Plague 12.8

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I hadn’t actually slept in for a long, long time.  It was not the start I wanted for my day.

I’d been too tired to sleep, I hadn’t been able to get my thoughts to slow down, and I hadn’t been able to resist just one more check of my territory to ensure people were safe and sound.  Compounding it all were my injuries, which did an excellent job of jolting me from the twilight of almost-sleep any time I moved the wrong way or shifted position.  When daylight had started to stream in through the slits in the metal shutters, I’d pulled a pillow over my head and tried to get just a few hours more.

If I wound up having to face down Mannequin or any other members of the Nine, I’d need to be well rested.  Running on two or three hours of sleep would get me killed.

It sure didn’t feel like the added sleep I got made any difference.

My injuries and the general aches from running barefoot and fighting Mannequin had all melded together into one giant, stiff bruise.  It would be easier to name the parts of me that didn’t hurt.  My chest was the worst, each of my breaths drawing a stab of pain from the lowermost ribs of the right side of my body.  It took me two tries to get up from my bed and stand.

A quick investigation showed that bruises had spread across my abdomen, yellow and blue.  Some careful prodding showed that the tissues beneath the bruises weren’t rigid or particularly tender.  That meant there was no serious internal bleeding, if I was remembering right.

If this kept up, I was going to need another go at the first aid courses, to refresh my memory on the particulars and brush up on my skills.  February felt so very long ago.  So much had happened in the last few months.

Shuffling over to my bathroom, I groaned quietly at the sight of the shards of mirror and shower door that were carpeting the floor.  I made my way back to my room and put on some slippers, grabbed a shirt I didn’t care much about and dropped it on the bathroom floor.  I kicked it around enough to get the worst of the shards out of the way, brushed the glass out of the shower and onto the tiled floor, and then cranked the shower on.  The water pressure wasn’t even half of what it should be, and it was cold.  It didn’t warm up over the thirty seconds I stood there holding my hand under the flow.

I jumped in anyways, in the hopes of waking myself up and getting my hair wet enough that I could make myself look somewhat presentable.  I knew from experience that not washing my hair had a way of making it frizz out hardcore.  Not that I’d be able to tell, with every mirror within a thousand miles in pieces.

I dried off, put on my contacts, combed my dripping-wet hair into place, and stepped back into my slippers to navigate through the sea of glass shards and head back to my bedroom to dress.

My TV, laptop and phone were all useless.  There was no way to get information on recent events.  I couldn’t call the others, couldn’t check the news for details on the events of the past night, couldn’t even know if I’d managed to save anyone when I’d been waking them and leaving messages.  I was left to expect the worst, and it soured my already iffy mood.

I made my way downstairs, unlocking the door that led between the second and third floors.  The second floor was relatively unscathed – the metal shutter had kept the floor-to-ceiling windows from sending their contents indoors, and the terrariums were hard plastic rather than glass.  Knowing Shatterbird was in town, I’d been reluctant to spend much time in a room with sixty or seventy sturdy glass cases, and I was glad to have one less room to clean.  Still, there was no shortage of mess.

Sierra and Charlotte were downstairs, talking at the kitchen counter.  They fell silent as I appeared.

They didn’t speak as I walked over to the cupboard.  Tea.  Tea, maybe some toasted breakfast pitas, some bacon, an egg…

Opening the cupboard, my hopes of having a solid breakfast to start my day were dashed. Bottles of spices that had been on the same shelf as the teabags had exploded, sending their contents and countless glass shards throughout the cupboard.  The cupboard reeked of cinnamon and cumin and various peppers.  They weren’t the only casualties there.  Bottles of cooking supplies had exploded on the upper shelves, and their contents had settled overnight, most of it pooling on the shelves in layers of congealed liquid that were thick with the needle-thin particles of shattered glass.

I looked at the pair of them.  Neither spoke, and Charlotte even looked away.

I hated this.  Hated feeling flawed, knowing they saw me that way.  Being bruised, sore and stiff, I was visibly mortal to them.  I hadn’t been able to stop Mannequin from hurting bystanders, or protect and warn my people about Shatterbird.  How were they supposed to respect me as someone in charge?  Sierra was even older than I was.

Well, I’d have to make use of them anyways.  My focus on the cupboards and the damage inside, I asked, “Charlotte, you up for a job?”

“Yeah,” she said, behind me.  When I glanced back at her, she looked away again.  I knew I’d taken some hits, but did I look that bad?

“It’s a bit of a walk, but I need to get up to date on events.  You’ll be going to the territory of a guy named Regent.  He’s a friend, and it’s close.  Tell him about the Mannequin incident, tell him I’m alive, and get details on what happened to Tattletale and the father.”

“The father?”

“He should know what I mean.”

“Okay.”  She met my eyes as she responded.  Better.   I wrote the address down for her, then watched as she headed off to pull on her shoes and make her way off to the cellar exit.

“And me?” Sierra asked.

“Go to the basement, get a box of supplies, and bring it up.  There should be a propane stove in there.  Cook up some rice, and then start cleaning out the cupboards.  Wear gloves, and focus on picking out the stuff we can keep from the stuff that needs to be thrown out.  Use the box from the supplies to hold some of the extra trash if you need to.”


I walked over to the corner to find a broom and dustpan.

“You’re cleaning up too?”

“Yeah.  You were at the hospital last night, right?  How did things go?”

“Nobody listened to me at first when I tried to warn them.  It was only when Battery showed up at the hospital and confirmed that the Slaughterhouse Nine were around that people started trying to prepare, but there wasn’t a lot we could do in those ten minutes.  There were a lot of people in the hospital, and a lot of equipment, monitors and displays, lots of windows.  Everyone who could got under their beds, and people put mattresses against the windows in rooms where there were people who couldn’t move.”

