Cell 22.4

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

I watched my dad’s expression change.  “I don’t understand.”

“Like I said,” Tagg said, “Peace of mind.”

“Let’s get started,” Alexandria said.  “I believe I’m fully up to speed, unless Director Tagg has agreed to any deals or made any concessions.”

“Sadly, he hasn’t,” my lawyer said.

“This is common knowledge?” my dad murmured to me.

“Since roughly ten days ago,” I said, not taking my eyes off the woman.  She was looking at me like Tattletale sometimes did.  It made me distinctly uncomfortable.

“Let’s not make this the focus of our discussion.  You wanted to be on board, I presume.  You had to be informed, so you understood exactly what it means when I make a threat.”

“You’re planning to make threats?” I asked.

“Threats is the wrong word,” she said.  “But English is a limited language in some ways.  There’s really no word to articulate what I mean.  A threat with a measure of inevitability to it.  A promise?  Too feeble.  People break promises too often.  A curse?  A malediction?  Too… magical.  An oath?  The connotations are wrong.  When I say I’ll do something, I make it happen.”

I didn’t respond.  Mr. Calle did.  “You seem rather confident.”

Overconfident?  I imagine I seem that way.  It doesn’t matter.”

I studied her, “When you say you’re going to do something?  What is it you’re doing?”

“Putting an end to this nonsense, for one thing.  The PRT, flawed as it is, is my legacy, and I truly believe that it saves lives, or I wouldn’t try to protect it.”

I’m trying to protect it,” I said.

“I know,” she said.  “But the timing is wrong.  Things are too fragile at this moment.  It won’t do.  We’ll arrange this discussion for another time, weeks or months from now, when things have stabilized.”

“I… don’t think it works that way,” I said.

“It does.  Truth be told, I’ve relinquished all authority.  I’m serving under the new Chief Director, and I’m carrying out his instructions, between the times where I’m instructing him in the particulars of his job.  Alexandria, however, remains with the Protectorate, having given her notice that she quits within the week.  She’ll continue as a solo operative.”

An operative for Cauldron, I thought.  I didn’t say it aloud.  Best to let her dictate what information was acceptable to mention aloud.  And she refers to her costumed self as someone else entirely.

I could see the confusion in my father’s face, the dawning realization of how far in over his head he was.

“So you’re following orders,” I said.  “That’s the worst and scariest excuse in the world, really.”

“It’s a reality,” she said.  “When you’re dealing with organizations as big as these.”

“And it’s also a reality that you’ll have people at the top who don’t understand how things work on the ground, giving orders that don’t jibe with reality.”

“You’d be surprised at what I’m capable of understanding,” Alexandria told me.

“You’re forgetting about the Undersiders.”

“No,” she said.  “I don’t forget anything.  Your team is now my bargaining chip.”

I narrowed my eyes.  “How’s that?”

“It’s twenty minutes to six.  I’m not in a particular rush, and I actually enjoy the idea of some field work.  We can talk for five minutes, and then have ‘Alexandria’ remove one of your teammates from the field.  Depending on the situation, I will either arrest them and take them to PRT offices in New York and Boston, or I’ll kill them.”

I could feel my blood run cold.

“After, we can talk for another five or ten minutes, and then I will, again, depart to dispatch one of your teammates.  I expect that by the time the sun sets at eight thirty, the Undersiders will be either dealt with or so neutered that they aren’t a consideration.”

“You’re talking about killing teenagers,” my dad said.  “Without a trial?”

“I’m talking about self-defense, if it comes down to it.  Tattletale can see through weaknesses.  I can’t imagine that she’d be able to leverage mine in the spur of the moment, but I won’t rule anything out.”

I stared at her.  “You’re willing to go this far, yet you couldn’t bring yourself to show up to fight the Slaughterhouse Nine.  Or Echidna, when she first showed.”

“There were extenuating circumstances.”

“Tattletale, you mean.”

“No.  Tattletale was only a small part of it,” she said.  “And it should be obvious that the rest isn’t up for discussion.  Three minutes and forty-five seconds.  Negotiate.”

“You mean you want me to make concessions.”

“I’m saying I’m willing to hear you out.  Convince me.”

“You’re underestimating my team.”

“And now you’re referring to them as ‘your team’.  I thought you left.  You committed to this idea of yours, did you not?”

“You know what I mean.”

“I do.  But as much as I may be underestimating them, I find that others underestimate me.  Strength, durability, flight.  It doesn’t lend itself to much imagination, does it?  Yet others acknowledge me as one of the strongest heroes in the world.  ‘Cape geeks’ debate my effectiveness, protesting that I’m only seen as powerful by association with Legend and Eidolon.  Do feel free to interrupt me if you want to talk about more concrete things.”

I would have, if I could have thought of something to say.

“My reputation isn’t so different from yours, Taylor Hebert.  It’s a reputation that was forged.  There have been fifty-six Endbringer attacks in the last nineteen years.  I have personally participated in forty-nine of them, and in each fight I’ve attended, I’ve been in the thick of the fighting, personally trading blows with the abominations.  The creatures know me.  They know how to fight me, and I know how to fight them.  Yet I’m still here.  Strength, invulnerability, flight.  Those are my core powers, but my other power is greater.”

“Other power?” my dad asked.  “I remember.  When you started off… you explained the reason for your name.”

“A reference to the burned library of Alexandria.  It’s been mythologized as that era’s sum of human knowledge.  I am much the same.  I think faster, I think more easily.  I know martial arts and I remember everything that crosses my path.”

Miss Militia reacted to that, giving Alexandria a look I couldn’t interpret.

She went on.  “I would say I am one of three or four people in this world who truly understands what is going on.  I don’t have all of the answers, and there are some riddles in particular that we’re desperately seeking to unravel.”

We, of course, being…” I said, trailing off.  It wasn’t a question.  Something about the gravity of the word made my dad look at me, startled.

“I won’t discuss the others.  I’ve been disconnected from my former partners, so it’s a moot point.  A debatable point, to use the true meaning of the word.”

I saw a possible piece of leverage and grasped for it, “If you need answers, then we’re the last people you should be attacking.  Tattletale can offer input.  Leave the Undersiders in place, and they can work with you where necessary.  Treat me fairly, and I’m sure Tattletale will play ball.”

“There’s two problems with that offer,” Alexandria said.  She stood from her seat and adjusted her suit jacket, then turned her attention to her cuffs.  “First of all, I believe I mentioned that there’s only a small number of people who truly understand what’s going on.  We haven’t shared this information.  Why?”

I shook my head.  “I don’t know.”

“This isn’t a riddle.  It’s quite simple: we don’t want people to know.  And we don’t want people to know for good reason.  Having Tattletale off leash with all of the information she might discover is a dangerous prospect.”

“She’s not that unpredictable.”

“But it’s not a variable we can afford to have in play.  As I’ve said, things are fragile.  Which brings me to my second point.  There’s no reason to leave her here if we can bring her into custody and use her freedom or probationary freedom as leverage to obtain her talents.”

I frowned.

Alexandria glanced at Tagg, “It’s time.  Five forty-five.  I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

Ten minutes.

She was at the door, waiting for the guard to open it, when I called out, “Tattletale won’t listen.  She’s too rebellious, wants to be the smartest person in the room.  If you force her, she’ll sabotage you, or she’ll just make you put her in the Birdcage, having her here, it’s the only way to get her help.”

Alexandria paused, then looked back at me.  “That will do.  Information I can use, that changes how I’ll respond to this particular confrontation.  I don’t agree, but we can discuss that after.  I’ll target one of the others in the meantime.”

The metal door slammed shut.

Miss Militia stood.  “I need some fresh air.”

She didn’t ask for permission, and she didn’t even look at anyone as she made her way to the door and knocked for the PRT guard to let her through.

“Everything she was talking about,” my dad said, “I can’t wrap my head around this.”

“This is what I’ve been living,” I said.  “This has been my day-to-day.  My friends and I, facing terminal risk, facing down monsters like her, like Alexandria.”

“She’s one of the heroes.”

“Yeah,” I said, meeting my dad’s eyes.  It hadn’t been so long ago that I’d been able to cling to that basic idea.  The image, as I’d heard it phrased, of the heroes, of the Triumvirate.  It had been Armsmaster who instilled the seed of doubt in me, as far as the heroes went.  “Do you think she’s that heroic, now that you’ve met her in person?”

“No,” he said.  He looked troubled.

Shit.  I was stuck in a box while one of the scariest heroes around was going after my friends.  I’d expected retaliation, had told Tattletale to expect it, but this was… I hadn’t expected Alexandria.  She wasn’t even supposed to be with the PRT.  Eidolon, we possibly could have dealt with.  Or Tattletale could have.  Even Legend, possibly.  Alexandria was something else.  The heroic equivalent of a cruise missile.

There was Grue’s power, Imp’s power… did Alexandria have the ability to see through it?

Alexandria was taking her time.  She’d said ten minutes, but she wasn’t in a hurry, making her way out of the building.

“You know, now,” I said.  “After the Echidna incident-“

I could see Tagg stiffen, kept talking, “-Stuff went down.  Alexandria was outed as head of the PRT, other secrets came to light.  You know the PRT is supposed to be led by non-capes, there was scandal, and now the PRT is falling apart.”

“I see,” my dad said.  “Other secrets?”

“You don’t want to know,” I said.  “And Tagg would be exceedingly upset if I shared.”

My dad frowned and stared down at the table.  “I believe you.”

I nodded.

Alexandria had found an alley and promptly took to the air, zig-zagging between buildings and flying with enough speed that people couldn’t follow her with their eyes.

“My phone isn’t working,” Mr. Calle said.

“Can’t have you warning them,” Tagg replied.

“I’m offended at the implication,” Mr. Calle said.

“Can’t have her warning them either,” Tagg replied.

Warning them.  I needed a way to contact my team. Cells wouldn’t work.  A land line?  An unoccupied office… Tagg’s office would do.  My bugs made their way there.

Too small to affect anything, to press a key on the computer, even if I could see the screen.  Too small to transmit a message of any sort.

I needed a larger bug.  There were larger beetles and cockroaches outside.  Everything else had been wiped out by Kid Win’s drones.

I could see Mr. Calle and Tagg watching my dad and I, looking between us.  “What?”

Mr. Calle answered, “I’ve represented a lot of supervillains.  I can count on one hand the ones who had parents show up at their trial, let alone pre-trial.  When they did show up, half of them were a nightmare.  Bambina’s mother, for example, all of the worst aspects of a showbiz parent, but the kid’s a vandal and a mass murderer.  Don’t even get me started on how toxic that dynamic was.  You two are civil with one another, at the very least.  That’s… something.  Hold onto it.”

“Hold onto it?” Tagg commented, from the opposite end of the table.  “I think you’re forgetting your client’s circumstances.”

Again, interjecting himself in between my dad and I.  Driving in wedges.  I felt a momentary urge to do something painful to him.

I couldn’t rise to the bait, though.  I had to channel the anger.  Bugs were finding their way through vents and down hallways, spreading out so the two or three remaining drones couldn’t eradicate them.

Others clustered on Tagg’s phone.  Silk allowed multiple bugs to effectively ‘grip’ the phone handle.  Larger bugs found their way under the base of it, wedging their bodies beneath as the pull on the cord tilted it.  A little bit of progress, driving in the wedge to make sure the phone didn’t simply fall back into place.

“You’re going to jail, Skitter,” Tagg said.  “And if you’re very, very lucky, it won’t be the Birdcage or a death sentence.”

“She’s a minor,” my dad said.

“Doesn’t matter,” Mr. Calle sighed.

“Look at me, Tagg,” I said.  “You said you weren’t going to underestimate me.  Do you really think I’m worried?  Do you think I would have surrendered if I didn’t have confidence that I’d be able to manage?”

My dad was staring at me.

“No,” he said.  “I think you have a number of plans in the works.  But it doesn’t matter.  Alexandria can out-think your plans, counter anything your Tattletale throws at us.

His phone handset fell from its perch, clattering across the keys before it fell from the desk, swinging.  I could see the flare of light on the phone, marking that the line was active.  I hoped there wasn’t a secretary who’d notice.

I flew the largest beetle I had into the number pad, driving him into the number five.  The bugs on the mouthpiece heard a sound I took to be the answering beep.

Five again.  Second number in the sequence.

Not hard enough.  No beep.

Five again.

Seven numbers.

The message that came through was odd, rhythmic somehow, though I couldn’t make out the words.  A recording.

I had to dial an outside line.

Eight numbers this time, starting with… Nine.  It took a full minute to hit the buttons.

Nothing.

Eight numbers starting with eight…  No.

Seven.

The call went through.  I got a response.

Please be Lisa.

I tried buzzing out words.  It didn’t feel like enough.

So I retired the abused beetle and set to using cockroaches.  My bugs felt the indents of the characters on the number pad.

Two, five, three, nine, two, six…

The voice interrupted me.

The number of syllables was right.  She understood.  The numbers each corresponded to three possible letters, and each number pressed on the phone generated a different sound.  Anyone else might have struggled, but Tattletale picked up on it right away.  ‘Alexandria’.

I could only hope it helped.  A little forewarning, at best.

Still couldn’t make out words that followed.  The filter of both the phone and my bugs was too much, and I couldn’t begin to guess where the speaker phone button was.  Wasn’t sure I wanted to risk using it in case someone stepped into the office.  A phone being off the hook was far better than a voice talking to nothing.

“You meant it, when you said they were your friends,” my dad said.

“We’ve been through thick and thin.  They saved me, in some ways.  I’d like to think I saved them.”

Tagg snorted.  I ignored him.

“They did… bad things, didn’t they?” my dad asked.

“So have I,” I said.

“But you’re willing to martyr yourself for them?”

“No,” I said.  “I didn’t come here to be a martyr, I had other hopes.  But… things didn’t work out like that.  It’s down to secondary goals… and if those fail, then I’m willing to go to jail for their sakes.  Not just my friends.  The people in my territory, and maybe just a little, everyone.”

I looked at Tagg as I said that last word.  He gave me a dirty look, then more or less turned his attention to his phone, watching me with one eye while texting with one hand.

“Everyone?” my dad asked.

“We can’t lose the next Endbringer fight,” was all I could say.

“No, I don’t imagine we can,” he said.

That was something he understood in full, even if he didn’t know the particulars.  The Endbringers were something we all understood.  A fact of reality, something that touched everyone, struck a chord of fear in cape and civilian alike.

My heart sank as Alexandria appeared.  She plunged past the cloud of bugs that had collected over the roof, into an opening aperture in the ceiling.  She passed down a shaft that ran parallel to the elevator, and into the Wards’ quarters.

From there, she reached the elevator and made her way up to the cells.

Alexandria rejoined us in the cell, virtually the same, though her hair was disheveled, her suit jacket folded over one arm.  She laid it across the back of Miss Militia’s empty chair and stayed there, leaning on the back of the chair that was bolted to the floor.

Noting Miss Militia’s absence led to me double checking on her.  She was on the roof.  No, I couldn’t count on anything from her.  I’d hoped to have one more piece in play, but she was leaning over a railing at the edge of a helicopter landing pad, staring out over the city.

Alexandria had to be my focus.  She was staring at me, scrutinizing me.  I met her eyes, and she locked hers onto mine.

“I’d thought Tattletale had figured it out…” she paused, “But no.  You told them.  You have an open line of communication with them.”

I shrugged, thinking of Tagg’s phone, with the handset still dangling over the edge of the desk.

Wished I could hear her response.  What had happened to my teammates?

“Let’s take five minutes more to talk.  Then I’ll take care of another of the Undersiders.”

“Another?”

“A PRT van will be along shortly.  I wanted to keep to my time commitment, so I sent a truck.”

“Why should I say anything?” I asked her.

“Because as long as we’re talking, I’m not out there, taking your team to pieces, and you have a shot at passing them information.  It gives them time to recuperate and strategize.  Five minutes gives them time to make a getaway, or contact help.  I imagine you arranged for backup.  Hired mercenaries to help break you out if this went badly enough that you faced jail without getting anything you wanted or needed.”

I set my jaw.

“I know the general value of the properties you acquired, the proposed value of it.  Your team would spend it.  Ninety two million dollars, spent on hired soldiers, hired parahumans.  That’s only your liquid assets.”

I didn’t reply.  I set to typing the next message on Tagg’s phone.  K-N-O-W-S-A-B-O-U-T-M-E-R-C-S

She straightened, removing her hands from the back of the chair.  “If you’re not going to say anything, I might as well go now.  You’re rather partial to Grue, aren’t you?  Or should I take Tattletale out of the picture?”

“We can talk,” I told her.

“Excellent,” she said.  She stepped around the corner of the table and sat in her chair, opposite me.  “Do you need anything?  Water?  Coffee?  Soda?”

I shook my head.

“Mr. Calle?  Mr. Hebert?”

Two refusals.

She removed her phone from her jacket pocket.  “Forgive me for using this in the midst of our discussion.  Chevalier is likely to become the head of the Protectorate once the Triumvirate has departed, and he’s insisting that I keep tabs with him, what with the scandal and all.  I’d show you, but that would be a breach of confidence.”

She smiled, as though at a private joke.  The smile didn’t matter to me.  It was the way her eyes didn’t leave me.

“You’re cold reading me,” I said.

“Cold reading?” My dad asked.

“Tattletale does it too.  Mixes details she knows with ones she doesn’t, with very careful wording and a bit of an edge with her thinker powers.”

“Mm hmm,” Alexandria said.  She typed expertly on her phone, almost absently.  “I know you’ve probably got someone in the lobby or outside, receiving coded messages.  I know about the mercenaries.  More mercenaries than I implied.  I expect Tattletale called in favors.  Probably not the Irregulars, but I didn’t read that.  Simple logic.  They wouldn’t work for you.  I know that you’re still feeling confident, but not entirely so.  If you were very close to breaking or very, very confident, you would have accepted my offer of a drink.  And I know that your bugs can’t see computer screens.”

Was she bluffing on that last part?  Did it matter if she was?  I could refuse, play some kind of trick, and she’d see right through it.

“I could make some noise about my client’s rights being trampled, a lack of consent to that kind of analysis,” Mr. Calle said.

“But you know the law doesn’t apply here.  We’re in a gray area, up until the moment we decide to press charges and set this into motion, or you decide to force the issue.  But neither of us want that.  For now, this is… somewhere between her being in our custody and us having a friendly chat.”

My lawyer glanced at me.  I frowned.  “Yeah.  So long as she doesn’t start grilling me.”

“As you wish,” Mr. Calle said.

My head turned as I sensed the truck arriving.   Bugs clustered to it as it found a spot at the side of the building, PRT uniforms moving their target on a stretcher.  My bugs shifted position, tracking what they were moving.  The white mask, the curls, the shirt, with a tightly woven fabric beneath… a spider silk shirt?  It was Regent, unconscious.

The bugs moved, tracing down the length of his arm.  It was broken in two places, virtually zig-zagging.  His leg was the same.  I caught the words ‘medical’ and ‘doctor’.  ‘Tranquilizer’.

“He’s arrived, I take it.” Alexandria said.

I nodded tightly.

“The paradigm has changed,” Alexandria said.  “In… two minutes and thirty seconds, I go and dispatch another of your teammates.  I’ll hear concessions, offers or relevant information, and I’ll adjust my methods and the severity of my attack where appropriate.”

“This is extortion,” my dad said.

“She makes the process easier for us, we make it easier on her and her friends.”

I frowned.  “That’s still extortion.”

“Two minutes and eight seconds,” she said, not even bothering to deny it.  She had the same habit as Tattletale, of knowing the time without looking at a clock.  “They’re going to be running, now, trying to throw me off their trail.  I’ll find them.  I can study the environment, I’ve studied the case histories and I know where they own property.”

Another alert I needed to give.  I was still typing in the last one.  The cockroaches weren’t strong enough to hit the keys with enough force, so it was more of a case of having to leverage the key down through the combined efforts of several larger roaches and carefully arranged silk.

I grit my teeth, trying to focus on the spelling while keeping track of what Alexandria was saying.  Started on the next message.  X-K-N-O-W-S-P-R-O-P-E-R-T-I-E-S

“You’re backing me into a corner,” I said.  “Backing them into a corner.  Someone’s bound to snap.”

“Most likely,” she said, and there wasn’t a trace of concern in her expression.  It was almost eerie, how little she seemed to care.  Was that her passenger at work, or was she simply good enough at what she did, comfortable enough in her invincibility, that she’d grown able to shrug off the insignificant things?

I shook my head.  “I’m not making concessions.  The terms I gave still stand.  If you want to discuss the reasons behind-“

She was already getting out of her chair.

“-behind why I made the demands I made, we can.  I think you’ll find it reasonable.”

“I’ve heard this,” Alexandria said.  She donned her suit jacket, buttoning it up in front.  “Read it, rather.  I’ve thought about all the permutations and unless you’re willing to change tack or tell me something I don’t know, there’s no point to this discussion.”

