Cockroaches 28.3

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“You have something in mind?” Defiant asked.

“No,” I said.  “But we’re dealing with problems on a massive scale.  We need to look for solutions on that same scale.”

“Um,” Imp said.  “You just leaped from the subject of talking about the Endbringers to talking about solutions.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I think we definitely need to think about solutions, Endbringer-wise.”

“Oh, well, of course,” Imp said.  “This is doable.  Something we’ve managed once in the last thirty years, taking down Endbringers.”

“Shh,” Tattletale said.  She turned to me.  “There’s more to this.”

“Dinah told me the defending forces would be divided into five groups.  Armies, individuals, some of the biggest capes, and unknowns.”

“She said that to others.  It’s on record in the PRT,” Defiant told me.

“Five groups in different places, and Dinah couldn’t see why they were there, she couldn’t see the particulars.  She said there could be too many precogs there, but what if that’s not it?  What if she’s blind about the particulars because the Endbringers are there?”

“A coordinated attack?” Narwhal asked.

I nodded.  “It’s possible.  Either it’s Leviathan, Simurgh, Tohu, Bohu and Khonsu, or Scion’s there and Tohu and Bohu are together, as usual.”

“I can’t imagine the defending forces would hold the line for very long, if at all,” Defiant said.  “Not if we’re spread that thin.”

“A situation this dire brings out all of the people who might not otherwise fight,” I said.  “Parian wasn’t a fighter, but when Leviathan hit Brockton Bay, she stepped up to the plate.  As things get worse, we might see some people doing the same.”

“If it’s five Endbringers and Scion we’re up against, we might see people giving up altogether,” Narwhal pointed out.

I nodded.  “Tattletale already said something like that.  Yes.  A lot hinges on whatever comes next, whether we can get people on board.  Whether others are doing the same.”

“Alright,” Defiant said.  “You have something in mind for the Endbringers?”

“A pre-emptive attack,” Narwhal said, her voice quiet.  “If it provokes them to lash out, well, at least it’s not a coordinated attack, and at least it’s at a point in time when Scion’s busy elsewhere.  The Simurgh is standing still.  We could hit her with something like what we used in New Delhi or Los Angeles.”

“We could,” Defiant agreed.

“Let’s think on it?” I suggested.  “We can’t do this without laying out the groundwork, and that means convincing people this isn’t hopeless, it means gathering information, getting resources together.”

“Then do your thinking as you get ready,” Defiant said.  “Gear up.  Gather anyone you think you need.”

“I’m set,” Tattletale said.  Imp and Rachel nodded.

“I’ll need my spare costume pieces from the Dragonfly,” I said.  “I parked it in Gimel before I left for the rig.  Hoping my flight pack has enough of a charge.”

“Go,” Defiant said.  “I’ll see to Saint.”

“And me?” Canary asked.

“We can get you a standard Protectorate costume.  Spider silk,” Narwhal said.  “Durable, flexible.  No frills, nothing fancy, but it’ll be better than nothing.”

Canary frowned.

“What?” Narwhal asked.

“Just… skintight suits.”

“Got a bit of pudge there?” Imp asked.  “Fat thighs?  Cankles?”

“I don’t have cankles,” Canary said.  “Or fat thighs.  But it’s not…”

She trailed off.

Imp plucked the fabric of her own costume. “I’ve been there.  You think looking this good is easy?  Skintight is a bitch to pull off.  Diets, exercise, keeping up with the patrols and the life or death fights.  Surprised you didn’t get that while you were in the slammer.”

“Not a lot of choice in food, or freedom of movement when you can get cut in half for setting one toe in the wrong spot,” Canary said.  She was frowning, now.

“You can wear your clothes over it,” Narwhal suggested.  “We can get you some tools.  Nonlethal weapons.  So you’re able to defend yourself.”

They’d work it out.  I shook my head a little.  Had to focus on my own thing.

“Doorway, please,” I murmured.  “Gimel.  By the Dragonfly, New Brockton Bay.”

The portal began to slide open.

“I’ll do you one better, Canary,” Saint said.  “I’ll give you one of the spare Dragonslayer suits.”

“It’s… a good offer, but I think I’d feel like I was betraying Dragon if I took it.”

“You wouldn’t be able to pay her what you supposedly owe her if you died, either,” Saint said.  “This is freely offered.  No strings attached.  I’ll give you the ability to fly, Canary.  Better nonlethal weapons than the ones they have Masamune manufacturing.”

“I don’t know,” she said.

I hesitated in the doorway to listen.  Tattletale, Rachel and Imp walked past me on their way through.

“Do it,” Defiant said, not looking at Canary or Saint.  His eyes were on the laptop.  “Saint?  I’ll be looking over everything for tricks and backdoors.”

“Noted,” Saint said.

Defiant opened the door to Saint’s cell.

Saint stood, then rolled his head around, as if getting kinks out of his neck.  He looked so small next to Defiant, but he wasn’t a small guy.  His face was marked by lines of stress, but his gaze was hard.

“You don’t leave my sight,” Defiant said.  “Any access you have to a system is routed through me.  I double-check it.”

Saint nodded.

I passed through the portal, entering the field where I’d set down the Dragonfly. Some kids were climbing around the outside of the ship, but they ran the second they saw us, shouting.

The wind blew, making waves in the tall grass.  I turned to face it so my hair wouldn’t blow into my face.  I was left looking out over the water, while I moved bugs into the necessary channels and manipulated the switches, bidding the ramp to open.

“It doesn’t get said enough, but this is pretty damn cool,” Tattletale said.  “Outclassed convenience-wise by the portals we’ve got access to, but yeah, nice.”

“Yeah,” I said.  My mind was almost someplace else, considering everything that was in play, the threats, the necessities.

I paused, glancing out at New Brockton Bay.  Brockton Bay Gimel.  Tents and shelters were spread out everywhere, with ramshackle shelters dotting the landscape with little sense or organization.  Here and there, there were paths forming, where the passage of hundreds of people were tramping down grass and disturbing the earth.  Crews of people working in groups to erect basic shelters, bringing down trees and reducing them to basic components that they could form into shelters.

I felt a stirring, a mix of emotions, at seeing that.

Looking at them, I could almost sense that they were blissfully unaware.  They didn’t know how badly we’d lost in our initial foray, or their attitudes would be different.  There wasn’t anything like television or radio to spread the word.  There would only be word of mouth.

Had someone told them, only for the masses to dismiss it as hearsay?  Dismissing it because they didn’t want to believe we were well and truly fucked?  Or had the word simply failed to spread, with enough people keeping quiet, believing that it wouldn’t do any good for people to know?

They were lucky, to be able to face the end of the world without full knowledge of what we were up against.  Without the knowledge of what Scion was, or the looming, patient presence of the two Endbringers on Earth Bet.

It was arrogant, even condescending, but I felt a kind of warmth in the center of my chest when I looked at the people down there, like a parent might feel for a child, accompanying a sort of pity.

And somehow, when I pictured the people going to work, sweating, dirty, hungry and scared, getting eaten alive by flies, selflessly carrying out barn raisings to give shelter to the old, the infirm and the very young, I couldn’t help but picture my dad in their midst.  It was the sort of thing he’d do.

Nobody had explicitly said he’d died, and I’d gone out of my way not to ask.  Still, I felt how wet my eyes were when I blinked.  No tears, but my eyes were wet.

I could envision Charlotte down there.  Sierra.  Forrest.  The kids, Ephraim, Mason, Aiden, Kathy and Mai, I imagined, would be bringing water to the people hard at work.

Except Sierra had other duties, and the orphan children from my territory were older.  The kids would be doing basic jobs by now, overseeing new batches of kids with the errands, sweeping, and other stuff in that vein.  Still, it was a mental picture that defied logic, like seeing my dad down there.  I pictured them with the water bottles.

I shook my head a little to rid myself of the mental image, and in the doing, I stirred myself from the daydreaming entirely.  I was still standing at the foot of the ramp.

“Lost in thought?” Tattletale asked.

“Sorry,” I said.  I turned to make my way up the ramp, Tattletale keeping pace beside me.  Rachel had already settled in, lying on a bench, Bastard lying on the ground just below her.  Imp had settled outside in the grass, her head turned towards what would have been the south end of the city, if the city existed in this world.

“No need to apologize.  Constructive thought?  Strategy?”

“No.  Not constructive at all,” I said.  “Thinking about the people.”

“The people?” Tattletale asked.  “We keep telling them to split up, that we’ll give them portals to different spots around Gimel, or to other Earths.  The ones down there are the ones that refuse to go.  Sitting there, clustered into a massive target for Scion, the Endbringers, or the Yàngbǎn to take out.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.  “Everything I’ve said in the past stands.  Humans are idiots.  They’re selfish and injust and unfair, they’re violent and clumsy and petty and shortsighted.  Don’t get me wrong.  Every part of that applies to me, too.  I’m not setting myself above them on any level.”

“Mm,” Tattletale responded.

I began gathering the components for my suit.  I’d wear the same thing I did to the fight against Scion.  Just needed the individual parts.

“But at the end of the day, sometimes humanity isn’t so bad.”

“Sometimes,” she said.  “Took me a while to realize that.  The more you find out, the uglier things tend to look.  But you keep looking, and it’s not all bad at the end.”

I nodded, reaching into my pocket to get the little tube of pepper spray I’d claimed from my ruined costume.  I moved it into the belt of the new costume, then began stripping out of the casual clothes I wore.

I paused when I had my shirt off and my hair more or less in order, holding the bundle against my chest.

“I want to save them,” I said, surprising myself with the emotion in my voice.

“Scary thing is,” Tattletale said, “I know what you mean.  Most times, I’m just not that fond of people.  Seen enough ugliness in them that I don’t… care?  No.  That’s wrong.  I care, I cared, past tense.  But I didn’t… mind, if something happened to them.  That’s closer to the mark.”

I nodded.  I wasn’t surprised at that.

“But we’re getting to this point where I want to do something for them like I wanted to do something for you.  Probably a bad omen.”

“No,” I said, quiet, as I strapped on armor.  I looked at her.  “Do you regret reaching out to me?”

“No,” she said.  “But that doesn’t mean it was all right, know what I mean?”

I nodded.

Tattletale gave me a pat on the back before making her way to the bench opposite Rachel, grabbing a laptop and lying down with her head and shoulders resting against a bulkhead.

Belt on.  I hesitated before donning my mask, but I pulled it on anyways, then clasped it behind the neck, unrolling the bit from the body-portion to bury the clasp.

Then I pulled on the spare flight pack.

Depending on how things went, I might not get the chance to charge it again, to refuel the Dragonfly or anything in that vein.

If Scion or the Endbringers didn’t kill us in the coming handful of days, we’d eventually run out of fuel.  Communications would falter, and we’d run through stores of food, medicine and other amenities.  There was no way to establish new supplies as fast as we needed them.

We’d only been able to evacuate with limited supplies.  Then there were the supplies we’d brought over in advance.  Gimel was one of the more fortunate Earths for that.

I checked my armor, then tightened the straps.  Maybe a bit tighter than necessary, but I wasn’t going to stress over it.

I opened and closed my hand.  It felt weird, still, but not so much that it would be debilitating.

“Doorway,” I said.  “To Panacea.”

The doorway unfolded, and noise poured forth from the other side.  I got Imp’s attention with a swirl of butterflies, then drew the other bugs in the area to me.  Once Imp was inside the Dragonfly, I bid the ramp to close.

The rear door of the Dragonfly was still slowly shutting as we passed through the doorway and into the center of what looked like a makeshift hospital.

