Imago 21.1

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Tattletale stood at the very edge of the floor, with a twenty-five story drop just in front of her.  The wind whipped her hair around her, and she didn’t even have a handhold available.  Shatterbird had cleared out all of the window panes, long ago.

She lowered her binoculars.  “He’s gone.  If he was going to pull something off, he’d want to watch and make sure everything went off without a hitch.”

“I could have gone with them,” Imp said.  “Listened in.”

“Not without us knowing their full set of powers,” Tattletale said.

Imp folded her arms, pouting, “I thought you were one of the cool ones.”

“Othello’s a stranger,” Tattletale said.  “I’d think he has an imaginary friend who can mess around with us, but I didn’t see any sign of anyone invisible walking around.”

“Isn’t that the point?” Regent asked.

“No dust or glass being disturbed, none of that.  I might think his ‘friend’ is invisible and intangible, but then what’s the point?  Accord tends to have people with good powers.  Citrine, only bits I could figure out were that she’s got an offensive power, something with substance, and her focus was in a strange place.  She was more focused on places in the room where the strongest powers were clustered, and her focus was fairly indiscriminate beyond that.  Either her power wasn’t anything that anyone here would have been able to defend against, like Flechette’s arrows or a controlled version of Scrub’s blasts, or she’s a trump classification.”

“What’s that?” Regent asked.

“Official classification for capes who can either acquire new powers on the fly,” Tattletale gestured towards Grue, “Have an interaction with other powers that can’t be categorized or they nullify powers.”

“She’s powerful, then,” Regent said.

“She acts like she’s powerful,” Tattletale said, “And she probably is.  But that database of PRT records we had didn’t have anything in it about those two.  I don’t know where he finds those guys, but Accord collects some damn heavy hitters.”

Parian broke her spell of silence.  “You keep talking like we’re going to fight them.”

“Threat assessment,” Tattletale said.  She made her way back to her chair, sitting at the long table.  “Be stupid not to know what we’re getting into, especially with someone like him.”

“Not to mention we’ve gotten in fights with pretty much everyone who ever set up shop in the ‘Bay,” Regent commented.

“There’s nothing imminent,” Grue said.  “Let’s focus on more immediate problems.”

He turned his attention my way.

“Me?” I asked.

“He’s right.  We’ve been so busy preparing for possible fallout that we haven’t had time to discuss this,” Tattletale said.

“I’m a non-factor.  The damage is done, and it’s a question of the dust settling,” I said, staring down at my gloves.  I’d altered some of my costume, but the real adjustments would have to wait until I had time.  I’d made up the extra cloth in an open area of my territory I was devoting to the purpose, but hadn’t had time to turn it into something to wear for tonight.  Some of my mask, the back compartment of my armor and my gloves were more streamlined.  Or less streamlined, depending on how one looked at it.  Sharper lines, convex armor panels that flared out more, gloves with more edges for delivering damage if I had to get in a hand to hand fight.

I’d only done some of the armor, pieces of my costume that were already battered and worn.  My gloves, my mask and the back compartment of my armor tended to take the most abuse.  I’d update the rest later.

“I’m not sure it’s that simple,” Grue said, his voice quiet.  He reached across the table and gripped my hand, squeezing it.  “Have we double checked to see what bridges they’ve burned for us?  My parents aren’t showing any sign of interference.”

“Mom wouldn’t care either way,” Aisha said.  “She might try to capitalize on the attention with appearances on television if she could get money for it.”

“Yeah,” Grue agreed.

“My family wouldn’t care,” Tattletale said.  “I’d be surprised if they didn’t already know.  They’d choose to ignore it, I’d bet.  Parian?  You’ve covered your bases.”

“Most of my family is dead.  The ones who aren’t dead already know,” Parian said.  She looked out toward the window, at the city lights under the night sky.

Tattletale nodded, “Let’s see… Rachel isn’t a problem, not really.  Never had a secret identity.”

Rachel shrugged.  Her attention was on her dogs.  They were shrinking, their extra mass sloughing away.  She already had Bastard sitting next to her, his fur spiky and wet from the transformation.

“And if they tried to come at me through my family, they’d get what they deserved,” Regent said.

“Why?” Parian asked.

“His dad’s Heartbreaker,” Tattletale said.

“Oh.  Oh wow.”

“Funny thing is,” Regent said, “If you think about it, we might be bigger than Heartbreaker, now.  People all over America know who we are, and I’m not sure if Heartbreaker is known that far to the south or west.”

“That’s not our focus right now,” Grue said, squeezing my hand.  “It’s good that we’re talking about safeguards and damage control, but discussing villains and the rest of America can wait.  They came after Skitter while she was out of costume.”

“How are you coping?” Tattletale asked, leaning forward over the table.  “You were pretty heavy-handed tonight.  We discussed it, sure, but I thought you’d at least pretend to play ball with them.”

“I didn’t need superpowered intuition to figure out they weren’t going to cooperate no matter what I said,” I replied.

“But you were provoking them.  Valefor especially.  You up for this, with all the other distractions?”

“This is what I’ve got left, isn’t it?  The good guys decided to play their biggest card.  They couldn’t beat Skitter, so they beat Taylor.  As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason not to throw myself into this, to deal with both heroes and villains as a full-time thing.  I lay down the law, because now I’ve got time to enforce it.  I can be stricter with the local villains, back you guys up if they cause trouble, and dedicate the rest of my time to my territory.”

“Dangerous road to travel down,” Tattletale said.  “You need to rest, to have downtime.”

“And do what?  Go to a movie?  I’m not sure if any theaters are open-“

“They are,” Tattletale said.

“-And I couldn’t go even if they were.  My face is plastered all over the news, and I’ve got a tinker who might be watching every computer system and surveillance camera in the city, because she’s not willing to go against her bosses.  I can’t go shopping, can’t leave my territory unless I’m in costume and ready for a fight.”

“More time to go after them,” Regent said.  “You can’t let this slide.”

“I’m not planning to,” I said, standing from my seat.

“Hold on,” Grue said, as my hand came free of his grip.

“Walk with me,” I said.  “All of you.  The city may be getting better, but there shouldn’t be lights on in this building, and it’s only a matter of time before one of the local heroes decides to stop by and see why.”

“We can take them,” Rachel said, from the rear of the group.

“We can, and we will,” I said, entering the stairwell.  “On our terms, not theirs.”

“There’s enough enemies to fight,” Parian said.  She had to hurry around the table to catch up.  “We don’t need more.”

“I agree,” Grue said.  “Not that I don’t understand the need for some response, but you’re talking aggression.”

“I’m feeling aggressive,” I said.  “I think.  I don’t know.  Hard to pin it all down.”

“Might be better to wait until you have a better idea of what you’re feeling,” Grue said.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said, stepping down onto the staircase.  “Logically, there’s no choice but to act on this.  You heard Valefor.  The villain community won’t respect us until we answer the PRT, and the so-called good guys won’t have a reason to think twice about doing it again.”

“The rest of us aren’t as vulnerable as you are,” Regent said.  “Don’t want to sound disrespectful or anything, but we don’t have the same kinds of civilian lives to protect.”

“There’re others,” I said.  “Part of the reason we uphold these rules is because it sets precedents.  Other villains hold to the rules and we benefit, the opposite is true.”

“The flip side of it,” Tattletale said, “Is that we’re risking an escalation in conflict.”

“I don’t see how they can escalate,” I said.  “As I see it, they played the last card they have.  The harder we hit them now, the more clear it is to outsiders that the PRT doesn’t have an answer.  I can show that it doesn’t bother me, and the effect is the same.”

“Doesn’t it, though?” Tattletale asked.  “Doesn’t it bother you?”

“Yes,” I said.  “In terms of me, I don’t know.  I can’t say for sure whether it’s justified or not.  But they went after my dad.”

“I get that,” Grue said, “I’d be pissed if they went after Aisha.  God, you know, when I was swallowed up by Echidna, and she was filling my head with all the worst stuff I could think of, revised memories, it-“

He stopped, and I paused to glance back up the stairs at him.

“Bro?” Aisha asked.

He took a second to compose himself, then said, “I get what you’re saying, Taylor.  Believe me.  I was buried in it.  If anyone here knows what it’s like to want to protect people-“

“That’s not it,” I cut him off.

“No?”

“It’s not about me wanting to protect my dad from the aftermath of all of this.  That’s done, and right now he’s hurting more than he has since my mom died.  Some of that’s on me, and some of it’s on the people who sent Defiant and Dragon into the fray.  The damage is done.”

“And you want to go after the non-capes who made the call?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m sick of being on the defensive.  I hate waiting for the other shoe to drop, because there’s always another shoe, and always a bigger threat.  Speaking of, what’s your interpretation on the company we had tonight, Tattletale?  How do you think they’re going to play this?”

“The Ambassadors are on the up and up, as far as I can guess their direction.  Accord’s unpredictable, which is kind of ironic.  I’d say they’re lower priority.”

“They’re going to stick to the deal?”

“Until Accord’s neurosis pushes him to break it,” Tattletale said.

“Then who’s a higher priority?  The Teeth?”

“Lots of aggressive powers.  Butcher’s at the forefront of it all.  Spree has rapid fire duplicate generation, Vex has the ability to fill empty spaces with small, razor-sharp forcefields, Hemorrhagia is a limited hemokinetic with some personal biokinesis, Animos can transform for limited times and packs a power nullification ranged attack while in his other shape.  There’s two or three others.”

“I’m asking about their goals,” I said.  “Any clue what they’re thinking?  Are they going to come after us?”

“Probably.  We seem weak and unbalanced right now, especially with Parian not doing the absolute best job protecting her territory.”

“I’m trying,” Parian said.

“You’d be doing better if you’d accept help,” Tattletale retorted.  “Except you don’t want to do that because you haven’t committed to this.”

“I will.  I’m still figuring out the more basic stuff you guys figured out ages ago.”

“Commitment on a mental level, P.  That’s more than just coming to meetings.  You don’t have to like us, but respect us, get to know us, trust us and maybe allow for the occasional intimate moment.”

Parian snapped her head around to stare at Tattletale, in a way that was rather more dramatic than the statement warranted.

“Not that kind of intimate.  Sorry hon.  Trust me when I say we’re all pretty accepting here, and there’s no reason to lie; none of us girls here bat for the other team.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Of course,” Tattletale said, smiling.  “But I was talking about letting us see more of the girl behind the mask.  Share those vulnerabilities, let us give you a shoulder to cry on.”

“I don’t need one,” Parian said, “And that has nothing to do with me defending my territory.”

“More than you think,” Tattletale said.  She glanced at me, “They’re the type to prey on weakness, and Parian’s capable of only protecting a short section of her perimeter.”

“Hire people?” I asked.  “Henchmen, mercenaries.”

“I don’t want to put innocents in the line of fire,” Parian said.

“You don’t want others to suffer if the Teeth come after the people you wanted to protect, either,” I said.

“I don’t know what you want me to do.  If I call for help, they’ll retreat, and we wind up wasting your time, while leaving me looking and feeling useless.”

“There’s an alternative,” I said.

“What?”

“What I was talking about before.  Going on the offensive.  Only it’s not about just the good guys.  I’m talking about targeting our enemies, wiping them out before they hurt us and give us cause.”

“That’s dangerous,” Grue said.

“You guys keep saying things along those lines,” I responded.  “I shouldn’t be so strict with our enemies, I shouldn’t ratchet up my involvement in things, I shouldn’t be aggressive.  It’s more dangerous to leave them loose, to always give our enemies the first move.”

“The flip side to that coin is that it gives everyone else we deal with less reason to play ball.  We need to get other villains to parley if we’re going to seriously hold this territory.  The Ambassadors are only step one,” Grue said.  “If some other group comes into town and they’re considering joining us, are they going to look at whatever humiliating defeat we visit on the Fallen and feel it’s better to attack us first?”

“Escalation,” Parian echoed Tattletale’s earlier statement.

I sighed.  Atlas had descended from his vantage point above the building, and flew in to land next to me.  I ran my hand along his horn.

“We’re not… the idea here isn’t to attack you, Taylor,” Tattletale said.  “Hell, what they did was low.  You said it yourself, in that cafeteria.  But you’re talking about changing our dynamic, and it’s a dynamic that’s been working.  We’ve already been through some high-tension, high-conflict scenarios.  A bunch of times when we went days without a chance to breathe.  You want to ratchet that up?”

“Not entirely,” I said.  “If we do this right, if we play this smart, then this should reduce the amount of conflict.  I need to know if you guys are on board.”

“Yeah,” Rachel said.

“I’m in,” Regent replied.  Imp nodded.

“My- my vote doesn’t count,” Parian said.  “I only wanted a show of force, to see if we couldn’t scare the Teeth.  Only I think it had the opposite effect, because what you guys were saying about Butcher is spooking me.  If you guys want to help me with them, okay.  But I don’t want to commit to anything major here, and I can’t tell you guys how to operate, because I’m new to this.  Skip my vote.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Tattletale?  Grue?”

“I’ve already said my bit,” Tattletale said.  “You call the shots in the field, and act as the face of the group, I do the behind the scenes stuff.  That’s how we worked it out.  I’m kosher with that.”

Grue said, “I have one thing to say.  Think it over, or keep it in mind.  We made it further than most groups do.  Some villains set their sights high, and they fall.  Others try to eliminate their enemies and get eliminated in turn.  Still others set their mind on a goal and they strive for it, only to get worn down along the way.”

He paused, glancing away.  I didn’t interrupt.  Picking the right words?  Thinking about himself, as one of the ones who were worn down by circumstance?  Or maybe he was thinking about me in that light.

“Maybe part of the reason we made it this far was because you weren’t striving for that.  When we were villains, you were trying to be the good guy, behind the scenes.  When we were trying to take out some pretty nightmarish opponents, your focus was on surviving more than it was on attacking.  I didn’t get the impression you craved to be team leader or to rule the city, but you took on the job because you knew the alternative would be disaster.”

I nodded.  Even if I’d wanted to say something in response, I wasn’t sure what I would’ve wanted to say.

“Maybe the reason I’m less comfortable with this is that it’s not your usual pattern.  I feel like you’re wanting to be aggressive because you’re hurt and angry.  There’s nothing to temper it.  Think about it, okay?  I won’t tell you not to do this.  Despite everything I just said, I do trust your instincts, and I’m not sure I trust mine these days.”

“Grue-“

“I don’t.  That’s me being honest.  Do what you have to do, but do it with your eyes wide open.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I’ll try.”

I had a sudden impulse to hug him, to hold him as close and as tight as our costumes allowed, my arms tight around his broad back, his muscled arms holding me just as tight.

The idea alone made me feel like I might suddenly burst into tears, and I found it startling, inexplicable.

I didn’t hug Grue; I wasn’t sure enough about what I was feeling or why, didn’t want to come across as anything but a leader.  Leading this team was something I could do.  Something concrete, with real dividends.

Why had I brought Atlas here?  Had I already been thinking about running?  Avoiding further contact with these guys?  Avoiding Grue?  It was disconcerting to think about.

Tattletale was staring at me.  Could she read what I was experiencing, or get a sense of the emotions that were warring inside me?

“Okay,” I said, and I was surprised at how normal I felt.  “We’re playing this much like we did against the Nine, only we aren’t waiting for better excuses to do it.  Groups of three, one group active at a time, one target at a time.”

“Who are we fighting?” Rachel asked.

“The Fallen, the PRT, and the Teeth.”

“And you’re in this group of three for tonight’s mission?” Tattletale asked.

“Yeah.”  I needed a release, to do something.

She glanced at Grue, and I suspected there was some kind of unspoken agreement there.  She met my eyes, or the opaque yellow lenses that covered my eyes.  “I’ll come.”

“You’re ops,” I said, “I thought the whole point of that was that you’d stay behind the scenes and out of trouble.”

“I’ll come,” she repeated herself.  No argument, no manipulation.  Only the statement.

I sighed.

“Me too,” Rachel said.

“Not sure that’s a good idea,” Tattletale said.  “Maybe someone more subtle?”

“No,” I said.  “It’s fine.”

Subtlety wasn’t what I had in mind.

Bentley crashed into the side of the PRT van.  The vehicle rocked, but it was set up to be in the field amid villains with superstrength and literally earth-shattering powers.  It didn’t tip over.

Two more dogs crashed into the side of it, and the thing fell.  The PRT officer in body armor fell from the turret at the top, his armor absorbing just enough of the impact that he wasn’t badly hurt.

The containment foam sprayers might have been an issue, but none of the uniforms were in a position to use the stuff.  I’d come prepared, and each sprayer was either thoroughly snagged on spider silk at the top of the equipped trucks, or the PRT agents who were wearing the portable tanks were bound, blind and under siege by massed bugs.

Dovetail flew after Atlas and I, a trail of luminous slivers of light falling in her wake.  She was good at maneuvering in such a way that the sparks didn’t fall on the PRT uniforms and heroes below, even with my swarm crawling over her head, shoulders and arms.  Where the slivers touched something solid, they ballooned out into what Tattletale had described as soft force fields, encasing the subject.  Anyone could push hard enough against the force fields to break them, even with multiple fields layered over one another, but it impeded movement, and she could hover over a target to keep reinforcing the forcefields until the victim could be smothered in more permanent containment foam.

It might have been a crummy power, but she was fast.  If she could have thrown the forcefield-generating slivers further than she did when she flung her arms out, she might have had us.

It was to my advantage that it was easier to dodge pursuit than to match someone else’s course exactly.

Didn’t hurt that she had bugs in her nose, ears and mouth, and that she was being bound by silk, limiting her range of movement with every passing second.  She was already unable to use the compact containment foam sprayer she had built into her costume.  Nothing I did would stop her from flying, but so long as she was blind and unable to use her arms, I didn’t see her being too much of a threat.

She wasn’t making headway on the offense, but retreating wouldn’t change her circumstances.  I’d still bind her in silk, blind and choke her.  Her costume had a flared collar, and my bugs were crawling inside, between skin and cloth.  That attack was as much about the psychological effect as about getting to more skin to inflict bites.

I wasn’t sure if it was just me, but her movements were bordering on the frantic, now.

No holding back.  I only had so many wasps and hornets, but I did what I could.  Mosquitoes were a good one.  Welts.  Leaving a mark.

Rachel’s dogs knocked over another one of the vans that had been circled around the PRT headquarters. The van was knocked into the side of the building, bending the bars that were supposed to protect the windows.  Each window cracked, with the lines spiderwebbing out between the hexagonal sections, but they didn’t break.

Adamant got into close quarters combat with the dog, slashing at it with pieces of his armor and driving the animal back.

Rachel whistled, shrill, and two dogs tackled him.  He delivered one good swipe before the other blindsided him.  The disadvantage of forming a full covering of armor was that it limited his peripheral vision.

She wasn’t going even two seconds without giving a command.  There were five dogs in the field, or four dogs and one young wolf, and many were lacking in serious training, so she managed them with lengths of chain between their collars and Bentley’s, and by giving enough commands that they wouldn’t have time to get creative and go after one of the PRT uniforms.

Sere was indoors, along with Triumph.  Binding Sere had been a first priority, and I’d achieved it in much the same way.  He’d done what he could to target the bugs managing the threads, and to disentangle himself, but time spent on that was time he wasn’t moving outdoors and shooting me or one of the dogs.  As with Dovetail, I’d managed to make enough progress that he was more or less out of the fight.  She was blind, he was immobile.

The other heroes would be arriving soon.  I double-checked Dovetail wasn’t in a position to give pursuit, then ventured inside, entering through an open window on the uppermost floor.

I felt calm, which was odd, given the scene.  Bugs swarmed every employee, from the official heroes to the kids who might have been interns.  Some howled in pain, others screamed more out of fear, or yelped as bugs periodically bit them.

The bugs gave me a sense of the route I needed to take, my destination.  There were offices in the back corner, but I had a sense of where I was going.  I’d been here before, when Piggot had been director.

I saw the labels on the door.  Commissioner.  Deputy Director.  Director.

I opened the last door.  Director Tagg.

He held a gun, but he didn’t point it my way.  There was a woman behind him, using him as a shield.

I’d had statements ready, angry remarks, any number of things I could have said to him, to punctuate what my swarm was doing to his assembled employees.  Statements, maybe, that could have surprised him, woken him up to what he’d done to me.

Then I saw the steel in his eyes, the sheer confidence with which he stood in front of the woman… they had matching wedding bands.  His wife.  I knew in an instant that there wouldn’t be any satisfaction to be had that way.

Rather, the word that left my mouth was a quiet, “Why?”

His eyes studied me, as though he were making an assessment.  His words were gruff, the gravelly burr of a long time smoker.  He very deliberately set the gun down on the desk, then replied, “You’re the enemy.”

I paused, then pulled off my mask.  I was sweating lightly, and my hair was damp around the hairline.  The world was tinted slightly blue in a contrast to the coloring of my lenses.  “It’s not that simple.”

“Has to be.  The ones at the top handle the compromising.  They assess where the boundaries need to be broken down, which threats are grave enough.  My job is to get the criminals off the streets and out of the cities.”

“By starting fights in schools.”

“Didn’t know it was a school until the capes were already landing,” he replied.  “Had to choose, either we let you go, and you were keeping an eye out for trouble from then on, or we push the advantage.”

“Putting kids at risk?”

“Dragon and Defiant both assured me you wouldn’t risk the students.”

I sighed.  Probably right.

Someone behind me screamed as a group of my hornets flew to him to deliver a series of bites across his face.

“Barbaric,” Director Tagg said.

“Inflicting pain isn’t the point.”

“Seem to be doing a good job of it,” he commented.

“There are heroes on their way back from patrol, your guys called them in.  But there’s also news teams on the way here.  We called those guys in.  They’ll find your employees covered in welts, every PRT van damaged or trashed.  Your employees won’t be able to get any cars out of the parking lot, so they’ll have to walk, which will make for some photo opportunities.  A handful of heroes will be a bit the worse for wear.  You can try running damage control, but some of it’s bound to hit the news.”