“But they were okay?”

“Most?” Sierra frowned. “I couldn’t really tell.  It was chaotic, lots of people running around, equipment failing.  Battery tried to grab me to ask me how I knew what was happening, and I used the chaos to slip away, spent the rest of the night in my parent’s room, hoping she wouldn’t spot me.”

“And they’re okay?  Your parents?”

“They’re okay.”

I smiled a little.  “Well, that’s good.”

She smiled back.  “You know, you’re not what I expected.”

“I’m not what expected, frankly,” I said.  I turned my attention back to the cabinet, found the dustpan and stood up.

“That reminds me-”  She paused.  “Nevermind.”

“Say it.”

“It wasn’t last night, but I overheard something at the hospital.  Something involving you and Armsmaster?”

I sighed, suddenly reminded of how weary I felt.  I saw her expression fall.  She said, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“No.  It’s fine.  What did you hear?”

“That you betrayed your team, and that you’d wanted to be a hero but, um,” she paused, “Couldn’t?”

She’d changed her mind about how she was going to finish speaking.  What had she left out, and had she stopped herself from saying it for my sake or for her own self-preservation, not wanting to piss off the villain?  I wanted to be a hero and I failed?

Given recent events, I wasn’t sure I could blame her for thinking along those lines.

“No, that’s not exactly right,” I responded.  “Long story short, once upon a time, I wanted to be one of the good guys.”

“What happened?”

“Took me a while, but I decided I’d rather have the likes of Tattletale and Grue at my back instead of siding with the sort of people who follow Armsmaster.”

“Really, Armsmaster?  Is he that bad?”

“Bad enough that Mannequin wants him to be the ninth member of their group.”

Sierra’s eyes widened.

I figured I wouldn’t mention that two of my teammates, including the one I’d sent Charlotte to meet, had also been nominated.  Regent had only been nominated out of spite, and Bitch… I wasn’t sure what the story was there.  “I’m going to be upstairs, cleaning up the balcony and the other rooms.  Give me a shout when the rice is done, or if you find anything breakfast-ish that’s edible.”


I headed up to my bathroom and began to sweep up.  I deployed bugs to help me find the shards that the broom wasn’t catching.

I occupied myself with my other bugs as well.  I went out of my way to avoid using the spiders I’d employed to fight Mannequin, drawing from bugs in the streets and surrounding area instead.  I sent the weakest, smallest and most useless of the bugs to my spiders for a morning meal, then fed the non-spiders who were a little less reliant on protein.  With the other nearby bugs, I started collecting the smallest pieces of glass throughout the house.

The uncertainties of the day, the worries about Lisa and Dad, having my routine disrupted and the spoiling of my breakfast and morning shower had put me in a bad mood.  It would have been nice to say that it made me feel better, getting things in order again, and it did, but it wasn’t a cure-all nor was it a perfect distraction.  There was no way I could relax with the things I had hanging over my head.

Doing this felt like I wasn’t doing something to help Dinah.

Once I finished the bathroom, I tidied my room and opened the shutters on the windows.  Glass that had fallen against the shutter sloughed off to the second floor balcony, with stray shards falling onto the hardwood.  My bugs obligingly fetched them up for me.

Reams of glass shards fell as I opened the heavy shutters that stood just behind the pedestals with the mannequins I was using to design the costumes.  I stepped out onto the balcony and set about sweeping up the glass and dumping it into the trash can, using my bugs to collect what the dustpan wasn’t catching.  I wasn’t in costume, and I was in plain sight on the balcony, but I doubted the concentration of bugs was enough to draw attention.

Ten minutes passed before I heard from Sierra.  I assumed it would be about the food, but it wasn’t.

“Skitter!  You’ve got company!”

Every bug I had in the cabinets and corners of the room streamed forth to check the intruder, my thoughts immediately shifting into a combat mode.  What escape routes did I have?  Could I help Sierra if there was trouble?  What tools and weapons did I have on hand?

The second my bugs settled on the intruder and felt that familiar emanation of outward pressure, like a faint breeze, I calmed down.  I felt a mite embarrassed as I made my way downstairs to greet Grue.

“Christ, T- Skitter!” he exclaimed, the second he saw me.


“Your, um-” he gestured at Sierra shaking his hand, agitated.

“Employee?”  I suggested.

“Your employee just informed me that you fought Mannequin last night?


“Are you suicidal!?”

“He’s not that strong,” I said, defensively.  “I mean, scary as fuck, he’s strong, but he was beatable.”

“Do you not recall the very specific numbers we got on our chances against these guys?  Fifty-five percent chance we die if we fight them!”

“There were people in danger.  My people.  I thought a forty-five percent chance of survival was worth the risk.”

He tapped his finger against the forehead of his helmet.  I could almost make out the noise through the thin emanation of his power.  “Could you ask your employee to give us some privacy?”

“I can go for a walk,” Sierra said.

“Thank you,” I told her, “I’ll signal you with my power when we’re done.”

My heart was speeding up just a bit as we waited for her to leave.  I distracted myself by limping over to the propane stove that was positioned on the countertop and checking the rice.  There were containers and boxes of food arranged on the counter that Sierra had apparently checked and deemed edible.  Nothing especially good for breakfast.

As the door closed behind Sierra, I hugged my arms against my body and said, “Please don’t tell me you asked her to leave because you have bad news about Lisa or my dad.”

Grue pulled off his helmet and the darkness dissipated around his head.  It was Brian’s frowning face I saw, now.  “Your dad is fine.  He was already fully checked out and sent home.  Lisa is… less fine.”

