Chrysalis 20.1

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I stepped out of the shower, but I didn’t dry off.  It was hot out, and the cold beads of moisture on my skin offered something of a reprieve.  I felt acutely aware of the breeze blowing into the room, as it traced frigid lines against my body.  My hair was wet, plastered to my neck, shoulders and back, and water ran down from the individual locks of hair in thin streams.

More than anything, the cool sensation of the wet hair on my head was a contrast to the workings inside my skull.  It wasn’t even seven in the morning, and in purely mental terms, I was hitting the ground running.  Had to.

I leaned over the sink, letting the droplets fall from my eyelashes and run down my face.

I reached out, and my toothbrush found its way to my hand, as much as my hand found it.  The toothpaste was much the same, maneuvered to my hand by a dozen threads and twice that many insects.  I took two minutes brushing, another minute to use some mouthwash, and then stood straight, stretching.  My skin felt tight, contracted by the temperature.

Like the act of rubbing one’s stomach while patting their head, I was moving out of sync.  I held out one hand for the hairbrush, closed my fingers around it, then set to tugging the plastic bristles through the tangles and knots, slow, strong, deliberate movements, a patient, calming exercise.

My mind?  I was watching, studying, sensing and experiencing ten thousand things at once, an engine going full-bore.  I could follow my dad as he moved through the house, picked work clothes out of his closet, threw away a sock and its matching pair.  I watched every entryway into the house, the windows and doors, tracked the movements of the neighbors, and our neighbor’s neighbors.  With fleas, I could track the movements of the neighbor’s outdoor cat, a surprisingly violent creature with a sizable body count of local frogs and mice, many killed purely for sport.

I could track each of these details for roughly a thousand feet around me, to the point that I was aware of every person and every piece of terrain in the area.  There were bugs crawling inside walls and the dark corners of houses all up and down the street, and I had only to pay attention for a moment to grasp the layout of each house and home.  I could feel the worms crawling through the earth, the ants navigating the surface, struggling but surviving in the humid heat of the outdoors.  I could feel the maggots that were devouring one of the cat’s abandoned victims, the ants working to collect the food before descending into their labyrinthine hive.

And I thought of my own hive, of jobs that needed doing and positions that needed filling, of threats and threat assessment.  I was prioritizing, knowing it would be impossible to do every job in the time I had.  I had to check in with everyone, to look after the individual groups, get more information on construction and finances, to make sure everything was running smoothly.  Each and every task could potentially be interrupted at a moment’s notice, so I had to ensure I had people at hand that I could delegate to in a pinch.

It was a lot to take in, a jumble of half-formed thoughts that I only considered for moments at a time before categorizing them, making or postponing a decision.  There were too many I wouldn’t be able to address yet.  Tasks that I needed eyes on, people I needed to talk to for information.

I toweled my hair dry, brushed it again, had the bugs clean up the silk strands that littered the bathroom, and then wrapped a towel around myself to venture to my bedroom and get dressed.

By the time my dad descended to the ground floor, I was already halfway done preparing breakfast, standing by the stove with my damp hair tied back into a loose ponytail, wearing a strapless top and loose-fitting, lightweight cargo pants.

Preparing breakfast was another of those routine activities, rubbing my stomach.  I was still patting my head, thinking of how to address one sensitive issue.  When my dad entered the scene, though, I made a deliberate attempt to break from that mode of thinking, to shift mental gears.

“You’re going to school wearing that?” my dad asked.

“I’m going running like this,” I replied.

“In this heat?  Take some water with you.”

I pointed at the kitchen table, where I’d set two water bottles by the salt and pepper shakers.

“Good.”

“Crepe?” I asked.  “And fruit salad?  We have some left over from last night.”

“Please.”

I slid the crepe out of the frying pan and onto a plate, then handed it to him.  I dropped some butter on the pan, poured more batter on, and then tilted it until the batter was spread thin over the surface.

“You’re usually out the door by now, and back fairly late.”

“Trying to do my part,” I said.  “And I wanted to talk.”

“Okay.  I like talking,” he said.  “Unless this isn’t the kind of conversation we look forward to?”

He made a face as he eased himself down into his chair.   He’s still not completely recovered.  I admitted, “It isn’t.”

“Ah,” he said.  His expression was placid, his eyes watching me carefully.

“I was thinking… I don’t think I’ll go back to school.”  I turned my eyes to the crepe.  I poked the spatula at the corner to verify it was more solid, lifted it, then flipped the thing over.

I could hear him pouring orange juice.  Flies hidden on ledges and on a shelf between cookbooks could see the vague movement as he raised the glass to his lips and drank before he spoke.  “It’s a month and a half of classes.  Everyone will be catching up, not just you.  We couldn’t ask for better circumstances.  A new environment, new people, a new dynamic.  You’re different.”

“I am,” I said.  I slid the crepe onto a plate.  I didn’t use the fruit salad, but instead went straight for the blueberries I’d defrosted, adding a spoonful of cream.  I rolled it up, spooned some fruit salad onto the side of the plate, collected my mug of tea by the side of the stove and then sat down opposite my dad.

He looked so old.  Two serious sets of injuries, one he hadn’t fully recovered from, and a measure of stress that I was partially responsible for, all adding up to artificial years.  I felt a pang of fondness mixed with regret.

“If I asked you to, would you?” he asked.  “Hypothetically.”

“If you did, I would,” I admitted.  “But it’s not where I want to be right now.”

He nodded, taking a bite.  A dribble of fruit juice ran down from the corner of his mouth, and he thumbed it away.  I reached for a roll of paper towels, tore one off and handed it to him.

“Thank you,” he said.  It wasn’t a response to my statement.

If he asked, I’d find a way.  Work things out.  Reprioritize, filter out the nonessential tasks, shift things around.  Everything would take longer, there would be issues in countless areas, more things I couldn’t do and people I couldn’t protect.  But I’d do it.

“What will you do instead?”

“What I’ve been doing.  I’ll work,” I said.  “There’s cleanup work, still.  It pays pretty well, all things considered.”

“It’s not easy,” he said.

“I’m tough,” I said, flexing an arm.  I had some muscle, but it looked pretty sad on my thin arm.  I let my arm drop.  “At least it’s not all heavy lifting.”

“But it wears you out.  I won’t say it’s bad work, we both know how many hundreds of people I’ve worked with who are employed along those lines.  I’ve been employed along those lines.  But you’re smart.  Your mom and I both expected you to go on to college.  The idea that you might never graduate high school never crossed our minds.”

Bringing Mom into it.  I sighed.  “I will graduate.  I promise.  But I can wait a year, study online.”

“Why?  Why put things off and study for half a year to a year, when you could pass tenth grade in two months?”  He didn’t sound angry or upset, only confused.

Prioritizing, weighing every action against the costs involvedSpending most of my day at school, everything else takes a back seat.

“Like you said, I’m different than the person I was,” I replied.

He looked up at me, met my eyes, and I could feel my blood run cold.  That searching, studying look…

He knows?

“You are,” he said, simply.  Not a confirmation of my fears, not dismissing them either.  It was only an admission of what we both knew as truth.

“If you want me to go, you can tell me to go.  I will.  You’re my dad.  You can tell me to do something, and I have to do it.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head.  “We both know that’s not true.”

I took another bite of my crepe instead of replying.

“Being a parent, there’s always that niggling fear, that notion that maybe one day your child will realize you’re not all-knowing, not all-powerful.  That they don’t really have to do anything you say.  But you spend years growing up together, parent and child, as a parent you get accustomed to acting like you’re in power, believing it as much as your daughter does.  For some, for most, that confidence gets worn down after the child hits adolescence, and the parent changes from being one of the most important figures in their child’s life to being an embarrassment.”

“You were never embarrassing to me,” I said.

“I know,” he said.  “But that makes it harder, doesn’t it?  For all those other parents, it’s a transition, a transformation, as their children gradually test their authority and discover how very fragile a thing it is.  For me?  I didn’t have nearly enough time to get used to it.  One night, one conversation, and you decided I didn’t have any say in your life anymore.”

“You do,” I said, feeling alarmed, in a way I couldn’t articulate.  “I want you to have a say.  I’m saying you can set curfews or demand that I go to school, and I will.  I might complain or argue, but I’ll listen.  I’ll let you have a say.”

He reached across the kitchen table, taking my hand.  He pulled it towards him, and I let him stretch my arm out straight.  He bent over and kissed the fingers.

His voice was quiet, “I hope that, if and when you ever have a child of your own, you never have to hear them say anything like that.”

He released my hand, and I withdrew it.

“You’re sure you don’t want to go to school?”  He asked.

I nodded.

“It’s your decision,” he said.  “Yours, not mine.  Where would you work?”

“The Boardwalk,” I said.  “It’s close, it’s good pay, good food, and it’s safe.”

“A little more directly involved with the local supervillain-in-power than I’d recommend for  any employees of mine that were looking for a job,” my dad replied.

I didn’t have a response to that.  I ate the last bite of my crepe.

“Will you still be there at lunchtime?”

I nodded.

“I’ll meet you.  Things are busy, things are good, but I’d like to set aside a block of time.  We can pick up lunch, or I’ll bring something.  How’s that?”

It was awkward on a dozen different levels.  Even staying here caused me any number of problems.  It removed me from a place I needed to be, it made for awkward transitions between my civilian and costumed life, and every conversation with my father stressed me out, left me wondering if he could guess.  Or maybe when I stepped in the door, I might find out that the local heroes had recognized me, using one of the mutant clones that had been running around, or any number of other possibilities.  My dad waiting to ambush me with the fact that he’d received a telling phone call, like he had when I’d skipped school, only he’d be backed up by superheroes.

The last big conversation in that vein had done irreparable damage.  Enough that I found myself checking my house and making sure there wasn’t an ambush waiting for me on the other side.  On my dad’s side of things, well, we’d just discussed that in some depth.  Our relationship wasn’t any better for it.

Taking time away from everything else I had to do, to eat lunch, to fill in the details and arrange things so my dad didn’t discover I was bending the truth yet again?  To have another awkward conversation?

I was willing.  “I’d really like that.”

He smiled.

I grabbed the notepad by the phone that we usually used for writing down numbers and put down my cell number.  “Call me when you’re coming around, so we can find each other.”

“Your cell phone?”

“Yeah.”

He looked sad for a brief moment, then perked up a little, “I suppose you need it if you’re going to stay in touch with the others.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I should go.  I want to get a light run in and maybe catch up with some people before I start working.”

“Take care of yourself.  I’ll be in touch around eleven or eleven thirty.”

I nodded.  I gathered a billfold with some ID and cash, a fresh tube of pepper spray, and then a sheathed knife from the backpack that hung by the back door.  It wasn’t my good knife: I wouldn’t be able to explain how I had a knife of that kind of quality.  This one was serviceable for self-defense, the kind that was currently being worn by countless people around the city.

I glanced at my dad, but he seemed to be going out of his way to avoid looking as I did everything necessary to prepare myself for venturing out into the city.

Was it him suppressing his worry for my well-being, or were my doubts on target?  Did he suspect, and simply not want to know for sure?

I couldn’t ask, couldn’t hint or try to get clarification, not without potentially seeding the idea in his mind, or prompting him to give me an answer I didn’t want to hear.

I stepped outside, and the hot air was like a physical barrier.  I’d known it, had anticipated it with the knowledge my bugs provided me, but there wasn’t anything quite like that first faceful of eighty-five degree weather, so humid it went straight through both skin and clothing.

The second I was out of sight of the house, I had my phone out.  I re-checked the messages that had come in last night and this morning.  Twenty in total.

Charlotte:
I know its already pretty late, not a big deal, but was wondering if u wanted to go out and grab ice cream?  terrys craving some.  we can grab jelly beans and a chocolate for my brother on our way back.

Charlotte:
eric stopped by.  no drama.  you should say hi while he’s around.

Forrest:
saw Eric 2nite.  shuld say hi.

Forrest:
n/m Char already sent you msg.

Charlotte:
taking my little brother to school today.  if I dont see u, have a good day, will see u tonite.

All code.  Mostly code, anyways.  The names dropped were a shorthand for specific kinds of situations and people.  ‘Eric’ was trouble.  ‘Little brother’ meant the kids Charlotte was looking after.  ‘Terry’ was the catch-all term for people in my territory.

There were two for me, as well.  ‘u’ and ‘you’, as odd as it sounded.

People were probably craving some luxuries in the food department and some treats for the kids wouldn’t hurt.  There was some kind of trouble while I’d been out, but it was handled and I should pay a visit in costume to make sure it was resolved.  Charlotte would be going to school, taking all the little ones with her.

