Monarch 16.11

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I’d sensed the movement of his finger a fraction of a second before the gun went off, and tried to lean out of the way.  It didn’t help.  Dodging bullets wasn’t a trick I had my repertoire.  Judging by the way the gun followed me as I moved, Thomas Calvert either knew his way around guns or he was using his power to help ensure he hit his target.  Or, more likely, it was both.

Getting hit, the smallest part of me could only think costume can’t stop a bullet after all.  Except it wasn’t even a complete thought.  Just a momentary disappointment as I felt the impact of the bullet passing through my chest to my back.

I hit the ground, my mouth agape, and I couldn’t feel my heartbeat in the aftermath of the hit.  It felt like a sledgehammer had hit me in the dead center of my torso.  I couldn’t speak, couldn’t even think in a coherent fashion.

But the remainder of my bugs were already flowing out of my costume as I fell prone.  Capsaicin bugs moved in the general direction of Thomas Calvert and his soldiers, pre-prepared cords of thread unspooled from beneath my costume, trailing behind flying insects.  I couldn’t think straight enough to orchestrate a smart attack, to tell them to go for the weak points, but they advanced swiftly, biting exposed flesh and forming a barrier between me and my attackers.

Calvert backed away, his nose and mouth tucked into the crook of his elbow, eyes squinting shut.  He emptied his clip in my general direction, but he didn’t have a bead on me.  He couldn’t see, between the cloud of bugs between us and the bugs crawling on his face.

I had flying insects catch the end of his gun with a cord and pull it off target further, and he backed up.  I went a step further and wound threads around other guns, hoping to forestall the inevitable onslaught of bullets.  If I could find leverage, someone or something that was moving, and pull them off-target before they shot me down-

When he spoke, his voice was raised to be heard despite the muffling effect, “Out of the room.  Fill it with bullets… no.  Scratch that.”

He’s coming up with counter-counter-plans before I even have a strategy in mind.

“…Set her on fire.  Her costume is bulletproof, and I want this done.  I need to attend to other matters.”

I couldn’t breathe.  I could exhale, was huffing small breaths of pain, but I felt like my chest had caved in.  My pulse wasn’t pounding, my blood seemed to move too slowly through my veins, and I couldn’t inhale to inflate my crushed chest.

Through my bugs, I could sense the two men stepping forward.  Each wore gas masks and each had a bottle in one hand.  A pungent odor trailed behind them, overwhelming and oppressing my bugs’ senses of smell and taste.

I pressed one hand to my chest, as if I could gauge the damage done, and reflexively pulled it away as I touched something hot.  A snarl of metal, embedded in the thickest portion of the armor I’d designed into the chest, and it was hot enough that it hurt to touch it.  A bullet, I thought.  I’d never considered that bullets would be hot.

The realization coupled with the sting of the burn at the base of my palm helped to clarify my thoughts.  The bullet hadn’t penetrated.  I’d felt, what, the shockwave of the bullet hitting?  Or I’d filled in the blanks wrong in the expectation of getting shot?

It didn’t matter, because one of Thomas Calvert’s soldiers had just flicked the switch on a lighter, and I realized the bottles they were holding had to be makeshift molotov cocktails.

Though my body was numb and my responses felt too sluggish, I reached behind my back.  With some of the non-flying bugs still residing in my utility compartment, I found what I was looking for in a flash, drawing it from the slot I’d dedicated to it and getting it in position in my hand in an instant.

I aimed the pepper spray at the lighter and fired.  It offered ten feet of range, and they were on the other side of the room, with a heaping mess of containment foam between us.

The pepper spray ignited and set fire to his sleeve and the shirt around his upper body.  The lighter dropped to the ground as he thrashed, trying to pull his shirt off despite the gloves and the gas mask he wore.

It wasn’t the brightest move, trying to stop someone from lighting a fuse by setting them on fire, but I wasn’t in a position to be picky.  I tried to push myself to my feet, but my chest flared with pain and I collapsed, putting me in a position that was almost worse.  The pain lanced throughout my ribcage, as if the structural integrity wasn’t there, and putting any strain on my torso threatened total collapse of everything that held it together.

My bugs were already moving towards the other guy with the molotov.  He’d hesitated at seeing his buddy go up in flames, and now cords of thread were winding around the neck of the bottle, the fingers that gripped it and his wrist, entwining them.

Irritating,” I was aware of Thomas Calvert’s voice in the next room.  He’d retreated and shut the door behind him, but it burst open as the man with the molotov tied to his hand beat a retreat before it could be ignited by the still-thrashing man.  Calvert added a snarled, “Damnation.”

“If we use grenades-” one of the soldiers started.

“Do not use grenades.  I assure you it does not work out the way you imagine it will.  Give me that.”

I could sense Director Calvert tearing the bottle free of the man’s hand.  I began arranging my bugs, creating a loose net with threads.  It wouldn’t stop the forward momentum, but I had some cord left.  I began winding it around the light fixture on the ceiling.  If I could catch the bottle-

He didn’t do as I’d expected, he didn’t light the rag, for one thing, and he didn’t toss the bottle at me.  Lobbing it underhanded, he tossed it at the floor just past the door.  The bottle shattered and the contents, gasoline by the smell of it, spread across the other half of the room.

The burning soldier that was still in the room with me screamed, yelped out the word, “No!”

He made a break for the door, and Calvert shot him.  The bullet wasn’t enough to stop the soldier’s forward momentum, but one of the other soldiers kicked him hard in the stomach.  Calvert used his foot to push the door closed as the man fell onto his back, landing in the pool of gasoline and broken glass.

His still-burning clothing ignited the accelerant.  In a heartbeat, the floor in front of the door was on fire, and the room was filled with the shrill screams of the thrashing, burning soldier.

I experienced a moment of animal panic.  The kind of mindless fear that was hardwired into our brains on a basic level, so that we, like a wolf, a deer or an ape would, knew that fire was bad.  Smoke was bad.  Fire was a thing to run from and I had nowhere to run.

I shook my head.  Had to think.

There was one exit to the room.  To get to it, I’d have to leap over a heap of containment foam, which I wasn’t sure I could manage with the way my chest was hurting and with no real running start.  Even if I passed the hurdle -and failure would mean I was stuck and trapped- I’d have to run through a pool of burning gasoline, avoid tripping on the flailing, burning man, get to the door and pull it open.

Except Calvert was calmly, efficiently ordering his men to gather tables and chairs and stack them against the door, as if the fire in the next room wasn’t even a concern.  A chair was propped up so it was under the doorknob, a heavier dining room table blocked the door itself.  Three soldiers worked together to move a tattered sofa, lifting the end to put it on the table.

My bugs.  I didn’t have enough here in the building, not enough to mount a serious attack on Calvert.  Most of the ones I’d brought with me had burned up as the room caught fire.  Some clung to Calvert and his men, but they were too few to do more than hurt and annoy.  In my mindless fear, I’d called for my bugs to come to me.  Or my passenger had, perhaps.  Maybe it was the two of us, working together through my subconscious.

Either way, I had only a few usable bugs, a whole mess of useless ones like moths, houseflies, cockroaches and ants from the surrounding neighborhood, and Thomas Calvert, Coil, was on his way out of the building.

I looked at the bigger scene.  I was in one of the areas that had been abandoned when Leviathan attacked.  This house hadn’t been nice to begin with, and the flooding had made things worse.  Calvert had prepped the area prior to teleporting me in.  The house sat on the corner of the block, and the two neighboring houses had been bulldozed.  There were no people in range that I could see.  He would have cleared it out so there were no eyewitnesses.  Portable chain link fences had been put up and bound together with loops of chain at the perimeter of the property.  He was stepping through an opening now, and his men closed it behind him, threading chain through.  Going by the lock one soldier held in his hand, they clearly planned to lock it as they had the others.

Just past the perimeter of the fence, there were a dozen trucks and cars surrounding the building, each turned toward the property, their headlights on.  Squads of soldiers stood beside and in front of the trucks, guns raised and ready.  Most had machine guns or handguns, bandoleers of grenades and all-concealing body armor.  Three had containment foam dispensers.

Leaving the property would be impossible, which didn’t matter because I wasn’t capable of leaving the room.  There were two windows, only one of which I could reach, and both were boarded up.  Not even just boarded up against the window frame, but the planks of wood were long and fixed to the studs of the wall, too.  I ran my hand over the end of one plank and felt the raised bumps of nails or screws.  An ant climbed off my fingertip to move over the surface of one bump.

Screws.  Screws with hexagonal slots.  Because Calvert wasn’t willing to risk that I’d have a screwdriver on hand with a more typical head on it.

I laughed.  It made my chest seize up in pain, it probably sounded a little crazed, but I laughed.  It was too much.

This would be a perfect time for a second trigger event.  Hadn’t Lisa said that my mind-power link was enhanced whenever I felt trapped?  I doubted I’d ever feel more trapped than I did right this moment.  I couldn’t see just how far the fire reached, because I was blind, and the heat of the fire was killing the bugs I needed for sensing my surroundings.  I had only a minute or two before the room became an oven and killed off the rest, leaving me blind and roasting to death.

I coughed as a wave of smoke hit me, and ducked my head low to keep breathing.

No, I probably wouldn’t burn to death.  I’d suffocate as the flame ate up the oxygen, go out quietly before I started burning.  Maybe I’d trigger then, after things got that bad.  It wouldn’t help, probably.  I couldn’t think of a single permutation of my powers that would get me out of this mess.

I went on the attack, sending my bugs after Calvert and his people.  Too many were useless, many weren’t even capable of biting.  Still,  I found three black widows in the immediate area.  After a moment’s consideration, I delivered them straight to Calvert.  They found flesh at his neck and bit.

He swatted at them, pinched one between his fingers, and raised it in front of his face.  Then he said something I didn’t catch.

There was no hurry in his movements as he flicked the dead spider to the ground and called out an order to his men.

The order, I feared, I actually heard and understood.  It helped that I had enough context to guess what the words were and fill in the blanks.

Burn it to the ground.

