Sting 26.6

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The large box sat in between the benches and seats at the back of the Pendragon, beside a heavy device with an ornate looking gyroscope on the top.  I could feel the bugs within.  I instinctively knew what they were, how they operated, and could even pinpoint exact bugs in the swarm, among dozens of their kind.

I focused on them.  It was almost meditative.  I’d taken to focusing more on the conscious uses of my power, so I’d be more aware when I was making unconscious use of it.  There was nothing I could do about the fact that my passenger apparently had a hand in how my bugs were controlled, but I was trying to train myself to recognize it when it happened.

Rachel was focusing on her dogs in much the same way I was focused on my bugs.  Her hands ran over their bodies, fingers combing through their fur, tracing the lines in their athletic little bodies.  Bastard submitted to the touching without complaint or reaction.

I could sympathize with Rachel some, now.  We’d gathered our strike force together from among the people who I was familiar with and the people who were intact enough to fight, but my relationship to each of these people was iffy at best.  Focusing on our minions was easier.

Chevalier sat in a seat that put his back to Defiant’s chair, so they faced in opposite directions.  He was talking in a low voice that didn’t cut through the drone of the Pendragon’s engine.  Defiant responded without taking his eyes off the controls.

Revel leaned back her head back and resting against the vibrating outer hull of the Pendragon, eyes closed, lantern in her lap.  She looked almost meditative, to the point that I didn’t want to disturb her.

Tecton and Hoyden were talking in low voices.  Both were Protectorate members, now.  Tecton had passed the reins to Grace, and Hoyden was now the little fish in the big pond.  I didn’t want to interject.

Parian and Foil were holding hands, sitting with their arms pressed together, heads leaning to either side so that Foil’s temple sat against the top of Parian’s head.  Even now, it was hard to think of them as Undersiders.  Lots of mixed feelings in the background there.  I’d turned Parian onto this path, and in the doing, I’d done the same for Foil.  For Flechette.

There was a crash, and the Pendragon shifted, almost veering into a dive.  Defiant corrected the course.  “Passing over the wall!  One clinging to the top of the ship!”

Revel stirred.  “Do you want me to fly out?  I can escort us in.”

“No.  The Pendragon is built to take a beating.  We’re more secure with the ramp closed and everything sealed off.  Hold tight.  This is going to get worse before it gets better.”

There was another crash.  I debated sending my bugs outside, then rethought it.  No use, for much the same reason sending Revel out wasn’t going to change things.

Rachel looked exceedingly uncomfortable, and the dogs were reading her body language and getting anxious as a consequence.

I winced at the sound of tearing metal, followed by a sudden shift in the ship’s direction.  Something had been torn free.  Defiant corrected course again, compensating.

I wanted to say something to Rachel, to calm her or the dogs down, or simply to reach out and connect in the same way that the others in the craft were finding solidarity.  The problem was, I wasn’t sure what to say.  We’d separated, had walked different paths, and I’d betrayed her on a level.  I’d led her to believe she had a friend in me, and then I’d walked away.

She met my eyes, scratched Bastard at the top of his head, then asked, “What?”

“You’re okay?”

“Yup,” she said.  She didn’t look okay.  She stroked two different dogs, but I almost felt like the gesture was more for her sake than for the dogs.

“Not right now.  Just… in general?  Are you okay in general?  Living on the other world?”

“Yup,” she said.

I sighed, turning my attention back to the box.

“I’m hoping my dogs are okay,” she said, staring down at the metal floor.  “Been a while since I’ve been away from them like this.”

“You have people, right?  People you…” I let the sentence hang as I tried to recall whether trained was something appropriate for people and not dogs.  “People you trained, to look after your dogs.”

“Yeah,” Rachel said.

“Setting down!” Defiant called out.

There was another tearing sound, like nails on a blackboard scaled up to a volume that made it resonate in my bones.  Maybe the worst sound I’d ever heard.

Just that thought brought back recollections.  The dull, faint sound of an old doctor’s body hitting the ground, after Mannequin cut her throat.  My dad’s voice, crying my name, sounding very distant despite the fact that he was right next to me, in the moments before I killed Alexandria and Director Tagg.  The non-sounds Brian had made as he’d opened his mouth, noises so quiet they weren’t even whispers, as he hung in the refrigerator, post-Bonesaw, pre-second trigger event.

No, there were worse sounds than the screech of metal tearing.  Sounds I’d barely registered at the time, but nonetheless sounds that haunted me.

“Tattletale sent us some old guy to teach us how to butcher the bison,” Rachel said.  “None of the others are any good at it, and it’s harder without the dogs there to help haul it off the ground by its back legs.”

The Pendragon set down.

“Taking off will be harder than landing was,” Defiant said.  He didn’t flinch as a creature pounced on the glass of the ship’s windshield.

A heartbeat later, something hit the outside of the craft.  Something big.  The thing on top that was tearing at the metal struck again, no doubt peeling away at an armor panel.

“-And I’m thinking they’re probably getting hungry.  Fucking up good meat, not carving out the fatty bits.  Or they aren’t getting all the blood out.  You have to cut deep to bleed the motherfuckers.”

Distracted by the landing, some of the junior heroes were paying attention to Rachel now.

“What the hell is she talking about?” Hoyden asked.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said.  Then I glanced at Rachel.  “Either of you.  Rachel, they’re going to manage fine.”

“They’re going to manage,” she said.

Defiant was already out of his seat.  He had approached the device he’d placed next to my box and managed to get it going just as Rachel finished speaking.

Every monitor in the Pendragon’s cabin flared to life.  Countdown timers appeared, white numbers on a black background, with fainter, smaller timers above and below.  I knew they would be the minimum and maximum times.  The one in the middle was only an estimate.

The craft was struck again, and a dent in the outer walls nearly knocked Tecton from his seat.  Everyone reached for something to hold on to, as the Pendragon nearly tipped over onto its side.  The dogs barked at the disturbance.

“There are forcefield generators,” Defiant said.  “But they take time to recharge.  We’ll hold out for as long as we can before using it, waiting until they are more numerous, and our options are limited.”

“Four minutes,” Tecton observed, looking at the monitors.

“We- I think so,” Defiant said.  “Plus or minus one minute and thirty seconds.  The forcefield generator is housed in the underside of the craft, to provide stronger defense from below.  It’ll last after the walls come down.”

“Defensive positions,” Chevalier said.

“Protecting the decoder is a priority,” Defiant said.

We stood from our seats, backing towards the center of the craft, the decoder and my box of bugs at our center.  I reached back and opened the box, letting the bugs flow out.

Without my even asking, Defiant opened the ramp at the back a fraction.  Like a flower blossoming, slowly at first, then with increasing speed, I could feel my awareness expanding.  I could feel the outside of the ship, the creatures that were gathering in ever-increasing numbers.  Every shape and size imaginable.

Three were making good headway against us.  I could identify the same creature, I was pretty sure, that had been pummeling the wall at the outer perimeter of Ellisburg.  It was a quadruped, and it moved with a surprising slowness as it paced away from us.  Strands of fur longer than I was tall hung off it, and its head was one armored plate with eyeholes, the edges flaring out and away from its head at the sides and back, allowing its long, pointed ears to freely move behind the plate.  It lowered its head in the direction of the craft and tested the ground with one scuff of a spike-studded hoof against the pavement.

I set bugs to attacking its eyes, driving them into ear canals in hopes of distorting its sense of direction.  It aborted the charge to shake its head violently.

“Possible incoming right in front of you, Tecton.  Any second now.”

“Right,” he said.  He held his ground.

“Might be worth moving,” I said.

He looked back at me.  “Aren’t we supposed to defend the decoder?”

“Switch,” Chevalier said, with no elaboration.  Tecton hurried to take up Chevalier’s position towards the nose of the craft, while Chevalier lowered his cannonblade in the direction of the bulge on the wall.

There were two more creatures that were gouging the hull.  One used oversized claws to pry at metal plates.  Another was drooling acid onto the roof.

I could sense the round-headed bald girl from earlier as well, one creature that moved with a startling speed as it scratched at the outer edges of the craft, one way, then the other, so the gouges in the metal formed hatch marks.  Burrowing, almost.  Burrowing very slowly.

Something howled, and it was loud.

The creations were piling around the craft, with a number gathering on the window over the cockpit.  Tecton tensed.

“The window is stronger than the metal,” Defiant said.  “Don’t panic.”

“It isn’t as flexible,” Tecton said.  “One good hit like the one that dented the wall there and it won’t hold up.”

“It’s designed to take rocket launcher hits head on,” Defiant said.

“That doesn’t mean it’s designed to take them from an angle,” Tecton retorted.  “My power gives me a sense of structural integrity.  I’m saying I’m worried.”

“Fine,” Defiant said.  He watched the ramp, not moving an inch.  “Be worried.”

The charger was incapacitated, its eyes devoured, eardrums perforated, with bugs crawling through the middle ear fluids that were pouring down its ear canals..  I diverted bugs to the thing that was clawing the armor plates off of the outer edges.

An instant later, the charger lunged forward.

No sense of direction, no ability to see, not even any balance, beyond what its four legs offered.

But it was big, and its target was big as well.

“Heads up!” I shouted.

It slammed into the side of the Pendragon, closer to the back than the location of the first hit.  The metal tore where two sections joined together, and a monitor fell to the floor, shattering.

Creatures began crawling through the gap.  Defiant moved his spear to the opening, then activated the gray blur.  He held it there, allowing them to die and be wounded on contact.

Golem used his power, raising a hand of metal to cover the opening.

Defiant lowered his spear and canceled out the blur.

The disintegration effect might have been worth keeping on hand, but I could understand if he was concerned about another impact knocking someone into the spearhead.

Creatures had hopped onto the charger’s back, and were helping guide it, babbling and screeching, tugging on its fur.  It followed their directions, retreating.

I directed my bugs to attack, stinging and biting each of them on the same general side.  They reacted, tugging and pulling away, and the charger changed direction.  Only his flank glanced the back of the craft, and he trampled through a crowd of the little bastards who’d congregated on and around the ramp.

The round-headed girl sat there, half-crushed, and then began to swell.

“Heads up!  Your left, Defiant!” I shouted.

She detonated, and gunk spattered the ramp.  I felt bugs die on contact.

The ramp began to melt like candle wax.

I moved bugs to the fray while Hoyden and Defiant advanced on the ramp.

The creatures came in as a singular mass.  Dozens at once, practically crawling over one another.  A spine glanced off of Defiant’s armor and came within inches of striking the decoder.  Foil swatted it out of the air.

Parian’s first doll joined Rachel’s dogs in reinforcing the space behind Hoyden and Defiant.  Hoyden kicked and punched at the creatures, and small explosions tore through their ranks.  One punch, two or three creatures dead.  One landed on her, claws extended, and then promptly flew away as another detonation of flame and smoke flared from the point of contact.  She was barely scratched.

If those claws were poisonous, though…

Still, she made for a competent front line, beside Defiant with his disintegrating spear.  Every movement of the spear was as precise as Hoyden’s explosions were erratic.  The blur effect cut through the enemy like butter, and in the rare occasions where the target did slip away or dodge the attack, Defiant followed up with jolts of electricity and darts.

The charger steered around and began to pick up speed.

“Chev, incoming!”

I tried to distract the charger again, targeting the riders, but it didn’t work.  This time, they pulled in different directions, or simply dropped off.  It continued on course.

It struck only two or three feet to the left of the first point of damage, and opened up the side.  The thing with claws on the roof, squinting against the steady damage my bugs were doing, hopped over and began to pry the gap open wider.

I moved a swarm over the gap, trying to hide the entryway, but it did little good.  Both Parian and Rachel shifted position to defend the opening.  Golem began trying to patch it up.

“Careful!” Defiant warned, glancing over one shoulder.  “Too much extra weight and we won’t be able to take off!  Containment foam instead!”

The perils of physics-defying powers.  Golem and Rachel both broke the laws of conservation of mass, and now we risked paying for that.  The Dragon’s Teeth stepped forward to take over.

I could see the charger turning around.  One creature was on its back, a heavily armored thing that had hard, multifaceted eyes like an insect.  My own bugs couldn’t damage the orbs.  It cheered in a high voice, urging the charger on, with some English words peppered in the midst of its gibbering.

One more minute to go.  If we were lucky, it could open any second.  If we were unlucky, it would take two and a half minutes.

Two crawled in through the crack in the side, clinging to the ceiling as they made their way in through the cloud of bugs.  I pointed, and Foil slashed at them with her rapier.  Tecton squashed another with his piledriver.

Over where another of the creatures had been trying to burrow into the side, a creature pushed it aside and spat.  The effect was the same as the exploding bubble-head girl from earlier, if less dramatic.  Looking at the exterior wall, I could see the hatch-marks appearing in the side as though they’d been drawn in marker, pale against the dark metal.  They spread, the effect broadening, until the hatch marks were drawn out in white and the surrounding area was paler.

Something punched through, then reached in blindly to scratch and claw.  Golem’s reaching hand broke the claw.

More spots were appearing, though.  Dents, gouges, acid…  I attacked the creatures that were doing the most damage, as far as I could identify them, but there were more waiting to take their places.

“Nilbog’s creatures!”  I spoke, raising my voice.  I spoke through my bugs outside.  “We mean no harm!  We will bring you back your king!”

Nothing but cries of rage and hate in response.  No use.

Thirty seconds, now.

The holes in the exterior opened enough for the creatures to start pushing through.  The acid burned them where they made contact, but that same contact opened the holes wide enough for others to follow.

The charger lunged, charging again.  There was really only one rider it was listening to, but that pilot was a tough one to hurt.

The thing screamed one word in English, twice in quick succession, its voice high,

“Jump!  Jump!”

The charger leaped.  The result wasn’t graceful, nor was it particularly on target.  What it did do was allow the charger to get one foot up on the side of the Pendragon, its upper body partially on the roof.  It kicked and struggled in its attempts to move forward, and found one leg caught in the tear it had made on its last charge.

It placed the foot on top of the hands Golem had raised to block the gap, and sheer weight tore them down.  It slumped, falling, and then brought the end of its nose inside the ship, dragging it against the tear in fits of thrusting, struggling to free both it and its leg, succeeding only in doing more damage.  Reinforced shafts and beams held against the damage, but could see how each wiggle was bending the thick bars.

“I thought you said this thing was tough!”  Foil shouted.

“It is,” Defiant said.

“Forcefield might be a good idea!”  I called out.

Defiant didn’t respond.  Hoyden had made her way down the ramp and was dishing out the hurt close-range.  She was keeping the melee threats on their heels with a constant, aggressive offense, while her secondary powers rendered her resistant to the damage that came from a distance.  Defiant was left to defend the opening himself.

I drew my knife and my handgun and advanced until I was just behind and to the left of DefiantHe shifted position a fraction, allowing for the extra assistance.

Who knew we’d get to this point, Armsmaster?  I thought.

Fighting side by side.  I used my knife to impale one creature in the neck, then kicked it back down the half-ruined ramp.

Two of the countdown clocks had hit zero.  The one clock remained.  The high end of Defiant’s estimation on the decoder’s progress.

“One minute,” I said.

“Maybe,” Defiant said.

Maybe?”

“We took the time this past year to find Dodge’s old exit points, talking to ex-customers of the-” he stopped, grunting as he swept the spear at one persistent spine-spitter, “-Toybox group.  Used it to get readings, test the decoder.  But this portal has different metrics, updated technology.  More recent tech.”

“It’s not a guarantee?”  Hoyden shouted the words, as explosions continued to rip out around her, tearing through the assembled creatures.  They were keeping a healthy distance, now, which meant her very presence was keeping a whole area clear of the blighters.

Nothing’s a guarantee, I thought.

“I never guarantee anything,” Defiant grunted, echoing my thoughts.  “Except for a select few promises I make to people I love and people I hate.”

Rachel’s dogs were tearing into the goblins as they made their way through the gap beneath the charger that had wedged into the gap, each dog biting their mouths down once or twice in quick succession before flinging the things away just so they could have their mouths free to bite others.  Their paws swept out to club and claw at the creatures.  Tecton and Foil guarded the space between dogs, striking out to catch the ones which slipped between the dog’s legs.

I plunged my knife down to stab one of the softer looking targets, then danced back to avoid the spatter of acid that flowed from the wound.

“I’m getting buried!” Hoyden shrieked.  She’d been targeted by some critters that were dissolving into a slurry as they burned, with tendrils extending out to draw in the wounded and dead.

They’re reincarnating, feeding on themselves to make more.

“Stop using your power!” Defiant ordered.

“I can’t!  They’ll kill me!”

I glanced over my shoulder at the clock, then whipped my head back around as a creature pounced, trying to wrap itself around my head.  I shot it, feeling a flare of relief that I hadn’t just been killed, mingled with a regret over the loss of the bullet.

“How is it not done yet!?” I shouted.  “Zero on the clock!”

Defiant didn’t respond.

“Defiant!  Do we take off!?”

The charger, still caught in the gap, found the leverage to strain against one of the reinforcing girders that maintained the craft’s structure.  It began to slide down, and Golem raised a stainless steel hand to keep it from stomping on the decoder.

The hand wouldn’t be strong enough.  If that thing shifted its weight any more-

“Defiant!” Tecton shouted.  “What are our priorities!?  Can we take off?”

“No,” Defiant responded.  “We stay.  Wait, cross our fingers.”

I glanced back to see Golem and Tecton exchanging a glance.  The creature struggled again, sudden, and the beams shifted further.  One more struggle like that, and the little hand wouldn’t hold it up.

A big hand, though, might cement our fate, take away our maneuverability.

“Saint,” Defiant said.

I glanced back at him.

“Don’t fuck us on this.  We need those Azazels.  We need an escape route.”

Saint?

The fact that Dragon was debilitated was another trick, an extremely ill-advised play against the heroes, capitalizing on our distraction with something greater.

“I’m going to fucking kill Saint,” I said.

“If we survive this fucking-,” Tecton said.  He grunted and fell on his armored rear end as a dog jerked to one side, accidentally body-checking him.

“Not a suicide mission,” Defiant said, carrying out only one half of a conversation we weren’t entirely privy to.  “Back us up, now.”

A pause.

Defiant spoke, and his tone of voice had changed.  He wasn’t talking to Saint.

“Toronto, Ontario.  Canada.  Yonge Street.  Just behind a place called Greenway.  I’ve commissioned a thinker-investigator calling himself Gleer to track them down.  If only some of us make it, do me a favor, and remember that Saint is the one who fucked with one of our biggest truces yet.  Saint took down Dragon, and he just left us to die.  The Azazels are apparently better deployed elsewhere.”

The charger bucked, and Golem created a large hand, not to catch the descending foot, but to divert its direction.  It crushed my empty bug box.

This much weight on the craft, the loss of so many external components… we wouldn’t be able to fly.

The roof came partially off.  More streamed in through the resulting gap, dropping down into the middle of the cabin.

Revel unleashed her lantern.  Spheres of light and flame flew out in every direction, burning through the ranks of the smaller creatures, zig-zagging to maximize contact between them.  The charger died, going limp.

A moment’s reprieve.

Defiant used a grappling hook from his glove to try to catch Hoyden, only for it to fly off in another blast of flame.

He tried again, but this time, he whipped the chain, so the length of it wound around her, then yanked her inside.  He signaled, and the forcefield went on.  In seconds, we cleared the few that had survived from the Pendragon’s cabin.

Creatures died as they made contact with the field.

Defiant dropped his spear, turning to the device that Dodge had set up.  Data appeared on the monitor.

“Give me a connect to Alcott,” he said.

Tattletale’s voice sounded through my earbud.  “You sure?  You know-“

“Time is of the essence.  Now.”

Righty-o.”

The rest of us exchanged glances.  Rachel was tending to her dogs, Parian was binding wounds with spare cloth and creating more constructs, and Golem was patching up the damage.  Not fixing anything, but barricading.

She’s on the line.

“Top half of the list, success?”

Zero,” Tattletale said.

“Last quarter?”

Yes.”

Defiant typed on the keyboard.  “That’s it.  Narrowing down possibilities.  Thank you.”

We waited, looking through the spaces where the barricades hadn’t yet gone up, at the creatures that waited.  Hoyden submitted to some bandaging on Parian’s part.

I watched the forcefield flicker.  It seemed to coincide with what Defiant was typing on the keyboard.  A strike of the enter key, and it flickered and went out.

