Infestation 11.3

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I sat cross-legged in my chair on the second floor of my lair.  A mug of tea was warm in my hands, and the room was dark.  Only a faint light filtered in through the slats at the top of the metal shutter that covered the window.  My mask rested on one knee.

My attention swept over my territory, with an emphasis on the centermost area near where I’d held my speech.  The reach of my power wasn’t quite good enough to extend to the outer edges of my territory, which left me anxious.  I was craving one of those moments when my power would go into overdrive and increase its range.  Minutes passed as I followed my ‘subjects’ and did what I could to get to know them.  My bugs remained on the backs of people’s elbows, at the small of their back, and I’d maybe put a small fly in their hair if it was long enough that they wouldn’t feel it.  Not enough to bother anyone, or that anyone would necessarily notice, but enough for me to track their movements.

Two groups arrived within a minute of one another, each at different points of my territory.  Thirty-two people in all, with eight in the first group and twenty-four in the other.  Both groups reacted, jumping and backing away as my swarm swept over them.  I could feel the vibration in the air as one in the second group laughed.  The others joined him.  I’d held off on attacking, just using the bugs to get a headcount and a sense of who was there.  There were men and women, young and old.  Each of them had weapons of some sort, and fifteen in total had guns.

The Merchants were responding to my bid for control.  Good.

I sipped my tea and found it was lukewarm.  I took big gulps in the hopes of finishing it before it got cold.

One of the Merchants in the first group shouted something, loud enough for it to carry down the street, and fired a gunshot.  Impulsively, I tried to tune into my bug’s hearing and interpret what he was saying, but the strangeness of the noise stopped me.  It didn’t translate from a bug’s ‘ears’ to mine.

The first group started running down the length of the street.  They scattered, with smaller groups of two people each heading to different buildings.  Finding the windows boarded up and the doors locked or barricaded, they started tearing at the plywood and planks.  Some struck at the doors with their improvised weapons.

There were people inside two of those buildings.  Not many, but still.  Those were my people.

Using my swarm on them would have been easy, but this wasn’t just a question of taking the Merchants down.  I needed to do it so effectively and undeniably that they would hesitate to come back.  If I did it well enough, ideally, word of mouth would help keep others from trying anything similar.

Why did that line of thinking sound so familiar?

It dawned on me: Bakuda.  She’d said something similar when she’d been doing her monologue and pretending to be the new leader of the ABB.

Well, that was disquieting.

Still, my reasons were different.  I wanted to protect my people.  Bakuda hadn’t been motivated by an interest in anyone but herself.

I dismissed that line of thinking and gathered the swarm into a vaguely humanoid shape with a head, arms, and a torso.  I tried to balance it on two columns like legs, but I erred in favor of dissolving that into one column for the lower body over risking having it fall over.  A good thing the ground was mostly dry, there, or I would have required far more bugs to maintain the shape with the lowermost critters constantly drowning or being pushed away by the motion of the water.

I piloted the swarm-figure slowly towards the first group.  Someone noticed and turned away from the door he was trying to smash down with his makeshift club.  He shouted and laughed, drawing the attention of others.

Running forward, he swung the club at the swarm like he was trying to hit a home run.  The head was scattered, dashed to pieces, and he laughed again.

Until the rest of the swarm dogpiled him.  Then he started screaming.

Roughly half of his ‘friends’ laughed at him.  Lots of laughter.  Were they all on something?  The remaining four people hurried to his side and tried to claw the masses of bugs away from him.  As they got bitten and stung in retaliation, they backed away, brushing the bugs off of their arms and legs, leaving him to his fate.

The bugs I had in the area coalesced into another vaguely humanoid shape.  Then another.  In moments, I had a half-dozen figures in a loose ring around the group.  I moved them forward, and my enemies backed away from them.  I used this to herd the Merchants until they stood back to back in a tight circle, surrounded.  They had their weapons raised, but they had to know how ineffectual the baseball bats and guns would be.

Then I waited, keeping the swarm-figures remaining as motionless as possible.  If it weren’t for the man still thrashing on the ground, screaming, it would have been eerily still and quiet.

The second group was oblivious to the events a few blocks away as they roamed through my territory.  A woman in the group was singing, loud enough that her voice would be carrying to nearby residents.  She was letting them know that trouble was near.  I noted that she was holding a plastic tank of gasoline, if the topographic map I was getting from my swarm-sense was right, and the box in her other hand could easily have been matches.  That wasn’t good.

Still, her group had yet to do anything.  I kept an eye on them and waited.

Someone in the first group made a run for it, rushing for the space between two of the swarm-figures that surrounded his group.  He didn’t make it.  The swarms both intercepted him, and he went down, howling in pain.

Unease gave way to panic as the group realized they were trapped.  A woman shoved a man into the nearest swarm, trying to use him to clear the way, but she only got two more steps before the wasps, black flies, mosquitoes and hornets caught up to her.  She violently swung her arms around herself in a futile attempt to fight off the bugs, and succeeded only in throwing herself off-balance and falling to the ground.  The spiders, ants, centipedes, millipedes, beetles and all of the other crawling parts of the swarm rolled over her, burying her beneath their mass before she could stand.

The remaining four Merchants in the first group exchanged muttered words, some kind of plan.  Then three of them broke for it, each headed in a different direction.  I wasn’t sure what outcome they expected.  A mass of bugs caught each of them, and they all went down, limbs flailing, screaming.

