Colony 15.9

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I had two different heroes to deal with, one of whom I couldn’t identify yet.  That posed something of a problem: each likely possibility for the heroine’s identity made for a very different scenario in how this fight could play out.

Process of elimination had told me that Rory would be one of the local heroes, because there weren’t any prominent male villains who I couldn’t identify with their masks off; Coil had outed Empire Eighty-Eight, which had split into the Chosen and the Pure and everyone else had been eliminated or driven out of the city.  I’d identified him as Triumph from his build.  Assault and Cache weren’t as muscular, the Wards were younger and smaller, and the remainder of local heroes were women.  That had been easy enough once I’d pegged him as a cape.

His ‘girlfriend’ was harder to pin down, both as a cape and in terms of her costumed identity.  I’d read her confidence and judged that she wasn’t terrified enough to be ignorant about Rory’s secret.  She probably wasn’t a civilian in the know, either, because she hadn’t been cowering behind Rory.

Going by her appearance, I didn’t think she could be Miss Militia or Battery.  Her blonde hair didn’t fit, for one thing, and she was too tall, too muscular.  She had to be one of the two female capes who came to Brockton Bay with Legend.  It was critical that I figure out which of the two she was before getting into a fight with her.  Prism was a duplicator who could consolidate into one body to get a temporary boost in strength, speed and durability.  Maybe other areas too.  Fighting her would mean staying out of close-quarters combat at any cost.

Ursa Aurora, by contrast, summoned ghostly ‘bears’ onto the battlefield.  On a level, she’d want to fight like I preferred to, relying on her minions while staying out of the thick of things.

Two possibilities, each requiring very different tactics to handle.

I set my bugs on her and her alone in the hopes of forcing her hand.  Atlas had returned to my side, and I made sure to collect Triumph’s phone before climbing on.

Triumph had picked up Trickster’s limp body and was mounting a fighting retreat in the direction the heroine and his family had gone.  He shouted again and again, controlling the magnitude, force and breadth of each strike to hit the maximum number of bugs with just enough force that he was killing or crippling them without destroying the house.

Walls of bugs pressed against the exits of the house.  If they escaped before I got there, I wasn’t sure I’d catch up.  Triumph would be able to run faster than I could, Ursa Aurora could presumably ride her bears like Bitch rode her dogs, and Prism had the ability to move faster after consolidating her clones into one person again; if she didn’t run faster than me, the little boost she got there would keep her far enough ahead.

There was the family holding them back, yes, but there was also the possibility that there was a vehicle they could all climb into.  I could maybe keep up while riding Atlas, but I wouldn’t be able to mount a serious attack while doing so.

I suspected the makeshift bug-barriers wouldn’t hold up.  They wouldn’t stand up to Triumph’s shouts, and Ursa Aurora could summon her ‘bears’.  That was if they didn’t choose to just charge through.

I needed more redundancies.  More fallback plans.  I began drawing out lines of silk at the lower half of the doorframes, while gathering the bulk of my bugs in the upper halves.

The question was, would they go through the doors or would they settle for the windows?  Would human habit triumph over slightly more abstract thinking?

The heroine led the way, already under attack from hundreds of bugs.  She grabbed a coat from the nearby rack and draped it over herself for cover against the swarm as she threw herself headlong into it.

Her legs caught on the tripwire and she tumbled down the stairs.  I rebuilt the barrier of bugs behind her, condensing it to the point that they couldn’t see through.

I directed fly-borne spiders to extend threads around the heroine’s arms and legs, as well as her fingers.  After a moment’s consideration, I started packing them in her pockets, sending bugs crawling beneath her clothes.

Right.  A gun at her ankle.  I set spiders to the task of binding that up too.

Maybe she’s a PRT officer?  Gun, no apparent powers?

None of the rest of the family seemed willing to try exiting by the same door after she’d disappeared into the cloud of bugs and promptly shrieked.  Okay.  That meant I’d separated the family from the woman.  Triumph would catch up to them in a moment, so I had to make the most of this advantage if I was going to slow them down further.

I began moving the bugs from the door towards the family, simultaneously bringing more bugs in behind them.

They quickly realized they were cornered and backed into the nearby closet, closing it behind them.  I could sense them throwing coats and boots down at the gap between the bottom end of the closet door and the ground, trying to block my bugs from getting in.

Not quite good enough to stop the bugs, but I could leave them where they were.

As I was arriving on the property, the heroine was partially disabled and Triumph was en route.  Genesis would be pulling herself back together in another body, I supposed, but that wasn’t so reassuring – the heroine had made a call to the PRT and there would be reinforcements on the way.

Okay.  How was I supposed to do this?  I had to deal with Triumph, but he was shutting down my swarm.  I’d probably lose in a straight up fight as well.  Whatever damage my bugs were doing with bites and stings, it wasn’t enough to bring him down.  He’d kicked a long oak table that had to weigh six hundred pounds at a bare minimum, sent it skidding across the room.  There was no doubt he had some superhuman physique.  That same advantage might be giving him the ability to hold out against what my bugs were doing.

I was forced to scale up, to start injecting more than the trace amounts of venom, and I was all too aware of how easy it was to go too far or go over the top.

Life would be so much easier if I didn’t give a damn about other people’s well-being.

But I wouldn’t be able to step up my attack without getting more bugs on him, and I wouldn’t be able to do that without a different tactic.  I began pulling my bugs out of the house and gathering them.  By the time Triumph found his way to the hallway where his family was hiding in the closet, the bugs were almost entirely gone.

There were too few bugs there for me to catch it, but someone in the closet must have made a noise, because Triumph made a beeline right for them.  He stopped when he saw the heroine outside the door, lying on the ground under a carpet of bugs.

He said something to his family that was probably along the lines of ‘stay there’ and headed for the door.  He could see the human shaped figures I’d molded out of bugs and positioned around the lawn and proceeded to gun them down one by one.  His shouts were short, on target and devastatingly effective.

The heroine was starting to get free.  Two additional versions of herself had appeared next to her, quickly searching out and cutting the silk cords that bound her.  At least I knew who I was up against, now.

Damn it.  Unlike Oni Lee, Prism didn’t materialize her duplicates along with whatever additional baggage her original self had.  None of the restraints and none of the bugs hampered her copies.  Not to mention that her guns were probably free as well.  I quickly directed Atlas to the roof and took cover in case she spotted me and decided to open fire.

“Sam!” Triumph shouted.

One of the duplicates turned to look at him, her eyes widening.  She shouted, “Careful!  Tripwire!”

He jumped at the last second, hopping over the tripwire.


He landed on the stairs and stumbled.  The entirety of his focus was on the tripwire, on the stairs beneath his feet and on his attempt to keep from falling down the stairs with his unconscious burden.  During the Slaughterhouse Nine fiasco, it had come up that our species was pretty bad at looking up.

I’d pulled bugs out of the hallway and from around the backyard and gathered them above the door, with airborne bugs helping by ferrying the slower moving ones up to a higher vantage point.  I gave the command at the same time that Prism shouted her warning, and the bugs dropped down onto Triumph’s head.

Bugs tended to be very durable when it came to falling from high places.  It had something to do with the amount of air resistance when compared to their surface area or mass.  Something like that.  Either way, it barely did any damage to my swarm when they fell to the ground.

For Triumph, on the other hand, he was dealing with the sudden appearance of enough bugs that I could have formed three or four densely-packed swarm clones from their number, on top of the fact that he was carrying Trickster, who had to weigh one hundred and thirty or one hundred and forty pounds.  It probably didn’t help that he was standing on a staircase and was already somewhat off-balance.

The timing proved to be lucky for me.  As strong as Triumph was, a strike at the right moment could still knock him off-balance.  I’d seen Alexandria do something like that to Leviathan, knocking something as big and horribly strong as the Endbringer to the ground.

Blind and struck at an opportune moment, Triumph fell.  I swept the bugs over him.  There was no room for holding back or playing nice.  I sent bugs into his nose and mouth, into his ear canals and biting at folds and crevices below the belt.

I could have been squeamish about that, but that would require thinking in too much depth about what I was doing.

I attacked his more sensitive areas, including the insides of his mouth, the sensitive edges of his nostrils and the insides of his ears.  Others stung and bit at his eyelids.  Some of my capsaicin-laced bugs flew from my cover at the roof’s edge to Triumph and Prism.  I directed them to the vulnerable mucus membranes of the eye, the nose, the mouth – and again, beneath the belt – the urinary tract and anus.

The most important thing was to keep him from getting his bearings and dealing with the bugs.  I wasn’t sure I’d be able to catch him by surprise a second time.

There was a secondary goal, too.  We’d come here for a reason.  If it came down to it, the mayor might change his tune once he’d seen his superhero son brought low.  This was leverage.

Prism was back on her feet, alongside her two copies.  I was forced to split my bugs among them.  What rules did she follow in terms of consolidating?  How did she pull back together, and what happened to injuries?  I knew she could survive if one copy was taken out of action.  If she had a knife wound on one body of the three she had active, did it stay? Or did the damage get divided to only a third of what it should be?

Whatever abuse my swarm was inflicting on her, she wasn’t activating or deactivating her power like I might if I had her abilities at my disposal.  In her shoes I’d be splitting, spreading out, then consolidating into the body furthest from the bulk of the swarm.  My secondary goals would be getting to a vantage point where I could shoot down my assailant.  If I assumed she’d use the same basic tactic against me…

I began gathering bugs around myself for additional cover and for a potential counterattack.

I swept some bugs over the surrounding landscape while I waited for her to either decide on a plan of attack or succumb to the bugs.  No threat of imminent attack by Coil.

It was spooky, having that hanging over my head.  I almost wished he’d attack already and get it over with.

I couldn’t be sure how she spotted me, but Prism turned my way.  Maybe it was the size of the cloud of bugs I had around me.  It was almost a good thing that I had her attention.  I had to take her out of action as soon as superhumanly possible if I wanted to get Trickster out of here before the reinforcements arrived.

She backed up, spreading out across the lawn.  One copy swatted at the bugs that crawled on her, another was gagging and coughing from the capsaicin, but they seemed to be holding out remarkably well.

One by one, they started towards me, running across the lawn.  I did what I could to obstruct and hamper them, but the rightmost copy slipped past the line of my bugs and bent down, the other copies snapping back into her body.  She flashed with light as she leaped with incredible strength.  She arced through the air until she was higher than the rooftop, set to land in front of me.

I sent the swarm forward to meet her, lines of silk stretched between them.  If I could disrupt her landing or even push her back enough that she missed the roof-

She split into three copies in mid-air.  The swarm caught the central one and tangled it.  It landed hard on the roof and rolled, falling a solid twenty feet to the ground, while the other two landed and skidded for a grip on the shallow slope of the building.  An instant later, she split off a replacement third, surrounding me.

Okay.  This wasn’t as bad as it looked.  I had Atlas.  Yes, she could shoot him -and me- out of the air, but I had an escape route and this terrain suited me fairly well.  The shingled roof had a shallow slope leading to gargoyles and gutters at the edges, but I stood at the roof’s peak, giving me the steadiest footing.

She was pacing, each of her copies slowly moving clockwise around me as they searched for a glimpse of me or some weakness.  I was doing much the same, trying to think of an approach that would work here.

What did I know about her?  Prism was one of Legend’s people, which meant it was very likely she was being groomed to manage her own team somewhere.  Or she was considered effective enough to warrant fighting at Legend’s side.  She would be good, if nothing else.  In a way, that was useful to me.  Any points where I’d had the advantage would be pretty indicative of her limits and weaknesses, since I wouldn’t necessarily have to account for mistakes, accidents and idiocy on her part.

She hadn’t immediately opened with her duplicates.  Why?  Did she have a reserve of power she drew on?  Some restriction on when or where she could duplicate herself?

I’d seen her fight alongside Battery when they’d been tackling Mannequin.  They’d paced the fight so each of them took turns.  It made me think that maybe she needed to charge before she made her duplicates.  It would explain why she hadn’t made them the second I’d outed them as superheroes.  That, or she’d had another reason and she needed time to recharge after using her power.

One of her copies rubbed at her eye, then disappeared.  She replaced it with a version of herself that wasn’t suffering.  That’s one question answered, sort of.

It was all too easy to see how she’d gotten this far.  I couldn’t keep all three versions of her in sight at the same time and taking her out of action necessitated taking all three versions of her down before her power recharged.  Couple that with how hard and fast she could hit?  She could be a nightmare.

Could be a nightmare.  Emphasis on the could.  I countered her powers, in large part.  If my suspicions were right, I had some kind of enhanced multitasking as a side-benefit of my powers.  I wasn’t limited to seeing with just my eyes, so her circling me wasn’t such a drawback, either.  And I could easily attack all three at once.

The trick would be doing it without giving her an avenue for attack.  She seemed reluctant to charge blindly into the swarm, but I was equally reluctant to use those same bugs to attack when I needed them for cover.  If I waited, her reinforcements would arrive, which put the pressure on me to end this.

I let out one deep breath, then carried out my plan of attack.  I unwound the silk cords I’d gathered and climbed off Atlas, sending him out with one, taking hold of another.  Crouching to make myself a smaller target, I sent my bugs out to carry the string.

She moved to try to find a point where the swarm was thinner, while avoiding the clusters of bugs.  It wasn’t quite fast enough.

I’d used my silk to grab Triumph’s cell phone and yank it from his hand.  I did much the same thing here.  One silk cord wound around the throat of Prism A, masked by the presence of bugs.  Another wound around the leg of Prism B.

In the same moment I pulled on the cord leading to Prism B’s leg, Atlas pulled back on the cord leading to Prism A’s throat and my swarm bull-rushed Prism C, aiming to drive her off the roof through sheer force of numbers, surprise and the pull of silk cords.

A and B fell from the roof, then promptly disappeared, consolidating into C.  She flashed with a light I could see through the dense cloud of my swarm and charged forward.  In a heartbeat, she was out of my swarm and capable of seeing me.

Prism reached down to her ankle and grabbed for her gun.  It didn’t come free of the holster.

She could come with baggage she wasn’t aware of?  She had some control.  Maybe she had to go out of her way to exclude certain matter or material from her duplicates?

She formed two new duplicates, and I caught a glimpse of them pulling their guns free before I was back in the cover of my swarm.

At my bidding, Atlas flew low, close to the building where he was out of sight of the rooftop.  He circled around until he was behind me.

I formed a crude swarm-clone and then stepped back onto Atlas.  I didn’t sit, but relied instead on control of his flight and the angles he moved to help match my own balance.  We swiftly descended to the ground as the part of my swarm that wasn’t dedicated to forming my double moved forward to attack once more.  I could hear and feel Prism firing blind into the center mass of the swarm.  She was mad now.  I’d nearly taken her out.

Had to think ahead.  She would use the same tactic as before, consolidating to barrel through, she’d see my decoy and attack it, then come looking for me.

I reused the cord that I’d had around her foot, winding it around one gargoyle.  The trick was figuring out which copy I’d target.  This wouldn’t work if she unmade the copy to supercharge one of the other ones.

I’d have to bait her.

My bugs tied the silk around one of her wrists, letting the rest sit slack against the rooftop.

As I’d expected, the three of her appeared at the edge of the roof, looking down to the ground to find me.  I was already heading for Triumph, putting myself roughly between them and him.  It would serve two purposes, the primary purpose being that it would give them reason to think twice before shooting.

They leaped, then consolidated with a flash of light before they hit ground, to absorb the impact with superior strength and durability.

Only the silk thread connected the gargoyle to the Prism-duplicate closest to me.  She didn’t make it all the way to the ground.  In the blink of an eye, she was whipped sideways, one arm hyperextended.  She dangled for a second or two before the silk gave way and she fell to the ground.

The power boost was temporary enough that she wasn’t invincible as she made her awkward landing.

I hurried to where Triumph and Trickster were.

Triumph had managed to move a short distance away before collapsing again, and remained buried beneath a pile of my bugs.  He wasn’t doing well.  It was very much what I’d been concerned about at the outset, going a little too far.  On their own, the choking bugs, the inflammation from the capsaicin and the stings weren’t too bad, but together?

I eased up on him just a bit.

A quick survey of the area told me that there weren’t any imminent threats in the vicinity.  Prism wasn’t standing back up.  There was a kernel of something where Genesis was rebuilding a body.  The policeman Trickster had swapped with was making his way back here, and other cops were en route as well.  I still had a minute or two.  The mayor, I noted, had left the closet, heading for a room lined with bookcases and cabinets.

My swarm sense allowed me to feel him opening one cabinet, unlocking and opening a drawer beneath.  He retrieved a shotgun from the cabinet above and a box of ammunition from the drawer.

I could have taken him out right there, hit him hard with my bugs.  I didn’t.  I’d have to leave after that, and I could almost believe that he’d be angry, that he’d argue for the city to be condemned with even more fervor than he might have otherwise.  This could backfire if we simply left him wounded.

Instead, I focused on building up several swarm-decoys before he could make his way to the back door.  I lifted Trickster up and draped him across Atlas’ back, binding him in place with silk thread.

The mayor had loaded the gun by the time he was in the doorframe.  He must have overheard Prism shouting about the tripwire, because he moved fairly gingerly through the threshold.  His eyes roved over my massed decoys, his gun drifting from side to side as if he was getting ready to shoot at any instant.

“Mayor,” I spoke to him through one decoy, buzzing and droning the words.

He turned and fired, blowing a hole through its chest.

“Your son is-” another spoke, while the first reformed.

He fired again, blasting the head off the second decoy.

“-Dying” the first finished.