There were other messages.  Among them, there was a mess of some sort one of the side streets hadn’t been cleaned up and ‘Terry’ had been complaining, there were some vague concerns about the food supplies for lunch later today, and Lisa had called about a nebulous ‘party’.

I ran the rest of the way to the Boardwalk.

There weren’t many people up and about yet.  Some cars on the road, the sounds of construction starting to get underway, and some parents with kids to see off to school and no cars getting an early start.

I passed by my headquarters and found someone unfamiliar inside, in the main room with Charlotte.  She was helping a little boy put a shirt on.  Forrest was in the kitchen, mass-producing kids’ lunches with the supplies I’d had brought in yesterday.

I made my way to the beach, entering the storm drain that led, in a roundabout way, into my base.

The original plan, as far as I was aware, had been for this entrance to be temporary.  Work would continue on the Boardwalk, and it was inevitable that someone would run into the storm drain, either where it was deliberately blocked off or entering from the beach as I was.  It would have changed, with Coil leveraging his resources to set up something else that would serve as a covert entrance.

I’d have to contact Tattletale, though she was probably busy enough that my to-do list looked trivial.

Bugs flowed down the stairs, surrounding me as a thick cloud that would hide me from sight. I could sense the kids reacting as I made my appearance.  Fearful starts and backing away, taking shelter behind Charlotte.

I singled out a handful of butterflies and sent them towards the kid nearest me.  They flew in formation, forming a circle around her hand.  She stretched it out, and one butterfly landed on her thumb.

As other children reached out, I settled butterflies on their hands as well.  The distraction was good enough that I could walk past them and head upstairs without causing anyone to burst into tears.

I locked the door behind me and quickly changed.  I draped the shawl-cape over my armored shoulders, and then covered it in bugs.  Wearing black in the summer would be uncomfortable, especially with the added heat and weight of the bugs, but maybe I could provide myself with some shade using a swarm overhead.

It would make me a target to any heroes paying a visit, though.  The PRT had recognized the potential for trouble that surrounded the door, Tattletale’s improvised portal to another universe, and out-of-town capes were being given permanent positions on the local Wards and Protectorate teams. It said something, given the state of the PRT these days, that they were willing to devote the manpower.

A pair of villains from the Fallen were lurking somewhere in Imp’s territory, and their presence meant that Haven felt obliged to send two or three capes our way as well.  Until the Fallen were dead or gone, Haven would have something of a local presence.

I’d done my part to try to help find the two Fallen, just a few days ago, but even with Tattletale’s help in identifying the general area, I hadn’t been able to root them out.  Her gut told her that one of the two was Valefor.  Despite the intimidating names and the fact that they called themselves an Endbringer cult, the Fallen didn’t pose a grave threat.  They were thieves and vandals, allegedly committing incest in the belief that it would guarantee that their entangled family produced more kids with powers, but only a few people in the controlling body of the family were demonstrably capable of murder.  They were far from being the Slaughterhouse Nine.

Still, both Imp and Valefor were what the PRT termed ‘strangers’.  Capes with abilities that tended towards subtlety and subterfuge.  That wasn’t a fight I wanted to get caught up in.  I would if it came down to it, if people were in danger or Aisha needed my help, but I was perfectly content to not be in a position where I was looking over my shoulder every few seconds.  I’d dealt with that enough.

All of that wasn’t even touching on the other villains seeking a foothold in the city.  The Ambassadors were looking for a slice of the Brockton Bay pie, and both Grue and I were tentatively willing.  The group of villains was willing to play by our rules and participate in our alliance, they would add their own strength to ours, and they were more interested in shady but legitimate dealings and preying on other villains than they were on causing trouble or bucking with the local authorities.  I couldn’t be entirely sure whether that was because of their general ethos or because they were recuperating from being nearly wiped out, but their simple existence and their membership in our alliance would help scare off troublemakers.

It all added up to making the Ambassadors as ideal a partner-group as we could hope for.  The only sticking point was that their leader was a Thinker, and Tattletale almost automatically disliked him.  It would take a great deal more convincing to get her to play along.

The Teeth had tried to take a bite out of Parian’s territory.  They had a history in the bay, and like the Ambassadors they had been nearly wiped out, only it was nearly a decade ago.  They’d settled elsewhere while they bounced back, with a turnover rate high enough that none of the original members persisted.  There was only the name, and an ethos of violence, anarchy, and profit at any cost, not unlike the ABB.  Parian seemed to be making a point of not asking for our help, and I wasn’t intending to offer it until she did.

I had others to take care of, and I could only trust that she knew what she was doing.

“Skitter,” Charlotte said, as I returned downstairs.  I could see the other girl, plump, with a shorter haircut that only seemed to accentuate the roundness of her face.  She seemed more scared of me than the kids were.

Forrest, by contrast, was almost bemused.  He leaned over the kitchen counter.  He had a barrel chest, a burly build, a natural glower, a thick black beard and coarse, unkempt hair.  He might have looked savage if it weren’t for the tight-fitting striped polo shirt and the nerdish thick-framed glasses.  It hadn’t been that long ago that he’d helped sway the outcome of my fight against Mannequin, putting his life on the line to help take down a monster that even some top-tier capes had been scared of.

I’d asked Charlotte to find someone who could serve as my second in command.  I considered it serendipitous that she’d nominated him.

“Any urgent issues?” I asked.  She shook her head.  I let myself relax a touch and gestured toward the new girl, “Who’s this?”

Charlotte looked guilty.  “She’s an extra set of hands.  Don’t worry.  Forrest and I blindfolded her while bringing her here.  I didn’t think I’d be able to manage looking after the kids all by myself, and I was ok with paying her.”

“I can cover that cost,” I said.  “No trouble on that front?  Taking care of the kids?”

“We’re just about ready to go,” she said.  “Kids are washed, fed and clothed, lunches nearly finished.  They have their bags…”

“Good,” I said, “The school bus is arriving soon.  Can you spare a minute to fill me in?”

“I can’t even remember all of the stuff that’s been going on.  I’m kind of frazzled.”

I felt a pang of sympathy.  This was the cost of me staying with my dad.  “The pertinent points only, then.  Who or what is the ‘Eric’?”

“Forrest can explain.  Some thugs were causing trouble for some people living further north.  Your guys caught them.”

“The mess in the alley?”

“The garbage trucks couldn’t get down the road.  Shale avenue is still in rough shape, and nobody told the residents they shouldn’t put their trash on the sidewalk there.  It’s piled up and it’s hot, so it’s smelling.”

“I’ll resolve it.”  Wasn’t so long ago this whole city stank, and people weren’t complaining this much then.  “The lunch supplies?”

“One of the pallets of vegetables you ordered was in bad shape.  Past ripe.  I’d planned to have something done last night that Forrest could warm up for people’s lunches today, but I couldn’t work with what I had, and I thought you’d want something better than a thin soup.  Then I was occupied looking after the kids and forgot.  I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” I said.  “You’ve done an excellent job.  Better than I could have hoped.  I’ll figure something out for lunch.  Maybe reach out to a local business.  What’s a food most people would enjoy, which we haven’t had available for a good while?”

“Pizza!” one boy in Charlotte’s herd of children piped up.

“Pizza it is,” I said.  “With luck, there’s someone trying to get set up somewhere in the north end.  We can order a batch for everyone that’s working here, then another batch for tonight, for the kids?  If they’re good in school and they do their homework.”

The children almost crowed, and one literally jumped with glee.

“Forrest,” I said.  “Can you see them off to the bus stop?  I need to have a word with Charlotte.”

Wordless, Forrest stood straight, gathered up the paper bag lunches in two hands and then approached the kids.  Like magnets, two kids gravitated to his legs and clung to him, and he walked stiff-legged to the front door with them hanging on him and the rest trailing after him like my bugs trailed after me.

My bugs kicked into motion, blocking the line of sight to the door.  No use giving Charlotte’s friend a view of the street outside and a clue about our location.  She made a small frightened sound and backed away.

Did Charlotte honestly bring in someone who’s afraid of bugs?

I glanced at the two girls.  Charlotte’s eyebrows were knitted in concern.  Her friend, by contrast, looked terrified: her fingers were knotted together, her eyes wide.

“Jessie’s still wetting the bed, I see,” I noted.  My bugs could feel the damp on one of the bunk beds in one of the other rooms.  Something mundane, so we don’t frighten the new girl further.

Charlotte’s eyes widened.  “Shit!  I was so busy trying to get things organized-“

“It’s fine,” I said.  “I’ll handle it.”

“You shouldn’t have to,” she said, “Fern-“

“That’s the other thing I wanted to mention.  Your friend-” I glanced at the girl.  She didn’t look any less spooked.  Why did Charlotte bring her here if she’s going to be so afraid?  “Did Tattletale vet her?”

“It was a spur of the moment thing.  I know it was sorta dumb, but-“

“I don’t want to be hard on you,” I said, “But this is something I’m going to be strict about.  Someone comes here, they have to be vetted first.”

“I’ll be more careful.”

“Please.  And are you sure there isn’t anything I can do to thank you for your help?”

“You’re paying me more than enough.”

“Let me know if anything comes to mind.  In the meantime, pizza and some candy for the kids tonight?”

“It’s tough, going back to school, trying to get back to something even resembling a normal routine.  They’d appreciate it, I think.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Don’t mention the candy.  Let it be a surprise.  I think the bus is coming, so you should head to the stop.”

“Blindfold on, Fern,” Charlotte said.

A minute later, they were gone.

I sighed and set to tidying up.  Bugs carted away the unused paper bags and scraps of lettuce.

And everyone’s off to school, I thought.

I felt a pang of regret.  A part of me wanted to go, to prove to myself that I’d grown past it, to have another normal thing in my life, like breakfast with my dad.

At the same time, there were so many reasons not to.  My face having been exposed in a roundabout fashion, the presence of the Wards somewhere in that school, the time it took away from other things that needed doing…

Better to keep out of it.

Forrest returned.  “Want to see ‘em?”

I nodded, and we ventured out into my territory.

All around us, the Boardwalk and what had been the shadier parts of the Docks were coming together.  New streets, new sidewalks, new buildings.  There were more people out and about than there had been just ten or fifteen minutes ago, and everyone present was getting ready to work or even starting early.  Building something as a community.

Conversations died as I approached, power tools were turned off, and heads turned.

My bugs followed behind me like the trail of a fancy gown, rising from my shoulders and hair like pitch black sparks from a fire.  Image.  I’d done what I could to earn the loyalty of my people.  I’d tried to be even-handed, tried to be generous, but image and attitude was a big part in keeping that loyalty.

I was put in mind of my dad’s thoughts on a parent’s authority.  Was this so different?

“The attackers were leftovers from the Chosen,” Forrest explained.  “I’m not even sure they were full members.”

“Is the family okay?”

“They’re okay.  Scared, they lost a few possessions, but nothing really valuable.”

“The little things matter most when you have the least,” I said.

“Profound.”

I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not, and I couldn’t see his face without glancing over my shoulder, so I didn’t say anything..

The cells were hidden in one building, much like my base was.  A few of the O’Dalys were lingering at the front.  They stood at attention as I approached.  The closest thing I had to foot soldiers.

A Japanese couple stood nearby as well.  The man had a bandage across his nose, blood crusted around his nostrils.  Bruises stood out on both of them.

I walked past them to step inside, and looked at my prisoners.  Three thugs, no younger than fifteen, nor older than twenty-five.  They wore so much face paint I couldn’t make a good guess beyond that.

My soldiers and the couple had followed me inside.

“You came for revenge?” I asked.

“N-no,” the man said.  “I came to ask for leniency.”

“Fuck you, faggy ass fagass!” one of the people in the cell shouted.

“For them?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“They hurt you.”

“Out of ignorance,” he said.

You’re ignorant, assfaggot!”

“My wife and I consider ourselves good Christians,” the man said.  “He would want us to show mercy, to turn the other cheek.”

“Why don’t you spread those cheeks and get fucked, faggot!?”

“Quiet,” I said.  A handful of bugs flowed into the cell, the boy opened his mouth to retort and choked on a fly.  To the man, I said, “You’re tying my hands here.  I can’t let them leave unscathed.  It would send the wrong message, and that would do everyone in this territory a disservice.  You, me, them, everyone else.  People need to know they’re safe, especially after everything that’s happened.”

“The police can take care of them.  Call it a citizen’s arrest.  We won’t mention your name.”

“And if they go free?  If the police decide there’s not enough evidence, or the officers are too busy to give your case their full attention, and these three get to go on and hurt others?”

