Tangle 6.8

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We didn’t dally, stopping only to let Bitch direct her dogs into three separate vans Coil had waiting at the back of the garage.  Once that was done, we all rushed to the vehicle Coil had waiting, an armored limousine.  It wasn’t too different from a regular limousine, but the sides and top were flat, and the front end was squatter.  All in all, it gave the general impression of something exceedingly solid.

I wondered if it was too conspicuous.  It was distinctive enough that it Could make us too easy to track.  Coil didn’t seem like a stupid guy, though, and time was short enough that we couldn’t afford to take the time to debate it.  I climbed inside after Grue, keeping my mouth shut for the time being, and my eyes open for details.

The interior was all black leather, the windows tinted dark.  Coil’s black costume against the black background made him rather hard to make out as he settled into a chair at the far end, his back to  the driver’s seat.  If I squinted a little, it looked like only the snake stenciled on his costume was there, hovering in empty space.  We seated ourselves on the leather cushioned bench that lined one side of the limousine.  Trickster, the only Traveler to come with us, sat at the far end, facing Coil.

“My dogs-” Bitch started.

“Will be taken care of, I assure you,” Coil replied.  “You will find your dogs and the vans you used to arrive awaiting you when you depart.”

Bitch pursed her lips, looking angry, but didn’t say anything.

“I wish,” Coil told us, “To perform a small demonstration.  Because I would prefer to establish a few things before I move on to discussing the larger picture.”

He reached into a cup holder to his left and retrieved a roll of quarters.  He undid one end of the roll, then doled out a number of quarters into his palm.  “If you would catch these and place them on the backs of your hands.”

He flipped a coin in Tattletale’s direction.  She caught it and slapped it against the back of her hand, “Heads.”

“Heads,” Grue said, as he caught the next.

Coil double checked I was ready to catch it, then threw it my way.

“Heads,” I spoke, as I slapped it down.

And heads again for Bitch and Regent.

I leaned forward, reached behind me, and retrieved my coinpurse.  I found a silver dollar, showed Coil, and then flipped it.  I caught it and slapped it down.  Heads.  I nodded.

“Probability manipulation?” I asked him, “Enhanced luck?”

He shook his head, “No.  Just the opposite, Skitter.  I control destinies.  I decide outcomes.”

“That still sounds like probability manipulation to me,” I said.

Tattletale leaned forward, to look past Grue and face me, “No.  Well, it is, but only in the biggest, bluntest sense.  But I can vouch that he’s telling the truth, vague as it is.”

“When I asked what his powers were, at the meeting, you said you didn’t know,” I accused her.

“No,” she shook her head, “I said I couldn’t say.  Which is true.  One of the contingencies for my getting to be part of the Undersiders and get the funding he offered was that I would keep the details a secret, and I’ve got to do that until he says otherwise, sorry.”

Coil placed his elbows on the armrests and steepled his fingers in front of his mouth, or where his mouth would be if his mask showed any part of his face.  “I feel that keeping potential enemies in the dark is a necessity.  To those ends, rather than risk having her as an enemy, I sought out your Tattletale and hired her, with enough incentive to keep her loyal and silent on the matter.”

“And us?” Grue asked.

“I won’t mince words, Grue,” Coil answered, “My choice to form the Undersiders was a gambit.  If you failed, got yourselves killed, injured or arrested, then that simply meant there would be less parahumans in this city for me to be concerned about.  That isn’t to say I didn’t assist you or that I attempted to steer you towards failure.  I did just the opposite.  All I mean to say is that I was prepared for the eventuality.”

Grue tilted his head slightly, “And if we succeeded?”

“Then you naturally find yourselves sitting here, proven to be capable,” Coil leaned back.  “Worthy to hear my proposal, as the Travelers already have.”

“I can’t help but notice you didn’t test them the same way you tested us,” Grue spoke, “We’ve worked for you for nearly a year.”

“The Travelers have an established track record.  With this in mind, I contacted them and requested they come to Brockton Bay.  They heard my offer, and I was hoping Trickster might give his reply tonight.”

All eyes turned to Trickster.  He didn’t hurry to reply.  He reached into the fold of his jacket, found a pack of cigarettes, tapped one out, placed it inside the mouth-slit of his mask and lit up.  He placed one hand on his hat to keep it in place as he rolled down the window to blow the smoke outside.

“If you’re not bullshitting, if you’re making a good faith attempt at providing a fix, we’re in,” Trickster spoke, not looking at Coil.

“Excellent,” Coil replied, not twitching a muscle.  There wasn’t an iota of surprise there.

“Fix?” I asked Trickster.

“That guy,” Trickster tilted his head in Coil’s direction, “Is offering my team a temporary solution to an ongoing problem, with promises that he’s going to look into a possible permanent fix.”

“Vague,” Regent spoke.  Trickster shrugged.

I couldn’t quite get a sense of these guys.  I spoke up, “This wouldn’t have anything to do with what your teammate said about you guys pulling a ridiculous number of jobs, like you’re trying to fill a bottomless pit with cash?”

He turned to one side to let out a long exhalation of smoke, then answered, “My teammate needs to keep her mouth shut about private business.”

