Plague 12.6

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I never thought I’d be thankful in any way that Leviathan had trashed my hometown.  Leviathan’s tidal waves had shattered many of the windows and the residents had put plywood, plastic and boards up in their wake.  It meant there was less material for Shatterbird to use against us.  Countless people had been spared from injury and death due to Shatterbird’s glass shards because Leviathan had gotten to us first.

But even without the glass, there was still sand.

I stepped out of the way as a trio of people moved down the street, supporting each other as much as they were able.  Each of them had been blasted by the sand, their skin left ragged.  It had turned a bruised combination of black brown and purple where it hadn’t been scraped off and left raw, red and openly bleeding.  One looked as though he’d been blinded.  The sandburns covered his upper face.

Two ambulances had stopped at an intersection just a block away from where I had announced my claim of territory.  At a glance, I could tell that they’d had all mirrors removed and all glass stripped from the dash, doors and windshield.  Those that had emerged from their homes and shelters were gravitating towards the ambulances.  There was still dust settling on the streets, and I could taste it thick in the air, even through my mask.  I wondered if we needed to be getting masks out to people.  It couldn’t be healthy.

Heads turned as I approached.  I’d put my costume on again, and I had a swarm of bugs following in my wake, giving me more presence.  When people were this hurt and scared, it didn’t take much to tap into that primal part of their psyches and intimidate them just a little.

Surveying the scene, I could already tell there were going to be issues.

Hundreds, thousands of hurt people, many in critical or potentially critical shape, there were only two ambulances here, and the hospitals would be overcrowded.  People were going to panic when they realized that they wouldn’t necessarily get help.  They would get upset, even angry.  This already unstable situation would descend into all-out chaos.

I told them I’d protect them, but there was no stopping this.

I wasn’t on my game.  My thoughts were on Dad and on Tattletale, not on these people and all the factors that I was supposed to take into account.  But I didn’t have a choice.

I gave the order, and my swarm spread out, flowing through the crowd.  It was enough bugs to get people’s attention.  I just hoped the benefits of having the bugs there would outweigh any fear or discomfort the bugs generated.

Using the bugs I’d spread around the area, I augmented my voice, allowing it to carry.  “The most important thing is to remain calm.”

More people turned toward me.  I stepped closer to the ambulances, where paramedics were working with some of the most critical cases.  I felt like a charlatan, a pretender.  The look of mixed fear and incredulity from the paramedics didn’t help.  Still, someone had to take control and organize before people started lashing out, and the city’s heroes were apparently occupied elsewhere.

“I don’t intend you any harm,” I reassured them.  “If you’re unhurt and able-bodied, there are people who need your help.  Step forward so I can direct you to them.”

Silence and stillness stretched on for long seconds.  I could see people who had no visible injuries, who were staring at me, unwilling to respond to my appeal.  Generally speaking, the types of people who lived in the Docks weren’t the sort who were used to being neighborly, to putting society’s needs above their own.

Fuck me.  My head wasn’t in the right place.  I’d forgotten.  I’d been taught in the first aid classes you had to be direct and specific when dealing with people in a crisis.  Asking for help was begging for disappointment, because people would hesitate to step forward, or assume that someone else would handle the job.  Instead of asking for help, we were supposed to single someone out of the crowd of bystanders and give them a clear, identifiable task.  Something along the lines of, ‘You in the red shirt, call nine-one-one!’

And now that I’d fucked that up, I’d entrenched them.  The status quo was now quickly becoming ‘not listening to the supervillain’, and it would be twice as hard to get them to go against the rest of the herd.

Which left me three unpleasant options.  The first option was that I could abandon that plan, look weak, and lose standing in the eyes of everyone present.  Alternately, I could speak up again, appeal to their humanity, beg, plead, demand, praying all the while for someone to come forward.  That was the second choice, and it would make me look even worse to everyone watching, with only a miniscule chance of success.

The silence stretched on.  I knew it had only been five or six seconds, but it felt like a minute.

The third of my ugly options?  I could make them listen.  Goad them into action with threats and violence.  It meant I risked provoking the same sort of chaos and violence I was hoping to combat, but I suspected that chance was relatively minor.  I could get people to do what I needed them to do.  I’d maybe earn their respect, but I’d probably earn their enmity at the same time.

Could I do this?  Could I become the bully, even if it was for the greater good?  I was going to hate myself for doing it, but I’d left my dad behind to be here.  I wasn’t about to fail.

“Alright,” I said, sounding calmer than I felt.  My fist clenched at my side.

I hesitated.  Someone was approaching.  I felt them passing through the bugs I’d dispersed through the crowd.  Charlotte.

“You’re not wearing your mask,” I said, the second she was close enough to hear me, my voice quiet.  “Or the paper cube.”

“The cube got crushed when I was helping someone.  I was glad you didn’t use your power,” she said.  Then, loud enough that some people nearby could hear her, she asked me, “What can I do?”

I owe her one hell of a favor.

I’d had my bugs sweeping through nearby buildings since I’d arrived.  I hadn’t really stopped, even after I got home.  I had found several of the wounded.  A man lying prone, two kids huddled near their mother.  The mother’s face was sticky with blood, her breathing quick.  The children were bleeding too.  I could sense a man stumbling blindly through what had been his home, hands to his face.

I almost sent her after the blind man, but reconsidered.

I pointed at a warehouse, and spoke loud enough for others to hear, “There’s a woman and two little kids in there, you won’t be able to help them alone.”  Which was a large part of why I had chosen them.

I spotted a twenty-something guy with an impressive bushy beard and no shirt.  Aside from one cut on his stomach and some smaller patches of shredded skin where the sand had caught him in the back, he seemed to be in okay shape.  “You.  Help her.”

He looked at the older woman beside him.  His mother?  She was clearly hurt, and had the remains of two or three white t-shirts bundled around her arm.  It was clear the limb had been caught by the sand; it looked like a mummy’s arm, only bloody.  Anticipating an excuse on his part, I pointing to the nearest group of injured and told him, “They’ll look after her.  There are people who need you more.  Second floor.  Go.

He looked at his mother, and the look she gave him was answer enough.  He helped her hobble over to the group of people I’d indicated, leaving her in their care, and joined Charlotte in running for the warehouse where the woman and kids were.

Now I just had to keep my momentum.

“You and your friend,” I spoke to a middle-aged guy and his buddy.  “There’s a guy slowly bleeding out in the factory there.  Go help him.”

The second that passed before they moved to obey left my heart pounding.

I turned to the next person and stopped.  He was one of the few people with actual bandages on his wounds, and he stood near his family.  Even with the gauze pads strapped to his face, I recognized him from earlier.  Or, to be specific, I recognized the little boy R.J., and I knew this man as his father, patriarch of the rat infested house from early in the day.

“There’s a blinded man in the brick building over there,” I told him, facing him squarely.  “Go help him.”

“Why?” he challenged me, his voice gruff, his gaze hard.  “I’m hurt.  If I go, I’m going to miss my turn with the ambulances.”

Asshole.  There wasn’t even a shred of gratitude for what I’d done to help him and his family, and he didn’t even seem to need his turn at the ambulance that badly either.  I had to resist the urge to hit him or set my bugs on him.

