Chrysalis 20.3

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Yes,” I said.  “I’m trying to avoid you because I have someplace to be.”

“I’m hurt, Taylor.  It’s been a while since we had a chance to talk.  We used to be friends, don’t you remember?”

“I remember,” I replied.  Didn’t want to get caught up in this.  At the same time, I wasn’t sure I wanted to back down, either.

I glanced around at the others.  I needed a better term for the people who’d stayed, a name for that particular clique.  They’d approached us, interested, but were hanging back enough to indicate they weren’t about to jump to my defense.  Couldn’t blame them.  The last series of events in Brockton Bay weren’t the sort that rewarded heroes.  These people had made it through by playing it safe and avoiding trouble.

Emma’s friends weren’t the same way.  They approached, offering Emma backup and support.  They didn’t join in, though.  Emma was point-man here.  She was in a mood to start trouble, I could tell, and everyone present knew it.

The guards?  They hung back, even further away than the ones on the periphery.  Two or three of them.  As I saw it, they were backing Emma up.  If I smashed her teeth in or tore her ear half-off like Sophia had once done to me, they’d stop me, and I’d get in trouble.  I’d get delayed from getting to where I wanted to be.

“Changed your look?  I have to say, you manage to make any style look great.”

The sarcasm was subtle.  There was also a glimmer of a memory in there; she was referencing something.  I brushed it aside.  I doubted I wanted to think too hard on it.

“You’re not impressing anyone,” I said.

“So hostile,” Emma said.  “Is that part of your new image?  Being rude?  Keeping everyone at arm’s length?  If anyone’s trying too hard, it’s you.”

Oh, I just had to take one look at her expression to see that she was reveling in the irony.  She didn’t give a damn that the accusations she was directing at me could be turned against her.  For her, it was all about the reaction she got out of me.  Victories, both big and little.

And all the while, she was oblivious to what I was holding back: tens of thousands of bugs, insects and arachnids, worms, centipedes, snails and slugs.  I restrained them in the same way I might keep my fist clenched, resisting the urge to swing it at her.

It wasn’t just the idea of hurting her.  That was almost secondary.  It was the idea of catching her right now, when she had less of a hold over me than she’d had in years.  To see the look on her face in the moment before the bugs forced themselves into her airways.  The dawning comprehension, the realization of what she’d brought on herself.

One action, and she might experience a share of the fear, the frustration and disgust I’d experienced over the years.  The hopelessness, the helplessness in the face of someone with more power to throw around.

I could imagine the bugs flowing into her mouth before she thought to cover it, flowing into her nostrils until she covered that.  I could imagine the moment she realized she’d have to swallow if she wanted to breathe.  I might even dismiss the bugs from flying around between us, just so I’d have a clear visual of it.  More likely that she’d throw up, but I’d have a minute or two before the heroes mobilized-

“Zoning out on me, Hebert?  Or did you spend too long outdoors and bake your brain?”

“I don’t know what to say,” I admitted.

“Big surprise.”

“…because I don’t really think much of you anymore.  I’ve dealt with drug dealers, vandals, looters and thugs, and the gangs that were roving the city trying to get their hands on young girls.  Hell, I was there when Mannequin attacked the boardwalk.”

All true.  Except… I ‘dealt’ with them in a more direct fashion than I was implying.

“Big girl.  So brave,” Emma said.

I saw one or two people on the periphery of the crowd shift position, irritated.  They weren’t my allies, not exactly, but Emma had just lost points, belittling what they had been through.

“I have a bit more perspective,” I told her.  “I’ve seen how shitty people can be.  I’ve seen people who were desperate, fighting just to get by.  Others preyed on people, in the midst of it all.  I can’t say I respect them for it, but maybe I understand it.”

“You’re-” she started.

I cut her off, talking over her, “And the thing is, even after seeing all of the starving people, the ones who ate trash or stole to make it through the next twenty-four hours, I think less of you than I think of them.”

I could see her eyes narrow at that.

You’re insulting me?

“I’m stating facts,” I replied.  “Talking to you even now, I’m realizing how small your world is.  You think of popularity and high school, of looking nice.  That’s not even one tenth of a percent of what’s going on in the world at large.  Yet you’re trying so hard to climb to the top of this tiny, sad little hill.”

“You’re missing one key fact there,” she said.  There was no smile on her face now.  “You’re beneath me on this little hill.  So what does that make you?”

“Emma, you’re snarling at me and insulting me, trying to make jabs as if each little gesture will give you a higher spot on the totem pole, but there’s no point.  I’m not even a student here.”

“You’re a dropout.  A failure.”

I sighed a little.  “I really like this approach of yours.  You started off really subtle, and in the last minute alone, you’ve descended to flinging basic insults at me, trying to see what sticks.  Except I’m really not bothered, and you’re doing more to make yourself look bad.”

Maybe I should have let her play it out a bit more and try a few more aimless jabs before I called her on it.  Didn’t matter.

One member of her entourage piped up, “Who do you think you are?  Talking to her like that?”

Another.  “You think you sound so smart, telling her what she’s-”

The girl stopped as Emma raised one hand.  Emma was glaring at me.  How long had it been since I’d seen anything besides glee and mean smirks?  Something substantial, and not just a look of fear as she huddled with her family at some fundraiser, or being shocked when I’d slapped her in the shopping mall.

Was Emma actually angry?

The Taylor of months ago would have appreciated at the realization, she might even have found it healing.  Not caring about what she said now came with an equal measure of not caring about her reaction.  I was almost disappointed.

“I’ve seen you break down in tears one too many times to buy that you don’t care.  You’re a wimp, Hebert, a coward.  You just want to look strong, pretend you’re something other than what you are.”

“No,” I replied.  “I just want to go to lunch with my dad.  If you want to stroke your own ego, you can do it after I’m gone.”

I didn’t feel better, as this played along, somewhat in my favor.  I was still angry, I still wanted to hurt her, to see the look on her face.  But that feeling, in combination with what I’d mentioned to her earlier, when I’d said how small high school seemed in the grand scheme of things, it made my emotions seem out of proportion.  Monstrous.

And punctuating that monstrous line of thinking was the bugs.  Reflecting my feelings, it almost made for a throbbing sensation, insistent, the swarm working to move toward me, being pushed back with a semiconscious thought the next moment.

She was getting to me.  It just wasn’t the way she’d intended.

“You keep trying to run, Hebert, like a coward.  You should thank me.”

“Thank you?  I’d love to hear this one.”

“God, if you just would have pretended to grow a spine a little sooner, everything would have been fine.”

“Somehow I doubt that.”

“People who stand up for themselves get respect.  If you would’ve tried this a little sooner, laughed more at the pranks and jokes, stood a little straighter instead of cringing like a whipped dog, it would have worked.  We would’ve been friends again.  You’d have been part of the group, and things would have been peachy.  But you put it off too long, you made yourself into a victim.  It wasn’t us.”

I could feel a few ideas fall into alignment.

“You’re talking about Sophia.  You mean she would have let me into the group.”

“That’s part of it.”

Now we were talking about Sophia.  About Shadow Stalker.  Emma knew that the two were one and the same, and I knew as well, but I couldn’t let on.

Still, it was leverage.

“That’s a lot of it, I bet.  How demented are you, that you think I’d fucking want to be your friend, after all the shit you pulled?”

“Are you really better off where you are?”

“Now?  Yes.  Then?  Fuck, even then, yes!  I called you pathetic a minute ago, but Sophia’s worse than you.  She was a sad little basket case who lashed out at people with violence and barbed words because it was the only way she could deal.  The only real advantages she had were the fact that she was attractive and how you were misguided enough to look up to her, which is laughable unto itself.”

“Watch it,” she said.

“I would’ve thought you were better than that, but no.  She brought you down to her level, and you saved her from becoming a deranged thug, and made her a popular deranged thug instead.”

One of her friends stepped forward, no doubt to bark a retort, but Emma pushed her away.

“Watch it!” one of the guards called out.  “Hands off!”

He was perfectly content to let this argument slide, but a push was too much?  Whatever.

Emma turned to her friend, “Sorry.”

“Whatev,” the girl muttered back.  She didn’t look too happy.

Emma turned to me, and she had that mean, sly smile, like she had all the confidence in the world.  “You want to play hardball, Taylor?”

“I want to go meet my dad for lunch.  I’ve already said.  You’ve been playing hardball for years.  You can’t really top using my mom’s death to taunt me unless you’re willing to pull a weapon.”

“Sure I can,” the anger had faded, and she was cool, calm.  She seemed to relish her words as she said them.  “You killed your mom.”

I didn’t have a response to that.  My thoughts were momentarily a jumble, as I tried to process how that was even possible.

“Remember?  You were at my house when you got the call?  You were supposed to call your mom.  She was dialing for you when she got in the accident.”

“Pretty weak, Emma.  I don’t really buy it, and I don’t think even you buy that I’m at fault.”

“Oh, but there’s more.  See, your dad thought so.  Your dad blamed you.  He blames you. Remember?  He kind of disconnected?  Stopped caring about you?  You eventually went to my parents to ask if you could stay over some, until he found his feet?”

I could remember.  It had been the darkest period following one of the darkest moments of my life.

“My dad gave good old Danny a talking to, and your dad said he couldn’t get over it.  He thought you were responsible, blamed you because you didn’t make the call you were supposed to, and your mom had to drive over, worrying something was wrong.”

I could visualize it, fit this information into the blanks.

Emma continued speaking, and her words were in parallel with my own train of thought.  “Ever think about how distant he got?  Maybe how distant he is, even now?  He loves you, maybe, but he hates you too.  He dished all the dirt to my dad, and told him how if you’d just called, if you’d picked up when your mom tried to call you from home, he’d still have his wife.  He’d still have a woman who was fantastic and smart and beautiful, someone way too good for him.  Now all he’s got is you.  You, who he took care of more because he had to than because of anything else.  Does he even like you, now?”

Did my dad love me?  Yes.  Did he like me?  That was up for debate.

A hollowness had settled in me.  I wasn’t sure how much of it was what Emma was saying, how much was my thinking back to those days, and how much was an extension of the dissonance I’d been feeling since I stepped foot on school grounds.

I glanced at the others around us.  They were quiet, watching.  They weren’t leaping to my defense or joining in on Emma’s side.  Observers.

Emma, for her part, was smiling, mocking me with her smugness, waiting for the reaction.

I exhaled slowly.

With all the time I’d spent around Tattletale, it wasn’t hard to see what Emma was doing.  Identifying the weak points, then making educated guesses, making claims that were difficult to verify, but devastating in their own right.  She didn’t have powers, but she did have the background knowledge of me, my dad and that period of my life.

If I’d ever been close to using my power on her, it was here, now.  The fact that she was using my parents against me?  Trying to fuck with me on this level?

I drew in a deep breath, then exhaled again.  Be calm.

Was it true?  Possibly.  But it would be next to impossible to verify, unless I was willing to discuss old, ugly memories with my dad.  Right here and right now, the information had only as much weight as I gave it.  I had to react to it like I might one of Tattletale’s headgames.

“Okay,” I said.  “Are you done?  I’d like to go now.”

The anger was bleeding out of me.  If that was all she could do, on the spur of the moment, I didn’t need to worry anymore.

The smile on her face remained, but it wasn’t quite so smug, now.  “I’m sorry.  I should have realized you’re a heartless bitch.  You don’t even care.”

“I don’t think I really believe you,” I replied.  “But even if I did, whatever.  I’ve dealt with people who are smarter than you, I’ve had to handle people who are scarier and meaner than you.  I’ve even had to work with people who are better at manipulating others than you.  You don’t have the slightest-”

I stopped.  My phone was vibrating.

There were too many possibilities for what it could be.  Issues with the Ambassadors, my dad, Charlotte…

I turned away and answered the call, putting the phone to my ear.

Taylor,” my dad spoke.

“Hi dad,” I said.

How’s the work?

“It’s not,” I said.  “I got a call from someone I’ve been working with on and off, and stopped by the school.  Where are you?”

The boat graveyard.  We’re trying to do some problem solving, and it’s slowing us down.  Which school?

“Arcadia.  Want to meet me halfway?  The…”

Through the single fly I’d planted on her, I could tell that Emma was striding towards me.  With only a split second to decide on a course of action, I decided to let her hit me.

She struck the phone out of my hand, and then shoved me into the wall that marked the perimeter of the school grounds.

Emma didn’t say a word, but she was panting.  Was she trying to think of something to say?  She pulled me away from the wall, only so she could slam me against it again.

I could have laughed.  She wasn’t strong, she wasn’t intimidating.

I thought about saying something.  You’re out of cards to play.  You’ve dropped past insults and you’ve descended to brute force, now?

I didn’t get a chance.  A guard advanced on us and pulled her off me.

The guard sounded almost casual as he kept a grip on the back of her shirt and one of her wrists, fighting to stop her from struggling.  “Now we’re off to see the principal.”

Figured.  I glared at him.  “So you stand back until a fight erupts, and get both attacker and victim in trouble?”

“The job’s to stop students from hurting others or getting themselves hurt.  Not about to step in the middle of an argument, or I’d be running around all day,” he said.

“I’m not even a student here,” I replied.

“Didn’t figure you were, with how fast you were in and out.  That’s why it’s your call.  You can go, do that thing you were talking about with your family, or come back to the office with me and the girl.”

“What’s the difference?” I asked.

He shrugged, then grimaced as she continued to struggle.  “We’re supposed to take any troublemakers to the office along with students who might be willing to testify.  You’re not a student, but maybe you plan to be, so it’s up to you.”

