Cell 22.2

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Miss Militia handed me a phone and uncuffed one hand from the table.  I dialed the number I’d memorized and waited while she and Director Tagg watched.

Mr. Calle, Esquire,” the voice on the other line said.  He sounded distracted, and the voice was slightly muffled.  I could hear noise in the background, voices.

“It’s time,” I said.  “I’m at the PRT headquarters, second basement floor.”

Ms. Hebert!  Excellent!  I was just telling myself that I’d almost run out of things to see in your city, here, and was about to let myself start being concerned for your welfare if it got much later.  I’m in your territory as we speak.

“My territory?”

Getting a sense of who you are as a person and a personality.  There’s a number of people here who are very concerned for your welfare.  They don’t quite believe me when I say I’m looking out for your interests.

“Okay,” I said.  “Big guy?  Beard?”

A young lady, dark-haired.

I thought for a second.  “Tell her ‘fly in a paper box.’”

He didn’t cover the mouthpiece of his phone as he spoke the phrase.  There was a pause, then Mr. Calle spoke into the phone once again, “That did it.

I don’t really care, I thought.  I just didn’t want him getting in any trouble.  “How soon can you be here?”

“A five minute drive.”

“It’s not a five minute drive from there to here.”

“I’m a fast driver.  No need to worry, but… maybe don’t mention it to the law enforcement officials that are looking over your shoulder.  Do you have any preferences for donuts?  Coffee?”

There was a murmur on the other end.

“Someone’s telling me you want tea,” he asked.

“Just-” Just get here, I was about to say, then I reconsidered.  I knew where he was, and I was tempted at the thought.  Besides, I knew Tagg was watching me.  “A BLT on toasted white and a sugar donut.  And tea.”

“They don’t sell any tea here, but I’m sure we can contrive to get you some in a timely manner.  I trust you haven’t said anything to the glowering heroes?”

“No.”

“Excellent.  Keep your mouth shut, now.  I’ll be there in six.”

With that said, he hung up.

“A sandwich, donuts and tea,” Tagg said.  He had his arms folded.

I smiled a little, but I didn’t reply.

“Very casual,” he mused.  He took the phone, gripped my wrist in his hand and set the handcuff back into place.

I shifted position, and the movement raked the chain of my cuffs against the ring that held them fixed to the table.  It was hard to get comfortable.  The table and chairs were bolted to the floor, and my hands were held in front of me.  I got the impression the setup was meant for villains just a touch taller than I was – I couldn’t quite lean against the chair back without the cuffs cutting into my wrists.

“I’m trying to figure you out,” Tagg said.

I ignored him.

“My aims aren’t very high.  I’m not a psychologist, like Mrs. Yamada, I’m not experienced in the ins and outs of the traumas you capes go through or the damage that shit causes.  You and I haven’t really squared off yet, like you have with Miss Militia.  Those two understand you on levels I never could.”

I glanced at Miss Militia.  Her expression was inscrutable behind the stars-and-stripes scarf she wore over the lower half.

“I’m setting my sights lower than that.  I’m trying to figure out if you really think you have the upper hand, here, if you’re arrogant enough to expect everything will go your way…” Tagg paused, studying me, as if looking for a response.  “…or if you intend to martyr yourself.  Is that the idea?  You go to the Birdcage, but you make some demands first?”

I would have put my head on the table and tried to close my eyes for a minute, but the setup wasn’t very accommodating.  I didn’t want to try to then realize I couldn’t get comfortable.

“Maybe you don’t really get what the Birdcage is.  See, I hate it.  I was in Lausanne in two-thousand two through oh-three.  Fought a whole mess of ugly.  People that couldn’t be reasoned with, people who were hopeless, in the grand scheme of it.  Victims, as much as anyone else.”

I found myself listening, despite myself.

“We shot them, the people who heard too much of the Simurgh’s song, who weren’t just walking disaster areas, but who’d listened long enough that they lost something.  Men, women and children missing that moral center that people like Miss Militia and I have.  Hell, even you’ve got morals.  They didn’t.  I’m sure you heard about it, you’re not that young.  Suicide bombers, dirty bombs.  Terrorism, if you will.  Eleven year olds and old men making their way to Amsterdam or London and opening fire in a crowded area.  Just like that.”

Tagg slammed his hand down on the metal table, coinciding with the ‘that’.  I jumped a little, despite myself.

He’s just trying to rattle me.

“Once we realized what was happening, we had to act, contain the damage.  Contain families.  Had to act against people who went home from a day of trying to kill the rest of us and cooked a nice dinner, oblivious to just how fucked they were in the head.  People who were otherwise good, who got warped on a fundamental level, left open to the preaching and the incitement of their angrier neighbors.  Two years of fighting before we got the word down from on high, that they couldn’t rehabilitate the ones they’d captured, the ones who’d listened too long.  The poor assholes would play nice until they saw an opportunity, then they’d take it, do as much damage as they could.  Two years fighting good people who’d been convinced they had to throw their lives away fighting an enemy that didn’t exist.  So we closed the perimeter, bombed them out, herded them and gunned them down.”

I glanced up, briefly meeting his eyes.  The lines around them seemed just a little deeper.  I wasn’t sure if it was emotion, memories coming to the surface, or if it was just the lighting in this interrogation room.

“Which takes me back to my original point,” Tagg said.  “The Birdcage.  I hate it.  Hate what it stands for, the affront to our freedoms.  The farce of it.  You know what that word means, little girl?  Farce?”

I almost took the bait and responded, bit my tongue instead.

“Guess not.  And Miss Militia said you were smart.  When it comes to the monsters and the menaces who are more trouble than they’re worth, I wish with all my heart that we had another option.  Look me in the eyes, now.  I want you to see I mean what I say.”

I met his eyes.

“I’d rather do what we did in Lausanne than use the Birdcage.  End result’s the same.  You’re gone from this world.  It’s more merciful, understand?  If it was legal, if I got the okay from on high, I’d make you kneel in the center of this very room and end you with one well placed bullet.  Better than you getting in a van and getting disappeared, dropped into a pit that some of the scariest, meanest capes around haven’t figured out how to escape, a literal hell on earth.”

Disappeared.

“But as much as I hate the Birdcage, I’ll gladly use it if it gets menaces like you off the streets and out of the way of civilized Americans who are trying to live their lives.  And my bosses know that.  They know I’m just as stubborn as the worst of them, because I’ve fought bastards like the sad souls in Lausanne, who didn’t even know how to yield, and I outlasted them.”

I wasn’t sure I could have responded if I’d been willing to open my mouth.

“I want you to think on that.  As much as you see me as an asshole, maybe you look down on me because you think you’re smarter than I am, but you think about what it means that I’d sooner shoot a misguided sixteen year old girl than send her to that place… and I’d sooner send you there than let you go free to keep perverting the system.”

“My lawyer’s here,” I said.  I could sense him, striding through the lobby to talk to a receptionist at the front desk.  “Mr. Calle.  He’s upstairs.”

“Someone will show him the way down here,” Tagg said.  “You and I, we can keep chatting here.”

I shut my mouth, frowning.  Miss Militia wasn’t acting, wasn’t saying a thing.

“I wonder if you realize what you’ve really done.  Pulling the shit you have in this city.  Forget the PRT, forget me and the people I work for.  Let’s talk about the grander perspective.  The precedent this shit sets.  You know there’s already been others who tried to do what you’re doing?  Take over?”

People have been trying to take over for a long time, I thought, but I didn’t say it aloud.

“People are getting hurt, hurting others, trying to follow in your footsteps.  You’re a fucking pioneer, aren’t you?  Do you get that?  That part of what we’re doing, here, is not just stopping you, dealing with you Undersiders, whatever your excuses might be.  It’s the effects that reach across this entire country.  The world.”

I didn’t reply.  My focus was on Mr. Calle, who was making his way downstairs in the elevator, accompanied by the same PRT soldier who had taken me to my cell.

“What’s the name of the fellow who tried to take over that town in Alaska just a few days ago?  You remember, Miss Militia?”

“Hiemal.”

“Hiemal.  How many did his people kill?”

“Three.”

“Three dead,” Tagg said.  He pulled a chair away from the table, set one foot on it, so he was looming over me.

Mr. Calle appeared in the doorway.  I’d looked him up prior to first contacting him, and I’d seen his photos online.  I was caught off guard, nonetheless, on two very different fronts.

“Good afternoon,” he said, putting his briefcase down before extending a hand to Miss Militia, smiling in a way that showed off his very white teeth.  I’d assumed that his prim appearance in the pictures had been because he’d been anticipating having his photos taken, or because he’d been appearing in public.  His black hair hadn’t just been cut, it had been styled, his eyebrows shaped.  He had long eyelashes, I noted, and a small cleft in his chin.  He was an exceptionally handsome Latino guy, in a light gray suit with a white vest beneath, and a red tie.  He had a folder and a paper bag under one arm, in addition to the briefcase he’d put down.

His immaculate appearance was the first thing that caught me off guard, and it set a stark contrast with the corner of one nostril and one of his cheekbones, where, apparently, one of his clients had done some damage.  It was a cut, but puckered around the edges where it had been burned, either with fire or some kind of acid.

He extended a hand to the Director, who glowered but shook it.  He flashed another white smile at Tagg, “Quinn Calle, I-”

“I know who you are,” Tagg replied.

“Excellent.  That should make the rest of this easier.  I’d like some time alone with my client.  I already have the bulk of the paperwork, but if you could give me anything that came up in the last short while, I’d appreciate it.”

“I’ll see what we have,” Miss Militia said.  She and Tagg turned to leave.

Calle brushed the seat clear where Tagg had stepped on it, then sat down just to my left.  “And Director?”

Director Tagg paused in the doorway.

Mr. Calle pointed at the one-way mirror at one side of the interrogation room.  “This is a confidential meeting with my client.  I would never imply that anyone in the PRT would be so crass as to listen in, but… let’s leave that room empty until further notice, okay?”

Tagg visibly bristled at the implication.  Wordless, he turned to leave.

“And cameras stay off!” Mr. Calle called out at the Director’s back.

Tagg shut the door with a little more force than necessary.

“Ms. Hebert,” Mr. Calle said, without looking at me.  He set the folder on the table and began sorting out the contents.  He waited until the paperwork was all arranged in front of him before he turned his attention to the paper bag, retrieving my sandwich, a small carton of six donuts, and a small thermos.  He met my eyes and spoke, “We finally meet.”

