Prey 14.1

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The noise of the microwave beeping jarred me from the first restful sleep I’d had in some time.  I moved my head, and my pillow moved in response.

“Tried to tell them to stay quiet,” Brian said, his voice low, “They’re not the most considerate pair in the world.”

“Muh?” I mumbled something, and even I wasn’t sure what I’d intended to say.  I’d been deep in the throes of some dream that felt strangely familiar, and I’d been pulled out of it quickly enough that I felt momentarily disoriented.  I wiped at my mouth where I’d drooled a little, and was suddenly aware that Brian was there.  I felt my face heat up as I realized I’d been leaning -and drooling- on his arm.  Alec and Aisha were unmasked and rifling through the ‘kitchen’ to find something to eat.

Brian and I both spoke at the same time, with me mumbling something to the effect of, “Sorry, I must have fallen-” before shutting my mouth.

He waited, giving me a chance to talk as he wiped at the damp spot on his arm, then finally broke the awkward silence with,  “I’m glad one of us slept.”

“You didn’t?”

“Not a wink.”

He did look tired.  Not just like someone who had spent the night sitting upright, but like someone who had just finished a swim from one edge of the bay to the other.

“I hope I didn’t keep you awake by leaning on you.  Don’t even know when I nodded off.”

“It wasn’t you, and I didn’t mind.  It was…” he searched for the word.  “Okay.”

‘Okay’.  How was I supposed to interpret that?  Or did he intend for it to be vague and noncommittal?

I shouldn’t even have been worrying about that.  I blamed the fact that I was just waking up.  Brian was in a bad state.  Was there something I was supposed to say?  Something I should do?  Every gesture that normally demonstrated caring or sympathy or whatever else was a tender point for him.  A touch on the arm was an invasion of his personal space, which he was keenly aware of at this point.  Asking how he was doing was a reminder that he wasn’t ok.  Would offering to help him out or giving him support make him feel more powerless, like he’d felt when Bonesaw had gone to work on him?

No.  That last one was probably okay.  “You want anything?  Breakfast?  Coffee?”

“Coffee, please.”

I nodded, stood and rolled my shoulders.  Outside of the fact that none of the sleep I’d picked up over the previous night had been in a bed, I felt recharged.  Scrapes and bruises I’d only been dimly aware of were gone, as were the more obvious, attention-grabbing injuries.  That, in turn, made me think of the circumstances that had led to my good night’s sleep and healing job.  It was bittersweet.  Like a young child that was being forced to stand in a corner, feeling as low as she ever had, her stomach full with the entire birthday cake she’d just devoured.

Okay.  Still a little out of it.

I joined Aisha and Alec in the kitchen.  “Morning.”

“Sup,” Aisha said, curt.  She’d found some frosted cereal and was pouring herself a bowl.  She gave me a sidelong glance that wasn’t so flattering.

“How is the man?”  Alec asked.

“Stressed, anxious, not sleeping.  Can’t blame him.”

“And you’re using all that to get closer to him?”  Aisha asked.

I blinked.  “No.”

“Looked awfully cozy,” she replied.

I glanced back in Brian’s direction.  He was standing at the window at the other side of the building, peering outside, his back to us.

“I drifted off.  An accident.  Trust me when I say I feel bad enough about doing anything to make him feel less than a hundred percent comfortable when he needed rest.”

“Bet you a thousand bucks he didn’t mind,” Alec said.  Aisha gave him a dirty look.

“He’s nice enough that he wouldn’t want to disturb me, even feeling like he does right now.  He must have gone out of his way to stay still.”  I didn’t look at either of them as I filled the kettle the rest of the way and put it on the stove.

“Sure,” Alec drawled.  In a more normal voice, he said, “But what I’m saying is he wouldn’t mind.  Now, it’s been a little while, but there was a time when I had someone in my bed every night.”

“When you were with Heartbreaker,” I said.  From the look of disgust on Aisha’s face, and what I imagined was a similar expression on my own, I suspected we were on the same page.  At least on this one thing.

“Sure.  Cape groupies, my dad’s girls, people I used my powers on toward the end.”

There wasn’t even a trace of guilt or shame on his expression, no regret in his tone.  He just looked bored.

He went on, “What I’m saying is that I’m speaking from experience.  Having someone cuddled up beside you, even if it’s a little bit of a pain in the ass, having that body contact isn’t so bad.  Especially when you’ve had a bad day.”

Was that Alec trying to be supportive?  I glanced at Aisha, and she gave me something of a dirty look.

I was awkward, screwed up and feeling guilty on a lot of levels, from Brian to Dinah to the people in my territory that I hadn’t seen to.  Brian was traumatized, and that was layered on what he’d described to me as an unfamiliarity with social situations and emotions.  Alec was fucked up in a way I couldn’t even label.  Aisha wanted to protect her brother but didn’t know how, lashing out at me instead.  Damaged people.

Much of the water in the kettle had been heated, already, and it didn’t take long to boil as we got our individual breakfasts together.  I took it off the stove and began preparing Brian’s coffee and my tea.  After a moment’s consideration, I began preparing bacon and eggs, and rummaging around for toast, bagels or english muffins.  I’d use whatever I found first.

Tattletale, Bitch and three of the dogs came in through the front door.  I didn’t miss how Brian turned to face the door, tendrils of darkness creeping through the gaps between his fingers and crawling up his arm.  It took him a second to relax.  Tattletale threw me a package.  I opened it and found a pair of glasses.  I slid them on.

Leaving the food cooking on the stove, I brought Brian his coffee.  Maybe some normalcy would help.

“Morning,” I said.

“Morn,” Lisa replied.  “We were out making sure there wasn’t trouble.  Very, very quiet, after the last couple of days.”

Rachel glanced at me but didn’t say a word.

“Want food?”  I offered.  “I’ve got some stuff on the stove.  There’s some bacon if you want to give some to the dogs, Rachel.”

“It’s bad for them.  And I don’t give my dogs human food.”

“Right.  Thought they might want a treat, sorry.”

“But I’ll have some,” she said.


I returned to the stove and started preparing breakfasts.  I served Brian first, then prepared some toast and bacon for Bitch and some scrambled egg for Lisa.  It was almost a relief, having something concrete to do, a way to help, when I didn’t know how to act around Brian.

By the time I had Bitch and Lisa served, the Travelers had been roused by the smell of breakfast.  I offered them some breakfast, and Ballistic took over at the stove to cook for his team.

We arranged ourselves on the ground floor, Alec and Aisha sitting on the stairs, Lisa and I sitting on the couch, and Brian in the corner by the window, looking distracted.  Bitch seated herself on the floor, her back to the wall, her dogs at her side.

While we waited for the Travelers to get settled, I asked, “I’ve been meaning to ask.  What is Bastard?”

“You mean what breed is he?” Aisha asked.

“No,” I said.  I left it at that.

“He’s a wolf.”  Bitch scratched the skin at his shoulders, digging deep.

“No shit?” Alec said.

“Where do you even find a wolf?” I asked.

Bitch didn’t venture an answer, so Lisa spoke, “She didn’t find him.  He was a gift.  And since it didn’t come from Coil, that means-”

“Siberian,” Bitch finished.

“That’s crazy,” I said.  How long has it been since we had a chance to talk and touch base like this?  “She’s crazy powerful.  Majorly scary.  And she just, what?  Handed you the wolf cub and told you that she’s picking you to be a member of her team… how?”

“She told me with words.”

“She doesn’t talk,” Brian spoke up.

