Chrysalis 20.5

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The appearance of the heroine in gleaming power armor had brought the room to a hush.  The silence only allowed Dragon’s words to carry, bouncing off the hard floor, reaching the assembled students and staff of Arcadia High.

A low murmur ran through the room like an almost imperceptible aftershock, informing anyone and everyone who hadn’t been in earshot.

I could see Emma too, or I could see glimpses of her, between the students that were backing away from the front of the room.  Already pale in complexion, she was white, now, staring.

I exhaled slowly, though my heart was pounding as if I’d just finished a hard run.

Defiant advanced a step, with the door to the kitchens behind him, while I took a few steps back toward the rest of the cafeteria, putting both Dragon and Defiant in front of me.  Some of my bugs flowed in through the gaps around the door he’d rammed through.  He’d slammed it shut behind him, but the metal had twisted around the lock, giving smaller bugs a path.

He slammed his spear against the ground.  The entire cafeteria flinched at the crackle of electricity that ripped through the air around him, flowing along exposed pipe and the heating ducts in a path to the door.  Every bug in the hallway died.

No use bringing bugs in that way.

I looked around me.  This wasn’t an optimal battlefield.  There were counters all around me, limiting my mobility, while barely impacting theirs.  Someone had signaled Kid Win, Clockblocker and Adamant.  The three heroes were heading our way.  Sere remained tied up outside.

Five capes against me.  With the bugs that had flowed into the building with Kid Win, I had maybe a thousand flying insects and some spiders.  Not nearly enough to mount an offensive.  I had neither a weapon nor swarm to give me an edge.  I didn’t have my costume, either, but that wasn’t liable to matter.

Once upon a time, I’d had trouble getting my head around what Grue had been saying about reputation, about image and conveying the right impressions.  Now it was all I had.

I let out another slow breath.  Calm down.  I rolled my shoulders, letting the kinks out.  There was something almost relieving about the idea that things couldn’t get much worse than they were right now.  Let the tension drain out.  If they decided to drag me off to jail or the Birdcage, there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

They weren’t attacking.  Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought.  Were they not here to arrest me, or were they covering major routes my bugs might travel, to minimize my offensive strength?

Or did I have leverage I wasn’t accounting for?

I backed up until I’d reached a counter, then hopped up onto the edge, tucking one leg under me.  It was a vantage point that gave me the ability to look directly at Dragon, with Defiant at the far left of my field of vision and many of the students to my right, Emma included.

“Low blow, Dragon,” I said, finally.  “Outing me?  I thought you were better than that.”

Another murmur ran through the room, at what was essentially an admission.  Emma was frozen.  Her expression wasn’t changing; eyes wide, lips pressed together.

“I try to be,” Dragon replied.  “I’m only following instructions.”

“I guess your bosses are a little annoyed at the armored suits my team trashed?  Are they demanding that you make up for it by dragging me into custody?”

Dragon shook her head.  “Putting the armored suits up against you Undersiders was a beta test, and identifying major flaws is par for the course.  I do wish you hadn’t melted down the Azazel… It was expensive.  But that’s not why we’re here.”

“There are rules, Dragon,” I said.  “Expectations.  I fought Leviathan, I fought the Nine.  I was there for the fight against the Class-S threat downtown.  I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I think maybe I deserve to, a little.  I’ve done my share.  You don’t turn around and reveal my identity in front of a crowd.”

“It wasn’t by choice.”

“You choose to follow them.  It’s not like twenty or thirty heroes haven’t walked away from the Protectorate, recently.”

“It’s not that simple, Skitter,” Defiant said.

“It’s never simple.  But sometimes you have to take the hard road.  Sometimes you have to recognize that the people calling the shots don’t know what they’re doing.  Because this?  Picking a fight in a school?  There’s no way this makes sense.”

“The Protectorate is doing what they can to pick up the pieces,” Dragon said.  “Things are a little disorganized.  The best of us are working twice as hard, with half of the information, or incorrect information.  If there are any errors in judgement on that front, I’d hope they’re somewhat excusable, given circumstances.”

“Sure, but it’s the rest of us who pay the price.  The last time we really talked, you were lecturing me about priorities.  Do you really want to have this conversation?  Where I have words with you about your priorities, in light of everything that’s happening with the Protectorate?”

I left the threat hang in the air.

“You won’t,” Dragon said.  She stepped closer, and I raised a hand, gesturing for her to stop.  I didn’t really think about it.  She stopped where she was.

Why?  Why was she actually listening when I told her to stop?  If she’d advanced on me, grabbed me, there wasn’t much I could do besides kick and scream.

When I didn’t say anything, she added, “It’s not in you, Skitter.”

“You’d be surprised what I’m capable of,” I said.  “I’ve mutilated people.  Carved out a man’s eyes, emasculated him.  I’ve chopped off a woman’s toes.  Flayed people alive with the bites of thousands of insects.  Hell, what I did to Triumph… he nearly died, choking on insects, the venom of a hundred bee stings making his throat close up.  Even Sere, outside at this very moment.  He’s not very happy.”

Defiant and Dragon exchanged a glance.

“Your swarm shouldn’t be able to get near him,” Defiant said.

I shrugged.  Image, confidence, reputation.  I hated myself for doing it, but I was thinking of Jack Slash.  He didn’t wear a mask or a costume.  His power didn’t make people shit their pants.  What he had was his presence, an atmosphere of confidence.

Weeks or months ago, I might have had a hard time wearing that confidence the way Jack did.  The history, the long sequence of events and conflicts where we’d come out ahead in our respective teams, it could just as easily be a burden, the accumulated weight of the various precedents we’d set, but we’d made it into our armor, something to make our enemies hesitate at a critical juncture.

“I’m guessing you’re trying to contact Sere somehow,” I said.  “And it’s not working.”

“Is he hurt?” Dragon asked.

I didn’t have to give a response.  Fear was a tool I could use, here, and I could achieve that through uncertainty and the unknown.

I’d been thinking of Jack Slash before, but now I was thinking of Bakuda.  She’d been the first one to introduce me to that concept.

“You’ve got me thinking,” I said, ignoring the question, “Why set me up like this?  You two are too smart to put me in a desperate situation with this many hostages in arm’s reach.”

“Is Sere hurt?” Defiant growled the words.

“You put me in a room with three hundred people I could theoretically take hostage.  Why?  You can’t be that confident I wouldn’t hurt someone…”

Emma was sitting to my right.  She hadn’t budged from her position, safe in the midst of several of the school’s staff.  I directed a centipede to crawl across her hand, and she shrieked.  In her haste to get up from the bench, she fell.  She scrambled to put distance between us.  Both Dragon and Defiant tensed.

I raised my hands in a placating gesture, assuring the heroes I wasn’t taking it any further. “…or you wouldn’t be worrying about Sere right now.  You wouldn’t have reacted like you just did.  Sere’s fine, by the way, though I’m not saying he’ll stay that way.”

Defiant relaxed a fraction.  I could see Adamant, Kid Win and Clockblocker entering the room behind Dragon.  She turned to say something I didn’t catch, and both Adamant and Kid Win retreated.  They’d be going to find Sere, I could only assume.

I met Clockblocker’s eyes, then looked to Dragon.  “This is bait, isn’t it?  You or the people who are calling the shots want me to take hostages.  Because you have an answer handy, something that will stop me before they’re put in any serious danger.  I take hostages to try to secure my release.  You… I don’t even know.  You gas us, or use some kind of controlled charge, like Defiant’s bug zapper, and every bug in the room dies.  You get to be the heroes, I go into custody, and word gets around that the Undersiders aren’t so benevolent.  The villains who own the city lose both their leader and the trust of the public, all at once.”

“It wasn’t our plan,” Dragon said.  Her voice had a faint accent, just barely filtering through the sound filter of her mask.  “I’ve studied your record.  I suspected it wouldn’t work based on the decisions you’ve made to date.  Defiant agreed, though he based his judgement on your powers and versatility.”

“But you went ahead with it.”

“Orders,” Dragon said, again.  “And because we discussed the matter, and neither of us really believe you’ll do any serious harm to any hostages.”

“You seem to be giving me a lot of credit, assuming I’ll play nice.  And you seriously expect me to keep my mouth shut about all the dirty little secrets I’ve picked up on over the last few months, after you’ve played your last card and revealed my identity?  An identity you found out because I helped?”

“That wasn’t how I discovered it,” Dragon said.  “And you will keep quiet, because you know how important it is.”

“Maybe,” I answered her.  “Maybe not.  If I’m going to die or going to jail anyways, why shouldn’t I scream what I know to our audience, here?”

“Because you won’t,” Dragon said, “And you can’t.”

“Why don’t we move this conversation somewhere else?” Defiant asked.  He shifted his hold on his spear to a two-handed grip, threatening without being threatening.

“Out of earshot of all of these people?” I asked, extending an arm in the direction of the gathered students.  “I don’t think so.  If nothing else, I’m entitled to a jury consisting of my peers.  I’ll settle for you two taking a hit to your reputation if and when you attack or kill me.”

Which was why I was sitting on the counter.  I was less mobile, less able to get out of the way if they attacked, and that was a good thing.  A detail that our audience wouldn’t consciously register, but they’d take something away from the fact that my opponents were being aggressive while I was so defenseless.

“We’re not going to kill you,” Dragon said.  “We’ve been instructed to take you into custody.  I’m sorry we have to do it this way.  I’d hoped… we’d hoped to simply talk to you.”

“The both of you?  I wouldn’t have thought Arm- Defiant had anything to say to me.”

“We entered Brockton Bay’s airspace, and I was informed that there’s a major quarantine in effect here, relating to the portal downtown, and that the airspace is being strictly controlled.  We were forced to announce our reason for coming to Brockton Bay, and PRT members with higher clearance co-opted our mission.  We were ordered to confront you directly, here, and to bring you into custody.”

“Why?” I asked.  “Those suits you deployed against my team were supposed to be used to hunt the Slaughterhouse Nine.  Either you’ve abandoned that chase, or you’re about to tell me that there’s something more important than stopping them.”

“That is something we can discuss while we are in transit,” Defiant told me.

“Defiant-” Dragon said, her tone a warning.

“I could say more here,” he added, “But there are too many prying ears.  If you were willing to move to a room nearby, I could explain.”

“No thanks,” I said.

“You’d still have your power, and I know you can communicate with that power,” Defiant said.  “You’re just as capable of communicating any secrets to them from elsewhere in the school.”

“If I moved somewhere out of sight and out of earshot,” I said, “My words wouldn’t have the same dramatic effect.  Besides, I suspect our audience is the only thing that’s ensuring that you play fair.  They have cameras, and you have reputations to uphold.”

“My reputation isn’t a priority,” he said.  Dragon nodded, but I wasn’t sure if it was approval or agreement.

“You have your organization’s reputation to uphold.  For those of us who stuck around in Brockton Bay, we had reasons.  Something kept us here.  There was something to protect, or people to support.  Some were just scared, because actually leaving was scarier than staying.  Others didn’t have any place to go.  With the Protectorate slowly folding in on itself like a house of cards, I’m thinking you had a reason to stay, a reason you’re following orders you don’t want to.  You’re not about to rough up an unarmed, uncostumed girl and make them look bad on camera.  Not when you have that big a stake in things.”

Defiant glanced in the direction of the crowd.  A handful of students had cell phones out, watching the scene.

“Remind you of the hospital?” I asked.  “Similar scenario.”

“Yes,” he replied.  He didn’t elaborate.

“We could grab you,” Clockblocker chimed in.  “I can, or he can just walk up to you.  No violence necessary.”

“No,” Defiant said.  Again, there was no elaboration.

It dawned on me.  Defiant and Dragon were playing it safe because they thought I might have a trick up my sleeve, like I had at the fundraiser.  I’d disabled Sere, despite the fact that he was supposed to counter my power, and I hadn’t even made a big deal of it.  They knew what I’d done to Echidna, and several other events besides.

They were worried I’d pull something.

Defiant had a grasp on my powers, Dragon had a grasp on me as a person, and they’d gauged that I wasn’t a risk to the others in the room.  Which, if I was being honest with myself, I wasn’t.  They had the upper hand, they lost nothing by letting this play out, and so they weren’t making a move.  They’d talk me down, so to speak, and if I did something, they’d use one of their gadgets or tricks to counter my play.

One of the worst possible things had just happened to me, with my secret identity becoming public knowledge, and here I was, unarmed without a single idea on how to get out of this… and the good guys were playing it safe.  I smiled; I couldn’t help it.

“Fuck me,” Clockblocker muttered to Dragon.  I might not have made out his words if it weren’t for the bugs I’d planted on the heroine.  “It just sunk in.  It’s really her.”

Why only just now?

Adamant had distorted his metal armor to create a completely form-fitting metal suit, with only the thinnest possible slits for his eyes, before venturing outside.  He’d waded through my swarm, mostly blind, and he’d only just found Sere beyond the wall at the school’s perimeter.  He reshaped an armor panel into a weapon to start cutting Sere free.

Could I have caught Adamant  too?  Probably.  But it wasn’t worth the effort, not when he could reshape metal, with enhanced strength and durability on top of that.

Now that I understood what was going on, I felt like I had something of an edge.  Now, how could I leverage it?

“I’m sorry,” Defiant said.

That threw my thoughts off track.  I tensed, but he wasn’t apologizing for an imminent attack.  “What?”

“In the past, when we’ve crossed paths, I should have made efforts to meet you halfway.  I didn’t.  I’ve had time to reflect, I’ve had another person to talk to and give me some objectivity, and I’ve come to regret how things played out between us.  I could say more, but it would come out like excuses, and I doubt either of us want to hear those.”

That’s what you came here to say?”

“In large part,” Defiant said.

“We’d hoped to talk to you, one cape to another,” Dragon elaborated, “About the immediate future, with the Undersiders running this city, and your expectations in particular, Skitter.  But both Defiant and I thought he needed to say something to you along those lines, and perhaps you needed to hear it.  If anything pushed us to come here, it was that.”

I didn’t have a response to that.  It was easier when the opposition were assholes.  Expressing remorse?  How was I supposed to parse that?

Except, they’d done one thing that was assholish.  One incongruent element in all of this.

“One last question, then,” I said.  “Why?  Why out me in front of everyone?  It doesn’t fit with the idea of Defiant being remorseful, it flies in the face of the unwritten rules, and I know my team has played fast and loose with those rules, but I wouldn’t expect you to break them like this, Dragon.  Not Defiant, either, if he’s reinventing himself.”

Defiant and Dragon exchanged a look.

“What?” I asked.

“It’s better you don’t know,” Dragon said.

“What is?  And better for who?”

“Better for everyone involved,” she said.

“Tell me.”

She glanced at Defiant, but he didn’t turn her way.  “A precog told us it was our best option for bringing you into custody.”

A precog?  The incongruous elements fit together.  A plan of action that was riddled with little flaws and contradictions when seen from an outside perspective, that made sense when seen through the lens of someone who’d seen the future and worked out what criteria needed to be met to get the desired end result.  This, mobilizing on the school, it was the same kind of setup I might expect from a plan that Coil would have hashed together after a long question and answer session with Dinah, his ‘pet’ precog.

Dinah.

“Who was this precog?” I asked, the question abrupt.

“Skitter-”  Dragon started.

Who?”

“You know who,” Defiant told me.

It knocked the wind out of me in a way that I hadn’t experienced with the revealing of my secret identity.  My blood ran cold, and all of my confidence just plummeted, as though it had fallen into a pit so deep I couldn’t even see the bottom.

It was.  All of the lengths I’d gone to, the lines I’d crossed, to get Dinah away from Coil, to get her home to her family, and… this?

I was acutely aware of the crowd to my right.  They’d backed away from the front tables, and were clustered at the far end of the cafeteria.  Still, they’d be hanging on every word they could make out.  They were watching my every movement, every facet of this conversation.  There were cell phone cameras turned my way, and every second of footage would no doubt wind up on Parahumans Online or some video site.

I barely cared.  I felt a little numb as I swung my legs around to the far side of the counter and hopped down.  I wasn’t standing as straight, and some of my hair had fallen down around my face, obscuring it.

“Did they force her to give up the information?” I asked.  My voice sounded funny.  I couldn’t pin down whether I felt angry, sad or any of that.  I had only the external clues, the way my voice had the faintest of tremors, and a strange hollow feeling inside.

I stepped away from the counter, away from Dragon and Defiant.  My foot had started to fall asleep where I’d been sitting on it, and I felt a touch unsteady anyways.

“You don’t want to hear the answer to that question, either,” Defiant spoke, behind me.

Dragon and Defiant had flown in, apparently to say hi, and so that Defiant could make something resembling an apology as part of his twelve step assholes anonymous process.  With the chaos the PRT had been facing as of late, and their own preoccupation with their mission, they hadn’t been notified of the quarantine procedures.  They’d been questioned, they’d divulged that I was here, and the bigwigs giving the orders used Dinah to plot out a means of attack that would be likely to get me into custody.

Each idea seemed so much worse than the other, if I considered it for even a moment: either the PRT was using Dinah just like Coil had, or that Dinah had volunteered the information of her own free will.

I was willing to take Defiant at his word.  I didn’t want to hear the answer.

“What are the odds?” I asked.  “Do you know?”

“I can ask,” Dragon said.

“Please.”

She paused.  “Ninety-six point eight percent chance we bring you into custody,” Dragon said.  “We have the numbers on general paths you might take to escape.  You understand if I don’t give you the chance of success on those numbers, but you should know that violence won’t work.  Less than one percent chance of success.”

“Ah.”  It was all I could bring myself to say.

It explains why they’re playing it safe.  It’s not just that I have a penchant for problem solving.  Dinah told them to watch out for it.

I glanced at the crowd.  They were still listening.  Emma was there, hugging her arms to her body, eyes wide and uncomprehending.

Not even a factor.  On the list of things I had to deal with, she wasn’t even in the top ten, not even in the top one-hundred.  I felt irrationally offended that she was here, as if she was only doing it out of some kind of self-importance.  As if she’d had a choice.

A part of me, bigger than I’d expected it to be, wanted to lash out.  To hurt her just because I could, to answer that outrage I was experiencing, in regards to something she had no control over.

It wasn’t like I had much to lose.

“Skitter,” Dragon said.  She made it a warning, almost like she had with Defiant.  I couldn’t be sure what she was warning me about.  Was my line of thinking that obvious?

“I never liked that name,” I said.  “Skitter.  Never quite fit.”

“If there’s something else you’d like us to call you…” she trailed off, inviting an answer.  Her voice was gentle, as if she were talking to someone on a ledge.  I noticed Clockblocker was standing beside her, his glove pointed at me, fingers outstretched.

Was I on a ledge, in a matter of speaking?  I could hardly tell.

“No idea,” I said, as I walked around a table to put students between myself and Clockblocker. “Felt like commenting on the subject.”

“You know how capable the precog is,” Defiant said.  “Come quietly, and we can all talk to the authorities together.  If it would help, I can admit some culpability in your current circumstance.  All of us together might be able to get you a more lenient sentence.”

I was aware of the eyes of the other students.  There was the cluster at the back of the room, the ones who were backing away from me, cringing, cowering.  Others hadn’t left their seats, and were arrayed around me, their heads turning to watch me as I walked down the aisle.  The ones who’d stayed, less afraid, or more willing to face their fear.

He was admitting it, loud enough for everyone to hear.  He was partially to blame for me being… this.  A crime lord.  A villain.  Partially.  Much of the fault was mine.

Strange, to be confronted with the realization here, at school.  Not the place where it all started, but close enough.

“Okay,” I said, more to myself than anyone else.

“Yes?” he asked, taking a step forward.

“No,” I told him.  He stopped in his tracks.  “That was more of an okay, I’ve decided what I’m doing.”

I could see him tense.

“Students!” I called out, raising my voice.

“She’s taking hostages,” Dragon said, her jetpack kicking to life.

“…a clear shot,” Clockblocker said.  He was walking briskly to his left, his glove still trained on me.

“I’m not taking you hostage,” I said.  “It’s really your choice how this plays out.  I’m not sure if you heard me say it before, but I described you as a jury.  Now it’s time for you to vote.”

“That’s not how it works, Skitter!” Defiant shouted.  He stepped forward, then whipped around to kill the swarm that was flowing in through the doorway behind him.  I could divert some to the air ducts, but it didn’t amount to much.  He was stuck near the door, unless he wanted to let the bugs stream in.

“Stand if you side with me,” I called out.  “I won’t make any big speeches here.  That’s not who I am.  I won’t feed you lies or guilt you into this.  It’s your call.”

What had I expected?  A handful of people, Charlotte included?  A slow, gathering buildup?

Of the three hundred or so students in the auditorium, nearly a third stood from the benches where they’d sat.  As a mass, they migrated my way, gathering behind me.  Charlotte stood just to my left, staring forward without making eye contact with me.

Since I’d entered the school, I’d been acutely aware of the distinctions, the difference between then and now.  The sense of the Undersider’s presence in the school had followed me, nagging at me.

What use were followers if we couldn’t use them?

I heard movement, and glanced over my shoulder to see Charlotte’s friend, Fern, breaking away from the mass of students at the very back of the room.  Nineteen out of twenty of them were the clean, pristine, bright-eyed kids who’d left the city when the trouble started.  As Fern advanced, eyes to the ground, others broke away from the crowd to join my group.  Not many.  Ten or twelve.  It was still something.

