Interlude 11d

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There was a faint tapping sound.  A clink of something hard on metal or glass.

It came again, a second later.

Colin looked up from his computer.  Ears peeled, he turned his head to the left and waited.  Clink.  He turned his head the other way, in the hopes of pinpointing the source.

He heard a scraping noise, then the sound once more.  He couldn’t say where it came from.

He opened an instant message window on his computer and sent a message:

PHQ.Armsmaster:  You have a sec?

Guild.Dragon:  Reading the most monotonous data on seismic activity and Behemoth’s possible movements.  Ugly code.  Distract me, I beg you.

PHQ.Armsmaster:  Hearing something.  Can you listen in?

A few seconds passed, then it came again.

Guild.Dragon:  I hear it.  Wait.  Changing the settings on your microphones so I can triangulate the source.

As casually as he was able, he glanced towards the window.  Tinted glass, bulletproof, and reinforced with a low degree forcefield.  It would be easier for someone else to go through the wall than the window, but he couldn’t see through walls.  Nothing outdoors.  Just an overcast sky hiding the majority of the moon, and a faint drizzle of rain.  No person or animal, nothing else.


Guild.Dragon:  Vent, behind and above you.

He whirled around, grabbing the model of his nanobranch disintegration weapon from the stand on his desk.  It was miniaturized, a mere pocket knife that Piggot could use for demonstration.  Still, it would serve better than any chair or tool he might pick up.

He briefly debated going for the helmet with the link back to his old suit’s combat analyzer.  But it wasn’t set up, it would cost him precious seconds – twenty or thirty – before he connected to the main server.  Until that happened, the helmet would only render him blind.  A blank display.

Something moved in the gloom behind the vent.  There was a flash of something white or light gray, and the vent rattled, a puff of dust flowing down where the screws held it in place.  Again, there was the sound.  Clink.

The vent exploded from the wall with enough force to fly across the room and embed in the opposite wall. It was hard to make out in the cloud of plaster dust, but Colin saw a hand, all white, each joint segmented, fingers splayed, palm facing the room.

The hand tipped forward, and then dropped to the floor alongside the attached forearm, a length of chain stretching from the vent to the ‘elbow’.

Other body parts followed, each separated from the rest, encased in a white shell.  An upper arm, two halves of a torso, then a head.  The rest of the body followed, flowing to the ground like a liquid to pool there.  The right arm and the left leg were separate, detached, with only ball joints at the end.

Colin noted that the flat expanse that would join the left side of the chest to the right had a clear pane to it.  Organs were inside, cut cleanly down the middle, and they pulsed with activity, throbbing wet against the glass or glass substitute.  There was technology in there too.  Regulators and filtration systems, and other gear that was designed to fit into the gaps between the most vital systems.  Weapons, tools.

He knew this one from the briefings.  Mannequin.

The realization of what he was up against spurred him to action, pushed him beyond that momentary paralysis that came with the grim sight of the internal organs.  While Mannequin was incapacitated, he charged, clicking a switch on the handle of his knife to activate the disintegration effect.  A static grey cloud formed around the knife.

Colin was two paces away when a telescoping blade speared out from Mannequin’s hand, straight at him.  It was luck as much as reflexes that let him stop his run, his feet sliding on the smooth ground, before he ran into the weapon.  He dropped onto his back, instinctively rolling with the fall to reduce the impact.

The blade snapped back into Mannequin’s hand with enough force that the hand and forearm it was attached to recoiled from the impact.  It flipped into the air, and the blade snapped out again to impale the top of the door frame.

The chain retracted with a faint whirr, and the forearm snapped into place on the upper arm, which soon connected to the shoulder of the torso.  The chain joining the two halves of the torso together reeled in and locked into place by way of some unseen mechanism, the seam between them almost invisible.  Colin felt a faint tug from his weapon as some electromagnetics kicked into effect.  The unattached arm and leg flew to the shoulder and pelvis and snapped into place.

The head was the last thing to join the tall, thin body.  The chain slowly reeled it in, dragging the head along the floor, lifting it off the ground.  It swung, bouncing off one leg, the stomach, then the shoulder before it finally connected to the neck, the very top of the head scraping the ceiling.  There were no eyeholes, no earholes, nor any vents for air intake.  There was only a head as white and smooth as an eggshell, with shallow indents where the eyes and mouth should be and a small bump for the nose.

Mannequin raised one hand and placed it on the top of his head.  With a sharp twist, he snapped it into place with an audible click.  He tested the range of motion, tilting it forward, backward, to either side, then spinning it around three-hundred-and-sixty degrees.

“Dragon,” Colin whispered, “Are you getting this?”

“Help is on the way, Colin.”  The whole room was outfitted with speakers, microphones and microcameras.  Her voice came from the speaker directly behind him, so quiet that he would have thought he imagined it, if he didn’t know her.

Mannequin tested the rest of his body, while Colin slowly climbed to his feet.  Every joint was too flexible, and was capable of moving in every angle.  For a moment, Mannequin’s fingers were like worms, each knuckle bending in impossible directions.

Was the killer hoping to intimidate him?  Nobody would test these mechanics in front of an enemy, so this was most likely a demonstration.

Four blades sprang from Mannequin’s left forearm.  The limb began to rotate, slowly at first, then faster, until the four blades were whirling like a helicopter propellor.  Colin tensed, preparing to jump the moment the limb shot towards him.  He’d never wanted his suit so badly.

