Colony 15.7

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How the hell was I supposed to get medical assistance when the guy I was supposed to ask was looking for a covert way to murder me?

And I did need help.  I was bleeding, for one thing.  It had only started when I’d moved my arm to unstrap my armor.  If I’d known, I would have tried to undo the straps with my bugs.

Worse, the spike had penetrated the bone of my shoulder and any movement of my arm rewarded me with scraping sensations in my shoulder socket that made my skin crawl, not to mention the pain.

I was surprised it didn’t hurt more.  I hoped that wasn’t a bad sign.  My fingers moved without a problem, but the lack of pain could still point to bigger problems.  Pain was a natural response, after all, and the lack of pain was unnatural.

I called Tattletale instead.

“Skitter?” she answered.  “How did it go?”

“Could have gone worse.  I paid Parian off, and she’s leaving the city.  No blood shed, mostly.”


“Flechette was there.  I got stabbed.” I remembered that Coil could be listening in.  “I don’t want to bother Coil with it, busy as he is.”

“Being stabbed is serious.”

“It’s not too bad.  Can you lend me your medic?”

“You’re just leaving Dolltown now?”

“Flying home.”

“He should be there before you arrive.  I know you two haven’t gotten along in the past, but he won’t trouble you.”

He won’t trouble me.  Was that her way of informing me that he was safe?  Well, I still felt better than I would be if I were putting my life in Coil’s hands.

My desire to convey the image of someone who was confident, fearless and untouchable had led to me getting impaled in the shoulder.  It was something of a weakness, but I still found myself doing it as I reached my own territory.  I landed Atlas on the beach and made my way into the storm drain, wincing every time my arm moved.  By the time I was inside, however, I was pulling myself straighter, raising my chin and squaring my shoulders.  I tried to focus on my power to remove my attention from my body.  Checking the status of the various cleanup projects, some basic reconstruction, setting up dry and clean sleeping areas, stocking up on food and medical supplies…

Sierra and her little one-handed brother Bryce were there as I stepped into my lair, along with a small cluster of older kids and Tattletale’s medic, Brooks.  I sat down on the stool by the kitchen counter and Brooks started examining my shoulder.

“You guys get the most interesting injuries,” he said, in his characteristic, hard-to-place accent that seemed to put hard emphasis on syllables.


“Metal bonded to the bone.  You have some sticking through and into the cavity your socket sits in.  I have no idea how I’m going to get to the far end, cannot pull it out, and if I try sawing it off, I am not sure the shavings and flecks wouldn’t do catastrophic damage over the long run.  I would say you need surgery.”

“Damn it,” I said.  “She probably intended for something like that, and every hospital in the area’s going to be looking for someone with a spike in their shoulder.”

“I could try to handle it, but it’s going to take time to get necessary tools.”

“What tools?”

“At the very minimum, a small rotary grinder, suction, some fine wire, blood…”

“We have those things.”

He looked surprised.

I looked to Sierra, “We did get that delivery of stuff for Dr. Tegeler?”

“The dentist?  Yeah.  But it’s not unpacked.”

I turned to Brooks, “We have rotary grinders that we’ve been using for the cleanup, not sure how clean they’d be.  But the rest of that stuff, we’ve been having it delivered, so the people with medical training can start helping out.  Since we already have an able-bodied dentist, we’ve been setting her up.  It’s kind of surprising how many people will start having issues with their teeth over just a month.”

“Okay.  Let me pack this wound and then I will need to go there.  I’ll grab what I need myself.”

I waited while Brooks unpackaged and pressed bandages in place around the spike.

“How is the pain, on a scale of one to ten?”

“Ten high?  Maybe a three until I move it, then it’s more like a seven.”

“I am surprised you are not passed out already.  Do you have a high pain tolerance?”

“I wouldn’t have thought so.  But maybe.  Or maybe the way it bonded kept it from damaging or exposing nerve endings?”

“Maybe.  Okay.  Ginger girl, show me the stuff?”

Ginger girl?”  Sierra asked, archly.

Brooks smirked.

“Brooks,” I said, “Treat my employees with respect or I’m going to have words with Tattletale about you.”

“Yes.  I am sorry,” he said, not sounding sorry at all.  “Please show me where I can find the dentist’s equipment.”

Sierra looked at me, and I gave her a nod as my ‘go ahead’.

That left me with the kids and Bryce.  I studied him.  His black hair was cut so short he was nearly bald, and like Brooks he was wearing dark gray cargo pants and a beige sleeveless t-shirt.  He’d put on some muscle since I’d seen him last.  His still-bandaged stump of a wrist tapped impatiently against his leg.

And the kids… they were wearing some of the clothes I’d had shipped in, but they didn’t look like the typical bunch of kids one would see around a schoolyard.  Before taking advantage of what I had to offer, they’d been eating the bare minimum, spending all of their time outdoors.  But diet and exercise weren’t entirely to blame for the lack of softness in their faces or expressions.  They’d seen people they loved die.

I wasn’t sure what to say.  Making small talk seemed like it would lower me to their level.

I used my power to check on progress in the area instead.  I’d had a hand in getting recovery efforts underway and ordering both tools and supplies, so I was fairly in touch with what was going on.  The streets were draining or drained in the areas we’d settled, with sandbags holding back or diverting the flooding.  Crews were filling more sandbags and loading them onto trucks at the beach.  Still others were working to clear the storm drains of blockages where they’d verified that both sides were clear of water and that the storm drains were intact.  The storm drain leading to my base had been classified unsafe for the time being, meaning I wouldn’t find strangers nosing around in there.

Burned buildings were being torn down where there wasn’t any hope of salvaging them, and small crews of people with the necessary skills were working to assess what could be recovered, assigning simple tasks to people who didn’t have the training or know-how.  Massive tarps were going up over roofs and being tied down.

It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t fantastic, but it was something.  My bugs noted a hundred and seventy people at work, one-seventy-four if I included the kids here.

One-eighty-four, I realized I’d nearly missed a crew that was working beneath the streets.  The numbers were growing.

It was a little intimidating.  I didn’t have any particular training or talents that really equipped me for a leadership position.  Now I was in charge of this many people.

Well, I’d do what I could.  Supply what they needed, keep an eye on things.

