Interlude 5

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“This what you wanted?” the teenager with scruff on his chin and his hood up handed over the paper bag.

Broad hands with ruined, rotten brown fingernails pawed through the contents, “It is.  Here.”  The voice was slightly accented, the words and sounds very careful, as though he were not comfortable with English.

The young man reached out and his eyes widened as a fold of bills was pressed into his hands.

“This is… more than I thought it would be.”

“Are you complaining?”

The young man shook his head.

Gregor the Snail put his hands in his pockets, as if to hide the fingernails and the growths that scabbed the backs of his hands.  Each of the hard growths, which might have been shell or scale, none any larger than a silver dollar, had a prominent spiral shape to it.  As much as he could tuck his hands into his pockets, he was unable to hide his face.  He had no hair on his head, not even eyebrows or eyelashes, and the hard growths crusted his face like a terminal case of acne.  Most strange and disconcerting of all was the fact that his pale skin was translucent enough that one could see shadows of his skeleton, his teeth and the tongue in his mouth.

“As you can see,” Gregor said, without any affectation, “It would be hard for me to walk into a store and make simple purchases.  I do not like to rely on my friends for this.  Makes me feel indebted to them, and this is not good for friendships.  If you are interested in repeating this sort of transaction, being on call to run errands for me for a time, it could be arranged.”

“Really?” the guy rubbed his chin, “For how long?”

“Until I called and you were unable or unwilling to run my errand.  If this happened more than once, or if the reason was not good, I would find someone else, as I did with the last individual.”

“You didn’t hurt him or anything?”

“No.  I did not.  He decided he would rather spend the evening with his girlfriend.  I have not called him again.”

“This won’t be anything illegal?”

“No.  No drugs, no prostitutes, no weapons.”

“So you call me, I run out and grab you groceries, or clothes, or take-out, or shampoo, or whatever, and you pay me three-”

“That is four.  And I do not have hair, so you would not need to concern yourself with shampoo.”

“Right.  Sorry.  So, four hundred dollars each time?  What’s the catch?”

“No catch.  I have money, I like things to be convenient.  Only one small chance of trouble.  My first assistant, she quit because she was concerned that my enemies would use her to get to me.  I will not deny this is possible.”

“You have enemies?”

“Yes.  But there has not been a case yet where any of my assistants ran into trouble with them.”

“Have any of them run into trouble at all?”

“The last assistant, the boy with the girlfriend.  He thought he could get more money, because he could go to the police and tell them what he knew about me.  He was lucky to try this when I was in a generous mood.  I dissuaded him.  He worked for me for two months after that with no complaint.  We were not friendly, it was pure business.  I would recommend, gently, that you not try the same thing.”

“Hey.  Live and let live, right?”

“That is a good saying.”

“Okay.  I’m wanting to go to college this fall, and this is sounding a hell of a lot better than working minimum wage for fifty hours a week.  Here, my cell phone number,” he handed over his phone.

Gregor the Snail took a second to put the number in his own phone.  “I have it.  I will call.”

They parted ways.

Gregor walked down the side streets of downtown Brockton Bay with the hood of his sweatshirt casting his face in shadow.  Anyone who happened to cross his path and look beneath his hood were quick to glance away.  Embarrassed, spooked.  Those that saw him from a distance knew him as monstrous as well, but in a different way.  To them, he was simply one of the morbidly obese.  A man in his late twenties or early thirties, nearly three times the weight he should be for his five feet and ten inches of height.  His weight, he knew, was one of the rare things in this modern world that someone could use to mock him openly.

It had taken him years to come to peace with this.  With being one of the monsters.

As he came to his destination, the throbbing pulse of music reached his ears.  The club sat two blocks away from Lord Street, and there was a line extending around the side of the building.  Glowing yellow letters in an almost intentionally plain script spelled out ‘Palanquin’.

He skipped the line and headed straight for the front door.  A burly Hispanic doorman with a beard tracing the edges of his jaw undid the chain fence to let him through.

“What the hell?” one of the girls near the front of the line complained, “We’ve been waiting for forty five minutes and you let that fat fuck through like that?”

“Out of the line,” the doorman said, his voice bored.

“The hell?  Why?”

“You just dissed the owner’s brother, fuckwit,” the doorman told her, “Out of the line.  You and your friends are banned.”

Gregor smiled and shook his head.  The line the doorman had pulled was bullshit, of course, he wasn’t the owner’s brother.  But it was nice to see one of the assholes getting what was coming to them.

He had worked as a bouncer for clubs that wanted someone more exotic and attention-getting, way back when he was first getting on his feet, so he knew that the line you saw out the door was rarely an indication of how many people were inside.  An empty club could have a line of people waiting to get in, to give the right image.  Even though it was a Tuesday night, Palanquin had no such need for such deceptions.  It bustled with people.  Gregor carefully navigated the crowd of dancers and people holding drinks, until he reached a stairwell guarded by a bouncer.  As with the front door, his admittance to the stairs was automatic, unquestioned.