Fuck you,” I whispered, pressing my hands to the wooden planks.  I coughed as I inhaled another waft of smoke, then coughed harder as the combination of the pain in my chest and the smoke I was inhaling in my attemtps to catch my breath made for a self-perpetuating cycle.  Calvert’s men were lighting more molotovs, tossing them over the fence they’d erected.  One hit the side of the building.  Another hit the front porch.  Three or four more hit the lawn and surrounding property.

Calvert glanced over his shoulder, then confidently strode over to a car and took a seat in the back.  He didn’t have the driver take him away.  No, he’d be more interested in watching, in verifying that things went according to plan.  Putting himself in the car meant only that he was out of the reach of my bugs.

Not that he’d seemed concerned about the black widow bites.

Chances were good he’d already taken the necessary antivenins.  Damn it, and the antivenin that worked on black widow spiders also worked on any number of other spiders.  He’d probably suffer side effects, but that wouldn’t be immediate.

I had to refocus.  The one in immediate peril here was me.

I considered waiting for the fire to weaken the floorboards before leaping over the foam and plunging down to the lower level, then dismissed that idea.  I wouldn’t last that long, for one thing, and there was too much chance of me being injured.

There was only one real way out of the room, and that was the window.  I’d have to ignore the men stationed outside for now.  I considered using my knife to try to pry the board free of the wall and the frame.  I doubted I had the strength, with my chest hurting like it was, and I doubted I could pry enough boards free in time.  He’d put three screws in at each point of contact.  Hell, I had suspicions that Calvert had considered the knife when he’d ordered that the windows be boarded up.

I drew my gun.  I wasn’t sure how much information Calvert had, but he hadn’t seemed to care about the possibility of me opening fire on him while he’d been here.  That, or he figured his power would give him an out if he happened to get shot in one reality.

It was hard, not just moving and aiming the gun while I was coughing and still reeling from the hit to my chest, but aiming at the targets I needed.  I had only so many bullets, and there were too many planks to use several bullets to remove each one.  No, it was better to angle the shot so I was hitting more than one plank at once, both the ones that had been nailed up on the outside of the building and the planks inside the room.

The recoil of the shot was so fierce that it made the pain in my chest flare up.  I dropped the weapon, suppressing coughs.  Even behind the lenses of my mask, my eyes were starting to tear up.  Not that it particularly mattered, given how I couldn’t see, but it was one more distraction.  Bending over redoubled the pain and brought me to the point where I nearly collapsed, coughing to the point that I was seeing spots.

The floor was warm enough that more sensitive bugs were dying as they touched it.  Finding where I’d dropped the gun was a combination of guesswork, fumbling with my hand and using more durable bugs to feel it out.

I picked it up and shot twice more.  Fighting the pain in my chest, I reached up and pulled down on a board.  It was splintered in three by the gunfire, two on the left and one on the right, and I managed to use my body weight to get the necessary force to tear it free.

Three more bullets and I was able to remove one more from the inside.  I used the removed board and wedged it into the crack between the two boards on the far side, leveraging one free.

The gunfire had attracted attention.  Someone called out an order, and a dozen machine guns pointed to the window.  I went low, hiding not at the base of the window, but near the corner of the room, lying with my feet pointing towards them, my hands over my head, all too aware of the flames on the wall, within arm’s reach.

Bullets punched through the exterior walls and interior walls both.  One clipped through the floor to hit the armor at my back.  The impact prompted another coughing fit, worse than any of the ones before.

I needed to get out, and soon.

They knew I needed to get out, and they weren’t giving me the opportunity.  There was a momentary pause as the soldiers ejected magazines.  Or clips.  Whatever I was supposed to call them.  Guns weren’t my thing.  They replaced the clips and opened fire with another barrage.

I couldn’t lie there, waiting for one to get lucky and hit me, for the smoke to get to me, or for any of the other possible fates I faced.

My bugs had gathered around the exterior of the building, called to me by my power, clinging to the roof and outside walls near the room.  I took note of the cockroaches, then directed them to the trucks that had the building surrounded.

Cockroaches retained the ability to eat virtually anything.  I could have used more, but I’d have to make do. They began eating through wiring.

My own situation was getting bad, now.  The floor was quickly going from warm to hot.  The containment foam was stopping the spread of the fire across the floor, but it wasn’t stopping the progression of the flames beneath the floorboards.  If the floor caved in beneath me, I’d be as dead as anything.

Commands went out, and the soldiers switched to firing at me in shifts, only a few firing at a given time while the others stood at the ready.  It made for a relentless, unending barrage.  The second shift was just starting up when the first of the headlights went out.  The cockroaches had found the right wires.

As the truck headlights started flickering out, I commanded my bugs to gather at the base of the window.  No less than five bullets tore through the mass as the bugs collected.  The soldiers had only the light of the fires to go by, now, and they’d spotted the anomaly at the window.

The lump of bugs dropped to the ground, and more bullets penetrated the heap that landed at the base of the building.  When the bugs rose, they rose in the general shape of a person, of me.

I desperately wanted to be out of the room.  I was coughing more than I was breathing, and I worried that the next serious coughing fit would see me blacking out before I sucked in enough oxygen.

But I had to wait.  I gathered more swarms and dropped them from the edge of the window.  Every bug in a three block radius contributed to forming decoys.

Each decoy, in turn, had to act like it was sustaining gunfire.  They moved slowly, stopping when the bullets hit, some flattening out to mimic falling to the ground.  It made for slow progress as they advanced to the fence.

I couldn’t stand to wait any longer.  I knew I should make one or two more decoys before going ahead, but the conditions of the room were going from unbearable and dangerous to critical.  I approached the windowsill as the next mass of bugs gathered, submerging myself in the midst of them, my hands on the window frame.  I tried peeking through, but my hazy, ruined eyesight only offered me a glimpse of one blot where a single truck far to my left had a working headlight.  I faced a small army; I was about to drop two stories to what had once been someone’s garden, now a muddy mess of dirt and detritus, and-

One bullet hit me in the forearm, not too far from where Brutus had bitten me, months ago.  I slumped onto the windowsill, cradling my arm.  More out of desperation than anything redeemable, I forced myself forward between the broken planks and let myself drop to the ground below.

The landing wasn’t as hard as it could have been, but it wasn’t gentle either.  I was left writhing, dry heaving, much of my attention on keeping from screaming in pain and keeping the bugs all around me.

I used all the residual willpower I could manage to turn over, putting my back with the armor of my utility compartment and the added fabric of my cape towards the ongoing gunfire from Calvert’s personal army.  I covered the back of my head with my hands and fought the urge to cough.  I doubted anyone would hear if I did, with the constant gunfire and the sound of something collapsing inside, but I couldn’t risk a coughing fit that left me blind to my surroundings or passing out.

Now I was left with the task of passing through the perimeter.  One of my swarm-decoys had reached the fence, and was apparently doing a good enough job of selling the possibility that it was me that they felt compelled to double-check with the occasional burst of machine gun fire.  I commanded it to start climbing.

I had six decoys now, with another in progress at the window.  I’d planned to crawl, to get to the fence and find my way through, but with my wrist like it was…

One of Calvert’s men lit another molotov and tossed it at the base of the fence where the decoy was climbing.  It was obliterated in an instant, and Calvert’s men were forced to back away from the resulting bonfire.

If Thomas Calvert was using his power to guide his men, to give them an advantage and give them directions that would help narrow down the decoys, then I’d inevitably face the same fate as the decoy had after I got to the fence.

But he wasn’t giving directions.  He was in the truck, watching.  No radios were sounding with instructions, not yet.  He had to protect his perimeter, keep me from getting to freedom… but he was in a reactive position, not an offensive one where he could command an attack and then make it so it never happened if the attack went awry.  No, I’d weathered that initial attack.

I wasn’t sure exactly how I’d weathered it, but I had.

I crawled with three limbs, while my decoy formed a standing figure above and around me, then I joined the other decoys that were advancing on the fence.

Another molotov sailed over the fence to strike the lawn on the other side, incinerating one decoy that had ventured too close.  Again, I noted, the soldiers backed off.

That wasn’t entirely a bad thing.  The more they backed up, the thinner the defensive lines were.

But I still needed to get to the fence and get over it without getting shot or set on fire.

I still had more bugs arriving from the extent of my range.  Being trapped like I had hadn’t given me a second trigger event.  I wasn’t so lucky.  But it had extended my range.  I tallied the resources I had at my disposal, considered how many more decoys I could create…

Then I reconsidered.  No, I needed a distraction, and these slow-moving decoys weren’t that.

The bugs I still had in reserve swept into the ranks of the soldiers, and I went flat for my own safety, covering my head.

“Behind you,” one collection of bugs whispered to a soldier, my swarm-speak forming the necessary words.  He whipped around to see nothing there.

“I’m going to eat you alive,” another swarm spoke, somewhere nearby.

Crawl inside your body and lay eggs.”

Calvert’s voice sounded over a dozen radios in the area, “She’s playing mind tricks.  She’s still near the house, and she’s never killed or tortured before.  Maintain the perimeter and do not use grenades.”

Again, with the refusal on the subject of grenades.  A reminder, even, this time.  Was this a point where he’d split the timelines, bombarded the house with grenades in one reality and stuck to the guns in another?

Or had he already verified that I had a counterattack in mind for the grenades?  He could have employed them in an earlier scenario and had things go catastrophically wrong on his end.  There had to be a reason he wasn’t using them instead of molotovs.  Grenades would have been faster, given more immediate, definite results.

Then there was the possibility that this tied into his alibi, that he didn’t want the Undersiders or even the Travelers to know he’d gone after one of them, and the use of several grenades would be too easily traced back to ‘Coil’.  He would stick to an over the top arson, maybe hide the police reports and suppress the media.  If I was in a territory owned by the Travelers, maybe they’d accept a price for keeping this quiet from the Undersiders.

Or any combination of those things.

Then I remembered how I’d escaped from the hospital bed after the Endbringer attack.

The bugs continued whispering as they went on the attack, but their attack wasn’t a headlong rush with stingers and pincers.  As I lay flat on the ground, arms shielding my head, I took a different tack.  I raided.