Again, that smile, the kind of smile someone could only really give if they were attractive and they knew it.  He didn’t seem to mind the blemish on his face, acted as though it weren’t there, as if that dictated how others would react to it.

“Can we cut out the charm and get to business?” I asked, as I reached for the thermos and sandwich.  “There’s something of a time limit.”

The smile dropped from his face, and he was all business.  “A time limit.  Can I ask?”

“It’s twelve past one,” I said.  “We have until eight-thirty.”

“Very well.  Let’s get moving.  First off, I want to get some things clear.  I’m an excellent lawyer, I’ve worked with more than a few big-name villains, as well as heroes who went astray.  I have the rest of my firm backing me, and their talents are but a phone call away.  But.  He paused in a very deliberate way.  “You should know that I’m not the lawyer you want at a jury trial.  We’ve run simulations, and I don’t sell when it comes to juries.  This little mark is a good part of that.”

He touched his face, where the scar was.

Mr. Calle continued, “If it comes to a serious trial, I’ll take the backseat and one of my senior partners would represent you.”

“Okay,” I said.  “That’s fine.  I don’t want this to go to trial.”

“Alright.  We can work with that.  In the meantime, let’s see what we’re up against…”

He turned the first page in one of the neatly bound sheafs of paper.  “Charges… chime in, but don’t panic, alright?”

“Okay,” I said.

“April tenth, criminal negligence with a parahuman ability, sixteen charges of assault, sixteen charges of battery with a parahuman ability.”

I tried to think.  April tenth?  Early in my career?

“Lung,” I said, “I attacked him and his gang.  They’re seriously charging me for attacking Lung’s henchmen?”

“They’re going to charge you with everything they think they can get away with and see what sticks.  Depending on who they could actually find and convince to testify, they’ll drop charges after the fact.  We can maybe use that, or we could, if circumstances were different and we were wanting to take this to trial.  No need to worry.  Gut reaction?  Could they make it stick?”

“The Lung part, yes, but the rest… probably not.”

“Okay.  Let’s run down the list.  April fourteenth.  Thirty two charges of willful felony assault with a parahuman ability.  Thirty two charges of hostage taking, technically domestic terrorism, each perpetrated with a parahuman ability.  Robbery with a parahuman ability.  Willful damage to government property.  Disturbing the peace.”

“The bank robbery.  I didn’t damage any property.”

“Right.  April twenty-fourth?  One case of battery.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“An… Emma Barnes.  She appeared-”

“Right.  No, I remember what that was.  It happened, didn’t think anything would come of it.”

“One of the girls who bullied you.  Odd that they took their time filing charges on it.  Only this past week.”

Tagg must have talked to her.  I shrugged.

“Moving on, then.  Incidents taking place at the… Forsberg Gallery, May fifth.  Five cases of assaulting a law enforcement officer.  Five cases of battering a law enforcement officer, three performed with a parahuman ability.”

“That’s attacking the heroes?”

“No.  That’d be an entirely different charge, and…” my lawyer flipped through the papers, “Just double checking… there’s a conspicuous lack of charges involving your altercations with major heroes.  It could be that they discussed it and didn’t feel it necessary.  Things get complicated when capes take the stand, given the issues of identity and character, and they might not have wanted to dredge up old business.  If not that, the only way I could imagine it is if the heroes in question withdrew all charges?”

He pitched his voice to make the statement into something of a question.

I thought of Armsmaster.  Him?  Maybe.  But Assault?  Miss Militia?  That was harder to picture.  The Wards?  Harder still.

“I don’t know which it is,” I admitted.

“All right.  Something to look into, if we have time.  Still on May fifth, eighty-one charges of willful felony assault.  Still at the fundraiser.”

He raised one eyebrow.  I only nodded confirmation.

“Skipping ahead a month to June third, we’ve got… complicity towards one count of kidnapping using a parahuman ability.  This was-”

“Sophia Hess.”

“One of the girls who bullied you.  Extenuating circumstances, perhaps,” he said.  He made a note in the margins of the document.  “June fourth, you’re supposedly complicit in class two extortion with a parahuman ability, criminal negligence with a parahuman ability and false imprisonment with a parahuman ability.”

“They… can probably make that stick.”

“June fifth.  Treason.”

“Treason.”

“That would be, in effect, declaring war against the government of the United States of America.”

“That’s not what I did.”

“It’s what they’re going to say you did when you took over the territory.  I’d expect they already have strong arguments lined up on that front.  On the same day, thirty cases of assault and battery.  Six cases of aggravated assault with a parahuman ability.”

I nodded.

“June eighth, eight cases of assault with a parahuman ability.  June ninth, we’ve got twelve more.  June tenth, three cases of assault with a parahuman ability, one case of assault in the third degree.”

“Alright,” I said.

“Thirteenth, we have three more cases of assault with a parahuman ability.”

“Makes sense.”

“Sixteenth of June, disturbing the peace, property damage.”

I nodded.  The days were starting to blend into one another, to the point that I wasn’t sure I could guess which charges were referring to which events.

“Seventeenth, five charges of assault and battery.  One charge of aggravated assault with a parahuman ability.  One charge of criminal extortion.”

“Attacking the mayor,” I said, almost relieved to be able to pinpoint the crime in question.

“And his family, it seems.”  Mr. Calle paused, then paged through the rest of the pad.  “June eighteenth.  Destruction of government property, four counts.  Hostage taking, assault and battery of a law enforcement officer.  June nineteenth, complicity in another count of treason.  Complicity in manslaughter, nineteen counts.”

I nodded.  Dragon and fighting in the debate.  Given Dragon’s response in the cafeteria, I’d almost expected her to drop any charges involved in the destruction of the suits she’d sent against me.  Maybe people higher up than her had charged me anyways.  Then there was the manslaughter.  “Apparently the murders were staged.”

“We’ll have to look into that.  And… that’s the last we have in our actual records.  The PRT was slow in sending us the rest, but Miss Militia should deliver it soon.  There’s been more in the last week, I take it?”

“More assault and battery,” I said, feeling a touch weary.  “Whatever charges come up with the thing at the school.  I sort of arranged to have a psychopath kill herself.  Um.  However you’d charge putting maggots in someone’s eyeballs.  In self-defense.”

He didn’t even flinch at that.  “I see.  And any other charges that might catch us by surprise?”

“Premeditated murder,” I said.  “Of a law enforcement officer.  Miss Militia knows, but she’s kept quiet on it.”

“I see,” Mr. Calle said.  He frowned briefly.

“It was Coil.  Director Thomas Calvert was Coil.”

“Alright, then,” Mr. Calle said.  He met my eyes, then smiled.  “Believe it or not, I’ve handled worse.”

I wasn’t sure if I should feel relieved at that.

“Now let’s talk about our goals.  For the record, if we took this to trial, I think we could knock off most of these charges on a lack of evidence and degrees of amnesty surrounding your participation against the various class-S threats.  They’re going to want to put together a jury that hasn’t heard of you, which would be difficult.  To those people, it’s going to sound downright preposterous that a sixteen year old girl is being charged with treason and terrorism, especially after we reduce the number of assault and battery charges to single digits.”

“I don’t want a jury trial,” I said.  “I’ve said this twice now.”

“I know,” Mr. Calle said. “Hear me out.  I’m wanting to make sure our expectations are realistic.  Theoretically speaking, I think we could get you charged as a minor.  Paint a picture of a bullied teenager pushed to the limit, caught out of her depth and, following the Leviathan attack, ensnared in an ugly situation where she’s trying to protect people and the heroes are being unreasonable in how they interact with her.  We could use the unwarranted unmasking to indicate just how aggressive and ruthless the PRT has been in regards to you.”

“And if I decided to plea down, in exchange for certain considerations?”

“We can still reduce the charges, which would help reduce the penalties you’d face, but where I’m confident we could get you off in a trial by jury, you’d face some consequences if you insisted on taking this route.”

“Alright,” I said.  “I can live with consequences.  In terms of holding them to the terms I stipulate, is there any way to set it up so they can’t change their minds after they’ve gotten what they want from me?”

“We can prepare a contract, but that only imposes financial penalties,” Mr. Calle answered me.  “The PRT could theoretically get it thrown out of court, and that’s ignoring the possibility that you could be sent to the birdcage.  It would depend on the penalties you’re able to levy against them…”

He trailed off.

I thought of Tattletale.  “I think I have some ideas.”

“Excellent.  But the best way, I’m thinking, is to make it all common knowledge.  Let the rest of the country hold them to it.  It would depend on whether we could share the details with John and Jane Q. Public.”

“Can we talk about the terms, then?” I asked.

“We can.  I got the impression you were able to tell time?”

“It’s one twenty-seven.  Six hours and three minutes left.”

“Right then,” he made a pained expression.  “A good thing I told my wife I wouldn’t make it to dinner.  I’ll get a few of my coworkers on the line.  They can pitch in and put an intern to typing things up while we hash this out.  You don’t have much ground to stand on, but we can make the legal ramifications as ugly as possible for them if they throw you under the bus.”

It took one and a half hours, roughly, to get everything worked out and organized.  After that, I had to put up with twenty minutes of waiting while Mr. Calle’s law firm typed it and emailed it to us.  It took ten more minutes for my lawyer to run to a nearby print shop and get the paperwork we’d put together.  Mr. Calle then insisted on reading the entire thing through.  The wait was almost intolerable.

Fifteen more minutes passed as he went through it page by page, with agonizing slowness.  I winced a little every time he stopped and went back to check earlier details against whatever it was he was reading.

“It’s bare bones,” he finally said.

“I didn’t expect much else,” I said.

“We could have done better with more notice, I have to say.”

“Too many variables to lay anything out ahead of time,” I said.

“Very well.  Let’s bring them in.”

More minutes ticked away as we waited for the others to arrive.  Director Tagg, the Deputy Director, Miss Militia, Clockblocker, and Mrs. Yamada… they were gathering in force.  Tagg took a seat opposite us, Miss Militia to his left, his second in command to his right.

“Let’s hear it,” he said.

Mr. Calle stood, then walked around the table, handing each person present a copy of the document.  I was the only one who didn’t have one in front of me.

“My client, Taylor Hebert, is offering official surrender to the PRT, for a select handful of crimes.  This surrender and an admission of guilt would be televised locally, nationally and possibly internationally, dependent on which outlets were prepared to cooperate.  In exchange, my client, Taylor Hebert, known by the alias ‘Skitter’, requests some concessions from the Protectorate, PRT and Wards.”