“She told me,” Bitch repeated.  “She showed up, I tried to fight her, didn’t work.  She explained, she left.  Left the cub at my place.”

I saw Lisa glancing between Bitch and me with a curious look on her face.  When I raised an eyebrow at her, she shook her head a little and then turned to Bitch, “That’s potentially a problem.  What’s to say Bonesaw or Mannequin didn’t put some sort of tracking device in him?”

“They didn’t,” Bitch said.

“How can you be sure?”

“He smelled like the forest when I got him.”

“It would have taken them seconds to stick it in him.  It would mean there was a way to find you.  Find us.”

“No.  Doesn’t make sense, what she was talking about.  Being free.  Accepting that we’re animals.”

“I wonder about that,” Lisa said, pulling her feet up so she was sitting cross-legged on the sofa.  “Maybe she was playing you?”

“Is she really that smart?” Alec asked.  “Jack is smart.  Bonesaw, Mannequin, sure, to varying degrees.  But Siberian?”

“My instinct?” Lisa shrugged.  “She’s an actor.  Playing up the feral angle, hiding a deeper strategy.  She might even be playing a long con on her team.  Or maybe her intentions are pure but she’s keeping them in the dark about the key stuff.”

“Like?” Trickster asked, as he found a seat on the arm of the chair Sundancer was sitting in.

Lisa said, “Brian’s new powers.  He was copying powers from the people who were in the darkness, yeah?”

Brian nodded.

“He got the ability to grant healing from Othala.  Regeneration from Crawler.  But who was the shadowy figure he used to pulverize Burnscar?”

“You’re thinking Siberian,” I said.

Lisa nodded.  “Sure.  What if she’s like Genesis?  Or Crusader?  What if Siberian has a very real, vulnerable human body somewhere nearby, always has, and the body she’s using is a projection?  Maybe it’s something even Jack doesn’t know.”

That gave us pause.  An in.  A way to stop the unstoppable beast-woman.

“No,” Bitch clenched her fist, and I could see her dogs responding to her body language, tensing.  “Don’t buy it.”

“Why not?”  Lisa asked, her voice gentle.

“What she said made too much sense.  She said things and she understood.  I’m fucked up.  I know I’m fucked up.  Not good at dealing with people.  But I could deal with her.  I understood her.”

“That doesn’t mean she didn’t lie, Rachel,” Lisa said.  “It only means she understood you well enough to know how to deceive you.”

“No.  It’s not-”  Bitch stood abruptly, and Bastard yipped.

“Rachel,” Lisa tried, but Bitch turned away.

“There’s one way we could try to find out,” I said.

Bitch turned at me and glared.  There was a viciousness in the look that I couldn’t blame entirely on her grudge against me or the current conversation.  Just like Brian, there was a minefield there.  I couldn’t hope to guess at what would press her buttons.

“You’d want to know, right?” I asked.  “You wouldn’t want to give her the benefit of a doubt if she was playing you.”

“You assholes are saying I’m gullible.”  If Bitch had hackles, they’d be standing on end.  Her fists were clenched at her side, her feet planted apart, as if she’d be ready to start swinging, whistling for her dogs to attack, at any moment.

“Hey,” I raised my voice.  “Answer the question!  Would you want to know?”

“Yeah, but-”

“Then we get in touch with Cherish.  We get an answer from her.  She’d know.”

“I’ll get in touch with Coil, then,” Lisa said.  She got up and headed into the room where she and Aisha had been sleeping.

I focused on my breakfast, hurrying to finish it before it got cold.  I’d been distracted by the conversation, and cold toast was depressing.

When I looked up from my plate, glancing at the others to double-check that they were okay, that I wasn’t missing anything, I saw Bitch staring at me.

“You want more food?”  I offered.

“You mean what you said?”

About the food?  “I don’t follow.”

“Last night.  You mean what you said?”

“You’ll have to remind me.”

“You said something about doing the same thing for the rest of us for what you did for Brian.”  She broke eye contact, looking down at Bastard.

My fight with Brian.  “You heard that.”

“Mm,” she grunted.

I glanced at the others.  Trickster was talking with his two teammates, Genesis still elsewhere, and Alec and Aisha were talking.  Alec was apparently demonstrating his power, making Aisha’s fingers twitch.  Brian looked on with a glower on his face, but I got the impression his attention was divided between that dialogue and my own discussion with Bitch.

“Yeah,” I told Bitch.  “We’ve been over this.  I really don’t know how to make it clearer.  If it came down to it, I’d risk my life to save yours.”


“I- I don’t know if I can really say.  You’re my friend.  We’ve been through a hell of a lot of crap together.  We back each other up because we have to.”

“You think I’d back you up?”  The question was a challenge, brusque, barely-but-not-quite-anger.

“Don’t know.  Does it matter?”  I glanced at Brian.  He was paying attention to what I was saying.  I felt momentarily self-conscious, struggled to find words that wouldn’t provoke a negative response from one of them.  I settled for a middle ground as I thought aloud.  “Life’s not fair.  It’s not even, not balanced, not right.  Why should relationships between people be any different?  There’s always going to be an imbalance in power.  The other person might have a higher social standing, they might have money, or more social graces.  Isn’t it better to stop stressing about quid pro quo and just do what you want or what you can?”

“Words,” Bitch dismissed me.

“Words, sure.  I’ll make it simple, then.  I consider you a friend, I’ll help you when stuff goes down.  And you… do whatever you think is right.  Do what you want to do.  I won’t stress about it, and unless you fuck with me like you did when we fought Dragon, I’m not going to hold it against you.”

She set her jaw, clearly irritated at the reminder.  Whatever.  I’d needed to make my point.

If she had been intending to give me a response, I didn’t hear it.  Lisa ventured back into the room, and all eyes turned to her.  She held her hand over the lower half of the phone.

“For those of you who haven’t been in contact with Coil, we ended up locking Cherish in an overturned boat’s hold in the Boat Graveyard.  She’s there now, with food and water, totally isolated, several layers of confinement, including but not limited to chains.  She wants to strike a deal, in exchange for details on Siberian and the Nine.”

“Letting her go?  No,” Brian said.

“Not what she wants.  She just wants a chance to talk to us,” Lisa looked at each of us in turn.  “Two minutes to address us, and then she dishes out the dirt, gives us the location on the Nine, the details on Siberian and answers any other questions.”

“Nothing saying she’ll tell the truth,” Alec said.

“And she’s in a position to say stuff that could create doubt or tension in our ranks,” Trickster pointed out.

“True,” Lisa conceded.  “But here’s the thing.  I’m getting the vibe she wants us to turn her down, so we’ll figure out the real scoop later and regret it.”

“What, you mean something like Siberian being here?  ‘Don’t you wish you’d asked me to tell you where she was, because she’s standing fifteen feet away from you’?” Alec asked.  “Yeah, that sounds like my sister.”

“How sure are you?” Brian asked Lisa.

“That there’s more to it?  Seventy five percent, to ballpark it.”

“Bad idea,” Brian said.  I found myself nodding in agreement.

Lisa raised the phone to her ear.  “Nope.  Don’t suppose we can change your mind?”

There was a pause before Lisa hung up.  “Eighty-five percent sure there’s more to this story than she’s letting on.  She was all too okay with saying goodbye for someone chained up in a hot metal prison cell.  That, or she thinks we’re going to call back.”

Sundancer spoke up, “Can’t we?  What are we really risking, here?  I mean, what’s at stake?  The worst case scenario, if we let her talk?”