The upstairs balcony wasn’t filled with people, and those that were present, a dozen or so, were almost boneless in their lethargy.  Mostly girls, they lay prone on couches and in booths throughout the balcony that overlooked the dance floor.  Only three people were more or less alert as Gregor approached.

“Gregor, my boy!” Newter grinned from ear to ear.  Gregor caught the briefest flash of disgust on the face of one of the girls sitting with Newter, as she looked at him.  She was a blonde with blue lipstick and pink highlights in her hair.  Had Gregor been working as the doorman, he would have checked her ID, double checked it, then even if it did look real, he would have kicked her out anyways for being too young.  She couldn’t have been older than sixteen.

Still, that was roughly how old Newter was, and he could hardly fault the boy for being interested in someone his own age.

The other girl, dark haired, had a European cast to her features.  She showed no such distaste.  When she smiled up at him, there was no sign the expression was forced.  That was both rare and interesting.

“I brought your dinner,” Gregor said.

“Good man!  Pull up a chair!”

“The others will want their food as well.”

“Pull up a chair, come on.  I’ve got two stunning girls here, and they’re not believing me when I’m telling them about some of the cooler jobs we’ve pulled.  I need backup here, bro.”

“I do not think it is a good idea to be talking about these things,” Gregor said.  He stayed standing.

Newter reached for the bag and grabbed a sandwich from inside.  “It’s cool.  Faultline joined the conversation a while ago, so she’s obviously okay with it.  You aren’t going to tell, right, Laura?  Mary?”

Each girl shook her head as Newter asked them by name.  That let Gregor label the dark haired girl as Laura and the girl with the blue lipstick as Mary.

“If Faultline said it was fine.” Gregor said.  He took the bag back from Newter and found his own sandwich.  “Laura and Mary, I am sorry, the other sandwiches I have here are spoken for.  I could offer you some of my own, if you would like.”

“That’s okay, I’m not hungry,” Laura replied, “I like your accent.  Is it Norwegian?”

Gregor finished his first bite, swallowed, and shook his head, “I am not sure.   But I have spoken to an expert and he says the other language I speak is Icelandic.”

“You don’t know?”

“No,” Gregor replied.

His brusque answer only stalled the conversation for a moment before Newter got it going again, “Okay, bro, tell these girls who we went up against last month.”

“The toybox job?” Gregor asked, “With the Tinker black market?  There was nobody-”

“The other one.  The job in Philadelphia.”

“Ah.  Chevalier and Myrddin.”

Newter clapped his hands together, rocking back in his seat, “Told you!”

“And you beat them,” the dark haired girl said, disbelieving.

“We didn’t lose!” Newter crowed.

“It was a close call,” Gregor added his own two cents.  “Chevalier is leader of Protectorate in Philadelphia.  Myrddin leads Protectorate of Chicago.  These are people whole world recognizes.  They got positions protecting big cities in America because they are strong, because they are smart and talented.  We got the job done, as we always do, and we walked away.”

Newter laughed, “Pay up.”

Neither Laura nor Mary looked bothered as they reached into their pocket and purse, respectively, and fished out some bills.

“What was the bet?”  Gregor asked.

“I told them they didn’t have to pay if I was lying.”

“And if you weren’t lying?  They pay more?”

“No penalty.  I got company and conversation for a while,” Newter smiled.  He reached up to the back of the booth, grabbed a bag that sat there, and fished out a pair of plastic spoons and a bottle of water.  With a water dropper he retrieved from his pocket, he siphoned water from the bottle and placed a few drops in each spoon.  The final step was dipping the tip of his tongue in each drop of water.

“Lick it up,” he told the girls.

“That’s all?”  Laura asked him.

“It’s enough.  Any more and you might be out for an inconveniently long time.  That right there,” Newter pointed to the spoon with the tip of his tail, “Is a little less than an hour of psychadelic tripping.  No hangover, no side effects, it’s not addictive, and you can’t overdose on it.  Trust me, I’ve tried to make someone overdose before, combat situation, and I couldn’t make it happen.”

Mary was the first to take the spoon and pop it into her mouth.  Moments later, her eyes went wide, and she fell limp against the back of the booth.

“Hey,” Laura said, turning to Gregor.  She reached into her pocket, found a receipt and a pen, and scribbled on the blank backside of the paper.  She handed it to him.  “My number.  If you want to talk, or, you know, something else.”

She winked at him, then popped the spoon into her mouth.

Gregor blinked in a mild confusion as her head lolled back.

“Looks like you made a good impression, Gregster,” Newter chuckled.

“Maybe,” Gregor said.  He put the half of his sandwich that remained back in the paper bag, then balled up the wrapper.  After a moment’s hesitation, he crumpled the receipt with Laura’s number into the ball.  He pitched it to a trash can halfway across the room.

“Hey!  What gives?”

“I do not think she liked me because I am me,” Gregor said, “I think she liked me because I am a monster.”

“I think you’re sabotaging yourself, man.  She’s hot.  Look at her.”

Gregor did.  She was attractive.  He sighed.

“Newter, do you know what a devotee is?”

Newter shook his head.

