Drone 23.1

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“Weaver,” the voice had a slight digital twang at the edges, to the point that I thought it was Bakuda for a second, even if the two voices were entirely different.

I lowered my book.  Defiant stood in the doorway to my cell, flanked by two of the prison guards.

I swung my feet to the ground, simultaneously sitting up.  “If you’d asked me a few weeks ago, I’m not sure I would have believed that I’d actually be happy to see you.”

“You’ll be coming back,” he warned me.  “This is a temporary leave.”

“I know,” I said.  I marked the page in my book, placing it in a corner, where it joined twelve others.

“And yes, I’m not surprised you had hard feelings.  We weren’t on good terms then, and even now…”

He didn’t finish the sentence.  Even now, we aren’t friends?

“A lot of books,” he noted the stack of prison library books.  “You’ve read them all?”

“Yeah.”

“In seven days?”

“Lots of time to myself.  I don’t have classes, but I have homework and self-study, and that cuts into reading time, or I’d have read more.  But it’s kind of nice, if you ignore… pretty much everything else.  I’ve had time to think for the first time in months.”

“I know what you mean,” Defiant said.  “I remember worrying every day if that would be the day innocents were caught in a crossfire between Coil and Kaiser, or the day a member of Empire Eighty-Eight was initiated into the group, with the requisite assault of an ‘acceptable target’.”

I grimaced at that.  He extended an arm, indicating I was free to leave the cell.

He continued as we walked, flanked by the guards.  “…And then there was the team, handling the internal politics, Assault’s harassment of Battery, the Wards and their individual issues.  The countless requests for appearances, for photo shoots, interviews, and demonstrations, figuring out which have to be accepted, which can be turned down, knowing that too many refusals in a row could mean a negative article.  And then there were the threats, of course, dealing with powered criminals.  Every team member becomes a resource, and those resources have to be allocated judiciously.”

“And in the midst of all that, you’re still trying to find time for you,” I said.

“Free time is the easiest thing to sacrifice,” Defiant said.  “It costs you, to give it up, but there’s little guilt.  Time to yourself is best spent preparing.  Developing new technology, strategizing, adjusting equipment-”

“Weaving costumes, pre-preparing lines of silk,” I said.

Defiant nodded.

“I may have inadvertently screwed Miss Militia over,” I said.

Defiant shook his head.  “She’s a natural leader.  I wasn’t.”

“That might make it easier to handle,” I said, “But she’ll still be in a position where she has to worry, has to prioritize and make sacrifices, and I don’t know if she asked for it.”

“She’ll manage,” Defiant said, as if that was that.  I couldn’t tell if it was trust in his teammate or if he wasn’t particularly empathetic on that front.  Miss Militia was the one who’d supplanted him as team leader.  Were there still hard feelings?

We stopped at the end of the hallway, and the guards stopped to check in at the control station that managed which doors opened and when.  There were procedures for seeing a prisoner out, and it took some time.

I could see into cells near the gate.  Prisoners glared at me.  I was a villain to everyone who had a grudge against supervillains, a hero to everyone who had a grudge against ‘cops’.  A traitor.  A murderer.  The person who’d killed one of the strongest heroes in the world.  Who’d killed someone who had fought for decades to save the world, again and again, and who may have doomed us all.

The other prisoners were still trying to assess me, I was pretty sure.  Nobody spoke to me or approached me when we filed off to get our meals or when I visited the library.  The words printed on my uniform were probably daunting for the unpowered.

The judge had seen fit to assign me to a close security prison, a wing in a medium security facility.  It was somewhat backwards, as rulings went, everything taken into consideration.  I’d been charged as an adult, for one thing, so juvenile detention was out.  Too many crimes under my belt.  I was apparently too dangerous for a minimum security institution, but the PRT had asked for leniency, and this was the compromise they’d come to.

As far as I could figure it out, it was everything I might have expected from a medium security prison, complete with a station that controlled the opening and closing of cell doors, constant supervision, and escorts wherever we went.  The only difference was the emphasis on programs.  We were here to be rehabilitated, to find work, get an education and get therapy.  All mandated.

I’d already started studying.  Now, with Defiant here, I’d get okayed to start other projects.  I hoped.

The warden was waiting for us in the ‘hub’, the room with benches where we’d waited to be assigned to our cells.  She wasn’t what I’d expected from a person in charge of a prison.  She made me think of a stern teacher, instead.  She was old, pushing sixty if not well past it, and ramrod straight, and thin.  Her graying hair was tied back into a short braid that didn’t quite reach the bottom of her neck.  She was tough in a gnarled, craggy sort of way, like the veteran actors of cowboy movies, but female.

“Taylor Hebert,” she said.

“Ma’am.”

“Every rule in my prison applies while you’re outside.  You know this.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I know you capes are magnets for trouble.  If a fight happened to erupt while you were en route and it came down to you fighting back or getting stabbed, I expect you to get stabbed and then graciously thank your attacker, you understand?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“That said, best if you don’t get hurt.  Running would be preferrable, so long as you don’t run.  Trying to escape would be the worst thing you could do, and it wouldn’t succeed.”

“You want me to stay out of trouble.  I understand, ma’am.”

“It’s a cushy deal you have here, but one word from me, and that changes.”

“I get that, ma’am.  Really, I do.  I get that I did some sketchy things.  I get that this is a kind of penance, probably not as harsh as I deserve, and I welcome it.  I think, given a choice between walking away free right this second and continuing my sentence, I’d choose the latter.”

She studied me for long seconds.

“We have a no-tolerance policy on powers, Ms. Hebert.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“What appeared to be an emerging case of body lice in the main prison seems to have abruptly corrected itself, according to our physicians.  The roach traps in the kitchen aren’t catching anything, either.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“There’s a part of me that would like to think you’re doing us a service, cleaning things up.  Which would still be a violation of the zero-tolerance rules, but somewhat forgivable given the intent.  Another part of me has to be concerned that you’re hoarding these in the same manner another prisoner might hoard makeshift weapons.”

“No, ma’am.”

“Which is it?”

“I sort of hoped to talk about it with my therapist, on our first meeting, and figure out the best way to approach it before talking to you.”

She made a ‘continue’ gesture with her hand, arms still folded, her gaze hard.

“My power is always on.  It takes a conscious effort to block them out and let them act normally.  I feel what they feel, sense what they sense, sort of.  It’s… not fun with lice, crawling around in prisoner’s pubic hair, you know?  Being aware of that, across eighteen, nineteen prisoners, twenty-four-seven?”

“My concern, Ms. Hebert, is what you’re doing with those bugs.”

“Nothing,” I said.  “I- moved them away from the prisoners.  I’ve mostly left them where they were, let them starve.  I can’t leave them stationary like that where there are rodents, or they’ll only feed the rodent population and you’ll have a bigger problem.  I could kill the rodents, but then you’d have dead rats in your walls, and-”

“This isn’t acceptable.  You understand why this isn’t acceptable?”

“You have to protect other prisoners,” I said.

Even if it means letting them have lice?  I didn’t say that last part.

“If bugs are your weapon of choice, I can’t let you have access to them.”

“What about a bucket?” I asked.

“Hm?”

“Set up a bucket in some back room, fill it with something caustic enough to kill them on contact.  I’ll drown every bug I can reach in the bucket, and you’ll be able to see for yourself, by the volume of bugs that are in there.”

“Let’s postpone measures like that,” Defiant cut in.  “Go change.”

I nodded, happy for the escape route.  I made my way to the combination shower-and-change room area, pausing to collect my civilian clothes from the guard in the bulletproof glass enclosure that overlooked the hub.

I would have liked to shower in relative privacy, but I didn’t think anyone outside was planning on waiting.  I stripped out of the prison uniform, a lightweight, gray one-size-fits-all cotton tunic and pants that felt more like pyjamas than real clothes.  Mine weren’t as threadbare as the clothes the other prisoners wore.  For one thing, I was a ‘small’.  Sort of.  It was a choice between either wearing a medium-sized tunic and have it hang around me like a tent, or wear a small and have it barely reach my beltline.  I’d chosen the latter.

The other reason I got a uniform that hadn’t been worn a hundred times by a hundred other prisoners, was that I wore a special prison uniform with ‘Sp. Inmate’ printed across the shoulders and sleeve, informing everyone who saw me that I had powers.

After folding the garments, I donned my ‘Weaver’ costume.  I’d have to update it.  It wasn’t real, wasn’t fit for fighting.  The underlying bodysuit was something generic they kept on hand, no doubt similar to what made up Clockblocker’s costume.  Much in the same way his costume had been elaborated on with armor panels, mine had armor that Dragon had 3D-printed prior to arriving at the PRT headquarters.

It felt wrong, especially the way the straps fit into it, and I didn’t like knowing how flimsy it was.

I didn’t wear the mask or the armor panels, merely holding the bundle that contained them.  Instead, I pulled on clothes over the bodysuit, rolling up the sleeves until they were midway up my biceps.  The same short-sleeved, button-up shirt I’d changed into after we’d met with the judge, and jeans.

When I emerged, Defiant and the warden were talking.  She had enough presence that even Defiant, six feet tall and clad in armor, looked like he wanted to back down.

She tapped him in the center of his chest to punctuate her words, “…before lockdown.  And I want all paperwork, as soon as you get it.”

“You’ll have it,” he responded.

“Hand out,” the warden said, turning to me.

I extended a hand.

She strapped a device to my wrist, like a pager, but with a coarse black strap attached.  “So we know where you are.”

“Okay.”

The warden looked to the guard in the bulletproof glass enclosure.  She gave him a hand signal, and he opened the front door to the prison.

We made our exit down a corridor of double-layered fences topped with barbed wire.  We entered the parking lot, where a small crowd had gathered around Defiant’s ship, staring.

They parted to let us board, and then backed away as the jets started to thrum with life.

“We’re alike in some ways,” Defiant said, from his seat at the controls.  I sat behind him, having belted myself in.

My response was cut short as we started moving, and inertia hit me like a pressure  wave against the front of my entire body.  I managed only a “Hm?”

“We’ve both been leaders.  We’ve both made our mistakes, and we’ve faced a form of detention for it.  You with your prison, me with my retirement.”

Oh, he was back to that?  We’d been interrupted.

“Guess so,” I managed.  “And Dragon?”

“Not a leader,” Defiant answered me.  “Not unless you count the artificial intelligences that operate the other suits.  But her prison?  It remains worse than any you or I have faced.”

“Remains?”  I asked.

“Yes,” he said, but he didn’t elaborate.

How could her prison be worse than jail?  And how could she still be in it, unless… was she disabled?  Cerebral palsy, partial or total paralysis, something else?

I wasn’t sure how that factored in with her current inability to communicate.  If she relied on a computer to speak for her, maybe something in the program had broken?

The craft changed direction.  Defiant tapped a button, then let go of the controls.  Autopilot?

“Whatever happens,” he said, “You’re a member of the Wards.  That’s done, but the nature of your membership is still very much in question, understand?”

“I’m not sure I do.”

“Before, I mentioned the tasks of being in charge of a Protectorate team.”

“Allocating people.”

“Yes.  Today you’re going to meet some people who are going to play a very crucial role in deciding how you are allocated.  Best case scenario, we put you on a team in the thick of something.  Not the quiet you’ve been enjoying in your cell, but you’d be helping.  Everyone benefits.”

“And the worst case?”

“The worst case is they say it’s a mistake, and you go to jail for the foreseeable future.  I don’t see that happening.  The second-to-worst case is more likely, where there are no team leaders willing to take you on board with all of the inherent risks.”

“You just said I was a member of the Wards.”

“I did.  Miss Militia has your back, but there’s no way you could join the Brockton Bay Wards, under her.  Conflict of interests, animosity…”

“I figured.”

“Chevalier’s interests are in restoring the PRT and Protectorate programs.  We’ve committed to helping in any world-scale crisis events, which means participating in the next Endbringer program.  He respects Miss Militia’s opinion, and your appearance before the media means we’ve committed to keeping you.  That was partially intentional.”

“Intentional?”

“Because it throws a wrench in the plans of anyone who might want to maintain the status quo.  But as much as Chevalier is on your side, if the capes directly under him in the command structure deem it necessary, he could easily send you to a place where you couldn’t do any damage and bring you out of hiding for media appearances and Class-S threats.”

“A place where I couldn’t do any harm?  Like?”

“Guard duty at the quarantine area in Madison, perhaps, or a town without a cape presence, where you’d be doing little more than making appearances and talking to kids.”

“I’m… I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I’m better than that.”

“Mm hmm,” he said.  “Let’s hope they think so.”

He pressed the button and took hold of the controls.  “New York.  The central headquarters of every Protectorate team in America.”

With Defiant beside me, my civilian clothes removed, costume donned, I entered the common room of the local Protectorate team.

The interior wasn’t dissimilar from the Wards’ headquarters in Brockton Bay.  I’d visited that spot when we’d stolen the data from their server.  The layout was similar, with what seemed to be interchangeable or connecting pieces defining the interior.  The difference was in the quality of the pieces.  Gold or faux-gold trim marked pillars and short walls.  There wasn’t any brushed steel or ceramic.  It was marble.  This would be where they held the interviews and wowed the people who invested in the merchandising side of things.

Inspiring, in a way.  Intimidating.

Equally intimidating, if not more so, was the crowd that waited for me.  Eleven people, arranged across the room, most of them capes.

“In the lead, we have Prism, second in command of the New York team,” Defiant told me.

Prism’s lips flattened into a tight line as she looked at me.  We’d met, at the Mayor’s house.  She’d been one of Legend’s people.  I supposed that Chevalier would have wanted someone who knew the city and the routines as his second in command.

“Rime, team leader of Los Angeles,” Defiant said.

Taking over for Alexandria, I thought.  A cape with black hair in a blue skin-tight costume with fur.  I recognized her from the Echidna event, the cape who made ice crystals.  I remembered how she’d been following Chevalier’s orders.  His second in command?  It made sense he’d promote someone he knew to the second largest team in America.

“Revel, team leader of Chicago.”

Revel was a woman I hadn’t seen before, even in the background of the various Class-S fights.  I was pretty sure I would have recognized her.  She was clearly Japanese, with a painted mask covering her lower face, and a massive lantern on a stick that rested against one shoulder.  She wore a white skin-tight outfit with straps at the shoulders, the legs ending mid-thigh, giving her a degree of modesty that the stylized crimson kimono didn’t.  The kimono hung loose around her, held in place more by belts and what must have been wires in the fabric, elbow-length and just barely long enough to be modest.  Her shoulders were bare and narrow, her expression… one eyebrow was raised as she studied me.

“Dispatch, the second in command of Houston.”

Prism at least had an apparent reason to dislike me, but Dispatch’s expression suggested he’d come to that conclusion all on his own.  His costume was white, with steel points rising from his shoulders and either side of his brow.  The mask that covered the upper half of his face was sculpted into a perpetual frown.  I might not have given it a second thought, but his mouth… the frown left me little doubt he didn’t like me, right off the bat.

“You may recognize some of the captains of the respective Wards teams.  Jouster from New York, Vantage from Los Angeles, Tecton from Chicago and Hoyden from Austin.  You know Clockblocker.”

I nodded.  Tecton, in what looked to be a fresh outfit of bulky rust-red power armor, gave me a salute.  Jouster was playing up the medieval theme, a spear in hand, while Vantage was a black guy in forest green and silver… his costume looked a touch flamboyant, at a glance.  Hoyden looked more like a desperado than a superhero, with a costume that incorporated a kerchief with eyeholes over the upper half of her face, her blond curls tumbling behind, and a jacket and jeans in what looked like black-painted chainmail.

Clockblocker leaned against a desk, unreadable.

“Mrs. Yamada, you’ve met, if the records are right.”

I nodded at the Japanese woman in a casual dress-suit who was standing beside Revel.

“And I’m Glenn Chambers.  PRT head of Image,” a man spoke.  He approached me to offer a fat hand for me to shake.  He had a firm grip. Glenn didn’t look like someone who was particularly invested in image.  He was obese, his clothes not flattering, his hair not quite cut into a mohawk, but gelled into something resembling one.  He wore rectangle-framed glasses that made it easier to see how he seemed to perpetually squint – a result of long eyelashes.

“And I suppose I’m Weaver,” I said.  Eleven sets of eyes, all on me, judging me.  I hooked my thumbs into my pockets.

“I’m surprised Chevalier hasn’t shown up,” Defiant commented.  He glanced at Prism.

It wasn’t Prism who answered.  Dispatch, the Texan cape, spoke instead.  “I asked the same question.  He brings us all the way here, but he doesn’t show himself?”

“He’s handling a small crisis,” Prism said.

“We’re all handling crises,” Dispatch said.  “Half of us have no experience as team leaders, we’re dealing with capes in mourning, with government capes auditing our team rosters for Cauldron capes-”

“Leave it be, Dispatch,” Rime interrupted him.  “We should get down to business.  The sooner this is settled, the sooner we can get back.”

Mrs. Yamada cleared her throat.  “What are you thinking, Weaver?”

Suddenly put on the spot.  “Honestly?”

“Honesty is good,” she said.

“I’m intimidated,” I said.

“How do you usually handle something like that?”

By being more intimidating in exchange, I thought.  It wouldn’t do to say that out loud, to explain how I’d fallen back on being scary and ruthless for so long that I wasn’t sure how to approach something like this.

“I’m not so sure anymore,” I said.  It was the truth, and it wasn’t self-incriminating.

Mrs. Yamada nodded.

Defiant spoke , “Let’s ensure we’re all familiar with what’s going on. We’ve had capes with criminal backgrounds join the Protectorate and Wards teams, though that has remained largely discreet, and Weaver’s civilian identity is public knowledge.  We’ve had experienced capes join, as well, forcing us to adapt to their experience and retrain them where necessary.  Weaver is both.  She’s currently serving time in Gardener.  Under the terms of her sentence, she’ll be continuing her high school studies independently, she’ll be getting therapy as soon as we’ve settled on a schedule, and she’ll be ferried out to various teams for testing and evaluation.”

“A lot of hassle for a little girl,” Jouster said.

A little girl?  I kept my mouth shut, but it took some effort.

Clockblocker, however, was chuckling.

“What?” Jouster asked.

“She beat Alexandria,” Hoyden said, “He’s laughing because you’re putting down the girl who killed Alexandria.”

“Not a selling point,” Hoyden’s boss, Dispatch, cut in.

“She’s an absolute nightmare to fight,” Clockblocker said.  “I’ve been on the receiving end enough times to know.  So when Miss Militia told me she was in custody, I started asking questions, trying to get a sense of what was happening and when.  I don’t even have to be here, and I’m picking up extra patrols later this week to make up for it, but I wanted to come and say this:  I don’t like her, not really.  But if my word counts for anything, as someone who’s only spent half the time dealing with the shit in Brockton Bay that she has?  We want her on our side.  Somehow, in some form.  Because the alternative sucks.”

“Thank you,” I said, my voice so quiet I wasn’t sure everyone heard me.  He was standing up for me, in a way, at a point in time I wasn’t sure how to voice those sorts of things myself.

I could see Jouster’s eyes behind his helmet, as he gave me a once-over.

“She killed Alexandria,” Hoyden said.  “And, what, she was there for Leviathan, she was there for the Slaughterhouse Nine, for Echidna…”

“She went head to head with each of those,” Clockblocker said.  He looked at me.  “Right?  Like, you weren’t just there.  You were in the thick of it, exchanging blows?”

I nodded.

“Today is numbers,” Prism said.  “Power evaluation, interviews.”

“No, no,” Dispatch said, shaking his head.  “Ridiculous.  You don’t invite us here, then make us sit through that nonsense.”

“We need to evaluate her abilities,” Defiant said.

“Do it on your own time.  And skip the interview,” Dispatch said.  “Your own notes, Defiant, say she’s a manipulator and a liar.”

“I’ve retracted those statements,” Defiant said.

“And who’s to say she hasn’t manipulated you?  You and Chevalier were arguing for a cleaner, shinier Protectorate, didn’t you?  Let’s not get off on the wrong foot.  We vet her thoroughly, and if we don’t get a consensus that she’s an asset to the team, then that’s that.”

