  Breakfast?  Sit down, I’ll put the kettle on.  Didn’t want to fill it while you were in the shower.”

“Thank you.”

Through some unspoken agreement, we didn’t talk about ‘work’.  We didn’t discuss Coil, Dinah, the Travelers, Dragon or the Nine.  Instead, our discussions turned to favorite movies and shows, my favorite books and memories from our childhoods.  Shows we’d watched and nearly forgotten, moments from school.

Emma came up a lot, as I thought back on it.  My parents too.  The three of them had been the focus of my world, with everything else taking a distant second place.  Emma had turned on me, my mom had left me, and my dad… I had to admit I’d left him.

I didn’t raise any of the heavier stuff, but I mentioned that Emma had turned out to be one of the bullies that plagued me throughout my stay in high school.

Brian, in turn, talked about his life growing up.  That did touch on the heavier stuff, and as much as I liked learning a bit more about the details of his life, I was glad when we detoured into a discussion of martial arts.  As he explained it, he was more interested in the broader strokes and philosophy of a given style than on the particulars.  Once he had a sense of how a given adherent of the style might approach a fight and enough basic techniques to see how they put it into practice, he tended to lose interest.

All around us, I could see people hard at work.  My people were deferring to any legitimate construction crew that set to work, shifting their focus to nearby areas.  I could see people moving supplies out of a nearby building so the crews could bulldoze it, others helping to unload a truck of building supplies.  When I got back to this and started to give orders, I’d have to find work for them that wouldn’t put them in the way.  I couldn’t quite track how many people were working for me in my territory, but it was far more than before.

I felt like I should be losing people each time I got pulled into a fight against a major threat.  I had, when Mannequin and Burnscar had attacked, but I’d walked away from the first Mannequin fight with something of a following, and I’d expected to see my people leaving in droves after Dragon made her move.  Except it wasn’t happening, and I wasn’t entirely sure why.

Our walk took us on a circuit, with us turning back to my lair, and I left to go back to my dad’s while Brian headed back to my place to use the shower.

I felt weird about that.  Parting ways so casually after spending the night together.  Oddly enough, I felt weird about letting him in my lair while I wasn’t there.  He’d be passing through my room, seeing my stuff.  I knew it was paradoxical to be bashful, covering myself with a sheet and feeling guarded about my privacy, all things considered, but that didn’t change the fact that I felt that way.  I wouldn’t refuse to let him use my bathroom because of it, but yeah.

In a way, we’d sort of done everything backward.  We’d started with the long-running partnership.  With the ‘family’, if I wanted to think about managing the others in that sense. In the course of that, we’d been through hell and back, we’d backed each other up, helped each other.  All hurdles one might face in a marriage.  Then there were the more recent cases of actually talking about the relationship happening, there was last night, then the more casual date and getting to know each other better this morning.  If it wasn’t a hundred percent backwards, it was at least pretty jumbled up.

Or maybe I was looking at it in an immature way, expecting some simplistic, formulaic, storybook notion of how a relationship was supposed to proceed.

I made my way to my dad’s, thinking about a thousand things at once, not wanting to think about anything in particular.

There were cars parked out front.  There was a strange car in the garage with the door open, two others in the driveway, my dad’s at the end.  With a few stray houseflies, I casually noted a dozen people inside the house.  My dad was there, too.

I immediately thought of Coil.  Had he divined what I had planned today?  Planned some counterattack?

I’d foregone my costume, so I wouldn’t feel compelled to use it in a pinch, and I’d removed my knife holster from the costume and had it clipped to the back of my waistband, so it was in the midst of the folds, blanketed by various wasps and spiders.  The setup might have been awkward for anyone else, but spending the past few weeks and months while using my bugs to help guide my hand left me fairly confident that I could slip my hand through the folds and draw it at a moment’s notice if I had to.

Then a man opened the door.  I let myself relax.

“No shit,” he said.  “Taylor?”

“Hi, Kurt,” I greeted my dad’s coworker and longtime friend.

“Been a long time.  Barely recognize you, kid.”

I shrugged.  “How’re you doing?”

He cracked a wide grin.  “Working.  Getting by.  Better than we were doing.  Now, you coming inside or are you going to stand in the driveway for the next five minutes?”

I followed him into the house.

My dad was in the living room, surrounded by familiar faces.  People I’d seen around when I’d gone to his workplace or when they’d dropped by the house.  I could only put a name to the people who my dad called friends: Kurt, Kurt’s wife Lacey, and Alexander.  Even Lacey was burlier than my dad, with a build like Rachel’s, muscle added onto that.  The other three were familiar, but I didn’t know them well.  My dad and myself excepted, every person in the house had spent their lives doing manual labor.  Just looking at him, he looked like the odd one out in every way, in clothes and body type and demeanor, but he was relaxed in a way I hadn’t seen in years, surrounded by friends with a beer in hand.

My dad saw me, mouthed the word ‘sorry’.

Kurt saw it.  “Don’t blame your old man.  Alexander brought a truckload of beer in from out of town, we got to drinking.  We thought we’d include Danny, drag him along, invited ourselves.  Didn’t know he had plans.”

“It’s fine,” I said.  Nobody that could be a threat, none of Coil’s people.  I let myself relax.  What had I been thinking?  That he’d strongarm my dad?

“Heya Taylor,” Lacey said.  “Haven’t seen you since the funeral.”

Nearly two years after the fact, it still hit me like a punch in the gut.

“Hell, Lacey,” Kurt said.  “Give the girl a second to get used to having people in her house before you drop that on her.”

