Queen 18.3

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Miss Militia didn’t respond.  She stared down the length of her gun at Tattletale.  I could believe that if we gave her cause, any of the rest of us were an instant away from getting shot.  We had bulletproof armor, but there wasn’t anything saying she wasn’t using the fanciest armor-piercing rounds.  Her power supplied whatever hardware she wanted.

“We didn’t take Vista,” I told her.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Tattletale said, “We’d take her, do that sort of damage, and then come back?  Approach you guys peacefully?”

“I’m beginning to see why Armsmaster was so frustrated with you, Undersiders.  Every time we run into you, we’re left in the dark, vast amounts of information missing from the overall picture.  There’s always surprises.  So I’m paying very close attention to what you are saying.  Case in point, you say Vista was taken, and not murdered.”

“I don’t think she was killed,” I said.  Tattletale nodded.

“That’s good to know,” Miss Militia said.  She sighed, “When you’re going on the offensive, there’s nothing held back, you don’t pull any punches, short of murder… and you apparently came damn close with Triumph, Skitter.”

Triumph folded his arms.

She continued, “If you’re not trying to kill us, you’re approaching us with open arms, asking for help, putting us in a situation where we can’t accept without breaking our rules, but refusal comes at a cost.”

“It’s that second bit,” Imp said.  Some of the heroes wheeled around to find her standing on the opposite side of her group.  I managed to hide my own surprise.  Imp added, “We’re here because we need help.  This is a nasty one, too.”

Miss Militia turned back to me, and her voice was a little harder.  “I thought so.  It’s your pattern.  Except there’s always information missing.  Information withheld.  You said you were indirectly responsible for this?”

“You caught that,” Tattletale said.  She looked at me.  “Should we dish out the dirt?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Have to anyways.”

“Full disclosure,” Tattletale said.  “We were working for Coil.  The Travelers were too.”

Miss Militia didn’t move a centimeter.  Some of the other heroes did.

“He’s dead, in case you weren’t aware,” Tattletale said.  “And the Travelers are a little upset, because they were counting on him to help them out.”

I could imagine Tattletale smiling.  She’s misdirecting them.  They think he died at the debate, but she’s talking about the real death.  The death at my hands.

Miss Militia shook her head.  “I doubt this was the Travelers.  We heard howling, and this wasn’t Genesis.  Analysis of her file by some of our top guys suggests she has limits to the strength of whatever forms she’s chosen.  Strong, yes, but not enough to tear half the wall off the front of a building in the time the witnesses described.  I would, however, believe Hellhound’s dogs could do it.  Besides, Genesis has never been on record shapeshifting to resemble someone or something.”

Never? I thought.  She crafted her bodies in a dream state.  I knew she’d made a body that resembled her real self, but the rest…  Did it take too much effort to get the aesthetic details exactly right, to the point that it cost her in other departments?

“When the Slaughterhouse Nine attacked,” I said, “Do you remember who they targeted?”

“Armsmaster, Regent, Hookwolf, Panacea.  Two more.  With the appearances Mannequin and Burnscar made in the Boardwalk, we belatedly discovered Hellhound was another, and we were theorizing you were the last of them, Skitter.”

“I got in their way too many times,” I said.  “But they didn’t want me.  But the last one was Noelle.”

Her gun shifted a fraction towards me.  I wasn’t sure she was aware she was doing it. “Noelle?”

Tattletale spoke up, “The Travelers have two other members who don’t see much action.  Oliver handles their day-to-day stuff.  Finds and prepares places for them to settle down, gets food, looks after Noelle.  Noelle…”

“New York,” Miss Militia interrupted.  “She’s the one that’s responsible for the disappearance of those forty people?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Tattletale said.

“The reason the Travelers have been operating like they are,” I told Miss Militia, “Going for the quick and easy cash grabs and constantly moving, it’s been for her sake.  Trying to find someone who can help.  They found Coil, or Coil found them, and they thought they had the answer they needed.  Except now Coil’s dead.  Noelle’s snapped, and it’s very possible Vista was her first captive.”

“What does she-” Triumph started.  He stopped as Miss Militia raised one hand.

“You’re good at this, Undersiders,” she said.  “But I do learn my lesson.  I won’t get caught up in your story, I know you’ll have to give me the details, if this situation is as serious as you say.  But let’s postpone that for a minute.  Why don’t you start off by explaining how you’re indirectly responsible for this.”

I turned to Tattletale.  She gave her head a small shake.

“What aren’t you telling us?”  Miss Militia asked.

“Stuff,” Tattletale said.  “Surrounding the circumstances of Coil’s death.  But getting into the particulars would create more problems than it solves, for you guys and for us.”

“I dunno,” Assault said, from behind Miss Militia, “I doubt staying quiet is going to help you much.”

“Did you have something to do with the explosion at the town hall?”  Miss Militia asked, and there was a note of anger in her voice, “The way things went wrong?  The deaths of those reporters, the injuries sustained by the retired Director and the candidates?”

“No,” I said.  “I swear on everything I stand for that I, we, didn’t play any part in planning or setting that in motion.”

“You can understand if we don’t take you at face value on that, nice as it sounds,” Assault said.

“If it helps,” Tattletale said, “Get your hands on the evidence from the scene, some of the blood and bits from the bodies.  Send them out of town.  Discreetly.  Get another lab to run DNA tests.”

“Why?”

Tattletale shrugged.  “It’s pig meat.  Almost all of it.  Glued together with transglutaminase.  Human bone, and human blood, probably, but if you look for it, you’ll find antifreeze.”

“Antifreeze?”

“Glycerol.  It’s how they store it at blood banks.”

“You’re saying it was staged,” Miss Militia said.  “Despite the fact that we had Wards on scene, innumerable witnesses.”

“Despite that.”

Miss Militia straightened a fraction, “And of course, we can’t check it now.  So you’re expecting us to work with you in the meantime, help you with whatever problem you’re suggesting you’re partially to blame for setting in motion, and when the lab tests come in, long after the situation’s resolved, we’ll find you were lying.”

Assault added, “And somehow, conveniently, you come out ahead when all’s said and done.  A handful more of your enemies injured or dead.”  There was a hint of emotion punctuating the end of the statement.  Battery.

“Telling the truth,” Tattletale said.

“This situation’s serious,” I told Miss Militia, “And if you do what we’re suggesting, I can assure you, we don’t wind up in a better position at the end of this.”

“Why’s that?” Miss Militia asked.

It was Grue who answered her, breaking his silence with his deep, eerie voice, “Because we’re recommending you call in the big guns.  Call in everyone.”

“Class S threat,” Tattletale said.  “Or damn near.”

The tip of Miss Militia’s gun wavered as she started to react and then stopped herself.  Neither she nor any of the heroes moved or spoke for long seconds.

When she did speak, she said, “There’s six class S threats active in the world at large.  The Endbringers make up three of them.  The Slaughterhouse Nine as a group are a fourth.  You’re saying this Noelle is on par with one of them?”

“She’s a nascent Endbringer,” I said.

“Bullshit!”  Triumph shouted, not a half second after I’d said it.

“Fuck me,” one of the Wards said.  It was only after he opened his mouth again that I saw it was Weld.  “Please tell me this is another one of Tattletale’s mind-games.”

“Explain.” Miss Militia demanded.

“She’s maybe a nascent Endbringer,” Tattletale said.  “It’s one theory.  Her powers are transforming her, and she’s getting less human, getting tougher and more desperate every day.  Coil was keeping her contained, with heavy vault doors and promises of a fix.  Now she’s free and she’s pissed.”

“And this hypothetical individual has Vista?” Clockblocker asked.

“It’s very likely she has Vista,” Tattletale confirmed.  “Coil’s precog said she wouldn’t cause any real damage until dawn.  That’s… one hour and twenty-nine minutes from now.  I guess this kind of incident doesn’t count as anything serious.”

“You have Coil’s precog in your custody?”  Miss Militia asked.  “Dinah Alcott?”

“I took her home,” I said.  “Her powers are currently disabled, so resist the urge to go to her and ask her for help with this situation.  Everything she’s been through, she deserves some peace.”

“Assault,” Miss Militia said, “Let’s get some confirmation that at least some of what they said is the truth.  Get in touch with the Alcotts.”

“On it,” he said.  He drew a rugged smart phone from his belt and put it to his ear.

“I think it’s time you guys offer the particulars on this ‘Endbringer’,” Miss Militia said.

“She’s as strong as Leviathan, physically,” Tattletale said, “She’s not as tough, based on what I’ve seen.  Have you read the notes on what I told Alexandria after Leviathan’s attack?  About the density of Leviathan’s body?”

