Insinuation 2.9

Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

As Brian and I returned to the loft, I felt more than a little apprehensive.  It wasn’t just that I was going to be around Bitch again, but I was also having to face Lisa and Alec.  After shouting and talking about quitting the team, I was turning around and going back.  A part of me wanted to apologize, but a larger part of me felt I shouldn’t.  I had been justified in everything I had said and done, right?  Maybe it was just because I wasn’t used to violence or raising my voice.

As I’d feared, there was a bit of an awkward silence as we reached the top of the stairs.  Bitch was sitting in a chair beside one of the tables, her dogs nowhere to be seen.  As she saw me, she scowled, but didn’t say anything.  Alec grinned as I came back, but I couldn’t decide if it was because he was glad or if it was at my expense.  I didn’t know him well enough to guess either way.

“Glad you came back,” Lisa told me, a bit of a smile on her face, “Alec, can you go get the first aid kit?  It might be in the storage closet.”

While Alec did that, Brian sat me down on the arm of the couch and I pulled off my sweatshirt to get a better look at the damage.  I pulled the bottom of my tank top up around my ribs to get a look at where one of the dogs had been gotten at my stomach and back.  My clothes had taken most of the damage, and I’d only suffered three or four shallow-ish scrapes.  There was bruising and some raw areas where I felt tender, but I figured I’d recover from that in a day or two. I had a cut on my ear, which would be harder to hide, but I was pretty sure I could keep the incident from my dad without him raising hell.

There was only one spot of real damage, a puncture where it looked like a fang had buried itself deep in the top of my forearm and then dragged an inch or so down towards my wrist as it made its exit.  The area around it was already turning colors with bruising.  I wasn’t sure how deep the puncture was, but I was pretty sure it should have been hurting more than it did.  The blood from the injury had trickled down my arm, and was still welling out.

“Christ,” I said, mostly to myself.

“That was awesome, you know,” Alec told me, as he returned with the first aid kit, “I didn’t think you had it in you to kick someone’s ass.”  I glared at him, but he just sat on the back of the sofa, his legs kicking like an excited kid.

“I think we’re going to clean that and stitch it.  Tattle’s power should give us a better sense of whether stitches are necessary,” Brian said, quietly.

“Alright,” I agreed.

I would hardly describe getting stitches as a bonding experience, but Bitch more or less stayed quiet throughout the process.  We were both sat down and told to sit still while Brian both cleaned and sewed up the hole in my arm and the tear my kick had made in Bitch’s ear.  Brian insisted I take two Tylenol, though the pain was still limited to a mild ache in my arm.  I grudgingly obliged.  I’d never liked taking pills, and never felt they made a real difference.

“You have first aid training?” I inquired, to make conversation and break the tense silence.

Alec complained, “We all do, Brian made us all take a comprehensive class less than a week after we were gathered as a team.  Such a pain in the ass, believe me.  He’ll make you do it too.”

“I already did,” I admitted, “One of the first things I did.”  I jumped a little at a snarling from my left, but it was just Rachel cussing as Lisa taped a cotton pad to her ear.

Brian just looked at me and flashed that boyish smile again.  I looked away, embarrassed that a guy like him would get pleased like that on my account.  He got up to head to the bathroom, garbage from the bandages, sutures, cotton swabs and ointments in his hands.

With Brian gone and Lisa absorbed in trying to patch up Bitch’s ear, I was left with Alec.  To make conversation, I said, “Alec.  You were going to tell me what you do.  You go by Regent, right?”

“The name is a long story, but what I do is this.”  He looked over his shoulder at Brian, who was returning from the washroom with a damp washcloth in hand.  Brian, mid-stride, stumbled and fell onto the floor.

“Way to look good in front of the new girl, gimpy!” Alec mocked his teammate, laughing. Grateful for the break in the tension, I couldn’t help but laugh too.  While Alec continued laughing, Brian got to his feet and ran up to the smaller boy, at which point he got Alec in a headlock and began punching him in the shoulder repeatedly.  This abuse only made Alec laugh harder in between his cries of pain.