Which, in no uncertain words, meant I should drop the subject, and that I was probably right.  Probably not my best call, raising a subject pretty much guaranteed to touch a nerve.

“So,” Grue spoke to Coil, “You’ve provoked our curiosity, which I’m sure was your intent.”

“Yes.  First off, let me show you what I desire,” Coil spoke.  He touched a button beside the cup holders to his left, and the windows rolled down.  I looked outside, and saw the darkness of a tunnel.  As we left the tunnel, we found ourselves overlooking the rest of the city.  The bay and the city both were spread out beyond us, a cityscape lit up by constellations of orange-yellow and white dots and the faint light of the moon above.

I looked back to Coil, and saw him gesturing to the open window.

“The city?” I asked him.

“The city, yes.  Desiring to take over the world is not only cliche, but unrealistic,” he replied, his voice sibilant, smooth.  “I will, for the time being, content myself with seizing this city for myself.  Cliche still, I might admit, but rare few do even this with any measure of success.

“Isn’t it kind of obvious you’re trying to do that already?” Regent asked him.

“Perhaps, but contrary to popular expectations, I do not aim to limit my control to the organized crime of Brockton Bay.  I would control everything.  Government, courts, law enforcement, business, and much more.”

“Ambitious,” Grue spoke.  I thought I might have heard a change in his tone of voice.  Doubt?

“Quite.  But rest assured, Undersiders, I am already moving into my endgame.”

“Endgame?” I asked.

Think, Skitter.  Who are the major players in this city?  What has changed?  The ABB is wiped out, with the very plan I proposed at the meeting.  Empire Eighty-Eight is reeling from the plays I made today, and I fully expect to finish them off in the coming weeks, hopefully with the assistance of you, the Travelers, and my other recruits.  The Wards and the Protectorate are in a tenuous position, now.  I took steps to ensure the public knows their heroes played only a partial role in stopping the ABB, and your actions tonight served to shake confidence in them further.  If the matter is pushed further, I expect there will be a restructuring of the group structure.  Perhaps members will be exchanged with other nearby Protectorate groups, someone else might be put in charge, new rules, regulations and quotas put in place.  Whatever the case, it will be some time before they regain their footing and re-establish their reputation.  By the time this occurs, I will be settled in my new role.”

He let that sink in.  “Who else is left?  New Wave isn’t in a position to take control.  They are powerful but too controversial, with even less trust from the public than the Protectorate.  The Merchants under Skidmark’s leadership are too weak and self centered to make a serious play.  Faultline’s group is mercenary, and conservative use of my power has made me an exceedingly wealthy man, leaving me the option of purchasing her cooperation if and when it is necessary.”

“There are scarce few who are in a position to impede me, as I make my play, and I’m not only speaking of capes.  I’ve quietly been purchasing properties throughout the Docks and will aggressively purchase more in the final stages of my plan.  Two of the three mayoral candidates for this June’s election were bought and brought to this city by me, much as I purchased my elite soldiers to aid me in controlling the streets and hampering the Empire’s business.  The city council has its elections in September, I will have similar agents placed throughout by then, as well.  When I say I am nearly finished, I am not speaking in ambiguities.  I am saying that the dominoes have been set up and the first of them are already falling.”

Well, I thought, there goes any doubt I had about the Protectorate not caring what was up with the Undersider’s sponsor.  Shit.  Was he really that close?

“Leaving only you and your role in this,” Coil finished.

“Which is?” Grue inquired, a challenging note in his voice.

“Taking over this city is pointless if I do not keep it, Grue.  I hand picked you Undersiders because I needed allies who were comfortable being situated in the North end, the Docks, the Boardwalk, the Trainyard, the outskirts to the North.  I picked you because I saw you had potential, yet you were not so high profile as to demand the immediate attention of authorities.  This freed you to be overlooked until you were more established.  It allowed you to grow both practiced and comfortable as a team, and to establish a reputation for yourselves.  In my efforts against Kaiser, I have not only been whittling away at his Empire, but I have worked to keep him occupied so you would not be sandwiched between two major factions in the early stages of your group.  You had only the ABB to deal with, and you held your own for nearly a year.  Skitter joining your group was sufficient to tip the balance.”

“So.  If you accept this deal, I would have you control the Docks and the surrounding area.  You’re not overly disliked, you’ve proven yourselves resourceful and capable.  I would have you guard against any parahuman trespassers and squash any gangs or groups in your territory, should they not submit themselves to my command and control.  If this project proved to be a success, I would have you be my agents in expanding to nearby cities.  But I digress, that is long term, only a possibility.”

“And what do we get in all this?” Regent asked.

Coil replied, “I expect that wealth and power go without saying.  Beyond that, I leave it to you to name your terms.  As I explained what I desire, I leave it up to you to decide what you would ask for, in exchange for your cooperation.”

Nobody hurried to reply.  We exchanged glances with one another, trying to gauge each other’s reactions.  Trickster finished his cigarette, tossed it out the window and rolled the window up.

Coil broke the silence, “Bitch.  I am aware of your collection of dogs.  More than one isolated building containing strays and dogs due to be euthanized.  Animals that you rescued, retrieved and gave shelter.”

