Infestation 11.1

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I stared down at the metal walkway as I caught my breath.  I had one gash at the side of my head, and another trickle ran from beneath the armor of my shoulder, down my arm and to my fingertip, where it dripped almost in sync with the head wound.  It should have hurt, but it didn’t.  Maybe it would when the shock wore off.  If so, I didn’t look forward to it.

Trickster, Ballistic and Circus lay in front of me.  Another cape had fallen over the railing and lay on the concrete floor below, unmoving.  They were all either unconscious or hurting badly enough that I didn’t need to worry about them.

I swallowed hard.  My heart had climbed up so far into my throat that I almost couldn’t breathe, and my heartbeat felt oddly distant and faint for how terrified I was.

Coil’s base was deserted.  I knew his men were out on patrols, that the only people in here were a handful of the capes that were working for him.  He’d left it almost undefended.

If I was going to act, I’d have to do it now.

My costume’s feet lacked hard soles, so I should have been nearly silent, but the interior of Coil’s base was deathly silent and my feet were slamming down on the metal walkway as I ran.  The noise of singing metal filled the dark space, echoing, seemingly louder with each step I took.

The thrum of the metal rang through the air even after I came to a stop.  I’d reached my target; a reinforced door, identical to so many others in the complex.  With the labyrinthine mess of metal walkways and the dozens of doors, I might have missed it.  The only thing telling me I was in the right place was the smudge of ash left behind from when the soldier had put out his cigarette on the wall.

I opened the door, and it was far too loud, creaking, then banging into the wall with a crash despite my last-second attempts to stop its momentum.

The room looked like a prison cell.  It had concrete walls and floor, a cot and a metal sink and toilet.  Coil and Dinah were both there.  I couldn’t say whose presence left me more devastated.

I could say Coil’s presence was the worst thing, because it meant my info was bad.  His power meant I was probably fucked on a lot of levels, that the odds were suddenly astronomically against me.  I was caught.  My gut told me that I wouldn’t make it out of the compound in one piece, now.  He was washing his hands in the sink, he turned to look at me, apparently unconcerned by my presence.

But no.  As I stared at Dinah and registered what I was seeing, I realized the image would be burned into my mind’s eye forever.  She lay on the cot on her side, her eyes open, staring at me, through me.  A bloody froth was drying at one side of her mouth and at the edges of one nostril.  I didn’t consider myself a religious person, but I prayed for her to blink, to breathe, to give me some relief from that cold horror that was gripping me.

I was too late.

My vision practically turned red as I charged Coil, drawing my knife as I ran.  I felt him use his power, and suddenly there were two of him, two of me, two cells with two dead girls named Dinah Alcott.

In one of those rooms, I stabbed Coil in the chest.  There was no satisfaction in doing it, no relief.  I’d lost, I’d failed in every way that counted.  The fact that I’d put him down barely mattered.

In the other room, he stepped back out of reach of my first lunge, raised one hand and blew a handful of pale dust into my face.  While I was blindly slashing in his direction, he grabbed the wrist of my knife hand and held it firm in his bony hand.

That room where I’d succeeded in stabbing him faded away.  The only me that existed, now, was coughing violently.  My knees buckled as I coughed hard enough to bring up my lungs, unable to get the powder out of my nose and mouth.  I pulled at my hand, trying to free it from his grip.  Futile.

“Stop,” he ordered me, and my struggles stilled, though I was still finishing my coughing fit.

“Diluted scopolamine,” he spoke, his voice calm, sonorous.  He let go of my wrist, and pushed at the knife in my hand.  I let it drop.  “Also known as Devil’s Breath.  The vodou sorcerers, the Bokor, were said to use this along with the venoms of the puffer fish and other poisons.  With these substances, they could create the ‘zombies’ they were so famous for.  These zombies of theirs were not raised from the dead, but were men and women who were forced to till fields and perform crude labor for the Bokor.  The uneducated thought it magic, but it was simple chemistry.”

I waited patiently for him to continue.  The notion of fighting or responding didn’t even occur to me.

“It strips imbibers of volition and renders them eminently suggestible.  As you can see, I attempted to use it on my pet, and the results were… tragic.  The price of hubris, I suppose.”

He sighed.

“Take off your mask,” he instructed me.

I did.  My hair fell across my face as I let my mask fall to the ground.  My cheeks were wet with tears.  Was that from before, from when I’d first seen Dinah?  Or was I able to cry about my present circumstance, even if I was helpless to do anything about it?

He touched my cheek, brushed a tear away with his thumb.  He stroked my hair, and the gesture felt strangely familiar.  The way his hand settled on the back of my neck and gripped me there didn’t.  It felt… possessive.

“Pet,” he intoned, and fresh terror shook me to my core.

“You couldn’t have succeeded.  This was terribly unwise.”

“Okay,” I murmured.

No, no, no, NO.

I didn’t deserve this.

My eyes fell on Dinah.  She still stared at me, eyes wide and unblinking, and I couldn’t help but see the look as accusing.

I did deserve this.  It was thanks to me that she’d been kidnapped.  Thanks to me that she’d been made into Coil’s slave.  Karma, perhaps, that I’d take her place.

The strength went out of me.  My head hung, and I stared at my feet.

Tears streamed down my face.  I didn’t wipe them away.  I wasn’t sure I could.

“Look at me, pet,” Coil instructed, and I did.  I was glad to, like a compliant, eager to please child.  A part of me wanted more orders.  In that drug induced haze, I wanted to lose myself in obeying, wanted to serve.  That way, at the very least, I wasn’t to blame for my own actions or the tragic consequences that followed from them.

Coil removed his mask, and I stared.

I recognized him.  He was someone I knew all too well.

They were both tall, thin.  How hadn’t I seen it?  Coil’s costume could must have been designed to highlight his skeletal structure, make him look thinner and more bony.  All it had taken, beyond that, would be an affected change to his voice and different mannerisms.  I’d been unable to see it.

So dumb, so stupid.

I could understand it, too.  He’d been struggling to fix things, watching people failing to find work, knowing it was the city government that was to blame.  I could remember him telling me how he’d make the city work again, how he had all the answers.  I knew how hungry he was to do it.

He’d gotten powers.  He’d started to put plans into motion so he could do just that.

“Welcome home, pet,” he spoke, and he didn’t speak in Coil’s voice.  The voice I heard was my father’s.

