Infestation 11.8

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I could see Dr. Q grow more irritated with every person that filed into the office.

Ten people in total.  There were the eight that we’d all packed into the car and fake ambulance Coil had sent.  Lisa, me, Bryce, Charlotte, Minor, Senegal, Jaw and Brooks.  Two more, our drivers, had stepped in to verify everything was okay before leaving to stand guard outside the front of the building.

The good doctor took one look at our group, ordered us to put Bryce on the first bed, then sighed and said he’d patch the rest of us up when he was done with the boy.  Lisa suggested me for the next in line, which means I was made to sit down on the bed in the far corner.  It wound up working out on several levels, because it gave Lisa a chance to talk privately with Minor, and it gave me a chance to have words with Charlotte.

Dr. Q ordered the remainder of Minor’s squad to leave until they were called in, which meant there were more people standing guard outside.  I wondered if it was reaching the point where the guards would attract more problems just by virtue of drawing attention to themselves than we’d face otherwise.

Charlotte looked spooked.  Maybe rightly so.  She had to be aware that she was privy to information and details to a degree that we couldn’t just let her go.

I moved into a cross legged position on the bed, adjusting the pillow behind me to keep the headboard from rubbing against my back.  I pointed, and told Charlottte, “Sit.”

She obeyed, but she sat on the edge with her legs dangling, her body twisted to face me, as if she wanted to be able to run at a moment’s notice.

After some consideration, I frowned and told her, “I don’t know what to do with you.”

“You don’t need to do anything?” She made it a question, a request.

“You’re the first person who knew me that knows about this.”  I paused.  “Or knew of me.”

She looked down at her hands, “I- I don’t… I didn’t see anything.”

“Charlotte,” I frowned, “Look up at me.  Meet my eyes.”

Reluctantly, she did.

“I’m not stupid,” I told her.  “And as cute as that whole cliche is, you and I both know you saw everything.  This is serious.”

She looked at the scene to our left, the doctor, Bryce, Lisa and Minor.  Leaning towards me, she whispered, almost plaintive, “Why did you bring me here?”

“Because you’d already seen too much.  There was no avoiding it.  We couldn’t hide it from you without leaving you behind, and neither of us wanted that to happen, right?”

She shook her head with a glum expression on her face.

Seeing that, I answered her question from before, “I brought you here because I wanted you to know that our group isn’t just a few kids in costumes running around.  We’re an organization.”

“I don’t want to know this!” she said, clutching her pants leg in her hands.

“You need to,” I started.  I was about to go on to say something more, but I was distracted as another group of soldiers entered the room.  They carried a white cooler between them, and set it at Bryce’s bedside. I lost my train of thought as I watched to see if Bryce was okay.

The cooler was opened, and bags of blood were hung on the wall beside Bryce.  Once that was done, the soldiers wordlessly carried the cooler out the door.

I sighed, “Look, Charlotte, I’m not your enemy.”

“You saved my life,” she said.

“That’s maybe an exaggeration.  I saved you from being assaulted by those men, probably-”

I could see her shrink into herself.

“-I’m sorry.”  I finished, lamely.

“You’re a villain,” she said, and it took me a second to realize it was more of a non-sequitor than an admonishment for reminding her of what had nearly happened to her.

“I’m a villain,” I agreed.

“And you’re going to tell me that if I ever open my mouth, you’ll kill me.”

“That is one option.  Or, theoretically speaking, I could hurt you or your loved ones.”

She deflated, which was pretty impressive given that she hadn’t exactly been brimming with vigor before I’d opened my mouth.  It was like she didn’t even have the energy to be afraid.

“I’m not going that route,” I told her, “I don’t want to be that kind of bad guy.”

She looked up at me.

“I’m improvising, and you’re going to have to forgive me if my ideas are a little rough around the edges… but two ideas spring to mind.  Number one is that you leave.  I’m offering you an out.”

“Leave?  The city?”

I nodded.  “Leave Brockton Bay.  You have any family here?”

“My mom.  She’s doing the training to join the construction crews.”

“You’d leave the city with your mom.  Put all this behind you, the ruined city, what happened at the mall, me, everything.”

“And I wouldn’t say anything,” she finished my thought.

“Right.  You’d keep your mouth shut.  Because if you did start discussing stuff you shouldn’t know?  Those soldiers, the hackers, the plants we have with police and FBI and government?  My psychic friend over there?  They’d find you.”

I could see her clutch her pants leg a little tighter.

“And believe me, Charlotte, I don’t want to hurt you.  But it would be out of my hands.  I’m not the top dog here.  The person in charge?  They would handle things after that.  Understand?  They would handle you.”

“I’m not saying anything.  Really.”

“I know.  And I know you wouldn’t say anything even hinting at what you know, unless it was to a therapist and you were absolutely sure it was confidential.  That’s what I’m proposing.”

Her head hung, “I… don’t think I can leave like that.  I wanted to, before all of this, but my zaydee, my grandpa, he refuses to leave, and he can’t take care of himself when the city’s like this.  It’s why we didn’t evacuate.”

“You could tell your mom and grandpa some of what happened.  That the Merchants got you, that you got away, that you don’t feel safe here.”

She buried her face in her knees.  “No.”

“Okay.  So that leaves option two.”

“I-” she started.  She stopped when I raised one hand.

“Don’t say anything until I explain it.  I’ll forget what I want to say if I get distracted.  You’re going to work for me.  And every doubt and possibility that just made you tense up at that idea?  It’s not going to happen.  You’ll be safe.  Safer than you were before.  You won’t have to do anything illegal unless you’re willing.”

“I’d still be helping you, I’d be helping a criminal, indirectly.”

“You would.  But I think you’d be surprised at my approach.  I’m not looking to hurt innocents.  I’m not pushing hard drugs, I’m not demanding protection money.”

“Then what are you doing?”

Funny, how everything always seemed to tie back to the beginning.  I was put in mind of the conversation I’d had with the Undersiders on our second meeting.  The same conversation that had led to me joining them.

“I’m afraid the full details only come with membership,” I echoed Lisa’s words to me from back then.

“I don’t really have much of a choice, do I?”

“You do.  More than you think.  Don’t give me a response just yet.  Think about it for a bit.  You’re staying at least until you get those scrapes and scratches looked at.”

Charlotte looked at her hands.  Her knuckles and fingertips were torn up, and she had a shallow cut on the side of her neck.  “This isn’t anything worth worrying about.”

“The way this city is right now?  You’ll get an infection if you don’t get that taken care of.  Relax.  Believe it or not, you’re safer right here, right now, than you’ve been for the past few weeks.  Breathe, think about what you want to do.”

She glanced around, and I could tell she didn’t believe me.  Still, she met my eyes and offered me a nod.

Well, I hadn’t solved the Charlotte problem just yet, but I’d at least addressed it.  If I was honest with myself, part of the reason I told her to wait on her answer was to buy myself a reprieve, give myself time to think.