“I’m taking it down early,” Defiant said.  “We need the power.”

Barely a minute.

The creatures approached hesitantly, then broke into a run.  I could see the dogs tense.

“Back up,” Defiant said.  “Now.  Huddle!”

We did, swiftly retreating until we were clustered around the center of the cabin, shoulder to shoulder, our backs to the device. My bugs filled the gaps.  The creatures, in turn, gibbered, squealed, screeched and roared.  They howled and stomped and drummed fists on chests.

Impacts made Golem’s hands bend, and I could hear a dozen points where they were grabbing at the plates of metal and straining to bend and peel them.  That horrible sound, in innumerable places around the craft.

And then silence.  Darkness.  Air rushed around us, equalizing throughout a vast, empty space.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire, I thought.

We broke the huddle, our headlights and flashlights going on.  Rachel’s dogs could be seen in the darkness, their eyes glowing red and orange in the reflected light.

“It seems we have company,” Jack said.

I could see the others startle.

“No, I’m not standing next to you.  Borrowing Screamer’s power to broadcast, to have a little chat.”

No.  Couldn’t afford to listen to him.  If any of us were problematic, or if it was someone listening in, anything he said could be the catalyst for the end of the world.

Problem was, Screamer was a bitch to shut down.  Ear plugs wouldn’t be any guarantee.  If she was forced to, she would use the vibrations of people’s bones to transmit words.

Jack continued, “I confess, I do like this part.  The chatting.  It’s safe to keep my distance, but it’s boring, really.  You challenge somebody, pit mind against mind, but how much do you truly get to know them?”

“Move,” I said.  “Fan out, find Screamer as soon as possible.”

My bugs flowed out in advance of the group.

“This, the conversation, it’s what turns a mindless killing spree into something more, an art.  Bonesaw is fond of telling me that true art speaks for itself, but really, there needs to be a relationship between the artist and audience, if only because there’s a lot of idiots out there.  Some people need it spelled out for them.  Hi Theodore.”

Golem clenched his fists.

The area was vast and empty.  Every surface was granite, rough but not so much so that it would be painful to walk on with bare feet.  The wiring was crude, small floodlamps strung out in strings, like oversized, colorless, exceptionally boring Christmas lights.  Wires had been stapled against the walls, fixing them in straight lines, but the excess draped loose at the bases of those same walls.

The lights were bright, but they only covered two-thirds of the area.  The spaces between those same lights were dark to the point of being almost pitch black, the afterimages in my vision making it look like things were moving in the shadow.

“Gray Boy is retrieving your sister this very moment, Theodore.”

Golem stopped in his tracks.

“Yes,” Jack said.  No elaboration.  Answering a question that hadn’t been asked.

“Can’t communicate with our people while we’re here,” Defiant said.

“Keep moving,” Chevalier gave the order.

Jack spoke, his voice smooth.  Or Screamer spoke, mimicking what he was saying, quite possibly in the exact tone and cadence.  “We got video.  I thought about having it be silent, in black and white, but Gray Boy wanted color.”

My scout-bugs found no signs of life.  Only bizarre constructions.  Crystal pillars with more wires stringing to them?  Where was Jack?  We passed through a room with what looked like a dentist’s chair.  Tools and pieces of the mechanical scalpel-spiders littered the room.

Bonesaw’s operating room.

“I like to think this is a win-win situation for me,” Jack said.  “Wait until you hear.  We’ll get the video up in a moment.  Play it on the speakers, maybe, or show it on the computers, if you can find one soon.  Does this break you, or does it give you that burning fury that drives you to go the extra mile and try to kill me?”

We entered the main area, and I stared.

“Oh god,” Foil said.

There was a crunching sound as Chevalier let his sword drop, the metal biting into the floor.

The crystalline pillars were vats.  Cloning vats.  Each marked with a name of one of the Nine.

They were full.  Babies floated within each.

“Cherish says you found the clones.  Yes.  We’re doing another batch.  Didn’t take much time to prepare, and it was bound to be either a nice follow-up or a good surprise for you if you happened to catch up to us here.  You know I’m close.  Do you take the time to eliminate each of these things, or do you come after me and leave them behind?”

“We can have someone stay behind, clean up,” Chevalier said.

“I wouldn’t say that, Chevalier,” Jack responded, his voice carrying through the vast chamber with two or three hundred vats spaced evenly throughout.  “See, we mixed things up a little.  There’s a specialized cleanup area that can kill the Crawler clones.  We gave them their powers right off the bat.  Mixed them in with the others.  You’ll have to be fairly discerning, and devote manpower to the task.”

I thought about using my power, but there weren’t any bugs native to this area.  I was limited to the ones that I’d brought with me.  Not enough to cart two or three hundred children off to some special device.

“A distraction,” Defiant said.  “There’s another option.  A bomb.  If we track down the device Dodge used to create and maintain this dimension, we can collapse it.”

“How fast?” Chevalier asked.

“Fast,” Defiant answered.

“Poor sportsmanship,”  Jack rebuked them.  “Let’s try a different distraction then.”

A computer monitor on the desk flickered to life.

“I’m excited,” Jack said.  “Gray Boy is working on getting the video up.  Funny thing.  The real Gray Boy wouldn’t be able to do this, but we gave this one the memories of a real child.  Came with the necessary skills.  I’m almost disappointed.  People are so much more interesting when they’re flawed, aren’t they?  Oh, here we go.  I haven’t even seen this.  Let’s see…”

The video started playing.  The camera wiggled and wobbled as Gray Boy ascended a staircase.

He came face to face with PRT officers.

“Best not to watch,” Revel said, her voice gentle.  “It’s not worth it.”

Golem didn’t take his eyes off the screen.  Revel approached him, putting one hand on his shoulder.

Others turned to keep scouting the area.

I joined them.  This place was massive, but my power had range.  I needed to find Jack, and that was a bigger priority than seeing the scene as it played out.  Rachel walked between the rows and columns of glass vats with me.  Her dogs trailed behind, their spikes and spurs occasionally tapping or dragging against the glass of the vats.

There we go,” Gray Boy said, his voice high, as he spoke in the video.  I could barely make it out with my own ears, but I had my bugs to help.  It didn’t hurt that the ones who’d remained behind were utterly silent as they watched.

I’d already seen, in a sense.  I’d figured out what was behind the tarp back in Killington.  Gray Boy’s victim.  The only one, as far as I was aware, who was still alive.

But Gray Boy didn’t kill.

Let’s adjust… there,” Gray Boy said.

Please… don’t… please… let…

The voice was halting, cut short at steady, regular intervals.

Me… go… please… oh… god…

Shhhh,” Gray Boy’s voice was a hush, but it carried through the speakers that were planted throughout the area.

I… don’t…

I said be quiet,” Gray Boy said.  “I’ll do you a favor, even.  I can make this painless.  I just need you to talk to me.  Tell me a story.

A… story…?

I’m sure you can come up with something good.  Let’s start with your partner.

There was a scream.  I tensed.

The scream didn’t stop.  It continued, a steady, constant loop, the beginning the same, the ending varying.

What… story?”

The scream changed, intensifying.  It continued looping, just a little louder, a little less usual.

Don’t be a baby,” Gray Boy said.  “That’s only a pocket knife I cut you with.

Trucks… vampir… dragons… what… do… you… want…

Think about it,” Gray Boy said.  “When I come back, I want to hear it.  If it isn’t a good one, I’m going to light a match.  They say a burn hurts more than any other kind of pain, inch for inch.  Look, see!  I’ve got a whole matchbox here.  A whole matchbox just for you two, and all the time in the world.

The man’s oddly rhythmic screaming continued, dropping in volume.  It was barely audible as a door shut.

I forced myself to keep walking, exploring with my bugs.  Tunnels, side-rooms, many occupied with old devices, things belonging to the Toybox residents that had apparently claimed spaces in here for themselves.

“Can your dogs pick up a scent?” I asked.

Rachel shook her head.  “Wrong breeds.  They’re not trained in tracking people.”

I swore under my breath.

“Kayden.”

Golem’s voice, from far away.

Gray Boy had found Theo’s family.

Move your hand,” Gray Boy said.  “You know it won’t work.  I’m too hard to kill.

A pause.

I’m going to give you a choice.  You can put the little girl down and let me have her, and then I’ll use my power on you only, or I can use my power on you both.”

There was no reply.

Don’t be silly,” Gray Boy warned.  His tone was flat, almost without affect.  “Give me the girl.  I promise I won’t do anything to her.  Can’t say the same for any of the others, but you and I both know that nothing they can do even compares to what happens when I use my power.

A sound.  A whimper.

I’ll even let you choose.  What kind of hell do you want to go to?  I can use fire, or knives, or I can hit you with something heavy.  I like that little statue over there.  There’s cold, probably.

A sound, a bang, a crash, echoed over the speakers.

I continued pacing down the row of vats.  I reached the end, then traversed an open, empty space before reaching the start of a complicated, almost labyrinthine tunnel network.  My bugs struggled to trace the contours of the space and find their way to the next area.

When they did, they found it was an even bigger space than the one Rachel and I were in.  A giant robot stood in the center, half-complete.

A toddler started shrieking, her wail audible over a hundred speakers throughout the complex, each just a fraction out of sync with the others, given the speed of the signal traveling as compared to the speed of the ensuing sounds.

Not bright,” Gray Boy said.  “And the baby’s crying.  No wonder, with you trying to throw her out the window.

There was only silence in response.

I thought you’d use your laser instead.  Do you think your baby can fly?  Here.  I’ll make the loop longer so you can talk.

I… had… to… try…

Maybe.  But now I have to punish you.  I could hurt you, like I do with most people.  Hurt you while you’re looping through the same action, so you feel that pain over and over and over and over again.  The only thing that doesn’t change is your brain.  That keeps going.  The pain is always fresh, it never gets easier to deal with, but I’m told there’s a certain point where you crack, and you go around the bend.  Takes a few days for most.  Then you get to a point where you work through your issues.  You don’t want to, but you do, because the only thing you have to occupy yourself with is the pain and your own thoughts… so you get mostly better, and then you crack up again, and you get better, and that becomes a loop of its own…

Fuck… you…

Until well after the sun goes out, they think,” Gray Boy said.  “Speed of thought, can’t turn it off unless I’m using it on myself, and I don’t think anyone’s immune.

Bastar… d…

But I do that to everyone I use my power on.  Like a snap of my fingers, just like that, anyone around me is caught in a loop.  What kind of special punishment could I give you, murdermommy?

There was no reply.  The child continued to cry.

Who’s this one?  The woman?” Gray Boy asked.  “No answer?  How about… now.”

There was a pause.

Most scream when you stab them.  Oh well.  Maybe this one?

I changed direction, walking along the wall to get a sense of the greater complex.  There was no way to check the area at the foot of the giant robot without navigating the labyrinth.  My range wasn’t that long.

Nope.  And… this one!”

A scream.

There we go.

Crusader…

I’ve decided, murdermommy.  I won’t do anything to you for now.  I’ll let you wonder what the others did to your little girl.  Then, maybe, if she’s still alive, I’ll bring her back to you and I’ll use my power on her while you watch.  Maybe a week from now, maybe a month, maybe years.  Decades, even.  A hundred years?  They have cryogenics and brain scans and cloning vats and more!  We could show up a thousand years from now, just to say hi to you.

No…

You lose track of time, like that.  Standing there.  But maybe if you keep yourself sane, you’ll be able to offer advice so it won’t be so unbearable, so you can converse and tell stories and keep each other happy.  Maybe, if you keep it together enough, you can convince me to let her go.  I’ll give you a… one in twenty chance.

No…

Tell her to listen to me.  To obey me.  You know what happens if she doesn’t.  Convince her.

Aster… do… what… he… says…

Good.  You hear that, Aster?  Good.

Come… back…

Her voice was quieter, almost drowned out by Aster’s wailing.

A door shut, the speakers echoing the sound all throughout the complex.

The rhythmic screaming of the PRT officer grew louder.

Sit,” Gray Boy’s high voice sounded.  “Don’t run, little girl.  Listen to me like mommy said.

The man’s screaming grew louder still.

So whiny.  I just cut up his face.  So?  Tell me a story?

Silence.

Okay.

A sound of a match being struck.

We… were… briefed… on… Jack…  we… don’t… know… how… he… ends… the… world… we’re… suppose… to… implemen… quarant… ine…”

I stopped in my tracks.

He… talks… to… someone… and… catalyz… es… someth… ing…

The PRT officer had been asked to weigh an eternity of torment against the lives of billions, and she’d chosen the selfish option.

Every… major… group… helping… teams… defeat… Jack…  Cauldron… Thanda… PRT… Protector… ate… Wards… Brockton B… ay villains… Moord Nag… Irregulars… Faultline… Triumvirate…”

We’d just lost our last major advantage in determining how this could play out.  Jack was getting everything.  He was a wiki-walk away from getting details on everyone who was arrayed against his new Slaughterhouse Nine.

I could sense the others as they moved through the complex.  I beckoned Rachel and her dogs, then mounted up.

I kicked the dog into motion.

Others… I… can’t… recall…  they… are… keeping… powerful… people… away… from… Jack… to… avoid… catalyz… ing… they… are… employing… strike… teams… to… take… down… smaller… groups…”

And you’re here because?

Because… Aster… supposed… trigger… young… usually… one… child… in… family… know… Jack… coming… probably… in… person… chance… she… is… catalyst…

There’s a lot of people who could be the catalyst,” Gray Boy said.  “You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to cover all of the bases.”

Low… chance… but… still… chance… thought… we… could… protect… with… Night… Fog… Purity… Crusader…”

Well,” Gray Boy said.  “That was boring.  I wanted a story with neat monsters.”

I gave serious consideration to switching the earbuds to a setting that would make them serve as earplugs.  I made myself keep listening as the screaming started, keeping my ears peeled for clues.

My swarm-sense, at the same time, was searching more of the area.  I brought bugs to me, then sent them off into new corridors as I reached them.

Too few bugs in this entire place.  No moisture to feed them, no food sources.  Only a scant few that had no doubt been brought in accidentally.

I thought the story was interesting,” Jack said, his voice sounding as though he were speaking in my ear.  “See, I had a plan in mind, but now I’m rethinking it.  If I’m supposed to be a catalyst, then it can’t be any of the others.  Bonesaw would get the credit for any plagues or clone armies we deployed, even if I gave the order.”

I grit my teeth.

“But if the effect is broad, well, giving the order could be a part of it.  Our Harbinger has been giving us some very good advice.  Talking about the critical places to strike.  What happens if we attack certain targets?  The world teeters on the brink of falling to the Endbringers.  Divide my remaining soldiers and attack key points in the infrastructure, and maybe that’s game over for humanity.”

Here.”  A voice over the comms.

Or Screamer fucking with our heads?

“Verify.” I spoke over the comms.

Nobody called back to verify.  A sign I was on the right track?  I kicked the dog to drive him to move faster.

“Or if Gray Boy uses his power on Scion, perhaps?  We could assassinate some key figures.  Win-win, because we either deliver a critical blow or we might run into the right person to bring about the end of the world.  So many possibilities, really.”

I could sense them.  Easily two hundred of the Nine, accompanied by a mess of Nilbog’s creations, hooked up to Bonesaw’s control frames.  Nilbog hung on the wall above the group, limbs splayed, tubes feeding into him as blobs dropped down and were captured by a small army of mechanical soldiers.

I closed my eyes for a moment.  A trick?

No.

Two years of emotions caught up with me in a single instant.  I felt fear grip me, anxiety seizing my entire body, adrenaline flooding through my body.

Yet, when I spoke, my voice was calm.  “Weaver here.  I’m using my first priority passphrase.  Danny and the Rose.  Look for the flare.”

Message received loud and clear, Weaver,” Tecton said.

I drew a flare from my belt and lit it, throwing it to the ground.

That done, I glanced over my shoulder at Rachel.  She nodded.

Jack’s voice echoed through the complex.  I could sense him with my bugs now.  He was pacing back and forth, while all of the other Nine were stock still.  “Attack the cities, target Scion, assassinate all of these powerful capes that are coming after me…”

Or I could do all of the above.”

I hopped off of the dog’s back to make it through the doorway, then ascended the spiral staircase.  The dogs struggled to follow, and I signaled for them to stop.

Couldn’t have them blocking my retreat.

I wasn’t sure what I could do, but there had to be something.

I reached the top of the stairs, then stopped, my back to the wall beside the doorway.  I held my gun.

The sole remaining Cherish said something, a murmur.

Weaver.” Jack said.  Screamer repeated the word after him, and it carried through the air, an echo.

“Hi Jack,” I said.  I hung my head, focusing on what my power was telling me.

The bugs I had in the room clung to particular members of the group.  They were eerily still.

“Gray Boy is standing right in front of me,” Jack said.

“I know.”

“Most are shut down.  Using a control to keep them still.  Too unmanageable in a group like this.  That doesn’t mean you have the slightest chance of accomplishing something.”

“I have to try,” I said, echoing Purity’s words from the video.

“Such sad, small words,” Jack commented.  “You don’t have to.”

I had tricks prepared, but none of them were remotely viable.  Not with Bonesaw so close.

I would die, and she would revive Jack.  At best, I’d slow them down.

“You’re too big for your boots, Weaver,” Jack said.  “You had a few critical successes and you’ve run with them.  Earned yourself a reputation.  But at the end of the day, you’re still the same pathetic bug controller who got her powers because her mommy died.”

He likes to talk.  Every second that passes is a second we’re catching up.

“People probably said the same thing about you in the beginning, Jack,” I said.  “Too big for your boots.”

“They did.  My trigger event was a little more dignified, though.  No matter.  I’ve been at this a long time.  You’re barely a concern.”

“Want to fight, Jack?” I asked.  My bugs moved through the crowd as I noted each of the threats that were present.

“Eh,” Jack said, shrugging,  “I can take you.  Step through that doorway, and I’ll give you a fair fight.  One on one.  Look.  I’ll even put my knife in my belt, hands on my head.”

I had an assessment of their group.  I couldn’t account for Nilbog’s creations, but I knew which members of the Nine were present and where they were situated.

“You said it yourself,” Jack said.  “You can’t afford not to.”

Too true.  The others weren’t close enough yet.

“Why this fixation on ending the world?” I asked.

“Nuh uh uh,” Jack answered me.  “Not going to get bogged down in a discussion.  We have a situation.  I’m going to walk away in about fifteen seconds, unless you want to have a duel.  Knife against knife, or gun against knife, if you prefer.  You win here, it’s a coup for the world.  What better option for the make-believe queen?”

The make-believe queen?

Maybe a name Cherish had given me.  I tightened my grip on the gun, but I kept my finger off the trigger.

Someone advanced.  I felt tripwires snap and break.

Letting a hostage go?

I turned and started to fire before the individual in question could step through the doorway.  By the time I made the conscious decision and started squeezing the trigger, the individual in question was emerging.  The bullet made contact, passing through their head.

A life taken.  A hostage killed.  But I couldn’t afford to take any chances.

No.

I shook my head a little.

A Nice Guy, not a hostage.

He needed to focus on people to use his power.  That focus was far weaker if he couldn’t see someone.  My voice would be another vector, as well as knowing my location.

“That was impolite,” Jack said.

“No tricks.”

“I could send Siberian after you,” he said.  “She wouldn’t even have to kill you.  Just hold you still.  Bonesaw and Gray Boy could have worlds of fun.  Remember what we did to your team leader?  Imagine the eternity of pain Gray Boy could deliver after our Bonesaw has given you more nerve endings to work with.”

“You could,” I said.

The others were getting closer, reaching the foot of the stairs.

Cherish spoke.  “The others are here, Jack.”

“Then your time is up, Weaver.  I hope you don’t regret your hesitation.”

I wouldn’t.

I drew in a deep breath, waiting for the second Jack turned, then stepped into the doorway.

Then I opened fire.

I’d first run into the scenario when I went up against Mannequin, before running up against Glory Girl.  The first time I shot a gun, I hit my target.

Now I had a better idea of why.

Having bugs over the entire area, I had a sense of the area, of the topography, of where everything was.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was an advantage.  Something to help aim the shot, to help give me a sense of the path the bullet would travel.  It was like being able to reach out with my arm in a perfectly straight line, touch my target, then aim along the line.  The same effect I’d granted Foil, so she could snipe Tyrant.

