Plague 12.1

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The first beetle gripped the corner of the paper in his mandibles and slowly pulled it back.  Two more moved to the edges of the folds and held them firm.  The fourth and largest of the four beetles ran its head left and right along the paper until it was firmly creased.  Each of the four changed positions and repeated the steps at a different point.

“That’s really creepy to watch,” Charlotte said, from where she sat at the kitchen table.

I looked up from the laptop I was using to view a webpage on origami.  “Is it?  I’m pretty used to them, so I don’t give it a lot of thought.”

“They’re so organized and human.  Bugs shouldn’t act that way.”

“I don’t really believe in thinking that way anymore,” I said, absently.

“What way?”

I had to stop to compose my thoughts.  I glanced at Charlotte, and Sierra, who was standing by the fridge, silently eating her breakfast.  “I don’t believe in shouldn’t, like there’s some universal rules about the way things should be, the way people should act.”

“So there’s no right or wrong?  People and animals should do whatever?”

“No, there’s always going to be consequences.  Believe me when I say I know about that.  But I do think there’s always going to be extenuating circumstances, where a lot of things we normally assume are wrong become excusable.”

“Like rape?  Are you going to tell me there’s a situation where rape is okay?”  Charlotte asked.  I would have thought I’d touched on a hot subject if her voice wasn’t so level.

I shook my head.  “No.  I know some things are never excusable.”


“But as far as bugs are concerned, at least, I figure anything goes.”

“It’s still creepy.”

“Give it time.  You’ll get used to it.”  I picked up the tightly folded piece of paper that was the end result of my little experiment.  I pushed at two corners of the tight paper square, and it settled into a cube about three-quarters of an inch on each side, with holes on two opposing faces.

I directed a housefly into one hole and settled it inside, then fed a braided length of twine through the holes.  I handed the result to Charlotte and ordered the bugs to start making another.

“A necklace?”  Sierra asked.  She put her plate down in the sink and ran water over it.

“Or bracelet, or a key chain.  So long as you have this, I’ll know where you are, because I can keep an eye out for the fly in a box.  The real purpose of this, though, is when there’s an emergency.  You can crush the box and the bug inside, and the moment that happens, I”ll use my power to protect you.  It won’t be instantaneous, but you’ll have a swarm descending on whoever is giving you trouble in anywhere from fifteen seconds to a minute.  If it works out, I can make something a little more stylish for the future.”

There were nods from both of them.

“I can’t protect you from a bullet or a knife wound, but I can screen the people in your vicinity, feeling them out to see if they have weapons on them and give you a heads up so you don’t get in that situation to begin with.  If there’s potential trouble like that, I’ll warn you by drawing this symbol with my bugs…”

I drew three lines that crossed in the center, using the flies and beetles that were working on a cube for Sierra.

“Okay,” Charlotte said.  Sierra nodded.

I got the bugs working on the second cube again.  “I’ll use numbers to inform you on the number of people nearby.  You’ll want to approach a situation differently if there’s twenty people than if there’s five.  Maybe have one of you hang back and be in a position to crush the cube, or just keeping your distance.  Or just avoid the situation.  Trust your gut, use your best judgement.”

“What exactly are we doing?”

“For now, just door to door.  I’m going to mark the places you should visit, where there are families or groups of people.  I need the info I can’t get with my bugs.  Who are the people in my territory?  What do they need: Maybe medical care, clothes, more food, maybe someone’s giving them trouble?  You find out, take notes, then pass that information to me.”

“That’s it?”

“For now.  I’m going to ask you guys to travel as a pair, obviously.  You’ll be safer and there’s a better chance you’ll be able to signal me with the necklace if something goes wrong.  Not that you should need the cube, but I prefer having some redundancy.”

The pair nodded.  Sierra bent over to pull on the rain boots I’d provided her.  Charlotte was already wearing hers.

“That’s the general plan.  We’ll work out other tasks and maybe other signals later, in case you need my attention but not for an emergency, or if you want to cancel a request for help, whatever.  That leaves payment.”

“I was wondering about that,” Charlotte said.  “But didn’t know how to ask.”

“We’ll try for six to eight hours a day, five days a week, but consider it flexible.  Not to spook you or anything, but I’ll know if you’re slacking.  I’m thinking two hundred and fifty dollars a day, and obviously it’s under the table, so you’re not getting taxed on it.”

“That’s a little more generous than I was expecting,” Sierra said.

I didn’t like Coil, pretty much despised his methods, but I did agree with his sensibilities on some things, like personnel and making sure people wanted to work for you.  It wasn’t like I couldn’t afford it.  I had yet to spend the earnings from any of my earlier villainous stints, since Coil was providing everything major I needed.

“There’s another reason I’m putting you guys out there.  Two people aren’t going to be enough for what I’m planning long-term.  I want you two to trust your guts on this, but you’re also going to be keeping an eye out for possible recruits.”

“You’re hiring others?” Charlotte asked.

I nodded.  “I’m looking for people who are young, reasonably fit, and able to follow orders.  With you two out there, I’m hoping others see a pair of girls who are secure, happy and healthy in my employ.  You recruit someone I decide is worth keeping?  I’ll reward you.  But this isn’t a competition, got it?”

Both girls nodded their heads.

“If you don’t have any questions-”

“I do,” Charlotte piped up.  “Do you have a mask I could wear?”

I frowned.  “I was hoping you guys would put a more human, less sinister face on things.”

“I don’t want to run into someone I know and have to explain.  Not that I think anyone I know lives around here, but-”

“Okay, no, I wouldn’t expect you guys to go unmasked when I won’t.  That wouldn’t be fair.  Give me a few seconds,” I told them.  I headed upstairs to my office.

Over the past few days, I’d received deliveries of the more specific and obscure items I had requested from Coil.  Among them were cases of more exotic bugs, a sturdy work table I kept upstairs in my room and five mannequins with custom measurements.

Coil’s people had taken the time with Brian, Lisa, Alec and Aisha to get comprehensive measurements and hand casts.  Bitch had refused.  This had led in turn to the creation of the mannequins, which had been shipped to me and set up on the pedestals beneath the shuttered window.  One mannequin for each of my teammates and one for me.  There was also a little folder of notes from each of the others on what they wanted, including some photos, clippings and print-outs for reference.  Grue had included pictures of the little statuette he had bought at the Market, which he wanted me to copy for his new mask. I hoped to have a costume for each of us in short order.

I’d already finished a few draft attempts at designing Lisa’s mask, since it didn’t require much cloth and the nuances of it were tricky.  The way her old mask fit her, it hid her freckles and eyebrows and changed the apparent angles of her eyes and cheekbones so her entire face had a different look to it.  Emulating that was hard, since the texture of the silk compared to the material of her mask didn’t let me copy it over exactly.  I’d used the scrapped attempts to test different dyes and how they reacted with the fabric.  I grabbed the failed masks, pressing each against a white piece of paper to ensure they weren’t going to stain skin, and then headed back downstairs.

“Got black, more black, dark purple, blue and blotchy crimson.  Take your pick.”

Charlotte took a black mask that would cover her eyes and the lower half of her face, adjusted it until the eyeholes were in place, and then set about fixing her hair.


“Not much point.  My hair is pretty recognizable,” she flicked one of her dreadlocks.

“Won’t do any harm.”

She took the second, smaller black mask.  While she put it on, I deposited a fly and threaded twine into the second origami cube so she had her emergency signal.

“Good luck,” I told them, grabbing two black clipboards with attached notepads and handing them over.  “Come back around noon, we’ll eat, and you can give me an update on how things are going.”

“Will do,” Sierra replied.

My minions moved on to their morning’s tasks.  I headed back upstairs and finally let myself breathe.