“If that’s the cost of having a system that otherwise works.”

I glanced at the three thugs, and my bugs flowed over them.  Silk was threaded in strategic locations, and bugs deposited where they wouldn’t be able to reach.

“Open the cells,” I said.

I could see the fear on the faces of the couple as they backed away.  Forrest pulled the switch, bidding the three iron-barred doors along the hallway to slide open.

One of the thugs glared sullenly at me, but he was smart enough to not mouth off.

“There’s a small police office nearby,” I said.  “You three can head down Shale avenue, stop one block short of Lord street, and turn left.  It’s a tent, and there’s two officers and a police car there.  They’ll take you into custody.”

“Right.  We’ll totally turn ourselves in,” a second guy said.

“Do I need to repeat the directions?”

“Nah,” the first one smiled.

“Go,” I said.  My bugs cut the silk threads binding them to the bars.  If they’d lunged or tried to attack us, they would have fallen short, possibly choking or tripping.

“Seriously?” Forrest asked.

“Cool shit,” the lead thug commented.  He gave Forrest the finger as he headed to the door.  Forrest moved as if he was going to hit the punk, and the thug flinched, but there was no follow through.

They bolted the second they were out of sight of the O’Dalys who were stationed at the front of my miniature jail.

I commanded the bugs I’d planted on the three thugs to bite, then gestured for the contingent of people around me to follow me.

All three boys were still lying on the ground, writhing, when we arrived.  One was screaming as though he’d been jabbed with a hot poker.  Another was arching his back, as though his ribcage was trying to force its way free.

“What did you do?”  Forrest asked, in mixed horror and awe.

The third thug’s screaming joined his friend’s.

“Bullet ants,” I said.  “Their bites top the scale in terms of sheer pain caused.  People have compared their bites to being shot.  Thus the name.”

The thug was still screaming, albeit with less volume and more intermittent whimpers.

“It’s also known as the twenty-four hour ant,” I added.

“Why?”

“That’s how long the pain lasts.  Get up,” I ordered them.  “Now, or you get bitten again.”

It took them a second, but they were making a halfhearted effort, and I didn’t follow through on my threat.  They stood, one of them hunched over, two moaning audibly.  They glared at me.

“You brought that on yourselves,” I said.  “This is your second chance.  Get yourselves to the police station and turn yourselves in.  This time, I’ll have them bite each of you periodically to hurry you along.”

“What the fucking-“

He broke off mid-sentence as he screamed and fell to the ground, thrashing.

“If you think of doing anything but admitting your full crime to the police officer right then and there, I’ll try figuring out how many times those ants can bite you before they run out of venom.  Now go.  Run.”

Two of them ran, stumbling as they twitched and flinched at the continuing pain, while the third crawled.  I had an ant bite the mouthiest one when he was only a few paces away, to hurry them along.

I turned to the others.  The Japanese-American man was staring at me.

“You should go to the police too,” I said.  “Give your side of the story, let them take photos.”

“I will,” he said, his tone curt.  He turned to leave, then paused.  “I asked you to be lenient.”

How can I even explain?  I’ve seen the worst of the worst.  I want to protect each and every one of you from it.  The system won’t stop them, not all on its own.

But if I explained, they would argue, and every counter-argument would make me look weaker, damage my image and hurt people’s confidence in me.  There were people who would be happy with a firm hand being used to deter criminals, there were others who wouldn’t be happy, but they’d accept it as the price that came with everything else I had to offer.

I didn’t like it, but I’d do it.

He was still staring at me, his question lingering.  I asked you to be lenient.

“I was,” was all I said.

I returned to my lair, and took the time to strip out of my costume.  It stuck to my skin as I pulled it off.

I’d need to design something lighter for the warmer months.  More porous, while still offering protection, maybe a paler color, if I could manage it and still have it blend into the swarm…

The major tasks were done.  I’d called Lisa, and through her I’d gotten caught up on all the other essential details about what was happening around the city.  She and Grue had a meeting with an Ambassador – not the leader of the Ambassadors, which I was thankful for.  I would have wanted to be present for a meeting that volatile.  As it was, I could hope that Grue was in a good enough headspace to keep Tattletale on course.

I’d contacted everyone necessary to clear garbage out of the alley, to order pizzas for lunch and to order more food in to make up for the bad batch of vegetables.  I’d shown my face as Skitter and now a swarm-clone lingered on a rooftop, standing in plain view of the people on the street, overlooking a construction in progress.  ‘Skitter’ would appear here and there over the course of the day, just to reassure others she was here.

Which she was.  I was.

I stripped out of the rest of the costume.  I laid out a grungier change of clothes.

I hadn’t been lying to my dad when I said I’d work.  I’d put in the hours, work alongside the other members of my territory.  It was easier to do my share and be working here on a legitimate basis, even part-time, than to try to sustain the lie.

Before I started, I had only one minor chore.  I headed downstairs and I pulled Jessie’s mattress off the bunk bed, dragging it into an open space so I could clean it.  The mattresses were thin, and would dry after a day in this heat.  The humidity was a problem, but I could put it in direct sunlight.

My phone buzzed, still in the utility compartment upstairs.  My bugs brought it to me.

Charlotte:
I met someone in class.  I think it could be big Eric?

Big trouble?  I contemplated sending a reply, but the next text wasn’t far behind.

Charlotte:
says hes an old classmate of urs.  asking where u are.  loud insistent intense.  wouldnt believe that u werent at school.  sounds like he might want to talk to you.

I didn’t miss the distinction.  ‘u’ meant Taylor.  ‘you’ was Skitter.  If this person was careless enough that Charlotte had caught on… Fuck.

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326 thoughts on “Chrysalis 20.1

  1. Weird to write a chapter that isn’t action packed, after so long.

    Sorry if it’s a touch slow – I’m sort of experimenting with style and trying to make it enough of a recap that people starting on this ‘final book’ after a break could get refreshed on what’s happened, while still delivering new info. Feels iffy, and might be the wrong thing to do with a serial, when breaking from such conventions is one advantage of serials in general. Feedback on whether I hit the mark would be appreciated.

    As usual your votes on Topwebfiction are very much appreciated.

    • Once again, I like.

      It’s nice getting more insight into the workings of Skitter’s gang, and I am impressed/terrified that she’s got bullet ants now. Mostly terrified.

      • I agree completely. It’s good to see how things are going in Skitter’s territory. And I thought this was a good way of leading up to Greg causing trouble.

    • I like it, too. Yes, there’s a fair bit of exposition, but that kind of thing happens when you have a timeskip. You knock it out pretty efficiently, though, and it’s interesting.

      (So not surprising that Tattletale wouldn’t like Thinker-competition in town.)

    • Personally, I didn’t feel like it was slow. For me at least getting hints of what had gone on in the meantime was interesting enough that massive conflict wasn’t necessary.

      Besides, the chapter opened up possibilities to worry about the whole way. Anticipation of the things that might possibly happen works pretty well at keeping my interest at least.

      For what it’s worth, I do what I can to reintroduce situations and characters with each major section of my serial. I do it because it’s always possible that a new reader will start with the current story, and follow the recent updates while simultaneously reading through the archives.

      This happens.

    • It’s not a problem to slow it down and lighten it up a little. It’s not like it’s going to stay that way for long, after all. It’s just nice if this time doesn’t involve holding our breathe until the end.

    • Nothing wrong with going slow for a change. It gives you a chance to gather your thoughts and lay the groundwork for future developments. Doing so will make the fast parts that much more intense and exciting.

    • The poor thugs getting bitten by bullet ants while running for the police station probably won’t agree to the “not action packed’ bit, but for our protagonist this traumatic experience of theirs ranks somehwere between calling for pizza, oranizing garbage removal and airing out a soiled mattress; an ordinary, uneventful, relatively peaceful day so far.

        • One of them has a trigger event, attacks/unmasks, and epically declares they have come for revenge. Cue Skitter,” Who are you?”.

          • Usually, we see that from the one who’s been forgotten point of view. For Skitter to do that, and then to, I assume, crush them in battle, would be simply beautiful.

    • I think the slow pace at this point really helps the story. If anything it might be diving into the thick of things again a bit too fast.

      Keep in mind that because of the time between each update it has been weeks, if not months, since most of us had some chapers that reminded us who these people are exactly and why we care about them. A bit of recap is perfectly appropriate for this point in the story.

    • Honestly, this is… the opposite of FEELING slow. I mean, it is, but it still leaves me wanting more, as always, and it just… FEELS better. Seriously, even with the cliffhanger, this feels almost like being drawn in all over again. Having a situation that builds slowly, maybe with lower stakes than before (unmasking is less bad than Noelle/Echidna, though still a big bad for Taylor) is really nice. It’s like a palate cleanser before the next ridiculous arc of non-stop awesome (assuming this doesn’t turn into that which it totally could I suppose, but the breather is REALLY nice).

      I feel like in the past most of the breathers – of sorts – have come in the form of interludes. Especially recently. Only, they don’t end up feeling like breathers because there IS a bunch of action a lot of the time (important stuff to cover in an interlude) AND they’re not breathers with Skitter, who is our protagonist and therefore the person we know best, more or less. It feels different.

      That said, the Greg and Emma interludes – for all that the latter had a bunch of heavy stuff revealed – were EXCELLENT on that score as well, and really did a good job of setting up a less action-packed arc (short though it may end up being before that changes).

    • I realise all my feedback is months to years late, but… from the perspective of someone who is reading all of this straight through in one shot, I thought this chapter was perfectly reasonable. You didn’t do any major monologing while still managing to remind people about Greg, etc. I thought it was a very well balanced episode, and certainly wasn’t jarring to read or anything.

  2. Way to go, Greg.

    Wildbow, I think this is the first official section of story posted since I picked up reading. Thanks for the awesome story, and I’ll do my best to spread it around as much as possible.

    Pure curiosity, any hints where things go after the ‘final’ book?

    • Yeah. My game plan is something like:

      • Wrap up Worm, sometime this year (probably, but I admit my timing estimates have been way off in the past).

      • Pay an editor to take a serious look at it (a large part of why I’m holding on to the funds I’ve earned from donations).

      • Ensure that all donations are duly rewarded… epilogue chapters, final arc, interludes, whatever, primarily making sure that readers got what they paid for.

      • Post final chapter of Worm.

      • Maintain Tues-Sat schedule after Worm completes, posting a series of story samples of the works I’m considering writing next (have ~5 in mind, and 2-3 sample chapters per story should ensure 1-1.5 months to get things settled).

      • Segue straight into writing next story. Gut instinct says to write something shorter, a palate cleanser, before moving on to the next big work.

      • Use extra time, real life allowing, to fix up Worm and make necessary changes, format it as necessary for ebook, release it as ebook. Ideally some time in 2014.

      • Once second story ends (Should only be 60-120k words) do same thing with sample chapters, maybe making changes as necessary, or adding new stories to the mix. Move on to next epic-length work (a la Worm).

      • Sometime in the middle of -that-, I may get into a kickstarter wherein I’d try to raise money for a Worm sequel.

      • A busy to-do list, but definitely possible. I’m currently trying to proofread my first novel and it’s taken me nearly three months, so if you can do ALL of Worm by 2014, my hat goes off to you. (I’m almost done, by the by)

        Short stories are great to clear the mind for larger works. Flash fiction, even. I’m curious to see what ideas you have in store…?

      • Interesting. Seems like a good plan, and quite mature of you.

        1. Finishing Worm is definitely top priority. Far too many online serial writers just stick with stories until they run out of steam. This has been one of my biggest concerns since I started reading. I would suggest that keeping control of this thing is of utmost importance.

        2. Have you spoken with anyone with experience as a professional writer or with experience in publishing about editing?

        3. I suggest eventually ceasing donations for Worm extensions. Have the donations go towards something else, such as extra chapters of sample works. Given how these have piled up you should probably do this about three months before you end Worm. Otherwise at current rates you’d probably get a couple extra months of bonus arcs at minimum.

        4. As long as it ends in a confusing cliff hanger or a dance party I’m sure I will be happy.

        5. I am looking forward to the sample ideas.

        6. Hm…

        I’m curious what kind of thing you have in mind for a shorter work. One of Worm’s strengths is the richness of the setting. You’ve heavily implied if not stated you’re not going to continue with this setting for a while. What kind of story do you think would play to your strengths but be easier to finish? I believe the original plan for Worm was to have more separate stories in a shared universe, so keeping control of the narrative and not having it extend to Worm size is something you should really work at.

        We know you can literally write novel length works in a couple weeks, so “short” is certainly a relative term, but you should consider what you’re shooting for. Writing a novel length work with a bit more focus on editing and revision before posting might be smart.

