Interlude 12

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“Which one of you dripping rectal cysts is brave enough for this one!?”

The cheer bubbled up from the crowd, until it reached a crescendo that he could hear from his aircraft/podium.  The wind ripped around him as he stood at the nose of the aircraft, his cape fluttering.  Squealer’s vehicle was like a helicopter made by someone who had never seen a helicopter before, who’d decided to add their own improvements to the design when they were finished – more whirling blades spaced equidistant around the thing.  Topping it off, it was roughly three times the typical size.

“Green armband means poison, and this is a poison half of you wastes of air have already tasted!  We’re gonna make it as bad as it gets!  The worst of bad trips!”

He held a bowl of pills that were dusted with assorted powders and raised it over his head, “One handful, then you take a nap in one of the coffins we have up here.  Moment the lid shuts, you’ll find out what’s in store for you.  Some have rats, some have spiders, some have nothing at all and some…”

A beam of light speared down from the base of the fat bodied helicopter, sending chunks of earth where it hit ground.  The moment it faded, a coffin fell into the hole that had formed, followed by a downpour of gravel.

“Get buried alive!”

The noise of the crowd was more bloodthirsty this time, unmasked and unashamed in their savagery.

“Hope you rancid pukes have friends to dig you up!  Put up with that shit while you’re on the trip of your life, and you get yourselves a green fucking armband!  For the rest of the night, everything is as free as your mother’s pussy!  For as long as you hold on to that baby, anything you buy direct from one of us head honchos is ten percent off!  So which-”

He stopped.  There was a thump as the microphone hit the surface near Skidmark’s feet and then a violent but all too brief noise as it struck one of the propellers at the side of the aircraft and was promptly annihilated.

Skidmark’s hands went to his stomach, where blood and organs were spilling out.  He turned to run, but more slices appeared in his arm, his buttock, his back and the back of his neck.  No longer in sight of the majority of the crowd, he continued to try to crawl away, only for his reaching fingers to be separated from his hand, flying away from him in a spray of crimson.

The aircraft lurched and began to turn, but this maneuver ended up spelling out Skidmark’s doom.  The surface beneath him was already slick with blood, and with only one hand’s worth of fingers to grip with, he slid.  He used his power to change the surface and force himself upward, but it was too little, too late.

He dropped into the blades of the spinning propeller and was puréed in a heartbeat.

Standing on a rooftop across from the aircraft, Jack flicked his wrist and snapped the blade of his straight-razor back into the handle.

Smiling thinly, he looked over his shoulder at his teammates.  Bonesaw sat astride Siberian’s shoulders, in the midst of braiding a lock of the feral killer’s hair.  Shatterbird and Burnscar stood on opposite sides of the group, the former holding a book in one hand, the latter with images in flame dancing a quarter-inch off her skin, showing people and familiar objects, many of the images replaying the scene of Skidmark’s demise in miniature.  Bonesaw’s automatons were spread out over the remainder of the roof, and one of her Frankenstein creations waited patiently at the far end of the roof.  Hack Job, she’d called it?  It had started to rot alive, and Bonesaw kept it out of the way so as not to offend the sensibilities of her teammates.  Cherish stood in Crawler’s shadow, pale, her hands clasped together.  Her shoulders were drawn in, as if she was afraid she would be struck any second.

Crawler, the most monstrous member of the group, loomed over the rest.  His chest was ten feet deep from front to back, his head the size of a small car.  He combined the most effective features of a bear and a panther.  Sinuous, flexible, bristling with quiet menace, but also brawny with muscle.  He had armor plates covering him, with scales where armor wouldn’t allow him optimum flexibility, and spines and coarse hair where the scales wouldn’t do.  Head to toe, he had the coloring of an oil slick, black by default, but scintillating with rainbow hues in just the right light.  A hundred black orbs studded the length of his body, set into the plates of armor.  Caustic venom virtually poured from a mouth that bristled with mismatched fangs, spattering precipitously close to Cherish and eating at the concrete rooftop.  Perhaps most unnerving of all were his six legs, each forking at the knee or elbow joint, with one larger limb ending in scimitar-like claws and a smaller set of limbs for each; tentacles for the rear four legs and a long fingered human’s hands for the forelimbs.

Jack spoke, with no small amount of irony.  “Looks like Skidmark’s hosting a party.  I think we deserve a night on the town, after waiting as long as we did to reveal ourselves.  Be sure to thank our hosts.  I’m sure our invitation was lost in the mail.”

Smiles spread across more than one face.

Crawler was the first one off of the roof, throwing himself into the night air to land in the dead center of the crowd.  The others followed quickly after, Shatterbird and Burnscar launching themselves to the far corners of the massed crowd, conjuring up storms of glass shards and flame to block their victim’s retreat.  Bonesaw’s creations poured over the edges of the rooftop to herd the remainder of the crowd and keep them contained to one area.

It was just four of them left on the rooftop.  Siberian, Bonesaw, Jack and Cherish.

Siberian reached out and gripped Cherish by the shirt collar.  More graciously, she extended a hand toward Jack.  He gripped it tight.

“Thank you,” he said.

Catching a ride with Siberian was something of an art form.  Cherish had yet to master it, not even biting her tongue or keeping the short shriek from escaping her lips as Siberian stepped off the edge of the roof.  Jack, for his part, allowed himself to go limp the second Siberian pulled at him.  The four of them collectively dropped, Bonesaw riding atop Siberian’s shoulders, gripping her hair to maintain her position.

They were spared the messy fate of being pancaked on the pavement by a quirk of Siberian’s nature, transferring to each of them.  Jack staggered, more because he’d let his whole body relax so he wouldn’t jar something when Siberian tugged at him, but he let go of his teammate’s hand and straightened.  Cherish dropped to her knees.

“Much obliged, Siberian.” Jack said.  “Go.  Have fun.”

Siberian reached up and set Bonesaw down, and then was gone, one footstep carrying her into the midst of the crowd.  She didn’t care if she hit anyone.  Anyone unfortunate enough to be in her way was pulverized, their limbs broken, chests shattered and necks snapped by the impact.  Even those in the general area were caught by the flying bodies and hurt just as grievously.

Bonesaw laughed, and it was a sound without reservations, not shaped by social constraint or culture or self-censorship.  It was the laugh of a child, free and without a care.  One of her mechanical spiders leaped onto her back, and wound several of its limbs around her chest.  Two limbs extended to connect to her wrists, so the mechanical arms mirrored the dimensions and length of her own.  The ends fanned out into an array of scalpels, needles, saws, and other instruments so one tool sat between each of her splayed fingers.  The smallest gestures of her hands forced instantaneous rearrangements of the tools, so another was ready for her to grasp and use.  Two more spiders lunged forward and pulled one of Siberian’s screaming wounded away from the rest of the crowd, dragging it inch by inch toward the advancing Bonesaw.

The crowd might have turned to fight her, but they lacked the courage.  They scattered.

Jack twirled his closed straight-razor around his fingers.  “Cherish, stand up.  You’re missing the show.”

Obediently, Cherish raised herself up.  She lifted her head just in time to see a blur of white and black against the night sky, followed by a large explosion from the side of Squealer’s flying aircraft.  It tilted and bounced against the side of a nearby building, scraps of metal shearing off to land in the midst of the crowd.  A series of small detonations that ripped forth from the interior of the aircraft cast just enough light for Jack and Cherish to see Siberian striding across the deck, one of the Merchants in her grip.  In a heartbeat, she’d torn the woman’s limbs from their sockets and buried her teeth in the woman’s neck.

Bereft of a pilot and working internal mechanisms, the aircraft crashed heavily in the midst of the crowd.  The Merchants who had gathered in the street for Skidmark’s festival of poison scattered, abandoning their fallen friends, trying to find an escape route or hiding place.  The screams of panic were twice the volume of any cheering they’d done earlier.

Siberian hopped up to the highest point of the wrecked aircraft, the twisted remains of a propeller that should not have borne her weight.  Her hair blew in the hot air that rose from the heap of burning metal.  She glanced around to see where she might do the most damage, spat out a gobbet of meat and then leaped off to one side, out of sight.  The propeller didn’t even move.

“Are you going to partake?” Jack asked Cherish.

“Why are you still talking like I’m a member of this team?  I tried to manipulate all of you, and I failed.”

“We’ll deal with your punishment at a later date.  Bonesaw is working on something.”

Cherish’s eyes widened.  “I knew she was… I read her emotions towards me… I knew she was thinking about something.  But hearing you say it out loud.  Oh god.”

“Rest assured, Cherie Vasil, you dropped out of reach of God a long, long time ago.” Jack smiled at her.

She turned away, looking over the scene, as if it could distract her from her thoughts and fears.