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s not life threatening.  I just don’t know if it’s hit her yet.  Coil’s doctor stitched her up, but he told her to expect a scar.  I don’t know if it’s shock, the blood loss, or if it’s that she hasn’t seen herself in a mirror, but she doesn’t seem to care.  Cracking jokes, even.  Isn’t- is it sexist of me to wonder why a girl doesn’t care more about her looks being spoiled?”

“It’s easily possible she does care,” I said.  I was thinking back to her interactions with our enemies in fights.  In particular, our run-ins with Glory Girl and Panacea during the bank robbery and Jack Slash last night seemed to stand out.  “I think maybe she handles stress and problems by throwing herself headlong against them.  It’s how she operates in costume, against serious threats and unexpected situations.  There’s a word I’m trying to pin down, it’s not reckless, but-”

“I think reckless may be a very good word to choose,” Brian replied.

“No.  It’s…” I reached for the word and couldn’t find it.  I was too tired, and my brain wasn’t really in that gear.

“I’m surprised, sometimes, at how much attention you pay to us.  You seemed to have Rachel down cold, and your description of Lisa seems pretty apt.  Makes me wonder how you’ve analyzed me.”

“I’m not all that.  Really.  There are exceptions, but dealing with people isn’t my thing,” I said.  Feeling awkward, I distracted myself with the rice, taking it off the propane stove and scooping some out into a bowl.  Holding the pot, I pulled at the wrong muscle and felt my rib protest.  I winced, and I wasn’t able to hide it.

Noting my pain, Brian commented, “I can’t help but worry you’re self destructing, Taylor.  You can’t go up against the Nine to protect people you don’t even know.”

“I can.  I’ll manage.”

“How much sleep did you get last night?”

“Dunno.  Two or three hours, but I slept in.  What time is it?”


“Maybe four hours?”

“You’re going to run yourself into the ground at this rate.  Or get yourself killed.  Take your time.  Go on the defensive, tell your people to stay out of trouble and avoid drawing the Nine’s attention, rest.  You can work on this territory thing over the next few weeks, instead of days.”

I shook my head, “I can’t.”

“Right.  Just like you rejected Hookwolf’s suggestion that our groups take a break.  I won’t say that hearing you muttering to yourself was the entire reason I refused his offer, or even half the reason, but it was a factor, and I think I deserve answers for going up to bat for you.  What’s going on?”

“I made a deal with Coil.”

Brian folded his arms, much as I was doing.  “What deal?”

“He said that if I can prove my services are worth it, he’ll release Dinah.”

Brian shook his head.  “No.  There’s got to be more to it.  You’ve been distant, driven, and you’ve done some very un-Taylor-like things in the past few weeks.”

I ate some of the plain brown rice.  Could I tell him?

“There is more to it.  Lisa and I talked it over after the Endbringer thing.  She doesn’t like the Dinah situation either, even if she’s more willing to roll with it.”

“Right.  Just for the record, I’m not in love with the kidnapping and confinement of some kid, either.”

I nodded.  “So Lisa suggested the deal.  But knowing Coil, and from what Lisa says, and from the way Coil framed it when I posed the deal to him and just my gut, I- we don’t think he’s going to let her go.”

“No, I don’t think he would.  Her talents are too valuable for him.  But that doesn’t explain your attitude lately.”

I shook my head.  “I-”

I stopped and raised one hand.  Sierra was outside, not too far away, and there was a small group of people around her.  What had gotten my attention was the fact that she was tapping her finger against the origami cube.  She’d wanted to signal me without doing anything overt, maybe.  Or without my calling a swarm down to her location.

“-Something’s going on outside.  Come with?”

Brian nodded.

I headed upstairs and got my costume on in record time.  I couldn’t help but note how dusty it was from last night’s encounter, and how the one arm was still crusty with old containment foam.  It was torture to actually get my limbs into the legs and sleeves and zip up, and to contort myself to attach my armor.  Especially doing it quickly.  I ended up enlisting Brian’s help with the armor at my shoulders and back.

I could feel Sierra’s steady but insistent tapping on the cube all the while.

They were a short distance down the beach, but they started walking towards us a little bit after we entered the storm drain, and met us halfway.

Sierra was in the company of a pair of Japanese boys and a petite Chinese girl with a pierced nose and a thousand-yard stare.  There was a degree of attitude coming from them that was all too familiar.  Gang members.  Of course.  Just because Lung and Bakuda were no longer around didn’t mean there wouldn’t be scraps of the ABB in the area.  They wouldn’t be liked, but they were there, they were equipped for trouble and criminal activity was all they knew.

“Sorry to interrupt your business meeting,” Sierra said, looking from me to Grue.

“It’s fine.  What’s going on here?”  I controlled the tone of my voice.  They didn’t seem too fazed by this encounter with two supervillains.  Were they veterans of Lung’s rule?  Or Bakuda’s?

A Japanese guy with a mop of hair covering his eyes and a bad slouch looked from Sierra to me and spoke in a very American accent, “You still looking for muscle?”

He didn’t look like he had much muscle, but I wasn’t about to comment on that.  If nothing else, I was a little too stunned at what he was offering to say anything witty.  “Pretty much.”

“We heard you took on Mannequin,” the girl said.  “That’s ballsy.”

“Thanks,” I said, in my driest tone.  Stupid as it was, that statement meant something to me.  Nobody had really congratulated me since my fight with Mannequin.  I hadn’t congratulated myself.  It was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that they respected me for what had happened with Mannequin.  A victory was a victory, but people had gotten hurt, I’d gotten hurt.

The second Japanese guy spoke up.  He was in his early twenties and his accent was thick enough that I didn’t realize he was speaking English at first.  He pronounced ‘girl’ more like ‘gurru’. “Other day, girl was knocking on neighbor’s door, talking about you.  Said you was good boss.  Nice, generous, fair.  But we think that means you weak, before, not so much of that now.”