The walls seemed to be rough granite in varying colors, surprisingly thick and old.  Bricks and blocks three feet across, some with cracks here and there.  There were even tendrils of grass or occasional flowers growing in some of the deeper crevices.  The ‘windows’ were openings five feet by ten feet wide, with glass set into frames that had clearly been added as a late addition.

The area was flooded with people, talking, shouting, whimpering, crying.

Patients.

People had been burned, cut, bruised, their limbs crushed, faces shattered.  There were wounds I couldn’t imagine were anything but parahuman made.  They were laid out on beds and sat on stone chairs, crammed so close together they were practically shoulder to shoulder.

Panacea appeared.  She was rubbing wet hands as though she’d just washed them.  Long sleeves were rolled up, her hair tied back.  Unlike what Canary had suggested, she was leaner as a result of her stay in the Birdcage.  She was followed by a man with hair that had been combed into a sharp part, a needle-thin mustache and heavy bags under his eyes.  Something in his bearing… he was a cape.

She walked by a row of people, and they extended hands.  Her fingers touched each of theirs for only a moment, while she didn’t give them even a glance.

“Dad,” she said, stopping.

A man at the side of the room stood straighter.  Marquis.  His hair was long enough to drape over his shoulders, his face clean-shaven by contrast.  He had a fancy-looking jacket folded over one arm, and a white dress shirt that had fine lines of black lace at the collar and the sleeves he’d rolled up his arms.  Two ostentatious rings dangled from a fine chain around his neck; the chain had a locket on it, suggesting he’d added the rings as an afterthought.  To keep them out of the way while he worked, perhaps.

“What is it, Amelia?”

For another man, the combination of physical traits and the style of dress might have led to someone mistaking them for a woman.  They might have come across as effeminate.

Marquis didn’t.  Not really.  When he’d spoken, his voice had been masculine, deep, confident.  The cut of his shoulders and chin, his narrow hips, was enough that I couldn’t expect anyone to mistake him for a woman.  I wasn’t the type to go for older guys, I wasn’t even the type to go for effeminate guys.  But I could see where women would go for Marquis.

“Broken bones here.  Shattered femur.  Some bone is exposed.  Are you occupied?”

“Nothing critical,” Marquis said.  “It won’t be comfortable, fixing that.”

Panacea touched the patient’s hand again.  “He’ll be pain-free for twenty minutes.”

“That’s enough time.  Thank you, my dear.”

Marquis crossed paths with Panacea on his way to the patient.  He laid a hand on her shoulder in passing.

I watched her reach one hand up to her upper arm, touching a tattoo.  She took in a deep breath, exhaled, and then moved on.

She got two paces before she finally noticed us, stopping in her tracks.

“Yo,” Tattletale said.

“Is there a problem?” the tidy man beside Panacea asked.

“Old acquaintances,” Panacea said, her stare hard.

“Enemies?”

One enemy,” she said, her voice soft.  “I wasn’t exactly looking forward to seeing you again, Tattletale.”

“Sorry,” Tattletale said.

“I can deal with this, if it’s what you require,” the tidy man said.

“No, Spruce.  You probably couldn’t.  Don’t worry about it.  Think you could double-check on things in the back?  The equipment?”

“I will,” the tidy man said.  He turned and strode from the lobby of the makeshift hospital.

Panacea closed the distance.

You do the talking,” Tattletale whispered.  I nodded a fraction by way of response.

“So?” Panacea asked.  Her eyes roved over us, taking in details.

“I wanted to thank you for the fix,” I said.  I raised a hand.

“You tried to help me at a bad time.  It didn’t take, but you tried,” she said.

“Ah.”

“A lot of people invested in your survival.  Caught me off guard.  Used to be I was the golden child, but I wasn’t lucky enough to have anyone there to catch me when I fell.”

“Looks like Marquis caught you,” Tattletale said.

Panacea glanced at her dad, who was looking at us with one eyebrow slightly raised.

“Maybe,” she said.  “I thought you were a hero now.  You’re running with the old gang?”

Gang is such an outmoded word,” Imp said.  “So small.  There’s gotta be a better way to put it.  Ruling the roost with the old warlords again, back atop Mount Olympus once more.”

“Shh,” Tattletale hushed her.  Then, after a pause, she whispered “Olympus?  Where are you getting this?

“Not a hero, not a villain.  Just trying to get by,” I said.  “Sticking with the people I know best.  People I trust.”

“I see.  We’re trying to get by, too.  Twelve doctors, twenty nurses, me, my father and what remains of my father’s old gang.  They were sending the worst of the wounded our way while we tried to get set up to accommodate larger numbers.  Then the Yàngbǎn hit a settlement.  We’ve been flooded ever since.”

“I see,” I said.

She shifted her weight.  She had a different presence, now.  Something she’d no doubt picked up in prison.  Not posturing.  Simply more comfortable in her shoes.  She asked, “Did you need something?  There’s a reason you came.”

“I was going to say we’re mobilizing.  Dealing with some threats.  Trying to get as many big guns on board as we can, starting with the ones who weren’t on the platform.  I was thinking we could use you.”

“I see,” she said.  “I’m not particularly interested in being used.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I know, but it’s still meaningful that the word came up, isn’t it?”

“No,” I said.  “No it isn’t.”

She glanced back towards her dad.  Two more people who might have been capes had approached him, while he sat next to the man he was healing.

“I can’t stop Scion,” Panacea said.  “I probably couldn’t even touch him, if I wanted to get that close, and if I did, I don’t think I’d accomplish a thing.”

“Maybe not,” I said.

“Do you think you’re going to stop him with giant dogs?  With bugs?  People tried and they failed.  This is what’s left.  Finding places where humans used to live and moving in, if we’re lucky.  Starting over from scratch if we aren’t.  Ensuring that the population is spread out enough, but not so spread out they won’t be able to repopulate.  Dividing all of humanity into groups of six hundred to a thousand people, dropping them off in the middle of nowhere.”

“It won’t work,” Tattletale said.  “Scion moves too fast, and there’s not that many places to hide, in the grand scheme of things.”

“Every time you open your mouth,” Panacea said.  She sounded as if she was going to say something else, but she didn’t.

“You’re one of the strongest capes out there,” I said.  “We need you on our side.”

“You’ll have me,” Panacea said.  “But not on the front lines.”

I sighed.

A deep rumble sounded.  An animal noise, almost.

I turned to look, and I saw Spruce, the tidy man, standing beside Lung and Bonesaw.  The noise had been Lung, an odd sound to come from him when he was still, to all appearances, in his human state.  A tall Asian man, muscular, riddled with tattoos.  New ones had been added since the first day I’d seen him.  More eastern-style dragons.  His hair was longer, and there was scruff on his cheeks and chin.

Bonesaw wasn’t dressed up like a little girl.  Her hair wasn’t in ringlets.  She wore gray sweats.

Rachel growled a little, under her breath, an eerie parallel to Lung.

Lung stepped forward, and he pushed Bonesaw, who stumbled a little.

“It’s not nice to push,” she said.

“Don’t be cutesy,” he growled.  “We’ve warned you before.”

“Okay, fine then.  Stop fucking pushing me.  Tell me where you want me, and I’ll walk there.”

He pointed towards us.

They closed the distance until Bonesaw was next to Panacea.  Lung placed a hand on top of her head and gripped her, arresting her forward momentum.

She lashed out, twisting around and slapping at his wrist with one hand.

Don’t do that,” she said.

Someone’s short-tempered,” Imp observed.  She hadn’t yet donned her mask, though she had it with her.  Her eyes were narrowed.

“I’ve had no sleep,” Bonesaw said.  “Big sis here took out all the good bits I’d stored inside myself, and she didn’t turn off the pain.  I feel too light.  I feel weird.  Can’t sit still, not that they ever let me.”

“First tier parahuman problems,” Imp said.  Her tone wasn’t as humorous in nature as the words.

“And they keep getting on my case,” Bonesaw said, apparently oblivious.  She directed her attention to Panacea and Lung.  “Trust me, I haven’t butchered you all yet, I’m not going to in the future.  You can stop testing me.”

“I remember when you were cuddly,” Tattletale said.  “You were so happy and fluffy and you had a good attitude.  You were a complete and total monster, and nobody in their right mind would cuddle you, but you were adorable.  Now look at you.”

Bonesaw scowled, but I wasn’t paying attention to that.  Tattletale had used the past tense.  You were a complete monster.  Referring to the past, or an observation on a deeper level?

She is why I can’t leave,” Panacea said.  “I’m the only one that can double-check her work.  If we’re both here, you’ve got two stellar healers on the back lines.  If I leave, you’ve got a healer with minimal combat experience on the front line and a defused bomb with nobody that’s capable of knowing if it’s reactivated.”

I couldn’t really argue that.

Well, I could, but not very well.

“There’s another way to deal with that sort of situation,” Imp said.  “Get rid of the fucking bomb.”

“We will,” Panacea said.  “If she gives us an excuse.  Any excuse at all.  But she gets one chance.”

“When you’re talking about a bomb, that’s all it needs,” Imp said.  “Then you wind up carved up, your insides decorating the walls of a room.”

“Your metaphors…” Tattletale mumbled.  “Well, that almost worked.”

Bonesaw raised an eyebrow.  “You sound upset, but I don’t remember doing that to you.”

“My brother,” Imp growled the word.

“Oh,” Bonesaw said.  She glanced to her left, then down to the floor, a frown crossing her face.  “Right.  I’m remembering now.  Shit.  That was one of the bad ones.  Not one of the bad bad ones, but bad.”

Kind of, yeah,” Imp said, not easing up in the slightest.

“I’m sorry,” Bonesaw said, still looking at the floor.  “I won’t say I’ll make amends, because there’s no way I can even come close.  I don’t know what to say, except that I’m sorry.  No excuses.  But I’m going to do what I can to make things better, and maybe I get a hundredth of the way, in the end.”

“He had a second trigger event,” Tattletale said.  “And killed Burnscar.  In case that helps you place him.”

“I said I remember,” Bonesaw said, sounding irritated.  She glared at Tattletale.

Sure,” Tattletale replied, quiet enough she could barely be heard.

I stared at Bonesaw, watching her expression shift in fractions.  Her eyes moved, as if she were watching a scene, or recalling a memory in great detail.

“You’re fighting?” Lung asked, interrupting my thoughts.

“We’re fighting,” I said, shifting my attention to him.

“Who?”

“Everyone who gets in our way,” Rachel interjected.

“What she said,” I added.

Lung stared at me, and I held his gaze.  For someone as brutal and vicious as he was in the heat of battle, Lung had cold eyes.

He’d be thinking about his losses to me.  I’d used venomous bugs to rot away his junkular area, and I’d dosed him with hallucinogenic blood before gouging out his eyes.

It was odd, but those slights probably mattered less than the real offense I’d dealt him.

I’d taken over the city.  He’d tried and failed, I’d succeeded.

Given my understanding of Lung, I suspected that was something far more unforgivable.

“Fighting Scion, Endbringers, the Yàngbǎn…”  Tattletale said.  She placed an emphasis on the last.

Odd.  I would have reversed it.  Emphasized the biggest threats.

“Yes,” Lung said.  “No need to manipulate me, Tattletale.  If you want me to join the fight, you only have to ask.”

Tattletale had a funny look on her face, fleeting.  She turned my way, one eyebrow raised, questioning.

I nodded.

“Good,” Lung said.  “Let me collect my mask.  I will be back.”

He left.

“Doorway,” Tattletale said.  “Um…?”