He was in the midst of reloading the shotgun when he stopped.  “What?”

“Suffocating,” I spoke through a third decoy.

“No.  He-”

“Stings aren’t helping,” I began rotating through the decoys, each speaking a different sentence.  “The allergic reaction’s causing his throat to close up.  He can’t swallow.  There are bugs in his mouth, nose and throat.  They’re making a dangerous situation worse.  He can barely even cough to clear his airways to breathe.”

“If I shoot you-” he tightened his grip on his gun.

“My power rewrites the basic behavior patterns of my insects from moment to moment.  If you shoot me, they’ll continue attacking, and there’ll be no chance of getting them to stop.  You’ll be sealing Triumph’s fate.  Rory’s fate.”

“He’s stronger than that,” the mayor said.  He didn’t sound sure.

“We all need to breathe,” I replied.  I could have said more, but I judged it more effective to let the thought sit with the mayor.

I cleared the bugs away from Triumph, giving the mayor a visual of his superhero son lying on the ground, struggling.  To make his struggles a little more pronounced, I briefly increased the pressure, shifting the bugs to limit the available oxygen.  I wasn’t sure exactly how much danger he was in, but he wasn’t doing well.  As much as I wanted to pressure the mayor, I was ready to apply the epipen the second Triumph’s breathing slowed enough.

For long seconds, the only sounds were the small noises that Triumph could manage, gagging, feeble coughing and wheezing.

“You’re going to kill him?”

“I would rather not.”

“He’s my boy,” the mayor said, his voice suddenly choked with emotion.

“Yeah.”  I blinked hard, to clear my own eyes of moisture.  I couldn’t meet his eyes.  I focused my attention on Triumph instead.

“I only ever wanted what was best for him.  I didn’t want this.  Please.”

I couldn’t muster a response.


This time, I thought maybe I could have said something to him.  I deliberately chose to remain silent.

“Hey!” he roared.  He raised his gun, cocking it, “Don’t ignore me!”

Triumph coughed, then his chest heaved.  I forced a bug down his throat to check and found it almost entirely closed up.  I moved the bug away so it wouldn’t block the already limited airway.

“He’s almost stopped breathing,” I said, almost in shock at what this had come to.  I’d been so preoccupied with Prism, I’d pushed things just a bit too far, I’d allowed my bugs to sting him because he was tough enough to take it, but I’d forgotten to account for the other variables, the pepper spray and the reduced air volume thanks to the bugs in his nose and mouth…

I looked at the mayor and found his gun pointing at me.  I spoke with my own voice.

With a calmness that caught me off guard, I said, “It’s not too late.”

The voice of the sixty-ish man who could address whole crowds with conviction and charisma sounded painfully feeble as he spoke, “CPR?”

“Yes.  But primarily this.”  I drew an EpiPen from my utility compartment and held it up.  “Do you know how to use it?”

He shook his head.

“I do,” I told the mayor.

Even as I was painfully aware of Triumph’s slowing struggles, his body swiftly growing weak in the absence of air, I waited.

“Use it!”

Again, I didn’t move, I didn’t respond.  I saw Triumph’s hand close into a fist and then stop.

A person can hold their breath for roughly two minutes… he’s still almost breathing, but how much breath is actually getting in and out of his lungs?

“Use it!” the mayor threatened me with a motion of the gun.

“We both know you can’t use that.  I’m the only one who can save Rory.”

He sounded more like he was trying to convince himself than me, “There’ll be instructions.  There’ll-”

“And if I break the needle in my death throes?  Or if I drop it and you can’t find it in time to read the instructions and deliver it?  Or if a stray shell fragment hits the needle?”

The mayor’s voice was a roar.  It was as if he could will me to act by sheer emotion and volume.  “He’s not moving!  He’s dying!”

“I know.”

Seconds passed.

How long can I wait until I break?

The gun clattered to the grass, the mayor dropping to his knees.  His voice was hollow.  “I’ll give you what you want.  Anything.”

I didn’t waste a second in stepping to Triumph’s side.  I tilted his head to establish the airway, swept my fingers and bugs through to clear away the worst of the blockages and mucus and then pulled his pants down.  I stabbed him in the thigh with the pen.

I couldn’t afford to stay.  I couldn’t be the one to administer the ongoing care Triumph needed.  Coil was still after me, the reinforcements were coming, and I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to leave if I stayed much longer.

“Do you know how to give CPR?” I asked.

“No.  But my wife-”

“Bring her here.  Hurry.”

He practically crawled on all fours in his hurry to get up the stairs and up to where his wife waited in the closet.

“Sorry,” I murmured to Triumph.  “I didn’t want this to go this far.”

He wheezed, a strangled squeal.

“Yeah,” I told him.  “I know.”

The older woman bent over her son and began administering CPR.  I watched a few seconds to ensure she was doing everything right.  I threw a second EpiPen to the mayor.  “In fifteen minutes, if the paramedics aren’t here yet, use that.”

His hands were shaking so violently I was momentarily worried he’d break it.

“Washington,” I told him.  “The city survives.”

He nodded.  There were tears in his eyes, this stubborn man who’d talked so casually with the supervillains who had invaded his home and threatened his family, who’d tried to take me on with a shotgun.

I turned to walk away, my swarm-decoys moving in the same direction.  Before he could think to go back for the shotgun and shoot me in the back, I had a swarm gathered around me, hiding me from view.

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285 thoughts on “Colony 15.9

  1. Skitter is an A-class bad-ass. But I’m pretty sure there goes any chance of her becoming a hero. Nearly killing the Mayor’s son does tend to put a bit of a damper on PR

    • I’m more shocked by the fact that you managed to read those 5k words in 9 minutes. Don’t usually start seeing first comments until the 15-30 minute mark.

    • I keep having this mental image of “Taylor gets caught, forced into the Wards, heroes find out more about her.” Hilarity ensues if she’s the most moral (and ruthless) person on the team, calling out everyone on their behavior.
      “You almost killed the mayor’s son.”
      “You threatened a class of children with a gun. Sophia Hess not only made my life a living hell *because she could*, then ran around trying to kill people because they were *inconvenient.* When the Nine came to town, the villains drove them off, the so-called ‘good guys’ bombed the city. Armsmaster broke the Endbringer Truce for his personal glory. The villains might not be good people, but at least we don’t pretend to be anything but people.”

      But yeah. Good thing those epi pens came in handy! That could have been *really* awkward.

      • See people keep saying things about her possibly being the most moral of the characters, but I think this chapter definitively puts that idea to rest. She was willing to let Triumph die to help support a massive criminal empire. She blew past the ratio of ends justifying the means at this point.

        • Said criminal empire might be the only thing to help save the city and help everyone in it. The government and the heroes aren’t helping anyone. Plus she intends to take down Coil because he crossed a line. Not to mention that it was the height of stupidity for the mayor and the heroes to act like they did. Just say okay to whatever the villains tell you to do, and let them go away. You can still argue whatever you want in Washington afterward as they aren’t going to be standing next to you. Why risk your family? It is like begin mugged, and risking your life by fighting over a wallet. Just give him the wallet. In addition she hated what Trickster did, but she had to save him or the rest of her plan might not work. Her plan doesn’t work, then Dinah doesn’t get saved, and quite a few people don’t get any help. If she tried to go through proper channels, again she fails to help as many people. She also had to use extreme force, otherwise she could have been killed by Triumph. All that being said, YES she crossed a line herself here. She was slowly killing a son in front of his terrified parents to get what she wants. For a greater and selfless goal in the future, but still a morally terrible thing to do by anyone’s standards. Such moral complexity is one of the reason I love Worm. There is no such thing as “hero” and “villain”. It’s complicated. But I do wonder if Triumph got his power from Cauldron, or his dad got it for him.

          That said, yes she crossed a line herself today.

          • “Said criminal empire might be the only thing to help save the city and help everyone in it.” Are you kidding me? Said criminal empire can’t stand without Coil’s continued backing, and there is not a chance in hell that Coil ruling the city will be good for it. The only thing with a real chance at saving the city and getting it back into a state with a chance at a good long term future is the government and local hero groups. At least they won’t be ultimately using the city as a giant nest of criminal activity.

            The reason that Triumph and Prism didn’t just nod their heads and let them go is that it would be wrong. You don’t just let a bunch of thugs that are trying to conquer your city through force and intimidation go when you have the chance to stop them. If a member of the FBI’s most wanted list walked into a police station and threatened the police chief, should they just nod and let him go?

            You are clearly trying to use the idea of the ends justifying the means to make what Taylor did here ultimately ok. The problem is that in this case the ends most certainly don’t justify the means. If Taylor saves Dinah and in return causes the city to fall completely into Coil’s grasp then she would not even be remotely close to balancing the scales.

            She wasn’t just threatening to murder a son in front of his father. She was also threatening to murder a law enforcement agent and trying to overthrow the legitimate local government. Heroes and villains very much exist in this setting, and Taylor has knowingly crossed over to the villain side, and her actions push her farther and farther into that camp every single day.

            It doesn’t matter if Triumph bought his powers, something we haven’t confirmed. What matters is what he chooses to do with them. Triumph chose to help people, Taylor chose to overthrow the government.

            • You make it sound like overthrowing the government is a bad thing? It’s quite clear the government and the governing hero bodies are anything but good. And it’s reinforced for the reader’s sake in the interludes with cauldron and co.

              The city wasn’t in a good place before the story even started and it might well be that as slimy as Coil is if everyone unites under his rule he can help the city recover in the fastest way possible. He’d be doing for his own ends but Skitter and co. plan to overthrow him anyway.

              Taylor wasn’t going to let the boy die, she doesn’t have it in her. She’d have waited as long as she deemed possible and then helped him if the dad didn’t cave. The kid still survived and now Coil will get what he wants.

              The point where you can measure someone on a sliding scale of good or evil has long been passed in this universe.

              Only wish that more of the heroes were privvy to this trope


              • its not even remotely clear that the heroes are bad. you’re wanting this story to be something it isn’t. its like when people hated armaster (the very first time he appeared i mean)or guessed the secret boss was newwave looking to privatize the heroing business. the villains aren’t the good guys fighting against a corrupt/evil prt, this isn’t taking place in wildbow’s south america.

            • it IS still really dumb to tell the terrorist/cartel no to their face when the politician can just smile and nod til they go away…and when in washington? well saving the city will just be the last in a list of broken campaign promises when he stabs them in the back using that exact incident in his argument to condemn it(provided he’d feel reasonably safe afterwards, if not i’m sure he could buy the favor of arguing on the record to preserve it and still have it condemned behind closed doors “over his objections”)

              what his hero son should(possibly would have if he didn’t see skitter out him)have done is just let the father bluff, stand by in case trickster tried to take a hostage(for collateral) or pose an immediate danger…and once they’d gone tail them to a fight that didn’t burn his family.

          • There some implication of bought powers ‘I only wanted what was best for him’ either referring to him joining the protectorate, or him having purchased powers. Given that he is a grown man, I think the purchased powers is more likely.

            • Just for clarification, endochrom, not necessarily relevant to anything you guys are saying or your interpretation there, but Triumph was a member of the Wards until relatively recently (See Agitation arc, where they’re discussing who they’re going to be up against – Triumph is brought up & dismissed as he’d recently graduated to the Protectorate).

          • I actually agree with you that Taylor has crossed the line into a true villain. she did technically just save the city, but through horrible methods. Is it morally right to go outside a corrupt system and use violence to promote a positive change? Depends on the system, the person in question, and who specifically they are using violence against. Triumph and the police would be justified in shooting her. I would like to think that Taylor would eventually have tried to take down Coil, even if he had never taken Dinah. I agree completely that Coil running the city is a bad idea in the long run. But his resources are helping people in the short term. It is like the tag someone wanted to use for the story. Making the wrong choices, for the right reasons. That is definitely Taylor in a nutshell.

          • Skitter herself could fund the restoration of the town with her powers, actually. At least I’m pretty sure she could.

            And she would make a good ruler.

            I can actually see her winning any election that may take place as a write-in candidate.

            • Maybe she could fund it with her powers, but she wouldn’t make a good ruler. Skitter is incapable to plan for more than two days ahead. She’s a tactician, but incapable of strategy and that’ll continue to fuck her up more and more. I really hope Dragon takes her under her wing or this is only going to get worse and worse.

              I mean look at her friends:
              Lisa: Ruthless manipulator
              Bitch: Totally psychotic, more dog than man.
              Brian: Halfway normal, but if he had any smarts he’d already broken with that group.
              Aysha: More issues than brains.
              Regent: Psychopath

              Seriously, Lisa should be the leader of the group, but she’s as incapable of planning as the rest of them. Brian could if he wasn’t so fixed on his sister that he forgets considering the consequences of their action.

              They’re villains because they’re stupid. They’ve all backed themselves into a corner. And Taylor has just put another nail into the coffin. Isn’t there an innoculation against patheticness?

          • mc2rpg, I can’t believe you can read this far in this story and still say things like “law enforcement agent” and “legitimate government.” We have nothing to indicate that Triumph is any more of a “law enforcement agent” than Armsmaster, the Big Three, or Shadow Stalker. He may be a good person, but we have no way of knowing one way or the other. Joining the Protectorate certainly doesn’t give him a pass.

            The “legitimate government” supported the bullies in Taylor’s school, completely failed to stop Bakuda and the ABB, bombed the city with technology it didn’t remotely understand, imprisoned Panacea, utterly failed to provide disaster relief, and was planning on totally abandoning the city and its inhabitants until a “villain” stepped up and forced them to do the right thing.

            In Worm, even more than in the real world, there are no absolute or objective moral truths. The only good lies in doing as Taylor has done: striving at all times to do the best she can with the options available to her, regardless of anyone else’s opinion.

            Also, keep in mind that it was a bluff. She had the epipen and didn’t want to let Triumph die. She pushed the bluff dangerously far and had no way of knowing when it would be too late, but at no point did she intend to kill him. She intended to scare the mayor into doing the right thing, and it worked.

          • Asmora, whether you like it or not Armsmaster and the big three are legitimate law enforcement agents. They go out and stop people like Lung from burning their way through cities. They are appointed and working with a legitimate government elected by the people.

            The legitimate government DID stop Bakuda and the ABB. They had alot of help from the villains, but they pretty clearly didn’t need it to handle the situation. It helped keep the body count down and shorten the crisis, but the villains only banded together to help because the outsider heroes and the national guard moving in would have interfered with their business while they put the ABB down. With regards to Panacea, she volunteered to go to the birdcage, and had committed the acts necessary to earn her place there.
            Also, they ARE providing disaster relief. First they evacuated everyone willing to leave. Then they started bringing in supplies, as seen in Shadow Stalker’s chapter. They are also running cleanup crews and rebuilding efforts. This has been mentioned many times, and we have seen one such crew being run by Taylor’s father. These are all things that happened before Taylor stepped up to run her own relief efforts.

            Finally, the idea that she intended to scare the mayor into doing the right thing isn’t true. Saving the city is in no way necessarily the right thing. The area has been devestated and a huge portion of the population has evacuated and probably won’t come back. Saving it just to turn it and the population over to Coil is even worse.

            Obviously there is no objective moral truth in Worm, that doesn’t somehow make what Taylor is doing here the right thing. Taylor is the main character, but that doesn’t mean her actions are always right.

            • I think the best way to look at the PRT as they stand in Brockton Bay is not as “legitimate government” that needs to be upheld or “corrupt government” that needs to be opposed, but rather as simply another faction, another territory. Just like Skitter and the other warlords, they provide relief, they keep order, they help the people… but only in a fraction of the city. The government’s fraction is just more spread out, less constant.

              One way to look at it is that a government’s right to authority is based on supporting its citizens. With the city in this state, they are about as legitimate as the (benevolent) warlords, and it’s totally legitimate for the ‘villains’ to pressure them to ensure the interests of their people.

              Another way (one I find closer to the truth) is that our protagonists are villains. Yes, this action was morally wrong… but it was also the best way (available to capes perceived as villains) to both accomplish their goals and save the city, helping everyone in it. An evil, but a necessary one.

              Sorry if this isn’t very coherent, I’m once again reading and commenting while procrastinating my writing assignment into the early hours of the morning.

          • mc2rpg, did you miss the Alexandria interlude? The one which made clear that the PRT is corrupt to the core? That it’s a manipulative system that undermines even the questionable principles you are arguing for?

            They are working for the government, in fact the lack of independence in the superheroes is probably the most important difference between the PRT and the Justice League style groups that they are likely meant to make us think of. Given what governments do, there’s nothing intrinsically moral about any of them. Of the top three Legend is the only one who can even begin to make a claim at morality, others have often fallen short in similar numbers.

            Basically they’re legitimate but to claim that this alone makes them okay is to claim that law is the measure of good, above morality. Authoritarianism basically.

            That’s a little selective isn’t it? Why do you give the heroes the benefit of the doubt at all points but the opposite for anyone under the label of villain? Claiming that Panacea deserved the birdcage is just ridiculous though. Canary had a better case than Panacea did, and less reason to keep her out in the clear.
            Yes, they also suck at doing that relief, and frankly they seem to be being disgustingly selective about where they go. The Docks had a lot of people in it, yet there was barely anything going on there.
            Also we don’t know anything about the group Danny was leading, given his job he could very well have just brought people together of his own volition, a la Occupy Sandy right now.