“Can’t say, can we?” Lisa said.  She tossed the phone in the air and then caught it.  “Say one of us has something to hide that Cherish could reveal to the others.  Nobody’s about to admit it.”

There were glances all around.

“But I think I have an idea.”  Lisa smiled.  It was her old smile.  The scar was there, but it no longer pulled her mouth into a perpetual half-frown.  “Brian, got any books here?  Or magazines?”

“Upstairs.  Aisha, go grab something.  Any book on the floor of my room.”

“Why-”  She hesitated when she met his eyes.  “Whatever.”

It was a minute before Aisha ventured back downstairs with a novel.  It looked like a suspense thriller.

“Here’s the deal.  Everyone closes their eyes.  We close our eyes while the others take their turns tearing a page out of the book.  The higher the page number, the worse our inner thoughts and secrets.  The last page, Uh, three hundred and fifty-five, we’ll say, is the worst of the worst.  Unforgiveable to the point that someone here would kill you and the rest would be okay with it.”

She rifled through the pages of the book, “Anything below one hundred and fifty, it’s tolerable.  Stuff we’d be ashamed for others to know, but we’d be okay with them knowing for the greater good.  We each stuff it in between the couch cushions, until we’ve got a crumpled mess and none of us know who tore out which page.  If we’re more or less safe, if the numbers aren’t too high and we think we can stand to have Cherish dish out the dirt on the others, we’ll take her up on the deal.”

Nobody disagreed with the plan, but I supposed that doing so would look bad.  I closed my eyes as we went around the room, until Lisa tapped me on the shoulder and handed me the book.

Where did I stand?  What secrets was I keeping, and how highly did I value them?

I had my deal with Coil, with the real possibility that I might wind up his adversary.  Lisa knew that, as did Brian, but the others didn’t.  I suspected that Aisha could be convinced to roll with it when Brian did, so long as we didn’t push too hard.  Alec and Bitch would go with the majority.  The Travelers?  They had other stakes in this.  That was more dangerous.

One-sixty.  I tore it out and stuck it in the couch, sat down and handed the book to Lisa.

It took another minute for the rest to decide.

“So, in order… twenty-six, one-twenty-two, one-forty, one-forty-one, one-fifty-five, one-sixty, one-seventy-five, two hundred twenty-two, and three-twenty-five.”


“That’s a no, then?” Brian asked.

“Something like that,” Lisa replied.  She picked up the phone and dialed.

“What are you doing?”  Trickster asked.  “You said we wouldn’t go ahead if we didn’t all agree.”

“You’re right.  But I’m going to try to haggle with her,” Lisa replied.  “Hello?  Yeah, you already know the answer.  No-go.  Uh-huh.  Sure.  What if I asked for the Travelers to leave?  You could address the rest of us.  You and I both know you’re doing this to sate your boredom than for any grander purpose.”

There was a pause.

“Good.”  Lisa put her hand over the mouthpiece.

“Does that really work?”  Trickster asked.  “What if we wanted to keep stuff from you?  She could tell you while we’re out of the room.”

Do you want to keep anything particular from us?”

He shook his head.  “But how do you know your teammates didn’t pick the high numbers?”

“I don’t,” Lisa flipped through the pages.  “But just going by what I know about our groups, I think our team is going to be more concerned about what outsiders think.  You guys are going to be more concerned about what your teammates think.  Am I wrong?”

Nobody spoke.

“We could do another blind vote,” she suggested, “In case anyone wants to say they’re not cool with these new terms.”

“Speaking as the person who took two-twenty-two, I really don’t care all that much,” Alec said.  “I picked a higher number because I thought it would bother those guys.  I figure my team knows enough.”

“Exactly as I said before,” Lisa said.  “Anyone else have any major objections?”

I shook my head.  I could deal with the team knowing about my plan.  If things went south, they’d find out anyways.

The Travelers made their exit, Shatterbird came inside to stand guard by the door, and the rest of us settled down.  Lisa dialed and put her cell on speaker phone.  It rang twice before Cherish answered.

“Finally,” her voice came through the line.

“Your two minutes start now,” Lisa spoke.

“I should get four, since I’m dealing with only one group.”

“One minute, fifty-five seconds,” Lisa replied.

“Where should I start?  Hey, little brother.  Want me to tell them the sort of things you really did when you were back home?”

“It’s sort of tedious,” Alec replied.

“I wonder.  Rape culture is a funny thing.  People gloss over some pretty shitty, creepy, wrong behavior, little brother, when they know the person in question.  But you raise the reality of what they’re doing, and it’s a whole lot harder to shrug it off.”

Rape.  It was a loaded word, but Cherish was right.  She was a horrible person, to be sure, but she was right.  Did I really want to face what Regent had done, before we knew him?  Rape.  Murder.  He’d said, this very morning, that he’d done what he did because he’d been young, but that was just an excuse.  The deeds were still done, the consequences very real.

“You’re really one to talk, Cherie.  You’ve done what I’ve done, many times over.”

“I’m not pretending anything.  I am what I am, I don’t put on a facade,” Cherish retorted.

“That’s a blatant lie.  If you showed your true nature to the world at large, your face would be too ugly to look at.”

Ouch,” Cherish layered on the sarcasm.  “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re trying to do.  You’re delaying me, so I have less time to work with.  Why don’t I get started?  Let’s talk about your first kill?  Gang member, a kid.  You used him to kill his boss.  His older brother, in fact.  Because daddy wanted you to.  Then dad ordered you to kill him.  But you didn’t make it fast, did you?  You made him stab himself with a fork, over and over, and over…”

“Keeping in mind that I was hanging out with you and the dirty old man and our brothers and sisters.  Nature and nurture, I was kind of fucked on both fronts.  It was a matter of self-preservation to keep you guys entertained, and that was the sort of thing you liked.  Sorrylike, present tense.”

“Maybe, maybe.  And the drugs?  When daddy had you practicing your powers, you ‘hijacked’ a few people at a time, used their bodies to get high with no consequences for you, you threw orgies for yourself…”

“Again.  I was a kid.”

“How much does that excuse?”

There was a pause.  I looked at Alec, and he rolled his eyes at me.  Was he like Brian?  His emotions buried deep inside?  Or were they simply not there?

“What about darkness-boy?  Want to talk about what happened yesterday?”

I clenched my fists.  Lisa raised a hand, telling me to stop.

“You’re running low on time, Cherie,” Alec said.

“I’m happy for the chance to talk.  Bonesaw’s alive, you know.  She has hands, borrowed from Mannequin.  She’s plotting what she’s going to do to Grue.  Think about that.  She’s going to take him apart, and it’ll hurt worse the second time around, because she makes that sort of thing a matter of personal pride.  She’s thinking about it, daydreaming on the subject, and she’s a smart enough cookie that she’ll figure it out.”

Brian turned his back on the phone, staring out the window.  I wanted to reach out to him, to help ease the weight that idea must have set on his shoulders, somehow.

“Bitch, you know that Skitter’s going to betray you again.  Look at her.  She prides herself on being smart, and you know the best way for someone to make themselves feel smart? They make others look stupid, and you’re the stupidest person she has access to.”

I tensed.  I would have been lying if I hadn’t said I hadn’t seen something along these lines coming, but it ultimately depended on Bitch’s reaction.

“I fucking hate people who try to manipulate me,” Bitch growled.  “Next time I see you, I’m knocking your teeth in.”

There was a pause.

“Ah well,” Cherish said.