The propeller-like whirl of the blades gave the arm some buoyancy, and it shifted enough to come into contact with Mannequin’s leg.  All at once, it ricocheted, shearing through the computer, bouncing violently off of Mannequin’s head, then his leg again, the desk, then his arm.

Colin watched every movement of the bouncing blades, waiting for the moment it would fly free, or the second Mannequin charged.  There would be no dodging that unscathed.

But Mannequin didn’t move.  The spinning slowed, and the whirling blades settled into a rhythmic bounce against Mannequin’s leg, until it had stopped entirely, the arm swinging gently.  The blades retracted.

Mannequin didn’t speak, he made no sound.

Long moments passed.

“Talk to me, Dragon,” he murmured.  His voice shook just a touch.  Any second now, Mannequin would cut to the chase and attack, and he could die at this monster’s hands.

Her voice was quiet behind him.  As much as anything, it helped keep him calm.  “Mannequin.  Original name Alan Gramme.  Tinker, originally went by the name Sphere.  Specialty is in biomes, terraforming and ecosystems… or it was.”

Colin nodded slowly.  He knew this, but it was reassuring to get a recap.

“He became newsworthy when he took on a project to build self sustaining biospheres on the moon.  He had ideas on solving world hunger, and building aquatic cities near cities plagued by overcrowding.  And he was putting it all into effect.  Until-”

“The Simurgh,” Colin finished.

“His wife and children were killed in the attack, years of work ruined.  Everything fell apart.  He went mad.  He cut himself off from the rest of the world.  Literally sealed himself away.”

Colin looked at the cases that surrounded each individual body part.  Each body part a self-contained system.  Everything nonessential stripped away and replaced.

Her voice was even quieter than before as she said, “He has a body count, Colin.  You know…”

She trailed off, unwilling to finish.

“I know,” he finished for her.  Like other serial killers, Mannequin favored certain types of people as victims.  His prey of choice included rogues, those individuals seeking to make a profit from their abilities, especially those looking to better the world… and tinkers.

Mannequin swayed slightly on the spot.  Like a doll with a broken neck joint, his head flopped onto one side, until it was perpendicular to the floor.  There was a click as he slowly righted it.

“What do you want, monster?”  Colin growled, “Little point in coming after me.  I don’t have much of a life to look forward to.  I’ve already lost everything!”

Mannequin didn’t move.

“You’d be doing me a fucking favor!” Colin shouted, “Come on!  Come get me, you freak!”

There wasn’t a movement or sound from the killer.

There was a sound from Dragon.  In a tone that was afflicted with agonizing disappointment, like a mother who had just found out her son had been arrested for a felony, she said, “Oh, Colin.”

Colin didn’t speak.  He waited for elaboration.

“The PRT got a tip from one of the villain teams.  The Slaughterhouse Nine is in town.”

“So I gathered.”

“They ran it by some of the experts.  Colin, the consensus they came to was that Slaughterhouse Nine are in Brockton Bay to replace their ninth member.”

He stared at Mannequin, and the realization made his blood run cold.

“Me!?” he shouted.

The faceless man cocked his head to one side.

Colin roared, “I’m a fucking soldier!  I made a call that could have saved millions of lives!  Billions!  You’re ten times as fucked up as I thought you were if you think I belong in your group!”

Uncaring or oblivious to the outburst, Mannequin turned and examined the ruined computer.  He picked up a key that had been thrown off the ruined keyboard and turned it over in his fingers.

“Listen to me, you psychopath!”

“Colin!”  Dragon’s voice hissed from the speaker, not as quiet as it had been.  “Don’t provoke him!  Help is nearly there!”

Colin had to stop to control his breathing, and he bit his tongue to keep from saying anything further.  His enemy had to have heard her, but didn’t seem to care.

Mannequin fished through the broken keys from the keyboard, found another, and folded one finger back to pin it against the back of his hand.  He ejected a blade from his wrist and used it to scrape the letters that were still intact off the board.  They clattered to the desktop, and a few fell to the floor.

The featureless white head swiveled one way, then the other.

After a long moment, one arm dropped to the floor, the chain going slack.  The hand crawled over to pick up another key, then the arm reeled in.

Colin tensed as Mannequin approached, backing up as far as he was able  The window was just behind him now, and he could almost imagine the crackling of the rainwater vaporizing against the forcefield.

The villain turned and placed the keys down on the edge of Colin’s desk.  The first key was the letter U.

Six inches away, Mannequin put down an M, sideways.  He corrected it so it was upright.  Directly beside it, the villain put down an E.

He stepped away from the desk and faced Colin once more.

“You… me?”  Colin asked.

Mannequin cocked his head.

“Is this a riddle?”

Mannequin swiveled his upper body to face the other direction and reached for the shattered monitor.  He picked out a piece of glass and a piece of glossy black plastic.  Pressing them together, he raised it to the right side of his face, looking down at Colin.  Slowly, Mannequin changed the angle of the shard of glass with the black backing.

It took two long seconds before the villain’s intent became clear.  Colin tensed, and Mannequin froze, fixing the angle of the shard.

With the black backing, the glass reflected an image.  With the angle Mannequin had carefully found, the image reflected was half of Colin’s own face, overlapping with Mannequin’s head.

“No,” Colin muttered.

“Quiet!”  Dragon’s voice whispered from the nearby speaker, “They’re in the building, they’ll be there to help you in two minutes, maybe less!  I can see them on the security cameras!”

“I’m nothing like you!”  Colin screamed at the villain.

Mannequin stared at him with the shallow, empty eye sockets.