All attention turned to Bitch.  She looked angry, opened her mouth to speak, but Coil interrupted her before she could.

“No.  I would not interfere with your business.  I respect your passion.  But at the same time, I know it likely pains you, that you have only so much time to spare, to visit these locations, to feed these animals you have rescued and give them the individual attention and care they need.”

Bitch glared at him.  If looks could kill.

“I could provide the resources you need, to fully equip the buildings and make them comfortable for the dogs.  Assistants to care for the animals and work under you as you see fit.  I would have the city give the same sort of funding to anyone who adopts a sheltered animal that is provided to foster parents, with oversight, of course, to ensure that the animals are being properly cared for, that the system is not gamed.  There would be no more dogs cooped up in shelters, awaiting euthanasia.  What would you say to that?”

“I’d say you’re fucking with me.”

He didn’t press the issue, instead, he turned to the next member of our group.  “Regent.  A hard young man to please, because you grew up wanting for nothing, and you expect largesse, luxury and idle entertainment as a matter of course.”

“What do you know about how I grew up?” Regent challenged him.

“I know what the Protectorate knows.  Not long after Lung was brought into custody, Armsmaster began pushing for details on your group.  Staff at the PRT offices were tasked with looking through old criminal records and reports of lesser known parahumans, trying to find parallels.  Find if perhaps a supervillain in another area perhaps moved to Brockton Bay, changing their names, costumes and methods.  They found you.”

“Ah,” Regent leaned back in his seat.  “Shit.”

“So I know who you are.  I know that you went out of your way to get out from your father’s thumb, and that it’s quite likely that a part of you is driven to prove yourself to him, to pursue success, power and status in our circles.”

“His father?” I asked.

“Not my story to tell,” Coil waved a hand, “I leave it for Regent to share at a later date, if he chooses.  All I mean to say is that I can give you that, Regent.  Status and notoriety, perhaps enough to rise above your old man.”

Regent nodded once, but didn’t say anything.  I would have liked to see his expression behind his mask.

“You must understand, Undersiders, I do not use fear as Lung did, or manipulation as Kaiser does.  I would have you work alongside me because you know I am the person that is best equipped to provide what you desire, and that nobody else can or will give you a better offer.”

“Which sounds nice, sure,” I countered.  Could I poke holes in this plan, maybe derail it? “But I haven’t quite forgotten that you just told us you were fully prepared for us to screw up somewhere along the way, and that you would have been perfectly okay with it happening.  You would’ve shrugged, said ‘less capes to deal with’ and you would have dropped us and walked away.”

Coil nodded, “This is true.”

“So if we screw up later, it’s going to be the same thing?”

“No,” Coil spoke. Then he paused for a moment.  “I understand your concern, but I have already informed you of a great deal, here.  If you were arrested, or if half your team perished in action, it would be dangerous to abandon you, because you could divulge key information.  This will continue to be the case.”

I nodded, slowly, “Except you could provide false information to us, or stop providing key info.”

“Look to Tattletale for the answer to that.  I may have purchased her assistance, but I expect you consider her a friend, and vice versa.  You could, I hope, trust her to verify that what I tell you is truth, and to know more about my plan that I divulge, in any case.”

So if I wanted to argue the point further, it’d look like I didn’t trust Tattletale.  I wasn’t sure I liked that, but I nodded.  “Alright.”

“Skitter,” Coil spoke.  “I came prepared, tonight, with offers in mind for the rest of your team.  I can help care for Bitch’s collections of rescued dogs, and help ensure less animals need rescue in the future.  Grue is relying on me for a personal matter, and he knows that my taking power can only ensure that things go his way without difficulty. You, and you alone, Skitter, have me wondering what you desire, at the end of things.”

Tattletale, to my left, leaned forward again, interest clear on her face.

I had to be convincing.  No way was I going to let something slip past the radar and alert Tattletale now.  So I gave it a serious think.

I kind of hoped someone would break the silence while I took the time to consider, maybe even distract from me, but nobody did.  Everyone patiently waited, putting me at the focus of all attention, a spot I hated being in, in or out of costume.

“The city,” I replied, being careful to be as genuine as possible, to avoid alerting Tattletale, “You want to control it.  Fine.  I want you to make it work.  Fix up the Docks so they aren’t a shithole.  Give people work.  Clean up the drug trade, or the hard drugs at least.  Straighten out the asinine bureaucracy of the government and schools and all that.  That sort of thing.”

Coil shook his head, “Not something I can offer you in good conscience, dear Skitter.”

He raised his hand to stop me before I could open my mouth.  Not that I was going to, but he did.  “What you’re talking about, I already intended to do, in large part. To give it to you as a gift would be little different than offering you an amount in cash, when I already intend to give you as much money as you require.”

“So you’re going to improve Brockton Bay,” I said, carefully.

“Don’t get me wrong.  I will not claim to be a good person – I assure you I am not.  That said, you are likely to discover I am a proud man.  I would consider it a catastrophic failure on my part if this city did not thrive under my rule, a tremendous blow to my ego.”

I nodded.