“Televised?” Tagg asked.

“It serves as insurance for my client, and it serves to signal the Undersiders to stand down, should they be considering any sort of aggression for the capture of their leader and friend.”

“Right,” Tagg said.  “Let’s pretend she didn’t plan for that.  Go on.”

“To begin with, the remaining members of the Undersiders will be given leniency for past crimes.  With the understanding that the Undersiders are serving to police this city’s underworld where the Protectorate is unable, the group would cease to be the target of any aggression or harassment on the part of the PRT, Protectorate or Wards.  This fact would not be disclosed to the public, but would serve as a truce to allow both sides to carry out their respective duties in the service of Brockton Bay.”

“You’re kidding me,” Clockblocker said.

“You want us to play nice,” Tagg said.

I watched Miss Militia.  We’d already discussed this point.  I’d gauged her response.  Now I was putting it out there in simple, clear terms, making it official.  I couldn’t be sure if she’d hold to her word or if it would collapse under the bureaucracy.

I’d tested her once, and she’d informed Tagg of what I was planning.  This would be a second test, of sorts.

“Special allowances,” Mr. Calle said, “Would be made for crimes committed in the future, within specific limits detailed on page three of the paperwork you have in front of you.”

“You want to neuter us,” Director Tagg said.  “Stop us from policing the criminals who run this city.”

“As my client phrased it, Director, we’re hoping to free you to focus your efforts on real targets.”

“You can want it and begin again,” Tagg said, “But I won’t stand by and watch it happen.”

“Quite alright,” my lawyer responded.  He flashed a smile, “I expect that’s why Ms. Hebert has asked that you retire, Director Tagg.  Her colleague, known by the alias Tattletale, has apparently confirmed that you’ve put in the requisite number of years.  You could collect your pension without issue.”

I watched as Tagg leaned back in his seat.  He gave me a smug look.  He thinks he got to me.

“You’re dangerous,” I said.  “You’ve got a soldier’s mentality at a time when we need peace.  You’d let the world burn to… give me a bloody nose.  You said it yourself.  You’re unyielding, and we need compromise.”

“A reality that Ms. Hebert feels Miss Militia would be better equipped to accommodate,” my lawyer added.  “That’s our third term.”

There weren’t any retorts or rebuttals from the ‘good guys’.  Instead, they exchanged glances across the table, everyone looking between Miss Militia and Director Tagg.

“The PRT is led by non-capes,” Miss Militia said.

“That can change,” I said.  “Nearly a week ago, you and I had a conversation.  We talked about the issues within the PRT, the fact that you had to kowtow to non-capes and all the problems that posed.  I think the non-capes who tend to find powerful positions in the PRT are getting there by dangerous roads.  They tend to have backgrounds with the police, military, and anti-parahuman strike teams.  It sets up a combative mindset, where we don’t need one.  With a cape in charge of the local team, at the very least, I could hope that there’d be a shared perspective.”

“You think Miss Militia would be easier to manipulate,” Tagg accused me.

“I think she’s a no-nonsense type.  I know she’s a respected cape, that her power… it’s not one you want to cross paths with, so there’d be little doubt she could put up a fight if it came down to it.  And she listens.  She doesn’t always do what I’d want her to, but I can live with that.”

“This sets a precedent,” Miss Militia said.  “One that I doubt our superiors would be happy with.  One I doubt the public would be happy with.”

“When I showed up the night you guys outed me to the public, Tagg was boasting about your fantastic public relations department,” I said.  “How virtually anything could be sold to the public, given time.”

“It’s ultimately up to the Director,” Triumph said, “But what if, hypothetically, we had a figurehead leader, with Miss Militia as the person that was really calling the shots?”

I shook my head.  “Not good enough.”

“You actually have the temerity to play hardball?” Tagg asked, his voice rising a notch.  “I think you’re missing the fact that you’re securely in our custody, and you already surrendered.  If it comes down to it, we can see you shipped off with Dragon and Defiant, keep you airborne and away from any large body of insects until your trial by teleconference.”

“And my teammates?” I asked.

“That’s up to you,” he said, “But I don’t think you have it in you to sacrifice them for… this.”

“I guess I have a higher estimation of them than you do.  Don’t tell your people to stop underestimating me, only to slip up and expect to win wholesale against the rest of the Undersiders.  I think they’d surprise you.  Surprise all of you.”

“You said you need compromise,” Miss Militia said.  “But you won’t budge on this point?  A figurehead leader would keep the public content and give you what you’re asking for.”

“What I want,” I said, “Is to set a precedent.  Fixing Brockton Bay doesn’t do a thing, if we don’t leave doors open to fix things elsewhere.  If one cape becomes head of the local PRT, then it could happen elsewhere.”

Director Tagg drummed his fingertips on the metal table for a few seconds.  When he spoke, his tone was derisive.  “Your arrogance boggles the fucking mind.  You want to change the world, and you think a confession on television and the threat of your friends attacking the PRT will be incentive enough?  You’re not that big a fish.”

“I don’t want to change the world,” I said.  “I want to make it possible for things to change.”

“Semantics.”

I sighed.  My glasses were slipping down my nose.  I had to bend over to put them in reach of my hand so I could push them up.

“Is that it?” Miss Militia asked.

“One more thing,” Mr. Calle said.  “My client has a request.”

All eyes turned to me.  I straightened.  “I recognize that I’m asking for some big things.  I’m hoping that the… scale of some of what I’m asking for is tempered by the fact that this is all constructive.  It puts us in a better place and leaves us prepared to face down the real threats: the impending apocalypse, the Endbringers, the forces who’d want to move into this city and abuse the portal.  I’m going to ask for one more thing in that vein.  Don’t send me to the Birdcage.  Don’t send me to juvie, or hang me for treason.  It’s… not constructive.”

“What would you have us do?” Mrs. Yamada spoke up.

Use me.  I get that it wouldn’t work, having me join the Wards.  Too much baggage.  But… the end of the world hinges on Jack Slash doing something within the next two years.  You absolved Armsmaster of his crimes and sent him out to hunt them down.  Do the same with me.  I can cover a lot of ground in a search, I have experience fighting them, and if you needed it, nobody would even have to know I was doing it.  I’d be one more body on the ground, relatively discreet, and maybe that gives us all a slightly better chance of keeping Dinah’s prediction from coming to pass.”

I wasn’t even done talking when I saw the looks, felt a sinking in my gut as the various people in charge exchanged glances.  Tagg smiled a little.  Miss Militia looked… concerned.  The only person who looked as confused as I felt was Clockblocker.

“What?” I asked.

“Your intel is out of date,” Tagg said.  His heavily lined eyes were staring at me, studying me.

“What?” I asked.  “You already stopped them?”

“No,” he said, and the word was a growl.  He didn’t elaborate further.

“Taylor,” Miss Militia rescued me, “Do you know where the Slaughterhouse Nine went after leaving Brockton Bay?”

“A series of small towns, then Boston,” I said.

“Yes,” she said.  “And they struck one target after Boston.  Toybox.”

I remembered seeing the name on Tattletale’s bulletin board.  “Who or where is Toybox?”

What’s Toybox, you mean,” the Director said.

“What’s Toybox?” I asked.

“May I?” Miss Militia asked Tagg.  He gave her a curt nod, and she took hold of the laptop in front of him.  It took her a few moments to log in and open the page.  She unplugged the cord from the laptop and handed it to Mrs. Yamada, who handed it to my lawyer.  He set it so we could both see it.  Mr. Calle clicked the touchpad to page through the various images and documents.

“Toybox is a black market organization,” Miss Militia said.  “Tinkers who operate solo find life rather difficult, due to a lack of resources and the fact that gangs and government organizations are very, very persistent when it comes to recruiting them.  Faced with the prospect of spending their lives on the run, trying to avoid being forcibly recruited into one organization or another, most turn to the Protectorate or the Wards.  For those few who don’t, Toybox is… was a refuge of sorts.  Tinkers would join, share technology, stay in the enclave as long as they needed to build up a reputation and whatever tools they needed, they would share thirty-three percent of any proceeds with the rest of the group, helping to keep others afloat.  Toybox sustained itself with barter, by moving frequently, operating between the scope of heroes and villains, and by selling less-than-legal goods to criminal groups.”

I could see the images, grainy black and white photos of various tinkers huddled together, or standing behind tables loaded down with ray guns and the like.  There was a chronology of sorts, to the point that I could see the group evolve, some leaving as others joined, the enclave shifting from a group as small as four members to as many as fifteen.

“The Slaughterhouse Nine attacked them at the end of June,” Miss Militia said.  “In doing so, they appropriated all of the tinker technology and all of the tinkers that were staying with the group.  See page thirty-six and on.”

Mr. Calle paged forward until the images showed up.

Pyrotechnical.  A tinker focusing on flame manipulation, special effects, guns.

Cranial.  A tinker specializing in neurology.  Brain scans, draining thoughts, recording thoughts.

Big Rig.  A tinker who built drones that built things in turn, particularly buildings.

Bauble.  A girl who specialized in glassworking and glassworking tools, including tools that could turn inorganic matter into glass.

Dodge.  A boy, twelve, who made access devices for pocket dimensions.

Toy Soldier.  A powersuit user with a suit the size of a small building.

Glace.  A tinker specializing in cryogenics and stasis.

“The Nine have access to all of their work?”  I felt an inarticulate feeling of horror creep over me.  I couldn’t imagine anything particular, but anything that enhanced the capabilities and options that Slaughterhouse Nine had at their disposal?

“And access to the work of Blasto, a cloning specialist they assaulted and kidnapped in Boston,” Miss Militia said.

I sat back and the chain of my cuffs went taut, my arms stretched out in front of me.  “This doesn’t change things.  If anything, you need all of the help you can get.  This is serious.”

“It’s complicated,” Miss Militia said.

“Seems pretty damn simple,” I said.

“No,” she said, shaking her head.  “Because they’re gone.  They stopped.”

I shut my mouth, staring.

“The Slaughterhouse Nine attacked Toybox, taking the group’s devices for themselves, and they disappeared.  We suspect they used Dodge’s devices to exit into a pocket dimension, and by the time we’d found a way to follow, they’d exited elsewhere.”

“They’re dimension hopping?”