I glanced at my dad, elbows on his knees, a 24 ounce beer clasped in both hands.  He’d lowered his head to stare at the can.  He didn’t look devastated, or even unhappy.  It hadn’t caught him off guard like it had hit me.  Knowing these guys, I could guess it came up with enough regularity that he was used to it.

“Ah, baby,” Lacey said.  She raised a beer in my direction.  “Just a little drunk.  Wanted to say, your mom was good peoples.  She hasn’t been forgotten.  Sorry if that came out a little direct.”

“S’okay,” I replied.  I shifted my feet restlessly.  I’d never felt more a stranger in my own house.  Didn’t know where to go, where I wouldn’t be drawing attention, have people asking me questions.  It was hard enough with my dad and I having this distance between us, but there were other people in the equation now.

Kurt spoke up, “We’re leaving in a few minutes.  It’s hard to get around, so they’re scheduling events together so we don’t need to make two trips.  The last debate is this afternoon, then mayoral vote right after.  You catch the debate the other night?”

I shook my head.  “Didn’t even know it happened.”

“Well, if that’s any indication, this one’s bound to be a pisser.  So we’re drinking to mellow out.  And I’d feel a hell of a lot better if your dad had more than the one beer, so he can relax some and hold back from choking one of the smarmy bastards.”

“Not about to do that,” my dad said.

“Wish you could.  But it wouldn’t be worth it in the end if you wound up in jail and left that daughter of yours alone.  It’s all good.  We’ll go in stinking of beer, offer some drunken commentary from the sidelines, punctuated by a few off-color words,” Kurt smiled.

“Please don’t,” my dad said.  He hadn’t raised his eyes from the beer in his hands, but he was smiling, too.

“You want to sit and let ‘em say what sounds good for them?”  Kurt asked.

“I was thinking it’d be better to ask the hard questions, if we get a chance.  A big part of the crowd’s going to be people from the north end.  Good few of them are going to be from the Docks.  So why don’t we ask him what’s happening with the ferry?”

“He’s going to brush it off,” Lacey said, “Not in the budget, with everything that’s going on.”

“Then that’s a good time for some booing and drunken swearing,” my dad answered, smiling.

Kurt busted out a laugh.  “You want to start a riot, Danny?”

“No.  But might sway the undecideds to see just how unimpressed we are with the man.”

Everyone’s unimpressed with Mayor Christner,” Alexander spoke up.  He was a younger guy, heavily tattooed, with thick eyebrows that gave him a perpetual glower.  Every time I saw him, he had his hair cut in a wild style.  Today he had the left one-third of his head shaved, showing off a fresh tattoo of an old-school pinup girl in a bikini with her elbow appearing to rest on his ear.

“Disaster does that.” I spoke up.  “We want someone to blame, and the guy in charge makes for an easy target.”

“He’s a deserving target,” Kurt said, seating himself on the arm of the chair Lacey was in.  She wrapped one arm around his waist.  He went on, “There was this thing in Washington.  Talking about whether they should throw walls up around the edge of the city, blockade the streets and shut off services, get everyone out of here.”

“He said no, right?”

“He said no.  Asshole.  Probably earns more money this way.  Take a few million for restoring and helping the city, help himself to a percentage.”

That surprised me.  “You’re not happy the city was saved from being condemned?  Did you want to be kicked out of the city?  To leave your home?”

“It’d suck, but the way they were talking about it in the paper, there’s a big fund that’s set aside for covering the damages those Endbringer motherfuckers cause.  Idea was that they’d dip into those funds, give everyone that they ousted a bit to cover the cost of their homes.”

“There’s no way that’s doable,” I said.  “What about everyone who left when they were told to evacuate?”

“Don’t know,” Kurt said.  “I’m just saying what the papers did.”

I felt an ugly feeling in my gut.  “And they’d give us what the houses used to be worth?”

“They’d give us what the houses might be worth now,” he said.

“So not much.”

“It’s more than they’ll be worth a few years down the line, after the rot sets in and any mold problems get worse.  Getting expensive to get supplies into the city, which means it’ll be costly to fix things up and renovate.  Not necessarily worth it.”

“I saw construction crews at work.”

Kurt downed a swig of his beer and cleared his throat, “Sure.  The companies that are buying up all the materials, purchasing land on the cheap, all in the hopes that this city gets its act together and the land turns out to be worth something.”

“It could.”

Come on,” he made the words a groan, “We’re under the tyranny of supervillains.  Heroes don’t have what it takes.  Used to be they were outnumbered but they were trying, making a difference in little ways.  Now they’re outnumbered and losing.  What’s the point?”

“Just a hypothetical question,” I said, “But isn’t it better to be in a city that works, where villains rule the streets, instead of a failed city with the same villains in a less prominent position?”

Lacey groaned a little, “Sweetie, had a few too many to wrap my head around the question.”

“Might be time to stop then, Lacey,” my dad said.  Turning to me, he said, “I suppose you’re asking the classic question, Taylor.  Would you rather be a slave in heaven or a free man in hell?”

“Free man in hell,” Kurt responded.  “Fuck.  You think I’d be doing what I do, living here, if I was willing to make nice, suck up to the guys in charge and do what I was told?”

Some of the others were nodding, Lacey and Alexander included.

I looked at my dad.

“What’s your answer, Danny?”  Kurt asked.

“I’d rather not be a slave or in hell,” my dad responded.  “But sometimes I worry I’m both.  Maybe we don’t get the choice?”

“You’re the most depressing asshole of a friend I’ve got,” Kurt said, but he said it with a smile.

