Plague 12.7

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Mannequin lunged for me, his bladed toes biting into the ground for traction.  He moved fast enough that his arms trailed behind him like twin ribbons in a strong wind.

He stopped several paces away from me, turning his body to swing at me with his right arm and the three foot long blade that was attached to it.  If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought he’d fall well short. But his arm extended on a chain, giving the swing just enough reach to put the blade on a collision course with my head.

I parried it with my baton.  The hit was heavy, more like trying to fend off a sledgehammer than what I’d expected.  I almost lost my grip on my weapon.

As the blade bounced off my baton, he reversed the direction his upper body was turning to start spinning like a top.  His one attached arm hurtling around him, he sprung at me.  I threw myself back and away, escaping by a mere two inches.

His spinning upper body had, with his right arm spooled out, caused the chain to wind around his body.  He began reeling it in, the arm and blade drawing a lazy circle around him.  I backed away, thinking I finally had a chance to get my bearings.

As his detached arm reeled in, the fingers folded backwards around the end of one of his feet, gripping it.  He retracted the blade at the toe of the other foot and dropped that foot flat on the ground.  The motion seemed to unbalance him, and he teetered, almost falling over.  Then in one sudden motion, he righted himself and thrust out with his other leg and the three-foot blade that was now attached to it.

I didn’t have time to get out of the way, to bring my baton up to defend myself or even to do more than belatedly realize his near-collapse had been a feint.  He caught me in the stomach with that same surprising strength as before, then slashed up toward my collarbone with enough force to lift my feet up off the ground.  I landed hard on my back, my armor absorbing the brunt of the impact.  The sides of my armor panels bit into the ribs of my back where they curved toward my body.

Keeping the lessons I’d learned from sparring with Grue in mind, I tried to scramble back and away while Mannequin righted himself and put the forearm and hand he had connected to his foot in the right place.  Before I could get to my feet, he started striding toward me.

I drew my bugs around me to conceal my movements as I rolled to one side, set my feet under me and sprinted to his left.

While still beneath the cover of my bugs, I was struck from behind and knocked face first to the ground.  The surprise was as bad as the pain.

Through the swarm, I sensed him approach until he stood with one foot on either side of me.  I felt him wind his fingers into my hair and pull my head up and back.  I struggled, trying to catch him in the knee with my baton, but he wrenched me to one side, and I felt a blade press against my throat.

As he’d done with the gray-haired doctor, he pulled the blade hard against my throat in one long, smooth motion, adjusting for the curvature of my neck.

In one heartbeat, I formed and initiated a plan.  I grunted and made a choking sound, which was all the more realistic because he’d just pulled a length of metal hard against my windpipe; I did want to grunt and I did choke.  Then I went limp and had every bug in the area cease moving.  Like snowflakes, the flies began drifting down from the air.

He let go of my hair, and my mask clacked hard against the floor.  I heard a girl scream, heard noises and shouts from everyone else.

I swallowed, partially to check that my throat really hadn’t been cut.  My costume had saved me.  I wished the gathered onlookers hadn’t witnessed the scene.  It would have been better if the bugs had blocked their line of sight, as their noises of fear and alarm were going to get his attention.

I just needed a second to think.  Mannequin could press an assault indefinitely, until he succeeded in cutting my throat open or delivering that mortal wound.  It was like sparring against Brian, but worse in every way.  Mannequin was stronger, faster, he had more reach, he didn’t get tired, he was good and he was out to kill me.  He was versatile in a way no ordinary human could be.  He couldn’t be caught in an arm-lock- his limb would just come free or bend in some screwed up way.

He could sense me somehow.  How?  It had been reckless of me to assume that he used sight to get by, especially when he didn’t have eyeholes in his mask.  The fact that he hadn’t noticed I was faking meant he wasn’t relying on sight, or his sight was limited enough that he couldn’t make out the lack of blood through the cloud of bugs around us.  If he wasn’t hearing my breathing, I doubted he had super hearing either.

Did he use radar, like Cricket?  It would be my first assumption, except my bugs hadn’t heard anything of the sort.

No.  This line of thinking wasn’t accomplishing anything.

I heard him sharpening his blades against one another with the sound of steel on steel.  I could sense the movement, from the bugs that were drifting down onto him.  A man in the crowd whimpered, and Mannequin turned towards him.

The metal singing in the pauses between the scrapes of blade on blade.  Mannequin was standing still, observing.

I had to come up with a plan of attack, or others would pay the price.  My deadline was the point, I suspected, that someone lost their nerve and tried to run.

If I was going to attack, I needed to find a weak point.  But he was smart.  Before the disaster that had turned him into this, he had been on the brink of solving many of the world’s crises.  Overpopulation, renewable energy, effective recycling, world hunger.  Even with tinker abilities offering the means, it took someone special to manage that and actually make progress.

It was a given that he wouldn’t have any blatant weaknesses.  Any measure he didn’t think of himself, he would have shored up by now, by virtue of being a longstanding member of the Nine.  He’d fought heroes and villains better than me, and he’d learned and improved in the process.

In that respect, perhaps, he and I weren’t so different.  I’d developed in much the same ways.  The difference was that he had years more experience.  That, and he was batshit insane.

What would I do in his shoes, with his power?

I wouldn’t leave any vital openings uncovered.  That was a given.  My focus -Mannequin’s focus- would be on designing way to make himself a completely closed system.  It wasn’t just sensible, it was the whole point of his transformation.  He’d have perfect recycling of all waste, dissipation of excess energy by diverting it to mechanical movement, intake of energy by absorption of heat.

Could that be a clue as to how he sensed the world around him?  Heat?  Or was it something completely different?  Radiation?  Radio waves?  Electromagnetics?

Putting myself in his shoes, I had to think of his motivation.  Why this form?  I’d make myself resemble a doll or a store mannequin because… it was an eternal reminder.  Didn’t his wife and kids die when the Simurgh attacked?  There was a story there.

But what else?  Why resemble a human?

To mislead?  Maybe the configuration of ‘my’ organs and parts wasn’t human in the slightest.  I might have gone the Aegis route and built-in redundancies for everything I could spare.  I wouldn’t need a heart, kidneys, or a conventional digestive system, bone marrow or any of that stuff.  Everything I could strip away would be more room for equipment, more room for all the pieces and parts that help turn ‘my’ individual body parts into perpetually self-sustaining systems.

His torso was the biggest section of his body.  It wouldn’t have his heart, lungs or any of that, because he didn’t have a circulatory system.  More likely, it contained his brain, his sensory organs/system, and whatever mechanism he was using to remotely control his arms, legs, hands and feet.  Unless he didn’t want to put all his items in one basket.  It was easily possible for some of that stuff to be in his thighs and forearms.

If I were him… I would have spent hours carefully balancing the ‘ecosystems’ of each individual part of my body.  Something that exacting and that fine tuned would be sensitive, fragile.  They’d be resistant to impacts, I wouldn’t go around getting into fights if they weren’t.  But heat and cold?  A crack in that exterior of his?  It could wreak havoc.

Okay.  I was getting a sense of him, maybe.  That said, none of that mattered if I couldn’t hurt him in the first place.  Maybe I was thinking about this all wrong.

Bugs dealt with threats that were encased in hard shells all the time, didn’t they?  They dealt with other species of bugs.  There were a hundred solutions there, if I was willing to look for them.

That was the spark of inspiration I needed.  In a matter of seconds, I had a plan.

It wasn’t a good plan, but it was something.  As a just-in-case measure, I could try some other smaller plans, on the off chance that they might distract or even work.  Having those options, if nothing else, would make me feel better.  Mannequin had just brutally and unquestionably kicked my ass in the span of fifteen seconds, and it was going to be at least two minutes until I could even begin my plan, judging by how long it had taken my bugs to deliver the supplies from my lair.

The same instant I had that thought, I started everything in motion.  Every flying insect near my lair headed indoors to gather what I needed.

I made a mental note to make a more easily accessible opening to my lair, so I could do this faster in the future.

I made another mental note to set up a clock with ticking hands, so I could have bugs ride the three hands and have a precise way of tracking time when I was in my territory.  I supposed it would have to be an old-fashioned clock, since Shatterbird had screwed up everything else.

I had to guess.  Roughly two minutes until I could start my plan.

As I lay face down on the floor of the factory, I tried to control my breathing so he wouldn’t notice I was still alive.  The beat of my heart in my chest was so intense I was worried it would give me away.

Staying still was one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do, and I had done some hard things before.  Knowing that he might leap for someone and end their life any moment, it had me on edge.  Every second I could buy here counted because every second I didn’t have to fight him was crucial.

“Mommy,” the word was drawn out.  Had to have come from someone young.  A toddler?  “I don’t want to be here!”

The rhythm of steel rasping against steel ceased.  Mannequin went still.

Shit.  So much for my reprieve.

I pulled myself to my feet and stirred all of the bugs in the area into action.  They rose from the floor like a dark whirlwind.  I sheathed my knife and gripped my baton in both hands.


He stopped and turned his upper body to face me.  His head cocked to one side.

“Yeah,” I said.  “You didn’t get me.”

He turned back around and started walking toward the mother and the little boy.  The pair were huddled between an empty metal frame and a workbench.

“Hey!” I shouted.  “Come on!  Fight me!  Don’t you have the balls to take on a teenage girl?  Or are they one of the things you cut away!?”

He didn’t slow or hesitate at my words.

“Bastard!”  I ran for him.  It was a hundred percent possible he was baiting me, forcing me into a situation where I had to do something stupid or let the mom and the little kid get hurt.  Maybe if I’d been a harder person, I could have let him hurt them, knowing it was smarter in the long run.  But I wasn’t capable of doing that.

What could I even do?  I had to make the call in the three or four seconds it took me to cross the floor of the factory.  He was more than half-again as tall as I was, and my weapons couldn’t do anything to him.

I threw myself at the backs of his legs, colliding with the back of his knees and his calves.  Not all of his precarious balance was an act.  He teetered and collapsed backward onto the floor, his legs on top of me.

“Go!” I screamed at the mother.  “Run!”

She did.  Mannequin reached out to extend a blade into the back of her leg, and she fell, but someone else hurried forward to help her.

Mannequin’s left leg snaked around my throat in an impromptu headlock.  I tried to slip out, to force his leg apart.  Even though I could move it, I couldn’t squeeze my head through the gap.

Not counting the time I’d spent lying on the ground, buying time, how long had I lasted?  Less than thirty seconds?

Four blades sprung from the calf of his right leg.  He extended it high above me, and they began to rotate, slowly at first, then faster, like the blades of a fan.  Or a food processor.

He had me in a headlock, but the rest of me was free to move.  Gripping my baton with both hands, I swung it into the whirling blades with as much strength as my leverage afforded me.

My baton went flying out of my grip, but the blades stopped.  My heart sank as I saw them begin to rotate again, slowly.

They didn’t return to the same blurring speed they’d been at before.  A few seconds passed, and they retracted back into his leg.

I might have been relieved, but I was still in his grip.

He heaved me upward, positioning himself with two hands and one leg on the ground, the other leg holding me up high.  My toes scrabbled to touch ground and fell short.  The grip on my neck wasn’t perfect: it wasn’t cutting off my blood flow, it barely impacted my breathing, but it still hurt, and my neck strained with the weight of the rest of my body.