“What would you suggest, in place of testing and an interview?”

“We do what we’re doing with the Cauldron capes, run her by our thinkers,” Dispatch said.  “We can get a more concrete assessment of her now, with a field exercise, than by any amount of talking.  If I’m remembering right, a notice went out, didn’t it?  A New York group of villains is poaching Wards and Protectorate members?”

“The Adepts,” Revel said.

“Two birds with one stone,” Dispatch said.  He looked at the collected captains of the Wards.  “We want to know how she functions in a team environment, let’s put her in the thick of it.  If there’s trouble, or if the mission doesn’t look good, the rest of us can step in.”

Eyes turned my way.

“You’re serious,” I said.

“As cancer,” Dispatch told me.

“I don’t have any of my stuff, and the costume Dragon gave me isn’t my usual.  Besides, you’ll be expecting me to follow different rules.”

“You’ve read the handbook, haven’t you?”

I nodded.  But I haven’t completely thought of ways around the restrictions.  I’d picked the name Weaver based on the idea that I’d be using thread more, but I didn’t have any prepared, not here, not yet.

“I’m sure Prism will let you have access to the New York teams’ supplies.  Largest cape groups in America, they’ll have a little of everything.”

I frowned.  If I said no, it’d be a black mark in my record, and some of these people were obviously not interested in giving me any slack, unless it was to hang myself with.

“Okay,” I said.

“The Adepts don’t kill,” he said.  “If there’s a problem, it’s on you.”

There should be a rule against saying things like that, I thought.  I didn’t care that he was putting me on the spot, or blaming me for stuff that hadn’t happened yet.  He was implying this would be easy, practically ensuring this would be anything but.

“Adepts,” Jouster said.  “I assume everyone’s up to date?”

Tecton was walking in front of our group, his tank of a suit giving us enough presence that the crowd parted before us.  “Don’t be a jackass.  You know Skit- Weaver hasn’t read the files.  They’re in your city, you fill us in.”

“I know the basics,” I said.  I’d read the file in Tattletale’s office.  “They’re wizards, or they pretend to be, like Myrddin.  Led by a time traveller.”

“They’re led by Epoch,” Jouster said, without looking at me.  “Group is very organized.  Thing you gotta know about New York is it’s bigger.  Everything is.  So these guys, there’s a lot of them.  They’re organized into tiers, and they compete with one another for placement in the tiers, challenging ones in higher tiers, paying a penalty if they fail the challenge.  There’s one tier one, two tier twos, three tier threes… all the way down to the tier fives.”

“Fifteen in total,” I said.

He gave me a hard look, then fell silent.

Am I not allowed to talk?

“This city sucks to move around in,” Hoyden said.  “Crowds, traffic… how do you get anywhere?”

“We have different sub-teams for different roles,” Jouster said.  “Lancer group for fast response, those of us who can fly or move over rooftops.  Another group of heavier hitters who’re old enough to ride the bikes and licensed to travel the tracks.”

“Tracks?”  Hoyden asked.

“Subways.  You use a computer to help know which tracks you can stay on and when, so you don’t get hit by a train.”

“And the ones who aren’t old enough, or aren’t naturally mobile?”  Tecton asked.

“Foot patrol, or sidekick duty with a Protectorate member,” Jouster said.

“Loads of fun,” Hoyden said.

“Am I the only one who likes doing the ride-along thing?” Vantage asked.

“Yes,” Hoyden said.  “Definitely.”

Jouster shook his head.  “It’s the job.  They grumble, sure, but it’s a few years at most before they get to do the bike thing.”

“I’m guessing you’re one of the ‘lancers’,” I said.

Jouster gave me a dirty look, “What of it?”

“Nothing,” I said.  “Just made sense.”

“Flechette was one too,” he said.  “She was going to lead the squad when I moved up to the Protectorate, with Shelter taking over as Wards captain.”

“I believe it,” I said.

“Seem to recall that she’d defected, joined your old team.”

“I don’t know anything about that, honestly,” I said.  “Only that she had romantic interests towards one of us Undersiders, and-”

“The doll girl,” Jouster said.

Vantage punched him in the shoulder.

“I didn’t know if she was ‘out’, so I didn’t want to say,” I said, feeling lame.

“That’s right,” Vantage said.  “That’s how you’re supposed to act.”

The earbud I’d been supplied with buzzed with a woman’s voice.  Prism?  They own the building up ahead.  Cut the banter and focus on the job.”

A male voice.  Talk us through everything you’re doing, Weaver.

“Focusing on my bugs,” I said.

“Tap the earbud twice to start the feed,” Tecton said.

I tapped it twice, and it beeped faintly.  “Focusing on my bugs.  I’ve been collecting them as we moved from the headquarters to this spot, so I have quite a few.”

Lethal and venomous bugs aren’t allowed, you know that.”

Tying my hands.  It was fine.  “I didn’t plan on using them anyways.  I’m selecting the smallest and most discreet, and sending them out.  It’ll take a minute at most, but I’ll be able to track their movements.”

The Adepts?”

“Everyone.  I mean, the area’s dense, but once I have tabs on the Adepts, I’ll have an idea of where the civilians are, too.  It means we can keep them out of danger, and we’ll know if anyone runs into the line of fire.”

There was silence on the line in response.  Were they talking about me?  Discussing the particulars?  Hell, was I already breaking rules by violating people’s privacy?

I spoke, hoping that I was interrupting them if they were saying something along those lines.  “I have other bugs on the periphery, drawing out cords of silk.”

Show us.  We have a camera in Tecton’s suit.

Okay, this was getting borderline annoying.  Second guessed every step of the way.

My swarm moved in front of Tecton, swirling.

Image, Weaver,” it was a different man who spoke.  The fat one… I couldn’t remember his name.  “We need to do something about appearances, here.”

“Appearances?”

The black, amorphous swarm.  It conveys the wrong ideas.  It’s disturbing to any onlookers, and if photos of you using your power on any greater scale made the rounds, it could be fodder for some ugly articles.  You already face an uphill battle, with your reputation as an ex-supervillain.

“You’re serious,” I said.  I tapped my ear to shut off the channel, looking at the others, “Is he serious?”

“Glenn is always serious,” Clockblocker said.  “When I first picked my name, Clockblocker, and announced it in front of a live camera so they couldn’t retract it, they punished me with intensive lessons with Glenn.”

“They do that any time you screw up on the PR front, like swearing on camera,” Hoyden said.  “And in the sessions, he talks to you about your hair, about redesigning your costume…”

“How to talk so you command attention,” Vantage said, over-enunciating his words.

“How to hold yourself,” Jouster said, straightening his back, squaring his shoulders and raising his chin a touch.

We can hear you, you know,” a woman said through the earbud.  Rime?

Maybe we need lessons in decorum,” Glenn’s voice buzzed in our ears.

Hoyden made a pained expression.  She glanced at Tecton, then ducked low, avoiding the camera, while she walked around to Tecton’s back.  She pushed at his shoulder, urging him to turn around.  He rolled his eyes and sighed as he obeyed, and Hoyden prodded him forward until he was standing right in front of a wall.

“I really don’t know what you expect,” I said.  “It’s my power.”

By all reports, you’re a clever girl,” Glenn said  “Surely there’s a way to present your power in a less threatening way.

I opened my mouth, but the sheer number of protests that came to mind all jumbled together.  I looked at the Wards, trying to see if I was the butt of a joke.

“Lucky, lucky you,” Clockblocker whispered to me, covering his ear with his hand, “You get his attention right from the start, and I’m willing to bet he’s not going to leave you alone.  It almost makes me feel better about the time you crammed those bugs into my mouth and ears.”

Vantage made a face at that.

“So worth the extra shifts I’m pulling this week,” Clockblocker commented to Jouster.  “Just to see this.”

“I’m not sure what you want, Glenn,” I said, after tapping my earbud,  “I could send my bugs in one at a time.  That’s not threatening, right?”

Your sarcasm isn’t appreciated, Weaver,” Defiant informed me.

“I’m willing to play ball,” I said.  “I just want to figure out what the he- heck you want, first.  Do you want, like, ladybugs?  There’s color there, a nice red cloud.  There’s only, um, two hundred and twelve ladybugs in my range.  But I could use them.  Or… butterflies?  There’s more butterflies than ladybugs.”

I accessed the butterflies in my swarm, drawing them to me.

“Tekky,” Hoyden said, “Turn around.  They’ll love this.”

Tecton,” he mumbled, stressing the word.  “I hate ‘techy’, ‘tech geek’ and all those names.  Just like I hate being the camera guy, the guy who the PRT gets to fix the vans when they want to cut work early…”

I drew the butterflies into formation, a stream of them following after one another.

“I just want you to realize that this is what you’d be asking me to-”

Yes,” Glenn said, cutting me off.  “Excellent!  They did say you were smart.

“You’re serious,” I said.

Clockblocker was laughing silently, his shoulders shaking.

“Serious as cancer,” Hoyden mimicked her superior.  “All Glenn cares about is the image, the PR.  Up to you to figure out how to hold yourself like a ‘lady’ while you’re dealing with street thugs with guns.”

You would know, Hoyden,” Glenn said.  “I’d hoped something would sink in for you, with you having more meetings with me than anyone has in the past year.

Stick to business, please.  Where did you get all those butterflies, anyways?” I think it was Rime, on the comms.

“Rooftop gardens,” I said.  “There was a whole block with older buildings and a garden on every roof, while we were heading this way.  Lots of balcony-mounted flower troughs, too.”

We’d need to get you a steady supply,” Glenn said.  “I wonder how we arrange that.

“They’re really going to make me the butterfly girl?” I asked.

Clockblocker only laughed harder.  I was pretty sure he was faking it, at this point.  He couldn’t find it that funny.

If this is a problem,” Defiant said, the earbud’s digital sound only compounding the faint digital note of Defiant’s voice, “We can cancel the job, take a few days to discuss the tools you need to do the job effectively.”

The worst of both worlds.  I’d be backing down, they’d probably argue for this as a way to keep me ‘tame’, and I’d look disobedient.

“No,” I said.  “You want me to use butterflies, let’s do that.”

“For real?” Hoyden asked.

I nodded.  “We’re picking a fight with the Adepts?”

This is only a branch,” Prism said, over the comm, “They have three primary properties.  They don’t hold territory, so the local gangs leave them be.  The idea is to discourage them.  Fight only so long as you’re confident you’ll win.  Communicate what’s going on, and we’ll step in if need be.  With luck, this will be a setback for them, and cause to stop headhunting from our side.

“Okay,” I said.  “Who’s in charge?”

“Me,” Jouster said.

It would be weird to not be the leader, after heading the Undersiders.  “You okay with me as recon?”

“Suppose you have to be, if you’re limiting yourself to butterflies,” he said.

“I wasn’t going to limit myself to recon,” I said.

“You’ll tear them to shreds with butterfly bites,” Vantage said.  “Do butterflies bite?”

“They don’t have mouthparts that can bite,” I told him.  “They have proboscises.”

“So are you like, super smart or something?” Hoyden asked.

“No,” I answered her.

“Don’t get distracted by the new member,” Jouster said.

I noted what my bugs were telling me.  “There’s three of them inside.  Two men, one woman.  The men have groupies with them, I think.  In their bedrooms.  There might be more, but they don’t have costumes on.”

“They should have numbers on their sleeves.  Roman numerals.”

“I can’t really see through the bug’s eyes,” I said.  “One second…”

I found the woman, sitting on the couch, a laptop on a coffee table in front of her.  The bugs traced her sleeve.

“It’s not embroidered, I can’t sense anything raised, and the bug’s eyes can’t make out the letters.  Sorry.”

“Check the surroundings,” Jouster said.  “Tools?  The group’s practices involve using tools, ritual, rites, chants, and all that crap to try to achieve better control over their abilites.”

“Kind of makes sense,” I said.  “Abilities get stronger when you’re in a mental state closer to how you were thinking before your trigger event, so-”

“Wait, what?”  Clockblocker cut me off.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I triggered while I was in a locker.  I’ve been thinking, I get just a little stronger when I feel trapped, or when I despair, or when I feel betrayed.  My range extends.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jouster said.  “Three of them.  No tools?”

“Sort of a tool.  A rod, short, barely a foot long, and blunt, no barrel or anything.  Carved, I think.”

“Not sure,” Jouster said.  “Doesn’t ring any bells.”

“Um.  But if you look,” I pointed.  “There’s birds.  Usually they’ll pick off a few bugs that get too close, but they aren’t moving.”

“And there’s some inside?” Jouster asked.

“Three… five birds in cages inside the apartment,” I said.

“Felix Swoop, tier three member of the group,” Jouster said.  “Master-blaster hybrid.  Controls birds, but not as much control as you seem to have.  Thing is, he applies fire immunity and pyrokinesis to the birds, programs them with movements.  You said he’s distracted?”

I noted Swoop’s presence in the bedroom, tried not to pay too much attention to the particulars of what was happening inside.  “Definitely occupied.”

“Let’s move,” Jouster said.  He began striding across the street.  He raised his voice, “Back away from the building!”

No reaction from the men in the bedroom or the woman on the sofa.  They couldn’t hear it.

I directed my swarm.  Bugs moved through the crowd, and I organized the swarm so it was surrounded by butterflies, masking the core of the ‘disturbing’ black swarm within.

Cheating, maybe, but I’d do what I had to.  The irritating part of this was that I had to look at the swarm to make sure everything was in place.  It’d become natural sooner or later, but I really didn’t need more handicaps.

Back away from the building.  You can watch the fight, but watch from the other end of the street,” I spoke through my swarm.

So weird, to be doing this with a veneer of legitimacy.

What are you doing, Weaver,” one of the capes asked me, through the earbud.

“Warning the crowd.  I can mimic my voice by using the sounds my swarm produces, only I’m using mainly butterflies.”

A bit of a fib, but it would fit what Tecton was seeing by way of his camera.

Keep us updated on your thought process and strategies.

Jouster led the way into the building.

“I’m using the silk cords I prepared earlier to hamper the birds on the balconies,” I said.  “There’s a pigeon roost above, but I’m covering the door, so hopefully Swoop won’t have access to all of those pigeons.  And I’ve got other bugs surreptitiously gathering in the clothing that Swoop and the other male discarded.  I’m assuming I can use the scarier bugs if the public isn’t about to see?”

That goes against the spirit of what I was talking about,” Glenn told me.

“Yeah,” Hoyden said, from just behind me, “You should want to use butterflies and butterflies only.”

Tecton pushed the door open, splintering the lock and snapping the chain with just the strength of his power armor.

Tecton in last,” Prism said.  “We’ll want eyes on the scene.”

“I’m the toughest of us,” Tecton protested.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Hoyden said, patting his chest as she walked by.

“Two upstairs there, with two more that might be initiates, might be civilians,” I said, raising my voice a fraction.  I pointed in the direction of the two men.  I moved one hand to point at another point.  “One woman there.  All two floors up.”

I hung back as the heroes ascended the stairs, and got to see as Tecton placed his hands against the frame of the door.

“Let me know when,” he said.  “And brace yourselves.”

We’d gone over the powers in this particular group before we left.  I knew what Tecton and Clockblocker were capable of, obviously.  That left Vantage, Jouster and Hoyden.  I could track them as they broke into the apartment.

Jouster’s blaster-striker hybrid power involved his lance, a power that conducted along the usual channels, only the form it took varied.  He speared through the computer, then swung the blunted side of the weapon at the couch.  The woman rolled out of the way, and energy rippled away from the lance, freezing and shredding cushions.

He could choose the effect, making it fairly versatile.  Concussive blasts, fire, ice, lightning, suction and disintegration, among other things.  Trick was that he had to hit to deliver the effect.

The advantage, conversely, was that he had another power.  With a brief-lived burst of superspeed, he closed the distance to the woman, coming to an abrupt stop just in time to kick her in the midsection.

Clockblocker followed, stepping forward to touch the woman and freeze her.

Woman is Paddock,” Jouster said, through the earbud.

Caught her,” Clockblocker said.

Hoyden and Vantage were already breaking into the other rooms, interrupting the men and women at play.

Vantage had super strength, but his strength and reflexes scaled up as the number of opponents rose, with diminishing returns.  He wasn’t especially durable, but he packed short-range teleports.  Very short-range – a matter of two or three feet, at best.  He teleported to help close the gap to Swoop and slammed one hand into the man’s collarbone.  The woman scrambled for cover.

Anyone want to break the wishbone?” he quipped.

The other man raised a hand at Hoyden, and she stopped in her tracks.  He almost leisurely stood, taking the hand of the girl beside him, then reached down to collect his robe, and recoiled in horror at the bugs that festooned it.  He couldn’t get to the rod, whatever it was supposed to do.

“Heads up, Hoyden’s ensorcelled or something,” I said, communicating through the earbuds.

“Nuh uh,” I could hear her speak through the earbud.  She caught the cape from behind, then hurled him through the doorway, at Clockblocker.  He stepped on the man’s bare back, and the man was frozen.

“Cape two captured,” Clockblocker said.

Hoyden was one of the capes with a mess of powers.  Things she hit exploded, things that hit her suffered a retaliatory explosion.  She was stronger, more durable, and to top it all off, she had a peculiar resistance to damage and powers that improved as she got further from her target.

Between them, they each had the ability to apply their abilities in devastating ways.  They were team captains for a reason.

Wait, was this okay?  I’d barely done anything.  I was used to hanging back, supporting my allies, and delivering decisive strikes where necessary, but I was supposed to be proving something.  Would I be able to say I’d achieved anything definitive?

Was that intentional?

I hurried up the stairs in double time.  I reached the door frame, and I got a look from Jouster.

Definitely intentional.  He’d had his team bulldoze through the capes, leaving nothing for me.  I’d provided recon, but would that be enough?

“Securing the bystanders,” Clockblocker said, from across the room.  He approached one of the women, and she made a squeak of alarm as she jumped back from his reaching hand.  “Shhh, it’s okay.  Doesn’t hurt.  If you’ve done nothing wrong, there’s nothing to worry about.  You’ll wake up in a few minutes, visit the police, and then go home.”

She glanced at Jouster, as if looking for confirmation, and Clockblocker touched her, freezing her.

The other woman was pulling on pants, the kind of skinny jeans you pulled up inch by excruciating inch, if you were lucky enough to have actual hips.  She still wore a black bra, and way too much eye shadow.

“Last one,” Clockblocker said.  “You can call in the PRT vans.”

She buttoned up her jeans, then ran her thumb along the chain that ran from her belt loop to her pocket.

“Wait,” I said.  The chain- there were charms on it.  “Those charms.”

“My embellishment,” she said.

“Shit!” Jouster said.  “Clock!”

Clockblocker lunged, but she leaped back.  Landing on his hands and knees, Clockblocker reached out, firing the fingertips of his glove at her, each trailing cords that extended to his gauntlet.  Two of the cords looped around her limbs as they made contact.  Thick, I noted.  Not fishing lines that might cut when they were frozen in time.

He froze them, then freed his hand from the glove.  She was immobilized.

It wasn’t enough.

“It’s Standstill,” Jouster said.  He broke into a run, charging her with his lance held ready.

“Thirteenth Hour, now,” she retorted.  Her eyes flared with light, and I felt my body jolt.

Tecton!” I spoke through my bugs.

My heartbeat slowed to a glacial pace, my breathing slowing.  My outstretched hand started drifting down, the strength to hold it up slowly leaving my body.

Thirteenth Hour collapsed, going limp in the midst of Clockblocker’s suspended wires.  Jouster, mid-stride, did much the same.

My thoughts were slowing down, volition gone.  The others were the same.  My sense of time…  I was reminded of a dream I’d had, of being put under a spell by Coil.  Scopolamine.

Clockblocker’s power wore off the various Adepts, one by one.  They composed themselves, dressing.

Swoop dialed a number on his phone, approached the sleeping Thirteenth Hour while holding it to his ear.  He lifted her chin and kissed her, staying beside her to catch her as the cords were released.

“Spot of trouble,” he said, with a faint accent.  Australian?  British?  “Wouldn’t mind one of the top tiers.  They’ll have reinforcements.”

My eyelids drifted closed.  I didn’t have the will to raise them.