“Your name?” I asked one of the oldest kids.


“Sierra didn’t have anything for you to do?”

“We’re waiting until Char comes back,” he said, pronouncing it ‘shar’. “She said she was going to put us in charge of some younger kids, then have us run water out to the people working.”

“Good.  For now, you can run an errand for me.  Head out the door, turn right, go two blocks.  There’ll be an open manhole with a cordon around it.”

“A what?”

“Tape and warning signs.  Ignore the warnings, just go to the manhole cover and shout down at them, tell them to get back to work.  I know they’re just sitting in the dark and drinking.  And tell them no power tools, now.  Not if they’ve got alcohol on their breath.”

“Okay.  If they don’t listen to me?”

“I’ll take care of that,” I told him.

He ran off.

“Big bad supervillain, giving orders to little kids,” Bryce commented.

Why did people insist on testing me?  Was it something about being in charge that demanded that they try to establish their dominance?  Did people like Bryce have a natural propensity for bucking authority, with me as the only clear target?  Or was it more that they were angry in general?

Either way, what did that mean for this city in the long run, if anyone who tried to change things for the better was facing this sort of resistance.

“I’m giving orders to everyone.  Everyone contributes, everyone benefits.”

“To be more specific, you’re having my sister give orders to everyone while you go out and get yourself injured in fights with other capes.”

“Don’t you dare,” Sierra said, stalking back into the room.  She put down a plastic tote of medical supplies.  She sounded angry.  And scared?  “Do not pick a fight with my boss.”

“I’m just saying-”

“Don’t.  Don’t ‘just say’ anything.  If nothing else, she saved your life.”

“I wouldn’t have needed saving if she hadn’t been there,” Bryce said.  He gave me a look that was just short of a glare.

“Don’t be an idiot,” Sierra said.  “You were with the Merchants.”

“And things were cool.  Party all day, relax, had a girlfriend.  If she’d left things alone, I’d be okay.”

“I’m surprised Tattletale didn’t mention it,” I said.  “The Slaughterhouse Nine eradicated the Merchants.  Barely one in twenty survived.  The ones that are left are scattered across the city.  If you’d stayed with them, you’d be dead.”

“She did mention it.  But I would have made it.”

Cocky.  “Then you’d be starving to death, dirty, probably sick.  Going through withdrawal, maybe.  Don’t know what you were taking with them.”

He scowled, glancing at his sister.  “None of your business.”

“Hey!”  Sierra raised her voice.  She grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, and he slapped her hand away.  She stabbed a finger into his chest, “Treat her with respect, damn it!”

Again, that note of fear.

“I treat people with respect if they deserve it.”

“She does.  She’s saved us, here.  That’s big.”

“Wouldn’t need saving if it wasn’t for the people with powers being around here in the first place.”

He wasn’t wrong.  As validating as it was for Sierra to stick up for me, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt at the idea that these circumstances were because of capes.  Hell, if I hadn’t provoked the Nine by humiliating Mannequin then this district wouldn’t have come under fire by Burnscar.  There was Dolltown too, and my complicity there.  I was personally at fault when it came to some of the damage that had been done across the city.

“You want a better reason?” she asked.  She stepped close and pulled him down to hiss words in his ear.  She wasn’t being as quiet as she seemed to think she was, trying to hide her words from me and the kids.  “…they attacked me and Char… mauled them…  Mannequin…

I shifted positions, and Sierra must have seen it, because she lowered her voice to an inaudible hush as she finished.

Rattling off a list of the things she’d seen me do.  Reasons that gave her cause to be spooked if her brother was mouthing off to me.

When we’d met, Sierra had commented that I wasn’t what she’d expected from a supervillain.  Somewhere along the line, I’d painted a different picture.  She clearly had no trouble with me on a day-to-day basis, but she also knew that when I was pushed… well, I’d gone easy on the three ABB members that had attacked her and Charlotte, but that was only in a matter of speaking.  I’d still left them fleeing in mortal terror.

Bryce looked at me and I could see him give me a once-over glance, as if assessing me in a new light.

“Go help Brooks,” I told him.  “I’ll direct you to him with my swarm.”

It took him a second to weigh whether he wanted to or not, but he did turn and step out the front door, following the thin trail of bugs that I was gathering between him and the warehouse we were keeping supplies.

“Want me to go, too?” Sierra asked.

“Your choice.  Might be better to give him space.”

“I keep having to do that.  When do we start being a family again?”

I’m not the person to answer that question.

“If you decide to leave him be, I could use a hand collecting some things so I can make effective use of my time.”

“Okay,” she said.  She seemed to pull herself together a bit.  “What do you need?”

“My laptop from my room, and the surveillance stuff from the cellar.  There’s another set of surveillance gear in the bag beneath the shelves.”

Sierra hurried off to gather the equipment.

The ensuing minutes were a little disorganized, as Bryce and Brooks both arrived with the last of the medical equipment.

“Blood type?”


He took one bag of blood out of the box and placed it on the counter.  “Want to do this in your room?”

“I have an armchair on the second floor I could sit in.”

“Need you reclining.”

“I have somewhere to be tonight,” I told him.  Though this would be something of an excuse to avoid the kill.  “Don’t put me under.”

“This is going to hurt.”

I had another reason for not wanting to be put under.  I wanted to keep an eye on him.  My conversation with Tattletale had suggested he wasn’t a threat, but I’d feel a heck of a lot better if I could verify that for myself.

“Do you have local anesthetic?” I asked.

“Yes.”  He tapped one finger on a tiny bottle.  Lidocaine.  I recognized the name.  “But will not prevent all pain.  I do not want to use too much.”

“We’ll try that, then.”

We headed up to the second level and I settled into my chair.  For additional lighting, I had my ‘switch beetle’ flick the concealed switch that was contained in his terrarium.  They lit up as I settled in.

Brooks hooked up the blood bag but left the tube hanging, unconnected.  Other supplies were arranged on the table he’d had Bryce bring up.  He seemed very particular about the order and what was being kept

“For a field medic you seem pretty well versed in this stuff.”

“Worked in many hospitals,” he replied.  “Many places.  Often with less than this.  Sometimes with more.”