“Dodge’s devices only exit from Bet to pocket worlds he creates with his devices, back to Bet.  We believe they exited somewhere on Bet, possibly in another state, then used another device to hide.  Which would be where they are now.  Without knowing where they entered that particular pocket, we can’t hope to find them,” Miss Militia said.  “We know their patterns.  They tend to cut a swathe of destruction across North America, and it’s rare for even a handful of days to pass without them taking any action at all.  Between the PRT’s past experience with the group, our thinkers, and the fact that they haven’t made an appearance in nearly ten days, we believe we’ve worked out what they’re doing.”

I stared at the laptop.  It was still on the last page.  Glace.

“Cryogenics,” I said.

“Stasis,” Miss Militia agreed.  “The pressure grew too intense, with Defiant and Dragon’s pursuit, they weren’t recovering from losses fast enough.  They’ve gone into hiding, and we think they plan to wait.”

Wait, I thought.

“How long?” Clockblocker asked.

“We can’t know for sure,”  Miss Militia replied.  “But if they’ve put themselves in a cryogenic sleep, they could wake and resume their normal activities days, weeks, months or years from now.  Depending on the resources they have available, they might well emerge with clones of their current members at their side.”

Tattletale should have told me, I thought, even as I knew why she hadn’t.  Her power had been out of commission.  She’d been out of commission.  We’d known the Nine attacked the Toybox, but we’d missed what that meant in the grand scheme of things.  Through a combination of Tattletale’s ailment and a hundred other small distractions, we’d missed out on the reason Defiant and Dragon had been able to abandon their hunt for the Nine and visit Arcadia.

“Does Jack know?” I asked.  “I mean, I know he knows he’s supposed to end the world, but does he know he sets it in motion within two years?”

Miss Militia shook her head.  “We don’t think so.  Which means that, unless there’s something specific they want to wake up for, we can’t even begin to guess when he’ll have his team wake up.”

Silence hung in the air for long seconds.

“Now you know.  These are your demands?”  Tagg spoke up.

“We’ll need to discuss things and revise our terms with this new information in mind,” Mr. Calle said, glancing at me.  I nodded once.

“Better do some heavy revision,” Director Tagg said.  “And do it fast, because it’s not that long until sundown, and I won’t be accepting any of your terms as they stand.  You said it yourself, nobody wants this fight.”

I frowned, watching each of them making their way out of the interrogation room.

Tagg joined Miss Militia’s side, and I couldn’t help but notice the way she adopted a guarded position, folding her arms as he approached.  It gave me a flicker of hope.

Until the bugs I’d planted inside the fold of Tagg’s collar caught a fragment of something he was saying.

“…her father.”

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

264 thoughts on “Cell 22.2

      • a hand to miss Militia, (capitalization)
        while Mr. Calle’s law firm typed it out and emailed it out. (Style? “typed and emailed it out” sounds better to me, but might be language barrier)
        “You can want it and begin again,”” (I don’t get that sentence)

      • Not a typo, but doesn’t Skitter know that Jack knows he ends the world? She was present when Cherish told him, and he made an offhand comment about it not long afterwards once his cover was blown.

      • “Which means that, unless there’s something specific they want to wake up for, we can’t even begin to guess when he’ll have his team wake up.”

        The repeat of ‘wake up’ rather bothers me.

    • “…I thought, but I didn’t say it aloud. I’d complained often enough on TV when the” unfinished sentence

      “Hiemal.” “Heimal…” which way is it spelt?

    • I’d expect they already have strong arguments lined up on that front. On the Same day, thirty cases of assault and battery. Six cases of aggravated assault with a parahuman ability.

      Same is capitalized.

    • She doesn’t know if he knows that he has a time limit. Cherish just told him that the world will end if he leaves the city.

    • Jack knows “end the world.” He doesn’t know the time frame. He’s specifically trying to end it as fast as possible because he thought it would be sooner.

        • As of currently I am wondering whether or not theo will ever get powers. Maybe he will stop jack as a HUMAN.

          • honestly, I don’t think the end of the world requires jack at all – only theo, and possibly some cloned members of the S9. The world was almost definitely going to end if he left the city – said nothing about the odds if they killed him after that

        • Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if his deal with Theo is the furthest thing from Jack’s mind. He’s focussed on the Slaughterhouse 9k and the end of the world. Given that he probably plays mind games with just about everyone he meets, Theo probably isn’t his highest priority right now…

  1. Her memory isn’t perfect, and it was both at a stressful time as well as at a time where her memory was actively impaired by prions. It’s unlikely it’ll drag until the sundown, however much I’d like it to just to see the other Undersiders let loose.

    Wonder if they’ll bring in her father and subject him to police brutality just to make her cave? Seems like the sort of thing Tagg would do.

    • I don’t think he’ll do that. They are bending the law because she is a villain while he is a well known citizen/organizer of the dockworkers. I think he will be in for quite a surprise if he tries to mess with Danny though. He does have a temper, and once certain facts about her trigger event came to light, I can see a big backlash. I am greatly disgusted with Miss Militia though. She was there for all the chaos, death, and suffering the ABB/The Merchants caused, and it was the Undersiders who helped people. Yet she stands there while he charges her for assaulting them? Honestly at this point, it is probably better for the world if the PRT is destroyed and they start over.

      • I think that point is arguable. I mean, public trust and belief sometimes outweighs government corruption.

      • She has to, as a hero. Work WITHIN the law, and all those charges are REAL, even if a large amount of them were in dealing with gangs and the like to keep other people safe. It’s a seriously dick move, but legitimate thanks to the legal system.

        • An arguably unjust legal system though. Plus working within the law and doing this might hurt them more in the future with even more capes choosing to leave. Flechette, I’m assuming she will pick a new name soon, admitted that the wards are breaking up.

          • But until she sees definitive results that it is entirely unjust, better to work within and try to fix a partially broken system than to abandon it entirely, especially when it’s you vs. gov’t.

          • True, but if you use weapons like Skitter does you still get charged with assault despit it being self defense, defense of others.

          • Assault ranges from inflicting grievous bodily harm all the way to simply threatening injury on another.

      • Nah… Miss Militia is just letting Tagg pressure Taylor a bit. Nothing more. Nothing sayin’ Miss Militia won’t take the stand for Taylor if it comes to that.

        • Too, there’s the fact that Tagg hasn’t crossed the line yet. This is both Skitter’s hope and ploy, that by getting Tagg to reveal the depths of his ruthlessness, it will build up to the point that Miss Militia and the other REAL heroes can’t let it stand any longer.

  2. So Taylor doesn’t go to the birdcage/juvie, undersiders get leniency, a new truce, and Miss Militia is in charge. Not that bad in terms of demands considering they know the 9 are being cloned and the end of the world is coming. The audacity of the PRT to actually charge her for assaulting the ABB, and the merchants tells me that the deal isn’t going to go through. Tagg is going to say no, Taylor goes to a cell somewhere, and the Undersiders make their counterattack, with a revolution of some sorts with Miss Militia going against Tagg’s leadership at the very least. Dragon might follow after she hears this stupidity. I can’t believe the idiocy of the PRT for letting Tagg do this, and putting that guy in charge. I’m with Taylor. If he goes through with this, the PRT deserves what it gets. Any bets on just what kind of damage the PRT is gonna face?

    • the “audacity” is actually pretty standard. it’s like ramping up the violence in a game, putting it before the ESRB, then chopping the unwanted added gore to the level you wanted it to be, to get the rating you wanted. You toss as much as you can at the perp and see how much sticks, and then work with that.

    • I think that if Ms Militia thought that there was a threat of the S9 cloning themselves and the prior members of the S9 she would be begging Taylor to help. The “twist” is that the S9 have gone dormant and Tagg thinks that he doesn’t Taylor has nothing he needs to consider. A possible counter-twist if the S9 going wild and the PRT having a panic attack is quite likely to take place after they ship Taylor off to the Birdcage. Quite the drama.

    • I don’t know, I don’t see any tax evasion, arson, jaywalking, public nudity, conspiracy to commit public nudity, or insurance fraud. What kind of supervillain is she? They aren’t even trying to get her for loitering!

  3. Any idea on the Undersiders’ threat class before skitter turned herself in? I was thinking somewhere around B.

      • I don’t know…Regent and Tattletale’s abilities make them pretty damn terrifying. I think taking over a city warrants an A rating.

        • True. I feel like if they are an A, it’s in part due to their accomplishments, rather than solely the danger they would pose if the Protectorate truly wanted them dealt with.

          • Though actually, Skitter was able to use the possibility of the Undersiders attacking as a legitimate threat. Not to mention that they were able to take on S9 and not only survive, but hit them fairly hard. Plus with the amount of damage they did or contributed to in the Echidna fight.. If the PRT wanted them gone, they’d likely have to call in a fair number of capes to do it, because their power combined with Tattletale’s planning could be devastating. And if you think about how much force they responded to Echidna with when they only considered her a class A threat, it’s actually highly likely they would have an A rating themselves.

  4. …wow, that’s some list. Ouch, Taylor, it must have hurt to listen to that.

    Anyone else find it hilarious that the way he wants to portray her in a trial is basically what happened? It’s a summary of the story, wildbow could put it on the about page and it wouldn’t look out of place.

    • It says something for how badly circumstances screwed Taylor over that “the truth” is indistinguishable from “the most helpful BS we could come up with that we have a hope of selling to a jury”.

  5. You know, I almost kinda maybe sympathized with Tagg for a moment there when he was talking about Laussane.

    Then he said he’d shoot her execution style.

  6. I wonder how criminal charges are different in the worm verse, especially punishments. In our u.s. skitter would have most likely already received the death penalty for federal crimes. Though I guess her being a parahuman must be taken into account.

    • The only crimes being charged that would be eligible for the death penalty were pre-meditated murder and treason.
      Both would be fairly weak in court. Treason has a rather specific constitutional definition that really doesn’t apply to the situation at all. And with the pre-med… technically Coil shot first, probably would be pretty easy to argue that as self defense, with the plan itself being a required element of self defense due to Coil’s specific power.
      All other crimes would have required a murder to have occurred in the process of the crime to be death penalty eligible at the federal level. She could torture people half to death, and as long as she didn’t cross that line, that penalty is off the table.

      • I really want to hear their treason arguments. They have to be some prime BS.

        On the Coil issue: assuming it could be prove at all (the only people able to offer better evidence than hearsay have a vested interest in not testifying), I think her prime defense would be that it was impossible to incarcerate Coil and unacceptable to allow him to go free. Dinah would be critical here — even if she herself could not be compelled to testify, her doctors could. Self defense I think cannot be supported — Coil was not an immediate threat, and force beyond what is necessary to defend against immediate threats is not protected thus.

