Buzz 7.8

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Stormtiger raised one hand in the direction he’d come and created a blast of wind to clear a path through Grue’s darkness and reveal Hookwolf and Cricket.

“Fancy this,” Hookwolf chuckled, looking down at me, “We decide to attack the blockades and avoid being hemmed in like the ABB was, and we happen upon you?”

“Not looking for a fight,” I told him.

“Stormtiger, find the others of her group.” Hookwolf snarled, apparently not considering my words worth responding to.

“Can’t,” Stormtiger spoke, from where he stood above me.  “Not smelling them.”

“You smelled her.”

“And I smelled the two uniforms from the ambulance.  Other one’s bleeding, sitting near the ambulance somewhere over there.  Darkness boy isn’t around anymore or I’d be able to smell him.”

He was wrong.  My bugs could feel Grue out there.  If the driver had been injured, that might account for why Grue had lagged behind.  But Stormtiger couldn’t smell Grue?

Hookwolf turned to me, “The dog girl.  Where’s Bitch?”

“Not here.”

“I know that,” he growled.  His hand dissolved into a mess of knives, hooks and spearpoints, then solidified into an oversized claw with fingers as long as his torso.  He flexed them experimentally.  How did you even classify that?  Ferrokinetic shapeshifting?

I crawled backward a few feet, trying to maintain distance between us.  Stormtiger reached down and blocked my retreat with one blade-covered hand.

I looked up at Stormtiger and spoke, “We split up earlier today.  One of our members had a source, we heard about the email that went out when the news stations and papers did.  Decided it’d be better to back off, just in case.”  No harm done by admitting that much.

“Don’t believe you,” he snarled.  “Doesn’t explain why you’re here.”

“That’s because-”

I stopped as the two of them turned away.  The ‘paramedic’ a few feet from Stormtiger had bolted, and was drawing a gun as she ran toward the closest patch of darkness.  As she got close to her destination, still running, she turned on the spot and raised her gun to fire at Stormtiger and Hookwolf.

Hookwolf barely reacted as the bullets punched into his chest, and even that was just the inevitable force of being shot.  Stormtiger raised one arm as if to protect himself, but the bullets were already veering off before they could hit him, leaving a trio of hazy trails in the air where they had turned.

“Handle her, Cricket,” Hookwolf spoke, pressing a hand against his collarbone where a bullet had struck him.  The scarred girl with the buzz cut dashed forward, reaching behind her back to draw two scythe-like weapons, each only about as long as her forearm.

Coil’s soldier turned to fire at the incoming villainess, but Cricket ducked to the right, then evaded left, in time with the noise of the gunfire.  The distance between them closed rapidly.  I didn’t see what happened next, as Coil’s soldier disappeared into the darkness and Cricket followed her in.

Hookwolf turned back to me, “Suspiciously competent for an ambulance driver.  Pretty fucking sure that’s one of Coil’s people.  What are you doing with her?”

I didn’t answer.

My bugs reacted to a funny noise from the direction of Cricket and Coil’s woman, but I couldn’t hear it myself.  Grue’s power did strange things to sound.  I had more immediate concerns.

Hookwolf dropped his hand to his side, and I saw how the bullet had penetrated skin, but had failed to get any further than the interlocking grid of metal that sat in place of Hookwolf’s muscle.  He smiled.  “I was hoping you wouldn’t answer.  It means we get to interrogate you.”

Options, options, what were my options?  Bugs?  They were around, but I got the impression that Hookwolf wasn’t going to suffer that much if I swarmed him, and Stormtiger had some kind of aerokinesis, which was bound to be pretty effective against the lightweight bugs.  Knife, baton?  Not much better.   These guys were capable in hand to hand.  I wasn’t.

Where was Grue?  I felt out with my power, and found him at the back of the ambulance with the driver.  Whatever he was doing, I hoped he would do it soon.  I needed his help.

I looked for Cricket, and found her in the blackness, dragging Coil’s soldier back toward us.  I saw her emerge from the darkness, one of the miniature scythes buried in the woman’s upper arm, the other buried in her thigh.  With a full-body effort, Cricket swung the woman forward and pulled the scythes free.  Coil’s soldier rolled onto the ground before Cricket.  If her powers didn’t give her an edge in fitness, she was pretty damn fit for her frame.

Was Coil’s woman dead?  No.  The woman was breathing.  She was making lots of short, fast breaths, not moving, but she was breathing.