I missed staying at the loft, when things were easy and I was free.  I was happy with how things were going with my new recruits, but I was realizing that living with them would mandate changes to my lifestyle.  There were appearances to maintain, and I couldn’t be seen slacking off or being a slob.  I couldn’t sleep in or put off my shower until later in the day.  I couldn’t let myself collapse in a sweaty heap after a hard morning run.  I’d woken up at six in the morning to be sure that I could run, shower, dress and look like I was on top of things by the time they were up.  After a late night, it left me feeling a little worn around the edges.  I harbored some concerns about my ability to help Dinah if this kept up.

The pair had spent some time with their families before returning to my lair.  I’d been anxious in the meantime, worrying they would have second thoughts or turn me in, wearing my costume and waiting in a nearby position in case capes converged on my lair. I’d been both gratified and relieved when they’d returned.  One hurdle crossed.

Both Sierra and Charlotte had seen me bleeding, when I’d come back from rescuing Bryce.  It sounded so minor, but I didn’t want them imagining me as hurt and mortal when they were supposed to trust me and look up to me.  What bugged me even more than that was the fact that Charlotte knew my secret identity. I was fairly certain she would keep it to herself, but she’d seen me as Taylor.  She’d seen me at what was perhaps the lowest point in my life.  From a distance, but she’d seen it.

Charlotte now served under me out of a mixture of obligation and fear, but I wouldn’t feel secure in my reputation until I’d divorced Skitter from that image of a weaker, abused Taylor.

I worked on all five costumes at the same time.  Low-level multitasking was either a minor benefit that had come with my powers or, more likely, a skill I’d developed in the half-year I’d spent micromanaging thousands or tens of thousands of bugs at the same time.  I didn’t need to expend any focus on the simple task of laying out the thread, and the only time I really had to pause to give them direction was when it came to the creative input and the more complicated tasks of deciding how everything fit together.  I could only make some calls on style and what would suit the respective recipients’ tastes when I’d made enough progress and seen the groundwork laid out.  Where I could, I used my bugs to model ideas and options, forming possible shapes for masks, collars and armor panels.

When I wasn’t occupied with that, I focused on Sierra and Charlotte.  I checked their surroundings, discreetly screened nearby groups of people for weapons.  I marked each door with symbols to count the people inside, notified the girls if people were armed, and I put a circle on doors that they were to visit, an ‘x’ on doors they should skip.

A lot of people were ignoring the knocks.  I let them be.  After a few days, if they were still ignoring my minion’s attempts to talk to them, I’d maybe give them a bit of a nudge or leave them a message using my bugs.

Apparently overwhelmed with the requests from his various rulers of the Brockton Bay territories, Coil had started delegating some of his people to act as intermediaries.  I got in contact with Mrs. Cranston, the intermediary he’d designated to me, and outlined what I needed.  Waste removal was a big priority, as was clearing out the storm drains so the water could drain from the flooded streets.  I let her know that my services were available if she wanted help identifying where the blockages were, or if the trash removal teams needed protection from interference.

Once those big issues were resolved, a lot of the smaller ones could be attended to.  Too many problems came with large numbers of people spending the majority of their time wading ankle-deep in water that was swimming with warm garbage.

Time passed quickly, what with my focusing on the costumes, Sierra and Charlotte, arranging the cleaning up of the area, using bugs to sweep for troublemakers in my vicinity and experimenting on a smaller scale with dyes and costume options.  I had a smaller collection of Darwin’s bark spiders that Coil had procured for me in a specialized terrarium to emulate the hot temperatures they were used to, but I couldn’t use them to make anything until they had given birth to at least one new generation.  When I did, though, I expected that the fabric they created would be as superior to the black widow’s work as the black widow’s silk was to conventional cloth.  There wasn’t much room for error with the small number Coil had provided, so I was being careful with the breeding process.

My cell phone rang, and I knew from the bugs I had placed on the two girls that it was Charlotte calling.  That, or someone else had coincidentally phoned me the same instant Charlotte dialed on her phone and raised it to her ear.

“Yes, Charlotte?” I asked.

“Um,” she was taken back a little.  “There’s this place here with two families, and they’re in the middle of packing up to leave.  I thought you’d want to know, in case they were gone before we came back at noon to eat and tell you about it.”

“That’s fine.  What’s the problem?”


Of course.  The trash would offer a steady diet to vermin, and the flooding would deter many of their natural predators.  The rodent population had exploded, and it could easily be getting to the point where it was interfering with people’s daily lives.

“Their neighbors have the same problem?”

“We haven’t been able to get any of them to answer the door.”

I searched the area around Charlotte.  Sure enough, there were hundreds of rodents lurking in the areas where humans weren’t active.  They nested in rafters, walls and piles of rubble.  Some were apparently getting courageous enough to venture into people’s living spaces, climbing onto tables and into discarded clothes and beds.

No wonder they wanted to leave.

“Tell them to step outside.  If they hesitate, warn them they might get hurt.  They won’t, but it’ll make them move.”


I hung up, then hurried to pull on my costume, donning latex rubber socks before pulling on the leggings.  At the same time, I gathered a swarm near the rat house.  I began a systematic attack against the rodents there.  Bees, wasps, hornets, fire ants, regular ants, mosquitoes, biting flies and spiders gathered and began attacking the rats furthest from the house and began steadily working their way inward.  Some rats fought or ran, but more bugs gathered each second.

I hurried out the door and took my shortcut through the false storm drain to the beach.  Drawing a host of bugs around myself, I headed toward the rat house with long strides.

The compartment of armor at my back buzzed, and I reached back to retrieve my cell phone.  It was Grue:

can I come by?

I quickly replied:

On errand.  Don’t come to my place.  Meet me at Bayview and Clover.  Not too far from our old place.

It was only a moment before I got a reply:

got it. am already otw.  close.

So he was already on the way when he called?  I wasn’t sure what to think about that.  It suggested it was a social call with the assumption I would be okay with it, which I didn’t mind, but that didn’t really fit his personality.  More likely there was something that he wanted to discuss with me in person.

The rats died at the hands of my bugs, thoroughly poisoned or envenomed, or even eaten alive by the ones that bit repeatedly and didn’t even bother to chew or swallow the flesh.  It wasn’t a fast job, as there were hundreds of the rodents and they were surprisingly tenacious. I wanted to be thorough.

It took me eight or so minutes to arrive, with the roundabout route I had to take to get from my lair to the beach and then back over toward the Docks.  A heavy cloud of bugs surrounded the house, and a group of eight people of different ages were clustered on the far side of the street, watching the scene like they were watching their house burn down.  Sierra and Charlotte stood apart from the huddle, a short distance away.

I covered my approach with a cloud of bugs and slow, quiet footsteps.  Nobody noticed me arrive.

“Just a minute or two longer,” I said.  Charlotte and some of the family members jumped.

“You,” a man who might have been the patriarch of one of the families pointed at me, “You did this!”

“Yes,” I answered him.

“Is this some sort of game to you!?  We were prepared to leave, and you keep us from getting our things?  Add another infestation to the one that’s already there!?”

“She’s just trying to help!” Charlotte said, with a tone like she wasn’t expecting to be listened to.  I got the impression she’d tried convincing him earlier.  I raised one hand to stop her.  It was better if I handled this myself.

The man drew himself up a fraction, “No reply, huh?  I’d punch you right here, right now, if I thought you’d give me a fair, no-powers fight.”

Irritated, I told him, “Count backwards from a hundred.  If you still want to when you’re done, I’ll give you that fight.”

He set his jaw stubbornly, refusing me the courtesy of a countdown.

Ignoring him, I looked at a young boy in the group.  Eight or nine years old, “What’s your name?”

He looked up at his mother, then at me, “R.J.”

“R.J.  Can you count to a hundred?”

“Of course,” he looked offended at the idea that he couldn’t.

“Show me.”