I drew my knife and gripped the handle.  Then I drove it at my throat.  Or at Mannequin’s leg, which was folded around my throat.  Same idea.  I aimed at the ball joint, striking a mere two or so inches from my own face.  Once, twice, three times.

I was swinging for a fourth hit when he shifted positions.  I couldn’t be sure if he had hoped to gradually strangle me, to leave me dangling until I started begging or if he’d been poised for something else, but he’d apparently changed his mind.  He turned over, his leg unfolding from my throat at the same instant one large hand closed over my face.

He whipped me around himself in one tight circle, then let his arm go free from the socket, the whirring sound of chain feeding out swiftly becoming distant as I hurtled across the room.

I crashed into a pile of wooden boards that were riddled with nails and screws.  The metal points jabbed at me but didn’t penetrate my costume.  I tried to get my feet under me, but the boards only slid underfoot.  His hand was still attached to my face.

He began to pull me forward, no doubt to repeat the process.  Half blind under the grip of his hand, I reacted in a heartbeat, slamming the point of the knife into the gap between his hand and my face.

Tattletale had said it was strong enough to serve as a crowbar.  I was glad to discover she was right.  Between the pull of the retracting chain and the leverage of the knife, I freed myself from his grip, his fingertips scraping hard against my scalp.  Flying back to him, his arm clicked back into place.  I tried to blink a blurry spot out of my vision, only to realize I had a scratch on the right lens of my mask where I’d hit it with the knife’s edge.

The pain from being thrown around was belatedly making itself known.  Bruises, I could deal with.  Just so long as my body moved where and when I needed it to.  I felt the dull ache of a building headache.  From where I’d been gripped in the headlock?

Okay.  Still in one piece, more or less.  How much time had I bought?  One minute?  One and a half?  Could I hold out for long enough?  Could the bystanders?  The moment my bugs arrived would be the moment I could begin my plan.  I’d still have to survive after that, and there was no guarantee it would work.  In fact, my gut was telling me it was a long shot.

Thirty seconds to a minute.  I was panting for breath, counting every second that he silently stared at me as something I should value.

What was going on behind that expressionless mask?  Was he coming up with a battle plan?  Maybe, maybe not.  He didn’t really need one.  It could be that he was calculating how best to destroy me: not just killing me, but ruining me.  There were enough ways he could do it.  Inflicting lifelong scars and injury.  Or he could go down the opposite road and murder the civilians, leaving me as the only one standing.  Both were very real possibilities, both devastating in their own way.

Or maybe, behind that hard shell, he was in the throes of mental anguish.  Maybe he was spending every second of every day reliving the day he lost his family and his dreams to a nigh-unstoppable, malignant force.

There was nothing I could do about his past.  Whoever he had been before, he was a monster now.  I had to pull out all the stops to try and stop him from hurting anyone else.

It was time to enact battle plan number one, one of the two ideas I had in mind that almost definitely wouldn’t work.  I set my swarm on him.  Up to this point, I had kept them largely at bay, using only the bare minimum necessary to keep track of my surroundings.  Now I smothered him, piling them on every available surface.

It didn’t accomplish a thing, of course.  He started running toward me, weapons at the ready.  He wasn’t impeded in his movements, nor were his senses -sight or otherwise- impaired.

I ducked beneath his first swing as he closed in, but I couldn’t avoid the follow-up hit.  His second swing scraped off the armor on my shoulder and struck my chest.  Beyond the momentary pain, I was almost grateful for it, because the strike knocked me further out of his reach.

Some of my bugs managed to squeeze inside the slots where his weapons had emerged.  The spaces didn’t perfectly match the bases of the blades, and the bugs were small.  There was nothing organic inside the sheaths.  Even the interior was completely sealed off.  Still, I managed to get bugs into the mechanisms, lodging their bodies inside the finer workings or killing one another to spill ichor and their bodily contents onto anything that felt sensitive.

Mannequin stepped back, and I watched as he retracted all of his blades, the slots they’d speared out of sealing closed behind them.  A wave of pressure and heat killed off every bug and likely most of the gunk I’d managed to smear inside.

Yeah, I hadn’t figured that would work.  Plan one down.

For plan two, I needed my baton.  I could only hope it was in one piece.  I used my power and my eyes to search the factory floor, while keeping my head still, so he couldn’t see what I was doing.

My bugs were almost here, arriving in droves.

I found my baton lying against the wall near where I’d been pinned by Mannequin.  I’d have to get by him to get it.

Fetch.  I ordered my bugs, as Mannequin lunged for me again.  I didn’t have a second thought to spare as far as telling them how.  For now, I needed to survive.

This time, his attack was frenzied.  If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought he was irritated.  I hopped back out of reach of the first swing, then quickly backed up as he followed that up with a series of rapid rotations of his upper body, momentarily becoming a blender-whir of whirling blades.

I was so busy trying not to get hit by the blades that I missed it when he tilted.  He balanced on one leg and kicked out wide with the other, letting the chain out so it could stretch the seven or eight feet to me.  I was knocked back onto the wood pile a second time, landing on the edge and falling to the ground a second later.

He stopped spinning and retracted his leg, apparently unfazed after the dizzying act of spinning like a top.  I saw my bugs tugging the baton, but Mannequin spotted them at the same time.  He stepped back and placed one foot on top of it.  With a kick, he sent it sliding across the floor, away from me.

Fuck.  I’d have to take the slightly less efficient route.  I grabbed a stout two-by-four as I stood.  It was old, dusty, damaged by years of exposure, and the screws that clustered in one end were rusted.

Better than nothing, as weapons went.

His blades made that rasping sound as he sharpened them against one another, one edge of each blade, then the other.  After doing it just long enough to lull me into a false sense of security, he lunged, blades spearing for my chest and throat.  I struck out simultaneously with the piece of wood.  It seemed to catch him off guard.  I struck too soon to hit him, but he wasn’t my target.

I clubbed at the uppermost blade, driving it down toward the floor.  I tried to avoid the edge and strike the flat of the blade, but my strike wasn’t spot on.  I didn’t see if I’d had any of the desired effect, because he collided with me, both blades striking the armor of my chest.  Pain exploded in my collarbone and ribs, but I didn’t experience any of the telltale pain of impalement.  My armor had saved me.

Finding the tips stuck in the denser material of my armor, he whipped both arms to one side, throwing me a solid ten or twelve feet.  I sprawled where I landed.

I huffed out a breath, feeling pain in my chest with every movement.  Then I smiled a little.

My swarm had finally arrived.

The bugs flowed into the room as a singular mass and roughly half of them swept over Mannequin.  He wobbled a little, then turned his attention to me, uncaring.

Which was a good thing.  It was better that he didn’t pay much attention.

Behind him, the bugs moved in an almost kaleidoscopic pattern, slowly expanding outward from a center point, their arrangement symmetric.

He paused and looked over his shoulder at the swarm.

He was apparently able to sense my bugs on the floor, floating in the air.  That much was apparent.  He hadn’t, at the same time, been able to tell I wasn’t bleeding out into a pool on the ground, or that I was still breathing while I lay prone on the factory floor.  My plan hinged on two things; whether his peculiar means of sensing things would let him grasp what I was doing here, and if he would be able to do something about it.

The formation ceased expanding, then swept over him again.  Once again, he wobbled, staggered a step.

He charged through the mass of bugs that now sat between the two of us, running towards me.  I managed to parry one swing of his blade with my piece of wood, then jump out of the way of the second blade.  When I tried to block his kick with the two-by-four, however, I lost my grip and it fell to the ground.  He kicked me a second time, hard, and I staggered back, hand to my stomach, nausea building up in my throat.  I controlled my breathing to keep my dinner down.

Third pass with my swarm.  They focused on his legs, and very nearly unbalanced him.

I could see him pause, watched his head tilt quizzically.  I bit my lip.

To his right, my left, the swarm had once again gathered in a tight cluster, and were expanding slowly, with controlled movements.

The swarm consisted of pairings of flying insect and arachnid.  Every spider from my lair was clutching a bee, a wasp or a larger dragonfly, who clutched the spider in turn.  A thousand pairs.

Connecting to one another, these bugs quickly drew out five hundred or more lines of webbing.  Mostly dragline silk, this ‘net’ maintained enough of the sticky webbing to attach to him, draping over his artificial body and staying there.

I hadn’t used the black widow spiders I’d brought into the factory earlier out of a fear that he’d realize what I was doing and counteract it before I could really get the ball rolling.  Now I gathered them up and brought them into play.  I used all of the spiders I’d already placed on him, focusing on his joints, reinforcing the stronger webs that were already there.  Their silk was nothing compared to the black widows, but it was something.

He moved without a problem, either unaware or uncaring.  Silk strands stretched and snapped as he extended his arms, more broke free as he walked.  Alone, the threads were negligible.  It was together that they were stronger.  Much like my costume.

He tried to retract the blade in his right arm, but it caught.  Pressing the point against the ground, he bent it back into alignment.  It retracted on his next attempt.  My strike with the two-by-four hadn’t done much there.  My second just-in-case measure hadn’t worked out.

That same arm disconnected and extended towards me as he tried to grab for me, and I turned to one side just in time to avoid being caught.  He fired the other arm out with an almost explosive force and I managed to catch hold of it before it got a grip on my costume.

My swarm made a fourth pass, focusing on the chain of his extended arm and the joints of his shoulders, elbows, crotch and knees where the webbing had already accumulated to some degree.  Fifty or sixty spiders stayed on the extended chain, spitting out large amounts of their stickiest webbing.

He was trying to maneuver the arm I was holding to grab onto me, his fingers and wrist bending at unnatural angles as he sought a grip on my hands and wrists.  He changed tactics, making the blades in the arm spear out at random, to make it as impossible to hold as he could.  When that failed, he whipped the chain.  I let go of the hand just in time to avoid being caught by the tail end of the whiplash.  He reeled it in, and it got about three-quarters of the way in before he ran into a slight snag.

The last quarter of the retraction process was a fraction slower.  Silk glue gumming up the works, I could hope.  I saw him look at his arm, then flex the fingers, as if to test them.

While he was distracted, I made a fifth pass with my formation.  I tried to be more subtle about it, carefully draping the silk over him rather than letting it pull tight against him with enough collective force to move him off-balance.

He attacked, stretching out the arm I hadn’t gummed up.  The pain from the most recent hit to my stomach slowed me down, and his fist collided with me, knocking me over for what seemed like the hundredth time.  I managed to backhand it off of me before he could do anything, and hurried to my feet.

While the arm was still partially extended, I managed to deposit spiders on the chain.  They immediately began straining to produce silk glue on and around the mechanisms that allowed the chain to retract.  One spider wasn’t much, but all together, it added up.

I could pinpoint the moment he realized what I was doing.  Extending the chain, he flung it across the room, the blade cutting a wide swathe.  I ducked clear, but two bystanders were struck down, screaming.  When he moved to retract that chain, the mechanism stalled.

His body was like Armsmaster’s powersuit, but every piece of equipment he added necessitated that he cut away a pound of flesh.  I was inclined to suspect that, crazy as he was, that reality made him more inclined to go for elegant, efficient design over more rugged craftsmanship.  The propeller blades in his ankle, the chain retraction mechanisms in his arms, they were built to be lightweight, to use minimal energy, and achieve maximum effect at the same time.

He tilted his head, looking at the arm that was stubbornly refusing to retract back into place.