“Why are you asking, Taylor?”  Lacey asked.

I shrugged.  How much could I say without giving them cause for suspicion?  “Saw some of the stuff going on in the shelters.  Some sick people, unhappy people.  It was a long while before anything started getting better, and as I understand it, it was the villains who made the first move in getting things fixed up.”

“For their own benefit.  You can’t rule a hole in the ground,” Alexander said.

“Maybe,” I said.  “Or maybe bad people can do good for the sake of doing good, at least once in a while.  They’re taking charge, they’re keeping things more or less quiet and peaceful.  It’s better than what we had.”

“The problem with that,” my dad said, “Is that we’d be setting humanity back by about three thousand years if we let that happen.  It’d be falling back into an iron age mindset and leadership.  The people with the numbers and the weaponry lay claim to an area through sheer military strength.  They stay in charge as long as they can through family lines, merging families with whoever else has the military strength.  That lasts until the family in power peters out or someone smarter, stronger or better armed comes in to seize control.  Might not sound so bad, until you figure that sooner or later, the person who gets control is going to be someone like Kaiser.”

“Kaiser’s dead,” Kurt said.

“Yeah?” my dad raised an eyebrow.  “Okay, but I was speaking in general terms.  Could just as easily be Lung or Jack Slash, instead of the relatively benign villains that are in charge right now.  Again, I stress, it’s just a matter of time.”

Just a matter of time until we lose -I lose- and someone else claims Brockton bay for themselves, I thought.

“What would you rather have happen?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” he said.  “But I don’t think complacency’s the answer.”

“Last debate,” Kurt said, “People kept bringing up the capes, moderator kept shutting them down, telling them that they were supposed to be talking economy and education.  Today we’ll hear some talk on the crooks running the city.  Hear what the candidates have to say on the subject.”

“We should go soon,” Lacey said.  “If we want to get a seat instead of standing around at the sides.”

My dad looked up at me, “Can I get you any food, Taylor?  I promised you something.”

“I’m alright.  Had a late breakfast.  Maybe when we get back?”

“I’d offer you a drink,” Kurt said, chuckling, “But that’d be against the law.  How old are you, anyways?”

“Fifteen,” I said.

“Sixteen.”

I turned to look at my dad.

“It’s the nineteenth,” he said.  “Your birthday was a week ago.”

“Oh.”  I’d been a little distracted at the time.  A week ago, that would have been around the time we were wrapping up our confrontation with the Slaughterhouse Nine.  Lovely.

“That’s the saddest goddamn thing I ever heard,” Kurt said, getting off the chair’s armrest and helping Lacey to her feet.  “Girl missing her birthday like that.  I’m guessing you don’t have your license, then, huh?”

“No.”

“Damn.  Was hoping you’d be our designated driver so your dad could have another.”

“I’ve only had half a tallboy,” my dad said, shaking his can lightly to let us hear the contents sloshing against the sides.  “And we’ll be driving slow on these streets anyways.  Who’s driving the other car?”

Alexander raised his hand.  He only had a glass of water.

“Then we’re off.  Out of my house,” he said.  I could see him wincing in pain as he used the chair’s back to help himself to a standing position, but he recovered.  He started shooing the burly dockworkers out the door.  “Go.  Into the cars.”

We began to file out.  Kurt and Lacey climbed into the back seat of my dad’s car.  The others got into Alexander’s truck.

“Should you be drinking with the kidney damage?” I asked, as the doors shut.  “You had trouble standing.”

“I got cleared yesterday.  I’m back on a regular diet.  Any hurt is just the muscle and the stitches.  Thanks for worrying about me.”

“Of course I’m going to worry about you,” I said, frowning.

“You have changed,” my dad commented, resting his elbows on the roof of the car.

“Hm?”

“Wasn’t so long ago that you would have walked into that situation and clammed up.”

“Feels like that was a year ago.”

“Anyways, I’m sorry,” he said.  “I’d hoped this would be just you and me, having a chance to catch up.  They invited themselves.”

“It’s okay.  I’m glad that you’ve got friends like that.”

“They’re a bit overbearing,” my dad said.

“The window’s open a crack,” Kurt said, from inside the car.  “We can hear you.”

“They’re overbearing,” my dad repeated himself, raising his voice a notch.  At a normal volume, he finished by saying, “But they’re alright.”

Smiling a little, I climbed into the passenger seat.

“Hey, Taylor?” Lacey asked.  Her voice was overly gentle, and for a moment I thought she was going to mention my mom again.  I winced a little.

“What?”  I turned around in my seat, as much as I was able with my seatbelt on.

“Just wanted to say thanks.  For the warning.  You told your dad that Shatterbird was around, didn’t you?”

I nodded.

“He told us.  We were careful.  I don’t know if it saved our lives or not, but thanks for watching out for him, and helping us out as collater- collar-”

“You’re welcome,” I said, before she could fumble over her words any further.

was glad he was in touch with them.  From what I’d seen, I’d been left with worries that my dad was all on his lonesome.  Introverted people like him, like us, were best paired with  the Kurts of the world.  Or the Lisas.  People that wouldn’t be ignored or shrugged off, people who pushed the boundaries, so to speak, and drew us out of our shells.

I enjoyed the drive as we made our way downtown, more than I thought I would.  My dad and Kurt knew each other well enough that their dialogue flowed easily, and the same went for Lacey and Kurt, what with the pair being married.  I had a feeling that, by the end, Kurt was feeling like he’d wound up on the short end of both exchanges.