Miss Militia nodded.  “Higher density as you penetrate deeper to the core, to the point that it bends the rules of how molecules and atoms should work.  It makes sense.  Armsmaster had a molecule-severing weapon that couldn’t cut through all of Leviathan’s hand, and it explains why nearly all the damage we do is so superficial.”

“Noelle doesn’t have that yet.  I’m not sure if she ever will.  We don’t know if she’s really becoming an Endbringer or not.  What I’ve seen of her was only partial, a camera feed with dim lighting on the other end,” Tattletale said.  “But everything she eats gets added to her biomass, and I think she’ll probably reach a critical point and stop growing, start fortifying what’s already there instead.”

“She’s big?”  Weld asked.

“She’s big,” Tattletale said.  “And if she gets her hands on you, she’ll eat you whole.  Spit you out along with a copy.  Copies with powers like yours.  Stronger, tougher, meaner.  Understand?  When this fight starts, it starts for real.”

“She duplicates people,” Miss Militia stated.

“And the duplicates aren’t on our side,” Tattletale replied.  “You’re going to have to call for backup at some point, it’s just a question of whether you do it before shit goes down or after.  When you do get in touch with the PRT heads and get the a-ok to call a red alert or whatever it is you do, you’re going to want to be very careful about the kind of cape you request, because we might wind up fighting them.”

Assault had finished his phone call and was waiting for Tattletale to finish talking.  Miss Militia turned her attention to him, and he said, “Story checks out.  Kid’s at the hospital, recovering from a long stint of drug abuse.”

“The situation they’re describing is too dangerous to be ignored.  We’ll move forward with this.  Tentative cooperation,” Miss Militia announced.  “In exchange for our trust and our assistance, the Undersiders will give us one hostage.”

“How about me?” Imp offered.  Her tone was light, joking.

“Someone who we can keep track of,” Miss Militia said.  “Rachel Lindt.  Hellhound.  If you’d please step into the van?”

“Fuck that,” Rachel replied.

“That’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Grue said.  I couldn’t help but nod in agreement.

“You, along with Skitter, are problematic due to the sheer amount of damage you could do in the enclosed space of a van.  Tattletale’s more damaging in other ways.  It would help if we knew exactly what her powers were…”  Miss Militia trailed off, inviting a response.

“Not sharing,” Tattletale said.  “And I just had my turn at being a hostage.  Not sharing the details on that either, for the record.”

“Regent’s too dangerous.  We don’t know exactly how long it takes for him to achieve full control, and our records suggest he can regain control instantly.  Even if we assume it takes an hour or more, we can’t trust that we won’t end up in a crisis situation where Regent’s being kept in custody for an extended period and gets the opportunity to use his power on someone.  Not to mention the possibility that he could call Shatterbird to his location.  Separated from her dogs, Rachel Lindt is the least threatening and most vulnerable member of your team.  The optimal hostage, if you will.”

“And she won’t accept being separated from her dogs or being kept in custody,” I said.  “I will.  I can hand you my weapons and send my bugs away.”

“Skitter,” Grue said, “No.”

Miss Militia folded her arms, unconvinced.

I reached over my shoulder, slowly, and unbuckled my utility compartment.  Tattletale grabbed it for me as it came free, and the straps fed out through the rings beneath the shoulder panels.  She handed it to me, and I drove away the bugs I’d gathered inside.  When they were gone, I sent away the bugs that were nestled in the midst of my hair, beneath each of my other armor panels and the ‘skirt’ of my armor, where it covered the scorched leggings of my costume.

“So many fucking bugs,” Clockblocker said.  “They have to weigh as much as she does.”

“No, not as much as you’d think,” I said.  I turned to Miss Militia.  “Satisfied?”

She extended a hand for the concave, spade-shaped piece of armor, her gun turning into a handgun in the meantime.  “Triumph, pat her down.  Everyone else, get ready to mobilize. Assault, you’ll be riding my bike.  I’ll sit in the van.  Weld, Clockblocker, Flechette, and Kid Win, with me.”

I waited while Triumph roughly pat me down, running his fingers into the folds and crevices of my armor and beneath my belt.  He found the two pieces of paper I’d folded and tucked inside, shook them out as if there might be powder inside, unfolded them, read them, then put them back the way I’d had them.

I felt like saying something to him, but wasn’t sure what.  Sorry for attacking your family and nearly murdering you?  It sounded almost taunting.

Miss Militia led the way to a containment van, and I followed, feeling oddly lightweight.  She opened the back, indicating we should gather inside.

They arranged themselves with Clockblocker and Weld sat to either side of me, Miss Militia, Flechette and Kid Win opposite me.  The door slammed shut as Kid Win got himself seated.

I had only a few bugs in place to get a sense of their positions.  Few enough that I might have lost track of who was who if I wasn’t careful.  Using one of these bugs, I did a minor, peripheral sweep.  They didn’t have weapons pointed my way, but Flechette and Kid Win did have weapons on their laps, a crossbow and laser blaster.

“You’re shorter, looking at you like this,” Clockblocker said.  “Tall for a girl, but… not tall.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“You didn’t get rid of all your bugs,” Clockblocker commented, as the truck started moving.  He was looking in the direction of the patrolling mosquitoes and no-see-ums.

He noticed.

“Not all,” I agreed.

“Why not?”

Because I’m blind, and I’m utterly helpless if you take all the bugs away, I thought.

“Too much of it’s automatic,” I said.  “I got in the habit of using my power to survey the situation, and now it happens even without my thinking about it.”

“Thinker one,” Weld said.  “Because your bugs let you sense things to the point that you might be a short-range clairvoyant.”

“That’s about what the Director said,” I replied.

I heard a click, and bugs moved to the source of the noise to investigate.  Miss Militia had my utility compartment in her lap, and she was holding a handgun.  Mine.

“Only one shot remaining.  Two reasons that might be the case,” she said.  “Saving it for yourself, or it was used and you haven’t reloaded.”

“The latter,” I replied.

“Who have you been shooting?”

Your Director.  “Mannequin.  And shot through some boards so I could break them.”

“Oh?”

“Long story.  I haven’t really thought to reload it.  I don’t use the gun much.”

“Obviously,” she said, but she didn’t elaborate.  “String?”

“Can you leave stuff where it is?”  I asked.

“I’m curious why you have coiled string in your backpack here,” she said.

“It’s a utility compartment, not a backpack.  It’s so I don’t have to have the spiders make it in the middle of a fight.”

“Spider silk,” Kid Win spoke his realization aloud.

Miss Militia continued, “Pepper spray.  Changepurse with… cotton swabs?  I see, it’s to mask the rattle of spare change.  And smelling salts, needles.”

“Please leave everything where it was,” I said, a little firmer.

I’d collected a few bugs on the various objects she’d withdrawn from the interior of the compartment.  I sensed her putting things back, watched to make sure she was putting everything back properly and in the right place.

Clockblocker, though, leaned across the back of the van and picked up the baton.

“You’ve got stuff like this that’s high quality, but then the other stuff’s so mundane,” Clockblocker commented.  “Odd for someone half the nation’s paying attention to.”

“I wouldn’t know,” I said.  “Not really watching TV these days.”

“You guys took over the city, which is something that’s usually limited to psychos like Nilbog or the third world nations.  I guess with Coil gone, you’re queen of the local underworld.  Or is it Tattletale who’s taken that position?”

“We’re partners.”

“You sound so matter of fact about it,” Clockblocker said.  “You’re not ashamed?  Guilty?  Or proud?”

“Stand down, Clockblocker.  She was gracious enough to be our guest.  Don’t provoke her,” Miss Militia ordered.

“I’m not bothered,” I said.  I’m more annoyed at you picking through my equipment.  “And I don’t feel anything about being in charge.  It is what it is.”

“And you’re not afraid at all, being a hostage?” he asked.

“Should I be?”

“You violated the code by association when you took someone, took control of someone.  The same someone who you saw unmasked.  You violated the code again when you attacked Triumph’s family.  So what’s stopping us from tearing off your mask right now?  The same code you’ve disrespected and broken?”

“Look me in the eye,” I told Clockblocker, turning my head to face him, “And tell me you don’t think Shadow Stalker was a deeply damaged, broken person before we ever got our hands on her.”

He faced me square on, “She was also a hero.”

“She was a hero because the other choice was juvie,” I said.  “In the months leading up to our kidnapping her, she was using real crossbow bolts.  Shooting them at people, Grue included.  If I remember right, she wasn’t supposed to have or be using any lethal ammo, on penalty of jail time.”

“Do you have evidence?” Miss Militia asked.

“Would it matter?  Does it matter?  Judging by what I saw, in my limited interaction with her, she was pretty psychotic.  There’s no way you guys spent all that time with her without something crossing your radar.  The night we took her, I baited her out and she tried to cut my throat.”

