Colony 15.8

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The benefit of using my swarm-clone to communicate with Parian was that I had relative privacy to talk to Coil.  He picked up on the fourth ring.  Not quite so prompt as Tattletale tended to be.


“I know you wanted me to use Ms. Cranston instead of calling you, but this is sort of important.”

“I’m listening.”

“I’ve talked with Parian, and we’ve come to a tentative agreement.  She’ll need to talk to other people before making a decision, but I think she’d join our alliance.”

“I see.”

There was a long pause.  I was getting ready to speak and ask if he was still there when he spoke once again.

“What are her terms?”

“She holds territory, she’ll defend it against all comers, but she’s not going to do jobs or do anything criminal.  As far as anyone else is concerned, she’s not a part of our takeover.”

“The implication being that we’re too weak to deal with her.”

“That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”

“It’s the conclusion others will come to.”

I felt a swell of frustration and anger, powerful enough that I might have snapped at him if I could have come up with what to say any faster.  I had to remind myself that I was anxious over the hit Coil had put on my head, and I felt betrayed.  I recognized that it was stupid to feel betrayed by Coil when I was actively planning to fight him if he didn’t cooperate on the Dinah front, but I also knew I didn’t tend to handle it well when someone I’d trusted stabbed me in the back.

Not that I’d ever trusted Coil but…

Okay, I wasn’t sure what I was thinking on that front.

I forced myself to calm down before saying, “I’m sure there’s a compromise.  Will you talk to her?”

“I will not risk revealing my identity, no,” Coil said.

Damn him.

“But,” he continued, “I will speak to her through a liason.”

“Thank you.”

“Though this could have been done more smoothly, I do appreciate your hard work.”

This from my would-be murderer.

“It’s not a problem.  Ballistic might be upset if he realizes I went behind his back on this, so maybe if anyone asks, she got spooked and came to you?”

“Perhaps.  I’ll be discreet, in any event.  It wouldn’t do to have friction between your two groups.”


“Speaking of inter-group relations, I believe Trickster is preparing to leave for the mission this evening.  You’ll want to contact him to arrange something.”

I’d been hoping to put this off.  It still felt like yesterday that I was watching my back every moment, waiting for an attack from any corner.  I wasn’t eager to return to that state.

“Okay,” I said.

He hung up without another word.

Parian first.

“I’ve raised the subject with others.  They’ll be in touch.  You should talk to Flechette and decide where you stand before then.”

“A lot of pressure.”

I don’t think you understand real pressure, I thought.  But I didn’t say it out loud.

“Yeah,” my swarm said.  The drones and buzzes that made up the syllables helped mask the lack of real sympathy.  I began working to use silk strands and flying bugs to lift a cell phone into the air.  I thumbed through the keypad and sent a text to Ms. Cranston to inform her about what I was doing.  “I’m flying a phone to you, it’ll be in your hands before you’re out of my territory.  Someone will use it to call you before the end of the day.”

“This is you subtly telling me to leave?”

“I’m in the middle of something, yes.  Thank you for hearing me out.”

“It was the least I could do, after the help you’ve offered my friends and family.”

“Whatever you decide, take care of yourself, Parian.”

“You too.”

I scattered the swarm, then paused to think.

The painkiller was starting to wear off, and I could feel the steady ache in my shoulder.  I still had a dart sticking through the bone.  Brooks had only removed the points on either end.  I could only hope the pain kept me sharp.

I’d hoped to take a break and formulate some strategy, some plan.  I had a few small ideas, but they weren’t broad enough to cover every base.  And there were a lot of bases to cover when someone as well equipped as Coil was after me.


I couldn’t do up all of the armor I’d removed with the one hand, so I enlisted Atlas’ help in putting the armor on my injured shoulder, using his forelimbs to hold things steady.

I took a deep breath.  It wasn’t confirmed one-hundred percent, but I had my suspicions that Parian was on board.  I didn’t want to die, exactly, I was prepared to fight tooth and nail to avoid it, but at the same time I was ready to die, now.

I didn’t really have friends, outside the team.  My teammates would miss me, but they’d recover in time.  Death was a reality in our business.

My dad hadn’t heard from me in some time.  If I died, well, perhaps not as great a shock as it might otherwise be.  I knew it would hit him as hard as my mom’s death had, that he’d be devastated… but again, he’d recover.  Maybe it would be easier, because at least here he’d have someone to blame, the city, the thugs, whoever Lisa told him was at fault for my murder.  I was pretty sure she wouldn’t reveal my identity to him when a simpler, to-the-point explanation would do.

And my people?  My territory?

I felt Parian receive the cell phone, a few blocks away, pulling it to her hand with telekinesis.  From the bugs that lingered on it, I could feel it vibrate pretty violently as it moved the short distance through the air.

If I died, Parian could take over my territory.  I had the feeling I could trust her to care about my people the same way I did, more than I could trust even my friends.  The transition wouldn’t be too difficult.

I took in another deep breath, then sighed.  For Dinah.  In any other circumstance, I’d back down, leave Coil’s employ.  But I was willing to brave this if it meant keeping her and her freedom in my reach.

I dialed Trickster.

Atlas carried me into the nice part of town, southwest of the Towers.  The Christian private school wasn’t far from here.  Immaculata.  New Wave was also based here.  I kind of hoped I didn’t cross paths with them.  If they shared any of Flechette’s opinions about me being at least partially to blame for whatever had happened with Panacea and Glory Girl, well, they’d be even less inclined to hold back.

I needed to find out the story there.  Had to ask Tattletale, when I had a free moment.

The area was riddled with hills and glades, with ridiculously large houses gathered in small neighborhoods.  Brockton Bay tended to zig-zag pretty drastically between the poverty-stricken areas and the wealthy.  The contrast seemed even greater here where things were largely untouched by Leviathan’s attack, compared to the rest of the city where streets sat under inches of water.