            “Finally, the idea that she intended to scare the mayor into doing the right thing isn’t true.” That’s incredibly misleading. It’s true that we’re not absolutely certain what the right thing is but that doesn’t change that she was attampeting to do what she thought was the right thing. Though I would point out that thousands of people are still here and by this point those left are probably not going to leave no matter what. They’d have done so already. But hey, it’s cool. Leave them to die. That’s better then having a villain running the place…which totally isn’t what was already happening with the guy who is okay with class segregation enforced by extreme violence and brutality.

            • Alexandria,for all her flaws,could make a case for being moral

              A case for being official,or legal on the other hand…

            • Given what governments do, there’s nothing intrinsically moral about any of them.

              If you want your arguments to be taken seriously, you’ll have to do better than ridiculous Libertarian insinuations about governments being inherently evil.

              • The sentence quoted is not an invalid argument tho. I’d have added and “or immoral” in it, but its not wrong like that either. “Given what governments do”=they govern, and they are made of fallible people, “there is nothing intristically moral about them”=all morality must be judged about their actions, laws, and level of enforcing their laws (including enforcing them on the higher in power classes, whichever they may be, so high corruption or privileges are bad). A government is not good or bad just because its a government, and one can do “moral” things on one area and “immoral” on others.I do not see any fallacy or generalization in that statement,nor any liberal bias, only some slight rhetoric manipulation, which is appropriate for the current discussion.

              • Oh, and “governments being intristically evil” (which the man you replied to never said or implied) is a position of anarchists, not libertarians.

          • I saw the Alexandra interlude, and the fact that Alexandra and Eidolan think they are saving the world comes across pretty clearly. They are quite possibly wrong, but that is Cauldron’s fault. Someone has to try to integrate the powered into society, and that is even more important with the endbringers having a legitimate chance to destroy the world.

            I give the heroes the benefit of the doubt because they are actually going out and saving lives. We don’t get to see it that often, because the main character is a criminal, but look at some of the things that happen during the interludes. They stop people like the Marquis.

            You can’t say they are being selective with the relief efforts with any sort of certainty. The villains have conquered the docks, and are willing to fight people that come into them. With Taylor as our primary viewpoint character we just can’t see the relief efforts. Assuming that Danny somehow got together a bunch of city employees for relief efforts independently, when we have been told quite a few times that there are city relief crews is a huge stretch.

            If they condemn the city do you really think they are just going to walk off and leave whoever stayed behind? The world just doesn’t work that way. No politician would make such a horrible mistake, and if they did they would be replaced and someone else would have them evacuated.

            Also, the big difference between Wormverse and DCU is that worm doesn’t have a few people sitting in a satellite that can stop any crime any time it happens whenever they want. The worm heroes are much less obscenely overpowered, but still have to deal with world ending threats. With the endbringers around they can’t afford to devote the resources to rebuilding every city that gets utterly rocked by an endbringer attack. There are at least three attacks per year, and a decent percentage of them are going to cause massive permanant damage to a city and the surrounding terrain. Saving every city just isn’t feasible, unless you are rebuilding them as bait for the endbringers.

        • Nah, she is still a moral character. You may have noticed how much she hates herself for it and the fact that if she wasn’t moral, she wouldn’t be trying to 1. save her home town even though it treated her like crap 2. save a girl she inadvertently helped kidnap, and 3. take down that massive criminal empire.

          I doubt she was really going to let him die either.

          I’d say it’s more like she’s unprincipled. She’s sacrificing her ideals for what she thinks is the best course of action. She still holds the morals, though.

          Think of it as morality being the foundation, and principles being the pillars. You can lose a lot of pillars without causing damage to your foundation, but if you don’t have that foundation, you can’t keep those pillars up. It may be flawed, but it still holds up those pillars.

          Armsmaster’s version of morality involved a huge helping of “I want to be the guy who took down an Endbringer, look at me” which doesn’t actually serve a greater purpose when he could have given a lot of heroes that ability. He just doesn’t know what went wrong.

          Battery was also moral, and she also sacrificed her principles to pursue the morality. She died regretful of her actions, expressing a moral position.

          Panacea sacrificed her morality for her principles, and lost both. Those pillars were not a good substitute and they led her astray.

          Now I have to wonder how much of this I’m pulling out of the waxed poetic part of my anus.

          • She doesn’t have to intend to let him die. If the fight with prism had gone on a few minutes longer Taylor would be a murderer no matter her intentions. Actions and results matter more than intent. A dead hero is no less dead just because Taylor was distracted by a fight while she was killing him.

          • That is called manslaughter. Even the law takes intent into account. It takes two to tango, remember? If Prism had knocked out or killed Skitter, would you still charge Skitter with that crime when she had no opportunity to stop the bugs from merely causing a great deal of injury to Triumph?

            Oh wait, that’s right, Prism had a gun. A gun she drew on Taylor. Not easy to pay attention when you’re facing potential death, you know. And if Prism had gone down a lot easier, we’d have seen Triumph in less danger.

            I think it’s clear, then, by since Prism also didn’t intend for Triumph to die, but her actions could have inadvertently caused it, that Prism is also clearly a would-be murderer (possibly more than would be since she’s packing heat).

            Sure Prism wouldn’t have intended any harm to Triumph, but to quote you “Actions and results matter more than intent. A dead hero is no less dead just because Taylor was distracted by a fight while she was killing him.” So I guess the person doing the distracting better be brought up on charges and held just as morally acountable.

          • If Prism had knocked out or killed Taylor then Triumph’s death would still be Taylor’s fault and, assuming she was alive, she would definitely be charged with murdering Triumph. Taylor is the one that attacked and poisoned him. She committed the actions that would have led straight to his death.

            Considering she carries epipens and has taken pains to avoid killing she clearly knew that Triumph could have died from what she was doing to him, so it isn’t even really manslaughter unless she gets a good lawyer.

          • (note: some or all of this may have been addressed farther down in the comments. I haven’t had a chance to read them all yet)
            If Wormverse law enforcement are anything like real world law enforcement they’ve killed quite a few innocent people in situations much less dire than this one. Hell, they’ve even cuffed a few people on their front lawns and shot them in the backs of their heads. And if Wormverse mayors are anything like real world mayors, they’re in on it. (see Bloomberg and stop and frisk, and let’s not forget that the mayor encourages by inaction everything the boardwalk enforcers do.)

            These are rational adults with a huge support network behind them* and plenty of options. Meanwhile we’re condemning a traumatized and alienated teenager doing the best she could under terrible circumstances.

            If everything’s going your way and your idea of a fun afternoon is to go torture someone in front of their parents and then threaten to kill them you’re probably pure evil. In Taylor’s case however a lengthy series of unfortunate events led her to this point, and she had little choice in the matter. (and let’s not forget she’s involved with Coil in the first place because of Armsmaster’s soaring glory boner)

            She could either leave Trickster (bit of an ass, admittedly) to spend most to the rest of his life in prison and abandon a little girl to a crime lord and the over a hundred people depending on her to their fates, or she could threaten the life of someone already attacking her (perfectly justified mind you) with antidote in hand.

            If someone broke into your home like this would the use of lethal force be justified? Yes.
            That doesn’t make that person evil though.

            *Low level law enforcement officers don’t have much support in terms of being mandated to do unethical things – it’s do it or lose your job – that doesn’t make them any less culpable when they murder people though.

            Also sorry for poor form in my writing. It’s late and I can’t be arsed to do any editing.

          • “which doesn’t actually serve a greater purpose when he could have given a lot of heroes that ability.”

            What ability?
            There was no time to mass-produce his cutting edge nano cloud blade.

        • While I agree that she was wrong, she was NOT willing to let Triumph die:
          “As much as I wanted to pressure the mayor, I was ready to apply the epipen the second Triumph’s breathing slowed enough.”

          • She left him under a giant swarm of bugs that were injecting him with more than trace amounts of venom, while they were also blocking his airway and crawling into all his orifices. Then she went off and fought Prism for a period of time. She carries epipens and has worried about allergic reactions before, so trying to claim that she wasn’t willing to let him die seems kind of silly. She may have preferred him alive, but that didn’t stop her from leaving him in life threatening circumstances until she dealt with Prism.

          • So it’s Taylor’s fault for wanting to defend herself from a gun-toting superhero when the only reason she put herself in danger at all was to save someone else who was meant to be having a nonviolent conversation with the Mayor before he proved stubborn?

            I mean, the Mayor did choose to stand up while his superhero son was calling reinforcements in on that position. He could have just said, “Actually, I was going to keep the city around anyway. Please leave now. This is my home and my little girls are here.”

          • Are you kidding me? The mayor proved stubborn? A pack of villains broke into his home and threatened them if he didn’t do as he was told. If he had lied maybe they would come back when the heroes weren’t there and killed the mayor and his family. Their conversation was in no way nonviolent either. Trickster grabbed one of the twins and pointed a gun to her head. I suppose trying to save his family is a good reason for Triumph to die?

            Not that it even matters, but Prism didn’t even pull her gun until Triumph was covered in a swarm of bugs that could very easily have caused her death. Killing a terrorist in an attempt to save Triumph is completely different than killing Triumph to try to force the government to bow to your whims.

            Your attempts at moral equivalency in this case are ridiculous.

          • I mean, the Mayor did choose to stand up while his superhero son was calling reinforcements in on that position. He could have just said, “Actually, I was going to keep the city around anyway. Please leave now. This is my home and my little girls are here.”

            This bit is more than a bit victim blamey. While his actions weren’t very smart he can hardly be blamed for having three supervillains waltz into his home. That would be their fault for not using a more sensible gait for breaking and entering.

            And they were hardly there to have a peaceful conversation. The goal was intimidation from the very beginning. Unfortunately intimidation doesn’t work so well when the people you’re trying to intimidate have two arguably more powerful supers with them.

          • Quite a dilemna, although I think everything’s getting a bit confused. First, it was a discussion of morality, principles, and the difference between ends-justifies-the-means and more Rule Based ethical systems. Then, well, the sides shift and, whether they are right or not, the Skitter-is-near-murderess-and-evil group make a logic mistake or two.

            If they are concerned with the outcome, and all that talk about manslaughter and results seem to say it is, then they’ve switched to an ethics of ends. All well and good, but that does mean that they are now vulnerable to arguments about ‘the good of the city in the long run’ in a way a Rule-based ethics isn’t.

            Personally, I agree that she’s crossed a few lines, but to my mind the comments about the epi pen show she’s realized it, and I think I have it in my heart to forgive her HORRIBLE morality in not being able to not be killed by a foe and simultaniously making sure Triumph is alive.

            And, from a practical point of view, this is the direct result of Skitter’s powers. She doesn’t like going this far, but her powers are not strong enough (yes, they are cool, but nothing like what the strongest heroes and villains have) that she can always afford to hold back.

            Other notes: Skitter, even as she makes morally questionable decisions, is more than a littl bit of a badass.

            And, well, the fact that such a long conversation on the morality of a character who is ENTIRELY FICTIONAL shows just how invested most people, myself included, are in her character.

          • The mayor bluffed with his family there. Wrong time to risk provocation. Not his fault alone, but his imprudence disn’t help matters. Police standoffs at least try to minimize civilians in danger while acting a little accomodating until they are in a good position, or until the civilians are in immediate danger.
            He had more balls than diplomatic sense.

            • Although since he was standing off against one of the most terrifying supervillains in the city, who was on a team with most of the rest of the most terrifying supervillains, which is allied with the team including some of the most powerful supervillains in town…that took a significant quantity of balls.

          • To be fair, the mayor’s son and the girlfriend are both A-list heroes. Prism is one of the two heroes freaking LEGEND brought to Brockton to battle an ENDBRINGER. Obviously he felt safe with that at his back, compared to a few local villains.

        • She wasn’t willing to let him die. Remember when she was hoping the mayor would just break because “How long can I wait until I break?” She knew if he didn’t break, she would break and stab him with the Epipen.

        • Worth noting that she wasn’t willing to let Triumph die, and explicitly thought that if he stopped breathing or otherwise got too close to death she’d save him even if the mayor hadn’t caved yet. She did however withhold medical care and use the life of a son to extort the father, so still definitely crossing a line, just not the line of murder.

  2. If there is a most wanted list set up by the protectorate then skitter probably placed herself in the top five for Brockton Bay.

    • Well she still hasn’t killed anyone yet. Robbery, disruption of the peace, resisting arrest, breaking and entering, conspiracy to commit felony, assault.

      But those are all par for the course. She has shown herself to be an effective terrorist, but I doubt she is on a list that would get her booted direct to the Birdcage.

      • You do realize that three of those crimes as well as attempted murder was perpetrated on one of the most influential and powerful men and his family in the city. Those are the type of actions that generate a lot of man power and resources in bringing you down.

          • Canary’s case was about setting a precedent. Skitter never mind controlled people (though Regent did). I honestly think the three strikes rule would apply to Skitter.

        • I honestly don’t think she’d be anywhere near the top five most wanted for Brockton Bay. Don’t forget most of The Pure and Fenrir’s Chosen are still kicking it. Then there is Coil and the Travellers. Then on the Undersiders you have Regent and Bitch.

          • None of them personally attacked the Mayor of the city. In addition she basically stripped this man of his dignity and resolve when faced with his dying child. Those are not things a person forgets lightly.
            This is a situation of “Be careful the enemy you choose!” Threaten average joe and he/she might run to the cops or cower. Threaten the powerful and influential and you might get the entire police, army reserve and a bunch of 4 letter alphabet agency after your ass.
            Lets also not discount that she single handedly outclass Prism, who was a Legend protege as well thoroughly defeat Triumph. It might be ok to mix it up with the Wards but the Protectorate’s might want some serious payback.

            • So, that mayor is more important, Than the average joe? Freaking elitism, that is the thing that destroing this planet. And the wormverse too…

    • I would be inclined to agree if we were just able to go by indirect evidence, but during the interludes it always seems to avoid discussing Skitter so much as they talk about Tattletale and Regent.

      I don’t know if somehow she’s still flying under the radar or if that’s a specific technique being used in the writing, but it makes me think that she still isn’t really getting blamed for all the stuff she’s been doing.

      Of course, let me just put a disclaimer here and say i could be totally, totally wrong.

    • In terms of how much of a threat she is perhaps, but by this point it is abundantly clear that Skitter won’t kill someone no matter what. She could have slaughtered everyone in that house far more easily then she brought them down without killing them, it’s not really a secret anymore.

      Meaning that as scary as Skitter is, the heroes are going to know that they can rely on her leaving them alive, which is a serious problem for her if they really wanted her gone.

      In other words she’s powerful but not a real threat. What’s more she’s easily negotiated with. Indeed if anything I would expect this to be the point at which they finally wise up and just talk to the stupidly powerful villain for a minute or two and avoid entire fights.

      Of course this also makes her easily trapped.

      • You sure about that?

        People have this nasty habit of misinterpreting things. And while she is a genuinely good person and wouldn’t have let Triumph die no matter what, the mayor and the heroes don’t know that.
        From their perspective, and what they know about Villains, she would have killed Triumph, just to prove a point.
        Also, it’s not the first time that she took a hero hostage (The fact that she ultimately didn’t even go through the first time may or may not be regarded). Throw in a vengeful mayor using all of his considerable political clout on making her pay…

        So, it depends on how the heroes look at this. Either they come to your conclusion, or they come to see her as bastard without regard for the lives of people, that is to be sent to the birdcage first chance they get. Remember, it doesn’t even take all that much to be sent there, a simple unintentional slip-up
        with your power is apparently enough, and she did everything on purpose.

        • I don’t see it. Skitter’s hesitation isn’t really an advantage and I certainly don’t see her avoiding the birdcage from about the bank robbery onwards.

          Her actions combined with her statements (trying to ally against the nine, originally trying to be a hero) make it clear that her goals are consistent and well intentioned though the heroes will consider her to be warped and slightly deranged to my guess.

          My meaning is more that at this point the heroes have a fair chance of seeing through her facade, which makes her vulnerable. As bad as it makes relations, them thinking she’ll kill if pushed is a vital part of her having any ability to leverage hostages and the like. Someone has got to be smart enough to see through her by now.

          • So you mean, she definitely is seen as someone who must be stopped, but she can’t count on her bluffing with hostages will protect her anymore? If so, I misunderstood you, my bad.

            About the “someone smart enough”; We haven’t heard of Dragon for quite a while now, have we?

    • She obviously had to do it for the greater good. America does not negotiate with terrorists and will not abandon a city whose a victim of a terrorist attack, Skitter has merely done her part in insuring American Freedom. She’s A HERO DAMNIT!

    • I think she really shocked herself at what she can casually do to people now. She spoke with her real voice when she realized how close she came to killing him. But this chapter really gives evidence to the swarm intelligence theory. When the adrenaline kicks, she is amazing at coming up with a plan. Notice how she spends several paragraphs creating/perfecting strategies and tactics. She had to have thought all of that out in less than a minute. I would even rate her as a Thinker 1 or 2 at least. Regardless, her rep and threat level is going to go up from this. Heck, Coil should be scared.

    • I really want to disagree based on “Oh no, she didn’t mean to, and she’s really doing it for a good cause” and all that stuff. I want to. But I don’t think I can.

      I mean, she lost some control in the midst of a life and death struggle. By the way, that’s one reason heros shouldn’t carry guns. Most heroes and villains don’t get into a fight expecting something lethal. You pull a gun and you up the ante from possible arrest to possible death. Things tend to get messy from there, and it’s one reason why law enforcement is generally supposed to fire as a last resort. If your cops and heroes are known for being trigger happy, expect the criminals they chase to reciprocate since they know that being caught may mean death instead of jail.

      So she lost control, that’s not so bad. What is bad is that she used the life of the mayor’s son, even if he’s a hero, as a bargaining chip. That is pretty firmly in villain territory there.

