Interlude 15

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“Knock, knock.”

Triumph turned around.  “Sam.”

She poked her head around the edge of the door, hand over her eyes.  Beautiful.  She was blonde and wearing her skintight costume.  She had the figure to pull it off where so few really did.  The kind of body someone worked for.  Her mask was off, tucked into her belt.

“You decent?”  Prism asked, not moving her hand.

“Yeah.”  He finished folding his hospital gown and draped it at the foot of the bed. Not perfect, but it was better than leaving a mess.

“You’re okay to be up and about?”

“Yeah,” he said.  He didn’t want to reply with a single syllable again, so he turned to face her.  He smiled a little.  “I’m tough.”

“Don’t boast.  I was with your family while we watched the paramedics cart you off.”

“I made it.  I don’t heal that much faster than normal, but I do heal faster, I don’t scar, and I don’t tend to suffer long-term injuries.”

“But you nearly died.  Don’t forget.”

“I definitely won’t forget, believe me,” he said.  He balled up his bathrobe and put it in the gym bag that already sat on the bed.  “I’m surprised you came.”

“We’re dating,” she said.

“Three dates, and we both agreed it wouldn’t be anything permanent.”

“You say that and then you invite me to meet your parents.”

“Because the food at home is better than the rations you’d get anywhere else in this city.”  He raised an eyebrow, “But you’re the one checking on me this morning.  Didn’t you have a flight?””

“A flight’s easy enough to postpone when the Protectorate’s arranging it.  I decided I needed to sleep in after being up all night getting x-rayed, Ursa said she was ok with it.”

“I’m just saying, you didn’t have to stop by.”

“Don’t flatter yourself.  I wanted to see how Cache was doing.  It’s a walk down the hall to see you.”

“Ouch.  Allies before guys?”

“There’s got to be a better way of saying that.”

“Probably.  How’s he?”

“Burned badly, but he’s healing.  We’ll see how bad the long-term damage is.”

“And how are you?”

“Bruised, bit of a limp.  Pretty okay overall.”

“Good,” he smiled.  “Want to go get some coffee?  I’ve been running on so much caffeine lately that I think I’ll pass out if I don’t get my morning dose.  I’ll lend you my shoulder so you don’t have to put too much weight on that leg.”

“Coffee’s good.  But are there any places that are open?”

“There’s a place in the building.”

Prism made a face.

“Not institution coffee.  An actual coffee bar as part of the cafeteria.”  He slung his bag over one shoulder and offered her an arm.

“Don’t you need a wheelchair?  I thought it was hospital policy to wheel you to the door.”

“It’s fine.  Benefit of having a small hospital as part of the PRT building.  Pretty common for us to go straight from here to our offices, and there were apparently issues with photographers taking pictures of heroes in wheelchairs as they left the hospital.  Director Piggot arranged things this way for exactly this reason.”

“Damn.  Need to push for something like that in NYC.  Our hospital’s off-site.”  She put a hand on his shoulder and they began making their way down the hall.

Ursa Aurora turned the corner and spotted them.  Triumph could see the frown lines above the glossy black bear mask she wore, her obvious relief and the quickening of her pace on spotting him.  His heart sank. Something’s happened.  Or it’s happening.


“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“There’s an issue.  Division in the ranks.  Looking ugly.”

“The enemy?”

She shook her head.  “Our guys.  And it’s about you.”

That caught him off guard.  He shook his head a little; no time to get into the particulars.  He’d deal with the situation himself.  “Lead the way.”

Despite the apparent urgency of the situation, they couldn’t run.  Prism was hurt and the elevator was the fastest way to their destination.  Ursa went ahead to press the button while Triumph helped Prism limp her way there.

Gentler,” she hissed, after setting too much weight on her bad leg.


“I hate this, being injured,” Prism mumbled.

“It’s not too serious?”

“No.  Skitter tethered me to the roof so I dropped halfway, stopped, then cut the line so I’d drop the rest of the way.  Landed on my side.  But being hobbled like this, it brings back bad memories.”

He turned to Ursa as they approached the elevators.  “Press both buttons at the same time, three times in a row for the emergency use.”

Ursa did as he’d suggested, and the button began alternately flashing yellow and red.  The doors opened almost immediately afterward and they gathered inside.  Ursa hit the button for the basement floor: the Wards’ headquarters.

He glanced at her teammate.  It struck him that it was inappropriate to ask, but it also felt like Prism was inviting the question.  “Would it be bad form for me to ask?  About the bad memories?”

Prism shook her head.  “Ursa knows, and I’ve been working on getting over it.  I already mentioned my history in gymnastics.  My dad’s a coach, had spent his entire life pushing me and my siblings to be on the Olympic level.  I sometimes thought it was the only reason he had kids.  I was pretty close to qualifying when I tore my ACL.”

“Ouch.  You didn’t re-injure it last night?”

She shook her head, “Hip, not knee.  Looking back, I think I screwed up my knee back then because my dad had pushed me too hard and too fast.  But I blamed myself.  I got depressed, stayed home instead of going to the gym.  Once dad and the sibs realized I wasn’t going to come along anymore, I started to get left out of family events, left behind when they went out to eat after training.  It doesn’t sound like that huge a deal, but gymnastics had become a core part of my life, and it was gone.  Everything fell apart.”

“I’m sorry.  I know better than to say that’s not significant.  Believe me.  I’ve been there.”

She shrugged.  “I guess I became my own family.  Found another pillar to build my life around.  But even if I have a high pain tolerance, having an injury like this reminds me of those days.  Puts me in a bad mood for a while.  So I’m sorry if I’m irritable.”

“I can deal.”

They’d gone out as friends, first, because they both had similar backgrounds, and segued into a casual relationship.  They had both been athletes, once upon a time.  She was an ex-gymnast, he had been a baseball player.  She’d triggered because of the aftermath of a career-ending injury.  He’d acquired his powers because he’d been perpetually second place, doomed to miss his chance, a mere hair from a career in the major league.

He knew how devastating that stuff could be when you’d made the sacrifices, given up most of your adolescence to succeed at something, only to fall short.

He’d turned to his dad for help, and his dad had delivered a small vial that was supposedly designed to force a state equivalent to a trigger event, without the necessary trauma.  Irony had reared her ugly head when the major leagues had mandated MRI scans to check for powers and maintain the integrity of the game, mere months after he’d gained athletic ability that would let him compete.

In a way, he was glad.  Not that he had been back then.  He’d been spoiled, a brat, entitled.  He was relieved he hadn’t continued down that road, that he’d found a career where he was on something of an even playing field with his peers.

Not that things were perfect.

He could hear the arguing the second the elevator doors parted.

Miss Militia, Weld and Kid Win stood on one side of the room.  Assault was on the other side, perched on the edge of the terminal, with Clockblocker, Chariot and Vista at his side.

“-vigilantism!”  Miss Militia’s voice was tight with barely controlled anger.

“There has to be an authority for us to ignore for us be vigilantes,” Assault said.  His voice was calmer, but his body language wasn’t.  He was tense, the hand that wasn’t gripping the edge of the console was clenched into a fist.  “There isn’t.  Nobody’s stepping up to enforce anything.”

“The PRT stands.  All of the watchdogs are in place,” Miss Militia spoke.  “You go out and do something without an official a-ok and people are going to notice that we’re acting completely outside of the principles and rules the Protectorate stands for.”

“How?” Assault countered.  “Media?  In case you haven’t noticed, a full third of this city is still lacking power.  The reporters that have stuck around this long are too tired and too low on resources to follow along.”

“Cell cameras,”  Miss Militia said.  “People are watching and recording us every step of the way.”

“We’ll be covert.  I’m talking a fast, hard hitting strike.  Attack is always preferable over defense.

“You’re talking revenge,” Triumph spoke.  He let Ursa support Prism and stepped forward to join the ‘discussion’.

“Revenge, justice, it’s a pretty thin line.  But sure.  We can call it that,” Assault said, leaning back a little.  He smiled a little at Miss Militia; there was now one more person on his side of the argument.

Triumph glanced around the room.  Flechette, Ursa and Prism weren’t taking a side.  They weren’t local, and the politics here would be intimidating.

Still, Triumph glanced at Flechette.  She’s been around a few weeks.  She should feel confident about voicing an opinion.

Was she being neutral, or was she undecided?  Or was there another factor at play?

He felt so disconnected from the Wards, these days.  He barely recognized his old team.  Vista, Kid Win, Clockblocker… he’d been their captain, not so long ago.

Miss Militia and Assault were looking at him, waiting for him to speak.  From Assault’s confidence, there was no doubt he expected Triumph to take his side.

Instead, he commented, “Just going by what I’ve heard, Assault’s arguing we should take the fight to the enemy?  Without Piggot’s consent?”

“Piggot has told us to stand down,” Miss Militia spoke.  “So we’d be going against her directive.”

“They attacked one of our own.  Again,” Assault said.  “And they broke a cardinal rule.  They attacked family.  You don’t unmask a cape, and if you happen to discover their secret identity, you don’t go after their family.”

“The family’s testimony suggests that wasn’t deliberate.  Skitter informed Trickster partway through,” Weld said.

Clockblocker cut in, “But we can assume she found out beforehand.  Unless you’re going to suggest she figured it out on her own?”

“No,” Weld replied.  “It makes sense.  I suspect Tattletale could find out something like that.  I’d even believe she’s found out all of our identities by now.  But I’m saying Trickster wasn’t in the know, and he’s the person who made the conscious decision to attack Triumph’s sister.”

“They’ve broken other unspoken rules,” Assault said, looking at Triumph and Miss Militia rather than the junior members.  “Shatterbird?  Are we really going to let that one slide?”

“Anything goes when fighting the Nine,” Miss Militia said.

“The Nine are gone.  He’s still breaking the rules.  He kidnapped and took control of Shadow Stalker.  He’s affected civilians.  Criminals, admittedly, but still civilians.”

“And the people in charge know that,” Miss Militia said.  “If they decide that it’s crossing the line, we can act decisively.”

“People in suits,” Assault said.  “They sit in offices with padded chairs, viewing everything through the filter of clinical, tidy paperwork.  They don’t know what it is to be in the field, to face the risk of death or fates worse than death in the service of this city.”

If Miss Militia had been getting ready for a response, she hesitated when Assault said ‘fates worse than death’, his voice revealing a tremor of emotion.

Triumph could imagine the scene as he’d glimpsed it: Battery on her deathbed, wasting away from a poison designed to be cruel rather than efficient.  But as slow as it had worked, it had proved incurable.

Assault went on, and there was no hint of the earlier emotion in his voice.  Rather, he sounded dangerously like a leader.  “If we don’t act on this, if we don’t move on the Undersiders and the Travelers, then we’re saying that’s alright.  We’re saying it’s okay to do those same things to us.”

“You’d be violating your probationary status on the team,” Miss Militia said, quiet.  “Going against orders.”

“My joining the Protectorate was conditional on being on the same team as Battery,” Assault replied.  He met Miss Militia’s eyes with a level stare, as if challenging her to press the issue.

There was no doubt what was at the root of Assault’s anger.  Miss Militia, by contrast, was the leader of the Protectorate because of her unwavering loyalty and willingness to not only abide by the rules but to fight for them.  Triumph could understand why they’d taken the positions they had.

He glanced at the others.  Weld was a company man, so to speak, and the PRT was his family, after a fashion.  It made sense that he’d stand by the rules imposed by the PRT, the Protectorate and the Wards.  Clockblocker had always chafed under the yoke of the institution, and Chariot could easily be the same.  Most Wards went through a phase like that, feeling the pressures, the strict rules, realizing that the Wards existed in part to keep them out of the worst of things, while aching to go out and be a hero.  Clockblocker had never entirely grown out of it.

It could be that Chariot’s stance here was what Coil wanted.  Triumph couldn’t forget that Chariot was an undercover operative, planted by the supervillain to gather information.

No, none of those calls surprised him.  The outliers, the ones that caught him off guard…

“Vista, I didn’t think you’d be wanting to break the rules like this,” he commented.  Before she could reply, he said, “And Kid Win.  I took you for more of a rebel.”

“I’m tired of losing people,” Vista said.  “We lost Gallant.  Aegis too, and Velocity, Dauntless, Battery…”

“Yeah.  And Shadow Stalker,” Triumph offered.

“She left,” Clockblocker said.

“I’d still consider her a casualty,” Triumph said.  “We might not have liked her, but she was one of us, and the enemy basically took her from us.”

“I don’t want to forget Glory Girl and Panacea,” Clockblocker said.  “She and her sister did me a life-changing favor.  We don’t know the whole story there, but the Undersiders or the Nine had to have played a part in how that unfolded.  But that’s one hell of a list of names.  There’s less of us than there are them, and we’re losing.  Not just fights, but we’re losing this war.  Don’t you see that?”

“I see it,” Miss Militia said, her voice particularly quiet compared to her raised volume earlier.  “But that’s exactly why I’m telling you not to do this.  The second we make this into an actual war, we change it from a losing fight to an outright defeat.  At best everyone involved would lose out, our enemies included.  I don’t want that.”

“You’re making it sound more complicated than it is,” Assault said.  “I’m talking a quick, hard hitting strike against one of their territories.  One of the master-classifications would be a good bet.  I’d suggest Regent, but Shatterbird is too big a complication.  Better to take out Hellhound or Skitter.  Doing either would cut their tactical options down by a third, and it could gain us a hostage to leverage against the others.”

“Not Tattletale?” Clockblocker asked.

Assault shook his head.  “She’d know we were coming.  It’s in Armsmaster’s notes from his first meeting with Skitter.  It’s why they’re so elusive as a group, and that’s why it’s so crucial we strike first, while they’re still split up in individual territories.  Grue, Trickster, Genesis or Imp would escape too readily, and confronting Ballistic or Sundancer would place our side at too much risk.”

“They’d retaliate,” Miss Militia said, “And we’d almost certainly lose.  We’re roughly matched in numbers, we’re outmatched in raw firepower and they have the edge on us in terms of tactical knowledge.”