“Uh huh,” he said.

“I couldn’t let you get off without a response from us.”

“Didn’t expect you to.”

“This was as mild as I could go,” I said.  “I think you know that.  I’m not looking to one-up you or perpetuate a feud.  I’m doing what I have to, part of the game.”

“Game?  Little girl, this is a war.”  His voice took on a hard edge.

I stopped to contemplate that.  Rachel was destroying the last containment van, and Tattletale was saying something to her about incoming heroes.  I was low on time.

“If it is a war, my side’s winning,” I said.

“And the world’s worse off for it.  You can’t win forever,” he said.

I didn’t have a response to that.

He must have sensed he had some leverage there.  “All of this goes someplace.  Do you really see yourself making it five more years without being killed or put in prison?”

“I haven’t really thought about it.”

“I have.  Bad publicity fades with time.  So do welts and scabs.  Five or ten years from now, provided the world makes it that long, nobody will remember anything except the fact that we fought back.  Good publicity will overwrite the bad, carefully chosen words and some favors called in with people in the media will help whitewash any of our mistakes.  We’re an institution.”

“So you think you automatically win?  Or you’re guaranteed to win in the long run?”

“No.  They didn’t pick me to head this city’s PRT division because I’m a winner, Ms. Taylor.  They picked me because I’m a scrapper.  I’m a survivor.  I’m the type that’s content to get the shit kicked out of me, so long as I give the other guy a bloody nose.  I’m a stubborn motherfucker, I won’t be intimidated, and I won’t give up.  The last few Directors in Brockton Bay met a bad end, but I’m here to stay.”

“You hope.”

“I know.  You want to fight this system?  I’ll make sure it fights back.”

“So you want to escalate this?  Despite what I said before?”

“Not my style.  I’m thinking more about pressure.  I could pull your dad in for questioning every time you pull something, for example.  Doesn’t matter where, doesn’t matter who it’s directed at.  You or your team do anything that gets an iota of attention, I drag the man into the building, and grill him for a few hours at a time.”

I felt a knot in my stomach.  “That’s harassment.”

I was aware of Tattletale approaching me from behind.  She leaned against the doorframe, arms folded.

“It’s a war of attrition,” Tagg said.  “I’ll find the cracks, I’ll wear down and break each of you.  If you’re lucky, then five years from now they’ll remember your names, speaking them in the same breath as they talk about the kid villains who were dumb enough to think they could keep a city for themselves.”

“He’s playing you,” Tattletale murmured.  “He knows he’s got you on a bad day.  Best to just walk away.  Remember, the Protectorate hasn’t had a good day against us yet.”

I thought about asking him about Dinah, but there wasn’t a point.  It was something he could use against me, and I already knew the answer.

I approached the desk and turned around the photo frames.  The second showed Tagg with his wife and two young women.  A family portrait.

“You have daughters,” I said.

“Two, going to universities halfway across the world.”

“And you don’t feel an iota of remorse for hurting a father through his daughter?”

“Not one,” he replied, staring me in the eye.  “I look at you, and I don’t see a kid, I don’t see a misunderstood hero, a girl, a daughter or any of that.  You’re a thug, Taylor Hebert.”

A thug.

His mindset was all ‘us versus them’.  Good guys versus the bad.

It wasn’t much, but it served to confirm the conclusion I’d already come to.  Dinah had volunteered the information.  Whatever else Director Tagg was, he wasn’t the type to abuse a girl who’d been through what Dinah had.

“We should go,” Tattletale said.  “Rachel’s downstairs with all her dogs, we can run before the reinforcements collapse in on us.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Nearly done.  You, back there.  Are you Mrs. Tagg?”

The woman stepped a little to one side, out from behind her husband.  “I am.”

“Visiting him for the night?”

“Brought him and his men donuts and coffee.  They’ve been working hard.”

“Okay,” I said.  “And you stand by your husband?  You buy this rhetoric?”

She set her jaw.  “Yes.  Absolutely.”

I didn’t waste an instant.  Every spare bug I had flowed into the room, leaving Director Tagg untouched, while the bugs flowed over the woman en masse.  She screamed.

He reached for his gun on the desk, and I pulled my hand back.  The thread that I’d tied between the trigger guard and my finger yanked the weapon to me.  I stopped it from falling off the desk by putting my hand on top of the weapon.

Tagg was already reaching for a revolver at his ankle.

“Stop,” I said.

He did.  Slowly, he straightened.

“I’m illustrating a point,” I said.

My bugs drifted away from Mrs. Tagg.  She was uninjured, without a welt or blemish.  She backed into the corner as the bugs loomed between her and her husband.

“Not sure why.  Doesn’t change my mind in the slightest,” Tagg said.

I didn’t respond.  The swarm shifted locations and dogpiled him.  Stubborn as he professed to be, he started screaming quickly enough.

I picked up the gun from the edge of the desk, joining Tattletale.  We marched for the exit together, moving at a speed between a walk and a jog, passing by twenty or so PRT employees, each covered in bugs, roaring and squealing their pain and fear to the world as they stumbled blindly and thrashed in futile attempts to fight the bugs off.

Nothing venomous, the wasps and hornets weren’t contracting their bodies to squeeze the venom sacs.  There was nothing that could put their lives at risk.  It was still dramatic enough.

“He’s right,” Tattletale commented.

“About?”

“You won’t change his mind with a gesture like that.  Sparing his wife.”

“Okay,” I replied.  I opened a drawer and put Director Tagg’s service weapon inside, while Atlas ferried Tattletale down to the ground floor.

Atlas returned to me, and I took to the air, flying just above Lisa and Rachel and the dogs as we fled the scene.  I made a point of leaving every single bug inside the PRT headquarters, to infest it until they had the place exterminated, which would only be another photo opportunity for the media, or to serve as a perpetual reminder as it took weeks and months for all of the bugs to be cleared out.

The news teams were already arriving on the scene.  No doubt there was a camera following us.  I remembered Director Tagg’s threat, to bring my father into custody.  Only a threat, going by his wording, but it did make me think about how every activity, every thing I did that brought me into the public consciousness, it would be a little twist of the knife that I’d planted in my dad’s back.

Not a good feeling.

Maybe the little demonstration I’d done with Tagg’s wife hadn’t been for him.  It could just as easily have been me trying to prove something to myself.

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524 thoughts on “Imago 21.1

  1. Hoping for a quick typo catch:
    ““Mom wouldn’t care either way,” Aisha said. “She might try to capitalize on the attention with appearances on television if she could get money for it.”

    “She’d talk about me, not you,” Imp said.

    “Yeah,” Grue agreed.”

    How can Aisha interrupt herself?

  2. “were the strongest powers were clustered” First were should be where.

    “Parian snapped her head around to stare at Tattletale, in a way that rather more dramatic than the statement warranted.” Missing a was.

  3. She was more focused on places in the room were the strongest powers were clustered, and her focus was pretty indiscriminate beyond that.
    —-
    were -> where?

    • At the risk of making (or perhaps for the sole purpose of making) a really bad/obvious pun, you didn’t tag Tagg.

      Or anyone, actually.

  4. On the content of the chapter:

    Really loving Grue in this chapter. He’s right — being outed is really screwing with Taylor’s head, putting her in the same kind of space she was in when he had to stop her from trying to fight Burnscar head-to-head. Not as severe — her tactical instincts are still hella good — but she’s not thinking strategically, not really.

  5. Hrm, I’m surprised that the PRT fell so easily- but I suppose there was at least some planning and tattletaling skipped over on the trip!

    ““Comfmitment on a mental level, P. ” Commitment.
    “spare bug had” Either an extra space or a missing ‘I’.
    “every singly bug” Single.

    • Thanks.

      Typos are embarrassing. Aunt & her boyfriend were by this weekend, and they left just before noon, then there was an unexpected drop-in by furnace maintenance guys, and that ate up another hour.

      And I gave it -more- proofreading than usual, about an hour and a half of reading through, spellchecking, before watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones. And only feedback thus far is typo corrections.

      Feels bad, man. :(

        • Just realized how ambiguous that was. I meant to give to wildbow. *smacks head, because is one of few people who actually do do that*

        • same here (though all the characters means theres no way i’ll ever get to draw a chibi of everyone ) , and of course I love puzzle pieces and seeing how new information fits in with earlier observations and enigmas .

          enjoyed the chapter and look forward to watching the various factions start going at it in ernest .

      • No offence intended. Typo spotting’s quick to do.

        But yes, interesting, particularly the comments in character on the last interlude.

      • Sorry! I actually do feel bad about doing that- but I wouldn’t want to leave the typos until I had something intelligent to say, I suppose, and sometimes that takes a bit longer; it was much easier when I was doing the archive crawl to stick them in with more thoughtful commentary.

        Anyway, I did enjoy the chapter, though as I mentioned I am surprised that it went down the way it did- I suppose after all they’ve been through it is fair to give them a ‘And then they kicked ass’ moment and not show every step of the plan, since I’m sure not everyone is a fan of that sort of thing. After all, it is certainly plausible that they could do it even with the PRT expecting something of the sort.

        Skitter’s head is an interesting place right now, and it was definitely good to hear it being called out, commented upon- and perhaps a first step to keeping her from doing something bad.

        Parian is gonna be a real terror if/when she embraces her abilities… but she is also potentially the weak link until then. Of course, the best of both worlds would be her bringing in Flechette.

        I have to wonder what Dinah’s game is- and whether the pieces of paper even survived the inside of Noelle. Would be quite the thing if only Assault knew what they said. I’d not be surprised if she hadn’t learned a lot from Coil, and she’s been through the horrid effects of a multiverse of withdrawal symptoms so she might be able to tough through the occasional faked or perhaps simply massaged statistic these days.

        Also, I should perhaps mention that I look forward to each update eagerly. Worm, where every month is NaNoWriMo!

      • Even a perfectionist can’t always be perfect. Interesting direction. Can’t see Taylor being overly satisfied with the results. Tagg is a blunt instrument who doesn’t let facts get in the way of his world view. If he does follow through on his threats to Taylor’s father things are going to go very badly for him.

      • Amazing. You can feel the seething hurt that’s built up without an outlet inside Taylor in this chapter, a scared- yes, scared, not for herself but for what it means, how it’ll affect her father even more than before; Not just all the little lies told every time but now the pain of watching /his little girl/ doing what she’s doing- teenager who is coming into herself at the same time as this fuster cluck is going off around her. She’s trying to redirect that pain and aggression outwards, to take all the pain and sadness that’s been inflicted on her and rejected it, when really she needs to stop and get introspective, and confront the source of the pain inside her. Thank you for yet another beautiful chapter of Worm, Wildbow.

      • Never feel embarassed at making typos. I still find them in professionally editted paperbacks and hardcovers from every period of time I’ve read from, from seventy year old printings to current hot-off-the-presses iterations, including reprints. Heck, even the bible isn’t immune to typos (King James Bible, anyone?). Everyone makes mistakes. We’re just helping with the editting process. ^_^ Always helps to have additional eyes on the work. Gives a degree of separation that a first-tier inspection might miss because the brain just glosses over it and fits it in because you wrote it in your mind, but never actually put it to page- Lord knows the number of times I’ve done that, with both written and spoken words.

        In short: It’s okay to not be perfect, we like you just the way you are Wildbow. <3 *hugs*

      • its a good chapter, first feedback is usually going to be typo corrections because last time i read a chapter all the way though, then posted the noticed typos, i was number 7 to post the same one.

        also, i like to think on a chapter for a bit before commenting on the content.

  6. Taylor’s emotions are surprising her more and more often it seems. I read that as showing how she’s breaking in some pretty scary ways after all of the insanely traumatic stress she’s been through. I also notice though that her plight isn’t escaping those around her. Brian and Lisa both seem to be very aware of what’s up, maybe even more than Taylor is. There may be no Endbringers on the immediate horizon but I’m betting there’s some of roughest seas we’ve seen so far lying ahead in the next few weeks.

    • I agree completely. This is almost exactly what I was about to say. The key, though, is that she’s “breaking,” rather than “broken.” There’s still time for her…I suppose redemption *is* the word I would use, really. She lived up to Director Tagg’s description of her today.

      • I’m not sure how.

        Considering what they did, the PRT are really no better than a gang of thugs themselves by now. They almost certainly just engaged in all manner of unfortunate tactics regarding those students (especially the ones Clockblocker got trampled), are being purposefully antagonistic (choosing a guy like Tagg, going after secret identities) and most of all are now on the wrong side of the moral line.

        Not just in the public eye, also literally.

        The Undersiders did more for Brockton Bay by far.

        The PRT are now truly threatened and thus showing some really unpleasant true colours.

        The Undersiders continue to avoid targeting civilian identities despite certainly being better at it. While the heroes have stopped even pretending.

        Which means we now have the PRT relying on and taking advantage of, the Undersiders’ morals. That’s pretty clear villain behaviour, no wonder Parian’s not going for the hero option.

      • A thug. Hmmm, well its not like the PRT can sit on their high horse for too much longer. The institution is about to be forever marred with the whole crimes against humanity thing. Plus his whole little war mindset could backfire big time. Even in war, there are rules or codes of conduct. So go ahead director Tagg, break the unwritten rules. The villains are going to break them in a heartbeat right afterward. That means going after families, and you guys are the ones who started it. He is also very wrong in that her act of Mercy changed nothing. If Taylor really wants to beat him, she has to beat him by proving that she is the better person. The students DID favor her over the heroes after all. So if she keeps taking down villains, and refuses to stoop to their level, people are going to notice. But he is right that it is unrealistic for them to keep doing this for a decade and expect to get away unscathed. As unrealistic as I think the 9 are for never being stopped, even they had to constantly get new members. After this I can sort of see a birdcage arc. A hero gets lucky and she gets put away just in time for the breakout.

          • Well I really hope Dragon is okay and she lets a few prisoners go. I think her nature prevents her from being predicted by the Smurf, so if she lets Canary/Panacea maybe she can prevent the inevitable escape from being as bad as it could be.

            • From Interlude 15 (where Panacea was sent into the Birdcage) Dragon said “She’ll be transported there and confined for the remainder of her life, barring exceptional circumstance.”

              That implies there are ways if necessary…

          • Dragon is the world’s greatest tinker — if she wanted to send in an elevator capable of lifting a passenger out of the Birdcage, she could. The other six hundred inmates might have objections, though.

  7. >Nothing venomous, the wasps and hornets weren’t contracting their bodies to squeeze the venom sacs.

    This contradicts something earlier:
    >Someone behind me screamed as one of my bullet ants was flown to him to deliver a bite.

    Pretty sure bullet ants have venom- and if Taylor is being “nice” enough not to properly sting with wasps and hornets she sure as hell wouldn’t be using bullet ants (except maybe on the Director).

    • Bullet ants, as far as I’m aware, can’t cause anaphylactic shock.

      There’s a tribe in the same area where the bullet ants can be found, which harvests the ants and sews them into what basically looks like an oven mit, their pincers facing inwards. It’s a rite of passage to wear these gloves with dozens or hundreds of ants and dance for hours.

      • They can.

        http://www.asktheexterminator.com/ants/Bullet_Ant.shtml

        > In the off chance you experience a bullet ant sting, have someone take you to the emergency room immediately. You cannot drive because of the pain that will hit you about ten minutes after being stung. Also, take an antihistamine. Many people are allergic to bullet ant stings and may suffer severe allergic reactions, including anaphylactic shock.

        • Fire Ants are a 1.2 on the Schmidt pain scale… Red Carpenter Ants are a 3.0 The pain from them is described as, “A drill excavating an ingrown toenail.” Bullet Ants are a 4.0+… and are described as such: “Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail grinding into your heel.” And on TOP of that, the pain lasts for hours (It’s colliquially known as the ’24 Hour Ant’) and can cause temporary paralysis and uncontrollable shaking for days preceding the bite event. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/Paraponera_clavata_MHNT.jpg is an image of one of the buggers… ;________; I actually feel sorry for anyone bitten by them, now… And anyone who has been bitten by them in story should probably have been screaming and writhing in pain far louder and longer than otherwise- Possibly even dead of anaphylactic shock, considering the extreme pain from multiple bites would likely cause people to pass out.

          • All references to bites should actually be stings; Apparently they’re like some sort of wasp-ant that stings to inject venom- the venom isn’t from their bites. However, their bites are still plenty strong enough (the ants are/were actually used as sutures in India; have the ant bite the wound, twist the head off. pincers keep the wound closed).

          • I don’t think you (Rika) mean “preceding the bite” unless the pain is so bad that it reaches backwards in time and starts before the ant actually stings you. Mind you in the Wormverse, I could actually see that being possible.

            Hmm, and now I’m thinking of the Nine’s newest member “Temporal Bullet Ant”.

  8. I think its crazy just how unstoppable the undersiders are when they really want to be. This is the second time they’ve assaulted the PRT, and the second time they walk away unhindered. They, with the travelers kept the pressure on the s9 largely by themselves, all the heros and villains they’ve taken down.
    I think its time for tattletale to start posting some of those secrets they know.

    • Good to see how wonderfully this latest tactic worked out for the PRT.

      I suppose their next idea will have to really go for broke if they want to top it. Maybe they could blackmail their own already tenuous, vitally important allies with deeply personal threats…oh wait a Dragon.

      Maybe they could continually taunt people who show more moral fibre than…

      You know I’m struggling to think of a new low. Though I’m sure they’ll find one.

      • Easy. They try to defend what Cauldron did. Come on Tattletale use that blackmail material. There are probably plenty of nasty things about them without spilling the beans on Cauldron.

        • Already done.

          A lot actually. Wow they have done that a lot.

          Unless you mean the mainstream PRT, however given that Cauldron are villains I’d say them publicly defending Cauldron would be completely dropping the act.

          Though Tagg was witness to Dragon being blackmailed into doing immoral things with threat of putting a mercenary in charge of a prison, in order to avoid damaging Cauldron…so yeah, they are already doing it.

          • I suppose Vista could be raped (by them or one of the worse groups in town) and they just decide to blame it on one of the Undersiders so they can issue a kill order.

            Well, looks like they’re going after Grue or Regent next.

            • Not far enough. They could, say, blame undersiders for killing the family members capes, for example, like saying Regent took them over and used them to attack the hero.

              Or they could accuse Skitter of murdering a PRT director – oh wait she already did.

              Or they could go after their families – oh wait they already did.

              Rape is so cliche in grimdark setting though I doubt wb would use them – in part due the above examples of things that are easier(Vista doesn’t have to testify) and worse than the action.

              Mind you, they already took Dinah pretty soon after she was given back to parents, so they actually would have someone stand in for an Undersider and do that to Vista. It is just that they could do worse.

          • “Rape, murder, arson, and rape.”
            “You said rape twice.”
            “I like rape.”

            “A little roleplay never goes wrong. Don’t you watch Law and Order?”
            “I don’t watch anything BUT Law & Order. Rape is all I know. I just paid for lunch in rape dollars.”

          • I set out to suggest the worst thing possible the PRT could do next and from your responses, it seems I have found it. Rika especially seems to think that would be an absolutely horrible thing for the PRT to do. Also, due to Wildbow’s sensibilities, I doubt that would be done anyway.

            Rika, I like you and I’m not a very rapey person. Despite the dialogue from Blazing Saddles up there, didn’t even do that to dear little Holdout, may he rest in pieces. It should be noted that I am not intimidated by Skitter. If we met, I’m sure the encounter would turn out quite fun for me. But since we’re volleying threats about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ve-iyV5zns

            Huggles and snuggles,
            Psychopomp Gecko

            PS: If you use a Dimension Bomb to destroy a planet connected to another by a portal that’s always open, what do you suppose happens to that second planet too?

  9. Ooch…that chapter was like a punch in the gut on several levels. I swear, before I got to the part where Taylor revealed she hadn’t hurt the wife, I wasn’t sure what to think about Taylor anymore. Still not sure what to think. Is this just her lashing out, hurt and wild, or a permanent change? This chapter was uncomfortable, because this is the really the first time I’m completely starting to feel like Taylor has started to do things for the wrong reasons as well as the right ones,

    After all that Tt/skitter shipping, I found tt’s response to Parian equally as hilarious as parians response when she misunderstood. First time I’ve laughed in a while, so thanks.

    What was really interesting about this chapter is I felt like wildbow was talking to us though it. Shooting down skitter and tattletale romance, disproving any ideas Parian has started taking a more active part, telling us what w trump is, discussing skitters feelings right now…it feels like Iike I’m reading a built in explanation that answered some questions as I had them, and others tht had been lurking for a while. Which isn’t a bad thing; certainly an interesting writing style.

    Looking forward to the next update, as always.

    • I actually wonder if Tattletale threw in the word “intimate” purely to confirm her gaydar reading.

      Of course, like a lot of Tt’s moves, it’s not the best long-term thinking — I bet Parian would have been more comfortable coming out on her own terms.

      • I guess her gaydar is more powerful than anyone else. Will Flechette and Parian be our hero/villain romeo and juliet?

          • It was to save her from suicide- Something she wasn’t able to do for her brother. That’s what I took from that revelation. But she seems to be more and more taking on a bigger role as the big sister to Taylor, it seems. And I like it.

    • Re: parian, it’s even more interesting when you consider she might actually *be* a lesbian. Puts that entire conversation in a different light – especially the line, “none of us girls here bat for the other team”.

      • Ninja’d. AGAIN. I’ve been refreshing before every comment on a typo/whatnot, just in case, and been preceded EVERY TIME. Blarg!

        • My first comment would have been when there were only 2 up. I caught the story right away, 5 minutes after midnight. Still ninja’d.

  10. This drives home that the Director position is cursed.

    Does the application form require violent insanity and delusions of grandeur or is it just highly valued?

    • I’m kinda sad the undersiders didn’t attack when the directors were reviewing the school incident. THAT would have been an interesting meeting.

      • I present, Tagg’s best line from that meeting.

        “If you would have cut off the feed, deleted the footage from phones, we would have had time to do damage control.”

        Yeah. What a wonderful guy.