I didn’t join Trickster and Genesis.  Instead, I set Atlas down in one of the wooded glades close to my destination, glanced at my phone to ensure I’d followed directions to the right spot, and then got my laptop out to prepare.  I was a little early, which meant I could afford to take the time to prepare.

The range would be lower with the trees and any buildings between me and my destination, but I was still better off using my swarm-clone as a body double.  I double checked my equipment and weapons while I waited for my ‘clones’ to gather together.

Centipedes and bugs chained end-to-end for the hair.  Larger bugs formed the bulk of the legs, torso, and the core of the head.  Smaller bugs filled the gaps, while flying insects clustering together to form the arms and the parts too unwieldy to be supported by the rest, like the face.  Once the basic form was there, it was just a question of refining it so the general silhouette was right, and positioning the miniature camera and microphones so they had eyes and ears I could use.

Once they were ready, I gathered one swarm on top of Atlas and flew it to Trickster and Genesis.  I walked with my swarms at my side, my laptop open and held with my good arm so I could see the video feed.  As I gathered more bugs on top of my costume and in my hair to make myself resemble the clones, I used stray bugs to form similar laptops for the other clones.  They didn’t have glowing screens, but the generally rectangular shapes would serve for anyone looking at a distance.

If ‘I’ was in immediate danger, my clone on Atlas’ back would take the hit.  If my enemy or enemies saw through the ruse and came looking for me, they’d have to pick me apart from my clones.  That meant they would have to take the time to find a telltale clue, they’d have to guess with only a one-in-four chance of hitting the real me or they’d have to spread their attacks out among each of my clones.  I had the additional security of bugs filling the area, sweeping over surfaces and ledges to spot anyone who might be in place to stalk or snipe me, and my costume served as a final line of defense.

Redundancies.  It didn’t feel like enough.

Trickster and Genesis were waiting as Atlas descended.  They were crouched with their backs to a stone wall that bordered one property at the edge of a hill.  Trickster was holding binoculars, gazing down at the neighborhood below us.  Genesis was in the form of a ghostly woman wreathed with chains.  Her white hair was smoky, wispy, and covered her face, and her fingers were talons.  She had no lower body extending from the tattered poncho-style cloak she wore, and simply floated as though she were as light as air.  How had she done that?  Some basic flight mechanism?  A gas balloon in her stomach?

So powerful.

“Welcome.  Have a look,” Trickster said.  He extended one hand with the binoculars.  Binoculars I couldn’t use with my camera.

“Don’t need them.  Which property?”

He pointed.  It took me a second to relate the direction his arm was pointing with the camera angle and relate that to my own position relative to my clone.  I could have figured it out in an instant if I’d put a bug on his hand, but I didn’t want to clue him in if I didn’t have to.

The grounds of the building he was pointing to was nearly as large as the city block where I’d grown up and lived until a couple of months ago.  There was a fence, but it seemed to be directed at keeping the family’s dogs in rather than keeping intruders out.  Chain link, no barbed wire.  I knew he had dogs from the flies that were clustered on the feces in the back yard that hadn’t been picked up, and the larval young that festooned each clump.

Not too many bugs inside the house.  There were some in the walls, but the home seemed relatively new, and the insulation was packed tightly enough that nothing was really living in the walls.

It took me a minute, but I did manage to start a headcount.

“There’s guards?”

“There’s a police presence in this area.  I think they’re expecting trouble,” Trickster said.  “Anyways, the reason we’re here at this time and place is that the mayor always eats dinner with his family.  Tattletale says he’s only missed three meals in twenty years, and that was only because he was out of town for work.  His planned trip to Washington is going to be his fourth time away from home, so this is the one place we can be absolutely sure we’ll cross paths with him.”

I found the dining room and started counting the number of shoes under the table.  “Four adults.  I think two male, two female, judging by the footwear.  Two younger girls. Going by their size, I’d guess between eight and twelve.”

“He has a son and two twin daughters,” Trickster said.

I arranged bugs on the ground by Trickster to sketch out a rough floor plan of the house and show the pair where the family was relative to us.

“How do you want to do this?” Genesis asked.

“We scare the wits out of them, then we’ll introduce ourselves to the mayor,” Trickster said.  “You guys start us off.  I’ll keep an eye out for trouble and handle things if any cops show up or if anyone flees.”

“We’re attacking with their family there?” I asked.

“Sure.  Bigger impact if we threaten them too.”

“Not sure I like that.”

“When I was talking to Coil about what Tattletale said about the schedule, he suggested it.  Unless you want to go against him?”

He was talking to Coil.  I made a mental note of that.  Did I need to watch out for an attack from Trickster?  It would be as simple as swapping the positions of an active grenade with a stone near me.

It was possible.  He was ruthless, he didn’t seem to have many compunctions about killing and he was in the best position to do it.  I couldn’t sense any people who might be Coil’s soldiers.

There was the possibility that I was walking into a trap, that everyone in the house we were about to attack was a threat.  I could handle that much.

Too many potential avenues of attack.  Too many potential threats.  And with the possibility of long-range weapons, Trickster or even a surprise attack by Genesis, it could come at any instant.

“Skitter?”  Genesis asked.

“Hm?  Right.  Um.  I suppose not.  We just scare them, right?  We don’t do any physical harm?”

“Right,” Trickster said.

Well, I could do that.  It wasn’t so different from what I’d done in my first job with the Undersiders.  I’d terrorized hostages then for a greater purpose, and I could do the same with a family for the same reason.

“Just give me a second,” I said.

“I’m going, then,” Genesis said, floating over the edge of the hill.

“Not the first time you’ve needed time to get ready,” Trickster commented to me.


“Just seems like a drawback.”

Is he threatening me?  Letting me know he’s on to one of my weaknesses?

“I’m a general, and it takes time to mobilize my army.  Better to hit hard with all my forces at once.”

“Not always.  You could have built up to a crescendo there.”

“And give them a chance to scatter?  I’d have to divide the swarm to cut each group of people off, which would mean less bugs for each, smaller effect overall.”

He shook his head.



