Monarch 16.9

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Heavy.  The weight of the body on top of me was making it hard to breathe.  Some backup process kicked into gear as my body tried and failed to take in air.  I was thrust out of unconsciousness, or out of the semiconscious daze I’d been in.  I managed to struggle to get my upper body free, fighting past the aches that made every joint and every bone hurt to heave the body off me.

It hadn’t felt like sleep, or the darkness of unconsciousness, but I hadn’t been thinking either.  I felt a moment’s disorientation and wondered if I’d suffered another concussion.  My thoughts felt too lucid.

The body.  My dad?  I opened my eyes to look, saw only cloudy white.  Dust?  It was similar to when I woke up with bleary eyes, but no matter how many times I blinked, I could only see a white haze with vague patches of light and dark.  Blinking made my face burn where the skin of my eyelids and around my eyes moved.  More irritating was the sensation that I had something in my eyes, except no amount of blinking was helping.  They’d been damaged?

Stupid to look straight at the explosion.  I’d thought I had another half-second to grasp what was going on before I had to turn my head and shut my eyes.  Apparently that wasn’t good enough.

My dad.  Right.  I reached over and fumbled to find his throat.  He had a pulse.  I put one hand in front of his mouth and found him breathing.

I was whole, he was alive.  Anything else would be hard to verify.

I was forced to use my bugs to see.  What their eyes processed might not translate well in my brain, but it was about as good as what I had.  Didn’t want to move the bugs or gather a swarm.  It would be too easy to track me down, to find Skitter lying among the wounded.

No, I only looked, keeping the bugs where they were, and feeling things out where necessary with only a handful of flies.  I could feel a breeze.  The front of the building had a hole in it.  The lobby had been annihilated, and much of it was open to the sky.  The black blobs that had pulled up around the building had flickering lights on top.  Sirens.  They would be the first responders.

I’d noted the structural damage.  I tried to picture the scene as I’d last glimpsed it.  What had been where?  Who had been where?

The reporters had been at the very back of the room, the last to make their way down the aisles in the press of the crowd and the people making their way out of their seats.  Some had lingered, protecting their equipment or filming the scene.  I tenderly moved one fly over the area, feeling the shattered boards, the blood-slick expanses of floor, the charred flesh.

Several of the Wards were working to tend to the wounded.  Clockblocker had saved the Wards, apparently, but had been too late in tending to himself, and was currently lying prone, receiving some care from Weld.  Chariot was gone.

There had been hundreds of people present, and too many had still been in the building when the explosion went off.  The dad and son who’d been restrained in the lobby?  The mayor, candidates and director who’d been wounded, then left without aid when the explosion injured the people who were giving them first aid, sent the people flying?

I couldn’t even grasp the entirety of the scene, not without bringing my swarm to bear.  I couldn’t do that without possibly revealing my presence when I was in a vulnerable position.

I felt around to find Kurt and Lacey.

“Hey baby,” Lacey said.  “You woke up.”

“You hurt?”

“Just a little bit.  Might have slipped a disc.  Probably nothing to worry about, but I’m going to stay as still as I can with how bad this hurts.  I’ve been watching your dad, trying to tell if he’s breathing or if I’m imagining it.  You didn’t freak out, so I take it that our Danny’s okay?”

“He’s okay.  I think.”

“Good.  Kurt’s unconscious but he’s alright.  You see Alexander anywhere?”

I blinked a few times.  Did she not realize I couldn’t see?  “No.”

“Okay, hon.  You should stay as still as possible.”

I shook my head.  “No.  Going to see if anyone needs help.”

She gripped my hand, started to say something, then winced.

“What’s wrong.”

“Hurts, is all.  Stay put?  Safest thing to do.”

I shook my head.  I couldn’t say it, but I felt like I’d been through enough crises and suffered enough that I was aware of what the pain was telling me.  I was almost certain I wasn’t in critical danger.  It was what my gut was telling me.

With only a small few bugs to guide me, I left my dad, Kurt and Lacey behind, climbing up the stairs to the damaged stage, fumbling for the other wounded.  I could only draw crude images of the situation from touch, from the blurry images my eyes offered me and through my bugs.  A woman, unconscious like my dad.  A man, his arms hugged to his lower stomach as he writhed in perpetual agony.

The mayor.  I crawled over to him, pressing my fingers to his throat.  He had a pulse, but it was thready.  I drew bugs from where they hid in the midst of my hair, commanded them down my arms and tried to bend over so my hair masked what I was doing.  Once they were on him, I sent them over the length of his body, noting where there was blood.  No use fumbling around with my hands.  I didn’t want to bump one of the throwing knives and gave it the push necessary to drive it into one of his arteries.  One of the knives that impaled his hip had moved, probably when the explosion happened, and the offending weapon wasn’t serving to cork the blood flow.

I pulled my sweatshirt from around my waist, leaving my knife where it was on my belt, folding one sleeve and pressing it around the base of where the knife had penetrated.  It wasn’t enough, didn’t feel like I was doing anything, but I wasn’t sure what else I could do.  I wasn’t strong enough to do chest compressions.

“Help!”  I shouted.  “I need help here!”

Nobody leaped to the rescue.  Anyone else that was still in the building was too busy with their own injuries, were still unconscious or were making their way outside.

Damn them.

Damn Coil.  I would make him answer for this.

Yes, I had seen ‘Coil’ die.  I had little doubt others had as well, even news cameras would have had eyes on the scene.  Especially news cameras.  Coil had staged this, taken advantage of the reporters’ cameras, the fact that there were no working communications, and all the important figures would be attending.  He was too savvy, too invested in his plan to not have taken all the variables into account.  Just the fact that I knew about his power turned this whole scenario on its head.  He wouldn’t have charged in like this without a backup, without a version of himself staying safe and secure in his underground base, just in case things went awry.

No.  I might have seen the man die, but the more I thought about it, the less I could believe that man was Coil.

The emergency response team had stopped outside, at the perimeter of the building.  I listened through the bugs in the area, but I couldn’t follow any of the conversation.  Even tracking who was speaking was nearly impossible.