That left only one.  He dropped into a crouch, his hands on his head, and looked frantically around for some kind of escape route.

So I gave him one.

The swarm-figures parted enough that he had a chance to retreat.  It took him ten seconds to notice it, and another few seconds to build up the courage to make a run for it.

He bolted.  Seeing the general mass of insects down the road, he decided to turn into a series of alleyways.  I let him run for a minute.

He was halfway down an alley when I drew the ambient bugs from the vicinity into a loose humanoid shape, not as dense as the others.  Still, seeing it stopped him in his tracks.

He turned to retreat the way he’d come, only to find another swarm coalescing into a second figure at the other end of the alley.  His head whipped around as he realized he had no escape routes left, and then he screamed, a primal, despairing sound.

The swarm figures moved towards him at a glacial pace, with more bugs joining them every second, to give them more mass and more raw attacking power.  His composure cracked before they even reached him, and he charged headlong into the swarm that had been at the far end of the alley.  Bugs tore into him, pinching and stabbing him, and he made it nearly to the edge of my power’s range before his legs buckled.  He landed on top of a pile of the trash that the nearby building’s residents had been stacking in the alleyway, and the swarm started mauling him.

Group one down.

I finished my tea, then made a face.  The teabag had leaked grit, and some had settled into the bottom of my cup.  Bitter.

I put the empty cup down at the base of my chair, and then I turned my attention to the second group.

I didn’t even need to think about it.

“I’ll do it,” I told the redheaded girl with the dreadlocks.

She looked surprised.  Odd.  She’d asked me, but she hadn’t expected me to help?  Or had she expected me to demand something from her in exchange?

Should I have demanded something in exchange?

“Stay here.  I’ll be right back,” I said.

I turned and walked to the front of the truck, knocked, and the driver popped the door open for me.

I spoke in a low voice, “We’re done here.  Tell Coil I need more supplies.  Seven cases at a minimum, by the end of the day.  And tell him I think you guys did a good job, so if he’s up to giving you any kind of bonus, it would be a good time.”

He gave me a tight nod, then closed the door.  The truck drove off, leaving me with the girl.  I approached her, and I could see the effect I was having on her.  She was unwilling to meet my eyes, and her fidgeting stilled as I turned my full attention to her.

“Your name?”

“Sierra,” she answered me.

“Let’s walk, Sierra,” I said.  “I need details if I’m going to help.  The more you can tell me, the better.”

She joined me as I headed towards the sidewalk, and after taking a moment to compose her thoughts, she started telling me what had happened.  “Three weeks ago, everything was so normal.  I was finishing up at college.  Bryce, my brother, went to Arcadia High.  My uncle was staying with us because he was down on his luck, as my dad put it.  I’m almost positive it had something to do with his drinking.”

I nodded.

“Then Leviathan came.  The sirens woke us up early in the morning, we hurried to the shelter, and by the time it was midday, we were standing in front of what used to be our house.  Flattened, everything we ever owned was gone.”

“I’m sorry.”

From the look on her face, it seemed like I’d surprised her again.  What kind of image did she have of me?

“Thank you.  We- we stayed in a family friend’s basement, and they had another family there as well, on the upper floors, so it was crowded.  But it was better than the shelters, or so we thought.  My dad, my uncle and I worked with one of the cleanup crews.  Trying to get things normal again.  Until word got out that one of the crews had been attacked, the women assaulted.  Um.  So they told me I couldn’t work with them.  I worked for one of the shelters instead.  Handing out sheets, making beds, keeping track of names and passing on requests for stuff like insulin or other meds that people needed.  Long hours, thankless…”

She put a hand to her face, “I’m rambling.”

“It’s fine.  Better that you give me too much information than not enough.  Keep going.”

“My uncle got sick fast.  He had a cold just days after Leviathan came, and it got complicated after, became pneumonia.  The hospital sent him out of town for medical care, and we got word he’d died just two days after that.  Respiratory distress or something.  Drowning in his own lungs.  Less than a week from the time he got the cold to the time he died.”

She stopped talking, and I didn’t push her, giving her time to compose herself.  Had she been close to her uncle?

“By the time we heard the news, Mom and Dad were sick too, and Bryce was showing symptoms.  It wasn’t a cold.  It was more like the flu, but with what happened to my uncle, we didn’t want to take any chances.  None of them could keep anything down, sinus problems, pounding headaches, tired… we went to the doctors and they said it could be toxic mold exposure.  The moisture, always being cold and damp, and not having enough to eat, being in that basement, with the foundation possibly cracked or the mold disturbed by the vibrations and damage in the attack… Um.”

I wondered if this was pertinent to what happened to her brother, or if she was just really wanted someone to talk to.  I didn’t want rush her, but I did try to get her on track,  “So your parents and brother got sick.”

“And I was left alone.  I guess I was saved by the long hours at the shelter, I wasn’t spending half as much time in the house where they got exposed to the mold.  I had to find a new place to stay.  A guy from the shelter heard my story, offered to give me a room in the church.  Near here.  I was grateful, I took it.  My brother got out of the hospital, and he came to stay with me.  He got the cot, I got the floor.  A day and a half later, they came.”

“The Merchants?”

She nodded.  “They attacked the church.  Nine or ten of them.  We outnumbered them, but they had weapons, and they caught us by surprise.  One of them threw a molotov cocktail through a window.  There were other families there, families with kids, so I grabbed a fire extinguisher and tried to stop it from spreading.  Spraying around- I couldn’t put it out, didn’t want to try in case I just spread it around, so I just contained it, for all the good it did.”