He continued, “Our desires on individual subjects may differ, however.  I would argue there will always be crime, always be drugs.”

“I’m not saying there won’t.  I’m just saying that there’s room for improvement.  When I was in grade six, more of my classmates could explain what a K-hole was than name a dozen countries.”

“I am not promising quick fixes, Skitter.  What I will tell you is that individuals like yourselves would control territories and be responsible for maintaining your own kind of order in those areas, with whatever means you saw fit.  Over time, people would adjust to this, crime rates would decrease.  I would simultaneously be controlling the flow of product into the city, reducing the distribution of the most problematic drugs, those that would lead to the most societal decay and crime, while making other, more benign product available in their place.  Crime and drugs cannot be conquered, but they are animals I believe I can tame.”

“And the city itself?” I asked.  I thought of my dad, “Fixing the ferry?”

“Yes.  Rest assured, if you were to accept my offer, I would fully expect you to contact me and speak up at any time you felt I was not following through in any department.  I might be a proud man, but I would rather you injure that pride, even provoke it intentionally, rather than let me be complacent.”

I nodded once, slowly.

“I have said my piece, then.  I leave you to consider it, Undersiders.  I recognize that this is not what you signed on for, in the beginning.  I know it might not have the same appeal in the scope of costumed hijinks, and I’m prepared for the fact that that this might lead you to refuse this offer.  All I hope is that if you do refuse me, if you decide you are more comfortable as simple uncommon criminals, that our prior arrangement will stand.”

“You’ve invested this much in us, and if we say no, we can just walk away?”  Regent asked him.

Coil spread his hands a bit, “What would you see me do?  Murder you?  Threaten you?  Orchestrate an arrest?  There is no guarantee any attempt on my part would be wholly successful, whatever I chose, and you may count it as a compliment that I would not want any of you escaping the attempt and coming after me as a dedicated adversary.”

He knocked on the window behind him.  Immediately, the limousine slowed down and pulled over.  As I glanced outside, I saw we were in the Docks.

“Think on the subject.  Discuss it and get back to me with your reply, the sooner the better, no later than a week from now.  Tattletale, it should be obvious, but I formally free you from all stipulations in your contract requiring you to keep my identity as your sponsor private.  You may give my contact information to your teammates.”

“Sure thing,” Tattletale replied.

“And before I forget, I arranged individual accounts for each of you with a supervillain banker by the name of The Number Man, as paying for tonight’s job in bills, naturally, was unfeasible.  My men will provide you with your account information and the instructions for accessing these accounts as you retrieve your dogs.”

Grue extended a hand, “I’m not sure what we’ll do, whether we’ll take this deal, but it’s been good working with you thus far, and I hope to continue.”

Coil took Grue’s hand and shook it, firm, “Likewise, Grue, Undersiders.”

We departed the vehicle.  We were on the West end of the Docks, judging by how far the water was, and how close we were to the mountains that surrounded the city.  Parked behind the limousine were three vans, each with two of Coil’s soldiers standing by, alert.

As we walked by the end of the armored limousine, a soldier passed out envelopes to each of us.

We continued walking, and Bitch opened each door we passed, letting the dogs out.  They were smaller, now.  Judas, the tallest, only came up to my shoulder.  Their external muscle, wet and wrinkled, hung off them like excess skin on a person who had lost a great deal of weight.  The interiors of the vans were spattered with more excess flesh, blood and bone that had been shed.  The final stage would be the dogs shucking off the last of the excess mass, revealing their normal shapes nested deep within, dry within a membrane, virtually untouched by the injuries they had sustained over the night.

As the last of the dogs, Angelica, was released and the vans and limousine pulled away, we headed back to the loft.  Each of us too busy sorting through our own thoughts and dilemmas to be distracted with conversation, so it was remarkably quiet.

I have it.  I’ve got what I need.

I just didn’t know how I felt about it.

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61 thoughts on “Tangle 6.8

  1. Ok, the guy makes a compelling offer, without being a racist. Plus, I’m not too sure he can be stopped by them. Sounds tough. Real tough to control the heroes in the city. And there will be heroes. If the group there’s wiped out, that makes the place a major target for the heavy hitters.

    And Skitter’s real desire for so long was to be a hero. I’m sure a guy with this much pull might just manage an arragement where she does join up in one of them with a deal, and quickly winds up in the leadership for Brockton Bay.

    The whole secretive part of it reminds me of Wanted. The graphic novel, of course. The movie they named Wanted shares only that name as resemblance. Villains take over the world, but keep it secret so that heroes from outside don’t realize it and come to save the place from them. Also, hints of Order of the Stick there when Nale’s father reveals that the thing that all those epic hero stories say is that there’s always an evil empire that’s been in power for a long time and has great control. When the guy leading it is killed by the hero, he doesn’t think about how bad the past 10 minutes were, he thinks about how awesome the last 20 years were.

    Now that’s deep-seeming. For good to triumph, evil must win. With the angel and demon on Taylor’s shoulders fighting, I guess we’ll see how things go. To think, now I’m more confident Taylor will try to be a hero than I was before she was offered everything she ever.