Whatever they had been discussing, they ventured inside.  Some, who I gathered might be police officers, were moving to the most affected areas, the places where the reporters had been, the lobby.  The paramedics proceeded down the aisles, too slowly for my liking, checking on the wounded.

“Help!” I called out, but my voice was nearly drowned out by the other wounded.  It was one or two minutes before a paramedic saw the mayor and hurried to my side.  I could tell where he was because of the bug I’d planted on him, but I couldn’t say as much.

“I’ve got this,” she said.  The paramedic was a woman.

I gratefully backed away.  Even the strain of pushing the makeshift bandage down had been making every ache and pain across my body stand out in sharp relief.

“Your name?” she asked me.

“Taylor.”

A short distance away, my dad groaned a response, as if he’d heard my voice.  I noticed more because of the mosquito I’d placed over his carotid artery than my ears.  I didn’t let on that I’d noticed anything.

“You shouldn’t be moving, Taylor.”

“I’m sore, but I don’t think I’m hurt.  I wanted to help.”

“What kind of pain?”

“Bruises, aches.  My dad took the brunt of it,” I pointed in his general direction.  “My face hurts, and, um, I can’t see.”

“Don’t worry.  Soon as we take care of the critically injured, we’ll look after you.”

“I’m alive,” I said.  “I mean, I’m okay.  I’d rather you guys checked my dad and his friends, make sure they aren’t hurt, help the other candidates, and the Director.  They were stabbed before the explosion.  All of them like this.  Um.  They were getting help when the bomb blew.  I think whoever was helping them got knocked away by the explosion.”

I was rambling.  How fine was I?

The paramedic shouted, “Boroughs!  Sturdevant!  Manry!  Girl here says there’re MSW victims on the stage here!”

I could hear running footsteps, one of my bugs brushed against one of them as they ran past.

There wasn’t much more I could do.  I’d gladly out myself if it meant I could use my power to help people, maybe identify the most wounded, but I was worried it would do more harm than good, both in the short-term and in the long.  I was left to sit there, blind, while the paramedic checked my dad over and then got someone else’s help to lift him to the ground.

As the paramedics checked whether people were alive, others were rousing.  I could hear the cries of pain, the shouts and screams.

Coil would answer for this.  For the people he’d hurt for his own selfish ends.  For knowingly putting me in the line of fire.  For the lives he’d spent like currency.

“Taylor, was it?” the paramedic asked me.

“Yeah.”

“You’re very quiet.  You’re breathing hard-”

“Angry.  And a little sore.  But I’m okay.  Really.  There’re others who need help.”

“Others are getting help.  We’ve got a lot of people here, and very few with serious injuries.  You have a burn on your face, we’re going to want to look after that.”

“The reporters, at the back of the auditorium-”

“I thought you couldn’t see.”

“I remember seeing them there, just before it went off.”

“Very few people were badly hurt.  Less than you might think.  Just stay calm.”

If I hadn’t used my bugs to see the evidence for myself, would I have been able to tell she was lying?

She wanted me to stay calm.  It was odd, but I felt very calm, and I didn’t feel like I was in shock.  I was pissed, I was worried about my dad, worried that I was missing something critical with Coil’s overarching plan, but I wasn’t panicking, I wasn’t stressing about the burn, or my eyes, or any of that.

I’d handled worse, in terms of injuries.  I wouldn’t freak over that much.  I’d love to be able to see what was going on, to not have to worry about permanent blindness, but I wouldn’t worry about it until I could confirm how bad it was, confirm that it was permanent.

Sort of like how I was looking at the potential end of the world.  I wouldn’t worry about it until we’d exhausted every resource available and verified that in this era where countless people had the ability to break the fundamental rules of reality, someone couldn’t stop it from happening.

“I am calm,” I said, after confirming it for myself.  I tried to take a deep breath to demonstrate, but winced at the pain from the bruising.  I might have been pushed into the railing by the force of the explosion.  “But I don’t want you to worry about me.  My dad-”

“The bald guy by the stairs?”

“Yeah.”

“My partner’s looking after him.  Let’s make sure you’re okay.  If there’s spinal damage or internal damage and we’re ignoring it and letting you move around like you have been, things could get much worse than they are now.”

I shut my eyes, noting how the blurry white haze gave way to darkness.  I could remember when Leviathan had hit me, how Panacea had noted internal damage that I’d been entirely unaware of.  I sighed, opened my eyes to stare at the hazy figure.  “Okay.”

“We’re going to be putting you onto a stretcher, but we won’t be carrying you out for a minute.  We can’t leave you alone, but I’ll need to help my partner carry your dad out.  What we’re going to do is put you next to someone, so someone can watch two or three of you at once.”

“Okay.”

I was lifted into place, then carried a short distance before being set down with great care.  The paramedic there was talking with one of the other patients, leaving me free to think.

Why?

That was what got me.  This whole thing bordered on senselessness.  Hurting these people, putting me in the line of fire.  Why attack the event?  It would draw attention from heroes across the nation and it would make holding the city that much harder.  Had he abandoned the plan?  Or were there nuances I wasn’t aware of?

What was deliberate, in how this had unfolded?  He’d wanted to take out the mayor.  But the candidates?  Hadn’t they been his?

I was looking at it the wrong way.  Circus.  She had been part of the plan from the beginning, and he’d hired her for an explicit reason.  Her powers included her personal pocket dimension for storing items.  I couldn’t think of how that might be used.  She had minor pyrokinesis, but that didn’t apply here, either.  She also had an enhanced sense of balance and enhanced coordination.

The balance wasn’t a major thing here.  But the coordination?  The way she’d been able to casually target Piggot as she tossed the throwing knives over one shoulder?  If I had to guess, Circus’ knives had only killed the people Coil wanted dead.  The others would have been hit in nonvital areas.  Her enhanced hand-eye coordination would have given her the accuracy needed to ensure the knives hit where she wanted them to hit.

Über, then?  Leet?  What was the rationale for them?  When we’d left the fundraiser and Coil had revealed himself as our employer, it had been Trainwreck in Coil’s company, but Trainwreck had joined the Merchants, possibly at Coil’s behest, and the Merchants had been eradicated.  He was dead.

That led me to wonder if Coil had brought in Über as a stand-in for Trainwreck, wearing another heavy metal suit.