        7. What is the plan for pricing of the Worm ebook? As of now, Worm is a gigantic work. Pricing it as much as, say, a paperback seems inappropriate due to the sheer size, pricing it too highly would make a barrier to entry, and Worm doesn’t cut well into smaller chunks.

        8. What is the plan for deciding on the next epic? Will it be based on popular approval like the novel length story, or is it enough of a commitment that you feel you should decide for yourself?

        9. Hm, non real comment on Worm’s sequel. We don’t know enough about what your plan for the ending is to really discuss it yet. Anything from “Undersiders” The Next Generation” to “Rebuilding From Apocalyptic Ruin” to “Guardians of the Multiverse” are all equally plausible as of now.

        • >and Worm doesn’t cut well into smaller chunks.

          I think he should probably take the time to re-write and shift events around enough that he can split it neatly into a few books.

          • To expand on this: the most recent set of arcs that take place over like 1-2 days (working for coil, talking with her dad->coil faking his death, her dad getting injured->escaping coil’s trap->killing coil->the travelers arc->two Echidna arcs) is an example of something that should definitely be moved around a lot. It’s just too much stuff in a row.

            I think everyone who binged through it would agree.

            • I share your feelings on that count.

              I only realized partway through Monarch what I’d set up, and that there wasn’t a reasonable way to space things out or slow them down without breaking continuity. I didn’t think Noelle’s arc would be quite as long as it was, either.

              Lessons learned, stuff to fix down the road, to be sure.

              • Please be careful not to overwork Worm to fit into a more standard story structure. Your work is exciting and fascinating precisely because it breaks out of the standard mold in a number of ways. I’d hate to see that accidentally reduced in revision.

        • 3. I suggest eventually ceasing donations for Worm extensions.
          > You could give readers extra votes on the next project if they donate. $10 per extra vote or something like that. That way I get to bribe you, and you get to see what project the readers think is worth spending money on.

        • It’s good to see a crowd this size here tonight, glorying in the Worm. Turn your faces to the monitor, brothers and sisters, and together we shall praise Wildbow’s name. Can I get a Hallelujah? I said, can I get a hallelujah!?

          Woo, I feel the spirit in here tonight, brothers and sisters. If the spirit so moves you, we could use your help. The Wildbow wishes to see his work edited and published for the masses. We’re gonna be spreadin’ the word far and wide, brothers and sisters!

          So if the spirit moves you, if you feel yourself called by Wildbow to help, we have the offering plates moves up and down the aisles, we accept checks and credit cards as well.

          I believe we have some prayer cards here tonight. Some people have illnesses and they would like that sickness driven from their body with the power of faith. Come on up and let Psycho Gecko lay hands on you.

          *and that’s when the cops show up*

  3. Was sorely disapointed when taylor told her dad she wouldn’t be going to school.. but now looks like she might have to, or maybe wildbow is teasing and greg will be brought to skitter.

    Its almost turned full circle, just a little longer… :)

  4. One, good chapter. It’s nice to see a slower chapter after all the action going on in the last few posts. Two, why Greg? Why you gotta be like that?

  5. New villains and possible rivals. The badass bystander ended up her new number 2, and she has bullet ants. Go forth my terrible brethren. So an Endbringer cult that practices incest, a new analogue to the ABB, and the ambassadors. Plus new heroes guarding the door, and the christian team of superheros. So who is first? My guess is the Teeth.

      • I thought that was obvious. Sierra made it clear how uncomfortable she was working for an infamous villain and simply stopped showing up. I don’t think we have seen the last of her though, since her brother still works for Tattletale.

        • Indeed, while things were so screwed up she could justify it for a little longer but she make it pretty clear she wasn’t going to remain. I find it likely she will show up again though, no character in Worm disappears even if they died.

  6. Dammit Greg!

    This was a nice arc-opening chapter. The was slow-buildup, good little hints of development over the timeskip, and Forrest finally named, so long after his heroic bystander moment. The went to hell and back answering and arguing about all the speculation we made about Taylor going to school. Then it threw such a big curveball at the end that almost invalidated the rest of the buildup.

    Can’t wait to see how Taylor handles this!

  7. Greg is an idiot. He may have been perceptive enough to piece together Taylor’s identity, but that isn’t much proof of sentient intelligence. If he REALLY wants to pick a fight with a girl who MAY have held her own against the Endbringer, the Slaughterhouse Nine, Echidna…

    Seriously, what is with people and their underestimating Skitter? Every single damn time? I mean…I guess I can understand if the full story isn’t released to the general public, but the heroes have done much the same even after being briefed on Skitter’s full history. SHE FOUGHT MANNEQUIN. SHE FACED DOWN LEVIATHAN. SHE CONTROLS A NICE CHUNK OF BROCKTON BAY. I can get that labels and skewed perspectives would make people incapable of seeing Taylor’s good intentions, but good lord, why does everyone insist on underestimating her!?

    • It’s not about picking a fight, I think.

      It’s more that he doesn’t understand why she isn’t back at school, rubbing her new confidence in everyone’s faces, and he’s too damn stupid to realize that he’s outing her as a supervillain to anyone with enough of a brain to put two and two together.

      Now admittedly, we’re talking an American high school here, so that isn’t actually that many people. But it’s still too many, especially given that some of those people are superheros.

      • I get that he’s a teenager, and being such results in an impaired ability to make sound judgements…but after a move like that, I just wonder how this boy manages to remember to BREATHE.

        My frustration goes beyond him, honestly. I just don’t see how Skitter has failed to impress upon people that just because she lacks raw firepower, her ingenuity makes her infinitely dangerous, and thus someone you should think twice before screwing with.

        • Probably has a lot to do with the fact that despite everything she does only partial information about it gets out. Remember Miss Militia was complaining that every time they have to deal with the Undersiders they are always missing key pieces of info. We get to read everything the author lets us. The poor PRT just sees themselves getting their asses kicked or other villains dropping out of the picture, Dragon suits self destructing from talking to her – that sort of thing.

          As for the general public, they haven’t exactly had stable power or access to up to date local news. In this type of disaster zone things are probably still mostly gossip and word of mouth, and clearly a lot of people just can’t believe that the what was it… “gawky bug girl” really IS the biggest bad in town.

        • Greg is a classic engineer. He’s all good intentions and book smarts, but when you ask him to make a common sense judgment about people suddenly he doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together. In real life I am an engineer named Greg, so I feel that I have authority on the subject. ;)

          p.s. Skitter could kill the whole town in a day with ants and mosquitoes. Skitter has serious firepower. The thing is, she has fought literally hundreds of people in the span of a few months and she only killed one person (and that was covered up). So maybe people underestimate her. On the other hand, maybe people just aren’t that threatened by her.

          Honestly would you rather face Skitter or 10 Merchant armed with guns? I’d rather face Skitter, because I could surrender to Skitter.

          • Look at that last interlude. I’m really not feeling the “good intentions” part. He’s a compulsive liar, and a giant baby.

          • Yes, engineers can make quite dubious claims at times regarding woo. I should probably leave that at that.

            To be fair, people are a lot more complicated than other things out there. Ask a lineup of 100 people if pain is bad, you’ll likely get invited back to the house of someone who owns a whip and handcuffs.

            But enough about liontaming cops. Bridges and buildings don’t even own whips! They just sit there, completely uninterested in sex, no matter how much people draw artwork depicting them as sexy girls.

            Oh come on, you KNOW it’s out there somewhere, proving me ever so right.

          • pain is good
            (not a statement of sexual preference but of evolution, no pain no reason to stop before you body gets completly useless/ less inhibitions to hurt others)

        • I honestly don’t get why so many posters think Skitter doesn’t have much raw firepower. Everyone in universe certainly recognizes it, it was confirmed by Miss Militia that she NEVER thought the idea of bug control was a non-dangerous power, no matter what how Skitter thought of her own abilities. The posters on this site are lagging a bit behind the people in verse.

          Now that isn’t to say that people won’t fuck with her anyway because they are dumb or think they can win, but pretty much everyone recognizes that she has plenty of raw power to throw around.

        • I don’t get the impression that people are underestimating her so much as facing something completely different from what they’re used to dealing with. The PRT are used to dealing with certain powersets and can overwhelm others with shear numbers. At the same time, they’re also often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new powers that they have learned to just cut their losses. They spend a lot of time doing patrols instead of training because they’re basically treading water just to stay afloat.

          As for the S9, I think that they had a right to think that they were the big dogs. They’re used to coming out of nearly impossible scenarios and don’t have much sense of self-preservation anyway. Just think: even after Skitter defeated Mannequin, everybody in the S9 seemed to think that this was just a chance to up the ante against some actual opponents. They would’ve won, too, if it weren’t for Skitter catching a few lucky breaks (like the PRT’s bombing run hitting Crawler with something that could actually stop him).

          Do you think that Coil underestimated her? He used subterfuge, traps, and finally an army to take her down. Not to mention his own powers and hired help from other capes.

          Noelle/Echidna was the only one to truly underestimate her when she should have known better, imo. I’m guessing it was a combination of part of her fighting against the rest of herself, battle fatigue, and arrogance that she’d been able to wrest complete control of Skitter’s powers that gave her a moment’s lapse in judgement.

    • Well she does have reputation now, but she has the same problem every big NAME does. There are always new guys who want to bring you down to make a name for themselves. You can combat this by either being so terrible/scary that no one dares to try it or being so powerful that people run from you rather than fight you. Skitter is scary but the Undersiders are known not to kill, so there will always be people thinking they can get away with more, and the Undersiders are not so overwhelming powerful that people instantly run away. I said a few chapters back, but she needs some trophies. Have mannequin’s head hanging from a pole in her territory, or a terrarium full of bugs crawling over symbols of the chosen, the ABB, and the Merchants. Constant reminders for enemies about the danger of underestimating her.

      • I know something worse than death, and like most of those things you can find it in Australia.

        She needs an aquarium tank full of irukandji jellyfish. Either harvest the tentacles or have the jellyfish apply venom to her bugs. Then have the bugs apply the tentacles/venom to people who need to be made into examples.

          • She needs to go for a swim just to see what she can do underwater. She would never reach them but she should be able to control giant squids, maybe plankton, and who knows what else. Things are relatively calm for the moment, so it is time to experiment.

          • And hey, with skitter’s cover almost blown, maybe its time to start fresh and try the hero thing all over again with ocean animal control powers! Go AquaGirl!

          • Before checking wikipedia just now, I wasn’t even sure jellyfish HAD a nervous system. Seriously, even saying “instinct” makes them sound smarter than they are. What little they do is all reflexive. Pulse once in a while. Curl up your tentacle if something touches it. They make cockroaches look like geniuses. Are we sure Skitter can control something THAT simple?

          • she can control crabs, and it said that she thought it was just arthropods, but then found it was anything with a simple nerve system, like worms. (waiting for it to start getting bigger…)

      • Your point only addresses those that are new to the game. There were well established heroes who didn’t seem to think she was that much of a concern. They were focused on Regent because he has the big-bad-scary power…only whose leadership has Regent been following lately?

        I can concede that Skitter being seen as a leader of the Undersiders is a relatively new thing. I just still think her abilities are often overlooked just because she can’t make the city explode with a thought or something…

        • But that can be a good thing for her. Let them underestimate her. Lung, Mannequin, and Echidna did the same thing and it didn’t turn out too well for them.

        • On the topic of the thugs: It’s less that her abilities are unknown/overlooked and more the culture that drives them to push against authority. You’re part of a ‘warrior’ subculture where you prove your worth as a good soldier, going to jail rather than ratting on a fellow gang member, standing up to authority, hurting people who the gang needs to hurt.

          Someone stands up to you, and you’re trapped between a rock and a hard place. Sometimes you might reflexively lash out in reaction to someone telling you what to do (stand down, drop the gun), other times you fight or pick a fight because you know you’ll look like a wuss in front of your friends if you don’t.

          On the topic of Greg: more on that later.

          • That makes alot of sense in some ways, but intelligence has to enter at some point. Granted they aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, but look at what she did to the much larger group of merchants who attacked her people. Unless they all want to win a Darwin award, someone should have spoken up about attacking a less dangerous place. “What a great idea. Lets attack the territory of someone who could probably kill an entire gang of ordinary people without too much trouble.”

            • Right, but how much information is getting around in post-Leviathan Brockton Bay? There’s rumors and hyperbole and lies, misdirections, telephone games, omissions and truths all together.

      • For gaining respect, how about staying closer to earth:

        Establish a local fact that people who lack respect all have crab lice. Make sure everybody knows.