    • Really? I’m not so certain. This set-up has always been the kind of thing where it’s implied Taylor might swing either way, but we just got a hammer AND anvil here. The potential bonuses, the implications that Taylor could make Brockton Bay a nicer place and that she can safely disagree with Coil, those are all nice enough. But the terrifying thing is Coil’s powers over destiny. Taylor’s position is tenuous-her contact is an overly proud jerk who is willing to screw her over if she can’t get him what he wants, her team-mate is psychic, the Undersiders know where she lives. On top of that, every single step Taylor has gotten closer to bad-guydom has been due to specific circumstances. Between Tattletail and Coil, it is possible that every single action taken by Taylor since the start of the story has been loosely orchestrated by them. Think about that possibility, and tell me that we haven’t got at least a few more twists ahead of us. It would also serve to explain how Lisa’s completely unknown power has failed to pick up on Taylor’s motivations.

      • Oh yes. Why does she want to be a hero? The honor and respect? The chance to do some good? Coil is playing the Jonny Marcone card, the honorable criminal that’s the less bad option. The thing is, he’s still a criminal and there’s very little to hold him to his promises. He can’t lose an election if he fails to keep his campaign pledges.

        Also, the police and heroes would react extremely badly to “losing control” of a city. We’re talking about extremely determined FBI agents digging at the money trail and serious heavy hitters from the Protectorate.

        • Taylor wants to be a hero because she feels it’s better than being a villain. You know, for moral reasons. Taylor still believes that the “good” villains and “evil” heroes (Undersiders, Armsmaster) are extremely rare; she’s half-right, at least, judging by Empire 88 and the like.

          And from Coil’s description he’s going to be taking control of the city pretty subtly, dividing between under-the-table control of the city officials, money, and various groups of supervillains controlling the streets.

      • is this world one where politicians who break campaign pledges don’t get reelected? man, i dunno if i can suspend my disbelief quite that far… 😛

        Taylor’s got a lot of problems, here. she can try to turn Coil in, but the protectorate might not even listen to her, much less cut a deal for the info; even if they do, they might not be able to stop Coil, at least in the short term; and even if they can, letting him win might be the utilitarian solution, providing the best outcome for the greatest number of people.

        yeah, losing control of the town might shake the higher-up levels of authority to the point of bringing in the really big guns — IF they even notice it’s happened. if Coil can play eminence grise well enough, they might not. especially if there’s no chaos or anarchy, which he says he doesn’t want, then the rest of the protectorate might not have any excuse to interfere.

        so now, for our antivillain protagonist, it’s principles against pragmatism. will she try to do good, or be good?

    • It’s too obvious of a best path for it to be the one taken, is my thought. If it was, we’d all have a pretty good idea how the rest of the story was going to go as this plan is accomplished, perhaps with a difficulty here or there.

  2. Man the one question I would have asked Coil is why? Why control a city and what will you do with it? What’s in it for you. I agree that his “destiny manipulation” might indeed have something to do with Taylor’s gradual slide to the dark side. It will be so interesting to find out what happens next. I think I’m going to go reread the archives for Coil hints.

    • Would it be so blatant, though? What does an ability to manipulate destiny actually mean? Or is that hyperbole?

      A cookie for the person with the closest guess. 🙂

      • I think the sentence “I decide outcomes.” is pretty telling. To me, that implies that he sees possible futures, or specific sets of future circumstances, and can simply select one and bend his will toward making that happen. How scarily powerful this ability is will be determined by how far forward he can look and the size and shape of future circumstances that are “visible” to him. If he can see, say, a successful bank heist going off and try to make it happen, but can’t see how it will happen, or the full scope of its consequences in the short or long term, then he might well act much as he has thus far.

        Moreover, if he has any kind of limitation on predicting the results of outcomes that he rings about, then he might well value any way to grab a little more predictive power or information on the way, which helps explain why he’d value Tattletale’s ability so highly.

        If my theory’s anything like correct, though, an ability to select an outcome and either cause it to occur or encourage it to do so doesn’t grant the ability to do anything strictly impossible. The coin can land heads, or tails, or even edge on, but Coil can’t make it vanish in midair. Then again, a power limited to engineering possible outcomes isn’t particularly limiting if you have an army of parahumans at your disposal.

      • Also, I somewhat doubt that Coil’s ability, whatever it may be, will invalidate free will. He can dictate the physical consequences of actions predicated on decisions, but not the decisions themselves. That would seem to be a violation of the Manton Effect.

      • I’m going to assume it’s a little bit of Erworld-style Luckamancy here. Where did he pull those Heads for the coins from? Most likely, those coins, if flipped now,a re going to come up Tails more than they should. Kind of like he can shift the probability, but there has to be something else to balance it out, even to the point of making one individual’s destiny better at the cost of people around them.

      • It means you see the ripples where they cross, and how the threads wind together on the loom. You know which string to pluck and which one to leave alone. You don’t know 100% if that’s how it’s going to work but because you have such a broad view, it doesn’t matter if you lose this one small thing… time is on your side here.

  3. The other thing that Taylor should consider is whether supporting the status quo is good. We’ve already seen that the city coming apart at the seams. Of course, we only have a very limited perspective on that. Still, if most capes use their superpowers to either fight crime or be a part of it, there’s probably a lot of room for improvement.