Lisa turned to me, smiling at the prank and play fighting between the boys, “It’s a bit complicated to explain, but basically, Alec can get into people’s nervous systems.  This lets him fire off impulses that set off reflexes or make body parts jerk into motion.  It’s not a dramatic power, but with timing, he can make someone fall over midstep, drop something, lose their sense of balance or pull the trigger on a gun.”

I nodded, absorbing the information.  It sounded very underwhelming to me, but I was willing to admit I could be underestimating it.

“Well,” I said, after a long pause, “I think I pretty much get what everyone can do, then.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but Bitch can turn those dogs into those freakish monsters I saw the other night?”

Sitting a few feet away, Bitch muttered, “They aren’t freakish.”

Lisa answered my question, ignoring her. “Rachel can do it with any dog, actually,” she said, stressing the name, “And no codenames when we’re not in costume, ‘kay?  Get in the habit of using the right name at the right times, and it’s that much harder to slip.”

It was hard to think of Rachel by her real name.  Bitch seemed really fitting given the stunt she had pulled.  I apologized to Lisa, “Sorry.”

Lisa gave a small nod in response, then told me, “She can use her power on any dog, but only Brutus, Judas and Angelica are trained well enough that they’ll listen to her when they’re pumped up.”

Ah, so that was it.  “And Brian makes that oily darkness that screws up your hearing.  The Parahumans wiki said it was darkness generation.”

Brian smiled, “I put that into the wiki myself.  It’s not wrong, but it does catch people off guard when they think they know what you can do, and there’s something more to it.”

Lisa added, “It’s not just hearing.  It also cuts off radio signals and dampens the effects of radiation.”

“That’s what her power tells her, anyways.  I haven’t had much chance to test that part of things.  I get by as is,” Brian said.  He turned his hand palm up and created a handful of the darkness.  It was like smoke, but so absolutely black that there was no texture to it.  It was like someone had taken a scalpel to reality and the blackness was what was there when everything else was gone.  I couldn’t even gauge the dimensions of it, unless I looked at it from a different perspective.  Even then, with the way the darkness shifted and billowed like smoke, it was hard to judge the shape.

More of it just kept pouring from his hand, climbing upwards to cover the top of the room.  As the light from the windows near the upper edges of the room and the florescent bars on the ceiling was cut off, the room got a great deal darker.

He closed his hand into a fist, and the darkness thinned out and disintegrated into strands and tatters, and the room brightened again.  I looked at the light coming in from the windows and was surprised it wasn’t later.

“What time is it?”  I asked.

“Nineteen minutes before five,” Lisa said.  She didn’t look at a watch or a clock as she said it, which was unsettling.  It was a reminder that her power was constantly available to her.

Brian asked me, “Do you have somewhere you need to be?

“Home, I guess,” I admitted, “My dad will wonder where I am.”

“Call him,” Lisa suggested, “Now that the introductions are over with, you can just hang out for a bit, if you want.”

“We could order pizza,” Alec suggested.  Then when Lisa, Brian and Bitch all made faces, he added, “Or maybe everyone’s sick of pizza and we could order something else.”

“Stick around?” Brian made it a question.

I glanced at Bitch.  She was sitting on the table behind one of the couches and looking like a mess, with a bloody bandage over one ear, blood smeared below her nose and lip, and a bit of green around the gills that suggested she was feeling a little worse for wear.  With her in that state, I didn’t feel particularly threatened.  Staying meant I could work to get things more copacetic and maybe dig for a bit more information.  I’d also missed socializing with people – even if it was under false pretenses with a group that included an apparent sociopath.  It had been a sucky day.  Just chilling out sounded good.

“Okay,” I decided, “Yeah, I think I’d like to.”

“Phone’s in the kitchen if you want to call your dad,” Lisa said.

I looked over my shoulder as I headed across the loft.  The others got settled on the couches, with Alec turning on the TV while Lisa and Brian took a second to clean up.

I found the phone and dialed my dad.

“Hey dad,” I said, when I heard the phone being picked up.

“Taylor.  Are you alright?”  He sounded worried.  It was unusual, I supposed, my not being home when he got back from work.

“I’m fine, dad.  Is it cool if I hang out with some people tonight?”

There was a pause.

“Taylor, if there’s anyone that’s making you make this call… the bullies or someone else, tell me everything is fine.  If you’re not in trouble, tell me your mother’s full name.”