“One, two, three…”

Only a small fraction of the rats were left.  The largest mass of them had been herded into a corner by the swarm, and in their panic they had done nearly as much damage to each other as they were doing to the bugs.  Stragglers remained elsewhere, but as good as they were at navigating the nooks and small spaces of the house, the bugs were just as good, organized by my will, and they vastly outnumbered the rodents.

“Thirty-one, thirty-two…”

Before the last of the rats were dead, I began organizing roaches and other sturdier bugs to have them cart the dead rats away.  I filled the corners of the stairs with massed insect bodies, until it was more like a ramp than a set of steps.  I stepped up to the house to open the door and let the swarm start bringing the dead rats outdoors.

“Seventy-seven, seventy-eight, seventy-nine…”

I knew I wouldn’t quite have enough time to clear out the entire house of the rat corpses, so I cheated by hauling the rats through the walls, into the unoccupied neighbor’s residence and out the kitchen window at the back of that building.  The last of my bugs left the sky around the house.  I timed the arrival of the last few dead rats with the end of R.J.’s countdown.

“So many,” Charlotte gasped, as she saw the three or four hundred rats held high by the swarm.  Judging by the family’s expressions, they hadn’t known how many rats they’d had nesting inside their home.

Turning to the dad, I told him, “Your rat problem is dealt with, and nearly all of the bugs are gone.  Some of my swarm will remain so I can keep an eye out for any future infestations, but you won’t see them.  Now, if you still want to swing at me, I’m okay to go a round or two.  No powers.”

His mouth twisted in a scowl, but he didn’t move to attack me.

Walking over to Sierra and Charlotte, I quietly asked them, “Would I be right if I guessed he wasn’t the one who asked for help?”

“Yeah,” Sierra said, “She did.”

Sierra pointed at the woman who was protectively clutching R.J.’s shoulders.

“Is this satisfactory?” I asked the woman, raising my voice.  “The dead rats will be cleared out of the area in a few minutes.”

“They’re really gone?  They won’t come back?”

“They’re gone, and they won’t come back until someone forces me to move out of this territory.”

“Thank you,” she said.  She opened her mouth as if she was going to say something else, then stopped.

Well, at least the mom thanked me.

“You’ll want to sterilize the place.  Rubber gloves, bleach.  Boil or replace every dish, every piece of silverware, toothbrushes, linens and clothes.”

“We don’t really have the ability to do all that.  We don’t have much money, let alone those things.  Stores aren’t exactly open, and we don’t have running water or electricity either.”

Geez.  “What have you been drinking?”

“We have a rain barrel and we have a water collector on the roof that came with the supply kit.”

That’s not good enough for this many people.  “Do you have a propane tank?  One should have come with the supply kit.”

“It’s nearly empty.  We’ve been using the propane to cook rice, but we don’t have measuring cups, and if we use too much water, it takes too long to cook, and so we’re running out of the gas.”

She sounded so tired.  Getting by with eight people in one household and no facilities would be such a chore.  Add the stress of rats getting into the food, tearing at sheets to get material for nests, crawling on them as they slept?  I didn’t know how she’d coped.

I hoped my dad’s situation was better.

“Make a note,” I ordered Sierra, “If these people are having trouble, it’s easily possible others are in similar straits.  We’ll want a fresh set of supplies going out to everyone in my territory.  For this family, a delivery of cleaning supplies; bleach, rubber gloves.  They’ll want some new clothes, you can get their sizes after I leave.  Supplies, of course, and containers to keep the food in.  Tupperware.  We’ll arrange for a doctor to come by and check them for bites, scratches and infections.  Standard inoculations.  The doctor will know how to handle that stuff better than we do.”  Hopefully.


“And measuring cups.”  I smiled behind my mask.

“We can’t pay you back for this, even if you give us a loan, we won’t be able to.” the mom said.

So they were assuming I was putting myself in some loan shark role.  Get them indebted to me, leech them for cash.

“It’s on the house,” I waved her off.

“Thank you,” she said, again.  I felt bad for feeling the way I did, but I thought her gratitude was a little muted for what I was giving her.

I could sense Grue a block away, my bugs settling on his helmet, unable to see as they got close.  I could feel that faint push of the darkness billowing away from him.  He’d been watching for a minute or two.

“If there’s nothing else that’s pressing?” I asked.

Silence, a few shaken heads.  I turned to go and meet Grue where he stood at the corner of one building.

“Taking up a side business in extermination?” he asked me.  I thought I detected a note of humor in his voice.

“Assisting my people.  Some goodwill will help when I’m more firmly in power here.”  I couldn’t help but sound a mite defensive.

“Yep.  That guy over there will be singing your praises.”

I looked over my shoulder at the ‘dad’ who’d been giving me a hard time.  He was ignoring Sierra and Charlotte, who were talking to the larger group of people.  Instead, he watched the bugs cart the dead rats down the street, as if he thought I would slack on the job.

“I don’t understand people sometimes.”

“My guess?  When everything went to hell, he told himself he’d be the ‘man’ for his family.  Take charge, provide, protect.  He failed.  Then some little girl waltzes in and takes care of all that all at once?”

“Little girl?”

“You know what I mean.  Look at it from his perspective.”

“What if I recruited him?  Gave him the opportunity and the power to help others?”

“He’d be intolerable.  I mean, sure, things would get better in the short-term.  But over the long haul? You’d wind up with someone who criticizes every last thing you do, every last call you make, to make himself feel better about the fact that he isn’t the one in control, the one calling the shots.”

“Fuck,” I said.  “I thought you said you weren’t good with people.”

“I’m not good with girls, mainly.  Guys?  Or ‘manly’ guys like him?  I’ve met enough people like him in the gyms with my dad, in fighting classes.”

“Guys and girls aren’t that different.”

“Aren’t we?  Look at our group.  Regent and I are going on the offensive.  I’ve got Aisha and I making constant, coordinated attacks against enemies in my territory, terrorizing groups with attacks from the cover of my darkness, or from someone they can’t even remember fighting.  Regent’s got a squad of Coil’s soldiers with him, and he’s tracking and kidnapping the leaders of enemy groups and gangs, using his power to control them and then having them sabotage their own operations, or start fights with other groups that leave both almost totally wiped out.  Then he cleans up the mess.”

“And us girls?”

“Lisa’s running the shelter, and she says she’s doing it to get more info, but I think she doesn’t mind how it connects her to the community there, either.  You, too, are almost nurturing in how you’re treating the people in your territory.  And you’re acting like you’re getting that aspiring superhero thing out of your system.  Or entrenched deeper into it.  I can’t tell.”

I didn’t like that he was mentioning that.  Sore spot for both of us.  “Just following my instincts.”

“And maybe pushing yourself a little too hard, too fast in the process.”

“Mmm,” I offered a noncommittal response.  I could have asked how Bitch fit into his interpretation of events, but I already knew the answer.  Normal rules didn’t apply to her.  “I think all this ties more closely into how our individual powers work than it does to gender.”

“Maybe.  But… no,” he changed his mind after thinking for a second.  “I think both you and Lisa could be a lot more aggressive.  It kind of worries me that you aren’t.”

“Worries you?”

“If you aren’t taking out the other gangs in your territory and turning a profit, why should Coil bother keeping you there?”

“First of all, I’m totally prepared to squash any troublemakers the second they make themselves known around here.”

“Assuming you can find them.”

“I can.  Second of all, Coil didn’t say a thing about turning a profit.  He has money.  Scads.”

“He has his own money.  Money that he has to devote time and attention to earning.  If your territory never starts earning for him and just becomes some black hole that sucks up tens of thousands of dollars of his money each week, you think he’s going to be okay with that?”

“What do you want me to do?  That doesn’t involve taking protection money or peddling drugs?”

