Hive 5.3

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There was a long squeal of feedback, followed by the barely audible sound of a man clearing his throat.

“Attention shoppers.  Please be informed that stores will be closing at five-thirty this evening, in cooperation with the city-wide curfew.  Make sure to cooperate with authorities at the entrances and exits of the Weymouth shopping center, and return to your homes by six o’clock.  Thank you.”

The crowd of people that had paused in their conversation and meandering to hear the announcement started moving and talking again, like someone had paused a video and had pressed the play button to get things started once more.

I looked at my dad, “Should we go?  Beat the last minute rush?”

“Sure.  If there’s nothing else you need.”

I was due back at school tomorrow, and my dad had maybe sensed how stressed I was, because he offered to take me shopping.  It felt a little redundant after having been out with Lisa and the guys a week ago, but it did give me the chance to pick up some essentials and to spend some quality time with my dad.

In the bags my dad was holding, I had a new backpack, some notebooks, pens, a half-dozen books, and a new pair of running shoes.  The sort of stuff that I wouldn’t have bought with Lisa, because they were so boring, like the notebooks, or because they were the sort of thing I took forever deciding on, like the books and shoes.

All in all, the trip to the mall was a nice gesture, and it somehow meant more to me than Lisa treating me to a few hundred dollars worth of clothes.  Maybe because it was stuff for me.

We made our way to the exit, and I had to hold back a groan.  There was still over half an hour before the doors were due to close, but there was a crush of bodies at the exit.  Maybe half were trying to leave, but the other half were gawking.

Both inside and outside the glass doors of the mall’s entrance, there were soldiers.  Their guns were holstered, but they looked pretty intimidating anyways.  In the midst of the soldiers were two capes; Battery and Shadow Stalker.  I knew that members of the Protectorate, the Wards, and various volunteers were stationed at places where there were groups of people, especially in areas in and around the ABB’s territory.  The Wards, I supposed, were too young to handle a single location all by themselves, which was probably why Shadow Stalker was in a ‘sidekick’ role here.

I’d had a lot of time to watch the news as I was on bed rest.  Bakuda was living up to what she’d been saying about maximizing fear and panic by combining unpredictability with grim certainty.  Every day, there were reports of anywhere from one to five bombs going off, and while every single one was probably to the advantage of the ABB in some way, there was no way to tell what she’d hit next or why.  One article online had surmised that as the military and superhero presence forced the ABB into a corner, the attacks would only escalate.  Schools, malls and office buildings were all potential targets.  Justification enough for an armed presence here at the mall.

The upside was that the mall had organized major sales in pretty much every store, to keep business going.  Maybe not the brightest or most logical thing, but too many businesses and employees were getting by on a day to day basis, around here.

Getting in had been like passing through airport security, getting our bags checked, showing ID.  Nothing too bad.  It had been only Manpower from New Wave standing watch when we arrived, and there hadn’t been much of a crowd.  This was something more, two attractive, dangerous heroines, both with some controversy around them.  As much as I could understand why the heroes were here, I could tell they were slowing things down, as the rubberneckers got in the way of the people who were actually leaving.  Half of the military presence that was inside the mall was busy working to keep the crowd back from the doors and the two heroes and trying to organize people into lines.

Progress through the line was slow, but I admit, it was interesting to be able to watch Shadow Stalker and Battery going about their business from a safe perspective.

Battery was a member of the Protectorate.  When I’d been starting junior high, she’d been the head of the Wards for a brief while, and she’d soon after graduated to the Protectorate.  I could guess she was twenty-two or thereabouts now, if they didn’t fudge the graduation date or anything to make it harder to guess the hero’s real age.  Her power let her charge up as she stood still and concentrated, with every second spent charging giving her a few seconds of greatly enhanced speed, some extra strength and some electromagnetic powers.  Her costume was white and dark gray, with cobalt blue lines tracing it like you might see on a circuit board.  Inquiries about whether her teammate Assault was her boyfriend or her brother had been met with coy deflections, leading a small fraction of the local superhero fans to surmise he was both.  Any time she did something in public, you could trust the online message boards to explode with speculation and theory.