“I understand where you’re coming from,” Miss Militia said, “But again, I have to ask for evidence.  I can’t take you at your word, there’s procedures to be followed.”

“Procedures that tie your hands,” I said.

“And they protect us at the same time.”

“If you’re looking for a reason why we’re in charge,” I said, turning towards Clockblocker, “That’d be a good place to start.  You guys knew you had someone bloodthirsty and fucked up working beside you.  You accepted it, probably accommodated her.  Probably cut her slack in other areas, because I doubt she was an angel outside of costume, either.”

I let that sit with them for a moment.

“Yeah,” I said.  I shifted positions on the bench.  “We aren’t limited by oversight and bureaucracy, and we don’t pretend our lunatics are kid-friendly.”

“And without that oversight, you’re free to kidnap people like her and subject her to torture,”  Clockblocker said.

“That’s enough,” Miss Militia said.  She wasn’t quite as sharp as before, but her words were somehow more effective.

We rode on in silence for a few long moments.

“You smell like smoke,” Clockblocker said.

“Clockblocker,” Miss Militia said, “I reserve every right to adjust your patrol schedule if you won’t stop engaging Skitter.”

“I’m really okay,” I told her, keeping calm.  If I’m ever going to shake the idea of Skitter being this unpredictable, dangerous felon, it’s now.  “I’m not going to flip out and hurt someone because I don’t like what they’re saying.  When I said I shot some boards, it was to escape a burning building.”

“Coil wasn’t lying when he said he set your headquarters on fire,” Weld commented.

“He was,” I replied.  “This was something different.”

“Fuck it, give me shit patrols,” Clockblocker said.  “I’m not going to just sit by and obey orders, when I have a chance to get answers.”

“Clockblocker,” Miss Militia said the name in a warning tone.

“That’s the kind of attitude I’m talking about,” I muttered.  “Recognizing when the bureaucracy is hindering more than helping, pushing against it.  I can respect that.”

“Don’t compare me to you,” Clockblocker said.

“Okay,” I said, smiling a little behind my mask, “I won’t.”

“I’m wondering how the fuck you can justify doing any of the shit you’ve pulled and act high and mighty.”

“I won’t deny I’ve done stuff,” I said, “But I somehow doubt it’s the same stuff you’re thinking about.  But I had reasons for everything I did.  If you want to tell me what you think I’ve done, I can try my hand at explaining myself.  Provided you’re willing to hear me out.”

“Clockblocker,” Kid Win said, “Listen to Miss Militia.  This is the kind of stuff that goes on your record.”

Clockblocker shook his head.  “Fuck my record.  Let’s start with the takeover.  Justify that.”

“It put me in a position to help people.  Visit my territory.  People there are healthier, happier, safer, because of what I’ve done.”

“Except the ones Mannequin and Burnscar killed.”

I didn’t have a ready reply to that.

“No comment?”

“I tried,” I said.  “I did what I could to help the people in my territory.  Maybe my being there did more harm than good.  I don’t know.  But I tried to help.”

“Let’s call that one a draw, then.  What about how things turned out with Panacea and Glory Girl?”

“I already quizzed her on this,” Flechette said.

“I want to hear it from her myself.”

“That was Jack, not me,” I said.  Flechette nodded, snorted just loud enough that she knew I’d hear it.  It was very ‘I thought she’d say that’.

“But you were one of the last people seen with Glory Girl.  You were sighted in Panacea’s company,” Clockblocker said.

“I tried to help her.  Talk to her.  We invited her to join the Undersiders, because she was in a bad headspace, she needed other perspectives beyond her own.  But she finished giving Glory Girl medical care after Crawler’s spittle had burned through half her body, she refused our offers to help and refused Tattletale’s suggestion that she fix what she’d already done to Glory Girl’s head… Tattletale knows the full story there, though I have suspicions.  The next time I saw her, she was talking to Jack, and he was getting to her, fucking with her head.  Stuff happened, I went after him, and it was the last time I saw her.”

“She had a freak-out, you know,” Clockblocker said.  “She was in a bad headspace, sure, but she was a good person.  Healed people I really care about when she didn’t have to.  That’s why I’m pressing you on this stuff, no matter what Miss Militia might put on my record or do to my patrol schedule.  Because Amy deserves to have someone stand up for her, in her absence.”

“I’m sorry she freaked, but it wasn’t my fault.”

“It was bad.  She took Glory Girl with her, you know.  When Gallant died, Vista saw the body.  When Aegis was mashed to a literal pulp by Leviathan, to the point that he couldn’t function anymore, when he died, despite his power?  I got to see the remains to verify for myself.  But Victoria Dallon was still alive and they didn’t let us see.  A select few adults and family members got to see her, they carted her off to a parahuman asylum and none of the rest of us got to say goodbye, because the end result was that fucked up.”

“I didn’t know, I’m sorry,” I said.  “But that wasn’t my fault.”

“Fine.  I’ll concede a point for you, then.  You tried, maybe.  One-naught.  What about Battery?”

“I was with Jack and Bonesaw, affected by the miasma, thought they were my friends.  Battery was giving chase.  Around the time I figured out what was happening, she got attacked by the mechanical spiders.  She was fine when I left her.”

“Assault blames you.  Probably why Miss Militia didn’t have him riding in the van with us.”

“Okay.  If I’d been in a better headspace, I would have backed her up.  But there was the possibility Jack would get away, and the miasma-“

“It fucked with all of us.  Fine.  Let’s call that another draw.  Can’t judge you either way with that stuff in play.  Triumph?  His family?”

“Didn’t know he was Triumph until we were in the thick of it,” I said,  “But I did it for Dinah.  It doesn’t excuse it, but I did it for her.”

“How’s that work?”

“To get into a position where I could free her, I had to get close to Coil.  He’d already clued into the fact that I was planning on betraying him if he didn’t let her go, put the screws to me, basically.  Forced me to do what I normally wouldn’t.”

“It had nothing to do with keeping control of the city?”

I hesitated.  “I didn’t say that.  I could try to justify it, explain how I really felt like I was doing more good than harm and what all that meant, but it would take too long, cover too many details I’m not willing to share, and I’m not a hundred percent convinced I’d buy it myself.  I’ll concede that one to you.  Not in a position to defend or explain it.”

“One-all, then.  Let’s talk Shadow Stalker.”

“We’re back to that?”  I asked.

“She was an asshole, dangerous, didn’t even like her, but she was still a teammate of mine.  Some of your teammates might fall into that camp, so maybe you know how I feel.”

“Maybe.  But like I said, we weren’t holding ourselves up as paragons of virtue.  You guys were.”

“Our focus right now is you.  You, who drove Shadow Stalker into a corner, to the point where she flipped out on her mom and tried to hang herself with an electrical cord.”

What?

“…I’m not sure how to respond to that,” I said.

“Do you feel bad about it?  I’m genuinely curious.”

“I feel… less bad than I should,” I said.  “But yeah.  It isn’t nice to hear.”

“Because of what happened, because she was still reeling from the time she spent as your meat puppet, she attacked her mom, who called the authorities.  They caught up just in time to catch her in her room, electrical cord around her neck.  Cost Shadow Stalker her probation, meaning she got stuck in some parahuman detention center until she’s eighteen.  And word is her mom doesn’t want her back when she’s finished the three-year sentence.  Last straw and everything.  Her life, put on hold, her family shattered.  Maybe she was damaged like you said, but you took her captive and tormented her until she went off the deep end.”

“I’m not happy she was pushed that far,” I said, “That’s ugly.  You’re right.  But getting her off the streets?  Yeah.  That’s worth it, at least.”

“What I don’t get is… why?  Was the data from that computer really so important?”

“Coil needed it, and I needed Coil happy.  Either he’d like my work enough to free her on my request or he’d trust me enough that I could catch him off guard and help her escape some other way.”

“I’m sure Dinah would be thrilled to hear that,” Clockblocker said.  “Some other girl’s life ruined for her sake.  How does a supervillain warlord react to that sort of news, by the way?  Finding out a heroine tried to hang herself?  Do you sit in your swivel chair, stroking your tarantula and pull off your best maniacal laugh?  One more enemy out of the way?”

“I didn’t know,” I said.  “Not until you told me what happened to her.”

“That seems to be a recurring theme,” he commented.  “You do stuff, you have reasons, like your apparent feeling that, oh, it’s okay because she was a violent personality, but you don’t pay attention to the ending, to everything that comes after.  A whole lot of people have been screwed up and hurt in your wake, Skitter.”

“I react like you see me reacting.  I don’t enjoy it.  No maniacal laughing here.”

“But you plan to continue doing what you’re doing.”

“I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing in the future,” I said.  “Aside from stopping Noelle.”