    • So to recap:
      Piggot was a racist (and a mild sociopath, going by some of her actions);
      Calvert was Coil (a complete sociopath);
      and Tagg seems to have modeled himself after all the military generals from those old war movies; specifically, all the generals people hate for their aggressive mercilessness and warmongering (and mild sociopathy).

      • “So, you’d like the new PRT Director position in Brockton Bay huh?”

        “Yes. There has been a decided lack of discipline here.”

        “Well, the last guy just died. Something about a wound on his knee becoming gangrenous. Imp has started using a bow. How about we go ahead and give you a week or two probation in the spot. If you impress us, or just survive, we’ll keep you.”

        “It sounds like I shall have to act quickly to put everything back in order.”

        “Alright, so how do you say your last name again?”

        “Umbridge. My name is Dolores Umbridge.”

      • I believe there is a trope for this. It’s called the “General Ripper”. Basically, a batshit insane general that pursues conflict for no good reason.

        • But General Ripper doesn’t care about body count, while I think Tagg does care, at least a little. If just for the PR side of things.

          • Tagg acknowledged that he became aware that the operation was at a school when contact was made. At any point, he could have ordered a withdrawal based on the off-chance that students may be targeted or injured. He chose to take that risk based on an assumption about Taylor’s personality. To him, the risk of innocent casualties was one worth taking. No, I don’t think Tagg gives a damn about the body count, so long as he’s a winner.

            He is also aware that Taylor is teamed up with known killers who don’t really have the same restraint. If Bitch had shown up with her dogs on a rescue attempt, there is practically no way there wouldn’t have been students getting hurt left and right. Again, he went through with this insane plan knowing there was at least a chance of bad things happening. His attitude and lack of regard qualify him as a General Ripper as far as I’m concerned.

      • Seems oddly appropriate, what with the bug theme:

        I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That’s my dream. That’s my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor … and surviving.

  11. I’m really surprised she didn’t start stripping Tagg to the bone with whatever insects she had available. Or give him the Triumph treatment. _Never_ do a foe a small harm.

    • I’m surprised Tattletale didn’t turn his world upside down more than anything else. I wonder if any of the other undersiders left surprises behind for the PRT – this seems far too light for violating the truce

      • I think Tattletale went with Taylor for the sole purpose of making sure she wouldn’t do something stupid, there is no doubt that Tat could read how bad a place Taylor was in and she was focusing more on her than trying to mess with Tagg.

          • Yeah, you’re probably right about her having tunnel vision – still, this means this attack accomplished little towards convincing the PRT it was a Bad Idea to play games with the truce so casually. Nothing of any real value was broken, nobody died (though I didn’t really expect anyone to) and Taylor’s further entrenched Tagg’s opinion of her as a thug by threatening his wife.

            Tattletale was in the right place to make a big difference with Tagg, but keeping Taylor from doing anything exceptionally stupid was just as important.

            Tagg may be in for a rude awakening next time the PRT needs villainous aid if he keeps this up – and given what just happened I think he will. As he said, bruises and scabs heal quickly – all they’ve done is injure his pride and set up for a more spectacular PRT collapse later.

  12. Director Tagg really needs to brush up on the the subtle differences between the police force and the military. Also, the strange new concept called ‘rules of engagement’.

    • I imagine that the PRT and police are highly militarized to say the least. The differences are almost purely cosmetic, probably.

      • But there needs to be. A military and police are two very different things. Police are there to apprehend the bad guys and kill only as a last resort if necessary to protect themselves or others. A military is trained to kill and defeat the enemy. I honestly can not believe how shortsighted the guy is. Does he not remember that they need the truce to fight the Endbringers or that the villains only play by the rules because they do as well? I can’t help but notice how the Wards considered themselves in a war in that psychologist, can’t remember her name, interlude. I don’t think they started out that way till after Leviathan. I hope they aren’t acting the same way in other cities.

        • I had something written expressing some of these, but there was a portion it took me to work on, so yours came first.

          The PRT is peace enforcing agency. You don’t pull out a gun and automatically shoot every criminal, then go hunt down his family and friends and shoot any of them that have a history of being criminals.

          Plus, his actions have made it to where she can’t go back. Because her identity is out, she can never take this to a peaceful end where she just stops, backs away, and makes something of her life without crime. She’s got nothing left she can do but this kind of stuff. Her life is now on the line because her fates are either the Birdcage and death, so there’s no reason for her to hold back.

          • I just realised that this is probably a major part of stuff Tattletale was talking about where they catch but don’t unmask, even with really bad guys.

            As long as the secret identity remains, it’s possible for someone to simply retire.

            If Skitter wasn’t so noble it would have been entirely believable for her to just take a huge pile of money and go take care of Brian somewhere. I imagine that this kind of thinking is why even the ruthless stick to the code. It means an enemy can always leave peacefully.

            Just look at the Pure. They are completely unable to just go be normal (if a tinsy bit, disgustingly bigoted) people. Whereas Purity at least might well have ended up retreating from it all to take care of Aster.

        • Tagg: “Bah! Good is good, and evil must die, there’s nothing else to it! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m trying to read Les Misérables in one sitting and I keep getting distracted and have to start over, so shut up! Ahh, Inspector Javert, only you understand my view of law and morality.”

          • Since it’s been 20 days since I posted this and no one has replied to it, I’ll just explain the joke (spoilers for Les Misérables):
            Inspector Javert was a lawman with a very strict black and white view of morality/ the law. At the end of the book (which Tagg hasn’t gotten to yet), Javert realizes that, since Jean Valjean is both a criminal and a good person (sound familiar?), his aforementioned views are wrong. Unable to cope with this, he kills himself.

        • To paraphrase one of Sun Tzu’s first lessons, Do not enter into a protracted war.

          “It’s a war of attrition,” Tagg said. “I’ll find the cracks, I’ll wear down and break each of you.

          • I believe Sun Tzu also said to always allow your enemy a path of escape, as a cornered foe will fight all the harder. By eliminating Taylor’s civilian identity, and thus her escape, he’s just made it that much harder for himself.

    • Mmm… but aren’t they a paramilitary force acting in concert with the heroes who ARE a military force? I know many a time it’s been referenced that heroes are used as military by many countries, and it doesn’t seem any different in Brockton/the US.

  13. First, I’d like to congratulate those people who guessed “Imago” as the story arc title. Taylor really has changed due to what happened last arc. Whether its permanent or a passing thing remains to be seen. The fact that the rest of the Undersiders sense the problem just underscores it.

    Tattletale insisted on going with Skitter. It makes sense, knowing the backstory, and her reasons for helping Taylor. She probably doesn’t want to let Taylor out of her sight. How will that affect their friendship, I wonder.

    I know this is from Taylor’s point of view, but seeing Director Tagg here made me actively dislike him. I know he’s trying his best to take a hard stance on crime, and I can see his reasoning in taking such a cold-hearted appearance toward Taylor. Heck, I bet much of it was bluff and bluster, just like Skitter’s old tactics. But he just enforced Taylor’s “us versus them” view of society, something Dragon, an A.I., knew to avoid very early on. He might not know the full circumstances regarding Taylor (Coil being his predecessor, Sophia/Shadowstalker being the source of all the problems), which would make him incompetent since a good director should look into things. More likely, considering the bonus interlude, he’s actively complicit and unwilling to change things for the better, which means he’s just as bad as the others before him.

    To be honest, the chapter felt shorter than others, since not much actively occurs. Things are set up, and previous plots haven’t started, yet. But that’s the fun of coming back to Worm and reading.

    • definitely not just you. she’s… kinda scary right now. i’m almost getting dissonant serenity vibes from her right now…

      • Yeah, this arc feels like it is going to build up to something big. I’m guessing there are two ways for it to go. She pushes herself into a moral event horizon and maybe tries to go back or she is faced with a difficult choice and ultimately chooses the good route no matter how bad the consequences restoring our faith in her. But yeah, the fallen are in for rude awakening if they mess with her right now.

        • If the chapter names are anything to go by, skitter is going to have a very hard descision to make, and it is going to change how she acts from then on. I think we’re finnaly going to see what dinah meant by skitter being different in 2 years.

          • Any guesses on how she is different?
            1. More hardened/jaded/willing to kill-if an Undersider or her dad was killed I could see this.
            2. Has 2nd trigger event-kind of unlikely if Noelle’s stomach didn’t do it and the possibility she already had it.
            3. A true villain-no more grey for her.

    • I think there are at least six of us who have posted expressing similar feelings before one a.m.

      If I could give Skitter orders right now, I’d tell her to kill an energy drink (electrolytes are important!), get ten hours of sleep, and then write letters to her dad and to Dinah Alcott. Let one of her minions post them and forward any replies back to her. Like Burnscar said, it’s incredibly crappy and anyone else would find it completely pathetic, but it’s the best option she has left to keep the kind of normal human contact Taylor needs.

      • Definitely. I think just the act of putting the words on paper would really help get some of those stressful thoughts and feelings off her chest. Let her explain things to her dad.

        • Yeah, given that she openly recognised that bad communication kills with Weld and MM it seems she has forgotten her own wisdom.

          It’s not like it can put him in any more danger.

          Though if he gets killed because the PRT outed her, we may well see her completely lose it.

          • You forget things when you’re pissed. I also figure her once again failing to stand up for herself adequately, as opposed to how she did against Emma and Dragon, is because she hadn’t thought all this through as much as she’d have liked to.

            She got pissed, she wrecked some stuff, hadn’t thought it all through. Reminds me of this time with a homeless man, a scooter, and a portapotty.

  14. Okay, now that I’ve actually read it:

    – Imago, ha! Called it!
    – “A bunch of times when we went days without a chance to breathe.” Heh. I see what you did there
    – Man, Tattletale is ridiculous. She’s a grotesquely unfair force-multiplier for any side she’s on
    – Grue makes a fine consigliere. Almost as fine as Tattletale. They’re like the devil and angel on Skitter’s shoulders … except that the devil is a gorgeous blond and the angel is a skull-faced form obtenebrated in black mist. Oddly fitting for Skitter’s life.
    – Director Tagg is … well, he’s not wrong — but.
    – To quote Ambrose Chase of Planetary fame, “This is going to get damn ugly.”

    Typo Hunt (unless I’ve been ninja’d of course):

    – “Comfmitment”
    – you have “Subtlety wasn’t what I had in mind.” repeated at the very end. Either some kind of epilogue or a typo.
    – “As with Dovetail, I’d managed to make enough progress that he was more or less out of the fight.” Dovetail ain’t no dude, dude(tte) :p

  15. Also Tagg gives speech about surviving. Taylor laughs “Survive this” Poisonous Bugs swarm Tagg biting him.

  16. Before the portal appeared I had a hunch that eventually the PRT would cut their loses and abandon the city what with their constant inability to hold ground against the Undersiders , now that there is a portal I keep thinking they are going to have to place Brockton Bay under martial law at some point if they really want to keep that portal secure .

    I imagine at some point a group is going to make a grab for that portal simply because it’s a strange , unknown thing getting alot of attention .

    • I think that’s the primary reason that the Undersiders are courting villains like Accord — they want to have more capes in town with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo re: the portal.

  17. I really wonder what Miss Militia and her team would think of this joker’s little WAR ON CRIME FUCK YAR boner. Whether they’re sick of the conflict escalating and escalating while they end up traumatized and the city gets trashed in the crossfire. The city that they’re supposed to be protecting.

    This wasn’t a war until this jackass made it a war by saying the rules don’t matter. Motherfucker is threatening the family of a villain, if Triumph in particular let’s this shit fly without a word than he’s pretty much saying to the Undersiders “Yeah, go after my family again. I mean, acceptable losses right?”

    I mean, it’s not like wars ever involve things like ceasefires and peace treaties. Nope, fuck it. Total war! Let’s party like it’s 1914!

    I swear, this guy just makes me like Piggot even more. Atleast she wasn’t self righteous while being a limp-dick about it. She would’ve smashed through the school’s ceiling with a gunship with Ride of the Valkyries playing with PRT stormtroopers running in wearing codpieces with DEAL WITH IT written on ‘em.

    Coffee and donuts, for fucks sake. People fighting real wars in real warzones don’t get coffee and donuts delivered by their wives you chucklefuck.

    • I agree completely with that. Even in war there are rules. Things like how you treat prisoners, use of chemical weapons, no civilian targets etc. Granted, not everyone follows them but keeping to the rules lets them have the moral high ground with the world. Plus lets face it, if you break the unwritten rules, the villains are not going to hesitate. This stupid stunt might have broken the truce, and invite a rash of attacks on families. I wonder what he will say if the Undersiders remain the only ones to not cross that line.

      • They have plenty of power. They can publicly come out against the PRT’s choices and call them out on their stupid decisions. People have to notice all the heroes leaving. There is nothing stopping them from breaking away and being heroes on their own terms. Lets see him fight his stupid war when all his capes refuse to work with him.

      • She’s the head of the superhero team, chain of command or no, if she lets this guy go hog wild without atleast protest then she’s basically worthless as a leader. I mean, it endangers her team after all.

    • Reveen wins.

      Doucetagg seems to be driving the PRT directly towards a schism. As mentioned by others, I don’t think many of the capes will stand for it. Especially given Tattletale’s all-singing all-dancing power and the Undersider’s penchant for surviving. I think the capes will soon realize that Tagg needs to be removed, before he pushes the Undersiders and Skitter to the dark side. If they really wanted to, I don’t doubt that the Undersiders could do just as much damage as the Endbringers did. More than that really since Skitter can hit you from blocks away. If she really started feeling backed into a corner, full-on man against the world mode, she could probably kill most of Brockton Bay within a day.

      Probably many of the heroes see what’s happening, the good guys are not so good any more and the bad guys are getting mad. Tagg is setting it up for the entire board to get knocked off the table, and he’s dragging everyone else down with him. He’s going to alienate most of his allies, and more importantly the public. While he’s raging after the Undersiders like a tyrannosaurus with a hard on, the “villains” are the ones making the city cleaner, and safer, and feeding and washing the unwashed hungry masses.

      I smell a confrontation coming. Tagg said it himself, recent good press will overwrite old bad press. I really hope to see a moment when the people of the city look at the PRT and ask “What have you done for us lately?”

      The PRT is looking very much like a never ending cycle of using a greasy, dirty cloth to clean up a spill. They’re just making it worse and spreading the dirt around. It’s like wrestling with a pig, you’re going to get dirty and even if you win you lose more than the pig did.

      I love Worm so much. So few other stories capture my interest like this one.

  18. I don’t really like how the encounter with Tagg goes.

    I’m fine with them assaulting the PRT- it feels a bit un-Taylor-ish, but she’s a bit off balance and I can see why she feels like she has to do it. But what Taylor does to Tagg’s wife? It feels really awkward. And I can understand the need for some direct retaliation against him personally, but simply attacking him feels really crude. I was expecting Tattletale to take the lead and try to pick him apart or attempt to find some dirt about him to reveal (even if they don’t find anything).

    • I don’t think Taylor was thinking straight. I also wanted her to just humiliate them, and then have Tattletale spill the beans on a few of their secrets.

      • I don’t necessarily think everything should go perfectly- I just expected them to at least _try_ something like that. It’s kind of Tattletale’s thing.

        The chapter is kind of depressing, and I get the feeling that it’s supposed to feel like an empty victory (or at least, that’s how it feels to me). I don’t want to suggest that everything should be sunshine and rainbows- so I want to make it clear that I’m fine with TT failing to find or say anything damaging (Iike they did with Piggot).

    • Really, the main thing I’m trying to say is not “They should have done X” but rather that walking up to Tagg, having that conversation, making it clear that she easily could (but won’t) harm his wife, and then attacking him and walking away feels really weird to me. I can’t really put into words what it is.

      I know Taylor is going down a bit of a dark path, and while I don’t like that, I’m alright with that happening in the story. It makes a lot of sense. I want to say that it’s not _that_ which is bugging me, but I can’t really put into words what it is.

      • Showing she could attack the wife but doesn’t shows “I AM better than you. I stick to the rules. No civilians. No family. This is just between you guys, the PRT, and us, the Undersiders.” if not so eloquently as I just noted.

        • I know that’s the intention- but it feels like the worst possible way of trying to show that. Its clumsy and awkward.

          • Actually, it seems well thought out to me. She has teams from the local, and probably national, news already called in. When every member of PRT is seen with welts and bites, Director Tagg hit the worst, yet the “innocent bystander”/off-limits family member is completely unscathed, it will do a lot to reinforce the notion that the Undersiders still follow the code. Seriously, EVERYONE is hurt except the wife? That’s one hell of a statement to the press.

          • @Drachomen- I was talking specifically about when Taylor swarms his wife after she says that she stands by his rhetoric.

      • It was done without a lot of the forethought that Taylor has been known for
        She makes what is basically a childish move (well within her rights, given the situation, but still) and loses her temper
        She hasnt really done anything like that since Manniquin, and she didnt have any other choice in that instance

  19. “Trust me when I say we’re all pretty accepting here, and there’s no reason to lie; none of us girls here bat for the other team.”
    The meaning of this is clear. ALL the Undersider girls are lesbians. Quick, get Psycho Gecko to write a fiveway orgy with Parian!

    (I’m sorry.)

    • I think the Undersiders could do better than a 5-way given Regents power to take control of bodies, and then if Grue took Regents power with his smoke…
      O_O
      THE POSSIBILITIES, THE SHIPPING, THEY ARE ENDLESS

    • Ye Gods…..PG will have a field day with this! Hey Wildbow once Worm is published in some form you need to give a shout out to PG, he deserves it. xD

      • I don’t think I am very high on the shout out list. Haven’t donated, haven’t done anything near Packbat’s work on the trope page, haven’t touched the wiki, can’t draw, my stories haven’t been related to Worm except for rewrites, the forum I advertised Worm in was for a superhero game that got shut down, I didn’t even make the Parahumans Online forum, and Wildbow doesn’t find me funny unless I am discussing how what Bonesaw did to Blasto with her spine is related to one of my fetishes.

  20. This arc is looking to be quite scary, I have to say the implications of having Taylor’s identity revealed kinda just started to catch up to me, makes me really want to see how she deals with her territory now. Taggs threats toward her Dad also made me realize how dangerous her picking fights with people like the Fallen or Teeth, who probably wouldn’t think twice about using her father as leverage against her, is.

    Overall I also think Tagg is right about how as long as the PTR stay, no matter what the condition, in the long run they will win. Regardless of how it really is people will always view the PTR as the “heroes” and the more power the Undersiders get the more people will just start seeing them as villainous dictators, Taylor is the closest the Undersiders have to a “hero”, given her popularity and general attitude about her territory but with all this stuff happening to her it is only a matter of time before she snaps.

    • The funny thing is, the PRT is explicitly an organization, they think in terms of asset management, not saving lives. Remember how they didn’t try to help finish of the s9 when the undersiders had their location pinned down, whatever they did to dinah, attacking a known dangerous villain in a school expecting them to take hostages, etc.

    • To be honest I was thought the death of her father was inevitable at some point. Worm always felt like the type of story that had great highs and bad lows. Once I realized that she is going to stay a villain, I expected that big choice down the line that is going to define her. My guess, which for once I hope is completely wrong, is that her dad is killed by another villain to hurt her. She goes on her roaring rampage of revenge, and then chooses whether to cross that final line or not. I have yet to predict the elusive wildbow, so who knows. But the arc title is very suspicious.

      • I hope it doesn’t come to that, but it might be bearable if Skitter or Regent (team’s sociopath) kills Tagg in the aftermath.

      • If Danny DOES die then I’m scared for the poor bloke who kills him. I see the sky being darkened by swarms, people stripped clean of their flesh, the PRT scrambling, and failing, to keep peace as the swarms focus on the individual who took hers fathers life and turn him or her into a living hive, maybe hire a Tinker to find a way to make something that allows that…….or just kill him in the most public way possible.

        Though honestly I see the PRT trying to protect Danny as much as they can, to use a barrier against Taylor. Though one thing I still want to see is Emma right now, I want to know how badly her mind broke. I NEED to see it. >:3

        • ….I can see Skitter approaching Bonesaw and Jack, the two of them dropping into combat ready stances, or at least as much as either reacts like that… Only for Atlas to dump the barely-living body of her father’s murderer on the ground in front of her, bugs writhing all over him, biting, stinging, tearing at him even as he lays there, still, unmoving. “Bonesaw, right? We let you leave the city, so you owe me. Fix him. Make him live. Make him unable to die, even if I kill him, over and over.” her voice heavy with pain and hatred, shaking with the visceral need to take the few strides over to the hapless man and tear into him once again…

          • …Or, alternatively, falling to her knees before Bonesaw, weeping, begging for her to save the life of the man she brought… the bugs clearing away to reveal Danny’s lifeless body. Sobbing, pleading, saying she will do anything, anything at all, just to save his life.

          • Or, alternatively, Skitter enters Nilbogs domain, alone and begs the monster who can create life to give her back her father

            Dun
            Dun
            DUNNNN

          • Except Bonesaw is no Mephisto. And Skitter would no doubt be inducted into the S9 as their newest member, geting the ‘standard squishy package’… before being forced to kill her father, again and again, each time Bonesaw reviving him only for her to be forced to kill him again- because he’s going berserk, or because he’s in excruciating pain that will never end unless he dies, or because he begs her to- even if it’s entirely an act put on by the meat puppet that Bonesaw makes of the corpse. Broken, mentally and spiritually, Skitter would be an easy victim of Jack’s particular wiles, especially if used in combination with some special triggers Bonesaw would implant, much like the Cherish triggers. This IS Worm, after all.

  21. Man, Skitter is going straight to the Dark Side isn’t she. I’m not entirely sure how i feel about that. Still i cant wait for this “War”. The rules have been broken, and now all hell gets to break loose.