That soap-opera/paparazzi style drama had never really grabbed my attention.  Ignoring the vague possibly-maybe chance there was something going on there, I thought she was the kind of hero I could look up to.  She was nice, she worked hard, and in those inevitable situations where she found herself on TV with some asshole getting in her face about something, she handled things rather well.

Battery leaned over to cup her hand over Shadow Stalker’s ear and whisper something.  Shadow Stalker nodded and then turned to walk through the glass door to say something to the soldiers stationed outside.  Literally through the door.  As she did it she turned a little smoky, like she was made of sand and not anything solid.  It didn’t seem constructive to me.  In her shoes, I think I would have stuck to business as usual, without giving them more reason to stare – I would have used a door normally.

Maybe I was biased.  I kind of felt like I should dislike or hate her on principle, since she was Grue’s self-declared nemesis.  Lisa and Alec had explained how Shadow Stalker was a vigilante that agreed to join the Wards rather than jail, after going too far in the pursuit of justice.  She was supposed to be using nonlethal weapons, but she wasn’t.

Capes always seemed so much bigger and impressive on the news.  Once you looked past the dark gray urban-camouflage hood and cape, and the black-painted metal of her mask, Shadow Stalker was still just a teenage girl.  Only about as tall as me.  Battery was only two or so inches taller than either Shadow Stalker or myself, which meant she was still shorter than most of the men in the crowd.  Now that I had been involved in cape stuff, I felt like I could look past the costume in a way most didn’t.  They looked normal, pretty much.

“Alan,” my dad spoke, “It’s been a long time.”

I turned to look.  I should have been surprised, or shocked, but by the time I realized who we’d run into, I felt too deflated.

“It’s good to see you, Danny.  I’ve been meaning to get in touch.”

“Not a problem, not a problem,” my dad laughed easily.  He shook the hand of the red cheeked, red haired man.  Alan Barnes.  “These days, we can count it as a good thing if we’re busy.  Is your daughter here?”

Alan looked around, “She was thirsty, so I’m holding our place in line while she… ah, here she is.”

Emma joined us, a diet sprite in one hand.  She looked momentarily surprised as she saw me.  Then she smiled, “Hi Taylor.”

I didn’t reply.  A few moments of awkward silence lingered.

“We need to get back in touch, Danny,” Emma’s dad smiled, “Maybe you could come over for a barbecue sometime.  When it’s a little warmer, the weather will be perfect for it.”

“I’d like that,” my dad agreed.

“How’s work?

“Better and worse.  There’s work to be had for the Dockworkers, with cleanup, reconstruction efforts, so that’s good.”

“And your projects?  The ferry?”

“I’ve resigned myself to waiting a few more months before I start making noise again.  Mayoral elections are this coming summer, and there will be elections for the city council this fall.  I’m hoping to see some fresh faces, people who won’t dismiss some revival efforts as options.”

“I wish you luck, then.  You know my firm is there if you need us.”


Emma turned her attention from idly watching the heroes and army at work to our dads’ conversation.  My dad saw her looking his way and decided to include her in the conversation.

“So.  Is Emma still modeling?”

“She is!” Alan smiled proudly, “And doing quite well, but that’s not why we’re here today.  We were just here for the sales,” Alan chuckled a little, “My daughter wouldn’t let me relax the second she heard about it.”

“Ah.  Us too.  Shopping, I mean.  Taylor was caught at the edge of one of the explosions, around the time this whole scene started,” my dad answered, “She’s been home for a week recuperating.  I thought we’d go shopping before she got back into the swing of things.”

“Nothing serious in the way of injuries, I hope?” Alan asked.

“I’m in one piece,” I answered, not taking my eyes off Emma.

“That’s good.  My god, you’re the third person I know who’s been affected by this anarchy.  One of my partners is in recovery from surgery.  An explosion crystallized his arm, turned it to glass.  Terrifying.” Alan told my dad, “When does this end?”

While our dads talked, Emma and I just stared at each other.

Then Emma smiled.  It was a look I’d seen so many times in the past few years.

It was the smile that had greeted me when I came back to school from the hospital, back in January, that look that let me know she wasn’t done.  The same expression she’d had when she was looking down on me, covered in juice and cola in the stall of the school bathroom.  The one she’d been wearing when I’d come out of the showers to find my clothes crammed in the toilets, both my gym clothes and regular ones.