“It is a slang term for someone who is attracted to people with disabilities, because of the disability.  I think it is about power, attraction to someone because they are weak somehow.  I think it likely that this Laura sees me as weak because of the way I look, the way I may have trouble day to day, and this is compelling to her in a similar way to how a cripple or a blind man might be to a devotee.  This does not appeal to me.”

“No way.  Maybe she likes you because of the person underneath.”

“She did not see enough of me to know who that person might be,” Gregor replied.

“I think you’re doing yourself a disservice.  I’d jump on that opportunity.”

“You are a stronger person than I in many ways, Newter.  I should bring the others their dinner,” Gregor turned to leave.

“Hey, signal Pierce downstairs to send another girl or two up, will ya?”

Gregor did as he was asked, getting the attention of the bouncer at the foot of the stairs.  The bouncer, in turn, got the attention of a set of girls on the dance floor.

While the girls made their way up, Gregor turned to Newter, “Are you happy?”

“Oh man.  You’re not going into a philosophical phase again, are you?”

“I will spare you that.  Are you?”

“Dude.  Look at me.  I have money to burn, I’ve got the hottest girls in the city begging to get a taste of me.  Literally wanting to taste me!  What do you think?”

“You are happy, then?”

“Time of my life, bro.”  Newter opened his arms wide to greet a trio of girls as they reached the top of the stairs.

“I am glad.”  Gregor turned and entered the hallway at the back of the balcony.  As the door sealed shut behind him, the pounding of the music behind him dimmed.

His next stop was the first door on his left.  He knocked.

“Come in.”

The bedroom had a bed on each side, in opposite corners.  One side of the room was cluttered with posters, pictures, a bookshelf overflowing with books, an Apple computer with two CD racks towering above it, and two speaker systems.  The music from the computer speakers only barely managed to drown out the music from the club downstairs.  The girl who was lying back on the bed had a dense covering of freckles on her face and hands, and curly brown hair.  Magazines were piled in stacks around her on the bed, threatening to topple over at the slightest movement.

The other side of the room was spartan.  Nothing adorned the walls, there were no books, no computer or computer paraphernalia.  There was a bed, a bedside table and a dresser.  The only character whatsoever was a colorful bedspread and pillowcase.  Gregor knew it had been a gift from Faultline.  The owner wouldn’t have gone out to get it herself.  The resident of that side of the room was seated in the corner, staring into the wall.  She was blonde, the sort of platinum white-blond hair that rarely lasted through puberty.  Her royal purple sweater was slightly too large for her, drooping over her hands, and her pale jeans were clearly intended to be more comfortable than fashionable.

“I brought your dinner, Emily.”

“Thanks,” the freckled girl answered him.  She caught the sandwich he threw to her and began to peel open the package.

“Is she okay?” he asked, gesturing to the girl in the corner.

“Not one of her better days.”

He nodded.

“Elle,” he spoke, gently, “May I come closer?”

They had learned the hard way, that the more distant the girl was, the stronger her power.  This made her particularly dangerous when she was so lost that she might not recognize him.  Cruel irony, Gregor observed, that she had virtually no power at all when she was most herself.  It was a problem they hoped to find an answer to, someday.

The girl in the corner turned to meet his eyes.  He took that for consent, approached her, and pressed a sandwich into her hands.

“Eat,” he instructed her.

She did, almost mechanical in her movements.

After Faultline had enlisted him and Newter, a job had taken them into a high security asylum.  They had been there to question someone about the Dragonslayers, a villain group that used tinker technology stolen from the most powerful and highest profile tinker in the world for petty theft and mercenary work.  Their invasion of the asylum had not gone as well as it might have, and had led to a high-tech lockdown of the facility.  Not only did it extend their mission by several hours, but it had led to issues with one of the residents, a parahuman that apparently had to be moved regularly, lest her influence over her surroundings spread beyond the confines of her cell, making her a serious problem for the staff, other residents and unwitting bystanders.

In the end, after dealing with the dispatched squad from the Boston Protectorate and getting the information they needed about the Dragonslayers, they had recruited the girl.

He watched and waited long enough to ensure she was on her way to finishing her sandwich, then turned to leave.  Emily gave him a small wave of the hand in goodbye, and he nodded once in acknowledgment.

His final stop was the office at the end of the second floor hallway.  He peered in the window, then let himself in as quietly as he could.

Faultline, owner of Palanquin and several other cover businesses across Brockton Bay, was seated at a large oak desk.  In front of her, in the midst of ledgers, notebooks and university textbooks, was something that looked similar to a xylophone, a series of rods lined up next to one another, strapped tight to a board.

Faultline was in her professional clothes; a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and black slacks tucked into shiny black riding boots with steel toes.  Her wavy black hair was tied back in a ponytail.  She wore no mask – those employees of Palanquin who ventured as far as this office were too well paid to turn on her.  Her features were perhaps too sharp to be called conventionally attractive, but Gregor knew she was certainly more attractive than Newter or himself.