“I didn’t date, I didn’t have kids, because I wanted to be out there, helping!  I knew that any attachments could be used against me, so I went without!  I was fucking smart enough to do that!”

“Colin!”  Dragon pleaded.  Her voice was louder.

The villain didn’t move.

“Fucking answer me!  Spell the fucking words with keys if you have to!”  He roared the words at the mad tinker.

Mannequin swayed slightly, then righted himself with a sudden, jerky motion, as if he’d collapse into a heap if he wasn’t careful.  He used his hand to shift his back into place with an audible click.

Colin went on, “I was out there every day, helping.  I took steps to fight evil and take down criminals every day, small steps, baby steps.”

“Colin, stop, please!”

Dragon’s words didn’t matter.  He was going to die anyways.  He’d known the moment he recognized Mannequin.  He’d go down fighting, hurt this motherfucker the only ways he could.

“You want to compare us, freak?  Maybe we both had bad days.  Days where nothing went right, days where we were too slow, too stupid, too weak, unprepared or tired.  Days we’ll look back on for the rest of our fucking miserable lives, wondering what we would have done different, what we could have done better, how things could have played out.  The difference between us is that I actually did something with my life, and I’m still trying to do more while I serve my sentence!”  He stopped and took a breath.  “You started your big projects, got every fucking person in the world to get their hopes up, and then you failed to finish anything because you couldn’t hack it when your fucking family got killed!  You insult their fucking memories every motherfucking second you exist like this!”

Mannequin slammed him into the wall with more strength than he might have expected the artificial body to have.  The blade came next, springing from Mannequin’s hand to pierce the shoulder that led to Colin’s stump of an arm and stick through the wall behind him.

The villain withdrew the hand, then punched the blade into Colin’s stomach.  Once, twice, three times.

Dragon’s scream came from every speaker in the room.

A slash of the blade caught Colin across the face, blinding him in one eye and tearing through the bridge of his nose.

None of it hurt as much as it felt like it should have.  More serious wounds didn’t tend to, odd as it was.

Colin tried to laugh, and found he couldn’t.  He could feel blood flowing into his mouth and throat through the gaping wound in his face.  He let his head hang forward, so the blood could mostly flow out of his mouth.

He tried to move forward, lunge with his knife, but he couldn’t pull his shoulder from the wall, even though the blade was no longer pinning him there.  Was it a lack of physical strength, or something mechanical, flesh and bone shoved into the hole in the wall?

Couldn’t lapse into that kind of thinking.

Still had the knife.  One hole in the self-contained systems that were one of Mannequin’s vital body parts would cause a leak of fluids, an introduction of pathogens that Mannequin surely wouldn’t be able to fight off.

He tried to speak, but there was too much blood in his mouth, and he only managed to start coughing violently, spraying blood on the white of Mannequin’s chest.  His vision was getting hazy.

He wouldn’t be able to distract the lunatic with words while he acted.  He could only pray.

Don’t do it for me, God.  I probably don’t deserve the chance.  Do it for every soul this motherfucker would kill from here on out if I fail.

He thrust out the knife, swept it towards his opponent’s chest cavity.  His hand stopped.

With his vision in his good eye failing him, it took him a second to see why.  Mannequin’s hand gripped his wrist.

He pushed, as if he could beat this monster in strength.  By some miracle, his hand moved a fraction closer to his enemy’s chest.  He redoubled his efforts, and it moved still closer.

A blade stuck out of Mannequin’s upper arm, near the elbow joint.  The upper arm fired like a small rocket to stick in the wall, and for a second, there was slack in the chain.  Colin thrust the knife forward, came within inches of making contact with Mannequin’s chest before the chain reeled in and the metal links went rigid.

The chain started to gradually reel in, and Mannequin started pulling his hand backward, toward the wall where the section of arm had stuck.

Then, as if to taunt Colin, Mannequin dropped to a crouch, moved his face less than an inch from the blur that marked the edge of the blade’s effect.


He couldn’t say where, but he found some reserve of strength.  The knife inched closer.  Hairs away.  He could see the material of the casing smoke just beneath Mannequin’s ‘eye’, a dark patch revealing itself beneath.

Mannequin’s head fell, tipping over backwards to strike the ground, dangling from the chain, out of reach of the blade.  Still holding Colin’s wrist, the headless villain stood straight.

He was toying with me.

Mannequin wrenched his hand back, as if to make it clear that he had let him get that close, that Colin had never really stood a chance.  Colin was pulled to one side, and he didn’t have the strength in his midsection to keep from falling over.  His knife clattered from his grip as he fell to the floor.

The villain picked up the knife, examined it, then pressed the button to test it.  The last thing Colin saw before darkness consumed his vision was the bastard using the weapon on the wall beside the window, dust billowing where it made contact.

In the last seconds of consciousness, he heard Dragon’s voice, as if from a far away place.  “No!  No, no no!  Colin!  Stay awake!  I need you!”

Her voice was the first thing he heard when he woke.  “Welcome back.”

“I survived,” his voice rasped.  He’d had a tracheotomy.  The only explanation for his throat being this sore would be having a tube rammed down it.  Looking around, he saw a laptop propped up beside him, and a get well card from Miss Militia.  She must have put the laptop there when she left the card.

“Your heart stopped nine times on the operating table,” Dragon said, “A lesser man wouldn’t have made it.”


“Artificial parts.  I supplied your headquarters with a 3D scanner of my design weeks ago.  I had them make the parts I specified.  The on-site doctors kept you alive long enough for the scanner to make the necessary components, and they followed my instructions in installing them.”