Was there a reason for why Coil wanted it?

Circus, Über, Leet, Chariot, the candidates… moving parts in a greater set of machinations that I wasn’t aware of.  The reporters, me, my dad, and any number of people in the area, we were the bystanders, the casualties.

And I couldn’t get why.  Was it to attack or assassinate the mayor and Director?  To mark his candidates as survivors of a supervillain attack and give them more standing in the eyes of the public?  It didn’t make sense.  Why go to the effort of positioning the Undersiders and the Travelers in the city if that was his goal?  Any advantage he might glean from us holding territory would be counterbalanced by the chaos and the national attention that he drew from this kind of terrorism.  It wouldn’t be directed at him, because his body double had been killed in the attack, but it couldn’t help, either.

If I thought about it, I could almost believe the bombing had been intentional.  I couldn’t say how he’d arranged it, but the fact that he’d thought to have a body double and the man had died and that ‘Coil’ was effectively off everyone’s radar seemed too coincidental.

It was something I needed to ruminate on.  Minutes passed, and I was left with only my bugs to occupy me, and the periodic attention of the paramedic who’d been assigned to watch me, making sure I was still alive and lucid.  I directed bugs into the rubble, beneath the chairs that had been unrooted from the auditorium floor, under and onto bodies.  Slowly, I gained a greater picture of the scene, a topographical map of what Coil had done.  I couldn’t count the bodies, not with the way the reporters had been pulverized, limbs and bones torn free and left lying beneath chairs or at the sides of the aisles

“We’re moving you now,” a man said.

“Me?”

“Yeah.  Just stay put, don’t move.”

I was lifted into the air, carried past the ruined wall at the rear of the auditorium.  I could smell the scent of death, the mingled smells of blood and shit, of human bodies that had been torn open, singed, the vitreous fluids and all the messy ugliness from inside our bodies exposed to the air.  It seemed incongruous with the cool breeze and the gentle warmth of the sun on my face.  I had to turn my head so the sun wasn’t shining on the burn.

Shouldn’t a catastrophe like this be met with rain?  An overcast sky?  It didn’t seem right that things were so quiet, so calm, the day so tranquil when so many people had died, lost loved ones or suffered serious injury.  I bit my lip, focusing on my bugs, sweeping them through the area as the ambulance made its way to the hospital and the paramedic in the back carefully checked my vitals, asking me questions about the degree of pain, stiffness here or there and checking for hard tissue where there might be internal injuries.

It was odd, going to the same hospital where I’d been taken after fighting Leviathan.  I maintained a few bugs to feel things out – a stray housefly or mosquito would likely go unnoticed if it kept out of the way.  There were no capes, no blue tags or red tags on the curtain rods, nor PRT uniforms keeping order and informing the staff of who they were treating.

They took me to a curtained off area, very similar to the one I’d been in before.  Except here I was Taylor, not Skitter.  I wasn’t handcuffed, treated roughly or outed for my most damaging secrets.  They investigated me thoroughly, shone a light in my eyes and asked me far too many questions.  A cream was spread across the mild burn on a quarter of my face, and the nurse picked grit out from beneath my skin.  The process hurt, but it was a two at most on a scale of one to ten.  I’d dealt with tens before.

The fact that I couldn’t see was starting to wear on me.  My left eye was worse than my right, but neither let me see details, only smudges.  Only light and dark.  I was so used to having an unnaturally broad sense of what was going on, but I’d just had one of my most essential senses stripped away from me.

As the medical professionals left, a young woman slipped into the curtained enclosure.

“Hey,” she said.  “You’re alive?”

“Lisa?”

“Yeah.”

“Honeybee-T.”

“Praying-mantis-R.  You’re blind.  Damn, that sucks,” she said.

“Yeah,” I sighed.  “My dad?”

“He’s okay.  Looked in on him.  He woke up and was asking after you.  He doesn’t like me much, anymore.”

“You took me away from him.  He’ll blame you for that because it’s easier than blaming me, I guess.”

“I guess.”  I planted a mosquito between her shoulder blades, and I could track her as she stepped closer, crouching with her arms resting on the rail of the hospital bed.  When she spoke, she was quiet enough that only I could hear her.  “We can get you a healer or something.  Kidnap someone like Othala, have Regent or Grue use her powers.”

“Othala isn’t around.  Left the city.”

“We’ll hire someone with healing powers, then.”

“They won’t want to come here, because of the very thing you were talking about with Othala.  Word’s probably out about us owning the city, especially after we kicked out groups like the Chosen, and Faultline’s crew.  They’ll tell people just how dangerous we are, the kind of tactics we can employ, like using Regent or Grue.”

“We have options.”

“I know.  I’m not worried about me.  What gets me is what happened.  So many were hurt or killed.”

“Lots hurt, not so many killed, from what I’ve seen and heard on the subject.  But that’s not important right now.  What are your priorities?”

I blinked.  “My dad-”

“Is fine.”

“My territory, the fires?”

“Strategically placed, nowhere near our real lairs.  Nobody hurt, but I think he molotov’d one of your barracks, setting the fire high so people had a chance to get out.”

“The others, Grue-”

“They weren’t anywhere nearby.  We’re going to meet up with them soon.”

“Dinah.”

Now you’re on track.  We’ve talked about plans.  And Coil-”

“He’s alive, right?” I asked.

“Mm hmm,” Lisa affirmed.  “And better for us, he’s probably happy.  Everything’s coming together for him, just the way he wanted it to.  Which means that right now, today, is going to be our best bet for talking to him, getting at him when he’s in a mood to release the tyke.  Come on, out of bed.”

My head was spinning, but it wasn’t a concussion at work.  After everything I’d done, everything I’d put in, we were this close?  I accepted Lisa’s help in getting out of the hospital bed, and she hooked her arm beneath mine to lead me away.

“So we just ask, and hope he’s feeling good enough to say yes?”  Which means biting my tongue when it comes to the accusations, calling him on what he did at the debate.

Lisa spoke at a more normal volume, “He doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who’ll be influenced much by his emotions.  He probably decided a while ago whether he’ll give up the girl or not.  But I say we should take anything we can get, and that includes approaching him on a good day.  Choose your words carefully, by the way.  There’s bystanders.”