    • *Throws open the gates of hell with a laugh, singing Grace For Sale as he leads an army of demons and tortured, unrecognizable souls past Camo. They grab him and pull him along as they…hit up the Gulf Coast for Spring Break! Ghouls gone wild! Gecko grills for you, often having to swat Beelzebub away from the burgers and wieners while Azazel runs around sounding campy and luring in bikini-clad women with free makeovers. Mammon sells lemonade by the side of the road while keeping track of the local horseracing from his phone. Meanwhile, Asmodeus is yapping away on the cellphone with the writer he manages, Stephenie Meyer. Satan bangs away at the bathroom door, desperate to sit on the porcelain throne, but unfortunately Belphegor has fallen asleep on the john. Down by the water, Lucifer lays out, sunning himself, failing to account for just how quickly sunburn can set in.*

      *Gecko brings over your burger, some fries, and hands you a small plastic pitchfork*

      Welcome to the party in the comments section. Stay while and enjoy yourself. What’s the worst that could happen?

      *Cue the evil laughter…coming from Belphegor as he holds the door shut now that Satan is pounding on the other side to be let out of the bathroom as he’s in and found Belphegor that left it quite fragrant.*

  22. I expected another The Villain Has A Point moment, right after this: ““And the world’s worse off for it. You can’t win forever,” he said.”

    So many possibilities here.

    Instead, she proves his point. Threatening his wife was a very thuggish thing to do.

    I really hope she takes a moment, or a bunch of moments, to realize that she has GOT to do some serious work on institutionalizing herself. She’s now a government. If she isn’t going to lose everything she’s fought so hard for, a city that has hope and is rebuilding, then she has to get the real government on board somehow. Or if not them, the people.

    I wonder – what’s her best first step in doing this?

      • You know, Skitter in the nuthouse could make for some interesting reading. It could actually be what she needs, depending on the fallout. Many of the elements of her being in the birdcage, but without the whole “trapped inside the perfect jail” thing.

        Also, Wildbow, I have given you Rare Candy. Use it wisely.

    • In “attacking” the wife but NOT actually attacking, she’s showing that she does have the power to do so, IF Tagg pushes her, but that she’s better than he and his PRT are. She isn’t involving THEIR family, like he did and is threatening to do again to hers. Also, by definition she already was a thug when she first became a villain; thug means criminal or ruffian, and ruffian means violent or lawless person, of which the latter applies regardless of former. :D

  23. “This is what I’ve got left, isn’t it? The good guys decided to play their biggest card. They couldn’t beat Skitter, so they beat Taylor. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason not to throw myself into this, to deal with both heroes and villains as a full-time thing. I lay down the law, because now I’ve got time to enforce it. I can be stricter with the local villains, back you guys up if they cause trouble, and dedicate the rest of my time to my territory.”

    By the way, this is another very practical reason why you don’t just unveil someone’s identity in public. She doesn’t have very much to lose now at all. They’ve made a permanent version of Battle Royale Gitmo the only possible ending for her aside from death. But as Sun Tzu says, roughly, always leave your enemy a way out because if death appears certain, they will fight much harder with their lives definitely on the line.

    I admit I don’t always follow it, but my fights are not at that level of conflict.

    Man, this Tagg guy just strikes me as a soldier. Do anything to win the war, let someone else put a pretty caption on the images. Thinks he’s right just because he serves some greater institution. The problem is that conflict within the bounds of one society is not the same as war. That’s because this is actually a peace, and maintaining peace requires a different set of skills. It might be very informative for him to have a very long talk with Armsmaster. Armsy was an ass, but he was still better than this buffoonish, cretinous, deplorable, egregious, fetid, goonish, halfwitted, ignoble, jabbering, knurly, licentious, malignant, nitwitted, odious, putrescent, quixotic, rancorous, splenetic, trollish, useless, verminous, witless, xerotic, yecchy zealot!

    Still, nice to see some reprisal here. Sweet, sweet revenge. There needs to be some sort of humiliation added for all to see on the outside of the building. Like posting the wife’s cell number along with “Call for a good time.”

    • Was there supposed to be something before buffoonish that started with ‘a’, or was @$$ supposed to fill that role?

      Also, I’m thinking of calling him “General Tagg” from here on out; what do you think?

      • No need to self-censor here. And don’t demean the title of general by applying it to Tagg; It makes him seem to have greater power and potential than he really has. Just call him Douchetagg.

      • I am not sure he fits the model. I doubt he lacks information vegetable, animal, and mineral or knows the kings of England or quotes fights historical from Marathon to Waterloo in order categorical.

        It’s doubtful he’s very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical or understands equations, both the simple and quadratical. About binomial theorem, he’s out of clues, and has no facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

        He’s not good at integral and differential calculus; he doesn’t know the scientific names of beings animalculous: In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral, he doesn’t fit the model of a modern general.

        He doesn’t know mythic history, King Arthur’s, or the inventor of Crocs. He can’t answer hard acrostics and has no taste for paradox. Nor does he quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Madonna’s tourbus, and in conics he is floored by peculiarities parabolous. He can’t tell undoubted Raphaels from Donatello or even Afghanis and doesn’t know the Python bit with the assaulting Brit grannies. He can’t hum a fugue of which I’ve heard the music’s din before or know the significance of Astley’s pompadour.

        He can’t translate my washing bill from Babylonic cuneiform, or even tell me all the details of superman’s uniform. In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral, he is NOT nearly the model of a modern general.

        He doesn’t know the difference between Behemoth and Leviathan and can’t tell at sight a Dragonsuit from a javelin. When such affairs as sorties and surprises he’s been beaten at, so badly he’d be executed by competent commissariat. And his wife is such a whore and example of pure cun*ery, she might as well heed Shakespeare and “get thee to a Nunnery”. In short, when Skitter’s blown him up to Earth’s apogee, you’ll be forced to offer up a sincere apology.

        Despite his military knowledge, he only thinks he’s plucky and adventury, and he’ll be feeling what’s next for close to a century, but still in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral, he’s not the very model of a modern times general.

  24. Dang.

    This is a pretty big loss for the Undersiders, IMO; Taylor’s just finished getting out of an impossible situation and (depending on how Dragon’s code changes go) possibly changing the world by sheer force of principle and it still left her damaged enough to willingly give up some of that principle shortly thereafter.

    I mean . . .

    I know that the public can’t really tell the difference between this and their previous PRT raids, so in public relations terms it’s not a huge disaster. And she’s closer to the ground so I’m sure her tactical sense that something had to be done is meaningful. Maybe inaccurate, but meaningful.

    But she’s spent a long time not being what authority kept telling her she was. Not being nothing despite the bullies who wanted her to be nothing; not being a soulless villain despite the PRT pushing her to be; and now this guy gets in his big swively (presumably) chair and decides that she should be a thug, and he makes her one.

    It’s tragic.

    A minor tragedy, I guess, but tragic.

    (Though I guess on some level I’m really just reading that from the emotions she has here— it’s not the worst or least defensible thing she’s ever done, it’s just that she’s no longer narrating from the part of her headspace that’s trying to not be a villain.)

    I guess another part of this, ironically, is that she’s losing the underdog status. There’s no win to cheer here, no clever pulling-off-a-victory-despite-the-PRT’s-overwhelming-power (which I think is what some people were hoping for from Tattletale—not a more definitive tactical victory, but to somehow pull out a moral victory using her talents.) There’s just a show of strength.

    Guh.

    I hope that something gets her off of this path. Er, empathically hope, I mean; she’s still a great protagonist and I don’t mind reading tragedy. (Though a happy ending would be even better.)

    • Happy ending?! HA! This is WORM we’re talking about. There are no ‘happy’ endings. Just endings with a little less emotional trauma, and sometimes physical trauma.

  25. A few thoughts.

    Yes, Taylor is in a dark place. She’s had her life taken away from her, and been essentially locked in to living her life only as a super villain. After all the work she did, the heroes took it away from her- And casually, for no real reason, and to no real gain.

    Part 1: The disproportionate responses.
    There was the discussion, early on, between Skitter and, if I recall correctly, Tattletale. The discussion of the kinds of people who do this, the kinds of people who get kill orders, and the kind of people who get a light sentence. Skitter, it is important to remember, is NOT someone who has done others a great deal of harm. She has killed one man who was in a position of power so great that leaving him alive would’ve been a death sentence on her and those she cared about. She has nearly killed a hero in a desperate attempt to keep his father from shooting her, imprisoning her, and resulting in some extremely dark shit from going completely unopposed. Skitter may very well have made the difference, in the fight against Echidna. The world could have ended if not for her. She has, on whole, done significantly less harm than many of the heroes we’ve seen. She’s made some calls that would require review by a board of inquiry; Letting the merchant die, shooting Coil, lying to Sundancer and having her kill four innocent people along with Noelle. If I were on that board, I’d acquit her. She had no duty to help the Merchant, Coil is the sort of person with the sort of power that you should absolutely not allow to just go around. And she made a sacrifice for the sake of humanity; Four people, chosen completely at random, to save the world. Would she have done the same call, if it were Tattletale, or Grue, or someone else she knew personally and cared about? Maybe. That’s important, sometimes.

    She has the potential to do incredible harm. She has always been able to stop short of doing this, but we can understand why people would be scared. But the reason that the people in power are scared of Taylor isn’t because she might slip up and kill someone. The reason they’re scared is because she is a Leader.

    She’s a leader in a way that very few people are, and it’s becoming more and more clear. Her stunt in the previous story, showing that she was supported by the people, should by all rights, have the PRT shitting its pants.

    Part 2: The PRT’s responses.

    If the PRT were wise, they’d want her to be on good terms with them. She is an extraordinarily moral person, and frankly, they can’t pull that whole ‘Well, so you say’ thing on her anymore and sound convincing. She just had the PRT break the unwritten rules in a truly horrible way, and she proved that she and her friends could completely cripple the branch of the PRT, effortlessly, without losses- And without having to put a single person at risk of death. They could be the Slaughterhouse Six if they wanted to be. But they aren’t.

    So, there are two reasons why the members of the PRT are against them. The people on the lower levels, who are not related to Cauldron, have the Tagg mentality. ‘Your cause is not as righteous as ours, so you’re going to lose, and it doesn’t matter what we do, because we have the right.’ This is, arguably, the more dangerous mentality, because it justifies hideous actions without considering them for a moment. They believe that their cause justifies all action, to the point where they do not have to justify their cause.

    The other reason, and the one being used by anyone in a position of power, are the people behind Cauldron. They’ve been using the excuse ‘We get more villains than heroes from trigger events’ to justify themselves for a long time, and they’ve started to forget what, exactly, it means when they say heroes and villains. Taylor is a powerful, charismatic, strategically brilliant cape, who just happens to be a ‘villain’, and has a tremendously powerful moral code. She could bring down their power, and whether they oppose that because they think the world will descend into anarchy without their support, or because they’ll lose their power over the world. Regardless, they have been convinced theirs is the only way for nearly thirty years. This does not seem about to change.

    Part 3: The likely directions.

    A lot of people state that they think Skitter is going to go to a very dark place in the coming days. I agree, but I think that she’ll be leading a charge into Hell.

    The Birdcage isn’t going to hold. Come on, if we make it to the end of this story and there has not been a massive breakout from the Birdcage or something then- Okay let’s face it the Birdcage has practically screamed out loud ‘BREAK OUT OF ME’ for as long as we’ve been here. We’ve got 600 capes in an incredibly confined space, Amy’s in there, this shit is going to go completely bananas.

    We’ve had our sixth S-class threat mentioned. I don’t know if Nilbog’s gonna be important- It’d surprise me if he didn’t show up at some point, but meh. But we have had Sleeper referenced, and let’s face it, that’s a chekhov’s gun if I’ve ever seen one.

    The next Endbringer attack is going to be coming up soon enough. And considering the current state of the Hero-Villain truce, it sounds like things are going to go very poorly. And we have Scion being told to go all-out.

    The Slaughterhouse Nine is going hog-wild on some DNA. This is clearly a Bad Thing.

    A dimensional portal has been opened to another world.

    Skitter has been getting trained to be a general from the very beginning. Her power is that of the ultimate general. Complete, and very-difficult-to-disrupt battlefield awareness. Communication that can overcome most forms of interference. A weak soldier who requires tremendous planning and careful marshaling, requiring a complex experience of research and development, and careful examination of her tactical choices. And a level of multitasking awareness that is superior to absolutely anyone, except maybe Dragon. And she can make the hard choices. This may not be so easy if it’s her personal friends, or if she has to choose deliberately to put people into a place where she absolutely knows that they’re going to die, but we shall see how she adapts to that.

    Look back at the Leviathan fight. It was a brawl. They set down a loose battle plan, but once things were started, they didn’t have a clear leader. Compare that to the fight against Echidna. Once things hit their stride, they were capable of working together, fighting, and killing her. A single strong, intelligent general, linking people together, using their talents intelligently, and being able to be trusted with an overall strategy, and the Endbringers could be destroyed. The Slaughterhouse Nine could be wiped out to the last.

    Taylor’s becoming a general. She’s living for the war. That’ll have a dark ending- Either the world ends and the war is lost, or the war is won and she’s left as the old hero, perhaps one of the most tragically painful results you can have. But this is her imago. She’s a general, taking control of her troops, and facing a war that goes beyond anything that has ever been known to humanity. It is NOT all up to her- A general is desperately important, but they are a glue that makes a collection of people more, rather than less, than a sum of their parts. Every troop under them makes a difference, and everyone is important.

    So, I think that things are going to get dark. But I think that Taylor’s going to save the world. Because this isn’t the kind of story that ends with ‘And then the Endbringers won and everything was fucked’, and I’m grateful for that. There are going to be losses, sacrifices, and I’d be truly astounded if Taylor ended up being truly happy. But she’s going to save the world.

    God I ramble on a lot.

    • To elaborate a little bit more after reading more.

      Many people feel that this was Skitter going out and betraying her principles in some way, but I am not sure that I entirely see that. She went out and picked a fight with the PRT, but she used the minimum necessary force, and despite being provoked significantly, she showed, conclusively, that she could do this, that she could find a wife, and that she could hurt her- But that she wasn’t going to.

      She’s capable of hurting people very badly, and she’s often threatened to do it, and people are terrified when they’re threatened, that way, but ultimately, she doesn’t. She’s not a Bad Person. She’s not following the law; but if you think that, alone, makes her a bad person…

      Additionally, it’s important to realize that the entire group has, effectively, been on a war footing, for a long, long time. The entire world is on a war footing. The last time the Undersiders had anything that could be treated like a ‘play fight’ was probably about the time they crashed the hero’s fundraising dinner. Leviathan, the Slaughterhouse Nine, Dragon’s massive presence, Coil, Echidna, they have faced no less than three level S threats, the preeminent Tinker in the world, and a man with an almost unbelievably dangerous set of abilities and resources. And none of this is going to change. The veneer of civilization is still there, but it’s hollow and worn. The worst that Taylor has done is scare the hell out of people with what she could do. Frankly, to call her a villain is, at this point, kind of hilarious.

      The world is wounded. The wound may be mortal, but it is bad, and the war that is engulfing it is severe. A single bad decision by a bulimic girl created a creature that could have wiped out humanity in its rage and horror. This is a world where the current authority is not working.

      And yet more rambling

      • Very well thought out. I think Wildbow mentioned he won’t bring in Sleeper/Nilbog in case he does a sequel so there is more of the universe to explore. Her teaming up to attack the birdcage seems unlikely. She might try to help rescue those that don’t belong in there like Canary/Amy, but she probably would try to take down any other escaping prisoners. I’m thinking that quite a few prisoners will come to the bay. Lung, Marquis, and Glaistig would do very nicely as new big bads. Well, I think we can all agree that Taylor is going to change after this arc. Whether good or bad remains to be seen.

      • I agree with TheAnt, that was very well worded
        I just have a bone to pick regarding the Birdcage as well
        IF it opens, its likely to be at the very end of the story, because so far the *expected* has either not happened or appeared at unexpected times

        Also, Marquis breaking out would be great, he is easily my favorite out of the entire Wormverse

        • You guys are gonna make me blush. Pshaw.

          Thoughts on opening the Birdcage.
          I do not think that Taylor’s going to break into the birdcage. That seems the most unlikely. But people breaking out of the Birdcage, or the Birdcage getting voluntarily opened? Now that seems much more likely.

          The thing is that a lot of the people in the birdcage are unfit for living in polite society. But going back to what I have reiterated, again and again… They don’t really have to be, anymore. The earth is now in a state of war against itself, and as has been mentioned- I think perhaps even recently? Lung may have thought it, I cannot recall precisely- there are patterns of behavior that would’ve been much more acceptable in the course of human history than they are currently.

          This is not to say this isn’t going to be a gruesome moment, letting some of these people free. They’re thugs and murderers, and sometimes much, much worse. They can do some gruesome damage to the world. But the earth cannot afford to pick and choose its defenders so carefully. Someone like Canary? Someone like Marquis? Hell, even someone like Lung? They cannot do anything remotely comparable to what one of the Endbringers can do. And I think that a fair number of them, given the choice between ‘rot in the birdcage forever’ or ‘risk your life fighting an Endbringer for the sake of your life’ would go for the latter.

          This is a classic idea, the prisoner given a suicide mission; That’s because it’s an idea that is appealing to the mind, and creates an interesting relationship. It’s not without its risks. These people are unstable and you need to keep a close hand on them, because they could cause serious dangers if they don’t. But with generals like Skitter and forensic psychologists like Tattletale, they can make the difference.

          Thoughts on justice.
          Add onto this, the fact that, to our understanding, the birdcage is a ridiculously hideous perversion of justice. Canary caused a man significant wounds- maybe death- through negligence. This is something that’s punished, with a prison stay in the shape of quite a few years, but she was given life imprisonment, with absolutely no chance of parole, in a hellhole of a prison. Amy suffered a mental breakdown driving another cape insane and making her look really hideous, and volunteered for the Birdcage. Nobody suggested ‘Hey, you know, maybe we should put the transcendentally skilled healer into the asylum where she can come to term with her mental issues and become a great cure to the world.’

          My personal moral view probably should be explained. In my view, the most horrible thing you can do to someone is to kill them. There are things that are essentially the same- wiping someone’s mind and personality so thoroughly that they are essentially gone. But these are the great crimes, because they destroy someone’s future impact on the world; And they leave no hope.

          Next up are injuries. These are things that lessen you in some way. For example, if you sever a tendon and lose a great deal of motor ability in your hand. If your back gets snapped. If you get your brain rewired to be incredibly attracted to your little sister. These are things that change you in a long-term sense, and damage your capabilities. These are like little deaths, but they can be overcome.

          Almost everything else that could be considered bad is in the area of ‘hurting people’. It feels really bad while it’s happening, but ultimately, you’re not lessened permanently as a person. Skitter hurts people a lot, in many different ways. She makes the heroes feel helpless, she makes the ordinary people feel watched and nervous, she makes her foes feel terrified. But she doesn’t kill people, and she actively avoids risking their death.

          Now, let’s ask; Which of these two things is worse. Scaring the shit out of someone and giving them an incredibly painful bite, or putting them in prison for five years.

          Five years of being locked up away from society among people who are in an almost animalistic state of mind, and when you get out, you have been reclassified as a second class citizen.

          Or you get a bite from a bullet ant and told to get out of town.

          This may be just me. But I can handle pain. Pain fades. Injuries are worse. They’re the sort of thing that laws usually do. Chopping off hands or putting someone in a stay at a prison. The Bird Cage is, for all intents and purposes, a death sentence. Sure, you continue living, but your life is forever diminished, a life in a small circle of incredibly unpleasant people. It’s a mortal injury, and it’ll never stop or be allowed to heal.

          Amy injured people. Canary injured a person. Skitter has been remarkably good at avoiding ever injuring someone. Look at Lung- She was in full knowledge of his regenerating capabilities, so she inflicted admittedly frightening pain upon him, because she knew that he would recover from it. She’s killed, once. I think it’s justified; reasonable minds may disagree.

          But neither of them deserve to be in prison. And frankly, they cannot afford to leave Amy in prison. So long as a personality understands and fears consequences, and is given reason to do so, it can. And Amy goes beyond that. She genuinely wants to do good. She was literally pushing herself to the absolute limit, and even pushed herself past her mental blocks and fears to save her adopted father, and the world was completely hideous to her in response. One mistake, in the worst possible circumstances, and bam, that’s it. No redemption.

          They can’t afford to take a hard line of no redemption. This whole artificial sideshow of Villains and Heroes has intruded on the fight between Humanity and Extinction, and it simply cannot afford to do that anymore. There’ll be time for Nuremberg trials when and if they win.

          The War on Terror
          This is gonna be a super controversial discussion, but I think it’s one that can be divorced from its political basis to the essential elements. A large part of the War on Terror is that it hasn’t had much impact on Americans. Compare it to World War 2, or any war, really, where there’s expected to be shortages. Materials are put into strict rationing, and everyone is expected to make their effort.

          The War on Terror was different. The whole idea was ‘Don’t change your lives! We’ll fight wars, but we’re not going to let it effect our day to day lives!’ A continued consumption chain, and humans being at war with themselves. Now, this is a bad thing in our world. War must be terrible so as to keep people from desiring it too much. But it’s worse in a world like Earth Bet.

          I’m not saying every nutjob needs to be wiped out. I’m not even suggesting that they need to go root out Nilbog and the Slaughterhouse nine and never ever rest their eyes and every Super must be conscripted.

          But there are presumably thousands of Capes. There’s six hundred in the Birdcage alone. The Endbringers are a colossal threat. They are a massive, terrifying, extreme threat, and they are everyone’s business. Humanity is at war with a force that is essentially dropping a nuclear weapon in a random place every /two months/. And they don’t act like it; They act as though things are proceeding as normal. A girl with heavy body issues drank half of a serum and became a monster that could have wiped out a city, maybe a whole planet.

          This would have psychological costs, existing in a state of war against these things. But I don’t think any more than there are currently. The world is currently adopting a cold war state of mind, and frankly, that’s enough to put subtle but intense pressures on any mind. An active war would create a united front, which would likely reprieve stress.

          The best and brightest minds, putting work to mass-producing and reverse-engineering brilliant Tinker devices. Human beings working together to accomplish a great goal.