I shook my head slowly.  “No.  I’m not weak.”

“We know you has trouble with Lung and ABB before.  Not friendly.  But they gone, we still here.”

“You should know this isn’t about preying on the people in my territory.  Just the opposite.  If you’re looking for an excuse to bully the people around here, you’re in the wrong place.  The only people we fuck with are our enemies.”

There were nods from all three.

“No starting violence, no drug dealing, no prostitution, no threatening people, and no drug use or drinking unless it’s a hundred percent limited to your own time.”

A look passed between the two boys.  Which of my points had given them that momentary hesitation?  Still, they nodded again.

“Do you guys have a place?”

“Nah,” said shaggy-hair.

“Come on,” I said.

I led them to the nearest spot to get from the beach to the old Boardwalk, and into the Docks.

I had our destination in mind.  During my stay in the area, nobody had occupied it.  A thorough check of the structure found no splintering supports or framework, and there was no crumbling masonry.

I opened the doors and strode inside, followed by the new members and Sierra.  Grue followed at the tail end of our group.

The square building had been a garage for the biggest sorts of trucks or for boats, and sported three sliding metal garage doors, only one of which still opened.  A cargo container sat in the back corner.  I had my suspicions that boxes of recyclables had been piled up along the walls when Leviathan’s wave hit.  Now, scraps of metal, paper and other trash littered the floor inside until the floor was barely visible.  “If you’re really interested in joining, you can start by cleaning this place up.”

“Why?” the girl asked.

“If my say-so isn’t good enough-”

“No,” she raised her hands to stop me.  “Just… can’t I know what the point is?”

“I want you somewhere accessible.  This is close to my command center, it’s dry, it took a hit from a tidal wave and it’s still in remarkably good shape, and it’s spacious enough to serve our purposes.  At least to start off.”

“Can I ask what they are?”

I looked around, and it was Grue I looked at while I spoke.  “Having everyone in the Docks spread out like this, over this wide an area?  It’s a problem.  We’ve got single families living in warehouses and factories that could comfortably house three to five families, and they’re dealing with problems that we could handle far more easily as a group.  And there’s the logistics of it, getting supplies to everyone when there’s only three to six groups of people on a given city block.  I want to bring people from the fringes in, so we’re not so spread out.  Get everyone working for the collective good.  Build a community and tie everything to a smaller area.”

“There’s going to be resistance,” Grue spoke.  “People aren’t going to want to move, and they’re too spooked about run-ins with Chosen and Merchants to trust one another.”

“If-” Sierra started, but she stopped when Grue snapped his head around to face her, intimidated.  She tried again, “If she’s going to try it, now would be a good time.  Word’s getting out.”

“About what, specifically?” I asked.

“You fought Mannequin, you said you’d make him pay, and then you did.  And you did it to save people, people from the docks.  I think people are realizing you’re for real.”

I couldn’t think of a response to that, and nobody volunteered anything further.  Instead, I said, “Come on, let’s get to work.”

It wasn’t the nicest of jobs, but my new employees worked without complaint.  Or, to be more specific, the girl and shaggy-hair complained often but they didn’t direct those complaints at me or the job, specifically.

Since the usual means of communication were out, and it might be some time before cell phone towers were out, I’d have to use messengers to pass word on to Coil.  I began explaining what I planned to do with the space to Sierra, outlining the need for bunk beds, a cafeteria or kitchen and an area for people to sit.  The area wasn’t a quarter of the size of Lisa’s shelter, but it was a refuge, maybe.  A place where people could congregate and get some peace.  And, ideally, it could be a barracks for my soldiers.

I instructed my new employees to stack the crates of trash outside the door.  I stayed outside with Sierra and Grue when they went back in to get more.

“You’re going to have to watch those ones,” Grue said.

“I know.  Listen, I want to send Sierra down to meet the boss, pass on word about stuff I need.  Can you escort her part of the way?”

“Sure,” he said.

“If you’re willing, Sierra?  I know it’s somewhat dangerous to cross the city, and our groups don’t control all of the territory between here and there.  I could send one of those guys with you.  Bit of a walk, though.  Maybe forty-five minutes both ways.”

“No, I can go alone, if it’s not too bad.”

“Good,”  I said.  I turned my head to see a trio of young men who were approaching us.

It took the one in the lead a bit of courage before he could approach me.

“Yes?” I asked, when he didn’t speak.

“We were remembering how some girl was saying you were recruiting, the other day.”

“I was and I am.”  My heart was pounding.  Why was this happening now, when it had met with only resistance earlier?

“Don’t want to do anything illegal.”

“Not asking you to.  You okay with starting with some clean-up?”

He looked at his buddies -or were they brothers?- and nodded.

“Sierra here will tell you what needs to be done.  Put in a good effort and I’ll pay you at the end of the day.”  My thoughts were on the small safe that I was using as a bedside table.

His eyes widened slightly at that.  “Mind if I go and get my cousin?  He’ll be interested too.”

“Go.”  I ordered, and Sierra led two of them inside while the leader of the newest group ran off at a half-jog.

“Seems like you started something,” Grue said, when the last of them were out of earshot.

I shook my head.  “I don’t even understand how.”

“Still think you’re moving too fast.  Like I said earlier, there’s no good reason for it.”

“Dinah’s a good enough reason for me.”

“Maybe.  But you’ve got to find time to relax, get some sleep, maybe have some fun.  Or you’re going to make mistakes, and you’ll set yourself back days or weeks in your plan.  Slow and steady wins this race.”

“Can’t afford slow and steady,” I said.

Why?  You were telling me earlier, but we got interrupted.”

