Cell 22.6

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Dragon’s craft closed the distance to the rooftop’s edge, using precise adjustments to almost freeze in mid-air as it hovered.  It was gentle and graceful in comparison to Defiant’s squat, durable tank.  I wondered how intentional that was.  Just looking at it, I had little doubt that it was even longer range than any of the other models I’d crossed paths with.  I was put in mind of a sniper rifle, long, narrow, sleek and focused in its almost singular design.  The stability it had fit with the idea.  A stark contrast to Defiant’s craft, which seemed more like the type to be in the thick of a fight, fighting alongside him and complementing his fighting style.

Not that the aesthetics of Dragon’s work was really a priority right this moment.

“A mistake,” I said.

“We know how she operates,” Defiant said.  “Dragon, Miss Militia and I have each worked directly under Alexandria at some point.  It’s something of an unofficial policy to have anyone that’s being considered for a leadership position working under each member of the triumvirate for a time.”

“Must have been real fun for you guys when you found out what they’re really like, last month.”

“Not fun at all,” Miss Militia said.  She had to stoop to exit the ship and step onto the roof’s edge.

“We’ve seen how Alexandria handles interrogations,” Defiant said.  “She reads microexpressions.  Shapes every statement and action to get the responses she wants.”

“And she wanted this?” I asked.

Defiant shook his head.  “Knowing her, this was a gambit.  It wouldn’t do to have one workable outcome.  She pushes you, and if you attack, she has cause to finish you off or send you straight to the birdcage without a trial.  If you don’t attack, she knows she has leverage against you and the Undersiders.  She’d see which way you were leaning, then refine her approach further.”

“And here I was,” Miss Militia mused, “Thinking you didn’t have a head for this sort of thing, Defiant.”

“I’ve had help,” he said, glancing at Dragon.

“But she didn’t get either of those results,” I said.  “At least, not like she wanted.  For all her brains, for all this apparent ability to read me, she… didn’t understand what my friends mean to me.”

“I think she understood well enough,” Defiant said.  “But the mistake, the tragedy in all of this, was that she didn’t get an accurate read on you.  Much, I expect, for the same reason my lie detector could never seem to.  She was working with bad information, and she pushed you too far, too fast.”

An eerie parallel to mistakes Tattletale had made in the past.  And I killed Alexandria and Tagg because of it.

“And… my friends?  Just to make sure.  They’re okay?”

“Alexandria didn’t touch them.  The ones she brought into the building were body doubles, and the real Undersiders are poised to attack in-”  Miss Militia reached for her phone.

“Fifteen minutes,” Defiant said.

“Fifteen minutes,” Miss Militia said.  “In the meantime, we’re trying to deal with your lawyer, who got his hands on the footage of the interrogation and is threatening to bring hell down on our heads-“

Earning his pay, I thought.

She continued without pause.  “-And we still have to find a way to handle this without a complete PR catastrophe.  Once the media gets hold of this, we lose the ability to control the situation.”

“Dragon is managing the details as we speak,” Defiant said.  “She can isolate and track digital communication, but she can’t stop the spread of word of mouth.  Chevalier’s doing what he can on his end, but the PRT agents that confirmed Alexandria’s death won’t be able to keep their mouths shut forever, not with something as grave as this.”

“Fifteen minutes,” Miss Militia said.

“Fourteen,” Defiant cut in, correcting her.

Fourteen minutes,” she said, “That’s our working timeline.  Even if Skitter were to call off the Undersiders, we have information leaks.”

“Then what if we let it leak?” I asked.  “We say ‘fuck it, the PRT is fucked, Alexandria is a monster, let people figure it out for themselves.'”

“You don’t really want that,” Miss Militia said.

“The system is fucked,” I said.  “Everything that’s happened, it’s taught me a few things.  People are fucked up, for one thing.  And any organization that has people in control is going to be fucked on an exponential level.  But for all that, people are a hell of a lot tougher than we give them credit for.  We survive.  We innovate.  So yeah, I’m seriously thinking along those lines.  I wouldn’t mind seeing the PRT burn, damn it, because I think we’ll make it regardless.”

“Why?”  Miss Militia asked.  “What changed your mind from the moment you decided to surrender?  Your friends weren’t at risk, you already knew something about Tagg and Alexandria.”

“You,” I told her.  “You were part of it.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

Exactly.”

“You can’t blame me for standing out of the way.  You had a plan, Alexandria told me she had a plan, and nobody shared anything substantial with me.  I couldn’t take a step without risking that I’d get in someone’s way.”

I frowned.

“You’re hurt, you’re angry, you’re still reeling from what you thought happened,” Miss Militia said.  “Fine.  That’s fair.  But we don’t have time to work through that.  You said you wanted to work together, to compromise.  Do you stand by that?  Are you willing to at least try a workable solution?  Or are you going to keep fighting us?”

I glanced at Defiant.  “I’ll hear you out.”

“We need you to call your team and get them to stand down.  We can’t have bloodshed, and we can’t have Tattletale divulging critical information.”

I folded my arms.  “Meet me halfway.”

“Twelve minutes,” Defiant said.  “This isn’t the time to be hard-nosed.  You don’t want this fight any more than we do.  If this happens, your team will be at a very real risk of death or arrest.  Three of the A.I. models, Dragon’s, mine, the Brockton Bay heroes and no less than ten visiting heroes.”

“This is exactly the time to be hard-nosed.  The Undersiders get left alone.  Those are my terms.  Figure it the fuck out.”

There was a pause, an exchange of looks between Defiant and Dragon.

“We’re talking to Chevalier and the Chief Director,” Defiant said.

“Good,” I answered him.

A few seconds passed.  I glanced at the sun, dipping beneath the mountains to the west.

Miss Militia will fill in as an interim PRT director,” a male voice sounded from the speaker at Dragon’s shoulder.  Chevalier.  “I’ll arrange it.  We have leverage, with the current state of emergency and the issues that are liable to come up with the announcement that we can make use of the portal.

“And I’ll remain hands off, unless I’m replaced or I have no other choice?” Miss Militia said.

We’ll keep you in position for as long as we can, postpone any changes or replacements until people get more comfortable with the idea.  With luck, we can segue into keeping you in position on a permanent basis. Failing that, we tap someone sympathetic to our aims.

“Damn it,” Miss Militia muttered.  “I feel like my lifespan just got cut short.  Double the work, too.”

“We’ll figure out a way to make it work,” Defiant said.  He looked at me.  “Satisfactory?”

“Yes.  Phone?”

Miss Militia tapped out a password, then handed me hers.

I dialed Tattletale’s number.

When Tattletale didn’t pick up on the first ring, I felt my heart jump into my throat.  She’d never done that.

“‘Lo,” Tattletale said.  I let myself breathe a sigh of relief.  She continued, “Call display says PRT Phone server.  Who am I talking to?

“It’s me,” I said.

You!  You wouldn’t believe how worried I’ve been.  Or the headache I have.  You know they gave you bad info?

“I know,” I said.

The stuff you were writing, it didn’t match up.  Tried to tell you, but you couldn’t understand me.

“I know,” I said.  “Just tell me… everyone’s safe?”

Everyone’s accounted for.  Shit, what did they do?

“Tattletale-“

They tried something.  What happened?”

“Tattletale,” I said, raising my voice a notch.  “Time’s short.  Call off the hounds, literal or otherwise.  Delay.”

Delay?”

“They’re making temporary offers,” I said, eyeing the heroes, “We can make some temporary concessions.”

Okay.  But I can’t hold back some of the bastards we put into play.  I can stop them, but that’s it.  They’ll leave, and we’re that much weaker.

“That’s fine,” I told her.  “These guys are at a bit of a disadvantage too.”

Okay… let’s see… alright.  Holding off for… half an hour?  Adding fifteen minutes to the clock?” Tattletale asked.

“Longer?” I asked.

Any longer and more mercenaries start walking away, deciding to take the half we paid up front.

“That’ll do, then, I guess.”  I said, giving the heroes a thumbs up.

You said they’re weaker, huh?  So it’s true.  I didn’t want to use my power to verify… but the rumor mill is right?  Alexandria bit it?

“Yes.  I-” I stopped.

You?  You did it?”  Tattletale asked.  “Guys-

Her voice faded as she turned away from the phone.

“Don’t tell them,” I said, once I realized what she was saying.

It was too late.  I could hear jeers and whooping from Regent and Imp in the background.  I couldn’t make out everything Grue was saying, but I caught something along the lines of ‘Jesus H. Fucking Christ.

It’s too late to matter, honey bear,” Tattletale said.  “I don’t have much juice powerwise, but I don’t need any to know this much.  Word’s already out about Alexandria.

“Word’s out about Alexandria,” I said, for the benefit of the heroes.

Defiant folded his arms.

Anything else I can do?” she asked.

“Stay near a phone.  Thank you,” I said.  And keep the jailbreak specialists on hand, I thought.  Not that I could say that with the Protectorate members around me.

“One disaster averted,” Miss Militia said.

“Held at bay,” Defiant said.  “The word’s spreading.  It’s starting to pop up on isolated channels.”

“We’ll need to get our official word out first,” Miss Militia said.

“What do you even say?” I asked.  “She’s dead.”

“And that will make a lot of people lose hope,” Miss Militia said.  “We have other ideas, but we need something bigger, more concrete.”

“But she’s dead,” I said.  “The only way to change the reaction is to convince everyone we have a winning game plan anyways.  That the PRT isn’t fucked, which it is.”

“The A.I. craft,” Defiant said, turning to look at the Pendragon.  “Expendable, versatile, devastating in their own right, and there’s image attached to them.  They’ll get the public’s imagination fired up.”

Miss Militia shook her head.  “There’ll be doubts, it’s not enough.  Behemoth can generate electromagnetic waves that wipe out electronics.  Even many reinforced electronics, if he’s close enough.  The Simurgh can scramble coding.  We don’t just have to convince the public.  We need to convince the heroes, and they know these things.”

“And they know what the difference is going to be, without Alexandria on the front lines,” Defiant said.  He sighed audibly.  “Four times now, she’s been the deciding factor in beating the Simurgh back early.  Once with Leviathan, when I was new to the Protectorate.”

“We can reduce the impact of the loss with careful word choice and a good speech,” Miss Militia said.  “If Skitter is willing to call off her other dogs.”

I glanced at the phone in my hand.  “Okay.”

“No demands this time?”

“Believe it or not, I want to fix things,” I said, as I dialed Mr. Calle’s number.  “We’re on the same side here.  The difference is I consider my friends to be a part of a workable scenario.  I have my issues with you guys, but I’m extending the benefit of a doubt again, and I’m hoping it doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass.  Again.”

The phone rang.  Mr. Calle answered.  “Quinn Calle speaking.

“It’s Taylor Hebert.”

Ah, excellent.  I’d feared they’d executed you or sent you to be incarcerated.

“I’m sorry for, um, that,” I said.

They had one of your good friends in a body bag, or they led you to believe they did.  You reacted as many would, with anger and pain.  You were simply, how to put it… better equipped than the rest of us mere mortals to express that anger and pain.

“I wouldn’t have blamed you if you’d left.”

Rest assured, Ms. Hebert, I’ve dealt with worse.

“Okay,” I said.  “I need you to back off on whatever threats you’re directing at the PRT.”

No can do, I’m afraid.

“Why the hell not?”

Because, right at this moment, you’re in the custody of the heroes.  They’ve given you a phone, no doubt, and they’ve caught you at an emotionally vulnerable moment.  For your benefit, I can’t assume you’re of sound mind or that you aren’t being coerced.

“How do we change your mind?”

I wouldn’t mind an invitation to the discussion.

“We’re sending a vehicle your way,” I said.  “Where are you?”

The lovely little shop with the donuts I visited this morning.

“Okay,” I said, putting my hand over the mouthpiece, “He says-“

I stopped.  The armored suit Miss Militia had left was already moving, heading directly for my territory.  She’d been listening in.

“Never mind.”

“Let’s talk about our game plan,” Miss Militia said.  “We’ve got the peripheral stuff in the works.  You’re bringing the suits in?”

“Yes,” Defiant said.  “She is.  Chevalier is on the way as well, and we’ve contacted the media.”

Miss Militia nodded.  “The two major crises are being held at bay, thanks to Skitter’s cooperation.  We can’t keep the word from spreading through other channels, so let’s cover every base we can.  We only get one shot at this.”

“Key points being Skitter’s role in this, and addressing how we deal with Alexandria’s demise,” Defiant said.

“My role?” I asked.  “I thought you wanted me to call off the attack?”

“No,” Miss Militia said.  “There’s more.”

I narrowed my eyes, very conscious of the fact that there were three rather powerful capes and one mechanized suit in my immediate vicinity.  “What more?”

She glanced at Defiant, then back to me.  “We’d like you to be there for the conference with the media.  Dragon’s going over footage, and so long as your lawyer doesn’t release the unedited content, we can hide the worst of the details from the media.  Shape the narrative.”

“You’re lying,” I said.

“We’re revising the truth,” she said.  She paused.  “Yes.  We’re lying.”

“And you want me to participate in that?”

“Yes.  Your presence will lend a degree of legitimacy to what we’re saying.  We’re on opposite sides, in the public eye, making it all the more meaningful if we agree on what happened.”

“Are you fighting to keep the PRT going, or are you working to rebuild it?” I asked.

“Rebuild it,” she said.  No hesitation.

“And you’re doing it by starting with a lie.  Just like they did.”

“Yes,” she said.  Again, there was no hesitation.  “There’s no pretty, perfect answers, and concessions have to be made.  Questions and issues on a greater scale mean more repercussions for failure, and they call for bigger concessions if we want to ensure success.”

“And this is a big event, a lot of power,” I said.  “Big concessions?”

“Yes,” she said.  She looked ten times as tired as she said it.

I folded my arms.  I couldn’t disagree.  I didn’t like it.  But I’d been a leader.  I’d made shady calls.  I’d hurt people.  Had lied, cheated, stolen, killed.

The sun was gone, hidden by the mountains, and the clouds were changing from purple to black.  How long until the new deadline?  Twenty minutes?

I could see Defiant, saw him conversing with Dragon and Miss Militia.

I saw how he folded his arms, still holding his spear, so it rested against his shoulder.  How he planted his feet further apart.  A warrior’s stance.

It inspired a memory, of my first night out in costume.  The bad guy lying defeated on the street below, the city quiet around us, the dark sky overhead, with only meager light illuminating us.  Framing the situation, talking about options and priorities.

Not so different from the scene here.  The villain wasn’t here.  Alexandria had fallen a distance away.  But the city was quiet, the area still blockaded, the sky was dark, and the topic of discussion…

I thought of something, one moment in that night’s discussion when I’d thought that maybe Armsmaster could live up to the reputation, that he could really truly be someone who I could look up to.

“Hey,” I said.

Heads turned my way.

“As far as Alexandria goes, what if we turn it around?”

“Turn it around?”

“Way back, when I first started out in costume, I had a talk with Armsmaster.  He told me that I should be happy I was mistaken for a villain, because it meant I didn’t have to fight the Undersiders.  This was before I joined them.  It reminded me of how I’d been trying to deal with the shit I was going through back then, turning negatives into positives.  I think we can do that here.”

“How?” Miss Militia asked.  She glanced at Dragon’s craft, just now arriving to bring my lawyer to us.

“So long as we’re lying,” I said, “Let’s go wholesale.  We present Alexandria as the villain she was.”

“That’ll make the situation worse,” Miss Militia said.

“It depends on how we present the idea,” I said.

Dragon’s suit once again came to a stop at the edge of the roof, as it had when it had delivered Miss Militia.  It turned sideways, and the body opened, revealing my lawyer, looking more stressed than I’d seen him, in the midst of a rather compact cockpit.

Mr. Calle accepted Miss Militia’s offered hand in stepping down to the rooftop, and seemed to relax the instant his feet touched solid ground.

“Whoo,” he said.  “Never let it be said that my job isn’t an adventure.  You’re well, Ms. Hebert?”

“I am.”

“You haven’t made any deals?”

“Nothing permanent.”

“Good.”

Dragon touched my shoulder.  When I turned her way, she set her fingers in my hand, pulling me after her with the light contact of two of her fingertips.  Gentle, easy to avoid, but clear enough.

I followed as she led me to her hovering Dragon-craft, Mr. Calle a step behind me.  Mr. Calle had longer legs than I did, but he was the one who hesitated at the gap before stepping into the open cockpit.

Once I was on board, Dragon reached over to the wall and opened a shallow drawer, no more than three inches deep.  The drawer opened with a noise like something from a science fiction movie.

I stared at the contents.