I nodded, but I didn’t follow as she tugged on my arm.  “Can we check on my dad before we go?”

“They were moving him when I poked my head in.  I peeked at his chart, and it looks like they had queued him up for an MRI, what with his recent internal injuries from Shatterbird’s attack.”

I winced.

She went on, “I told him I might take you to my dad’s clinic, where the load won’t be as high, if you were okay to be moved.  If I did take you, it’d mean you were okay.  He didn’t like that, but he agreed.  That doesn’t mean we can’t stay if you want to stay.  Like I said, it won’t make a huge difference if we get in touch with our boss now or two hours from now.”

“But it’ll make a difference?  A bit of one?”

“I think so.”

I thought back to my earlier feeling, that leaving my dad just the one more time might mean some kind of terminal break.

Stacking that up against everything I’d done with the end-goal of getting Dinah out of captivity, though… not even Dinah, exactly.  I barely knew her.  No, this was more selfish, I had to admit.  I was thinking of my own sense of guilt, about my own responsibility, and the crimes I’d committed in getting this far.  The terror, pain and distress I’d caused in the course of being Skitter.

Fifteen and a half years spent growing up with my dad versus two months as Skitter.  My dad was there, though.  He’d always been there, and the only thing I had to suggest that he wouldn’t was a vague feeling.

Just like there was only the vaguest possibility that our going to see Coil now would make the difference in him setting Dinah free.

“My dad’s going to be okay?” I asked.

“He was fine.  No sign of any deeper problems or pain.”

“Then let’s go.”

We made our way out of the hospital.  I could hear the cries of pain.

“Are we to blame for this?”

“No.  Don’t set yourself on this path.  We didn’t know, we couldn’t know, and we weren’t complicit in any way.”

“I was there.  I could have stepped up and done something, but I didn’t.”

“Done what?  Fought back?  Helped the wards?”

Yes.

“No.  Best case scenario, you might have tripped him up.  But it wouldn’t have been worth it.  Watch your step.  Stairs.”

I had no problem identifying the spots I was supposed to step down.  There were spiders on the underside of the stairwell, and I sent a few flies forward to alight on the underside of each stair to check the footing.

“It’s funny,” Lisa murmured, lowering her voice, “I’ve been meaning to suggest a training program.  That you should spend a while blindfolded, see if we can’t force you to rely on your power to see, get your brain to the point that you can actually process that info.  Guess you beat me to the punch.”

“It’s not that funny,” I said.  I didn’t like thinking about what might happen if I was still blind when the next disaster came along.

“Stepping outside,” she said.  I felt the warm air sweep past me as the door opened.  “Car’s just over here.  Nice thing about the city being in this state, it’s easy to find parking spots.”

She sounded so jovial, cheery.  I wasn’t nearly so optimistic.

She led us to the car, and opened the door for me.  “We’ll stop by your place so you can grab your costume and meet up with the others.  Then we’ll find Coil.”

“Find him?  He’s not at his base?”  I raised my voice to be heard as she walked around to the other side of the car and opened the door to get into the driver’s seat.

“He’s not at his base.  As of now, Coil’s dead and gone.  He’s sticking to his civilian identity.  Which is going to make meeting him and talking to him sort of difficult.”

I paused.  I’d been thinking over the scenario, calculating Coil’s overarching goal.  “Is he Keith Grove?”

“No,” Lisa said.  “One sec.”

The car started up, and there was a shuffling sound as she dug through a container.

A recording played over the car’s sound system.  Lisa shifted the car into gear and reversed out of her spot.  I listened.

A town meeting with hundreds of Brockton Bay residents was interrupted by a terrorist attack by a local villain just earlier today, an alleged assassination turned to even greater tragedy as a superhero-made piece of technology exploded unexpectedly.

This tragedy joins countless others that have recently befallen Brockton Bay, a city that was recently the subject of national discussion, where the United States Senate debated condemning the city, evacuating the remaining citizens and abandoning it as a lost cause.  A local crime lord headed a small group of supervillains in an attempt to assassinate Mayor Christner, Mayoral Candidate Keith Grove and Mayoral Candidate Carlene Padillo.  When local heroes intervened, however, a device owned by local Wards member ‘Kid Win’ malfunctioned, ultimately exploding in the lobby of the building.  While the number of casualties is yet unconfirmed, we can confirm that WCVN’s own on-site reporter and camera crew perished in the blast.  More information will be forthcoming as we have it.

First reports from the site report allegations of sabotage on the part of a known double agent within the group of junior heroes.  No members of the Brockton Bay PRT, Protectorate or Wards teams were available for comment, but sources inside the organization report that Director Emily Piggot, manager of the city’s PRT and government sponsored hero teams, is being put on leave pending a full investigation.

Filling in for the interim is Commander Thomas Calvert.  When asked about this new placement, the PRT reported that Commander Calvert served as a PRT field agent before an honorable discharge.  For the past several years he has offered his expertise to the PRT as a paid consultant in parahuman affairs for New York, Brockton Bay and Boston, later serving as a field commander for the PRT strike squads.  The PRT expresses full confidence in Commander Calvert’s ability to handle the daunting task of Brockton Bay’s parahuman-

The sound cut out.  Lisa had stopped the recording.

“Thomas Calvert,” I said.

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95 thoughts on “Monarch 16.9

  1. Well I’ll be damned!

    I’m definitely seeing Coil’s connection to Cauldron now considering his disappointment at not getting powers after the Nilbog fiasco. Although I am quite surprised that he’s still in the PRT, then again Cauldron more-or-less owns to PRT so…

    • Man my brother just told me about this series and i cant stop reading i found it this morning and currently am on arc 11. The Author deserves at least 40,000 viewers minimum, its very well written similar to game of thrones

  2. I got to admit, I wasn’t expecting Taylor to be blinded. This forces her to be more creative with her powers now, and may soon become a straight up disability superpower if she finally starts sensing more things through her bugs, like actually hearing and interpreting sound. It honestly fits with her character better than a straight-up second-trigger power-up.