She shook her head, “They came through the doors and began attacking people, one of them grabbed my brother, I- I panicked.  I used the extinguisher to spray towards them and tried to pull him away.  I couldn’t, and others were approaching, so I left him and I escaped through the broken window where the bottle had been thrown inside.  When I got back an hour later, there were fire trucks and police and ambulances there.  My brother was the only one missing.  The others were there, but badly hurt.  Burned or cut up, beaten.  Derrick, the man who’d invited me to stay there-”

She broke off, and she stopped walking, turning away so her head was facing away from me.

I waited patiently.  When she’d turned back so I could see her face and started walking again, I gently asked, “Dead?”

She shook her head.  Quietly, she said, “They cut him up with a broken bottle.  The doctor said they bent him over and shoved it between- he’ll have a tube running out of his stomach and into a bag for the rest of his life.  And he might never walk again.  You understand?”

“I think so.”  Not that I wanted to.

“Not about what they did, I mean, do you understand what I’m saying about these assholes, these… I don’t even have words to describe them… to say how much I hate them.  God!”

“Keep going,” I urged her.

“I don’t know you.  I barely know about you.  I heard something about you in some bank robbery around the time I had exams-”

“That was me.”

“I don’t know how you operate.  I don’t know your methods, outside of what I just saw back there.  But I want you to know that I’ve always considered myself a pacifist.  I’ve never been in a fight, I’ve always tried to stand up for people and give them the benefit of a doubt, to be fair and never do anything to hurt another person, even with words.”

“Okay.”  How long had it been since she slept?  I was having trouble following her train of thought.

“So I think it should mean something extra, something special, when I’m telling you to hurt them.  Fuck them up.  Hurt them as much as you think they deserve, then double that.  Triple it, just- just make them-”

She stopped yet again, choking on her words.

I had a hard enough time keeping afloat in a conversation when I was Taylor.  How was I supposed to do it as Skitter?  What was appropriate, what was expected?  I hadn’t figured any of this out, yet.

I put a hand on her shoulder, and she flinched.  I left the hand there, and I measured out my words.  “Trust me when I say I have that handled.”

She looked at me, and I gave her a small nod.

“God,” she muttered.

“Tell me more about them, and tell me anything about your brother that might help me identify him.”

She startled, as if shaken from a daydream.  She reached into her pocket and handed me a folded picture.  It was hard to pin down the kid’s age.  He was skinny in a way that suggested someone who was going through a major growth spurt but hadn’t yet filled out.  He had large, blue eyes and a snub nose.  There wasn’t a hair on his face, and his black hair was spiked so the top stuck up in every direction.  Like so many guys, he didn’t seem to know how to style his hair.  He ignored the sides and back in favor of overdoing the parts he could see when he looked in the mirror.

The boy could have been a tall eleven year old and he could have been a young-looking sixteen.

“Bryce?” I asked her.

She nodded.  “Bryce Kiley.”

“Is there any chance he escaped?”

“No.  I’ve checked all the usual places.  His friends, our old house, what’s left of it.  I stopped by the hospital where Mom and Dad are, and the nurses say they haven’t seen him.”

“How long ago did he disappear?”

“Two days ago.”

I nodded.  I vaguely recalled that the forty-eight hour mark was when police considered a missing person as good as gone.  That didn’t mean I wouldn’t try.  It also meant I could feel less guilty about handling things here, with my territory, before starting my search.

“Did you get a look at the people who took him?”

“Some.  The one nearest me, he was fat, white, and he had one of those bushy wild man beards.  You know the kind I mean?  It sticks out everywhere, no grooming-”

“I know what you mean.”

“And his hair was really long and greasy, so it stuck to his scalp.”


“Then there was one woman.  Maybe middle-aged, bleached blond hair.  Trailer trash.  And she was with this tall black guy with a scar on his lips.  He was the one who was grabbing Bryce.  He had a bottle in one hand he was drinking from and a length of pipe in the other, so I think he was the one who used the bottle on Derrick…”

“Were they wearing anything?”

“I don’t think anything major.  Um, most of the guys were shirtless, and the ones who were wearing clothes were wearing t-shirts, some with no sleeves or with the sleeves torn off.  Oh.  And a lot of them had these bands around their wrists.  Plastic, colored, sometimes one or two, but the black guy had a lot.  I remember seeing the ones on the black guy’s wrist, and thinking it didn’t seem like something he would wear on his own.”

“Ok, that last bit is especially good.”  Were they a way of marking status?  More bands for higher status, with different colors meaning different things?  “Anything else?”

“I can’t think of anything major right this second.”

“Okay.”  I thought.  But she might come up with something more?  “Where are you staying?”

She hesitated to answer, but she finally relented and admitted, “Nowhere.  I was out all last night, looking.  I was going to go back to the place we’d stayed at first, our family friend, but…”

“The mold problem, and you said it was crowded.  That won’t do.  You’ll come with me.”

Concern flickered across her face.  “I don’t know-”

“It’s better if you’re close, so you can answer any questions I have and so I can keep you informed.”

She frowned, and I could practically see her working to think of a way to get out of my offer without offending.  I knew if she didn’t come with me, she’d probably wind up searching for a mediocre to unsatisfactory place.

“This isn’t really negotiable,” I told her, just to forestall any excuses.