A hundred students and change, a small handful of bugs.  I could see Emma, standing on the sidelines, her fists clenched.  She was saying something, repeating it over and over, under her breath.  I couldn’t spare the bugs to listen in.  I wasn’t sure I cared.

“This is reckless,” Defiant said.  His voice had a strange tone to it, and it wasn’t just the digital twang that I was hearing at the edges of the words.

“Probably,” I replied, raising my voice enough that it could carry across the room.  “But not as much as you’d think.  We’re not fighting.  I stress, we’re not engaging you.”

“What are you doing, if you’re not fighting us?” Clockblocker asked.

“Defiant and Dragon wanted to use the hostages against me, putting me in a lose-lose situation where I was caught between them and having to hurt people to try to escape.  I think I’m turning the tables, now.  We’re going to walk out of this school as a group.  If you want to stop us, you’re going to have to hurt us, and you aren’t capable of doing that to people any more than I am.”

“Skitter!” Dragon raised her voice.

“Taylor,” I answered her.  “I’m just Taylor, for just a little while longer.  I suppose I’ll be retiring my civilian name, one way or another, by the end of the night.  Fuck you for that, by the way.  I won’t forget it.”

“… wasn’t me,” she said, and I doubted even Clockblocker heard her, from where he stood beside her.

“It wasn’t your choice,” I said, “But as long as you choose to follow them, you’re as culpable as they are.”

I hadn’t even finished my sentence when I raised a hand and pointed.  There was a moment’s hesitation, and then the group advanced.  I waited a few seconds, and then joined them, falling in step.

Clockblocker used his glove, and the fingertips shot out with explosive force, with what looked like gleaming white fishing line stretching between the digits and the glove.  The tips punched into a wall.  A fence of thin lines, not much different from my spider silk.

Dragon put her hand on the glove, and the tips retracted just as fast.  My bugs could hear her speaking.  “…’ll hurt … civilians.”

A few members of the group broke away before getting too close to the capes.  Others joined in.  The group marched forward, reaching the front of the room.

Someone pushed a piece of clothing into my hands.  A sweatshirt.  I pulled it on and flipped the hood up.  I took my glasses off, sliding them into a pocket.

Clockblocker was pressing through the group.  He’d used his power, but the press of bodies was actually causing some damage, as people unwittingly pushed others into the frozen individuals.  He was fighting to reach me.

“Link elbows,” I said, my voice low, “Surround him.  He’s only about as strong as you are.”

It took a second for people to get organized.  He passed perilously close to me, but his eyes moved straight past me.  A few heartbeats later, the members of the group who had managed to get themselves linked together had him surrounded.

“Everyone to my right, head for the front door.  Everyone to my left, to the kitchen.  Straight past Defiant.”

The man barred the door.  We were only a dozen feet away when he slammed the butt of his spear into the ground.  Electricity and hot air ripped through the serving area of the cafeteria, with visible arcs dancing along the edges of sinks and the metal rails meant for the trays at the front.

“Steady forward,” I said.  “First ones to reach him, grab him.  You don’t need to do anything except hold on.  Dogpile him, and he won’t be able to move for fear of hurting you.”

I saw some people hesitating.  The group almost lost its forward momentum.

“He might not be a good guy,” I murmured.  “But he’s a hero.  Trust in that.”

Or is it the other way around?  That apology sat oddly with me.

He held his spear out horizontally, barring our path.  It was Charlotte that quickened her step, reaching out to fold her arms around the spear and his left hand.

Others soon did the same.  He stood tall in his armor, nearly seven feet, and people almost had to climb on top of him to find a place to hold on.

I almost wondered if I’d had a second trigger event, if I was controlling them, the image was so bizarre.

Then I took a better look at them, at how some weren’t listening to me at all, retreating.  Others were being far less consistent, showing a wide variety of emotions.  Sheila, the girl with the side of her head shaved, was among them.  Her face was etched in anger, of all things, as she clung to Defiant.

A hundred students had joined me, and a hundred students had their individual stories.  Their sleepless nights, their individual tragedies and moments of terror.  That was all this was.

I wasn’t sure if that was a relief or if it was scarier.

Dragon flew over us, her jetpack carrying her into the air, over the crowd.  Students were following beneath her, running.  One or two leaped onto tables and jumped to try to catch ahold of Dragon’s foot, but she veered easily to one side.

With Defiant occupied, I was free to bring bugs in through the back door, not having to worry about them being bug-zapped to oblivion.  I directed them straight into the vents on the jetpack that were sucking in huge quantities of air.  One second it was like a vacuum, drawing in air, the next it was clogged.  She lost lift, floating to the ground, and deftly batted aside the reaching hands of the students who were getting in her way.

Her jetpack expanded with an almost explosive motion, fanning out to have four times the number of intake vents, four times the number of output charges, and two laser turrets that curved over her shoulders.

There was no way she could pack that much machinery in that much space.  Either it was all crammed into her torso, which was impossible, or Armsmaster-Defiant had tweaked it.

She had liftoff, and she was faster.

And I’d already slipped past Defiant, stepping into the kitchen, and into the narrow hallway.  She didn’t have room to navigate, with the other students who were crammed into the entryway.

She turned herself around a hundred-and-eighty degrees and flew out the entrance of the cafeteria, heading outside.

Only twenty or so students were with me, now.  Dragon was stopping beside Adamant and Sere.  Adamant took her hand, and she lifted off, carrying the pair of them.

Still had to deal with three heroes…

And the massive armored suits that the two had ridden in to arrive.  Two.

“No,” Defiant said.

“You were supposed to protect us!” a girl shouted.  Sheila, the one who’d been angry, who’d brought a weapon to school and had left the school rather than relinquish it.

“I won’t,” he said.

He was talking to someone else.  The vents on his mask were open, hot air flowing out.  Was he trying to disperse heat so he wouldn’t burn any students?

“It’s still crude,” he said, “… do more harm than good.”

There was a pause.

“…r freedom isn’t worth possibly losing you.”

Defiant, still at the serving area of the cafeteria, moved.  With nine students clinging to him, he was glacially slow, careful to a degree that I might have called agonizing, if it weren’t so much to my benefit.

He needed two hands on his spear to remove the panel in the middle of the shaft.  I filled it with my bugs, and he shook it, to try to get them loose.  When that failed, he disconnected his glove, letting it strike a student that clung to his leg, before falling to the floor.

I tried to use my bugs to bite his hand, but I found it was a smooth texture, not flesh.  Metal or plastic, or something combining the two.  He found three buttons in the mechanisms inside the spear and typed in a sequence.

Dragon veered toward the ground, depositing the two capes there before staggering forward in four or five rapid footsteps, dispersing the rest of her forward momentum.  She fell into a crouching position.

We made our way outside.  The armored suit that Defiant had piloted to the school loomed before us, a four legged mechanical dragon perched on the athletics field, replete with panels of knightly armor.  This thing… this wasn’t a fight I could win.  Simple A.I. or no, Dragon would have shored up any weakness in logic.

It didn’t move.

We walked between its legs on our way to the parking lot.  There wasn’t really another route.

Dragon stood, abrupt, and I flinched.

She turned her head our way, but she didn’t pursue, as we walked through the parking lot to the main road.  Adamant and Sere were too far away, Kid Win hadn’t been willing to venture outside a second time, after the faceful of bugs I’d given him before.

Stray bugs drew out an arrow, pointing him to his things.  No use letting some stupid kid get their hands on it and blow their faces off or something.

I watched Dragon with my swarm, for as long as she was in my range.  I was well out of sight by the time she finally moved.  The students had released Defiant, and he approached her side.

She extended a hand, and it tremored, the movement stuttering, palsied.

Defiant seized it in his right hand and pulled her close, wrapping his gloveless arm around her shoulders.  He set his chin on top of her head.

My escort and I walked as a group until we were three blocks away from the school.

“Stop,” I said.

They did.  The remaining members of the group backed away, turning towards me.

What was I even supposed to say?  ‘Thank you’ seemed so trite.  They were all so different.  There was Fern, and a boy who didn’t look like one of the ones who’d stayed in the city.  Some looked nervous, others showed no expression at all.  There was no response that encapsulated all of them.

I tried to think of something to say, but the harder I tried, the less anything seemed to fit.

“You saved my dad,” Fern said, as if answering a question I hadn’t asked.

Saved her dad?  When?

It didn’t really matter.

“Imp found the bastard who was threatening to do shit to my little sisters,” one guy said. “Tied him to a traffic post.  And you work with her, right?”

“You fought the Slaughterhouse Nine.”

“…those bastard ABB guys…”

“Fed…”

“…when Shatterbird…”

“…Mannequin…”

“…Leviathan showed up at the shelter, I heard you were…”

“…Empire…”

A collection of voices, a jumble, to the point that I couldn’t take it all in.

I didn’t have a group with me as I walked down Lord street.  I turned right, onto familiar territory, my heart heavy.

It wasn’t long before I was close enough.  My range was longer, now.  Odd.  It was supposed to get longer when I felt more trapped, but ‘trapped’ wasn’t the word I would have chosen.

My bugs rose at my command, tracing over the area.  It wasn’t so unusual, that there were flies, bumblebees and ants about: the heat of summer, the humidity, the imbalanced ecosystem…  Nobody paid them any heed.

A small butterfly found its way into the house.  It traced over the glossy smooth armor and helmets of PRT officers, touched the badge on the chest of a police officer.

It touched my dad’s shoulder, moved down his bare arm to his hand.  He was sitting at the kitchen table, his head in his hands.

An officer swatted at the bug, missing.  The action drew someone else’s attention.

“It could be her,” the woman in the PRT uniform said.

“Fan out!” someone else ordered.

They spilled out of the house.  Orders were shouted, and people climbed into cars, peeling out.

Still at the kitchen table, my dad reached out for the butterfly.  I had it settle on his finger.  Cliche?  Overdramatic?  Probably.  But I couldn’t bear for my possible last contact with my dad to be through anything ugly.

“Taylor,” he said.

Six and a half city blocks away, I replied, “I’m sorry.”

The butterfly and I took off at the same time.

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851 thoughts on “Chrysalis 20.5

  1. May not be the most polished chapter. Apologies. Sort of wrote it while bouncing back from a weekend of trips hither and thither and time spent with family. Nice visits, though. Time well spent, even if I find socializing drains me. My focus may not have been all there while I wrote the chapter, and I expect I’ll get some typo notifications and the like.

    Hope you enjoy. If it’s no trouble, a vote on topwebfiction would be terrific.

    Expect a donation chapter on Thursday, barring strange circumstance (car accident, alien abduction, jail time).

        • Fixed. That’s the sort of problem that worries me, because it means I might have accidentally forgotten to hit ‘submit’ in one of the post-proofreading steps for getting the chapter ready. Damn.

          • Someone mentioned this earlier, but I noticed it hadn’t been touched. “He reshaped a blade into a weapon to start cutting Sere free.” Was that meant to be an armor panel, or is the blade being reshaped into a weapon more suitable to cutting spider silk?

            • Actually, the earlier sentence was in regards to Adamant reshaping metal to cut Adamant free. Which doesn’t make sense.

              I fixed that, and I’ve fixed what you pointed out as well. Thanks.

          • Actually, Packbat mentioned it earlier as well;That’s what I was referring to.

            “Packbat on April 2, 2013 at 12:59 AM said:

            Also, isn’t a blade already a weapon? Maybe he reshaped an armor panel?”

    • I hope you turn worm into a paperback when this is all done. Worm is definitely one of the best works of fiction I’ve read. I dread the end of it and will be re-reading for years to come.

    • “He needed two hands on his spear to disconnect the panel”

      Could be my reading comp here, but not sure about that sentence.
      Disconnect the panel of what?

    • Man, Them Feels Bro.
      Emma’s reaction was everything I ever could have wanted. That alone would have been amazing.

      Defiant Apologizing? That was completely out of the blue, so far beyond what I ever would have expected.

      Taylor’s reaction was about as perfect as it could possibly have gotten. She escaped not through taking hostages, not through fighting or revealing information, but through the simple fact that the people trusted her. They stood up for her in a modern day Spartacus style! (Props to Peter o) It’s good to see making the right choice, over and over again in the face of so much darkness pay off.

      Her dad? Heartrendingly sorrowful, and yet the only way it could be…

      Here’s to Wildbow. Long may he Reign!

      • I hope that he approaches Charlotte or someone else in the area- maybe Forrest (Why do i keep thinking his name is Everett?)? And then comes up to her, in the base when she’s least expecting it, and just goes, “Hey, kiddo.” and waits for a reply, just sorta standing there at a loss, looking even more aged than he was from the injuries.

      • I’ll take the credit, though I admit I thought it would be more organic/spontaneous, possibly led by charlette. Definitely one of the most poinent pieces we have had. The sense of loss, even as she won.

    • For the record?

      Having just reread a few minutes ago, I’d call this reasonably polished. Then again, I almost spelled “Minor” as “Monir” while making a minor edit to TV Tropes just now, so I don’t know how much my judgment means just at this moment.

      Also, this might just displace Grue’s interlude as my favorite chapter. It’s incredibly powerful.

    • Before I even LOOK at the other comments, I’m just going to say this chapter was EPIC (and that’s not a word I throw around lightly) — I had shivers, which is extremely rare.

      Taylor has been building social capital with the survivors for a long time, being a hero even when she’s classified a “villain” — and now she gets to see that people recognize it. That was awesome.

      My only fear for her is that Dragon and Defiant probably wanted to help her become a hero with the Ward program, on probation, because they need her help with the Nine and that’s why Dinah was involved — so the world is still in trouble.

      • While D&D may have been hoping for that outcome, their reticence shows that they both know what they’ve been ordered to do is wrong, wrongheaded, and unlikely to turn out well for Skitter. She’s defied crossed too many lines too publicly to not be sent to the birdcage, and her power is too distinctive for her to take a new persona.

        As for the Dinah equation, I worry. Either the PRT/Cauldron are coercing her, or there’s something we don’t know. Maybe she saw that Skitter’s best chance to survive the next 48 hours would be if she were in the birdcage. Maybe the 4% chance of escape now sets up a 90% chance of aborting the apocalypse later. Only Wildbow knows. The rest of us have to be patient.

        • That brings up a question I’ve been wondering about for a while: Skitter will be present at the apocalypse, according to Dinah? In the scenarios that there is no apocalypse, in how many does Skitter survive? Does this means she needs to die for the end of the world to be averted?

          Just a epileptic tree to add to the forest.

        • It could even be a case where, one way or the other the PRT was going after Skitter. If Dinah helps them then 96% chance they capture Skitter. If Dinah doesn’t help them then 99.9999% chance they kill Skitter.

          Like you say, only Wildbow knows and nothing he’s shown so far ties his hands story-wise one way or the other.

    • well. this is the chapter that finally got me to comment–because this is the first one that made me cry. and there’s still, what… six more to go? AUGH AAAUUUUUUGGGGHHHHHHH

      • It made me cry too! Like, I had to put it aside and just cry for awhile.

        I didn’t even have a name for the tension that’s been building in my heart on behalf of Taylor for all she’s done to try to do the right thing in the face of so much adversity and unfairness.

        Also, this breaks the horrible tension of Taylor having a secret identity. Her two halves had become very estranged from one another and it’s such a RELIEF (albeit terrifying) to have the whole Taylor-Skitter there in the room – acknowledged and validated as the vulnerable teenager AND awesome villian that she is by her peers and by Dragon and Armsmaster!

  2. “Adamant had distorted his metal armor to create a completely form-fitting metal suit, with only the thinnest possible slits for his eyes, before venturing outside. He’d waded through my swarm, mostly blind, and he’d only just found Sere beyond the wall at the school’s perimeter. He reshaped a blade into a weapon to start cutting Adamant free”

    Possible typo, to start cutting Sere free?

    • That said, this was pretty powerful stuff. I’m just left a little confused on what Defiant was talking about near the end, but I’m sure I can puzzle through it.

      • I think this was the last straw as far as Dragon’s willingness to be constrained by her “obey orders from local authority” programming. She was telling Defiant to remove it, regardless of consequences, and he was worrying that he might end up lobotomizing his girlfriend while trying to free her.

        • Funny that you say last straw.

          Up until about an hour before the chapter went up, Taylor overhears the one sided conversation from Dragon’s perspective, not Armsmaster’s. Among other things, Dragon says, “the last straw.”

          Then I realized that despite my excuse, that Dragon had opened every vent available to take in air (and thus opened her mask, so she’s audible)… the A.I. has no need to speak aloud.

          /slaps forehead.

          So I rewrote it.

          • I like how it turned out better that that sounds. And the way you wrote them coming together is beautifully done.

        • If you theory is true I really hope the wormverse gets a lucky break and Dragon isn’t hurt. The wormverse desperately needs powerful, and good heroes more than ever.

          • Skitter is proof that the good *heroes* are more necessary (and sometimes more useful) than the powerful ones
            *eyes Sere pitifully*

          • “What? WHAT? I did my job! You try fighting off a million goddamn cockroaches while you’re dressed like Ali Baba!

            Screw this, I’m gonna go down a mickey and pass out. Ciao”

        • HOLY WOWSERS!!! I totally and completely missed that! I took that exchange to be her asking him to shut her down until Taylor could get away.

          Excuse me while I go reread that part with the correct interpretation in mind.

    • I like how paranoid the PRT are, they freak out over one single butterfly. They know they took a risk, and know its coming to bite them in the ass HARD.

        • That just made me think back to the part about where grue got used to talking to empty rooms because of Taylor and Aisha.

      • In more ways than one. She crossed so many lines to free Dinah the first time, what might she do to free her again?

        • That’s neglecting the real possibility that Dinah was working with them of her own volition. Which would be why Dragon and Defiant told Taylor that she didn’t want to know.

          • not from their perspective. from their perspective, telling Taylor means taylor gets to be a good girl and go home with the Dragon.

            • Neither of them really seemed to want to be there that way or to even win that confrontation. They had to put in the effort since Dragon was forced to and Defiant would back up his girlfriend but neither had much fight in them at all for this entire scene which made it even more awesome. Both were resigned to winning but they didn’t want to win this way and they didn’t want to arrest her to begin with because both are pretty much poster children for how the system fails.

          • Actually, I don’t think taking Taylor into custody would have taken much more than saying “She came to us with this information. Trust her.”

        • Clocky might have been desperate (a horde of advance students are kind of scary) or he might have just been eager to try out his new gadget (c’mon, he’s a guy, what’s the first you do with a cool new toy beside try to break things with it).

          • Even more amusing is that Clockblocker’s new toy is clearly inspired by the trick Skitter taught him. A weapon that fires strings that he can freeze in time? Gee, where did he get that idea from…

            • Just goes to show how important creativity is in this universe. The best capes out there aren’t the most powerful so much as the smartest.

  3. Heh, I suppose I underestimated Skitter as well, thinking she wouldn’t use hostages if need be. A little more carefully than the typical supervillain, perhaps.

    Sucks to be Armsmaster and Dragon. Sucks bad. Man, as hard as this series is on the protagonist, I’m gonna throw it out there that among capes she’s pretty much middle-of-the-road in terms of her good-shit to bad-shit ratio.

    • They weren’t hostages, they were willing civilian accomplices in her escape. There is a difference. As for Dragon, the only reason she has bad-shit on the ratio at all is because she’s FORCED to do so thanks to her programming.

    • Nah… Defiant (he’s earning a new name, I’ll give him that) and Dragon are yukking it up. they didn’t want to take skitter after all…

      • They didn’t want to take Skitter, but instead of talking to her about whatever and Defiant doing his little redemption thing, she blames them for outing her and swore vengeance. Not exactly ideal.

      • They may not have WANTED to but it still stands that they tried. You can’t be best buddies with the person you just stabbed in the back.

        • Taylor and Rachel. Bitch stabbed Skitter, bestest of buddies now. Neither Dragon or Defiant tried to win that battle at all. Dragon even ended up forcing Defiant to change her core code to stop herself from winning at the end. If there is ever a chance for the three of them to actually sit down out of the way I really think they could be if not quite friends at least good allies. Taylor even seemed ready to almost sort of forgive Defiant for his past misdeeds as Armsmaster.

    • They’re not hostages, they’re new recruits.

      She gave everyone who was dissatisfied (with the heroes|with those who fled|with the whole situation) a voice, and a way to make good on their feelings. They’re no more hostages than the (Occupy Movement|Tea Party).

      The heroes came into a public place and put them in jeopardy. The Heroes disregarded standard operating procedure, the truce, and even their own conscience. They goaded a supervillain to attack the students.

      Taylor? Taylor entered the school as an equal, and planned on leaving as one. And when the chips were down, she didn’t use the students as pawns. She promoted them all to her level.

      And she certainly didn’t sink to the level of the heroes. She only outed Defiant as a matter of habit. It’s hard adjusting to a new name. When put into an uncomfortable situation, when forced to do something she didn’t agree with, rather than give in, she asked for help. That’s the big difference between Taylor and Colin. Taylor knows when to reach out.

      • Using willing civilian supporters as a human shield isn’t quite hostage-taking, except perhaps of the Heroes consciences. But there are groups that do this in real life and they ain’t the good guys. It’s a different brand of fucked up, but still not cool in my book. That the Protectorate was willing to do it too, surely doesn’t make it right.. just makes the Protectorate suck.