    I was wondering if anyone noticed the bugs moving around in strange patterns, or Taylor seemingly moving well despite being blinded. I thought being blinded would make her slip up with her power usage and blow her cover in some way, especially when talking with others. For some reason, that doesn’t feel too right. Wouldn’t her dad and family friends be more questioning, especially when Lisa showed?

    Finally, Taylor voices all the speculation we readers had last chapter. The reveal of Thomas Calvert being Coil is very surprising. Didn’t he say he didn’t trigger after the Nilbog incident? Does this mean he triggered later, lied about triggering, or purchased his powers from Cauldron, explaining his involvement with them?

    My biggest fear, though, is that Lisa isn’t as trustworthy as she seems, and the information she’s giving now is all planted…

        • From his Interlude:

          It had certainly been an expensive talent. Even with his ability to game the markets in a way that clairvoyants and precognitives couldn’t detect, it had taken him years to pay it off. A maddening, frustrating endeavor, when he had already been thinking of plans he wanted to set in motion, having to postpone them. And he still owed a favor, even now, up to a week’s services. He couldn’t be sure if he was powerful and secure enough to fight back if they demanded too expensive a price, or too much of his time at a point critical to his plan.

    • Personally, I think he already had his powers at that point. Shoot Captain and live/don’t shoot die. Probably originally had a plan to work up the ranks that way while playing money games on the side.

  3. So now he runs the “Good Side” as well as the “Bad Side”. Now that is power. Any time He needs to remind some one who holds the city together he can stage a fight. Supper power fight every monday night any one?

  4. Calvert, eh? Well, we know what kind of guy he is. He’s the one who shot his commanding officer to make it up the ladder. (Symbolism? Metaphor? You be the judge.)

    Also, typo: “A local crime lord headed a small group supervillains” — should be “group of”.

    Wildbow, it’s obvious I’m going to have to work a lot harder at my story plotting if I want to have any chance of producing something as awesome as what you’re doing.

    Hg

    • I knew the name Thomas Calvert sounded familiar. I just didn’t know why it did yet. But now it is obvious.

      What is less obvious is what he’s planning to do as the head of the PRT. This isn’t going to be Dark Reign where villains got costumed up as heroes.

      I don’t know what your game is, Cauldron, but you’d better avoid opening up a portal to the wrong alternate dimension.

  5. Taylor’s Dad is wrong about the period the supers are taking the people back to. Its not the Iron age, that’s straight out of Machiavelli.

  6. “Done what? Fought back? Helped the wards?”

    Wards should be capitalized, like Coil on a bad situation.

    Coil’s interlude does state that his civilian identity is completely fabricated and that he was considering just dropping it once the base was built so he could be Coil full time. I can see a lot of his credential being fabricated, but that still leaves PRT agents to buy off or kill. Might not be doable.

  7. Thomas Calvert. The name does have a kind of villainous ring to it. more than Keith anyway.
    but the PRT award for most badass name has to go to agent Coldiron from 16.x

  8. “A town meeting with hundreds of Brockton Bay residents was interrupted by a terrorist attack by a man dressed as a rotten potato today, an alleged assassination turned to even greater tragedy as a superhero-made piece of technology exploded unexpectedly. Who knew it was dangerous to let teens run around with energy weapons and fusion reactors?

    “This tragedy joins countless others that have recently befallen Brockton Bay, a city that was recently the subject of national discussion, where the United States Senate debated condemning the city, evacuating the remaining citizens and abandoning it as a lost cause in a bill they would have named the “Fuck Those Guys” Act. A local crime lord headed a small group of supervillains in an attempt to assassinate Mayor Fuckface Christner, Mayoral Candidate Keith Grove, Mayoral Candidate Carlene Padillo, and most importantly, the point of view character of this story. When local heroes intervened, however, a device owned by local Wards member ‘Kid Win’ malfunctioned, ultimately exploding in the lobby of the building. Wow, it’s such a good thing they showed up to keep the deathtoll down. While the number of casualties is yet unconfirmed, we can confirm that WCVN’s own on-site reporter and camera crew perished in the blast. The reporter, Mr. Ron Burgundy of San Diego, was just one day from retirement and, quote, “I’m getting too old for this shit.” More information will be forthcoming as we have it.

    “First reports from the site report allegations of sabotage on the part of a known double agent within the group of junior heroes. Aren’t you glad they kept giving him access to all their equipment? No members of the Brockton Bay PRT, Protectorate or Wards teams were available for comment, probably due to serious injury or death, but sources inside the organization report that Director Emily Piggot, manager of the city’s PRT and government sponsored hero teams, is being put on leave pending a full investigation. I think I speak for all of us in Brockton Bay when I say Heck of a job, Piggy. Don’t let that door hit you on the way out.

    “Filling in for the interim is Commander Thomas Calvert. When asked about this new placement, the PRT reported that Commander Calvert served as a PRT field agent before an honorable discharge and a disability known as Scorching Halitosis brought on by a bought with the rare disease best known as the Jumping Jumblies. For the past several years he has offered his expertise to the PRT as a paid consultant in parahuman affairs for New York, Brockton Bay and Boston, later serving as a field commander for the PRT strike squads. All members of any squad he worked with have mysteriously vanished or died under suspicious circumstances, so the story probably checks out. Then again, these assholes on the air will just report whatever they’re told to by either the rich guy running their network or the government. They’re probably so dumb, they won’t notice if someone plays with the teleprompter. Ha ha, I like manboobs. The PRT expresses full confidence in Commander Calvert’s ability to handle the daunting task of Brockton Bay’s parahuman problem.

    “Coming up, we here at WCVN will be answering the age old question, “Can a reporter give the rest of the news after killing his teleprompter writer with an empty water bottle?” and “Just how do you get rid of a dead body in a room full of people?” I promise to have answers to those questions when you see me after the break or I’ll never see you again.

  9. I had to go back and re-read the interlude with Calvert. In hindsight it makes so much sense, he’s very Coil-y there.

    Overall great chapter and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

  10. Well the Undersiders and Travellers had better cut ties with Coil soon or they are boned. The first order of business if Coil really wants to break out into national fame is being in charge of the campaign that takes back Brockton Bay. For that to happen he has to crush the U/T alliance. With his powers he could just keep throwing the Wards and local Protectorate members into the combat blender until he gets the results he wants.