But I could follow my bugs as they stirred, converging, moving as if with a mind of their own.

Following my unconscious directives?

The bugs went on the offensive, biting, stinging.

No.  It wasn’t even a coherent thought.  I’d get in trouble.

No,” the bugs whispered, their droning forming crude words.

Swoop and the others startled at that.  I could sense their movements through the accumulated bugs.  He made a hand gesture, murmured a phrase, and birds took flight from the cages around the apartment.  After a moment, they ignited, winging their way through the thickest areas of the swarm.

The others would be arriving soon.  I had to do something.

That urgency, more than anything, seemed to translate into an order for my swarm.  They began moving, bearing silk threads.

That, I was okay with.

The binding they performed was carried out as if from some deep-seated, creative part of me, the part of me that would doodle absentmindedly in the margins of my notebook when I was tired in class.  Instead of aimless doodles, however, it was cords and lines of silk extending from table legs to feet, from wrists to earrings and between the loops of shoelaces, and it was all accompanied by the butterflies that I was still maintaining in formation.

Swoop’s improvised phoenixes couldn’t get close enough to burn those things without burning the individuals in question.

The other Adepts were arriving.  My sense of time, still, was obscured.  Where were the Protectorate capes?

How long would we be stunned like this?

Swoop, one hand pressed to his collarbone, moved his other arm to allow a flaming pigeon to rest on one hand, then winced in pain as he wound up nearly yanking an earring out.  “Curses!’

He really said things like ‘curses’.

I did not want to lose to these guys.

The bugs were still moving, aimless, without my active direction, but they were using the silk cords.

Butterflies, I thought.

The butterflies I’d been prepared to use moved into the formations I’d instructed, joining and complementing the swarms of bugs that were weaving webs of silk over and around the four Adepts, including the sleeping Thirteenth Hour.  I could sense her breathing.

How to break the spell?

Tecton.

He was under the effects.  I could tell, by how his arms had drooped from where he had them on the door frame.

If this was simply a kind of hypnosis…

I called bugs to me, directed them to gather on my face.

Not enough… they couldn’t get through my mask.

Without me asking it to, a cockroach started chewing through the fabric.  The fabric that wasn’t nearly as strong as spider silk.

The female Adept that Jouster and Clockblocker had attacked as they entered the apartment made her way toward the kitchen, stumbled as a silk cord around her knees failed to give her enough give.

“Annoying,” she said.

“Admirable, almost,” Swoop commented.  “This is the sort of thing we hope to train, and she’s already a fair hand at it, isn’t she?”

“Whatever,” the woman said.  She drew a kitchen knife from a wooden block on the counter, then began cutting the most obvious threads.

Seconds, minutes, hours passed.  I couldn’t say for sure.  There was fighting outside.  Capes fighting capes.  I couldn’t focus my attention on it.

With the hole in my mask now large enough, the cockroach wormed his way in.

Two ways this could go, I realized, as it dawned on me what I was doing.  What my passenger was doing?  Either this worked, or it would fail disastrously, and they’d be distracted, at the very least.

The cockroach reached the back of my throat.  I gagged and coughed.

And that disruption was enough to shake off Thirteenth Hour’s influence.  My thoughts began to coalesce into something more coherent.

Still coughing, fighting the urge to throw up into my mask, I directed bugs into the eye holes of Tecton’s mask, down to his mouth, to do much the same.

“No,” the cape with the rod said.

Another mind-affecting power.  I could see my spiders getting larger as they crawled, the apartment getting smaller, I felt vertigo…

Tecton reached out to the doorframe and made the building shudder with enough force that everyone stumbled.

Everyone woke, Thirteenth Hour included.  The hallucinations stopped.

“Again!” Swoop shouted.

Thirteenth Hour’s eyes glowed, her power flaring…

But I was ready.  A cockroach mobilized to set off my gag reflex a second time, and I was alert before the effect had even sunken in.

So gross.

Vantage and Jouster wore masks that covered their mouths.  It’d take a second to get into Tecton’s, and I didn’t want him to unwittingly wake Thirteenth Hour again…

I woke Hoyden instead.

I wasn’t making friends or allies here, I suspected.

Hoyden strode forward, coughing and wiping at her mouth.  A flaming bird soared at her face.  In the instant it made contact, it detonated in a ball of flame and unburned feathers.  She was thrown backwards.

Another homed in on me.  I wasn’t durable, like Hoyden.  I shielded my face with my arms.

The armor protected me, the cloth didn’t.  I could feel it as though something scraped against my flesh, felt the hot prickle that promised future pain.  A burn.

“Stop,” the cape with the hallucination power said.  He made a sign with his hands, extending his rod at me.

Again, I felt the sensation of things distorting.

I was free of Thirteenth Hour’s power, though, and my bugs were winding silk around his arm and face.  He clawed at it, to little effect, and the more butterflies that settled on his face, the less effective he seemed to get.

Hoyden had returned, and endured a barrage of more flaming birds.  The larger birds weren’t obliterated as they exploded, and circled around to strike her again.  I ducked below one I could sense only by the bugs it burned along its path, then backed away.

The one with the knife.  I tied some silk around the knife handle, connecting to the silk between Swoop’s leg and the table.

She tried to bring the knife down to cut something, and the cord went taut, pulling it from her hand.  She tried to bend over to pick it up, and the thread between her throat and the light fixture pulled taut.

What was her power, even?

I wasn’t interested in finding out.  I navigated the threads by using the bugs to track their placement.  The armor Dragon had fashioned didn’t have compartments inside the armor panel at the back, but I had a taser dangling from my belt.  Before she could figure out a way to break a thread, arm herself or use her power, I jabbed her with the taser.

She fell, momentarily suspended by the threads.  I had the bugs near the light fixture manually break the thread before she strangled.

That left Swoop and Mr. Hallucination, who was apparently suffering for not having removed more threads from himself earlier.  He swatted at the butterflies.

I reached Jouster, shaking him.  When he didn’t rouse, I shook him harder.

Nothing.  Not jarring enough.

I kicked his leg out from under him, and he sprawled.

“Fuck you,” he mumbled, as he began to climb to his feet.

“Wake up Clockblocker and Vantage,” I said.

“You don’t give me orders,” he said.  He approached Swoop.  The man smacked Hoyden with one more bird, whirling around to face Jouster, and then got slammed in the chest with the fattest part of the lance.  The third tier Adept flew into a wall and went limp.

Jouster wanted to clean up?  Fine.  I tazed the hallucination guy, then hurried to Clockblocker’s side.  When shaking him didn’t rouse him, I raised his head from the floor and then smacked it down hard enough to startle him.

“Jerk,” he mumbled.

Jouster had poked Vantage awake.

“Our reinforcements are fighting their reinforcements,” I said.

“Good to know.  We get Tecton and back them up.”

“You kicked their asses with butterflies,” Clockblocker said, as we made our way to the stairs.

“I cheated.  The butterflies are superficial, decorative.”

“No, no, no,” he said.  “If anyone asks, you kicked their asses with butterflies.”

Defiant and I walked back through the corridor of double-layered chain-link fence.  There was a long pause as the gates opened.

“You may have won over some of the ones with doubts, but Rime was grumbling about your attitude, and I suspected she was on your side to start with.”

“My attitude?”

“I don’t know.  Something to ask her, when the time comes.”

I sighed.

“Your arms?”

“Hurt,” I said.  I extended my arms, prodding at the bandage on my forearms.  “Nothing serious.  Will probably peel like a motherfucker.”

“Language,” he said, as we entered the hub.

The warden was there, waiting for us.

“You got injured.”

“In the line of duty,” Defiant said.  “Permitted duty.”

“I told you to keep her out of trouble.”

“Wasn’t my choice,” Defiant said.  “I can give you my superior’s number if you’d like.”

“I would like.  Taylor Hebert?  On the issue with the bug population of my facility, I feel it would be a very bad idea to provide you with a caustic substance to give your bugs, given what your file says you achieved with capsaicin.  I had a bug zapper purchased, and you should be able to access it with each and every one of your tiny soldiers.  I expect to see it used, understand?”

I nodded.

“Go change.  I’ll have a guard waiting here to escort you to your cell.”

“Okay,” I said.

I changed back into a fresh prison tunic and pants, leaving my shoes behind.  It pained me to leave everything behind, but I did.  The female guard patted me down when I’d emerged and handed the bundle of clothes to the guard at the hub’s office, then led me to my cell.

I was cognizant of my fellow prisoners, who watched me.  Prisoners who, I had little doubt, saw my injury as a sign of weakness, a reason to descend on me like wolves with wounded prey.

Being out among the Wards had shaken me, on a level.  I still needed to find out how to fight like a Ward.  A more effective Ward than the ones I’d encountered in the past, ideally.  I needed to adjust my tactics, the very way I thought.  To build a measure of self-confidence that wasn’t borne by fear and intimidation.

I settled down on the bunk with my book.

I shifted restlessly.  I still had trace amounts of adrenaline in my system.  The rush of a fight.  My arms hurt, too, despite the over-the-counter painkillers I’d tossed back.  A second degree burn, and like so many other injuries of the hands and arms, they seemed as though they had been strategically placed where they’d be most irritating and debilitating.

Tonight is going to suck, I thought.  How was I supposed to get comfortable like this?

My bugs found the bug zapper, and I began systematically eliminating every cockroach, louse, fly and ant in the building.

The spiders, I kept on hand, directing them to the burned corpses.  They could breed, in time, and I could put them somewhere where they wouldn’t encounter any people.

Breaking the rules, maybe, but it was something to occupy my thoughts.  It made me feel just a little safer, a little more like myself.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

462 thoughts on “Drone 23.1

  1. This wound up being… ridiculously long. 9747 words. A seventh of a book, if you will.

    Hope it’s enjoyable. It was a hard one to pull together, and I delayed/skipped (will see) going to the cottage for the weekend to ensure it got done.

    If you’re so inclined, votes on Topwebfiction are appreciated. Also, Worm’s third in the rankings on Muse’s Success (votes are weighted in a funny way, but member votes are weighed higher, as I understand it).

    • It’s much appreciated — I was just thinking that Taylor would have a hard time playing by the Wards rules, so it’s awesome seeing her thrown into that situation.

    • Overall Rating: 7.921

      Average Rating: 9.83 (Guests), 9.75 (Members)

      That’s not a weighted rating, that’s a bullshit rating.

      • I went and voted on both, for what it’s worth, but I’d seriously like to see what kind of math Muse is using to figure that rating. Because seriously, that is just ridiculous.

        Meh, you’re still dominating topwebfiction. So at least all is right with the world in one internet site…

      • For context, the number one rated story on the website has an overall rating of 8.04 — Average Rating: 9.83 (Guests), 9.88 (Members). Worm is number three.

        That said, I really want to know what algorithm they’re using. They don’t list any statisticians on the About page, so I’m guessing it’s not sophisticated.

          • Suddenly, a wild hypothesis appears!
            Perhaps their ‘overall rating’ isn’t at an average at all but also takes into consideration other factors, such as number of times people have used the link etc. Could be that no story gets overall over nine because they fail to meet some arbitrary standards the site has set for top drawer stories.

      • This is pretty normal actually. What they do is that they have a few initial votes of 5 for every story. That way, a story with 5 votes of 9 is rated higher than a story with one vote of 10. The difference between muses success and Amazon is that the number they use to stack who’s story is the best (7.9) is hidden, and users only see user average (9.8). -programmer’s best guess.

        tl;dr we don’t need a few 10s we need lots and lots of 10s!

      • I think I’ve figured it out.

        First, the ratings aren’t realtime — they probably update weekly or something.

        Second, the way to make your ratings effective isn’t simply registering an account — you have to provide content for the site. From the FAQ:

        Currently, the points are rewarded as follows:

        - New Listings (without synopsis): 5 points
        - New Listings (with synopsis): 10-15 points (editor discretion)
        - Update to Existing Listing: 2.5 points
        - New Synopsis: 8 points
        - Reviews: 10 points
        - Rating: 0 points

        We reserve the right to alter these at anytime.

        I think if a significant number of us go over there and start writing reviews, both for Worm and other stories we’ve read or which pique our interest when we’re flipping through the entries, the weighted average will start looking a lot more like the unweighted average.

      • They’re probably using bayesian weighting.
        In a nutshell: if there is one product with just one vote, a 10 out of 10, and another product with a thousand ratings that average to 9.5, which one is likely to be better? Probably the later one, depending on other factors like average rating and average number of votes. That’s Bayesian weighting.

        In short, that means Worm needed more votes, not just better votes.

    • Well I LOVED this chapter. It was exactly what I had been hoping for after the crazy build up rollercoaster ride we had been on. It was a… New wind. Kicked their ass with Butterflies cracked me up BTW.

    • “Don’t be a jackass, “You know Skit- Weaver hasn’t read the files. They’re in your city, you fill us in.”

      Misplaced punctuation — comma instead of period, extra open doublequote.

      • No, it makes perfect sense the way it’s written. Granted, it makes just as much sense with the change you suggested, but I’m inclined to believe Wildbow meant that one the way it was written.

    • With luck, this will be a setback for them, and cause to stop headhunting from our side.“

      “from our side” is roman type; end-doublequote is a start-doublequote.

        • Sorry — “not italicized” is what I mean by “roman type”. I prefer the latter to the former in the way that I prefer “clockwise” to “anti-widdershins”, but I admit that in terms of clarity, the isomorphism would be the converse.

    • > Thirteenth Hour collapsed to the ground. Jouster, mid-stride, did much the same.

      >My thoughts were slowing down, volition gone. The others were the same. My sense of time… I was reminded of a dream I’d had, of being put under a spell by Coil. Scopolamine.

      >Clockblocker’s power wore off. [She] freed herself, peeling the cords away from her body, then tying them in knots for good measure. Swoop and the other cape followed some time after, gathering themselves together.

      Who is “she”?

      I believe keeping track of all the characters, their powers and their appearances is the single most difficult thing to do when reading Worm. Wildbow introduces characters, gives a description, and very rarely reinforces that description: for example at the beginning of this chapter, I was struck by how I had no impression of Bakuda having a digitized voice, at all. I also mix up character genders – needed a reread to internalize that Hoyden was a girl.

    • “They have probosci.”

      Should be proboscices or proboscides. Didn’t catch that myself, but one of the reviewers on DLP did.

      • That’s the most bizarre thing to me. She got her powers about six months ago. She started out three months ago. Reading this, I wonder why every supervillain in the world has taken over a city or two yet, as it seems the way to go about it is to a) be intimidating, b) have a clear understanding of your power, and c) be willing to put yourself into multiple nigh on suicidal situations. If an intelligent teenager can do it, it really says something about the vast majority of them…or maybe they’re just not quite as willing to risk life and limb for something so hard to hold on to.
        …I feel like I’ve been getting off topic a lot latelly, everywhere I go.

        • I think Skitter had several advantages that most other parahumans didn’t.

          1. The single most versatile power we’ve seen anywhere in the story.

          2. Enough smarts for any sixteen ordinary people.

          3. The assistance of a high-level Thinker who had enough smarts for any twelve ordinary people before she got her high-level Thinker powers.

          4. The assistance of a high-level reality warper with access to the third-best precog in the world.

          5. Access to first-class healing superpowers in the world at a couple key points (bypassing the usual problem of “you should be crippled after going through all those experience-gaining encounters”).

          6. Horrendous attrition among anyone who might have been her competition.

          • Yeah. Every time I feel like Skitter has caught the “my main characters are always better” bug from the author (no pun intended) , I remember how she was recruited. Coil, a powerful and ruthless thinker, got the best thinker he could find (Tattletale , arguably the most powerful thinker we’ve seen with the possible exception of Dinah) to recruit a super group of parahumans. It may have been blind luck that Taylor went after Lung her first night out, but as soon as Lisa got a good look at het and her powers, it was inevitable that she’d end up in the middle of literally world altering events.

          • Actually, I guess Coil might be more properly classified as a breaker than a thinker, but the point still stands.

          • A sheep doesn’t want to be protected by a wolf, no matter how loyal he is. It would rather be protected by a very strong sheep.

          • 7. A power that lets her fight without even having to be in the same building as her target.
            8. A power that is semi-autonomous; continuing to work when she is disabled or unconscious, as well as adding to her mental capacities when used (or at least not subtracting much, which is the key thing. Nobody else gets to stop and consider stuff in the middle of a fight).
            9. The previously mentioned fact that she was nigh-suicidal for a while.
            10. Having a chunk of her competition wiped out by an Endbringer, something which she only barely survived.

          • Actually, Gonzo, most people go with wolves protecting the sheep. Their called dogs.

            I would love to have a nice big Caucasian Shepherd guarding some sheep for me. It’s a big fluffy cutesy puppydog closer in size to what Bitch turns her dogs into, with a lot of viciousness ready for anyone threatening what it guards.

  2. And now I’m starting to think the PRT are squandering Taylor’s talents.

    I mean, BUTTERFLIES? Really? Why not limit her to houseflies, at least they are useful…

    • Aesthetics. Remember, the PRT’s primary purpose is to make parahumans less other in the eyes of the public — make them not creepy, not scary. Actually protecting the public is secondary.

      • But you WANT a few of them to be a little scary and reassure the public. The wormverse is a scary place and filled with S class threats. It comforts Clockblocker to know that they have Skitter on their team, and I think they should play up her angle as a dangerous last resort weapon that can take down the likes of Lung and Alexandria. The adepts make trouble, the heroes start to lose, and someone says surrender or they send in Weaver. They don’t and Weaver puts them down similar to how she put down Triumph. She will never be seen as a trusted hero due to what she has done in the past. But play up the scary angle and the populace might feel a little more secure knowing they can use her. Someone made a comment a long time ago that the PRT aren’t heroes, that they act more like cops or civil servants. So let Weaver be the VERY bad cop.

        • Skitter/Weaver as a sort of nuclear deterrent ending fights just with the mention of her name. (and her considerable list of defeated enemies)

          • Bugs are just creepy and a bit of a primal fear for most. I could see Tecton being a bit scary depending on how he designed and colored his armor. He shows up and buildings fall down, so imagine what he could do if he hits you. If defiant played up the cold robot angle he could have a bit of intimidation factor as well. Shadowstalker was bit intimidating but only because she was known for being a vicious bitch who goes for the kill.

        • See, Theant there you go thinking like a reasonable, rational person! All the PRT (and by extension the protectorate and wards) want is another freak (I mean parahuman) who’ll be completely under their control. They don’t care about public perception as much as they claim to, they care about keeping normals safe from these freaks with powers.

          • Maybe under Piggy, but hopefully they all aren’t like that. I imagine the public has a mixed view of parahumans. Sierra’s brother made a point how everything is their fault but I think the public gives them a pass due to fighting and dying in such big numbers holding off the Endbringers. This is the new PRT though, and the world IS supposed to end soon. This should cause the PRT to give Skitter a bit of a pass and let her do her thing. She does a have a bit of a reputation that could come in handy. “Look you can talk to me, or you can talk to the girl who has a thing for eyes.”

        • Exactly. Machivelli said “And here comes in the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”

    • I dunno… I feel like if you got enough of them it could be pretty intimidating.
      Then again, enough of anything could be pretty intimidating.

      I’m still hoping she gets some darwin bark spiders eventually.

    • I actually think they are a little afraid of her and what she can do. I mean whenever the spiders with silk attacked, I couldn’t help but think she is holding back. She can simply have them blind them, force themselves down their throats, and thats not with the venomous insects. The PRT has to realize that she could probably kill all of the adepts without too much trouble. The reason that a few captains are testing her is because they see her as a threat. They don’t see a little girl trying to fit in. They see the girl that beat Lung, outmanuvered Dragon, and killed mother-fucking alexandria. I mean Taylor could freak the prison out by just having EVERY bug in her range throw themselves into the bug zapper and destroy it by crush of bodies.

    • I’m just irritated with them right now. It’s like Taylor’s first few battles, except at least back then it was her own inexperience holding her back, but right now, it’s a couple of idiots. I mean, come on:

      Weaver=bug powers.
      Bug power=bugs.
      Bugs=predominantly black.