The sole remaining Siberian moved to Jack’s side before I could pull the trigger.

I wasn’t aiming for Jack.  It wasn’t even a consideration.  Like he said, he had Gray Boy with him.  The second I stepped into their sight, I was a goner.

My bullet took Cherish in the head.  Another bullet struck Screamer.

I hesitated.

Then I shot Aster, who was held in a Hatchet Face’s arms.

Manton-

No.  Too dangerous.  Gray Boy was moving, trying to get to a better vantage point.

I turned, activating my flight pack for a boost of speed.

The Siberian broke away from Jack, giving chase.  Crawlers advanced only a pace behind.

In that same moment, I drew out more lines, giving the signal.

Revel and Foil both opened fire, their energy-orbs and bolts tearing through the walls and into the rank and file of the Slaughterhouse Nine.

“No!”  Jack ordered.  “Siberian, with us.  The remotes are programmed?”

“Yeah,” Bonesaw reported.

“We go.  Divide into groups.  One major target each.”

Jack quickly sorted them out, his Siberian touching him, Manton and Bonesaw as the bolts and orbs continued to tear through his crowd.  One or two dead every second.

And then they separated into groups.  Bonesaw paused, then broke away, joining her crowd before hitting the remote.  They disappeared.

Another group gone.

Then the remaining three disappeared all at once.

I collapsed on my hands and knees as I reached the bottom of the staircase.  The others that had managed to reach our location stood over me.

“They’re gone,” I said, panting not from exertion, but the sheer panic of what I’d done.

“We give chase,” Chevalier said.  He looked to Defiant.  “Can we?”

“We can if there is a computer,” Defiant responded.

I only nodded.

“Good,” Defiant said.

I looked up as Golem approached, Revel beside him.

“Aster’s dead,” I said.

He went very still.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Did you-”  He started, then he stopped, staring down at me.

“Nevermind.  Sorry for asking,” he said.  “Whatever happened, it’s for the best.”

He didn’t sound like he believed it.  He didn’t sound confident in the least.

It’s for the best, I thought, as Golem joined Chevalier and Defiant in heading up the stairs.

“Can you tell me the order they went off?”  Defiant asked.

I nodded.

“Good.  Then I think we can figure out which went where.  We can eliminate this place as an escape route.”

Which meant we knew which way Jack had gone, and he couldn’t run anymore.

Final encounter.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

402 thoughts on “Sting 26.6

    • “Revel leaned back her head back and resting against the vibrating outer hull of the Pendragon, eyes closed, lantern in her lap.”

      seems awkward, maybe take out the ‘and’ and replace with comma?

      also I just had a thought, how may non-maniacal people have we seen that have triggered post-adolescence? New Wave I suppose… Eh, belongs in the comment (non-typo) section I suppose

    • “Who knew we’d get to this point, Armsmaster? I thought.

      Fighting side by side. I used my knife to

      I think/suspect that “Fighting side by side” should have been part of the first line, not the second. Therefore it should have been:

      Who knew we’d get to this point, Armsmaster? I thought. Fighting side by side

      • “Reinforced shafts and beams held against the damage, but could see how each wiggle was bending the thick bars.”
        I/we could see
        there was another one but I lost track of it :c

  1. “Who knew we’d get to this point, Armsmaster? I thought.

    Fighting side by side. I used my knife to

    Two of the countdown clocks had hit zero. The one clock remained. The high end of Defiant’s estimation on the decoder’s progress.”

    Something missing at this point.

  2. Jack slipped up, he actually said “Eh, I could take could take you,” to Weaver thereby dooming himself to a nasty insect delivered death. That’s basically tempting fate to the umpteenth degree.

      • I do like his reaction when Weaver just started gunning them down: a near panicked “NO!” Jack seems to be very in tune with the tropes of villainy, yet he missed the trope about the person shooting the hostage in desperation? He seems to forget that one of her first “critical victories” was against the S9 in the first place, mauling them badly enough that they were forced to leave Brockton Bay. Taylor completely gave up any pretense of mercy on the S9 back in BB. And here we are again, with Weaver leading a team, and against all odds, mauling the S9 so badly they are forced to retreat. Maybe Jack will actually learn some pattern recognition here as he’s once again running.

        • Badly mauling them is a bit of an exaggeration. The Undersiders killed Burnscar and captured Shatterbird and Weaver beat the crap out of Mannequin a couple of times, sure, but arguably their greatest loss (the killing of Crawler and Mannequin, two of the long-term members of the S9) was at the ends of the PRT and Weaver failed to stop Jack and Bonesaw from corrupting (however temporary) Panacea, despite being in the same room with them.

          • Riiiight, and that doesn’t qualify as a mauling? Should she have single-handedly killed them all? It’s not like Jack did a goddamn thing alone, did he?

            Panacea was always doomed, one way or the other. She was and is a timebomb waiting to go off.

            • Reread Jack and Bonesaw’s interludes. The only members Jack really cared about were Bonesaw, Siberian and Mannequin. The others are just there to round the numbers. Jack couldn’t stand Shatterbird and Burnscar was pretty much a non entity. You could argue Crawler was important as the team’s other heavy hitter, but again it was Piggot who killed him.

              The Undersiders were saved once by Grue’s second trigger event (and Grue still has PTSD), something considered a deus ex machina even in universe and the only reason Jack didn’t slit Taylor’s throat when under the agnosia effects was because he wanted to see if he could make her kill Battery.

              • Sure, true enough. That said:

                Fact: Grue was saved by Deus Ex Machina? Jack was saved by Bonesaw ex Carnis. The only reason Skitter didn’t kill Jack hundred times over was because Bonesaw enhanced him and had her anti-bug/anti-plague mist handy.
                Fact: He cared about Mannequin? Skitter personally beat down Mannequin the first time (it wasn’t easy or fun but she did it. Indisputably.) Second time, she had help — but so did he.
                Fact: she and the people operating under her battlefield command forced the Nine to leave Brockton Bay. Period. Yeah, they’d have left eventually when they were good and ready but the Undersiders/Travelers forced them out. They fled because the alternative was to be murdered until dead.

        • I stopped and broke out laughing at Jack at one point. He’s still listening to Cherish’s appraisal of Taylor? He hasn’t figured out yet that was one of the many things Cherish was dead wrong about? Oh Jack you IDIOT.

  3. Weaver just killed a four year old. Five maybe? That is so far into the moral grey zone. Still a little confused as to what Grey Boy’s power does. It sort of removes people from time putting them into their own loop of existence?

    • Let’s be fair, this is a situation where shooting the hostage is probably justified.

      I mean, not that it isn’t incredibly fucked up.

      • FROM THE TV TROPES PAGE

        PsychoGecko: Now, now, let’s not jump to conclusions here. We don’t know for a fact that this wasn’t a case of self defense. Those babies might have been asking for it. One of them might have smuggled a Walther PPK in its diaper to cap an unsuspecting nurse, and then Jack Slash saw it and decided to act heroically. Or Siberian figured it was as good a time as any to try eating a baby. Hell, if you she downed the diaper too then you might as well sell that video off for another Jackass movie. Maybe they’ll put it just after the part where someone blows a horse.
        —A sample from the comments section: Full of normal people.

    • From what I can tell, it traps them in a temporal loop, resetting them after a certain, brief but implied to be adjustable somewhat, window. Their mind remains unaffected by the reset, which is how they can talk (basically saying a new syllable or two every loop). Nasty, especially if Grey Boy is correct in that no one is immune. Between Clockblocker and Perdition, we’ve seen how effective temporal powers can be, and Grey Boy’s is like Perdition on steroids and at least as inviolable as Clockblocker.

      • Wait, shit! Is it ever hinted at any point that Grey Boy is a Cauldron product? Because the link between him and Perdition might not be coincidence. Remember that Sundancer and Siberian had very similar formulas, and their powers were parallels in their conception and strength.

    • I’m having a hard time reconciling with her choice. I understand it but I don’t want to. Can’t imagine how Taylor will deal with the aftermath of this particular death.

      Poor Aster.

      • Still one question needs to be asked: How does Taylor reconcile the Skitter who refused to kill Grue after Bonesaw had her way with him with the Weaver who killed Aster before the Jack & the S200+/- had their “fun” with her? It seems that Taylor had worked so hard & come so far only to lose herself. :(

        • There’s also the fact that Taylor was desperate to save Grue at the time, for obvious reasons. Everyone else thought a mercy kill was best, Tattletale even looked like she wanted to slap her.

          The only reason Brian is alive right now is because he triggered.

        • A Bbg difference is that the S9 weren’t going to use Grue as a weapon. In S9 hands, there’s a very good chance Aster would have ended up like Blasto, Hookworm or, for that matter, Bonesaw. Especially now that Jack knows that one of the heroes’ concerns is that he might cause Aster to trigger.

          Still, it’s always possible that Taylor shooting Aster is the trigger (No pun intended). Maybe Aster needed to be there to prevent something big and now she won’t be. Or shooting her caused her to trigger. Or…

          • Yeah true. Also let’s not forget that Taylor had an emotional attachment to Grue, she knew him and whether she liked him as a friend or more, its still makes a big difference. I’m betting that if Taylor spent time with Aster for a while and took care of her for some reason, she wouldn’t have been able to do it. Its easier to kill when you don’t know the person, I think. Also, not only is there the possibility that Aster could’ve ended the world but Jack Slash could’ve used her to hamper Golem from calling the right shots. Knowing Jack, he probably would’ve kept her alive but inflict pain each time something didn’t go his way. I know that if I were in Golem’s shoes and each time I tried to stop my enemy, a loved one suffered terrible pain, I would’ve given in. Its terrible but Aster had to be taken out of the picture. It was a mercy no matter what.

      • I think what makes it hard to reconcile is how little attention Taylor spends on the decision comparatively. It makes it harder to emphasize with her or really get into her head space. Intellectually I realize that Tayor has very little time to decide here and that she might really realize what she’s done later on, but it feels like an extremely callous choice in the moment.

    • Pretty sure it forces them to relive whatever events happened to them a few seconds prior by sending their body (but not their mind) back in time. Thus, they are forced to relive pain endlessly with full recollection of each prior instance, forever, or until the loop is broken. It might also return their body to the same spot, trapping them in place. Not so sure about that though.

      • Hmm. First of all, he can’t break the loop unless it’s on himself. Huh. You know, at a first glance, it’s sort of hard to tell why he’s so terrifying. And still, he lacks the same “oomph” in fear factor as the others. Ah, and what’s Harbinger’s power?

        • Harbinger is the Number Man who works for Cauldron. He sees reality in terms of numbers and uses his powers primarily for Combat Clairvoyance and money management.

        • “Speed of thought, can’t turn it off unless I’m using it on myself, and I don’t think anyone’s immune.“
          This bit’s ambiguous, could be he can’t turn off the looping, could be he can turn off thought if he’s looping himself, could be something else. Seems more like the thought thing in consideration of these bits though:
          “Maybe, if you keep it together enough, you can convince me to let her go. I’ll give you a… one in twenty chance.”
          and
          “Funny thing. The real Gray Boy wouldn’t be able to do this, but we gave this one the memories of a real child.”

          My guess, when he loops himself he sets time back as well (unlike with other people, where time just keeps going), which he does until he does everything perfectly, or at least the things he pays attention to, considering the camera wobble. I also think he triggered as a baby or toddler or something and looped himself/his mind while allowing his body to age until it was of useful size and strength. Doesn’t explain everything (where did his clothes come from?), but he’s definitely capable of more than we’ve seen so far.

      • Clarification: yinyangorwuji does not have mpd. We’re separate writers: Zeta and Discharge are the two commenting. Yeah. I’m not crazy! You’re crazy! Especially you, Nappa!
        -Zeta

        • Dude, don’t worry, if your two imaginary friends wants to argue with yourself and post in the comment with your account is all good. We have weirder in here already ;)

          And remember, you’re not crazy if the voices tell you that you’re not.

          • Um. Speaking of voices in my head… Khan is… not actually real. Sorta. He’s a construct with no ability to affectt he world that exists as a side effect of my powers. He can read my mind, but it’s one way. That sucks. What sucks more is that he has my personality, too. That old question, “Would you like yourself if you met yourself?”. The answer is no. No fucking way.

            -Zeta

              • Please. My name is not a Star Trek reference! My name means King! For I am the greatest! I have the best practical jokes! The best grammar! The best alliteration! I am the sarcasticest! I am Khan, everyone’s favourite, fascinating, fast, fearless,  flawless, forceful, fragrant, freakish, free-spoken, free, friendly, frightening, fuzzy, fabulous, fabled, fair, famed, fantastic, fetching, fickle, fitful, flaxen, fleeting, formidable, freudian, fun feline!

      • You mean aside from being rescued, returned to her mother, but turning out like her bother?
        This is the thing that should haunt Taylor. The thing she had to do, but wishes she hadn’t. If Taylor ends up accepting death for some reason at the end of the story, this should be a factor. Taylor is starting to turn into Tagg and Alexandria.

        One of the worst things about evil is that it can force others to commit evil acts in order to fight it.

        • Okay, I gotta disagree with that. There is NO WAY Aster could’ve been saved, she was in the clutches of the most monstrous, sick, cruel people in the world. It wasn’t like earlier when they would save 40 or so people from a few members of the Nine. There were over 200 members there. There are dozens of terrible, slow painful deaths that toddler could’ve suffered or worse, living her life literally reliving pain again and again. It was fucked up and I think when it all blows over and she has time think, its going to eat her. It’ll probably haunt her for the rest of her life. She didn’t have a lot of time before making the choice or thinking about it afterwards. Its clear death is preferable to what Gray Boy or Bonesaw can do. Think about Blasto. Is there doubt in anyone’s mind that he would rather have died than lived the existence that Bonesaw gave him? This is a helpless toddler. To be clear, I am NOT saying it isnt fucked up because it definitely was. I was shocked when it happened. But what happened to Grue was basically a miracle. Even if she didn’t die and triggered instead, Aster may have been manipulated and twisted into a sick person, a killing machine like Bonesaw was. Its a terrible choice to make that anyone would want to avoid but Taylor did it. She will have to repent if she wants any peace of mind but please don’t exaggerate and say she’s becoming like Tagg or Alexandria.

      • I just had a horrid thought. What would happen to someone if Gray Boy locked them into the time loop as they were triggering? Would the trigger repeat over and over again? Would this basically cause a person to experience the trauma over and over again as their power continues to mount eternally? THAT sounds like a serious end of the world possibility right there.

  4. They’re pretty well guaranteed to get back to reality at this point – though traps may remain. Which means that Saint will have a kill-order out on him from the Protectorate, at least – Chevalier can manage that much. And much as some PRT Directors wanted Saint as a backstop to Dragon, the only way Saint avoids that kill order… is by keeping the Birdcage caged. Which, as of last report, he’s not doing.

    Jack’s choice of a broad offensive will be very difficult to respond to efficiently – even with the the barrage from Foil and Revel, there’s probably ~100 S9 members striking five different targets right now. Casualties will be high. Still no idea how he could end the world, other than generalized chaos and a tipping point into a death-spiral. His ignorance about Taylor’s trigger is interesting – one of the few chinks in his masquerade of effortless superiority.

    Bonesaw still has the remote, and is not with Jack or Grey Boy. Faint chance of getting her to flip.

    Grey Boy needs line of sight… but apparently not much else. Personally nigh-invincible? Apparently capable of causing pain without injury, or perhaps granting a sort of healing or even immortality by touch.

    Taylor shooting Aster would be a significant moral event horizon for a hero. Arguably, it’s a reminder that she isn’t. Bonesaw might or might not be able to bring her back, so it’s not as if that’s off the table either.

    • I think maybe the End of the World just happened, Taylor shot Aster and still has to work closely with Golem, chances of Jack telling him that when cornered as a distraction 100%.

    • Possibility: Saint shutting down Dragon early improves odds of world-survival… because Saint otherwise would have timed the shutdown to maximize the Birdcage breakout. With a warning about Saint, the Birdcage gets a cordon and Saint gets hunted down.

    • Grey boy can turn the loop off on himself. Does so from time to time. To move?

      Still no explanation of how he got his clothing in the vat that one time – his demonstrated looping lets time pass for those outside the loop, so he didn’t get it from the future. So, perhaps he’s still lying about something core to his power – perhaps it’s not what it looks like.

      The alternative is that, on decanting he locked everyone else in the room (Hacksaws included) into a split-second loop so that he could go off, get dressed, and make a better entrance before they could notice that he was wet and naked, and thereby fake the ability to conjure clothing.

      • Or the looping is just one aspect of his power. Lets say for example he can “edit” things. Like an editor working on a film. Take something from here and move it to there. Take something from later, and make it happen sooner. The fact that they think his power could control Scion makes me think it’s more than a temporal loop.

        • I said this back in 26-3:

          I am guessing Gray Boy’s power now: he is an editor. Anything in his field (the colorless area) counts as his film reel … and he has a mind that can stand outside the primary reality and edit the film reel as he desires. Clockblocker time-stops him? No problem, the editor does a fix, or even a retcon. He dies, gets injured, or even says something awkward? Same answer. Lacking clothes when he gets decanted? The editor calls for wardrobe and makeup and fixes it. Doesn’t recognize people? The editor checks the script. The only way to kill him would be to affect the editor and the primary body at the same time – good luck.

          If that is still correct or partially correct, it is worse than I guessed, in that he can permanently edit someone besides himself.

    • Pretty sure Taylor did trigger when her mom died though, it just wasn’t the bug trigger, we all know she’s double triggered. Also, I’m not sure Aster’s dead. Taylor knows she got off a shot at her, as well as Cherish and Screamer, but she admitted not 5 seconds earlier her method of aiming on target is not foolproof, and she didn’t mention the aftermath of her shots until she told Golem Aster was dead. Usually when she kills people we get some nice gory visual in the moment.

      • >>we all know she’s double triggered

        We know no such thing. It could be that Echidna’s appraisal of Taylor just means she had a really powerful connection to her ‘other’ – not a double trigger. Eidolon had no double trigger, and he’s ridiculous with juice even with his power diminishing.

  5. And once again, we see more of Weaver doing insane things that if she wasn’t a main character, she would be labeled evil for. And also: What the hell, Saint? I stood up for you, man! And then you just have to prove everyone right? I’m pretty disappointed that Weaver murdered Aster (don’t forget, that is what happened.). I would have liked to see her power. Speaking of powers, I wonder what Jack’s trigger event was. Finally, I’m having a bit of trouble understanding Gray Boy’s power. So, he can put people in a loop. Then, how is that unfair as they go? How did he walk out of the cloning tube fully clothed? I was expecting a sort of reality manipulation.

    -Zeta
    Of arenoheroes.wordpress.com

    • Clothing may be explained if his ability is to rewind the physical state of being. When he exited the cloning tube, he rewound time around himself to the point where he (the original) was wearing those clothes or something like this.

      If it works like that, it is indeed broken.

      • Ahem, Packbat? Hello, sorry if this is off topic or something, but I just wanted to say that if possible, Gray Boy should be put in the Nightmare Fuel section of the TVTrope page. And I Must Scream probably also fits him, or he averts it, seeing how they CAN kind of scream. Either way, the little brat’s powers = Mayuri Kurotsuchi’s poison, that deserves SOME form of mention.

        • Shooting a baby that was going to be subjected to an eternity of looped pain? (Not that this appeared to be the case) But ‘mercy’ killing is generally because dying would be a preferable fate.

          • I absolutely agree. We’ve seen what Jack did to Bonesaw, better Aster be with the Reaper than with him. We cannot forget, this isn’t a mere fight, a skirmish between gangs, a battle for control of a city.

            This is a war for the fate of humanity. One child, for the billions that live today? For the trillions that have yet to come? An acceptable price. A sad choice, a hard, difficult, miserable choice. But in the end, morally, logically? I do not often believe that human life can be assigned a price of any form, but just this once, it was worth it.

            • To me it’s not going to be that Taylor did it. It’s going to be if she feels anything about it. I mean, yes it was a mercy kill, and maybe saved the world. But that doesn’t mean a good person can possibly not feel guilt at it.

              • I find defining morality as based on emotional reaction to be utterly bizarre. People don’t control what they feel.

              • Fair enough, but she doesn’t really have time to feel what she should feel right at this moment. Give her time to process it.

              • I’m going to agree with God that judging someone’s character by their internal emotions is kinda ethically skeevy. It goes down a road similar to that which dehumanizes the mentally ill and/or atypical.