The town hall had survived the waves.  The stone building had crenelations and an American flag over the door.  We joined the trail of people who were filing in, walking past stands with the posters and images of the candidates, booklets of brochures about the issues and stands with newspapers from neighboring cities.  My dad and Kurt grabbed a few papers each and put them into the plastic bags that had been made available to us.  It was a nice thought, putting those out.  There wasn’t any TV at present and we had to keep abreast of what was going on somehow.

The signs led us past the old historical courthouse and to the auditorium.  We’d expected the seats to be filled, leaving us only with standing room, but the opposite was true.  The back of the auditorium and the rear rows were filled with reporters and camera crews, and the rest of the crowd had filled in random spaces on the benches.  Five or six hundred people.  Somehow less than I’d thought.

It was an odd election, in a way.  The city had been without working computers for a week and a half, most had lost their cell phones, and were left without landlines.  An election without media for advertisement.  For many here, this would be the first and last time they heard a candidate’s stances on the issues before voting.  Was this how it had been in the past?  When poorer households hadn’t gotten newspapers and there hadn’t been televisions or radios?

I looked at the candidates.  A dark haired woman in a dark blue suit, a blond man, and the older incumbent, Mayor Christner.  How many others in this auditorium were aware?  Some time ago, Coil had told us that two of the candidates for office had been bought.  Mayor Christner… well, I could remember standing in his backyard, him pointing a gun at me, pleading for me to step in and save his son’s life.

Would the debate turn to the subject of him arguing against the condemnation of the city, and if it did, how would Christner justify the decision he’d made?

I was caught between an ugly feeling of guilt and genuine curiosity in how the event would play out.  Mostly guilt, but I couldn’t do anything about that.  I’d done what had to be done.

On the curiosity side of things, I wondered momentarily if either of Coil’s mayoral candidates had military backgrounds or if he’d hand-picked his politicians the same way he selected his elite soldiers.

That train of thought ground to a halt as something caught my attention.

It was habit, now, to have my bugs sweeping over my surroundings, giving me a perpetual sense of what was going on in the surrounding three or four city blocks.  When the vans found parking spots around the building, it didn’t even warrant a conscious thought.  When the soldiers began filing out of the vans, it startled me.  Men and women with machine guns and body armor.  Not PRT.

No.  Definitely not PRT.

The armored limousine pulled into the middle of the street, just outside the front doors.  By the time Coil climbed out of the vehicle, his soldiers were either just past the doors on either side of the building or standing at the ready to accompany him by the front.

Coil, here?  It didn’t make sense.  He wasn’t the type to show himself.  It didn’t fit how he operated.  Hell, if the mayor was here, his son would be too.  Triumph would be in the crowd.

I glanced at my dad, and he squeezed my hand, “Not too bored?”

I shook my head, trying to keep my expression placid as my mind raced.

Coil was making his play right here, right now.

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95 thoughts on “Monarch 16.7

  1. So Taylor went further with Brian than I thought she would and Skitter is considered a benign villain. They bring up a good point about the fact that the next person to take over might not be as nice as she is. But what the hell Coil? What is the plan exactly? Do you think you are going to take the candidates hostage and declare yourself king or something?

  2. “His Trickster’s focus was on Noelle, though, and nothing I’d seen indicated that Coil had made any advances on that front.”
    Probably should just be “Trickster’s focus was on Noelle…”

    You know, I actually thought something like this would happen. Personally, though, it’ll probably be just Coil showing his strength and introducing himself as the alternative candidate. Don’t really know how that will work out, but I also don’t think people really know who Coil actually is, do they?

    Also, Psycho Gecko will be displeased with the lack of morning embarrassment between Grue and Skitter.

    • Hmm…you know, this means Grue is uncircumcised now. Something Taylor would be intimately acquainted with. And her territory will know it, given my realistic 1812 overture with cannons, fireworks, and stilt-walking Uncle Sam’s with an extra stilt strapped between their legs. They’ll be carrying signs like “Congratulations Skitter” and “The Reign of the Cherry is Ended!”

      • Unintended side effects of self-healing power. Grue also likes to talk to empty rooms thanks to the women in his life. That would be pretty freaky from an outside perspective. A monster made of shadows talking to people nobody else can see.

      • Why would he be circumcised to begin with?

        Also, why the assumption they went all the way? Surely there’d be more mention of it if they had. I can think of a about a dozen rather large thoughts that Taylor would be having (Protection, General teenage virginity stuff, pregnancy, legal issues if it got out etc) given her personality and the situation.

        I can always be misreading this enormously but it seems very odd for either of them to suddenly have sex at this stage. Get nuddy and play find the sausage, I can see. But all the way seems a bit…sudden.

        That being said, I am far more interested in what weird nickname we can expect. We know that the Nerds in Love went with Ten by Ten…appropriately nerdy. So what would our favourite walking nightmares refer to their cuddling as?

        Well, what will Grue refer to it as? Since Skitter’s shyness seems to be hardwired and that (rather kinky) darkness thing confirms Brian likes to mess with Taylor, I’m confident that she refers to it as an unintelligible string of stuttering and mumbling.

        • People ignore those issues all the time when having sex in the USA. We tend to have extremely poor sex ed due to Abstinence Only education being most prominent and parents not wanting to teach about that.

          And a lot of US men are circumcised because at one point it was consideres a good method to curb masturbation. Objectors are told, even in the skeptic community, that it is no big deal besides offering only minor health benefits that are negated by bathing and condom uae.

          • Teach about sex*

            Still travelinga lot, so on a phone. Good news is, neither the the North Korean satellite nor any giant asteroids are a problem.