I didn’t respond right away.  For one thing, I was going to relish the sight of Emma finally getting the short end of the stick.  For another, I couldn’t shake the notion that this was some kind of trap.  For so long, it had been two steps forward, and one step back.  Why should things be any easier now?

I picked up my phone and put it to my ear to see if the call was still connected.  “Hello?”

Taylor?” My dad was still on the other end of the phone.

“It’s okay,” I said.  I met Emma’s eyes.  “Emma tried to pick a fight.  They’re taking her to the front office now.”

There was a pause on his end.  “…Do you need me to come?

“You said you were busy with something.  I doubt anything will come of this, so don’t stress over it.  Want to meet tomorrow?”

OkayGood luck.

“Thanks.  Love you,” I said.  The memories Emma had just stirred up flickered through my mind’s eye.

“You too,” he replied.

I hadn’t taken my eyes off Emma.  She glared at me up until the moment the guard hauled her around, forcing her to march toward the school.

“You, in the sleeveless t-shirt, and you, girl with the haircut,” the guard said, “And you, the blonde in the purple shirt.  You’re witnesses.  Inside.”  He’d named two of the people who’d been hanging outside, both with the telltale look of people who’d stayed in Brockton Bay, and one of Emma’s friends.

There was some hesitation from a girl with the right half of her head shaved.  Her friends nudged her, and she joined the group.

Eyes were on us as we collectively headed in the direction of the office.  Emma pulled her hand free of the guard’s grip, and sullenly marched at the head of the group.  Once or twice, she tried to change course, but the guard gave her a little push to keep her moving.  It meant that every set of eyes was on her from the moment where we entered the school to the point we reached the front office.

Principal Howell had given up on managing the late arrivals when we turned up, and was on the phone at the very back of the office.  Seeing us, she looked almost relieved to have a distraction.  One finger pointed the way to her office, and she quickly wrapped up her call, cupping one hand around the mouthpiece to drown out the babble of voices from the gathered students.

We had to take very different routes to get there, with the counter in the way.  By the time we arrived, she was seated behind her desk.  Emma and I took our seats in front of the desk, with the guard and the three witnesses lined up behind us.

The principal wasn’t terribly attractive, and her roots gave away her bleached hair.  Just going by her appearance, and by the colorful blouse and scarf she wore, she didn’t give me a sense of an authority figure.  I didn’t get the sense she’d stayed in Brockton Bay these past few months.

Then she spoke, and my initial impressions were banished the instant I heard her hard tone.  “Collins?  Thirty words or less, give me the rundown.”

The guard answered her, pointing to Emma, “Extended argument was initiated by the blonde one.  The one with the glasses tried to back out.  Blonde escalated to pushing and shoving, I stepped in.”

“Okay,” she said.  “Witnesses, any commentary?  Keep it short.”

“What he said,” the girl with the half-shaved head said, sullen.  “The one who started it, I think her name was Emma?  Yeah.  Um.  She’s a bitch.”

This was somehow surreal.  I wondered if I was caught in some kind of trap.  The Ambassadors didn’t, to my knowledge, have anyone with a power that could mess with my head.  Maybe Haven or the Fallen had someone like that, capable of trapping me in some kind of warped world where things actually turned out okay, leaving me in a state where I never wanted to leave.

Such a world wouldn’t necessarily have Emma in it in the first place, though.  Or Greg.

“Emma didn’t do anything wrong,” the blonde in the purple shirt said.  “There’s a history.  She was only responding to some stuff that happened before.”

“I don’t care about what happened before,” the principal said.  “I care about keeping the peace.  We’ve already had three fights with weapons, and the day isn’t even half over.  No less than ten fistfights.  Nearly a third of the students attending this school were in Brockton Bay during the recent crises.  Some were Merchants, others were members of the white supremacy groups, and many more either found or are still taking refuge in a territory held by the current crime lords of Brockton Bay.  Friction is inevitable, I’m certain many of my students have post traumatic stress disorder, and any number of students haven’t yet made the transition from being a survivor to being an ordinary student.”

She leaned her elbows on the desk.

“That’s fine.  I’m willing to accept trouble as a fact of life, given recent events.  It would be unfair to hold you-” she paused to eye me, the girl with the hair and the boy in the sleeveless t-shirt, “-to the same standards as any other student, given what you’ve been through.”

“That’s not fair,” Emma said.

“Emma,” the principal said, “What you did was monumentally stupid and dangerous.”

Again, that surreal feeling.  This would be the point that I woke up to find I was still buried in Echidna, experiencing some warped reflection of past events, only in a more pleasant vein.  Or maybe this scene twisted around and I’d realize I was in some modified agnosia fog and everyone around me was a member of the Nine.

Principal Howell continued, “You there, your name?”

“Terry,” the boy in the sleeveless t-shirt said.

“Did you bring a weapon to school today?”

“No.”

“Have you been in a fight, in the last few weeks?”

“A few.”

“Okay.  And you, miss?”

“Sheila, and yeah.  Brought a weapon.”

“Do you have it on you?”

Sheila reached into a back pocket and withdrew a keychain.  A piece of metal dangled from the end, a bar that could be gripped, and two spikes that stuck out in front.  It was like brass knuckles, but not quite.  The same principle applied.

“Thank you.  If you could hand them to Collins, I’d appreciate it.”

Sheila gave Collins a wary look.

“Or you could step outside,” Howell suggested.

“Yeah,” Sheila replied. “I’ll do that.”

She turned on her heel and stepped out of the office.

“And you?  Your name?”

She was looking at me.  I responded, “Taylor Hebert.”

“Were you armed?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“She handed over her weapon without a fuss,” Collins said.  “Cheap knife, basic sheath.”

“And, if pushed, if you’d had it, would you have used it?” the principal asked.

I hesitated.

“You won’t get in trouble if you say yes.  Be honest.”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “Define ‘pushed’.”

“Nevermind.  Have you used it?”

“That one?  No.”

“But you have used a knife?”

I nodded, reluctant.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that the walls were going to close in around me, screwing me over.

“I hope you’re getting my point,” the woman said, turning back to Emma.

“You’re saying they could have hurt me,” Emma replied, sullen.

Would have, in some cases.  This isn’t the city you’re used to, nor the same students.”

“It’s fine,” Emma said.

“We’ll see.  Just putting you into the computer.  Emma… what was it?”

“Barnes,” I supplied.  “E-S at the end.”

She typed on the computer keyboard to her right.  “And Taylor… Hubert?”

“Hebert.  E-B-E.”

More typing.  “Hebert.  Just give me a second to pull records… damn.  Fancy new school, you’d think they’d give us better equipment.”

She hit the power button.  The computer took a minute to reboot.

Long seconds passed.  Nobody spoke.

The screen flared back to life.

“Hm,” she murmured.

“What is it?” Collins asked.

“A number of past incidents.  And we got the emails from Winslow High School, I did a search for their names, and there’s one that post-dates the Endbringer attack.  It’s apparently a series of text messages between an Emma Barnes and Sophia Hess.  There’s a great deal of discussion of the ongoing bullying campaign against Taylor here.”

I glanced at Emma.  She’d gone pale.

A final ‘fuck-you’ from Sophia?  Guess she wasn’t a friend after all.

The principal looked me square in the eye.  “Would you like to press charges?”

I couldn’t even think straight, hearing that, it was so out of tune with my expectations.

No.  I was still seated on the hard plastic chair, Emma to my immediate left.  This was reality.

This was everything I’d wanted, as far as the Emma situation: to enjoy a small victory, to see her house of cards come tumbling down.  To actually get to press charges?  To see justice?

“No,” I said.  Emma’s head snapped to face my direction with enough speed that I thought she might have given herself whiplash.

“Why not?”  Principal Howell asked.

Because I’m a supervillain, and I don’t want the scrutiny.  Because her dad’s a lawyer with connections, and it won’t work…

“Because she’s not worth the trouble,” I gave her the first answer that I could think of that wouldn’t cause any more problems.  Time spent on this is time I can’t devote to my territory.  I don’t want more conflictNot with all the other issues surrounding this.

“The school can take action against her without your consent,” she said.

“Feel free.  I want to be done with her, that’s all.”

“Very well.  Emma?  I’ll see you again in September.”

“September?”

“The summer classes we’re offering are very much a privilege.  Now, I’m sure you’ve faced your share of stresses in having to relocate twice in a short span of time, but I’m not inclined to extend the same leniency to you that I’m extending to those who’ve been through so much more.”

I suspected Emma was at least as stunned as I was.

“When you return, we can discuss whether you’ll repeat the tenth grade, and whether you’ll repeat it here.  I’ll have had time to review the emails and past records…”

She tapped a few keys on the keyboard, then frowned.  “…What was I saying?  Right.  Given the possibility that Taylor might choose to attend in the future, and even just the basics I’m reading here, it may not be conscionable to let you attend as well.”

“This is ridiculous.  My dad’s a lawyer.  There’s no way he’ll let this happen.”

“Then I expect we’ll have a great many discussions in the future.  Collins?  Would you please take her to the front?  I’d like a word with Ms. Hebert.”

“Will do.”

Maybe not a delusion.  A trap?  Head games from Accord?  Or was she an Ambassador, trying to curry favor?  I wasn’t sure what every member of the Fallen or the Teeth could do.  Could one be a shapeshifter?  Something else?

The door shut behind Collins, leaving the principal and I alone in the room.

“Satisfactory?” she asked me.

“What?”

“Is this end result satisfactory?  If you were holding back because you were afraid your membership among the Undersiders might come to light, rest assured I can be discreet.”

She did know something.

“I- I’m not sure I understand.”

“It doesn’t matter.  I got the impression you didn’t want to be treated any differently.”

“Who are you?”

“A vice principal in well over her head,” she said, leaning back in her chair.  “I didn’t see it firsthand, but I’ve felt the effects of this… long series of disasters.  My predecessor made it through, past an Endbringer attack, past food shortages and disease, past the roving gangs, the thugs and looters, past the Slaughterhouse Nine, an amnesia fog and a takeover of the city.  So many things.  And at the end of it all, just when things started to get better, he couldn’t adjust.  He got in a fight, was punched in the head, and died soon after of an embolism.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Seventeen years working together.  He was like a brother.  I told myself I would keep the peace.  Someone gave me a list of names, and I recognized your name on that list.  So perhaps I support certain students and keep an eye on the ones who would inevitably cause trouble anyways.”

Tattletale.  She arranged this.

“I’m not confirming or denying that I am such a student-”

“Of course.”

“-but why?  What do you get out of it?”

“Peace.  It’s an ugly road to travel to get there, but it’s peace.  I lost one good friend and boss to the crises here, I won’t lose anyone else.  Particularly not my students.”

Why did she have to tell me?  I would have been content to be ignorant here.  This was a perversion of justice.  The fact that it was perverted in my favor didn’t matter.

“Treat me like you would anyone else,” I said.

“I will.”

I couldn’t quite believe her.  If she was currying favor with Tattletale, helping to solidify Tattletale’s hold and perhaps feeding Tattletale information on more troublesome gang members, I wasn’t sure I could trust her to stay impartial here.

I’d won, so to speak, but this small revelation had taken the justice out of it.

“I’m going to go,” I said.

“I need you to fill out some paperwork, so everything’s organized for Emma’s suspension.  Are you a student?”

“No.”

“Are you intending to be a student?”

“No.”

“Okay.  Then I’ll have you fill out a form as a visitor.  Let me reboot my system again, print what you need, you can fill out one short page, and I’ll manage the rest.”

I was about to protest, to give some excuse and go, but the phone rang.  She picked up and pressed one hand over the mouthpiece.  “Wait at the front, a secretary will bring it to you.”

I couldn’t refuse without intruding on the conversation.  I stepped outside.

Emma was at the front, too, slouched in a chair with Collins standing beside her.  No doubt she’d had a secretary let her call her dad, or would as soon as the opportunity came up.

I stood at the opposite end of the room.

I felt numb.  A little disgusted with how things had turned out, that the only reason this system seemed to be working was because it was already corrupt to a fundamental level.  I could still feel some of the anger and irritation from the argument with Emma, the thrill of adrenaline…

I raised a hand to adjust my glasses and found my fingers were shaking.  I was trembling, and I couldn’t identify why.  None of the emotions I could single out would account for this kind of response.  Even all put together, they shouldn’t have gotten me halfway here.

I had a lump in my throat, and I felt like I might cry, and I wasn’t sad.  Was I happy?  Scared?  Relieved?  I couldn’t sort anything out in the jumble.

Was my emotional makeup that fucked up?

I found a chair and fell into it, rather than sitting.  I focused on deep breaths, on using my power to contact my bugs and detach myself from things.

“Hebert?  Taylor Hebert?”  A secretary was calling out for me.

I stood and made my way to the front, where I got the paper, already attached to a clipboard.

Some had already been automatically filled in, and there was a header asking me to double-check the details.  My name, my age and grade, the address…

I stopped.

Address:  911 Incoming St.
Alt Address: 9191 Escape Ave.

I looked up in the direction of the principal’s office.  She was standing at the window, staring at me, a phone pressed to her ear.

She mouthed a word at me.  ‘Run’.

Someone knows I’m Skitter.

I ran.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

517 thoughts on “Chrysalis 20.3

  1. Funny how there’s twenty-five to thirty views a second for the minute before the chapter goes up.

    Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed, please feel free to vote on Topwebfiction.

    No bonus chapter this week. I’ll be writing (but not releasing) Saturday’s chapter early in anticipation of being busy with family on Easter weekend.

  2. Holy crap awesome.

    First, Taylor handles Emma so much better than any one of us in the comments even imagined.