I woke up, and for a long moment I stared up at the ceiling of my room and reassured myself that it was all a fabrication of my own scumbag mind.  It had been a nightmare or a terror dream; I wasn’t positive on the differences between the two.  It was my brain drawing together all my guilt about what we’d done to Shadow Stalker, the role I’d played in Dinah being kidnapped and leaving my dad; knitting it all into some convincing, disturbing scenario.  Not the worst I’d had, but there was at least some repetition and familiarity with the usual ones.


It had felt way too real, and it had sucked.  My shirt stuck to me with the damp of my sweat, the room was warm, but I still shivered.

My alarm clock sat on the ground by my inflatable mattress.  I picked it up and turned it around so the I could see the green numbers of the digital display.  Five forty in the morning.

Time to wake up, I supposed.  There was no way I was going to be able to fall asleep again in the next few hours.  It wasn’t just the idea of having another nightmare.  The dream had left me with a feeling of an impending deadline.

How long could Dinah be expected to hold on?  I doubted Coil was taking bad care of her, so she wouldn’t die of malnutrition or overdose on whatever drugs Coil was giving her.  Still, there was a limit to what the human mind could handle.  How long until Coil pushed her abilities too far?  If she was getting headaches from the use of her power, there was a chance she could suffer more severe issues if pushed to use it more often.  Pain generally signified something was wrong.

I was also worried I wouldn’t earn Coil’s trust and respect.  Until this was resolved, I wouldn’t be able to rest, take it easy, or have a day to myself.  Not in good conscience.  Depending on what happened, it might be a long, long time before I could relax again.

What worried me more than anything was the idea that I might save Dinah, only to find that Coil had broken her spirit or her will to the point that she couldn’t go back to her old life.  I worried that, like in my nightmare, I would be too late.

With this in mind, I sat up and tossed the sheet aside.  I reached for my glasses, by the alarm clock, then stopped.

Instead of putting on my glasses, I stood and made my way to the bathroom adjacent to my room.  Alongside fresh supplies of toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, tweezers, shampoo, conditioner and all that, I had a small box with packages of disposable contact lenses, daily use.

I hated contacts so, so much.  I’d tried them in middle school, at Emma’s recommendation, and they had never felt comfortable.  That, and I had never figured out how to put them in properly.  It seemed like ninety-nine out of a hundred times, they flipped inside out to cling to my fingertip instead of sticking to my eye.

True to form, it took me four minutes to get the contacts in, and I found myself blinking every two seconds after I did have them in.

At least I could see.

I walked through my new base of operations wearing an oversized t-shirt and a pair of underwear.  Not exactly fitting attire for a supervillain.

My new abode was three stories tall, which made it taller than Grue or Bitch’s places, which were the only ones I’d seen thus far, but it was narrow.  A cafe had stood here, before, but it had been flattened by one of the first waves to hit the city.  Coil owned at least one of the companies that was managing the restoration and reconstruction efforts, and over the past two and a half weeks, as his crews had started clearing and rebuilding on the Boardwalk, he’d had them set up some buildings, all squashed together.  When the Boardwalk was fixed up, these same buildings would be at the westmost edge of the same block that had the stores, restaurants and coffee shops.  If the Boardwalk ever got going again, they would be prime real estate.

Ostensibly to protect these new buildings until people started buying up the properties, each had been set up with heavy metal shutters to seal the windows and wall off the front.  It made the building dark, with only faint streams of light filtering in through the slats at the top of each shutter.

The topmost floor was mine and mine alone.  Taylor’s.  It was living space, with a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen.  The bedroom was spacious enough to serve as a living room as well as a sleeping area.  The first things I’d done after Coil’s men had unloaded the furniture and supplies was to hook up an internet connection and computer and get my television mounted on a wall and connected to a satellite.

The second floor, as I liked to think of it, was Skitter’s.  It was for my costumed self.  It still needed more than a few things to complete it.  I flipped a switch in the stairwell, and tinted flourescent lights lit up on the undersides of the shelves that ran along two adjacent walls, floor to ceiling.  Each shelf was lined with terrariums and backed by strategically positioned mirrors so that the light filtered through the front of the terrariums and into the room.  Only a few were occupied, but they each had the same general contents – a layer of dirt and pieces of irregularly shaped wood.

I hit the second switch, and chambers in the lid of each occupied case opened to release their inhabitants.  As they crawled through the case, the spiders were lit up by the lighting so that their shadows and the strange shapes of the wood were cast against the panes of hard plastic, distorted and larger than life.  I’d seen a picture on the web of the same thing, done on a far smaller scale.  I had hopes that the effect would be suitably impressive and intimidating once all of the terrariums were full.

It would be doubly impressive once Coil’s special effects technician stopped by and outfitted a case with a series of switches that a large bug could move – a beetle or something.  If I could direct the beetle to release the bugs, turn the lights on or off or even open the lids of the terrariums, all while appearing to sit motionless in my chair, it would be that much more effective for any audience I happened to have in the room.

Terrariums aside, the room was sparse.  Six empty pedestals sat just beneath the shuttered window, each standing just a little beneath knee height.

After touring the place yesterday morning and spending some time browsing the web to see what was available, I’d gotten in contact with Coil and named every possible thing I could think of that I could use for the space.  The current contents of the rooms on this floor and upstairs had been delivered last night.  The stuff I was waiting on was harder to come by, and it would be unreasonable to expect it to be available and in place within this short span of time.

I did have a chair, here, way too large for me.  It was positioned in one corner, so that it was framed by the two walls of terrariums.  It was black leather, and broad enough that I could comfortably sit cross-legged on it.  I’d loved the idea since I’d seen one like it in Brian’s apartment.  It was the one concession I was making in regards to atmosphere and appearances.  A series of smaller seats were positioned so they faced the larger chair and the terrariums.

A large abstract painting hung above the stairs on the right side of the room.  I’d seen a similar one online and had liked it, so I had found the artist’s gallery and stumbled onto this.  It was the first thing I had asked Coil for, and he’d delivered a large framed print far faster than I might have expected.  I liked how it tied into the room and echoed the shapes cast against the front panes of the terrariums.  The black lines were painted on the background of reds and yellows in a way that seemed spidery.

I stared at the painting for a minute, seriously worried that I would see the abstract image from a different angle and realize I’d had Coil get me a eight-foot by five-foot painting of a hairy wang or a headless chicken or something.