    • This necro-comment isn’t really to pick on this commenter, it just fit here.
      Ever since Wildbow described (early in the story) just how Marquis uses BONES as weapons, I’ve been really utterly creeped out whenever a commenter says any version of “so-and-so is (or will be) boned now.”
      I find it hard to believe no one else has reacted.

  11. Did not see that one coming.

    One thing that bugged me was that Taylor did not ask after the supposed attacks on her and her teammates’ personal headquarters. She should at the very least want to know if her friends and her followers are okay.

    I wonder if Calvert actually did go to prison or if he was snatched up by the cauldron as a test-subject right away. Also how long has he been back with the PRT? He seemed genuinely interested in the data stolen from the PRT which would imply that he didn’t have access to it at that point. Was that fake? Did he already have access but at a lower level of clearing and was looking for something specific. Did he perhaps use something on there to manipulate or blackmail himself into a position of power again?

    If he is willing to release Dinah, it would be stupid of him to give her to Skitter. He should instead use her rescue as on of his first official successes, ingratiating himself with both the mayor and Triumph.

    The fact that Lisa knows about his secret identity and he seems fine with that gives me hope that he won’t want to start of his new job by bringing the Undersiders to justice. Maybe he really can play both sides against the middle. Use the heroes to clear away any rival villains not directly under his command and use the attack of the villains to further demonstrate the need for leaving him in charge. Maybe if he tells his people to attack in certain ways he can even get additional powers from it in his PRT leadership identity. He can ask for resources and abilities that he wants get denied, have the Undersiders attack in a way that exploits the lack of those resources and blame whoever obstructed his rise to power. Maybe he can even work his way up to becoming a small dictator due to the emergency situation with his own little “Reichstagsbrandverordnung”.

    The Blindness thing is also a surprise. I wonder if it was planned all along and the reason why all the healers have been ‘sent away’ in previous arcs.

    Lisa already anticipates the possible upsides of the disability. If Taylor manages to use her insects senses better she can become a lot more powerful and really use her multitasking ability optimally.

    • “One thing that bugged me was that Taylor did not ask after the supposed attacks on her and her teammates’ personal headquarters. She should at the very least want to know if her friends and her followers are okay.”

      “My territory, the fires?”
      “Strategically placed, nowhere near our real lairs. Nobody hurt, but I think he molotov’d one of your barracks, setting the fire high so people had a chance to get out.”
      “The others, Grue-”
      “They weren’t anywhere nearby. We’re going to meet up with them soon.”

      • Huh? That part wasn’t there earlier. In the copy I downloaded on my Kindle it still says:

        I blinked. ”My dad-”
        “Is fine.”
        “The others, Grue-”
        “They weren’t anywhere nearby. We’re going to meet up with them soon.”

  12. Cherish ended up being right: Taylor really *is* one of the blind worms. Also, I thought that “monarch” referred to Skitter, but it actually refers to Coil. Man, this is bad. It’s very possible that Taylor will lose in the long run. I agree with mc2rpg that the Travelsiders need to cut ties with Coil pronto. But how? He’s their supplier for everything.

  13. Good to see that my worst fear is unfounded. I thought for a second that instead of Coil having a body double, he was being impersonated without his knowledge by someone in the PRT. Now *that* would have been escalation, n’est pas?

    I also have to agree that the blindness thing was a clever move on Wildbow’s part.

    • Order goes both ways, which is why I’ve been against hero worship of those enforcing it. People won’t panic if it’s all part of the plan… even if the plan us horrible. If I want a bunch of supers get killed by Leviathan or a gangbanger gets eviscerated by Jack Slash then no one has a problem with it. But one little mayoral debate gets blown up and people lose their freakin’ minds.

      • Now that gets me thinking about how the Joker himself would fare in the Wormverse. Imagining him and Jack debating the finer points of their respective brands of villainy over tea in a blood-streaked cafe, of course.

    • Here’s an even more fun thought: Coil will now mistakenly believe that he has enough resources to resist Cauldron, only to find out that they *are* the Protectorate.

  14. I do like how Taylor takes incremental steps through adversity and experience instead of getting single massive no-strings-attached powerups. I’m usually very wary of “second trigger!” talk, but things like this have a natural “Ah, that follows” flow to them.

    • For a moment I wondered whether her unconsciousness at the beginning might not actually have been such a second trigger event especially since she doesn’t actually use her powers much throughout the episode and wouldn’t be able to tell if it was subtle enhancement, but then I remembered that other capes present would have been affected by the trigger event like she and Lisa were with scrub. So no stealth upgrade for Skitter.

      And I agree this gradually maximizing the potential of her existing powers rather than getting an upgrade is actually better.

    • Agreed.
      Hey, does anyone remember back in the day, when Skitter managed to control bugs despite being unconscious/power lobotomized?
      Well, I’ve got a curious theory; if Skitter/Taylor could learn to sense stuff through her bugs(in sight+sound way), and perhaps shift her consciousness into ‘the swarm’(utilizing the theory that Skitter’s brain power is added to by additional insects), perhaps she could acquire the ability to enter a lucid dreaming state wherein she controls her bugs while unconscious? By using the insects as a cloud processor to run an instance of her mind.
      Oh god. It’s bug-based Transhumanism.

    • Y’know, more grist for the ‘Taylor’s bugs work as coprocessors for her brain’ mill shows up in these most recent chapters — she is overwhelmed by the sensory input of the crowd, something I don’t remember happening to her before. And she also points out a couple times that she — purposely — doesn’t have many bugs handy.

      Here we have an example of fewer bugs equalling a harder time thinking. Coupled with previous hints, like a brain-based power blocker not wholly working on her, is making me feel even more confident that her swarm really does help her think in some way.

      I’m really curious if the blindness will ‘stick’. After a broken back and paralysis didn’t, I’m not sure this will, either.

      That having been said, we saw just how effective she could be when her own body was shut down in that scene, so who knows? And vision will probably be easier to work around than no body at all. Maybe this will be the first step to literally becoming a swarm, offloading the vision functions of her primary body onto the bugs…

  15. I look forward to see whether Coil or the Undersiders will betray the others first. But Coil is in trouble. He just hurt Skitter’s dad. She could theoretically order ever bug in the area to attack him and then walk away. Splitting realities might not be so useful when they are both filled with angry swarms of insects chasing you specifically.

