Imago 21.7

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I eased the door closed, then paused to let my eyes adjust.

Every window had the blinds closed and curtains shut over it.  The room was dusty, and needle-thin rays of light caught the flurries of specks, making them glow.

I grew aware of my surroundings, distinguishing dark gray shapes from an oppressive darkness.  A desk sat in the middle of the room, shaped like a ‘c’, with a cushy computer chair in the middle.  Four monitors were arranged at even intervals across the desk.  Beyond them, three widescreen televisions were mounted on tripods.  The walls and open spaces beyond the televisions, in turn, were filled with bulletin boards and whiteboards.

I glanced at my phone.  The last text I’d received was still displayed on the main screen:

the nearest keyboard to entrance.  don’ wander and don’t turn monitor on.  type WQtksDH2.

I followed the instructions, making my way to the desk, carefully angling my body so I wouldn’t touch any of the bulletin boards, and so that I didn’t bump anything with the loose fabric of my running pants or my backpack.  I didn’t want to risk using my bugs to check for obstacles, so I was forced to rely on my eyes alone, in this near-total darkness.

I found the keyboard, found the little nibs on the ‘f’ and ‘j’ keys so I could center my hand, and very carefully typed out the password.

A series of barely-audible ‘beeps’ sounded throughout the room.  What had I just disabled?  Claymores?

Did I really want to know?

Free of whatever safeguards that had been set in place, I turned on the monitor.  The faint glow lit up one half of the room, casting light on Tattletale’s costume in one corner, and the heavy metal door leading to her bedroom.

I found a dimmer switch on the wall and turned the lights up just enough that I could see.  The details on the bulletin boards became clear.  They were color coded by subject, but there were threads connecting elements, pieces of yarn tacked into place or held in spots with magnets.

I approached the nearest boards.  The set furthest to the left were each headed ‘Cauldron’, with subheadings, and had either green construction paper or words in green marker.  The board closest to me had photos of various capes, organized into forty rows and twenty-five columns, headed ‘Cauldron, unconfirmed’.  One-and-a-half inch by one inch images of various masks, their names penned in underneath.  Here and there, portraits were missing, presumably where Tattletale had found better spots for them.

So many capes.  It was startling really, and I was suspicious it was incomplete.  Was she planning on expanding that?

The upper half had sections marked for ‘likely’ and ‘confirmed’.  Many of the ‘likely’ capes had a series of letters and numbers by their name, five digits long: reference numbers.

There were only three ‘confirmed’ capes on the board.  Capes that had been more or less verified, through a combination of admission and Tattletale’s powers:  Eidolon, Alexandria, Legend.

Lines were drawn on the construction paper behind them, pointing to one portrait-sized rectangle of paper at the top, as though indicating a hierarchy.  It was blank, and the ‘name’ at the very bottom was only ‘Cauldron?’.

The back of the same bulletin board had ‘confirmed trigger’ capes and ‘Case 53′.  Each ‘trigger’ cape had a trigger event marked in pen below the name, along with the same series of letters and numbers by their name:  Jadeite: Post-brainwashing dissonance HSPuT.  Gethsemane: Lost family in war H2UXa.  Skitter: Bullying 9Zw3t.

The rest of the Undersiders were on that section of the board as well, but the trigger events had been left off.  Chances were good that she didn’t want prying eyes to dig up details, while my information was presumably public knowledge.

I walked across her setup, my hand trailing across the index cards and pictures as I walked, as though I could take in the information through touch.

Lengths of yarn connected the ‘Cauldron’ board to the PRT board, which was a whiteboard, magnets affixing index cards to specific areas.  A black piece of yarn extended from Alexandria on the ‘Cauldron’ board to the recently retired Chief Director on the ‘PRT’ board.  Black for a direct connection?  Yellow yarn extended from the Cauldron board to index cards regarding PRT funds.

The whiteboard held scrawlings of notes, musings and possibilities, some half-erased.  Degree of involvement with CauldronFunding: is PRT siphoning official funds to pay for powers?  Agenda?

It wasn’t reassuring.  The number of questions, the idea that the PRT might be far larger than I’d conceived.

I moved on to boards of a different color.  The red bulletin boards and whiteboards with red writing: Brockton Bay.  Potential threats: the Teeth, Red Handed, Heartbreaker, Lost Garden, Adepts, the Orchard, The Fallen.

Each was labeled with a code, much like the trigger events had been, and a letter-number combination after that.

It took me only a minute to find what they were referring to.  Things were organized beyond the initial veneer of chaos.  A small bookshelf, knee-high, held file folders with the same letter-number pairings as I saw on the bulletin board.  I picked one out at random.

Adepts.  Self professed magic users.  One page of information, listing names and powers.  Another page with the PRT’s information on them: a series of codes and symbols I didn’t quite follow, numbers inside colored circles, squares and diamonds.  From what I could gather, they had a low threat level, moderate crime rate, moderate ‘engagement’ level, low activity level.  Led by Epoch, a time traveler.

Fun.  I didn’t even want to think about the headaches that power would cause.

I put the folder away carefully, picked out another.  Lost Garden. High threat level, low crime rate, low engagement level and moderate activity level.  Leader, Barrow.  A powerful shaker, similar to Labyrinth, only rather more single-minded in what he did.  He couldn’t leave the altered area he created around him, only extending it slowly to an area while letting it fade behind him, an effect described as ‘a depression’ with overgrowth extending into the surrounding neighborhood.  Tattletale’s own notes in the file suggested he was making slow but steady progress towards Brockton Bay, and that he had been since the portal appeared.

I flipped through the rest of the file.  What kind of people gravitated towards someone like that?  Apparently a lot of very young parahumans, boys and girls around Aisha’s age, had gathered around the middle-aged Barrow.  A little creepy, when I imagined that collection of capes and the resulting dynamic.

I put the folder away, returned to the boards.  Brockton Bay had several more.  Money.  Planning.  Property acquisition priorities.  Property sales.  A whiteboard with the word ‘door’ written in red, circled and underlined several times, surrounded by question marks.

Who would own the portal?

A single blue-lettered whiteboard with pale blue index cards.  At the very top was the title, in bold black letters:  Powers: Source.

I looked at the index cards that were fixed onto the board with magnets.  There were no real answers there.  Only questions and theorizing.  It was Tattletale’s stream of consciousness distilled.

the whole?  pieces of greater puzzle but don’t know what shape it takes.  place person thing or something less concrete?  what are powers?  Mirror/extrapolation a consideration? is there link between there and here?

why?  power distribution aimless simple chaotic.  mistake?  something go wrong?  is this only part of something greater?  scheme or something more base?

why trigger events?  why go to trouble?  Connection to the source?  tied to something primal or some scheme?  simple or complicated?

what is deviation between cauldron and typical trigger?  was there leak to water supply from cauldron?  Parasite?  look into epidemiology.  prob not.  get someone’s story about process for getting powers from Cauldron for hints.

Who has answers?  if not thinkers then capes with closer connection to passenger?  PRT?  Cauldron?  S9?  other gov’ts?  what channels can I use to get these answers?  theft, coercion money goodwill barter?  have to set a value for an answer before raising idea with coil Skitter

I frowned and stepped away.

The last board, far right, was backed by black construction paper.  At the top, printed on white index cards in bold black letters: ‘End of the World’.

The board was disturbingly empty.  Jack’s picture was in the upper left corner with pieces of paper arranged below it, tracking everything that he’d done since he left the city.  Each piece of paper had names of known entities he’d interacted with in any direct fashion.  Sites the Nine had attacked, a string of small towns as they progressed in a zig-zagging fashion away from Brockton Bay.

Capes recruited to the group, capes slain.

The other three-quarters of that board were almost entirely clear, but for one index card in the upper-right:

limits to Dinah ability: can’t see accurately points of interaction with power immune capes, precogs, situ change Thinkers. Limited sight past points of interaction.  these are ‘stoppers’

Hartford: No known stoppers in area.
Enfield: No known stoppers in area.
Chicopee: No known stoppers in area.
Southbridge: No known stoppers in area.
Boston, Charlestown Area:  Yes stoppers, no direct interaction b/w any stoppers and Nine.  call to dble check with Still.  no interaction
Toybox: No known stoppers.

It made a lot of sense.  Tracking Jack’s trail of destruction from the point he’d left the city, finding the point where Dinah couldn’t or shouldn’t be able to see, using them to narrow down possibilities.

But the expanse of black on that board was daunting, considering everything that was at stake.

I made my way to the desk, set my backpack down on the ground, and took a seat in Tattletale’s chair.  I pressed the power buttons for each of the other monitors, and they flickered on.  Checking the drawers, I found a remote, and turned each television on in turn.

Two televisions dedicated to news, one to business, each on mute, with captions spelling out the words as the reporters spoke.

The password I’d entered had apparently logged me into the computers as a guest.  I kicked off my shoes and set my feet on the desk, as I’d seen Tattletale do, slipping into her shoes for a moment.