        • Well, she could certainly make sure that everyone so afflicted would know it was her: just have the lice chew “SKITTER WAS HERE” on the insides of their thighs.

          But then again, maybe that would start getting her a different kind of reputation….

          Hg

    • The underestimating makes perfect sense in this case. He’s making the same mistake that Clockblocker and Weld made during the postmortem on her fight with Prism and Triumph: assuming that she kicks ass because she is *strong*, not because she is *smart*.

      • I suppose people would draw this conclusion only because Taylor made it that way. She’s worked very hard to work up her image and her ability to intimidate possible threats. It would make sense that people can’t see it’s really just her being clever and finding innovative ways of using her power to make up for what she lacks in power.

        • The idea that she lacks in power kind of baffles me. A few chapters back when Skitter tried to pass her power off as not really that dangerous seeming Miss Militia immediately called her out on it. She has plenty of raw firepower. That doesn’t change the fact that she is very good at innovating with her power as well.

          • she lacks power in the sense that she’s almost purely anti-infantry. the only people she’s dangerous to are pretty much other humans or creatures with relatively low pain tolerances.

            • she can’t quite do property destruction (barring wooden buildings and a LOT of termites)
            • aside from gumming up intakes or other moving parts, she can’t do anything to powered armors or vehicles (and this usage falls under ‘creative application of limited power’ imo)
            • her damage to leviathan was negligible. which means she’s very nearly useless in endbringer fights (unless smurf is a squishy squishy birdy) sure she could track it, but that was dependent on somebody else tearing a hole in his skin(?) so she could get some bugs inside where they wouldnt be brushed off. she couldnt break his skin herself iirc

            she is a major THREAT, especially to civilian populations. but powerful? no i don’t think so

          • And if most of capes on the planet weren’t infantry that might actually be a valid point. As it is she has a horrendous amount of firepower. Just because she doesn’t attack with lasers doesn’t make her firepower any less legitimate. Someone with the power to murder most people can’t be considered low powered, no matter how much we want her to be the underdog.

          • I think we have different interpretations of ‘raw power’

            To use an in-universe example, we have the capes that are considered ‘Big Guns’. That probably means rank-reputation more than power but let’s assume it’s the latter for a moment. Legend, Eidolon, Alexandria, Scion would all easily be able to kill a base human and a lot of minor capes if they put their minds to it. Depending on how many lasers he can deploy at once, Legend might even to be able to have the sort of widespread effect Skitter does (if you watch anime, think the ending of Bokurano). However, they also have the ability to focus their powers and deal damage to nigh-invulnerable beings like the Endbringers. These are ‘Big Guns’ and what I would classify as ‘raw power’

            What Skitter has is lots and lots of ‘Little Guns’. If she wanted to she could probably rack up a body count than all of the Triumvirate combined. BUT she can’t focus that damage into a singular strike. DeathOfAThousand cuts is the best she could hope for against singular enemies… Or webbing them up.

            Or to put it literally. A Big Gun is a tank shell. Or a bomb. A Little Gun is a handgun. Skitter has lots and lots of handguns at her disposal. Deadly, yes. Raw powerful, no.

            I’m not saying to belittle Skitter. But like you, one of the things I like about this story is that she has the *think* about the most effective way she can use her power. I *want* Skitter to be classed as WeakButSkilled because it’s more interesting than seeing a bruiser punch/blast their way through obstacles.

  8. Interesting…

    Let’s analyze the text.

    says hes an old classmate of yours. asking where u are. loud insistent intense. wouldnt believe that u werent at school. sounds like he might want to talk to you.

    “Yours” seems to mildly conflict with the “u” mentioned. Seems to imply that big Eric is asking for Taylor, but knows her as Skitter. I may be reading too much into the code of course.

    Assuming Eric is actually a classmate of Taylor’s (which is quite ambiguous) than it’s either Shadow Stalker or Greg. Honestly, the “big Eric” thing implies to me that this is a cape or other serious threat. A person who knows who Skitter is would not by itself be critical as long as he can be kept on Skitter’s territory until she shows up.

    So, Shadow Stalker seems like the logical answer, unless it’s a surviving Echidna creation, which might make more sense. Almost certainly an Undersider.

    Of course, there’s far too little information to even guess too much yet. It could be something really weird, like Madison just bought powers that let her realize who Skitter was or Dragon’s come to visit.

  9. So Wildbow, were the bullet ants a thing you had planned for Taylor to obtain during the timeskip, or was that an example of commenters influencing the story?

    In regard to your apprehension over a slower-paced chapter, I found it refreshing. We’ve gotten to see a lot of Taylor being a badass in combat and overcoming adversity lately. It’s nice to see her bothering to go out in civilian mode again.

    Also, very minor nitpick, but isn’t the story set in the USA? Taylor may be more likely to refer to the temperature in Fahrenheit (as ludicrous as our non-zero based temperature scale is).

    • Yeah, it’s interesting. Somebody mentions an Endbringer cult in the RPG discussion thread, suddenly the Fallen are passing themselves off as Endbringer cultists. Not that that’s a bad thing. Little touches like that add flavor and bring the world to life.

      • Well, the cultists were mentioned before… And while people have been asking about bullet ants in the comments for a loooooooong time, I think it is a pretty natural direction for Skitter to go in regardless…

        • I profess I am interested in what other creepy crawlies she can have imported for her. There are some nasty/scary things in the insect world.

          • And, of course, plenty more horrific things among the rest of Kingdom Animalia. Only complex members of Phylums Chordata and Mollusca (and in the case of Mollusca, that’s really just the members of Class Cephalopoda) are likely to be outside her reach. Everything else is fair game.

          • The man who controls the star-nosed moles rules by virtue of owning dry pants.

            What I’m interested in is Tattletale’s assertion that powers can do more than most people think to use them for at the same time she used Labyrinth and Scrub to poke a hole in the universe.

            I’m betting there’s more to Taylor’s powers than even she knows about right now.

      • The Fallen were the subject of an early draft of my superhero writing (centered around a character that happened to be named Imp). They came up while I was discussing other groups in the setting with Gavin Williams, I was thinking of who to inject here, and decided to go with one I’d already fleshed out some.

  10. Just going to start the ball rolling: Fern. Obviously a plant. And not the good kind that’s just looking for some bugs to drop in and give it a hand getting around the neighborhood, but the kind that has its own thing going that’s got nothing to do with giving the insects what they want and need.

    (aside: that had to be on purpose. well-played, wildbow.)

    So, get out your tinfoil, everybody: what’s the little Skitterphobe’s game, and how will Our Fearless Antivillain deal?

  11. …honestly, I should have expected this. You’re wildbow, it’s pretty typical for you to do something like dangling bait and then yanking it away. I wonder if there was any point where you actually did think about sending Taylor to school.

    Something I noticed about the ark titles: Taylor was already a “queen”. So now she’s only just in a “chrysalis”? Hopefully, this means Taylor and the story will really explode next ark.

    My favorite part of the chapter was the conflict Taylor felt over answering the lenience question. It seems like something your typical doing-right-things-in-bad-ways-overboard-evil-stone hearted-overlord vigilante would say, which I find ironic, as it feels more and more like Taylor is being pushed into this role, and…I’m not quite how sure to put it, but this perfectly sums up the current moral and life dilemma of Taylor.

    The only thing to do now is…sleep? No! Of course not! I must go back and obsessively read the mannequin attack to find Forrest.

    • I’m hoping the hypothetical metamorphism is Taylor taking back some of her “normal” life from the supervillain brouhaha and becoming a more balanced person. Figuring out what kind of person she actually wants to be is an arc I’m eagerly expecting.

      Not to mention that the way things are changing there might not be much room for scary viscous warlord Skitter. People aren’t going to be as accepting of coercion by bullet ants and brown recluses now that the city is getting better. Skitter’s going to have to find a new way of doing things, fast.

      • Seeing how things have been going so far, metamorphosis might also mean that thanks to Greg’s big mouth her secret gets outed, she looses the last remnants of her civillian life and becomes a full time supervillain.

    • Could not find the comment again, but I saw someone muse that maybe she’ll have to go back to school, to keep an eye on Greg. I that happened, it would be baiting us, yanking the bait away, then throwing it into our mouths so we choke when we lower out heads in disappointment. Therefore, I agree with whoever said that that will happen.

  12. It is a bit odd to have a rather calm chapter after everything that has happened up till now, But I doubt it’ll stay calm for long.

  13. Gotta say, I hope Jessie is in the bottom bunk, or else I pity the person who is.

    It strikes me as very weird and strange that Taylor would use her power for something as trivial as bringing the toothpaste to her hand, simply because using her power in such an overt way while she’s not in costume could lead to her being found out. If I were her, I would keep an eye out with bugs, but no more.

    Also- “a thousand feet around me”- has her radius gotten a lot bigger? I thought it was like 300 feet or so.

    I wasn’t expecting Greg to be so careless, but I guess that fits with his first appearance in the story. Hopefully this forces Taylor to attend, and hopefully this leads to some interesting conversations with the Wards.

      • When I get around to re-reading, I’ll try and pinpoint exactly where I got that impression about her range. Not sure if I’m making a mistake, or you made one waaaaay back.

      • I had through her ranged bumped up a bit as well. The last time I remember seeing numbers without the relay bugs gave her range as 400 feet in any direction, so increasing to 1000 feet total added about 100 feet each way.

  14. Wait, Haven are an all-Christian team, aren’t they?

    In light of that, the behaviour of the man and his wife who got robbed seems a bit suspicious – Worm has been fairly consistent about the horrible effect of violence on people who aren’t psychologically prepared for it. Their lack of affect in the aftermath (with my conspiracy goggles on) makes me think that they’re already used to it, or perhaps didn’t think that the thugs were any sort of threat to them.
    So, I’m calling it now – they’re the members of Haven who’re getting settled in the city, getting a ground-level view of the situation. I’d go so far as to guess that they’re taking advantage of the thugs to evaluate Skitter, both her powers and her moral character.

    Also, the implied Haven/Fallen dualism demands that one of the Fallen be introduced in this chapter. I’m guessing Fern is actually Valefor, whose Stranger power could explain why Charlotte didn’t get her vetted (and why she needs an extra pair of hands when she seems to have things well in hand on her lonesome).

    • Let’s go to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Internet, aka Wikipedia:

      “In demonology, Valefar is a Duke of Hell.[1] He tempts people to steal and is in charge of a good relationship among thieves. Valefar is considered a good familiar by his associates “till they are caught in the trap”.[2] He commands ten legions of demons.[3]

      He is represented as a lion with the head of a man, or as a lion with the head of a donkey.”

      Ok, we know already he looks like a jackass.

    • I don’t know, the Fallen sound like Lovecraftian cultist. Worshipping entities who don’t actually care about them or for that matter notice them if they are lucky.

      I don’t really get the impression of them having their shit together enough to be behind our little infiltrator. I would rather suspect one of the good guys, Cauldron or perhaps an Ambassador of Accord.

      • Superpowers can cover for a lot of uncollected shit, though. Look at Imp’s infiltration of the Nine’s base, for example.

    • >>In light of that, the behaviour of the man and his wife who got robbed seems a bit suspicious – Worm has been fairly consistent about the horrible effect of violence on people who aren’t psychologically prepared for it

      i personally dont see it being any more sinister than the couple being very principled. trying not to stereotype, but in my experience religious asian families–asian *parents*–tend to be very strict, especially devout ones. asking for leniency for an attacker, especially one who hasn’t done much more than property damage and minor injuries that are easily healed is nothing suspicious at all.

      also add to the fact that skitter *is* very young in their eyes… supervillain or not, you don’t have to be unafraid to be disappointed in someone

  15. Good god, where do they find these shitiots who actually think it’s a good idea to screw around with Skitter’s territory? Piss off the supervillain who fought off Mannequin? Why the hell not?!

    That might be a recurring problem, having to deal with baseline thugs. You have to be rid of them of course, but giving too many people the treatment she gave Sugita and Yan might not be so good in the long run as Brockton get’s back on their feet. At some point people are going to wonder why, if their city has recovered so much, there are still people being mauled by bees and that’ll put more pressure on the authorities to push harder.

    It might be a good idea for the Undersiders to get some cops of PRT on the take, so they have someone to call on to bring in goons when Skitter wants to get them out of the way without being medieval about it.

    They also should really think of recruiting some bottom rung capes, having Skitter handle that sort of stuff herself all the time makes her rule look less stable than it is, and might make her a more appealing target for rivals.