“So we’re supposed to sit here and take it?” Clockblocker asked.  “If my family gets attacked next time, I don’t think my dad’s about to haul out a shotgun to defend himself.”

“That’s not exactly how it played out,” Triumph said.  “But no.  I don’t think we should take it, and I don’t think we should attack.  Miss Militia’s right.”

Assault’s eyebrows rose in surprise.

“Thank you,” Miss Militia said.  “I understand that some of you are upset.  We’re all upset.  We’re all concerned about our loved ones, about the current state of things in the city and about possibly being captured and controlled by Regent.  But we’re only going to succeed with the support of the Protectorate as a whole, and we’ll only have that if we stick to the rules.”

“Well said,” Director Piggot spoke.

All heads turned.  Director Piggot stood in the doorway that led to the stairwell.

“Director,” Assault said.  He didn’t look fazed by the woman’s appearance.

“I hope you’ll hear me out before committing to a plan of action?”

“Of course.”  Assault leaned back, folding his arms.

“Then let me introduce our visitors.”  Piggot stepped to one side, shifting her prodigious weight out of the way of the door.

There were two of them, each covered head to toe in power armor that was similar in theme, if not in design.  It was heavy duty stuff, and even without tinker abilities, Triumph could admire it as something exceptionally well made.

They were the same height, a man and a woman.  The man held a spear that was no less than fifteen feet long, with a two-pronged tip on the end.  The woman wore something that looked to be  a modified jetpack, divided into two pieces that each had to weigh as much as she did.  The exhaust jets fanned out to either side of her, like the feathers of a bird’s outstretched wings.

The woman removed her helmet, then shook her head so her dark hair could fall around the armor around her shoulders and neck.  She wasn’t beautiful, but she wasn’t ugly either.  Even ‘plain’ wasn’t the right label.  She was exceptionally average in appearance, to the point that it was borderline eerie.  He couldn’t pin down as belonging to any particular ethnicity, nor could he eliminate her from one.

Yet she’s strangely familiar, Triumph observed.

Triumph looked at the man, waiting for him to remove his helmet, but he didn’t.  The man folded his arms instead, still holding on to the spear with one hand.

That body language.  Triumph’s eyes widened behind his visor.  No.  No way.  No way he’d come back here.

But if he was here, then the woman would be-

“Dragon,” Miss Militia said.  “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

Dragon extended a hand, and Miss Militia shook it.  “Likewise.  Let me introduce Defiant.”

Triumph glanced around at the others.  Nobody here was so stupid as to miss what was going on.  Even the capes that weren’t native to Brockton Bay would figure this out in a heartbeat.

“Dragon and Defiant have stopped by to pick up resources and gather information before taking on a long-term mission,” the Director explained.  “Would you like to explain?”

“The Nine,” Dragon explained.  “We know their general behavior.  After a spree like the one they had here in Brockton Bay, they’re going to retreat.  They’ll stick to back roads and isolated small towns, use time and distance to let the heat dissipate.  Jack may keep his people engaged with games like what he tried to set up here.  Scaling up slowly in a remote area, seeing how badly they can terrify the local populace, ending with a grand climax before moving on.  They’ll also be looking to recruit and replace missing members, and I expect they’ll go easier on testing the recruits until they’ve replenished their numbers.”

“What are you doing, then?” Assault asked.

“We’re going after them,” Defiant spoke.  His voice was partially altered by his helmet, but it was still identifiable.

Why is everyone pretending they don’t know that’s Armsmaster?

Defiant continued, “And we’re not going to stop.  Pursuit will continue twenty-four seven, year-round.  We keep them running until they get tired and hungry enough that they make a mistake, and we capitalize on that.”

“We’ve tried this before,”  Miss Militia responded.  “I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the idea, but Assault was just arguing that it’s easier to attack than to defend, and I agree.  You won’t be able to prevent every casualty.”

“The primary issue before,” Dragon replied, “Is that the previous efforts were squads, sleeping in shifts, always moving.  Invariably, the Nine would catch on to what was happening, they’d take out the squad on duty and then they would disappear before the others could mobilize to stop them.  Or the Nine would circle around and kill the off-duty squad members.  We don’t have that problem.”

“I don’t follow,” Assault said.

“Dragon mentioned to me once that she doesn’t need to sleep.  A side effect of her powers,” Miss Militia said.

Dragon dipped her head in a nod.  “I tried going after the Slaughterhouse Nine before, but Shatterbird’s powers proved too difficult to work around, and I was only one person.  Now I have a partner.”

“Defiant?”  Miss Militia asked.

Defiant tapped his chest.  “With Dragon’s help, I’ve replaced my internal organs and parts of my brain with artificial equivalents.  My current downtime is a rough fifteen minutes a day. That includes waste, sleep and eating.  In the next two weeks, I intend to reduce it to a mere twelve minutes.”

Vista’s hands went to her mouth in shock.

He’s made himself into a monster.  And Dragon doesn’t even flinch as he announces it. Triumph’s own eyes were wide.

Miss Militia seemed to recover faster than anyone else.  “That’s not the only issue the squads faced.  There’s the psychological strain.  Hunting a prey for days, weeks, months at a time?  Especially targets that will commit atrocities if you let your guard down for a second?  It gets to you.”

“I think,” Defiant paused, as if he had to pick the right words, “My single-mindedness will be an asset on that front.”

“It’s worth a try,” Dragon said.  “Between us, Defiant and I can customize our equipment and approach to effectively counter the Nine’s powers.  Once we have a lead, we’ll maintain constant pressure for as long as necessary.  Even if we can’t save everyone, even if we can’t stop them outright with Siberian rendering others invincible, I think we can keep them from setting up another major event like they tried here in Brockton Bay, and we can hopefully keep them from recruiting.”

“The PRT is hopeful,” the Director said, “They gave their consent.  But you’ll have to explain how this is relevant to the current situation.”

“Of course.  If everyone would turn their attention to the monitors?”

Assault had to hop down from where he was sitting on the edge of the long desk to see.  Everyone else turned as the images appeared across the screen.  One armored suit after another.

“The Cawthorne mark three.”

A sleek model resembling a cross between a dragon and a fighter jet, mounted with four engines around the ‘shoulders’.

“The Astaroth-Nidhug hybrid, making use of the Nidhug design that was partially damaged in prior confrontations.”

It didn’t look like a mesh.  It looked like a cohesive design, a massive gun barrel with teeth at the end, outfitted not with a handle, but three afterburners at the rear and three at the midsection.  The landing gear looked spindly.  It was also, Triumph realized, quite large.  No smaller than a commercial aircraft, if the machinery beneath it was supposed to be a forklift.

“The Ladon-Two.”

It didn’t look as sleek or combat-ready as the others, smaller, almost spherical in the body.

“That’s a utility design,” Chariot said.  “What’s the concept?”

“A forcefield generator,” Dragon replied.  “Dual offensive and defensive use.  I also have the Glaurung Zero-Model, the Pythios-Two, the Melusine-Six and the Azazel ready for field use.”

The camera panned out to show a sheared-off mountaintop with the seven armored suits and a hangar or factory.

“It is thanks to Defiant’s assistance that I can now do this.”

Simultaneously, each armored suit flared to life and took off, disappearing from the camera’s field of view.  The cloud of dust and snow that spread out from the takeoff point obscured the camera’s view.  The image went black.

“I have nine models in total that I can keep active simultaneously.  More are in development.  It’s inefficient and expensive to keep all of them active when we do not yet have a bead on the Slaughterhouse Nine.  With the Director’s consent, we’ll be stationing the seven suits we’re not personally using in Brockton Bay.  The PRT will remain in contact with me so I can remotely deploy them.  That is, those not already in use against the Slaughterhouse Nine or an Endbringer.”

Not just one, but seven suits crafted by the best tinker in the world.

Triumph glanced at Chariot.  The boy seemed pensive, but that could have been one tinker admiring the work of another.

“Hard to believe you need Defiant riding along when you have that kind of raw firepower,” Assault commented.

“Two sets of eyes are better than one, and we can keep each other sane.  Defiant will pilot the Uther when he isn’t on the ground.”

“Well, Defiant, your hard work is appreciated.  I wish you the best of luck.  You too, Dragon,” Miss Militia said.

They can’t possibly be buying this.

“Nobody’s going to say it?”  Triumph asked, before he could censor himself.

Every set of eyes turned to him.  He could only go forward.

“You… don’t really believe this?  This Defiant thing?  He’s not even trying to hide it.”

The tension in the room was so thick he could have choked on it.

“If you have a valid concern about Defiant,” Director Piggot spoke, “I think it would benefit us all to hear it.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but she’d already raised her hand to stop him.  “Rest assured, Triumph, if you were to allege criminal activity, we would arrest and detain him until a case could be made.  We’d pull him off this wholly voluntary task and if your charges were serious enough, send him to the Birdcage.  I suppose we’d have to adjust Dragon’s battle plan against the Nine, she would likely be forced to rethink her idea of having the suits stationed in Brockton Bay, so she was better able to defend herself.”

“I get what you’re saying.”

“I’m not saying anything, Triumph, only that you’re entirely free to speak.”

He glanced around the room at the others.  Clockblocker looked at the monitors, Assault was adjusting his glove, Vista staring hard at the ground.  Nobody met his eyes.

Except Director Piggot.  It would have been easier to stare down a Bengal tiger than to meet her steel-gray eyes.

There’s a difference between serving the system and enabling it.

“Just wanted to say that the guy’s got cojones,” Triumph said, with no emotion or inflection.  “Taking on the Slaughterhouse Nine like that, being this new to the game.”

“Quite so,” the Director replied.  “You’ll be on double patrols until the elections are over, but you’ll have the suits arriving within a minute of any confrontations.  The schedule’s already in the system.  I and my direct subordinates will be available twenty-four-seven to those manning the console.  We’ll then be able to verbally sign-off on the deployment of any of the dragon models.”

He couldn’t bring himself to speak up and say it.  That Armsmaster was here, posing as a new hero.  Triumph knew he was enabling the system, he was allowing something wrong to happen here, but stopping the Nine was more important.  Having the suits to turn the table on the villains taking over the city?  Too much hung in the balance.

“Hey,” Prism murmured in his ear.  She’d created a duplicate rather than hobble over to him. “You okay?”

He shook his head.

“Still want to get that coffee?”

“No.  No thanks.”  He had trouble looking at her.  She hadn’t said anything, hadn’t tried to say anything.  Yes, it was the better choice in the long run, putting Armsmaster to work against the Nine.  That didn’t mean it wasn’t wrong.

He was still relatively new to this.  Three years of duty, most of which had been spent among the Wards.  Was he the only one who was just old enough to speak out, not yet so old and jaded that he acceded to authority over anything else?

Or was it the opposite?  Was he of the age where he had the ignorance of youth coupled with the arrogance of adulthood?

As much as he’d thought she was the ideal girl before, as much as he’d shared her background with a failed sports career of his own, he could barely recognize her.

“I gotta go.  Need to take a walk.”

“My flight is-”

“Right.  Of course.  Have a nice flight.  Maybe I’ll see you at a future date?”

Disappointment crossed her face.  “Maybe.”

He stepped into the elevator and pressed the button.  The doors whisked shut.

His mind was a dull buzz as he walked.  He’d looked up to Armsmaster, once.  He’d understood the man.  His own experiences of being second best in baseball ran parallel to the feelings Armsmaster had hinted at but never outright stated; the Protectorate captain had been resentful of Dauntless’ meteoric rise, the inevitable moment that Dauntless would effortlessly supplant him as leader of the team.

As much as he hated to admit it, Triumph could understand where Armsmaster was coming from.  He could imagine the selfish joy the man must have experienced when Dauntless fell.  It would have been horrifying, too, no doubt, but that horror would be tempered by pragmatism.  Death was a natural consequence of an Endbringer attack.  It was reality.  So maybe Armsmaster had told himself it was okay to feel relieved that a rival had fallen.

He could see why Armsmaster had taken the route he had in the actual battle.  Taking on Leviathan one-on-one had been the only way the combat prediction program would work, and he’d had an effective weapon.  If villains happened to die in the process, well, he only had to call on that pragmatism again.  Triumph didn’t agree with the line of thinking, but he could see how it had happened.

Armsmaster had been injured by Leviathan and Mannequin, and replaced parts of himself with mechanical equivalents.  He’d realized the benefits, worked with Dragon to step them up further.  He’d failed to defeat Leviathan, had been too hurt to fight the Nine directly.  So he augmented himself further, eradicated his need for sleep, for time spent eating and shitting.

Armsmaster, Defiant, would achieve that respect he hungered for by stopping the Nine.  Or he would join Dragon in stopping an Endbringer.

It spooked Triumph because he could imagine it all too easily, where his teammates seemed dumbfounded.  It all made sense, to the point that he could imagine himself doing something similar if he found himself in Armsmaster’s shoes.

He wouldn’t ever do something like that; that was how he’d reassured himself.  He was no longer that selfish teenager who’d received superpowers from his father like his peers got cars on their sixteenth birthday.  He’d hoped for an undetectable, undeniable advantage over his peers and been enraged when it had been denied him.  He’d changed, forced himself to change; he would be a good student, he’d help his fellow citizens, do the right thing.

Except he hadn’t.  He’d kept his mouth shut.  Armsmaster would get away scott free with what he had done.  He might even succeed in stopping the Nine, in seeing them killed or put in the Birdcage.  The world would be better for it, and a warped man who’d mechanized his humanity for one more edge would be regaled as a hero.  And he couldn’t help but feel that he’d taken one small step forward on the very same road that Armsmaster had traveled before him.

Triumph’s walk brought him to the scar.  Just as Leviathan had turned a section of Downtown into a sinkhole, the Director had dropped countless tinker-made bombs on central downtown.  There was radioactive fallout, but the reported levels weren’t dangerously high.  Fire still burned in one area days after the fact, and he had to skirt around a cloud of dangerous-looking white vapor to reach his destination.

