Hive 5.10

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“Brockton Bay 911, what is your emergency?”

“Multiple injured,” I said, glancing at the nearest street sign, “Warehouse at Whitemore and Sunset.  Send police and capes, too.  These guys are ABB members.”

There was the briefest of pauses, “That’s Whitemore and Sunset?”

“Whitemore and Sunset, yes.  Listen, the leader of the ABB, a parahuman by the name of Lung, is incapacitated at the scene, but that won’t be entirely true for long.  He’s drugged and blinded, but the drugs will be out of his system before too long.”

“You’re a cape?” she asked, “Can I get your identification?”

“I repeat,” I ignored her, “He’s drugged and blinded, but only the blindness will be a factor when the first responders arrive on the scene.  Warn them to be careful.  You can also tell them that a second parahuman calling himself Oni Lee was present but fled after being injured.  He may still be in the area.”

“I understand.  The Protectorate will be informed before they arrive on scene.  I’ve got ambulances, police and PRT teams on their way.  Can I please get your identification?”

I hung up.

“I can’t believe you carved out his eyes,” Sundancer said.  We were walking briskly back to where we’d left Labyrinth.

“He’ll heal,” I pointed out, “Eventually.”

“You blinded someone who was helpless to fight back.  That’s kind of fucked up.”

I couldn’t say much to that.  Fucked up or not, it had been necessary.  I couldn’t have dealt with it if I’d known we left him there and he got back to business as usual by the end of the day.  I’d stopped him, best as I was able.

Okay, alright, I was willing to admit that maybe the means were a little suspect.  I’d fought alongside some fucked up people, I’d maimed him.  By letting Fenja, Menja and Kaiser go I’d sort of condoned what they’d done to Lung’s men.  But in the end, it was what I’d wanted to do when I’d wanted to be a superhero.  I’d taken down a horrible person.

I just hoped the heroes could clean up the mess and get Lung behind bars for good this time.

“Hey Bitch,” I said, “Why’d you come back?”  I couldn’t phrase it better without offending her, but I wanted to know was why she’d come back when she was supposed to be taking Newter and Coil’s soldier to a doctor.

Bitch was sitting tall astride Brutus.  She seemed to get my meaning, “The other soldier said he was a trained medic.  Told me he could handle it, so I came back to fight.”

“Ah,” I said.  “Got it.”

Bitch hadn’t been lying, I saw, as we approached the rest of our group.  Newter was bandaged and awake, while the other soldier was lying down, unconscious.  Maybe drugged for the pain.

“You made it,” Newter grinned.

“Barely,” I admitted, “You okay?”

“I’m tougher than I look,” he responded, “Benefit of my, um, unique biology.”

“Cool,” I replied, feeling lame for not having a better reply, but I couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t sound like it was trying too hard or, worse, sound sarcastic.

“This fella says you guys probably saved my life,” Newter jerked a thumb toward the one of Coil’s guys that was awake.

“Honest, I’m having a hard time believing you’re up and talking right now,” the medic replied.

“Anyways, thanks,” Newter said, eyes moving from me to Sundancer to Bitch and back again.

“No problem,” I answered him, feeling lame for not having a better or more suitable reply.  Embarrased, I looked for a reason to change the subject.  “Look, we should get out of here in the next few minutes.  Capes, cops and ambulances are on their way to deal with the aftermath.”

“Alright,” Newter said, “But I have to ask… a small army of roaches dropped those off?”

He was smiling as he pointed to a spot near where he was lying.  A stack of paper bags were organized in a pile.

“I forgot I did that,” I admitted, “It didn’t feel right to leave the ABB’s money behind if we wound up retreating, so I had my bugs haul it out of there.  Everyone might as well take a bag.”

“We can take it?” Newter asked, “You sure?”

I shrugged in response.  The money didn’t matter much to me.  “Consider it a bonus, a thanks for helping.  It’s, um, not exactly divided to be fair, so no insult intended if any of them end up being a bag full of ones.”

“No complaints,” Newter said.  He reached out with his tail and used it encircle and pick up a bag.  Coil’s guy gave him a hand in standing up, and you could see him wince and huff out a breath at the effort.  He swayed a bit on his feet, then put a hand on Labyrinth’s shoulder to steady himself.  Sundancer grabbed a bag, and Coil’s medic/spotter grabbed two.

Labyrinth didn’t reach for one, so I walked over, grabbed one, and held it out for her.  She didn’t respond.

“I’ll hold that for her,” Newter offered.

“Is she okay?”

“She’s… pretty much normal.  For her, anyways.”

He claimed the bag, leaving three for Bitch and I, but nobody was complaining or pointing that out.

“You guys need a ride?” I asked.

Newter shook his head, then pointed to a manhole cover a ways down the road, “We’ll head back to one of our hideouts through there.  Familiar territory for me.”

“Is that a good idea, with your injury?  I mean, stating the obvious, but it’s gonna be pretty gross down there.”

He smiled, “Can’t get an infection.  My biology’s toxic to the bacteria and parasites, I think.  Never been sick, that I can remember.”

Of course.  Now I felt dumb for making Sundancer use the alcohol to sterilize him, and for going the extra mile with the sanitary pads, to ensure what I was using was clean.

“And you guys?” I asked Coil’s guy, “Ride?”

“We’ve got one, but thanks.”  The medic bent down, bound his buddy’s wrists, and then pulled the loop of arms over his head, so he was effectively giving his buddy a piggyback.  He took another second to arrange his guns, then headed through the same alley that Kaiser, Fenja and Menja had gone through before the fight started.

Sundancer was going the opposite way, so she said a brief goodbye and left.  Newter and Labyrinth were walking in the same direction as Bitch and I, so we walked together.

