Prey 14.5

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In the time we had remaining, I directed my mount as high as he could manage.  My power gave me a sense of how far I was above the ground.  My range formed a loose sphere around me, and as I made my way skyward, my power covered less and less ground, on a literal level.  It wasn’t long before my power didn’t reach the ground beneath me.

A little daunting, being so high when I was so new to flying.

But I was flying.  It was as close to unassisted flight as anything I could hope to experience.  I felt what he felt, his every movement was as much an extension of my will as moving my hands, blinking or controlling my breathing.

It was almost eerie, the quiet.  The buzz of signals and responses from my swarm grew as quiet as it had been since my powers manifested.  I had the capsaicin-laced bugs in my armor, a few hundred bugs stored in my utility compartment and shoulderpads, as well as the outside fabric of my costume.  I’d brought the relay bugs up into the air around me for safety, and directed everything else to find cover.  Compared to my dim awareness of the tens of thousands of bugs that I could feel from anywhere in the city, this was almost silence.

How long had I been relying on my bugs to provide sensory input?  Using my own eyes, I followed my teammates as they raced for cover.  I felt distracted, as if it was something I wanted to relegate to my bugs while I glanced over my surroundings for potential threats.

The plane wasn’t as fast as I’d thought it would be.  It appeared from the clouds and crossed the skyline a distance away, at an altitude not much higher than me.  It left a muted roar in its wake, and the payload of bombs.  Black specks, smaller than I would have guessed, but more numerous.  Fifty?  A hundred?  I couldn’t tell from my vantage point, and I doubted I could have made an accurate estimate.

The bombs were targeted at the parking lot where Jack and Bonesaw had been.  They detonated across the surrounding neighborhood, a carpet of explosions and flame that ripped through everything.  In a heartbeat, an area that had been drowning in stagnant water was lit up by fires that rose higher than the smallest buildings.

A wash of heated air hit me just moments after the bombs hit.  The effect on a flying creature was the same as a wave or a current in water.  It took all I had to keep from panicking, to maintain my concentration and control the giant beetle.  Rather than fight the turbulence, I rolled with it, letting it push and accepting the instability.  As it passed, I focused on righting myself and regaining my sense of orientation.

The bomb had hit close to where we’d been, but not so close that we would have been in the impact site.  That said, I wasn’t sure the heat -or the shockwave, if there was one- wouldn’t have done us in.

My phone rang.

“Frog R,” Tattletale’s voice greeted me.

“Leaf L,” I replied.  “We’re all okay?”

“All of us.  Amy’s here.”

“Any idea if that did anything to Jack and Bonesaw?  Or Crawler?”

“Crawler’s probably taken worse.  I can picture him crawling into an incinerator and sitting in there for long enough that he can take this.”

“The fire will have undone the silk bindings,” I said.

“Can you do it again?”

“Not here, not anytime soon.”


“What are the odds that Bonesaw and Jack survived?”

“Too high.”

I stared down at the inferno.  The tallest fires had dwindled, but a carpet of fire covered everything for a five block radius.  Cars that had been mostly intact were charred hulks now, and the explosions had torn chunks out of buildings, or the flames hollowed out the interiors.  “How would he survive this?”

“How would you survive this?” she asked.  “Or- if you didn’t know precisely what was happening, where would you find the most secure cover?”

I thought back to the options I had considered.  “The sewer?  Or find a bank vault?  Not sure if the sewers or storm drains wouldn’t collapse, and the bank vault could easily become an oven.”

“Places to look, anyways.”

“We can’t get to them if they are there.”

“And they can’t get away, either.  Jack’s slippery, but he’s pinned down for the time being.  Just one second.”

I could hear other voices in the background.

A few seconds later, Tattletale was back on the phone, “Genesis is already making a body that can withstand the fire.  Sundancer thinks she can clear away some of the blaze by flash-burning the oxygen from the area and drawing the heat and flame into her sun.  If she can, it might give us some elbow room.”

“What do you want me to do?” I asked.

“Scout.  See if there’s any clues about the opposition’s movements.  If you can’t figure anything out on that front, track Crawler from above.  They’ll have some agreed-upon place to meet, and he could lead us to the other four… you haven’t seen Legend?”


“Then I’d bet he’s still chasing Siberian.  Or minimizing the damage she can do, anyways. He can’t hurt her, but she’s at a disadvantage as long as she has to carry that truck and protect the occupant.  Legend will know how to use that.”


“So Crawler will maybe lead us to the other three.”

“On it.”  I hung up.

I’d dealt with it against Lung, I’d dealt with it against Burnscar.  Fire was something of a problem when it came to using my power.

So few bugs were alive down there.  Some had retreated beneath the pavement, or into the lowermost parts of nearby buildings, but the heat and the hot air was killing them.  Some died quickly, others slow.  I was careful about how close I got, devoting extra attention to ensuring that the beetle didn’t perish or find himself unable to fly as the heat damaged his wings.

Amy had made him durable, but there was a limit to how far I wanted to push my luck when there was two hundred feet of open air between me and the ground, and a sea of fire waiting for any scenario where I managed to survive the impact.

It was a bit of a task, to focus on flying -there was no autopilot like there was with my other bugs- and to track the remaining bugs on the ground.  The sewers and storm drains were hot, but hospitable.  Navigation would be difficult for Jack and Bonesaw underground.  Between Leviathan’s active destruction of the storm drains and the more passive deterioration as they got clogged with rubble and debris and flooded, there were few spaces underground where the villains would be able to navigate.

Had they died?  It was possible, and I was swiftly eliminating areas where there was both a population of bugs and space for the Nine to hide.

Crawler- I could see him prowling the streets, soaking up the flame without a care.  He was headed in the general direction of the parking lot where the heroes were, taking his time, his movements languid.

The heroes were still frozen in time, I noted.  It was hard to make them out, as they’d been at the epicenter of the blast.  Ursa was fading away, and Weld-

Weld was fighting.

Cache and Clockblocker stood frozen in time as Weld defended them against a series of attacks.  The boy’s skin was glowing from the ambient heat, the fine wire strands of his hair melted into a single smooth layer.  He might have been rendered nude as the flames ate at his clothing and costume, but he wore the same fireproof suit as his teammates, the arms and upper body tied around the waist.

It was Mannequin.  Of all of them, he was the hardest to make out as he moved close to the ground, slipping between cars and through the flames to disappear from Weld’s sight. He had four arms, one set longer than the other, which combined with his jerky movements to give him an almost bug-like demeanor.

I watched as he paused at the rear of one car, crouching with his two sets of arms at the bumper, then unfolded explosively, steam or vapor billowing around him as he launched the car through the air.  It wasn’t much distance, only ten or so feet, but the car rolled and slammed into Weld, knocking the junior hero into his frozen teammates and pinning him there.

Weld pushed hard against the flaming hulk of the car, attempting to make room to free himself, but another car sailed through the air to land on top of Cache and Weld.

While Weld hacked at the cars, shearing through the undercarriage to make for pieces that were smaller to move, Mannequin began moving through the parking lot, pushing at more cars to get them closer to Weld and his teammates.  A minivan, a sedan, a pickup, pushed into Weld’s immediate surroundings.

There was no swagger, no monologue, nothing from Mannequin but the methodical execution of his simple plan.  He approached the front of the pickup, tore off the hood and grabbed the engine block with all four arms.  Again, the billowing vapor and that explosive strength, as he brought it over his head and down on top of the second car he’d thrown, stacking them two high.  He crouched beneath the sedan and prepared to launch it as he had with the first two cars.

Cache and Clockblocker wouldn’t be frozen forever.  It could be as short a time as thirty seconds.  If Cache or Clockblocker emerged from the effects of Clockblocker’s power, and there were two cars piled on top of them?  It would be grim.

Worse, Cache was storing a number of the other heroes in his personal dimension.  What would happen to them if he died?