I made my sixth sweep with my bugs.  As the swarm passed, his head snapped up, looking at me.  As much as he could without eyes, anyways.  He knew what was happening.

A better cape than I might have had a quip there, an insult.  I hurt in too many places, in my ribs, my stomach, my shoulders, neck, back and legs.  Some of the pain was fierce, like a red-hot poker being driven with a constant, ceaseless pressure into the body parts in question.  I couldn’t spare the breath.

The chain dropped from his elbow socket, and I watched as he paced over to his fallen arm, picked it up, tore the remaining chain out, and clicked it into place.

“Come on,” I muttered under my breath.

Blades speared out of slots all over his body, some of which I hadn’t even guessed were present.  Then he began spinning furiously, every body part rotating the individual blades with enough force that webs were cut before they could be secured in place.

Different tactic.  This time, the swarm took its time passing over him, thirty or forty spiders working at a time, their work relentless, ceaseless.  Each spider cut the threads so they drifted down like strings in the wind.

Falling gently instead of being stretched taut, they would drape over the spinning blades, attach to other trailing silk, and form a looser cloud.

I’d anticipated this.

The part where I was caught off guard was when he changed tactics, going after the civilians for the second time.

“Hey!” I shouted after him.

I’d hoped to be more subtle about my second phase of attack.

Half of the swarm I’d brought from my lair was still waiting for the instruction.  I deployed them while running after Mannequin, stopping at the wood pile to get another two-by-four.

Someone screamed as Mannequin started cutting into them.  Two or three people, cornered by the monster.  One already in harm’s way.

“Fucker!  Stop!”  I shouted, my words useless.

I moved on to the second phase of my attack.  As I’d done with the pens, markers, the candles and the bottles of disinfectant, I’d instructed my bugs to arrive with supplies in hand.

Some carried the scraps of silk cloth from my work on the costumes: The masks I’d made as trial runs, the belts and straps.  As with the silk that drifted in the air, they were caught by the blades rather than being cut.  Mannequin soon had a dark blur whirling around his upper body.

Other bugs packed the remainder of my costume design supplies.  Tubes of paint were rigid enough to be cut by the blades, creating small, wet, colorful explosions.  A large bottle of glue made its way to my hand, and I hurried to tear off the lid before a large group of bugs carted it off to him, holding it upside-down over his head so streams of the stuff could spill onto his head and shoulders.  Packages of dye were torn in half by his blades, expanding into clouds of black, brown, gray and lavender powder, sticking to any liquid on him, filling every gap to highlight the hidden slots for his weaponry and the seams where everything fit together.

Swinging underhand, I brought the two-by-four up toward the widest part of the buzzsaw whirl that was Mannequin.  Through luck as much as intent, I managed a glancing blow on the end of the blade, knocking it up toward the ceiling.  The momentum of his rotation managed the rest.  He tipped and crashed onto his side, literally falling apart in the process.  Lengths of chain connected everything, but nothing was in the right socket.  Some sort of built-in defense mechanism against heavy impacts?

My swarm flooded over him to draw out more lines of silk and to spill glue -both organic glue from my spiders and brand name supplies- where possible.

He began to reel the various parts in, slowly.  I hurried in to grab the one arm he’d disconnected from the chain and hurled it away.  Then I seized his head.

I knew he wouldn’t have anything particularly valuable in his head.  It was too obvious a target.  But it was easy to get my hands on, it wasn’t connected to too many other things, and there was a chance he might want to keep it.

Holding the head, I hauled back, pulling more chain from the neck.  With one hard pull, I hauled half of his body in my direction, the exertion making every injury I had screaming in protest.  Another pull, and I dragged his body another half-foot back, but I got one or two feet of length from the neck-chain.

Even with stuff gumming up the works, his chest clearly had stronger mechanisms inside it than the rest of his body did.  The chain began slowly retracting.

Someone appeared behind me, and his hands gripped the chain, just a bit behind my own.  He added his strength to mine, and Mannequin’s body was dragged another two or three feet back.

“Where?” he asked.  It was a burly bystander with a thick black beard, thick rimmed glasses and a red and black striped t-shirt.  One of my people.

I turned and let go to point.  There was a metal frame that had once stood around some equipment.  Now it stood empty, just a connection of metal bars.

“Stand back,” he said.  I let go and backed off.  Without me in the way, the bystander was able to haul Mannequin another four or five feet towards the frame.  Another haul, and they were close enough to the frame.

I hurried forward, gripping the head, and winding it through and beneath the bars, tying it in the crudest of knots and tangling it in the bars in the process.  It dangled, the stump facing the ceiling.  Fifteen feet of chain trailed between it and Mannequin’s body.

Mannequin had only just managed to reel in the chain and reconnect his remaining arm, and was using it to attach his legs securely into place.

I had only seconds.

Having my bugs in the area, I knew exactly where to find what I was looking for.  I hurried over to the corner and hefted a cinder block.

I wasn’t halfway back to the head when I saw Mannequin stand.  I abandoned my plan, dropped the block and stepped away, circling him, putting distance between myself and his head.  His attention seemed to be on me.

Had I pissed him off?

He wasn’t spinning any more, and I could see the damage the bugs had wrought.  Dense webs and scraps of cloth had collected across his body, and only half of the blades had succeeded in retracting in the face of the silk, glue and other gunk.  Color streaked him, both liquid from the paints and powder from the dyes.

I gathered my bugs into another formation.  We were running low on silk, but I’d have to deal.

He stepped forward, and his movements were more awkward than usual.  Good.  That might mean the ball joints weren’t in pristine condition anymore.

He moved again, disconnecting the chain to free himself from the metal frame I’d tied the neck-chain to.  He wasn’t focusing on me.  I felt out with my bugs and sought his target.

His arm.  It crawled weakly for him, using the fingertips to scrape forward.

The moment I realized what he was after, I redirected a portion of my web-spinning swarm to the hand.  Then I limped to my left to put myself between him and his target.  My swarm passed over him.  The seventh strafing run.  He slashed at it as it passed in a surprising display of emotion.

He reached into the hole where his neck and head were supposed to be and withdrew a small knife.

I adjusted my posture.  He was a tinker, and that knife could be anything.

He pressed a switch, and it was soon surrounded with a gray blur.  I recognized it as Armsmaster’s tech.

A weapon with that exact same visual effect had done horrendous damage to Leviathan.

He stepped forward, and I stepped back.  Behind me, the arm jumped.  Mannequin was using the telescoping blade to help push it in the right direction.  It was trying to take a circuitous route around me.

My bugs made their eighth sweep past the headless Mannequin.

He lunged for me once again.  This time, there was no blocking the hit, no letting my armor absorb it.  His movements were ungainly, unbalanced by his lack of an arm, but he stood nine feet tall, usually, and that meant he had reach, no matter the type of weapon he was wielding.

I backed off, rapidly stepping away, all too aware that my spiders weren’t working fast enough to stop him before he landed a hit.  I was swiftly running out of room to retreat.

There was a sound, a heavy impact followed by the noise of ringing metal.  Mannequin stopped and whirled on the spot, striding back the way he’d come.

The sound came again.  I chased, trying not to limp, knowing there was little I could do to stop the monster.  I crossed half the factory floor before I saw what had earned Mannequin’s attention.

The man who’d helped me with Mannequin had the concrete block in his hand, and for the third time, be brought it down on Mannequin’s head.  The head came free of the chain and fell to the ground, rolling briefly.

The man hefted the cinder block again, saw Mannequin approaching, and changed his mind.  He dropped the block onto the head and then ran.

Mannequin didn’t give chase to his attacker.  Instead, he stooped down to pick up his head, then stood straight.  I stopped where I was.

For long moments, Mannequin held the head at arm’s length.  Then it fell to the ground.

Seconds stretched on as his arm flopped its way towards him.  My spiders swarmed it, surrounding it in silk.  Only the blade was really allowing it to move, now, the fingers struggling around the silk to move it into position for the next sudden thrust of the blade.

Mannequin turned his attention to his arm, and I set my swarm on it.  A thousand threads of silk, each held by as many flying insects as I could grip it with, all carrying the arm aloft.  I brought it up to the ceiling, and began fixing it in place, building a cocoon around it.  My enemy turned his attention to me, his shoulders facing me square-on.  As he no longer had a head, I found his body language doubly hard to read.  Had I irritated him, doing that?

He stepped forward, as if to lunge, and the silk that wreathed him hampered his full range of movement.  His leg didn’t move as far as he intended, and his missing arm displaced his sense of balance.  He collapsed.

“Want to keep going?” I asked his fallen form, my heart in my throat.  I stood ready to jump and react at a moment’s notice.

Slowly, he pulled himself to his feet again.  Twice, he used the knife to slash at the silk.  On the second attempt, I hit him with the formation of bugs for an eighth sweep of the silk net, hoping to throw him off-balance enough that he’d stab himself.  No such luck.

Standing straight, Mannequin shifted his grip on his knife and then raised one finger.  Wagged it left and right, that same gesture of disapproval, condemnation.

Then he turned to leave, striding for the door.  I didn’t try to stop him.  I didn’t have it in me.

I watched him leave with my bugs.  Felt him get three, four, then five blocks away with my power, before he was out of my range.  The second he was gone, all the strength went out of my legs.  I collapsed onto my knees in the center of the room.

I hurt all over.  If Mannequin hadn’t broken something in my ribs or collarbone, he’d fractured something.  But pain was only part of it.  Physically, I was exhausted.  Emotionally?  Doubly so.

Charlotte appeared at my side and offered me a hand.  The murmurs of conversation started to sound around me.  I tuned it out.  I couldn’t take the criticism, and I didn’t deserve any praise.  How many people had been hurt while I fought Mannequin?  How many people had died because I hadn’t been on the alert?

With Charlotte’s help, I stood.  I shook my head at her offer for support standing.  Moving slowly and carefully, not wanting to embarrass myself, I walked over to the dismembered head.

It was miniscule, but there was a drop of black fluid beading at the seam in the neck where the chain had been threaded.  Apparently that was enough of a flaw for Mannequin to abandon it.  I left it where it was.

Then I hobbled over to the body of the gray-haired doctor.  Getting onto my knees was painful, but I did.  I gently turned her head and stared into her open eyes.  Light blue, surprised.

“I’m sorry,” I told her.

I couldn’t think of anything more to add or say.  A minute or two passed before I gave up on it.  I left her eyes open; using my fingertips to close her eyes seemed presumptuous and trite.

I cut the threads with my bugs and let the arm fall from the ceiling.  More than one person was startled at the sudden drop and impact.

“Throw the head and the arm into the ocean,” I said, to nobody in particular.  “If you can find a boat, drop it somewhere deep.”

“Okay,” Charlotte said, her voice quiet.

“I’m going to go.  I’ll be using my bugs to watch for more trouble,” I said, as I began limping toward the door.

I’d won.  So to speak.

Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

174 thoughts on “Plague 12.7

  1. She should immediately call for backup now – get Mannequin while he’s all glued up. Wonder if she will…

  2. I can believe that she sees that fight as a failure, but holy crap it just goes to show that she has some serious self esteem issues.

    A couple of things surprised me, the fact that she still has an open spot for her hair is kind of mindboggling. I hope she thinks back on the fight and decides to fix that, or at least fix it in the next costume she makes with the new spiders. Also I find it weird that she wants the pieces dropped in the ocean, rather than thinking to give them to Coil or the Protectorate.