Everything was arranged so it was in clear view: monitors, televisions, bulletin boards.  Looking at the notes, the different colors, the disorder and the number of questions, it made me think of a kind of paranoid schizophrenia, seeing connections everywhere.  Except she was right.

Even logged in as a guest, I could see vestiges of the programs she’d installed on her main accounts: a stock ticker, a news ticker, weather, time, trending topics, social media feeds, several alert boxes for when pages relating to certain topics were updated or created.  Even the background was a series of four video feeds from cameras that overlooked Brockton Bay.

That was just what was worked into the desktop, with no windows opened.

The monitors flickered with new information at a speed that was two or three times that of the televisions, and the material on the televisions wasn’t exactly slow-paced.  The bulletin boards, conversely were static.  It was like a physical representation of what was going on in Tattletale’s mind.  Information streaming in, details from other sources intruding as I tried to focus on only one.  And always, there were the questions in the background, the same ones marked on the bulletin board.  Things to keep in mind while she took in other details, constantly seeking out the connections that tied things together.  Did she simply sit here, taking it all in, while using her phone and the computer to manage the Undersider’s business?

No small wonder she had overloaded on her power.

I opened up a browser window on the computer, logged into Parahumans Online.

Two new tabs.  A search for Skitter, a search for Taylor Hebert.

‘About 95,000 posts relating to Skitter.’

‘About 5,200 posts relating to Taylor Hebert.’

I sighed, closed the tabs, and then investigated the board for Brockton Bay.  It wasn’t anything I wanted to read.

I had checked most of the pages up to the halfway point on page two of the Brockton Bay sub-board when the heavy metal door clicked and opened.  Tattletale- Lisa stepped out, wearing an oversized t-shirt and pyjama pants.  My momentary confusion on how to define her was due to the fact that her hair was down, which I associated with Tattletale, while she was in civilian clothes, which was naturally fit for the name ‘Lisa’.

“Su- oh hell,” she broke off, recoiling in pain in the face of the dim lights and the glow of the various screens and monitors, shielding her eyes.

I hurried to reach for the dimmer switch, but she was already calling out a command, “System, lights off.”

The lights went out.

“System, screens off.”

The televisions and computer monitors went dark.

“Sorry,” I said, keeping my voice low.  “Thought you’d have recovered more.”

“Nah,” she said.  She still wasn’t opening her eyes, and was speaking with a care that suggested even the sound of her own voice hurt her.  I could see dark circles under her eyes.  She probably hadn’t slept recently.  “But no big.”

“You could go back to bed,” I said.

“No way am I missing this,” she said.  “My chair.”

I climbed out of the chair and turned it around so the seat was available to her.  She made her way there as if she were an old woman, eased herself into the seat and reclined, putting her feet on the desk.  One arm draped over her face so her eyes were hidden in the crook of her elbow.

“This setup… all of this is too much for you,” I said.  “You’re trying to handle too much at once.”

“Ironic,” she mumbled, “Coming from you.”

I took a seat on the edge of the desk.  “You’re bombarding yourself.  You should try to tackle one thing at a time.”

“Can’t.  I focus on one thing, I let others fall by the wayside.  Too many bases to cover.”

“Maybe you should let things fall by the wayside,” I commented.  “Is it so important to understand where powers come from?  Isn’t it enough to run the city, watch out for enemies, and maybe devote weekends to figuring out this business with Jack?”

She groaned.

“Sorry,” I said.  I was only giving her more cues and prompting involuntary uses of her power, making the problem worse.  Asking questions was cruel, with her like this.

“No.  No, it’s okay.  It’s all related.  I described my power as being like a massive, three-dimensional game of Sudoku, right?  Spaces get filled in.”

“Yeah.”

“This… if I get stuck somewhere, maybe there’s something on the periphery that helps me figure it out from another angle.  If I’m going to tackle the problem, I gotta tackle the whole problem.  Helps keep the facts straight.  Notice sooner when the wrong piece of information’s in a spot.”

“You forgot to note that Accord buys powers,” I said.  “Came up a little while ago, didn’t see them on the back of the green board.”

She put her feet down on the ground, as if she was going to spring up and make the necessary adjustment, then seemed to think twice about it.  She rested her elbows on the table and buried her face in her hands.

“I’ll do it,” I said.

“Index cards are on the shelf by the door.”

I got up and walked over to the shelf, fished around until I found the green index cards and a black felt-tip pen.  I wrote down, ‘Reminder: Accord buys powers from Cauldron to empower qualified underlings.  They don’t know much about process, but he will.’

I pinned it up in the ‘Likely’ section.

When I was done, I glanced back at Lisa, still resting her head in her hands.

I let a minute or two pass in silence, while she got her bearings.

“So,” she finally said.

“So.”

“Sorry I took so long to show,” she said.

“Not a problem,” I said.  “I enjoyed the peace.  A moment of quiet before the storm.”

“I’m not messing up your schedule?  What time is it?  Eight?”

I started to shake my head, then realized she wasn’t looking at me.  Hard to tell in the gloom.  “You aren’t.  And it’s about seven forty-five.”

“Not sure I follow this plan of yours.  That’s a bad sign, if I can’t get my head around it.”

“You’re not exactly in the best shape.”

“Still.”

“Still,” I echoed her, sighing.  I leaned against the wall, hooking my thumbs in my pockets.  “Maybe you’re right.”

She slowly raised her head, grimaced, and then shifted back to a reclining position, moving at a glacial speed.  I felt a pang of sympathy.

“Can I get you anything?”  I asked.

“Drugs don’t help.”

“Something besides drugs, maybe.  Water.”

“No.  Nothing makes a difference except time, being very still, very dark and very quiet.  Let’s just…”

She trailed off.

“Let’s just what?” I prompted.

“I was going to say we should get this over with, but… we don’t want that, do we?”

“No,” I said, my voice barely above a whisper.

Silence lingered.

I stared at the room, all the unanswered questions now illegible in the darkness, reduced to shades of dark gray on black, and black on dark gray.

Those questions were Lisa’s province.  My focus was on the team, the dynamics of the group, and the how we handled those beyond our inner circle.  Our enemies, allies who could become enemies.  Even the public at large had to be handled, managed, addressed as a possible threat.

Those were the concerns I had right now.

“Wish I could use my power more,” Lisa said, “Give you advice so you’re going in with your eyes wide open.”

“I wish you could too.  Don’t be upset with yourself, though.  I didn’t give you much advance warning, and you’d already overloaded your power.  The sentiment’s enough.”

“It’s not, really.  Fuck me.  I’m not very good at this.  Being uncertain.  Frustrated.  Disappointed in my inability to offer anything…”

She trailed off.

I thought of the Lisa I knew, her personality, her general demeanor.  Slightly reckless, confident, cocky.  Fearless.

“And scared?” I offered.

“Scared,” she agreed.

I’d never really seen her vulnerable.  I’d seen her hurt, had seen her reactions after her arm had been dislocated, after Jack had slashed her face open.  I’d seen her worried, even spooked, when the Endbringer was en-route, and when she’d been concerned for me.

But this was Lisa, temporarily bereft of her powers.  A mere mortal.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that.

“You know, Rachel said thank you last night,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“Got me thinking,” I said.  “Don’t know if I ever said it to you.  I owe you the most, in a way.”

Lisa smiled, but it wasn’t a joyful expression.  She murmured, “Don’t know if you should be that thankful.  What I did, bringing you on board, trying to help you, if I can even call it help, considering where we wound up.”

“The means justify the end, maybe,” I suggested.

“Maybe.”

“I appreciate it, whatever the case,” I told her.

“Then you’re welcome,” she said.

She changed position, and I made out a nearly imperceptible noise of pain.

“And I think that’s my cue to go,” I told her.

She frowned, “Damn.  That’s it?”

I shrugged.  “What more is there to say?”

“I’m supposed to give you advice.  Some insight.  But I’m crapped out.”

“Give it a shot anyways,” I suggested.

She frowned.  After a few seconds, she said, “Give ‘em hell.”

“Will do,” I said.  I approached her, then leaned down and wrapped my arms around her, while she was still sitting in the chair.  One gesture, as if it could convey everything I couldn’t say with words.

Grue had worried I was fatalistic.  That wasn’t quite the term that applied, here.  But the underlying idea was sound.

We’d established something of a rule, way back when, on the night we’d first found out about Dinah and her powers, the same night Leviathan had arrived.  I’d very nearly turned my back on the group, and Tattletale had established a rule.

No goodbyes.

I collected my backpack, turned, and then left, wordless.

The sun and the heat were working on destroying the fog that had settled around the city in the wake of the grim weather.  The result was that the sky was very blue overhead, the city still harboring traces of the early morning’s fog.  It couldn’t be later than nine.

I wasn’t wearing a costume, but I wasn’t hiding in clothing I wouldn’t normally wear, either.  A simple white tank top, black running pants and running shoes.  For all the bystanders could see, I was Taylor Hebert, indistinguishable in appearance or fashion from the girl who’d appeared on the news.

