Colony 15.1

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Bentley lunged in my direction, and I could feel my people backing away behind me.  I stood firm.  The mutant bulldog landed with both front paws first, the impact so heavy that spittle and moisture was flung from his massive body.

A low, guttural noise tore its way from Bentley’s throat as he surged forward again.  I could hear yelps and shouts of alarm from the crowd behind me.

Wood splintered, cracked, and finally gave way.  Behind Bentley, the husk of a fire-scorched building collapsed.  Chains that had been lashed to the building’s wooden supports trailed from the dog’s harness as he bounded toward Bitch.  Of everyone present, only Bitch and I held our ground as the dog barreled into his master, practically bouncing with joy.

Bitch, for her part, wrapped her arms around his head as he lifted her off the ground.  “Good boy!”

He’s just a dog.  Beneath the three-thousand-ish pounds of muscle and the exterior of tangled muscle and bone, he was still a dopey dog who adored his master.  Bitch had given him what he’d been yearning for since he was abandoned or abused in his past life.  She’d offered him the affection and companionship he’d been wanting for years.

I could relate.  Not in terms of Bitch, specifically, but I could relate.

“Get to work clearing that up!” I ordered.  My swarm augmented my voice to carry it across the crowd of my followers.  There were twenty-two adults and twenty kids.  With Coil’s assistance, I’d brought in work gloves and black hazmat suits, but most people were wearing only the lower body of the suits.  It was too warm for the full suits, and the masks were largely unnecessary.  Everyone was dripping from the rain, but nobody was really complaining.  I rather liked it; it was refreshing in the otherwise warm day.

A generator stirred to life a short distance down the street, and there was something of a rush as people hurried to get away from the intimidating presence of the big bad supervillains and their mutant animals.  That, and there was something of a fight to get the power tools.  There were only so many circular saws and chainsaws to go around, and anyone who didn’t have one was tasked with carrying the cut wood instead.

I created a barrier of bugs to stop one of the teenagers from reaching for a circular saw.

“If you’re under eighteen, you don’t get to use power tools,” I called out.  “Priority goes to the people who know how the tools are used.  Able bodied adults get second dibs.  Listen carefully to the guys who know what they’re doing, and work somewhere dry if possible.  We’ve had enough casualties, let’s not have anything stupid happening with someone slipping or losing their grip in the rain.  If someone’s being an idiot, tell Sierra, and she’ll inform me.”

Sierra glanced at me and nodded.

I turned my attention to Bitch.

“You owe me,” she said.  The rain had plastered her short hair against her scalp.  Her gang of four people stood by with dogs on leashes: Barker, Biter, a college-aged kid with the scars of four parallel claw marks running across his face, and a girl with her arm in a sling.  They didn’t look scared, like my people had, but they still didn’t look fantastically thrilled to be in close vicinity to one of Bitch’s dogs on full throttle.

Nevermind that you were the one that came here early.  “Of course.  We’ll get you and your people some lunch.”

She frowned.  “Lunch?”

There was a bit of a pause.  I waited patiently as she considered the idea.

“Fine,” she decided.

“Come on,” I told her.  “We’ll go to my place while we wait for the others.”

While Bentley had been helping to tear down and dismantle the derelict building, I’d been contemplating how I’d leverage Bitch’s early arrival to mend fences and rebuild some trust.  I’d decided on something simple, as that seemed to work best with Bitch.  I imagined that she hadn’t paid a lot of attention to stuff like food as she took hold of her territory.  Odds were good that she’d asked Coil for a lot of easy food she could stuff in her pockets and eat on the go.  She probably wouldn’t pay much attention to stuff like seasonings or variety in courses.

I’d recently spent some time looking back on our past interactions.  Her perspective toward me had zig-zagged between a kind of hesitant acceptance and hostility.  We’d met, she’d attacked me.  We’d gone to the bank robbery, and she’d been open and excited, only to do a one-eighty and start shouting at me after misinterpreting something I said.  Two steps forward, one step back.  Until I’d left the group and then been outed as an undercover operative a short while later.  That had been a good solid one-hundred steps back.

Recovering from that breach of trust had proven far more difficult than anything that came before.  Not quite impossible, though; I’d apparently proved myself in the recent past, because Bitch was making an effort on her end.  She was here earlier than I’d asked, for one thing, and she hadn’t murdered me when I asked for a hand with some things I couldn’t handle with my own power.

She glanced back at her group and whistled once, making a ‘come hither’ gesture.  I couldn’t tell if she was signaling her dogs and expecting the people to follow or if she was treating her own people like she did her dogs.  She grabbed the chain at Bentley’s neck and used it to lead him.

Barker and Biter looked pretty unimpressed, either way.  Barker especially.

We didn’t talk as we made our way to my headquarters, and I was okay with that.  Every exchange between us was one more chance for me to inadvertently offend her, and the silence gave me a bit more time to consider how to tackle all of this.  I was used to feeling like I had to approach every conversation with a strategy, planning out what I was going to say so I didn’t sound like an idiot.  That went double for Bitch, because a slip-up could set me back days or weeks in terms of our friendship.

Should friendship even be my goal?  Maybe I was better off just trying to be a teammate.

If it was just for my sake, I could probably convince myself.  As it stood, though, I was thinking of Bitch.  I felt like I would be abandoning her to a pretty lonely existence if I didn’t at least try.

I let them into my lair, after sweeping the area with my bugs to check for any observers, unlocking and opening the shutter.  Charlotte had experienced a few sleepless nights since the scare three nights ago, so I’d given her permission to take it easy here, with the warning that I’d have guests and would want her assistance.  She still looked a little wary as Bitch, Biter, and Barker entered.

“Hamburgers?” I asked Bitch.  She nodded.  When I looked at her minions, they signaled agreement.  Good.  Easy and simple.

“Charlotte, would you mind?  Maybe fries, too, if you know how to make them on the stove?”

“I don’t, but there’s some in the freezer that I can do.  They aren’t bad,” she replied.

“Good.  When you have a second, some towels for the dogs, too.”

“Okay.”

I led the others into the sitting area on the ground floor.  With the shutter up, some dim light filtered through the rain-streaked windows.  Bitch was outside, tending to Bentley, who had yet to shrink to a more normal size.

I stepped outside to give her directions to where she could stow Bentley until he’d returned to a more normal size, pointing the way to the beach.  She marched off with the one-ton monstrous dog, not offering a response.

Which left me to deal with her people in the meantime.

Barker and Biter gave me something of a George and Lennie vibe, with the smaller guy as the brains of the outfit, the larger one as the big oaf.  While I didn’t have any major clues to Barker’s powers, Biter was clearly a physical powerhouse.  He stood over six feet in height with a severe underbite exaggerated by a metal bear-trap style band of metal around his lower jaw.  His teeth, I saw, were filed into points.  His costume featured spiked knuckle-dusters and a number of leather straps and belts over his clothes.  Each length of leather was studded with sharp spikes.

Barker was an inch or two shorter than me, his hair and beard cut short enough that there was more skin than hair showing.  His eyes seemed overly large for his face, with heavy lids and folds around them that made him look older than he probably was.  His ‘costume’ consisted of a black sleeveless t-shirt, jeans and tattooing around his mouth.  I’d seen him in something more conventional when Coil had introduced him to us, but now the only sign of his parahuman nature was the faint smoke that curled out of his mouth.  Just going by his lack of bulk and short stature, I thought I might be able to take him in a no-powers fist fight.

I’d nearly forgotten about Bitch’s henchpeople in the chaos of dealing with the Nine and all of the fallout that had ensued.  I realized I knew very little about them.

To my surprise, it was Biter who did the talking.  He had a low voice, and his words were muddled by some combination of the mouthgear and the underbite.  “You get along.”

I folded my arms.

He spread his hands, “How?”

“How do Bitch and I get along?” I asked.

He nodded.

“I’m not sure I’m comfortable talking behind her back.”

The girl with her arm in a sling spoke up, “She acts like she’s frustrated with us.  And I think we’re frustrated with her.”

“I don’t want to be rude, but that’s really her business with you.”  They’re her property, her territory.  If I screwed around with her minions or started something, it would effectively be stepping on her toes.

“You can’t offer us any tips?” she asked.

She looked so hopeful.  Damn it.

“I can, but it’s going to sound pretty damn basic.  Be honest, be absolutely clear in what you’re saying.  Be obedient, but be assertive.  Don’t let her walk all over you or she will walk all over you.  At the same time, if you think there’s something worth arguing over, be prepared to fight tooth and nail for it, because you’ll be in a weaker position if you fight over it and lose.  Respect her space and her things, and remember that she’s your boss above all else.”

“She doesn’t act like a boss,” Barker said, and he made it sound almost insulting.  Puffs of the dark smoke spilled from his mouth with each word, but they seemed to carry further than cigarette smoke would.  It seemed to be tied to the stress or emphasis on the sounds that drove it forward.  “She does her own thing and she leaves us to clean up shit.”

“Adapt,” I told him.  “That’s all I can say.  If you’ve proven yourself reliable, showed that you’re willing to clean up after the dogs and take care of them without complaining, she’ll test you in other ways.  That’ll be your chance to prove you’re useful.”

He sneered, looking at the girl and the boy with the scars on his face.  “She’s cutting them more slack than she’s cutting Biter and me.  We shouldn’t have to prove anything.”

“What do you do?  Your powers.”

He looked up at me.  “You want to see?”

I shrugged.

“Whore.”

The puff of smoke that accompanied the word detonated like a small thunder-clap, mere inches from my face.  I flinched, but it hadn’t been intended to harm.  Only to alarm.

He sniggered.  I’d never met anyone who really sniggered before.

I could see how Coil thought Barker and Bitch would be a match.  I could also see where there would be some friction between the two.

I sighed a little, watching as Barker looked to the others, then over at Charlotte, as if they’d be joining him in his amusement.  None did.  Biter earned a brownie point in my book by staying quiet and simply watching.

I caught my baton from behind my back and swung it underhand, still folded up, into Barker’s chin.  His teeth clacked shut with percussive force, and I stepped closer to push at his upper body while hooking at the chair leg with my foot to pull it in my direction.  He toppled backwards, his head hitting the wall behind him.

I didn’t have a full measure of his ability, but I did know his mouth was his weapon.  It made me look weaker, but I stepped back so his legs and the chair seat gave me cover in the event that he decided to attack me.

For extra measure, I drew the bugs out of my costume and sent them straight for his nose and mouth.