      Take it like a man, Glenn, it’s not exactly rocket science. Because the battle was interesting, especially when seeing how Weaver gets around her handicaps, when I compare this to the raid on Butcher and her friends, or the battle she fought with Regent and Imp, and I’m just weeping for what’s being wasted.

      • Now, that’s just unfair. Just because most of the insects that survive in urban locations tend to be brown and black doesn’t mean all of them are. Hell, some houseflies come in vibrant blues and greens. Some beetles come in brilliant colors. And, even still, we’ve got aphids, mantises, and cicadas for varying greens.

        Black and Brown are just what works in underbrush and inside the wood of homes.

    • Think of it as a learning and training exercise.

      Considering how much better Taylor got at using her powers by spending some time blind, this could actually help. Having to learn how to do things only visibly using butterflies might be the sort of handicap that could help her improve her understanding of her own powers.

      • I can’t see that going against a group like Adepts should be considered “practice”. If someone risks injury or being taken over by them then it is too big a risk. Taylor could have taken the entire group without being near them in about 10 minutes. Instead there was a protracted battle with injuries. Irresponsible.

    • This is an interesting point. I already discussed it with you and others at some length on spacebattles, so I’ll post a link below as it seems silly to repeat myself. The gist of my response, as you’ll already know Stalker, is that the restrictions on Taylor’s abilities are probably over the top, and she’s already shown that she can moderate her degree of force and image effectively while using her full range of abilities. A happy compromise would be possible, but it’s INEVITABLE that it won’t be reached at first because the PRT don’t trust Taylor, and harbour animosities towards her in many cases. Hopefully this will change in time.

      http://forums.spacebattles.com/threads/worm-superhero-web-serial.228262/page-34#post-10873243

      • Reading your post, I suddenly was struck with curiosity about Taylor’s actual height and weight. Going by the various cues (e.g. tall for a girl but not tall tall but tall enough that the Internet thinks she must be a full-grown woman, small frame, lean but fit) … five foot nine, one thirty five pounds (175 cm, 61 kg)?

          • Significantly skinnier than I would have guessed, actually — I assumed that given how hard she’s been training she would have put on a bit more muscle mass. She really is whippet-thin, then.

            Come to think, that might contribute to how she comes off as being taller than she really is a lot of the time.

          • Now I want to see how close I can guess the heights and weights of the other Undersiders.

            Bitch: 5’7″, 175 lb — you remember that “I’m not fat, I’m big-boned” joke that went around for the longest time? Rachel isn’t fat, she’s big-boned. She’s no wall of beef and she’s not that tall, but she’s got a broad frame and muscles.

            Tattletale: 5’8″, 135 lb — she was a little taller than Taylor when they first met, so 5’8″ is a minimum; from her remarks at Fugly Bob’s I see her as not-skinny and self-conscious about it in the way 21st century Americans are generally self-conscious about that kind of thing, but given that she told Taylor she could claim that her new clothes were hand-me-downs she’s probably actually pretty skinny.

            Regent: 5’10″, 140 lb — I don’t remember anything about Alec’s height, so I’m guessing it’s average; his build looks like a dancer’s build with the fake muscles under his shirt, so he’s gotta be skinny as all getout.

            Grue: 6’8″, 275 lb — a foot taller than Taylor and absolutely a wall of beef. This is more than completely established repeatedly in the story.

            Parian: 5’0″, 105 lb — she’s Accord-short and small enough that she can’t intimidate anyone physically. Could be ten pounds more or less, though; I don’t think her build has been described in any detail.

          • Man, that’s RAIL thin.
            That’s thin enough that most people would call bullshit on her being an adult…
            At least in America. She’s not Kenyan or Asian, which can do the rail thin with a reasonable likelihood of still being an adult.

          • I just remembered (again) that I forgot to post a guess for Imp: 5’9″, 150 lb. Brian’s tall, so I’d expect her to be relatively tall as well, and she has a shape, unlike Taylor, so not nearly as thin.

            • You forgot Imp? Fancy that.

              Probably the furthest off. Keep in mind that she’s rather young, so she’s not even midway through puberty or her growth spurts.

        • I’m delighted and intrigued as to what part of my post got ya thinking about Taylor’s actual height and weight, Packbat, and good guess btw : )

          Also I now have a mental image of Rachel having gotten hold of an Ovcharka, and it being physically bigger and heavier than Taylor even in it’s untransformed state, and them sitting on a couch watching lassie together and the Ovcharka barking for the exciting bits. This amuses me no end : D

          • Passage was this:

            The fact that her power can look a little scary is easily spinnable away, with a competent PR person on the job. A good PR person could do it in their sleep, hell you could even embrace the edginess of her powers and craft a persona based on that, if you were smart. (The public love an underdog, and they get precious little of it elsewhere in the Protectorate.)

            I was thinking her size could help sell her as an underdog — at 125 pounds, she’s literally a flyweight under the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.

      • One of the many times I regret I can’t convince anyone I know to read Worm, because my roommate looked at me like I was a lunatic when I started laughing, and I really wanted to say, “Hey, come over here! Someone just dissed Taylor. AGAIN.” And then we’d laugh, because as it has been put ever so elegantly:
        “Meh, I could take her,” said Jouster.

        • “Hey, Lung, are you watching this?”

          “I would rather not.”

          “The news is saying that Weaver just helped drop a group of Adepts with butterflies.”

          *grumble*

          “Isn’t that the same girl that stopped you twice?”

          *instant flamey doom*

          • Which can be easily twisted around.

            “She didn’t need any vicious or venomous critters for them and attacked you with every poisonous creature in her arsenal. So take it with pride – you required lethal force incarcerate, while those clowns were soundly defeated be the butterflies of doom.”

  3. “No, no, no,” he said. “If anyone asks, you kicked their asses with butterflies.”

    Why is Clockblocker so perfect? I’ve been having a shitty day and this chapter, Clockblocker especially just made my day awesome.

    • I envision a day, not too far down the line when people realize just how damn dangerous the bug girl is, that Taylor surrounds herself with a swarm of butterflies and a criminal reacts like she has a loaded gun.

    • He even forgave her for the bugs. And slamming his head against the floor. And he even got to see her shove bugs down a few other people’s throats.

      Clockblocker will drink the tea. It is a good day.

      • Yes. If Wildbow can make characters deliver such lines regularly, it’s a great step up for the humour side of Worm. They shine like diamonds in the grimdark world of Lindwurm.

    • It’s like people who live where the weather gets really cold and you get bad snowstorms. You don’t have to like it, but there’s a perverse sense of pride in bragging about it to southerners.

      …Yes, Skitter is basically a natural phenomenon. That shoves bugs in your mouth.

      • As an Australian, I thoroughly approve of this concept. And truth be told, I can imagine Clockblocker doing the whole ‘Dropbear’ thing and making a point of scaring the younger Wards with tales of Skitter.

        • ‘Loam shifted uncomfortably in his seat, the plastic edging digging into his costume. Beside him, his team-mate Wisp whimpered quietly.

          At the front of the room, Clockblocker cleared his throat. “And that isn’t all. Before coming over to our side of the fence, Weaver was known as a Class B threat, with a potential threat rating of A. She controlled vast swathes of the city through fear, castrated a man who once fought off Leviathan in hand-to-hand combat and humiliated everyone who has ever challenged her. She sees everything that goes on around her, is known for dissolving into bugs like some sort of fictional ninja, and has terrified her enemies into submission by filling them up with bugs. You should all consid-”

          Clockblocker’s narration halted as a swarm of bugs interrupted his lecture, forming up into a humanoid shape. Loam felt fingers tighten around his hand, and looked to see Wisp holding on to him. The rustling figure spoke.
          “Hey, Clockblocker, fun is fun, but I only agreed to you exaggerating my exploits as a way to scare some sense into them. It kind of misses the point of the hyped intimidation if you’re listing things that I’ve actually done. You especially didn’t need to bring the thing with the eyeballs into it.”

          Clockblocker raised an eyebrow before replying. “I didn’t. Until you just said, I wasn’t even totally sure you were the one to cut out Lung’s eyes.”

          The figure shook for a moment, and Loam belatedly realised it was shaking its’ head. “Wasn’t talking about that time. I’m upset you brought up me filling up Valefor’s eyeballs with maggots.”

          There was total silence in the room, apart from the slight sound of Wisp hyperventilating. Clockblocker coughed.
          “…I, um, wasn’t aware of that one. I was just talking about your tendency to drown people in bugs.”

          The figure was silent a moment, and then looked aside awkwardly. “Oh. My bad.”

          Despite himself, Loam let out a whimper of his own.

          ((I don’t think Loam and Wisp have already been taken as code-names. If they have, just imagine something else in their places)).

          • The way it is presented it seems as if he was trying to scare them off.

            Would have been better if you spent some time building up to it, like…

            Clockblocker led the two newest Wards through the HQ, explaining the ins and outs of procedure and introducing them to his team mates as well as commenting on the various capes he didn’t want to bother just now.

            Taking note of the glances Wisp and Loam took at a door with a stylized bug adorning it, he explained a bit about the infamous Weaver.

            “And that isn’t all. Before coming over to our side of the fence, Weaver was known…”

  4. “a kerchief over the upper half of her face” Extra space there- and should it be the lower part? I suppose the upper part could work, but that seems more dread pirate roberts to me.
    “I felt weirdly” Cut off there.
    “what you want, Glenn”” missing comma.
    ““Don’t flatter yourself,” Hoyden said, patting his chest.” She seems to change gender.

  5. Man, they’re still underestimating her? Insulting her capabilities? She killed Alexandria, they aren’t even pretending like she didn’t. Are heroes really that stupid? Why isn’t she in a leadership position? Or at least, on the fast track for something like that? She can obvoiusly do more than play sidekick, she ran an entire sector of a city, admittedly by “proxy” – but I don’t think there are many sixteen year old girls who can admit to doing something quite like that.

    Pisses me off that she’s in prison too. It’s like a slap in the face. Her time is valuable. The world is going to end. And they think they’re justified in wasting it? Sure, from their perspective, it’s “justice” or something close to it, but it seems right ridiculous, that she would agree to any of this; it’s hardly better than being /mean/ and managing BB. What does she hope to accomplish playing the shallow games of these children masquerading as heroes? Urgh.

    I do like the change of setting and direction, but the pretense of it could have been different. Taylor doesn’t need therapy, she doesn’t need jail time, she doesn’t need to play power games and stroke egos. But I guess that’s what we’re going to see for a while? I hope they get what they deserve, at least.

    • Going from Villian to a leader of a hero group isnt exactly good for the PRT’s image. Most of the heroes wouldnt trust her enough to obey her either. Same with the prison thing, the heroes dont trust her to run around free. Think about it for a second, from the perspecive of the PRT and the Heroes, why should they trust a villian who has just killed one of their best to roam free and be a leader of one of their ward groups?

    • Can they really, in good conscience, give her leadership over Wards members without taking the time to establish a track record in the Wards that merits leadership? She was operating at a high level of villainy not two weeks ago, maiming and killing, ostensibly for justice and the common good. That’s not the sort of behavior they want Wards exhibiting, and especially not teaching to the Wards under their command.

      • “Can they really, in good conscience, give her leadership over Wards members without taking the time to establish a track record in the Wards that merits leadership?”

        Why not, they let a guy with a fauxhawk be the PR and image consultant.

        • It’ll be interesting to see. When you have a guy who’s as on about image as him, but who has developed a personal image that hits many unsavory notes, that suggests they’re by design. Maybe to make his job easier, as a way of developing leverage over the Wards. End of the day, he can’t force competent parahumans to do fuck-all, but he can make ignoring his requests so tiresome that it’s easier to put up with his bullshit than provoke him to worse. All the while, he has what amounts to diplomatic immunity.

          • I just wish he could be transported back in time to a WWF wrestling ring in the late 90s.

            “What? A bald, beer-swilling redneck with underwear and a vest on telling people to give him a hell yeah and throwing up middle fingers?! And he’s a good guy? The public will never go for it!”
            *cue thousands of people wearing Austin 3:16 shirts*

            What’s next a fat guy who lives in a basement wearing dung colored tights and an ugly leather mask with long hair who talks to himseld and can take lots of pain?”
            *and thousands wearing shirts with a happy face wearing a similar mask that reads “Have a nice day!” underneath it*

            “What is wrong with these degenerates?”
            *just in time for music to play as guys walk out crotch-chopping to massive applause and tell everyone to “Suck it!”*

            “Please, I need to get out of this hellhole. If there’s a God, I hope he’s listening.”
            *Gong! The lights go out*

      • Fully agreed. She should be fast-tracked into a leadership position (but probably won’t be — I see the PRT locking her in as a perpetual second-in-command, like Gully), but she cannot lead until she has had the proper PRT brainwashing.

        Which, thanks to Lisa’s self-confidence school, won’t be sticking.

    • I wouldn’t put her on a team at all. Have her as an independent hero who is sent up against the deadliest villains. Even throw her at Nilbog and take bets on who would win. Don’t put any restrictions on how she fights. Let Weaver become the new Kill Order.

    • Skitter definitely needs some degree of therapy, most people do when they’ve been through traumatic events, which she most certainly has. Jail time is so that she isn’t getting off scot free.

  6. Loved this chapter.. bummer about getting charged as an adult, but several hundred assault charges is a lot for merely juvenile detention. Worse than that, Taylor is learning the awful truth about the Wards: their true struggle was not against the villains of Brockton Bay, it was the daily challenge to climb Bullshit Mountain, uphill both ways.

    Fight was fun, appropriate sort of wizard powers and bullshit politics right from the start. More fuel for the expanded-consciousness or consciousness mastery power theory. Would explain how Taylor can function under a mind-damaging or time-altering affect, if a fair portion of her mind is outside her body, and her ‘range’ is actually the radius of her consciousness. Could also explain how Taylor hardened up so quick, if some of the stronger personalities she encountered rubbed off on her while they were in her range (Jack Slash, Bakuda, Lung, to name a few). Too, when she encountered each of them, she tended to come right back at them with their own style. Lung with cunning and brutality, Bakuda with sudden violence, Jack with laser focus and savagery.

    Which reminds me.. Jack’s power, another bit of speculation: if he triggered with a power based around the understanding of ‘cutting’, it could very well extend to wit. The idea being that so long as he stays true to form, stylish and sharp as a knife, his barbs reach out and touch people the way his knives do. Fun thought :)

    • Well think about it.

      Her ability to individually control hundreds or thousands of bugs simultaneously is MASSIVE multitasking. Seriously RIDICULOUS levels. Remember that a good chunk of humanity has trouble walking and chewing bubblegum at the same time. She can think about several hundred or thousand things simultaneously.

      Even slowed down, that’s a LOT of actions she can set into motion.

      Yes. MAYBE she’s a “Thinker: 1″

      Now multiply that times all the things she can do at the same time.

      Are you REALLY ready to deal with the fruits of the labor of a few HUNDRED low-level thinkers working in unison? To say nothing of a few THOUSAND.

      If you’re someone fighting her and you DON’T poop your costume over a thought like this, you simply haven’t thought about it.

  7. Warden sounds like she’d prefer Taylor in a literal Suicide Squad.

    And Glenn…oh boy Glenn.

    If they’ve ever wondered why they were losing, safe to say Glenn is just about as dangerous to the Protectorate as Cauldron. Personally, I got a mental image of that one fat actor. I know he was some artsy character in Beetlejuice who was tormented by his suit being turned into something that looked bad, like an 80s leisure suit or something.

    Seriously, no venomous bugs…no hornets, no wasps, no bees even. They want her fighting bad guys with butterflies. Shoot Glenn and they’re combat efficacy will go up at least 50%, I assure you. A whole lot easier to fight when you’re not constantly thinking about how to stand, speak, hold yourself, if you have something in your teeth, if you’re putting on weight, if your bugs look ok, if you’re not sending out overly threatening signals, and how to avoid cussing. Which, by the way, makes it easier to tolerate pain.

    Jouster, also a nice little asshole here if he’s going to act like that.

    Nice to see Clockblocker show some sense. Plus, you know, pointing out that this guy was underestimating the girl who killed Alexandria.

    Gee, no wonder there are far more people classified as villains than there are heroes. I mean, Glenn flashes you back to Velveteen and now I’m wondering if some of the villains are only labeled as such because some asshole in the Protectorate thought it’d be funny to mess with some files some day.

      • In a way its already happened, Flechette left the Wards to hook up with Parian who was originally trying for a career in fashion design.

    • I agree wholeheartedly. I get in some stories that people are afraid of people with powers and they tell them to act like the best of us to keep people from freaking out but the wormverse works differently. Legend admits that people aren’t afraid of parahumans/tolerate them because they are the meat for the grinder that is the Endbringers. I say let results speak for themselves and play up her dangerous persona. Have her wear her old costume, and use her bugs like she always has. Let the guy bitch about image while she beats every villain who encounters her in the ground.

    • To be fair, if you incorporate harmless word in your swear word vocabulary both the alleviating effect as well as fun factor rises.

      The whip user didn’t care for the pain he inflicted, or rather it being his point. Either way whips slashed across my forearms protecting my face again.

      “Cotton candy,” I muttered, getting louder. “Rainbow-colored cotton candy on a pony ranch, will you stop that already?”

    • Plus, it’s not like most people would DIE from Bee stings.

      Well, unless they’re allergic or get stung a shitton of times, but at that point, something’s gone FUBAR as is.

      Actually, come to think of it, Taylor could just retire somewhere and open up a bee farm. And if the PRT try to recruit her after that?

      “Not the bees!!!!!!!!!!!!”

  8. I can just imagine criminals refusing to fight Weaver because no way in hell are they going to be able to live knowing they lost to an army of butterflies.

    Kind of sad to hear Taylor won’t be able to go back to Brockton Bay. I have a feeling she’s going to end up with Techton since they seem to have a fairly decent relationship and hey, she’s always wanted a tinker.

      • Pretty sure Clockblocker will be prohibited from recruiting her.

        Tecton’s looking most likely to recruit her right now. I guess Hoyden is possible as well — neither of them like Glenn — but I got a sarcastic vibe from most of her comments that doesn’t bode well for their relationship.

        • I was actually speaking about romantic intentions. Taylor probably misses Brian, and I thought Clockie might be a good match. In terms of teams, I was thinking she can stay in New York as the first choice, and Tectons as second. Tecton’s team already knows and trusts her, and we already know alot about them. If she stays with the New York team we can see some new conflict/drama, and get to know the adepts more. Plus its a superhero universe and New York seems to be crawling with parahumans in ever superhero reality.

          • Ah. I never saw the reasoning behind Taylor/Dennis other than “Taylor rocks and Dennis rocks and rocks plus rocks equals ROCK AND ROLL” — Taylor doesn’t appreciate Clockblocker’s sense of humor, and Clockblocker doesn’t appreciate Taylor’s bugs in his mouth.

          • My comment is that Dennis and Taylor would be funny for equal parts irritation and fondness, and also because ULTIMATE RUSTLEMENT of Vista’s jimmies.

          • I get the impression that Glenn likes Glenn, and Glenn’s bosses like Glenn, and if Glenn likes Glenn and his bosses like Glenn, that’s good enough for Glenn.

          • I used to think “Dammit Greg” whenever something bad happened to her from being outed. Now I’m going to say “Dammit Glenn” when ever something goes wrong as a hero.

          • With the way that he tends to tick off the Wards , I would presume that he irritates the adult Protectorate members as well. It’s somewhat surprising that some irate cape hasn’t defenestrated him yet.

  9. Looking foward to seeing all the new city leader’s powers. And this new villain group’s abilities. Tis sure to make a few good entries in the cast page.

    In addition, I bet going into battle with butterflies could lead to many interesting battle cries. Hell, I wonder what some of the other groups combat shouts are like?

    • “Laugh and scream”
      “Wings and Fury”
      “Face your beautiful defeat”
      “Butterflies, I choose you”
      “Undersiders, RISE UP”

        • Sush! Don’t give Glenn ideas! He’ll make her go into battle as a Magical Girl in an Incrediably Impractical Princessy dress next!

          • That’d only work if Taylor had very asian features.

            Or he could just change the costume to emulate any of the Kamen Riders.