Crawler threw himself into the point where the crowd was thickest.  Bodies flew as he moved on his two rearmost legs and swept the other four claws and two tentacles through the ranks of the Merchants.  When everyone within his broad reach was dead or suffocating from the paralytic venom, he turned toward the wrecked aircraft and began advancing with a more measured pace.  Each of the hundred eyes along the length of his body blinked to clear away the blood and dust that had spattered him in his all-too-brief spree.

Jack watched as someone drew a gun and pointed it at Crawler, then reconsidered.  He turned it toward Bonesaw, and found himself face to face with Hack Job.  He was cut down a moment later.  Hack Job exploded in a puff of white dust, already having left to dispatch more gunmen that might harm Jack or his maker.

Another figure appeared next to Jack and Cherish.  Jack assumed it was Hack Job until he turned his head.

“Oh hoh,” Jack assessed the man.  “What happened here?”

Mannequin stood, headless, streaked in paint and dust that marred his white body with dark colors.  His right arm ended at the elbow, the remainder missing.

One by one, the other members of the Nine seemed to notice Mannequin’s appearance.  Shatterbird stepped back from the ruined husk of a massive suit of steaming armor and started flying their way, accompanied by a cloud of bloody glass shards.

Bonesaw turned away from her patient.  She spoke to the man, pushing him away.  She might have said something like ‘run’.

The man stumbled five or six steps before his body began to swell.  His right arm bloated up to three or four times the usual size, turning crimson, before it exploded violently, sending shards of bone and a spray of blood into the people nearest him.  He screamed, only for his cries to grow shorter and more frantic, as the rest of him reached that critical mass.  In another ten seconds, the remainder of his body detonated.

Bonesaw was already skipping over to the rest of their group, grinning wide, “Mannequin!  Aww!  Did the villain break you?  Poor baby.  Like a little girl with a ken doll.”

A blade sprung from Mannequin’s remaining hand.  Bonesaw tittered.

Behind the child tinker, those in the crowd who had been struck by the blood and flying bone of her first victim were starting to scream as their bodies swelled as well.

Jack frowned.  “Bonesaw.  You know my rule about epidemics.  You have to play fair with the rest of the group.”

“No epidemic!  I promise!”  She said, drawing a little ‘x’ over her heart, “Four or five cycles.  No more.  Each transition is going to have only about half the catalyst of the last, and eventually they’ll be able to fight it off.”

Shatterbird landed in their midst.  Behind her, a swell of orange light from Burnscar’s flames coincided with a peak in the crowd’s screams.  Mush’s titanic form of sand and debris had ignited, and he flailed madly.  Shatterbird ignored the chaos that her teammate was causing, studied Mannequin and then spoke in a voice that was dripping with judgement, “Mannequin failed.”

“It’s a shame you can’t see the disapproving look on Shatterbird’s face, Alan,” Jack commented, smiling.

Mannequin pointed the blade in his hand at Shatterbird, a threat and a warning.  Jack tensed, studying Shatterbird’s expression, waiting to see if this would start something.

“A loss is allowable,” Jack said, when the fight didn’t erupt.  “Most of us are more forgiving than Siberian, and allow a failure or two from our candidates during the rounds of testing, no?  It’s okay to let them win from time to time.  It gives them that spark of hope, so we can snatch it away and leave them all the more devastated.”

He looked at Shatterbird and she inclined her head in a barely perceptible nod.

“Which raises an interesting topic,” Jack said.  He spotted Siberian and indicated for her to approach.  Two corpses were stacked on her arm like meat on a kebab, and she cast them aside with a motion of her arm before approaching their circle.

Crawler was one of the two group members who had yet to rejoin the group.  He was engaged with a young man with a glow that suffused his hair and emanated from his eyes and mouth.  White flashes appeared with little accuracy and devastating effect, carving spherical chunks out of the brute.  This only encouraged the monster, and Crawler eagerly paced closer, his wounds closing together with a startling rapidity.  So few things could hurt Crawler these days that Jack rarely got to see the regeneration in full effect.  Crawler’s healing powers appeared to play out in fast-forward when compared to even the regenerators who could heal wounds in seconds.  Hundreds of pounds of flesh were replaced in one or two heartbeats.

One eruption of light hit Crawler in the dead center of his chest.  It made him pause, no doubt removing one of his hearts and some of his spinal cord.  The boy with the glowing hair pushed his power into overdrive, calling forth a series of flashes that exploded in close succession.  One caught Crawler in the face, revealing only a cross-section of his head, complete with a bisected brain, a skull six inches thick and the interior of Crawler’s mouth.  Crawler collapsed.

Siberian watched as the boy ran, then turned as if she intended to give chase.

“No,” Jack instructed.  “Let him go.  We need to leave some alive.”

He had other motivations, but he would remain quiet on that particular subject.

Crawler’s brain grew back to its full beach-ball size in one or two seconds, followed closely after by the healing of the skull, the reappearance of his facial muscles, then his skin, hair, spines, scale and armor plating, roughly in that order.  He shook his head like a dog with water in its ears and looked around, searching for his quarry.

“After, Crawler!”  Jack shouted, “You can fight him another time!  Group meeting!”

Crawler hesitated, then loped over to their gathered circle.  Burnscar lobbed a fireball high over their heads, and then dropped down from the airborne projectile to land in a crouch.

Somewhere in the background, there were the screams and explosions of the fourth or fifth cycle of Bonesaw’s work.  Of the crowd that had been gathered in the street, only stragglers remained.

“I wanted to give you all a chance to cut loose before we got down to business,” Jack said.  “It seems a teammate of two of our prospective members wants or wanted to strike a deal.  Cherish, do you happen to know if she is still alive?”

“Tattletale lives.  She’s very close to the buried girl right now.”

“Oh, you hear that, Crawler?  Your candidate and this Tattletale might be friends.”

“No,” Cherish said, avoiding eye contact with anyone in the group, “They barely know each other.”

“Too bad.” Jack shrugged, then he went on, “This Tattletale wants to play a game, leveling the playing field between us and the others.  If we cannot reduce our selection to a single candidate, we take the first to volunteer and we leave.  Our loss, and a hit to our collective reputation as a penalty.”

Why?  It’s a bad idea,” Cherish said, “She knew you’d want to do this, knew you’d set yourself up with a situation where you could fail.  Where we could fail.  There’s no reason to do it.”

Jack shook his head.  “Oh, but there is.  Limitations foster creativity.  Tell an artist to paint anything, and he may struggle, but tell him to create something specific, in a set amount of time, for a certain audience, and these constraints might well push him to produce something he might never have come up with on his own.  We grow and evolve by testing ourselves.  That’s my personal philosophy.”

“That’s not really a test,” Shatterbird spoke, “There hasn’t been a round of testing since I joined the group where we didn’t whittle it down to one candidate.”

“We could forego the final test, pitting them against one another.”

Shatterbird turned to him, “Ah.  But, again, the last test where we had to go that far was… mine?”

“True.  Would there be any complaints if we added another restriction?  Perhaps a time limit?  We take turns.  Three days each to carry out our tests.  A failure, such as the one that Mannequin evidently suffered tonight, and you’re penalized one day.  A successful test might add some hours to your deadline, while the removal of one candidate buys you an extra day.”

“That’s not very fair to the first few of us to go,” Bonesaw said.  “They’ll have to test more people in less time.”

“They also have an easier time removing candidates from the list.  More chances at a longer run.  In fact, just to be fair, we may have to adjust the time awarded for a successful test, so there’s less for the first few of us to have a turn.  Do you all trust me to decide on something fair?”

There were nods or noises of agreement from Bonesaw, Burnscar, Siberian and Shatterbird.

“Mannequin?”

Mannequin tapped one finger on the blade that still extended from the base of his hand, drawing forth a single ‘clink’.

“That’s five of you in agreement.  Crawler?”

The monster stretched, his musculature rippling.  When he spoke, his voice was a rumble of broken sounds that only barely resembled words, “No point.”

“Ah, you feel your only road to self-improvement is your power.  While I would love to return to this particular debate, I can agree to disagree so you all can get back to your fun.  Look at it this way.  Our usual method has our quarry running scared.  To even get them to fight, you have to corner them, which you are admittedly very good at doing.  Like this, however, they have reason to band together, to fend us off, and protect the candidates who decide to eschew our tests and face our reprisals instead.  More would fight you, and you’d have a higher chance of finding another individual who could harm you.”

Crawler tilted his head one way, then the other.  He rumbled, “Fine.”

“Which only leaves you, Cherish, our errant rookie.  You’re dejected because you know Bonesaw has a punishment in the works.  But you mustn’t lose heart.  You’ll still have a chance to redeem yourself, and maybe even escape reprisal for your juvenile stunt.  I think Mannequin should start us off, and he’ll be penalized one day from his time limit for his loss tonight.  And you’ll have to deal with the bug girl, to make up for this embarrassment.   Make her suffer.”

Mannequin tapped once on the blade.

“Cherish, you’ll go second.  Your last chance to impress us.”

Cherish nodded, as mute as her headless teammate.