          I don’t know. I think it might work. Extinction of humanity is everyone’s business, and everyone should be motivated to put a stop to it.

          And when the Endbringers are brought down? Things go back to Cops and Robbers. Villains Vill, Heroes Hero, and the Rogues make a fabulous living. They keep themselves sharp. People who abused their privileges during the war get psychological counselling, because the least you can do with a soldier is make sure that they’re actually truly determined to hurt other human beings, rather than simply hurt from the deep strains.

          My rambling continues. I think a lot about this stuff.

          • I didn’t say it earlier, but I’ve been reading each of your posts, and I have to say, amazingly well thought out. I agree with most if not all of your points intrinsically, though maybe a few disagreements superficially.

          • Reminds me of some of my longer discussions and is in line with almost all my thoughts on the subjects. Aside from the wording, it really reminds me of times when I’ve had longer posts that people generally disliked due to lack of comedy.

            I’m especially fond of the idea that when the apocalypse is a serious possibility, villains will unite against it. After all, hard to rob a bank when the money’s worthless and what are you going to buy with it when the Earth is destroyed or under alien rule?

            I don’t know for sure that the Birdcage will suffer a breakout, though. It was mentioned by Dragon I think that people can leave the Birdcage again. She’s getting more independent so she may have need of those prisoners. Dump them all on Leviathan and see what happens, that kind of thing.

            I will bring up that there are psychological injuries caused by things that have hurt people. I don’t think she’s traumatizing everyone though.

            Also, we know the Sleeper isn’t going to be a part of this. Wildbow is saving him for a sequel. I am unsure if that means the world will survive two years down the line. Nilbog may pop up again, but I only expect he’ll be a part of the story again if an Endbringer pays him a visit.

          • They ARE putting the Birdcage into the hands of what are, essentially, mercenaries. And as is well known, the loyalty of a mercenary always goes to the highest bidder…

          • @Gnarker: I don’t think the birdcage automatically goes to the Dragonslayers if they get the position. Its been mentioned that Dragon owns the land around and built the birdcage, so I would think Dragon would still own it and be the warden. And if you think about it, no one else would have the proper monitoring capabilities Dragon has, so if she leaves and takes all her stuff with her, I doubt the Dragonslayers will be able to do anything with the site.

          • @PG

            I think an Endbringer could take Nilbog, especially if its Behemoth
            But he would likely survive and have to find a new place to live
            hnnnng

          • Yeah, I think an Endbringer could take Nilbog too, but not without a surprising fight. After all, if Behemoth tries to set Nilbog’s minions on fire, that’ll just create more of them.

          • I think an Endbringer against Nilbog would just end up a stalemate; Nilbog can generate life, so he could quite concievably make his new lifeforms resistant to whatever it is that any particular Endbringer brings to the table- He’s already insane, and likely can just change himself to ignore Simurgh’s telepathy; He can make his creations super-dense and naturally near zero kelvin so that behemoth’s combustion powers just excite their bodies from ‘hibernation’ so they can fight back; And Leviathan could be stopped by high-pressure aquatic beings. Honestly, if one attacked Nilbog, I’d expect a retreat, much like against Scion.

  26. You know, there seems to be something about this chapter that makes it easy to miss exactly what Taylor did to Tagg’s wife. When I first read it, I missed the reveal where she showed that she hadn’t actually hurt her. It made me think that Taylor was going a fair bit darker than she actually was.
    It wasn’t until I read some of the comments that I realised I must be missing something. Judging by some of the things people said, I don’t think I’m the only one.

  27. You know, this chapter is really interesting. Here we have Taylor, a villain, using villain tropes (like justifying her actions: “I HAD to inflict grievous pain on all those people who did absolutely nothing to me and whose only crime is joining an organization so they could help and protect others, it’s all part of the GAME!”), and we have Tagg, part of the Good Guys ™, using good guy tropes (like calling villains on their bullshit: “this isn’t a game, and you’re not a misunderstood hero, you’re just a thug!”), a traditional scene many have read from the other side and cheered for. And yet readers, understandably, side with Taylor and bemoan its occurrence this time.

    It’s all so deliciously morally grey.

    • I think the big difference is that Taylor actually realizes that it’s a fight between grey and gray while Tagg thinks it’s black and white (and like pretty much everybody who does that, he puts himself on the side of the angels).

      • Hell, its not even the whole of the undersiders attacking, its just skitter, tattletale, and bitch (and tattletale likely isnt helping take down the bad guys). So really, this is another example of how powerless the PRT is, 2 villains can basically waltz right in and incapacitate the whole PRT branch.

        • To be fair, the PRT didn’t have all of its members there for whatever reason. I imagine if the Undersiders had attacked and they had all been present, things would have gone differently. Not to mention that two of the heroes present had already been curbstomped by Skitter before and apparently had learned nothing from the previous encounter. That said, if it had been the entire local PRT versus the full Undersiders, I’m pretty sure the Undersiders probably wouldn’t have even broken a sweat. The Undersiders have been there this long and the PRT still hasn’t figured out any effective counters to their abilities? Seriously, how difficult would it be to look up in their roster heroes who might actually be able to accomplish something and dispatch them to Brockton Bay?

          • They already tried bringing in super counters, either dragon or defiant outright stated that sere was supposed to be untouchable by skitter, adamant has his huge full covering of armor, and I’d imaging dovetale’s forcefields were thought to hinder the bug’s flight or something. Easy for human to break, much harder for an ant.

          • Logically, if you have been utterly beaten over and over again by a superior foe, then you should either tactically withdraw or make peace with your enemy. Yet the PRT keeps trying the same stupid tactics over and over again. I take it back: they are augmenting their already stupid tactics with innovative new ways to fail miserably. For example, the last time I checked, the only people ever captured in Brockton Bay by use of containment foam have been… the PRT themselves. The PRT knows that Skitter trounced Mannequin, another target that she should have not stood a chance of harming, yet they bring in Sere thinking he’ll be better? Did anyone notice that she beat Sere with essentially a dumbed down version of the same tactics she used on Mannequin? If something has been proven to be ineffective, why keep doing it? They completely ignored history and didn’t bother to do their homework on their opponent.

            I’d also like to make mention that the PRT built their plan on data received from a precog, a Thinker class. It’s been mentioned before that Thinker powers tend to interfere with one another, as evidenced with Accord and Tattletale. Piggot has also remarked that Skitter possessed “Prescience” when she anticipated an attack from behind and was able to avoid it. That would imply some level of precognition on some level, meaning there is a possibility that Skitter can muck with other precogs. All of this data is known to the PRT, yet they apparently ignored it and went through with their moronic plan anyway.

            That in mind, the PRT has not deployed any actual counters as they had already been proven ineffective or invalid well in advance. Hell, two of their smarter members (who had actually faced off against the Undersiders) told them explicitly that it wouldn’t work, and why, yet they still ignored it. That said, the PRT could probably work up an effective counter against Skitter if they weren’t such arrogant dumbasses.

            • @Scolopendra
              Generally agree, but a couple of things:

              1. Dragon managed to catch Skitter using containment foam (granted, with the assistance of Bitch’s backstabbing). Skitter only escaped that one because Dragon let her escape rather than be caught in the impending explosion of Kid Win’s stuff.

              2. Pretty sure Piggot was crediting Skitter with possible prescience before they realised she was seeing through her bugs. Until they worked that out, it must’ve seemed like some sort of clairvoyance/danger sense…

          • @Scolopendra:

            Honestly, I assumed that the PRT didn’t actually know the details of the attacks they weren’t present for. It would be stupid — police organizations need to use informants to generate leads, and military organizations need outright spies — but given that Calvert wouldn’t need any PRT intelligence and Tagg can’t count to eleven with his shoes on, it’s eerily possible that you’re right and they simply didn’t do any homework.

          • If the PRT (still under Piggot at the time) had interviewed those present at Mannequin’s first attack on Skitter, they would have found out what Skitter had done and at least have made note. Seeing as there were casualties that ended up being taken to the morgue or hospital after the encounter, the PRT would have been able to debrief them offsite. Piggot was smart enough to have at least drawn up a report on the incident. So, it’s almost certain that the PRT had at least some intelligence to make them think “maybe assuming a person is surrounded by an impervious shell/field isn’t a good idea”.

            Honestly, the PRT’s failures can be more attributed to hubris and incompetence than the Undersiders’ skill. If they ever got someone in there with a level head and actual leadership and competence, the PRT might actually be somewhat threatening.

  28. Very interesting chapter and a good showing of some of the personal fallout that revealing Skitter’s identity will have. I mean who would of thought that removing access to a normal stable social life would have negative mental repercussions on a potentially unbalanced villain? Certainly not the PRT!

    And I don’t consider her actions to be thuggish. It truly was the minimal response she could take as she couldn’t afford to do nothing. She could have fully revealed pretty much all of the heroes personal identities with Tattletale’s help, or the PRT’s dirty secrets. She doesn’t even hurt the Director’s wife, even though they brought her father into this mess first and continued to threaten him. I think that was the point of that last bit, saying to both the PRT and herself that she’s still better then them.

    Oh and Director Tagg should be glad Skitter considers this a game. She waged war against the S9 and look at the damage she did then. If she was waging war I imagine that most of the heroes in the city would have died tonight. And a good portion of the PRT’s basic people. So go ahead Director, push the team that has regularly gone up against S-Class threats and not only survived but won. I’m sure it won’t lead to your messy destruction.

  29. Come on guys. Skitter isn’t going Dark Side – she’s enforcing the Geneva convention. You know, the whole “a lawful combatant wears a uniform” and “no war on civilians” and “no military actions against one’s own country” and “if you violate this, we round you up and briefly try you for war crimes before executing you” thingy.

    The PRT is not waging war right now. It is waging an unlawful war, performing major war crimes in the process – at least as far as war crimes are defined in international law. A policing force cannot wage war, period. A military force could – but they can’t also be a policing force unless someone declares martial law.

    • Yeah, Skitter is a big proponent of staying nice and civilized, what with how she’s set herself up as an unlawful dictator who enforces the law with violence and maintains her power with threats.

      Not to mention she doesn’t respect her people’s right to privacy and routinely performs illegal searches without warrants for (admittedly illegal) stuff like weapons and whatever.

      And they wonder why that one guy in the online interlude thought Skitter’s territory was too creepy to stay in.

      • Yes she really is. As long as you don’t kick the hive (so to speak) she’s downright polite and reasonable. Also don’t kid yourself, that’s how every government that has existed, does exist or will ever exist maintains their power. The law is a complicated way to say that if you do something we don’t like you will be hurt.
        Eventually most governments start to allow the people living in their territory some semblance of control over what those things are. Not seeing much of that from any one in this party.

        She can’t really be blamed for that given that it’s as natural to her as breathing. This is like holding a guy with permanent ‘see through walls’ to such a standard.

        • Except nowadays, we kind of expect a government to “punish” criminals with imprisonment and therapy and rehabilitation, not torture. (Ok, I might be a bit optimistic here. SOME people expect it. Hopefully. Maybe? Goddamnit, Real Life governments, you’re not supposed to wreck my point.) Also stuff like the separation of state and judiciary, etc.

          No matter how benevolent she is, Skitter’s territory is a police state where you never know when you might be under surveillance and where infractions are brutally punished, and where all the power is consolidated in a single person’s hands. Sure, she’s VERY effective at stopping crime, but does that make it okay? Because from where I’m standing, living there is pretty much sacrificing freedom for security, and I’m sure all the dutiful and patriotic Americans in attendance know what Ben Franklin had to say about that.

          Yes, Skitter does good, helps and protects people. Yes, she’s certainly more moral than Cauldron. But bringing up the Geneva convention while ignoring how many crimes she has under her belt? There’s such a thing as whitewashing her actions too much. I doubt Skitter would fare well if she was judged by the United Nations.

          And isn’t it said somewhere that she actively sends out bugs to search people’s belongings and make sure her people are the only ones with weapons? I might be misremembering.

          • She hasn’t committed that many crimes, in all honesty- Unless you count each individual officer of the PRT who has tried to fight her and been swarmed as a single case of assault, but that’s playing the books, especially when they would do far worse to her than just cause superficial damage- Namely, ending her life. Sure they may not do it directly, ie execution, but they would end it all the same. And the government certainly has been dropping the ball every step of the way along her path; Looking the other way when Sophia was involved, deliberately giving them a light sentencing when it was finally forced into the open, Armsmaster alienating her from day one and treating her like dog crap he stepped in- A hero, and that’s how he treats someone able to take down *Lung* on her very first night? Someone offering an inside job on the most dangerous local team of supervillains? And lets not get started on how they’ve treated her at every opportunity when she has played fair and tried to get their help/helped them with a massive threat. She does the right thing consistantly and gets slammed for it, simply because of who she associates with. And now, breaking the rules and being massively stupid at the same time by effectively killing Taylor, leaving only Skitter. Prejudice, disrespect, being treated as less than a person- You really think a government that fails this badly at treating ONE person deserves to exist? Deserves respect? It deserves to fall.

            As for her territory: No peddling drugs, no assaulting people. Typical citizens don’t do those things. Show respect, get respect. Live and let live. She has fought off armed invasions of her area to protect civilians, to the point of FIGHTING OFF MANNEQUIN IN A FISTFIGHT to protect her people. The only way you’re going to cause an infraction is if you decide to beat someone up or sell drugs and show no respect. Don’t be a dumbshit, in other words.

          • Skitter’s territory is a dictatorship. That is completely true. Dictatorships aren’t necessarily bad. They usually are because most people can’t handle getting absolute power and start to abuse the crap of it. The other problem is the matter of succession.

            Skitter seems to be a classic example of a benevolent Dictator. Her people don’t have any political freedoms. They get no input on laws, punishments, or who leads them. They have plenty of personal freedoms and the laws are clearly laid out and enforced. There also isn’t anything preventing someone from leaving her territory whenever they want. Also her efforts have made her territory the safest and most prosperous in the city. Which is another point to her being a dictator, they tend to be efficient, for better or worse.

  30. “We’re giving you a promotion. A full Directorship in a very active city with key strategic interests in place we need secured.”

    “If it is two words and the last one rhymes with ‘pay’ I’m in.”

    …Seriously, I think that they’re going to the on-line applications to the PRT to find someone to run the organization in Brockton Bay. Because the Internet never lies, right?

    P.G. : “If I determine the enemy’s disposition of forces while I have no perceptible form, I can concentrate my forces while the enemy is fragmented. The pinnacle of military deployment approaches the formless: If it is formless, then even the deepest spy cannot discern it, nor the wise make plans against it.”

    “Put them in a spot where they have no place to go, and they will die before fleeing. If they are to die there, what can they not do? Warriors exert their full strength. When warriors are in great danger, then they have no fear. When there is nowhere to go they are firm, when they are deeply involved they stick to it. If they have no choice, they will fight.” –Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

    • It’s the five years bit I find most fascinating of all.

      I hope Tattletale got a recording of that one. The PRT’s newest tactic. Give up for half a decade and hope the enemy screws themselves over in that time frame.

      • I believe the rhyme that you’re looking for here is “bay,”as in Brockton Bay. This spot would be a godsend for the ambitious, because if someone were able to stop the notorious criminal gang overrunning the city, that person would probably enjoy muchos kudos.

          • …You people make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, knowing such great series, characters, and other works of art. You, however, are the very VERY first to ever reference from where I got the inspiration for my screen name. You get a tray of peanut butter and jam cookies (Peanut butter cookies with a thumbful of (my personal choice is usually raspberry) jam dolloped into the center).

  31. You know they don’t have to damage prt property or hit any heros in retaliation.
    They could kidnap director and person right under him, to get information. They can drain his bank accounts and even hire a type of hacker to make life in Brockton Bay impossible. Or she could let imp, regent and tattletale have fun with the co’s until they leave the country.

  32. Naah. Best thing to do would be to just vanish him some Tuesday night while he’s home sleeping with his wife. No news, no fuss, no taking credit/blame, no clues left. To paraphrase some pretty scary guy “the PRT won’t think to look for his corpse on Neptune”.

    (or in this case, in some alternate reality or in the stomach of bugs)

    • Well at this point, Tagg is probably paranoid as hell about his security considering what happened to the last guys.

      • Yeah, all that security and a PRT building full of capes and non-capes trained in taking down other capes couldnt stop bitch from wrecking his assets, and skitter from going straight to his office and attacking him. Really his only protection at this point is skitter’s reluctance to really deal with him. Eventually the PRT will have to instate someone the undersiders like, or they are going to run out of directors.

  33. Another PRT director, another psychopath with zero regard for law, morals or collateral damage.
    Kind of like Piggot, except with some of the nihilism swapped for hostility.

    In fact, it seems to me Coil was out of place as a PRT director because even though he was a psychopathic villain just like the rest, he was actually trying to do some good for the city.

    • It’s interesting how accepting the lesser evil is totally okay and acceptable if it means the heroes should be lenient with Skitter (didn’t arc 20 start with her torturing a bunch of thugs to consolidate her reign of terror?) and someone who doesn’t do that is an asshole, but it is DEFINITELY not okay when dealing with Cauldron/PRT and compromise is a sign of weak principles.

      Not saying it’s wrong. Just interesting.

      • Skitter is a villain. She is expected to have no regard for the law as she is an outlaw. By definition she does not follow the law.

        The PRT is the organization tasked with enforcing the law. They are part of the system. They have no regard for those laws and even break worse rules than Skitter ever did.

        They are inherently worse because they are tasked with upholding those laws and instead hypocritically uphold them only for people who aren’t them. This makes them little better in practice than some Asian dictator publicly hating on the immoral West while enjoying fine Western liquor and pornography. Given what we know of their corruption, how do we know they haven’t already done everything Skitter has ever done and then covered it up because of and with good PR?

        • Precisely.

          If the people who enforce the law also break it all the time, they’ve become little more than a particularly well-armed and well-financed gang.

      • Firstly it’s hypocrisy.

        Secondly Skitter isn’t anything close to Cauldron’s level of evil. There’s a difference between making peace with someone who can be violent but is ultimately quite moral (they are outright relying on them not being willing to kill at this point) and handing the reigns to people who commit crimes against humanity and refuse to tell anyone their real goal.

        Also Skitter has screwed up much less.

        • It amuses me that you are claiming that Skitter is ultimately moral this far into the story. Just because she is good in comparison to people like the Teeth that doesn’t make her willingness to torture people or threaten to kill to change governmental policy into something that is moral. Taylor tumbled down the slippery slope to save Dinah quite some time ago.

          • She is most certainly still ethical and moral. Certainly she is no paragon of virtue, able to not harm any of those who work for those in the position of being truly evil within the story as we see it so far, but she still follows a set of principles of moral conduct.

            Coil was irredeemably evil, willing to use and discard anyone and everyone to get his way, break his oaths multiple times, keep a little girl in a situation where she was constantly getting drugged to the point of addiction so he could keep her managable, and otherwise be a general rat bastard. Her morals refused to allow such a being to continue to exist because of how many times he broke her ethics; he betrayed her and her family and her friends over and over again. Thus, he was killed.

            She has not killed a SINGLE other person. She has maimed and injured those who regenerate, and so are capable of healing the damage (namely, Lung on the first count by accident the second on purpose to shut him down), and otherwise only used enough force to disable her targets. Even now, when attacking, she holds back on the venom that would cause potential deaths or grievous injury. She sticks to her mores.

          • Your standards for morality baffle me.

            You require absolute perfection in line with your own ideals for Taylor. However the PRT are allowed to use ends -> means methodology as much as they like without upsetting you.

          • mc2rpg: What would you suggest Skitter do, instead, to reach the highest feasible apex of morality? How would you have handled things in her position? I’m not criticizing, I’m genuinely curious.

      • Interesting? Definitely.
        However there’s a few important points at play here:
        1) As PG already said, claiming to be the good guy sets the bar higher. A lot higher.
        2) Lesser evil my hairy rump. Sure, Taylor’s a villain and should go to jail, but she’s not a mass murderer with rapidly climbing body count or anything. Therefore catching her shouldn’t be prioritized high enough to risk civilian casualties or undermine the co-operation in Endbringer scenarios.

        And frankly, I think there’s something pretty badly askew when supposed law-enforcers base their strategy on the villains not being willing to stoop to their level. Or maybe Tagg just really hates his daughters.

    • I’m curious why she thinks a guy like that would decide not to be messing with Dinah since he doesn’t care about little things like “laws” or “rules” anyway.

      • Because Dinah seems similar enough to his daughters that she doesn’t trip his “RAR SMASH KILL” instincts and therefore being nice to her is one of the lies that helps him sleep at night.

      • …you’re right — I could absolutely see Tagg applying the metaphorical corkscrews to compel Dinah to provide precognitive assistance. Heck, Dinah might be cooperating precisely to prevent Tagg from doing whatever he would do to force her to.

    • Dinah can use the power for herself, maybe she saw that volunteering the information led to a more favourable outcome in another area. Maybe it keeps Skitter alive, maybe it gives her a better chance to save the situation when the world begins to end.

    • I’m guessing Dinah is manipulating Skitter into doing something important or trying to prepare Skitter in some way.

      Or trying to eliminate the PRT. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dinah lied about the numbers on their success of actually capturing Skitter.

  34. I hope she had a voice recorder on her, considering this was a PR stunt and he said quite a lot of stupid stuff.

    People never bother to record their conversations where the villains confess though T___T

    • Piggot was kind of a bitch but she wasn’t a horrible director. Of course I might just think that because her successor was a supervillain and his successor is apparently clinically retarded.

      • I don’t think you have to compare her to anyone to make her look competent — look at the way she used her knowledge of Tattletale’s access and Coil’s mercenaries to perform counterintelligence activities. She was completely callous about capes in general — unperturbed by the thought of firebombing the Undersiders and Travelers even when they were helping against an S-class threat, indifferent to the idea that the Wards should receive therapy even in the wake of Leviathan — but even knowing that she was given the job as a sinecure she did it well.