“And your time is up,” Alec said.  “So, now’s the point where you fuck us over and don’t say a thing.”

“Why would I do that?  I want you to deal with the Nine.  You killed Burnscar, didn’t you?  If you dealt with Siberian, life would be a lot easier for me.”

“So we’re right?”  Lisa leaned forward.  “There’s a weakness.  She has a real body somewhere?”

“She does.  Right now it’s actually not too far from you.”

Fifteen feet away.  I remembered Alec’s joke.

“Near that hole the Endbringer made,” Cherish said.  “Both of them, the real Siberian and the body.”

“You know what she looks like?”

“He.  A man.  Middle aged or older.  Unkempt.  Doesn’t eat much, probably thin.”

That wasn’t what I would have expected.

“Right now?  Siberian’s chasing down one of the candidates.  She’s taken on the next round of testing.  Simple test.  Hunt them down and if she catches you, you fail.  She eats you alive as punishment.  Wonder how many she can knock off before you take him down.  If you take him down.”

“Who’s she after?  We gotta know.”

“No you don’t.  Way I figure it, you go into the fight blind, you still stand a pretty good chance of offing her.  No skin off my back if a few of you die in the process.”

“You need enough of us alive to deal with the rest of the Nine.”

“Maybe, maybe,” Cherish taunted us with her tone.  “But shouldn’t you hurry?  The hero is going to die.”

It was Panacea or Armsmaster.  Both were complicated.  Panacea wouldn’t be able to defend herself, but Armsmaster was a whole mess of complications.

We hurried to get suited up.  My mask in ruins, I wrapped a scarf around my lower face and covered it with bugs.  I drew them around my eyes to hide the frames of my glasses.

As I finished up, I glanced at Bitch.  Her knuckles were white, her posture rigid.

She was pissed.

I made sure I had all my gear, then joined the rest in filing out.  Grue and Tattletale were the last out the door.

Glancing back to check on Grue, finding his posture and expressions unreadable beneath his darkness and costumes, I caught a glimpse of Tattletale messing with one of the pouches on her belt.  The pages we’d torn from the book were folded into a tight square, and she was pocketing them for later study.  She saw me looking.

“You going to be okay with this?”  She asked me.  “You’re the best equipped to find Siberian’s real body and stop her.  Him.  Them.”

“I’ll deal somehow.”

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114 thoughts on “Prey 14.1

  1. I’d not be surprised if Cherish is extremely playing them right now. I really hope that she’s not got a finger on Tattletale’s sense of self cleverness button.

    Odd how Taylor referred to Bitch as Rachel in her thoughts right before saying it to her. I don’t think it’s a mistake bit it was definitely something that has me thinking, since she reverted to thinking of her as ‘bitch’ right afterwards.

    “to the extent of” To the effect of?

    • Given that Cherish wasted her two minutes mainly with sibling banter, it could mean
      1) She’d really wanted to say something abou the Travellers, and, taken aback by them leaving, she was improvising poorly
      2) Her two minutes were really about stalling while SHE collected information

  2. Interesting.

    I liked that characters in the story were able to draw the same conclusions about Siberian that the commenters here did. Usually charcters in a story seem to be far more oblivious than the audience about this sort of thing. (Of course the fact they guessed makes it possible that there is another twist comming)

    Another thing I liked was the way that Regent was portraied. Even though he left that part of him behind he did not magically become a well adjusted human being with normal morals etc.

    Taylor’s self-assessed wanting-to-keep-secrets score is surprisingly high.

    Regarding Siberian I have to wonder how Battery was supposed to protect her if she did not know anything about the real him. Also the fact that Siberians real body is vulnerable and Siberian is the sort of monster that she won’t be expected to hold back against might mean that Taylor is looking at possibly making her first kill if she isn’t careful.

    Skitter’s improvised costume keeps transforming in a way that is probably sort of symbolic. By the end of it she might come out dressed in rags and writhering mounds of pestilent vermin….

        • It has been specifically stated in story that she doesn’t need to eat. No digestive processes. Might just have it held in there or smashed up or whatever until there’s a good time to drop the projection.

          The fact that it’s a projection doing the cannibalism increases the whole “it’s all an act” thing since that’s something you do to get into a person’s head. That, and religious reasons, are why some tribes have practiced cannibalism on those they fought. Nothing says “I will tear your heart out and eat it while you watch,” like tearing someone’s heart out and eating it while they watch.

    • To me it seems that by the end of it all, she may not even have a human body. Because it seems that she is less “controlling” the swarm, as shifting/expanding part of her “self” into it, utilizing their neurons as a substitute for her own grey matter. She notes this herself, when she states that she has to be one of the best where it comes to parallel processing (and let me tell you, the amount of mental processing required to control the swarms in the manner she does is staggering, likely more than even Dragon has). This is further evidenced by her being able to decipher the swarm-sent signals after a head wound, when her main brain would be impaired and more of her consciousness would be shifter into the insects. Another evidence of this is presented by Bonesaw, who notes that Taylor still can control her bugs even with her Gemma crippled, which would be possible if Taylor’s mental capacity was stored within the bugs and was not totally reliant on her brain to control. This is just a hypothesis of course, but a plausible one, I think.

  3. Makes me want to go back and see if some minor background character happened to be around whenever Siberian was. Still, it makes sense that nothing could harm Siberian but she’s capable of tearing apart anything. She isn’t real.

    Hey, things that aren’t real can have a huge impact on the world. Certain numbers. Fears about Jews. Hopes. Dreams. Delusions and hallucinations. Hey, there’s more than $1 billion worth of impact on the world that the fictional Avengers had, at least.

  4. Tattletale using the “book vote” to gather intel on everybody present: expected, but still hilarious since nobody except Taylor seems to have noticed. She can probably guess crazy stuff just from the exact numbers chosen or the way people crumpled their page.

    • Indeed, though with the Book Vote, she’ll have to work through a layer of perception. I mean. I think objectively that Skitter picked too high of a number. But I can see it pointing in a general direction.

      I wonder what number Tattletale picked.

      I agree with another commentator that Cherish wasted her time. Someone’s not going to win the Hannibal Lecture of The Year award anytime soon.

      Finally, with Siberian…can it possibly be that ‘easy’? I mean, when we were in the Mind of Jack, viewing it from his perspective, he never mentioned it, did he? I mean, knowing where Siberian’s real body is, and being capable of slipping away and murdering it while the others distract her/him/it HAS to qualify as a really big stick. I’m going to go back and see what Jack said was the actual Carrots and Sticks for Siberian…

  5. I wonder how Battery would try to save both Siberian (whom she knows nothing about) and Shatterbird (who is already compromised / basically dead). It would be interesting to see, especially from the perspective of others.

    • shatterbird’s tagged out. best of most scenarios for Battery. Nobody’s going to be trying to kill her (except the heroes), and after the flaming wreckage settles, she probably can be allowed to leave. Much less harmful without her teammates.

      • You have got to be kidding. She’s a mobile, intelligent mass murderer who can slaughter cities worth of people in a few moments. Her powers are incredibly damaging, the chances of the heroes ever letting her take off a soundproof helmet are between zero and not happening do you think we’re stupid or something.

        • Agree, nobody, specially not Regent, would allow shatterbird to get out of this alive.
          She would come back and try to kill Regent from a distance. Or, at least, she would take revenge on the city.

      • They are far more likely (as in 99.(9)% likely) to kill her as soon as her usefulness is ended or Regent feels his control slipping. He almost killed Shadow Stalker, and hers was the far lesser crime. She is not walking out of this alive until Regent is dead.