“How?” I asked, and all of the confidence was gone from my voice.  “Wait, nevermind. You’re fu- you’re tinkers, damn it.”

Mr. Calle stepped up beside me, placing one hand on my shoulder in an uncharacteristic need for some support.  He looked down.  “I take it we’ve reached something of a consensus here?”

“I have no idea,” I said.

“Yes,” Defiant said, from the rooftop.

“Then it seems I need to draw up some paperwork,” Mr. Calle said.  “For formality’s sake, if nothing else.”

“Do it in five minutes,” Miss Militia said, from Defiant’s side.  “We’re out of time.  The media’s here.”

“Five?”  Mr. Calle seemed momentarily pained.  “Paper, fast.”

Dragon handed him a sleek keyboard, pointing to a screen.  He started typing.

“I’ll credit you this, Ms. Hebert,” my lawyer said, as he typed away, tabbing to different windows to draw up pages he could copy-paste from.  “You manage a great deal of grief and chaos in very short spans of time.”

Chevalier had arrived, and stepped into the cockpit.  Gold and silver armor, his cannonblade resting against one shoulder.  He briefly clasped hands with Defiant.

I stopped tidying my hair long enough to take the stylus from Dragon, scribbling my signature on the offered pad.  Others were already present – Miss Militia’s and Defiant’s.  The Chief Director’s signature appeared as the document was signed from a remote location.

“You’re ready?” Chevalier asked me.

I shook my head.  “No.”

“But you’re willing?”

“Yeah,” I said.  I rubbed my arms, then  zipped up my prison-issue sweatshirt.  “Has to be done, doesn’t it?”

“It’s not pretty,” he said.  “There’s a lot of ugliness in this.  But yes.  This gives us the best chance.”

I nodded.  I still had Miss Militia’s phone.  I dialed Tattletale.

Yo?

“Turn on the TV,” I said.  “And call them off.  Unless something goes horribly wrong, this is it.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah,” I said.  No, I thought.

I hung up.

All together, we stepped out of the cockpit and walked around the craft.

The Wards were here.  Clockblocker, Vista, Kid Win and Crucible, standing on guard.

Rounding the corner, we approached the open street where the crowd of reporters waited.  Television cameras shifted to focus on the reporters announcing our arrival, or to follow us as we walked.  Tripod-mounted lights cast shafts of light across the road, all converging on one point, the makeshift stage – the flat ledge of the Dragon-suit’s wing, five feet off the ground.  Voices bubbled around us, a million questions, almost a singular noise.

Chevalier stepped forward, and they simultaneously drew quiet.  He had a presence, a kind of nobility that garnered respect.

“Today, not two hours ago, Alexandria was killed.”

I could barely see the reporters past the massive lights that were shedding light on the stage, on us.  They were solemn, focused on every single word.  They didn’t even flinch at the news.  They’d already known.

“Alexandria was a veteran among capes.  She was one of the first capes, one who was present for almost every major catastrophe in the last twenty years.  With every challenge she surmounted, she reaffirmed our belief in her, showed us how strong she was, how impervious and noble she was.”

He lowered his head.  I resisted the urge to fidget.  This was showing live, to homes across America.

On a rooftop nearby, capes teleported in.  Other capes, flying, were touching down on top of a news car.  Dovetail, with Sere beside her.

“If that was it, this would be hard enough,” he spoke.  “But she was a mythic figure in her own way.  She was a living symbol, recognized across the world.  She was a leader among us.  She was a friend to some of us.”

I sensed rather than saw Eidolon, hovering well above the reach of the lights.  Legend was close too, though less intent on hiding.

I steeled myself for what came next, willing myself to stay calm, to not give anything away.

“And she was a traitor.”

That garnered a response from the news reporters.  Shouted questions pierced the silence that loomed in the wake of Chevalier’s words.

He continued.  “When Alexandria was slain, earlier today, it was done by individuals standing on this stage.”

Every word carefully chosen, so it was technically or at least partially true.  Alexandria was a traitor, with her involvement with Cauldron, she had been slain at the hands of someone on the stage.

“There are individuals out there right now, who have kept quiet about recent events.  Only last month, there was an event in this city, a threat that was theorized to be a nascent Endbringer.  In the wake of that event, Alexandria was revealed to be partially responsible.”

The reporters, I noted, were deathly still.  Deer in the headlights.

Good capes,” Chevalier said, “Burdened by conscience, walked away from the PRT.  Without them to serve as our backbone, we were left gutted.  There has been rampant speculation on what has been going on within the PRT, on what might have caused so many capes to abandon it.  We -they- couldn’t speak because Alexandria held a position of power, because she was purportedly invincible, unassailable.  Because of the threat she posed, and the resources she had at her disposal.”

Others were joining the crowd of reporters.  Civilians, returning now that the blockades had been taken down, maybe going home, only to see the scene, the heroes in the spotlight.  They clustered, or parked at the periphery of the crowd, getting out of their cars.

How many millions were tuning in right this moment?

“Some of us left, because their consciences couldn’t bear serving a corrupt power.  Others, many of us on the stage included, stayed, because we felt the PRT, the Protectorate, the Wards program and the teams that draw on us for resources were too important.  I’m not here to say one decision was better than the other, or to lay blame with those who sided with her.  In coming weeks and months, our capes, accountants and lawyers will be meeting with anyone and everyone in a position of power within the Protectorate program or the PRT, ensuring nothing of this scale occurs again.”

Something moved into my range.  An insect.  Large.

Atlas.

I moved him experimentally, and felt how incredibly weary he was.  His reserves of energy were drained, his body dying.  His forelegs touched the walls around him.  He’d been placed in the back of a van.

And the occupants of that van – bugs entered open windows to make contact with the others.  Lisa, Brian, Alec and Aisha.  I could hear the echo, time delayed by five seconds, as they watched Chevalier speak on a tablet PC.

 “Alexandria betrayed us on a fundamental level, and the whole cape community has felt that.  The public has felt that.  I urge people not to blame her.  She had no less than eighteen fights against the Simurgh.  We had been led to believe her powers rendered her immune, but she was clever enough to hide and alter the evidence.  She was a victim, and it’s a testament to her character that she fought off the Simurgh’s influence for as long as she did.”

And there’s the first egregious lie, I thought.

With luck, nobody would believe anyone that was callous enough to point it out.  Nobody would want to believe them.  It was an ugly thought, that Alexandria could be twisted to act against our interests just because of who she was.  She’d worked with Cauldron, had experimented on humans, all in the interest of… what?  Creating powers?  Selling them?

I swallowed hard.  I knew what came next.

“It was due to a concerted effort this evening that we were able to stop Alexandria before more damage could be done.”

Chevalier reached out, put a hand on my shoulder.  He drew me closer to him, until I stood in front of him and he had both hands resting on my shoulders.

“Many will recognize Taylor Hebert, revealed to be Skitter in a controversial confrontation at the school just a week ago, a confrontation Alexandria ordered.  Taylor Hebert played a crucial role in stopping Alexandria in a moment of crisis, ending the fight.”

And now half the world hates me, I thought, staring forward.  The glare was so intense I thought my eyes might start crossing.  And the other half… I don’t know what the other half thinks.

I’d agreed to share ‘credit’ for the kill, but only because there had been a consensus that people wouldn’t believe it if I took sole responsibility.

Chevalier wasn’t speaking.  I saw a red light go on at the corner of my collar.  The microphone Dragon had clipped there was live.  The signals would be received by all equipped, official cameras.  Something the PRT had arranged for convenience’s sake some time ago.

I had a chance to speak in my own defense, in front of countless tens or hundreds of millions of eyes, and the words were dying in my throat.

My thoughts were grinding to a standstill.  What was I supposed to say?  We’d barely had any time to prepare.  We hadn’t had time to prepare.

There were whole lines I was supposed to give.  Ideas I was supposed to express, striking the right tone, and I’d gone blank.

I couldn’t defend myself like this, even with rehearsed lines.

Chevalier rescued me.  He spoke, his voice clear.  “This isn’t a happy day.”

It was a reminder of what my line was supposed to be.  I’m not proud, I’m not happy that it came to this…

“It’s not a happy day, but it’s a good day,” he said, skipping ahead two or so minutes.  “It marks change, and it marks a step forward.  A chance to fight Endbringers and other threats without sabotage, without worrying who stands beside us, or whether our leadership is compromised.”

Dragon’s ships descended from the sky above.  My hair and the hood of my sweatshirt flapped as the vessels landed to either side of us.  Eleven vessels.  The ones we’d destroyed had been rebuilt, updated.  Others, old Dragon suits, had apparently been set up with A.I. to fly on their own.  They gleamed, various shades of chrome and gunmetal, with trim in different metals and colors for decoration and highlighting.

She had more made, I thought.

“A chance to fight Endbringers without as many casualties,” Chevalier said.  “And hope.  We’ve investigated the portal to another world, and confirmed that there are resources and even shelter, a possibility of escape in a time of emergency.”

I stared at the van where the Undersiders were.

“And new allies, as unlikely as they might be.”

His hands dropped from my shoulders.

I reached up to the zipper of my sweatshirt.  I pulled it down, then shrugged out of it.  Chevalier took the piece of clothing in one hand.

I bent over and stepped out of the loose-fitting prison sweats as well.

Defiant handed me my new mask, and I pulled it on.  Electric blue lenses, the opposite of the yellow I’d worn before.  They helped with the glare, though they weren’t so good against it as my old lenses.

Light gray fabric where I’d had black.  Armor panels in the same dark gray as before, albeit with cleaner lines, less bulk, and less in the way of edges.  I had no points at the tips of my gloves, and both the mantle around my shoulders and the cloth that hung around my belt were marked with an electric blue border, with my gang emblem in miniature at each corner, flipped upside down so they faced skyward, altered to match my new color scheme.

“I admitted to reprehensible things,” I said.  “I won’t challenge that, or pretend I didn’t say or do those things.  By all rights, I should go to jail.  I may serve a sentence, if the courts will it.  I won’t challenge that.”

I paused.  For a terrifying moment, I thought I’d forget what to say again.  Then I fixed my eyes on the windshield of the van, at the far end of the crowd.

It struck me that I hadn’t suffered stage fright.  It had been something else entirely.  I hadn’t wanted to speak, because there would be no going back.

When I finally spoke, I didn’t follow the cues I’d been given.  My eyes didn’t leave the spot where the Undersiders were watching from.

“I seized a territory in Brockton Bay.  I led the local villains, and we defeated all comers.  I was secure in my position.  I had wealth, friendship, love and respect.  People depended on me.  It was everything I’d ever wanted, if not quite the way I’d initially imagined it.  I could have stayed and been comfortable.

“Except there are bigger things.  More important things.”

The eyes and cameras on me made me feel like I was deep in the ocean, a crushing weight pressing down on me.

“I believe in the idea of a new PRT that Chevalier is talking about.  I believe in it enough that I was willing to turn myself in and take action to bring it to fruition.  That I was willing to leave everything I had behind.  If I have to serve time in jail first, then so be it.  If I face the Birdcage… I hope I don’t.  But at least I could tell myself that seeing the supervillain step up might convince others to come back.  Change the minds of heroes who gave up on the PRT for one reason or another.”

A lump welled in my throat.  I knew I didn’t have many more words left before I wouldn’t be able to speak.

“This is what I want to do, above all else,” I said, and I said it to the Undersiders.  “Given the chance, I’ll serve the people.  As I fought Leviathan, the Slaughterhouse Nine and other evils, I’ll fight to the last gasp to protect all of you.  When-“

A howling in the distance interrupted me.

Moments later, others took up the cry.  Ten dogs, then twenty.  Others took up the cry around the city, from various shelters and homes.  A hundred, two hundred dogs, and the wolf cub that had started them off.

“-When and if I do take up the job,” I finished, speaking around the growing lump in my throat, “You can call me Weaver.”

Chevalier set a hand on my shoulder.

“That’ll be all,” the hero said.  “We’ll have another statement and a conference to answer questions early tomorrow, when we know more for sure.”

The reporters were already calling out questions.  Is this the first time you’ve recruited a villain?  How did Alexandria die?  What crimes did she commit, exactly?

More questions, until it was a jumble.

He led me away, one hand steady and firm on my shoulder, and Miss Militia, Defiant, Dragon and my lawyer fell into step behind us.

I cast one last glance at the van, then entered Dragon’s ship.

“You stumbled,” Defiant said.  “Improvised.  But that was good.”

I didn’t respond.

“You know you can’t stay here.  There’s a conflict of-“

Dragon reached out and pressed an index finger against the ‘mouth’ of his mask.

Then she folded her arms around me.  She was cold to the touch, hard and unyielding, but she still managed a motherly embrace.

My face pressed against her shoulder, I found myself glad that my mask hid my face from view.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

537 thoughts on “Cell 22.6

  1. Not an interlude.

    There are no words. Except…wasn’t there talk of some sort of church or cult for wildbow or worm or something a while ago? Talk kind of fizzled out, but I dunno, maybe we can start it back up again?

    • If it is any consolation this chapter is totally worth while. The last few arcs, hell the entire story has been building up to this and it works perfectly.

      I especially like the way you end it with Dragon hugging her, not with her announcing her new name. I feel that it could have been trite but instead gives an excellent characterisation of the new Dragon and Skitt- Weaver’s emotions.

      Once again I can’t wait for the next chapter.

      • Soon as things could have gotten even slightly formulaic, or as formulaic as you can get in Worm, we get this dropped on our heads. Perfect timing.

    • Not sure yet if this dethrones 20.5 from the “Best Chapter” position, but if it doesn’t it’s a damn close-run thing. In particular, everything after the scene break was just one powerful moment after another.

      Two thumbs up. Way up. As in, the ISS is going to wonder who’s trying to hitchhike.

        • I, for one, doubt that Taylor will completely stop interacting with Rachel as a friend. I just can’t see Dragon, Defiant, or Miss Militia (who seem to more or less be in charge of things) denying her that.

          • Agreed.

            Though I also think Rachel’s in a much better place than she was when Taylor first met her. Back in Arc 1, Rachel was just “Bitch”, the violent bruiser of the Undersiders that the rest basically tolerated for her usefulness.

            Now, she’s got not only a real friend in Taylor, but also a home for her dogs and other people who work with and understand her on some level. WagTheDog, at the very least, seems to genuinely admire Rachel and Barker and Biter get how to work with her.

            For someone who were first introduced to as the girl who punched our protagonist’s face in for no damn good reason at all, I’d say Rachel’s life has changed a hell of a lot for the better.

    • This is such a huge payoff of so many things on so many levels. I’m scared. It seems too good to be true.

      • I dunno. Alexandria probably faked her own death, more effectively than most, I admit, but remember: We never saw her body, and she hinted her “weakness” to Skitter. And she ignored help from Dennis and at least two Tinkers. Her Thinker powers alone should have prevented her from panicking, and I am sure she has experience dealing with similarly stressful situations. If she’s really dead, it’s because she chose to die, not because she underestimated Skitter.

        • I think you underestimate Alexandria’s hubris. She’s operated for decades with only one real weakness that even Endbringers haven’t been able to effectively exploit. There is no way in hell that she would expect a 16 year old girl to be able to actively do anything beyond annoy her for a few seconds. Skitter genuinely took her by surprise with the bugs thing and for the first time in a long time Alexandria panicked which lead directly to her death.

          That’s what you get when piss off supervillains. Lesson to the wise. Don’t bully a dragon.

    • ”These guys that much weaker.”

      ‘These guys’ is italic, and it seems like it might have been mistyped or something.

      • Typo thread? Typo thread. Love me some typo thread.

        Really, I just like getting to post something that other people would post anyways, before them. :d

        By the way, packbat, if you see this, how do I control the text?

          • @Dinstow: I use b, em, i, strong (on rare occasions), and blockquote. Blockquotes are formatted in (if I recall correctly) serif italics with em tagged text being roman, just so you know. There are probably others, but I don’t use them.

          • Thanks. Now to test-drive them.

            test
            test
            test
            test

            test

            Also, just to point it out, you listed b and then em, resulting in me reading ‘bm’ in my head. Which is funny, because poop.

          • > Is there a difference between em and i, and b and strong?

            Like comickry said, em and strong refer to emphasis and strong emphasis — semantic tags — as opposed to i and b, which are purely formatting. The general rule is that you can use i and b any time you want italics or bold, but that em and strong should only be used to indicate emphasis. For example, if you were making a list of definitions, you might put the words being defined in bold tags, but you wouldn’t put them in strong tags. Similarly, if you were writing dialogue and you wanted to indicate someone’s thoughts using formatting instead of quotemarks, italics tag, not emphasis tag.