Maybe that was a bad idea, because being left to ponder let the anxiety build up.  I was worried.  Not just about Charlotte, but about my territory.  Had the Merchants attacked it in the meantime?  Lisa had said they would mostly be at the party, but I couldn’t be absolutely sure.  Grue would have been watching it for me, but he’d be tired, and he didn’t have the same awareness over the area that I did.

I almost regretted leaving for this, for Bryce, even though I knew I’d do it again.

If anything calmed me down, it was seeing Lisa with the two squad leaders.  She laughed a little, and put her hand on the arm of the other squad captain, Fish.  When she caught me looking her way, she smiled and gave me a wink.

When Dr. Q had done everything he could for Bryce, he turned his attentions to me.  I got more stitches, in my arm this time, which was fun.  I also got to see every single one of my cuts and scrapes fizz with foam as he disinfected my injuries, which stung like hell.

He was nearly done when a knock came at the door.  Jaw was on the other side, and he was escorting Sierra, as I’d requested.  She went immediately to Bryce’s bedside.

“His hand,” she said.

“Things got violent,” Lisa said, stepping towards her.  “We didn’t start it, but they got ugly.”

Sierra nodded mutely, then turned to Bryce.  She knelt at the side of the bed and held his intact hand.

“I’m sorry,” Lisa said.

Sierra shook her head, her dreadlocks swinging, “No.  I understand.  The hand isn’t your fault.  He’s here and he’s alive because of you.”

“No.  I’m sorry because I have something to tell you that’s going to be hard to hear.  But you need to know this.”

Sierra looked up, her brow creased in concern, “Did they drug him?  Dirty needles?  Did they… was he-”

“They didn’t touch him,” Lisa reassured Sierra, “But that’s because he wasn’t one of their victims.  He was one of them.”

Sierra shook her head, “No.  You must have misunderstood.”

“The people who attacked the church?  He was with them.  He got hurt helping them fight to win some prize the leaders were offering.”

“No,” Sierra shook her head again.  “He wouldn’t!”

Lisa shrugged, unable to find the words to convince her.

Sierra sounded angry now.  She stood, confronting Lisa, “No!  Where’s Skitter?  Where’s your boss?”

I hesitated.  My secret identity, such as it was, was already falling apart.  It wasn’t that I was that committed to it, since I wasn’t ‘Taylor’ that much of the time these days, but there was always that worry in the back of my mind that I was burning my bridges as far as being able to go back home, or that I was possibly giving out clues that someone could use to trace back to my dad and hurt him.

On the other hand, I could see how Sierra was on the verge of losing it.  I couldn’t tell if she was going to cry, hit Lisa or say something she shouldn’t, but I couldn’t let her do anything that would get her in trouble with the soldiers.  I stood from the bed.

“Sierra,” I called out.

She wheeled on me.  I watched her expression change as she stared at me and realized who I was.

“You got hurt,” she said, looking almost stunned by that realization.  How bad did I look, that my injuries distracted her from her brother?  Or was it the realization that a supervillain could get hurt?

“Things got ugly,” I said.  Then I added, with emphasis, “Lisa wasn’t lying.”

She shook her head, “It doesn’t make any sense.  He wouldn’t do that.  It doesn’t fit with the guy I grew up with, ate dinner with.”

Lisa spoke from behind her, “His parents were in the hospital, his home and school was gone, and he was a scared, confused kid that was offered a community and the power to change things.  It’s like what cults do.  They prey on people who are at their most vulnerable, people who are lost, with no attachments, who are hungry and weak.  It’s easy to underestimate how readily they can get to someone.”

“Fuck!”  Sierra turned to kick the side of Bryce’s bed. “Is that supposed to be an excuse?  No way he gets off that easy!  He joined them, you said!  He wasn’t brainwashed when he fucking decided to go with him!”  She kicked the bed again, hard enough that it shifted an inch or two away from her.

I could see the Doctor start forward in response to the assault on his furniture and patient, but Minor, Jaw and Fish moved first.

“Guys, stop,” I ordered.

They did.  It was kind of strange, to have people listening to me.  Sierra turned and saw the soldiers, and I could see emotions flicker across her face.

“He’s not getting off easy,” I said, “He lost most of his hand.  I’m not a doctor, but he might lose the rest, depending on how the circulation is.”

“He’ll lose his remaining fingers, keep the thumb,” the Doctor spoke.

“So he’ll have the rest of his life with that as a reminder of his bad call,” I told her.  “The real question is what we do with him.”

Sierra was so focused on the responsibility, the blame and the betrayal that I think it took her a few seconds to process the problems that came with getting her brother back.  I could see it hit her, the idea that she might have to repeat the experience of losing her brother, with all of the same pain and worry, the moment he got a chance to slip away.

Dr. Q apparently didn’t care about the drama.  Once he was more or less confident that Sierra wouldn’t be disturbing his patient, he got up and walked over to Charlotte to start patching up the girl.  I walked over to Sierra and led her away from her brother’s bedside to the far corner of the room, next to Charlotte and the doctor, where she wasn’t getting in anyone’s way.

“Can you keep him?” she asked, as we stopped.

“Can I offer him a bed?  Theoretically.  But he’s just going to run.  Not that there’s anywhere for him to run to, but-”

I stopped as I saw a confused expression on her face.

“The Merchants may be done for.”

“Because of you?”

I shook my head, “Someone else.  The leaders got pretty badly embarassed, they may have trouble getting their followers to respect them after getting their asses kicked like they did.  The actual criminals would still be on the streets, probably, but they won’t be as organized.  Add infighting, rival groups, greed… they won’t be as focused.”

“But that girl said my brother was with the people from the Church, he could find them, or they could find him.”

“They’re not a consideration any more,” I told her.

Her eyes widened.  “Because of what I asked you to do?”

What was the proper response, here?  I felt like anything I told her might offend her.  If I said yes, would she be horrified?  If I said no, would she see it as a failure on my part?

“In small part because of that, yes,” I admitted, leaving it vague.

Her forehead creased in a frown.

“Look,” I admitted, “I need to get back to my territory.  If you need a place to stay, you’re welcome to come with, but we do need to decide what to do with Bryce.”

“Can you keep him prisoner?  Until he comes to his senses?’

“I would if I thought it would do any good.  He’s only going to get angry and resentful at being locked up, and he’ll be all the more eager to run.”

“But he’s going to run anyways.”

“Probably.  He won’t believe me if I tell him about his buddies.”  It doesn’t help that Lisa lied to him about Sierra.

“So what do we do?”

I was at a loss for an answer.  I turned and called across the room, “Lisa!”

She broke away from her conversation with Minor and Fish to join us.  “‘Sup?”

“We’re worried the kid will run.  You have any ideas on what would work?”

She shrugged. “What if you give him what he wants?”

“Which is?”

“He wants excitement, he wants to feel like a grown up, he wants respect, and maybe a bit of power at a time in his life he maybe feels pretty powerless, what with losing his house, his family, his safety, all that.”

“Okay.  And we do this by?”

“With your okay, I’d recruit him.”

“That sounds like a monumentally bad idea,” I admitted.