I’d been glad for the interruption, and I was profoundly disappointed the subject had come up again.  I folded my arms and looked away, down the road to where it gradually sloped to the shattered Boardwalk and the ocean beyond.

Here was the leap of faith.  The test of my trust in him.  “Because if I don’t amaze Coil, if I don’t force his hand and give him absolutely no reason to say I failed… he’s going to keep Dinah.  If he does, the only way to free her is going to be if Tattletale and I take Coil down.  And I don’t think we’d succeed.”

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66 thoughts on “Plague 12.8

  1. It sounds like the whole reputation thing is finally paying of for Taylor, but I can’t help but feel that her current good fortune is just setting hr for some greater fall later. Not only appear people now to expect her to pull something like the last fight off again if they are attacked and will react badly if she performs worse, but she will also sooner or later have some personal management problems. Some of those who hire on as a minion for a supervillain will expect a certain management style and Taylors unwillingness to become a psychotic despot might be seen as a weakness.

    The tags for this chapter made me chuckle. Are the names for Accent, Bro1, Bro2, Bro3, Nosering and Shaggy just placeholders? If they are going to be recurring characters as the tags seems to indicate they probably deserve more than that.

    This chapter also again showed the sort of overcritically insecurity that Taylor has. She does not realize how much she has achieved and how awesome others think she is, she just sees where she is lacking and where she still needs to improve.

    With all the injuries and aches piling up now would be a perfect time for Panacea to wander into her territory looking for protection and a place to stay, but I doubt our heroine/villainess will be that lucky.

  2. Holy shit. *That* was the understanding she reached with Lisa? I’m beginning to think Taylor must have something other than bug powers going on. Of course, it may be nothing more supernatural than being a primary protagonist. But still. Holy unprintable.

    • Personally, I’ve been expecting something like this. Given the way she was thinking at the end of the last “book,” simply rejoining the Undersiders and working for Coil to help put the city back together didn’t seem like enough of a motivation.

      Working to save Dinah to the point that she’s willing to take Coil on (effectively infiltrating his group with the intent to turn on him) fits better.

      She’s done it before. Maybe it will work out better this time.

  3. Taylor’s inability to tie beating Mannaquin to her sudden success at recruitment seems very weird. Especially when one of the Asians pretty much flat out said it.

    • Actually, it isn’t. Right now Taylor is probably suffering through some level of shock from either her injuries or the fact she’s still alive in addition to the fact that she is probably bearing a good ol’ helping of ‘survivor’s guilt’–she did EVERYTHING she could to help ‘her’ people and… a bunch still died. This is not necessarily the sort of thing someone with a low self-esteem may be quite ready to handle. And when one is good at something, but one is more focused on ever more results, but doesn’t *think* one is good at something, it takes more than just some words to point out *how* good one is.

      As far as it goes with her ‘new muscle’, she may have inadvertently won points with them by pointing out that they are part of a community if they sign on with her. Some cultures are very ‘community’ oriented and if one can appeal to that very basic sense they are somewhat easier to sway into a sphere of influence (See ABB, the 999, etc for previous examples in the stories) Some may even know that she was the one that *really* messed up Lung, and other situations, and the fact she’s visibly showing such ‘modesty’ can be a very frightening thing–if she doesn’t show a lot of extreme emotion that’s another marker of a ‘leader/superior’ in some cultures.

      And she has a plan and she keeps moving. If she’s not careful, she could end up contesting with Coil for power accidentally.

      • She’s got a long way to go before her power could interfere with Coils’. Communications being down are going to limit any power beyond earshot for a while anyway.

        I don’t know how other cultures/subcultures would take it, but over here Taylor’s words & attitude would likely be read as saying Mannequin wasn’t such a big badass really. I’m sure it’s just shock/low self esteem in character. If people in the Wormverse are very much impressed by Mannequins badassness it’ll boost hers, if he’s just one of a hundred or more villains at the same level whom people would be aware of then not so much.

  4. “In the hopes of waking myself up and getting my hair wet enough that I could make myself look somewhat presentable. ” is missing something.

    “Sierra to me ans spoke in a very American accent, “You still looking for muscle?”” Only used part of the sentence, but ans should be and.

    I personally dislike the whole “kindness and generosity means weakness” thing, but I do see how some people make that mistake. It implies that one is giving up something to avoid conflict. Like appeasing the Nazis rather than risking them doing something crazy like invading France.

    A little too late for me to remember or look up which tribe, but I remember some indigenous group would occasionally have a chief or elder or something show off his wealth and power by holding a huge feast and giving gifts away. That he had that much to give away was itself a sign of power, and others would have to invite him to similar events and give him even more wealth to try and surpass him. I’m also unable to remember whatever tribe stated that a poor man shames them all, the idea being that a truly wealthy group would be able to keep all of its members well enough off. They wouldn’t be so poor in resources (or morals) to leave one to fend for his or herself.

    Heck, think of one of the most beloved figures we know of that isn’t weak. I’m talking, of course, about Santa Claus. You fuck with Santa, you better be ready to bring it to the ends of the earth, because no one’s letting you get away with it. You’re gonna have grannies hopping up from rocking chairs to snap their dentures off on your ass. Tiny Tim will headbutt you right in the balls. And that’s without taking the future Robot Santa into account. Or his friends Kwanzaa Bot or the Hanukkah Zombie. And Zoidberg!

    Oh yeah, that’s right, being generous also tends to mean you’ve got a lot of people who are either used to you being nice or enjoy enough to help you out. Or it should be that way, anyway.

    I need sleep.

    • I think that you’re talking about the Klallam people in Portland, OR. Really, though an ostentatious display of wealth in the form of lavish gifts and/or feasts is actually a part of just about every culture that I know about.
      Here’s the Wikipedia entry on the gift economy:
      Note that people tend to move toward this method when they know each other well (for example, family members don’t keep track of favors done for each other or ask for payment, divorces notwithstanding).