    I think the most important thing that happened in that fight was the command to fetch. Up until now she always kept manual control of her bugs. I can’t remember her ever just giving them a general order and having them carry it out on their own initiative before now. I don’t quite know what it says about her powers, but I am willing to bet it will end up being important

    One slight error “If hadn’t known better” is missing an I.

    • The self-esteem thing was my first thought, too. Charlotte’s reaction would seem to indicate that Skitter just gained some serious hero cachet.

    • I didn’t take the fetch command literally, but rather as a figurative description of her multitasking power for the sake of the reader.

      If it is indeed a new aspect of her power it rather seems like a downgrade as there is no real advantage to autonomous acting as long as she can do her extreme multitasking thing. The only benefit would be if they would follow her command even when out of range.

      • She’s done something like it before, back when she and the others of the Brockton Bay League of Doom were taking out the ABB. While she was busy dealing with Lung, she had ordered her bugs to bag up money and carry it out of the building. At the end of the section, it turned out they had been doing so that whole time, leaving them all with a parting gift.

        • Agreed. She has shown the multitasking-in-the-background ability before. When she starts actively taking advantage of this 24/7 she is going to be a nightmare. Well, more of a nightmare than she already is.

          I loved the fetch command. All I could think of at that point was “who’s a good little cockroach? You are! You’re a good little cockroach!” It was very inappropriate but I had to stop myself from laughing.

  3. Well, she is still alive, but so is Mannequin. Skitter faild to save everyone and didn’t score a decisive victory. Mannequin will be back and he will have improved himself enough that this won’t work again.

    I have to wonder though why he was there in the first place. Taylor is not a potential recruit. Two of her teammates are but they weren’t recruited by Mannequin. Why should he go through the trouble of targetting her and playing with her like he did, especially after the four others seemed content to let her go?

    Also Skitter again failed to take a trophy. She is never going to get any serious supervillain cred if she refuses to properly display her oponents servered bodyparts after she maims them.

    The talk about how insects would handle a threat like Mannquin reminded me of a documentary I once saw about how some bees handle an invasion of wasps into their nests. They surround the larger insects with their bodys and cook them to death with friction and body-heat. Unfortunately I don’t think that would work in this case as the hermetically sealed tinker probably can withstand far higher temperatures than Taylor could produce even if she had a flamethrower handy.

    • Mannequin was there, I think, because the Slaughterhouse Nine can’t just hang around menacing capes all the time. They have to actually *slaughter* people to be frightening.

      Also, @Wildbow, this chapter was quite literally pulse-pounding.

      • yes, but he wasn’t randomly killing people, he wa specifically targeting people in Skiter’s territory and killing them in such a way as to taunt her. He took care to evade detection from her bugs as he did his killings, meaning he knew she was there and was planing to surprise her with his ‘work’.

        If he had just been randomly killing people he would probably have just killed Skitter too instead of playing with her by stealthily killing her people first like he did. But maybe he just knew about her powers from a briefing and decided to have some fun with her when he randomly came across her and her people, he seems like the type.

        • I think he targeted skitter because she wants to help people. He was the same too, once, but He is no longer. I presume He hates his past “naiv” self, and skitter reminds him of it.

    • Think of it as punishment. Hypothetical (don’t take this as gospel): Cherish reports that less people died than usual, maybe there’s even something in the collective emotions that points to Skitter’s involvement. Gratitude?

      Mannequin volunteers to see what’s up, finds that she’s helping people? Organizing things, on top of what she did to reduce Shatterbird’s casualty count?

      Finger wag. No, no, no. Bad girl. Now he has to punish her on behalf of the Nine.

      • Well, that would make sense, if it was what happened. Your reply suggest that there might have been more to it, but I guess we will see.

      • And… she *lived*. Unlike so many of the others who have confronted the Nine and either took them down/replaced them or were murdered, Skitter not only stood up to Mannequin, but managed to survive and ‘count coup’ in a manner of speaking. And she was the ‘quiet timid one’ that no one expected to be much of anything in the way of trouble? The Nine may have to truly re-assess their options after this encounter.

        Especially because Skitter just gave her area a sense of *hope*. It cost a great deal, this *hope*. And she’s done something that the Armsmaster could *not* do, which is remain conscious after the fight.

        This could have the potential of even taking Mannequin out for a while as he attempts to re-engineer his sections to deal with this threat. Not that he’s not capable, but a la Mister Stark in a different setting it’s probably going to take trial and error… which is an involved process even with a super-genius mind.

    • She’s accumulated a bunch of missed trophies. Lung’s eyes, Armsmaster’s halberd, Mannequin’s head and arm.

    • Skitter managed to not only survive the fight with minimal injuries but she also beat Mannequin enough that he abandoned not one but two sections of his body. I’d say that counts as a massive win. Considering one of the top heroes in the city (granted on house arrest with minimal equipment but still) got torn to shreds while sitting in one of the most secure buildings in the city…I think this is as close to an out and out win as possible when going one on one with these monsters.

      Don’t take Tinker things as trophies. One of the first rules we learn during the bank robbery. Even if there aren’t tracking chips in them I’d always be worried there was some other booby trap. She should start a little board though over her throne chair. Put a picture of Lung up there with two X’s below it, one for Leviathan and now one of Mannequin.

  4. Very nice chapter. I really liked the descriptions of Mannequin. He was creepy and lethal at the same time, and I didn’t have any trouble following the action. Hopefully Skitter gets some medical help for herself!
    After all this Slaughterhouse Nine business I think we need a breather to find out about her dad, Tattletale, and get her fixed up!
    Plus what’s everyone going to think when they found out Skitter fought Mannequin to a standstill, and made him run? Cause you know the story is going in the record books as a victory for Skitter.
    Which will probably make her a target for the rest of the Nine, but hopefully not for a while.

    To mc2rpg above, I think that the fetch command, along with her unthinkingly using the swarm to change her voice in the last chapter shows that she is becoming more attuned to her bugs.

    To the Author, Wildbow, this is a great story and I’m totally hooked. Keep it up! And give us a Grue interlude already! 😉 I loved that comment a bit back where he thought Skitter started a war and called him to cover her turf. I’d like to hear about his perspective.

        • *necroreply*

          That actually explains why she didn’t (or, at least, shouldn’t have), to my eyes: Coil wouldn’t want his connection to the Undersiders and Travelers publicized.

          • Still, offer the pieces to the Protectorate?

            Worst case scenarios are:
            1. They refuse and the delay allows Mannequin to track down and reclaim his hand.
            2. They’re boobytrapped and blow up the entire PRT building.
            Both plausible, but not especially likely.

            Best case scenario, Dragon and Colin find a perfect way to stop him, perhaps remote detonating him to take out most of the other Nine. Or more likely they build a weapon that destroys his casing, or they block the signal he’s using to control his body parts, effectively paralyzing him.

            Seems worth the risk to me, but maybe this has been tried before and backfired horribly. If so it’s quite likely Skitter would know about it with how famous the Nine are.

  5. A great chapter. Possibly better than my prediction about Panacea drowning puppies and kittens, but I suppose you can save that for later.

    I have to say, and I think I’m the first to mention this so far, but Mannequin really lived up to his name as Skitter glued scraps of her black widow silk clothing to him and colored him all over the place. As far as he goes, this is a humiliation. It’s also important that 1. Someone stood up to the Nine and won (so far), and 2. Someone survived Mannequin and not just because he let them. Skitter certainly did a lot better at it than Armsmaster, who only survived because Mannequin wanted him to.

    Just goes to show you, Mannequin, that you need to learn to quit while you’re a head. Some people would give their right arm to have survived Mannequin, and in this case Skitter made him give an arm to have survived her.

    I began to suspect, about the spider silk, that she was going to turn Mannequin into a puppet. It was not to be, however.

    It’s also apparent that she’s won the support of her people. After all, she could have just played possum the entire time, but she got back up to face him when her people were in danger, and engaged him whenever he targeted the noncombatants. One of the bystanders actually helped her drag Mannequin along, then even had her let go so he could do it better.

    Now, as to Mannequin’s senses. It’s not sound. If it could pick up bugs hovering in the air, but was unable to pick up Skitter’s breathing and heartbeat, then it wasn’t sound. At first I thought his shell had special receptors on it that allowed him to figure things out via a combination of touch, smell, and taste as they do involve particles touching nerves and receptors. The fact that he didn’t realize the spider silk was getting on him kinda shoots that one down for me, unless someone can think of an explanation why this very attentative tinker who controls how he moves exactly just ignored that.

    The weaknesses of using the various senses also forces me to avoid the idea I had of his shell acting as a conglomeration of sense receptors. After all, sight involves light hitting the equipment in your eye, sound involves waves moving along atoms to your ear drum, scent involves particles of what you’re smelling (yes, even poo) getting into your nose and touching down in the scent receptors, and taste involves something similar (I think) with the tongue (to the extent that your sense of smell can affect your sense of taste), and touch is more of a generalized version of the same thing not adapted necessarily to those stimuli. Speaking of generalizations, I may have made some big ones there so feel free to correct me if anyone knows any better.

    Which leaves me with having to reverse course. It might be sight, of a sort. There are some difficulties with dealing with the ambient temperature outside, and cold blooded critters, so I could be off on it being thermal vision, or at least thermal sensors. Got the idea from a pit viper, actually, which is a snake capable of sensing heat. Made the connection over the taste sense as that’s effectively what all the tonguing they do is for, or so I’ve been told.

    Not sure how bugs show up on that, but it’s possible that he could use it as an effective means to have done what he’s done so far. Given that it takes a little bit for a body to cool down after death, it is one way he could see someone lying limp and not notice the blood. Possibly, I don’t know much about how the blood changes temperature upon exiting the body from a wound, but there’s enough moisture around these days that, in the summer, it might be capable of confusing him maybe?

    I was considering he uses some sort of thermobaric pulse somehow, but that’s a lot more of a giveaway given what it does to the bugs that get internal to him, and he’d no doubt use it if he could on someone outside, which means it is probably something he can only use inside his shell as a form of controlling the temperature and pressure of his encasement.

    • Another possibility for the ‘missing the blood’ might be that the nature of the attack might have been intended mostly for internal injuries with a small entry wound.

    • Fun fact about scent versus taste: humans use their nose and scent to taste as well; in fact the mouth only has 5 flavor receptors (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and a Japanese word that translates as “richness”). Where this gets really interesting is that despite using exactly the same scent receptors, the brain registers many of them completely differently when used on food in the mouth. That’s why coffee smells good but tastes bitter, why bleu cheese smells bad but tastes good. [obligatory “food for thought” pun here]

  6. Also, you might have to show us more about the atoms of supers (like the brain of a Tinker), or those Cthuloid critters dealing with the tesseracts. I had an interesting idea about the effects of gravity on time, including what happens when two black holes attempt to cannibalize each other, along with the knowledge of where the atoms of creatures on earth come from that may make for a very boring and long comment that no one will read about where superpowers come from in Wormverse. It still doesn’t explain the Manton effect fully, however, though I just had an idea about that too, involving one of the signs of life…hmm….ability to react to external stimuli could do it…or maybe it is back to the DNA and the ability to reproduce. I just don’t fully see growth, intake of material, or excretion of waste as useable in this case…

    • I don’t think that it could be ability to react to external stimuli. When Faultline was testing, one of the things she was trying was a “live” piece of wood, one that wold have been incapable of doing anything or taking in any sort of stimuli. At least, not at the macro level. I think that the Manton effect functions at the microscopic level, at the level of cells. It would explain why Narwhal was able to slice through people: Her force fields shifted around the cells to produce chopped people without chopped cells. There is little support in canon for this idea, but it is the best one I have so far.