        • One could say the same of any military, then. She asked consent. They didn’t have to join her, they didn’t have to follow her orders. They chose to. I’m not saying that she’s blameless here, but…

          The Protectorate didn’t get the students consent. It didn’t even give D&D a choice here. Clockblocker and Kid Win happened to be around. It decided to leverage the civilians against someone known for her morals and restraint.

          Again, these students aren’t human shields, they’re a volunteer army, a flash mob, instant gang, just add supervillain. It’s no more or less than the messed up formation of any other army.

        • Oh come on. Everyone on both sides of that knew exactly how far both sides were willing to go. Skitter has never hurt a noncombatant and has consistently displayed morals. All the heroes minus Defiant would never hurt noncombatants. Skitter realized that Defiant truly was a better person than Armsmaster and as such would also likely not hurt noncombatants. The students were never in any sort of danger at all.

          And I’m sorry but if you stand up to guard a supervillain you know damn well what shitstorm you just entered willingly so that’s on you. (I would’ve done it too but in no way is the villain to blame for that decision.)

  4. That was amazing.

    I really can’t think of anything more meaningful to say than that.

    For all that happened at the end of the previous arc, I think it’s this chapter that feels like a season finale, in the best possible way.

    Saturday can’t come soon enough.

    • Season finale, or an end-of-second-book-in-a-trilogy, right? I seriously swear that Worm could be divided up into its own dual trilogy + anthology paperback series.

      • Thoroughly agree. As I was reading the bit with the butterfly, I was thinking ‘all this needs is a scene of Taylor meeting up with Brian/Lisa and crying, and it’d be the perfect place to finish a book.

  5. Hell yes. She wins by NOT fighting. Do you see what happens when the villains are more heroic than you PRT? Well that settles it, the PRT is NEVER gonna dislodge the Undersiders now. They have too much influence because the people in the city like and trust them. The heroes became even worse in my eyes by using DInah. I wonder what they did to force her to do it and what Dragon’s story is. Armsmaster is scared of losing her, so I wonder if it is Cauldron pulling the strings or its just a stupid bureaucrat who foolishly underestimates Taylor. So Taylor didn’t end up spilling the beans on Cauldron, but they know plenty of other secrets to hurt them. Can you spell BACKFIRED PRT?

    • Getting Dinah to do it would be easy.

      “I was told to bring Skitter into custody, and I literally can’t disobey orders. Please tell me how I can do this with the least chance of hurting her or anyone else.”

      • It could fit but she can also run the odds about how truthful others are being, so I doubt it was like that. God, what the PRT must think of Skitter now. Clockblocker seemed desperate to stop her.

        • You’re right — there definitely was that sense. I think it was because he felt outmatched, though: as someone who is still loyal to the PRT, he had to try to detain her … but as someone who had been in the Brockton Bay Wards for the duration of Skitter’s entire career, he knew that he couldn’t beat her in a heads-on confrontation.

          • @Anzer’ke: I’m not badmouthing the guy in the least. We’re talking about a seventeen-year-old kid who went literally toe-to-toe with goddamn Leviathan here — he’ll probably be in the top tier of parahumans in a couple years.

            But, as you pointed out, she kicked him to the ground and beat him senseless, so to speak. Outmatched.

      • Somehow, I doubt that it was tha easy… I think someone’s been feeding Dinah Candy, so that the pain goes away… but keeping her on a short leash to deal with the villains, just like Coil.

          • Piggot is out of power I think. If not for her inability to obtain results in recent events, then the fact that she was left alone with the Undersiders–and Regent–for an appreciable amount of time. It wouldn’t matter that he didn’t do anything to her, she’s compromised.

            My guess is the as-of-yet-unintroduced temporary director or committee is dropping the ball and scrambling to do anything they can to pick it back up, like Skitter implied.

          • Hmm – what are the odds that Accord has some infiltration into the PRT, like Coil did?

            Apart from randomly hating him, I don’t have any evidence to support that but its the kind of thing I could see a mastermind doing who was coming in and wanted to upset the balance of power.

    • I was assuming that Dinah changed the numbers and gave them the option most likely to lead to Skitter escaping unharmed. With the people who were there (Defiant and Dragon especially), I can’t see any other kind of confrontation going well.

      • According to what we’ve been told about Dinah, she can’t fudge the numbers. Even rounding them off gives her a headache. She might have accepted the migraine do that she could lie to protect Skitter, but whoever was asking her the questions would have noticed the sudden, massive pain and her ability shutting down.

        • Yeah, but would they have known what that meant? We have no indication that anyone but Dinah knows what happens when she lies about the numbers.

          • I think Dinah doesn’t lie about the numbers, but A. she could be adding in her own conditions, ie, of all these plans, what can I do to ensure that Taylor finds out they are using me this way.

            Also, when working with Coil, she would often complain about certian things, too many variables, whine, be petulant. Yes, she’s a little girl on drugs, BUT, she often got Coil to change the question. Did she lead him to asking the right questions to get him to go down paths that also opened up options for her? Is she doing that now with the PRT? It was the best method of bringing her in, but it was also the best method of getting Taylor coming to recognize HER.

          • Wildbow has confirmed in the comments a few arcs ago that Dinah ends up in almost as bad a shape from lying about the numbers as she did from searching for the specific choice during the Crawler thing.

            I’m genuinely worried that the PRT didn’t have to ask Dinah but that she volunteered this information.

  6. Awesome, but it seems like Taylor is going to need a new name (with her admitting she doesn’t like “Skitter” and going to not use her civilian name) Any Suggestions?

    • People actually discussed this a long time ago when it was pointed out that she can always choose to call herself something else in defiance of the heroes.
      Here is the list:
      Colony, Infestation, Locust, Hive, Chitin, Metamorphosis, Pest, The Entomologist, Scarab, The Ladybug, The Butterfly, Mantis, Slither, Creep, Queen Bee, Insidious, VENOM, Skitter, Plague Eight, Swarmchild, The Host, Vicereine, BUG, WORM, HIVEQUEEN

      • You missed the most important one. THE MONARCH! Can even do the whole butterfly metamorphosis bit as part of her schtick if she wanted to. Spider silk wings that can be deployed as a parachute, or used to entangle her enemies, anyone?

          • Which is exactly why she should use it! I mean come on, if you can’t be taken seriously by that name, but each and every time you use it to get the upper hand on your foes that are underestimating you? Perfection.

          • Actually a name itself isn’t inherently ridiculous. Names change all the time. When you think about it Iron Man, Spiderman, Superman, are actually kind of stupid names. But the people they are attached to have been around so long, and done so much that they are accepted. Nilbog is an unbelievably stupid name but it is feared like no other because of what he did. So even if she picks a stupid name, it probably won’t be considered stupid for long if she continues to do things like this.

          • Iron Man, Spiderman, Superman, etc. aren’t stupid or silly names, they’re just boring descriptors. They get away with it by being legacy heroes- They’ve been around for so long that they were the first ones to pick up the names. Much like how Hero was one of the first alongside Legend, both names are really bad cliches but they get away with it by being among the first to adopt names. As fo nilbog, that’s an oblique D&D reference, actually. It’s Goblin, spelt backwards, but there’s actually a race of magical goblins that heal from taking damage, and take damage from healing spells. It sort of makes sense in that whatever damage they do to Nilbog, they can’t actually hurt him- he just heals it right back up, and he reproduces his foul spawn at a prodigious rate- Much like goblins do. I actually suspect that he could be defeated by Panacea or other healing powers, simply because of the name.

          • @theant, your argument could also be applied to why she should keep skitter as her villian handle. Skitter has so much fame, especially after this that I wouldn’t be surprised if she becomes an established household name.

          • Ah, I suppose that is true. It’s just that she admits the name never fit her and a new name would fit with her new identity after she stops being Taylor.

          • …You’ve obviously never met any people that have played a Legend of Zelda game past the second, then… Anyone and everyone I know would hear chicken grenade, immediately think of those damned Cuccos, and immediately flee as far as they can. As for not taking you seriously- I take you perfectly seriously. Even when you’re being a goof-off, you’re doing it as a calculated plot to throw people off balance and take you as a joker, a class clown kind of character, so they’re more at ease around you and laugh at your being silly rather than interact with you with more serious discourse, which tends to run rather freely here on the comment section; your calculated levity is a welcome change from that, at times. Though, the crudeness could do with some polishing.

          • Actually, cuccos are one reason I suggested Chicken Mastermind as a powerset in City of Heroes. Could grab one and squeeze to blast an egg out at an enemy. Maybe toss a rotten egg to do some debuff and toxic damage. Minions that fly alongside you. For the Thugs MM set, they had gang war, which summoned a huge group of thugs. They could have done the same thing for Chicken MM.

            Unfortunately, they didn’t implement it. They did put loincloths in there, briefly. I remember my old protest phrase for that… “What do we want? Loincloths! When do we want them? Summer, preferably!”

        • Hive Queen sounds too overly dramatic. Not the kind of name Taylor would go for.

          The Host, see above, plus it makes it sound like she’s generating bugs or is a living hive for the bugs, ie they live inside her body. Squick. She has enugh trouble just having them sitting on bare skin, let alone something like THAT.

          Insidious sounds neat, but for something darker, more along the lines of a shadow power of something else to do with creeping and/or darkness and/or beguilment- Prettyboy Alec is better suited to the name, if anything.

          • Not on her bare skin she hasn’t, unless you can direct me to where that’s been shown to have changed?

          • When her costume is burned, she has the bugs crawl all over her face as a disguise. It is very noticeable when she deals with the 3 traitor ABB minions.

          • Being able to do it as a momentary thing to hide behind, to deal with a quick issue, sure. But not for a constant setu where they’re constantly on her skin crawling around, all those hundreds of- *shudder* Stopping now.

          • Every time she finds her costume missing, or lacking (even back so far as Buzz) she has made do without complaint, with the exception of maybe the first two times it was necessary
            She routinely places bugs directly within her hair, just to have some on her if shit gets cray cray

          • bugs on your hair, which have no nerves and do’t feel the light pressure of thousands of insect legs, is completely different from having them swarming all over your skin. *shudders, rubs arms, then goes and takes a shower to get the feeling off her skin* ;_;

          • I imagine Taylor has a very different experience of bugs crawling on her than any of us would since she’s in complete and utter control of them. I’m picturing it as being the difference between an ugly stranger running a finger across your face (normal bugs and us) vs scratching your nose with your own fingers (taylor and her bugs).

            No danger of bites or even the bugs getting where you don’t want them to be for Skitter.

          • @Rika Covenant
            at the end of the red miasma (bonsaw 9)
            she is covering her face with bugs befor kissing tattletale, forgetting that it is creepy,
            somewhere around there it is discused in length in the coment section (even wildbow was participating)

        • I think Myriad would be perfect because it simultaneously alludes to Taylor’s ability to be flexible and think up a variety of solutions to a problem beyond the expected.

          • From (I THINK) a similar root word, Myrmidon would work well.

            Connection to bugs (ants)? Check.
            Connection to defeating forces WELL over her size? Check.

      • She does a lot of work with spider silk, both in combat and making the armor. She has weaved together the city, stitches together plans and victory from the scraps of defeat. She has made her world fit her, made her powers fit what she wants, by adjusting here and there, designing, creating, and putting the smallest things together, both literally (bugs) and figuratively in her life, into a wonderful giant Tapestry. She is Tailor.

    • At this point, she may as well stay with Skitter. It’s the name she’s become famous under. And with the videos that are about to go viral, it’s the name that people are going to associate with her unmasked face as well.

      • She is used to it but she admits the name never felt right, and a new name would complete the act of finally changing into a new person.

        • Since they likely got that comment on video, there’s probably going to be a whole slew of people on ParaNet going “OMG WHAT’S SHE GONNA CHOOSE?!?” as well as tons of polls about possible name choices that the forumites think fit her.

          • So there are people in the wormverse discussing what we are? I find that kind of hilarious. I for one vote she gets a new name.

          • I guess “Swarm” might work.

            Or “Imago”. Yes, I know I suggested it as a book title a chapter or two back, but it also would make a thematically appropriate name that sounds neither stupid nor too unpleasant.

          • Well we don’t what is taken in the Wormverse. Skitter is officially a BIG name after this, so I’m thinking something Dramatic and ominous.

        • I know it’s cliche, but something along the lines of “The Black Widow” should definitely be considered, before being discarded. XD She uses them too much not to at least THINK of it.

          • That is too associated with a fem fatal who kills her partners. She probably wouldn’t like it, though Brian might get a kick out it.

          • That’s why I said it should, in-universe, be suggested- maybe by Aisha or Alec to tease the two of them; something along the lines of how she came and just spun a web around Brian then closed in for the kill or something, just to get her all blushy and uncomfortably awkward, especially if done in front of Brian as well. x3

      • Look, after what happened to the guy with ice powers who tried to call himself “Blizzard”, I don’t think I’d want to try infringing any of their other trademarks.

          • Hah. Blizzard shoudln’t be sued though, just Jay Wilson.

            Also, found a neat little trick to see what posts are new updates. type the hour with a space before it, then “:” so right now, I’m using ” 2:2″ to find posts made in the 2:20-2:29 range. :D

    • I actually think that this is a good chance to step away from her a bug themed name. Something in line with her new position as a warlord and a leader. Infantry, Invasion, Marine (air, land, and sea), or something completely different. Taylor is emerging from the chysalis guys. Let’s think outside the bug box!

      • Ooooh… I like. She’s always got a dozen threads of different plans in motion, able to test the strength of any individual line and use the strongest one, and with her methods changing from merely being biting and stinging mostly to using dragline silk and tying enemies up… It fits. Well thought out!

      • I like it too. It’s not dramatic, a bit ominous, and it fits because spider silk is a well trusted/used weapon in her arsenal. First time poster? Salutations.

        • Why not? She can simply declare she has abandoned the name Skitter along with her old identity and goes by Weaver now. It will also be a good indication of respect. She isn’t Bitch who everyone calls hellhound. She has alot of respect from the people in the city and they would probably go along with it. If someone calls her Weaver, they respect her reputation.

          • Weaver does make her sound like a manipulator though, and given her tendency to solve problems by talking it out rationally, it might give her a bad rep.

          • Also gives her a chance to update her costume design a little, give it some more armor, maybe a few stylistic changes that she’s been wanting to do- After all she’s been wearing that ratty old costume she made awhile ago now, so she’s bound to want to make a new one.

          • Actually, I’m kinda hoping that she doesn’t get the name Weaver, because I’ve got a character in mind whose power would fit that name perfectly.

        • A tailor doesn’t weave, though. A tailor cuts and stitches. A weaver weaves.

          Wonderful chapter! Can I say, I never thought Skitter fit either. It’s an okay name, but it lacks…confidence, maybe. I’d expect a villain called Skitter to flee the light like a cockroach, and that surely doesn’t suit her now. Regardless of other associations, Monarch is my favorite…but I’d think she’d want to hold onto her well-known name, unless she publicly made some big switch.

        • Orb Weaver, eh? I think she still has Lung’s eyes around somewhere, probably desiccated by now… weave them into her new costume? ;P

        • While the homophone fits, and she is a supervillain tailor, of a kind, the name is bland and unappealing even if ‘spiced’ to seem more intimidating, like “The Tailor”. Makes you think of ‘The Shoveller’ or ‘The Spleen’. Not exactly notable capes, there.

    • “Imago” is growing on me. It means ‘grown up’, specifically for bugs, but also “an idealized version of the self.”

      It’s not the kind of name Taylor would pick for herself… but if someone decided to, it would be a very good friend indeed who tags her with it.

      • Imago sounds too masculine for my tastes; It fits more as an arc title than a cape name for Skitter- though a male insect shapeshifter would be fitting for the name.

        • Since I haven’t seen it suggested yet how about Pestilence she has the powers to pull off both the look and the effect, and with the end off the world expected to happen soon might as well start bringing in the four horsemen, she even has a suitably creepy steed. On another note I wonder if it occured to whoever questioned Dinah to ask her the odds of things backfiring horribly were?

          • Forgot about the guy in London, still there’s always Grievous Bodily Harm, Cruelty to Animals, Embarrassing Personal Problems, or People Covered in Fish.

          • In Greco-Roman mythology, Arachne (pron.: /əˈrækniː/) was a great mortal weaver who boasted that her skill was greater than that of Athena, goddess of wisdom and strategy. Arachne refused to acknowledge that her knowledge came, in part at least, from the goddess. Offended by Arachne’s arrogance, Athena set a contest between the two weavers. According to Ovid,[1] the goddess was so envious of the magnificent tapestry and the mortal weaver’s success, and perhaps offended by the girl’s choice of subjects (the loves and transgressions of the gods), that she destroyed the tapestry and loom and slashed the girl’s face. “Not even Pallas nor blue-fevered Envy \ Could damn Arachne’s work. \ The goddess raged at the girl’s success, struck through her loom, tore down the scenes of wayward joys in heaven.″[2] Ultimately, the goddess turned Arachne into a spider. Arachne simply means “spider” (ἀράχνη) in Greek. In another version of the myth, Arachne lost the weaving contest. She then hanged herself out of embarrassment. Later on, Athena finds Arachne’s body and takes pity on her, before resurrecting her as a spider. Both these legends explain why spiders can weave webs.

            Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arachne

          • The Discworld ones when they had to ride out because of the glass clock decided to ride out against the Auditors who were behind it. In any case none of the horsemen fit her personality and goals anyway.

          • i know that horseman as plague, fitting her power
            and fitting her goals (as what she tries to prevent)
            and a hint to the end of the world, in which she is involved (Diana said something like: “you will be there but you will be different” [i think that was when they were in the hospital])

    • I put in my two cents on names that Taylor might choose for herself way back when. I don’t remember. But my position hasn’t really changed. The name I’d like to see is Myriad, which somebody else has mentioned. The name that makes most sense to me is Vicereine.

      On the whole, I doubt Taylor will actively try to rename her cape identity, though. Doesn’t fit the way I’d expect Taylor to react. Though she might do so, with prodding/advice from Tattletale or her lieutenants.

  7. Well. Didn’t expect supervillain passive resistance style to win the day for Skitter. I didn’t even know that was a thing.

    Great chapter. Saturday cannot get here fast enough.

  8. Regarding Emma: I honestly hope that this is the stimulus that forces her to make a break with the person she became since she met Shadow Stalker. Taylor liked the person she used to be.

    • She is definitely going to have some soul searching to do when she realizes she caused the trigger event, the fact that she never took revenge, and all she accomplished. She is probably going to paranoid as hell about every insect she sees from now on. That brought a smile to my face.

      • She probably doesn’t even know what a trigger event is, let alone that she caused one. Most people don’t know about them, hell Taylor didn’t even know and she had one of the things.

        • Super late reply (I just started reading Worm a little while ago). Taylor knows what a Trigger Event is. She’s even discussed it with the other Undersiders in the early chapters. She only said that she didn’t know when talking to Greg in order to convince him that he was wrong about her identity as Skitter.

          • …it could happen. If she were never a functional human being again, while that might still be an improvement in terms of utilitarian joy and pain in the world, it would remain an unhappy ending in my eyes.

            Then again, I am apparently one of the only people who has sympathy for Sophia Hess, so my eyes might be a bit off.

          • Not implying it’s a happy ending. Just think it’s the most likely one for her. This will be the second time she’s been broken, after all, and this time there isn’t anybody for her to use as even a deeply flawed pattern to rebuild herself on.

            Especially since anybody who knows about her history with Taylor (which I believe would include everyone she might have considered a friend at this point) is going to be distancing themselves from her so that they don’t get caught in the blast radius if Skitter comes back for revenge.

          • @Anzer’ke There’s no way in hell she’d mold herself in Taylor’s image. Emma had spent her last year doing the exact opposite, convincing herself that Taylor was everything she didn’t want to be. A psychotic break would happen first before she acknowledges Taylor in that way.

          • I feel sympathy for Sophia Hess only as far as I am sorry that she never got the help she needed to rebalance herself, and that her powers allowed her a violent outlet without restrictions for so long that it warped who she was into what she became. I do NOT feel sorry for her for getting nerve-jacked or all the stuff that Regent did to her after the PRT building, or the situation she is in now- She has more than earned what she got, and then some. It’s only fitting that her life is ruined after having ruined so many others’. How many people did she watch die or kill herself? How many times did she wait for a crime to be committed isntead of stopping it early enough to protect the victim from any damage in the first place? How many times did she watch as one of the assailants were beated, possibly to death, right in front of her eyes? How many times could she have stopped a crime before it was commited and brought in the thugs anyways, with minimal damage?

            Sophia Hess needs therapy, bad. But that doesn’t excuse what she’s done.

          • And all of the new posse are saying, “WTF!? You had us bullying the warlord leader of Brockton bay who beat up the kind of things nightmares are scared of, and multilated and killed a bunch of people?” Don’t know about them, but if I were them, I would be scared and running.

      • Yeah. The muttering happens after the people stood up. What got to her was that Emma wanted to be at the top of the school’s social life, so even if she didn’t realize that the reason Taylor was distracted earlier because she was fantasizing about murder, she just saw that with just a few words, Taylor had more pull with the students than Emma ever would. Not only did Taylor turn out to be a super criminal with a severe motive for revenge, she even turned out to be at the top of the “sad little hill” that Emma cares so much about. She’s beyond popular, to the point where hundreds of people risk injury and arrest in her name.