“Good girl,” he told her, with genuine affection.

“I’m sorry about your face.”

He tried to raise his hand, but found it attached to IVs.  He had to maneuver it carefully as he lifted it to his face, so as not to tangle the wires.  Almost seamlessly, his flesh transitioned into a smooth plastic and back to flesh again.

“It’s alright,” he said.

“Your new eye doesn’t work.  I think I know what’s wrong with it, and I can get you something that will work, I just need time.”

“You have better things to be doing.”  He coughed and regretted it as pain ripped through his throat with the movement of the muscles.  His stomach felt strange.  He started to speak, cleared his throat, then said,  “I think I could pull off an eye patch.”

“The parts won’t last.  All of this is prototype stuff.  Some of it I revised and invented while you were in surgery.  They’re temporary, but I can make better.  I’m afraid you’re going to need to go under the knife a few times.  More than a few.”

“That’s fine.  Thank you for all this.”

There was a pause.

“You’re a fucking idiot, Colin.  That was the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.”

He laughed.  His breath caught with the pain each laugh produced, but he couldn’t help it.

“Yeah, I hope that hurt.”

“Wanted to provoke him.  See if I couldn’t find an opening.”

“I repeat: Stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Was going to kill me anyways.”

“Was he?  He could have killed you there.  He didn’t.”

“He tried.”

“No, Colin.  Look.”

The laptop screen on the table beside him lit up, and a browser page opened.  An image loaded.

A photo.  Mannequin had left a message.  3 keys, again, on the edge of the desk.  BR8.

The eight, Colin supposed, was meant to stand in for a second B.  ‘BRB’, an acronym used by countless denizens of the internet and innumerable cell phone texters.  Be Right Back.

“Could be meant for you guys.”

“Or it could be for you.”

“He left me for dead. He couldn’t really expect I’d survive.”

Dragon didn’t reply.  He thought of Mannequin.  Despite the silence, despite the uncanny behavior and the dramatic self mutilation, Mannequin was a brilliant man.  A man who could have looked at the resources that were available in the building, who could have figured out Colin was in touch with Dragon, done just enough damage to push him to the brink of death.

“Shit.  He probably could,” Colin conceded.

He stared at the photo for several long seconds, then turned away.

Hoping to inject some levity into the grim conversation, he smiled and asked her, “What was this I heard when I was passing out?  ‘I need you’?”

The silence stretched on for so long that he knew he’d made some faux pas.  He just wasn’t sure what.  Stupid.  This was the kind of thing that had cost him his position, started the dominoes falling in such a way that they’d led him to being prisoner in that room, led to him being an easy target for Mannequin, to him being here, in this bed.  Never knowing what to say, or how to say it, or who to say it to.

He was about to apologize when Dragon said, “Those prosthetics I gave you?  They were part of a bigger project.  Something I’d intended to use for myself.”

She was a cripple?  He’d known she had survived Leviathan’s attack on Newfoundland, was it such a surprise that she’d gotten hurt then?  It would explain her aversion to showing her face.  One of the things she’d given him was a facial prosthetic.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t know.”

“No, it’s not that,” she paused.  “There’s something you need to know about me.”

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91 thoughts on “Interlude 11d

    • Thank you. 🙂

      Part of the reason I did this exercise (a chapter a day for a week) was because I wanted to showcase these guys, where the full stories/ideas behind them might not get shown in coming arcs. The other part was more in terms of flexing my writing ability. For too long I’ve had no backlog (no chapters done well in advance in case of emergency) and this sort of forced me to adopt a more serious approach to get everything done on time, so I think that’ll carry over into more serious writing in the coming days/weeks/months, and hopefully building up a backlog in the future.

    • Not just villains.

      And really, Mannequin is one of the less inspired characters wildbow created. Tragic backstory, wetware android, creepy from not speaking. Not his best work. (Admittedly, that is largely because of the high bar the rest of Worm sets.)

  1. Mannequin is pure nightmare fuel, and yet I’ve always liked doll like movements and chains so I’m torn on how to feel.

  2. Allow me to present my reactions to this chapter:
    The introduction of Mannequin and his backstory? It’s fine. The battle between Colin and Mannequin? Can’t deny it’s entertaining.

    The interactions between Dragon and Armsmaster, and the growth in their relationship? Him proving he’s ultimately a moral person, her proving herself desperate to save him and finally trusting him enough to reveal herself? A mix of “D’awwww”, “Awesome!” and “Good plot progression.”

    Seriously, Dragon is one of my favourite characters, and her revealing what can best be described as ‘her emotional side’ just makes me squee. I do hope that we’ll be keeping an eye on her in the long-term.

  3. Colin is an idiot all right. “Good girl.”? Dragon’s not his dog! Well, he might just get away with it given she’s got other stuff on her mind.

    So which of the S9 has chosen Shadow Stalker?

      • Ooh, yes, fun topic. So far we have:
        Jack Slash: Oni Lee [left him to die once he found out OL wasn’t all there].
        Siberian: Rachel [Appears to be considering the choice]
        Mannequin: Armsmaster [who rejected the offer, but Mannequin has not given up]
        Burnscar: Labyrinth? Though her kidnapping Spitfire and bringing her in shouldn’t be ruled out.
        Bonesaw: [?] (Is presumably a bio-tinker, and is thus most likely to have an interest in people with unusual biologies or who could be ‘improved’ by such. Newter and George are at risk of her attentions.)
        Shatterbird: [?] (Not much known about her, although it is deducible that her powers can shatter all the glass in a city at once. Continuing the pattern, it is likely that she will look for a candidate with similarities to herself.)
        The Crawler: [?] (Nothing known. Based purely on the name and the concept of recruiting people similar to themselves, Grue may be at risk.)
        Hatchet Face: [?] (Known to be a thug. Likely to recruit someone with combat abilities. Probability suggests someone in Fenrir’s Chosen.)