              • Hrm, God, if you do not define a person by how they react to stimuli, then how else can people be defined? Do you treat a friendly person the same way that you treat a grumpy person? Do you treat Rainman the same way that you treat Stephen Hawking? What about Mother Theresa and Jeffery Dahmer? Are they treated the same, and accorded the same respect and trust? Even if they are both friends of yours? Probably not. If you happen to know that someone has been damaged by physical or mental trauma you can give a lot of leeway. In the end, if a person feels no emotion towards other humans then they have lost a vital part of what it means to be human, and treating them differently is not only sane, but required for the health of the community. This is why we have jails.

              • Uh, we put people in jails for committing crimes, not for having a “criminal mind”. Frankly I find the idea of judging someone on for not meeting cultural standards for emotion rather than their actions to be fucking scary. Why should we give a emotionally/neurologically typical person who commits murder more respect than a diagnosed psychopath who’s never actually committed a crime in his life?

              • Reveen, the example of a psychopath that has not committed a crime compared to the “normal” person who has, is not a valid comparison to what is happening inside this story.

                Taylor is both becoming a psychopath and committing crimes. If the world is saved, she might be forgiven for those crimes by most people, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s operating WELL out into scaryland mentally right now, for whatever reason.

                But as a direct rebuttal, those who commit crimes, generally do so knowingly, with a criminal mind. Those with law abiding minds generally only commit crimes either by accident or in desperation. Not to say there is no crossover – the world is a grey place after all, but the prison system IS a creation associated with social ordering. In most countries it’s pretty broken, but the intent of a prison system is to help maintain social order on several levels.

              • Um Okay, anyone claiming that Taylor is becoming like Tagg, Alexandria or a psychopath is flat out wrong. There is NO WAY Aster could’ve been saved, she was in the clutches of the most monstrous, sick, cruel people in the world. It wasn’t like earlier when they would save 40 or so people from a few members of the Nine. There were over 200 members there. There are dozens of terrible, slow painful deaths that toddler could’ve suffered or worse, living her life literally reliving pain again and again. It was fucked up and I think when it all blows over and she has time think, its going to eat her. It’ll probably haunt her for the rest of her life. She didn’t have a lot of time before making the choice or thinking about it afterwards. Its clear death is preferable to what Gray Boy or Bonesaw can do. Think about Blasto. Is there doubt in anyone’s mind that he would rather have died than lived the existence that Bonesaw gave him? This is a helpless toddler. To be clear, I am NOT saying it isnt fucked up because it definitely was. I was shocked when it happened. It was a mercy killing. If she didn’t die and triggered, Aster may have been manipulated and twisted into a sick person, a killing machine like Bonesaw. What happened to Grue was basically a miracle. To argue that it could conveniently happen to Aster too is kinda ridiculous. Its a terrible choice to make that anyone would be lucky to avoid but Taylor did it. Its a pretty fucked up thing. She will have to repent if she wants any peace of mind but don’t exaggerate and call her a psychopath.

              • @God No, people don’t control their emotions. Their emotions *do* come from their beliefs and perspectives and interpretations and goals and mental limits. What people choose is a remarkably small part of who they are as a person.

                A bad person can take good actions and a good person can take bad actions. How they *feel* about taking those actions is a key indicator of which they are. Being able to kill a baby and feel nothing about it speaks to character.

                Note that I totally agree with others when they say that Taylor probably *has* to keep her emotions locked away right now to get the job done. But once it’s over, if she doesn’t have an “OMG, I shot a baby” moment then that says bad things for who she’s become.

                (P.S. Sorry for the double post. The first one posted early to the wrong place for some reason. -_-)

              • The problem I have is that it wasn’t a mercy killing. She killed Aster because she was worried that the girl was the person who sets off the end of the world. She didn’t kill her because she was trapped to a painful agony with the Nine but because she could start billions dying. It’s a lot like what Saint did and if I vehemently hate that man I have to be at least somewhat consistent and not really make excuses for Weaver either here. She murdered a toddler on the off chance that the girl would start some trouble. I still like Taylor and I understand why she did that and I do agree that it was a hell of a lot better end for Aster than anything else that could’ve happened but it doesn’t change the fact that for me personally, Taylor crossed a line.

            • @God No, people don’t control their emotions. Their emotions *do* come from their beliefs and perspectives and interpretations and goals and mental limits. What people choose is a remarkably small part of who they are as a person.

  6. Man. Good chapter to read on my birthday. Meh, I could take her is now an ascended fan meme, good times. Time for a major attack of the clones. Free shankings for all!

  7. So grey boy can put people in semi-infinite loops. So a he burns you with a match and then you spend a few decades feeling the instant pain of being burned over and over. He must have other powers because Fog could simply turn into smoke and be immune to physical pain.
    Still a little confused about why she shot Aster. It seems to have been the right decision but I am a little confused about what she could have done. I think Purity should have simply picked up Aster and spent the whole day flying with her so the 9 couldn’t catch her.
    So we finally, FINALLY find out just how Jack ends the world and Bonesaw/Cauldron has yet to make a move. There are only 4 real ways I can see them doing enough damage to end the world.
    1. Take control of Scion’s creator. Then sic Scion on the world.
    2. Super Plague- Unlikely since Jack specifically says that means it’s Bonesaw and not him.
    3. Take control of Cauldron’s power source. Depending on its nature they can do quite alot of damage or use it to cause passenger apocalypse.
    4. Do something through Cauldron, Bonesaw operating on brain, causing trigger event to turn someone with the power to end the world. Examples: Skitter tells every bug in world to kill people, Guy with flame abilities to set atmosphere on fire etc.

    • Not semi-infinite. Infinite infinite. Until the heat death of the universe infinite. Can’t be stopped, altered or undone, except by him under limited circumstances. And he can do it with a glance.

      You’re right, tho – that isn’t enough to make him ‘unfair’. Anybody with invisibility or other Stranger class powers could take him down pretty easily, cut out his eyes Skitter-style or something.

      And it doesn’t explain the clothes or the monochrome. There has to be something else to him.

      • I can’t buy it lasting that long. No power is perfect against all others as Siberian proved when she encountered Clockie. So there is some parahuman out there that can transfer their minds into a new body, shut off all thinker abilities, or just wipe their mind so they are effectively brain dead, or Scion who might be a straight up reality warper. Though I think Grey Boy is as well. He is also hard to hurt but not invincible like Siberian so I’m curious how he was killed in the past. Similar to the untold stories of how the nastier capes ended up in the birdcage.

        • You don’t have to ‘buy it’, it’s stated outright. Grey Boy’s power is of indeterminate duration. Seeing as this is a work of fiction, I will accept this on faith until some other canon element comes along to dispute that claim.

          I can say that at least one of the first Grey Boy’s victims from a long time ago is still doing its thing and shows no signs of slowing down, despite every resource available being used to treat them. It was mentioned in a previous story, though I can’t find which. Packbat, any ideas?

          • Gray Boy* really hasn’t been talked about that much — it says in this chapter that there was a victim in Killington who remained in the loop after his departure, though, so I assume it persists without his direct intervention.

            Aside: have we decided that Gray Boy drank the same serum as Perdition, sans Balance? Because that’s what seems likely to me.

            * Apparently an American, judging by the “a”.

            • So that’s two for two in terms of a Cauldron cape joining the Slaughterhouse Nine, then Doctor deciding to use the same formula, only for it to go horribly wrong again.

              Great job, ma! Truly humanity’s greatest hope!

        • As far as taking him down – any sniper with a good gun and a half-mile unobstructed view could kill GB… unless there are elements to his powers that we don’t know yet.

          • We gotta remember that the Slaughterhouse Nine don’t operate in a way that makes those methods feasible. They strike without warning from the shadows, hiding behind innocents. Not many retired marine snipers with a .50 caliber, a bottle of Jack, a truckload of manpain and nothing to lose in the situations that Gray Boy shows up in.

        • >> No power is perfect against all others as Siberian proved when she encountered Clockie.

          Actually, what that proved was that Clockie’s power was perfect against all others. At least, when it comes to being immovable and unchangeable for 7-10 minutes or so.

        • Maybe so, but let’s not forget, Bonesaw herself, the plague-bringer, the second coming of Dr. Frankenstein, said that Gray Boy’s powers are broken. And we can’t forget his clothes, his dryness. Mark my words, we have only seen the tip of the horn of this lurking leviathan known as Gray Boy.

      • I think he’s able to use specific variations of his power on himself, only affect the mind or the body or the clothes or rewind time or fast forward, allowing him to redo specific moments until they come out right. Similar to Contessa’s power in result, though maybe without the long-term path to victory only short term, and he gets that offensive capability too. The grey affect around him would suggest he’s pretty much permanently doing this.

      • Very clever. And yes, Purity might well do that. If so – good for her.

        Bad for whoever’s baby she picked to be the decoy.

        • Taylor- “Wait a minute that baby isn’t Aster…. That baby is black!”
          Jack- “Damn it Gray Boy, you grabbed a decoy!”
          Gray Boy- “Hey it’s not my fault! You know I’m color blind!”

          Oh God, I can’t believe I just typed that. Psycho Gecko must be corrupting me.

      • Well it was quick at least compared to what the 9 were going to do. So in that case it is more an act of mercy. At least that is probably what Taylor will be telling to herself for the rest of her life if the world doesn’t end.

      • Killing Aster, ugly as it is, was a mercy killing.
        * No hope for a quick rescue. *
        * Possibility of Aster being the one Jack causes to end the world. *
        ( Imagine a four year old with Manton effect breaking earth moving powers…. When SHE throws a tantrum, you get continent effecting earthquakes.)
        * Knows from experience what just Bonesaw is capable of doing to her. *

        I’m sure there are a few more, but yeah. It was ugly. Once the adrenaline wears off Taylor may well hate herself for what she did, but it WAS a necessary mercy.

  8. Uh, uh… uh.

    Yeeah. Killing Aster was an ugly, ugly decision. Can’t quite come to grips with it, but I can’t think of a way she could have possibly be saved either. With Hackjob, Grey Boy, and Siberian there a rescue wasn’t happening, and god knows what they were gonna do to the kid to try to drive her to end the world. This will not be good for the old psyche, Weaver’s or anyone’s, but it seemed like a desperate, terrified decision rather than something cold and calculating.

    Well, Saint is fucked, I suppose. That’s something, I guess? Good job on the backup, buddy. Where the hell are all the Azazels better deployed elsewhere? Is there a strip joint on fire somewhere? You didn’t like the way that Radioshack was looking at you? This mission was kind of fucking important.

    • Saint actually can’t use all the Azazels. He can, at best… use three of them. Badly. Can’t multitask like Dragon.

      • Don’t they have an autopilot function? Enough to tell them to go here, shoot this for x number of seconds? I don’t really remember from the Undersider’s scrap with them way back.

        • If you remember, the autopilot for the Azazels is about on par with Wheatley from Portal 2. You leave them alone for too long and they’ll start trying to mate with a traffic light.

        • Yep they have. Skitter foiled the Azazel and its ultra high tech nanite cage with random bullshit and a lighter.
          So… maybe not the best idea to have them on autopilot for important stuff.

          • That was a *really* long time ago. It has been at least suggested as likely that they’ve been measurable improved since then, iirc.

    • Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!

      Take it easy on the strip club girls. They’re yet another reliable group in the evil community. They get naked, they pretend to be interested in you, you give them money. That’s how it works. Do you know how fucking hard it is for them in a world with no $1 bill? Now everyone has two use $5 bills and they keep wanting more effort for their money. This, in turn, has caused stripping to be less profitable for most of the girls than it would be and is causing a severe college tuition problem among young women.

      The strip clubs need all the help they can get.

    • Well we knew already that Saint isn’t interested in anyone other than his own needs and to hell with the world, so it was hardly a surprise that they were left in the lurch. Fuck that guy, seriously.

    • I like how Defiant got a version of skitter’s vow
      “I don’t make promises. Except to those I love and those I truly hate.”

  9. Ok, so I called two things to varying degrees.

    1. The confrontation was more like youtube.com/watch?v=yGa4gLIdxVo than the other people’s song ideas.

    2. I figured we’d get a silver humanoid Endbringer with control over time at some point that would or already had affected Scion. Instead, we have a Gray Boy who doesn’t seem to be an Endbringer, but didn’t have a childhood either, and seems pretty sure his powers can work on Scion.

    Now, on to the updated list.

    Mannequins poisoned by anti-plastic: 3
    Cherishes disobeyed: 9
    Siberians imprisoned in Kolyma: 8
    Shatterbirds eaten by gluecats: 0
    Crawlers turned into crullers: 2
    Burnscars put on ice: 0
    Hatchet Faces at the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake: 2
    Murder Rats scared by the munster: 3
    Kings left a-hunk, a-hunk of burning flesh: 1
    Screamers punched in the uvula: 3
    Harbingers assuming a direct dirtnap: 0
    Breeds inbred: 3
    Crimsons eaten by a big bad wolf: 1
    Nyxes zeroed out: 3
    Psychosomas all in their head: 3
    Damsels of Distress in another castle: 0
    Winters ended by global warming: 1
    Chuckles’s hit in the faces with pies: 0
    Hookwolves arrested for hooking: 0
    Skinslips given a pinkslip on life: 0
    Night Hags defeated by the Day Man: 4
    Nice Guys friendzoned: 2
    Miasmas kissin’ my ass, ma: 3

    Bonus Round:

    Snowmenn lost their magic hats: 1
    Nighty Nights bitten by bed bugs: 0
    Laughjobs had it handed to them: 0
    Tyrants hiding in spiderholes: 1
    Spawners violated: 0

    Bonesaws boned: 0
    Grey Boys whited out: 0
    Jacks knifed: 0

    Nilbogs slain by a +1 Sword of Asskickery: 0
    Saints had a catheter repeatedly stuck in and pulled out, given an orange juice enemy, fed high protein cupcakes with laxative cream on top, beaten in the head with a shoe, recircumcised, had his nipples scraped off with sandpaper, dragged through mud, hit with carrots, had a rabid badger tossed in his pants, tarred, feathered, drawn, quartered, had his tongue ripped out, shot, and then had his tongue shot, and trimmed that scraggly beard: 0

    • Taylor has made plenty of hard choices before and she was right there in the room when Dinah Alcott first announced that Jack would end the world.

      If anyone else is involved in ending the world it wasn’t anyone Dinah had met before that point and very likely it wasn’t anyone she has seen or encountered since or she would have told everyone.

      • Dinah’s power is not Oracular. She doesn’t get prophetic story-image glimpses of the future. You ask her a question with parameters, she provides an answer. You could ask her if melting the polar ice caps would impact the end of the world, and she could tell you. But she can’t tell you WHY. Telling her HOW you plan on melting the polar ice caps would have some impact on the numbers, possibly, but she can’t tell you more than a simple answer to a simple question unless she ruins her ability to use her power for a week.

        Everyone fixated on Jack as the reason for the end of the world because Jack was who people were asking her about when she first mentioned the end of the world. He DOES seem to be tightly wound into the end of the world, but Dragon’s death made a significant difference. Jack’s continued survival means that Weaver goes further and further down the rabbit hole towards becoming some sort of truly scary individual. Hell, she’s already in a really scary headspace if she can shoot a toddler and have absolutely no internal dialog, even after the end of the battle, when telling the toddler’s half brother that said toddler is dead. That’s a truly scary level of detachment.

        • Honestly, she should take the headache and ruin her ability to use her power for a week to figure out how to get to the below 1% the world ends scenario mentioned.

  10. So Weaver’s power gives her enhanced proprioception?

    Honestly, I figured the reason she was such a good shot was just that she has ice water running through her veins.

  11. “You’re too big for your boots, Weaver,” Jack said. “You had a few critical successes and you’ve run with them. Earned yourself a reputation. But at the end of the day, you’re still the same pathetic bug controller who got her powers because her mommy died.”

    Yeah, because making fun of Taylor’s mom’s death has worked well for people so far.

    Though I do have to question if that was actually Aster. Didn’t they make it a point not to watch that video? Same one where they only hear Aster crying? And they’re standing in the middle of a giant baby-making factory in what is possibly the least perverted way you could use that term?

    • I think Jack’s taunt was interesting, because it shows that he only knows about Taylor from the files stolen from blast’s lab, the PRT files stolen before Skitter turned herself in. Remember that Miss Militia had made the same mistake before, only to be corrected by skitter. Jack’s files are 2 years out of date.

      While we haven’t seen Theo confirm his sister’s death, he and revel did watch the video. Plus Weaver, while being Queen Administer, did occasionally look at a camera showing Purity’s apartment, so she has seen aster, at least on camera.

      • To be fair, while Jack’s information may be lacking, it’ not unthinkable that things may have gone differently for Taylor, if her mother had been alive wduring the bullying.

        Also, is it me or when Jack said his trigger event was a little more dignified what he meant was that it was way more undignified? :) .

      • keep in mind that Taylor’s trigger event was probably speculated about openly in the news after she was outed.

        The thing with being triggered by her mother’s death might have come from an ‘expert’ on CNN and not from any secret files.

    • One possibility occurred to me as I was rereading this morning. What if Ms. Militia and the others are right? Perhaps Taylor DID have a trigger event with her moms death, but the resulting Thinker powers were subtle enough so that she didn’t notice. That would make her bug trigger her second. That might help explain both her appearance to Chevalier and her ‘taste’ to Echidna.

      • That reminds me of the old debate about whether Greg had a trigger event to figure out Taylor’s identity as Skitter. Thinker powers are still a bit mysterious. What exactly differentiates a Thinker 1 from a genius for example? A trigger event is usually pretty traumatic and you see the crystal entities when you do it so I think its rather hard to have a trigger event and never realize it. Then again it might have happened in their sleep. As for trigger events here are some possibilities.
        1. Based on Crusader’s interlude and the TA, its possible that Taylor already had a 2nd trigger event right after the first in the locker and never realized it due do the trauma. Thus she is already a 2nd trigger like Brian and why she looks so bright to Chevalier and smelled so strong to Echidna.
        2. Your possibility that she already had a trigger event prior to the locker. A bit unlikely due to the lack of trauma involved. There would be ALOT more trigger events if it simply took the death of a parent to cause. I think the main thing is to have a lack of a support network and have your fight/flight be pushed to the limit. Still possible since Trigger events are not well known in universe or out. It could be argued either way about what and why people triggered. Leviathan’s attack for instance, had a very small number of triggers than expected.
        3. Taylor never had a 2nd trigger event and it’s possible she does have another. There was a few commenters who I can’t remember who pointed out that her belief that her powers get stronger due to feeling trapped similar to her trigger event is wrong. Her actual trigger is more along the lines of being alone and having completely no support from the world. No student helped her, no teacher would do anything, and the system let them get away with it. IF this is true, then she is extremely unlikely to have another Trigger Event because she is now a very social person with quite a few friends and allies. We still don’t know alot about 2nd triggers except that is very rare, most people who get them meet bad ends soon after, and capes that get them are probably very powerful. If not Taylor, then maybe Dragon could have another. That would surprise saint.

        • Difference between Thinker and Genius?

          i) Thinker is a classification that covers all information-acquisition powers, not just cognitive enhancements. Precognitives and people who can talk to ghosts are Thinkers.

          ii) A rating of Mover 1 means you can do at least a 15-foot standing jump. No mundane athlete, no matter how hard they train, can *ever* do that unassisted, period. If the proportions are the same with other classifications, then a Thinker 1 will be correspondingly beyond the peakest of peak humans in their particular specialty.

            • I think you’re giving Greg too much credit. He just happened to be focussed on Taylor. I’m sure *lots* of people went “Hmm, I wonder if X is Skitter. She’s the right age in roughly the right sort of circumstances…”. Greg just lucked into being right about it.

  12. So Eidolon isn’t allowed to play because he might be influenced by Jack and Dragon has to turn off her ears because simply HEARING something might trigger the end of the world. But Theo? The guy who Jack personally challenged and based his entire plot around? The guy who is literally at the center of the world ending plot? Na, that guy can watch the live stream of his family being tortured and his sister kidnapped. I mean, seriously. What’s the worst that could happen?

    • My Fellow Americans, including my Foreign-Americans from other states like the UK, Greenland, Iceland, and South Americastan, I come before you today to welcome to the comments a new commentator to do some commenting. I will now commence.