Hookwolf watched for a second before turning back to me.  “Maybe I’ll give Stormtiger some practice at getting answers out of people.  Those claws of his?  They’re compressed air.  Every second, he’s drawing in more air, shoving it into that claw shaped space, to make them denser, harder.  And when he releases it…” he offered me a low chuckle.

Come on, Grue.  I couldn’t handle this alone.

“Want to see what happens when one of them is buried inside you when he turns it into one of his blasts of wind?”  Hookwolf asked.  Again, the low laughter at my expense.

Grue was moving toward me with purpose, now.  I stirred bugs from the ground around him to place them on his body, get a sense of what he was doing.  He was carrying something three and a half feet long, nearly a foot wide, a rounded off shape that was all smooth metal.


I flipped over and scrambled away.  Stormtiger was behind me, and he kicked me in the back as I tried to rise up and start running, shoving me back to the ground, hard.  I was glad for my mask as my face bounced off the pavement.

Go with it.  Remembering the tips Brian had given me during our sparring session, I used the fact that Stormtiger had created a bit more distance between us and continued to move away as fast as I could manage.

“Running?” Hookwolf laughed, “You can try.”

“Gun oil,” Stormtiger called out, whipping around to face Grue.  “I smell gun oil.”

Grue hefted the long metal object back with both hands, then flung it forward.  He didn’t drop both his arms as he let go.  Instead, he used his left hand to follow up with a directed blast of darkness to cover it as it rolled into the clearing.

I clamped my hands to my ears, painful as it was with the bandage on my right ear.

Grue’s right hand was already withdrawing a gun from his jacket pocket as he backed up.

His arm jerked twice as he fired the gun at the oxygen tank he’d fetched from the back of the ambulance.  The first shot missed.  The second didn’t.

It was so quiet I thought I’d been deafened by the sudden explosion.  Hookwolf’s delayed scream of pain and rage was a bittersweet relief.

Wasting no opportunity, Grue marched forward, gun in hand.  Stormtiger had been farther away, and lay face down on the ground, bleeding badly but intact, from what I and my bugs could see.  Grue stopped, aimed, and shot him once in each leg.

“Hey!” Cricket’s voice was strangled, strained.  I wondered if one of the injuries that had given her one of those scars had done something to her vocal chords.  She lowered one of the scythes toward Coil’s soldier.  “I got a-”

Grue covered her and her hostage in darkness and turned toward me and Hookwolf.  The message was clear.  He wasn’t negotiating.  I was pretty sure I couldn’t have made that call, even knowing that stopping for the woman’s sake was almost inevitably going to lead to a worse situation.

Hookwolf staggered to his feet.  He’d taken more damage from the blast than anyone, and his skin hung off in tatters around the arm he hadn’t yet transformed, most of the trunk of his body and his thigh, with lesser damage over the surrounding area.  Beneath the tatters of skin, as I’d seen with the bullet wound, there was only blood-slick bands and blades of metal.  Hooks and knives all laid side by side in the general shape of human musculature.

Hookwolf thrust his damaged arm out to one side, and the muscles unhinged like a swiss army knife, revealing still more blades and hooks that unfolded, swelled and overlapped to cover and patch the injured area.  His arm grew with the use of his power, and the resulting limb was three times the normal size, ending in what looked like a two foot long fishhook.

“Skitter,” Grue called, “Run!”

I climbed to my feet and hurried toward him.  Hookwolf turned to face me, then lunged my way, closing more distance than I might have anticipated.   I abandoned my attempt to rejoin Grue and headed to my left, straight into the darkness.

My bugs dotted the surface of a mailbox, three paces into the blackness.  I ducked around it as Hookwolf blindly followed me in.  Swinging blindly, he struck a fire hydrant, but no water was forthcoming.  He lunged left, gouging chunks of brick from a wall, then he leaped right, striking the mailbox and cleaving it in half.

I was already scrambling in Grue’s general direction, the mailbox well behind me.

I felt a surge of relief at realizing that Cricket had abandoned her hostage in favor of going after Grue, to initiate a brief exchange of blows.  Unfortunately, my relief was short lived, because the combat wasn’t brief in a good way.  Grue fired the gun twice, and twice she dodged the bullet, standing only ten and seven feet away from the barrel.  It wasn’t superspeed, either, though she was quick.  Her movements were simply too efficient, and if there was any delay in her reactions, I wasn’t seeing it.