I felt momentarily embarrassed.  Was it so unusual for me to hang out with people?  I knew my dad was just trying to keep me safe, but it was bordering on the ridiculous.

“Annette Rose Hebert,” I told him, “Really dad, it’s cool.”

“You’re really okay?”

My gaze roved over the kitchen, taking in the details, as I gave him my assurances.

“Better than ever.  I kind of made some friends,” I said.

My eyes settled on their dining room table.  There was a stack of money, wrapped with a paper band just as the money in the lunchbox had been.  Beside the money, plain as day, was the dark gray metal of a handgun.

My attention caught by the gun, I only barely caught my dad’s question.  “What are they like?”

“They seem like good people,” I lied.

Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

63 thoughts on “Insinuation 2.9

    • I have to echo that sentiment.

      The last few lines, really: the juxtaposition of the mostly genial atmosphere, all copacetic (shut up autocorrect, it’s a word), with the visual reminder that these are career criminals is very well done. Then on top of that the very economical depiction of Taylor lying to her dad to live a double life.

      That’s just really good writing.

    • Yeah, I’m on my second re-read (I’m all caught up on Twig and read today’s update already.) and that sort of ending to the chapters makes me love Wildbow’s stories.

  1. Well maybe decent but not good, but still one wopper of a lie to her dad. Useful power if it helps protect from radiation.

  2. I’m pretty impressed by the variety of powers you’ve come up with. It’s much more creative than the usual superhero story.

    As far as the plot goes, I’m really hoping Bitch becomes a big enough problem over the next few arcs that Taylor gets to kick her ass. And kick her out of the team, but I have no idea how that would work.

    • Just wait. You ain’t seen nothing yet. Crawler, Purity, Blasto, Golem, Annex, Felix Swoop, Marquis, and that’s not getting into the Case 53s.

      …And I hope that names aren’t spoilers.

    • Yeah, the variety and nuance of the powers is impressive. I now people say it a lot, but it’s true. And this is a fairly natural way of giving us this information, as part of Taylor’s introduction into the world of capes.

  3. I’ve been impressed with the powers, too. Taylor’s are very interesting (an a flashback arc of how they developed would be very intriguing, as she learns to use them).

    Lung’s power of getting tougher as a fight progresses is a very cool idea. Tattletale is a fantastic power and character so far, as is Rachel’s dogs. Brian and Alec have very useful talents if you think about it — instead of causing mass damage, they’re great for sneaking around.

  4. Oh, btw it should be “Dad” when she says things like “Dad, I’m okay” and “dad” when she says “my dad.” The capital is for when it’s the name she calls him, and the lower case is for the general noun as referent. Everyone has a dad, just like everyone has lungs. But we each call our dads “Dad” as a name, so it’s capitalized. But we wouldn’t capitalize it when discussing our dads in the third person to someone else, or when talking about someone else’s dad.

  5. Reading back through this I’ve just realised that Grue perhaps has one of the best defensive powers in this setting, especially considering his range. Sound-based powers, radiation, radio control for Tinkers, it really seems like if he just thought to use it as more of a disabling measure he could be a massive threat.

    • At this time, maybe. Later on, there’s a much better line that I’d say is the best. You’ll know you’ve come across it when you hit the four-word chapter.

      And hopefully that avoids any spoilers…maybe I should just stop commenting.

      • If you’re worried about letting something slip, then sure — rein it in a little. Although I find it kinda fun to try to figure out how to say things with absolute minimum spoilers.

        Example: For endings of chapters specifically, the best that comes to mind for me is the chapter where Taylor borrowed a sweatshirt.

        • …Dangit, I can’t remember that one.

          Part of the problem is what exactly is a spoiler. There’s a character with what I’d consider a major spoiler at his/her/its core, yet his/her/its entry on TV Tropes blares it in the first paragraph. It’s…vague.

          But yeah, I’m going to simply try to avoid commenting on the old chapters.

          • Try “flipped the hood up” in the search bar.

            Also, I think I know what character you mean — I’d left the spoiler in because I thought there wouldn’t be enough non-spoilered material, otherwise, but at this point that excuse doesn’t really hold water.