    Second, hell, that’s what Sophia was talking about. I think all of us missed that.

    Third, three cheers for the principal who values keeping the peace over deferring to the (as she and we both know) highly corrupt authority.

    • Technically, the principal is doing such a good job keeping the peace BECAUSE of the corruption (connections with Tattletale). Even Taylor realized this, and wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

      • Nice little screwed-up little system they have, with the selfish heroes, the altruistic villains, and the disciplinary system getting justice better when it’s corrupt.

      • Honestly I really don’t see this system as corruption at all…how is treating people who stayed in town during the chaos and most likely are either trigger happy or have PTSD with more leniency than people who didn’t stay corrupt? This seems like common sense to me? Her policies seem to be somewhat effective. Her guards are decent. I don’t see any issues here. If Tattletale supplied some names to watch out for who can also help how is that a problem?

    • Bah, plenty of us guessed she would handle it like that! I didn’t think she would spend the entire time wondering if her mind was being toyed with though, that was pretty great.

    • first selling skitter out and than warning her so that the fight doesn’t happen on school ground (i bet she lied to the caps a bit so that they wont find her to close to school) … mean (can’t that be considered corrupt?)

  3. Looks like those that predicted her identity being outed were right. She is about to have a very interesting talk with her dad.

    • Well, we’re not sure on what level her secret was outed. It could be the wards, because Clockblocker alerted them, but they haven’t told anyone yet. Or it could be someone else. Personally, I don’t think her secret got outed to enough people that it reached her dad.

      • Yeah, but she still has to tell her dad. If the information is getting out to the point that total strangers know, she officially has no control over the flow of information. Better to tell him herself than let someone without her best interests at heart do so.

        • True. Wonder if Taylor’s heading to tell her dad right now. Actually, no, that would draw the fire. Probably will meet an undersider for help in the battle, then hopefully realize the exact measure of stupidity it would be for her not to tell him, and tell him.

        • They’re there in muftis. Assuming they don’t want to blow their covers, it would take time for them to make their escape, get in costume, and return.

          • All they’d need is an unoccupied room. It’s an open secret that they are numbered among the student body

          • That wouldn’t help conceal the disappearances of their civilian identities, though. If one classmate noticed that every time Chris has sudden intestinal distress there’s a story the next day about Kid Win fighting crime around the same time, the connection could be all over the school in a week.

            That said, you’re probably right in this case – what with the computer labs and the shell-shocked natives and the refugees, there’s probably less attention paid to classmates than ever. Only question is where they hide the costumes.

    • To the heroes perhaps but I don’t think they will go public with it.

      Remember how everyone thought that revealing the identity of the Empire 88 capes was below the belt? Going after family members is below the belt and they would have to fear retribution.

      The heroes know that the Undersiders have both Tattletale and the data they stole. If the Heroes intentionally reveal the identity of the only one of the undersiders with much of a secret ID they must fear retaliation in kind. Skitter at the very least know about Triumph and they will have to keep in mind that she knows a lot more about a lot of things from cauldron to Armsmaster that nobody wants to go public.

      That is not to say that some low level capes like the ones standing guard might not make a bad decision not backed by their leadership right now.

      • It seems to me that Secret Identities are the the nukes in the Cape cold-war. Mutually Assured Destruction holds both sides back, but the tension only increases as time goes on. The Undersiders only got away with the Empire 88 play because it was Villain on Villain action, and the Mayor play because it was clear that they didn’t know he was SuperFamily.

  4. Well this was great. Emma gets her comeuppance, Taylor gets a bit of closure (sorta) on that front, and we have some new threat for Saturday’s chapter. Or old threat, whatever.

    Also that VP lady seems pretty cool, even if she is just trying to curry favor with Tattletale.

    • i am honestly surprised that emma got physical. i thought she’d just try to mindscrew and sorta… fall off when/if she saw it wasn’t working.

      i really did think the ‘you killed your mom’ argument was gonna work though

      • Makes you wonder how long Emma had been holding on to that little gem. Coming up with something that cruel either takes truth or a lot of time.

        • Yup. If I had any sympathy for her before from the interlude, it finished flying out the window just about now. Earlier, I commented I might have been able to let it go a little if Emma hadn’t kept bringing the mom into this. Now, I seriously want to go tackle that lunatic. Who goes that far just to one-up some girl? To think I went into this chapter still thinking there was a slim chance Emma might apologize, and was speculated before this and the last chapter.

          • I know some people. Some are kinda assholes. Some are really nice guys. And they would react to someone saying something like Emma, to using something like that to hurt a person very poorly. And the nice ones would be much worse about it. There’s just some shit people won’t cotton to.

          • I feel about the same towards Emma about her bullying as I do towards, say, Panacea about what she did to Glory Girl. She was in a bad headspace, as people who we agree are unlikeable had been messing with them and they had been previously traumatized by their experiences. The biggest differences, I suppose, are time and regret–Emma has been at this for years, and Panacea showed regret.

      • It was a hell of a shiv, to be sure. It or its equivalent could probably put down anyone else on the Undersiders, although I think Grue could have soaked it if it weren’t for the PTSD. Heck, *Eidolon* couldn’t take being needled by Tattletale during the preparations for the Noelle fight.

        Lisa should be proud of how the broken bird she saw on the roof in April fighting Lung has grown.

      • Maybe she would have. But Taylor completely dismissed her as irrelevant when she turned away to take that phone call during Emma’s best shot. Emma wasn’t prepared to cope with that.

    • Wow, didn’t even realize the word comeuppance had been used. I suddenly feel like I overestimated my amazing vocabulary skills.

  5. Oh, and one more thing: it’s lunchtime, again. I think at this point Taylor being thrown into the deep end at lunchtime is officially a running gag, or whatever the dramatic equivalent of a running gag is.

          • We’ve known for awhile that he’s the one doing most of the work. Gorkamorka, rmctagg, and I add to it as well. There’s someone else, but that person has not yet joined us in the comments section.

            *sigh* I was actually in the characters section for one beautiful, sad day.

            *brings his hand up, rubbing the tips of his index finger and thumb together*

              • No. The in-story page.

                All of the people who appear in the (two) Parahumans Online installments are either commenters, forum-posters (in various threads on sites where people are discussing Worm) and people from the chatroom, with slight name changes.

          • No-o-o-o! Not that! I’ll do anything!*

            * totally lying, I wouldn’t stop adding tropes to Worm’s TV Tropes page if you broke all my fingers and I had to nose-type on my iPhone.

        • I love that this entire Troper discussion was brought up, I came here to call something to your attention, Packbat.

          Cherish’s final fate: And I Must Scream/Nightmare Fuel, I think.

          Also I might just be a morbid person, but I think there are a multitude of H.O.Nightmare Fuel entries that have yet to be unearthed. WE MUST GET ON THIS, PEOPLE!*

          *Or, y’know, if anyone thinks of something, it’d be cool to say something to the dedicated Tropers here, so they can decide if they wanna do something about it. No pressure.

          • Maybe add Hookwolf to the Nightmare Fuel page. Even with him being the guy he is, he still got hit with that plague and either he still hasn’t fully recovered while he’s been conscripted by the Nine, or he recovered after he already got stuck working with them.

            I mean, just imagine one day you wake up and you’re working for people like that, realizing you only agreed because your memory was screwed with, surrounded by them, with Bonesaw already putting her “enhancements” in whatever is left of your body. And because you’ve already helped them, you’re subject to the same kill order they are, so everyone will try to kill you if you leave.

  6. Looks like it’s time for a good old-fashioned rumble. I’m surprised the principal was so open about her allegiance, but then again, she may think that Skitter is just as morally bankrupt as any other villain. I wonder how Taylor got found out? Something related to her bugs swarming outside, coupled with Clockblocker in some way, I assume. The Wards will probably be on her tail now.

    I’m sure Emma will get tutoring to make up classes, but it’s nice that she took one more loss all the same. What a sleazebag.

    • Yeah I want to know how Taylor got found out as well, cause then I’d know who is coming. I mean there are so many options after all.

      Did Clockblocker hear enough to recognize her and call it in? Then again he wouldn’t know Taylor’s name unless he went back and asked Greg. Did he? We know for a fact that Dragon knows who Taylor is. So, is Dragon looking to have that “chat” she’d wanted to? She could be sending a suit herself. Or did Dragon tell the PRT? We aren’t exactly sure how much she is able to hold back after all. Maybe Armsmaster found out from Dragon and passed it along (since he’s a dick). It could be also all be pure PRT guesswork since the school and the police have those emails now. Wouldn’t be hard to put those emails + Sophia/Shadow Stalker together with one Taylor Herbert and get a Skitter that freaked out when she saw Shadow Stalker’s face.

      • My theory is her Dad has turned her in. He has a strong disapproval of super villains and probably believes the PRT will be lenient in sentencing.

      • No, here’s how it happened. After Taylor and Greg’s “chat,” Clockblocker goes over to comfort Greg because he seems really down. Greg says something along the lines of “I was stupid enough to think she was Skitter,” and that’s way more than enough info for Clockblocker to put it together.

  7. (And so I make my first post here.)

    Run Taylor, run!

    (I get the strangest feeling Clockblocker had something to do with this.)

  8. Great. You build things up to a fever pitch and *BAM* we’ve got to wait again for the next update. So, was the warning hidden in the address from the principal, from Tattletale OR did Dragon hack the system in order to get Taylor away from the school for a confrontation? Did CB talk to Greg and put two and two together? Que Sere sera?

    • I’m guessing either Dragon’s on her way and the principal warned Taylor due to a message that probably flashed on the screen about detaining her temporarily, or Cauldron is on the way and Dragon is warning Taylor.

      I don’t know, maybe the principal is somewhat legit. Could be a Tattletale plant, could be Dragon placed some sort of warning on her file to have her detained while either PRT or Dragon shows to deal with her. That warning would, after recent events, indicate she’s probably an Undersider. Even if she does want Skitter caught, she probably doesn’t want that fight breaking out in her school with her students all around. It would greatly undermine the attempt to provide education after all this.

      Which is how she could be siding with Taylor anyway. At the very least, Taylor’s a kid that stayed and survived. If one of the kids that left bullies and hits a kid that stayed and the school does nothing about it, it would not work well towards their goals. Either the kids would start showing up, or they’d be much more inclined to keep their weapons and resort to some violence.

      That said, could just be a Tattletale plant.

      • Ah – I forgot that Dragon knew, and would have passed the word. That actually seems more probable than Tattletale having taken command of the principal’s office at the official school of the Wards.

      • i went back to dragon’s interlude (10.x) and now i’m 95% sure it’s her. from the last part:
        >>She set background processes to ensure the hunt continued steadily, instead.
        She would be ready to act the *instant* the girl resurfaced. (stressing is mine)

        vice principle runs a search for ‘taylor hebert’…
        Dragon-subroutine: Release the Dragon Suits!

      • One of the bits of conversation with Principal Howell that really stands out was the two line that say “Someone gave me a list of names, and I recognized your name on that list. So perhaps I support certain students and keep an eye on the ones who would inevitably cause trouble anyways.” So far as we know none of the other Undersiders go to school so it seems maybe more likely that the list wasn’t from Tattletale and that Taylor is one of the names that she should be watching to cause trouble rather than support. Or maybe it is all Tattletale and the list includes various Undersider minions and such.

  9. If she’s running from an ‘outreach’ call from Dragon, I think I’ll bust a gut laughing. Or if there wasn’t actually any collusion on the principal’s part and she’s actually that rarest of birds, a competent school administrator.

    Fun chapter to read, I could totally feel the tension. The pressing need to both do and not do a thing. And hot damn, Regent’s check was in the mail a good while, but I knew was coming due sooner or later.

        • Watch “Avatar: The Last Airbender” Episode 2.2 “The Cave of Two Lovers.” See what had happened to Sokka’s forehead by the end.

          • You missed the joke.

            Here’s a hint: think old stereotypes about the Wild West, and where Christopher Columbus thought he landed, and a stereotype about where he was intending to go.

          • …Gecko, the only punishment I can think of severe enough for a joke that awful is for you to be stuck in an well-trafficked outhouse with nothing to use but John Wayne brand toilet paper.

          • No doubt those are better than your run of the mill cartoons.

            The thing about the ones I named, though, is that they’re really labors of love.

            Oban Star Racers:
            Dissatisfied with his previous experiences as a screenwriter in the animation industry, Savin Yeatman-Eiffel wanted to create a distinctive kind of show, one that would revive the type of emotions he had felt as a kid watching the classic Japanese anime series of the 70′s. To put it short, he wanted to stress the emotional side of his characters and story, something that he felt had totally disappeared from Western animation productions.

            In spite of the success of the trailer, the search for financing for the series was a long process since Yeatman-Eiffel had a clear vision of where he wanted to take the show – more realistic and more emotional than the original trailer – and refused to negotiate with a party that would have tried to bend or change the artistic choices at a later stage (including, as was offered to him by an important North American production company to change the main character into a boy).

            Savin Yeatman-Eiffel succeeded in the end, involving major financial partners like Disney and Bandai without surrendering his control of the artistic elements. But it took him a total of nine years to complete the series from initial idea to delivery of the final episode (the concept was created in 1997, with initial production having begun in Paris is 2000, later moving to Tokyo in 2003).

            Isn’t that worthy of respect? Someone who said, essentially, “I have this story idea, and I’m willing to fight tooth and nail to stick to my creative vision, to reject all these things I see as being wrong with media today, and get that story out there for people to enjoy. And I’ll fight that fight for nine fucking years.”?