“The soldiers there can keep him in line.  I’ll keep him away from Senegal and Brooks.  Minor, Pritt and Jaw could watch him and instill some discipline in him, and they’re uniquely equipped to track him down if he tries to slip away.  I’d keep him out of trouble, and have him gather information and act as a pair of eyes on the street.  He’ll hate it at first, with the soldiers giving him a hard time, on top of the missing hand, but I think he’ll take to it once he’s actually doing something concrete.  What kid doesn’t want to be a secret agent?”

I had my doubts, but I didn’t want to shoot Lisa’s idea down.  So I looked to Sierra and asked, “Thoughts?”

She frowned.  “Can it be temporary?  I don’t want him to be locked into anything even after schools get going again and we’re trying to get things normal again.”

“It can be temporary,” Lisa assured her.

“He doesn’t get hurt.”

“He’ll have one of those guys with him ninety percent of the time,” Lisa said, pointing to Minor, Jaw and Fish.

I saw Sierra look at me, noting my injuries, and I knew exactly what she was thinking.  Still, she kept her mouth shut on that particular topic.  “Okay.  But I join too, so I can keep an eye on him.”

“I’d love to take on another recruit,” Lisa smiled.  She turned to me, “But she saw you first.”

Sierra looked between the two of us, then asked Lisa, “You don’t work for Skitter?”

“Partners, believe it or not,” Lisa replied.  “We’re controlling different territories.”

“Oh.  Two territories.”

“Nine,” Lisa corrected her.  “Nine villains, nine territories.  The city isn’t getting better and the people in charge aren’t up to the task, so we’re taking over.”

“You’re trying to fix things?”

“Some of us.  Most of us.  Some of us want to help, like Skitter there, and others are doing it because we know that when things are up and running again, we’re going to be a part of the status quo.”  Lisa grinned.

I spoke up, “That’s the basic idea of what we’re doing.  You heard what I said to the people in my territory.  I’m trying to get people fed, I want them safe, and I wanted to help you and your brother.  If you’re working for me, that’s the sort of thing you’re going to be helping me with.”

Sierra shook her head, “I only said I’d join because I wanted to keep an eye on my brother.”

Lisa shrugged, “Then I’ll make you a deal.  You join Skitter’s group, and I’ll give you a contact number.  Whoever is babysitting Bryce will have the answering phone, to give you an update on your brother, anytime, anywhere.  Or put you on the phone with him, if that’s what you want.”

“That’s not-”

“It’s not perfect, no.  But Skitter’s probably going to let you head into my territory to see Bryce any time you want-”

“Definitely,” I interjected.

“-and not to put too fine a point on it, but the guilt over betraying you, coupled with resentment, and the fact that he’s in this rebel-against-your-parents phase and you’re the closest thing he has to a parent right now? It’s maybe best if you give him his space.”

I saw the faintest change in Sierra’s facial expression, saw her look over at Bryce, her eyebrows drawing together.  Lisa’s words had hurt her.  They’d been true, no doubt, but I had to find a way of gently suggesting that Lisa take a gentler approach.

“Okay,” Sierra said to me.  “But I can leave any time.”

“You can,” I replied.

“And I will, the moment you break our deal, or the moment Bryce gets hurt.”

“I believe you.”

She stuck out her hand to me and I shook it.

“Now go,” Lisa said, “I’ll send Sierra your way with one of my boys, when she’s done visiting Bryce and seeing that he’s settled in.  I know you’re itching to check on your territory.”

I nodded.  “Thank you.  For the help finding Bryce, for making this work, here.”

She grinned and waved a hand at me, “No problem, no problem.”

I gave Lisa a quick hug before heading over to Charlotte.

There was no negotiation.  She was close enough to have heard some of our conversation, and she’d seen the bit with Sierra, besides.  Whatever it was, it seemed to have grounded her.  She didn’t look as uncertain as before, and she had one hand extended for me to shake.

“You sure?”


“Because really, you can leave the city.”

She shook her head, “My grandfather needs to stay.  He’s spent the latter half of his life in his home, and I think it would kill him to leave.”

“If you’re sure,” I told her.  She nodded.

I shook her hand.

“Grue?” I hollered into my lair, as Charlotte and I stepped inside.  “Mask on!  Got a guest here!”

Despite Lisa’s relatively cavalier attitude on the subject and my own concessions, there was no point in spoiling his secret identity, too.

“Right!” he called down from upstairs.  In a moment, he came down the stairs, his helmet on.  He stopped as he saw me, “What happened?”

“Bit of a scuffle.”  I replied.  I’d had a chance to see myself in the mirror.  The bruise on my cheekbone had been a nice mottled yellow-green.  I asked, “Any trouble?”

He shook his head.  He wasn’t smothered in darkness, so his voice was normal as he said, “Quiet.  Was your errand successful, at least?”

“Successful enough.  This is Charlotte, one of my new… employees.” What was I supposed to call them?  Henchmen, employees, minions?

“Already recruiting?” he whistled, low.

“Two new hires.  The other girl’s going to be on her way in a while.”

“You’ve gotta slow down.  I only heard what you’d done to take control here after I’d arrived.  I was worried you’d provoked a war and left me to handle things, until Lisa told me the major threats were occupied elsewhere.”


“Seriously, you’re moving fast on this.  Imp and I have only just started rooting out the gangs and other criminals in our territory.  We haven’t even talked about who we’re going to recruit or how.”

“I’ll explain later?”

“You don’t have to.”

“I want to.  Just… later.”

“I’m getting the feeling I’m in the way,” Charlotte spoke up, “Is there any place I can go to get out of your hair?”

“Kitchen, if you’re hungry, or-”  I stopped as she practically lit up at the suggestion.  I pointed at the kitchen, “Go.  Take whatever, enjoy.”

It was gratifying to see her glee as she started rifling through the cabinets to find piles of stuff ranging from treats to dry pasta to cases of soda.  Grue and I migrated to the empty room that had held the supply crates, where we were able to see Charlotte but not necessarily in earshot.

“If you’re pushing yourself this hard to prove yourself to me-“

“It’s not that.”

“Okay.  But really, you don’t need to prove yourself.  You know Tattletale just called me on the phone?  Ten minutes ago?”

Ten minutes ago, I would’ve just left the doctor’s place, en route for my lair with Charlotte.  I frowned.  “What did she say?”

“Chewed me out big time, about how I was being too hard on you, after the… revelations at the hospital, about turning you down.  Calling me a clod, basically.”

I felt a flush warm my ears.  “I told her not to interfere.”

“Well, she did, and I think she was right to.  I’ve been a bit hard headed.”

I shrugged.  Couldn’t agree without offending him, but I didn’t disagree either.   I’d been stubborn in my own ways too.

He asked, “So do you want to call it even?  I said it before, but I thought maybe we could become best friends, somewhere down the line.  I’d like to go there again, if you’re willing.  If it’s not awkward or-“

I felt the flush deepen and hurried to interrupt him before he could bring up my asinine confession again, “It’s good.  Yes.  Let’s go with that.”

“Good.”  He clapped one hand on my shoulder.  A sign of camraderie, friendship, with the subtle effect of reinforcing that I was at arm’s length.  Or was I reading too much into things?