Making my way down the stairs, I found the ground floor surprisingly cool.  The weather was warming up, and with the shutters closed, I’d found my room warm, sticky in the humid air.  I’d foregone pajama bottoms, had slept with just a single sheet, and had slept with my feet uncovered.  Goosebumps prickled my bare legs as I stepped on the cool hardwood floor.

The ground floor here wasn’t much different from the one at Grue’s place.  There was an area with bunk beds, albeit fewer than Grue’d had, a bathroom, a small kitchen and an open area that didn’t yet serve a purpose, stacked with boxes.

All this was mine.  My lair.  It felt so empty.

I knew that would change as it filled with furniture and necessities.  The place was already something of a luxury.  More than half of Brockton Bay was currently lacking plumbing or electricity, with more than a few unfortunate individuals having neither.  In the process of setting up these buildings, Coil had ensured I was provided with both.  Trucks would be coming and going through this area as clearing and construction continued, and Coil had informed me that these trucks would be discreetly resupplying me with water, ensuring my water heater had propane, emptying the aboveground septic tank and refueling the generator.

As the city was rebuilt and standard utilities were put back in order, these special measures would be set aside, I’d get hooked up to those, and my lair would be lost in the surge of urban growth.  Ideal world.

It was nice to be able to enjoy those luxuries, but the Dinah situation took all of the joy out of it.  I had hot showers and the ability to wash my dishes because Coil had provided them.

I grabbed a cell phone from the kitchen counter and dialed Coil.  I didn’t give a fuck about the fact that it was 5:45 in the morning.

It bothered me, calling him, relying on him.  It made me feel complicit.  Inconveniencing him, even a little, felt good.

“Yes?”  His question was curt.

“It’s Skitter.”

“What is it, Skitter?”

“I need a loan of some guys.”

“How many?”

I looked around the living room, “Eight?  A truck would be a good idea, if you can get one here.”

“I can.  These men you require, are you needing gunmen or-”

“Just regular guys, anyone up for some exercise.”

“I assume there’s no rush?”  He was being more curt than usual.  Maybe I’d woken him up.  I didn’t really care.  He could deal, if I was working on something that helped him.

“No rush.”

“Then I’ll have them there in an hour.”

“An hour, then.”

He hung up.

It was a lot of time to kill.  Free time sucked when you didn’t want to be alone with your thoughts.

I wanted to run, but it was awkward.  The fenced off areas, construction zones and flooded streets of the Boardwalk didn’t really make a sprint around the neighborhood that doable.  Besides, it was dangerous enough I might stand out.

In the end, I went against my better judgement and decided to go for a run.  I dressed in a pair of shorts and a tank top, donned my running shoes and ensured I had both my pepper spray and my knife.  I unstrapped the knife’s sheath from the back of my costume, then threaded a belt through it so I could strap it around my waist.  I put the sheath itself under my waistband and the handle of the knife under my top.

I stood in front of the full length mirror in my bedroom to check how visible the weapon was.

It wasn’t exactly hidden, but it wasn’t conspicuous either.  I adjusted it slightly, then called a small collection of bugs to me.  It was a little creepy, having them crawl on my skin, beneath my clothes into my hair, but that stopped when they reached their destinations – above my socks, in my hair and between my bra and my top.  I was cool with it so long as they weren’t directly on my skin.

Did I look different?  My skin had a light tan, now. I’d spent more time outdoors in the past few weeks.  In the week and a half I’d spent in the shelter, I hadn’t exactly had books or TV, so I’d walked during the day, making my way across the city to check on the loft and to see the state of my dad’s house.  I’d walked at night, too, when I’d been unable to sleep, but people hardly tanned doing that.

I couldn’t pin down exactly how or why, but the definition in my face and body had changed.  It was possible I’d had a growth spurt.  Some of it was perhaps the tan giving more accent to the features of my body or face.  Maybe it was that I’d been eating a pretty lean diet when I was staying at the shelter, coupled with the fact that I’d been so active over the past two months.  I hadn’t spent six hours every day sitting around in school, I’d been in fights, I’d been running, and I’d ridden the dogs.  I had some muscle definition in my arms, now, and I thought maybe I was standing straighter.  Or maybe it was all those minor things helped by the simple fact that I was dressing differently, that my hair hadn’t been cut in a while, and that I wasn’t wearing my glasses.

To say I barely recognized myself was.. how could I put it?  It was true, but I could also remember myself months ago, when I’d look at my reflection and I would be so focused on the flaws and the things I didn’t like about myself that I never felt familiar with the person I was seeing in the mirror.  It was as though it was always a stranger I was looking at, and I would be left vaguely surprised at the combination of features across from me.

This was not recognizing myself in a very different way.  There were still things I didn’t like, like my wide mouth, my small chest and the lack of curves or any real femininity.  My scars stood out with my slight tan, a teardrop shaped mark on my forearm where Bitch’s dog had bitten me, a wavy mark on my cheek where Sophia had dug her fingernails in,and a line by my earlobe where she’d tried to tear my ear off.  But my physical flaws no longer consumed my attention when I looked at myself. I felt comfortable with my body, like I’d somehow earned it, the way it was, and it was mine now.  I wasn’t sure if that made any sense, even to myself.

If there was anything about myself that I didn’t like, it was primarily psychological.  Guilt was a big one.  The idea that my dad might dislike me if he got to know me, now?  That was another.  That my mom, were she alive and showing up at the door, might be disappointed in me?  Sobering.

As he’d done with his own underground base, Coil had set my lair up with a discreet entrance and exit.  Leaving through the front door would be conspicuous, if I started working with anyone beyond my teammates.  Skinny teenage girl with black curly hair entering and leaving the same building that the skinny teenage villain with black curly hair was operating out of?  No.

I made my way to the building’s cellar, opened a hatch and entered the adjacent storm drain.  The same builders that had put the building together had blocked off the drain so the water flow wouldn’t make it impassable, and I was left with a clear route down to the section of beach where the storm drains emptied.

I wasn’t sure if Coil had plans to keep the city’s workers from trying to unblock the drain, but I supposed that was the sort of thing we could rely on him to handle.  In the meantime, a third of the storm drains were too clogged with rubble and detritus to drain, and another third didn’t connect to anything anymore.  Add the fact that most of the storm drains were a little out of the way of regular foot traffic, and it wasn’t too conspicuous.

I started running the moment I reached the beach, glad for the chance to resume my routine.