            Avatar: The Last Airbender:
            It’s all in the details. Cartoons where the fights actually have choreographers, with an expert in martial arts overseeing things every step of the way. The writing style used in the show is distinct from region to region (in-setting) and based on real-world calligraphy. Even the fighting styles themselves break down to certain patterns distinct by region and degree of training. I remember seeing one bit, where the hand gesture used by the fire nation appears elsewhere in the show, in a way that totally makes sense and gives serious depth to the universe, while not being explicitly pointed out (you could watch the series three times over and miss it).

            And the shows are smart, involved, they have well rounded (rather than two dimensional) characters, intricate plots and (one thing I always like), strong female characters that aren’t strong despite being female.

            That’s the stuff I appreciate, as a writer.

          • Okay, I think I will.
            “Avatar: The Last Airbenderis unavailable to stream”
            Dang it Netflix, why won’t you let me do things legally?

          • Considering the day, it was guaranteed one of my jokes would Passover someone’s head.

            Dragon better hurry up to get there. If she’s fast enough, she might show up in time to wing her. Otherwise, she’ll just have to Taylor. (think about that one again for another joke)

            Sandman, if you don’t like the jokes, then just hush little baby, don’t say a word. And nevermind that noise you heard.

          • I’m just worried your jokes might cause an Exodus from the comments section, that’s all.

            Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s kind of late where I am, so I think it’s time for me to exit light and enter night.

          • My jokes are like the duct tape that holds this comments section together.

            There’s too much, so no matter how hard you strain, you can’t leave before the guy shows up with the powertools and gives you a mindscrew.

            And they’re capable of ripping the hair off of you painfully.

          • @The Sandman: Apparently, you haven’t been reading all the comments? Despite PG’s best (read ‘lamest’) attempts at virtually eye-raping everyone into hiding, the comments section only gets bigger, with more commenters (and thus, presumably, more readers).

            Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for banning him/her/it from the comments section, if only so that I don’t have to put up with his/her/its lame-ass puns (which are most of them), but do try to pay attention, eh? Worm is too hot for the likes of Psycho Gecko to leave more than the barest flecks of flash-fried sputum on its epic awesomeness.

            Hg

          • To summarize what Sailor Mercury was saying there, “Psycho Gecko’s so awesome, watch how well he handles being stabbed in the back. See that? Here, get a better look as I do it again.”

            To which I’m all like, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for somebody to drop a horse on this person! Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt and resolve itself into a dew. Check on my tomorrow and you’ll find me a grave man. Somebody, get me to a nunnery!”

            Bah, I know Hg has the secret love for me. My puns, my stories, hell, I bet s/he even loves my narcissism.

            I’ve just been a little busy lately and haven’t had the time to treat y’all to as many rewrites as I’d have liked.

          • Yeah, I thoroughly disapprove of people bagging Psycho Gecko!

            …If we bag him out for his lame puns, then I’ll be next….

          • Bagging me is just not my bag, baby.

            Unless by bag you mean enjoying my sack in the sack. It’s not like you could box in my box, as I lack one. Either way, I prefer not to be sacked. I carry a lot of legal baggage and it would make for a brief case if you tried, so you had best pack up and tote that attitude on out of here while you purse-sue someone else.

          • Actually, the whole point of the first half of my post was to respond to PG’s awful Passover pun by inserting “Exodus” into a sentence.

            When it comes to bad jokes, I prefer to fight fire with napalm.

          • @ The Sandman
            you are limiting yourself and putting gecko above,
            while simulatniously asking him for more puns on your expenses

            napalm (you) causes fire (geckos puns) / burns, but has little use otherwise,
            gecko (fire) can be without napalm /exist without it, and has thus a far broader range or applications.

            but i gotta admit you got Dues quite good^^

          • @Gecko You’ve got this one in the bag. You’re the take home lunch in our vaguely gendered forum, in that some people want to take you home and some want to can you. To Bridge the issue, when I feel like a troll the pun haters can get stuffed. To be honest I’ve never understood the turkeys who think that puns are fowl.

  10. I think that one of the most important aspects of this chapter is that Accord is alive. No wonder Tt hates the leader of the Ambassadors.

    • Hmm, well Accord does like things nice and orderly. I honestly can’t predict whether he actually wants an alliance or he will try to pull a Coil at some point. If he is behind this identity thing, I say hit him now while he isn’t expecting it.

    • i kept seeing this in previous threads and i’m slightly lost…

      how did it come up that accord was leader of the ambassadors? i dont think his group was ever named…. and he cant be the only thinker who’s in charge of a group

        • Yeah but by the end of that interlude there really wasn’t any reason to assume that Accord was still alive. Seemed entirely plausible that either Bonesaw killed him on the way in or that one of the other members of the 9 killed him before Bonesaw went after Blasto in the lab.

          • Trickster comments that Accord likes the subtle/should be more effort than it’s worth base design stuff. Is a secret door (hell, maybe with a batpole or slide) completely impractical? Yes. But that’s Accord’s cup of tea.

          • Ah, so I guess you’re implying that he escaped through some sort of hidden escape route. I like to think he gave a smug laugh and taunted “you’ll never catch meeeeeee” as he fell out of sight.

          • sorry cant imagine him with a cat
            cats cant be trained, cats leave behind hair everywhere,
            not his kind of pet,
            some dogs sitting in front of him or holding a puppy (hallo bitch^^) or a parrot,
            that i can imagine

  11. So, you answer a confrontation that’s been coming since the first chapter. And you do it beautifully, by the way, because this is so much better than Taylor simply hurting her or defeating her herself or reveals her identity. No, it’s the system, which has always protected Emma, which turns against her. And then, in suitable Worm fashion, you make it a product of a corrupted government, which the main character helped instigate. …well, this is fairly straightforward and not that gray for Worm (justice was still served!). I’ll take it!

    And then you answer the cliffhanger you left us on last time…with another cliffhanger. which, in my opinion, is just as big. Don’t think you’ve entirely left behind the style of writing suitable for climaxes that last a book or two yet.

    But overall, loved Emma’s comeuppance, and looking forward to seeing who knows her identity. My guess is the wards, but maybe they’re ready to call in the actual adults of the protectorate now.

    Or I’m just completely off.

  12. In the “I don’t think I really believe you” quote, you’ve got the sentence “I’ve even had to work with people who are better at manipulating others than others.” Should the final “others” be “you” in keeping with the preceding sentences?

  13. “going by her appearance,,”

    Two commas

    “course, but the guard gave her a little push to keep her on course”

    Two usages of course, maybe change the second one to track?

  14. That was nicely handled. Especially how the principle realized that the students who stayed were approaching it on a whole different level than the ones who didn’t. Emma greatly misjudged the situation, but I think even with the principals demonstration about the knives she doesn’t realize how close she came.

    Now we have the perfect setup for Emma to witness the capes catching up with her supposed victim outside of school. It would be a nice moment of realization for her to think “I taunted that?” When she overhears capes telling each other to be careful because Skitter is dangerous. Especially when she beats at least one of them into the ground in some way.

    Of course the question is who is coming and what are their motivations? Has Clockblocker just suited up and wants to prevent her from making trouble? Are the two cape guards trying to drive her of or capture her? Is the full protectorate team going to ambush her and put her into the birdcage? Maybe someone just wants to talk and the principal overreacted?

    In any case unless they are complete morons they will let Skitter leave the school before confronting her and turning the school into a battleground.

    • Well, since the computer records for already filled in, I’m guessing this is Dragon’s doing. Which is a shame, because I thought she was a reasonable authority figure.

    • This would be, on tvtropes, a truly beautiful belated realization she just Mugged a Monster, and had been doing so for months. And living off aforementioned “monster’s” goodwill. Did we mention aforementioned monster is a local warlord who could poison you to death without moving a muscle, or torture you and slowly kill you with bugs for revenge? Which, of course, she’d only do if someone had done something silly like bully her for a year and a half.

      Taylor wouldn’t hurt Emma, but Emma doesn’t have to know that.

      • Honestly Emma SHOULD realize that Taylor wouldn’t have hurt her, from all the times that Taylor DIDN’T hurt her. Sure she can be horrified at the risks she was taking, but that doesn’t change all the experiences she has had dealing with Taylor.

        • I think it is more the dawning horror of just how many ways she could have killed/tortured her without anyone knowing. Even if she does realize Taylor would probably have never done anything, just the possibility that she could have been killed might bring flashbacks to her incident.

          • Actually, now is the perfect time for her to be worried. Imagine she finds out about Taylor by having a bunch of capes storm into the office and reveal that they’ve just figured out Skitter’s identity. Emma’s thoughts go ‘Oh Crap, I’ve been pissing off a villain! Geez, I’m glad she didn’t use her powers on me. I guess she must have wanted to keep her identity secret. Oh Crap, her identity’s just been revealed!’

          • One of my favorite parts of this chapter was Taylor’s brutally vivid imagery regarding how she would use her powers on Emma if there were no consequences. The fact that she imagined something so intensely that she zoned out shows just how much Taylor wanted to use Emma’s corpse as an egg hatchery (an event that would push Skitter beyond the moral grey spectrum and very deep into the black).

    • I’m guessing Taylor will do everything she can to avoid showing off her powers, actually.

      Which, of course, is not at all the same as saying that Emma won’t witness – or, at least, be briefed on by her sycophants – Taylor kicking truly horrifying amounts of ass using the completely mundane martial arts skills that one tends to develop when someone is first trained by an expert brawler and then thrown into fights with half the parahuman population of an entire city.

  15. Boy, that escalated quickly.

    Some thoughts:
    -Personally, I think Greg blabbed.
    -Does the Principal know Taylor’s Skitter, or just a “member.” How many others in the city have similar knowledge?
    -Who’s Alan (in the tags)?
    -For the most part, I think Emma is going to be out of the picture, at least for the foreseeable future.
    -As in terms of who could be chasing after Taylor right now, could be that the Ambassador meeting went sour and someone stationed at the school heard from Greg. Might be a longshot though. I don’t think the Heroes would go after her even if they knew (chance of knowing = rather low)
    -Speculation: Taylor runs into Clockblocker and he helps her escape?

  16. Definitely Dragon involved in some capacity, given the bit at the end of Dragon’s interlude (Interlude 10.5, for those who want to reread it). Whether it’s just providing the principal with the info (because I don’t see Tattletale letting anyone know about Taylor’s cape identity without asking the latter first) or showing up in person for a takedown, well, I guess that’ll be revealed on Saturday.

    Most likely possibility, I think, is Assault going off the reservation. He still wants payback for Battery, he was the one spearheading the “go after the Undersiders in their civilian identities” concept after the snafu with Triumph, and he probably doesn’t feel like he has much to lose. None of the local Wards are going to pull anything right in front of the classmates they’re trying to keep their status as capes hidden from, Miss Militia seems unlikely to have ordered a takedown by the local Protectorate where it has such a spectacular chance of going pear-shaped, and the other named capes seem to be pretty busy right now.

    It could also be somebody new, of course, but somebody stupid enough to make their Brockton Bay debut at Junior Cape Central isn’t really what I’d call a threat.

    • So, it’s Madcap attacking a school huh? I could see it fitting. He probably figures he has nothing left to lose, so he attacks. To stop him, she has to restrain him with spiders so he has not kinetic energy to manipulate. Though people are going to notice a giant swarm of bugs. Maybe she can pull the same trick she used against the Kaiser’s goons. Will this be a reappearance of the bug monster?

      • the whole deal with battery and assault going mad with grief was pretty sad… but i didn’t realize until people were talking about the character page being updated…

        he and battery were actually married.

        he didnt just lose his stalker target, he lost his *wife*.
        i still think his grief is misdirected, but the feels!

        • Well it does put things a bit into perspective.

          I guess it was one of those romantic comedy movie type of relationships where persistent stalking behaviour eventually wins the girl over.

          It does open up the question about how much she trusted her husband. Did she tell him about the job she got from cauldron? If Tattletale got a hold of the info we have she could practically massacre Assault emotionally with guilt about how the lack of trust in their relationship contributed to her death or how his being an accomplice to her attempted crime is the reason she is dead.

          Of course, right afterwards Assault would beat her to pulp in his anger. I guess Tattletale really needs to work on her suicidal tendencies of antagonizing people that way.

          • Truth in television. http://www.ncdsv.org/images/Stalkers%20No%20Strangers.pdf

            How many of those stalker-lovers do you believe didn’t stalk before forming these relationships?

            I remember one b-list actress saying the thing she was attracted to most was persistence in the face of resistance. She even described this one dude who sent her flowers every day (which she returned) who she then dated for months.

            So… yeah. Takes all kinds, in this world.

          • And so she paid back the guy who ruined her dad’s hard work, who beat her and taunted her remorselessly for so long, by letting him stick his penis into her until he ejaculated and taking his name.

            That’ll show him.

          • “You’re on fire!”

            “Thank you!”

            “No, I mean you’re literally on fire!”

            “Thanks! Always appreciate a fan!”

            “Do you know what literally means?”

            “Yes… oh. AAAAAH”

            “There it is.”

          • @gecko

            so you are interpretating it as assault stalking battery not the other way around?
            who went to the length of paying about 1/2 million just to get to have a hand to hand brawl with whom, messes up and gets protected by the person she is fixating upon, who started following whom???

    • Or they could just be really, really good. Maybe it’s the head of those new villains, out to make a statement. Wonder what his/her power is.

  17. Chrysalis 20.3: In which Taylor handles Emma far better than anyone IRL has ever handled a bully; in which we find out Lisa has been working even further to support Taylor; in which Taylor feels like she’s floating in a dream, only for it to come crashing into a nightmare at the end.