“You seem just a little more hostile than before,” I said.

“Do I?”

My bugs had gathered around the handful of entry points I’d been able to find.  Windows were open, but each window had been set up with either plywood or screens to compensate for the glass Shatterbird had destroyed.  There was a fan system for the bathrooms that was structured to discourage bugs from crawling through in reverse, with flaps that would presumably only open when the fan was active, and that was easy to bypass with some cooperation of the arthropodic collective.

“Yeah.  Any reason for it?”

“Not a huge fan of you stepping on Ballistic’s toes.  He’s sort of a friend.”

Not the way he tells it.  “I didn’t intend any offense.”

More bugs were entering through one of the doors at the side of the house, which was ajar.  I presumed it was to let the warm late-spring/early-summer air flow through the house.  The challenge there was keeping the bugs from being spotted before I was ready.

When I realized what Genesis was planning, I shifted my bugs to follow.  She headed straight for the kitchen window and crashed through the plywood there.  She was followed shortly after by my swarm, spilling into the room to spread over windows, ceiling and floor, only a small few darting around the people.

They turned to run, naturally, running for the door that led to the kitchen and to the hallway.  They were met by the remainder of my swarm, a thick cloud of flies, dragonflies, moths, roaches and beetles.  I could feel them backing away, four adults, two children.

“Police are on their way.  Gonna swap them with us the second they get to the house.  Warning you in advance so we can look confident.”


“Appreciate that line of thinking, but there’s one small problem,” I said.

He looked at me, then frowned.  “I can’t get a grip on you.  You’re doing what you did when you were talking to Legend and Miss Militia.”

“A little more refined than that, but yeah.”

“Fuck,” he said.  Then he groaned. “And now I’ve lost sight of the cops.”

“I can deal with them, if you want.”

“Just find them and I’ll handle that.  Where’s your real body?”

I hesitated.  Then I had my clone turn and point to another clone.  Just in case he decided to go on the attack.

“I see you.  Right.  And the cops?”

“Over there, but don’t teleport me,” I said.  “I’ve got something else in mind, and the visual effect will be stronger.”

“If I don’t teleport you, I have to fight whichever cop I’m not teleporting,” he noted.

Cope, I thought.  I deigned not to respond, and dismantled the clone that was standing next to him.  I did draw an arrow pointing him to where the two officers had circled one corner of the property.

Rather than visit the house myself, I gathered some of the bugs I’d sent to the room and began forming a clone there.  From what I’d seen of the process, it was sort of spooky in its own right.  A person materializing from vermin.  I carried the small camera and microphone towards the swarm, using the video feed to remotely see the clone from a short distance so I could match the finer features and body shape.  When I was done, I added the remaining bugs to the swarm, the camera and microphone hidden in their midst, and shifted the camera into place.

I recognized our mayor.  Never someone I’d paid a whole lot of attention to, given how I wasn’t exactly a voter, but I recognized him in a general way.  His face tended to pop up in advertisements and media.  If the city wasn’t in the state it was in right now, it would be on every TV channel, well into the swing of things for the imminent mayoral elections.  He was fifty or sixty, with horseshoe-pattern baldness on a round head and large ears that sort of stuck out.

The woman next to him would be his wife.  She had the look of someone who had purchased their good looks, with stylish clothes, an expensive haircut and top-notch makeup and skin care.  She was clutching her husband, who was holding his two twin daughters.

There were two young adults there too.  Older teenagers or young twenty-somethings.  The guy looked seriously well-built, the girl statuesque;  I got the vibe of an athlete and his cheerleader girlfriend more than I got the impression of a brother and sister with good genetics.  The guy stood a little in front of his parents and girlfriend, as if he wanted to protect them.  Genesis and I stood on the other side of the dining room table.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“A conversation,” Trickster spoke.  He had hopped up to the ledge of the ground-floor window and was now hopping down, one hand on his hat.  He adjusted it.  “Hello, Mr. Mayor.”

The mayor looked at each of us in turn.  Well, at Trickster and the fake-selves that Genesis and I were producing.  “To what do I owe this questionable pleasure?”

“We hear you’re going to Washington tomorrow.”

I saw the son turn to look over his shoulder at his dad.  I also noted that he was discreetly drawing a phone from his pocket, concealed by the way he’d turned his body.  If I couldn’t sense movements through my bugs, I would have missed it.

I could have said something, but I stayed quiet.  Instead, I drew Atlas to a point near the window and began uncoiling and stretching out the lines of pre-prepared silk I’d already drawn out for emergency use.

“I am.”

“Well, I think it would only be fair if you heard from all of your constituents,” Trickster remarked.  “Before you come to a decision.”

“You pay taxes?” The son asked, shifting his position again so his right hand was hidden behind his girlfriend.  I could feel him adjusting his grip on the phone.  As far as I could tell, he hadn’t actually done anything to it.  I waited for him to stop moving his hand, and then threaded a series of flying bugs between his fingers and the device, winding the thread around it.

“Rory,” the mayor spoke, his tone a warning.  He turned his attention to Trickster.  “And?  Which outcome are you hoping for?”

“I think it would be excellent if the city kept on going.  Things are getting better.”

“And you’re putting yourselves in charge,” the mayor noted.

“We’re just keeping the peace,” Trickster said.  “Doing a better job than your local heroes.”

“If you have a liberal interpretation of ‘peace’, maybe,” the mayor said.

Rory moved his fingers, tapping the screen, and I had Atlas fly away from the window.  The phone was torn from his hand and bounced off of the window pane before landing outside.  Atlas reeled it in further while Rory looked around in confusion and alarm.

“No phone calls,” I spoke, buzzing through my swarm.

“Give that back,” he said.

“Is your phone really a priority?” Trickster asked.

“Yeah,” Rory said.  “Yeah it is.”

“Then you should have known better than to use it here,” Trickster said, shrugging.

Give it back,” Rory turned to glare at ‘me’.  At my swarm-double.