“Those would be your biggest revenue streams.”

“I’m taking control like he wanted me to.  Faster than the rest of you.”

“But you’re not leaving yourself in a position to do anything with that control.”

“I can get all of the people in my territory onto Coil’s side.  And I have over three hundred and fifty thousand dollars I can put towards infrastructure here.”

“That’s not as much as you might think it is, when you’re talking about this much territory.”

“No, but it’s something.  Look, Coil’s a proud guy.  He said it himself.  He’d be upset if he took over the city and it wasn’t better than it was before.  I’ve got the old Boardwalk here.  I can help set that going again.  I’ve also got the Docks, here.  A part of it.  If I can improve things here, if I can take this place and make it better than it’s been in decades, wouldn’t that be a feather in his cap?”

“Even if things went smoothly, that’s not going to happen fast, and it’s not going to be easy.”

Not fast.  Grue had been pretty merciless in trying to poke holes in my approach, but the realization that he was right on that score was like a punch in the gut.  “If I can show Coil I’m making headway…”

Even I wasn’t convincing myself.  Coil wouldn’t give Dinah up for something as minor as a good start.  I think Grue noticed my dejection.

“I’m sorry if I’m being hard on you,” Grue settled one hand on the armor of my shoulder.

“No.  You’re right.  I’ve been thinking too short-term.”

“I really did want to come by and talk about less serious things.  It’s a shame we can’t.”

“We have time to do that, don’t we?  We could go back to my lair, hang.  I can show you what I’ve got done on your new costume, and we could talk about the mask,” I suggested.

He shook his head.  “No.  What I meant was that I’d hoped to spend today talking about that stuff.  But we’re not going to get the chance.  Something more serious has come up.”

“Oh hell.”  My initial suspicions had been right.  This wasn’t a social call.

“Regent got a visit from one of the Slaughterhouse Nine last night.  So did Coil, though the man is quiet on details.  Coil’s also reporting that Hookwolf got a visit on Tuesday, and one of Coil’s undercover operatives died in the ensuing carnage.  The PRT office downtown also got hit, according to Tattletale…”

“They’re active.”

“Yeah.  More to the point, they’re recruiting.  Looking for a ninth to round out their group.  Regent was one candidate.”

“Who was the other, at Coil’s?”

“Coil isn’t saying.  We think, with Tattletale’s educated guess helping us out, that Hookwolf might have been another possible recruit.”

“And at the PRT offices?  Shadow Stalker?”

“As good a guess as any.  We’re not sure where she wound up.”

“So what does this mean?”

“It means Hookwolf is calling together a meeting of the local powers that be.  Crook, criminal, mercenary and warlord.  We have to decide if we want to go.”

“He was one of the people they visited.”

“He was.  Which means this could be a trap.  Some kind of grand slaughter to commemorate his joining the group.  Taking out the other prospective members in the process, like Regent.”

“Or it could be a target for the Slaughterhouse Nine to attack.  Create chaos, maximum bloodshed, the kind of stuff that gets attention.  They’d be killing some of their possible recruits, but that’d suit them, being unpredictable, never letting you think you’re safe.”

Grue nodded.

“At the same time, if we don’t go, it’s crucial info that we’re missing out on.” I thought aloud.  “What does Dinah say?”

“Her power is out of commission after the attack on Coil’s base, apparently.”

“So we’re flying blind, with only Coil’s power to back us up.”

“Whatever it is.”

“Whatever it is.” I echoed him, feeling bad for the dishonesty and my lack of disclosure. “What do Coil and Tattletale have to say about the meeting?”

“Coil wants everyone present.  Tattletale thinks Hookwolf is on the up and up, but he’s only one of the potential problems that could come up.”

I thought of the others who would be at the meeting.  “Like the fact that Skidmark is one of the local powers.  Or he is if he’s managed to recuperate rep-wise from the ass kicking that Faultline gave him.  He’s not exactly the type to keep to the truce at the meeting.  An unpredictable element.”


“But if Tattletale is right, and Hookwolf isn’t on the side of the Slaughterhouse Nine, if we can trust Skidmark to have the basic common sense to back the rest of us up if they attack-”

Brian turned toward me, and I could imagine him giving me an ‘are you serious?’ look behind his visor.

“-Or at least not get in our way,” I corrected myself.  “We could fight back, if it wound up being most of the villain groups against the Nine.  Our group’s powersets lend themselves to slipping away if that went sour, and Tattletale might be able to sense trouble before it hit us.”

“You’re talking like you want to do this.”

“I do.  Kind of.  If all the top villains of the city attend and we don’t, are we really doing ourselves any favors?  Our rep will take a nosedive, we’ll be out of the loop, and there’s nothing saying we wouldn’t be targeted by the Nine all the same if we sit it out.”

“Why do I get the feeling your decision here is motivated by your rushed attempts to get more control, more rep and finish this phase of our territory grab as soon as possible?”

“Because it is.”

He sighed, and the sound was eerie, altered by his darkness.  “To think I used to like that you were hardcore serious about the supervillain thing.”

That touched on that sensitive subject again.  My original motivations, my act, such as it was back then.  I turned the subject of our debate back to the meeting.  “What do you think?  If it was up to you and you alone, would you want us to go?”

“No.  But it isn’t up to me and me alone.  When I weigh everything in my head, including the risk of our groups spending time fighting and arguing on the subject when we could be organizing and putting measures in place to protect our territory in our absence?  I think it makes more sense to accept it and go with the flow.”

“When is the meeting?”

“With a situation this critical?  There’s no time to waste.  Tonight.”

Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

93 thoughts on “Plague 12.1

      • I would find some of the interludes interesting but others (while good for ‘fleshing out the universe’) make me a bit…anxious for our proantagonist (new word) team?

        Your work is amazing, and due to something I read all the way back in 2.8ish, I asked someone to do art of a scene. It is commissioned fan-art with no challenge or insult intended towards your property, and it is my hope that you will appreciate it.

        • Technically, I suppose a lot of the characters are Protagonists. Antagonists generally aren’t the people you follow around and get to know first-hand. So you could say that the Undersiders are the main protagonists, with some side protagonists (Dinah, the Wards, etc) and even more characters who take turns being protagonists (Dragon, Arm-guy who’s name I’m having trouble remembering, etc).

  1. I thought Taylor split the money she had made from Coil among the group when she was rejoining the Undersiders. Her giving up her share was the condition she had offered to help ease her way back in.

    Wildbow, have you considered adding a tab at the top of the site for easier navigation? It isn’t really an issue when using a computer, but the way all the links get moved to the bottom of the page when on a cellphone is kind of annoying.

  2. Great rejoiner into the main story! (Suddenly “The Crusader” appears to be Shadow Stalker instead of Skitter! Surprise! I’d assumed she was out of the story judging from regents treatment of her, but she really -does- fit the role of Crusader as much as Skitter does).

    And speaking of Shadow Stalker, I did some fanart of her, as well as all the Undersiders and some other stuff I all dropped in this folder;

    For those interested. I love this series so much, it’s hard not to do fanart of it.

    • Remember eight people were nicknamed (not all necessarily prospective recruits), and Cherish counted Regent as a ninth (but not nicknamed)? The Crusader was Purity, who Jack Slash wanted to find (after the thing with Oni Lee fell through) before he could play his little game with her (going after Aster).

      Taylor & Grue assume Shadow Stalker because she’s the person they’re most familiar with in that context, but the attack on the PRT office was Mannequin going after Armsmaster. They just don’t have all the info there.

      Hope that clears things up.

      • I think that is one of the things that makes these stories have an even greater level of suspension of disbelief–namely that except for a few rare folks (and even they end up having the issue themselves at points) the majority of the cast is running into ‘fog of war’ and it colors their reactions and perceptions and it makes for a more ‘organic’ situation rather than everyone knowing *perfectly* what is going on in the world.