        • Coil WAS an immediate threat, due to his power. It was the only way he could be handled. Leaving him alive would have been signing their own execution orders.

        • Wait a sec. Did you just make the “some folks just need killing” argument, regarding Coil?

          There are two problems with that argument:
          1. Turnabout is fair play. That judgement can just as easily be applied to Skitter as it can to Coil. Tagg already HAS made that judgement, he just lacks the authority to carry it out.
          2. Brockton Bay isn’t in Texas. Seriously. That one only works in Texas.

  7. Wasn’t Skitter there when Cherish told Jack that he would end the world? And then Skitter overheard the conversation that Jack had with Panacea and Bonesaw about it. So why is she asking if Jack knows?

  8. So now we know what her plan was, but we still don’t know what is going to happen next.

    I like the idea of an undercover cape. She seems well suited to wandering the earth type of thing except her face is a bit too well known right now.

    Will she still get her other demands, but end up in the birdcage instead. Will she bet kept in a cell until the next Endbringer attack?

    It appears that her plans for Brocton Bay might match up very well with Cauldron’s plans for the city. Parahumans openly in charge.

    I was expecting something like jaywalking or animal cruelty to be included in the long list of crimes.

    If Tagg does something incredibly stupid he might find that his retirement is going to be accelerated by those around him.

  9. Skitter should be more careful how she looks at Dinah’s predictions. I imagine that the wording is important.

    Tagg… I find him very interesting. The Toybox explains a few things. Well, now we know. Poor bastards.

    Couple things-
    “‘fly in a paper box.”” Missing closing singlequote.
    “but I”m sure we can” Quotation mark instead of apostrophe.
    “enough on TV when the” sentence cuts off.
    “share thirty-three” extra space.

  10. And there’s the problem with this whole thing: Tagg is too stupid to threaten and too much of an arrogant shithead to compromise.

    Plus he got brainfucked by the Simurgh. Who we now know a bit more about, and is now even more terrifying.

    Kind of surprised the capes haven’t thought to try hiring Faultline’s Crew (well, Labyrinth more specifically) to find where the Nine are holed up.

    One of the really nasty things that could be done if things go pear-shaped is to leak the terms of the deal, and that it was the PRT who fucked it all up. “Trial by media”, as it were.

    I suppose it’s still too soon after last chapter for Tagg’s superiors to have come down on him like a ton of bricks for actively trying to piss off an extremely capable precog who was previously willing to work with them? To say nothing of the fact that he succeeded, of course.

    • Oh, yeah, using Labyrinth and Scrub to find S9 would be a good idea. Then they could just nuke the entire pocket dimension, since there’s no way the entire Toybox isn’t compromised.

      • And that’s probably what fucked up his moral system. It made him develop a them vs us mentality. Only way he could cope.

          • Rather, you’re raised in a society that teaches you from day one that it is wrong to kill, and then as a soldier you are expected to do just that. Categorizing and thus dehumanizing the opposing side as the “enemy” would facilitate quicker responses and better survival, but might also warp the paradigms that once allowed you to fit into society…of course, Tagg has no problem identifying who the “enemy” is in civilian life. They come with a ready-made label: villain.

          • It’s made worse by the fact that he was fighting regular people. Indistinguishable from everyday civilians walking down the street. I think it’s a matter of time before he snaps and offs regular people for being in the way at the wrong time.

        • hell, simurghs entire plot could basically be to get the one person who remembers the REALITY of her trigger event, Miss Militia, in this room with a gentleman of this mental orientation with a young girl, in order to force a second trigger event. Imagine Miss, more powerful, haveing gone round the bend and just start doing damage? imagine what her weapon could turn into?

          • “Hello, I’m a walking nuclear holocaust. Why? Because my weapon has transformed into a nuclear warhead, and is exploding, reforming, and exploding again. I’m not affected because it’s my weapon and I’m protected from it, by it.”

            • Sorry to burst your bubble, but Miss Militia would be dead soon enough, constantly irradiating her surrounding (immune against that) and receiving the radiation of the subsequent irradiated environment (not immune).

          • Worse. It hasn’t been explicitly stated, I don’t believe, but I get the feeling that right now, her power seems to be limited to conventional firearms that ACTUALLY EXIST. I would theorize that they may even be limited to weapons she’s personally seen, or even witnessed being fired, for her power to “copy” it. Now, imagine if it wasn’t conventional? Imagine if it could copy tinker toys? Imagine if it could make tinker like weapons, based on a desire or specification. Like say, a launcher that fires self replicating robots designed to eat buildings and create more of themselves, under her control?

          • > Like say, a launcher that fires self replicating robots designed to eat buildings and create more of themselves, under her control?

            Instant Class S threat. Seriously.

    • Tagg was present for and dealt with the aftermath of Lausanne, not the event or Simurgh itself. That was in 2001, while he was stationed there 2002-03.

    • Wait, did Tagg get Simurgh’d?

      That might actually explain a thing or two, depending on just how subtle she can be when programming her sleeper agents.

      • It did just get him to talk about executing a teenage girl in front of a girl who triggered when facing murder by soldiers as a kid. So…yeah…not the best thing.

        I feel like my point so long ago about being one immoral son of a bitch and still being better than the heroes still stands. At the very least, I don’t lie and claim to be the good guy.

      • I don’t think that he was directly influenced by the Simurgh… But as she is a precog, she set things up so Tagg was influenced by having to slaughter the people in Lausanne so that he became the man that he is today, and thus things turned out the way they have- all at her direction. The Simurgh no doubt knows how to chain reactions so they’ll have the greatest impact.

  11. Oh yeah, Tagg, you’re such a hard man making hard choices. So long as you have bombs and armor and you’re fighting American citizens. So, if you’re such a badass, then why are you picking fights in a recovering disaster zone instead of pushing for support to root out the Nine?

    Is it because you’re a washed up bum that you’re superiors want to shuffle off into an unwinnable fight, or is it because you’re like everyone else in the PRT and will only fight when you have a giant advantage?

    Hey, why don’t you pick on Danny for a little while, you deserve that fleeting sense of self validation that harassing a bereaved family man will grant you. Jesus Christ. Hey Hannah, just keep standing there like a mute idiot while you’re boss goes on about executing teenagers. That’s great, you’re doing a bang up job with the whole hero thing.

    Captain America would slap the shit out of these people, and I mean THIS Captain America.

    • He is a bit mixed up there. I mean, there are some differences between life imprisonment and execution, even if one is effectively the other for a lot of the time. If someone is shown leniency or proven innocent (or right) later, the imprisoned can be freed. But your resources for bringing back dead people are severely limited.

      I think the thing to take away from this is that Tagg is off his rocker. The people under Simurgh’s spell messed with his head, which should be a pretty big thing to bring up on the psych evaluation. It broke him to the extent that he can’t see the difference anymore between enemies.

      If only we had a psychiatrist in the room.

      Ah well, this is going to get more painful before it gets better, I’m sure.

  12. Did she just lose her get out of jail free card with that S9 setback? I seriously do not want to see her confined in Birdcage/juvie.

    • If she does go to juvie, we’d get to see her interact with Shadowstalker. And I only don’t want her to go to the Birdcage because I think right now a jailbreak sounds a little too deus ex-y to me.

      • And then the lord took the birdcage into his hands and tore it open to reveal a dragon, a canary, a bug, and some bones.

      • Well it was foreshadowed pretty early and I assume it will entail quite alot of effort to happen. It was mentioned that an Endbringer attacked the birdcage once, and the smurf attacking would turn all the prisoner into her lazer guided missles of distruction. I’m having more problems with the 9 continuing to seem like villain sues. They lost Siberian, bonesaw was legless, and yet they escape Dragon, find a hidden enclave of tinkers, beat them/capture them/recruit them without too much trouble, gain access to all their tech with no problems, and escape into a pocket dimension unmolested?

        • Well obviously there’s going to be a Birdcage breakout at some point. I mean, building an Alcatraz in a superhero story is just tempting fate.

        • On the one hand escaping is one of their specialties by Jack playing up the unexpected angles with his passenger like some kind of Mozart/Capone mash up. Number Man said so, or at least thought it likely.

          On the other hand the S9 I feel are going through villain decay. They got beat by Taylor, they got run down by Dragon and Defiant. They can be beaten and aren’t quite the boogeymen they once were. Still scary, but they’re a known quantity now. Clones excepted of course.

          Speaking of clones, we have yet to ever see a perfect cloned replica of anyone. Blasto came closest but tended to add or subtract traits till he got a smart monkey. He couldn’t even do a straight Simurgh clone the looney bastard. Echidna had clones who varied in appearance, powers, personality and everything else. Spree made idiots, Prism couldn’t keep hers active very long. Makes me wonder how screwed up the S9000 will be.

          • Even if S9000 isn’t individually as good as S9, can you imagine a hundred clones of Burnscar or Crawler or Hatchet Face, even at only a fraction of the power? Not to mention if the clones were spliced with others, and then improved even further by Bonesaw?

          • Considering the things Bonesaw can do to flesh, the fastgrowing capabilities of Blasto take on a whole new level of scary.

  13. OK, things were looking alright up until the end there. To be honest though, with all the demands and what-not, Skitter was and still is looking at really long shot

    More list of thoughts:

    -So, new character! Super Lawyer Calle, seems almost comically stereotypical evil-lawyer-ish, what with his charming appearance save for obviously-evil scar. I wonder if he’s going to become a main-stay in the story, could see him partnering up in a sense with Tattletale to help run the more bureaucratic side of things, or becoming Skitter’s liaison and “number man” if she leaves the Undersiders

    -Tagg is trying to get under Skitter’s skin, and its working to an extant, which means he might not be as bone-headed as first shown. Granted, he’s no Coil, but he does have a point: The threat of a PR crisis and the Undersider’s attack, at least on face value, aren’t the best bargaining chips, especially given the demands (which basically amount to almost full amnesty and compliance)

    -In regards to D&D, given that they’re goal is no longer tracking the S9 currently, I wonder how they’re going to play into this. Is Dragon out of her Reboot-Stupor yet, and did Defiant really withdraw his charges against Skitter? Also, for the hereos…

    -It seems that many Heroes seemed to have pulled, or at least not filed, charges against Skitter, which means that the whole defection thing might come through in the end. Even if MM doesn’t get the PRT Director position, it at least shows that many of the Heroes now and continue to recognize and be more willing to work with the Undersiders, and this could be the turning of the tide that Skitter wanted. I could kinda imagine that at the end of all this, Skitter really does get convicted, but “escapes” thanks to Clockblocker “forgetting” to lock Skitter’s cuffs.