They had to have anticipated the possibility of Crawler interfering before they all recovered, but Mannequin?  I was surprised he was able to function in the midst of this blaze.

I had to remind myself he was a specialist in hostile environments, and they didn’t get much more hostile than this.  He was a genius, a problem solver, and a survivor.  He was relentless, and as much as I’d managed to take the advantage in our previous confrontations, that was because he’d been out of his element, taking us on directly.

This was Mannequin’s specialty: attacking from the indirect angle, at the unexpected moment to target the weak.  He favored Tinkers both because they were often vulnerable if you caught them without their gear, and for his own neuroses.

Weld managed to push the car that was pinning him from the side.  Holding the stack of vehicles up over his head, he found a point where he could set his foot without the scorched frame collapsing and kicked the car away.

As he tried to figure out how to manage the pile of flaming cars that sat atop him and his teammates, Mannequin struck.  Like a piston, Mannequin slammed into him, thrusting him away, then danced back into the cover of the flames and smoke.  Weld slid on the pavement until he collided with a car, and the cars that he’d been supporting collapsed.  At least one fell so that Cache’s upper body speared through its undercarriage.  The top one tipped over and landed so it was propped up on a diagonal.

What could I do?  I didn’t have a long ranged weapon.  I didn’t trust my beetle’s ability to hold me and some heavy weight I could drop on Mannequin from above.

I turned around and headed for my companions.  I withdrew my cell phone.

“Need gear,” I told Tattletale.  “Mannequin’s attacking the heroes and Crawler’s approaching.”

“Got it.”

Sundancer’s orb appeared in the sky, flickered, and disappeared.  A flare.  I headed in that direction.

As Tattletale had said, Sundancer was using her orb to try to clear the way.  Grue was also using his darkness, oddly enough.  The others stood by, watching, arranged so they were watching all potential avenues of attack.

I landed, and I couldn’t get the beetle’s legs under him to brace our landing.  He hit his stomach, his legs squashing against his underside.

“What?” I hurried to get off him.  “Is he okay?”

“It’s a he?”  Tattletale asked.

Amy stepped forward a little, “Its legs work through something like hydraulics.  When it’s flying, it diverts those fluids to the flight system.  Do you know how hard it was to make that thing able to fly?  It’s not like I’ve practiced this sort of thing.”

“It’s fantastic,” I said.  “Really.  Thank you.  Do you think you could work on making him a little bigger while I get prepared?  I can supply the bugs.”


I was midway to turning towards Tattletale when Amy refused me.  “No?  If it’s the physical limitations of something that big, then maybe the nervous system, or if you could copy over some flight instincts so I don’t need to devote so much focus-”

“No, Skitter.  It’s not that I can’t.  I won’t.”

I turned back to Amy.

She shook her head, “This isn’t a luxury.  It’s not a present from me to you.  You said you needed some help escaping, you needed some mobility?  Fine.  This is it.”

“Right now, Mannequin and Crawler are attacking the Wards.  Your sister is with them.”

I could see her expression change at hearing that.

“She’s tough, she’ll be okay.”

“Not in this case.  She was stored away in some other dimension by Cache’s power.  If he dies before he gets her out-”

She paled.

“Idiot,” I muttered.  “Can’t waste any more time on you.”

Before she could reply, I turned to my teammates, “I need bombs.  Grenades, something I can drop from above and do some damage.”

“Here,” Ballistic said.  He undid one of his belts and handed it to me.  Six grenades were placed around it.  It was too wide for my waist, so I hung it around my neck instead.

Amy stepped forward and put her hands on my bug.  I went out of my way to ignore her.

“Take this,” Trickster said.  He drew a small handgun and handed it to me.  He pointed as he explained.  “Ten rounds.  Thumb safety.  Grip safety.  It’s my spare.”

It was heavier than it looked.  There was also a weight to it that had more to do with what the gun meant.  I stuck it through one of the loops in my utility compartment that I hadn’t used since I started out, then double checked it was firmly in place.  “Thanks.”

I turned and climbed on top of the beetle.

“Can’t make any promises, but flying should require less of your attention,” Amy said.

“Okay,” I said.

“So you focus on helping my sister.”

“I’ll help anyone that needs it,” I said.  With one false start, I managed to take off.  I stayed low to the ground for as long as I could, to try to judge what Amy had done to the beetle.

There was some underlying logic, but it wasn’t the same sort of instinctual behavior I was used to.  As far as I could tell, she had set him up to continue whatever I’d last instructed him to do, so I didn’t need to maintain focus to keep him going.

I frowned and suppressed that instinct.  As it stood, it was dangerous.  If he was flying and I got knocked out, he might keep flying.  The same might apply if I was turning, or adjusting to compensate for my weight and got distracted partway through.

No, after testing it I didn’t like how slippery it made the navigation feel.  I’d only use it on a case-by-case basis.  Besides, it was something I could do with my power anyways, with greater effect and nuance.  I’d been knocked out once, and my power had continued directing insects by my last given order.


I hurried back to the scene of the fight.  Clockblocker’s power lasted anywhere from thirty seconds to ten minutes.  Weld had been on the defensive when I’d left, and the Wards were relying on pure chance to determine if they’d make it out of this okay.

I could hear the fight before I could make anything out through the smoke.  The fires were still burning, but most seemed to have burned through whatever fuel sources they’d found. Beyond what was in the bombs themselves, anyways.

It was probably dangerous to be taking in too much smoke, both for me and for the beetle, but I had to be close.

There were crunching sounds and the noise of metal striking metal.  I directed the beetle around one particularly thick cloud of black smoke and saw Weld hacking the cars to pieces, his arms a pair of oversized blades.  Mannequin threw a car at him, and Weld lunged forward to slam it down into the ground with both hands.  Mannequin used the opening to leap forward, his feet momentarily resting on Weld’s shoulders, before he hopped down to the ground.  Spools of chain unfolded in Mannequin’s wake, and he bound Weld, dragging him away from his allies.

Weld had undone much of Mannequin’s setup, but there was still one flaming truck leaning against Cache.  It was heavy enough to crush Legend’s teammate beneath it if Clockblocker wasn’t quick enough to reach out and freeze it.

Carefully, I positioned myself, noted the wind, and then grabbed a grenade from the sash that hung around my neck.

I really shouldn’t be using this without any training, I thought.

I pulled the pin free, then dropped it straight down.

Wind carried the grenade further than I expected.  It landed somewhere a few feet behind Cache, rolled, then detonated.  The car that had been propped up against Cache was thrown off, rolling onto its roof.  The other debris scattered.

I felt a wave of relief that I hadn’t managed to hit them with the grenade just as they came out of stasis.

Mannequin backed away from Weld to stare up at me.  Weld, for his part, had absorbed the metal of the chains and disconnected the excess from his body.  When he reshaped his hands into weapons, it was faster than I’d seen him do it during our attack on the PRT headquarters.

Weld gave me a salute, using a knife-hand that was as long as he was tall.

We went on the offense, going after Mannequin.  I used two more grenades to drive him out of cover and to stop him from flinging any more cars at the heroes, while Weld maintained the pressure by constantly closing in.

Both Weld and Mannequin had seemingly unlimited physical reserves.  Both had equipment they could spring from nowhere – Mannequin had his concealed equipment and weapons, Weld had his crude shapeshifting abilities.

That wasn’t to say they were evenly matched.

Mannequin could have hit Weld with everything he had, and I doubted he would have even slowed Weld down.  The opposite wasn’t so true – I suspected that one solid blow from Weld would leave Mannequin a wreck.