Bugs swept into pockets and pouches, searching the contents.  First aid supplies, no.  Gun magazines, almost too heavy.

I noticed the bandoleers of the grenades that Calvert had alluded to.

The decoys had forced the enemy to spread out gunfire.  The soldiers were further diverted as my bugs tried to divest them of possessions, pushing at the gun magazines and attempting to slowly nudge them free of pouches.  Spiders wove silk cords, and I chose my target, a soldier by the fence, between me and Coil.

Long seconds passed as bullets hit the earth only a short distance from me.  I waited, prayed that the next thrown molotov wouldn’t land near me.

At my instruction, flying bugs carried a cord out, connecting a grenade on his bandoleer to the fence.  Another connected the same grenade’s pin to the soldier next to him.

Lose the grenades,” my swarm buzzed, right next to him.  “I’m pulling a pin.”

The man next to him heard, stepped away, and the cord went taut.  The pin slid free.

He had the grenade free in a second, but he simply held the bar at the side of the grenade down.

Damn.

Think fast.  Pulling two more,” my swarm spoke.  A benefit of speaking through the swarm was that it was hard to hear a lie in the tone.

He realized that he had only the two hands to hold down the bars for three grenades, and tossed the one in his hands towards the house.  The cord connecting it to the fence halted the grenade’s trajectory and it swung straight down into the waterlogged lawn on the far side of the fence.

When it detonated, it ripped through a section of fence and sent soldiers scattering for cover.

Be patient, I thought.  I could have made a run for it then, but there was no use.

“She’s pulling the pins!” the soldier who’d been near my target shouted.

They began retreating, and the defensive line thinned out further.  Some soldiers were standing on the far side of the neighboring property, now.

“Need a visual!” someone shouted.

A flare sailed through the air to land on the lawn, fifty feet to my right.  The light it provided would let them see through my decoys.  If they put one too close to me, they’d see my silhouette.

More sailed my way, and I set to moving them before any landed too close to me.

I maintained the pressure, an indiscriminate attack that Calvert couldn’t necessarily counter.  I repeated the process, roughly, that I’d used to get the one soldier to throw a grenade, aiming to knock down the fence on the opposite side of the property.  I made the cord tying it to the fence too thin, however, and the grenade landed closer to the base of the house.  The fence remained standing, but the soldiers backed away in the face of the dust, smoke, and hot air that billowed out from within the building.

I’m pulling your pins next.

Crawl up your asshole and leave you some tapeworms.

I’m behind you.

I can have centipedes crawl beneath your eyelids.  Chew your eyes out at the root.

Ever wonder if a mosquito could pass on the H.I.V. virus?

The psychological pressure was important, too.

Do not throw the grenades,” Calvert’s voice sounded over the radios.

The drawback of the psychological pressure was that many soldiers were now shooting indiscriminately at the property, and I didn’t have anything even remotely resembling cover.  I began belly-crawling across the grass, using my one good arm and my knees.

I felt an impact across my face.  The briefest shriek escaped my lips before I remembered to clam up, managed to convince myself that it was only a clod of grass and dirt that a stray bullet had kicked up.

Someone had heard.  A female soldier, she was on the other side of the fence, not five feet in front of me, and her head had snapped in my direction as I’d let the sound escape.

I barely had any of the pre-prepared silk cord left.  I split the swarm around me into two, and sent one to my left.  The soldier held her machine gun in one hand and fired at the running swarm, drawing a flare with the other hand.  In the meantime, I was getting my feet under me, lunging.

Dragonflies carried the silk cord between the wires of the fence.  I didn’t go for the grenades on her bandoleer, but the can at her waist.  They circled the pull-tab, and I held the other end of the cord, pulling.

My first guess was that it was a flashbang, in which case it could leave my bugs stunned and me exposed.  My second guess was that it was incendiary, in which case I’d be murdering someone.

When it went off, I felt only relief.  Smoke billowed around her as she called out to others, telling them I was near.  I sensed her backing away, getting the canister free of her belt and tossing it aside, and had my bugs collect it and cart it her way.  I crawled in the direction she wasn’t walking, using my power to identify where the soldiers were moving and using the smoke for cover.

Scavenging used silk from previous attacks, my bugs arranged to pull more pins for smoke canisters.

The end result was chaos.  It was the best result I could hope for.  With the smoke at the open area of the fence and the possibility that I had climbed over where the smoke masked things, they couldn’t be sure of my location, and they couldn’t shoot into the midst of their allies, so they were forced to retreat further.

I sensed Calvert’s truck pulling away.

Calvert could use his power to prune away possibilities that didn’t work for him, but only if he was aware of me, aware of my movements and how I was mounting my attack.

His retreat left me wondering if he’d deemed this situation unsalvageable.  Had he deemed this a loss?

Was there another maneuver he had in mind?  A bomb, a parahuman underling that he could sic on me?

Or would he seek leverage elsewhere?

My dad.  The others.

I suddenly felt the urge to get away, and get away quickly.

My bugs hefted the items they’d successfully scavenged from pockets and pouches, carrying them to me.  As the soldiers moved to cover the weak points in the perimeter, I struggled to my feet and walked through the smoke to the point where two of the temporary fences joined together.  I used the keys my bugs had found and tried them, attempting to find the right key for the lock that linked the chain.

There were only so many possible keys, especially when I narrowed down the options to the three from soldiers nearest this lock.  It popped open on the second try, I removed the chain as quietly as I could, and then I bit my lip to keep from crying out as I shifted the two sections of fence far enough apart that I could slide through.

My bugs carried the fuming smoke canister a short distance ahead of me, giving me some added cover to slip through the point where the enemy lines were thinnest.

Their radios crackled with instructions from their captains, and the soldiers started tossing their canisters of smoke towards the house before they could be used against them.  It didn’t matter.  I’d already slipped past the worst of them.  I approached one of the trucks that was furthest from the conflict.  My bugs were on the soldier’s helmets, and I knew which direction they were facing, allowing me to stay behind them, using the soft soles of my costume to move in near silence.

Behind you,” my bugs whispered.  The soldier ignored them as he’d ignored the taunts and threats that were echoing through the neighborhood, without cease.

I slipped behind him and pulled his helmet off.  He drew in a breath to cry out an alarm and only choked on the flood of flying insects that flowed into his nostrils and mouth.  I was already dropping the helmet, switching my baton from my injured left arm to my right hand and striking the handgun out of his hand.  I had to strike him in the head five times before he collapsed, blind, gagging and choking on the bugs.

Maybe he was faking, maybe he was unconscious.  It didn’t matter.  My bugs swept over him and checked every pouch and pocket.  I found his keys, then hurried over to the nearest truck.

I found the right key and started up the truck.

I’d turned sixteen without realizing it, not long ago.  It was fitting that I’d be teaching myself how to drive right about now.

Driving slowly so I wouldn’t call too much attention to the fact that I barely knew what I was doing, I pulled away from the scene.

I pulled over, pulled the emergency brake because I wasn’t sure how to park, then checked my satellite phone.  No service.  It made sense Coil would cut my lines of communication.  I tossed it out the window.  No use giving him a way to track me.

We’d moved towards the beach from Coil’s place.  It made sense the other Undersiders would be heading north, to their individual lairs.

I was struck by an ugly connection between two thoughts.  Calvert had mentioned he had other matters to attend to, and if Chariot’s teleportation device mimicked Trickster’s power, they’d had to swap something or somebody in.  If he’d replaced me with a body double, he would want to stay in contact with her and help ensure things went her way with the other Undersiders.

On the other hand, if Calvert was looking for a way to get leverage over me, my dad was one very vulnerable target that he was aware of.

I was left to decide if I would go check on my dad or tackle the bigger, cape-related issues.  It was a decision I’d had to make too many times in recent weeks.

It would have to be the Undersiders and Dinah.  I hated to admit it, but if my dad was attacked and I had the Undersiders there by my side, they could only help.  If the opposite were true, my dad would hamper me.

I disengaged the emergency brake and eased the truck into motion, fighting the urge to cough, knowing it would lead to wracking fits that forced me to stop in the middle of the street.

I’d seen how involved Calvert’s maneuver had been at the debate.  He had a grand plan, and it wasn’t necessarily the one he’d shared with us earlier.  I was now a glitch in his system, threatening to unravel everything he’d put together.

He had no reason to hold back, and he knew more about me than anyone I’d fought yet.  He’d tried to strike at me directly, and I’d only barely escaped.  I had little doubt he had other plans in mind, failsafes, traps and safeguards, and I had little choice but to run headlong into the thick of them.

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168 thoughts on “Monarch 16.11

  1. Huh. They are bulletproof.
    Damn that was quite an update. Whatwith Skitter on the run.
    She’s turning into quite the creepy/scary bug villain, that’s for sure.

    • Actually, on further reflection, it seems like Coil may have wanted Skitter to survive this. After all, even Skitter commented that grenades would probably end her. Unless her suit stops the shrapnel.
      And hey, if he wanted to lethally shoot Skitter, a bullet to the face probably would’ve worked better, unless I’m misinterpreting how far away he was. In which case one of his psycho soldiers could’ve done it.
      Aaaaand. You know how Skitter mentioned she thought it(bullet) went through her flesh earlier? Well, what if in one reality it did, but Coil’s plans did not call for a fatall injured Skitter, so he chose the less-injured one, and her momentary confusion is the result of a timeline collapsing pretty much on her.
      Besides, knowing Coil, this is most likely part of his plan to provoke the Undersiders into attacking Calvert, and giving him more public support.

      • I dislike your thoughts on how this went already.
        Clearly Coil did not attack her in BOTH realities and picked the one he liked best, he takes things easier, he has One reality wait, and the other attack! He Tried to kill her once before and tattletale warned Skitter, but it failed in that timeline, so it never happened, but Now, Coil believes that even if she survives, she will still not be able to stop him!

      • There is almost no chance of this being a big ass set up by Calvet to make it LOOK like her tried to kill her. It was a proper attempt on her life. First, I’m pretty sure Calvert didn’t even know she had a gun and even if he did, the fact that Skitter actually survived was with luck alone. Sure she is smart, but I’m pretty sure Calvert underestimated her at first and had to pile on other attacks to fix his mistake. She barely survived.