As Gregor watched, she closed her eyes, then swiped her hand across the top ends of the rods.  Red and blue energy crackled, and coin-shaped pieces of wood, metal, stone and plastic fell to the desktop.  Other rods, several of which were green wood, were untouched.

“Fuck,” she muttered.  She swept the coin shaped bits of various materials into a trash can that sat beside her desk.  Glancing up at where Gregor stood just inside the doorway, she raised one eyebrow.

“I did not wish to interrupt you.”

“Don’t worry about it.  Maybe distracting me will help.”

“If you are sure.”  He approached the desk, setting the paper bag down on it, “It was seven o’clock, nobody had eaten yet.  I got us some sandwiches.”

“Thank you.  How’s Elle?”

“Spitfire said she was having a bad day, but she has eaten now.  Perhaps tomorrow will be better.”

Faultline sighed, “Let’s hope.  It’s very easy to let yourself grow attached to that girl, know what I mean?”


“Fuck!” she swore, as she swiped her hand over the rods and, again, the green wood refused to be cut.

“What are you doing?”

“We’ve talked about the Manton effect.”

“The rule that prevents some powers from affecting living things.  You have been trying to remove such restrictions from yourself.”

“Without luck.  It’s a matter of time before we’re on a job, things come down to the wire, and I’m too weak, because of this arbitrary limitation.”

“I find it hard to believe that anyone who has toppled a building on someone could call themselves weak.”

“That was luck more than anything else,” she sighed, as she adjusted the positions of the rods.

“If you say so.”

“It’s not like there isn’t precedent for this.  We know for a fact that some capes who were once held back by the Manton effect have figured out a way around it, or past it.  Narwhal being the most obvious case.”


“There’s a school of theory that says that the Manton effect is a psychological block.  That, because of our empathy for living things, we hold back our powers on an instinctual level.  Or, maybe, we hold back against other living things because there is a subconsciously imposed limitation that prevents us from hurting ourselves with our own powers, and it’s too general, encompassing other living things instead of only ourselves.”

“I see.”

“So I’m trying to trick my brain.  With this setup, I move from inorganic material to dead organic material to living tissues.  Green wood, in this case.  Or I mix it up so it goes from one to the other without any pattern.  If I can trick my brain into slipping up, anticipating the wrong material, maybe I can push through that mental block.  Do that once, and it’d be easier for future tries.  That’s the theory, anyways.”

She tried again.  “Fuck!”

“It does not seem to be working.”

“No kidding.  Do me a favor.  Rearrange these.  Don’t let me see them.”

He approached the desk, unstrapped the rods, shuffled them, and then strapped them in place while she sat there with her eyes closed.

“Go,” he told her.

She tried again, eyes still closed.  When she opened them, she cussed a few times in a row.

Gregor stepped around the desk, grabbed her by the throat with his left hand, and pulled her out of the chair.  He shoved her to the ground and climbed atop of her so he was straddling her, his knees pressing her arms down.  His grip tightened incrementally.

Faultline’s eyes widened and her face began to turn colors as she struggled.  She brought her knees up into his back, but one might have had more success hitting a waterbed.  The effect was the same.  Beneath his skin, which was tougher than one might guess, his skeleton, muscles and organs all sat in a sea of viscous fluids.  His skeleton, he’d learned, was more like a shark’s than a human’s.  It was a flexible cartilage that bent where bone would break, and healed faster than bone.  He’d been hit by a car and climbed to his feet shortly after.  Her kicks would not have much effect.

“I am sorry,” he told her.

Her struggles gradually became weaker.  It took some time before she started to go limp.

He waited a second longer, then released her.  She sputtered into a cough as she heaved air into her lungs.

He waited patiently for her to recover.  When she looked more or less in control of her own breathing, he spoke, “Months ago, we were talking about this subject, the Manton effect.  You mentioned how it might be possible for someone like us to have a second trigger event.  A radical change or improvement in their powers as a result of a life or death moment.  Such might explain how one broke the Manton rule.”

She nodded, coughing again.

“It would not have worked if I had warned you in advance.  I am sorry.”

She shook her head, coughed once, then answered him, her voice hoarse, “It didn’t work anyways.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What if it had worked, you big lunatic?  What did you expect me to do to you?  Cut off your hand?  Kill you?”

“I thought perhaps my hand or my arm, at worst.  I do not think you would kill me, even in a moment such as that.  You have done much for me.  Even if it proved impossible to reattach, I would not say it is a very attractive hand,” he examined the hand he’d just used to strangle Faultline, “To lose it, for something you have been working on for a long time is not a regrettable thing.”

“Idiot,” she pulled herself to her feet, coughing again, “How the hell am I supposed to get pissed at you when you say something like that?”

He stayed silent.

“Well, either that’s not going to work, or I need something that gets me even closer to death… in which case I’m scratching it off the list anyways.” She moved her chair and sat down at her desk, shoving the apparatus with the rods into the trash.  “I like being alive too much to dance on that razor’s edge.”

“Yes,” his voice was quiet.

“Thank you, by the way, for trying that” she told him, as she emptied the bag of one and a half sandwiches.  She returned Gregor’s half-sandwich to the bag and put hers aside, unopened.  “I don’t expect it was easy.”