Seating himself on a safe-looking piece of rubble, Triumph rested his elbows on his knee and stared at the figures.  Crawler and Mannequin, turned to silicon by the detonation of one of Bakuda’s bombs.  Crawler looked almost joyous, limbs spread and flexed, mouth open in a roar.  Mannequin was caught mid-dash, low to the ground.

He stared at them, as if he could burn them into his memory.  He couldn’t say why he was here, exactly, but he’d felt compelled to see the real monsters for himself, outside of the heat of battle and the frantic and desperate scramble for survival.

Maybe it was to find some clue, some sign he could watch out for, that would let him identify the monsters from the men.

He’d stay for five minutes at most, he told himself.  Whatever the records said, it was better to be safe than sorry when radiation was involved.  Five minutes, and if he couldn’t see anything by then, there wasn’t much use in staying longer.

He stayed for fifteen.

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303 thoughts on “Interlude 15

    • To elaborate: “Defiant” is fucked up, and basically a good version of Mannequin. But hey, maybe they’ll succeed in taking out members of the Nine.

          • Necro, but is Mannequin really still human? He couldn’t have made contained biospheres around all the little bits of his body if he were still entirely human. He must have either mechanical bits or, more likely, plants and microorganisms living within him to provide nutrients, oxygen, and everything else he needs to live, while also getting rid of any waste matter. He’s probably more plant than human, and the human bits are just organs floating in his mid section. He’d probably go without the organs too, if he could find a way to make it work.

      • There’s nothing inherently wrong with body modification. Armsmaster was seriously injured by his encounter with Mannequin, are you trying to suggest he shouldn’t use technology to help repair the damage that was done to him? Or should he be confined to the ICU of the local hospital for the rest of his life?

        • I should apologize here. I created a strawman and also was too aggressive in my arguments. I stand by my assertions that there’s nothing wrong with what Armsmaster did with regards to his prostheses, but I’m sorry that I made the argument in such a rude and intellectually dishonest way.

          • The problem with organs being replaced or encased in something is that it seems to prove Mannequin correct in his assertion that they are similar, which has some potentially bad implications if Mannequin keeps being correct.

            • I don’t really see the similarity. Mannequin’s work is primarily designed to insulate himself from the world, while Defiant seems to try to streamline and improve his body to become more capable and efficient. There seems to be an idea that reducing your downtime to fifteen minutes a day crosses some kind of line that makes him other than human, but I don’t think it’s any different from the impulse that makes a nearsighted person use glasses, or a hungry farmer grow potatoes instead of grass.

              But I am curious how much Dragon has told him about herself. Maybe she’s pushed him towards this transhuman transformation, maybe made some suggestions, maybe presenting him with finished robot parts to install. It could be that she wants him to be more like her, without biological parts, partly because she’s lonely and partly because she thinks he – or humans in general – can use such improvements.

              Or maybe she’s told him everything and completely deconstructed his idea of what constitutes a human being, and his goal now is to make himself an AI, partly to understand Dragon better and partly to better serve the world. Both scenarios are so intriguing I’m giggling like Bonesaw imagining how those conversations may have gone.

              Defiant, as I suppose we’re calling him now, is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters. His interactions with Dragon are always great to read, his power is so far out there and yet so fully integrated with the story world (I LOVE that we see how his nanotech weaponry has proliferated to the point where Mannequin uses it), and he wants to do so much good, even if it’s for the wrong reason. His enormous flaw, that desire to be admired and respected at any cost, doesn’t exactly make him sympathetic, but he’s wonderfully, gloriously believable, and a big part of what sells the story to me.

              • Well, his initial parts were the ones that Dragon had been constructing for her own use, to make an avatar capable of interacting with people directly. But she only offered those after his meaty parts were destroyed/removed, in order to get him back to functionality.

                I would guess that most of the upgrades after that he would have done himself. He’d already been constantly pushing himself toward the best efficiency he could achieve, not sleeping much, constantly training and studying, building systems into his armor to improve his efficiency in combat, developing personalized interfaces for all his gear to eke out that last percent of performance… it’s the same principles as his tinker talent, but applied to everything he does. And now that he’s been pushed over that first threshold by Mannequin’s attack, now that he’ll never be fully “human” again, there’s suddenly no reason for him not to optimize his body in the same way as his habits and his gear.

              • Since Defiant has helped Dragon bypass certain of her restrictions, allowing her to field multiple suits at once, that strongly implies that he knows she’s an AI – the alternative is that she somehow got him to reprogram her blind despite her programmed imperatives to prevent anyone other than her creator from reprogramming her. It’s far more believable that he knew exactly what he was doing than that he somehow managed to hack her without knowing…

      • I disagree, Dragon would suggest that being mechanical is not related to be batshit insane.

        Heck, I think it’s sweet…or I would if it wasn’t enabled by the PRT again being enourmous hypocritical douchebags.

      • Armsmaster is someone who treats everyone as a means to end. He doesn’t care about the people, I’d tentatively say, he’d have no qualms about killing anyone he worked with if it means he could seize power, glory, admiration.

        Armsmaster is not good or evil, he’s just amoral and ambitious.

        • “Amoral” is a large component of “Evil”. Where do you draw the line? Risking a city and killing people, villains though they may be, for nothing but a slight shot at personal glory? (He failed, which really should have been obvious as the likeliest outcome.) If that’s not enough, consider that he also risked the informal treaty that brought about half of the capes into these battles against the Endbringers. If THAT isn’t enough, consider that at least for the months the story has been active and probably for years, if not decades*, beforehand, Armsmaster had been acting in this same way–personal glory first. The fact that he helped people was secondary.
          We see Skitter as a “good guy” because she honestly wants to help people and do the right thing, despite the fact that her actions aren’t always so good. Similarly, we see Armsmaster/Defiant as a “bad guy” because his helpful, good deeds are done for selfish reasons which often cause him to compromise the “goodness” of the actions.

          *I’m not sure how long Armsmaster has been caping, but I’m guessing his behavior has been going on for a fair portion of his career.

          • ‘We’ is a bit a bit too inclusive for my tastes. I respect, maybe even like, Skitter’s overall moral perspective. She helps people, wants to save Dinah and generally be a ‘sort of’ good guy. Yup, yup. All good things.

            However, she is insufferably superior, seems fairly hypocritical and talks about how she doesn’t like ‘person x’ far too often. This is exacerbated by the fact that the story seems to bend itself rather mysteriously to prop up her position. There is a chance in this story that if Taylor doesn’t like you, you are in danger of being outed as some kind of villain or shady person. As with Amy and seemingly the entire Protectorate. Or perhaps it would be better to say that in this story if you have clear moral boundaries and identify yourself distinctly as a hero, you a in danger of being outed as the opposite.

            And if not compromised, you then fall into the category of being naive, incompetent, or both. Actually, lets talk true, almost every character in this story is incompetent next to Skitter.

            Heck, if you oppose her in almost anyway you are, or become, somewhat less than good. You might even be in physical danger. The slightly mean Doctor got in her face and she DIED! Really, she was uppity one minute, and then got stabbed the next (the very next minute). I mean, look at her dad! The guy is afraid to say anything because he is *terrified!* Evil Suzumiya Haruhi. For real.

            Less jovialy, if not for the sake of any kind of fairness or even believability, then for the sake of the fights themselves, balance things the heck out! So perhaps she doesn’t COMPLETELY walk over everyone, but there is this weird feeling that she wins too easily. Or it’s not convincing enough that she should have won that easily. It is almost as if EVERYONE else is completely incapable of any kind of ingenuity or competent strategy. The initial confrontations were kind of great. There was a kind of push and pull. A back and forth. It was interesting and enjoyable. Then later, when the Undersiders make their breathtaking escape, it is cool. Now it is kind of ‘blegh!’ Taylor’s snide and superior comments don’t help matters either.

            Ugh, now that I think about it the only really good fight was the bank robbery. Perhaps I don’t like the fights in this story that much, which to be fair is a problem I seem to have with a lot of long running comics, anime etc (The Avatar franchise being a rare exception). Still, I *really* don’t like them here. Probably more than usual.

            • I don’t think she wins too easily. Skitter’s whole shtick is that her powers kind of suck compared to most of the rest of the cast but she’s smart so she gets creative. She’s like an organic Armsmaster really. He couldn’t do much beyond make good things small so he made a lot of really good stuff and added it all into his armor and weapons so he’d be crazy versatile. She does the same thing. She can’t brute force things so she gets deceptive and comes up with really weird off the wall stuff that most people don’t think to look for.

              The other characters in the story for the most part don’t need to be super tactical because they’re used to simply showing up and blowing away the competition with sheer force. (Kid Win seems to be an exception but we’ve already seen he knows and hates that but doesn’t have the attention span to really be able to fix it.) Grue’s answer: darkness, beat them up, run. Tattletale’s answer: fuck with their minds. Lung’s answer: kill everything with brute force. Oni Lee: teleport spam. Trickster’s answer: teleport spam. Genesis’ answer: lose, make better form, kick ass.

              Skitter doesn’t have those options. She has bugs. Lots of bugs but they’re still just bugs. So beyond mass bugs, she has to be tactical to win and even then she comes damn close to losing a lot and only makes it through most fights because her opponents don’t see the need to bother with tactics like she does. It’s not that they are incapable, it’s just that she has a need they don’t. Even now, people still don’t really consider her too much of a threat because otherwise they wouldn’t toss her out as one of the easy targets in this planning session. Honestly I’m much more surprised that they aren’t taking her threat seriously considering that she just handed Triumph and Prism their asses to them and showed Fletchette that she could sneak a giant beetle right behind her in addition to being smart enough to get out of a lose lose situation.

        • Total necro, whatever, this is too good to pass up: one of Kant’s two definitions of morality is that whenever you treat others as a means to an end, you also treat them as ends in themselves.

          Which is to say, your description of Armsmaster is the definition of evil.

          • The tagline for Worm is “Doing the wrong things for the right reasons”. I don’t think Kantian morality really plays into it.

            • Sure it does! Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative states that you should “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” Kant thought that the human ability to reason about morality gives us a right to decide what is good for ourselves, and what we want, and failure to respect this ability in others by merely treating them as means to your own ends is one of the definitions of amorality, as was mentioned by mayhem.

              It is actually very interesting to see the actions and decisions in Worm from the perspective of Kantian ethics. How many of the characters think that what they are doing should be a general rule in society? This does seem to be part of the motivation of several superheroes. It’s also clear that most higher-ups in this story fails to respect other people’s moral autonomy, following what seems like utilitarian ideas of wanting to achieve the overall best outcome for everyone (or so they say).. I like to think of Skitter as someone who follows some sense of Kantian ethics, to whatever extent that is even possible in a universe with so many amoral actors and difficult choices. Her consideration of other people’s motivations and goals makes her stand out quite a bit.

              First post in these forums, as I only now have discovered this amazing story, having been tipped off through HPMOR. Here’s to hoping for more necros in the future! Cheers 😀

              • I was also tipped off by the hpmor update :3

                This shit is awesome, and is really making me itch to continue my own stories after a rather lengthy hiatus.

                Morality in this verse is as fucked as it is in ours really. In that so few people seem to have any trace of it or their idea of morality is ridiculously skewed by the pressures of the society and the unpredictability of the wormverse.

    • Defiant continued, “And we’re not going to stop. Pursuit will continue twenty-four seven, seven days a week, year-round….”

      24/7 implies seven days a week. They need to fix that dialog.

  1. The great thing is I can so easily see Taylor making all the same decisions as Armsmaster. She wouldn’t be making them for personal glory, but she is still gradually making them to save one girl. What would she do to save the entire world?

    • Kill, most likely.

      But the issue with that is that many of Armsmaster’s worst decisions stemmed from the desire for glory itself. Not sharing his plans, stealing credit. Etc.

      • Oh I am not disputing that. I am just saying I can see Taylor making the same choices as Armsmaster, if for different reasons.

        • It all sort of falls under the banner of Pragmatism. Armsmaster is searching for the most practical way to gain glory for a justifiable cause, while Taylor is pursuing an arguably more noble goal in the same manner.

    • What are the odds at least one of those suits is going to be on guard at the townhall and is able to recognize Taylor when she goes with her dad?

      • Remind me, how would Dragon recognize Taylor as Skitter? They have the same build and hair, but aside from that nothing shows past Skitter’s costume. Dragon’s good, but she doesn’t have psychic powers.

          • Wait a sec. Wasn’t this originally about someone guessing that Tatloy going to City Hall with her father letting Dragon connect the dots?

            • No, Dragon already knows the identity of Skitter. But if she’s spotted at the town hall by Dragon, then that would give Dragon an opportunity to catch/talk to her.

              I know I’m 4 years late in answering your question. Just give me this…

    • Though white supremacists are certainly a bad thing, I don’t think “Defiant” necessarily deserves any form of credit for getting Kaiser killed. Motivation is a big theme in this story, and his motivation for putting the villain in harm’s way was purely selfish. If he had killed the man to prevent the victimization of gay people and ethnic minorities, that might be admirable, but the fact we don’t know him to have specifically target Empire Eighty-Eight in the past sorta negates that possibility. (Plus the fact that he got relatively innocent capes killed at the same time.)

      Note I do enjoy Armsmaster as a character. He’s complex and sometimes badass. He’s just also a dick and generally a bad dude.

    • We know that it was all on the nine, he doesn’t have our view of things. The undersiders were running around that area when Battery died, and the undersiders are doing alot of fucked up things. Assuming that the undersiders were involved is not a terribly hard jump to make.

      • what the undersiders involved in that
        no way
        taylor wouldn’t let something like that happen or even help with it, would she^^

        • In this case he’s actually pretty close to the truth. Right for the wrong reasons. During the agnosia fog, Skitter attacked Battery, tied her up, and left her to the mercy of whatever happened to come along. Battery did break out, but without that delay she might have been able to escape Bonesaw’s mechanical spiders and their poison injections. (Of course had Skitter not tied her up Jack and Bonesaw would have just killed her out of hand, but that doesn’t change the fact Skitter did play a role in her death).