Trickster chuckled, “Never really got that smartphone craze.  People go gaga over the things.”

No, I thought.  Something’s off.

What I wouldn’t give for Tattletale’s power.  Or even to have her present.  How would she pull the pieces together, fill in the blanks?  She could have looked at the big picture here and known exactly what was going on, while I was left to guess.

The obsession over the phone?  I couldn’t draw any conclusions.  What else?  The family dinner with the son bringing his girlfriend over?  Nothing too strange.

They weren’t scared.

The little girls were glaring at us as they clutched their dad, Rory was too focused on his phone when his family was in imminent danger, and Rory’s girlfriend was staying very still.  Topping it off, the mayor was too casual in how he was addressing us.


“I think it would be in everyone‘s best interests if Brockton Bay kept going.  Not quite fair to judge the fate of the city at its lowest point,” Trickster said.

“Are you being ironic on purpose?” The mayor asked.  “You’re making a very strong case for why the city shouldn’t continue down the path it’s been going down, just by being here.”

Again, that confidence.  One didn’t trade banter with someone who was implicitly threatening them and their family with bodily harm.  Not if they didn’t have some measure of security their would-be assailants weren’t aware of.

I considered the various possibilities.  Not too hard to narrow down the options, with the process of elimination.

I drew the words against the wall, above and behind the gathered family.

Trickster didn’t seem to notice.  “I’m surprised you aren’t showing us more respect.  You’d think we’d almost be equal on a level, current guy in charge of the city talking to the aspiring rulers.”

“I earned my position through hard work, dedication and by convincing the people that it was in their best interests to vote for me.  Which it was.  You three?  You’re criminals.  Thugs.  You didn’t earn anything.”

Thugs?  Do Thugs take on the Slaughterhouse Nine and walk away?”

“All you have going for you is violence and intimidation.  You can’t accomplish anything but destruction that way.”

I made the words on the wall bigger.  Trickster didn’t see them, or he didn’t care.

“Trickster-” I started, speaking through my swarm.  I need to have a word with you.

“Well,” Trickster said, cutting me off, “If you insist, who am I to argue?”

In an instant, one of the two twin girls was replaced by one of the dining room chairs on our side of the table, and vice versa.  Trickster grabbed her hair and pulled her close, drawing a gun and pressing it to her head.

“Trickster,” Genesis said, in the same second I moved forward to stop him.

Was she trying to stop him as well, or had she seen the words?

She settled one talon on his shoulder.  I wasn’t sure what signal she gave, but Trickster paused.

Whatever it was, he must have looked up at the words I’d written, because Rory noticed.  He whipped his head around to see, and I couldn’t disperse the bugs fast enough.

‘Triumph’ written on the wall with bugs with a triangle beneath, pointing at his head.  Above his ‘girlfriend’ were the words ‘Prism or Ursa’.

The mayor’s son was the civilian identity of Triumph.  Enhanced physical prowess and a concussive shout that could punch holes through concrete.

He whipped his head around and stared at Trickster.  Before the teleporter could pull the trigger or do anything else, Triumph shouted.  His sister was untouched, but Trickster was sent flying into the wall hard enough that he was half-buried in the drywall.

“Duck, Kyla!”

The little girl threw herself to the ground as Triumph lunged forward, kicking the dining room table.  It slid halfway across the room, over ‘Kyla’ and into the wall. The side slammed into Trickster’s midsection, and the table’s contents flew into the villain and the wall around him.  Trickster went limp, his upper body flopping over the table.

I mobilized the swarm, but Triumph was already shouting again, slamming Genesis into a wall, much as he’d done with Trickster.  A third bellow annihilated my swarm-clone, and he turned to start eradicating my spread out bugs while his family ran for the hallway, led by the superheroine.

Couldn’t get a serious number of bugs together in one place to mount a serious attack without Triumph obliterating them and he was either too angry or too stubborn to surrender to the stings and bites I was managing to inflict.  The superheroine had her phone out and I wasn’t able to tug it from her hand like I had with Triumph’s.  They would be getting reinforcements shortly.  Even if I took all of them out of action, I’d still have to get Trickster out of there and escape with my own hide intact.

“Damn it,” I cursed.  I broke into a run, accompanied by my swarm-doubles, hurrying for the house.  I couldn’t leave him there, not without jeopardizing everything.  He struck me as being disloyal enough to offer information for his own sake, or information about the Undersiders, at the very leastAnd leaving him behind would leave a permanent rift between our team and the Travelers.  It could even mean being dropped by Coil, an excuse for him to separate me from my teammates.

That said, I couldn’t save him or mount a serious attack with just my doubles.  He was hitting too hard, handling my bugs too effectively.  I could have killed or critically injured his family with the few bugs I did have, brought them down with the more dangerous insects, but I wasn’t willing to go that far.  Not with people who didn’t deserve it.

Atlas wouldn’t be strong or versatile enough to carry an unconscious body to safety.  If I was going to haul Trickster out of there, it would have to be with my own two hands.

I could only pray I wasn’t exposing myself to whatever assassination ploy Coil had in mind.  Or worse, that I wasn’t doing exactly what he wanted me to do.

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67 thoughts on “Colony 15.8

    • Excepting Coil’s interlude all we see is the world he accepts and I’m not sure how that would change since he is the only one aware of it when a world collapses. It would be interesting to see it as it happens but the only time he would make that decision as events were happening would be if he was monitoring them directly, which probably isn’t the case here.

      • Well, it is a bit of a cheat to say so but Wildbow has promised not to give us main story chapters set in to-be-collapsed universes… So we know that however this ends up going, either it is the better result for Coil, or Coil is no longer able to choose.

        • Ever since we’ve had multiple universes confirmed I’ve suspected that coil doesn’t create and collapse realities but links the awareness of his various alternate universe selves. When he collapses a universe he simply consolidates his awareness into one of the two timelines so he can branch out again. The other timeline wouldn’t cease to exist, he would simply cease to be aware of it.
          This would also make more sense in context of the Manton effect than collapsing entire universes does, but this may have been explained by Wildbow already. (for instance while collapsing a timeline affects the living things inside of it the power operates on the universe which a concept wholly separate from living things.)
          It’s also possible his powers don’t work with the Manton effect and that’s precisely why he’s the Doctor’s chosen one.