      • The fact that it is capable, and quite possibly attempting, to react to the stimuli may be enough. After all, via whatever processes it had left. It was probably excreting sap or its particular equivalent to handle the wounds to it, attempting to take in light, air, and water when possible. I don’t know how much biology treats taking in nutrients itself as a matter of reacting to external stimuli, but it would be trying on some level as long as it is alive. I also start to wonder, and this is a newer thought, if maybe the secret is not attempting to hit the person, but attempting to affect what is past the person to the extent of not recognizing the person in your way, like how people asked to focus on and count the times a basketball is passed in a video go on to be completely unaware of the man in the gorilla suit walking through the middle of it.

        My point is that the Manton effect reacts to life. There are a few things that differentiate life from things that aren’t alive, and actually a few unliving things that are capable of one or two features. I think something I was considering was that the atoms that function as part of a human body, because they are involved in those living processes, would provide some sort of connection to the individual using the power due to the bond of being alive and having similar origins. Dead or unliving material wouldn’t allow this.

        My hypothesis was supposedly pretty good. Unfortunately, I might have to go get jacked up on science and caffeine again so that I can remember it. This sucks, and I blame my later fascination with the nature of time that night, especially as I can’t remember why I dragged those black holes into this.

        Maybe I can salvage this somehow…

        Coming 2014, Hangover Part 3: A Brief History of Last Night

        “Wow, I don’t remember anything that happened last night.” “Me neither. Those drugs Stephen Hawking brought us from all those chemists were really strong.” “Yeah, you started talking about some sort of grand unified theory thing, got Stephen all excited.” “Oh yeah, what’d I say?” “I don’t remember, it’s all fuzzy.” “Hey, why is Mike Tyson sitting in his underwear in Hawking’s wheelchair?” *minutes later* “We lost Stephen Hawking. We need to find him, and we’re stuck in Switzerland.”

        • Actually, that makes me think of an important test re: the Manton Effect: Did Faultline have any dead wood in her testing rig? And, did (does) her power work on dead wood? This may imply a connection between the Manton Effect and cells, rather than with life per say.

  7. Speaking of senses that other animals have that might be used by Mannequin, a very real possibility is something similar to the electrosensitivity that both sharks and platypuses (platypi?) use to detect prey. And then there are blind moles (like the star-nosed mole) that navigate by sensing sub-sonic vibrations made by moving creatures.

    Of course, given that Mannequin has cut himself off from the world that pains him so completely, it is distinctly possible that he has NO senses that are anything like human senses, specifically so that he can’t be reminded of what he’s lost. I’d bet an Endbringer’s tail that his body modifications include a very strict regimentation of his emotional capacity, cutting off any possibility for emotional pain.


    • The electrosensitivity could work. Does it require a better medium than air, though?

      I just didn’t figure something that had too much to do with sound or vibrations because he could sense a fly in the air, but not a human’s heartbeat or intake of breath, especially with her laying on the ground..

      • I’m strongly betting on millimeter or backscatter x-rays, but for all we know it could be a mass detector- the sort of thing he’d have been designing for spaceships once upon a time. It could also be sight, but in any case I’m guessing from the specifics of how he reacts that the important thing about how he sees isn’t actually the mechanics of the sight so much as his perception. That is, how the information is presented to his brain.

        It seems to me that he sees the area around him in either a three or two dimensional cloud of density that he can recolor to highlight areas of interest- presumably calibrated specifically to detecting clouds of insects and insects crawling on surfaces. Most likely he has so many data points that it would be impractical to view the raw data without preprocessing- Just like MRI data is basically a volume block of voxels with surfaces reconstructed at points in the density gradient or with colors representing materials of different densities.

        After all, he presumably targeted Skitter, and would tailor(taylor?) his approach- He would hardly be expecting to need to follow the motion of any SINGLE insect, and a density based representation(probably enhanced with motion vectors) would give a better general purpose idea of what the bugs are doing. It would also give a good view of Skitter and other humanoid objects for all the data needed to engage in combat with them, at the expense of certain details.

        In regards to missing the blood, as the Gecko pointed out there is a lot of fluid around and it is possible that Mannequin’s senses are currently set to filter it out so as to not miss the movement of submerged objects. You can do all sorts of neat things of that sort with filtering and three dimensional datasets.

        There does seem to be at least rudimentary sound or at least detection of vibration- Not hearing her heartbeat might have been another effect of filtering, with his sensory range shifted either high enough to focus on insect wings or simply lowered in volume to avoid sensory overload from an anticipated large cloud if insects- explaining when he only reacted to a large noise with primarily high frequency elements. Either way Taylor’s life sounds might have been too low volume, too low frequency, or both to fall in the threshold.

  8. The big lesson to be learned here is that Skitter’s armor is absolutely amazing. If I was her I don’t think I would take it off until the Nine were out of the city. Also, I would be gathering all that webbing up and putting a rush on outfitting my teammates.

    • Agreed. I hope she didn’t end up using the parts of the costumes she had already made in the attack in addition to the discarded bits.

    • This is one of my major thoughts from the chapter too.

      If Wormverse had unpowered capes that armour would be enough to allow her to be a cape even without bug control.

      And when she gets the new suit made? She’ll leap up to a Brute4. And she can theoretically mass produce the things… imagine if all her minions are classified as Brute4s.

  9. Ok I knew wildbow would make this chapter memorable but this one exceeds my expectations 🙂
    I know some readers commented on Taylor’s self esteem issues but think about the natural progression. It’s been only a few months since she put on her costume and started running with the undersiders. Before that she was a scared bully prone teenager who had been physically and mentally traumatized for years by the kids at her school. No one turns into a badass alpha type over night.
    This to me encapsulate what I love about the worm universe. Outside of the kickass storyline is to slowly see Taylor change and grow with each new adversary and or accomplishment. She is as a character a work in progress and we get to read along as Wildbow’s imagination takes us on a merry ride.

  10. Is throwing the parts in the sea the best bet over giving it to the Protectorate so they can analyse it? You could have Dragon turn up with Anti-Mannequin Spray!

    On the Mannequin sensing side of things, he needs to be able to spot hovering insects at a fine resolution but not see Skitters blood. Thermal imaging is out because it would have trouble seeing the insects (which aren’t hot) and would easily spot the lack of a spray of hot blood, plus the physics of the light means he’d need much too big a lens or array to have thermal imaging in his seamless shell.

    Thus I’d guess he has an array of photoreceptors embedded but no lens (as a lens is a weak point), which gives high res sight (and great movement detection) within a few feet but poorer long range resolution. Higher wavelengths of light means smaller holes to pick up the photons (and thus stronger armour) and would explain him not being able to see the blood so I’ll warrant he’s seeing in the near ultraviolet like birds and insects do to improve his night vision.

    • You meant smaller (or lower) wavelengths, no?
      I really do not know if blood would be visible in the ultraviolet, but I agree that many bugs would.
      Lets put this in perspective.
      Ultraviolet is bellow 400 nm of wavelength. -> it is a possibility IF his armor do not absorb in this region (unlikely, light with this wavelength interacts in atoms, with the first occupied states bellow valence level).
      Visible -> goes from 400 to 900 nm (approx.) light interacts with valence electrons both in atomic and molecular orbitals.
      Infrared -> Possible using a ccd camera or two, bigger than the human eye, but fit into the torso. Basically it would give heat detection plus chemical composition if the software was really good. BUT, he would see the blood.
      Next in the scale would be microwaves and I really don´t think so.
      Must have some kind of passive sound detection system. He was attracted by the complaining child, he likes the sound of metals against metal (which work as a kind of sonar). But he does not have sonar, so, he must have something else also.
      At a guess: the sigurd made his wife and kid try to kill him and latter kill each other. This is why he went after the woman with the kid.

      • He’s a little bit contradictory. Can hear normal noises, but it’s not super hearing or sonar because he can’t hear breathing or a heartbeat despite being able to tell bugs are in the air. Can’t be our normal version of sight because he can’t see that he’s not cutting someone and can’t see the lack of blood, but could be something on a different wavelength. He can feel bugs enter into his mechanisms, but it he went just by touch then he’d have brushed against all of them rather than walk around them.

        Are any of the methods he could sense things more consistent with how he acted at the end of the fight rather than beforehand? Given how he screwed with Armsmaster, he might have noticed more at the beginning and just never acted on it.

      • Higher = Shorter = Smaller (from higher frequency, more waves packed together with smaller wavelengths). Lower wavelengths are larger.

        The point of using UV is the pits can be smaller than is visible to the human eye. Also only quite high UV interacts with atoms like that, the whole 400-300 spectrum is fine to use.

        Thermal imaging is likely out since his shell is described as visibly seamless and opaque and any level of being heat resistant will cut sensitivity right out.

        • I’d guess that the outer layer of his armor is transparent to a narrow range of frequencies of whatever he uses, just like infrared cameras have visibly opaque lenses but are transparent to IR.

          But in any case,being covered in silk and paint didn’t seem to obscure his vision.

    • Maybe he has multiple sensory techniques that he is switching between, rather than a single comprehensive one? He just had the wrong one active for sensing blood. This of course raises the question of why he wouldn’t switch to that to confirm his kill, so it’s probably not the case.

  11. Another great chapter.

    Regarding giving the arm and head to another party (raised in a couple of comments); I don’t know if I would personally do that in Taylor’s position. She has reasons to distrust both Coil and the Protectorate. I doubt she wants to give either group the immense power of mannequin’s self-contained biosuit…thing. Even if it COULD be used against the Nine, there’s every chance that they’ll use it for their own purposes instead, or keep it for themselves afterwards.
    And that’s without addressing the issues of communication post-shatterbird.

  12. As normal I really enjoyed this. The imaginative way Taylor responds to this foe was fascinating as is the way she increasingly thinks in bug terms. Hows does a bug handle a similar creature, we are running low on silk…
    One phrase clashed for me, Even with tinker abilities offering the ability. Perhaps capacity or opportunity instead of ability.

  13. I’m going to guess his senses work in a completely different way. One thing that people forget is that he responds to people when they talk to him.

    My opinion is that Bonesaw (that’s the Body Tinker’s name, right?) is actually controlling him. If she had a bad angle, that might explain why she didn’t see the blood (the costume would probably keep it from gushing).

    I’m guessing that Mannequin has been in her control from even before he joined the Nine or put himself into a self-contained suit. If it was after, she would’ve presumably had a hard time cutting him open in time. Also, Jack would probably have noticed Mannequin acting differently.

    • Bonesaw has lots of puppets, but they don’t fight without her, don’t count as members of the Nine. OTOH, Mannequin had to have some sort of assistance on the day her removed his brain from his head and installed it in this cyborg body. But I doubt it was Bonesaw. He had to develop a rep to get invited into the Nine, or kill an existing member.

      I am still curious about why there were already 8 members when Cherish killed Hachetface, and how long did they wait before looking for a recruit.