  35. Awesome! The Director Tagg had better think twice about messing with Taylors dad. As Grey said I hope Taylor recorded this. It’d be perfect to give to the news. ‘PRT harassing Mr. Hebert? Find out why Director Tagg seems to be breaking all the rules between Capes.’

    Can’t wait till the next update. I see the Fallen getting lots of bugs in their soup, also I see one of the Undersiders getting hurt in one of the ‘Blitzkrieg’ attacks. Maybe even seriously hurt.

  36. I was surprised not just by them attacking the headquarters and rolling about four full-fledged superheroes to do it, but by what they didn’t do.

    See, if I was in their position and I wanted to make the PRT’s position in Brockton Bay even more untenable than it is? I’d kidnap the heroes and Director Tagg. And then I’d leave them in a room with Regent for about three hours, with him occasionally exercising his power. Then I’d let them go. Maybe call the news services and have them take some pictures, show the Undersiders being merciful.

    Bam. As far as the PRT is concerned, that’s four heroes and a director that are now security risks so long as they stay in Brockton Bay. It neutralizes them as a threat while still leaving the PRT as a whole intact enough to do its job and fight the Endbringers.

    Alternatively, if you do need the heroes, then just kidnap Tagg. It’s his policies that did this, after all, and once he’s gone the new guy will think twice before crossing you..

    Besides, at this point being kidnapped by the Undersiders is practically a right of passage for Directors assigned to Brockton Bay.

      • I can see Regent giving out a T-Shirt for kidnappings.

        But then I continue to daydream about Imp doing stuff like stealing one out each pair of socks. Or copying someone’s handwriting and leaving them notes from themselves they never wrote, messing up their diaries and planners. Or maybe just moving in to their house for a couple weeks…months…just plain not leaving before them.

        • “Girls Gone Regent!”

          Actually, Regent would be a great excuse. “Mom, I was going to stay home and study for my big exam, but next thing I know Regent made me go to a wild rave where I met this girl named Rika and tried to recreate the Serenade short from The Lorax.”

  37. Primarily directed at Packbat and Psycho Gecko: What do we know about Doctor Mother? Interlude 15 indicates that she is a black woman, with long hair. Anything else?

    • Nothing else, I don’t think. I’d have to re-read some interludes though. I know she was there for Alexandria’s was ‘made’, and I think Battery too. Could be wrong…..Oh and I think she’s either the leader of Cauldron or in the higher echelon of their organization.

      • I think Legend’s interlude makes it pretty clear that she’s in charge. And yes, she was present for both Alexandria and Battery taking their doses.

      • Yes, there’s just not a lot on her yet, except that she’s got Contessa as a bodyguard and Alexandria’s her bitch, along with a portal opener and the super accountant.

        I got the sense that she was claiming to not be in charge drom Battery’s interlude, but I haven’t reread it since. With years gone by, she might have even taken charge since then, though she struck me as more of a pro than to pull that.

        Highest rung on the ladder we’ve seen.

    • “Doctor Mother” is tagged in three chapters: Interlude 12.5, Interlude 14.5, and Interlude 15 (Donation Bonus #3) — Battery’s, Legend’s, and Alexandria’s.

      In terms of physical description I found the following:

      In 12.5 (~2005, if I added up the years correctly):

      “Leaving? After coming all this way?” The voice was female, rich with hints of a French accent, but the English was probably better than her own.

      She turned, then stepped a few feet in front of her car to look inside the barn.

      A woman stood there, dark-skinned, with her hair cut into a short style that was more utilitarian than stylish. She wore a doctor’s lab coat and held a white plastic clipboard with both hands.

      In 14.5 (2011):

      The Doctor: dark-skinned, hair tied into a prim bun with chopsticks stuck through it, wearing a short white dress beneath a white lab coat.

      (Also in 14.5: the ‘end of the world’ is suggested to be in twenty-three years. This is the same time Accord said in Interlude 20. I thought at the time it was a measure of how long his plans would take to reach fruition, but now it looks like it’s a time limit.)

      In 15 (1986):

      A black woman with long hair in a doctor’s get-up was messing with the IV bag.

      Details? Not many. She’s at least a few years older than Alexandria, possibly not yet graying.

      • Thanks, Bat! I figured that was all we had available, and all I could find tagged for her as well, that didn’t involve just talking (mostly lying).

  38. You know, if the Undersiders wanted to be rid of Tagg, they could just choose to make him an utter liability to the Protectorate. Just let Regent take control of him for a while, have fun, and then let him go. Since Regent can assume control any time he wants after that, the Protectorate would have no choice but to get rid of Tagg.

  39. If there’s a theme I’ve picked up on in Worm, it’s one of asymmetric power relations, and the (mis)use of them. Right from the get-go, Taylor & her bullies, Taylor & the school administration, and even Taylor and her father (where there wasn’t misuse, but which helped inform some of the other relationships).

    Likewise, things like Coil & the Undersiders, the AAB and everybody, the nature of the Birdcage, Dragon’s limitations, the true nature of the PRT as a tool of Alexandria & Cauldron — it all ends up commenting on the themes of power and authority and relative powerlessness.

    And now we have Tagg, who is a thug calling a thug a thug. You have the PRT’s shifting moral authority revealing more and more its brutal thuggish underbelly.

    And you have Taylor, no longer simply a bullied HS student now suddenly Public Enemy #1 AND criminal mastermind/ruler of the (local) underworld.

    Is she making the best choices? Probably not. But Wildbow is a good enough writer that he’s actually using the reversal of situation to further explore the theme, not just turning it into Revenge Porn, or making out like Taylor is somehow instantly more perfect in how she excercises her authority than anybody else who has had it in the story so far.

    Well done, Wildbow!

    • Neat analysis there.

      The title of this arc fits in there as well. Imago is the final stage of a metamorphosis. Is warlord Skitter the adult form of Taylor though? Skitter represents power, where Taylor was characterized by vulnerability.

      The previous chapter gave us a shift in the power balance within our protagonist, vulnerability being cast off (the loss of being “Taylor” anymore) with only power remaining. That’s not a terribly healthy way to live, and we’re seeing that right away in this chapter as she heads down a path that’s darker than even the rest of the Undersiders are comfortable with walking. If that’s her “adult form” though, where else can she go?

      Maybe nowhere, but there is Taylor’s line that “Skitter” never really fit her. She doesn’t know what other name she would want to be called yet, but it does speak to Skitter being the larval stage of what she’s ultimately going to become.

      • Well I am curious what her adult form is. Despite her darker place, I don’t think Taylor will change too much. She is more comfortable with violence now, and is probably willing to kill other villains to protect herself/others, but she still doesn’t like to hurt people. In terms of changing I would like to see her throw a press conference/give an interview. Give her side of the story, and let the public know some of the PRT’s dirty secrets and let them decide if they’re on the side of angels. There is always a 2nd trigger event too, though chances are low if Noelle’s stomach didn’t do it. Looking at her trigger event, I don’t think claustrophobia was too big a part of it. It was the fact that no one would help her, that the school failed to help her, and just the injustice she probably felt toward the world. Now the authorities are blatantly taking advantage of the fact that she doesn’t like to hurt people and has a moral code, and still claim the moral high ground despite all the things they have done/cauldron. If something happens to her dad due to it, I can see that same anger/despair at how ugly the world is and she has her 2nd trigger and then has two choices. She can say fuck it, the world is going to treat me like his despite the things I have done and the fact I play by the rules, well let them have a monster. Or she can decide to truly stay on the moral side no matter what the consequences, despite all the crap she goes through.

  40. The thing about this chapter that stood out most to me (besides the title and how hurt Taylor seems) is the shifting relationships within the Undersiders. Since the beginning Lisa has been on Taylors side, with Brian coming in at a close second, with Alec seeming ambivalent but ultimately supportive, Aisha being civil but wary (regarding her brothers feelings), and Rachel fluctuating between outright hostility and cool respect. But in this chapter (probably because I am currently in the Parasite arc during my rereading) it highlights how much that has shifted along with Taylors position and feelings;
    – Alec seems to be coming into a right-hand man status who genuinely seems to care about her as a friend and teammate, something that was first explored with this line “Says the person who tried to slit my teammate’s throat,” Regent spoke. (Parasite 10.1)
    – Aisha stopped antagonizing Taylor as a whole and has grown into her own as a mature (relatively speaking) member of the Undersiders who also holds some compassion for its other members. I believe on the TVTropes for Worm, there was an entry for Band of Brothers, and this is reflected in how she initially was petulant, annoying, and really only relevant for her ability. Now, she actually has some presence both within the group and without (she was referenced in the previous arc with defending civilians from gangs)
    – Rachel, to keep this brief, has been willing to follow wherever Taylor leads as of late. Keeping in mind her whole canine-mindset, she appears to have wholeheartedly accepted Taylor as her alpha and has been looking after her the best she can.

    Basically, I see those three backing up a new, more dangerous, less merciful Skitter and possibly causing increasing friction with the other three members. WMG dictates that I also say that its possible the two groups will have a schism and maybe even a fight.

    tl;dr I love the changes the Undersiders have undergone as they have fought, becoming more family than just a ragtag bunch of misfits, even if that means that the status quo will be upset within their group.

  41. Well now.

    Taylor was right. The strike against PRT headquarters was the mildest form of punishment she could scrape up.

    And she got a chance to talk with Tagg, see who she was dealing with. Hoo boy… “Strong man, making hard choices! My way Semper Fi Do or Die! Rah!” Precisely the worst possible person for the PRT to put in here. I halfway wonder if it’s not deliberate… Cauldron pulling a Machiavelli ploy, to make the handoff of the city to Taylor a bit easier.

    True, he rattled her a bit, but not so much that he scored a victory there. No victories there. And she kept composure well enough that nothing was lost.

    Glad Lisa went with, too. She made the right call there, was the best person to reign Taylor in, keep her together.

    Now. Now Taylor has to think above the short term. Now, if this arc is to live up to its name, she’s going to have to choose a new goal beyond mere survival. She’s going to have to sit down and figure out what she WANTS, and how to get it. And then how to hold on to it, make it sustainable.

    There’s one path to winning here that I can see, and Accord saw it too. If she can get the city on her side, drive the PRT to break more and more of its rules, show that the heroes are no better than the Undersiders and in many cases often worse, then she can turn this thing around.

    Of course, things are going to get tougher before it’s all done. Gonna be darker, and I honestly don’t know if Danny will survive the arc.

    I look forward to seeing how this one goes!

    • As part of the getting the city on their side, the undersiders should pull a coil and try covertly replacing the directors in the bay’s PRT branch with their own people, perhaps get tattletale elected mayor.

  42. Also, this line was unclear:
    As with Dovetail, I’d managed to make enough progress that she was more or less out of the fight.

    By *she* I assume you meant Sere, so yeah, sexchange

    • Also also, Triumph is mentioned but isnt tagged and nothing happens to or with him. Add a line indicated both he and Sere were tied up, mayhaps? (Pardon any pretentious soundingness, totally unintentional)

      • From what i’ve noticed, names aren’t tagged unless they actually make an appearance. Menioned offhandedly by name as being in the area but nothing happens with him = not tagged, so people looking for Triumph references aren’t stuck looking at every page his name is spoken/thought.

        • Which would make a lot of sense, but Sere is tagged and is said to have been in the same area as Triumph and had just as much influence in this particular chapter (read: none)

          Also, sometimes capes have been mentioned with no appearance and have been tagged; Im specifically remembering the end of Extermination, where Lisa discusses Coil with Taylor and his name is tagged even though he isnt even around

          • Sere was more than mentioned, he was dealt with. His powers were referenced, and how he was dealt with was referenced. Unless my tired eyes are skipping something, she didn’t do jack all to Triumph, from what I can see- just noted he was there in the area.

            In the case of Coil, if he’s being discussed- focussed on- then it’s relevant and tagged.

  43. I’m kinda hoping this isn’t Taylor’s final response to the PRT and Protectorate, just the logical one she needs to get on the news, to retain respect and avoid Brockton Bay getting dogpiled by villains who smell blood. I feel like she could do so much more to destroy their ability to function, drive them out even, just by going after their equipment alone. Damned if this affront, jumping her in school and unmasking her publicly, doesn’t cry out for answer.. and I don’t feel like roughing up the PRT Director and employees really covered even a tenth of it.

    Tagg wasn’t terribly impressive, came off with a serious case of small man syndrome. He says there’s a war on, well sure, it’s his war for relevance, trying to keep everyone believing that people like him deserve their authority. Unlike Piggot, who was at least more-or-less competent, he thought nothing of authorizing a confrontation without context, without even knowing where the fight would be, what the potential collateral damage could be. If Tagg comes to a bad end, I don’t think anyone’s gonna shed a tear.

    I’m looking forward to the interlude, have to imagine there’s a lot of very large talk at the water coolers across the board.

      • Yeah, he really seems like he’s been set up to lose. There are places where a hard-liner would be perfect, I think Brockton Bay is pretty much the opposite. Alexandria can’t really think that this is a winning move for the PRT. I think she’s written off the PRT, she said as much in her interlude, and is now burning them down on the way out.

    • That’s the worst of it really, it was such a completely senseless move.

      The PRT gained absolutely nothing from outing Taylor. Instead they lost a great deal.

      In short, this was pure spite. Admittedly if the gamble had paid off it might have been slightly better (still terrible but easier to spin, and damn if I don’t want to see Skitter in custody. Maybe with a dash of Joker-style complete relaxation with it. Just quietly waiting for the break out, chatting and getting beat up) for them but given what they risked…just not worth it.

      And yeah, not knowing where it was happening made this a blank check command moment. I’ve known soldiers who really did tell stories about that kind of incompetent lunacy.

      She could have been visiting her sick grandmother in hospital. She could have been in a factory full of high explosives. She could have been in her base/ORPHANAGE!!! That last one would have played incredibly:

      “Tonight at nine, PRT slaughters orphaned children. Local girl Taylor Hebert tried to defend them from the sudden attack but could not succeed alone against their full numbers. However intervention of furious locals turned the tide and now all that’s left is to pick up the shattered fragments of Timmy’s skull.”

      • Yes, a wake up call, preferably in the morning with the sun peeking in to caress the tousled sheets of the bed they share, the passion of the night before now faded into a loving glow as they bask in the warmth of their long-awaited union with that fire waiting just beneath the surface to be stoked once more.

  44. You know, I’ve been wondering why Tagg hasn’t revealed Tattletale’s identity either. Piggot figured it out several arcs ago and Tagg seems petty enough to reveal it even though they wouldn’t benefit as much from it as revealing Taylor’s identity.

    The only reason I can think of is that Piggot never put the information in the system and hates Tagg as much as we do so she decided not to share.

    • Tagg didn’t reveal Skitter’s identity for spite. Tagg revealed Skitter’s identity because it was supposed to maximize her probability of capture.

      Revealing Tattletale’s identity? That doesn’t help him at all. It’s not that he wants to protect it, it’s that he doesn’t actually care, and not caring in this case works out in Tattle’s favor.

      • It feels very much like it was for spite, though. Revealing who she is in civilian garb just puts her- and by result, them- between a rock and a hard place. She has nothing to lose anymore. If they’d discussed things reasonably like she has shown to want to do EVERY SINGLE TIME THEY TALK, then maybe this wouldn’t have happened. It feels very much like a “Father knows best” situation where the gov’t is the ‘dad’ figure and Taylor the ‘wayward child’ figure. Except the gov’t has no clue what it’s doing but panic-reacting and the ‘child’ knows all too well what’s best and is getting forced down the worst paths each time because of having to react to really horrible stuff.

        • Not disputing your characterization of Tagg’s attitude, but in 20.5 Taylor specifically asked Dragon and Defiant “Why out me in front of everyone?” and the reply was “A precog told us it was our best option for bringing you into custody.”

          • Or that’s what she was told by Tagg, or whomever she was communicating with on Tagg’s payroll, that was acting as a relay between Dragon and him.

      • I wouldn’t exactly say it doesn’t help him at all. Tagg says he’s a scrapper, everything’s fine in his books if he can at least get a punch in there. Revealing Tattletale’s identity shows the public that yes, the PRT are in fact still fighting.

        Though I suppose he could try and use that strategy after this debacle.

    • Im thinking, what if Tagg does decide to escalate this situation? He reveals exactly who (at least those he knows) the Undersiders are in their civilian identities. We know they at least know who Lisa and Alec are, and for all of their uncaringness, Alec did reveal that he harbors a minor fear of Heartbreaker paying him a visit. Possible plot hint? Either way, its cool to think about in a time where there are no /obvious/ Big Bads for this arc cycle.

      • Well thats discounting the leaders of the three villain groups, who are obvious enough, but I dont think the Accord route is happening anytime soon, Valefor and Eligos might be tough, but I dont doubt the Undersiders under Skitter, and Butcher and the Teeth might be a war on its own, but Butcher doesnt have that *umph* factor to hold a decent amount of expectation and fear as a Big Bad.

      • Long time follower, first time commenter…

        Anyway, I can’t see Tagg retaliating in any meaningful way. Odds are the Undersiders battened down the hatches the instance the utter SNAFU that was the school attack hit the news or Skitter made a phonecall, which probably meant moving any significant others or relatives to safehouses and the like, or going off the grid.

        Not to mention, the higher ups are probably going to be suppressing the urge to reassign him to Antartica for this screwup, especially seeing how the PR department is probably getting ready to use Tagg’s picture for target practice. I mean, first a attack on a school, then they get curb stomped at their own HQ? Not going to do any wonders for morale, or for their image, I’d be surprised if Ms. Militia didn’t have some choice words for him…

        Then we have his attitude. Seeing how he was in the Army, I’m guessing he never really understood the concept of “Rules of Engagement”, or “Unacceptable casulties”… I mean, this could’ve very easily been a bloodbath, if they weren’t holding back, well, the PRT and capes would’ve been crippled, badly. Which while it’d prove his point, would also show that the Undersiders aren’t to be screwed with.

        And then there’s his choice to leak it. Dinah suggesting it or not, that’s given them nothing but headache and nightmares. All it’s done is burn what little goodwill they had, and alienate every villain in the tri county area, if not further. It’s like Machivelli said “Upon this, one has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.” Or in layman’s terms, if you avenge someone, make sure the person you’re attacking is incapable of retaliating.

        • Welcome, dear militarily-minded newcomer, to the comments section, where we put the sis anal in analysis. Y, you ask? Because we hear she gets off on wordplay. If you enjoy a good time, I suggest midnight, if you’re looking for debate, try the end of a fishing hook, and if you’re in denial about how far I can take these, then you should know I can go straight up Mediterranean on your ass. Like an Athenian.

          I’m Psycho Gecko, and like that drunken binge after exams when a friend roped you into trying a club you’ve never heard of, I’m the guy you’ll either regret knowing or find slimy, yet satisfying. Lion King aside, let me be a truthful king Gecko and say that we’re always glad to have another person along who just can’t get Worm. A natural enough consequence of some of the beef they sell at fast food places, as well as for reading this amazing story we all enjoy.

  45. The issue with Tagg, I think, isn’t just that he’s a thug.

    It’s that he’s a stupid thug.

    And he apparently forgot that Taylor’s dad is a well-known and respected figure in the local dockworker’s union, and therefore can thug back just as hard if needs be.

    I also can’t see him getting along well with any of the local heroes, and the only one who might theoretically be willing to put up with his attitude (Assault) is also going to hate him because there’s no way Tagg treats a former villain with anything even remotely resembling respect.

    He’s pretty much the Wormverse equivalent of the Pointy-Haired Boss. In fact, I think I’ll just call him PHB from now on. If Dilbert exists in the Wormverse, his employees probably already call him that when they don’t think he’s listening.

    On a different subject, I hope that Dragon comes out publicly as an AI soon, because Skitter’s making some very incorrect assumptions about her thanks to not knowing that vital detail.

    • His attitude of ‘We’re right, thus, anything we do will ultimately be justified by history’ definitely seems pretty questionable.

      Do we have a list of the current heroes in Brockton Bay? Miss Militia… Well, I’d respect her a hell of a lot less if she doesn’t find this an affront. She seems like a Captain America sort, the kind who believes in the spirit of America, rather than the current administration.

      Clockblocker has shown clear willingness to argue with Skitter, and the argument- With a girl who is not interested in imposing her views, and while being very unfair in declaring ties- could only come up with a ‘two to one’ moral victory. I feel hope because of that. It feels as though he understands that the area he’s coming from isn’t entirely tenable, and that because of that, he may start to feel sympathy.

      I’m not sure who else is actually still a member of the hero’s team, though. But the heroes, by and large, aren’t stupid thugs. They may be a bit more secure in their righteousness than they deserve to be, but they got into this business because they wanted to help people. And they’ve worked alongside Skitter. Their greatest flaw at the moment is pride, feeling ashamed that a villain is doing more to be the hero than they are. But they’re going to have to start trusting her eventually, and it’ll be a glorious day when they do.

      Probably also deeply tragic, but glorious.

    • Weaponized mantis shrimp would get her a kill order.

      Of course, enforcing it would require that they get past the mantis shrimp first, so it might not matter.

      • Hasn’t stopped Skitter from using bugs before; Have a few tanks of water moved into place by crabs, then have the mantis shrimp wrapped up in spider silk and lifted to the target and either used until dead or done in strafing runs and returned to the water.

    • Oooh, like we were separated at birth. Still, Psycho Shrimp is a little lackluster of a name, and I have this feeling like a lawyer demon is circling me if I consider Psycho Mantis.

      The thing with the claws reminds me of the Pistol Shrimp, who pull the same trick, creating a pressurized bubble in the water that very temporarily becomes as hot as the sun. They’re not as flamboyant as Mantis Shrimp though.

  46. Why intimidate Tagg, when Tattletale can find the files? Take the juicy hard drives, crack them later at Tattletale’s leisure. Or sell them. Tagg is nothing but trouble, yet Taylor didn’t put a bullet in his head from his own gun. Foolish. Also, crippling their infrastructure would have been such a better attack. “It’s bugs in the system. No, really. They ate the insulation off and shortcircuited every vehicle, computer, tinker device, and camera in our headquarters.”