“We will have to dislocate your shoulder to access the inside of shoulder socket.”


“You will take muscle relaxant to minimize damage from dislocation.  You will need to exercise arm to prevent more dislocations.”

I didn’t like the sound of that, the possibility that it was actually poison, but the muscle relaxant came from the bottle, and they had the brand logo etched into them.  One potential danger averted.  No way he’d arranged it this quickly.

“I can do that.”  I took the pills with a swig from the offered bottle of water.

Sierra arrived with the laptop and a large bag.  She handed me the laptop and then plugged it in beneath one of the lower shelves.  I balanced it on my armrest, turning sideways so I was sitting with my bad shoulder facing out front, my legs curled around me for as much stability as I could hope for.  Sierra began arranging towels and plastic cloth around the chair.

“This would be easier if you just lay down,” Bryce said.  I saw Sierra scowl at him.

“It is fine,” Brooks said.  He lifted my arm and let it flop back down.  I tried not to react to the pain that elicited.  “Only one that suffers is her.”

“Ever a charmer, Brooks,” I commented, but my attention was on the laptop.  I used the switch beetle to open all of the terrariums, and withdrew collections of spiders, dragonflies, large moths and roaches.

“They should not touch chair,” Brooks said.  “Or anything on table.  Must keep everything as sterile as we can.”

“I know,” I said.

I gathered the components from the bag, using my bugs to draw them out and airlift the miniature cameras, microphones and transmitters into the air.  One by one, I turned them on and used the laptop to connect to them.  I used my free hand to click through each camera in turn, making their feeds the focus of the main window.

Using my bugs, I drew forms around each, vaguely humanoid.  It wasn’t as intuitive as I was forced to use my own eyes to assess the accuracy.  Still, I managed to rearrange each until they vaguely resembled me.  I marched them down the stairs.

“Outside end first,” Brooks said, starting up the rotary saw.

Not my favorite sound.  And the sensation of it sawing at the metal, it brought back even more unpleasant memories.  Being on my back, Bonesaw trying to cut a hole through my skull…

I shivered.

“Don’t move,” Brooks said.

I focused on my swarm-clones, staying totally still while he worked on removing the metal end of the dart.  They were largely composed of flying bugs, but I was bulking each of the forms out as more bugs arrived, giving them a more solid mass.  I used my free hand to pop my ear-buds in.

I felt bad about leaving my territory as often as I had been.  People were spooked, scared and insecure.  Having a leadership figure that was never around wasn’t helping matters.

This would, I hoped, establish a kind of presence that had been lacking.

Sierra had been coordinating everyone, trying to put people with experience in charge of people who were lacking it.  It was interesting, trying to hold multiple conversations at once with the various project leaders.  Difficult, too.  For one thing, my speech with my swarms was somewhat lacking, missing consonants, but I could still make myself more or less understood.  For another, my ears could only process one thing at a time.  I managed by talking with one or more swarm-clone while listening with one at a time.  After too many misfires and moments of confusion, I scaled down my efforts to a single conversation at once, simply standing silently by with my other selves.

I made a mental note to try to practice with that.  Exercising the range of my power hadn’t done anything for me, and there didn’t seem to be any upper limits to how many bugs I could control at once, but there had to be other ways I could train my abilities.  Multitasking was one I hadn’t tried yet.  Trying to interpret the senses of my bugs was another, though I feared it would take a more concerted effort to effect any sort of change.

When Charlotte returned, I was in the middle of helping a foreman with the layout of a building, using spiders to draw out a loose web in the general shape of the planned shelter, lifting bits of wood to make the lines more visible from a distance.  I adjusted the threads as required to meet his needs.  Charlotte climbed out of a truck with five more of my people and made a beeline to my swarm-clone.  One hundred and ninety people working for me.

Word was apparently getting out about this being a safe haven.

My conversation with her was delayed as Brooks enlisted Bryce in twisting and pulling on my arm while Brooks held my neck and torso.  Bryce drove his elbow against my shoulder while it was being twisted to its absolute limits, effectively knocking my arm out of its socket.

I managed to avoid making any noise beyond a guttural grunt, then took a few seconds to try to avoid blacking out from the pain.

As heavily as I was breathing, back in my lair, my swarm-people didn’t show any sign.  I focused the whole of my attention on them, as if I could remove my consciousness from my real body.

“Any problems?”  I asked Charlotte, once I’d recovered enough to pay attention.  Glancing at my shoulder, I could see Brooks making an incision in the skin of my shoulder.  He’d managed to open the tear in my costume.  I hadn’t been paying attention to how.  I deliberately looked away as Brooks tried to forge a path  to the inside of my shoulder socket.

“Not sure,” Charlotte said.  “Have a look.”

It was Parian.  I’d been so focused on my shoulder, the three-dimensional web-blueprint and my swarm-selves that I hadn’t noticed her getting out of the truck.

“You didn’t leave,” I said, when she’d joined Charlotte and my swarm-clone.

“I didn’t think the money would be real,” she responded.

“Of course it was.”

“It’s… it was a lot of money.  Very generous.  But we were talking about it, and split between us, it’s not enough to give everyone all the care they need.  I told them to go ahead, that I didn’t need a share.”

“Sorry.  I was worried it wouldn’t be enough,” I said.  “Are you saying you want more money?  I might have to say no.  There’s a limit to what I can spare.”

“No!  No.”  She hugged her arms to her body, looking around at the people who were working.  “Just… I thought maybe I should hear you out.”

“Okay,” I responded.

“Except it’s not really you?”

My clone shook her head.

“Can I talk with the real you?”

“I’m in my lair, and I’m preoccupied.  You’ll understand if I don’t reveal the location, given who your friends are?”

“Yeah,” she said.  She was still looking around, watching as a group moved by, pushing wheelbarrows of burned wood.  “I… I was telling myself that there was no point to taking your offer, that I could use my power and make more money legitimately.  But that’s not true at all, is it?”

“Walk with me?” I asked.

She nodded.

I led the way through my territory with my clone as I talked.  “Crime does pay.  I made the offer to you because I thought it would be the best way to get your Dolltown residents the money they needed to get their old lives back.  Or get as close to their old lives as possible.”