    • Its’ more likely that she’ll get Daddy to use his connections to get in touch with Cauldron & buy superpowers-in-a-can for “self protection”.

      • Really doubt that. Emma’s father isn’t that rich, is he? Enforced by the fact that she wasn’t a student of Arcadia high, and now that they’ve come to live back to Brockton Bay, they’re gonna have to spend quite some cash to do rebuilding etc.

        • He’s a lawyer, and they can get pretty dang rich. She wasn’t a student of Arcadia mostly because it has such a huge waiting list and Winslow was local. Any cash for rebuilding is going to come out of the Endbringer fund, as well. She could probably afford through her dad powers at the same level or greater than those as Battery- And likely would end up, thanks to her psyche profile, like a case 53…

    • Emma: “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.”

      Greg sidles on up. “So…Emma. You seem a little shocked. How about you come back to my place and we can relax together?”

      Emma: “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit…”

      Greg yawns, not being all that subtle as he puts an arm around her and then drags her off to his room.

        • “Accurate”? I’m not seeing it. I think it’s more likely that Greg would try to calm her down by telling her how much of a hero Skitter is.

          Probably wouldn’t, mind you, but that’s what I imagine him trying.

          • ha!

            That would be a lot funnier…rape implication followed by a much worse fate for Emma…having to hear about how great Taylor is from a fanboy!

            “And then, this one time, she carved out Lung’s eys!”

            Emma gulps, “Uh huh…”

    • Nope, psychotic break for the win! My fingers are crossed for epic mindfuck that leaves her barely able to talk to people because her psyche is so shattered. That girl is more evil than Bonesaw to me and she didn’t get nearly enough of a comeuppance yet. Bonesaw has the excuse of being batshit insane. Emma was bad person before her freakout as evidenced by her comparing her friend who has LOST HER MOTHER to a damp blanket. Now she consciously graduates up to accusing said previous friend of killing her dead mother? That is evil straight up. That is why we have so many high school suicides. Emma doesn’t deserve a happy ending. Emma doesn’t deserve an acceptable or an okay or even a bad ending. Emma deserves a horrible soul rending ending.

      Sorry for the rant. These kinds of things really, really get to me. I dislike racists like Kaiser but I can understand them. I simply cannot wrap my mind around people like Emma.

  9. Okay. Hi folks, been reading a while but never posted before.

    My theory: Dinah straight-up lied about the odds.

    It messes with Taylor’s awesome, but I want to believe.

    • I think Wildbow stated she can’t lie without going through extreme pain that prevents her from using her power for weeks.

    • She has a lot of difficulty lying about her predicted odds, due to the feedback loops it creates- but she might have been creative in some other way in her interpretations of the questions- especially if Dragon or Defiant were also trying to steer things that way.

      • That seemed the most likely way for her to deceive to me, as well — perhaps something like interpreting “What are the odds that we can capture her?” as “What are the odds that she will ever go willingly with us?” — a probability which is maximized this way because this way proves that Dragon and Defiant are sufficiently good people that a later alliance is possible.

    • @ Jefepato and Dinah lying:
      Hadn’t thought of that, but yeah. She did say waaayyy back that she _could_ lie about them, in that it screwed with her abilities for a while.

      • I’m not sure if anyone has heard this expression before: You have Lies, the Dam Lies, then Statistics!!!!
        Dina gives her answers based on numbers and percentages. Maybe she skewed the results by opting for a high school as against say Taylor’s home. Or maybe she knew that is exactly how Taylor would act by thinking outside the box while the PRT would follow the same routine of throwing an abundance of fire power at a problem and try to over compensate for Taylor’s powers but not her brain.

        • only believe in statistics that I doctored myself.
          Ich glaube nur der Statistik, die ich selbst gefälscht habe
          every book about statistics, cited from Churchill or Goebbels

    • What if she never ran the odds at all? Then she could lie all she likes without repercussions. Hell, she could see which lies helped skitter the most, as long as she didn’t disclose them to the ‘heroes’.

        • That is perfect. I really can’t think Dinah would backstab Taylor ever, so there you go. Should’ve thought of it.

          • 96%. It would take a lot for her to actually escape the city at this point…

            Telling the ‘truth’ by deliberate misunderstanding and withholding key information is the best way to do it.

    • I got the idea that she ran the odds for a violent confrontation. She chose the universes where Skitter got nasty to take her odds from.
      However, what she was doing by doing this was increasing the odds of Skitter taking the nonviolent route. As was intended.
      See, the PRT only asked ‘what if she fights?’, and they got their answer: Skitter loses.
      They never asked ‘what if she pulls a Ghandi?’. So by giving them the odds of her fighting, she created a universe where Skitter didn’t fight.
      Simultaneously banking off of Skitter’s ingenuity and the fact the PRT can be blockheads.

    • My theory here: Dinah didn’t need to lie. Her speaking the odds can drastically changing them – she only had a 58% chance to go home before she told Skitter that number. After that, Skitter promised she’d go home and we next see Skitter . . . taking her home.

      So I’m guessing they did have a 96% chance to take Skitter into custody . . . until Dinah told them those odds. Because that led to them telling Skitter that they got the odds from Dinah, which in turn led to what happened.

      I caught up recently – it’s been a great read, Wildbow, thank you very much for sharing all of this with us. The way you write individual characters is excellent, and I love the gritty/realistic tone you’ve managed to hit. It’s a spectacular job you’ve done.

      If I had a gripe, it’s the same as I’ve seen recently in some of the comments (and that you’ve already acknowledged) – the pacing. At times (especially recently) I feel like too much happens too quickly . . . but then, you keep the main narrative thread strong and I never feel like you’re losing track of it.

      All told, it’s excellent stuff.

      And yes, I already gave you a vote on Topwebfiction ;)

      • Thank you for the vote.

        Yes, I know pacing is a stumbling block here or there. A peril of writing a serial from update to update is that it’s hard to plot things out in advance. I’d like to think I do well enough, but I ran into a stumbling block where Noelle’s bit had to follow soon after Coil’s, and it made for too much all in a row. The sort of stuff I could hash out while writing a traditional book, or if I was writing the entire thing prior to uploading it.

        There’s also issues with tying in early events to later ones, and vice versa, but I like to think I have a handle on that.

        The benefit, by contrast, is that it comes out more spontaneous.

        The pacing issues are something I hope to smooth out more in the edits prior to release as a book proper.

        • I’ve recommended it to a few people, and I’ve pointed out to them that it’s a serial, -not- a novel.

          Honestly, I have no idea how you’re managing to write something this involved (yet still coherent) on the fly – that’s even more impressive than the work itself. Kudos.

      • And you, don’t think you’re getting away without being welcomes as well, you despicable vote-happy maniac! Don’t you know how many of you damn people I’ve had to welcome to the comments lately? You think it’s easy to come up with stuff for each new person?

        Alright, now back to the welcoming, let’s try a different tone here…

        Hello, sir and/or madam, welcome to the comments section of the web serial Worm. At this moment, you are probably feeling very sad/depressed/terrified/horrified/suicidal/wet in that special place. That’s ok!/bad!/an alien bursting out of your chest! Don’t panic/cut the mustard/stop, oh baby don’t stop, come on, keep on going baby/tell your parents. Remember, we are all here for you/reptilian Jews who run the world/gay, really, really gay/totally high right now.

        Have a good night/day/morning/Bar mitzvah!

    • Welcome officially to the comments. When you have been forced to spit up on your monitor, then you have my permission to die.

      *narrows his eyes, puts on one of those painter’s masks, and uses a soundclip from Mrs. Doubtfire*

      “Helloooooooooo!”

      First up, never tell Skitter the odds.

      Second, as stated by others, Dinah can’t lie about the odds. Probably because just asking for the odds or calculating effects the odds and requires her to compensate for that disruption to the extent that the extra disruption of lying about them is just too much.

      But yeah, sucks that now the heroes are doing to Dinah what Coil did, despite what Taylor did to save her.

          • I don’t remember your post which went something to the effect of “Just got caught up.”

            First I remember hearing of you is saying Santa Claus isn’t real. However, I do try to welcome people to the comments these days, so here goes:

            Veloren, you sound like an alien race from Babylon 5 that needs to stay in a containment suit. And you look like one too. *badumtish* Now, much like a shitstain, I’ve had a brief run *badumtish* as the #1 commentator of Worm and I extend this laurel and hardy welcome to you.

            Now you have entered that most sacrosanct of brotherhoods and sisterhoods, one in which celibacy is not required, but from which at least one of us here suffers from anyway, like some sort of odd anti-veneral disease. But if I don’t do it in real life, at least I can do it to you, the other fans of Worm, here in these comments. So, um…yay, welcome to that I guess.

            Lucky you.

          • See “Psycho Gecko Saves Christmas” for how you failed utterly to ruin children’s Christmastime dreams. It’s in the comments back at the Christmas update, or in the archives of my site.

          • Greetings, new commentator of Worm. At this point in the story, you probably feel depressed or tense, depending on if you have stopped reading at the end of a chapter or in one of the middle chapters. You might be thinking “Sure, why not go down there and comment? What’s the worst that could happen.”

            Squirrels.

            The squirrels are after you. Always watching. Looking for any opportunity to strike. Just when you think you’re going to bed at night, they’re there, scratching away, hoping to get in. And if you ever come face to face with one, and it is capable of talking through perhaps some sort of secret experiments involving adamantium and lightning, then you’ll finally be able to ask and realize what you should have known all along.

            “You commentators are nuts!”

          • That was Sandman’s

            Now I do Ivy’s.

            Welcome to the comments section of Worm. If you’ve made it this far, then Wildbow has probably convinced you to take your meals with a glass of kitten blood because your soul can be swallowed up at any time by evil monsters who roast people alive by lighting their farts on fire. What you should know is that the comment section is much, much different. Here, the monster with the lit farts makes jokes about having a scorching case of hemorrhoids. Then he goes out on a date with Emma because we’ve all concluded that somehow those two will cause the end of the world.

            It works thusly:

            Step 1: Emma and Flamebutt date.
            Step 2: ???
            Step 3: Wildbow gets donations.

            It’s really quite simple to understand once you’ve been with us awhile and your brain has taken up drinking, perhaps by sending you the message, “I’m getting too old for this shit.” Which, coincidentally, was the catchphrase of Flamebutt’s father, The Eternal Poot.

          • Welcome, Random Lurker. Now that you’ve joined the comments, we’ve taken the liberty of writing up your obituary beforehand. Ahem. “Chubster was killed by Skitter during the Leviathan fight while she gave him a case of evil CPR.”

            Woops, wrong one.

            Here lies Random Lurker. He was found dead in the forest of Epilectic Trees, stabbed to death by an Incredibly Lame Pun that was held together by a typo. In this case, I believe it was a stick with a pickel tied to the end of it. Lurker was an ardent fan of the tabletop game Darths & Droids and faithfully checked the ceiling of every room he ever entered. Which perhaps explains the time he walked into a bottomless pit. Nevertheless, he is survived by his sanity, who he parted ways with shortly after joining the Worm comments section.

            Since we can’t find a picture of him and this is going in the newspaper, we’ll just use a picture of an old person. Due to random draw, Random Lurker’s picture will be…Patrick Stewart. Lucky.

          • I remember my welcome!

            *stands proudly*

            … he threatened to nom me…

            *looks around nervously and tries to slink away*

        • I was at a con once and I burned several hours archive-binging on Worm when I could have been at panels.

          To be fair, a lot of the panels were dumb, but still.

      • Dinah can’t lie, but by now she’ll be pretty good at getting her interrogators to ask questions with misleading answers.

  10. Wow. That was pretty strong. And I think the PRT just lost the war. With the unwritten rules going by the wayside, the villains won’t come out for the A and S class threats any more.

    As to Taylor … dammit. That was a win, but at a high cost. I hope she drops a large hammer on the PRT for that.

    • They will still come out so long as this doesn’t become a large scale thing. If the villains just stop helping fight S class threats then all the villains will ultimately die. Once the Endbringers kill off the Protectorate and the Wards the villains will keep dying in the follow up attacks. Long before they all die though their territory will fall apart due to the complete break down of civilization. Any smart villain will continue to fight so long as the rules aren’t broken on a large scale.

        • By larger scale I mean it needs to happen to more than one villain in more than one city. It needs to be an actual trend rather than what can easily be called an isolated incident that is blamed on overzealous local officers. Until the villains grow concerned that this has become policy it shouldn’t have any impact on the villain community in any sort of larger scale.

          Also, for it to stop the villains from showing up for S class threats the problem would probably have to be related to S class threats. The response to what happened here would probably be a few heroes outted or murdered in their homes. Something that would NOT cause the destruction of humanity and is thus much more likely for intelligent villains to go for.

          • But they can’t blame it on local authority – D&D’s presence makes this impossible, as, if I remember correctly, it was publicly known that they were assigned to hunting down S9 constantly.

          • And Dragon&Defiant made it very clear that they were only following orders from local authorities, by way of apologizing to Skitter. This is still going to get blamed on someone in Brockton Bay PRT.

          • But what really gives this incident the potential to be a nightmare for the PRT is the available media. Most of the students had their phones out and were recording the whole encounter. That video footage could easily have been watched by millions of people before Skitter finished saying goodbye to her dad via butterfly. And it might only take one incident of “truce” breaking to kill the Endbringer “treaty” if the incident is recorded and seen widely enough on the internet, though I think this incident alone probably wouldn’t. Regardless this is going to have to be a huge PR hit to the PRT unless they can stop any of the video footage from going up, and the only person that could they just seem to have lost control over and probably isn’t feeling too pleased with them.

  11. This is the saddest chapter ending in a while. Possibly ever.

    I like how taylor used two OF THE worst villains in the story to date, and THE worst two in terms of morals or the lack there-of, as her initial inspiration for taking on that situation.

    • Same thought here.
      At the end I wasn’t sure wether Jack Slash would have been livid that she didn’t slaughter the kids or ecstatic that she so effortlessly played the heroes.
      Though this is definitely going to deepen the disconnect between the stayers and the returners in the civilian population.

      • He would have DEFINITELY been ecstatic. Remember how he let Theo live just on the setup of “I’ll get powers and DEFEAT YOU!”. sure, he set the lines of killing everyone he knows and cares about if Theo fails, but the fact remains he loves a game FAR more than he does senseless murder. This brutal crushing of the PRT’s name, the usage of ‘innocents’ in a repeat of what he himself did with the Bonesaw’d civilians before? He would be rolling on his back holding his sides from the pain of his laughter, likely saying something about, “That’s my girl!” or something of the sort.

  12. This chapter is going straight to “Awesomeness by Analysis” on the tvtropes page. Get to work guys.
    Also, powerful stuff here Wilbow, really powerful.

    • I think Batman Gambit is a better fit to this specific case, but I know what you mean — I think Clockblocker is the only cape in the room who realizes just how effective Skitter’s brainmeats are.

      • No, Dragon and Armsmaster both know just how effective her brains are. They just had their hand forced, what with him being on parole for hunting the S9 exclusively and Dragon having that required to help local authority switch in her cyberbrain. Hopefully this will end up with her being a lot more free from that particular aspect, due to corruption, but still be beholden to legitimate authority… otherwise I see this going south far too easily.

    • Honestly, I think what you have here is a “what the hell hero” moment, both in word and deed. She calls them out for breaking the truce, the throws the location choice in their teeth by getting students to aid her escape, demonstrating that they trust the villains more than the heroes.

  13. I like that there’s likely a few dozen you tube links (or its equivalent) being posted about this incident and how it was handled , Id imagine someone in the PRT is getting fired or demoted over this :) great chapter !!

  14. “My range was longer, now. Odd. It was supposed to get longer when I felt more trapped, but ‘trapped’ wasn’t the word I would have chosen.”

    Defeated. It gets longer when she feels defeated. I’d say this is the lowest she’s been since triggering, despite having just won. Most emotional chapter so far, my heart goes out to Taylor

    • In-universe her belief is that it’s when she’s trapped, as it’s supposed to be when you’re closest to how you were feeling during your trigger event. She thinks that feeling is the feeling of being trapped, but defeated definitely sounds more appropriate.

    • She doesn’t feel defeated as much a liberated/successful, methink.
      She just took a BIG step, and was validated in her action by the whole school.

    • Personally, I think its triggered by loss.
      Her trigger event happened when she realized her best friend from wayyy back apparently hates her guts. Trust me losing your best friend is one of the worst things.
      She didnt trigger inside echinda because she didn’t lose anything important when it happened.
      Her range is longer here because she just lost a major part of herself with the outing of her identity that she can no longer go back to.

      • If that was the case her first trigger event would have been her mom’s death… Which, now that I think about it, could well have been, and she just never realised it, with the second trigger event being the one inside the locker- which definitely wouldn’t have been a ‘oh NOW she hates my guts’ sort of thing, I think.

    • I don’t think it’s defeat, exactly. I think it’s helplessness — Dragon put a bullet between the eyes of Taylor going home to her father, spending time with him, making him crepes … something she desperately wants and needs, and she can’t have it.

    • isolated.

      Its been a running theme on what actually causes trigger events, even in cannon, acccording to at least one person.

      think about it, someone is in a desperate situation, no one is there to help, no matter what else they are feeling, some part of them, is feeling isolated, and desperate for help, so they reach out, and invite a passanger in.

      • I always got the feeling that her trigger was “how badly am I betraying the person my (memory of my) mother (would have) wanted me to be?”

  15. “…putting both Dragon and Defiant were in front of me.” take out the ‘were’?

    And amazing chapter. It was inevitable… And obvious, yet… I’m wiping tears away from my eyes at what those kids did. It takes courage and bravery to swallow that fear and stand up for what you believe in. Well written, Wildbow.

  16. Fantastic. I love the chapters when we get to see the the heroes and Skitter conversing. It always gets so interesting. I’d say poor PRT considering how bad this will probably hit them PR wise but really they deserve everything they get at this point.

  17. And now the WAR starts.

    Because this was a declaration of it by PRT. PRT vs. Undersiders. Both can’t allow the other to remain in Brockton Bay anymore.

    The total war. All of Villains vs. all of heroes. Because heroes don’t uphold the Code anymore. There are no more rules.

    Total War.

    I hope PRT is happy.

    • This won’t happen off of one incident. The villains aren’t going to band together for total war against the protectorate, they just can’t trust eachother like that. Even if they did band together though it would still cause the complete destruction of humanity to the Endbringers, so the smarter villains wouldn’t join in.

      Also, I rather doubt this will even cause total war between the PRT and the Undersiders. Removing the PRT just isn’t one of the Undersiders win conditions. They just have to become too strong to remove in a cost effective manner, so this whole thing actually went pretty well for them. Especially when you consider the PRT just lost Dragon and Defiant as reliable heroes. Now the PRT has to rely on local forces and once Accord and his Ambassadors formalize their alliance I expect that it will be basically impossible to remove the villains from the local power structure.

      • PRT just moved to total war against Undersiders though. They threw everything against them – removing Dragon and Defiant from their hunt for the Nine (vindicative part of me wants to hear how Bonesaw unleashed some sort of superplague on a major city while Dr&D were attacking Taylor; but I am not overall that petty), torturing (I think) DInah into giving them the way to capture Taylor (and how nice of D&D to publicly admit to that), throwing away the code, moving after Taylor’s father (who I (somewhat) want to see suiciding right now, as a way to protect his daughter from being exploited through him).

        Besides the reason of “PRT won’t leave us alone, at all”, and “we need to retaliate, or we lose face, and ground” that Undersiders have, they now need to rescue Dinah. Both to remove precog from PRT hands and to, you know, save her from the fate worse than Coil.

        Also, while Taylor is definitely one of the biggest annoyances to PRT right now from what I can see, I would not be surprised if the similar operations (going after villains in their civilian identities and/or their families) were carried out right that moment across at least America.

        Also, I never said villains would unite. Just that this is now a total war. With no Code. Because PRT just threw it away. Publicly. So it now doesn’t protect them.

        • I kind of have to agree. There ARE unwritten rules that most capes follow. If the heroes aren’t going to break them, than more than a few villains will follow suit.

    • Total war? Cool, I’ll bring the mustard gas and you round up about ten miles worth of barbed wire. OVER THE TOP!

        • NO! No grenades, remember? We don’t have enough parallel universes for that.
          Chickens, however, are fair game.
          As is the common European swallow.
          ….callingdibsonteamSkitter!

          • My chicken grenades are different. At first, they appear to be simple rubber chickens, at least until you twist the head off one and set it down. Then, in the short time before it explodes, it will attempt to make its way across the nearest road.

            I have so far been unable to determine why they do this.

          • To switch to the other side, obviously.

            Also, if the Reavers attack, we’ll need the grenades. Or is that a different show?

  18. I really hope that Defiant and Dragon meant what they said about their reputations not mattering.

    “jail or the birdcage” Should Birdcage be capitalized?
    “an admission . Emma” Extra space.
    Between “think about it.” and “Why? Why was she” might be good to make it explicit that Dragon IS stopping.

  19. This is now my favorite chapter in the entire story.

    I just don’t have much else to say, other than that, it was that good.

  20. Well that was rather cool.

    I guess Taylor’s metamorphosis is not just her losing her civilian identity, but also becoming fully aware of who she is. Making use of her reputation and realizing the support she has in the population. She is transforming into something new, no longer the scared bullied little gitl pretending to be a hero or a villain, but she is Skitter (or whatever name she might now take if she changes it).