For her part, she didn’t argue.

We made our way to the beach, and after I’d checked both ways, I led her into the storm drain.  It took some urging to get her to enter the darkness, and I had to grip her hand to lead her into the oppressive black.  I unlocked the barred door that led into the cellar and locked it behind us.

When I flipped the switches to light up the ground floor, her eyes went wide.  “You have power.  Erm, electricity.”

“And running water.  Stay here a moment.”  I took the stairs two at a time to get to the second floor.  Nothing too sensitive there, but I did walk up to the stairs leading to the third floor and slid a panel across the stairwell.  With my keys, I locked it in place.  I didn’t feel it was that obvious to anyone glancing around the room.  It looked like a section of wall until you saw the keyhole.  I verified the bugs were all locked up tight in their individual compartments in the lids of each terrarium, then headed back to Sierra.

“I’m making tea,” I spoke, as I came down the stairs.  “You want some?  Are you hungry?”

“I’m not a tea drinker, and I haven’t had it in years, but that suddenly sounds like the best thing in the world.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have a kitchen table or chairs or even a living room for us to have the tea.  There’re beds in the other room, if you want something to sit on, and you can make yourself comfortable there.”

“This is strangely domestic for a villain.”  I turned to look at her and she hurried to add, “I mean-”

“It’s fine.  I’m not offended, I am a villain.  But I’m also a person under this mask.  Someone who prefers tea to coffee, who enjoys reading, who…”  I floundered.  “…likes sweet and savory foods but dislikes anything spicy or sour.  Point being, I’m someone who wants to make sure you get taken care of.  Especially if you’re among the people I’m protecting in the territory I’m claiming.  Go.  Find a bed.”

Obediently, she went to do just that.

I put the kettle on, then got the sugar.  What did I have that would go well with tea?

I got out a box of graham cookies with chocolate on one side.  I poured out the tea into mugs and put a teabag in each.  I poured milk into a small measuring cup so Sierra could have milk with her tea if she wanted, and similarly doled out sugar into a small bowl and placed a spoon inside it.  Then I tore open the box of cookies and sorted them onto a plate.

I put everything onto a tray and went to find the room where Sierra would be seated.

She was lying on the bunk bed, already fast asleep.

Quietly, I set the serving tray down on one of the luggage trunks at one corner of the room, collected my own tea and went upstairs to the second floor.

It took me three tries.

On the third attempt, the beetle, supported by others and a crack in the pavement, successfully struck the match against the side of the box as the other bugs adjusted its position.  A small flame flared at the end.

Other bugs leveraged matches out of the box the woman had dropped, gripping the matches in their mandibles, sometimes two or three bugs to one match.  Like a relay, they touched one match to another, passing on the flame from the beetle’s match to each of the others.  It wasn’t long before there were more than thirty beetles each with a lit match in its mandibles.  Some died from the heat their own matches generated, but most were able to stand it.  I could imagine the visual of it; kind of like a small sea of tiny flames like lighters at a concert.  Or maybe it was closer to a lynch mob, a crowd holding torches, radiating with an imminent threat of violence.

It was a shame it was closer to noon than midnight.  I imagined the effect would have been even more exaggerated in the darkness.

The woman stepped away, pulling off one of her wet shoes.  She threw it at the bugs, and it rolled over a few.  A heartbeat later, it burst violently into flame.  It didn’t make a difference.  The swarm that was armed with matches was already too spread out for one shoe and one small fire to slow them down at all.

The woman’s attempts to remove her other shoe made her fall over, and she suppressed a grunt of pain as she landed.  She successfully kicked off her other shoe, and then began simultaneously fumbling with her belt while trying to crab-walk backwards away from the advancing sea of tiny flames.

I could picture it.  It would be intimidating:  A sea of bugs acting with a backing of human intelligence, each with their tiny torches.

Doubly intimidating if a swarm of bugs had made you drop and spill a can of gasoline onto your shoes and the cuffs of your pant legs.

She successfully undid her belt, then began trying to remove the tight-fitting jeans she wore.  The woman got as far as getting her jeans around her ankles before she got stuck.  Some beetles and roaches took to the air, carrying matches to the ground behind her, cutting off her retreat.  She screamed at the others in her group, but nobody leaped to her assistance.

A beetle fluttered forward and touched a match to her jeans.  In an instant, the bundle of cloth at her feet was on fire.

She tried to pat it out, but her efforts to remove her shoes had gotten trace amounts of gasoline on her hands.  Her right hand ignited, the insects on it dying, and she threw herself to one side to thrust it into a hole in the road where water had collected, her feet still kicking as she tried to remove her jeans.  Gasoline transferred to the water’s surface and flickered with the faintest of flames.

One of her friends finally stepped forward to help her, grabbing her under the armpits and dragging her ten feet down the road to a spot where more water had collected.  Together, they worked to put out the flames, dousing her bundled jeans into the water.  I could maybe have stopped him, driven him away, but my interest was more on spooking them than causing grievous physical harm.  I wouldn’t lose much sleep over burning her with the things she’d intended to use on others, but I wouldn’t stop her from putting herself out.

Apparently seeing the woman get set on fire by the swarm had done its job in unnerving my enemies.  The group scattered, and I let them run.  One by one, I took them down by creating the human shaped swarms and then attacking them.  Some fought, others ran, but each of the Merchants succumbed eventually, choking on the bugs or losing all self-control in the face of the pain the attacking swarm inflicted.