        Besides, there is the matter of the huge bounty and a standing kill order on her head.

        • You know depending on your perspective the nine coming to town is either awful or christmas.

          Sure it’s horrible for those possessed of empathy or particularly attached to their lives. However if that’s not the case then you basically get a bunch of people who are good fighting with no consequences for killing one, worth a buttload if you get one, distract the authorities something fierce and can be avoided at any time just by leaving the city.

          In other words, Coil actually has a lot to thank the nine for, they’ve advanced his agendas a great deal in the aftermath of Leviathan.

          • Except for the part where they nearly killed Coil. His agenda is advancing fine, and there *must be* a city for him to be able to take it over. He will take what advantage he can from the situation, but he wants Jack dead and the others either dead or gone.

            Typo alert: “You and I both know you’re doing this to sate your boredom than for any grander purpose.” should be “You and I both know you’re doing this to sate your boredom [more] than for any grander purpose.”

  6. Now this is when it would be REALLY good if the heroes had taken up the team with information skillz on their offer of allegiance. They would now know how to fight the Siberian and all would be well even if team fucked-up loses. Also I’m betting right now that Siberian is Hero, he faked his death and made a genuine villain to spice things up.

    I’m also curious if that projection is hollow, it’s entirely possible that he hides the body inside of it.

    Cherish kind of screwed that one up though, Alec’s reveal was ineffective and she let it slow her down. I was expecting her to go after Tattletale myself. The stuff about Skitter was pretty much an outright lie so she’s lost any chance of influencing Taylor. And I doubt Bitch is dumb enough to fall for it.

    In any case, I think Taylor may be about to find out for reals if her bugs can eat sopmeone to the bone or not. Here’s hoping the other Nine aren;t slaughtering her territory in the meanwhile.

    Oh and the stuff between Brian and Taylor continues to impress to no end, well done.

    • I hadn’t even considered the Siberian projection being hollow to fit the body, but if that is the case it is pure genius.

      • It would also mean that Flechette’s method works just fine. A head shot would kill him inside of it.

        For that very reason I’m betting no, that he just stays nearby but that he is capable of at least some physical exertion. That said I doubt he has a defense against a swarm of bugs eating him and I’ll bet that he cannot extend Siberian’s invincibility to himself due to the Manton effect so a good zerg rush should off him.

        Not to mention I am very curious what happens if he an Grue both use a projection on the other…actually better question. Grue’s projection looked Grueish so why doesn’t his?

        Also, oh the domesticity of it all. Taylor really does crave being useful to others doesn’t she? Grue’s anger made him put it unkindly but I think there is a definite need to be useful and necessary there. Aisha also had a good voice here, though I notice she vanished when the pages were being ripped, I love that her power applies on a meta sense as well since the reader can easily forget her when she simply fades into the background as isn’t mentioned. I had to count the pages to make sure she had started using her power.

        I guess Cherish cannot sense her at a distance then.

        • Good one! She did it again! So what does she have to hide? It doesn’t seem like her “deal” with Cherish worked out very well, given that she was apparently captured.

        • He can affect living things, viz Jack and Bonesaw, so I believe he would be one of the heroes who are not limited by the Manton Effect

          • I’m not seeing it, if he can affect himself then he has no reason to avoid being known of. His behaviour suggests vulnerability, in which case he cannot be able to affect himself with his powers.

          • Fair enough, I can see where you’re coming from with your thinking and it makes a lot of sense. My only issue is from what we’ve seen so far (and I may be misremembering) is that the Manton Effect was largely a binary thing, all living things only or no living things only. With the obvious exceptions on those who aren’t affected.

            Just have to wait and see how it plays out 😀

            • There’s no reason to believe Panacea’s power not affecting herself is a function of the Manton effect rather than a peculiarity of her specific power, just as Skitter’s power affects arthropods but not fish, birds, reptiles, etc.

          • I’m late with this but Panacea bypasses the many in effect and can’t heal herself. It’s not very far to reach to guess Siberian can’t invulnerablise(TM) himself.

    • Remember that we readers know that the heroes have at least 2 compromised members. So although the Undersiders don’t know it and the heroes who made the call may not know it, chances for actually killing ( or otherwise dealing with) Siberian are actually better if the heroes don’t get filled in on Siberian’s vulnerability. OTOH, cauldron may have many more tentacles than we know of, so that may have something to do with the ineptitude of the heroes’ response to the Nine.

  7. I just realized, that we never did find out what Burnscar’s test was. I guess it will stay a secret now unless wildbow wants to share….

  8. I think Cherish is lying. While it might explain how SIberian has gotten away so easily a few times, there’s no doubt a trick to the power or something.

    I like the team interaction in this chapter. Regent is, as always, entertaining. And I liked Rachel too. Glad to see she knows when someone’s messing with her. Maybe she’ll even come around?


    NOT if you cook without washing your hands first Skitter! Gonna make everybody sick! Covered in bugs girl, and don’t forget, two chapters ago you covered the lower half of your face in bugs! Did you wash? Gonna make yourself sick too!

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if Skitter’s power came with some degree of immunity to bug induced problems. Given that the manton effect and the like is stated to be the power making sure it doesn;t kill it’s user it would make sense that she is already immune to insect venoms, bacteria and so on.

  9. So many interesting things in this chapter. I totally missed Imp backing out, that was a good catch.

    It took me a second to realize why Rachel was so upset. At first, I thought it was because she wasn’t even sure whether Cherish was lying–she didn’t really know, but she hated being manipulated either way. Then I remembered that she was listening to the call to find out if Siberian really did understand her because she was feral. With that understanding, I found it amusing that Rachel’s sincerity took Cherish so far aback that she wasted the rest of her time.
    Something else interesting: 85% chance that Cherish is hoping that she doesn’t have to share, but she instantly and eagerly concedes on two points.
    No matter how the paradox is resolved, she must be pretty messed up in the head. It sounds like she’s hoping that the two sides will annihilate each other (maybe she knows about the PRT plan?), but if that happens, how is she going to get away?
    Unless she can control her victims from a lot farther than she’s let on. Maybe she doesn’t ever have to relinquish control?

    • Cherish pointed out in the Regent/Cherish interlude that her advantage over her dad is a huge detection range and the ability to use her power if she can’t see her target. The drawback being that the effects are short lived (and even shorter lived as her targets build up an immunity).

      Then again, she could be lying about it. 😉

      • Didn’t the short-lived aspect only apply to when she tries to take instant control? I thought that her long-term power was effective because slowly the person actually accepts the new emotion as part of who they were, so they never put up a fight.

        Sorry about making so many posts in a row, by the way. Feel free to delete them if you want.

    • She might be hoping for everyone to die so she can catch the next boater or helicopter pilot to pass close enough in the Boat Graveyard.

      If she hasn’t already.

  10. Ha, I started to write about a possible continuity error, but I just realized something. Now I’m more sure than ever that Jack is the source of Siberian. Jack uses knives to convince people that he needs them, but he can really make the projections however he wants.
    That’s why Grue made a guy with his copying powers. Jack was right there! It was also how Bonesaw was able to Cherish-proof Siberian and why Cherish didn’t subvert Siberian’s source right from the beginning.
    There are still one or two loose ends with the theory: Siberian seems to have her own personality, and she was able to talk. I’m guessing that Jack’s projections can become self-aware, but I’m not sure about this.

      • This isn’t the one that I meant, but in 12.4, Jack says that Siberian only attacks when half of the candidates are discarded.