    -As for the other Undersiders, assuming that Skitter really does leave them, they might just drop out of the story entirely, up at least until the end-fight. Regent/Imp thing is still worrisome, but they don’t really have much place to go from here on out. They continue to hold their position in the city, either Tattletale, Grue, or even Parian takes leadership control, Bitch goes through the portal to start her own colony, and Regent might actually take Skitter’s concerns to heart. However, it does indeed feel like Skitter is using them as tools right now, and comes off as not too concerned about their well-being.

    -For that last part regarding Skitter’s dad, I don’t think they are going to try and threaten him. Instead, they bring Danny in and get him to talk Skitter down. However, depending on whether or not he read the letter that Skitter left for him by Mrs Hebert’s grave, he might do the exact opposite. Danny’s approval of his daughter might give the push that Skitter needs, and also help wrap up his storyline nicely

    • But seriously, I doubt that we’ll lose the Undersiders. We rarely miss them for more than one non-interlude chapter.

    • Who the fuck files for assault because they got boo-boos during a super fight. I assume most of those we’re done by Tagg, but anyone who filed that themself is a goddamn pansy.

      • I certainly would. Just because someone has super powers doesn’t make them above the law. If someone held a knife to my throat during a bank robbery I’d be filing charges.

        • I’m thinking that Reveen is talking about supers charging supers. For that I can understand. I mean, they’re voluntairily throwing themselves into harm’s way and throwing harm at the villains, after all. It’d be like a cop shooting a criminal then charging him for assault because he shot back (And don’t tell me it happens, I want to preserve -some- respect for law enforcement, thank you).

          • Resisting arrest and assaulting an officer are par for the course in that sort of situation. The DA really does have to throw everything they can at crooks in the hopes of either getting something to stick, or getting them to plea out. I won’t go into how broken the whole damn thing is. Really. (Must resist rant… Must resist rant…)

          • If you’re a criminal who gets shot resisting arrest and you shoot back, *absolutely* you should get charged with that. You should follow any reasonable and lawful
            directive of the legal authorities (such as “turn yourself in so you can be tried for your crimes”). You always have the option of surrendering and turning yourself in at that point (aka not breaking the law even further by attacking a police officer) .

            It’s entirely possible that the police officer exceeded his authority by shooting you and you *might* be able to claim self-defence for that, as well as maybe instituting charges against them.

            About the only legitimate reason I can think of for firing back rather than surrendering is if you have reason to believe the
            policeman’s goal is to kill you, not arrest you.

            And even then, you should still be charged with it so the legitimacy of that defence can be decided in court rather than them just taking your word for it…

      • For unpowered law abiding citizens, that’s their only legal recourse to strike back against parahumans there’s nothing wrong with that. Law Enforcement agents (i.e. Police, PRT) filing charges is what’s laughable, I mean isn’t that what they signed up for in order to bring down powered criminals?

        What I interpreted from the “Heroes” of the Protectorate & Wards not filing charges was them feeling the need not to publicise how badly and often they get their collective asses kicked by a bullied 16-yr old even when they were playing Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors with capes like Sere facing her (we all know how well that turned out).

        • I really am surprised that so many people are taking this perspective.

          Yes, it’s the heroes’ job to arrest super-powered criminals so they can be held to account for their crimes. They should, and do, expect a certain amount of violence as part of their job.

          That hardly means that a criminal shouldn’t be charged for attacking an officer of the law in the course of their duties! They should get off scot free for what is clearly yet another criminal act? Why?

  14. As Skitter’s surrender would be such a huge windfall for the PRT, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been any mention of Alexandria or higher-up authorities letting their opinions be known.

  15. Ha ha! Finally I am caught up with Worm. Whoo, that was a hell of an archive. I honestly didn’t think a superheroes fiction would be this impressive, but it’s a pleasant surprise!

    I think Miss Militia isn’t taking more action here because she doesn’t intend to weaken their negotiating position with Taylor, but it would be underestimating her to say that she isn’t paying attention to what Tagg is saying and doing. The bit about executing Skitter if he could seems like it would cut a bit too close to Miss Militia’s trigger experience for comfort, and he’s really pulling out all the stops.

    Tagg is playing right into Taylor’s hands here, a wedge has been driven between Tagg and Miss Militia for a while now and it’s only widening, and now Taylor’s giving them a way to do something about that schism.

    Personally I hope it ends with Tagg getting shot execution-style himself, but that might be a bit too appropriate.

    • Nah. Execution style wouldn’t involve so much screaming and pissing himself.

      And I agree with you about the wedge between Miss Militia and Tagg. I think the execution bit is working against him. After all, she was a young girl facing unpleasant things and execution at the hands of a bunch of soldiers who probably felt just as gung ho. Now she’s serving a guy just like that. Someone who prefers to put a girl down in the field rather than march her to a cell.

      Welcome to our dear comments section, Guancyto. It’s a hive of scum and villainy. I like to welcome all you critics, complainers, disgruntled rappers, and commentators especially to the 9th Annual Tagg Hater’s Ball.

      We used to have people who pretended to being above it all, but Reveen, that cocky cock with the royal cock picture, has recently joined us in scumbagging Tagg. Or is that ScumTagg. Scumbag Tagg, perhaps? Either way, Tagg is the type of guy who insists you give up so things don’t end badly, then rants about wanting to execute you himself.

      Scumbag Tagg brings his wife to work, claims he’s in a warzone. Scumbag Tagg sends people to attack you, then charges you for fighting back. Scumbag Tagg puts motherfuckin’ snakes on a motherfuckin’ plane, then makes Samuel L. Jackson add to the swear jar. The motherfuckin’ swear jar.

      Scumbag Tagg threatens to kidnap a girl in drug rehab after her supervillain kidnapping. Scumbag Tagg does this because he don’t give a shit. He put down all the people warped in the head by Simurgh, and that’s why Scumbag Tagg is going to execute him some 16 year olds. There’s nothing Scumbag Tagg enjoys more in the morning than an execution. That’s the reason why Scumbag Tagg enjoys the sight of the back of his wife’s head more than her face.

      Scumbag Tagg once called in a bomb threat to the special Olympics. Scumbag Tagg got his best friend’s wife pregnant and tricked his best friend into raising the kid. Scumbag Tagg once called the cops on some drug dealers that moved next door not because it was the right thing to do, but just because he was jealous of the money they were making.

      Scumbag Tagg wouldn’t welcome you to the comments section, Guancyto, but here you are. Enjoy.

    • I just started reading, too. I found Worm about two weeks ago, and spent almost five solid days reading through it all. I couldn’t stop.

        • Well the chapter I finally got caught up on was the last of Imago, but this is the first chapter I’ve really posted in. I have a few other comments on this page though.

          • Well then, while PG prepares a suitable welcome, do take this, it’s full of coins.
            *hands to Dinstow a metal canister*
            Just wait to open it until I’m clear of the blast radius… I mean… until I’m way over there to… buy stuff, yeah, that.
            *scampers away*

      • Me? Come up with yet ANOTHER bit to welcome Dinstow to the comments section?

        Come on, even I have limits. It’s not like I can just go out and invent some sort of Hyperbolic Raysentigrator! Honestly, the expectations y’all have of-

        From the dawn of time till now, the universe has seen many things. Wars amongst the stars and female wookies. Treks with pointy-eared logic elves in space, surrounded in a see of blue women with wrinkled foreheads. Pan galactic gargle blasters. Horse headed nebulas full of serenity, at least until prematurely destroyed by network executives. And halfway between Earth and Uranus is Pluto Nash, a bomb with such destructive potential that it killed an entire comedy career.

        But there, on a planet called Terra aka Earth, which is used interchangeably with dirt (showing how awesome even the dirt is!), is the land of a thousand cheeseburgers (per person). Slightly to the north is the frozen mysterious land of Canada (and to the south of them both is the land of the agave worm that only comes out for a break in the spring). It is there, dressed in plaid flannel and sitting snuggly in pink bunny slippers, that Wildbow writes. This is important! This is awesome! This is in no way exaggerated in painting this as one of the notable things of the universe!

        This summer, it’s time to buckle up and grab some popcorn. No, screw that. Strap your ass to the seat and pull out a big bowl of awesomesauce, because this is going to be an amazing ride of epic proportions. Featuring a dog that plays hockey, a gorilla that talks through a translating wrist device, and a robotic fish that only wants to understand the true meaning of love. An all-star cast featuring Tommy Wiseau, Andy Dick, Ben Stein, Dane Cook, the big screen debut of Honey Boo boo, with musical guests William Hung and Sanjaya Malakar, directed by Uwe Boll.

        Coming to a theater near you, an event so great, we’ll have to invent new words to describe it, it’s Squirm, the generic knockoff movie meant to sound similar to Worm so we can cash in on it due to little kids and old ladies not being able to tell the difference.

        You’ll pay for the whole seat, but you’ll only need to go throw up in the bathroom!

        Device still needs some work. Anyway, welcome to the comments, Dinstow.

        • Thanks for the welcome, PG. I happened to find myself linked to Worm three weeks ago while drifting through the endless vortex of time consumption that is TV Tropes. I then spend as much of the next five days as I was physically capable of reading through the nearly 1,000,000 words that make up the 225+ chapters here. Worm has definitely captured my attention, and I very much look forward to all forthcoming chapters. And, of course, discussing them here.

  16. … I wonder what the military looks like in the Wormverse. What do they do with soldiers who trigger in combat? Are there separate para units or are there mixed squads?
    - The Adepts. I keep meaning to ask this and forgetting to do so. Is magic separate from para powers, a variant thereof or a simple misunderstanding of certain non-front-loaded power sets? None of the above?
    - if they’re ever going to kill Behemoth, they will need Clockblocker.
    - Calle seems sinister. Like the kind of person Coil would have hired because he wanted something only a supervillain could give him
    - can Othala grant powers to ordinary people ie folks who haven’t triggered and/or physically *can’t*

    I freely acknowledge the unlikelihood of any Word Of God on these; just thought I’d ask.

    • Regarding magic: It has been mentioned before that there are people who believe that their powers are magic. They are not. They are powers, just like everyone else has.

      • To further explain: Passengers seek to repair the damages of their hosts as best they can, and for some this takes the application of the mystical to their lives- I assume those who are disillusioned with reality would have this sort of power given to them.