Worse, I couldn’t help but feel like he was seeing through the image I was trying to portray.  Seeing the girl behind the mask, who was just trying to pretend she knew what she was doing.

I turned to the next person, a solidly built woman with scratches and the sandburns I was quickly coming to recognize all over her face.  She had even taped half of a sanitary pad over one eye.  It wasn’t my brightest move, but I asked her, “Are you going to whine like a little girl, too, if I ask you to help someone?”

She smiled a little and shook her head.

“Good.  Go.  Left side of the building.  He’s blind, and there’s nobody else there to help.  I think he might have inhaled sand, he’s coughing pretty violently.  Don’t push him to move too fast or too much.  Take your time walking him back, if the bleeding isn’t too severe.”

She obeyed, moving off with a powerful stride.  When I looked, R.J.’s dad was gone.  He was stomping off toward the ambulances, keeping the crowd between us, dragging his wife at his side with R.J. hurrying to keep up.  Knowing how angry he was, I had to hope he wasn’t the type to take out his anger on his family.  I didn’t want to be indirectly responsible for their pain.

There were more people to pick out of the crowd, more orders to give.  It was all about setting them up so that refusal made them look bad, both to themselves and to others.  Social pressure.

By the time I’d sent two more groups, some of the others were coming back to be directed to the next few injured.  I gave them their orders.

Which only raised the greater problem.  How were we supposed to handle these people who were hurt and waiting their turn?  They were scared and restless.  That unease bled over into their friends, families and maybe their neighbors, who were scared for themselves and the people they cared about.  Already, they were gathering around the ambulances, pleading for help from too small a group of people, who had their hands full saving others’ lives.  Some were simply asking the paramedics for advice while keeping a respectful distance, others were demanding assistance because they felt their loved ones were more important than whoever was getting care or attention at that moment.  The paramedics couldn’t answer everyone.

People in this area formed closely knit packs.  They would step up to defend the people they cared about far more quickly and easily than they had with my appeal to help strangers just minutes ago.  I didn’t trust them to remain peaceful if this kept up.

What the hell was I supposed to do with them?

As lost as I felt in that moment, I managed to look calm.  My bugs gave me an awareness of the situation, and my eyes swept over the scene to get a sense of the mood and what people were doing.

I spotted a mother picking at one of her son’s wounds, and I realized what she was doing.  I hurried to stop her.  “What are you doing?”

Riding the highs and the lows of emotion from the past hour or two, I might have come across sounding angrier than I was.  She quailed just a bit.

“He has glass in his arm.”

He did.  There were slivers of glass no longer than the nub of lead in an old-fashioned pencil, sticking out of his cuts.

“Those are probably okay to remove,” I told her, “But avoid disturbing any close to the arteries, here, here and here.”

“He doesn’t have cuts there.”

“Good,” I told her.  “But you should know for later, for when you’re helping others.”

She pointed at her leg.  Sand had flayed the skin of her foot and calf and turned the muscle a dirty brown color.  “I can’t really walk.”

“You won’t need to.”

A plan was coalescing in my mind.  A way to give people something to do and give them some indication they’d eventually get help.  The problem was, I needed materials to carry this out, and there wasn’t much nearby.  It meant I had to get the materials from my lair.  I wasn’t willing to leave for any length of time, though, and I didn’t want to spare Charlotte, either.

I had to use my bugs.  That wasn’t so simple when the things I was retrieving weren’t small.

I had a box of pens and markers in my room, for sketching out the costume designs.  I also had first aid kits in my bedside table upstairs and in the bathroom on the ground floor.  Bringing all of that stuff here meant opening the boxes and retrieving everything I needed, carting them here on a wave of crawling bugs, past puddles and flooded streets.

I collected markers, pens, bandages, ointments, iodine, candles and needles.  Especially needles.  Smaller bottles of hydrogen peroxide.  At least, I hoped it was the iodine and hydrogen peroxide.  I couldn’t exactly read the labels.  The bottle shapes felt right, anyways.

More people returned with the injured.  I administrated my bugs while I gave new directions to the rescue parties.

Just carrying the things on a tide of bugs wasn’t going to work.  The crawling bugs couldn’t pass through the water, and there was no way to have flying bugs carry things – too many of the objects were too heavy, even with the flying insects gathered on every inch of their surface and working in unison.

Minutes passed as I tried different configurations and formations of bugs, trying to wrangle things like the small bottle of hydrogen peroxide with my swarm.

Then I saw the woman with the maxi-pad eyepatch and a man of roughly the same age carting someone to the ambulance using a blanket attached to two broomsticks as a stretcher.

I could do the same thing.  I called on my black widow spiders, drawing some out from the terrariums where I had them contained.  Wasps carted them to the necessary spots, and I had them spin their silk around the objects in question and tie that silk to the necessary bugs.  Silk looped around the neck of a marker, then around a series of roaches, who could then be assisted by other bugs.  I did the same for the other things, the iodine, markers, pens, candles and more.

When I was done, I called the swarm to me.

I turned my attention to the injured who were clustering around the ambulances.

“Listen!” I called out, using my bugs to augment my voice.  “Some of you have been picking the glass out of your skin!  I understand it hurts, but you’re slowing things down!”

I got some confused and angry looks.  I held up my hand to forestall any comments or argument.

“Any paramedic, nurse or doctor that helps you has to make absolutely sure that you don’t have any glass embedded deep in your body.  I don’t believe x-rays can detect glass-”

I paused as a paramedic snapped his head up to look at me.  Okay, so I was wrong.  I wished he hadn’t reacted, though.  People were paying attention to the paramedics, they’d noticed, and it wasn’t critical that these people know the exact details of the treatment they’d get.  If he’d just let me lie or be wrong, this would have gone smoother.

“Or at least, glass as fine as the shrapnel that hit you,” I corrected myself.

A shrug and a nod from the paramedic.  I got my mental bearings and continued, “If you’re pulling the glass out of your cuts and wounds and you lose track of which ones you’ve tended to, they’re going to have to explore the wounds to investigate, queue you up for x-rays and maybe even cut you open again later, after the skin has closed up, to get at any pieces they missed.”

I could see uneasy reactions from the crowd.  I raised my hand, just in time for the first of my swarm to arrive.  I closed my hand around a pen as the cloud of airborne insects delivered it to me.  They dispersed, and the pen remained behind.

“I’m going to give some of you pens and markers.  We’re going to have a system to make all of this easier on the doctors.  Dotted lines around any injuries with glass sticking out.  Circles around wounds where the glass may be deeper.”

The paramedic waved me over.  I moved briskly through the crowd to the stretcher.

“Tetanus,” he said, when I was close enough.  “We need to know if they’ve had their shots.”

“They probably haven’t,” I replied, using my swarm to augment my voice, but not to carry it to the crowd.

“Probably not.  But we have to ask, and time we spend asking is time we could spend helping them.”

I grasped the hand of a grungy old man who stood next to me, stretching his arm out.  “Have you had your shots?”

He shook his head.