    Also of note, whoever takes down Butcher may well end up inheriting the powers. That just seems to paint a target on Butcher.

    • Not since it was established that if you werent a part of the Teeth, the voices would drive you mad; doesnt seem worth the trouble.

    • You really think Taylor ought to have killed Tagg?

      Even if you leave the moral issue aside, what good would it do? This is the third director that the undersiders have had to deal with, and none of the previous ones were any better. What makes you think that whoever they replace him with would be any more reasonable?

      • Piggy may have been a bigot, but she was smart. Tagg is just a dumb but sly brute. He sees value in PR, but only so it slanders his enemies and raises his name on high, instead of serving the people he’s meant to protect.

        • It also sends a stronger message. Fuck with an Undersiders’ identity or break the agreement, get put down.

          I don’t pretend that it is moral. It is, in my opinion, a stronger play, that would protect Taylor and many others. If her intent is to hit the suits calling the shots, then really hit them. Don’t just leave welts.

          It also makes the BB PRT Director position even less desirable. “So how long did my predecessor hold the job?” “Less than a week.” “Yeah, no, thanks.”

    • I believe they did in fact cripple their infrastructure. Bitch went to town outside destroying all their big vehicles, skitter went inside and bugged the place out. We know the bugs can cut through wiring, and that detail isnt very important to be included really, but it can be assumed to have happened.

      • Not to mention any emergeny medical supplies, foodstuffs, and survival gear they may have had in the building has just become contaminated. They also know that Skitter can use the bugs to eavesdrop if she pleases, so the PRT is going to have to fumigate the place extremely thoroughly. Bonus points if Taylor infested the barracks with bedbugs.

    • That does raise the question of why Tt decided to come along. I can understand if it was just for Taylor’s sake but out of all the Undersiders, i expect her to have an ulterior motive.

  47. Tagg’s right. In the long run, not many will remember the Undersiders’ brief reign, unless they rule for *years.* Even then, maybe not. And it’s clear that they don’t have a long-term plan. Plus, regarding Cauldron…you could argue that they’re “good” from a utilitarian perspective. How many have the Triumvirate alone saved, indirectly, fighting against Endbringers alone?

    I wonder if Skitter will kill Butcher, and that’s why she’s different when the apocalypse rolls around. That would actually be pretty cool.

    Shatterbird’s theme? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRa_rEEav2E

    • Here is a plot device. Rig it so Mrs General Tagg kills Butcher. That way when she starts hearing voices and having uncontrollable homicidal urges she will have more than coffee and donuts for the boys.

    • The Undersiders don’t have a long term plan? Sure they do, it’s called “survive till next week, then we’ll make a new plan”.

      Give them a few months of breathing room, like they might get in a couple of years if the world doesn’t actually end, and then investing in some long term goals becomes pretty reasonable.

      As for Cauldron/the Triumvirate? Even from a utilitarian perspective they’re looking pretty shaky. If the world needs more “good” parahumans, then the way they’re going about producing them seems pretty inefficient.

      I’d also like to see even a flashback where the non-Scion heroes actually drove off an Endbringer. So far the batting average for the world seems to 0.000 on that score. The Triumvirate keeps getting credit as being the ones that the world will collapse without, but all we’ve seen them do is buy time for the real problem solver to show up. As a note: Armsmaster and Skitter also managed to buy time, so, yeah, not seeing Alexandria being all that critical really.

  48. Here’s a thought. Tagg tries that ‘take them in for questioning’ thing with people in Skitter’s territory and Skitter steps in to defend her people from the PRT.

  49. Last night I had a dream that all of us readers and wildbow got together for some kind of Worm convention. Nobody wore nametags or identified with their commenter names so that we didn’t know who anybody was. We were mostly trying to figure out who wildbow and PG were.

    I figured out who wildbow was by finding the one person not arguing about the morality of the characters XD. Never did find PG though.

      • Also you were carrying a bag of ice. That may be me unconsciously stereotyping Canadians? If so, I apologize. I live in Texas, so I just assume that people who live much farther north really like cold things.

        Man, this really makes me want to have a Worm-Con or something. That would be so damn cool >.<

          • I actually wanna turn my air conditioning on; It’s too hot and the building I live in uses the old timey water heaters, so we either have them on full blast making the apartment too hot, or not on, making us freeze. -.-;

          • Nice ice baby, dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun. Give them the idea like that and the Canadians will try and blend in to the Southern U.S. by drinking Ice-T. Or even start flavoring their liquor on the rocks with some Vanilla Ice.

            But still, icy what you did there.

  50. There’s something I’m having a difficult time buying. Alexandria was the head of the PRT, and set it up specifically to blunt any damage between capes and the rest of the population. But… the PRT, it seems, is practically overwhelmed with bigots. How can this be? I’m not sure about this. If anyone else were in charge, I’d get it – but Alexandria is practically the essence of intelligent and observant, at least according to her description… and the PRT is her baby. There’s no way she could have overlooked this problem. What’s going on?

    • Honestly, I’m surprised that Tagg is the first person we see who acts like this. The PRT may have been led by and revolve around superheroes, but Tagg is exactly the kind of small-minded, self-important bureaucrat that tends to rise high in government organizations.

      Because they don’t care about doing the right thing, they’re better at bootlicking and backstabbing their way up the ladder while their peers are struggling to solve real issues. These are the guys who get people trying to make a difference fired so that they can take their office, who do things like run Guantanamo Bay and turn over POWs to foreign torturers so that they have extra bullet points on their resume.

      • This can’t be emphasized enough. Corporate/bureaucratic environments reward all manner of unethical behavior and tend to punish employees unwilling to give themselves a leg up by tearing their co-workers down.

        • ” Corporate/bureaucratic environments reward all manner of unethical behavior”

          No. No, they don’t. There are plenty of corrupt people in the world, but it is not the predominant trait of corporations or government entities.

          I’ve worked at fortune 500’s, and experienced a few small pieces of the government/military world,and the only universal constant for behavior between them was that they were all different from each other – a difference usually determined by the people in charge and the corporate culture. SOME rewarded bad behavior (a coke-snorting drill sergeant comes to mind…) while OTHERS rewarded honestly, and still others were blue and orange morality which doesn’t match up with any thorough definition of honest OR corrupt.

          The culture of the PRT higher ups seems to be one of clear bigotry. And it’s jarring. It doesn’t make sense. It should not be a given that this is true. There’s something else going on, here. That’s what I’m saying.

          • Is it possible that, in the Wormverse, veterans who can’t adjust to civilian life, rather than joining the Foreign Legion or PMCs in some random country, just go to the PRT instead? It’s a self-selecting pool of unstable individuals.

          • Actually, corporation environments DOES engender unethical behaviour, because of how people are promoted beyond their level of ability, rather than stay where they are most useful- It’s known as the Peter Principle. When you have incompetent people in the higher echelons of management, which is what any corporation will tend to- Not out of some concept of wanting to tear themselves down from the inside, but because competency is rewarded with a higher level position until the person having gotten the better position is not capable enough to continue getting a higher and better position.

            A good example is a superb engineer who is taken off the floor and put into the role of a supervisor, because he’s done such a good job- That requires a whole different set of responsibilities and capabilities within the management branch of talents, and many people who are raised up like that don’t have the experience or inherant ability to manage well- Even though they Engineer really well, in this example, they cannot manage and are seen as mediocre- And in fact would likely do far better if he was able to return to his old job than to continue as a supervisor. There are going to be those whose skillsets are optimal for supervisory positions- But they’ll prove to be good enough at their job that they, in turn, will end up getting promoted, until they eventually aren’t able to handle the work they are to do beyond a mediocre level and stop getting promotions. Thus, the entire business stack tends towards mediocrity. Certainly it won’t just go to shit all at once, but over time the current model of business is set up to move that way.

          • Executives have known about the Peter Principle for a loooong time. Let me throw a few other terms at you: Kaizen, Six Sigma, horizontal management structures (http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-04-27/why-there-are-no-bosses-at-valve), TQM…

            Just because something has an organization chart does not mean it’s prone to inefficiency, corruption or bigotry. DARPA is a fine example: a government agency that is not what anybody really thinks it is, is amazingly productive and is probably a good model for what a *real* PRT would look like: (http://www.amazon.com/Department-Mad-Scientists-Remaking-Artificial/dp/0062000659)

            Fact is, there’s a competitive structure between government agencies that tends to discourage blatant idiocy at higher levels. It also tends to discourage bigots and the corrupt. Not perfectly, but much better than the popular conception of things, as illustrated by these responses. So, I repeat: I find the bigotry and tactics of the PRT jarring and questionable, given that their leader was a hyperintelligent cape whose goal was to reduce friction btn. norms and capes, AND given that government agencies are NOT always inherently prone to collecting idiots of this nature – at least not in real life.

      • Small-minded, self-important bureaucrats may make for interesting literary adversaries, but IRL they are not statistically favored over open-minded and perceptive bureaucrats when promotions happen. This is a characterization device, not a fundamental law of employment.

    • Well, there’s the reason Alexandria *says* she setup the PRT, and then there’s her actual reasons. We’re privy to one, but the evidence we’re seeing points to the other being different in some way.

      Or, possibly, an organization such as the PRT is simply too big for someone like Alexandria to micromanage and with the level of power it deals with this is the best she was able to manage with the resources that were available.

  51. Rather, the word that left my mouth was a quiet, “Why?”

    His eyes studied me, as though he were making an assessment. His words were gruff, the gravelly burr of a long time smoker. He very deliberately set the gun down on the desk, then replied, “Because you are not the law. I am the law.”

    I paused, then pulled off my mask. I was sweating lightly, and my hair was damp around the hairline. The world was tinted slightly blue in a contrast to the coloring of my lenses. “It’s not that simple.”

    “Has to be. The ones at the top handle the compromising. They assess where the boundaries need to be broken down, which threats are grave enough. My job is to get the criminals off the streets and out of the cities. I am the law.”

    “You started a fight in a school. What are you, a 12 year old?”

    “Didn’t know it was a school until the capes were already landing,” he replied. “Had to choose, either we let you go, and you were keeping an eye out for trouble from then on, or we push the advantage. I AM THE LAW!”

    “Putting kids at risk?”

    “Dragon and Defiant both assured me you wouldn’t risk the students.”

    “Sure, go ahead, trust the people who were so right about catching me before. They know all about me, don’t they? You ever notice how I beat the motherfucking odds from a goddamn oracle?”

    Someone behind me screamed as a group of my hornets flew to him to deliver a series of stings across his face. Behind them flew several more hornets with an MP3 player that blasted “Flight of the Bumblebees”.

    “Barbaric,” Director Tagg said.

    “Ride of the Valkyries is overused. Besides, inflicting pain isn’t the point.”

    “Seem to be doing a good job of it. Almost as good a job as I am doing at BEING THE LAW.” he commented.

    “There are heroes on their way back from patrol, your guys called them in. But there’s also news teams on the way here. We called those guys in. They’ll find your employees covered in welts, every PRT van damaged or trashed. Your employees won’t be able to get any cars out of the parking lot, so they’ll have to walk, which will make for some photo opportunities. Maybe offer the women here a calendar deal. A handful of heroes will have full underwear. You can try running damage control, but some of it’s bound to hit the news.”

    “Uh huh, have I ever told you how I am-,” he said.

    “I couldn’t let you get off without a response from us,” I interrupted.
    “I suppose that makes sense.”

    “This was as mild as I could go,” I said. “I think you know that. I’m not looking to one-up you or perpetuate a feud. I’m doing what I have to, part of the game.”

    “Game? Little girl, this is a war,” his voice took on a hard edge.

    I stopped to contemplate that. Rachel was destroying the last containment van, and Tattletale was saying something to her about incoming heroes. I was low on time.

    “War? Huh, good god, y’all. What is it good for?” I said.

    “Absolutely everything. You can’t win forever, because I. Am. The. Law,” he said.

    I had a response to that. “This isn’t a war. In war, people can surrender and go back home. You, you little shit, decided to make this where I can’t surrender. You gave me no choice but death or life imprisonment. You want to know what’s next? What’s next is I order some dung beetles to crawl in there and get takeout, that’s what’s next.”

    He must have sensed he had some leverage there. “All of this goes someplace. Do you really see yourself making it five more years without being killed or put in prison?”

    “The world ends in two, bitch. Try me.”

    “I have. Bad publicity fades with time. So do welts and scabs. Five or ten years from now, provided the world makes it that long, nobody will remember anything except the fact that we fought back. Good publicity will overwrite the bad, carefully chosen words and some favors called in with people in the media will help whitewash any of our mistakes. We’re an institution.”

    “And like a lot of institutions, you’re full of crazy people with delusions of being great leaders in history.”

    “No. They didn’t pick me to head this city’s PRT division because I’m a winner, Ms. Taylor. Because I’m not. They picked me because I’m a scrapper. I’m a survivor. Sure, I wasn’t here in the city when all the bad shit went down. I was off patrolling the mean streets of Greenwich, Connecticut, taking down foursomes strapped with nines coming off the green. I’m the type that’s content to get the shit kicked out of me, so long as I give the other guy a bloody nose, like that time the old woman rushed the buffet at the country club. I’m a stubborn motherfucker, I won’t be intimidated, and I won’t give up, no matter how much the police, FBI, CIA, NSA, ATF, DEA, ASPCA, KFC, NCAA, EPA, ACLU, NAP, GOP, TVA, TNA, WWE, WWF, WCW, NAACP, army, navy, airforce, and the so-called ‘President of the United States’ want me to. The last few Directors in Brockton Bay were like syphilis that you treated with penicillin, but I’m here to stay like herpes.”

    “The last few Directors gave me the same speech. One of them did this job with one kidney because she was one of two people take on Nilbog and live. The other could split into two different universes for twice as many tries at me and was the other one to take on Nilbog and live. You’re his replacement. Good luck finding the body.”

    “I know. You want to fight this system? I’ll make sure it fights back.”

    “Jenny Craig is a system. Obesity is an epidemic.”

    “Not my style. I’m thinking more about pressure. I could pull your dad in for questioning every time you pull something, for example. Doesn’t matter where, doesn’t matter who it’s directed at. You or your team do anything that gets an iota of attention, I drag the man into the building, and grill him for a few hours at a time.”

    I felt a knot in my stomach. “Oh yeah, pull in a local labor leader whose daughter was bullied into becoming a villain. Talk about being a dumbass. How many times did your parents have to drop you on your head for you to become smart enough to read?”

    I was aware of Tattletale approaching me from behind. She leaned against the doorframe, arms folded.

    “It’s a war of attrition,” Tagg said. “I’ll find the cracks, I’ll wear down and break each of you. If you’re lucky, then five years from now they’ll remember your names, speaking them in the same breath as they talk about the kid villains who were dumb enough to think they could conquer a city. Soon enough, you’ll go the way of Genghis Khan. Some obscure, barely-known wannabe conqueror who tried to defeat China in the Boxer Rebellion. But you’ll notice, they still wear tighty whities in China. I! AM! THE! LAW!”

    “He’s playing you,” Tattletale murmured. “He knows he’s got you on a bad day. Best to just walk away. Remember, the Protectorate hasn’t had a good day against us yet.”

    I thought about asking him about Dinah, but there wasn’t a point. It was something he could use against me, and I already knew the answer.

    I approached the desk and turned around the photo frames. The second showed Tagg with his wife and two young women. A family portrait. Given the family’s looks, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a Picasso.

    “You have daughters,” I said.

    “Two, going to universities halfway across the world. Because I’m such a loyal, ooh rah, goddamn American.”

    “And you don’t feel an iota of remorse for hurting a father through his daughter?”

    “Not one,” he replied, staring me in the eye. “I look at you, and I don’t see a kid, I don’t see a misunderstood hero, a girl, a daughter or any of that. You’re a thug, Taylor Hebert.”

    A thug.

    His mindset was all ‘us versus them’. Good guys versus the bad where “good” was defined as the institution. Don’t let the smoking gun be a mushroom cloud, that kind of thing.

    It wasn’t much, but it served to confirm the conclusion I’d already come to. Dinah had volunteered the information. Whatever else Director Tagg was, he wasn’t the type to abuse a girl who’d been through what Dinah had. He was just the type to abuse a girl who’d been through everything I had, totally ignoring the fact that I’ve been picked on, tortured, beaten on, hit on, had crappy lesbian fanfiction written about me, and I went toe to toe with Leviathan, Jack Slash, Mannequin, and Echidna while he sat behind a desk somewhere using his service pistol as a fleshlite.

    “We should go,” Tattletale said. “Rachel’s downstairs with all her dogs, we can run before the reinforcements collapse in on us.”

    “Yeah,” I said. “Nearly done. You, back there. Are you Mrs. Tagg?”

    The woman stepped a little to one side, out from behind her husband. “I am.”

    “Visiting him for the night?”

    “Brought him and his men donuts and coffee. They’ve been working hard.”

    “Wow, some war here. What, they fly you in with the 82nd Airborne, give you a special posting with body armor? You at risk of being captured and raped by a bunch of medieval fundamentalists?,” I said. “And you stand by your husband? You buy this bullshit?”

    She set her jaw. “Yes. Absolutely.”

    I didn’t waste an instant. Every spare bug I had flowed into the room, leaving Director Tagg untouched, while the bugs flowed over the woman en masse. She screamed.

    He reached for his gun on the desk, and I pulled my hand back. The thread that I’d tied between the trigger guard and my finger yanked the weapon to me. I stopped it from falling off the desk by putting my hand on top of the weapon.

    Tagg was already reaching for a revolver at his ankle.

    “Stop,” I said.

    He did. Slowly, he straightened.

    “I’m illustrating a point. I had your gun right there, could have shot you, and rather than do the smart thing, you reached for an ankle gun. I could have shot you, but that would have gotten blood on my costume, and you don’t get blood on my costume, motherfucker, are you outside your mind?” I asked.

    My bugs drifted away from Mrs. Tagg. She was uninjured, without a welt or blemish, but with several penises drawn onto her face by bugs tugging along markers. She backed into the corner as the bugs loomed between her and her husband.

    “Not sure. Common sense doesn’t change my mind in the slightest. I am-!,” Tagg said.

    I didn’t respond. The swarm shifted locations and dogpiled him. Stubborn as he professed to be, he started screaming quickly enough. If the smell coming from his trousers was any indication, the dung beetles would feast tonight.

    • Funny. And really ilustrates some important points.
      But lets be realistic here, Taylor got an empty victory.
      Well, in her place I would walk by the Prostated Regular Teochrats everyday and destroy some of their machines.
      Bug their computers, destroy delicate parts of their cars. Clog the bathrooms …
      Just to make it expensive for the government to keep them working.

      • It actually crystalised a thought for me. Namely that Danny Hebert may be fragile when it comes to his family but professionally he’s still a labour spokesperson, one who stuck it out through the Bay’s worst times.

        In other words a) He probably has a fair bit of credit with the kind of people who will be appreciative of the Undersiders reinvigorating the city. and b) He’s unlikely to be all that phased by some police grilling. I got the impression that union situation has been pretty bad, for all we know he may have undergone that kind of thing before.

        • I imagine the interrogation would be more about building up a sense of intimacy, then exploiting it. You know, “Help us help your daughter,” (false) promises of leniency/amnesty, and so on.

        • His job is organizing labor in a city that’s pretty much post-Katrina New Orleans with superpowered white supremacists and serial killers. I have no problem whatsoever with believing that Danny, Kurt and their posse can be more hardcore than this desk jockey dickhead and his goon squad.

          I mean, shit. It’s barely out of the Slaughterhouse Nine rampage when they we’re slamming back beers before heading to yell at a town meeting. What makes Tagg think that people aren’t going to stir shit if he starts messing with them?

      • I’d rip the hard drives out of as many computers as possible. Good source of info, AND it’ll piss them off to no end.

      • I do these sometimes. People have generally like them, except for the one with the Travelers. The part about Sktter having crappy lesbian fanfiction has to do with other rewrites I’ve done. Which reminds me, I think think there was one heavy on the Pulp Fiction and Zero Wing that I need to hunt down. At least I know which phrases to check for.

        In fact, looking back at the first one of these I did, waaaaaay back with Legend’s speech before fighting Leviathan, that prompted Wildbow to say something about me having my own story.

    • we need a button to filter Psyco Gecko comments.

      I havent decided if its to show them, or hide them, but we really need a filter.

        • Oh god no, please dont wildbow, PG’s comments are hilarious.
          If you want to see PG’s comments, just use the find function on your browser.

          • What if he does do that and what we see is only an edited Psycho Gecko?

            The pure stuff may be too ruinous for sane people’s health.

        • It’s gotten so bad that sometimes the comments I post that don’t have any links in them will be held up to be approved.

          But psh, you know you love me. In like a strictly heterosexual, “Grunt just fell out of a hospital, climbed the Krogan memorial statue, lit a C-Sec aircar on fire, jacked the flaming cop car, and avoiding getting put in containment foam because he was on fire” kind of way.

  52. What I’m curious about is what Tagg is actually planning on doing to deal with the Undersiders, because well, sure threatening Danny sounds big and scary, but well, what exactly is it meant to do? Even if he did go through with the threat of bringing Danny in every time the Undersiders do something, well, all it does is waste his time, and if they do anything more than that they’ll cause a shitstorm.

    Thing is though, Tagg isn’t stupid, sure he took a gamble with targetting Skitter as Taylor, but he was taking advantage of a huge opportunity that he didn’t know would ever happen again, with Skitter being isolated from not only the rest of the Undersiders, but most likely a large amount of her bugs. When you add in the fact that a reliable preocog told him that they had an almost 100% chance of capturing her, it was the perfect start to his Directorship. Sure there would have been some bad PR about targetting her when she wasn’t Skitter, but it would have been easy to spin it so that she was attacking somebody/thing whilst she wasn’t in costume to be stealthy or something.