            99+% of readers will never know the difference, but Dragon totally would, and you wouldn’t want to disappoint Dragon, would you? Would you?

          • By the way, as reluctant as I am (though if I’m being honest, I’m reluctantly reluctant) to try to drag someone down my rabbit-hole of theoretical use of fictional powers, I’d be curious to see if you had any thoughts on my Hyperspace Arsenal idea farther down the page.

          • “I seized a territory in Brockton Bay. I led the local villains, and we defeated all comers. I was secure in my position. I had wealth, friendship, love and respect. People depended on me. It was everything I’d ever wanted, if not quite the way I’d initially imagined it. I could have stayed and been comfortable.

            missing end quotation mark.

          • @darkciel Not a typo, because the next line is Taylor speaking again. Closing quotation marks aren’t necessary if the next paragraph is the same speaker.

            @Packbat Hey no worries.

      • I hadn’t been sure if that was a typo or not. I was wondering if it might simply have been to subtly show the gravity of the role the media would be playing in the very near future, as an entity in itself.

  2. Wow.

    I just…wow.

    If I were someone else, I’d probably have some brilliant touching comment to make here. But I’m not, so I’ll remain not-actually-speechless.

    This was amazing.

        • Too Dumb To Live is possible for Tagg (drawing a gun on Skitter? Really?), but I don’t think it applies for Alexandria — I think she was probably well justified in her confidence. Remember, the information the PRT has on Skitter ranges from “spotty” to “outright misleading”.

          • Actually what you described is not well justified confidence but OVER confidence. If they had real good info on Skitter and what she could do Alexandria wouldn’t have done what she did, however without knowing her opponent she got over confident in her “invincibility”…AGAIN. This wasn’t the first time Alexandria let her “invincibility” make her more confident than she had a right to be against an opponent she didn’t have proper in intel on. The last time that happened was her first fight with Siberian and it “only” costed her an eye. Instead of learning from that lesson she went and repeated it and that puts her in the “Too Stupid to Live” category.

          • @boballab In Alexandria’s case, it might be nearly justified confidence. With her ability to read people and situations, and form strategies in seconds, she can have a fair amount of confidence. This would just be an example of her being disastrously overconfident. Unless she faked her death.

  3. The most boring hero in dota becomes the most interesting super hero/villain I’ve ever read. Talk about a juxtaposition :)

  4. Fucking awesome! Wildbow, this is totally worth staying up an hour later for, even if I hate myself in the morning!

    Seriously, thanks.

  5. ….
    I’m… Yes.
    Yes, this was it. This was the payoff.
    Taylor finally, finally gets to be a hero.
    …I… Promised myself I wouldn’t cry…. Stupid soft heart! Good on you, Wildbow. Good on you, for bringing the awesome.

  6. >>“You can call me Weaver.”
    Oh! Fuck yeah, so called it!

    Also, fuck yeah at the best ending.. for Taylor. Let us shed a tear for the departed Alexandria, wherever she may have departed to. Raise our glasses, too, to this new dawn of terrified cooperation in the face of mutually assured destruction.

        • “Hello, world, I am the supervillain formerly known as Skitter: I’ve recently fought against various deadly and well-known Acts of God, survived, become an infamous criminal lord and taken over this city, but more recently I’ve just surrendered, peacefully and by my own volition, to the local PRT, tried to cut a deal with them, then killed Alexandria (one of the pillars of the North American superhero community) and somehow or other ended up becoming a superhero myself with the assistance of Big Sister here! Wow, what a turn of events! So just call me by this name that doesn’t ominous at all. Please ignore any impulse to associate spiders and weaving with masterminds and Plotters Supreme.”

          • Oh, wow, that makes her name so much better. Supervillains of the analytic type are going to be expecting one of the world’s foremost Byzantine schemers … which will lead to delicious, delicious chaos when they discover she’s a master of improvisation instead.

    • So if Taylor ever goes back to being a Villain, would she change her name to Recluse (indirect shout-out ot CoH/V)?

      • She probably wouldn’t like to take that one. I mean, he did outlive Statesman, but he also dies a LOT in other timelines. Seriously, I’ve even got one of his helmets laying around somewhere.

      • I feel like Recluse might have too many bad connotations for a girl who used to eat her lunch alone in the bathroom

  7. Amazing… I love that it got here from where it began… Guess we’ll see what happens next with the Undersiders…

  8. Holy. Shit.
    22.5 was pretty slow and didn’t really have much going for it, but this made up for it and then some.
    Now I’m just afraid that another interlude is going to strike, I do not have the patience to wait more than 2 days for the next update.

    • I -generally- have a reason when I have a slow chapter. A question of setup, or pacing, or something else entirely.

      And I was tired as fuck when I wrote it (three hours of sleep followed by fourteen hours of writing), so I knew I didn’t have it in me to do -this-.

      • I’d love to see another interlude in the form of people on forums. I think it could suit this particular chapter very well.

          • I wonder if they’d be more doable or less doable when compiling everything to eBook format? Not sure how the editing’d go down, but it’s a really interesting resource to have, lots of other little insights into the way things work.

            I guess MOST interludes provide some of that, though.

        • Those are exceptionally challenging to format. Careful what you ask for. Not a bad idea, just saying it’s hard to do.

          Me, I’d like a Danny interlude.

        • Do superheros do Ask Me Anything threads like some people do on Reddit? An AMA between Parahuman Online members and Weaver could be really interesting, I think.

          Since that would take a long time to do, though, I suspect the interlude will be either Crucible, Mr. Calle (who is one of my new favorite characters after how coolly he’s played every scene he’s been in), or the as-yet unnamed but much put-upon Deputy Director of the Brockton Bay PRT. That guy’s lived through at least three Directors now–he probably had some interesting stories to tell.

          • > Do superheros do Ask Me Anything threads like some people do on Reddit? An AMA between Parahuman Online members and Weaver could be really interesting, I think.

            Oh god yes. Nice variety from the Parahumans Online Forum, as well.

            Taylor would do it, too. Look at the mass of beans she was willing to spill to Clockblocker, and he was downright antagonistic.

          • If anything an AMA involving Clockblocker could be a lot more fun. I’ve grown rather fond of Clockblocker and I wonder what he thinks of this whole thing.

          • Or better yet, an AMA with both Weaver and Clockblocker. For extra awkwardness.
            Also: in my head, Mr Calle is played by Ridiculously Photogenic Guy.

    • I doubt that we will see another interlude from either of them, but I don’t doubt that we will see Taylor in juvie. Should at least see two out of the three’s reaction in some form in the near future.

    • Actually, maybe if we’re lucky we’ll get a chapter like the one from that news guy, where we get to cycle through several reactions. Though if we’re gonna see Sophia again, I’d actually like her to be aware of the fact that Taylor singlehandedly killed Alexandria. Let’s see how she takes THAT.

      • Oh, I’m sure there will be rumors, it was already leaking. The room for people to reasonably underestimate Taylor has been shrinking all the time. Being overestimated could be just as fun when it happens of course. Arguably Clockblocker did but he wasn’t in a position to influence anything so there were no consequences of it then.

        I liked Bitch’s reaction here. She might not make a good interlude viewpoint but there are now people associated with her who might be able to give her point of view better than she could.

        • Like I said before: In her PRT profile in the “notes” section Skitter should have had a line “Do not estimate her her.”, regardless of over or under.

          • @SCurran: Yep. That’s what he said. The fact that he still underestimated her after having said that is a sign of how much of a brainless thug he was.

          • @Packbat – Yeah he seemed way to overconfident. I can sorta understand Alexandria being surprised. She has probably gotten used to thinking her self as neigh immortal. I don’t see how Tagg didn’t see his death coming. The drones were still killing bugs, meaning she still had some, and then they fake one of her friends death’s and don’t expect her to lash out.

          • I now imagine the PRT sheet for Skitter with the

            Master: 5
            Thinker: 1

            crossed out and in big red ink “AAAAAH FLYING SPIDERS EVERYWHERE!” written on top of it.

    • Likewise.

      Emma and Sophie’s reactions are probably going to be on par with “HOLY NIGHTBRINGER, SHE KILLED ALEXANDRIA!”, and “WHY DID WE HAVE TO BULLY THE ONE GIRL WHO WOULD GET A TRIGGER EVENT?”

  9. /low whistle
    Very nice wrap up. I feel like its too tidy, but whatever.

    Side note: I’m glad taylor agrees with me on the PRT, its no more fucked up and evil than any other organization made up of people.

      • One that’s guaranteed to fail at some point, to boot. Now, how it fails, there’s the bit that determines the eventual fallout.

        • See, there’s the rub. Everything they said up there was true (even the Simurgh excuse is plausible). The only real exception is that anyone but Taylor had help. …Or that Alexandria was killed because she was a traitor, and not because she was faking body bags. For which there’s video evidence and multiple witnesses.

          Hm. Ya know, it might come out at that. But in PR, the first word is the most potent word, even when embarrassing facts come out later.

          • The PRT is already covering up using large numbers of their people and equipment on an assassination attempt on Skitter. On US soil, not overseas. At the behest of their local leader who led a double life as a crimelord. Something will leak some time … but it could take years and be confused when it does.

          • You know I even wonder if the bit about Alexandria being influenced by the Simurgh is wholly wrong either.

            From the text-as-written, I think we can assume she wasn’t directly under the Simurgh’s control, but its not that much of a stretch to think that when the Simurgh manipulates people and events she’s looking at second order effects as well. Things like “if I turn this person in a crazy axe murder he’ll kill his family in 3 years, and since he’s the nephew of this Senator on the subcommittee for Mental Health initiative funding he’ll vote for big budget increases which lead them to Secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know.”

            In Alexandria’s case the Simurgh has had a lot of time and a lot of people to influence around Alexandria to nudge her indirectly this way and that. Maybe none of those nudges were the kind of mustache twirling “I’ve thought of every detail and you can’t escape my plot” kind of plans, but they wouldn’t have to be in order to slowly push Alexandria into a place where she goes for quick, brutal plans that rely on overwhelming force to achieve her goals regardless of the costs paid by others.

            Which isn’t to say it’s all the Simurgh’s fault either, more a case of the devil stopping to give you a lift while you’re jogging down the highway to hell.

  10. So the birth of a new hero. Makes me wonder how the Undersiders will fit in to things. But now we get to see them interact with the heroes and the wards. I’m betting we will get to see how they do in the next Endbringer fight. But no one will doubt Skitter’s, sorry Weaver’s, abilities after killing Alexandria. Is this the last chapter of the arc?

      • Were I the praying sort, I would be praying for a Crucible interlude.

        Not being the praying sort, I’ll instead just tell you that I think the timing’s good for it, provided that said interlude could convey the necessary plot information.

        • “So guys, about this nascent Endbringer thi—”
          “Classified.”
          “C’mon, if our fearless leader had any part of it and had to be put down by a villain of all things—”
          “Still classified.”
          “WE’RE GETTING A NEW PERSON IN THE WARDS I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHAT SHE—”
          “Classified.”
          “I hate you all so much…”

          • “Hey, have you seen Miss Militia around?”
            “Classified.”
            “Quit it with that! I just want to know where she is so I can ask her what’s up with the change in access codes.”
            “Sorry Crucible, her location is currently classified.”
            “Fine then Clockblocker, how about you tell me what’s up with the change in security codes? Is this some precaution because of Ski…Weaver joining the ranks?”
            “All that information is classified.”
            “Oh come on! I just need the access codes so I can get into my room!”
            “I’m afraid that your room has been classified. You’ll need to get a higher security clearance in order to regain access to it.”
            “AAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!”

    • everyone will think that Skitter didn’t realy help with killing Alexandria
      (i mean dude, she controles insects, how useless is that especially against someone as powerfull as Alexandria)
      they just used Skitter go get rid of some of the public blame
      and they falsely credited her with assisting the killing of Alexandria so that the PRT has a good reason to accept her as a hero
      (she didn’t do shit, that is just PR)

  11. Hello all, I started a subreddit for worm, reddit.com/r/parahumans, its mostly empty right now, but it could be an awesome place for everything from fanfiction to discussion! come check it out

  12. Well, Alexandria gets the label she deserves, Taylor gets the label she deserves, and the deal is made that people deserve.

    Dammit, Jack, make your move already. This world isn’t ending itself, you know. We know things are going to turn shitty again soon, and I think the down to this high is going to do a hell of a lot of damage, so let’s get moving!

    And kill off Blasto already. He was saying stuff behind your back.

      • I meant the slashy guy.

        I swapped over at one point to rooting for the end of the world. Let those monstrosities destroy themselves rather than risk spreading to other dimensions. Less for other dimensions’ sake so much as for my dimension. I can only kill so many people at once.

        Naturally, a chapter like this throws people off the inevitable dooming of things, what with the Blue Botfly’s ascension to the ranks of two-shoes. That also means that while I’m not obligated to dislike her, there is pressure now to not agree with her acts of heroism.

        She may be the same ole Taylor, but now she has gone over to the light side. Next thing you know she’ll be doing good things, like some sort of do gooder. And I am EVIL!

        *hands the mic back to his Moai without looking, knowing that he’s pretty much the only one about to get this joke. The limbless statue takes it, somehow. It doesn’t say anything before an obviously dubbed voice booms out*

        “Indeed!”

  13. If this is to be the end of Worm, then I’ll say it was a good end indeed. Regardless, excellently crafted chapter, and I can’t wait to read more from you.

  14. That went better than I expected.

    I think that the knowledge that she killed two people because of a lie is going to take a day or two to really sink in, though. When that hits, it’s gonna be one hell of a blow to her mental and emotional stability, on top of all the other ones she’s taken in the past few days.

    Even if the general public is being given the mushroom treatment, though, I expect that capes on both sides are going to know full well that the bug girl gets full credit for the kill, and change their assessment of her accordingly. Some of the more dedicated capewatchers will also probably know or figure it out later, especially since it’s unreasonable to expect no further leaks from the PRT.

    Dragon definitely takes the term “better half” to a whole new level in that relationship. Good to know that whatever part of Colin’s beta patch knocked out her speech centers didn’t trash the rest of her mind.

    Rachel isn’t taking this whole thing well, I think. Although Lisa and Brian are probably also pretty broken up about it, and can just hide it better. Because I think that for all of them, this was when it really sunk in that Taylor wasn’t coming back.

    My guess for next Interlude (assuming that’s what’s coming on Saturday) is either Eidolon, Chevalier or Crucible, with Sierra as an outside possibility.

    • I don’t think she’ll completely stop associating with them though. At the VERY least, they should still be friends.

    • On “killed because of a lie” thing – it’s no different than if Alexandria really killed the Undersides. Not really. Hopefully Taylor, who now has access to therapists, will be able to realize this and won’t angst too much. Or at all.

      • I think that from the standpoint of the one who did the killing, it probably still feels like there’s a difference. Mainly because she wouldn’t have killed either of them had she known that she was being played.

        Probably not rational, but unfortunately our brains are nowhere near as rational as we’d hope.

        As you say, she has access to therapists, so she’ll get over it given time and help. But I don’t think she’ll be able to move past these kills as easily as when she executed Coil.

        • I think the most promising thing is that she’s aware that her emotions are off balance on this.

          If she was delving deep into denial about what she’d done and what she was feeling, I’d think she’d be in for a lot harder time internally. (Externally of course everyone is still in for an insanely hard time, but that’s at least ground they’re familiar with standing on.)

    • I think we can now confirm Dragon as the new Big Good after the reveal of Cauldron. She has 11 suits, is free from some restrictions now, has her new cyborg boytoy as a partner, and can now use her talents to identify everyone connected to Cauldron. Though with the reveal of how Behemoth and the Smurf can counter her, I wonder what the point of the extra suits are with the 9 on ice. They’ll definitely come in handy when the inevitable jailbreak from the birdcage happens. Maybe grue can be carried and shield the suits with his darkness.

  15. So… kill a pillar of hope, and you get to take it’s place?

    Anyways, awesome chapter Wildblow! Is this the final part of the arc, or will there be some follow-through?

        • Don’t worry, I’m sure (hopeful) we’ll get a great interlude (or two) as this one crashes against the shore. And as it is the way the tide works, the waters will recede as they prepare to crest again.

    • I suppose it’s like becoming the Dread Pirate Roberts?

      Forum style interlude would be cool.

      Or if you can really try, Atlas.

        • Rich Atlas! Wildbow, write about Atlas going up to Heaven; waking up surrounded by all the bug-related pleasures money can buy, along with a group of nutritionists who know just what to feed a gigantic bug with a human digestive system, as well as a horde of giant female (or male?) Hercules beetles.