    • Coil is like an evil Batman.
      He’d have some contrived, yet perfectly understandable reason to be equipped with something to make himself pretty much invulnerable to Skitter if she tried to end him.
      The only question is if Taylor/Skitter is permanently blind or not. Even if she can pull a ‘No, John, I AM The Swarm.’ and sense stuff through her bugs, a blind supervillainess is gonna be in quite the pickle in an event that requires her human eyes.

  16. I just found this awesome serial a week ago and I have to say its one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. Seriously, amazing. I read through all the arcs and noticed (correct me if I’m wrong) that Skitter had Coil import several rarer insects for her lair and for her to keep in that glass case room. If she still can use that service in the future (seems unlikely now) there’s one I thought of that would be an interesting addition to the swarm of Skitter.

    Japanese giant hornets. A hive of these would be cool, really useful for carrying stuff, and being generally terrifying. I mean three inch long, flesh melting, really fast hornets, pretty scary.

    They’re not the single most deadly insect (amount of venom covers that, with the whole flesh melting thing), but the intimidation factor would be pretty potent, and they’re pretty dangerous just from size alone. Although Atlas does have them beat in the size department he’s really too valuable to risk. So the use of a swarm of these could be helpful. What do my fellow audience members think? Just look them up on google or youtube, they seem like super villain worthy bugs. Although Skitter might not even know about them, or they may be too dangerous, or Coil may not be able to even import them, therefore she will never use them.

    Anyway, thats my two cents of fan speculation, I know its really not on topic with the chapters this week. Really, I love the story Wildbow.

      • Well, you could say that there isn’t ‘Japan’ as a country, what with the ramifications of the Kyushu attack, but the island with its flora and fauna is basically still there.

      • Yeah, I forgot that Japan was hit by the Endbringers. The whole lack of governance would make the exporting dangerous hornets really unlikely. Any one still living there has bigger problems to deal with, and probably wouldn’t bother with hunting down insects to ship around the world.

        But the range of the hornet isn’t just Japan. It’s also in Russia, China, Taiwan, Korea, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Indochina area. At least according to Wikipedia. But really, who is going to hunt down these things to ship around the world to some random super villain? Honestly, probably no one.

        • Skitter/Taylor knows about the Darwin spider, which I’m fairly sure is semi-obscure(if you’re not super into bugs). Much like the Hercules Beetle.
          It’s not unlikely she would end up hearing about these crazy goddamn hornets and immediately spring for them. Hell, if I had bug powers, they’d be on the list.
          For some nightmare fuel, if you’re scared of bugs, search ‘largest arthropod’ and click the wikipedia link for largest organisms. That spider picture has me looking down at my feet every couple seconds.

          • I like the Dragon Millipede, aka Desmoxytes purpurosea. It’s just a bright pink millipede from Greater Mekong in Thailad.

            Sure, a litlte odd to see a millipede that’s pink. Makes it look even stranger. Anyone care to remember why animals might have bright colors though?

            In this case, it’s because the bug emits hydrogen cyanide.

    • I had the exact same thought. I wonder if there’s some sort of catalog one can order rare and deadly bugs from. “This month’s ‘spider you’d least like to discover in your underwear’ is…”

  17. Finally all caught up. Nothing more heart breaking than tapping the next chapter button and noticing that you’re on the latest one.

  18. I have this feeling that the reason Skitter was the only one of the villains present for the bombing was that Coil wanted to off/mutilate/incapacitate two birds with the same explosion. It makes sense. If Skitter were to die or become disabled, there’s no proof that Coil did that on purpose, so it might keep the Undersiders off his back and stop them bugging him about Dinah. Well, at least that’s how I would have done it. (sorry if this theory has been brought up before. I have a short attention span.)

    Thomas, Thomas, the surviving jackass. I wasn’t that disturbed when I read the interlude and he admitted to shooting a guy in the foot to survive. Sure, it’s dishonourable and ghastly, but we have self-preservation instincts for a reason. But knowing that he is Coil? I kind of have to respect the guy. After that fuck-up to rise to such genius and take over a whole city? Damn. Good on ya, Tommy.

    Ah, Skitter will be grand. Even if she remains blind, she has her bugs and now she can learn how to be more subtle about it. ‘Tis all good. A new learning experience, right? Silver lining, folks.

    I resisted reading this update straight away so I wouldn’t have to wait as long for the next part of the story, but my will was broken with the prospect of spending the rest of the day Christmas cleaning. At least now I have something to think about and better my mood whilst I’m slaving away for the good of the household. Thanks, Wildbow. (:

    Btw, I loved your comment, Psycho Gecko. Laughed all the way through it. You’re like bonus content that is only available and comprehensible if we follow Worm. Okay, that sounds way too much like a compliment. Um, you have a funny looking face..? Does that strike a balance?

    Thank you, Wildbow, your plots are one of the best available and your style of writing surpasses many in awesomeness. (:

    -Raven

    • You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little fucked up maybe, but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?

      No, no, I don’t know, you said it. How do I know? You said I’m funny. How the fuck am I funny, what the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me, tell me what’s funny!

      Ya motherfucker! I almost had him, I almost had him. Ya stuttering prick ya. Chicken, was he shaking? I wonder about you sometimes, Raven. You may fold under questioning.

      I’m sure there are a few who’d prefer if I was a deleted scene, but always glad to entertain.

      By the way, Calvert didn’t shoot his captain in the foot. He just said he shot him. Hard to say someone else wouldn’t have in a Nilbog situation.

  19. Hello, new reader just finished the whole series up till now and I’ve got to say, Worm has blown me away. The cleverly weird powers and the inventive uses, especially the way Taylor does everything to make the most of her relatively mediocre power to make it a force to be reckoned with, is thoroughly entertaining. The nice array of characters and masterful use of character voice is brilliant throughout, never do you encounter a line that couldn’t have been said by any character, they all have their personas bleed through marvellously into their speech. The little touches in characterisation stand out too, I keep on thinking back to the bank robbery scene, where Alec is casually knocking over Wards heroes with a wave of his hand and tagging them with his sceptre-taser, callous yet regal, that totally sold me on the image and his ‘Regent’ callsign. The Queen’s wave, weaponised, what a thought. XD Plus, I adore Coil, the ‘destiny-choice’ power, the costume design, the attitude, I love mastermind villains and Coil is right up there with WildStorm Comics’ ‘Tao’ for one of the best super masterminds. Can’t wait for the next installment!