    Anyway, chapter was kind of mellow, but it’s really, really works as a book opener

    • Well it could also give Skitter the appearance of someone who likes to personally take care of things, which might scare the stupider ones off. I mean she did put the fear of god into the merchants who attacked her territory. The cop thing would make things simpler, but how the heck do you find a corrupt cop? Do you just bribe one and hope he takes it?

      • You could probably bring in a minion or mercenary with prior law enforcement experience, falsify his documentation and work records, and have Tattletale bluff a transfer to Brockton.

        You don’t even have to work too hard to keep it a secret from the police and PRT, as long as they have plausible deniability. The authorities will probably be fine with having a sorta-dirty cop or two so they can bring perps in without it being obvious that the villains are doing it for them.

      • I think Tattletale could tell fairly easily if someone is corruptible. Besides it is a give and take sort of thing. Corrupt officials have to advertise too that they are available for the right price. In the real world both sides of these business transactions seem to find each other without trouble all the time, so it can’t be too hard.

  16. Just a random thought I had on titles, for when you compile the whole saga into books: the last book should be called “Imago”.

    First book… “Egg”, maybe? Second book “Nymph”. Assuming you’re going for a trilogy structure.

        • For comparison, at this point in the narrative, Worm is currently around the same length as the first seven books in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and around 3 times the length of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

          Seems like 3 Worm arcs are roughly equivalent to a larger fantasy novel.

          And there’s more Worm to come past this point…

    • Even with judicious editing (which I’m not entirely sure I’d want to see) no way Worm is gonna fit into a trilogy. I believe Wildbow said he hit a million words a fair way back so, by the time Worm is actually finished, I’d say we’re looking at around a dozen books.

      Of course, given the subject matter, he may want to go the Young Adult route (and a lot more adults are reading YA nowadays), on which case it’d probably be 20+ books – roughly one per chapter…

  17. Hey Wildbow. Small question.

    “Three kids, no older than fifteen, younger than twenty-five”

    What’s that supposed to mean? No older than fifteen, no younger than twenty five? Or am I just missing something?

  18. >says hes an old classmate of yours. asking where u are.

    Should this be “old classmate of urs”? Makes a HUGE difference if it is.

    • I get the sense that “people skills” was more her mom’s side of the parenting equation, and her dad hasn’t figured out how to handle the effects the past year or so have had on Taylor yet. Especially since he (we think) still doesn’t know that she’s a supervillain.

      • He works with people a lot with his union job, so he has to have people skills. Maybe in the process of trying to protect his daughter from his anger, he’s also held back on some of that firmness that is in part derived from that anger.

        Alternatively, he knows she’s independent now. He failed to help her as much as she needed when she was living with him and part of her way of dealing with it meant she left. She only sticks around now and gives him any authority over her because she lets him, even after the city has gone to shit. There’s got to be some guilt in there and just not being sure how to deal with the independent person Taylor has become in a very short amount of time.

    • She is 17 now. Her father reminded her that her birthday occured during the Slaughterhouse campaign. Seventeen really does put her at the age that you can be reasonably called an adult, so long as you actually have your shit together. Someting that is admittedly pretty rare among seventeen year olds, but it still applies in this situation.

    • Maybe he subscribes to the doctrine that you shouldn’t give any orders that you know won’t be obeyed. He seems to realize that he can’t really ‘make’ her do anything at this point and takes what he can get. All he would have to gain from trying to enforce authority not backed up by anything at this point is a loss of face and the destruction of the relationship with his daughter.

      He realizes that she is financially independent of him and could move out if she wanted to, the authorities have better things to do then deal with a runaway teenager and trying to use physical force is an obviously bad idea. The only thing making her obey him at this point is her love and he doesn’t feel like putting that to too big a test. If he forces her to choose between him and her own ‘stuff’, he might not like the result.

      His approach perhaps betrays a bit of insecurity but is likely the smartest way he could handle these things.

    • I don’t think we can lay this one at the feet of ‘hands-off parenting’, Taylor was shown to be happy and well-adjusted pretty much right up until Emma did her heel turn. At which point she went out of her way to hide everything that was going on from her dad, making it impossible for him to deal with. All he saw was her changing, withdrawing.. but as a teenager a certain amount of change and minor rebellion is normal. Wasn’t until the shit hit the fan that he realized what was going on.. and he flubbed it, hard, but it wasn’t out of malice or laziness.

      If there’s a classic ‘hands-off parent’ in this story, it’s Alan. He’d rather spend money on Emma than time with her any day of the week, leastways that was the vibe I got. And when Emma’s moderately vile conduct starts coming out, he’s quick to resort to threats and coercion to bury it. I’d wager he didn’t give two fat fucks about the bullying, whether it was bad for Taylor or Emma, he just didn’t want his reputation and career muddied.

  19. Don’t have significant feedback since I stayed up all night to read this, but I thought I’d toss out that the slower chapters (usually attributed to world-building) aren’t too bad in my eyes. Anyone can write a compelling fight scene; it takes something special to have an equally (if not moreso) entertaining exposition-heavy chapter. Well done. Looking forward to more on the Ambassadors, in particular.

  20. Nice. Things seem to be going well so far. The contrast between relatively duitiful daughter, scary supervillain and girl who takes care of the results of bedwetting is rather telling. Hopefully at least Taylor knows who she really is. With Charlotte she seems to have someone to sow her real face to at least.

    The new girl Charlotte brought in is probably a mole.

    Thanks to Gregs big mouth Taylor will have a reason to go to school, even if it interfers with her business. Going by the map, the school should be close enough that she could still maintain a decoy bug clone in the edge of her territory. (Shame about these relay bugs, they would be usefull here.)

    If she does end up going to school regularly, I hope she won’t sacrifice her evenings with her father to make up for lost time in her territory.

    It seems the local wards have been restocked with fresh meat for the grinder to make up for recent losses and they will likely go to the same school as Taylor should now go to deal with Greg. Hopefully Clockblocker will have gotten a promotion to team leader for his troubles. It would be fun to see Taylor interacting with her ‘friend’ Denis.

    A confontation between Accord and Skitter would be interesting. What will a guy obsessed with order think of a girl surrounded by a chaotic everchanging cloud of flying and crawling bugs? Maybe they can compare tips and talk shop about handcrafting costumes.

    • I really don’t think Taylor is going to start going to school to deal with Greg. Charlotte’s recommendation was showing up as Skitter and scaring the shit out of him. Taylor just went over all the reasons she isn’t going back to school, and she is a resourceful girl that should be able to find a solution that doesn’t go against all those good reasons.

        • Restraint isn’t in Bitch’s vocabulary. He does know who she is, but Taylor doesn’t want him to be maimed. I do. Just because he is an annoying jackass. I’m not vindictive though, maybe just break an arm…or two.

          • I don’t know why people keep saying that. Bitch can go over the top, but she can also definitely rein it in when she wants to (or when she knows it’s important to).

            Remember when she terrorised that child as a lesson to its mother about letting your kids play with strange dogs? She applied *exactly* the right amount of force. Enough to make her point and scare them, but not so much that anyone got hurt.

    • Maybe he (Accord) would think that she’s bring order out of chaos? After all, it’s not every day that you see a vast swarm of bugs composed of many species acting in perfect unison. Although a conversation about crafting issues could be hilarious. So mundane.

    • Accord and Skitter should get along fine. Skitter took control of a chaotic city and built an orderly community. She can also make her bugs do formation flying.

      It’s too bad the relay bugs died, but maybe they can get a tinker to make some relays. Leet’s famine engine hints that it might be possible. Skitter would be able to extend her control over the entire city.

      And who knows what kind of bugs await on the other side of the portal.

    • It’s mostly because I think the guy is a murdering pseudo-fascist fuckstick. But I can’t wait for Skitter to shove a wad of Japanese hornets up Accord’s ass.

      He’s about to enter the shit-tornado to Oz.

  21. “The attackers were leftovers from the Chosen,” Forrest explained. “I’m not even sure they were full members.”

    “Like the crusty bits stuck at the bottom no one wants. Is the family okay?”

    “They’re okay. Scared, they lost a few possessions, dog was sodomized, but what do you expect?”

    “The little things matter most when you have the least,” I said.

    “Word, my skitta.”

    I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not, and I couldn’t see his face without glancing over my shoulder, so I didn’t say anything.

    The cells were hidden in one building, much like my base was. A few of the O’Dalys were lingering at the front. They stood at attention as I approached. The closest thing I had to foot soldiers. Someone had given them Beefeater costumes. They looked quite snappy.

    A Japanese couple stood nearby as well. The man had a bandage across his nose, blood crusted around his nostrils. Bruises stood out on both of them.

    I walked past them to step inside, and looked at my prisoners. Three kids, no younger than fifteen, nor older than twenty-five. They wore so much face paint I couldn’t make a good guess beyond that save that they were high as a mother from huffing.

    My soldiers and the couple had followed me inside.

    “You came for revenge?” I asked.

    “N-no,” the man said. “I came to ask for leniency.”

    “Fuck you, faggy ass fagass with a fag and an ass!” one of the people in the cell shouted.

    “Really?” I asked.

    “Yes, really.”

    “They hurt you.”

    “Out of ignorance,” he said.

    “You’re ignorant, assfaggot!”

    “They needed towels,” he said.

    “You’re a towel, assy assy fag fag, with an ass on your fag!”

    “My wife and I consider ourselves good Christians,” the man said. “He would want us to show mercy, to turn the other cheek. Then, when he’s not paying attention, we burn him forever while we wear dresses and giant hats.”

    “Why don’t you spread those cheeks and get fucked, faggot!? Mmm, I’d love to fuck a Japanese guy in the ass. Um, I mean, go smoke a fag or something, ass!”

    “Quiet,” I said. A handful of bugs flowed into the cell, the boy opened his mouth to retort and choked on a fly. Open your mouth when bugs are flying at you. There’s a line where ignorance ends and stupidity begins. To the man, I said, “You’re tying my hands here. I can’t let them leave unscathed. It would send the wrong message, and that would do everyone in this territory a disservice. You, me, them, everyone else. People need to know they’re safe, especially after everything that’s happened.”

    “The police can take care of them. Call it a citizen’s arrest. We won’t mention your name. ”

    “And if they go free? If the police decide there’s not enough evidence, or the officers are too busy to give your case their full attention, and these three get to go on and hurt others?”

    “If that’s the cost of having a system that otherwise works.”

    “So the cost of having a system that works, is to have it not work?”

    “The police act in mysterious ways.”

    I glanced at the three thugs, and my bugs flowed over them. Silk was threaded in strategic locations, and bugs deposited where they wouldn’t be able to reach.

    “Open the cells,” I said.

    I could see the fear on the faces of the couple as they backed away. Forrest pulled the switch, bidding the three iron-barred doors along the hallway to slide open.

    One of the thugs glared sullenly at me, but he was smart enough to not mouth off.

    “There’s a small police office nearby,” I said. “You three can head down Shale avenue, stop one block short of Lord street, and turn left. It’s a tent, and there’s two officers and a police car there. They’ll take you into custody.”

    They looked confused. Then I got an idea, “Ass, titties, ass and titties. Ass and titties, and big booty bitches.”

    “” a second guy said. What others heard was “Motherfucker gonna get fuckin’ like a mother in this bitch.”

    “You dealin’ with a thug that’s quick to kick the diamond Roly. Don’t pay attention to these boyfriends ‘cause I leave ‘em holy.”

    “” the first one smiled.

    “Them boys fake magnets I done put they girl up in my rover.” I said. My bugs cut the silk threads binding them to the bars. If they’d lunged or tried to attack us, they would have fallen short, possibly choking or tripping.

    “Seriously?” Forrest asked.

    “Cool shit ass fag, ass motherfucker fag cum bitch,” the lead thug commented. The translation was too dirt to think about. He gave Forrest the finger as he headed out the door. Forrest moved as if he was going to hit the punk, and the thug flinched, but there was no follow through.

    They bolted the second they were out of sight of the O’Dalys who were stationed at the front of my miniature jail.

    I commanded the bugs I’d planted on the three thugs to bite, then gestured for the contingent of people around me to follow me.

    All three boys were still lying on the ground, writhing, hands between their legs when we arrived. One was screaming as though he’d been jabbed with a hot poker. Another was arching his back, as though his ribcage was trying to force its way free.

    “What did you do?” Forrest asked, in mixed horror and awe.

    The third thug’s screaming joined his friend’s.