          …Y’know, all the things he was never gonna get in this life. Poor Atlas.

      • He was dying. He didn’t know it – couldn’t know it, but he was dying. As Atlas rode through the city in the back of the Undersider’s van, he felt at the walls around him, searching for something, anything that would help him understand his world.
        He had been created in the heat of battle, intended to serve a single purpose – ferrying his master through the air, so she would be able to help and protect her friends, her allies, and her city. Panacea had created him from raw biomass, and she had given him no way to process, intending for him to perish within the week. Grue had saved his life by giving him a digestive system, allowing him to eat, but there were still complications.
        Atlas was not a true insect; he was not built the same way as others. He could not function on his own like a normal bug, nor could he eat like one. The diet he was given, which was composed of other insects, had lengthened his life span, but it was incomplete; he was still not receiving all of the nutrients he would need to survive much longer, and soon he would die.
        He could not understand the way he was feeling; he did not possess the instincts to recognize the slow approach of death. But despite being made incomplete, he was not not completely empty – when Grue had saved him, and given him a human digestive system based on his own, he had also changed Atlas’ mind.
        Atlas did not truly have thoughts, but he had feelings and wants. He did not understand them, but he was burdened by them nonetheless. He longed to understand the world he was a part of. He wished he could gather some semblance of a coherent thought in his head.
        And as he rode, weak, through the city with those he would have called friends, if he could have known such things, he searched for meaning. He was a weapon, a tool made for war, cursed with an echo of the human condition. Atlas was dying, and he couldn’t even understand how much he wished to live.

  16. Hmm, what is interesting is that neither Alexandria nor Defiant could get the correct body-reading from Taylor. This is interesting because this implies certain interesting things about Skitter’s psychology and physiology. And lends credence to “shifts her conciousness into the swarm” theory.

    I wonder, will they be able to classify Alexandria as an S-class threat (spreading the corruption in the PRT as self-replicating threat generation) to get Skitter the pardon / immunity for killing her?

    Also, poor Rachel. Poor, poor Rachel. Unless Tattletale is able to reason with her, it’ll be bad for her.

    • I don’t think it’s related to her mind being in her swarm or anything like that — I think the problem they had (that is, Armsmaster, Jack Slash, Noelle, and Alexandria) is that they assume from her anything-goes attitude towards combat and her extreme anti-authoritarianism that she lacks moral convictions.

      Which, of course, is exactly backwards. She does reprehensible things because she doesn’t care if she appears evil as long as she can achieve good results.

      • I just figured she “fooled” them because circumstances change. She really was going to try and be a hero…at first. And she really was trying to work with the PRT…at first. Then someone goes and befriends her while the heroes running around knitting enough asshats for the whole organization to wear and she changes her mind.

        Plus, I’d think a lie detection machine would be a little off on anyone who suffered a trigger event.

        • Circumstances changing is a big part of what confused Armsmaster — heck, I think every single encounter she had with him was bracketed by some change of circumstance which invalidated what she was telling him from the last time.

          But with Jack Slash and Alexandria, I think it was straight-up misunderstanding her motivations.

          • I’ve mentioned it before but it also goes towards one of things I love about Worm: Everybody has bad days.

            Nobody gets to be perfect, or untouchable, or able to predict how things are going to go all the time. Hell, we got introduced to the best pre-cog in the world because she had a bad day and wound up as a villains drug-slaved lapdog. Alexandria misreading Taylor is just so very in character for the world and for the departed heroine.

          • > Hell, we got introduced to the best pre-cog in the world because she had a bad day and wound up as a villains drug-slaved lapdog.

            Third-best, if I recall correctly, but yeah, most definitely.

    • I remember Grue saying that her body language makes her seem unnaturally confident due to her seeing through her bugs eyes.

      Her bug sense just means she has a different body language to normal people. Hard to read, impossible to discern. She always knows more than you’d expect and she doesn’t even think about it.

      • I forgot that — and you can look at her reactions to Emma’s needling in Chrysalis as well. When she’s mad, she doesn’t tense up for a physical fight, she reaches for her insects. And that’s probably another thing that contributed to Alexandria’s blunder — she read Skitter’s speech as bluster because Skitter’s body language didn’t convey how close to committing murder she was.

        • Due to Alexandria’s massive intellect, that’s pretty much the only thing that keeps me hopeful that she didn’t just switch with a body double and escape. For all her brains, she may have (hopefully) been another in a long line of people to underestimate Skitter. I also wonder if she would have been able to put all of the bugs into the double’s lungs, as well as have them spin webs and whatnot. I wouldn’t put it past her, but still… And I assume there was a body because I don’t think they’d be stupid enough to assume Alexandria’s dead without one. Still, I’m not willing to bet on anything at this point.

          • Were Alexandria to have survived, I imagine her “death” would have been one of those large concessions alluded to by Miss Militia.

  17. No plot progression, huh? So much for that!
    I’m very much of three minds on the new name and costume. But as long as there are no molded in beetle shaped nipples I suppose I’ll live. I’ll definitely miss the yellow lenses though, they were so distinctive.
    “Rest assured, Ms. Hebert, I’ve dealt with worse.“ I really wanna know WHAT he has dealt with.
    Kinda a shame she shared credit so broadly. Though it is definitely good if she turns up alive later to not be the one with sole responsibility for her being actually dead.

    “Chevalier?. ”I‘ll arrange it.” Extra period, and the italic starts in the wrong place.
    “could be twisted act against our” Missing word or comma.
    “moment of crisis, ending the fight”” Missing period.

    • I still want a Darwin’s spider suit, if it could be stronger than the one Dragon made. Of course, I want a Darwin’s spider “Skitter” suit regardless.

    • I was kind of expecting him to say after that, “Just kidding. You just murdered the one of the guys interrogating you in full view of several witnesses. I’ll do my best, but you might want to invest in researching prison breakers.

    • “Rest assured, Ms. Hebert, I’ve dealt with worse.“ I really wanna know WHAT he has dealt with.

      I think his job entails not sapping his clients confidence, and him admitting her being on top of his screwed-up-situations list would do exactly that. So it comes down to him not being truthful but decent in that regard.

      (wonder how blockquote turned out…)

    • >But as long as there are no molded in beetle shaped nipples I suppose I’ll live.

      What about a bug credit card?

      • Thank you for a story I don’t find myself second guessing or trying to reformat the rules for how I would have handled it in the same situation. As an old game designer from the era of grognards, I really appreciate a story that runs like that.

        Not to mention, this was a beautiful conclusion to an arc.

  18. Well, let’s start off with the easy stuff. I was wrong about the timeskip, right about Undersiders not being dead, and someone, awhile ago, was right about the name Weaver. Congratulations, whoever you were.

    As for the chapter: WHAT THE HELL. IN A GOOD WAY.

    This chapter was amazing.

    This came exactly when I was pretty much expecting Birdcage. Dammit, when will I stop trying to predict Worm? *smacks forehead* And we have this. Wonder what’s going to happen now, though. Wards? Non-Ward, official superhero? It’s the end of an era, though. I’m going to look back when I read, I don’t know, the S9 ark that was pretty much a perpetual climax and involved a bunch of horrible moments like Brian’s rescue, Bonesaw, Cherish, and so many other horrible things, and think: Ahh, they were all together then, Nostalgia. :)

    I’ve always loved stories with a villain protaganist, so I, if I’m completely honest, am pretty neutral on this. After my initial surprise at her commiting to villainy (insane amounts of Genre Blindness, I know, I know, please forgive me) I quickly started enjoying it more than I’ve enjoyed almost anything I’ve read. So I would be nervous or disappointed, but I’m just really, really excited. I know you’ll do a great job with this, and I’m looking forward to everything that will come of us. How the Wards will react, how other heroes and PRT and Protectorate employees, Interludes and Bonus Chapters, problems with being on different sides of the war with people who she loved enough to just commit revenge murder for, and the rest of the plot, of course. Still so much to learn about Cauldron, powers, Scion, and the portal world. This is the first chapter I don’t feel much of a cliffhanger for. Not that there isn’t one, there’s a huge one, I’m just so in shock I can’t really think like that.

    • I think it’ll be hard as hell for Taylor trying to fight on the hero side of the equation. The kind of PR management she’ll need would be worse than Sere’s.

    • I think Wildbow’s power is the ability to direct plots in a completely unpredictable manner.

      …Presumably, that power can also be applied to arrows.

    • The thing is, I’m quite keen about reading Taylor’s efforts as a Hero.

      Because she’s got the whole “World’s most famous villain” hanging over her head as she does it. That is going to be a lot of fun.

      • > Because she’s got the whole “World’s most famous villain” hanging over her head as she does it.

        I doubt she would place higher than second-most-famous — Jack Slash and Nilbog have been around a lot longer — but yeah, things are liable to be interesting going forwards.

  19. You hit another one out of the park, Wildbow, leaving me emotionally confused. I’m happy that Taylor is a hero now? Sad that she’s leaving the undersiders (especially Rachel)? Hopeful about her new “family” relationship with Dragon? Terrified that Taylor’s getting accumstomed to lying and manipulating the public? … my mind is even more blown than it was the past few chapters.

    • Perhaps she can make the Undersiders into heroes too. Or keep working with them unofficially to coordinate against serious threats.

      Seriously though, Tattletale needs to become a Hero so she can coordinate with Dragon.

      • Put Accord, Tattletale and Dragon on a teleconference call together. Every problem this world has,short of the Endbringers, would be solved in a matter of days. Plan, detail, execute.

        • Holy shit yes. With all of the thinkers working for the PRT, I would hope one of them would realize that at least a Tattletale/Dragon discussion might be possible now.

            • Skidmark is the stupidest cape name in Worm, nothing comes even remotely close. Might be a case of lost in translation, though… My immediate association with a skid mark is not related to vehicles (no licence), but bathroom hygiene. Paired with his foul mouth, general behaviour and promotion of drug addiction, well, he rubbed me triply wrong.

          • @comickry Given both his power and his attitude, I think Skidmark’s name was pretty spot on. He was meant to be an offensive character.

            • I know! And it works wonderfully! He’s rubbing me wrong three ways from sunday! You know, this is one the few cases where I can both love and hate an artist for evoking the feelings they do, spot on in desired and disgusting effect.

  20. Hey since the Undersiders are now working with the good guys (or something like that) doesn’t this mean that Flechette is back working with the PRT? That was probably the shortest defection in the history of Wormverse.

    • I actually kind of want to see the Undersiders stay their own separate entity. Of course, I’m sure whatever Wildbow comes up with will rock hard.

      • I think it could go either way. On the one side, none of them actually have particularly villainous motivations — the closest to that are Imp and Regent, who want to kick ass and kick back, respectively — but on the other hand, they have a lot of obligations which tie them to their current villainous role, starting with the Ambassadors.

    • We don’t yet know if the Undersider’s are working for the PRT. After all, if Tattletale defects alongside Taylor, she’ll probably lose all her connections. They won’t want to work for the PRT.

      It would be better to have people on both sides of the hero/villain divide, so that, when need be, you can call upon both sets of forces.

      • I naturally presumed the Undersider to continue being their own entity. Somewhat headless now, but still their own.
        Though in how far they will hold their territories? Interesting. I can see Accord/Ambassadors getting Skitters territory on the condition of sensible treatment of everyone involved, them getting loose, so to speak, or the other ‘siders incorporating the territory and shifting their own accordingly (pun was unintended, but funny in hindsight XD).
        How Rachel will react to Taylors change is anyone’s guess. On the one hand I want them to talk it out, on the other Rachel can’t do that, really. Simmering rage on her part and avoiding each other in general seems a sensible course.

          • She knows the plan, now. “Surrender to the PRT in exchange for amnesty and help the PRT save the world”.

            Actually, given that whatever it is that needs dealing with is supposed to be resolved within two years, she probably has good reason to think that Taylor can visit at some point later on.

  21. mmm i just started reading this back in january and caught up mid feb, this is the first big cliffhanger that had me checking for an update as soon as it could be posted, great job

  22. You know, when / if this is made into separate books, this would be the perfect place to end the tome.

    Now, whose interlude is next (because I assume it’ll be the interlude next time)? Taylor’s dad is a good candidate (with the interlude ending in “welcome home” scene, as Taylor is let out to go home). Eidolon may be very interesting.

    Repeat of Emma’s could be fun (or you could use that third girl no one cares about) – she’d know what PRT members can get away with… Wait, does this mean that Taylor now has to go to school? Awkward!

    Someone in Birdcage (assuming they are getting information form the outside world) would also be interesting.

  23. Wow again. I’m rather impressed at this, however.

    Granted, Alexandria was trying the ‘pressure’ tactic, along with Tagg, but wasn’t seeming to get anywhere until their tragic deaths. Meanwhile, MM, D&D and the non-brain-dead section of the PRT came up with a plan, and implemented it within the space of an hour. That if anything should inspire a little bit of hope.

    My vote would be for a Calle interlude if one could be finagled. He’s just too darn interesting…

    Good work, again!

    • I think Crucible would give us the perspective of several characters we want to see (the Wards and PRT), as well as the potential for interaction with other people outside of those. Though we could also get another Cauldron interlude. Of course, knowing Wildbow, I wouldn’t put my money on anything.

      • I think it’s too soon for another Cauldron interlude … more’s the pity. Anyway, their involvement was left completely unstated — the implication made was that Alexandria was basically doing whatever she did on her own. Heck, it gives an out to Legend and Eidolon as well, implying that the guilt they resigned over was Alexandria’s fault, and that their sin was merely not being aware of it.

        • I actually don’t really want a Cauldron interlude over someone closer to the action right now. An in Ledgend’s defense, he really wasn’t aware of the shadier aspects of Cauldron’s actions.

    • > My vote would be for a Calle interlude if one could be finagled. He’s just too darn interesting…

      …damnit, now I’m actually torn. I dearly want to know Crucible’s deal, but Calle is totally awesome, and probably as well or better placed to deliver plot.

      • I’d prefer the perspective that Crucible could give over that of Calle (i.e. the Wards’ reactions vs. possibly some of the more technical and practical aspects of what is going on). Of course, cycling through perspectives like the news interlude would be good, too. And I’m sure there are many other possibilities, besides.

  24. Glad to see things working out for the first time in quite a long while. Can’t wait to find out what changes this has on the world.

  25. “Five?” Mr. Calle seemed momentarily pained. ”Paper, fast.”
    Man, I love that guy.

    In other news: holy crap this chapter was awesome. …and sad. I hope Bitch and the others will understand.

    We need, like, a month of friggin’ interludes for all the people whose reactions to this I want to know.

  26. Fascinating.

    Dragon’s drawer had a costume for her – of course. Maybe prepared before the high school confrontation, even.

    Not sure she’ll get a chance to say a proper farewell to the Undersiders – who knows, maybe they’ll periodically get together at Faultline’s club. Deniably. Very deniably. Or they can have a reunion at Endbringer attacks. Mr. Calle is likely to at least bring them the terms of truce – the unofficial amnesty, the hands off policy, the fact that MM will run the Brockton Bay PRT… the unspoken, but quite real fact that a serious offensive directed at the Undersiders might well bring Taylor back into the fray. Angry. And, not to belabor the obvious, but you wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.

    Besides, Weaver won’t be stationed in Brockton Bay… but neither is Dragon, and she sure seems to show up often. Probably less often, while the truce holds. The next arc seems likely to be Taylor goes global.

    Accord… will either love this or hate it. Or both. If one of his to-do items on ‘how to run the city’ included ‘get the PRT to help you out unofficially’, well… he might write up a charter for the ideal Taylor Hebert fan-club (it’d take him five minutes, and then another ten to do the website). And have the #1 member badge precisely aligned on his lapel. Which would not help her reformed image at all.

    Villains the world over… what reaction will they have? Skitter took a city, held it, had villains and mercenaries all over on standby for open war unless her demands were met, killed a PRT director, killed Alexandria (they had that word from Tattletale before it became official, and that’s enough to spawn a rumor)… and skated. Got made a sanctioned hero. Got the PRT to second one of the most lethal heroes alive to cover her territory while she went to work for them (people will see Flechette, and assume quid pro quo. It’s too symmetrical not to. And, let’s face it, it’s the less scary hero-villian swap theory – the scary one is that the way to get Alexandria’s job is to kill her, and Taylor aced her job interview). Got the PRT to let her group keep the city, unofficially. For any villain with imagination, they’re going to be wondered where she got the GOOD blackmail, just exactly how scary she must be if the Protectorate was willing to cave to get her on-side… and what her angle is now. Because they know she has one – hasn’t she always? Look at her career – look at how short it is, and look at where it’s gone in that eyeblink of time. She only gets scarier if you examine her more closely.