He went bug-eyed as he sat up, coughing and sputtering in an attempt to clear the bugs from his airway.  After one rolling cough, he created another detonation in and around his mouth, obliterating a majority of the bugs I’d tried to gag him with.

I glanced at Biter.  He was still seated.  Good.  I’d somehow thought that the guy would be stepping up to defend his partner, making this a two-versus-one fight.

Barker was climbing to his feet.  I saw him falter, then start coughing again, gagging.

The capsaicin had kicked in.

“That’s the sort of thing you have to watch out for,” I told him, as he fell to the ground, writhing and coughing, tears welling in his eyes.  I kept my voice level.  “You’re in my house, my territory, and you fuck with me?  That’s the sort of thing that would get you in your boss’s bad books if you did it to her.”

“He has,” the boy with the scars on his face spoke.

Barker only gagged in response.

“Guess that’s why he deserves shit duty,” I commented.  I leaned against the wall, folding my arms, my telescoped baton still in one hand.

Bitch had chosen that moment to return.  She stared at the scene.  Me standing idly by as Barker was curled up on the floor, wheezing and making pathetic noises, a few stray bugs crawling across his face.

She looked at me, glaring.

“He started it, I finished it,” I told her.

She looked at Biter, who shrugged and nodded agreement with my statement.  Bitch seemed to accept that as answer enough.  She picked up his chair, moved it a few feet so it wouldn’t be in Barker’s way as he kicked and spasmed, and sat down.

“I’m surprised there’s no objections about me attacking your partner,”  I told Biter.

“Your house, your rules, you said.”

“What do you do?  No demonstrations, please.”

“I make parts of myself bigger.”  He pointed to his mouth, then to the fist with the spike-studded knuckle-duster.  “Open wide, swing with bigger hands.”

Nothing that would have been that great against the Nine.  I couldn’t blame Bitch for leaving them behind.

“Fair enough.”  I addressed the two unpowered individuals from Bitch’s group.  “And you two?  Why were you picked for her team?”

“I was just starting my first year as a vet before everything went to hell,” the girl said.  “Needed money to pay my boyfriend’s hospital bill, was offered more than enough.  He got better a week ago, then broke up with me.  Not even a thank you.  Guess I’m still here because I don’t have anywhere else to go, and I like taking care of the dogs.”

I saw an opportunity.  “Did you have a dog growing up?”

“Greyhounds.  Eclaire and Blitzen.”

“Blitzen?  Like the reindeer?”

“No.  Like German for lightning.  And Eclaire is French.”

I could see Bitch was tense.  Something about this line of conversation?

I guessed what it might be and continued the questioning.  “Why greyhounds?  Don’t they need a lot of exercise?”

She shook her head.  “No.  They’re running dogs, but they only need about a half-hour of walking a day.  They work really well living in an apartment, which we were.”

“They howl,” Bitch said.

“Only if they’re unhappy,” the girl protested.  She glanced down as Barker thumped on the ground with one fist, then looked up at Bitch and smiled a little, “And ours were happy.”

Bitch seemed to accept that.

“Do you have a dog now?” I asked.

She shook her head.  “I don’t have the money.  Or I didn’t have money, before Leviathan came.  Student loans and living expenses kind of ate up whatever I made.  I’m hoping to save up enough with the work I’m doing now.”

“You buying the dog?” Bitch asked.  She seemed interested, now, but there was still a tension, as if she was waiting for the other shoe to drop.  One wrong answer, and this could turn ugly.  I could only hope the girl had the right answers.

“I kind of want another greyhound, because it’s what I grew up with… and you’ll get greyhounds from an animal rescue ninety percent of the time.  There’s one I’m pretty fond of that’s in one of your shelters, but he’s yours, of course.”

She’d taken my advice about respecting Bitch’s ownership.  Good.

“Greyhound?  Chase or Ink?”  Bitch asked.

“Ink.”

Bitch frowned.  I tensed, ready to jump in and distract with some mention of food.

Grudgingly, Bitch said, “Rather they have a proper home than stay with me.”

I could see the girl’s eyes widen in surprise.  “I didn’t- um.  Thank you.”

“If I see him in some cage in a shelter after you’ve taken him home, I’m going to track you down and dismember you,” Bitch growled.

I could see from the expression on the girl’s face that she believed Bitch.  Still, I saw her steel herself as she replied, “If I fuck up, I deserve it.”

There wasn’t much more I could do to help that conversation.  I had hope that this would set Bitch’s underlings in the right direction.

While they continued talking, I stepped away to check on the hamburgers that Charlotte was cooking on the stove.

“Is he going to be okay?” she asked me.

It took me a second to realize who she meant.  I looked back at Barker.  “Yeah.”

“I mean, is he going to attack us?”

“I dosed him with pepper spray, basically, as well as a few stings and bites to add to the hurt.  That’ll generally put someone down for half an hour, so I don’t think he’s a threat.  I don’t think he’s stupid enough to attack with Bitch and I here.”

She nodded, but she didn’t look relieved.  I would have asked what was up, tried to pry for more clarification on just why she hadn’t slept well, or why she was so easily spooked, but I was interrupted by the vibration of my phone.

I stepped up into my lair to take the call.

“We’re a few minutes away,” Lisa told me, the second I picked up.

“Bitch is here already,” I answered.  “Come in the front door when you get here.”

“Righty-o.  Ta ta.”

She hung up.

I took a second to compose myself, alone in the second floor of my lair.  Dealing with people, the sensitive management of Bitch and her underlings, pretending confidence where I didn’t necessarily have it, and thinking of all the little details that would help me convey the image of someone confident and powerful… it was draining.  It meant standing straighter, having the answers, thinking two steps ahead and using intimidation and fear to prevent any argument or insubordination like Barker’s little stunt.  It meant retaliating in excess to any slight or disrespect.

Barker had pushed me, I’d left him mewling like a baby.

At the same time, I faced a dilemma on the opposite end of things.  I wanted to help people, and I wanted to build friendships with the others.  With the way Bitch sort of mandated that I go the extra mile, it was hard to be nice to her without seeming weak to others.

Well, what they didn’t see didn’t hurt them.

I stepped downstairs.

“Bitch?” I asked.  “A word?”

She frowned, glancing at the food.

“We’ll be done before the food is,” I promised.

She followed me up the stairs.

“It’s not complete,” I admitted, walking over to where I had fabric draped over a workbench.  I picked up one piece and flicked it out.  “I just figured you’d want to see it and voice any complaints before the others got here, so your voice doesn’t get drowned out.”

She took it from my hands.  It was a jacket, not dissimilar to the one she’d lent me once upon a time, but it was naturally lighter.  There was a hood with a fluffy fur border at the edges, extending around in front of her shoulders.  Besides the zippers and buttons, the fur was the only thing I hadn’t made myself.

“I dyed it dark gray.  I figured if you wanted it any color, you’d want it something dark, so I can tint it dark red, dark blue, dark green, or whatever you want.”

She stared at it, her forehead creased.

“It’s spider silk.  Tensile strength like steel, but flexible enough to resist wear and tear that steel wire would experience.  And it’s lighter than the steel would be.  Knives won’t cut it.  I figured you’d want a heavier feel, judging by the jacket you lent me before, so I put rectangular panels of armor in between the inner and outer layer to give it more substance.  I originally meant for there to be an undershirt or something you can wear to protect your upper body for when you don’t have it zipped up, but I kind of cannibalized it for my own costume, after I burned my legs.  I’ll have the shirt ready for you in a week or two.  Here, there’s leggings, too.  They survived.”

I picked up the leggings.  Unlike the jacket, they were skin-tight.

“I don’t wear tights,” she said.

“I thought you could wear them under your pants if you were expecting a serious fight.  I gave you an inner layer with a really fine weave for the inner thighs, for when you’re riding, so there’s less chafing.”

“Uh huh.”

“I went out of my way to give you lots of pockets like you had in the other jacket.  I don’t think it’ll be too hot.  There’s zippers in the armpits so you can ventilate some cool air inside, and you can detach the hood if you want, but I liked how it looked with the fur.  I’m planning an inside liner for when it’s-”

“It’s fine,” she interrupted me.  “Stop talking.  It’s good.”

“Yeah?  I didn’t get a chance to get your measurements, so I went by memory, based on the jacket you lent me.”

She pulled it on and adjusted the front.  “Fits fine.”

“Here,” I said.  I turned around and grabbed the next piece.  I handed it to her.

She turned it around in her hands.  I’d cheated and formed the base sculpt out of chicken wire, covering the remainder with layers of dragline silk and painting the end result.  It was, as close as I’d been able to manage, a recreation of what her power did to her dogs in the form of a mask.  Except I’d made it half human and half dog.

“Looks like Brutus,” she said.

I didn’t see it, but I didn’t see fit to correct her either.

She pulled it on.

“It’s just a little bit flexible, if you want to bend any bits that are rubbing in the wrong place, or shape it to fit your face better.”

“It’s fine,” she said.  She adjusted her jacket again.

“If you want me to change anything-”

“No.”

Her refusal was so curt it gave me pause.  I couldn’t tell if she was upset or happy.

I forced myself to keep my mouth shut.  I’d give her a few seconds to let me know either way.  If she didn’t, I was ready to escape by pointing out that lunch would be waiting for us.

“You made stuff for the others?”

“Yeah.”

“But I didn’t ask for it.  I told you to fuck off when you asked me for my measurements, remember?”

“I made it anyways.”

She adjusted her mask, turning it so it hung off one side of her head.  She was glowering at me.  “Why didn’t you listen when I told you to fuck off?”

Two ways I could interpret that question.  “Don’t worry about it.  Look, the hamburgers will be ready soon…” I trailed off.

An awkward silence reigned.  I turned to head downstairs.

“What do you want for this?”

I looked over my shoulder.  “What?  Nothing.”

“You’re trying to get some favor from me.”

“No, I’m really not.  It might feel like it, with the timing and what we’re going to talk about with Lisa and the others, but it’s really not.  You’re free to argue and disagree with me or the rest of us, just like usual.  The costume’s a gift.”

“I don’t get many gifts.”

I shrugged.  What was I supposed to say to that?  I couldn’t help but feel that if I were a little more socially adroit, I’d have had a snappy answer.

She kept talking.  “All of the stuff I’ve gotten, it’s been with strings attached.  Used to get gifts from one of my foster dads,” she paused.  “And I get the money from Coil.”