          • Knowing Taylor she’d simply cover herself in bugs, so no harm done. Grue would probably appreciate it very much. Though considering the things on the internet, I’m kind of glad Taylor can’t go online to see all the fanfics, fanart of her as a sailor, blogs, fandoms, hatedoms, porn, and Scion knows what else on the girl who started as an undercover hero, became a villain, took over a city, fought off several S-class threats, killed Alexandria, and became a hero again in only a few months. If she ever kills an Endbringer, then I could see people worshiping her as their bug goddess. I wonder if sailor moon existed in the wormverse due to Leviathan, and all the parahumans? They had actual power rangers, so there might have been some real life sailor knockoffs in japan.

  10. So we did get a time skip, albiet a rather short one (a few weeks) The deal cut out seems nice and pretty creative. The reform program in prisons thing applied to Weaver seems almost perfect, although it does cut down time she could spend readying her bugs, making a new outfit, and wacky hijinks with the wards.

    One thing that concerns me though is how the Undersiders and the others are doing. They seemed to be alright without Skitter and nothing really drastic should happen given that Clockblocker is there and relatively unconcerned. However, couple weeks is a rather long time, and it seems at no point, right now at least, will we get back to them until probably the very end. I guess Witness from the deleted chapter in part was to also help bring the Undersiders back into the fold somehow, along with the Irregulars. I also guess that Danny did vouch for Weaver, but have he and Weaver spoken to each other during that time?

    In terms of the battle, I guess Weaver will need to uphold an image still, but instead of creepy and scary, its butterflies and sunshine. However, this might actually make Weaver even scarier/ seem more powerful, and not just for image sake. In regards to the passenger thing, it seems a bit odd that it is now that is taken even more control. In the past, it would have really only worked when Skitter was either fully unconscious, or so focused on her bugs that she just kinda dissociated from her body. Here, she still had some levels of lucidity and awareness, so that could mean a lot of things. Maybe the passenger is taking great control, maybe its starting to “meld” with Weaver, or maybe something along the lines of Labyrinth’s situation.

    Also, I guess we really do need to mourn for the loss of Atlas. Unless one of the Undersiders is taking care of him, which isn’t that likely given that they really can’t or know how to, he is definitely not alive anymore. Guess will never get that ever important Atlas interlude.

    • Atlas is basically a biological RC vehicle. He possesses no instincts and can’t even function without Taylor controlling him.

      • SHUTUP

        your spoiling peoples dreams with your damn logic. what if psycho gecko where to read a comment like that?

        • Actually, people can already turn bugs into RC vehicles. I believe it was something they did for DARPA where they inserted microchips into bugs’ brains and were capable of controlling them. The next step that they were stated to be working on was using beetles, due to their strength, to carry miniscule cameras or audio equipment powered by a very tiny nuclear battery, so they could use bugs to spy on some situations.

          And then there was that thing where some scientists wired some rats’ brains together. Trained one bunch of rats in how to solve this problem, wired them to untrained rats, untrained rats could suddenly solve the problem better than if they hadn’t been wired.

  11. Quick thought: did the PRT actually debrief Taylor after the mission? Or, now that I think of it, ever? Because I’m pretty sure they’d be in for some shocks, starting with “she can still control her powers while under the influence of hostile mind-controlling powers. Or unconscious.”

    Also, this chapter more than anything else lends credence to the “Taylor’s power lets her use insects as parallel processing” hypothesis. Asleep she’s still plotting and planning. Thinker 1 is ridiculously low.

    • Knowing she can hurt them while sleeping might be something Dragon decided to keep from them. Most likely its that no one has realized it, and Taylor prefers that enemies don’t realize that she can’t be mind whammed for the look of “oh crap” as she attacks.

      • I’d like to amend it being a forced unconscious state, i.e. knocking her out. If she goes to sleep voluntarily it doesn’t seem to do much, except prepare silk lines like an overeager puppy. Only general orders, if any.

        • Well her power has only just started to do this, so it is theoretically possible that she can eventually put all of her consciousness in a swarm while she is sleeping. Then she can roam around the city, investigate, and attack others without drawing suspicion.

        • That this makes me wonder if Skitter will ever start actively training he passenger or if she will just keep accidentally training it.

  12. Have to admit, this is the story I was expecting to read when I found out Worm was a superhero story.

    Also, this needs to be said. Clockblocker is the best.

    Also also, I really want Skitter and Dragon to interact more.

    Also also also……I wish I had something to say that would give me the excuse to say ‘Also also also also’. Oh look, I did!

    • Also also also also, I was worried we’d be put in a situation where it would feel wrong to dislike the heroes and a cleaned up Protectorate. Thanks to Jouster and Glenn, it’s nice to see that we can still continue to rag them for their rampant incompetence and assholery.

        • Trachea make that a difficult task at best at the numbers required. Also, when, if she’s got only a few hours per week outside and is watched all the time?

          • Hire an entomologist to help her start breeding a group of highly colourful bugs?

            Use some less-common creatures to attack? We already know she can control crabs, and the theory is that all invertebrates are under her control.

            *Starts imagining Leviathan VS the Kracken.*

          • My solution? Get the bugs to paint each other. It also leaves a lot of room for shenanigans.

            “Weaver! Your passenger has been finger painting again!”

        • Colorful Antropods of Death? Why hello Mantis Shrimp. Come on in. We were eagerly awaiting your arrival.

  13. Another brilliant chapter from the amazing wildbow! I really liked seeing the way the heroes operate. It’ll be very interesting to see when Taylor starts kicking ass like always, but using butterflies instead.

  14. Sooo… Glenn Chambers. Wouldn’t have any basis in an alleged crack smoking, racist, Canadian mayor would he?

    Well, okay, this guy actually cares about image. But there’s still a joke in there.

    Now, what the fuck is with the attitude towards Tecton here? “Don’t flatter yourself,”? Seriously? Fuck right off, I didn’t see Hoyden and Jouster neck deep in Echidna, seeing their teammates ganked by fucking radiation. What the fuck. I hate the Protectorate.

    Also, socially isolating the girl who was driven to villainy by social isolation isn’t the best idea. Just saiyan.

  15. “A lot of hassle for a little girl,” Jouster said, “Meh, I could-”

    Clockblocker was chuckling he stopped to interrupt Jouster, “You really don’t want to finish that sentence.”

  16. Oho, looks like Clockblocker found himself in a state of mind similar to his trigger event during the Echidna fight. I wonder how much of him helping her might be so that she can help him. Is it inappropriate to ship Weaver/Clockblocker?

      • Well Clockblocker did say: “I don’t like her, not really.” in this chapter, but that shouldn’t stop anybody. Just like nobody should stop just because Lisa said that this wasn’t the point where she confessed her feelings for Taylor or when she later claimed that none of them swung that way to Parian. Both were obvious lies.

        • Hmmm. One COULD view Lisa’s denial as Wildbow Jossing the idea. _OR_, we could view it as Lisa lying in order to cover up what happened after hours at the Coil Company party. Tattletale knew just how to hide their secret from everyone…

            • “I-I didn’t make this lunch for you! I… just happened to’ve made too much. Can’t let it spoil with the state the city’s in, you know.” *shoves lunchbox out*

          • It’s okay.
            ….It’s not like he wanted her on his team anyway.
            *sniff*
            Oh good heavens we have turned Clockblocker into a tsundere. We are so, so sorry, Wildbow.

            • Oh good heavens we have turned Clockblocker into a tsundere. We are so, so sorry, Wildbow.

              I’m not. There are very few males of that archetype and it is fun. I don’t even ship, I just like the interaction XD

        • If Clockblocker actually didn’t like her, he would have just said “I don’t like her,” regardless of how harsh it sounds. Appending “not really” turns the statement a bit, indicating that he doesn’t want to be that harsh, and possibly implying that he does like her, but he doesn’t want the others (including Weaver) to know how much. I think she’s growing on him. I don’t know that they’d get together (they might), but I can definitely see a good life-long friendship.

          • I like it — and it makes me think of another possibility: that he wants to dislike her for what she’s done — pouring bugs down his throat, almost killing Triumph with anaphylaxis, giving Shadow Stalker to Regent — but he doesn’t.

            And there’s an obvious reason why he might involuntarily like her: when they were fighting Echidna together, she was the one who turned the battle back around after the Eidolon-clone spilled the beans on Cauldron, and she did it by staking her life on his ability to freeze the cord. notes mentioned in his analysis thread how people are more strongly influenced by what they see with their own eyes; Echidna was, if I remember correctly, literally the third time he met Skitter ever, and the closest he ever interacted with her … and every single thing he sees her she do — and every reason she gave for the morally questionable things she did in the past — is for the greater good.

          • He saw skitter in action, IIRC…
            Bank robbery
            Fundraiser
            Post-Shadow Stalker kidnapping
            Midst of fighting Mannequin/Crawler
            Pre-Echidna
            Echidna fight conclusion
            Seeing her in the PRT office post-surrender.

          • He also saw her in the cafeteria at Arcadia, and was all “Holy shit. It’s really her.” when he saw her smiling at how impossible her situation was.

            He’s a bright kid, he’s also liable to realise that he saw her in the corridor half an hour earlier, although neither of them recognised the other at that point. Probably.

          • He also saw her in the cafeteria in Arcadia High, with that whole “Holy shit, she’s smiling, it’s really her….” thing. Saw her in the corridor half an hour earlier too.

          • @Wildbow: Damn, I missed a lot. Okay, looking at your list and paging through the table of contents trying to remember what fights happened in each chapter:

            1. Bank robbery: never saw anything but the bugs.
            2. Fundraiser: Grue’d and/or foamed for most of it.
            3. Shadow Stalker kidnapping: Skitter capsaicined his teammates, he froze Grue, then Regent+Imp took him down and Tattletale foamed him.
            4. S9 planning meeting. Clockblocker was there, didn’t say anything.
            5. Mannequin+Crawler: Not much interaction — she was out of grenades, and assigned to evac Glory Girl.
            6. PRT Director kidnapping during Dragon crisis: Clockblocker was the one Trickstered out to bring Skitter in — he got frozen with his own power by Grue, and tied up with Skitter’s thread while frozen.
            7+8. Pre-Echidna+Echidna conclusion: what I was talking about.
            9+10. The cafeteria and her surrender: After what I was talking about, but consistent with what I was saying.

            …wow, I hadn’t remembered just how much ass she’d kicked in his presence. I think her behavior fighting Noelle at the conclusion of the Echidna fight was the key turning point in their relationship, the point at which she proved to him that she could be an ally — but I don’t think that one instant could outweigh everything she and her team subjected him to in his mind.

          • In reference to number 5, I believe he did actually see her save his life. He’d frozen his suit to protect himself, but I think he might(?) have been unfrozen inside of it, so he could see what was going on outside. If that’s the case, then he saw her save his life by blowing a car off him with a grenade.

          • @frozen chicken: I didn’t think of that — yeah, he did say that his power didn’t work on himself. That’s probably the other reason he wears a full-body suit, too.

            Of course, he might not have clearly seen what was happening — remember, she was in the air, and with his suit frozen, he can’t turn his head to look at anything not in front of him. He would have heard her voice, maybe seen those of her insects that were near ground level (not many, after the firebombing), but it’s questionable whether he would know what was happening at the time. Checking Prey 14.5, I don’t see anyone actually saying her name.

      • Am I the only one who wants a nautical-themed Tinker to be introduced so we can pair them with Bauble for a ship in a bottle?

        • Well I’m waiting for the aquaman/woman equivalent. Maybe a cauldron fish mutant with water control on a much smaller, and more versatile uses then Leviathan. Though considering this is the wormverse, he probably works in Somalia as a pirate. Or is one of those extreme animal rights activists who started attacking wailing ships, oil platforms, or fisherman.

  17. I also want to hazard a guess – We get this arc to set up the next few years of Taylor’s life, and lays out her goals she wants to accomplish in that time. Then perhaps we get another set of anniversary arcs that take place pre- and/or post-timeskip. Cut to super badass hero Weaver.

    • So I wasn’t the only one seeing that? The potential for a crawling time-skip, so to speak, or rather a series of little hops?
      Imagine this arc following Taylor on her adventures every few days/weeks and get her socialize or in good standing with the PRT and by the next arc…

    • That wouldn’t really fit into the formula where everything progressively gets worse for her.

      I think this is just a minor breather to give us a glimpse of how positive things might turn out only to cruelly dash our hopes later.

      My guess is that we see our hero put into a team on probation possibly as a support role. She bonds a bit with her new team-mates, clashes with her new leader and starts developing her new identity. Then some major threat attacks everyone around her has their lives horribly ruined and she ends up being in command. Weaver manages to save the day, but gets blamed for all the young wards who lost their lives during the fighting. She is about to be put back into prison or into the birdcage when an Endbringer unexpectedly attacks or Saint releases everyone from the birdcage.

      Basically things escalate around her while in the meantime she works on refining her powers.

      By the time the end comes around she has been through so much shit that she has some confidence in handling things. After working under such handicaps like being blind or the PRT image people telling her to only use butterflies she can use her powers to their full potential. Then something bad happens to dash all hopes again.

      • But she’s already experienced wave after wave of crushing bullshit. And now we’re seeing her thrown into a new area that she doesn’t have enough skill in. a timeskip would be a decent way to carry out some lightspeed character development. Then we come back to a Weaver who is famous as a good guy, and is more powerful than ever when – gasp – S9K appears. Chaos ensues, Birdcage breakout, and we get to see what happened with Theo. It’ll be cool.

        • Nah, lets get perhaps one more little dry run as she’s introduced to her new team and then we get S9K. Her team is brutally slaughtered though her experience helps her escape and she finally gets put with D&D.

  18. Well Taylor got a week to relax in prison. And I get the impression that she is only there because she wants to be there. If there is an attack or a mass breakout on the prison she could probably handle it by herself. At least most of the other inmates seem to realize that they are trapped in there with her and keep their distance.

    Her and defiant do a bit of bonding, She makes some new friends by forcing bugs down their throat and gets to work on her image.

    I like how Clockblocker seems to be the only one who realizes just how dangerous she really is and he seems to enjoy it.

    Regarding the passenger in control thing. I am not sure if it actually is the passenger. It certainly seems different from Noelle’s experience with hers.

    A possibility might be that what she attributes to her passenger is just her own id or subconsciousness expressing itself. There used to be speculation that she uses her swarms processing powers to augment her own brain and giver her the resources to do her multitasking.

    Her powers continuing to work by themselves somewhat independently might just be bits of her stuck in the various distributed computing nodes while the main server goes offline, so to speak.

    If this is true and she properly utilizes it she could do all sorts of fun stuff with it like budding of a semi-independent swarm-clone of herself. Also I doubt that this sort of thing would go over well with the PRT image guys…

    • That is an interesting theory. So she is actually programming her bugs so that they learn from past instructions and make is so they can act independently. That is kind of scary knowing that even if you stop her, her bugs will continue to attack all on their own.

    • I think we all know that this story is going to end with someone putting a bullet in Taylor’s head, and then a horde of bugs rises up behind them and says ‘Agh! That hurt, you ass!’

      • Well, Dinah said: “You will be there, but you will be different.”

        I don’t think she meant a costume change and given that she was blind and beaten six ways to Sunday at that point Dinah probably didn’t refer to some minor disability acquired in the meantime either. (The standard for superheroes in the bad futures appears to be eypatch, hook for a hand or wheelchair, plus goatee where applicable.)

        For Taylor to be different it would have to be something major like being borged by Dragon or being turned into a sentient swarm as Bonesaw was planning that one time.

        • Now I’m imagining a wheelchair with a goatee and a hooked hand prosthetic dangling on the seat, with a disembodied swarm floating above asking “Seriously?”

    • Hehe. I’m imagining a mass break-out like you mentioned and Weaver sitting in her cell. Inmates roaming freely. And she doesn’t care much, except getting the spiders closer to her.
      And when some go looking for her, well… self-defence is such a wonderful word, isn’t it? By the time the authorities arrive, everyone is in their cells again, with the exception of a few inmates in the infirmary.

      • Warden comes running up like “What are you doing? Help!”

        Taylor just sits there. “Sorry, you didn’t want me getting into trouble or having bugs around.”

    • The reason that Taylor gets along with her Passenger differently than Noelle is because she is supposed to have that Passenger. Noelle’s Passenger was hijacked and pissed about it as related in the memory it shared with her during her interlude.

      • I wonder if that’s the case for all of the Cauldron-borne powers. Then, it’d mean that the reason their powers grow weaker over time is because their Passengers are finding more proper hosts, and are kindly leaving this liar to their lot.

        • Not grow weaker over time, grow weaker in more stressful situations, almost the complete opposite of how triggered powers work. Probably because they are getting closer to what attracted their passenger to them, but the Cauldron capes don’t have that bond and it lets the passenger pull away a little bit.

  19. An interesting note is that it seems that Wards in general don’t know how trigger events and related phenomena work – i.e. the part where Clockblocker didn’t know that your power increases when you are in the state of mind close to your trigger one. He has been shown willing to learn. So, with the help of some Tinkers and thinkers, he may be able to utilize that.

    • Well in their defense, they don’t have Tattletale on their side. I envision Taylor going in front of all of their thinkers and they realize instead of being intimidated/impressed she is very disappointed/laughs at their abilities. She has been spoiled by having TT give her great intel on the spot.

      • Now I’m trying to assemble my perfect parahuman dream team. Ranking in order of desirability:

        Skitter: Utility player — leadership, recon, equipment, crowd control, ‘little-gun’ offense.
        Tattletale: Ops/intelligence.
        Dinah Alcott: Headquarters Intelligence (pretty sure she could work the console during missions, too).
        Defiant: Equipment, backup leadership, ‘heavy-hitter’ offense, ops/intelligence.
        Dragon: As Defiant, but without backup leadership and with better equipment.
        Vista: Mobility, defense, demolition.
        Imp: Recon, sabotage, ‘little-gun’ offense.

        • I’m not so sure about Vista. She is too vulnerable and raw as she is. Ballistic could have easily killed her, and I think she needs alot more training before her power is very viable. Night and Grue would be a pretty nasty combination as well.

          • The Echidna-Vistas showed off her powers pretty well — she’s low on the list, but give her decent armor (between Weaver, Dragon, and Defiant, this can happen) and she can be a bit of a force-multiplier. You can switch her with Imp if you think her weaknesses overwhelm the advantages of having her, but she adds something to the team that no other capes I can think of can.

            As for Night — I’m not including anyone on the team south of Neutral on the Good-Evil axis, and Neutral only if they can play well with others (sorry, Bitch). Night is too far gone to be a candidate, in my book.

          • Well I think epic team ups are for the big threats like the Endbringers which would include villains at least until they are defeated. Or the dream team you listed could form a group like the Light from young justice whose aim is to get rid of Cauldron/gain control of their power creations to fight the Endbringers in a new massive conspiracy. Hey, Bitch has her puppy therapy now! She can play well with others better now…..kind of.

          • @theant87: …you make a compelling point about Bitch, actually. I still don’t have her in my top seven, though, because while she’s one of the best heavy-hitter+mobility+crowd-control capes out there, between Skitter, Dragon, Defiant, and Vista we have what she would bring and a lot else besides.

        • I’d go for more force-multipliers there. Vista is a good one, as well as Dragon if she’s willing to share, and I dare say the Thinkers count, but that’s actually still less force-multiplication than Taylor had working under Coil. The real trick to team-building in this verse is effective synergy: finding force-multipliers who work properly together, like Grue and Skitter together, or Tattletale and Coil.

          • If Dragon+Defiant aren’t sharing, they aren’t on the team — I’m counting on them to supplement Weaver’s cloth for armormaking and to provide mobility in the form of bikes or whatever. If they aren’t sharing their toys, forget them — bring in Bitch and Flechette instead.

            Synergies: Tattletale+Dinah Alcott is the big one — TT’s probably the best equipped to ask the right questions and draw the right conclusions from DA’s answers. Tinkermobiles+Vista is the other big one, hopefully — depends on how fast Vista works. (Actually, she could do a fair bit of crowd control — isolating individual parts of the battle to let her team’s heavy hitters do their thing.)