      Four score and seven induced instances of depression ago, Wildbow wrote out on this continent a new serial, conceived in kitten blood, and dedicate to the proposition that all men are drunk enough.

      Now we are engaged in a great waiting game, testing whether our interest, or any interest so conceived and dedicated, can long endure between updates. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a new resting place for those who here declared they were caught up that that interest might live. It is altogether annoying and people are probably tired that I do this.

      But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can’t even ungulate and defenestrate a rebated crate of irate crepes. The brave men, living and dead, have kept on debating it and a whole lot of other issues, far above our poor give-a-damn to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what I say here, but they’ll remember when I unleash a giant death ray and send mutant koi to invade Cuba. They will never forget what I have planned here. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-getting everyone cameos in the published book-that we here highly resolve that these dead Slaughterers deserved it. Seriously, they were assholes, and that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom when the story is finished, and we won’t have a clue what to do with our days, and that a web serial written of horrible people, by a Canadian, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

      Ok, maybe this one was less than original, but welcome, lindzburdn, to the comments.

    • That’s brilliant! I think you captured her perfectly and without falling into the trap of making her too cute. The world needs more heroes (err, ish) who are plain-looking. (Do *not* get me started on how being pretty seems to be a prerequisite to a music career. -_-).

    • Gray Boy should be as hard to kill as crawler already.

      Wound him … he rewinds to an unharmed state. (Use his power on himself, as he had put it).

      Clockblocker could take him out with a “time freeze … rewind to time freeze” tactic.

  13. Ok this chapter was pretty dark, even for Worm’s standards but there was this bit that was rather heartwarming : “Who knew we’d get to this point, Armsmaster?” You and all of us, Taylor, you and all of us. And it was beautiful!

    Not really that much to say, except:

    FUCK! Taylor just killed a little girl in cold blood! And her brother knows it. Okay, it was arguably a mercy, but still…

    Gray Boy and is power is pretty scary but I don’t see it as horribly unfair. I could probably come up with capes with more broken powers. And what’s with the monochrome and the magic clothes, anyway?

  14. Hm…

    1. The details of Siberian vs Clockblocker involved both powers failing when they interacted. Clockblocker’s effect stopped working while Manton’s projection failed. This suggests that another “perfect” effect like Clockblocker or Foil’s could break Gray Boy’s powers. Still, the implication is that for some reason Gray Boy has a higher level of inviolability than others for whatever reason.

    2. Yeah, Aster may or may not be dead right now. As mentioned they are specifically in a baby making factory with Bonesaw present, so they easily could have killed a fake. That is probably a bad thing.

    3. Jack practically said the comment section meme. This makes me think he may actually take her.

    • > 1. The details of Siberian vs Clockblocker involved both powers failing when they interacted. Clockblocker’s effect stopped working while Manton’s projection failed. This suggests that another “perfect” effect like Clockblocker or Foil’s could break Gray Boy’s powers. Still, the implication is that for some reason Gray Boy has a higher level of inviolability than others for whatever reason.

      Presumably it doesn’t matter if the effect is broken, because his victims have already gone through years and years of hell by that point?

  15. Good point.

    Even if Grey Boy loops Taylor, that might not accomplish anything more than locking her in one place.

    And yeah, Aster might well be alive. My money is on her being dead, but it’s far from certain.

      • I don’t think Gray Boy sees himself as invincible. He already died once, after all. It’s more that he seems to be confident that his power is unbreakable. No matter what what you do to him, if you get stuck in his loop you’re going to stay there for the rest of eternity.

        Wether he’s right, well, that’s another matter.

          • Taylor is the absolute worst person for Gray Boy to use his power on. Because her power gets stronger the more trapped she feels. Let’s see Jacks gang stop every insect and spider on earth….

            • They aren’t on Earth though, and not so sure that Jack left to go back there. Also noted that she is low on bugs, and Bonesaw has a counter for them.

  16. Echoing Skitter from half-way back, but Jack really is pathetic. I’m happy that their bolt-hole is getting shut down and things are coming to a close..

    Also have to wonder when/if Bonesaw is going to do something to help. She wants to stop Jack and I assume that she’ll only have one chance to do so.

    • Pathetic, really? In what way? I can think of many unflattering terms with which to describe Jack, but, personally, pathetic wouldn’t be one of them. In fact, I think Jack is one of the few villains of the story who isn’t pathetic one way or the other.

      • Motivations. He’s a genius with so much potential and he wastes it on this rush of his and a desire for fame. I find it sad and pathetic that he’s causing so much death and destruction for such flimsy reasons.

        • He’s also rather unhinged, probably due the incredible influence of the Eldritch Abomination godling latched to him. It’s a wonder he achieved all that he achieved considering he made a living out of hanging with some of the scariest monsters of the Wormverse. All of whom could probably destroy him in a heartbeat.

      • Because he’s boring. He wants to destroy the world just because. It’s a case of if you’re so evil eat this kitten, torture this baby. He doesn’t really have a motive or goal. I consider all these little atrocities and fights he instigates petty because of it. I really enjoy these chapters because of the thoughts going through Taylor’s head and the interesting fights where intelligence is the greatest attribute. But I’ve always found the 9 rather boring as a group. A few members are interesting and I would love another interlude into their past. Mannequin is a cool concept of a character and my favorite, Bonesaw who was committing atrocities while having the innocence of a child, Cherish who was an angry/crazy teenager who was damaged goods who thought she was much smarter than she really was are cool concepts for villains and they have a motive for what they do. Jack just kills people. Honestly I thought it was funny when Taylor called him pathetic when they met in the school and he got angry. Even Emma had a reason, stupid fucked up as it was, for doing what she did. No motivation, and no reason for what he does might as make him a robot as a character.

        • He does have a goal, actually. He wants to become immortal through legend. Ya know just like Achilles wanted a short life and endless glory or those poets who boasted that they made their lovers eternal because they’re remembered in their works. Except Jack wants to be the ultimate bogeyman, the guy mothers will scare their children with in the future.

          Oh, and despite what most people say about no one believing they’re evil (which is mostly true), there are cases in real life of people doing horrible stuff just because. They are incredibly rate, but they do exist. And they don’t have the excuse of a parasite from outer space influencing their actions.

          • There are plenty of people being influenced by these space parasites who aren’t trying to destroy the world, though.

            Maybe there’s more to it that we haven’t seen yet.

            • Jack is described having a very close connection to his passenger. So is Taylor and she has been afraid of what it does when it’s on autopilot. Bonesaw’s speculates that the reason she did all those things is because she triggered early giving a stronger connection to her passenger. There are now confirmed TODDLERS having trigger events.

          • Sorry to double post but wanted to add this.

            And sometime I think admitting what you are is actually commendable.

            Shadow Stalker justifying her psychopathic tendencies with pseudo-Nietzschean bullshit? That’s pathetic.
            Purity telling herself she’s a hero while going around beating up minorities? That’s pathetic.
            Saint killing Dragon to save his own skin and then claiming he did to save the world? That’s pathetic.

            Jack, Lung, Bakuda? They know they’re monsters and they REVEL in it.

            • Lung wasn’t a monster. An evil asshole who killed people, but not a monster. He never used his powers to their full potential and Bakuda deconstructs him a bit with her identifying how he unites all Asians regardless of country of origin as a weird family. He was just a punk gangmember who never had a family and craved respect from others. Which is why his power works the way it does, and why he is so conflicted with his friendship with the Marquis.
              Bakuda was just a batshit bomber who needed people to fear her to make her feel bigger because of her own insecurities. She triggered when she failed at college because it proved she wasn’t as smart as she thought she was, she had a huge need to hurt the Undersiders because they briefly made her look foolish, and just had multiple mental issues according to Tattletale.
              I only say Jack is pathetic mainly because he does things for the evilz. The others you mention were pathetic as well, but they had a justification however wrong for what they did. Jack is just boring.

              • Depends what you mean with monster. Lung is a more, how can I put?, “classic” monster than Jack. He believes he isn’t human any more, he accepts his bestial side as his true side and wants nothing more than to find another fight like the one with Leviatha, so he can become what he became that one time.

              • Actually, I think you miss the point. Jack doesn’t have a specific goal. He considers what he does to be some sort of art. He’s crafting a story, a legend if he can. Look at how driven some artists throughout history have been, seeking success and fame.

              • I don’t know. It’s possible but I think that was just him saying what he thought would influence Panacea the most. His line of reasoning to convince her to join them. Similar to how he tailored his message to get Hookwolf to stay with them. Can’t say for sure till we know more.

              • There may be another explanation for Jack, but I admit that this is just personal inference-based speculation.

                In his interlude, Jack is thinking how he controls the rest of the Nine through sticks and carrots, and muses on how his carrot is basically proving to himself how he can control all these dangerous psychopaths way more powerful than him.

                In Number Man’s flashback it’s implied that Jack was uncomfortable (wow, is that an understatement) with the way King controlled him and tried to mold him in his personal weapon or something. Maybe, whatever King did to Jack was traumatic enough that Jack swore that from then on he’d be the one manipulating people and shaping them the way he desired, and not viveversa.

                But again, this is just speculation.

          • Man, that thing in the second paragraph annoys me whenever it’s brought up. Billions of humans have lived and died throughout history. Can it be said with any degree of certainty that absolutely none of them believed that they were evil and revelled in it?

            If there’s even one exception, then people can’t really claim that nobody does that. And given the gamut of personalities that have existed over the years, I’m betting that there’ve been plenty of cases.

            • Yeah. I’m pretty sure most people recognise that as a generalisation and that “noone ever…” actually means “it’s generally not the case that…”.

              Personally I suspect there’s a threshold – and not the same threshold for everyone – where, as long as you’re on this side of it you can consider yourself a good person.

              If you one day find yourself on the opposite side of the threshold, there are a few things you can do. You can go “Oh wow, how did I get here!?” and work to get back to the other side of the threshold. You can accept that, okay, maybe things weren’t so black and white as you thought, and readjust your threshold accordingly. Or you can go “Ohey, I’m on the other side now – I must be a bad person. In for a penny, in for a pound!” and be the best durn bad person you can be!

              Ultimately, I suspect it comes down to how rigid and binary your moral code is. Binary moral codes can lead pretty quickly to “We are all irredeemable sinners” territory. And if you’re *already* an irredeemable sinner, why not cut loose entirely and make the most of your damnation ?

  17. Man, Jack’s gonna have some amazing ammo for smack talking the team after Weaver shot Golem’s kid sister dead because.. well, I’m not really sure why she did that. I mean, holy shit.. it could have been something fucked up but understandable, like denying her an eternity of torment at Gray Boy’s hands. Weaver has a feel for things like that, what the next move will be, and she’s demonstrated that she’ll give a gun to someone else and tell ‘em where to aim it, to avoid such a fate herself.

    It could also have been pure calculation, taking out a risk factor like she threatened to with Eidolon. That, I dunno about.

  18. So, under that second tarp in Killington that she lied about to the others was a victim of Gray Boy locked in eternal torment and that victim is still suffering despite the fact that they blew up the entire town?

    I wonder if there are still lots of victims around from the original Gray Boy, he seems to think that the field they are trapped in will survive his current incarnations death.

    It appears that Gray Boy’s powers go beyond just trapping people in eternal torment, what with the monochrome and the clothes summoning, the hints also seem to indicate that the original had an abnormal upbringing and that the current one is better socialized. What did cauldron do to create Gray Boy?

    As for Taylor shooting Aster? Aster’s own mother thought that throwing her out of the Windows would be a better fate than what the Slaughterhouse 9 had planned for her. Still it was rather cold of her, but in line with other actions like telling Sundancer there was nobody left in Noelle or that there was no victim under the tarp in Killington.

    On a more positive note Weaver is a sharp shooter with enough calm to strategically kill the major communications and intelligence assets of the enemy and not allows herself to be distracted by the heavy hitters. That is quite badass.

  19. Taylor did an aweful thing. It was in no way a good thing. It doesn’t exactly make her evil, but it was still a bad thing. That’s the horror here. That it probably was the best possible action in that situation. But it was still awful. One of Evil’s great horrors is it’s ability to force others to do evil in fighting it. The thing that worries me most now is actually this. That Taylor won’t feel nearly as bad as she should about this.

    Jack on the other hand is serously underestimating Taylor. For someone who prides himself in using his understanding of people he has continually missed the ball on her. You’d think her showing in Brockton Bay would have made him realize this. But nope, he thinks a little verbal bullying and he’ll have her cowering. Sorry Jack, but Taylor has had her confidence truly destroyed before. Your way off base with her in just about every way.

    • Honesty, I can’t really see this as a “ruthless Skitter decision because Skitter is cold and ruthless” because there we’re alot of other heroes there. Some veteran Protectorate members among them, who could have gone ahead with Weaver or in place of her, and could have been faced with the same decision. Whether they would make the terrible choice depends on the person. Would Defiant or Chevalier have pulled the trigger? The situation isn’t any less fucked up with Weaver there, it wasn’t something she had a hand in engineering like the shit with Triumph she was just the one who happened to be there to make the choice.

      I’m interested to see their reactions to this next chapter. If they judge or shun her over it I’m going to lose a lot of respect for the lot of them. Because they were there, and they let it happen. It’s just as much their responsibility as hers.

      I can’t help but feel Taylor’s being strung along by the Protectorate on some level. They’re letting her take command, presumably because they trust her. But I can’t but feel some people might be letting her make all the hard choices so they don’t have to face them themselves.

      • Technically they didn’t let it happen. They split and Taylor’s power let her find Jack and Aster first. It was over before the others arrived. As for wether the others would have done it, I don’t know. Defiant, I can see him do it. Chevalier, I have some doubts, but maybe…who knows. Theo, no way. The rest of the crew I have no idea.

    • Taylor seems chronically difficult to understand, almost seems to come with her power; remember how confused the BB Wards were after almost every encounter where they talked to her. I think it would be interesting to see what the Chicago Wards think of her, since we haven’t really seen an honest opinion yet (closest was on that talk show ugh)

      Also, Grey Boy, not a confirmed Cauldron cape, but if he were I’d guess they just left him in a room to develop himself. He seems to have done all kinds of odd things to his body and mind with his power.

      • >Also, Grey Boy, not a confirmed Cauldron cape, but if he were I’d guess they just left him in a room to develop himself.<

        They sold him powers until he became uncontrollable. I think that's confirmation enough, straight from Echidna!Eidolon's mouth.

      • > Taylor seems chronically difficult to understand,
        > almost seems to come with her power;

        … ironically, that’s the first believable candidate for a possible first-trigger power predating the bullying trigger that I’ve seen.

        (“Ironically” because if she *did* trigger at her mother’s death in some way that makes it hard for people to understand and relate to her, but probably also in some way facilitating her coordination skills, then the evidence that even Jack has trouble understanding what’s going on with her and thus that maybe she did have that power before the bullying and bugs thing … goes away.)

        • First-trigger power side effect, I could buy. A thinker power? Her multi-tasking and analysis? Not obvious in high school because neither multi-tasking nor combat analysis are things they test on, so she just shows as ‘having good grades’ and ‘not making friends’ and also ‘not having any adults in her corner’ because neither her peers nor her teachers nor her father find her relatable? At which point the bullying comes (because she’s in high school, and different) and it keeps escalating because the responses are never quite right.

          That actually works.

  20. I am beginning to wonder if Grue’s second trigger event, which Taylor was caught on the edges of, didn’t give her a second event as well – introducing the much enhanced parallel senses. And perhaps introducing a mental shift away from humanity. Combat numb is one thing, PTSD can screw up one’s mind as well, but if we don’t see some real evidence of regret and mental issues in Weaver after shooting Aster, then I think that looking at Jack as being the catalyst for the end of the world might be looking at the wrong cape.

    Weaver is letting Jack do to her exactly what she was fearing he might do to other more powerful capes.

    If Taylor has not been corrupted mentally by Jack, then she may have been corrupted mentally by her passenger.

    She hesitated before shooting Aster, which is a good sign. Aster was being held by a Hatchetface, which meant that Weaver would not be able to get a clean kill with a pistol, even from a head shot, most likely, which basically meant that not shooting Aster would be letting Jack keep her. I can understand this to some degree, and one can make logical arguments that support the decision from a cold, pragmatic place, but if we don’t see some real emotion from Weaver very soon over shooting Aster, then I’m going to write off her humanity.

    Killing adults and near-adults is one thing, even in some of the questionable situations Weaver has found herself in, but the mental wiring to allow a person to shoot a toddler in cold blood without some severe issues afterwards is not human. My reading of her collapse on the stairwell is that she collapsed due to post adrenaline issues. Her metabolism and thoughts went into overdrive for the attack due to the huge risk she took, and when it was safe, her body cut her off, hard. I did not see any emotions over Aster, just a single brief hesitation with no reasoning for the hesitation. No internal dialog, no reasoning for the shooting.

    Wildbow, if you are not intending to create a real monster here, you might need to revisit the scene where Weaver shoots Aster. If you are intending to create a monster here, you definitely made a significant shift in that direction today.

    • I can’t help but feel the standard here, re: toddlers vs adults, is wrong. It’s sad when a toddler is murdered, for the loss of potential, the lack of ability to defend themselves, and the harm it causes to anyone who was emotionally invested in them. Compare that to murdering an adult, and maybe it’s not as foul a crime on the surface, but the adult can understand what you’re doing and feel the loss themselves. That, to me, seems the worse of the two.

      Re: Weaver, the panic reaction she had as soon as the nine were gone, falling to her hands and knees, suggested to me that she thought murdering Aster was a big deal. Though the reaction could have been to getting that close to Gray Boy, I’d shit bricks just being in the same building.

      • Humans, unless we were raised in a truly atrocious, abusive environment, or have some sort of brain damage, have hard-coded responses to children in danger. Nature saw to that over the last few million years, just like most other mammals – or we might not still be around. I’m not arguing about the morality of making the choice to kill a child vs an adult, I am arguing against the likelihood that Weaver could manage to kill the child with no internal dialog, and only the slightest hesitation. There should be something there to explain that hesitation.

        I do understand that Weaver has put herself in a state, intentionally, where she will kill anything alive near the S9, because if she doesn’t, Nice Guy will kill her. We saw that, in fact, in this episode. What she has been doing is putting herself into a place where she can kill innocents, in order that Nice guy can’t just kill her.

        Even with that, there should be some internal dialog over Aster. Even if it is some sort of brief conversation with herself as she jams all the human emotions back into a box to be dealt with later.

        With no recorded effort on her part to deal with her killing of Aster, I don’t see Weaver as much better than Jack, except Weaver has put herself into that state to fight Jack. I can see her doing this. I cannot see her doing this without some internal dialog explaining it to the readers at least.

        • I guess I feel like this has been a long time coming. It’s been discussed many times, by other people or in Weaver’s thoughts, that she’s committed to ruthlessness. Weaver has explicitly promised herself that she’d be heartless, over her mother’s grave even. She’s sentenced people to die in cold blood before, in the Echidna fight, because she deemed it better than the alternative (not ending the fight, trying harder to get the last ones while risking Echidna making a game-changing move). I think this was more of the same.. taking the shot while Gray Boy’s ‘eternal torment’ power was still suppressed by Hatchet Face.

          I think Weaver’s ruthlessness has been well-established for a long time now, and this is just more of the same. It pops because dawww look at the cute little BAM!! Worse than what she’s already been up to, though? Not as long as she wasn’t killing Aster for the numbers.

        • I just wonder if there aren’t blanks in the reasoning that you are overlooking. This isn’t a simple story and not every action taken by a character can be understood as straightforward. The entire story with Alexandria is a case in point. Taylor is operating under a quarantine procedure where each and every person who comes in contact with the S9 are expendable. It is a severe measure but given the potential implications of Jack triggering an end of the world sequence it is justifiable in the context of the story. Perhaps future chapters will explore that unavoidable evil aspect or perhaps we will be surprised. It really is quite hard to predict what will happen.

    • I don’t think writing her off for her lack of reaction here is really warranted, or even for a lack of reaction in the next chapter. Because 1. Weaver is really good at compartmentalizing, it’s likely that he breakdown over this happens later after things have clear down.

      Also, there are times in the story where Taylor acts, and we don’t get a play by play of her emotions or motivations along with it. This is because a lot of our information on her emotional states comes from her internal voice, and she doesn’t give a lot of tells in general.