“Those aren’t really presents.  They’re more like bribes or enticements.  Really truly, this is no strings attached.  You can act like you normally would, I won’t expect any different.”

Again, that glower.

I swallowed.  “Wear it or don’t wear it.  It’s okay either way.  It’s not a big deal.”

“I’ll wear it,” she said.

When I turned to head downstairs, she followed.

I guess that means ‘thank you’.

We were greeted by the others in the kitchen.  There was just enough time to grab and prepare our burgers before the others arrived.  Grue, Tattletale, Imp, Regent and Shatterbird.  They turned down the offer of food, and together, we ventured back upstairs.

With everyone gathered in my headquarters, I handed out the costumes.  Like Bitch’s, the other costumes were in various stages of completion, primarily with minor details missing or askew.  I ate while the others tried it all on.

Lisa’s costume was virtually the same.  The complicated aspect had been maintaining the crisp differences in color without any bleeding of black into lavender or vice versa.  There’d also been the issue of getting the mask to fit her face well.  I’d accomplished the former by making the black and lavender pieces separately and attaching them to a gossamer-thin sub-layer when I was done.  We had the boys and Shatterbird turn away while Lisa and Aisha changed at one end of the room.  The mask was a failure, it didn’t sit right around the eyes, but I was left with an idea of what to do.

Grue’s costume was not unlike his motorcycle leathers in terms of thickness and design, making him one of the most heavily armored of our groups in terms of the amount of material he was wearing.  His headwear was the part I’d changed the most: I’d modeled the face-plate after a figurine he’d bought at the market.  It was a step away from the visor he’d worn up to now, more demonic than skeletal.  The only real trick there had been making it non-porous enough that his darkness wouldn’t bleed through.  A quick experiment proved that my efforts had turned out alright.  In costume, the face-mask down, the darkness framed his mask but didn’t cover it unless Grue forced it to.  A demon’s face in dark gray in a vaguely human-shaped twist of darkness.

For Regent and Imp, I’d settled on bodysuits and masks.  Regent would wear his beneath his costume and Imp would wear hers as a simple black bodysuit, complete with a scarf and the horned mask Coil had provided.

There was more to do: belts, Imp’s scarf, Tattletale’s mask and Bitch’s shirt, not to mention finishing my new mask, and my plans for different masks for our various minions.

When we’d been fighting the Slaughterhouse Nine, I’d lamented the fact that I hadn’t better outfitted the team, and people had been hurt where the costumes would have otherwise protected them.  In the days I’d had to wind down, focusing on getting people organized and working on cleaning up the area, I’d been in range to get a serious effort going on the costumes.

I was satisfied with this.

By all appearances, they were too.

“Safe to turn around,” Tattletale told the boys.

They did.  I gestured, and people found seats in the various chairs.

“Feels like we’re different people than we were an hour ago,” Imp said, looking around.

I considered her words.  “I appreciate the sentiment, but I think it’s more accurate to say we’re different people than we were a week ago.”

There were some nods.  I glanced at the scar on Tattletale’s cheek, at Shatterbird, who stood obediently behind Regent, and at Grue, who had transformed more than any of us.

And I couldn’t forget the change I’d undergone, even if I didn’t have the objectivity to nail down exactly what about me was different from a week ago.  Sure, my costume was different, and I had the three hundred pound beetle that was resting on the roof.

“You wanted to touch base?” Brian asked, after he’d pulled off his mask.

“I had some words with Skitter,” Lisa answered.  “I think it’s about time we all got on the same page.”

“In terms of tactics?”

Lisa shrugged, “There’s that.  I think working independently is kind of throwing us off, and it leaves us weak against any coordinated attacks from the Chosen.  We work best when we complement one another.”

Alec shrugged.  “Okay.  That’s easy enough to arrange.  Not really a reason to throw a major group meeting.”

“There’s something else,” I said.  I swallowed, looking at Regent, Imp and Bitch.  “I’ve already talked about this at length with Lisa, and I’ve discussed it some with Brian.  This isn’t an easy topic to broach, because it sort of fucks with the team’s status quo.”

That had their attention.

“I guess the question is, how keen are you guys on continuing to work for Coil?”

“Are we talking quitting in the short-term or what?”

“I don’t know exactly what we’re talking about, because so much depends on how you guys respond and how things unfold in the next while,” I said.  “But this thing with Dinah, I’m not happy with it.  I know Lisa and Brian have their issues with that, even if they don’t share my perspective in how culpable we all are in that.”

“I’m not responsible at all,” Aisha pointed out.

“Aisha,” Brian’s tone was a warning.

“Just saying.”

“You aren’t responsible, I know,” I told her.  “I get the impression you’d side with Brian, Lisa and me if it came down to it.  The people I’m really directing this question at are Alec and Rachel.  I’m under the impression they’re the least invested in helping Dinah out, and they’re most interested in what Coil has to offer.”

“Doesn’t Brian have a stake in this?” Alec asked.

Brian shrugged.  “Coil approached me a few days ago about increasing my pay.  I think he knows I’m not that reliant on him anymore.  I got into this because I wanted to get Aisha away from my mom.  With the way things in the city have been turned upside-down, I know and Coil knows that I don’t need help.  The fact that I can say I’ve got money saved up, I can arrange to get a place and Aisha’s safe and sound with me?  That’s almost enough to decide the court case as is.”

“And mommy’s on a bender,” Aisha said.  “Don’t think it’ll end anytime soon.”

It was odd, but Brian looked more upset at hearing that than Aisha was about saying it aloud.  Hadn’t he grown up with his dad?

“So it’s really down to you two,” I addressed Alec and Rachel.

“If I were to say I wanted to stick around?  That I like the status quo?” Alec asked.

“That’s fine,” Lisa said.  “You’d be an asshole and a prick, but we’d work around you.”

“That’s vague,” Alec commented.

“We can’t exactly share our game plan with you if we’re going to wind up on opposite sides,” I pointed out.

“It’s a hassle.  Why make things complicated for all of us, because one member of our group has a moral quibble?”

“A preadolescent girl was kidnapped, with our help, and she’s spent the last few months in a dungeon, drugged out of her mind, all so Coil can use her power,” I said.  “That’s not a quibble.”

Alec sighed dramatically.  “I’m just pulling your legs.  World’s going to end in a couple of years.  Won’t kill me to help you make peace with yourself before it does.”

There was a long pause where nobody spoke.

Nice, Alec.” Brian said.

Alec chuckled.  “What?  It’s true.  That Dinah kid said it was.  Don’t pretend it’s not going to happen.  Might as well live it up before everything goes to hell in a handbasket.”

“There’s a chance it won’t,” I replied, my voice quiet.  “And with the sheer variety of powers out there, there’s got to be an answer.”

“That optimism’s bound to be wearing thin by now,” Alec commented.

“Enough,” Brian said.

“Why are you guys freaking out?  Because I’m calling you out on your willful blindness?  The world’s gonna end, and I’m okay with that.  Therefore I’m saying I’ll go along with your plan, whatever it is.  Why argue with me?”

Brian sighed.

“Bitch?” I asked.  “I know Coil’s set up your dogs in those shelters, and we’d be asking you to potentially lose that, depending on how this plays out, but…”

“I’ve managed without money before,” Bitch said.  “Smarmy bastard conned me.  Promised me I’d be left alone if I joined the group.  That hasn’t happened.  If he thinks I’ll forget that because of what he’s given me, I’d like to see the look on his face when he finds out how wrong he is.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“So we’re all in?” I asked.

“It was fun,” Alec shrugged, “That’s why we got into this, wasn’t it?  Easy money, fun, get to do what we wanted.  No pressure, no responsibilities.  It’s become something else.  So maybe we end that.”

“I don’t necessarily want to end it,” I said.  “I’m not talking about taking Coil head on, and I do want to preserve my territory, if I can help it.  It’s helping people.”

“So what do you want?” he challenged me.

“For right now?  I mainly wanted to know you’re on my side.  I really appreciate that you are,” I said.  I looked at Bitch and repeated myself, “Really.”

“And for the future?”

“We’ve got an awfully small window,” Lisa said.  “One and a half weeks, roughly, before Dinah’s power is back online.  Once that happens, Coil becomes a thousand times harder to take on.  There’s the mayoral elections, the question of whether the city gets condemned-”

“What?” I cut in.

“It’s arguably more expensive to fix the problems here than it is to abandon the city entirely.  Depends on what the consensus is from the President and all the other folks in charge.”

“If that happens, what will Coil do?” Brian asked.

“Leave.  Start over somewhere else, transporting any resources he can, leaving behind all liabilities.  He might bring some of you with him, offering some hefty bribes.  Somehow I don’t think he’ll bring Skitter.  Even my own currency is running pretty thin,” Lisa shrugged.

“He can’t afford to lose you,” Brian said.  “You’re too dangerous as an enemy.”

“Oh, I think he’s studied me enough to feel pretty confident he can off me if he wants to,” Lisa said. “Trick is making it a sure enough kill that there’s no chance of it backfiring on him.”

“And me?” I asked, feeling a pang of alarm.

“He knows your weak points.  The gaps in your power, your dad, your identity, your morals.  You already know that.”

I did, but hearing it said so clearly, it was one of those cases where having the details laid out in front of me didn’t make me feel more confident.

“So this is going to be a different kind of fight,” Brian mused.  “It’s about control and subterfuge.  If he figures out what we’re doing, if we clue him in, he’s probably better equipped than any of our past opponents when it comes to knowing how to deal with us.  If the city gets condemned, we’re boned.  And if Dinah gets her powers back, he’ll be impossible to beat.”

“That’s the gist of it.  Even I don’t know what he has planned for his endgame, here.  It’s looking pretty ugly, to be honest.”  Lisa counted off the points on her fingers.  “The Chosen will be gunning for us, Coil’s got a small army of pretty excellent, well-equipped soldiers at his disposal, he’s got some pretty fucking heavy hitters with the Travelers, the heroes are going to be going into overdrive to establish some sort of control and last but not least, he’s Coil.”

“Well,” Alec said, chuckling a little, “At least we’ll have something to help pass the time while we wait for the world to end.”

Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

167 thoughts on “Colony 15.1

    • If it was just Travelers versus Undersiders, I’d say Undersiders all the way. They have the powers, but they don’t want to use them. The Undersiders would play a lot dirtier, and Tattletale probably has enough dirt on them to screw with their heads.