“That’s a good point to end this particular discussion,” Miss Militia cut in.  “I will be adjusting your patrol route and noting this minor infraction on your record, Clockblocker.  I hope you’re more or less satisfied with this discussion.”

“More or less,” Clockblocker said, handing the combat baton to Miss Militia.  “Unless our local Supervillainess-in-chief wants to pursue further debate.  I think I was ahead by one.  Two-one.”

“No, that’s fine,” I said.  I left it at that.  No, I’m not entirely sure I want to hear the full details on any of the other stuff.  Quit while I’m only a little behind.

If he knew me a little better, I wondered just how targeted those questions could get.

I’d killed a man, and I still didn’t feel bad about it.  I didn’t feel anything in particular when I thought about it.

In a way, I’d taken the perspective that I didn’t feel bad about it because it wasn’t wrong.  He was a bad person, irredeemable, and it had been the only option.

Except now Clockblocker’s words and his tone were resonating within me, and I was left just a little less confident about the conclusions I’d come to, in terms of the stuff we’d discussed and all the little events that had added up over time.  I’d made peace with who I was and who I was becoming in part because my peers were limited to other villains and civilians who I could dismiss because they didn’t have the full perspective of life on the battlefield.  My dad was among those civilians, it almost pained me to admit.

I wasn’t entirely certain I felt so peaceful now.  Most things, I couldn’t imagine I’d really do them differently, given the circumstances and the knowledge I’d had at the time, but the decisions weren’t sitting quite so easily as they had been.

It was several minutes before the van stopped.  Assault was the one who opened the door, and Clockblocker held the front door of the PRT offices open for me, in a very ironic manner.  My team was already waiting in the lobby.

I’d entered once as a prisoner and thief, once as an invader and kidnapper.  It was an eerie thing to be entering as ally to the good guys, when I’d never felt further from being one.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

148 thoughts on “Queen 18.3

  1. Well snap, that was one hell of a chapter. I tried to go through it slowly because it’s my favourite in a long time. Though again we see Taylor sucking at defending herself. I almost wish she’d been cornered more, she might have blurted out that she knew Sophia Hess.

    • But that would have opened up a huge can of worms. I think if she had nothing to lose, she could cast alot of doubt among the wards/heroes but she ultimately would have lost her secret identity. Though who can predict Wildbow? I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Skitter’s identity is blown. Then she would have to hide her face and stay Skitter.

  2. I know it would never occur to Taylor, but I want someone to tell Clockblocker about how she’s the one who had the wherewithal to have him teleported to safety after he put Leviathan in time out.

    • Plus, I’d like Weld to speak up about how Clockie would have been hosed by Mannequin if Skitter hadn’t been dropping grenades.

    • Who says he doesn’t know? It really doesn’t matter that she had him teleported out, everyone is supposed to work together against the endbringers. What concerns him is what she is doing when a world ending threat isn’t actively wrecking everyone’s shit.

  3. With some of the glancing around she does in the beginning, hard to take her as blind.

    But I do like the fact that she points out that her actions didn’t involve hiding a very bad person behind the veneer of heroism. It is the stuff you don’t know to watch for that’ll get you. A rattlesnake gives you a warning, but pet the wrong doggy and you might get your throat torn out because dogs are traditionally such fun and nice companions.

    “We aren’t limited by oversight and bureaucracy, and we don’t pretend our lunatics are kid-friendly.”

    Not pointing out an error though I noticed a couple. I just liked that line.

    • Yeah the initial part of the chapter seemed too visual for someone without sight and who’d just given up her bugs. I was expected her too give away her blindness by walking into something.

      Loved the moment where Clcokblocker notices that this nationally famous villainess is actually quite a slight girl.

      • I like the fact that she’s apparently nationally known. Reminded me of our thing about Kid Win leaking to the press that Skitter’s been seen making out with girls.

        • I picture Skitter versions of che guevara T-shirts. There will always be people who dislike the heroes and the government. I am curious what her actual reputation is for the other villains. Someone to respect, or fear?

          • Oh now I hope Taylor gets her eyesight back just for the hilarity that is her finding out what people have of her on the internet. Bad fanfiction, rule 34, porn parodies, fanart, websites condemning/worshiping her.

          • Tattletale scrolls through the websites, “Ok, on 4chan we have Skitter nailing Vista. On Fchan we have Skitter screwing a spider. On FictionMania we have Skitter forcing men signing up as minions to dress as and transition to women. On Sticky-Site she’s cocooning people in spider silk. Haven’t found a BDSM website yet, but word is they have some very classy works involving Skitter and a fully transformed Lung.”

            Meanwhile, Skitter just holds her rapidly reddening face in her hands.

  4. So Taylor gets to have a real conversation with the heroes, no one is an idiot, everyone learns something and they don’t wind up as magical Super Friends after a single heart to heart? Wildbow I believe you’ve managed to pull off something I’ve rarely if EVER seen a comic book manager – an intelligent hero and villain conversation where both sides are listening to each other and everyone reads like a real human being.

    Excellent pacing too – this chapter really needed to happen here as a segue to show how the Undersiders and the heroes could ever work together at this point.

    All-in-all Bravo!

  5. So the big S threats are the Endbringers, the 9, and Nilbog would make five. So the question remains of who the 5th is. So the psycho murderer is in juvie, cry me a river Clockblocker. The irony of the fact that they would probably have been great friends if she had joined the wards does make it more dramatic, and Clockblocker is willing to push authority/have a intelligent talk with her. So Skitter is famous since they took over the city, but I have to ask why the PRT let it happen. Isn’t a villain taking over grounds for calling in the big guns and taking over? Where’s the national guard, the army, the call for other heroes? Regardless, excellent chapter Wildbow. If only Taylor was a better debater she could call out the heroes on some things they neglect to mention.

    • If a villain very conspicuously took over, say, New York, I could see the authorities pitching a shit. But Brockton Bay is quite literally in a state similar to that of Post-bombing Hiroshima with a few more people and better infrastructure. Secretly they’re probably thankful that the villains are fighting amongst themselves and simultaneously keeping the peace so they don’t have to, what with the Class S threats.

      • But still, we want a policeman to stop someone committing a crime in front of them, a fireman to put out a fire, etc. If the local heroes can’t cut it, bring in the national guard. People can point to this and say”, look the government only cares about the big cities,”. The heroes are losing even more respect/credibility by not doing something. Granted the heroes are outnumbered, and the city is probably better off with the Undersiders in charge of the underworld but their amazing new plan of doing nothing doesn’t seem to be working out. Do they want the government to condemn the city?

        • They probably do want the city condemned. It should be, and probably would have been if they hadn’t intimidated the mayor into trying to keep it open.

      • The issue here is that they did do exactly that. Dragon came in force and was summarily kicked right back out within a day.

        At this point further attempts just make things worse. The more they send in the more legitimate a threat the Villains become in the public eye. If they lose then they have lost even more and if they win…well what have they gained? The villains are all guerilla fighters at their core. Winning just means the heroes would have to occupy the city and hold it, which ties up resources.

        As such I would venture that they’ll continue to support the Bay’s PRT teams but if they can;t take it back themselves then there won;t be national help.

  6. “Do you sit in your swivel chair, stroking your tarantula and pull off your best maniacal laugh?” That was pure gold… It’s nice to see Skitter interacting with the heroes and destroying their preconceptions of her character. Also, is she permanently blind, or will the stuff Medhall gave her eventually restore her eyesight.

    • Well blindness doesn’t seem to inconvenience her too badly, but I am dying to know what Dinah wrote on that note. Did she know a hero would read it? I can sort of picture Clockblocker thinking “Damn you Skitter, why can’t you be the blindingly evil person I built up in my mind?”.

    • We’ll have to wait to find out about her blindness. Unlike SOME of us (like that Psycho Gecko guy) Wildbow’s good at keeping secret information secret (don’t tell Psycho Gecko I said that).

      • Psst Psycho i heard some twit was talking smack ’bout you behind you’re back. Better get your shiv ready bro.
        >.>
        <..>_/

        • I can use the shiv I pulled on that dragon in Skyrim. Crawled down a mountain behind it and attacked while belting out the powerful dragonshout, “Give me your mash potatoes, bitch!”

  7. I can’t help but laugh at how hypocritical Taylor is being about Shadow Stalker while Bitch was out there maiming everyone in her territory to force people out.

      • Regent’s the one able to control Shadow Stalker’s actions not Clockblocker

        . The point is Shadow Stalker was bad yes, but did you read Bitch’s interlude during the Nine arc? The only thing that kept her from murdering that lady was that Siberian was a kill thief. I liked most of that conversation but cmon Skitter, take a look at what your teammate has done before you throw that kind of stone.