          • Ooooooh. Yah, okay, Purity, that makes perfect sense. I’d totally forgotten about her for some reason, and only latched onto Oni Lee being one of the ones being sought after as the broken assassin. I’d assumed Skitter was the Crusader, Purity being the Crusader makes just as much sense. Well that’s good kind of, at least Skitter wont have to fight against Regent to the death! They’ll just either have to kill ALL the other folks picked or kill some of the 9 off instead… anyway I loved the bit where the emotions girl was giving everyone little titles and trying to figure out who’s who.

          • Suspension of disbelief is a term used in theatre (and other places as well, I suppose) to refer to the audience accepting things to be true. It’s a double negative situation (suspend having the meaning of remove). In the theatrical world, we use to term in reference to the balance between things that actually happen on stage, and things that pretend to happen on stage (the audience needs to accept that someone is killed, when they obviously are not actually killed). I think wageslave94 was trying to apply the term in the sense that, in our world superpowers obviously do not exist, so we have to suspend our disbelief in them to find the truth in the story. The fact that the powers have faults helps us relate to them.

          • You could say they help suspend disbelief, rainyday, and you’d be accurate & closer to what you’re intending when you say that. But when you say ‘an even greater level of suspension of disbelief due to X’ you’re implying that the story requires more suspension due to X, (and is thus harder to believe).

            Or at least, that’s how I read it. Don’t mean to pick on Wage, here.

          • Yeah, I inverted that. What I was attempting to indicate was that the characters in these works *don’t* know anything, and sometimes make assumptions that not only aren’t correct, but can come back to bite them in the butt… just like real life.

            However, the way my note was written initially was incredibly poor, and it would definitely taken as the opposite of what I had intended.

            I devoured the serial (up to the most recent materiel) during the course of a couple of days, like a good book that one cannot put down. If there would be one critique, it was that after so much focus on the Undersiders at the beginning, the chapter where the shift to the ‘other side’ took place was a bit of a let-down, even if it was putting important story-groundwork into place for future events.

            I will freely admit there are certain arthopods that really freak me out. That Taylor/Skitter is able to ‘keep it together’ despite all the stress in her own life (not counting the event that triggered it, which would be understandable for anyone) is an impressive show of quiet strength… perhaps on the same sort of level but a different direction from Coil’s own? After all, Coil gets a ‘save point’. Taylor/Skitter doesn’t.

          • Yeah, I kind of regret that I did the Wards arc, now. I think I could’ve done something else (or just not gone down that road) and covered the most essential events in one interlude from Shadow Stalker’s perspective.

            I like that you call Coil’s ability a save point. Amusing.

            • Verisimilitude is a good word, different meaning but similar connotations. Worm has it.

              To chime in on the non-skitter material: I like it, especially the interludes about the S9, and I don’t think it should be removed, even for sake of brevity. But I do feel it breaks the flow of the story (as does a certain time-skip later) and causes a bout of POV whiplash, which breaks immersion (but NOT verisimilitude). They MIGHT (keyword: might. Not to be confused with “I know better than you and this is the only solution”, because I don’t and it isn’t) make for better “supplemental reading” than main arc. Perhaps include links to them where appropriate to the story, but have the chapter advance link go straight to the next skitter-bit? Or spacing them out in a more regular, predictable way, perhaps. They’re excellent and well-written and help flesh out a fun and engaging world. They introduce memorable, interesting, emotionally-involving characters that the story wouldn’t be the same without. But sadly, they do terrible, unclean, perverse, and vile things to the overall pacing, especially if I’m not paying attention to the chapter headers.

  3. It will be interesting to see how everyone at the meeting reacts to Skitter compared to the last meeting where everyone banded together against Lung and his people. She is no longer a relatively unknown newbie. They heard of or saw her in action against Lung and might have noticed her in the large group that confronted Leviathan. She is an established cape now. A member of a group that has gone succesfully against the Wards and faught individuals like Dragon. She holds a territory on her own. She helped defuse the situation with purity and her daughter and interacted diplomatically with groups like faultlines crew. The bags of money she distributed after cutting Lung’s eyes out might just pay dividends.

    All in all Taylor might be surprised to learn that she might be treated with a minimum of respect and actually listened to if she has something to say.

        • Doubly effective, carrying around an enemy’s shrunken head.

          Only that might give the wrong message to the Nine. “Oooh, let’s recruit her!”

          (The eyes would decompose without a connection point to Lung’s brain.)

          • Hrm, so removing the brain would stop his body from regenerating… And leave him a very angry severed brain slowly growing back? I wonder if it could be pared down further to the specific bit of his brain, even, something that could be surgically grafted into another brain in a hackjob…

          • The brain is the essential organ of humans, so it makes sense. Everything else is, more or less, life support. No matter what, death is when the brain goes.

            As for removing the brain, the way that should be treated to be more accurate is that the brain could grow back but would be fresh, with no data on it. After all, the memories stored on it wouldn’t come back too. This is usually ignored, but not always. Wolverine had missing memories for a long time…but then one story has him get some sort of special bullet that pierces adamantium to the brain and recover perfectly afterward. Or the fact that being scorched to the bone by Nitro would have fried the brain in his skull, which has to worry about water salinity as well.

            • Wolverine’s regeneration has always been totally arbitrary depending on the story and the writer. The fight with Nitro was particularly absurd. You just can’t take mainline Marvel stuff seriously.

          • Correction: Everything else that isn’t related to reproduction is life support, more or less.

            Even nipples in men are related to reproduction, since they develop before your body’s been given a signal to be male or female, and with the expectancy of aiding you in reproduction. Said aid only really occurs if you’re female, though.

  4. I guess Taylor just doesn’t look so good if she isn’t fighting someone? Either she’s got some stealthy enemies in her territory, or no one has decided to pick on the Lung beatin’, eye cuttin’, Leviathan stingin’, Armsmaster puntin’, Haagen Daaz bingin’, Dragon huntin’, ever-loving blue-eyed Skitter.

    Two things about the extermination: lots of food for bugs, and need to somehow get the bugs to sound like they’re saying, all en masse, “Exterminate! Exterminate!”

    Also, chances are pretty good that the meeting gets a visit from the Nine.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me…

    *Grabs a wheelbarrow and pushes it along the street to one of the buildings near the former rat infestation. He bangs loudly on the door, then calls out, “Bring out your dead!”

    The door swings open and an eccentrically excessive ensemble of eager exoskeletons evacuate the rats into the barrow. Soon, a swarm squirms out and slithers the manly patriarch from earlier, who says, “I’m not dead yet!”

    Gecko looks down at the assorted arachnids, arthropods, and addresses about the anthropod, “He says he’s not dead.” The chitinous commune coordinates collectively, cunningly, crafting cretinous certification.

    The man answers back, “I’m not!”

    “He isn’t?”

    With precision, a personage is planned and performed, with pants, puffs, and perspiration played perilously, perhaps precipitously.

    The man waves his arms, “I’m getting better!”

    The flitting and fluttering fake fellow feigns forthwith fatality.

    Gecko shakes his head. “I can’t take him like that. It’s against regulations.”

    “I don’t want to go on that barrow!”

    The quantity quakes, queuing for a quibble.

    “I can’t take him.”

    “I feel fine!”

    Insects inquire in interest of an indulgence.

    “I can’t.”

    Termite troops tempt, with temerity, transaction: tit for tat, time for tacos.

    “I’ve got to get to the Robinsons’, they’ve lost nine today.”

    Wings and wrigglers whistle, whir, and wonder when walking this way with wheelbarrow withal.


    “I think I’ll go for a walk.”

    Ladybugs lament the layabouts laborious lie and leer. Masses of mites and mosquitoes mandibles mope, motioning to maybe make a move.