      • I’d give 50 to one odds Undersiders win. They know where to look for Genesis and could take her out first. Ballistic won’t be nearly as effective swarmed in darkness and bugs. I get the feeling Sundancer is a little afraid of Skitter after the Lung incident. The real wildcard would be Trickster, but being hit with a Taser by someone he can’t remember would hurt his chances.

      • I will say that the travelers have Noelle who is supposedly extremely powerful, i mean crawler wanted her to fight him so he could become more immune.

    • I am kind of expecting the Undersiders to try a recruitment drive among the Travelers. What the Travelers really seem to want is a cure for Noelle, and without Tattletale they have literally no idea how to help her. The only other thing I can think of is forcing Panacea to help, and I just don’t see a way for that to play out well for them.

        • Now that I think about it, I predict that Panacea is going to show up at Skitter’s lair for sanctuary after she lets her sister go. Look at the facts. She has no money, and no supplies. She doesn’t have a vehicle, and it is dangerous to travel on foot in the city right now, not to mention the distance she have to travel. She can’t go to a shelter because she is trying to hide.She might be able to earn some money using her powers but that will get her tracked very quickly in a city with overworked hospitals. She might not want to be an Undersider, but she is scared, stressed out, and vulnerable. At the very least, she has to acknowledge that Skitter saved her life and force her to do anything. I picture her showing up and asking for sanctuary in exchange for using her powers to help people. As mc2rpg mentioned, she is the best chance to help Noelle and get the Travelers on their side.

          • Here’s a question for you.

            If Panacea could help Noelle, why didn’t Trickster ask her for assistance?

            Heck, it’s not really like Panacea’s ability is a big secret. Why haven’t the Travelers kidnapped her and forced her to help?

            • The other thing we might mention is that Panacea’s ability doesn’t work on herself, and so far we have basically been shown that a stranger can’t even be in the same room as Noelle and survive.

          • My guess? There is something they want to keep absolutely secret about Noelle. I am very curious about her. We know she eats people, as many as 40 in one night and she may be the actual reason that Leviathan came to the city. I would want to keep that a secret if I were them. Kidnapping her would have brought too much heat from her family and the capes before now, and there is the possibility that Panacea can’t help Noelle. But she would know about her and would almost certainly spread the word about her. To keep the secret, they would have to keep her prisoner or kill her and they are very reluctant to use their powers to kill anyone so I don’t think they have it in them to kill her. But I’m probably wrong. Think you could give us a “tiny” hint about Noelle’s situation?

        • I’m worried Panacea joined the 9- it has been implied they left with more than Hookwolf, Jack promised to leave if Amy cut loose, and Skitter probably would have heard from her by now if she was still in town.

          • Don’t give Wildbow ideas! The story is scary enough without contemplating the horror Bonesaw and Panacea could cook up. Remember her plan from the interlude? Create a super Frankenstein monstrosity from parts of 100 capes and use it to kill a Endbringer so people have to acknowledge her “art”. I shudder just thinking about it.

          • Not saying one way or another – I don’t spoil anything in the comments.

            I can refer you to the comment saying it would’ve been well out of Jack’s way to double back and recruit her. Can’t be arsed to go hunt it down – trying to get Thursday’s bonus update done, and my time’s pretty full with work (of a sort – helping family) for the next few days, so it’s a challenge.

  1. Oh Alec, I’ve missed you.

    Good chapter. It was a nice cooldown, and I liked the descriptions of everyone’s costumes. I’m a bit surprised Biter and Barker are still around to be honest. I’d forgotten about them. It’s also nice to see Bitch is coming around, bit by bit.

    But seriously, half the things that Alec says are pure gold. I don’t know how you do it.

    • Dare we ask what he’s using Shatterbird for these days, given his interlude?

      Reminds me somewhat of another story I read that seemed to go quiet after awhile where a guy called Dark Lothario was good at mind controlling people. He liked to control influential women, kidnap them (for some reason, it didn’t quite count as kidnapping because I guess they didn’t have ways to prove mind control) and force their loved ones to pay a ransom. If they didn’t pay, he’d shoot his own personal porno with them online (making money that way). Once again, because no one seemed to care about the mind control part of it, he’d get away (somehow) and the women would have the black mark of famously being in a porno on their record. I have nothing against porn stars (except maybe blue balls), but you have to admit it alters the perception of the people.

      And, as plenty of recent bullying incidents indicate (RIP Amanda Todd), it’s not unusual for all the blame to be put onto the girl no matter the manipulation or simple mistakes involved.

      • Normally I would agree with you, but Shatterbird is personally responsible for who knows how many deaths and mutilations in cities across the US. With all the people that were hurt, I think they’re giving Alec a pass they wouldn’t normally. Let her rot in her own mind.

        • The comment about bullying had more to do with that other story. This is actually a pretty karmic punishment for Shatterbird. The big bad Niner got abandoned and is now the (love?)puppet of a nominee, and probably a nominee of someone she hated. She wanted to be in control all the time, and now she’s apparently in control none of the time.

  2. “She still looked a little wary as Bitch, Biter and Barker entered.” Missing a comma after Biter.

    “Barker, Biter, a college aged kid with the scars of four parallel claw marks running across his face and a girl with her arm in a sling” College aged might need to be college-aged, but another missing comma after face.

    • I think Skitter could take him if she stopped holding back and betray him before he has chance to. She can control alot more bugs now, and even if all of coil’s men are armed with protective suits and flamethrowers, she can blind them pretty easy. All she has to do is track where Coil sleeps with her bugs, wait for him to go to sleep, and maul the hell out of him with as many poisonous insects as possible. He can’t pick realities when he is asleep. The problem I envision is what do they do afterward. They won’t have his resources, or money anymore. The Travellers will also be quite pissed because they were counting on Coil to take care of Noelle. I have a sinking feeling we are going to find out just what Noelle can do.

      • The undersiders can probably take him…. but what if they only take him once? If they fail in either of his realities they are in some seriously deep shit.

      • I don’t see why Coil wouldn’t be able to pick realities when he’s attacked in his sleep. We know from his interlude that he sleeps in two realities, and they’re in very different places. If he wakes up in one covered in bugs and pepper spray, he just shuts that one off. If he dies before he wakes up, he defaults to the other reality. If those don’t work, why would he sleep in two realities? The Undersiders would have to somehow coordinate an attack in both timelines at the same moment so that he has nowhere to retreat to. Tattletale might be able to get enough information to make that happen, oddly enough.

    • Yeah, that makes me think that Coil will not be the only problem for now.
      I’m guessing we can expect some Cauldron Enforcers soon considering the mission that Battery had been given.

  3. I’m surprised that Skitter hasn’t attempted to literally ‘bug’ Coil yet.

    Great chapter, though it makes me wonder when mooks are gonna learn to stop trying to mouth off to Skitter. Also makes me wonder how this costume deal is gonna work out; it certainly is a major upgrade to everyone except Skitter, since the super-tough costume has been her ace in the hole since she started…

    • Well, she can’t see or hear properly through them yet. She also has a range limit. Bugging Coil would be exceedingly difficult under the circumstances, with very limited benefits.

  4. Oh Barker, you poor fool. Now we have been shown quite clearly why he is just a minion with powers, rather than a legitimate villain.

        • I don’t really see that happening. Attacking her means facing a bug swarm in order to reach any actual targets, none of the remaining chosen can really weather such a thing.

          • Well, I’m not sure who the remaining Chosen are, but both Cricket and StormTiger can handle the bugs just fine, IIRC. Cricket screws them up with her sonar, doesn’t she? And StormTiger can blow them away en masse. And Othalla could help them in the withstanding, assuming any bugs do get through.

            Hg

    • Don’t think bitch has that concept yet. She doesn’t do trust very well, and has major anger issues.
      To her, Taylor is a puzzle — offering her stuff that Bitch needs, and yet doesn’t really understand.
      Skitter, on the other hand, is a packmate. Ever notice how Bitch is always ready to go to war? I think war’s the only time Bitch can actually trust people. she feels much more protected then…

    • I am hoping that there isn’t an actual 7th person. That it was a trick to make pursuit less likely. I doubt it is true, but it is my hope.

    • They say it’s better the know an unpleasant truth than be left to wonder, but it gets worse once you figure out all the possibilities. For Panacea to be the 7th they would have had to double back to grab her, and they were on a tight schedule anyway. Most likely option: Glory Girl. She was stuck inside a bio-chamber against Bonesaw, and there’s a good chance that Amy didn’t even know enough about the effects of the miasma to give her protections before she went off to fight. Next most likely option: Purity. Jack’s favoured candidate, adult female fits the decoy, and there’s also the fact that if they were going to grab anyone, two group leaders would be their best choices.

  5. “What do you do? Your powers.”

    He looked up at me. ”You want to see?”

    I shrugged.

    “What.”

    The puff of smoke that accompanied the word detonated like a small thunder-clap, mere inches from my face. I flinched, but it hadn’t been intended to harm. Only to alarm.

    He sniggered. I’d never met anyone who really sniggered before.

    I could see how Coil thought Barker and Bitch would be a match. I could also see where there would be some friction between the two.

    I sighed a little, watching as Barker looked to the others, then over at Charlotte, as if they’d be joining him in his amusement. None did. Biter earned a brownie point in my book by staying quiet and simply watching. “What country are you from, Barker?”

    “What?”

    I caught my baton from behind my back and swung it underhand, still folded up, into Barker’s chin. His teeth clacked shut with percussive force, and I stepped closer to push at his upper body while hooking at the chair leg with my foot to pull it in my direction. He toppled backwards, his head hitting the wall behind him. I growled at him, “What ain’t no country I ever heard of. They speak English in What?”

    I didn’t have a full measure of his ability, but I did know his mouth was his weapon. It made me look weaker, but I stepped back so his legs and the chair seat gave me cover in the event that he decided to attack me when he asked, “What?”

    “English motherfucker! Do you speak it?” For extra measure, I drew the bugs out of my costume and sent them straight for his nose and mouth.

    He went bug-eyed as he sat up, coughing and sputtering in an attempt to clear the bugs from his airway. After one rolling cough, he created another detonation in and around his mouth, obliterating a majority of the bugs I’d tried to gag him with.

    “Say what again. Say what again! I dare you. I double-dare you, motherfucker, say what one more goddamn time!”

    I glanced at Biter. He was still seated. Good. I’d somehow thought that the guy would be stepping up to defend his partner, making this a two-versus-one fight.

    Barker was climbing to his feet. I saw him falter, then start coughing again, gagging.

    The capsaicin had kicked in.