“To Shadow Stalker,” I said.

The portal began to open.  It was nighttime on the other side.

Tattletale gave me a funny look.

“What?”

“I brought up the Yàngbǎn because I figured he’d be ticked they attacked this spot.  I’m getting credit for brilliant insights I didn’t have.  Not even in a fun way.  That’s going to bug me.”

I shrugged.  “Take what we can get?”

She nodded.

While we’d exchanged words, Panacea had sent Bonesaw off with Spruce.

“Thank you again, Panacea,” I said.  “For putting me back together.”

She opened her mouth to speak, then seemed to reconsider.  She pointed at the portal.  I nodded, and followed her as we strode through.  Tattletale and Imp remained in the hospital lobby, and the portal remained open.  Rachel followed us through, but seemed to sense that we wanted a private discussion and wandered off a short distance.

Panacea and I walked out onto a shelf of rubble that had once been the midpoint of a bridge.

“I’m not a fighter,” she said.  “I hope you understand.”

“I do,” I said.  “But I’m kind of hoping that, in the end, we aren’t left with only the people who ‘aren’t fighters’ on the battlefield, who’ve realized they have no choice but to change their minds.  It’d be pretty tragic if we got that far and someone like you clued into the fact that you could have helped.  It would be somehow fitting, too, if that’s how humanity went extinct.”

“It would be just as tragic if we rushed headlong into a fight, and threw away a life in the process, only to realize in retrospect it was someone vital,” she said.

I nodded.

“Good luck.  Don’t turn your back on Lung.”

“I won’t.  I’m pretty good when it comes to keeping an eye on people,” I said.  I called bugs to my hand, as if to illustrate.

“Then I really hope you succeed in the fights that come.  We’re kind of counting on you.”

“Likewise,” I said.  “I mean, I hope you achieve whatever you’re striving to do here.”

She glanced back towards the portal, which glowed from the ambient light of the room on the other side.  “Second chances.”

“Hm?”

“Together, we’re giving second chances to monsters who don’t deserve them.”

“Yourself included?” I asked.

She nodded.

“I’m not sure I get it,” I told her.  I could see Shadow Stalker land to perch on an outcropping of steel reinforcement, a distance away, watching us.  “I mean, I do get the second chances thing, not deserving it.  But…”

I trailed off.  I couldn’t articulate it well enough.

“When you’re in that position, sometimes the only people willing to extend those second chances to you are the people who need them.”

“I understand,” I said.  “You know, if you’d joined the Undersiders back then, we could have given you that.”

“You could have.  I’m not sure I could have taken it.”

“Right,” I answered.  “Yeah.”

“Not all of us are like that, though,” she said.  “Lung isn’t, as far as I can tell, but maybe you’ll see it if you look for it.  Or maybe you’ll get burned to a crisp by Lung the second an enemy distracts you and you forget to watch him.”

I nodded.

“He’s not someone who builds or rebuilds.  He’s someone who destroys.”

Something in that phrase struck a chord in me.  I knew the right answer, right away.

“We just need to point him in the right direction, then,” I said.

“Best of luck with that,” Panacea said.

She’d had her hands clasped, and as she extended a hand to shake, I could feel the bugs come to life, fluttering free of the space between her palms.

Relay bugs.  Twenty.

I checked, investigating their internal makeup.  They could breed.

Even with that gift, even with the fact that she’d never done anything to me, I couldn’t help but think of the incoherent mess of details I’d seen in the records.  The pictures that catalogued the event that had preceded her voluntary admission to the Birdcage.  I saw her outstretched hand and hesitated for a fraction of a second.  From the expression on her face, I knew she had noticed.

Second chances.

I shook her hand, drawing the relay bugs to me and stashing them in my belt.  “Thank you.”

She nodded, then exited the portal as the others made their way through to my side.  Lung and the Undersiders.  I had my back turned to them as I looked at Shadow Stalker.  She remained perched on that twist of bent girders and bars from the collapsed bridge, her cloak flapping around her.

“I remember this one,” Lung rumbled.  “She shot me with arrows.  It did not hurt that much.  She is a weakling.  Why are we wasting our time with her?”

And so the struggles for dominance in the group begin.

“I’ll take weak,” I said.  “I’m just… working with known quantities.”

The flapping of the cloak quieted as she shifted into a shadow state.  The wind was passing through it, instead of pushing against it.

Shadow Stalker leaped down, floated.

Soundlessly, she landed right in front of me, remaining in the shadow state.

“Hoping you’ve changed your mind,” I said.  Hoping you’ve seen the devastation, and that it’s reached some human part of you that cares.  “That you’re interested in fighting.”

She didn’t budge, didn’t respond.

“It also means bashing some skulls,” I said.  “She been behaving, Tattletale?”

“Mostly.”

“Then she’s probably itching for a good fight,” I said, not breaking eye contact with Shadow Stalker.  “What do you say?  You want to knock a few heads?  Break some jaws?”

She shifted to her physical state.  “I’m not that easy to bait.”

I shrugged, waiting.

“Search and rescue is garbage,” she said, sounding annoyed.  “Nobody left, but there’s no place to go if I don’t want to do it, either.”

“You could go home,” I said.  “Find your family, settle down, put the crossbow away for good.”

“Capes don’t retire,” Shadow Stalker said.  “Doesn’t work.  We die in battle or we lose our minds, one or the other.”

I thought of my passenger, how it had reflexively sought out violence in the past.  How others had done the same.  Die in battle.

Then I thought of Grue.  Was Shadow Stalker right?  Would the retirement just fail to take?

I sighed.  “So?  What’s your call?”

“I’ll come.  Sure.  I kind of want to see what you’ve made of yourself.”

She had wanted to claim the credit for my becoming what I’d become.  It grated, because it wasn’t entirely wrong.  It wasn’t true in the sense she believed it was true, but she had given me my powers.

“Fine,” I said.

She cracked her knuckles.  “So, who’s first?”

“Need to talk that over with Defiant,” I said.  “We can do it over the comms, for the sake of expediency.”

“Okay,” she said.  She sounded a little pleased with herself.  “Whatever.  I’m game.”

“Doorway, please,” I said, to nobody in particular.  “Dragonfly interior.”

The portal opened.

I extended a hand, inviting the group to enter.

Lung shouldered his way past Rachel to be the first one inside.  Bastard huffed out a half-bark, then growled.

Much like Panacea had said about Bonesaw, it wasn’t about having them as allies.  Having them be part of the group, it meant they weren’t on the opposing side.  They weren’t wreaking havoc as neutral parties.

That alone was good.

But if they turned out to be destructive forces we could control

The half-thought I’d had during my goodbye to Panacea fell into place.

A plan.

I stepped through the portal to board the Dragonfly.

“You lunatic!”  Shadow growled the word.

I was silent.  The clouds above and landscape below were a blur, the individual details impossible to make out with our speed.

“Doing this with me?  With Lung?  I could almost understand that,” Shadow Stalker growled.  “But your friends?”

“Don’t care,” Tattletale said.  “We’ve always been the sort to go for the long odds.  You have to do what your enemy won’t predict.”

“Damn straight,” Imp said.  “Credo I live by.”

“Mount Olympus, now credo?”  Tattletale asked.  “It’s the Heartbroken, isn’t it?  They’re warping you into… this.”

“Leave me alone, seriously.”

“What you’re saying doesn’t make sense!”  Shadow Stalker snarled.  “Not here, not like this!

“It actually makes the most sense,” Tattletale said.  “But that’s a different story altogether.  One that needs some explanation.”

“Ten minutes before we hit our target,” I said.  We’d taken the path through the Brockton Bay portal.  Cauldron’s doorways weren’t big enough for a vehicle like this.

“Ten minutes should be enough,” Tattletale said.  “Let me get this loaded on the laptop.  Easier to show than tell.”

“Right,” I said.  My eyes didn’t leave the navigation screens.

“I’ll kill you,” Shadow Stalker threatened.  “Turn this fucking ship around.”

She moved, reaching for a crossbow bolt.  I reacted, half-rising from my seat, drawing my swarm out-

But Lung moved faster, shoving Shadow Stalker against the side of the ship.

Shadow Stalker went ghostly, brandishing the bolt like a dagger as she passed through Lung.

Rachel gripped a length of wire that extended from the laptop, holding it out like a garrotte.  As Lung had done, she moved to pin Shadow Stalker against the wall of the Dragonfly.  Shadow Stalker returned to a normal state just in time to avoid being electrocuted.

Bastard growled, snapping at her hand, and the bolt clattered to the floor.

“You’re okay with this?”  she asked.

“Yes,” Lung rumbled, by way of response.  “This might be best.”

“Fuck you, Hebert!  Pulling this shit only after you got me on board?  You’re all lunatics!”

I sighed.

Tattletale sat down on the arm of my pilot’s seat, setting one foot down beside my thigh on the seat’s edge.  “There’s stuff you need to know.  I told you before, you said you wanted to be blissfully ignorant until the last minute.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Yes.  Right.  I’m listening.”

“It’s video footage Glaistig Uaine left with me.  Last two minutes of Eidolon’s life.  Video cuts in and out, but there’s audio.  That leaves me maybe a minute or two to explain, then you can use the rest of the time to think it over.”

She had my attention, though I couldn’t take my eyes off the monitors at the front of the ship.  Shadow Stalker’s cries of anger were background noise.

The Pendragon was flying alongside us, just a little behind, carrying the capes Defiant had recruited.  Carrying Saint, Canary, and others.

Tattletale loaded up the video, filling the screen of the laptop.

I glanced once at the main monitor, then set the autopilot.

Faultline had talked about taking the simple route.  Talking to Scion.  In practice, harder than it seemed.

We were dealing with problems on a massive scale, we needed solutions on that same level.  There was no easy way to get to that level.  It meant taking risks.  Gambling.

We needed a destructive force we could direct.  Needed to turn third-party liabilities into assets.

With that in mind, I’d set course straight for the Simurgh.  We’d talk to her or we’d kill her.

Tattletale started the video, and I watched.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

314 thoughts on “Cockroaches 28.3

  1. Well.

    Eidolon is confirmed to be dead I guess, so that’s a thing. Probably.

    My prediction: Taylor gets the Simurgh and the rest of the Endbringers on her side somehow, everyone breathes a sigh of relief…

    And then Scion shows up and sends out a few flickery lasers to stick a hole in the core of each one. Because getting your last hope shattered just isn’t any fun when it wasn’t done using minimum expenditure of power.

    • Relay Bugs are improperly created, or somehow modified, giving her the ability to CONTROL Endbringers, changes main threat of entire world.

      >.>

      • I doubt it. That doesn’t make much sense, and it’s really a bit of a cop-out. I mean, how do you accidentally make relay bugs so that they can give control of Endbringers? And why? Taylor’s story has been one of doing great things with small powers, not suddenly getting the ability to control new things.

    • If the Endbringers’ sole purpose was to strain Eidolon and he’s dead then maybe they’re a bit ticked off about losing their jobs.

      Scion was on killmode when Khonsu and Tohu/Bohu showed up and they managed to survive. Maybe he just got Behemoth because he’d already been melted. Plus, if they’ve been pulling their punches for all these years then perhaps when they go all out they can have a great big Scion Smackdown.

      What am I talking about. If they even start putting up a fight something terrible will happen. Scion will take a self-replication power or something….

      • Or maybe Scion just didn’t recognize them as Endbringers. Kevin Norton never would have talked about Khonsu and Tohu/Bohu after all; he would have defined the Endbringers as Behemoth, Leviathan, and the Simurgh. And Scion might not realize that Khonsu, Tohu, and Bohu are also Endbringers.