    • The gift-giving custom to which you are referring is called “potlatch” ( It was practiced by numerous tribes indigenous to the west coast of Canada and the northern US. In essence, it is the same thing as modern-day conspicuous consumption, proving how awesome and successful you are by showing that you have money/resources to burn. It’s also kinda the same as the Maori chiefs liking their wives to be really fat — showing they are so successful they can afford to let their wives overconsume by thousands of calories as day.

      On this topic, did anyone here ever read Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol? In one arc, he takes Potlatch to a whole new level, showing two groups of super-powerful extra-dimensionals ultimately destroying everything that makes them powerful in a frenzy of “I have so much power, I can afford to destroy THIS” one-up-manship. (Well that’s the gist of it, anyway.) If you really want to read whacked-out (yet still intelligent) superhero comics, definitely check out that run.


      • Actually, the whole thing about liking your wives fat was pretty common in Europe too. Your ideal wife should be pale and fat. Fat because it meant her family had a lot of money to be able to eat so much more than other people, and pale because it meant she had enough servants that she didn’t need to go into the sun that often. To be fair, those same qualities showed men to be a good catch as well.

        Amusingly, this means that the group of people best suited to survive in medieval times would be the “stereotypical” nerd (though the stereotype is becoming outdated). They’d appear to be a good marriage prospect, still probably be in better health than the average person, know more than any of the natives to that time (including how to stay in good health when the bubonic plague starts to spread), and some of them have studied up on tactics, weapons, armor, and the history of that time.

        Maybe the only real problem would be if they were Jewish or Muslim.

  5. This chapter is really nailing in the effects of Shatterbird’s power. “Control over X” powers are always surprisingly far reaching if their user is creative enough.

    I’m really interested on how Taylor’s minions play out. I’m looking forward to her having a squad or two of foot soldiers with armor similar to hers and some weapons provided by Coil. Throw in some training and they’ll be unstoppable.

    I can’t stop picturing Bro 1, 2, and 3 as the guys in the last panel of this comic:

  6. Maquiavel wrote something about a prince not being too generous, or he would banckrupt the state, but making his few generous acts very public, so that he would appear to be generous.
    A strong leader that can be generous, but show strength when needed is … ideal.
    But Coil will ask for money sooner or latter. This is when another rule of leadership will matter:
    It is the economy, stupid.

    • His name was Machiavelli and I think his thoughts on “Cruelty and Clemency, and Whether It Is Better To Be Loved or Feared” are also applicable here. Quoting Virgil he warns that a prince establishing a new domain won’t be able to escape gaining a certain reputation for cruelty and harshness due to the troubles involved. He also says that while being feared is ok one should avoid being hated.

      So Taylor should ideally avoid letting people become too used to her generosity to avoid repercussions when it runs out and rule her minions with fairness and an iron fist.

      I don’t think however that her people taking the resources she provides for granted and revolting when she can no longer deliver will be her biggest problem. Her protection and reputation for being able to protect people might be a bigger problem when she next fails to defeat an enemy trying to harm her people.

      • Well, obtaining and holding onto the love of the people can be difficult and they can turn against you for no particular reason. But they won’t move against you even if they fear you, which can be controlled. I think you get a whole different quality from people when you do things by love or by fear.

        Given that all of Machiavelli’s other writings were in favor of a republic, it’s been said that he probably wasn’t all that serious about The Prince. Maybe he was just sucking up to someone or maybe it was satire, but the guy’s been defined most in history by a work with views he didn’t really share.

      • I´ve read The Prince some years ago, in my native language (portuguese).
        The sound of chi in italian is similar (to a point) to the sound of qui in portuguese, perhaps because of this the translator wrote: O Príncipe and under it Maquiavel in the cover.
        Anyway, here comes one more that I still remember (its been a while since I read the book):
        “It is better to kill someones relative than to take his lands.
        The person may forgive you for killing a relative, but not for the loss of income.”
        Unfortunately I do not remember the details of the above citation, for instance, if he says killing a relative when applying justice. Anyway, in the end, if you take out some dramatics it reduces to:
        “It is the economy. stupid”
        Other book that I read a long time ago helps with the second part of Taylor’s dilemma:
        Where the enemy is weak you attack, where the enemy is strong you never are.
        If you know your weaknesses but not those of the enemy you will win sometimes.
        If you know your weaknesses and those of the enemy you will win ever.
        Szun Tsu, if my memory serves me well.
        In other words: it is information and movement above all else.
        If you are static in a known place and the enemy know all that you can do while you do not know the enemy …. you can´t protect anyone.
        Taylor must solve this problem, but the bugs are a great help here.

        • Psycho Gecko I do not know the other works from Machiavelli (I doubt that you are pronouncing the chi right, I can´t even if it being close to the portuguese qui) but in Taylor´s case the advice in The Prince seems sound.
          If she will create a dictatorship, a populist government (governo populista, I hope to be translating it right) or a matriarchal family it is still to be seen.

          • The Ruler Formerly Known as The Prince, by Psycholo Geckiovelli.

            In English, the chi is a hard sound, the same as if it was spelled ki. We also pronounce the two Ls the same as one L, as opposed to the ll sound. Not sure if y’all do that in portuguese, I just know it is done in a closely-related language.

            I think it’s safe to say she’s not starting a republic or democracy unless it’s about some lesser interests she doesn’t care a lot about anyway. It’s also not going to involve a family as rulers. Not going to be a totalitarian state of either Fascism, Nazi fascism, or Stalinesque communism. Given how much she cares and how nice it is, there’s going to keep on being socialist elements. Heck, she had to provide supplies and food already and she’ll likely need more for them. For more objectivist values in play, see The Merchants. A theocracy is right out. It might come down to being either a Latverian-style Enforced Democracy like Dr. Doom uses or an Ankh-Morpok style democracy that Lord Vetinari uses. Everyone gets a vote, unless disqualified by age or by not being Lord Vetinari. One person, one vote. He’s the person, so he has the vote.