    First off, my feelings are extremely mixed about the confrontation between Taylor and Emma. In terms of realism, I can understand the policy about leniency about fights and only implementing when it becomes physical. Yet, as a former victim of bullying and the policy implementation working against me, I can’t say it doesn’t bring back bad memories. The guards themselves didn’t even try to prevent anything, just reporting it when it happens. And, if the goal was realistic responses, that means they weren’t doing their jobs. Furthermore, those “stayers” wouldn’t have been so calm after Emma landed the first hit; an all-out brawl would have started, especially with what was perceived as Emma insulting them. Is there some reason that didn’t happen?

    As for who found out about and is after Taylor, it’s really a toss up between the Wards and Dragon. Dennis noticed the earlier incident with Greg, and the other Wards could have noticed the swarm gathering outside the school during the incident with Emma. However, the school has records of the texts and emails proving the extended bullying, and Dragon supposedly intercepted and deleted them. Honestly, if I was to bet on it, I’d put money on Dragon trying to make an overture with this as a peace offering. That could be very awkward, though, especially if Colin is around.

    Saturday can’t come fast enough.

    • Kind of wonder if the guard was waiting for Taylor to start beating the tar out of Emma. It would have put things in perspective a bit if one of the escapees got her shit ruined after talking smack about one of the holdouts and the guards only stepped in once it looked like there might be permanent damage.

      Because sometimes, people are just too damn stupid to notice the “DO NOT TAUNT HAPPY FUN BALL” signs, and the only thing you can do with those people is let them serve as an object lesson to others in why being an asshole to someone with PTSD and a violent streak is an amazingly terrible idea.

    • I have to disagree with you on the guards not doing their jobs by not stopping arguments. They are there to keep kids from stabbing eachother to death, if they were spending all their time keeping kids from shouting at eachother things might start slipping by. As it is, they kept an eye on the situation and dealt with it as soon as it became physical. They did exactly what they were supposed to do.

      • Sure they kept an eye on the situation but every witness to that shouting match could clearly see that even after Taylor repeatedly stated she didn t want that confrontation Emma wouldn t let it go.
        You can t seriously tell me that its a good idea to let that situation continue even if it didn t lead to violence it was aggitating the other schoolkids too.
        And with a crowd consisting of people that survived in that town letting it boil up only spells trouble.
        So i think they don t need to stop every argument but this one clearly went too far.

      • I can’t say I agree, especially since the probability of violence in that school is already 100%. As I mentioned, with the way Emma insulted the holdouts, the school was lucky it didn’t turn into a school-wide brawl. An ounce of prevention and all that.

        And besides, I really can’t stand incompetent authority figures, especially in bullying situations.

  18. I lean towards the idea that the principle’s source of info is Dragon. It just seems like it would be the more interesting twist.

  19. I’m guessing it’s someone coming after her off the books. Somebody going off vigilante in a public place like a goddamn moron. Because it can’t be kosher for the heroes to chase after supervillains in plainclothes if they haven’t started anything first due to the truce. Even if Skitter herself violated the truce the heroes can’t commit themselves to doing the same unless they want Imp to sneak up on Triumph in the shower and beat his face in with a bat.

    I’m betting it’s Assault; He’s a former villain, has a grudge against Skitter, advocated vigilantism in the past, and he can’t really care about whether she lives or dies since he advocating feeding her to Echidna. I can see him being enough of a shithead to stomp through a high school and try to chokeslam Skitter in broad fucking daylight.

    Granted, it could just be one of the adult heroes coming in to keep watch and make sure she doesn’t start something. But that still makes it a 1/4 chance of Assault coming into the picture. If the heroes decide to look into what Taylor was doing there’s going to be some shit coming to light.

    If Miss Militia completely disappoints me and it is a sanctioned violation of the truce then, well…

  20. I would like to not that as of this release it has been getting about a comment a minute…

    Wonderful chapter, both “HA HA F-YOU” to Emma, that I think all of us wanted. I really enjoyed the description of restrained anger. And the ending was quite fun, I’m beginning to wonder who the previous principal was, and how she was figured out… And just what Emma will do when she realizes she has been bullying Skitter.

  21. Was anyone else baffled when Taylor thought the principle got the list from Tattletale? That entire scene I figured it was Dragon’s doing, what with the compueters flickering long enough for the emails to show up and all that.

    This all reads to me much more as a play by Dragon rather than Tattletale, because why would Tattletale call the principle to tell Taylor to run? She wouldn’t have been in a situation to put the entire thing together, she does need input to realize what is happening. While Dragon has access to all the lines of communication AND knows Taylor was talking to the principle.

    • While we know that Dragon has an interest in interacting with Taylor on a more congenial level than the standard robot-on-bugmistress throwdown, Taylor doesn’t. Nor is there any way for her to have reasonably figured that out.

      I mean, given a bit more time to think about things, Taylor would probably have figured out that the bit in the office doesn’t really fit Lisa’s M.O., but she’d still have been in the dark as to who else it could have been.

    • You’re right. Evidence: “She tapped a few keys on the keyboard, then frowned. “…What was I saying? Right””

      That’s when Dragon fills in the warning. That means she intercepted some sort of signal. From who, though? Props to the principal for barely missing a beat, regardless.

        • I think she knows all the wards identities, their favorite flavors of ice cream, and the color of the underoos they wore when they were six. Come on dude, it’s fuckin’ DRAGON.

          Actually, I do think she’d keep tabs on the Wards too. Armsmaster and Skitter cant be the only capes she’s holding a torch for. She probably looked into their psych evaluations and service records to see how badly Colin/Piggot’s administration was screwing them up.

          • I was actually talking about the Principal. It’s mentioned in Jessica’s interlude that she could do jail time for outing their identities, so I was wondering if the PRT actually told her anything or she was simply told to not look too closely at sudden absences among students.

      • Dragon figured out Taylor was Skitter back in her interlude and was going to keep an eye on her. Probably just something where someone bringing up Taylor’s file for disciplinary action alerts Dragon. If the computer is getting old, that could cause problems with the computer since it’s got more work to do, like with a virus.

  22. Oooh man. I have no idea what’s after her, but can’t wait to find out.

    One note: You have “Others preyed on others…” early on, and it seems a bit awkward. “Some preyed on others…” might work better. It’s just too much use of “others” in the space, feels awkward.

    Hope that’s an okay note to make? I know people usually do basic copy-editing, but the editor in me saw that and the wine in me said pointing it out was a good plan. Hope it’s so.

  23. Right, taking a chance and assuming nobody’s beaten me to the punch, but Danny’s last line in the phonecall wasn’t italicized.

    And now, I must reread the chapter obsessively due to the horrible cliffhanger.

  24. Guys, guys, obviously Wildbow is a fan of the Amazing Spider-Man and is rewarding our dedication to this lovely piece of literature with the one thing every coming-of-age superhuman story needs: A superhero/villain clash in a school

    Somehow Adamant and Sere were alerted and now we are going to see (along with the denizens of Arcadia High) civilian Taylor kick ass in public so hard that Greg is going to pop a blood vessel from excitement

    Obvs

  25. Also, Wildbow, you do realized with the whole alternate universe dealie that you have opened up SOOOOOO many crossover fanfic possibilities?
    Ones that have come to mind:
    -The Fancy Adventures of Jack Cannon
    -Legend of Korra
    -Dangerously Scene
    -Pirates of the Caribbean
    -Pokemon
    -Also also, Spider-Man, because duh

      • In that setting her power would pretty much make her the Empress of the World, and people might actually worship her for controlling them.

      • I have not read the book, but I see interesting crossover potential with Howl’s Moving Castle.

        Or perhaps something with The Last Unicorn where the passengers are Unicorns that hide in people and the Endbringers are agents or extensions of the Red Bull.

          • Quite. Though she’s almost one anyways, as far as her enemies are considered – wide area of influence, hard to pin down, versatile, unpredictable…

            The series in question, for those wondering, is Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Kind of like Sailor Moon, but better, and has one of my favorite soundtrack composers doing the score. You have to watch a few episodes to get a sense of the series as a whole (and avoid spoilers).

        • Wildbow, you describing Madoka as like sailor moon is like how you use the word snowball to encompass everything that happens after Taylor joins the undersiders on the about page.

          • Quite. But I find people are less surprised by the first impression if they go in with some forewarning that there’s ribbons and lace. (And it’s still mindblowingly good)

          • Madoka is like Sailor Moon in the same way that there are some parasitic wasps that look like other insects and use their appearance to catch other bugs, lay eggs in them, then fly off leaving the poor thing to be eaten by the freshly-hatched larvae.

            Not a bad plot summary either…

      • And in doing so make the setting about making friends with aliens. Because that was great in the later books.

        I think I’d like to stick with the war.

        • Ah, but you forget how quickly things go to crap in the Wormverse… Enderverse is enough of a Crapsack World to begin with. I’m sure that everything would go horribly wrong quickly enough…

          • Achilles kills Bean, Petra goes on a rampage, Taylor and Peter go head to head, Skitter is the Formic Empress
            SO MUCH LOVE

  26. So I finish reading the chapter and I start writing a comment where I pose some ideas I had while reading the chapter. I check the comments one more time before I post, and BAM!, most of them have been addressed already. Good work everyone.

    If it is Dragon trying to contact Taylor, It has to be something urgent. Dragon could have contacted Taylor at any time, and has shown patience in the past. For her to try it now, where there is little privacy and many civilians, seems reckless. I’m thinking it’s some kind of warning about who is coming to attack. Since Dragon knows about Cauldron, my guess is maybe a Cauldron agent? Or Assault gone rogue.

    Also, Wildbow, I once read something by Stephen King where he talked about how he really likes writing because he loves being able to screw with the feelings and emotions of his readers. If you’re anything like that, you’ll be pleased to know that the anticipation I felt in the hour leading up to the posting of this chapter was gut-wrenching.

      • *hand up* I’m getting a good feeling about this. It’s my favourite thing about reading Worm, you get to the point where you are looking so closely that every little thing has the potential to become hugely significant at the drop of a hat!

  27. Definitely Dragon. The interesting fact is who it is that’s after Skitter if Dragon warned her. Some of the new villains in the city? Assault gone rogue? Perhaps even the PRT, and Dragon is just attempting to slip her leash in a subtle way in the hopes of a good result.

    • In any other story, the AI that slips its leash destroys nations and subjugates humanity. In Worm, said AI is among the most decent people in the world.

    • The PRT is still around, and still has Cauldron’s people in it. She may have been forced to give up some info about Skitter to them. That or they’ve got the same kind of program she does in the system so that accessing Taylor’s file like that alerts them, explaining why the computer messed up a couple of times.

  28. Dragon not only having put this together but also manipulating the situation to produce the optimal meeting condition–namely the leverage that ‘she’ is the one that bailed Taylor/Skitter out of a tight spot–might be one of the inroads that one faction of the ‘PRT’ may be taking either officially or unofficially to get a true foothold back into Brockton Bay. After all, who has had the most ‘visible’ success against *everything* that’s been thrown at them in the time of the stories? It hasn’t been the PRT, the Wards, the Triumvirate, Cauldron, Coil, Empire Eighty-Eight, the ABB, Lung, Leviathan, the Nine…

  29. I registered just to make this first comment;

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    “Taylor,” my dad spoke.

    “Hi dad,” I said.

    “How’s the work?”

    “It’s not,” I said. “I got a call from someone I’ve been working with on and off, and stopped by the school. Where are you?”

    “The boat graveyard. We’re trying to do some problem solving, and it’s slowing us down. Which school?”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    This is Cherish, right?

  30. This was everything I could have hoped for from Taylor’s confrontation with Emma! Thank you Wildbow, I’m quite pleased. But NNrnrrrgh, what a cliffhanger! At least you’re updating early, that’s somethin’…

  31. when taylor is answering the principal:
    >> I spoke the first answer that came to mind, which wouldn’t cause more problems.

    sentence seems slightly awkward when i try to sound it out

    • @Wildbow: I meant to post about this. There’s an extra comma, and also “which” should be “that.” “Which” is used to add information, “that” to restrict the field of whatever you’re talking about. Of all possible answers, Taylor is restricting herself to ones that won’t cause problems. Both should theoretically work, but only one does in this case.

      I spoke the first answer that came to mind that wouldn’t cause more problems.

  32. Dudes, Dudettes, and Dudleys,

    What if it wasnt Dragon and Assault isnt approaching?
    *Keanu Reeves pondering*

    • I didn’t think it was Assault approaching anyway. I figured Dragon was approaching. That or Cauldron is sending their mystery girl to take Skitter out.

      And if it wasn’t Dragon tipping off the principal, then it was either Tattletale or Cauldron again.

      Well, unless Faultline has some reason for tipping off school authorities like that with some odd application of Shamrock’s power to guess at possible Undersider identities.

      Now, if I’m going to be one of the Dudleys… *puts on overalls and taped-together glasses and turns to Ivy* Devon! Get the tables!

  33. Huh, everyone seems to think that Dragon was behind the warning just because a computer was involved. I just thought it was a clever way for the principal to pass a warning without appearing to do so to an outside observer.

    Of course, if Dragon actually went against her original programming this much to help Skitter against the rightful authorities, things probably are more screwed up than expected.

    I don’t think so as Cauldron seemed to have been mostly neutralized when we last heard of them. In fact the development during the fight against Noelle seems to make it less likely that Dragon would go against authorities as with the resignation of the triumvirate the overall corruption has gone down.