I could live with it.  It was worlds better than the quiet hostility and hurt I’d been sensing from him as of late.

“Is it cool if I drop by sometime?” he asked.  “So we can keep each other up to date, or maybe just hang out?”

“Hanging sounds good,” I answered him, feeling lame as I said it.

“I’m gonna go sleep.  Long day.  You take care of yourself, alright?” he said by way of a goodbye as he headed for the door.

I nodded, “You too.”

When I walked over to the kitchen, Charlotte had a box of toaster strudels in one hand and a package of cookie dough in the other.  She’d washed her face, and only trace amounts of the caked-on makeup were still there.  She looked worlds younger, and was like a little kid as she asked me, “Can I use your oven?”

“Go for it.  But I get some,” I smiled.

As my new minion set about figuring out the oven, I was able to stop for a moment.  Doubts and insecurities still weighed on me, but I couldn’t feel guilty for not making more progress today.  I’d done what I could to move forward on my plan to help Dinah.  Both Lisa and Brian had acknowledged that I was making great strides forward, and that gave me hope that I might be impressing Coil as well.

Things weren’t perfect, but they were better.  I was on speaking terms with Brian, I was making headway on my plans, Lisa was making headway on her end of things, and in some small way, I felt like I’d finally followed through with that dream I’d had at the start of the year, of being a superhero.

I was a villain.  I’d given the order to let a man die.   Maybe my abandonment of Thomas would weigh on my conscience more after I got some sleep and my thoughts were clearer.  Maybe not.  But I’d also done something to help people, without ulterior motives.   I’d given Sierra her brother back, I’d saved Charlotte.  I was happy about that.

All in all?  If I didn’t think too hard about it?  I could feel cautiously optimistic for the first time in a long while.  For the first time in weeks, months, I could feel like everything just might work out.

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108 thoughts on “Infestation 11.8

  1. This chapter did a lot to ease my growing dissatisfaction with the story. I’m sorry to be critical, and sorrier for not saying anything earlier, but I had a hard time figuring out just what was bugging me. It still seems like a vague complaint, but I didn’t want to remain silent.

    I feel as though we’re somehow at a greater distance from Taylor and her perspective than we had been up until Leviathan’s attack. Maybe it’s just the hiatus and change of pace that makes me feel this way, but I’ve gone back and reread a bunch of chapters and this feeling hasn’t gone away.

    In the early chapters, it seems as though there are very close connections between Taylor’s state of mind and the actions we see her take and the plot events that are related. Everything we see her do adds to our understanding of her emotional strengths and weaknesses, and every motivation she has and every circumstance of her life seems to have a direct impact on her behavior.

    After the Endbringer attack, we lose some of this very tight one-to-one and onto correlation. Perhaps its because there is now a lot going on that is relevant to Taylor, but that she cannot act on. This is certainly leaves room to put some distance between the realm of things that Taylor cares about and the realm of things that Taylor actually does. But it also feels as though the narration is letting Taylor play some things a little closer to the chest; we don’t get to see quite as much of what’s going on in her head as she’s planning her takeover and facing down the Merchants. The element of suspense and surprise is nice, but on the whole the effect for me was to make me care a lot less about what was happening.

    Anyway, perhaps I’m just misreading and my critique should be dismissed out of hand. But this chapter simultaneously helped me see what had been bothering me about this arc, and did a lot to relieve the bother. I like being able to see how Taylor’s mental state translates itself into action, and how the consequences of her actions make her feel. The immediacy of that exchange going on throughout the narrative is something I like, and that I felt was, if not missing, at least not present in as great a magnitude recently.

    Also, as ever, thanks for writing and bringing us along for a story engaging enough that I start feeling something akin to separation anxiety when I feel emotionally distanced from our protagonist.

      • Personally, I liked the visits to other characters’ perspectives just fine. And I’m very curious as to what the various heroes are doing right now – as well as more mundane efforts to rebuild. It would seem to me that this qualifies as ‘national emergency’ time, with speeches by various presidents and congressmen, massive errors made by nominally government organizations (but driven by corporate interests, with work handed out to subcontractors) and all sorts of background forces that have crafted the space Skitter, the Merchants and Coil’s organization moves in.

    • I’ve noticed the same I think, but personally I’ve taken it as a sign of Taylor herself becoming more distanced from her emotions as her career requires her to keep a cold head, and professionalism overriding her personal motives in choosing how to act sometimes.

      Just my two euro cents.

      • I’m with you on this Mazz, the shift I’m noticing (if it’s really there) has plenty of reason for being. But what we gain from psychological/circumstantial realism here doesn’t seem worth it to me. This mode of storytelling has left me feeling less attached to the story than just about anything else we’ve gone through thus far.

        I don’t think Taylor needs to think or act differently than she has been. I just want her actions and thoughts to be portrayed to us in a different way. If I could articulate just what that difference ought to be, I’d be a writer, and not a reader.

  2. So Taylor has gotten herself two new minions, who both have a healthy mixture of gratefulness, respect and fear towards her. So far so good. Sierra thinks that Skitter did away with the group of merchants that attacked her old place and Charlotte is scared shitless of being disappeared because she knows too much. Even though Taylor explained that she is not the boss of the organization they both might still have an exaggerated sense of just how high up in the hierarchy she is. They saw her give orders to Lisa’s minions and be obeyed.

    All in all this might not be too bad. The two girls might not be up for any intimidating or heavy lifting, but as Taylor gains more recruits who are more useful, they will take their cues from the existing members and adopt their attitude towards their leader.

    On the other hand the lack of obvious skill of her first two recruits might gain Skitter a bit of an reputation. She better hopes that she can get something for her first two girls to do like cleaning out terrariums or becoming a cook or the next recruit will wonder what reason skitter has to keep these two around. If the girls don’t display any useful talents everybody will assume that they are kept around by Skitter for other equally obvious reasons. The squick factor involved in a villain with a rather icky power keeping a few pretty young girls around will quickly kindle everyones imagination and fuel the rumor mill. The idea that Skitter is a sexual deviant will be far more believable than that she is an altruistic do-gooder in any case.

    • Haha! I’d noted while reading that Taylor seemed to be setting herself up with a harem, but I hadn’t followed the thought quite as far as you did. 😛

    • What, don’t you know that almost every bee and ant in a colony or hive is female?

      That knowledge can change a lot of things. Why, I still remember an episode of Scrubs where The Todd is talking about two ants on a keyboard doing it, and him being pretty sure they’re both female, and I realized he was probably right about their gender at least.

      That said, it can be hard to keep a straight guy from thinking about lesbian sex. For example:

      She asked me, “Can I use your oven?”

      “Go for it. But I get some,” I smiled.

    • way2late4theparty,but I need to add my two cents…what do you mean they might overestimate her position on the hierarchy?she is actually pretty high,if you think about it,as all the capes with territory technically take orders directly from Coil,and as her team,the Undersiders,take decisions democratically,with only a nominal leader…

      So,in fact,as Coil hasn’t shown any second in command,only lots of mictromanagement (makes sense,considering his power)she is actually one of the 9 higher ups on the organization apart from the leader,maybe 10 or 11 f he has some military not powered commanders,it is just that she does not manage the organization much because its not her mission.