The same smile she’d had before she reminded me of how my mom had died, in front of everyone.

The sound of the impact was like a splash of water in my face.  I felt a twinge of pain from that gouge one of Bitch’s dogs had made in my arm, when I first met her.  Still sore.

Emma fell over, bumping into her dad, who dropped the bags he was holding.  There were gasps from the crowd around us.

“Taylor!” My dad cried out, aghast.

My hand was stinging.  Outstretched in front of me, like I was reaching out to shake someone’s hand.  It took me a seconds to connect the dots.  I’d hit her?

Emma looked up at me, eyes wide, mouth open, one hand to the side of her face.  I was as shocked at what I’d done as she was.  Not that I felt bad.  A large part of me wanted to laugh in her face.  Weren’t expecting that?  Miscalculated how I’d react?

Hands seized me with an iron grip and spun me around.  Shadow Stalker.  She interposed herself between me and Emma.  Dark brown eyes glowered at me from behind her mask.

“What was that for?!” Alan protested, “Emma didn’t even say anything!”

“I’m so sorry,” my dad hurried to explain to the superheroine and Emma’s dad, “She’s still recovering from a concussion, it’s affected her mood.  I didn’t expect anything this extreme.”

Shadow Stalker scolded him, “This is not the time or place for arguments.  If your daughter is this… unwell, then that’s your responsibility.”

I felt like laughing.  Part of it was just being giddy at doing something to get back at Emma.  The other part was that this whole scenario was so ridiculously upside-down.  Shadow Stalker wasn’t really anything special.  She was just a teenage girl, lecturing my dad, an adult.  The crowd that was watching was seeing Emma as the victim, me as the bad guy.  But if you stripped away the costume, if everyone knew the real story, this would all be playing out so differently.  Emma would be the bad guy, and my dad wouldn’t be so conciliatory about this girl telling him off.

I had the presence of mind to not laugh aloud.  Maybe it was the adrenaline, the relief that flowed from what I’d just done.  Maybe it was the concussion, again, but I did find the conviction to do something else.

I pointed at Emma, turned to my dad, “You want to know why I hit her?”

Shadow Stalker put one hand on the side of my face, forced me to look at her, stopping me from talking in the process. “No.  I’m stopping this right here.  No arguments, no excuses as to why you just assaulted someone.  We’re breaking this up now.  Turn around.”

“What?” I half-laughed, incredulous, “Why?”

“Taylor,” my dad said, looking drained, “Do as she says.”

It didn’t really matter, because she forced me to turn around anyways, wrenching my arm until I did, then pulling my arms behind my back.

“Please, miss,” my dad said, “This isn’t necessary.”

Shadow Stalker bound my wrists with what I guessed was a plastic wrist-tie.  Too tight.  Then she turned to my dad, and her voice was hushed.  “Look at this crowd.  These people.  They’re scared.  A place like this, with this much suppressed panic, fear and worry, this many people close together?  I don’t care if your daughter is an idiot or just ill.  She’s proven to be volatile in a powder-keg situation.  It’s both dangerous and stupid to have her here.  You can cut off the plasti-cuffs when she’s separated from anyone she might harm.”

“I’m not dangerous,” I protested.

“Didn’t look like it to me.” Shadow Stalker shook her head and gave me a push towards the exit, “Go home and be grateful your dad isn’t having to post bail for you to sleep in your own room tonight.”

My dad held his bags with one hand so he could help usher me toward the door.  He looked over his shoulder at Alan, “I’m very sorry.  It’s the concussion.”

Alan nodded, sympathetic.  His ruddy cheeks were redder at the attention our scene had drawn, “I know.  It’s alright.  Just… maybe she should stay home from school for a bit longer.”

My dad nodded, embarrassed.  I felt bad at that.  I felt worse at being led off like a criminal, while Shadow Stalker gave Emma a hand to help her up.  Emma was beaming, smiling one of the widest smiles I’d seen her give, despite the red mark on the side of her face.  Smiling as much at the way things had turned out, I imagined, as she was at getting the chance to talk with the concerned superheroine.