Nobody gave me a second glance.  I moved with purpose, and that was enough.  The eyes in the crowd looked right past me.

It had taken me some time to get used to the sheer obliviousness of people.  Even Rachel, with her distinct appearance, had been able to manage with brief public appearances.  It was less about getting caught, more about escape routes.  Being spotted while I was on my way to visit Grue and Citrine would have been problematic.  Being spotted on my way back to my territory wasn’t a problem.  By the time the heroes could respond, they wouldn’t be cause for any concern.

The same principle applied here.  The only distinction was why the heroes weren’t a cause for concern.

Tension sang through my body with every step.  My stomach felt hollow – I hadn’t had much of an appetite this morning.

At the same time, I felt an almost zen calm.  My thoughts were clear.  I’d already decided on a plan of action.  It was a similar calm to the one I’d experienced against Dragon and Defiant.

I approached the PRT headquarters.  Many of the bugs I’d infested the building with on my last visit were still there, and the occupants of the building had adjusted to them.  Nobody gave a second thought to the bugs that made contact with them, unless it was to absently slap at a mosquito or brush an ant from their leg.

I could sense Tagg in his office, talking on the phone.

People were filing in through the front doors, some were employees, others were tourists, eager to check out the newly opened gift shop and inquire about a tour.  It was puzzling.  Did Tagg not anticipate another attack?  Or had he decided that my attack with my bugs was the very extreme to which I was ready to go?  The full extent of the threat I posed when angered?

The PRT officers stationed just inside the door, grown men and women who had the job of looking out for troublemakers, barely glanced at me as I joined the crowd and walked right under their noses.

Then again, I’d said something to Regent about that.  Attacking from an unexpected direction, doing the last thing one’s enemy expected.  This was definitely that.  There was no way they expected me to walk into the building, first thing in the morning on a sunny day, when they hadn’t even done anything in recent memory to provoke me.

I made my way into the center of the lobby and stopped to looked around.

Maybe it was that I was standing still, while the rest of the people in the lobby were moving.  If not moving against the flow, resisting it.  But someone noticed me.  A PRT officer by the front desk.  I could see him out of the corner of my eye, reaching for his weapon.

I exhaled slowly.  I felt eerily calm, while my power roared at the periphery of my consciousness.  It was as if my bugs were screaming at me to attack, to retaliate.  To strip flesh from bone, sting and bite.

I pushed my bugs back, told them to go still.  It had been months since my power and I were this at odds.  Months since I’d been in the bathroom of Winslow High, telling myself I didn’t want to fight, that I didn’t want to retaliate against the bullies.

But now I was left to wonder if that was my subconscious or my passenger?

“Villain!” the PRT officer bellowed as he trained his gun on me.

The reaction was oddly delayed, as each one of the fifty or sixty people in the lobby turned to the PRT officer for a cue, for some indication of the danger or the direction of the threat.  They saw the direction that he was facing and the direction his gun was pointing, and turned their attention to me.

Only then did the civilians and unarmed staff scream, run, and seek cover.  Only then did the PRT officers around me draw weapons and point them at me.  A half-dozen PRT officers in full body armor, with their lethal and nonlethal weapons trained on me.

“Get down!” one officer screamed.

I slowly dropped to my knees, then folded my hands behind my head.

There were sounds of footsteps.  I could see Miss Militia and the Wards exiting a room behind the front desk.  I tried to think of what my bugs had told me about the layout on past visits.  It was a meeting room, if I was remembering right.

Miss Militia, Clockblocker, Flechette, Vista, and Crucible stared, eyes wide.  Miss Militia’s expression was one of concern, her eyebrows furrowed.  She was still, compared to the PRT officers around me, who were shouting at me, asking questions I couldn’t answer.  I bowed my head and closed my eyes, as if I could find the same kind of refuge Tattletale had been seeking, find a stillness by shutting out the chaos of the outside world.

I’d said my goodbyes to my team, as much as I’d been able.

I’d put my ducks in a row, again, as much as I could.  I’d have to trust to Grue to see to Regent and Aisha, keep them on the right path.  I’d have to trust Tattletale to look after Grue.

I’d decided, in the course of talking to my mom, that I’d have to cross a line if I was going to follow Dinah’s instructions, if I was going to achieve everything I needed and wanted to achieve.  To do it, I’d told her, I’d have to be heartless, and this was the most heartless, inhuman thing I could do.  Leaving my people.  Leaving Rachel.  Leaving Brian.

I thought of the paper, of the words from Dinah.  ‘Cut ties’.  I hope you know what you’re doing, Dinah. because this is as cut as I can get them.

My eyes met Miss Militia’s.

“I surrender.”

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271 thoughts on “Imago 21.7

  1. Ah. I… Knew it. Didn’t want to say anything. But I knew, once the last few chapters had her wrapping up old business and saying goodbyes.

    Thank you, Wildbow. This is how this arc had to end…

  2. Called it? Not sure.

    Well, this is interesting in more ways than one.

    I’m really not sure where this’ll go from here.

    On one hand, PRT wanted to capture Taylor. On another, from what I understand Cauldron needs her for something. So…

    Yes, this is interesting.

        • I don’t remember reading anything about Cauldron wanting to capture Skitter. I remember Accord telling Cauldron that Skitter might be able to replace Coil in their plans. It’s possible Skitter and Coil have something in common other than taking over Brockton Bay, but I don’t know what that would be.

          • I disagree that this kills either her position as crime lord or Cauldron’s plans for her.

            Something else is going on, here. All the little hints – Grue not being able to ‘take over’, Skitter’s self-notes about Tagg and discussion with M. Militia, a dozen other eggs scattered all over tell me that Skitter is *not* giving up by giving herself up.

  3. Holy shit, I actually guessed right for the first time ever! Now she’ll get a trial, the PRT secrets get outed/might be forced to change, and Taylor might end up at either juvie/the birdcage. I wonder what Cauldron will do? Accord said the Undersiders will fit their plan, but they couldn’t have forseen this. So will they try to get her a easy sentence/try to bring her to their point of view, or try to kill her to keep a few secrets? There are so many different things that can happen. I’m torn between juvie or the birdcage. I would love for her to interact with Sophia/Theo, but I have a feeling the birdcage is where bad shit is about to go down. I can not wait to see what happens next.

    • We can be pretty sure it won’t be the Birdcage — Dinah predicted that Skitter would be around during the fight at the Jack Slash endgame. If it’s the Birdcage, the cage is getting opened.

      • Panacea proved age doesn’t matter if you are a big enough threat. But she is a minor, and isn’t needlessly violent/malevolent. Could be either way, but the evidence points to the birdcage considering the buildup we’ve had so far/wildbow said the end is in a few more arcs.

        • Panacea requested the Birdcage where the judge may have been lenient. In addition sending Panacea to the Birdcage sends a nice precedent concerning physical manipulation, much like sending Canary to the Birdcage.

          • Thing is Skitter can be separated from bugs and neutralize her ability to cause damage. They don’t know about her varying range, and people probably still forget she counts as a thinker. So I think it depends.

    • I’m torn. On the hand, the birdcage would be a very interesting arc and Panacea proved that you got there despite you age if you are dangerous enough. We would see her interact with everyone there, see Panacea again, and she’d be there for the jailbreak that the Smurf probably planned. BUT she is a minor, has done alot of good, Dragon will probably vouch for her, and the PRT is about to look very bad after she gives testimony. So I’m thinking juvie where she will interact with Sophia and Theo.

        • Several hundred villains running amok is good? Look at what the 9 did with only a few parahumans. Granted they probably all won’t be like that but there are probably some real monsters in there. With the PRT so shorthanded and an endbringer attack they aren’t prepared for, the country is going to get alot more chaotic and dangerous once it opens.

      • I agree that age probably doesn’t prevent you from going to the Birdcage, but remember that Panacea specifically requested being sent to there. We don’t actually know how a trial would have turned out for her.

      • Taylor wants a public trail to tell her side of the story. She can spill the beans on Cauldron, dirty secrets of the PRT, and hopefully get the PRT destroyed/rebuilt into something better in the aftermath after government investigations. She will use the trail as bait to get Cauldron to talk to her and get some answers/maybe get some backup into stopping the apocalypse before inevitably trying to get rid of Cauldron/take it over.

      • Step 1: Use her position as the leader of a city-conquering gang of supervillains to establish that she’s the most badass motherfucker on the Eastern Seaboard.
        Step 2: Quit said city-conquering gang of supervillains publicly, in a way which is unambiguously voluntary.
        Step 3: Leverage reputation established in Step 1 to earn provisional position on the superhero team.

        …is my best guess.

        • While I’m sure Dragon, many heroes, and the Wards might be open to the idea, I just don’t see it happening. The system is too corrupt and she has stepped on too many toes, and she would never fight her own team.