“Good.  Two days, Mannequin, then three for our Cherish.  To be fair, we should have a rule that says you cannot take out a candidate until they fail your test.  So each prospective member must be informed about the test and what it requires, they must fail, and they must be eliminated or punished, until one remains.  For those of you who want to show how superior they are over their teammates…” he cast a sidelong glance at Shatterbird, “There are several paths to success.  Remove several candidates, conduct a full round of testing, see that your candidate succeeds above any of the others, or all of the above.”

“I like it,” Bonesaw said, “It sounds fun!  But what about Siberian?  How is she supposed to tell them the rules?”

“We’ll help her out on that front.  Same test as usual, Siberian?”

Siberian nodded.  She reached out to Bonesaw’s face and used her thumb to wipe away a  spatter of blood before licking the digit clean.

“In any case, we’ve hashed this out enough.  I’ll think it over tonight and have something proper to present to you and the capes of this city who will be our… opposition.  I can add some rules, to cover loopholes and keep this little event manageable.  Panacea, Armsmaster, Bitch, Regent, the buried girl and Hookwolf.  Burnscar didn’t nominate one, and I’ve already dispatched mine.  That’s six candidates, we need to remove five.  And when we’re done and we’ve established our superiority, we can kill this Tattletale, her friends, and everyone else, just to make our point.  Good?”

There were signs, nods and murmurs of agreement all around.

“Good.  Go.  Have fun.  Mop up the stragglers.  Don’t worry about leaving any alive.  They already know we’re here.  No more than five minutes before we leave.  We can’t have our grand battle with the locals so soon.”

His monsters returned to their carnage.  He watched them at their work and their play, noting all of the little things.  He knew all too well that Shatterbird pretended civility, but she got as restless as Siberian when things got quiet, and she would look up from whatever book she read every thirty, fifteen or ten seconds, as if waiting for something to happen, craving it.  Siberian would begin to look at her group members in a hungry way.  She didn’t need to eat, but she enjoyed the experience, wanted it the same way someone else might crave their morning coffee.  Stimulation.

Crawler, he knew, wouldn’t show any signs of boredom or restlessness.  When he lost patience with things, it was an explosive affair, almost unmanageable.

Keeping this group in line was a matter of balancing carrots against sticks.  A constant, delicate process.  Every member sought something from the others, however solitary they might strive to appear, carrots that Jack could use to keep them as part of the group and entice them to stay, to cooperate.  It was not easy: what served as a stick to one might easily be a carrot to another.

Shatterbird, who had deigned to observe for the moment, hovering over the scene, was an individual who craved validation.  She would be insulted to hear it spoken aloud, but she needed to be powerful in the eyes of others, civilian or teammate.  She could tolerate much, but an insult or a joke at her expense could push her over the edge.  As carrots went, a simple word of praise could satisfy her for a week, and an opportunity to shine could sate her for a month.  It was why he allowed her to ‘sing’ each time they arrived somewhere new, even as he found it repetitive and boring, brooking the same scenarios time after time.  Her stick was easy enough: the threat of physical harm, or the embarrassment of being made to lose control.  Were she to attack a member of the group, Siberian or Crawler would retaliate, and they would hurt or kill her.  It would be inevitable, unequivocal.  The idea of the shame she’d feel in that ignoble defeat held her back as much as anything.

Siberian watched as Bonesaw began excising and stitching together groups of muscle and collections of organs she and her mechanical spiders were harvesting from the fallen.  It was taking on a vaguely human shape.

Siberian was tricky.  He doubted anyone else in the group was even aware, but their most feral member harbored a fondness for Bonesaw.  Siberian had little imagination, and was perfectly comfortable rehashing the same violent and visceral scenarios time and again, but she nonetheless enjoyed Bonesaw’s work.  She saw a kind of beauty in it.  Even more than that, he sometimes wondered if Siberian didn’t reciprocate Bonesaw’s desire for family.  Bonesaw alternately referred to Siberian as an older sister or the family pet, but Siberian’s fondness for Bonesaw bordered on the maternal, like a mother bear for her cub.  Did anyone else in the group note how Siberian seemed to keep Bonesaw’s company, to assume she would accompany the young girl when she went out, and carefully kept Bonesaw in sight at all times?

Siberian’s stick was Bonesaw, the possibility of losing the girl’s company in one way, shape, or form.  Threats against the girl would be met with a fury like no other.  Boredom, similarly, would see Siberian stalking off on her own to amuse herself, a scenario that grounded the group until Siberian’s return hours or days later.  Such usually meant a hasty retreat as the heroes who had realized that they could not defeat Siberian came after the rest of the group.

Bonesaw wanted a family.  Her stick was disapproval, a revoking of any ‘love’ from those closest to her.  She was far younger, emotionally, than her outward appearance suggested.  She had bad dreams at night if she didn’t sleep in the embrace of one of her older teammates, usually Siberian.  When she didn’t sleep, or when her mood otherwise soured, she was as intolerable as any of the others, and among the most dangerous.

Crawler wanted to be stronger, and remained with the group because it put him in constant danger.  His other motivation was more subtle.  He was patiently awaiting the day Siberian might honestly and brutally attempt to take him apart.  The only stick Jack could wield was the possibility that the group might dissolve before that happened.  On the other side of the coin, the day Crawler decided there was no longer any threat that could evolve him further would be… troubling.  It was why Jack had ordered Siberian to let the boy with the glowing hair go.  Finding the lad again would give Crawler something to do, and it would give Crawler a taste for what Siberian had to offer.

Burnscar was more sensitive, in many respects.  She had to be managed, provoked or set up to use her power so she remained in a more dangerous mindset.  Too much one way, and she became depressed and scared, vulnerable.  Too much the other way, and she became reckless, potentially attacking him or one of the others and sparking disaster.

Mannequin had his mission.  Few things bothered him as much as seeing someone try to help others and succeed where he had catastrophically failed.  To keep Mannequin in line, Jack could remind Mannequin of who he had once been.  A simple casual utterance of the name ‘Alan’ served as effectively as a slap in the face to someone else.  He rarely needed such considerations; Mannequin was predictable, manageable.

And Cherish, who would not survive their stay in Brockton Bay… after a fashion.  Hope was her carrot, but she had only sticks waiting for her.  He met her eyes and knew she knew what he was thinking.  She was all too aware an ugly fate awaited her, but didn’t know what it was.  The fear helped curb her.  Still, he would have to watch his back.

Carrots and sticks.  A game of constant balance.  A thousand factors.  Even now, he was taking notes on their candidates, deciding what would work and what wouldn’t.

Armsmaster and Regent were abrasive enough that they would likely prick Shatterbird’s pride.  Bitch would be a risk at first, but he trusted his ability to manage her and stop any fights from erupting.

Siberian would become jealous of any growing relationship between Panacea and Bonesaw.

The buried girl was only a candidate because Crawler hoped she was strong enough to fight him.  Either she would fail to hurt him and he would grow tired of her, or she would succeed and he would have no reason to stay in the group.

That left him two candidates who might work.  He doubted either Hookwolf or Bitch had what it took to stay in the group long-term.  They would soon be replaced, killed by an enemy or a member of the group, but they would not upset his carefully staged balance while they remained members.

He could manipulate the outcome of this little contest, see that one of the two lasted to the end.  It would be hard, requiring the best he could employ in subtlety and head games.

The wind blew flame-heated air at his back, thick with the smell of smoke and the sweet tang of blood.

He smiled.  These challenges, after all, served as his own carrot.

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100 thoughts on “Interlude 12

  1. So is Scrub firing projectile blasts now, or are the white spheres just being referred to as blasts? Either way I am glad he got away, his power was too awesome to be stuck with the Merchants.

    Minor error, you used Jack Job at one point instead of Hack Job.

  2. You managed to make Crawler into a genuine monstrosity. In my head I had been picturing something much more human sized and shaped. Something that could be reasonably contained. Clearly I was mistaken in my assumptions.

    • (From SCP-682’s page, then modified)

      Special Containment Procedures: Crawler must be destroyed as soon as possible. At this time, no means available to SCP teams are capable of destroying Crawler, only able to cause massive physical damage. Crawler should be contained within a 5 m x 5 m x 5 m chamber with 25.4 cm reinforced acid-resistant steel plate lining all inside surfaces. The containment chamber should be filled with hydrochloric acid until Crawler is submerged and incapacitated. Any attempts of Crawler to move, speak, or breach containment should be reacted to quickly and with full force as called for by the circumstances.

      Personnel are forbidden to speak to Crawler, for fear of provoking a rage-state. All unauthorized personnel attempting to communicate to Crawler will be restrained and removed by force.

      Due to its frequent attempts at containment breach, difficulty of containment and incapacitation, and high threat of Foundation Exposure, Crawler is to be contained in site [REDACTED]. The Foundation will use the best of its resources to maintain all land within fifty (50) kilometers clear of human development.