        The one I was talking about might not actually be one, but Jack mentions (in the same chapter): “I wanted to see what she did, how she worked around Siberian’s immunity to her power… then the safeguards Bonesaw implanted in us would have kicked in and released us from her thrall.” It sounds like Bonesaw worked around Siberian’s immunity already. If so, that would put pad to the projection theory.

    • I’ve considered it too, I just never got the sense that Jack was unkempt. Then again, I see him as a mix of the guy from American Psycho and Johnny Depp. “You’re welcome,” Not you, we named the villain Jack.

  11. I’m not really sure if I like the idea of Siberian just being some kind of projection, but I’ll wait and see. It almost feels like a cop-out to the one truly unstoppable person in the Nine. Wildbow hasn’t let me down yet though, the series is superb,

    • It could be a red herring. Note that Lisa brought up the “Siberian’s other body” question before Cherish did. Cherish could just be going along with it to mislead them.

      • I prefer a Siberian`s projection to an invulnerable, indestructible, unbeatable Siberian.
        What is the fun in knowing that the bad guy can´t be destroyed, no matter what you try?
        It would be worse than fighting Jason or Freddy since the former can be slowed and the second can be avoided or partially defeated for a while.
        “The five years old boy tried to fight against the monster and was eaten.”
        “Despite the union of all governments of Earth and the work of all scientists, plus atomic bombs, chemical and biological weapons not even one of the aliens could be harmed, not even when walking naked in the streets. So, they simply killed all human beings and colonized the planet.”
        “The kids fought bravely using hit and run tactics, but nothing that they did even hit the ghost and it slowly killed them, one by one.”
        Where is the fun in the above history plots?
        It will not be nice if Siberian can just walk as she pleases, killing whoever she wants and all that people, end bringers and etc can do is just stay out of the way.
        Besides, if she could do this, why get together with the nine?

        • So long as she isn’t immune to temporal or teleportation effects, then putting her in orbit or smacking her with one of Bakuda’s time grenades may still have worked.

          Speaking of, I wonder what did happen to those victims and locations caught in her time-bomb? The now-undead Bakuda mentioned that the effects could take hundreds of years to end. Did it stop even the air?

          • Seems like being a projection would make her immune to teleportation and time warps, as the projection would just be disrupted. It explains her mysterious escapes, also, as the “real” person just stops projecting and Siberian disappears. If this is easy, that means she can “teleport” and the only reason she doesn’t is to hide clues regarding her vulnerability. Or maybe she can only teleport to the place where her real body is located.

  12. “Your two minutes start now,” Lisa spoke.

    “I should get four, since I already paid $10 at you 555 number.”

    “One minute, fifty-five seconds,” Lisa replied.

    “Where should I start? Hey, little brother. Want me to tell them the sort of things you really did when you were back home?”

    “It’s sort of tedious,” Alec replied.

    “I wonder. Brony culture is a funny thing. People gloss over some pretty shitty, creepy, wrong behavior, little brother, when they know the person in question. But you raise the reality of what they’re doing, and it’s a whole lot harder to shrug it off.”

    Brony. It was a loaded word, but Cherish was right. She was a horrible person, to be sure, but she was right. Did I really want to face what Regent had done, before we knew him? Songs. Pink ponies. He’d said, this very morning, that he’d done what he did because he’d been young, but that was just an excuse. The deeds were still done, the consequences very real.

    “You’re really one to talk, Cherie. You’ve done what I’ve done, many times over.”

    “I’m not pretending anything. I am what I am, I don’t put on a facade,” Cherish retorted.

    “That’s a blatant lie. If you showed your true nature to the world at large, your face would be too long to look at.”

    “Ouch,” Cherish layered on the sarcasm. ”Don’t think I don’t know what you’re trying to do. You’re delaying me, so I have less time to work with. Why don’t I get started? Let’s talk about your first convert? Gang member, a kid. You used him to get his boss hooked. His older brother, in fact. Because daddy wanted you to. Then dad ordered you to ride him. But you didn’t make it fast, did you? You made him trot around the neighborhood, over and over, and over…”

    “Keeping in mind that I was hanging out with you and the dirty old man and our brothers and sisters. Nature and nurture, I was kind of fucked on both fronts. It was a matter of self-preservation to keep you guys entertained, and that was the sort of thing you liked. Sorry, like, present tense.”

    “Maybe, maybe. And the cakes? When daddy had you practicing your powers, you ‘hijacked’ a few people at a time, used their bodies to get a sugar high with no consequences for you, you threw parties for yourself…”

    “Again. I was a kid.”

    “How much does that excuse?”

    There was a pause. I looked at Alec, and he rolled his eyes at me. Was he like Brian? His emotions buried deep inside? Or were they simply not there?

    “What about Sailor Darkness-boy? Want to talk about what happened yesterday?”

    I clenched my fists. Lisa raised a hand, telling me to stop.

    “You’re running low on time, Cherie,” Alec said.

    “I’m happy for the chance to talk. Bonesaw’s alive, you know. She has hands, borrowed from Mannequin. She’s got scissors on them and she’s cutting topiary and dogs’ hair. Think about that. She’s going to shape his hair like a poodle, and it’ll hurt worse the second time around, because she makes that sort of thing a matter of personal pride. She’s thinking about it, daydreaming on the subject, and she’s a smart enough cookie that she’ll figure it out.”

    Brian turned his back on the phone, staring out the window. I wanted to reach out to him, to help ease the weight that idea must have set on his shoulders, somehow.

    “Bitch, you know that Skitter’s going to kiss you again. Look at her. She prides herself on having a story with lots of readers, and you know the best way for someone to get themselves a bigger audience? They use lesbians, and you’re the easiest person she has access to.”

    I tensed. I would have been lying if I hadn’t said I hadn’t seen something along these lines coming, but it ultimately depended on Bitch’s reaction.

    “I fucking hate people who try to manipulate me,” Bitch growled. She looked at me. “Next time we’re alone, I’m shoving my tongue down your throat.”

    There was a pause.

    “Whoa,” said Brian and Alex simultaneously.

    “Ah well,” Cherish said.

    “And your time is up,” Alec said. ”So, now’s the point where you fuck us over and don’t say a thing. Like that time we visited the local Archdiocese.”

  13. Okay. How does nobody see these Nine coming? Are PreK’s that rare? Even if they are, Thinkers like Tattletale aren’t really that rare…

    I don’t think they’ve got anyone on their team that does invisibility…
    I can grok how Our City didn’t see them coming…

    but most places should be able to mitigate/evacuate before they show up.

    Maybe they’re just going to ground in between appearances???

    • Thing is, unless that precog had some excellent accuracy it wouldn;t really matter. The nine are skilled infiltrators and would likely sneak in regardless.

      What’s more, it was stated that they generally go to places that have just undergone large scale conflicts and that this is not the first time they’ve hit a place after an endbringer. That kind of thing would be another way they are avoiding being cornered.

    • Not so much that precogs are rare, but that they’re limited. The future is awfully big.

      Look at Dinah – her ability crippled her early on, and if Coil hadn’t kidnapped her, she might have abandoned it, avoided using it, because it was that hard. As it stands, she has to search the myriad futures to prune away realities until she finds the answers to very specific questions. AND she’s the third most powerful precog in the setting.

      As Coil notes in his interlude (Interlude 8), there’s two major classifications of serial murderer. The controlled one that sticks to rituals and routines, and the unpredictable ones that are hard to catch because you don’t know where they’re going to strike next. The Nine are the latter.