    On the other hand in the unlikely case that Dragon really does want to help, maybe skitter can ask her for some powersuit to help her. She could put insect wings on it and give it a dragonfly motive to satisfy both their respective themes. It would certainly help against the next s-class threat.

    In that vein, an Armsmaster-to-Defiant-like transformation of Skitter into the new cape Dragonfly might account for Dinah’s prediction that Taylor would be there at the end of the world but she would be different. A cyborg Skitter would count as different I guess.

    But really I think it was just the principal trying to help.

    • since arc 10, when the undersiders invaded the PRT headquarters for the first time, dragon’s had a part of herself monitoring the internet and camera feeds looking for any mention of ‘taylor hebert’ or any persons matching her description.

      dragon probably twigged on the moment the principle ran a records search

    • Probably smoking a blunt in a washroom or something. I don’t think good capes are getting assigned to babysit a high school.

      I totally want to see them as the Nobbs and Colon of the Protectorate.

      • Nobbs and Colon, huh? Those sort of charcters usually work better in contrast with some actual competent and incorruptible character like a Vimes or a Carrot which seems to be lacking here.

        On the other hand maybe it is one of those situations where the PRT decided to just give up and sent all their losers and troublemakers to the place that seems cursed and now someone like Miss Militia has to inspire the rag-tag bunch of misfits to work together and by successful.

        Then again I just had the image of “Nobbs and Colon” braving a million to one chance to hit Dragon in her vulnerable bits…

        • Actually, i can see a parahuman with an ability of “make one in a million chance happen nine times out of ten” existing.

          It would be both very useless (since the probability is low and exact), and extremely powerful when coupled with a thinker who could calculate chances to help engineer situations.

          • Sere was called away because a toilet flooded in one of the student bathrooms. Unfortunately, that’s one case where the smell may be worse once he’s got all the water out of it.

            Adamant is hitting on some 11th grade Goth girls who have a thing for piercings and other body metal.

  34. Is it just me or did the guard’s name Collins stand out to anyone else? I swear we’ve seen that last name before somewhere. Was he was one of Coil’s soldiers or maybe a PRT soldier? Or am I just getting him confused with Armsmaster, whose first name is Colin?

  35. I think the identity crisis here is from Fern, if she is in fact a plant. It’s possible she went to school with Charlotte, saw her grow concerned with Greg and then incident with Taylor, put two and two together and called in her allies.

  36. Heh. Heheh. HehahahaHUAHUAHUAHUA…

    Purrrrrfect how Emma was dealt with. Now all that’s missing is a description of her face if and when Taylor’s identity comes out.

  37. English isn’t my first language, so I’m not certain:
    ”I had to react to it like I might one of Tattletale’s headgames.”
    Should it be ”I had to react to it like I might to one of the Tattletale’s headgames.”?

    • Both are correct. It’s one of those cases where English drops a word and assumes you pick it up. As far as I can tell, it’d be
      “I had to react to it like I might react to one of Tattletale’s headgames.”
      but that’s a bit repetitious, so the second “react to” gets dropped, with the implication that the verb is the same in both cases.
      Your “like I might to one of” is better than “like I might react to one of” but “like I might one of” is also correct.

      English is bloody weird.

      • > English is bloody weird.

        Indeed. It gets particularly bad when you get into the weird dialects, like American Internet English, which positively fetishizes distorting the grammar of innocent sentences for comic effect (presumably inspired by a desire to parody and satire the illiterate ramblings of noobs and the bizzarities of old incompetent videogame translations).

    • Since Tattletale is more her name than her title, the definitive article “the” isn’t used when referring to her in English. I wouldn’t say “the Kessler’s post” for example, but I might say “the author’s post” or “the President’s post”.

      The sentence quoted does cut out a few words, but in way that’s fairly common for English speakers to do so I think it reads ok as written (I’d maybe put a “to” in after the “might”).

      • Even English speakers from different countries have problems with each other. English English, American English, and Australian English all have their own quirks. And you know what? They’ll still have people teaching English in the schools that didn’t learn it as a first language for the simple fact that they had to learn all the actual rules while the rest of us skated by picking it up informally from birth.

        Still, never a bad thing to pick up a new language, even a little. Es como una nueva forma pensar.

  38. Holy Hell, that HAS to be Dragon……but kudos for Emma getting her little world shatter. I would’ve preferred headgames like Jack, but this was still satisfying. I agree with Gnarker, Oh God if Emma knew just who she was fucking with and how she ‘encountered’ Mannequin. the utter look of ‘I just threatened Mother-Freaking-Cthulhu’ would be priceless, I would commission someone to paint it or something. I really hope Taylor can get out in time……unless of course Greg decided to call Taylors bluff, and feeling angry, called the PRT.

  39. What? Skitter score an untainted victory at any level? Fuck no! The world would end early! Endbringers would flatten the city! Coil would come back from the dead specifically to erase the timeline in which such an unconscionable event dared occur!

    … Run, Skitter! Run like Lola!

      • Relax — it conveyed just fine.

        Even if it didn’t, the allusion to Lola Rennt would make up for it. Although Franka Potente is a bit too old now to play Taylor Hebert – I’d probably cast Elle Fanning from Super 8.

          • Wouldn’t work. Elle Fanning is only 5’6″.

            What you’d really want is a relative unknown with strong acting chops for Taylor and most of the other Undersiders. Save the big names for the secondary characters: Johnny Depp (Jack), Daniel Craig (Colin), Melissa McCarthy (Piggot), etc.

            Hg

          • @Hg: Now that is a clever thought. I think Daniel Craig looks a bit old for Armsmaster (whom I believe is supposed to be less than thirty), but the principle still applies. I say Christian Bale (39, still too old, but he looks younger).

            *starts searching lists of action stars on IMDB*

          • He played Magneto in X-Men: First Class and David the android in Prometheus (X-Men First Class was the smarter of those two movies).

            Hell, plenty of room for Kevin Bacon too in the pile of characters.

          • Why not? The relationship between Lisa and Taylor has always been more sisterly than *just* coworkers/friends. Especially with the revelation that her efforts since she first met Skitter have been to do for her what she couldn’t do for her own brother. So I’d say the ages/relationship/acting roles would reflect well in a Worm!Movie

          • I have a habit of translating my favorite literature (moreso visualizing while reading) into movies. How would certain scenes work, where would it end, etc. Depending on how many volumes you split this into, I can definitely see quite a few movies being able to come from this. *wistful sigh*

  40. Great chapter!! I hate you for this cliff hanger though, I have to know who is coming after Taylor!!

    IMO, here is what is going on…

    Taylors dad is influenced by Cherish. Seems odd that he would want to know specifics for what school she was at. Then minutes later there is an incoming threat at that school. Cherish had Danny tell her, and she relayed that information to _________??? I would guess the nine, but I dont know that Cherish would want to help them… maybe she thinks she can get in their good graces by giving up skitter in hopes that they will remove her from her tomb.

    Dragon is obviously the person who sent the warnings, as the warnings started to come in as soon as the VP typed in Taylors name. Which also makes me think the nine might be making a comeback in Brockton Bay. The whole, the enemy of my enemy is my friend kind of deal.

    Dragon has been tracking the nine for a while, and we dont really know where they are at atm. Maybe they have been making their way back towards BB, and Dragon intercepted a message from Cherish somehow directing them to the school Taylor is at.

    This is all a shot in the dark, and it seems like it would have to be a perfect coincidence for it to happen, but who knows! All I know is my ass is going to be sore from sitting on the edge of my seat until Saturday!

  41. Updated the Cast Page. As always, I ask that you please prod me if there’s someone critical missing. The formatting was a mess, so please excuse any issues with bulleting or paragraphs.

    • Looking good – lots of updated content since I last read it.

      Tyop fixes down to the end of the Undersider’s underlings:

      Danny’s description: Missing space after the sentence “As of late, they’ve been striving to reconnect.”

      Emma’s description: Two spaces between “red haired” and “girl”.

      Tattletale: No space between “(Also Sarah Livsey)” and the dash. I thought she ceded control of central downtown to Parian. Also, missing spaces after the sentences ending “head games with her enemies”, “hidden in a bun”, and “perpetual vulpine grin”.

      Grue: Missing space after sentence ending “his position as group leader.” No blank line between first and second paragraphs.

      Bitch: Missing space after sentence ending “a homeless person.”

      Regent: Missing space after sentence ending “total control over their body.”

      Imp: Missing space after sentence ending “don’t remember she attacked them.”

      Parian: “alllow” has an extra lowercase-L. Missing space after “cloth dolls she animates.”

      Forrest: Missing period after “Skitter’s territory afterward”.

      WagtheDog: Should be WagTheDog.

    • I was actually going to ask you to remove a lot of the spoilers. People reading through your story for the first time have ample reason to use it while they are reading, because you name drop a lot of people without giving them backgrounds first. I remember going there to figure out what exactly Kaiser’s power was, only to have it spoiled that he was about to die.

      You could have two cast pages- one without spoilers for those still catching up, containing just a brief background and description of powers, and the one you currently have for those who are all caught up.

      • I’d suggest having a second page – a straight alphabetical listing of names with minimal spoilers, listing physical description, allegiances, and powers only (meaning that e.g. Sophia Hess and Shadow Stalker are separate entries) – listed as “Cast (Spoiler-Free)”, and rename the current page “Cast (Spoilers)”.

    • *reaches Crawler’s entry and compares it to Mannequin’s*

      …you son of a bitch.

      *reaches Scrub’s entry*

      I repeat myself: you son of a bitch.

      —-

      More typso:

      Miss Militia: Missing space after sentence ending “landmines and traps.”

      Triumph: His father’s name is listed as Gregory here, but Roy in Monarch 16.8. Missing blank line between paragraphs.

      Adamant: In italics for some reason.

      Clockblocker: Missing blank line between paragraphs.

      Vista: Missing space after sentence ending “Gallant in particular.”

      Kid Win: Missing space after sentence ending “finding his identity.”

      Shadow Stalker: Missing space after sentences ending “shortly after arc 10″ and “for her description”.

      Aegis: “Onetime team leader of the local Wards team,” should end with a period, not a comma.

      New Wave: “Disbanded, though many members remain in Brockton Bay, operating individually or not at all” is in roman instead of italics and is missing a period.

      Accord: Missing space after “A onetime associate of Coil.”

      Purity: Missing space after “Formed and took command of the Pure.”

      Faultline’s Crew: “High-end mercenaries” is roman instead of italics.

      Canary: Should say “Canary, Paige Mcabee” instead of “Canary – Canary”

      Alexandria: “member of the Triumvirate.” should be capitalized.

      The Endbringers: Missing space after sentence ending “large scale damage to landscapes.”

      Hatchet Face: First word of sentence beginning “was made into an artificial siamese twin by Bonesaw” should be capitalized.

      Dinah Alcott: Missing space between “(Alive and Well)” and dash.

      Also, I notice that you have used both numbers and names to specify arcs – I would probably pick one or the other as a convention.

      • Why the ‘son of a bitch’ comments?

        The missing spaces may be browser/formatting issues. I have spaces and see spaces when I view the page in an editing format. Tried to fix it, not sure how well it’ll work, though.

        • (A) You imply Crawler’s not dead.

          (B) On second thought, scratch this one – Scrub+Shamrock is an obvious killer combo, and Faultline needs to have a way to access Cauldron-land. Substitute “Ni-i-ice” as my reaction.

        • …interesting. I loaded it on the iPhone just now, and the spacing was different. Maybe there’s some kind of full-justification bug in WordPress.

        • …or it might be WordPress being dumb, because now there’s a missing space after “she relies on versatility and strategic thinking to seize the advantage in battle.” and there wasn’t before.

    • >‘Mr. G’ knew of Taylor’s problems with being bullied and dismissed them.

      I think that’s not really fair to Mr. G. I explained this in the comments a few chapters ago, but he actually reached out and tried to help her. He was the only adult who did.

      • Seconded. Something like

        > ‘Mr. G’ noticed Taylor’s problems in his class, but opted not to act after Taylor said she expected nothing useful to come of discussing it with the school administrators.

        would be less slanted.

    • The Simurgh should have an entry- and she has been described in detail, so it’s not just Leviathan at this point.

    • “exposing as much skin as it reveals”

      Conceals?

      “See Sophia Hess’ entry for her description.
      .”

      Superfluous period between paragraphs.

      Also, Siberian’s entry doesn’t list the cause of her death, unlike most of the other entries pertaining to someone who isn’t active for one reason or another. I’ll try to look for more later.

  42. Just because I don’t think it was mentioned before: I really liked the bit with Taylor’s fingers shaking after she steps out of the principal’s office. It was a hell of an emotional conflict that she just went through, and it seems very real to me that she would both be feeling the aftereffects of all the adrenaline and that she wouldn’t understand why.

  43. ALL HAIL WILDBOW AS THE MASTER OF OUR COLLECTIVE ATTENTION! WILBOW IS THE MASTER, AND WE BEND TO THE WILL OF THE MASTER WILLINGLY AND WITH JOY!!!!!!!

    ALL HAIL WILDBOW!!!

    ALL HAIL WILDBOW!!!

    Best. Chapter. Ever.

    Ever.

    Ev. Er.

    Hg

      • I was worried this would happen. Alright, Wildbow, I’ll handle this. Now, for your religion, are you going to want virgin sacrifices, or just any ole human sacrifice? Be aware we can skip the human sacrifices completely, but we’re going to need a whole lot of chickens.

        Let’s see…going off the Hubbard model, we can make you a LOT of money under this guise so long as readership is up and you get celebrities to join up.