      I though it was pretty clear that there was an emotional and merciful component to shooting Aster, before the confrontation she triggers (the “normal” psychological kind) twice. One in the ship.

      There was another tearing sound, like nails on a blackboard scaled up to a volume that made it resonate in my bones. Maybe the worst sound I’d ever heard.

      She describes this as bringing back memories of her older trauma fighting the nine. Then again right before the confrontation.

      Two years of emotions caught up with me in a single instant. I felt fear grip me, anxiety seizing my entire body, adrenaline flooding through my body.

      So she’s very likely thinking about what happens to people caught by the Nine when she shot Aster. Going through horrific memories again and wanting to spare the kid for them. She just doesn’t say so outright.

      • My point is that Taylor needs to be shown to be mentally recoiling or having problems keeping the emotions in the box. If she still has emotions left other than combat responses and adrenal triggers. Even if she’s figured out how to coexist with her passenger to the point where she can let it do the dirtiest work decision wise, instinctually, it still needs to generate some sort of emotional response, if Taylor is still emotionally human.

        • How do you define “emotionally human” though? If we accept your reading then what we’re seeing is a stark acceptance of what happened and tight control over her emotions. It’s a fucked up attitude and coping method brought on by incredible trauma, but I don’t really see how this justifies writing her off as inhuman. The idea seems ethically dubious to me.

          • I have no problem with What Taylor is doing, if it’s accompanied with some sort of indication that she’s struggling with it internally to at least some degree. I have a problem with it happening while accompanied by no internal dialog at all.

            If Wildbow wants Taylor to be a monster as bad as Jack, he’s made a big step forward. Sometimes you fight monsters with monsters. But if he wants there to be something human left in Weaver, he needs to let us see evidence of humanity.

            Since there’s been no rewrite or comments, I suspect that we’re going to start seeing the wheels come off Weaver’s sanity more visibly in very short order as she continues to distance herself from humanity and draw on her passenger.

            Either that, or she’s going to become even more impossible for the reader to comprehend and connect to. IMHO.

            • I think that by now the connection between the reader and Taylor will be hard to break. We’ve watched this girl get constantly shit on by the world, I at least find it hard to be unsympathetic towards her. All of Taylor’s actions have been pretty logical too, so far. Dark as hell but logical.

        • There’s another thing in the way of an emotional breakdown, her power. We’ve seen many times now when Weaver was horrified or disgusted or very afraid, that her body just kept going forward the way she wanted it to, minimally or not at all impaired by extreme mental states. Many combat situations, and things like eating the cupcake flavored vomit slurry. I think there’s something going on there with her “Queen Administrator” powers, whether it’s the passengers leaning on her to stay in role, or Uber style skill assist at maintaining her dignity, I think some of her reactions are artificial.

          You could be right, though. She could just be that hard.

          • She seems to have the ability to, at least to some extent, move her focus outside her body and into her swarm. This first happened when she get locked in the locker and she’s only gotten better at it since. She called on it again during her imprisonment and cavity search.

            To what extent it’s actual distribution of her consciousness and to what extent it’s ‘just’ what any skilled meditator could do is still up for debate…

  21. Saaaaay, Wildbow. The place Defiant is referring to wouldn’t be Greenway Acupuncture and Tuina on 1849 Yonge street would it? Right near Davisville Station? Because there’s a medical labratory there that could serve as a front business for tinkers and thinkers, they can catch lunch over at the Bull and Firkin.

    Yeah, I can use Google Maps and like to pretend I know my way around Toronto. Wanna fight about it?

    • Or it could be a Greenway Therapy in North York, near Mel Lastman square. Near a bunch of Chinese businesses. I’m on to you dammit!

  22. I think Grey Boy could simply be four-dimensional (as in, being aware of and capable of interacting in four dimensions), within limits. Imagine someone who can walk backwards or forwards in time like we can move across the street, but only partially, and the effects only apply on the present. I.e. he could “walk” ahead until the time he’s wearing clothes and suddenly he’s wearing them in the present. He could “walk” backwards until before he was wounded and suddenly he’s no longer wounded (or trapped, or affected by a given power) in the present. He could “walk” forwards until he toppled a statue upon someone and suddenly that statue has toppled on someone in the present. And his “loops” is him “walking” up to someone else and dragging them along for a given temporal “distance”, then releasing them. This would just cause a small paradox/timeloop because causality got broken for a three-dimensional entity, the results of the paradox being this repeating “hell”.

    His power isn’t really unfair, though it might be as unfair as powers get. Really unfair powers would be making someone a true four-dimensional being. I.e. someone who could take any number of actions while no time passes for the rest of the world, who could actually move backwards and forwards in time and have any number of do-overs, who could ignore effects by simply dodging their duration in the temporal dimension and so on and so forth. Three-dimensional people trying to fight someone like that would be like some paintings in a picture book trying to fight their own artist.

    • Makes me wonder if you’re a Bleach fan. That seems similar to Aizen’s internal monologue right before Ichigo cut him in half (an injury from which he still regenerated.)

  23. I really don’t get why people are upset about Taylor shooting Aster. If her mother was willing to throw her out the window to get her away from the 9, and her brother(?) accepts, or tolerates what Taylor did, then frankly it’s nobody’s business. Not like there’s any laws to break in an alternate pocket dimension either.

    Based on what we know of the 9, if I had been the baby in that situation I’d prefer death over being raised/tortured by them.

    Anyways, to the author, a possible error unless I’m reading wrong. Taylor destroys the eardrums of the big charging thing, but later it jumps in response to it’s pilot hollering at it to jump. I imagined it as the pilot tugging straight up a few times on that long fur, but otherwise I don’t see how the thing could have heard the shouts.

    • Because in modern society we are very conditioned to think killing small children=bad. Just because it was the best choice at that moment doesn’t make it a good thing. It’s still awful and Taylor should feel awful about doing it. It also is the sort of thing Tagg would have done.

        • He also tells Taylor that he considers the Birdcage a fate worse than death and that if he could he’d put a bullet in her head and call it a mercy. So, yeah.

    • 1114, you’re being very rational. Taylor’s actions may have been entirely reasonable but human beings generally have an inherent emotional reluctance to murder babies. To murder *anyone*, really, but particularly babies/children.

      Put the average person in a situation where they have to kill a baby or a thousand people will die” and almost all of them will still hesitate.

      People are horrified not just because Taylor murdered a baby, but because she barely hesitated to do so. That’s so alien to most people’s thinking that it makes us uncomfortable, even if we can logically accept that it was the most rational action she could have taken.

  24. So Jack you want to verbally dissect Taylor and go on about how pathetic she is? Well lets take a look at you, shall we?

    First off you really shouldn’t be calling someone elses powers pathetic. Lets face it you have the lamest power yet in the series. You have to have a knife in hand. You need the space to be clear. You need your victim to be something you can cut. Your power can be avoided by ducking behind something. You could never have killed Alexandria with it. You can only use it for attack. Bug control is far more versitile and far more dangerous than extending the cutting edge of a knife.

    Now lets talk motivations. You’ve managed to continually missread Taylor’s. But what about you? You want to be remembered as this great terror? To run your group of monsters, and see if you can pull out peoples keystones? So why are you like that? Well here’s what I think. I think that back when King ran the nine, you were the bitch. Oh look it’s the knife guy! Scary! And I bet you were always hearing about Gray Boy, weren’t you? It’s like your the kid who spends all his time praticeing, but you’ve got this dead brother who was so naturally talented, that you will never, ever get out of his shadow. So you try anything to be scarier than him. But here’s the really sad thing. You had to bring him back for your grand opus, and now you have to start hiding behind him.

    Oh and that’s something else. You’d better not try talking shit about Taylor bringing her friends. Cause nobody hides behind their big tough buddies as much as you do. How long you think you’d have actually lasted without Siberian there to back you up? Or the threat of Bonesaw’s plauges? Hell I notice you made sure to keep a Siberian with you at times. What’s the matter Jack scared? And now Gray Boy too. Hell your mess with Scion plan is just using Gray Boy. Goddamn man, can you do anything on your own? Well I suppose you could slice up the ingrediants for a sandwich from across the room. No wonder you want to trigger the end of the world. You are just a sad little piece of shit trying to convince yourself your important and strong by tearing others down. And that is something Taylor has lots of experiance with.

  25. “Good. Then I think we can figure out which went where. We can eliminate this place as an escape route.”

    Which meant we knew which way Jack had gone, and he couldn’t run anymore.

    Final encounter.

    My bet is that Jack is paying good old Brockton Bay another visit.

    • That’d be my guess. He’s enough of a sore loooser to go after Taylor’s loved ones in retaliation. I imagine next chapter will wrap up the Slaughterhouse arc. Now we could have whatever Jack sets off for our next arc, we have Cauldron (you guys might want to use that kill switch before they can fuck with Scion) and of course the Endbringers.

      You know if Grue knows Gray Boy is coming, he has one of the best counters for him. If Gray Boy has to see his victims, Grue can coat the area in darkness… then use Gray Boy’s power himself.

  26. - Hoyden is awesome. Her powers are awesome, she is awesome too.
    – so is Rachel. Befriending her and giving the Shatterbird warning are probably the two single best things Weaver Taylor Skitter has ever done in her life
    – I thought Defiant was like Master-Chief-meets-FORCE-Ground at this point, going toe-to-toe with Endbringers and all that? Nilbog’s creatures shouldn’t be giving him that hard a time.
    – at which point does Bonesaw plan to let Riley off the leash? I mean, come on, bint, what are you waiting for?
    – Contessa and Number Man need to stop being chickenshits, grab a sniper-railgun or two from one of their tame tinkers (they have to have them, right?) and blow a subway-tunnel-sized hole in Jack already
    – why *does* Jack want to destroy the world? Well, his trigger event was more dignified. How much more? He actually talked to his passenger, I’ll bet, and they made a deal. Like Nicodemus and Anduriel from Dresden Files. Something not entirely unlike equal partners, I’m thinking
    – He actually said it. He actually fucking said it. Mwhahahahahahaahahahahaha! “Eh, I can take you.” Exact words. Hee. So royally fucked.
    – Skitter shot the kid. Shit yeah she did. SuperVILLAIN web serial, remember? She is totally a HARD TEENAGER MAKING HARD DECISIONS IN A HARD WORLD. That’s what happens when you’re not Weld and keep not dying
    – Of course, it’s possible she saved the world from Aster’s trigger-event
    – Of course, it’s also possible the end of the world is going to come from Golem 2nd-triggering when he admits to himself that Skitter did it and then:

    /he’s got the whoooooole world
    /in his hands/
    /he’s got the whole wide world/
    /in his hands/

    Kinda like that.

    • Remember back when Golem was first introduced and he said being able to use his face for his power was useless? Well lets see how useless it is when he makes the world into his new face!

      If Taylor does have a breakdown about killing Aster, I kinda hope it’s Racheal who comforts her about it.

      Of course Cauldron can’t just shoot Jack. It’d mess up their path to victory!

    • Yeah, Defiant took on an Endbringer one-on-one. There’s a big difference between one foe and an endless horde of lesser foes. Defiant *was* making short work of Nilbog’s creatures (as was Hoyden, for that matter). But they were coming faster than he could kill them and constantly coming at them from all sides. You can’t *beat* an endless horde. He did admirably, holding out against them for so long.

      BTW, you forgot:
      – the sheer cojones of Weaver standing side-by-side with Defiant against the horde. Her bugs were largely useless so she was just a teenage girl with a gun and knife against a horde of slavering monsters.

      Re: Golem. His chosen name doesn’t quite fit his powers. I’ve been wondering for some time if he can immerse his whole body in a substance creating a ‘him’ made of, say, steel. His choice of name makes a lot more sense if he can…

  27. Quick question:

    Contessa’s power is giving her a path to victory. But does she actually know what kind of victory? Cause if victory equals “the original Cauldron members are the only survivors and carriers of an extradimensional plague that kills all humans on the planet”, then it might not be a victory worth having.

    • In Lung’s interlude Doctor Mother gives Contessa an order to avoid bloodshed, and Contessa proceeds to take on several parahumans plus gang members (2-3 parahumans, +1 more if you count the fact that Lung triggered then) exactly as specified – no blood was shed. Virtually the whole gang died, though. So Contessa can at least somewhat choose what form of victory she has.

  28. So, Taylor kills a little kid… except it was Taylor in battle mode. The Taylor that does tricks she has not taught herself. The one whose bugs make strings for her even if she does not tell them to.

    The one who’s worried about her passenger, and since it is nice and likes her… it helps more.

    But the consequences are on the “human” Taylor… and on Theo too.
    Because Theo trusted in Taylor to help him out… well she did, and now he has to live with it… until he snaps and, eh, anyone read how the world in Narutaru ends?

    (and still no one is asking Dinah the most pressing question… and both her and Lisa are not going to bring it up, end of the word or not)

    But enough with the end of the world.

    Saint decides that saving the guy who wants to kill him (along with the protectorate’s leader and figurehead, hope for people everywhere) is too much trouble. Gee, it’s almost as if he’s a selfish bastard who does not wait two minutes for Dragon to take out Jack because he’s scared she will learn his home address.

    No, wait, correction, he’s a selfish bastard who’s now on both Defiant and Weaver’s shitlist. Awesome, is the guy trying to shorten his lifespan as much as possible?

    But enough with Saint too.

    Defiant is looking for a computer! And he needs to remain in the pocket dimension full of cloning equipement and memory transfert gizmos to make sure he disposes of all the crawlers.

    So: whose genetic material he’s going to use to turn Dragon into a real girl? Because it’s not like the nine are exactly full of tinkers. Well, there is one girl tinker. Who probalby left a lot of genetic material around. Like a womb with (presumably) some useable eggs.

    • Clever guess that Defiant will be working to make Dragon. Not an instant process, though – long enough for Bonesaw to run test cases, but shorter than two years, and probably shorter than that.

  29. Using Bonesaw’s discarded reproductive organs? That’s pretty squicky. Actually I imagine there are at least three tinkers in the Slaughterhouse. Bonesaw, Manniqin, and Pyrotechnical. But hell if you need to make a flesh body for Dragon why not splurge? Throw in some Crawler to make her harder to kill.

    Hell I hope Defiant let Tattletale in on Saint’s stunts. Just so someone who isn’t likely to die is avaliable for this. And really the only thing Saint has to keep that kill order from being implemented on him is if he can fast talk out the Dragon being an AI bit. Which Lisa would already know.

    • I may be wrong, but I think Pyrotechnical was one of the tinkers of the Toybox, not a member of the S9000. They’re just using his stuff. And yeah, if Defiant wants the gang to go after Saint he really should tell the truth, because if Saint pulls the “Dragon was an AI” card without them being being prepped, things could get reaaaaally awkward.

      • Not for long. If you are a citizen or soldier of a nation at war and intentionally destroy a piece of equipment vital to the defense of the nation, aiding the enemy’s efforts to disrupt and defeat your own nation, there’s a bullet waiting at the end of your trial. Even today in the real US.

        The fact that the President gave permission for Dragon to bluntly violate personal privacy of citizens in an effort to stop the S9 makes it highly likely that some sort of state of was or martial law has been initiated.

        Sure the knowledge that Dragon was an AI might cause confusion briefly, but the charges would just change from murder to treason, with the same end result.

        • I was talking more about dissent among the ranks. You know the inevitable “why didn’t you tell us?”, “you thought we couldn’t be trusted?”, etc.

          • Iunno.

            Saint: Dragon was an AI.

            Defiant: No, she wasn’t, thats ridiculous! He’s just grabbing for every excuse he can. Come on guys, would I lie?

            Saint has the trust of just about no one (but his teammates) right now. If he says Dragon was an AI, they won’t go “gosh, I never would have thought! Guess Saint must have had a good reason then.”

            At best they’d be surprised/shocked. Maybe they’ll even believe him, though godlike tinker sounds a lot more believable then AI for the average cape. But no matter, I think they’d shoot Saint anyway.

        • I don’t think it’s reasonable to call Saint a citizen or soldier in a classic sense. He’s more an independent nation. Note that when Cauldron called the major players to conference he was there and the president was not. Monopoly of force is clearly no longer in the hands of governments. The Dragonslayers are probably closer to a nation that broke a treaty than traitors from a practical perspective.

          • There’s also the fact that Saint is presumably Canadian not from the USA. You can only commit treason by betraying your country. Then again, people also want to charge Assange with treason despite him being Australian.

            • Dragon is technically a Canadian superhero, so that makes Saint a traitor if he’s Canadian. Actually, it’s an even worse insult if he’s American. We must not let this go unavenged!

              • True, but Dragon was currently working for the US government and got those extraordinary powers from the President himself. In fact, there’s one thing about the Protectorate that’s not clear to me. We know that it’s (nominally) under the authority of the Us government but there’s at least one Protectorate branch in Canada ( Toronto) and there are Canadian members of the Protectorate (Narwal, Dragon). So, how does that work?

              • I believe the Canadian team is technically a super group called the Guild which is allied to but not a part of the Protectorate.

              • The Cast page says that Narwal is both leader of the Guild and leader of the Toronto branch of the Protectorate and that Dragon is a member of both teams.

            • I thought of that later.

              Canada no longer has a death penalty according to Wikipedia. So assuming he is Canadian it is probably not possible to execute him. It’s unknown how Wormverse Canada may have changed their laws involving this due to the sheer nastiness of some threats. Canada stopped executions years before Scion appeared though.

  30. Speaking of Saint (dead man walking), who or what is a Gleer? A dictionary from 1904 (Google Book Search rules!) had it as having something to do with glass. The other results were all characters from Star Trek and random fantasy novels.

    • At first I read it as Glean, and I suppose that would make more sense for a PI. As in to see what you can Glean from this information. Although it may not actually be the case.

  31. Grey = more European. Gray = more American.

    Moord Nag is in on the S9000 hunt? What the hell? It was an uphill battle to get her to throw in for one Endbringer fight. That means she is still being paid in lives, which is very, very wrong, even if it is a necessity for cooperation.

    The commentary on Taylor shooting Aster and her resulting mental state has missed a likely possibility. Taylor has had plenty of time to prepare for and game the situation. Based on what the PRT officer said, they thought that Aster’s trigger was potentially one of the world-ending events, so they knew that keeping Aster away from the S9000 at any cost was necessary (although why anyone just didn’t ask Dinah is unknown). The impact of shooting a child can be lessened if you mentally prepare for it, i.e. you realize ahead of time that it is better to do that than to have another child like Bonesaw running around and work yourself up to it.

    Purity’s reaction could have several possible reasons: She had someone to catch Aster – remember she has a companion (Crusader) who can create duplicates who can walk through walls but can also interact with physical objects. She was hoping Aster would trigger and save herself. She panicked and wanted to kill Aster relatively painlessly but couldn’t bring herself to use her powers on her daughter.

    As far as stopping Gray Boy’s hold over his victims, there is always a trump in the Wormverse … but that doesn’t mean it has to be easy. Possibilities: Clockblocker’s powers also directly manipulate time and we have seen his powers cancel out Siberian, who is arguably one of the strongest powers in existence (several people mentioned this). The person in the loop has a trigger event, which normally give people powers that could help them fight the situation. Power transfer and/or copying of Legend’s ability to zone out for an indeterminate time would allow the person to not feel the duration. Power transfer of Crawler’s powers should work – he adapts to be resistant to any damaging effect that he encounters. Power transfer of Clockblocker’s power would allow the person to shut down, even if it didn’t conflict with Gray Boy’s powers. The mind-destroying powers of some of the Master/Stranger classifications might be used as mercy kills, assuming their powers aren’t based on biological changes (biological changes seem to be rewound when the time loop hits, otherwise the victims would go brain dead eventually due to natural senescence). Speaking of Crawler and Master/Stranger powers, changing the personality of the victim to be masochistic would take the sting out of the pain they are feeling. Scion’s null/dampening abilities have taken down Endbringers before. Direct contact with an Endbringer core would probably do it (but is very tricky to arrange). Multiple other powers mess with dimensions, which could possibly interfere with time loops.

    There’s a literary trick being used here to signal Jack’s imminent downfall, and I am not talking about the “Eh, I can take you” ascended meme (which was funny as sh** to read, by the way). Jack has started getting things wrong in front of the audience. Previously, we knew he had setbacks and times where he was wrong, but they were generally off-screen. When we saw him, even after a setback, he was already recovering and doing things right. But here, he just got several points of Taylor’s personality wrong in full view of the audience. When the end boss starts showing obvious flaws, it is the beginning of the end for him.