        • Could just be the nature of how you get powers too. Tough to explain thing, so there are going to be some people pushing for magical answers. Something touches your mind and suddenly you have superpowers. And for those more religious, it’s easy to see how a trigger event could be taken for divine intervention.

          Just ask Saint Joseph of Cupertino.

  17. Curse you Wildbow, you had me feeling sympathetic to Tagg for a minute or two there, thinking he wasn’t such a douche after all, then he pissed all those good vibes away on another round of hardball posturing. Ah well, at least he seems to be one of the few people in-setting with enough awareness to recognise the monumental horror of what the Birdcage represents, even if he’s drawn the wrong conclusion from it.

    Skitter’s demands are… less overwhelming than I was expecting, actually. Having her join up with D&D would be epic, maybe we’ll get the “Dragonfly” peeps have been talking about. Can you imagine what kind of power-plays she could pull off with access to the tech of two of the most powerful Tinkers in the setting? The implications alone make me weep manly tears of unfiltered awesome.

      • Tinkers and thinkers are most troublesome when on the other side. Tattletale has been an invaluable resource. Imagine what her guesstimation with a tinker’s innovation could come up with under Taylor’s guidance. Not going to happen, though. Protagonists don’t get God Mode.

    • And now I’m thinking of Phoenix Wright with actual phoenix powers. Giant flaming wings and immortal.

      It would make for a spectacular court room.

      • I’m imagining him starting out on the Public Defender circuit, cursed to work all the very worst villain cases because of his inability to stay dead. At the start, his clients routinely try to kill him when he screws up, and sometimes succeed. Occasionally one of the judges, who bears a striking resemblance to Akane Tendo, mallets him into a pancake (which then bursts into flames) and cusses him for being a flaming pancake.

  18. Tagg is interesting in how someone so limited by short-term thinking got as far as he did. The S9 are not a problem this week, so Taylor can be executed/Birdcaged? If I were to guess I would think that they are going to try some way to send her to the Birdcage sans trial. Not sure how, but I can’t see the powers that be (Cauldron) giving a chance for Taylor to sing..

    • Cauldron wants/needs Taylor. She was one of their desperate hopes. They aren’t going to disappear her, they’re going to try and recruit her.

  19. Now this got me wondering do we have anyone left here who is actually sympathetic to the course Tagg takes?
    I mean right at the beginning of his term up until maybe the attempt to capture her i could have tried to find points that made sense in his tactics. A harder course to reign the superheros in or maybe try to capture them after they took over the city i can understand but everything and i mean every single decision he made since we actually got to meet him seems he s triing to get us to either dislike him or question his sanity.

    Because i think its pretty onesided and we agree he s making bad decisions and if we as the readers that mostly only know this from Skitters perspective all agree on that how can anyone in the story still follow his orders and believe thats right?
    Or is it fear of the Undersiders or maybe and thats a big maybe does it actually seem reasonable when you look at it from the heroes perspective? The bit about Dinah alone for me at least makes that highly unlikely.

    On a side note has Skitter been informed on her rights yet?

    • Reading them their rights is more of a thing to do for questioning them, so while she was sitting in the cell, they didn’t have to. Of course, then they sat her in a room and started asking her stuff, so at that point they should have.

      But really, why should a law enforcement agency like the PRT bother with upholding the law? They’re the legal guys, so they get to break the law as much as they like in the pursuit of the wrong kind of lawbreakers.

      Note to self…Lawbreaker is a great name for a sword.

      • I find it interesting that people seem to assume that para-humans actually have rights. Do they, under the law? Has it ever been put to the test? Which rights? If they’re not quite humans, do they get human rights? Can you be a citizen if you’re not exactly human?

        • They procreate fertile offspring with regular humans. Which is one of the more common definitions on species. So yes, Parahumans are Humans. But the phrasing of the different accusations implies a certain change in law to incorporate the higher capability and responsibility of capes in the eyes of the law.

  20. This was a very enjoyable chapter!
    I really like the story broken down into a list of accusations. It does end up looking rather damning however :p.

  21. First: Tagge is evil. He does not realize it, I doubt many others realize it but he and the attitude he represents are poison. PRT is desperate sending him into this situation.

    Second: PRT has no one or no technology capable of determining if Skitter is lying or at least giving them insight? I don’t buy it, something or someone is being set up.

    Third: “…her father.” Would bringing her father into this situation contribute enough stress to create his own trigger event or would it create another trigger event for Skitter?

    • Skitter’s second trigger is going to require a lot more than that. Probably going to require some claustrophobic room, with Brian and/or other people dead/dying nearby. Probably Sawbones nearby, too.

    • > Second: PRT has no one or no technology capable of determining if Skitter is lying or at least giving them insight? I don’t buy it, something or someone is being set up.

      They probably have Armsmaster’s tech, if they want it.

      • Defiant isn’t on the Anti-Skitter-Squad. The thing about tinkers is that it’s hard to maintain enough leverage to force them into cooperating.

        “You want me to build you a nuke? Ok. Sure. Give me some parts and 20 minutes.”
        15 minutes later: Mr Scary Man With A Gun is running for his life from ScrapIronMan.

        • They have Armsmaster’s lie detector via Kid Win. That’s how Legend got a hold of it after the S9 left.

          • Unfortunately, they might not realize that Armsmaster was mistaken when he said that Skitter could fool his lie detector.

            (Well, mistaken or lying — but from what I recall, the conversation in which he seemed to conclude that it couldn’t reliably catch her lying was weird enough that he probably did believe it.)

          • Extermination 8.7, speaking to Legend:

            Armsmaster told him, “Skitter here has been building a fairly strong reputation as an adept liar, so be cautious.”

            “Oh?”

            “She’s fooled my instincts and my hardware on more than one occasion.”

            It sounds like he believed it to me, too — I don’t know if he still does. (Actually, I don’t remember why he does — any ideas?)

            • Armsmaster was convinced he was right and that Skitter was lying. He choose to believe his assumptions over his hardware. Odd for a tinker but there it is.

            • Armsmaster assumed Skitter was a villain, therefore she was lying about wanting to be a cape. Since he was certain she was lying his tech was either broken or she was able to fool the tech because (of course) Armsmaster was never wrong.

    • I really don’t see Tagg being worse than neutral on the alignment scale – he doesn’t seem to take pleasure in harming people, he just fails to empathize as soon as someone is sorted into the “Enemy” box.

  22. My theory is that Dinah would not ask Skitter to leave her friends unless it put her in a stronger position later on. This means this whole event causes her to go to jail or suffer immensely at the hand of Tagg, resulting in more heroes joining her side (I do think it would be hilarious with Clockblocker or Miss Militia joined the Undersiders); or it results in her making allies in prison, a second trigger event, or perhaps the revolution starts next~ chapter. They might be forced to destroy the PRT entirely, which they wouldn’t otherwise do, resulting in a stronger reaction time when the next Endbringer shows up or somethin’?

    • One of my pet theories is that she’s getting sent to the Birdcage so that she can bring out Amy/Panacea. Beyond her healing, her flesh-sculpting would be an incredible weapon against the 9.

  23. A more reasonable PRT director should be able to justify granting Skitter, and maybe others of the Undersiders, amnesty (and even a medal) based on their exceptional actions against the S9, Echidna, etc. However being asked to tolerate partial control of the city by an outlaw group is a lot to ask and I’m not sure if they could really get away with it even if they wanted to. After all, they have no guarentee the rest of the Undersiders will continue to act benignly without Skitter’s leadership.

    I can’t see Tagg ever agreeing to his retirement so Skitter must be hoping a favourable decision will be made either over his head or through a mutiny from below – a lot to ask.

  24. You know what cheeses me off? Tagg trying to use the death of three people in Hiemal’s failed coup to attack Skitter’s conscience.

    Two reasons: first, three people? Really? Mannequin murdered more than three people right in front of her. Second, how the hell can he simultaneously recognize that Skitter has a functioning conscience and not that she deserves sympathy?

    • “……. because I’ve fought bastards like the sad souls in Lausanne, who didn’t even know how to yield, and I outlasted them.”

      He didn’t outlast them, he became exactly like them and now he doesn’t even know how to yield. Case in point:-

      “…but you think about what it means that I’d sooner shoot a misguided sixteen year old girl than send her to that place… and I’d sooner send you there than let you go free to keep perverting the system.”

      The greatest amount of damage that The Smurf was aiming for with the Lausanne attack was Tagg becoming Director of the PRT with this attitude, the sad sods warped by her song were merely the means to an end.

  25. As is often the case with Wildbow’s PoV-centric writing style, some of the most important things in this chapter were the things that weren’t said or shown. When Tagg is laying on the intimidation and talking about wanting to execute Taylor, we don’t even see Miss Militia’s or Ms. Yamada’s expressions. Why? Because that would tip Wildbow’s hand too far. Taylor doesn’t realize it yet, but she’s stacked the deck better than she could’ve hoped. Miss Militia hasn’t said or done anything to counter Tagg yet because she’s giving him enough rope to hang himself. She doesn’t act unless it’s to act decisively. Soon, she’ll have enough evidence to convince herself an others that Tagg is a dangerous lunatic, at which point she will take all appropriate action.

  26. Oh, the Simurgh again. Interesting.
    And “she” set things up in a way as to have a schizophrenic in a position of power. Where he can stop Taylor’s plan (which it is good for the world at large according to Dinah).

    Now, the question is: is the Simurgh screwing with Dinah’s preception because “she” was involved, or it is Dinah that obfuscated the future enough to put an exploitable chink into the Simurgh’s plan?

    By the way: I’m not entirely sure about the Miss Militia thing either. Flechette defecting was obviously Skitter’s “fault”. Wether this means she’s feeling manipulated or that she has further proof of the screwedupness of things is… well, might as well flip a coin I guess.

    Hey PG, have any spare coins around? I used up all of mine making a shrapnel bomb.

    • Just use bottlecaps. They’re the currency of the future.

      I was hopeful about Miss Militia until I saw everyone else getting their hopes up too. At this point, it’d be more in line with the Wormverse’s crapsackiness if she turned around and was like “Nope, gotcha!” followed by Skitter being molested in a closet by PRT soldiers.

      Then we jump ahead 10 years, where she’s discredited because the end of the world didn’t happen, and she finally escapes from being held captive in a house in Cleveland with her 6 year old daughter in tow.

      • But bottlecaps are way too light for anti personnel… oh, you mean to flip it. Right, sorry.