It was a strange environment, eerie.  The wooden pathway, the literal boardwalk that had run in front of the stores, was now a skeletal ruin that loomed above the piles of trash that the bulldozers had all pushed to one side, twice as tall as I was.  The beach had been cleared, which was a feat unto itself.   The work of the bulldozers and the crews with rakes had revealed the packed, dirt-like layer from beneath the loose sand.  Opposite the trash piles, by the water, there were mounds of irregularly shaped pieces of concrete, set to break up the waves and prevent the highest tides from dragging the trash, debris and machinery into the ocean.  Two mounds looming on either side, with a space cleared in the middle for the trucks and any foot traffic.

A scene up ahead caught my attention.  Two pieces of machinery lay in a heap just below the lip of the boardwalk above.  A bulldozer and an eighteen wheeler with a crane-mounted claw attached had both been driven or pushed over the edge of the boardwalk and onto the beach.  The cab of the truck with the claw had been partially crushed by the bulldozer. Though it was barely past six in the morning, a group of laborers were already there, some on the ledge above, others down on the beach, all gathered around the trucks.

Spray paint had been used to draw the same crude symbol on both the side of the eighteen wheeler and the concrete wall separating the beach from the Boardwalk above.  A capital ‘M’, with two taller lines drawn vertically through it much the same as you’d do with a dollar sign.  The Merchants.

It fit their modus operandi.  They had been bums, drunks and addicts, looked down on others, before Leviathan came.  In the wake of what Leviathan had done to the city, leaving everything in shambles, with social services gone or in chaos and even basic utilities in short supply, everyone else had been brought down to their level.  The Merchants were even, I suspected, thriving.  With strength in numbers and virtually nothing holding them back, they had become like pack animals.  They roamed the city in bands of three to twenty, robbing, raping, pillaging and stealing.  They were settling in some of the better areas, the neighborhoods that still had power or water, and forcing the existing residents out.

Or, worse, I could imagine that some were moving in and keeping the residents around for their own amusement.  It was not a pleasant thought.  The kind of people who had gravitated towards the Merchants tended to have a lot of resentment.  Specifically, they had resentment towards people who had what they didn’t.  If they happened upon a family with Kate the soccer mom, Tommy, the kid with more video games than teeth, and Joe the blue-collar worker with a steady job?  If they weren’t letting them go?  I was guessing that hypothetical family would be in for a hell of a rough time.

It might have sounded silly, that line of speculation, but I’d spent time in the shelters.  I’d heard about how vicious and depraved the Merchants were getting.

Anyways, this?  This whole situation?  They liked it.  They wanted to keep things this way, and that meant they were going to stop anyone else from fixing it.  They would intercept supplies, attack rescue workers and they would push construction vehicles into a heap on the beach.

I’d have to deal with these guys.  It wasn’t just intercepting any groups that made their way into my territory.  That was easy, all things considered.  No, I also had to deal with the small army that would come marching through here wanting retaliation over my having kicked the asses of any groups that had made their way into my territory.

I could call on the others, if such a situation arose, and I expected them to call on me if the same thing happened.  But people would take time to get here, and the Merchants, the Chosen or whoever else was making trouble could keep making trouble until the reinforcements arrived.  It was tricky, and I didn’t know for sure how I’d handle things if-


My reaction wasn’t much different than if someone had stabbed me in the stomach with an icicle.  I’d thought of that mental image in particular because of the cold, horrible feeling in my midsection; fear, guilt.  My thoughts immediately went back to my nightmare from earlier.  I turned to look.

“It’s you,” my dad spoke, “Wow.”

He stood on the ledge above me.  He was more tanned than I was.  He wore a short-sleeved button-up shirt and khakis and held a clipboard.  It set him apart from the other laborers, and the man who stood just behind him, wearing a gray t-shirt and jeans.  I knew in an instant, my dad was in charge around here.

Looking at him, I couldn’t imagine how I might have thought he was Coil.  Even in a dream.

“Just out for my regular run.”

Surprise etched his face, “You’re running during this…?!”

He made a visible effort to close his mouth.  It made me feel uneasy.  What thought process or concern was keeping my dad from opening his mouth about my running?  He’d been worried about it when the streets were relatively safe.  Was he that spooked at the idea of scaring me off again?

He looked at the man who was standing near him, murmured something.  The man walked over to join the others in observing the damage around the damaged vehicles.

We were left more or less alone.

“You got my messages?”  I asked.

“I’ve listened to that answering machine so many times-” he stopped.  He was a good distance away, but I could see the lines in his forehead, “I miss you.”

“I miss you too.”

“I… I don’t know how to ask.  I’m afraid to ask you to come home, because I’m not sure I can stand to hear you tell me you won’t.”

He paused, for a long moment.  Waiting for me to jump at the opportunity.  I stayed silent and hated myself for it.

“Well,” he said, so quiet I could barely hear him, “You can always come home.  Any time, any reason.”

“Okay,” I told him.

“What are you doing with yourself these days?”

I struggled to find an answer, and was saved by the bell.  One of the men by the wreck shouted, “Danny!” and my dad turned.

My dad ran his fingers through his hair, “I need to go handle this.  Can I… How do I contact you?”

“I’ll leave you a message on your answering machine,” I said, “With my cell phone number, and my email in case I’m in an area where cell service is down.”

“Email?” he asked.  “Where are you that you have access to a computer?”

A few blocks from here.

“Just outside the city limits,” I lied, “Not far from the Market.”

“So you’re out of the way of any trouble,” My dad noted, with a touch of relief.  There was a noise as someone began prying one of the truck doors open, and my dad turned his head, frowning.  “But what are you doing here this morning?”

“I was going to stop by the house, see if it was in okay shape,” I lied again.  Was this the extent of my interactions with my dad?  Always lies?  “Keeping up with my running.”

“I see.  Look, I have to go, but I do want to talk again, soon.  Lunch, maybe?”

“Maybe,” I offered.  He offered me a sad smile, then turned to go.

I moved my hand to adjust my glasses, and wound up waving at my face.  I was wearing my lenses.

“Dad!” I called out.  He stopped.  “Um.  I’d heard the Slaughterhouse Nine were around.  Be careful, warn others.”  I pointed at my face.

His eyes widened.  I could see the thought process, the realization.  He took off his glasses and hung them from his shirt’s front pocket.  I wasn’t positive that was much better.