            There’s not all that much difference between monarchies, dictatorships, and popular governments in themselves, except in how whichever ruler or group of rulers derives their power. In popular governments, power is inherently recognized as coming from the consent of the governed. In monarchies, the power comes from virtue of noble birth and possibly the Divine Right of Kings. Oftentimes, theocracies and monarchies have had some overlap there on claiming their power was derived from a certain higher power. And a dictatorship derives their power from a military backing.

            Aside from that, they’re technically capable of going in various different directions, good or bad. Unfortunately, the people who want power most are least likely to be responsible with it, so a revolution is an advantageous time for one of those types to get in power and bend things toward their interest.

            And if another government is propping them up, then the interests of the people in the country itself are not the primary concern of the ruler except as a means to this other end.

            • Yep, qui has a hard sound like chi, probably similar to ki. Only reminder: the i is pronounced as in airport or intelligent (or close to this) not as in drive.
              Anyway, she really tends to a kind of social democracy to some extent.
              The ideal would be a structure similar to Israeli Kibutz for a while (communal property to a extent, defense and work shared for all).
              Not all populist governments are strait out dictatorships, a lot of power may be concentrated in the hand of the president (that uses it to “buy” the population with generous use of the money of the state) while at least the elections are honest. See Cristina Kristner (will not verify how her name is really spelled, actual president of Argentina) for an example.

  7. One more thing that struck me was that Battery appeared again even if a bit indirectly. If she remembers Sierra from Skitters first big town hall meting she should be able to trace the early warning back to its source and even without that the reports of people being warned by insects and Skitter battling Mannequin that should slowly trickle back to the heroes should point them in the right direction.

    Battery appeared to be reasonably reasonable and pragmatic when she appeared maybe they could work something out or maybe she is just as screwed up as all the other heroes that have appeared so far.

  8. I think Taylor’s multitasking is a hint.

    I think she’s *thinking* with her swarm. Or, more accurately, that the controlled insect minds are “added” to her human one in some fashion.

    Dunno. Just a thought.

    • That would be kind of cool.

      There are actually techniques that allow a person to pass of calculations to other computers on a network. It would be funny to do it with bugs.

      Hilarious, actually.

      • I’ve mentioned it before actually. Swarm theory. Comes from how ants work. The more ants there are, the more intelligent the overall colony becomes. They’ve applied the same thing to computers.

        In a more humorous relation to what Jim said, in the city of Ankh-Morpork of the Discworld series, the local wizard college, The Unseen University, has a computer. It is called Hex and it is run by a bunch of ants somehow. I think there’s a teddy bear in there too. There’s something magical that has to be tailored to how you build it, which doesn’t go so well for a rival magic university’s chicken-based computer, Pex.

  9. I hope Taylor doesn’t make the mistake of paying her new flunkies as much as she does Charlotte and Sierra, or she’ll quickly run out of money.

    I really enjoy how all this has been set up. We first heard the Nine were in town back in Arc 9, and now that plot line is coming to fruition three full arcs later. It’s great. Also, I had a random thought, and one that seems so simple that I’m surprised I didn’t think of it before. It could be because I’m fixated on the “power granting/power trade” subplot, but…here goes. We find out about Cauldron and power-selling, about the memory wipes, more about Case 53’s etc, in these last two arcs. Shatterbird casually mentions having “sold” her power somehow. In the same chapter we find out the Nine are in town (Arc 9.4), we also find that Chariot is communicating with C#########, and is in fact a double agent–a mole inside the Wards.

    If it was Coil, we would have found out more by now. That plot is much closer to the surface. But it hasn’t been brought up again, which makes me think…the “c” in the e-mail address doesn’t stand for Coil. It stands for Cauldron.

    • Also, it makes more sense that Shatterbird’s talk of power selling comes right when we learn more about Cauldron from Faultline’s crew, and learn more about Noelle (is it Noelle? can’t remember) and Burnscar during a preceding interlude. Threads are being pulled together again. But talk of Chariot or Faultline’s crew–one two many threads. Plus, Cauldron’s plan seems to be more long term than even Coil’s. IF the two are indeed separate.

    • I wonder how much money is really worth when everyone’s looking for a clean place to stay and some food.

      And I gotta tell you, Wildbow, I appreciate your writing all the more after having gone see Dark Knight Rises tonight.

      • Well, once you drive away from the city money gets all its value back. So it isn’t worth that much in Brockton, but it is definately still worth getting.

        • What is the problem with Dark Knight Rises? Any reason why I should be happy once in my lifetime that this damn small town does not have a movie theater?
          And, people are using money even within the city since supplies bought outside are being sent in and some are being sold one way or another.
          Perhaps in less destructed places some commerce even begun to work (before all windows were destroyed).

  10. Skitter could probably be a decent (i.e Shatterbird-proof) communications hub if (a) she thinks of it (b) has the time/energy and (c) wants to.

    Also, I second the notion that she’s subconsciously using her swarm as a Beowulf cluster. Would explain a lot, actually.

  11. Good chapter, and, yeah, Taylor is working herself to death. Panacea could solve that problem, but considering how the two met, that might be a tall order.

    A small correction:

    “Since the usual means of communication were out, and it might be some time before cell phone towers were out, I’d have to use messengers to pass word on to Coil.” — This seems backwards. It would be some time before the cell phone towers would be up, since they are, presumably, out at that point.