        Her kid, going both with the hive-queen and the “arthropods have many limbs” motifs, will probably be a diclonius you know?
        Oh, right, end of the world. Of course she’s there…

        Now that I think of it, the reliability of condoms is about 98%. Given her (otherwise explaineable) lack of periods, there is a (small) chance she’s in the club already.
        Let’s see…then their offspring’s power would be creating susuwatari I guess.

  27. Lots of interesting stuff in this chapter, liked it better on second read trying to puzzle stuff out (rather than imagine it as it happens). Like the heroes not having filed charges, there’s multiple motivations for that. It could be silent support, sure. Or it could be demanded by the PRT, to present an illusion in the courtroom of a villain who only terrorizes the unpowered, those who can’t fight back. Something to corrode the jury’s perception of her well-known heroics.

    I kinda hope it goes to trial, for all the massive drama that would surround it. If Cauldron stops their killings and kidnappings at the same time as the Undersiders unload both barrels, not only will it be hilarious but it’ll raise a question of collusion. Which would be both awesome and terrible for Taylor, awesome for the potential leverage, terrible for how M.M. looks at her afterwards.

    It’s interesting that such a high profile criminal is being handled purely by local officials. I wonder if the national level has been kept out of the loop, doesn’t know about the eight thirty deadline. If Tagg were afraid his boss would deal, he might well try to keep things muddy and squeeze a deal out of Skitter on his terms. The terms Taylor offered, though.. they’re nothing Tagg wants a part of.

    I love that Taylor apparently went to some prestigious and expensive villain defense law firm. It’s the smart move. Quinn Calle ought to at least be able to keep Taylor out of the Birdcage if she’ll let him. And really.. a long Juvie sentence at this point wouldn’t be a bad position. It’d settle a lot of really ugly charges for a relatively light maximum sentence. Probably something like Juvie until 21 with potential for early release on good behavior and favorable mental health observations. Which is pretty fucking good when you consider that even after you throw out the bullshit there are a lot of felonies that will stick to Taylor.

    • The bullshit could probably get thrown out, and on top of that, they could probably get a lot of people to testify in her favor. I mean, 100 people joined her side when she asked, out of 300. If she were to reach out to all those who support her in the entire city, she could build quite a defense.

  28. One of the things I find interesting is how the lack of a 9/11-Afganistan-Iraq war and the countervailing pressure of the Smirug insurgency has affected the military counter-insurgency mindset. The modern US military places a heavy emphasis on engaging with the members of the community, and if possible, using leverage (Including pardons and bribes) to peel away insurgents until you have isolated any hard-core (i.e. Al-Qaeda) members by getting the others on your side or at least neutral. So an emphasis on diplomacy, communication, and a willingness to make deals in order to end the insurgency.
    Tagg’s military found its self in a fight against hard-core sleeper agents, with no apparent way of Identifying them until they had struck. They were driven instead into a paranoia and no-prisoners altitude when dealing with the insurgents.
    Since coil/skitter’s take over the city plan makes them effectively insurgents, Tagg is following back on his experience. Which is the entirely wrong experience for dealing with actual humans, and he doesn’t seem to realize it.

    • I love the way this community is such a font of interesting information.

      That holds together. The cliche about planning to fight the last war would definitely apply, here — even though Tagg knows intellectually that Skitter is a rational, empathetic human being, he doesn’t know how to engage with her that way.

  29. “and I won’t be accepting any of your terms as they stand”

    Poor Tagg. Still thinking he’s, somehow, relevant to the conversation.
    He doesn’t realize that, from the moment Skitter started talking about the problem of the PRT and Tagg in particular with Miss Milita, that his days were numbered.
    He doesn’t realize that the decision has been taken out of his hands and put into the hands of his superiors. Many of whom would LOVE to sweep the problem under the rug. Especially if it involves NOT talking about Cauldron in a public forum.

  30. “I think she’s a no-nonsense type. I know she’s a respected cape, that her power… it’s not one you want to cross paths with, so there’d be little doubt she could put up a fight if it came down to it. And she listens. She doesn’t always do what I’d want her to, but I can live with that.”

    Anyone else notice the Nixon-goes-to-China aspect of this? :)

    • Say Packbat, what kind of markup is available in the comments? I’m wary to try at random and break something, and you seem to have it figured out already.

      • Em and strong tags are good, as are italics and bold — and a href, of course. I think wildbow provided a list of purportedly-supported tags a while back, but those are the only ones I use.

    • It’s interesting how she replies to Skitter’s compliments there by saying, “this sets a precedent”. Not “could set” but “sets”. Wishful thinking on her part?

  31. Hey guys! I think I narrowed down what I want to happen to Tagg!

    Not clean enough for him to go out with dignity, but not painful enough to imply that we actually care what happens to him. With just the right dash of humor. Perfect!

    Don’t give me that look, there’s time enough for Taylor to get super strength.

  32. Yeeeeeesss Director Tagg. Please tell us more about how extensive contact with Simurgh’d civilians is the irrefutable proof that your sociopathic philosophy of killing all enemies is undoubtedly the right path. Perhaps for your next trick, you’d like to give Echidna a hug under the justification that lots of other people have made a habit of being in extended contact with her.

  33. Peggle and the Simurgh

    I don’t know how many of you played Peggle. But it’s a great example, of thinking several steps ahead. Each pin that the ball strikes redirects it in another direction. This means that every miscalculation is amplified by every miscalculation you make.

    There’s a character, who lets you see where your shot is going to go, even after it redirects off its first pin. This is a powerful ability; It increases, by one, the distance that you can predict the movement of the ball without relying on your own instincts.

    It has been said before, that the Simurgh turns people into guided missiles. The most prominent examples of this are clear- Echidna and Mannequin were both at ground zero of a major Simurgh attack, and went completely nutballs. But that’s not what makes her scary- it’s not just making ticking time bombs.

    It’s being able to see all the bounces off the pegs. With sufficient foresight, you could bounce it off of every goddamn peg. And that’s what Simurgh can do. The short-term chaos, it’s horrific, but kind of petty. But the people it breeds? The people it brings into prominence? Tagg, and the others?

    Everyone talks about how Tagg was never present at the Simurgh’s actions. But that doesn’t make him immune. That’s the error that people- Both out of universe, and very probably in universe- are committing.

    And by the way, as to that whole ‘The Simurgh’s powers are undone by precogs’… How certain are people of that? How much chance have they had to confirm that? It sounds like a theory, based out of existing issues; That one precog will cancel out the others. Expanding that theory, to apply to the Simurgh, as well.

    Who knows?

    • I made a similar statement earlier. It could easily be that the entire point of driving those people insane was to make a man like Tagg, and have him in the right place to interact with the right people with the hardness created in him by that experience.

  34. More thoughts.

    Holy carp. That is a lot of crimes.

    “Putting maggots in someone’s eyeballs. In self defense.” Cracked me up a bit, considering that it was referring to a pretty gruesome method of blinding someone.

    If they accept the demands, Taylor’s leaving the Bay to deal with threats at the PRT’s request. Can you say “Suicide Mission”? Thank Scion that Skitter’s proven to deal with pretty scary threats–unless they send her solo to deal with the Nine after they recruit Nilbog, I don’t think Skitter’s going to have much more trouble than when she fought the Nine the first time. (Which is, admittadly, not saying much.)

    A good note to shift to the Nine. I think Slash has already done whatever it is he’s done to end the world. I don’t have any idea what, though…unless his leaving Brockton Bay is correlation and not causation to his catalytic role.

    Finally: They’re going after Taylor’s dad? Low blow. And stupid of them to let Skitter overhear, unless they’re bluffing. I wouldn’t put it past them…

  35. So, uh, NO ONE, noticed that Calbert sold all the data to Accord then? No one noticed all of that shit going missing? ’cause I feel like they should have.

    And yet again I have to marvel and the complete and total incapability of Dragon and the PRT. The Nine weren’t subtle yet they took Toybox, who all should have known they were coming, Dragon too. Why is everyone apart from Skitter so amazingly weak? Toybox should be kitted out with alarming defences yet Nine easily destroys them without revealing the cloning of non-current members even though they don’t exactly have huge numbers. It’s just stupid they’re not threatening enough to seige Toybox and win.

    They approach and Jack gets hit by a missile that freezes time, job done.

  36. A Faraday cage around the school? Daaaammmmn. That’s some motivated teachers there…Seems awfully dangerous though what with a lot of Wards attending and having to be personally called by the administration rather than get a text when they are needed.

    I had a question about RT too but saw it answered above. I didn’t think of the last letter of both names I was thinking T was for Taylor and R was something supposed to be red like in their earlier code.

    Okay the principal of this school is freaking amazing judging by the current state of things.

    Yup Greg is a total idiot. I don’t even feel bad for him. I see now why he said he was in Brockton Bay yet wasn’t willing to prove it. Dumbass.

    Clockblocker! Dennis! And he sort of recognized her! Too bad he didn’t say anything. We could’ve gotten a nice little love triangle thing going.

    Oh good so we do get an Emma confrontation. Knock her out! Sick the bugs on her and be damned with the secret identity! Call the security guards over and have them deal with her! Rip her apart like Tattletale would! Send some bullet ants to her and calmly walk away whistling like you have nothing to do with it!

    • Damn please ignore this comment. It was supposed to go under 20.2 not 22.2…wildbow if you would be so kind as to delete my above it would be greatly appreciated.

  37. Okay now for a comment that actually pertains to this chapter: For starters, the PRT seriously needs to be dissolved at this point. I understand trumped up charges but jesus christ. Charging her with complicity in manslaughter when she was known to be at the debate and was injured there as well? Charging her for hurting the ABB gang members on her very first night out? I can’t even imagine how they expect 3/4s of that list to stick. I almost want it to go to a trial just so that we can laugh in their faces when everything else comes up.

    Miss Militia really is not helping matters for either side very much.

    The lawyer is impressive. I’d put him like one or two rungs below Yamada at the moment for unpowered individuals.

    Okay Tagg…I know I said that he was an idiot before and was heading towards death but…I didn’t truly expect to see Death and challenge it to a drinking competition while juggling chainsaws. Because that is how stupid this man is. Not just bringing in her father but MENTIONING it where the idiot knows she can fucking hear him?! So what dirty fucking secret does this man have the higher ups were convinced to give him this job for? Because the only way I can see a man this utterly stupid and incompetent getting a job this high is the same method as Calvert.

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