The problem was that even though Weld was strong, he was heavy, and this put him somewhere near the upper limits of what you’d expect an athlete to be able to perform.  Mannequin, by contrast, was faster than any olympic runner, more agile than any gymnast.  He could contort and slide through the space beneath a car, change directions on a dime, and that was without getting into the other advantages he brought to the table.  I suspected he could see through the fire and smoke, and where Weld’s shapeshifting was largely limited to hitting stuff, Mannequin could use his arms like grappling hooks to cover more ground and keep his distance.

If we had any advantage, it was that we were buying time.  Mannequin couldn’t stop to throw vehicles at the frozen heroes.

The counterpoint to that was that Crawler had heard the commotion and was approaching.  He shifted from a walk to a head-on charge as he got a block away.

“Crawler!”  I shouted the words at full volume.  Weld snapped his head up to look at me, and I extended one arm out to inform him on the direction.

The problem was that Mannequin could hear too.  He shifted positions and prepared to heave another car at the heroes.

I pulled the pin on another grenade and lobbed it in Mannequin’s direction.

Call it chemistry, rhythm, or just the nuances one picked up after fighting alongside someone else, there was a flow to working with a member of your team, a way I could trust others to have my back and vice versa.  Weld and I didn’t have that.  It was my understanding, my assumption, that the bruiser would take on the heaviest hitter on the opposing side, and the others in the team would focus their efforts on the secondary threats with using utility and technique.  It was how the Undersiders tended to handle matters.

Weld… I don’t know what his assumption was, but maybe he was used to having people like Clockblocker and Vista handle the most threatening and problematic enemies, while he threw himself at the enemy ranks and drew the secondary fire.  Maybe they were even tactics he’d been drilled on with his previous team.  Maybe he was too focused on protecting his teammates from Mannequin and didn’t trust me to handle it.

I didn’t know what his reasons were, but Weld turned toward Mannequin in the same moment the grenade left my hand.

It was disastrous on two levels.  Whatever surprise I’d hoped to retain was lost when I was forced to shout out, “Grenade!”

Mannequin abandoned his hold on the car as he leaped to one side to get clear well before it exploded.  Weld, too, managed to stay out of the way, stopping in his tracks.

Crawler came tearing through the blazing parking booth and blindsided Weld.  In terms of raw power, the junior hero might as well have been a powerless human for all the defense he could muster.  Crawler’s claws tore into him, revealing bones in silver, organs in copper and gold.

Two grenades left.  I threw one down at them.  Mannequin backed away, and Crawler, though his head was directed at Weld, rose up onto his two hind legs and batted at the grenade with Weld’s body.

The explosive went off a second after the impact, and Weld was thrown free of Crawler’s grip.  I saw him stagger to his feet, his wounds closing as he shapeshifted them.  He couldn’t do much about the material that had been raked off of him.

This wasn’t going well.

Mannequin made a gesture at Crawler, fingertips of two hands all touching, pressed to his ‘mouth’, then he pulled his hands away, splaying his fingers.  Crawler cocked his head and Mannequin pointed at the frozen heroes.  I heard Crawler rumble with guttural laughter.


What could I do?  I was a bystander here, effectively powerless, but for my beetle.  I had the gun, but it wouldn’t do anything to Crawler and I didn’t trust myself to hit Mannequin at this range.  I had a single grenade, and I knew that wouldn’t even make Crawler flinch.

Crawler spat a caustic spray onto Cache and Clockblocker.  I could see the mucus fizz and pop from my vantage point high above.

If I used a grenade, could I clear it away?  Or was it too viscous?  Would I be losing something I couldn’t afford to throw away?

I didn’t get a chance to see.  Cache came to life.

I couldn’t even imagine what went through his mind.  He went from disengaging from a fight with Jack and Bonesaw in a flooded parking lot to facing down Crawler and Mannequin in the middle of a sea of fire.

Maybe he’d anticipated that, but he couldn’t have anticipated the acid spittle.  Holes began to appear in the fabric of his fireproof costume.

He managed to maintain his composure- I had no idea how.  I couldn’t imagine how it must have felt to be down there, feeling the heat and smoke coming in through the widening holes in the fabric.  He began using his power, calling up the shadowy geometry that would deposit the heroes onto the battlefield.

The two members of the Nine, it seemed, didn’t intend to give him the chance.  Both charged for the hero.

This time, at least, Weld took on the heavy hitter.  He leaped at Crawler from the side, his hand becoming needle-fine as he plunged it into one of Crawler’s largest eye sockets.  I knew that Crawler could dodge Ballistic’s hits.  He must have seen Weld coming and simply not cared.  The needle barely penetrated Crawler’s eye, but Weld used the leverage to wrap himself around Crawler’s face.

I drew the gun and leveled it at Mannequin’s back.  He was running in a straight line, I remembered to click the thumb safety, squeezing the handle with both hands to get the grip safety on the back of the gun, and put him in the crosshairs, leading just a bit.  I could remember the tip you always heard in the movies.  Squeeze, don’t pull.  Exhale as you squeeze…

Visions of the dead Mannequin had left in my district flashed through my mind’s eye.  The paramedics, the bitchy old doctor, the people he’d gassed.  My people.

I could feel the recoil jolt its way through my arms to rattle my body at its core.

Mannequin fell.

How the hell did I manage that?  Between the recoil and the shock of what I’d just managed, it was all I could do to stay seated.

I aimed and fired again at his prone form, the shot going off just before he rolled to his feet.  I couldn’t make out if I hit or not.

Crawler was distracted just long enough for Cache to bring out the first heroes.  Glory Girl, Prism, Miss Militia, Triumph…

Weld tumbled to the ground, and switched targets to the retreating Mannequin.  Maybe he’d coordinated something with the others.  I couldn’t say.  Glory Girl, in her all-concealing fireproof suit, certainly seemed ready to serve as the frontline defense.

I was so busy tracking Mannequin, looking for an opportunity to shoot him again, that I nearly missed what happened next.

Crawler got close enough for Glory Girl to swing a punch.  She took the bait and swung, then twisted in mid-air to deliver a kick.  He pulled just out of reach of both hits, then opened his mouth to retch spittle and bile all over her.

It had the same effect on her costume that it did on Cache, only far, far faster.  In moments, she was down to the skin-tight costume she wore beneath her white and gold dress, her forcefield protecting her.

I pulled a grenade free.  Maybe it could distract him long enough for her to-

Crawler surged forward, slamming his head into her.  Like a spiked volleyball, she slammed hard into the ground.

I could see her skin turning red, then black, where the spittle had covered it.  Flesh melted away to reveal muscle, then the acidic vomit began to eat away at that.  She screamed, frantic, thrashing, oblivious to the flaming patches of ground that she was rolling into.

The bugs I’d placed on my teammates told me they weren’t close.  Glory Girl and Cache were down and needed immediate medical attention – Cache had managed to call in the rest of the Protectorate and the remaining Wards, but he’d collapsed into the arms of one of the adults.

Crawler paced forward with an almost anticipatory slowness.  I could make out his tongue, licking around his lips.

This was going south fast, and I wasn’t sure what I could even do.

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89 thoughts on “Prey 14.5

  1. Amy might be able to take down Crawler — and that’s a big might — if she can sneak up on him and completely wreck his biology.
    Skitter, you are fantastic!
    Heroes and Director Piggot, you are idiots. That incendiary bombing strategy was mostly doomed from its inception, even with Burnscar out of the picture, given Crawler’s likely immunity to heat and fire and Siberian’s ability to protect others (though the latter didn’t come into play.)
    Supposedly the Bakuda bombs are still on the way, but the heroes are the ones stuck in a bad situation, not the criminal factions.
    And now we have to wait days and days and days to find out what happens next. /sigh

  2. I am completely shocked that Taylor could make that shot, and also not fall off her mount.
    “South” should be capitalized.

    Glory Girl shoulda recharged her plot armor when she had the chance… Now its anyone’s guess whether she’ll survive… either way offers much in the way of potential…

    • Yep. Either she lives long enough for Amy to heal her completely, including the mind-alterations, or she dies and Amy really goes off the deep end, maybe even holding it against Skitter for not saving the day.