    “If I wanted to hear you speak, I’d shove my arm up your ass and work your mouth like a puppet, you understand me?,” I told him, as he fell to the ground, writhing and coughing, tears welling in his eyes. I kept my voice level. ”You’re in my house, my territory, and you fuck with me? That’s the sort of thing that would get you in your boss’s bad books if you did it to her.”

    “He has,” the boy with the scars on his face spoke.

    Barker only gagged in response.

    ****

    Barker had pushed me, I’d left him mewling like a baby.

    At the same time, I faced a dilemma on the opposite end of things. I wanted to help people, and I wanted to build friendships with the others. With the way Bitch sort of mandated that I go the extra mile, it was hard to be nice to her without seeming weak to others.

    Well, what they didn’t see didn’t hurt them.

    I stepped downstairs.

    “Bitch?” I asked. ”A word?”

    She frowned, glancing at the food.

    “We’ll be done before the food is,” I promised.

    She followed me up the stairs.

    “It’s not complete,” I admitted, walking over to where I had fabric draped over a workbench. I picked up one piece and flicked it out. ”I just figured you’d want to see it and voice any complaints before the others got here, so your voice doesn’t get drowned out.”

    She took it from my hands. It was a black leather dominatrix outfit. There was a collar of fur running behind the neck. Besides the zippers and buttons, the fur was the only thing I hadn’t made myself.

    Laying on the table was a black collar, spiked, with the name Skitter on it, ready for me to play her submissive later.

    “I dyed it dark gray. I figured if you wanted it any color, you’d want it something dark, so I can tint it dark red, dark blue, dark green, or whatever you want.”

    “It’s fine,” she interrupted me. ”Stop talking. It’s good.”

    She pulled it on.

    “It’s just a little bit flexible, if you want to bend any bits that are rubbing in the wrong place, or shape it to fit your face better.”

    “It’s fine,” she said. She adjusted the thigh-high boots.

    “If you want me to change anything-”

    “No.”

    Her refusal was so curt it gave me pause. I couldn’t tell if she was upset or happy.

    I forced myself to keep my mouth shut. I’d give her a few seconds to let me know either way. If she didn’t, I was ready to escape by pointing out that lunch would be waiting for us. With the others coming over, I didn’t want to risk Mistress Bitch getting the paddle out if I’d been a bad girl, but I couldn’t help but think that somewhere, a guy named Psycho Gecko was on the fast track to hell.

    ****

    “There’s something else,” I said. I swallowed, looking at Regent, Imp and Bitch. “I’ve already talked about this at length with Lisa, and I’ve discussed it some with Brian. This isn’t an easy topic to broach, because it sort of fucks with the team’s status quo.”

    That had their attention.

    “I guess the question is, how keen are you guys on an orgy?

    “Are we talking for the short-term or what?”

    “I don’t know exactly what we’re talking about, because so much depends on how you guys respond and how things unfold in the next while,” I said. “But this thing with me not getting laid, I’m not happy with it. I know Lisa and Brian have their issues with that, even if they don’t share my perspective in how culpable we all are in that.”

    “I’m not responsible at all,” Aisha pointed out.

    “Aisha,” Brian’s tone was a warning.

    “Just saying.”

    “You aren’t responsible, I know,” I told her. ”I get the impression you’d side with Brian, Lisa and me if it came down to it. The people I’m really directing this question at are Alec and Rachel. I’m under the impression they’re the least invested in helping me out, and they’re most interested in what I have to offer.”

    ****

    ”The Chosen will be gunning for us, Coil’s got a small army of pretty excellent, well-equipped soldiers at his disposal, he’s got some pretty fucking heavy hitters with the Travelers, the heroes are going to be going into overdrive to establish some sort of control and last but not least, he’s Coil. Also, It’s a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

    Alec slipped on a fedora and a pair of shades, “Hit it.”

      • When I drew imp I couldn’t find any description of what she was wearing aside from a black scarf and imp mask so I was more teasing wildbow about knowing exactly what she was wearing now ( In the pic I defaulted to trampy girl clothes but I might go back and redraw her so its chibi canon accurate )

        and glad you like the pics TheAnt

        • If i wasn’t broke at the moment, bloody gas prices, I would commission a pic of Skitter as she appears in Sierra’s interlude. I should have some money saved up by the end of the month. What do you charge for commissions?

          • Im totally a hobbyist and don’t do commissions (my family sorta frowns on art to begin with ) and my real job keeps me really busy so even if I could do comissions id never get it done in a dependable time frame , it does tickle me pink though that you think im good enough to commission 🙂

            you should talk to Drunkfu (the other person that does fanart of worm ) as he taught me much of what I know about doodling and sketching and does commissions , though he is usually really busy .

    • Trusting, awhile ago WIldbow mentioned that he would add into the donate tab in return for art that could be used for cover art along the top. If he is still willing to do that I would match anything he put in there, if you felt like drawing something for the top.

      • No, please don’t misunderstand – I’m looking for banner art for advertisement & display on Topwebfiction. I’ve started looking for paid artists for that, as a matter of fact. I raised the subject with Trusting/Scarfgirl already.

        Not that art for the top-pic is a bad idea. Hmm…

        • Ok. Revising my previous statement to extend the offer to any art I can use for the site, be it banner or otherwise (donate button, top pic, etc.) – feel free to contact me about style guidelines, character details, etc, if interested. Will add details about art submissions to the donate page soon.

        • He did 🙂 I treasure all the emails I get from my fav web author and made a “squee” noise the first time I saw Wildbow in my Deviant art inbox .

      • If Wildbow wanted to use any of the fan art i’ve done for anything it is his free and clear to use as he’d like . Id love to help him with a banner but a intrest in doodling dosn’t equal knowledge of photoshop or banner making which is more what he is looking for I think .

        there is also the fact that I really think Wildbow needs someone that draws more realistic characters and not quite so cartoony ( I really loved drawing the chibis but I don’t think they really paint the right image for prospective readers )

  6. I think from now on I am going to open every new chapter wondering to myself, is Taylor finally going to talk to her father? It has to happen soon if she wants any chance to not have things completely fall apart. The longer she waits without even thinking about it the weirder I think it ends up being.

    Also, is the thursday update an actual update, or an interlude update?

    • I believe it is a bonus interlude due to donations. She definitely has to say something to her Dad to help protect him when she takes on Coil. Taylor can’t be looking forward to that meeting. “Hey dad, I’m a supervillian who has robbed a bank, fought off super “heroes”, participated in fighting an Endbringer, taken on the 9, and am currently a warlord of the docks. I kinda acdidently helped someone kidnap and drug a kid. DON’T worry, I am to fix this. I am just going to take on a small army with freakin lazer beams, and a powerful group of villains who are all led by Guy who knows everything about me and you and can literally pick a destinies that are favorable to him. So do you mind hiding out for a little while? Oh, before I forget. I am thinking about never going back to school. ”
      I hope Taylor’s dad doesn’t have a heart condition.

  7. They keep talking about condemning Brockton Bay, but I am not clear on just what that entails. They can’t just abandon it: if the capes and the city-sized police force left, the place would quickly become a hub for every kind of criminal enterprise, capey and not. Forcibly keeping people out would be a general resource sink.

    This means that at the very least they would have to destroy remaining buildings and infrastructure, but if they are willing to go that far, they might as well redevelop the place: if it’s anywhere near where I think it is (i.e., between Brockton, MA and Cape Cod), it’s about an hour’s drive away from Boston city center (in favorable traffic conditions), but with much milder winters, so it’s actually fairly valuable real estate, especially considering that a lot of the infrastructure on the outskirts, and nearly all infrastructure going into and out of the city, is intact, and most of the suburbs only really need their windows replaced. All these places also have property owners…

    I am trying to think of precedents, but decent-sized cities don’t, generally get abandoned after even nasty disasters, unless the disaster makes the city hazardous on a continuing basis, like Pripyat, Ukraine (radiation) and Centralia, PA (ongoing coal mine fire). Sure, there are boomtowns going bust, but the advantage of Brockton Bay is location and infrastructure, not a goldmine. And, I don’t think that the powers that be could poison or irradiate the place and still maintain a veneer of respectability.

    Now, one reason that the powers that be might have for going to the effort of demolishing Brockton Bay is that they are on to Coil, and they don’t want to let him have the city.

    On that note, I am no PG, but I am picturing a scene, with Coil and his minions:

    MINION: So, Boss, where are we going?
    COIL: Don’t worry, I have a new plan. We start small. There is a town in Alaska, Willa, or something like that, whose mayor I have suborned. That girl is going to go far, and when she does…

    • I imagine it is much easier to demolish the wreck of a city that is Brockton Bay in this setting. Legend has the firepower of a battalion of tanks, call him up for a few hours and he could probably level the vast majority of the place on his own. The guy that manipulated space to protect the wards could probably do cleanup relatively easily after he recovers.

      On the other hand for rebuilding you have to do it largely with mundane construction. Admittedly mundane construction that is probably backed with tinker tech, but it still takes alot more manpower and time.

    • I was thinking more like the Kowloon Walled City. Lawless, no government, belonging to the gangs. Police only enter in large groups. Was found to be intolerable and unsanitary, so they demolished it. Cost $350 million, and compensated residents and businesses. Only 33,000 people, as far as they could estimate, but I think it was supposed to be pretty dense for its size.

      • It will turn ugly if they isolate it, but the only reason they are thinking about abandoning it is because of the endbringers. They mentioned last chapter that it is easier to defend by pulling back from damaged areas and concentrating on points to make it easier to defend and and supply. Alexandria mentioned that this is a delaying tactic, the endbringers will attack these new points. From what I can gather this a fairly new development and there is no plan of action for this type of thing. But given what happened to Canada and Japan, I wouldn’t rule out that there are abandoned cities in the world. My guess, they try to isolate and keep people out of it. Ships can’t land due to all of the debris. I wonder how large a garrison would be required to truly isolate the city, with modern tech of thermal cameras on drones. But there are so many questions about what they do with people in a no man’s land. They are US citizens. Can they give them supplies? Do they forcibly capture and evacuate them? Regardless I have very little faith in the government of this reality due to their handling of the 9.

      • Just put a wall around it, and you get the latest movie in the series, with a much older Kurt Russell, wearing one of Dragon’s collars around his neck, sent in to rescue someone whose powers Cauldron wants: “Escape From Brockton Bay”.