        Now, which individuals are most likely to be recruited? The disaffected, the immoral, those with nowhere to turn. Individuals without any positive connections to others. Possibilities include Shadow Stalker (likely in terms of both criteria and story-telling imperative), rogues, newly-created or unaffiliated capes, people who lost people they cared about in the End-Bringer attack. Even some heroes might have some chance of being candidates if they reacted badly enough. This potentially means that anybody could be a target. One other person who might be viewed as disaffected enough is Skitter (which is also a good possibility from a literary perspective). I’d also considered that girl in New Wave who lost her brother and had her father be injured during the Leviathan attack, but the presence of her mother will probably prevent her from giving in her to despair.

        Any other ideas?

        • FYI: You’re getting two people in New Wave mixed up. Glory Girl lost her boyfriend, her dad was injured. Laserdream (Glory Girl’s cousin) lost her dad & brother.

          • Yeah, I was just about to correct that. It was Laserdream I was thinking of. Also Crawler was the one described as a brute/thug, not Hatchet face.

        • Hatchet face is off the roster already, that’s who is being replaced. I’m a bit confused, as I remember some conflicting spoilers with regard to who killed him and why there are currently only 8 members of the Nine.

    • Oh argh. Oh no. That’s far, far too plausible. If Shadow Stalker hadn’t left town in time… Oh no, no, no. I guess it’s narratively certain that she’ll have been asked. And given how effectively Regent wrecked her life, and how she’s always been lacking in morality and empathy… Yikes.

  4. I am still expecting one to show up for Taylor. I know it’s kind of obvious, but her pragmatic brutality undoubtedly drew notice since they seem to have ins and knowledge to these sort of facts.

      • Skitter was someone who was noticeably ruthless even when she was (claiming to be) working for the side of good as a mole. She then had her attempt at working with the side of good thrown back in her face, and ended up back working with the people she had been intending to betray. She is still not fully trusted by them. Ruthless, twisty, in a position where she might be willing to cut ties. And despite looking unassuming, her power would be good for assassinating large numbers of unsuspecting people. That is how the S9 might view Skitter. Regent would be more likely to agree, but Skitter could actually seem a better recruit.

        • Yeah, Skitter has a known willingness to mutilate her enemies, to poke endbringers in the ass(literally), and to get the short end of the stick. Sounds like a good recruit to me.

        • What make Taylor not likely recruit is unlike everyone else she has not killed and is not willing to kill also she mostly fills guilty for what she has done as Skitter.
          but It all depends on if one of Slaughterhouse 9 think she a kinder spirit.

          • Hm, it never occurred to me that Skitter would be a potential recruit for S9. I could be wrong, but from what I’ve seen, it looks like the current members are capable of single handedly going up against some very serious opponents. It seems like no one on their team really needs backup at all.

            Not that Taylor isn’t good, but the S9 members seen so far seem to take a much more direct approach to combat. I kind of think of it as a conflict of methodology.

            I guess it would depend on what their recruiting criteria are, exactly. Which we’re probably going to find out more about this week.

            • As far as ability to go toe-to-toe with heroes, she’s not *that* great, you’re right.

              As far as killing ability, though, with the will and the resources she’d be top notch. All she has to do is bring in more and better bugs (Banana Spiders? Genetically engineered beasties courtesy of mannequin? genetically engineered pathogens to spread via mosquito?), or just pull the capscacin trick with a contact poison.

              Of course, none of that compares to Regent taking over someone with nuclear launch codes.

              • No offence, Dmet, but can someone please delete your comment (and this one, obviously) as a spoiler?

                Speculation is not a spoiler, even if it’s right because no one KNOWS if it’s right. Confirming that speculation is correct *is* a spoiler.


  5. I always enjoy revisiting Armsmaster(Who I picture as looking like Ted Hamilton for some reason). He’s such an entertaining lunatic.

    I’m curious to hear just how far the space and biome projects actually got, with and without Sphere.

    A couple things-
    “bending at impossible directions” Maybe ‘in’?
    “inject some brevity” Levity?

  6. Interesting background detail on Armsmaster. That he’d rejected family as a weakness to his “mission”. No wonder he’d ended up so f***ed up and inhuman. He also chose to fight for the right reason here, but that doesn’t erase his earlier crimes.

  7. I think of two things when it comes to Mannequin. Slenderman, and the music box dolls from MirrorMask that sing “Close to You”. Look it up, I actually like their version of it. The bit about the glass panes in Mannequin’s chest reminded me of what I think is a piece of artwork, but I can’t remember a name, artist, or even where I heard of it. Just something about glass panes separating parts of a shark or a horse and showing some organs. I’m too tired to be bothered to look anymore.

    There also happens to be a minor Marvel villain named Manikin and possible a really minor DC one named Mannequin, but that could have just been a Cat-tales idea instead and once again too tired.

    As you can probably tell, it’s not making me lose sleep. I’ve often hunted nightmare fuel down. “Life’s no fun without a good scare” and all that. One music video that got altered to be some actually gave me an idea for a three part story that I’m trying to work on. Another regular song listed as nightmare fuel was actually just really good. Make a nice theme some day.