      • Yeah, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of other options. Like GG is horribly scarred and damaged, but still refuses to let Amy help her, because she is afraid of being even more violated. Or Amy heals her, but they still don’t reconcile. Or Amy heals her physically, but when GG wakes up during the process, she freaks out, and smashes Amy through the nearest building. Or… well, you get the picture.


  3. Well, this went about as well as might be expected, as in not at all.

    The only plus I see at the moment is that Glory Girl situation has given her sister some motivation and none of the heroes are dead yet. In fact since Glory Girl is in no condition to deny any medical assistance and Amy has now a chance to get close to her and help her (although she probably won’t allow herself to undo what she did to her mind).

    I hope Weld at least is able to appreciate what Skitter has been trying to do and won’t blame her for the stuff that went wrong.

    • I’m pretty sure Weld would be willing to go to bat for Skitter. From what we’ve seen of him, he seems like a rather outstanding guy.

      • Agreed. It’s starting to look like only him, Vista and Flechette are the only genuinely nice, decent good guys on the heroes side. Miss Militia isn’t bad either and I’m willing to give Legend the benefit of the doubt though he seems to have a milder case of Amy’s problem with black and white since the Wormverse is built on Gray vs. Grey.

        I like Weld even more now. The dude immediately noted who was helping and had no problems with it contrary to people like Piggot.

  4. A bad but “funny” interlude idea: the Mannequin vs. Weld fight, from Clockblocker’s trapped inside a time-frozen costume perspective.

  5. Ooh, ooh, I know, Skitter. Toss the grenade down his gullet so that it detonates and unleashes that acid on the inside of his body. True, his mouth and portions of his throat can handle it, maybe even stomach, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of his internals can take it. I mean, he’ll get used to it, but it’s enough to slow him down for now. Also, you seem to have stopped paying attention to Mannequin. That’s not a good move.

    Maybe Miss Militia is still packing a Bakuda Time Bomb up in her arsenal.

    By the way, did anyone else want to read back over the scene of Skitter coming to Weld’s rescue with “Ride of the Valkyries” playing? It’s more appropriate in this instance with a woman warrior flying into battle. “Flight of the Bumblebees” could have worked fine too.

    • I’d bet on the time bomb before the grenade. Even assuming his guts can’t take the acid, he regenerated from having a chunk of brain scrubbed out of existence within seconds; how long would that hurt him? And he’d just come back more acid-resistant.

    • Where did you pick up on the idea that Crawler’s regeneration is only limited to certain parts of his anatomy? Or are you referring to the fact that certain internals can be dealt damage beyond repair?

  6. Oh dear Taylor you had better pull something about of yer arse. Great chapter Wildbow, as usual. Can’t wait to see how this goes. Though I don’t get HOW Piggot got to be director, “OH let’s fire bomb an area with a guy who can regenerate from anything! It can’t POSSIBLY go wrong!”
    I think maybe that one of the Nine got to Piggot or something.

    • Yes, I’m wondering about that too. I’m not sure that the superheroes are confortable with her orders…

      Wonder why no superhero said “NO” to the plan. IMHO, they pass the line into villian territory with that stunt. Especially after the whole conversation tattletale-Piggot that they overhead. After theis, i’m not sure some would leave the Superhero association in protest or something similar…

      • How does firebombing an empty area equate to being villains? You have to look at the larger stage, if they managed to kill Jack or Bonesaw that would save tens of thousands of lives over the longer term. If they manage to kill members of the Travelers, they get rid of a group that has killed somewhere between 16 and 56 people. If they manage to kill members of the Undersiders, they can help prevent Regent from controlling more heroes and forcing them to do horrible things. Just because the heroes are the antagonists doesn’t mean their actions are evil.

      • At this point, they’re probably not thinking of the situation along the lines of law enforcement so much as martial law or a wartime situation. They wouldn’t be entirely wrong to do so either, but in war you sometimes have to make morally questionable decisions that may not turn out to be right, but seem like the best option at the time.

        Doesn’t make it right, and there’s something to be said for the pull that authority has on people in those situations. Plus, going along was the “default” position of that decision and people are generally more likely to go along with the default rather than whatever requires extra effort. That’s something that is used with MMOs, casinos, and when you install a program that already has a box checked saying to install some toolbar you don’t want. Plus, people are more likely want to avoid standing out in a crowd of their peers.

        Add to all that the bond that suffering people forge when someone else avoided whatever difficulty they had to go through, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the heroes begin to mock Kid Win as a mama’s boy.

        Some of that might have been arranged by Piggot. Maybe all, depending on how much you want to give credit to her ability to psychologically manipulate people. We’re all a lot easier to trick than we’d like to think.

        • Reminds me of the experiment where you spin a wheel thinking that someone is being subjected to an electric current because of this.
          People get in, an authority figure tell them that they must spin the wheel or rotate a crank so that electricity is produced and the scientists can test the endurance of the guy on the other side of a thin wall.
          Even when the guy starts to scream in pain some people continue to rotate the wheel and even when he dies and stops screaming there is people that continues to spin. Only because someone with authority told them to do this.
          Anyway, if Bakuda´s bombs where not deployed …
          At this moment Pigot seems quite stupid, deploying fire bombs that can kill your people, but that will do no harm to at least two of the four enemies. Perhaps Bakuda´s bombs can redeem her in our eyes.
          But, right now she reminds me of some mages using fire ball.

  7. When Weld saluted Skitter my opinion of him immediately rose by ten thousand billion points. And I was already quite impressed.

    Meanwhile my vague hope that Amy had finally started thinking was crushed, especially when she failed to give a crap about all the other heroes who would be horribly killed while the rest of the villains didn’t hesitate at all to hand over all their gear to aid said heroes.

    I have to agree that this was a roundly awful plan and they should never have gone with it, also didn’t Kid Win turn down this plan because his parents would never forgive him for it? Cause he is mentioned as being present. Well in any case the heroes are all morons unable to use basic logical reasoning. Notice how only two of the remaining nine could have been killed by the bombing and now they have little surprise for the follow up (though maybe they wanted the heavy hitters to be confident enough to face it head on) AND this whole thing is beyond morally dubious. I mean forget the other villains who may or may not be present, they damn near killed Amy who isn’t even a villain.

    So they nearly killed the world’s best chance at researching medical techniques (who they also treat like dirt) in order to go ahead with a plan that really doesn’t do much other than put them in inordinate amounts of danger. Wildbow it says much good of your writing ability and hard work developing these characters that this feels like mere incompetence and not author induced idiot ball. Piggot is sooooo fired after this.

    On a lighter note, I think the wards at least will have a better opinion of Skitter after she saved their asses. Glory Girl will be as ungrateful and bitchy as ever, but the others might finally stop getting in the way of Skitter trying to do good. Pity for them that it’s too late for her to switch sides by a couple months.

    I also loved Skitter’s feelings about suddenly being brought down to normal senses…and how relaxed she is when listing what she has left which by itself is a huge chunk of extra info. It’s like someone casually bemoaning how they only have two hundred eyes rather then a million. Not to mention that her interaction with Atlas rather supports the idea that her multitasking stems from networking her own mind.

      • Kid Win *wants* to be there! The narrative demands it!

        More seriously though, if you could kill only two people out of the Nine, Jack Slash and Bonesaw are the ones to kill. When they were introduced, I believe that Wildbow stated that the others were drawn to Bonesaw out of a sense of fascination; what will she do next? Jack, however, is the one that plays to their personalities to keep the group together with a minimum of infighting (plus, killing him helps with the whole ‘end of the world’ scenario). It looks like Siberian’s days are numbered, and Crawler can probably be taken down/netralized as a threat with a concerted effort (tossing him into the sun comes to mind…) though I’m curious as to how he manages to be stealthy. The others I can get disguises and such, but the three ton death catepiller would probably stand out.