          • Ha, that would be hilarious. Coil thinks that he’s affecting the very nature of the universe, but he’s actually only changing his ability to perceive the multiverse. I like to think that he’s screwed himself over thousands of times in different universes.
            Then again, maybe he’s actually a precog and just doesn’t know it. He “ghost walks” to experience the future from his limited perspective and the fake version just seems totally realistic.

          • That would mean that this universe is exceptionally unique, in that it’s the only one in which Coil is effective. It would be like the universe where all coin flips resulted in heads, not by law but by chance. If this were true it would almost be more accurate to call the “Wormverse” the “Coilverse.”

            I like to think that Coil’s power uses recursion to create infinite universes in which his power succeeds for every finite number of failures. When Coil splits realities, both realities contain a Coil who splits realities, which all contain Coils who split realities again ad infinitum. When it comes time to extinguish a reality, two Coils from neighboring universes pair up to combine nearby unwanted realities into a single reality, then the Coils from the merged realities do the same with their neighbors, and so on and so forth until they’re left with just a few failures.

            This theory allows all of the Wormverse denizens to follow Coil along for the ride. It’s also simpler in that Coil would be a manipulator of quantum decoherence rather than both that and consciousness.

          • Fantastic theory. I tip my hat to you for what is truly outside the box thinking. However, consider the following scenario:

            Let’s say there are a few universes (similar enough to each other, and the only ones similar enough to each other, for Coil to perceive that he is making the split between two universes / linking the two universes and all other factors being mutatis mutandis).

            From Coil’s perspective, he splits up Universe A into A1 and A2. However, this theory would say that he has joined two pre-existing universes of A1 and A2. But what if previously, in the universe A2, Coil has already split again?

            This would either imply that certain universes and inaccessible to him (which means that there are certain things he just cant do, for (from Coils perspective) no apparent reason).

            Consider the reverse. Coil from his perspective collapses a certain universe called universe B and now lives in what is the real world to him (i.e. universe b- coil actual). However, the Coil in Universe B continues to exist. This Coil must either experience a loss of power (since he can no longer split universes or collapse his consciousness from this one) or must suddenly find that he can split again. Which means that Coil would have experienced “collapsing the wrong universe” at least once. Unless, this is that version of Coil that exists every single time in the Universe of his choosing.

            • As far as the number of universes goes, any finite number greater than one is nonsense. If Coil’s power actually allows him to simultaneously perceive two distinct universes, those universes were identical up to the point where he chose to use his power to make one choice in one and a different choice in the other. If multiple universes exist, for each choice you make, in another universe which was otherwise identical, you made a different choice. Coil’s power allows him to examine one such pair and determine which of the two he prefers.

          • I imagine his power is a little like Labyrinth’s. He superimposes the two universes so that both are simultaneously true, and then in classic Schrodinger style decides which one becomes ‘true’.

  1. Well, either this was a set-up because the Protectorate knew the Mayor was a target or it just plain ‘luck’ that somehow the Mayor just happens to have parahuman relatives.

    Either way, I have trouble believing Coil didn’t know about this in some way. He knew their was going to be heroes there and their probably a factor on his plan to get rid of Skitter. Probably to take advantage of her ‘saving people’ habit and get her captured before having some his inside men take her out.

    • Actually Triumph probably bought his power; it seems like a lot of the heroes did that. It might also explain how Gallant got his since it’s mentioned he was wealthy. And whether its because of the money they have for buying powers or the needed support network to prevent them from becoming villains a lot of the heroes seem well connected. So it is more likely that the Mayor would have parahuman relatives than someone else; still unlikely though. It probably wasn’t planned as a trap or they wouldn’t have had so many civilians there- a lot of them could have been killed if the villains were going all out.

  2. I hung up, then paused to think. Was she not talking using the swarm?
    I was the furthest away from our destination, and consequently the last to arrive.
    And the line. I was a little early, which meant I could afford to take the time to prepare.
    Do not go well together. Hope this helps you. I read your story first when on break. Great work. Thanks

  3. Hmm. The whole ‘planning to kill you’ thing is just so interesting. It’s almost certain that Coil is only intending to kill Skitter in _this_ world, but the reasoning could be any number of things. To see whether the Undersiders would betray him. To see whether Tattletale specifically would betray him. To see whether all the Undersiders BUT Tattletale would betray him (who, in this hypothetical scenario is in fact perfectly loyal). Or, as the thought just occured to me, perhaps to see if making Skitter paranoid would improve how successful she is. That might require a bit of forethought though..

    Futhermore, I’m really curious about what _precisely_ the goal is in this event. Coil is apparently part of the Terminus project. Coil hoped to take over the city via the elections. His current plan involves intimidating the current Mayor. Is he hoping that the Mayor or his family will get killed somehow (and Skitter’s death may be connected in a ‘cover-up loose ends’ sort of way)? Is this just Wildbow’s way of introducing the Mayor to the story before the election occurs. Is this all a ridiculously elaborate way of ticking off Skitter so much that she decides to try and assassinate him, waiting until the elections are occuring to find out his secret identity, which will then be foiled in such a way that Coil will gain huge amounts of good PR from having villains try to kill him?

    …Well no, probably not that last one. But hey, for some reason my plot-twist sense is currently telling me that Coil is probably Skitter’s dad, so I’d say it’s safe to conclude my instincts are very silly anyway.

  4. Nice negotiation skills there Trickster, threatening a little girl now is an awesome way to convince someone not to bulldoze your city later. Good thing you didn’t let Skitter handle the PR, the standoff might have lasted more than two minutes, can’t have that!