I used the pen to draw a ‘T’ on the back of his hand, circled it and drew a line through it.  I pressed the pen into the old man’s hand, “You go to people and ask them the same question.  If they haven’t had their shots, draw the same thing.  If they have, just draw the T.”

I saw a glimmer of confusion in his eyes.  Was he illiterate?  I turned his hand over and drew a capital ‘T’ on his palm.

“Like that, if they have had their shots” I said, raising his hand for people to see, then turned it around.  “Like that if they haven’t.”

He nodded and took the pen, turning to the not-quite-as-old man beside him.

I addressed the crowd, “Remember, dotted line around the wounds if you can see the glass or if you’re absolutely sure there’s no glass in there, circle if you can’t tell.  Once you or someone else has drawn the dotted line, you can take out the glass if it’s smaller than your thumbnail.  If it’s bigger, try to leave it alone!”

“We need some elbow room,” the paramedic told me.  His blue gloves were slick with blood.  People were standing within two or three feet of him, watching what he was doing, trying to be close enough to be the next to get help when he was done with his current patient.

That wasn’t the limit of the potential patients, either: there were the injured that Charlotte and the others were retrieving.  The people who hadn’t been able to get here under their own power.

“We’re changing locations,” I called out.  I could see them reacting to that, balking at the idea.  “If you’re able to stand, it’s going to be a long time before you get the help you want.  There’s plenty more people with worse injuries.  Suck it up!”

I waited for someone to challenge me on that.  Nobody did.

“If you listen and cooperate you’ll get the help you want sooner.  We’re going to gather inside the factory right here where we’ll be clear of the worst of the dust.  It’s dry inside, and there’s enough space for all of us.”

It took some time for everyone to get moving, but they did.  My bugs passed me some candles and a lighter and I started handing them out with the pens and markers.  I followed the mass of people into the defunct factory that was next to the ambulances.

Sheets and cloths were pulled from machinery and laid atop boxes and on the ground, so people had places to sit and lie down.  Gradually, people set about the process of marking the types of wounds and the presence of glass, buried or otherwise.

“Disinfectant?” a woman asked me.

I turned.  She was older, in her mid-fifties, roughly my height, and she had a pinched face. “What about it?”

“You’ve been pulling things out of the clouds of flies,” she told me, “Can you produce some disinfectant for us, or are you limited to art supplies and candles?”

I got the impression of a strict schoolteacher from her.  The kind who was a hardass with even the good students and a mortal enemy to the poor ones.

I reached out my hand, and a portion of my swarm passed over it.  Thanks to the fact that many of them were in contact with the bottle, it was easy enough to position my hand and know when to close it.  The bugs drifted away, and I was left holding the three-inch tall bottle.

My theatrics didn’t seem to impress her.  Her tone was almost disparaging as she said, “Nobody uses hydrogen peroxide anymore.  It delays recovery time.”

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” I said.  “If the wounds heal over embedded glass, it’ll be that much more unpleasant.”

“Do you have medical training?” she asked me, her tone disapproving.

“Not enough, no,” I said with a sigh.  I had the swarm pass over my hand again, picking up the hydrogen peroxide and depositing another plastic bottle in its place.  “Iodine?”

“Thank you,” she said, in a tone that was more impatient than grateful.  “We’re going to need more than this.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I told her, trying not to sound exasperated.

She headed for a group of people and knelt by one of the wounded who was lying on a sheet.  I could see her posture and expression soften as she talked to them.  So she wasn’t like that with other people.

Whatever.  I’d been prepared to be hated when I committed to villainy.

I gathered all of the supplies I’d brought and sent more bugs out to scout for more.

What I wouldn’t give for a working cell phone, to find out about how Tattletale was doing, even to ask after my dad.  But cell phones had computer chips, and computer chips had silicon.

Everything that was electronic and more complicated than a toaster was probably fried, with exceptions for some tinker-made stuff.

There was no use dwelling on the fact that two people I cared about were gravely hurt.  I couldn’t do anything about it now, and time spent wondering was time I wasn’t protecting and helping these people.

In terms of protecting these people, I spread my bugs out over every surface, until a potential threat wouldn’t be able to take a step without killing one.  It would serve as advance warning in case any members of Hookwolf’s alliance came through to make trouble.  I spread out some flying insects to try to detect airborne threats like Rune.

Most of the flying bugs, however, I was using to sweep over my surroundings, checking buildings and building interiors.  I wanted first aid kits, anything these people could use to clean their wounds.  Noting the lack of suture threads, I had my spiders start using their silk to spin something long, thick and tough enough, threading it through the holes of needles for their use.

It would slow down my costume production a touch, but I could deal.

“That doesn’t look very sterile,” a woman said, from behind me, as I checked the length of the thread one set of spiders had produced.  It was the pinched, gray-haired woman from just a little bit ago.

“More than you’d think.  I raised these little ladies myself.  They live in terrariums.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s clean enough to thread through someone’s open wounds.”

“No,” I replied, feeling a bit irritated, “But in the absence of good alternatives, I’d rather use this and then supply everyone here with antibiotics at some point in the next day or so.  Which they probably need anyways.”

“People use antibiotics too often,” she said.  “I try to make a point of using them sparingly in my clinic.”

Seriously?  “I think situations like this are the exact right time to use antibiotics.  These people have open wounds, they’re undernourished, dehydrated, stressed, their immune systems are probably shot, their environments are filthy, there’s probably countless other reasons.”

She said something, sounding even more irritated than before.  I think it was a repeat of the question from earlier, about my credentials in medicine.  I wasn’t listening.

The paramedics hadn’t come out of the ambulance in several minutes.  A check with my bugs found them lying on the floor of the ambulance.  No blood, as far as I could tell.

Ignoring the woman, I turned and headed for the door, hurrying outside.  She barked something snide at my back.

I was battle ready as I approached the ambulance and checked the area.  Nobody.

Stepping inside, I checked on the paramedics and the patient with an oxygen balloon strapped to his face.  The paramedics were beyond help, dead, their heads twisted at an ugly angle.  The patient hadn’t been dispatched the same way.  I checked his throat to find him still warm, but he wasn’t breathing and he had no pulse.  I squeezed the balloon, and huge amounts of blood bubbled from what I had taken to be a shallow cut in his chest. The bubbles meant the oxygen was leaking from his punctured lung.

This wound – there was no way he could have had it when he came into the ambulance.  It was fresh.  All three of the people here had been executed.  It had been done in cold blood, clean, and I hadn’t even noticed with my bugs on watch.

Which left me very concerned for the people I’d left in the warehouse.  I hopped down from the back of the ambulance, checked my surroundings, and then ran across the street.

I was a single step inside the door when I saw him.  Tall, faceless, featureless, but for the chains and ball joints that connected his ceramic-encased limbs.  One hand was raised, a single finger raised, ticking from side to side like a metronome.  Like an old-fashioned parent scolding an errant child.

The other hand was folded back, a long telescoping blade extended from the base of Mannequin’s palm.  The blade was pressed to the neck of the gray-haired doctor, so she had to stand on her tiptoes, her head pressed back against his chest.