She walked to the door and knocked.  While waiting for the officer to open the door, she turned, “One last chance to offer me something.  Any detail I can use, things to watch out for.”

Bitch, I thought.  Her power, it screwed with her headShe can’t relate to people.  She doesn’t understand facial expressions, body language or our social constructs.  It’s all replaced by dog behavior. 

Grue.  Post traumatic stress.  He doesn’t like doctors, doesn’t like being confined, or the dark.  But he’s stable otherwise.

Information that could be used to protect Bitch, protect Grue.  To keep a bad situation from getting worse.  It felt like it would be a betrayal anyways.  It was an eerie reversal of the rationalization I’d done back at the bank robbery, on my first job as a villain.  Telling myself that terrorizing the hostages was for their own good.

But I couldn’t bring myself to betray them on that level.  Not to people who trusted me.

And she was gone.

I grit my teeth.  I looked at Calle, but he shook his head.

Tagg reached for his phone, where it sat on the table.

Long minutes passed, as Tagg texted and I sat in anxious silence.

“You said you’ve worked with cape families,” my dad spoke.  It took me a second to realize he was talking to Calle.

“Yes,” my lawyer answered.

“Can I ask you some questions?”

“I was just about to step outside, call some colleagues.”

“Oh.”

“After.  Unless you want to join me?”

“Isn’t it better if she isn’t alone?”

“Everything’s recorded.  Short of her being threatened with serious bodily injury or death, I don’t see a problem.”

My dad cast me a look.  I nodded.

He left with Mr. Calle.

“You and I,” Tagg said.

I folded my arms as best as I was able, then leaned forward to rest my head.  Not worth giving him the benefit of a conversation.

The table shook, and I briefly looked up, only to see Tagg setting his feet on the metal surface.

He took his time getting comfortable, and kicked the table several times in the process.

When I set my head down, he started humming.

He’s trying to get to me, I thought to myself, for the Nth time.

They were bullies.  Tagg and Alexandria both.  They were the equivalent of the older child picking on the kindergartener, or the adult picking on the child.  They had power to throw around that I didn’t, they had freedom, liberty, the power of choice.  They wanted to punish me, to put me off-balance for their own ends.

Just… bullies in a grander scale.

I simultaneously felt like I understood Tagg a little more, and a little less.

Mr. Calle answered a ton of my father’s questions, big and small.  About things I’d thought were common knowledge, like trigger events, and more specific, grave matters, like the prospect of my receiving the death penalty.  When he’d exhausted each of those questions, he asked about other things.  Smarter things, like the degree to which he might be able to stand up to Alexandria or Tagg, about how he could work with Calle to throw them off-balance, and signals to arrange a plan of attack.

My dad, entirely out of place, out of his depth, confused and utterly unarmed, fighting to get up to speed, in the hopes that he could do something to help.

It was a step forward.  A small step, but a step forward.

Tagg stood, approaching me, then leaned on the table just beside me, so he loomed over me, not speaking, invading my personal space, denying me the ability to rest or relax.

And my bugs, in his office, continued punching away as best as they were able.  Me, communicating with Tattletale, unable to hear her response, straining to hear some sign of the violence.  Had they split up?

Regent’s arms and legs had been set, and he lay on a bed identical to the one I’d had, apparently tranquilized.

I was the target, the mastermind, the one they were trying to break.

Alexandria only took six minutes.  She arrived by the same route, only she held a girl this time.  A hard mask with horns and slanted lenses that tapered into points at the corners, a skin-tight bodysuit.  Imp.

Alexandria had found a way around Imp’s power.  Or her mental powers had overridden them.

One more body in the cells.  One more Undersider down.

Alexandria found her way back to the cells before my dad and my lawyer did, accompanied by Miss Militia.  Alexandria grabbed one of Kid Win’s active drones from the air and tucked it under one arm like a football as she made her way down, and held it up as she visited the cell where they were checking an unconscious, tranquilized Imp.  Every bug was eradicated by the mist that appeared, leaving me utterly blind.

I didn’t see her again until she opened the door and joined us.  She was drenched, her hair soaked, swept back away from her face, and the makeup that had hidden the seam of her prosthetic eye had been washed away, leaving a conspicuous line in place.  Miss Militia looked grim and very dry beside her.

“They fought back?”  I asked.

“A firehose, and a cape with a water geyser power.  They tried to drown me.  It didn’t work.  Others have tried the same thing, in many different variations.  Old hat.”

A cape with water generating powers?  The Ambassadors.

She looked around, “Your lawyer?”

“Out,” Tagg said, not looking up from his phone.

“I suppose it would be bad manners to talk to you while he’s occupied,” Alexandria said.

I didn’t reply.

“Well, five minutes before I go again.  If this is a delaying tactic, it won’t work.”

“Read my face,” I said, “It’s not a delaying tactic.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said.  “I’m keeping to a schedule.  Roughly half an hour at a time, collecting one Undersider with each excursion.  I told you I’d hold off on collecting Tattletale, so I’ll save her for last.  Four minutes and forty seconds.”

Tattletale was still periodically speaking into the phone, while I typed out letters.  She’d stopped talking as much when I’d typed out a few words to let her know I couldn’t understand.  No, her focus right now would be on arranging her remaining forces, handling what she could, dealing with Alexandria.

“I’d like to stay,” Alexandria said.  “May I sit?”

“If you want,” I said.  I gestured towards the chair, best as I was able with the cuffs.

“Excellent.  So cooperative.”  She sat down.  “And we can talk?”

I nodded mutely.

Alexandria, a bully, believing herself untouchable.  I felt a grim sort of loathing stirring in the depths of my gut.

“My terms, to you.  You surrender.  The Undersiders receive no amnesty, but I let captives go, with all required medical care.  They fend for themselves from here on out.  Tagg remains in position.  He’s here for a reason.  Miss Militia is promoted elsewhere.  With the fall of the Triumvirate, we need a new core group.  We can market it.”

“That’s not what I wanted.”

“It’s what I’m offering.  And you… provided you cooperate fully, giving us all the information we desire on you, your histories, and the Undersiders, we put you in juvenile detention.  Two years, followed by a long probation and acknowledgement that any conceivable violation of that probation will be counted as a third strike and cause for sentencing to the Birdcage.”

My dad and lawyer were just arriving.

“What’s this?” Mr. Calle asked.

“Skitter’s hearing my revised terms,” Alexandria said.

“And?” Mr. Calle asked.

“They want me to turn myself in.  I get virtually nothing, except the prompt release of the Undersiders she’s picked up and a stay in juvenile detention until I’m eighteen.”

I could see my dad’s eyes light up.  He saw this as a way out, when he was seeing just how deep we were in the midst of this.

Which broke my heart, in a way.

“And your thoughts?” Mr. Calle asked.

“No,” I said.  I looked at Alexandria.  “No.”

“This isn’t the sort of offer that stays on the table,” she said.  “If you want to push this further, we could keep the Undersiders.”

“You need the Undersiders,” I told her.  “You need someone on the ground, keeping the real monsters out of the city.  You need us, so don’t pretend you’re really going to keep them.”

“There’s other options,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said, “Because even if there wasn’t that security, no.”

“That’s a disappointment,” she said.

“You wanted compromise, Skitter,” Miss Militia said, “But you’re asking for the impossible.”

“I’m asking for the improbable,” I said.  “But it wouldn’t be worth fighting for if it was easy.  Alexandria isn’t asking me to meet her halfway.  She’s threatening people I love.”

“From teammates to friends to people you love.”

I grit my teeth.

“I don’t blame you,” she said.  “I loved Hero.  I loved Legend, and Eidolon, and Myrddin.  I know what it means to pass through hell together, to take a desperate breath for air, to clutch for clarity of mind, and help each other find the briefest of respite in the little things, only to plunge into that hell once more.  The little jokes, the familiarity, the gestures and small kindnesses, they count for a lot, when you’ve been through what we’ve been through-“

“Don’t compare us,” I cut in.

“-and you learn to look past their faults.  The little evils,” she said.  “And they learn to look past yours.”

Miss Militia gave Alexandria a curious look, then turned to me, “The offer, it’s the most reasonable one we can give you.  It’s generous, considering all you’ve done.”

“It’s not enough,” I said.  “Until my team has amnesty, I can’t back down.  I can’t abandon them to fight lunatics like Tagg and Alexandria the second I’m gone.”

“That’s what you want?” Alexandria asked.  “Amnesty, release for captured teammates, and a sentence to juvenile detention?”

My dad reached out, taking my hand, a silent plea.  Saying everything without doing me the disservice of interjecting.

It wasn’t enough, but it was something.  I could trust my teammates to hold their own.  I could… I could find my way.  Two years made for such a small length of time.  It… it would mean I was in custody when Dinah’s deadline came.  But maybe that was what she’d wanted.  For me to be somewhere secure when it all started.  I couldn’t rule it out.

And all it would take was for me to do what I’d done for so long before I had my powers, for months after I’d had my powers.  To capitulate, to let go of my pride.  To let them win, those people who wanted to use their power, their prestige and superiority against me.

My dad squeezed my hand, hard.

“I named my terms,” I told Alexandria.  “I trust my teammates, and I trust that they’ll win where it counts.  No.”

I met Tagg’s eyes, and my voice was a growl, “And if you fucking hurt another hair on their heads, I’ll see you pay for it.  Like Lung, like Valefor, and if it comes down to it, I’ll come after you like I did with Butcher, and Coil- Calvert.”

I directed my glare at Alexandria as I said that last part.

“You’re admitting-” Miss Militia started.

“Let’s not pretend we don’t all know,” I said.

I felt my dad’s hand drop away from mine.  I might have met his eyes, to take in the hurt and the pain that came with seeing who I really was, but I wasn’t willing to break eye contact with Alexandria.

You can read facial expressions?  Read this.  Know I’m telling the truthKnow that I’ll take you apart, given the slightest excuse.

I was pressing the keys on the telephone before Alexandria had even stood from her seat.  Another warning that Alexandria was en route.

She stood, wordless.  There was no negotiation, no offer for leniency, and I didn’t ask for either.

I could only hope.

In a matter of minutes, she was gone, flying away.  A third mission.  A third hunt.

Bugs found their way through vents to Regent, but Imp’s cell was sealed tight, no doubt due to the Stranger-class precautions that had led to the note being pasted on her cell door, notifying the PRT of the special precautions.  It didn’t matter.  Regent was still unconscious, and Imp was likely to be as well.

Grue, Rachel, Tattletale and Parian.  Flechette too, if it came down to it.

Flechette… could she hurt Alexandria?

It didn’t matter.  I didn’t have answers, couldn’t get them.  I could only wait, keeping my bugs out of the way of the drones that Kid Win had finally recharged.

“You had a way out,” Miss Militia said.

“You said you understand me,” I told her.  “That you had insight into who I was as a person, now that you knew my history.  If that’s true, you understand why I had to say no.”

“For your sake.  Because of what you’ve been through.”

“And because of them.  They’d never forgive me if I betrayed everything they helped me become, because I didn’t think they could fend for themselves.”

“And me?” my dad asked.  “I know it’s asking a lot.  I failed you where it counted.”

“Dad-“

“And maybe it’s selfish, to want my daughter, when you’re talking about things on this scale…” he said, pausing as if he was going to follow that with an argument.  But no argument followed.

And I couldn’t give him a good response.

Eight minutes passed.  I could count the progression of time on the clock hands, when I dared let a bug pass through open spaces.

Nine minutes in, I could see Tagg suddenly tense, lines in his neck standing out as he read the newest message on his phone.  He glanced at me, but he didn’t say anything and I didn’t ask.

The PRT van arrived before Alexandria did, this time.  The PRT officers took their time before they finally emerged.

Restless, I shifted position.  My forearms were digging into the table where the cuffs held my arms in front of me.  Leaning forward made my back hurt.

They opened the back of the van, and there were no precautions this time.  Their weapons were holstered, and they didn’t stand in any particular formation.

The only thing in the back was a single body bag.

Back pain forgotten, I went as stiff as Tagg.  I drew more bugs in to get a better picture of the scene.

They took a different route this time, using their phones to make their way through the various doors and checkpoints.  They entered the attached building.  A small hospital, or a special office with medical facilities.  It didn’t matter.

And they made their way to the morgue.

The size of the bag… it couldn’t be Lizardtail.  He was too large.  Was the wrong size and shape to be one of the dogs.  That left only three real possibilities.  A PRT officer, Rachel, or Brian.

I closed my eyes, clenched my hands.

Then one of the PRT officers who was escorting the body said something, and others laughed in response.  It was one of those rare moments I could discern tone, and it wasn’t a kind one.  That was enough for me to know it wasn’t one of them.  It wasn’t a civilian.

Metal clicked as they unlocked the heavy clasps and locks that were likely meant to prevent any parahumans from getting up from the dead.

They unzipped the bag, and lifted the body onto the drawer.  The drawer slid into the recess, the lid was closed and locked.

I didn’t want to know which of them it was.  I couldn’t. Whether it was Brian or Rachel, it didn’t matter.  Neither of them would get up from the dead.  They weren’t so lucky.

I stared down at my hands, and I felt myself go cold, my thoughts crystal clear, singular.

“Taylor,” my dad murmured, so quiet I could barely hear him.

“Yes?”

I sounded so calm, like an entirely different person was speaking.

“You’re shaking,” he whispered.

“Oh,” I said.  I couldn’t really think of anything else to say.  He was right.  My fingers were trembling.

I looked at Tagg, to see if he’d heard or if he’d noticed.  No indication, but his hand was close to his gun.  The text he’d read… he knew.  He probably wasn’t aware he was doing it, but he was ready for a fight to erupt any second.

Miss Militia’s hand wasn’t, but I could read a tension in her, as she exchanged words with Calle.  But then, I suspected she could draw faster than Tagg in virtually any circumstance.  Or maybe she wasn’t as ready or willing to deal out violence as Tagg was.

Then I had to lower my eyes, to hide the tears that were welling.  Needed just a few moments.  Just a few more seconds.

Alexandria arrived the same way she had after her last two excursions, through the hole in the roof.  With the speed she moved, she didn’t risk being spotted.  Even photography wasn’t in the cards.

With the speed she moved, she didn’t seem to notice the bugs that followed after her as the aperture began to close behind her.

She got as far as the Wards HQ before she stopped and the bugs had a chance to catch up to her.

As though I’d thrown a javelin, they speared right for her nose and open mouth, the fastest moving bugs I had at my disposal, and spiders.

She was invincible, the flesh inside her throat untouchable.  The flap that kept food out of her lungs kept the bugs at bay.  At first.  They bound themselves together, spiders fixing themselves and others to the inside of her throat with adhesive.

As strong as she was, air didn’t move past the mass of bugs that filled her mouth, as they fought to move into positions where they could block her throat.  She coughed in an instinctive attempt to dislodge them.

Even with super strength, even with a diaphragm like hers, the coughs didn’t remove every bug, and the greedy gasp of air allowed those who remained to find their way inside, filling her lungs.  They were just as impervious inside, but the bugs arranged themselves side by side, forming a layer that blocked the flow of oxygen to the membranes of the lung itself.  Spiders drew out silk, filling gaps.

If she could choke, if Leviathan saw submerging her in water as a viable tactic, if Tattletale saw fit to try to do the same, then I could drown her in insects.

The Wards were watching, realizing what was going on.  Clockblocker ran, pressing a button for the alarm.

And in front of me, Tagg moved, drawing his gun.  His voice was a roar, “She knows!”

A thread caught it before he could point it at me, and it fell to the ground.

With each entry that had been made into the interrogation room, barring the one where she’d used the drone in Imp’s cell, I’d brought more bugs inside.  Spiders, hornets, black widows, brown recluses and more.

I’d warned him.  He jumped as he felt the bites.  Shouted as hornets found the soft tissues of his eyes, his tongue and eardrums.  Black widows and brown recluses found crevices.

Miss Militia moved too, but the silk I’d used only bound her hand, didn’t serve to stop her.

“Taylor!” my dad’s voice sounded so far away.

I’d promised myself I wouldn’t let the bullies win again, I thought.  That I’d stop the monsters.

But the thoughts sounded disconnected, false.

No, this was revenge.  Something simpler than any of that.

Miss Militia raised a gun, pointing it at me, where I had my head bowed, hands still chained in front of me.  My dad was shaking me, but I wasn’t a hard target to hurt.

And my bugs weren’t hurting her.  Weren’t touching my dad, or Mr. Calle, who was backed up into a corner, trying to make as much distance from me as he could.

She didn’t shoot.  Her gun clattered to the ground.

“Taylor!” she called out, as if she could reach me that way.  “I’m not going to shoot, but you have to stop!”

“Not a promise, not an oath, or a malediction or a curse,” I said, sounding calm, probably inaudible in the midst of Tagg’s screaming.  “Inevitable.  Wasn’t that how she put it?  I told them.  Warned them.”

Alexandria, in the basement, still choking, drowning on dry land with lungs full of dragonflies, spiders and cockroaches, soared.  She flew through the closed barrier in the roof, and debris showered down on the Wards who’d approached her, wanting to help but finding themselves unable.

In moments, she was out of my range, too high in the air.  I wasn’t sure it mattered.

And Tagg- Tagg was staggering towards me, roaring something incoherent, chewing and spitting in a feeble attempt to remove bugs from his mouth.  His tongue was likely swollen already.  The black widow venom would take effect soon.

He tried to push my dad out of the way, and my dad blocked him, shielding me with his body.

Tagg kicked my father hard enough to drive him to the ground.  The Director was still shouting, nearly blind.  He gripped me by the hair and slammed my head down on the table, hard.

I saw stars, felt tears welling out freely, as if the dam had finally broken.

Blind, writhing in pain and a struggle to get the insects off him, Tagg still managed to hold me down as the PRT officers burst into the room.  They had darts like the one that Shadow Stalker had kept in her crossbow, jammed one into my neck.

I had only the chance to think of how they’d just signed Tagg’s death warrant, that my power would work while I was unconscious.  I could have rescinded the order in the last moments.  I didn’t.

And then it was only darkness.  Oblivion.  A false kind of death.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

807 thoughts on “Cell 22.4

  1. Thanks for reading.

    No idea what I’m doing for the next chapter.

    If you’re so inclined, please vote on Topwebfiction. It’s the equivalent of “I do believe in faeries” for your character of choice, here. Really. Worm’s down to 67 votes.

    • Holding a character hostage? Maybe I won’t vote because I want someone to die.

      Just kidding. I vote but only when you post a reminder here.

    • If you felt a need to take a chill pill and write an interlude after that last bit, I’d totally understand. Especially if it included youtube footage of Alexandria falling from the sky :)

    • Idea for what you’re doing next chapter: Interlude, one of the characters witnessing a counterattack. Crucible has been suggested.

      I do believe.

      • Continuing my spree of talking about a possible Crucible interlude, he’d also be viable, as the most prominent character who is close to all the action and hasn’t had an interlude chapter yet.

      • Adding to this thought: I’ve seen a lot of people vs. people contests, but I haven’t seen much people vs. nature here – given the setting, that’s understandable, but… nature is effing brutal. It’s horrible, and beautiful, and dangerous, and exhilarating. If you’re open to suggestions, that’s one – situations where it’s Skitter vs. trees, cold, heat, isolation, hunger, exhaustion. Or a team effort, for that matter. Don’t know how it would work, but I’m spitballing here.

    • You know how when your watching a great action adventure movie, you kinda want to get up during or right after the fight scenes and do some karate moves? LOL I want to now LOL

    • assuming that the undersider who died (if it was, if it was an accord minnion or other brought in in a bag to screw with her, that is going to be SHITTY) isn’t being withheld from US for a reason, perhaps the fight that killed them? Let us see them die, so they dont go out like a mook, off camera?

    • 402 votes! WAARGH!

      Okay, that was a great chapter. Good stuff. I think I’m going to try my hand at some fanart.

    • For all of Taylor’s complaints about ‘bullying’, it’s notable that she was the biggest bully in the room. You don’t get to call others bullies when you show up and demand they do what you say or your gang of supervillains will hurt them and hurt the world at large. You just don’t.

      It’s a continuation of a trend where Taylor very hypocritically insists that she has good reasons for everything she does and everyone should consider that, but everyone else’s good reasons don’t matter because what they do personally inconveniences her.

      • While I do agree that Taylor is being a bully I think pretty much every single person in that room with the exception of Miss Militia and her father count as bullies. There really never seemed to be a chance of compromise with anyone there because all sides were very much set in who was right and who was wrong. I think that final offer was probably the best compromise they could’ve hoped for. I understand why Taylor didn’t take it and while I may not agree…everyone at that point was a raving hypocrite.

        I still find her to be the most sympathetic of the bullies.

  2. “I could see Tagg stiffen, kept talking,” Not necessarily a typo, but seems kinda Rorschachy to me. Just my opinion.

        • There are several places where there aren’t spaces after periods. Almost out of charge, though, but if anyone can find them, they’re there.