        I do like how Amy still cares about her sister, even if what I saw here means it’s less likely that she’ll join the Undersiders (I know, it wasn’t likely to begin with, but we all have our fantesies). I’m sure she *cares* about the other capes, but the other capes aren’t Glory Girl.

        I’m curious as to how the (surviving) capes will handle this fiasco after the fires are put out. Weld might put in a good word for Skitter (or he might not), but what will the others make of it? I rather doubt they’ll go “we were wrong about her all along, let’s go bake her a cake”, I imagine that they’ll either chalk it up to “we are so confused by her” or “she has a hidden agenda” (which, to be fair, she does)

      • No. I refuse to believe that.😉

        Rhetorical questions aside I don’t see it as being a big deal. You didn;t add him to the plot, you typed a name without thinking. Given you have no dedicated editor or beta, I see no issue with the current method whereby the comments themselves act as a final edit for this copy of the story.

        When you’re giving us such an awesome (and in its quality as a story this piece is more consistent then most things I have encountered either on paper or the net) story, I would say it was pretty ridiculous to take issue with you stumbling on typos here and there.

      • Psycho Gecko tosses the evil twin mustache away and slips out of his Kid Win costume. “Alright, I’m taking five, no evil sibling named Kid Twin in this scene after all. Just remember, I was never here.”

      • Perhaps he and Chariot were both peer pressured into coming after last interlude’s meeting. It seems perfectly in line with the heroes’ behavior so far: not actually malicious, just far from perfect.

  8. I love your work, I really do but I just have one problem…I do have to wonder if there are ANY strong, reliable non-powered characters. So far it seems the only upstanding and outstanding characters have all been the characters with powers, I did have some hopes for dear old Piggy but she has obviously let us down with the whole panic bombing thing. True her (Taylor’s) father is an honest figure but in the whole story he is quite weak. Are there no reliable non-powered humans left. Or is that the focus of the story is just on the capes so we won’t get to see many of these characters? Or is it just difficult to include such characters into a story like this? Again this story is the best thing online… this issue is just something i have been wondering about for a while?

    • We’ll have to wait and see.

      But in the interest of promoting discussion, here’s my question: How many strong, reliable powered people can you name?

      Figuring that such outnumber the nonpowered characters by 20:1 at a minimum, and that we’ve got ~120 powered recurring characters, maybe that will shed some light on the subject?

      • Right now, off the top of my head…
        Taylor/ Skitter (as she has proven herself time and time again)
        Grue (done well as leader although there have been the ups and downs)
        Tattletale (obviously awesome in every way)
        Weld (who has gone up in everyone’s opinions)
        Legend (seems to have a good head on him)
        Some of the minor recurring characters such as Sundancer, Genesis, Flachette, Clockblocker e.t.c. (They have all done something to prove their strength at least)
        ‘We’ll have to wait and see’, I can see a pattern developing with your answers
        now….grumble grumble😛 Well I think that once we have finished with the waiting
        and seen the end we will probably all go through some sort of mourning. Kind
        of like how I was once the Olympics finished.

        • Eh. I guess Legend is a good enough guy. But he seems like a flake when it comes to the whole superhero thing. I think he was way too quick to defer to the judgement of a woman who wants to drop napalm on an American city to kill 2 people.

          Dragon get’s points from me for being the only person (that I recall) to voice a beef with the concept of the Birdcage (she’s part of that sure, but isn’t that programming?) and for being the only supe we’ve seen so far that seems interested in actually talking with Skitter instead of strongarming her. I’ve noticed that alot of crap could’ve been avoided if the “heroes” didn’t try to play bad cop with superpowered teenagers. The debacle at the hospital after Leviathan, case in point.

          Well, hindsight is 20/20 I guess.

          • Two incredibly deadly people. People that were capable of throwing down with groups of superheroes and then hiding among the populace. Ultimately the only thing wrong with her plan is that she needed better bombs.

          • Yeah I second the vote for Dragon. I’d also add in Regent if we are just talking about reliable and powerful. He has yet to do a single thing that hurts his teammates and has specifically gone out of his way several times for them. The dude may be sociopathic but he acts like Dexter more than anything else. He is a bad guy but he channels it well and always takes care of his friends.

            • Careful with saying that Dragon is not a “person” as it is liable to start a HUGE argument. Granted an extremely civil argument but still a massive argument as evidenced in many other comment sections. I for one definitely think she counts as a “person” just not a “human”. She has shown far better judgement and more moral standing than practically any human character in the setting.

              • But I like huge arguments

                Anyway,what I meant is,he is not “people”in the way it was mentioned above,as he qualifies neither as a powered parahuman ,nor as an unpowered normal,thus he cannot be a part of that debate’s sample.

      • If the only criteria are that they are reliable and strong, then you can include almost all of Skitter’s enemies, I think. They’re definitely all strong characters and almost none of them do good things sometimes and bad things at other times. So:
        Oni Lee
        The Slaughter House Nine
        (the Wards are mostly an exception here. Some did good things for bad reasons, others weren’t dependable, and others have been above reproach so far. Also, not all of them are particularly strong, relative to other Supers)

        For characters without superpowers Dragon is possibly the strongest (depending on whether she counts or not); Coil’s men, especially the medic (Brooks, I believe) and the leader of Tattletale’s escort; and maybe the guy in charge of Dinah (Mr. Prescott, I think?).

        Mr. Prescott might be a surprise, so I’ll try justify it: Dinah’s life depends on him and it would be difficult to replace him. Because Dinah is so powerful, he ipso facto becomes a powerful man. Since he’s blindly loyal to Coil, he is perfectly reliable.

        Actually, now that I think about it, almost all of the non-supers in the story are fairly reliable. I especially like Skitter’s two lieutenants. They don’t make the list because they haven’t proven themselves to be particularly strong, but they are competent and reliable

        • Bakuda,sure,but Lung and Oni Lee keep dun goofing badly,only the fact that they have OP powers saves them.
          Armsmaster ,strong and reliable?lol,not as a villain,not as a hero,not as a neutral hloryhound,we are talking about the guy who underestimated Leviathan 1-2 hours after being told not to do that.
          Leviathan and Dragon ,yeah,but while this is a good point,they both fall out of the sample by virtue of not being “people”(and,technically,Dragon never was).
          I’d say Shatterbird is not a paragon or reliability,Burnscar is not a paragon of strength (psyhological strength)as she is controlled by her power,and Cherish is,despite her OP power,a complete joke.

    • There are actually very few non-powered characters in this.

      Despite her uncomfortable introduction, Charlotte seems pretty darn competent. The way she held it together and protected Taylor’s people in a crisis was pretty amazing.

      Coil’s people also tend to be strong and reliable. The ones who were involved in the fight against Lung for example – that took some serious courage. Leah too, infiltrating Hookwolf’s Gang. Shame things ended so poorly for her.😦

  9. Another good chapter. I liked Skitter’s flight a lot, and the line “I really shouldn’t be using this without training.” A rare moment of soberness in an otherwise crazy ride.

    Totally agree with everybody else too. I liked Weld enough before this chapter, but after the knife salute he moved up in my opinion to favorite Hero. Plus, he’s really tough, not just with his power, but it takes guts to jump on the guy who literally tore you wide open just moments before.
    Props to Cache for the same reason.

    I also liked the description of Glory Girl as she got hit. It was very well done. Even without direct mention, I completely understand what happened, in colorful detail no less.

    Also, I liked the short bit about Legend. Makes me think on top of all this craziness Legend is single handedly chasing down the most powerful villain in the world. I’d like to see that as a Newspaper headline the next day catching everybody else off guard. “Siberian Dead!”

    No idea how Glory Girl, Skitter, and the rest are going to get out of this. I’m hoping Skitter saves Glory Girl, but it seems impossible.