Labyrinth walked like she was in a daze, with Newter leading her along by the hand like she was a child.  It was interesting, not just to see that kind of interaction between them, but noting that her gloves looked like cloth, and that he was probably risking drugging her… unless she was immune.  A consequence of her ability?  He caught me looking, smiled and shrugged.

“Autistic?” I guessed.

He shook his head, “No, though we thought that, at first.  Seems she was a normal kid until her powers showed up.  Since then, she’s been off in her own little world, more or less.  A little worse right now, I think, after seeing me hurt.”

“That happens?” I asked, gesturing towards my head, unable to come up with an inoffensive and simple way of phrasing it.

He shrugged, “Sometimes getting powers fucks up your body,” he gestured to himself using his tail, which was still holding the paper bags, “Sometimes it fucks up your head.  Bad luck, but you deal with the cards you’re dealt.”

“Oh,” I replied.  I wasn’t sure how to respond.  A cold, quiet horror crept up on me.  My powers had something to do with my brain.  I could remember how crazy I’d felt right after my powers showed up, that torrent of nightmare images, signals and details from my bugs.  I still had bad dreams about it.  How close had I come to being like that permanently?

He grinned, “It’s cool.  She’s really fond of us, and we’re attached to her, too.  She has her lucid moments, when she’s let us know she’s cool with the status quo.  Sure, she has bad days when she’s dead to the world, but all of our powers have drawbacks, yeah?”

“Yeah,” I echoed him, though I couldn’t think of a drawback to my power that even came close.

“I think we’re okay where we’re at.  Eh, L?  You’ve been happy since we got you out of that place?”

Labyrinth kind of stirred from her daze and looked at him.

“Yeah,” Newter grinned, ” You can tell because the stuff she does with her power is prettier, these days.”  He gestured at the manhole cover, “This is where we part ways.”

Labyrinth glanced down where he was pointing.  A moment later, a tracery of silvery lines spiderwebbed out around the manhole cover, extending and forking like veins.  As the lines met and sectioned off parts of the road, those bits of road lifted and flipped over, revealing a white marble texture on their undersides.  When sufficiently surrounded by the expanse of cracked white marble, the manhole flipped over, revealing a silvery underside, and then popped open on an unseen hinge.  A spiral stairway of more marble or ivory led down into the depths.  The white walls had a faint glow to them.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Newter replied.  When he stepped down onto the stair, it was solid under his foot. He held up the paper bags as he said, “Thanks guys.”

“Sure thing,” I replied.  “Later.”

The manhole shut behind them, and almost immediately, the white around the manhole began to fade.

I looked up at Bitch where she sat on one-eyed Brutus.  Angelica and a still-dusty Judas stood just behind her.  She offered me a hand up onto Brutus’ back.

There were a lot of drawbacks to having a mask or helmet that didn’t cover my entire head.  If I’d sat myself down and put in the extra hours to finish my mask and expand the armored sections, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten that concussion that was proving to be such a pain in my ass.

The upside, though, was that it felt awesome to have the wind blowing in my hair as we rode down the empty streets.  The perfect wind-down from that crazy adrenaline rush that had come with going up against Oni Lee and Lung within minutes of each other.  I closed my eyes and let the tension flow out of me.

We rode like that for a few minutes.  Bitch took turns and moved sorta aimlessly as she headed East, towards the water and the beaches.  Maybe she was taking evasive action in case we were being followed, maybe she just wanted to ride.  I didn’t really care.

I was a little disoriented when we finally stopped.  Brutus padded through sand as he stepped down onto the beach.  Bitch hopped down, and I followed her cue.

It was still early afternoon, so the beach was deserted, and it wasn’t the sort of beach that saw much tourist use anyways.  A concrete wall separated the beach from the roadside above us, and a yawning hole with the rusty remains of what had once been a grate marked the exit of the various storm drains beneath the Docks.  Trash, rotted leaves and one or two needles had filtered down to the sand below the drain.

“Go home,” Bitch ordered the dogs.  One by one, they filed into the drain.  I guessed they would let the transformation subside before they returned to the loft on their own.

Then Bitch pulled off her mask.  She gave me a derisive look.


“You gonna change?  Can’t walk back like that.”

“I don’t have a change of clothes with me.  Or stashed anywhere.”

“Well.  That’s fucking stupid,” she answered me.

“I wasn’t thinking ahead when I decided to go.  Sue me,” I challenged her.

“What’re you wearing under that?”

“Tank top and stretch shorts.”

She looked around.  “It’s not that cold.”

I sighed and unstrapped my armor enough to unzip my costume at the back.  I pulled it off – far easier than putting it on – and bundled it up so all the identifiable parts of the mask and armor were hidden by fabric.  The sand was damp and clammy under my bare feet.

When Bitch reached for my face, I startled.  She put one hand on the side of my face, and for just a fraction of a second, I thought something incredibly awkward was about to happen.

Then she wrenched my head to enough of a tilt that it was almost horizontal.

“You look like someone tried to hang you.”

“What?” I asked.

She touched the side of my neck, but it wasn’t possible to see that part of myself without a mirror.  I did realize what she was talking about, after a moment’s thought.  I pulled up the side of my tank top, and sure enough, there was a red-black bruise at my stomach and waist.  Hiking up my top a bit more, I found another at my ribs.  I knew there would be another up near my armpit, and one encircling my neck.

I had a giant fucking handprint on my body, courtesy of Lung.

I let out a long groan, touching my neck where I felt tender.  “No way I can hide this from my dad.”

My good mood was dashed to the winds as we started trudging back to the Loft.  It was made all the more unpleasant because I was underdressed and barefoot, and the ground was cold under my feet.