  3. I kind of love it whenever Taylor has to face the system she is forcing into place trying to save Dinah. Tuesday’s update should be absolutely wonderful in that regard.

    • It is kind of odd that construction workers don’t want to stick around a place guaranteed to have construction.

      Besides, if they didn’t want to live under the rule of evil assholes who sometimes commit crimes, they’d get rid of Congress and the PRT.

  4. Holy frijoles, this is a great setup. I hope Taylor at least has means to communicate, other than through bugs!

    “makeshift shower curtain” That seems like an odd detail; did something happen to her old shower curtain?

    “His Trickster’s focus” Extra his.
    “you go get help?”” You will or you’ll?
    “He grinned, “For eating.” I think that could be a period instead of a comma there, since the grin seems like a separate action from the speech.
    “I mention that Emma” Mentioned.
    “some drunken” Double space.
    “Washington. Talking” Extra spaces.
    “Lacey climbed into the” Extra space.

  5. I get a sudden feeling that I know where this is going. Taylor is going to physically take down Coil. Here and now. Without over-complicating the issue. She’ll just plain take him and his goons down.

    And then she’ll become a new mayor / ruler / whatever. By a write-in voting.

    • I can actually see something similar. Coil threatens her dad, not knowing she is there, and Skitter takes him down. Which shows the candidates that she A. Doesn’t like needless violence, B. Willing to leave people alone, and C. Not to be fucked with. From there the story snowballs into the fact that it is Skitter who runs the Undersiders/Travelers and runs the city. Then her dad finds out who she is.

      • She didn’t bring her costume. Why in the fucking world would she expose herself like that. Not only would that completely shatter her masquerade, it would also just get her shot in the chest. The only reason she doesn’t die to gunshots is from her costume. That also leaves Dinah to be stuck with Coil.

        • Her power is PERFECT for attacking someone without exposing herself. Just a giant swarm of bugs/bug clones attacking while she pretends to be an innocent bystander huddling with her dad. Granted Coil knows what she looks like, but there are hundreds of people in there and she can sense/attack far away from their eyes and guns. She could theoretically attack them right now without anyone knowing it was her. She has every reason in the world NOT to attack Coil except one. As long as her Dad’s life isn’t in danger, the Coil is none the wiser that she is there. But are you seriously saying she wouldn’t attack Coil to save her Dad’s life?

          • If Coil calls out her father specifically, then he will almost certainly notice Taylor standing right next to him. At that point plans change. Even if he does decide to go through with things, if this goes poorly he just collapses the timeline and notes that he should kill Skitter soon.

            If she had built up a swarm attacking could work against his guards. Coil goes everywhere in his suit, and if you think that thing isn’t set up to keep out bugs you are dreaming. If Taylor went after him right now he would escape and murder her father, then he would have a VERY good chance at killing her as well. He knows what she looks like, who her people are, and where she gets her money.

            Also, she would never do it because she is so desperate to save Dinah that is willing to damn everyone else.

          • …Why exactly would Coil randomly attack her dad? He knows who she is and who her dad is, what point is there in waiting until now to risk a fight with her?

            Her power makes her a nightmare for guns (no visibility, she’d jam mechanisms and attack fingers which have to be exposed to fire effectively) and normal people in general, they’d be down in seconds. Coil might last longer but she has a huge range advantage and his power would be useless once he’s in her swarm.

            In any case, attacking Coil doesn’t help her, attacking Skitter or her father makes no sense for Coil. If Danny starts heckling it’ll be by making pointed questions. Which Coil is smart enough to respond to with actual answers, especially since this is him going out in public.

            And again, he still needs his employees, losing the Undersiders now would destroy his position.

    • Taylor is one of only a couple people who know how Coil’s power works, if I recall correctly, so she has to assume that he’s going to have Backup Coil somewhere safe. Thus she can’t do anything too nifty. Well, okay, she’s Taylor, she usually can do something really nifty, but I can’t see how she’d be able to directly take Coil down right now.

    • I doubt it. whatever Coil is trying for will probably work and if he is anywhere as good as he should be, it will work without any violence. If violence does happen and any of her fathers friends end up getting hurt things are going to get ugly though.

  6. Another great update. Quite the dynamic between Grue and Skitter, there.
    Say, to bring up something I saw a while back; is there a chance we’ll get to see a wiki entry, or web discussion on the Undersiders, like what Taylor did right at the start when researching them?
    Anyone see Skitter(the costumed villain) interacting with Danny Hebert at some point?

    • We just got one view on capes now, and it seems like we’ll get some more next chapter, assuming the debate progresses at least a bit before Coil makes his move. Yes to Taylor interacting with her dad while in costume.

      • I am a little interested in what is going on in the other cities. We know that there are other cape cities, they mention Boston, and that the heroes are outnumbered. There has to be a reason Coil chose Brockton Bay to take over, and continue to stay there after Leviathan.

  7. What I’m seeing here is either A. A means to discredit Coil and his organization and make a play for more security/outside forces/National Guard/etc or B. Coil and his group coming in to watch the debate and going to vote.

    “It’s our city, too. We’ve bled, died, and fought to keep it in one piece so you could have this chance. Please don’t waste it. And for those who think that this place is a horrible hell, tell that to the folks in Newfoundland, or Japan. We, Brockton Bay as a whole, have fought the worst that the world has thrown at us, and we *still survive*. That has to count for something. Tell your friends and neighbors to vote today.”

    Now, that would be quite the kinker and not what would normally appear given the caution and care that the teams have shown up with… but old habits *do* die hard.