    • Skitter runs off to be a superhero at the start, constantly gets into fights with the likes of Armsmaster, Leviathan, and the Slaughterhouse Nine, just got done riding a giant beetle that she flew high into the air on her first time despite it being uncharacteristically difficult to control for her…and the thing she’s worried about doing without training is toss a grenade.

      Maybe that line was meant to be humorous.

      • I actually like that line, because it reminded me of all the times characters in movies, tv, books, comics etc pick up some sort of weapon and instantly start using it correctly and semi-proficiently. By admitting to herself that she is not qualified to use the stuff she does, displaying a bit of a learning curve and worrying about all the stuff that could go wrong, skitter adds some amount of realism to a scene of a girl riding a bug while dropping grenades on a monster.

        • For me it was humorous. I loved it. Pretty much exactly what Psycho Gecko said.

          Have we had a Mannequin interlude yet? I’d like to know his thoughts. He keeps getting roughed up, quite badly, had to tag out his turn, and when things start going a little bit better for him he has to start dodging grenades. If Cherish hadn’t mentioned he made new hands for Bonesaw I would have figured the rest of the nine killed him for failure.
          IDK, just my 2 cents. I think there’s a story there,.

          • Alright, basic grenade training goes like this: First, you say a prayer: “Oh lord, bless this thy handgrenade, but with it thou mayest blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy.”

            Then, you pull the pin, count to three, and throw, “One. Two. Four.” “Three milord.” “Three!” *throws*

            • Well, yes, but I think Crawler is slightly tougher than a rabbit (though probably not quite as dangerous).

              Now we just need a vigilante cape called Antioch who hates rabbits and Endbringers.

  10. “The future is always in motion”

    That’s probably because it only is the future if you’re awareness and action confined to three dimensions – and beings with powers might not be.

    • Nope, given Dinah’s view of the world, the future is indeed always in motion.

      It is the great problem of time. You can know the past but not change it, and you can change the future but not know it. Some exceptions may apply for a few supers.

  11. Actually, you can know neither the past nor the future. First of all, human knowledge is finite and laughably limited. Name any historical event (or even an event in the present) and anyone can name a half-dozen different possibilities as to its causes or to what actually happened. Secondly, for a given outcome, a very large number of different preceding events could have led to it – the exact same result; what events actually led to that result are largely irrelevant if there is no way to tell one way or another and nobody actually is aware of them.. Third, cause-and-effect is not set in stone in this universe because the laws of the universe themselves have a built-in uncertainty quotient.
    What it all amounts to is that the universe is only firmly defined by what you observe. Things you cannot observe (not “won’t” or “don’t” but literally can’t) directly or indirectly are under uncertainty even in the present. From the present springs forth an ever-broadening path of potential futures that fit possible extrapolation, analysis and evolution of current events. Into the present lead an ever-broadening path of potential pasts, growing looser the further back into the past you go because they are less firmly anchored by observation.

    Regarding time-travel, cause-and-effect wouldn’t be any sort of barrier since it isn’t exactly followed in the present anyway. It just requires access to one more dimension than most beings have access to. For example, consider an individual whose self-awareness is not time-limited. If any of his “past” instances know what happens to his “future” instances depending on what they decide to do, he can, at any point in his life, choose to take other actions resulting in a different future. Sort of like Coil, only instead of a single anchored point of choice, he has an infinite number of them.
    This is how Dr. Manhattan of The Watchmen functioned. This is also how most video game characters function since you can save and load the game at any time and try different decisions. In both cases, cause and effect are not even violated because their point of view extends temporally and causes in the future can have effects in the past.

    That the “unlimited” version of time-travel and reality anyway. Most people put in limitations for various reasons but, as far as I know, there isn’t any reason to apply three-dimensional logic of cause-and-effect in a multidimensional universe

    • I think you’re seriously confused about the difference between historical uncertainty and quantum uncertainty there. They’re not related.

      Quantum uncertainty is limited to the measurements of tiny particles except in contrived circumstances (in the ordinary universe; super power effects not considered). h-bar / 2 is a very small number, and that’s the minimum product of the uncertainty in momentum and uncertainty in position. For the position & momentum of you or me, the uncertainty is therefore low enough relative to our size that classical physics does just as good a job.

      Historical uncertainty (e.g. who killed JF Kennedy?) is more about a lack of records or multiple possible interpretations of records that do exist. There’s no quantum limitation on there being pictures clearly showing Lee Harvey Oswald killing Kennedy.

    • Coil gets to split to a second universe. One of him does one thing, one of him does another. He doesn’t get to see the future, he just has to pick one or the other based on what he sees is a better outcome, and he only has those two to choose from.

      Hell, you can trap him by merely making sure that no matter which choice he makes, it’s too late. Like putting him in a room with a bomb that needs to be disarmed, and there’s only two wires it could be, but rigging it so that it can’t be disarmed no matter what. No matter which one he tries, they’ll both lead to failure and his ultimate death. His only hope is to have one timeline never get stuck in that room. That’s why you have to make sure he either has no reason to split a timeline before going in, or make it appear rewarding enough that he chooses that timeline before the bomb is revealed.

      Also, you really underestimate history. We do know how JFK died. They’ve done the tests, the physics, they followed up on conspiracy leads. It was Lee Harvey Oswald, from the Book Depository, with a rifle. It just so happens that the bullet did some odd things, as they tend to do quite a bit. Using dummies, they were able to recreate the shots extremely well. The only injury not replicated was a rib or two being broken. When they took the dummies to a doctor and talked about the injuries, even the doctor thought this was caused by two different people shooting. Then they showed the tape with just the one guy pulling it off.

      Just because there’s a controversy doesn’t mean we don’t actually have the answer. People just don’t always like the answers, and if you get to people first with your particular sensationalist view, that can poison them to the more boring truth that’s been found out. People’s minds are malleable like that, so that people mainly remember that first story they heard (Egyprian pyramids built by slaves!) but not the later truth once people actually get down to examining it (Egyptian pyramids were ancient public works projects. They glorified the Pharaoh, and gave restless farmers something to do between harvest and planting, providing jobs).

      But then, who said the truth is completely boring?

      A little looking into history will turn up all kinds of cool things we never knew. Like Ben Franklin’s reasons for why you should have an affair with an older lady which includes a Founding Father’s version of “In the dark, it all feels the same,” or the existence of people like Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. Crack a history book and take a good look at the early 1900s and you’ll see just how much of that we’re repeating these days(and boy would I love to shove The Jungle into certain politicans’ faces). Maybe you’d like to read about the conflicts between medieval Popes and kings where one king sent some hired thugs to beat up the Pope, or the existence of the Anti-Pope. For guard’s snakes, man, Argentina’s history is felt to this day as women still march in remembrance of Los Desaparecidos who might well have been tortured, drugged, and then tossed off a plane in the middle of the ocean.

      You want to know why Hitler had something to prove? Probably because he lost a ball in WWI. You know Napoleon? Not all that short. Want to go to war with Russia during winter? You’re a complete moron. And both those men, Napoleon and Hitler, made the mistake of sticking around for that lovely Russian winter. Good thing Napoleon’s plans to invade the New World were stopped by the Haitian slave rebellion and France’s enemies, the British, lending us the money to buy Louisiana from him when his army failed to put down a technologically inferior guerilla force in unfamiliar, overseas, very hot territory that had some nasty diseases to spread around too. Like anyone needs to study anything about technologically inferior but dedicated guerilla forces fighting a larger imperialist power from overseas in hostile terrain. Pfft.

      While we can only see it from our present perspective, that doesn’t mean the documents weren’t there, or that we can’t know how things were interpreted back then, or that the people just plain didn’t exist. I happen to think that by claiming we can’t know it (thus it loses importance), or by telling a warped version of it (like David Barton), you really cheapen the knowledge we have of our past that includes some pretty great true stories and some very important lessons (U.S. Policy during the Cold War kinda has something to do with Iran calling us the Great Satan).