He shook his head.

“So, returning a favor, then.  Sit down.”

He pulled a chair over and sat on the other side of the desk.

“A year ago, you agreed to give me a share of your earnings in our little group, if I put them towards answering some questions we had.”

“I remember.”

“I’ll talk to the others about this, soon, but since you were the one that paid the most, I thought it only right that I share with you first.”  She opened a drawer and retrieved a file.  She pushed it across the desk.  “This is what I’ve found, so far.”

He opened the file.  The first page was an image, high resolution, of a stylized ‘u’, or a ‘c’ turned ninety-degrees counter clockwise.  He touched his upper arm, where a tattoo identical to the image marked him.

“Whoever it is,” Faultline explained, “Whether it’s one person or many, is very, very good at covering their tracks.”

He turned the pages.  The next set of pages were pictures, crime scene reports, official files and news articles about various parahumans, each set of pages relating to a specific one.  The first was a monster of a man with a beetle-like shell covering his body.  Gregor himself was the second.

“You and Newter, you already know, aren’t alone.  On a steady basis, parahumans have been turning up across North America.  Retrograde amnesia, all marked by that same tattoo as you are on various parts of their body.  Each was dumped in an out of the way location in an urban area.  Alleys, ditches, rooftops, under bridges.”

“Yes.”  Gregor turned more pages.  Each set of pages had more individuals like him.

“Here’s the thing, though.  At first, most were strange in appearance.  As many as four out of five monstrous parahumans, if you’ll excuse the term, follow the pattern, and that number might increase if you got a chance to examine or get a decent interview with the others.  The tattoo, amnesia, their first memories are waking up somewhere in a strange city.”

“At first, you said?” Gregor asked, “This changed?”

“Turn to the red tab.”

He found the red tab that stuck out and turned to that page.  A high quality picture of an attractive redheaded girl.

“She showed up in Vegas.  The whole casino thing has bitten the dust, pretty much, since parahumans who could game the odds or cheat started showing up.  But there’s underground games, still.  She participated in a few, and had a bounty on her head in a matter of days.  She’s calling herself Shamrock, and I’d put good money on the fact that she’s got powers that let her manipulate probabilities.”

“I see.  Why are we talking about her?”

“Next page.”

He turned the page.  “Ah.”

It was a grainy surveillance camera image.  Shamrock was in the midst of changing clothes in what looked like an underground parking lot, and, though partially obscured by her bra strap, the tattoo was visible on her shoulderblade.  A stylized ‘u’.

“That’s puzzle piece number one.  Given the dates, and you’re free to look them over in your own time, going by the first sightings, the people that are showing up with these tattoos are getting less and less monstrous with each passing year.  Not always, but it’s a trend.  Then, boom, we get Shamrock.  No strange features to speak of.”

He turned ahead a few pages.

“Puzzle piece number two.  I’m afraid it’s one of those cases where things have been covered up too well for us to verify, but I’ll tell you what I heard.  Tallahassee, Florida, just three months ago, a rumor circulated about someone calling themselves the Dealer.”

“What was he dealing?”


“Powers,” Gregor echoed her.

“Pay him an amount in the neighborhood of thirty five thousand dollars, the Dealer gives you something to drink, and you join the ranks of the heroes and villains in the cape community.  Powers in a bottle.”

“I see.  How does this relate?”

“Because one individual claiming to be a customer made a blog post about his transaction.  It’s near the end of that file.  In his post, he described the Dealer as having a metal suitcase filled with vials. Engraved on the inside of the lid…”

“The same symbol as the tattoo,” Gregor guessed.

Faultline nodded, “And that’s where we stand.”

“I see.  Can we track down this individual with the blog?”

“He’s dead.  Murdered by two unnamed capes less than a day after he made the post.”


“What I think is that someone out there has figured out how people get powers, and they’ve made a business out of it.  But the first attempts didn’t go so well.  It could be that, if the chemistry is bad, the people who drink the stuff become like you, like Newter, like Sybill and Scarab.”

“So this person, or people.  You think they are experimenting.  They have been refining their work, and the physical changes have become smaller.”

“And this Dealer was either their salesman, or more likely, someone who stole some of their work and tried to profit from it.  The people he dealt to didn’t get the tattoos.”

Gregor’s chair groaned painfully as he leaned back.

“What is next?”

“No one’s seen or heard of this Dealer since the blog poster was murdered.  The Dealer’s either dead or gone to ground.  So we follow our other lead.  I’ve got private investigators looking for Shamrock.  I’m thinking we wrap up our contract with Coil, here, then, if we’re lucky enough that our PIs find her before the bounty hunters do, we pay her a visit. Either she can tell us something, or we can offer her a position on the team.”

“Or both,” he said.

“In an ideal world,” Faultline smiled.

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60 thoughts on “Interlude 5

  1. Interlude 5, featuring Faultline’s crew, in response to reader feedback saying you guys wanted to hear more about Gregor & Newter.