      • No worse than anything america has done with its military. Taylor would be a great military commander; powers aside, she has the moral ambiguity to “do what needs to be done”, is goal-orriented, and has the moral strength to feel bad about what shes done.

      • I disagree that she lost control, the Prism fight would have taken place in a minute or so at the very most. It’s been shown before that she has constant awareness of her bugs no matter where her focus is so she would have had Triumph on the mental backburner throughout.

        It is important to note that he was not actually in danger at the point where she finished Prism and got back to him. As for allergic reactions and so on, if that had gotten seriously bad she would have broken off immediately.

      • Please try to find news on what is happening in São Paulo right now. 20, 30 deaths per night.
        Why? A powerfull criminal organization called PCC lost one of their managers in a situation where they (the PCC) thought he could have been simply arrested.
        They put a reward on the head of every police officer in the city.
        90 officers killed since the beggining of the year. More than 1000 people arrested and I really do not know how many criminals killed as retaliation.
        It became a war. I keep waiting to see in the news that police lost all its restraint and really, really started to kill.
        An example:
        A woman police officer was shot in the back by an assault weapon and in front of her 11 years old son.
        Imagine what will happen if this son becomes an officer fifteen years from now?
        Yes, Skitter has very, very good reasons to avoid killing.

    • Yeah, I can only imagine Piggot slowly but sure starting to become very annoyed at Skitters existance.

      After all, She is “only” classified Master 5 with a severe viable target handicap. Yet by now there are probably rumors of:
      – Has fought Mannequin to a standstill (or even “won” the fight)
      – Survived direct contact with Leviathan
      – Defeated Lung twice (severely and “maliciously” injuring him each time)

      Then theres the sadly unknown one of having faced Bonesaw and Jack Slash at the same time and lived.

      And now this.

      • Remember Interlude 13? Piggot completely glossing over Grue and Skittter.

        Yeah…don’t think we’ll be seeing much more of that now that Grue has one of the nastiest powers in the setting and Skitter is taking out multiple top-class heroes by herself.

      • If Skitter is still listed as a Master 5 during this chapter, it’s only because the paperwork got lost somewhere on Piggy’s desk.

  3. I really enjoyed this fight, and the vertical element in particular was quite entertaining. It strikes me that, with time to prepare, Skitter could do even more in an environment like this, like removing a staircase and hiding that fact with silk.

    Prism’s mechanics are quite interesting, and I am glad that Triumph was unable to shout in Taylor’s face there at the end.

    “mouth and again, beneath” should there be another dash between ‘mouth’ and ‘and’?
    “anothers was gagging” Either ‘another’ or ‘others’ I guess.
    “Only the silk thread connected the gargoyle to the leg of the one closest to me.” I understood what was happening but it reads a bit awkwardly to me.

    • Yeah Prism would be an interesting character to work out the stats for. I already mostly statted Leviathan (minus regeneration, and probably needs some serious balancing) in HERO 6E; maybe Prism will be my next attempt.

  4. Skitter is getting to the point where she is gona get targeted by everyone.
    This chapter is incredible and make point in how much skitter has advanced in her villain career.

    Also, quick question to the autor, are the bullies gona make a future appareance? I want to now what happened to shadowstalker.

    • Stay tuned! Worm jumps the shark in 2 arcs, with the revelation that the bullies are really… the endbringers!

      No. In all seriousness, I’m adverse enough to spoilers that I won’t say anything one way or another.

      • Leviathan is Sophia, since (s)he’s extremely fast.
        Simurgh is Emma, for mind games and psychological warfare.
        Behemoth is Madison (or whatchamacallit), ultimately a nasty bitch, that bites because her(his) owner says to.

  5. You know, the way things typically go, I was totally expecting Taylor get shot in the back by another ‘good’ guy.

    I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t occur.

    • Are you saying theyre not good or that good is an subjective moral stance, is neither better or worse than ‘bad’ or “evil”, and it is ultimately the victorious and powerful who write history, declaring who is ‘good’ and ‘evil’

      • Personally, I take issue with the claim that it’s always the victors or the leaders who write history, and that they unilaterally declare who the morality of a historical event. First, when you consider modern historians, they often go to great lengths in order to recount events with as much accuracy and with as little personal bias as possible.

        Second, it’s just not a very accurate statement. For instance, the Chinese historian Sima Qian wrote his famous historical records in secret after suffering castration at the hands of the ruling dynasty. Similarly, Cicero was declared an enemy of the state and killed at the behest of Mark Antony. That didn’t prevent his work from becoming one of the most vital first hand accounts of Roman history in the waning days of the republic.

        It may be a bit redundant, but in my opinion it’s far more accurate to simply say history is written by those who write it.

        • Absolutely true. In addition, if you want it on a grander scale, though not for that long in the course of events, look at Southern History. Through novels, yes, but also serious, or at least researched, history, certain Southern Historians tried to glorify the war and the struggle, as well as obscure the reasons of the war, and the brutal acts on their side (while of course emphasizing the North’s brutality, such as Sheman’s march) among other things.

          Eventually it got better, of course.

          So not only can a losing person write the histories, entire losing sides can, if they are alive at the end of their loss, try to write the histories in a way that justifies their actions.

          So yeah, that statement always did strike me, the whole ‘written by the victors’ as both cynical and innocent of the way in which humans work (which is an odd combination, indeed.)

          • On the other hand, consider the massive impact of Birth of a Nation. One film single-handedly rewrote history and encouraged decades of oppression, persecution, and mass murder. Yes, we’re sometimes able to correct abuses of history long after the fact, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re able to do tremendous damage first.

    • How can you put good in apostrophes after this chapter? If any of the cops in the area or Prism managed to shoot Taylor in the back it would be entirely justified. If that fight had gone on two or three minutes longer Triumph would be dead. Even if he is an asshole, which we don’t know, he still goes out and fights criminals and monsters like the endbringers.

      I am baffled that people keep trying to give Taylor the moral high ground in this story. Being the main character doesn’t automatically excuse all your awful actions, even if you fret over them later. It doesn’t make Taylor any less of a great character if you acknowledge that she is actively doing the wrong thing.

      • Thinking back on it, I’m not entirely sure why I put good in apostrophes, maybe the number of hero’s turning out to be jerks in this story is starting to get to me. That and I wrote that about a half-hour after waking up and was still a little groggy.

        But anyway, what I meant is that I just expecting the mayor to turn around and shoot her in the back after helping his son because that sorta almost seems par of course in this story. I’m aware that she’s the reason he needed help in the first place but she didn’t have to personally help them with it and everything. She could have just tossed him the epipen and left while he fumbled with it.

      • If the fight had gone on a few minutes longer she would have stopped attacking him. We know that she is constantly aware of her bugs and what they are doing, Triumph wasn’t being ignored, otherwise the timing becomes ridiculously convenient.

        • Even if she stopped attacking him he was still in life threatening danger. She injected him with more than a bit of venom. She wouldn’t intentionally kill him, but now that she is fighting more viciously it is only a matter of time.

          • Don’t really want to get drawn into the moral debate, but Triumph is one of those ‘super strong’ heroes in addition to his voice. Judging the correct amount of force to use on capes is HARD.

  6. I am actually kinda impressed by the mayor here. Taking on villains with a shotgun? Say what you will, but any mundie willing to take on superpowered folk while at a disadvantage has chops. I might not agree with his politics, but he’s got chops.

    Although now Taylor could conceivably say “I saved the city”, though I doubt she’s be proud of it.

  7. Ah, yes, a very important weakness of humans, even superpowered ones. The need to breath. A well-placed choke hold can do wonders against them, provided you can keep it on long enough. I don’t believe it actually takes as long as wrestlers tend to sell, though. Also, you have to know what you’re doing or you might just kill them in the process.

    I guess this really brought it home to the Mayor that he is very touchable. He was all confident in having hero protection, knowing reinforcements could be on the way, but then he found out the bugs could get his son.

    On the plus side, looks like Taylor finally got a guy’s pants down. Go go Keeper! (Dungeon Keeper Ami reference)

    Also, the reforming of Prism kind of reminded me of this Evasion or Dodge move from Legend of Mana that I’ve been using in something I’m writing (and am terribly behind on. This month goes too quick). Your character splits into three, each of the ones spreading out a short distance in a random direction on the screen. Neither you nor the enemy know which one is real until a second later when they two fake ones fade.

    I guess the setting has itself a response to the rich buying powers: Poor people who get traumatized get them right back. Hey Mayor, don’t want your son to almost die next time? Maybe have the cops pay some real attention to school bullying and how the heroes act in their civilian lives.

    So I guess the lesson here kiddoes is be good to your fellow man lest you treat them so bad they gain the ability to fire cans of baked beans from their fingertips. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. Yooooooooo Joe!

    • I think the rich buying powers is a pretty good response to traumatized people going around raping and murdering with their powers. Is it somehow Triumph’s fault that Taylor was bullied? No. Just because Taylor was bullied doesn’t mean she is morally right when she almost murders a law enforcement agent. The lesson here is that the local villains will break into your home and try to murder your children if you don’t do what they want.

      • That makes Cauldron seem so good for the world, but I’m not getting a good vibe from human test subjects, brainwashing, and almost certain deaths. Is the world better off with Cauldron? How much would villains outnumber the heroes without them?

        • Until we know Cauldron’s ultimate plans we can’t be sure if the world is better off with Cauldron. What we do know is a hell of alot of the best heroes have been made by cauldron, and if they weren’t around the endbringers would probably have a much higher death toll. Until we know the source of the endbringers though noone can definitively state whether cauldron has had an overall positive impact on the world.

      • Ok, so the rich ignore social programs, ignore fixing social ills. Poor people get bullied, wind up in worse conditions, have their basic human dignity trampled on because someone decided they didn’t care about the problems of the poor.

        Then some of the poor get powers as a result. It would be quite natural for them to then seek some justice. Something to balance the scales out a little bit.

        Being bullied doesn’t give them the right. But being bullied by a superhero, someone supposed to be the moral watchdog of society, who then uses friend’s dad’s position of higher financial and social power to escape any sort of justice whatsoever, and then the society is such that the school does hardly anything to truly correct the situation which is now probably one of many that’s being played out?

        If you help to maintain a society in which someone’s rights and dignity and personhood are trampled upon, don’t be surprised when someone’s version of standing up and saying that they matter involves taking it out on the society that put them down in the first place.

        Around where I live, especially after the election, there were people pissed off and worried. My own brother expressed some idiotic idea that now black people were going to take revenge on white people for all the bad shit whitey has done to them for so long.

        If you don’t put them down and treat them like second class citizens, they won’t have anything to feel like getting revenge over, now will they? All they’ll have are the standard gripes of anybody else, which provides no moral justification at all if they then go on to do bad things.

        • You keep trying to say it is the rich people’s fault that all these people are villains. People have a choice, and it isn’t based on your wealth. Do you think it is ok to rob banks and murder people? Do you think it is acceptable to use your newfound powers to intimidate others, to rape or kill them? Being poor doesn’t give people nobility of purpose, and neither does being rich. What does give a person the moral highground is going out every day and preventing murders and robberies. The source of power matters far less than what you actually do with it.

          If I have money is it my fault that something bad happened to someone that doesn’t? Am I expected to go out and try to help every single person I can find, or else it is ok when the villains break into my home and do whatever they want?

          Also, you honestly don’t seem to need to be that rich to buy powers from Cauldron either. A cop with a decent inheritance was able to buy powers and become Battery after all. Is she somehow worse than say Lung because she bought her powers and Lung had something bad happen to him?

          • Certain societal ills disproportionately effect those who are poor. This is not an indictment of poor people. It is an indictment of the society that can be fixed by those who are better off and in better position to fix it but do not and sometimes abuse their greater power tot he detriment of others.

            As for robbing banks, as long as no one is hurt, it’s hard to see the immorality in it. I do take the FDIC for granted, though, which will pay back anyone with $250,000 in their accounts. The only ones who might lose some money would be those who have more than that.

            Murder is defined as a wrongful killing, so I won’t use that. But some people do deserve to die. Some people do things horrible enough that it is a good option for them to be hunted down and killed, perhaps by some sort of team of secret Navy team flying into Pakistan.
            Did all the German soldiers of WW2 deserve death? No. They were casualties in a battle where the alternative was allowing the regime of a horrible despot to have his way. It is regrettable, but it was the best and most moral course of action available. It was only available because society, both German and national, had failed to do anything but exacerbate the conditions that lead to a desperate Germany seeking someone to make them feel strong and worthwhile again.
            Dropping the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were actions that many people can debate the morality of. But it is worth noting in that debate that every single war since WW2 has not used up the surplus of Purple Hearts created in anticipation of an invasion of Japan.
            And, of course, anyone at all is given the moral authority to kill someone who is attempting to kill them.

            Look how much it took to actually intimidate someone who was just in a position of elected power. You want to know why? Because that part of the city still had police protection, hero protection, and because he was privileged enough to not worry about people around him wanting to do him harm.

            But when you let someone wallow in the portion of society where it is ok to rob, murder, and rape, where power is only obtained by being the strongest, then problems will happen. That area doesn’t have to exist. There are always going to be a few bad cases out there, but they won’t have very many places to hide if nowhere in society accepts that kind of thing.

            I’m not talking justice on the individual level. That would be more like beating a dog and training it to fight other dogs, and then it getting loose one day and killing you. That’s more like what happened between the Undersiders and Shadowstalker. This kind of justice is more concerning groups of people.

            Like one large group of people left with no power or running water, little in the way of food, no police protection or emergency services. Left to fend for themselves but holding out the hope that the authorities and the ones with power will get their act together enough to save them while supervillains take over their homes. And then the much smaller portion that’s doing ok is considering pulling out of the city and letting it stay that way, forcing people to either stay at their home where they seem to have a good reason to stay already, or pack up and leave. Let me reiterate that point. A few people. That one man. He has the decision in his hands to have the government say “Wow, you were looking for help? Well, you can just help your ass on down the road because the place you’ve been starving for is getting bulldozed and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

            The problem is that money is so often power these days.

            • Necro comment.
              A little clarifiication. The japanese did not capitulate because if The bombs. They did, because The soviets attacked the kvantung army which numbered over a million, and defeated it in a week. That was the real shock to the military leaders. The only question That remained, is WHO will occupy Japan. The japanese opted for the americans, and delayed the soviets despite the capitulation, and hurried along the americans, practically carrying the american troops, to take territory befora the soviets arrive.

          • Battery could only buy powers due to also going on their ‘payment plan’ also I think the point is more that it’s difficult to argue that it is immoral to attack a system when that system is attacking you first.

            Skitter is anti-authoritarian because authority has made her life hell at every turn. That’s a reasonable response to take. Furthermore if we’re looking at the wider stance here then we have Skitter (saving everyone she can) versus rich people having a nice meal in their mansion while discussing condemning a city of people to death or close to it.

            The mayor has hardly been shown to be a paragon of decency, remember that he ran a city which routinely had poor people beaten and raped (and even killed in some cases) if they went into the wrong area of town. A city which made no effort at all to fix it’s vast income inequalities (see Danny despairing over trying to help people with that one) and instead focused on making the rich people comfortable.

            This showed some brutal actions on Skitter’s part. But unless you hold that it’s different when you do it with your own hands, the Mayor has actually done worse. Much worse. And not for good reasons.

          • In response to Anzer’ke:

            First, I don’t think that condemning the city in any way means killing everyone in the city. My impression is that if the city were condemned, all current inhabitants would be evacuated and become refugees while the infrastructure would be leveled.

            Second, it’s my impression that the guards on the Boardwalk were private contractors not working under the auspices of the government, and even if they were, the mayor himself can’t be held personally responsible for every social problem in the city. We have no idea how long he’s been in office nor a clear understanding of what his personal politics are nor any idea how exactly the local government works. For all we know, the mayor has been pushing for progressive social reform programs for months but has been prevented from doing so by a recalcitrant city council.

            If I recall correctly, the only thing we know he opposed was the reopening of the city ferry, which he may have opposed for very valid reasons. Several reasons I can think of just off the top of my head, the operating costs would be large and ticket fares would be unlikely to cover the cost, especially if the tickets were priced economically enough for the disadvantaged members of society to be able to afford them.

            There was also likely strong opposition to the reopening of the ferry system from the members of society in the downtown district. You have to remember that the rich citizens and businesses in the downtown are likely the ones paying the highest property taxes and local government officials are, rightly or wrongly, going to have to bend to their will in at least some situations. This isn’t a necessarily evil thing either, the property taxes from downtown could potentially be redistributed to the Docks region in the form of social programs and infrastructure improvements, though that’s clearly not in any way guaranteed.

            In short, Skitter has clearly done far more directly unethical things than could conceivably be attributed to the mayor given what we know right now. Maybe in the future it will turn out that he’s a total prick, but for now, I’m not comfortable making that judgement.

          • Evacuation already took place, everyone still in the city has some reason why they didn’t want to evacuate. Considering how bad things have gotten it seems doubtful that those are minor reasons. Also the statement is abandon, this would imply cutting off the city from infrastructure.

            Uh, yes he can. It is his job to be held accountable. That’s like saying that a Mayor lacks responsibility for the police. Fact is that they are an openly employed, violence authorised force; who is paying them is irrelevent, they are being endorse by the government by the act of allowing them. Allowing them gives them the same legitimacy as the police (they certainly acted like police in their assumed authority), the government is granting them that and the result of that is that it is the government who are responsible for them.
            We’re not talking minor stuff here, they were really bad and in plain sight. There is no excuse at all for allowing them to continue.