          • Ah but with the PR “victory” of bringing in the baddest villain i Brocton Bay the PRT would likely let things settle down into an uneasy truce. Also don’t forget Assault was busting out villains out on their way to the birdcage for years and they still allowed him to become a hero after he was captured. The situation between Skitter and Armsmaster would go a long way towards smoothing things out for her if she wanted to hero up.

        • Possible spoiler alert(who knows):
          This is not hard people. Shadow stalker killed as a vigilante if I am remembering that right. And they still let her join the wards on probation. The only things that may stop skitter from joining the wards are: Cauldron, and killing coil, but if her version of events about coil is accepted, or proven, that should not be an issue.
          As for the idea that she angered people, as Tagg put it: THIS IS WAR. And when a willing weapon just walks in and asks you to use it, you watch for treachery, but you use it.The idea that they will make an example of her: what better example then the same one Assault is, they beat her so bad, and her fight was so hopeless as a villain, that she switched sides. They will probably try to use her against her people which is why she had to have the ceasefire with the heroes, so she could not be sent after her own. At which point they will throw her right at the next Endbringer. Or S9

          • Okay, I have severe philosophical objections to people calling “Spoiler alert” on their own speculation. You’re not a time traveler, and this is a speculation thread anyway. And you’re not guessing anything that hasn’t already been guessed.

            Misaimed rant out of the way: if they want to put her in the Wards, they’re going to ship her out of Brockton Bay. They have to.

      • a) Staged breakout, Undersiders style;
        b) Skitter has some kind of leverage/plan to create leverage that will force the PRT to drop all charges and spit her back out. (Not specifically referring to Cauldron-related secrets).

      • I am sure that after all the shit she has pulled at least some people will be wary of just sending her to the birdcage because they fear that might have been her plan.

        “Don’t you see? You are giving Skitter exactly what she wants by sending her into the briar patch!”

        She just needs to smile a lot when the judge announces her sentence and perhaps ask her guards to hurry because she has a schedule to keep. That should freak everyone out enough to give them second thoughts.

        • Its even better if she acted like it was the worst thing ever, but starts smiling more and more the worse her case gets.

      • My theory is relatively simple, and someone else inspired the idea:
        The PRT/Protectorate is an essential part in the Endbringer defense force. It’s said that they’ve been at it for years, and are the reason that so many groups are coordinating the way they are now; that includes the truce between villains as well. If the PRT falls, (yeah, woo Taylor) but the long term ramifications are bigger than one girl’s life. When TT said that they need some kind of win to prove they are still relevant otherwise the entire PRT would crumble, the reasonable outcome can be traced directly here.

        TL;DR: Taylor gives herself up so that the PRT can save face and the fight against the Endbringers can continue with as much force as possible.

        • Yeah, I really can’t behind a plan that validates the PRT’s incompetence and negligent bullshit. It would change nothing in the organization and would entrenched the “law is absolute” mindset that people like Tagg have. They’ll just keep chugging along until they run into a new unstoppable force or immovable object *cough*Slaughterhouse 9000*cough* and their newfound confidence and completely unchanged tactics gets a shitload of people killed.

          Well, yeah, there’s the Endbringers. But they didn’t do anything during Leviathan that can’t be accomplished by the national guard, and in the aftermath of Simurgh they only made things worse by trapping American citizens in a ruined city and causing public hysteria and persecution towards the survivors. All the while the real Simurgh pawn just waltzed out.

          Frankly if the superheroes need the PRT to hold their hand during Endbringer incidents to make sure everyone shows up and plays nice then the world was screwed from t he beginning.

      • I can see a number of possibilities here.

        1) Taylor wants the PRT focusing on the Endbringers, SH9 and other big threats and not her.

        2) Taylor has some expectation of being found innocent of all charges, thus removing any reason they have for going after her in the first place.

        3) Taylor is expecting a protest or riot at PRT headquarters upon news of her surrendering, to show Tagg that publicity for taking her in may not be as good as he thinks.

        4) Taylor has some other plan that’s going to somehow flip the tables on everyone else.

        Whatever happens, seeing a couple interludes about recent events from other perspectives would be very interesting indeed. I’m kind of rooting for a therapist interview with Taylor. That seems like it would be fun.

      • I don’t think Skitter has a plan sadly. I think she’s depending on Dinah to have a plan to ensure that this is the best possible option (via cutting ties). Which is a horrible plan. Dinah can be pretty ruthless to do what she thinks is the best possible result.

        It may be that Skitter survives the apocalypse because she’s in the Birdcage, and she’s different because prison changes her. Oh and I don’t see the possibility of her not ending up in the Birdcage. That’s pretty much guaranteed from what we saw with Canary.

        I also think that Brockton Bay is going to collapse now without her. Because she was foolish enough to have faith in a seer whose odds she already beat once before.

        • Skitter already mentioned that she had a plan, so fortunately enough that’s not really a possibility.

          Also, I don’t think she’s ever beaten Dinah’s odds. The PRT did just capture her, after all, and they did it because of the talk Taylor had with Tagg, which she only had because of the events at the school. Things worked out pretty much exactly how she said they would.

          I also doubt Brockton Bay will collapse without her. Things have gotten back to normal enough by now that the loss of one superhero won’t affect it much. The infrastructure has been rebuilt.

          I can’t speak about the Birdcage, however. Unless she escapes or has arranged something we haven’t seen yet to let her walk, it does look like that’s where we might be headed.

          • I don’t think this was a ‘real’ capture, however because as skitter mentions she’s already infested their offices, all those bugs at her beck and call, and she’s consciously not using them against a bunch of underprepared people.

          • There was one scene – having a hard time fighting it – but Dinah claims that Skitter had only a 30-some-percent chance of winning, yet still did.

            That’s not insane odds, but that’s still beating the odds. It can be done.

            If Dinah sees everything in percentages, that means there’s a *real* chance that her predictions can be beaten.

            Or her ‘good’ predictions can, at 100-1 odds, fail to come true.

            Come to think of it, 1 chance in 100 isn’t really bad odds, depending. 1 in 10k, maybe, or 1 in 100m; those are bad odds. But “96.4%”? Statistically speaking, that means that its counterpart occurs all the dang time.

          • @Don: You might be thinking of one of the predictions in 18.1:

            * 15.33% chance of trouble at the ‘hospital’, eighty percent of the time said trouble originating from Skitter;
            * 64.2% that the Undersiders come out of the fight with Noelle okay;
            * 18.225% that the rest of the city does;
            * 58.5% that Dinah ever gets to go home.

            Not sure if the 18.225% chance happened, but the 58.5% certainly did.

          • @Don: The only one that I can remember that was around 30% was the chance of Skitter being the one to kill Coil. There was something like a 70% chance that she’d hand the gun off to someone else.

          • @Adam: Because you’re right — there was a 32% chance that she killed Coil. The numbers don’t add to 100%, presumably because sometimes both she and Coil lived.

  4. I did not expect this. Also in an entirely unrelated note, will we see more of Lisette, The most powerful woman in the world?

    • Nah. I’m almost certain this is just step 1.

      If it were the plan, full stop, then she’s leaving her team horribly exposed AND Tagg’s arm is completely untwisted. She seemed convinced that her plan had a better chance of doing that than this could ever do, and she’s not stupid.

    • When Codex died her powers went wild and she gave Skitter brain damage.

      Once she gets to the birdcage and Amy hels her brain back to normal she will regret her current stupidity.

      • I, um, don’t.

        The birdcage is, by all accounts, inescapable – and is the current home of at least two (to Skitter’s knowledge) villains who actively hate her AND have a tactical advantage. Not to mention all of the other villains in there.

        Without some kind of card trick, Skitter would have to be suicidally stupid to plan to go to the birdcage. I refuse to buy that.

        • And before anybody points out, “Oh, but Dinah says she’ll be there at the end of the world!” I would like to point out that Dinah’s predictions have been proven wrong more often than not where Skitter is concerned.

          And she knows it. Again, I can’t accept that this trend was not noticed.

          Meaning that Dinah’s prophecies are NOT a good reason to wander into the Birdcage like it’s a darned park gazebo. And Skitter knows that too.

          • Or perhaps I should say, “proven flexible to alteration.” It was Skitter acting on Dinah’s words before that changed events. It’s why she lived through Coil, why she wasn’t immediately incarcerated by D&D. If, by acting on Dinah’s prophecy of her presence, Skitter changes the future, that’s raising the risk that she will make Dinah wrong. Again. In a bad way, this time.

            Which all leads to: Birdcage bad plan. No go. Think of something else, oh crime lordess.

          • @Wildbow: See my other comment.

            To expand on it, Coil used Dinah specifically to avoid bad things happening, which means Dinah had to first predict bad things happening, which then DIDN’T HAPPEN because Coil did something else. To reduce the chances of its happening.

            The reverse is also possible: a Good Thing (Skitter being present at the end of the… well, ok, maybe not ‘good’ but still) happening can be undone by acting in such a way that you reduce its chances.

            Especially when that something you do has, in the absence of other information, a very very high chance of producing Lung-fried Skitter.