    So, guys, requesting a bit more feedback: Any interest in a cast page? It’d be one of the links beneath the picture at the top of the page, and I’d probably organize it by groups, compiling the info offered thus far in the story. I got feedback from an online buddy that there’s a lot of characters to keep track of, so it seems one way to handle it. That said, it’s a bit of work, with about 45-60 or so characters mentioned thus far, so I’d want to have some indication there’s interest before I got underway.

    Started my holidays, such as they are, and set myself the goal of writing one chapter a day, which is really spurred on by the comments I’ve been getting & the apparent number of new readers. I didn’t expect Worm to get a fraction of this much feedback with no advertising to speak of, so it’s pretty excellent. In any event, I may relax this self imposed challenge to one chapter per two days if I busier, travel and/or work over the remaining weeks of December, but I want to see how far I can get.

    • Hi! This is DPO, we just talked about your writing last post. I mentioned that I was finding it inspiring, and you said that you just wrote what you thought you would enjoy reading if you’d run across it.

      I have a present for you!

      Here you go:

      Way early stages, but since your work inspired it I’m hoping you might enjoy it. Thoughts/feedback/letting me use you as a sounding board would make me very happy.

    • I don’t really know how to leave just a regular comment so I’m replying to this;
      That said, I just began reading this yesterday morning, and I love it. I have been looking to read something like this for years, thank you. I sincerely wish I was even half as good at writing as you are.

  2. A cast page isn’t something that is terribly interesting to me personally mostly because I just keep to the story content. Also in my experience cast pages aren’t updated in a timely fashion so that when I want to use one it doesn’t have the character I’m looking for. Interesting interlude I would definitely be interested in hearing more about these people sometime.
    I have to say though being covered in narcotics most really cramp Newter’s sex life.

    • Alright, thanks for chiming in on the cast page.

      As for Newter, you’re right, but he seems to roll with it. Plus he has money, so I suppose he could go with something like a full-body condom or some such. 😀

  3. And so Gregor gets some character for all of us to see. A noble Blob who is willing to hire an assistant so he can thoughtfully provide for his friends. Willing to choke his boss to help her, unwilling to sleep with a hot woman who is attracted to him just because it might be for the wrong reason. Most of these villains we see are not quite so villainous.

    As for that point about the woman, it may not necessarily be because she seeks power over him. I once knew a person online who has a thing for monstrous looking beings. In this one case, only person I’ve ever heard express attraction to a Hutt.

    If you keep this up, we might need to hear more from the heroes’ point of view to figure out why we should be in any way sympathetic to them. The sisters brought up earlier just seem mean now. First one of them is willing to almost kill and violate the Geneva Convention dealing with a skinhead, then she causes property damage. Her sister, the healer, harms a villain despite claiming all she does is heal, AND tries to ruin a heist for no good reason. The money’s insured, nobody was going to get hurt, then BAM! POW! YODEL! Though I suppose it might be worth looking into if the FDIC operates the same way in a world with superheroes and supervillains, seeing as Vegas is no big deal there.

    • Interestingly, Gregor reminds me of some of those disgustingly “moral” heroes from old mythology — the “knight in shining armor” type who adheres fanatically to a moral code, even when he stands to gain by doing otherwise. I can’t stand those people as goody-two-shoes heroes, but it makes for a fascinating and very relatable “villain” character. With how the other characters act, it really makes one wonder about who the heroes and villains really are in this setting. He also resembles some parts of Stoic philosophy, especially his honesty and openness (in business dealings and among his team) and lack of angst (re: my superpowers make me ugly, woe is me). Granted, he might have been angsty earlier in his career, and we’re only seeing him after he has completely exhausted his supply of give-able fucks, but still.

  4. “Yep. My power lets me cut anything with a touch… so long as it isn’t alive. The Manton effect at work. It’s inconvenient, it makes me weak.”

    Whilst reading through, this line kind of stuck out as being a bit…unsubtle, in terms of authorial explanation. The Manton effect has already been explained earlier on in the text, so we really only need enough explanation to describe her specific problem. I can’t think of an easy way to fix the problem off the top of my head-maybe just make the first line more whiny, so it’s more of an ‘as you know’ statement? Anyway, didn’t mean to harp on this. The Interlude is a nice side-story with a good plot hook. Is the hook something you’ve got planned to be relevant to the main story, or is this just extra backstory that you’re planning to keep around until you get a use for it?

    • You’re right, chicken, that line was awkward, and it doesn’t state anything that’s not already covered in the chapter or elsewhere. I rewrote it.

      The hook is relevant to the setting in general, but I’m not thinking it will be relevant to the main story anytime soon. If I were to roughly sketch out the ideas I have on where the story might go, I’d probably say that this wouldn’t feature heavily in the remainder of ‘Book 1’, but it might well be an (possibly key) element in Book 2. And/Or in future Interludes, perhaps.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s important enough I’m not going to drop it permanently, but no plans to use it in the foreseeable future.

      Maybe it’s poor form to leave that story thread dangling like that, but I kind of wanted to touch on what’s going on there (and someone indicated some curiosity on that front, if I remember right, when people were raising ideas for the Interlude).