  14. Great job with the fight, Wildbow. I can’t wait until Saturday to find out how the world will react. Actually, the world is already reacting:

    “Mannequin reached out to extend a blade into the back of her leg, and she fell, but someone else hurried forward to help her.” — To stand out in front of Mannequin took heckuvalot of courage for that someone. I think they might be developing a sense of… community?

    “It was a burly bystander with a thick black beard, thick rimmed glasses and a red and black striped t-shirt. One of my people.” — Has Skitter has just acquired her third minion? (Also, have we seen him before? I don’t feel up to searching the archive for burly, bearded men at the moment.) That said, he didn’t get a tag at the end of the episode, so he might never appear again, though he could be a Checkov’s Gunman.

    One possible nitpick. A radar-type device that uses sound waves — such as what Cricket uses — is called a “sonar”, though perhaps it’s just our unreliable narrator misusing a word.

    I can see arguments both for and against tossing the Mannequin parts.

    From the point of view of The Nine, Mannequin didn’t just have to retreat. He was humiliated by her, losing multiple body parts to an opponent every one of whose powers he was supposed to have been able to counter, while being painted all colors of the rainbow (but mostly black). (I can imagine Bonesaw giggling when she sees him like that.) Now, if I read their dynamic right, the other Nine will expect him to go back for a rematch against Skitter, without their help, to restore his honor. This means that it’s likely that none of the others will come after Skitter while Mannequin builds new limbs and cleans up. So, in a weird way, she might have just earned herself and her territory some respite from The Nine.

    Keeping the body parts as trophies would change this dynamic, since flaunting her victory over Mannequin is an attack on The Nine’s myth of invincibility, which may lead them all to come after her, and that can’t end well. Throwing the parts into the ocean will be an insult against Mannequin, not the rest of The Nine. (There is the more practical issue of where to keep them. For one thing, there is a pretty good chance that they can be tracked, which means she can’t really stash them anywhere she doesn’t want to be found, like her lair.)

    Handing the parts over to Coil and/or The Protectorate is a better idea, and I am a little surprised she chose not to do that. Yes, she doesn’t trust them, but there isn’t likely to be anything genuinely game-changing in them, and there are some interesting discoveries to be made. For example, just how dependent is Mannequin on Bonesaw? Did Bonesaw leave any easter eggs in him that could be exploited? What mechanism, if any, do the limbs use to communicate with the torso, and can it be exploited to track him? Of course, it’s unlikely that they’ll extract anything in time for it to be of use.

    • The most likely thing they’d find inside would be the organic components dissolving into a deadly bioweapon and the mechanics exploding to spread it.

      • Hmm, that’s true; polycarbonate and (most) plastic lenses wouldn’t be affected. This raises a different question, by the way: if Taylor hates contact lenses so much, why doesn’t she just requisition silicon-free prescription glasses?

  15. So. For anyone who’s still perusing the comments: My idea for the next interlude (coming up next week) isn’t panning out especially well. I’m opening the floor to suggestions. I can’t promise I’ll use the top suggestions, but they’ll get definite consideration.

    Who do you want to see in the next Interlude?

    • Personally, I’d love to see the heroes reaction to all this…craziness. Or perhaps the Nine finding out about Mannequin’s defeat?

      • You saw my suggestion earlier, for Grue, but I’d be for a Hero’s perspective as well. Maybe somebody who tracked the undersiders from being nobodies to robbing a Casino/Bank etc… up to taking control of the city.

        Other suggestions: Armsmaster/Dragon shipping 🙂
        Taylor’s Dad.
        One of the Nine’s perspectives. (What do they think of Brockton Bay? Hookwolf beat Shatterbird, Flashbang/Panacea beat Bonesaw/Hackjob, Skitter beat Mannequin, was all of this a bad idea?)
        Follow up with one of the Ward’s again.

        Great chapter btw, going to donate right now!

        • Thank you, 1114!

          That brings us just $25 shy of the next bonus interlude/update. Which, I suppose, makes this query about interludes people are interested in all the more applicable.

          I try not to repeat characters for interludes, so I’m sorta reluctant to go back to, say, Dragon/Armsmaster or one of the wards. Though if there’s definite demand…

          • The Guild ,Alexandria’s team or maybe Battery but if you want to do something different for an interlude a what if story would be good.

          • If not him, any of the random Shmoes in Skitter’s Territory! Or someone in the city who’s migrating to Skitter’s territory, seeing as how it’s going to be the place to be!
            Food? Yes.
            Supplies? Yes.
            Drugs? No.
            Medicine? Yes.
            Gangs? No.
            Protection? Double Yes!

            And of course, it’s close to the beach! ^_^

    • Faultline and her crew. I don’t know if this is a viable option for your next Interlude, but I am curious to see how they’re doing. I’d like to see the group’s response to Burnscar’s visit. Also, we got a glimpse of Shamrock but don’t know anything about her, really. Finally, this is the second time they’ve been bought/brought into an alliance by Coil, and something of that negotiation and interaction would be fun to see. It’d be another chance to see what Coil’s up to at the moment (or maybe not, if he’s not doing anything particularly delicate here).

      • Yes, THIS. I have been dying to see what the hell Faultline and her crew have been doing. Who were they working for, that they got all those files on Cauldron? Or was Faultline advancing her own agenda? Also, what IS Cauldron?

        You know what, an interlude from somebody involved in Cauldron would also be awesome. Not that it’ll happen, as that seems too plot relevant for a bonus interlude.

        • Also, a Grue interlude. In fact, I’m going to throw my weight behind that, if the word of an indecisive reader means anything. Why bother commenting when everyone else is so insightful?

    • This is a chance too good to pass up. Some ideas:

      Trainwreck has an interesting thing going on, working for multiple groups.

      We haven’t had an interlude from the school bullies Emma Barnes and Madison Clement yet. Might be a good break from all this action.

      The Wards and Protectorate haven’t been featured in a while. It might be interesting to see their take on villains taking over unstable regions. Maybe something for Battery’s perspective, post Skitter claim?

      Imp hasn’t had an interlude and we haven’t seen what Grue is doing with his area yet. Might be fun change of pace with teenage drama.

      Taylor’s hospitalised Dad vs. the manipulative forces of Coil would make for an excellent showdown.

    • I would like to see either a Grue or Imp interlude. Either one would have an interesting viewpoint on the team and the current siuation, and Imp could really use some fleshing out. She is less developed than alot of the minor characters, and has spoken maybe two or three lines since she joined the Undersiders.

    • I’d love to see something about the Numbers Man. It strikes me that there may be some parallels between his(or her, or their) handling the money and Taylor’s handling her bugs.

      • Not so much.

        My original plan had been for the mention of the Number Man to serve as foreshadowing for a future conflict, but in retrospect, it’d be far too close to what’s been going on with the Nine to be particularly interesting.

        Which isn’t to say he isn’t sorta-kinda-important, but he won’t show up or be mentioned again for a good while.

  16. I’d like to think I’m alright when it comes to putting words next to one another and having it mean something, but I’m kind of at a loss when it comes to properly thanking the generous reader who donated a full $75, which is enough to pay for a bonus update unto itself.

    I won’t name them in case they want to stay private in that regard, but if they choose to identify themselves, I can verify.

    Provided I can wrangle my scheduling and get everything done, you guys should get a bonus interlude next Thursday, courtesy of this individual.

      • *
        “Paper or plastic?” Zayid asked the blonde-haired man with the star tattoo on his wrist who handed him a 20 for his bright blue slurpee. That much change over one drink! These decadent Americans, with their tattoos everywhere. Ah, but now Zayid can afford to make change as well, in his wallet and in his life here far away from the sectarian violence of his homeland. As he punched a button on the register, he noticed a news report about a group of Catholic priests getting into a fight with Westboro Baptist Church.

        “Yes,” is all the customer said, prompting Zayid to turn back towards the man, the captivating image of Father Randy Poffo jumping up and dropping his elbow on a member of the Phelps clan having distracted him from the man pulling out a handgun. Oh Allah.


        These Indian assholes taking over all the 7 Elevens, thought Rich, the gunman. He knew he tasted piss in this slurpee. He knew it! That’s why he kept coming back, testing it, tasting it, until he was sure! Oh yeah, he’d show his friends he wasn’t crazy when he told them what conspiracy lay behind the surface of that dot on their head…

        He would have, at least, but the man in front of him changed. His skin grew white. Not pink, but a pale dull white that covered his face completely. Eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and hair were all gone. The clothing the cashier had been wearing melted into a skintight suit that stretched over the man’s thin but well-muscled frame. The man’s pink, blue, and white My Little Pony t-shirt became a blue and white letter “I” over the skintight pink of his top.

        The Individual.


        Rich’s hands shook. He’s in some major caca now, he realized. Before he can decide whether it’s time to surrender, the Individual reached towards the gun. Reacting without thinking, Rich fired. In a flash, the Individual lept over the counter, ignoring the buckshot as it bounced off his costume. It smacked the gun away, then grabs hold of Rich by the throat, lifting him slightly. Having seen into Rich’s thoughts before possessing the cashier, it knew Rich was unbalanced and had no desire to kill the troubled man. A man in need of help. The kind of help he needed was the kind you had to admit you needed, though.

        The Individual leaned in close. Knowing the effect a blank face of no color has when right in front of a person, he whispered, “Are you scared to see me, or is that pudding in your pants?” They both glanced down, only to see that Rich was being pressed a little too hard against the snack display, leaving the seat of his pants with a dark brown stain and a popped-open package of pudding stuck to it.

        “Hey man, I don’t want any trouble. I don’t want to go to jail. I’ll be good, ok? I’ll take my meds again, will that make you happy? That’s always what people want, me taking my meds again. I’ll do it, ok? Ok?” Rich stammered out. His hand flew to his jacket’s pockets, searching. Finally, he found his pills and pointed to the slurpee that now lay half-empty on the floor. Had he been on his pills sooner, it would be half-full on the floor, but no matter the interpretation, the data was the same. All of the drink was somewhere, but not all of it was in the cup. And that’s how someone who enjoys screwing with people who use cliches views the world.

        The Individual set the man down, watching him carefully as he took the prescription that would keep him level if he bothered to take it and the slurpee that, the Individual knew from possessing Zayid, was actually about 37% urine. The Individual advanced on the man, shepherded him toward the door, and called out after him, “Thank you, come again!”

        That’s when the heroic entity slumped, the color returning to Zayid’s body and his clothing reforming. Zayid looked around, confused and unsure of what just happened. In a lot behind the building, the Individual gathered its etheral form together and once again became solid. Its own body and sense of self, even gender, took awhile to reform after using its power.

        It tried to cough but found it still didn’t have a nose or mouth. The horrible pressure in its chest reminded it, as always, of the day it gained these abilities. What had started as an ordinary fall day was irrevocably etched into its and the nation’s memory. It was one of the ones that got a call from its brother onboard a plane over Pennsylvania. It wasn’t real. A loved one, someone that had always been in its life, a plane full of people just like him with a story and family and emotions, all being used as a weapon. It would have been up there to help them fight, if it could have. It wanted to that day, so badly, that it felt like it had completely disconnected from the world.

        The Individual appeared that day to help the fellow mankind it was a part of, but there was only so much to be done. It did all it could, but it failed. When it woke up hours later, back in its home, it ached from the crash but knew its brother was still back there at that strip mine.

        It took a long time to recover from that day, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Maybe there had been no way for it to save its brother on that fateful day, but it could still remember and most importantly it could still help its fellow man and let those who are victimized know that they are not and never will be alone.