  8. I just noticed that Coil, with his ability and caution, is likely to have a backup-universe of some kind. And granted, it’s not guaranteed, but with something so high-profile and dangerous like this, he likely left the other him at home. And since we’re not going to see to-be-collapsed timelines, whatever happens now, he, at least somewhat, wants to happen.
    And even if he prefers to leave himself two ways of dealing with this situation, we’re only going to see the outcome he prefers. For better or for worse.

    • Yes, Things are going to work out for Coil in the short run, that sort of is his power.

      I think his weakness has always been that it is only in the short run and that if the best long term solution goes through a temporary defeat or setback he won’t achieve it unless he is at some point forced to choose the lesser of two evils.

      If he becomes to reliant on his powers he might very well end up painting himself into a corner where everything goes just fine until he in the end manoeuvres himself into a situation with no good way out.

  9. “And I’m getting used to talking to empty rooms. Sometimes catch Aisha off guard.”
    That… that is completely hilarious. I can imagine Aisha’s reaction when her brother suddenly talks to her despite having no way of knowing she’s there. :P

    “Should you be drinking with the kidney damage?” I asked, as the doors shut.
    “Anyways, I’m sorry,” he said, as the doors shut.
    Do those doors need to be shut more than once?

    • I don’t quite understand that one, actually.

      Aisha’s power isn’t invisibility. If she’s there, you know it. It’s only *after* she’s gone that you forget she was ever there.

      I suppose you might catch her as she was just leaving, but that seems like a long shot, especially since, when she exits, you’re usually too busy being confused and going “What was I doing again?” to talk to empty rooms.

  10. That was a fantastic cliffhanger! I find the idea of Coil turning up in a flashy limo quite amusing. It will be interesting to see what happens next because he has never been so visible to the public (that I can recall), its a gamechanger.

  11. Very good with a nice cliffhanger. I still feel as if we are being set up for big emotional punch in the face about Christmas storywise.

    Possibly ugly scenarios I could envision: Coil’s troops end up gunning down her dad’s friends as they start a riot. Triumph discovers her and starts something. somehow Taylor is forced to act and becomes unmasked at least to her dad with him not accepting her career choice.

    But maybe things will go of without a hitch. Maybe Coil has used his powers and found a way to take control of the city relatively bloodlessly. Good for him.

    One way or another Coil will end up in charge, after all the arc is title monarch and not failed coup.

    In the long term I can foresee Coil becoming a necessary evil for the city that stabilizes the whole mess and keeps things running. And right when everything seems to be working out tragedy will strike. Trickster and his friends might take violent exception to the fact that he did not keep his promise regarding Noelle or something similar. Coil will end up dead/unavailable and Taylor will stand before the tough decision of either letting Coil’s criminal empire and with it the city fall apart or take his place. She will be forced to become the very thing she always wanted to avoid; for the greater good.

    As an added punch in the gut I can see her eventually freeing Dinah only to learner that she has no family left to go back too and ends up adopting her and using her power in much the same way Coil was. Desperately trying to not be like him while circumstances force her otherwise.

    Or maybe not…

  12. So I’m not very good at reading between the lines here. Did Taylor and Brian have sex? With what was described it honestly sounds more like heavy making out to me, but can’t really tell what you were going for there.

      • What else do two naked teenagers do in bed that propmts one to casually say they’d spend too much time together in the shower?

        • Making out and exploring each others body without having sex could all lead to the same situation. I know this first hand. I’m not trying to argue they didn’t have sex, would just prefer a clear answer. The lack of any mention of “first time” makes me think they didn’t though, as it seems odd she would just gloss over something so important.

  13. This is more to correct myself from earlier in the year thaj to comprehensively go through everything about it. But it was wrong for me to saythe blame from tragedies that we see again and again are xue to crqziness in the sense of mental illness. It is an unfair stigma to a group already distrusted, blamed, and violently harmed by others more than most.

    But the thing is, I see everyone as fucking batshit. Excuses by highly paid newspeople and lobbyists will help to prove my point. Not much to say or much I can say. The Onion put it pretty damn well.

    Their world’s have been shattered and we all regret that most the rest of uscan do is merely wish it were otherwise.

  14. I’m having a bit of a “fuck you, Worm” moment here. It’s my first time posting. You know why? Do you? It’s the end of a several day long binge. And to end it like this? Damn you all.

    In other news, I’m loving the story. It was mentioned in passing by a friend and I will admit, I only checked it out because I was hoping it would alleviate my boredom, and my inability to concentrate on my own writing. Ended up overdosing. Happens to me a lot.
    But damn you all once again. I need my mind occupied for three more days, or I’m going to go insane. That, added to the fact that I’m dying to find out what happens next, will most likely result in long-term therapy.

    I’m happy that Skitter finally got some. Not so happy that it was with Brian. I was hoping that she’d find an edgier character along the way, not fall into the hands of the guy who had already shut her down and isn’t even sure of what he’s doing. Also, for those of you who think that Skitter doing ‘it’ with Grue means taking advantage of his fragile state, remember that he is a couple of years older. It evens the whole thing out in my eyes. He’s not a kid, now, is he?

    Damn, I stopped myself from commenting so many times over the whole binge that now I have so much to say, that it would end up being an essay. Nobody wants that, right? I actually read a few comments after every chap. to prolong the experience, and I must admit, the following for this story is just as entertaining as the story itself. And yes, big part of that is Psycho Gecko.