      • Honestly I think Crawler might be ultimately more dangerous than SCP-682. While 682 seems to get a more varied range of evolutions, he doesn’t keep any of them for longer than a few days at most. Crawler keeps his upgrades forever.

      • Oh, you poor diluted fool. Hydrochloric acid is not the solution. It will only take a few paltry moments for his adaptive defenses to neutralize any precautions you may put in place and slaughter your way out of the base.

        The true solution may take some time to digest. You’re so bonded to your morals, to your safe, sane way of thinking, that you’ll simply have to tri harder. But CIH is on the right track, after a fashion, One out of three isn’t bad, but the chemical you’ll need is One to Three. I’d say it’s not rocket science, but frankly, it is.

        Chlorine Trifloride was intended for use as either flame thrower fuel or rocket fuel, depending on which government you worked for. It ignites so readily that the only defense against it, should a fire break out, is a good pair of running shoes. It will burn through the concrete, it will burn through your bucket of sand. And should you decide to try more conventional fire fighting techniques, the water will simply explode.

        I believe submerging him in a tank of that should do the trick. Or, at least contain him long enough for you to whip up a batch of anti-matter or procure transport to the nearest black hole.

        • Safe, sane way of thinking? Bonded to my morals?

          This guy must have just gotten caught up and is only now reading the comments. Burning him won’t likely work, as that’s a gradual method of harming something and he regenerates quickly. If I thought burning would work, I’d say that kind of thing exactly, but what’ll likely happen is the creature covered in the stuff will regen and evolve resistance. Then you’ve either got Crawler running around covered in Chlorine Trifloride while he attacks, or a being that can possibly spew it onto others.

          And if I thought poisons would work, I’d recommend a good blood agent, but that still requires him to have something like a normal metabolism that would be harmed by a little thing like no oxygen.

          What would likely be an ok solution is to cut him completely in half and strand him on another planet, like Venus, or Jupiter. Let the two duke it out until one of them figures out how to kill the other. Actually, put them on a plent with nothing obscuring the view so NASA can sell the viewing as PPV and can keep track of what finally offs one of them.

          Or you just manipulate Crawler into attacking Bonesaw. If Bonesaw or Siberian doesn’t manage it, drop it on Behemoth or something.

          Be pragmatic here. Huge, flashy methods of destruction involving 100 megaton nukes and rods from god may sound like overkill, but there’s only so much of this insanely tough, quickly regenerative, rapidly evolving enemy to strike at a time, and so many people around who would be killed in the process so that even if you did succeed you’d be hounded by everyone, unless you think any government’s going to be fine with someone running around who calls down nuclear strikes and massive destruction on any city they might be in.

          • I do apologize for the delay. No, I am well aware of your reputation and so on. I was attempting for some chemistry humor with the bonded statement.

            As for your assessment, while it’s true that “burning” is usually a slow process, Chlorine Trifluoride is hypergolic with most organic and inorganic substances, including all known plastics, so much so that there is no measurable ignition delay. The nano-second it comes into contact with something, that substance is reduced to a charred husk. If you’re lucky.

            Should it come into contact with water, the water explodes violent, resulting in a cloud or pool of equal parts hydrofluoric acid and hydrochloric acid. It oxidizes more rapidly than pure oxygen itself. It will burn just fine in a vacuum, and glass will only hold it for about a month before it too catches fire. If it isn’t already burning. The only sane solution for storing it is to treat an aluminum container with an absolutely miniscule amount, and create a thin film of insoluble metal fluoride. Chlorine Trifluoride is one of the most destructive substances known to man, it’s simply easier to clean up than a nuclear initiation.

            Mostly, I wanted an excuse to make a lot of chemistry puns. Otherwise, I’d have left the comments alone, as I usually do.

            • Why not just kill him. He can’t heal back from the dead, and he doesn’t adapt to an attack until he heals from it. If Scrub had kept up at disintegrating Crawler, Crawler would be dead.

              • Crawler, like 682, adapts to anything you throw at him. I imagine he would be nigh-immune to Scrub’s light by the time he finished blasting the beast to death.
                Unlike 682, Crawler wouldn’t gain the ability to hurl disintegration beams. Thank 343.

                I see I wasn’t the only one to see the similarities. I must note, until this interlude, I was imagining something more…human-like. Four limbs, roughly human-sized, etc. This…well, I’m reminded of Tattetale’s note about Leviathan. Crawler isn’t human anymore. Was he ever?

              • Pfft, no, Crawler DOES NOT ADAPT TO AN ATTACK IN PROGRESS. His healing factor is specifially said to adapt him to future versions of said attack.

            • Everyone seems to be looking for ways to hurt Crawler. He’s nigh-indestructable but how powerful/strong is he? Could containment be as simple as a titanium box? (Or a bit of tinker-made alloy if that doesn’t do the trick?)

            • You would need a HUGE rocket to reach enough delta v for something that big.

              And i think just shooting him into deep space would be better

        • Personally I’m more inclined to try a fancy little chemical colloquially referred to as FOOF made of two Florine and two Oxygen. Fancy thing about FOOF is that it is THE NUMBER ONE most re-active chemical known to man. It doesn’t even have to be an energetic reaction, usually chemical bonding with you flesh is bad. But… it isn’t really possible to get to Crawler…

          hmmm

          New plan. Bombard him with neutrons, converting his entire body into a radio-active mass HAS to kill him… I hope?

          This seems to be getting really hard to do…

          WAIT use HACK JOB! that would stop him from regenerating… then we just need to get Scrub to vaporize his entire body! THAT WORKS!

          Maybe. Or we could just freeze him in time? Forever preferably.

          • Just throw him in space and forget about it…why kill him?as long as he is not a threat,its ok.He could not return in earth from space,thanks to laxk of gravity,and as he adapts not based on his needs but based on his damage,he wouldn’t be able to create a propulsion system.In other words,give him the Cars treatment fromJojo’s bizzare adventure:Cars was,in many ways,stronger than Crawler,but he was stopped by the space treatment.

            • But we’ve all learned good and well from Batman and Spider-Man and Superman that if you don’t kill a villain, they will come back. Somehow. Why leave the possibility that he can come back, and is unable to die in the vacuum of space or something?

              • Because,unlike series when there is an end,Batman and Superman have to recycle their villains,especially the popular ones.

                Heck,if we are using marvel and DC comic logic,then death wouldn’t stop him either.

  3. I suppose I should have thought of this earlier, but Bonesaw could easily be the ultimate source of the future plague. Unfortunately, it’s also easily possible that it doesn’t matter what happens to Jack at this point because he’s already influencing her.

    • Someone else mentioned this, and I’ll say the same thing – of the members of the Nine that Dinah saw as responsible for the end of the world, it was Jack that caught her attention, not Bonesaw.

      • This is what leapt out to me. Jack talked to Theo and was going to kill him until he said he was going to be a hero, then Jack gave him a two year time limit.

        If Jack doesn’t die before he leaves the city this event occurs roughly around the time he was supposed to come back and kill Theo and Aster. So one theory is that when he does come back he triggers the event that causes the mass die-off. I don’t remember if it’s specifically stated to be a plague/epidemic.

        This is all speculation, and far fetched at that, but Aster is a 3rd generation person with potential powers, Allfather then Kaiser and Purity and now her. So from what we know that trigger events don’t need to be as severe in descendants of people with powers so maybe as a 3rd generation something relatively easy would set off her power, like Jack coming back and killing Theo and everyone. Maybe her power triggers the die-off? If Jack dies it has a good chance of happening anyway 15 or so years later, Aster would be 15-16? which seems to be around the time a lot of people have their trigger events. This might be a bit late.

        All this being said, I feel that Theo is connected to Jack being the catalyst for the world ending.

  4. “The boy with the glowing hair bid a series of detonations to occur in close succession” – I don’t think bid is the right word. Not sure what is.

    “He had other motivations, but he would quiet on that particular subject.” – missing the word remain, probably.

    Jack’s amazingly well informed, but I think he’s misjudged how easy it would be to keep Bitch out of trouble in this group. You never can tell whether it’s canine instincts or human emotions moving her (dogs don’t feel shame. They just fake it.)

    Siberian can’t talk here. Did I misremember her talking to Bitch?

  5. So, Skidmark is dead, and maybe Squealer and Mush are as well too. Scrub, if he hadn’t run, might have managed to actually finish Crawler, though I suspect that others were keeping an eye on him. Part of me wonders if Wildbow deliberately used Acceptable Targets (the Merchants) for the first on-screen massacre.

    It looks like, indeed, Mannequin is going to be going after Skitter, but without the others’ help. If the others can deduce that and set up a trap, they might just be able to eliminate him. At the same time, with Cherish acting as a “spotter”, informing the others about where everybody is, that might be difficult.