I didn’t have a chance to move, to speak, or to use my power before he retracted the blade.  It slid across her throat, shearing through the skin, and arterial blood sprayed forth to cover some of the ground between us.  She collapsed to the ground.

Mannequin’s knife hand went limp, dangling at his side.  His other hand remained in position, finger wagging, as if admonishing me for what I had been doing.  Saving people from the Nine, tending to the hurt and scared.

I should have anticipated this.

I stepped forward, almost without thinking about it, and he dropped his other hand while taking three long steps to back away from me. His movements were ungainly, as if he was about to collapse to the ground with each one.  No sooner had I wondered why when I saw his feet.  His ‘toes’ pointed at the ground, and blades had sprouted from slots at the front of each foot.  He was perched precariously on the honed knife points, walking on the blades.

Reaching behind my back, I drew my baton and knife.  I tensed as he moved in reaction, closing half the distance between us, lurching three or four feet to the right, then back again.

I caught on immediately.  He was evading the bugs that had been hovering in the air between us, the knife-stilts that extended from his feet delicately avoiding contact with the bugs that were on the ground.  The contact he did make with the bugs was gentle, sliding against them like a brush of wind.  I only noticed because I was paying attention.

He didn’t need to avoid my swarm.  He was taunting me.  Letting me know exactly how he had gotten so close without me realizing it.

I flicked out my baton to its full length.  He responded by doing the same with the telescoping blades that unfolded from his arms.  His weapons were longer, both sharp.

Not taking my eyes off him, I used my bugs and my peripheral vision to track the other people in the warehouse.  Too many were too hurt to move, and those who could move had backed into corners and to places where they had cover.

Still, this was his battlefield.  He had far too many hostages at his disposal.  He was faster than me, stronger, tougher.

I was pretty damn sure that his power was as complete a counter to mine as anyone could hope for.  Anyone who had paid attention to the news in the past five years knew who he was, what his story was.  Mannequin had once been a tinker who specialized in biospheres, terrariums and self-contained ecosystems.  A tinker who specialized in sustaining life, sheltering it from outside forces; forces that included water, weather, space… and bugs.

The only difference between then and now was that he was using his power to help and protect himself and himself only.

“Motherfucker.”  Even without intending to do it, I used my swarm to carry my voice.  His head craned around, as if to look at the swarming bugs who had just, for all intents and purposes, spoken.  Eventually his ‘face’ turned back to me.

“I have no idea how the fuck I’m going to do it,” my voice was a low snarl, barely recognizable as my own beneath my anger and the noises of the swarm.  “But I’m going to make you regret that.”

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80 thoughts on “Plague 12.6

  1. “Stands nine feet tall and has replaced all of his joints with either a doll’s ball joints or lengths of chains. His entire body is encased in a special ceramic shell, with no openings or perforations.”

    Simple! Expose the shell to extreme heat and cold shortly after, shatter it even steel turns to break away glass when something like that happens. Then go after the joints and chains. All of his joints are made up of them. It’d be easy to make him a quad-amputee. All useless and wiggling on his torso.

    • Unless you’ve already thought of this and don’t see anyway to make it happen in a way that makes sense…on which case. Run girl! Ruuuuunnnn!

      • It did say that part of his work dealt with space, so he’s probably incorporated protection from extreme heat or cold. Without an atmosphere, a little light or the absence thereof has major effects in temperature.

      • While I might be wrong, I don’t get the feeling that tinker technology is a bunch of magic feathers, but actual science that’s understood intuitively by the tinker.

        So as magical as it might seem, I don’t think actually breaking the laws of physics is on the table.

        • The laws of physics as we know them, then?
          Technically, no powers break the laws of physics. If they did, by definition they wouldn’t work.

  2. “I reassured them. If you’re unhurt and able-bodied, there are people who need your help.”

    Missing quotation makes after “I reassured them.”

    I fully believe Taylor can kick his ass the way she sounds right then. I even know a way to do it.

    Time to cover him in bugs. Stabbing weapons are less effective for dealing with such tiny threats, except one at a time. If enough bugs land on him and make lots of noise, he’ll be unable to see (even if we don’t know where he sees from now) and he won’t be able to listen so well (indicated in that he turns his head when he hears her talk through the swarm). Though it doesn’t appear that his mannequin head is an actual real one. In his interlude, it fell off backwards, connected via chain (though it’s possible I’m missing some part that mentions he’s got organs up in it). Given the energy the brain uses per day (More than any other single organ, about 20% of your energy at a minimum), it would need a way to be supplied with energy from however he obtains it. Still, since many people think of going for the head a lot, it’s a useful decoy.

    It’s maybe possible, with enough bugs, to get them into whatever areas the blades and chains come out and gum up the works slightly. Annoying litlte bugs can get into all kinds of places. He probably has some complicated system in place to help stop this, but whatever he’s keeping his brain and other organs in can’t be completely closed off. He needs oxygen and he needs food. It is possible for him to have a supply of nutritional paste or something that handles the food, but there has to be an opening at some level to reload it even when in a safe spot. Oxygen could be done the same way slightly since he’s not using his own natural muscles when he’s running around and stabbing. To the system he’s in, it’s probably just as calm as ever. Still, he’d need access to breathable air. Also, seeing as he’s the containment tinker and not the dietician tinker, he’s going to have some sort of waste left over from however he gets fed.

    So there is some chance to get fight off the guy.

    • Blinding him is a good first step. Providing he doesn’t have radar or something. Gumming up the works might work too.

    • Oxygen could be provided by some kind of plant, like you would need to do in a sealed space.

      As for food…yeah, there’s probably something. Unless he has a nutrient generator in his torso and just needs electricity to function.

  3. Time to break out the termites: since ol’ Dummy here must have fine working parts to engage in all these retractable chain shenanigans you want to use the termites with fontanellar guns (common to North America) that spew out a potent sticky resin. Lock up the joints and mechanisms then encase him in resin and silk so that he runs out of leverage. Then drip acid in whatever exchange sockets he does have.

    Just got to survive whilst carrying that out obviously!

    On a slightly more short term technique, has Skitter ever used the ‘carpet’ defence. if she coats the floor with a few inches of slippery and squirming bugs (most arthropods can vent some of their internal fluids) that cause anyone stepping on it to slip over.

  4. Damn, its just seems like it is always 1 step forward and 2 steps back for our heroine. Every time it looks like she made some progress something even worse happens.

    In the unlikely event that she does manage to beat Mannequin or at least scare him of, which seems rather unlikely with the lack of preparation, she will however gain a bit of credibility.

    Taylor seems to be using her swarm to amplify her voice more and more and with giving it less thought. while she might not be becoming more powerful, she is growing into the powers she does have.

    It also seems that she is giving herself a much harder time than everyone else. She takes the criticism to heart and grows with it. I think that the civilians for example have a far different image of her than she thinks they have.

  5. And it just keeps getting worse for our … heroine(?) Mannequin is probably the single worst Niner that could have come after her other than maybe Bonesaw (who knows what immunities she’s given herself) and of course Crawler (Endbringer-in-the-making, basically).