The human shapes were less efficient than a regular swarm, but I imagined the psychological effect was that much greater.  A swarm of bugs was something you could encounter any day.  An uncannily human figure that you couldn’t hurt with any conventional weapon, who threatened incredible pain if it got close enough?  It was something my enemies would remember, and it was something they could tell others about.

I gathered the swarm into a figure that stood next to the woman with the burned feet and her friend.  I drew more and more bugs into the swarm, bloating it and drawing it up to the point where I couldn’t make it any larger, without the bottom half giving way.  I gauged it to be somewhere close to twelve feet in height.

Then I let it fall on top of them.  That polished off group two.

I stood from the armchair, stretched, and pulled on my mask.  I bent down to pick up my mug, then headed downstairs to check on Sierra.  She was still sleeping, but I’d known that.  I’d felt secure about removing my mask only because I had bugs on the girl, to keep track of her.  I’d know the second she stirred.

I went into the kitchen before sending a text to Coil:

Merchant burn victim & other wounded near Sandstone & Harney.  Send medic?

No use having the woman die from any complications from her injuries.  Besides, maybe he could get her to offer up information in exchange for her freedom.

I dialed Lisa next.

“Hey, Boardwalk empress,” she answered me.

“Tattletale.  How’s it coming?”

“It’s not.  I’m gathering intel on the enemies in my territory.  A few have migrated my way in response to what the rest of you are doing, regrouping.  I’m trying to see if there’s any useful tidbits of info I can pick up, and if there’s maybe a way to fuck with all these guys at around the same time, so they know there’s nowhere left to go.  In the meantime, I’m helping Grue out, figuring out where he’s got Merchants hiding in his area.”

“He’s doing okay?”

“No problems, last I heard.  You?  I saw that cloud of bugs earlier.”

“Made a big play.  Everyone here should know this is my territory, now.  Merchants tested the waters, I dealt with it.  Remains to be seen if this works out in the long run.”

“Hmmm,” she replied, “I’m getting the impression you’re a little further along than the rest of us.”

“If that’s the case, then that’s great.  I want to be in Coil’s good books.”

“I want you to be too.  You know I’m here to help if you need it.”

“Yeah.  That’s why I’m calling, actually.  I need to find someone.”

“Do tell.”

I gave her the rundown on everything Sierra had told me.  She stopped me when I got to the bit about the armbands.

“Those aren’t for rank,” she informed me.  “But you’re not wrong in saying they’re like status.  They’re more like… boy scout badges.”

“Boy scout badges?”

“From what I can gather, you get one for attending one of the Merchants’ ‘events’.  Colors are supposed to represent what the each one was about.  It translates to a kind of respect, showing you’re loyal, whatever.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“And neither am I, to be honest,” she replied.  “And that bothers me.  So in the interests of getting intel and maybe getting a lead on this missing boy of yours, do you think you could get away from your territory, tonight, to join me in figuring this out?”

“I don’t want to leave just yet.”

“Merchants are throwing a big bash tonight, so I doubt they’ll be attacking your territory.  In fact, I’m wondering if they were attacking your territory to get cash or stuff to barter at the event as much as they were responding to your claim.”


“And Chosen aren’t a threat right now?  They haven’t said or done anything yet?”

“Not yet, no.  Haven’t run into any.”

“Grue and Imp are probably going to want to wind down and go on the defensive later today.  You can have one of them babysit your territory if you’re worried.  You have no good reason to refuse.  Come on, let’s go see what a Merchant’s party is all about.”

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71 thoughts on “Infestation 11.3

  1. I hope the armbands does not signify like how many people a Merchant gang member may have killed or maimed.

  2. So, any bets on how long Taylor can fight groups of people before she kills someone with an allergy to bees?

    • While the city is this way and against this kind of people? Does anyone really care?
      And yes, this means thar civilization is on vacation.

    • Or someone who has a really bad reaction to pepper spray. Despite what one news network says, it’s not really a foodstuff.

      Plenty of other problems, too. Mosquitoes. They carry plenty of diseases on their own, and can transfer some between people. Taylor might have accidently given someone AIDS during this.

      The city is a literal breeding ground for them too. They love standing water. And carrying yellow fever. Due to that, she could destroy the city in a less destructive way. Happened with Memphis, Tennessee in the late 1800s. Huge outbreaks of yellow fever. Most of the population died or left. Had so few people and so little money left that the city lost its charter for 15 years.

      • Also, malaria and West Nile virus (though not HIV — that’s a myth). And, thanks to psychic coordination, each mosquito could be carrying several pathogens at once. I think that we’ve pretty much established that if Skitter wanted to engage in mass-murder, she probably could, all the while sitting in her favorite chair, drinking tea.

      • It depends. Can she tell if a mosquito is a carrier? IIRC, carrying malaria plasmids does affect the mosquito’s health, so Skitter might be able to tell, at least for that disease.

        By the way, per PG’s note, can we get some demographics for Brockton Bay? E.g., approximate population pre-Endbringer, Endbringer casualties, subsequent changes due to emigration, deaths due to crime, deaths due to poor living conditions, etc.?

      • If there were that kind of disease it will be actually safer with her in control.

        While some casualties are unavoidable powers or no powers.
        Once she knows they are carriers she can wipe the entire species from the area.