      • of any sort.I needed a larger bug. <– need a space here

        “She’s a minor,” my dad said.”Doesn’t matter,” Mr. Calle sighed. <– 'nother space needed

        counter anything your Tattletale throws at us.

        Tattletale was still periodically speaking into the phone, while I typed out letters. She’d cut back severely when I’d typed out a few words to let her know I couldn’t understand. She’d be focused on arranging her remaining forces, handling what she could.

        “I’d like to stay,” she said. “May I sit?” <– lack of clarity to point out it's Alex here

      • beep.Five again. Second number in the sequence.Not hard
        *no spaces

        a villain. to
        *comma?

        the Nth time

        You keep swapping between calling the lawyer Mr. Calle and Calle when Taylor thinks of him, keep to one.

        second..
        *three dots

        “She’s a minor,” my dad said.”Doesn’t matter,” Mr. Calle sighed.
        *break?

      • If Vista and Clockblocker get tags, I’d think at least Imp and Regent, and possibly Tattletale should as well.

      • This might be a a typo of two/three:

        “The paradigm has changed,” Alexandria said. “In… two minutes and thirty seconds, I go and dispatch another of your teammates.

        and then a few lines later to:

        “Three minutes and eight seconds,” she said, not even bothering to deny it. She had the same habit as Tattletale, of knowing the time without looking at a clock.

      • “And it’s also a reality that you’ll have people at the top who don’t understand how things work on the ground, giving orders that don’t jibe with reality.”

        Jive, I think, not jibe? Jibe means an insulting comment.

        • Jibe can mean:
          Verb: Mock, jeer
          Noun: Scoff, taunt, jeer, sneer
          Verb: Change course by swinging a fore-and-aft sail around
          Verb: Be in accord or agree with.

          It’s the last one.

      • “I’m asking for the improbable, I said. “but it wouldn’t be worth fighting for if it were easy.
        Should there be a ” after improbable?

      • “You had a way out,” Miss Militia said.

        “You said you understand me,” I told her.

        “understand” is awkward, you probably meant “understood”.

        • She’s implying that MM understands her, present-tense. If she was saying that MM understood her, that would be past tense- in other words, that in the past MM understands her, but not currently. I believe the implication is the former, not the latter, here.

      • “No,” he said. “I think you have a number of plans in the works. But it doesn’t matter. Alexandria can out-think your plans, counter anything your Tattletale throws at us.
        –missing quotation mark

      • OoO (eye wide open, mouth wide open, eye wide open)

        Reading, normal chapter, thinking weird, what the heck is going on undersiders are getting captured, oh looky skitter is using her powers awesomely yet again, wait someone’s dead this isn’t happening what the hell is going on, and then…well, RazorSmile pretty much summed my thoughts up in his comment. Holy holy holy shit, Taylor’s snapped. And yay, her dad was there to watch as it happened, and his daughter murdered. Again. Well, there reunion was going a bit too well, looking back, relationship wise.

        See, this is where I think she’s going to the birdcage, if not for the fact that I was just reminded for the thousandth time or so worm CAN NOT be predicted. Above comments say everything, this chapter came out of nowhere. Now I’m about fifty percent sure you’ve killed off a main character (could be someone else, could be trying to provoke skitter, despite the insane stupidity of that), half the undersiders are in captivity, and skitter just killed tagg.

    • Godamit man, HOLY SHIT IN A STICK, we just cant articulate after this chapter, ill be lucky if i can sleep tonight

    • Yes exactly my thoughts, shit just got real and as horrible as the consequences are going to be I still hope she did manage to kill both of them.

  3. So… Alexandria’s dead, given how they probably have no way to cut her open and extract the bugs. I’m assuming she killed Grue, though. Rachel she can handle. Grue’s Trump powers probably caused her to think he could take way more damage than he could, and she landed a blow that killed him instantly.

    • …that she assumed killed him instantly. He has a minor healing factor.

      …but realistically, whoever was in that body bag is probably dead.

      • Ah, yes. He has regeneration factor courtesy of Crawler, doesn’t he? Well,he used Crawler’s powers at one point. Which cause you to mutate while you regenerate.

          • His body adapts to defeat whatever threatened it. Which, in Grue’s case, was mechanical disassembly. It’s possible.

        • Grue only has access to other people’s powers as long as they’re in his darkness. Healing by Crawler once might have made him a bit tougher, but it’s a trick he can’t repeat.

          • Though theoretically, Crawler’s power could have infused the healed parts with at least some ability to heal faster in the future. Crawler’s power not only healed him, but also made him better equipped to deal with whatever injured him in the first place. So retaining some healing factor wouldn’t be impossible.

      • Actually, I’m pretty sure she dies. Because even if she makes it high enough to the athmosphere to kill all the bugs, the bug corpses and spider silk are still in her lungs.

        • Indeed. And she’s too invulnerable for anyone to operate on her. She could have lived if she went to any janitorial closet and/or chemistry lab and inhaled some very corrosive acid (to fill her lungs) to clean out the bugs.

          But, well, she was suffocating, probably with added sensory input of bugs crawling through her innards. Hard to think straight when you are in such a position.

          • Depending on how far “invulnerability” goes, she could inhale something highly corrosive, but I place my money on an Alexandria-shaped crater showing up somewhere soon.

          • I don’t think she can inhale anything, because of the bugs. Best she could do is pour the stuff down her throat and hope she can get enough into her lungs that way without reflexes kicking in.

          • Curtis, as a person who works with vacuum – it won’t work that way. Vacuum isn’t pulling. It’s atmosphere that’s pushing. And she has no atmosphere in her lungs (almost). Basically, no, bugs won’t get dislodged by vacuum.

          • Hmmm, I’m not so sure that the outer space thing wouldn’t work.

            But it’s too complicated. she could just fly over to the nearest hospital and make the universal “I’m choking” signal. Upon understanding that it’s because of the bugs, the docs are bound to vacuum them out (That’s really not the proper term, but it’s what it is).

            Now, honestly? Alexandria is an overconfident, bullying, corrupted asshole. I hope she chokes on’em bugs.

            I wonder how long “invincible” tissues take to rot.

        • But isn’t it better that she lives but become helpless as she watches her plans fall apart? Besides, death is too merciful for mass murderers/kidnappers/torturers.

    • On reflection, the fact that she didn’t return with the body might imply it was Bitch, not Grue, and she went to deal with the dogs before returning to the headquarters.

    • I remember reading something similar in a tie in to the old world war hulk event. She said the same thing to Triumph’s dad in a terrible case of foreshadowing. Doesn’t matter how strong/tough you are, you still need to breathe.

      • Unless you’re Superman! He flies into space all the time, meaning that his only weakness is Kryptonite, and that only ever seems to weaken him.
        Skitter’s lucky that she’s not fighting him. Except she’d probably do the same “bugs in throat trick,” only coat then in Kryptonite dust first or something.
        Ah, chocking somebody with bugs,what can’t it solve?

        • Supes can also hold his breath long enough for /space travel/. Bit higher tier than Alex.

          On a related note, anyone else notice that the Triumvirate are (Silver Age?) Supes split into three? Eidolon is his endless supply of random “Super-“powers, like super-knitting, super-sight, super-thinking, etc. Legend has his hyperspeed space-possible potentially time travelling flight & heat rays. Alex has the “Superman Package” but it’s named after -her- instead.

    • Yeah Skitter is unbelievably dangerous. Remember what she did to Clock the first time they fought. This is the logical next level. It just requires she actually want to kill. Really it’s been that unwillingness that has hampered her more so than a lack of power. She just can’t take a hit so pretty much every cape with strength or toughness/armor etc underestimates her too.

      And I thought it was pretty clear by now that none of those intimately involved with Cauldron had much left in the way of humanity.

      • After she almost killed lung, I she’s been holding back on the truly dangerous bugs in too many truly dangerous places quite a bit.

        • You would have thought one of those Heroes could have got a clue. Not one of them, including the Big 3, had been able to take Lung down and Skitter did it in her first fight. Then to really give them a big hit in the head with the clue bat she went toe to toe with one of the Nine. Then on top of that she was the one to figure out how to take out the one Villain that actually hurt Alexandria. Tattle-tail might have figured out the powers but it was Skitter that but it all together in one nicely tied together package.

          When you underestimate some one that was able to do all that you fall into the category of too stupid to live. Alexandria in her pride forgot Knowledge does not equal Wisdom.

          • Now I’m remembering what Lisa said in Agitation 3.6:

            See, I know you. Believe it or not, I like you. Did from the time I saw you on that roof, opposite Lung. You know how we fear the unknown? Well, I know stuff, that’s my whole thing, and that motherfucker is one of the very few people who can spook me. You, Taylor, stood up to him. So this guy or this girl that’s got you down in the dumps? I say fuck them. They don’t know you. They don’t know what you’re capable of.

            Taylor thought it was ironic that Lisa said that, given that Armsmaster knew Taylor beat Lung, but Lisa was exactly correct — so far, despite everything she has done and all the fights she has won, the only people outside the Undersiders who have recognized just how deadly she is are Clockblocker and, maybe, Rosary.

  4. To quote RazorSmile: “… Holy shit. holyshitholyshitholyshitholyshitholyshitholyshitholyshitholyshitholyshit”

  5. If she gave the order the bugs are going to continue even whilst she is unconscious. Alexandria is dead if she can die in that fashion.

    And a teammate is gone?

    Goodnight, sweet prince.

        • I so want Skitter to have killed her. That really would elevate her super-villain status to legendary. To have killed a member of the triumvirate as well as two PRT directors whilst deposing a third.

      • And since she flew out of the way, there’s a good chance she’ll be able to live without Skitter forcing in the bugs she coughs up. Assuming she has the breath to cough up enough bugs.

      • Irony: She lives but still suffer brain damage due to the lack of oxygen and is now unable to move or speak, its operable on a normal person but the Docs can’t do shit due to how she can’t turn off her powers at will. So it’s now back to the hospital bed for the Littlest Cancer Patient to be poisoned by people with smiles on their faces.

      • Even so, that doesn’t get rid of all the bugs currently lodged in her lungs. It might even be too late, there could be enough bugs stuck there that she might not be able to cough enough of ‘em out before she falls unconscious.

        Also, Memento Mori, Alexandria.

          • Yep, if she can’t get the spiders out of her lungs that were spinning webs I gdon’t see her surviving. Remember Skitter lost control of them before she got knocked out which means those bugs will go a do what they normally do: Eat, Breed, Eat Breed…

            Those spiders had a built in food source, there was is no reason to leave to find food. If there is even one mating pair in the bunch the next thing you no you got lots and lots of more spiders and they are cannibalistic and they all will spin more webs.

    • Alexandria could survive for a number of reasons.. particularly, if she can match Legend’s speeds, she could get high enough in the atmosphere before she passes out for the air pressure to help her cough the blockage out. She’d likely pass out on the way down, but the fall wouldn’t threaten her health.

      I’m crossing my fingers for a nice meaty shluuuuuurk on a flagpole.

  6. I notice the only people she killed are Tagg and Alexandria. If I read it right, she didn’t even disarm Miss Militia – MM dropped the gun on her own.

  7. HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!!!! WILDBOW YOU BEAUTIFUL FUCKING MONSTER! Either Grue or Bitch is dead, DEAD! So Taylor killed Tagg and KILLED FUCKING ALEXANDRIA! Even outside her range, they follow their orders! Well that tears it. She is going to the birdcage, where she will be part of the inevitable escape planned by the Smurf. But god dammnit, what a wham episode. Jesus, Taylor is dead now, LONG LIVE THE QUEEN. You stupid fucking bastards. You just destroyed the PRT, are pretty much guaranteed to lose the next Endbringer fight in a BIG way, and gave someone with a power that is all kinds of nightmare fuel a reason to go after you.

    • There are lots of other options; it doesn’t have to be one of the undersiders just because that’s who she went after. Could be one of Rachel’s followers, one of the mercs, or one of the Ambassadors except for the lizard one. Even Accord.

    • Alternatively, they DON’T lose the next Endbringer fight… but that’s only because Scion kills it, thus effectively removing the biggest valid reason to keep the PRT active. But that’s just my opinion.

      • If that happened, than the PRT is done. The ONLY reason Taylor did not move to destroy them was because of the Endbringers. Granted, Tattletale will probably destroy them anyway.

      • There was that one Interlude awhile back where the guy that originally got Scion to do what he HAS been doing to might do something a little different. So instead of showing up towards the end of the fight, he shows up right when the Endbringer appears. Then on top of that for his appearance against Leviathan he doesn’t appear to hold the “heroes” in high regard with the way he looked at them.

        • I’ve got a theory that Scion doesn’t like Cauldron Bought Powers but doesn’t have a problem with normal powers.

          Alternativly he knew exactly what sins Edion committed for Cauldron and disapproves.

  8. Fuuuuck.

    Well played. My heart is racing.

    You’d think someone named Alexandria would know about the pitfall of hubris.

    Next Endbringer fight is going to suuuuck.

    • Next Endbringer fight is going to be the one where Scion shows up shooting to kill.

      Until we see a flashback that shows otherwise, I still maintain that Alexandria and the rest are just the sideshow warm up for Scion dealing with the Endbringers, so we may see that the next Endbringer fight proves how very worthless the Triumvirate actually was and all the slack people cut them as being so important is entirely misplaced. (Or I could be wrong and the Endbringers could claim a total win, gotta wait and see I guess)

      • Oh, yeah, when Scion shows up (assuming he acts on the order) things will (hopefully) end. Or escalate. Either way.

        The big thing I’m wondering is “will they be able to hold out in time for him to arrive?”

        I guess we’ll probably find out…

      • I had this random thought — if we accept that Scion is actually the last survivor from some other universe’s apocalypse, what do you suppose that history might repeat itself with this apocalypse? What if the series ends badly, with the destruction of everything, and there’s one last survivor, washing up on the interdimensional shores of some other world. The last survivor of one world becoming the first powered individual in the next? A survivor named… Taylor?

      • I’ve been thinking about what might result from Scion aiming for a deathblow in an Endbringer fight. It sounds really positive, which being that this is Worm makes me think that it will all go horribly, horribly, HORRIBLY wrong.

        Like, it turns out that Endbringers are Passengers and Scion starts to slaughter them all. Or something equally terrible.

      • We know that Scion doesn’t always show up. During the Leviathan fight, they mentioned repeatedly that they hoped he’d notice this time.

  9. From the tags, I guess we know who it was. That’s pretty damn unfortunate for the bullies.

    Believe it or not, I figured it wouldn’t be so easy as Alexandria doing the right thing. Why start now, you know? That, and it was kind of a George Costanza thing. The correct response was the opposite of what I chose.

    Nice to see Alexandria get capwned. You put one of Taylor’s in the morgue, Taylor puts one of you in the morgue. I’ve said it many times. Everything can die. Just like when I was grasping at straws that even Leviathan needed to breathe and started talking about blood agents and all kinds of fun things less flashy than swarms of bugs and tearing through buildings.

    I guess we see Tagg dying anyway, possibly Alexandria as well. To quote a rather nice rap song about the Undertaker, “You made your bed. Now it’s time to lie in it. Time to die in it. Time to fry in it.” Nah, that’s no good. Let’s dry a little ditty named Nightmare, “You should have known, the price of evil. And it hurts to know that you belong here.”

    Guess we’ll get to see Taylor in the Birdcage. After all, I’d say they should figure out by now that they should actually listen to this girl and stop treating her like a dangerous moron. So I’m guessing straight to the Birdcage is what they’ll do instead. Be nice if she and Dragon had a chat, but Dragon has a horrible sense of timing about those.

        • …sometimes, while reading the comments you leave in this section, I feel like you look at our wild speculations and think, “Dance, my puppets!” At least, it’s what I’d do. XD Sorry, but the very idea of how this (meaning the circus that is this comments section) looks to someone who knows what’s going to happen next is pretty funny.

          I mean, when I read about our gleeful discussions of the numerous cruel fates waiting tagg and Alexandria, I get chills. And memo myself to never, ever show this particular chapter’s comment section to anyone I don’t want to think this is a story for, about, and by sadistic psychopaths.

          • I don’t know what excuses the other guys have.

            The only thing stopping me from suggesting we stick a plunger up Alexandria’s dead ass so Cauldron can drive around an ice cream van with her on top selling formula on the streets is the idea that I stick things in asses too much as it is. Maybe it can play a pleasant ice cream tune with children’s laughter and the occasional woman’s scream breaking in on it from time to time. Ooh, and we can do Alexandria’s face up like a clown! A clown pirate! That way she can have both a red squeaky nose AND an eyepatch, as well as a motto about what happens when you find Alexandria’s booty.

    • Not to mention that dragon may still be out of commission. I could see taylor talking to arms,aster, however.

    • Doubt they’ll toss her in the ‘Cage RIGHT away. She still has yet to be legally charged…

      Plus, after Tagg AND Alexandria’s karmatic and agonizing demises, coupled with the Undersiders probably deciding that they made a mistake last time they hit the PRT: They were holding back. Odds are, well, the PRT are going to find out what happens when you hold Grue’s sister hostage. Namely, your body needs to be ID’d by dental records…

  10. Great time for a second trigger event.

    Also, you know that you are nearing he climax of a story like the when such main characters begin to die.

    • Okay no, that is not how you judge when the climax is arriving. The fad of killing characters in the late game of a story just to up the ante is really just a sign that the author lacked any confidence in their story by itself.

      This on the other hand.

      If someone died, it was done well.

      If someone didn’t die and it was a fake out (the laughter seemed odd, maybe a dummy? A corpse from the morgue?) then that also works because either way the death served the narrative purpose to push Taylor over an edge.

      At this point it hardly matters compared to those we are certain of being dead. Ie Tagg and possibly Alexandria. I find myself interested in Worm again.

      • Tagg’s comment that “She Knows” has implications, though.

        Part of my thinking reading this chapter is that the bodies have faked well enough to resemble her team mates to bug’s senses, but aren’t actually. That could be the ‘She knows’, and it would justify laughter, pulling one over on skitter. Or it could be an actual death of a villain or villain follower, and they’re just sick fucks, as per usual.

        • You know, Tagg’s last moments to attack Taylor could actually be her greatest legal defence? With the cameras showing footage of only what’s in the interrogation room (assuming the PRT can’t release footage from other areas of the building due to them being restricted/classified), all that the jury will see will be the PRT Director drawing a gun on a handcuffed 16 yr-old in order to silence her about something and Taylor defending herself.

          They also can’t show the footage of Alexandria choking desperately cause that will be advertising her weaknesses to villains everywhere if she survives, outing her identity and creating the scandal they had been scrambling for weeks to keep quiet.

        • If that is a dead Undersider then the PRT really needs to alter its hiring methods.

          Multiple people laughing over a dead teenager is a pretty good sign that things are fucked up all to hell.

          • Wasn’t it implied in one of Coil’s interludes that at least one of the PRT rank and file was a pedo of the worst sort, and was selling his loyalty for a continuing “supply” to keep his habit fed?

          • Dracul, that was one of Coil’s own soldiers. Occasionally disguised as a PRT soldier, but only on Coil’s payroll.

          • Calvert was able to get a new job within the organization having shot his previous boss. The PRT has been a broken thing for a while.

    • I wish she wasn’t, but her prediction on Tagg’s death was true. It was probably his last conscious though just before he died. I’m glad it was painful. I can picture Dinah and Precogs all over the world gasping after this. The numbers just changed big time. So what happens now? Imp and Regent might go to juvie, Taylor goes to the birdcage, and who the hell knows what Tattletale will do. Her revenge will probably be terrible to behold. She won’t fucking care about anything now. Cauldron gets outed, the PRT gets disbanded/destroyed, I could see her outing hero after hero’s identities, letting out government secrets, and declaring war. I’ll say it again, those stupid fucking bastards, do any of them realize what they have just done?

      • “those stupid fucking bastards, do any of them realize what they have just done?”

        This whole chapter just felt like watching an incredibly stupid person playing with a very dangerous object. Or alternatively Bullying The Dragon.

        What Taylor thought about Alexandria having difficulties understanding normal perspective seems the only explanation here. Like Eidolin she had forgotten to consider the actual threat of what she was facing.

    • No, I mean she was right about EVERYTHING:
      1: Tagg dies horribly
      2: Skitter fucks all the shit up
      3: if Skitter hasn’t changed after this, I doubt much will

      • All of this was preordained, Dinah set it up. Remember she stated that Skitter was there for the end of the world fight but she was different, meaner. How do you make her meaner? Not the way Skitter thought by running a territory but by killing someone close to her. And why did Skitter take herself out of her protected area and deliver herself to the PRT? Because Dinah told her to remember: “Cut Ties”.
        A meaner Skitter ups the odds at the of the world fight, because she now do what needs to be done and Dinah made sure her 100% flat statement of what will be came true.