    “Bullet ants,” I said. “Their bites top the scale in terms of sheer pain caused. The ants themselves are small enough to perch on a penny, but people have compared their bites to being shot. Thus the name. They tried to run. Forrest. Run. Bitches try to play, bitches be prepared to get played”

  22. “I met someone in class. I think it could be big Eric?”
    i actually thought the eric was emma for a moment before i read the next line, assuming char remembers emma was part of the group that shoved taylor into the locker. she might have also seen that as a problem. ‘your old bully is looking for you’
    alas, it’s a curious boy with no filter on his mouth. it makes me wonder just how circumspect he was being. at this point i wouldn’t be surprised if he was literally running door to door in the classes, “what? skitter’s not here?! dang! i used to go to school with her, where is she?!”

    also i don’t know why, but i always assumed sierra would be the one to stick around and charlotte would be the uncomfortable one who jumped ship. sierra just seemed a bit more confident, as opposed to char who was very…. twitchy when was rescued.
    i guess the rescue had more of an effect than i thought.

    is this the first time taylor’s actually–*actively*–tried to gauge the level of her multitasking abilities? i know at the very beginning she commented on it (during the spider-sewing), and during that multi-arc day-of-hell she had some inklings of it (‘i could now tell where people were within X-range’), but afaik this is the first time she’s consciously tried to see how far/precise her detection is.

  23. Long time lurker here. Don’t normally like to comment, but that cliffhanger was so perfect, I just couldn’t take it. I was completely ready to believe that she’d just not go to the school and that last chapter was just a big bait-and-switch, AND THEN THAT HAPPENS!

    Seriously, I don’t know what kinda dark sorcery you’re using, but I have yet to be disappointed by anything (official) that you’ve put out here. You might as well have emptied a full tackle-box on me for all the hooks I have to this story. Thanks so much for the amazing read and please please please keep it up!

  24. Man, hell of a thing to realize your daughter doesn’t trust you anymore. That she’s sticking around from filial piety and maybe fear of losing her only remaining family, not because she really wants to live in your house. But Danny wrote that check back when he chose to bare his neck to Alan rather than stand up.

  25. Huh, guess that was the post button.

    Greg’s kinda cracking me up. I feel bad, but.. damn is that sort of dude annoying, and I suspect any attempt to softball him will fail hilariously. He strikes me as being sufficiently poorly socialized that he’s incapable of sustaining even the most simplistic deception. Making him an informant or even just sharing some of the ‘straight dope’ over lunch (like he’d know it from BS) could be low impact ways to neutralize him.. but dollars to donuts he’d sabotage them horribly.

    Though ya never know, proximity to parahumans is likely a big influence on triggering (so said Piggot, and there’s corroborating evidence). But man, if I had to choose between the two for a parahuman pickup, I’d take the musician/stoner dude any day of the week. Sure you’d have to schedule around his gigs a bit, but you’d be able to trust him to keep his mouth shut.

    Two strikes for Charlotte now on the ‘bare essentials of security’ front. We knew from the start, when she ran her mouth at Taylor, that she had poor judgement. But blowing security on a ‘spur of the moment thing’, well.. I guess she really is a henchwoman, with all that entails. Heh. Maybe Sierra was just too good for henching.

    Hmm.. two questions I’ve had banging around: Was the name Alec by any chance chosen with A Clockwork Orange in mind? And, how do you feel about fanfiction, of your works or otherwise?

    • Are those two thoughts connected? A Clockwork Worm?

      That last question has come up a few times. I am ok with fanfiction, so long as it’s explicit that it is such, and that you’re laying no claim to the characters.

      I’m really quite worried about shooting myself in the foot, as far as taking all the work I’ve put in (easily a thousand or thousands of hours) and making some off-the-cuff call that I end up regretting. It’s very easy for an author to give away their rights to a work, and there’s ugly stories out there about web authors who found out that the ebook version they’d circulated to loyal readers had wound up on the market with a different name and a supposed different author.

      Not that such is wholly avoidable, given how people could simply copy-paste the text and format it, but I’d rather not subject myself to that.

      So yeah. I’d like to see what happens in terms of fanfiction, but I’d just ask you to be clear, if it’s no trouble.

      • An admirable policy, especially considering the number of web fiction stories ive found through friends posting fan fic they wrote, and following it back to the original. May I suggest you put that in a Page on the wordpress? or under the about, labeled, Fan Fiction Policy? Something along the lines of allowed, but only for non commercial personal use, you make no claim to owning the characters, and any fan fiction states that it is fan fiction of Worm, by Wildbow, and include a link back to the webpage?

      • A Clockwork Worm? Sounds like an alternate universe where Jack recruited Skitter instead of Oni Lee. But nah, saw it on the shelf while I was reading and thought “wonder if Regent picked the name with that in mind, like, as a sort of subtle middle finger to the world, something along the lines of ‘thanks awfully for leaving dear old dad alone for the last thirteen years, wouldn’t have been the same without him.'”

        Fanfic wise, dunno that I’d ever make the time to actually put pen to paper, but figured since you’re here I oughta at least ask. It’s fun to imagine dialog from characters I wish got more screen time (Alexandria), even when it’s a little on the improbable or absurd side. But writing is a lot of work for me compared to the payoff I feel I get. If I ever do, I’ll of course give credit and disclaim ownership.

      • I’s suggest just having a single short story/epilogue/interlude story that is only included in the ebook. Not only is it copyright protection, but it’s a good way to encourage fans of the online story to actually pay money for it.

      • Wildbow,

        you’ve said how you feel about fanfiction on existing chars, but what about ones based on the world(s) you’ve created?

        for example: i’ve had this character idea bouncing around in my head since highschool, but i could never work out a plot or setting to make it work so it’s been sitting locked in my head ever since. now that i’ve read worm, i’ve been toying with the idea of throwing my char in as a cape but distinct from the ‘events’ that are currently going on. if i were to do anything with it, it’d be in a different area (say, west coast since i assume brockton bay is east) or even during a different time period. it’s still a rough idea and i don’t even know if i’d go through with it (i’ve had similar notions over the years as i expand my reading into different fandoms so most likely nothing will come of it)

        another question (possibly related): do you ever have a plan to do a sort of comments/forums-contest for character cameos? have the community think of a few capes/powers and toss them in the next time you need some sort of mass-gathering like the endbringer fights, to kill off as you please.

        • The setting is as big a part of the Wormverse as the characters. One could argue that Worm is a setting-driven story (as some stories are character-, plot- or maguffin-driven), but either way, my feelings on fanfiction stand in that respect: yes, it’s ok, but I’d definitely expect attribution and acknowledgement that you lay no claim whatsoever to it, and I’d want to have a thorough one on one talk with you well before you did anything commercial. In brief: good manners for fanfiction writing anyways.

          Drive for character cameos – it’s tricky, because there’s some powers that people would brainstorm up that just wouldn’t work. Ditto for cape names/concepts. The why and how of this has already been stated/hinted, but it could be easily overlooked, and that just creates an ugly situation where someone says, “Oh, I have this idea!” and I say, “No, it wouldn’t fit the setting and/or the rules I’ve established for writing in the setting, and I can’t/won’t explain why.” This is because I’m not keen on spoiling anything, and there’s certain standards/vetting processes I have that I go through when introducing a new character.

          It also, and this ties into a bit I stated above, opens up ugly possibilities for screwing with my rights as an author. If someone makes a suggestion and it gets included, and I then decide to expand on it later, or I make a profit, theoretically, an individual could then say “I own that idea!” and take a share of any proceeds. Which has happened to others in other circumstances. (This is why I won’t explicitly take ideas from the comments section).

          • personally, if it’s in a comments section, it should be considered public domain. I know I consider any ideas I send out in the world to be free floating seeds, and hope they take root somewhere.

  26. Chrysalis – I just stopped dead at that. Because what emerges from a Chrysalis?

    Butterflies!

    …I’m almost certainly going to be horribly disappointed, but it feels like really… Taylor has faced the worst the world can throw at her. From here it’s either
    a) DBZ it up and invent ever-scarier threats that becoming increasingly silly
    b) Tonal shift (c’mon girl… claw your way to ‘beloved’… you can do it..)
    c) Wildbow blows. my. mind. with yet another thing I didn’t see coming.

    I’m holding out hope that Greg is the straw on the camel’s back and Taylor DOES go back to school… I’d really like to see that. :)

    • He doesn’t really need to DBZ it up. She isn’t superman. As mentioned up she isn’t great against power armor, extremely tough capes, or area of effect attacks like fire. She isn’t invulnerable so she only has to make one mistake for something bad to happen. Flechette could have killed her had she gone for lethal force.

  27. Aaaaaand relax. God, really, after three S-class situations in short succession having a chapter or two of slice-of-life with Taylor and Skitter just dealing with the process of Getting Shit Done is well appreciated. Man are those kids in her territory going to have some weird childhood memories, “Hey Bobby, remember when the warlord of the boardwalk bought us pizza for doing our homework on time?” There’s a generation that’s not going to have a binary view of the hero/villain thing. Naturally the candy is going to be Skittles. XD

    • Yes pretty funny especially when you consider that spending time with parahumans increases your chance of potentially being one so you will have children growing up with that view of the world and with greater chances of having a trigger event.

    • three S-class situations? (9, noel, Leviatan [worse than a S-class-->not one?])
      or did i forget someone/ mix something up?

        • Yep, just think of it. Siberian someone who could take all the Triumvirate together and not only come out on top but do it unscathed is only A-Class. S-Class is way beyond fucked up.

  28. Love the writing. You could add locusts, fire ants & those mean Afrincan ants & bees. This story was nicely done .
    Thank you for sharing your work.

    • Skitter’s mentioned in the story that a lot of the more dangerous bugs couldn’t survive her city’s climate. Too cold, too dry, and so on.

  29. Greg, Greg, Greg…..you poor fool. You’re asking for pain unending. Looks like Taylor might have to go to school now. I suspect Greg will give some kind of ultimatum. Like ‘Come to school and -insert demand here- or i’ll tell the who city who Skitter really is.’

    I loved this chapter, half expected an S-Class to pop up and nom some poor soul. I see Taylor didn’t even see Emma as worth talking about. The next update is going to be on Saturday, right?

  30. I’ve been stung by a bullet ant, and I’ve been shot. I am forced to admit that if forced I would choose the ant, because it hurts for a lot less time, but the bullet hurts less in the moment. It is amazing how a drop of formic acid and some enzymes can do you worse than a goddamn hole punched through you by a lump of red-hot poison, but I guess that’s how nature rolls.

    That said, I am loving this change of pace. Which isn’t *really* a change of pace, so much as one of focus. Well shifted, o gearmaster.

  31. I didn’t mention this last chapter when I meant to, so I thought I’d mention it here. Young Taylor was so cute! It’s so telling when you compare how she used to be and how she is now. I was in tears, thinking about how that bright smile has dimmed into its current grim line. She’s still awkward, but that’s because she just can’t spare the time to give anything her full attention. It’s sad that that sort of thing is necessary.

    This chapter marks a subtle turning point in Skitter’s attitude toward violence, too. She never gave the thugs any warning or threats. She’s never done that before. I think that she’s laying the framework so that she will be obeyed without question in the future (unless she knows you personally).

  32. Somewhat arbitrarily, here are my thoughts on Fern.

    She could be Char’s gf or crush, a mole for the PRT or a villian group, Greg’s little sister playing detective, a hired agent (e.g. to install an electronic bug,) a Stranger new to town, a conflicted fangirl or stalker, or maybe just foreshadowing of security problems down the road.

    I love ambiguity. Thank you wildbow.

  33. I don’t see why everyone’s so sure Greg’s being un-careful about this, there hasn’t been anything to suggest as much. I mean, he picked Charlotte to ask, who is both a former semi-sympathetic classmate of Taylor’s and by now known as a henchman of Skitter’s, to the “in the know” online community at least. As another semi-sympathetic classmate it wouldn’t be too suspicious to talk to her about Taylor, and if he wanted to hint he knew about Skitter she’d also be a pretty safe choice. I’m more worried Charlotte’s reaction gave something away than Greg’s hinting did.

    As for Fern… well, we all know Charlotte’s capable of being kind but clueless without accidentally inviting a spy (or at least none of the kids have turned out to be spies yet). I support the WagTheDog theory. It would be rather odd for Bitch to start accepting henchmen no questions asked, assuming she’s still attempting to drive off the ones she has, and it would fit with the spur of the moment comment.