          • 25.5:

            “Helpful,” Tattletale commented. “Enough with the bullshit and posturing. We were brought here for one reason. Well, a lot of reasons, but the main one that ties us all together is that we’ve got that monster rampaging around and we’re not making headway. We whittle him down, he heals. Scion attacks, he teleports, and the golden fool doesn’t follow. [emphasis added] So let’s be honest, let’s talk about this and introduce ourselves before we say anything so we’re not completely in the dark-”

            • Ah but random giant monsters would fall in the previous “help the heroes, help everyone” order. Let’s face it, Scion is the most literal being ever, so giant monsters appear after Norton dies/passes the mission, nobody tells him they’re also considered Endbringers, he acts with them as he did pre-Behemoth.

              Do we know if after Behemoth’s death, he ever confronted Leviathan or Simurgh and let them live? Because that would put a definite hole in this theory.

    • Don’t think it’s gonna be Taylor getting the Simurgh on their side as much as it’ll be Canary doing the work. Communication is key.

      Also, anyone else getting the sense that Taylor lost some of her cognitive skills after the run-in with Scion? She seems slower at making connections….

  2. Taylor, once again, demonstrates her tertiary power of being crazy like a fox. Man, I hope this works. Also, my guess is that next chapter, Tattletale explains it all? That or it falls victim to the Unspoken Plan Guarantee.

  3. Heh. They’re going to fight Scion with Endbringers. And the junkular region, eh? I think I’m rubbing off on Wildbow. That sounds far more dirtier when I say it, especially after noting the junkular.

    Nice to see I picked a great song for the occasion. See, I ran across a song that fits pretty darn good with the Undersiders in their current incarnation. I’d say Imp is the one singing it. This one, though, I’m going to give Wildbow a chance to approve rather than go around his back. He may not like that, actually, as it means he has to be interrupted to approve the comment, but here goes:

    The New Undersiders Theme (if it were written by Imp), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5E4W1G2S4I

  4. Okay I did not see that coming. But fuck it. What to they have to lose? It’s time to meet the past favorite candidate for Big Bad of the Wormverse before Scion.

    I have to admit I am also very surprised at Lung. It seems he has mellowed considerably with the Marquis as a friend, at least by his standards. I’m curious if he will betray her.

    Panacea adopted Bonesaw? That fact that she considers herself a monster says alot, as well as how comfortable she seems to be now. I worry that Glory Girl is dead or committed suicide if she considers herself on the same level as Bonesaw. We now have a return of the relay bugs, that also BREED! Scion is about to face a swarm big enough to blot out the sun. I wonder if Taylor counts as S class now that her bugs can grow at an exponential rate.

    Lots of funny this chapter. Tattletale is needling Imp so well. I really hope we can get a flashback to what life is like with her leading the heartbroken. Laughed at loud when Lung called shadow stalker a weakling. That had to hurt her so badly, especially when she again tried to take credit for Taylor’s accomplishment. It was so delicious. Even better when she called Taylor insane and a lunatic. I don’t think she gets the irony.

      • I don’t think so. Characters’ ages get a bit fuzzy with the time skip but Bonesaw was pre-pubescent when she first arrived in BB and we have Bonesaw telling Panacea that no, she did not de-age herself, Jack musing on how her actions are more beautiful because they’re done with childish innocence and , finally, the dates in her interludes confirm her given age. She does, however, currently look younger than her age due to self-surgery to hide the fact that she was awake during the two years instead of in statis like the other Nine members.

        • I’ll admit that I’m still a bit confused by Bonesaw’s self-surgery, and given that that arc’s pretty much done, I guess I just missed something.

          Bonesaw stayed awake because crafting the S9000 into a usable force required constant attention. The fact that the S9000 were actually functional should indicate to anyone paying attention that they were carefully crafted.

          Hence, I’m a little confused as to why her staying awake is such a betrayal of Jack (since it was essential to give him what he wanted) and why she thinks her self-surgery hides that fact (since the state of the clones should be a dead giveaway on its own).

          • Because she had told Jack that the process could be done by machines. And theoretically it could. Bonesaw simply didn’t trust the tinker-tech because it wasn’t hers. Plus she wanted to slip off Jack’s leash and, viceversa, Jack doesn’t want Bonesaw to be alone and shake his influence off. And besides even with the self-surgery, Jack knows, Bonesaw knows he knows and Jack knows she knows he knows. The entire point, as stated in the Sting arc, isn’t to avoid cheating but to not be FOUND cheating.

          • Yup. It was even a minor plot/character point. In her interlude she wondered if triggering so young gave her passenger more time to work and have more power over her. Which implies bad things for those third generation capes that triggered as babies.

            • Although if Victoria is still alive somehow Riley is probably the only one who could figure out how to help Amy fix her. I can just imagine it now…

              Riley- “Okay move this part here… Now lets just tuck that back there… Why does she have one of those? Okay now I’m sure she’s not supposed to have two of those!”

              • Two problems with that idea:
                1. Victoria’s mind.
                2. As you noted, she’s probably dead.

    • Taylor can’t be a class s threat. She’s one of the “good guys” who are too /righteous/ to be considered threats.

      Also, anyone else concerned with Imp’s ever-expanding vocab? She could be taking time to study up but the paranoia schizophrenic in me says she got Teacher to make her smarter, is under his control, is jeopardizing Taylor’s plans, its going to thorn into a three-horned monster and eat everyone….did I mention the schizophrenic part? But seriously–I’m curious about where she’s picking up these words…

      • I really hope that if that’s the case, Tattletale is smart enough to pick up on it. It isn’t completely inconceivable that Lisa’s conserving her power, but even to NON-superpowered intuition, that’s pretty hinky…

      • I’m not that worried about Imp’s vocab lessons. I look at it as she instead of idle trolling she has now taken to active trolling. She seems to have deliberately made an effort to expand her literacy in order to bring out extremely funny and totally inappropriate but spot on references/remarks at the perfect times. It’s a marked contrast to Shadow Stalker not even showing a basic SAT prepared vocab level.

  5. Fun chapter. The build up is delicious!

    In reading it my imagination spiraled off for a bit to wonder what’s happening inside Lung’s head. He has every reason to hate Taylor, but despite her wins, I can’t help but imagine that to him she would seem much too small for what he has built up inside him.

    If he unleahes on her it would be a giant crushing an ant. On some level I could see him not wanting to waste it. I mean, like Eidolon, he needs worthy foes too, and right now the worthiest foe around, the one he’d really be testing his power against, isn’t Taylor.

    • I personally think that he sees this as a challenge. He’s never, not ever, backed down from a challenge before. So Taylor, who has beaten him twice before, is presenting him with the biggest, grandest challenge of all. A clean shot at the biggest, baddest menaces to the world. If I get his psyche right, he may have a go at her after it’s all done (if both of them survive) but before? It’d be too petty for him.

  6. >>“He’s not someone who builds or rebuilds. He’s someone who destroys.”
    >>“We just need to point him in the right direction, then.”

    hai guys! let’s go talk to an endbringer!

    ….oh my lawd.

  7. Oddly quiet. Characterization is solid throughout.

    Very few payouts (discussion with Panacea’s the big one, and her message to Dragon is still unknown).

    Relatively few dominoes set up for later – at least that I saw.

    Relay bugs with breeding is potentially a very big deal indeed – one of the very first things we learned about Taylor is that she can reset the breeding cycles of her insects, and did so in order to mass-produce black widows so she could get more silk. Panacea could also have sped matters up. Given a number of breeding cycles (dependent on how many young per cycle), Taylor could credibly start trying to cover the entire Earth. Several Earths, given the stable portals and the fun of exponential growth rates. Nigh-omniscience and nigh-omnipresence on that scale would be… interesting.

    Shadow Stalker’s presence remains very puzzling. A known quantity, in some ways… but not a known quantity in comparison to the various capes Taylor worked with during the timeskip, or even before and after the timeskip. Taylor going back to her beginnings in an effort to choose her new self, recruiting Sophia out of prison – that made some sense as a choice Taylor might make. And if this is still about Taylor looking for anchor-points to her identity, or looking for redemption opportunities, it’s less crazy… but if it’s about assembling a coalition of known and able capes, Shadow Stalker would not make the cut without a specific use for her power.

    To put it more simply: including SS makes narrative sense, but not in-character sense. And that disjunction is what’s attracting attention.

    Tentatively confident that things are in fact shaping towards a capes+Endbringers v. Scion climax.

    • When Taylor’s talking about known quantities, I thinks its the same sub-power that Jack used to manipulate the rest of the Nine, psychological quantities in capes that she knows how to manipulate to give her greater control of the battlefield.

      • That’s a good theory. She’s instinctively gathering capes that her passenger knows how to interface with and “administrate.” She’s done similar things before, like getting Revel and wanting Jouster for the attack on the S9000. They aren’t people she really knows, but apparently she’s had enough experience with them (off-camera) for her passenger to get a feel for them.

        • All good points, also, Sophia has a less controllable variant of Foil’s power, i.e. Godpiercing Arrows. So from a tactical standpoint, it makes sense for General Hebert to have her cover for Foil.

          • Does she?I mean I saw no indication that her power is comparable to Foil’s.Foil’s weapon can cut down Enbringers and possibly kill Scion if they could find his source.Sophia’s ability get stopped by a taser.

            • Yeah. In this very chapter Lug stated that her arrows never did anything to him. Unless Lung was in Endbringer-defeating mode (and we know he never did that again after Leviathan) a hit from Foil would have either hurt a lot or been fatal.

              • And yet SS was able to get lucky and hurt Leviathan. The issue isn’t entirely that Foil’s power is broken (though it is) but that foil has super-timing/aiming to work with her power while SS doesn’t, and IIRC correctly Shadow Stalker’s biggest damage is her having her arrows phase into reality while they’re inside you. Since she can’t control that timing that makes using it hard.

                Still probably not killing Grey Boy tier, but if she could use it better it would be a real tool.

                TL;DR: SS sucks because she’s not that bright/competent, not because her basic power set is awful.

                She could probably kill Lung in a straight fight if she had the guts/focus/skill/intelligence to go along with her power set. (Depending on how Lung’s regeneration would handle, say, grey matter.)

              • @Shadell

                There is no indication that Sophia can affect any equipment that’s not attached to her(clothes ,gear).The projectiles she fired have the power of normal crossbow bolts(except for the ones Tinker/PRT issued).Her power is are basically self cast and do not carry over to any thing that had left contact with her body(like the crossbow bolts), hence why she is utterly useless again Lung or the Endbringers. Perhaps she can telefrag a knife or blade inside her opponents ,provided IF she can bypass the Manton Effect which I don’t think she can.

              • Sophia can telefrag. Just before her capture by the Undersiders, when Taylor is using herself as bait, she muses that she can’t simply phase the bolt through Skitter because then the PRT will know it was her using lethal force. If I understand her power when she is in the shadow state any object she touches becomes immaterial and it takes a few moments for them to become solid again when she leaves them, as demonstrated when she throws the chair at Taylor in prison. She is at best a VERY poor woman’s Foil (whose bolt never miss, don’t need to be touched to be imbued, ignore things like friction and gravity, become molecularly bonded to other objects and are perfectly timed).

                And Shadell, as you said, she got lucky against Leviathan. Simurgh is the most powerful precog AND the only telepath in the world(s). Lucky shots are completely out of the question.