“Thank you,” he said, squinting slightly at me.  He raised a hand in an awkward half-wave, and I returned it with one of my own.  As if by mutual agreement, we turned to leave at the same time, both of us going in separate directions.  He hurried to where he was needed, and I turned to run back to my place.  My lair.  I hadn’t run nearly as far as I’d wanted, but I wasn’t up to continuing.

I checked the kitchen clock as I entered from the cellar.  I had thirty minutes.  I took the time to shower and don my costume – my sleeve was still crusty and stained yellow-white where it had come in contact with the foam, but at least it wasn’t sticky anymore.

My mask wasn’t wearable with the contacts.  I’d taken lenses out of an old pair of glasses and set them into the construction of my mask.   I debated it for a few moments, then I decided to use the remaining time to fix it.  With my knife’s point, I set about undoing that particular piece of work, prying the lenses out.

I finished with enough time left over to grab and eat a breakfast bar.  Coil’s people were punctual, rapping on the metal shutter at six forty-five.

Alright.  This was it.  I pulled on my mask.

Time to claim my territory.

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79 thoughts on “Infestation 11.1

  1. ‘The idea that my dad might dislike me if they got to know me, now?’
    The idea that my dad might dislike me if he got to know me, now?
    I thought maybe the beginning was a dream because of the way it started but then I thought..who knows… and that bit with coil morphing into dad!! I was shouting ‘NO WAY’. And of course it was a dream. The disturbing nightmare sequence is a thing that has been done in many a movie and book and sometimes gets a bit boring…but you did yours very I said we might think it is a dream at first but you wrote it in a way that made us doubt ourselves. Very well done on that.

    • I know the dream sequence is sort of a tired bit, but it struck me that I’ve mentioned a few times that Taylor has nightmares, earlier in the story, and there’s the stress over Dinah, her dad and Sophia, and I wanted to sort of touch on that without getting into pure exposition. Showing rather than telling. So I went with the dream.

      All in all? I’m ok with how that part turned out, personally. Though I welcome any complaints/criticisms/praise to let me know if I hit the mark & should leave that option open for another story/book in another year.

      • maybe i should have said it WOULD have been boring…but it was done so well… like i said I get very into your stories so my housemates are often asking me why I am shouting ‘NO WAY’ or ‘HOORAY’ in the middle of the night! So I wouldn’t change a thing either.

      • On the other hand it would be fun to somehow make the reader believe it is a dream sequence and then in the end it is actually reality… a spin on the dream sequence, a mockery of the cliche and a good way to get back at the readers who think they have the whole plot figured out.

      • Heya, should : “They had been bums, drunks and addicts, looked down on others, before Leviathan came.”
        Be: “They had been bums, drunks and addicts, looked down on by others, before Leviathan came.”

      • Well, I’ll tell you this: My heart was in my throat right up until Coil removed his mask. You really made that work, mate. Top job.

    • I really thought it was going to be one of Coil’s alternate realities, at first, and that it’d disappear once she had killed him or something.

  2. “…to use the remaining time minutes to fix it.”
    the remaining time to fix it.

    “…enough time left over to grab and a breakfast bar.”
    to grab a breakfast bar

    It’s nice to confirm she took the time to tell her dad that she’s, yanno, alive. It’s something I’d wondered about more than once.

    • Break all the glass? I guess that would make sense, but the way Taylor said ‘I wasn’t sure if that was much better’ when her dad hung the glasses on his shirt makes me wonder if it’s more than that.


      • I’d suspect that it would be more than that, though not full silica-kinesis. I think that it was mentioned that she is often the one who “announces” the 9’s arrival in a city. Perhaps she can shatter glass on a massive scale and send the shards flying at a dangerously high speed in random directions? Then, having glasses in your breast pocket can send the shards hurtling into one’s chest.

      • Ohhh… I had assumed the Slaughterhouse Nine were prejudiced against people with glasses, or something… That makes much more sense.

        Though I kinda like my idea…

    • ohhhh, so thats why she is wearing contac lenses and removing the glasses from her googles. I haven’t get it till now.

  3. The nightmare thing fits with the overall story, Taylor has a lot of stress and has mentioned it before. However, there was more logical detail in this dream than I would expect from dreams, like the voodoo dust exposition and the cigarette burn on the wall — it seemed like this was something that was actually happening. I half wondered if we were being given some vision of the future, and then Skitter woke up.

    It would seem weird when she controls bugs, but it’s not weird when you think of that power as a type of latent telepathy and psychic power…

    • Well, I debated some of those points – I’m not sure on the exposition, but the cigarette burn at least – and decided that Taylor’s a very detail focused person, so it would make sense for that to translate to a dream.

      The cigarette burn also serves a double purpose in that it’s sort of a clue as to what’s going on, before she actually wakes up. In the actual story, 7.8 or 7.9, whichever (where she meets Dinah for the first time), Coil rubs the smudge from the wall while talking. The fact that it’s still there is an intentional inconsistency, that the place is described as ‘labyrinthine’ and that she doesn’t use/have her power are others.

      On your last point, the ties between powers, memories & one’s dreaming have come up before (Interlude 7) and are liable to come up again, so you’re not wrong.

      • Another clue was that she was aware of Coil’s multiple threads. Were she to try to do this for real she would only perceive the reality in which Coil had avoided her knife.

        • That had me wondering where she’d got extra powers from, how much time had passed since the last chapter, and just how awful Coil’s other thread had got that he kept this one.

          Once she woke up I briefly considered whether it might be her somehow seeing the other thread with some latent secondary power, but then Coil wouldn’t have been able to split again, regardless of whether Skitter could follow both.

  4. Interesting. I am curious what type of threat makes switching from glasses to contacts a valid defence mechanism.

    I am sure Taylor will have no problems intimidating the help and her neighbours and building up a reputation. People’s inherent fears of creepy crawlies will do half her work for her if she goes about it right.

    I am looking forward to finding out what exotic beasties Coil will get her for her menagerie. I think the problem won’t be finding creatures that can easily be weaponized, but finding ones that can be turned into non-lethal weapons. To many insect and arachnid horrors out there would be useful in a fight, with the catch that there was a too great possibility that they would leave an opponent dead.

    I guess this is one of the problems with having a powerset much better suited to someone who would have no qualms having his enemies stung to death or devoured alive.