    The team should probably ask what their new responsibilities would be and how Coil treats his men now, but if I were in their shoes, I’d be leaning towards accepting the deal.

    On the ability to “manipulate destiny,” I’ll assume that everybody is telling the truth. My guess is that, if somebody considers herself on his side, he can manipulate discrete events to go in his favor. His biggest limitations are probably line-of-sight manipulation and the Manson Effect. If it were wider than that, he should’ve been able to make more specific promises.

  4. Well here’s my take on destiny manipulation. No one really cares about the destiny of a tree. So I assume Coil’s power is more about affecting people. Lets say Coil’s power starts at the most basic interest level, himself. after all he would be pretty interested in his own destiny and if he were the protagonist instead of Taylor, so might we. So he gets to choose what he wants to be he gets more information on what his choices lead to. If person X is on my side I’ll have a better shot at accomplishing goal A. For person X to be on my side they have to be a certain person. It would help them become that person if they made choices W Y Z at these points in their life. If I do B C D it will make the choices W Y Z more likely to be chosen. That hopefully isn’t too abstract and you get what I’m trying to say. If he gets more power over the city and what not, this would of course increase his ability to influence other people’s destinies which increases his ability to manipulate his own in the way he wants it.

    So in conclusion I think Castronaut and I are pretty much on similar wavelengths. Though I will go super conspiracy nut here and say what if coil knew to drive or have someone drive or even buy a certain person drinks so that their car collides with a certain other car. Thus depriving a potential ally the love and support of not only her mother but also her best friend. After all if Taylor wasn’t getting emotional support almost entirely from the Undersiders crew she might not be as easy to manipulate.

    Yeah I went there.

  5. I’ve done a Destiny controller in a story before, though probably at a larger scale than Coil. She could declare an event, say, that person X died in a plane crash. From the declaration and forth, a multitude of coincidences would happen, each potentially leading to this result, until the event happened. I.e. said person’s flight could be delayed an hour or two, just enough to happen upon a freak storm. Or, if the plane had bogus and faulty parts, they’d just happen to break down when he was on instead of later. If he decided to change flights, the other plane would happen to be in a worse condition or one hijacked to be crashed unto the city. If he decided not to board a plane at all, the plane that does crash just happens to crash on his building. And so on and so forth.
    Free will would never get altered or forced but the end result would still be declared in advance regardless of what decisions were taken and without actually impossible events taking place; coincidence would just stretch to accomodate the results and the result would arrive through different means fitting to the decisions taken.

  6. idunno about the whole “destiny controller” idea; it seems too much like a contradiction in terms. if the notion of “destiny” (any somehow pre-ordained outcome to events) even makes sense, that would seem to rule out free will in such a way as to make “controlling destiny” nonsensical. plus, it’d make that character near-omnipotent, which Coil clearly isn’t or he’d not be so meticulous about contingency planning. i’m probably just way overthinking what i think the word “destiny” does (or should) mean.

  7. Here’s how I see things;
    Order: the laws of the universe before which all are equal and define what is possible.
    Destiny: the events that provide our range of choices for each moment
    Free Will: our ability to recognize and choose among a given range of actions.
    Chaos: the randomness/luck inherent in every action.

    All of the above are coexistent and none are mutually exclusive. For example, Order says that a normal human flying unaided is impossible. They also say that beyond a given force of impact a normal human would die. This does not invalidate Free Will at all, even though you can’t choose to fly off the top of Empire State Building, or choose to survive the impact if you jump. Neither does Destiny invalidate Free Will when it says “person X was born in a poor family” or “person Y was born with a genetic defect that will kill them in their teens” or “a hurricane will hit the city. Ten thousand shall die”. You don’t get any choice in any of those matters anyway so Free Will is irrelevant. And when you choose an action and, as luck would have it, it doesn’t pan out and you lose all your money in the stock exchange or your routine surgery ends up crippling you, your Free Will wasn’t violated; that’s just the Chaos inherent in the universe and you got to live with it.

    So when a probability manipulator directs events in their favor? Your Free Will was not affected. When some fatespinner dictates a natural disaster or other specific event you get no choice about? Ditto. When someone changes the natural laws and messes you up in some way? Still not a Free Will violation.
    Now, if someone goes and edits your memories to affect your decisions? If they drug you or do emotional manipulation on you? If they use mind control on you? If they affect your senses with illusion so you get bad info? Those are violations of Free Will.

  8. I think Coil’s power is simpler than people think and the key is his phrase “I decide outcomes.”

    When they flipped coins they all landed heads. He chose the outcome of a 50/50 chance. One outcome or the other. I imagine he does so much contingency planning because he can’t manipulate free will or cause events with his power so he has to cause events with planning, money and manipulation.

    What he does is decide the outcome of an event already in progress. Armsmaster vs Skitter, Skitter wins. Foreman vs Ali and Ali wins. The combatants have free will leading up to the confrontation and about their moves but the lucky breaks that decide a fight will favouur Coil’s pick.

    He must have a lot of fun during playoffs.