            As for the ferry that was explictly done to cut off a chunk of the city, and saying that he was beholden to the rich is hard to swallow given he lives in a mansion. He’s rich too. He also claimed to have been elected more than once (I recall this being stated elsewhere as well, re-election campaigns were brought up) so he hardly lacked for time.

            Saying that it’s okay to screw over the poor because the money from the rich could ‘in theory’ be used to help them doesn’t make sense. Even if the money were actually being used (which it isn’t) that would be government money, which is generally intended specifically for the less fortunate. It’s not a gift from the rich, it’s fair payment for continued participation in a social system. The rich usually owe the poor, not the other way around.

            In any case, bad stuff was done, he was in charge. No attempt was made to stop that stuff, I have no sympathy for him.

            And again, Triumph was a combatant, he was defeated. You can’t then complain that your opponent fought back. Especially when you escalated to lethal and near lethal force right from the beginning while they did not.

            • You can’t then complain that your opponent fought back. Especially when you escalated to lethal and near lethal force right from the beginning while they did not.

              In fairness, it was a villain who pulled a gun on a (presumably non-powered) child. That counts as “escalation to lethal force” even if he didn’t actually pull the trigger.

              • I always claim most situations when the person in the right cannot be found and both parties seem grey are the fault of a third party.In this case, this whole mess is trickster’s fault.

          • Everyone in the city is being allowed to stay because the city is still a city. Once they condemn the place they are sure to compel evacuation rather than risk the political blowback of leaving a bunch of people in a city that is no longer recieving any support.

            Also, there is such a thing as private security companies. Ranging from bouncers to mall cops to mercenaries. The people on the boardwalk sound like jumped up bouncers. They have no official standing and if the cops saw them beating a homeless person they would be obligated to act.

            You are making a lot of definitive statements about what the mayor has done and why with very little evidence.

            Also, Triumph escalated to lethal force after his sister was grabbed and had a gun aimed right at her head. How the hell can you claim lethal force wasn’t being offered?

          • My brother just thinks that there always has to be antagonism between people of skin colors because that’s the way it’s always been as far as he knows. I’ve noticed a tendency for people to just keep hold of some beliefs they were raised with purely because that’s what they were told as they were raised. I think Mr. Deity was great on TheThinkingAtheist when he said you needed to examine your beliefs and figure out what you think about things, otherwise you’re just living what someone else told you to.

            Case in point: If everyone was jumping off a bridge, would you?

            Yes, I would.
            1. Everyone may have a really good reason to jump off the bridge, like a portal to happy boob cupcake hot wing land.
            2. Even if I’m wrong, there’s guaranteed to be a pile of bodies from all the other people capable of softening my fall enough to survive.

        • It specifically reminded me of that time he said the moon didnt cause the tides. And then defended it for two weeks.

          • That really does not help that statement about me. And he was addressing an atheist, trying to assert that science doesn’t know everything by going “Tide comes in, tide goes out, you can’t explain that.”

    • Well, let’s just hope Taylor doesn’t develop quite the same reputation as poor Ami. A jailbait evil overlord with ‘deviant tendencies’ is one thing, but one that also controls and covers herself with insects? Things could get creepy and awkward fast. You can almost hear the Earthworm rumors…

  8. If Triumph bought his power, this experience may be enough to cause a trigger event (or would he still need it to be the intensity of the secondary trigger?).

    Also, it’s interesting how Taylor was able to use a single bug to see:
    “forced a bug down his throat to check and found it almost entirely closed up.”

    This means that she’s still coming into her powers.

    Also, I have a suspicion that Taylor and Trickster weren’t actually meant to succeed. We’ll see from Coil’s reaction.

    • Can a Cauldron bought power, get a second trigger event? She is definitely still coming into her power. She is starting to practice with multitasking, has yet to replicate the incident with the moth listening to music from the ABB bombings, and the proposed swarm intelligence thing. Which I am certain she now has after this chapter. I talk about it above, but look at how fast she comes up with great strategies/tactics. She contemplates and organizes so much in what seems like less than minute. I think that she can only make use of it in extreme situations though. I actually think she should qualify as a Thinker 1 at least. But that makes me wonder what separates a Thinker 1 from a regular old genius.

      • I’m pretty sure that if her power involves shifting part of her “self” into the swarm, she qualifies to be something like thinker 10 if not 12. Because it scales up. The more bugs she has, the smarter (more inhuman) she becomes.

        And yes, I fully agree that swarm intelligence seems like a logical conclusion.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if, somewhere down the road, she will lose her body.

        • If skitter ever gains transformative powers then she’d be incredibly powerful. Bullets would be functionally useless for one thing. For another if it included a range increase…actually it’s probably a good thing that Panacea went to the bird cage. Her and Skitter together would have been utterly OP.

          Skitter could pretty much have controlled the entire city by herself.

          • If skitter ever gains transformative powers then she’d be incredibly powerful. Bullets would be functionally useless for one thing.

            That would actually be kind of scary… for her. Bullets sill kill bugs, they just only kill a tiny number of bugs. But more than you might think, because it’s not just the bullet that hits a swarm, it’s the shockwave in the bullet’s wake.

            Now with a swarm, that’s one thing. They’re expendable. If she loses 1% of her bugs, that’s nothing. But if those bugs are transformed Skitter, well… how would you like to lose a random 1% of your body? Especially if you don’t know what 1% it is?

            The average adult human weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 pounds. How would you like to lose 1.5 pounds, not of “weight loss” but of random body mass that could be from anywhere?

      • Ant your recollection of the ABB bombings just gave me a horrible yet inventive use for Skitters abilities. Kamikaze bugs!!!
        I think the fallout from this fight is that Skitter will have a even bigger target painted her back and will have to find more creative ways to use her bugs. Nitroglycerin in its liquid state is highly volatile to physical shock. So if the bugs in jested the liquid or carried small traces of the solid compound and once they land and start bitting and the person swats them…booom.
        Physical force generated from the blow excites the unstable molecules breaking down the bonds and you have several thousand pounds of kinetic pressure generated per seconds. I don’t think there will be anyone in the Protectorate who would want to willingly face her with thousands of flying or walking bombs at her disposal. Just a thought 🙂

        • Devious, but that might be breaking the unwritten rules that all capes follow. It involves no explosives, or high powered guns. They broke them against the 9, but no one cared. Using tiny bombs against the people might be too much for Taylor. Besides it is not like she really needs it, this chapter proves her worth at long range combat. What she really needs are options for when they get too close. She would have lost if Triumph had gotten close enough to shout or take a punch. The fight with Mannequin was so nail biting because she had to fight him up close and personal. She only has some pepper spray, and a metal baton. I wonder how much tinker tech is to buy on the black market. If she had something like Armsmaster’s Halberd, she would be covered in case another cape manages to get close.

          • Don’t necessarily rule out the kamikaze bugs. Understandable even a small insect carrying minute quantities can still cause serious damage. But you have some supers who are damage resistance or armoured in some fashion where poison or capacin laced bugs wont affect them.
            Also bear in mind that bombs are not always used on people. The military use explosives to clear debris and obstructions. I can see Skitter using a few to open a difficult door or use them as shock and awe like flash bombs. Just discharge them at a sufficient distance to temporarily disable a room full of opponents or knock out electronics and security or disable a moving vehicle.
            In regards to her close range combat skills that can only grow with time but Skitter is a manipulator. Her main strengths lies in fighting from a distance. There is only so much someone like Skitter can do against Triumph who is far more physically strong or durable than she would ever be. As for Mannequin he was encased in a suite of armour which like Triumph put him physically outside the realms of normal human capabilities. I think if she had a few flying bombs at her disposal against mannequin the fight would not have lasted so long and she would not have sustained so much injuries from the encounter.

          • You make excellent points, but I’m worried that it is too easy to kill someone with a small explosive. It is like the danger of escalation she points out when Fletchette said she would try to scare off Ballistic. What happens if she bombs someone who is not quite as tough as she thought? It seems possible to use though, and I wonder why no one has thought of it in universe. While Nitroglycerine may be too volatile to use effectively, I’m sure there are compound/chemicals she could simply have the bugs carry. Or simply make a small bomb, that a swarm can easily carry. It depends on how much weight a swarm of bugs can carry. While I think explosives are too dangerous, she can always have the bugs carry a smoke bomb, some tear gas, or a flashbang. What I mean for close combat is for an emergency situation when she is ambushed or surprised into a close fight. She should never fight up close, but she needs something more when she has no choice in the matter. Something so that if Triumph actually did get close, it wouldn’t be an instant game over.

          • I don’t think it is very easy to buy tinker tech off the black market. Cauldron uses tinker gear sales as a way to find buyers after all. Taylor also wouldn’t be able to trust the tinker tech of anyone that isn’t recruited into her team. Most tinker tech has trackers and such according to Grue during the bank robbery.

          • Well, her Swarm Sense makes her largely immune to being blinded, so how about flares/smokebombs? If she can rig her helmet accordingly, or if she should have an as of yet undiscovered poison immunity, maybe even tear gas. If she can engage her enemy while he can’t see her, that’s one major advantage.
            Also, with her ability to track her opponents movements and multitask she, as shown above, is not quite as vulnerable against attacks from behind and from multiple opponents, and has an easier time tracking and defending against attacks than someone relying only on sight.
            Ultimately, most of the time she should still avoid close combat, if she can, which, given Atlas and Swarm Sense, should be a lot of the time.

            Her biggest weakness as of right now, as i see it, is that she lacks attacks with raw power, against the likes of Glory Girl or other Brutes. Here, kamikaze bugs could indeed be very handy. Depending on how many bugs she uses, she could even fine control the explosive force.
            Another major weakness is how to get her swarm close enough to bug exterminators like Triumph. Here, apart from the usual swarm/multiple fronts tactics, i see burrowing insects (if the ground permits), and possibly hollow protective capsules/bug grenades, maybe even airdropped/slingshotted by the swarm or rolling like hamster threadmills.

          • Boom, Boom, Boom. Go forth my noble brethren! But I completely forgot about the lack of security of Tinker Tech. Maybe they can go mug Leet.

  9. My flamitory comments asside,
    I’ve greatly enjoy your story here these past dozen months, and will continue so. Good job sir.

  10. There’s no such thing as abstract morality, only personal morality, and even then it is an offshot of our old instinctual survival mechanism. The human mind can learn to feel good about behaviors it subconsciously believes help its survival and bad about behaviors it subconsciously believes hinder its survival. In the prehistoric human social groups, the survival of the group was the survival of the individual the vast majority of the time so social relationships and enlightened self-interest created the rules of those societies to help the survival of the group. After longtime exposure, people subconsciously linked those social rules with their survival mechanisms of “feel good / feel bad” and created what we call “conscience” or “moral compass” for the first time.
    Throughout the centuries and with the advent of philosophy and religion, other types of “survival” tied to the same mechanism, specifically our perceived “spiritual” survival, “racial” survival, “national” survival, thus further enriching and shaping morality. The idea of “good” and “evil” was created on the basis of that social construct as the collective “moral compass” of what most people believe to be good or evil.

    In short, morality and the ideas of good and evil are constructs of social engineering. “Good” is what the majority of individuals in a system *believe* to promote the survival of themselves and the system that supports them. “Evil” is what the majority of individuals in a system *believe* to harm the survival of themselves and the system that supports them.

    That’s what causes all those very interesting moral problems, people. Good and Evil are neither abstract nor absolute. Is the survival of a city or nation good if it demands someone sacrifice their father, brother, children or friends? Is the survival of your child good it it requires the sacrifice of another life? How about which life should be chosen to continue when the water in a lifeboat with three passengers is only enough for one of them and sharing will simply get all of the three killed?
    People are not perfect. Thus Good and Evil are not perfect *when created and applied by fallible individuals*. Especially unintelligent individuals which, frankly, the majority of the population is when trying to function as a majority.

    Let’s not even start about situations where the moral compass of the majority is guided by a smart but self-centered (or insane) minority. That’s how we got the Crusades and Usenet Rule #4.

    • Yes, there are many “constructs of social engineering.” I don’t believe that that implies that every idea of “good” and “evil” is inherently about supporting society and self, and I don’t think that all conceptions of good and evil are “constructs of social engineering.”

      Suppose that I am a Kantian. I took a few philosophy classes in college, read about the big five(communitarian, virtue, utility, Kant, Theist) and picked Kant. Was Kant a social engineer? Was his writing a deliberately constructed plot to promote his own survival and the survival of the system that supports him?

      It is possible to have a morality that is entirely distinct from the survival of the self. Indeed, I would call that the entire point of morality. Morality is what motivates us to not act in self centered ways. An individual acts on a moral basis, especially if you listen to Kant, only to the extent that one is not motivated by personal benefit.

      I don’t want to claim that Good and Evil are perfect, because I think that there are many competing conceptions of Good and Evil. However, that doesn’t mean that they are ultimately self centered conceptions.

  11. Entering the morality controversy here with a resounding “It doesn’t matter.”

    Did she cross the line? It doesn’t matter. She looks a whole lot like she crossed a line to people in power, and that’s enough. She’s marked, this stink will never wash out on its own. So now what?

    As much as people don’t like to hear this, morality is a function of power and vulnerability, and instinct. Hermit crabs don’t have morals; they’ll eat you if they need your shell and they’re better fighters than you. Or if they’re hungry. Or if they’re just irritated at life.

    What makes us different? Social connectedness. We work together because it works better than the alternatives. We all have, to greater or lesser degrees, a need to look after each other… but still also a need to compete with each other on a hermit crab level. As time goes on, the behaviors that reinforce a strong group tend to win out, along with the corresponding instincts. Which is cool; I like those instincts. Feeling good when I help someone in need? That’s awesome. Feeling angry at dangerous, destructive individuals? Also good. I’d love to medicate all of them, put them in therapy (I’m more a fan of the ‘help people’ aspect of justice than the vindictive ‘kill the heretic!’ aspect).

    But sometimes you can’t win against the bad guy. Or the price is too high.

    Stalin, by some reports, killed about 60 million people, several hundred thousand from a personal list. He still has statues. We cooperated with him a lot – he had the power to back his behavior. If he’d lost it before he died in bed, then it’s assured a world full of people would have added him to their own lists; but he never did.

    Added to that was the assurance that he played by certain rules – he was *just* tame enough to stand next to for a photo op, and everybody had bigger problems.

    That’s how it works with some villains. The Slaughterhouse 9 could never gain that kind of peace, because they couldn’t be relied on for photo ops.

    Skitter has been giving people in positions of authority the feeling that she’s a bit more diplomatic. Which is good for her.

    Because if she lives, she’ll need to take the Stalin strategy: she will have to be untouchable long enough for people to get used to her being around. She will have to seem invincible or at least highly inconvenient, while at the same time a good partner for a photo op every now and then.

    There’s no other path for her at this point.

    • What I find weird is how much angrier people seem to be at Skitter fighting back (which she has done several times before) then at Trickster putting a gun to a child’s head.

      I doubt either of them would go through with it, but the latter is quite clearly much worse. Heck, Triumph is probably not going to be scarred by these events, the kid on the other hand…

      • I’m not mad at what Skitter did in this chapter. In fact I think it is very interesting and I am glad it happened. I just think that all the people that were saying “oh she isn’t really doing anything bad, the heroes are worse anyways, why are they being so mean to the main character!” have to reexamine Taylor and her actions.

        Also, depending on the medical care Triumph probably could be scarred by these events. She was doing some nasty shit to that guy.

      • No one has questions about Trickster being a villain. We know he is a villain through and through. His sense of morality is weak at best. With Taylor there is a sense of violation and incongruity.

        • I agree. I think that because readers have spent so much time in Taylor’s head, we’re used to thinking of her as a sympathetic, likable character who wants to do the right thing. That makes it even more shocking and incongruous when she does things like this. We haven’t gotten to know Trickster so well, and haven’t formed an emotional connection to him as a character. Personally, I was torn between thinking “OMG, Skitter, what a badass you’ve become!” and “OMG, Skitter, how did you sink to this point?”

          • These comments are gonna start making me question myself at this rate, I really can’t see much wrong with what Taylor did. While MrMoray is right that this is clearly villainous behaviour I just don’t see the horror here.

            She did something very close in her fight at the bank. With far less margin for safety and against a more vulnerable opponent.

            She didn’t threaten a non-combatant, indeed she avoided the obvious method of just taking them hostage and forcing a stand down via black widow. She has actually threatened and attacked non-combatants before, both at the bank and the gala. Both times she had far less riding on her actions and thus far less reasons.

            Indeed the Gala was more or less just her playing a prank, if a risky as hell one.

            She fought seriously against Triumph and Prism (I was a little concerned by mention of an awkward landing at those speeds, hope Prism is okayish) but they both were fighting very seriously against her, for all that they were intruding it was not Skitter who hit first. Triumph was blasting the hell out of any bug clone he saw (enjoy broken everything, Trickster is gonna be hurting) and Prism was shooting. Trickster started it, but the heroes escalated to a ridiculous extent, they’re meant to be better than that.

            In the end Skitter was dumped in it, had to succeed to save the city full of people, had to handle everyone else deciding to through rationality out the window and still managed not to hurt anyone too badly. I don’t see what makes this all that different from other actions in the past.