        Now, we need to edit your personal history. How about a nebulous trinity concept? The father, the pun, and the holy shit quotient?

        • Wildbow, you should’ve been fully expecting that, with the combination of a web serial this awesome and psycho gecko roving the comments section, you’d get a cult sooner or later. Whether you want it or not, though to me, a cult based on a web serial seems pretty awesome. Anyway, what title are you giving gecko? Archbishop? Head follower? Psycho gecko? He seems to have pretty much taken charge of it, as seem in the comment on 20.1 and this.

          • Whatever position Psycho Gecko gets, I feel that it is only fair that I get the position in charge of backstabbi-I mean, a position as his understudy.
            Sure, he beats me in sheer number of jokes made, but I beat him in number of times I mention the word potato, which I think is frankly a much more important measure.

      • Whaddaya mean, “What?” This wasn’t explicit enough for you?

        “Best. Chapter. Ever.” — Hg

        Yes, that’s a quote. You can quote me on that. I just did. Just be sure to include the attribution.

        Hg

  44. I wonder if some people just skip interludes.

    back in interlude 18 during clockblockers therapy session he confession his admiration of the villains and contemplates if that their lack of politics is why they are willing. During the enchida fight, he seems to have developed a respect for skitter, and treats her more like a friend and teammate, rather then a ally forced by circumstance. I think if there is interaction between taylor and him in the upcoming future, its going to be in her favor.

    as for the computer thing, i suspect the principal knew who taylor was the moment she walked in, possibly that even being why she was already on the phone. she made every effort to stall putting the name in the computer and even offered to spell it wrong on purpose. when that fails, she starts rebooting it repeatedly to slow things down even further. I suspect she is/was a cape herself. A costume protected her from the physicals wear and tear that shows on many of the people who stayed, but her no-nonsense attitude reveals otherwise. The computer issue, and implied warning probably came from dragon, I dont think we have quite enough info to be sure why the principal told her to run though.

    With all the current capes in town I think it would be awesome to see an interlude concerning just how much internal politicking is going on.

    of course im also hoping that next chapter is taylor beating the crap out of a cape in front of emma without using any of her powers as she escapes, then the principal having emma arrested for provoking a riot or something like that.

      • Thats sad.
        i just started reading this last week, and i cant see skipping anything. although there where a few points where i did feel the interludes intruded at awkward times, but its still better to have them then not.

        Side note: i had been looking for a good supervillain story so hard that i had recently considered just writing my own. For the first arc, i was worried this would either high school drama, or carrie ripoff, but it did a great job of avoiding both.

      • I suspect this has to do with marathoning the whole story. If we’re reading new stuff as it comes out, the interludes are a welcome bonus. If we’re catching up a number of the interludes serve as an unwelcome distraction from the main story.

        I particularly remember being annoyed when right after Coil shoots Taylor you have the birdcage interlude.

        I’d highly suggest that when you release a final version you think about where the interludes should be. Some of them are perfectly placed (Taylor’s dad’s interlude, the Wards arc), but some of them feel like awkward disruptions.

        • Apparently people who are bothered by the seeming “disruption” of the main story line are unaware of why “Death of a Salesman” is considered one of the best plays of all time.

          Hg

        • For the record, I’m marathoning and wouldn’t dream of skipping over an interlude. They add lots of context and depth. You just wouldn’t get the same value out of the main story without them.

          Sometimes I think efficiency has become too important in storytelling. “Use the minimum possible number of words to tell the story” seems to be widely accepted as *the* way to write.

          Sometimes I think that leads to stories that are *too* neat. There’s a lot to be said for a tale leading you on a meandering journey. So long as the scenery’s good, what’s the rush?

      • Are those people just skipping the bonus interludes? I find that the end-of-arc ones, at the very least, are required reading to understand what’s going on. Many of the bonus ones are the same. For example, Dragon being an A.I. was revealed in an interlude, and no one can argue that it isn’t an important fact. The Triumvirate’s dealings with Cauldron was an interlude reveal itself. So how can anyone just skip interludes knowing that there may be something important to know in them?

        • Agreed. To me the interludes seem like an integral part of the story. For example, the Travellers interludes gave us the background to understand why Trickster would chose to help Echidna, and showed us what Simurgh does. And practically all the information we have about Cauldron comes from interludes, so the revelations at the end of the Echidna arc wouldn’t have meant that much to someone who had been ignoring them.

          • Going by the naming scheme wouldn’t that be Earth Gimel? Or is the new earth the portal leads to Earth Gimel and this earth would be Earth Dalet?

            Anyway, yeah. The interludes are pretty important, if nothing else for fleshing out the antagonists and providing context for who Skitter is fighting. As well as introducing possible plot threads that any come up in the future.

            Or just making paranoid as shit, like anything involving the Simurgh did.

    • …that holds together. Maybe not all the details, but something like that is possible. Having capes in the administration of the cape high school makes sense, too – it gives those students someone that they can go to and feel comfortable being honest with.

      I can’t think of any female Protectorate members who stayed in town besides Miss Militia, though. And I think her Kurdish ethnicity would have been mentioned, even if she were bleaching her hair – plus, Taylor would know her voice.

  45. After my second read through I just felt that I had to add how much I loved Taylor’s disbelieving reaction to things actually going her way for once.

    Reasonable authority figures who actually punish bullies? Of course she must be trapped in a Lotus Eater Machine of some sort and quickly goes through a list of enemies who might have Black Mercy like powers. Or maybe it is all just a dying dream inside Noelle like “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” or maybe she is still under the effects of Bonesaw’s agnosia weapon.

    It says a lot about her character, that her first inclination is to suspect some Philip K. Dick level of mindfuck going on than to accept that people in authority might actually do right by her.

    Of course the realization that the principal was manipulate by Tattletale helps to right her world view again. The world is still full of injustice, this once it just happens to work in her favour, which is still strange but at least people didn’t just start doing the right thing purely out of their own volition based on their conscience, reason and goodness of their heart.

    I guess at the end of her she will write into her diary, that today was the day that she almost thought there might be reasonable authority figures in the world, with perhaps a small footnote devote to the various super powered fights she got into afterwards.

    • I think tattle tale is getting to much credit here.

      TAYLOR assumes its tattle tale because she doent know of anyone else that might have an interest in keeping herself out of jail.

    • It’s more likely that the man behind the scenes is Dragon in this case. I expect Taylor be surprised, when Telltale informs her, she wasn’t responsible.

      And yeah – Lotus Eater Machine makes more sense for Taylor, then authority doing good. Well, the system let her down, so she’s making a new one, I guess.

  46. Guys. Listen.

    The next Endbringer attack is estimated to be aimed at Asia Minor (Greece, or thereabouts).

    Miss Militia is Kurdish.

    Now… there might be a significant geographical divide between its attack and her homeland… but there might not be. Either way, I’m betting she volunteers to help. There might even be some plot development hidden in between the lines, here.

    Thoughts?

    • I didn’t get the impression in her interlude that she was all that attached to her former non-existent homeland and has instead gone all out in patriotic fervour for her new home. There is also the fact that her power does not seem like it would be all that useful against the likes of the Endbringers. What is she going to do, shoot them?

      • She has in the past. She shot Bakuda-bombs at Leviathan. Didn’t work out very well, but then at that moment nothing was working very well.

        I don’t think the Kurdish connection has much influence on Miss Militia, but she strikes me as the type that would willingly deploy to any Endbringer event if she didn’t think she’d be in the way, anyhow.

  47. Wow. I was so busy with work I missed two updates. All caught up now!

    I guess I feel like Taylor does at the end of this chapter. Emma’s “comeuppance” hasn’t really brought her any peace, and given her lingering feelings of anger, there’s a sense of dissatisfaction to it all. I mean, yeah. It sucks for Emma that she is essentially being held back a year and now has a huge stain on her record. But this result came because the system was corrupted–only this time it was slanted in TAYLOR’S favor. It hollows out the victory a little bit. And isn’t it ironic that Taylor’s greatest strengths are the very things forcing her to hold back when it comes to Emma? If she showed off her power, it would reveal her secret identity and sic all of the Wards on her butt. A small satisfaction gained for a great deal of trouble. In the end, I don’t really think anyone won here. Taylor won points for her self-control, but the pain she suffered from her past hasn’t quite been resolved. It feels like she’s going to be carrying that for the rest of her life, unable to completely let it go. A bittersweet fate, truly.

    It would be great if Emma saw just who the hell she’d been pushing all this time. It still wouldn’t give Taylor any peace, but it would sure the satisfy the hell out of me! The principal’s demonstration would pale in comparison to Emma realizing she’d been pushing one of the most powerful supervillains in the city. But like someone else said, I don’t think we’ll be hearing from her for a while, if ever again.

    Looking forward to how this plays out, as always.

    • Sometimes the right thing to do is not the good thing to do. It would be perfectly Just for Emma to have gotten a lot worse. If she did see who she was messing with and survived, she would then be able to go around talking about how much she’s fucked with Skitter, the big horrible supervillain, and got away fucking scot free so easily you’d think she was Big Barda.

      I started to do a rewrite of part of the chapter, but unfortunately it turned far too violent to be funny. Having said that, now I’m tempted to make it both. Anyway, Emma would deserve a horrible fate and she’d deserve to know why. She deserves to see just how pathetic she really is and how in over her head and how little her social circle matters when you TEAR HER INTESTINES OUT THROUGH HER NOSTRILES AND MAKE HER EAT THEM! BWAHAHAHAHA!

      Justice, like lightning, ever should appear to few men’s ruin but to all men’s fear.

    • It looks a bit like Taylor feels cheated; she won against Emma, but not through merit alone. Interesting that both Tattletale and Regent couldn’t resist getting stuck into Taylor’s personal enemies despite being asked by her not to though.

  48. Wow, I had just finished reading the whole thing last chapter, and was really looking forward to a confrontation with Emma. After her backstory, I could see why Emma went the way she did, though it still makes her a horrible human being.

    I was hoping that Taylor took a few teeth as closure, but this was a surprising outcome. And of course, now we suffer till the next update.

    Excellent novel.

    • Welcome to the comments, aka, Commenthallla! Join us at the endless board in the feast of a thousand puns and the desert of 100 discussions of morality and the nature of heroism, and a light appetizer of 10 types of people!

      Perhaps with a nightcap of the occasional short story or fanfic, but whatever, I’ve been drinking since the meal started.

  49. This turned from a great read to unmitigated awesome when they got to the Principal’s office.

    Apropos of nothing, I wonder if Skitter counts as a legitimate authority that Dragon has to obey when in her territory. (If not, does Nilbog? A banana republic dictator? A major power like the U.S. when acting in contravention to the World Court?)

      • Ooh, but that’s tricky too! Sanctioned by whom?

        Is it whatever local government Canada recognizes? (This gets interesting in cases like, say, Taiwan.) Or does she have a model of Richter in her head that she pings for, “Hey, do you think this guy qualifies as a local authority?” Does SHE sanction authority, but has to choose something and not back out of it easily? Is she using a hardcoded definition somewhere, and in what language? Or is she running as a human-like pile of incompatible but vaguely cooperating motivational and definitional subroutines capable of having an inconsistent and even arguably instinctive view of where authority comes from? Or is she just a really complicated manifestation of Richter’s power that demanded that something that act “like an AI” come to exist?

        These are not questions that need answers, of course. I just like pondering such things. ^_^

        • One would heope that Dragon’s creator gave this that much thought, but he was a programmer not a philospher (even if there is probably lost of overlap if you go into AI stuff) and more importantly he expected to still be around later to make corrections for such stuff and likely did not go into quite as much detail as he should have.

          It would be interesting to see how Dragon would react to someone declaring indpendence or what status she migth give to an Emperor Norton type of character.

          Perhaps there are several factors that help her identify legitimate authority such as being recongized by others and the subjects within the territory. It could be that the moment the undersiders make some sort of formal contract or truce with the PRT they switch from being defact rulers to legitimate authority.

          Then again now with Armsmaster at her side he can just fine tune these things if they crop up and allow her to deal with authority in a more relaxed fashion.

      • Sanctioned by whom? Election wtachdogs can be bribed or blackmailed, the people actually living in that given area can be cowed with enough brutality. Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

        • Forgot to add whichever other government that can be bought with trade concessions in return for recognition of soverignty.

      • But, at the end of the day, doesn’t all power flow from the point of a sword? At what point have you dressed up that underlying fact in the trappings of bureaucracy sufficiently to ‘sanction’ it?

        • When Idiots form an international body that claims to hold responsibility for enforcing/upholding fantasies such as “the rule of law” & “Human Rights” but whose only real power is to lodge a protest, using the strongest possible diplomatic language.

        • It might be dangerous to follow these line of thought to its ultimate conclusion or you might end up with either the endbringers or possibly scion or the homeless guy controlling him as the ruler of the world. There are probably some (in-)sanity checks built in somewhere to keep the AI from acting to logical and more like a human.

      • Dragon’s not from the U.S. or even Canada, remember?

        My best guess is the UN. Still a disfunctional body that couldn’t enforce anything, but not any worse than any individual nation at this point. With the global threat of the Endbringers, they might even be beefed up some in the Wormverse.

        The UN recognizes a government, so Dragon recognizes that government’s authority in an area and not that of criminal groups in the same place.

        Problem is, the PRT is entangled with Cauldron, and the PRT is sanctioned by the government.

        • Newfoundland is part of Canada. It might have a separate dialect, culture, and landmass, but it is a part of the country. So she’s from Canada. And she “lives” in Vancouver.