I shivered and hugged my arms to my body as best as I could while still keeping my costume bundled up and the paper bags of money in hand.

Something warm settled over my shoulders.  I looked at Bitch as she finished draping her jacket over me.  As she drew back, her eyebrows furrowed, glaring at me, I wrangled the bags and my bundle of costume so I could get my arms through the sleeves and do up the buttons.  It was a canvas down jacket with a fur-ruff collar, but it was the wrong size for me and it was heavy.  The pockets, I found, as I tried to jam my hands in there, were filled with stuff.  A mess of plastic bags, chocolate bars, protein bars, a juice box, pellets that ground together – what I guessed were dog treats or dog food.  Not exactly cape supplies.  All in all, it was almost uncomfortable.

But it was warm.

“Thank you,” I told her, floored by the gesture.

“You needed something to cover your neck,” she looked bothered, “People would stare.”

“Doesn’t matter.  Thank you.”  I offered a smile.

“You already said that,” she switched from looking bothered to looking angry, “It’s mine, I can take it back.”

“Of course,” I said.  Then to be safe, I offered, “Do you want to?”

She didn’t reply, leaving me absolutely baffled.  Why was it that when I thanked someone like my dad for giving me a gift, it felt like it sounded sarcastic or lame no matter how I tried to say it, but the one damn time I was ninety-five percent sure I sounded as sincere as I felt, it was with Bitch, and she didn’t buy it?

Worried anything I could say would rub her the wrong way, I defaulted to silence, as I found myself doing more and more often with her.  It wasn’t a short trip, and my feet still felt the heat leeching out of them as I took each step on the pavement, but the core of my body was warm, and that was enough to keep me going.  Like that, we made our way back to the loft.

She unlocked the door and let us in.  I shouted up for Brian and Lisa, but no voices greeted me in return.  The others weren’t back yet, which made sense, since Grue would have to pick up Tattletale and Regent before they got back, and it hadn’t sounded like Tattletale’s team was close to wrapping things up when I’d called.  Bitch led the way up to the Loft, and the second I was up there, I took off the jacket and wordlessly handed it to her.  She was still glaring at me.

What could I do, what could I say?  It seemed like everything I did pissed her off, sent the wrong signal.

I returned to my room in the Loft and dug through the shopping bags I still had in there, finding a loose pair of jeans and a long sleeved shirt to pull over my top.  No clean socks, sadly, but there were some covers laid out on the bed.  I grabbed some and dragged them behind me to the living room, where Bitch was watching TV.  She gave me the evil eye, but didn’t complain, as I got myself bundled up in the covers on the other couch.

She had the remote, and I was willing to let her have it.  She channel surfed relentlessly, settling on an action movie for five minutes, then started surfing again when the ads started, and didn’t go back to it.

It wasn’t too interesting to watch, but I didn’t mind.  I lay back, thinking back to the events of the day, the conversations, the tidbits of info.

I almost dozed off, when my lazy train of thought stumbled onto something that I was afraid I’d forget if I let myself go the rest of the way to sleep.  I forced myself to open my eyes and sat up a bit.

“Bitch?” I risked drawing her attention, hoping she’d calmed down a bit.  She looked at me.

“Um.  When we were talking, a little bit ago, I thanked you.  Did that sound sarcastic to you, or what?”

“You’re getting on my case again?”

“No,” I raised my hands to stop her, “Not what I was trying to do.  I’m just wondering.”

“Keep your wondering to yourself,” she snapped.  When she turned her attention back to the TV, her channel surfing was cranked up a notch.

“I’ll pay you to answer me,” I tried.

She looked at me.

“That money we grabbed.  You can keep all of it.”

Her eyes narrowed, “We’re supposed to split our take five ways.”

“We earned that, right?  The both of us?  I won’t tell the others if you don’t. And I’m saying you can have it all.  Not sure how much it is, but it’d be yours.”

“Is this a trick?”

“No trick.  Just answer my question.  You can even tell me to get lost after, I’ll go to my room and grab a nap or something.”

She leaned back, and put the hand with the remote in her lap, glaring at me.  I took that for consent.

“So, what I was asking before, when I said thanks, did you think I was sarcastic, did you think I was genuine, what?”


“You mean you didn’t know, or you can’t remember, or-”

“I said dunno.”

“Fine,” I sighed, “Whatever.  Money’s yours.”

“That easy?”

I shrugged.

“You said you’d get lost if I asked,” she pointed out.

I nodded, gathered the covers and retreated to my room.

I didn’t nap, though.  Instead, I stared up at the iron girders that framed the ceiling, deep in thought, thinking about the conversation with Newter about Labyrinth.

I was still sorting through my thoughts when the rest of the gang returned.

I ventured out of the room, still bundled in a blanket, to greet them.  Brian gave me a winning smile as he pulled off his helmet, and I got some attention for having the most noteworthy injury of the afternoon.

As Alec, Brian and Bitch started talking about their individual adventures, Lisa pulled me aside.  We wound up walking to the kitchen.  Lisa put a kettle on as she asked me, “You okay?”

“Not really hurt, ugly as this looks, and I think I’m feeling better about the school thing.”

“But you’re distracted by something.”

“I was talking to Newter.  You know Labyrinth’s kind of out of it, because of her power, right?”

“You want to know if there’s anything wrong with you, that you don’t know about?”

“No,” I shook my head, “Wait, is there?”

“Nah.  So what’s up?”



“I’ve been thinking, but I don’t want to build up some theory in my head, make an assumption and embarrass myself.”

“Tell me what you’re thinking, and I’ll tell you if you’re wrong.”