      Add the fact that you can’t exactly stick a police tail on them, and any attempt to get in their way is liable to end up badly, and it can be hard to keep track of them. Figure they’ll retire for weeks at a time (see Aisha’s interlude where they’re kicking back in the apartment) and only really cut loose in areas where there’s chaos, and visibility might be low as well.

      • I get it…they put on disguises to blend in.

        Crawler puts on an elephant suit, Siberian puts on a beret with black pants and suspenders while pretending she’s stuck in an invisible box, Jack wears a fake beard and a pair of overalls and plays a banjo, Bonesaw uses wigs and masks to appear to be a man with dwarfism (I thought I heard midget was offensive), Shatterbird cosplays as Ms. Marvel, and Mannequin puts on a suit and chases around a few guys making a student film.

        • Hookwolf’s interlude told us that Shatterbird is brown, but when this comment was posted Ms. Marvel was still Carol Danvers, who’s white. They didn’t even announce Kamala Khan (the new Ms. Marvel, who’s Pakistani American and Muslim and kind of a media sensation) until late 2013.
          I guess statistically it had to happen, with all the deliberately crazy talk you throw around, but I really never expected to see a PG comment that predicted a future event in the real world.

  14. I’m brand new to Worm, but I must say I love it! I WANT IT MADE INTO A COMIC SERIES! Or a tv one…..I personally didn’t see Siberians little twist, though in sense it makes sense. ‘She’ has no weaknesses besides no flight, so it makes sense that it had to be balanced out somehow. Can’t wait till Saturday! 😀 Keep ’em coming! I’m addicted now.

    • Thanks soulpelt. Always nice to hear people are enjoying.

      Just throwing it out there, no pressure or anything, but I do always appreciate ratings/reviews on Webfictionguide. They kind of give me that extra kick to get some more writing done, and it makes for better/longer chapters in the long run. Regular votes on topwebfiction are also nice, and reader support is the most direct way of getting more content (though the current thing is a promotion, if we hit the $200 benchmark then it’s a week of daily interludes at the end of this stretch of story).

      • Already did. I voted once already (and once I get a good steady source of income) I’ll probably donate. I also had an idea for a villain(You’ve probably thought of it already) but a guy who uses fear pheromones so potent they can make your body feel the wounds your mind is receiving, thing is (s)he can’t control who it effects. Glad to see a creator to replies to comments of their reader. 🙂 I also found out about Worm via TV Tropes. Went on a ‘Wiki Walk’. XD Oh something I’ve been wondering does Bitch get the extra mass for Dog-Hulks from a pocket dimension like Labyrinth does with her power? Or does she get the energy to cause the massive cell growth from a pocket dimension. And I can’t wait to see Behemoth….that’s all I got to say. -goes to read Special People-

  15. I’m interested as to the long-term effects of Grue’s new power-leeching. He’s already regenerated monstrous damage thanks to Crawler – whose specialty is something that could be described as, “Evolutionary Regeneration”.

    I doubt the effects would be all that huge – I don’t think much flesh was replaced, so much as pulled back together – but if he’s going to be near Crawler in a fight, any damage that he heals is going to cause changes.

    Likewise if he goes up against parahumans with powers that mess with their own minds. There could be permanent, if relatively minor, psychological damage every time he leeches them. Burnscar is a good example, barring the obvious point of him killing her – though I didn’t see anything about them destroying her body like they need to.

    I can see an actual reason to keep Hacksaw and Mannequin alive now – even a fraction of their Tinker abilities has potential. But they’re the trickiest to manage, so I will have to keep reminding myself that she is clearly not as nice a person as Fran Madaraki, and hope they’re both incinerated.

    Speaking of two of the most vulnerable, it’s a damned shame that only Trickster seems sensible enough to use a gun against the Nine, even if it was only once, and after Ballistic was compromised by Cherish. Some of Coil’s laser units would do wonders, and probably avoid any issues of training or portability. Mount them on an armguard – classic villain equipment.

    Also, dear gods, every chapter has my worry about Panacea grow. Both concern for her safety and paranoia that she’ll snap and start doing crazy things like repairing her damage with parts from other people. Or, I don’t know, eventually wiping out the world with a super-plague.

    Armsmaster: less worry, more anticipation of cyborg and Dragon action.

    • If I understood correctly, with the brain destroyed that’s it for revival. Possibly Bonesaw can salvage some of her abilities but I doubt it, certainly not with any real control to them and Burnscar would be little more then a firebomb without control.

      Guns have been deployed against the nine plenty of times, remember it’s stated that they have faced stuff up to and including the military and come out just fine. Going through the list, none of them have any real vulnerability, either agility, defense, toughness or sheer cunning keeps all of them out of danger from guns alone, combined with powers is better but most of them have either got abilities that work better or have already used guns.

      Armsmaster cannot be the one getting attacked, plainly he is already on honeymoon. I shudder to think what Dragon is inventing for that 😉

      Though with how they’ve interacted so far, I can see them both getting distracted with designs and tinker stuff and forgetting all about anything else.

      • I am very much looking forwards to seeing what Armsmaster and Dragon can do between them. The possibilities… oh boy.

        “both distracted with designs… forgetting about anything else.”

        The following mental image was entirely your fault. Perhaps what you said was perfectly innocent – regardless, this is what sprang to my mind.

        “Oooh, Colin, you’re packing such massive equipment into my heavy interdiction chassis – are you sure it’s going to fit?”

        Moving swiftly on…

        I had another wall of text going into reasons why better weapons (that they do have at hand or available) would solve many problems, patch up many powersets – Skitter has suffered a fair bit for it, where even a taser would have helped – or else synergise fantastically, such as with Grue. Imp, despite having a truly first-rate ability is as gear dependant as a Tinker past a certain threshold – going after Bonesaw (Gah, I was calling her Hacksaw…) with a knife…

        The Nine certainly all have defences against guns – but only Crawler, The Siberian have an outright always-on immunity. Of the others Mannequin and Bonesaw would have the best passive defence (but Mannequin has been broken a few times), with the others being not much more than human despite augmentation. Agility, grace, cunning, paranoia – didn’t stop Cherish taking a bullet.

        Assuming the laser guns that Coil uses, that can “cut steel like butter” are recoilless and portable (thus lowering the training threshold), they’re like Skitter’s pepperspray or baton – a tool for a certain situation, that is relatively easy to acquire and would help prevent any more embarrassing “and then they tried to cut THE Medical Tinker’s throat”. Not as a primary weapon, but just something that you keep in your utility belt until needed, along with shark repellant spray, two short bits of string and paperclip.

        Then having said all that, I was going to mention that they should’ve taken some of Coil’s badass soldiers for their hits – and remembered that he’s playing in the Hookwolf faction. Which would definitely prevent him supplying his distinctive technology in battle – I completely forgot about him keeping their links quiet.

        Perhaps I’m just overthinking some things and missing others…

        Argh, even cutting it down I couldn’t resist doubling the length again. No more edits… just hit post…

        • The other problem is that guns are too lethal for general use in a setting where there is a no kill agreement on the table. If they get too trigger happy then they run a serious risk of heroes putting kill orders on them. If they actually killed someone then that would be game over, the Nine are the exception because everybody hates them.