        And as Dustin mentioned, he always keeps himself safe in one reality, just in case. Especially when making such a big move. The grenade thing was weird, but he might know something we don’t through Dinah.

        The being shot thing. Skitter explained why she had assumed that the bullet had penetrated. It’s a natural reaction. It’s like if you think you’ll be splashed with hot water, but cold water is used instead, you will still feel the sensation of burning. Plus, the force of the bullet alone at least cracked a rib or something, so the pain is explained.

        Okay, all my thoughts are rushing out my head at the same time and have no order what so ever. I will stop now. Calvert failed to kill Skitter, that is what I think

        -Raven

        • All that Skitter needs to do is announce his identity on the radio and most of his plans are ruined. So I don’t think that he let her live intentionally.

          • That implies that someone in a position of power to do anything about Coil being Calvert is willing to believe a supervillain who is not only pretty damn creepy, but also broke the ‘don’t go after families’ rule. AND nearly killed a Ward.
            The only person who might actually believe Skitter/Taylor is Piggot. And she’s not in a position to do much. Coil has probably replaced quite a few PRT dudes with his guys.

          • If I was a supervillain, why would I ask for permission? I would kick down the door broadcast all of Coils dirty secrets to the public at large, and bail before Coil comes to murder me again. Taylor doesn’t need to prove that Coil=Calvert, she just needs to undermine his reputation to the point where the heroes start investigating.

          • Okay. But remember: Coil, as far as the public cares, is dead.
            The heroes MIGHT be suspicious, and MIGHT investigate, and might even discover who he is. But that’s like beating Batman at a game of ‘get the perp to wet his pants first’. It ain’t happening.
            Honestly, if Skitter tries that, she’d just sound like a lunatic, or a villain desperately trying to sow confusion.
            On a different note, did you know Obama is actually a lizard alien?

        • The only way I could see this as a fake-out by Coil is if he’s trying his absolute damnedest to make Skitter have a second trigger event. I don’t think he is, this seems legit. But there are a few things that ‘bug’ me:

          1)If Coil does not know her outfit is bulletproof, he’s completely oblivious. It seems out of character.
          2)The rule against grenades does seem contrived.
          3)The setup is very similar to Skitter’s first trigger event – locked in a confined space, betrayed by the familiar faces – the only thing it lacked was enough mental space for Skitter to work herself into a panic, as she had when locked in that locker. If I were Coil trying to trigger Skitter, I might have done a very similar setup, based on what he could find out about it.
          4)Coil had other options in taking Skitter out that didn’t involve personal risk.

          And most of all,
          5)If you have dual realities to choose from, and are trying to do away with Skitter, you would NOT choose this reality unless Skitter provokes armageddon in the second one. She survives, kills some of his men, makes him look incompetent and herself look like a demigoddess (assuming the story goes any further than this crowd). Furthermore, she will now cause him all kinds of headaches as he tracks her down and she rallies her troops.

          Something weird is happening here.

          • Even Skitter wasn’t all that positive she could take that shot. Or he may have simply made a mistake in his aim. Some people are wondering why he didn’t shoot her in the face…the guy’s ex-military. He could either aim for the moving head of a small teenage girl as she dodges, dips, ducks, dives, or dodges, or most likely his training to aim for center of mass would kick in and he’d shoot her in the torso.

          • Chiming in way late on the grenade question: My take was that the sharp and sudden “no grenades” from Coilvert meant that grenades had been tried in an alternate timeline and had gone badly. Specifically, that they had been tried right before the order was given, or at the same time.

            That’s the only way the sudden order makes sense to me. Otherwise it would have been infinitely more sensible to give the no grenades order privately beforehand (or just make sure the soldiers weren’t carrying grenades,)

            As to why grenades went badly in the (hypothetical) other timeline: Pretty much the same as what happens here only moreso. Even in this timeline it’s the grenades that let Skitter escape. In the alternate I expect the soldiers tried throwing grenades at her and she responded by using spider silk to arrest them in mid air and lob them right back, or maybe tie them to the soldiers trying the throw them.

  2. Damn Wildbow, once again you give us a chapter that is so wildly different than I expected I am left with a bit of whiplash. Good job. I am SO excited for the next chapter now.

  3. This chapter was literally pulse-pounding. Taylor is a ridiculous badass, and I think we can officially rule out (as opposed to only theoretically ruling out) her getting a second trigger event. She just got shot *twice*, once through the chest, and had to elude a squadron of elite soldiers–while blind. Also, the soldiers were commanded by someone who can manipulate reality. As a TVTropes lurker, I have to say, this may be a Crowning Moment of Awesome.

    Another downside of being blind: she doesn’t get to see Calvert or Genesis’ face when she lets them know she’s alive.

    • Didn’t get shot through. As someone else pointed out, the bullet still does damage even if it doesn’t penetrate. I don’t imagine that costume does much to spread out the kinetic energy of the impact so Taylor got to feel all that force hitting her. Probably broke something.

      It’s not just the penetration that hurts, but also the force of the blow. The penetration is the most important part, don’t get me wrong. As noted by Vegetius when writing to the Emperor on past Roman tactics, you can swing a sword at someone all day and they’ll live through it, but stab them just a few inches deep in a few places and they’ll die in no time.

      Oh and the heat of the bullet (you try having your ass exploding to go that fast and then being stopped suddenly) is also why the “Son of a Gun” urban legend doesn’t hold any water. That’s the one where in the Civil War at some battle with civilians nearby, a soldier gets shot through the testes and the bullet carries on to a woman nearby and hits her as well. They save her, but it got in just the right spot to impregnate her by the guy it deballed just beforehand. On the off chance a bullet could carry sperm like that, it’s hot enough to kill off any.

      So there you go, kids. If you’re ever worried you dirtied up your favorite bedsheets, wall, or school desk, just shoot it a bunch of times and you won’t have to worry about your loose potential kiddies anymore. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. Yooooo Joe!

      • Wait, “son of a gun” isn’t just a thing people say because they like rhyming and don’t want to say Rachel’s codename?

        • The story itself was a joke that not everyone realized was a joke. The term goes back a bit, so not easy to trace how it originated for sure. In British usage, it is said to come from the Navy. Two possible origins is that it came from babies born on ships with unknown fathers so they just listed Gunner’s Mate instead, or that it came from women giving birth on a section of the gun deck.

          There’s even one historian who attributes it to knights using it as an epithet.

  4. I’m so proud of Skitter! Not quite as proud as if she’d somehow managed to explode their pants, but still proud. Pants exploding is what it is called in the Fallout series when you pickpocket someone to slip a grenade or other explosive onto them. They spend a second screaming and trying to find it on them before Kablooey!

    Also, the psychological aspect was fun. Tapeworms and centipedes and mosquitos all talking and screwing with them. I like one of the taunts from Def Jam: Fight for NY, “I’m gonna rip your eyes out and put them on my knee and call you ‘Niecy'” though that fighter also has a good one in “I’m gonna tear your tongue out and lick my ass with it.”

    Or I might go with “I’m gonna yank your lungs out through your ears and feed them to you,” or “I’m gonna kick your face in so hard you’re gonna be tasting ass for a week,” or even “I will break my own goddamn foot off, hobble up to you, and shove it right up your ass you ugly son of a bitch.”

    If it wasn’t night, would have been a good time to simply throw up an SOS made of bugs. Or something similar. Like a big arrow and letters that spell out “Coil attacking here.” Probably why Coil did it that way. I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that using the grenades didn’t work out in the other reality and that’s why he didn’t want them to use them in this one. After all, for him to have pulled away and kept this version of events means both realities went about like this.

    I don’t imagine any body double they use for Skitter is going to work out. Even if they have the body correct, there’s making sure the costume is an exact duplicate of Skitters and getting the voice and mannerisms right enough that Tattletale doesn’t pick up on it. Which will all be foiled before too long when it’s clear she’s suffering some sort of memory loss. I want to say they’d need to make sure a seeing body double wouldn’t give them away, but Coil knows she’s blinded.

    What Coil ultimately wasn’t counting on was that Skitter is a badass. Even if he succeeded, you think someone’s going to believe some random, over-the-top arson took her out?

  5. Taylor can be a very cruel young woman, when she has to be. I wonder if she’d have still ended up turning villain without the pushes that Armsmaster gave her.

    • Without someone pushing her to join the Wards? Quite possible, especially if her new friends are still villains.
      After all, she is a Master. And all known Master are villains or worse.

        • We know that that Skitter has her super multitasking, and possibly swarm computing. We know that Bitch has trouble relating to humans because of her power. We know that Regent, Cherish, and Heartbreaker are psychopaths, or at least sociopaths. Nilbog is also crazy.

          Is there more of a tendency to mess with your mental state/abilities if you get Master class powers than if you get other powers?

          • Tinker and Thinker, but I don’t think we’ve seen any examples of those negatively affecting their owners?

            Most of the powers seem to come with Required Secondary Powers (see: TvTropes), and the master classification (with the debatable exception of duplicators) have the greatest apparent need for enhancements or alterations to the way they think, to control and coordinate bodies that aren’t their own, and often many simultaneously. So it makes sense, aye.

            Wasn’t Gallant also a master? Or does it just count as blaster since the effect wasn’t fine-tuned or powerful enough to be conceived as “control”.

            PRT classifications are fascinating to me. Should Dragon be thought of as Tinker/Trump, considering her specialty?

            -Necronecronecro~

  6. Skitter’s getting avante garde. Attending Burning Man, taking up smoking, experimenting with performance art.
    It is interesting how she keeps saying Calvert’s full name when she refers to him.

    I am really, really curious about why Coil did it this way. And whether Skitter is indeed a glitch, or part of the plan. After all, Skitter might be exactly the enemy Calvert needs, at just the right time.
    There seem to be a lot of peculiarities about is approach, which make me think that even if he did actually plan to kill her there has to be more to it to explain such excess and risk when he could have let her into a truck and then filled the truck with carbon monoxide or something as they drove. Or teleporting her into Houdini’s milk can.