        • A very poor man’s Foil.Sophia’s power only lasted for a fractions of a second when the object left her body.That would give her telefrag at best 10 meters at most (more or less) of range if she have one of the more powerful(and heavier) crossbows. A bolt that can be impeded by Gue’s shadow,Citrine’s power ,Taylor’s bugs swarm or just simple electrical wiring you have in most homes.

          Foil threw a rapier and killed Hookwolf with it ,which I believed to be slower projectile than a crossbow bolt or darts (not sure how far she have to throw it, though it does indicate a fair distance).

          • She has better defensive powers than Foil, though, as well as more mobility. Barring shenanigans with electricity, she’s probably more useful than Foil in an even confrontation between two groups of capes. Against Endbringers or Lung the strategic use of Foil as a glass cannon is much more useful.

    • I wonder, even with the relay bugs, would she actually be able to increase her range to planet-wide? If so, that would be pretty crazy, as she’d then theoretically have nigh-omniscience. And if Panacea made her some aquatic relays, she could rule the seas as well.

      • And I just realized how effectively she could coordinate five groups, even at opposite ends of the earth, with planet-wide range.

        And I just realized that Scion would then probably be able to see the connection of all of the bugs, and possibly where Taylor herself is.

    • Glastig collects passengers not “souls”

      Behemoth didnt have a passenger so there’s no way that Glastig could have collected it.

      • Said “souls” ’cause passengers slipped my mind and I don’t think we ever strictly eliminated the possibility of the Endbringer being passengers. Either way they definitely have a direct or near-direct relation to an entity or to the passengers so there is a slim possibility that Glaistig could have collected him.

          • If someone like door maker helped her…Well she probably has eidolon anyways. I guess she collect the passengers of dead and living people now.

    • I don’t even what. There are so many problems with that: How did Cauldron get it? Why didn’t she use it against Scion? Why should she be able to take it, since Behemoth absolutely isn’t a parahuman?

      But… the sheer badassery of the moment she says, “Behemoth, I choose you!” makes me want this to be true and real and yes.

      • Glaistig: “Behemoth, I choose you!”

        Taylor: “Simurgh, use tackle!”
        Simurgh uses tackle. It’s not very effective.

        Behemoth ueses dig.

        Taylor: “Simurgh, use confusion!”
        Simurgh uses confusion. It’s super effective.

        ….

  8. Lung continues to be awesome. I’ve always kinda liked that guy. He’s nice and straightforward about being a monster, even while he’s a total mess inside in his brainmeats.

    Still miss Clockblocker. Imp being snarkier makes up a little bit, but….

  9. - Saint still possesses more dignity than I wanted but that’s okay, I’m biased against him and this story needed more semi-prominent badass normals. By the nature of the Wormverse, he’s the closest we’re going to get in that vein. Fair enough.
    – Taylor thinks Marquis is hot. A good sign, I think, of her returning humanity.
    – wonder what Spruce’s power is? Detail-Thinker? Plant control? Super-cleaning powers? :D
    – Marquis as a healer. Unexpected but welcome. It has been said that every power has combat applications. Most of them however are *incredibly* underutilized for peaceful purposes … speaking of builders and destroyers.
    – Relay bugs! RELAY BUGS! That reproduce! Shit yes, Taylor just became S-class, yo!
    – fireproof bugs, coldproof bugs and a bug-factory Atlas 2.0 (call it … Cadmus?) would be pretty sweet
    – lol at Shadow Stalker. Watching her delusions of badassery get shattered is peculiarly pleasurable, like popping bubble wrap
    – Lung doesn’t hate Skitter. She won against him but she didn’t *defeat* him. Besides, as someone up there said, what he has inside him right now would be wasted on her. Only an Endbringer or Scion would be worthy.
    – So. This is the plan? Get the Simurgh on board as a go-between/negotiator with the terrorist Scion or kill her trying. Interesting plan. Why *this* crew? Tattletale makes sense of course (real gamebreaker that one.) Lung is Endbringer-tier muscle so that makes sense too. It’s the Queen Administrator’s plan so she’s got to be there, sure, but Imp? No way the Simurgh can’t see through her power. Shadow Stalker? Worse than useless. Is Canary present?

        • Lets not forget Forrest. Also known as the guy who wanted to see what was more durable, a cinder block or Mannequin’s head?. And that was before Mannequin got worfed.

          • Some of the PRT directors(ex-military PRT),the Dragons Teeth (they lose only one troop against the S9),Calle .

            I think this setting have a sizeable badass normal population.

      • Don’t forget Charlotte who set off the dominos to figure out Scion, Sierra who stepped up to the plate before there was even a field to play on, Yamada who rivals D.T. Guy in sheer ballsyness and badassery and Glen who set things up for Weaver to essentially take over the PRT by her lonesome. Forest has already been mentioned as has Coil’s sniper.

    • So in other words Taylor’s plan involves a bunch of girls(no I’m not doing a headcount this time) an an eunuch taking a stroll to the Endbringers and recruiting them?

      • Lung was only briefly a eunuch. A combination of Panacea and his own regenerative power solved the problem. In fact, Lung is such a great example of what tvtropes calls Good Thing You van Heal: we would probably all be a little more squicked with Taylor rotting his crotch or carving his eyes if we couldn’t go “oh well he can get them back, no problem”.

  10. > They could breed.

    . . . Geez.

    I guess we’re going to *find out* whether she actually gets smarter in the presence of a bigger swarm. Man. . . . heck, even if she doesn’t get substantially smarter, even if it’s just barely sufficient to perceive and multitask across a planet and she simply can’t stack that up to do anything else with it, that’s some serious transhuman stuff right there.

    (I mean, I guess the relay bugs could all accidentally get crushed when the ship lurches, or the story could end before she has time to cover more than a couple of square miles, or she could hit a hard limit on her power, or Contessa could pop out of nowhere and swat them all as a necessary step to not being eaten alive by bugs in a later confrontation, but . . . I mean, dang.)

        • Oh, personally I’m not versed well enough in Worm-lore to take a stand one way or the other. I do know, however, that Packbat has commented several times on why he thinks that particular theory doesn’t hold water. I was simply lighting the Pacbat signal, just like we light the Gecko signal whenever new posters arrive.

      • I’m not familiar with the evidence for or against, and don’t think there’s going to be enough on either side to say much one way or the other.

          • Point. I hadn’t thought of the times she was cut off from all of her insects, which are the only times that the magnitude might be noticeable.

            Unless it’s linear growth, in which case it’s possible, if unfounded, to guess that once she gets a few million bugs she’d start to get Thinkery.

      • Sorry — I actually went to bed instead of reading the chapter.

        To say that Taylor becomes a more effective thinker the more insects she controls would be to say that:

        1. While she was in Dispatch’s sphere (24.4), she should have been much stupider than is typical.
        2. During the fight with Bakuda’s thralls in the storage unit complex (4.5 to 4.10), she should have been much stupider than is typical.
        3. During her public relations stunt in the immediate aftermath of Leviathan (11.2), she should have been much smarter than is typical.

        and, assuming that the increase in intelligence derives from her ability to offload cognitive load onto the insects:

        4. When she was teleported out of Phir Se’s hideout (24.4), she should have been immediately disoriented, confused, and/or amnesiac from being cut off from her insects.
        5. When Armsmaster wiped out mobs of her insects at the post-ABB banquet (6.5 to 6.6), …
        6. When Lung wiped out mobs of her insects at her first fight with him (1.4), …

        Every one of these predictions fails.

        Even leaving out whatever other evidence one might scrape up, and even leaving out the fact that Wildbow specifically said that it wasn’t true, I think the above is sufficient refutation.

        • Pretty much, people are confusing the fact that Taylor’s abilities ensures she can control each insect individually with intelligence. Her ability simply makes her a tactician’s wet dream since it allows her to keep track of everything in her range without it being a burden.

          So because of that she seems more intelligent as she has both more information, more accuracy and less things to worry about.

    • I guess we’re going to *find out* whether she actually gets smarter in the presence of a bigger swarm.

      As implied by AMR’s post and my reply to it, I’m reasonably confident that we won’t see a visible increase in Taylor’s intelligence.

  11. “Capes don’t retire. Doesn’t work. We die in battle or we lose our minds, one or the other.”
    “I’ll come. Sure. I kind of want to see what you’ve made of yourself.”
    “Okay. Whatever. I’m game.”

    Shadow Stalker was so asking for it. Laughed out loud on that one. Sure, just have a chat with Simurgh.

    That is very interesting that Glaistig Uaine managed to save Eidolon’s recorder even though the last we saw of her, she was running away from whatever Scion was going to do to Eidolon. Does that mean that GU was close enough to “harvest” Eidolon?

    • It’s not necessarily Eidolon’s recorder. Could just as easily be G.U.’s. Either way, though, it means she was in the area, so chances are pretty good that she got his faerie.

      That sounds dirty, somehow…

      • Scion was blasting Glaistig Uaine’s Shades apart, destroying them permanently. It stands to reason that anyone directly killed by him would be impossible to claim by her – remember, she only claimed capes during that attack that hadn’t been explicitely and directly killed by his attack

        • Think I might have just figured out why that was, too (forgive me in advance if this is a slowpoke realization): he’s reclaiming those shards, absorbing them back into the true space-whaleworm body.

        • Even if G.U. did claim Eidolon, it wouldn’t last. The next time she ran into Scion, if she brought out the Eidolon shade Scion would just pop his faerie.

    • The plan to meet the Simurgh was clearly the reason for Taylor putting on her mask. She wanted to hide the trollface from Shadow Stalker. “Problem Sophia?”

  12. It occurs to me to wonder just how much of Lisa’s power has become common knowledge among capes. For a long time, she did a lot to hide just how powerful she was, trying to get people to underestimate her. Now Lung is assuming she’s using her power to dig up dirt on his past with the Yangban even when she’s not. I forget the details of what she wanted people to believe her power was; I suppose that could fit with it, but it definitely seems overall like she’s let a lot slip, especially when organizing the S9000 attack and so on. Since New Delhi, really. Do people think of her as a “major player” now in her own right? Cauldron does, obviously, since she got the invite to the first Legion of Doom meeting and Taylor didn’t, but they know way more about everything than everyone else.

    Just curious about the outside perspective. One of the small things you lose in having a narrative that’s so tied to a single POV is that you don’t often know how other people view things.

    • I think that after two years of constant Legion of Doom meetings , where as you said she participated as a major player, the important guys have a fair idea of Tattletale’s power. The reason she could keep it secret in the beginning was mostly because she was a member of a minor gang who wasn’t often on the front lines. Heck, Grue’s power is much less easier to dissimulate than Tattletale’s and yet, despite his mini feud with Shadow Stalker the BB Protectorate and Wards still believed it was only darkness generation several chapters in the story.

      I liked this little moment reminding us that Lisa is fallible, found it funny, even. Even though I’d think it wouldn’t be too difficult for her to realise there’s bad blood between Lung and the Yangban. I mean he’s a Chinese (okay half Japanese but Japan isn’t exactly a place you want to live in anymore and it’s implied the CUI has expanded beyond the borders of our China) of considerable power and what the Yangban do to their capes seems to be common knowledge…

      • Heh. You’re right. I was actually quite certain she *had* used her power/research to learn Lung’s history with the Yangban until she herself said otherwise.

        Mild but clever subversion of expectations on Wildbow’s part.

    • She pretended she could read minds at the bank, a power that belongs only to the Simurgh, maybe. By the Leviathan attack the Protectorate at least had her pegged as Thinker 7, believing her special gift was mindgames. Since then she’s been kind of ruling a major city with the other Undersiders, when not participating in Endbringer/S9000 fights. I think the secret is effectively out, even if the precise details are obscure to outsiders.