  3. Another great chapter. One question though:
    ‘She looked at me, and I gave her a small nod.

    “God,” she muttered.’
    Is that supposed to be ‘God’ or ‘Good’? ‘Good’ would make more sense to me.
    I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
    Till Tuesday, Ta.

  4. In Russia, bugs use flamethrower on YOU!

    Sooooo…Taylor and Sierra, eh? Already offered her a place to sleep. Non-negotiable, eh? Tea and graham crackers in bed? Here, have some cream, whoops some slipped and fell right there, let me lick that up…
    Wink wink, nudge nudge. (Actually, bleh. I don’t like food stuff, especially if you throw in someone who hasn’t showered in three weeks)

    It sounds like Tattletale’s going to pull something awesome. Make them think it’s a nice safe area, all sticking around together away from the villains, tensions mounting. Someone says something here, or steals something there, and all of a suddenly they’re all at each others throats, fighting each other over rumor and innuendo. Speaking of rumor and innuendo, Taylor wants to rum Sierra and get inherendo. *holds up his hand* Wordplay five!

    This was also a pretty cool thing to do with the swarms coming after the drugged up people. Good to picture in your head as they look up and get surrounded by people made of bugs. Like that one demon in Constantine made of bugs and a crab. I was just thinking it was one of those situations where they make sure the raiding party’s all drugged up when they’re sent in. Feel less pain and fear, become more violent, do more than they normally would.

    • Not gonna lie, that scene would be awesome to read. Even just in fanfiction. Sure Taylor’s been eyeing guys for a while in story but there is nothing to say she can’t be bi. Damn you Gecko for getting my fantasies turning. Now all I’m thinking about is Lisa stopping by and the three of them having…tea…together.

  5. In soviet russia, oh lol. Nice one PG.
    Intresting chapter, looking forward to the next update.

  6. Good chapter. It would be interesting to see an Interlude that describes how the other Undersiders have made their moves. Skitter is uniquely suited to control a territory. Tattletale can use her powers as a force-multiplier for the mercenaries, and can probably just make a show of force by deploying a lot of people with guns. Grue’s darkness can also be used over an area to create an impression. Bitch can probably put on a show with monster dogs, though she only has one that’s well-controlled enough to use in a monstrous form in a crowd. But, what can Regent do? His power is mainly suited for situations involving a small number of combatants.

    Taylor is very, very trusting — she should have at the very least blindfolded Sierra as she led her into her lair, though it’s encouraging that Tattletale didn’t immediately spot any problems with Sierra’s story, so it might not be a trap after all.

    I have a feeling that Skitter’s and Tattletale’s girls’ night out is going to get very complicated very quickly. (Is Tattletale taking some mercenaries with her?)

    Editish comments:

    “they backed away, brushing the bugs off of their arms and legs, leaving him to his fate” — “off of” should be just “off”.

    “On the third attempt, the beetle successfully struck the match against the side of the box as the other bugs adjusted its position.” — This seems implausible. I know, I know, we have superpowers running around, so physics go out of the window, and yet, because making bugs stronger and faster is not one of Skitter’s stated powers (that’s more Bitch’s department — has she tried it on non-dogs?), it seems wrong. Striking a match requires simultaneously pushing the match head against the striking surface to create friction and moving it rapidly across said surface to create heat. Even if a beetle had the raw strength and speed to do it, without the needed mass, per Newton’s Third Law, the beetle would simply push itself away from the box, rather than create the necessary friction. I suggest handwaving it away by having the bugs grab each other to create a line and then do an imitation of a Crack The Whip game. It probably still wouldn’t work it if you actually tried that, but the implausibility wouldn’t stand out.

    “A small flame flared at the end of the stick of pine wood.” — I honestly don’t mean to be facetious, but this bit sounds like you were trying very hard to to avoid repeating the word “match”, so you replaced it with a verbose paraphrase. (E.g., why not “the manually operated ligneo-phosphorous device for mechanically initiating rapid oxidation”? 😉 ) I’d just cut it at “A small flame flared.” It’s obvious from the context.

    “From what I can gather, you get one for attending one of the Merchants’ events.” — Suggest putting “events” in quotes (single quotes, since it’s within a quotation), since (I think) “events” here is being used ironically, to refer to something far less neutral.

    • Also, the image of Taylor just sitting in her chair, drinking tea, as she is terrorizing some thugs, is priceless. How could she ever become anything but a supervillain?

      And, “I was craving one of those moments when my power would go into overdrive and increase its range.” — She should be careful what she wishes for. The last time, IIRC was when Leviathan attacked… By the way, are the range increases that occur under stress permanent?

      • Of course, with Taylor, she just might deliberately subject herself to stress to see if she can make it stick. Alternatively, she could ask Tattletale to see if she has any clues…

        By the way, is the speculation that I posted at the end of the 11.2 discussion (about Taylor having unusually high pain threshold and tolerance) on the right track?

      • Re: deliberating stressing herself:

        Note that it isn’t confirmed as stress. Not to say you’re wrong (or right), just that it isn’t confirmed. See below.

        Re: Pain tolerance:

        It’s not a great leap to surmise she has a higher than average pain tolerance, but I won’t generally address speculation (in this case: as to why). I don’t want to spoil anything, and helping to rule things out (ie. No, you’re wrong) or verifying people’s suspicions (You’re right) will just amount to spoilers in the long run.