        • The Dream Team needs to have a lot of flexibility, a synergy of powers, skills and personalities that lets it handle any crisis. That means heavy hitters, support, range capability, stealth, intel, and mobility.

          Skitter/Weaver and Tattletale for sure. TT is still the smartest person in the room and easier to get along with than Accord. Taylor is excellent at recon, crowd control, and support, and quite good in a fight. Her main weakness is she probably can’t adequately lead a group of experienced adult heroes. Dinah, or one of the better precogs mentioned, for much the same reason as Tattletale.

          Then a big gun or two, ideally someone with the clout to sell the team. Someone who can make people say “yeah, those scary Undersiders are on the team, but so-and-so won’t let them get away with anything.” Legend is good for a number of reasons, power, flexibility, knowledge of the likely opposition (Cauldron) leadership and fame, but unlikely. Whatever else she was, Alexandria was his friend. Narwhale, the moment anyone figures how to raise the dead, would be ideal. Weld may be an option too, but further down the list.

          D&D is a given, for their tech support, firepower, and again flexibility. Early in the Levithan arc, Taylor mentioned a Big Five, the heroes who come up in every conversation about which supers are the most powerful in the context “Well, yeah, besides them.” Scion, the Triumvirate, and Dragon. Defiant is along more as Dragons plus one and minion than anything. As long as we’re forming a generous tech department, Kid Win and Tecton can come apprentice to the Dragon.

          Flechette for range, if not Legend. She’s hurt Endbringers, ’nuff said. Won’t come without Parian, which increases the number of undersiders on the the team, but even Sabah could be devastating if she told Taylor how her powers work.

          Clockie for support, Panacea too if they could get her out of prison and into therapy. I’m imagining someone distracted by a cloud of butterflies, and suddenly it’s an hour later and he’s surrounded and wrapped with chains. Amy plus Taylor is a gamewinner, as previously discussed. Since there don’t seem to be any good teleporters but Eidolon, and all the speedsters we’ve met are dead, Vista might work in a support role, enhancing team mobility while restricting the opposition.

          Faultline too, just because she can break anything nonliving, is an increasingly respected figure due to her investigations of Cauldron, and has leadership and tactics down.

          I hate to dip into the Undersides pool again, but we’ve only met three decent stealth operators. Don’t enough about Othello one way or the other, Shadow Stalker is out for personality reasons, and Imp seems better than either of them anyway at what she does.

        • Dragon + Defiant = control of technology. Non organic dominance.
          Taylor + Panaceia = control of organic matter.
          TT + Dinah = predictions and info.

          Need more that this?

    • Any bug chewing on the eyes, and crawling into your body is going to cause some pain. Though that is even more hilarious when a criminal gets their ass handed to them by caterpillars.

  20. Prison. Doesn’t. Make. Sense.

    They know her trigger event: trapped in a locker. They must know powers get better in situations similar to trigger events.
    They know she killed Alexandria.
    They know she controls bugs.
    They know she controls bugs so fucking well, that she can ‘everywhere at once’ in a given area.

    If Taylor wants her high school education fine, but she doesn’t need it. Are they even thinking? She has super powers! Is he going to waste her time in college? Is she going to waste her life going to a 9-5 when she could spend her life controlling bugs for people? There are farmers, villages, nay, countries, that would pay her gobs of money to keep pests away, to restore dying ecosystems (China), or conduct any number of tasks (finding rare species in tropical rain forests, using bugs to seek out rare plants in tropical rain forests, et cetera). She is so incredibly valuable as a resource to the human population that it’s mindblowing.

    And they’re going to waste her time, have her get a GED in prison? They’re going to lock her in a cell and have the nerve to complain that she’s cleaning up the place? Are they really, really that stupid? Not only that, but is Defiant going to waste his days being Daddy, picking up his princess every time she needs a summons?

    Skitter is more powerful when she’s imprisoned and desperate. It makes NO sense whatsoever to imprison her. If Skitter is staying in prison, it’s because she’s doing so willingly. They have her psych profile. They know this, right? They really can’t be this stupid. But they are, I know it.

    Skitter could catch some horrible disease in prison. Or she could get in a fight and get hurt. They’re risking her by putting in there. She’s an invaluable resource. And they’re squandering it.

    This entire story’s conflicts can be traced back to a single origin: incompetence in low-level government administration. The PRT are idiots, the judiciary are idiots, the school board are idiots – nobody has a clue. And nobody wants to get one either, because they have their egos. They have their paycheck. They just don’t care. As long as they’re following “the rules” somebody else came up with, everything is fine with them.

    “Please stop controlling bugs in our filthy bug-infested prison, Skitter.”

    “Well, maybe you should have hired an exterminator before bringing me here?” That’s what she should have said, I mean, I get it that Skitter did “those bad things” (like, where she defended herself from people that were attacking her), and maybe she made a few dozen people scared while they were depositing their 9-5 paycheck that one time, but the real reason why she’s in prison is to send a message to the public. That’s the real root of the conflict here – to save the sorry ass of a poorly run wing of the government. Because if they had any sense in the world, she’d be doing useful things for free as justice, not sitting on her ass, where she’s more of a threat anyway.

    • I think Dragon and Defiant are right there with you, BUT the PRT might have been designed by Cauldron to be somewhat incompetant, and the Wards show that alot of people still don’t trust her. Hopefully they will wise up or Weaver will do something huge again. Say she wipes out Nilbog and then walks into the prison and everyone realizes how stupid they are by putting her there.

    • “Skitter is more powerful when she’s imprisoned and desperate.”

      Yes. Exactly.

      You want to use her all the time on a “low charge”?

      Or you want her to be able to build up and lay down the hurt?

    • > They must know powers get better in situations similar to trigger events.

      I don’t think they knew. That’s the sort of thing that’s probably difficult to figure out for non-Tattletales, and the PRT doesn’t have Tattletale.

    • Except the rules are a form of testing for her. Can she follow these restrictions. Is she willing to work for us, and do what we say. It is a test, just like the raid she went on with the wards.

    • Yes, truly they should have just let her go with absolutely no negative consequences for all the nastier things she has done.

      • It is an extraordinary time though. The world is going to end, she is smart enough to work with them, and she did the things she did for reasons that the heroes could understand. I mean Teacher thinks that they will inevitably let the birdcage open in exchange for a pardon which means the shit is gonna really hit the fight. Its a fight for all the marbles, and they have a timetable. Yet the heroes aren’t acting like this fight is the most important in history. Instead of sitting in a cell, she could be preparing to try and stop the end of the world.

        • If you are going to use that argument, then why should Shadow Stalker be in jail? All she did was bully some school girls, she could be out there helping prevent the apocalypse.

          • Because Shadow Stalker is actually a psychotic murderer, whereas pretty much everything that Taylor has ever done has been to try to help people, or to bring down superpowered threats to normal people. If the people running the show had any intelligence, they could figure that out.

            Defiant has openly tried to take back the things he said about Skitter. You know, “Guys, when I said those things back then, and you used them to form the basis of your Skitter Operations Manual, I was actually totally wrong, and you need to cut her some slack.”

          • Shadow Stalker HAD her chance. She’d been caught nearly killing someone.
            She’d been tried and wrangled a deal that got her onto the Wards.
            One of the conditions of that “amnesty” was that she behave herself.
            She didn’t. And she got caught. Granted, she was partially framed. But she was, eventually, outed for the crap she was pulling.
            Thus, she got remanded to super-juvie with no privileges.

      • I completely agree that it’s ridiculous to expect everything to be forgiven.
        But there is a case for “community service”. Taylor has an extremely useful power, as anon already elaborated.
        Most of her victims would probably be happy enough if enough restitution was offered. Just have her working off the debt for the foreseeable future. She isn’t really ‘free’ in that scenario, but she’s being useful.
        Auction off her labor and you could probably get millions to compensate the bank she robbed and the costs the PRT had because of her.

    • I agree, prison doesn’t make sense and is indeed unfair, from an ethical perspective. Taylor needs rehabilitation, she needs therapy, but every act of violence she committed was proportionate, morally calculated, and most of them turned out for the better. She’s saved far more people than she’s hurt, and there was no alternative to her taking the actions she did- everything else would have been worse. Her only fault was that her violence was not socially sanctioned- but society shares the blame here, especially given the degree to which it has benefited from her. Forcing her to spend time in prison conditions while she gets the therapy and rehab she needs is simple cruelty, nothing more, based on the reprehensible notion that wrong acts /inherently/ deserve the actor to suffer, rather than being a regrettable side effect of rehabilitation and curbing wrong acts, which we should always seek to minimise. Taylor should be in a “Care in the Community” situation, a parole, probably with Dragon and Defiant as her parole officers. Not free, not forgiven, but not being needlessly forced to suffer when it serves no useful moral or practical aim. She’d be able to contribute her mind to the fullest, to develop new strategies for her new role, and to make herself a proper suit. Hopefully things will progress in this direction, eventually.

      BUT. Her violence was not socially or legally sanctioned, and she’s humiliated and defied the PRT and more generally the state a number of times. She’s effectively said “I am a better judge of what situations deserve violence than the state is, and I have a right to hand it out.”. And then she humiliated further by being RIGHT in nearly all of those judgements, by saving thousands or tens of thousands of lives when they couldn’t. Can you realistically expect them to just let that humiliationgo, given what they’re like? The only reason they didn’t send her to be raped and tortured in the Birdcage was because it would hurt them and she outmanoeuvred them, not due to any moral judgement on the matter.

      So their reaction is understandable, if immoral. It’s by far the least immoral thing they’ve done, or could do- look at Canary. Frankly Taylor’s lucky that Dragon and Defiant managed to broker as good a deal as they did, really, and that sanity prevailed. I hope things get better for her soon, it will be interesting to watch how it progresses.

  21. I liked this chapter- Taylor interacting with the heroes is something I always enjoy reading.

    I said something about this in IRC, but I figure I should type everything out at once:

    Having the spiders travel to the bug zapper to pick up food there does not make any sense. Taylor could easily just be sending bugs straight to the spiders to get eaten. She could send 90% of the bugs to their deaths at the zapper, and 10% to their deaths at the spiders. The ants/flies/cockroaches and etc vastly outnumber the spiders, and no one but Taylor knows the exact populations, so it’s not like the Warden would be able to tell that she’s not sending every single ant to the zapper.

    Sending all the spiders to the ONE place that Taylor had told them to watch for the volume of bugs she kills is really stupid. It’s something people could notice- either by seeing the spiders collect their food, or by noticing that one region of the prison has a much higher population of spiders.

    Sending bugs to the spiders on the other hand is much harder to spot, because it wouldn’t be a movement of bugs all to one particular place, the bugs are smaller than the spiders which makes them visually harder to see, and the spider population would be spread evenly across the whole prison (which in addition to being less noticeable, would be more advantageous to Skitter).

    • Obviously, the bugs taste better cooked.

      Alternatively, if she keeps the inflow and outflow of bugs the same (as new bugs enter her range and come into the prison), then she can make it look like the prison’s bug population has halted, since the amount of bugs at the zapper is now roughly constant.

  22. Honestly, Taylor really should have went with the nuclear option and released the information about Alexandria, Cauldron, etc. Clearly, based on this chapter, the PRT is not fit to fight the sort of threats that exist in the Worm-verse. Better to destroy it as soon as possible, and start anew. With Accord and Tattletale, she could conceivably have a “new PRT” set up in weeks, with much looser rules governing capes’ behavior.

    She would of course need several of the heroes to join immediately to give said new organization credibility, but I think that would be doable. She likely has Dragon on her side, more or less. And heroes like Miss Militia and Chevalier, while obviously disagreeing with such a move in the strongest terms, would still join. They too believe in a PRT, and would do what was necessary to preserve it in some form.

    Her desire to rebuild the PRT is laudable, but if the foundation itself is full of cracks, nothing you attempt to build on top of it will hold. Sometimes it’s just better to start over.

    • Yeah that new organization will surely manage to pull itself together to stop the endbringer attack on Greece. Also, plenty of heroes will join the girl that murdered Alexandria and Accord in creating this new organization.

      If I wasn’t directly involved in the situation and some supervillain tried to tell me that the people in charge of saving the world were evil, well I rather doubt I would take her at face value. Anyone in the PRT has far more credibility with most people then Skitter would have had with a statement like that.

    • Let me get this straight:
      Season 1 – Birth of Skitter, finale is 1st part of Leviathan
      Season 2 – 2nd part of Leviathan, S9 main villains, Coil will be established, the miasma is the finale
      Season 3 – main villain Coil, and Echidna as finale
      Season 4 – open in media res of Skitter turning herself in, then the whole getting Brockton Bay to its feet.

      I’d see prodigious use of in media res (see Breaking Bad for good examples) to keep watches glued to the show.

        • Well, I was picturing the Broadcast of her surrender, and Alexandria’s death explanation, as a Season Finale Ciffhanger ending. Then, the next season starts after she’s already out of jail and on a Wards team. acing worked out her Butterfly/PR issues Offscreen. of course, I’d have Clockblocker transferred to her team to help keep an eye on her due to his experience with her. Might even have Clockweaver already be an item.

      • Why does it always have to be (culturally) pretty people? Taylor is described as scrawny and stick-legged, and I’d really like to see the description of a literal character being done justice. Also, that actress is 23, not 16. No Dawson Casting, please.

        • The first person I thought of was Elle Fanning from Super 8 — she’s actually 15, has kind of a big mouth for her face, and can most definitely act. Her hair’s all wrong, but honestly, that shouldn’t be the priority when casting for a part.

          • Well, the age goes for her, I’ll admit that.

            But to give a bad example, if you’ve watched the recent Iron Man, the role of Guy Pears in the beginning is of a techy loser and you see he’s obviously made bad-looking. My opinion of that Val Kilmer clone notwithstanding, you know immediately he’ll be either important or handsome later on.
            That’s a general beef I have with the movie industry, though: preference of pretty + makeup but unskilled over decent/bad looking + skilled.

          • The problem with teenage actors (<20) is that their faces change noticeably as they get older–as they will in a long-running TV series. Adults don't have that problem, and with the right makeup and bone structure, can look as young as a teenager. That's why 22-25 years old are preferable.

          • AIM is a prominent science-based terrorist group in Marvel. Due to some of their experiments, they turn one of their members into MODOK, a Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing (It was originally Computing and MODOC). He gained increased intelligence, psychic powers, and his head grew enormous to the extent that he needs special equipment to float himself around. Oh, and he took over the group too.

  23. Well.
    This is going to annoying for our Bug Based Anti-Villan.
    Also, really Glenn? Really? What happened practicality Glenn?
    I’m sure you’re a nice guy with your own reasons for it, but really Glenn?

  24. As always, interesting.

    Ward animosity seems driven by social threat – she’s mostly dealt with Protectorate members (in one memorable case, literally) as an equal and villain, with a possible major side of concern for Flechette. She had, after all, worked with most or all of the NYC ward sub-teams, and was slated for a leadership role. She’s also been in the thick of the fight more often: Ward doctrine seems to leave the front line of big fights to the Protectorate where possible. For all that she sees their powers as flexible, and therefore befitting a team leader, hers is more so. Jouster is so clear about not taking orders from her in part because he’s worried that he soon will be.

    Protectorate animosity seems mostly driven by her being extra hassle, when they’re already really busy. Plus, of course, she’s a really disruptive influence, and it is easy to imagine she’s running a history-making scam on them. Rime obeyed Skitter in the Echidna fight – guessing Weaver’s diffidence is the attitude she didn’t like.

    I’m moving toward the theory that the Passenger isn’t driving when she’s semiconscious, but rather that that is her subconscious / swarmsourced thinking. Echidna’s psychological issues could be her Passenger – or she could be externalizing her own (Simurgh-augmented) psychological issues so it’s not her fault.

    The Adepts (specifically, Epoch) may take an interest in Weaver, and she might learn much from serious students of the interaction between mind and power. Plus, crazy time travel hijinks.

    Weaver can do a very rapid Skitter-turn: put the butterflies on the inside of the swarm, and cover herself in bugs. For when she wants to intimidate people again. Also, the fact that she can switch at will between diffident nice girl and KNEEL BEFORE ZOD is going to create some sharp cognitive dissonance.

    They deliberately sent the Wards up against a group that had been poaching them for weeks. Standstill / Thirteenth Hour seems likely to have been with a different group before the Adepts under her old name, perhaps even the NYC Wards given their fragmented setup. It seems likely that defeat was expected, with major Protectorate backup at hand. Which makes sense, actually – tests are meant to find limits, and they do that by pushing onward to failure. What they found instead, arguably, was that Skitter could take that group singlehanded, arranged it so everyone BUT her was disabled (she was on recon, and didn’t warn about Thirteenth Hour), wove strands until she has full control, staged the scene to further her plots, and then woke the heroes (with bugs down the throat – a deniable reminder that she could have killed them all, just like Alexandria) so they could see her victory, letting them share in just enough of it that she can keep up the poor little girl facade. This kind of (seemingly) effortless battlefield mastery is not comforting to anyone, with the possible exception of Clockblocker, who has passed through the valley of bug-horror and come out in the lands of bug-humor.

    Still watching what’s going on with D&D, but not enough new pieces for me to make new theories, yet.

    Warden’s interesting and competent. Can’t tell how long Weaver will be in prison, how she’ll deal with an assault on it (spiders!), but that seems a plausible upcoming event: she’s confined in a known location that is unlikely to be able to hold off a serious assault.

    • More great analysis, notes. Especially interesting the point about the social threat — it makes a lot of sense to imagine that Jouster’s putdowns are motivated by wanting to defend his ego.

      It hadn’t occurred to me that Rime might want Weaver to be more assertive, but that makes all the sense in the world — she’s fiendishly capable, and it’s a complete waste to use her for nothing more than recon.

      I don’t see them ascribing quite that Machiavellian motives to Weaver’s handling of the Adept, but I suppose it’s possible. Agreed that Clockblocker is the only one capable of handling what they’ve just seen with aplomb, though.

      • Agreed that not everyone will see Taylor as a mastermind, toying with Adepts and Wards alike – but it’d be hard to disprove, and some parts of the PRT will be properly professionally paranoid.

        Point being, what they wanted to see before putting her on a team was both ‘she’s useful’ AND ‘we can take her if we have to.’ Acing the test on the first issue doesn’t help with the latter concern.

        Even those friendly to her are going to note that she salvaged the fight, and that she could have won that fight singlehanded while having a bagel four streets away. A Skitter with her identity unblown in a busy city is… nightmarish. Costumes are for people who need to be there in person.

    • “Clockblocker, who has passed through the valley of bug-horror and come out in the lands of bug-humor.”
      *chuckles*
      What you propose is reasonable, sending the Wards + Weaver into a fight they might be outclassed with, but keep more powerful Protectorate members close-by to bail them out if need be. This lets them ascertain to which degree Taylor is willing to don the Weaver mask and discard her Skitterish modus operandi. I think she did good on that account, and depending on how the debriefing went she may have a metaphor for Weaver – A swarm of bugs, hidden in a cloud of butterflies.
      Though I think every caped team can see the potential Skitter already expressed and would for a moment consider recruiting, she’d be a liability at the same time due to her high profile. So unless the team is already pretty well established, they might prefer not to deal with the fallout such a member would bring. This is of course regardless on Taylor’s opinion on that matter.

      • That actually might be more cause for them to believe it was staged — I mean, which do you think they would find more likely: that bug-girl is somehow immune* to being Standstilled, or that the cape formerly known as Standstill left her out of the effect on purpose?

        * Which she isn’t, but I doubt they’ll hear the difference.

        • Could go either way: I had thought the paranoid PRC would think she planned for Thirteenth Hour to do that and was ready, but you’re right that Weaver taken by surprise and just shrugging it off is also scary.

          Some thoughts from threads elsewhere, DLP particularly, worth bringing in and playing with:

          Butterflies have fantastic color vision – better than we do. Weaver working with butterflies all the time would be a good way to get her to seeing through her bugs – it took her, what, a month, to learn how to hear? Lots of compound eyes would offer superlative resolution. Granted, it would take a lot of processing, but she’s good at multitasking. And it would take her one big step forward to local omniscience. It also sets her up for the logical extreme of the swarm sourcing theory, discussed below.