  3. I just figured out why I like this chapter so much. We get to see Taylor interacting with civilians, and being very much the adult while doing so. While Charlotte freaks out and tries to deny seeing anything, Taylor is thinking things through and providing options. I honestly think this is the only time I can think of her handling herself well while dealing with a civilian, and it is nice to see the confidence she has as Skitter shining through into her interactions with other people.

    The line about not being a few kids in costumes really got me. Not so much in the literal sense, but that people that are on the outside and only see the Undersiders on the news or something probably do just think of them as a bunch of children doing stupid and dangerous things. This is pretty obviously wrong in my opinion, Taylor certainly grew up and started taking things seriously very quickly, and I doubt that is different for many of the wards or other young villains.

    Found a bit of a mistake, the line “but Minor, Jaw and moved first.” seems to be missing a 3rd name.

    • Fixed. Thank you.

      Glad you guys are liking the chapter. One of those chapters that’s hard to be objective about. I was wondering if it was too much of a letdown after recent action or too much social stuff all at once. Will definitely want to build on what I’ve done here, since this appeals.

      • Actually, a lot of the interpersonal stuff in this story tends to be some of my more favorite content. We can go virtually anywhere to see/read harrowing combat scenes and such. What makes this so fascinating is seeing inside the mind of a budding villain/anti-hero. Rather than a generic evil plot that most villains have, most of the villains here are evenly represented by a varying cadre of emotion. You have people motivated by hate, profit, and sociopathic urges, sure… But other than the Endbringers, virtually noone is being evil just for the sake of evil. There’s all some gain there. And with characters like Skitter, Grue, Bitch… Their motivations are far more complex. Hell, more complex, even, than just ‘I am misunderstood’ which would be trite in and of itself. Like real people, they’re not just easy to sum up and slip into an archetype. It’s heartening.

        • I hear you. I’ve heard similar things from people offline, as well.

          At the same time, though, it’s hard to ignore the fact that when I post some fight scenes, the views at that period are that much better. For example, I got ~200-300 more views each day for the stretch where the fighting was ongoing in the last arc than I did at the beginning/end, even though the reception at the end here was that much better.

          • Can’t argue with results I suppose! Well… You can. But it doesn’t usually work out to well. I suppose that’s where the term ‘balanced approach’ comes in. To be fair, your fighting still has a less common thread to it. It’s almost more mystery than maul. In other words: How is Taylor going to overcome a foe she does not have the direct firepower to defeat. It’s usually way more of a surprise than a simple: AAAGH! PUNCH IT UNTIL IT DIES! STUN, BURN, DEAD!

          • I’d like to present an alternate interpretation to your observation that the page views are higher on the intense action chapters.

            It seems to me fairly unlikely that very many people are reading chapters of this story a la carte. We’re a bajillion (seriously, what, 400k? I have no idea) words in, and anyone reading at this point is thoroughly hooked.

            An uptick in *readers* for the action chapters would only happen if a bunch of people got links from their buddies saying “Dude, the fight scene in this chapter is SICK! Check it out [link]”, and that seems to me fairly improbable unless they were a lapsed/itinerant reader and their friend knew this; otherwise they’d start reading, feel thoroughly lost, and either click on the table of contents to start at Gestation 1.1, or give up. Ok, that would still account for the pageview increase, but I also still feel it’s relatively unlikely.

            The interpretation I would take from the page view increase would be that the action scenes are consumed in more partial chunks by your readers, rather than single browsing sessions. This could either be because they’re so intense that people take a break, or it could be that the interpersonal scenes are actually just more engaging.

            All of my above conjecture is based on the idea that your observation was about page views only and that you don’t have stats on whether the number of individual readers changes (though even then, those stats lie; I read the previous chapter on three different devices connects to as many different networks; I read this one full through when I got home from work today).

            ANYWAY! That was just my take and possible alternate explanation no the page view thing. Personally, I think you do very excellent action narration, but I love these chapters more. That’s because to me, detailed action scenes feel like homework to get through. I’m a very verbal thinker rather than visual; my vividness of mental imagery is almost nil.

            Ok, all of that said, and this my first post here and pretty much first blog comment in.. (a decade?), holy crap, am I enjoying this story. Just started on the weekend, have stayed up late too many nights, and already recommended it to anyone that will listen (and a few that haven’t). Thank you so much for writing this, please keep doing everything you’re doing, and I can’t wait to read more.

        • Necro-commenting again, but I just wanted to reply to this:

          > We can go virtually anywhere to see/read harrowing combat scenes and such.

          In my experience harrowing combat scenes of this caliber are hardly common. The clarity and vividness of the description, and the inventiveness and drama of the content, are both a cut above the ordinary.

          That said: I absolutely wouldn’t be as invested in the story if it weren’t for the characters and their interactions, and combat is only one form of character-revealing interaction. Chapters like this, with Taylor getting distracted in the middle of her explanations, bluffing when she doesn’t know what to say, faking confidence, and all that? They’re fantastic. But they’re peanut butter and chocolate, if I may infringe on a trademark — great story elements that go great together.

        • On the archetype front, Taylor/Skitter reminds me of the hypothetical “just man” as described by Glaucon near the beginning of Book II in Plato’s Republic. It’s not an exact resemblance, but the element of “just [person] perceived as unjust by society” is there. Also, it’s pretty obscure, so I’m not sure it really counts as an archetype. And there’s the fact that when I started thinking about what characters / archetypes Taylor reminded me of, the first thing my brain came up with was from classical Greek philosophy (though that may say more about me).

    • I don’t think that it is VERY wrong. The Undersiders still seem to be making childish mistakes in the planning stages that force them to work far harder(and rely more on luck) than they should in the execution of every caper- and while the results probably fill the mutant watching websites with more mass wild guessing than this comment section, it probably doesn’t do a ton for them in the eyes of those they actually have the close contact with.

  4. “decided to go with him!” – should that be ‘them’?
    “The bruise on my cheekbone had been a nice mottled yellow-green.”- Technically accurate but something like ‘had turned a…’ might read better.

  5. A nice ending to the arc. I’ve really enjoyed reading about Taylor, and how she has matured throughout the story. How she handled Charlotte was especially well done, as I really wasn’t sure how she would cope with having her secret identity exposed. Oh, and before I forget I noticed a few things I just wanted to point out:

    *Sierra between the two of us, then asked Lisa* It’s missing a ‘looked’ I think.

    *“Some of us. Most of us. If not because we want to help, and Skitter there is one person who fits in that category, it’s because we know that when things are up and running again, we’re going to be a part of the status quo.”* Lisa grinned.

    This comes across as a bit clunky, and should maybe be simplified for clarity. That’s really all I noticed right away. I thought it was a great chapter overall.

  6. I’m going to venture that Skitter employing only girls is going to become a thing. Perhaps not intentionally, but sooner or later ‘everyone’ will ‘know’ that any guys around her are just goons and inner circle is a criminal slumber party.