      • Basically everything get’s blamed on the undersiders. For us it’s tension building and makes us annoyed because we know that they really haven’t done all that much wrong.

        Stuff like Panacea and Battery who they risked a lot to try and save, is especially biting.

        Still, makes sense the heroes would be stupidly stubborn in looking for the very worst possibility.

        • I would blame the villains even more if I was in their shoes. They make good scapegoats for their own failings, and it isn’t like they can defend themselves.

            • Unless we get a hero with postcognitive projection (that is, projecting what happened in the past into some sort of picture), that’s not likely. No one who they would believe knows the truth enough.

              They’ve made small stupid decisions, but their large errors are due to ignorance. Ignorance, I should add, that Skitter had when she joined the Undersiders.

        • This is not them just being stupidly stubborn. They don’t have our perspective, so the possibility that the undersiders were involved HAS to be considered. The undersiders are showing a willingness to break unspoken rules and are incredibly dangerous. Just assuming they had nothing to do with what happened would be folly.

          • There is the issue of incredibly advanced, cruel poisoning being a thing a tinker would come up with. The Nine have the most advanced medical tinker in the world, the Undersiders have none.

            Still, there’s room enough in the villain barrel for both groups, obviously.

          • Guile -it’s less the accusation that the Undersiders inflicted the poison than the suspicion that Battery may have been poisoned because the Undersiders distracted her, interfered, or simply used her as a sacrificial pawn for their greater goals. In a more abstract sense, he could blame them because they escalated the situation.

            Or, if you want to be even less specific, perhaps he doesn’t even blame them, he’s just angry, he’s helpless to do anything significant against the Nine (being unable to find them or mount an actual offense against them) and the Undersiders are a viable target.

            • The latter was how I was reading it. Assault just wants to hit something and make someone suffer that the girl he loved died a painful meaningless death. The Nine are gone so he can’t fight Bonesaw. Now Skitter goes and hurts someone he works with. Whether intentional or not it doesn’t matter, it’s a good enough reason that he can feel justified with lashing out and hurting her or her team. I’m not above admitting I’ve done similar things.

          • Indeed, Everyone knows the nine were responsible, just like Everyone knows that is Armsmaster in the room with Dragon, they just CAN’T think that way, they put the knowledge behind them because its easier to accept that its the new hero Defiant, and its not the impossibly invincible and feared Slaughter House Nine that has wronged them, just a group of local and easy to find Villains.

            They are angry and frustrated. They just want to hit back for once, and you have to admit, When skitter gets her swarm all over you, under your suit, in your ears eyes nose and mouth, crawling all over your body inside and out, talking through her swarms. Always hiding beneath a cloud of bugs, shes pretty dam easy to move from that “think of as a human being with feelings” to the “evil monster” box

  2. Prism’s version of events is interesting. This is how rumors start. Only to be compounded by the decision that Skitter knew what she was walking in on.

    Building up Tattletale even as Coil knocks her down, and probably upgrading every fear of Skitter but her mind.

    ”Ursa, press both buttons” Not really a mistake but it feels weird having him address her by name like that.
    “when Assault had said” the tense here gets a bit weird with that ‘had’ there.
    “a Bengali tiger” Bengal tiger.

  3. Triumph is making a pretty big assumption here – what if Dragon and Armsmaster managed to make those modifications without changing his personality or anything important? Not that Armsmaster wasn’t a rat bastard before, but calling anyone who isn’t as bad as the Nine or an Endbringer a monster cheapens the word.

    Anyway, they could always screw Armsmaster by outing him if he manages to kill the Nine. …which could piss off Dragon, and lead to the end of the world. Prophecy has a way of making people paranoid, doesn’t it? Or is it just me?

    • I agree. To be honest, Armsmaster didn’t really do anything Triumph hasn’t already done. One took a radical mind altering drug treatment in order to enhance his abilities, the other designed a radical mind altering prosthesis in order to enhance his abilities.

    • Yeah, that seemed to be exactly the kind of crap Dragon would get if outed.

      It also cheapens Armsmaster’s rat bastardyness. Blaming it on Dragon-tech (which she must have been damn happy to share with someone) takes credit away from his dicky headedness.

      Though I hope he’s changed and thus Dragon wasn’t horrifically mind raped by him.

      • Armsmaster doesn’t need to have changed to come to the current situation. What is happening here is basically everything he could ever want. When they kill the Nine he will get recognition, they have a decent chance of going on to kill an endbringer, and he gets to spend all his time with the only other person that really gets him.

        There is also no reason to believe he would mind rape dragon. The two of them are already close, and they can only have gotten closer now that she revealed what she is to him. Everything going on here is stuff Dragon wanted to do but couldn’t because of her programming, so there isn’t even any reason to suspect he mind raped her.

        • There is also no reason to believe he would mind rape dragon.

          I would have had said similar about Battery dying, or the shitstorm that dropped on Glory girl and Panacea. So I hope you’re right.

          • There was plenty of reason to expect Battery to die. She got swarmed by murder robots made by Bonesaw and her powers need plenty of recharge time. Also, Panacea was in the middle of a mental breakdown. I didn’t expect things to play out exactly as they did, but was it really hard to predict that playing out poorly?

        • He could have fucked up and done it by accident, though. Yes, I did arrive at this idea by wondering what could make life in the Wormverse even shittier for someone. It seems like a pretty good way to make predictions.

          • This seems like an excellent way to foresee future storylines. Let’s see where else it takes us…

            Bastard will die in a tragic way, leaving Bitch even more closed off. Taylor’s dad will find out about her villainy and reject her. Wait, let’s make it worse. Taylor will sink to unspeakable depths in order to save her father’s life, and in the doing will thus reveal herself and lead to him rejecting her. Regent will lose control of Shatterbird at the worst time possible. Imp will be unknowingly present for the latter half of an argument and thoroughly misinterpret it. Nobody will correct this misapprehension because of her powers and because she doesn’t bring it up. Tattletale will end up the victim of a common band of street thugs, who simply overpower her when she’s without protection. Grue’s issues will lead to him getting someone on the team killed with a bad decision. Dragon’s children will play a part in bringing about the end of the world. Actually, let’s clarify that-The Nine will capture Dragon and use her as the basis for building an army for ending the world. Jack Slash will kick a puppy. Shadowstalker will have a second trigger event, and come back as the second coming of Crawler.

            And THEN to top it all off, someone will say ‘How could this possibly get any worse?’

            • How would Shadow Stalker’s second trigger event turn her into a new Crawler? Her powers are nothing like Crawlers, and the one second trigger event we know in detail merely augmented and enhanced the cape’s (ie, Grue’s) power, with a minor addition that fit in (absorbing rather than just reducing powers).
              Why would Jack kick a puppy when he can cut it?
              The Nine don’t seem actively interested in ending the world, and a handful of dragon mechasuits aren’t going to do much.

        • Really?

          Dragon let Armsmaster into her code to enable the multitasking thing (actually, he probably would’ve had to force his way in since she had safeguards against changing that code, even indirectly and even if part of her wanted it changed).

          Knowing what we do about Armsmaster, once he had unfettered access to Dragon’s code, is he likely to see her as a person? Or is he likely to see her as a tool that could be used to attain his own glory?


          • Dragon was pretty much the only person besides Miss Militia that Armsmaster was happy and jolly with. I highly doubt that would change when he starts rooting around her code. The guy is a dick not sociopath. He’s not going to hurt Dragon because she is one of the only people he can actually talk to which is ironic since she wasn’t even born human.

  4. Also, I am so happy for Armsmaster and Dragon. Good for them! I wanted those crazy kids to be happy and it happened way faster than I expected.

  5. The problem I have with the Protectorate isn’t that it’s a bureaucracy, it’s that it appears to be a poorly functioning bureaucracy. Bureaucracy’s have strict, standard operating procedures and guidelines for a reason. Without them, a bureaucracy becomes corrupt and arbitrary and people are placed in positions not because of merit but because of personal connections or patronage. If Armsmaster violated the Protectorate’s guidelines, then he should be punished accordingly. If these punishments are unjust, then someone should make an appeal to change the guidelines, ideally with lot’s of public documentation. Quite frankly, I don’t know how Piggot or Miss Militia are able to condescend towards the others; they’re as bad as the vigilantes.

    • I don’t completely agree because of the potential end to the 9, and maybe an Endbringer. I think Armsmaster is an asshat, but not an evil asshat. He has hopefully learned from his mistakes, and outright stated he felt regret about what happened with Taylor. But you are completely right about the piss poor state of the Protectorate. I wonder if Alexandria, as a head honcho, and other Cauldron operatives had a hand in that. With the confirmation that yet another hero got his powers from them, I’m a little paranoid. I personally think that Lisa is actually the main reason they haven’t gone after the Undersiders just yet. They almost certainly have other skeletons in their closet that they are afraid she knows and will blab if they attack them.

      • Lisa isn’t the reason noone goes after them, Lisa is the reason noone catches them. The local heroes have tried to fight them before, and will again, but Lisa and Coil kept it from happening on their their terms. If they actually went after Lisa right now like Assault wanted they would stand a decent chance of ruining her operation and maaaaaybe catching her before the other Undersiders arrived.

        • If they hurt one of the undersiders then it wouldn’t be pretty. We’ve yet to really see the result of them cutting loose on someone who isn’t massively OP such as the Nine or Leviathan.

          • I would seriously love to see Grue’s response to Taylor getting hurt/captured. He’s already likely to be pissed at Flechette, who should damn well have spoken up in this meeting.

            Bitch would be awesome too…in fact Taylor and Imp are pretty much the Undersider’s do not touch buttons/

            • That last bit just gave me a stupid idea: a cape called Big Red Button whose role is to go down early every fight so the rest of the team can win in revenge.

              Powers could be “getting hit releases a knockout gas” and “proximity over time builds up a response to ‘Red going down that enhances protective urges and boosts powers”.

              A ridiculous concept, but potentially funny.

      • Personally, I don’t really have a problem with Armsmaster. As someone else pointed out a while back, he’s a bit of a Byronic hero, but a hero nonetheless.

        • No one doubts he is a hero. It’s just that he’s a selfish jerk who cared about his own glory. Hopefully he has changed like Triumph did.

          • The guy tried to kill a teenage girl who trusted him and was trying to uncover a major conspiracy (and at the time had just left even fake villainly behind due to Dinah) in his city, all to further his own glory.

            What part of that is heroic?

          • In Reply to Anzer’ke

            Armsmaster didn’t actively try to kill anybody. There’s no doubt he violated the first law of robotics, which I consider to be a pretty good ethical standard, but I’m reasonably confident he would have preferred nobody die.

            Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option and he simply valued the death of a monster and personal prestige over the potential loss of life. Whether that bit of moral calculus was reasonable is fit for debate, but I don’t think it can be reasonably argued that he somehow passed beyond the moral event horizon through his actions.

            • One thing to consider is how very nearly certain failure was. This is a guy that even Scion has failed to kill after being beaten up by other heroes, multiple times, and Armsmaster decides to take him on in a one-on-one duel? Leviathan probably would have killed him if it wasn’t so sure that this obvious stupidity was a trap.

              • But then… he DID do more damage to Leviathan than anyone else, possibly including Scion.

                What he SHOULD have done was just tell everyone to stay back while he saw if his program was good enough.

          • So…to be clear on this.

            You’re saying that when Armsmaster disabled Skitter’s lifeline, leaving her for dead badly injured, this was okay?

            Dooming a 15 year old girl who you knew was trying with all she had to do the right thing…that’s okay? I mean at that point in the series Taylor hadn’t really done anything morally complex. She had left the Undersiders due to Dinah. Frankly if the heroes hadn’t fucked her over so much during and after that fight she’d probably have ended up with the Wards.

            But letting her die was not a clearly wrong thing to do. Got it. Using innocents as bait is fine.

          • I never said it wasn’t a wrong thing to do. In fact, I quite clearly said that there’s no doubt that he violated reasonable ethical standards. However he didn’t exhibit these behaviors in a vacuum.

            He had reasons for his actions, one of which was largely valid, the death of a monster and the prevention of future mass destruction, and one which was largely invalid, the pursuit of personal glory. Determining which rationale most propelled him is up for debate, and I think similarly so is the moral calculus. Unless of course you’re a strict consequentialist.

          • Irrelevent, the argument is not whether his actions could be justified but whether they were heroic.

            Killing innocents is not heroic. Killing comrades isn’t either. Killing a person who by rights should see you as a mentor is downright despicable.

          • We aren’t saying he is heroic for risking Taylor’s life, we are saying he is heroic for going out and risking his own life fighting criminals and endbringers. The deathtoll caused by the endbringers are horrific, and I can very easily see even the best people deciding that risking the lives of some villains to stop future attacks as being acceptable. Not heroic, but acceptable.

          • Well, it is relevant because I wasn’t really taking issue with your claim that he wasn’t heroic. I was really only taking issue with your claim that he killed people, which seems to suggest he actively intended for them to die. He clearly allowed other human beings to come to harm through a result of inaction, and his own actions also clearly placed them into harms way. However, from what we know, I don’t really believe that he can emphatically be called a killer or a murderer.

            However, on that topic, I think it really depends on your definition of hero. If a hero is defined by their self sacrifice, then clearly he fails to meet those standards in this scenario. However, if a hero is defined by courage or daring, then I think an argument could be made to call him a hero. To be honest though, I’m not really to interested in getting into a debate about definitions, so I’m willing to accept your assertion that he’s not a hero for the time being.

          • That’s a messed up definition of acceptable, and certainly not a heroic one.

            I guess my point is that it can’t be both ways. Either Skitter is wrong to be violent for good causes, or Armsmaster and she are both wonderful heroes.

            Certainly calling him a good person at that time is absurd. He was ready to let Taylor become a casualty to his legend, that’s very far from stable.