We headed out to the car, away from the crowd, the soldiers and Emma.  I stood by the open passenger door for two minutes before my dad scrounged up some nail clippers to cut off the plasti-cuffs.

“I’m not mad,” he told me, quietly, after we’d settled in, as he started up the car and took us out of the parking garage.


“It’s perfectly understandable.  You’re emotionally sensitive, after getting knocked around by the explosion, and she reminds you of what’s going on at school.”

“More than you know,” I muttered.


I looked down at my hands, rubbed my wrists where the plastic tie had cut into them.

If I didn’t tell him now, I don’t think I ever would.

“It’s her.  Emma.”

“Oh?  What?” He sounded confused.

I didn’t have it in me to clarify matters.  I just let him think it over.

After a long pause, he just said, “Oh.”

“From the beginning. Her and her friends,” I added, needlessly.

Tears welled up, unexpected.  I hadn’t even realized I felt like crying.  I raised my glasses to rub them away, but more came streaming out.

“Stupid head injury,” I mumbled, “Stupid mood swings.  I’m supposed to be better by now.”

My dad shook his head, “Taylor, kiddo, I don’t think it’s the only reason.”

He pulled over.

“What are you doing?” I asked, wiping ineffectually at my cheek, “We gotta be home before the curfew.”

He undid our seat belts and pulled me into a hug, my face against his shoulder.  My breath hitched with a sob.

“It’s fine,” he assured me.


“We’ve got time.  Take as long as you need.”

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67 thoughts on “Hive 5.3

      • There’s actually a good reason not to put Emma on lice: lice are actually very hard to keep alive away from someones scalp (to the point that the people who study them developed an artificial scalp to keep them alive for study). From what I understand, the way they get transferred are that their eggs get in peoples hair, hatch, lice grow up, lay more eggs, which fall off with the hair, get into peoples hair and so on and so forth, which Taylor would have to go through a lot of contrivances to pull off.

        And so ends your science fact for the day. 🙂

        • hey I don’t think having lice (when you have BUG/LOW BRAIN POWER CONTROL POWERS) is all that hard to do. especially in comparison to being an undercover hero.

          • Lice aren’t built to walk over to new heads. They’d need transport, and Emma would probably smash ants crawling up to her head whether they were lice-covered it not.
            …Put them on beetles and have them jump off? Lice paratroopers?

  1. Yay! I hope that the two can grow closer together now that they have one less secret between them.

    It’s kind of out of character for her to act out her feelings without thinking through the consequences like that. I guess *that* was the effects of the concussion.

    • When I read this, at first, I thought you meant Emma. While I would love to see her and her dad grow closer, I really want to see the issue with Emma get resolved, in a good way.

      (But I still want lice. Now I’ve decided they can also be used for… well, that would be spoiling…)

      • Yes. Absolutely. Bakuda and others may be psychopathic terrorists, white supremacists, and so on, but Emma does also need to be brought to justice somehow, sometime.

        (And I do still idly wonder if Emma or any of her friends have secret superpowers too. That not-knowing is of course one of the fun bits about a secret identities story.)

  2. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Go Taylor’s Dad! *Starts fist pumping Arsenio Hall style*
    Da-Nny! Da-Nny! Da-Nny! Da-Nny!
    And Taylor too I guess shouldn’t leave her out for finally talking to her dad and standing up for herself.

    P.S. Yes I really did the fist pumping and chanting Danny’s name. I’m a Dork.

  3. If Emma doesn’t get concerned about that VERY quickly after the euphoria of technically winning and talking to a superhero wear off then I severely overestimated her. Once someone you have harassed that badly becomes willing to physically harm you there is no telling just how far things will spiral out of control.

    • It all depends on what leaves a bigger impression on Emma–the fact that Taylor was at that point willing to strike back physically, or that when she did Emma got sympathy, and Taylor had to leave.

      If people like that always had a good sense of when to stop, news stories about bullied kids coming to school with guns wouldn’t happen.

      • Emma’s probably used to getting her way, whereas she’s also used to Taylor just giving up. I’d say that her being punched surprised her a lot more.