“She’s really good at reading body language, right?  She could read Brian even when he was blurred by his darkness with a mask on.  It’s, what, some kind of minor power of hers?”

“Some of it’s natural ability.  Some of it’s, yeah, that her power adjusted how she thinks.  So she can communicate better with her dogs.”

“Right,” I glanced down the hall to where the others were talking.  Or rather, where Brian and Alec were talking and Bitch was standing there.  “That’s the thing.  What I’m thinking is… maybe when her power gave her the ability to understand dogs, it overwrote something else?  Fucked up her ability to deal with people?”

Lisa turned and got some mugs out of the cupboard.  She gave me an apologetic half-smile. “Yeah.  Something like that.”

“So, what, she can’t read expressions, or tone?”

“All the cues we give to others as a part of regular conversation?  She doesn’t get them, she probably couldn’t learn them with a year of concerted effort.  It’s not just that she doesn’t get it… the most basic interactions are messed up by the canine psychology that’s hardwired into her head.  You smile at her and ask her how she’s doing, her first thought is that you’re baring your teeth at her in anger, and she has to remind herself you aren’t.  But even after that, she’s probably wondering if you were being sarcastic, or condescending, or kind, or whatever.  She knows you aren’t shouting at her from your tone of voice, but we don’t always raise our voices when we’re angry, you know?”


“And she falls back on the one thing she does get, canine behavior, because it does work on a level.  Bids for dominance, eye contact, pack heirarchies and establishing territory, all adjusted and adapted to her human life.”

“So she’s not really a sociopath.”

“No, not so much.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”  I realized belatedly, that I sounded accusatory.  Maybe I was right to.

“Because she’d leave if she heard about it, and for reasons I don’t know, the boss wants her to stick with us.  She’s spent her whole life accepting the fact that she had a shitty childhood, and it made her into a screwed up person.  Her dogs are the only thing that’s normal and right for her.  If she found out that the reason she’s so messed up is the very same thing that makes her so close to her dogs?”

She let the thought hang.

“Got it,” I replied.

“So not another word of this, please, unless it’s absolutely necessary and you’re absolutely, one-hundred percent positive she’s not going to overhear.”

“Do the others know?”

“I don’t think it would change much, and I don’t trust those two to keep a secret.  Brian is… I don’t want to say too honest.  But he’s transparent, and Bitch can read him.  Alec would forget and let it slip as part of a joke.  He doesn’t get the gravity of stuff, sometimes.”


She poured a cup and stirred it, then handed me a mug of Ovaltine.  She got the other mugs arranged on a tray, and carried it through to the living room.  I stayed where I was, to think.

I was reminded of a non-fiction book I’d read where a kid got halfway through high school before his teachers realized he was illiterate.  He did it by being the class clown, by acting out.  Was Bitch the same?  The violence and hostility could be a cover to distract from her own inability to interact, at least partially.  I guessed a fair bit of it was genuine, though.  She had had a crappy childhood, she had lived on the streets and had fought tooth and nail to get by and avoid arrest.

But at the end of the day?  As awkward as I felt in day to day interactions?  She was a hundred times worse off.

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86 thoughts on “Hive 5.10

  1. The last chapter of Arc 5. Another long-ish one. Sorry about any spelling, grammar or whatever errors, I had something else that I had to do for midnight, and getting revisions down for this kind of conflicted with it.

    Also, reminding you guys that I’m still accepting suggestions for the subject(s) of the next Interlude, which would be coming up Saturday.

    Hope you’re enjoying and that you’ll continue reading/commenting through the coming December.

  2. ‘He smiled, “Can’t get an infection. My biology’s toxic to the bacteria and parasites, I think. Never been sick, that I can remember.”
    Of course. Now I felt dumb for making Sundancer use the alcohol to sterilize him, and for going the extra mile with the sanitary pads, to ensure what I was using was clean.’

    This little passage here says so much about the way Taylor’s mind works.

    • I have to admit I sat and wondered about this comment for a few minutes.

      I’m curious what interpretation you took; that Taylor was kicking herself for something she couldn’t be expected to know, that she should’ve known it but she was so concerned about doing things right that she failed to see the obvious, or something else?

        • It’s a feeling I can relate to. Because (in my and Taylor’s head) it could well be that you missed something obvious and you really don’t want that to be the case.

          Interesting how each of the characters have their own minor issues, isn’t it?

          • Interestingly enough there was really no reason for her to be angry at herself the bandaids were too small, and the clothes would have been caked with coke XD i wonder if that would amp people Newter intoxicates.

      • The degree to which she’s introverted coupled with how low her self-esteem is hints at the possibility of her possessing some measure of social anxiety, which means she’ll often go out of her way to think up ways to assign blame and embarrassment on anything she’s done. She may also linger on these thoughts far longer than is appropriate and often think back on them.

        I’m embellishing a bit here, but basically she’s the type of person who cares way too much about what people think of her.

    • Thanks, Um. 🙂

      I admit, I was a little nervous about this one going up, because it was one of the first ones where I didn’t have the time to sit down and revise it as much as I did with most others, and there’s some key stuff in there. Your feedback is much appreciated, letting me know I did ok with it.

      I’m just about set to start the holidays, only one major thing left to get done before Christmas, besides shopping. Looking forward to being able to sit down and write, build up a proper backlog of chapters again.

      • Wow. You really are a good writer. It just (re?)occurred to me how many of these chapters were released almost unedited and yet were still great.