He swung a punch as she closed in.  Cricket leaned out of the way, then swung her scythe to rake him across the chest.  From the way he staggered, I knew she’d struck home.  He jabbed, she avoided it as though it were easy, then followed up with two more swings, and he failed to avoid either.  He staggered back, clutching one arm to his chest.

He blanketed the area around them in darkness, filling the clearing, and Cricket immediately switched to swinging blindly and ferociously around herself as she advanced toward where Grue had been.  Grue backed away, but this had the unfortunate effect of putting him closer to Hookwolf, who was doing much the same as Cricket.  Grue turned and ran to create some distance and avoid being hemmed in.

Then every bug in the area reacted to that sound I couldn’t make out, the one I’d heard when Cricket went after Coil’s soldier.  It was loud enough for them to hear through the darkness, but… entirely out of my range of hearing.

I couldn’t say for sure, but I got the impression the ones closer to Cricket had heard it a fraction of a second sooner.

“Grue!” I screamed into the oppressive shadow.  “Move!”

Cricket turned toward him and lunged in one motion, bringing both scythes down in an overhead swing.  Grue moved out of the way just in time.

“She has radar!” I shouted, my voice barely audible to myself.  Didn’t matter.  Grue could hear me.

Cricket passed one of the mini-scythes into one hand and then used her newly freed hand to wipe bugs from her skin.  They were gathering on her, and she was starting to feel it.  Good.

Again, that pulse emanated from her.  She maintained it this time, and my bugs began to suffer for it.  Their coordination suffered, they began to move slower, and their senses – such as they were in the darkness – began to go haywire.

After a second or two, I thought maybe I was starting to feel it too.  A bit off-balance, nauseous.  Grue was hunched over, his hands on his knees, but I wasn’t sure if that was Cricket’s power or the injuries she’d inflicted.  From the way Cricket was moving, I gathered that she couldn’t see us.  Was it echolocation?  Did it not work if she simply blasted the noise continually rather than use it in bursts?

Annoying as it was that everyone seemed to have a way of dealing with my bugs, I was at least putting her in a position where she couldn’t both find us and deal with them.

I was having trouble getting a sense of her powers.  I’d heard of her, seen pictures, read up on her on the wiki and message boards.  She was rarely more than a footnote, typically a suspect in a murder or arson case alongside Stormtiger and Hookwolf.  Never had I come across something like ‘Cricket has limited precognition’ or ‘Cricket is a sound manipulator’.

The bugs started to fall away from her, losing their grip or ability to navigate through the air.  Knowing our advantage would soon disappear, I advanced towards her, drawing my knife.  I checked on Hookwolf, and found him scaling a building a distance behind me.  Was he trying to rise above the cloud of darkness to spot us or get his bearings?

I was three paces from Cricket when I felt the sound die off, then resume again for one brief second.  Another radar pulse.

“Careful!” I shouted, adjusting my momentum and hurrying to back away.  Too slow.  She was already pivoting to swing at me.  The handle of one scythe struck me in the side of my throat, the actual blade hooking around behind my neck to halt my retreat.  Before I could do anything, she pulled me toward her.  I stumbled forward, and she adjusted her grip to swing the other scythe up and into the side of my stomach.

I doubled over and crumpled to the ground.

Grue shouted something, but his words didn’t reach me through the darkness.

Cricket emitted another radar pulse, then lunged for Grue.  She caught him in the arm, this time.  Then she backed off, going for the continuous, sense-warping noise to put my bugs on the fritz once more.

Grue raised his borrowed gun and his arm bucked with the kick.  Cricket was oblivious as the gun fired off several times in a row, but whatever she was doing with her power was screwing with Grue’s ability to aim.  None of the bullets struck home.  He stopped.  Either he was out of bullets, though it seemed too soon for that, or he wanted to conserve ammunition.

I climbed to my feet, feeling my side protesting in agony.  The blade hadn’t penetrated my costume, but the sides of my stomach weren’t armored and the cloth had done little to soften the jab of it, even if it had prevented me from being cut or disemboweled.  Cricket was bigger than me, stronger, and she knew how to use her weapons.  It had hurt.

When I was sure I could move without falling over, I lunged, knife in hand.

I’d hoped that if I was quick about it, I could act before she used her radar again.  I wasn’t so lucky.  She was already moving by the time I realized she’d made another pulse of noise, scythe points whipping around toward the side of my head, where my mask provided only partial coverage.  I had too much forward momentum to avoid walking straight into the incoming blades.