    Another very weird possibility is that it isn’t actually Calvert doing this- someone else might be creating the perfect anti-coil weapon with some mindgames… After all, he seems to have been acting slightly out of character, and Taylor hasn’t SEEN him. Vapvqragnyyl, jub unir jr frra fcbbsvat ivgnyyl vzcbegnag vasbezngvba eryngrq gb gur raq bs gur jbeyq erpragyl?

    I can’t wait to see what comes next.

    “I couldn’t breathe. I could breathe out” Maybe change the second ‘breathe’ to ‘exhale’ or something? It just seems weird seeing ‘Can’t breath but can breath’ even if I understand what she’s saying.
    “had found the right wires” missing period.

    • I’ve always wondered, who have we seen spoofing vitally important information related to the end of the world recently, incidentally?

      • 01001001- 01000100 01001111 – 01001110 01001111 01010100 – 01010101 01001110 01000100 01000101 01010010 01010011 01010100 01000001 01001110 01000100

      • First thought was hexadecimally encoded ascii, but several pairs are greater than 15, so that’s a no go. Nor is it octal, because there is a 9 and several 8s. Oddly two are 7 digits long, which makes things even weirder. (if it were just one I’d chalk it up to a mistake) Most are six digits in length and one is two.

        At this point the only thing I can think to do is frequency analysis, but the sample isn’t long enough.

        So I’m at something of a loss, just like Eduardo.

        • It helps to know I’m a sorry case who has read Douglas Adams.

          That, and while I don’t remember nearly everything I was taught about cryptology, I do remember counting in other number bases. Binary is, as the name suggests, counting in base 2. 0, 1, and then you have to bring the tens place into it with 10 and 11. The lovely thing about numbers is that there are as many bases as there are numbers in existence, and they can all be used to encode numbers in some way or another. Like if you used base 1000 and had multiple numbers stand for the same letter or some numbers be used to represent blank spaces or punctuation marks or characters in other letters. Others might not be used at all just to throw people off.

          So when converting the alphabet to base 13, I realized I’d repeat myself when it came to 11 and 1 with a 1 in the tens place, so I simply included the tens place with all of the numbers. 00, 01, 02 and so on until 12 is followed by 110, 111, 112…

          I figured that’d be evil enough without then trying a substitution cypher like Pinkhair, so instead I just countered what made me able to defeat Pinkhair’s cypher. I broke my message up into groups of three letters, even if it cut off a word or added part of a word to part of another word.

          It was all just a fancy way of writing “Why-did-the-chi-cke-ncr-oss-the-roa-d?”

          I’ll take my gold bust of Douglas Adams giving me a disapproving look now.

          • punctuation marks or characters in other languages*

            00, 01, 02 and so on until 12 is followed by 10, 11, 12…*

            I swear, I type better in Base 13 than I do the English alphabet

          • I see that’s what that was now. I did it manually, with a well known program by the bastards at Microsoft called Word.

            The weakness of the substitution cypher is that it leaves letters in the appropriate spaces. See, certain letters come up far more frequently in English. The most frequent ones are probably E, S, T, R, and O. Further, only certain letters are used certain ways. It is unlikely that two “frra” is supposed to be “baal” as aa is hardly used in english. ee, oo, and ll come up a lot though. And the placement of ll is going to be different than the placement of ee and oo. Then there’s the fact that in words with only two or three letters, you’re most likely going to see to, it, of, or or when it comes to two letters and with three letters your best guess is and and the.

            That let me figure out enough of the letters until I realized the pattern they were in and then I translated it.

            The thing I wish I remember was how you use each letter as the key of a new substitution cypher. It means that you have to guess the first letter correctly or you won’t get any of them right, and that even the same letters later on don’t translate to the same letter. And, like I said, running it all together or breaking up the spaces uniformly or randomly would also make it more difficult to guess.

  7. Taylor’s ability to come up with solutions on the fly (ha ha) never ceases to amaze me. I also liked how she was commenting on all the measures she noticed Coil take against her.

    I wish she had thought to have some bugs chew up the wiring in Coil’s car though.

    I hope she gets another way to order bugs from around the world. She could make great use of bombardier beetles. And bullet ants.

  8. I think that Coil really tried to kill her. And many of the other realities were even worse for him. Skitter is listening through her bugs now or else she would not hear his orders about the grenades.
    How many of the undersiders betrayed her? Was she betrayed by Tatletale? If not, how did this escape her notice?

    • Coil can trick Tattletale. He proved it when he made Tattletale think that Skitter was going to be assassinated on the Mayor mission, but when she got back quite alive, Tattletale felt not the slightest of hints that an assassination was ever planned or attempted. So, no one had to betray Skitter for Coil to do this thang.

      • The way I get it, Coil didn’t technically trick Tattletale. He probably did try and kill Skitter – in one of the alternate timelines. It didn’t work, so he picked the timeline in which he never tried. He then let it seem that he could fool TT, so he technically tricked her by making it seem as though he can fool her.

  9. What I find most interesting is the comment not to use grenades. Presumably, this was because he had used his powers to tell that was a bad idea. But if he did use his powers, it means he was completely committed to killing Skitter (or had previously tried something like this and then retconned it). This suggests that he thinks it is _neccessary_ to do this, or that he is exceedingly assured of winning.

    Alternatively, this is all a Xanatos gambit, and he was concerned that use of grenades would actually succeed in killing her. With Dinah’s power, we can’t rule that out.

  10. I loved this. The bug Taylor resembles the most is a damn cockroach. Dinosaurs? Pfft, those suckers are extinct! Cockroaches and Taylor? They be kicking everyones arses! She could be the hardest to kill of all of the Undersiders. Well, Imp could probably do quite well, but that’s only because of the type of power she has. Taylor survives on her wits alone.

    I pity Coil. He tried to kill a teenager, with nothing but the power of bugs on her side… Yet look at the overkill he had to resort to. It’s kind of pathetic. Sure, Taylor is a hard opponent to beat, but Coil is a grown man with plans to conquer the city, or secretly, the world. Skitter beat him so badly, Coil’s mama felt the pain! (That was the first I’ve made a ‘mama’ joke in years, and hopefully the last. Forgive me.)

    Throughout the whole chapter, I kept thinking: how will she survive that? how will she get out of this? there is no way she will over come that one! But every single time I was pleasantly surprised by the scope of your imagination, Wildbow. You are an inspiration to us all, dude.

    Damn, I’m so glad I found this. Oh and I demand that Skitter gets to kick Coil’s ass eventually! The girl deserves it! Especially after her practical use of the metaphor ‘fight fire with fire’ during the first Molotov cocktail appearance!

    Fuck yeah! Great chapter.

    -Raven

    • Cut him some slack.
      He is fighting more than a teenager, he is a fighting the protagonist and her endless armies.
      I will be impressed if he manages to kill someone who is close to Taylor or change the roster of the Undersiders for the worse.

      • BUT, and here comes the important part in capital letters:
        IT DIDN`T FEEL FORCED.

        No “God ex machina” came and saved Taylor. No second trigger or something like this. The way in which she survived is believable. Actually, better explained and more reasonable than in most action movies.
        She was amazingly creative and a hive mind is a huge probability here.

        • I know, it wasn’t as bad as say, a guy in power armor making use of its life support capabilities and a (somewhat limited) supply of regenerative nanites that hadn’t been mentioned in the story yet. Maybe in past works, but not in that particular story.

          I just don’t think Skitter needs a second trigger event. She does very well as she is.

          • Well if you have access to advanced medical technology that regularly repairs muscles, bone, and flesh, you might as well use it to make the Wanted picture obselete.

            To De-Sue the character, though, I think it’s best to limit their usage in some way. That, and some people have drawn comparisons to another psycho-for-hire with a penchant for healing.

  11. Skitter may only be a pest for now, but if her dad is killed, then I can see her deciding to use lethal force like she did with the 9. Coil himself said she has never killed or tortured, but he has to have examined what Taylor could do if she was willing to kill. Loved the chapter Wildbow, especially the taunts she made to the gunmen. Now she only a needs a badass boast to scream to her enemies when she inevitably begins her counterattack.

  12. Wow, that was far more violent than expected. I really liked this action sequence.

    I wonder what it looked like from the perspective of the soldiers she was fighting. True, they has her on the ropes the entire time, but her refusal to give up and fall into either panic or despair combined with her psychological warfare, probably made her look like much more of a threat than she really was. The fact that she never killed anyone probably didn’t comfort them in light of the knowledge that their employer was willing to kill them in an effort to kill her..

    It seems unclear whether Coil was using his power to have one reality where he did not attack Skitter at all or really committed to his plan and used both his realities to try out different methods of attacking her. His comments seems to indicate the latter but in that case it would be hard to understand how he might have failed to kill her or why he was taking such a risk in the first place.

    Maybe he already tried to kill Skitter once before and it ended badly because of grenades and was thus instructing his men to not use them on her without actually knowing what the results of using them this time would be.

    I liked how Taylor complained about not having a second trigger event, while at the same time her abilities already did increase in leaps and bounds.

    She can now speak out of her swarms with ease, she is learning to hear through them too and her general ability to sense her surroundings despite her blindness seem to have increased too.

    She is also becoming more ruthless. The way she triggered the smoke bomb without being sure that it would not kill the soldier was certainly a big step character development wise. Add in the general psychological warfare she engages in and the part where she rather brutally dealt with the last soldier to steel his ride shows someone who is not quite as much of a nice girl as she used to be.

    I hope that Coil figures out (maybe using his power) that going after her dad would be the one thing that would turn her from someone who has “never killed or tortured before” into something else.

    An unfriendly entente where they are enemies but Skitter does not reveal his secret identity and he does not go after her dad might be best for him.

    Coils powers are good for planning and acting, they are less useful for reacting to some one else’s plans. If he goes for the total war option, he might sooner or later run into the problem where he only has two shots at dealing with anything that comes up and that isn’t enough.

    • On the subject of her pulling the bomb, I would counter that she was referring to her actions as murder despite the person in question being amidst emptying a clip into her.