        One wonders what she was planning, though. My first suspicions are both highly improbable and spoilery, so I won’t share them, but I don’t have any second suspicions, so…*shrugs*

    • You’re assuming that she will think rationally about this, and not like a teenage bully filled with thoughts of power and vengeance. OBVIOUSLY, this is going to spiral out of control; Emma can’t just let Taylor get away with a free shot to the face, even if Emma ‘won’.

  4. Typo alert:

    “Emma turned her attention from idly watching the heroes and army at work to our dad’s conversation.”

    our dads’ conversation – dads’ plural

  5. And my goodness, Emma is so evil, I wonder if there must be more behind this than a stuck-up girl trying to impress her new friends by turning on her nerdy former buddy.

    • I could imagine she might have more behind it. More often than not, bullies have something that’s pushing them to hurt people, but it could be as simple as having too much pressure from parents, too little attention, or some degree of abuse in her life.

      • For some reason I just assumed that it was super-power related. Could be as simple as the idea that although humans can’t be controlled by Taylor’s powers, psychically sensitive humans find her presence subtly annoying.

      • in my experience, bullies don’t really need any excuse. some of them might have it, but many — perhaps most? — are just plain sociopaths in their early stages, and do what they do because they get away with it and lack any conscience or empathy to stop them.

  6. Hmmmm, just to make a point about it, there are really two kinds of bullies: the kind that are sick (i.e. sociopathic, character disordered, etc.), and the kind that are hurting (i.e. abused/bullied at home, neglected at home, etc.). In both types, however, it is all about power and control.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Emma is probably the latter. But since we know almost nothing about her besides her horrific actions, that’s more of a guess than anything else. Maybe she really is just a sadistic nutbar.


  7. Two things:

    One, from experience in bullying as bullied, bully, counsellor and mentor to youth — all it takes sometimes for a good kid to bully someone else is to see something that reminds them it could happen to them too. It’s a lot easier to be on the side of the aggressors than be a victim. Emma started hanging out with Sofia (I think?) instead of Taylor and finding favour with other pretty, popular girls would have made it necessary for her to dissociate herself from a perceived “loser.”

    To highlight the fact that they were no longer friends, she became the focal point of aggression towards Taylor — “see? I’m not with her, I’m super totally against her because I’m meanest to her of anyone.” That way no one goes “oh you were friends? so what’s wrong with you too?”

    Fun Bible fact: Jesus slams the Pharisees for their most negative stances because 90% of their beliefs were the same, He had to attack the differences hardcore to show that He wasn’t just an off-shoot of their group. A group that’s clearly different doesn’t need the extra emphasis for re-definition, because it’s noticeable.

    • I say this with absolute certainty that this is true. That is exactly what happened to me as a child. It went from one to 3 to my entire grade

  8. Okay. Three things.

    1: typo alert. When describing Battery’s costume you say light instead of like.

    2 Is it just me or does Taylor’s reaction seem so odd that I wonder if E. has some sort of power. Maybe like Regent’s body control or G.g.’s emotion control? Maybe not, but that went just too well for her.

    3: “The crowd that was watching was seeing Emma as the victim, me as the bad guy.  But if you stripped away the costume, if everyone knew the real story, this would all be playing out so differently.”

    Does this seem like the theme of the story so far to anybody else?

  9. “Maybe I was biased. I kinda felt like I should dislike or hate her on principle,”

    More biased that you could possibly know, Taylor. Re-read of this chapter–Shadow Stalker’s involvment especially– is a lot more interesting than the original reading, for obvious reasons.

  10. First time reader (archive binger, right now) and I have to say, this is the most engrossed I’ve been in a piece of fiction since I read Jim Butcher’s Changes.

    Also, might be a red herring, but the way Shadow Stalker stepped in makes me think she’s one of Emma’s new clique from school. Madison?

  11. Emma’s total shock and disbelief in this chapter is utterly delicious. Too bad it had to happen the way it did, but at least she got a little taste of what she deserved, the traitorous little excuse for a friend. On my second read-through, I’ve been looking forward to this since the first chapter.

  12. I started reading this a few days ago. Saw this on the spacebattle forum, and thought i should give it a try. The title name is what egged me on to find out what it was…like can’t really figure out what’s it about? Googled, and next thing you know, i’m bidding farewell to my exams.

    I am loving the story and the characters so far, so no regrets. Thank you for sharing your writing.