    One thing that occurred to me reading this and the earlier chapter is that Jack Slash must have a Required Secondary Power of supernaturally steady hands and aim, with the way he was able to cut Tattletale’s face without killing her and the way he was able to cut Skidmark’s fingers. (Assuming he was about half a city block (50 m) away, and assuming Skidmark’s fingers are about 10 cm long, that means he is able to aim (by rotating his blade) to within less than 6 arcminutes or about 1/10 of a degree, which is impressive, considering the distance and his doing it with a naked eye.)

    • Or he just bends the cutting edge, which would make sense, given that at that magnification pretty much any non-Tinkertech blade will only barely resemble straightness.

      Also, poor Trainwreck. I liked his design. Reminded me of Gav from Nukees and/or Schlock Mercenary.

  6. “Buried her face in her neck” If you don’t mind me getting a little editory here wildbow I think this phrasing is a little awkward. I know what you mean and I think everyone else does to but using that pronoun twice in a row just seems strange to me. Have to say I’m not sorry to see skidmark go but geez I wish someone would take these guys down they are just so frigging scary. If I lived in this world I don’t know how I would keep from killing myself. Have to say I’m pretty worried about Taylor and how she is going to handle all this attention. Too bad about scrub too. He had potential but I guess crawler is just going to hunt him down now.

  7. I can’t help but think that the slaughterhouse nine are entirely too deadly. From the way they speak they behave it seems like they attack quite a bit more frequently than the endbringers. I just don’t see how there are cities left standing. Shatterbird alone must cause tens of millions of dollars in damages and hundreds to thousands dead at pretty much every single city they visit.

    • I think based on what we have heard the Endbringer attacks normally tend to be far more deadly than what has happened in the one we saw. The vague descriptions we have of the other Endbringers and the mention of the outcome of Kyushu and Newfoundland seem to suggest that the Endbringers fall mostly under the same category as large scale natural catastrophes devastating entire regions while the Nine are just a bunch of terrorists occasionally setting of a small dirty nuke in a population center by comparison.

      They Nine might strike more frequently but not nearly as hard and I got the impression that they as international a threat as the Endbringers.

      But yes, even if they only strike every few months and usually aren’t quite as effective in cities that have not recently been devastated they would eventually cut quite a swath through the major population centers they visit.

  8. The game that Tattletale offered in 12.4 stated that more than half of the candidates had to survive whereas Jack states here that only 2 or more have to survive for the Nine to lose. Is this a mistake or is Jack just deciding to make his victory conditions more difficult?

    Thoroughly enjoying this story. It has become a minor obsession of mine and I start looking forward to future releases as soon as I’ve stopped reading.

  9. From the Desk of Psycho Gecko,

    Memo Regarding Ongoing Study of Siberian (Note: There are absolutely no hidden tapes of the nude supervillain anywhere in, under, or around my office.)

    Hypothesis confirmed, Siberian is a superspeedster, not a super strong person who has increased speed as a result. Her body adapts to the process by messing with her senses. That explains her nudity in the face of running at things at a high Mph, an effective adaptation for dealing with the effects of friction on clothing (Note: See The Streak’s streaking trial for more information on the issues of superspeed and clothing). Metabolism appears to be self-sustaining, though she eats to enjoy the sensation (Note: Ladies, smug smile, end note). Self-sustaining metabolism and fondness for Bonesaw mean chemical weapons are off the table (Missing two bottles of methanol. Maid may be off the table as well). Super speed means a city-destroying tungsten buster bunker with a 100 megaton nuclear bomb is also unusable, as she’d just outrun it. Boredom, and dislike of speaking, likely related to having to slow herself down for everyone else. Black and white stripes a possible reference to the Doppler effect?(Note: Probably not, you only saw that one episode of Big Bang Theory so no need to get science from it). Has the ability to extend her protective field around others to her wishes, otherwise everyone she hits would briefly become capable of handling the speed instead of dying on impact.

    Potential Methods of Inhumation: Ingestion of Explosives, Black Hole, or Boring to Death (Note: Drill technology woefully inadequate at current time. Yes, with a heavy heart I must note that I can’t drill Siberian. Maybe an Alaskan would be all for drilling, but not a Siberian. Must rely on college textbooks and drying paint for any chance to bore her now.)

    “Mush’s titanic form of sand and debris had ignited, and he flailed madly”

    Sand on fire? Looks like Burnscar got Shatterbird a present.

    So, that’s a look at Crawler, who does indeed share some characteristics of Doomsday and SCP-682. Need to take him out in one shot and destroy the entire body at once. You’d think he’d want to fight an Endbringer.

    • Who says he hasn’t?

      Makes you wonder whether the Endbringer truce would hold if the Nine showed up and joined in. They could probably cause a lot of chaos just by offering.

    • Sand on fire? Looks like Burnscar got Shatterbird a present./i>

      That’s clever. And true.

      So, that’s a look at Crawler, who does indeed share some characteristics of Doomsday and SCP-682. Need to take him out in one shot and destroy the entire body at once. You’d think he’d want to fight an Endbringer.

      Like I’ve said before, I’m pretty sure Crawler is a baby Endbringer. All he needs is someone to drop a nuke or two on him and voila! He levels up thaaaaaaaaat much. Best takedown for him is to stick him in a time machine, set it to “Cosmic Heat Death” and let er rip. No matter what happens, he’s not your problem any more.

      • What I originally meant by that is that you can create glass by melting sand. So if you set on fire a guy whose body is made of sand, and you have someone who controls glass on your team, it’s even more fun for a psycho glass controller.

  10. I think Cherish really needs to find a way to completely destroy every neuron in her brain. Quickly. Before letting Bonesaw get to them…

    Crawler is scary and interesting- I was expecting the size based on what he did in Coil’s base, but I was thinking more ‘Tetsuo from Akira’ than this- Even though it isn’t accurate I cannot help but mentally get the image of a giant Displacer Beast from d&d. I wonder about his structural characteristics given the size, and how he maintains himself with the high mass to surface area- given that he can apparently conjure mass to repair himself, he might get oxygen and energy directly from the same place…
    I wonder how well Crawler controls his development- Would be interesting if the way to defeat him was to put him in situations where developing into docility or stupidity were the easiest route to immediate survival. I also wonder how he stores the template for his regeneration, and what he might lose when Scrub(for example) takes a chunk out of his brain. So many questions!

    A couple things-
    “clasped together her shoulders” Could use a comma and/or ‘and’ there. Or maybe starting a new sentence with her shoulders.
    “with scales where armor wouldn’t allow him optimum flexibility, and scales and coarse hair” Maybe specify larger and smaller scales? Or perhaps replace one of the instances of scales with ‘scutes’?
    “two group member” should be members.

    • Don’t forget the massive energy requirements needed to regrow huge chunks of his body in seconds. Same with Siberian and all that’s involved in her powers. They don’t seem to need to eat or otherwise take in energy to make up the difference. They’ve got to be getting that energy from somewhere.

      • I think that the whole massive energy requirements to make the powers work is a simple aspect of the genre. You could probably harness half the superpowers in most comic books to build a perpetuum mobile. In universe there are always the mysterious cosmic entities that grant the powers as an ‘explanation’ of were the energy comes from.

      • How to phrase this?

        Energy requirements for powers are sorta kinda important. This isn’t to say they’re a plot point unto themselves, but they aren’t handwaved away and they do factor into the big picture in a fashion.

        • Huh. So that would probably make Crawler killable if you were able to immobilize him and deal enough damage fast enough. He would eventually fail to regen. Keeping Scrub alive just got alot more important.

          • I should rephrase: The source(s?) of energy that people are drawing from are kind of important & aren’t being ignored/handwaved. That said, some capes are pulling forth ridiculous amounts of energy/mass from nowhere and Crawler is among them.

          • Hmm, well I guess if the universe (or something) needed some method of cutting down on Earth’s power drain, it’d use some sort of extremely tough monsters capable of easily killing superhumans. They’d have to be able to survive a lot and regenerate on their own, and could probably just go to any area in heavy superhuman conflict if it needed to find a sizeable portion to eliminate all at once.

      • We have been led to believe the powers are provided by some mysterious, abstract creatures I like to call “dancers”, and that they exist in a multitude of dimensions beyond human understanding – even in a world that has opened at least one portal to a parallel reality. It seems fair to assume any apparent violation of thermodynamics can be explained by powers transferring matter and energy between alternate dimensions. Which, while I don’t know much about physics, I think may be the only way to have all the powers in this story happen with any realism.

    • I think Cherish really needs to find a way to completely destroy every neuron in her brain. Quickly. Before letting Bonesaw get to them…

      I can’t really disagree. The surprising thing is that this would actually be really easy- she just has to track down Scrub and make him mad at her. I guess she hasn’t committed to the idea yet.