    • Oh, oh yeah. Because she and Cauldron was ALL OVER countering her manipulations. Because they totally had the Endbringers by the balls!

      • I still stand by the theory that the only reason they were able to get away with things for so long is because the Smurf wanted them to stay secret to make it easier to manipulate them to cause damage to the world. Siberian, shatterbird, Echidna, grey boy who apparently created Jack Slash, and who knows what else. They never came close to beating them in 3 decades. They are nothing more than a means to an end for the Smurf to have more puppets to manipulate.

  11. There’s a old quote by a Marvel hero that I was reminded of during this chapter: “Never known anger like this before. Not raging. Not even burning. Just colder and colder by the minute. Building inexorably. Toward something that has to be.”

    Skitter is not mad. Skitter is going to calmly break out of her cell and show what happens when a girl with severe anger issues, a six block range on her power, and a vertible shitton of insects can do to a unsuspecting PRT building. Kid gloves are off.

    • You’re missing something. The (possible) death of her teammate, the constant verbal onslaught by ‘bullies’, and being pushed down further by the presence of her father may well have given Skitter a second trigger event, and knowing the sheer control she has over insects, I can only imagine that her second-tier powers is to be able to become a cloud of them. So that her spread is the everything, and her swarm is the everywhere. Or at least large enough that the ‘heroes’ are never absolutely certain when they’ve escaped her.

      • Why is everyone so focused on a 2nd trigger event? And also why do most people think that would bring about the turning into insects bit?
        I think yea this was a hard situation for Skitter to be in her friends being attacked while she couldn t do anything bullys doing their thing and her Dad judging her but if she didn t trigger while trapped in Echidna who would probably have gone after her friends and her family too if not personally then through the clones then i don t think this would be enough.

        Also what could the 2nd trigger do except let her turn into a cloud of insects maybe let her extend her control even over not so simple nervous systems now thats a pretty scary thought, let her built “lieutenants” who do extend her reach and maybe act independently also not a nice thought or any number of things that i m simply not creative enough to come up with.
        But i think speculation about that is not necessary since its wildbow and i haven t seen enough predictions that actually worked out to believe we d guess right.

      • I don’t think Taylor will ever have a second trigger event, the current situation is just similar to her manifestation and the D&D incident, corrupt authority supporting the bullies and not having functional backups to intervene. The most that’ll happen would be a further expansion of her range like how after D&D, her range expanded to a 6-block radius, only now, her range covers all half or all of Brockton Bay.

      • I don’t personally get how so many commentors think Taylor will get a 2nd trigger this easily. I think I may repeat a though of a comment in previous chapters, but just think of:
        A) Prior probability. If one in 20k people triggers, 2nd triggers may happen in the same ration inside the triggered populace, so if the US has 20k capes, there will be a single (statistically speaking) one with a 2nd trigger event.
        B) Prior prerequisites. Look what Brian went through without triggering – hanging on the inside of a walk-in fridge with his nervous system covering the interior walls. No trigger. It took even more than that for it to happen.
        So no, getting knocked out and having he friends killed won’t lead to a 2nd trigger event, in my not so humble opinion. Lots of emotional stress, mediocre physical stress at best, what with her pain tolerance…

        • I’m pretty sure Taylor got 2 triggers at once in the first place. I remember Echidna “smelling” that her powers were stronger than normal and 2 triggers in 1 did come up at some point.

          • What would be her other power, then? Because Controlling Bugs is only one, and I’m not willing to put her micromanagement and thinker skills to be the second one (rather just necessary to get the Bug Control working).

      • If Skitter ends up having a second Trigger event my money is on complete consciousness transfer. Her mind is now no longer attached to her body. Have fun fighting her now!

  12. I think after this the PRT will have to reevaluate it’s negotiating techniques. Also I wonder what the Undersiders’ supporters in the city will do in response to this.

    • Interesting question. Alexandria straight up murdered one of the Undersiders. And then (fingers crossed) got bug-murdered herself.

      I could see a whole lot of different reactions to that. With Tattletale still on the loose to disseminate information, the generally accepted narrative might even be one that swings in favor of the Undersiders. At least in Brockton Bay.

      • I think Alexandria was just so damn desperate not to lose her precious PRT after having already lost every one of her friends. Especially Legend, who most likely told her to fuck off.

    • Oh yes, the PRT are in for it. Skitter’s lawyer was there, and you can bet dollars to donuts he’ll coordinate a PR campaign with Tattletale.

      5 bucks say by the end of the week the PRT are embroiled in the sort of PR fiasco that makes the attack on the school look like nothing in comparison.

      As for their supporters? Probably boost their pop some, remember, they just got attacked, one of them was killed, unprovoked no less, and Skitter actually was trying to defuse it, the PRT kept pushing…

      • Plus, making it even worse for the heroes and the PRT and the Protectorate is when someone asks, “Ok, so Alexandria finally showed up to fight them and took down three of them in no time flat. Where was she every single day before this that they were in control of the city?”

        • Oh, it gets even worse: She just killed a teen, who is legally innocent.

          There ain’t a chance in hell of covering that up…

        • You can draw that thought out further: if they can dismantle a group as infamous as the Undersiders have become, why don’t they ever use that same efficiency to systematically annihilate other groups? Ones that, say, actively murder people for shiggles?

  13. Yeah…if you really felt that killing one of the teammates was such a good idea, why’d you go to such lengths to keep it quiet and then go so paranoid when she found out?

    After all, I thought this was you guys’ way of putting pressure on her. Extorting her. Could it possibly be that you miscalculated?

    Ask yourselves that in the dying moments of your life.

    • Alexandria, putting the S in S&M.

      Tagg, putting th D in both douchetagg and dead.

      Skitter, putting the O in off-the-charts!

    • What’s really funny is that the wards and everyone in that building are probably going to be shitting themselves very shortly. Even while Skitter is unconscious, Tagg is probably getting devoured alive in front of them and every bug within 6 blocks is swarming into the building. The PRT doesn’t have a full account of Skitter’s abilities and are probably terrified realizing they are stuck in a building with someone who just took down the toughest cape around and the director all while restrained, someone who they knocked out but is still using their powers. Kid Win’s devices didn’t stop her. Sere didn’t stop her. Meanwhile, they probably just hauled a body bag past the rest of the PRT and Wards, some of them laughing and joking as it happened. Imagine the terror realizing that you may have just made yourself a target for one of the most vicious and powerful capes around. Everyone in the building, already suffering from a morale crisis, has got to see what happened: Skitter tried to surrender peacefully, the PRT murdered one of the Outsiders, and suddenly lots of screaming and the very worst person the PRT could throw at Skitter is probably dead or dying and the director has enough venom in him that he will bed dead very shortly. If you were one of the Wards, you just saw someone your age, a teenager, murdered by a person you looked up to all your life. A completely unnecessary murder done out of hubris. Would you stay after that? Or would you flee the building as fast as you could?

      • If I were a Ward? I’d be running out the door, tripping my teammates and anyone who gets between me and minimum safe distance.

      • I think there was comment in the last chapter that for me gives a pretty good answer to this one.
        They are heroes because they don t quit they fight for what they believe in. So no i don t they will run they may be terrified and scared but they will stay.
        What could have gotten them to leave would have been the realization that they worked with and for monsters and assholes but immediately after an attack like this i don t believe there is time enough to get to that conclusion.

      • It gets better, none of the Wards wanted to even be in the same room as Alexandria remember? They were already disgusted, then she did this…ooooh moral morale burn.

        Anyway, more on point, they now face Three Undersiders, plus whatever ludicrous amount of stuff they hired, plus their underlings…

        All of whom are now so thoroughly pissed off…

        I mean this is it. They have three Undersiders in custody. One dead. No more back-up and just saw the untouchable bully get smacked around. Meanwhile on the other side the anger is somewhere in the stratosphere. Also I bet this only cemented Flechette and Parian in their resolve.

        • And now who else can the PRT even call in? I can’t see Legend wanting to help. Eidolon, who Taylor herself says they probably could have dealt with? And against someone who can injure an Endbringer and never misses, they could end up dealing constant non-fatal blows that pin them down, much like she did to Skitter. They may have three Undersiders in custody and one dead, but they are so far from having the upper hand.

          • They really have been on a bridge burning spree since they got panicked by Echidna.

            Dragon and Defiant have no reason to help them, and Alexandria really showed that she isn’t the people person (I love how she just never bothered to deal with this as an issue) with that one. Those two are gonna be popping champagne over this one.

            Alexandria is fucked. Simple enough.

            The Case 53s won’t help.

            Mercs fail because the Undersiders have more money at this point. Or at least more potential for money.

            Even heroes are breaking off from them. Who do they even have left?

          • Actually, because of her programming, if Dragon was ordered to, she’s likely HAVE to help. But otherwise, yeah, they’re fucked.

          • Who else can they pull in? Considering their connection to Cauldron, they might have many strong capes that nobody expects. Contessa (who may or may not be Alexandria), the Number Man, the Doctor, and who knows who else.

            This is Worm. There’s bound to escalation (much like what happens in real life).

        • Yeah, I’m thinking at least Faultline and Co. will be backing up the Undersiders’ play, if not because Lisa already hired them, then because Skitter just took down one of Cauldron’s big guns, the one who does the bulk of the kidnapping from other worlds.

          Plus the Ambassadors.

          Plus every other cape who likes money and can get to Brockton Bay in a few hours.

          Unless the death changes things, we’re at roughly 2 hours from the Undersiders retaliation and rescue mission. 50/50 the first thing Taylor sees when she wakes is Lisa, and her base.

          Were I in a Protectorate/PRT suit, first priority would be getting Skitter out of my damn city, maybe have dragon contain her somewhere where no one has soft tissue to be bit.

          • not having soft tissue doesn’t save you from skitter’s wrath. See: mannequin and heroes will full armor.

      • She can do the same thing to every other hero in her range if she wants to. If they’re six blocks near her, and have to breathe, she can kill them. I figured there was no way in hell that Wildbow would give her another a trigger event, but now I can see it happening.

          • In Shadow Stalkers gas form, Skitter has already tested that theory; being filled with bugs deprived her gas-cells from obtaining oxygen, and suffocated her faster than normal

        • She can’t kill people who stay around Kid Wins drones (as long as they are still powered anyway) or Defiants anti-bug tech.
          I’m surprised that they didn’t keep one of those drones in the room with Taylor.

      • I meant it less in terms of that, and more in the way that they use them, and even more in how they are seen in-universe. Superman and Alexandria are both flying bricks who are national icons and fly around the world saving people. Scion comes in and suddenly the problems are much, much less severe. Sure, Superman pretty much has a Story Breaker Power, but to keep him as a viable character, he’s always kept from using the full force of his abilities. Scion, on the other hand, is completely unleashed.

    • I am not doing welcomes tonight. I’ll get to people tomorrow. You are safe…for now.
      Wouldn’t have taken earth as a symbol of violence, given the whole fertility and wealth aspects.

      Always more a fan of water myself, whatever that has.

      • I take things to unusual places, though even I don’t get how violence is more associated with earth than with fire and craziness is for air instead of water. Just some of those different interpretations, I guess.

        And if you come across someone completely confused by something in Serbian, you can always tell them, “You just got Serbed!”

      • I’m a little unhinged all right, but it didn’t take air to make that happen. I don’t care so much about the air as what is past it. Space, that most final of frontiers. How great it would be to leave the planet and overlook the entire world. A tiny speck from a tiny speck orbiting a tiny speck of a big galaxy in a universe that we haven’t quite figured out the size of. A universe of possibilities and distances and phenomena.

        Instead I’m down around all the people who think figment dollars of their imaginations are more important than getting off this small hunk of rock and into the sea of possibilities.

        We can reach out there. It’s not an abyss, we just haven’t filled it yet. But instead here we sit, on a planet subject to its climate and its own eventual, inevitable destruction due to rogue stars, rogue black holes, collision with another galaxy, or, if all that is avoided, the sun expanding.

        It’d be nice if we didn’t have to worry about losing bone mass and problems with eyesight up there though. Oh, and the radiation. Be good to avoid all that too.

        Though if you look in the air, I find myself liking the stuff by XKCD where they consider that they are upside down and thus hold onto things to keep from falling into the sky. All in how you think about it, I guess. Don’t accept what the viewpoint is without some testing. Sure, occasionally you wander across somebody’s Kampf, but you also have enough of a brain to reject something like that as the idiocy that it is.

        And the water isn’t entirely bad either. It is, after all, formless, shapeless, and moves to weakness. The animals in it are alien in their own way, but still just as helpless. Toss an anglerfish into the air and it’s not so tough anymore, is it Mr. Big Fish? Well, Mrs. Big Fish, actually, as the male anglerfish attaches to the exterior of the female and is basically a nutrient-sucking parasitic pair of testicles. Isn’t that every man’s dream, though?

        Fire…well, it destroys things. That seems kinda violent to me, especially as it’s kind of a special case. Water is around, air is around, earth is around, fire pops up when someone plays with certain rocks or lightning strikes or when the governor of Texas prays for rain.

        As for earth, well there’s your food. Any precious gems too, if you’re into those sorts of things. No matter your food chain, it’s the green, it’s the green, it’s the green you need. There’s a reason it has such good PR, what with Mother Nature and Jack O’ The Green and Gaia and the Horned God and so on and so forth. And you want to talk about slow? The Alps weren’t made in a day, and neither were earthquakes. It takes a bit of tension. Tectonic Plates slipping and sliding over and under each other, the beast with basalt backs, until one of them is a buzzkill and erupts a volcano all over the place. Their sudden violence is after a lot of foreplay.

      • Keyboard’s broken so, I’ll keep it short. Fire is also all around; Energetic molecules bouncing around and all that. Heat is just a byproduct of all that friction. Without elemental fire (See: Sol), we couldn’t exist. Certainly an abundace of it does lead to destruction, but that holds for ALL forces… I don’t see any one element appropriately noted by what its portfolio should be, personally; but then, I’m not a Serbian, so.

  14. I am not even one hundredth as sober as I usually am, so I will not read this chapter or comment it yet.

    I simply have this to say.

  15. Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck. Oh, f=holy shit.

    There’s no coming back from this. She just did what the Siberian failed to do. What Leviathan could not do. If she just killed Alexandria….Holy fuck. Skitter walked into PRT custody with a set of demands, offering to surrender and accept punishment in return for consideration. Alexandria began killing her team mates, and in response, from inside her cell, the queen of silk and chitin killed one of the mightiest capes ever to walk the Earth.

    Fuck. Me.

  16. What do you do with an invulnerable bully?
    What do you do with an invulnerable bully?
    What do you do with an invulnerable bully early in the morn-ing?

    “dad said.”Doesn’t” Missing space.
    “beep.Five again.” Missing space.
    sequence.Not hard” Missing space.
    “so I sent a truck.” Missing end quote.
    “between your being in our custody ” Should it be ‘her’ being in our custody, since she’s talking to Calle?
    “improbable, I said” Missing period.

    • No, they still have it. You can see Tagg threatening Taylor with it.
      I imagine that it’s still pretty hard to go through with it. There are a lot of safeguards in the justice system that make it harder on the prosecution to go for it compared to incarceration. Since the Birdcage is inescapable, they prefer sending capes there, because it’s pretty much the same in the end.

      • And since the Birdcage works (well at least until the day that we all know will come when it doesn t) it is a convenient and humane way to deal with criminal capes.

        There could be another component though no one wants the villains to organize we could see how the different gangs could lay down the law against the ABB earlier and the certainty of death charges against caught supervillains might just be enough motivation for such organization a grander scale. No one needs or wants an Anti-Protectorate so it might be easier to simply incarcerate them.

        • I disagree that it is in any way humane.

          It’s a prison without guards that contains mostly mass murderers. Sending someone (especially a young girl) there without powers on the level of Lung, is pretty horrible. (Canary was pretty much advised to to submit to Lustrum and become her follower, so that she hopefully wouldn’t get raped.)

          • Good point i agree. What i tried to say was more in the way that they can claim it since this way they don t actually kill them and i think the public doesn t know how the Birdcage is run or am i mistaken there?

          • Remember what Canary was capable of (and sentenced for). Once she finds her feet in there she actually has the power to become a major contender.

            She’ll be a monster by then, of course. :(

    • When it comes to enforcing the death penalty against someone like Skitter, I think it’s going to come down to something like this in the end:

      Who wants to be the guy?

    • I know. Crowning moment of sadness and horror. People commented that Taylor, not skitter Taylor, was kind of scary when she attacked the PRT after her identity was outed. I’m kind of worried about what kind of person she will be when she wakes up.

      • I see her as being roughly the same, but with all restrictions broken down. Sort of like when amy broke her rules, except Taylor will stay sane.

        • Ah no she won’t be the same but also still sane, she won’t let anyone close ever again nor go out of her to try and know people. This is what Dinah predicted when she said that Skitter was at the end of the world fight but different, that she was meaner. This is why Dinah told her to cut ties.

  17. Ok, other Tropers, how’s this for a Crowning Moment of Awesome Entry:

    “Not a promise, not an oath, or a malediction or a curse,” I said, sounding calm, probably inaudible in the midst of Tagg’s screaming. “Inevitable. Wasn’t that how she put it? I told them. Warned them.” When you read this in Cell 22.4, you know the shit just got gloriously real.

  18. Well that escalated needlessly.

    Alexandria choking on bugs seems really stupid of her. Even if she didn’t have Superman like super-breath, she is still invulnerable. She could simply gargle some acid or expose herself to a vacuum or try to have someone direct a flamethrower up her nose. There must be dozens of ways for someone like her to get rid of the bugs as long as she keeps calm and doesn’t panic.

    Tagg was just stupid, but that was to be expected.

    Alexandria needlessly escalated a situation that was mostly under control to the point where she might have died. Considering the fact that she probably has become a liability to Cauldron one might wonder if such an outcome would have been entirely unexpected by the people who sent her.

    The again last seen choking to death and then disappearing would certainly be one way for Alexandria to get away from a whole lot of problems.

    With Tagg dead and Alexandria dead, missing or at least severely pissed of the Birdcage seems inevitable at this point. Of course if Alexandria is dead that should give her the sort of prison rep that will help keep her alive in there.

    • But there is still lung, trickster, bakuda and the rest of the criminally insane half of the parahuman world.

        • Birdcagers only get info from the outside world from new inmates; see Marquis asking Lung about details on Brockton Bay

          • Now imagine whomever gets sent next has info on recent events, i.e. “Alexandria was killed by that bug girl in Brockton Bay, and she’s currently on trial. I hope she gets another cellblock than I do…”

          • @comickry: That would probably cheer Lung up a bit, though — yes, he got his ass kicked twice by a fifteen-year-old girl, but so did almost every other parahuman who ever spent time in Brockton Bay.

            …actually, why the hell wasn’t Lung an A-lister?

            • To break it down, it seems to me the entire ranking of threat level and stuff is based on actual behaviour, witness and evidence. In other words, ambition and creativity. Prime demonstration is Skitter of course, with a pretty tame power set she effectivly creates havoc if she has the need and desire to. Many a cape could easily be upgraded in their threat level if they had the inkling to rise to infamy or power and the intellect or creativity to make for it.

              Lung was– and is –immensely powerful in his own regards, but he has a somewhat simple outlook and approach to problems: Be on top, pummel every obstacle. He gives some concessions, but basically he worked to get the ABB and thus him in control of shady activities expanded, and didn’t have the opposition to warrant any deeper assessment of his threat level. He had the potential to and did some harm, but for the time he was mid-level fry because he limited himself to small-fry activities. He didn’t go on a permanent rampage to see how far his conversion would go, how powerful he could bodily get, but limited himself.

              tl;dr
              Threat level is empirical, not potential.

              • Lung has a high classification but a relatively low level of ambition. He had one powered minion (until early 2011 when he recruited Bakuda) and sought primarily to hold the docks as his territory. He ruled like a lesser king, had prostitutes and sex slaves, a protection racket and drug dealing, but he wasn’t fighting for a footing downtown.

                For all his (potential) power, he’d settled into a role as a street thug and gang leader.

                In terms of actual fighting, he also has to hold his own long enough to transform, and that’s sometimes tricky.

    • I’m not sure Acid or flamethrower would work. Alexandria still needs to breath. She can’t breathe acid or liquid napalm any better than she can breath bugs. Even the vacuum of space would still leave her with dead bugs in her lungs preventing air from reaching her.

      If she was a regenerator she could try tearing out her own lungs and hope they grow back before she dies, but as it is she’d got just a few minutes to work with which severely constrains her options.

      • It could be as simple as going to the nearest crematory to burn out the insects blocking out her airways. We already know that she can survive heat and flames as intense as the sun (read: Sundancer and Echidna) so I doubt that will pose a problem for her.

        • Which would take way longer then she could hold her breath…

          The longer she goes without air, the more damaged that brain becomes. After 4-6 mins, the brain cells start dying. After 15 mins, at that point just put her out of her misery…

      • Well if she hadn’t panicked and flown out of there showering the Wards in debris in the process but calmly walked up to Clockblocker to have him freeze her, they might have had all the time in the world to come up with something chemical that would get rid of the bugs and leave residue that could easily be coughed up.