        • Hey, a thrown stone would have helped a lot when Shadow Stalker tried to murder her. Or maybe when Shadow Stalker tormented a high school girl to the extent that she was institutionalized for a little bit. Would have felt nice when she was bullying Vista too. Wouldn’t have done much that one time Armsmaster disabled her lifeline in the middle of a fight against an Endbringer, but it might have helped a little when he exposed her status as undercover to a hospital full of supervillains who don’t mind murdering people.

          And boy, not sure if that thrown stone would have even hit the new PRT director on the hero side, that Thomas Calvert fellow. Alexandria probably would have just batted it away before kidnapping some dying person to turn them into another Newter or something. Might have messed up Eidolon’s injections though.

          • You seem to be missing my point. The point I was making wasn’t that Shadow Stalker or any of the nastier heroes are saints or anything like that. I am just saying that Skitter’s claims regarding how Shadow Stalker should have been handled are very hypocritical. They make plenty of allowances for Bitch’s behavior. She has hurt and maimed plenty of people, and only providence and team direction has kept her from killing more of them.

          • Actually, if I may quote Skitter’s claims regarding Shadow Stalker versus Bitch:

            “We aren’t limited by oversight and bureaucracy, and we don’t pretend our lunatics are kid-friendly.”

            Bitch doesn’t get to go around in polite company like a policeman or a firefighter with the public’s trust in her to the extent that they think they’re safer around her. Shadow Stalker did. In fact, if you remember the mall incident where Taylor hit Emma, Shadow Stalker was perfectly willing to abuse that system to help out her friend over the girl they both bullied.

            Bitch would never do that for the simple fact that 1. She’s too honest for something like that, she’d just beat the person up and 2. No one would dare trust in her the same way they’d trust in a cop or firefighter enough that they feel safe and put more weight on her testimony than other people’s.

          • Ok, so noone trusts Bitch not to maim or kill them. Thats a good thing, because she WILL maim and kill them. That automatically keeps her from being considered kid-friendly.

            The really hypocritical part is this
            “If you’re looking for a reason why we’re in charge,” I said, turning towards Clockblocker, “That’d be a good place to start. You guys knew you had someone bloodthirsty and fucked up working beside you. You accepted it, probably accommodated her. Probably cut her slack in other areas, because I doubt she was an angel outside of costume, either.”

            They cut Bitch all sorts of slack because of the firepower she provides them. Calling out another group for trying to do the same thing is hypocritical.

            Also, Bitch wouldn’t be able to abuse that system because she actively tears at it. Instead she would have just set her dog on some civilian girl instead and caused all sorts of other problems. There is NO oversight for Bitch short of what the Undersiders choose to impose, and they don’t always bother to see it through.

          • Except the heroes want to hide behind having that oversight when instead it just abets Shadow Stalker’s actions. It’s their way of saying you can kill and maim as long as you dress nice and don’t get caught. It’s hypocritical to then call out the other side for what they do just because they are open and honest about who they are. Yes, Bitch would tear those some constraints apart. Everyone sees how she acts. It keeps people away from her and out of danger.

            Not like Shadow Stalker who they thought was a good person. They’d flock to her for protection. Shadow Stalker tears that system apart too every time she abuses it for her own personal gain or just for her own personal enjoyment of beating and killing people. Does Bitch enjoy it? I don’t know. She may not put a lot of thought into it or maybe she recognizes that it is bad and traumatic enough that she’d provide comfort to Skitter after Skitter has to kill someone. We know she can respect people and she won’t turn on them. Shadow Stalker doesn’t respect anybody. You show her you’re strong, she’ll try to take you down for being stronger than her. You show her you’re weak, she’ll bully you just because she’s stronger.

            That hypocrisy, that betrayal, is worse than any of the very obvious warning signs coming from Bitch. Bitch will face off with you if you give her a reason to. Shadow Stalker will stab you in the back even if you don’t.

          • And yet I would still prefer to flock to Shadow Stalker for protection rather than actually be in the presence of Bitch. We have no reason to believe that Shadow Stalker is going to maim or kill random civilians, she certainly goes after people she considers her enemies, and it is relatively easy to get on that list apparently, but we never saw her murder a civilian. Everything we heard made her kills seem at least semi-justified, because they were willing to give her probation over them. She was killing people while she was a vigilante, so I think it is a safe bet that she went too far against actual criminals. If she was just killing civilians you KNOW she would be in the birdcage. They have thrown people in there for less. Would I want her to rule over me? No. Would I feel safer with her than with Bitch? Fuck yes.

            Saying she can’t respect people and that she is gauranteed to turn on them? Provide some sort of evidence of that please. We just didn’t get enough of a viewpoint from her perspective to make an assumption like that.

          • Assuming Stalker was being honest when she told Emma she had killed, we never heard from the PRT anything of the sort. Combined with her thoughts regarding making skitter look like a random killing I’m pretty sure the heroes didn’t know she’d killed people.

            When Tattletale mentions her she just says she injured a guy badly, pinning him to a wall.

            Also, I don’t see hypocrisy here. Taylor is saying that they pretended Shadow Stalker was good, I don’t recall Taylor saying that Bitch was a paragon of niceness.

            Furthermore, I’m still not sold on Bitch killing that guy. He wasn’t dead and she’d shown firm rules about killing until then, even with dogs being abused like that dog fighting ring. Which to her perspective would be like a building full of gladiotorial fights between pre-teens.

    • But she didn’t kill anyone. Don’t get me wrong she has almost certainly hurt, maimed, and traumatized people but she she seemed very reluctant to kill. Notice how calm she was when the skinheads tried to force her out of her territory. Shadow stalker hurt and killed people because she felt she was superior to them. The hero thing was just so she could get away with it, and she hurt Taylor just because she could. Bitch hurts people for dominance, a pretty fucked up reason for sure, but she has her power/upbringing to explain for why she acts the way she does. Shadow stalker doesn’t have that excuse. I’m not saying she’s morally better but at least Bitch is honest about why she does things.

      • Given how powers affect a person’s mindset, which is something they know a little bit about if I remember correctly, then Bitch’s actions are partially excuseable. She’s a wild dog, just chasing a car. She wouldn’t know what to do with it if she caught it. Not like Coil or the Mayor or the Heroes. They’re schemers.

        • She knows exactly what to do with that car. Have her dogs rip off the doors and take whatever was inside for herself and her team.

      • Two things I want to contradict here. We don’t know Shadow Stalker’s excuse. I am pretty sure though it involves her trigger event taking her natural nasty instincts and cranking them up though. It seems to have happened for alot of other people, so unless she bought her powers I expect that is the case for her as well.

        The other point is that Bitch may seem reluctant to kill and be hurting people for dominance, but that lady in her interlude was still DYING from what she did. If Siberian hadn’t come along and killed her for a snack Bitch would have been the only one responsible for her death. Don’t try to make Bitch into some woobie, she will still kill due to her inability to understand people.

        Now that isn’t saying Shadow Stalker is a saint or anything, but it does make Taylor’s comments about keeping her team’s monsters kid friendly utterly laughable.

        • The difference between Bitch and Shadow Stalker is the difference between a wolf killing someone attempting to drown a member of her pack and a human being trying to slash another person’s throat.

          • You are very clearly wrong about that. Bitch almost murdered that woman because she couldn’t understand human interactions. The ONLY reason she didn’t kill her is because Siberian stole the kill. That lady wasn’t threatening a member of Bitch’s pack, she was actively trying to submit and just not doing it in a way that Bitch recognized.

            Bitch isn’t entirely to blame for her actions, but any claims by Skitter that they do a better job controlling their crazy teammates are blatantly untrue.

            • Disagree. When Bitch got overly brutal, Team Villain responded by moving her to a territory with no people in it.

              When Shadow Stalker got overly brutal, the PBT… did nothing as far as I can see. Either Flechette didn’t report her concerns about her or she did report them and was ignored by the bureaucracy.

              Either way, the villains managed the problem with Bitch whereas the heroes did squat about SS.

          • And I was referencing Bitch’s first kill back when she was an unsocialized little girl in foster care having her pet dog drowned by the woman supposed to be taking care of her and teaching her basic humanity like empathy and compassion. The situation so bad it gave Bitch a trigger event.

          • What does that have to do with her time maiming and almost killing people while she worked with the Undersiders though? I don’t think anyone actually blaims her for that first death, it is all the shit she has done afterwards that make Bitch a villain.

            None of her behavior before joining the Undersiders is actually relevant to Taylor’s comment that they keep Bitch kid-friendly. Only the fucked up stuff she did to people afterwards.