      • Thanks, was able to find more thanks to knowing for sure. Damien Hirst’s name had come up before in my search, but I had the wrong animal in mind. He seems to enjoy cutting up cows instead. I couldn’t get the name of the one that The Cell’s horse was based on, but he has a cow done the same way. There was also one with a cow and a calf bisected, with each half in a tank set next to the other half.

        I can’t say I’m particularly a fan. I mean, I can see why the guy’s critics complain about how he just takes a dead animal, throws it in a tank, and calls it art. Or the time his art consisted of putting 8,000 diamonds on a skull. Not in much of a pattern, just to cover the bone with diamonds. I bet if someone left a flaming bag of poo on his front porch, he’d put it in a museum under his name.

  8. So now the AI will list the psychopath (before arguing please look it up, it doesn’t mean axe crazy) tinkerer to unfetter her. It’ll probably be great for a while.
    Then it’ll all go to hell.

    • So now the AI will list the psychopath (before arguing please look it up, it doesn’t mean axe crazy) tinkerer to unfetter her.

      Halberd crazy, in this particular case…

  9. so far the week-long anniversary bonus has been AMAZING.
    Bitch’s backstory made me tear up, only for me to break into a swearing fit moments later.
    Theo’s story is something i’ve been looking forward to for a while. i hope that in the not too distant future Pan and Theo might interact, seeing as hes living proof that evil isn’t genetic.
    labyrinth and burnscar? love the powers.
    and today…
    Oh My God.
    As a proud Dragon X Armsmaster shipper i love this chapter oh so very much. yay geeklove.
    looking forward to the rest.

  10. I wonder if Mannequin was even trying to recruit Armsmaster here. Maybe it’s my own prejudice, but I suspect that he was actually trying to recruit Dragon through Armsmaster. Meh, it’s probably me projecting, since I like Dragon a lot more.

    On the other hand, it seems odd that someone brilliant would come to talk without bringing a way to communicate. Also, I got the feeling that he was toying with AM right from the beginning.

    Is the 3D scanner kind of like a 3D printer? Maybe one that can handle molten metal?

    • I think he communicated quite well. Armsmaster is obsessed with his own cleverness, and anything less than this would have insulted him in a different way than the insult he claims to have felt from being compared to the Nine.

      And the reflection thing was pretty brilliant, especially foreshadowing that Armsmaster now has half a plastic face…

    • He said what he needed to.

      The 3d Scanner is indeed like a 3d printer, though somewhat more versatile. It doesn’t operate with molten metal though, which is why the prosthetics are plastic.

    • Mannequin likes killing tinkers. 7 out of 8 candidate recruits will probably be dead at the end of the process. So Armsmaster is the perfect choice for Mannequin, he most likely dies, or is utterly corrupted.

  11. My guess as to who’s recruiting who is that bonesaw might come after pan.

    And speaking of DC , PG , skitter shares a name with one of the latest teen titans.

    • Son of a bitch. Really?

      This might be trouble down the road, if I want to release as an ebook. DC/Marvel are litigious.

      *checks* Damnn it. First iteration of Wormverse Skitter being named is September 20th, 2011. DC’s Skitter made a first appearance on September 11th, 2011.

      Well, I was already prepared to rename Grue.

      • I’m guessing you’ll be alright, so long as the characters don’t appear to be rip-offs of each other (which they don’t). It’s a different story with characters that are wildly famous/deeply entrenched in the public mythos, such as Bats, Supes, Spidey and Cap.

        But even the more famous characters don’t have a complete hold on their monikers. As far as I know, Marvel has never sued any of the producers of any of the movies called “The Thing”.


    • Problems like that occur. Sucks, but it’s true.

      For another source of super names, I might suggest the Public Domain Superheroes Wiki. Some of them are just newer ones people made up and put on there, but most characters just slipped into public domain from defunct comic books. Some other people use the characters, so you just have to avoid your version being similar to theirs. A couple of them also can’t be used exactly as they were, like Daredevil, a deaf man in a two-tone costume who used boomerangs.

      Other times, there’s limits on the names they can copyright, like Thor, Hercules, Odin, and probably Uncle Sam. Yes, DC has Uncle Sam as a superhero. He’s the personification of the United States, and briefly split into Johnny Reb and Billy Yank during the 1860s.

  12. Anyone else concerned about Manikin giving a knife that can cut through anything to his good friend Jack Slash, the dude with a “Space warping effect, so any blades he’s holding have an edge that extends a horrendously long distance”?

      • Well it obviously depends on what the particulars of Jack’s space warping effect is – if its some energy field based on the ‘idea’ of a blade then sure, but if the actual blade itself is doing the cutting at a distance then wouldn’t the nanobranch will work just as well? A regular knife edge is hundreds or thousands of atoms wide after all, a space warping to bring that edge in contact with distant materials would be more than wide enough for a nanostructure to pass through.

        If Worm has shown us anything its the importance of teamwork and synergy between powers😉.

        • Assuming it could work I’m not sure Jack would use it. Not much fun having a super weapon like that, it would take that spicy challenge out of life that he enjoys so much.

    • We are the Dragon. Prepare to be assimilated. Your biological and technological diversity will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.

      Haven’t I already used this joke?

  13. Hoho, I’m waiting for it to hit Armsmaster that his face now looks just like Mannequin said (well, strongly implied) that it would.

  14. When I saw the BR8, I was thinking b-rate, as in, second-rate. Kind of like Manikin was telling him that it wasn’t even worth his time to kill a loser like him.