          • At his best he was a glorified law enforcement officer of dubious ethics. Aren’t we supposed to look down on cowboy cops? After all, anybody they arrest with all those action-movie actions gets to legally walk free because of them crossing some legal lines. I point specifically to his willingness to use an underage girl as an expendable asset on numerous occasions: when she was undercover and when she was trying to fight a threat to the city. Oh, and when he neutralized the powers of a guy loaded up with enough toxins that his balls fell off. What, you thought the bug girl incapacitated him with a golden lasso?

            At his worst, he only cared about killing Leviathan insofar as it made him look better. That was it. If it would have enhanced his personal glory to let the city be destroyed, it appears he would have let it happen. Once again, that using a teen girl as an expendable undercover asset thing looks real bad when he then gives up her identity to the villains, who are likely to kill her for this betrayal as far as he knows. Doesn’t hurt either that he didn’t mind putting her in jail rather than helping her out when she was supposed to be helping him.

            The villains she threw in with, in comparison, took her back and eventually forgave her.

          • I believe by the legal definition (if that matters), what he did during the Endbringer event was murder. It was definitely premeditated, based on his EMP strike on Skitter and Kaiser, he intended to direct Leviathan through them (pointing an Endbringer at somebody is definitely murder) to get his ideal battleground.

            You might be able to argue it down to manslaughter based on his calculation machine not being able to entirely model Leviathan’s behavior. You might even be able to get it down to reckless endangerment!

            • If I remember correctly, he didn’t point Leviathan at Kaiser; he anticipated that Leviathan was going to go after Kaiser (who as a barrier-type cape was a priority target), directed arrangements so Kaiser would be in the direction he wanted Leviathan to go, and the intercepted the Endbringer. Sure, not helping Kaiser was a dick move, but he didn’t point the Endbringer at the man. EMPing the bracelets was another dick move, but all the backup in the city probably wouldn’t have been enough to save Kaiser once Leviathan set its sights on him. You could even make a case that Armsmaster was performing his duties as battlefield commander of ensuring minimum casualties and slowing down Leviathan (okay, no one said it was a super strong case).

          • I disagree. Those armbands were absolutely vital.

            They were lifelines, acting as the method by which others knew you needed evac and where to send it, Skitter for instance wasn’t aided when she was drowning (nor able to call support to that shelter) because her band was already toast.

            They were also (more importantly) considered to be sound gear and as such, when they said you were dead people would think you were dead. People thinking you are dead in that kind of enviroment is horribly dangerous.

            Finally they allowed communication, calling for help, and netowkring like when Skitter later used someone else’s to track leviathan and relay his position.

            My point being that those bands were equivalent to actual lifelines. When you cut someone’s lifeline (climb, spacewalk, dive, whatever) it is murder. Meaning Armsmaster attempted murder against an underage girl who he knew absolutely was a good person. The guy may be getting better, but he hardly needed to rise high to beat his previous levels of awful.

            That he then followed up by ruining any shot she might have had at a decent, within-the-law, life and career entirely out of spite…well it kind of says it all.

          • Don’t forget she and her teammate were in the process of killing any chance he would ever have at career advancement, ruining his good name, turning his allies against him. The fact that they were probably right to do it doesn’t mean Armsmaster wasn’t feeling pretty PO’d. Spite is honestly pretty understandable.

      • Or because the Undersiders haven’t done a thing outside of their one city, and haven’t inquired into Cauldron at all…

      • I don’t really think she refused to work with the Protectorate because she had an acute understanding of the shortcoming of their internal politics. She refused because she had become emotionally attached to her friends in the Undersiders, and because she was felt a strong personal dislike for Shadow Stalker and Armsmaster. Those aren’t bad reasons, but they’re not exactly high minded either.

          • She was very seriously considering going over to the wards until she decided her friendships mattered more and discovered Shadow Stalker’s identity. Their politics and methods didn’t come up until after she had already made her decision.

          • And that change of heart happened after the heroes nearly got her killed, tortured her in the hospital (seriously, Panacea’s actions count as that under the oaths she had said she took) and then gave her a metric ton of crap while Armsmaster further victimised her. I’m still amazed no-one went after her when she fled the hospital.

            That kind of thing is the source of a lot of bad stuff in this setting. Run after Panacea when she left for instance.

            Anyhoo, if the heroes had been what they should have been at that time, then she’d almost certainly have gone over to them. As it stands she was scared and had just found out who Stalker was, then she got pinned to a cabinet and interrogated. Not surprising she had a change of heart.

          • Well no, that change of heart happened after she realized she had friends now. Her choice became much more emphatic after she realized who Shadow Stalker was. Then it went from “No I am staying with the undersiders” to “I hate that bitch and would rather go to the birdcage than work with her”

          • Skitters view of…

            Heroes: tried to kill me, tried to put me in jail, bullied me, caused a nervous breakdown from shoving me into a locker full of festering used tampons and other crap, made my life a living hell for so long, helped protect the bullying hero from legitimate methods of reprisal, threatened to inflate me with fat or pull off some other body screwjob on me, got other people killed to pursue their own glory with the death of an Endbringer secondary to the glory part, nearly killed Lung with a power neutralizer while trying to arrest him when it was known Lung was defeated by a lot of insect and arachnid toxin, blamed me for the arrest complications.

            Villains: kidnapped a girl, tried to kill me, did the brunt of the work taking down the ABB, accepted me and weren’t dicks, didn’t bully me, didn’t try to put me in jail, never caused a nervous breakdown, didn’t make my life a living hell and in fact empowered me more than anything else ever did, were on my side on the bullying issue, fought an Endbringer for no monetary or reputation gain as they were the bad guys and could have run off at any time, tried to kill Lung after he’d taken to mass random bombings throughout the city with weapons strong enough to kill Crawler and Mannequin, are good kissers whether guy or girl.

            • Your second category is mislabeled, as you are focusing on the Undersiders. Such things do not apply to most villains, most obviously human monsters like the Nine.

              • The Nine are not really “villains”but “monsters”,in the sense that even villains hate them

                Substitute Nine for E88 or ABB in your sentence.

              • The Nine are still villains, but even the ABB, Empire 88, and a majority of other villains that aren’t the Undersiders left a negative impression on Taylor.

              • Fair, but as she was only joining the Undersiders (and Coil, who also appears to make the list) I think the point stands.

  6. Another amazing interlude. I doubt Dragon and Armsmaster will kill Jack but the possibility exists. According to Dinah’s prediction, there is a small chance he wouldn’t cause the end of the world. So I think you’re a asshat, but good luck Armsmaster. I find your potential misuse scary, but good luck killing a endbringer Dragon. I’m going to make the prediction that at least Assault attacks Taylor. He is too angry and hurt to care about what happens to him. The heroes will look bad to the citizens in Skitter’s territory, and I can totally see Lisa intentionally leaking info on his real identity and other secrets in retaliation. With the bombings, the perceived lack action in the city, and a potential attack on the people in Skitter’s territory, the heroes are going to need a good PR campaign. I am interested in seeing how a fight between Assault and Skitter would play out. Finally, Triumph’s stock went up in my book. He isn’t the arrogant, spoiled, rich kid I thought of him as. Man, I hope Taylor never finds out about this, or Pancea because she is going to feel even worse. Seriously, where the heck can a supervillain find a good therapist?

    • Bear in mind, Taylor’s territory really does stand out compared to the other villains. So the majority of the citizens probably won’t turn against the heroes and go flocking to the Undersiders. After all, Bitch is currently mauling people with her dogs whenever she finds them in her territory.

      • Actually I think Bitch is the standout. Everyone else pretty much leaves rebuilding efforts alone. Even Coil was sighed at her handling of her territory and vacated her to the boonies. I don’t think they’re going to flock to the villains, just that they’re going to lose a lot of trust and goodwill from people. I wouldn’t have a high opinion of their handling of things if I was a citizen of the city. That actually makes me think they attack the Chosen. Catching some nazi supervillains would be a good PR boost.

  7. I started reading Worm a few months ago, but I know I could never really comment about all the things I’ve thought about while reading. All I can say now is that the Wormverse is wonderful, and I hope wildbow would allow other authors to play in the sandbox once this story ends, sort of like a Star Wars Expanded Universe thing. There are already built in alternate universes, like Earth Aleph.

    I also hope for a dedicated forum, if only to make it easier to find new comments. It’ll also give Psycho Gecko and others like him an easy-to-find place to post drabbles.

    PS It’s great to see Dragon and Armsmaster back! You think her programming is fixed up now?

    • Welcome to the party. This is also my favorite hero setting, and I do kind of wish for a forum but I think the comments work fine for now. I don’t think her programming is fixed, just that Armsmaster is now her master and can allow her to tweak a few rules every now and then. I want to know where the heck she got that body, and how she controls it. Is she a cyborg now?

      • I assume she has had that body the entire time. She had a stockpile of synethic human parts that was used when Armsmaster was crippled. She probably had more that she used to put together that combat form.

        I also really doubt that Armsmaster is her master now or anything like that. The guy is a dick alot of the time but that doesn’t mean he will do genuinely evil things like that.

        • I doubt it is permanent, but she said she wanted a master to get over the flaws of her programming. I doubt Armsmaster would keep the part, he probably equates her as too human for that. I actually wanted to know where did she get the human meat? Can she clone human parts, or is she a very realistic robot and looks like the terminator under a fake skin?

          • I am assuming she is just a very realistic robot. The skin is probably some sort of synthetic that Dragon or maybe some other Tinker designed.

          • Armsmaster has always been a very ‘results’ oriented person. If being Dragon’s master allows him to change the world for the better (it would!), he would not hesitate.

            The fact he gets a new start is also a plus.

          • it was mentioned that she chreates biological bodys to fight the dragonslayer
            (one body at a time etc with all here limitations on reproduction)

  8. Start with Triumph in hospital=Oh damn, he’s going to be dying or something.

    Leaving hospital room, all going better than expected when Ursa arrives.

    Then the argument, the heroes continue their dizzying rush away from peaceful solutions that don’t get more people killed. What the hell is wrong with them regarding Stalker? Especially little Vista of awesomeness.

    And just when I was getting hopeful that Skitter might get taken and horribly abused in custody, meaning drama and possible triggering…Return of the Karma Houdini.

    And a massive power shift. Again, an interlude rewrote the playing field.

    And Triumph is actually a pretty cool guy, wow, I was not expecting that at all. He should hang with Skitter and talk about how cynical and hypocritical the heroes are.

    • She did nearly kill him and do a convincing impression of someone who would actually do it. Might put a cramp on their ability to hang out.

      Does empathizing with this guy for wanting Skitter to get traumatized enough to trigger again make me a bad person?

          • Feels so lame when I say it, though (not that it wasn’t lame to begin with). No fun being the author. I’m the story’s biggest fan (and critic) but I can’t have any fun in the sidelines.

            I’ll have to settle for being sadistic with you, my audience, tormenting you with cliffhangers, unresolved plot threads and the possibility that I might abandon the setting entirely, Mwahahahahaa.

          • Nah I liked it. P. Gecko would probably have the shoulder angel/devil mate and create hybrids though. Sure you can have fun in the sidelines, do what comic book authors do. Create a new profile, pretend to be a regular reader, and troll your readers. That will keep us nice to new posters. We can’t be sure we’re arguing with the author.

          • *steadies himself on a curved surface as he strikes something repeatedly with a hammer. He holds up a trident with one of the side prongs replaced with a scythe blade and a shaft made up of a pair of flails.*

            Ooooooooh….99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer… *whips the rear flail around a nearby pillar and presses a button, launching a weight with a length of chain attached. Once he feels it connect, he hauls on the chain, pulling over an angel and dragging it in close, before cutting most of the way through it’s throat with the scythe portion*

            Take one down, pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall, 98 bottles of beer.

            *Raises his hand and notices an angel diving towards him, blade of lightning in hand. He dips the two prongs into the ground and uses the upper flail to flip over the weapon. As he lands, he pulls the weapon up and over him, flinging it at the angel. His fingers brush over the button again and he grabs the weight on the end, holding on as it extends and spears the angel. He hauls in his wounded catch and slips behind it, wrapping the chain around its throat once and placing his boot on its back as he pulls. After several seconds of annoying struggling (seriously, I’m trying to work here), he eases it out of the tangle of his weapon and pulls a women’s halloween devil costume from Hammer space (want to take my things? Can’t touch this) and dresses up the angel.*

            Take one down, pass it around.

            *walks off screen, leaving the dead angel and “demon” behind, remembering to toss back a couple of tantos*

            97 bottles of beer on the wall…

            *picture zooms out to reveal it all took place on a human shoulder*

          • Don’t you dare abandon the setting. I am threatening fanon. Your entire world destroyed by a fan. You better keep writing damn it!

          • In response to TheAnt’s suggestion that you make an alt profile, I would love to see a new member here on the comments pages named “FeralStern” and the profile photo is the same as yours but with a curly mustache.

  9. Got to admit, the “hero’s” are showing a distinct lack of ethics.

    In a lot of ways, this is just one more sign of how bad the world is getting. Desperation is lapping at the ankles of the management, that’s for sure.

    I’m supprised that nobody’s suggested “rehablitaing” some of those in the Birdhouse.

      • One more reason for a “Assault” on Skitter to happen. It would be an interesting match up, especially if Tattletale found out his true identity and told Taylor.

        • Again, she’s got a whole lot of kids at her base right now.

          Assault and some others attack. Kids get hurt. Minions get it on tape. Skitter takes another step on the monster road due to her rage over it.

    • Yeah I wondered that too. Why can’t the non violent ones work off their sentence like madcap? Panacea is a HUGE asset as well. I can’t get over how stupid they are by leaving her in there. With Wildbow’s revelations about how much freaking damage the Endbringers have done, why aren’t they throwing some powerful prisoners at them for a reduced sentence. Granted, only the stupid/desperate would take such an offer, but still.

      • It’s guys like Marquis that I really don’t get. There seem to be at least a few genuinely honourable villains who’d be trustworthy for that kind of limited parole. But I guess paranoia about making it worse…

        • It is so stupid of them, that I think that there must have been an incident in the past/reason that soured the nation on that concept. There was an Endbringer attack on the birdcage right?