          • mc2rpg, I think you misread skitters comment. she says that they DON’T pretend that their lunatics are kid-friendly. she acknowledges that bitch is a psycho and dangerous, but at least they dont pretend otherwise

        • I’ll concede the point, but keep in mind Taylor was not in any position to rein in Bitch’s behavior at that point. Now that she is the leader, and Bitch recognizes her as a Alpha/only friend, she should be able to keep her on a shorter leash.

      • I’d disagree. Bitch’s perspective is a pretty horrible one, as in it’s kinda tragic.

        Going by the Brutus Interlude, dogs in Wormverse are either sentient, or Bitch’s power makes them such. Bitch meanwhile is the only person who really sees it this way, she considers them equal to people. From that perspective all her actions start to make a lot more sense, especially given she also has a canine mentality.

        In any case taking that guy for instance, Bitch was thoroughly off balance and thinking even less then normal, then someone shoots at her dog. Firstly this person is inside her territory, which she seemed genuinely confused at since she didn’t understand them not interpreting her territory marking correctly. Secondly that dog is practically family to her, this is identical to if Glory Girl was flying along and someone shot Panacea. Thirdly this was less than a fortnight after she lost Nine dogs, including two of her main three, so someone attacked her family while she was messed up, reeling from the loss of family and to her perspective that person was already an intruder.

        Her actions aren’t exactly monster worthy given all that. Keep in mind that she broke his legs, she didn’t kill him and she was already calming down when Siberian arrived.

  8. I gotta say, I love the debate between Skitter and Clockblocker. Seeing his side of this seems to have taken away some of Skitter’s confidence and peace with herself. I hope Clockblocker feels the same, rather than just summarily dismissing everything she says. I get the feeling that he and Assault would be the people who, if told the history between Taylor and Sophia, would just say that its proof of how bad Skitter is, as it shows her seeking hard revenge for high school bullying, not truly understanding how bad it really was to Taylor. On the other hand, I get the feeling Weld would understand.

    All these secrets, on both sides, including the Cauldron conspiracy, is bound to blow up someday into one big Charlie Foxtrot.

    I’m curious about the pieces of paper that Triumph read. Did he just read something he wasn’t supposed to? Or did Dinah see something, and those papers meant for him? Dunno. I’d like to see out it plays out.

    • One was a mattress tag, meaning they can charge her with removing the tag from a mattress. The other was the driver’s prescription for a medicine that specifically targets genital warts that fell out in the wrong place.

    • @Random Lurker: Heh. Charlie Foxtrot. I’ve never heard that before, but I like it. Is that common military slang? (It took me a moment to realize what the Charlie stood for, but I knew what the Foxtrot had to be.)

      Hg

  9. Ok, Taylor is really bad at defending herself, but some of her actions are dificult to defend.
    If you are going to play consequences, though …
    The way that the heroes acted during the incident with the nine was ugly. Betraying trust during Leviatan also. And really, if you woke up chained to a bed were you to blame for trying to escape?

      • What we need is a full on wrestling promo here. Spittle flying from her mouth, some scared guy standing next to her with a microphone, maybe a catchphrase or two (If ya smelllllllll…what the Skitter is cookin’). Only problem is, the eyes are good for intensity and she can’t show it like that now.

        She needs some Ric Flair, The Rock, or Mick Foley. Possibly some Macho Man. But not too much Ultimate Warrior (too loony) or Hulk Hogan (too brothery).

        Given the animal themes, I think there’s just one man we can turn for coaching.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDr_6NYjm4w

        Though this guy’s got some good ones, because this other one (watch?v=EzE9UgLGjWs) works pretty well too.

        • Oooh, as soon as you said “animal themes”, I knew it would be Jake the Snake! One of my favourite wrestlers! And man, some of those guys (like Mr. Roberts) are pretty good improv actors. Those are the ones I always end up liking the most.

          Hg

          • Despite how he looks, Jake the Snake sounds like a dangerous man in those. Of course, there’s another man whose promos are likely to leave you dying, but in a different way. And I’m not talking about the Undertaker.

            watch?v=WJYB9IOR3K0

            That’s one way to leave people helpless.

  10. Oh, Clockblocker, yer being really passive aggressive about this crush of yours, I don’t tink Miss Militia is giving you orders so much as dating advice.

    Now seriously, I don’t take this as Skitter trying to make her actions justifiable than to simply try to reach out to the heroes about her actual intentions without screwing over her friends. Aside from a crazy amount of pre-Bitchstalker bitterness I don’t see alot of “my side is smart and yers is dumb here.”

  11. “We aren’t limited by oversight and bureaucracy, and we don’t pretend our lunatics are kid-friendly.”

    Damn, I read that line full of snark and condescension. Even when she’s trying to be civil, when Taylor gets in character, she stays in fucking character.

    Well done, Wildbow. Well done.

  12. With Coil and Shadow Stalker gone… Oh, the possibilities. I liked Clockblocker a lot, before this, but now I like him even more.

    “I can respect that”” Missing period.

  13. Nice to finally see the other side of the story. It doesn’t look good.

    Interesting to learn that the Undersiders have become a media sensation. Skitter is probably famous by now. If she were to go some place outside Brockton Bay people would recognize her and know who she was (and probably be afraid of her).

    Having Triumph check up on Dinah was a nice touch, since it was previously revealed that they were cousins. I wonder if something will come of that connection.

    During the whole discussion it struck me that if it wasn’t for her father, Skitter could have revealed her secret identity and strengthened her case a lot. Especially towards the whole Shadow Stalker thing.

    I wonder how long it will take for one of the heroes to figure out that Skitter is not only blind, but in fact so completely beaten and exhausted from all the recent fighting that she is mostly running on fumes. Maybe they will provide medical attention if she asks nicely? I don’t think so.

    Baseless Speculation: Clockblocker is going to die next, he and Skitter have build some raport and people will blame her for it because of his behaviour. Either he will just die fighting Noelle, be killed by a Noelle-clone of Skitter or will survive but see Skitter kill a clone of him.

    Having to watch her fight against the clones where she doesn’t have to hold back or see her evil clones fight completely ruthlessly will be a bit of a revelation for the Hero’s I think.

    • It hasn’t ended well for anyone who ever estimated her. Skitter has only once truly not held back when she attacked the 9, and she slowly flayed them alive before Bonesaw stopped the bugs with her smoke. I want a world of cardboard speech from her as she decimates the clones. She has to promote/maintain her reputation of not to be fucked as the Queen of the Underworld now.

      • It hasn’t ended well for anyone who ever underestimated her. Skitter has only once truly not held back when she attacked the 9, and she slowly flayed them alive before Bonesaw stopped the bugs with her smoke. I want a world of cardboard speech from her as she decimates the clones. She has to promote/maintain her reputation of not to be fucked with as the Queen of the Underworld now.

  14. If people happened to want to vote for Worm on Topwebfiction, that’d be excellent. If not, that’s cool too. Been sitting consistently on top, but liable to drop off fast as the votes from last Saturday expire.

    Surprised at how much people seemed to like the chapter. Glad, but caught off guard.

    • Far too often when powered groups meet up, especially ‘villains’ and ‘heroes’ in ‘super’ fiction, they end up fighting one another for an obligatory chapter or two as they all lose themselves in the Stupid.

      The fact that the Undersiders are being SMART and they know how to do this the right way which is keeping things moving is a significant paradigm change in terms of such fiction writing, imo.

    • That’s because your readers are characterization junkies, and this is a whole chapter of characters being themselves.

      Plus, it’s not like we don’t know there’s likely some badass action scenes coming down the road.

    • I usually wait 8 days to vote on Topwebfiction to ensure it counts as a new vote (I’m also hoping Worm can climb up to the 1 year list).

      Wildbow, of course we love this chapter. Most meetups in superhero fiction lead to big brawls. This chapter gave us something completely different, as we should have expected from you. We got characterization from words, not fists. I think the most impressive part is that you’ve kept the Gray and Grey Morality believable throughout the whole thing, without bringing up a third party that’s completely black for everyone to fight and pull a Darmok and Jalad on. The Undersiders are morally ambiguous. The Wards and the PRT are, too. Even Cauldron seem to have their reasons. Keeping this theme of relative morality for so long is very impressive, and it shows a lot in this chapter.

    • There’s something really compelling about Skitter actually getting a chance to say some of this. There’s a little miracle in that.

    • To be honest, I think people liked the chapter because Taylor lost. She has won (or at least survived) against some of the most legendary opponents in the world and she has done so pretty consistently. She has even ‘won’ by talking down and making allies with a lot of important people, despite being ‘bad with interpersonal stuff’. Taylor getting taken down a peg occasionally just feels real. It probably helped that Clockblocker was the mouthpiece for all of the readers who thought that Skitter was making some bad decisions.

  15. Yes, learning what others know and think about Skitter is /interesting/.

    Typos & similar: “We had bulletI canproof armor” has some extra letters in it. I’m not sure what stylized means in “He drew a stylized, rugged smart phone” either.