        • Oh yes. Though since that one is a great chapter as a whole in terms of story progression and this one more filler stuff the ending feels more impressive here in contrast.
          Also it is interesting that both endings have to do with Danny – kinda shows how important he is to her (and the story!)

  6. Missing a period after “My gaze roved over the kitchen, taking in the details, as I gave him my assurances”

    Also, ending of this chapter is still awesome. One of my favorites.

    • …huh. I don’t think I ever laughed at it, but I can see why people might have that reaction — to me, it served as a dash of cold water. Taylor is having fun hanging out with them, but these are scary people — and the visceral fear she has of firearms reminds her of this.

      • Well yes, it’s definitely effective in the sense you describe, as well. I certainly got a strong reminder that Taylor was in quite a pickle, and things were serious- that’s part of why I found it funny, actually. To veer off from that point, on my first reading, I never found the Undersiders scary especially, more worrying, in the sense that I would worry for the futures of teenagers who got into that kind of trouble in real life. I tend to approach these kinda things like a mum or a social worker, though, my brain goes into protective nurturing mode, so I get that my perspective is probably a bit atypical.

        Not necessarily a wrong one though- I think it’s easy to get overexcited about violence. Ultimately, violence is a thing that’s inside all of us, and it tends to find it’s way out overtly if you’ve been unlucky or foolish in life, and even if you don’t fill that brief, you’re probably non-physically violent a lot more than you realise. (I’d recommend Marc MacYoung or Rory Miller’s writings on the topic, especially if you were thrown by the term “non-physically violent”.) To me, the handgun doesn’t conjure a visceral fear, the gut reaction is more like “Oh you poor things, what’s happened to you to bring you here, and what the fuck were your mothers doing?“. Does that make sense, at least to the extent that you can see into my head a little bit?

        As for the humour, well it’s hard to put into words why exactly you find something funny, isn’t it? I know comedians have talked about that a lot, but I’ll try to explain. (It’s probably worth noting here that I my sense of humour stretches quite far into the dark, though I like light-hearted stuff as well.) What I suppose I found funny was the juxtaposition between the cheery conversation Taylor was maintaining with her dad, the rather more intimidating reality, and lastly the fact that underneath it all the Undersiders are a group of reasonably nice kids with issues. (No spoilers, this was my view upon a first reading up to this point.) And the sort of off-beat, fast delivery of that line at the end- kinda brought that juxtaposition into really quick focus, like a sort of punchline to the entire dilemma that Taylor has found herself in. I’ve probably explained rather badly, but does that vaguely make sense?

        Haha, this ballooned into a far larger reply that I thought it would, but I hope it was interesting.

        • No worries, it’s interesting.

          On the Undersiders being more worrying than frightening: I read you, and your perspective make a lot of sense to me — and I found your “Oh you poor things” line pretty funny, not in the least because of some of what happens later. I guess there are two main reasons why I thought of the Undersiders as scary:

          1. Like Taylor, I was raised with a visceral fear of firearms, particularly handguns. Even having had the opportunity to dispel that fear thanks to the Boy Scouts and some of my gun-nut college friends, I find that mindset incredibly easy to empathize with.

          2. These guys were fighting Lung. Their situation is one in which life-or-death fights are expected to come up. The presence of a firearm reflects that.

          Your vivisection of your sense of the humor of the situation makes sense, too. I guess I feel Taylor should be scared hanging out with these people, whereas you feel that Taylor is worrying unnecessarily about the physical threat they pose to her person. And I agree, she probably is … but I think her overall assessment of how dangerous it is to join the group is probably correct.

          • Well I’m glad it wasn’t a waste of your time.🙂

            1) I can completely understand that. Personally, I live in the UK, and the only guns I’ve seen in my life have been my grandad’s shotgun, and armed police once or twice. People generally only tend to get shot in the UK if they’re really deep into some tricky stuff. So I yes I’d imagine the connotations for me are different than they’d be for you or Taylor- guns as a visceral threat seem much less real to me, I suppose. I was trying to speak more to my take on it that saying Taylor’s should be different, if that makes sense.

            2) I can completely see why Taylor would be worried for her safety, and indeed from her PoV she should be, at least somewhat. My distinction was more between being scared and worried, rather than thinking things were all fine. I’m not sure which Taylor was feeling- probably a lot of both. She’s relatively good at dealing analytically with personal danger, but she’s green as well, and legitimate worry breeds not-so-useful fear in the inexperienced.