            I can’t be the only person who sees this. Risking the Birdcage is criminally stupid.

          • I would like to point out that these posts were cross-posted with Wildbow’s, meaning that even though it looks like it, I wasn’t responding to what he said immediately above my comment, but to the one above it (and then to two above it, etc.)

            Also, the last post of mine [is now deleted as per your request - Wildbow]

          • Well, now it just looks shady. So, what my comment was:

            I’d thought (only God knows why) Wildbow said something along the lines of ‘Dinah didn’t say she’d be incarcerated’ and I responded something along the lines of ‘Right, so that means Skitter plans to get incarcerated but not go to the Birdcage’ or something close to that.

            I don’t think I said anything, like, rude – but it was indisputably confused thinking. Thus, ‘strike that comment, thou who readest it!’ – forgetting that at least one reader can literally do this, on top of metaphorically.

            I can only blame final exams week. Which this is. Biology lab practical tomorrow. So many words to memorize.

            …So many horrible words. And a professor who is not only brilliant, but expects everyone else to be, too. Bastard.

            … horrible, awful words. so many of them

            • Regardless of that, one interpretation of Dinah’s prediction is Skitter being somewhat fundamental to the end of the world.

              A follow-up question ought to be: “If Skitter is always present at the end of the world, what would happen if we killed her now?”

              If the answer is something akin to “She’ll be there anyway”, everyone present might want to order a city-sufficient amount of towels, because panic will be incoming.

          • I’m probably reading in something that’s not there, but I think Dragon likes/needs Skitter and will probably be having that talk with her when she recovers. I definitely think something needs to happen in the Birdcage, but she doesn’t need to be a prisoner-prisoner if she has Dragon/the heroes on her side

        • Ugh. Misread the point of your comment (Dinah, immediately incarcerated, et.al.), even after cut/pasting it to keep conversational continuity (we were cross-posting a couple times).

          Just strike my last comment, there.

        • People seem to not have thought of something. Taylor is going to leve the birdcage eventually if she goes in there. So why does she have to escape? In exhacnage for her help against the end of the world, a bargain, something, they take Taylor out. After a year or two. Because the end of the world is probably going to happen during this story, but it’s still years away, so we need a timeskip to get to it. I honestly think this could happen.

          • A timeskip seems plausible, considering that only 3/4 months have passed since Taylor first went out in costumed. Definitely would be changed according to the Dinah Prophesy if she was in jail and/or Birdcage for a year or so.

          • If memory serves the birdcage is specifically designed so that nothing ever comes out of it. All sentences in the birdcage are for life and it was even stated that the elevators that take the prisoners into it are one way.

  5. ._. Damn…..Just….just Damn. You amaze me once again Wildbow. Hope your brain isn’t a burning pile of slag.

    Great chapter as always.

  6. Good job, Taylor. You changed the game by refusing to play by their rules. At least they don’t get the credit for taking you down now.

    • Um, I think this is playing exactly by ‘their rules’. The thing is, nobody expected her to.

      But criminals turn themselves in all the dang time – in RL, it’s one of the most common ways cases get solved. Unlike what’s commonly believed, there is not all that much extra mercy applied towards criminals who do this. At least not that I’ve seen, might be different in other countries.

      • The game I meant wasn’t necessarily capturing her as much as it was improving the PRT’s image. They were trying to do that by capturing her. They impress people less by Skitter walking in there and turning herself in.

        • Hm. Not sure if that scans.

          Submitting to authority is almost as powerful as being truly forced into it, for the image of and purposes of that authority – as any Dom who’s experienced this from the other end could tell you.

          From a certain perspective, in the PRT’s role within the social contract, Skitter turning herself in to the PRT is more meaningful than capture would be.

          However, I have strong doubts that Skitter’s plan stops here, and so it’s really up to the next few events to determine what the fallout for the PRT will be. Jury’s still out, in other words.

  7. Oh shit! I guess she doesn’t have a specific plan with this, and is just following Dinah’s lead. Taylor’s going to feel really stupid if she just meant separating from her father.

    I’d like to reiterate how fucking useless Tagg is; “WAR ON CRIME MOTHERFUCKER, BRING IT O-, wait you surrender?”. If he tries to pass this off as a victory I hope Miss Militia slaps him in the balls.

    Can’t wait for the Trolling extravaganza we’re going to see next chapter.

    • He will claim credit, of course. Psychological pressure was a big part of his game plan. It worked. One could even legitimately make the claim that he WAS responsible for this turn of events.

      • Though, I’d love to see something like this happen:

        Reporter: “So, Ms. Hebert -”

        Skitter: “Call me Skitter.”

        Reporter: “I mean Skitter. Why did you turn your-self in?”

        Skitter: “Well, Ms. Takanawa -”

        Reporter: “Call me Tricia.”

        Skitter: “Tricia, I’d basically done everything I needed to. The city is relatively safe, the streets are being cleaned up, every major criminal threat is either dead, indisposed or works for me. But really, the main reason I’m here is Director Tagg.”

        Reporter: “Oh? How is that so?”

        Skitter: “Well, Tricia, Mr. Tagg is just so indescribably stupid that I was mortally afraid he’d hurt himself and/or turn Brockton Bay into a crater trying to bring me in.”

        Reporter: “Wouldn’t you say that he was doing his job well, then?”

        Skitter: “If idiocy can be named a strategy, then his strategy worked. For me. Buuut… I would recommend that before the next major threat, somebody just put the poor boy out to pasture before he accidentally the whole thing.”

        Reporter: “You heard it here first on Chan-nel 5 News, ever-y-one. The biggest crime lord on the east-ern sea-board has claimed that Di-re-ct-or Tagg is a big-ger threat to the ‘whole thing’ than any other villain she knows about. Back to you, Tom and Diane.”

        Tom: “Well, what do you think, Diane? Time for torches?”

        Diane: “Don’t forget pitchforks. But remember, viewers, safety first. Don’t run while you’re in an angry mob, right Tom?”

        Tom: “That’s right, Diane. Remember to walk carefully, until the sight of Director Tag drives you into an insane frenzy.”

  8. Well, this is a bitch and a half. Pretty sure this leaves the Undersiders up the proverbial creek.

    Madcap becoming Assault is a precedent for villains turning their coats, but there’s no way they can disguise it in this case.

    I wonder if we’re about to get Tagg’s interlude.

    • Do they really have to disguise it anymore? Things are falling apart now, falling apart so badly they can’t even hide it. If Skitter goes to them and says “lets make a deal”, bearing in mind that she’s got a substantial fanbase at this point, it could totally be doable. She could straight out say, on camera, “The PRT is too important at this time in human history, whatever our differences humanity needs to circle the wagons”, and a lot of people would believe her. Lending what limited cred she has to the PRT in their time of need, at that.

  9. I think I just about bust a gut laughing when the officer shouted “Villain!”. I even felt bad for it too, ‘cuz ya know, in his shoes, holy shit.

    • I am not sure if that guard should get a bonus for actually doing his job, or a reprimand for yelling his discovery out loud instead of silently sounding alarm to see what the villain infiltrating their HQ is planning. For all they know she was only part of a larger force perparing to attack and they would have been much better of with holding back until they had spotted the others (excluding Imp of course) and prepared a bit.

  10. But now I was left to wonder that my subconscious or was it my passenger?

    Should that be:
    “But now I was left to wonder was that my subconscious or was it my passenger?”

  11. Well then. I suppose that we are taking a trip to the birdcage after all. I have no idea what to expect any more. Anymore? I never have had any idea what to expect with this story. Ever. I surrender before the might of your plot twists sir. Bloody Good Game!

  12. The conversation with Miss Militia takes on a new and interesting light.

    “Letter-number ” odd caps.
    The end of the world is black letters on black paper?
    “It couldn’t be later than nine.” Were they really talking for over an hour in there?

    • Not fussin’, but commenting: there was discussion of a condensed typo thread last post, so I found the first correction ^ up there and put the words “TYPO THREAD” in bold in it. For ease of reference, author-wise, you see.

  13. This is not going to end well, other Villains are going to take this opportunity to take a slice of the city now that Skitter’s going to the Birdcage. Accord will seek control in what he percieves as chaos & try to take over as well as taking out Tattletale and Lung will want a rematch when Skitter arrives.

    • Clothes tend to get in the way of 24/hour orgies. I suspect he’s in rather good shape. All that sex must be great cardio training.

        • EXACTLY! I seriously don’t get it. He chills out in boxers all day, mindrapes women into sexing him up, has a quote “small army of parahuman children”, and basically does nothing but have orgies and torment/ignore his kids. Like, seriously? He has no ambition at all. So much lost potential. Regent should off him.

          • It’s not so far-fetched though, really, even with the powers. I mean, how many people pretty much slog through their life and do fuck-all with it, like.. half or more?

          • I mean, that does make tons of sense, I don’t dispute that. I dunno, maybe I’m just annoyed by it, more than anything. Y’know, parahumans are something that should be….I dunno, used for /something/ of importance. I’m not fond of Sloth. So Heartbreaker and Nilbog both intrigue and annoy the hell out of me.