I half-fell, half ducked, and instead of driving my knife into her back like I’d intended, I wound up burying it in the side of her thigh.  Whatever technique let her dodge bullets, it apparently didn’t work if she couldn’t see.

As much as it might have hurt, she didn’t waste an instant in hefting her weapon to retaliate and swinging down at my head.  I wasn’t in a position to get out of the way.

Grue caught her by the wrist mid-swing and pulled her off-balance before she could follow through.

She moved fluidly, considering the blade buried in her upper leg.  She reversed her grip on her weapon with her free hand, stuttered her power to create what I took was another radar pulse, then readied to swing it at Grue.

I twisted the knife, and pulled it out of her leg with a two-handed grip.  Or, to rephrase, I pulled the knife through her leg, dragging it horizontally through the meat of her thigh, toward her hip, and out.

She toppled, and Grue put his hand on my shoulder to pull me back away.  Cricket lay on the pavement, pressing her hands to her injury.

“You okay?” Grue asked me, as he cleared the darkness within one foot of the both of us.

“I’m bruised but yeah.  I should be asking you that question.  How bad is it?”

He banished the darkness around his body, and in the gloom, I saw how the blades had neatly cut through his jacket and t-shirt to draw criss-crossing lines of red across his chest.  An uglier wound marked his right arm from elbow to wrist, all the more visible because the cut had extended to the cuff of his costume, leaving the sleeve to hang loose around his elbow.

“Looks worse than it is.  I’ve fought people like her before, in sparring and fighting classes.  She was showing off with the first few cuts.  Shallow, inflicting pain, not really meant to disable or deal real harm.”

“That’s stupid,” I muttered.  “I’m glad, but it’s stupid.”

“She probably didn’t think about it.  I’d bet it’s something she learned and incorporated into her style while fighting for a crowd.”  He looked over in Hookwolf’s direction, then winced at how the movement pulled against his injured chest.  “We should go.”


Grue opened a path in the darkness for the faux paramedic, we checked that she was alive, and then helped her limp to the ambulance, with me doing most of the heavy work for once.  I hurried to grab some first aid supplies, packing ointments, pills and bandages into a bag.  Coil’s soldiers retreated back toward the police barricade before I was finished, each supporting the other.

Grue flooded more of the area with darkness while I gathered most of the swarm back around myself.  I left only the bare minimum of bugs necessary to navigate the sightless world of Grue’s power and the ones I needed to track Hookwolf’s presence.  There were more I couldn’t touch because they were caught helpless in the endless, subsonic drone that Cricket still emanated, but I had enough that I could deal.  We hurried away before Hookwolf thought to attack the spot where the ambulance had crashed.

We were nearly four blocks away before Grue felt it safe to dismiss the darkness around us.  Rationally, I knew we were safer in the shadows, that it would prevent most ambushes, but a primal part of my psyche was glad to be in the light and noise once more.

I shot Grue another worried look as we walked.  “Looks like it’s my turn to give you some stitches.  You going to be okay?”

“Fuck.”  He touched his chest tenderly, not giving me a direct answer.  “What were her powers?  Overclocked reflexes and what was it you said?  Radar?”

“Enhanced reflexes is a better guess than what I’d come up with.  She was making some sort of subsonic drone.  It was the source of that disorientation effect.  She could use it like echolocation or something.”

“It’s times like this I can say it’s worth having Tattletale on the team.  I hate not knowing someone’s powers.”

We stopped at an old church with boards up where there should have been stained glass windows.  Litter and more than one half-full trash bag occupied the ground at the base of the building.  Together, we walked inside.

Regent was perched on the lip of the stage beneath the altar.  Tattletale sat on the back of one of the benches, her feet resting on the seat.  Bitch paced at the rear of the church, the point farthest from the front door, and her dogs moved like gargantuan silhouettes in the darkness of the aisles.  If it weren’t for the light filtering in between the plywood on the windows, I wasn’t sure I would have known they were there.

“Grue!” Tattletale leapt from her seat.  “What happened?”

“Ran across Hookwolf, Stormtiger and Cricket.  Those three like to cut people,” Grue spoke.  “We were lucky to get away as intact as we did.”