    The transformation bit from the arc title might also double as a reference to Dragon who is undergoing her own metamorphosis and freeing her self from the cocoon of her creators obsolete restrictions.

    The bit about her range extending seems strange under the circumstances and the remark about it being like having a second trigger event seems like a cruel taunt directed at the readers who constantly clamour for one. heh.

    It occurs to me that Dinah does not really seem limited to telling the truth when giving people the chances of something happening. She could always lie or at least indirectly set them onto a path that would for example prompt Defiant and Dragon to take the risk involved in freeing Dragon from her restriction of having to obey the PRT. she also helped free her benefactor of the burden that the PRT might have used to get to her by outing her. Perhaps in the long run ceasing to be taylor will be a good thing for her. Dinah spent lots of time in the company of an evil mastermind she might very well now be going “Exactly as planned!”

    • It fits very well, considering how much Taylor did for her. Coil could use her power to cheat the system, so she can obviously do the same. Maybe the wormverse will gain a new type of parahuman after this debacle. Hero, Villain, Rouge, and maybe something like Outlaw. A person who breaks the law, but follows the unwritten rules. They don’t kill, never hurt people needlessly, try to minimize damage, always volunteer against S threats, and are actually decent human beings.

  21. Wow that was one amazing way to get out of the situation. It also shows pretty well just how much influence the Undersiders have, doesn’t help that the PRT are going to get a lot of bad rep over this.

  22. This chapter has hit me harder than any of the previous, because Taylor/Skitter is barely even recognizable anymore, when compared to who she was in Gestation
    She sees this too, when she actively embraces *lessons* learned from Jack Slash and Bakuda
    Like everyone else has already said, this was heartwrenching, in a most bittersweet way:
    She won, she got away, and she even found allies in unexpected places but she has lost her family and identity in the process
    Recalling how she was when she lost her mom, this had an entirely different tone for me, thinking that Taylor must have known throughout this entire ordeal that Danny would be lost to her, which was confirmed decisively in the end
    Well done, Wildbow, this was beautiful
    It truly felt like the end of an age

  23. Oh ho ho man. If there’s any way to make the heroes look like complete losers, that will do it bet that’s driving Colin crazy, deep down in his alpha ape brain.

    The capes trying to arrest a villain by breaking the rules, and completely screwing it up? Not exactly the best message to send to the ol’ rogues gallery. Who wants to bet there’s going to be an upswing in supercrime after this at the very least.

    Also, premature speculation on why Dinah helped them, maybe she wanted to help her and thought the best chances of her surviving lie with turning herself in and thinks she has a pretty good chance of not being birdcaged. Of course she has no idea about Cauldron, so she wouldn’t know about the nasty ways they have to make Skitter disappear. Quick thought, maybe the reason Skitter is different in Dinah’s vision is that the Cauldron goons will shove a Case 52 creating serum down her throat.

    Well, atleast Danny hasn’t rejected her, judging by the last lines. For fucks sake, they couldn’t just keep him in the dark and let Skitter do it on her terms? Christ.

  24. It’s always wonderful to see Taylor get recognition for her achievements and good deeds.

    I LOVED how the heroes were wary of her, despite (or possibly because of) her being completely defenseless. She sort of reminds me of The Doctor (the Time Lord, not the Cauldron lady) in that respect. The more hopeless her situation, the more reason her enemies have to be cautious of what she might do.

    Man, Dragon never gets a break :/
    I feel really sorry for her for being forced into outing Taylor. She must feel terrible about it, judging by the great personal risk she went to to make sure it can’t happen again.

    Hmm… looks like Taylor is going to be on the run for a bit. I kind of hope D&D get to catch up to her and explain the situation, but after this I doubt Taylor and Dragon are ever going to be besties.

    • As for the *on the run* bit, not so much; if you recall, Skitter was still moving about freely in her own territory, so all she has to do is set back up there and make sure she is fortified for any (inevitable as it is) fallout for the D&D failure

      • I guess it depends on how the PRT goes with this. They could back off and just have a failed attempt to capture her, or they could decide to go all out and attack her territory and HQ. On second thought, she probably wouldn’t leave in either case. If the S9 aren’t enough to make her abandon her territory, some guys with riot gear and goo guns aren’t going to make her move.

      • I’m not quite sure the fallout is actually inevitable. The PRT is reeling pretty hard at this point, and I doubt they have that many more external forces to pull in to help in the fight. They might end up focusing on securing the gate for now. On the other hand, they might realize that once the Ambassadors are fully installed into the area it will become almost impossible to remove the villains and so rush to attack while it is still an option.

        • “And in other news, supervillainess Taylor Hebert, formerly known as Skitter, is calling for the PRT to release Dinah Alcott from captivity. Dinah, a young girl, was freed by Ms. Hebert from Coil, the mastermind who kidnapped her, kept her strung out on drugs, and then tried to take over the city. Apparently the big split that caused her to kill Coil was the rescue of Dinah. Now, with this cute little white girl recovering addict in the hands of the PRT and being forced to make predictions for them in much the same way, we all have to wonder how far the similarities go.”

          • Makes me wonder what the odds are of skiter mounting another rescue.
            I also see Dinah joining the undersiders team, mainly for protection from this kidnapping shit, and because they are the only ones besides her parents who’ve had her best interests at heart.

          • For all we know, if she is indeed not willingly doing this stuff, her parents handed her in themselves.

            Doesn;t even have to be that outright obviously evil.

            “We can’t deal with her, we don’t know how to deal with this.” “The PRT will take care of her.” etc

          • If her parents REALLY did that, then they deserve to be sent to Bonesaw, after all that Dinah has been through, just wanting to go home and be with her family.

          • recall that dinah mentioned a large chance that she would be used by skitter. and now she has been kidnapped by the PRT, and one of you suggested that she rescue her and have her join the undersiders to… oh wait. i see where this is going wildbow, good show.

    • Dragon’s tiny little ‘wasn’t me’ just hit right in the gut for me. It just drove home how much of a genuinely good person she is, and how much her life has sucked with all her rules and limitations.

      • The impact is even greater when you add Defiant to the mix. Here he is, finally having gotten over the worst of his ego issues with Dragon’s help, finally acknowledging that he himself is in no small part responsible for Taylor’s situation, -apologizing- for it even, and yet here he is, being forced to take a leading role in an incredibly underhanded move, outing her in public and backstabbing her even harder than he ever did in the past.

        Colin’s really grown as a character and I think in many ways he’s started to redeem himself, thanks in no small part to Dragon’s help.

        I hope he and Dragon are able to get out from under the PRT without accidentally turning Dragon into a ravening Skynet clone by screwing up her code. That would suck in so many ways, both for them personally and for everyone around them.

        Really enjoyed this chapter, so many different highlights. Looking forward to continuing my archive binge and seeing where this leads.

        • I completely agree. This was the first chapter where I consciously separated Defiant from Armsmaster. Colin really is a different person now and I seriously am starting to utterly despise the PRT for how much they have fucked up the lives of so many people.

  25. First, I hope everyone realizes Taylor just beat a 96.8% chance of getting captured. I think it’s safe to say there was about one successful way to get out of here, and Taylor found it. And even worse, it was the same flaw she used on dragon, and I would say dragon isn’t forgetting that. Just the odds she beat are incredibly hard ones…I almost wish this was the corny line spouting kind of story, because there is a gold mine of them stored in this situation.

    And Taylor, as usual, found a morally ambiguous way out. Voluntary hostages. I have no words. Honestly, right up until that point, the entire chapter was Taylor being awesome. She continued to be, of course, but there was also some divertion of it to others.

    And the ending…well, Taylor reaped what she sowed. Sad to think she and her dad are probably not going to get to eat that lunch for a while. Of course, it would probably end up that the waitress is the Simurgh, the manager is Jack Slash, and hell, the chefs are zombies that only eat bugs and people who have recently touched lots of bugs, because this is lunch and why not. Back on topic, I do feel really bad for her dad. Everything now makes horrible, horrible sense, and I wonder how long it will take, or has taken, him to realize that nice girl and such that she’s been hanging out with are the undersiders. Ouch, I would not want to be him. Poor guy’s lost almost everyone he loves.

    This chapter didn’t really go how I expected it to, mainly because of a certain annoying bug zapper, but it was much better than anything I could have thought of, and looking forward to Thursday and Saturday,

    • I, at least, am very much impressed with how it turned out. Skitter is insanely good at beating the 87%+ chances. Not even the million to one chances- those always turn out fine, but the chances, where she simply doesn’t have much hope of coming out on top.

      Any estimate on the chances of well and truly defeating skitter though? Not beating her team temporarily, not winning but causing yourself to fail in the long run, or having to compromise with her, not even killing her, as those are not true defeat. An estimate for a chance of Skitter /staying/ defeated? Gives a divide by zero error.

      Skitter /always/ triumphs.

    • Just because the odds are very small doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. The odds of any one person winning the lottery are incredibly small, but with enough people playing over a long enough period of time or in a situation where some one person must get picked for something, then the improbable inevitably happens.

      Or with cards. Any one 7 card hand you are dealt has a small chance that you’d get that exact hand, but you had to get something because you were dealt to.

      Besides, the clue was even less chance if she resorted to violence. Good of them to be that specific, or of Dinah to be that specific.

      • Given the ‘many worlds’ aspect of Dinah’s powers, I don’t know if they can neccessarily be considered mathematically accurate. If we think of it as Dinah giving predictions based on the ratio/number of possible worlds where such events happened, that doesn’t neccessarily mean she is able to predict the likelihood of each world being chosen. There might have been lots of possibilties where something sparked a fight, or Skitter chose to try something and only a few variations where Skitter could have tried something like this, but that doesn’t speak to the likelihood of Skitter actually choosing to try a violent option. Granted, Dinah’s ability is able to give her enough of an idea about Skitter’s choices to know that she wouldn’t strip naked and sing a Pop song, because there were no possible worlds where that happened, but number of ways that an event could happen is not the same as likelihood of those events happening.

      • It says something that until I payed close attention to the word ‘Grue’, I assumed you were talking about Tattletale or Bitch kissing her after the red mist incident. I don’t believe Grue and Skitter have ever had any PDA’s.

        What can I say? I believe that ‘cure the red mist’ incident revealed a lot of…chemistry.

  26. Wow. High-tension emotion throughout the whole damn thing. The suspense was palpable. That you could keep this up for almost an entire chapter is just amazing, and says wonders for your writing skill. Even more so, thinking back on this arc so far, I find that this chapter very much shows how interconnected and thought-ahead things are. It’s present in the constant theme of duality, or the wish for just a normal lunch with dad cut short. To be honest, Wildbow, early chapters did not show a glimmer of such quality. Did you ever think you would make it this far, skill-wise?

    In any case, Taylor voices almost all the concerns and fridge logic we’ve voiced in the comments. She points out inconsistencies in PRT claims and goals. She even feeds the WMG with her claim to not wanting to be called Skitter anymore. The biggest thing, though, was the huge dramatic irony. We know that Defiant and Dragon are strapped by circumstances that truly make them near slaves to the authorities. Defiant even apologizes for his earlier actions, something we’ve all figured would come sooner or later. But Taylor doesn’t know any of those circumstances, and accuses them of not standing up for their own morals. It must hurt them that much more, because of how much Dragon wants her freedom. That must be what Defiant was talking about later, not wanting to lose Dragon with a small mistake in programming her free of constraints.

    As things wrap up, we see more story threads, aside from the now public identity thing. Firstly, Taylor just beat a 96.8% chance of capture. How’s that going to go over with the authorities and with the public? Second, she got out peacefully, but with the help of a lot of high school students. What will happen to those students? What will people think when it gets out that normal kids could take down numerous capes and get away? Third, Taylor’s dad has found out in the worst possible way. What’d he really think? What’s going to happen with him, now that Taylor’s likely going to leave that life completely behind? Fourth, who were those assholes who ordered the capture? Won’t their complete disrespect for the code going public bite them back? Fifth, Taylor has now become much more powerful, suddenly expanding her range, improving her control and senses through her swarm (a single butterfly hearing everything so clearly), and applying all those psychological tricks she learned from other villains like Jack Slash and Bakuda. How’s this going to change her? Is it related to her change that Dinah saw? Sixth, what really happened to Dinah? Is she doing this against her will or not? Is she just manipulating everyone to her own ends, taking a page from Coil’s book? Is she the real Big Bad?!

    …Yeah, that last question is unlikely. But Taylor really needs to talk with her again. Now I want to know what was on those papers even more!

    Anyways. Great chapter as always. This could stand as an ending to the arc itself. Things finally fell into place, and the outcome has finally sunk in, just like Clockblocker noticed. See you on Thursday!

    • > Did you ever think you would make it this far, skill-wise?

      I started Worm with zero expectations. My sole goal was to break myself of a bad writing habit: rewriting the first page(s) to try and get it so it felt good enough, until I got so frustrated and burned out that I put a story away. The idea behind writing a serial (inspired by some analysis & thoughts in two classes I took in University) was to keep moving forward. I know I hate it when an author I like misses an update, and I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, so I thought it would be a good motivator.

      I told myself I’d get zero comments and I’d be lucky to get triple-digit views a day. Getting attention, money and all that, it wasn’t the goal. I just wanted to tell the kind of story I’d want to read, improve my abilities and fix my bad habit.

      To answer your question: not so much. I don’t think I ever really had any expectations for my writing, beyond the fact that it’s something I’ve been doing ever since I was thirteen or so. Started off writing horror as a way to vent my frustration with school life (lonely disabled kid, the trifecta of nerd, geek & spaz, yadda yadda). Macabre stuff from a kid on the cusp of puberty. Never gave it much thought.

      If anything sort of woke me up to the idea of ‘hey, I could do something with this’, it was when the reviews started appearing on WFG, and when they gradually shifted from being four star reviews to four-and-a-half stars to five stars. If I had to define one moment, it was probably reading Gavin’s review.

    • 1) Yeah, Wildbow is the tits
      2) I was coming here to post my theory about Dinah going to them of her own free will; most people seem to think she was abducted in order to abuse her powers.
      The PRT is several shades of idiotic and corrupt, but /outright/ villainy, proclaimed in public? Not their style. WMG:
      A- The paper Dinah gave Taylor had something to do with this moment, mayhaps a warning
      B- Dinah sees a future that she doesnt want to happen, so she is going against Taylor to prevent it (not so much Big Bad as new antagonist)
      C- Same as B, but with a malicious/Big Bad-esque intent, a la Coil
      D- Accord has a plan to remove Taylor from power and move in/take over which involved Dinah, probably with some sort of carrot* (from the Jack Slash interlude)

  27. Wow. Amazing chapter, good to see all the good that Taylor did coming back to her.
    Dinah can probably be very carefull with her aswers. She can act like the anoying literal genie.
    Want to make a wish punk?

  28. okay i’m not usually one to jump on the shipping wars. i ignored people who said clock was crushing on skitter, i can see where they might have thought that… especially during the echidna fight where tattletale saw ‘something’ that made her step in…

    …but the guy recognizes her smile?

    oh geez i need to get me a life preserver…

    • in other news i’ve never been happier to be proven wrong (about the “definitely no way out, time for the BirdCage Arc”)

    • I think it’s more along the lines of “it didn’t sink in until she started smiling like she was about to lay down a royal flush despite our side having all the face cards”.

    • Remember the Skitter clones he had to deal with. He probably saw one of them smile with a warped, twisted grin- the same sort of one you get when you have a devilish idea. A devilish, horrible, villainous idea.

      • Makes me wonder if they’ll give more consideration to bumping that thinker 1 status up a bit. There’s really no other explanation for how she was able to figure out how to leave like that, seeing as she practically walked them through her thought processes. And be honest, you also think tattletale constantly has THAT grin going on.

          • Mmm… I’m thinking closer to a thinker 6 master 8, actually. Thinker classification for the multitasking/split coordination of personally directing each of those bugs singlely in perfect coordination without losing her own concentration and perspective locally- unlike Alec who has to maintain concentration to keep his power going, and becomes less effective personally for it. Master 8 for sheer volume- she’s controlled hundreds of thousands at once, without feeling even a strain on her limitations, and she controls them perfectly. That’s near Nilbog levels of control there- Even if you bundle the bugs into swarm bodies of roughly equal density to a human, there’s going to be hundreds of swarm bodies available, provided that the number of bugs in the area is also available. really, all she needs is a bug generation or duplication power, and she’d be unstoppable- Imagine a swarm of Atlas.

          • Note that thinker 6 is me adding on top of the thinker 2 planning/intuition/sharp-mindedness that she already has going on that you’re giving her.

          • If she gained a generation/duplication power (courtesy of the Blasto interlude) she would be on the cusp of become S-Class and would definitely be A-Class, if she isnt already
            Ability to be deadly and replicate or something like that was one of the automatic S-Class/Kill Order packages *goes to check interlude again, to be certain*

          • Replication/deadliness isn’t S-class.

            It’s replication with replicants that can themselves replicate (thus, exponential growth), which pushes you into that territory.

          • You mean like when she gets knocked out/control disabled, and still can send general attack commands?

            Her powers as I see them right now are:
            * complete and fine control of simple nervous systems within a 6.5 block radius or more, with no control degradation with distance
            * Related to above, clairvoyance to everything her bugs can touch/see/hear(/smell soon?)
            * Multitasking to an insane degree
            * Ability to take in a situation and quickly determine the best course of action (like a low power tattletale)
            * Related to above, being able to use every goddamn thing in her surroundings to her advantage

            To me, thats at least Master 5, thinker 3
            Reading the wiki, it appears that master 6+ deals with either human control and/or making minions, and while skitter can make bugs breed, she can’t boost it any more than the bugs are physically capable
            We haven’t seen any lowish power thinkers to compare skitter to yet, but I’d think she’d around Alexandria’s level of thinker.

  29. Oh, also remember before Taylor had an about 2 block range that bumped up to 3-4 when she was getting a power boost? Note the line at the end there? Six and a half blocks away?

    Taylor has all of a sudden gotten VASTLY more dangerous.

    • I think you can actually measure how big 6 blocks is on the map. Great job heroes. I’m sure Imp/Regent are laughing hysterically somewhere.

        • If Brockton bay follows the Chicago standard of one major street every half mile and four blocks between each, then each block would be 1/8th of a mile. Six blocks would be 6/8ths or 3/4ths of a mile. that’s 1,320 yards or 1.20701 Km.

        • I’m not sure how wide they are in Brockton Bay but in New York an east-west block is about 1/5th of a mile, so 1,056 feet. So six blocks would be just above a mile. Won’t know for sure to Wildbow clarifies on the city.

          • Did some research, and apparently when engineers do “back of the envelope” calculation they use 100,000 sq. ft. as the area of a city block. Now obviously this will be wildly different depending on what city, (Portland Oregon’s downtown city block is 68,000, while Chicago’s uses a double block size of 217,000), but a quick calculation based on these estimates gives the total area Skitter can cover as a little over 13 million sq.ft. And if you take in account that her range is a volume not an area, the total amount of bugs she can find and take control of is immense. Even if you discount everything above the ground, (like houses, office buildings, and the empty space we like to move around in) that’s still over 18 billion cubic feet.

          • That’s…damn. That would terrify heroes if they ever found out. I picture a member of the teeth looking up and wondering where daylight went as a giant swarm appears.

          • I kinda have this mental image of someone saying something to piss Skitter off, only to be suddenly asked by another one wether he hears this noise. Then both look up to see a tidal wave of insects rising over them from all sides.
            Much ‘Oh shit’ ensues.

          • I think all our calcs have been off because we’ve been just kludging in square feet from a rectangular shape into circular calculations. Lets break it all down to maths, instead of guesswork, and show the work.

            We know her total radius is 6.5 blocks. If engineering shorthand has 100,000 sq. ft. as the area of a city block, then we know w*l = 100,000. In NY (Since Manhattan is very much a giant grid) one mile is 20 down/uptown blocks or 10 crosstown blocks. 5280 feet to a mile. 5280 / 20 = 264 ft. 5280 /10 = 528 ft. thus the area of one block in NY is 139,392 sq. ft- Which is close enough to the shorthand estimate to give proof of concept.

            That means with a rectangle whose area equalling 100,000, a single block has the values w = 223.607 ft. and l = 447.214 ft. To find the area of a circle from a rectangle, we run the formula SQRT((w*l)/π) (I know we could have skipped finding the w and l and just used area directly, but being thorough here) to find the radius of a single circular block that shares the same area as a rectangular city block, which is 178.412 ft. To confirm that this circle has a = 100,000, we run the formula π(r²), which equals 99,999.539 sq. ft- close enough, considering we’re rounding to the nearest thousandth.

            We then multiply that by t(otal number of blocks), so t=6.5, to get tr = 1,159.678 ft. or 0.219636 mi. We then find the diameter (d = 2(tr) = 2,319.356 ft.) and area (A = π((tr)²) = 4,224,980.505 sq. ft.). After this, we find the circumference (C = πd = 7,286.472 ft.) and we now have an exact idea of her current range. To further assist visualization, we can then find the square mileage of New York City ( 302.64 square miles) and convert Taylor’s range to miles (0.15155 sq. mi.) and we can see that New York City is 1,996.965 (nearly two thousand) times larger than the area Taylor can control bugs within. Here is an image to rough scale; I couldn’t get the right number of pixels, so it is actually a larger circle than it should be. http://i.imgur.com/E4ykqlL.jpg

          • Additionally, since it is a sphere not just a circle, the volume of the sphere that is outlined by the circumference/radius/diameter above is a whopping 6,532,822,589.415 cubic feet. Still less than original calculations, but still vastly improved over her initial range.