          • Let’s not be presumptuous about Nilbog, for all we know he’s built a creepy fairy civilization that rivals ancient Rome, except with no particular desire for expansion and a weirder culture.

            It’s been more than a couple years, he might have refined his powers enough that his creations are self-sufficient and have little in common with humanity. That’d be cool.

            Also, I’m hoping this Barrow guy is actually a cool messianic motherfucker and not a creepo like Valefor and Heartbreaker. Judging by the name of his group it’s a “join me and I’ll take you to paradise” deal and they want to cross the portal to settle there.

            • Except his power might switch the Portal to whatever location his power creeps its location from. This would essentially nullify his power on that world, or it would switch and his world import would take its materials form Bet.

          • Barrow might be the perfect forward scout for this world.

            Think about it – he brings his own safe zone with him. If there’s something out there that kills humans, and it’s an environmental cause, then having Barrow and his coterie of parahumans wandering around out there might suss it out in the safest way possible.

  14. \(O_O)/
    Oh blerg, did not see this coming no wonder she hated Parian for making her have to step up her plan, and it explains why this arc has been her going around making sure everyone is ok. Such a good chapter i really didn’t see this coming.

    • You know, I don’t see how cooperation from the Wards/Protectorate forces Skitter to turn herself in sooner. There’s no deadline on ‘good’ behavior, here.

      Her logic (about being forced to act quickly) only works if she’s planning on doing something rather brutal and unpleasant. From a hero’s perspective, not from her teammate’s.

      • 1) All part of the Plan.

        2) She needs them on her side in said Plan. She’s going to be leveraging them somehow. Most of the haste that I can see being required is acting before suspicion overpowers consideration and reverses the positive attitude adjustment.

        3) Or it could be something entirely different. Entirely speculation at this point.

      • I think it’s because she needed to ask Miss Militia to give her “a day or two” in Imago 21.5 to execute her greater plan. If her greater plan was to surrender, as implied here, that needs to happen after the two days and no later or the truce she negotiated will break.

        • I wonder about that.

          There really is no time limit on turning herself in, and MM’s truce was, in her mind at least, meant to last as long as the current balance of power (Undersiders on top) was in effect, all other things being equal.

          In fact, it could be said that Skitter’s timing was too soon – the Wards/Protectorate hadn’t really had time to get complicit, to get invested. The more invested they are, the more leverage is in play when Skitter turns herself in – within limits. There would be a sweet spot of timing this action, and 2 days after making the deal doesn’t seem it.

    • Transporting Skitter is going to be the most nerve-wracking thing these people have ever done. If she smiles during her incarceration, the entire building will be locked down.

        • Nah, even the PRT is stupid enough to underestimate her intelligence after the school fiasco. They finally got it through their heads that she is a thinker.

          • …What does her being a thinker have to do with anything? That’s just to show her ability to sense things through her bugs. Her being smart isn’t a superpower. It’s just her being smart.

          • @Bobby: Actually, on the subject of Skitter’s power classification: the PRT had no idea how much of a Thinker she is. They had her down as a Thinker 1 on the grounds that she could sense incoming threats through her swarm — completely missing how she can multitask more effectively than a building full of mainframes and she can detect the entire biology of every insect in her range, down to the exact effects of their venoms.

          • do note that we’ve been able to plot out the various encounters where she’s been bug-less or low on bugs and her ability to plan and react has suffered compared to when she has large amounts of bugs, such as Bakuda, the latter portion of Leviathan, and Coil.

          • @Packbat: I guess, but I still don’t see what that has to do with the PRT underestimating her intelligence. She’s no Tattletale or Accord, her smarts are all natural. Like Jack, Coil, Faultline… You’re not a thinker because you’re smart (and you’re not necessarily smart because you’re a thinker), you’re a thinker because you have some kind of mental power.

          • @Rika: So… not having easy use of her power gives her less options to get out of problems? That seems somewhat evident.

          • @Bobby:

            > I guess, but I still don’t see what that has to do with the PRT underestimating her intelligence.

            Nothing — the PRT underestimating her Thinker classification strength is an independent phenomenon.

          • @Packbat: …Ok? So you share my confusion as to why theant87 commented about the PRT underestimating her intelligence and how they “finally got it through their heads that she is a thinker” ?

          • @Bobby: I share your belief that there is no connection between her power and her smarts, but I’m not confused that theant87 assumes such a connection — several people have argued for that or similar hypotheses.

  15. I knew something like this was going to happen. I just had no clue what part 2 was gonna be…still dont. Turning herself in was the most unexpected thing she could possibly do, but what the hell is she supposed to do now? And I also have to wonder who all knows the details of her plans.

    • I agree and wonder myself. The behaviour of the Undersiders suggests she didn’t tell anyone, except perhaps Tattletale.

  16. Dinah: “No, no, no! When she finds her teammates captured by the Slaughterhouse after sneaking into their base, she’s supposed to cut the ties around their arms. Thanks a lot, Taylor, now your team dies and you’re going to be dropping the soap in the only prison on earth with no bugs.”

  17. Just a few things I noticed needed tweaking this chapter:

    I approached the PRT headquarters. Many of bugs <– Missing 'the'

    If not moving against the flow, resisting it But someone noticed me. <– Missing period

    Miss Militia, Clockblocker, Flechette, Vista, and Crucible stared, eyes wide. Her expression was one of concern, her eyebrows furrowed. <– Not the clearest distinction of who 'her' refers to here.

  18. As to the birdcage, it was mentioned several arcs back that theoretically Skitter could be insanely powerful there. The birdcage is the size of a fist, and deep underground. But her range should still be the same, and there just might be quite a few worms nearby. Granted giant worms aren’t exactly the most dangerous thing in the world. I don’t think they even have mouths, but her power could have some interesting applications to escaping with them.

      • In this case, no. Theoretically powerful means either hypothetically powerful, as in we don’t know how her powers will be affected, but this is one interpretation. Another would be the range of her powers being the same in relation to her body size, in which case she has only control over bugs in the Birdcage.

        Even if Skitters range is the same in relation to Earth, not to her body, it still stands to reason if it expands far enough to actually reach any significant amount of bugs.

        Furthermore, Dragon might take the regular range into consideration and sterilize the access tunnels, thus depriving her of any outside resources. If the Birdcage is in solid rock, she’ll be having a hard time getting any burrowing bugs through that, because SOLID ROCK IS HARD.

  19. Great Chapter.

    Well the signs were there and even if you are like me and tend to be naive about it or need several rereads to get an idea about it there were enough comments that predicted something like this or at least a goodbye.
    But still i disregarded them or maybe its more acurate to say blocked them out because i really didn t want to see Skitter caught and probably send to the Birdcage. Well played your narration is incredible.

  20. I’d like Xanatos Speed-Chess for 100, Alex.

    Seriously, though, this is the ideal circumstance to prove *how much* the city has looked to Skitter and the Undersiders when the PRT has fallen horrifically astray. While the PRT was fumbling around, allowing villains to blow up meeting halls, enslave small children, and slaughtering folks who were trying to help with different scenarios, the Undersiders and Skitter stepped up and *did* something for Brockton Bay.

    Indeed, rather than detention or Birdcage, I could easily see this the beginning of a mass uprising against the PRT if it isn’t handled in a fully proper, legal, transparent fashion. Because Skitter has been there with the Undersiders *through it all*. She doesn’t have to formulate an attack, because surrendering is the biggest attack she can make on their ivory tower. The PRT has lost the initiative and the high ground.

    *ahem* Apologies for the ramble.

  21. Well, it seems obvious in hindsight: When Codex died her powers went wild and she gave Taylor brain damage…

    On the other hand she might just have a plan, but what sort of plan?

    Going to birdcage doesn’t seem like it would solve any problems (She might talk Panacea into giving her comsetic surgery to solve the problem of her face being too well known, but that would be it.)

    She might talk the heroes into giving her the same sort of deal Assault got, but it might be a hard sell to the public: “I introduce the newest member of the Brockton Bay wards Totally-Not-Skitter!”.

    The becomming a hero thing would fit with her desire for a new name, but her powers are so unique that everybody would know it was her and I don’t think they could talk cauldron into giving her a vial full of new powers or Dragon into giving her power armor…

    Maybe she could take the job of the local PRT director. She would be good at that, but I don’t think her negotiation position is strong eonugh for that.

    I wonder if the heroes she surrendered to are aware just how badly she technically outnumbers/outmatches them thanks to the insects she left behind? At least one of the more aware of them might want to clarify who surrenders to whom.

      • Several voices at once: “I surrender!”

        pause

        “I surrender!”

        another pause

        “Ok, you and you, stop surrendering. Let the scary girl in the middle speak first.”

        “… I may have to revise my plans. Give me a moment.”