    Also, villains have to be acutely aware she may well be coming to call on them, to ask if they’ve seen her good friend Jack lately, and otherwise ask them to play nice with the local PRT. She will have rep with the villains in a way which Protectorate heroes never will, because castration by necrotization or filling someone’s eyeballs with maggots is just so very much more vivid than arresting someone. How do you think Rosary is going to feel about having Weaver show up to back her up against the Fallen? How do you think the Fallen would feel? The other side of that rep is that she can probably talk to people who wouldn’t give the time of day to most heroes – because when she says she can make a deal to be off the record, they know she’s been where they are. Heck, they may think she still is – just playing a bigger con than ever.

    Heroes the world over… will be, well, somewhat reassured. A villain who scares you makes for a surprisingly comforting reinforcement, and Skitter was pretty scary. The Brockton Bay Wards… will have some issues. Combined with Flechette switching out, they’re going to have to be wondering if there’s any difference beyond costume color schemes (there are, but right now – I don’t blame them for wondering). There’s probably an opportunity for some awkward Ward/Undersider bonding, as both will likely feel somewhat betrayed by all this.

    Also, Shadow Stalker is clearly going to go villain as soon as she gets out. And she will be angry beyond belief.

    Of course, Alexandria is quite probably alive somewhere, perhaps with compromised lung function, perhaps not, steepling her fingers and saying “Just. As. Planned.” Do not count her dead until you’ve seen at least two bodies (she’s on record as having a body and power double), and perhaps not then.

    Access to a tinker opens up so many combat possibilities it’s hard to count. Access to Dragon, with her bio-engineered ‘pilots’ driving the suits? If Taylor doesn’t have a fleet of ‘dragonflies’ or ‘dragonettes’ with insects or engineered insects piloting them, I will be sorely disappointed. Also, she can now have insects with fricking laser guns, courtesy of Defiant’s genius for miniaturization. At some point soon, it’s going to be hard for people to keep underestimating her.

    Plausible interlude POVs (and I do have a feeling one’s coming up) – Crucible, Calle, Charlotte… more I probably haven’t considered.

      • Thanks!

        So very many new options, still expanding – and I know I won’t have thought of all of them. But it’s a lot of fun to try to map the possibility-space.

        Weaver can quite literally walk in on villains anywhere in the PRT territory, and some places outside, and tell them “It’s simple. Make the city work, keep the citizens safe, don’t kick up too much of a visible fuss, and show up to fight Endbringers – and you’ll be more or less left alone to enjoy wealth and power. Plus, if a less mannerly gang shows up, the PRT will be delighted to have a legitimate target – they’re neighbourly that way, and can save you some trouble. On the other hand, exhibit poor impulse control… and you’ll get another, less polite, and quite final, visit from someone like me. Consult Tattletale (reasonable fees!) if you want further advice on the Undersider franchising policy; consult Dinah Alcott (less reasonable fees) on general issues; consult Accord if you have OCD (free, if you actually follow his instructions; probable torturous death if you don’t). Also, I was never here and never said this. Do NOT make me go to the trouble of denying it – we both know that I could tracelessly kill you with one mosquito and some properly tainted blood, or just by having some insects lay eggs in your nasal cavity while you sleep, to eat their way out through your brain once they hatch… but I do go on. Ta.”

        Not that she’d be that explicitly manipulative… but hey, she’s been learning from Bakuda and Jack Slash – who says she can’t learn politics from Miss Militia? And hand to hand from Armsmaster? And who knows what else from whom else?

        Even without transitioning Taylor Hebert into the Godfather, nothing succeeds like success. And the Undersiders have a previously rare blend of low-impact high-reward high-civic-involvement crime that is going to have a lot more imitators in the near future, some cruder than others, as people try to emulate the very model of a modern super-villainess (chorus – “she is the very model of a modern super-villainess”, etc.).

        Side note – if she’s hand-in-glove with Dragon, the Saint is going to come calling at some point. Then again, the Saint seems to have relied on Dragon being a lawed AI… and circumstances have somewhat changed. Quite possibly enough that he’d get sucker-punched, hard and perhaps even conclusively, the first time he tried anything. Plus, good luck jamming the way Taylor’s controlling her remotes.

        • “Weaver can quite literally walk in on villains anywhere in the PRT territory, and some places outside, and tell them ‘It’s simple.’ ”

          She’s already done that: “I seized a territory in Brockton Bay… I was secure in my position. I had wealth, friendship, love and respect… It was everything I’d ever wanted… I could have stayed and been comfortable.”

          Smart villains will take notice of this, especially if they want to give Brockton Bay a try. Skitter’s actions up to this point, especially if stuff like “running an orphanage” starts to circulate, serve as a picture-perfect guidebook on “what to do if you want to fly under the PRT’s radar.” If they start to make trouble, she can send a bug-clone with something approximating an ultimatum.

          • Perhaps. The fact remains that Skitter had the cushiest position in all of Brockton Bay up to her turning herself in, and villains would not be amiss to emulate her tactics.

          • That’s very sensible. Only thing is, many (most?) villains are not sensible people – they’ve been reshaped by their powers to one extent or another.

            Worse, those with enough power to effect massive benevolent supervillainy, like Accord and Blasto, tend to be the most led astray.

    • Those are some damn good notes, notes.

      As far as Alexandria being alive, did they really not find a body? Damn, I want a confirmed kill, and that’s about as far from that as you can get without an actual on-screen appearance.

      And holy shit yes, with Dragon and Defiant making things for Weaver, she’s about to get WAY more potent. And that’s saying something. In addition, imagine if Dragon can get her hands on Dodge’s tech. Combine that with Armsmaster’s ability and you’ve got hundreds of pocket dimensions full of thousands of bugs each, concealed in Weaver’s suit. And with Glace’s stuff, they could be kept in there indefinitely. In fact, despite S9 taking them, I would hope it would be possible for them to get their hands on at least some piece of each of their works, considering they were part of a collective that sold their services around the world. PLEASE tell me someone on Taylor’s side has the small amount of common sense to realize this.

      As for interludes, Crucible was my first choice out of the characters that come to mind, but Charlotte would actually be really good too. Or maybe the new Flechette? I’m not super picky though; I’m looking forward to it no matter what.

      But for real, someone has to notice the potential for a Hyperspace Arsenal.

      • Rereading the chapter, it seems to me that Alexandria is a confirmed kill. At least, I would hope that Dragon and Defiant wouldn’t be so stupid as to simply assume one of the most powerful capes in the world died without a body to be sure.

        And again, Hyperspace Arsenal. I mean come on.

        • If Alexandria was planning to fake her death (or even had that on standby as a contingency plan on general principles)… it’s easy to fake. Soar up, ask Doormaker to send through the dead body and power double, then exit stage Cauldron for a refreshing lung wash followed by plotting.

          Agreed a hyperspace arsenal would be useful, for pretty much everyone… but Dodge himself didn’t use that trick to our knowledge, and other tinkers are unlikely to have his knack with dimensions. If Dodge’s issue was just with miniaturizing it enough… maybe. Maybe.

          • Oh, right, doubles. Shit.

            With the description of Dodge’s abilities in 22.2, and considering his devices could be used to disappear the entirely of Toybox (Without intrisically causing the deaths of its inhabitants. I would point out the possibility that such a feat would only be possible with the use of Glace’s specialy, although I consider it unlikely, due to the fact that at least one of them would have to be conscious to bring them back to Earth Bet. The only workaround I could see to this is some meddling with their biology on Bonesaw’s part), I would assume the same theory could be applied to an army of bugs.

            As for nobody else sharing his area of expertise, assuming that Defiant was correct in diagnosing Dragon with a trigger event, making her a true tinker, and assuming that Taylor was even close to being right in her assesment of Dragon’s tinker specialty (copying the specialties of other tinkers), I would think that even a small piece of Dodge’s tech would allow her to replicate the effect to some degree (after all, even if it wasn’t that good, pocket dimensions were his specialty, so even some of his earlier work would surely be able to make one). Even if Taylor was mistaken, I’m sure Dragon could at the very least copy the device itself. And as I mentioned earlier, I would wager some piece of his equipment must be floating around, capable of being tracked down by Dragon, seeing as how Dodge was in the business of selling his services. Similar theory in the case of Glace, whether it would mean a solution to potential instant death upon entering a pocket dimension, or simply the capability to store bugs indefinitely.

            As far as shrinking down the devices themselves, whether or not Dragon has acquired Defiant’s skill for herself or not, Defiant would be there himself to help. In my opinion, all it takes is for one person to realize this. And with all the practical thought and common sense we’ve seen from her, as well as the fact that she actually possesses all of this very information (Dragon being an AI an ultimately unimportant factor in this scenario), I would hope she could come to this conclusion. I do believe she’s been shown to ruminate on the possibilities of combining the talents of others in creative ways (other than the obvious one in the Echidna fight), or at the very least contemplated what she would be able to do with tinker-made gear. The only real reason I can see for this not to occur to her is the danger that it could give her nigh-Story Breaking Power.

          • Looking back at 22.2, it never explicitly guaranteed that any or all of the tinkers in Toybox ever sold their own technology, persay. Of course, I would definitely not discount the possibility, and if any of Dodge’s devices do exist outside of Toybox, I would hope Dragon would be capable of getting at least the chance to analyze them, especially for something that could change the game as drastically as that.

          • By the way, by no means do I want at any point to seem as though I believe I know how best to direct the story. I only think I have a kind of neat theory, and like discussing potential ways powers could be used together.

      • Dragon is noted to be something of a packrat, collecting other tinker’s work, because her gift is combining and improving upon other tinker’s designs. Naturally, the Protectorate tinkers network and put all their specs on the secure server, along with the designs of conquered villains. Do you think Dragon would be the greatest tinker in the world, though, if she restricted herself to the PRT database? I think she’s been a frequent customer of the rogue tinkers.

    • Just realized – who has the unedited interrogation video, beyond the very top of the Protectorate? MM, Chevalier, Dragon, Eidolon, probably Legend despite his retirement… but also Tattletale via Calle, very likely. Danny won’t have a copy, but he was there himself. Even knowing how it ends, the Undersiders are likely to have very strong reactions to watching Alexandria taunt Taylor with their captures/death… to Taylor saying that they’re people she loves, which she may have never said, even to Grue.

      “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.” [...]
      “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.”

      Not just those – the lines about betraying everything they helped her become, so many others – that whole update reads very differently if you know the Undersiders are in the audience later. It says many of the things she might have said to them directly, if she’d dared to risk tipping them off.

      And of course, once she thought she’d lost one of them, the gloves truly did come OFF. In a way they’ve never seen before, in a way no one on Earth had ever seen before. And then Alexandria and Tagg both died for their (pretended) offense.

      Might go some way to helping them deal with her heel-face turn.

      Regent, fond as he is of needling, would probably bug Bitch and Grue about which one she’d kill for (assuming they can figure out that she didn’t know who was supposed to be in the bodybag), and joke that he and Imp clearly didn’t mean that much to her (though I think even he would be touched, or at least figure that he ought to be).

      • this is why I’d love a reinvented-Flechette interlude – the reaction of the undersiders is really the most interesting one and she is the only ‘member’ who hasn’t had an interlude yet

        • Charlotte hasn’t had one. Forrest hasn’t had one. Both of those are in plausible positions to, e.g., be at the ‘watch Skitter’s interrogation tape’ party. Both of them would have legitimate concerns about whether she’d abandoned them.

          Heck, that group of kids she was keeping in her hideout? Wonder what they thought of her? They had to have noticed everyone else feared Skitter, but they also had to have noticed that their mother and father figures (Sierra, Charlotte, Forrest) deferred to her, and that she was the one who brought ice cream and pizza. And it’s quite likely they noticed she kept the bad people away – the kids saw most of the confrontation with Jay and the other two ex-ABB who tried to turn on Sierra/Charlotte while Skitter was busy ‘dealing with the Nine.’

          In all honesty, I’m wondering if some kindergartner is going to show up in class tomorrow and tell his or her previously skeptical friend “I was SO staying with Skitter, and she is SO a hero. See? It was on TV yesterday and everything.”

          Even if not, that’s the kind of thing the PRT PR would love – saving orphans is a cliche for a reason. Some villains, the ones who see the PRT as just another gang, will laugh at the obvious implausibility of Skitter – SKITTER! – taking time out from her orifice-violating insect rampages to run an orphanage out of her secret lair, and take her seriously. The smarter villains will see it’s real… and think that it takes a very special sort of person to smilingly tuck an orphan in to bed, and then go out and infest someone’s eyes with maggots by way of expressing offhand, but firm, displeasure… and step very carefully indeed around her. Smiling monsters are scarier – this is almost the entire concept behind the Joker: the fear created by the dissonance between smiling/laughing and ultraviolence. It’s certainly in play for the core S9, as well.

          The very dumb villains indeed will, of course, decide that the best way to build rep is to take down Weaver… but any orphanage PR is unlikely to influence idiots like that anyway.

          Agreed that a reinvented Flechette interlude would be interesting… but later. When things have settled a bit, and there’d be stories to tell about how Parian and Flechette’s detente developed (or degenerated) from its tentative beginnings.

      • Check the Alexandria interlude: “[T]he Doctor thinks she can find a suitable body double with similar powers before the deadline.”

        Current best guess is the Earth Bet Rebecca Costa-Brown, but could realistically be anyone with extensive plastic surgery before taking Cauldron’s serum.

        • Or even without the plastic surgery but disfigured enough by the death.

          “She crashed through an truck fueling station on the way down. From the crater she left only a nearly indestructible body could have been the impact object. Looks like her invulnerability didn’t last after her death though. Bone measurements and dental records are a close enough match though, so we’re calling it as confirmed.”

        • I hate you and your ability to recall details that put a dent in the nice little bubble of happiness I have crafted for myself.

          • @Dinstow: You might be thinking of the Parahumans Online interlude:

            ► Robby
            Replied on July 6th, 2011:
            Two things:
            1) You don’t need to censor yourself.
            2) Doesn’t fit with what we know of alternate Earths. Breakdown of Haywire’s research says we can’t get to alt. Earths that are too close to our own. Closest Earth to our own is Aleph, and deviation from that world started 30 years ago, the moment Scion arrived. Anyone over 30 was born in both worlds, anyone under 30 wasn’t, or the odds are almost impossible (same sperm, same egg, same time of conception required to have the same kid, and that’s ignoring all the environmental influences during the pregnancy, and everything post-pregnancy that shapes the personality.)

            ► TheGnat
            Replied on July 6th, 2011:
            But Alexandria is over 30, isn’t she? It’s not impossible they’d have a version of her.

            ► Robby
            Replied on July 6th, 2011:
            With powers? Improbable.
            I doubt this alternate world we’re talking about is exactly as far away as Earth Aleph, anyways. I’d assume the point of deviation occurred more than thirty years ago, which lowers the chances even more.
            In brief: I doubt we have to worry about Endbringers and an evil Triumvirate. This isn’t the movies, and evil alternates are so overdone.

            • You know, they could very easily get the time of deviation by birth certificates alone. Compare the Alpha and Bet versions and once children aren’t born the same minute anymore (statistically improbable due to random influences) and you’ve got the time of deviation.

          • @Packbat. No, I meant the Migration arc. Although going back to check, it became apparent that I had simply misread something. Though I wouldn’t put it past Cauldron to have taken that Rebecca Costa-Brown for possible use later.

          • > Though I wouldn’t put it past Cauldron to have taken that Rebecca Costa-Brown for possible use later.

            Doctor Mother didn’t have Doormaker when she recruited Costa-Brown.

          • Or be non-existent. Depends on her age. Also, due to the random and erratic nature of cancer and mutagens, she might as well be on a jog in central New York this minute. A person is very miniscule in the throes of the butterflies of doom.

    • Additional interlude candidate for later: Dauntless.

      Doesn’t fit now, but in the calm before the story-ending storm, Citrine could probably get him out of the stasis grenade effect. He was a major league cape, and would plausibly be useful against whatever the final crisis is… and he remembers Brockton Bay before everything changed, could serve as a contrast to where things will be by then. He got up in the morning worried about gang wars now that ABB had been put down hard and E88’s identities were outed, fought Leviathan in the afternoon, and would go to bed in a world where the triumvirate is gone, Brockton Bay is a major interdimensional tradeport, Weaver is a major hero, Miss Militia is his Director as well as his team leader, and the gang furthest down on his morning briefing has been ruling the city for months or years. To say nothing of the casualties on his team and the Wards, and the way even the people he knew just aren’t the same anymore. Armsmaster is literally not half the man he was, but Vista, Clockblocker, and Assault may have changed the most.