  5. hi I’ve been been reading for a few months now and just thought i would finally speak up. I’m curious to see how tattletale’s and shamrock’s powers would play-out together. I think it might be interesting to see more characters with subtle powers. Anyway awesome story, looking forward to next Tuesday. 🙂

  6. What about Lung and Glorygirl in regards to the Manton effect?

    Lung’s fire is capable of burning both objects and people just fine. Does that mean Lung has learned to work around the Manton effect?
    Glorygirl’s forcefield around herself stops both living things and inanimate people just fine and allows her to both break walls and kill people if she wanted to. Superstrength or no superstrength, if you punch someone with several tons of force and you aren’t invulnerable, your hand will break – so it is her forcefield that allows her to do what she does.

    • I think creating fire (than then happens to burn burnable things, like people) doesn’t fall under the penumbra of the Manton effect because the power is creating fire; the fire thus created isn’t a power in itself. (although the Manton effect would prevent him from creating fire inside someone, if he had that kind of fire creation)

      As for Glory Girl’s force fields, I suppose it’s much the same. The force fields are created in space, not inside a person, and then they happen to intersect with the outside of a person with expected kinetic results.

      • Yes, I pyrokinetic not subject to the Manton Effect (or on the other side of it, only able to effect living things) would be able to create a fire directly inside your body, cooking your brain with no chance to dodge or block (potentially a Striker power, one that requires contact with the target).

  7. Yeah, there are some clarifications needed for the Manton effect. It might be something as subtle as the difference between throwing fire at someone, or making someone burst into flames on their own, but then you have Panacea whose whole power is about other people. As for Glorygirl’s forcefield, maybe it’s a matter of not being able to spread it over someone else or put it up in such a way that it would cut through someone else. Kaiser can put armor over himself and make it grow in an offensive way, but he can’t armor someone else like that or just make metal appear in their body.

    I’ll attempt to put into words my idea on the Manton effect, though the phrasing may be awkward: Powers can not be affected upon another person, but they can effect the other person. I’m having trouble coming up with the best way to put something like that. You can’t give someone else your superstrength or forcefield, nor can you cut or light them on fire directly. You can, however, cut something that falls on them or toss fire at them.

    With some exceptions, like Panacea and a few others.

  8. Taliesinskye and Psychogecko are pretty on target. Though Kaiser’s power wouldn’t prevent him from growing armor -on- someone (which is essentially what he did when he trapped Lung in the pyramid of blades, only it was a more offensive use).

    The Manton effect essentially says that for most capes that does something at point X, or originates at point X, that point X can’t be inside another person. Different capes are affected by this to different degrees or not at all.

    Capes like Vista and Faultline are extreme cases of capes who are affected a great deal; Vista’s power affects an area, and it’s exponentially harder to use if there’s more people inside that area. This is mostly because her power is actually lots of little interconnected events, some of which are bound to fall inside people in the area. Faultline’s drawback is that she simply can’t affect another living thing with her power, period, likely because she’s extending her power into whoever or whatever she’s touching to sever molecular bonds and ‘cut’ them.

    On the flip side of the coin, for capes with powers that wouldn’t work if they couldn’t reach inside other living things, the Manton effect doesn’t usually apply. Taylor’s one such case. If the Manton effect was as severe in her case as it was for Faultline, she wouldn’t be able to extend her power to the bugs’ minds (such as they are) to control them or get intimate details on their biology and locations… so she wouldn’t have a power at all. Panacea and Regent are other examples of this at work.

    In the end, though, scholars in the setting haven’t fully researched and understood the Manton effect and why it exists. So the fact that there’s some confusion on the matter (to the point we may be talking about different effects that are all being (erroneously?) gathered under the same umbrella) is perfectly ok.

  9. Hmm, I wonder if Skitter could affect the various bugmen? I know that she said that it had to do with the size of the brain involved, but how certain is that?

      • hm. i see potential plot options for Skitter walking into range of such a person without knowing it, and finding out in various embarrassing fashions…

  10. Ethics?

    Liked this chapter, definitely. I’m one that would definitely go for a ‘cast’ page (otherwise known as Dramatis Personae or some such). Definitely including a ‘whose with who’ bit, so I can keep all of these various teams apart.

      • Just depends on the ethical system she’s using. I’d say she leans more towards care ethics. Basically, whatever helps you to become your ideal self as a caring human being. It’s ok to do wrong, so long as it helps the ones you care for, though it doesn’t mean that to be a free license to do whatever you want. We’re certainly not dealing with deontology or virtue ethics here, though an argument could be made that she attempts a more utilitarian ethical system at times.

  11. I really like this chapter. I like G greatly and N is pretty okay too. Truthfully I want to follow their story more than Taylor’s. Not that I dislike Worm, of course, just that I would like to read “Monster” too.

  12. It would be fun if this team got more screentime. They’re all interesting, and I especially like the chemistry (heh) between Newter and Gregor.