“I kind of hate you,” she said.


“You’re making it out like I’m a bad person because I won’t betray Flechette and my own moral code to help them.”

“I don’t blame you for your decision.  I don’t think any less of you.”

“But you wouldn’t make the choice I’m making.”

“No.  I didn’t.”

“And you’ve done more to help my people than I have.”

“You’ve protected them to the best of your ability through this city’s darkest hours.”

“You really think we’re past that?  The bad days?”


I winced as the grinding resumed, this time inside my shoulder socket.  A makeshift rigging inside the cavity caught the metal shavings, while Bryce held the tube to suction the metal shavings out.  So far, no assassination attempts.  Good.

“I don’t know what to do,” Parian admitted.  “This is… seeing it makes me wish I’d done something like it.”

“I’m not going to push you towards one choice or another.”

“I know.  You made that clear when you gave me the money with no strings attached.”

“Look,” I said.  “I know Flechette was saying my perspective is warped, but I think the system… you know, society, it’s like a series of rules and expectations that we established under some general expectations.  But recent events have made it pretty clear that those expectations, those assumptions, they might not apply.”

“Because of us?  Capes?”

“Yeah.  At the end of the day, barring some extreme examples like powerful dictators, there’s always the fact that any bad person who doesn’t have powers can be killed with a gun, a knife, or even a good punch in the right place.  That’s not the case with us parahumans.  The balance of power is pretty damned off-kilter.  Things aren’t fair.”

“Are you making that imbalance better or worse?”

“I’m… addressing the problem.  I’m saying there’s no point to trying to hold on to the old status quo when it’s based on a foundation that no longer exists.”

“So you’re going to take over the city.”

“Yes.  Because at least for right now, I can give these people what they need.”

I moved my clone’s ‘head’ and followed a group of kids who were running away from my lair, carrying six-packs of water bottles.

“And later?”

“I don’t know.”

We walked in silence, past a bonfire where scrap wood was being burned.  Brooks and Bryce, meanwhile, set to shoving my arm back into its socket.  All of the ambient pain disappeared in an instant.

Parian needed the money, she needed the assurance that she could help the people she’d failed.  I understood that.

“I can offer you one last compromise,” I said.


“I can’t guarantee it’ll work, I can’t say if anyone else will accept the proposal, and I don’t know what’s going to happen long-term, but we don’t have to call you a member of our team.  We don’t have to call you a villain.”

“But I’d take territory for myself anyways?”


“Others would call me a villain, just because I wasn’t fighting you guys.  They’d know I was cooperating with you.”

“Not necessarily.  Maybe the people in charge, the Protectorate and Wards, maybe they’d understand it, but the people on the ground level wouldn’t.”

“The media would out me.”

“I think we control the media.  Or enough to throw some doubt into the mix.  The rules are pretty simple.  You take territory, you hold it, and you ensure that there’s no crime or parahumans operating there without your consent.”

“And Flechette-”

“I don’t know her.  I can’t say how she’ll react, but maybe if you explain nicely, maybe if you frame it right, you could convince her it’s for the greater good.  So long as she convinced the other heroes to leave your territory alone, let you enforce the law there all by yourself, you wouldn’t have to fight them.”

“And if she didn’t-”

“That’s up to her.  Or you.”

She stared around my territory.  It wasn’t pretty, there was still devastation everywhere, but things were getting better.  It was maybe the only place in the city where things were improving as fast as they were.  We weren’t taking two steps forward and one step back.  It was all forward momentum.  Not even a week had passed, admittedly, but it was progress.  And it was apparent.

“I don’t think I could accept if Flechette doesn’t agree.”

“Okay.”  The alternative was unspoken.  If she does

“I hate you,” Parian said, and it was answer enough.

Brooks was finishing stitching up the incision in my shoulder.  I already had two pieces of scrap spider silk at the ready – one to cover the hole in my costume and another to serve as a sling until my shoulder was stronger.  If I adjusted my cape, I could cover the arm so the injury wasn’t too obvious.  I stood from the chair and stretched, then reached for my cell phone.

“I can live with that,” I told her, speaking through my swarm-clone.  I clicked through my contact list and called the man who was plotting to kill me.

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100 thoughts on “Colony 15.7

  1. “assigning simple tasks to people who didn’t have the . ”

    Seems like something is missing. Even made sure to reload in case that was what you were referring to in your comment.

  2. Yay, it’s early. But wow, Skitter is a tough sob. I guess we can add a increased pain tolerance to her list of secondary powers. But her, I hesitate to call it an organization, is growing way too fast for her to be able to finance it for too much longer. Who can estimate how much it costs to feed, clothe, and supply that many people? Whatever it is, her funds aren’t going to last too much longer. She is either going to have to pull another big job after dealing with Coil, or maybe she can loot his base after she deals with him, one way or another. Was not expecting Parian to change her mind. Still I think she is coming on a bit strong for “hating” skitter. Welcome to moral complexity little girl. On a final note, I can’t believe people are still challenging and testing her authority after all that she has done. She has to do what P. Gecko mentioned a few chapters ago and keep a few trophies. Having Mannequin’s head hanging on a post in the center of the boardwalk would do nicely. Maybe she can ask Sierra where she threw it. Excellent chapter, wildbow.

      • It wouldn’t even have to be a real piece of him. Just putting a *normal* mannequins ( the plastic/plaster kind) head on display could server as a reminder.

        • She also took care of invading merchants, chosen, and the ABB. Maybe she can gather some local symbols of the gangs and put them in big terrarium, covered in bugs. Showing she has dealt with them.

        • Huh I never thought of that. That’s a fantastic idea. Keep a few items representing all her victories center square and people would probably quickly stop thinking they can defeat her easily.

        • Eventually, however, keeping trophies will start to be counter-productive. As her legend grows people will start to attribute accomplishments and victories to her that she didn’t actually do. Keeping a trophy case will effectively confirm those rumors as false, actually slowing the growth of her legend.

    • Skitter has an incredible industrial capacity. Her spider silk production alone would be enough to finance the restoration of the whole town, much less her territory. And that’s without things like producing honey (for food and export), controlling plankton (for food production and water cleaning), oysters (should be possible, given their small nervous systems and would be used for pearl production), various insects for flower pollination (and forced growth).