      • The last I heard was that the PRT assumed she spotted weak points and extrapolated her other data from those. Which is bass-ackwards, but probably hard enough to refute that they haven’t, yet.

    • Scion: “I can’t possibly defeat her! She has TOO MANY SPLEEN!*”

      * this is the plural form that the space whales use for spleen. Their reflexive fear, awe, and obedience towards seven-spleened creatures is atavistic and dates back to the time when seven-spleened god-monsters first seeded the space whale world with the primordial worms. (It was a farming experiment that did not pay off, since seven-spleen god-monster politics turned sharply against genetically engineered food products not long thereafter.)

      • ^I laughed pretty hard at this.

        I am just so astounded that a person with the powers Amy has would think that, while under a world-ending threat, would be as a medic. Yeah, she’s had some pretty awful experiences with her power, but relay bugs are such an incredibly extreme example of what she has to offer that seeing her assume that she has nothing else to contribute is almost painful.

        What if she could work on Dinah a bit and make it less painful to use her power? Even a little would be huge, and she could probably do a lot more than a little. What if she adapted the microbes from the S9 arc to streamline people’s mental functions instead of debilitate them? Even if she never goes to the front line, she could contribute more than any other single cape in the entire world, with little more than a thought.

        But even with all of that, it never occurred to me that her greatest weapon might be simple intimidation. Seven spleens, indeed!

        • Panacea would have to know enough about powers to make that fine manioulation, and such manipulation would have to be possible. I always thought Dinah’s headaches were from her brain trying to process the information thrust at her, rather than her power itself.

            • Which doesn’t help if the headache is just a manifestation of information overload. Headaches can be symptoms of anything from stress to dehydration to congestion to (for a certain definition of “headache”) severe wounds; unless maybe Dinah was made to be better at ignoring pain overall*, it wouldn’t work.

              *And pain is important; it stops us from doing stupid stuff. What happens if Dinah overuses her power, unfettered by mere headaches? And that’s ignoring the various issues that come with not feeling pain.

          • Those two statements seem to be at odds- if the headaches are not a direct result of her power, then why would Panacea need to know more about the power than she does about, say, Taylor’s transceiving?

            At the very least, she could give Dinah a candy gland.

            • 1. Simple–I am not sure which of the two possibilities is true (Headaches direct effect of power vs. Headaches caused by information overload), so I am making a counterargument for each.

              2. Um, the “candy” didn’t help, and I don’t think that predemption Bonesaw would put a gland into someone’s head that kept them dosed with whatever drug cocktail that was.

    • Now that you mentioned it, I just realised that Panacea could make everyone Aegis 2.0. Sure, as the original showed that doesn’t mean they’d be unkillable, but surely it’d be an advantage.

      • That would require her to give everyone a couple new powers, which is well beyond her abilities. Maybe with Blasto, Bonesaw, and a sample of Aegis’s DNA.

        • Hmm? Aegis’ power (apart from flight which is beyond Panacea’s power) was a redundant physiology: constant adrenaline surge, other body parts taking the role of a damaged organ, etc. I think that’s something Panacea can pull off given the other things we saw her do.

          • Which things are you referring to?

            And aside from the adrenaline and maybe the redundant biology, that stuff would require giving superpowers. Skin absorbing light for sight and kidneys* pumping blood and stuff requires major shifts in biology done at the time of injury, it couldn’t be pre-done.
            *Or whatever organ it is taking over the function–it was never specified.

            • The relay bugs, turning harmless microbes into deadly plagues, creating a completely new creature (Atlas) out of random biological matter, tweaking brain chemistry to gain extremely specific results, etc. Seriously all those strange critters Nilbog created? Panacea can do all of that too. You’re telling me tweaking hormones so they’re constantly producing adrenaline is beyond her? Shifting, say, lungs’ tissues and purpose throughout all the human body?

              • I said she could do the adrenaline thing. And yes, shifting the lungs’ function throughout the human body would be impossible. About the closest she could come is giving them cutaneous respiration, which has the downside of making the skin frailer and the person easier to dry out.

                Similar with everything. There’s a reason humans have specialized organs–generalized organs don’t work as well, without superpowers. As for redundant organs, that would be possible (probably), but it’s surprisingly hard to cram an extra heart in there without screwing something up.

  13. The vocabulary changes with Imp seem too conspicuous to not be going somewhere. I think it’s building up to something. Regent took over her body once, maybe he left some part of him inside her when he suicided?

    • I don’t think their relationship got that far before he snuffed it.

      …what? I damn well know Psycho Gecko, at least, was thinking it.

    • I think Lisa wasn’t completely off base with the Heartbroken comment — it might well be that she started reading out loud to some of the kids some nights, for example.

      That, and her native intelligence is showing through. Modulo her attention-deficit issues, she’s certainly no dumber than her brother, and he’s no idiot.

      • A more interesting idea:

        We know from Cherish that at least some of Heartbreaker’s kids can learn languages at an advanced rate. We know from the Regent/Imp relationship that Imp was willing to let Regent work on her because she had a trump.

        If Imp is willing to let other Heartbreaker offspring work on her, and if those offspring share the advanced language capabilities, and if at least one of them can share information instead of just control their target, then you have a similar situation to Teacher, where a parahuman can teach skills at an advanced rate. More generally, if any of Heartbreaker’s children have advanced learning via their power and can successfully transmit it to another of Heartbreaker’s offspring who can transmit if onwards, the group of them are mini-Teachers with more control but less flexibility.

        Or Teacher could have taken over Imp already, but you would think that TT would pick up something that blunt.

    • I am thinking along the same type of lines. Her vocabulary has been “harped” on several times throughout this arc already. Maybe it is a diversionary tactic and nothing will come of it.

      However, I think something else is going on there though. I don’t recall Regen ever talking like that. Just can’t put my finger on it yet.

      The implication is that Imp trusted Regent with her mind and body (even soul if we are going that route). They experienced a oneness that no human/parahuman (mentioned so far) ever has. She gave herself up to him, of her own free will. I think that says something BIG to as far as how “close” they actually became.

      I was hoping a little more would have come from the Bonesaw/Panacea thing. Together they could (as some here have voiced) team up and really bolster the offensive capabilities of the capes.

      I also didn’t get that Taylor was going to have everyone go talk to the Simurgh; I was under the impression they were going to strike first agaisnt her/it. So, I’m a little confused on this.

      If Glaistig Uaine isn’t dead, then I think they need to find her as well. She is one of my favorite oddities that has come about so far.

      UGH, gotta wait until Saturday to read more. :D

  14. Okay, I’ve decided to adopt a more rambling, random thoughts style for this post. So, first of all:

    -LUUUNG! I always liked Lung especially Birdcage!Lung. The way he swatted Sophia as if she were a bug was great.
    -Eh Tattletale stressing the Yangban to Lung without knowing about his personal beefs with them was funny. A reminder that Lisa is not infallible, whatever she may think.
    -Ohh, Imp vs Bonesaw. You think Bonesaw really remembered Grue or, as Lisa implied, she lied? I bet there have already been several people like Imp who confronted her and it’s hard to keep all those victims straight.
    -Paacea has co-opted Marquis as her assistant. Frankly it’s more natural for his powers to be used in a hospital than on a battlefield. I’ll chalk it up to Scion’s warrior mentality.
    -Anyone else got a bit sad when, even after Taylor talked about second chances (to Lung and Shadow Stalker and Bonesaw!) and she got shiny new bugs as a gift, she was afaid to shake hands with Amy? Poor Amy.
    -I guess the ending of this chapter seems to confirm the Eidolon=Endmaker theory, but until it’s spelled in-story I will continue believing in alternatives. I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem to fit, IMO.

    • There’s two possibilities on your last point.

      One is that Eidolon unconsciously created them (if it was consciously done, Scion’s observation shouldn’t have made him suicidal).

      The other is that Cauldron made them in order to give him something to fight that would force him to access his full powerset.

      I’m currently betting on option two.

      • Cauldron making them seems improbable. Kill half the big capes on the planet every few months? Ingenious.

        Given the context:
        “My power gives me what I need!”
        “You needed worthy foes.”

        It’s pretty clear that Scion was implying direct, if unconscious, creation.

        • A perfectly valid alternative is that Eidolon, at least in the beginning, was powerful enough to outright kill the Endbringers but subconsciously held back because he liked the idea of having giant monsters to fight every month or two. It doesn’t per force have to do with the CREATION of the Endbringers.

          My personal theory is still that the Third Entity is the creator and it’s manipulating everyone through Contessa. But it’s becoming unlikier and unlikier.

          • Again (I think it was here, at least), the context of Scion’s statement and Eidolon’s reaction point clearly to Eidolon being the unconscious creator. Pretty much the only argument against that is “Scion lied,” but that removes the only piece of evidence we have about the Endbringers’ origins, so…

            • So, the Endbringers are just hanging out now since they no longer have a creator/purpose? Also, does anyone know the rough date of Eidolon’s purchasing his powers? If the Endbringers showed up before then, it pretty much negates him being the creator of them.

              • I believe Alexandria’s interlude has the first time BEHEMOTH showed up in it, and it was after the formation of the Protectorate.

    • A small reflexive hesitation to take Amy’s hand. Quite natural given the things she can and has done with just a touch. Or threatened to do to Taylor specifically. I’m sure it hurt Amy, but I’m thinking it felt a lot better a moment later when Taylor shakes anyway.

    • -Agreed. I’m glad he’s out.
      -Sometimes, she’s just lucky. And given how good she is at making her own luck, that’s all she really needs.
      -Well, it’s not every city that you lose half the remaining Nine, and it’s not every victim who has a second trigger event. I’d say Grue’s circumstances made him memorable, if nothing else.
      -Indeed. The idea that “all powers are useful for combat” is really kind of forced.
      -Yes, but can you blame her? Their first confrontation included Amy threatening to make Taylor hideous and whatnot.
      -You’re probably in the wrong, but there’s a chance you’re not.

    • I’m reminded of that phone conversation between Taylor and her dad, when he had that small hesitation before he said he wasn’t afraid of her.

  15. You know, if anyone were still keeping track of that sort of thing those fertile relay bugs would have catapulted Taylor into being an A-Level threat by herself, borderline S-Level If you take her decision to voluntary spend time in the company of Simurgh into account.

    Too bad the stakes have moved up that much more with Scion having turned into some sort of SS-level threat.

    • Recruit the Endbringers to fight Scion. Or failing that, utterly annihilate the Simurgh to prove the good guys are still fighting and can win.

      • Yeah, Queen Administrator indeed. I can imagine the stares & jaw dropping, when Endbringers show up to defend settlements.

        I wonder, Queen Faerie said that High Priest was the one doing it wrong. So would it mean that whatever function Administrator is supposed to preform, she did well, or that her job hasn’t started yet, so she didn’t have opportunities to screw up. Seeing how Tylor is intended Shard owner, unlike Eidolon’s stolen one, she should be more naturally inclined. Her function seems to be managing the cycle, so maybe she has a shot to reorient Endbringers for a new role to salvage it.

  16. BTW, Is there any wikia or forum discussing Worm ?.I know one but it is relatively inactive.There are a few question I needed to ask concerning my understanding of previous chapters(mainly in regards to character powers and the resolution of some of the past conflicts).

    Perhaps I need to do a binge of the comment sections,maybe?

    • The wiki has not been updated in a while.

      The three forums regarding Worm I lurk on are on the rpg.net site, spacebattles and darklordpotter. The first two are reasonably active, the last one less so.