            As I touched on above, I also think I didn’t properly underline that I was trying to explain my perspective earlier more than trying to say what Taylor should feel. Of course she’ll see things differently, it would be odd if she did’t. One could say her fear is misplaced, I suppose I did to an extent- but honestly criticising someone for their perspective seems a little silly, given it’s emergent from a ton of other stuff that needs to be shifted first. I was really just trying to outline how I felt personally.

            • 1. Ah, well, I grew up in the US, land of the shooting spree and home of people who ‘stand their ground’ because their guns make them brave. I expect Taylor has lost at least one classmate to stray bullets from a gang war. If I were in Brockton Bay, guns as a threat would be real to me.

              2. I think I get what you mean. I worded it the way I did because my take on feelings is less “social worker” than “naturalist” — I interpret feelings as reflecting some belief system about the external world, and I read Taylor as worrying about being killed by the Undersiders (which I think is unlikely) instead of about being killed by the people the Undersiders will be fighting (which is much more likely). That’s just the way I think about it, though, and I can see that you don’t approach it that way.

              (Can I just say that I’m getting a lot out of this conversation? It’s really cool getting a different perspective on this.)

              • 1. Yeah, I can see why Taylor would instinctively be afraid of guns. The passage where wildbow shows that seeing the gun hit home the gravity of the situation for Taylor far more than the costumes or powers did was very effective in that regard. I think she’d still been a little bit in “Cops and Robbers” mode, before then.

                2. This point is really interesting. I think we more or less agree on what Taylor’s feelings are, I totally get that she’s understandably worried and a bit scared about the things you describe. I was talking about my personal perspective as a reader, which kinda feels like I’m seeing into Taylor’s head but also watching the wider events, as if I’m walking beside her? I think taking this more detached perspective is probably why I have the luxury of thinking in “social worker” mode, rather than Taylor’s understandable PoV of “Oh shit oh shit that’s a real gun!”.

                I think maybe the difference between our perspectives is that your perspective as a reader is more as if you were inside Taylor’s head, if that makes sense? If so, that’s fascinating, I honestly hadn’t realised that I put myself into a slightly detached position in the story relative to the protag before we’d had this talk. Or more accurately, that someone else might read by putting themselves inside Taylor’s head to the extent that their feelings on the significance of a passage are very strongly coloured by her feelings on the subject*. I mean, it’s not like I don’t empathize with Taylor- there’s just a lot of other stuff that feeds into my perspective, if you see what I mean?

                So yeah, I agree completely with having gotten a lot out of this conversation. I might try to really put myself in Taylor’s skull, the next chapter I read, rather than walking at her shoulder, and see how that feels!

                *(Please don’t take that as a criticism btw- if anything you’re a better reader than me, for empathizing with the protagonist more! Ultimately it’s not like either of us can’t see anything that the other can in big picture terms, we agree about the reality of the threats and worries for Taylor, and about the Undersiders. It’s just that we tend to care about different things in the chapter emotionally, and that’s interesting.)

              • @Admiral Skippy: I think you’ve pegged it — that matches what I’m seeing from this end. I don’t think it’s a better or worse way of approaching it, though — it’s more immersive, but as one webcomic guy explained, it has some disadvantages.

              • Hahaha, that comic is awesome.

                Even with my slightly more detached style of reading, I’ve still had moments like that. Most recently with Taylor when she was in PRT custody, and also when reading Interviewing Leather. Those two cases were surprisingly strong by my standards actually, I think it’s possibly due to being in a mildly heightened emotional state during the time period I read them in, I don’t know.

  7. Copacetic. That word seems to be used quite a bit for a fancy and specific synonym for “okay”.

    Like I said, it’s the neat little details that stick out.

    • *searches*

      I don’t think six uses in over a million words is excessive. Plus, it’s a cool word — the kind that smart kids like Taylor and Lisa would employ (and all six hits are in the mouths of those two).

      • Well, it showed up multiple times in later chapters, and I had just come across it in one of the first, so I guess there was a bit of bias.

        It’s still an uncommon word.