    • Interestingly, I also think they misread the message. My guess:
      B R 8 = Be our #8
      I don’t think Mannequin is looking for a ninth at all – I think he’s looking for a replacement for himself. Not that Armsmaster would go that route (as he explains himself), no matter how much of his body gets replaced. Apparently, Mannequin is not going to take no for an answer…

  15. I liked this chapter. Armsmaster was awesome the way he got to mannequin like that. He may be an a jerk, but he has good intentions, and that’s why I’ve always liked his character.

  16. Wow, that’s a very scary monster design you’ve got there.

    And some of the Nine’s prospective replacements do seem odd to me. Rachel and Armsmaster… neither of them have the sort of serial-killer glee in death and violence that I would have thought you needed. I guess they must be picking them based on some other qualities.

    I really liked the way you described Dragon saying “Oh, Colin”.

    • Possibility 1: The recruiters are confident they can bring the recruited around to their way of thinking. Siberian seems pretty good at communicating with Bitch.

      Possibility 2: Since 7 out of 8 candidates will presumably be killed, some of the S9 may be treating this as just another killing spree. Maybe Mannequin left Colin alive for now because he wants to drag out the hunt.

      • I think you are right. It is not the killing record of the candidates, but their way of potentially thinking like the recruiters, if driven over the edge, and the motivation to break any bonds, to antagonize humanity as a whole. Bitch has severe problems to interact with humans at all, she acts like a violent but domestic dog at the moment, but remains an outsider and is one step away from acting like a feral beast, Siberian got that quite right. The guy from the ABB has lost his group and is known to be a cold-blooded killer unlikely to settle with any other group, he was only discarded when the recruiter noticed the total lack of drive in that guy, who couldn’t think of an evil plan for himself and just expected to receive orders.
        Armsmaster as a former hero might be a risky choice, but he too has lost the respect of his group, has been shut of society, condemned to a miserable existence. He also has been a notorious loner and has shown he values personal glory over human life (assuming some of this Story leaked through to the 9). And Armsmasters downfall is connected to a failed attempt to fight of an Endbringer, which might seem to Mannequin as somewhat alike the events that made him a psychokiller (His own reasons for going down that path are not very convincing IMHO, but that maybe explains why he misjudged Armsmasters potential will to go there).

        Now for some speculation: Shadowstalker is indeed an ideal candidate, having been isolated by recent events and enjoying violence and hurting like she does. Skitter definitely has not the right mindset to be a candidate, but a member of the 9 might misjudge her there, the necessary position of isolation is there (or was, until recently) and some of her deeds in the past might give an outsider the Impression that she enjoys spreading terror and hurt, though she is obviously reluctant to kill.
        Most of Fenrir’s Chosen would have potential to become brutal Serial Killers (some of them already are), but I doubt that the 9 would approach one of them, they are already in a group of likeminded individuals, while the 9 approached exclusively loners.

  17. I may have mentioned this in my comments on later chapters, but this was the first chapter of Worm I ever read. My sister sent it to me to show me Mannequin’s design (and, I suspect, to get me hooked on the story myself). All the context I had going in was that it was a superhero story starring a teenaged villain group, but I could still pick up the basics of what was going on & what most of the in-universe jargon meant, which I reflects well on the writing IMO.

  18. Missing period: “Colin tensed as Mannequin approached, backing up as far as he was able The window was just behind him now, and he could almost imagine the crackling of the rainwater vaporizing against the forcefield.”

  19. I love this chapter, overall – particularly the interactions between Dragon and Colin, and the way Mannequin is described. Unfortunately, while he’s a fairly cool/frightening villain (if a bit limited in characterization by the fact that he doesn’t speak and communicates very little here), I think the one flaw in the chapter is the way his backstory is dropped in. Having Colin taunt him with it makes a certain amount of sense, but Dragon recapping seemed a bit out of place. That might just be a matter of delivery, though – I can imagine her talking to Colin in an attempt to keep him calm, since that ties into her desire to have him wait for help. Something about the way she reels off the facts seems a bit lacking, emotionally speaking, especially in comparison to how well Dragon is characterized at other points within this chapter. It’s a brief weak point, but I think it could be improved.

    That said, meeting the first three members of the S9 is very interesting. Burnscar, Jack and Mannequin give us three pretty different antagonists, but all of them legitimately carry some guilt for their crimes, even if two have partial excuses for why they might go nuts. Interesting that Jack is the one we learned the least about, so far. What we get from him is mostly presence and attitude. Burnscar seems to be a lot of power with little personality (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that she has to choose between having power or personality at any given time). Mannequin is her opposite, in a sense, dangerous because of his mind and his competence more than raw power. Yet they both fit into the S9.

    This set of interludes makes me wonder how many members the group has had, and how many of them joined up willingly compared to then number who were coerced. It’s also been nice to learn about Bitch and Labyrinth, as well as revisiting Dragon/Armsmaster. Protagonists may make a story great but it’s secondary characters that make the world come to life, I think. Gotta have that tasty depth.


  20. Very tense chapter! The imagery with Mannequin was VERY effective in conveying creepiness. And I love the Dragon-Armsmaster interaction! It’s adorable, and is easily becoming one of my favorite story “romances”. I think the fact that Dragon is an AI seals it for me (not to be organicist!).

    • Hey — this is getting into ‘spoilerish’ range for new readers, I think.

      Let’s let S9 and Mannequin’s depth of scary evolve with the story — it’s working just fine! He has me totally shuddering.