“Sit,” I ordered Grue.  Hissing between his teeth, he pulled off his jacket, then turned his attention to his T-shirt, which was sticking to his chest with the blood that had leaked from the cuts.  Rather than have to remove his helmet and drag the cloth over his injured chest and arm, he tore his shirt where it had been cut, and pulled it off in tatters.  He sat down, shirtless, his helmet on.  I began getting the stuff out to clean his wounds

“Did you guys run into trouble?” Grue asked.

“Just enough that we’ve been getting a little restless. Bitch took down some thugs, but they scattered, and word’s probably out that we’re in the area.”

“Purity?” He asked.

“She’s out there,” Regent spoke, in his characteristic distracted, disaffected manner, “We saw the lights and heard the noise as she was knocking down more buildings.  She moved away from this area a little while ago.”

Tattletale turned to me, “Here, give me that.  I’ll work on his arm.”

I duly handed over the cleaning solution and some antiseptic wipes.  I heard Grue mutter, “Shit, I hope Cricket isn’t the type to put poison on her weapon.”

“Don’t say that!” I gasped, horrified.

“Not to worry, either of you,” Tattletale sounded exasperated.  “My power says no.”

I nodded, but my heartbeat was still cranked up a notch from that momentary alarm.  When I glanced up from the stash of medical stuff I’d grabbed from the ambulance to see how Tattletale was doing with Grue’s arm, I saw Grue’s skull-visor pointed at me.  Was he looking at me?  What was he thinking?  What expression was on his face?

“I’m thinking guerrilla strikes,” Grue spoke, turning to Tattletale, “We have the dogs, we use their mobility to harass, catch any roaming groups off guard, take them down, disappear before reinforcements or heroes show.”

Tattletale shook her head, “One problem with that.”

“Which is?”

She pointed at his chest.  “You may not be poisoned, but you’ve lost some blood.  I’d lay even money that you’d pass out if you did something as high exertion as riding the dogs.”

“Don’t take a bet with Tattle,” Regent chimed in, “She cheats.”

“We need to end this fast,” Tattletale said.  “Not just because of Grue’s injuries, but because Purity’s going to wipe out our neighborhood soon if someone doesn’t stop her.  We take the most direct action we can.”

“Direct action,” I echoed her.  I didn’t like the sound of that.

“We go straight for Purity.”

“Fuck that,” Grue shook his head, “There’s no way.”

“Way,” Tattletale retorted.  “It’s not pretty, it’s risky, but it’s our best bet at ending this, one way or another.  Thing is, we’ve got to move fast or our opportunity will disappear.  Skitter, we’d better get started on the stitches, I’ll explain while we do it.”

I swallowed, nodded, turned my attention back to the bag of medical stuff, and found the needle and thread.

“Like you said before,” I told Grue, quiet, pulling the pre-threaded needle free of the spool, “Let me apologize in advance.”

“Damn it,” he muttered.

Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

59 thoughts on “Buzz 7.8

  1. Heh, liked the ending echo.

    Also, typo alert: “It was what was disorienting us and my bugs. She could use it to echolocation or something.”

      • Grue feels tired, slipping off into darkness despite the pain of the girls stitching him up. When he wakes, his helmet is off. As he reaches up to to feel his head, he notices the pattern of stitching on his arm. “Did you guys sew a lightning bolt on my arm?”

        Then his hand brushes over his head. “Why do I have a mohawk now?”

        He shakes his head and turns to look before deciding to stand up. As he turns around, he hears Tattle say playfully, “Say ‘I pity the fool'” followed by the click of a camera.

  2. Given that they constantly seem to be fighting folks with enough in the way of senses to track them in Grue’s darkness but not enough for find awareness, they might want to look into traps they can put down as they move in the dark to take advantage of that tendency for such characters to move straight, and blindly, towards them. Caltrops at least seem like a shoe in.

    I wonder how much compressed expanding foam a large insect can carry- might make folks think twice about smashing bugs they can’t see.

    In the church, that stage is called the sanctuary, though no idea whether Taylor would know that.

  3. Wow, excrement is getting real. I wonder though. They are in a gang war. Grue had Thundertiger or whatever his name is at his mercy and all he did was shoot him in both legs. Now I’m not saying that I think he should be a merciless killer I’m just wondering why he isn’t. After all Taylor only cut out Lung’s eyes because she knew he would recover and she was still trying to be a hero undercover. Grue on the other hand is what he is and he doesn’t have that particular hang up. So why use two bullets to the leg when one to the head might suffice? Again not saying this is what he should have done I’m just very curious about the reason for him not doing it.