          Also, interesting side effects on the way she carries herself: anyone who’s used video if themselves to refine a presentation can tell you how disruptive it is to see yourself as others see you: seeing yourself like that all the time from all angles would probably shift her body language toward that stylized and artful sort used by royalty or celebrity – people who are never unwatched, and know it, and watch themselves often of necessity.

          Swarm-sourcing in the extreme leads to a death scene for Taylor, followed by a long time skip with intervals where insects gather and people think of her – basically the Dr. Manhattan pulling himself together sequence from Watchmen, but with more bugs – culminating in swarm-clones appearing. Which opens up a lot of the classic horror lines and puts Taylor in a very select company of people who do not die when killed. (Self-gathering swarms? She could conceivably take a nuclear blast to the face and, as long as a cockroach in her range survived, she might pull herself back together. Might make her too tanky to stay a guile heroine, but she’d still lack the offensive side of things e.g. the ability to punch out Behemoth.)

          Alternate version of her powers: Taylor has Teacher’s power… but over insects. The reason that silk is so ridiculously strong is that it’s made by insect Tinkers.

          Further side thought on Taylor’s reception among the heroes: people, when dealing with those they don’t know well, take the specific and assume it’s generally true. And Taylor, right now both is and is deliberately playing the part of a diffident, socially awkward girl. For those who haven’t seen her in her role as autocrat, her order sanctified not by law but by her undefeated and ruthless cunning, it’s very difficult to imagine that those aspects can coexist in one person. Sure, they’ve read reports, and may have seen her in the thick of a big fight – but those are fleeting glimpses, and really, are you going to trust TV or your lying eyes?

          Another way to put it is that Taylor has a moral code, but the first commandment seems to be thou shalt not lose when it counts. Understanding why Emma and Sophia are alive, and Tagg, Coil, and (possibly) Alexandria are dead isn’t impossible… but it sure doesn’t fit easily into the tripartite ‘cops, robbers, and real evil’ distinction Tattletale laid out, with cops and robbers periodically joining forces to fight line-crossing threats.

          • > Sure, they’ve read reports, and may have seen her in the thick of a big fight – but those are fleeting glimpses, and really, are you going to trust TV or your lying eyes?

            I am immediately reminded of something Billy Beane said in Moneyball about “blending what we see but [not] allowing ourselves to be victimized by what we see.” Because yeah — unless you make either a habit or a conscious point of noticing that what’s in front of your eyes doesn’t fit established fact, Weaver looks like a “little girl”.

            I think her problem is that Taylor has a Taylor-mode (in which she has spent a year and a half practicing being unnoticeable) and a Skitter-mode (in which she has spent three months practicing being goddamn terrifying), and neither mode works for a top-rank Wards member.

          • Oh, sure, she looks like a little girl. And it looks like Penn and Teller just wrapped the American flag in a copy of the Constitution and burned it. And it looks like Criss Angel just walked on water. And it looks like John Edward and Theresa Caputo can actually communicate with dead people.

  25. (Not Very Coherent) Observations;
    Yay! Hoyden has a Grifter mask! Hurrah for everyone’s favourite 90′s antihero who isn’t Cable or the Punisher! XD

    Oh Clocky, never change you rascal you.

    Glenn needs to eat every dick.

      • Haha, no it doesn’t at all. I wanted to keep it really simple though and with bugs its difficult to do simple. And stuff like spidery writing would be a bit cliché…

        If you have any ideas…

        • I’d keep the typography, definitely. The arrangement of lines and stuff is really nice.
          Now, I know what I imagine, but am not so well in expressing it, so I’ll describe the process in which it could be done:
          Make sugar water and write your Weaver with it, let all creepy crawlies take a like of it and compose a sum of different pictures of this overlaid, so each line is distinct but kind of composed of bugs.
          Another, more techy approach, is assigning the letters as high probability areas, scatter dots randomly over the whole are, and then let each dot be an arthropod.

  26. Other useless insects to use:

    Fireflies: great for night combat, can you imagine a bugclone made up of them all glowing in patterns or all at once? Well, just not so useful for actually hurting people.

    Moths: useful for rapid nudification of the enemy, unless they got mothballs. But hopefully the PRT can censor those on camera.

    Roly Polies: low speed vehicle, maybe?

    Ladybugs: preferably old once imported from the UK. I hear those ones are nasty and have a tendency to beat up men.

    Dung Beetles: for when the shit gets real, yo.

  27. Really enjoyed this one. Getting to the pace of updates rather than reading it straight through has been different. But I liked this, it was almost as if it were the start of a new series, not just a new arc.

    Well done.

  28. The warden should be letting Taylor make silk as part of her work program.
    1.) It would generate new income to offset the operation cost of the prison.

    2.)The silk could be used to make stuff for the prison. I.e new jumpsuits/ bedding.

    3.) Have Defiant co-op in-order to make body armor for the guards.

    The warden does seem to be a reasonable person so this could work. I mean, yeah she didn’t give a convicted murder access to dangerous chemicals, but she still used an asset which would help the prison function.

    Also, this chapter proves why Clockblocker should be her partner. He may not like her but he does respect her, and he already has shown that he is willing to put his dislike aside to work with her effectively. He also knows how she operates to a point, at least better than most people in the Wards, so they could develop synergy better. They have already proved to be an effective team during the Echidna fight. Their powers could work very well together as well. Weaver calls up a wall of bugs and CB freezes it, instant unbreakable wall, and we have already seen what they can do with treads. Plus,his personality would off-set her and get her to be a little more of a extrovert.
    He could also help with my solution to her problem with Glenn. See what the Glenn is missing out on is an opportunity to use the bugs to make Weaver funny. You can’t tell me people would not love a bug clone that yelled “Hug me!!!” while chasing someone. CB would help he do stuff like that.

    I also want Taylor to get a bee canon now for some reason.

    • You know, reading your comment and thinking about Clockblocker — how smart he is, how level-headed in combat situations, and how brave — I wonder if every member of the Wards has a lot of untapped potential that the organization simply doesn’t support.

      Then I feel like an idiot, because obviously they do.

      • People seem to have completely ignored the fact that Clockblocker played a HUGE role in the Leviathan fight when he should’ve gotten a medal for having the balls to walk up an Endbringer and touch it. it’s particularly notable since he is just as squishy as a mundane.

        • Oh, Clockblocker is a massive badass. That’s not even in question. I’m just saying he would kick a lot more ass without all the PRT asses holding him back.

      • Aegis had tons of potential, but now is dead. Gallant somewhat less so.

        The biggest thing holding Vista back is her lack of maturity and experience. Whatever she thinks, she’s still very much the kid on the team.

        A long time ago, Marvel had an alien superteam (mostly transparent copies of the Fantastic Four) Called Force 4. Their Reed Richards knock-off “Teamleader” had a tech vest, gloves, boots and belt pouches full of bits and bobs he could assemble in two seconds or less into any device he needed. Raygun? *snap*snap*snap* done. Area-denial forcefield projector? Took him almost 3 seconds to put together on the spot. Enemy turns into gas? *snap*snap* super-vacuum. Ditto for a jetpack, fire extinguisher etc. Oh and goggles with every vision mode he thought he might need someday. This is sort of what I imagine Kid Win being like in a year or two.

        They correctly judged Weld’s strength and leadership abilities, and squandered them by not letting the Wards get into anything serious during his tenure.

        Like Vista, Shadow Stalker had incredible potential held back by her personality issues. Unlike Yamada with Vista, the PRT doesn’t seem to have done anything to correct her issues.

        Flechette’s problems likewise sailed under the radar.

        At this point, I take it as a given that Taylor’s potential is going to be squandered and ignored. In fact, I see the PRT getting pissy every time she does something clever without their approval.

        • Agreed. I’m just waiting for the moment Taylor finally had enough and call them out on it during a live press conference for sending child soldiers into combat while equiped with Papier-mâché armour and nerf guns.

        • actually i see the prt getting really upset when they put her on some mid level team, and she pushes them into using alot of that potential the PRT works so hard to ignore.

        • Hells yes he does — you remember his recruitment of Chariot? He’s sharp, and now that he’s figured out what his real Tinker specialty is, he’s only going to get more effective as time goes by.

  29. - I’m surprised at y’all. Normally, the TVTropes entries would have been updated lickety-split by now :p
    - I wonder how Vantage’s power knows who his opponents are. Perhaps subconscious Gallant-style empathy that detects and perhaps absorbs hostile intent to fuel the strength/reflex boosts?
    would it work on robots?
    - Hoyden’s cool, I like her. A tad arrogant but hey.
    - Where lesser mortals see bug-horror, Clockblocker sees only bug-humor (nice one, [b]notes[/b]!) He has transcended through bug-suffering.
    - nice look at the Protectorate outside Brockton Bay. The Adepts too.
    - pretty much confirmed now that Taylor/Skitter/Weaver can outsource chunks of her intellect to the swarm

    • > – I’m surprised at y’all. Normally, the TVTropes entries would have been updated lickety-split by now :p

      We got a few edits in — I was planning on starting to add the new heroes we’ve been introduced to in the morning, after getting some sleep.

      *glances at clock showing “12:02″*

      > – pretty much confirmed now that Taylor/Skitter/Weaver can outsource chunks of her intellect to the swarm

      Actually, ruminating on it a bit, I think what’s happening is that she’s turning the insects into a part of her, like her hands and feet and legs, complete with ‘muscle memory’ and a few useful reflexes. Which makes what she’s doing in this chapter basically like sleepwalking, or sleep-talking-on-the-phone — not actual conscious intelligence, but autopilot.

      • I have no idea what she actually is doing in this chapter. Assuming she’s affected by it the ame way everyone else does, she is either hypnotized or something and the part of her the power works with is not affected at all. It really confuses me…

        • I heard a story once of a woman on a drug that was associated with sleepwalking. One night, while she was asleep, she answered a phone call from her sister, had a nice chat … and after she woke up, she thought, “I should call my sister! I have some things I want to talk to her about!” All of which she had already talked about while asleep on the phone.

          I heard another story of a different woman waking up with breakfast in front of her in the breakfast nook, and discovering after she had woken up that she had been in the middle of a conversation with her housemate. And her housemate hadn’t noticed she was asleep. Because she was apparently perfectly coherent.

          Long story short? Everything Skitter does in her trance here is within the capacities of the sleepwalking mind — and whatever Thirteenth Hour’s power does, it may activate the sleep-paralysis of the body, but not the superpower.

        • It seems to me like Thirteenth Hour sympathetically puts everyone around her (or that she targets) into a combination paralysis/trance. The trance would be the sort of mental state where you’ve been up for two or three days so you’re really tired and can’t put thoughts together coherently, but you are still observant of what’s going on. Or when someone says something to you, and you know that they said something and that it was directed to you, but you have yet to think for a moment to realize what they said.

          The Wards have powers that work from their own physical movement (moving, striking, etc.), so they’re effectively out of the fight when they’re paralyzed. Weaver’s power is not dependent on the movement of her own body, so she would be more free, even with the entrancement.

  30. Skitter should start using crustaceans more, seriously. If she can’t use anything with a stinger, she should become the mistress of the lobsters, snails, and hermit crabs.

  31. Yes she has to jump hoops with these guys. But this will help her with more creative maneuvers & ultimately make her stronger. I see Clockblocker transferring to wherever Weaver goes. It would help her adjust & he would be happier being on a winning team finally.
    I see Weaver trying to hook up with Tattletale or Bitch in the future. See how things are and such. I see her meeting her Dad in some therapy sessions.
    Weaver could use moths too. Some of those suckers get huge.

    • I don’t see Clockblocker staying, but I would love to see him on a team with Skitter. His personality is much needed to couneract all the stuffy assholes.

  32. You know if they want to provide them…. She could gather some very colorful beetles for heavy jobs. They have rainbow, metallic, emerald green and more. Add that to dragonflys butterfly’s & moths. It would be pretty but still effective. Get some stink bugs to crawl in the nose.
    Has she tried lizards or snakes?

      • “I only know about them because of someone else’s comment X entries back, but mantis shrimp are horrifying!” You had a typo. I fixed it.
        (seriously, have you seen their EYES? Death comes on rainbow legs…)

    • She would have noticed if she had lizard or snake control — Coluber constrictor has a habitat that reaches into Canada, already can live in trash heaps or suburban areas, and would thrive in the rodent-rich environment of the city post-Leviathan.

    • Considering Taylor’s recently revealed attitude to rules that seem to imply that the most important part of rules are the loopholes and that it is not cheating if you don’t get caught, we probably shouldn’t neglect insects capability for stealth.

      She is not exactly limited to ugly and beautiful creatures. With so many insects etc having capabilities for crypsis and stealth. She can just distract people with her colourful butterflies and moths and when no civilians is looking the bad guys suddenly realize that the leafs on the trees and bushes surrounding them are moving funny and that upon closer inspection that isn’t bark and those aren’t wooden sticks and not all that green stuff on the lawn are blades of grass and suddenly it is all moving towards you…

  33. this was rather amusing for me to read cuz i was think a “what if” scenario where skitter had jumped at the opportunity to join the wards at he very beginning and that somehing like the PRT PR guy played out nearly exactly like what i had in my head… except he wanted her to focus on laybugs.

    this was much more amusing with clock snarking throughout the whole thing

  34. On a second read through I picked up some ideas where this might be headed.

    The way Armsmaster talks her being relegated to some out of the way place and only being pulled in to deal with major s-Class threats is the worst case scenario.

    This shows that everyone has realized that she is worth pulling in for S-Class threats. It also belies a certain genre blindness about what would be likely to happen is someone like Weaver was put in charge of keeping the peace in some sleepy out of the way town. Things like discovering the towns dark secret or attracting all sorts of weirdness and having the usual sort of adventures that small town sheriffs tend to have….

    The fact that important and busy capes get pulled in from all over the country for an evaluation means something. The talk about having experienced capes join in the past and adapting their experience means something too.

    It doesn’t look like they are planing to just add her as a junior member of some wards team. She is either going to be a leader or second in command if they put her on a team or they are going to use her unique experience for some sort of special project.

    One scenario probably has her being placed in charge of a rag-tag bunch of screw-ups, misfits and rejects. Quickly working out their personal problems and helping the characters with lame joke powers weaponize through her natural munchkinness.

    Another alternative might be that someone in power with a grudge makes the typical fair-tale mistake of giving the hero an impossible quest in an attempt to set them up to fail. She gets put on a team with a group of monsters and ex-villains as an impromptu suicide squad, sent somewhere to die only to return later covered in blood and gore and smelling of smoke carrying the tarnished dog-tags of her erstwhile comrades and the head of Jamie Rinke asking what’s next.

    • > One scenario probably has her being placed in charge of a rag-tag bunch of screw-ups, misfits and rejects. Quickly working out their personal problems and helping the characters with lame joke powers weaponize through her natural munchkinness.

      Oh god I would read the hell out of that. And if they include Shadow Stalker in the screw-ups on the team I would read the hell out of that twice.

    • are you refering to any good story in particular?
      only to return later covered in blood and gore and smelling of smoke
      (hoping for something new to see/read)

  35. I envision Weaver being sent for a mandatory “see how friendly and nice our heroes are”-style public appearance at the University of Illinois’ Insect Fear Film Festival.

    And anybody in the PRT who disparages her aloud should be forced to watch a version of the movie “Marabunta!” — just so they have an idea of what kind of hornets’ nest they’re kicking.

  36. You know, every time I read Clockblocker going “Wait, what?” after Weaver casually mentions the trigger-event mindset thing, it gets funnier. I don’t even know why.

  37. Wait a tick.

    I just realized what Thirteenth Hour’s trick reminds me of: she’s fricking Briar Rose!

    WIldbow you sneaky so-and-so, I read your book! :D

    ———————–

    Ahem.

    “Admirable, almost,” Swoop commented. “This is the sort of thing we hope to train, and she’s already a fair hand at it, isn’t she?”

    Well now. Isn’t that interesting.

  38. Hmm. There’s an insect that I’ve assumed that Taylor has been using all along, but hasn’t come up since Plague is the dragonfly. Dragonflies are incredible fliers in the insect world and they’re pretty to watch: http://youtu.be/oxrLYv0QXa4

    I imagine that a swarm of them would give good PR and be more effective than butterflies. Though she could just go back to using laced bugs. I forget why she stopped lacing her bugs with pepper spray. Did she just lose the ability to buy more?

    Speaking of butterflies, do any of you remember that line from Harry Potter? Where Ron says something like, “Spiders! Why can’t it ever be ‘follow the butterflies’?” I just thought it was ironic, given this chapter.

  39. Nothing to do with anything, really, but the ‘Master-Blaster’ classification instantly made me wish that they were fighting in a scrapyard or something like it. It just made me snicker a little.

  40. In my mind, the meeting should have gone like this:

    “We do what we’re doing with the Cauldron capes, run her by our thinkers,” Dispatch said. “We can get a more concrete assessment of her now, with a field exercise, than by any amount of talking. If I’m remembering right, a notice went out, didn’t it? A New York group of villains is poaching Wards and Protectorate members?”

    “The Adepts,” Revel said.

    “Two birds with one stone,” Dispatch said. He looked at the collected captains of the Wards. “We want to know how she functions in a team environment, let’s put her in the thick of it. If there’s trouble, or if the mission doesn’t look good, the rest of us can step in.”

    Eyes turned my way.

    “…I have a better idea. Why don’t you shut the fuck up and trust that the girl who beat lung, took over a city, drove off the Slaughterhouse Nine, participated in three S-Class threats and killed Alexandria know the fucking basics. Is that a good enough resume?”

    “But the rules–”

    “Nope. With the exception of Defiant I could kill *every single person in this room*. Why don’t you spend a minute thinking over the implications of that?”

    “How dare y–”

    “Another thing. Do you *honestly* think you have any sort of leverage over me? Can you think of one reason I should spend time playing your dumbass bureaucratic games?

    “What if we–”

    “Shut up. Even if you somehow brought me into custody against my will, what then? I can break out of any prison you put me in. My teammates are prepared to *burn the Protectorate to the ground* if you try and send me to the Birdcage – and good luck getting Dragon to lock me up. Heck, a week ago I was being publicized – on national television, no less – as the hero who took down Alexandria. Whats the public going to think when you change your mind about me?”

    “…”

    “That’s what I thought.”

    • Which would all be awesome, if Weaver cared to burn the Protectorate to the ground. The point here, from her perspective, is to be effective and ingratiating, because she wants to stop the world from ending in 22 months. Like it or not, the PRT is a good gig for getting stuff like that done, because they’re the ones with public and governmental support. Being scary and intimidating is not going to help her cause – if it could have, she would have just stayed with the Undersiders.

      I realize that the tone of this story is very anti-establishment, and it’s easy to get caught up in that, but it also realistically addresses the fact that public image actually matters. The PRT is successful because they’ve latched onto an idea that is actually important: cultivating support from humanity’s existing infrastructure by being seen as accessible is the only way to avoid the “us vs. them” attitude that Skitter always struggled with. Adapting to human nature has given the PRT a huge amount of power, and failing to do so is the primary cause of Skitter’s (and most super-villains’) failures.

      She HAS to cut a new path that doesn’t involve threats. Threats are great as long as they don’t get called, but she doesn’t want to kill anyone, and if she keeps making them, she’s going to keep getting put in situations (as she already has with Coil, Jack, Piggot, and Tagg) where she has to follow through or else lose her only play. It’s easy to root for her, because she has good intentions, but the fact of the matter is that the ends do not justify the means. What she’s proving to the Ward leaders right now isn’t that she capable of taking on big threats. Instead, she needs to prove that she can operate without escalating everything to the level of a fight to the death.

      Honestly, I’m not sure she can.

      • > Instead, she needs to prove that she can operate without escalating everything to the level of a fight to the death.

        That’s a really good point. She’s usually not fighting to the literal death, but like she said, her two main weapons were intimidation and fear — and pain, but she didn’t mention that this chapter. She can’t be a hero if she can’t be proportionate.

        That said, I think she can be. This chapter was a good sign of that being within her grasp; so was her encounter with Emma in 20.3. What she needs is time and training, and that’s what, theoretically, they’re giving her.