    • It probably means built in a stylized logo or insignia. So it looks like something that is distinctly belonging to the heros.

  16. If we follow the pattern of escalating threats, I suspect after situation with Noelle is resolved, we’ll see a trial for Skitter for murder of Thomas Calvert. There are no bugs in Birdcage. There is however Lung.

  17. Y’know, I really can’t state just how much I like that you post twice a week, because each and every chapter leaves me wanting more and more. It’s become one of the highlights of the week for me.

    And it might just be me, but I actually kind of find it funny that things seem get progressively more hectic for Taylor.

    “Alright everyone, /complete/ catastrophe averted! Now let’s all buckle down and get our shit toge- wait, what’s that? Is- is that another shitstorm?! Where the hell do those keep coming from?! Is it coming over here…? No, it’s headed for that- /Who put that ten storey fan over there?!/ Seriously, who keeps doing that?”

    I think the Parahumans would have some truly glorious FML posts.

  18. Okay, I want to say stuff too.

    First, I thought Clockblocker did a decent job of shaking our Skitter sympathetic lenses. The story is written so that we can forgive Skitter for everything as she does it, but that doesn’t exonerate her. This is one of the best themes in this story. And personally, I think Skitter has been getting away with too much rationalization, so I enjoyed this little taste of what the reality might be. Of course, everyone is still too ignorant and biased. But yes, this scene was also needed for the readers. Can you defend some criminals? Maybe. Can you still defend Skitter? Hehehe…

    Second, the debate over Bitch vs Shadow Stalker is awesome. I think a lot of us weren’t analyzing those characters too objectively because Shadow Stalker’svbehavior is generally odious while most of us don’t blame vicious dogs for biting when provoked, which is what Bitch’s behavior always comes accross as.

    Finally, Dinah’s future. That is so much power over the people around her. I hope Tattletale learned more about her power’s inner workings because what Dinah needs is someone she can’t lie to in her life so that she doesn’t become corrupt. Wildblow has already hinted at it. Imagine one of your family members can figure out what they need to tell you to shape life to their liking? What if she decides to tell you a person’s worst capacities just because she doesn’t like your date? What if she can tell you not to go somewhere and you don’t because she said there would likely be a car crash? Dinah needs someone she can’t lie to in her life so that she can grapple with her incredible powers without being overtaken by them. …oh, endbringers… Please don’t kill her because she’s too powerful to live! <=[

    • I don’t think she can lie about what she see’s when she is using her power, because lying while using her power changes everything and gives her a massive headache. I think that was mentioned earlier but I don’t know exactly where.

    • I know its already been stated outright that trigger event trauma tends to define parahumans, but only now has tattletales theory started to sink in.
      Seeing taylor still hung up on highschool bullies after surviving endbringers, coil and the nine makes me wonder if her power is stopping her from ever progressing past that.

  19. Wildbow I think you get enough compliments on your storytelling, but I am compelled to give you another one. Extremely well done! My compliment to you is a bit self-serving though, your characters and scenarios are so similar to some of mine I have wondered more than once if you have played in my games at gen con or raided my notebooks. I completely empathize with other commenter’s claims of creating similar or even identical characters.

    Strictly for Wildbow: About your writing, two things really strike me; one is that every once in a while you’ll go in directions with your story I wouldn’t, this has left me alternately disappointed (mostly mildly), or impressed (sometimes even completely amazed, again great work, this compliment is strictly yours btw). The second thing is the medium; I found you and the Wormverse completely by accident while looking for something for my own stories. It has been a very happy and rewarding accident for me. I have voted for you on the web fiction rating sites and promoted your work to my friends and family that are serious readers, many in literary groups. I will begin putting my own shorter stories out on the web serializing the longer ones, thank you for the example. You can contact me at iig@uwm.edu with any advice on that front.
    All that said I am majorly disappointed with this chapter. This was Taylor’s chance to slam the heroes and make them contemplate their own failings and the reality of their culpability for some of the situations they’ve been in. She is still in a great deal of pain but that is not really touched on, for all her triumphs she is only just beginning be comfortable with herself and her interpersonal interactions, given the trauma she has been, and is currently dealing with, her response to Clockblocker’s personal inquisition should have been a lot less controlled. As a person who has experienced and studied abuse and trauma I would have liked to have seen a mild breakdown where she lays undeniable truth on the “heroes” leading them to a deeper understanding and compassion for her and her actions, or a pain fueled, exhausted, raging retort (my preference), which would have left the Clockblocker and company speechless. If for nothing else but to end the conversation and give her fractured rib a break. She is directly responsible for saving the minds and lives of everyone that had been infected with the miasma including the heroes. It would have been a small matter to give them just enough details that there would be no remaining question as to her justifications particularly when she defeated one of the 9 by herself, took on two of the 9 to save Panacea and Glory Girl (Jack and Bonesaw) and was considering taking on all the remaining members of the 9 (even if just as a delaying tactic) with just her and Tattletale (really just her). AFFFFTERRRRR they offered to work with the heroes and were turned down, much of the death and injury the heroes use to attack Taylor and the Undersiders could be put on them. Whew!! Finally, I have every confidence that your story will completely amaze me very soon. Thanks for the ride.

    • Lots of words there. Thanks for the feedback & the support. It’s appreciated.

      Taylor’s not in a position to slam the heroes, though. And where someone like Rachel might blow up at someone while suffering from pain, Taylor’s experience in costume and in real life have trained her to withhold, to suffer in silence (be it physical or emotional pain) and avoid making a bad situation worse. I feel pretty confident that her attitude here makes sense given who she is and her desire to maintain a peace with the heroes (in light of the Dinah situation and her skewed reputation).

      This is a chapter I’d probably want to go back and tweak when I’m revising the story in preparation of release as an ebook, but for different reasons than the ones you outline (or to clarify the decision to stay quiet and not lash out).

      • Well, I’m with you on this one, Wildbow. Taylor has a long history of not speaking out: the bullies, that teacher who she ended up saving when Leviathan attacked the shelter, Armsmaster’s outburst in the hospital, just to name a few. I found her reactions to be completely in character.

        Besides which, she’s still in high tension mode. One of the few things that’s keeping her going through all of this is her ability to hold it all in.

        Hg

        • Lets put it simply:
          Being a victim of bullying tends to lower your self esteem.
          OK, if you survive you will feel more confident in your ability to cope with adversity and more resistant to verbal, even physical abuse.

          But, your belief that you can work in society, your belief in your social abilities disappears. Even because, you just lost the part of your life where you could learn to deal with non family members.

          Or, at least, this is my personal experience.

          In other words, Taylor is not very good in social interactions or, at least, she thinks that she isn`t.

          • Judging by her reactions here, she’s also not proud of a lot of the choices she’s had to make. Yeah, she’ll maintain that she was trying to do the best she could, working for the greater good, but in a lot of positions, it’s a matter of choosing the best of a bad lot of options. I mean, look at what happened to Coil: He could /literally/ redo all of his choices once, and he still managed to get killed. Sometimes there’s no /good/ choice, and I don’t think Taylor really condones all of her own actions, which is one reason I think she got so caught up in the whole Dinah thing. Saving Dinah was supposed to make up for a lot of the “bad if not the worst I could have done” choices and actions she’s had to make and live with.

            Basically, she probably could have fought back harder, but she probably agrees with Clockblocker on some level that she’s not /really/ a “good” person, whatever that means.

  20. I’m pretty sure that the score is actually even 2-2 due to the Mannequin/Burnscar question. Even if Skaylor hadn’t been there and helping people, they would have been attacking other random people throughout the city anyway. Had Skaylor not been there Mannequin would have likely targeted the hospitals at which Panacea had been working or Dolltown. What Skitter actually did was limit the damage done, before the rest of the Nine began to play, to her small part of the city.

    • Couldn’t have said it better myself. BTW Awesome job Wildbow on portraying a beat-down and forcibly meek-ened personality. All in all, a very well portrayed Pavlovian response from her abusive social training. Well done.

    • Plus, you know, stomping a mudhole in Mannequin and then walking it dry. Twice. Any of the Slaughterhouse 9 that she helped defeat should be one in her corner, especially with the heroes holed up most of the time.

      • Seriously, if anything about this conversation pissed me off it was Clockblocker having the gall to bring up the Slaughterhouse 9 as an argument against Skitter. It should be one of the biggest in her favour.

        Also, Clocksie, if you want to know how Dinah feels about it, ask her. I’m sure she’ll happily tell you what the odds would be of her giving a shit about Shadow Stalker.

  21. Huh, weird, are you in the Nova Scotia timezone?

    When i posted this it says it went up 4 hours in the future for me lol.