        Are you some kind of low-level literature Tinker or something? 🙂

          • Reader challenge:
            -make “literary tinker” into something badass

            Power details:
            User has precog-like/pseudo-clairvoyant abilities when it comes to the story they are writing. Could work for nonfiction, but only if user has intimate knowledge of character motivations/abilities, physics/limitations of the setting, etc. Must actually write story to use, since this is a tinker power, not a thinker power. Resulting story is fantastic.
            Secondary powers:
            Thinker – expert at analyzing people/situations and making unexpected intuitive leaps (though the latter is somewhat implied in the tinker classification)
            Master – can exert mild to extreme control over readers; see “Canary”. Reactions vary.

            Alright guys, how’s Wildbow take over the world?

            • Write uber-marketable stories in standard blockbuster genres. Program the population by embedding ideological messages in the stories. You may never get an explicit position of power over the globe, and sending new messages is slow and something of a hassle, but you do get substantial control over the world’s population.

              If you want to go that extra mile to access power directly, you could take the Ronald Reagan route and go into politics after reaching prominence in entertainment. You can continue to use your power to ensure your success by hiring a ghostwriter who’ll publish the blockbusters you prepare (with the messages that will make the world support you) while your influence in the media is limited (by campaign rules, and then by people paying attention to whether the stories they’re hearing are directly produced by the ruling party).

            • Stories based on an accurate read of the people and situation involved can accurately predict future events, capabilities, and decisions/thoughts of those involved. Sort of like a combination of Tattletale and a (possibly more accurate) Roulette, with the caveat that the power takes a lot longer to use (long enough to write at least a short story).

  3. It struck me as a bit weird that they didn’t go over what happened in their raids, especially since things didn’t go well for Taylor and Bitch.
    Writing-wise, repeating stuff that the readers have already seen might make the text less inviting but flavor-wise, the others would be wanting to know details, especially since they’re teenagers.

    It’s one thing I’ve been wondering about as a potential amateur writer myself; do you write what the readers would find better or what would reflect the characters and the situation more realistically?

    • mind, i can’t speak for wildbow. that said — if more readers would get you more income, and especially if you make a living from writing, there’s a good argument for pleasing your readers. (“if i’m getting paid by the word, the hero always takes six shots to die”, i think somebody once said.) if your motive for writing is something else… go with what feels right, with what makes you a better writer, with what makes the story better in your own eyes.

    • They did start talking about it, before Lisa pulled Taylor aside, because Taylor looked distracted (which she was – which is part of why it was only mentioned in brief, given she’s our narrator). I actually had a bit where they started talking about it, but the text was exceeding 5000 words at that point (usual update is something like 1800 to 2800) and it felt fragmented. I admit I wound up cutting that blurb rather than wrangle with it to get it to sound right, because of other stuff I had to do. An unfortunate (and fairly rare) case of real life dictating the writing.

      Your question… that’s a good one. Hrm. I don’t think that realistic characters/situations and writing for the reader are binary states. Jim said it well in a comment twenty or more chapters back, I’m paraphrasing from memory, butchering it in the process, I suspect: so long as what the characters are doing is justified and makes sense for them, good writing will follow. Readers appreciate good writing.

      That said, it really depends on the chapter. Look at chapter 5.9, the fight with Lung. How would things have played out if I’d detailed Taylor having her bugs tear up the caterpillar, having a cockroach try to dip it in Newter’s blood, fly down and nail Lung in the eye? I think a lot of the tension would have dissipated if the reader was informed well in advance that Taylor was preparing her trump card. To preserve that tension while keeping the attention to detail, maybe I would have had the attempt fail, only for Taylor to figure out some other way to make her ploy work. In the end, after debating the ways this situation could unfold, I went with what I did. Gambling, really, that I’d have more people reading the chapter, see Taylor’s KO hit and think it was awesome, than I did people reading & being annoyed that it came out of nowhere. A case where readability was offered at the expense of realism.

      But there’s other chapters, especially the school chapters with the bullying, where I know there’s a not insignificant subset of readers who are uncomfortable with them, where I go for the detail when I know my readers might rather I not. Go for realism, based on my own experiences, on anecdotes from others, things what I’ve read, watched and heard. It’s tough, sometimes, not always pleasant to read, but I think that by not pulling punches, the story’s better for it.

      TL;DR: I think I side with realism, because I think readers appreciate it in the long run, but in the end, it’s whatever is best for the story.

      • I’m not sure if I said precisely that, but I can imagine saying it.

        My approach to writing things basically goes like this:
        1. Know where the scene is going.
        2. Know what the characters’ personalities are like.
        3. If the characters’ personalities (or the details of the situation now that you’re writing the scene) don’t let the scene happen as you imagined before you started writing, feel free to let the characters react to each other and to what’s going on.

        Chances are you’ll get a better scene when it comes organically out of the characters’ actions than you will if you railroad the characters into a certain direction.

        That said, I either skip the boring parts (and hint that that they happened) or cover them in a line if I can.

        In any case, it sounds similar to what you’re describing here.

      • I went looking for it, and I think the comment I was referring to was in Insinuation 2.3 – “… and try to make the emotional consequences of being in the situations the characters are in realistic. That’s the more important part, I think. From what I’ve seen of this serial, you’re doing a good job of that.”

        Sorry for the misquote. 😐

      • No problem with the misquote.

        Oddly enough, I may have been thinking of something Jack Kirby apparently said when I wrote that. Kirby supposedly claimed that no matter how strange the events of the story if your characters react the way human beings would, your audience will follow you anywhere.

        Since reading it, it’s something that I’ve tried to keep in mind.

  4. I could ramble on like I did in my lost comment but this time I think I want to keep it simple. I really enjoy your serial, Wildbow. It is one of the parts of my Tuesdays and Saturdays that I really look forward to.