    • I’m not confident enough to make the same prediction, but it would make sense, given her history. Take one teenager grieving for the loss of her mother, add traumatic bullying at the hands of girls who are approximately her peers, then subtract social constraints and norms and add the power to control her own social environment.

      I do wonder what it will do to her personal life and her “professional” one if this does become a habit, though.

    • So far, she seems more of a protector than an employer. I would expect that as she decides what help she needs, she’d start looking for minions based on abilities.

      Overall, I really enjoyed this chapter. It was the first time I recall something feeling like a satisfying pause in the story. If an interlude is coming, this time it won’t feel so much like an interruption.

      • Sometimes these criminals are like protectors. They may even charge money for protection. After all, it’d be a shame if you forgot to pay up and something unfortunate were to happen to your lovely and thriving business, you understand what I’m saying?

      • Protecting people is one way to make them feel they need you and inspire loyalty. Someone who just works for a paycheck is never as reliable as one who feels they owe their life and well-being to you.

        Them not having great abilities straight out of the box isn’t that big a problem as there’s always general business to run and a smart minion can be trained for whatever is needed of them.

        • I would like to disagree with that notion that a paycheck makes someone less reliable. A paycheck can inspire a lot of loyalty, especially in current financial circumstances.

          Add to that the lengths people will go to for financial reward, and you get money as an incredibly powerful motivator. Someone goes to a casino, drops $500, gets a coupon for $20 to play there and notification that they’ve almost got enough points for a free buffet, and you’ll see some surprising loyalty. Or Fear Factor, where you have to eat pickled sheep anus or something. The fact that you’ve done so much for the money up to that point drives you on. It’s like “Ok, I gotta eat this sheep anus, because I already had to swim through the moat of vomit. If I don’t eat this, it’ll mean I swam through the vomit for nothing.”

          As the bibble points out, loyalty to money is in direct contention with loyalty to a supreme omniscient omnipotent deity. That’s some powerful paycheck. A man can only have one master of the two, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, give extra clothes and food to the poor, cut their cloak in half to clothe the naked, and sell everything they own to give their money to the poor, because it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

          The biblical version of a WMD must have been a beautiful rich woman, which explains why the devil is said to wear Prada.

          • Good that you brought up the bible thing about a man only having one master.
            If that master is money, then all it takes is someone promising a bigger pay to make them turn on their employer.

          • Yep. That’s a good motivation to make sure you keep paying your people well. There are other benefits to paying them well, too. Henry Ford made sure to pay his workers enough that they’d be capable of buying his cars, which made him a little profit as well.

            It’s not the same as saving a person’s life once and expecting them to owe you a debt forever. You have a responsibility to your minions.

          • Some interesting psychological studies have shown that extrinsic motivation can actually REPLACE intrinsic motivation. ie. If someone is doing a job because they love it, increasing their pay can cause them to start working for the money instead.

            It seems to depend a lot on levels of need and pay, too. Money is a much greater incentive for someone who is starving, whereas someone who is already making enough to get by is likely to find intangibles like job satisfaction and work/life balance more motivating than an increase in pay.

        • I, for one, think the Bible was wrong on that point. An apocalyptic prophet in a conquered society perfused with monotheism would, of course adopt that sort of perspective, but most people have a number of competing values and loyalties, only some of which they even realize that they have, and none of which completely overrides all of the others. Worse yet, they are perpetually evolving and getting disrupted or reinforced by circumstances and actions.

          I can easily see a future where Charlotte, after a few incidents, at least one of which involves her holding someone at gunpoint, has the option to leave town after Grandpa MacGuffin dies of natural causes, but decides that she is actually liking the minion lifestyle. (Per cognitive dissonance, we adjust our believes to justify our behavior. Her behavior is helping a supervillain. Ergo,…)

  7. A nice ending to the arc, but some parts felt off…

    The part with Charlotte felt a bit contrived, with her all too convenient grandpa MacGuffin insisting on staying in town. I know, I know, a lot of people would have felt that it were a letdown if she just agreed to leave and was never seen again, and yet… I would have felt better about the whole thing if Charlotte were the one to suggest working for Skitter, or something like that, but that has its own problems.

    The other part that felt off was how both Taylor and Lisa were so eager to accommodate Sierra to the point of creating a make-work job for her fifth wheel brother. I am willing to attribute this to Sierra not realizing that she has practically no bargaining power in the situation, and thus making demands on a pair of supervillains that would get her and her brother kicked out on the street (or worse) under any other circumstance. In this circumstance, however, Taylor is still not great at standing up for her interests out of costume, especially since she feels guilty about not bringing Bryce back in one piece, and Taylor is still feeling guilty about being a supervillain, so not only doesn’t Sierra get herself kicked out, she actually gets everything she asks for.

    Lastly, there is still the whole bit with Taylor promising not to collect protection money again. I am still puzzled how she plans to be a top earner for Coil…

    • Criminal enterprises quite often invest in legitimate businesses and above-the-board financial activities once they have enough resources for it. This goes to show that there are some legal ways to earn money that are competitive with the whole life-of-crime end of things.

      Also, if Coil is intending to exert more total control over the city, he may well be glad to have some more velvet glove for his iron fist. At a guess, Skitter’s going to make her territory one of the most stable and desirable places to live, and then leverage her influence with her residents to coerce the established powers that be toward things that Coil will benefit from. The first option that comes to mind is getting more government reconstruction/emergency services contracts shunted toward companies Coil controls.

      Her power and her willingness to use it will (according to her plan) only come into play insofar as it will enable her to effectively protect her territory and make her residents depend on her. I see all kinds of reasons why this won’t work, but I also see all kinds of reasons why Taylor would think she can get around that first set of reasons.

      • At the same time, it’s also good of him to keep the likes of Bitch around, or to permit remnants of the gangs to be active in the city. It’s a diplomatic technique that says “Hey, I’m an ok guy. You can deal with me, or you can deal with these other people like Bitch and her dogs, Skidmark’s drugged up Merchants, or some walking sushi-machine neo-nazi.”

        • “some walking sushi-machine neo-nazi” — heh. I like that as much as my “caniform metalstorm”.

          Also, it means I can now refer to him as The Sushi Nazi. 😛


          (Ohhh…. that makes me laugh….)

    • I would have found it very weird for Charlotte to have suggested working for Skitter. It would have been a very dramatic shift from her behavior earlier.

    • The parts with Charlotte feeling contrived

      Keep in mind that anyone still in Brockton Bay has some reason to stay. For many, it may be as simple as ‘my home is here and I can’t get my family possessions out’ or ‘I don’t think that any place they relocate us to will be much better’. For others, there’s a more concrete reason. Charlotte’s grandfather (and consequently mother/her) falls into the latter category. Ditto for Sierra and her sick family (who may have been in the first category but now they’re stuck here until their parents can be moved elsewhere).

      • I was all ready to dislike Charlotte for her role as a bystander during Taylor’s ordeal at school but I was surprised at how much I liked her after this chapter. Girl has guts to stick to her guns for the sake of her family especially when the whole city has gone to hell and back and it would be really easy for her to run. I’m looking forward to seeing where the character goes, perhaps she might even get her own interlude?