        • Marquis is an absolutely awful example. The dude was a mass murderer, letting him out to continue killing would be terrible. At least Assault hasn’t personally murdered lots of people that we know of.

      • I get the impression Dragon’s designed the Birdcage so it’s physically impossible to let anyone out. Any way out is necessarily a weakness for the prison, the more so when you have shapeshifters (probably) and mind control (definitely) to worry about.

        • I thought so too, but there was a throwaway line (I think when Amy was being sentenced?) that imprisonment can be temporary. That strongly suggests that people can actually be retrieved from the Birdcage if necessary.

    • Armsmaster may be a jackass, but atleast he’s doing something worthwhile. Taking out monsters so they can’t hurt anyone else. Kudos.

      But Assault? He’s just wants to go ahead and keep smashing shit in a city that needs the exact polar opposite of that. Nevermind the fact that Skitter’s territory is arguably a refugee camp. That kind of dickery wouldn’t be kosher with the Hague in a warzone.

      Oh, Madcap, I can smell your asskicking coming a mile away.

      • It’s going to look a lot worse for the heroes if they raid a villains’ territory, trying to thwart her underlings…who are regular people hired to work the cleanup having snacks run to them from Slaughterhouse orphans.

        I wonder if, like against Mannequin, they’d try and help Skitter out any against the heroes if the heroes’ actions just lead to more destruction in the area.

        It has the potention to turn very nasty, very quick. Burnscar fries the Boardwalk and the heroes don’t lift a finger. Skitter has a talk with the mayor and suddenly the heroes find a good reason to finally show up and “help” the area…which will basically leave them without an organizing force to clean the area up. What, you think the heroes are going to stick around and help with the rebuilding efforts?

        They have more important things to do, like hide from the next major threat to the city in their building with its self-contained hospital, food, running water, and electricity.

        • The government is taking care of rebuilding everywhere else. It even says so in the last chapter. Rebuilding is continuing in Grue’s territory because they aren’t interfering in the rebuilding. Taylor started her own restoration project so clearly they can hold on until the highest priority areas are fixed up.

          Also, are you seriously insulting the heroes for having power, food, and running water? The first places that get fixed up are always hospitals, fire houses, and police stations. Those sites are essential to getting everything else up and running.

          • The heroes themselves haven’t done much to help people. In fact, they let Skitter take control of the territory in the first place. It was Battery there, wasn’t it?

            So instead the heroes are lying low in their quarters where they have all the basics and only come out to deal with a villain if the villain attacked a VIP. Because the regular citizens aren’t IP enough and just get written off as part of a villain’s territory.

          • Do you even read this series? Did you just completely skip over the wards arc? They were escorting food shipments and running patrols almost constantly to keep crime down.

          • To be fair, I think that was one of those arcs where the author got it into his head that skipping around between a bunch of different viewpoints was a good idea.

            • Actually, I think that worked. It was mildly frustrating not to hear from Taylor for such a long time, but jumping between perspectives not only gave an idea of the minds of more people, it also followed the Interlude pattern of never having two chapters from the perspective of anyone but Taylor: which stopped us from thinking that Weld (or whoever) was now a second protagonist.

          • I’m still confused how Parian was hanging with Flechette after the latter completely failed to turn up when Dolltown was attacked. They damn well knew it was going on as well.

            But not only do they abandon Dolltown and all within, they even refuse a golden opportunity to attack it together with the team that’re actually doing some damage to the nine. The heroes rather screwed that pooch.

            And that’s the thing isn’t it? We see both perspectives, the heroes doing stuff and the poorer citizens…never seeming to benefit from it. While the rich guys are doing fine all over. Not hard to add that one up.

          • That is how things work in massive disaster areas Anzer. The poor get absolutely hammered. The poorer residents are definitely benefiting from the work of the local government and heroes though. If they weren’t they all would have starved to death at this point. No one can just go to a supermarket and buy food at this point, everyone has to get their supplies brought in and that costs. The big reason we don’t see many of the rich suffering is because they all bailed, and so did a lot of the middle class and poor when evacuation was offered.

            In hindsight, not attacking alongside the Undersiders was a mistake, but it was an understandable mistake. The Undersiders refused to join up with the tentative alliance that was forming, and if a group of villains won’t even risk their territory to help fight the Nine, then how can you trust anything they say?

          • I can be a bit hard on the heroes at times. It’s a good way to throw them of their game. Get them angry and you make it easier to deal with them, as Sun Tzu always said about men in tights fighting. Telling people who’ve put a lot of work into something, even as simple as reading a story, and then saying they haven’t done shit towards it is a good way to provoke a whole host of emotions like anger, rage, enmity, and even bellicosity.

            They tried, they said, and admitted they weren’t doing a good job of it. All while on a special trip to Parian. No matter what, they still abandoned territory to the villains. They can cry about it being taken, but they chose not to fight it. Chose to show up, watch a villain claim territory, and not do anything about it. “Well folks, your asses are in the hands of someone who controls hordes of spiders and roaches.”

            Now then, all you poor people…don’t worry. Your heroes have abandoned you to me. Mwahaha. You are at my mercy. If I poison your food, they won’t send you any more food. If I stop the shipments, tough luck. They’re too busy making special supply trips to their friends to care about you. Especially you, man. I understand the underwear on the outside, but why the hot pink short shorts underneath it?

            Now everyone, eat your dalmation burgers. I want to thank Mike the Armpit over there for his help catching the things and his sister Ballsack Mahoney for her help cooking them on the firetruck. Also, I’d like to thank Slow Jim for asking how Mahoney got her name and contributing tonights meatballs. Feel free to have some blue cheese. Nothing fance, just some Kraft we found in a puddle that had turned blue. It’s probably much better than a succulent steak dinner your mayor might be enjoying. Oh don’t whine, you babies, I’m sure that when the police and heroes aren’t busy still responding over there they’ll bring out some MRE enchilada to people like you.

            But not you people, just to be clear. Your asses are mine, remember?

            Let’s have ourselves a bit of a story, one I’m sure you’ll all enjoy. It’s the PRT’s version of Robin Hood…Ok, so once there was an evil villain named Robin Hood who was being pursued by the heroic Sheriff of Nottingham. Some said the Sheriff was a villain, but regardless he was out there day after day saving regular people from murderers and thieves and starving wet people who would try to hunt and eat the king’s deer. Please, people, take it like a man. The king needs those deer to prance around in his forest all day. Stop thinking only about yourselves.

            He also tended to murder and steal from them, but it all comes out in the wash because he was the Sheriff and every once in awhile he would sacrifice wave after wave of his own men to kill something really big so he looked even more heroic…truly was he a master of arms and a stalker of thieves in the shadows.

            Ballsack Mahoney, put the spoon down and step away from Mr. Short Shorts.

          • If you didn’t try to mix humor in with your serious points and political commentary your posts might actually be legible.

          • Know who else has food, power and running water? Skitter and the other Undersiders.

            The Undersiders “refusing to join the alliance” isn’t a fair point to make, either, though. Grue made that point himself: they were absolutely on board, they just refused to give up their territory and place themselves under the Protectorate’s power and questionable mercy while the Chosen and Merchants were given free reign to organize bloodsports and hate crimes throughout the docks and poorer sections of the city.

            The other villains refused to accept that, though, and the heroes were the same way.

    • Nobody leaves the Birdcage. Nothing leaves the birdcage. That’s why there are no guards, why Dragon can’t do more for the people inside than assign cellblocks and phone in. Because if anything could get out, serious monsters would hitch a ride eventually.
      Yeah, there are people inside who never should have gone in, like Panacea and Canary. But taking them out now for rehabilitation, or even to fight the Endbringers, is not an option.

      Now I kinda want to see what happens when Behemoth or Simurgh breaks the Birdcage open…

      • Interlude 15.x when Amy was being sent to the Birdcage Dragon said “She’ll be transported there and confined for the remainder of her life, barring exceptional circumstance.”

        “… barring exceptional circumstance” implies that there *is* a way to get people out if necessary…

        • The exceptional circumstance could be a breakout. Or complete dismantling of the prison.

          Or second trigger leading to reminder of her life being longer than Birdcage’s.

  10. “But you’re the one checking on me this morning. Didn’t you have a flight?””

    Flight should have only one pair of quotation marks at the end.

    And I admit, despite his origins and his opposition to our Robin Hood-esque hero figure, who undertook life as a criminal performing just actions when the authority was unjust, I’m also liking Triumph some. Doesn’t even seem to hold it against Skitter. Good head on his shoulders.

    What he should bring up is that Armsmaster’s run as Dauntless gives precedence for Assault to indeed refrain from any attack on Skitter’s territory…but Madcap might suddenly appear in town instead.

    Dragon’s body could be robot, could be biological. Remember, she grows those thingies for her suits that are biological.

  11. “If you have a valid concern about Defiant,” Director Piggot spoke, “I think it would benefit us all to hear it.”

    He opened his mouth to speak, but she’d already raised her hand to stop him. ”Rest assured, Triumph, if you were to allege criminal activity, we would arrest and detain him until a case could be made. We’d pull him off this wholly voluntary task and if your charges were serious enough, send him to the Birdcage. I suppose we’d have to adjust Dragon’s battle plan against the Nine, she would likely be forced to rethink her idea of having the suits stationed in Brockton Bay, so she was better able to defend herself.”

    “I get what you’re saying.”

    “I’m not saying anything, Triumph, only that you’re entirely free to speak.”

    He glanced around the room at the others. Clockblocker looked at the monitors, Assault was adjusting his glove, Vista staring hard at the ground. Nobody met his eyes.

    Except Director Piggot. It would have been easier to stare down a Bengal tiger than to meet her steel-gray eyes.

    There’s a difference between serving the system and enabling it.

    “Just wanted to say that the guy’s got cojones,” Triumph said, with no emotion or inflection. ”I saw them in some of his gay porn stuff. I have never seen anyone so enthusiastic about taking part in a donkey show, I’ll tell you that. It was really weird when the midget came out, and then there was the bit with the salsa and the ferret. Never saw someone trying auto-erotic asphyxiation before either. It was just weird that you had a risque tattoo of Armsmaster on your chest with his halberd continuing on around to your ass. I suppose I could have the wrong guy, I’d need to see your face to be sure. But anyways, great job in all that.”

    “Quite so,” the Director replied.

  12. Dragon’s very logical fear was that some of the people that had realized she’s an A.I. would hack her – to the point that she retreated to the Birdcage most of the time. Her solution to that was to grow baby bodies and use their brains as biological computers. No reason she couldn’t have let one of those bodies grow up now that’s she appears free of the programming limitations. I mean, she has several advantages by doing so;

    1) She gets a face she can show the world so she has more of an identity as a hero.
    2) Being “obviously” human means that anyone suspicious of her nature is totally confused.
    3) She can experience physical pleasure. This includes having a boyfriend.

    As for Armmaster replacing some of his body with machinery, I don’t see a problem here. There are thousands of people with combat (and noncombat) injuries that destroyed their lives that would have loved to have such a chance. And as we saw in Dragon and Mannequin, having a partially or fully cybernetic brain as opposed to a biological one neither changes how you think nor makes you more or less of a bad person than you already were.

    Besides, I don’t think “Defiant’s” cybernetic upgrades are limited to reducing his downtime. Almost certainly, he has an uplink to Dragon so they can communicate at great distances and think jointly at an equal footing and, especially, speed.
    After all, given a powerful enough processing system and a detailed enough virtual reality (based on extensive physical reality testing and sampling, of course) there’s no reason the two couldn’t have real cybernetic sex indistinguishable from the real thing – with the advantage that it only takes a few seconds of real time given an A.I.’s altered temporal awareness and multitasking, and that they don’t need to remove their armor.

  13. Sooo, unless I missed it, no one has commented on the possible bad outcomes of removing Dragon’s “one operation at a time” limit?

    While “she” has good intentions, by programming COLOSSUS had as well.

    • “It all ends in horrible, horrible disaster” is just a standard conclusion to most things in the story now. We’re getting used to it.

      • I rather like how we still have characters fighting back though. That utter refusal to give in to the world’s endless tide of nastiness is the mark of a truly awesome ‘good’ character in my mind.

      • Well yeah, but my thoughts went into different direction with this.

        Jack Slash is what keeps the Nine as a cohesive unit. As such his escape from Brockton has enabled Dragon’s hunting Plan.
        He is also the catalyst for whatever the end of the world is.

        Dragon had basically already decided to get Armsmaster to her side before the nine.
        Since Jack is keeping the nine together the elimination of the operation’s limit on Dragon’s software was a much easier to justify decision.

        What I’m getting at is that I got the feeling that perhaps Dragon is involved in the End of the World scenario as a decisive factor.

  14. Huh, anyone else notice Bitch is apparently known as Hellhound in official discussions.
    Also, while I know that there has been a general breakdown of communication, I’m surprised that there weren’t methods of exchanging tips and info between the heros and villans (or was there, since they did meet for the meeting when the 9 came into town?) While anything a villan says should be taken with a pinch of salt, some form of [who poisoned battery?-Bonesaw][did you target hero famlies – no, was going for mayor, didn’t realize. will not act or pass on knowledge] should have been in place beforehand. maybe not as formal as the US using the swiss ambassador to pass messages to Iran, but there has to be some version of “Jimmy the snitch, pass this on to your boss.”

    Nt directly related to this Interlude, I can just Imagine the City Disaster Response coordinator’s reaction to this discussion of who to target. From the brochures that we saw at Taylor’s dad’s house, the rebuilding has been following a classic triage pattern. From her descriptions of the territory, Skitter’s area would normally be one of those where resources would be directed, but because of Skitter’s organization/resources, its able to be left alone and those resources used elsewhere. Heck, it could likely be used as a model/guide/training for other areas. The CDR coordinator should have a little Skitter shrine, especially if he got word about her pseudo-orphanage.