        Hg

      • Kowloon Walled City is one precedent; thanks for pointing it out. However, it looks like it was demolished not for economic reasons but because it was considered ungovernable, which might even support my suspicion that the real purpose of condemning Brockton Bay may be to deny Coil the territory. The $350 million was just for buying out the residents — in Hong Kong, in early 90s — and evicting those who didn’t want to leave and actual demolition likely added significantly to that amount. Brockton Bay would be far more expensive than that.

        As for capes making demolition and cleanup easier, I suspect that it’s far from that simple. First, they would need to evict the residents and the squatters and verify that the buildings are empty. There are no real shortcuts they can take there. The actual demolition, even for the more powerful capes, is still going to be a long and tedious process since it still has to be done one building at a time, and there are lots and lots of buildings and relatively few capes who could be spared. In the cleanup, the capes who can store, teleport, or vanish things would still have to go through megatons upon megatons of rubble spread out over several tens of square miles. Finally, they would be opposed by villains, potentially creating a PR disaster for the heroes, because the villains would suddenly be seen as protectors and heroes as destroyers.

        • If the city is condemned, there is no way for the government and the Capes to look good. No matter what the disaster, there are always people who either can’t leave or refuse to leave. They have to either abandon them or forcibly remove them, which is going to be hard and dangerous with such a big city. Either way looks bad to the rest of the country. I had never heard of the walled city. How exactly did they close it? Did they send the army in to force everyone out?

          • I think it is being condemned because it is ungovernable at this point- this isn’t so much a policy decision as triage in a very long war. There won’t be demolition, or evacuation, the government will just leave and anyone who wants federal services or any protection from the Protectorate will leave with them. And while Endbringers don’t hit the same place twice in a row it or somewhere nearby probably has an attack in its near future, and then the whole area will be uninhabitable. Even criminals will leave because they need some sort of society to survive in the long term, leaving a small group of people like the Merchants fighting of the ruins, which probably wouldn’t affect anyone smart enough to leave. It’s an ugly option but resources are tight enough to justify it, apparently.

        • I am not so sure that if powers that be simply abandon it, so would everyone else, especially the capes who tend to be more self-sufficient. At this point, it’s probably one of the safest places from The Nine (who would look really silly coming back so soon), and if an Endbringer wanted to attack again, that would just feel contrived.

          A large part of it depends on Coil; if Brockton Bay were abandoned by the powers that be, would he take up a greater challenge, to set up a cape-run society where powers are commonplace, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, and where the great would not be constrained by the small… Oh, crap.

  8. Actually, for Taylor at least, money really shouldn’t be a problem. Spider (and other exotic) venom, spider-woven silk (not just tailor-made suits, just plain spider silk), natural pearls – she can produce all those in bulk. And they are all valuable, spider silk especially so. If she can get set up the transportation of the goods in and out, she should be able to finance the reconstruction of the town all by herself. Think about how much actors (and other rich people) would pay for spider-woven suits/dresses.

  9. I’m kind of impressed Regent managed to hold onto Shatterbird despite the miasma. However, keeping her is on a moral level with kidnapping Dinah.

      • Imprisoning a human being takes away their physical freedom and is less dignified than killing them. It’s treating them like an animal in a crate.

        At least most people could retreat into their personal mind space, but Shatterbird is controlled by Regent, so her personhood is constantly violated because she can’t control her own body. And given what Alec tends to do with his victims in the past, it could go as far as a mind-rape situation — I’d prefer death.

        Killing a criminal who has murdered before and will murder again is enforcing the natural consequence of their free-will actions and choices. Imprisoning them impinges on their right to make choices at all.

        This is not a heroic action, even though I’m sure the Undersiders see it as necessary, first against the Nine and then Coil. And then against the Protectorate, or Leviathan, or the Purifiers or…. the ends don’t justify the means.

        • “It’s treating them like an animal in a crate.” That’s exactly what the Nine are: animals. Their collective sadism is out of control. I don’t think there are limits to what kind of punishment they deserve; there is zero chance that they will feel remorse and change their ways.

          As far as I’m concerned, this is exactly like all those fantasy stories where the hero imprisons a demon in a weapon. The lust for bloody conquest has overcome everything else that used to be a part of her personality, leaving Shatterbird as less than a full person.

          • The Nine are certainly inhumane. They torture and kill people indiscriminately.

            But to then turn around and torture them and animalize them, and degrade them, makes you no better — it makes you worse because you started out knowing how bad they are and wanted to stop them. In the process, becoming them to fight them doesn’t make you moral or heroic. It leads to madness.

            As Nietsche said “the abyss also gazes into you.”

            If you can treat your enemy with dignity and respect because they are a human being and you are a human being standing up for justice, the rights of humanity, and life itself, then you are heroic. If someone is so out of line that they have become a rabid dog instead of a person, then you shoot that rabid dog. You don’t put him in a cage and torture him.

            Neuroscience indicates that neurotypical people have mirror neurons that record what we see other people do in our minds as if we were the one doing it. Violence towards other people convinces our minds that violence towards others is okay, the more we see it. It is corruptive. To actively engage in a corruptive act, that’s immoral.

            The humane thing is to end the life, so it’s no longer a corruptive, destructive force. And that should be done as quickly and mercifully as possible. Becoming a monster because you fought monsters doesn’t make it justified.

        • Of course it isn’t a heroic action, but guess what, the Undersiders aren’t heroes. Alec can do nasty shit like mind control a mass murderer and probably rape her and get away with it, because who is going to call him on it? I am honestly more curious about how he is keeping her under control while he sleeps.

          • I’m saying it’s hypocritical of the Undersiders to be concerned about Dinah and Coil while not calling Regent on Shatterbird — my point is that they ARE NOT heroes. If anything what Regent is doing is worse — yes Dinah is more of an innocent victim than Shatterbird, but the violations themselves are intrinsically horrible no matter who they are done to.

            Standing around allowing them to happen is the same as condoning them, approviing them and doing them yourself. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

        • Our societal standards seem to disagree with you, Gavin. We imprison murderers (for life, with no chance of parole) all the time, and nobody disagrees with that, but there is a lot of controversy over the death penalty. Given, Regent’s form of imprisonment is notably less humane than most of the worst things the US prison system does. If he’s using her sexually and/or abusing her in other ways on top of imprisoning in her own body, I’d even be willing to peg him as worse than anything in the US prison system.

          From a social standpoint, he’d be entirely in the wrong to kill her. She hasn’t been tried, and he doesn’t have the authority of the State, not even the tacit authority the heroes have. Society says that justice is law, and the law says he can’t kill her. The law doesn’t say anything about mentally controlling her body with a superpower, but that literally cannot be a more severe crime than murder because murder is the most severe crime possible in the eyes of US justice system. Add up assault, harassment, various forms of abuse, and possibly rape, and you might get more years worth of prison time than murder, but it’s a moot point because he’d already be getting life for murder. You’d have to make a case for self-defense, which clearly isn’t an issue. She’s no threat to him while she’s under control. From a legal standpoint, he should find the PRT and get her thrown into a Box, regardless of the fact that Jack and Company would spring her, damaging countless amounts of property and lives in the process.

          From a purely moral standpoint, yes, death is kinder than the hell she’s experiencing, but no action is taken in a moral vacuum.

          As for the similarity between Shatterbird and Dinah, there isn’t one. They’re both female and they’re both confined, but that’s about it. Shatterbird is a person of mass destruction and a mass murderer. Confining or stopping her is a moral imperative, because if she’s free she’ll kill countless innocents. Dinah, on the other hand, is an innocent child. Before she was confined, she was just a normal school child. We have no reason to believe she had ever hurt anyone. She is purely a victim. Now that she’s been forcibly addicted to narcotics, she can only barely be held accountable for her actions. She has had no real options or free will since her capture, and her power has made that all the more obvious to her. Nonetheless, she has attempted to resist Coil’s more nefarious requests. Confining Dinah is kidnapping. Confining Shatterbird is imprisonment.

          That said, yes, Alec and the Undersiders are villains with no moral high ground. Alec doesn’t give a damn about that because he’s a purely hedonistic assclown, but the others (maybe not Bitch) still feel varying levels of desire to act in the most moral way available to them. This combination of factors is what makes them better people than the heroes. There is no expectation that they should act morally, yet they do make the effort. This doesn’t make them heroes; they would rightly reject that label. It makes them human.

          • The only thing wrong here is that the Undersiders DO have tacit permission to kill Shatterbird. Legend, the leader of the biggest superhero organization flat out told Skitter that if they killed Shatterbird there would be no punishment. Shatterbird and at least most of the other members of the Nine were mentioned to have death sentences preemptively applied to them. Anyone could kill one of them and get in no legal trouble for it.

          • The “superheroes” in this story are not heroic either — they’ve often been shown to have worse morals than many of the “villains” and I’ve stated my belief that the state-run Protectorate and Wards aren’t heroes, they’re part of government bureaucracy. One of the best things about this story is its complex mix of human emotions and actions during adversity. I’m not complaining about the writing — far from it! Worm is amazing.

            But confining anyone is a crime against their personhood — it reduces their natural freedom. Regent can do a lot worse than that, but nevertheless, it takes away a person’s agency. Philosophically speaking, that’s a crime against human dignity and free will. Killing a murderer erases their immorality by taking away the threat — confining them compounds the immorality because it leave more chances of immoral action and take away the dignity of the confined and the confiner, reducing them to sub-human actors in a twisted drama where no one has liberty.

            Our society, for some reason, thinks caging a person is the better way — yet studies show that the guards become less moral and dehumanize their prisoners, even in university trials where no one is an actual criminal. It fundamentally violates human relationships.

            I’m just saying that their concern for Dinah indicates a hypocrisy, because Shatterbird is in a worse position. They’re keeping her alive as a useful tool, not a person. The humane thing would be to end her criminal career permanently.

            Again, one of the strengths of this story is the complexity and the shades of grey –they probably try to justify this moral vacuum because it’s useful. But people aren’t objects to be used, they are Subjects (in the grammatical sense) who make choices and take actions. Instead of Shatterbird’s murderous actions being balanced out by her death, in real justice, instead she is a toy. That’s horrendous and I can see why the Undersiders allow it, after what they’ve been through.

            But it’s still morally wrong — and I wonder if even Skitter will wake up to that fact after the nightmare they’ve lived through.

          • I have finally returned, and it’s time to get my say in this. It turns out to have been a very long say, so I hope y’all stay with me on this. If you don’t, please go defenestrate yourself.