          And yeah, Dragon and Armsmaster together would be terrifying, though my comment about working together was completely innocent. What I thought they might be building on the other hand…I mean Dragon does seem to want a more human remote body XD

          • True. The acceptable use of lethal ordnance must be an even more tangled mess in a superpowered setting. Even when it’s universally agreed upon as a Good Idea, in the aftermath I imagine it would still cause a revaluation of whoever was using it – and Skitter in particular already looks well on her way to being perceived by the PCT as a local Big Bad.

          • For most superhumans, lethal ordinance lives up to its name and thus shouldn’t be used. You really can’t aim for “the part of the body that won’t cause someone to die” because that just leaves the fingers and toes due to all those lovely arteries that carry blood around the body and to the various limbs. In that environment, the risk of infection makes it all the deadlier. Even rubber bullets can hit in the right places to cause major complications.

            And in the rare occasion you run into someone who can stand up to lethal ordinance…well, why would you want to use something on them that doesn’t work? In a crowded city where the walls aren’t as solid as they used to be? Some family is lucky enough to survive the End Bringer, is making it through the chaotic aftermath and then the bright shining hero accidently puts a bullet in daddy while fighting The Inedible Pulp?

            No, no, much like some situations in X-Com, it can be better to fire off some sort of stun weapon rather than risk the giant lobsterman surviving a shot from your gauss rifle. Just be careful if you fire in some tear gas. As a veteran found out during the Occupations, a canister of that stuff is still deadly when fired hard into a human skull.

            The exception being those occasions when it is considered ok to use deadly force on individuals with a standing kill order on them. Like Osama Bin Laden or Gozer the Gozerian.

            • Random aside: Does ‘Gozer the Gozerian’ make sense? That’s like calling Christ a Christian or Buddha a Buddhist. One would expect a Gozerian to be a follower of Gozer, not to include Gozer herself…

  16. “Alec was apparently demonstrating his power, making Aisha’s fingers twitch.”
    It’s neat to see these tiny bits of foreshadowing for even the stuff that gets mentioned in passing at some point in the future. Well planned, wildbow.

    Anyways, despite the biblocide, this was an excellent chapter. Lisa, as always, has a clever plan. I wonder, though…which of them had 325? (Probably one of the Travelers…but maybe Bitch or Tattletale?)

  17. Typo:
    “You and I both know you’re doing this to sate your boredom than for any grander purpose.” – rather than.

    • I forgot:
      “I would have been lying if I hadn’t said I hadn’t seen something along these lines coming” – if I said.

  18. I thought the way they figured out Siberians true nature was really clever.

    About the game with the pagenumbers, wouldn’t the second player be able to figure out which page the first player took? Depending on the kind of paper used, a missing page or a recently opened page is easy to find. Also, I was under the impression that Tattletale would know any major secrets of the Undersiders or Travellers anyway.

  19. I know I should be freaking out about 322, but… I’m really intrigued by 26. Which of these people is just that comfortable with all the others, or thinks xe has practically no skeletons in xyr closet?

      • Hmm. Possibly. She’s bad at deception, which implies that she hasn’t maintained many secrets, and her usual abrasive persona makes it hard for people to be shocked by revelations about her.
        But it’s also true that she doesn’t talk much in general, and that leaves a lot of room for lying by omission. See Bastard and the encounter with Siberian for examples. And she can’t process other people’s motives and thought processes, and she knows that. So it’s also possible that she would pick a higher number, because a) there’s something that she knows would shock people and has kept secret by just not talking about it, or b) there are so many things she hasn’t said, and she has so little understanding of what’s important to other people, that she legitimately doesn’t know what Cherish would dredge up or how badly the others would take it.

  20. >Outside of the fact that none of the sleep I’d picked up over the previous night had been in a bed, I felt recharged.

    This flows awkwardly for me. How about despite the fact that…? Is this an America-specific idiom?

    >english muffins

    I feel like the E should be capitalised regardless of whether it applies to a specific unit of something.

  21. Very interesting. I feel almost completely confident that Cherish is totally full of shit and setting them up. I don’t understand how the conclusions about Siberian were drawn, though. Siberian wasn’t in the room when Grue had his second trigger event – it was just Bonesaw, Jack and Burnscar. So how could he have “stolen” her powers? I had originally guessed that it was Burnscar’s power he was borrowing – she could teleport through her fire, so I thought Grue was teleporting through his darkness. But the markings sound like Siberian, and the Ken doll version of him helped the real version of him off the wall. Very confusing.

    • Oops, meant to add this to that comment! The “pages” thing is neat, too. How does Tattletale know which side of the page is the one the person wanted?

      We know that Skitter took 160 and Regent 222. I’m guessing Trickster took 325. That leaves Bitch, Grue, Imp, Tattletale, Ballistic and Sundancer for 26, 122, 140, 141, 155 and 175. It wouldn’t surprise me if Bitch took 26, because if she has any secrets, she probably doesn’t care if someone learns them. Unless she’s still considering joining the Nine, in which case maybe I’m way off and she took 325. I’d put Tattletale at 175. The other ones are close enough together that they probably don’t make much difference.

      • Re: which side of the page:
        1. It doesn’t really matter- they’re consecutive numbers, so they don’t signify anything different.
        2. She’s the goddamn Tattletale. 😛 She didn’t mention it, but she probably already knows who picked which page and is starting to guess what secrets they were thinking about when they did.

        Still, this is a pretty good method for an impromptu secret ballot. It even eliminates the handwriting identification factor. The only flaw I can see is that the second person will know the number that the first person chooses (if they take the time to see which page is already missing when they get the book), and you could even iron that out by picking several pages at random beforehand and throwing them away without anyone seeing what they were.

        • You could also have one person handing the book out at random, so the second person doesn’t know *who* took out the first page, but then you either need to trust that one person not to peek or have a particularly loud book.

    • He had the powers of other people who weren’t in the room at the time- he demonstrated Othala’s healing and Crawler’s regeneration, as well as Siberian. The conclusion I drew was that he spread the darkness beyond that one room and mimicked the abilities of some of the people fighting outside, and the narration didn’t mention it because no one could see.

      (Also in the room: all of Bonesaw’s captives- Taylor, Trickster, Sundancer, Tattletale, Parian, Ballistic, and Imp. o_o Just imagine.)

  22. “Bitch, you know that Skitter’s going to betray you again. Look at her. She prides herself on being smart, and you know the best way for someone to make themselves feel smart? They make others look stupid, and you’re the stupidest person she has access to.”

    I tensed. I would have been lying if I hadn’t said I hadn’t seen something along these lines coming, but it ultimately depended on Bitch’s reaction.

    “I fucking hate people who try to manipulate me,” Bitch growled. “Next time I see you, I’m knocking your teeth in.”


  23. Siberian’s interest in Bonesaw just became infinitely more creepy.

    Though, maybe the dude acting as Siberian had a daughter before. I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. He’s a sadistic murderer, but that doesn’t mean he’s a pedophile.

    Of course, “he” might not actually exist, if Cherish was messing with them

  24. I think Cherish really wants Tattletale to recognize her manipulation skill, which she thinks is impressive. But boy is she not as good as she thinks she is. First of all, bartering for two minutes of conversation where everyone explicitly knows she’s going to try to turn them against each other, over the phone. . .

    Well. I can’t help but compare it to Tattle’s proudest moment, which hasn’t happened yet. But re-readers know what I’m talking about. The moment she breaks the thing wide open with just one word.

  25. Not to be a misandrist or anything, but Siberian’s identity as a middle aged man makes her connection to Bonesaw… a tad bit questionable, I think. Then again they are both mass murderers already, so its not really a new low in any case.

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