    Has no-one mentioned that Dragon violated the truce first by going for Saint? At this point, it doesn’t matter because Defiant’s version of events is going to be remembered and the cape community is going to be very upset with Saint, but Dragon clearly used an Endbringer-like situation for personal gain there (it is personal gain even if it was justified). Still, Saint keeps trying to exceed his previous record of pissing off powerful, obsessive personalities. He should pack a cyanide capsule tooth – it is just about the only way he will get a quick and painless death.

    Note: The following is deliberately over-the-top and unlikely. I propose a memorial: the PRT officer who gave critical information to Gray Boy should be deliberately preserved as a monument to bad decisions, even if they develop a cure for Gray Boy’s time looping. “This is what happens when you attempt to cooperate with evil.” Just to be fair, the flayed skins of the PRT officers who gave out incredibly sensitive information to a person who didn’t need it should be displayed also. There is such a thing as necessary secrecy.

    • I dunno. I’m not convinced risking the lives of billions to try to stop one incident of eternal torture is a bad moral call? Even if it’s the decision-maker who’s at risk of torture.

      I mean, lives vs. pain is a really hard moral area in general, since they’re not easily put on the same scale, but still.

    • Why did a lowly PRT goon know all the plans, anway?

      My personal explanation is that, well, he didn’t. Mixed up general cooperation with specific anti S9k cooperation. We know at least Cauldron isn’t actively hunting the S9 with all they have and chances are Moord Nag is still in africa.

    • Moord Nag is usually paid in lives to deal with Endbringers bothering other places and other people. Right now, though, Jack is threatening to end the whole Earth – and that’s where she keeps her stuff. This one, she’d probably do for free… though she might ask for a fill-up so she can go all out.

      Dragon pretty clearly had the Saint-search running in the background for a long time, rather than taking that moment to set it up.

      • An excellent point that I hadn’t thought of. So, either Dragon or Defiant (my bet’s on Dragon, she’s the better programmer on anything but herself) sets up the program with a low priority and lets it run forever, with an instruction to scan any image database that is available. And suddenly, many more are available. That would still mean they violated the truce first, but by inability to foresee the full consequences rather than malicious intent. Taylor’s discovery of Sophia as Shadow Stalker has points of similarity.

  32. Also, all of you people calling Weaver an evil monster for killing Aster, need to read more slowly. She doesn’t feel nothing:

    ***

    “They’re gone,” I said, panting not from exertion, but the sheer panic of what I’d done.

    ***

    Like Reveen said earlier, she compartmentalizes when she has to. Everyone knew going in that there were possible kill orders for things like this happening, including Golem. Doesn’t make it a good situation, mind, but understandable.

    • Weaver was panting because of the physical reactions of the adrenal rush and subsequent metabolic crash after killing three S9 members while 200 of them were in the next room, actually shooting into that room to do it. Sure she had backup waiting, but she was on point, and she killed three of the most dangerous S9 members personally before the others cut loose from ambush.

      Post-combat shakes, panic, and nausea are common. Adrenaline is NOT an inconsequential drug in the amounts that are distributed when the body is queued by the brain that an absurdly dangerous life-or-death situation has developed. That’s what I’m seeing here in the quote about the post combat collapse. A human being coming down from a combat high where she faced insane odds, and managed to beat them. The only evidence of any human reaction to Aster’s death on Weaver’s part was the mention of a hesitation before she fired. If there was supposed to be humanity there somewhere, that hesitation should have been accompanied by a human reason for the hesitation. IMHO.

      If there’s no self-dialog on Weaver’s part where she is indicating that compartmentalization is taking place, no comments about how she pushed the horror of what she is being forced to do into a corner of her mind where she could deal with it later, then she’s not experiencing those emotions. IMHO.

      It’s quite possible that Taylor has actually stressed herself to the point where she has had a personality schism, but if that’s the case, we’ve seen no mention of it.
      At the very least Tattletale should be warning Defiant or Chevalier about Weaver developing into a schizoid state. I doubt very seriously that Tattletale would not pick up on Weaver going schizoid.

      I would prefer that Weaver remain human, but that seems to be at risk here. At this point she’s more like a terminator from the movies, she’s gone beyond Dexter.

      • Spelling out every little bitty detail would make for terrible writing and is unnecessary. Further, it leaves no possible depth of character to build upon.

      • Another possibility is that Taylor had a set of possible scenarios planned for that included the successful kidnapping of Aster. She had already internalized the need for acting as she did. That actually fits with her approach to prepare as many viable plans so that the number of surprises are minimized.

    • That and we already had her triggering from exposure to the Slaughterhouse Nine right before. We had the emotional setup before, and the emotional reaction after. We don’t really need it during the deed.

      That and there’s a distinct “tell don’t show” method of displaying emotions in this series. But it’s fitting for the character, and allows us to make up our minds by giving out hints as to what she may be thinking when she stops telling us her thoughts.

      Also, it’s probably better from a narrative perspective to end the chapter without her reflecting on the decision to preserve the shock of the ending, and possibly hereafter to let the decision marinate.

    • I agree with your deductions Fellwenner. I hadn’t really looked at it like that with everyone probably knowing beforehand that anyone involved was fair game for a kill if it looked like it was necessary. That does help my unconditional support for Weaver get fired back up.

  33. Taylor and Golen had two years to prepare. Obviously the question: what do we do if Ashter is caught by the nine will have come up and both Theo and Purity agreed that killing Ashter was the best solution in this situation.

    • All the planning in the world doesn’t matter for what I’m talking about here.

      Here’s the part that I just don’t understand.

      Wildbow, forgive me for taking liberty with your work here, but I think it’s the only way to clearly say what bothers me about the part where Aster is shot by Weaver.

      “My bullet took Cherish in the head. Another bullet struck Screamer.
      I hesitated.
      Then I shot Aster, who was held in a Hatchet Face’s arms.”

      Why not something like this:

      “My bullet took Cherish in the head. Another bullet struck Screamer.
      I hesitated, despite my preparation, despite my resolve.
      Then I shot Aster, who was held in a Hatchet Face’s arms, pushing the resulting emotions to the back of my mind where I would deal with them after Jack was dead.”

      • It’s too much. You don’t overwhelm people with unnecessary detail. Implying her emotions instead of using a battering ram to state them works better.

        • Yeah, that’s just too wordy to be going through her head in that frantic a situation. Once things are calmed down, then we need to see if Taylor feels guilt over it. That’s where we can determine how far gone she actually is.

        • Except there was no implication of any emotions at all in the original wording. I was NOT suggesting that my wording was “correct” merely that it was an example of putting some sort of evidence of emotion or humanity in there somewhere.

          I don’t mind Weaver getting very, very dark, but if she can kill a toddler with no emotional reaction at all, then she’s no longer emotionally human, and I’m just reading a story about a terminator.

          • She was pumped up with adrenaline, I’d give her a pass. Now, if in the NEXT chapter, when she has time to TRULY realise what she’s done, she doesn’t show the appropriate emotional response, then, yeah, she’s a terminator.

          • She was in a panic over what she’d just done. Aside from killing a defenseless child, what was there to be guilty about? Killing two murderous psychopaths? Defending yourself and your teammates from barely sentient monsters? No, the only thing worthy of regret and self doubt is killing Aster and she lets herself feel that once the danger is past.

          • A terminator or a soldier in a very ugly war?
            And the babies, the clones that they will probably kill in numbers because they may become demented monsters?
            These babies will not be killed by Weaver alone. Deviant will collapse the dimension, but they all will agree to kill innocent babies because they may become evil.
            Reminds someone of Saint?
            The one thing the I love about Worm is that it doesn`t preach a political or ethical creed, it is realistic in its hard choices and forces us to think.
            A tale that makes you think makes you better. Worm forces you to question your beliefs. THIS is very good.

            • You are correct in your assessment that ALL of the clone babies will be killed. There really is no other choice. The clones were created from known defective / broken / just plain evil starter material and then Bonesaw got to play with them. There’s not just a chance that every one of them will turn evil, it’s damn near a certainty.
              I think some readers are forgetting or ignoring that all of the battles in this arc fall into a different category than those of the previous arcs. All of the other arcs, the battles fall into two categories; Regular cape fights and Endbringer fights. Both of those categories are ruled by normal morals.
              The fights in THIS arc are not just battles in a war, they are battles in THE war. You lose this war and everyone is fucked. War by definition, is brutally fucked up. While it hasn’t really been said, that this particular situation with Aster was discussed or planned for, it has been sort of implied. Everyone, at least for the teams after Jack, has essentially accepted that they will be killed by their TEAMMATES if they think someone has been compromised.

  34. I now have zero sympathy left for pretty much every character in this story. Weaver has been stuck in a morally gray zone since the beginning of this story, siding with the undersiders, doing things against the rules etc, but even after all that, she maintained her own set of morals. Those same morals were the ones that caused her to feel guilty when Dinah was rotting away inside Coil’s prison, which seems trivial, when compared to torture by the S9, but she grieved for Dinah’s situation for a LONG time (much longer than any other Undersider, or I doubt any other hero would have too), doing everything in her power to rescue her. As someone said in IRC, this feels entirely too much like the justifications Cauldron had for all the human experimentation.

    And now she just shot Aster.

    I would think that the point of “morally questionable” choices for characters (especially for a Superhero story) was to give the feeling of “He knows this is wrong, but he had to do it anyway” for a hero, and despite that, sometimes the reader sympathizes with the character. There must be at least *one* character I can root for, even if you don’t always agree with their choices. Anti-hero is how I always personified Taylor, not a full-on villain. Killing babies, for whatever damn reason, does not fit that description.

    I think in your pursuit of morally questionable choices for your characters, you went off a little too far. At this point in the story, I don’t like *any* primary character except Golem (and maybe the rest of Taylor’s team, but I honestly keep forgetting their powers. Most everything I’ve seen of them has been in battles, so meh). Taylor is definitely not likable at this point for me.

    Hell, lets look at a villain like Jack Slash. We are so far into the story, and yet, we know absolutely nothing about him except that he likes to play mind games and wants to destroy the world. His mind games are entertaining, sure, but it got boring after a while. A lot of characters I thought we would see more of weren’t heard from again, which I why I stopped giving a shit about this new team Skitter has going on. Clockblocker, Panacea, Miss Militia, …

    I think I already ranted about Endbringers. :p

    Why does he wants to destroy the world again? I honestly don’t remember. Because he’s a psychopath?

    So, all I’m left with, in this story, are the mysteries. Things that you established a long while back, but have yet to be resolved, like Scion. That is pretty much the only reason I’m reading this story at this point. You write epic battles, Wildbow, but IMO your new characters are weak and everyone is dying.

    Maybe I’m alone in thinking this, and maybe you have a lot of things up your sleeve yet, but yeah. I read your chapters, and I see yet another awesome epic battle (and they are srsly great!), but I don’t care about your characters anymore.

      • > As someone said in IRC, this feels entirely too much like the justifications Cauldron had for all the human experimentation.

        ^ By this, I meant the fact that she needed to kill Aster “for the greater good”, as I think is being implied here (and was being debated in IRC)

        • It’s not entirely for the greater good, although it probably did factor into the decision. Taylor knows Aster is very, very likely going to be stuck in Grey Boy’s endless torture loops. It was a mercy kill. Her own mother tried to spare her from that by throwing her out the damn window.

    • You don’t have sympathy for someone thrust into a damned if you do, damned if you don’t moral situation against their will? Where she does one thing and she’s a child killer but if she goes the other way she allows a toddler to be brutally tortured and turned into a weapon?

      Uh… why not?

      • Because she had other options. She could have not shot the kid?

        This is a person, who spent years preparing for a possible end of world scenario, hoping to *stop* Jack Slash. Are you telling me that this person would think it is impossible to rescue a child?

        She didn’t kill Grue when he was in a similar situation.

        Your second point: that she might turn into a weapon some day. She is a child who hasn’t even triggered yet. Granted, there is a strong possibility, but that is all that is to it. In the present situation, this was just a child.

        • With Hackjob, Siberian, Gray Boy, Cherish, and several Crawlers, yeah it’s pretty impossible to rescue her. Not without getting herself and her team killed, and the Nine likely escaping anyway.

          With Grue’s situation we see the same thing except she’s desperate to save him. Everyone else thinks he’s better off dead. But because of Skitter’s insistence the entire team is nearly slaughtered by Bonesaw. The only thing that salvaged that situation was Brian’s second trigger event.

          Would it be worth it? Getting herself and her team butchered to save someone who can’t be saved? Is it right to judge someone for facing a horrible situation with no genuinely good outcome, and making a choice?

        • Oops, looks like you answered some of my points already.

          Yes, she could’ve not shot the kid. Like I said above (below?) That’s what a traditional hero would have done. And it all would’ve worked out okay for the hero because the script is on their side. The Wormverse isn’t like that. It’s more like reality where there is no karma but there *is* cause and effect. Taylor had to weigh up the odds, realistically, about what would happen if she didn’t take the shot. Likeliest outcome: the instant Jack and Co. are out of range, Gray Boy inflicts perpetual torment on her. Another likely outcome is that, as the child of a 2nd generation Cape, she’d make a great test subject for Bonesaw. If, with all this kerfuffle, she happens to trigger then she might be ‘lucky’ enough to end up like Bonesaw or Hookwolf. Or, if she’s *really* lucky, her trigger will make her powerful enough to escape the Nine and become a likely vector for the end of the world. There’s also a very small chance she could be rescued.

          In Taylor’s position, I doubt I could bring myself to shoot a baby. But it was the right call to make for everyone concerned.

    • I like the current direction of the story. So there’s one vote.

      My opinion on Taylor killing Aster depends on Taylor’s motivations. If she was trying to save Aster from the Nine, then her actions are acceptable to me. She didn’t have a better option. But if killing Aster was simply a means to an end, then they’re not. She has no right to make that kind of call.

      Jack probably wants to destroy the world because he’s the puppet of a space demon.

    • I can only hope that wildbow’s pointed lack of response to posts like these means he has plans to address this in greater detail at some point.

      Just a view into her thoughts would be great. Taylor is not the most emotive of protagonists in spite of the first person style.

    • I think some of what you’re attributing to character should be attributed to situation. Taylor didn’t just ‘shoot a baby’. She made a split second decision whether to kill a baby or let it be taken away to be tortured, probably turned into an inhuman monster like Bonesaw and quite possibly cause the end of the world.

      The traditional hero would’ve let them escape and then rescued Aster later. The Wormverse has repeatedly shown it’s not that forgiving. Taylor was in a very difficult position and chose between two evils the best she could.

  35. I have a question for Wildbow. But for me to ask the question I have to assume some things.

    1. Wildbow has a job apart from just writing Worm (I have no idea if this is true or not)
    2. Understand that I dont really understand the writing process or exactly how much time goes into writing each chapter. All I really know is that a lot of times you makes it sound like it takes about 6-7 hours and you start writing on the day of the chapter and finish sometime before midnight.

    If you quit your dayjob would it be possible for you to write a chapter every single day?

    I’m not saying you dont update worm frequently enough (you have the fastest updating and best web serial out there) this is just a theoretical question.

    • My current writing schedule is to clear my Mondays, Fridays and some Wednesdays, and I write, starting at nine or ten in the morning. I aim to write 1k words by 1pm, 2k by 4pm, 3k by 7pm, and most days that’s about the time (or immediately after dinner is) where I just hit my stride, and I churn out the meat of the chapter around then.

      I aim to finish by 10pm or 11pm, and then spend the rest of the time before midnight proofreading, rereading, checking for continuity and consistency, and otherwise just polishing it. Then it goes live and I take the dog for a 30 to 45 minute walk before the comments roll in, and I spend another hour or two addressing typos that are brought up here or in the chatroom. I fit in a match or a few levels of some video game or whatever in between batches of typo fixes & reading responses to the chapter, and I usually wind up going to sleep at 2-3 in the morning.

      In the course of the writing, I have a mug of tea perpetually beside me. Whenever the tea runs out or gets cold, I get up to stretch my legs, look after my dog (letting her out, throw the ball for a minute). Sort of an informal alarm clock just to force myself to get up and move so I don’t get stiff or whatever. If I hit a snag or spend ten minutes or so staring at the same paragraph, that’s usually time to go walk the dog, prep some food/fuel or grab a shower.

      On non- writing days, I’m typically brainstorming. I attend to the rest of life and chores and looking after my dog and errands and shopping, and all the while, I’m turning ideas over in my head, regarding the story.

      That brainstorming is key. More on that in a second.

      To be 100% frank, while I’d love to be able to promise five to seven chapters a week in exchange for you guys supporting me, I don’t think it’s doable. A 15-16 hour day every day would burn me out, and it’d leave no time for me to do what needs doing. Even if I had a manservant or a cute little brunette with freckles to handle the day to day and look after me, I think I need that downtime to turn ideas around in my head, to roll my shoulders, breathe, and not worry about missing my deadline if something goes wrong with the internet or my health.

      I need those quiet moments where I’m walking to the grocery store and I think… “Yeah, that kind of cliffhanger would reaaaally piss off my readers.” (Cue the grin, the slight spring in my step)

      I’ve had weeks without that downtime. Weeks where I had Christmas ‘holidays’ where I visited family and every hour was occupied by people and stuff to do and I didn’t have time to think. I’ve had weeks where I did a chapter a day every day, and I know that I have to plan things out or it gets a bit discombobulated or unfocused (see parts in the Migration arc), and weeks where I had to do two chapters with no time between and the writing suffered for it (see the Scarab arc). The story is still my story, it’s still doing what it needs to and it’s still me at the wheel, but without that time to brainstorm, it’s a little bit easier for things to come apart and feel less ‘together’.

      So I can look to that and I think… no. I don’t know I’d be able to do much more than I’m doing right now. Maybe get a little further, find my stride, and then scale up to 3.3 chapters a week. Or something.

      What I can say is that a world where I was capable of living off the writing alone would be a world where I would be more consistent. I’d have less distractions and less days where I’ve got shit to do in the morning and start 2-4 hours late, playing catch-up for the rest of the day – not reheating the tea, not letting my dog out, not taking those 30-45 minutes to clear my head, finishing two minutes before midnight instead of 10pm with no time to proofread or polish.

      I think there would be less chapters where it’s just a little underwhelming, where details are forgotten or missing.

      Less days where I wake up and it’s a non-writing day and I see the typos and clarifications and questions and I just kind of sigh and walk away because I don’t have the energy, so I promise myself that I’ll get to it later. I value that feedback and I value my readers and I remain eternally grateful to you guys for what you do and what you give me (be it support, critiques or just the fact that you’re reading) and I hate that I have those moments where I’m not up to returning that with the responses it all deserves.

      And at the end of it all, maybe the biggest thing, maybe entirely unimportant to some readers… I’d be on top of the world.

      • This would make a pretty good blog post, I think.

        Also, you seriously write each chapter in a single day?

        I am in awe.

      • Becoming a prolific writer can be pretty scary. I’m a fan of David Weber’s and his stated daily goal is to write 10,000 words. Based on his output book-wise, he probably manages that most days. But he’s one of the scary-prolific writers in the world, trying to match that would be insanity for most of us :)

      • This is actually more than a little inspiring. Having done NaNoWriMo, 1k words over 3 hours is a very achievable pace.

        And that thing about needing brainstorming time is *gold*. (Numerous writers also say ‘Make time to have a life’ cos that’s where the fuel for your fiction comes from’).

        I’m not kidding myself that I can write anywhere near as well as you. But reading this makes it seem not completely impossible…

  36. “I need those quiet moments where I’m walking to the grocery store and I think… “Yeah, that kind of cliffhanger would reaaaally piss off my readers.” (Cue the grin, the slight spring in my step)”

    Hrm, LOL, on that note I’m pretty confident where you are going with Weaver right now, and why you have apparently, intentionally, turned her into a terminator.

    I’m betting that what Panacea discovered is that the more active a cape is with active powers requiring direct control, the more their mind gets overtaken by their passengers, and the less human their thinking becomes.

    Some examples and a couple counterexamples I was able to pull together.