    On the topic of Taylor’s powers, I have to wonder just what exactly her limits are and how set in stone those limits are. We have heard of the manton effect and the possibility of a second breakthrough under the right sort of conditions and already saw the range of her powers increase during stressful situations. There appears to be room for growth in that direction. On the other hand spiders and insects are a strange combination as they seen to have little in common biological speaking outside a person’s mind who just lumps them into the same category.

    She should do some tests to find out what exactly she can and can’t control as just spiders and insects seems a bit arbitrary. Wasn’t there some mention of centipedes a while back? It would make sense if the powers included all arthropods: insects, spiders, millipedes and centipedes, but also scorpions and crustacea ranging from shrimp and crabs to lobsters. The last one might be useful if she ever had to fight in a seafood restaurant, or maybe Coil can get her a Japanese spider crab.

    Taylor has already proven that she can sense parasites with Rachel’s dogs. Considering the likely prevailing sanitary conditions in her hometown at the moment she should be able to use her senses to keep track of a large part of the population by their parasites with some training. Just attune her senses to lice for example and she has an instant 3-D map of the unwashed masses around her in her head.

      • Yes, there was mention of crabs early on and during the fight against Leviathan there was mention of crustaceans, so I guess as the reader we should already know that much, if we had paid enough attention. It might be nice to have some sort of training montage / exposition scenes where our heroine probes the limits of her powers, a justification could be to avoid the embarrassment of having to give her range as “a few blocks” or maybe seeing her own profile in the data stolen from the wards and giving some thought to the speculations in it.

        The whole arthropodovoyance and arthropodokinesis given by the PRT would seem to be inaccurate at least. The heartworms she sensed are not arthropods, but nematods ( Her powers probably include all ecdysozoa ( or even all protostome if her powers work on things like snails and slugs.

        In any case insects and spiders are probably the only ones she can actually use in combat as most of the other stuff is aquatic and/or too small to be useful. Although I guess it would be fun if she figured out how to weaponize krill or something.

      • Loki-L you just blow my mind. I have been like an hour loking biological taxonomies in the wikipedia and my head is spinning.

        So the “simpliest” theory i have come with is these one: Taylor’s powers increase with time and use, not only in distance and number but also in deep. In these early stage she affect arthropods, that have a neuroloy simple enought for her to control but complex enough to be more or less similar to ours. In the future, when her powers grow, she will affect all the Protostome ( that include Arthropods, nematodes (roundworms.Like the ones in Bitch’s dogs.Parasites.),platyhelminthes(like the Taenia saginata or tapeworm.Parasites), rotifers(too small(0.1-0.5 mm) and simple for be important i think), molluscs and annelids(proper worms).

        That my theory. All depend in what the Word of God say about. Maybe he already have plans about all these.

    • After Leviathan attack a PRT officer describe her powers as arthropodovoyance and arthropodokinesis. An arthropod ( is an invertebrate animal having an exoskeleton (external skeleton), a segmented body, and jointed appendages. These include the insects, arachnids, crustaceans, and others.

      So, yeah, her powers affect all arthropods, or at least that what the PRT believe.

    • Well, Loki, perhaps you’ve never heard of the likes of Mirror Master, one of the members of the infamous Flash’s Rogues. His technology is all related to mirrors, which let him use it on anything that could hold a reflection.

      Teleporting through them was a big one. The thing had to be big enough for what you wanted to send through it. Glasses aren’t that big unless you want to just put your fingers through and go for an eye or stick a knife in. If they’re contacts, they may not realize they’re there to try it.

      In the process, whoever it is might be able to stick their eyes up to the glass or other reflective surface from the “other side” and use it to spy.

      Take a look around. I’m sure there’s plenty large enough mirrors, picture frames, maybe even monitors and tv screens. Mirror Master could do this to other people too, so he could drop an entire team of supervillains in on people unsuspecting. I wouldn’t want to be a hero running over a big puddle of water at them either.

      That’s my speculation at least.

    • Taratula hawk wasps carrying bullet ants would be an excellent non-lethal weapon, because they both cause excruciating pain and don’t kill

  5. Taylor´s power affects everything that have a nervous system, as long as this nervous system is simple enough.
    This should include most fish also. Depending on how complex is the nervous system that she can control it can get up to sharks and depending on how simple it can get down to lice, acarus and a lot of small parasites.
    Yeah, if she wanted she could rule a small town (do anything against me and the parasite in your brain will start to eat).
    The interesting part is that bacteria and virus do not have a nervous system. If they had Taylor would be simply unbeatable by anyone with a close to normal human body.
    Only machines or something like weld would stand a chance against her.

    • Oh, considering the number of horrible flesh-burrowing things that exist out there, she could totally work out a variation of Bakuda’s implanted bomb thingy.

      I remember this article about this species of flies that would exclusively lay the eggs of their flesh-eating larvae in humans… Oh, here it is. The 5 Most Horrifying Bugs in the World.
      Come to thing of it, the rest of the article is also nice reading material for Taylor.

  6. Aww… Our little child soldier is becoming a captain.

    Good chapter, as always. Let’s see how she’ll go about taking control of the neighborhood…

    A few things stood out. One is that, though I talked about wanting to see the kind of lair she builds in one of the previous episodes’ threads, I now wonder what she’d actually do with that lair. She may be an insect-themed supervillain, but she doesn’t actually have any particular affection for insects: she can barely tolerate them crawling on her. So, she has a lot of interestingly lit bugs on the second floor, but whom is the light show for? Anyone trustworthy enough to know where she sleeps doesn’t need to be impressed, and anyone she would need to intimidate with her lair can’t be allowed to know where she sleeps. Is it only for the benefit of keeping the minions in line?

    Does Coil intend to rule fairly openly, with everybody’s headquarters being public information, so she’s supposed to receive supplicants on the day of her daughter’s wedding? I am not sure how well that could work. In mafia organizations, though the boss’s identity and place of residence may be public, he is insulated from prosecution by his chain of command — no one can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is involved in any particular crime. That wouldn’t work for these supervillains, who are expected to be their own enforcers.

    The other thing is, surely Coil would delegate ordinary personnel and equipment requests to an underling, and insist that his personal number to only be used for emergencies? Mind you, maybe he did, but Taylor didn’t respect his insistence. Isn’t she trying to get on his good side, though?

    Editorish comments:
    “a series of switches” — Perhaps “a bank of switches”?
    “an open area that didn’t yet serve a purpose, stacked with boxes.” — A little awkward, since it isn’t the open area that’s stacked, it’s the boxes. Perhaps “an open area that didn’t yet serve a purpose, which presently held stacks of boxes.”