    That said, it’s conceivable that she could take him using similar tactics to what Cherish did against Hatchet Face. An unexpected ally with Mover abilities would help a great deal in this regard.

  6. Actually I think there does not need to be an air supply, nor an entrance and exit for food or waste.
    We only need air and food to generate chemical energy in the form of Adenosintriphosphat[ATP]
    and to replace lost material.
    If you provide Mannequins suit with energy it could simply generate and distribute ATP directly bypassing the need for breathing and as a closed system there is no Material loss just a need for 100% recycling.
    Other than that I agree with trying to clog the movement apparatus as the most likely option to work.
    How to actual kill him after immobilizing him.. that is a hard nut to crack😄

    • Psycho Gecko rides in, laughing maniacally from the control room of his 50 ft., giant Nutcracker mecha that nonetheless marches on woodenly, mouth opening and shutting loud cracks.

    • Mannequin tapped a telescoping blade against his ceramic carapace as if to say, “I’ve got my Air Supply right here!” There is a crackle, and the ceramic began to vibrate like a speaker, emanating the unforg… Well, the generally forgettable song Making Love Out of Nothing At All.

      • Gecko rolls down one eye window of the giant MechaNutcracker and takes aim with an anti-material rifle, the same sort of gun used to shoot through tanks and planes.

        Meanwhile, the MechaNutcracker’s soundsystem blasts the song “God’s Away on Business” by Tom Waits right back at Mannequin.

          • Psycho Gecko leaps from the inexplicably burning (note to self: never put the wooden boiler room right next to the wooden hot plate), destroyed wreckage of his falling Mecha NutCracker, landing in front of Mannequin in his power armor. He begins pulling out a variety of weapons, seemingly from nowhere. A maquahuitl, an electric carving knife, a KA-BAR knife, a cleaver with a grenade duct-taped to the handle, and finally a pistol with a bayonet attached to the barrel.

            Then he reaches back and finds the magazine, which shows the knifeblades sticking out of the front of the ammo as he loads the gun.

            “Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?” he asks quietly before charging, disappearing as 6 identical images of him split away from where he had been standing. Despite being illusionary copies, they each move independently, including one of them acting fatigued already and stopping to rest, even calling out different phrases.


            Meanwhile, the real one lays prone, taking aim with an IWS 2000, his armor doing a very good job of projecting himself and the gun as a normal piece of the sidewalk.

            (Ok, that’s enough ego-feeding from me…this time. Mwahahahaha *Dramatic lightning bolt far in the background!*)

    • Well I hope thats silly since ATP is within cells rather than intercellular, Manikin would have to have every cell directly hooked up to the energy source to do that, which is full on supermagic nanotech.

      Him recycling the oxygen and carbon dioxide internally is pretty much guaranteed, but no ecosystem is ever a completely closed system (the Earths Biosphere has huge intakes of material from a slow consumption of the crust and atmosphere). Plus since he’s moving about and using energy his system is very much not closed. There will be hole somewhere.

      Not to mention the more resistant his integument the more problematic the issue of heat dispersal is – if it can resist energy bolts and flames then it will ALSO reflect the heat of his organs back and cook them alive if there isn’t some way to dump heat to the environment. Places to dump heat by their very nature are vulnerable, Skitter obviously needs to send a wasp on a Trench Run🙂.

      • There’s always friction and other ways energy is wasted. When it comes to recycling food or oxygen, we’re not 100% efficient (and this reminds me of the Yes Men prank presentation about recycled burgers that used extracted nutrients from human feces). No matter how good the self-contained system of his, it is not completely independent because it will need resupply, so there’s got to be some way to get into it.

        I say we get Pauly Shore and the Baldwin that doesn’t act anymore, set them loose on Mannequin, and watch them cause some trouble in that bubble. Viva la biodome!

  7. Sensory overload seems like a good option. Get all the bugs to land on him, buzzing and hitting the suit in tandem. That should upset his fine balance, which he needs if he’s going to be balancing on those blades of his, not to mention proving a big distraction.

    Skitter can probably keep him from regaining any limbs that fall off, too. Given how much Mannequin loves precision, I imagine that his blades are razor sharp, rather than built to endure (with the exception of his feet “blades”). They should shatter rather easily, so her batons should be an adequate counter to them.

    Maybe this match up isn’t as hopeless as I’d originally thought.

    • On the other hand, Mannequin presumably knew who he was going up against in advance, and given how he recruited Armsmaster he is presumably aware of how that tinker dealt with Skitter’s bugs…

      • Unless his doohickey to pull off that effect is naturally small, it would be difficult for Mannequin to replicate it. Different Tinker specialties.

  8. Rereading another horrific unintended consequence of someone messing about with superpowers strikes me:

    If Shatterbird can cause sand and computer chips to explode like that, she will also have destroyed a very large number of the city’s plants due to several families of plants having internal silica dioxide structures called Phytoliths in their leaves and stems.

    Especially vulnerable are: Palms, Sunflowers, Forgot-me-nots, Squashes and melons, nearly all ferns, Magnolias, Orchids, Elms, Nettles, Ginger and related herbs, and most importantly every single cereal and grass!

    All of the above will have been turned to watery goo by silicokinesis powerful enough to send up sand mushroom clouds. Every farmers field round the city is now sludge, and every blade of grass in the parks is dead.

    If Shatterbird wants to bring about the end of civilisation, a road trip through the corn belt would work wonders!

      • Intriguing in this case, since Shatterbird won’t be able to see the difference – its just pieces of silicon a few miles away. So either:

        a) Shatterbird’s awareness subconscious or not rides out with her power beyond just knowing there is silicon present or not. She has an awareness around the silicon as well.


        b) There is a (sapient?) extrinsic middleman in the exercise of these powers. The powered individual is merely telling ‘something else’ to create an effect in the world, and that thing has its own rules, rather than the powered individual having a direct influence over physical reality. You don’t have a spade, you’re telling someone else to dig holes, with all the potential fickleness and oddities of behaviour therein.

        • Remember what Bonesaw told Panacea. Whatever it is that’s granting powers has to work with the associations your brain makes, the limitations that need to be imposed to keep from offing yourself with your own power, and the context of your emotional state during the trigger event.

          Most people don’t associate silica with plants, and people have silica in them as well (making it dangerous to Shatterbird herself if she could target it). One strike against getting to control silica in living things (Manton Effect), two strikes against plants in particular (Lack of association).

          Incidentally, this is probably why Taylor has control over a poorly organized (scientifically) selection of critters. The thing granting powers asked her brain, “What’s a bug like?” Then her associations with bugs and bug like appearances (Looking at you crustaceans) kicked in and that’s what she got.

    • The author already beat me to it i.e. Manton Effect, Manton Effect, Manton Effect. Faultline’s attempts at beating it already proved it applies to plants as well as people.

      • Oh yeah definitely, but this application of the Manton effect raises all sorts of questions on if its psychological or not when it doesn’t work on something outside the person with the powers perceptual range. Either Shatterbird is receiving metadata about every speck of silicon in her area of effect (‘I’m part of a plants stem’, ‘I’m part of a window’, ‘I’m sand’, ‘I’m a computer chip’) giving rise to scary implications on fighting her, or something external is imposing that information on the deployment of her power.