    • We also hear incessantly from gun nerds (and I meant that in the best way) on comment threads that hitting someone in the legs is *much harder* than hitting them in the center of mass, so Grue must really have not wanted to avoid a fatal shot as much as possible.

  4. This is changing, but in the past thieves used to avoid killing whenever possible. Why? Robery had a smaller penalty and was less investigated than murder.
    So, if you kill someone you increase the chance of getting caught and increase the time you will serve if you are caught.
    This is changing as society becomes more violent, but professional thieves still avoid killing. The crazies and drug adicts are the ones most dangerous to life.
    Anyway, Tatetale already told about the “unspoken rules” of engagement. You avoid killing because it would atract too much retaliation and will send you to the birdcage. Basicaly the same reasoning followed by professional thieves.

    • But they aren’t commiting a robbery right now. They are in the middle of a gang war. and while I’ve never been in one my understanding is, is that people die. Empire 88 doesn’t seem to be holding back much. I’m not saying I want The protagonists to become cold blooded murders. In fact I would be quite disappointed. I am curious however why they have not done so as I couldn’t see any reason for it. I had forgotten TT’s speech on the matter though maybe that is it.

      • I’m with THF on this one. These guys are killing cops and blowing up buildings, presumably with people inside. I don’t think a cop is going to be too worried that a bunch of racists out on a cleansing binge get killed. Also, it saves ammunition to get them once in the head instead of two to the knees. Plus, I don’t see why there’s a cap on retaliation. The identites of Empire 88 have been made public knowledge and the authorities are moving in on them anyway. Clearly this is an effort to wipe out E88. So, get wiping.

        Hell, strike up some contacts in the police force, let them take credit for a few of those kills, and get them promoted to positions that better benefit you. That’s less an Underside plan and more a thing Coil would do, but still sound reasoning.

      • Son of a… I’m NOT saying I want the protagonists to be cold blooded murderers. NOT. Wildbow is there any way you can edit my comment for me? I really need that “not” to be in there. Drastically changes what i was trying to say.

      • Ok, so I’m possibly completely opposed to my mortal nemesis, THF, on this issue, just like every other possibly (i.e., I don’t remember and can’t be bothered to go back and check).

        Also, why are there all these posters of Eurasia up as enemies when I’m clearly at war with East Asia? Saboteurs!

      • Thanks Wildbow, I’ll try to proofread more often, or at all. PG I wouldn’t say I’m completely opposed to you. I don’t want the undersiders to become vicious killers but from what I can see about Grue’s personality he has quite a bit of moral flexibility. He deeply cares about his teams safety and at the moment it seems like the entire 88 crew has become mad dogs. The ones here certainly seem to be remorseless killers. He chose not to put one of those mad dogs down permanently when he could. I would really like to know what part of his character prevents him from doing that. It doesn’t conflict with your stance that much.

    • This comment is from a long time ago, but it’s worth mentioning that society is not becoming more violent, at least in the US. Violent crime has been decreasing for many years now.

    • That’s assuming she cut through the inside of the thigh (ie. toward the groin), rather than the outside, though.

      And even if she was cutting the inside, she wouldn’t necessarily have the anatomy knowledge, here, that she was cutting a major artery. So it would be ignorance rather than a cavalier attitude.

      Given there was no mention of arterial spray or a huge pool of blood expanding beneath Cricket, we can assume it wasn’t a killing blow.

      Edit: Altered the text a mite just to clarify matters.

  5. Also, of course, Hookwolf is still up and running, and since he didn’t give chase, he likely stopped to help someone who appears to be in the role of his underling. Good bosses always take care of their peeps.


  6. When I read these lines, I was thinking I must be confused:

    “I hurried to grab some first aid supplies, and they peeled out when I made my exit, bags of pills, ointments and bandages in hand. The ambulance retreated back toward the police barricade.”

    Then I went back a chapter and checked:

    “The ambulance veered out of the driver’s control, tipped, and landed on its side, bringing Grue against the underside of the stretcher I’d been sitting on.”

    I’m thinking one of these two statements needs a tweak. Either that, or something else that explains how something as big as an ambulance ended up back on its wheels when the only people interested in doing so have normal human strength.


  7. Hello,

    I just finished reading every chapter you have posted so far and found it incredibly hard to stop reading. I was so sad when I reached the end and realized I would have to wait to read more. There are so many reasons why I enjoyed the story so far that I’m having a hard time offering anything more than “OMG WANT MOAR!”