  13. I am so, so proud of Coil. He brought a friggin’ ARMY to kill one lone teenage girl. And I’m saying this without a hint of sarcasm. Seeing characters being smart makes me smile, and using anything less to kill Skitter would obviously have been foolish.

    Also, am I the only one who noticed that Coil very pointedly ordered his people not to use grenades, and immediately after used a tactic that bypassed her idea of using a net of silk to catch a thrown object? I certainly have an idea of what might have happened in an alternate reality to make him decide against grenades.

    • Coil already showed remarkable foresight at the end of the last chapter. Rule 7 from the Evil Overlord list:

      When I’ve captured my adversary and he says, “Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is all about?” I’ll say, “No.” and shoot him. No, on second thought I’ll shoot him then say “No.”

      Too bad it didn’t actually do him much good.

      • Didn’t underestimate her (can you imagine if he had just brought a few guys?). Check.

        Didn’t waste time boasting. Check

        Took all appropriate cautions a la anti-venoms and such. Check.

        Didn’t leave her killing to henchpeople and walk off, thus allowing for her to escape his device of certain doom. Check.

        All in all Coil continues to be excellent on all counts. He just is against someone better at this particular kind of rapid fire planning. He has Two Coils, she has umpteen bugs.

      • Necro-Comment, but I have to wonder if Coil ever has nightmares about Skitter at this point. Seriously, she’s…. terrifying. Sorry, it’s just been tumbling around in my head the last few days, had to post it.

        –Sometime in the last few weeks–

        Coil jerked awake, the frown on the face of his other self already creeping across his mouth. In this iteration, he was supposed to be undisturbed except in case of emergency. In the other, he was looking at the caller ID of his sat/cell. The phone rang again in his bedroom, and he jerked fully awake, startled.

        Both phones were ringing together. Both of them said it was Pitter calling.

        He reached out and grabbed the phone, and both iterations of himself answered together. It could only be about one thing.

        “Mr. Pitter. What’s wrong with Dinah?” His voice trembled just a bit in one iteration. Too much coffee, he thought.

        “Nothing’s wrong with Dinah, Calvert.” A female voice. Cold. Calculated. The girl, Skitter. He felt himself shiver across both iterations–one seemed to catch it from the other, like a wave travelling through realities.

        A sound, like the flicking of a knife with a nail, tiny and metallic. It seemed to ring for too long, to be caught in the air, until he heard it tap against her gloved hand with the faintest of thuds. Caught in the web she wore.

        “Heads,” she said to the iteration in the bedroom, the voice buzzing with amplification from what seemed like billions of bugs in the shadows around his bed. The other iteration heard the buzzing as well, but no voice. He jumped up from his desk and started towards the door….

        …and collapsed, writhing and screaming, his chest on fire and his left shoulder cramping so tight he could feel the bone fracture. His teeth clamped down to cut off a second scream as the pain increased, increased until his vision blurred and spotted, and he could feel teeth shatter from the pressure. Panicking, he cut off the reality, knowing there was nothing he could do during the cardiac arrest, already seeing the swarm closing in on his dying self.

        He could still taste the bloody, gritty fragments of shattered teeth, and his shoulder ached with the ghost of the pain his other iteration had just experienced. On the phone, he thought he could hear the rapid clicking of a fingernail drawn across the ridges on the side of a coin. One of his trick quarters, he knew it, the certainty making him start to sweat.

        “What did you do to me?” he asked, even as he split again. One iteration leaped from the bed and towards the closet, going for the shotgun. Another sat, very still, watching the shadows, waiting to see what traps he might find.

        “Did you know that people can catch heartworm, Calvert? Did you know that the eggs can survive in toothpaste, on toilet paper, in shaving cream?” She laughed at him, even as he cursed in one iteration, tearing the closet apart to find that his shotgun had disappeared, knowing that it didn’t matter anyway.

        The coin, again. The Coil that sat quietly could hear it, a silvery bell in the darkness. His other self was breathing too hard as he stood defeated at the foot of the bed, but he was aware of it just the same, sharing it across the borders of reality.

        “Heads,” both sets of insects–and only one Skitter–buzzed, as the iteration still in bed gritted his teeth against the sudden pain, one thin hand clawing at his chest as if he could rip the offending organ out. Her voice, barely audible over the throbbing of his blood in his ears, whispered something that may have been, “I’m sorry.”

        Again he thrust that reality away, standing at the foot of the bed. He was shivering, whole body shakes that rattled his teeth and made his breathing hitch. His bowels clinched, and one calf jittered, unable to support him through the surging of adrenaline. He wanted–he NEEDED–to run, to get away, to be outside of her range.

        He split realities again, and in one he hung up the phone and began dialing the PRT. In the other he listened as he traced the room, feeling for the bugs, hoping to find a way out of the room and towards freedom.

        This time the ringing caused him to drop the phone in both realities, but he heard it clearly anyway. It rang longer than before, longer than it could possibly have been in the air if the coin was real. In the iteration where he traced the room, he found the light switch, mercifully free of stinging, biting insects, and flipped it on.

        There, in the half light, half darkness of his split worlds, he saw her take form, stepping out of the living shadows, a mass of stinging, biting little monsters gorged with his blood, rising from the shifting carpet of insects that covered every inch of his room. He could hear the ringing of the coin, even as she held it up between two fingers.

        Even as he felt the pain creep across both iterations, even as he staggered from the pain and dropped to his knees, he still heard the coin sing in the air. As the crushing, piercing agony clamped his teeth together until they broke, he saw the quivering shells of her little monsters vibrating ever so slightly.

        They sang the song of his destiny, the ringing of the coin that she never bothered to flip.

        –Coil awoke with a start. The sweat had ruined the sheets, and he fought to untangle himself until he stood by the bed, staring at the clock. In another iteration, he jerked his head up from his desk, reaching for his coffee cup with a shaking hand.

        Fuck that. He grabbed his phone, thumbed over to his journal function.

        “Note to self: Start deworming therapies immediately. Also, kill Skitter.”

        He shivered, and it echoed across iterations.–

            • Sorry to keep me Necro-chaining it, but I noticed the comment about fanfic….

              The above short is property of Wildbow. All characters, settings, stories, ideas, concept art, ticket sales, intimate toys, lubricating substances, lingering odors, and likenesses belong to Wildbow, and the commenter known as Thomas formally waives all ownership of said work.

              Especially the odor. I’m afraid you now own the smell of lube and bad decisions, Wildbow.

              *scoot, scoot*

              No, really, you keep that.

  14. This really got me thinking of how a Worm videogame would work (lol, tangent), as kinda an unconventional stealth game like Assassin’s Creed. But rather than hiding in shadows like a conventional stealther or hiding in the crowd like AC, in Worm: The Game you would hide in *chaos*. Use distraction and misdirection, play headgames, putting up bug-constructs to divert attention from your real self, have bugs chew through wiring to kill the lights, pull grenade pins, string silk lines all over the place. The aim wouldn’t be to prevent anyone from knowing you’re there, as soon as they see the swarms of bugs they’re going to figure it out, the aim would be cause so much panic and disarray that you can move through it almost freely, hanging around the peripheries of a chaos you control, taking out the outliers with your baton, knife and pepper spray, surveying the battlefield with your ‘swarm sense’ vision mode.

    Well, a guy can dream, can’t he?

    • If I recall, the video games that best suit your description (with the mechanics you suggest) are “The Darkness” and “Dishonored” not to mention every game that uses tactical swarming such as Pikmin. I can clearly see a game like this in the future if video game developers read this and asked for wildbow’s permission. Dream on man, it might just come true.

      • Needs an upgrade system too, perhaps akin to X-Com, constructing and filling terrariums, filling them with exotic bugs, putting time into projects such as making capsaicin-dipped bugs and weaving silk armour, purchasing brown recluses to increase your swarm attack power, using contacts to get hold of Darwins’ bark spiders to make bulletproof costumes, etc. Could be awesome, man.

    • Kind of Mark of the Ninja, I think it was called?

      I can imagine Worm: The Game being two player, with one player controlling Skitter herself and another controlling the bugs. Which works on a deeper level, too.

    • The thought of a MOBA game with Worm characters in it has crossed my mind before. Obviously some flagrant violations of canon would have to be made concerning power imbalances. I was thinking Taylor would make a good long ranged harasser/CCer. She could have a spider silk snare ability, blind with capsaicin bugs, a directional taunt with swarm clones (I’m thinking she sends a number of swarm clones off in a certain direction that enemy characters have to target before they can target her) and maybe something like Ashe’s hawkshot where she would send a swarm off in a direction to scout out areas. (This and the last ability could even be combined.) setting stationary swarms on the map as wards is another possibility. You could also nave a mechanic where she starts with a given number of swarms (bug clumps) that are used for both warding and autoattacking. The fewer swarms she has on a target the less damage she does. This way the player would have to balance damage with map control. The possibilities are nearly endless with Taylor. (unfortunately not so with other charsacters.) It’s seven in the morning and I have’t slept so enjoy the lack of paragraph breaks.

      • *plays Mortal Kombat Vs. The Internet. As Finish Him! comes up on the screen, he presses some buttons and Skitter calls down a massive swarm of bugs on Raiden that fly into his mouth as he screams. The swarm just goes on and on, Raiden beginning to swell, and then bursting. His skeleton continues standing for a moment, the swarm holding it up, before it forms into Skitter’s shape, drops the skeleton, and copies her victory pose.*

        • ‘A challenger appears!’ Newter finishes wrapping bandages cross his arms and takes a stance ‘ready?’ darting off before “GO!” can sound he takes skitter unaware with a tap on the forehead. ‘K.O’ sounds again and again as newter takes skitter out within seconds of each round. a pat on the head, a kiss to the cheek,a loogie to the face, making newter the undisputed lord of the one hit knock out.

          yeah, newter cheats. Geuss it comes from his fualtline -esque tactics .

      • Now I’m wondering if it would make a good mod for Freedom Force. Hmm.

        Both Grue’s and Bitch’s powers would be difficult to pull off properly in that, though…

      • How resistant spider silk is to acid? Anyway, he wanted to kill her personally. A bad, big mistake.

        I would have used teleportation to the oven of a metallurgical company. While boiling iron was there.