    Missing serial commas:
    “Trickster, Ballistic and Circus”
    “toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, tweezers, shampoo, conditioner and all that”
    “bedroom, bathroom and kitchen”
    “a bathroom, a small kitchen and an open area”
    “trash, debris and machinery”
    “bums, drunks and addicts”
    “robbing, raping, pillaging and stealing”
    “They would intercept supplies, attack rescue workers and they would push construction vehicles into a heap on the beach.”

    • Also, given that the place is full of boxes, it does serve a purpose- storage…

      People don’t need to know WHERE the lair is to be brought there, have a hood pulled off their head, and see bugs everywhere.

      And I’m imagining that much of the space will be used for bug breeding, clothmaking, and other industrial work. Maybe she should get some real costume designers.

      • Time for Uncle Gecko’s rampant criminal organization ass-pull!

        She’s going to need a front. Something has to be there in that first floor. Right now it doesn’t matter, since the city’s still out of whack. No clue what she’ll go for, but it shouldn’t be anything bug-related. To easy to guess it’s where Skitter is located.

        I wonder if the breakup of the Undersiders is Coil’s method of insulating himself. Right now, while he’s underestimated or not paid attention to, he can afford to use his accounts to buy things and set them up. Once he’s in public, that’ll change. Just being a supervillain ruling the city won’t exactly work. Any kind of rule means he’ll have to have a public presence of some sort. In this case, he might take power in his civilian identity. You know, as some sort of legitimate businessman. Still, the suspicions will be there. Everyone will be looking to find out where his money is, what it’s used for, and where it’s from, and how they can pin him to this crime or that crime.

        Instead, there’ll just be the Undersiders who have carved out territory and are taking in money from various sources: drugs, protection, gambling, prostitution, illegal chinchilla ranching. All the dirty money goes to them. The tough part is getting it laundered to Coil. In his public persona, it won’t, can’t go to him, most likely. As Coil, they could hand it over in cash, but that’s difficult when it comes to paying for equipment and such. Everything needs a card tied to a bank account, after all. At the moment, since I’m pulling criminal organization out of my ass, I would go with some sort of fake charity or even a Super PAC. Something where people can donate anonymously and the funds can be fudged.

        Maybe Coil’s public persona heads up the thing or is otherwise somehow involved so that the money can appear to go to what it was meant to go for, while he diverts it to whatever he intends to do.

        Even better is if a private military contractor is a business his public persona runs. Makes the acquisition of weapons, ammo, and equipment fit in better.

      • Heck, now THAT would make a good interlude some day- the Number Man, and perhaps how he(she? they?) deal with that stuff.

        Supervillains and money… Such an interesting part of the puzzle.

        • And very dangerous to write as well! Write it sloppily and get pounded by the plebs, do it too well and you’ll get frisked by the feds. I advice Wildbow not to write a number about the Number Man.

          By the way: I am unto you Wildbow. We all know that the Number Man is Nasir Jones in a world where Rap stayed looking at the front door and never got paid in full. You see right before Rap’s Genesis, everyone was following the leaders of the New School: the infamous Parahumans. Both the prodigies and those who caused havoc proceeded to steal all the shyne, leaving Nas(ir) to having a traumatic experience with his math home work during half-time (of course the home work was harder than breaking atoms – it was after all given by the large professor).

    • @Pahan, maybe you speak a different variant of English than I. Both of the phrases you cited look fine to me: “a series of switches” is a perfectly valid way to describe a bunch of switches all lined up or connected in some way, and “an area stacked with boxes” is quite alright for describing a space with a bunch of boxes stacked in it — replace “stacked” with “piled high”, which are essentially synonymous, and you’ll probably recognize the grammar pattern.

      Also, just to put a fine point on it, I much prefer omitting the serial comma. When I was young (early teens), it used to bug me not to have it, because it seemed somehow inconsistent. Having given it some thought as I started writing for myself (as opposed to for school), I feel that the serial comma is both superfluous and cluttering.


      • Hydrargentium, indeed, those comments are inherently subjective, but there is a difference between “valid way to describe something” and the optimal way to do so — not that I claim that my suggestions are the unique, optimal way. In this case a “series” is a very generic collective noun — the sort one might use when one doesn’t have a better word — and, further, connotes the switches being positioned in a straight line or perhaps having some sequential aspect to their arrangement. A “bank [of switches]” is a more specific term with the right connotation of some sort of an assembly made to hold a number of electrical switches to control things. So, I thought it fit better. As for “an area stacked with boxes”, as it was, “area” was the object of “stacked”, even though the objects being stacked were the boxes.

        Regarding the serial comma, I believe Wildbow has said before that he or she preferred serial commas, so I’ve been pointing out the places where they were missing.

  7. “I stared at the painting for a minute, seriously worried that I would see the abstract image from a different angle and realize I’d had Coil get me a eight-foot by five-foot painting of a hairy wang or a headless chicken or something.” Hahaha, I love the unexpected bits of comic relief that pop up sometimes.

  8. >“Dad!” I called out. He stopped. “Um. I’d heard the Slaughterhouse Nine were around. Be careful, warn others.” I pointed at my face.

    His eyes widened. I could see the thought process, the realization. He took off his glasses and hung them from his shirt’s front pocket. I wasn’t positive that was much better.

    I remember being VERY confused by this the first time around. I just now went back to re-read it and see if it made any more sense- and of course it does. I would suggest giving more information about Shatterbird in the previous chapters.

    Like, I remember re-reading that part several times wondering what the fuck was going on. I thought maybe Danny realized Taylor might be a cape if she has access to information about the Nine way ahead of most civilians.

    • I’ll concur here. I’m reading through this for the first time, and this statement makes absolutely no sense at this point in the narrative.

    • Close to the same thing here. Difference is that I actually thought Taylor was telling her father that she was a cape to try to give him some peace of mind about her watching out for herself. Particularly when he took off his glasses as that’s something that I do on rare occasions when I’m completely thrown for a loop and need to process.

    • I have no problem with it. It’s a hanging mystery, you’re not *meant* to make sense at this point. It’s meant to intrigue you and make you go “Hmm, that was a bit odd” so later you’ll remember it and go “Aha! *That’s what that was about!”.

      And it does that job nicely IMO.