    I don’t think Coil’s plan is quite what everyone else thinks it is. If I were to take a shot in the dark I’d say that his plan pretty much amounts to setting up the Tricksters and Undersiders as cruel warlords just so he can use that in the campaign for his mayoral candidate.

    Make sure the city get’s as bad as it can with the villains ruling it so he can have his guy promise to clean it up, and when he gets elected he blitzes his fellow villains with the small army he’s got going.

    He’s probably counting on Trickster to trainwreckify this operation so his campaign can push the retake Brockton campaign home, and he wants Skitter dead because she’s actually cleaning things up.

    That’s what I think anyway. Coil doesn’t seem to be the feudal overlord type.

    • I haven’t posted anything yet, given my read through is most of a decade late, but for this one I couldn’t take it.

      Glad I’m not the only one to see what this looks like: A heroic mayor fearlessly facing off horrifying, murderous villains who admit to attempting to seize power over an American city. Two young heroes connected to this rising-star politician, forced to reveal their identities when one of the monsters threatens a photogenic child.

      If, hypothetically, this scene “happened” to be recorded, and “happened” to be shown to the voters in the last days before the election while the Travelers and some of the Undersiders rush violently to take power….

      Hypothetically, that mayor would be in a decisive position to influence and direct events. One good speech at the right moment and he’d be like Obama after the 2004 Convention.

      Of course, it’s also possible the author went in a totally different direction, so I needed to get my prediction in before reading on.

  5. The other spin on this is a rather back-door approach. If the selected team was sent ‘in good faith’ to ‘negotiate’ with the mayor and one of them was killed by a ‘hero’, that would lend itself to a potential PR disaster. Especially given that this is being recorded/monitored/etc. The so-called ‘villains’ didn’t so much “strike first” as “invite themselves in” compared to what they are capable of. They’ve indicated a need for the city to continue to prosper, and for things to improve and not abandon the city.
    As was noted, the “haves” and the “have-nots” are growing increasingly separated, and the “have-nots” were stuck waiting for the faint hope of maybe the government bails them out, maybe not. Meanwhile, in Coiltopia, while they don’t have consistent power or running water or full Internet they’re making do with “what they have” and are trying to clean up, recover, rebuild. Doesn’t take a genius to look at the scenario when allocating disaster relief funds to go “Oh, these people have their stuff together, let’s triage and help them up, then that can spread out to the somewhat more damaged neighborhoods leaving only the truly condemned to be demolished. One needs only look at Katrina in New Orleans, or the East Coast right now after Sandy to see how this ball rolls.

    • Skitter’d make a damn good choice for a PR death if Coil knows her identity. Imagine it, supervillain killed by heroes turns out to be the young bookish daughter of a tireless civil servant, driven to psychosis by bullying and the disasters visited upon the city, and tragically cut down in sight of the mayor. She becomes a symbol of how far the city has fallen and how little the government cares.

      Give it to the media, plaster it all over the national press, news docs, features, the workThat’ll make somebody look like an asshole, and a smooth operator like Coil probably has spin doctors coming out the wazoo.

    • I was surprised Skitter didn’t end up commenting on the heroes and Mayor having a nice meal in their mansion while the city suffers.

      “I worked hard for this position-!”

      “Skitter yelling about how they haven’t done a damn thing to help anyone and now they’re talking about further ruining people from within their ivory tower so to speak.”

      In any case I love seeing some Skitter civilian interaction again, hasn’t really happened in a while, not like this at least. If you ever do like a bunch of alternate shorts Wildbow then seeing this with Skitter doing the talking would be cool. Actually even Genesis could probably have done that better. Trickster was way too cocky.

    • Attention: Wildbow
      Subject: This is how you do anvilicious

      The little girl hostage is a problem. I gotta tell you, something else exemplifies the divide between rich and poor even more. Superpowers.

      They’re in a situation where the rich can just by powers for themselves. That way, they’re not even as mortal as anyone else. The people you have enforcing your laws (and evicting your protestors from Wall Street and the nice neighborhoods where the wealthy live) that get even more power over the lives of other people are more likely to be the moneyed types.

      Pissed at your boss firing you just because President Obama won reelection? Wanting to picket him? Too bad, because that bad boss, like Robert E. Murray of Murray Energy, a coal company, is probably the hero that’s going to fly by and punch your face in while the news calls him a hero for fighting dirty Occupy-style protestors who want communist rape (that particular news channel throws around “communist” so much you can tell they don’t want people to know what it means).

      Now now, maybe the timing’s just odd, right? Maybe, except that before he began firing people (fuck the term layoffs. Call it what it is) he said a prayer. A prayer to Yahweh (he called him God though) about how the takers outvoted the producers and how the country voted to move away from the Founders, economic responsibility, capitalism, and personal acceptance. That’s the kind of guy who justifies a lot of things based on his own personal view of a higher power. Perhaps he’s secretly Inquisition-Man.

      But I’m sure in a universe of superheroes, having Murray Man and Captain Coal, or whatever bright colorful name they go by, would also help to influence voters. I mean, these are the people that fly around saving people. They aren’t in it because they are selfish, or attention whores (like me), or just like to beat people up. And even if they are, some have argued here, why should it matter since they’re still doing good things? Endorsements by superheroes carry much weight, you think? After all, could they really be so bad that their personal agenda shouldn’t be supported?

      Or how about if you dislike said company, Murray Energy, based in Ohio, dumping coal slurry into Captina Creek. Want to investigate so you can get the EPA out there? Or would you just rather protest it? Either way, watch out for Murray Man swooping in to save his own day. I’m sure he won’t dump things in there an eigth time.

      (P.S., The guy really did do that. On top of that, he also forced his workers to attend a Romney rally without being paid for the time they weren’t working. Because, you know, not like coal miners need the hours at work anyway, am I right?)