      • He actually met the Undersiders once. Tangle 6.7. Regent knocked off his aim and tripped him, Grue goomba-stomped him while they were running past, they fled on Bitch’s dogs (which weren’t affected by his arc-lance), and when they got to the parking garage, Circus and Ballistic basically beat the crap out of him. Skitter and Tattletale’s powers didn’t even come into it.

        • I feel like her Trump power involves a fair amount of Breaking, though whether or not it’d be enough to break the time-bubble is likely a question only Tattletale could answer.

  27. AND THE SUBGENRE CHANGES ONCE AGAIN!

    Thus far we have gone from:
    Highschooler-with-a-Magic-Secret Drama, to
    Adventures in Supervillainy, to
    Post-Apocalyptic Warlord’s Tale, to
    Superpowered City Politics, to
    Hannibal Lecter-style Prison Story, to, finally,
    Superhero with a Dark Past.

    The way this story contains not only events and story arcs leading to a conclusion but also shifts in the very nature of the story being told continues to be fascinating to me.

          • Welcome, Sundeiru, we are always glad to share our enjoyment of the story with more potential vict- converts.

            You know, some people have trouble sleeping because of Worm, so I have been thinking of some things to help.

            Like that little Nursery Rhyme, Three Blind Mice:

            Three blind mice,
            See how they run,
            They shouldn’t have underestimated Skitter.

            And there’s also The Itsy Bitsy Spider:

            The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout,
            Down came the rain and

          • Darn phone button mashing

            Down came the rain and washed the spider out.
            So the spider murdered the clouds and took over the sky.

            And who could forget the classic called Little Boy Grue:

            Little boy Grue, come blow Taylor’s horn

            …let’s just stop that one there. Definitely an After Dark tale.

            Welcome to the comments section, Sundeiru.

          • (And I’ll not let a little thing like bad timing keep me from adding to the welcome)

            Hey diddle diddle, Sere’s pants are piddled.
            Clockblocker jumped out of the room.
            Tattletale laughed to see such sights,
            And Flechette and Parian ran off to spoon.

            Little miss Dragon,
            Drove in her wagon,
            To haul Taylor’s butt away.

            Down came a spider,
            That gave a conference beside her,
            And blew everyone’s minds today.

          • There once was a young girl named Skitter.
            Called that because some girls liked to hit her.
            So she put on a mask,
            bent her back to the task;
            now they cringe and she doesn’t even titter.

            Hmmm. I can do a bit better than that. Let’s change those last few lines a bit…

            There once was a young girl named Skitter.
            Called that because some girls liked to hit her.
            She met a cute guy named Grue,
            then caused a big Hullabaloo,
            and now Grue really likes to see her tit….ter.

            …..Let’s just stick with the first version.

    • I’ve also describe Worm sorta like that to my friends, although I’m a bit more strict. Way I see it (which is probably less accurate than the way you see it) the stories undergone three big shifts. Sorta like this:
      The beginning- New cape on the block
      1st shift: Leviathan attack/aftermath. Obvious change is obvious.
      2nd shift: sometime after chasing off the Nine or Dragon’s attack. Taylor’s “allies” are the only power in town. Story focuses more on problems with Coil and travelers. This shift probably includes up to the end of Echidna.
      3rd shift: This Chapter, with the events leading up grandfathered in. Skitter’s path to Weaver.
      Oh, am I looking forward to this. :)
      (and with exams done I’ll actually have the time to do so. Flutteryay.)

    • She already did so. When she was visiting each of her teammates in turn. She may not have uttered the words, but the motive was rather clear. To me, at least.

      • I think the Undersiders understood as well, or at least realized it during the Parian interlude. Although at that point, Taylor thought she’d either be going to jail, the Birdcage, or hunt S9 (which, just like the Birdcage, would possibly end up being a life sentence, given the danger).

  28. is it paranoid of me to worry that bitch will take this the wrong way and think skitters betraying them again?

    • I think it’s more like a divorce than anything else — yeah, she’ll be pissed, but she’ll be pissed because she didn’t want the relationship to end, not because the end was an attack on her.

      • This way does leave them a little better. I think they can trust her enough by now to know she’s not going to leak everything she knows to them and to know she isn’t going to come after them.

        Plus, she’s created a precedent here. Villains publicly coming forward, taking responsibility, and joining the good guys.

        It’s an abomination, that’s what it is!

  29. Well, I would like to toss out something meaningful, but I have something to get up early for, so I shall go and leave you all to your celebrating of a…bleh…a villain turned good guy. It’s a disgrace, that’s what it is. Benedict Arnold is turncoating in his grave!

    Maybe tomorrow I’ll have some beautiful shit to say about all this, but a least none of y’all would really be expecting that from me anyway.

  30. Wow.

    I have mixed feelings about her vindication coming nigh-immediately after two brutal killings—the fact that Tagg and Alexandria brought it on themselves doesn’t actually diminish Taylor’s responsibility, and all the mitigation that people have brought up is . . . mitigation, not erasure. I have a harder time liking or admiring her post-22.4 than I’ve ever had before.

    Even so, she’s a teenager who’s been through a lot and mostly tried to do the right thing in some awful circumstances, so I was happy that she got a Dragon-hug. Yay!

    Thank you for your writing, Wildbow.

    • It wouldn’t be Worm if choices and consequences weren’t (morally speaking)… imperfectly connected. Nonlethally subdue a villain threatening to kill kids? Get pegged as a villain. Murder a couple of heroes? Get made a hero. “Doing the wrong things for the right reasons” is the series’ motto, after all.

      It’s not as simple or as backwards as that summary made it sound, but this is very clearly a world where there is no justice save that which people make, with effort and often at great cost. Which brings things back to why the heroes who matter are more than just a sub-category of capes, and why the PRT – for all its obvious corruption, authoritarian tendencies, and many, many failures – remains an ideal bright enough to draw Taylor into its service. Because even if the system doesn’t work – and heaven knows, it failed Taylor hard enough that she triggered and then kept on failing – despair isn’t an alternative. They’ll build the new PRT on lies, and then work to make them true. What else is hope but a lie about the way the world is and an empty promise to make it different, waiting to be filled with work?

      • Hee.

        I’m now imagining this as a kind of choose-your-own adventure thing, with the player experimenting to see the necessary conditions to become a hero.

        “OK, I’ll try . . . saving some kids!
        No, that’s villain route.
        What if I . . . put black widows on some people’s lips in the bank?
        No?
        Hm! Right, I should have known better.
        OK, let’s try . . . fighting an Endbringer.
        . . . huh. The Slaughterhouse 9?
        . . . huh. OK, what if I swarmed a hero with venomous insects?
        . . . killed an S-class threat working WITH a hero?
        . . . filled somebody’s eyeballs with maggots?
        . . . surrendered and asked to join the heroes?
        *looks at walkthrough*
        OH! DUH!
        I needed to use SILK against a LUNG to become WEAVER. I can’t believe I missed that on the very first night.”

        ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: A CHOICE OF DRAGONS. You may now become a hero but may no longer develop your relationship with the Undersiders. Remember to give Colin at least a partial credit for your victory!

        • That actually is a perfect summary there, isn’t it? If she’d used silk-lines to catch Lung, Armsmaster would have been more likely to believe her about being a hero, and the method of entrapment would have made it obvious that he wasn’t responsible for the capture. The PRT would all know that she was nice, and even if she had gone the Undersiders route, Armsmasterwouldn’t have had quite the same ability to out her undercover role due to the lack of deception. If the he’s told the whole PRT about her being undercover, then him outing her comes off more as ‘betraying an undercover asset’, rather than something that was viewed as being under his discretion.

      • Taylor wants the PRT to become what she thought it was before she triggered, when she was a little girl. She want the mask to become the face of the organisation.

    • You honestly wouldn’t want revenge if your loved one (either platonic or romantic) was just killed to basically prove a point? I’m almost more surprised that she didn’t go all out on the PRT as a whole rather than simply Tagg and Alexandria.

  31. Well, that went better than expected.

    I noticed there was no point of the announcement that touched on Tagg’s death. Is he going to get swept under the rug or being attributed to evil Alexandria or something? What exactly was his part in the plans anyway. Was he in on Alexandria’s plan or fooled just as Taylor into thinking Alexandria was killing the Undersiders for real? Not that it matters much at this point.

    Despite the dire state of things the heroes are awfully accommodating to a newly minted double-murderess even if the victims were assholes and there were exonerating circumstances.

    I guess the next step would be our new ‘hero’ joining some group of wards in some other city? That doesn’t sound to promising with all the characters we know and love or hate being left behind, but Defiant is right she can’t really stay in her hometown if she wants to be a hero.

    Maybe make her part of a reconnaissance group on the other side of the portal or join up with Dragon and Defiant for a bit?

    It is a shame that Atlas is going to be one the one true victim of this arc.

    If Skitter/Weaver is going to sacrifice her loyal steed to this image makeover Dragon should at least give her a jet-pack or something to make up for it.

    I just had an evil thought: Weaver is going into or head up some program for young reformed villains who want to help save the world. One of the newest members of this group is going to be Shadowstalker and Taylor is going to be her new boss… Okay, probably not, but it might have been fun.

    • My guess for Tagg is… there’s probably a word for it. Here goes nothing: “We are sorry having to report Director Tagg’s death as well. The reason for his unwavering faith in Alexandria are unknown to us, and he has had experience with the aftermath of the devastating Simurgh attack in Lausanne in 2001, but for whatever reason he started shooting us when we tried to apprehend Alexandria. One of his very qualities we admired, tenaciousness in the face of the enemy, was the very quality that prevented us from incapacitating him. He will be sorely missed.”

      • I was lobbying for her merging with or being borged by Dragon to become the new cape ‘Dragonfly’, but no she had to take the name ‘Weaver’.

        If she wants to have a method of air travel appropriate for someone with the name weaver she would have to have a kite parachute like ballooning spiders who rise to high altitudes with silk threads do. This would not be overly impressive so a jet-pack is a good compromise.

    • I can see two answers to that.

      First, I think she’ll stick with her former plan — being an unofficial member of and source of moral guidance to the Undersiders. Given her past interactions with Miss Militia and the Undersiders, she’ll probably act as a conduit of information — free to talk to the PRT because she’s not participating in any of the Undersider’s criminal activities and free to talk to the Undersiders because she’s not interfering with any of their criminal activities — in addition to being a defender of those in her territory from external threats.

      Second, Lily. :D

  32. This was a fairly satisfying chapter. I was a bit disappointed with the last one, and was worried this would head off in a different direction than it ended up going.

    Very curious how Eidolon and Legend are taking things. And the Wards who witnessed Alexandria get taken down firsthand.

  33. ………………………………….
    …………………………………
    ………………………………. :)

  34. I wonder, how many people are going to trigger due to these news? Because you know, Alexandria saved many people, was a symbol to millions, if not billions of men. To learn that she was evil… Well, when Stalin’s corpse was taken out of the mausoleum, there was a wave of suicides in USSR. This, here, is a more devastating bit of news. I can easily see this causing trigger events. Especially amongst second generation capes (to whom Alexandria would be an example).

    Is there an off-chance of Glory Girl undergoing second trigger from this (thus getting at least partially healed)?

    Also, is Mr. Calle the Number Man?

    • Oh man, Calle as the Number Man? I can see that, but I don’t think it quite fits, with the Number Man’s interlude. Plus, Calle is well-known by many others. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it seems very unlikely.

  35. Thank everyone that has donated to keep these wonderful tidbits coming. I’d like to see how Bitch and Tattletale are handling this tern of events.

  36. First off, amazing chapter. I had honestly given up hope that she would ever be considered one of the “heroes”. On an unrelated and completely out of the blue note, I’ve been toying with the idea of a sort of worm-verse style adaptation of D&D, and was digging through the older chapters for the list of the PRT’s classification system for capes, which I found, though I don’t recall there ever being short explanations for each, or if there were I’ve overlooked them. Could someone kindly point me in the correct direction if there is one, whether it be tropes or wiki, since all I have on them is literally just the categories listed in Sentinel 9.1?

    • the parahumans wiki has some speculation on what hey mean. but wildbow has yet to give a thorough explanation.
      I’m trying to figure them out myself right now for a fanfiction I’m writing. Dunno how to rate the powers of my characters (especially the Tinker, Stranger, Trump & Master powers) or how to apply a price tag to them (since the story involves cauldron.

    • I think there’s some info on the wiki, though not quite as much as the chapters have given, and certainly not as much as Wildbow keeps to himself. Unfortunately, any detailed (even only slightly, which for some classifications is all we have so far) descriptions are scattered throughout various chapters. The only one I could personally direct you towards is a (possibly somewhat lacking, I can’t entirely recall) description of Strangers, somewhere around the time they fight Valefor. I think it would be somewhere between Accord’s interlude and 21.5 or 6. Thinker and Tinker are pretty straightforward, I think, as well as Brute, which I believe has mostly to do with how hard of a hit you can take. It might relate to strength as well, unless that’s the Striker class. I can’t remember for sure what Sriker does. I’m pretty sure Master is mostly the ability to create, modify, and/or control other things, and that Breaker is abilities that defy the laws of physics. Blasters shoots things, Movers go fast, Changers change (I think only themselves though, since I believe changing the world around them falls to the Shaker class. And finally, I think Trump was also mentioned early in the Imago arc, as being powers that either counter other powers or adapt to the situation, or more specifically, the powers of the people they are fighting. There might be one other qualification for Trump, but I’m not sure. That’s all I can pull off the top of my head.

      • Trump also covers power mimics (like grue).

        striker is a breaker-ability that can be applied to someone other then oneself at touch-range (for example, clockblocker is a striker).

        also, I’ve been working on a list of values for ratings if you bought them from cauldron. here my speculations (from most to least expensive):

        Trump
        Tinker
        Master
        Stranger
        Thinker
        Shaker
        Striker
        Mover
        Changer/Breaker
        Blaster
        Brute

        based on what we’ve seen in the story so far, as well as the utility aluded to through what we know of the definitions so far (I assumed that versatility counts high in the pricing)

        • I’m pretty sure that Cauldron uses a completely different classification model where the categories are mixed by percentage. Some of them were Jaunt, Aegis, Balance, Prince, Vestige, Robin etc.

          The standard PRT classifications are applied later when they become aware of them.

          • Also, I recall that when Battery bought her powers she gave a vague description of what she wanted (counter Madcap) and they designed it from there.

      • Mostly right.

        Strikers cause a specific effect, but only when they touch something, so it’s the PRT code for don’t let them get close. Panacea, Clockblocker, Faultline and Ballistic are all Striker types.

        Strangers have powers that help with stealth. Imp is the most obvious and visible example. Other than that, there’s Othello of the Ambassadors, and Shadow Stalker was a minor Stranger/Mover, primary Breaker.

        Trumps have different powers at different times. Maybe they adapt to situations, or they can mimic powers or skills. The primary point is you never know if they’re going to pull a new power or ability out their asses. Eidolon is top of the heap, Grue is now also a Trump.

        Brutes are strong and tough.

        Shakers are the big question mark, either an area of effect power or something that radically alters the battlefield. Labyrinth is a Shaker 12, Vista a Shaker 9, and whatsisface, the leader of the Merchants with the rainbow bands was a minor Shaker. Grue may or may not count, though he’d probably be a much lower level than Labyrinth or Vista.

        Breakers can break the laws of physics in selected ways, you’d think everyone who could fly would be a minor one. Legend is primarily a Blaster/Mover, but his interlude provides a Breaker component to his powers. Shadow Stalker, Flechette, Fenja and Menja were Breakers, but again they haven’t factored hugely in the story to date.

        Movers don’t just “go fast” though it’s a great shorthand. They also include flight and teleportation.

        Precogs are mentioned relatively early as a sub-category of Thinkers. It probably helps explain why precogs can’t predict other Thinker’s actions so well.

        The two remaining question marks are “Projectors” like Manton and Genesis, they exist, and everyone knows enough about them that “the Siberian is a projection” is all the explanation they need. But where do they fit? As Blasters with ranged powers, Breakers who create imaginary things that interact with the world or Masters for creating minions? Then there’s telekinetics. Again, Breaker or Blaster?

        Parian is probably listed as a Master, keeping the 3 Masters on a team theme, because of how she uses her powers, to create and control minions. But she’s a telekinetic whose power gives her a fantastic ability to control many small objects with precision, or stuffing by treating it that way. If Parian were a quarter as clever and ruthless as Skitter she’d be an A-S class threat in her own right.

        • I think I expanded on that before already, but why not again.