        You’d expect by now someone will have done systematic testing on the Manton effect, if its tied to the individual perceptions on not (especially given Dragons capability for observation).

        The Manton Effect rather discredits materialism to boot, I’m sure there is rather a lot of arguments in philosophy departments over it🙂.

        • The trouble with the systematic testing is that it’s limited to those who are willing to offer themselves up as test subjects. Maybe members of the Protectorate and Wards, but if you figure that’s only about 75-150 capes, and you’re limited to the capes in that group who are affected by the Manton Effect… it’s a relatively small sample size. Smaller still when some capes may want to keep potential weaknesses off the record.

          Now adding further to that complexity: the Manton Effect restricts different capes differently. Look at Vista – she not only can’t affect people, but her power is hampered if there’s people in the area she’s trying to affect. Some can affect plants but can’t affect people. If you’re one of the scholars that feels that the Manton effect is also the rule that says capes that affect living things are restricted to affecting only (those specific?) living things, then it’s complicated further by hundreds of sub-variations (ie. Is Taylor’s limitation in affecting creepy-crawlies a product of the Manton Effect? Bitch and dogs?). In case you’re thinking I’m pulling this out of thin air, Bakuda does mention this sub-theory when she’s gloating toward the end of the Shell arc.

          That isn’t to say there aren’t doctors, scholars and tinkers who are studying this. (Bonesaw among them, as she tells Panacea). Only that it can be difficult to take a conventional scientific approach, and the approach that may offer the fastest and clearest results (Bonesaw’s, specifically) may well be a controversial one.

          • Haha in the biological sciences when dealing with large organisms /thirty/ is considered a pretty good sample size to extract some understanding. Wormverse scientists are obviously spoiled rotten. But then considering their atrocious treatment of Panacea…

            its not like researchers are without funds, straight up paying capes for their time isn’t out of the question.

            Vista would be a fantastic test subject due to the volume effect of her ability and its repeatable and controllable nature:
            a) By what factor do organisms in it limit the effect, is it linear or more complex.
            b) Say if you put something living in a box and didn’t tell her they were in there what would the effect be if she tries to manipulate that environment? What about when she’s blindfolded? What about the inverse when she /thinks/ there is something living present but there isn’t?
            c) Ask her to use her ability when she’s hooked up to an EEG

            I’m not saying they could answer all the questions, but getting an handle on if the Manton effect is a) psychological, b) psychological and powered individuals are getting more information in than they are consciously aware of, or c) extrinsic, doesn’t seem like it would be too hard.

          • Thirty might be too generous. Look at Brockton Bay’s Protectorate/Wards, living or dead. Who is explicitly affected by the (conventional interpretation of the) Manton effect?

            Miss Militia? No.
            Battery? No.
            Velocity? No.
            Assault? Maybe. This could be argued.
            Triumph? No.
            Armsmaster? No.
            Dauntless? Maybe, probably.
            Weld? No/maybe (he just confuses the fuck out of it)
            Clockblocker? No.
            Flechette? Yes.
            Kid Win? No.
            Shadow Stalker? No.
            Vista? Yes.
            Chariot? No.
            Aegis? No.
            Browbeat? Maybe. See Assault, above.
            Gallant? No.

            2, with 4 maybes, out of 17. That’s 8-15 test subjects out of the entire Protectorate/Wards teams. How many of those will concede to the testing process? (Remember, Wormverse. ;))

            Re: Vista, realize that fatigue will complicate the test & necessitate repeat experiments (re: linear/complex effect from organisms that are present), as will the fact that her abilities are unsteadily developing & she may well be stronger on one week than she was the last.

            As Faultline’s testing on the subject might have indicated – awareness or lack thereof regarding the presence of living material isn’t an apparent factor. I figure it’s not a huge spoiler to say that it doesn’t matter if Vista knows/doesn’t know/thinks there are people in the target area.

            BUT, there are many cases of minor & subtle additional powers (Bonesaw talks about how these develop in her interlude with Panacea) that can complicate things. Taylor’s multitasking, for example. With your smallish sample size and the sheer variety of powers & how they’re affected, can you really pin down whether Vista has some subtle clairvoyance that goes with her ability or if that’s something that comes with powers as a rule?

            (Edit: out to dinner, won’t be responding for the next 4-5 hours, so no need to spam refresh to look for my reply).

    • necro-comment😉

      Manton effect doesn’t necessarily have to apply here. The description of Shatterbird’s power to blow up glass over a large area (through Circus’ and Skitter’s sensing of the subsonic sound being used) indicates that it likely works through creating resonances in the macro crystal structure of sillica. This builds up kinetic energy in the crystal lattice over time, until it exceeds the lattice’s structural strength and it shatters. This also explains why the glass fragments have enough kinetic energy to pierce through softer materials (cellphone screen in a pocket) and create deep and deadly wounds (glasses penetrating into brain).

      Phytoliths, as mentioned, are composed mainly of non-crystalline sillicon dioxide, so they won’t resonate and explode. The plants are safe🙂

  9. I think I found a (minor) continuity error.

    From 10.6:
    “Mannequin.” Another long-distance shot. The figure was standing by Bonesaw in the photograph, with other hulking figures within the shadows of the background. He stood almost twice her height, and he looked artificial. His body was in pieces, each section wrapped in a hard shell of ceramic or plastic or white-painted metal – I couldn’t be sure. His joints were a mix of loose chains and ball joints. I wasn’t sure whether he was a Tinker with a body-modification fetish or whether he was Bonesaw’s work.

    From 12.6:
    I was pretty damn sure that his power was as complete a counter to mine as anyone could hope for. Anyone who had paid attention to the news in the past five years knew who he was, what his story was. Mannequin had once been a tinker who specialized in biospheres, terrariums and self-contained ecosystems. A tinker who specialized in sustaining life, sheltering it from outside forces; forces that included water, weather, space… and bugs.

    Nothing too big, but I thought I should point it out.

    • Quite right.

      Tweaked the 10.6 line: It now reads: “A Tinker with a body-modification fetish. I couldn’t say how much of the transformation was his own power and how much was Bonesaw’s work.”

  10. Taylor obviously won’t get killed outright, and nor will she be able to take down Mannequin, it seems. She may be heading toward an encounter with the “heroes.” If Mannequin puts her in the hospital, a run-in with Armsmaster and/or Dragon may be in the offing. That’d be pretty sweet. Of course, better still would be if she actually *beat* Mannequin. But then, this is the Wormverse. More likely, Mannequin will kill some more people and escape, delegitimizing Taylor as a sovereign. This is exciting!

  11. I know it won’t affect what happens next chapter, but Skitter is due a win. She’s been getting knocked around for a few chapters now. Hopefully something finally works out for her.

    • Been thinking about this for the past few days.