  13. Ah, yes. Faultline’s crew. Their members didn’t have tons of characterization, their group didn’t even have a name, yet they were intriguing enough for fans to appreciate them in a single arc. Shame they never really take the spotlight after this interlude, unless you count another interlude or two.

    It’s neat to see heroes and such get mentioned in passing when you know they’ll come up again later. It gives hope to me that some of the minor capes that got mentioned that I’d like more detail on will get more detail before the end of the story.

      • Sorry.

        Wildbow writes a lot of great side characters, but his side character game is best in Worm. A big part of that is because he took a while to figure out a protagonist for the story; loads of side characters were protagonists or secondary characters in older drafts. Wildbow made a blog post full of the more presentable drafts (and descriptions of the others).

  14. Ef hitt tungumálið sem Gregor mælir á er Íslenska munum vér lesendur einhvern tímann sjá hann blóta á því máli?

    (English translation because Google Translate from Icelandic sucks: If the other language that Gergor speaks is Icelandic will we readers curse in that language?)

  15. Hello
    I’ve started reading through worm and I really love it.
    You do a great job at depicting things from multiple sides, and your style switch-ups in the interludes are awesome. Thanks for making such a cool online super world and making it so real

  16. One of the most interesting things about this story, for me, is how well the age of the setting shows in the characters and the plot. The Protectorate/Ward system, New Wave, the Undersiders, Empire Eighty Eight, the ABBs, and now Faultline’s crew… they don’t just fill the niches they’ve been assigned in the present, they have history, both individually and with one another, and it shows. Even in a talk-heavy installment like this one, the way you share that information (specific past events, open questions, individual adaptations like Gregor’s errand runners and Newter’s drug dealing) feels natural and organic. It shows us the depth of the history without burying us in it. That’s an extremely powerful skill, and one that’s dangerous to attempt without sufficient expertise- and you keep on nailing it.

  17. Is there any place where I can ask you questions about this chapter without having to worry about censoring myself regarding to spoilers? I think some of the Faultline Crew and C stuff first mentioned here are some of few questions still not completely answered.

  18. New favourite person by far: Faultline.
    New second favourite person: Gregor.

    Also, I bet the mysterious people who have learned to bottle superpowers is connected to the Undersiders’ boss somehow. It makes sense to unify mysterious elements to keep the story from growing exponentially complex.

      • I haven’t noticed many spoilers at all. Some or most of that might be Wildbow cleaning them up, but I think a lot of what you you’re perceiving as spoilers are speculation, wild mass guessing. While some of it is remarkably accurate, far more is very far from what actually happens and there’s no way to tell which is which (I can only remember one accurate one so far, off the top of my head). In short, I think it’s safe to read the comments, and they add a lot to the reading experience (even more so later on in the story).

  19. “In front of her [Faultline], in the midst of ledgers, notebooks and university textbooks, was something that looked similar to a xylophone, a series of rods lined up next to one another, strapped tight to a board.”

    Ledgers? Rather old-fashioned. Try “financial reports” or the more general “computer print-outs”.

  20. And the big, ugly.plot.rears.its multiheaded… Head?

    Rereading this.chapter was almost as inspiring as.the.first.time around.

  21. Hey wildbow, im really late to the party i guess, but i just wanted to comment on a few similarities. The „trigger events“ to get powers reminded me of Brandon Sanderson‘s Mistborn and I was wondering whether you took any inspiration from that? In turn, I was wondering if Brandon read Worm before writing the Reckoners series in a very similar setting. Funny how the similarities go both ways

  22. It’s really intriguing, but one of the strongest elements of your writing is how quickly you’re able to invest us in people that seem like side characters.

    From the onset of the arc, I didn’t think characters like Newter or Labryinth would be really interesting, but I quickly found myself growing very invested in them as a whole.

    That’s not without saying there was some really depressing moments with Taylor confronting Emma, as well getting to see some great character development with Bitch. Plus the way Taylor beat Lung was genius, I did not see that coming at all.

    The ending interlude wrapped it all up with a bow, and I actually legitmately want to see more of Gregor the Snail. He’s really interesting and I applaud that you managed to do that in just one chapter.

    Great stuff as usual.

  23. Reading this, I wonder if Taylor’s already been through another trigger event. She mentions that her range of controlling bugs is larger than before in 5.5, after the trauma with the school in 5.4. It’s not the dramatic change that Faultline was hoping for, but if it is one, it raises the question of whether these (relatively) smaller trigger events could recur.

    Not that I hope Taylor will go through any more trauma, but how realistic is that hope?

    • Second trigger events could easily be used as a cheap way to power up characters, like a new Super Saiyan hair dye. It isn’t. More than that would spoil, but “Wildbow doesn’t take the easy path” seems safe.

  24. “I see. Can we track down this individual with the blog?”
    “He’s dead. Murdered by two unnamed capes less than a day after he made the post.”

    Not even a mysterious disappearance or an attempt to discredit the author? Sloppy work for a shadowy cabal committing human experiments or whatever. I guess even the best have off days. Even in a superhero world, you can’t expect anyone to be able to do literally any task.

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