      • Seeing as Word of God won’t say I’m wrong on this, Taylor’s Pain Tolerance is a result of having run as a little girl into the middle of a Macho Man Randy Savage match, suffering the full might of his Flying Elbow Drop. After that, in the parking lot, she put on a diving suit and tried to stop two people from breaking into a car, but one stabbed her. Then she was hit by a car. Following that, she was attacked by a singing Indian Pirate who threw fireballs at her until she beat him. Then she trained with the League of Shadows for several months. After all this, the straw that broke the camel’s back was going to see the film adaptation of her favorite graphic novel, Wanted. The resulting hospitalization thankfully bankrupted the studio attempting to show that piece of crap, but they needed to reinforce Taylor’s bones with metal. She also suffered permanent nerve damage, so she feels less pain.

        • Watch out, PG. One of these days I’m going to say, “This is now canon” in response to one of your comments and you’ll be forever hated as the person who ruined Worm. 😉

      • We already know that she has nerve damage, both in her arm and in her brain. Well, rather, we know that Panacea said she does.

        As for torchmobbing beetles, maybe she happened to pick up Ringo Starr visiting for a relief effort concert. Or perhaps it was simply one of those huge bastard beetles that land on my keyboard when I’m typing at 2 am and are annoyingly resistant to being flicked off without deadly force,which I prefer not to use… I bet one of those could keep their grip on a match while clinging to my keyboard, waving it up at me as if to say, “Your move, buddy.”

      • I’ve been worried for awhile that I’ve accumulated some serious X-Pac heat for all my egocentric comments, but I’m very happy to be seen as a feature of it all. An added bonus, if you will.

        Besides, the part about Dragon finding Taylor via the bullying incident thanks to Regent, and the use of the biological CPUs to prevent taking over Dragonsuits were made canon. 😛

        Perhaps, persistant porcine pugnacious and pontificating proselytizer of procrastination, you should instead beware my dreaded 7 word alliterative combo! (So, I’ve been reading Empowered over the past few days and always imagine the awesome Caged Demonwolf as having Morbo’s voice from Futurama…)

        Some day soon I shall right my own story to send your way, one of the non-Gecko stories, one of which is based on an awesome evil plan I had in a dream.

        • Voilá! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it is my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.

          Beat that. Also, please note that I claim no credit for this, it all goes to alienyouthct of

          • It’s actually from V for Vendetta, though I’m unsure if this particular monologue was present in the comics as well as the film.

    • I was under the impression that when Skitter lead Sierra to her lair, it was through the pitch-black sewers, using her bugs to guide both of them. Possible that Sierra could remember the route, but I’d be more worried that Sierra actually has some power that she’s hiding which is relevant here.

  7. Of course, now Taylor will head to the party in her civilian identity and get made by Dragon after she leaves. If I were her, I’d send Sierra to the party and follow her with a bug. Speaking of which, it was nice getting more information about the limitations of Taylor’s power. If she could hear perfectly through her bugs, then the story thus far would make less sense.

    • I could be wrong, but I suspect that the “party” in this case is a rather decadent and violent affair, with bloodsports being among the least offensive happenings to be expected. If that’s the case, going as a 15 year old girl whom nobody knows would be highly inadvisable.

      • “A man wears a hat like that, you can tell he ain’t afraid of nothin” -Shepherd Book to Jane, Firefly

        “Well, first I was gonna pop this guy hanging from the street light, and I realized, y’know, he’s just working out. I mean, how would I feel if somebody come runnin’ in the gym and bust me in my ass while I’m on the treadmill? Then I saw this snarling beast guy, and I noticed he had a tissue in his hand, and I’m realizing, y’know, he’s not snarling, he’s sneezing. Y’know, ain’t no real threat there. Then I saw little Tiffany. I’m thinking, y’know, eight-year-old white girl, middle of the ghetto, bunch of monsters, this time of night with quantum physics books? She about to start some shit, Zed. She’s about eight years old, those books are WAY too advanced for her. If you ask me, I’d say she’s up to something.” -Edwards aka Agent J, Men in Black

        If I went to a decadent and violent affair full of bloodsports, I’d keep my eye on the person who came as a 15 year old girl that nobody knows. She could be REALLY dangerous.

      • PG, you are absolutely right, but I think that that merely strengthens my argument: whether or not Merchants are as clever as Shepherd Brook and Agent J, Taylor just showing up as herself will draw attention, positive or negative, in either case not conducive to gathering intelligence.

        My guess is that they’ll go in costume, possibly with mercenaries to cover their retreat and, perhaps, a parabolic microphone or two. One interesting question is whether Skitter should leave Sierra in her HQ, leave her somewhere else (in case she is a spy), or bring her along.

        On the other hand, maybe they’ll go out-of-costume and rely on Lisa to bluff their way in and out, but I think that both of them are too diligent to do that.

    • Seems that it probably depends upon the type of insect as well, to some degree- so she might be able to experiment to find suitable spy bugs. She definitely was able to recognize music and tones of voice.

  8. Since Taylor can control worms along with the other bugs and stuff, and its already stated that she can (probably?) control those with little mind/thoughts/etc. to speak of. Does this mean she can control those inside body parasites? (Like tapeworms, and other simple things that go into the human body and affect it?

      • So… that would mean all she has to do is make sure everybody gets tapeworm (shouldn’t be hard in the conditions) and she’ll have tracking on everybody without worrying about them swatting the bugs away!

      • You know what’s funny? In our world anyone who tried to convince people that they were being tracked by means of parasitic worms would probably be labeled a paranoid schizophrenic.