    • And I look forward to your comments, THF. Reading them, I really get the feeling you’re as excited about the story as I am about writing it, and that’s just plain cool. 🙂

  5. spotted an editing slip-up. “By letting Fenja, Menja and Kaiser go instead of I’d sort of condoned” — instead of what is missing, or “instead of” could be removed.

  6. This may just be the best web serial I’ve read yet, and I’ve read and loved all the greats 🙂

    Seriously. It’s enough to inspire.

    I left a nice little review for you on Web Fiction Guide. You can use it on your back cover some day when you publish Worm as a novel 🙂

    • You’re too kind, DPO. Reviews are always appreciated, and yours gave me that extra little nudge I needed to get some writing done last night.

      It’s hard to believe my writing could inspire anyone, but if it does, I’ll be happy. I write Worm because it’s the sort of thing I’d really enjoy reading if I stumbled across it, and if it inspires anyone to create something similar, then it stands to reason that I’d like that stuff too.

      Funny that you mention publishing Worm as a novel. I’ve been contemplating what it would take to do that (almost certainly through self-publishing online, a la Lulu or some such). It would probably happen as I wrap up ‘book one’, likely around the late spring or early summer. I might bring it up on the Webfictionguide forums.

      • I’m so glad it helped you work up the mindset to write.

        As far as commercializing things, you might actually want to consider getting an agent and selling it the old fashioned way to book stores and so on. (since there isn’t a lot of incentive to buy the physical book for the people who read the web text for free, although some authors add extra content to the physical book to help encourage it)

        Another approach is when you finish to take the posts down and re-release them a chapter at a time, and let people read the entirety of the book all at once by buying it. (usually an electronic copy) This has the benefit of an enormous conversion rate; a *lot* of people buy this way, far more than any other known yet.

        I’m curious; I like to think about and compare the planning/creative processes of different authors. I guess I’m looking for things that suit my brain that I might adopt. How do you do your plot planning and character idea creation, and plan how characters will evolve over time?

      • I’m not sure I like the idea of releasing things one chapter at a time; I think the webcomics Drow Tales and Girl Genius did something like that (only a select range of comics were available at one time, I think) and I came away with a bad taste in my mouth as a consequence. Admittedly, it was a good while ago when I checked them out, so maybe things have changed.

        Re: Writing Process – I’ve been writing for this setting for years now, trying my hand at writing for a particular character or group, figuring out what I liked and what I didn’t, both in terms of story and in terms of the characters. My very first attempt at superhero writing was with a character almost the complete inverse of Taylor, a magic user a la Dr. Strange, but a novice, something I didn’t really see in comics or web serials. I saw a void there and tried to fill it, and decided in the end that it was too hard to do well, and the underlying personality of the character wasn’t that interesting to me. Interestingly, that character is one of the only characters I’ve written for that probably won’t show up (or hasn’t shown up) in Worm.

        So I tried my hands at other characters. I wrote ‘Guts and Glory’, surrounding Panacea and Glory Girl (each chapter alternated from one to the other), Aegis, Circus, the Wards, the Protectorate, the Travelers, Regent and Grue. And those are just the major ones – I wrote shorter stories or aborted stories for many more, ranging from half a page to five pages.

        It took me a while to settle on Taylor – I’ve touched on why I did in previous comments, but I liked that her power is initially pretty underwhelming, but there’s a lot of room for out of the box thinking with it. Going into writing her, I had no idea how to make her effective, but that was an attractive trait. Once I had a character in mind, I took a few stabs at getting her story started, not being afraid to scrap things and start over. I tried it from day one of her superhero career (the day she got her powers) to events fairly late in it, found the elements I liked and kept that.

      • (continuing from the above)

        In terms of the actual sitting down and writing part, I’ve alluded to this in past comments (and got into it in more depth in a post on Webfictionguide), but I like being surprised by my own writing, where I’m writing something in a way that makes sense, and then events happen that totally weren’t intended by yours truly. I actually get really, really bored with my stories if I write with any framework in mind. So in both the small scale (writing a chapter) and with the overarching story, I fly blind. I intentionally try to write myself into corners where I don’t know how the characters are going to cope, to force myself to be creative and think outside the box. I don’t avoid writing something because I don’t know how I’m going to follow up with it. A good example of this is when Taylor hit Emma. That and the events that flowed from it were not intended in advance. Going into writing that chapter, I only really wanted to touch back on Taylor’s home life in a way that related to her dealing with school, and give a sense of what the ABB’s actions were doing to the city.

        But I thought perhaps they could run into someone they knew. I knew Taylor’s dad probably knew Emma’s dad, and the rest flowed from that point.

        I think I’m fairly good at keeping events and characters consistent when writing like this. Having, as I mentioned above, written a short story or several chapters for most of the characters/groups in Worm gives me a really strong sense of who they are, their backgrounds, their motivations and the stories that are happening for those characters, that Taylor isn’t aware of.

        There are events I have/had in mind, where I covered them in previous drafts/attempts at writing Worm and liked them, but again, they aren’t plotted out in advance. I’d personally find them dull if I did. I think of, for example, “the apocalypse” as an event that I want to do in advance, maybe the characters I might throw in there, but when it comes time to do it, I write it in the same way I would anything else.

        That’s just a hypothetical example, by the way. Maybe.

      • You’ve inspired me, at least. Thanks in large part to Worm, I have superheroes on the brain in a good way.

        (It would be a better way if I had the time to actually write all the ideas I’ve had, but still.)

  7. That’s interesting, thank you 🙂

    On the other topic, seemingly successful examples of the chapters out regularly but pay to skip to the end format are Kingdoms of Evil and An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom, if you haven’t checked them out. *shrug* It’s a matter of preference. I suppose anything that involves monetizing writing is distasteful to some extent. It is so much easier when everything is free, but a writer that has to have a day job gets a lot less writing done.