      Hope it was of help.

      BTW, I don’t think it’s a problem to ask questions on previous chapters in the comment sections of the current one.

      • Thank you for the directions.I am unaware of both those sites till now.

        I just needed to ask a some questions concerning basic mechanics ,really.The one that I mentioned (giantitp.com) are mainly to discuss updates.They don’t do in depth talk for fear of spoilering the story to new audiences.

        The question concerns Coils’ power.It is okay to ask them here?

    • There’s stardestroyer.net but that is possibly the least active. If you actually want enthusiastic discussion, look to forum.rpg.net and spacebattles (where there are also multiple Worm crossover fanfics of better-than-decent quality and an ideas thread that, while active, is a little obsessed with giving Taylor alternate and overwhelming powers.)

          • Curiously, the TV Tropes page appears to have vanished… it could be server issues, but I can’t pull up anything on Worm at the moment.

              • Lame. That’s going to hurt my viewership numbers, I’m betting.

                At this point I’m getting 150-200 clickthroughs from TV tropes a day. A bunch of those are Packbat and the other tropers, but a fair number are new readers too.

                Have I mentioned lately just how thankful I am to the handful of most excellent individuals who’ve added Worm links to TV tropes pages?

              • Yeah, you should see the dogpile on the idiot who gave a negative review of Worm on TvT. He basically crammed every fallacy he could into the review and made it very clear he never read much of it at all. He got fed up by getting everything he said in the discussion page refuted and decided to try to review bomb Worm. Glad to see that several fans took the fight back against him :)

              • @Scolopendra: I always feel bad criticizing someone who disagrees with me on a matter of taste, and I wouldn’t make any extrapolations about his intelligence from just the one review … but there were a number of interpretations he proposed there that I don’t think are defensible from the work. How good Wildbow’s writing is can be reasonably debated, but whether the Undersiders are presented as heroes cannot.

              • @packbat: My biggest issue with him was the constant fallacies in his interpretation. He was a huge fan of the ol’ slippery slope, among others. Even when this was pointed out to him, he ignored it. I DO have problems with people who are called out on illogical statements yet cling to them. If someone has something intelligent and rational to contribute to a discussion, I’m all for it, especially if it is opposing my own viewpoint as it causes me to think in new directions. That guy offered no such things, just nonsense reasoning for the most part.

              • I don’t usually read the reviews on tvtropes so I’m curious. Did this individual argue that the Undersiders were the villains of the piece or that the text portrayed them as heroes (in the traditional sense) without backing it up?

              • The latter. I believe the title of the review name-checked Garth Ennis, if that means anything.

              • Hm, that reminds me, I should get to adding links once TVtropes is back up again. I’ve got to go over some betrayal tropes with Teacher, add Bonesaw to the Atoner page (and her quote from this chapter to the quotes page), put Hookwolf under Born in the Wrong Century, and edit Divided We Fall.

              • Wait, somedude thought the Undersiders were villains? Like, not just villains in the classification sense, but the villains? As in he wants to see them lose? Who was he? Paul Gleeson’s character from the Breakfast Club or something?

              • Nah, he thought they were very badly written and unsympathetic heroes in the style of the Authority.

              • I took offense to his depiction of Worm being like The Boys. I’ve read The Boys. Worm is much better and the Undersiders are nothing like The Boys. The whole setting may be incredibly dark, but the idea that there’s no reason to care about the characters? This is a story with Interludes that flesh out characters to such a degree that people like Armsmaster now and Bonesaw is practically redeemed in some people’s eyes already.

                So I think I know what we need to do now to make up for this odious transgression against good taste and common sense. We need more reviews to drown him out.

                Come on, Worm readers. Anyone want to step up and review Worm? Give us an idea about the story and why you love it, as well as any weak areas you see. And do it over at the TV Tropes page. Grab a sword, join the horde!

              • In the fellow’s defense, it really does take a good long while before we really see classically-heroic Protectorate and Wards members get a lot of screentime. Before Arc 9, all you’ve got is Interlude 3 (in my mind is classified as Gallant’s), then Interlude 7 (Miss Militia’s).

                On the other hand, having watched this summary of the setup of The Boys, the comparison is pretty much completely off base. Armsmaster didn’t kill any innocent bystanders, the Undersiders aren’t in the business of fighting crime at all (much less crimes committed by superheroes), and the author isn’t presenting anyone as a moral exemplar.

                I don’t think anyone should write reviews that are ‘responses’ to AxelxGabriel’s, but if “someone is wrong on the internet” motivates you to write an accurate, thoughtful critical analysis, I’d be thrilled to read it.

              • In the boys, heroes aren’t just incidentally wrong or dumb, theg’re all corrupt assholes save for one or two. Theh’re also controlled by an incompetent corporation. The heroes murder, rape, spread AIDS to unsuspecting sexual partners, kidnap kids, and rape. They like rape.

                And there are few supervillains because you get away with more as a hero. Because of one major difference between The Boys and Worm. Peopls trust superheroes and are completely blind, or too corrupt, to crack down on them.

      • I heard about this ‘verse via the bbs.stardestroyer.net site quite by accident. I was searching for something totally unrelated and somehow came across the “classification ryhme”. That was all I needed to come check it out. Read the first chapter and was hooked instantly.

  17. Oh that was interesting, nice to see Panacea again and Bonesaw is really having to adapt. The relay bugs are also pretty interesting, I assume Taylor is already working on increasing their number, way too useful not to do so.

    Aside from that going to meet the Simurgh? Really wasn’t expecting that…

  18. Seriously Wildbow… I have a pretty high tolerance for weird stuff… and it’s the second time in a row you managed to disturb me…

    Riley was… saddening. Mostly because it’s one of those Jeckyll and Hyde situations in which someone is responsible for “someone else’s” actions.
    And everyone is taking it out on a little kid. Sure, she looks like the monster she was, but… come on, are you guys seriously berating a child for being cheerful? That goes way under and beyond keeping an eye on her.
    Not to mention that psychological violence is … a questionable approach on someone who apparently wants to reform.

    Sure, the rampant paranoia justifies a lot of things. And that stops being an excuse the second you go and have a chat with the frigging Simurgh.

    (Please, Tattletale, you’re my only hope)

    Also, Riley shipping thread. Not with Eli. Or any kind of bear-related cape or IRC denizen.

    Umh… how about Aidan? They should be about the same age, both like remote controlling their pets, and had a really scary surrogate parent.

    • Regarding Riley, did I read properly that Panacea ripped out all of her augmented physiology? Without cutting the pain? I cannot even fathom how much that would hurt.

        • I would hope not. Bonesaw’s spine and organ sheaths would probably have been a nightmare to remove just by themselves, not to mention all the other things she had. Body horror doesn’t begin to cover it.

        • And I’m sure there was a hazmat unit nearby with NBC suits on and flamethrowers to handle all the fun surprises being expelled (I recall Riley had spring-loaded needles, plague dispensers, and acid/poison reservoirs installed). Good grief that rustles my jimmies to think about.

            • Imagine bone reforming and breaking the mechanisms apart, much like a tree growing and splitting concrete. It’s actually much more pleasant to think about than how soft organs fully encased in a reinforced mesh (one capable of repelling knives more effectively than kevlar) would force that out.

              • Didn’t Riley perform some self surgery, including a Hysterctemy, Masectomy, and bone shaving without pain suppression in her interlude?

                Well looks like Riley isn’t going to be getting the easily forgiven trope. Funny, when she was still an evil psycho who did medical experimentation for fun, I hated her and wanted to see her suffer. Now that she is suffering, but is trying to redeem herself, I feel sorta bad for her.

        • Did Panacea also grow Bonesaw’s uterus back and give her back her natural height/bone growth also? If Riley is really trying to be a better person and make up for all the batshit crazy from before she deserves a chance to be a normal girl at some point in the future as well.

    • Aidan…. Do you want to give Wildbow more horrible ways to torment the poor kid? Bonesaw & the S9 were probably the people who killed/maimed his parents/neighbours etc. right in front of him traumatizing him to the point where he’s afraid to go to sleep cause of all the nightmares/sleepwalking/bed-wetting.

      • Aiden was in Taylor’s Territory right? So it was probably Manniquin or Burnscar if it was a member of the 9 that killed his family.

        Yeah Riley has realized that no one is probably ever going to like her or trust or accept her ever again. Now if she sticks with being good in the face of all that, then I guess that really would be a sign that she wants redemption. I hope Pancea at least put back in some of the Stuff Riley had to cut out in her interlude.

    • Cutsey little girl was Riley’s MASK and she became that mask as time passed. They’re trying to avoid a relapse. Also, I’m sure there’s LOTS of people in the Wormverse who are terrified, traumatised simply at the thought of little creepily cheery blond girl, maybe some in that very room. I think their psychological health has priority over Riley’s.

      • *grumble*

        Hm…I’d say RileyxVista, but I don’t think either swings that way…and there really aren’t many characters that age…

        Yeah, non-creepy Riley ships won’t work.

    • Riley/A load of buckshot.

      Seriously, I know she’s being redeemed or whatever, but if she get’s out of line someone had better blow her friggin’ head off. Watch her like a shithawk.

      Hear that, Saint?

        • Hey! Assuming she’ll go bad is a self-fulfilling prophecy, Rev.

          At which point she fucking dies. She gets no slack. None. Zero. Nada. She went so far above and beyond the call of duty or even psychosis in her monstrosity; how can any less effort be expected of her in her redemption?

            • Right now it’s the carrot and the stick for Riley. Which is sort of funny because that was Jack’s method. The carrot for her is hope. Deep down inside her she has hope that maybe she can atone a little bit for the horrible shit she did. That maybe she can be forgiven. That maybe she can have other people feel something for her than raw hatered. She needs that carrot. Without it there isn’t much to keep her from backsliding into insanity and evil. She has guilt, but she needs to hope that she can at least be an actual “good girl”.

    • Tbh, Eli is not a cape anyway, so it wouldn’t work very well…The power dynamic would be horribly wonky.

      There are options among capes that can make some sort of sense too, but some would be more …waay past inappropriate than Eli, like Riley and Manton or Riley and Panacea.

      Perhaps one of the Weld’s irregular’s or one of the other villain-turned hero capes might be closer, especially if she helps the irregular regain closer to human shape, but those might see her as too much like Cauldron. Unfortunately, we lack villanious capes given second chances(who are named characters). Riley and Sophia, perhaps.

      Though, she could learn how she should talk now from Bambina.

      • Naaaah, don’t think that I’m her/his type, to be honest. :(

        Tried a Nike-pun (just do it), but it seems that I failed extraordinary.

        I’m really looking forward to the smurfs tea party. I’m not that convinced that Eidolon really created the Endbringers, Scion could’ve just lied and with Contessas power, it should’ve been way too easy to access Eidolons weak points, namely his inferiority complex and not-existent confidence.

  19. Something’s up with the TV tropes page. I’m currently trying to access it via their site, and Literature/Worm returns an answer of “We don’t have that article, press the edit button to start it.” Switching the namespace to Main instead returns “This page is temporarily unavailable.” HALP!

  20. Soooo… am I the only one who wants to see Taylor riding into battle atop her very own Endbringer? Maybe telekinetically suspended at the center of the Smurf’s wings or standing on Khonsu’s head?

    Levi probably wouldn’t make the most stable platform, Tohu isn’t mobile enough and Bohu is too small to make a good steed.

    • Tell them to pull random levers in their fortress in the middle of a siege until they find it… Honestly though, I don’t think there is any place to download it. I’m assuming he’s trying to find an e-book format for it, but that isn’t really available as far as I know.