            As it has been noted, Alex is a villain of a much more morally flexible fiber than Skitter. He doesn’t care about what’s the right or moral thing. He’s a villain. Just like, as long as the world’s ending, sure he’ll help do something like help Dinah. Not for moral reasons, but for shits, giggles, and to get back at Coil.

            mc2rpg is right in that Regent’s not a hero and the Undersiders aren’t heroes. Just look at what the heroes, acting on that side, have enabled? What they’ve failed at compared to the villains. Sometimes the best justice is administered by those who aren’t restrained by a system that is corrupt. After all, it’s the same system that regularly imprisons and dehumanizes people over all kinds of actions, some of which aren’t even immoral, like drug policy or Chinese kids. Sorry, I’m being told that I meant euthanasia, not youth in Asia. That’s the society the heroes are a part of. They didn’t tear down the Birdcage because of the innocents that society condemned to live amongst murderers and rapists of mass destruction. They don’t intervene in executions because people are innocent. Hell, these heroes probably just have to stand by and do nothing when they know for a fact someone is innocent. Note, I’m using hero in its loose, society-dependent form here. Superman has intervened in executions before upon finding out that the man about to die is innocent, made possible by the fact the he was outside the system and not accountable to it.

            But can it be justified? Utilitarianism would look at a couple of factors. In terms of liberty, John Stuart Mill believed in everyone being able to live their life any way they choose so long as they did not harm or threaten harm to another individual, which would then make the threatened or harmed person less free. If someone does such a thing, then it would be the greatest good for the greatest number of people to keep that from happening again. It may not be as good for the person who hurt someone, but they were the one that committed the actual harm.

            Shatterbird has committed a great deal of harm. She’s killed and wounded thousands or likely millions in just this latest city. She’s been with the Nine for some time, doing this in other places. In the process, she has helped to enable the Nine’s actions, which have also been detrimental to the greatest good. Had she not been around, perhaps Jack would have been nailed before now, thus lengthening the amount of time until the end of the world. Either way, he helped him get to the point now where he will bring it about in a few years. This is very detrimental to the good and liberty of everyone else on Earth.

            She would do it more if she were released from Regent’s control. She obviously would, no doubt. She would also die soon after, since she’s now a previous member of the Nine who is still around, with a standing kill order on her head and no teammates to back her. The Nine would likely come after her if she was a convenient target, since she was such a failure to them and she has potentially important information about how they operate. So it is not in the greatest good to release her.

            Even if she were released and merely imprisoned, this would not be the greatest good.

            Currently, while she is Regent’s play thing, she is also an asset. Her abilities are used to aid the Undersiders, who are going to work towards actions that are good. It is currently unknown if they can or will reverse the end of the world, but their actions may be keep it from happening eventually. To that end, it improves their freedom to keep Shatterbird around to aid them. It also keeps Shatterbird alive. Is this a fate worse than death?

            No. For Shatterbird, there is likely the slim possibility for her that she could change, pay a measure of her debt to society, and be free. It would probably be in exile somewhere far away from the U.S. or most major cities, but she could conceivably escape everything coming after her. Is it likely? No. But it’s more likely than if she were dead. Remember, nothing takes away all your freedoms like death.

            Freedom of speech? Dead men tell no tales. Of Privacy? Fifteen men on a dead men’s chest. Of Religion? Pascal’s not so smart since he may have found himself in the hell of the one true Creator God, Unkulunkulu of Zulu mythology. There’s no choices to be made once you’re dead. You’re kind of beyond choice, and therefore beyond any freedom.

            There’s also another possibility I am considering. I don’t know if it’s been cleared one way or another, but it hasn’t entirely been made clear that Shatterbird isn’t free.

            See, even if she were free, they wouldn’t trust her with Aisha’s and Lisa’s identity. So she’d turn around. Them turning down food is ambiguous and says nothing either way. What if Shatterbird made a deal with them, or even just with Regent? With Regent, it could be that instead of him having to control her and come up with a special restraint, she plays nice and works for him. She looks like she’s controlled, and in exchange he doesn’t do all the things he could easily do to her. Could work that way with the Undersiders as a group in on the secret too, just needing to keep up appearances at times. And this would be the greatest good.

            It keeps her from being all homicidal AND it keeps her from being a target. Because as far as anyone else is concerned, she’s Regent’s puppet. Nine return to Brockton bay? Arrest? Standing kill order? Only if you want to fuck with the Undersiders, and why bother since it’s seemingly so much more horrible for her to be Regent’s slave. Leave her alive to suffer.

            PS. I do not find it a contradiction to not support death penalty but to support euthanasia. A murderer doesn’t get to choose when or how he’ll die, or the amount of pain he’s in when he does so, and may actually be an innocent man at the long end of a horrible abuse by society. A person who is seeking euthanasia feels it is the best choice, and is exercising their freedom to live or die in dignity as they see fit, rather than be forced to live in a weakened, painfully sickened state where they may cost their loved ones money, make life harder on them, and be forced to live by machines, with catheters and IVs violating their body and someone else keeping the TV channel on something terrible, like the Kardashians or that Long Island Medium show.

            However, it is good to see the Kardashians branching out from their prominent villainous roles in the Star Trek series.

          • It seems like at least once an arc I get into arguments with people for tossing around ‘heroes’ as if the wards and at least some of the protectorate aren’t doing massive amounts of good for the world. When you talk about how the heroes should be destroying the birdcage and stopping legal executions do you know what you are advocating? Overthrowing the government’s ability to deal with criminals. When you say someone isn’t a hero just because they weren’t very nice you absolutely baffle me. The results of what a hero like Panacea does speaks so much more than the fact that she isn’t very nice to villains. Trying to hold any of the actual heroes to superman’s standard is ridiculous, because Worm is a much more realistic setting than the DCverse.

          • I’d like to point out that you just said it would be a bad thing for heroes to stop an legal execution if the person being executed was innocent. Doesn’t sound very heroic, does it? “Well buddy, I’d like to save you. I mean, I know you’re innocent beyond a shadow of a doubt and I’m supposed to be an example of all that’s good in the world but…it’s the law, ya know? Whaddya gonna do?”

            Doesn’t sound like they care about morals, just laws. Two completely separate things.

            And here’s the thing. It’s only “more realisitc” because they let it be. Remember, they’re the ones making the choice not to do that stuff. They have the power.

            Also, geez, the idea that people might overthrow a government that is putting people in jail or to death for no moral reason is unrealistic? Must be plenty of fictional people who died in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Ethiopia, Greece, England, India, Vietnam, China, Russia, Chechnya, Spain, France, Algeria, Norway, Poland, Argentina, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala, Cuba, the Phillipines, the United States, and Rome in the time of Spartacus. Sorry, I had to go with a greatly abridged list.

            It’s just that what you’re saying is that if there was “Iranian Man” who flew around his country killing non-Muslims, homosexuals, women who wanted rights, or anyone who didn’t vote for the right person in their last rigged election, then that man is a hero.

          • This assumption that they are knowingly condoning the execution of innocents is weird to me. Clearly some of the people thoroughly indebted to cauldron are letting people die, but what is with this assumption that all the heroes know about this sort of thing and just let it happen? Do you honestly think all of these people are following every case to make sure the courts aren’t convicting an innocent person? If that singing woman’s case didn’t get much publicity then how would the Wards or Legend even know about it? They have shit to do and people to save, they can’t sit around constantly watching the justice system. The only character that we have seen unable to act in an attempt to stop the singer’s imprisonment is Dragon, and that is because she is literally incapable of acting, and required to fight in the government’s defense. I somehow doubt she is able to start that fight on her own.

            Also, I am assuming things are SO much worse in Africa and the middle east. Things over there must be hilariously bad. Constant super fights in the middle east amongst various terrorist groups and Israel and other governments. Africa canonically has the largest amount of supers, and you just know alot of them are joining warlords, or becoming warlords themselves. This is not a happy go lucky world where the heroes get to sit in a satellite in space and go interfere in whatever strikes their fancy.

        • Hey, look, Regent is superVILLIAN. The Undersiders are a superVILLIAN team. Sorry if you were confused by that.
          Also, it’s quite possible Regent’s a sociopath….

          • Possible?It was confirmed in Tattletale’s interlude.Heck,one reason he likes using his power is because it allows him to feel emotions,even if it is by proxy,

          • Did you really read up to this point in Worm and still retain the impression that things were as simple as ‘villain = bad’, ‘hero = good’?

            Incidentally, being sociopathic doesn’t automatically make you a monster, either.

    • A fifteen year old who has taken on capes, the 9, and a freakin endbringer. Taylor herself acknowledges she is a different person than she used to be. Compare the person she was in chapter one with her return in the recent bonus interlude. Plus she is so naturally cautious and careful, I think she herself wouldn’t use the powertools because she has no experience with them.

  10. I do not want this to come out wrong, but I have not read anything since R.L. Stine ( no comparison). I would like to take some time to thank you for such a good story. I am not past 6.3 but I can already tell that I love this story and hope to catch up soon. I actually wanted to throw my phone threw the window when they he the meeting at school after Taylor hit Emma. It drove me nuts. When I was in high school I was one of the popular kids, but never picked on anyone. I know the feeling of this girl because before high school I too had friends that at one point just turned their backs to me. It sucked but started playing football got big and that was the end of getting picked on. Very original story thank you again.

  11. Leaving aside the moral quandary, I just realized that the narrative seems to exclude Alec a lot. Most of what we know about him comes from his interlude and the Trump Card reveal. It kind of makes sense, given how annoying he was to Skitter in the beginning, but I wonder if he has some ability that makes people look past him. He could easily “nudge” their gazes to never linger on him I bet.

    • The reason that Alec isn’t shown as much as the other Undersiders is that he isn’t in one of Taylor’s quadrants. Taylor and Lisa are clearly Moirails, Grue is the matesprit, and Bitch seems to bounce back and forth between Kismesis and auspitice with Taylor and humanity at large. Now if only the characters were trolls they would realize exactly the situation they were in and act on it.

  12. I’m not sure the physical descriptions of Barker and Biter here fit the descriptions in 10.6:

    —-

    Teenagers, professionals, and two guys that might have been capes – one burly guy with brown skin and a tattoo around his mouth, depicting a mess of sharp teeth penetrating the skin of his cheeks and lips. The other was thinner, shirtless, and wore a rusty, old fashioned looking mechanical rigging around his hands. The frame seemed set up to hold metal claws around his fingertips while allowing his hands the full range of motion. He had a spiked collar of much the same style.