    • It is a good question. Though she probably has a great ability to modify her sound just by phasing out some of her throat. I’m not sure about the biology of making voices, but she does survive while all smoke, so… why not?

  13. I just started reading Worm and this is my first comment here. That bit at the end, with Taylor and her father, made me cry. God damn. I was really tense wondering how he would react when he did what he did. Beautifully touching scene. You ‘da man, Wildbow.

  14. Falcon Punch! This chapter made me so happy. That has been a long time coming.

    Just started reading this from the beginning today and I have to say that this is amazing. I would love to see a movie or comic made, to compare how you in-vision the characters to how I see them in my head.

  15. Woot! About time! That was actually far more satisfying than using her power. I just wish it had been at school. I hope the school confrontation is next! Though Shadow Stalker seemed to show up awfully fast and with reacted a bit strongly. I wonder if it’s just that she’s a pyscho like Grue was saying if it’s something else. Continuing on archive binge to find out!

  16. Here Taylor was 1) concussed 2) unprepared for a confrontation with Emma & 3) on non-hostile ground i.e. not school.
    I am supposing that the combination of those factors made her show her feelings in this very direct manner. I do not think this could ever have happened at school, though. Still, nice throw. It led to some much needed talk with Danny too.

  17. Shadow Stalker isn’t tagged. That seems especially odd to me because I’m pretty sure this is the first time she’s appeared (the Undersiders discussed her as a possibility in Agitation, but she didn’t show up).

  18. First time commenting as I’m reading the story for the first time! It’s excellent so far!

    I just noticed no one in the comments, that I saw at least, mentioned how overly dramatic the response to Taylor slapping (punching?) Emma was. Like I get that everyone is on high alert because of the bomb threat, and there are a lot of tense people around, but being threatened with arrest for simply slapping/punching someone is extreme. Add to that not being allowed to give reasoning for why she did it, when she was clearly about to give it…

    I dunno. But when I was reading I kept making disbelieving noises to the point that my partner was asking what was wrong. Like in real life, the times I’ve witnessed someone slapping or punching another person (that stopped there and didn’t escalate into a full fight), if there was anyone of authority around they just got a sharp warning and “suggestion” that both parties leave, since they didn’t know why it had happened or who was really at fault. I’ve never seen someone zoom over and go, “punchy person, you’re a bad person, you’re a danger to everyone around you and shouldn’t be out in public!” And then go coddle the victim.

    Sorry I’m still sitting here like “?????”

    Seems very dystopian, lol

    • Hopefully this isn’t considered a spoiler: You’ll see the events of this chapter in a different light after reading further.

    • A warning for any other first-time readers also reading through the comments: the post below (by Lyova) has a small but significant spoiler in it. You may want to skip over it until it’s edited.

  19. Just rereading — character heights are strange in this chapter. Battery is described as an inch or two taller than Taylor (and Sophia), and we know Taylor is relatively tall for her age, at 5’7”~5’8”ish when the story starts. However, elsewhere you describe Battery as a fairly small woman, standing at 5’3″~5’4″. Does her costume have heels or something?

    Sorry to nitpick, just… well, anal fanfic writer here, I’m sure you’re familiar with that by now.

  20. (Spoilers)
    Is Taylor’s sudden anger at Emma here shard induced? It comes rather suddenly over very little, and also when two active duty superheroes happen to be standing close by.

    • I think it’s partially Taylor’s medication. But it’s also partially to show her growth as a person, I think. After experiencing a life or death situation, I think Taylor is learning that getting bullied in school is not as scary as she used to think. And so she’s finally standing up for herself now.

  21. My one beef with the undercurrent of the story is how much power teenagers have in leeway over situations like this. The over sight of sending shadow and not battery breaks immersion for me, and unintentionally everything that follows too because of it.

  22. I have the feeling Emma might be one of those who technically speaking have superpowers but they don’t/will never reveal themselves because there is no actual trigger. I feel like Taylor is going to accidently trigger it when she tries to take revenge.

  23. I can’t tell if Wildbow wrote in one or two deliberately ironic lines per arc or if the story is so gosh-dang big and intricate that you can’t write ten thousand words without accidentally writing something that reflects future events.

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