    The patriarch calls out in an attempt to convince them he’s in fine health, “I feel happy! I feel happy!” Gecko looks up and down the street, then whacks the man over the head with a piece of wood.

    The giant group of grasshopers greet the gurgle with gratitude going to glorious Gecko.

    “Not at all, see you on Thursday.”

  5. Grue, Grue, Grue… Taylor isn’t agressive because she’s ALREADY crushed the competition faster than you could ever hope to do. Face it, the little girl’s more of a MAN than you will ever be. 😛

  6. Grue brings up an interesting point about a territory that needs to make a profit. I think this will challenge Taylor’s convictions as to why she needs to be a boss of the area.

    • At the moment there really isn’t too much money to be made. Everyone is to poor to extort any money from.

      Eventually, should the area ever recover, this will change. If I remember correctly Taylor’s area is the same area that Lisa’s flashback was set in and where the shops had a special brand of mall-cop enforcers to keep out undesirables like beggars and pickpockets.

      Taylor is rather well suited to provide such a service. If she actually keeps out the wrong kind has some (thousands) eyes on the goings on and employs pretty girls instead of hulking brutes to collect the money she should be good. she does not even have to feel guilty as she actually provides a service and does not just extort money.

      In the meantime she could always try to utilize the people in her territory. Have coil provide some equipment and get the people living there to clean up the area a bit. Have it be on a strictly volunteer basis for perhaps extra food. It will speed up the recovery and get people used to obeying her.

      Once people are in the mindset of skitter providing help to her subjects and keeping out bad people in exchange for their obedience and see that their area is better of than others they will go along with things and the transition to paying Skitter money for security and extermination services will be easy.

      The one who will be the hardest to convince will be Skitter, but she can pave over her conscience with a few good intentions towards the ultimate goal of the greater good.

      • Interesting pointers Loki. In the ensuing chapters to come I wonder how Wildow will direct it. I think based on all the trials her characters have to go through it’s not gonna be easy. Still in Life as it is in Art as my parents would say it is better to
        take the long road which only requires sweat & patience than the short cut fraught with thorns & hidden traps.

      • Agreed with Loki-L’s view. Any money that could be made by squeezing the broke and miserable people would be insignificant in the grand scale of things.

        Much better to simply focus on helping the area recover. Once that starts happening for real, Taylor will be in a very good position to say “You’re doing business on my turf. Where’s my cut?”

        Yeah she did say something against collecting protection money, but I’m inclined to think she’ll reconsider especially as she’s actually providing the protection for the money.

    • There’s a reality show called The Colony which could be useful here. I thought of it at the mention of the lack of water and difficulty in purification.

      The premise was that this group of people were isolated in a certain area because of a devastating viral outbreak that has killed most life on earth. They would need to get by on what they could salvage and make.

      The first season, they just took all kinds of qualified people, like scientists, engineers, two contractors, a doctor, a nurse..yada yada. Second season’s cast was slightly more realistic though. One of the scientists, I would say, qualified for being a mad scientist. By the end of the season, their power was produced by a wood gasifier, which harvests usable gas out of wood (They used wooden pallets), which was used to power a modified generator which worked through a salvaged alternator to power a series of dasiy-chained car batteries that held it until it was used.

      They also worked out a few different methods of water purification, such as rigging up some sort of electrical gizmo to use ozone to purify the water. No wonder I remember less about the layers of sand and a few other substances that water was run through to help purify it in another method.

      The point of all this is that if you can find something for those people to do to improve their situation, their area, and could create a product or service people elsewhere in the city need (Wood gasifiers for sale! Learn how to purify your water here!), it would help bring in some minor money right now (very minor), but would generate a lot of goodwill for people. If the area she’s in becomes so much better off in terms of living conditions, it’ll likely bring more people as well.

      And, if she doesn’t want to turn to extortion, prostitution, and drugs, maybe she could create a small casino.

  7. Skitter should ask Coil for some Giant Japanese Hornets – pretty much the only *flying* arthropod with Potency*Amount of Venom sufficient for one to bring down a human on its own in combat time scales.

    Not to mention being TERRIFYING and burly enough to carry a large amount of material aloft and being comfortable with temperate climates unlike most of the other really scary bugs.

    Keep a couple in a pocket for the old last line of defence.

    Its also ironic that in the long run Skitter’s territory will have LESS arthropod presence than other places; bugs are highly efficient little machines running very close to ecological maximums, every stunt Skitter pulls with them is time away from energy gathering and reproduction and reduced long term population growth/maintenance.

    • Good thing she’s able to make hunting and resource gathering, difficulty mating and lots of other bug problems a moot point, huh?

      Basically, yes, the bug population will decrease sharply every time she ends up in combat. Outside of combat she can rebuild their numbers pretty quickly though.

  8. Hey mc2rpg, I saw the mention you left for Worm on that forum thread. No less than 40 people have clicked through to look at Worm and a whole bunch have read through the whole archive already today. So I suppose I can attribute a bunch of new, dedicated readers to you. That’s awesome. Thank you!

  9. Frankly, Taylor doesn’t need money from the people. They are better used as a giant distributed money laundering pool for the money she can make through legitimate(but tracable to her) uses of her powers.

    • Taylor certainly could hire out any number of ways – from cleaning out pests to corporate espionage. She’s shown no signs of thinking that way tho’.

      If people can’t buy new propane tanks to cook with I suspect the problem would be access rather than money. Even in the USA there are unemployment benefits, right? Which implies that there is potentially money to be made but someone needs to make it possible by clearing out roadblocks literal or metaphorical.

      • I don’t think corporate espionage would be a viable path for Taylor. She doesn’t have the ability to interpret the sounds her bugs hear well enough to properly spy.

        • Not just any old bug off the street, but she’s been able to recognize a song being played near a particular insect(don’t remember what sort). And if that isn’t viable then she can get a roach to carry a microphone and then she won’t even need to actively be the listener.

  10. So Wildbow, for a long time I’ve been giddy at the idea of Skitter getting her pick of the cream of the insect world. Darwins bark spiders are a clear choice for spider silk, but what else should have been on her shopping list?

    Should she pick faster bugs? Stronger bugs? Bigger bugs? Killer bugs?

    I think the clear choice for the nuclear weapon of flying insects is probably the Asian Giant Hornet. Not only can they survive in temperate climates, but they have stamina and endurance that’s as freakish as their size. Consider them the sniper rifle in her arsenal.

    For land bound insects it’s a much harder call to make. I suspect she’d prefer ants purely because they have some amount of self control and group together easily. I see them as being more the entrenched defenses of her territory. Her version of the Maginot line or barbed wire trenches.

    The only question is WHICH ant? After more deliberation than I’m prepared to admit to, the field has been narrowed down to either Australian Bull Ants or Brazilian Bullet Ants. Take a look below at the guys.

    Climate wise, the Tasmanian Bull Ants would probably handle the coastal winters and temperatures. But an ability to live outside of climate controlled area may not be a great thing. Bullet ants require warmer temperatures, so I could see them being preferable in the long term.

    • Ah, but the control & organization of the bugs she controls don’t necessarily matter. She maintains absolute control anyways. The only convenience would be, say, that they could cooperate in her absence. (As opposed to black widows which have to be isolated from each other as they’re territorial enough to kill one another).

      • Thats the main reason spiders make shitty foot soldiers. Cannibalism. Although now I’m picturing Dragon Rider air wings. Swarms of dragon flies carrying and air dropping black widows or other highly venomous but slower bugs.

      • Any kind of ants could be terrifying if Taylor directs them to build a hive down the ground of her entire territory. Billions? Trillions? I can’t guess, but she could have enough to drown a large army in a sea of biting, writhing, chitinous flesh.

    • Bullet Ants and other tropical species aren’t going to cut it, they’ll just power down in even the mildest temperate climate.