            Especially given that the target, the mayor, is undoubtedly a terrible person, from Interlude 8: “People having their fingers broken for shoplifting, being beaten insensate, and there were even tales of the rare girl or boy getting raped by the really twisted fucks. When the enforcer was done making sure the offender in question wouldn’t come back to the Boardwalk, they left the bloodied person in the back of an alley, worked with another to stick them in a dumpster, or if it was late enough that nobody would see, they would toss them off the side of the boardwalk. A fifteen to twenty foot drop, depending on the tides and the location of the drop, onto sand or into water that was freezing cold for half the year.”

            Does that really give anyone the impression that the guy in charge is a good sort? Or the heroes who support that system? I don’t see much reason to put Triumph on a pedestal. A lot of mention is made of him being a hero and going around saving people, which is great PR and all but heroes very clearly aren’t saints in this setting and have no real oversight (Shadow Stalker’s actions towards Taylor anyone?) day to day.

            The city is smoldering and starving and he’s having a nice meal without a single sign of being tired or overworked. He gets all miffed over his phone rather then trying to talk seriously. He responds with massive violence when pausing would have let him defuse the situation with the two people who were clearly not interested in a fight. Honestly my impression is of a spoiled rich boy who joined the police (more or less) as expected of him.

          • Those aren’t employees of the mayor. They were enforcers hired by the local market to protect them.

            Also, The heroes escalated at an entirely justified rate. Once you threaten to shoot a little girl in the face you shouldn’t expect the local heroes to slowly creep up their power use until everything is balanced out. Just because Skitter herself wasn’t pointing a gun at a child she was still part of the group that was, and helped the man that did.

            I don’t think anyone is arguing that Skitter is evil. I certainly am not. What I am arguing is that all the people that keep saying that Taylor isn’t really that bad, and everyone else is a jerk anyway really ought to reexamine their opinions.

            Also, we clearly have signs that alot of the heroes are desperately over worked. That was a big part of the Wards arc. Do you really think the protectorate members are just kicking back while their younger colleagues are working themselves ragged.

            The constant cries of how being a jerk negates heroic acts and Taylor being nice on the inside balancing out all the nasty shit she does just boggles the mind. Just because she is the protagonist doesn’t mean we have to assume everything she does is the right thing.

          • I’m not sure I understand this.

            So Skitter has responsibility for the actions of Trickster, the person in charge of the operation that she was assigned to. However the Mayor has no responsibility for what was allowed and accepted within the city he ran. And saying that the Boardwalk employed them is a dodge, he was in charge and he either knew or ignored it intentionally; they did horrible things (protect them my *ss, they were explictly there to keep people who spoiled the look out of the area for tourists and the rich) and he enabled it, putting him right there with Coil.
            Meanwhile he also does nothing to fix the cities issues before, doing stuff like the Gala instead. And presently has done b*gger all to help any part of the city we know of and is apparently more focused on himself.

            Actually that’s exactly what you’d expect. Triumph hit Trickster with a kinetic blast…which could very easily have set the gun off. Which would strongly hint that he knew Trickster wouldn’t actually pull the trigger or he’s just really stupid. Slow escalation is exactly what would have been practical. What’s more with two of the three villains trying to calm things down there was no good reason to not go with it.

            I disagree, mainly because this isn’t anything new. The bank remains far worse than this.

            Yet no mention here of Rory looking anything but okay. He’s in the middle of lunch with his girlfriend and family, given what his girlfriend does we’re either looking at a massive coincidence (possibly Coil set it up but that makes little sense as his ability should have ensured a worse outcome) or them doing this reasonably often.

            It kind of does, especially when we examine the heroes actions close up and find they are often not doing particularly nice things and just going by PR. Makes me wonder how much PR goes into som careers. Shadow Stalker alone had major bullying, assaults and near-murder being concealed.
            As to Skitter. What nasty shit? She’s ruthless in her methods but I struggle to think of anything she’s done for genuinely bad reasons. Same for stuff sh did that was even all that terrible functionally. Her being nice on the inside is important as it tells us that she’s constantly bluffing, she was no more going to let him die then she would kill his little sisters.

          • I am not saying Taylor is responsible for Trickster’s actions. However I am saying Trickster’s actions justify the use of deadly force by Triumph and Prism. You can’t threaten to kill someone’s family in front of them and expect a nonlethal response. It doesn’t matter if two of the three villains are trying to calm things down when the one villain that is escalating the situation is still pointing a gun at your family’s head. Also, the local heroes have been briefed on what might happen if you lose to a member of the Undersiders. You might get your body jacked by Regent and be forced to fight your friends. Being nice and not going all out in this fight would have been a horrible mistake.

            Complaining about the Gala seems kind of silly to me. It was clearly a fund raising event intended to raise money and encourage people after a horrible series of terrorist attacks. Trying to get people feeling safe and comfortable again was essential after what Bacuda did.

            Also, Shadow Stalker is a clear outlier. The girl was on probation and was clearly not a trusted member of the Wards. Just because she was a thug and dangerous doesn’t mean that the rest of the Wards are bad people and not heroes. That is like saying because Taylor is trying to help people that Regent is a good guy more focused on saving lives than personal gain.

            Taylor being nice on the inside is important. It shows that she doesn’t want to do bad things to people. Being good on the inside isn’t stopping her from doing nasty shit to people though, it just means she regrets it later. And by nasty shit the obvious example provided by this chapter is threatening to murder a local law enforcement officer in front of his father in order to change the way the local government operates. That is terrorism, plain and simple.

            • Basically, Skitter isn’t responsible for Trickster’s moral breach, but Triumph, Prism, and the Mayor have no way of knowing that and are thus perfectly justified in believing all three villains are a unified front that’s okay with putting a gun to a child’s head.

  12. Aww, and i had so hoped for an epic “The Reason You Suck Speech” for the Mayor and the heroes.

    Nonetheless, taking out two rather powerful heroes with a lot more experience than her – Taylor has come a long way, and if she wasn’t in the “major threat” register before, now she certainly is.

    Also, I second (third? four…d?…) the hivemind and thinker classification, and perhaps even her losing her body. If that indeed happens, not only do I think her threat level will skyrocket (among others: can’t be captured/killed with some bugs to retreat to, vastly improved control and sensory capabilities, perhaps second trigger event with improved range among others, ability to infiltrate everything not sealed airthight, etc.; If she really cut loose, she could easily be endbringer-level then!), it also should cause interesting bits of internal conflict and character development in the vein of “what have i become!?”. Also can’t wait for the figurative look on the face of the one who downed her, only to be buried in an enraged tidal wave of insects.

    Great chapter, already can’t wait for the next one. Your updates are among the highlights of my week.

    • It seems i forgot something: Even though almost nobody in-story knows it, she not only took down two major heroes on her own, she took down two mayor heroes with her arm in a sling and having undergone surgery only hours before!
      She doesn’t even need to be in top form or use her arm to kick their ass!

      The AWESOME has been DOUBLED!!!

  13. Hm, there’s a moral event horizon crossed! Still not the BIG one, though.

    Once Triumph recovers, I doubt he’ll forgive her. Threatening his family, nearly killing him, LITERALLY putting a bug(s) up his butt… He mad? Oh yeah, he MAD.

    He might surprise me, but I’m not betting on it.

  14. I just re-read the last chapter in light of what we see here. A couple of things: the mayor, Triumph, and Prism obviously had the ethical high ground. B&E in order to intimidate is very illegal, of course. And one is perfectly within one’s right to protect one’s home and family. But, the interesting thing here is that only Triumph was acting to protect others. Prism never acted to disarm or defuse the situation: she never shouted warning or tried to negotiate. She also shot to kill, apparently.
    Similarly, the mayor wasn’t defending himself; he grabbed the shotgun to show the villains that he would not be cowed. Maybe he doesn’t realize that Skitter could’ve taken him out without being distracted? Even if he didn’t, he could still tell that she was leaving him, his wife, and his two daughters alone. He went out there because he saw that his son couldn’t handle it. It was a very brave thing to do, but also very foolish. That foolishness is a symptom of his arrogance and inexperience.

    TL; DR: The moral motivations of the defenders were mixed.

    Another thing that popped out at me is that nobody in the family was ever scared of the villains (though they were scared of the bugs). It’s obvious that they trained in various hostage scenarios, but it’s still a gutsy family. An example is when the girl who was taken hostage leaps away from Trickster at the same time as Triumph launches the dinner table at Trickster. Holy cow, that would take incredible timing. Don’t forget that the girl has a gun pressed to her head at the time.

    Typo from last chapter: “Do Thugs” –> thugs should be lower-cased.

    • My guess is that this was an ambush. Possibly choreographed by Coil or with Coil’s and Mayor’s agreement (they get Skitter and Trickster, the town stands).

      • Whoa.

        If Coil and the Mayor collaborated to set this up as a pawn sacrifice, that puts an ENTIRELY different color on things.

        What a f’d up hairball that would be…

  15. Not sure I can comment too much on the morality side of things, the situation is far too muddled to be within my scatterbrained ken. But I do think that Skitter breaking with Coil has just become a now or never situation. Skitter is hurtling quickly towards public enemy number one territory and once she crosses that line she’s going to NEED Coil for protection. That is if Coil hasn’t changed his mind about wanting her dead.

    The biggest problem I see at this point is that Coil presumably knows Skitter’s identity. He’s the only one with that information aside from the Undersiders and Dragon (who might be alignment shifting to chaotic, who nows). If Skitter said screw it and bailed between Leviathan and the S9 she might’ve been in the clear, but now the first thing Coil’s gonna do when it comes down to a confrontation is forward that info to the media, like he did with the Empire Eighty Eight.

    She wouldn’t like it, but the only way I see Skitter being able to disentangle herself from Coil and remain incognito from the powers that be is Coil himself kicking the bucket.

  16. I find myself wondering how this whole encounter would have played out if Trickster wasn’t there. I imagine a more peaceful encounter with an insect-covered wall used to convey a PowerPoint-style presentation on why the city should be preserved despite the.presence of villains.
    That said, I feel this is the first time Taylor has crossed the line between criminal and villain. The bank robbery was purely a criminal act, not villainous. The attack on the gala was criminal and akin to a prank. Same with the assault on the PRT (except for Regent’s role). But this was classic villainy, because of how Trickster escalated the situation and Skitter resolved it.

    • One more thing: Skitter’s act of villainy is a subtle thing and is only apparent from an outsider’s perspective. That is her false threat of “Do as I say or your son dies.” I call it a false threat because she intended to save Triumph no matter what.
      The world should be grateful she’s not at all evil. She could easily be a Slaughterhouse Nine level threat at any time with any kind of insect or arachnid, even ladybugs. Just watch “Marabunta” and think “Chew, my pretties, chew!” Insert maniacal laugh.

    • I agree with you that this is the first time she has crossed that line. Although I do think the assault on the gala was a bit more than just a prank. It was a show of control to weaken the public’s confidence in their own safety, and an attempt to destabalize the city so that Coil could more easily conquer it. Admittedly we didn’t know this at the time.

      If Trickster hadn’t been there I do think the whole operation would have gone more smoothly. We were told he steps up and makes bad calls, but now we have actually seen it happen.

  17. Honestly, I just want to see Skitter write Triumph an apology letter. (Perhaps a pseudo-anyonymous one?)

    Dear Rory,
    Sorry about what happened at our last party. I had hoped it would turn out to be a lot more enjoyable than it was, but I think it turned a bit sour towards the end, and my attempts to adjust the entertainment level just made it worse. You know how it is-you go out with the intent to do some joyful partying, then some idiot spikes the punch and before you know it, everybody’s hungover and asleep on the ground.
    Speaking of which, I’d especially like to apologise for my friend’s idiotic behaviour. His attempts to hit on your sister were creepy, utterly ruined the party atmosphere, and I can assure you that I never would have brung him along if I’d known he was going to behave so badly.
    Given our respective attitudes on responsible drinking, I won’t wish you a speedy recovery from your hangover, but I will wish you a _complete_ recovery.

    -Your favourite party animal, Skittles.

    • Plus one, frozenchicken. It’s good to see that the fear doesn’t paralyze your sense of humor (assuming that you’re frozen in terror).

      • Yay! Finally, someone who gets what the ‘chicken’ was supposed to refer to on the first try. I never realised when I came up with it that most people’s assumption would be ‘something you find in the frozen meat aisle’.

    • To quote Prism, “I knew that bastard was cheating on me! Where is that asshole and who the fuck is this Skittles tramp? When did he go to this party? And he brought his little sister when there was drinking! I’m gonna shred the crotch of all his pants and tights. Invite me to Thanksgiving and cheat on me, I’ll knock you upside the head with some yams and a frozen bird.”

    • Nice. Now I’m picturing the Undersiders drunk. I picture Rachel as a laughing drunk for some reason. I can picture her laughing hysterically at everything. But Taylor drunk would blow their cover. I can see cops receiving 911 calls of a giant swarm of bugs spelling out the lyrics of a good drunk singalong song and random drunken texts in the sky.

      • Drunken parahumans must be a pretty big issue in Wormverse. If Skitter’s control of her bugs is instinctive (and stuff like her laughing through them suggests it is) then there’s no shortage of things which could rsult in the insect population of Brockton Bay getting…weird.

        What were they doing while she was snuggled up to Brian for instance?

      • Yeah, I said that I wanted to see an apology letter from Skitter, but the pseudonymy was just me being silly. Though I don’t think the word ‘rape’ is accurate. Violated is closer.

          • Not at all. There’s a big difference between rape and physical violation of the type we see here. Rape is a ‘civilian crime’-it can be done by anyone at anytime, because the motivation for it is everpresent. Skitter’s actions here were military, in a sense. She used them to win a fight. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much of a difference to you, but the psychological impact on the victim is vastly differing. It’s the difference between taking a bullet on the battlefield and taking a bullet at the shopping centre. If the psychological strain of taking a bullet on the battlefield is too much for you, the easiest way to break is to quit fighting. Not an option in the other case.

            Granted, this example happens to be a somewhat poor case, as it’s somewhere in between, but Triumph was already well into the battle and would have viewed Skitter’s actions as a ‘battlefield’ assault.

  18. I just had a kind of ridiculous thought on how Coil ends up saving the world. At some point he will have a second trigger event, and gains the ability to move things between the two universes. So he will manage to dump the endbringers onto the world he doesn’t like and leave them to die with six endbringers. Thus saving his primary timeline.

    • Maybe, but the pageviews are nice.

      Highest # of daily views I’ve had prior to today is 2331. Today we’ve had 2893. Wondering if we’ll break 3k before midnight.

      This is the most commented chapter to date, as well.

        • I’ve seen this kind of boom before when Worm gets mentioned on some site or another (often a forum), but today all the referrals are coming from search engines. It’s like someone’s mentioned Worm, but not linked to it, so everyone’s running to google/google mobile (and one person from bing. For shaaaaaame) to check the story out. This is corroborated by the # of people rereading the story from the beginning (going by today’s views of early chapters).

          But I don’t know where they came from.

          • Well the new banner and the number 1 status might have something to do with it. And people have been great at linking tropes on other pages to link to worm. That’s how I found about it originally, from the heart is an awesome power. Or maybe the word is spreading about the greatness of the story and the quality of the writing. This is my new favorite superhero setting.

          • It’s not topwebfiction. Only ~10 people have clicked on that link today, and I suspect the people who use topwebfiction are already readers. Probably.

            It’s primarily referrals via. search engine with people going on to read. Ergo my earlier thoughts about there having been some mention of Worm somewhere.

          • Pretty simple explanation – they’re people already familiar with the story who want to see what happens. Return visitors.

            Google is the modern day bookmark.

          • I’ve noticed that when Legion of Nothing gets attention (advertising or whatever), there are often a lot more searches than usual. That said, as the story’s grown in readership, it’s also gotten more searches than before.

            My theory is that it’s people who thought Legion looked interesting, but somehow the URL just didn’t register in their minds, and they didn’t bother to bookmark it.

            What’s stranger to me are the very, very specific searches in which people search for characters from a specific story arc and then click through to the newest entry.

            To my mind, that seems like more work than I’d go to. I’d probably just bookmark it or grab the RSS feed, and let the technology find the newest entry for me.

            • Re: specific searches and then newest entry

              Something along the lines of off visiting grandma, who doesn’t have wireless, but will let you access her computer. You don’t want to access your bookmarks in the cloud, because … well, we don’t want to accidentally reveal THOSE bookmarks, do we?

          • My money is on the huge # of comments. This is a controversial chapter and people are checking in to talk about it, reply to replies, and stuff like that.

      • FWIW, I came back like 4 times today. I wanted to see comments and reactions, and I re-read the chapter.

        I’m guessing I’m not the only one. Though you can of course distinguish uniques and return visitors, so my question is how many *new* readers did you get?

        • As you may have noticed by now, especially if you’re burnt out on my blabbering, I pop in a bunch. I enjoy the robust comments section for more than just my own ego. In fact, I’ve advertised it as a feature the times I’ve brought it up. Good community, interesting discussions, lots of wild mass guessing (Do we have any evidence of David Bowie making public appearances whenever Coil is accounted for? I didn’t think so…) and some fun and funny stuff on occasion. Sections like this post’s also help to keep people returning and involved with the story in between updates.

          Now the pressure is on me to actually be funny…

          Ok, I got one. Why did Skitter cross the road?

          Answer: The road and its friends bullied her in school. Skitter felt really guilty about crossing it though.

          *gets yanked out of the comments section by a hook*

      • I do think that, the comments at least, a little to do with the moral controversy (or what many see as it) in this chapter. All of your Chapters are interesting, but it seems that the end of arcs, and any Chapter that has to do with the moral decisions/personal actions of Skitter seem to be popular

        • I have it bookmarked and I get the RSS feed, but sometimes I am in a different computer and want to see the comments, then I use google.