        Good work 🙂

      • While the explanation makes sense — I wasn’t really expecting a Chekhov’s Grandpa, foreshadowed three chapters prior — I find it a bit odd how quickly Charlotte rejects the option of telling her mother and grandfather about some of what happened, even before she hears what the alternative is. If anything could convince zaydee to move, it would be that his granddaughter was kidnapped by the Merchants, escaped (largely) unhurt through sheer luck, and had gotten mixed up in the local supervillain community. (And, considering the circumstances, she could politely ask Taylor for a loan to defray moving expenses.) That grandpa’s recalcitrance is considered that extreme without him actually making an appearance makes him a bit of a MacGuffin, I think. Worse yet, if he finds out what happened and still refuses to leave, that paints him in a very, very bad light, so writing in a scene where he is informed doesn’t seem like a good option either.

        Perhaps I am being presumptuous, but I wonder if expanding the exchange where Taylor suggests telling her mother and Charlotte rejects that option to elaborate on her reasons. I can guess at several, and I understand there is a nonverbal cue there (“She buried her face in her knees.”), but I wonder if making them more explicit might work better.

        • I’m of the opinion it makes sense, and hope to expand on why at a later date. For now, readers doing a little head scratching and quirking of eyebrows is ok.

        • You have to remember, Pahan, that Charlotte is not responding to this as a rational, objective adult observer. She is a teen-aged girl, whose life had been rather normal before all the Endbringing. (Hmm, could we refer to cities that have been attacked by the Triumvirate of Terror as having been Endbrought?) For Charlotte, her grandfather’s perspective is not in the realm of her consideration — she’s already built up her reasons for remaining in this hell-hole as being caused by this central locus in her life, and as a naturally self-absorbed teenager, it is likely never to occur to her that her grandfather might be horrified by what happened to her. Her sense of self, and her experience of her life, is all one-way.

          This story is practically consumed by the theme of people’s flawed perceptions. Even the near-omniscient Lisa falls prey to her humanity every once in a while. What would be strange in this milieu would be for someone like Charlotte to suddenly say, “Oh yeah, that’s the way things really are, and they make way more sense. I’m going to act accordingly, jettisoning my emotional baggage to ease the passage.”

          Yer damn right, Wildbow, that it makes sense.


          • To quote Hanlon’s Razor, “Do not attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

            Or as I like to put it, you can count on people to make dumb decisions. Even in a smart superhuman story.

          • also possible that she really doesn’t want to talk about what happened to her before Taylor came to the rescue.

        • Charlotte would have to be insane to ask Taylor for a loan to defray expenses. An hour or two earlier Taylor was screaming at her about how she just sat around while Taylor was harassed. She has no idea of taylor’s financial state, and who would ask a villain for a loan in order to run away from them?

      • Charlotte’s character reads fine as a newly traumatized young girl dealing with a supervillain/her rescuer/ex-schoolmate. But I’d like to second Pahan re: Sierra. I cannot get my finger on her as a person.

        Sierra has no bargaining power, and yet she keeps asking/demanding a great deal from two supervillains: Save my brother; Hurt the people that took him (and make it special because ‘I’m’ the one asking and I am such a good person); Make him see that he’s in the wrong and keep him safe because I don’t have the power but if you fail to do it I will blame you and walk away!

        That she expresses both very little gratitude and wariness bothers me. I do not understand her apparent sense of entitlement. Not in her shoes. She is offering nothing.

        Taylor (and Lisa) accommodating Sierra’s demands I can understand. It made Taylor happy, and was true to her character/personality. I just don’t get how the demands were made.

  8. One thing I wonder if Skitter is considering in her plan to be Coil’s employee of the month is how seasonal her powers are – come autumn and winter she is going to be in trouble. It’s not a question of overcoming instinct but that simple lack of thermal calories will send the vast majority of her bugs into torpor as their biochemistry shuts down (and frosts will just kill 2/3rds of the arthropod biomass outright). Doing what she’s doing now is going to be problematic, and could leave her over extended and having written a lot of cheques she’s unable to cash.

    This goes double for any foe with cold or ice based powers, and if any of the Protectorate tinkers talk to a entomologist and bust out a ‘coolant grenade’ to mess her up. In contrast any single chemical weapon won’t actually be that effective, as her swarm will have some bugs that’ll laugh at whatever particular compound is being used.

    • It’s stated in chapter 1.2 that Brockton Bay has very mild winters and comfortably warm summers, so it won’t leave her powerless (but it may well have an effect)

      How much will that matter? Hard to say, but the calendar date in the story atm places it around early June.

  9. This is one of the most monumentally stupid episodes I’ve seen from someone. Not only do you reveal your identity to every fucking henchman hanging around, any of whom could be under any bodies pay (all 10 people!) it’s for absolutely fucking nothing. Seriously, for one fucking person? Hundreds of good people probably died, you saved a girl because no one had drugged her (leaving two others to suffer instead) and in doing so you probably killed a couple of people (numerous times fighting to protect Charolette and people are not gonna get healed from an injury, the dude she cut is dead from infection no fucking question about it). There was NO, not a single fucking reason to do all this because some random fucking girl with a shitty sob story came to you instead of a hero cos a hero fucked off. The correct choice would have been to kill Sierra, or use amnesia to wipe her mind of asking Skjitter for help. Completely deobligates you and saves you SHOWING A RANDOM ORDINARY PERSON YOUR SECRET ENTRANCE. Eugh. I want Taylor to die from this, I want her to wake up in the middle of the night with blood spurting out of her neck. I want her Dad to die from this, one cape grabs Charolette or Sierre tortures them, boom, easy fucking peasy. Taylor does not deserve to live, her morals are inconsistent and basically are designed around looking good but not being good.

    If she was a “good” person who didn’t want people to die, she would be using her bugs to farm food, apart from the fact that people can eat insects all of her insects can pollinate and work. Or using them to rebuild houses or all sorts of shit she could be doing. She’d also be saving people who weren’t just directly there, hundreds of people died in the Merchants mall and all she cared about was one boy, and one girl. She only helps because people ask her even though she knows all around the city people are dying but she’d prefer to curl up on black leather seat and make it look cool.

    It’s so much worse than someone like Regent who doesn’t pretend to be good, she’s pathetically pretending to be superior to everyone and she’s worse than them all.

    • While I agree that revealing her secret identity is a pretty bad idea, you have to keep in mind that Charlotte is the only new person to know her secret identity. Newter, Sierra and the soldiers know her face, but not her name or where her father lives. Still, it’s something she shouldn’t have done from a strategic point of view.

      However, it makes sense because Taylor is not a strategist. She’s a kind-hearted girl that wants to be a hero but wound up in a villain’s role. She’s not cut out for this stuff, and it makes sense for her to do something empathic but stupid in heat of the moment.