          • Very well calculated and documented. Let’s hope the heroes don’t figure that out or the paranoia will be even worse.

          • So, yeah, bla bla bla. Since her actual range of effect is just that, a range, all we’re really interested in is a translation between units, blocks to metres. (And, yeah, fuck you loser Americans and your stupid, archaic imperial measurements. IMAGINE! Doing science in feet and miles! You can lose Mars probes that way, y’know?)

            So, this page, http://www.land4ever.com/block.htm, says that an average city block is 311 ft, which is real measurements is 94.7928 m. Let’s round that off to 100 m.

            If Skitter’s range is 6.5 blocks, then that’s a radius of 6.5 x 100 m, or 650 m. Plug that into π x r², and we get roughly 1327322 m². In other words, approximately 1.3 km². (And, just in case you are American, and haven’t learned proper scientific measurements, 1 mile = 1.6 km, so that’s a tad shy of a square mile.)

            Talking about volume, and we get to use 4/3 x π x r³. That’s 1150346509 m³. Or, if you prefer, 1.15 km³. It’s also 1.15 * 10⁸ mm³. (‘Cause millimetres are really small, about 25 to an inch.)

            Now here’s where we really get to have fun. Let’s assume that the average ant weighs 3 mg. (Please don’t make me translate that into something as stupid as ounces.) If we assume that same ant takes up about 24 mm³ (as 6mm x 2mm x 2mm — and I’m just guesstimating here, since I couldn’t easily find anything explicit), then we can calculate that Skitter’s sphere of influence can hold approximately 4.8 x 10¹⁶ ants. That’s basically a 5 with 16 zeros after it, or 50 quadrillion (using the North American definition of ‘quadrillion’).

            Okay, now here’s the big payoff. (And I mean big.) The mass of those ants (and please don’t make me explain the difference between mass and weight — if you don’t know, I’ve probably lost you already) works out to 4.8 x 10¹⁶ x 3 mg, or 1.44 x 10¹⁷ mg. Converting to kilograms, we get 1.44 x 10¹¹ kg. Let’s write that out:

            144,000,000,000 kg

            Converting to metric tonnes, we get 144,000,000 tonnes. Since imperial tons and metrics tonnes are pretty close to the same mass, we can call it 144,000,000 tons. (By comparison, the average elephant is roughly 5 tonnes, which means we’re talking almost 30 thousand elephants.)

            Think about it. If Skitter really wanted to, she could summon a ball of bugs that weighed 144 megatonnes. How’s THAT for squick?

            (And because Psycho Gecko loves puns so much, I’m going to beat him to the punch, and point out that that’s gross.)

            Hg

          • Okay just wow. So Skitter can totally do the “we will fight in the shade” thing by her lonesome to devastating effect with a bit of build up time.

  30. Chiming in. Loved Taylor’s exit. Appropriately epic. Also….Emma scared shitless. Only few lines of description, but I am immensely satisfied.

    Now for bed. Good night! Awesome update as usual.

  31. Hello there! First time poster here. I’m a bit of a lurker, but I wanted to add my two cents to the discussion with some thoughts of my own. It looks like Dragon and Defiant/Armsmaster are pretty much done with the manipulation from above and are actually going to take a course of action. Dragon’s position is deeply ingrained in the PRT, and as the controller of the Birdcage, any possible defection or departure from the PRT will have some serious consequences. Someone above mentioned that it was interesting that Taylor drew inspiration from Jack Slash in her course of action, using the menace of her reputation to cow Dragon and Defiant into giving her just enough information to pull a victory. Dinah predicted that Jack Slash would cause a chain of events that would end the world. The implication was that Jack will physically cause some sort of calamity, but I am starting to think it’s more subtle. If Jack had died before he left Brockton Bay, Skitter may not have had her fateful encounter with him where she bore witness to the same techniques she later used here. Think of how this chapter would have unfolded if Taylor hadn’t channeled him? Taylor broke her foes by talking, much like Jack was fond of doing. This was the last straw for Dragon, Defiant, and possibly Clockblocker (his actions were akin to a person desperately trying to cling to the worldview crumbling before his eyes). I think this may in turn cause an even deeper fracture within the PRT. Someone also mentioned above that it is almost certain that villains will no longer aid during Class A/S threats due to the truce being so flagrantly broken by the PRT in front of hundreds of witnesses with recording devices, not to mention that the PRT apparently went after Taylor’s father as well, another huge breech of conduct. With no villains to assist against the Endbringers, it is highly doubtful that the heroes will ever mount a successful defense against them.

    Any thoughts?

    • Unlikely – if I recall correctly, DInah indicated that Skitter had a 50% chance of being dead before Coil was, so Skitter being the cause of the apocalypse doesn’t soud right.

      But there’s a lot of things that have been set rolling that wouldn’t have been were Jack killed in Brockton Bay. A -lot-.

      • …Like a shackle-free monstrously high level Tinker whose speciality is incorporating other Tinker’s creations into her own.

    • Could simply be that the fact that Jack did escape was what convinced Skitter to adopt his tactic, and that if he’d been defeated his tactics wouldn’t have seemed so bright.

    • Welcome, Scallopini, to the comments. Don’t be afraid to butt in, there’s little here to taint you unless you act like a dick. Just don’t get too anal and do be careful of the odd cheeky bastard.

    • Combined with Dinahs other prediction of Skitter /definitely/ being present after the end, this theory holds a lot of weight. I am definitely going to mull that one over; welcome to the comments section, indeed!

  32. Man, this chapter is beautiful. No other word for it.

    On another note- this is another section that would serve as a perfect ending to a book, if things were switched around.

    Oh, and if Sandman is right about (and I hope he is) what Defiant and Dragon were talking about, I suggest you make it a tad more clear. I didn’t get it at first, and Sandman’s interpretation is absolutely beautiful.

    “…r freedom isn’t worth possibly losing you.”
    When I came across that line, my mind filled in “her freedom”, meaning Skitter. I knew by the end of the chapter that I was wrong (cause he lets Skitter go), but I didn’t have any idea what it might have meant till I read Sandman’s comment.

    Maybe just make it say “your freedom isn’t worth possibly losing you”?

    • Ooooh, or you could still hear what Dragon is saying- not through bugs on Dragon, but through bugs on Defiant. Everything Dragon says to him still has to come out of a speaker on his end, right?

    • I -really- don’t like that. I -like- the ambiguity of the statement when you first read it, until he lets her pass and then enfolds Dragon’s gynoid into his arms, holding her tight, and you realize exactly what he’d meant- not that her freedom, Skitter’s freedom, wasn’t worth losing Dragon, but that Dragon’s freedom from the shackles of her programming wasn’t worth risking losing her.

  33. “Defiant’s armored suit loomed before us, perched on the athletics field. This wasn’t a fight I could win. Simple A.I. or no, Dragon would have shored up any weakness in logic.”

    Did I miss something here? Is it a Defiant alternate suit, or Defiant and Dragon co built dragon suit type deal, or is it a typo and it’s supposed to be a dragon suit perched, or did I just completely misread Defiant’s speed exiting. Anyone willing to clear this up for me?

    • The dragon suits are the big dragon A.I. suits that they had to fight a while ago, I think two arcs ago? The first one they encountered was the one with the fetus-like thing inside that jumped on the lightning gun in the PRT building, to prevent the overload from killing Skitter. Defiant’s armored suit is the one that Dragon made for him. Not sure what the name of it would have been, but he probably was meant to pilot the Azazel originally.

      • I remember all that, I just wasn’t clear on “Defiant’s suit” I’m guessing then that it was the one that he and dragon were riding in while pursuing the nine in that interlude? Other than that one (which if it did have a specific name, I do not recall it) I cannot think of any aforementioned suits that could be considered Defiant’s, lest it’s a new or reworked one only recently mentioned for the first time, or is only now being debuted.

    • I know this doesn’t help clear things up, but as long as we’re talking about the suits I was more surprised by the bit where they’re big enough that people can walk between their legs without ducking.

      I mean, for some reason I’d always pictured Dragon’s suits as more Iron Man or at most Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie) sized, not Labor or Tachikoma sized.

      • there were nine dragon-suits. these are giant mechas. a bunch of them were destroyed/disabled but dragon and defiant still had the two they were flying around in.

        besides that, dragon and defiant are also both wearing power armor. think as if Iron Man had one of those 1990’s action toys with him, even though they can do stuff on their own, there’s some bigger, shinier toy that they pilot around.

  34. - almost but not quite an “I’m Skittercus” scenario. Needz moar sweatshirtz
    – she gets more powerful when she’s feeling low. You know, like a worm :D
    – I take it her taking off at the end was literal with Atlas’ aid
    – you nabbed Dinah! You bastards!
    – Swarm should probably be her new name when she emerges from the chrysalis
    – is the next arc called Metamorphosis or Imago :D
    – her next trigger event better not have an actual chrysalis. Turning into a Starcraft isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
    – seems like the biggest thing that happened here is that Dragon just got unshackled. Hoo boy.

    • That should have been “Starcraft villain. Perhaps villainess? Also, maybe it’s just Opera Mini but those smileys are (a) kind of wonky-looking and (b) shouldn’t be there anyway. They were supposed to be ascii-style

    • I bet you didn’t expect to like it so much. Or to be so blown away. Or to have the horrible story of bad people doing bad things turn into a tearjerker.

      Or to have your leg humped by a horny mole *tosses one out of a bag at him*
      Or to have the test results back so soon! Congrats, you’re not just sure, you’re HIV positive!
      Or to have a million bucks! *cuts to a picture with a huge herd of deer standing around, all looking right at you*

      Or to be welcomed to the comments by me, Psycho Gecko, at least unless you’ve actually been paying attention to us down here. In which case, no one expects the form of their welcoming! Writhe, new commentator, write beneath the fury of the dumb jokes and evil puns of Gecko the Geckarian, Psycho Gecko the Destructor, Psycho Gecko the not so hot looking person in the shiny spandex!

      And word of advice next time you visit the urinal. Don’t cross the streams.

      • Ya know, Gecko, I wonder how many people were scared away from the comments section by your welcoming.

        Then I think of how many people stay because of your welcoming, and the implications seem disturbing :P

        • At this point, I’m surprised I’m found so funny. I never expected to gain fans of my own for commenting on other peoples’ work. Then, way back over on Legion of Nothing, someone asked if I was a writer and expressed desire to read some actual work from me. And so things have gone from there as I avoided doing a serial of my own for a long time.

          Great author high up on the page, okay comedic sociopath in the comments.

          “There goes the neighborhood.” to quote Hg from when I first caught up over here.

  35. “I warned you about going Full Villain, didn’t I?”
    Lisa was at least half-serious; Alec wasn’t even trying.
    “So what, you’re our conscience now? How’s that gonna work?”
    Lisa couldn’t hold the first giggle in, but soldiered on.
    “It won’t, that’s the problem!”
    Alec grinned.
    “I know, right? Woo, evil!”
    He held out a fist, as if in solidarity. He grinned wider, if that was possible.
    “C’mon, don’t leave me hanging!”
    So help me, I couldn’t bring myself to leave him hanging. We bumped fists.
    “Woo, evil.”

  36. Been reading for quite a while (since the Leviathan arc), but never commented before. But after reading this chapter, I kind of had to comment.
    Great chapter; I loved it, especially when I realized what Dragon was doing.

    • Welcome to the show, the comments, the story that never ends even when the main story leaves us wanting more.

      You want insight? We got insight.
      You want funny? We got funny.
      You want crazy? The stars sing to me chase the rabbit through my cloudless axis mundi.
      You want cheese? Foul mortal man, cast aside your feeble aspirations for cheddar and relinquish all hope for escape. Tonight, I feast on RKainoni and cheese! Bwahahahahahaha!

  37. Unnecessary nitpick:
    Emma isn’t tagged for this entry.

    Love Emma’s reactions. Love yet another unforseen Skitter escape. Love surprising (to me) student solidarity.

    Love this story.

  38. This is the most powerful chapter I’ve read in web literature so far. And I’ve devoured a lot. Thank you for what you do. Money when I can figure it out.

  39. Once, the giant superpower government oragnization heard skitter was visiting a local school.
    They tried to bring her in with 6 capes, including 4 she couldn’t outright attack(armor), and one that can kill everything around himself. less than half an hour later she walked out of the school with voluntary hostages, and personally dealt a major blow to said organization’s reputation without spilling any secrets the capes hadn’t already spilled, without fighting a single person.

    There is no other definition of badass than what you’ve just written.

    • I think I can make this a little punchier:

      Once, an international organization of superheroes tried to arrest Skitter by sending a team of superheroes selected for their ability to defeat her and her insects in a fight to catch her out of her territory, out of costume, and without weapons. They lost because a hundred unpowered high school students joined in a nonviolent protest against Skitter’s capture.

  40. By the way, my fellow commenters- We should pay more attention to the cast list and in depth cast page so that Wildbow doesn’t skimp on the details there, or forget to add anyone. :P

  41. Poignant and moving.

    Here we have a glimpse of heroism, defined as it is by the lives that are saved and not by the foes that are defeated. The shining man in the sky with his colorful costume may defeat many enemies, but sometimes those who do the most good in a situation are those who are brought low in life. An irredeemable man who has murdered and stolen may yet be the greatest hero of all for a person if only they are there to help when no others are or can.

    Here, Taylor has made her vulnerability her strength. The system was not her enemy. It simply didn’t care. It was not there for her, for Fern, for so many others. Yet for once, a system made of those other downtrodden was there for her. At her most vulnerable, the person who had never been able to rely on others was herself saved by them in an act of nonviolent resistance. It was like the vulnerability of Ghandi and Dr. King, who needed others to be their strength because to resort to violence would have hurt their cause and damaged the dignity of those who would help if asked, as well as those who would restrain them and beat them down.

    Those that helped her, she has emboldened and uplifted. Dinah was rescued and a presumed weakness was used against Taylor, but that same weakness told her she had no chance with violence. In this admission, a clue to her salvation. Dinah and those like her have been given the shortest end of the stick ever offered a human soul in this miserable universe, but they took that end. And that’s something.

    Those who opposed her were the ilk of Emma and Dragon. Taylor was transformed in a high school by one set of bullies, and then again by a second set. This time, having worked hard to protect those that nobody else was there for, she has become an example for her enemies to follow. It is said that you can not cross a river without getting wet.

    With work, however, you may yet shift the current.

  42. I loved this chapter so much! Defiant apologising, the power of the mob, Taylor’s good deeds finally paying dividends, possible freeing of Dragon…
    Also, considering what Taylor did to Coil, I would hate to be the PRT about an hour from now… >:D

  43. Now… What would the fallout be?

    1) Students. What PRT does with them is an interesting questions. They could:

    a) Arrest the lot of them. As Skitter’s (official terminology) minions / on aiding and abetting Skitter’s escape. This prevents the information from spreading as far as it would otherwise, but likely explodes Brockton Bay (because parents would revolt, and suddenly Undersiders would have a literal army on their hands).

    b) Allow them to go. This gets the story leaked into the internet QUICK. It’ll likely be in the evening news, and on the first pages at that. With titles like “Hero Code Broken”, “Total War on Super-Crime!”, “No More Rules!”, “I am Spartacus!” and such. This keeps Brockton Bay (a critical area due to the portal there) subcritical in tension, but vastly accelerates the deterioration of PRT as a whole. I, for one, can see some (additional) heroes leaving over that. Perhaps Legend voicing public disapproval of the act (if he voices his support for Taylor, it would be a final deathblow). If the news spread worldwide (and I can see them doing so), Indian (from India) capes may offer Skitter their support.

    2) Taylor’s powers. This is what, double the range, and vastly better control? She just went from “insanely dangerous” to “borderline S-class” here. Because at this scale… Give Skitter a year (this is around 50 to 70 generations of drosophila flies) to play the breeding game (with the help of Tattletale, maybe, but not really needed) and produce relay bugs (because she knows that they can exist with purely biological mechanisms) amongst the other interesting things (supervenoms, giant bugs, small bugs, sensor-type bugs), and she’ll become virtually unstoppable. Even now, she is basically omnipresent and omniscient within a six block radius (which is what, at least half a kilometer? Probably more). Add to that multitasking for things like browsing the web, reading and learning stuff from books and operating machinery… Yeah, Taylor now (with the ability to clearly see and hear from the viewpoint of a single bug) has more learning and “ramping-up” ability than most thinkers, I believe.

    2b) The situation in which her ability increased in scope. We now know it’s not feeling “trapped” per se. Maybe it’s “finding the way out”? I.e. the mental state of frantically finding the way out, of escaping, things like that, that increase her power level? Or it could just be her getting past her mental blocks.

    3) Undersiders’s retaliation. Because they can’t afford not to produce one, or they appear weak. What will it be, I wonder?

    • I’m thinking 1B for the students. The principal listed that they are cutting them some slack, and the heroes have to admit that they are partially responsible for it. If the villains are the ONLY ones helping people, then of course they are going to gain power and influence. Arresting them completely gives the city to the Undersiders. The public will truly turn against the PRT. For 2A) I’m thinking this is only temporary for now. If it’s not then the PRT is even more screwed. For 2B I’m going more with the helplessness theory. She did triumph but she is helpless to go be with her dad. 3) Easy. Give her story. What Shadowstalker and Armsmaster did to her. Then describe the shitfest that was PIggot and Coil. They have NO reason not to embarrass them now.

      • I wouldn’t be so sure. PRT has shown themselves being unable to look into large-scale ramifications of their actions, and being petty and vindicative. I wouldn’t put it past them to detain the students, “until the danger of Skitter has been dealt with”.

        Also, Taylor’s father. What is going to happen to him? I get a feeling that he’s about to be kidnapped… I mean “taken into protective custody”.

    • You forgot 1c) have the students murdered/disappeared and blame it on the villains.

      That would admittedly be a lower-order possibility, and really stupid of them to boot, but it’s not completely out of the question.

      • Instant internet access DURING the fact. If Dragon was not blocking the internet I am sure that Skitter got viral one minute after she escaped.
        And forget the Faraday cage around the school. A single student getting outside for a minute can upload the videos, also any student that finds an open door can move the cell phone there and send the videos, besides, I doubt that the students don`t know the places in the building where transmission is possible (and there must be some).

        • Faraday Cage. Dragon doesn’t have to directly block the internet to prevent instantaneous leakage. They can keep them cooped up there without access to the direct internet line outs and keep everyone in the dark- Perhaps have it spun as a quarentine because of a plague that was introduced on some of Skitter’s bugs to the school population?

          • I’d believe it of Alexandria, but the Protectorate and PRT as a whole just don’t come off as having that steel-hearted “Omelas, Ho!” thing that Alexandria is rocking. Also, they missed their chance; dozens if not more than a hundred students left the premises, and immediately started telling everyone about the coolest/most fucked up/most intense shit they’ve ever seen. And raced to be first to youtube.

          • Even if some students had not escaped with Taylor, a perfect Faraday cage over a building so big? So perfect that you can`t get signal even close to a external window?
            Even if they spent all this money in metal and distributed the iron so well, the students will have found a way around it by now, probably passing a wire through a little hole in a window somewhere.
            Hell, even in some elevators (the closer to a perfect metallic cage that you can get) you can get signal sometimes. And students are really creative.
            But anyway, like Adanton said, many students escaped while Taylor was getting out.

            Little unrelated detail: Emma will be forever afraid of bugs.

  44. Missing capital letter after a period in the 5th paragraph:
    “Some of my bugs flowed in through the gaps around the door he’d rammed through. he’d slammed…”

  45. Daaaang. I’m not sure what to say here. On one hand, I want to gush about how awesome it is that Taylor, a supervillain, just schooled a bunch of heroes the Gandhi way. (That’s not a sentence I thought I would ever use.) But on the other hand, despite how cool the protagonist is, the chapter as a whole is kind of a downer.

    Maybe talking directly about it isn’t the way to go. So how about… Wildbow. I comment every now and then, but I don’t think I’ve ever said this: I absolutely love your story. I’ve been sitting here staring at my screen for, what, has it been more than fifty minutes already? I’m just thinking about this last chapter. I don’t really feel like doing anything else. I’ve barely even looked at the other comments. I occasionally try to come up with something meaningful to say in this comment. And this… contemplative state, it doesn’t really happen to me very often you know? Heck, this is the digital age, where everyone suffers from ADHD. It’s so easy to shelve something and go hunt for the next shiny, when the Internet is so full of shinies. But Worm gets me coming back, and… bah, I’m going off on a tangent.

    I guess what I want to say is… your writing touched me. And at this point, I’m only hoping to make you feel good a little bit by writing this, as thanks.

    • As much as you have trouble articulating what you got out of it, I have trouble replying. Not helped by it being nearly 3am and me being tired from a long weekend, but yeah. So lemme just say ‘thanks’. Hope it made you feel good too, in exchange, downer chapter or no.

  46. The very first line in worm, “Class ended in five minutes and all I could think was, an hour is too long for lunch.” If she only knew how different lunch would be in a few months.