        But, again, this is not his style. Or was not before this.

        • Eh, I dunno about it not being his style. Coil is a major control freak who is as risk adverse as a suburban soccer mom. Combined with Skitter being a bass freak of nature It makes sense that he would want to make absolutely positively sure that she’s dead and doesn’t trust his men enough to not see to it personally.

          This also could have been a last minute decision, Coil might have decided that Skitter was going to be a problem very recently and with his plans at their most critical juncture he’s being panicky about it.

    • Actually, I know how to do this one. Big trapdoor with a pool of water and hungry crocodiles below. Also, the trapdoor is the only way in or out.

      • Or, simply, have a large remotely detonated bomb in the room. Inside a box with no gaps, so the insects can’t find it, under the floorboards or something for added measure.

    • This is actually explained (at least Skitter speculates on it). This may have been an exchange teleport – swap her with someone else. Thus, if she was to be dropped into a pool of acid, someone would have had to already be in the pool of acid.

  15. Possible Spoiler:
    Im getting that Coil was using his power in this fight and went to the vehicle to have one safely there while other was active. The grenade bit is a blantant use of his power. And I can think of two reasons for them to not use grenades. 1) It gives her another trigger event, he collapses the timeline. 2) It makes her choose to kill to survive, she no longer plays nice, he collapses the timeline. And as always nice job wildbow.

    • Hadn’t considered either of those, the idea of her triggering is hilarious. Better then his grenade timeline ending with all the grenades clattering to the floor at his feet, they chuck them in and some horrifically unkillable swarm creature comes out.

      • Triggering doesn’t have to factor into it. Skitter can easily carry things with her bugs, they would essentially be supplying her with timed explosives to throw back at them.

        • I don’t think you realize how heavy grenades are. She wasn’t even able to get her bugs to carry a gun magazine, let alone a grenade.

  16. I think Taylor if surrounded by mercenaries with high capacity weapons intent on her demise. She should really consider a little torture/murder in her defense.

        • He only shot him to keep him from leaving, the guy was still alive afterward.

          Which makes me think that Coil’s going to have a revolt on his hands if he keeps that up. Being told to sit around in a hellhole city without alot of action can’t be too good for morale in the first place, and now he’s going around shooting them? Tsk, tsk. Coil might be a magnificent bastard, but a father to his men he is not.

          Tattletale already sent a signal one of the guys she’s got a rapport with, maybe she found the money to make them a better offer or maybe she genuinely has their loyalty, but either way the Undersiders are finally going to have some real hardware on their side.

  17. You know, I think that if the grenades had failed so badly on some unseen prior occasion, Coilvert simply wouldn’t have *brought* them to his special get-Skitter ambush. He’s a smart guy that way. Which means his “no grenades” thing is an on-the-spot epiphany; he’s using his power tactically and not strategically. If this keeps up, he won’t be quite so hard to kill after all. :D

    While I don’t like to see her suffer, I do kind of love seeing what happens when Taylor gets backed into a corner, because the results are always… artful.

    • Ooooh! And you know what would inspire Coil to leave just then? There were two universes. One where Coil hid in the car and one where he was more proactive. Skitter surmised as much, herself.

      …She’s probably already killed him once. We just didn’t see it. :>

  18. I think if he really wanted her dead he’d have collapsed this timeline already instead of driving away.

    He shot her and missed in both timelines? Skitter described him as someone experienced with firearms.

    He brought grenades but loudly instructed his soldiers to not use them? Sounds like a hint to me. Even Skitter admitted her silk net wouldn’t be able to do much.

    Told the soldiers to burn her instead of just spraying her with bullets?

    • I wondered if the grenades thing wasn’t hinting, myself, but as others point out above… some aspects of of Taylor’s escape are simply too close, relying on things he couldn’t possibly have known about. Going out of his way to seal the room off with allen-headed screws (because she just might have a screwdriver or a knife that could serve as one) is not the act of someone who secretly wants her to escape.

      Also, he didn’t miss her. He just didn’t penetrate her armor. Reads like she might have broken ribs, though.

      I think his chief mistake is in using both of his timelines on a pissed-off Skitter. Further from there, I think we ARE seeing the best possible outcomes Coilvert can generate. …It just isn’t quite enough.

      • I’ve said it before, but pissed off Skitter is like a kicked hive. Coil is not immune to her attacks so his best move would be to run and hit her from afar.

        That said, her making it out of a building full of mercenaries trying to kill her, after she was caught by surprise and shot…and survived through her own power’s products…awesome.

        Also, if he is smart enough to have kept a mimicking parahuman in reserve somewhere and swapped them with Taylor, he’s gonna get a nasty surprise when the plan to get Brian while he’s off guard meets their thing of him cloaking them in darkness and thus getting the ultimate personal identity check via power copying.

        • “he’s gonna get a nasty surprise when the plan to get Brian while he’s off guard meets their thing of him cloaking them in darkness and thus getting the ultimate personal identity check via power copying.”

          Or, you know, when he goes to bone her.

  19. Okay so clearly Coil wanted Skitter to live, given he has his power. It would have been easy to kill her: containment foam ON her instead of between them, and then set her on fire and shoot her.

    Watching from the truck indicates he’s making sure it goes according to plan. Grenades would have been more lethal, so they weren’t allowed. Why it is part of the plan is the interesting question. Coil doesn’t leave much to chance.

  20. Guys! Guys. Guys, listen. Listen, guys.

    She heard him in the other room, somehow. Quote, ““Irritating,” I was aware of Thomas Calvert’s voice in the next room. He’d retreated and shut the door behind him….”

    Is this maybe a new ability? Or just thin doors? What do you think?

    • I think she’s getting flashes of being able to do that when she’s not paying close attention to the ability, so she mentions it in passing without making a big deal of it.

      She also doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to how [i]little[/i] she seems to need her eyes, at the moment. I mean, she’s busy and all, and there are mentions of her vision being bad still, but… it’s like in Grue’s interlude, where he notices that Taylor is a bit spooky, not looking around her, not looking before crossing the street, because she just doesn’t need to, and doesn’t even realize that she’s doing anything unnatural.

  21. A lot of people think Skitter’s success is suspicious. They say that if you’re confused, that means you’re mistaken about something. The candidates I see are that Coil is as good as they think he is, that Coil was trying to kill Taylor instead of triggering her again or something, and that this was in fact orchestrated by Coil. Personally, I’m leaning toward the first one, but mostly because I like Taylor and think she’s awesome enough to pull this off legit.

    • Well, I am willing to believe that Coil’s arrogance could combine with his particular perversion in such a way as to lead to him genuinely attempting this- but that would be against his previously shown policies.

      Of course, so are most of his dealings with Skitter, which is what makes it believable- I can entirely imagine her having gotten so under his skin that he actually needed to do it this way. Perhaps not even for the reasons she knows about.

  22. Hm.

    I can’t imagine anyone who would think of screws with hexagonal slots wouldn’t use one of the simple fail safes like, for example, a bomb in the room.

    On the other hand, I can’t imagine anyone bothering with hexagonal screws if they don’t intend to kill her.

    • What if they just wanted it to look like they wanted to kill her?
      Or they wanted her to ‘escape’ in a very defined and laid out way. Like a game developer making the walls of a canyon too steep to scale, so you’re forced to go down the only available path.

      • I didn’t see any obvious paths out, though, and she did escape through those screws in the end.

        And I really don’t think that the addition of the screws contribute to making it look like they were trying to kill her for real, when compared to the mercenary army, the being shot at, the room being on fire and such. Most people wouldn’t even have noticed them, let alone realized what they mean.

  23. I think he was trying to kill her avoiding a second trigger event. Because he always left her things to keep trying, but without aval. If he just cornered her , and cornered her without any exit, i bet you Taylor would have had a second trigger.

  24. ” I had little choice but to run headlong into the thick of them.”

    Remind me again why moving on to another city is off the table again? As others have noted above, she could totally screw Coil over by giving him over to the authorities and news. This is especially true if Coil keeps his word and gives up Dinah to her family. Granted, there’s no reason to be sure that that’s what he’ll do, but a) It would’ve amused me if I were in his shoes and b) Dinah would presumably be easier to rescue if Coil is on the run from the authorities (or captured).

    I’m guessing that the real reason that she stays at this point is a matter of pride. She can’t conceive of giving up when she’s done so much and come so far. She’s also not going to turn him in because she’s an adrenaline junky.

  25. Yes!
    GO SKITTER!

    A VERY nice little battle here.
    If it had been me I’d have done the “swap to exploding car bomb” and Skitter would be dead, but Coil thinking he’d done enough was believable.

  26. 1. Why not shoot her in the head? He knows that she has a huge idiotic gap for her hair. Also it’s the biggest trope ever that people shoot people in the chest where they’re protected instead of their head.

    2. Why not instantly through a molotov at her, or at her feet. Have fun burning. Why not even do it before she teleports in so she teleports into fire?

    3. Why not teleport her into the air 100m up?

    4. Why be in the building at all to begin with where you can get bitten no matter how confident you are? What if she had suffocated him (why didn’t she)?

    5. She bit through the head lights of the truck but didn’t bother biting through the ignition, or anything to stop him escaping…

    6. Apparently you don’t ever have to have been in a car before to know how to drive it, now I know in the USA it’s all automatic but I’m not sure you can still step in a car and know how to drive it and pull over without hitting the kerb without learning. If it wasn’t automatic you’d stall it straight away I don’t know if automatics stall or what so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

    7. “My second guess was that it was incendiary, in which case I’d be murdering someone.” So? I think at the point where they’re throwing molotov’s and shooting at you numerous times attempting very explicitly to take your life stops them, but anyway why wouldn’t Coil tell them to leave behind their smoke grenades? They don’t need it anyway for dealing with Skitter.

    8. It’s been literally months and at no point Coil nor Skitter decided to shoot her spider silk mannequins, find that very hard to believe.

    9. Why didn’t Coil bring capes to kill Taylor since she’s a cape? Why didn’t he kidnap her Dad to begin with to pressure her and then kill them both?