      I’d like to see Skitter ‘win’ this one, too. Seriously, she’s been taking it on the chin for a while now and to have something that no one else outside of the Nine can claim (namely, taking one down) would be a serious step in character development, especially if it came down to a “I must put this ‘thing’ down or my people suffer”. The imagery that keeps coming to mind is that little-mentioned fact about the tensile strength of spider webbing… It’d be downright poetic if she managed to impair the perfection of Mannequin’s form enough that he freaked out and attempted to over-adjust to say, the yanking on his limbs and ended up dismembering himself or the like. Others have mentioned that each of his systems are self-contained, and that there may be access points to interfere with each, but the noise output of several thousand/million bugs (this would most assuredly be a *stressful* situation for Skitter) may be enough to overwhelm internal network communications and disable the murderer.

      Or worse, communicate with him on a never-before encountered personal level and get him to realize the horror he’s wrought not only upon himself but others.

      As far as on-going story development, anyone who manages to take down a member of the Nine is going to immediately be a *TARGET* of not only the other parts of the Nine(even with their rather casual attitudes towards each other) but also every single hero and every single villain because the Nine are *that bad-ass*. Skitter winning such a fight would actually be more of a Pyrrhic victory than breaking even. Due to the *city* (and perhaps the world) looking to her for answers she cannot provide on how to defeat the Nine.

      • And so next chapter would go down in infamy as (predictably) the story takes a further downward dark turn, as Skitter lost the fight, easily, with her people turning on her, spitting and stomping her and the bleeding hole where her arm used to be, before they all line up to be killed by Mannequin rather than live under her rule.

        In the hospital, Dragon brings in her dad to identify her while she lays there, unable to move, and it’s revealed that they stole some of her organs to donate to Armsmaster. Her dad approves of the measure. Then, Shadowstalker is brought in and special plastic surgery is done that swaps their appearances, which Shadowstalker then uses to get close to Grue, nail him, then kill him, while Taylor gets kidnapped and done despicable things to by Regent, who is then killed by Cherish, who then does more despicable things to Taylor, who is then captured by Bonesaw, who has Hack Job do further despicable things.

        Upon Panacea dramatically turning evil because fuck you that’s why, she then goes and turns Taylor into something like a human-sized earthworm with no ability to see or hear, but a fully functioning brain to comprehend the entire horror of her situation. Then, for some reason, Panacea proceeds to drown a bag full of puppies and kittens.

        Suddenly, out of nowhere, a 10,000 ton piece of tungsten crashes into the building, a hunk of metal of such size that it destroys the entire thing. Then, a mere 2 miles underground, a 100 kiloton nuclear weapon is detonated, destroying the city as the already weakened foundations of the city, which has been partially collapsed due to an aquifer, are completely incapable of holding back the explosive force of something designed to take out many large layers of cement. The blast reaches 120 km into the sky and delivers third degree burns to people miles outside the city as almost everything within is utterly killed. Of the few left alive, most of the rest die of radiation poisoning. Weld is melted, but manages to reform after a little while. Unfortunately, some barely-alive Merchants decide to be dicks in their last moment by putting him in a giant mold of private parts, leaving him forever shaped like that afterward.

        In retaliation for this unprovoked attack on American soil that destroyed a city and hundreds of thousands to millions of lives all to kill a few supervillains that there is no concrete evidence would cause the end of the world, the President of the United States orders nuclear missiles launched in retaliation at Toronto, where Dragon spends much of her time. Canada is consumed in nuclear fire. Aging Cold War-era systems that were never fully dismantled kick in, leading Russia to launch on the U.S., U.K., France, and the western portion of Germany, which leads to China launching on Russia and the U.S. and the U.K. launching on Russia, China, and much of eastern Europe. The United States, under attack, fire back, raining nuclear fire on China, North Korea, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, and Pakistan. Pakistan uses their limited nuclear technology to attack India and Israel, since that’s as far as they can reach. India launches on Pakistan, Iran, and China in retaliation. Israel launches on Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and any other Islamic middle eastern countries I missed. North Korea attempts to launch a missile, but their rockets mess up and they end up blowing up the palace instead.

        The world is consumed by nuclear fire. The vaults save a few people. Others malfunction, but then, the vaults were never meant to save anyone.

        War…war never changes.

  12. I think Skitter needs to look to the ultimate motto for heroines fighting against vastly superior foes:



    (10 points to the house of the first person who can tell me that acronym stands for.)

    • Doesn’t Supergirl have all of Superman’s powers? I would have thought that she doesn’t face foes stronger than herself very often.

      Speaking of houses, have we (the commentariat) performed the time-honored ritual of sorting the characters into Hogwarts houses yet? My guesses for the Undersiders:

      Skitter: Gryffindor. She may be studious and diligent, but it doesn’t look like she does it for its own sake, so not Ravenclaw. Hufflepuff is a good candidate, but Gryffindor ultimately wins out due to the absurd level of courage.
      Grue: Hufflepuff. He is in the business to protect his family.
      Tattletale: Slytherin. Her power may make her sound like a Ravenclaw, but she is mainly out for herself.
      Regent: Slytherin.
      Bitch: There is no “House of Leave me Alone, Dammit!”, but if you count the dogs, she might rate a Hufflepuff.
      Imp: Leaning Slytherin.

      Other villains:
      Coil: Slytherin!
      Hookwolf: Slytherin.
      Kaiser: Slytherin.
      Purity: Hufflepuff.
      Bonesaw: Ravenclaw. She seems to enjoy research above and beyond application.
      Mannequin: Gryffindor. Yes, Gryffindor. Notice that his tests always involves a test of courage to alter oneself.
      The other Nine: All Slytherin, probably. Jack Slash might rate a Ravenclaw, as a student of human nature.
      Skidmark: Slytherin.
      Lung: Slytherin.
      Oni Lee: Gryffindor?
      Bakuda: Slytherin.

      Dragon: Dragon is beyond your puny human classifications! But probably Hufflepuff.
      Panacea: Hufflepuff.
      Weld: Hufflepuff or Gryffindor.
      Shadow Stalker: Slytherin.
      Weld: Gryffindor or Hufflepuff, leaning Hufflepuff.
      Clockblocker: Gryffindor or Hufflepuff, leaning Gryffindor.
      Vista: Gryffindor.
      Flechette: Probably Hufflepuff.
      Kid Win: Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff.
      Armsmaster: Slytherin. Though a Tinker, he is very focused on practical applications and is very driven by ambition.
      Miss Milita: Hufflepuff.

      Everybody else, I don’t know or remember well enough.

      I really don’t have time for this…

      • Glory Girl: Slytherin

        Newter: Gryffindor
        Gregor the Snail: Hufflepuff
        Labyrinth: Ummm… too messed up to sort? Maybe Hufflepuff
        Faultline: Ravenclaw, maybe?

        Coil: Duh. Slytherin. What else could he possibly be?
        Trickster: Gryffindor
        Sundancer: Gryffindor


        • I am a little surprised nobody disagreed on the ones I’ve sorted. I mostly agree with Hg’s, but I am inclined to stick Sundancer into Hufflepuff. Courage has not been shown to be her primary virtue, but the cast page does say that she feels lonely. Glory Girl doesn’t really strike me as Slytherin as much as a misguided Gryffindor, but a lot of characters are toss-ups between these two houses.