  11. Interesting perspective and very well done.

    Jack never got around to mention his own stick. He doesn’t seem overly concerned with the fact that at least half the members of the nine could easily kill him at any given moment. If he was a just a thrill seeker then just being around his teammates should be enough to keep him from getting bored, the fact that he needs to add challenges and rules and restrictions to keep thing interesting means that he either has some sort of hidden immortality superpower or is just a lot more twisted than he at first seems.

    Compared with the previous fight that involved the Merchants, this one showed that the Nine were in a whole different league without having to go into too much detail or spending time telling us instead of showing us just how much more dangerous the Nine are. If this was set up as a contrast in advance, Kudos, well done.

    is the “ruined husk of a massive suit of steaming armor” Trainwreck? If i haven’t mixed things up again, he was the one with the armor who was secretly working for Coil.

    This paragraph confused the hell out of me:

    “A loss is allowable,” Jack said, when the fight didn’t erupt. ”Most of us are more forgiving than Siberian, and allow a failure or two from our candidates during the rounds of testing, no? It’s okay to let them win from time to time. It gives them that spark of hope, so we can snatch it away and leave them all the more devastated.”

    I really don’t understand what Jack is talking about right there. First he seems to say that it is okay for a candidate to lose a test, which doesn’t really make sense, since Mannequin clearly lost the fight, which would indicate a win for whoever he was testing, which makes even less sense since he was fighting Skitter who was not even a candidate.

    Then he turns it around and says its okay to let them win occasionally, which would make sense in combination with Skitter winning or at least surviving a fight, but that really doesn’t mesh with what he says right before that.

    I really don’t see what Mannequin’s fight with Skitter had to do with testing candidates at all. Are the nine perhaps under the impression that Mannequin fought someone else? The term villain could apply to just about anybody including ironically Armsmaster. Or was Skitter’s fight not a test for her at all but a test of someone else altogether? Perhaps a test of someone’s ability to betray a friend or tell somebody someones weakness, in that case I could see why a win by Skitter would be a loss by the candidate, but I don’t think that Mannequin really needed or used any special intelligence to take on Skitter.

    It is all a bit confusing. I am not sure if this is intentionally confusing as part of the story, just me not being awake enough to get what is being meant or a genuine problem that could be cleared up with clarification.

    • Mannequin (Alan–nice homage, Wildbow!) is being reminded/chided/counseled by Jack. It took a re-read for me to figure it out. The Nine pride themselves on being nigh-untouchable Bad Asses. So it naturally follows that if one of their own ‘can’t make the grade’ against ‘a lone super [hero or villain]’ then perhaps the Nine isn’t their… proper life path and will be removed from it forthwith?

      Conjecture, but it seems to fit?

        • Googling it, I think Wageslave94 is talking about Mannequin Attack by Alan Menken. If that was pure coincidence, it was a pretty cool one.

          FWIW, I thought the same as Wageslave94 on that paragraph: Jack was hinting that all of the members could be kicked out at any time if they don’t keep pushing themselves to win, though a few losses aren’t enough to get them kicked out (and presumably killed).

          As for Jack’s stick, do leaders need sticks? I imagine that his stick is the same as his carrot: he pushes himself to never let himself fall into a rut or stagnate.

          • Jack was talking to Shaterbird, who seemed to want to punish manequim for failure.
            And Jack reminded her that even in the test to be one of the nine a failure or two are acceptable.
            I understood that Shaterbird had failed once or twice in her test and was being reminded to avoid being too harsh on her companions.
            But latter Jack sent Manequim to redeem hinself, it is clear that this time failure is not an option.

  12. – Poor Cherish. Her best bet at this point would be to commit a hilariously thorough form of suicide, one that leaves absolutely nothing behind.
    – So we’ve met Crawler. He’s exactly as I imagined him. Well, except for the tentacles. Amused that he can still talk though.
    – Nice insight into the group as a whole. Fucked-up Manson Family of sorts. I assume Jack realizes he’s got a tiger by the tail and he can neither let go or get off without getting gored. Well, not so much a tiger, per se, as a genetically-engineered chimera.
    – Jack didn’t mention his own stick. I’m guessing the fact that he’s the most eminently killable member of the team (Cherish doesn’t count) is enough of one.

  13. Poor Trainwreck,..

    Crawler’s size and mass does create a number of difficulties for him the savvy hero can exploit. Being so big will give him a hell of a heat signature to boot.

    This does make me wonder how the Nine actually get from city to city; the merry band of unstable psychopaths seem unlikely to sit through a car journey together even if you get over the issue of the specialized transport some of them need. Maybe that’s the true reason they listen to Jack – he’s the one with the minivan!

    • Grin. In all seriousness, though, anyone who can’t/won’t use a car doesn’t need one in this group. And yeah, poor Trainwreck.

  14. hi

    relativly new here, so
    first fo thanks for the story
    and sry for the mail address^^

    a couple of chapters back i began wondering
    can Taylor use her multitasking abillety to learn?
    if so should she be considered a Tinker?

    • Not unless it also gives her a technical engineering ability beyond that of a baseline human. I’d peg her as a Thinker 1, Thinker 3 on bad days.

  15. Good chapter! But lots of people said stuff about the nine! I don’t like them but I like Bonesaw and hope somebody takes her away from them and teaches her to be good. I wonder, has she used her powers to keep herself a child? If I was her I would that way I would always have fun!

    BUT: Hey readers, has anybody said anything about Skidmark’s insults? I loved them! I didn’t like Skidmark as a character, but his wonderful insults will be missed.

    Also: What would the Nine do if Scion dropped down right in front of them? My guess: Run! Except Siberion and Crawler would probably fight, but honestly that brings up the question,
    Why oh why author did you give creepy evil mass murderer psychopaths TWO unstoppable guys?

    I’m just worried the story is gonna get seriously depressing and have Skitter get ****ed or something by the nine and then have her friends die. 😦

  16. So, here are my thoughts on Siberian:

    1. Her power is that she moves outside of the normal laws of physics. Although she is essentially the unstoppable force made flesh, and cannot be affected by any external force she does not choose to be affected by, she also disturbs nothing that she doesn’t want to disturb.

    2. While Scrub’s effect on Crawler is formidable, I believe he (Scrub, not Crawler) is the only individual yet shown who has the power to take out Siberian. Scrub, too, affects matter outside the normal rules, and is entirely unaffected by the Manton Effect. I think he could easily take a chunk out of Siberian in a way that no one else has yet shown. Since Siberian is not actually physically tougher than a normal, fit human, an attack by Scrub should maim or kill her just as much as it would anyone else. However, since Siberian movement is effectively unlimited, she can easily get close enough to kill Scrub before he has time enough to react and attack her.

    3. I’m almost disappointed that Siberian is so physically attractive. How fortunate for her that she locked into the form of a hot naked woman with striped skin, instead of a grossly obese hag with paisley skin.

    Hg

    • Also, about Crawler’s loss of brain matter, one can only assume that that part of his anatomy is just as redundant as the rest of him. (Kind of like a Klingon, actually.) He likely stores backup of all that information in the rest of his central nervous system, with redundant holographic backups. His brain itself is so large, given the size of his head in comparison to the thickness of his skull, that it probably stores data just like a master/slave database cluster.

      Hg

      Hg

  17. Just a tad confused…
    Given this is a disaster area and the nine are known to be in town, why aren’t there scouts flying about? A few hundred laptop sized drones from Dragon maybe?
    They could have seen the Nine’s party and the heroes (and maybe a cruise missile or two) could have descended on them like the wrath of god.

  18. Grammar: “conjuring up storms of glass shards and flame to block their victim’s retreat.” The apostrophe on “victim’s” should go on the end like so: victims’. That indicates plurality.

  19. Skidmark has…had such a colorful array of insults, huh?

    And to everyone still wondering why Jack is feared: This. He can understand a group of the least stable, most selfish and sadistic parahumans on the planet to the point that he practically controls them like a kid controls his little toy car. He knows all their buttons, how to make the little puppets dance. He can do this to his foes, too.
    Jack is tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AwesomeByAnalysis

  20. Apostrophe error: should be ” victims’ ” rather than “victim’s”
    “The others followed quickly after, Shatterbird and Burnscar launching themselves to the far corners of the massed crowd, conjuring up storms of glass shards and flame to block their victim’s retreat.”

    “god” should be “God” – God is a name and god is a common noun.
    “But hearing you say it out loud. Oh god.”

  21. This story is getting pretty depressing. When you rewrite this for a novel it would be good to raise the emotional tone a bit.

    They’ve lacked any significant successes for quite a long time, or their successes haven’t really made much impact- for example, after their defeat of Shadow Taylor didn’t really seem to care much or be happy that her bully was gone. The encrypted hard drive they got seems to have vanished and is no longer existent. Money is meaningless since the economy is collapsed. The group is apart so it is lonely, the only person who is really friendly with Taylor just got cut up.