  12. You’re both missing the point.

    Let’s take the JFK assassination. Yes, we know who did it – I’m not disputing that. We got proof and lots of it. But riddle me this – is it physically impossible to have happened in another way? I.e. another series of events that leads to exactly the same outcome? It doesn’t matter if those events are logically ridiculous (i.e. most conspiracy theory explanations or even an alien from the future altering reality to have said event unfold that way). What it does matter is if wildly different chains of cause-and-effect can have the exact same results. And the answer is yes.
    Now, suppose someone goes back in time. What chain of cause-and-effect is he following? With the laws of the universe not giving you a single potential past -because multiple potential pasts can physically satisfy the equations- to which potential past are you going to turn up?
    It is the exact same effect when you travel to the future. Suppose you get all the facts of the entire universe in the present exactly right. You still are going to go only to potential futures because, the laws of the universe having an element of randomness, even a set starting point in a cause-and-effect chain can lead to multiple potential outcomes.
    (the same way multiple different starting points can lead to the same result)
    Ultimately, humans are not gods. Yes, we get evidence -lots and lots of it- but all evidence is indirect. We use our best interpretation of evidence based on previous observation and we use logic to help shape that interpretation. That does not mean that interpretation is actual knowledge (however much we treat is as such) or that the universe has to be logical (however much we may wish it to be).

    And that’s the problem with time-travel or any other ability changing cause and effect. Cause and effect doesn’t follow linear, immutable chains. It doesn’t even apply in some cases.

    • If a time traveler goes back and causes a small alteration, it won’t lead to the same future, no matter what. You assume the small difference doesn’t matter, but that’s only if you’re thinking very broadly about history. Say someone goes backa nd changes events but Oswald still shoots Kennedy. Ok. So now it’s from the parking lot of a McDonald’s instead of the book deposity, and it’s with a handgun instead of a rifle. To you, as long as he shot him, it’s the same, but there’s a big difference, including the number of people who will see him do that, thus precluding conspiracy theories, and the likelihood that LBJ’s attempts at social reform would also include legislation on handguns, and he’s the president who could have gotten it done too.

      From there, the NRA becomes little known. Some famous shootings still occur, as people used rifles and shotguns, but the circumstances are different, perhaps due to the ability to conceal handguns that you don’t really have with a shotgun. A few more people live or die due to earlier warnings or because of the increased lethality of the weapons. Maybe when Reagan takes office, an assassination attempt takes place that uses a knife, and the guy fails to even harm him, unlike the near-death that occured in our timeline. In that timeline, he doesn’t gain nearly as much a political boost, and it might be just enough to prevent certain political goals that accomplished in our timeline. Or maybe the guy tries a rifle instead, and kills him, cutting off the political effects of the Reagan administration and drastically altering the present-times politics.

      The very act of going back and altering something will change what happens. That’s kind of how it is. Even just moving can change a breeze. Looking up at the building can draw other people’s attention to it before the shooting occurs. Being in there and making a sound can cause Oswald to fire early or to stop and abort because someone might be sneaking up on him. The little thing are consequential like that, because squeezing a trigger is itself a little thing that has a big effect.

      Basically, it is physically impossible for the exact events that happened to have happened any other way because then they wouldn’t be those exact events. If he fired a different rifle. If he fired a half second late or early. If the wind was slightly different. If the motorcade’s driver’s foot slipped on the gas or break. If it was a different rifle. If it was a different bullet. If the bullet’s quality was better or worse. Heck, if the sun composition of the air was slightly different and let more heat through to cause expansion of molecules that changed how the shot went.

      Every event we live has had an incredibly low chance of occuring if you look at every single possibility. That’s no reason to claim that this conversation isn’t happening just because it’s of such a low likelihood given the billions of people all over the world, weather coverage messing with internet connections, possibility that someone missed a class that taught them an important point about the subject, or the fact that there’s theoretically a dimension where the dominant intelligent species is a type of walking birdlike creature with feathers instead of hair that’s descended from dinosaurs that didn’t go extinct from a meteor crash and they’re having this discussion right now between Psycho Monkey and Uriel999

      • That’s without getting into the really miniscule stuff. You start talking about the butterfly effect, and the incredibly, amazingly low chance that a (for example) particular sperm meets a particular egg at a particular moment, and how even minor things like a person’s blood flow at a particular moment in a pregnancy adjusting a child’s attitude or development… one minor event could result in an entire generation across a continent being affected.

        • What if we had a character who could affect those probabilities though? One who could see all the ways that the next moment could unfold. Not someone like Dinah who looks at the mass of everything in the distant future and calculates probabilities but someone who looks like five seconds ahead and can choose to force events to play out in a specific fashion. Such a character could potentially be extremely powerful even without any secondary effects if only because he could always see where his enemies would be moving and how he should move in response to avoid it. A guy who sees quantum uncertainty on a macro level. It would be awesome.

          And yes the above discussion is my main problem with time travel. All you have to do to prevent someone’s birth is to simply knock into their parent before they are born. A simple delay of a hair could very well stop that specific child from coming about when the parents get down. About Time is a fantastic movie because it actually touches on this fact.

  13. Heh, I got a kick out of thinking about what would happen if cause and effect weren’t temporally linked back-to-back. I don’t remember the character’s name, but there’s a guy in the story who has random beams of light that can cut anything but he can’t control them. What if he could control the where but not the when? Maybe the where is dictated by distance and angle relative to him and the when is only when he tries to use his power such that there are a finite number of “nodes” throughout his history where the beams can pop out (randomly or pseudo-randomly).

    Another example is in Alice Through the Looking Glass. One of the Queens there starts wailing and sucking on her finger, then a little later she pricks that same finger. See? Every cause has an effect, it’s just that the timeline got a little screwy😉

      • Ah yes, Scrub is indeed the Super I meant. Funny how the memory plays tricks on one. I could’ve sworn I read that the flashes of light were hitting things at different angles. The weird thing is that I also remember the spherical shapes of the holes.

        Well, anyway, it would be an interesting super power to break chronology without affecting causality.

  14. Here’s a question: How did Crawler get acid spit? Or, for that matter, how did he go from the presumably-humanoid shape he began with to…this? Isn’t his power basically regenerating stronger against whatever hurt him?

    Either I’m missing something, or there’s something deeper at play.

      • So the saying goes…but Wormverse powers rarely operate on a metaphorical level. If Crawler was an Other from Pact, I might buy it, but he’s a parahuman from Worm.

        • Crawler’s powers aren’t metaphorical, they consist of a simple loop: Identify incoming threats and make biological changes to counter them. We know by this point that powers are capable of some degree of ‘intelligence’ based on things like the Manton effect and complex abilities like Amy’s or Taylor’s and that they’re capable of biological change (again, Amy, or for that matter, Bitch). Crawler’s abilities just use those two in conjunction.

          • As I understand it, the powers are less “identify incoming threats, respond” and more “identify whatever force managed to hurt me, and defend against that”. Hard to imagine the power coming up with acid spit or whatever to deal with that…
            Taylor and Amy have some element of conscious choice behind their powers’ intelligence. As for Bitch, she hasn’t demonstrated any control over how her dogs control, nor has it adapted in any way, so I’m not sure how it’s applicable.
            Besides, rira vs gurer jnf bar fgvzhyhf juvpu cebzcgrq vgf qrirybczrag, vg’f uneq gb vzntvar gung gur pybarq Penjyref jbhyq qvfpbire gur rknpg fnzr fgvzhyv. Naq lrg, gurl znantrq gb fgneg qrirybcvat npvq fcvg.

            • I just referenced Bitch because her power is capable of biological change.