      Plus with ants you have to consider the LD50/organism ratio – there’s not much the tropical ants could do that an sufficient number of temperate ants couldn’t do terms of pain or crowd control.

      The Argentine Ant might be be a better choice for a ground species despite its tiny size and not very powerful sting.
      -Absurd reproduction rate an order of magnitude above every other ant species
      -Zero inter-colony fighting (which would be a pretty major problem with ants and wasps when Skitter leaves them on their own, you put two unrelated wasp nests or ant hills in the same room and they will fight to the death).
      -Tiny but efficient; they have good stamina compared to many species and being able to fit through very small things is sometimes a bonus.
      -Stings are weak, but they can still break human skin and hurt, and when you can fit a million of them in a 1x1m box…

      Considering Skitters sensibilities the Tarantula Hawk Wasps (especially the southern US strains) would also be a good choice; its sting creates utterly debilitating pain on below the intensity of the bullet ant and one hawk wasp can leave its victim spasming on the ground. However the pain wears off in three minutes or so and there is zero tissue damage or organ shock. Plus airborne and should be able to tolerate a mild northern US climate (though can’t be deployed on rainy days), and New Mexico is easier to source things from than exotic tropical jungles ;).


        Interesting. For what i see they prefer mediterranean climate, so i don’t know if they will trieve in brockton bay.

        In the onther hand if they do they can be a good choise for skitter. Aparently they already have a “supercolony” in california with millions of nest an billions of workers.

        They also have 8 queens for every 1000 workers. that make them very hard to exterminate.

    • Geez, Mr Gazzer. That’s a lot of reading all at once. I tend to archive binge when I find something good, myself, so it does really strike a chord when my readers do it.

      Glad you enjoyed. It’d be greatly appreciated if you could take a few minutes to stick a review or rating out of 5 stars on Webfictionguide (all I ask is that you’re honest). If that’s too much hassle, maybe recommend Worm to your friends of similar tastes?

      Alas, you’ll have to shift gears & resign yourself to two updates a week, unless you want to help chip in for the bonus chapters. 😉

      • I’d guess you’d be right, that is a lot of reading. But I read fast. Like really fast, I finished this in about 5 hours now that I check the clock. It’s a side effect of my ADD, as far as I understand it, I can absorb massive amounts of text in relatively little time, when I enter a hyperfocus stage. Real life super power for the win~!

        • I’ve always been a speed reader myself. I remember being 12 or so (maybe a bit older) and reading the entire Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy compilation in something like 4 hours. So I definitely believe it’s possible.

          The drawback in this is that I can’t really turn it off. My mind’s geared to pick out details and know what kind of paragraphs I can skip through while still getting what’s relevant, but when I’m trying to edit something (like Worm) it becomes very easy to miss some obvious errors.

          So my usual routine is to finish the day before the update’s due at a minimum, then to edit in a series of phases, with at least one run where I read the story backwards (last sentence, then second to last) so I’m forced to slow down & read out of context.

          • Yeah, I know how that is, my downside is I have no idea how to spell sometimes. I read in…chucks is the best way to put it, whole paragraphs at once, so I don’t notice each word bad spelling is the consequence.
            Also tightly packed sentences and small fount give me give me this mild throbbing pain behind the eyes. You ever get that?

          • I think it’s less the densely packed paragraphs that give me headaches as bad flow. I think I’m fairly sensitive to flow, as far as readability and those things that make you stop, start again, or which go from fast to slow too abruptly.

          • You know, I strongly suspect that, at this point, Worm is longer than the entire Hitchhiker’s Guide series. Quite an achievement, that!

        • At least you get to enjoy the comments now. We commentators add lots of spice to the story, or at least that’s one selling point I advertise. Like when they sell copies of The Art of War featuring commentaries by other historical figures like Cao Cao or Zhuge Liang. Plus, as the group Quiet Riot once sang “Weer all crazee now.”

  11. Hi. Please forgive me if this comes off — rough. I am not a writer.

    I found two items in this chapter a bit odd. Not that they were bad or a poor choice, necessarily, but there were a few little things seemed a bit disjointed to me. Like something was missing.

    The first is the minions wearing masks. Now, I love that they wore masks, and that Taylor had a few “extras” sitting around. Quite clever on all 3 sides (minions, Taylors, yours). But what bothered me is the idea that these two young women were wandering about in their masks without any kind of other costume. I reread the section 3 times, and there is no mention of their clothes other than masks and their gum boots, so I assumed that they were wearing regular clothes, and probably dirty clothes at that. I imagined Caroline in jeans and a hoodie with this creepy mask on. Seems to me that she would look really silly in regular clothes and creepy black masks. Maybe this is normal in Worm-verse, with capes and all, but it is still odd to my imagination.

    Any thoughts?

    The second item is similar, actually. When Grue and Skitter have their big conversation, as far as I can tell, they are doing so on the street corner, just kind of hanging out. For two people concerned with rep, this strikes me as incredibly uncool, against type. Grue and his darkness just hanging out and leaning against the brick wall of a building. Skitter, in her own territory, having just cleaned house, is standing at the side of the road. Really? They don’t step into the shadows, create a wall/dome if darkness/bugs, go to her lair (hive?), duck into the sewers, etc. to give them privacy? This a pretty serrious conversation to be had in the open like this. It just strikes me as disturbingly, well, normal and not in character for two people so concerned with rep abd appearance.

    Again, any thoughts? What am I missing? You are excellent, so the lack is clearly in me and not your work. Can you help me fill in the blanks here?

    (On a different note, I love that the first thing we see TAYLOR do with her power ia make clothes. Taylor. She makes clothes!! For herself and others. So pun-tastic! Brilliant!!)

    • Rep and appearance are taking something of a backseat in the current circumstances.

      Grue and Taylor aren’t necessarily in plain view (note how the dad & the others are more focused on the pest removal than on Taylor and her conversation) and the masks for her minions were a last second thing. Perhaps Taylor didn’t think of more complete costumes for her minions because she wanted them to be relatable (and the masks were a compromise).

      You’re right that it’s less than ideal for them, but their focus is largely elsewhere.

  12. Oh come on. I’m getting so fucking tired of the “everything is excusable” “Even rape?” “Well not rape”

    Of course there are situations where rape is excusable. Not saying they’re probably but they could very well occur.

    Say you have to rape someone to save the world. Only an idiot wouldn’t do it, but at the end you’ve still raped someone. There.

    • Interesting thought. What set of circumstances would lead to “rape someone to save the world”? Is it under attack by a Great Old One that wants to see the little humans screwing for his amusement? In that case, I would think it more acceptable to nuke the Eldritch Abomination for being an ass. I can’t think of anything that isn’t imposed by an outside force, though. The act of rape itself does not have any world-saving properties in itself, so it would be that or some other weirdness. Maybe there’s a black hole generator inside someone’s body that needs to be coated in semen to prevent it from going off? Even if that last sentence was not patently ridiculous (and seriously, who but an Elder God who wanted to be a dick would make a black hole generator that could only be deactivated with semen?), you could just use surgery and/or tongs. I can’t think of any real problem for which rape is a solution, and I can’t imagine any hypothetical problem for which rape would be a solution that could not be more effectively resolved by launching a nuclear strike against Ry’leh.

      • Say an advanced series of circumstances has led to the scenario where you’ve infiltrated a group of terrorists who also rape people (for some reason). You have good reason to believe they have large amounts of nuclear weapons stashed somewhere and the only way to prevent their plan of apocalyptic proportions is to infiltrate their organization and figure out the location of the main base (perhaps unsurprisingly you can’t get help because nobody believes you). They’ll tell you where the main base is once you get into the organization proper. At that point you can use the nuclear weapon you yourself acquired (somehow) to destroy everything (lets pretend that the base is somewhere remote enough that no one will be hurt but the terrorists and you somehow know this)

        But lo and behold it’s the initiation. AND GUESS WHAT IT FUCKING IS.