      (P.P.S., I’m not doing this to bring up the election or cause any more bad feelings some people have about it. I’m just targeting a man who is basically the living caricature of every time the Republicans were called rich out of touch assholes. A coal CEO who would rather throw a tantrum and pray to god while firing 156 people after an election because communism (somehow). And you know what? It’s probably legal there. Don’t have to give a reason in some states (not sure if that’s most or just some though). I’m sure unions have pushed for laws to change that, but unions are also supposedly dirty communists who want to redistribute your Jesus and that kind of law would be bad for job creators(I’m translating to a certain channel’s lingo there).)

      • I understand all of that, but I’m not sure how the ‘Attention Wildbow’ and ‘This is how you do anvilicious’ come into play. Sorry. Not following the train of thought.

        • Nothing negative towards you, nor was that part meant to be all serious. I just remembered someone saying Worm was real anvilicious and I figured that this comment went far above how you normally do it. At times, I’m about as subtle as an angry swan thrown at someone with a brick attached. And it was kind of a warning that I was dropping an anvil, I suppose.

  6. Or of course, an ‘assassination ploy’ that involves sending a villain unaware to intentionally tick off a pair of high profile heroes is pretty damn clever. Coil doesn’t have to pay for an assassin or anything. Pretty sure Triumph could do just about anything to Trickster and Skitter up to and including sonically beating them within an inch of their lives, and it would all be smoothed over by his dad the Mayor.

    • actually, Trickster fucked this up completely when he put a gun to the head of a 8-12 year old girl. he WAS the first one to offer violence (teleporting her, threatening her) and to a little child. at that point, Triumph could beat them to death and he’d still be the hero – and even if not, no jury would convict him for loosing self-control at the sight of his baby sister having a gun put to her head!

      also, I was kinda hoping that Taylor’s dad would have been there, maybe as a member of the delegation, to discuss stuff with the mayor. that would have been deliciously AWKWARD.

  7. Wild mass guessing: Coil is NOT planning to kill off Taylor, but telling her he is makes her more cautious and increases her chance of surviving all the people who ARE trying to kill her, or in some other way makes her do what is wanted of her.

    In other words, it’s just Tattletale pushing her buttons.

    • Or maybe he’s not planning to kill her at all, but Tattletale is telling her that because it’s increases her chances of succeeding in and surviving the Dinah rescue attempt.

    • Yeah, I’ve been thinking all her precautions are a bit too front-and-centre in Taylor’s thinking to actually pay off. Either there isn’t actually any plan on her life, or it’s going to come from some direction that makes her preparations all useless.

  8. a prime example of what ballistic was saying about trickster stepping up to make the wrong choices.
    after seeing this in action I can imagine trickster acting like this in the past, leading them to where they are now.

  9. Good job! Great again as always!
    It looks as if coil has decided to take out the two that hold the groups together. Leaving a vacuum that makes the teams more reliant on him. I am curious how many times he has sent them to “persuade” the mayor and used his ability to try and off them next time.

    • I thought so, until he finally noticed the words and his attention to them caused Triumph to notice. Combined with his hostage taking, I think we’re seeing some of those mistakes the travelers are so bitter about.

      • Or he could just be stupid. Someone once say “Never attribute to Malice, what can’t be explained by incompetence.” There is a name for it, but I just can’t remember what it is. Regardless, his power probably affected his thinking and confidence. His power lets him escape from most dangerous situations pretty easily. So he is confident and a bit arrogant. It actually reminds me about how cocky Glory Girl was, and it didn’t end well for her. Skitter in contrast has a power that forces her to be cautious, to think how to get the best use of her abilities, and she has learned not to underestimate people after the Fletchette incident.

        • Hanlon’s Razor is what it is called.”Do not attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity” though I might be paraphrasing. Your version conveys the same message anyway.

          Or as a friend of mine put it “Stupid is easier than evil. Evil takes work.”

          Which is true, you know. There’s a lot of research. The strength of ATMs, how strong someone needs to be to throw a slot machine, information about chemical weapons like blood agents, nerve agents, irritants, and hallucinogens, examining the damage caused by Tsar Bomba for comparisons, and all kinds of other things, planning a bank heist (entrance, deal with hostages, what to take, how many people to carry, escape, contingencies…).

          Really, heroes just have to show up and fight. Very reactive most of the time, so not as much mental work involved.

          Dumb villains just never do as well as dumb heroes because of that.

  10. …In a land where the powerful have become superpowerful…

    …A city lies in ruins. Brockton Bay’s heroes have their own priorities. What happens when it’s up to the villains to save the day?

    “Thank you for hearing me out.”

    “It was the least I could do, after the help you’ve offered my friends and family.”

    One girl steps up to the task. One girl, betrayed by her country and her boss, on a rescue mission to save someone she doesn’t care about from the evil superheroes who feast, their families protected by the police while so many others live in post-apocalyptic conditions.

    “All you have going for you is violence and intimidation. You can’t accomplish anything but destruction that way.”

    This winter, coming to a theater near you it’s “Worm: The Colony”.

    “Well,” Trickster said, cutting me off, “If you insist, who am I to argue?”

    Worm: Prepare to be skullfucked by awesome.

    Learn more at
    Genoscythe the Eyeraper is a copyright of Gekko Tech International.

  11. Clearly, Trickster and Skitter weren’t playing out of the same playbook. Trickster saw her words and ignored them because antagonizing the Mayor’s people was always the plan.

    Of course, he had no idea they were capes too … a veritable Just As Planned from Coil.

      • We still don’t know his identity. So he could actually be connected to the heroes. It was mentioned in the last interlude that Alexandria has a dual identity in the Protectorate and no one is the wiser. For all we know, he could be Piggot’s husband.

    • Coil’s a Grade A threat. Do the heroes have a precog, or the ability to try everything twice?

      Besides, the heroes also have a lot on their plate. The Pure, the rest of the Chosen and the Merchants, common criminals, uncommon criminals, Coil’s minions…

  12. Once again, Taylor runs headlong into danger, trying to accomplish her evil mission while limiting collateral damage in order to advance her broader good agenda. Her reaction to the possibility of her own assassination seem to lend a certain pointedness to Grue’s past thoughts and words. This makes me hope that he might influence her to care more about herself and release some of the bottomless ocean of guilt she’s carrying around.