        A cry for help drew the Individual from its memories and transformation to human form. Its powers tell it that an old woman named Rosie is nearby, with a man holding a knife on her and demanding her purse. It blows in the wind, losing physical form as The Individual moves invisibly through the air to aid its fellow man and always push back against deception, justice, and adversity.

        • ARGH! Curse you, continuity error!…I originally was going to have a shotgun. Then it became a handgun. Unless we’re talking about someone not knowing the difference between a sawed-off shotgun and a handgun, or Rich having a handgun that fires shotgun shells (surprisingly, they’re out there, which is a little bit awesome, but apparently you can load them up in a .45 Colt), then he shouldn’t really fire buckshot from it. Actually, now I almost feel like saying it’s not an error because a part of me likes the idea of using one of those guns better.

          At least the tense change in the last paragraph can be slightly overlooked. I’m way too used to present tense so I had to go back and change that a couple of times. I need to get better at editing.

  17. I noticed that Mannequin’s injuries(if you can call them that) parallel Armsmaster’s. His arm, his face, and his ego. Clearly he chose his pick for the Nine well.

    Of course, he could have killed Taylor and all the witnesses- but he wanted people to survive, to tell terrified stories about how their protector was toyed with and killed.

    Now the stories will be somewhat different, one might hope. Of course, Taylor might have signed the death warrants of all the people that Mannequin would have let go to tell the story. On the other hand, those people might be off limits now until he’s… taken care of things.

    • I think he’ll come at her with a vengeance. A man who just wasn’t good enough at what he did to protect the ones he loved from a monster bent only on death turned into Mannequin. And then, Taylor was good enough at what she did to protect people she has no reason to protect from a Mannequin bent only on death. The man with the tools for the job, his specialty knowledge, failed. Then he failed again, this time when he played the part of the monster and went up against someone who he should have easily been able to beat because in conventional thinking she didn’t have the tools to beat him.

  18. Random question: as of this comment, this chapter has 78 comments, excluding this one; is that a record for Worm?

      • And if you’re wondering who’s commenting the most, distribution of past 1000 comments (2636 to date) puts the top commenters as:
        Wildbow – 183
        Psycho Gecko – 155
        Pinkhair – 99
        Pahan – 59
        Hydrargentium Hg – 44
        mc2rpg – 41
        frozen chicken – 30

        Random numbers, woo!

        • Yes! I made the list! Though clearly I need to work harder if I want to come up with lots more entertaining comments.

          ..Well, no choice then. I’ll just have to contact Bonesaw and get her to sew me and Psycho Gecko together. Some sort of psychotic Gecko/Chicken hybrid.

          ..That would make for an excellent monster in a horror movie.

          • 157, and I’ll try to cut back if it’s a problem for anyone, but wow. I really have a way of moving in and taking over the place. You gonna finish that chicken in the fridge?

          • It’s not so much the quantity as the quality. Any troll or monkey can type “FIRST” in response to a topic and ‘pad their count’. Type cohesively whether for comment or entertainment, and one need not fear that label.

            As far as this ‘The Individual’ I keep coming back to a construct of law called ‘The Rights of the Individual’ and envisioning a mystical bent called ‘The Rites of The Individual’ for some reason. Odd, I know.

            • 78.. a record… that takes me back to the olden days of worm before 20.5 (whose record stood for some time lemme tell you and it took serious awesome to overtake it.)

              Wildbow: still on my personal word yoink project and partial reread and seeing how your style changes over time. from this to pact and the two show the (ongoing) rise of your skill.

  19. I would like Tattletale but I expect with her power it would show way more than you would like us to know right now. She was hurt bad and needs to recover. SadCat

  20. FYI, readers, I’m away for the weekend, not sure about internet access, but very probably won’t have any. Forgive my lack of responses to comments in Saturday’s update (which should go up just fine). Back Sunday night.

  21. What follows is one hundred percent Out Of Character for a few reasons.

    This is perhaps not the best time or place to bring this up, but at 12:30 am, a young gunman, 24 years old, attacked people who were attending a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. He used either smoke or tear gas, was dressed in a gas mask and body armor, and fired on regular people like any of us who were just out for a good time. What I read put the number at 12 people dead and 59 injured. He put up no resistance when arrested, though his residence was booby-trapped with chemical and incendiary devices.

    This is a horrible tragedy, not to be made light of. It will fade from public conciousness for most people, or the emotional impact of what has occured will wear off and we will return to our “out of sight, out of mind” way of thought. In the coming days you’re going to see the Circus start up again. I hope what I’m doing is not any part of it. I just hope to say a few things and preempt a few erroneous assertions that you’ll be hearing soon.

    I’m afraid I won’t have much to say that pays the proper respect to the victims and their loved ones. I lack the words. Just keep in mind that someone like you is suffering through the end of the world even as it moves on around them.

    As someone who writes a villainous protagonist, roleplays as a supervillain, and who likes to occasionally indulge in the very hammy “I’ll show them all!” speech in the privacy of my own home, I always feel I should come out and say something in these circumstances. Whether you call them writers, roleplayers, or whatever, people like me are not the same as that person who plotted and prepared to end the lives of others. Psycho Gecko’s armor does indeed feature a prominent rebreather in City of Heroes. I do try to write him as a legitimately mentally disturbed person, though that’s a delicate thing to attempt. And in one story I had written but never released, he left explosive traps in his apartment in case someone raided it.

    I am also close in age to the gunman.

    Considering my online persona and some similarities between myself and the people who do things like this, I feel the need to step back and make sure everyone knows that I have nothing to do with any of that and no desire to perform such an act. It weighs on me some since I make a very public point of getting right in the mind of a crazed assassin, unlike Wildbow or Jim who have regular people caught up in doing some bad things or who feature villains as a prominent “other” category that the heroes are quite different from. I just want people to know that there’s a big difference between the kind of things I write and the kinds of things I’d actually do or encourage someone to do. No one has the right to shuck the responsibility of their actions by blaming it on a work of fiction.

    Now, I’m nobody to be inspired by, but what you’re all going to hear in the future is that either videogames or the movie itself were the cause of what this guy did. Both are ridiculous. If videogames prompted certain real world behaviors, then the entire industry would have died off in the 1980s with everyone jumping so they could headbutt brick walls. Videogames might serve as a form of enjoyment for people who have mental disorders, but that is secondary to their main goal: entertaining whoever plays.

    I’ve already heard in personal conversation where someone drew comparisons to the shooter’s appearance, with a gas mask and body armor, to Bane from Dark Knight Rises. I will now show you how the man’s behavior and dress actually shows him to have premeditated this entire tragedy. First off, a midnight showing means there are fewer people around a movie theater, meaning fewer people to notice something is up. It also means that those in the movie are excited fans who are less likely to pay attention to some guy preparing something unless he makes a lot of noise. As it was the premier of an anticipated superhero movie, there were also people present in costumes, which made accessing it in that getup all the easier. The gas mask is simply explained because he used gas or smoke and that was a way to keep from being affected like everyone else. The body armor is protection against firearms of both civilians and police. I don’t know why he chose to surrender without resistance given his preparations, but the body armor and booby-trapped apartment suggest he had a more violent end in mind originally.

    This was not just someone with a concealed firearm standing up and shooting in the middle of a movie because he didn’t take his pills that day. It was deliberately plotted out, using the movie as an ideal location to attack and kill a large group of people. The movie was a means to an end and not an inspiration.

    Seeing as he was arrested rather than killed, he will face punishment for his crimes. Some might argue he’s legally unfit to stand trial because of what he did, but insanity is a matter of motive and not actions. His actions show a carefully thought out plan. The responsibility for his actions are on the gunman himself and not on videogames or movies just because someone has a social agenda they want to push. Remember, he chose to do this.

    Now that my miniscule piece is said and was hopefully not a disrespect, return your attention to those who are suffering now.

    Be good, people.

    • Many people who read and comment on a story like this will probably not see why you’d need to make such a statement, Gecko.

      But I definitely understand why you did, and I hope nobody gives you or anyone else grief over this; there’s already far too much grief already, and I know from experience how people lash out at ‘easy targets’ any time something like this happens.

      I’d rather not discuss my own experiences on here, but if you feel the need to talk I’m Pinkhair3d on skype.

  22. Oh wow. This chapter was so awesome. And Mannequin is so ungodly creepy.

    My first thought was ‘Don’t throw them in the ocean, give them to the protectorate to study!’, but then again, if they can be controlled at long distances that would be a bad idea. Don’t want a disembodied head rolling around Protectorate headquarters disembowelling people.

  23. Super-belated, but it still bothers me a bit:

    The swarm consisted of pairings of flying insect and arachnid. Every spider from my lair was clutching a bee, a wasp or a larger dragonfly, who clutched the spider in turn. A thousand pairs.

    These seem to be ‘pairings’ of three animals each. If I’m reading it correctly, I think I would say something like:

    The swarm consisted of pairs of flying insects and arachnids. Every spider from my lair was clutching a bee, a wasp or a larger dragonfly, who clutched the spider in turn. A thousand trios.

  24. ” If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought he was irritated. ” Huh? What does she know better? How does she know he isn’t affected by emotion if the story readers don’t? Why can’t he be irrirated?

    Also what a waste of time, why the fuck would you let one of the slaughterhouse nine go, fucking idiot. She didn’t have to move to kill him she had plenty of bugs so tiredness is not an excuse, and it was already shown a fucking random ordinary with a cinderblock can break through a head. Basically all she did was make it like Mannuquin had sat and watched a tv show instead, she never removed the threat, she pissed him off and let him walk away. Why?!

    • Um…calm down, maybe? She’s uncertain about his emotions because there are few visual tells and none of the normal human ones. Despite his (its?) name, Mannequin has ceased to resemble a human being in many ways, including how he moves. Posture, facial expression, and other aspects of body language are important to communication among humans, and Mannequin’s are all off significantly. He doesn’t talk. The only totally clear communication she’s seen this whole time was the finger-wagging type thing he did. At the same time, she is operating on the belief that he still has emotions, even if they’re twisted; it’s just that they’re difficult to interpret in the middle of a stressful combat situation.

      As for the idea that she screwed up by “letting him go,” Skitter is exhausted and beat up. She may not be cut, but her armor doesn’t completely prevent the transfer of force; I wouldn’t be surprised if she has bruised ribs, sprained ankles, and a host of other injuries. Even if she were in condition to pursue, doing so would be idiotic; she’d likely just end up ambushed by Mannequin and possibly more of the S9. Even with her bugs, Shatterbird and Cherish at least have enough range to pose a major risk that they could surprise her. Additionally, she states in the narration that the silk her spiders have could run out, and there’s also the chance that someone else will hit her territory if she follows Mannequin, or that he’ll double back. Lastly, the way he snuck into her territory unnoticed in the first place suggests that Skitter can’t track Mannequin reliably to begin with, and he can definitely move faster than her.

      On a different note, this is a strong chapter, IMO, both in terms of action and characterization. From what Armsmaster said in the interlude introducing Mannequin, it seems likely that he’s angry at Skitter for trying to make things better in general, and particularly for interfering in the effectiveness of Shatterbird’s opening attack. The S9 have been in town more than long enough to locate her territory, so punishing her makes a certain amount of sense, for Mannequin. It’s great to see Skitter finally getting a chance to step up and defend people the way she always wanted to, and a bit funny to think that if she and Armsmaster met now, after seeing each other face off against Mannequin, they’d probably notice that they had some things in common, like a stubborn unwillingness to give up. I think they could both respect that about each other, under the right circumstances.