  12. As long as I’m distracting you from your final edits on 20.4, wildbow (for which I apologize, but oh, the story is so good!):

    If this kept up, I was going to need another go at the first aid courses, to refresh my memory on the particulars and brush up on my skills. February felt so very long ago. So much had happened in the last five months.

    I’m guessing you meant five months since her trigger event in January, but with her first aid course in February being the ‘so very long ago’ date being discussed, I think saying the last three or the last four months would be more logical.

  13. ” the terrariums were hard plastic rather than glass. ” Plastic has silicon in it, the fact that computers, sand, and glass have been destroyed means that it’s silicon not silicon dioxide. I still don’t understand why you wanted to include computers and electronics. All of the capes on the Slaughterhouse Nine make them way worse than Endbringers, each of them could wander into a city, destroy it and leave without anyone catching them yet no heroes have been brought in from out of town to deal even though they did with Bakuda?

    • Some plastics have silicon in them — a lot of standard ones (polycarbonates, PVC, polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, Bakelite, Kevlar, Mylar …) don’t. Sure, silicone caulk is nice, but epoxies will do just as well to glue a polycarbonate box together.

        • No need to apologize – I’m just nitpicking. It’s not like porcelain dishes, bathtubs, and sinks don’t have silicon in them; I imagine a lot of pottery does, too.

          • No it’s perfectly reasonable, if I mess up I am very grateful for corrections. Nitpicking is what I’m doing too after all

            My comments on the most recent chapters don’t seem to be working it’s very frustrating for someone who likes to be vocal. Ah well at least these replies are working.

  14. That awkward moment when your nose was bleeding and you’re washing the blood off, and you want to look in a mirror but then you remember all the mirrors are shattered and then you realise you’re not in Worm…

    • The ankward moment when you meet mannequin in the street and you run ,and then you remember you are not in Worm….

    • If he does not eats the same meals in each of his realities, you may need to poison him more than once, so risky but still doable. The hard part would be getting him to allow you anywhere near his food.

      • The point is that you have multiple chances. See, if Skitter attacks Coil in one reality (or both and one Coil survives), she revealed her intentions, and Coil will assassinate her “before” she can make her move. But if she poisons him in the “wrong” reality, Coil will suspect nothing.

      • Sry, if I sounded condescending. I think I get what you meant now. You were talking about the risk of him catching on to the fact that his food is poisoned, not that the poisoning is getting undone by his ability. It’s still a better strategy than a conventional attack. And there are more ways than poisoning his meals, especially in a world with super powers.

        • One reason that poisoning might work best is simply because they live in a world where superpowers rule. I can’t imagine poison is used nearly as often due to the prevalence of powers so Coil probably won’t be quite as paranoid about such a lesser used and unlikely assassination attempt. It’s worth a shot if they can’t think of a way to trap him.

  15. A certain species of japanese bee handles shelled beasties by all landing on it at once, and flapping their wings really fast, cooking it.

    That might have worked against maniquin. then again, maybe not.

  16. You know, one criticism I’ve had but haven’t voiced is Taylor’s one minded focus on Dinah. I mean… yeah, I guess you are in some way, maybe 1/5 responsible for her being prisoner. I get she wants to do something to help her. But she’s like, literally made her whole entire existence about one little girl. All her goals and plans revolve around a girl she met once. It seems… kinda unrealistic even for someone with a hero complex.

    I get that she’s somewhat deluded. I mean she’s acting like she can be a Hero while working for the Bad Guys and in the end that will free the little girl. Pretty much all of that is pretty horribly flawed. I dunno something about her obsession/preoccupation to such an extreme with Dinah just rings contrived for the sake of the story. Maybe there just is something I’m not seeing yet.

    Honestly, when things settle down she could somehow tip off the heroes in a way that wont be traced back to her… tell them exactly where she is. Then can go mount a rescue. She’s making this more complicated than it needs to be.

    Oh well. It makes for a good story. I get the feeling they’re gonna end up fighting Coil in the end no matter what happens.

  17. Wow I can’t believe I had completely forgotten about the chance of survival fighting the Nine. I wonder if those odds went up or down taking into account one on one fights? Either way…wow. Plus, the offhand way she talked about the fight was freaking hilarious! I can just imagine Sierra sitting in the corner with her mouth hanging open trying to comprehend “He’s not that strong.” With all the progress that Taylor has made, it’s a shame that that fight didn’t give her the confidence boost it should have. I completely understand why she only focuses on the negatives but still.

    She should start calling Sierra “minion.” If you’re going to be a supervillain, even a supervillain with good intentions/publicity, there are certain hard fast rules. One is that you have minions. It’s great to see she has an additional 6 or 7 now too!

    Seeing her single minded focus on Dinah is getting a little annoying though. It’s awful that this poor girl is being exploited and yes Coil comes off as a creepy bastard during his interactions with her but Taylor still seems to have developed an obsession over her. What happens when she succeeds? Is she going to be cast adrift with no goal afterwards? She needs to have more motivation beyond just saving Dinah.

  18. “You fought Mannequin, you said you’d make him pay, and then you did. And you did it to save people, people from the docks. I think people are realizing you’re for real.”

    I couldn’t think of a response to that, and nobody volunteered anything further. Instead, I said, “Come on, let’s get to work.”

    You’re a goddamned superhero, Charlie Brown.

      • Flechette is Asian? Wow I totally missed that one. Granted I didn’t pay too much attention to nationality for anyone but Parian and Grue since it comes up pretty often for both but…yeah totally missed that.

    • Remember that it was mentioned way earlier that a looot of people in the city were forcibly recruited into the ABB, so there’s a low chance that an Asian character introduced won’t be affiliated with the ABB somehow at some point, most likely because they didn’t have a choice.

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