        I just hope for her that she either flew of because she had a plan to get rid of the stuff in her lungs and not because she blindly panicked.

        • She is invulnerable, if powers like Clockblocker’s could affect her than she could /also/ be healed I would say.

          Plus doesn’t the initial part happen to Clockblocker once, does anyone remember when he froze himself it also froze the insects or not?

          • Clockblocker never froze himself; he froze the bugs. His power doesn’t work on himself. But I do think it would work on Alexandria. Unless she’d be invulnerable due to some other power of hers we don’t know the specifics of, but I wouldn’t think that’s the case.

          • Clockblocker’s power does work on himself. We’ve seen him doing it a couple of times, to survive some sort of area explosion or the like.

          • No, at the bank he froze the bugs on himself to keep from suffocating. As for the fight with Crawler and Mannequin, if you’ll remember, he froze the suit he was wearing, because it was explicitly stated that he couldn’t freeze himself.

          • Ah, right. Does that mean that his costume has some sort of air supply built into it, with sealable air holes, so that he can use it to seal himself safely for a couple of minutes?

          • I pretty much assumed that freezing a person would freeze all of them including whatever they have on or in them.

            I thought clockblockers powers as not so much a way to deal with the insects, but to delay the problem. Put Alexandria on ice for a few hours. Stabilize her condition. She will still be suffocating when she thaws out, but you wil have won time.

            And in the meantime calm down and call all the thinkers and Tinkers loyal to you to come up with a way that would get rid of the much in her airways and lungs but leave the rest of her standing. Have her inhale some rocket fuel. Have some cape with the right power try to heal her by purging her with fire or radiation or something.

            Unless Alexandria flew of because she thought of something that would help her already, flying of was a bad idea. (unless of cause she was faking being susceptible to suffocation all along and just used this as an opportunity to get rid of an identity that had become a liability)

            • Leviathan tried drowning her, hence susceptible to asphyxiation.
              Radiation might kill her, as her eye proves no regeneration and you might not want to try if her invulnerability includes pure (non-caped) radiation.

              My idea would have been to have Clockblocker freeze only her, not the bugs inside her. If he can freeze only his costume and not himself, he has some fine control in his power. Might work, might not. If it does, do as mentioned before: Burn her frozen lungs, pour hyper-oxygenated liquid inside.

          • I don’t agree, if powers like the one who healed Skitter’s eyes can’t be used on Alexandria(as evidenced by the fact that she didn’t) then why should Clockblocker’s work?

        • Yeah, this is what I found myself thinking, that Clockblocker could help her. But she probably was in a panic and didn’t think about it, much like a drowning person would be.

      • Another point regarding regeneration ability or healers.

        Her eye didn’t grow back.

        Even with everything at her disposal and years to spare they never were able to get he an eye that was as durable as her real one. So, no Iron lung for Alexandria, I think.

      • A reasonable solution: had Alexandria remained calm, Clockblocker could have frozen her, which would have bought enough time to accomplish another solution (I assume that Clockblocker could not selectively freeze Alexandria and not the unseen obstruction in her airway). Kid Win could have rigged up a blowtorch probe, stuck it into Alexandria’s presumably invulnerable lungs, and burned out bug and webbing. She would have spent maybe half an hour getting chain-frozen and ended up coughing up a lungful of carbon.

        Of course, everybody panics when they are literally choking on crawling bugs.

      • The simplest solution is probably to grab the nearest vacuum cleaner, force the nozzle down her throat (and given her strength and invulnerability it might even deform to fit), pinch her nose shut, and turn it on.

        That’s if she can stay conscious long enough (her superspeed may help here – or it may just let her pass out faster), *and* if she can think clearly enough. That’s a big “if” under the circumstances…

    • I actually can’t find it in me to blame Tagg for pulling a gun, when he was told that Alexandria was choking on insects.

    • > Alexandria choking on bugs seems really stupid of her. Even if she didn’t have Superman like super-breath, she is still invulnerable. She could simply gargle some acid or expose herself to a vacuum or try to have someone direct a flamethrower up her nose. There must be dozens of ways for someone like her to get rid of the bugs as long as she keeps calm and doesn’t panic.

      …assuming she knew that that was what it would take to clear her lungs. For all I know, she might have believed the bugs in her throat were the only problem and getting clear of Skitter’s range would be sufficient to allow her to breathe again.

  19. Well now I don’t have to listen when people say Taylor isn’t such a bad person because all of her crimes are justifiable. She basically just killed Tagg for being an asshole and trying to save one of the key people keeping humanity alive.

    • Uh, not true. Tagg pulled a gun on her, she was in imminent fear of her life, so she reacted, clear cut self defense.

      Besides, remind me again, WHO came up with the “deal”? Remember, the really shitty one that not even Emma would’ve taken? It sure as hell wasn’t Skitter, her deal would’ve kept the city safe, gotten them a PR coup, and ended matters peacefully.

      • ‘Self-defense’ requires minimum force. It’s hard to argue that killing Tagg was necessary when she already disarmed him.

        • For how long? It’d be easy for him to say “Shoot her”, or take her on in hand to hand combat, and he IS former military…

          At most, all she did was swarm him, not his fault the subordinates didn’t have her pull the bugs off in time.

          • Well, he said it himself. This was a war. And I do believe that opposing sides are allowed to kill each other in a war. You also don’t bother with charging them afterward unless they did something really horrible like carpet bomb a city, undermine the government with a secretive conspiracy, or fund a terrorist third party that attacks both sides indiscriminately.

            • Yeah, but he was wrong, remember?

              With emphasis on the “was”. It’s sure as hell a war now. Douche.

              I can see now why Miss Militia hated having to bring in Alexandria. One way or the other, things were going to get ugly as soon as she was involved.

    • Defense of others.

      Alexandria had stated just how hard she was to kill and that she was going to kill one of the other Undersiders. She arrived back having just killed one of the Undersiders with two more to go. And since you’re so concerned with legal=moral, then might I add that the Undersiders have never been convicted, making them all legally innocent teenagers.

      Also, Tagg pulled a gun on her while she was locked up in custody, all because she found out they murdered a friend of hers. I’d say that qualifies for self defense on her part.

      Oh, and I’d say it’s pretty clear by Alexandria’s actions anytime someone suggests reforming the PRT and maybe being less of an asshole that she was not helping to keep humanity alive.

      • You must see the irony in saying it is ok for Taylor to kill Tagg here in defense of others. That is EXACTLY what Tagg was about to do, try to save Alexandria by killing Taylor. Tagg’s big crime is that he is an asshole, that is not something he should be murdered for.

        • No. Tagg was killing Taylor for finding out. He didn’t know anything about Alexandria, only that there was an emergency.

        • Tagg’s big crime here was being a psychotic jackboot serving a borderline third world rogue state. He condones extra-judicial murder of teenagers and he had no regard for the safety of civilians or his own.

          Fuck yeah that’s something he should be murdered for.

    • Also, please point to any actual proof in the story as written that Alexandria has stopped any of the Endbringer attacks herself or as part of the Triumvirate.

      The Triumvirate gets away with a lot under the justification that they’re critical for defeating the Endbringers but in the Endbringer fights we’ve seen the only thing that ends the battle is Scion showing up.

      In this arc, it’s been Taylor FAR MORE than Alexandria who’s been playing the role of “critically important person in saving the world”. Alexandria was simply a murderer who was stopped midway through a murderous rampage.

      • Actually, in the Simurgh fight mentioned in Migration, it’s Scion who arrives first on scene and the heroes who wrap it up. Eidolon, specifically, mops up.

        17.6, ctrl-f ‘restitution will be offered’.

        • I’ll take that as “Word of God” on the subject, but note that is written as a quote from Myrrdin, aka not exactly an unbiased source, rather than something we’ve actually seen through an objective lens, and it’s not exactly a win without Scion.

          At best it seems to upgrade her to an “important sidekick” but still not “without her the world ends”….but I guess we’ll see with the next Endbringer attack.

    • Murder only counts as murder if you do it to a person, and Tagg was a rat doing an impression of a man.

      “key people keeping humanity alive”

      Uh, citation needed. Are folks still seriously taking their word for it when they say they’re the only chance at saving the world?

      Laughable man! Ha HA!

          • I choose to believe that she is, that she grew past her innate nature and is now more or less a back-up skitter. Working with the irregulars.

            Come on, an exact copy of herself is probably the only thing that can stop Skitter at this point.

    • Taylor did warn them exactly what would happen if they kept escalating. I’m not saying she was justified, but they brought it on themselves.

    • you provoked it: Taylor isn’t such a bad person,
      (i just use a different justification:) because she tries to do good and regrets her crimes, and while not justifiable she acts mostly understandable

    • Her crime is totally justifiable. Alexandria just killed one of her closest friends and Tagg has seriously been asking for this since the School Incident. This is what happens when you disregard the unspoken rules between the Villains and the Heroes.

      Was it in any way legal? Nope. But she warned them that Alexandria’s actions would cause one of them to break. They just didn’t figure out that she was talking about herself.

  20. Oh boy
    If that wasn t the opening shot of a war between heroes and villains in Brockton Bay i m not sure what would be. Or accepting the declaration they send through Alexandria at least.
    Congratulations Tagg you finally got what you wanted hope you are happy now.
    Also: I do believe in fairies :D

    • Yep, Tagg even got to be one of the first casualties of his war.
      Sadly, this means I’ll never get to use the ‘ScumTagg’ nickname I made for him.

  21. That was one of the best chapters so far :)

    Tagg – dead; Alexandria – MIA; an undersider – dead, two in custody.

    ..that was one big fan being hit.

    • Warning label is at the start of this series. It’s also clearly stated that there won’t be future warnings.

  22. …and then skitter joined the slaughterhouse 9 and ended up being the one to destroy the world, since she didn’t have the leverage of keeping jack in the cit to win over the PRT.

  23. what I wish happened with the body bag…
    – “Barry is gonna flip when he finds out we hid him a stripper in this body bag”
    *Laughing ensues*
    P.S. added context Barry is a morgue doctor guy, he picked a horrible time to have a bachelor party

    This is not going to be what happens but I can still believe (-_-)

    This chapter: ok everythings cool people playin hardball WAwdaefefsASFfAVrFrfrefE wooh! Taggs dead <- atleast there was a happy ending

    Predictions of the future: Taylor wakes up and realizes that she wasn't too specific about her "kill Tagg" command before she got knocked out and now everyone in the PTR building is dead, sadness ensues \(;o;)/

    Tattletale made everyone in the undersiders play dead and everyone that died comes back to life and Jack and Bonesaw decide life would be more fun if they were good guys and the Endbringers stop killing people because they found out that adorable cats are much better than destroying humanity and everyone lives happily ever after except Tagg (cause hes a dick)

    Next update is from the perspective of Atlas and at the end we find out that Taylor has died and Atlas now has to take up her mantle as main character (which he sadly is horrible at :( poor Atlas)

  24. The only way for this chapter to have given me even bigger chills is if Taylor spoke that last statement softly through her bugs for everyone to hear.

  25. Oh gosh. I’ve been reading for about a year now, but haven’t wanted to toss my hat into the commenting ring until now.

    I have to say that I SO did not see that coming. The sheer injustice of everything Taylor has gone through in this story is mind-boggling. Even when she wins, there was always the specter of the “original sin” out there: forever overshadowing everything that Taylor has become. Alexandria was just the latest and most unrepentantly effective bully yet. And yes, I’m talking about her in the past tense.

    I really expected to see a lot more angst and indecision from Taylor, costing her even more than the unknown Undersider in the morgue (an “Undertaken” now?). I guess I had forgotten how much Taylor has grown since she was shoved in a trash-filled locker by a rabid pack of teenage harpies.

    As for the future, I am expecting to learn that Brian was killed, Tattletale sends in the mercs and ambassadors to break out Taylor to re-take the reins of power, and yet another asshole PRT director decides to start releasing Birdcage prisoners on the condition that they help to take down the Undersiders.

    Of course, I should know by now not to make predictions when it comes to Wildbow. Thanks for writing!

    • Damn it, you’ll really have to give me a little time now before I throw you a welcome. I may not be “holy shitting” like everyone else, but this is kind of a bad time to have to come up with a welcome.

    • Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, we here at the Worm comments section are proud to present to Nth_X an event 1 year in the making…Worm the Pooh!

      Taylor, wearing a red shirt that doesn’t quite cover her belly button, walks in, commands some bees to move out of the way, and grabs their hive to enjoy some honey. Tattletale comes hopping up in a bunny outfit. “Taylor, come quick. Grue needs help!”

      “Aww, but Tattletale, can’t I just sit here and enjoy the honey?”

      “Some things are more important than honey. Grue was wounded by the Heffalump and Woozle 9!”

      “Oh bother!”

      Cut to them coming upon Grue, dressed in a donkey costume. “What’s wrong Grue?”

      “Oh, nothing. I just can’t find my tail.”

      “Think, think, think,” says Taylor the Pooh, “If I were a tail, where would I be?”

      “Here comes Regent, maybe we should ask him?” asks Tattletale.

      In hops Regent, “Hoo hoo hoo hoo! Ask me what, Tattletale?”

      “We were just looking for Grue’s tail.”

      “Aww, that’s not so hard. Finding tail is what Regent does best!”

      They search for awhile, calling out for it, until Regent stumbles into Bitch’s house, upsetting cages and starting dogs barking. Bitch comes running out in a magenta jumper, “Oh d-d-d-dear!” She then shoots the author a nasty look. “Ouch,” says Bitchlet testily, shooing out a bouncing Regent.

      Taylor the Pooh pokes her head in a window, “Say, Bitchlet, you wouldn’t mind helping us find Grue’s tail, would you?”

      “I can get the dogs and have them sniff around, Poohbug,” she says.

      “Thank you very much, Bitchlet!”

      Their search is interrupted, however, by the timely arrival of Imp in a small kangaroo costume, bouncing alongside Regent. “Excuse me everybody, did somebody lose a tail?”

      “Yep, Imp, we did. Grue’s been looking all over for it.” says Taylor the Pooh, who takes it and goes bumbling off to find Grue in private.

      She finds him alone by a creek and attaches it to Grue’s butt, who then turns around, “I’m so happy. All I needed was a little tail from Taylor.”

      Welcome, Nth_X, to the comments. Once seen, it cannot be unseen!

  26. Also remember. One of the functions of a nasal cavity is the fact that it lightens the overall weight of the head.

    Stuff it FULL of something with a denser consistency than snot, and it can lead to problems balancing, as your inner ear is running off the assumption that things are normal, thus feeding one’s sense of overall balance and direction with inaccurate data.

    Super-strong or not, mess with someone’s balance and spacial perception and they’re not going to have very fine control over direction and distance.

    The fact that Alex was able to go straight up in that condition is something of a minor miracle.

  27. Just wow. Started this story about a month ago, and read straight through. Caught up maybe 2 weeks ago, right around finals time lol.

    Wildbow, I’m handing it to you, this is a great series. I like the turns it’s made, the creativity, the insight into characters from the different viewpoints. Bravo.

    Taylor has become truly terrifying. Taking out Alexandria? Evading drones? Smuggling in an army of bugs? All while calmly sitting at a table? I think her multi-tasking abilities have been understated even.

    I’m with everyone else waiting on edge. We probably will get another interlude. It’d be interesting to see Tattletale for a “meanwhile” point of view.

      • Likewise, welcome to the madhouse.

        I mean comments, comments…

        Oh yes, her revenge will be so sweet. And will involve unleashing shittons of dirt on the PRT, methinks whatever reporter she tells it to will be in line for Pulitzers…

        • Releasing dirt on Cauldron is a decidedly bad idea though, anyone who tried has died. Of course if Skitter keeps changing the dynamics of how things work…

          • And when Cauldron has agents in the media? Or the one you told for the media was one of Cauldron’s agents?

          • Thats when you go live in front of cameras from multiple networks and simultaneously put it on multiple sites in the internet.

          • Except that Cauldron has 2 things

            1. More or less given up on keeping themselves secret. They even said that it wasn’t really hurting them, people want powers no matter the cost.

            2. High hopes for the Undertakers. They value TT and the rest alive more than they do dead.

    • Hahaha. That’s two welcomes for PG in the aftermath of probably the most interesting chapter of the last month or two. I mean, in a little over an hour and a half (accounting for the time it took for people to read before the comment flood), there are almost as many comments as any other chapter.

    • Zoom in on Psycho Gecko, sitting in a Corinthian leather bean bag chair in a study, fire roaring in the fireplace, wearing a reading jacket as he looks down at a magazine. He tokes a fine wooden bong, then sets it aside, bubbles floating out of it as he juts now notices Charles, “Well hello there, old chap. I didn’t see you there. Oh this? I was just reading Anthropology Cosmopolitan. They have a wonderful article in there on how women in nomadic hunter gatherer tribes had 100 ways they attempted to drive their men wild sexually without actually giving it up. Fascinating, but I suppose I should put it down to extent you a hearty welcome.”

      He stands up and leaves the magazine and bong behind to walk to a glass case. “Look here, and you’ll see the very first trophies of Taylor. Lung’s balls. Or maybe these are his eyes. There should be four round objects in here. Oh dear, I hope the cleaning lady hasn’t been bringing her kid with her and letting the child play in here. Let me check something.”

      He walks over to the mantle and checks a phaser hanging over it. “Whew, I was worried for a second there. Always make sure your Chekov’s phaser isn’t loaded when kids are around.”

      “Anyway, over this way, you’ll see the newest trophy. This one on the left is Alexandria’s lungs. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a full set of eyes to rip out. And this one on the right is Tagg’s ass. You’ll notice the fossilized bootprint in the cheek and the way it’s suspended in this early, bronze age sling. Needless to say, he was out of there one way or another.”

      A ringing is heard throughout the manor. “Ah, I see it’s time for me to go hunting.” He walks over to a mounted raptor’s head. Underneath it is a quad rocket launcher and a plaque that reads “On The Eighth Day, God Created Turok.” He drops the reading jacket to reveal he’s shirtless, with an oiled-up chest and ammo bandoliers, then grabs the quad rocket launcher.

      “I hope you stick around in the comments section. As you may have figured, we have a lot of fun around here anticipating future trophies. Now, let’s go catch us some typos.”

      Welcome to the comments section, Charles. That’s just what I do: youtube.com/watch?v=u_jRgv-UqBU

  28. I won’t get my hopes up too much, but I do hope Alexandria does suffocate. It’s not guaranteed, because she flew out of Skitter’s range, but she did have everything from her mouth to her lungs filled with not only insects, but spider silk as well. And even if she can get some of that out, there’s no guarantee she’ll be able to get enough air. Her survival can’t be ruled out either, of course, but I hope that at the very least, she suffers some sort of permanent consequence.

    There are definitely ways that the body could be someone other than one of the actual Undersiders. I wouldn’t really put it past Tattletale to be able to have them switch with viable body doubles. But at much as I want both Grue and Bitch to live, I want an uncontrived, Deus Ex-free story even more.

    As far as Skitter being feared in the Birdcage goes, sure, she’d get fear. She’d definitely be respected by a lot of people. But I don’t think there are bugs in the Birdcage.

    And if the next chapter is an interlude, I would hope it would be a character close enough to the action to know what’s going on. So packbat: unless his/her interlude would be the only chance to hear a long backstory, maybe we’ll get that Crucible chapter.

    • That would be sweet as hell. Particularly because the remaining Undersiders are almost certain to go on a rescue mission as soon as Tattletale figures out Alexandria is down (metaphorically speaking).

    • Everyone keeps saying that about the Birdcage, and I wondered myself. But honestly, I feel like there are bugs everywhere on Earth, even when you don’t think there are or could be. I’m sure there are some around.
      She shall breed them, and be legendary lol.

      • I don’t think it matters if there are bugs there or not.

        PANACEA is in there, and she can MAKE them…

        • Ooh, very good point. If Skitter got Panacea to work with her, they would be a VERY dangerous duo. And assuming Skitter’s power DOES affect anything with a simple enough nervous system, as I think it was hypothesized at some point (or even some other biology-related set of qualifications), Panacea could theoretically turn anyone into a puppet for Skitter.

    • As I commented in the last chapter, or the chapter before that. Considering the spatial differences between actual size and apparent size(for inhabitants) I wonder just how Taylor’s powers would function

        • Oh, that would be, like, insanely fun. I mean, she gets shrunk, but her range stays the same in absolute terms. Then she gets unshrunk and her radius expands accordingly (to half of America probably).

      • I think she could call worm underground just fine. Going by a word of god statement, wildbow mentioned in a past interlude a bit on her powers in response to someone asking about a sentient bug person. He claimed she could probably control them just fine, but would have doubts due to moral issues. Check my list I made a few chapters ago. She can control Atlas just fine, so I think even tiny Skitter can control them just fine. I can see it now. A superhuman prison drama/monster movie with giant worms bursting through the walls.