  9. I’m enjoying the unraveling mystery that is Coil. It puts Skitter’s ridiculousness into perspective and therefore I am enjoying the story again. Even when I didn’t, I realized that I failed to note that you are a very good writer.

  10. > It was distinctive enough that it Could make us too easy to track.

    “Could” shouldn’t be capitalized.

    • > Skitter joining your group was sufficient to tip the balance.”

      There shouldn’t be a closing quote on this paragraph, as the next paragraph begins with the same speaker.

      • ” I know that you went out of your way to get out from your father’s thumb”
        Out from under.

        One minor gripe: Each of the major characters has a definite voice, a way of speaking that is somehow appropriate to them, except for Grue, whose dialogue tends to be generic middle-class-ese. This, on top of the fact that he is so thoughtful, well balanced, and well informed in spite of his unfortunate history (divorced parents, father emotionally distant, mother with drug problem). I am not saying that this is impossible (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posttraumatic_growth) or that I would prefer some “gangsta style” stereotype, just that I think there must’ve been something that happened offstage that I’d like to have seen. I am saying this after having read the entire saga.

        Maybe if I was the author, I’d have killed off a more involved father, or provided some other critical influence/friend/ mentor whose sudden absence led to Brian’s regrettable choice of career (clearly he lacks none of the attributes of a hero, except he robs banks). Or better yet, a bad influence who led him astray and left him in the lurch after it was too late to go hero. Surely a hero, but for one tragic twist. Then again, if he totally regretted his villain status, why not just retire, only show up for endbringer events? His darkness is pretty lame against those guys.

        And I’d try to give him a tiny bit more of an edge, or at least have him somehow earn his persistent normality. He just seems too generically likeable, middle class, ho hum. There are no supervillains named Generalissimo Average or Doctor Steadfast. Or maybe that is another one of the weird inversions of the Wormverse, villains are allowed to be dull.

      • “You could, I hope, trust her to verify that what I tell you is truth, and to know more about my plan that I divulge, in any case.”

        More about the plan that I divulge, or more about the plan than I divulge?

        “and I’m prepared for the fact that that this might lead you to refuse this offer”

        Too many “that”s.

  11. “If the matter is pushed further, I expect there will be a restructuring of the group structure.”

    You may want to change the repetition in the above sentence. Perhaps “the group structure will be changed” or “there will be a restructuring of the group’s dynamics.”

  12. [Warning: Spoilers]

    The demonstration of Coil’s power doesn’t make any sense. It’s not guaranteed that he would get heads in one universe and tails in the other. If the coin toss is fair and truly random, he would get tails in both universes 25% of the time.

    This segment could be modified to say that he announces the result of the coin toss before anyone had a chance to look at it, though it’s not always heads and it wouldn’t necessarily look like probability modification. He could do this by splitting the universe just after the coin toss is finished, and saying “tails” in one and “heads” in the other.

    • He splits the realities, throws a coin in one and holds of in another. If the coin lands heads, he collapses the ‘do something else’ reality. If the coin lands tails, he collapses the reality in which he threw the coin. Then he goes back to splitting the realities, throwing a coin in one and doing something else in the other. He only keeps the ones in which the coins land heads.

      When he saw Taylor reaching for a coin of her own, he probably split the reality immediately, waited for the toss in one and complimented her on her skepticism in another or something.

      I guess it might be a bit of a mental effort to keep up with what to do every time and keep the conversation flowing. Maybe he spent a while practicing?

      • Wildbow makes a point of saying that Coil checked to see if Taylor was ready to catch the coin before he threw it. That was almost certainly him failing his first toss.

  13. I had to look up what a K-hole was, though I can easily name a dozen countries. It looks like Coil is planning to institute what I consider the best form of government: a benevolent dictatorship (its major flaw being transition problems, since power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Hence, any government is a compromise between idealism and practicality, and we get the truism, “Democracy is the worst form of government we have, except for all the other ones.”)

  14. Coil strikes me as quite pretentious. As such, he would be the sort of person to understand the difference between less and fewer. When he says “less capes” rather than “fewer capes”, it sounds like a 12 year old pretending to be a villain. Is this what you intended?

    • I agree…Taykor may say “less capes,” but since “capes” are a countable noun, not a mass noun like light or sugar, Coil would use the correct word, “fewer.”

  15. Wait, did Taylor actually get offered anything in the end? Taylor asked for Coil to take care of the city, he said “I can’t in good conscious offer you that as a gift since I’m going to do it anyway” and it ended. So is that offer still hanging, then? Or was the “I can’t offer you that as a gift” mere spin and he offered her it anyway?

  16. Now this I can apreciate. A very machiavellian villain who isn’t a complete cliché. Negotiate rather then intimidate. Strike mutually beneficial deals with the option of backing out rather then threatening them into doing it anyway. Uses competent hired muscle, doesn’t fly of the handle if things backfire and doesn’t shoot the messenger just to demonstrate how evil he is. This is a villain I can respect. Well written. my compliments 🙂

  17. Wow I hate supervillains like Coil. Only because I honestly think some things would actually be better under them. A lot of the problems in the world come about due to fighting between different groups who don’t want to agree but if you have one chessmaster pulling strings here and there then they could get things done. And if he was subtle enough that the heroes still think things are peachy and the government guys are happy and then no one would bother looking for him. Plus if someone like that is in charge then it is totally in character to want things to run better and smoother to appease their ego just as Coil says. I would be extremely tempted by his offer. The Protectorate is obviously not doing a good job at the moment and he is perfectly situated to step in.