    • Wildbow has specifically asked people not to distribute ebooks of the work as serialized — as he has mentioned a few times, he has plans to edit and publish it after the story is complete.

      • I thought I had heard that before, but wasn’t sure. I was going with it “isn’t really available” to be on the safe side.

    • Also, I am not at all surprised Dwarf Fortress fans would like Worm. After all, it’s a game where you have to fend off near impossible odds, death is incredibly common and almost always horrific, and there is absolutely no way to actually win. Yeah, sounds quite familiar…

      • Well, I was introduced to it by dermonster, and aside from that I haven’t confirmed any other Worm readers despite mentioning it every so often.

        Although I did get one person to read just enough that he realized his fear of bugs would prevent him from enjoying it.

        • Well, if this were Dwarf Fortress, Scion could be easily defeated by abuse of ridiculous physics. He’s the right height for it, so you could just lure him under a drawbridge and lower it on him. Bam! Wiped from existence. That solution isn’t “Dwarfy” enough though. Perhaps surprise him with a nice magma shower followed by a rinse with a well-place floodgate hooked up to the river. No more Scion. You could also put some spiderwebs on top of the flimsiest wooden cage available and have him trapped in an inescapable prison for all eternity. Causing a cave-in on top of him would work, but lacks the hilarity and style.

          • Scion is small enough to be atomsmashed…forget parahumans, what we need are dwarves! And plump helmets. And mechanisms. And boulders, lots of boulders.

            • How about we put all the Parahumans in a room with a bunch of wooden spears that stab at them ineffectually over and over again for a few years. I’m pretty sure Taylor placed into a danger room like that would be able to beat Scion in a straight up fist fight after all that.

              • Scion probably has [NOBLEED], [NOTHINK], [NOPAIN], [NO_DRINK], the works. Not terribly effective. At the minimum, they’d need crossbows.

              • Alright, how about we just distract him with a Zombie Giant Sponge. He can have fun trying to kill one of those for all eternity.

  21. I love how Taylor invites people to this new alliance. It’s either “Join or regret it later” or “Join or I will get the rest of the people to crush you horribly”. I think that’s the right idea though, Taylor herself said perfectly, they don’t need to be allies, they just need to be pointed at the worst possible enemy, at best the worst enemy get’s killed, at worst there is less things to worry about.

    I’m thinking that the Simurgh will be amused by Taylor. I can almost see the conversation:
    “Simurgh, we are at the end of our rope! we need your help to kill Scion”
    “Why, dearest human, would I even care?”
    “You can fight with us or be horribly murdered by us. (Or at least get really freaking hurt)”
    “… Oh my”

    • Your description of Taylor’s recruitment style sounds a bit familiar…

      “Where did they come from? I mean their guild. Their monopoly.”
      “That’s easy. One night a powerful sorcerer knocks on the door of a less-powerful sorcerer, ‘I’m starting an exclusive guild,’ he says, ‘Join me now or I’ll blast you out of your fucking boots right where you stand.’ So naturally the second mage says…”
      ” ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to join a guild!’ ”
      “Right. Those two go bother a third sorcerer, ‘Join the Guild,’ they say, ‘or fight both of us, two on one, right here, right now.’ Repeat as necessary, until three or four hundred guild members are knocking on the door of the last independent mage around, and everyone who said no is dead.”
      –The Lies of Locke Lamora, on the subject of the formation of the Guild of Bondsmagi. :D

  22. Oh man, Marquis is stylin’. A lot of guys here could learn a few things from him. Maybe if Colin had some of that swagger he wouldn’t need to shout at teenagers and pick fights with giant monsters to boost his self esteem.

    Well, talk to Simurgh. Don’t know if that’s the smartest idea I’ve ever heard or the dumbest. Probably a bit of both. Atleast it’s an actually inspired idea and not a bullshit pyramid scheme like Cauldron would do.

    I figure they’d want to send her gunning after Scion. But I’d like to dump the smurf right on Teacher’s head. See the look on his face.

  23. Shadow Stalker VS Lung! the winner gets to to have their ass handed to them by Taylor once again!

    Glad to see some more of Amy and Marquis, now if only we could see how Glory Girl is doing now.

  24. Didn’t see this discussed this chapter yet, so I’ll just leave this here.

    *** I nodded, reaching into my pocket to get the little tube of pepper spray I’d claimed from my ruined costume. I moved it into the belt of the new costume, then began stripping out of the casual clothes I wore. ***

    I’m still thinking that the pepper spray is going to make a disproportional difference. I don’t know who it will make that difference against, but I’m betting Scion. I’m thinking he and his kind have faced everything from brute strength and sharp sticks to forcefields, and miniature suns, but they may have never faced what is truthfully a weaponized foodstuff. A face full of capsaicin, and I bet he goes bugshit nuts.

    Taylor approaches using her flight pack. Scion looks on as she comes closer. (We might get a glimpse of his thinking. “WTF do you think YOU are going to do Ms. Administrator?”)
    Taylor leaves her swarm behind as she gets close, then comes to a stop in front of Scion. They look at each other for a minute.
    Taylor – “Fuckin’ bully.” **SQUIIIIIIIIRT!!!**
    Scion -WTF??? AAAAUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!
    :)

      • Hey for all we know the Endbringers really just wanted to be friendly, but were forced to fight because Eidolon subconciously wanted worthy opponents. Maybe Leviathan just wanted to help people cool off on hot days. Or the Smurf wants to be a fortune teller. Tohu and Bohu might just want to open their own amusement park. But sadly they kept getting forced to try and destroy all mankind.

  25. Interesting if the Endbringers choose to all work together to fight Scion, they could probably do a damn good job of it. Khonsu could put them into time acceleration to heal, and teleport them around to get away if needed. The others could fight in a coordinated manner, perhaps, espacially is Simurgh can communicate with them. Someone has been organizing their appearances, and even if Eidolon created them, he might not have been in control of them in any way after they were created. At the very least they could drain him of a lot of power as he tries to fight them, and I think that the only way Scion’s going down, is if he runs out of power.

    Then there’s the possibility that the Endbringers are in some way related to the third entity which damaged Scion’s mate, in which case we might see Endbringers actually fighting for real rather than playing with the humans and snacking on passengers from dead capes until they took a lot of damage.

  26. Juuuust caught up with the story. Took me two crazy weeks, and I had to skip comments section, but I’m here now. Yay! Now I can hit the tvtropes page without fear ^^

    • Lets see if you can still feel that way when you read Psycho Gecko’s quotes from the comment section. Speaking of the devil…

      • I skip the comment section when I was binging too ( it took me less than a week to catch up,heh,heh,heh)and only now start binging the comment section in an anti chronological order(arc wise, not chapters).It is more daunting than I thought.

        Only then did I found out what a fixture Psycho Gecko is in the comment section.I didn’t even recognise the significance of his way of welcoming newbies.I thought he was trolling me at the time(which is why I didn’t return the greeting at the time,sorry about that).You’ll learn to spot the nuances of the regular posters and learn to appreciate/tolerate/stomach the flavours they brought here.

  27. Since wildbow has informed me that congratulating her foreshadowing in the comments is considered spoilery (see Shell 4.3), nice foreshadowing in 5.1.
    Notice how Coil’s the one to recognize the Travellers?
    It’s those neat little details that fit perfectly into place later.

  28. Holy shit. Trying to get the fucking Simurgh on board? wow.

    They are being pointlessly unpleasant to ex-Bonesaw. What possible purpose is served by preventing her from turning off pain? It’s the moral equivalent of sticking a pain device inside someone so that you can inflict pain on them when you want to. It’s sick.
    And turning off her ability to do without sleep is massively counter-productive and petty.

    You know…
    Panacea could probably make the Zerg. Fast spawning fungus to spread around the place that then turns into monsters. Turn the biomass of a planet into weaponry (not very [i]effective[/i] weaponry given it’s, well, biomass, but still something).

    “Sticking with the people I know best. People I trust.”
    The people you know best being the ones you spent three months in contact with and most of THAT time being managing your empire? As opposed to over two years spent living with the same group?
    Trusting people known to be severely lacking in empathy for others and respect for social norms.

    • I agree, it has stuck me as odd that Taylor still has had more contact and lines with Undersiders than her Wards team even after the timeskip. Sounds like someone isn’t letting go, at least.

      • That does seem a bit weird on the face of it. But with the exception of Golem (who I *am* a bit surprised isn’t here) she didn’t really give herself a chance to grow close to any of the Chicago Wards. Her focus was on getting them prepared for the end of the world – she was closer to their CO than their friend, and those two generally don’t go well together.

        She spent more time with the Chicago Wards, but the Undersiders genuinely became her friends.

  29. Okay well I guess I was off with thinking Taylor was immediately thinking about attempting to recruit/direct the Endbringers. She got there eventually though! A coordinated strike against four Endbringers and Scion just didn’t doesn’t sound like such a good plan at all…I think they stand a hell of a lot better chance of sitting down to have tea. Wow, what is the world coming to when it’s easier to talk to an Eldritch Abomination than to just kill it?

    Can someone please kill Saint or at least reduce him to a blubbering idiot? Really this bastard is way too fucking smug for someone who screwed the pooch as badly as he did.

    I love Aisha. Really. I love her. Next we’ll see that she has been taking etiquette lessons as well just to screw with Lisa even more!

    Damn, Amy really has grown up. Hell, going to the Birdcage seems to be the best thing that ever happened to her. That’s incredibly sad. And relay bugs without being asked that could breed? Yes, please! Now why the hell hasn’t she gotten Victoria back to normal yet? Considering where her pointed headspace is, it doesn’t seem like it’d be all that difficult anymore…

    On a related entertaining side note, Taylor now has the potential to wipe out a planet by her lonesome given a bit of alone time. Breeding relay bugs in sufficient numbers could extend her range worldwide. She’s shown to be capable of focusing at a high enough level that she could probably take that load. Every bug on the planet suddenly under the control on one overriding intelligence? Cue evil laugh. The universe is rather exceeding lucky that our heroine is a good person at heart and that Scion is killing everything anyway.

    The Bonesaw interactions were cool. I can’t believe I actually want to give the little psycho a chance at a better life.

    Lung was freaking funny. “Hi, don’t kill me because you can kill these other assholes.” “Okay I will kill those assholes first.” “Cool, wait, what?” And his comments about Shadow Stalker were priceless! It was kind of endearing too when he immediately knocked some respect into SS.

    Die in battle or go insane…yup even more convinced that Grue is dead. Show us onscreen him alive and walking or I won’t be convinced. Major characters just don’t get written off without a goodbye even in the apocalypse. Though granted Miss Militia just kind of fell off the map and she was relatively big for a while…

    Well it’s pretty cool to see that Tattle connected the dots concerning Eidolon. That bodes well for Team Taylor’s chances.

  30. “Yes,” Lung said. “No need to manipulate me, Tattletale. If you want me to join the fight, you only have to ask.”

    I’m not sure I can probably identify the specific kind of excitement I get from moments like this. It’s like “I love it when a plan comes together”, only without the plan.

  31. “When you’re talking about a bomb, that’s all it needs,” Imp said. “Then you wind up carved up, your insides decorating the walls of a room.”

    “Your metaphors…” Tattletale mumbled. “Well, that almost worked.”

    I think it worked perfectly well. On two different levels, even. “Insides decorating the walls of a room” is a good description of someone who’s been blown up, and it’s an accurate description of something this particular “bomb” has literally done in the past.

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