    When they rescued the boy from the merchants he was a horrible, evil person. It’s clear from the storyline that this is going to be a long, slow battle, with the S9 slowly defeated and numerous depressing deaths in the meantime, and so far they haven’t had any significant defeats- even when Taylor semi beat one he walked away free and annoyed rather than running, and will presumably repair quite quickly. It’s clear Cherish is going to die a horrible painful death/ be tortured horribly. Nothing really significantly happy has happened with Taylor’s people, and a bunch just got horribly murdered.

    I was binge reading. This stopped me. I’d definitely recommend putting more emotional payoffs in the story so it’s not so horribly depressing.

    Perhaps they could have found some useful data on the stolen drive? Perhaps Taylor could get to gloat to Shadow’s dad/ someone at school? Perhaps she could have some social interaction with someone beyond simple necessity? Perhaps Taylor’s victory could have been more decisive? Perhaps we could see some serious positive changes to Taylor’s people, some increase in happiness and hope before they are all murdered horribly? It just seems like a really long and depressing part of the story.

    • What? But there _have_ been positive developments.
      They got paid for the drive, and Coil is having his people decrypt it.
      She has a cool new HQ/spider lair
      She recovered the missing kid she was looking for.
      (Granted, the kid himself is no prize…)
      She’s recruited two minions and some henchmen.
      The people in her territory were getting the help and support they need.
      Her relationship with Brian/Grue is no longer antagonistic; he’s even sought her out a few times.
      Her father still cares and worries about her.
      Heck, she won a battle with one of Slaughterhouse Nine!

      I do wonder where the Red Cross / UMCOR / etc. aid is.
      After any natural disaster, relief workers pour into the affected area, (often aided by national guard, in America). Tattletale was working at a relief shelter, but there should be more than that, considering the scale of the problem…

      • >They got paid for the drive, and Coil is having his people decrypt it.

        They have no real use for the money as the city was trashed, and the drive isn’t decrypted, so there’s no emotional payoff for me from this.

        >She has a cool new HQ/spider lair

        Possession of a house doesn’t count as emotional payoff for me. Many people possess houses.

        >She recovered the missing kid she was looking for.
        (Granted, the kid himself is no prize…)

        That would have been an emotional payoff, but it ended off being rather depressing.

        >She’s recruited two minions and some henchmen.

        Honestly, with the way it was phrased, it sounded more like a responsibility than a benefit with the minions.

        >Both Sierra and Charlotte had seen me bleeding, when I’d come back from rescuing Bryce. It sounded so minor, but I didn’t want them imagining me as hurt and mortal when they were supposed to trust me and look up to me.

        An extra strain for an already taxed person. The henchmen and women were tainted for me by only being useful for finding a depressing and evil brother.

        >The people in her territory were getting the help and support they need.

        They haven’t been very thankful, and with the high death toll among them any benefit from her presence is questionable. She may have raised the death toll by giving them help and support.

        From the last time Brian talked to her.

        >This wasn’t a social call.

        There’s been a distinct shortage of social calls. They’ve all been functional.

        >Her father still cares and worries about her.

        I reread that. He said “Are you ok” once but their conversation was mostly functional. I didn’t get any great sense that he cared about her. I have no doubt he does, but the story didn’t really press that point. At other points he shows he cares to a much greater degree.

        >Heck, she won a battle with one of Slaughterhouse Nine!

        She annoyed him with webs, and he left of his own free will after he killed a bunch of her people. It didn’t feel like a win. She felt similar.

        Again, it’s been a long sequence of depressing event after depressing event. I’ve read the entire story. At no other point is it depressing for anywhere as long.

        • Nice reply. And I’ll do my best to rebut, Although I think the real issue is we’re talking apples and oranges. Or, more to the point, how much water is in that glass…

          But on to the show.

          >>They got paid for the drive, and Coil is having his people decrypt it.

          >They have no real use for the money as the city was trashed, and the drive isn’t decrypted, so there’s no emotional payoff for me from this.

          I can’t argue with that – if you got no emotional pay, then you didn’t.
          Skitter has never been motivated by the money, anyway. But from the character’s POV, they got in, got the thing they wanted, and got out again.
          So I found it satisfying.

          >>She has a cool new HQ/spider lair

          >Possession of a house doesn’t count as emotional payoff for me. Many people possess houses.

          Once again, can’t argue with your pay.
          But shelter is a basic need. When I don’t have it, I want it. And she has it.
          But I don’t have a house; I rent a studio at the moment, but I have been in position to wonder where I’ll be sleeping. Not a good feeling.
          And she doesn’t have just a house, but a lair, with space for breeding crawly things, and a secret sewer entrance. She even has luxuries, like power!
          It may not float your boat, but I got pay.

          >>She recovered the missing kid she was looking for.
          (Granted, the kid himself is no prize…)

          >That would have been an emotional payoff, but it ended off being rather depressing.

          The pay for me was in the success. No one she was trying to rescue died, You know, small things. But it doesn’t take a lot to make me happy.

          >>She’s recruited two minions and some henchmen.

          >Honestly, with the way it was phrased, it sounded more like a responsibility than a benefit with the minions.

          Well, sure, for Skitter they are a responsibility. She feels responsibility for every frickin’ thing under the sun. And under the ground, I guess. Doesn’t change the fact she’s got a few people to help her get stuff done. So for me, a plus.

          “Both Sierra and Charlotte had seen me bleeding, when I’d come back from rescuing Bryce. It sounded so minor, but I didn’t want them imagining me as hurt and mortal when they were supposed to trust me and look up to me.”

          >An extra strain for an already taxed person. The henchmen and women were tainted for me by only being useful for finding a depressing and evil brother.

          About the quote – Yeah, she wants to be seen as perfect. Tough. Nobody is. It won’t hurt her to be seen as human. Might even help, in some ways, even if she doesn’t like it.

          About your comment – her life is one big strain after another. Dealing with this seems minor. Not a plus. Certainly I didn’t find them tainted because one has a douche for a brother. But that’s just me.

          >>The people in her territory were getting the help and support they need.

          >They haven’t been very thankful,

          No, they haven’t. The ones we’ve mostly seen have been almost as bad as that brother. And the others have been rightfully wary of the supervillain in their midst. They must all be wondering, “What is she getting out of this?” But I didn’t say that they were thankful. I said they were getting aid.
          And she was responsible for that aid. Something positive.

          >and with the high death toll among them any benefit from her presence is questionable. She may have raised the death toll by giving them help and support.

          Bleak outlook. But she is not to blame for the actions of the Nine.
          Even the raised death toll is debatable. Likely without her aid many would die of exposure, disease, hunger.

          About Brian

          >There’s been a distinct shortage of social calls. They’ve all been functional.
          True, but he’s been willing to be functional, as opposed to ostracizing her.
          It’s a start.

          >>Her father still cares and worries about her.

          >I reread that. He said “Are you ok” once but their conversation was mostly functional. I didn’t get any great sense that he cared about her. I have no doubt he does, but the story didn’t really press that point. At other points he shows he cares to a much greater degree.

          Little things mean a lot?
          He asked if she was OK – he didn’t want to belabor it and risk pushing her further away. She was obviously physically all right. He did the best he could, I thought.

          >>Heck, she won a battle with one of Slaughterhouse Nine!

          >She annoyed him with webs, and he left of his own free will after he killed a bunch of her people. It didn’t feel like a win. She felt similar.

          Skitter is a bit down on herself. He chose to leave? She dismembered him and drove him off? All in your point of view.

          >Again, it’s been a long sequence of depressing event after depressing event. I’ve read the entire story. At no other point is it depressing for anywhere as long.

          This is discouraging to hear. It’s going to get even more upbeat?
          Is our author gonna start channeling the Care Bears or something?
          Just kidding. 😉
          It’s how Taylor deals with the trials that make the story interesting, but I don’t mind if some good stuff happens too….

          Anyway, sorry if I sounded like I was dissing you at any point. Your point of view is valid. I just have a different one. So it goes.

          • >But from the character’s POV, they got in, got the thing they wanted, and got out again.
            So I found it satisfying.

            From the character’s POV, they got in, got the thing they wanted, and found out that it was decrypted and that potentially they would never get the payoff.

            >But shelter is a basic need. When I don’t have it, I want it. And she has it.
            But I don’t have a house; I rent a studio at the moment, but I have been in position to wonder where I’ll be sleeping. Not a good feeling.

            The average person likely doesn’t often deal with the worry of having nowhere to sleep on a frequent basis, so I doubt your experience is common enough that the average person would get a payoff from this.

            >And she doesn’t have just a house, but a lair, with space for breeding crawly things, and a secret sewer entrance. She even has luxuries, like power!

            Utilization of these things would be the emotional payoff for me, like if she escaped from a foe with her secret sewer entrance, or if she made new super spider suits with enhanced spiders, not the mere existence of me. Showing, not telling is more effective.

            >The pay for me was in the success. No one she was trying to rescue died, You know, small things. But it doesn’t take a lot to make me happy.