    • Welcome to the current end of the story. Stay tuned for more updates, or feel free to enjoy the comments section to its fullest. I hear it’s ok. Meh. No big deal.

      Would you perhaps like an after dinner jacket and to join us all in the smoking room for cigars, brandy and listening to rap? This shit be ill right here, son, wot wot.

  20. Why does this not have more views its such an incredible series, the author should try to get more people to read it. Many people dont read it just because they dont know about it I would guess.

    • We try. That’s why Wildbow prefers that we have other tropes link to Worm’s as well as add tropes to the page. Helps to send people thataway. I believe I found it through Legion of Nothing when I was looking for another thing to read.

      I’ve been thinking about something like business cards. Name, web address, maybe a good tagline like “Prepare to be skullfucked by awesome” and just leave them around frequented places. People talk about it on some RPG forum, I believe. I’ve tried to spread it around some, but for some reason people aren’t keen on following through on my suggestions.

      I blame time-traveling CommuNazis and Canada.

      Which reminds me, Iron Sky is now out on DVD. That’s right, Nazis have survived to modern times…on the moon! Don’t know the quality of it, though the trailers looked pretty funny.

      • Please, Canadians would be all over this, if they knew it existed.
        The people you’re thinking of are actually the Quebecois.
        They don’t count as Canadian; too secessionist.

      • “People talk about it on some RPG forum, I believe.”
        RPGnet was where I first heard about Worm in a discussion over realistic (in terms of having logical progression of events given the presence of supers, rather than Nolanesque) supers-settings.

    • Using iPod to type, so lease forgive any typos; glad you’re enjoying Worm. If you’re interested in spreading the word, reviews on webfictionguide, tropes on tvtropes, and votes on topwebfiction really do help. A single mention on a forum or site you frequent can bring in as many readers as $40 spent on a week of banner ads.

  21. What happens to Coil’s organization now that Coil is presumed dead? It seems to me that at this point, Taylor really could just walk into Coil’s base, open the door to Dinah’s cell, and lead her out, telling anyone she met that that’s what Coil intended her to do; Coil can’t show up and contradict her without sacrificing his current plan. Moreover, Coil’s money is the Undersiders’ sole source of income – if the organization falls apart without its leader, how can Taylor possibly keep her territory? And if it doesn’t fall apart, how can Coil keep up the pretense that the bomb killed him?

    The thought occurs that at this point, Tattletale is a deadly threat to Calvert/Coil; if he doesn’t keep her happy or kill her, she can ruin him forever with two sentences spoken to the right person. Calvert has to know that much, so he must have some plan for Tattletale. Question is, does he think she can be bought off, or is he assuming that she’ll follow Taylor’s judgement? He can’t be so blind to Taylor’s mind as to think that open murder of civilians is something she’ll accept, surely.

    • Well, some of the higher-ups in Coil’s organization will probably know about his plan. I mean, he wouldn’t go through all of this just to lose control of all of his original support. I think he’ll stay as Coil and Calvert, just keeping Coil confined to his base, never showing himself to anyone except the Travelsiders and a few of his mercenaries.

      As for the whole, taylor wouldn’t kill civilians, thing, kinda. She lied to Sundancer about the presence of civilians during the Slaughterhouse Nine ambush to try to kill Jack and Bonesaw. It didn’t work, and arguably the civilians were likely going to die anyway, but she still essentially told Sundancer to vaporize them. So if there was a ‘noble’ enough reason I think she would kill civilians, but in this situation you are right. It’s very unlikely that she will find Coil’s ‘takeover the city’ plan to be noble enough to kill or let people die for.

  22. i just want to say merry christmas before crazy holiday web-lag officially kicks in. Thanks for the great story wildbow and happy holidays.

  23. Thank you to Matthew for his donation. The counter/total displayed isn’t up to date at present, so this’ll serve as a reminder to myself to do it when I’m not scrambling to finish tonight’s chapter.

  24. Okay, I said it when Jack left town and I’ll say it again for Coil. This story has bloody magnificent villains.

    And hey, everybody knows Coil was the one keeping Dinah, so with him dead there’s no reason she won’t be returned to her family as soon as they find his lair. It’d draw suspicion otherwise.

  25. Blimey, I’m continually amazed how many reveals and upheavals keep coming from this series, and how there are still over 10 arcs to go. It’s almost daunting, I’ve spend weeks reading this far (not full-time, I’m amazed when I see people saying they got this far in a week) and know there’s still tons to come.

    After that I’ll probably have to read again (after a VERY big break) just to catch all the foreshadowing. Think I’ll have to advise anyone I recommend this to to leave a year free :)

    • Yep, me too :) I’m in exactly the same boat: been reading through the archive steadily over the course of, what, a month or so? After a word-of-mouth recommendation, and you can certainly bet I’ll be making (have made) a few of those myself too.

      Delighted with the twists, revelations, intelligent uses of powers, character dynamics, subversions of genre expectations… this is a fantastic series (and I very much want to be able to buy a hardcopy).

  26. “Fifteen and a half years spent growing up with my dad versus two months as Skitter. ”

    Holy crap, all of this takes place over the course of 2 months? I mean, I thought it would be closer to a year.

  27. Woah. I’m beyond tangled in this story, and the comments, at this point.

    Having trouble keeping “canon” separated in my head from “wild theory from comments”, but I find ‘when in doubt, assume whatever somebody said was a lie’ helps a lot. Especially Coil, and often Tattletale. which gets confusing …

    I wanted to necro-comment about every 3rd or 4th comment, along the lines of “OOooo … HaHaHaHaHa … didn’t think of that …” etc.

    But here’s a special shout-out for the nickname “Unravelers” if the Undersiders and Travelers decide to formalize as a single team!

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