        • Oh, absolutely. If it showed up a hundred times, I’d absolutely propose that Wildbow find some synonyms for the less-appropriate use instances, but at a few parts per million it just adds character.

          • It’s worldbuilding.

            You’ve got ‘celebrities’ who are genius smart. Alexandria uses the word copacetic and suggestible teenagers across the Western world adopt it into their speech.


            • Well, that would be a valid excuse if it were used a hundred times, but for as little as it’s used here you’ve got a better one: Taylor’s mom was an English teacher, so Taylor grew up immersed in words — and Tattletale picked it up from Taylor.

              • I had noticed the copacetic thing, too, and I guess there’s quite a lot of complaining about it in overall critiques after the story’s ended, but I wrote it off as one of those words that certain people or groups of friends would use more than others. Like some of my friends have a tendency to say ‘shiny’ a la Firefly. I somehow had the impression from later chapters that Taylor picked it up from Lisa, though. Not sure why I thought that, but it seems more like the kind of thing she’d say. Pop culture seems to parallel pretty well between our world and that of the story, even for more recent events (Justin Beiber was mentioned a few chapters ago), and I tend to associate “copacetic” with the 70’s. Maybe it was the idea that Lisa would use a wider vocabulary to show off her intelligence and maybe to be a bit quirkier, whereas I think of Taylor, especially at the beginning, as trying to blend into the background, so I would expect her to avoid using relatively unusual terms. I have a question about the pop culture thing, but I suppose it will have to wait to avoid spoilers. Bah!

  8. My girlfriend and I just started reading Worm after I saw the TVtropes page, and I have to say, wow. This is really a great story, and it’s really hooked the both of us in. Takes a lot of effort to not read ahead! Can’t wait to see how the story develops.

  9. The dude that rights Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality posted about this and said it was cool, and I thought I’d give this a gander. I really appreciate the creativity you use with the powers and the depth that you’re including with the characters. Having the main characters have powers that, at first glance, aren’t really all that useful leads to the characters using ingenuity and cleverness, and having characters that are actually developed makes me actually care about what happens. It’s been pretty good so far, and I hope it stays consistent throughout.

    • So I’ve read up to part 11 and I must say that you’ve failed to be consistent. Instead, this story just got exponentially better. Like, I doubt I’ve read this much in this amount of time ever before in my entire life, and it’s all because you make it impossible to stop reading. You gots mad skills. 8.8/10 so far Would recommend, if only for the parts I’ve read and nothing more. But I’m sure I’ll end up recommending the whole story when I’m done.

  10. Wait a second, Grues power blocks EM radiation, which just happens to include visible light. That is a really cool power (which sounds like a clarification from an RP). Wildbow, that is very very clever.

  11. Brian’s power is really interesting, but what might be even more interesting is his relationship with it.

    Most superhero characters have powers that are completely voluntary, like Alec’s, or completely involuntary, like, say, Cyclops. There’s a bit of complexity beyond that- some people with voluntary powers don’t have total control, and some people with involuntary powers can exert a little control if they push it, and there are powers that are controlled like a switch (on and off) instead of a button (go!)- but Brian seems to be sitting right in the middle of that dichotomy. From his demonstration it looks like he can tell the darkness when to go and when to stop, but when he leaves it alone, it doesn’t sit still- it grows, and moves into new places, like it’s got a mind of its own. And maybe the most interesting thing about him is that he’s completely fine with this. From his dialogue in the last installment, he knows he’s not in complete control, but he doesn’t see it as something he needs to improve. That’s kind of worrying, honestly… but certainly intriguing.

  12. Lovely ending.
    In my first read I didn’t even notice the word ‘copacetic’ here. Now that I am aware of the word as a part of the Worm lexicon, it just pops out. Somehow I had thought it was Lisa’s word of choice but I see it first appears as a part of Taylor’s internal monologue. Professor Annette’s influence perhaps?

    • There are a number of Worm-isms that seems to come up. The one that stood out to me the most is “waiting for the other shoe to drop”. It seems like a lot of people are expecting footwear to fall in the Wormverse.

  13. It was like someone had taken a scalpel to reality and the blackness was what was there when everything else was gone.
    Reminds me of descriptions of demons from Pact, how they can’t create, only destroy creatively.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s