        You’ve got to bloody do it don’t you? I mean you’re probably just a delusional lunatic but on the off chance you’re not they’ll BLOW EVERYTHING UP.

      • Or the boring alternative scenario.

        An omnipotent being shows up in front of you. It tells you that if you don’t rape someone it will destroy everything. To prove it’s claims of omnipotence it temporarily infuses you with the location of every star in the universe, and creates new universe where it destroys all of those by snapping it’s fingers, while you’re aware of them.

        There, if you don’t rape someone everything in your universe will be destroyed.

    • Well there are situations where you should rape, they are just so ridiculously unlikely that if you find one you’re way more likely to be hallucinating than for it to be real, so it’s better to act as if it’s always wrong.

      But doesn’t even require world altering shit. You can simply have someone with non-human psychology, who sees non-consensual sex as a bit like non-consensual poking (iow mildly annoying) and holds little value in bodily autonomy of this style.
      Add someone who needs sex like a crack addict needs crack, but only infrequently.
      Then have a situation where this act cannot become known and set precedents for those who aren’t in this kind of situation.

      With a bit of stretching (would be hard to design) you could even plausibly have a world where this is ok using human mind types but a very different culture, physiology and technology.

      • Necro-rape-thread-posting, ewwww!!!

        Re: is rape ever ok?

        Depends. Rape is the default procreation method for a number of animals, and (in very broad strokes) some plants as well. Incest, rape, parasitism, cannibalism, necrophilia: if you can imagine it, something on earth does it as its default for gettin’ busy. And a few things you can’t imagine–never underestimate the squick of living.

        Sure, human victims aren’t real keen on it, and it has certainly fallen out of vogue in the last couple centuries what with overpopulation becoming the rule instead of the exception… but if it came down to makin’ babies or dying out as a tribe/nation/species? Yeah, rape is gonna happen. So are a number of other atrocities. Happened before, will happen again–check out history, anthropology, hell even several religious texts have rape-justifying creeds, including the christian bible. I believe Terry Pratchett said it best when he referred to “the harsh algebra of necessity.” He was talking about infanticidal cannibalism, but the idea stands.

  13. So Skitter’s cell phone doesn’t have caller ID? Or she doesn’t have Charlotte’s phone number for some reason? Even the most basic feature/burner phone would be able to identify who’s calling, so there would be no reason for Charlotte to be “taken aback,” right?

    • Yeah, I found that a bit jarring too. Charlotte appears from that line to be… easily impressed. I mean, caller ID was pretty nifty when it first came along, but the series is set in 2011, right?

  14. > You can crush the box and the bug inside, and the moment that happens, I”ll use my power to protect you.

    That I”ll should be I’ll, you accidentally put a double quote there.

  15. I agree with the very first comment here. The interludes WERE fantastic, enlightening, horrifying, Story-expanding … fantastic. But I was feeling like I was more than ready for ” … meanwhile, back at the Batcave … ” material at this point.

    I love the scenes where Taylor and Brian share their perspectives on strategy and motivation of others and such. The whole “guy’s vs. girl’s (vs. Bitch’s)” stuff was great. Are you a psych major on the side? Such insight!

  16. ” I’ve got Aisha and I making constant, coordinated attacks”

    In the grammar correcting department, this is a troublesome topic. The grammatically correct phrasing is the same as you’d use if you were the only person in the sentence. “I went to the zoo” or “Aisha and I went to the zoo”; “There’s me making attacks” or “There’s Aisha and me making attacks”.

    The troublesome part is that a lot of people across a broad spectrum of education levels think that “Aisha and I” would be the correct way to phrase any sentence involving Aisha and themselves, and it could make sense as a part of Grue’s dialogue. But I’ve seen other narrators make the same mistake in earlier chapters and I haven’t seen anyone do it right, so I suspect it might not be deliberate on the author’s part.

  17. I was wondering about that.. What’s the point of Skitter getting and holding territory if she doesn’t DO anything with it? Criminals hold turf so they can make money, that’s like pretty much priority number one. Coil is going to want Skitter to start turning a profit eventually and giving him a cut. Doesn’t she realize that?

    I love Taylor, but sometimes she can be short sighted/dumb/dense.

    By the way, the Slaughterhouse 9 are a frigging epic super villain group. It seems like any of them could completely murder Skitter without breaking too much of a sweat, they are figging SCARY. Then again Hookwolf could probably kill skitter without breaking a sweat, along with a lot of others but still…

    They are terrifying.

    Its so dumb, again, it bears repeating. What the hell did Taylor think she was going to do with holding territory for a power hungry crime lord? Hold fundraisers for the VA? She’s gonna have to get her hands dirty for Coil eventually and exploit the people in her territory for money somehow, she’s being incredibly naiive…

    Great story! 😀

    • She can generate influence instead,if Coil plans to be the legit boss,a well developed neighbour would aid him much more and give him huge profits long term

      Then again,the world is ending in,at most,15 years

      Also,Hookwolf tried killing Taylor without breaking a sweat.He wasn’t defeated,but he was beaten.Rule number 1:do not underestimate Taylor,she is a lot more badass that she seems,I except her to play a major role in at least taking down one of the S9,if not more.

  18. >I would have thought I’d touched on a hot subject if her voice wasn’t so level.


    >After a few days, if they were still ignoring my minion’s attempts to talk to them, I’d maybe give them a bit of a nudge or leave them a message using my bugs.


    >“We can’t pay you back for this, even if you give us a loan, we won’t be able to.” the mom said.

    You should see what’s wrong with this.

    >Brian turned toward me, and I could imagine him giving me an ‘are you serious?’ look behind his visor.

    He’s been referred to as Grue in every other instance in this chapter, and he’s in costume.

    Shame it’s back to Taylor. Prefer other characters. Would’ve liked more Bonesaw. Or Jack Slash.

  19. On a side note, if I were Taylor I’d probably regulate prostitution and drug trafficking if I owned a territory. I’d make sure to keep high schoolers out of that business, and I’d promise to keep people safe in exchange for a reasonable feel. Loan sharks and protection businesses I’d avoid, those go bad way too easily.

  20. I could *feel* the awkwardness seeping off Grue and Skitter there.
    I used to like Grue, but now it’s all awkward.
    So, good job I guess? 😀

    Apart from that, I hope Skitter can take control of her space without getting aggressive.

  21. «The first beetle gripped the corner of the paper in his mandibles and slowly pulled it back. Two more moved to the edges of the folds and held them firm. The fourth and largest of the four beetles ran its head left and right along the paper until it was firmly creased. » why is the first beetle a “he” and the fourth “it”?

  22. «I’ve got Aisha and I …» the second one should be “me“! Tip: if one of them is the subject, the other most likely is not! “I have got I making…” the second noun is an indirect object.

  23. So why does the devistated city need local warlords to take care of relief? Does this world not have FEMA or Red Cross or Congress to send in the National Guard with supplies? It’s part of a huge first-world nation! But the only ones coming to help are the Slaughterhouse Nine. You need to provide a belevable reason why there is *nothing* else going on in terms of outside help.

    • There was a reason stated in the last arc. Yes they have emergency organizations, which are stretched incredibly thin because the endbringers attack on a regular basis. But the main problem for brockton bay is the other villains keep stealing all the supplies, and if they don’t new gangs do. The supplies exist but they aren’t protected enough to reach the whole city.

  24. Judging by the fact that it said that in east Asia and Russia, those countries kill anyone who commits a crime using superpowers. It seems like countries like China and Russia would be safer than the U.S. or Canada due to more supervillains being ruthlessly exterminated.

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