      • Bakuda would have been sane at the time, so Ravenclaw. Even after the sanity – break, she is all science, no ethics, perfect cliche mad scientist. Ravenclaw all davenclaw long.

  13. I’ve been deliberately staying out of the discussion so as not to get sucked in, (Wildbow, just for the record, your story continues to be awesome.) but my two cents are that Skitter’s costume has been shown to be at least somewhat resistant to cutting, which may slightly offset her disadvantages against Mannequin. (It wouldn’t protect her against a stabbing attack, though.) Another is that Mannequin’s specialty is environmental control, not armor, so it’s not clear if his ceramic armor is Tinker-strength; ceramics used may, in fact, be brittle enough to crack or chip when struck with a baton. My understanding is that even the ceramics used in armor work by cracking or shattering on impact, absorbing the projectile’s momentum and deforming it, so that it doesn’t penetrate subsequent layers. It would be ironic if it turned out that Skitter is most effective against Mannequin in very close quarters. On the other hand it would be very odd if Mannequin had lasted this long while being vulnerable to bullets, so his armor is probably better than that.

    Another random thought while I’m at it: we — and the Undersiders — now know that Bonesaw has operated on the brains of all of the Nine except for Siberian and Cherish to implant immunity to Cherish. It is not unlikely, however, that she might have left other things in, like a deadman switch that will do nasty things to them if she dies, as an insurance policy against her teammates, or as a childish prank. If someone managed to kill her, I wouldn’t be surprised if the other Nine suddenly found themselves to be severely inconvenienced. (If this is what Wildbow is planning, s/he is going to have to be very careful setting it up, because it might come off as a deus ex machina. Tattletale, if she survives could probably figure it out, if it’s the case.)

    Darn. Got sucked in again.

    • The ceramic has shown itself to be fairly durable as far as resisting the impact from Mannequin’s own weapon (the whirling blades, during the scene with Armsmaster), so that’s one clue as to its durability.

    • Also, thank you for the confirmation on the awesome. So hard to tell when you’re the writer and you don’t have the objectivity. Glad you’re enjoying.

      • Okay, so just to be clear, Wildbow.

        This is a hogshead full of awesome.
        This is a 50-foot awesome monster that breathes radioactive awesome.
        This is a quadruple-scoop awesome sundae with cherries, nuts, whipped cream, and extra awesome sauce.
        This is the USS Awesome, bound for the planet Awesome in the middle of Awesome-space.
        The most interesting man in the world doesn’t always try to be awesome, but when he does, he writes stuff that isn’t as awesome as this.
        Chuck-frickin’-Norris wishes he was as awesome as this.
        The word “awesome” itself is not as awesome as this.

        Get it? Got it? Good.


    • I’m on my second back-to-back read-through of the archive (Worm is just THAT awesome, Wildbow!) and paying attention to the comments. So forgive me any necro-commenting😉

      Ceramic armor, if properly designed and constructed, is so ridiculously hard that it works by shattering kinetic penetrators. I’m confident that Mannequin, as a tinker, will have researched enough existing ceramic technology to be able to make ceramics durable enough to be immune to most practical kinetic impacts. Even PG’s idea of using anti-material sniper rifles won’t be as effective as expected; pretty much all of the shots will deflect off the harder armor, and Mannequin’s loose configuration means the impact of solid shots will convert into movement of the loose body parts instead of penetration.

      In short, the faster the projectile or blade moves, the better Mannequin’s armor is against it. Makes sense, given that he prefers really fast moving blades and don’t want to be able to hurt himself. Other techniques of penetrating armor, such as HEAT warheads, is too clumsy to be used against a fast-moving, flexible humanoid form.

      One can also try slower, heavier mass impacts or crushing. His specialization means he will have superior knowledge of structural mechanics (think space habitats and bio-domes) and therefore his body parts will be ludicrously tough. No simple answer there, unless you can trick him into an industrial bench press, garbage truck or scrapyard compressor.

      If I had to face Mannequin, I’ll go for napalm and flamethrowers. The law of entropy means that no matter how efficient his energy conversion systems are, he will be unable to get rid of all of the thermal energy and it will build up over time. Even a few degrees increase in his internal temperature will cook his organic components. Unless he can dump waste heat somewhere else, like an alternate reality, in which case I’ll yell ‘Shenanigans!’ and run away really fast.

  14. Amazing! The writing and character development is simultaneously entirely satisfying and still leaves an excited jolt of anticipation for the next installment. I’m in love with this story and will definitely be donating.

  15. ” But cell phones had computer chips, and computer chips had silicon.” Uh, sand SiO2 and Silicon are two very fucking different things. 90% of the earth’s crust is silicon, 27% of the earth’s mass is silicon. Since if affected apparently all silicon the entire ground beneath them has exploded, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t more powerful than a nuke.

    So either Taylor is incredibly retarded or author fuck up here.

    • Alas, you are close but no cigar.

      Yes, integrated circuits (‘computer chips’) are built using elemental Silicon crystal, but SiO2 has useful electrical properties and easy to create using thermal oxidation on the substrate crystal. It is used as an insulator, charge barrier and current limiter, amongst other things. And since it is in crystal form, it is susceptible to Shatterbird’s resonance power and will explode just like any other form of crystal Silica. If this is not enough to destroy the intricate structures of the chip itself, it will change the electrical properties enough to stop the electronics from working. Even worse, fiber optic cables are made from pure crystalline SiO2 and will be particularly vulnerable to Shatterbird’s power.

      Of the 90% of elemental silicon in the crust only a very small amount (<1%) exists as crystalline SiO2, so, yeah, the ground won't explode.

      Instead of fucking up, the author has created very interesting powers and characters that had me thinking of the physics behind them for many hours of blissful indulgence.

      Thanks Wildbow, for giving me something so wondrously delicious to mentally 'chew' on🙂 Just another way that this series stand out from the rest. I'm spreading word of it as far and wide as I can, as a small token of appreciation.

      • Although limiting her power to crystalline Sio2, would stop it from working against glass or sand. glass is a noncrystalline state, where the atoms have short range correlation but not long range correlation.

  16. Typo thread

    It had turned a bruised combination of black brown and purple–black, brown, and purple
    “Are you going to whine like a little girl, too, if I ask you to help someone?”–
    one comma. …little girl, too…

  17. > One hand was raised, a single finger raised

    This is a pretty awkward repetition. I’m not sure how I’d re-phrase it myself, though.

    >His movements were ungainly, as if he was about to collapse to the ground with each one.

    Were about to collapse.

  18. It’s absolutely amazing to me that Taylor is doing more good as a villain then she ever could if she had joined the Wards.

  19. Okay, I’m rereading the story and something jumps out at me…

    Minor Spoilers:

    Why didn’t Cauldron send in Contessa to kill Jack while he was in Brockton Bay. I know they want to save powerful capes but the knowledge that he causes the end of the world should have been enough for them to make an exception.

    • Pnhyqeba jnagf gur jbeyq gb raq fbbare engure guna yngre. Gur Raqoevatref rafher gung gur jbeyq jvyy bayl orpbzr yrff cercnerq gb svtug Fpvba nf gvzr cebterffrf.

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