  22. I like how none of us are wondering how Taylor is going to get out of this one. She’s fighting someone who creates evil, superpowered clones, and is currently blind in the lion’s den. But she’s so unquestionably a badass that we all figure she’ll come out ahead.

    • That is, alas, the curse of fiction. The main character cannot die in the middle of the story.

      As Wildbow seems intent on proving over and over however, they CAN be put through absolute Hell. So I don’t know so much about Taylor coming out ahead, just alive.

    • I’m personally imagining that Taylor’s powers are perfectly suited to, at the very least, irritating and distracting Noelle. Her power lets her override the natural and individual instincts of her insects, therefore any of the cloned freak insects that Noelle creates automatically fall under Taylor’s control. Even if the insect’s controls come out backwards all Taylor will have to do is redirect them to attack everyone but Noelle and they will go straight for her. Essentially it could be similar to what Panacea could have done on a much more violent and potentially chaotic scale.

  23. Hey wildbow would it be possible to slip in a current times news thing in Worm? Like a Fox and Friends special on The Undersiders. I’m curious as to how Brockton Bay is affecting national news. Like a psychiatric specialist trying to analyze Taylor would be funny to read. :) Still can’t wait to see what Noelle can do on a large scale!

    • It’s a possibility for one of the bonus interludes, but the last time I tried it, it sort of flopped (was a section of the ParahumansOnline message board). Part of that might be that my dog died that week & I was distracted, but part of it was that it’s hard to write something without a narrative to it.

      • Oh okay. I know how that is, but I for one would love to see it. I’m actually re-reading worm from the start. Your writing has improved 1000 fold since.

        • I’ll endeavor to take that as a compliment. ;)

          If it’s no trouble, please do let me know where the biggest issues lie, and I’ll aim to fix them in a rewrite after I’m done Worm & before I release it as an ebook.

          • Will do! So far the early chapters are shorter than the ones now, but maybe you could combine certain ones for the eBook.

            Once you do published it as an eBook where will you go onto next?

          • General game plan is to:

            ■ Finish by this summer/fall. But I won’t rush it. If it winds up being winter, that’s ok too.

            ■ Pay an editor to give the book a serious looking-at (I’ve had my writer’s circle helping out with the early stuff since last August). Figure out what to do about break points. (See here for thoughts on such)

            ■ When Worm finishes, maintain schedule, but release snippets/promos for future story ideas, give readers a chance to chime in on what they’d like to see. ie. 1-3 chapters of Down (placeholder name), 1-3 chapters of Rose (again, placeholder name), 1-3 chapters of Nine, etc.

            ■ Maybe get my own personal site/blog running for maintaining community/reader relations, and to serve as a hub between multiple serials.

            ■ Probably move on to a shorter work. A palate cleanser, if you will.

            ■ Work on making necessary changes to Worm as time allows. Ideal world, I’m doing this on a schedule (ie. X chapters rewritten/polished every Sunday and Wednesday) because that’s how I work best. Do other rigamole for preparing it for release – finding a book cover artist, deciding on a publisher/self publication.

            ■ Release as ebook & maybe even print book/short run of print.

            Sorta considering ideas for a kickstarter or writing a Wormverse novella/shorts/novel to gauge interest if it winds up taking me a while to get the editing done.

            The big thing, though, is that if it comes down to it, I’ll focus on doing one thing well (and telling a good story is going to be a top priority on that front) rather than two or three things badly.

          • I will throw money at you for two physical copies of the complete Worm book(s). Brick and mortar bookstores my die, unfortunately, but bibliophiles will ensure that printing never does.

            Second copy is for my academic adviser. He’s a big comics fan and he’d get a kick out of Worm. I just can’t get him to read it online for some reason.

        • Note, Worm was/is also a place holder name, so I fully expect all of your future stories to have four letter one syllable place holder names for the rest of your life.

          Anyway, I actually like the sound of the names. They’re simple, memorable, and poignant.

      • You wouldn’t have to, just use the events from the previous chapter and write out how a newscaster would cover the story. It would show the ‘official’ version (Heroes) of events that we saw from the villains perspective. Plus you could add in non local famous heroes in a “and what do you think” manner.

        • ^what they said. xD

          Seems like a great plan Wildbow! I would love to see more stories of the worm verse. Maybe the story of a struggling vigilante group. Not like the xmen, but some group with no money or resources to speak of. Can’t wait for the hopefully eventual eBook. I’d buy it in an instant. :3

          • Eh I never saw them struggling persay, Hobbes. They had resources via Coil. Most people wouldn’t have that kind of backing at the start. I see a vigilante group having to gather money, hold themselves back and try to keep their civvie and hero lives seperate. Since you know, Evil Pays Better.

      • I actually thought the ParahumansOnline message boards were a really cool look at what people on the outside think about all this, what’s “widely known” and so on. As readers from Skitter’s perspective, and especially with the interlude chapters giving us a broader knowledge base than any one faction, it’s easy to lose track of the dramatic irony: what do we know that everyone else doesn’t? Plus our heros (or anti-villains) are fighting for something bigger than themselves (ostensibly). It’s nice to be reminded of the “little people” whose lives depend on the actions of our major players.

  24. I have a question about trigger events Wildbow. I know that no one except for a few people remember the ‘twins’ but do they still remember the fact that someone near bye has just had a trigger event? I am curious because if so, wouldn’t Sophia have felt something during Taylors trigger event?

    • Only barely. She took a music class in her first semester at school and opted to use an owned instrument rather than borrow one from the school.

      So it was kind of a crushing blow on three levels – to lose something her mother had owned, to have her locker vandalized/broken into and to have to pay a deposit to use an old one from the school.

      • I am now hoping that 1 or both of the remaining stooges are the type of dog owners that dress their dogs in t-shirts and carry them about in baby carriages just so Bitch can find out and chase them all over Brockton Bay, then have their dogs transformed to proceed eating them.

        • I’m personally expecting Shadowstalker to return and for Skitter to go one more round with her. Maybe that will occur once Dragon decides to out her.

  25. Really subtle typo:

    —-

    “Thinker one,” Weld said. ”Because your bugs let you sense things to the point that you might be a short-range clairvoyant.”

    —-

    Double-quote before “Because” is an end-doublequote instead of a start-doublequote.

  26. Yeah, Skitter’s actions have been overall bad so far.
    Especially her not turning Bitch in and controlling the city. Regent is a sociopath but he’s not dangerous while friends with Skitter, Bitch is.
    Bitch really should be in the Birdcage.

  27. “New York,” Miss Militia interrupted. ”She’s the one that’s responsible for the disappearance of those forty people?”
    Wait, wasn’t that incident in Boston? Migration 17-8? Or was there another 40-casualty thing?

    • Also:
      “But she finished giving Glory Girl medical care after Crawler’s spittle had burned through half her body, she refused our offers to help” – But when she’d

  28. Wow… this is the first chapter where something hasn’t sat right with me.

    Not sure what that means, lol.

    I mean, I’ve loved everything about the story and this emotional journey, even the darkest, most gut-wrenching stuff.

    And I love so much of this chapter too.

    Um… something about Skitter and Clockblockers chat in the van feels… gah. I feel so inarticulate.

    Like I *love* that some of the scenes Clockblocker paints, gets Skitter to question her own life/decisions, but ultimately, the blow to her self-confidence feels ‘wrong’ somehow.

    IE: After everything that’s happened, it’s weird she’d ‘take responsibility’ for A leads to B leads to C leads to ShadowStalker goes nuts. Or A leads to B leads to C leads to D leads to Panacea breaks down.

    I guess it feels like Skitter’s “make the best choice she can, and then stand by it” was a solid core I could latch onto, and I don’t quite buy into the way it was just set on it’s head.

    Anyway, just wanted to share some interesting feelings/ideas that came in response to this. :)

    • I’d disagree, actually. Taylor has *always* felt she should have done better than she does. For example, when she achieved the incredible feat of driving off Mannequin she mostly just felt guilty that he’d hurt people in her territory ‘because of her’.

      You’re right that Skitter has tended to make the best choice she can and then stick to it. The story has shown though that she feels uncomfortable about some of those choices.

      Of course, the big one is that her attempt to infiltrate a group of villains enabled the kidnapping of a young girl. Her activities were far removed from the actual kidnapping but she continues to blame herself. Even now that she’s rescued Dinah she feels uncertain that she’s done enough to alleviate her blame.

      So it depends how you look at it. Yes, Skitter absolutely had much stronger arguments to make for her actions – but it would’ve been out of character for her to use them because she blames herself too.

  29. as others have stated, i love how very Taylor the exchange is. very subtle.
    this being a second reading i feel this conversation played a huge part on her future decisions, which i didn’t get last time.

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