    • just to clarify, I’m not saying Greg’s being smart about this, I’m saying it’s just as likely he’s living out his spy fantasies as it is he’s having a fangirl moment

      • Because she was being bullied. No matter how ‘sympathetic’ people may seem when not involved most if it came right down to it would join the bullying. Considering it wasn’t even a full school day* there is no way he could know if all the bullies are there AND if the atmosphere isn’t one that could lead to such problems therefore the logical conclusion is that he went to people randomly so pretty much everyone in the class now has Taylor on their heads. All it takes is a single person thinking on it or just mentioning to someone who will and considering we are in the school for all wards and it was shown this chapter a lot of heroes from out of town are in town now…

        Yes as much as I hate to think of it I can’t really see Taylor not having her civilian identity pretty much gone by this.

        *hell I think it wasn’t even one hour which begs the question of why he brought it up so much, since he knows she is Skitter certainly he should realize she also has other things to do so she could be late or not come for the first

        • …totally missed my point man. What I’m saying is, while Greg may be stupid, he’s also a cape geek, and an extreme one at that, so he almost definitely knows Charlotte’s Skitter’s henchman. Sooo, it’s just as likely he sought Charlotte out specifically when he saw her as it is he went around loudly talking about Taylor.

          Though I agree there’s very little chance her id’s staying secret. I honestly don’t see it mattering too much though, it’s not like she’s a governor or head of the Protectorate, and Dragon/clock already know her face.

  34. Delightful start to the chapter, and in no way did that feel slow. Each moment was important and illuminating in its own way, so there was never a sense that what I was reading was a waste of time or just filling in words to space the important stuff apart.

    Taylor and her father, Taylor and Charlotte, Taylor and the thugs? Those are all important since they’re effectively “How’s Taylor handling the relationship that’s (arguably) the most important to her”, “How’s Taylor handling the people that she’s taken responsibility for” and “How’s Taylor handling defending her territory”.

    Maybe some of those could have been guessed – Taylor’s always been good to Charlotte and the people she’s taken responsibility for, but it’s still important to see that continuing as we did here. Similarly it’s important to see that she still handled the thugs with restraint. Despite battling nearly constantly with monsters she hasn’t become one.

    • I was actually thinking the opposite in regards to the thugs. Used to be, Skitter would give a warning before doing something like that. This time she just let them go with no reason to think that they couldn’t just walk away, and then hit them with debilitating pain when they diverged from her will. I was expecting a warning written out in bugs if they didn’t do what she wanted, or even a swarm appearing and harassing them a little bit. Going straight from “Wave them out the door” to bullet ants seemed like a very sudden and violent jump. Considering that her usual strategy used to be threats with no actual harm done (even to the people who turned traitor on her and were holding Sierra and Charlotte at gunpoint), I think this is looking like she’s well on the downward spiral to becoming the sort of monster she fights, or at least a worse sort of person than she used to be.

      • I agree. She could have put insects out in the open on their hands and told them that she would be watching. Hell, it probably would even have had the same effect — except that the trigger for being bit would be them throwing away the tracking insects instead of them simply bolting. What she did was intentionally play up her violent image in the same way she did with Barker.

        • Except those people should be completely and fully aware of her powers. If they are stupid enough to still run for it then they are stupid enough to do it regardless of what she did.

          Plus from their short mention and dialogue I am not sure we can qualify those criminals as ‘people’ in the first place so another point in her favor…

          That said I do agree she could have scared them first and then if they did it again have the ants bite them.

          • I fully concede that they *should* be aware, but the couple’s whole reason for wanting them to go to jail rather than be punished by Skitter was that they considered them simply the victims of ignorance. To give them an explicit warning would be a way of emphasizing that there was a rational process in action, not simply Skitter’s whim – especially since they weren’t disobedient until they left everyone’s line of sight.

          • Compliance by threat of violence is no different from violence itself to say otherwise is to get into a very slippery slope. To merely imply it is already bad enough but in this situation still somewhat necessary(city is recovering and that sets the tone that the city will have) but going further than that? That would be a downward spiral that looked more like a straight fall.

          • I would disagree with you there. Extensively. That is how every police force in the world works–the words “Put down the gun” is generally backed up by officers with firearms of their own. Compliance by threat of violence is what makes the world work in a very high number of situations, and it is always better than actual violence because no violence occurs.

          • And yet you completely ignore all the situations where it doesn’t, milleniums of such and even today a majority of the world still has plenty of problems associated. Just because something is the only way we worked it out so far doesn’t mean it is good or not a problem.

            The reason is simple you see, a threat only really works for every day situations if you are willing to go through it because sooner or later someone is going to call you on it and then the question becomes how far exactly do you go before it is too much. Criminals assaulting a bank? Dead. Kidnapper? Dead. Terrorists? Dead. An entire group dedicated to something you object. All dead. And say a country that wants to have nuclear bombs and is likely to use it? Just kill them all. Where does it stop exactly, one, dozen, thousands, millions?

            Because it exists otherwise you wouldn’t hear serious people in positions of power talking about actually invading Iran, NK or similar in this day and age.

          • I think this is a situation where we’re not going to agree. The threat of violence is meaningless if it is hollow, but Skitter has gone from “terrify them in order not to injure them” circa the bank robbery to “injure them in order to terrify them” now. There’s a good reason that Danny wouldn’t tell anyone in the union to seek work from Skitter.

          • I have to side with the argument that distinguishes between the threat of violence vs. it’s actuality here, despite believing that Skitter’s actions show her to be restrained and reasonable still.

            We communicate in a lot of ways and on a lot of levels. Skitters use of force against the thugs was inherently different than the sort of lethal force a monster would have used. She could have ripped open their jugulars or pumped them full of poison and left them to rot on her gates. She could do that to innocents in order to make it clear that her word is law. That’s the kind of thing a monster would do.

            Instead she used just enough force to communicate in a way the thugs would listen to and understand that what they had done was outside the acceptable boundaries of behavior. Furthermore, she communicated this to them without causing them any lasting injury.

            Ask yourself this, if the thugs had communicated any sort of understanding that they knew what they had done was wrong, if they’d shown any sort of regret for their actions, do you think Skitter would have Bullet Ant’d them? If you do, then we’re getting very different things out this story.

          • As far as we are aware, no verbal warning she could have given would have made them obey her instructions … but we have no way of knowing for sure, because she *gave* them no verbal warning.

            Look, I’m pretty sure if this were D&D, my alignment would be Lawful and Skitter’s would be Chaotic, and I expect that difference explains why I’m bothered about her treatment of the thugs.

          • As far as verbal warnings go…the supervillain in charge of the territory just told them to go turn themselves in. They didn’t want to do that and something painful happened to them.

            Perhaps she considered it pretty obvious that there are consequences to messing with people in a supervillain’s claimed territory. At the very least, they would have been expected to inform her people of their presence and get her go ahead.

            And I don’t hold that compliance by threat of violence is just as bad as violence. Is running a stop sign and getting into a wreck the equivalent of stopping because a big red sign says “Stop”? Because if you think about it, it’s saying “Stop, driver of a fast moving mechanical contraption, lest you find yourself injured by automobiles.”

            And there’s something as big as the Cold War, in which peace was maintained because the violence threatened was enough to kill off both sides. I consider that threat of violence much better than if the violence itself had actually occurred.

            Pretty much any action that society deems as wrong has a threat of violence implicit in it. Either someone will try to stop you forcibly, or some action will be taken to separate you from society. And as humans are social creatures, being isolated away from the rest of the troop is not a good survival strategy. Essentially, an updated version of “You better share the food and stop being a dick or we’ll kick you out and let the lions eat you.”

          • When PG starts talking seriously it’s enough to make me take notice.

            That said, I think we’ve gotten a bit off topic from what I see as Adam’s main point. Whether it would be effective or not, in the past Skitter would be upfront about her threats. She would go *overboard* with her threats in the hopes of scaring off the opposition so she wouldn’t even have to carry it out, or it would turn out she was bluffing in a way that wouldn’t become obvious for quite some time. (threatening the ex-ABB minions with wandering brown spider bites and simply hitting them with ‘normal’ bites)

            Now she didn’t even state her threat. It may have been implied but I think we can agree these kids weren’t the type to understand subtlety. I think this, more than anything else, this does show her decline along the slippery slope of villainy.

      • I’m of two minds. On the one hand, going straight to ants whose bite leaves you in torturous pain for *24 HOURS* seems major overkill. She could’ve started with an insect that inflicted immediate, but not lasting, pain.

        On the other hand, it also seems like judicious application of the Ender Wiggin approach: exercise just enough force to end not just this fight but any that would have followed. She didn’t inflict any lasting damage and, once word gets out that challenging Skitter gets you writhing in pain for a day, lots of threats will think twice before escalating to violence.

  35. The expository nature of the narrative in this chapter in particular makes me think that come editing-for-print-release time, you might consider altering things to a journal format, or at least a ‘this is being told as a story to you’ format, rather than ‘you’re reading it as it happens’.

    If that makes any sense at all.

  36. I’m adding my thanks for a more sedate chapter. It’s nice to feel the lack of the World on Taylor’s shoulders.

    Good stuff. Nice moral debate, too.

  37. Nice, I was hoping that Taylor would up her arsenal (although I’m not sure how long those bullet ants will last in the northeast. I was hoping for tarantula hawks).

  38. I think a bit of a slower pace would be good for a short while. So many ridiculously intense things happened back to back to back that it’s only natural that the plot slows down temporarily and the consequences are thoroughly explored.

  39. Gotta ask, why is the undersiders taking over such a big deal? From a couple of interludes it seems like super villains having significant control over a town is basically the norm in some areas.

    • Having competing gangs of supervillains vying for territory in a town isn’t unusual. Having a single gang as the acknowledged ruler of an entire city — even a small town like Brockton Bay — is essentially unheard of. I’m pretty sure Al Capone at his peak didn’t have the kind of command over Chicago that the Undersiders have over Brockton Bay.

  40. I’m kinda sad we didn’t see how the meeting between Emma and Taylor went. It seems like it could be a pretty big event for both of them, depending on what happened. Here’s hoping it happens in a later chapter.

    • I believe the ‘meeting’ in Interlude 19 was just what we saw: Emma’s dad driving past the house without stopping and Emma looking out the window. And while it might have been nice to see Taylor’s reaction to seeing Emma in a car driving by, there’s no place in this chapter it would really fit.

      (If it makes you feel better, it’s possible that Taylor wasn’t sure that was Emma. The description isn’t super clear.)

  41. I’m quite surprised Taylor’s identity isn’t out already, she’s been in so many fights where her mask or bugs were unavailable to cover her, I guess she’s relying on the kindness of other capes to not reveal. I really really think she should tell her Dad so he doesn’t find out another way, but I still don’t think anyone who doesn’t know Skitter could work it out. Tracking the rise of Skitter with the disappearance of Taylor from school and going with them both being girls with black hair (when is she going to fix her mask/helmet anyway) is a real stretch in my opinion. I’m really not confident someone would find out, I’d usually suggest someone follows her home but Taylor is in a unique position to be constantly aware of people.

  42. Whew! I’m glad things have taken a more “emotional drama” turn for right now, all the non stop megafights were wearing me out! Wow, for whatever reason this:

    “Bugs flowed down the stairs, surrounding me as a thick cloud that would hide me from sight. I could sense the kids reacting as I made my appearance. Fearful starts and backing away, taking shelter behind Charlotte.

    I singled out a handful of butterflies and sent them towards the kid nearest me. They flew in formation, forming a circle around her hand. She stretched it out, and one butterfly landed on her thumb.

    As other children reached out, I settled butterflies on their hands as well. The distraction was good enough that I could walk past them and head upstairs without causing anyone to burst into tears.”

    This was the first time since starting this series that I actually had a real visceral vision of Skitter as a *villain*. Someone that people shy away from when she enters the room. A scary, scary person!

  43. This falls in the category of slightly silly necro-comment, but … girls do not go for a run in a strapless top. They slide down as you move, even for girls with little endowment, and it gets annoying to keep yanking them up.

  44. Okay, so thoughts noone seems to have hit yet:

    1. The “Eric” code doesn’t seem very sustainable. “Tiny Eric stopped by this morning, everything’s fine with him. The other Eric wasn’t a major problem. Umm, ten foot tall Eric just stopped by, gotta run…” xD

    If anyone actually IS monitoring their conversations they’re going to very quickly notice that Taylor and co. seem to know an awful lot of “Eric”s.

    2. Had Taylor listened too hard to the family begging for leniency it would’ve set a dangerous precedent. I suspected they might’ve been coerced into requesting leniency by the thugs’ friends. But even if they hadn’t, if Taylor showed leniency based on the victims’ pleas instead of being consistently firm, sooner or later thugs *will* take advantage of that loophole to the victims’ further detriment.

    In the criminal justice system, it’s not the victims of the crime who decide whether or not to drop charges. It’s the police, and with good reason.

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