    As for writing, I think you’ve given me the courage to pick up writing without frameworks, to not be paralyzed into inaction with fear that I’ll write a lousy story if I don’t know where it will go.

    We’ll see how it goes!

    • I think the TL;DR message of the above is that you should just ~write~. Just sit down, put ideas on the page. Don’t get too committed to any idea or work, don’t be afraid to throw away that story you spent an afternoon writing and start afresh.

      Any time you write, I think, you’ll take something away from it. A learning experience, an idea, a character, a detail about the setting, a nuance to a character’s personality. With that, sitting down to write is never wasted time.

      I admit, my biggest flaw as a writer was that I got bogged down in being correct and getting that one sentence just right. For a long time, very few of my stories got beyond, say, twenty pages. For this reason, I mainly stuck to stories I could start and finish in one or two sittings.

      In the end, I started Worm because the serial format and schedule -forces- me to keep moving forward. The initial chapters are a little rough, I think, and a part of me itches to return to them and change words, fix sentence structure, and proofread it a half dozen times more. But I know that I’ve got a chapter to write for next Tuesday, that people are wanting to read, so I write that instead. And I think just doing that, focusing on the -writing- part of it, has improved my writing a great deal more than I would otherwise have done, trying to get things perfect.

      (And just saying – even if I write without a framework, I do recommend having a buffer of eight or more chapters already done so that if you do manage to write yourself into a corner, you have a week or two to figure a way out.)

  8. Greetings! It is I, the ever annoying Psycho Gecko, here because I saw a link to this place on the Legion of Nothing site. Now that I’m all caught up on the story so far, I’d like to say I’m rating this a Daamn! on the informal cuss-scale. You know, same one that has weight/mass measurements of buttload, crapload, shitload, fuckload, and so on and so forth.

    I was both happy and disappointed to be caught up. I really like reading it, but now, alas, I must wait for more. You do such a good job connecting us emotionally to Taylor and the other characters that this is probably the first time I can say I’ve ever wanted to choke fictional teenage girls. Or hit them with a hammer. A hammer made of flames. That explodes. Into wet turtles.

    Don’t think on that too hard, just know that you’ve made at least one fan out of a Legionaire.

  9. Inexplicably, I have a small fanbase amongst people who comment on someone else’s story. It truly bottles the mind, just like the smooth, refreshing taste of Cortex Cola.

    By the way, some major street cred for our dear heroine/villainess if she turns Lung’s eyes into a necklace that she wears around while villaining. Even more awesome if she finds a way to cover up what’s in there enough so she can wear it around in her civilian identity. Her own personal “Badass” badge.

    Yes, Skitter, stay on the dark side!…seriously, she’s taken down Lung twice when the heroes couldn’t once, making lots of money, ran into a grue in the darkness and didn’t die, her supervillain teammates are still nicer people than the girls she goes to school with, and somehow all this in its rightness is supposed to be illegal and evil? Sometimes the best thing you can do is the “wrong” thing.

    I mean, sure, Kaiser’s a racist a-hole, but he’s an exception. Also, prone to flattery. Just butter him up a little bit and you can really get him on a roll. *rimshot*

  10. So, I’m reading through and it just gets better and better! I’m wondering how it will improve on this epic battle, but I’m sure that I ‘ll be surprised.

  11. He grinned, “It’s cool. She’s really fond of us, and we’re attached to her, too. She has her lucid moments, when she’s let us know she’s cool with the status quo

    Is this `she has let us know`?

    Also its nice to see an in depth explanation of your writing process, along with the introduction of PG to the Wormverse

  12. Interesting. I like the twist on expectations, we think she’s just a bitch because she had a bad childhood but turns out her powers are fucking with her.

    Still say the Undies are a bit underpowered.

    • I think Skitter, Regent and Tattletale all have powers that are potentially incredibly strong, if they just find the right what’s to use them. Tt is pretty good at it already, but I still think she could be doing far more… or perhaps she actually already is and she just keeps it secret.

    • With the exception of Bitch and her dogs, I agree they are short on conventional heavy-hitters and they wouldn’t last long in a straight up fight against say, the Protectorate. But don’t discount what we saw during the bank robbery!

      Tt gives them an incredible tactical edge, and Grue makes it very difficult to coordinate, both of which can make all the difference.

  13. I was reading over this chapter after hearing Packbat mention Somer’s Rock in the comments of 25.1. It’s incredibly indicative of Taylor’s mentality at the time: she essentially just *paid* someone to kind of, sort of talk to her.

    This chapter is also a milestone on a metafictional level. Besides being the first appearance of Psycho Gecko, Wildbow, you also mention that the average length of a chapter is around 1800-2800 words. Compare that to Interlude 24, which is many times the length. It’s also, I think, better quality. You also talk a lot less about your writing process now than you did here. It seems like putting out content is less of an ordeal now, or at least more mundane.

    I don’t know how often you reflect on how far you’ve progressed as a writer, but, if I may be so bold, now might be a good time to take a moment.

  14. Two smiley faces in one chapter’s comments…I must be in a whimsical mood.

    Anyways. Rereading, I remember how surprised I was that Lung was just defeated and left for pickup. He’s gone, a non-factor from Brockton Bay. He had seemed like the Big Bad of the story, but he’s done for five arcs in. Look at the Table of Contents–there’s almost 30 arcs now, and the average length of arcs and chapters seems to have gone up. Lung was a major player in Brockton Bay at first, but now he’s nothing.

    This was a bit of a shock for me–a sudden change in how the story was going. Now that Lung was gone, what was left?
    Enough to fill 23 arcs and counting. It’s a great story. Keep it up, wildbow; I wish Worm could just keep going.