      Even though, since Wildbow’s first hints at how he pulls himself together, I’ve had trouble NOT picturing some variation of this:

  21. Hello hello! New reader, here, and absolutely in love with this beautiful thing you’ve crafted.

    I see that the Nine-minus-one’s search for people similar to themselves has been discussed, but I wanted to comment on the impressive tragedy of it. I think Burnscar was an excellent illustration of at least one level of this thing I’m trying to put words to, but even thoroughly-reprehensible Jack Slash seems to be operating like this.

    The S9 are a poignant example of how power and tragedy are often intertwined in this story’s universe. It unbalances, disrupts normal social behavior, allows for extreme choices to be made regardless of consequences, distances the powerful from the powerless, dissociates. Though they’re absolutely monstrous now, it’s clear that not all of the Nine fall under the classification of “people who were monsters before they got their powers.”

    I haven’t read further than this chapter yet, but so far it seems like, if not a near reflection of themselves, what they seem to be seeking – even if they viscerally hate it or don’t understand it – is understanding, solidarity, validation. Here are folks whom they knew, or whose situations they once knew for themselves, whose struggles they understand because those struggles were their own. Ergo, here are folks who can know them, who can understand and sympathize with their past struggles, who might, given time and proper prompting, come to be where the Nine are now, this place separate from standard social fare like morality and empathy. It wouldn’t be pretty and it wouldn’t be right, but it would be like… making a friend. In the least heartwarming sense, but oh gosh, in a way that’s pretty heartbreaking all the same.

    Even if I’m way off the mark, it’s definitely a testament to the skill of the author, here, that I’d even speculate about the motives of people whose entrance was marked by a clutch of violent murders, instead of just wondering about their endgame. Even if they are some of the most creatively unsettling villains I’ve come across. Aside from all that, it’s cool to see them play off of characters who are differently aligned. For these characters, the S9 are like – to borrow a line from the Sandman comics – “a black mirror, made to reflect everything about itself that humanity will not confront.” I am so darned impressed with this story and can’t wait to read more.

  22. I don’t even like Armsmaster that much, but I have to say I am really shipping them right now. Can their official shipping name be DragonMaster? That sounds totally badass. They’re SO CUTE together!!!

  23. Oh wow. So I know against my better judgment I started to like Colin at his last interlude but now I really do feel horrible for the guy. He’s a dick but he’s a broken dick who understands that fact, hates it and doesn’t know how to fix it. And Mannequin just tried to make Colin more like him and practically succeeded. Geeze. This guy’s life sucks. Poor Dragon had to sit there and watch her potential savior/love interest get hurt bad enough to practically die too. Man, these Slaughterhouse people are straight up evil! The Endbringers seem more like a force of nature but these guys just…If I heard they were in town I don’t think I’d be able to stay in town longer than a few hours. Holy cow. You’ve done a fantastic job making a bad situation even worse and for that wildbow, you deserve massive praise. I seriously hope Taylor and the rest of the team kicks their ass to hell.

    Also I really like how the two are progressing in their relationship. Her telling him off was very cute and she is the first person he thinks to call for help when he gets a bad feeling. I hope that they actually get together for real. Colin definitely seems like the type who wouldn’t really care that she is an AI. Plus the woman is trying to put together a body for herself! How cool is that!

    On the flip side Mannequin is like a figure from my worst nightmare given life. A living, walking, psychotic puppet with just enough of a face/body to be humanlike but utterly alien. Shudder.

  24. Typo thread:
    His prey of choice included rogues, those individuals seeking to make a profit from their abilities, especially those looking to better the world… and tinkers.

    He used his hand to shift his back into place with an audible click.
    -Missing a head? hand? leg? there.

  25. I know I’m a bit late to the party, but I find it endlessly amusing that Colin is apparently so bored under house arrest that he’s calling Dragon every time his radiator makes a funny noise.

    Previous adventures from Colin’s incarceration include: “Dragon, my spacebar is stuck! I think it’s sabotage!” and “Dragon, a pigeon landed on my windowsill! Implement Master/Stranger protocols!”

  26. >Colin felt a faint tug from his weapon as some electromagnetics kicked into effect.

    Awkward sentence. Some electromagnetic effect, perhaps?

    >Colin tensed as Mannequin approached, backing up as far as he was able The window was just behind him now

    Missing a full stop.

    Mannequin is creepy in that monstrous, inhuman, albeit also rather generic way. Can’t say I dislike it, I’m a sucker for this kind of personality. He’s got a flair for the dramatic, for sure. I hope there’ll be more of him.

    • She is fully AI,she doesn’t technically have a body,as she can upload herself to any server.That said,she can only operate in one place at a time due to her inventor’s limitations (she does,however,keep backups that activate when she “dies”),and she often used mechanicalsuits for that one place,later with organic compoments inside (these fake babies)in order to prevent the Dragonslayers from stealing her tech again.

  27. This chapter nigh on made me cry. The relationship between these two is SO well constructed. I hope things go over smoothly between them following this revelation.

    I just want all the characters to be happy so!!!! Bad!!!!!!!

  28. I am curious, would the fight have been different if Armsmaster agreed with Dragon’s seemingly sensible idea of staying quiet and not provoking Mannequin?

  29. I hate you a little bit for making me sympathize with Armsmaster.

    That’s a compliment on your writing skill of course. But I still hate you a little😉


    Argh! I’m a new reader, and this is my first readthrough and my first comment. I wanted SO BAD to see Armsmaster’s reaction to Dragon’s secret. I was so excited. y u do this

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