    There has to be the other shoe waiting to drop though. Continuing archive binge.

  18. Coils presentation sounds really good, indeed almost ideal – which simply makes it all the more mandatory to ask the core question which I would like to ask of any politician or salesman or the like:

    “What are the downsides?”

    Because there always will be flaws, problems, limitations, negatives when compared with the (or at least an) alternative. If you don’t know what they are, then you haven’t looked at things clearly enough or looked far enough forward, particularly if you’re in Coil’s position (and at the very least you should be willing to say “I don’t know”, rather than claim that there aren’t any); if you know what they are but won’t reveal them, then your listeners can’t trust your arguments, because you want them to decide based on only knowing one side of the situation.

    I don’t see any obvious problems with the scenario Coil paints just offhand, but I’m positive enough that there are some that I wouldn’t be willing to accept his deal without at least asking him what they are.

  19. I truly expected her to request that the Undersiders become the new Protectorate for the city. In time, while making Hero-like calls in security for the city, the general populace would begin to recognize them as true heroes they are. Other than robbing the bank once, without much credit for it, they’ve only done good things and helped out.

    As the official new Protectorates, they could decide what other heroes could join them, including from the Wards. At some future point, she could feel proud enough to publicly expose her identity, showing her father and the bullies in school.

  20. “It was distinctive enough that it Could make us too easy to track.” Could should not be capitalized.

  21. I noticed this section while re-reading the chapter for clues to Coil’s power:

    > Well, I thought, there goes any doubt I had about the Protectorate not caring what was up with the Undersider’s sponsor. Shit. Was he really that close?

    This is strange. Taylor is already the narrator, we even get some of her internal thoughts a narration in this paragraph. I can see why giving the separation to them is useful, but having noticed it I can’t help but wonder if it could have been avoided some way.

  22. Why is she so obsessed with wanting to be a ‘hero’, like, fuck that, she’s being given a good deal here. Take it god damn it. And being a ‘villain’ seems so much more rewarding anyway.

  23. I didn’t see it being Coil coming. But he seems really interesting. Tbh, doesn’t sound like a complete douchebag. Him being in charge would help the city since he at least is competent. He probably won’t get rid of the superhero team, I don’t think that’s feasible so he’s discrediting them until he can get high enough in the hierarchy to order them around since they are government sponsored and as seen earlier when the lady reprimanded Kid Wonder or what’s his name. This could be perfect for Taylor. She could come clean to him and have him exonerate her and induct her into the super heros. She could keep working for him as a vigilante with her own district in the city, improving it. She could have him put Emma behind bars for life.
    Tbh he’s the kind of person I would try to be if I had powers lol. Except, maybe a bit more on the good side, improving the city and people’s lives for the sake of improvement and progress rather than ego.

  24. Sweet. If Coil what we have seen of Coil is true he’s basically Dr. Doom with most of the bad traits removed.

  25. Take a step back from Skitter’s story for a moment. Is it possible the city went downhill BECAUSE of the Protectorate? It’s bluntly stated that the Boardwalk, sitting next to a huge den of crime, is only maintained for tourism. And the “adult cops & robbers” scenario requires a great number of villains for the good guys to have any meaning. The fact the villains mostly follow “da rulez” with regards to murder fits the supposition. Criminals normally aren’t that… restrained.

    It could very well be that the protectorate was set up by someone like Coil here; say Coil is just looking to overthrow a great evil by becoming that evil himself. It’s all very much speculation at this point, and whatever choice Skitter makes, she’ll probably regret it. But with what we’ve seen of the situation, I can’t imagine it any other way. At least she made the choices, you know? The heroes are so, eh, ineffectual. Almost like it’s intentional.

    Well, thanks for this amazing story. I found the site via a google search for porn (don’t ask) but it’s been a wonderful read. I got this far in just 2 days! That should tell you just how much I like it.

    P.S. My wordpress handle is more than 2 days old. But I think it fits quite well, here. Heh.

  26. Wow. I have no idea how to feel about this. Should Taylor join Coil? Or turn on him? Hmmmmmmmmm. This is actually a point where I could perhaps see the whole of the Undersiders switching to the “good” side and joining the Wards. Like Shadow Stalker did it, so it’s possible. The Undersiders have mostly done fairly petty crimes, and they’re all underage. They could probably get off with an easy sentence and still be heroes.

    Hmmmm. On the other hand, if they join Coil, they’ll be stuck as his subordinates. I guess in a sense they’d become the de facto heroes of Coil’s City. But I don’t really like Coil’s plan. Yeah, he can take over the city. But would the heroes in other cities be okay with that? Could Coil hold off the rest of the heroes from across the country when they decide a villain shouldn’t be allowed to humiliate them like this? I somehow doubt it.

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