      Really, if she has time to think about it, she would realize that she doesn’t need to do any crimes, since her powers are ideally suited for legal money making on a large scale.

      • I don’t think it would be quite that easy. Lets say she does make a spider/bee farm and creates layers of silk and honey. Now what? Even if there was someone in the city who could buy it, who is going to buy from a known villain, not to mention the transportation and storage situation. Plus it takes a long time for a oyster to make a pearl and nobody cares about flowers when there is a real chance of starving. The plankton thing, provided she can control them, does have some potential, but she probably needs to experiment. She mentions that only time she has been over water was when she was meeting the other villains to deal with the 9. Maybe she can go for a swim and see what she feels underwater.

        • Honey is useful as a luxury foodstuff and for medical reasons. Useful in place of antibiotics, which are going to be in short supply in the city. As for people who will buy from a known criminal? Ha! They’ll do more than buy from them. I once read of a cocaine dealer who put out a personal ad of his touting his management experience running such a large drug operation. He had some big job offers from it. Then there are examples of people just giving money to criminals in robes or joining a religion started by a con man…

        • She should try to sell the stuff (silk, honey) outside the city. Natural spider silk (or even better, costumes made from it) would be very valuable. And not just as a luxury item – it’s an armor too.

          Honey is food and not a bad food. Even if she doesn’t sell it, it can be used to feed her people. It can be easily stored. It can be used to produce mead.

          Flowers… Well, not just flowers, but plants in general – stimulate their growth. And flowers would be needed for morale and to produce honey.

          Oysters and pearls – depends on how strongly she can influence them and how much of them she can get her hand on.

          • Even better, she could do extremely well raising fine lobsters, crabs, and shrimp. Might even be able to just shrimp extremely well. To be fair, though, shrimpin’ ain’t easy.


              Of course, she’d miss out on all the awesome she gets into in the story, but sheesh, you’d think Tattletale would have at least mentioned bankrolling the team like this as a possibility. Hell… Tattletale, Parian, Panacea, and Skitter together? They could be making, just, ALL THE MONEY.

              Perhaps, in a happier alt-Earth world, they are.

              • with creating large oyster beds she could really help with ecological restoration. have you thought of this yet hero?

  3. Very interesting! Seems that Skitter may be dealing with this injury for a long time, lacking Panacea. A shame, having JUST gotten fixed all up. On the other hand, Panacea’s tuneup might be helping her deal with it, so there’s that.

    I’m surprised Skitter didn’t offer the option to let her just stay and help, just as a refugee without an official territory. At least until she’d really decided on a future course. I can see a good few ways her power would be very useful for such efforts, even if she leaves all of the politics and fighting to Skitter.

    “didn’t have the .” Missing word.
    “for the Dr. Tegeler?” bonus ‘the’.
    “those assumptions they might” missing a comma.

    Sometimes when Skitter counts her people the number is dashed, sometimes not.

    • She might end up staying, at least for a little while. She has no one to go back to, and she is probably lacking in supplies. Looks like we have identified another possible weakness. They don’t have a tinker, or a healer. At least they now have a flyer with Atlas.

      • Sadly, Atlas is incredibly vulnerable as well.

        I wonder about the specific synergies of Skitter and Parian- whether, for instance, Taylor could lay lines across her entire region and have Parian use then the way she used her own triplines back when she established Dolltown… Only with much greater coverage.

        • Does Parian’s ability only work on cloth? What if Skitter made her a doll or a costume out of spider silk? Maybe she could make a “super” doll.

        • Their synergy could be utterly terrifying, remember that parian can apparently control threads to the point of lifting someone on the end of them (Bonesaw) and imagine that after Skitter has wrapped them.


    • If she stays and helps there is no way to try and explain that Parian isn’t a villain. Once you camp out in a villain’s territory and help their employees you are pretty firmly declaring your intentions.

      • But she has a secret identity. No one knows what she looks like. She can take off her mask/costume and pretend to be a regular girl who lives there. Still I don’t see it working out. During the Fletchette interlude, she seemed really meek and she might not have the stomach to make money the criminal way. Skitter has a similar problem. She is fine with robbing a place, but is uncomfortable pushing drugs or making a protection racket.

        • It is well known that Parian is a fashion student, and wanted to come out as powered after she was better established as a fashion designer. She said all this in a magazine article, so unless she has allowed her future plans to be completely changed she really shouldn’t want a criminal record associated with her rather specific powers.

          • Her future plans might very well change due to the extreme amount of guilt she feels for not being able to help her people. She probably acknowledged there was no guarantee she would make it as a fashion designer, and that even she makes it, it would take time to really become established and make the money she needs to help her people. She saw Skitter causally give away so much money. She wants and needs the kind of money. But there is the dilemma. If she works with them, she can kiss her lifelong dream goodbye.

      • The impression that I got is that she’s going to become essentially another one of Coil’s warlords, governing a district. Only her connection with Coil will be secret, so it’ll just look like she’s set up another Dolltown.

  4. Man Taylor is a total bad-ass. Lets carry on a conversation with a swarm of insects for an avatar while having invasive surgery. Just another day in the life of Skitter.

    • Reminded me of Guan Yu, the warrior and general from Three Kingdoms era China who was posthumously worshipped as a war god. Often associated with the color green and having a red face, he was also known for his long, beautiful beard. One story from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (somewhat fictional retelling of historical events, so take with a grain of salt), he took a poisoned arrow to the arm. Rather than retreat and get drunk enough to dull the pain, he sat and played a game of Go while the doctor scraped the poison off his bone, his subordinates cringing at the sight. It’s claimed he showed no pain at all.

      • It’s easier if you aren’t the one doing it to yourself.
        I’ve seen someone saw a toe open to get a piece of toenail out.
        The trick is not passing out.

  5. I couldn’t help but wince a bit at the shoulder surgery. But she took it like nothing, really helps the image of badass that she’s getting as of late.

  6. Hmm. Interceptor body armor costs some $2000 apiece nowadays and it is nowhere near a complete suit. The US government paid several hundred million dollars for them, last time I checked.
    Assuming Skitter has essentially no cost except for her time in producing the suits and assuming she can multitask enough, she could be making $20.000 per day easily once she finds buyers. Maybe even $200.000 per day if she ramps up production enough.