            For me, metaphorically, the brother ‘died’ and was replaced by a horrible person.

            >Well, sure, for Skitter they are a responsibility. She feels responsibility for every frickin’ thing under the sun. And under the ground, I guess. Doesn’t change the fact she’s got a few people to help her get stuff done. So for me, a plus.

            She often gets new team mates who she relies on and who she gains significant successes from, throughout the story. In this situation they’re weak henchwomen with no powers and she says, explicitly, that they’ll be a drag on her. It hasn’t been my experience through the story that she feels ‘responsibility for every frickin’ thing under the sun’ to the point she says every person she meets is more responsibility.

            >About the quote – Yeah, she wants to be seen as perfect. Tough. Nobody is. It won’t hurt her to be seen as human. Might even help, in some ways, even if she doesn’t like it.

            That’s your perspective. But from her perspective (and hers is the only one we see) it’s bad. You are interpreting this in a very rosy manner, but can you see how another person who was less rosy could take her words at face value and see this as another bad thing, and that reasonably be supported by the writer’s writing?

            Some very optimistic people like you would be ok at this point, but many others wouldn’t enjoy this part of the story so much. Now, the author could just write for optimists like you, but that would mean reduced sales, less financial freedom for the author and less chance of a sequel. Do yo

            >About your comment – her life is one big strain after another. Dealing with this seems minor. Not a plus. Certainly I didn’t find them tainted because one has a douche for a brother. But that’s just me.

            At many points she has reduced responsibilities and large victories that reduce her immediate obligation.

            >But I didn’t say that they were thankful. I said they were getting aid.
            And she was responsible for that aid. Something positive.

            A very small positive.

            >Bleak outlook. But she is not to blame for the actions of the Nine.
            Even the raised death toll is debatable. Likely without her aid many would die of exposure, disease, hunger.

            She is not to blame for the actions of the Nine, but if the end result is that her efforts are negated by their psychopathy I don’t get much emotional payoff from her actions. There are many other situations where she has unambiguous victories that are not debatable.

            >True, but he’s been willing to be functional, as opposed to ostracizing her.
            It’s a start.

            It’s not necessarily a start. It could be a “I’ll work with you if I have to, but otherwise I’ll avoid you.

            >Little things mean a lot?
            He asked if she was OK – he didn’t want to belabor it and risk pushing her further away. She was obviously physically all right. He did the best he could, I thought.

            You’re reading a lot into this little thing. She didn’t gain much from this little thing, he didn’t, and there was little payoff. There are much, much more important scenes when he doesn’t just do little things and he shows a lot of love. If you can’t quote a particular point where they say something meant a lot you are reading it into the story.

            >Skitter is a bit down on herself. He chose to leave? She dismembered him and drove him off? All in your point of view.

            In the point of view of the main character, and an entirely reasonable interpretation of events. He can easily come back later stronger than ever and heavily armed soon after and attack her.

            >It’s how Taylor deals with the trials that make the story interesting, but I don’t mind if some good stuff happens too….

            I like seeing a mixture of defeats and victories, not just endless ‘debatable victories’ and stuff. If you want a very depressing story to challenge your optimism there are many points where it is very depressing, but I’d prefer if those bits were not too long. We could both have what we wanted from this story.

            • I don’t know. This whole thing has a very ‘it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness’ feel to it. People responding to overwhelming odds by doing what they can. I view that as positive, albeit in a different way to ‘things will turn out okay’ positive. It’s positive in that it portrays that there will always be hope and people struggling to make things better no matter how dark things get…

              • That is an alternate perspective which some people will come from. I’d prefer to see people responding to overwhelming odds by coming together, or achieving small victories against the endless night rather than people coming together and not really achieving anything.

    • Necro- reply:
      I don’t necessarily agree, but I do see where this is coming from. At some point in this arc and the next one, I really expected Taylor to break down into a steaming puddle of much-needed catharsis. She drives herself so hard that I’m with Grue; she’s self destructing. Or at least, a non-plot-powered human probably would.

      To the rest of her friends, Taylor may seem to operate on blue-and-orange morality: normal, very real, human fears and stresses don’t appear to bother her, but she’s consumed with worry about a girl she doesn’t know? If I were in Grue’s shoes, I might speculate that Taylor somehow thinks that Dinah is really the apocalypse or something.

      But then again, many of the things Taylor is facing is the equivalent of what people really go through in rough parts of Third-World countries IRL. Some community leader in genocide-ravaged Rwanda might feel like this spoiled little First-World Girl deserves to get a taste of reality, and this is similar to what every day looks like if you don’t have superpowers and latte shops and cheap everything.

      Maybe meditation with her ability to see herself with Swarm-sense, mentioned previously, is enough to keep herself grounded. Or maybe the source of her power drives her. Either way, even a brief mention of how she copes with this much stress might be worth it, since to many First-World readers–not to mention Taylor herself–this would be more stress than they have ever had cause to experience.

      • For Taylor, this is less stress than she routinely experienced for several years at the hands of a group of very sadistic bullies.

  22. Wow, It’s so late in the game, I can’t believe that I’m opening the… TYPO THREAD!

    A beam of light speared down from the base of the fat bodied helicopter, sending chunks of earth where it hit ground.
    –You probably meant to say “sending up”.

    The others followed quickly after, Shatterbird and Burnscar launching themselves to the far corners of the massed crowd, conjuring up storms of glass shards and flame to block their victim’s retreat.
    –victims’, plural.

    Cherish had yet to master it, not even biting her tongue or keeping the short shriek from escaping her lips as Siberian stepped off the edge of the roof.
    — As in, biting your tongue when jumping off a roof with Siberian is a good thing? Ouch.

    Siberian’s stick was Bonesaw, the possibility of losing the girl’s company in one way, shape, or form.

    –Is the ‘one’ here intentional? Maybe you meant any?

  23. One by one, the other members of the Nine seemed to notice Mannequin’s appearance. Shatterbird stepped back from the ruined husk of a massive suit of steaming armor and started flying their way, accompanied by a cloud of bloody glass shards.

    Shit. I liked Trainwreck. 😦

  24. >Siberian’s stick was Bonesaw, the possibility of losing the girl’s company in one way, shape, or form.

    Any* way, shape, or form? Or are you just breaking standard form for the sake of avoiding repetition (which I don’t mind; I avoid terms like torrential downpour)?

    >“Mannequin! Aww! Did the villain break you? Poor baby. Like a little girl with a ken doll.”

    Ken doll, upper-case K? Ken is a person or a trademark or whathaveyou, and not a literal ken, yes?

    “No epidemic! I promise!” She said

    she, lower-case s.

    >as if she was afraid she would be struck any second.

    Were.

    >conjuring up storms of glass shards and flame to block their victim’s retreat.

    Victims’? I’m assuming they’re here for more than one victim.

    >Bonesaw sat astride Siberian’s shoulders, in the midst of braiding a lock of the feral killer’s hair.

    Man. Did I mention I love Bonesaw?

    >Siberian nodded. She reached out to Bonesaw’s face and used her thumb to wipe away a spatter of blood before licking the digit clean.

    …Their dynamic is adorable.

    >Siberian was tricky. He doubted anyone else in the group was even aware, but their most feral member harbored a fondness for Bonesaw.

    Really? I could tell from the two above passages. Surely, one of the S9 would’ve noticed over months of pseudo-cohabitation. Or maybe they’re socially retarded. …Actually, they probably are, one and all.

    I really like the S9. Everything about them. Their dynamic, the difference in style, all that jazz. They’re fantastic. Excellent work on them, wildbow. If only they were the protagonists, instead of Taylor.

    • Also, when I started reading this, my hopes for an enjoyable interlude dropped as it seemed to be Skidmark-centric. Imagine my glee when he was puréed.

  25. Cherish says “Oh god” to Jack and Jack responds by saying something like “You’re out of the reach of God” Cherish’s god is lowercased and Jack’s is capital. To be honest, I don’t know of that’s mistake, just figured I’d point it out if it was.

  26. I have to say, I kind of feel bad for the Merchants. Skidmark got absolutely brutalized, Squealer torn limb from limb, Mush burned alive… they never even stood a chance. It doesn’t seem like anyone can stand a chance against the nine, outside of a one on one fight. It’ll be interesting to see further interaction with them.

    About Crawler, I’m wondering why he doesn’t go and fight an Endbringer. If he desires the strongest opponent that there can be, it would make sense that he would try to challenge them. I suppose he doesn’t have the ability to predict where they land that was just developed recently, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d been introduced to the story as a solo act, coming in the wake of Leviathan’s devastation to simply find clues about where they would strike next, killing any capes that stood in his way. That’d be my objective, if I were him.

    • Gotta get from wherever you are to wherever the Endbringer is. By the time he gets there, the fight is over. Could explain why the Nine are in the vicinity of Brockton Bay, so soon after Leviathan, even.

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