      • Pfft, yeah, don’t you know the REAL conspiracy is that the Reptoids, controlling the Illuminati and Freemasons, have figured out a way to track people via specia mind control nanites they put on flouride in the water?

        Just watch out, it’s a secret, and it’s obviously a better explanation for the world’s problems than most others.

  9. It just occurred to me–how is Taylor aware of things like the woman falling over and throwing her shoe if she can only “see” through her bugs?

    • There are some bugs on the woman. A small bug on either hand, the top of her head & her feet, at a bare minimum, would give Taylor a picture of what’s occuring.

  10. > Nothing too sensitive there, but I did walk up to the stairs leading to the third floor and slid a panel across the stairwell.

    “But I did… slid” doesn’t parse. It should be “but I did… slide” to match tense.

    • Nope, it parses perfectly well. “Did walk” is past tense, and so is slid. Present tense would be “do walk” and “slide”…

  11. Please tell me that the drainage system is highly complex, so that Taylor did not just give away her location to the first “maiden in distress”-ploy, she ran across. Screw that. Why didn’t she just unscrew some barred windows and leave Sierra L(e)one there? Who in her right minds would have any sort of spill over from that swarm of troubles to your friendly broken down neighbourhood? I did like the tea and villain in chair setting a lot. I just felt she missed a black cat and some ice on her fingers. Perhaps a walking, no wait!, her baton fully stretched. And drop the black cat, bad luck anyway. Tarantula. Not so useful, but intimidating (plus good for catching birds; something that is sure to upset the merchants anyway, given how they’re income is depending on how many doves they can push a day).

  12. Okay, Skitter armchair-policing her territory is indeed awesome. Especially with the humanoid swarms for intimidation, and the beetles striking matches (I had no problem with whatever minor suspension of disbelief was necessary for that).

    I am looking forward to seeing Tattletale again though. The Undersiders are too much fun as a group to spend too long in narration that just follows Skitter without any of the others.

    Missing / extra words:
    I didn’t want rush her
    represent what the each one was about

  13. Heya, enjoying the story. Was wondering if I found an error.
    “God,” she muttered. (is it supposed to be good? Didn’t read through all the comments, so I apologize if that’s been covered)

  14. Wow the image of Taylor quietly sitting in her chair drinking tea while causing utter panic and terror three blocks away is absolutely amazing and scary while simultaneously being utterly hilarious. Lisa’s reply to her basically saying, “yeah they tried to teach me a lesson and I sent them home with a spanking” was also hilarious. I’d love to have seen Regent’s reaction as well.

    I agree that human shaped swarms are utterly terrifying compared to simply scary clouds of swarms. Very good for intimidation. A small army of bugs with lit matches marching towards you…wow. Guess that woman learned her lesson about coming at Skitter…

    It’s a little surprising that so many people are convinced that Sierra is a mole. I don’t see it at all. The Merchants are not nearly that organized or smart. The Chosen also don’t strike me as particularly intelligent plus they probably considered Skitter below their notice until the display last chapter and there would’ve been no time to decide on a plant. Plus anyone run by Hookwolf doesn’t seem like they’d be subtle enough to care for a plant; they’d come head on. Maybe I’m just sentimental but the poor girl strikes me as utterly sincere, totally lost, and I just want Skitter to hug her and tell her it’ll be okay. She should probably take the dreadlocks out though. I honestly can’t even picture a redheaded, skinny caucasian girl with dreads…

  15. If it weren’t for the man still thrashing on the ground, screaming, it would have been eerily still and quiet.

    I liked this bit of narration. Everybody loves moments of perfect silence in movies but it just doesn’t happen in real life- there’s always that one guy who can’t be bothered to shut up for the sake of someone else getting some ambience.
    Or in this case, doesn’t want to shut up, in hopes of someone else getting an ambulance. 😛

  16. I certainly get what she meant about the humanoid forms being better on the psychological end. Skitter is scary, but Skitter and an army of unkillable bug-demons is the stuff of nightmares.

  17. Why on earth does she not simply make a fly or a spider lay eggs in one of their brains? Just crawl through the nose and lay it in the nasal cavity then have then eat their way out….damn I’m Fucked up

  18. As others have said, Skitter relaxing in a chair in her lair considering the state of her tea while traumatizing challengers two blocks away was great. Intriguing to see what tvtropes would call a mook horror show from the anti-villain’s perspective, too.

    She’s certainly ‘leveled up’ lately: a couple of months ago she’d have been gathering a swarm while desperately avoiding an enemy’s attacks. Now she incapacitates enemies by ‘manifesting bodies’ behind them in true horror movie fashion, using bugs she has strategically placed close by ahead of time: and her imported bugs aren’t even here yet.

    One thing that seemed odd, though perfectly in character, was:

    “From the look on her face, it seemed like I’d surprised her again. What kind of image did she have of me?”

    I like that Skitter doesn’t quite realize how terrifying and creepy she’s managing to be, even though she’s actively cultivating the image of an unstoppable, omnipresent, vicious, even cruel swarm entity. And has been since she threatened the whole bank in her first public appearance. Maybe she thinks only enemies should be scared, but if we didn’t know her she’d be almost as scary as Bakuda.

  19. This chapter made me smile. One issue. The line “I poured out the tea into mugs and put a teabag in each.” I think you probably meant “I poured out the hot water into mugs and put a teabag in each.” as one doesn’t add a teabag to tea, one adds it to water to make tea.

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