        • Yep. You can have sanctioned governments that are corrupt or are controlled by some moneyed interest. It’s clear she knows about Cauldron, too. Due to her programming, there’s only so much she can act against them.

  50. something just occurred to me this morning (for me). people have talked about whether or not the Wards sold her out, or if the VP solder her out, or if somebody noticed the bugs earlier in the day, or during the confrontation with emma…

    what if: the VP or one of her guards noticed the [10 000+!] swarm *nearby the school* (<– important, she may have thought her students were in imminent danger) and reported it in. that was why she was on the phone, calling the authorities.
    guard C walks in with Emma and Taylor and she makes the connection that Taylor is Skitter, but also realizes the amount of restraint she's clearly showing, especially when she calls up the email exchange. Dragon is certainly listening in on her computer, but it's mostly the VP trying to subtly tell Emma that she royally effed-up.
    she sends them both out and tried to call the PRT again to cancel the alert, finds out they're already on their way, and passes along the warning to Taylor while she's still on the phone

    • I don’t think she made any swarms, but it’s easily possible that someone noticed the insects behaving strangely. Heck, I rather strongly suspect that that’s why Dennis was walking the halls — because he noticed the insects that Taylor used to I.D. the computer labs.

      And what with the way Taylor was having to constantly suppress the insects coming to her aid during her encounter with Emma, anyone predisposed to pay attention to bugs might have caught on.

      • >>I don’t think she made any swarms, but it’s easily possible that someone noticed the insects behaving strangely.

        i’m assuming you already know the part of the story where she tallies up the bugs she’s holding back, but also just a bit later:
        >>And punctuating that monstrous line of thinking was the bugs. Reflecting my feelings, it almost made for a throbbing sensation, insistent, the *swarm working to move toward me*, being pushed back with a semiconscious thought the next moment.

        there was a swarm. im certain tens of thousands of bugs would be noticeable, even if they were split into several smaller groups

        • There’s a swarm in the sense that (a) ‘swarm’ is the collective noun she uses to describe bugs and (b) in her two-million-square-foot area of command, there are probably hundreds of millions of insects under her command … but she didn’t *concentrate* a swarm anywhere in the area because she didn’t want to reveal that Skitter was in the area.

          • she may not have consciously attempted to bring them into formation, but we’ve seen in several cases in previous chapters where she does it reflexively. there was also at least one major point in the conflict there where she zoned out, and we have no idea what her bugs were up to at that point… although it’s fair to assume they didn’t come close enough into view for emma to see. that doesn’t mean they didn’t close on a different part of the school, where other guards might see it and report it.

            her range is only about 1000ft remember. granted that’s a few football fields but I’d think a school is bigger than that.

          • @throwaawy: The way she described it, I don’t think the insects moved more than a few inches at any point, if that.

            Look, I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be obvious to someone who knew what to look for — in fact, it *would* be obvious to anyone, like Clockblocker, who had seen her using her insects in the past and paid attention. But it wouldn’t be *swarm-body* obvious.

    • None. I’ve said it in a few places (inc. the schedule on the Donate page and the comment at the top of this page) that I won’t – going to be too busy getting ready to travel for Easter weekend/too busy over the weekend. Doing it tonight would screw up my schedule for the next week. Sorry.

  51. Everwander on Deviantart drew some anime-style Undersider portraits. You can find the image & the link to his Deviantartpage in the Gallery on the topbar.

    • Wow, that pic is good. Fanart is likely going to continue cropping up with people really starting to pay attention to Worm.

      That pic also made me think: we’ve commented on whether or not a tv-series or a movie would be better, with comment on which actor would play whom. How about an anime or cartoon series based on Worm, maybe along the lines of Avatar and the like? It’d definitely make superpowers easier to show. Who’d voice the characters?

    • oh those look boss :) Skitter is adoreable …bitch might be too adoreable (angrydorable ? in that a word ?) glad to see other artist types are taking a intrest in worm simply because I love seeing multiple takes on characters (also worm deserves a wider audience)

      • i like it too. skitter really looks like a woobie there, tattletale looks pretty cool too. regent…. is scaring me for some reason…

        bitch, yeah, she doesnt quite square with my mental image of her, but the other two arts ive seen of her dont either. maybe something ‘in between’… i dunno

        the icons were a nice touch, i think

    • I’d be interested to find out, if only to find out what Sierra has done since she quit working for Skitter. Poor Sierra, nobody other than Tattletale was willing to tell her that Bryce is a scum and that they don’t “get to be a family again” until he decides he’s interested in having family. And she didn’t seem to really grok what Tattletale said.

  52. i was rereading the extermination arc and i noticed that dauntless and two other capes’ ‘deaths’ resulted from leviathan tossing them into a bakuda(tm) timestop-bomb’s aoe.

    >> He flicked them into the center of the time distortion bubble, where they got caught, unable to make their exit fast enough to avoid being frozen in time.

    so are the three of them stuck in a section of the city that’s just blocked off this whole time, or were they removed somehow? and if they COULD be removed, doesn’t that imply the time-distortion went away so…they should be okay?

    • I kind of just assumed that any area frozen in time stops being able to keep up with us (as we are traveling forwards in time). They are stuck in that moment for the rest of their lives. A time-grenade aoe sized hole is all that remains.

      • so not an area where people can morbidly walk up to and look at as some really weird memorial statue, but a literal ‘blank’ sitting in the middle of the street?

        • Not even, it would look just like someone just removed a sphere of material from that part of the street. What used to be there is there no more, not even the time grenade distortion because it all stopped moving forwards with us. We left that part of space behind. But space can flow (science tells us this: google frame dragging for a cool example), so the void would fill pretty much instantly. You’d be able to walk into the hole and back out perfectly fine.

  53. Its actually silly how obsessed I am with this series, I’ve literally spent since noon today rereading through the arcs. The only things on my wish list at the moment are
    -Scion’s POV story
    -Who is Sleeper?
    -Endbringers = rampant passengers?

    • Scion’s P.o.v. story is in the cards. Not soon-soon, but soonish. Trying not to use up all the prominent characters too soon.

      Sleeper may have to wait for the sequel. I think it’d be a waste to detail -everyone- in the setting. I won’t rule anything out, though.

      • YES, I APPROVE SO MUCH!
        I mean, sorry, um, I like this idea. I love how you’ve consistantly thrown in relevant details to this greater universe (multiverse*) that you’ve built. So it’s less “The story starts where we start, so we have to be walked through every single detail” and more “This is the middle of the book, let’s read from here”. Gives us plenty to look forward to and speculate on, while also giving away hints to a greater Wormverse than is right before our eyes.

        Tl;dr- I approve of not sticking all your eggs in one basket. Even for Easter.

  54. In a discussion thread about your story on another site, someone said that he thought there were hints that Taylor had other powers unrelated to bugs, saying “they need to take away her bugs for a bit, and see what happens”, hoping that she might find more about these extra aspects of her powers (beyond multitasking).

    >”her awareness seems to be extending far beyond what bugs should be able to offer”
    was some of his proof.

    My response to him might be useful/relevant to you:

    >I picked up on that, but I chalked it up to creative license. Like, she hides bugs on people to keep track of them (ie, putting a single fly in Emma’s purse), which makes perfect sense. She saw Emma with her eyes first, and then put the bug on her. But in a lot of circumstances Taylor seems to be able to distinguish much finer details about people than she should be able with one or two bugs. Like their gender, height, or sometimes being able to know exactly who they are without directly seeing them and without alerting them to her presence (distinguishing the Nine from civilians for example), or reading very fine details (like detecting Alexandria stiffen very slightly).

    I just thought the author was being a little lax about it so that he could write those details in, rather than thinking it was deliberate hints at another power.

    • The movement of a single fly can say a lot, if you touch the top of someone’s head, and travel down the back of their body. Height and hair length hint at gender, as do any possible smells. She figures out who people are by noting key details about them (hair, clothes, costume) and then keeps track of who is where (for as many as a dozen or a hundred people at a time: multitasking). In cases like Alexandria, she might have six or seven bugs in discreet places (the spot where the gloves meet the arm, the back of Alexandria’s boots, the top of her helmet, etc) on any individual powerful or notable enough to keep track of. This is the case, for example, with her teammates. Other stuff gets filled in with context.

      But 99% of this is happening unconsciously, the same way she controls her bugs without explicit conscious thought.

      • >The movement of a single fly can say a lot, if you touch the top of someone’s head, and travel down the back of their body.

        Yeah, but that’s the sort of thing that would alert people, make them try to kill the flies, and it’s still only an educated guess at best.

        I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned her being able to smell using bugs, but I could be wrong.

        It’s not the keeping track of people that I thought was odd- just her ability to initially figure out who is who when they are in a different room or different building while apparently being subtle enough not to tip them off.

        When I re-read, I’ll keep an eye out for specific examples to point to.

        • > I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned her being able to smell using bugs, but I could be wrong.

          I remember smell being mentioned pretty distinctly, but it might be one of the things Taylor usually filters out, like she used to sight and sound.

          • Well, I keep thinking about what Tattletale said when she deconstructed Scrub’s power in that many capes don’t realize the full extent of their abilities. Things are relatively peaceful so she should ask Tattletale to join her in experimentation with her ability. Some possible experiments include filtering out less stuff with her bugs to see if her brain is better at processing the extra info, scuba dive underwater to see what she can do with sealife, try and figure out what was different about the time she could hear out of a moth, test how resistant to infection/disease she is when she didn’t drop dead in Panacea’s virus cloud, try to recreate her trigger event, and test different animal classifications to see just what she can control and why.

      • Oh, and one thing: didn’t you mention at some point that Taylor can’t sense things like eyelash mites? Why is that- it seems perfectly within the rules. Would it just give her too much of an advantage?

  55. Just thought you’d like to know, wildbow, your story was submitted to darklordpotter.net to rave reviews. They love it there.

  56. Emma’s dad, Alan, works as a lawyer and knows/works with capes. He knows the identities of New Wave and Shadow Stalker. He is tagged in this entry.
    WMG Time:
    Emma left out of the room but called her dad first and left the phone on in her seat. Alan overhears the conversation between the VP and Taylor regarding her identity as Skitter. He calls the PRT and/or New Wave and an alert popped up on the VP’s computer, warning staff members that Skitter of the Undersiders has been spotted in the school and Adamant/Sere have been sent to investigate.

    Sidenote: It seems really unlikely, but a good guess nonetheless.
    Sidesidenote: Also, I love how this story provokes rereading of previous chapters ^_^

    • I’m glad it does. One of my goals was for people to have moments where they think, “Oh wow, that sheds new light on X. I should reread to get a sense of those scenes!”

      • I was rereading all mentions of Alan, then ended up rereading through Hive. The character development, plus the hints of foreshadowing, are all so obvious once you read through it again. Well done. *applauds*

  57. Also, perdoname, but while I’m reading through the archives, would you mind if I pointed out any grammatical/spelling errors? Or would you prefer if I didn’t? Not sure if that is a bother to check or not.

    • I’d appreciate it.

      You don’t need to stress about it for arcs 1-3 though. I’ve got (comprehensive) feedback on those, courtesy of my writer’s circle, and I just haven’t had time to implement it all.

      Also, there’s fixes I may not get to, depending on my memory & how busy I am at a given moment, but I’ll definitely read the comments and implement fixes before I get underway with a major edit & polish for eventual publication.

  58. So you have a protagonist called Taylor . . .

    . . . confronting someone who used to be her friend, but isn’t any more . . .

    . . . and AT NO POINT do you suddenly start making her paraphrase the lyrics to “we are never ever getting back together”.

    That level of self-control is . . . breathtaking, actually. There is no way that I’d have been able to stop myself doing that if I’d been writing this.

  59. Oh God, that ending was something beautiful. I’ll leave it folks more able than I, who have likely already discussed every angle of it above, to worry at the possible ramifications of this system that finally gave Taylor justice.

  60. “appreciated at the realization”

    Eh? Just catching up, and I noticed this. I don’t think that is correct, and even if it is, there are better ways of saying it, IMO.

  61. Maybe Haven or the Fallen had someone like that, capable of trapping me in some kind of warped world where things actually turned out okay, leaving me in a state where I never wanted to leave.
    In other words, “Things are going right…something’s not right.”

    I felt numb. A little disgusted with how things had turned out, that the only reason this system seemed to be working was because it was already corrupt to a fundamental level.
    Says one of the supervillain overlords keeping things working despite overlordiness being inherently corrupt.

    I stopped.
    Address: 911 Incoming St.
    Alt Address: 9191 Escape Ave.

    You know, the first time I read that, I misinterpreted it completely.

    • While you’re technically correct, I suspect someone would be more likely to use ‘less’ than ‘fewer’ in casual conversation.

  62. Okay I like this guard. He strikes me as just a jaded dude who doesn’t particularly care too much about things anymore either way.

    And Emma pretty much cemented my earlier judgment that she is simply evil. I do place her above Bonesaw on my Evil Meter. And right below Greg on my Stupid Meter. She and Cherish should trade places. Maybe then she could start earning back any goodwill or sympathy that died when she was toddler.

    How sad is it that the first time we come up against perfectly reasonable authority figure Taylor immediately starts worrying that she is trapped in a Lotus Eater Machine? This principle is epic by the way. I don’t see it as a perversion of justice at all. She is an epic badass woman simply keeping peace and meeting out a good deal of fuck yous to people who rightly deserve them. I still wish that the bugs would find Emma though…I still hold out hope that Skitter will be brought up as Taylor before Emma leaves what with incoming trouble.

    And I’m going to post this before reading through the mass of comments because over 513? Wow that’s going to take a while to page through…

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