    • And considering Brian didn’t get his second trigger event while he was being slowly ripped apart by Bonesaw I’m pretty sure Taylor isn’t going to get hers from dying or almost dying. It’ll have to be her Dad or Dinah’s death on the line like with Brian.

    • 3. I think they have to switch things, like with trickster’s power.

      4. She hadn’t gathered enough bugs yet.

      6. Automatics don’t stall, most people still start out hitting the gas way too hard though. It would be extremely obvious to even a casual observer she didn’t know how to drive.

      7. Because Skitter is The Goddamn Batman, and she doesn’t kill. I’d say smoke grenades are in their standard loadout, and you never know what you might need.

      8. She thought it wasn’t bulletproof because shrapnel from a shotgun had penetrated it. Though I do agree that she should have been trying to see if she could make it bulletproof.

      9. Maybe he doesn’t want any of the ones that would kill her knowing he has transportation tech. Maybe that’s his backup.

      • #4: He has a full face mask.

        #9: Because all his capes were hired and not ex-military, just like Skitter. He doesn’t want them finding out that he’s willing to turn on them when it comes time to pay his debts. Especially not the Travelers.

  27. > I coughed as I inhaled another waft of smoke, then coughed harder as the combination of the pain in my chest and the smoke I was inhaling in my attemtps to catch my breath made for a self-perpetuating cycle.

    “Attemtps” should probably be “attempts”.

    • Well, yes, obviously he IS just screwing around. If he’d wanted her dead, she’d be dead. My very first thought after the cliffhanger last (non-interlude) chapter was “OMG How’s Taylor going to survive being shot in the head?” And come to find out he was aiming for her chest? I actually reread the opening lines thinking that maybe since she kinda tried to dodge it threw off his aim, but I just couldn’t visualize it. No, the “no grenades” thing pretty much clinches it for me– either he just wants her to really THINK he tried to kill her, or he was trying to re-trigger her for some reason, or for some reason he has a mental block about just killing her properly. I think the first is most likely, given that Coil is like the love child of David Xanatos and Light Yagami when it comes to plans, but I think that the last would be far more interesting–for whatever reason, he can’t just stick a grenade in her mouth and be done with it.

      • Later, I posted spoilers. I think it had something to do with me posting spoilers, acting as well as usual.

        As to why I posted spoilers… I dunno.

          • Is it really a spoiler? I’m not convinced that I posted spoilers when we know I posted spoilers and that I posted spoilers.

              • I understand your “better safe than sorry” attitude, but…why did you delete the bits referring to things that happened this chapter?

              • Because it’s an irritating 4 step process to edit comments (not counting the edits themselves) and I’m not about to add additional steps to check the chapter & remember exactly what happened to that. It’s really, really, really irritating when I have to remove spoilers. Just… please don’t – you’re one of the repeat offenders. I appreciate that you’re a frequent commenter, but it’s a hassle.

  28. I think Coil’s failure to kill Skitter in this chapter speaks to a flaw in his overall approach. Specifically, he’s grown increasingly dependent on the Travellers/Undersiders to handle things on a tactical level. We know that he used to take on Empire 88 with only his troops, but then he recruited these two teams and picked up Dinah. The Undersiders (especially Taylor) have fought tougher and tougher opponents while Coil retreated further into the background. He’s used to planning, not adapting on the fly; he may have cornered Taylor here, but in a way he’s fighting her kind of battle. Added to that, the fact that his troops are normal humans means that they are weaker to her bugs than a lot of people she is used to fighting, even with their Molotovs. Mannequin, Bonesaw, Burnscar, and more have had very effective counters to her bugs, and she learned to work around that. Now, Coil tries to swamp her with numbers – but you can’t win a Zerg Rush contest with Skitter. She can find more minions faster and coordinate them better than anyone else. He did a great job in some respects: surprising her with the sudden teleportation, having troops on hand, the use of fire, the pre-arranged containment foam. Having the boards screwed in shows great attention to detail, as well. But Skitter is like a bug in one respect; if there’s any hole in your strategy she’ll find and exploit it like a bug finding a hole in the wall. She’s tenacious, resourceful, and the fastest thinker we’ve seen in the story with the possible exceptions of Dragon or The Simurgh.

    My guess is that Coil planned out as much of the trap as he could, starting either when Taylor first asked him to consider releasing Dinah or (more likely) when she extorted the promise to do so out of him before dealing with Dragon. When the time comes, he splits timelines and tries two approaches to killing her. Grenades obviously didn’t work out. Taylor notes that he seems to be sitting in a vehicle and not giving orders; I’m guessing that Coil was waiting for the other one to figure out what orders to give through trial and error, but the second Coil – the one we don’t see – got taken out, possibly more than once. Maybe he stayed in the room to keep shooting at her and it didn’t work (thus “irritating”). He tried grenades, but made Skitter desperate enough to start pulling pins en masse with no benefits to his side. He may have tried a few other things, too. Maybe he tried to run her over with a car, even, but couldn’t do it with the decoys and poor visibility.

    It’s also possible that he did kill her in a timeline – but not before she told all of her bugs to eat him alive or something. Remember, they keep following her orders if she stops communicating, so killing Skitter could result in either a Coil victory or a mutual defeat for both parties. Regardless, I think that any timeline in which Coil so much as looked at her father would be a timeline he wouldn’t end up keeping; even with all she’s been through, there are places no one has managed to push Skitter. Being the first is unlikely to be healthy.

    As far as the idea that he wants to fake a convincing attempt to take Skitter out, I don’t buy it; it’s too good, and things seem too geared toward killing her and surprising her teammates. I do think he might have avoided certain measures (like massive bombs) because drawing any attention could foil his master plan. If a single cop, PRT trooper, Protectorate member or Wards member sees Coil’s troops in action they may conclude he’s still around – negating the effects of the show he put on not long ago. A big explosion would be investigated. If he assumed he’d be able to kill Skitter, then he had two main worries: 1) Dealing with her team in the aftermath, and 2) Avoiding official attention. If Thomas Calvert called off the investigation of a massive explosion in the city, that would generate huge amounts of suspicion, so he can’t employ his civilian ID for that; Coil has to kill skitter quietly and quickly enough to avoid notice. That might be why he runs for it here, even if the situation seems salvageable in terms of killing Skitter.

    And as to the matter of why he didn’t shoot her in the head: Professional training generally emphasizes aiming for the center of mass, I believe. The head is a much more difficult target. In Skitter’s case, the head is just as bulletproof as the chest, although it’s possible that the force of the impact might knock her out or give her a concussion or something, I suppose. Still, he didn’t have a lot of time to act.

    CG

    • I hadn’t thought about Coil’s level of thought, MO, and such before.

      It was implied that the main reason the bullet didn’t do any damage was that it hit a piece of armor. Even if spider silk is enough to reduce a bullet from deadly to harmless, though, that doesn’t negate shooting Skitter in the head. If Coil shot her in the back of the head where her mask doesn’t cover–or, more creatively, removed her mask, her head would be completely defenseless. Even the “training” argument, while not completely flawed, misses one thing: For a good amount of time, Taylor was helpless and unconscious. Removing her mask, putting a pistol against her head, and pulling the trigger would have been easy.

  29. Heee. Fantastic. Skitter just survived being *locked in a burning building* with a *squad of soldiers shooting at her*. I definitely don’t think Coil was trying to go easy on her; I imagine he was playing with timelines throughout the fight (all, what, ten minutes of it?) and this was the best result he could get. Skitter is just that awesome.

    Also, I’d just like to say: “Never let it be said that I am not a man of my word”? Of course not, Tommy.

    • She didn’t. Notice how she started having to fumble around for stuff when most of her bugs were killed off by fire.

    • Was it? She’s unbelievably badass for a few arcs after this point, but there is no major shift the way there was with, say, Grue. I thought it was Word of God (or at least Word of Doctor Mother) that she probably triggered twice while stuck in that locker, the first trigger perhaps giving her the ability to sense the insects, the second to control them?

      If this *is* her second trigger event, it’s too subtle to be sure it’s there, even after it’s happened, and that seems unlikely to me, given that the second trigger, like the first, comes with a soon-forgotten vision, and probably with the corresponding temporary paralysis of every nearby parahuman including the one triggered. The only second trigger we actually *see* is extremely obvious at the time.

      • There are several instances of her power extending because she feels trapped/hopeless. This is the only instance where the buff is permanent afterwards. Before, human speech was completely indecipherable to her through the swarm. After this, she is always able to understand it. She triggered a low-level thinker ability to parse the information.

        • Not sure about that. There’s at least one instance of her hearing music through her swarm before this point. But, yes, she eavesdrops on her own group and the kidnapper without visible effort, and starts to be able to see through her bugs too, well enough that other people can’t tell that she’s blind — so she’s definitely improved. Whether this counts as a second trigger (and whether all my wibblings count as a spoiler!) is another matter.

          • I had forgotten about the music and it certainly presents a problem to my theory. Perhaps she was close to a second trigger during the Toes incident?

            I still don’t see another explanation which is really plausible. She mentioned numerous times before this that no amount of training would be able to make her hear/see through the bugs. That sounds like the kind of thing which only a trigger can permanently change.

  30. shouldnt coils men have something more sophisticated than a molotov?

    also a “makeshift molotov cocktail” doesnt really make sense, seeing as how a molotov cocktail is literally gasoline in an empty bottle,

  31. Okay, ignore for a moment the obvious tactical flaw in “Let’s back Taylor into a corner because that worked *so* well for everyone else who tried it”. That aside, trying to kill her is *still* a bad plan.

    Coil *knows* Taylor is paranoid about him going back on his word. Does it not seem likely that she would have a contingency in place? Like, say, collecting everything she knows about Coil and his plans and leaving it with an unobtrusive minion to send to *everyone* in the event she mysteriously vanishes? He hasn’t had long enough to run an alternate timeline and confirm that’s not the case.

  32. a far better plan: have waiting for her 10 burly men wearing all-covering protective suits, perhaps with oxygen tanks to counter bugs in lungs. she’s still a lanky teenage girl, what’s she gonna do in a melee? get grabbed, pinned to the floor and beaten to death by iron bars is what.

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