    • I don’t think acquiring new powers would work, anyway — and not just because Skidmark said to Scrub that the Cauldron-dose wouldn’t work on him. (I actually think Skiddy read the instructions, astounding as that is.) A lot of what makes Skitter terrifyingly effective is the amount of time she’s spent focused on the details of her power that make it strong. I doubt she could do significantly more with, say, Triumph’s power than Triumph could.

      • Well, she does regularly come up with new applications to powers that others never even considered or thinks about what could potentially be done with a certain power.

        There was even a bit in this chapter when she briefly considered the time-traveller and thought about how dangerous he potentially could be.

        She could probably make a living by just teaching other capes. Getting them to think a bit about their powers and encourage them to think outside the box a bit.

  22. 8-O
    seriously. 8-O

    and now I have to wait until next weeks saturday (assuming there are bonus interludes saturday, tuesday and the ‘regular’ one next thursday)?!

        • Don’t kill yourself, wildbow. Your writing rate is already pretty insane, and the last thing we want anyone to do is have a mental breakdown. XD Seriously, though. You know we love updates, but you don’t have to go overboard if you’re in crunch time and can’t do it.

        • Though, even if you aren’t in this semester, you were in prior ones, and kept the pace up the whole time.

          Belated O_o

      • Good you mad genius you. Even people like you need sleep….lots and lots of sleep. :P Can’t have your brain a pile of burning slag now can we?

  23. Option 1: see how the PRT responds to mass civilian protests; possible pressure from Cauldron; resume ruling city afterward.

    Option 2: Join the Protectorate! (Wards, at least the class-attending kind… not really an option. That high school definitely knows who she is). Up until Coil’s death, she was working under cover for Armsman/Defiant; she saved the local PRT from being run by a supervillain; she’s still underage and could get Shadow Stalker’s deal. A bug-powered super-heroine would be obvious, but she can probably pose as a clairvoyant, actually – and hey, she’s been meaning to work more on seeing/hearing through bugs anyway. Extra credit: use Skitter-clones to keep Skitter active.

    Option 3: Go directly to the Birdcage! Meet the Marquis and his lovely daughter, who each have bones to pick with her! Have long conversations with Dragon about priorities! And, in all probability, meet the Simurgh when she comes calling!

    Side note: Accord is going to have a really interesting time reconciling his first impression of her (plan’s lynchpin and respected peer) with options 2 or 3. Unless he sees it as a truly elaborate gambit of some kind, in which case he’ll like her better than ever. Triply so if ‘get the PRT on side’ was one of the plans in the binder he had Citrine give her.

    (I do think the Undersiders knew this was coming – Lisa certainly did.)

    Option 1 is out – that doesn’t qualify as cutting ties. Options 2 and 3 are on the table. She has friends (for these purposes) in Miss Militia, Dragon, Defiant, and possibly all Cauldron… plus a boatload of blackmail on the PRT. And, through her contacts with Citrine, possibly a way to give them back Dauntless, Jotun, and Alabaster.

    Possible clairvoyant heroine names: Minds-eye; Ommatidia, Panopticon.

    Bonus possibility – social isolation, possible intense interrogation… provoke ANOTHER trigger event, see what happens.

  24. Accord’s Interlude:

    “Wow, Citrine, she actually said she’d read my plans? That’s amazing, maybe we’ll finally get some work done.”

    Later that night, watching the news.

    “Oh you’ve got to be fucking kidding me!”

  25. You are a shameless tease!
    I don’t see the heros or villians lasting long without Taylor. Her team isn’t the only one that has come to rely on her. And who will keep up progress and standards in her territory? Should have tracked Dinah down & grilled her like a sandwich.

  26. Ah, the suspense!
    Well, seems like most of my guesses have been debunked, but some thoughts and observations:

    -Does only Tattletale know about this plan? The others don’t really seem to really know about Skitter’s goal.

    -If Skitter does end up going to the Birdcage, we will almost definitely get a huge time skip, but…

    -What happens to Atlas? If I recall correctly, he can’t even eat, much less survive for more than a week, without Skitter’s care. Unless Skitter is OK with letting Atlas bite it, Skitter might not be “away” for that long. I mean, I guess Skitter could have taught Charlotte how to take care of Atlas, but it would be incredibly difficult, especially without Skitter’s help or resources. Speaking of Charlotte…

    -I have a feeling the next interlude is going to be about Charlotte and/or Forest. Think it’s the perfect time to see their perspective on things, and also give hints about how things will play out (Skitter’s plan, what happens to the Boardwalk, etc)

    -Seems like most of the character arcs for the Undersiders are finished. Grue has found some peace and stability, Tattletale has wrapped up here original goal and is set for major influence along the portal, and Bitch had found a family (Yay!). Both Regent and Imp remain unresolved though. If we get a time skip, they might just end up splitting with the Undersiders and/or become much nastier. Once again, this along with Atlas might hint that we won’t get a huge Birdcage arc or time skip

    -Maybe Skitter’s pulling a Coil? Fake her own arrest (probably through her leverage with the PRT given what she knows), then come back as someone new somehow (along with new name, never to be able to go back to the Undersiders)? Given the way Tattletale talks, it seems that she doesn’t expect to see Skitter ever again. Then again, she says “Give ‘em hell,” so that might indicate…

    -Skitter might just be launching a full attack, just getting close enough into the PRT so that she can bring it down from the inside, while being able to gather what she needs to discredit the PRT (like solid proof of their connection to Cauldron or whatever) If this is the case, I can sorta imagine how the next arc will start:
    -Skitter: “I surrender”
    -Miss Militia: “Really?”
    -Skitter: “Haha, no” (*Proceeds to beat up everybody*)

    • It’s important I think to remember that Skitter talked to Miss Militia recently and asked her to “Trust that I’m doing what I’m doing for a good reason. I just need you to maybe turn a blind eye here and there, support me when the situation calls for it. I’ll fill you in where I can, and I’ll make a leap of faith and trust that you’ll know what to do otherwise.”

      This is her leap of faith, she’s looking right at Miss Militia and trusting them to know what to do now. I doubt it involves sending her to the birdcage.

      What it is she expects them to do I have no clue!

      • However that doesn’t mean Assault won’t throw a spanner into the works with this plan. The hypocrisy of him refusing to give Skitter the same chance he gleefully seized is going to be wonderful.

        • Especially because she is giving up the people she developed a relationship about to join the designated-good-guy side, when he was getting someone to develop a relationship with.

        • Does Assault still even have beef with Skitter? It was a pretty reasonable grudge, Battery gets found poisoned, dying horribly, and oh, remnants of spider silk tied up all over her from when Skitter took her down. But.. it’s been a while, and there was the Echidna hit, and what she did there doesn’t mesh with the idea that she sold Battery out to the Nine. Assault seems like an okay guy, push come to shove.

          • When exactly did push come to shove? During the Echidna tranwreck when he starting shouting to a room full of capes about how they should give up the Undersiders to be tortured and killed? Grudge or no, that’s a pretty shitty thing to even suggest about people you’re trying to co-operate with. Before that the only particular nice things we see him do is in the process of trying to get into a colleagues pants.

            Also, if he still has a hate boner for Skitter then fuck the guy. Skitter was caught in the agnosia mist, and it was a fight against the friggin’ Nine. I don’t think expecting him to lay aside his grudge due to those circumstances is unreasonable.

      • The Protectorate is hemorrhaging members and needs to bolster its ranks. There’s an Endbringer hit coming and the precogs say the odds are bad. Skitter’s bargaining position might never be stronger. If she comes to them, says “make me a deal”, there’ll be a lot of voices arguing in favor of it.

        • Not precogs. Analysts. Big difference.

          PRT assumes tat the attack is coming. But we, the readers, can guess that the attack ALREADY HAPPENED. Simurgh disrupting the communication between Birdcage and Dragon could have counted as an attack. Which means no overt attack at the predicted time. Nothing to bolster their image. Their timetables thrown out. Their ability to predict events placed into question. It’s a serious strategic blow, like the ones Simurgh favours.

    • I really hope she found a good sitter for Atlas and spoke with Bitch about her plans even if it was just to belive in her or something vague like that.

      Bitch has trust issues and something that could be seen as a betrayal would really not go over with her very well.

      As for taking over the PRT from the inside bit. I think Talor should calmly discuss the performance of the guards in regards to the threat. Things like not noticing her and then overreacting and the time it took for reifnorcemnts to arrive and announce that intents to improve discipline and reaction time once she has taken over as director.

  27. What I did, bringing you onboard, trying to help you, if it can even call it help, considering where we wound up.”

    on board, if I can even call it help

    Great chapter wildbow!

  28. I was wondering when this would happen. I didn’t think it would be so soon, but as she says, her hand is forced.

    I look forward to next week. And to the interim, come to it; the Interludes are always a refreshing dose of perspective.

  29. For everyone expecting a timeskip: I hope not. There is no way to skip two years in a story this intense and make it feel justified.

    A better idea would be something happens that adjusts the date closer by two years or so. This seems like a fittingly unfair event for Worm.