    On the flip side, as a person involved with dog rescue and dog training, I have a hard time believing that Bitch has a hard time reading people’s body language because of some inherent dog-like mental process. Dogs are in fact experts at human body language! They for sure understand what human expressions such as smiling mean. Not just my opinion either, there have been studies done that prove this. Perhaps the truth with Bitch is that she has a wolf type thought process? Wolves are terrible at understanding humans.

    One thing though, if you get more into wolf/canine pack structure thinking, this article talks about how the whole “alpha” wolf concept is outdated.
    I found it to be very interesting and maybe you will too!

    Seriously, I hope I don’t come across as rude or whiny because I love the story you are writing. I just wanted to drop my two cents in hopes that maybe it was in some tiny way be helpful to your amazing project.

  8. Yeah the undersiders are starting to feel seriously underpowered right about now. Yeah they beat them but it was basically with a knife, an improvised bomb and because the enemy was playing around.

    Wish skitter could find a way to carry around black widows with her or something.

  9. Wait…”miniature scythes”…is a white supremacist using kama? It sure sounds like it. The only other thing I can think of that it could be is a sickle, and those aren’t shaped much like scythes.

    • Agreed. Radar vs. Sonar is probably just Taylor’s ignorance at this point, so I can take it.

      However, Tt has told us that Grue’s darkness blocks both EM and sound. I don’t understand how the sonar beat the darkness.

  10. It’s not clear to me that shooting at an oxygen tank is going to cause an explosion of any kind. It’s not a propane tank or something: all that’s in an oxygen tank is oxygen, which is all around us in the air anyway. Its contents are no more explosive (without something to react with) than the oxygen in the air, even with a spark for ignition.

    • Yo, Nix, pure oxygen is quite flammable and dangerous. This is part of the reason why there is no smoking allowed in hospitals.
      Also, our athmosphere, akak the air we breate, is only made up of about 21% oxygen, the majority of it is nitrogen and the rest is water vapor. Not to mention other things like pollution.

      • Uh, oxygen is intrinsically flammable? Oxygen is the thing that flammable substances *react* with: it is those substances that one usually describes as flammable, since it’s those that burst into flame. Ignite a cigarette in pure oxygen and you will *not* see the entire volume of pure oxygen explode: you’ll see the cigarette burn like mad — and probably burst apart from sheer intensity of reaction. Note: the thing the oxygen reacts with is the thing that gets hot and burns/explodes, not the volume of oxygen itself. If all that’s there is the oxygen, you’re quite safe.

        Shooting an oxygen tank will only cause an explosion in the ‘pressurized substances rapidly expanding’ sense (which is admittedly the major source of damage from large explosions: it’s what makes an FAE so dangerous, for instance). There’s not going to be an exothermic reaction — i.e. an explosion in the colloquial sense — unless there’s a source of flammable material around.

        Pure oxygen isn’t going to react with the nitrogen in the air without a hell of an energy input to rip all that nice stable N2 apart — oh, and you forgot argon, which at 1% is a fairly significant constituent at 1/4 that of water vapour. No major atmospheric constituent will react with oxygen — if they could have, they would have already. The Earth’s atmosphere is not intrinsically ignitable. (Ignoring here the oxygen itself, which can of course form ozone, but that’s not going to happen in appreciable quantity from a bullet and a release of oxygen from a tank. Also, that reaction is endothermic, so it would tend to *quash* any explosion if it happened.)

        • Thinking back to when the Undersiders encountered Dauntless, his forcefield burned away at Grue’s darkness when they came into contact. I wonder if his darkness is slightly flammable, and that’s part of why he covered the compressed oxygen with it before shooting? Like you said, the high concentration of oxygen would greatly increase the speed of the burning, perhaps combining with the rapid release of pressure to create the explosion we witnessed?

          I think it’s more likely it was solely the pressure, but I like this theory nonetheless.

  11. Rereading the story again, Echolocation is sending out sound to navigate the environment, subsonic means something traveling slower than sound, so I’m confused by how cricket can emit sound slower than sound.

    • Point of clarification: subsonic speeds are indeed slower than the speed of sound. Sounds at subsonic *frequencies* are sounds that are lower than the range of human hearing (hypersonic frequencies are pitched higher than humans can hear) . Dogs can hear hypersonic (and I believe subsonic) frequencies. Apparently so can some bugs.