          The power classifications are basically a threat assessment. Word of Wildbow is, it grew from preparing the engaging agents of institutions in what they are to expect in dealing with. Meaning, you got a caped robbery going, a PRT-team goes in, and the pre-birefing or whatever it’s called is basically “Two assailants, first is Breaker 3, Shaker 2; second is Trump 1 and Thinker 2. There’s some indication for the thinker getting a read on your inner fears and using an appropriate power for attack.”
          That way they have a rough estimate on the style of attacks they are to expect, as well its level. It is in no way descriptive of the power, only how it is applied. Parian for instance doesn’t exactly have a master power, she just uses her power in a way congruent with the basic idea of minions/thralls being controlled by her.

    • You may want to base the adaptation off of GURPS instead. It would be easier since there are rules for super’s already.

  37. Yet another incident of the author hinting at an Undersider death, only to pull out at the end. This makes me sad. I wanted Bitch to die. :(

    • (a) It’s justified in this case, honestly — it didn’t make sense for Alexandria to simply start murderizing people, even if they were crooks.

      (b) You wanted Bitch dead? Why? I only ask because with Skitter’s retirement she’s actually my favorite Undersider.

  38. A very bittersweet episode. Taylor gets her dream to be a hero, but has to formally break from the Undersiders.

    Moment of humor: MM, upon getting named Interim Director:
    “Damn it,” Miss Militia muttered. ”I feel like my lifespan just got cut short. Double the work, too.”

    Also, for some reason Calle’s fear of flight lends a very human note to him. He’s not just Superlawer ™ , he’s the Superlawyer ™ who doesn’t like flying.

    One thing I hope to see in the next arc is Taylor getting another chance to talk with her dad, though he may be scarred by having seen her kill in front of him.

  39. Man, Bitch sure needs to punch Taylor extra hard for leaving this time, right guys? I mean, she’ll eventually go back, right?
    In all seriousness though, great plot development (I hesitate to say “twist” because it would make it seem tacked-on) with plenty of room for mass speculation such as:

    -Where will Weaver go now, since she can’t stay in BB any longer? Going to meet up with the Chicago Wards again, maybe?

    -What happens to Brockton Bay/ the Undersiders/ the Undersider’s minions and partners/ the Ambassadors/ the Wards and other heroes/ the portal?

    -Does Cauldron actually “win” here (given they wanted more parahumans in charge)?

    -What are the actual terms of Weaver’s defection? Like, what rules apply here, does she get to keep the money/ assests made from her villain career (although TT maybe in charge and there could be difficulties getting funds without altering the IRS), and what department is she actually listed under (Wards, Protectorate, PRT, independent, etc)

    -Why does everyone seem to assume Atlas is going to die? I mean, its not like he *is* dead now, he just needs some good R&R, and its not like the Undersiders would just refuse to give Weaver Atlas. Everybody’s hurt here, but no one’s going to be spiteful/ hateful of Weaver, and most they could do is just leave Atlas in an alley somewhere for Weaver to take along later.

    -Does this mean we are entering the conclusion part of the story? (ei. the final plot “arc”)

    -And most importantly, since Taylor has officially broken it off with Grue and not even apart of the Undersiders now, does that make WeaverXClockblocker possible?

    • While Defiant was saying she would have to move, I wouldn’t put money on that.

      Taylor should just have Tattletale help figure out what kind of diet would work for Atlas. It seems like she could do that, once her power’s back up.

      Weaver/Clockblocker? I could ship that.

      • MM walks into the wards office.
        Clockblocker meet your new partner.
        Weaver walks in in.
        Clockblocker jumps out of a window screaming.
        MM looks at Taylor
        “He took that better than I thought he would.”

    • I guiltily ship Weaver and Clockblocker together. Don’t know if it’s possible though; she made a REALLY terrible first impression on him at that bank job…

      • Almost larger in my eyes is the way his wisecracking fell completely (and I mean completely) flat when they were talking after they cut Echidna in half. That she wasn’t amused by his sense of humor seems like a big obstacle to their future romantic relationship to me.

  40. Hold up… Defiant uses present-tense to describe Alexandria’s methods. Does- does that mean that he thinks she survived?

  41. Went to the midnight showing of Star Trek, and then reread this as my sugar high went down. I never want this series to end…

  42. Fantastic stuff! Even with the PRT officially stating that Alexandria is dead and having Eidolon and Legend ominously viewing the interview, I feel like she’s going to be rising from the dead later on in the story. It’s absolutely incredible to believe that Skitter would be able to end a member of the Triumvirate. Initially I felt excited and vindicated for the horrific acts that Alexandria did, but now I feel a bit uneasy, but hopeful.

    Thanks for the chapter! And I hope your week lightened up a bit.

    • Here’s a terrifying thought: Bonesaw can ressurect a person if their body is more or less intact. Even if she died by asphyxiation, it’d be rather difficult for anything to mangle or even disassemble Alexandria’s body. So what happens when the Slaughterhouse 9 returns?

      • I don’t think her invulnerability will persist after the corona potentia or whatever decays from oxygen starvation, but that’s my inference.

        • Then with their new cloning technology, she could rebuild her, make her more Siberian…wait…that’s a horrible idea.

  43. Unrelated to this chapter: I’ve reread Interlude 12 1/2 (Battery). the doctor mentions, that, in the case of leaks, they will mobilize their ‘in-house’ capes to remove the offenders powers and drive them into hiding/kill them.

    at first, that sounded like they had a whole team – but from what we’ve seen up until now, it seems like the only ‘in-house’ cape they deploy to manage leaks is Contessa! meaning that she ALSO has the power of permanently removing the powers of other capes, in addition to whatever power she used to take down faultline’s crew like a bunch of amateurs.

    which also begs the question – can she only remove the powers of Cauldronborn, or of every parahuman? the doctor claims that the removal is not based on a flaw in the process, but on HER (Contessa’s) power. but is her power itself limited to Cauldronborn parahumans?

          • I figure Contessa has something roughly similar going on, because judging by Shamrock the powers of Cauldron enforcers are very subtle and don’t do much physics mangling.

            As for Midnighter, I want to say he’d get his ass kicked because of people like Skitter, Dragon, and the Nine, but frankly there are alot of capes in this setting who are total flakes that he would probably tear to pieces.

  44. I have to say I’m a little dissapointed that she’s officially under the command of the Protectorate, I’m going to guess that somethings going to go horribly wrong, assassination attempt, bad confrontation with vengeful hero, or the PRT tries to exploit and manipulate her service or she’ll learn that being a hero isn’t that much cleaner or fulfilling than being a villain. They’re probably going to be throwing her at Behemoth for sure.

    I hope she can get in touch with the other Undersiders soon, no reason for the heroes to deny her that. Atleast for the sake of avoiding an attack by Rachel.

    • I’m wondering what Assault and Vista (and possibly others I can’t think of) will have to say to her. That’s part of why I want a Crucible arc. He’s right there with the PRT, Wards, and Protectorate.

      • Pfft… like she should care what those losers think.

        Though I imagine they’re going to end up in the same room at some point. I hope Taylor rubs the fact that she killed two of their commanding officers in a row in their faces.

        • I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Taylor is actually really self-effacing when she’s with her allies. Unless Assault tries to bully her, I don’t think she’ll be bringing up anything.

          • Yeah probably, but due to all she’s been through and the recent I can see her getting pissed off enough to lash out if Assault starts snarling at her.

            Remember what she did when Cherish kept mouthing and her bug clone talk with the heroes a while back.

            I’m sure I’m forgetting a few instances where she lost patience with some idiot.

          • My thoughts exactly. She isn’t the type to be in your face with her accomplishments (positive or negative, depending on perspective), but the more I think on her the more Taylor seems a graceful dancer on the spot of morality she defined for herself. She may twist and turn and adapt to whatever moral conundrum is thrown at her, yet she doesn’t leave her spot. Taylor is an immovable object in adaptable configuration.

  45. A question, wildbow: Does Noelle’s cloning count as a Trump power as well as a Master power? and what would Oliver’s classification be? Is he a Trump, since he adjusts to a situation, or is he a thinker/changer hybrid?

  46. Poor Rachel. I wonder if she would try and follow Taylor. I hope she gets the chance to talk things out with her at least. I also kind of want to see what the Wards are thinking right now.

    Does anyone else wonder how the case 53’s are going to react to this now? I do not think this will be enough to make amends but it could open a dialog.

    I know this wont happen, but what if Atlas does have a trigger event because of him starving to death. Panacea’s power could have given him the ability to get a passenger. What kind of power would he get? Maybe some sort of a ray that breaks down whatever it hits into energy that he absorbs which sustains him.

    Overall great chapter that opens a lot of possibility. My hat is off to you Wildbow, you are truly a master of your craft.

    • …That….would be interesting. With the exception of the Endbringers, we don’t know of any non-humans gaining powers, but Atlas is at least a teeny portion human, and moreover he’s the end result of power-usage. What if Atlas triggered and became a 4th Endbringer…..on the side of Skitter?

      • Sorry, Endbringers and Dragon I mean. Frankly, I consider Dragon awesome enough to be counted on Endbringer-scale too.

  47. Heh. Undersiders interlude arc? I know Wildbow said even just on this page that he prefers to only do one interlude per character, but I could see the Undersiders being important enough characters to be exempt from this rule just once.

  48. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a problem.

    If she isn’t Skitter, we can’t call ourselves Skittles.

    Weaverlings? Weaveles? Weevils?

  49. I just figured something out. Perhaps I am slow. Perhaps I am even wrong.

    22.5: But the fact that bugs had spent the time I was out to weave lengths of silk cord? That was unusual, something out of place. It was something I’d taken to having my bugs handle in the background at any given moment, but why would I carry it out in my sleep? I was pretty sure I hadn’t given that order, which left only three real possibilities. Either my unconscious mind had willed it while I slept, or my passenger had. Unnerving.

    22.6: “-When and if I do take up the job,” I finished, speaking around the growing lump in my throat, “You can call me Weaver.”

    It wasn’t her passenger, it wasn’t some random misfiring of her subconscious. It was her subconsciously picking her new name. The spiders weaving webs while she slept was the arachnid equivalent of chanting it. “WEAVER! WEAVER! WEAVER!”

    :p

  50. Honestly, Wildbow, I don’t know how you do it. (Okay, yes, technically, I do, but….)

    I mean, really, this incredibly tender moment has been building not only since the first attack on the PRT, but also from the very first episode.

    I don’t know what else to say.

    Hg

    • It fits. A theme song for Taylor would probably be a little difficult. It would chart her transformation into Skitter, becoming more ruthless while still keeping her morals, and finally turning back into a hero.

      • I suggested “Born to Fight” by Tracy Chapman once — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQ8keIrBMbg — but while some of the lines fit really well:

        But this one’s not for sale
        And I was born to fight
        I ain’t been knocked down yet
        I was born to fight
        I’m the surest bet

        There ain’t no man no woman
        No beast alive that can beat me
        ‘Cause I’m born to fight

        …but there’s a lot of parts that really don’t fit — like, say, the first stanza:

        They’re tryin’ to take away my pride
        By stripping me of everyhing I own
        They’re tryin’ to hurt me inside
        And make me into a white man’s drone

      • I would say that as a song to represent recent events, Ten Cent Pistol http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAIy6jBOgSU is as good as it gets.

        Stars did fall
        Thunder rolled
        Bugs crawled back
        In their holes
        The couple screamed
        But far too late
        Cause a jealous heart
        Did retaliate

        The next passage also works if you assume that “he” is referring to Alexandria.

        Well, he ran around
        Late at night
        Holding hands
        And making light
        Of everything
        That came before
        But there she was
        Behind the door

    • I don’t know if katrikah is caught up to the latest update (they were at 14.11 at last notice), but they posted a comment with five music suggestions to Cell 22.1. I think “Howl” by Florence and the Machine as the Siberian’s theme was particularly inspired, and “The Outsider” by Marina and the Diamonds as Bitch’s theme only a little less so.

      This might be another thread which would be a good fit for the subreddit someone was talking about somewhere.

    • For the Undersiders as a whole, from their engagements with Leviathan all the way through to the ceasefire:

      Ready, Aim, Fire, by Imagine Dragons

    • I’ve actually thought about this quite a bit, more so because some of the songs I listen to kinda fit with some of the characters (at least I think so) so here are a few.
      Grue- (happy, by mother mother) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7JSA71BSe4
      Skitter/Weaver- (dread in my heart, mother mother) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGJdYxjkVBU
      Tattletale- (infinitesimal, mother mother) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffTxXXfGKi8
      Jack Slash- (waiting for the world to end, mother mother) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIm14neXssA

      There’s others that fit, but not quite as well. (that and I don’t want to end up linking a ton of songs here)

      • I like “Dread in My Heart” for Skitter — the devil in her head being that part of her that comes up with utter brutalities when she’s under pressure. It’s subtle.

        I think “Infinitesimal” for Tattletale and “Waiting for the World to End” for Jack Slash are a lot weaker, though (the former seems less about making sense of the world than justifying oneself to some other person who thinks you’re worthless; the latter has a passivity and fatalism I don’t see in Jack), and “Happy” for Grue doesn’t make any sense at all to me (although I like it as a song).

        • It has a lot more to do with the fact that a lot of those songs (by mother mother) tend to remind me of particular characters from worm more than represent them, and definitely more to do with some of the lyrics than the actual tone of the songs. Plus the fact that I started listening to that band around the same time I started reading worm… . On a similar note, I was listening to my long playlist the other day and one came on that I thought fit worm as a whole really well, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was or what it sounded like. I’ll be sure to share if/when I come back across it. Thanks for your take on it!

    • I like these threads, even if I’m so bad at them.

      At least “Asshole” by Dennis Leary is firmly Tagg’s song. I don’t get many right, but that is one.

      Now for me to once again push songs other people don’t agree with.

      I also still like “Misunderstood” by Dream Theatre for Worm as a whole.

      For Jack Slash, I might add the possibility of “Fuck the World” by Insane Clown Posse. Bonesaw wouldn’t care for that one though. Not exactly a masterpiece, but fitting for him, in its own way. Maybe “Total Paranoia” by Serj Tankian instead if that doesn’t suit your tastes?

      Post-Slaughterhouse Cherish can get stuck with something from Sunn O))) for all I care. Droning, long, lots of screams, meant to get a little dark. I’d have gone for “Bathory Erzsebet” since the claustrophobic singer is trapped in a casket to record his vocals for the song, but that song takes 7 minutes before it does much more than ring a bell.

      Now that she’s proven to be worth a damn, I’m sorely tempted to go old school with “Star Spangled Banner” as performed by Jimi Hendrix for Miss Militia.

      I might suggest “Bad Motherfucker” for Regent. The video is more Taylor, but the lyrics are more Regent.

      • > I might suggest “Bad Motherfucker” for Regent. The video is more Taylor, but the lyrics are more Regent.

        If it’s the Biting Elbows song I found on YouTube? Music video is more Mirror’s Edge than anything Worm, but the lyrics are 100% Regent. Great choice!

    • My choices for theme songs:

      Taylor – “Arising Hero” by Funker Vogt http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcXaWlLQXmw

      Brian – “Darkness and Hope” by Moonspell http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqXMkb-WRvg

      Rachel – “Rules of Nature” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b82WavFKbOY

      Regent – “Master Builder” by Absurd Minds http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPDWgBcA3YY

      Coil – “Corruption” by Front Line Assembly http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltXOhbxI1CY

  51. Just now, while I was looking for something else, I found this in 2.6 when the Undersiders were trying to recruit Taylor:

    “I just don’t get why you want me,” I said, “I control bugs. That’s not going to stop Alexandria, Glory Girl or Aegis.”

    Pity she never had a chance to fight Aegis one-on-one, or she could have made it three for three.

    • I honestly think Tattletale should get credit for taking down glory girl. She figured out the weakness to her power after all.

      • True enough — it was a case of Tattletale using Bug’s power in the same way that the cutting of Echidna in half was by Skitter using Clockblocker’s power.

    • I think if you take down Alexandria, that nets you the win over the other two by default.

      Now that she’s inside Dragon’s cozy ass spaceship and isn’t handling so many things herself, I wonder if how far she’s come is finally going to hit her.

      • > I think if you take down Alexandria, that nets you the win over the other two by default.

        I think her bug trick wouldn’t work on Aegis — he could probably breathe through his stomach long enough to get out of range and then go in for surgery to open up the lungs and remove the insects, spiders, and silk.

        …that would be a really interesting fight, now that I think of it.

        • She’d beat Aegis for sure. She was able to make Mannequin retreat, and he didn’t have any very vulnerable weak points either.