  19. Just wondering that this is never mentioned

    to me it is relativly clear that coil would kill taylors father if she stopped cooperating
    and would harm her team/friends/minions
    that doesn’t excuse her actions but it makes them understandable enough

    anyway i am surprised that she didn’t do anything serious
    (i get it it was serious, but i mean more serious,
    so please dont start another talk about moral^^,
    lets agree that we all disagree on that)
    I halfway expected her to plant deadly bugs and spiders on a quater of the city population
    (which would be possible with the extended range she has thanks to amy)
    and force a couple of thousand hostages to walk to the mayors home
    to both intimidate him and demonstrate power.


      I think Taylor isn’t considering the fact that Coil could kill her father for a reason. She doesn’t want to think of her father at all. Once she starts thinking of her father she might want to go see him, and then that kind of brings her entire situation crashing down. It makes everything even more real. Taylor’s father is the only character that matters to her with an outsider perspective on Taylor’s behavior, and I think it would be pretty devastating to her if he rejected her because of her actions. I honestly don’t think he would, but it is a distinct and horrifying possibility.

      Also, the little bugs for extending Taylor’s range all must have died by now. The only reason Atlas is alive is because of Grue’s emergency intestine creation. The little bugs didn’t have that.

      • only atlas had no digesting system
        (as i get it) amy didn’t belive that the rally bugs were so dangerous, and didn’t bother with that.

        • I think all of the bugs panacea made had a time limit. If Taylor still had the range increasing bugs they almost certainly would have been mentioned by now. Also, Panacea wasn’t very innovative but I am pretty sure she was smart enough to realize the range bugs were crazy dangerous in Skitter’s control.

          • yep your right, all gonna die (14.6)
            “They’ll starve to death before the week’s over”

            still if most of the town is devided into 9 territorys (4 travelers, 5 undersiders)
            and her range covers her hole territory
            she could still go somewhere (not her territory) and get enough hostages
            (easy over 1.000, how high is the population after the endbringer-attack and the slaughter house 9?, 5-10% of those should be possible, or do it in washington should get 250.000-1.000.000 hostages there)

    • Taking a thousand people hostage wouldn’t just get her sent to the birdcage, it would probably get her shot in the face.

      • seriously?
        i mean she has 1.000+ hostages
        it is known that the bugs still follow her orders,
        if she gets out of range / unconscious,
        killing her could mean sealing the fate of the hostages

        now that i think about it, she could go to an insect rich area
        and gether a couple of billions of insect,
        since the keep following her orders if she is absent,
        she could just have them
        1) breed stronger (change the selection characteristics for reproduction)
        and get “super”-insects
        2) order them to to to someplace and destroy buildings [that many could do that]
        or 3) send them to kill everione in a town (she could be a usefull addition to the endbringers [Endbringer nr.4])
        without even beeing present
        if she just drops hints that those things would be possible, that would be intimidating enough^^

        • Implying she could and would do those things would bring the heat down on her like nothing she has dealt with before. If she took 1000 hostages she would never be able to safely sleep, because then the hostages will escape and the heroes will come in loaded for bear. Also, if she has the hostages and gets assassinated, the hostages would be fine. The bugs would have had orders to stay on the hostages, not to attack them.

          • or to kil them in 2 hours, and she changes that regulary, getting rid of insects on 1000+ people takes a long time especially if some of those insects are parasites, that live inside the human body, not a risk the heroes can take

          • She has never shown the ability to time delay an order. Whenever she changes what the bugs are doing it is something she actively does.

          • what about getting the moneybags during the fight with lim it defenetly wasn’t time delay but it could be used as such, “circle the victim 300 times than kill it”

          • In that case she told her bugs “Gather up the bits of paper into a bag!” She didn’t tell them sit on these people and wait 47 minutes and if I haven’t countermanded the order then attack them.

          • Woops, just reread your comment and realized I didn’t address the 300 spin idea. Depending on the intelligence of the bugs I suppose it is possible that could be a method of time delaying a hostage crisis. The obvious problem with all of this is that then Taylor would have murdered 1000 people. She has not yet fallen so far that that is an actual option, or even one that she would be willing to risk in case she had her head blown off.

        • Skitter…take a 1000 hostages?

          Maybe she’ll go join the nine while she’s at it.

          Just because her powers would be ridiculously effective for this kind of thing (take off her costume, she is now undetectable and can hide amidst the crowds) doesn;t change that she would sooner die then do it.

  20. Question:

    If someone’s plan for killing Coil is this;
    1) Decide to kill Coil.
    2) Wait at least 48 hours after your decision before doing anything
    3) Prepare for the murder for a time exactly equal to the time you waited by tracking Coil
    3) Kill at specified time with long-range sniper fire or bomb. (i.e. NOT in person)

    Wouldn’t that work, bypassing his defenses? First, by waiting at least 48 hours between making the decision to kill him and starting preparation to kill him, you ensure there’s at least one timeline recombination between making the decision and starting preparation. Thus even if Coil splits timelines later, your planning will originate from the same decision in both timelines and will progress at the same pace in both timelines (assuming you stick to your schedule, which you should).
    Secondly, by pre-setting a time for your preparation that will be at least 48 hours, you get at least one timeline recombination during your preparation time as well, meaning that even if Coil splits timelines again, your schedule will carry over in both of them.
    Third, a preset time for killing him with in an impersonal way from a schedule that has carried over several timeline recombinations means that even if the timelines are split, you’ll kill him at the same time in both; no advance warning and no him saving himself by jumping in another timeline.

    • What if in one of his timelines he is sitting in his fortress, surrounded by his loyal soldiers and a few super villains that think he is going to fix one of their teammates? In the other timeline he might be going out and meeting with someone while escorted by his troops. The two situations require completely different methods of assassination, so I would say it isn’t so easy to kill him. You just have to hope that the other you is successful, and that you both kill him at the same time, or he will just keep splitting off an altverse.

      • 1) Truck
        2) 35 tons of fertilizer
        3) 5 tons of gas
        4) 10 tons of scrap iron

        Not hard, just costly. The above bomb costs maybe 300.000 $ and is the equivalent of 5 cruise missile warheads if you do it right.

        Now, if you had some bugs excavate underneath his fortress, some other bugs building you a crude but large chemistry lab (also underground) and have them handle the equipment to produce and store large amounts of nitroglycerin, you could even do it without payment if you got the time.

        • Where is she going to discretely get any of that stuff? Coil is her supplier, he won’t just casually hand off the materials to make such a huge bomb for no discernable reason. Also, that kind of digging would take time and probably be noticeable. You can’t just dig a tunnel and laboratory that large under Coil’s base without causing some serious structural damage.

          The other issue is lets say you have that bomb under his base. How can you be sure that he is in the base in both universes? Killing Coil is an utter nightmare, and a solution as simple as a bomb probably won’t go over well.

          • Also, who is to say that there isn’t *already* a bomb under the base? I mean, it’d make perfect sense to have a ‘self-destruct’ mechanism in the event things got too far out of hand… but also bearing in mind the unseen yet completely undeniable aspect that Noelle is in the base?

    • wait longer and you dont need to have the same plan in both timelines,
      just the same time for starting the attack,
      if he isn’t killed at the same point in time it doesn’t matter
      even if he splits again,
      he splitts one timeline where he will be killed, in to where he will be killed
      doesn’t change anything
      and she could just use a bug army to kill him easy enough,
      get some deadly bugs into his bunker and maybe one onto him, have some follow him
      order them to kill him at a specific time

      • It isn’t that easy to kill a guy when he is sitting in his armored bunker/base surrounded by solders with laser rifles. If Coil hasn’t come up with some sort of defense against the bugs by now then I am dissapointed in his abilities as a criminal mastermind.

        Here is the problem with saying you get a bug on him and just wait. How do you know he didn’t break off a timeline before that? What if you kill him in that timeline but in the other you are still waiting for your chance to bug him?

        Also, lets say you do kill him in one timeline and make the attempt to kill him in the other timeline two minutes later. Well Coil now has time to split off another timeline where he runs and tries to escape, and in the original he gathers his soldiers and tries to kill you back. Killing Coil is hard and he shouldn’t be underestimated.

        • I think the main reasons for him to try to get rid of her are
          that he has no good counter against the bugs
          that she killed him in another timeline

          • If I was worried about Skitter trying to kill me I would carry a canister or two of some sort of airborne toxin and a gas mask that could go over my helmet or integrate with it. Also, he wears a full body suit which is one of the big defenses against Skitter’s swarms.

            Honestly if Skitter had killed him in another timeline I genuinely think he would just shoot her in the head with a laser rifle.

          • not if he wants to keep the rest of the undersiders and traveles cooperating,
            and some of his army would leave,
            if he gets mad and kills his one minions “without reason”
            (they dont know his abillety and they know that in this timeline she didn’t kil him)
            airborne toxin would be very unpracticle (to much risk),
            especially with an army around (everyone has to wear a mask at all time),
            he could never leave his bunker with it.

          • Killing Taylor would probably lose him all of the Undersiders. However I doubt it would lose him the Travelers or any of his soldiers. The soldiers would stay for sure, they are being paid extremely well and having any of their darker predilictions satisfied.

            Even if he can’t carry a gas or figure out a way to kill swarms of bugs, something which would surprise me, the bugs would still have to get through his full bodyarmor suit. The one thing that has consistently caused her bugs problems.

          • he could not justify killing taylor to his man,
            they could think they would be the next,
            it could loose him part of his army
            i think that he is planing to justify getting rid of her by her failiure here, but she didn’t succeeded

        • To everyone who isn’t Coil, his abilities function as a combination of precognition and ridiculous luck. I don’t see any of these methods working, however wherever he is is where he is, only he sees the split and thus if he is standing in a room in front of you then that is where he fixed on.

          Which makes him no less impossible to kill. The only thing I can see working would be a juggernaut approach, and even that would fail if he has Dinah and some kind of method to avoid it.

          Which makes me wonder about him and Dinah. She’s an incredibly potent resource for him (and now we’ve seen the mayor I am very curious indeed about her dad) which makes his mistreatment hard to understand. Brainwashing would have been a much better long term bet. If I was him I’d take this opportunity to release her to Skitter’s command, giving her an “underling” and simultaneously avoiding dealing with her issues and creating a route to make Dinah remain his resource.

          As things stand he has to know that he’ll lose Dinah eventually, less evil methods would be more effective in the long run.

          • Actually, I don’t think that Coil’s power would make him hard to kill as soon as you know where he is, for exactly the reason that you point out (it’s like a less robust but more flexible version of Gallant or whoever that hero with backup organs was called). Skitter is adept at finding people and things, so finding him shouldn’t be that big of a concern.
            Ignoring his troops and other outside defenses, Skitter could easily nullify his power. All you have to do is keep following up any attack. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where neither timeline is significantly different from one another and he’ll be in your grasp.

            As for Dinah, keep in mind that the drugs are also boosting her precog ability. Coil is apparently willing to sacrifice her in a couple of years in order to get better results from her now. Maybe he knows of a way to replicate her powers through his connections with Cauldron?

            • That would work vs Coil

              That is likely to work vs Coil and his soldiers

              That is hard to pull vs Coil and the Travellers

              That is very hard to pul vs Coil ,his soldiers and the Travellers.

          • A time-delayed poison is the only easy way I can envision to deal with Coil. Something that won’t take effect until a day or two after it has been ingested/administered.

    • The fatal flaw with all these plans is Dinah. Coil asks her every day his odds of dying that day; if he has any brains at all he also periodically asks her his odds of dying this week/month/year. Even without that, we know he asks about the odds of his plan succeeding, and dying would naturally reduce those odds as well. The second you decide to assassinate him (and it’s likely to succeed) Dinah’s answer will reflect that, and Coil will begin taking steps to ensure his survival and eliminate the threat. A few more questions along the lines of “Is this person going to kill me/plant bombs” and he can simply assassinate you.

      That said, if Dinah is out of the picture this is a quite solid plan. Even if the timing is slightly off, and the surviving Coil can split the timelines again, he won’t be able to get far enough to avoid the second assassination attempt, especially if it’s the mass explosive plan. In fact, you may want to specifically delay any explosive plans by a few seconds to increase the likelihood that Coil flees into a timeline with them (gets shot at but survives, collapses the timeline, then his world explodes).

  21. Hi wildbow, I’ve been enjoying your work since February, found it through TvTropes. I’ve seen more examples there, do you think that’s where the new readers are coming from?

    Unrelatedly, has anyone considered whether (assuming the “swarm intellect” theory is true) Taylor’s swarm has an infulence on her psychology? Considering other characters have similar issues it would make a lot of sense.

    • Well, here’s a sample of the referrals I was getting as of early yesterday afternoon:

      What I was expressing curiosity about was the outlier – the huge (to the point that it doesn’t match up with the patterns I’ve seen in the past few weeks) number of people using search engines to find the site. Like I said, it leads me to believe I was mentioned somewhere and people then used google to find Worm.

    • I think that the multi-tasking ability makes her think very differently, not to mention the sensory secondary powers that Brian commented on in the last Interlude.

      Certainly her mind must have been effected by it, though I kind of think that some of her ruthless methodology stems from having a hive queen mindset hardwired into her now.

      She is pretty much an all purpose queen bug in her powers and it shows: she’s territorial (almost as much so as Bitch); highly protective of her ‘people’ and while she’s generally a calm, builder type once she is stirred to action the result is exactly like a similar shift in insect hives from construction and keeping to themselves, to all out near suicidal onslaught.

      Even her gathering of allies resembles the idea of a hive queen, gathering subordinate females around herself (scoping out a possible emergency replacement in Parian) and accumulating workers to achieve her ends (her territory currently functions in exactly such a manner). Just look how effective her logistics are. I still prefer the idea of Coil staying in charge and just not being so idiotic with stuff like Dinah, Skitter certainly works brilliantly as a territory head.

      • She tries to interact with people the same way she interacts with her bugs: it has to be her way or the highway, every time. She sucks at negotiation and compromise.

        Not entirely surprising given her impression that she can’t ever rely on anyone else for help, but one wonders if her powers aren’t also nudging her approach in that direction.

        I think that may be her biggest personal failing, (even over the flexible morals and self-delusion over the same) and it has bit her in the ass more than once. Most unfortunately other people have suffered for it, too.

    • Perhaps it helps to explain her continuing lack of confidence in herself. You know, feels guilty and like she lost after beating Mannequin, that sort of thing.

      She talked about how small they are in the grand scheme of things with Grue in that interlude, so maybe one reason she’s so hard on herself is she isn’t inclined to think much of herself in the larger picture. Bees or ants willing to die for the good of the hive (though it’s not so much willing in their case). So when others of her people are hurt instead, she feels bad for not doing her duty.

      • It just occured to me, it has been suggested that Skitter’s secondary powers include some kind of disease/poison resistance or even outright immunity. Since she has to be able to survive her bugs…but it just occured to me that this makes even more sense given that the contents of that locker had to be taken away in biohazard bags.

        Blood and so on, festering in the heat for months, it would have been infested with far more than just bugs and yet Skitter was in the hospital for only a week with no mention of catching anything. Since powers are mentioned to include a stage of granting all the needed protections to stay alive, it fits that Skitter would have gained such a constitution as well.

  22. You know I have been thinking about the fact that Skitter may be the catalyst of the end of the world by stopping Coil. After this chapter, I can totally see her killing/stoping him now. So I wondered what type of Apocalypse Wildbow would use. I know zombies are a cliche at this point, but there is a great fanfic of the marvel universe being invaded by zombies that I love, so I could see zombie apocalypse invading Wormverse. Not classic zombies though. People are too genre savvy now, and I could never picture them destroying the world. So if I had to pick a favorite zombie, I would pick the infectees from I am a Hero. Those things are freaky, and I could totally see them destroying the world. I am a big fan of horror, so maybe one of the twin entities dies and we have a monster invasion like Stephen King’s the mist, with Taylor becoming the worlds only hope as she finds she can control many of them. Or lets go back to the classic of a big BOOM. With Skitter ruling over the city, with the rest of the world in ruins, and Armsmaster in a hockey mask saying, “” Just walk away, and we will spare your lives”. So random survey time. If the end of the world does happen, what type of Apocalypse, would you like to see hit the Wormverse, and why?

    • Speaking of zombies reminds me of what I consider the ultimate version of zombies: the Cauldron-Born from the Book of Three. These guys never got tired, were capable of using weapons and armor and working as a unit, and (here’s the clincher) every time one of their brethren was killed, they got stronger (more durable, faster, and stronger if I remember right). Oh yeah, they worked completely off of magic so they didn’t need to eat or drink and could never turn on their master. Of course, you would need a lot of them to take down the world, even if they were totally invincible, due to the sheer distances involved and if you could hit them all at the same time they wouldn’t have a chance to power up. Still a pretty wicked way to overrun cities.

    • For anyone interested in zombie stories, Underneath a Graveyard Sky is essentially an examination of how a zombie apocalypse could start and work in real life. Strong points include action scenes and consistent intelligence. It does get a little heavy in logistics, but mostly later in the series.

  23. Making the wrong choice for the right reasons? Hmmmm, I’m not sure. Almost every different apocalypse would present very hard Moral questions/choices to the survivors. I can totally picture a situation where Taylor has to choose about letting an innocent die, to save dozens more. Or how to justify spending dwindling resources on helping someone who can’t work or pull their own weight, and who is probably going to die no matter what you do.