    • Probably less. You have to account for all the advanced cape-produced (and cape-developed or just cape-inspired) tech that this world would have.

      But ye, this would still net her a lot of money, I think.

      • And, do you really, really think that the government would not buy the best armor that there is just because skitter robbed a bank (only real crime committed so far)?
        They will pardon her crimes, reimburse the bank and ask for more armor about three seconds after the first field test.
        Worst case scenario? Three years in home prison paying her debt with society (and, if she drives a good bargain, still getting half price for the cloth. Since she makes the price (no competition) …)
        Imagine the advantages of having soldiers and capes using this incredible armor. The government will not think twice.
        Even the general public will not think twice if they know that the cloth will be used by cops, for instance.
        If she had killed somebody things would change, though.

        • On that topic – can’t she claim bounties on those of the Nine that she (and other Undersiders) is responsible for killing?

        • Assuming the capes let a pardon happen. Depends on how much political pull superheroes have in this verse, like if they have their own lobbyists or something. Either way the uncompromising attitude alot of them have might make trying to go legit difficult.

          I’d be actually refreshing if it turned out that the superheroes are semi-crazy jerkwads and the government is more conciliatory and practical. It’s usually the other wa around in Marvle and DC.

          • Well they pardoned Mad Cap and turned him into Assault. She also saved/helped a lot of people during Leviathan, and it taking the best care of everyone in her territory. Not to mention she saved the wards from being crushed by Mannequin, and cured the heroes from Bonesaw’s miasma. Building on that, did she kiss every single hero? Plus if they ever find out her backstory that could help improve her chances, and Shadows Stalker is already gone. So I don’t think it is too late for her to go to the other side. The main obstacle will be in Taylor’s own feelings. She has lost faith in the ability of the heroes to do any major changes, doesn’t want to betray her friends, and to be honest, I think she doesn’t want to be reminded of her former life. She hasn’t contacted her dad at all, and if she joined the wards, she would be forced to be reminded of both him and the bullies she had to deal with. As Skitter, she is seen as powerful and respected. As Taylor, she would probably be pitied or judged.

          • I think you hit it on the head there Ant.

            She really seems to try very hard to be seen as badass and awesome, more fervently than I’d expect if it was just to have a useful reputation. And when she was called Worm she reacted pretty badly, I think Taylor is slightly obsessed with standing above where she sees herself as having been before.

            Also, Wildbow I’m curious. Do you have any Twins in your big bag of parahumans? I mainly ask because of the whole sibling powers thing, would they get the same or related powers? I realised on a DC wikiwalk (combined with RedLetterMedia’s review of “Twins”) that this setting is one of the few expansive superhero settings that I know of which has not had Twins appear.

        • The federal government already paid back the money. The FDIC is a New Deal era program where the federal government insures everyone’s money in banks up to $250,000 for each person (not sure if it is each account, but each person would be the minimum). If a bank is robbed, most people don’t lose anything. Well, as long as it’s still set in the U.S

        • She would have trouble selling it to the general public. IRL civilian ownership of body armor is regulated much in the same way as ownership of guns, except even more so as body armor isn’t technically a weapon so 2nd Amendment protections don’t apply.

    • Oh come on, Parian not being able to defeat the Nine singlehandedly and make enormous amounts of money in a short time frame without being illegal or immoral, is clearly Taylor’s fault.

      How dare she live in a world where things are bad and constantly try to help.

      • Yeah, I thought Parian had quite a nerve telling Skitter she hates her after coming back to ask for more help after being given a pile of money. And that after being saved from having her ass kicked by Ballistic at great personal cost. Where was the “Thank you, sorry about Flechette, I hope your shoulder is going to be OK?”

  7. The tenacity that Skitter shows here is really the kind of message that I thought that the caption on the banner should embody. I’m not sure how to make it brief enough though. I still haven’t come up with anything that I really like, but here are some ideas. Maybe you can tweak one to work.
    I would like to see something that means, “The right thing is never easy.” Maybe, “I tread where none dare follow” or “Do whatever it takes to make things right”
    Playing off the title might be a good idea, too. I am reminded of a part from War of the Worlds where the aliens are defeated by germs: “slain, after all man’s defenses had failed, by the humblest thing that God in His wisdom put upon this earth.” Mr. Welles was talking about bacteria, but it works well for bugs too. Maybe you could use “When Man’s defenses fail”? Or maybe “slain by the humblest thing on earth”?
    Hrm. Other slogans:
    1. Bugs Bow (Belong?) to No Man
    2. Bow to None, Benefit All
    3. Blessed are the Meek
    4. Herald of a New Dawn
    5. The Implacable Paladin
    6. Silk in the Dark (sounds like a cheesy romance novel, but if you ignore that, the title does work pretty well I think)
    7. Survival Against the Fittest
    8. Tangled Skeins

  8. Possible typo. I could be wrong about this, but I think that in this case, “effort to affect” should use effect. To effect means to cause an effect, whereas to affect is to change something.

  9. “Bryce was finishing stitching up the incision in my shoulder.” — Those names are too similar, I think, Brooks and Bryce, unless Bryce somehow knows how to do sutures one-handed. 🙂


  10. So… this is where the archive binge ends. I…. I want my candy.

    It’s been quite a ride to get to this point. Taylor is an easy protagonist to sympathize with, but I’ve really enjoyed the sense that the various interludes have created: that every single other character has their own perspective, background, and pressures shaping their reactions. Taylor really is a poor communicator at times, as there have been places where if she just sat down and started telling the full story of how she got to where she is, things might have gone better for her. Just recently with Fletchette was one of those places where I, at least, would have been tempted to go, “Okay, so here’s my life story…” BUT… at the same time, with her personal history it’s impossible to fault her for feeling like the system won’t work for her. And as she increasingly does her own thing in defiance of all labels, it’s looking more and more like her ultimate impact might achieve a greater good removed from the “heroes.”