    “Oh, we thought we had two years until the apocalypse, but looks like it’s going down tomorrow at noon.”

    • We just had a timeskip recently that jumped ahead a few weeks. It would seriosuly hurt the flow of the story to have another one this soon IMHO.

    • Honestly I hope this is what it turns into and Wildbow has just been leading us on. Status quo around here- can’t take a step without stepping on a red herring. :P

  30. You know, a breakout from the Birdcage has been theoretically possible ever since they put Panacea in there. Alter people’s biology enough to navigate the vacuum and I bet the 600+ villains could take out the 3,000 or so drones, especially since a lot of them are apparently programmed to self destruct.

    I make no guesses where this is headed though. Awesome chapter Wildbow.

    • There’s also a chance, that if Dragon recovers, she will no longer be bound to prevent certain prisoners from escaping. Especially prisoners she might feel were mistreated by the justice system. Of course the threat, that Dragonslayers will be put in charge, if somebody escapes, might give her pause.

  31. Interesting. Skitter suspects that her Passenger might be pushing her to attack her enemies, which is why she has to concentrate to keep the bugs down.

    Now what we know:

    1. All powers have offensive application

    2. Noelle, whose Passenger held much more control, was driven to ”kill all humans” mindset. She speculated it was due to Passenger being unbalanced and twisted by her issues, but maybe it was exaggeration of the original intent.

    3. Trigger events happen to people under stress and loners. Thus stress is much more likely caused by conflict with society or happen to antisocial people.

    The Capes being driven to violence might be part of the Passengers plan – I wonder if it should be violence against other Capes, regular humans or both. Why is it so hard to stay away from fighting? There was only one Rogue in the city and she is now part of the heroes vs. villains conflict. The Capes seldom cooperate with each other, even when it makes sense – maybe it’s just human nature, but maybe it’s human nature + alien intent, subtly working in subconsciousness.

    PRT was managing get a large number of Capes cooperating, working under Cauldron’s plan, who seem to know something about Passengers and perhaps about their methods and intentions. Then Simurgh -> Travellers -> Noelle -> PRT on verge of collapse.

    4. More of a speculation, but Endbringers are holding back – if all three of the them attacked at once, heroes wouldn’t be able to stop all of them. If they fought together, could even Scion + Capes stop them? Only Capes can stop a single Endbringer attack, which makes them indispensable to normal humans. Maybe Endbringers are there to ensure that Capes aren’t destroyed by society, that would otherwise fear them? Then again, maybe they are some sort of test with a time limit.

    • The Endbringers may very well be holding back – the timing between their attacks suggests as much as does the fact that they don’t attack different locations at the same time.

      One thing that does make sense though is that they don’t all attack the same place at the same time. If anything is likely to be able to do serious damage to an Endbringer it seems like another Endbringer would fit the bill. Picture Leviathan accidentally pulping the Simurgh with a wave, or Behemoth hitting Leviathan with his Instant Kill power when a lucky cape manages to dodge out of the way.

      I think explaining what the Endbringers are after and why they behave the way they do will be one of the trickier things Wildbow could be faced with in wrapping up the story – assuming they don’t simply remain an enigma.

        • PLEASE do not cop out on us with giant space flea from nowhere magic on this and explain it properly, same with the Passengers! @_@

          • Not that I think you actually WOULD, it’s just too many times I’ve had it happen and the story is soured for me. Like the Mass Effect 3 “Endings that Matter”. So I’m afraid. ;_;

          • I actually don’t want to ever know. It gives the setting that extra bit of unknown mystery, and things are never as big as how I picture them. So I say keep things mysterious.

  32. Any users of the IRC that may have been given le boot or cannot connect, due to a server-wide permaban on Mibbit, you will have to find an actual IRC client program and join with that. I recommend Xchat or Ychat for those with Windows.

  33. Wow. Finally caught up on the entire story, and this is some of the best writing I’ve seen. On par with the likes of David Farland, Terry Goodkind, and Robert Jordan. If you ever Publish hard copies of this story I’ll be sure to buy some, and encourage my friends to do the same.

    • Much appreciated, Devin. Congrats on finishing the archive binge. ;)

      Mind if I ask how you found Worm?

      - Hope to see you in the comments in the future. :)

    • *Walks up with a drill sergeant’s hat on*

      You maggots think you have what it takes to read Worm? Look at you. I bet none of you have read anything harder than Goosebumps. Well let me tell you something, insects, I don’t care how you got your shrunken head, how much monster blood is flowing through your veins, or how you survived the attack of the lawn gnomes!

      This is the big leagues! We will thrill you, chill you, and fulfill you! Is something funny, Private Furter?! I’ll have you know, I treat my job looking after my privates very seriously! My privates will be clean, they will be shaved, my privates will smell of sweat after a hard day’s work, and they will be out there learning to be goddamn dogs of war when it comes to reading! They will read so hard, it’ll make Tolstoy think about taking another drink, manning up, and writing some more goddamn classic fucking literature just to try and keep up! They’re going to be devouring so many words, they’ll turn green, get a huge mouth, be stored on a floppy disk, and be sent back in time to educate public school students about the English language!

      Now if you dung beetles think you have what it takes to be one of my privates, you get out in that comments section and you type like you have a purpose. Do you understand me?!

      That’s what I thought! Welcome to the comments section, Private Devin.

  34. I find this turn of events quite interesting, but for… shall we say unusual reasons. Skitter has surrendered, true. But in a situation where she holds all the cards. As stated, the building is still ‘saturated’ with her insects. She has total situational awareness here. Hell, it’s better than surrendering in her own lair, as far as that goes.

    So here she is, holding all the cards. Miss Militia gets to see she makes good on her promises. And the PRT gets to see that Dinah is right, if not in the way they thought. It got her in their custody. Everything is going according to plan. She said so herself. She’d planned for this eventuality.

    She said she never liked being Skitter. She always wanted to be the hero and has always been the bigger person. And when you get her biggest boon has been knowing more than the other side. She operates off of near perfect information and disrupts the enemy’s patterns. There is a world of difference between being stuck in a cell and being imprisoned. I think it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen.

    However, in deference to Wildbow’s preference, I’m going to stop before I dredge up every gun that’s about to fire.

    It’s just too bad I won’t be able to catch Saturday’s interlude ‘live’.

    Off on a tangent, or two, I know some people have commented about a Worm tabletop game. My preference for system would likely be the old TSR marvel game or it’s clones(4C) or those inspired by it(BASH UE). The ultimate powers book contains Regent’s power set and the whole thing views powers in nice monolithic blocks with variations on it due to themery and other powers you may have.

    Also, listening to Powerman 5000 while reading Worm is Quite A Trip. Reread the first arc while listening to Destroy What You Enjoy. I got chills when Heroes and Villains came on.

  35. Bah, looks like you hit the sack before I finished my Web Fiction Guide review; anyway, cheers, it was about time I bit the bullet and wrote one.

  36. *slides in on stocking feet* HEY GUYS WHAT’D I MI- oh. D:
    You go away for finals for a week and this happens. *shakes fist* WIIIIIILLLLDBOOOOWWW!

  37. Holy carp. Taylor, this plan had better…have worked…

    I’m without Wi-Fi at the moment, with the entirety of Worm previously loaded in my browser. Expect further comments in quick succession.

  38. Shouldn’t the heroes have attacked and taken out Lost Garden if they are so visible?

    “Who would own the portal?”
    Ownership is a social contract that gets thrown out the window if the thing is sufficiently valuable, Taylor. The portal is sufficiently valuable.

    ” I could see dark circles under her eyes.”
    The lights and screens are off. Can Taylor see infrared?

    Anyway, I’ve recovered some of my sympathy with Taylor with this chapter so looks like I’ll keep reading. :)

    I’ve been reading thread you have on spacebattles.com while reading this and wanted to say that when I previously accused Taylor of being a Sue I meant in the “Warps reality and the actions of others by her presence” sense if that wasn’t clear.
    A close match to your definition:
    “Characterization goes out the window because people don’t act/react appropriately when interacting with her. Plot goes out the window because the second she enters the scene, the storyline goes off on a tangent. Verisimilitude goes out the window because the previously established rules and qualities about the setting are bent or eliminated entirely for her and her alone.”
    Though the second sentence doesn’t apply as far as I can see, the first and third have been glaring recently.

    For a recent example I just thought of: the way Taylor can find out where everyone is and their positions with her bugs, having a bug on you is not common even in the tropics (where I currently live even a single fly being in the room would be noted, but while I was near the equator I definitely noticed ants crawling around and flies getting near). It is a notable event, especially when there’s a bug villain nearby.

  39. …Red Handed
    I think remember those being mentioned later. Weren’t they called the Red Hands then?

    I described my power as being like a massive, three-dimensional game of Sudoku, right?
    …Is it odd that I began working out the logistics of 3D Sudoku immediately?

  40. “I made my way into the center of the lobby and stopped to looked around.” Should be “stopped to look around” or “stopped and looked around” I think.

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