    • I got that some member of the S9 is (even more?) dangerous to people wearing glasses. I have NO CLUE why or why contact lenses and bug mask lenses are exempt from this, but finding out will be interesting.

  9. “I flipped a switch in the stairwell, and tinted flourescent lights lit up on the undersides of the shelves that ran along two adjacent walls, floor to ceiling”
    Should that be fluorescent? Nice work.

  10. > I picked it up and turned it around so the I could see the green numbers of the digital display.

    “So the I” doesn’t parse. I’m guessing it should be just “so I”.

    • > The first things I’d done after Coil’s men had unloaded the furniture and supplies was to hook up an internet connection and computer and get my television mounted on a wall and connected to a satellite.

      “The first things… was” has mismatched plurality. It should be “the first things… were”.

  11. Typo: “Coil’s costume could must have been…”

    Presumably, either a comma has been omitted or an extra word or two was added.

  12. Oh, Taylor. If only you could open up too your dad a little more. She doesn’t have to tell him she’s a supervillain, but she could give him some more reassurance than that. But it is of course very easy to slip back into old habits and flawed relationships, especially with family members. So it’s very realistic, true-to-life… just kinda tragic.

    The dream sequence was fairly obvious, but still effective for it. It did contain one distracting typo: “Coil’s costume could must have been”.

  13. Wildbow — the whole dream sequence was beautifully done. I was freaked until I began to suspect it was somehow “not real” (the ash thing was a good mis-direct), and you played it well enough that I was still hemming-hawing to the point she woke up.

    I concur with the commenters who were unclear about the Shattercrow vs. eyeglasses part — more exposition, maybe? As someone seriously myopic/presbyopic who finally gave up the squint/ dust/ tears struggle with contacts and has resigned to bug-eyed glasses for life, I was actually confused (and disappointed — geeks with glasses rule!) back when she put them in and wrecked her goggles.
    David Burns: “1st floor exterminator service?” (12/27/13 comment)
    While PG often amuses me, THAT comment made me spew my coffee! Good idea! 🙂
    ” … bums, drunks and addicts, looked down on others, before Leviathan … ” {by} others.

  14. “They had been bums, drunks and addicts, looked down on others, before Leviathan came.” – I suspect that should be “looked down on BY others”…

  15. “It was my brain drawing together all my guilt about what we’d done to Shadow Stalker, the role I’d played in Dinah being kidnapped and leaving my dad”

    i can see other threads there: anger and betrayal towards her father, as well as his last action with her being a possessive one – locking her in the house and trying to force an increase in intimacy. perhaps worry over becoming coil’s slave as part of her attempt to save dinah. very well done, wildbow. you have a knack for the complex.

  16. Contrary to what others out here seemed to think, I thought the dream sequence was brilliantly done. It was quite obvious that the whole thing was a dream, right from the start, but it didnt take away the shock that Coil would’ve been Taylor’s father from the start. Not one bit.

    One (sort of) story problem though. Just because Taylor has access to email, doesnt allow Danny Hebert to actually make any sort of valid deduction about her location. The story does seem to make prominent mentions about smart phones, so as long as she’s getting cell phone reception, I dont see how email would be any different.

    • Ok,I am confused….where did anyone say he didn’t like the dream sequence?I had read nothing but praise in the comments,and I find myself agreeing with it.

  17. I love the fact that Taylor has a lair now. That is too cool. The thing with the beetle switch box is epic by the way. It’s a fantastic way to continue to show her incredible ability to come up with incredibly creepy ways to use her comparatively “minor” power. The intimidation factor alone with that is awesome.

    It was nice getting to see that she still has some contact with her dad. I was worried for a bit there that she had never even let him know she survived the Leviathan attack. I’d recommend just a short line about leaving him a message or something a few chapters back just so we know beforehand that she hasn’t totally abandoned him. That being said this was a sweet if heartbreaking moment here. I am curious about the glass thing. I thought at first it would be someone in the group was out for people with glasses but if she’s prying her lenses out of the mask where noone can see them that gets me thinking that maybe one of them can simply break glass. Seriously sucks for people with glasses. Speaking from one who used to wear them and also hated contact lenses with a passion, did Taylor have to get new contacts or did she keep up with her prescription for them just in case despite hating them? Prescriptions can change quite quickly at that age and if she didn’t keep getting new contacts even a set from six months ago can be pretty far off from her current set of glasses. I know it’s a small thing but…eh, like I said, I was a slave to my glasses for over 10 years so I’m curious.

  18. >They had been bums, drunks and addicts, looked down on others, before Leviathan came.

    Bums, drunks, and addicts look down on others?

    Dislike Taylor’s staunch moralism. Coil’s doing the city a service. Dislike dream sequence; done to death, and dreams don’t really make that much sense.

    • aahh,you are the guy Schrodinger’s hat refered too,he is clearly a clairvoyant.Well,dreams sometimes do make some sense (though if you paid attention,this one did not make much sense,it just had real characters and fears),Superheroes are also done to death,done to death=/=can’t be good.And,what staunch moralism?she works for him,she tries to resolve it diplomatically,its just that it leaves a bad taste to her mouth,and,honestly,even if you were an well intentioned extremist but a good guy who was forced to do that,it would leave a bad taste to your mouth and guilt too,no matter how well you’d rationalise it or how many people that would save.Yes,you might not hold back or even have second thoughts,but honestly,if you feel no pity for her as you use her,you are the villain here.

  19. Love how you’ve shown how much Taylor has grown, also really liked the dream introduction. This is a great way to start the arc. On a side note: If this were a series of books, this would be the start for book 3 (in my opinion)

  20. FWIW, glasses are made out of plastic these days, not glass. I’m not sure you would have even been able to buy real-glass glasses in the last decade that weren’t ‘used’.

  21. You actually managed to combine the tired “it was all a dream” and “the bad guy is your DAD guy” cliches and made them work. I was going “no way, I mean it makes sense, but no way!” followed immediately by “YOOOO NO WAY YOU JUST DID THAT!”

  22. «“Email?” he asked. “Where are you that you have access to a computer?”» Doesn’t he know about phones, like the (old!) phone Sophia had that Regent forwarded email using? And wouldn’t her reply be “I can read email once I’m back in an area with cell coverage, duh! Get a phone that’s less than ten years old, old man.”

  23. The first part of this.chqpter completely.shocked and first.time around…and the I cursed wildbow 😉

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