              Taylor and Amy both have powers that utilise knowledge they don’t consciously have. Amy’s knows things like how to repair a broken bone on a molecular level. Taylor’s is capable of complex interactions with hundreds of different species.

              Crawler’s powers may well be “identify whatever force managed to hurt me”. It seems to go beyond that though if it’s developing specific *attack* powers for certain foes. It is obviously smart enough to make judgements like “that person made of metal hurt me so I should develop acid spit to take out the threat” not just “I took a heavy blow so I need to develop armour plates”.

              The end result looks a lot like evolution but the mechanism is completely different.

              Gehr. Vg’f cbffvoyr Penjyre’f funeq vf ovbybtvpnyyl cerqvfcbfrq gbjneqf npvq nf n svez bs nggnpx. Vg’q or rssrpgvir ntnvafg zbfg qrsraprf. Uvf nqncgngvbaf znl rira or onfrq ba n ‘funeq qngnonfr’ bs cerivbhfyl-yrneag rssrpgvir pbhagref).

            • Perhaps the acid spit is a convenient side effect from an enhanced digestive system, after he (?) was poisoned or ate a few lumps of the local Indestructium (something Tinker made).

              If his power doesn’t give aggressive options by itself I’m sure he’d have tried to engineer situations where developing lethal options was the most efficient way to survive a repeat.

              But if his power was extremely smart (and powerful enough) it would just have made him omnipotent in response to the first threat. Well, he’d at least have lasers to kill threats with, or something overpowered like that.

              PS., I wonder if Crawler can die of old age. I assume not, but if he can then the PRT just needs to find the right para in order to obliterate him.

              • I have stomach acid that can melt some kinds of metals, but I can’t spit it. Maybe some kind of tinker-made super-bug or nanotech could have inspired Crawler’s digestive system to make a more potent acid, but it doesn’t follow that he would be able to spit it at people.

                Also, it’s stated at some point that Crawler’s “acid” also includes self-replicating enzymes. So…it’s not just acid.

          • So apparently, comments which you can’t reply to using the main page’s reply button can’t be replied to like this either. Huh.

            I’m not saying that Crawler’s power couldn’t give him an acid spit, for any reason. I’m saying that by the mechanism I understand it being stated to work on, it wouldn’t. I’d love to know what makes you think that Crawler’s power is “smart”. And no, the end result looks nothing like evolution, because it isn’t, partly because so many fundamental rules (e.g, balancing energy/resource costs) are absent.

            V’q fnl gung nal xvaq bs cerqvfcbfvgvba znxrf vg yvxryl gung gur zrpunavfz vf yrff fvzcyr ernpgvba naq zber cer-cynaavat bs fbzr fbeg, nf V xabj V zragvbarq va n pbzzrag, gubhtu vg zvtug or va n pbzcyrgryl qvssrerag nep. V’z phevbhf nf gb jurer gur grzcyngr pnzr sebz, gubhtu…

            • It looks like evolution at a high level in that it’s reactive adaptation to a particular environment. I did say that the mechanism was completely different.

              The power appears to be smart because it’s *not* evolution. Evolution is throwing many individuals at an environment and the *species as a whole* adapting because the poorer-suited specimens die and the best-liked specimens breed more. You *cannot* have evolution in a single individual.

              Crawler’s power is somehow analysing his environment and coming up with counters. Hence: smart.

              Bar jnl vg pbhyq jbex vf vs vg hgvyvfrq n cbjre yvxr Qvanu’f: ybbx ng n ovyyvba Penjyref gelvat n ovyyvba nqncgngvbaf npebff n ovyyvba jbeyqf naq vzcyrzrag gur zbfg rssrpgvir bar va gur cerfrag. Gung jbhyq fgvyy erdhver fbzr fznegf gb qrpvqr hcba gur orfg bar, gubhtu.

              Gung jbhyq ryvzvangr gur arrq sbe n grzcyngr bs fgnaqneq erfcbafrf ohg vs ur qbrf unir bar, vg jbhyq unir pbzr sebz gur hfhny cynpr: funeqf svtugvat rnpu bgure naq xrrcvat n erpbeq bs nccebnpurf gung jbex jryy naq barf gung qba’g. Penjyre pbhyq unir gur ‘gnpgvpny qngnonfr’ funeq gung pbagnvaf n pbzcvyrq nffrffzrag sebz uhaqerqf bs ivfvgngvbaf.

              Rvgure rkcynangvba pbhyq svg gur qngn: vaohvyg qngnonfr be cflpuvp cerqvpgvba. V yrna njnl sebz n funeq fzneg rabhtu gb nanylfr gur fvghngvba naq vairag ppbhagref orpnhfr, juvyr funeqf pna or irel fzneg gurl unir arire orra frra gb or *perngvir*.

          • It looks like Star Trek evolution, which isn’t evolution.
            Again, the way I understand Crawler’s power to have been explained, it’s not analyzing the environment, but the force that caused the damage. Still smart, but in a different fashion. Rough comparison: Taylor’s shard was smart enough to pbageby uhznaf, but it didn’t.
            Part of the ROT-13 segment got cut off, FYI. I think we’re reaching or surpassing the intended limits of WordPress. Still, the things you mention are interesting. I especially like the latter.

            • We’re splitting hairs over what ‘looks like evolution’ means. Let’s just call it ‘adaptation’.

              The reason I don’t think Crawler’s power doesn’t just analyse the force that does the damage is that he has powers that he couldn’t conceivably have developed like that. Acid spit, inhuman speed and claws are adaptations to situations, not forces. Claws are good for climbing out of holes or inflicting damage on an enemy. There’s no force they’d be a sensible adaptation to. Acid spit is good for hurting an enemy or perhaps dissolving restraints. Again, it makes no sense as reaction to any imaginable force.

              Crawler’s power is giving him abilities that deal with the situation he’s facing, not just the damage he’s taking. Otherwise he’d just be getting powers that make him resistant, not ones that let him take the fight to the enemy.

              • I can reply to this one. Huh.

                I have a sense that we’re actually arguing the same thing, but are only able to see a fraction of the other’s beliefs. This topic originally started by me pointing out that the stated mechanism wasn’t sufficient to explain the changes in Crawler’s biology.

                I think. I made it…good lord, probably close to two years ago.

  15. Good chapter, I think I noticed a typo though:

    “This time, at least, Weld took on the heavy hitter. He leaped at Crawler from the side, his hand becoming needle-fine as he plunged it into one of Crawler’s largest eye sockets. I knew that Crawler could dodge Ballistic’s hits.”

    Is the penultimate word correct? Or is it supposed to be Weld’s hits?

    • Nope. Taylor was saying that she’d seen Crawler dodge Ballistic’s (incredibly fast) attacks. So the fact that Crawler didn’t get out of the way of Weld’s attack implied that he didn’t particularly care about it.

      It probably could be made clearer though: “I knew Crawler was fast enough to dodge even Ballistic’s attacks” or something…

  16. Why didn’t Weld stick to the cars Mannequin tossed at him? Did the paint get in the way? If so, why didn’t hacking through the undercarriages and such make him stick?

    And, of course, nice intense chapter. Taylor just can’t catch a break…not that she’d take one if she could.

  17. Minor technical problem with this sentence:
    It was almost eerie, the quiet. The buzz of signals and responses from my swarm grew as quiet as it had been since my powers manifested.
    There are a gigantic number of insects in the atmosphere. There are many articles on the topic. Google “insects in the atmosphere” for more information. Skitter should be surprised at the massive number of bugs in range, not surprised by the silence.

    • Also, the part where Lisa calls her. She’s had trouble answering/accessing her phone many times before while riding Bitch’s dogs — but when she’s hundreds of feet up in the air and concentrating on keeping the bug steady, I’d think that would be even more distracting? Maybe putting in a sentence with her having trouble answering the phone would fix that.

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