        • But the question is, would whatever causes the spatial distortion of the Birdcage also affect Skitter’s power range? Maybe something like that normally wouldn’t, but whatever the Birdcage uses, it bypasses the Manton effect, so it’s possible that it would.

          • I think of her power as a radio signal, with bugs being the receiver. She will probably have a weaker signal, and thus a much smaller range, but any receiver in her area I would guess could be controlled normally. Depends how deep underground they are, and whats around her. Worms don’t live in rock but there has to be way for Dragon to send the shruken villains into the complex, which a bug could get in. She can use her power like she did with this chapter, keep sneaking in bugs, and have them near her when she shrinks. Maybe she can have them follow her in normal size. So Skitter walks in with a gang of giant insects already, which would scare the crap out of anyone with a functioning fear center of the brain. Insects are a primal fear.

            • Almost certainly overthinking the analogy, but if her powers work like radio and everything is shrunk, then her radio waves will be shrunk too, changing their frequency so the receiver won’t recognise them…

          • Yeah, after this chapter Skitter would definitely do that, especially to people in the Birdcage. The question would be whether or not Panacea would be willing to do it, even to some of the worse criminals. Especially because it would be helping Skitter.

          • I don t agree with that. True killing like this is crossing yet another line but it is done in anger and retaliation. This leads me to believe that yes in future she might be more willing to use more force and maybe even lethal levels.

            However turning people into mindless zombies presumably against their will is another matter altogether. I think from a moral standpoint that would be something that she would be needed to be pushed across again. Also you completly disregarded the fact that Panacea is hurt mentally and blames this at least partly on skitter too.

            Even with that she is not insane or morally debased enough that i think she would even agree to do that for skitter.
            It may be different if she used insects like she did for atlas to built humanoid bugs.

  29. I have to say: The Protomen (Act I and Act II) was definitely a good choice of soundtrack for reading this chapter.

  30. I wonder about the reaction of the inmates at Birdcage, been a while since i saw an update on current matters from that viewpoint…

  31. Man, I know I shouldn’t have been cheering near the end because of the dangerously dark path Taylor is going down but it felt good to see Alexandria get fucked after everything she did.

    It’s taken many, many, updates but Taylor is doing the Carrie thing.

    Also, is this the end of the arc? It feels like another one of Wildbow’s cliffhanger arc ending that leaves everyone in agony as we await the start of the next arc.

  32. wow. My mind is blown all over again. I can’t believe how often you do this to me, Wildbow. Well done. Extremely well done.

  33. Defiance.

    Not imagination.

    Not desire.

    Not determination.

    Human beings will end themselves, to crush their enemies.

    Human beings are defiant, above all else.

    This is not a positive thing. Sometimes, it fills them with hate, to end the world.

    And sometimes, when the world slowly spirals towards death, there will be a reckoning.

    Human beings will give up. As a rule, they will give up.

    And as a rule, there will be exceptions.

    The people who would BURN THEMSELVES TO DEATH. People, worshipers of peace, of belief, who believe in peace so deeply that they would cross their legs, and meditate, as fire engulfs them. The most peaceful of human beings.

    The determination of a human being who says something wrong will overcome every view. name a single political view, and it has been opposed. more and more strongly, until it was /forced/ to change. Human beings are willing to do anything, when pushed far enough.

    Love, hate, need, fear. At some point, you underestimate them. That pure human need to turn what they focus against into an enemy. That force could make a human being into a living funeral pyre.

    Imagine what happens when it hits a personality that is less exciting.

    Gods don’t understand. If you don’t know those subtle weaknesses, if you lose the feeling for it, you’ll forget their power. And you’ll forget that a single person, fighting for god, free of fear, free of uncertainty, can not just move mountains.

    They can make something that will move mountains. In Circle Time, the world’s path can change.

    And woe betide those who forget the path of stories. Stories are power. They can make mere power look like the pathetic choices of someone without any real understanding. They can make power into storybook power, and vice versa.

    Never.

    Ever.

    Ever.

    Undersestimate.

    Because the impossible is a challenge, to humans.

    • All I can say about your comment here: Profound. I feel like I should read some papers you have written.

      The rule that has no exception is that everything has an exception.

    • To follow up… The strength of humanity is inversely proportional to the power of its enemies. The person who is stronger is overconfident. They can be shaken at the slightest inconvenience, they expect everything to go their way. The innate nature of humanity is to dig in harder the further they are pushed down. Individual leaders can plead out, but they will be overruled by their followers.

      A single human being can become a force that an entire world bends a horseshoe around. A single force so tremendously potent that it’s decreed as ‘simply unmanageable’. And love is the most powerful sense of this all. Skitter would bend the world into a pretzel knot to save the people she loves. We’ve said it so often here, as a statement, a phrase, not recognizing the basic truth; That those with everything to lose cannot beat those with nothing to lose, because those with nothing left to lose can take any torment. Can suffer every indignity. Just because there is no downside for them anymore.

      The foes keep targeting Skitter where they think she’s weak. They attack the ones she loves. In a world where strength is borne from helplessness, they think that they can crush her by destroying her support network, never recognizing the true danger.

      When you are old and powerful it is so easy to think that you will remain that way forever. To be certain of your own power. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from that grand man, Pratchett, it’s the folly of your own pride. The strongest people are the ones who never stop trying, who think they have something to prove until the day they die. The people who, when you challenge them to a staring contest with the sun, at the age of god only knows, sit down and stare up, and are willing to drop it all at a moment’s notice if they think it’s right.

      Gods are easy. They don’t believe anything can challenge them anymore. Heroes are hard. They know everything can challenge them. That’s why they train, and prepare, and sometimes, when nobody expects it, a god finds themselves humbled, and we remember why there are heroes, and why humans are the top of the food chain- Not lions, not killer whales.

      Because all the power in the world can be overcome, by a bit of preparation, a bit of thought, by humans with a spear.

    • Whoa, is ajoxer a commenter here?
      Hey old buddy, it’s Thomas from that 4e game way back in the when.
      *checks comment, flashes thumbs-up*
      Ayup. Keep bein’ awesome.

      • I recall a Thomas vaguely. And since I am literally the only person ever to use Ajoxer, yeah, i can guarantee it’s the same persoN.

  34. Holy Shit.

    You know what’s the worst bit? Her range is probably shooting off the scale right now.

    If it keeps extending while she’s unconcious…

    This is crazy. Time to just conquer the PRT. They already charged you with declaring war on the United States, might as well win that war now.

    ..

    She warned them, damnit! She warned them!

  35. Reading on the road. HSQ at ceiling. Is it strange to wish both for a story chapter next as well as a interlude?

  36. Well it looks like Alexandria…
    (*Puts on Sunglasses*)
    …Couldn’t bug out in time…

    …I’m sorry

    Now for more thoughts
    -Well, it seems like after 22 arcs, over a million some words, and several dozen times where they should have bite the dust, an Undersider has been offed, off screen no less. Not saying that’s a bad thing, and in fact, being able to pull this off so well, so nuanced, and so sublimely is something that isn’t seen very often. My guess is that its Grue, just for the sake of the story, as his role in the overarching plot is pretty much done. This also kinda helps force Skitter back to the Undersiders, since Grue was supposed to be their leader after Skitter left.

    -Alexandria and Tagg are “dead”, though I don’t think anybody is really shedding tears for them (except maybe Mrs Tagg) Of course, their supposed deaths are ambiguous enough so that there has to be suspense (arghhhhhhh) I don’t know if I missed anything, but was Alexandria in costume when she “died?” If she was just wearing her regular PRT Chief clothes, it could be interesting. She flies out of the PRT office into the sky, and if she dies, or even if she faints, she lands back down to the ground, presumably in the middle of a street, with people able to see her. If they connect the dots about former Chief Director and Alexandria, the whole keep-Cauldron-and-Echidna-Incident-a-secret thing could already be blown out of the water.

    -As for the end where Skitter is knocked out, several things comes to mind. First, nice to see Danny still sticking up for his daughter even though he now has learned even more about her actions. Second, nice to see MM’s inaction actually helping Skitter for once. And thirdly, of course Skitter needs to be knocked out cold so that there has to be even more suspense (arghhhhhhh)

    -For what happens next, I still think Birdcage is a bit unlikely. Unless they quickly put her unconscious body on a plane and just drop her into the Birdcage, a lot of things are bound to happen before they can actually get her permanently detained. The remaining Undersiders and their forces still have time and the sheer force to break Skitter, Regent, and Imp out, given that all the rules are pretty much out the window. MM and the Wards can also play a role, given what just happened, and once again the rule-out-the-window status. And finally, the entire PR side of things still comes into play, so even if Skitter stays captured, the process and procedures might still apply. Of course, we could always get a second trigger/ Noelle-style F***-‘em-up.

    -Final aside, what happens to Accord and the Ambassadors, and for that matter Cauldron? The ambassadors were fighting for the Undersiders when Alexandria attacked, so is their alliance still going strong? As for Cauldron, I really don’t know how they’re going to go about this. For one thing, one of their strongest supporters/ allies has taken a dirt nap, but on the other hand, Skitter’s goals and their own seem to match up rather well and Skitter now has pretty much proven that she can achieve these goals better than anyone else can.

    • On the cauldron side one has to keep in mind that Alexandria had recently become a liability after being outed and that they are already moving to replace her and the rest of the triumvirate by putting the numbers man back into the filed.

      Having Alexandria removed at this point, by either being or playing dead might be in their best interest.

      While cauldron wants skitter to succeed they seem to want her to succeed on her own without help. They did not overtly help Coil either. If villains take over the city they must probably do so on their own power to serve as some sort of prove of concept for the new world order or something.

      I expect cauldron to sit back and see how things work out, they won’t intervene at all or at least until it is time for Taylor to get shipped to the birdcage where they will grab her and recruit her or try to analyse her.

  37. beyondperformant on May 9, 2013 at 1:59 AM said:

    Let’s see if Alexandria is as rational as Psycho Gecko .

    Reply ↓

    frozen chickeno n May 9, 2013 at 3:35 AM said:

    …Oh God

  38. I just realized: Skitter was running a Kansas City Shuffle the whole time. She talked continuously about the ‘heroes’ underestimating her team as a way of drawing their attention away from her.

    • Yes and no – she did it,but it wasn’t deliberate. Skitter sees herself as negligible – remember the conversation with MM about how some people have scary powers (unlike Skitter), and so they should stay away from Echidna? MM disagreed, and so does anyone with sense.

  39. Holy shit, what a chapter. I could vividly picture the last scene in my head, complete with the bug-swarm-buzz sound effect that I always hear when Skitter uses her power.

    It strikes me that, once again, people in Worm get hurt when they underestimate Skitter. They knew she could probably sense almost everything going on in her range, especially outside the building where the bugzapper drones aren’t patrolling. Alexandria could have told the officers to leave the body in the truck. That is, unless she wanted taylor to see and stew while she was on her way up.

  40. Alexandria: I can takcugklukukughrrllglrlllguuhh!

    Tagg: I can urgllckkachkerlll!!

    Something else to be noted, with a blind man that was effectively a clear and present danger to *everyone* in the room, Tagg needed to be at the very least subdued by someone and since the authorities were not doing it, Taylor HAD to. She warned them.

    Alexandria: There’s another, even more chilling option here that is even CREEPIER to think about. What if Regent got a hold on Alexandria and was the one that was doing this ‘grand theatrical play’ while ‘unconscious’? I mean, it’s not like he hasn’t grabbed beings of immense power before, right? And he did say that Taylor was like a little sister to him, that he cared about.

    Weeeeehhaahhhh Sheeet just got REAL!!

    • Regent said he needs at LEAST fifteen minutes to get control of someone, and for Alexandria, it’d probably take a while.

        • I don’t see any reason for him to deceive the Undersiders about that. And even if he wanted to, Tattletale would know.

          • Also, there’s the matter of his range. His control starts to slip as they get farther away. Seems doubtful he’d be able to keep control of Alexandria from half a city away.

            Also, does he have the use of his puppets’ senses? If not, it makes movement difficult outside his line of sight and conversation difficult outside of earshot.

          • He has his puppets senses, see the interlude in which he directed Sophie merrily through her house and stuff with him nowhere near by.

  41. Here’s a horrible thought. All of the Undersiders are fine. The body bag was a bluff to try to force Skitter’s hand … eh, slight miscalculation here people. Were you *really* counting on Kid Lose’s countermeasures to keep her helpless indefinitely?

    Actually, I don’t believe that. My second read-through of what Alexandria said led me to believe that if she was satisfied enough with the conversation, she would capture. If she wasn’t, she planned to kill. Apparently she found flat “No.”s to be unsatisfactory. Congrats ‘hero.’ We call that murder-1 around here.

    But the comment about Kid Win holding of Skitter indefinitely still applies.

    • I was fully expecting Alexandria to be reasonable and bargain with Skitter here. Very unexpected turn of events.

      I wonder if her passenger has been screwing with her mind- not just improving how she thinks, but twisting it? We know Accord’s passenger does this very bluntly- what if some of the big bad Cauldron people (Doctor, Alexandria, Eidolon- but not Legend) were being victims of a far more subtle manipulation?

      Because Alexandria has made some decisions that don’t quite sit well with me. From her interlude, she started off a decent person- but somewhere along the line she changed. Letting Siberian rampage for years, keeping it’s weakness secret. Capturing humans against their will and performing horrific experiments and removing their memories. Dealing the the Dragonslayers.

      And now this. Alexandria comes off as very sociopathic in this chapter- but early on in her interlude that didn’t seem to be the case.

      • I don’t think it’s as likely but I wonder if she might have ever been exposed to the Simurgh for JUST long enough for something to go wrong. Or if repeated exposure might have some effect.

      • Yeah, was so hoping for some sort of deal like Dragon & Defiant, but Alexandria apparently wanted something very different. She didn’t have to do even a bit of that drama, she could have gone straight at the Undersiders, stomped them out and took them into custody, and tossed the mess back in M.M. and Tagg’s hands. You’d think that would have been the optimal course of action for the PRT, and in keeping with Alexandria’s priorities. Instead she seemingly picked a method of attack calculated to either horrify or enrage Taylor. So.. yeah.

        • Yeah, um, what is up with that? Is that cauldron’s doing? Because it’s … not right.
          Someone of Alexandria’s intelligence doesn’t need to break skitter. and that’s what she’s trying to do.

      • Could you pinpoint to what extent the passenger influences/-d Accord? Of the top of my hat I can’t think of anything except his OCD…

  42. I got the sense – for a bit – that Alexandria was pushing Skitter to break out and do villainy; Crucible, after all, wants her where she was for some reason.

    Then the sensation passed. I’m not sure what to think. Except, damn.

  43. Betting / predicting comment
    who do you think was killed?
    corpse Gure Brian or dead Bitch Rachel?

    so the dead person…
    expect: Gure Brian
    hope: Gure Brian

  44. On a positive note it seems like Taylor got at least part of what she wanted. She wanted her friends safe, she wanted Tagg removed and she wanted to not go to the birdcage or be executed.

    Well, one out of three ain’t bad.

  45. One last topic to bring up before I go to bed: Was Miss Militia’s Decision to not attack Skitter due to her believing that Skitter would only be attacking the people most responsible for hurting her and her friends, or was it perhaps because she’s reconsidering the side she’s on (maybe not to the point of fully switching sides, but at least as far as motives and methods go)? Or was it some other reason I’m too tired to come up with at the moment?

    • While commentators had been ragging on Miss Militia for not making a decision, I think she had been trapped between her conscience and her duty. And in the time now where we saw her leave and head up to the roof, I think she came to a decision. Or rather, she examined what her duty truly was, and realized that the difference wasn’t so great.

      As for what exactly she was pondering, she seems patriotic enough that I could easily see her taking an oath similar to the US Armed forces oath when she joined the PRT (even if the PRT didn’t require it). then, while up on the roof, reflecting on some of the words:
      ” I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; “

      • It’d be nice if people lived up to that oath more often (especially the 1st Amendment). She does seem like she’d try though. I think someone noted earlier that she dropped her gun. Maybe realized just what they had done that could have provoked her like that.

    • I suspect that she didn’t pull the trigger because the events that occurred could be directly paralleled to Ms. Militia’s trigger event. People that you have built up camaraderie with suddenly being killed and going on a rampage as a result. I suspect that she knows exactly how Taylor was feeling.

      • Before she was upset because she had to “deal with the devil”. Why shoot the angel that is taking care of the devil then? More charitably, she didn’t want to execute Taylor and perhaps was aware that shooting wouldn’t work in any case. The bugs need to be commanded to stand down, knocking Taylor unconscious or killing her would serve no purpose.

      • She gave him a twentyish chance of dying painfully over “long, slow minutes or hours” *someday,* which makes it even more impressive.

        . . . though, this might not actually qualify. It’s a hideous, horrifying death, but it’s not clear that it’s a *slow* one.

          • Depends on the venoms. A high enough dose of any neurotoxin (such as black widow venom) will do the job very quickly. If he happens to be allergic to any of the various components of the various toxins, he’s quickly fucked.

            Assuming she didn’t get enough bugs in there for enormous doses and he’s not allergic to anything, yeah, it’ll take long enough to suck.

          • Here’s hoping he suffers from Hyperalgesia & Allodynia from the combined stings of Tarantula Hawks, Black Widows, Arizona bark scorpions & Bullet Ants.

        • Dinah gave him that ~20% chance of a slow painful death…

          She may have just “forgotten” to mention the 80% chance of a fast and excrutiating one. I guess Tagg shouldn’t have pissed of the pre-cog who liked his prisoner.

  46. For Alexandria rising up into space to kill the bugs;

    Space does not work like that. A well-trained, reasonably healthy human could survive and stay conscious for at least a minute in vacuum. Bugs have exoskeletons and breathe far more slowly than humans – how long do you think they could survive there?

    As for the long range being outside Taylor’s, if the bugs follow her last command if she goes unconscious, wouldn’t they also follow her last command if they drop out of range? For example, despite her gathering large amounts of insects of different species in specific locations, we haven’t seen them killing each other or scattering or attacking people when she gets out of range.

    • What about temperatures depending on whether she is in direct sunlight or not i believe there are several hundret degrees difference.
      Admittedly i don t know in what way either frozen bug carcasses or ashes in her lungs would be beneficial.
      Or maybe its about the pressure difference if she still has air in her lungs maybe that could help her get them out?

        • Alexandria is as i understand it invulnerable that means temperatur changes don t do anything to her. Now as i understand it cold or heat would spred through the available medium in this case through her mouth and from there down to the lungs. Several hundret degrees in minus to an unchangable 37° celsius around them i think the cold would overwhelm the insects pretty swiftly but i m not sure.

          • I don t see the difference. Imunnity to what?
            The effects of temperature change i.e freezing or burning?
            The change itself? That would be what i proposed i guess.
            If it was the first it would be even more likely that the temperature would get at the bugs though i still can t see how that would help. They d still be in her lungs blocking out air only now they d be frozen.

          • The other issue is that space is cold but you only lose heat by radiation out there. As such it’s getting rid of it that is hard, not keeping it.

            So no, she would not just freeze, even if she doesn’t change temperature at all the bugs are inside her and thus cannot radiate heat into space, only into her, and her lungs must interact with light like the rest of her, so it’s probably gonna reflect a lot of that back at them, meaning they aren’t going to die of freezing soon either.

            If she isn’t able to change temperature then they won’t lose heat directly into her either as that would require interaction from her. If she is then it’ll still take her far far far too long to cool down enough to in turn chill them to death.

            And even then, they’re still in there. Also there’s no air in her lungs once she’s in space so she would lose a lot of coughing potency.

          • Ok if thats how it works then i can t see any reason why the going to space bit would help her. In that case its either that she simply panicked or that she was going somewhere else like others speculated maybe Cauldron HQ.

  47. Late for the party but nevertheless…

    @Jim Lee “Queen of silk and chitin” LOVE IT!

    I dont think going to the Birdcage is such a bad thing. To my mind Skitter or rather Taylor’s other “power” is that she’s a social thinker/ tinker……she GET’s people (for the most part). I cant help but wonder what type of person Regent or Bitch would have been with her not around. She’s certainly influenced them..ALL of them to one degree or another.
    Imagine taking that and applying it in the cage, she could end up with her own army …two years seems like enough time to do just that. Add Tt to the mix and you got options…

    Wildbow, you’ve done an excellent job with Alexandria. Casting the Skitter POV aside i could actually see that from Alexandria’s point of view, she was being resonable (if slightly heavy handed). Good time to take an interlude if you not sure on where to from here *wink*.

    On that subject (hint hint), how about some more Scion??

  48. I loved it you genius you. Hope Alexandria & Tagg bite it. You know it’s going to freak absolutely everyone out. They may put Skitter in the psych ward with nice meds and soft walls for a bit.
    It doesn’t have to be bitch or grue. It could have been Parian or Flechete.