    The way I see it, the PRT probably has teams of profilers going over what they know about the Undersiders and are using the new information about Taylor to try to get inside her head to figure out how to take her down. Hell, even though they didn’t capture her, we’ve already seen how much it’s messed with her head, and when you add in the threat to Danny, things may start to fall apart for Skitter. Or it will just force her to become stronger to deal with the new problems, 50/50 :P.

      • Psycho Gecko puts on a vinyl version of the 1812 Overture, except that when it comes time for the guns to fire the first five times, each one coincides with an explosion at Mr. Rushmore replacing a face with Tattletale, Grue, Regent, and Skitter. Followed by everyone wondering who the younger girl is who got her mug blasted onto the mountain.

        A big cake is wheeled in and the next blasts coincide with first Scion, then Assault and Battery, and then Miss Militia all popping out of it each time Wildbow tries to go for the cake, being helplessly knocked away each time while going “Nuuuuu!”, leaving a much smaller cake behind.

        *boom boom!* Cut to the Statue of Liberty destroyed and the Simurgh standing there with a tiara on holding a torch. *na na na na na na na, boom boom!* Behemoth bursts out of the ground under the Eiffel tower while wearing a beret, destroying it. *na na na na na na na, boom!* Leviathan crashes through the Tower of London and grabs a human skull delicately, kneeling and raising it up as if to speak to Yorick.

        *Boom!* Hookwolf pulls himself out of the water, covered in hooked fish.
        *Boom!* Jack Slash preps and cuts them into sushi
        *Boom!* Bonesaw’s spiders bring out the trays of sushi

        The rest of the booms are concerned when they all rush to your birthday party, slipping on deflated cake and crashing into each other. Simurgh winds up on Behemoth’s shoulder, singing something about 15 Men on a Dead Man’s Chest, while Behemoth wears an eyepatch and Leviathan is left hobbling on a peg leg with a hook in place of one claw. Jack Slash steps on a rake, smacking him in the nose. Miss Militia accidentally shoots the punchbowl and gets knocked down as it flows out and is tripped over by a stumbling Jack Slash. Hookwolf accidentally activates a magnet, flying out fo the room. He’s soon joined by Assault, winding up in a compromising position. Battery starts throwing lit birthday candles at Hookwolf’s head for messing with her man.

        Bonesaw hops on Skitter’s back for a spontaneous piggyback ride. She’s batted off by Tattletale, who tries to get Skitter into a kissing contest between her and Grue. Her attempts are interrupted by Imp who plants one on Skitter and activates her power before Grue can wallop her with a plate of sushi. Instead, he hits Regent, whose power backfires and causes Tattletale to start disco dancing.

        Above the chaos is Wildbow, taking notes, being held aloft by Scion. The pair share a look, with Scion rolling his eyes like “I don’t know what’s up with these wacky people.”

        And just then Psycho Gecko leaps out with a “Ta daa!” holding a big banner that says “Happy Birthday Wildbow” until Scion zaps him, leaving only a pile of ash and the Happy Birthday banner behind.

        • I took today off. Been a busy couple of weeks, with Easter weekend, family coming to visit the weekend immediately after, and my birthday/father’s birthday this week. No bonus chapter tonight. Then I hope to do one bonus chapter a week for the next few weeks to get caught up.

          Or, if people want, perhaps regular chapters on an updated schedule, for less in the way of interruptions to the main narrative.

        • Happy birthday…oh yeah, it’s Thursday. Well, hope you had a good one. You know, I started reading worm almost immediately after my birthday, funny enough, so this was a wonderful “present”. Can’t thank you enough in a thousand years for this story, so I’ll just say I hope worm and your birthday brought you as much joy as reading this brings me.

  53. What I want to see is what the group Weld was leading does (I don’t really remember what they were called at the moment.) I’ve been wondering how they’re going to respond to the situation. They are technically heroes, but the PRT has pretty well screwed them over by now, on top of pulling a pretty dirty stunt with Taylor/Skitter’s identity. Honestly, I just think that group provides such an opportunity for drama (the good kind) that they are most definitely going to feature at least occasionally, but I’m not sure where their allegiances lie (also how do they get funding?)

    • Judging by the (non-canon) interlude a while back, they’re going to be working as superheroes on a mercenary basis. Probably hiring themselves out to local governments.

      I expected them to come into conflict with the Undersiders. I wouldn’t begrudge them an attempt to ousted them with some good old fashioned superheroing without the PRT’s dirty tactics. But now trying to take Skitter in would just make it look like they’re cleaning up the hero’s messes for them.

        • That… wouldn’t work. It’s a Luke Cage and Iron Fist deal, they’re the good guys except they get paid for it.

          It’s probably unfair to call them mercenaries. Because normal heroes get paychecks too, the Irregulars are just freelancing.

          • Brockton Bay needs good guys, and why should the Undersiders be stuck dealing with everything if they’ve got the money to sponsor a hero team to pick up the slack? It’d be sketchy as hell, sure. It’d also be a hilarious way to thumb their nose at the more reactionary elements of the PRT, though it didn’t look like Weld wanted to go that way.

          • they could also do it ala coil, and have maybe grue or imp fund them in civies.
            Most of the undersiders’ work nowadays is helping rebuild or going after worse villains than they are, which really isn’t villainous at all.

    • They’re called The Irregulars. They do, in fact, get government resources, presumably out of the PRT/Protectorate/Wards budget.

      I have no idea what their plans are at present.

      • If they’re willing to stomach it, I bet there’s plenty of money to be had plugging holes in cape towns where there’s been a lot of turmoil among the Protectorate or Wards. It’d have a neat sort of vibe to it, too.. “Take your money? Sure. Do your jobs? Sure. Accept you as [i]leaders[/i]? Just… no.”

        • Interlude 19 (Donation Bonus #2).

          Weld (Verified Cape) (Irregulars)
          Replied on July 6th, 2011:
          I dunno, I’m optimistic. ;)
          For the record, I harbor no animosity toward the Protectorate. We’re still attached, and we’re receiving equipment, funding and contacts through them. They were very respectful as a whole, but we got a chance to interact a few weeks ago, and we collectively agreed that while the Protectorate’s plan to build a rapport between us Case-53s (as the Protectorate terms us) and the public was sound (making me leader of the Brockton Bay Wards, for example), it was too slow, and we could do more as a group.

          I suppose he could be lying, but it doesn’t seem in character.

          • wildbow:
            > Also del, ins, ul, ol, li, code, lookup.

            What’s “lookup”? del, ins,

            ul & li
            ol & li

            and code are all familiar, but “lookup” I haven’t heard of.

          • @ Packbat – realized after the fact that it was a built-in way to search a dictionary of what the individual tags meant. (Posted my comment, then went to edit it to see menu where the buttons with individual features were listed, tried each, realized it wasn’t that useful, removed).

          • Weird. I clearly misremembered that part. I got something different out of it. (Of course, there’s so much to absorb in that interlude, it shouldn’t surprise me.)

            Thanks.

            Hg

        • It`s implicit in the “internet forum” of a few chapters ago. Weld does not say the truth about why he left and states that they are getting funds.

  54. Last night I realized something based on the following facts:
    * Alexandria and by extension the PRT work for cauldron
    * Cauldron’s plans were improved by coil taking over Brockton Bay
    * Cauldron seems to be fine with skitter and the undersiders running/ruling the bay
    * Accord is working directly for cauldron
    * The new PRT director who apparently doesn’t have much common sense

    Clearly cauldron wants capes in positions of power, see: alexandria’s positions, the triumverat, coil’s ambitions, and now they are pinning their plans on the udersiders who are trying to rule over a city.

    Now lets look at their actions recently: they install an incompetent director in the very city where the undersiders have both begun becoming popular and have taken down 2 previous directors. If anything this move will likely lead to the PRT branch becoming ineffectual and allow the undersiders to increase their hold over the city. However cauldron isn’t relinquishing influence on the city because they have accord and his flunkies (of whom he is getting even more recruits).
    Accord is definitely planning on dispatching the undersiders at some point in the future, judging by his conversation with citrine and othello last chapter. Once he’s done that, he and by extension cauldron will have control over brockton bay, moreso than they had as the PRT. They will also have control over the portal.

    Now we have to ask what does cauldron gain by creating and experimenting on capes, and how does gaining control over cities help whatever cause they have?
    Well for starters, they are creating an army of capes indebted to them (many who are charismatic and powerful), and are developing stronger powered capes each time.
    They are likely constantly learning more and more about how powers work and what causes them, and probably know much more than bonesaw and tattletale combined (well, not if they were really combined, but both of their current knowledge about powers combined). If I recall correctly, we’ve seen a trigger event from a vial, and the ‘passengers’ do NOT like being forced onto a person.
    They already have the power to cross realities relatively freely, and it is assumed the ‘passengers’ come from one of these realities (or possibly in the space between them). With the brockton bay portal, they eventually will have another way to cross realities (though I doubt they would have known about this beforehand).
    It has been speculated that endbringers are essentially these passengers in crystalline form, and we’ve seen the damage one of these monstrosities can do. Now I havent verified this, but I would assume that because natural triggers produce more villains, and cauldron is actively making capes, that naturally in any fight against an endbringer, said endbringer brings down more cauldron capes than natural capes. Its not that big of a leap to imagine cauldron accidentally made the endbringers when they were first working out the powers in a bottle, especially because the endbringers and powers seem to be linked, as evidenced by the fact that neither have been seen in other realities despite the potential. I would hazard a guess that cauldron is planning on attacking/defending against/harnessing the main power that gives powers to capes, and their activities at the moment are geared around consolidating power in this reality and gaining more powered troops to rely on when said event happens in ~2 years.
    But thats just what I thought everything pointed to, I could be completely wrong.

    • Wow, this is actually kinda brilliant. If Wildbow has something else in store for us, I would be surprised if it deviated largely from the main points you outlined. Well said.

      • I honestly hope I’m wrong on multiple accounts because this story is too damn good for me to accidentally spoil. I will admit there are a lot of plot holes in going this route, but I was trying to tie in everything I know of the story so far, general tropes for a story of this caliber, and we clearly still dont have the whole script. This is just one of the ways I think it could go down.
        Also, see every curveball wildbow’s thrown at us with this story, even with several commentators who clearly enjoy cape literature and tropes (see skitter NOT being arrested by D&D last chapter), I’m fairly certain most of what I wrote is wrong but I will be happy to argue semantics and theories till saturday.

        • This is why I tossed Wildbow a email with potential spoilers before putting it up here to make sure it’s okay. :P

          • hm, thats actually a good idea, but seeing as none of us have any idea besides wildbow, I think I’d rather discuss possible ideas than have them be confirmed/denied by wildbow directly.
            I don’t think anything here is necessarily spoiler-ish mainly because I am basing everything off of what I remember from everything that has been posted before. If I had direct confirmation from wildbow, that WOULD be spoilers because I could be confident that it will happen later in the story.

          • For the record, I won’t/can’t say anything particular in relation to emails like that. As Clarvel states, it spoils, and I’m not willing/wanting to spoil anything prior to it happening in-story.

            Two exceptions, really. I have an online buddy, a fellow writer, who I’ve outlined the main story arc to (insofar as I had anything sketched out), but he doesn’t read Worm (that may be a bad sign). I also have one buddy who I explained the Guts & Glory storyline to, up to her being possibly incarcerated. He does/did read Worm, but rarely comments.

            As such, the emails don’t really do anything. I appreciate the sentiment, but there’s no point where I can say, “That’s not ok,” without revealing that there’s something that’s problematic/spoilery in the content of the email.

            As far as I’m concerned, speculate away. If you guess right, then that’s ok. I’ll cope.

    • It’s well thought out but I don’t think it’s entirely correct in Cauldron’s goals. I think that Cauldron is wanting to create a situation where people are being lead/ruled by an individual with powers and the people accept it. So what they want is an example of a prosperous place being lead by a parahuman who is popular with said heroes.

      • Right, but once you have a model city like that, its not a stretch to see other capes following said model, as thats what models are for. This would then lead to multiple cities with capes in charge, and ties back into what I was talking about.

    • I only disagree on one thing, Cauldron doesn’t have to force out the Undersiders and take over directly. It’s in their interests to farm local management out to locals who give a damn and who have the legitimacy to keep things running in good order. Why should Cauldron do the legwork of running the world, it’s enough to have the power and influence to see their policies implemented.

  55. I’ve been thinking on this thing with Skitter’s civilian identity revealed and it’s not the worst that could happen.

    She’s not internationally known in all likelihood and the PRT is mainly based in America, Canada and soon Mexico. So that means she can pull the same move a lot of successful criminals do and move to the Bahamas whenever she feels done with Brockton Bay. Or if she feels like moving closer to home just skip through the portal into the unpopulated dimension on the other side.

    Also, if the PRT is right about her being a Thinker on top of being a Master that means she has the power to screw over precogs. No wonder she beat Dinah’s odds. If her thinking power is subsidized by her swarms then the bigger her swarm the higher her Thinker score goes and so far we haven’t seen an upper limit to her swarm control. I mean this is pure speculation but if true she could screw over the Simurgh too. This gives her an edge against Accord as well of course.

    As for where things are going now, I felt kind of disconnected from Taylor this chapter, but on rereading a few times she seems kind of disconnected from herself, so that’s ok. I am kind of worried about what she’s going to do about the PRT, the other two threats the Teeth and the Fallen are basically just the same old threats, but with the PRT she runs a serious risk of crossing too many lines. I think she’ll be okay if she sticks to her usual M.O. and continues trying to provide for Brockton Bay and build up public support though. She’s definitely a villain, but the city has had worse villains.

    • Vanishing and moving wouldn’t get her relationship with her Dad back. Also, as Skitter in Brockton Bay she has a reputation, good friends and allies, minions, a share in a portal to another universe … it’d be a lot to give up and recreate elsewhere.

      She just needs to get Tagg replaced somehow then work out a truce with the PRT. And survive or stop the end of the world of course.

  56. Only thing I don’t like about this story besides the folks from Cauldron, is the fact that now I have caught up to your postings and have to wait for the next chapter. Thank you for sharing so freely your imaginations with me.

    • Good question. Nothing in particular, but depending on how fast the next few arcs progress, there’s one possibility. I don’t want to force it, though. I’d rather get things right in the meantime than rush/prolong the story to time it properly.

      • Mmkay, sounds great. Also, completely unrelated, but how likely is it that we’ll get a Nilbog POV interlude?

        • Not very? The one where he was introduced was almost his interlude, despite not being shown from his perspective. No ideas spring to mind with that fellow.

          • Okay, thanks for the responses. Had plenty of questions, but restricted them to the ones that were least likely to be spoilerish.

          • Fantastic!
            1) It’s mentioned that Weld has properties which renders quite a few powers ineffective against him, does this qualify as a Trump ability?
            2) Is a Circus Interlude in the cards?
            3) Regarding Jack Slash’s ability, does it seriously /only/ apply to knife edges? Because it seems like a spatial warping function that could have way more applications than he uses it for. Or, alternatively, has he decided to not explore any other possibilities with it?
            4) When did the first iteration of the S9 form? Who led them?
            5) Did Noelle experience what was called a “Deviation scenario” as was mentioned in 11:7?
            6) Is it possible we’ll see Earth Aleph through Genesis’ or Sundancer’s eyes? Since Ballistic already had an Interlude, if I’m not mistaken.
            7) Does Scrub have some kind of mental deficiency related to his powers? He seems…off.
            8) Is a POV of a Guild member likely?
            9) Are there any internationally known capes of the beneficent variety, besides Scion, that aren’t affiliated with a group?

            Sorry for the list, I still tried to trim the fat, so to speak.

          • 1) No
            2) Possible.
            3) Not just knife edges, but by and large, it’s edged weapons only. He finds knives are easier/faster to handle.
            4) The first iteration formed twenty years ago. They were a very different group, led by King (mistakenly called Rex in a previous chapter). Jack was a junior member, as was Gray Boy.
            5) Yes and no. Deviation scenarios include Weld and Gully.
            6) Prrrobably not. I won’t rule anything out, and I can envision one scenario, but it probably wouldn’t be what you’re picturing, and only then if it was specifically asked for.
            7) Yes and no. His deficiency isn’t directly due to powers.
            8) Possible, but no big ideas in mind.
            9) Not really, unless you count, say, a European cape in a geographical region with lots of individual, smaller countries as being ‘internationally known’. It’s a result of the Endbringers, related but not directly linked to the Protectorate. It’s not feasible/economical/efficient to contact a bunch of big-name solo operatives in a time of crisis and arrange to bring them to a specific location, so they either band together/gather others under them and fall in line with the basic preparations that have been set in place, or they fall by the wayside.

          • 4) Would this history be unveiled in story?
            9) This actually makes a lot of sense, I’m surprised I didn’t think of it beforehand.

            Other random thoughts:
            -Would Faultline’s power work on an Endbringer?
            -Do you have backstories for all of the characters, named and otherwise?
            -Do you have a favorite?
            -If she tried, could Bitch use her powers on other creatures besides canines?
            -Is there a list somewhere (mental or otherwise) on the particular mindstates that each of the Undersiders were in when they triggered?
            -Also, the temp. power increases; is every parahuman privy to them?

            Also, thank you very much for humoring me. I really appreciate it.

          • 4) Possibly, probably not.
            9) That’s why I’m the writer. ;)

            – No.
            – No. Many though.
            – Yes.
            – As it stands, no.
            – Yes. In my head.
            – Yes and no.

  57. Belated typo:

    “Game? Little girl, this is a war,” his voice took on a hard edge.

    With no “said” after the quote, should probably be a period after “war” and “his” capitalized.

  58. Just recently found PH/Worm, and started reading from about the point when s9 happened (I was bored when I tried reading from the start). Nothing has made me feel compelled to comment as much as Tagg. I hate him. Hate. He’s everything wrong with any of the “heroes” in the universe bundled into one: Corrupt, Absolutist, Self-Righteous, Uncooperative, Aggressive, Ruthless. He fits more with the s9 than a PRT position. His mindset doesn’t need any tweaking – he just needs a reason to want the world to end rather than for it be ruled by the PRT.

  59. “Official classification for capes who can either acquire new powers on the fly,” Tattletale gestured towards Grue, “Have an interaction with other powers that can’t be categorized or they nullify powers.”

    I suspect an “or” is missing somewhere.

  60. And Taylor continues down the slippery slope.
    Once you start attacking people to make a point you’re past the point of no return.

    Just realized what’s been bugging me for a while when I read the scene with Dovetail: Taylor’s bug have an arbitrary flying speed. Few insects can even outrun a person, let alone a flying cape.

    I note the PRT still holds the idiot ball with regards to not using sealed suits.

    • Just spent a couple of hours playing through a scenario where a young Sakura (from a Naruto fanfic, used chakra strings through ninja wire a lot) gets transported here and joins the Wards. Was fun imagining the Undersiders getting their just desserts from an opponent that’s an excellent counter to them. :D

      Hmm…
      Thinking of Taylor’s required secondary powers:
      Arbitrary amounts of insects in whatever ratios are desired.
      Insects with arbitrary flying speed.
      Stills the wind nearby.
      More silk than possible (I recall her making a rope the width of her arm once on the fly, tens of millions of entire spider’s silk stock worth) faster than possible.
      Causes every opponent nearby to become retroactively stupid and incompetent (that was an incredibly shoddy defence by the heroes, no containment foam on the dogs? insect swarms just allowed into the building without being hit by cans worth of bug spray, foam or powers?). Poor Dragon. :(

      She didn’t start the story with these (compared her earlier battles to this most recent one) but seems to have picked them up over time. It’s a real shame, this was a good story until the Sueishness started ramping up. Might continue on reading for a few chapters to see if anything changes.

      Tagg feels like an unrealistic, brainless caricature.

      Probably my least favourite chapter so far (read up to 21-2).

  61. Yes, Tagg. I’m sure your PRT can take down the Undersiders with their new member(or members, depending on when you count from) and their alliance with another powerful supervillain group. Why don’t we chat with Lung, or Armsmaster, or the entire pre-Leviathan Brockton Bay Wards team, or half the local Protectorate, or Coil, or Jack “Fucking” Slash? Oh, right. Birdcaged, humiliated and then unofficially imprisoned, strongly defeated, embarrassed and defeated, killed, and driven out of town with a fraction of his team remaining and most of the losses taken out in large part by the Undersiders.

    I’m sure you can take her, Tagg. Take her down the slippery slope with you. I imagine she’ll be on top by the bottom.

  62. When you edit this stuff, you might want to make sure to cut down on the overuse of the two expressions “make a/the call” and “get one somebody’s case”.

  63. Tagg didn’t know Taylor was at a school?  When she was (most likely) discovered by the principal pulling up school records?

    Um . . . .

    Why didn’t Tattletale call him on that BS?

    Maybe I’ll find out in the next chapter.

  64. I always thought that the Protectorate went after Taylor at Arcadia because Clockblocker recognized a Skitter lookalike practicing villainy against an apparently innocent bystander named Greg. Now I’m curious about whether they went to Dinah for odds for a plan, or if Dinah saw something she didn’t like and intervened first. Either way, it seems like Dinah’s still on Taylor’s side based on the fact Taylor escaped. To me though, Taylor’s downward spiral towards becoming a ruthless bully isn’t ideal, even if it might be necessary to avert the end of the world(or whatever Dinah, and pertinent Cauldron members might be individually after for them to push this situation into being). There should be other, more morally digestible, methods available to the precogs messing around. And if there aren’t any win-wins, the precogs probably aren’t abusing their powers enough. Tangentially, if power use in tandem produces exponential effects like the hole between Brockton Bay and the virgin Earth, what would happen if precogs cooperated? The pessimist in me says they’ll get into a feedback loop, and I’m starting to remember why a non-linear interpretation of time gives me headaches.

    On Taylor, it’s a shame she can’t recognize how mentally broken she is. I hope she finds help for her reflexive outrage whenever she perceives bias and favoritism by authority figures that aren’t herself. Grue’s attempts seem to be desensitizing her to criticism though, and it’s like looking at an inevitable train wreck.

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