    • Oh, how we all wished he was still the big bad. Maybe if he was like joker worm wouldn’t have gotten so dark.

    • It should be “leaving three for Bitch and me”, which is what I think Deadman wanted to write.

      “Bitch and me” is the object of the preposition, so it takes the objective case, and “I” becomes “me”. Same as if it were “leaving three for me”.

      • Oops, rpressergmail, I did indeed intend to correct the cut-and-paste “I” to “me”.
        In several cases, here and there, in subsequent chapters also, following an “and”, the nominative is used when the oblique case is correct.

  15. Tiny typo, or at least an alternate wording to consider. When speaking of losing heat, the word is usually “leaching out” and not “leeching out”. The two words are actually cognates with the same origin, but they have developed different meanings.

  16. Not a huge deal but I noticed something that may be worth changing when converting to an ebook. “Coil’s guy gave him a hand in standing up, and you could see him wince and huff out a breath at the effort.” This sentence might need a slight explanation as it confused me. How is Coil’s soldier able to help him up considering Newter’s toxin?

    I hate to sound nitpicky as I’m absolutely loving the story and can’t stop reading.

  17. Teeny tiny continuity thing. Before they go out and get into that tangle with Bakuda, Tattletale says something along the lines of “where’s our resident sociopath” referring to Bitch, who went on ahead, while the little exchange at the end of this chapter makes it pretty clear that she’s well aware that Bitch isn’t, actually. I’ll have a bit more to say on this later after we get past certain things that I really want to reference which might come off a bit spoilery here, I think.

  18. Dude I only have praise to give you and believe that you should take this story and see if you can expand the universe of capes to another medium. I don’t think it would be very possible for a live action series but has it ever crossed your mind to create an anime series? I know written art and visual art are very different in nature but I believe you have a strong IP here seeing as you take the classic cliche of a bullied girl with powers with dreams of being a hero being thrust into the world of villains. All the while trying to maintain what her slowly blurring sense of morality.

  19. “Go home,” Bitch ordered the dogs. One by one, they filed into the drain. I guessed they would let the transformation subside before they returned to the loft on their own.

    That’s an interesting point. Bitch can only power up the dogs with deliberate effort, but she hasn’t needed to put any (visible) effort into keeping them powered up, at least as far as we’ve seen. What does the process of changing back look like? What triggers it?

  20. I didn’t nap, though. Instead, I stared up at the iron girders that framed the ceiling, deep in thought, thinking about the conversation with Newter about Labyrinth.

    I would never have considered Labyrinth’s and Bitch’s situations together without being prompted, but… the comparison, even implied, makes a frightening amount of sense, especially in the wake of the first bit of concrete information we have on what’s going on in Bitch’s head. She might not be ill-tempered or antisocial or even deliberately rude- she might just be neurodivergent.
    That’s REALLY intriguing.

    • Oh hey, it turns out you went into detail on this. That’s extra cool- I wasn’t even sure, at first, whether Taylor was making the same comparison I was or just considering the two topics one after another.
      As an occupant of the autism spectrum, seeing this topic in the story is pretty exciting for me. I see Tattletale’s point about how Bitch wouldn’t handle an explicit diagnosis well, and her specific divergence makes it hard to act on the information without revealing it to her… but hopefully knowing what the root of the problem is will give Lisa and Taylor a better perspective to approach her from in the future. 🙂

  21. Just saw a random typo, so I thought I’d let you know: ‘Embarrased’ is spelled wrong.

    Really enjoying this story. Very intense.

  22. This left me wondering about few small things. Newter says his body is toxic to bacteria but human body actually contains lots of microorcanisms living in symbiosis with humans. Bacteria in the intestines help with digestation, for example. If these organisms cannot live inside his body, does this reflect negatively on him somehow?

    Of note with Bitch is that dogs have actually shown to have learnt to read humans, not just their body language but their facial expressions as well through thousands of years of domestication.

    • I guess his biology isn’t entirely human anymore. Powers in Worm-verse have these neat side effects where they prevent any harm they might do to their owner. Lung does not suffocate although he covers himself in flames, which would burn up all the oxygen, for example. Not to mention, that HE himself does not burn. I guess, Newters power covers his lack of symbiotic microorganisms in a similar way, if it even causes a lack thereof, instead of only killing harmful stuff in the first place.

  23. Hey wildbow!

    I’m reading through Worm again for the third or forth time, and saw something that I realized I didn’t understand – why is “The Boss” so insistent that Bitch should remain with this group? I don’t recall this ever being explained in the story. If it is and I’ve just forgotten, or didn’t notice, could you perhaps point out the chapter in question?

    • If I had to guess, it’s because she’s their only real source of both firepower and mobility. If it comes down to a fight, pretty much the only way they will be either winning or escaping is thanks to Bitch. It may suck to put up with her, but from the boss’s perspective she’s an essential component, and covers two major roles for the price of one.

      • Another possibility given later revelations is that he knows her being on the team will lead to good things, even if he doesn’t know why

  24. You know you’re good when you make someone feel bad about not liking someone named Bitch who acts like it too lol.

  25. Yipes, you used “I” instead of “me” at least 4 times in this chapter. The 4th prompted me to write this before continuing…it’s completely out of character, making such a basic grammatical error over and over again.

  26. “And she falls back on the one thing she does get, canine behavior, because it does work on a level. Bids for dominance, eye contact, pack heirarchies and establishing territory, all adjusted and adapted to her human life.”

    Hierarchies is misspelled.

  27. Typo:

    > ” You can tell because […]

    “Flipped” quotation mark (closing instead of opening) and unnecessary space after the mark.

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