    • I think she would have recognised those two by the size of the body. Bitch and Grue are both pretty big, while I imagine most of the other choices (Tattletale, Parian and Flechette, accord’s capes) are more slender/slight.

  49. Heck of a wham episode.

    Obvious outcome is birdcage or Tattletale activating her agents in the PRT and getting Skitter out (perhaps accompanied by a full assault from the Undersiders / Ambassadors). And yet…

    Step back. Nothing here is unprecedented – how Leviathan fought Alexandria, how Skitter fought Triumph. That’s good writing, but these facts are also known to many in-universe, specifically including Alexandria. Alexandria is, by all reports, a master manipulator: an expert liar and politician. And a strong Thinker, to boot. Skitter’s response to pressure, to being bullied… is known. Her resourcefulness is known. Her willingness to choke with bugs is known. And Alexandria walks in, goes hard bully, and drops a hint about choking being super-effective. She deliberately brings Regent and Imp back to the Brockton Bay PRT, where Skitter can sense their injuries – not to New York or Boston, where she said she’d take them, where it makes more tactical sense to take them, and as she herself just said, she doesn’t forget things like that, or indeed anything. She waits to escalate to killing someone until she can read in Skitter’s eyes that Skitter is ready to go to war.

    All of this is explicable through colossal arrogance, and she is indeed very proud – witness the end of the fight with Echidna. And yet, she’s made a career of being underestimated too, and literally designed her costume to foster it. As she says in the update, everyone sees her as the archetypal flying brick. But her real power is that she’s, functionally, Batman: a brilliant obsessive who wins through contingency plans, lateral thinking and just plain out thinking.

    Skitter saw herself in Alexandria’s walk. Let us suppose for a moment that Alexandria is watching her PRT plan fail, is watching her Brockton Bay plan fail (not that we yet know what it is, but Skitter running things and accepting her role in doing that seem to have been part)… and decides to do something about it. Skitter wanted to hand the PRT a victory, at the expense of her freedom if necessary, because she needed them strong… what does Alexandria think the Undersiders need, that Skitter needs, to be strong? What would she sacrifice, to accomplish it? Take it a step further, so it’s not just giving Skitter resolve to use what she already has…if you wanted to replicate feelings of bullied imprisonment, followed by a sedated period of adjustment (and perhaps the sedation is what forced Skitter to ‘crowdsource’ her thinking), what would you have done differently? Anything?

    Come at it from another angle. The ‘Alexandria’ identity is burned, and of very limited use in rallying capes. The ‘Costa-Brown’ identity is burned, and of very limited use in running the PRT (indeed, Alexandria all but says she agrees with Taylor that following idiotic orders like the ones she’s been given is a real problem). Cauldron is very short on field agents, with the Number Man forced to take the field as Harbinger once more. Alexandria’s visible powerset is so generic that people talk about ‘the Alexandria package’. If you were a mastermind, wouldn’t this be a good time to fake your death, and move on to your next project?

    Think a third time – Alexandria moves so very swiftly, when she chooses, that photography isn’t an issue. So swiftly that Legend had to hit low relativistic speeds to kite her. And yet she pauses long enough for the Wards to witness her choking. She’s had a lot of time to plan against drowning, and her greatest superpower is thinking and executing under pressure. The last time we saw someone try this, she got help immediately. But this time she stays around long enough for people to see the choking, and then vanishes upwards.

    Hard vacuum is pretty strong suction.

    Think also what the camera saw – Taylor chained and offering peace because the PRT needs help, and Alexandria threatening and executing outright murder – but also offering terms so mild it’s clear they don’t see her as a danger to others. Think also that Alexandria could have arranged kill orders to justify her actions… and didn’t. If you were a manipulative mastermind and wanted to give Taylor a legal defense, well, you might have done a lot of things. This included. Now, the PRT is fully capable of a little extralegal murder… but not on Miss Militia’s watch (she could easily and morally have shot Taylor while Tagg was dying, and she deliberately chose not to), and she’s running the show for the next few minutes. Also, the Cauldron is more than capable of causing the PRT to suddenly care about legalities if they choose, which assumes that Tattletale doesn’t pull off an extraction.

    An interesting fillip is that Alexandria, although presumed dead for rep reasons, generates all kinds of reasonable doubt (without a body) in a courtroom – because everyone knows she’s nigh-invulnerable and very sneaky. Also, defense of another is a legal use of lethal force, depending on circumstances. Assuming this hits a courtroom.

    As a side thought, think about why Cauldron might not want a government controlling the portal, just as they don’t want a government controlling them.

    Now, Occam’s razor says that this was just Alexandria being arrogant. But when dealing with a mastermind, remember they’ve read William’s law too, and thought on how to use it offensively. Remember also that while Alexandria is undoubtedly a bastard, she’s still a magnificent bastard.

    And, as always when reading Worm, think about what offers more ways for things to go wrong in the future… Alexandria dead? Or Alexandria alive, and borrowing a sharp fedora from the Contessa?

    • Alexandria dead offers way more things to go wrong in the future than Alexandria alive. In either case, the PRT is a goner, Taylor just murdered people before her father, and there won’t be an Alexandria to help with the Endbringers. But with her dead, Cauldron’s plans are also ruined and the end-of-the-world thing will be so much worse IMHO.

      Besides, the one guy who repeatedly could kill Batman but doesn’t is the Joker – and Taylor is pretty much the Joker plan-wise.

    • Typing and editing on a phone is frustrating. Omitted point:

      Alexandria literally let the bugs in with her comings and goings, and took no precautions – except to make sure Taylor couldn’t see Imp. Letting the bugs in is deliberate, slowing to human speed in the sight of the wards is deliberate, and whatever Imp is being permitted to get up to is deliberate. One of Tattletale’s agents taking the note off the door and opening it would be enough for Impmto extract Taylor the same way she extracted Piggot.

    • I hope Alexandria lives through this and get to remember this for the rest of her life. Oh with enough brain damage that she loses lots of body control and some poor so and so has to bring in the bed pan now and then. SadCat

    • Just to mess with everyone:

      Why did Alexandria return at full speed? Because the whole time she was trying to bluff Taylor into submitting (to her or Cauldron) and killing someone was unforeseen.

      She was speeding in because she wanted to calm Taylor down. The message to Tagg was “do apologize to her now”. Not because an apology was enough, but to shock Skitter enough to leave her reeling.
      Of course Tagg could not swallow his exceedingly large ego for long enough to offer an apology and just reached for his sidearm.

    • The only problem is that… Vacuum doesn’t generate suction. At all.

      Basically, barring burning / dissolving bugs, they aren’t going to get dislodged.

    • Regarding the courtroom and reasonable doubt in a superhero world:

      There was an issue in Kurt Busiek’s Astro City that dealt with that problem. Basically a gangster kills his girlfriend in full view of a restaurant full of witnesses but his lawyer brings up such precedents as alternative universe evil twins and heroes getting back up from being dead to throw some reasonable doubt on the whole thing. The comic also mentions that shortly afterwards legal measures were introduced to prevent something like that from recurring.

      You have to wonder how authorities on Earth-Bet handle these things especially if there actually were evil-clones about a few weeks previous, there was an evil mind(body)-controller in the building and they are lacking a body….

    • N.b. – there’s two schools of theories going around about deception: A faked her death and A faked her kill.

      The former I find plausible; the latter I don’t. Someone meaningful died, I think, and I doubt A would be fooled by a body double. Absolute best case, Crawler’s powers left Brian with an adaptation where he’ll get off the slab eventually – but neither he nor A nor Tt had any reason to believe he’d recover.

      My mental model of A is that she’ll spend what she has to do what she must, and that includes other’s lives. Also her own. In any case, she wouldn’t spend a life unless she thought she would get a good price for it… but hardening Skitter so she can stand alone qualifies. Cauldron’s been clear that they couldn’t assist Coil/Skitter with whatever Cauldron hopes for Brockton Bay, but it’s possible to read that as mostly them needing someone capable. If A judged Skitter capable but for her holding back, killing an Undersider is a cheap way to push her to take the gloves off permanently – and again note A waited to do that until Skitter drew her line in the sand.

      • Please verify if I get it correctly:
        You theorize Alexandria used lethal force on the reason of making Skitter a person more fit for the role she needs to play in either her or Cauldrons plans, but only after Skitter had shown how far she would go (line in the sand)?

        • This part of the theory is that Alexandria needed a Skitter willing to kill and did everything she could to push Skitter into going all out. Skitter eventually drew her line in the sand (“if you harm one hair”) and Alexandria promptly went out, put someone in a body bag, and waited to return until she had reason to believe Skitter knew about it (either through her power or through the text to Tagg), before letting in the bugs and faking her death.

          Faking her death isn’t inconsistent with her having diminished lung capacity when they meet again for that conversation she promised (the time wasn’t “right” for them to talk yet), due to having not known that Skitter’s bugs carry on obeying their last orders after they leave her range (her departure makes perfect sense if she thinks getting out of range is step one. Remember, she could easily have gone to kill Skitter instead, an equally logical step one… but why would she kill what she can use?)

          • Very sound reasoning.
            But I’m stumped when/where it was mentioned for Skitters commands to continue past her range. I know she can subconsciously influence them, this was shown multiple times (not only during the time she lost consciousness), but past her range? Are you inferring this by the times she swept large areas to gather bugs and they kept pouring in once she stayed at a place?

          • On review, I think you’re right that commands do not persist beyond range. The command persists without constant direction, but the reason for the terrariums in her Coil-supplied base matches the reason she had to spread out the black widows – outside her range, control isn’t persistent.

            Probability of Alexandria surviving by getting out of range and then taking measures upgraded.

    • Very good points, with one minor criticism: At the beginning you say everyone underestimates Alexandria and sees her as the archetypal flying brick. Then at the end you say everyone knows she’s very sneaky.

      It can’t be both.

  50. PS:

    Sudden vacuum does have good suction against a human-sized body but not so much against bugs, comparatively speaking. The issue is a combination of the square/cube law combined with the tight confines the bugs are in at the moment.

      • Smashes bugs deeper into her lungs, making them fill all the small crevices / pores of her lungs that they currently aren’t filling and kills her evven more securely.

        • Vacuum, sudden deceleration, breathing highly oxygenated drano like a Spacer Guild Navigator… if she’s prepared or very quick-thinking, she’s got an out. Given Cauldron’s Doormaker, she could be in top notch medical care in seconds, prepared to deal with drowning threats.

          Forgive my errors as to the best way to clean bugs out of lungs, and put it down to Alexandria being a Thinker X and me being a Thinker 0 – the general point that this threat is something that she could be prepared for and indeed inviting so as to use to fake her death stands.

          Personally hoping she has some lasting or permanent loss of lung function from underestimating just how dangerous Skitter actually is, but that’s another matter.

        • She doesn’t need all her lungs functioning to stay alive.
          Human Centrifuge (using her own invulnerability to keep her lungs in place).
          Won’t give her total capacity, but will kill the bugs, and give her at least some.

  51. That would work, of course. Even better would be to get a good speed -Mach 7 is good- then slam head-first into the ground or a mountainside. Deceleration like that would rip the bugs out of Alexandria’s lungs. Hell, it would probably rip a solid lump of iron that someone had melted then force-fed to her.

    It’s also one of the primary reasons an Iron-Man suit doesn’t work. Yeah, you can make the suit nigh invulnerable but as soon as it slams to the ground or takes a big hit, the driver will feel as if he were in a steel box that slammed to the ground from half a mile up. Or not, as the case might be; liquefied bodies with the consistency of ketchup can’t feel much.

  52. Skitter (Maybe) killed Alexandria… with teeny tiny, NORMAL bugs. No matter what follows, that’s another CMoA.

    Narratively, Brian isn’t needed any more, so that’s my bet. Or it’s a red herring and it was a mercenary.

    I think an interlude would fit here, yes.

    • Oh and, as far as the PRT knows, Skitter killed Alexandria. She’s WAY too dangerous, and thus, going to birdcage.

      C’mon, it was obvious ever since the place was introduced, Chekov’s Gun and all.

      (Regent + Imp is another – Regent can control Imp – and NOBODY in PRT knows that.)

      To keep the meme going:
      BIRDCAGE: ‘Meh, I can take her.’

    • Regarding the body bag, I wouldn’t mind a hope spot — but in that case, Taylor added 1-2 to her body count for a ‘bad’ reason. I mean, unnamed characters are a statistic, right? It could be a named hench, I guess.

  53. Here is some points to keep in mind:

    1. Even though they don’t know it but the Undersiders have been fulfilling the role that Cauldron wanted Coil to fill.

    2. What Alexandria did was NOT sanctioned by Cauldron.

    3. The Numbers Man was dispatched to Brockton Bay by the Doctor to fix the Skitter in custody situation.

  54. Oh, I’m sorry, were you not expecting a Skitter moment to drop?

    Like a hammer from on high.

    Like the filthiest of dubstep.

    Like Ned Stark’s head.

    Like Alexandria with a trachea full of gribblies.

    Skitter moment. DROP.

  55. “I think you have a number of plans in the works. But it doesn’t matter. Alexandria can out-think your plans, counter anything your Tattletale throws at us.

    Missing a ” at the end. Too tired at the moment to look for more, but this is a really good chapter. Fantastic as usual :)

  56. Hum. I was going to make a prediction as to whether it was Brian or Rachel who was dead, but BOTH are expendable; Rachel (from here in) is Skitter’s loyal henchgirl, with her psych issues dealt with (more or less) (so no drama anywhere), while Brian is no longer the boyfriend, no longer his sister’s keeper… they’re both more narratively useful as motivating corpses.

    As for Alexandria… DIE. PLEASE DIE.

  57. I reckon Grue’s ripe for getting killed off for effect. With how passive he’s been since the trauma and now with the Taylor/Brian ship sunk, he’s really just taking up space anyway.

    Not Rachel though. Plenty of mileage and character development left there. Would be a waste to whack her now.

    As to the others, I figure Tagg’s toast (yay!) but Alexandria’s probably going to survive. My guess is she’ll just fly high enough to kill the bugs with thin air, then cough them out or maybe take a dip in the ocean to wash them out.

    • Oh, hi Mazzon. Had not realized you were around too.
      (the minuscule font used for nicknames did not help much either)

      And yeah, you’re right, could be a way of disposing of a character, giving several others grief, and it would be believeable.

      Meta-analysis says no however. Something about easy roads and surprising people at all turns.

  58. Okay. Now that I’ve had a good night’s sleep and gotten the profanity out of my system (for now), thoughts!

    – strongly suspect Alexandria didn’t deliberately kill … whichever Undersider she killed. This makes it more likely that it was Grue. No doubt, he accessed her powers and I’m betting, like Eidolon, he needs to build up to full strength over time. Consequently, he surprised her and she hit him harder than she realized he’d be able to take.
    – heh. Men In Refrigerators.
    – Sorry, that wasn’t as funny as I thought.
    – Personally, I hope Alexandria survives. I like the notion of her knowing just how close she came and hopefully learning something.
    – even Tagg might conceivably survive if Clockblocker gets to him soon enough. I’m … ambivalent on that one.
    – I knew everyone’s plans would be derailed hard in this chapter. I just thought it would be by an externally-originated event.
    – what’s dear old dad going to say now, I wonder?

  59. It feels more likely that Grue’s the one who died, simply because he’s more dangerous than Rachel. From the sound of it, Alexandria flies in alone, takes care of one of the Undersiders, then calls in the PRT for clean-up. In that case, Rachel isn’t a threat to someone who is invulnerable. Alexandria should be able to take her out in a non-lethal way.
    Grue on the other hand can copy Alexandria’s power and may have been more or less invulnerable, meaning she had to exert more force. He may have been going all out because he just lost his sister. Combine that with bad vision because of the darkness, and it’s quite possible Alexandria hit him in the wrong place or with too much force.

    There’s one thing that feels a bit odd though. Alexandria can fly at extreme speeds, as demonstrated by the fact that she was able to arrive long before the truck brought in Regent. So why did the PRT van with the body arrive before she did? Nine minutes after Alexandria left, Tagg received a message, presumably telling him an Undersider died. Then the van arrived, the officers took their time getting out of it, bringing the body inside, releasing various clasps and locks and putting the body inside a drawer. Shortly after that, Alexandria finally returned. What caused the delay? She didn’t seem extremely committed to stick to a schedule of ‘exactly half an hour per Undersider’ since she only took six minutes to bring in Imp.

  60. I do wonder if this makes Skitter into twice the villain she was earlier, or if it causes her to crumple and be passive in prison, believing she deserves to be locked up.

    • I feel like the Doctor’s not close enough to the action to get the chapter. And if Alexandria does survive, I want her to experience some brain damage or something that puts her back in the hospital, like some people have suggested, as a nice karmic fuck you. And immediately after this wouldn’t give us enough time for her to have transitioned into that hell. Plus, she already got a chapter.

    • At least we have a win-win scenario. We want an interlude and we want an update. No matter which one Wildbow chooses, he can’t be evil by picking one over the other! Bwaahaahaa!

  61. The dead body is probably one of Rachel’s minions, going by meta analysis. It would do the most psychological damage to everyone

    It could be Brian. We know that he’s changed somewhat by his crawler powers, and that’s an out, but since his version is weaker it’s likely to be extremely specific.

    Like “he can revive only if he’s half dismemebered and trapped in a meat locker by bad guys, at least one of which is all cheerful, and his girlfriend and sister are both trapped too by those same bad guys.”… oh, wait…

    Btw, Tagg, nice going giving a concussion to the only villain that gets stronger the more blows she gets to her head.

    • Reread the section on Brian’s second trigger.

      He doesn’t have a self-healing power.

      He has a Trump power that allows him to mimic the powers (to a lesser degree) of anyone within his darkness field.

      The reason he was able to heal was that someone with a strong self-heal/regeneration was within the confines of his field.

      So, if someone outright KILLS him, or rips off an arm, it’s not like it’s going to “get better” unless someone with appropriate levels of self healing are available to leech off of.

      • He copied Crawler, whose power is to regenerate, and get permanent modifications that renders him immune to what caused the damage in the first place.
        So now Brian is… different somehow.

        • Indications are that he only has the power while the person he’s copying from is still inside his darkness aura. Once they leave his aura, he loses the power. He’s not so much ‘copying’ the power as piggybacking on that person’s link to their passenger.

          I’m sure there was a later encounter where they wanted to copy someone but it wasn’t really viable because they could move out of Brian’s darkness too easily…

  62. Come to think of it, I’m now doubtful it’s Brian. He’s a power mimic at this point, and already pissed & forewarned, so he can fight Alexandria on an (more or less) equal ground. A BLIND Alexandria, too. I can’t see her coming back all limbs intact from that fight.

    I’m guessing it’s one of Rachel’s henches, and Rachel being detained in a different facility?

    Of course, there’s a possiblity that it’s all a gambit by Alexandria – Skitter recognized the captives by their clothes, could be a huge fakeout on Alexandria’s part.

    • Brian is cool, but I think you’re giving him too much credit. His darkness gives him a weaker version of Alexandria’s power (that he doesn’t know how to use well without practice) , and he has competent self-taught hand-to-hand skills where she has mastered Martial Arts with her genius intellect.

      Speaking of ‘equal ground’, one of the few things he has going for him is the home ground advantage, though how much that actually helps when Alexandria can just ignore walls is anyone’s guess…

  63. Besides admiring how much ass was kicked in this chapter, I noticed Miss Militia kept reacting weirdly to what Alexandria said. I decided to try and catalog/explain some of her reactions:

    “‘A reference to the burned library of Alexandria. It’s been mythologized as that era’s sum of human knowledge. I am much the same. I think faster, I think more easily. I know martial arts and I remember everything that crosses my path.’

    Miss Militia reacted to that, giving Alexandria a look I couldn’t interpret.”

    At first I couldn’t understand why Miss Militia reacted, and thought maybe it was because Alexandria was being ridiculously overconfident. Then I remembered that Miss Militia can vividly remember her trigger event and she knows that the others can’t. Miss Militia is probably wondering if Alexandria can also remember her trigger event, since she can ‘remember everything that crosses [her] path.’

    —–

    ” [Alexandria explains her plan to take down Undersiders one by one until Skitter makes concessions, and then enacts the plan]

    Miss Militia stood. ‘I need some fresh air.’

    She didn’t ask for permission, and she didn’t even look at anyone as she made her way to the door and knocked for the PRT guard to let her through.”