  12. “Fancy this,” Hookwolf chuckled, looking down at me, “We decide to attack the blockades and avoid being hemmed in like the ABB was, and we happen upon you?”

    Does that mean they attacked the ambulance *without knowing it wasn’t an ambulance*?

      • Nazis are so nice when they’re openly murderous, ethnic essentialist, sadistic supervillains. Unlike what we have seen in the last four years or so, in the real world they never ever talk honestly about their beliefs and intentions and a lot of people get fooled by their lies.

    • Hey, I’m new here and greetings from 2017! 🙂 Reading this story for the first time and enjoying it very much! Sorry for the (possibly completely) stupid question, but this moment puzzles me. Since Taylor has seen that baddies from E88 were going for police barricades and they had no interest in ambulance, why have they chosen more revealing way of retreating, using their powers?

  13. Hookwolf turned back to me, “Suspiciously competent for an ambulance driver. Pretty fucking sure that’s one of Coil’s people. What are you doing with her?”

    I didn’t answer.

    That seems like a dumb response. This would be a good opportunity to point out that Coil sent the email. “After he dumped that on us, we figured the least he owed us was a ride out of town.”

  14. Tattletale is so damn convenient. ^_^ The whole idea of not knowing an opponent’s powers is generally foreign to the superhero milieu; you’ve done an excellent job of incorporating it and its consequences, and making that change add to the verisimilitude of your universe.

    Calling it now: Alec is the backbone of any confrontational move against Purity. Any non-confrontational one is going to rely more on Lisa.

    Actually. Hmm. Grue’s darkness has interacted with a number of other powers before, usually in the form of negative interference. Purity’s powers are extremely formidable, but also work in the medium of light. I wonder if Grue could weaken her power the way he-
    Radiation. It blocks all forms of radiation.
    This should be *good.*

    • Would Purity’s power even be considered as radiation?
      I mean, her power seems to be the ability to manipulate light. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the light has to be radiant. It could easily be that purity just creates some sort of beam and surrounds it in light. Sure, his power might block the visible light, but the force of the beam might be enough to deal some damage?

      • All radiation. Light is electromagnetic radiation within a certain portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. I.E. the only reason it’s ‘darkness’ is because it blocks All Radiation, including that segment.

    • I believe her power was making light *solid*/hard and firing it. Still think you might be onto something (I’m on a reread, but don’t remember how they interacted).

  15. Of all the powers, you give her such a shitty power! It’s terrible, relying on living things. Control of bugs is possibly the worst power I can thing of. Why did you make the main character such ass? I don’t want her “all powerful” but I don’t want her getting bested by most of the entire fucking parahuman community. Against normal people, her power is great. But paras are a different ball game on a different planet.

    • Haha, this is such a funny reaction! I think having a “weak” power like that is fantastic because she has to get creative with it. Not every superpowered person is gonna get something awesome — what are the stories of those who aren’t basically Superman? Let’s find out!

      • There is a shitty variant of this power (and avoiding spoilers by not mentioning shitty variants that actually come up): control of bug. Not bugs. One bug. One bug at a time. (And for extra shitty it can’t be venomous, or fly.)

        I’m not sure even Skitter could do anything with that.

  16. Awesome fight sequence with Cricket. That was super cool. One thing I’m noticing is that you unintentionally drop periods at the end of sentences with dialogue. It’s been throwing me off a lot.

  17. You think an oxygen tank would explode? That totally breaks the immersion for me. I’ve actually seen it happen on Mythbusters: it takes a few seconds for the tank to empty through the hole, and the tank flys around as an uncontrolled rocket.

  18. I think Grue would correct Skitter when she described the power as “radar”. It’s *sonar*. It’s only tolerable (but still distracting) in the battle as it’s Skitter making the mistake, not the author. But it really should be corrected to bring it back to center.

  19. Reading this again a couple years later it always bothered me in this chapter that Grue wounded Cricket and Stormtiger instead of finishing them off. Given the fact that the undersiders were severely outnumbered and outgunned by people who were not only determined to kill them but any innocent bystander who got in the way, it seemed weird to me that Grue would mess around with non-lethal methods, especially since both cricket and stormtiger had abilities that made them dangerous even when incapacitated.

  20. “Don’t take a bet with Tattle,” Regent chimed in, “She cheats.”

    Nice callback to what Grue said to Regent, back when they met Skitter out of costume.

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