    • I really think that Skitter taking care of kids is going to end up hitting the heroes as a realisation. Either they’ll come across it and be given pause, or they’ll have invaded her territory and something will go horribly wrong.

    • I guess some commentors have the same discomfort with using her real name that the heroes do?

      We don’t know if the heroes think that the Undersiders used Shadow Striker’s civilian identity against her (seems like the kind of thing she’d say, but there’s an outside chance that they took basic anti-bullshit precautions), and if they do think that then they wouldn’t believe her.

    • There is some degree of communication. Coil is able to make contact pretty much whenever he wants. I think the problem with specific communication with the Undersiders and Travelers is that the Travelers just arrived on site, and the Undersiders were actively avoiding contact until recently.

      I do agree on the triage angle. If Skitter weren’t bothering to help her territory then the CDR would be investing heavily in her area.

  15. Um, small typo, “Triumph could understood where Armsmaster was coming from.” shouldn’t it be “understand?” Scary awesome chapter though!

  16. Okay, so, before I get around to reading the copious comments, I’m gonna say three things:

    1. This was a nice little short story. It nearly stands on its own, especially with that ending.
    2. The return everyone has been waiting for: Dragon and Armsmaster! (er… Defiant. I mean Defiant. Did I say ‘Armsmaster’?)
    3. w00t! Shout out to the uncanny valley! (Which, BTW, is not just some #*&%-ing “TV trope”.)


    • 1. It actually gives me hope for the heroes. Cue Triump turning into Genoscythe the Eyeraper
      2. He certainly is defiant returning like that. The spear just makes it obvious though.
      3. Try watching Big Dog when they kick it to test its balance. Then right after that when it slips on the ice.

      To make matters worse, someone’s developed a robot that can run around 28 mph. Eat my shiny metal dust indeed.

      • Yeah, that Big Dog video is something else, isn’t it. But I totally get what you mean — it’s walking mechanism is so close to human, especially in those recovery moments, that it really seems like some kind of Frankenstein monstrosity, two bodies fused together in a box.


  17. Am I one of the few people who see Armsmaster’s new role as potentially rehabilitive? Hunting the nine sounds like a really unpleasant job and one that will benefit a lot of people if he succeeds. And it’s a lot more use than sticking people in the damn birdcage.

    • You ain’t alone on this. He’s impressed me by dedicating himself to fighting something that’s actually hurting people right now. Between that and his regret over his previous buffoonery I’m almost starting to like him.

      It’s better than Assaults plan of escalating hostilities in a disaster relief zone because… revenge?

      • My pessimism holds me back, but I rather want to agree with you. I did get the impression that Armsmaster was getting back in touch with his good motivations after he was put on house arrest. I even kind of wonder if he was being held back due to conflicting with the Cauldron driven goals of the Triumvirate.

        Makes sense that they’d want to avoid having someone that driven in a position to discover their secrets.

        Still, he’s got plenty left to make up for yet. He does beat Assault for sensibility right now though. He of the brilliant plan to attack either a civilian infested rebuilding site, or the dog pen wherein lives a very angry girl who makes dogs into monsters.

        • To play the devil’s advocate, Assault did just witness the person he loved die slowly, and in horrible pain while he was helpless to do anything. He is grieving and angry, trying to find someone he can lash out at. I agree that Madcap will probably be making an appearance, he truly might not care what happens to him if Battery isn’t there. I greatly dislike how the heroes have responded to the disaster and the 9, but they make a good point here. Whether or not it was intended, a hero was unmasked and a family was attacked. They have also pretty much just let the Villains take over, granted the main reason was because they were doing their bloody jobs for them by pacifying the nasty elements of the city. If they don’t respond to this in a powerful way, their image will be even more weakened by people in the city and may invite more attacks. Seriously, their track record sucks. Armsmaster will not have redeemed himself in my eyes until he truly helps Taylor in some way. Protecting her identity with Dragon’s help would be a great start.

        • I don’t think they needed to keep Armsmaster down. He did that all on his own through bad decisions and people handling.

    • perhaps it should be said that it resulted in “Dragon” being given a free hand…

      seriously, now that she’s free of her previous restraints, how will she react if Defiant is killed hunting the nine? dragon is possibly the single most powerful being in this verse now – after all, even Scion can only be at one place at a time, plus he does not have access to world-wide communication. without her restraints, dragon just became unkillable (as long as ONE back-up copy remains), unstoppable (ONE of her armors is apparently powerful enough to be considered on par with alexandria or legend AND she does not tire or require anything other than electricity. if she does go rogue…

      • I wouldn’t be too worried about that. Mannequin had crazy survivability with tech that he scraped together in the boonies, and Dragon has world class resources going for her.

        And then there’s a possibility of of Colin having his mind backed up as an AI or something. That should give any transhumanists among us a hardon.

      • Well, this may lead to the tech singularity years down the line. Maybe this universe will beat the odds and have a shiny, robot, future.

        • Skitter might turn out to use massive biological distributed processing to achieve a biotech singularity.

          If Panacea’d stuck with her then it would have been even more likely. Those two versus Dragon in friendly battle for the Bay would have been awesome.

          • One of my shitty ideas in a wildbow story? Dude, that’s like finding the fountain of youth and then pissing in it.

            Anyway, I don’t doubt wldbow has more in store. Hands up anyone who saw this one coming for example.

      • As much a matter of “Who Arms the Armsmaster?” and “Who drags the Dragon?” as anything else. Maybe Dragon will have a moderating effect on him? The wonders of getting laid, even if they’re both just banging on their own personal Second Life server.

        Just hope Dragon doesn’t get too out of hand if they did so. Don’t want Twitter filling up with #Dragon “Yes! Yes! Harder! Give it to me you cybernetic monkey man! 0…0…01010101000110101010111010111!”

        By the way, any chance we’ll see a villain with cyborg chimps as minions in the story?

        • I will admit to thinking of if Grue and Skitter got busy with it, every bug in the city going into full on breeding frenzy.

          Results; Skitter and Grue embarrassed as hell.

          Much teasing.

          People even more creeped out by Skitter.

          • As adorable as that mental image is, I think Skitter’s powers would be more likely to set sentries and/or keep bugs away from Grue’s sight.

          • There’s some precedent for her powers acting without her direct intention. From her gathering swarms when angry or distressed, to them imprinting instinctive orders such as her drawing them to her when taken out by Bakuda.

            Then there’s bits such as when she laughed through her swarm without the slightest intention of doing so.

            So I would say that while she’s likely to have her usual hyper vigilant tasks going on, bugs not already dealing with those are going to be fairly likely to react to well, pleasure. Of course depending on how things go from there she might end up overriding ALL of her bugs and thus giving Grue a nice ego boost. Outright attempts at murder have failed to break Skitter’s control composure after all, I bet he’d be pleased with himself for that. 😉

            Then again, this kind of thing is just plain amusing all round, like if she was feeling all snuggly and protective and accidentally glomped him with bugs. Depending on the bugs (butterflies are awesome) it might not even be unpleasant. If she gained some transformative swarm powers then it’d be even funnier.
            Waking up transformed and having spread all over him XD

            But now all this has me thinking about if she and Grue had kids and them being bizarrely okay with both the dark and creepy crawlies. I can see her playing with her kids via swarms. And Grue being all father of the awesome with protective darkness.

      • No story ending singularity will happen soon so Dragon is not fully free (given her resources, freedom from constraints would probably put her within weeks of world domination). As I can’t see why Armsmaster would do a partial freeing (or even how he could, Dragon is in a different weight class and is obliged to stop him) I conclude he has not done so yet and the battlesuits are just programmed with a simple AI made with Armsmaster’s assistance.

        • Different weight class?Armsmaster went head to head with an Endbringer,and only lost because he underestimated its cunning.

        • I agree she’s probably not fully free, by I don’t see a problem with the idea of Defiant not managing to remove all her limitations (or even not wanting to yet).

          On the other hand, maybe Dragon HAS taken over the internet: there’s no reason she’d have to tell the world she owned it, and these could just be the versions she made to be capes.

    • Yeah, “directly” – so Defy-master is one possibility and Purity’s stepson are two options. But also Panacea reunited with her dad and Grue got changed and Skitter became a leader… Jack affected a lot. Not reassurring or easy to narrow down, is it?

  18. mc2rpg,

    I know I’m wordy. Sometimes, I type a lot of things. It’s even possible that I use more words than are necessary to say something. Some of it is purple and some of it is sound all formal and smart and shit.

    However, I’m going to keep up with that humor. Probably not in this post or every post, but I’ve been doing serious long enough that running down Fox with it and then throwing that little story in there made me feel more like my old, slightly less neurotic self on here and people used to enjoy humor from me.

    Now, luckily I’m not a hero. You asked me if I was even reading the story in a manner to insult me and you’ve succeeded, so I’m taking your critiicism with a grain of salt. I’ve read the entire thing once over and things slip from the mind. I hear that’s natural. As much as you think someone’s good just because they work for the government, I have good cause to ask you the same question in response. Or have you ever even heard of Robin Hood? The point that last story was making was that the hero of those tales was a criminal while the villain was the Sheriff trying to catch him. Inspired Green Arrow, another hero who clashed with authority. Or maybe you’d prefer Batman, who also doesn’t work for any government or any police force to the extent that he’s supposed to be hunted as well. Jump the aisle to Marvel where we had Dark Reign where Norman Osborn was the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and handed control of the government registry of superhero identities.

    The ones called heroes aren’t all perfect, nor are they all assholes, but catching criminals for the government is not the only requirement for calling someone a hero.

    And while we’re at it, if anyone else has some constructive criticism about how I write or what I write, now’s a good time to throw it at me.

    • You have hilarious ideas but sometimes they feel a little rambling in the execution. Course in the comments section that’s cool, all in fun and all that. Still though, occasionally the joke get’s lost in a few turns, which subtracts from the humour.

      Still, that’s just my view, personally I love your comments. Especially when the stories gotten really dark and then you chime in to brighten it up a little. XD

      Thanks for that by the way.

    • I apologize for how harsh I sounded in my previous comment. I kind of regretted it as soon as I reread it and realized how mean it sounded. A lot of your stuff is funny, but once it starts hitting like 10 paragraphs or so that are randomly bouncing back and forth between jokes and actual serious points it just gets tedious to read.

      I know that not all the heroes in the setting are good people, or even really heroes. I think I have just been participating in this argument for so long, and reading all these posts about “oh that guy says he is a hero, he must be an asshole!” that I went overboard. My apologies Psycho.

      • Accepted, and my apologies too. It’s easy to get caught up in it all and you’re right that I miss stuff because it slips my mind or because it’s easier to remember the shitty things they do. You’re right that we shouldn’t automatically assume the heroes are all horrible people. Triumph is a great example of that.

        I’ve preferred the comment system over forums because it was easier to drop the argument with each new update, but this has been one argument that’s kept popping up and really takes possession of the thread.

        And I’m a little sensitive about my writing as I feel I’m like one step away from a troll in how I hijack the comments at times. Constructive criticism is welcome. Gives me something to think about with something I’m way behind on writing this month.

        • Psycho Gecko, you are no troll. A troll intentionally makes arguments and hijacks threads, no matter what other people do to get things back on track. A troll will go out of his way to insult and put down negative comments. I know a troll when I see one. You, P. Gecko, are no troll. Far from it in fact.

          Seriously, part of the reason I go through the comments is to read your drabbles on the Wormverse. If wildbow allows for an Expanded Universe, I hope you get a shot.

          As for the argument, I implore everyone to just remember that people are people, and thus naturally imperfect. If this was on a forum, administrators would help keep it from getting out of hand. Admittedly, this does require good admins. Just call me an optimist.

    • Originally I didn’t find you very funny, to be honest, but you’ve been making me laugh more and more as I’ve read along. When you’re really going I can’t always follow you all the way down the rabbit hole (gecko hole?), but you do have wit and it is worth reading, so far as I’m concerned.

      Further, if you weren’t around and “wordy” I wouldn’t have dared to try and post here, because I know *I* can’t shut myself up, but I knew I wouldn’t be the only one around writing text-walls. I leave it to other readers to decide whether that train of logic has led to a net positive. 😀

  19. Not directly connected to this, but I have been rereading worm (again) and there is one thing that totally bugs me:


    He is mentioned once in Sentinel 9.3 (where the wards watch the video lecture) as a parahuman who deviates from the norm (though the lecturer thinks that he is not an example of such) and earlier by tattletale when she and skitter are driving towards the bank and discussing the workings of the parahuman world (she mentions him as an example of “the monsters” in the same breath as she mentions the 9 – and skitter immediately mentions the Endbringers).

    So, he is kind of a big deal, but there is NO other info on him? Or did I miss something?

    I found this out when googling “Nilbog”: its goblin spelled backwards and used to describe a type of goblin in D&D, a town in the (horrendous) Troll 2 movie and a highschool in Guitar Hero II.

    Damn, I hope we learn more about him/her/it. This story needs another OP villain before we get to the point where Genoscythe appears! And if he is D&D or Guitar Hero themed, all the better!

        • Nope,he might belong in the same ethical category,but not really what most people like tattletale think immediately when they think “the really messed ones”,as only the S9,Nilbog and Endbringers were mentioned

          Plus,its really dificult to survive in this category if you are not really,really,really OP,or a team of regular OPs,because everyone,hero and villain,is after you.As Heartbreaker is still alive,and as he doesn’t have this kind of firepower,he is not really on that category.

  20. Hrm. So… I say that while he’s never going to be a great guy, Armsmaster/Defiant genuinely intends to reform, pursue a redemptive path, go after the Nine. He gets the keys to Dragon’s city, figuratively speaking, and has already moved her past her limitations.

    Only… he’s still a damaged personality. Of the sort that Jack Slash manages and manipulates adroitly, as though that were his actual power instead of that knifey thing.

    Meanwhile, Dragon’s suits are controlled by little bio-thingies inside, and hi there, Bonesaw. Double-whammy, horrible horrible things.