    Okay, I think I’ll try and work on my own thing for a bit. It will be torture to wait for the next chapter, but it’s worth it. Once again, I love it. It’s brilliant and keeps my mind in overdrive. Thank you. (:

    • As a side note, I always love it when someone’s archive binging & commenting on the earlier chapters as they go. Usually gets me rereading earlier segments of the story for the hundredth time. Too bad you held back.

      (I joined a writer’s circle to get some comments on the earlier chapters, so I can revise them somewhere down the line, bring them up to par, make the beginning snappier, fix awkward writing).

      If your own writing is a serial, let me know. I can link to you under ‘Friends/readers of Worm’.

      Thanks for reading. Hope to see you in the comments in the future.

      • I was actually considering going back over the story and commenting where I feel that I should. Now that I don’t feel like I have to ram the whole story straight into my gray matter, I can breath and evaluate.

        The reason why I held back is that I was too eager to continue reading. I weighed the benefit of giving feedback and the excitement of the next chapter, and unfortunately, my naturally selfish nature won out.

        Also, I had way too much to say on already done arguments. For example, the school issue. But as I am on the supportive side of the argument, I see how me bringing it up can be beneficial.

        I assure you, you’ll see me in the comment section. It’s not that easy to get rid of me. God, it’s easier to defeat all three Endbringers by dissing their mama’s than to make me go away. I’m persistent.

        Btw, because of your story, I got more than one funny look from my family. But I guess talking to a computer screen, laughing hysterically and waving one’s hands around every once in a while can do that. I love it. (:

        • You’re not the first person to say that they laughed aloud. Some even say they find it humorous, which blows my mind, because I don’t really see the funny.

          Talking to the screen? Flailing about? Glad you’re enjoying it that much.

          • Always glad to see someone else commenting who is a huge fan. Oh, and Wilbow’s got one or two (hundred) fans around here too, I suppose. Welcome to the comments section. Don’t be afraid to post a wall of text. If they will keep putting up with me, they’ll put up with anything. Including (buy Pepsi) secret subliminal (Hate NCsoft) advertising (try new Soylent Cola today!).

          • I’m just going to clarify a bit. I am not batshit insane. It’s more of a “oh no, you didn’t!”, “oh shit” and “oh my” sort of talking to the screen. And it’s not necessarily flailing about, more of exaggerated hand signals and facepalms at certain scenes.
            I’m perfectly sane, I swear!

            Wildbow, it’s more of situational humour rather than outright jokes that get us. At least, that’s how it is for me. Keep up the great work. (:

          • @Raven, re: “I am not batshit insane.”

            Woke up in my clothes again this morning.
            Don’t know exactly where I am.
            I should heed my doctor’s warning –
            He does the best with me he can.

            He claims I suffer from delusions,
            But I’m so confident I’m sane.
            It can’t be no optical illusions,
            So how can you explain shadows in the rain?

            — Sting: Shadows in the Rain

            I’m sure we’re all pretty confident we’re sane most of the time. But how can anyone tell?

            Hg

          • @Hydrargentium

            Actually, according to some people (don’t ask me where I’m getting this, might be pulling it out of my arse), only sane people question their sanity.

            So, I admit, I sometimes question my own sanity and sometimes the answer ends up being pigeon. It means I’m fine, right? Right?

      • I’m glad I read the comments this far, and hopefully this still holds true even though the story is finished. I’ve also been binging on your awesome writing, and I haven’t made a comment because I was sure no one would read them, but if you will, that’s good enough for me.

        For example, someone made a comment about a “makeshift shower curtain,” and I typed out a thing about how I love your detail so much, because you do stuff like this that makes me take a second. Then I remembered you had mentioned that her old sliding shower door had been hit by Shatterbird.

  15. Why else would he want you all to stay home, Skitter? Guess she didn’t learn that much about his methods at the bank robbery.

  16. You know, I wasn’t too happy when I realized that the Grue/Skitter ship was going to sail, but I’m glad its working out for her. She certainly deserves it.

    Also, Imp/Regent. Because it has to be said.

    • Actually, Imp really does have to be said if we’re talking about Coil and circumventing his power. Since people don’t remember what Imp did while her power is active, that puts her in a unique position to deal with a guy who is aware of two divergent realities simultaneously.

  17. Ok, so Coil’s power lets him diverge realities. So, if we assume he did this early this morning and played out the day to see how things will play out for his endgame(if this is) and after tinkering with it for a bit so he could detail the best course of action to follow, collapsed realities so he could proceed with his action.
    The thing I wonder about is the limitation of his actions and how far ahead he can go. Because the most obvious flaw I see in his ability is: Coil creates two realities. One of those, he goes forward and the other he does not.
    Then after seeing how things will play out, he collapses back to his starting point and prepares to take action
    But! The flaw I see here is: His ability will only show him how things would play out from That Moment he started from. So, if(for example) started the day with his splitting and at the time that he does so, Taylor’s plan is to spend an afternoon with her dad, having lunch, etc. So anything that Coil -sees- will be affected by that.
    And then Taylor(still on example) arrives to meet her dad and finds herself being dragooned along to the debate… a place Coil clearly didn’t want -any- of the Travellers or Undersiders anywhere near. But this change was not one that occurred in Coil’s universe that he played this out, because when he split, she wasn’t going to be there. So, for most things, I doubt it affects how things would play out because not-relevant. But for people close to him… if he plays out things and his alt-uni’s can’t branch out beyond 2 possibilities. So, if someone does something that wasn’t in one of the 2…. he’s caught with NO idea what will happen.

    Ok, rambled a bit and not sure if I have explained my thought clearly(or if this has come up before)

    • Here’s the thing about Coil’s power – he doesn’t control time in the worlds. Regardless of what he does, time passes in each reality.