    Which isn’t to say that all the heroes are bad, either. One thing I do really hate is “day is night, night is day” contrarianism in my stories. You know, the “my setting doesn’t have normal elves, MY elves maintain their immortality by secretly devouring the souls of virgins! Meanwhile, my orcs and goblins are paragons of goodness and light who are slaughtered because of the color of their skin!” and Worm has (thankfully) lacked that. Things are extremely screwed up on what would normally be the “good” side, yes, but some of the heroes have their hearts in the right place and plenty of the villains truly are still villains, even if our “villain” protagonist is a pretty nice person. She is, herself, rather complex that way, slipping more and more all the time into a rather ruthless mode of thought even as she continues to try her best to help people.

    I very, very much enjoyed the fight with Mannequin. Doing a lot with only the tools you have, when it looks like they should all be useless… well, it strikes a happy chord. In fact, I have enjoyed the whole spectrum of creative superpowers and clever uses and synergies for them. I don’t actually enjoy comic books, but I’m finding that I like the general concept of supers in other media, and Worm has been a spectacular example through strengths like that.

    I usually don’t go for dark stories, and there were times I’ve worried that the whole serial was just going to be an unending darker-darker-darker escalation. When Jack opined on the usefulness and increased effectiveness of showing the victims some hope before crushing it, I admit I wondered if this wasn’t the author’s overall strategy as well. But I’m holding out for something closer to “40% bitter, 60% sweet.” Even though Taylor has just been wounded, this present phase of things feels like a desperately-needed respite. But it’s been an enjoyable ride nonetheless.

    Taken in total, a lot of the characters seem to have parental/familial issues as core to their screwed-up natures. I don’t really have anywhere to go with that, just a trend I’d noticed. A couple others explore the concept of not really being able to deal with people at all… suddenly wondering how a Bitch/Armsmaster teamup would look.

    Okay, this has been very long and I’m beginning to ramble. Suffice to say that I’ve really enjoyed this story so far. I have already learned to vote on topwebfiction, and I’ll be doing what little bit I can to spread the word.

    ….The Next button still isn’t working. Please, when can I have my candy?…. I need it… Saturday’s a long ways away, you know….

    • No worries about the lack of candy, because we got enough donations, you only have to wait until Thursday (1 minute after midnight, EST, so basically tomorrow night). For every $75 in total that gets donated, I release an extra interlude.

      Thank you very much for your thoughts. Nice to hear that I’m hitting the notes I’m trying to hit.

      And if you’ll forgive the plug (I try not to harp too much on this, because I don’t want to be a nag, but) ratings and/or reviews on Webfictionguide, votes on Topwebfiction and mentions of Worm to friends or on forums you frequent are very much appreciated (The sidebar on the front page has links to the sites in question). If someone sounds like they’ve really enjoyed the story, I sometimes like to give a little nudge in that department. (Nudge, nudge). Also applies in case there’s longtime readers who haven’t gotten around to such. 😉

      And, of course, donations = more chapters. But I like nagging in that department even less because it feels like begging.

      Worm’s been one heck of a journey, and we’re not even that close to done, yet. Was just talking to someone I know IRL about the merits of extending the universe with other stories in the setting, told from other perspectives (I kind of want to see if I could portray Armsmaster as someone sympathetic/interesting, or tell Faultline’s story with overlap in this setting). Conversely, I might just move on to another setting, seeing if I could retain the elements that make Worm compelling and interesting. Something shorter, like a palate cleanser between courses.

      Or perhaps I’ll just treat you guys to a half dozen different story samples (including wormverse and non-wormverse stories) after Worm’s conclusion and see what gets the most attention.

      • I would love to see more of the Wormverse from other perspectives after you’re finished with the main story. But, like others have said, write what you want to write. I’ll be reading either way.

    • Muhahahahaha, now you get to join us commet section lurkers. hold onto your coccyx, because now the fun begins. You won’t believe how much you have been missing only reading the story.

  11. One very minor error that I picked up on earlier but assumed would have been quickly noticed. By accident you have a ‘b’ at the end of leaving. Spelled right, just with one extra letter tacked on. Probablyjust hit the b on the way to the space. It’s in the part where Skitter is just starting to talk to Tattletale about Parian (leaving town and all).

  12. ““They should not touch chair,” Brooks said. ”Or anything on table. Must keep everything as sterile as we can.”” no use of ‘the’ there. Seems odd.

    • English is his third language. He knows English fairly well, but lets things slip when stressed. You see it in the chapter where he’s introduced and he gets angry. Here, well, what about that situation would stress someone out? :p

  13. Should this bit end in a question mark?


    Either way, what did that mean for this city in the long run, if anyone who tried to change things for the better was facing this sort of resistance.

  14. I have been absolutely loving this story so far. Its completely drawing me in, and getting me to suspend my disbelief until….Skitter said she was AB blood type.

    Yup, that’s my breaking point. Because i know that only 3% of the US population is AB (2.5% AB+ and 0.5% AB-). And it just seems a little too convenient that our heroine/villianess is the universal blood type.

    But yes, otherwise, frakkin’ LOVE this story.

  15. First of all, awesome story. I’ve been reading one after the other, non stop, since I saw it mentioned in the HPMOR update. Which is why I think I found an error of continuity here…

    Since when is Skitter able to understand what people say through the swarm? That seems to be completely new at this point. Last I saw, she had only heard vibrations from Grue. But if I’m not mistaken, a couple of chapters ago Grue talks to her through a moth. I could’ve bought that as just her sending him a message without a clear response, but actually listening to multiple conversations at once through the swarm seems like a huge new power. When did that happen?

    Also, MAJOR kudos in the story. Action almost non stop, has me at the edge of my seat most of the time. I also keep seeing the story as a movie in my mind’s eye. Each time Leviathan splashed through stuff, I could see the camera positioned under a wave like filming a surfer, you know? So awesome.

    • She isn’t listening through the bugs, she has cameras and microphones in each swarm-clone.

      “I gathered the components from the bag, using my bugs to draw them out and airlift the miniature cameras, microphones and transmitters into the air. One by one, I turned them on and used the laptop to connect to them. I used my free hand to click through each camera in turn, making their feeds the focus of the main window.

      Using my bugs, I drew forms around each, vaguely humanoid.”

    • also
      “He seemed very particular about the order and what was being kept”
      The end of the sentence seems to be missing.