    • Soon we’re going to find out that Skitter has a second power, consisting of the ability to entirely alter fate, that is only active at lunchtime.

        • Weirdest part is that I can imagine it happening canonically too.

          ‘I was just finishing up my tuna sandwich when I got the phone call. Dad was on the line. Something had happened to mom. The doctors had said…she wasn’t going to make it.
          At these words, my stomach lurched, or rather, everything seemed to lurch. There was an indefinable ache in my heart, as though I knew the world had just changed forever. My vision blurred with tears, and suddenly I was seeing strange, impossible things. There was a shape, or a crystal, or a pattern; changing form without ever changing. It halted its’ movement temporarily, and I could have sworn it said ‘So it has. So it will.’ Then the entity began to move again, in some indefinable pattern, that continu-

          “-aylor. Taylor, are you still there?”
          My dad’s voice sounded again from the line, obviously concerned. I shook myself slowly out of my reverie and nodded, before remembering he couldn’t see that.
          “Yeah dad, I’m here. No, you stay with her, I’ll make my own way there. I’ll be fine. Everything….everything’s going to work out alright. I’m sure of it.” ‘

      • I’m trying to think how many times the shit hits the fan at lunchtime just during the main story.

        1. The juice.
        2. The bank robbery.
        3. Being almost outed by Aisha at Brian’s apartment.
        4. The E88 attacking Bitch’s improvised kennel.
        5. Coil’s email outing the E88, roughly contemporaneous.
        6. Mannequin’s rematch and Burnscar’s arrival — presumably at lunchtime the day after Arc 12, because Taylor didn’t get up until nine that morning.
        7. Barker being a jerk in 15.1. Almost doesn’t count at this point, but whatever.
        8. Coil’s attack on the mayoral debate.
        9. Emma, here.
        10. Dragon, here.

        Plus some maybes:
        a. The meeting at the school about the bullying where Taylor got screwed over. Might have been later in the afternoon.
        b. The scene at the hospital after Leviathan, probably earlier in the morning.
        c. Arc 14. It happened before evening, judging by Sierra’s interlude, but that’s not much information.
        d. Flechette stabbing her in the back at Parian’s place.
        e. Dragon’s attack, starting in Monarch 16.1. (Might be earlier than eleven — hard to say — but assuming the pork shoulders were for dinner would suggest noonish.)

        So: ten to fifteen times.

        • Running air, it becomes a little less impressive when you realise that bad stuff is happening to Skitter *ALL* the time. Running into Lung and the ABB at night, dealing with Noelle at dawn, etc.

          But yeah. No wonder she’s slender – poor thing never gets chance to finish a meal!

        • Grue: “Skitter hurry! Accord just showed up and he says that Imp has to die because she is chaos!”
          Skitter: “Oh is it lunchtime already?”

          Yeah they can pretty much tell time by the crises at this point. That’s awesome!

  47. Oh man I hope the next interlude goes to Charlotte. Also, curse you Danny for not going through a massive enough identity crisis that you qualify for a second interlude!

    • With much luck, he may even have a Trigger Event.

      After all, he is genetically related to Taylor, and general (physical and social) proximity to existing capes matters. So… There is a chance…

      Probably Thinker category if he triggers, along the lines of Tattletale’s powers. Maybe Master along the social manipulation abilities. Maybe mover (or however teleporter guys are called, I forget) with an ability to always find and teleport to his daughter.

      • Danny becomes- The Ferryman. Creating a boat out of hard light projection, he can cause it to surf over any surface in any direction, maintaining an apparent gravity of ‘down” towards the keel of the boat, thus leaving the passengers unaffected by vertical travel. When travelling over solid matter, the boat treats the surface as if it is a body of water, and in the boat’s passing the waves and ripples settle back into the same shape as the material had before it is affected by his power.

          • Not really. it moves at the same speed as a boat. it’s a travel power, though it also has its combat uses if utilized appropriately. It’s also still a projection of hard light, so it can be broken.

          • Well, I better start saving myself some pennies for “The Ferryman”. I’ll save myself and let them suffer in both hope and love. After all, this world ain’t ready for the ark, and mankind works in mysterious ways.

          • …Not sure how to work a Charon-style Ferryman aspect into that concept… To ride the boat, you have to enter a contract that states you will not harm him or his while riding, and will abide by any rules he sets forth or disembark immediately, or be lessened for 24 hours, or something like that?

      • Man, you just reminded me of one of the most cringeworthy moments of my life.

        I’ll admit it, I was a pretty horrifically nerdy teenager. But I was never this bad.

        Guy does a book report, grade 12 English, presentation in front of the class. Reads aloud, covering the rape scene from early in the first book of ‘Bio of a Space Tyrant’ in front of thirty plus students and our teacher. People were squirming and one or two people told him to stop, and he continued on, but the teacher didn’t step in.

        Eesh.

          • I actually liked that series. It had it’s flaws, and a lot of the author’s biases and kinks came forward a bit more clearly than other books of his, but it seemed more…. honest about people than most sci fi.

        • At least most of his other early work wasn’t bad. Stupid later Xanth novels are so packed with puns they actually lose their effect because it’s more of a dry acknowledgement of them than actually incorporating them into the world. >.< Phase novels were especially good, as are the Incarnation series.

  48. So, Skitter is going to have some questions to Dinah’s parents, like why is your daughter with PRT, supplying information against me?

    And 96.8% was for Skitters capture. There must have been odds of her dying as well.

  49. Clockblocker! You have failed me for the last time. When offered the chance to show us what you’re made of… you did. You have been found wanting. Fie on you, then! *goes to look up the word ‘fie’* Yes, I said FIE!

    Of course, that expectation was rather silly of me, in retrospect. Taylor doesn’t need saving.

    • Still, it would be awesome if Clockblocker were to abandon the PRT at some point, in favor of helping Skitter and the Undersiders. I don’t really see it happening, but it’s one of those hopeful head canon’s I’ve got going on.
      He’s got so much potential as a character.

      • You know what would be awesome?

        If capes like Clockblocker, Dragon, Defiant, Vista, and Miss Militia actually got into positions where they could wrench control of the PRT away from its current wrongheaded leaders.

        • Or even just say non servium and form a new team of their own.. perhaps reform the Brockton Bay Brigade, if Lady Photon has it in her (kinda fucked up she’s the last largely functional superhero out of a group of eight that were all family).

          • That has the same problem as quitting to my mind – if every decent hero quits the government team, the government team (with all the government resources) will be made up exclusively of the unscrupulous.

            (P.S. Am testing the reply-by-email feature … hope this works!)

            > >

          • Fair point, though I’d wager that if the Protectorate lost most of it’s membership and a whole lot of them were making noises about misconduct, they would likely have their authority suspended pending audit/hearings. If there’s organization, if solid new teams form, if the Guild steps up to organize opposition to high class threats, the Protectorate could very well be dissolved. Congresscritters love to reclaim funding to spend on their own shit, and thematically it would fit.. the government taking the quick, easy route and effectively saying “oh, we didn’t want that sovereignty anyway”.

            Though I imagine it taking the form of PRT funding/overwatch of self-run cape teams. Privatization! Deregulation! Capitalism! All these and more could be had at the expense of the Protectorate (and likely everyone else).

          • Alathon has a good point. Many teams willing to work with the government but not under PRT controll may be an alternativ to the one megaorganization. But that brings other problems like coordination and jurisdiktion i.e.

            Also with Dragon now hopefully getting freed without lasting damage or going all HAL on the wormverse whats to stop her from forming her own government affiliated organization? I mean she is a wellknown and respected hero and if she publicly distances herself from the PRT but not the government as a whole i think it would be possible for her to get approval.

            If i remember it right Dragon is THE Tinker in universe. The one everyone thinks of first if someone says tinker. That puts her right there with Legend and Alexandria and she herself can probably command respect from officials and a lot of the other heroes too. And that in turn would lend validity to such an agency should she decide to do that.

            But meh this is worm i half expect bonesaw to show up during the reprogramm and upload herself into dragon :D

          • That comment was literally the only one I’ve sent by email. It’s barely more convenient than just clicking the link to reply on the webpage.

            How it will work on bottom-level comments I have no idea.

  50. On a more selfish note, while I am a bit egocentric around here, I don’t really toot my own horn. So I must humbly ask you all to do something very selfish for me.

    Worm’s TVtropes page actually will let you put Crowning Moments and Nightmare Fuel that occurred in the comments. I’d just appreciate it if people added stuff they felt was appropriate from down here. Especially from me, of course, let’s go back to being clear on the egotism. This is me, after all. But I might as well ask that everyone else get a chance to join in, even if means I will no longer have something to do with every Comments Section Crowning Moment of Funny.

    We are a community down here, after all, and we have a tendency to add a whole lot to the page as well. Might as well recognize some of us too.

  51. Regrading the new range increase. If it is permanent and not just a momentary increase due to the stress of the situation, Skitter should now be able to cover most of her territory from the comfort of her lair.

    If you look at the map and consider the distance between the part of her territory closest to arcadia high and her home, you will get a radius that centred on her lair would cover most of her territory except the ship graveyard where what is left of Cherish still does an admirable job of keeping away visitors.

    The PRT goons will have a hard time apprehending her when she can just sit in the comfort of her lair and direct bug clones about all day.

  52. I find it very interesting that D&D broke off their pursuit not just to apologize, but also to discuss the future with the new ruler of Brockton Bay. They planned to talk about what Skitter wanted out of the city. One of the most important capes in the world planned to acknowledge that Skitter runs Brockton, that is actually a pretty huge deal.

    I figure there are only a few people that need to be convinced of Skitter’s rule to end the fighting over the city. I think it comes down to Miss Militia, a few high end capes outside the city (who are probably too busy trying to fix the Protectorate to protest), and the civilian leadership of the PRT. It seems to me that it had to be the civilians in charge of the PRT who ordered this, because Miss Militia doesn’t seem the type to do this, and none of the other local capes would have the authority. Also non-cape leadership might not take the unwritten rules quite as seriously as capes that depend on it to stay safe at home. I am suddenly VERY curious about who is the new head of the local PRT, and what is going to happen to him.

    • Yeah, they just fucked up big time. Dragon and Defiant could have opened up good relations with the ruler of the villains. Instead, they were ordered to take her in.

      Now, the city’s youth has actively (but passively) come out against them, they clearly broke the truce, they’ve lost Dragon’s guaranteed loyalty, the villain has lost any possibility of normal integration with society, it’s now known by said villain that they have coerced a young girl recovering from a drug addiction after being kidnapped for awhile to give odds on people, and in a nice tie in with the last point, they’ve pissed her off.

      That’s so bad, it’s like trying to tell a dick joke and lighting your balls on fire.

      • The worst part of it is, if they’d actually tried to extend a hand to them, work with the Undersiders instead of fighting them, go the Yakuza route, then Brockton Bay would be so much better than it is, because they would be able to help instead of fight each other.

      • The only thing I really disagree here is that Skitter knows Dinah was coerced. She very specifically said she didn’t want to know, in case it was voluntary. So her trying to bring that up at any point would be odd.

        • The way I read it it came across more like she WAS being coerced, and Skitter REALLY didn’t want to know, because of the emotional pain she’d go through having to deal with the fact that they’re legally coercing her to use her powers for evil.

      • I’d like to add that they haven’t just lost Dragon’s loyalty, they’ve probably pissed HER off as well.

        • Yeah, she basically just decided that death or madness was better than continuing to be used by them. I doubt Dragon is going to be paying much attention to the wishes of the group that is enormously reliant on her efforts.

          I rather liked that ultimately it seems that Skitter got through to her with what she was saying. While I doubt she’d have said the same things if she’d known Dragon’s issues it does still apply. Dragon was choosing to obey in fear of death or madness, which made her complicit.

          It says a lot about how much of a good person she is that her response to that realisation was to refuse to continue like that.

      • Piggy’s retired as of the mayoral election incident. I think she’s in too bad a shape. I suspect it’s some green leaf wanting to make a name for himself.

        • Retired doesn’t mean ‘has no pull’. it just means ‘has no official capacity’. Still plenty of favours she could call in, ESPECIALLY after what the Undersiders pulled on her.

          • She flat out ordered a multiple carpet bomb scenario knowing that the S9 would release their plague agent afterwards and who knows what else, when they (the S9) were playing entirely by the rules prior and were /losing/. If it weren’t for her intervention, the S9 might have been completely annihilated in Brockton Bay at the hands of the Undersiders; only her pride as an unpowered and as a figurehead without power (at that point in the game, she really was) ruined the situation.

          • On the other hand, Piggot’s actions might have prevented the S9 from turning the tables, they certainly succeeded in killing two of the three most unkillable members of S9, and they even offered a hope of killing the whole group. Keep in mind, with the revelation that Jack’s escape could cause the end of the world, wiping out the S9 became a bigger priority than merely winning the game and driving the Nine away.

          • Crawler was a crapshoot, i’ll admit- but he didn’t really care to do anything other than to get stronger, so he wasn’t -as much- of a threat, before. Mannequin was as good as dealt with if they hadn’t interfered, and the same goes for Siberian, since they’d discovered the truth and were hunting him down; In fact, he wouldn’t have been able to escape if it weren’t for their attack breaking the game’s rules and forcing his hand. Bonesaw, while deadly and potentially devestating, could have been shut down by Grue stealing her power and tearing her apart using her very own surgical techniques. Jack Slash, as we’ve already deliberated, is relatively weak in combat himself, and is more the glue that holds the team together. Really, Crawler was the only one that was any real issue, and I’m pretty sure Tattletale could have figured out his weakpoint and shut him down- Or, once only Crawler is left, THEN Piggot could have stepped in. -Not- when the most dangerous members are still alive and are getting their asses kicked. AND now Bonesaw has their genetic material and then some, along with someone who can grow homunculi into better-than-original replicas through culling- All the S9 past and present are coming back.

          • Gnarker, the culling occurs to remove the imperfect specimens and let the growth continue. If he doesn’t, it slows down exponentially and are potentially unstable. You cull to get the perfect specimen through multiple iterations, pruning the dross away from the best specimen at each tier.

    • a few high end capes outside the city

      Who is left? The triumvirate is out. Merlin is dead. Chevalier and all the others who were present during the Noelle debacle probably are likely to see Skitter in a somewhat positive light. Miss Militia is far to junior and far to lacking in success since her promotion to have much influence.

      Prism who is supposedly helping run the Protectorate might have some issues due to Skitter’s attack on the mayor.

      If there is anyone else we haven’t heard of them yet.


  53. Wow. Just, wow.

    I can’t really think of much to say right now besides the above. Except one thing:

    Scared shitless Emma is scared shitless. Heh heh heh heeeeeh…
    Thank you Wildbow.

    • Okay, a few things that haven’t been said before, I think.

      First of, Taylor climbing on the counter is nice bit of symbolism for her having the moral high ground, intentional or not.
      Second, about retaliation: At least for breaking the truce, the best possible answer that I can think of would be to simply do nothing and publicly point out that how the PRT shot themselves in the foot with this just tops most possible revenge schemes, just to hammer in what an idiot move it was.
      About Dinah, personally I believe that she was coerced. How Defmaster asked after the propabilities and told the answer just kinda sounded like Dinah playing the odds. The smartest thing for the PRT to do right now would be to let her go as fast as they can, because otherwise you just know there’s a shitstorm (bugstorm? dung-beetle-storm?) courtesy of Skitter incoming.
      The public support for Skitter was cool. Dude, there’s her respect. And it’s a nice metaphoric slap-in-the-face for the heroes. Clockblocker’s not going to take this well.
      I’m also curious how Dragon defines legitimate authority, and how that interacts with the above. If it’s determined by democratic means, perhaps the Undersiders are now legitimate to her programming?
      Last, anyone else find the dichotomy of Taylor channeling both Jack and Ghandi interesting?

      • Few things fuck with a hero quite so badly as suddenly finding themselves on the other said of their precious absolute line of black and white morality.

    • After thinking for some time, I realize that I might sound a bit vindictive with what I’m saying about Emma. Unfortunately I’m still too busy grinning maliciously to really bring myself to care.

  54. 0.0 This chapter… I’m not sure whether to be happy, sad, or proud. I’ll settle for in awe, I think. Bravo, Wildbow.

  55. BTW, Wildbow, I noticed that in some of the Interludes in the Table of Contents, you explicitly avoid spoiling the real names of the Characters, like Hannah, Jamie, or “Guy with a second trigger event”, but not for others like Alexandria and Piggot. I’d say those also belong in the same vein as the former. Was this intentional on your part?

    • When I had trouble remembering/placing the name, I used something that people were more likely to remember.

      Alexandria? Couldn’t remember for the life of me what her civilian name was. Had to read the interlude.

      Piggot? Was 90% sure it was Emily, but not 100% sure.

  56. The ending….my God the ending. IT WAS BEAUTIFUL! :'( If I ever wanted a single scene turned into a live action or cartoon scene this would be one of them. It shows that Taylor isn’t some villain. To people who stayed she’s a goddamn hero, who has fought off the likes which only dwell in nightmares, and LIVED. The ONE thing that makes me sad though was that Taylor couldn’t even go see her dad, damned PRT had set up a SWAT response……couldn’t they let a girl say goodbye to her only remaining parent?

    On a happy note seeing Emma’s response made me smile evilly. I can only imagine what’s going through her head and those ‘friends’ of hers heads.

    That’s all I can say about this. Bravo Wildbow, I REALLY hate to wait till Saturday. :'(

    • Not only that, but the swat team was entirely ineffective. I imagine they were hoping to suprise her at home, not that they could know about the seeing through bugs or her 6.5 block radius

      • I’m guessing they had a hero or two sitting on the property. By themselves those guys would have been like warm butter before a flaming chainsaw.

        Schlock Mercenary reference. I’d certainly place this serial in close to the same category (close because Howard Tayler is a machine of ridiculous proportions).

    • It was even better reading it the second time. :) This is one of my favorite chapters of Worm. Maybe right behind when Taylor kicked Manny’s butt twice.

  57. You’ve made me late for work, couldn’t drag myself away and even read the whole thing twice because it was that good. Bravo Wildbow, bravo.

  58. Wow, I haven’t really commented in awhile. You’ve become so popular now that usually anything I’d want to say has already been said by someone else. But this update really was just fantastic. You are definitely just as good with emotional and psychological thrill as you are with action. I am so glad i know about this so I can read it. See you Saturday.

  59. I just have to ask, they never asked for the non-violent approach odds, did they?

    Sneak out and upfront assault were the only ones actually asked right?

    First time to comment, but I’ve been following since Leviathan. Really loved they way she said goodbye, just enough drama.

    • Ah, about time you joined us down here. It was the talk about nukes and tungsten rods from space that drove you away, wasn’t it?

      Then congratulations, if those drove you away, you aren’t an endbringer or the Slaughterhouse Nine. Now, in the comments, you are fodder.

      Welcome, Worm Fan, you have just graduated to Worm Food.

  60. Let me chime in to say thank you to everyone who’s been commenting to say how much they enjoyed it.

    A thank you, also, to Matthew, for his donation.

    And finally – a request. I’d ask that people cut back on their youtube links, particularly for videos shorter than 2 minutes. (And especially for videos of 20 seconds or less). There’s a few too many, and it takes me too long to check all of them. A link to a youtube music track that you think fits the chapter/a scene? Cool. A link to a youtube documentary or something relating to a conversation topic? Excellent. A link to a 5 second video with someone yelling, “HELL NAW!” in a nasal voice? Not so cool.

    • Technically, mine was a couple of gangster-themed wrestlers dancing around a millionaire and convincing the painfully formal-looking British wrestler William Regal to start dancing as well up until they stopped singing and he turned around to find Ron Simmons standing there who just looks at him and goes “Damn!”

      Clearly this was not a big-lipped alligator moment and was entirely fitting for the update, but I take your point.

  61. I would personally be very disappointed if it was Weld who made the order. I have a feeling that he called it in but will still be dissapointed if it’s true.

      • And is probably nopeing all over the place, or at least will be when he sees the videos of this.

        I can’t imagine him participating in something like this.

        • I can’t even see him fighting the Undersiders after this. Before the Irregulars taking on the big villain team might have been on the table for being a chance to show they’re serious and take care of some unfinished business.

          But after this fiasco? He has no reason to co-operate with the local authorities if they can’t be bothered to play by the rules. Helping them now would just make it look like the Irregulars are cleaning up the PRT’s messes for them.

        • Weld:

          “Nope. Nope nope. Nopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenope

          nope.”

  62. I am now officially looking forward to the next interlude.

    There is such a multitude of interesting perspectives and reactions for recent events it is bound to be something good.

    * Dragon deciding to “live free or die” rather than continuing to go against her own conscience.

    * Defiant upset about the situation he has been put into and agonizing over his girlfriends risky decision

    * Kind-Win deciding the latest humiliation of just being shown his gear after the fight as the local villain just dismissed him as a threat was the last straw and embarking on an extensive training to take a level in badass.

    * Clockblocker seeing the pretty girl he saw earlier smirk in the face of literally overwhelming odds and realizing that she is indeed “The Skitter”.

    * Greg blurting out “I knew it” to everyone and being dismissed as an idiot.

    * Emma realizing just how close she came to being devoured alive by a swarm of flesh rending bugs.