      • >I realize that the tone of this story is very anti-establishment, and it’s easy to get caught up in that, but it also realistically addresses the fact that public image actually matters. The PRT is successful because they’ve latched onto an idea that is actually important: cultivating support from humanity’s existing infrastructure by being seen as accessible is the only way to avoid the “us vs. them” attitude that Skitter always struggled with. Adapting to human nature has given the PRT a huge amount of power, and failing to do so is the primary cause of Skitter’s (and most super-villains’) failures.

        Yes, the PRT is successful because of their image. They’re trusted and seen as the “Heroes”. The public listens to them. Skitter *should* be eager to prove herself to them.

        My point is this: In two years, everybody dies. Now is *not* the time to worry about image. Right now, they need to start preparing for the apocalypse:

        First: Prepare. Fortified bunkers, fallout shelters, and evacuation programs need to be in place. Stockpiles of food, drink, and materials should be made. Government support and training for hospitals, law enforcement, industry and agriculture.

        Second: Tell people. Let other countries know what’s ahead. Make a truce with the villains – if they’re willing to help against the Endbringers than *of course* they’re going to help save the world – if only because it means they’ll die too.

        Third: Take action. Declare Martial Law, and enforce peace through an army of soldiers and capes. Food stamps, emergency supplies, and evacuation plans all have to distributed.

        Sure, maybe this is a bit drastic, but at least it’s *something*.

        When the apocalypse begins, who do people want protecting them: Butterfly Girl, or the nightmare who’s willing to kill people, cut out eyes, and face the Slaughterhouse Nine head on to protect her territory?

        When Leviathan hit Brockton Bay, who was more helpful: The heroes who sat around crying for those they lost, or the villains who took control, enforced the “law”, and gave people food and medical support?

        There’s a reason two thirds of the school supported Skitter when D&D attacked, and it wasn’t about image. It’s the same reason Parian and Flechette joined the Undersiders, why Dragon had to be forced to go after Skitter, and why Miss Milita was willing to make a truce with the Undersiders(For all the good that did).

        • > When Leviathan hit Brockton Bay, who was more helpful: The heroes who sat around crying for those they lost, or the villains who took control, enforced the “law”, and gave people food and medical support?
          *After Leviathan hit…

          A problem with that scenario is, you have an undefined threat. The End Is Upon Us doesn’t sell beyond the fanatics who kill themselves of this anyway. And Dinah can’t (or won’t) tell the kind of event killing more than two thirds of the population. So it will both be hard to prevent civil unrest, which will likely break-out if you declare martial law on a national scale a few months in at the latest if you don’t dangle a real, defined threat above their heads. Plus, soldiers are hard-pressed to sustain martial law beyond a certain point in time, since it can be easily likened to taking the populace hostage/prisoner. Without a dehumanizing effort like war they will see the citizens as what they are – mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, not as them.

          • Panic could do more damage than a warning could solve. Rioting, a run on the banks, grocery stores being emptied, people hoarding supplies, gun sales through the roof, and people freaking the fuck out is gonna be a problem. Maybe a better approach would be a small lie. Say that they have perfect intelligence that two endbringer attacks will happen at once somewhere in the US around the date of the apocalypse. People will still prepare, but no one will freak out as much because they hope the attack won’t happen where they are. Then as the date approaches, people enter the shelters, batten down the hatches, and prepare for a possible attack. More preparation, and hopefully less panic.

        • > When Leviathan hit Brockton Bay, who was more helpful: The heroes who sat around crying for those they lost, or the villains who took control, enforced the “law”, and gave people food and medical support?

          s/”sat around crying for those they lost”/”ran themselves nearly into the ground patrolling the streets at night trying to stop crimes in the act of commission”.

          The criticism of the PRT in the weeks after Leviathan is not that they didn’t do anything, it’s that they didn’t organize a major operation to break up the gang most responsible for interfering with disaster aid and reconstruction — the Merchants. And if you look at Weld’s interlude, they were organizing such an operation — they were just so slow getting it off the ground that by the time they would have been ready, the Slaughterhouse Nine had made themselves known and the chiefs decided that truce was the better alternative.

          Actually, writing this comment, I think Hookwolf did the Undersiders a favor when he drove a wedge between them and the other Brockton Bay gangs — because that left the Undersiders and Travelers as the only groups not either (a) preying upon the citizenry or (b) tacitly supporting the those preying upon the citizenry.

  41. >> “There’s one tier one, two tier twos, three tier threes… all the way down to the tier fives.”
    >> “Fifteen in total,” I said.

    Stunned silence as Jester tries to do the math in his head……. Oh.

    • I took this to mean fifteen tier fives, not fifteen tiers. Admittedly, it’s vague, so idk which reading is correct.

        • Story time.

          One day a long time ago in math class in a school in Germany the teacher wanted some time quiet time to himself and gave his students the task of adding all numbers from 1 to 100. His quiet time lasted a lot short then anticipated because very quickly a young student raised his hand and declared that he was finished and that the answer was 5050.

          At first the teacher assumed that the student had cheated somehow, but the student explained that it had been very simple:

          1 +100 = 101
          2 + 99 = 101
          3 + 98 = 101

          49 + 52 = 101
          50 + 51 = 101

          and

          50 + 101 = 5050

          There really wasn’t much math involved once you spotted the pattern.

          The student that this supposedly happened to was was Carl Friedrich Gauss.

          The method he employed can be generalized as all the numbers from 1 to n added up are n * (n+1) /2.

          The moral of the story is that you don’t have to work hard at math if you work smart and if someone else worked smart before you, you don’t actually have to work smart either you just have to remember the trick and recognize when to apply it.

          • The binding they performed was carried out as if from some deep-seated, creative part of me, the part of me that would doodle absentmindedly in the margins of my notebook when I was tired in class.

            And also good at math….

            • She didn’t have to be good at math to do that. Simple memory would suffice. For instance, adding most smaller numbers is no conscious or subconscious effort since you’ve done that so often it isn’t calculating but remembering the result.
              So her train of thought could have been…
              “So that’s the pattern. How many are there are is cumulative. Three tier is six, four plus is 10, five plus is 15, six plus is 21, seven plus…” with the number before the plus representing the total number of tiers as well. And all that in less than a second for a quick thinker since you don’t vocalize these thoughts, you remember the results of such little addition from first grade when you did it till kingdom come.
              At least that’s the way it works with me.

  42. I get the impression that they deliberately sent Weaver and the others into that situation expecting them to get overwhelmed by the Adepts, just so they could test her ability to work within their restrictions when her back is against the wall. The Adepts avoid killing people, and they were pretty confident they would be able to come in with their reserves to rescue them once they’d seen enough.

    The PRT leadership has shown exactly this type of arrogance and willingness to take risks with their members on more than one occasion (Alexandria and Tagg, Piggart and her willingness to use Bakuda’s bombs when dealing with the Slaughterhouse 9).

    Taylor is at risk of becoming a victim of her own success here. The PRT doesn’t worry so much about members with raw power. Someone who is versatile, quick thinking, adaptive and hard to control even as they appear to obey all the restrictions you put on them? That’s a real threat.

    • The PRT is not being as unreasonable as all that, here. It would be irresponsible to put her into a situation like that without backup, but with backup, it’s a reasonable test of her ability to work within boundaries. The PRT has done some unacceptably reckless things in the past, yeah, but this wasn’t one of them.

      It’s possible that she was being set up to fail, and that they aren’t really working with her in good faith. If that’s true, it’s possible they’d see her as a threat who’s only appearing to play by the rules. But I kind of doubt it. The Triumvirate is gone. The people she’s involved with now, who made the decision to set her against the Adepts, aren’t in a likely position to want to betray her – what would be their goal? The Protectorate stands to gain a lot if they can rehabilitate Weaver, and they know it.

      • > The people she’s involved with now, who made the decision to set her against the Adepts, aren’t in a likely position to want to betray her – what would be their goal?

        “I don’t want a murderer in the Wards” seems like sufficient motive to me.

        As does “Little shit thinks she’s such hot stuff, does she?”, in the case of Jouster.

        • Counterpoint: Sophie and Taylor are now murder buddies (in the sense of both of them having killed at all). Both are/were wards with heavy restrictions or if you prefer probationary limitations.

        • They were perfectly happy to have Sophia in the Wards, even to the point of continuing to clean up after her brutalising of her schoolmates. Weaver is demonstrably more powerful and versatile than Shadow Stalker, and has never killed anyone simply because she could and because she wanted to, unlike Sophia, who committed acts of violence because it made her feel like a predator in a world of sheep.

          If the PRT choose to fuck Taylor over in this way, it would be kinda hypocritical, wasteful and stupid…in other words, sadly in-character for them to date.

          • I think Sophia Hess had an easier time because the people she was maiming and/or killing were ‘bad guys’. And she wasn’t publicly known to be a killer.

          • Plus, Weaver’s reputation is a helluva lot more intimidating.

            I mean, what’s Stalker known for? Not all that much, right?

            Ski-Weaver? Stared down the SR9, Endbringers, Levithan, has 2 PRT Directors AND Alexandria’s deaths on her head, and to top it all off, she’s now a bona fide hero.

            Though if they try to fuck her over, well, one call to Tattletale, and every secret the PRT has that she knows about is now public. Which includes Stalker’s sins, Cauldron, Coil, Taggate…

          • Sadly, I think the PRT/Protectorate/Wards’ focus on appearance and maintaining the heroic facade, rather than on GETTING THE JOB DONE is gonna come back and bite ‘em in the ass.

            Hoping this doesn’t put Taylor in the crossfire. But, given her luck, she’ll probably take it right on the chin.

            • I’m ambivalent myself and reserve final judgement until the last words of the epilogue are done. For now, I’d at least consider her “Dead until further notice” with a side dash advising to make/amend plans for her possible return.

  43. Having just marathoned all of Worm in about three weeks I feel I am finally ready to start commenting.

    But processing to the point I don’t see this arrangement with the Protectorate working very well, but I do see it lasting an excruciatingly long time.
    It’s only a matter of time before Skitter/Weaver does something they REALLY disprove of (Like you know, anything she normally does while fighting heavy hitters) and they decide she’s better of under house arrest like Armsmaster (or something similar).

    ALSO; I don’t see either her or Brian abandoning their relationship quite that easily, seeing as for a brief moment they were discussing marriage and possibly even children. That’s a very difficult thing to just walk away from.

    And finally; I foresee that either Dragon or Miss Militia (More likely the former) will become a bit of a mother figure for Taylor, something she had needed for the whole story.

    • Welcome to the comments! P. Gecko might properly introduce you later. I think she will cross a line as well, but only against a very serious threat which might cause some conflict for the heroes. They NEED more muscle and having a scary figure who is not afraid to bring the hurt might help them with the public. So I don’t think it will be so clear cut. Brian and Taylor are my favorite ship with Clockblocker 2nd and I also think that it won’t be so easy for either of them to forget each other. I feel bad for what Grue must be going through considering all the crap he had to go through and the last thing he said was he didn’t make her happy.

    • I too was fooled by their parting, as they parted without saying anything to that effect. Perhaps it was less about them saying goodbye and more about Taylor reflecting on the actions she was about to take to well and truly part from him. I don’t see Miss Militia as a mother figure, and Dragon’s got some technical problems right now, so I think that they’re going to leave her fucked for support right when she needs it most. I mean, she’s only completely changing things around. Dragon knew to give her a hug, because without some support things could turn out worse. Alienating her like they have done so far while she’s just trying to do the right thing is guaranteed to bite them in the ass harder than necrotizing fasciitis spliced with Mike Tyson.

      First time commenting, eh?

      Now the marathon is over and you’ll find out it was more like a sprint. Now the true marathon starts, as you have to pace yourself and wait with the rest of us down here. Oh sure, you have to catch your breath now, but really we’ll give you a few minutes to grab a cup of water and pour it over your shirt so that your shirt doesn’t get so crusty with salt that it rubs your nipples to the point of bleeding.

      Trust me, nipples are at their most fun when they aren’t bleeding.

      You’ll want to find good points to stop for a break too, because you know how easily it is for Wildbow to make you shit your pants the closer we get to the finish line. You’d have to be runner’s high to take it all in stride, which is made somewhat easier by the Jamaican with the blunt passing you on your left. Truly, his victory will be a joint effort.

      Just remember that the marathon was named after a messenger running to deliver news from a battle and then collapsing dead as soon as he arrived and said what he needed to say. That’s one healthy exercise right there. Maybe soon we’ll be practicing for the annual Stab Each Other With Spears events.

      Or at least, that’s what y’all will claim to the cop after I give too many more introductions like this.

      Welcome to the comments, Puppetmaster24.

    • She does not hit hard enough for the german butterfly. Literary “little smasher” — i have NO idea why … well its no fly with butter too, so

      • “From Schmetten (“cream”) due to old belief that witches transformed themselves into butterflies to steal cream and other milk products. (Compare etymology of English butterfly.)”

        That’s from wiktionary, a german speaker should probably have easier access to a German etymological dictionary.

  44. First time commenting so here I go…

    I kinda wonder if maybe the Protectorate might have more power than they realize. Or rather some of the capes they think are weak are a lot stronger than they realize. If Taylor had joined right up I think she might have gotten pigionholed as good just for recon and support, never fully developing her powers. So how many others could be much more powerful if they got the chance to try and diversify?

    Actually having to stick with butterflies and other pretty bugs might be a good thing for Taylor. To me it seems like when she’s got limited resources to work with, or is backed into a corner, that’s when she really shines. When she can’t use her usual tricks she comes up with new ones.

    Clockblocker really was great in this chapter. You can tell that he’s smart enough that if he could have Taylor on his team he’d take her. Because he knows what she’d do for their win rate.

    Am I the only one who can see this happening?
    Taylor: “Shit it’s all three Endbringers! I got to get every bug I can!”
    Glenn: “Weaver remember your new image. Your a hero now.”
    Taylor: “Sigh. Right. Butterflies only.”

    • Hello there Negadarkwing.

      Oh yes, Glenn is REAL effective for a group of heroes. Like running around with a Nerf dartgun at Normandy. Like replacing Winston Churchill with Dan Quail. Like having Spartacus played by Michael J. Fox. Great scott, that is heavy. Must be something wrong with the earth’s gravitational field in the future.

      Glenn’s good for the heroes like fish chunks are good for ice cream. Like Stephen Hawking being asked to juggle. Like PETA being made the spokesgroup of all animal shelters.

      Glenn’s the kind of guy who plans a dramatic thunderstorm on your wedding because you like rain. The sort of fellow who hears you want to visit the UK, so makes you nothing but British food for the next week. He’s like asking someone to nail up a board using a loaded handgun. What a tool.

      What he doesn’t realize is that PR is very a thing you can force onto others. Good is not light doesn’t have to just mean the heroes act like assholes. You can also consider that one people’s heroes are other people’s monsters, then later the PR gets done by the winners. Glenn’s the kind of guy who tells Vlad Tepes to stop because all the impaling is making them look like monsters to the people who want to cause the apocalypse. Glenn would die early in a crossover horror movie, because he’d be the one guaranteed to try and put a pink dress and make him use a nightstick when he goes up against Leatherface, Pinhead, the Leprechaun, and whoever murdered World War Z and replaced it with a deformed homunculi modeled after Brad Pitt.

      Glenn’s stuck in the 80s, which makes sense. He’s about as useful as a guy in thick rectangular glasses with a fauxhawk and really long eyelashes being hired as an image consultant. Like Hasidic rabbis trying to attract hipsters to their religion by pointing out that both groups like beards.

      Welcome to the comments, negadarkwing.

      Welcome to the comments.
      Welcome to the comments.

        • And I’m sorry if this ends up being a double post. I had to dig out my wordpress password.

          Funny you should mention Vlad Tepes. A lot of what he did was his way of PR. If the Turks came along and saw all those impaled dudes, it was meant as a detterence to make them think twice about invading. After all would you want to mess with this guy? But he was also very interested in keeping the order in his lands. If you weren’t breaking the law he wasn’t that bad. But god help you if he did. One story is that a merchant had his cart stolen. Vlad put him up in his castle for the night, and had his guards find the cart and the thief. In the morning he asked the merchant to check his cart to make sure everything was there. The merchant did so, and then said that not only was everything there, but there was actually more than before. Vlad told him it was good he had been honest, or he would have been punished more severly than the thief.

          Actually Vlad seems like the sort who would have had a trigger event when you consider what his childhood was like.

  45. So, I’ve been working my way through the archives again in order to also read all the comments I skipped the first time. Something popped out at me during the Echidna Interlude.

    “This one would fragment itself if others met the criteria; if there was time and opportunity enough then it would move to better candidates, younger or more able ones with a greater ability to affect the cycle.  This one would wait until the time was right, and then it would activate, come into the identity and role that had been ingrained into its being.”

    This is probably talking about the function of Noelle’s Passenger specifically, but what if it’s also more generalized? It could explain why second generation and kids adopted by capes have an easier time triggering. The original Passenger fragments itself further and imprints on them because these kids have been raised by someone who met its original criteria, making them more likely to meet the Passenger’s criteria as well. We know that part of the whole reason for the Passenger/Trigger thing is a procreation cycle so it makes sense that they would continue to attempt to propagate themselves in other individuals who managed to meet their standards. It would also explain why second gens have a tendency to develop powers that run along the same theme lines as their parents.

    • That makes a lot of sense to me — we’ll have to keep our eyes open and see what kind of powers Aidan gets. If your theory is right, there should be some relation to Skitter’s.

        • Scurry powers?

          Anyways, whether a second gen cape is more likely to have a power similar to their “parent’s” power really isn’t in question. I mean Regent, Kaiser, Panacea, all of New Wave, the pattern for that is already there. The question is why? And my opinion on the answer is because the original Passenger does this fragmentation that Noelle describes and imprints on the kid because being raised by capes they will be predisposed to sharing necessary traits with their parents that the Passenger looks for.

          • No, I get that — the reason I brought up Aidan is I think that if Aidan has just gained the potential to trigger, it is because of his interactions with Skitter. So: if Aidan triggers from a second-generation-strength trigger event, we should see Aidan with Skitterish powers.

            (Scurry is the nickname for the Echidna clones of Skitter — who had related powers to Skitter’s, obviously.)

  46. Glenn must have worked for the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation before being hired by the PRT. I can just see him insisting that the Protectorate and Ward’s tinkers build their technology with “Genuine People Personalities.” If Dragon starts complaining of a pain in all the diodes on her left side we’ll know we’re in trouble.

  47. It seems like they were trying to cause Weaver to fail the test. I can not think of any other reason Glenn would be there. A non-cape going into a fight just does not make sense unless he’s using his position to hurt Taylor’s effectiveness. It seems Jouster was also trying to make her fail.

    On the note of a 2nd trigger I personally think she will either receive an ability to upgrade her bugs by making them stronger much like happened to atlas. Either that or she will receive a bug form which would increase her endurance in fights. I think prison will provide for the trigger.

  48. I love this. Just when Taylor has gotten really adept at manipulating battlefields to her benefit, she joins the wards and has to deal with public relations. This is a great way to up the challenge on our protagonist. You always seem to know just when to shake the story up wildbow.

  49. Well, now we know about the situation for certain. Nice to know. Sad that the story is leaving the Bay behind, for now at least.

    Holy carp, these PRT guys are dense. They seriously want to make the bug girl’s power have a good image? No wonder people like Grue and Bonesaw are villains.

  50. “We’re alike in some ways,”
    Except that Colin isn’t a murderer, while Taylor is.

    “He’s laughing because you’re putting down the girl who killed Alexandria.”
    Sneak attack that wouldn’t have worked realistically. And even then, Alexandria had been in fighting mode or had wanted to kill Taylor the result would have been different.

    “Clockblocker only laughed harder. I was pretty sure he was faking it, at this point. He couldn’t find it that funny.”
    No, he’s not. It’s genuinely that funny. :D
    I was laughing out loud.

    I’ve always liked Clockblocker.

    • Colin totally nanotech exploded Damsel of Distress. Or do S9 members not count?

      Though even if Alexandria had retaliated, she still would have died.

      Man, I’m still laughing at the butterflies.

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