    —-

    10.6 seems to say Barker is burly and Biter is thin, instead of vice-versa.

  13. Well that was a random overreaction. She asked the guy what the power was and he showed him so she beats him up? WTF? Douche

    Also I know that Coil is also a threat but all this over a single fucking girl is stupid, if Coil was telling the truth and is only going to kill them because of them not liking Dinah then it’s even more stupid. There are children all over the world in way worse positions, prostitution, slavery, drug smuggling, etc. Dinah apparently gets major headaches when she uses her power anyway, so if she’s not with Coil she’s going to be with someone way worse, someone who doesn’t let her take a break with drugs. He’s a way nicer boss than Hookwolf or Jack.

    • The “random overreaction” was more about keeping face. Skitter’s a supervillain, playing a game of…what’s the supervillainous equivalent of a throne? An armchair? But “A Game of Armchairs” sounds more than a little lame…
      Point is, she’s in it up to her nose, no reason to worry about beating up the occasional jerk if she needs to do so to keep her street cred. Remember what happened last time? Someone almost got shot in the hand.

    • It was an Ender-style reaction: She struck back with enough force to not only end that fight, but to discourage any future ones. Barker wasn’t just demonstrating his power, he was testing for weakness. Taylor couldn’t afford to show any.

      Going after Coil ‘just’ over Dinah is arguably a bad idea. Skitter has personal reasons for it (she feels guilty about helping Dinah get seized in the first place). But Dinah is also symbolic of the sort of things Taylor would be condoning on an ongoing basis if she continuec supported Coil.

      Also, this situation with Coil is not stable. He is completely self-serving and untrustworthy and sooner or later it would be in his interests to screw them over.

    • Barker’s power isn’t like Panacea’s; it doesn’t require a victim. He chose to show what he does instead of telling, and he chose to show by attacking her instead of anything else. Her retaliation was over the top because she had to maintain control of the situation, but she only retaliated at all because he deliberately attacked her in front of people whose respect she needs.

      tl;dr: attacking a crime lord in her headquarters = Too Dumb To Live

  14. “Barker and Biter gave me something of a George and Lennie vibe”

    Wow, an Of Mice and Men reference. I’m surprised that you referenced such an obscure book, and I had actually read it. Though now that I think about it, I guess the book isn’t that obscure.

  15. Taking on Coil, with his power and savviness, will be very tricky. It’ll be like fighting against the incarnation of Murphy. We already know he sleeps in two different places each night, so effectively the Undersiders have to plan two simultaneous attacks, and whichever one goes *worse* will be the one that’s real. Yikes.

    I also really hope Taylor’s got a plan in mind for how she’s going to keep her people supplied with food, medical supplies and so on without Coil’s infinite resources.

    Plus of course we haven’t actually found out what Coil’s real secret plan is yet.

    Two edits you might want to make:

    “stupid enough to attack with Bitch and I here.” This is a hypercorrection: it should be “Bitch and me”.

    And then there’s two repetitions of the phrase “a more normal size” in two sentences:
    “…tending to Bentley, who had yet to shrink to a more normal size.
    I stepped outside to give her directions to where she could stow Bentley until he’d returned to a more normal size.”
    You probably want to rephrase one of them slightly.

  16. Possible correction…

    “He stood over six feet in height with a severe underbite exaggerated by a metal bear-trap style band of metal around his lower jaw.”

    to:

    “He stood over six feet in height with a severe underbite exaggerated by a bear-trap style band of metal around his lower jaw.”

    Saying it’s metal twice doesn’t seem to read as well to me. Love the story so far, hope to read more of your stuff after 🙂

    • And another thing:
      “I don’t think he’s stupid enough to attack with Bitch and I here.”
      should read:
      “I don’t think he’s stupid enough to attack with me and Bitch here.”
      I think, although, this is Skitter talking and maybe you wanted her to make grammatical mistakes.

  17. I’m enjoying the story.

    Also wondering why Panacea is forgotten about so often. Also Armsmaster. And what are the aims of the multidimensional beings that keep “agreeing” on “destinations?”

    And isn’t Sundancer in the same situation as Skitter: hating the situation with Dinah, and trying to be a “good” person?

    This ‘villain’ ‘hero’ dichotomy is perplexing. Cops and robbers? Videogame influences?

    • Panacea is not so much ‘forgotten about’ as just not one of the main characters. We tend to see her whenever she crosses into the narrative. Ditto Armsmaster.

      The multidimensional beings are foreshadowing. My suspicion at this point is that they’ll be addressed towards the end of the story.

  18. Taylor’s thought about leaving Barker mewling seems out of character. The Taylor in my head would take Barker down for challenging skitter in her lair, but would be second-guessing herself in her head. Her instincts are always right and she manages to act on them, but her prefrontal lobe is always worried that she made a mistake. Taylor becomes more self-confident throughout the story, but I don’t see her taking this tone even later in the story, it’s just not her.

  19. “Bitch was outside, tending to Bentley, … “. Since Bitch had JUST been escorted INSIDE and offered lunch, this might be a less bumpy transition with something like “Bitch took the towels Charlotte found and stepped outside to tend to Bentley …”. Or some other action to get her back outside.
    ~~~
    As for the long commentariat debate about the morals and ethics of keeping Shatterbird, I don’t want to add to that, but I do see the difficulty in accepting that SKITTER has no mixed feelings about it. If she is this driven to rescue Dinah, she HAS to at least raise an eyebrow about Regent keeping Shatterbird in thrall.

    It also raises the questions: a) how DOES he maintain it while sleeping, etc. and b) If he does “release” her THEN what will she do (or what will they do with her)? Execution before he lets go? Does that mean HE feels it?
    ~~~
    Heroes, superheroes, villains, supervillains … I totally love that Wildbow is showing how much confusion and moral ambiguity there really is in the good guy/bad guy continuum. It just AIN’T so black and white for most human beings.

    But it is starting to erk me that so many folks who want to argue about it consistently misspell it as villian. A before i, folks! I know typos happen, but not THAT often!
    ~~~
    I’m also still wondering — why did Jack just quit? Or DID he, really?!?!? ..::shudder::..

    • Jack didn’t quit,he achieved his purposes,so he left.
      Coil had created an anti Shatterbird cell,to hold her,I’d imagine he keeps her there were he sleeps
      Kinda hard for even a very moral character to feel compassion to a mass murderer.

  20. Aww Bitch was nice! That is so sweet!

    It’s great to see that Taylor finally got around to making those costumes. I wish she had explained what happened with fixing hers though. I’m curious whether she has stayed with the dress type thing since that itself is so darn hard to visualize.

    Poor Char though. I am really getting the impression that the Merchants screwed with her prior to the rescue in more ways than one. That girl is quickly becoming my new favorite woobie and I’m considering upgrading her from Minion. Only problem is I have no idea what level is between Minion and Teammate…

    Really Barker? You call your boss’ teammate a whore in her home base in front her some of her personnel and expect her to just take that? A girl who was part of the team that beat back the Nine? Bitch should send this idiot back to Coil and ask for someone with a few more brain cells. He’s might not be as bad as the exABB members from earlier but he gets an Honorable Mention Darwin.

    I really like Alec. He has like zero empathy but it honestly seems he cares about his teammates. At least as much as he is capable about caring about anything. Plus his comments are hilarious in an utterly pessimistic morbid way. I’m amazed he managed to keep control of Shatterbird through Bonesaw’s fog. I wonder if it gave him a bit better protection actually since part of his consciousness was essentially in Shatterbird and she was shielded from Bonesaw’s stuff.

    • I believe “lieutenant” would be a level between minion and teammate.

      Oh, and re: Regent, while he probably would have lost his understanding of who she was and maybe what she could do, his fundamental nature wouldn’t change. No real empathy for another, so he wouldn’t turn her free, and would instead cling to whatever control he did have over his surroundings (and the people therein). Finding himself unsure of who anyone is but, at least, being in control of that one lady… well…. that’s one person he can be sure of.

  21. >as if she was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    Were.

    Don’t like the plot drive in this one. Dinah really isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Fucking Taylor.

    At least I like Regent. Even if he royally (snrk) messed up the Shadow Stalker situation.

    • “Losing” is fine and almost certainly the word Wildbow wanted. If the tools slip out of their hands in the rain then their grip is lost.

      “Loosing their grip” would mean “releasing their grip” and has connotations of deliberately letting go rather than slipping.

    • It was mentioned at one point that he takes her back to Coil’s special room and locks her up when he sleeps. I had the same question for a while before someone pointed it out to me. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it reference though and I thoroughly forget where it is.

      Concerning the miasma, I figured kept control with no issues because she’s effectively an extension of his own body while he’s puppeting her. I lean heavily towards the latter since I basically consider Regent’s power mildly akin to Skitter’s. She takes over her bugs nervous systems and senses and he does the same with people. I’m betting though that if he gave up active control of her during the miasma then he wouldn’t have been able to regain it.

      • I see. You’re right, I thoroughly missed that.

        I can see that happening, though I might disagree with the comparison to Skitter’s power, since for her it’s more automatic and it’s been demonstrated he kinda needs to concentrate hard to keep control.

  22. “He stood over six feet in height with a severe underbite exaggerated by a _metal_ bear-trap style band of _metal_ around his lower jaw.”

    Quite late to point this out, but maybe not too late. Maybe one word ‘metal’ should be dropped?

  23. Minor Detail, don’t know if someone else has pointed it out already: The German word for lightning is “Blitz”, not “Blitzen”. blitzen would be the Infinitive of the verb (i.e. to flash).

    • In fairness, it is dialog so it’s the speaker’s knowledge and how carefully she wants to explain it. Everyone knows Santa’s reindeer “Donder and Blitzen” mean “thunder and lightning” and blitzkrieg from WWII has brought blitz into English.

  24. «A demon’s face in dark gray in a vaguely human-shaped twist of darkness.» that’s not a sentence. And if you connect it to the previous sentense with a colon or em-dash, it doesn’t fit. Add “The effect was” or something more elaborate.

  25. OMG George and Lennie from “mice and men” reference, I was ‘forced’ to read the book in school, 1st year of high school. Graduated recently so the story itself is vague in my mind. Miracle considering I connected it since “mice and men” wasn’t my kind of book. XD

    I like this story alot, almost a little too nerve-racking sometimes to the point of considering stopping reading it but I continue anyway and enjoy it a lot.

    I hope her hometown won’t disappeared or anything too bad happening for a while.

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