          • Well let’s see:
            The endbringers stepping up the tempo, culminating in them attacking in pairs and finally threes, the morally sound heroes dying in the fight, the morally not so sound heroes concentrating on their hidden agendas, monsters like the S9 taking advantage of the chaos, pretty much the entire world turning into a copy of Brockton Bay, and Taylor and friends searching desperately for a way to solve this mess, while skipping repeatedly over the moral event horizon but all the time staying true to their fundamental moral beliefs.

            Sound about right?

          • Taylor swallowed as she looked at the carnage below. The Batlte of Axis Mundi had gone against humanity long before she could arrive. Axis Mundi, the city created for people of all nations in the wake the Endbringer attacks, was destroyed. The First, who used to be Noelle, had fought selflessly for the good of everyone in spite of what happened to her family. She was never going to forgive the President for taking them hostage to coerce her into battle. She’d likely kill Alexandria for executing them when she was thought to have escaped. Even after she was recovered from the rubble of New York and found to be comatose, Alexandria defended her actions. Now she had paid the ultimate price.

            And she had failed. Behemoth still stood, a hum and orange light diffusing its surroundings as it moved its arms, rhythmically manipulating energy to finish tearing into the universe’s foundations. In orbit around earth, the massive geometry continued to whirl and grow, a 2 dimensional sign of the world’s instability in the cosmos.

            Now it was up to Taylor. The Hivequeen. She sat uncomfortably in her chopper, due in part to her outfit. Skintight Darwin’s Bark silk covered her, save for the padding and lines of chitinous armor, all topped with a chitin crown resembling her late Atlas’ horn. She rested in her seat and looked back to Grue, on a similar cycle that better matched the black steel and leather armor he wore. Imp danced on air nearby with the footstrapped hover disks she stole from Victory after they broke up. He never could get over his time fighting against her brother and sister-in-law as Kid Win. She settled on taking the hover disks because of all the problems she had riding with Grue in a side car with her power. Not knowing she or the sidecar were there lead to some dangerous risks that almost got her killed 4 and a half times.

            They were all that was left. Rachel’s suicidal charge against PETA for all the dogs they put down. Regent took up a career doing a stageshow in Vegas with Shatterbird as his assistant, at least until he had to giver her maternity leave for Regent Jr. Tattletale was lost against Coil, which seemed like it happened a lot longer ago now. A whole other world ago, in fact.

            “Are you ready?” asked Grue, expectantly. There wasn’t really any question. In reply, Taylor gunned the engine and sped down toward Behemoth. Jack Slash charged at them from the side, once again protecting his monstrous charge from attempts to avert the apocalypse. Grue peeled off to charge him. Slash swung his axe, his power taking the front wheel of Grue’s motorcycle off. Due to the size of the axe, he telegraphed it enough for Grue to anticipate and leap over the handlebars. Taylor didn’t know what he thought he was doing, until Imp appeared out of nowhere to catch him, smirking back at Jack Slash, who suddenly understood where the C4 belt he was wearing came from.

            Taylor had to turn away to concentrate on driving over the cracked road, but the explosion followed by Aisha’s cackling laughter made her smile. Behemoth didn’t even bother to turn towards her, assured that nothing left in the world could hurt him. Drawing from the bugs she’d had gathering in the area and the ones she’d brought in the cart behind her chopper. She concentrated, forming them into the most dangerous bug clone she’d ever done.

            When Behemoth deigned to face the threat against him, he found a wriggly mirror image. Before he could raise a hand, the Behemoth clone went for his throat. Fingers of army ants and hands of scorpions swarmed around its head and down its body. Japanese Giant Hornets dropped off bullet ants and bot fly larva before attacking. The soldier ants were smart, determined natural weapons. They wouldn’t give up until they’d consumed the world. Behemoth erupted in flames in response, which worked up until the ground collapsed underneath him. The sewers of Axis Mundi collapsed in around him, Taylor’s ants having underminded what was left of the ruins. The flames were smothered by dirt and cement entombing the monster.

            Still the attack continued as millions of insects attempted to expand on the natural cleavage of its body and tunnel through it. Behemoth manipulated the heat around its body to fry what it could, but it began to lose concentration. It had taken months to sneak enough parasites into Behemoth in prior attacks. A horde of insects tunneled from the outside, and an amazing amount of worms tried to meet them halfway.

            Finally, it was all ending. The last of the Endbringers at the mercy of the Hivequeen.

            Then the geometric abomination in orbit froze and formed into a shape. From this shape emerged a tentacled appendage covered with lesser creatures like barnacles the size of cities. The skies went dark as the otherdimensional abomination wrapped around it and drew it through the portal it emerged from.

            One universe over, [ ]!)oop’XChtz withdrew its left third tentacle from the wormhole and expressed happiness over finding an adequate replacement. Then it moved the appendage towards its fecal evacuation hole

            Ten minutes later it pulled its overalls up and left the outhouse with a whistle, wondering when them newfangled telegraph wire thingamajigs were gonna make their way into the Appazvuvtzian Mountains.

          • Earlier in my archive binge, I saw a comment about a possible mass jailbreak from the Birdcage, with the assistance of Panacea. I suspect that the jailbreak is the prophesied end of the world, and the accelerating factor if Jack Slash escapes was Panacea being placed there.

            That, or whatever those Cthuluoid creatures that grant powers finish their unknown agenda.

          • That…makes a scarily large amount of sense.

            It was also mentioned to have a high chance of occuring eventually no matter what, and fits with all the time scales and such…however Wildbow said that ending the Panacea plotline that way was spur of the moment.

            • Indeed. I said that there were two major ways that interlude could have ended. Brandish’s response after seeing Victoria played a big part in how that unfolded.

  24. Wow, I just realized that Wildbow had referred to this as a decompression arc earlier near the end of arc 14. If this was my way of decompressing I would have had a complete breakdown a long time ago.

    • Did I say that? Can’t remember if I said it was a decompression for Taylor/the story or for me as an author.

      Have to admit, the story’s got a life of its own, and I expected this arc to be more easygoing. Funny how that works out.

      But it most definitely is a decompression after the slaughterhouse nine scenario. That was though to write through.

  25. I could go on about how awesome this chapter is. (because it is.)
    I could rant about the moral boundaries which where crossed. (There is a lot)
    Or i could have a long diatribe on the socio-political forces in play that brought this situation around to begin with. (We all see a metric-tonne of that.)
    But in thinking on that and then browsing the comments, i realized that the story, its world and its actors have encouraged this.

    Nothing but the story itself has evoked thought, ire, and hope in its readers and leading to large amounts of discourse.

    Wildbow, your creation has not only become a living thing, but has garnered a set of people emotionally attached to it as whole. Artists that are much more successful than you would kill for that. That is truely awe inspiring. Good work.

    • Thank you.

      I don’t really know how to respond, beyond saying that. I can definitely say that I wasn’t expecting responses like this when I started writing this serial a year and a half ago.

  26. I wonder if there actually is an assassination planned. I mean, the best lies play into the target’s expectations, and telling Taylor that someone in authority has betrayed her isn’t exactly a hard sell. Not sure why Tattletale would say it if it wasn’t true, but she keeps a lot of secrets.

  27. Sorry, I haven’t had much time to comment lately. And, I don’t have time to read through the other comments, which is unfortunate. (Did we just break another Most Comments on a Chapter record again?) You are taking the story in an interesting direction, and it looks like the chances of the epilogue (which is due in a month or two, right?) that involves Taylor in the distinctly insect-free Birdcage have just increased significantly. It’s hard to have a happy ending if you are a villain. Or a hero. Or anybody in Wormverse, really.

    I wonder how that will mesh with Dragon’s plan to find and approach Taylor/Skitter with the goal of redeeming her. (IIRC Dragon had deduced her identity.)

    On a completely unrelated note, today’s XKCD seems to have a similar idea to Skitter, but without the superpowers.

    • I was going to post that as well, but though it might get lost in the comment superstorm this chapter engendered. I was going to wait to post it near the top of the comments on the next chapter. Oh well, you beat me to it, and now almost no future readers will see it — just us early(ish)-adopting die-hards. 🙂


  28. Was trying to figure out when it was I lost sympathy for Taylor and stopped cheering her on.
    I think it was this chapter where she essentially raped Triumph in front of his dad to get the latter to argue for a different policy.

    Let’s remove the bugs and imagine someone else doing this:

    You’re eating dinner with your family and someone barges in and threatens you and your family.
    When you try and defend your family you are rendered helpless and spiny things covered in liquid fire are shoved into your mouth, vagina and anus. Small pins are stuck in your skin in every part of your body, your eyelids and nose have small spines put in them. You are being choked to death. Your father is then threatened with your death. Your rapist is not caught and can rape you again from anywhere.
    The trauma of that is IMMENSE! Worse than all but the most violent rapes (and every bug you see will be a trigger).
    They say rape can never be justified, but Taylor seems to have managed pretty well.

    • Uuummm…its not rape,as elaborated by another commenter above,simply because her enemy is a combatant.
      Plus,she mostly did it because she had no other choice-Trickster blew up any other plans badly,ny being an aggressive idiot,and leaving him would be a game over,in so many ways,for so many people.In the end,severely abusing him,NOT raping him,was,considering Trickster’s foolishness,ironically the most moral option
      Or do you have a better suggestion?

      • From memory this topic became kind of controversial and Daniel is *very* fixed in his opinion.

        Personally, my opinion is: being an enemy combatant does not automatically make something not rape. Forcibly penetrating someone’s orifices? Sexual assault, period. No it doesn’t matter that her intent was not sexual.

        Re: ‘having no other choice’ we need to take a step back and look at the situation here. She has broken into someone’s home to extort them through threats of violence. The authorities have shown up and challenged her.

        “Oh, but the cops tried to stop me when I was committing a crime” is *not* actually a morally justifiable defence for committing violence upon them.

        Sticking her arms in the air and shouting “I surrender” is a valid option, arguably the moral one, and one she doesn’t seem to have even *considered* at any point.

        The fact that it would lead to negative consequences *that she brought upon herself* doesn’t make it a non-option.

  29. “Unlike Oni Lee, Prism didn’t materialize her duplicates along with whatever additional baggage her original self had”

    “She had some control. Maybe she had to go out of her way to exclude certain matter or material from her duplicates?”

    So I kind of think Skitter should have realised this from the fact that she wasn’t naked nor without any equipment the first time she duplicates. However I am curious if she can replicate food or important stuff simply by including it when she duplicates then taking it off on of her duplicates before merging into one that still has stuff. Unlike Oni it doesn’t explode in dust so she could get rich quick using that.

    • Prism can exercise *conscious* control over what duplicates and what doesn’t. At first she duplicated the silk inadvertently because she didn’t know it was there. But once she became aware of it, she was able to consciously exclude it next time she duplicated…

  30. Damn. Taylor has definitely crossed a line here, and it’s going to haunt her. Excellently written chapter, Wildbow. I could say a lot more, but it looks like the legion of comments on this chapter covered most of it.

  31. Wow — comment Superstorm, indeed. Absolute WALL of text about villians/heroes, justifications, motives, good/evil, morals, principles, yada, yada, yada. Not including PG and others doing mini-fanfic ‘here’s where we can go with this’ essays. Most within 48 hours of the initial posting.

    I find it interesting that in all the speculation and debate, no one ever really looked at this:
    1) Before the intimidation visit, what WAS the Mayor’s position about ‘abandon Brockton Bay’? (Coil could have been misleading for his own unknown motives!)
    2) Under threat, the Mayor accedes to Skitter and Co. What will make sure it sticks in DC, if he doesn’t really want to fight to save the city?
    Well — I’ll read on, obviously; just wondered why no one else questioned this in the comments.
    After a year+, did you ever get a clue what “interweb mention” triggered the surge in searches/ new readers when this first went up?
    (Nit) ” … aware of how easy it was to go too far or go over the top.” Too far IS over the top (or vice versa). Just one is enough. You use ‘too far’ several times as things escalate; maybe alternate them a bit?

  32. Rereading party.

    Epipen has an inconsistent spelling throughout the chapter. In two instances you wrote it “EpiPen” and in one “epipen”, all lowercase. Might want to consolidate that.

  33. Wow so she just managed to take out a prime part of Legend’s team and a powerful local hero in probably less than five minutes. Um…what makes Coil think getting on her bad side is a good idea? Honestly this girl has become scarier than Lung in a lot of ways.

    She has taken a massive step here towards “ends justify means” though. Like a running leap. I understand what she did and in the same situation I might have done the same but it still makes me uncomfortable and I’ve lost a little bit of sympathy for Taylor here. She also probably just lost any brownie points she had acquired from the Nine episode.

    • Unlike many other people,I ask this ,instead of arguing endlessly on how moral her action was:Considering Trickster is a dumbass idiot,what other moral choice did she have?negotiate semi peacefully?Trickster has blown that bridge.Abandoning her team/objective?imagine how negatively this would affect the people in her area and Dinah and the Undersiders.Negotiate aggresively,but giving the epipen right away?the mayor would never cave in,and Triumpth would likely arrest her,she would get not only a gunshot,at the least,for her troubles,but the points on her abandoning teammate/objective would remain

      In short:its moral because its the less immoral choice she had,not doing this would require copious amounts of hypocrisy.

      • See my other reply and note that “the least immoral choice now that I’ve dug myself into a hole through my own actions” is not the same thing as the moral choice.

        “Try to negotiate” would be a more moral choice at this point than brutally attacking people who were just defending their home, even if it had a lower chance of “success”.

        • Lower?yes,if it was lower,I’d agree,but it was clearly nil,considering how the mayor acted…even if we do not know it would turn out that way,we cannot blame Taylor for making the conclusion it surely would,based on previous interactions.
          Dug herself in a hole?as much as the others dug it for her,tell me,what other choice did shadowstalker and Armsmaster leave her?Even after they left,the only alternative would be giving the only people who were friends to them,after that point,I doubt you can fault them for not changing sides
          (refering to your other reply)Surrender?with Coil at her back,this wouldn’t turn out well…even if she had total disregard for her well being (which she does)it still would turn out badly
          Its still rape?not when it was,originally,used in the heat of battle….this is a grey area here,because no non superhero could use rape as self defence,or attack,but the bigger reason rape is a special kind of evil is not the trauma,but because there is no way to justify it as “necessary”,unlike violence,or ever torture,which can create the same traumas.But that reason falls short on this scenario.
          Would,and should,a hypothetical jury find her guilty?yes,it is a pet peeve of mine that justice should rehabilate all,but thats my thoughts about the justice system,I would still think she shouldn’t get preferential treatment.Is she morally reprehensible for it,however,when judged by beings who read her story?no,she does the right think,even if she pushes the grey boundary a lot.Not the grey thing,not the understandable but evil thing,the right thing considering the options she was given…though I do not disagree that,sometimes,a cascade of choosing lesser evils can lead to worse results than a single time of choosing a greater one.In the end its the fault of society,not for deserving her outlash but for creating continuous conditions when she had to choose the lesser evil
          Finally,I’d like to say this,not necessarily to you,but to all commenters:its easy to sit on a computer and say she did the wrong thing,its hard to make a choice of trying to do something to make the world better knowing it might be wrong…yet you must try,even if you dig your grave by other people who’ll judge you but never try,because the alternative is tyranny and stagnation.

  34. > His eyes roved over my massed decoys, his gun drifting from side to side as if he was getting ready to shoot at any instant.


    >“-Dying” the first finished.

    Missing punctuation in the quote.


    That’s inconsistent with literally every other reference to epipens in the entire story up to this point.

    >Life would be so much easier if I didn’t give a damn about other people’s well-being.

    Maybe you should, y’know, not give a damn about other people’s well-being…?

    I like the fight scenes where Taylor gets to use her cleverness rather than brute force. That said, it does make it seem like the top-tier heroes are really damn incompetent.

  35. my god, I’ve been reading this for about 15 hours and I am only on part 16, normally i would have finished four or five books in that time. I am delighted to find something that has entertained me this much.

  36. “Blind and struck at an opportune moment, Triumph fell.” -beginning of paragraph 42 (counting spaced out single-sentences as paragraphs).

  37. … Chekov’s epi pen!

    “None sing hymns to breath …
    bu oh! to be without it!”

    And a note for that (first!) long comment nesting above:
    Government is Law. It opposes and is opposed by Chaos (which can be read as Anarchy, personal codes, rampant possibility, or a number of other things).
    Morality is Good. It opposes and is opposd by Evil.
    There’s a _reason D&D, and most of its later editions, pointed out that these were separate axes and allowed combinations of them. If you fall into the trap of “if government/authority does it, it must be right/good” then you’re conflating the separate axes. Which also happens if you fall into the trap, so visible at present in the right and alt-right in the USA, of “government/authority is inherently Eeeevil and must be obstructed, dismantled, and diminished, to pass away in the West”.
    So just keep track of that when you’re arguing!

    –Dave, is there a trope category for Awesome Level Grows Upon Rereading, like Malazan?

  38. Very late to the party, but the main thing I’ve gotten over the entire story thus far is that the heroes aren’t so heroic and villains aren’t so villainous. There seems to be so much more assault, killings, escalations of violence, and general “I don’t care” from the heroes except where it benefits them or where they might be expected to act, as with fighting the Endnringer.

    Even when cooperating, it was a hero that set out to kill as many villains as possible while taking the glory for himself. Villains have overall shown more restraint, compassion, and humanity than many of the heroes.

    That isn’t to say there aren’t outliers on both sides, but I’m finding it way too easy to find examples of heroes doing bad things and them getting covered up or excused while villains are held to task only because of a simple label.

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