      It’s true that a lot of possibly good people died in the fight at the mall, so her saving one boy and one girl may not seem like much. But it’s the kind of drive that people like her need to keep going. She can’t just ignore them and use her powers to more indirectly makes things better in the long run because Bryce and Charlotte were in her face that very moment. You can rationally think of strategies that help the greater good in the long run, but people like Taylor don’t have the emotional fortitude to execute them and thereby ignore the people suffering in front her.

      • Maybe I am in too judgemental a mood just now, but I think the only innocent people at the gathering were prisoners like Charlotte. I’m not sure when the people there should have known the purpose of the gathering. Would even a biker want to go to a second “red wristband” event? Maybe some would want to win the superpower lottery, but I doubt that superpowers in a bottle were the door prizes at any previous event. Why would anyone go, if the death toll was that high?

        In spite of a few reservations, I loved this chapter. Unlike rmcd94, I see Taylor’s actions as impulsive and unwise but well in character for her.

        Heres my gripe. Brian is especially bland in this chapter. Is he actually a guy, or an AI? Maybe we can mark up his milquetoastiness in this chapter to Lisa’s superpowered influence, but… He just seems like a prop here, the object of Taylor’s crushing, not a character.

        The female characters in the story so far seem much more interesting and real to me. On one hand, hats off for the accomplishment. On the other hand, Brian needs some work. Is he really this interesting duality, the quiet, cautious, considerate, compartmentalized crook? That could be interesting, but sell me on it, I am not getting it. He has to earn it somehow.

        Maybe I am overstating this. On my first read through, I didn’t notice anything lacking in Brian. On my second read through, he began to seem a bit thin.

        • Re: Taylor is stupid
          Yes. But then, so is everyone else. Her story isn’t “How to be the perfect Mary Sue in 10 easy steps.” Her story is “How do I make Mommy and Daddy not disappointed in the person I’m becoming?”

          She’s 15, pushing 16, and just barely, subconsciously, able to come to terms with the fact that she has serious daddy issues. She’s messed up in the head, has a subnormal sex drive, is socially stunted, is probably going to have/already has severe PTSD, and is now dealing with what might be best described as illegally governing a vast chunk of North America’s newest third-world, poverty-stricken, disease-ridden, infested hellhole. Also? She’s a kid. Her boss knows this, he’s employing disposable child soldiers, expecting them to fail and die and pick up the pieces because that’s what warlords do. She doesn’t know this. She still thinks she can impress daddy Coil enough that he’ll love her and her dead Mommy would have been SO proud of how she saved a little girl.

          And all that? We see the other capes are messed up, violent, pushing for dominance before and beyond procreation. There’s a massive psychological effect that these people are subject to that we barely see because of how the story is framed. And the ones who are strong and dangerous pull the rogue’s into their dominance games. The ones without the power are acting desperately and foolishly to limit the apocalyptic unfolding of rage-powered superweapons, persons of mass destruction.

          Re: Brian is a two-dimensional wiener
          Yup. But so are most of the male capes. Obviously, something about having powers sublimates normal sexuality. Not sure what or why (although a theory could be framed from what we learn later-spoilery!). Plus, wildbow decided not to dig too deeply into teen sex drama. LOL especially at a certain condom forced Aesop farther along. Regardless, even ‘primal urges personified’ Rachel isn’t all that interested in procreation urges. Which is telling, and perhaps another reason ‘normal’ people are terrified of capes, and what they might mean for the world we think we know.

          tl;dr: Yup, cause peeps is stupid, and capes is different stupid. Believe it.

  10. I’m a bit dumbfounded as to why the loss of secret identity isn’t more of a big deal. “Oh, it doesn’t matter anymore, let’s let more people see me without my mask”. I’t just another of those stupid things that I just know will lead to problems, just like the fact that Taylor didn’t confess to the Undersiders immediately after changing her mind and deciding to stay. It feels a bit… artificial, like a way of creating future drama for the sake of the plot, because Taylor isn’t stupid. And Brian not freaking out as he sees her bring some girl in without a mask on? Why isn’t he worried Taylor’s identity leak will eventually lead authorities to him, and Aisha?

    But oh well, I love the story regardless of moments like this one.

  11. “Lisa suggested me for the next in line, which means I was made to sit down on the bed in the far corner.”

    “meant” over “means” ?

  12. I love how Taylor basically took charge this entire arc and the juxtaposition of the guys essentially blowing her off as utterly useless at the beginning and then not even hesitating to follow her orders by the end. And within the span of an hour she recruited two minions and probably ingratiated herself to a group of very powerful mercenaries by giving them what they want without being asked or asking for anything in return. She might as well be the leader of the Undersiders by this point. Honestly, I’m a little worried that Coil is going to get spooked by her rising power and try to quietly get rid of her.

    • Yeah,its not like Coil cannot calculate the odds of her betraying him….oh,wait,he can.It is also not like Coil cannot have it both ways,always trying to give two different answers in order to manipulate her loyalty….oh,wait,he can.Well,its not like he can collapse the universe where he is killed and then kill Taylor in one where he is still alive…oh wait,he can.

      Face it,Coil is not the kind of guy to get threatened,because he cancalculate risks,then take the risk and not take it….which might actualy be his weakness.

  13. We can tell from that last line that something terrible is going to happen. That’s what you get for being optimistic in fiction before the end of the story.

  14. Fuck Thomas.

    Big difference between killing someone and letting them die when there is no feasible way to save them.

  15. Pronoun issue

    “He wasn’t brainwashed when he fucking decided to go with him!”

    Should be go with them, if I’m not mistaken.

  16. An idea for how to facilitate dealing with the Charlotte situation…
    “Look. You’re obviously scared, and I get that. But listen for a minute. You know stuff that I am terrified of other people finding out. You ever see a mafia movie? When do people spill the beans- roll over on their boss or whatever, give up secrets without thinking about it first? When they’re scared. So if I don’t want you to spill the beans, then I have to keep you from being scared.
    “If one of my guys tries something with you? You might run away and trade your info for protection, and then I’m screwed. My guys stand by while something bad happens to you? Same thing. You go out on your own and get in a bad spot while I’m not looking? Worse- I have no idea where you are or who you might talk to in exchange for being safe again. I hurt someone you care about to keep you quiet? Terrible! That means you have to sell out to someone who can beat me up, to make sure you get your loved one back. Even if I did decide to kill you, that’s no guarantee- you might have relatives who come looking and figure something out, or someone might find the body and start investigating, and then I’m really screwed.
    “I wanted to do right by you when I saw you in the mall. Now? I have to do right by you. It’s the only way I get through this.”

  17. Whose 9 territories is Lisa referring to?

    5 Undersiders (Aisha doesn’t have her own)
    Coil himself
    ? Circus
    ? Trainwreck

  18. Out of all the people in the Undersiders Skitters powers make her uniquely qualified for quickly setting up shop and taking control basically anywhere.

  19. Typos – there are too many spaces before the following sentences:

    > I’d been stubborn in my own ways too.
    > Maybe my abandonment of Thomas would weigh on my conscience more after I got some sleep and my thoughts were clearer.
    > I’d given Sierra her brother back, I’d saved Charlotte.

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