  16. Rereading time.

    “You will need to exercise arm to prevent more dislocations […]” — missing a word there. Something around “[…] exercise that arm […]” maybe?

    • …And on second thought, I figured that might’ve just been Brooks being as dry and scarce on words as usual. In my defense, I just came back from getting beat up in a Super Street Fighter 4 mini-tourney at the office, so cut me some slack.

  17. “Switch beetle” is awesome. I know it’s just a minor flashy gimmick but I can’t help but imagine a funny side story for Switch Beetle. He can be like at Atlas’ level of favored pet.

    And wow I know it was mentioned in a comment last chapter but dear lord Taylor has come a long way. From crying in a stall after getting dumped with juice to calmly discussing things and holding multiple conversations while a spike is sitting in her shoulder then getting surgery with minimal anesthetic. The girl is hardcore. And Flechette is far more ruthless than I had given her credit for. It’s nice to see that Parian and her are in a sort of relationship. At least someone is there to comfort the girl if it can’t be our heroes. It’s also frigging amazing that Skitter has just managed to recruit a rogue all on her own and eventually may end up with a Ward also depending on how strong that relationship is. Or a new nemesis. 50-50 shot.

    Wow 190 people in her territory? Holy cow I’m amazed that Parian or Coil hadn’t heard about it already. Her section of the city is likely the safest place to be now that the Nine are gone. Damn.

    Also minor typo: “He seemed very particular about the order and what was being kept” -> missing a period after kept.

  18. >He seemed very particular about the order and what was being kept

    Missing full stop.

    How do you even miss that you’re kind of terrifying? Goddamnit, Taylor.

  19. Maybe I’m not visualizing it right, but between dislocating her shoulder and opening it up front and back to grind the dart off the bone, I’m confused why Taylor’s arm doesn’t just come off, or at least feels a little loose.

    Which, by the way, ow.

  20. It might’ve been better to just let Parian stay in Skitter’s turf WITHOUT giving her some “territory”. Just let her live in an abandoned building like she did in Ballistic’s territory. That way Parian and her people would stay safe, and the local heroes wouldn’t think she’s joined the bad guys. Everyone would just think skitter was leaving her alone because it doesn’t matter to her.

    • A good compromise to present to the city in general, but Coil would probably disapprove- he wants to control all the capes in Brockton Bay, directly or otherwise, so an independent cape hanging around with unknown motives isn’t acceptable. Remember that Taylor started paying attention to Parian because Coil wanted her out of Ballistic’s territory.

  21. Ok am I the only one willing to point out how flawed Parians hatred for Skitter is? Honestly Skitter has basically just told her to be Switzerland and pretty much be a neutral face, gave her 200k, and has been willing to help her out. So fuck Parian that she hates someone whose basically doing the kindest thing possible while she gains everything and loses nothing, oh woah is her.

    So far in the story it seems that nobody has picked up on what Skitter has done and everyones, most peoples, hatred for her is so irrational it honestly doesn’t make sense. Its like they are so deluded and brain washed into thinking of things in terms of black and white. Like honestly other than the bank and the PHQ moves what crimes has she actually committed. She has actively helped and saved heroes at massive risk to her own life numerous times. She has given the PHQ incredibly vital information. Reality is so far the good guys have been nothing but a burden, where have they been helping and leading in the city? Where were they with the nine? Where have the heroes been getting rid of the gangs. Quite specifically the good guys are actually the Undersides and yet no one seems smart enough to notice. Parian says Flechette is her friend but what did Flechette do to help her people? Get them surgery and medical attention? Fix up her block? What personal loss of her own did Flechette give to Parian to help out? One answer is she has done nothing to help. She has done nothing that cost her anything but time.

    Yet here is Skitter saying just be Switzerland and pretty much neutral. The only thing you have to do is keep your territory clean, safe, free of crime, and help the people when they need it. She gave enough at a very personal loss to her in time, money, respect, and fucking trust. Helping out of literally nothing but good will, and Parian says I hate you…. idiotic blind dumbest.

    It actually kind of concerning that the sheer level of blatant ignorance in this story hasn’t changed an iota. I have honestly been left wondering at times how the heroes can possibly hate Skitter so much, call her horrific and merciless. She has pretty much been the most merciful person on her team. So yeah she has caused pain to people with her bug bites but that’s only pain. She rarely, and openly tries to avoid doing so even though she isn’t against it, injuring people and other capes. What the heroes just want lung to run off and be free again in five min? Without her they wouldn’t have even caught him the first time. She rotted his Dick off? That was armaster using a sedative that he didn’t understand how it combined with other chemical which allowed her venoms to be more powerful, besides lung healed backup just fine. So it really seems there is a unusually high level of blatant ignorance in the story where even one person realizing what she actually done is a huge event. And its getting tiring seeing this level of stupidity people seem to be incapable of getting past. In fact wasn’t Flechette just threatening to kill Skitter when she mentioned she had the dart at her throat? So whose the bad guy there then?

    So I really hope we either see some changes to at least some peoples level of intelligence and comprehension so we don’t have to keep dealing with these awful bits of bile the heroes keep spewing out their asses.

    • I think you’ve found at least part of the problem: ignorance. Yes, a quick google search would show that Skitter has essentially just two criminal acts under her belt (bank and fundraiser)… but no-one has computers, cell-phones, or anything else that would let them get that information. None of the heroes besides Piggot and to a lesser extent Weld know how essential the Undersiders were against the S9, and even less know about her heroism against Leviathan (I’m not actually sure anyone outside the Undersiders and maybe a few particularly aware civilians know about her actually fighting it).

  22. I’m not sure if I’m missing something, but isn’t what Skitter is proposing basically what Parian did when she controlled Dolltown? So what is the issue?

    • Yes, Parian would keep doing exactly what she’s doing. The only difference is that now Taylor has described it to her. This should illustrate how important the “hero” and “villain” labels some capes like to throw around are to them.

  23. The conversation at the end reminds me of the scene in The Godfather (spoilers incoming but it’s an old movie) when he assassinates all the rival mobsters and such while his son is baptized. Loved the juxtaposition of an argument about right things for wrong reasons while she gets metal cut out of her arm

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