      So he couldn’t ‘play out the day’ to see if his plan would succeed and then go ahead & do it. He could simulate something close to it by rescheduling the debate and/or doing this at some other major event, then canceling the reality.

      He could also attend the debate in one reality and stay home with his personal army in the other. If it doesn’t work out in the reality where he attends, he cancels it out and effectively never went.

      • So, because we’re seeing this reality, we know this is the one Coil prefers – perhaps something really bad happens at his home in the other, or he won’t provoke Skitter as we seem to think he will. Or my idea that he’s planning to use her presence is correct (her father attending the debate isn’t really surprising, nor is her going with him).

        • This is basically why chapters with Coil are always fun. You KNOW things are going to work out for him in them. It just becomes a matter of how and who he is backing at the time.

          • *drops a perception-proof banana peel in front of Coil made in a process involving cloning Imp, odd cross-species genetic manipulation and the Peanut Butter Jelly Time mascot*

            All she’s got to do is kill him until he dies from it and I think we have our way of circumventing his power.

  18. So I actually had a dream where I was in the story. I was part of the group trying to take down Coil, and we did so by keeping him from realizing that any damage was done, so he would accept the reality and start a new divergence in which both were already going to fail. Being a dream, it was a little fuzzy on the specifics, but I just thought it was interesting that you have influenced my dreams :P

  19. “S’okay,” I replied. I shifted my feet restlessly. I’d never felt more a stranger in my own house. Didn’t know where to go, where I wouldn’t be drawing attention, have people asking me questions. It was hard enough with my dad

    Paragraph seems to be cut off, there.


  20. “I’ll figure this out myself. Have to do this myself, or I feel like it won’t count, it won’t really be a fix.”

    I didn’t like that response, but it was a hard one to argue with.”

    “You’re not special, psychiatrists have plenty of patients who feel that way, they’re trained to help you” People hating people trained to help them is a pet peeve of mine, I swear every other character in every story on the planet has an issue with psychiartry you wonder how it’s still profitable.

    • Based on what Brian said, it’s not that he *hates* psychiatrists, it’s that he would feel like a failure if he couldn’t handle it himself. Given his background it’s very understandable that he feels like he can’t rely on anyone but himself. Makes total narrative sense and I read it as indicative of Brian’s character, not a sleight against psychiatrists.

      My personal feeling on modern psychiatry/psychology is that it’s a confusopoply. There’s a wide variety of drugs and a wide variety of therapeutic techniques, ranging from ones based on Freud (psychoanalysis) to ones based on a more practical focus (CBT/REBT – which apparently has similar results to drugs without the side-effects) to ones based on modern neuroscience (memory reconsolidation theory). The average person would have no idea where to start – how’s someone with depression etc. supposed to manage it?

  21. “Might be time to stop then, Lacey,” my dad said. Turning to me, he said, “I suppose you’re asking the classic question, Taylor. Would you rather be a slave in heaven or a free man in hell?”
    “Free man in hell,” Kurt responded. ”Fuck. You think I’d be doing what I do, living here, if I was willing to make nice, suck up to the guys in charge and do what I was told?”

    Sounds like the question is less a question of if you’d rather be a slave in heaven or a free man in hell than it is a question of if you’d rather be a slave under a mean-spirited angel or a benevolent demon.
    Benevolent demon, all day, every day.

    • Mm, that’s what makes Taylor’s dad’s response so interesting – he’s the only one to look past the initial question to its long-term implications. ie. What happens when the benevolent demon is gone and you’re still in hell?

      • The thing is, it’s only “hell” because the guy (girl, whatever) running it is a demon. Take away the demon, take away the hell.

  22. Heh. Taylor being in the company of some regular civilians is a great context for Coil to assume control… because that means she can realise a few of the problems with her long-term plan of getting Coil in charge of the city. Very interesting discussion about a villain-run city versus one run by the authorities. I really don’t know which outcome would be better for Brockton Bay at this point.

  23. “… crowds getting in the way on footpaths, …” This line struck me as odd. Maybe it’s a US/ Canadian difference; I think of footpaths as something I encounter in a forest, not a city. I’d use ‘sidewalks’ for the city-scape image.
    ~~~
    “Emma had turned on me, my mom had left me, and my dad… I had to admit I’d left him.” Another line that got a ‘hunh?’ from me. Because Mom didn’t ‘leave’ and Emma didn’t ‘turn’ until after Mom was killed. I know that you were going for the parallel, but it doesn’t fit.
    ~~~
    Some of the sentences in the section where Taylor is thinking about her morning interactions with Brian are a bit run-on and jumbled. It does fit her ‘ruminating’ about it, bit when it gets hard to parse it slows reading them down and pulls the reader out rather than in.
    ~~~
    “Brockton bay” — Capitalization.
    ~~~
    Not to throw more fuel on the anyway/anyways debate, but I think Danny would use a more scholarly tone and not say ‘anyways’ while talking to Taylor.
    ~~~
    I know most of my recent comments the last few arcs have been very nit-picky and editor-ish. I even considered not posting them, but since they are coming long after the original postings, I figured you might find the reader feedback useful when you go to edit for a different format. I mostly try to point out things that jerk me out of the flow for some reason.

    I do want to stop and say that I think the entire story and the whole Wormverse is amazing! I’m not usually much of a fan for the superhero genre, but your work pulls me on in spite of that. I find the characters and changing POV and the complexity here in Worm so much more compelling than most of the fare in other works.

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