          • I can think of one rather gruesome way Taylor could beat Aegis: have her bugs full-on devour him, consuming every little bit of flesh. I don’t think redundant body systems and fast healing can really help you when you are distributed in the bellies of millions of hornets, cockroaches, mosquitos, spiders, and whatever else Taylor throws at him. Even worse if she does it to him from the inside out.

  52. You son of a bitch, Wildbow. That – that was spectacularly done. Incredibly written, beautifully orchestrated, I had no trouble believing that with everything I have. Perfection.

  53. At the beginning, she stood with Armsmaster on a rooftop, planning how to lie to everyone and be a villain that is secretly a hero after taking down a villain who was going to kill the Undersiders. Here, all this time later, she stood with Defiant on a rooftop, planning how to lie to everyone and be a hero who used to be a villain after taking down a hero who threatened to kill the Undersiders.

    There is quite a bit of symmetry in this woven web.

      • Though honestly, this would be an excellent place to end a book.

        Probably about book 8-9 if this was published in hard copy.

        • Though honestly, this would be an excellent place to end a book.

          Probably about book 8-9 if this was published in hard copy. The end of the 3rd trilogy perhaps?

        • Disagree. Too many hanging threads. Window’s set up the end of the world, the passenger entities mystery, the portal to another world and Cauldron. Those need to be at least on the road to wrapped up before he can end the thing, IMO.

    • Also not a surprise. The date of the next bonus update is always posted on the Donate page (which is not the most obvious location for it, I will admit). So there won’t be one on Thursday next week, but the week after that there is one.

        • I’m curious about whether or not Defiant was right in saying that Dragon had a trigger event. I also want to know if Taylor was right about Dragon being able to copy the skills of other tinkers, and whether it is because that is her tinker specialty, or simply because as a computer, she is vastly more capable than a human at reverse-engineering others’ technology.

          • And if Taylor is right, that could lead to some seriously Story Breaking Powers, as I mentioned in my Hyperspace Arsenal rant early this morning.

          • Good point. Worth keeping in mind, we don’t know if what Defiant identified are residues/proof of a trigger event. Also, it doesn’t necessitate a tinker power, either…

  54. Taylor + dragon + defiant + panaceia = dead endbringer.
    If they get Panacea, this group will have the most powerfull combo ever.
    Most stupid thing the prt can do = put Taylor on probation as a Ward under a director like Tagg or Pigot.

    • I don’t know, they’re trying to get rid of the corrupt and deranged from the PRT right? Going by the last 3 directors in Brockton Bay, putting Taylor anywhere near them tends to get them removed from office one way or the other.

        • Fine in Brokton Bay, but if things were nice in New York, for instance, Fletchete would have being better supported there and they would find a way to solve her constant relocation problems.
          Probably the whole institution has problems, like actually every single bureaucratic institution that I know of.
          Besides, if MM is in an office filing form 2B, that is, request to open a public procurement to hire a company to fix damaged local PRT vehicles, talking to suppliers, looking at technical details necessary to avoid a bad company from winning the bid … She will NOT be outside fighting alongside her team.
          And if you think that form 2B can be sent to the legal department so that they will look at it, you never worked in a place like the PRT seems to be.
          The lawyers will simply open a bid for lower price with no technical specifications and soon you will see your vehicles breaking in the middle of normal patrols.

          • An Agency Director – para human or not – has a secretary to handle that side of things.

            Miss Militia’s power is that she shoots things. She’s only really needed on the streets when the excrement hits the rotating blades. But she can do half of her coordinating while on patrol and the other half from her office.

    • I’m pretty sure (90%) that that was implied in the deal, seeing as it was one of Taylor’s main points, with the other being the “restructuring” of the PRT.

  55. I know Worm doesn’t lend itself to that, but I’d like to read some funny stuff once in a while. Just don’t know if Wildbow has the qualities for a funny writer… this is not a challenge or anything, it’s merely an observation on talents in a writer; some have a hang for funny, others for drama, etc.

      • More the pity. But like I said, this is no reproach, just an observation. Probably why I like the few funny bits (Regent’s request of a goatee for his clones) moreso, because they contrast the general vibe or the story.

      • Aaaand that’s part of the reason I make sure to thank people for their donations here in the comments. Keeps them from slipping through the cracks. Paypal folded your donation into a chain of replies and I must’ve accidentally clicked past it.

        Thank you, Naeddyr. It’s been added to the total. Very sorry about that.
        /embarrassed.

          • I haven’t been around for long, but I guess the last few chapters have resulted in a lot of messages coming your way.

          • I’ve been getting a lot of emails anyways. I maintain different emails for friends/family and for writing, and the writing email account is getting maybe 10-30 emails a day. 2/3rds of those are questions about the setting that I can’t answer (thus question 1 & answer 1 of the FAQ). Maybe 1/6th are people wanting details or answers regarding their fanfiction.

  56. I wonder, how many people are going to trigger due to news of Alexandria dying? And is there any chance of Taylor meeting any of them.

      • One person had an interesting comment on the subject, actually, mentioning suicides when the news of Stalin’s death was released. I can imagine a couple of people triggering when they find out the person they’ve looked up to their whole life not only dies, but turns out to be a traitor as well. I mean, Prism(?) triggered due to the stress of her athletic failure.

      • Miss Militia considered Taylor’s mother dying a significant enough event for her to trigger.

        Alexandria was a symbol to billions. An idol to millions. How many people did she save? How many did she save from Simurgh, so they now have to wonder, WHY she saved them and not others?

        How many fans did she have? How many obsessive fans? For them, Alexandria dying would be at least as bad as Taylor’s mother dying would be for her. Alexandria turning out to have been a traitor of the whole human race for a long time would be worse.

        What about second-generation capes? She was likely the role model for most, if not all second generation cape girls out there – someone they hoped to become when they grew older. How many of them grew up on stories about her? And they have lowered trigger needs.

        And then there are those civilians who would realize what Alexandria dying would mean globally.

        So, yeah, I can easily see Alexandria’s death causing at least several trigger events.

        • Some people did the public mourning thing when Princess Diana died in a car crash. Weird, but people who get obsessed with celebrities can start thinking of them as family. Alexandria would be the sort of celebrity who triggered obsession in some people.

          That said it’d likely only be a contributing factor. Something else would probably also have to happen when they were still affected by the loss to push them over the edge. The same sort of background problem likely contributed to Taylor’s own trigger event with the general bullying which didn’t trigger her powers on its own.

          • Also, since they think that Alexandria had been duping them, they may trigger out of anger. But… I’m just gonna trust that Wildbow knows best, for obvious reasons.

      • I dunno. Imagine seeing your OWN face appearing on the television as a terrorist, pedophile, and mattress tag cutter. Now imagine it happening in a public place.
        While you’re out with friends and family.
        And there happen to be a couple known-trigger-happy cops sitting right next to you, just as they say something about you being heavily armed and possibly carrying explosives…

        Tell me that your fight or flight reaction isn’t going to be screaming at you louder than a year’s worth of Manowar concerts.

  57. Any chance that the passengers are “bugs”(hence the title of the story) or that they have weak nervous systems?

  58. A mistake…. seems so unlikely in a way. If Alexandria really primed Taylor to consider drowning attempt by staging a fake water fight with TT and then really provoked Taylor by faking the death of one of her teammates shouldn’t she had been expecting exactly what Taylor did? Wouldn’t it be likely that she also set up some plan to deal with the attempt. Perhaps she did and Alexandria really didn’t die? It is all very confusing.

    • For now Alexandria Thinker status makes her at least eligible to predict some sort of reaction, especially if her mentioning of drowning was baiting her. And we did not actually see her die, only in danger thereof, so we only have the word of Defiant to call upon for Alexandrias demise. On the other hand, the only known resurrection we know of is at the hands of Bonesaw, and she was supposedly out of action/plane for the time, so if she died, there is no prior precedence of any cape coming back from the dead, right? With the exclusion of all those with regenerative powers skirting on the brink of death, but even they stay dead (Aegis, Crawler, …), if they’re sufficiently killed.
      So for now and for us, both possibilities have merit, I think.

  59. That was such a crazy chapter, I can’t stop reading. I was shocked with how that ended, seriously I thought she would be in the birdcage trying to ed ape with panacea or something..

  60. Taylor stands by what she did? Interesting.

    Now, I was rooting for Taylor’s group to lose since they took over territories. I was rooting for Taylor personally to suffer a significant loss since the incident at the mayor’s house. Now? Well, you’ve created a world with characters who can kill people over several very painful years. If this story somehow ends with Taylor safe and happy, I’m going to imagine that one of them gets her immediately afterwards.

    This isn’t a slam on the writing, I hope that’s understood. You do an excellent job of portraying a morally ambiguous character. But I feel the morally ambiguous characters she fights against are more sympathetic than her and that she’s let her tunnel vision and hypocritical thought patterns turn her into little more than a monster in human skin.

  61. Rereading, I was reminded that Taylor was once a huge fan of Alexandria before she got her powers. That she wound up killing her is way more tragic than it felt first time through.

    Also, the mass howlings makes me want to cry every time.

  62. So Tattletale gets a call from a PRT phone and doesn’t bother with a password? Taylor is using a PRT phone and doesn’t bother to check that she’s actually talking to the person she dialed?

    But yeah, Skitter is absolutely baddass. Literally killed one of the strongest heroes with her eyes closed.

  63. This is both my favorite and least liked chapter. On its own, it’s powerful, and I’m so very glad to see how badly Alexandria screwed up. There’s a lot of emotion in it. However, it ends with her as Weaver, and I dislike the Hero Arc so much. I don’t know, but I think I would’ve liked the rest of the story much more if she managed to stick with the Undersiders somehow.

  64. Okay first off, this could potentially be a long post. I have a few thoughts to work through. Secondly, this is a re-read for me at the moment, so I’m coming at it from the perspective of knowing how it all turns out. To first-time readers of the story, warning: possible spoilers. I don’t know how many people are still reading the comments or posting so no one may even read this.

    Warning: Possible Spoilers.

    Anyway, like I said, I’m re-reading. I’ve decided at this point to take a complete break from the story because it’s become too frustrating for me. That’s not a criticism per se, if anything it’s praise that a story can emotionally affect me that much. In any case, the reason is that I’m finding Taylor to be much, *much* less sympathetic the second time through. On my first read I was carried along by the narrative and honestly didn’t think too much about a lot of the implications. Not so this time. It’s been noticeable up to this point but this is where I find it too frustrating to continue.

    Basically, I’m more-or-less on Tagg’s side up to this point. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a complete dickhead; intransigent and stubborn. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s *wrong*. To me, Taylor is basically in the wrong here and I’m not really seeing any way of interpreting it differently.

    Let me start with the overall situation. Neither Taylor nor any of the Undersiders have any right or legitimate claim to the power they wield. The political situation they’ve established – that Taylor wants the PRT to sign off on – is ultimately untenable. Sure, Taylor herself looks after the people she controls. Good for her. But a benevolent dictatorship is still a dictatorship. And the underlying point of a dictatorship is that people don’t get to choose their dictator, nor do they have any real protection from one. Danny himself brought up this very point in an earlier chapter, and Tagg brings it up as well, but Taylor never actually addresses it.

    Taylor knows that she’ll never turn on her own people; demanding protection money, inflicting violence etc. But she refuses to acknowledge that the authorities – or indeed anyone – don’t have access to her inner thoughts and have no guarantees for her future behaviour. The same is true for the other Undersiders, and for that matter we don’t really know in any great detail how the others are treating their people. Is Alec really as benevolent as Taylor? We already know that Rachel severely injured a lot of innocent people. And of course, dictatorships change hands. None of them are invulnerable or infallible. If they keep on as crime lords then sooner or later someone else will take them down and replace them. Will their replacements be so benevolent? I doubt it. Again, this comes up in-story but Taylor herself never addresses it.

    Similarly, she never addresses it when Tagg brings up that other villains are trying to recreate the Undersiders’ success. She doesn’t consider the precedent of setting up a parahuman dictatorship on US soil. Even if she can rationalise that she’s causing less damage than the villains before her, is that going to be true everywhere? Will it always be true here? Again, there are no safeguards in a dictatorship. No oversight. No recourse.

    So she decides to come in strong with her demands and threats, utterly failing to consider that even if Tagg *wanted* to accede to them, which he doesn’t, he *can’t.* Taylor is literally demanding that an agent of the democratically elected United States government not only provide amnesty for the past actions of a gang of crime lords (possibly acceptable) but *allow them to continue operating as an independent authority with tacit support from the actual government.* And not only that, but she backs it up with the threat of violence. That is an absolute, incontestable example of terrorism, pure and simple. There is no way any government representative can accede to those demands. They just can’t. It’s untenable on the face of it.

    I think that’s Taylor’s basic problem throughout this entire chapter. She thinks she’s dealing with Tagg and Miss Militia the people. She’s not. She’s dealing with Tagg and Miss Militia the law-enforcement officers. Tagg and Miss Militia the government representatives. Again, even if they wanted to accept Taylor’s terms – and Tagg certainly doesn’t – they couldn’t. A government that cedes its sovereignty and legitimacy to the demands of a tin-pot warlord is no government at all.

    The thing is, Taylor went about her goals in entirely the wrong way. She could literally have not chosen a worse way to get what she wanted. Marching into the PRT, nominally surrendering (even though she’s not really surrendering in good faith) and then making unreasonable demands on threat of violence, this was literally putting the PRT into a position where they had no choice but to fight back. It makes sense from the perspective of Taylor’s character – the history of bullying, the mistrust of authority, the inability to cede control – but those are character *flaws.* We’re not supposed to cheer for her. Hell, she’s given a counter-offer – Undersiders released but not allowed to go on being crime lords, Miss Militia acting as behind-the-scenes leader with a normal human figurehead – that’s vastly better than anything she could have possibly hoped for and still shoots it down because she is incapable of compromise.

    I could go into so many other details about how Taylor’s behaviour throughout this arc has pissed me off. Her anger at her father being brought into the situation, even though she’s a minor and he pretty much has to be brought in. Her accusations that Tagg refuses to compromise, when she is guilty of exactly the same thing. The way she uses the threat of the Undersiders attacking, and then states that it would be the PRT’s fault for not caving to her ridiculous demands. “Do what I say or I’ll hurt you, and it’ll be your fault for getting hurt because you didn’t do what I said” is not a reasonable position to take. It is, frankly, the position of a bully. The way she brushes aside Alec’s monstrous actions, and her own accessory to them, with the implication that he’s not a *real* murdering rapist. Even though that’s exactly what he is. I could go on but this is getting long enough already.

    Basically, throughout the story Taylor is guilty of extreme moral myopia. She’s able to rationalise her own actions because she knows her own intentions, knows she doesn’t really want to hurt anybody, and believes she’s working towards the greater good. But she refuses to extend the same courtesy to others. She never tries to look at things from alternate positions and viewpoints. She always assumes the worst of other people’s intentions. Once again, this is understandable given her character and backstory (and by her age, 16 year olds aren’t famous for their empathy and broad-mindedness), but we shouldn’t be cheering her on.

    And then she commits straight-up cold-blooded murder. Tagg was a massive jerk, fine, but he was an officer of the law carrying out his duty. He may not have gone about it in the optimal way but he never did anything to be worthy of his final fate. He wasn’t even responsible for the apparent death of one of Taylor’s team-mates. That was all on Alexandria, who both out-ranked him and had vastly more raw power than him, so he had no way of stopping her actions. Even if he had been responsible, revenge murder is still murder. And the best that Taylor can come up with as an excuse is that he’s a bully? And everyone else goes along with it? If this was supposed to be the point in the story where the reader loses all sympathy for the protagonist – Walter White poisoning Brock for example – that would be one thing. But nothing comes of it.

    I’ll bring this to a close before it gets even further away from me. Taylor just has too many flaws at this point in the story, with too few people calling her out on it and too few consequences. Inability to communicate. Inability to trust. Inability to consider the other side’s viewpoint. Inability to compromise. Hypocrisy, and more. That these flaws are natural and organic to her character are a testament to Wildbow’s skill as a writer, but for me as a reader it’s come to the point that my frustration with the character is starting to outweigh my enjoyment of the story, especially considering I know she never gets over or comes to terms with these flaws. In many ways, Worm is a greek tragedy, in that it’s the story of a character with a fatal flaw and their inability to overcome that flaw.

    Whew, my first comment. Didn’t mean for it to be that long.

  65. Wow that was awesome. I’d write more but I’m trying to parse everything so I’ll leave it short an simple for the moment.

    Love the new name by the way.

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