    In some ways, I think Trickster’s tendency to step up and make decisions is a bit like Taylor’s, although it’s interesting to note that Taylor has probably the best relationships with her team, out of all its members, while Trickster doesn’t seem particularly liked. I also find myself wondering how many kills Trickster has under his belt, and how many were intentional vs. incidental. The Travellers’ scuffle with the Wards and other events have shown that he seems to be far less careful about not hurting people than his teammates, at times, and I certainly can’t imagine Sundancer pointing a gun at a kid. IIRC, even Ballistic was intentionally giving the Wards extra warning to ensure they weren’t hurt.

    Also interesting how Triumph reacted in this situation. Not a lot of subtlety, given that his family was in the room. I like to think I would have been a bit more cautious in his position. If nothing else, you could hear out Trickster’s offer/threat without escalating the situation at all. Hell, you could always just say “we’ll go along with what you want,” then have the PRT guarding the family when the mayor does the opposite and wait for the Travellers/Undersiders to come back. Confrontation is not the best move in this scenario, and I’d be more concerned about my family’s safety than my pride. Given two-on-three odds with civilians in play, i think fighting another day would be better, especially since it would preserve secret IDs.

    Of course, once Trickster pointed a gun at his sister there was no way this wouldn’t get violent and complicated. I find myself strongly wanting to know what other calls he’s made that Ballistic didn’t like.


  13. Not sure but possibly a mistake in:
    “And give them a chance to scatter? I’d have to divide the swarm to cut each group of people off, which would mean less bugs for each, smaller effect overall.”
    Perhaps less should be fewer, since bugs are countable:
    “And give them a chance to scatter? I’d have to divide the swarm to cut each group of people off, which would mean fewer bugs for each, smaller effect overall.”

    • The less versus fewer thing has me thinking. I wonder if Skitter sees her bugs as part of a collective swarm, or even part of herself. She uses “less” because it’s less of her power, less of her attention, rather than a number of individual bugs.

    • Came back to re-read the beginning of the confrontation with the Mayor for clarification, and this time I noticed a few nit-picks:

      Skitter’s bugs find family in dining room. Genesis and bugs crash through kitchen window, then, “[family] turned to run, naturally, running for the door that led to the kitchen and to the hallway.” Are the dining room and kitchen a common room (not in most mansions)? Was the initial burst into the same space as the family? Should that be ‘door led FROM the kitchen to the hallway’? Spatial confusion here.

      “[Trickster] had hopped up to the ledge of the ground-floor window …”
      Didn’t it have screen or plywood (previously established)? Need to get him through that in-story.

      ” … phone was torn from his hand and bounced off of the window pane … ” Already established ‘no panes after Shatterbird’, so, off the frame, maybe?

      Skitter has started using that ‘surreptitiously winding silk loosely around fingers, arms, ankles, neck, etc,’ trick a LOT. But I would definitely FEEL it and react if it was bare skin. (I notice when my own long hair tickles bare skin!) It’s starting to seem implausible to sneak it in so often. (between Rory’s fingers and his phone, using Bugs?!?! NOT likely.) Need to use it only where it is not likely to be felt.

      • Do you notice your hair on your skin during a tense semi hostage situation involving your family? Also spider silk =/= hair and there’s no reason to suppose the bugs ever contacted skin. I don’t find that particular instance (or any I can think of thus far) much of a stretch at all.

      • Trickster coming through the window: isn’t this the same window Genesis just smashed through getting in there? If so, whatever was covering it isn’t anymore.

  14. >“But,” he continued, “I will speak to her through a liason.”


    >[…]then got my laptop out to prepare. I was a little early, which meant I could afford to take the time to prepare.

    I’d cut the last ‘to prepare’. Just a stylistic preference on my part, though. Maybe replace ‘take the time’ with ‘spare some time’, in the same vein.

    >In any other circumstance, I’d back down, leave Coil’s employ. But I was willing to brave this if it meant keeping her and her freedom in my reach.

    WWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYY? Why are you so obsessed? Why are you so stupid? Goddamnit, Taylor! This isn’t even a reasonable or good obsession!

    I hate myself for thinking of shitty Skyrim memes every time Triumph shows up.

  15. Trickster should NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES be allowed to lead a mission. I’m not sure what you had planned for his character wilbow, but EVERY time we have seen him plan something the plan dies immediately on contact with the enemy. Even when the plans of coil or the undersiders go south things recover quickly and it;s because the enemy’s just that badass, not because the plan sucks.

  16. How did Trickster have no idea that he was talking to Skitter’s “clone” (her latest brilliant adaptation of her power!)? Also, what happened to the cops that were there? Trickster was talking about having to fight them, then suddenly he was in the house. Did the fight happen offscreen?

    Also, did I miss some previous interaction between Skitter and Parian? Why is Skitter so determined to recruit Parian all of a sudden?

  17. Someone had to of planned this. The chances of two heroes being there during dinner? Either there’s a worm in the group or Coil is really good at setting up traps.

    • Or the two heroes really are the Mayor’s kids. We already know he had one other child capable of gaining powers, afterall…

  18. “I felt Parian receive the cell phone, a few blocks away, pulling it to her hand with telekinesis.”
    Isn’t this the first time we’ve seen any kind of demonstration of Parian’s power that didn’t have to do with arts and crafts?? Is her power just simple telekinesis? If so why does she only use it to make giant stuffed animals?

  19. If the goal was to make the Mayor so much as listen, this plan (starting with intimidation right away) looks incredibly stupid. I’m surprised Skitter agreed to it.
    Then again, IF that’s the goal.

  20. Why did Trickster not realize that it was one of her clones?
    Did she already learnt how to talk without the “buzz”? At least at evening she was not able to do that when she talked to Parian.
    And how is it even possible that the Bugs looks like humans? I cannot see how they would stand on two “legs” and be steady.

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