    Accord – always seemed to be analyzing, constantly using his power.
    Manton/Siberian – always running the projection form, constantly using his power.
    Weld – his body is an artifact of his power, but he DOESN’T constantly USE his power.
    Coil – always running two instances of himself, constantly using his power.
    Scion – always actively using powers, constantly using his power.
    Panacea – spending all her waking hours in hospitals healing, constantly using her power.
    Dragon – we don’t know what her power actually was – but I suspect that she wasn’t using it all the time, with more than a fraction of her ability. She was doing too much all the time for it to all be connected by her power.
    Numbers Man – always seems to be calculating what is happening around him, always using his power.
    Heartbreaker – constantly using his power to maintain his harem and influence, and control his kids, almost always using his power.

    Bonesaw – constantly tinkering on herself, her team, and all the free tinkering supplies that the S9 can acquire for her. Unlike most tinkers, she CAN actually use her power frequently and often. But she becomes markedly MORE human during her interlude while she’s mostly using the tools of other tinkers to grow clones.

    Defiant – constantly tinkering with his own gear because he has nearly endless resources due to Dragon’s funds and the importance of the S9 mission. He was also certainly using his powers to try to build a better place for Dragon to house her core code. And he’s a workaholic. Constantly using his powers.

    Weaver – in the last couple years she has been constantly using her powers, when not fighting, she’s making costumes. When not making costumes, she’s monitoring a stakeout. When not monitoring a stakeout, she’s using her bugs for data processing on paper as we saw after Killington.

    Constant use of active powers requiring direct control = loss of humanity. There are some others that I wonder about as well, but I bet that Panacea found some startling examples of this in the Birdcage while at the same time the small community there didn’t require her to use her power much, so it seems that NOT using powers for a while might allow one’s humanity to take root again.

    If this is what you are working up to, then you are a sneaky bastard, and have been seeding clues all along the way.

    • Responding to self. I wonder what Riley put in that letter to the shopkeeper. With all the work with growing the clones, and with her own recognition of her own mental changes during those two years, I bet she twigged onto this. And in a state where she was more human in her thoughts than she had been for years, it’s possible she actually chose to altruistically share the information rather than keep it to herself? Hrm.

    • Ooh. Second reply to self. What if Scion’s controller tells him to stop using powers except for when Endbringers appear? Will he develop a personality and humanity? Will he be able to answer questions about his origin?

    • Hm…

      I think it would have to be a bit more specific than “loss of humanity” but besides that I think this is a great theory.

      The first counter that comes to mind would be the Triumvirate. Legend, specifically, has extensive active powers that he would have needed to consciously use a lot. His interlude showed him as having one of the nicer/more normal psychologies of the heroes we’ve seen. Not TOO hard to fanwank, but there.

      If this theory does hold up I’d suspect that Cauldron capes operate differently from natural trigger events in regards to humanity loss. Cauldron parahumans get either more extreme results of more or less humanity loss or flat out immunity to this effect. I am partial to the idea that Cauldron capes are in some capacity better for the world than natural ones as it would subvert expectations about them. This would also explain why Case 53s seem so relatively human. It would not be a measure of their bodies not counting as powers, but their powers figuring differently into the mix.

      • An explanation to Legend could be that, sure he’s been around for a while and done quite a bit, but there isn’t really much to do with his power outside of combat. Whereas Accord and Number Man seem to have their power always on andWeaver uses her bugs for every friggin’ little thing nowadays.

        • Having said that another counterexample comes to mind: Lisa. She’s constantly using her power and, apart for a penchant for psychoanalyzing people, she isn’t particularly deranged or without humanity.

          • Actually, I don’t think Tattletale constantly uses her power. I believe she can turn it off and on. Remember her migraines?

            • Yeah, but she uses it a LOT. At least once she continued using it even after the migraines started. She HATES being in the dark.

              • Actually I think she uses it about ten minutes a week or something like it. That rings a bell from a discussion of her Interlude a while back.

              • But we also know that Tattletale takes breaks whenever she overuses her power. We really don’t see her use her power heavily for more than a couple days at a time, and even then, it’s nothing remotely like Weaver does. When Weaver’s awake, her power is doing something, much like the other, more distant / inhuman capes in the list above. Even when Tattletale is using her power, I don’t really get the sense that it’s always on, it’s only on when she’s LOOKING for information. IMHO. Or she would always have a headache.

      • Legend can’t use his powers all the time. He has a family, which he very much wanted to get back to after his interlude. He seemed to not want to be a cape all the time.

        Eidolon is iffy. He’s driven and uses his powers a lot, almost like he’s trying to match Scion. But maybe the fact that his powers are always changing keep him from being mentally damaged? Is he actually attaching to different passengers somehow? Maybe he only has one power – the ability to connect to several different passengers? And that one power-switching power only gets used now and then.

        Alexandria. She was a thinker as well as a physical cape. And she was a cold one. I’d bet that her thinker abilities were either always on, or almost always on.

        • Now that I think about it, Eidolon is pretty driven and one dimensional. He might be damaged as badly as the others, but he’s just damaged in a way that makes him appear to be a workaholic rather than less human.

        • Legend: We know he participates in every Endbringer fight and a lot more besides. He has travel powers and Breaker related secondary powers that take up his attention. Sure, he probably uses his a lot less than, say, Accord does, but still he’d have to use them a significant chunk and he seems to have suffered no ill effects. However the spectrum of humanity loss works this does indicate something about it.

          Eidolon: Eidolon’s powers/passenger is said to grant him the powers it thinks he needs at any given time. This indicates his own attention probably has relatively little to do with his powers. Also nobody likes him, indicating his powers may be taking something away from him. I remember wildbow mentioning that one of the concepts for the character has an always on aura of that made everyone like him, similar to Glory Girl. This would give very weak evidence for the idea that his powers make him less likable.

          Alexandria: She’s a cold cape, but I don’t think anything about her requires her to fit into this theory.

          Tattletale: She actually doesn’t spend much TIME using her powers in a given week. Her powers give her a lot of information to extrapolate from a tiny amount of time spent actively using them. She seems to fit.

          Slaughterhouse Nine: Siberian/Manton’s problems seem to be relatively independent of his powers. He was eating people right after he stole his powers rather than slow degradation over time. Shatterbird similarly seems to be damaged in a relatively human fashion. Note that VERY few of the Nine seem to be Case 53s, a group you would assume would be predisposed to social isolation and lack of ties making them good targets for the Nine.

          India: Taken as a group due to some parts that seem odd. We know India is divided between hot capes and cold capes. The serious capes who use their powers in secret and the celebrity capes who use their powers in public. The theory has some difficulties here, as it seems there would be a lot of personality change over time that would dramatically change the acceptability of a cape belonging to either group. The system being long lasting and functional is counter evidence.

          Case 53s: It seems that we don’t have a single major villain who is a Case 53 in all of Brockton Bay. Case 53s are overwhelming heroes or particularly noble villains. They appear to be some of the best people in the setting. Weld, Gregor, Newter, Garrote, all nice people.

          Cauldron supers: As noted in the S9 portion of the post, the Cauldron villains seem to break in more human ways than the natural trigger villains. Triumph and Battery are two amazingly functional people for capes as well as being two Cauldron created heroes we got to see in interludes. The Travelers were very normal people with quite understandable problems that stretched back largely before they got their powers. Coil was a quite understandable villain. Overall from a simple selection of just the Cauldron created capes I would disagree that power use weakens humanity in any way.

          Naturally gifted by the fairies: Grue seems like a soft candidate with some possible humanity loss, a power that requires a moderate amount of attention. Bitch likewise seems to fit that mold. Regent and Cherish both appear to have powers that require a lot of attention and messed up personalities, though they may have extenuating circumstances. Imp’s powers appear to be quite active as well and she looks like she may suffer some humanity loss, though once again she may get a pass due to all the other stuff in her life. Parian really appears not to have changed personality much despite extremely active powers and being a natural trigger event, though she may have started changing when she started using her powers more after we stopped seeing her.

          New Wave: New Wave collapsed into dysfunction and held the ideology that capes should live in the open without secret identities. This seems to provide some weak support, though the fact they needed several major pushes to collapse as they did is a plausible counter argument. Not too much more information on this group.

          Empire 88: Purity seemed to use her powers a lot and she was at a medium level of fucked up for Worm. Night and Fog seemed to have extensive issues that related to how they got their powers. Crusader by and large seemed pretty normal and has a very easy to use low attention power. Hookwolf seemed quite nasty and also used his powers a lot with a great deal of conscious attention. Kaiser seemed sane and really didn’t believe the Nazi stuff according to a statement by wildbow a while back. The rest is hard to peg.

          Tinkers: Tinkers in general do not seem to be more villainous than expected. There are Tinkers among all factions. They also have by far the most conscious use of their powers outside of some Thinkers. We need more information on them to be sure, but they seem like a weaker part of this theory.

          Hm…

          The theory is not a complete model, but it seems to work better when a few caveats are given. Tinker powers and Case 53/Cauldron powers may be special cases to at least some degree. I suspect that the answer may be a bit more complicated than simply losing humanity. I suspect it may involve becoming more like the passenger or what the passenger wants, with different passengers or types of passengers inspiring different personality types.

          • About the Case 53s, yeah, the only “bad” one, I believe, we’ve seen is Nyx. But then again these Nyxes aren’t the true ones and seeing how she was one of the original members under King, it’s possible Bonesaw had no idea what her personality was like and made it up on the spot. One of them did beg for mercy and volunteered information on Jack. Besides, with a power like hers, she may just have been unlucky to not get treatment like Garrotte.

            • Given that membership in the Slaughterhouse Nine is not voluntary and we know so little about Nyx I don’t think we can safely say she fits any pattern without more information. It easily could have been that the Nine heard about her, thought she’d make a good member, and forced her into it. The sheer humanity of all known Case 53s is almost certainly some kind of hint, though it is possible that Cauldron just kills any that would go bad.

              Remember that there’s no actual difference between a Case 53 and a Cauldron super. Pretender thought they ALL were Case 53s with successful formulas just creating subtle ones. It’s possible that non-monstrous Cauldron capes are non-monstrous in a weirdly risky way, but given that Cauldron knows the secret Panacea knows and seems to think creating human looking parahumans with the formula is a good idea I don’t think it is likely. I really think they’d have caught the pattern by now otherwise with the Number Man involved.

              Speaking of which I am pretty sure the Number Man is not a Cauldron created parahuman even though he works for them.

              • I don’t think Number Man is a cauldron cape either.

                However speaking of Number man, the S9, and Cauldron there’s someting that’s not quite clear. Eidolon’s clone claims Number Man was a founding member of Cauldron. He also says Gray Boy bought powers from them. Gray Boy was a member of the S9 at the same time as Harbinger (and, if i’ve not misunderstood a line from Jack in the flashback, may have already been dead when they killed King). Thoughts on the matter?

              • Hm…

                My previous timeline:

                Gray Boy buys powers from Cauldron.
                Slaughterhouse Nine founded. Members include Jack Slash, Gray Boy, King, and Harbinger.
                Gray Boy stops being active. May or may not actually have died.
                King is killed by Jack Slash and Harbinger.
                Harbinger leaves and joins Cauldron as The Number Man.

                Now, the actual quote:

                “We founded Cauldron. The Triumvirate. The Number Man. William Manton. The Doctor. We sold people powers.“

                We know that Cauldron formula created the Triumvirate. Doctor Mother offered it to Alexandria before she gained her powers.

                I suspect this means that “Cauldron” is the name of an organization that was created some time after what we see as Cauldron started. They became Cauldron some time after Doctor Mother started experimenting and selling powers. Before that they were a collection of different people who formed the predecessors of Cauldron. Cauldron was most likely founded in the late 80s a bit after the Number Man left the Nine and all the Triumvirate gained their powers.

      • Well, Jack Slash was taken by King for the Slaughterhouse Nine. He could have been broken in a more “normal” fashion. Or the conflict he thrives in could be an alternate way of interacting with his passenger for less humanity.

      • Oh, nothing stops a cape from being crazy for other reasons besides being a cape who uses their power constantly.

        • That having been said, we don’t know for sure if Jack has a secondary power. A thinker power of some sort which he does keep on all the time. He has been outwitting a LOT of capes for a LOT of years.

          It might be something as simple as always being aware of everything happening a couple seconds before that actually happen. Even a couple seconds advance notice would give him a huge edge in almost any fight or the ability to avoid most traps.

        • Indeed.

          I made a post some chapters back about how Jack seems the kind of guy who would have been a complete madman even without superpowers, whereas people like Accord or Bakuda seemed to have pre-existing issues cranked up to eleven by their powers and guys like Lung or Crawler have mental problems directly linked to their specific power.

    • Pretty cool idea. The passengers do have a direct link to the brain, after all. It makes sense that there’d be more side effects than just amazing powers.

      That said, I think I’d like to know a little more about the passengers. We don’t have a whole lot of information yet regarding their personalities, physiology, motivations, etc.

  37. Wildbow, if I’m right above, and I’m backtracking the logic right…

    The outsiders aren’t giving gifts of power, they are reproducing?

    The end of the world is when one of the passengers matures and is born as an outsider?

    The Endbringers are designed to kill off capes with combat powers because most capes with combat powers don’t use those powers all the time and are unlikely to feed their passengers sufficiently to allow their passengers to be born?

    By keeping the numbers of fighting capes down, the chances of an outsider surviving it’s “birth” from a passenger-inhabited human goes up, because the planet it’s born on doesn’t have sufficient force of arms to kill it before it does whatever it does to finish it’s growth after birth?

    Cauldron saved the world by creating Scion, then sending him back through time. Without him, Simurgh and the Endbringers would have destroyed civilization, which is part of their purpose, to, again, allow a newborn outsider to survive because there is no organized defense when they are born?

    This allows Cauldron to match the claim that they saved humanity once, but still doesn’t give them the knowledge of exactly WHAT they saved it from?

    • This has been my personal theory for a time. The passengers are pupae of the cosmic things we see during trigger events and they’re gestating inside human bodies like some insects inject their eggs inside other animals and then the kids eat them alive from the inside. Glaistig Uaine’s ramblings about the fairies awakening and dancing in the skies refers to the passengers finally growing, destroying humanity and Earth with it.

        • If you are talking about me, I was just backtracking potential motivations. If the Outsiders are giving humans powers which damage their brains when used heavily, then they are perhaps not as benevolent as they appear on the surface.

          That then led me to think of what other motivation they might have to implant a passenger into a human. Then I realized that the choreographed dance of the outsiders seemed a whole lot like the mating rituals of a lot of different animals. Then dominos started falling.

          If this isn’t what’s happening, I’ll be surprised. It seems to click into place pretty firmly across events occurring through most of the series. There are some pieces which don’t fit quite right, but we don’t know every detail about every event.

          • Taylor’s passenger is always trying to be helpful, she’s been called a ‘Queen’ a few times and I am now postulating that she’s getting the Outsider’s equivalent of royal jelly.

  38. Huh. Couldn’t Contessa be able to kill Jack without risk of being corrupted, if her orders were carefully worded enough?

    • Possibly, but risking it is probably not the kind of thing anyone wants to try given the Number Man’s theory on Jack Slash having a special bond with his passenger.

  39. The weekend seemed weirdly long this time. I am really looking forward to tonight’s chapter, wildbow. I hope this one isn’t giving you any trouble.

    • I think you posted too many too fast with the same words in them (Oh carp) and the spam filter got you. Around midnight (3 hours, 18 minutes ago) I found the comments in the spam filter and put ‘em in the right place.

  40. Oh Jack you used to be such an artist, a rock star even. But now you’re just a spoiled kid with too many toys who throws something away if it doesn’t give you instant gratification.

    Seriously, taking down Scion? Could you be any more obvious? You gonna start hauling nukes, because that’d be par for the course for your current creativity level.

    You’re not gonna figure out that Weaver is your true nemesis until her boot in on your neck, are you?

      • I’m only up to this chapter, and it doesn’t give away anything about the future that I can see. And the comment about Jack not recognising Taylor as his archnemesis fits with what a few characters (notably Theo) have said, and his casual dismissal of her in this chapter.

        What makes you think it was posted in the wrong chapter?

        (Obviously if the answer would contain spoilers, don’t tell me!)

    • To expand on that now I’ve had some time to think, the way everyone reacted to the Nine clones in vats… bothers me a lot.

      I mean, the original batch of Slaughterhouse Nine Thousand are so murdery because Bonesaw painstakingly moulded their minds to be that way. She hasn’t had time to do that with these ones, so they should essentially be blank slates, right? As blank as human beings with powers get anyway. Babies with the genetics of the Nine.

      I can understand that the heroes here are just thinking ‘oh God even more Nine, have to kill them’, and they’re all in end-of-the-world mindsets, but…. the way Weaver just calmly contemplates taking a couple of hundred children and dumping them into a vat of anti-Crawler acid or something…and Chevalier saying someone will stay behind to ‘clean them up’… it bothers me.

      • Desperate times call for murdering of fetuses which some psychotic supervillainous mass murderers want to turn into an army of psychotic supervillainous mass-er murderers. Assuming such fetuses exist.

  41. Exciting stuff, we’re approaching the end of the Nine mega-arc.

    “I winced at the sound of tearing metal, followed by a sudden shift in the ship’s direction. Something had been torn free”
    Dragon’s patented Tinfoil Armour at work!
    No seriously, the first half of this chapter only works if the armour is thin aluminium rather than armour plates of steel or better. There are far too many inconsistencies otherwise.
    Though I suppose it’s consistent with the rest of the story… Steel has generally had the strength of styrofoam in Worm.

    • How so? Remember that some of Nilbog’s creatures are very strong, and others are capable of spraying vast quantities of acid. I’d say it’s a miracle the ship held up as long as it did.

  42. Jack quickly sorted them out, his Siberian touching him, Manton and Bonesaw as the bolts and orbs continued to tear through his crowd.
    Wait, isn’t Siberian unable to protect Manton (directly)?

    • Excellent point. The original certainly couldn’t.

      If this one is able to, that makes him *very* scary. Perhaps why this is the one that Jack chose to hold back?

  43. Okay well Gray Boy is a simple monstrosity. I see why Jack only wanted one of those psychos.

    They did rather well with the invasion part for Nilbog’s territory. I love how with the span of about three sentences Weaver figured out just who was responsible for the massive clusterfuck. It’s also nice to see that Defiant still has plans to painfully tear apart then kill Saint and took the opportunity to make sure that others will take over for him should he fall.

    You know, Purity and her ilk were right bastards but they didn’t deserve what happened to them. And those poor PRT officers.

    I’m a little surprised that Jack doesn’t have more respect for Weaver. Honestly they are way too much alike to both survive and it just seems like he would appreciate that and talk to her as an equal.

    “Eh, I can take you.” HAHAHA, FAMOUS LAST WORDS! Thank you for elevating that meme! Utterly hilarious that he goes from having everything mostly under control and extreme confidence to as close as he gets to panic barely thirty seconds after saying that.

    RIP Aster. I know that in all likelihood that was probably the easiest end for the poor girl considering she was nestled with the NineThousand but considering that Weaver killed her more because she was a possible end of the world catalyst…the girl has come a long way from her beginnings. From feeling bad about lying to villains to murdering a toddler on the off chance. Wow. I love our hero and all and I understand why she did that but I can’t really defend that choice. It’s a lot like what Saint did which puts me in the sorry state of trying to figure out why I still forgive her and still hate that man. I guess to be perfectly honest with myself I really kind of can’t. It crosses a line and there really is no going back anymore. Taylor’s going to win by the end but she just screwed herself too. I don’t think SHE is going to let herself survive this story anymore. Which is really sad considering everything.

    It does say something though that Theo pretty much knows that his friend just killed his sister and chooses to ignore that. That does help smooth things a bit.

    Actually after thinking about it a bit more I figured out why I can still like Taylor and still hate Saint. Taylor knows she crossed the line for one and she is still helping everyone else with everything she possibly can for two. Saint is just being a dick and an even bigger idiot than usual now. I find it hard to think of almost any situation where retrieving the team that is TRACKING/TAKING DOWN JACK and has HALF THE MAJOR PROTECTORATE LEADERS is of less importance. Really, really hard to see that. Especially considering that there are several Azazels literally right outside the city. One is too much? This is why I can keep hating Saint. He fucks up everything he touches. On the plus side he has managed to get on the Kill List for both Weaver and Defiant and probably Chevalier, Hoyden, Tecton. Bitch and Revel as well. He really couldn’t do better at assuring his death if he committed suicide at this point! It’s almost funny.

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