    People already covered this as moral dilemma/etc, and I agree. It also made me think of Miss Militia’s own trigger event, where:

    “They would make her watch as they tortured one of the other children to death. Then they would start on the next, maybe Hana herself, until they had another child willing to act as decoy and clear the traps from their way in the simplest, most dangerous manner possible.” – Interlude 7

    Maybe Alexandria’s plan reminded Miss Militia of the enemy soldier’s methods? Hannah’s friends were threatened in order to make her more cooperative. She could choose to cooperate and die unpleasantly later (the traps), rather than sooner (the soldiers). Skitter’s friends were threatened in order to make her more cooperative. She could choose to cooperate and die unpleasantly later (juvie with her pride and sense of worth destroyed), rather than sooner (execution/Birdcage). With this in mind, she might feel even less comfortable with Alexandria’s methods than Tagg’s.

    ——

    “‘I don’t blame you,’ she said. ‘I loved Hero. I loved Legend, and Eidolon, and Myrddin. I know what it means to pass through hell together, to take a desperate breath for air, to clutch for clarity of mind, and help each other find the briefest of respite in the little things, only to plunge into that hell once more. The little jokes, the familiarity, the gestures and small kindnesses, they count for a lot, when you’ve been through what we’ve been through-‘

    ‘Don’t compare us,’ I cut in.

    ‘-and you learn to look past their faults. The little evils,” she said. “And they learn to look past yours.’

    Miss Militia gave Alexandria a curious look…”

    I found this one ambiguous. Is she surprised Alexandria is admitting to being flawed? Or maybe she confused about the fact that Alexandria is trying to call what she does for Cauldron ‘little evils.’ Maybe Miss Militia is thinking about her own relationship with Armsmaster/Defiant. Or she might be reevaluating her relationship with Skitter, trying to look past the little evils for the good she has done. This would tie in with my next interpretation.

    —–

    “Miss Militia’s hand wasn’t [ready to draw her weapon], but I could read a tension in her, as she exchanged words with Calle.”

    Did Miss Militia know about the dead Undersider at this point? Skitter doesn’t explicitly notice her checking her phone for updates. What is she talking to Calle about? I think Miss Militia finally decided to try and help Skitter, and is talking to Calle about what she can do to give Skitter more leverage. It was too little too late either way.

    —–

    “Miss Militia raised a gun, pointing it at me, where I had my head bowed, hands still chained in front of me. My dad was shaking me, but I wasn’t a hard target to hurt.

    And my bugs weren’t hurting her. Weren’t touching my dad, or Mr. Calle, who was backed up into a corner, trying to make as much distance from me as he could.

    She didn’t shoot. Her gun clattered to the ground.

    ‘Taylor!’ she called out, as if she could reach me that way. ‘I’m not going to shoot, but you have to stop!'”

    At this point Skitter is straight up killing Tagg, and Miss Militia is not disabling her. Maybe Tagg isn’t Miss Militia’s priority, because she knows that they are in a well equipped facility that could probably deal with any poisoning (probably not to the extent that she thinks though). Maybe she’s given up on Tagg as a lost cause. Maybe she’s scared Skitter will escalate if she’s given another threat to deal with. Maybe Miss Militia thinks she’s more useful trying to reason with Skitter, rather than attacking and risk being swarmed by bugs like Tagg. Either way the sympathy/empathy for Skitter and disagreement with the PRT probably has a hand in preventing her from attacking.

    And that concludes my attempt to analyze Miss Militia’s reactions/motives in this chapter! Let me know what you guys think, especially if you can expand on something better than me.

    • Well…

      Their agreement was:

      “Just this once. It’s all I’ve been asking you guys for, from the beginning. Trust that I’m doing what I’m doing for a good reason. I just need you to maybe turn a blind eye here and there, support me when the situation calls for it. I’ll fill you in where I can, and I’ll make a leap of faith and trust that you’ll know what to do otherwise.”

      “Okay,” Miss Militia conceded.

      Who knows how she interpreted that? Maybe she thinks that standing by while Taylor kills Tagg is the sort of thing she needs to turn a blind eye on….

      Hell maybe the entire thing is staged and even Alexandria is in on it. Tagg gets retired with prejudice, Alexandria gets a new identity and Skitter gets officially done away with and a new name and costume hunting down S-class threats. The body-bag was Grue deciding at last minute to tag along with Taylor while wandering the earth undercover.

      • > Who knows how she interpreted that? Maybe
        > she thinks that standing by while Taylor kills
        > Tagg is the sort of thing she needs to turn a
        > blind eye on….

        I can almost imagine that. She sees what’s happening to Tagg, thinks about shooting Skitter, and then realizes:

        “Hey, Tagg just said ‘She knows’ and now Skitter’s attacking him. Is he an evil clone? Bonesaw in a flesh puppet? A Cauldron agent about to vanish Brockton Bay? Maybe a supervillain with a kid locked away in his base somewhere? Oh, God, did she just figure out he’s an Endbringer?”

        • Hadn’t considered that, it does make sense that she thinks Skitter has information she doesn’t since it given the way the scene goes up to that point. I think the more common reading fits the remaining better though.

    • Sound analysis.

      MM, throughout the time we’ve known her, has been trying to reconcile her allegiance to both law and justice with working for an organization that cares for power first, law second, and justice a distant third. Someday we may see her unfettered, and it’ll be interesting – but for the moment, her dropping her gun while Taylor is literally murdering a man before her eyes is an extreme step away from law and toward justice in her priorities.

  64. Just to throw my hat into the ring on guessing who is in the bag.

    Grue seems the most likely candidate as he would have been both mad about his sister being taken and the one most likely to become a threat capable of escalating things to the point where Alexandria was forced to use lethal force. Also his character arc was mostly over and Taylor got some sort of closure on their relationship.

    Who else could it have been if not Bitch or Grue?

    I have to agree with everyone who says that it is unlikely to have been a fake or bluff. They couldn’t have known about Taylor being able to observe thing that well. (unless they have another precog/thinker of their own advising them).

    There is a chance that it might have been another ally of the Undersiders. One of Accord’s minions or perhaps Flechette who after all was capable of hurting an Endbringer.

    On the idea that it might have been a terribly misunderstanding: Alexandria’s last sortie took so long because the Undersiders hid/fought her off successfully without being captured. The body-bag was unrelated. Perhaps a leftover dead clone of Skitter that they were planning to use to fake her death and make her an offer she couldn’t refuse. – But I doubt that.

  65. You know? I think a Miss Militia interlude wouldn’t actually be bad, because I still have no idea what the hell she’s thinking. Last chapter I thought she was being totally worthless, now I have no idea what she’s thinking.

  66. You know – if Alexandria and Tagg had been faking the killing in order to put pressure on Skitter, they must be feeling really stupid. Briefly.

  67. I’ve typed out a novel about three times now about what just happened but I end up backspacing because I realize that I REALLY have no words for what I just read.

      • I read all comments until the first comment of my own and click on the “notify on comments” thingy. This makes the system send me a mail with every comment, as well as which it was answering/referring to. Makes for a different kind of perusing the section.

  68. It is my personal belief that we are about to witness the most systematic deconstruction of a organization/military force since Genghis Khan tore the Middle East to pieces.

    Yes I did just compare Skitter to Genghis Khan.

  69. Superheroic web serials link exchange

    While we wait to know a whole lot of things, I’ll post the link to some other serials you might like.
    And a request: If anyone knows of a superheroic serial with a “golden age” setting and storyline, please do let me know. I’ve been looking around for ages.

    My own suggestions:

    While Worm is somewhat a “Spawny” take, for a more “Watchmanly” take on the dark age you can go to Curveball. (Warning: updates as an actual comicbook, with a lot of material every month, and way too many cliffhangers)

    The (older) mirror twin of Worm. It’s as firmly idealistic as Worm is cynic, and by some weird coincidence the writing style is quite mirrored too.
    For the bronze age we have The Descendants.
    (Warning: ArchivePanic)

    Probably not made on drugs, but best enjoyed on, for the silver age go read the Metro City chronicles.

    I got nothing for an actual golden age story, but Wonder City‘s “old guard” is as golden as you can get. Features the most awesome codename ever too. (Warning: LGBT content)

    And finally, for the pulp/mistery era, if you think that Worm’s Earth is not going to hell in an handbasket fast enough (or does not have enough zombies), go read Skyway Mechanix. (Warning: explicit lesbian content)

    ——————

    For a more grown-up take on what happens in a school for superheroes, Super Powereds.

    For a way more insane take on what happens in a school for superheroes, one of my favourite places to look for things to read, the Whateley Academy. (Warning: extreme ArchivePanic – Warning: LGBT content)

    Sadly finished, but such an awesome read that features a Scion expy getting beaten up, the villain gloating and making the mistake of uttering the FamousLastWords. “Meh, I could take her”. She’s not Skitter, she’s The Last Skull.

    Unfortunately on hiatus, features a redeemed expy of Psycho Geko as the main character. It’s Nototious.

    ——————

    Disclaimer: I put on those warning because of that thread not too long ago in the comments. You know which one if they did bother you, one way or the other.

    • Kind of an obvious one, since it’s linked to on this site, even, but I just started reading Legion of Nothing, and I’m enjoying that.

      • I did not include LoN, Brennus, Morpheus reports or WDIR for that very reason :)

        But thanks for chiming in, I am scatterbrained enough to miss something that obvious most of the time.

        • World Domination in Retrospect is not an angsty, serious story. It is the tale of an unrepentant, murderous supervillain as he goes about his daily villainy. What’s wrong with laughing at a little murder and torture? Sure, the writing style isn’t quite so formal, but our favorite villain doesn’t have to play nice with the Grammar Nazi or any other Nazis on his side of the law. Speaking of his side, you’ll get to see the other side of those cliché superhero tactics like “charging into the enemy’s secret hideout.” In the end, don’t we deserve a chance to watch men in spandex fight without it being dramatic soul-sucking emo fuel?

          Embrace the cheese at World Domination in Retrospect: villainousintent.wordpress.com

        • I just read The Last Skull today. All of this stuff (especially Worm) really makes me want to start writing my own stuff more consistently and persistently.

          • Yes, thank you for the recommendations.

            I don’t really have time to read – any time I would read I’m usually writing instead (though I try to review things on Webfictionguide from time to time).

            But that said, getting the word out there & getting more people into good webfiction is a good thing. I think a few people got recommended to Worm where they haven’t necessarily read webfiction before, and I’m happy to see those people going on to read other things. If the community grows as a result, then that’s fantastic.

          • I dove through the other site (7.5 they gave me! Those judges better watch their backs), so I’m glad you could provide a link to the rest of the Velveteen stuff. It just didn’t work for me until I deleted the tag/ stuff.

            Thank you, Noise, you (and the person who writes Velveteen) have once again reaffirmed my love of killing superheroes. Just murder the sons of bitches. You know, pull out their intestines and make balloon animals. I think I’m going to find one randomly, just pick them out of a hat, and put them through hell for a little while before finishing it. Not Gorilla Awesome, though. I like that guy too much. And Honky Tonk Hero is kind of fun. Good Doctor would be pissed if I went after Forcelight. Also, she hits really hard. No one gives a damn about Paveman, but at the same time no one gives a damn about Paveman. Bored with going after Lone Gunman, as he calls himself now. Maybe Nazias Cain survived the destruction of the Space Marine ship? I hear he was a hero of some sort of imperium…

          • @Wildbow: I did the linkdump mostly because you already posted something similar.
            Some people could get… defensive with comments like that. I think it says a lot on yourself (and your outlook) that not only you do not mind, but you encourage it.

            Damn, now I wish I had wrote more than a short blurb for each… oh well, reviews are not really my forte, I tend to concentrate on the negative and assume that everyone will understand that if I’m bothering with a review it’s because I like it and they should read it :P
            (and that’s one of the reasons I never got around to write one for worm btw)

        • No prob, first I hear of Metro city so it’s all good!
          I’m always on the lookout for good super fiction I have to say that it’s really sad that it’s such an untapped market. Hat’s off to the guys who submitted their fanfiction by the way. It did a good (though quick) job of filling the void for a bit…NOW WHERE”S THE REST!
          As for budding writers just an observation….consistency, length and feedback look like the key for longevity and increased readership. The Velvet marauder is a good case in point (http://velvetmarauder.blogspot.com/) where it probably had the first two but failed in the latter.
          Solid writing but maybe lack of audience participation kinda killed it (ok maybe the author finding new and interesting things to do played a part AND this was back in 2005 )
          @Wlidbow: the more I think about it, the more impressed I am by what you’ve achieved . You have every right to be proud.

    • you didn’t include?

      A gray World
      relatively new story, bulied kid drug-addict mother, seems to be bekomming a vigilante-story, sienc-fiction [not jet that noticable]

      http://agreyworld.wordpress.com/table-of-contents/

      specialpeople
      the people who got the “different” powerd and try to scrape by
      (e.g. baconmancer)

      http://specialpeople.timsevenhuysen.com/

      slimmer
      read yourself i cant realy explain storys that good (proof: see above)

      http://shimmerverse.com/shimmer

    • Just read Super Powereds over the last two days. Damn good story. And it only reinforces my earlier statement: I need to write.

  70. Oh boy, implications:

    One Undersider is likely dead. It could have been a ploy, but it seems unlikely.
    Tagg is at the very least thoroughly incapacitated, depending on what Skitter was able to get into the room.
    Alexandria might die, or at the very least go missing.
    Skitter won’t be able to stop the next phase of her plan, if she’s unconscious at sunset.
    Depending on her last commands, there will be an anthropoid maelstrom spanning a few and up to ten city blocks, if not more, attacking anything vaguely in uniform, human or otherwise defined; or it might slowly whirl around the PRT HQ, looming; or try to get to Skitter.

    Quick check: Did her bugs follow her commands significantly past her range, or is it like waking up for them?

    • They follow her commands even when she is unconscious. She says as much in at the end of the chapter. When she was incoherent from a Bakuda bomb, every bug in range kept coming to her because that was her last order. So the bugs in Alexandria’s throat will do their best to choke the bitch, but it probably a horror show with Tagg. EVERY BUG in her six block range is probably trying to get into the building to attack/devour him, and this will probably continue until she wakes up from the tranquilizers. I can picture him being practically a skeleton in a few hours in front of the PRT’s horrified eyes.

      • I was concerned about the range, not the state of consciousness. I.e., what happen with the bugs leaving Skitters sphere of control, do they wake up, so to speak, or is there some vestigial sense of their last order (like original order: Chew on this and that, outside range order: Chew everything)?

    • Arthropod. Not anthropoid.

      The former are, essentially, bugs. An invertebrate animal with an exoskeleton, segmented body and jointed appendages (Insects, arachnids and crustaceans).

      The latter essentially means “human-looking” or “human-like”. Usually used when referring to various simian monkeys and apes.

  71. And just because I thought of it again:

    If she renames herself, I still think she should go for Appolyon or Abbadon. Or whatever the female form of that is.

  72. a little disapointing, that she didn’t use parasites to fight Tagg
    we know that she has access to them,
    and with the condition the city is in I doubt that there is anyone who has no tapeworms or stuff like it

  73. Alright, I think Alexandria is going to survive this one. Notes makes too good a case for it IMO.

    Second, if Skitter gets sent to the Birdcage, it’ll pretty much guarantee the escape with Panacea/Marquis. Panacea can transform any kind of (living?) organic matter and Marquis can generate a seemingly infinite amount of bone. Combined Panacea/Marquis can make.. anything?

    The only I guess gimmick here is if she can transform bones/marrow into different kinds of cells.

    Giving her creations simple nervous systems would let Skitter control them, giving fine control. Just a quick thought. The potential is there, just if Panacea could handle it psychologically, and if Marquis would be on board (highly likely if Panacea is as well) and if Skitter would *want* to escape the Birdcage.

      • Marquis has to snap the still-living bone off @ extreme pain to self, remember. It then takes time to die. Also remember breaking bugs to biomass, so no, not necessarily living only. Perhaps closer would be “living or recently so”?

    • Actually… Let’s say that they ARE shrunk (which they aren’t sure they are). What’s stopping them (after escaping, assuming they don’t unshrink) from making flesh puppets in form of themselves in normal scale with their shrunk bodies serving as control hubs? Panacea could make them.

  74. I’d say she was heading for the nearest opening to Cauldron’s world, in the shop, they have things that can fix her, I’m sure. Alexandria is going to be back, PISSED!

    Also, I just realized why the story is called worm, and where the serums that make powers come from, and why the creatures everyone sees during their trigger events are heading that way. I hope I’m wrong, but… Two is not always considered a balance.

    • Ooooh, that’s an awesome theory. It beats mine hands down.
      (Not to be too spoilery: “big yellow aliens” if anyone’s read the confederation books the idea will have occurred for sure anyway)

      Nice thinking alexanderthezoso, mind if we discuss it a bit?
      The only weak point I’ve noticed is that it does not account for Cauldron’s reactions to the Coil/Undersiders events in Brockton Bay and their strict hands off approach.

      • The “worms” are heading for Cauldron’s dimension,not bet. Something is going down in brockton bay that is important to this. (that area is where the “worm” is held in cauldronland?)

        • That’s plausible. Alexandria did react when a portal was opened to that “near” Earth… Let’s see… maybe the other two cannot enter the third’s place directly and need agents? A bit stretched but it works.

          That would explain the endbringers as “normal” 3rd’s infections… not scion, not directly at least, but maybe the whole problem with the 3rd is that her worms are not as cooperative as those of the other two. So a big chunk of her decided to go and infect someone like the other two’s do…
          No wait, the timeline is wrong…

          Oooh, wait a moment, maybe I got it: IIRC in the MM interlue she saw one of them. What if the 3rd is really the 1st and she’s already landed?
          Scion was the first infection, then smaller one because… well, he’s not exactly stable ain’t he? Then the endbringers because either the 3rd is pissed at Cauldron milking her or because she does not want her two siblings to come by and say hello.

          Well, this is actually taking some shape… and it’s still way more original than my own theory :(

          OTOH I did get some pointers to work both the endbringers and Scion into mine, so thanks :)

          • You know, I always assumed every passenger being a unique being, not every power being representations of aspects of 1-3 beings…

          • *SRS MODE ACTIVATED* I always assumed the reverse because how many times Wildbow has said that no power dupes, but there are many similar. Also explains Grue’s Trump before & after- S.S. was a shared aspect of the same being. Thus why Scion is disgusted with Cauldron capes but not naturals; formed from the hostage Third. Also explains why they page through all the dimensions when we see them; looking for… A child, perhaps?

            Bet the reason there even are multiple triggers is because the second being steps in. And it’s so much harder because you tend to still believe in/rely on your power, instead of breaking. Eidolon can’t even when he feels ‘so close’ because he’s being denied… And his power, and the formula, are weakening because it’s dying.

  75. Am I the only one amused by how Alexandria explained that she wasn’t really going to threaten Taylor, and went on to really threaten her a minute later? Or how she said she read all the files, and never forgets anything but clearly never got what Miss Militia did, that Taylor’s life was a bullying hell that included her trigger event and never really got better and that she would not respond well to arm-twisting?

    Interesting, the Endbringers first appeared a decade ago, and since then each one has attacked roughly once a year, yet there have been 56 attacks in that single decade. Might be a minor continuity snarl, might be the pace of attacks have been increasing drastically over the last few years, which might help explain why everyone’s willing to keep the PRT around no matter how corrupt and evil they are, because they’re useful during attacks.

    Of course, by that same logic you’d think they’d stick villains with explosive collars or something and throw them at the Endbringers instead of dropping them in the Birdcage.

    • First endbringer was mid- or early nineties, and we don’t know if they attacked annually. It was said they attack every few month, never the same in a row, so it might actually’ve been only Behemoth twice a year until Leviathan joined.

      • That’s working under the assumption that Behemoth attacked 1-2 times a year for a few years, until the mid-90’s, which scaled things up to 2-3 times a year until 2002, at which point it became 3-4 times a year with the introduction of the Simurgh.

        • A little more often than annually.

          Worse than what I was thinking, but that explains why the dates were so close together in the Parahumans Online interlude.

        • Wait. Are you correcting with actual information or undermining it with telepathy? Because what you wrote were pretty much my thoughts…

          56 Endbringer attacks up to date, broken down:
          2001, Simurgh starts, 3-4 Endbringer attacks per year, backtracking makes this 30-40 attacks from 2001-2011.
          Mid-nineties, Leviathan starts, I guess 2-3 Endbringer attacks per year, so 10-20 Endbringer attacks 1995/6-2000.
          Early nineties, Behemoth starts with another guessed 1-2 appearances per year; so 4-12 attacks 1991/2-95/96.
          To compute back with the guesstimates, lowest number of attacks is 44, highest is 72, median is 58.

          Apparently I rule at math. Not typing though, took way to long to write this down :(

    • Fitting potential Tinkers with explosive collars is just a Really Really Dumb Idea. You’re essentially GIVING them free components to free themselves.

      They’ll spend a couple minutes or so geeking out about how COOL they are, then come to the conclusion about how stupid their erstwhile “captors” must be, then take them apart for parts.

    • I read that as Alexandria saying basically “That is not a threat, it’s a statement of what will happen unless you do things my way. No threat, just simple cause and effect.

      Not inconsistent with her later actions…