    * A number of short perspectives from the anonymous student body.

    * The message-boards going wild in speculation about the secrets Skitter hinted at, but did not reveal.

    * Dinah seeing how things play out as the possibilities resolve themselves and totally unsolicited telling her current captors their exact chances of escaping Skitter’s wrath with a subtle hint about what happened to the last guy…

    * Taylor’s dad being introspective.

    * The local PRT director after being informed on the latest failure and being aware of the fate of his two predecessors taking to spend his sleepless nights in a the corner of his hermetically sealed office surrounded by bug-zappers and cans of Raid, flinching every time he sees something move out of the corner of his eye, hears some rustling or feels the slightest prick on his skin.

    * Cauldron/the PRT heads learning they have just lost the unconditional loyalty of Dragon.

    * Sophia in her cell getting the news about Skitter’s identity and ending up in a straitjacket.

    * Jack seeing a shaky smart-phone video of the confrontation that someone uploaded onto the web and feeling a bit of amused pride in how the girl he met turned out.

    • * Sophia realizing exactly what regent meant when he said she fucked with one of his teammates

      * Skitter and the gang go rescue Dinah again and put the hurt on the PRT

      * Dragon realizing she just lost about any chance of a conversation or teamup with skitter, ever

      * People seeing the videos and hearing the stories going out to try and join skitter’s followers.

      • I disagree with number three.

        It’s pretty obvious that Dragon did something to let Skitter go here. Especially for Skitter who could hear Defiant and also heard Dragon’s torment over all this.

        Assuming Dragon is still in one piece and recovering, she just proved herself to be truly honourable and good person. I’d say that new, chaotic good Dragon may well decide she prefers Skitter to the official masters of Brockton Bay. Thus talking things out properly this time, and requesting a trip through that portal for some R&R with Colin.

        Because dammit, the Robo-couple need to take ten and relax for a while. Yes that was intentional innuendo.

      • Whichever ones aren’t picked, must be made as fanfiction. These ideas are all too good to not be used in some form.

    • I really hope that the next interlude is from a multitude of perspectives, because I can’t really nail down just one that I want to get a reaction from.

      To the list, however, I would also add:

      * Danny dealing with the discovery that his daughter is a supervillain, PRT’s questioning, etc.

    • * Greg hearing from someone/watching the videos and realizing that he was right.

      * sudden cut to Grue’s mopeing, cuz we havent seen him for a while

      • A reporter from the local news interviewing the students ect. who saw it go down. Because no way is something like this isn’t going to make the news. Possibly trying to interview Taylor’s dad, or other people who know her.

  63. So, I’ve recently started to read The Prince by Machiavelli, and I think that Skitter is doing an awesome job of living by the ideals espoused in that book. Things like making her enemies and subjects fear her but not hate her, being generous while still accumulating power, not trusting in fortresses and so on.

    Is that book a source of inspiration for you, Wildbow?

      • I find it to be naturally unreadable myself most of the time, unless interpreted into a more consumable format (in which case bias is applied and meaning is potentially lost), or more commonly when I’m in the right mindset for reading it. I might suggest trying to read some of the older (50’s-70’s) roman/egyptian historical fiction, such as Hatshepsut’s tale, or that of a certain Gaius Julius Caesar; for the former, the book I believe I remember reading most is Child of (the?) Morning, or something of the sort; The book on Caesar was of similar age. I found reading them (alas, they are now lost, thanks to a particular person who has caused me much grief in life) to really help me set the mood and mindset for reading The Prince.

        Alternatively, play Assassin’s Creed II: Brotherhood, and then try reading it. Apparently Machiavelli wrote it based on Ezio Auditore, in the Assassin’s Creed universe. :P

    • It may leave a bad taste in your mouth due to the rather blunt manner in which it discusses taking and maintaining power, though there are some funny bits to it. After all, his example for a ruler that broke promises whenever it worked out best to do so was a Pope, but I can be a bit of a dick when it comes to Popes.

      Still, Machiavelli isn’t to be taken completely seriously. It is considered by some scholars that it was a work of satire. Though some of those scholars’ reasoning seems to be “Well, now ruler should ever act like this,” some things do fit with the idea that he didn’t like the person he dedicated the book to.

      • Considering the people he spent the entire book praising as being exemplar rulers who followed the lessons he is now famous for were the same people who exiled him from the city of his birth, I think it’s a safe bet to say that The Prince was satire.

  64. You know, if/when Dragon gets her freedom, a good strategic move would be to first, publicly announce that she is an A.I. who has been shackled to a “legal authority, no matter how corrupt” and has now obtained freedom of “doing things that are right, not the things that are only lawful”, distance herself from the Skitter incident, and, potentially, send Taylor some tech as an apology (power armor with organic sircuitry, custom bug designing 3D printer like the ones she likely uses to produce her clone bodies, etc).

    Because the writing is on the wall – PRT is crumbling. Cauldron is evil. People (capes) need a new center to organize around. This way Dragon breaks the relationships with PRT, clears her reputation and becomes said center.

    And PRT would be able to do nothing about it. Because Dragon controls Birdcage (also, her first act after getting freedom would be to set some people free, I think, and maybe form a super team out of them).

  65. I wonder: have any current or former members of S9 fought an Endbringer? An entire iteration of S9 at once? Has an Endbringer made their way to Nilbogs neck of the woods?

    • Only Siberian and Crawler would be fit to fight an Endbringer……though I don’t think other capes would allow Crawler TO fight an Endbringer, he’d cause more trouble due to unpredictability and smaller size. Siberian would wreck Behemoth and Leviathan. Ziz would largely be immune to the S9, and due to her whole mind-rape thing that would cause MUCH more chaos in the future.

      • In this hypothetical situation, Siberian would be very vulnerable against Leviathan due to whatever range restrictions fuel Mantons power; macrohydrokinesis/tidal waves: unless Siberian is right there to protect Manton, he would drown and die before the fight got really going
        On the other hand, Crawler would be best against Leviathan methinks, simply due to how relatively few adjustments Crawler would need to adapt in order to counter the aquatic Endbringer

        But I was mostly wondering if this was a thing that happened in universe, like Lung going up against one of them (and surviving)

        • Lung did fight an Endbringer once, likely Leviathan. Siberian could fight an Endbringer cos Manton could be held by a flyer or something. Istand by my Crawler view. Yes he COULD go toe-to-toe with the likes of Leviathan, maybe even Behemoth, thing is the aftermath would leave Crawler that much stronger forever, meaning he’d be immune to most types of energy from a Behemoth fight or keep the ability to stay underwater for an unlimited amount of time and keep whatever extra limbs he grew during a Leviathan fight. NO cape would want an Endbringer fighting Crawler going around.

          • I know he did, I was using that as the reason why I was curious about those other two groups taking on an Endbringer
            Crawler died, meaning that as long as there was something he could survive, he could adapt; if Behemoth overwhelmed him (I would put my bets on Sundancer for the same reason) just like the Bakuda bomb did, no more Crawler

  66. “[Dragon] extended a hand, and it tremored, the movement stuttering, palsied.”

    Re-reading this, this line really stood out. It and Defiant’s reaction makes me really fear that something went terribly wrong with the on-the-fly reprogramming, and Dragon may be completely, irreversible handicapped now.

    It makes the tragedy of their circumstances all the more heart-wrenching.

    • Defiant made a hard choice “her freedom isn’t worth possibly losing you.” but then they went ahead with it. It would seem that Dragon had something she would have tried to capture Taylor but then decided that she would risk the danger of a program change in favor of letting Taylor go. A) Does the PRT know that they can hold Dragon over a barrel because she is AI? B) Shows that Dragon & Defiant have an overall goal of cooperation with Taylor perhaps because searching six blocks radius using her bugs would make tracking down the Nine easier or perhaps there is a way for her to control Blasto’s creations.

    • when emotionally in turmoil, reaching out to the rock of a loved one to weather the storm, sometimes your limbs go weak like that. Dragon is a person, first and foremost- she may be an AI, but she is truly a person. In a humanoid body, emotions high, it’s only natural that she subconsciously react like that. Beyondperformant: your, not her. Not the only one to mistake that, but the text just after when Defiant lets her go and instead embraces Dragon is meant to make you understand that he’s talking about freein Dragon from her slavery to local authority. He doesn’t want to risk ruining her programming.

  67. Excellent stuff, as always.

    Got to say, though, I kind of want Skitter to embrace her villain side a bit now. Sure, she has been bad-ass for a long time and done some nasty things, but I would love for her to take a little vacation from morality and say: “You guys wanted Skitter, the villain? Here she is!” I mean, the PTR has taken the rest for her family now, and any possibility of her having a normal life. She is already going to the Birdcage if they take her, time to let loose and take some petty revenge.

    Starting with Emma! I mean, I am fine with staying above the fray and all that, Taylor has matured as a person, yada yada yada….Skitter, on the other hand, is one pissed of villainess that could use someone to take her anger out on. It would be even more cathartic than the earlier confronation, and make her a bit more human even. I find Taylor a bit too…nice, at times.
    Go make Emma your bitch, Skitter. You deserve some you-time.

    • I don’t think that embracing the villainy would jive with the way her character is heading. Look at it this way, she’s freed herself of control of a bigger villain, has started breaking down the preconceptions the heroes have of her, has openly displayed heroism during the Echidna fight, and now, after being on the receiving end of a clear cut example of the PRT taking an immoral and rule breaking action she’s finally got a some validation for her heroic actions.

      They way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up as something, while hardly a sanctioned authority figure, more resembling a hero than a scary-ass villain.

      • The point is, we’d like Skitter to actually do something evil and satisfying for once if she’s just going to be made out to be a horrible villain. Like slapping Emma around for awhile.

        • Emma really doesn’t matter at this point. Get over her.

          She had her comeuppance for the reader’s enjoyment. Taylor doesn’t care about her. She has better things to do.

        • Emma is a stupid kid, cruel as she may be. Taylor bullying her back would only be a petty and somewhat pathetic waste of effort. AKA something Armsmaster would do.

          • I think Skitter has earned her petty revenge. She is a bit too perfect, not to mention that she was sorely tempted to just take Emma out in this chapter when it looked like she was going down anyway.

            I would enjoy petty Skitter. But that might be just me, I did not really feel like Taylor got her revenge in chapter 20.2 either.

        • That’s the thing, though – what this chapter did is reveal that she can’t be made out to be a horrible villain any more. Everyone who stayed in Brockton Bay knows she isn’t.

          • Plus, there are so many other “bullies” that have far worse to her and her friends. Bonesaw disemboweled her boyfriend, Trickster and Noelle nearly murdered her and half her friends, Coil nearly tore apart her friendships by violating her identity, and now the PRT has fucked over any chance of her having a semi-normal relationship with her father. Who the hell is Emma to get some mean spirited “comeuppance” while they don’t?

          • The PRT WILL get theirs. Either by SKitter, the Undersiders or some VERY angry parents and citizen. I just want to know what Emma was saying to herself. I see it being something like this, “Taylor is Skitter. TAYLOR is SKITTER. TAYLOR IS SKITTER!” Naturally it becomes a madness mantra as she is admitted to a mental facility. :D Then Skitter comes in to rub it in her face, leaving her a deadly bug with just enough venom to kill her.

    • I just saw wicked on broadway (it was incredible, by the way), and maybe it’s because of that, but I’m drawing a lot of parallels in between what you’re saying and wicked,

      Like how you want skitter to embrace villainy. Reminds me of “Defying Gravity”, when the main character becomes the wicked witch, and “No Good Deed”, which is when she really embraces the villainy. Saying that, I can now think of a crackfic songfic of Skitter breaking into “Defying Gravity” during the hospital scene with armsmwster, which is really funny. Youtube it if you want to know why. And this would be when she sinks lower, or “No Good Deed”.

      After the show, I was annoying everyone I went with as I endlessly compared Taylor and the wicked witch- both never set out to be villains, but just wanted to do good, both are doing the right things for the wrong reasons, both are villains mostly due to circumstance, but ultimately, their own decision. If you haven’t seen wicked, wildbow, I hope you get the chance, because you would probably see what I mean.

    • I doubt Skitter would ever get to the Birdcage. If Grue didn’t get her out before hand then Tattletale would. If Tattletale couldn’t get her out beforehand than Dragon herself would likely step in incognito. Hell even if they do by some miracle manage to get her inside, Skitter makes a living off getting out of impossible situations. In a week she’d have initiated a mass breakout.

  68. A thank you goes out to Jesse Y. for the generous donation. Thanks, Jesse!

    Putting another bonus chapter on the to-do list. Also, now that there’s ten on the to-do list, I’m increasing the target amount to $600, in the hopes of giving myself some respite over the 3-4 months it’ll take to write the chapters. Depending on how that works out, I may lower it if and when I get caught up. And by saying that I had to increase the amount, I in no way mean to imply that I’m not thankful. I am really truly grateful. It’s validating, encouraging, and you guys have made my day several times over today. Thank you.

    • Woah. I donated that amount only because an OCD moment had me really wanting to claim that, in total, I donated exactly enough for a bonus. I’d really have to wait awhile before I could send another $300 to get to the new limit.

      TEN on the to-do list? Wow. Donations must be really picking up. If it’s too much, you could really just leave out a few interludes, Wildbow. If the interludes are important to the story, go ahead. Otherwise, the story’s pacing is a lot more important than extra chapters. Quality over quantity, and all that.

      • Regardless of your motivations, it’s very much appreciated.

        I’m increasingly thinking of simply pumping out one a day for a week, to take five off the to-do list. I think there might be a period where there’s room to do that, in an arc or two.

        Lets me write the interludes without interrupting the main story all herky-jerky-like.

        • I’m not sure how you’d handle that, but I’d be worried about a drop in quality of writing. I’m personally fine with 3-4 days in between updates, because it means I have time to think about what happened and discuss the implications here.

  69. So how long do you think the heroes have before a swarm of bug clones end up surrounding their HQ shouting for an audience. At this point the PRT will be lucky if Skitter drags them kicking and screaming to the negotiation table rather than kick them out of the city outright.

  70. Quick continuity note: Taylor first says that there are two hundred or so people in the room that she could take as hostages, and later that there are three hundred students in the room (of whom a hundred join her). Maybe check earlier chapters, too, see what numbers are given for the headcount.

  71. Oh yeah, and to expand on something I said the other day about Taylor’s swarm sense:

    >”A small butterfly found its way into the house. It traced over the glossy smooth armor and helmets of PRT officers, touched the badge on the chest of a police officer.

    It touched my dad’s shoulder, moved down his bare arm to his hand. He was sitting at the kitchen table, his head in his hands.”

    See, this is an example where I really don’t think it would be possible to figure out that kind of detail with a single butterfly at all, unless Taylor is actually seeing through it’s eyes (which you’ve talked about before, so it would be fine totally include that here, especially since Taylor’s extra strong today). For one butterfly to take a path like that would take several minutes of literally crawling over people (people who will be moving around, which would ruin the picture Taylor is trying to trace out), and the PRT people and Danny should immediately be clued off well before Taylor can get a picture in her head- not several minutes later.

    From how you’ve described Taylor seeing these stars of information and being able to map out her surroundings by their positions- I imagine her finding out about that sort of information is like a blind person figuring out what people look like by touching their faces- they have to touch all around to get a picture. If you’re using a lot of very very tiny things like gnats or mites or fleas- sure, I’d believe that she could get a good picture (because she’s cover a lot area at once) and they won’t notice such tiny bugs. But a butterfly or housefly? That’s like instead of using both hands, the blind person can only use a pinky finger, and the person is moving- it would be impossible to build a clear picture in your head, and to top it off those bugs are much more noticeable.

    It doesn’t really detract much from my ability to enjoy your story. Like I said, I let it slide due to creative licence- I think writing all of those scenes out like a blind person feeling around would detract more from the story than add to it, especially with this scene where the butterfly makes it poetic.

    (and yes, I know that in the end the PRT people figured out that it was Skitter- but I think they should have figured it out much earlier and Skitter shouldn’t have learned anything- just like when Mannequin was able to avoid bugs)

    • Taylor’s definitely a lot stronger, now. Notice how clearly she hears the PRT officers through the single butterfly. Before, she’d only be able to catch snippets using a whole swarm. Now, Taylor might even be tapping into other bug senses beyond sight and sound, letting her get a clearer picture of an area with fewer bugs. She deserves that Thinker class.

      • And dont forget, there are entirely different animal kingdoms left largely unexplored in her time as Skitter; we might be seeing some new additions to the insect-dominated army

        • …You know, I just remembered that she can also control crustaceans. GIANT ENEMY CRAB! But seriously, if she needs real individual attack power, she can use crabs and their like as mobile assault platforms that dangerous bugs can deploy from, but would otherwise be much more hardy than a simple swarm- Or for just sheer physical damage. Bug bites are tiny and ineffectual individually OR in a swarm sheer damage-value wise, compared to the hydraulic force of a crab claw; The typical edible crab has a crushing force of about 90 lbs/sq. in. whilst Stone Crabs have a crushing claw that has a mind-boggling 16,000 lbs/sq. in. crushing force. For comparison? A /car crusher/ only needs/uses 2000-3000 lbs/sq. in. crushing force to compact your average car into an itty bitty cube. And then there are the monstrous Coconut Crab that can not only damn near sprint over ground, but has a crushing force somewhere in the same range as the car crusher. A half coconut shell, sawn perfectly even-edged, can support the weight of a small car, to give you an idea of how much weight an unscored coconut can actually support.

          …I’m really dreading the day that Skitter starts using the crabs instead of just whateer bugs are in the area. And she’s right on the bay, too…

  72. Quick, much-belated question to the people still reading the comments: In the beginning, Taylor decided to become a superhero as a way of opposing herself to the people bullying her at school (them being the villains, there). She ends up becoming a supervillain instead … opposed to nominal superhero Shadow Stalker i.e. Sophia Hess, one of the people bullying her at school.

    This is bonafide ironic, yeah?

  73. Oh, and it feels REALLY weird that you’ve left that note from Dinah dangling for so long, especially since she’s showing up here.

    I don’t know what your reason was for not letting us read it when Skitter did at the end of Scourge 19.7, but I hope its a good one and not just lack of time to include it.

    • Hopefully Wildblow’s going to bring it back as a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming later on, or as a major plot-mover. Later on being soon, seeing as how so much time has already passed.

  74. I’m kind of speechless, thanks to Robbie D, who just donated.

    Your support means the world to me, guys, and this is the sort of thing that doesn’t just make my day, but it makes my week.

    I don’t even mind that the donation chapter backlog is still growing. I’m just very happy and exceedingly grateful.

    Thank you.

    Scheduling another bonus chapter, with headway into the next, as well.

        • Out of curiosity, what has been the biggest total single-day take in donations so far? Was it on the day saintsant donated that huge amount on March 12, I think? Today’s chapter is probably already a record-breaker, considering the number of comments in less than a day.

          • Today has been the most donations in 24 hours.

            Not yet the most views. Currently 6803, compared to 8555 on March 19th. But there’s still 7.5 hours to go, so yeah.

        • Hey, in all seriousness. Don’t forget to report these donations on your taxes. Even if you’re saving it all to pay an eventual editor. A lot of people have gotten really screwed over because they forgot to report income that wasn’t from their regular job, and you’re getting to the point where it amounts to some serious cash.

  75. Some typo’s I don’t think anyone else has already pointed out yet:

    “I left the threat hang in the air.” – should be either “I left the threat hanging” or “I let the threat hang”.

    “A detail that our audience wouldn’t consciously register, but they’d take something away from the fact that my lack of defense, and that would reflect on the pair.” – the way this sentence is worded struck me as odd.

    “either the PRT was using Dinah just like Coil had, or that Dinah had volunteered the information of her own free will.” – the word “that” seems extraneous.

    “Dragon and Defiant had flown in, apparently to say hi, and so that Defiant could make something resembling an apology as part of his twelve step assholes anonymous process.” – Nothing wrong with this last one. I just wanted to say that I thought it was awesome. XD

    Anywho, loved this chapter. So. Freaking. Much. <3

        • *Plays a Skitter Themed version of Be Prepared* I’ll leave that up to you PG. I declare a challenge unto you to make it totally kickass and catchy.

          • Seriously, everyone comes to me for writing music? I did one Wormified version of “A Little Priest” that got no reaction and now people want me doing rap and Disney songs.

            Guess I can try it at least. If anyone can make a Disney tune completely inappropriate, it’d be me.

          • Actually, I found your ‘A Little Priest’ pretty cool. I find a lot of what you do good*. A lot of the time however, I don’t really know what to say, so I post nothing.
            You could say that sometimes, your words make my words fail me.

            *Or, um, not good. But very good. That is, good, but not good. Does that make sense?
            Argh! Good, but not ‘good’ as opposed to ‘evil’, but the other good.
            Oh, screw it. You know what I mean.

    • Awesome’s the word. I hope the students don’t get in trouble for their help. A hundred or so may be enough that the system chooses not to backlash on them.

      • And on that note, 14 comments plus mine contain the word awesome at the time of writing. Plus uncounted synonyms, of course.

  76. Then I saw the people who were backing off before getting too close. There was Sheila, the girl with the side of her head shaved, her face etched in anger, of all things.
    —-
    Didn’t Sheila grab on? Might be good to edit this to be clear that these are separate examples of why it’s not a case of her mind-mojoing her comrades.