      It’s also great to see that normals don’t always let themselves become paralyzed in a world of parahumans. Nameless guy who was willing to step up and fight, I salute you. The Wormverse may be dark and full of terrors, but people like you keep it from being pitch black and starring Vin Diesel.

      Lastly, I’m not entirely sure what to think about getting rid of the two pieces. On the one hand, it could be extremely useful to learn about Mannequin’s systems (and anything Bonesaw might have done to help him out). From that perspective, giving the pieces to either Coil or the PRT for analysis seems like an obvious move. It would also make any tracking devices their problem, and both groups are competent to assess the risks and handle them. On the other hand, there’s no way to be sure that Mannequin can’t just reactivate the pieces any time he wants, so transporting them is extremely dangerous. Getting rid of them as fast as possible seems like the smart play, and I would hesitate to hand Coil anything that might make him more dangerous in the long-term. It’s a tough call to make. Skitter might have made the wrong choice, but if so it’s understandable given her exhaustion. There are arguments for either course of action.


      • I have to agree with rmcd94 – the phrase “If I hadn’t known better” rang false to me too – she has no way of knowing better and it was a weird thing to say.

        As to the other thing, I didn’t get the impression that she *let* him get away. More that she’d fought him to a standstill by throwing everything she had at him and that she had nothing in her arsenal potent enough to stop him in a hurry when he decided to leave. When she said she didn’t have it in her to stop him, I believe she meant that quite literally…

  25. NONONONONO!!! Don’t throw away the arm and head!!! Give them to Lisa so she can- oh. Right. Errr… Give them to Coil so he can have whatever scientists and tinkers he employs check them for exploitable weaknesses?

  26. Even a toddler can rip a thousands strands of spider silk. I mean, I can pull apart a spider web, consisting of hundreds of strands, and I hardly feel the resistance at all. So Manequin comes of as a total weakling here, if you ask me.

    Btw, I was waiting for her to steal Armsmasters knive from Manequin and kill him with it. Maybe another time?

    Lastly, I imagine Manequin looking like the Safeguard Exterminators from “Blame!”, which means I love him.

  27. Mannequin basically sounds like a cross-over between the Clockwork Droid and Handbot from Doctor Who. Perhaps with a dash of Auton.

    About the Clockwork Droid, I quote from the Tardis Data Core:
    “They were equipped with short range teleporters, scanners, tranquillisers and sharp tools within their wrists for part removal. They could also heat themselves if they were frozen and empty unwanted fluids from their system.”

    “The Handbots were approximately six feet tall, white and humanoid. Their hands were their most prominent features, serving many strange and mundane purposes. They use them to manipulate objects such as hypodermic needles, which they carried in their chests and heads. With the aid of synthetic, organic skin grafted onto their hands, they were used for sensory perception, “seeing” with their fingers. This form of sight was so potent that Handbots could see the types of bacteria on a person. The eponymous hands also held anaesthetic transfer: one touch was all it took to send someone to sleep in moments.

    Handbots communicated to a degree with the patients, but lacked any kind of intelligence. If a person’s reply to a Handbot did not match an “acceptable” reply, the statement would be rejected and the handbot would continue any course of action it deemed appropriate … however, they were slow moving and they were easily knocked out by blunt or sharp force.”

    Emphasis on the sensory perception. Anyway, he’s a creepy motherfucker.

    Also, does Imp have some sort of perception filter going on? As her power??

  28. Taylor’s ability to analyze, evaluate motivations and methods, parse the situation and run though a vast quantity of options and decisions in a very compressed timeframe in the midst of battle seems to grow exponentially with each showdown. ALMOST unbelievably so, but you sell it anyway!

    Cocoon the batshit crazy, ceramic-encased Meccano-boy? Well, sure!
    Sorry — this one bit did jerk me out of the story momentarily.
    “I controlled my breathing to keep my dinner down.”
    When the fuck has she had time for DINNER in the last, oh, 24 hours?!?!
    Try “gorge” instead — less likely to cause that jar, I think.

  29. Throw them in the ocean?
    It should be explained if her injuries are causing this obvious lapse in intelligence.
    That annoys me.
    Still it was a fantastic read. I need to put it down for a minute. Been reading for like 5 hours straight. XD

    • Don’t hurt yourself!

      Also, tinker tech can have trackers, and Mannequin has friends. Gotta get rid of that stuff, and the ocean’s the nearest available target.

  30. ” I tried to blink a blurry spot out of my vision, only to realize I had a scratch on the right lens of my mask where I’d hit it with the knife’s edge.”

    err, that lens should have exploded a while ago. i was wondering why she didn’t remove her mask before shatterbird hit, with her lenses being so close to her eyes and other stuff she doesn’t want exploding.

    • She took the lenses out a few chapters ago, when she warned her dad to remove his glasses as well. She’s been wearing contacts.
      I was confused by this line for this reason but I guess you can still call the eyeholes of the mask “lenses” even though the glass has been removed.

      • The eye covering of her mask was made from a set of swim goggles (outer, plastic) and a pair of glasses lenses (inner; maybe plastic, maybe glass). She removed the inner lenses and started wearing contacts in preparation for Shatterbird, but she still has the goggles covering her eyes, so they’re not fully exposed. The goggles lens is what got scratched in the quoted passage.

    • Someone said he was a Chekhov’s gunman.

      Spoilers (too lazy to hide)
      He eventually gets nominated by Charlotte or Sierra
      Brockton Bay gets a Tagg

  31. Ugh, Taylor’s self-blaming syndrome putting a dampener on an otherwise fairly good (if suspension-of-disbelief-stretching, what with how Mannequin is a 9ft trained fighter with an advanced mechanical body and armed to the teeth with lethal weaponry, yet still failing to deal with Taylor in a matter of seconds) chapter.

  32. why didn’t she take armsmasters knife? That all on it’s own would have made this a win even if she hadn’t managed to damage either of his two sections and lost more people… That knife carried by her buggs? It could end him by punching through his chest cavity as you’d attempted with armsmaster himself. Pity she never went back to retrieve the Halberd.

  33. Oooo tossing one of the defeated Nine’s tech in the ocean. I might of made a donation to Dragon or Armmaster to see if they could find a weakness. Hell hath no fury like a mannequins scorn.

  34. Why did he leave?

    Yeah, he was a little gummed up, a bit more wobbly than usual, and yeah, he was missing a limb or two, but he also had a nanotech blade that could have cut her in half with one swipe. He could have ended her right there, but instead he decided to leave. Why?

    • I think part of it is the intimidation factor. The Nine really go for a combination of ambush tactics and shock-and-awe. Sure he still probably could’ve won but he was badly enough injured that it was now a status thing. Skitter got enough hits in that it was no longer a curb stomp battle which is a blow to his ego and the Nine’s rep so he’d come back later fully healed and beat her so badly that no one would ever dare think he had actually lost a battle.

      Plus she actually was doing very good. He is one of the people who is more or less Skitter’s worst match up. He has so few things that the bugs can get into or even damage that the simple fact she managed to both survive and take off some of his limbs might have actually gotten him a slightly worried.

  35. This needs to not only be made into an official series of books, but i want to see it as a movie or show of some sort, then again that could also just ruin it, but its just so good ;_;

  36. “In that respect, perhaps, he and I weren’t so different. I’d developed in much the same ways. The difference was that he had years more experience. That, and he was batshit insane.” Great quote 😀

    Also, a few editing things:

    “My focus -Mannequin’s focus- would be on designing way to make himself a completely closed system.” Those should be double quotes, separated from the words by spaces, so “my focus — Mannequin’s focus — would be…”.

    “Unless he didn’t want to put all his items in one basket.” I would change that to “all his eggs in one basket”. I don’t see much reason to change the original phrase unless it’s a pun or something.

  37. Basically what I gathered from this fight is that one of those foam gun things the PRT uses would easily defeat Mannequin.

    • 1: unless you have precognition or super reflexes he moves to fast to be hit by a foam gun (he was moving slow to taunt skitter, his mistake. but he would not do that with someone who has the fore mentioned powers)
      2: he; as a tinker, likely has an EMP device on him somewhere which could disable said foam guns
      other than that, its great to see other people still commenting 🙂

    • If I remember correctly, we’ve already seen lots of characters slower than Mannequin dodge that foam. The spider silk was harder to dodge because it covered a larger area.

      That having been said, I do agree that this chapter made Mannequin look too weak, because Taylor shouldn’t have been able to spar with him so easily. If it were up to me, I would have added a hero to the mix somehow. Someone with good defensive abilities who could slow the fight down while Skitter hatches a plan.

  38. This chapter really highlights something Lisa mentioned back in her interlude; that Rachel may be better at user her power than she herself is. If Rachel can process info like this normally, just imagine what she’d be like with Lisa’s power…

  39. Tossing the head in the ocean instead of asking if anyone wants to take a look at it? Well, you can’t be too paranoid when dealing with the Slaughterhouse 9, I suppose…

    • I think she decided it wasn’t worth the risk without having a Tinker to deal with booby-traps and tracking devices.

      • For instance, if I were Mannequin I’d have my teammate Bonesaw give me a few vials of deadly pathogens that would be released if my non-essential limbs were ever cracked open. My sealed environment tinkerteck makes me one hundred percent immune to this backfiring (if my important shells are cracked open I’ll be killed anyway do to introduction of normal pathogens), and Bonesaw’s work means even the rest of my team is safe (assuming I care about them at all).

  40. «I landed hard on my back, my armor absorbing the brunt of the impact.» her armor was never described as having padding to absorb falls like this. The small packet described at her Dad’s makes it sound like it’s still a thin chitin plate, not the rollerblading pads she planned on adding later. Her spine armor would prevent knives from going through but a solid hard plate actually transmits a forceful blow.

  41. «Mannequin reached out to extend a blade into the back of her leg, and she fell, but someone else hurried forward to help her.» what’s the intended antecedent of “her”? Because it doesn’t make sense referring back to the subject, Mannequin.

  42. «it barely impacted my breathing» you mean it barely *affected* my breathing, puh-leese! “impact” as a VERB means “to crush together”. Even the improper verbing of the noun “a profound influence” is wrong as it’s the opposite of profound—it is slight.

  43. « A wave of pressure and heat killed off every bug and likely most of the gunk I’d managed to smear inside.» what does it mean to kill the gunk? The bugs were already dead, and dead or alive there’s foriegn matter in the mechanisms.

  44. «He was apparently able to sense my bugs on the floor, floating in the air.» huh? The bugs on the floor were floating — doesn’t make sence. *He* was floating? No, he’s standing with one arm on the ground too.

  45. The first time I read this it blew me away.
    Second time? It clearly.points to a certain point in the future, regarding.skitters methods…
    Doubly Great.chapter.

  46. “The man who’d helped me with Mannequin had the concrete block in his hand, and for the third time, be brought it down on Mannequin’s head.”
    “be” instead of “he” typo.

  47. Seriously how much this costume is supposed to block is ridiculous. If it would be 5cm thick, okay but not if it´s only a thin costume.
    And I highly doubt that spiders have that much webbing.

    Why she is throwing away the arm… I don´t get it. Would be better to learn from it.

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