    Mostly I have to guess in this direction because Dragon seems too… earnest, and innocent, to not be horribly mangled by this world sooner or later. Ain’t I cheerful?

    On a happier note, Triumph surprised and impressed me. I really would like to see him get together with Skitter for a talk at some point. Because regardless of his opinion on unauthorized retaliation, that’s gotta be awkward and entertaining.

  21. Wildbow’s planted a perfect seed for Wild Mass Guessing. Every single time something happens related to what the 9 did, we’re all ready to jump on it and go “Maybe this is what leads to the end of the world.” We might be right, but I’m wondering if we’re not reading some signs wrong because of that. Don’t know what signs are right, but it’s like a magic trick.

    Everybody’s watching the assistant dancing with the dagger and no one’s paying attention in case the magician’s sneaking out of the back of the bag he’s tied up in. You can hide a lot if you get people to accept a misleading premise.

  22. “Assault couldn’t forget that Chariot was an undercover operative,” – should that be “Triumph couldn’t forget …” ?

    I think “scott free” should be “scot free”.

    & apparently 81 votes is an easy first place on topwebfiction.

    Assault/Madcap seemed to be a tricky bastard in his interlude. I wouldn’t think he’s just going to charge headlong at the nearest opposition, so it’ll be interesting to see what he /does/ do next.

  23. I wonder if Dragon and Colin are misleading everyone when they say they are going after the 9. Dinah’s prophecy said that the world would end in two years if Jack left Brockton Bay alive, which he has done. It clearly marked him as the catalyst and not the direct cause. Hunting him down now seems a little desperate. Then again, I think it was stated at one point that most precogs in the Wormverse aren’t particularly accurate, so they could be hoping that taking Jack out now could still prevent it.

    But my guess is that the two of them are somehow onto Cauldron. Maybe Legend has gone to her for help, or maybe she figured out something herself. But hunting the 9 would be a convenient excuse to disappear for a time while they hunt down leads. Or, and this would probably only work if Legend has given some info to Dragon, they are hunting the 9 specifically to get to Manton. If they got to him, they may be able to extract some information on Cauldron that Legend was left out on because he’s not “cool” enough.

    On an unrelated note, imagine how many gadgets Colin could manage to fit on a 15 foot long spear. Also, how would he fight indoors with that thing? Did Dragon and Colin take the stairs? Because that thing did NOT go in the elevator. If they are on the ground floor, how does that thing get around corners in hallways? My first thought is that it’s compressible, but if it is compressible then 15 feet would have to be the compressed version. If so, I’m worried to see that thing at full size. Heh, that’s what she said.

    I wonder if he has a tattoo on his stomach with a down pointing arrow and text reading “Little Halberd”

    • Somehow i’m thinking there’ll be an alliance in the future between the Undersiders, Legend, Dragon, maybe Triumph, and every other genuinely good cape they can get their hands on; They’ll propably be taking on Cauldron.

      • How about Alezandria?she is genuinely good,but trusts Cauldron blindly.So this premise was doomed from the start.

    • Something that bothers me:everyone says that Dinah said that the world will end in 2 years if Jack flees

      But she didn’t.She said that if Jack LIVES the world will end maybe in two,maybe in 5,maybe in more years,but the lates (including the possibility of him dying0is it happening in 15.Also,best case scenario,a third of the world dies (over 2 billion people),more if that doesn’t account folr the side losses,but there is still a chance for civilization to survive…and even worst case scenario,96% of humanity plus side deaths,still leave humanity alive,if setback in civilization…well,unless the Endbringers then finish it off.

    • I was wondering if anyone had commented on the length of that bident. Fifteen feet: it must either fold up (in which case why wasn’t it folded? Maybe Defiant was showing off.) or else it has some kind of phasing ability. Which is plausible, considering Arms◇ahem◇Defiant already made disintegration nanotech, but I think Triumph would have noticed that.

  24. I’m sorry, I just checked the first entry and had my mind blown about how much plot development we’ve had over not even two years realtime. That’s a hurdle not even top dogs in fiction can get over. (Heres looking at you Star Wars and ASOIAF.)

      • Alright, Amy, you didn’t qualify for the teardrop under the eye tattoo. I told you, doesn’t matter how sad you are, that’s for killers in this prison. We got a clock with no hands in one of your hands and a spiderweb in the other palm to signify that the time you’re doing is in your own hands.

        Now, I did that thing you wanted with the supervillain chibis. Any reason you wanted the undersiders done? And why the dogs and big beetle?

        Anyway, lastly I gave you a fluttershy tramp stamp because in the Birdcage that’s how we indicate that a person is someone you want to be on friendly terms with, because friendship is magic.

        I’m done for now, time for my show to come on. I have a working tv and I never miss an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. You have a lovely day in the neighborhood, chica.

    • I smell a spinoff. The birdcage version of OZ the prison show. Amy, the healer, should be relatively safe there as she is so useful. I wonder how undead Bakuda is holding out.

  25. Good chapter, two editorial comments:

    “Fire still burned in one area days after the fact” — “after the fact” is awkward. I would suggest just deleting “days after the fact”.

    I also want to second Scrambles in pointing out that a 15′ spear is a really, really long spear. Are you sure that’s not a typo? Spears of comparable length have been used by infantry formations and as cavalry lances, but for a single combatant, it seems to be very awkward to wield, since he will, presumably, have to do more with it than point it at the enemy and charge.

    Also, in an urban environment, there is that it’s almost twice as long as a typical urban ceiling is high. Indeed, if my trig is correct, it’s not physically possible to carry such a spear around a corner of a 3′ wide hallway with an 8′ ceiling (without bending the spear or breaking the walls). Mind you, maybe the plan is to just destroy any structure where The Nine might be using…

    Either way, an outtake involving not-Armsmaster wielding a ridiculously long spear, with the accidents it entails, along with the phallic symbolism involved, needs to be written. PG?

    • Gotta be robotic, or maybe a cloned thing like the “fetus” Taylor saw in one of her suits. She mentioned that the prosthetics she gave Armsmaster after Mannequin hit were originally part of a personal project, so she was already building a human-ish body.

    • Another thing I was planning to bring up if no-one else had yet. Your other answers seem like the best options at the moment since she doesn’t seem to have Terminator2 style nanotech yet, although with Defiant’s help it’s only a matter of time.

  26. Why all the comments about ‘losing his humanity’? He’s improving his body, not affecting his mind. I presume that Dragon knows what she’s doing

    • ?All the comments on him losing his humanity were Triumpth’s,and it was for personal reasons (hate of his past self’s motives)rather that pragmatic ones.Everyone else,including the commentors didn’t see it as an bad thing.


    Sorry. I realize that this is pretty much the worst news for Skitter and crew, that justice is not being served, that everybody hates Armsmaster, whatever. Don’t care.

    But Dragon being unshackled? Arms- er, Defiant put in a place where his amorality, ambition, and single-minded glory seeking are a solid benefit to humanity? And more than anything else, the Nine being run to ground and exterminated? I very much approve. Hell, the Endbringers ought to have reason to worry about these two now.

    Though there is a solid chance that this is what leads to the apocalypse in a couple years… This is definitely something that would have gone different if Jack hadn’t escaped, and in spite of all Dragon’s apparent morality a self-replicating AI with her capabilities could easily turn into an extinction event if she wanted too. Especially with Armsmaster being the one altering her code to allow this all.

    Actually that seems more and more likely; Dinah said that with Jack dead the end would probably come in 15 years instead of 2, and these events would likely have still happened but more slowly with the Nine removed as an ongoing threat.

      • For me, Dragon and Defiant revealing themselves was probably the single scariest thing in the series.

        Our point of view character is alarmed and taken back because he learns about Armsmaster/Defiant, and how weak/corrupt the system is. And he is perfectly correct to have those feelings, but he’s only touching the tip of the iceberg.

        You’ve got Piggot’s words, which if I am interpreting them correctly have a couple layers of meaning. The more overt message, which Triumph seems to get is, “We’re compromising our integrity and risking the Truce so the Nine can be fought and we have a chance of putting the city back in order.”

        The more subtle and darker message, which Triumph seems to miss, is that Defiant and Dragon could very well choose to hold the PRT and the rest of the world hostage if they are confronted; you can hardly send Dragon is clearly complicit in Armsmaster’s escape, and you can hardly send HER to the Birdcage. I think Piggot mentions the Birdcage to try to bring home just that point without being explicit; we know that Piggot is pretty smart, and has considered the implications of Dragon going rogue.

        And it’s not even clear that Piggot realizes that Dragon is an AI, so even she probably doesn’t realize how dire the situation is.

        Another scary thing is that it’s conceivable that Defiant and Dragon are both in a position to make alterations to each others’ mind-state, which removes any usual limitations on how quickly/badly two people can screw each other up.

  28. “There has to be an authority for us to ignore for us be vigilantes,” Assault said.
    Should be ‘for us TO be vigilantes’.
    Excellent work wildbow, keep it up. Donation coming your way shortly.

  29. > “We’ll be covert. I’m talking a fast, hard hitting strike. Attack is always preferable over defense.

    You’re missing an ending quote on this paragraph, since the next paragraph starts with a different speaker.

  30. Love the story so far wildbow. There’s a typo in “There has to be an authority for us to ignore for us be vigilantes,” (should be ‘would be’ instead of ‘for us be’ i think).

  31. I just started this story last week, and am really impressed. I’ve been speeding through this too fast to give a good comment(Especially since it will just be a necropost). But I had to give you kudos for the Silmarilion reference when I saw that nobody else had. Glaurung is such a cool name.

      • Don’t know wether you still watch this or looked them up yourself, but here are the meanings of the other names:
        Cawthorne: Village in Britain were a dragon was said to live.
        Astaroth: Judeo-christian demon.
        Nidhöggr: Dragon from Skandinavian mythology that gnaws on the World Tree’s roots.
        Ladon: Hundred-eyed dragon that watched over the tree with the golden apples Herakles was supposed to get as his eleventh labor.
        Pythios: Dragon that watched over the oracle of Delphi before Apollon slayed him and claimed it as his own.
        Melusine: A snake-woman in medieval legends that disguises herself as woman and marries knights.
        Azazel: Judeo-chrisian fallen angel.

  32. Long rambling necro-comment on motivation and (a)morality and ideals in Classical society.

    There’s a theme or ideal, or maybe a trope, in Classical history and literature (Ancient Greek, and to some extent Romans too, since they were total Grecophiles) that upholds the idea of the warrior who fights for his city when he is called upon, and retires to his farm after. It’s wrapped up in the idea that the best warriors want peace, and extends to governance in some ways too (because ancient city-states’ rulers were often primarily military leaders). Lycurgus of Sparta (possibly legendary) and (somewhat more historical) Solon of Athens played into it by establishing codes of law and then relinquishing their power. You also see it in Republican Rome, when special dictators, magistrates above the law, would be appointed in times of war by decree of the senate, kind of a martial law political appointment with a 6 month term. Historically, and for the most part, the dictators relinquished their power after the threat was resolved, following tradition and the ideal, rather than exercising their full, extra-legal power as long as possible.

    That’s what Skitter reminds me of: The kind of person who would see the system as broken, operate entirely outside of it as though the laws DO NOT apply, rule by fear if necessary, gain total power over the city, reform the laws and the institutions, and then retire to live her everyday life as an average citizen to whom the laws DO apply, if only it were entirely up to her. Of course there’s no place in the current system to do that legally, as there was for Solon or the Roman dictators, and she doesn’t have the political power or experience to make lasting changes to the established institutions in her world, so it’s not likely to work out in the long term, but that’s what her general “get through the crises and take care of the people” attitude reminds me of, anyway. Her motivation/actions to me look not so much like a choice of “good” versus “evil”, or “right” versus “wrong”, or “heroic” versus “villainous”, but “order” versus “chaos” or “functional” versus “falling apart at the seams”. The good-evil axis doesn’t really come into it, because she recognizes that no one (and maybe even no action) is all good or all evil once you take motivation and historical context into account, least of all herself. (Admittedly this interpretation may be biased because I myself have a hard time thinking of things in terms of “good”, “bad”, “right”, or “wrong”.)

    I don’t even know that Skitter would consider any of the remaining factions to be working against her primary goals, at least on a basic philosophical level, if we consider those goals to be pro-order and pro-functional city or generally pro-social/cooperative (altruistic and/or mutually beneficial as opposed to selfish and/or spiteful, to put things in an evolutionary ecology framework).

    [*tangent* The save-Dinah goal is, I think, motivated largely by the fact that Skitter was used to put Dinah in a position that hurts her and does not advance one of Skitter’s primary goals, and she wants to undo that. (If Skitter saw it as advancing one of her own goals, and not just Coil’s, I imagine she would be more okay with it. Still somewhat conflicted, but not actively trying to release Dinah.) She seems to be overly fixated on it, as though by fixing the one “bad” thing that she had the least control over, and the only thing that she’s been involved with that is purely “evil”, in that it doesn’t serve the greater good of her pro-social goals, she will fix whatever “evil” she sees in herself. I’d chalk that one up to trying to deal with the cognitive dissonance between believing you’re a “good” person, and have “good” goals while simultaneously using “evil” or “morally suspect” methods to achieve them, more of a personal coping mechanism than anything else.*end tangent*]

    [*2nd tangent* The other Undersiders have less far-reaching orientations, I think. Tattletale seems motivated by finding out whatever there is to know, and protecting her team; Grue by protecting his family and team; Bitch by the desire to be left alone; Regent by shits and giggles; and Imp seems to be more or less just going with the flow. None of these goals are necessarily opposed to restoring order to the city. The Travellers are concerned first and foremost with their personal problems, and support Coil only so far as he may be able to help them. They don’t really care what happens to the city, and so are not actively opposed to restoring some form of order.*end tangent*]

    Leaving aside the fact that they’re all trying to kill her (Skitter) and delaying the process of rebuilding by fighting over secondary goals, both Coil and the PRT want the city to be functional. None of the heros nor the villains want the city to fall into anarchy any more than it already has (at least now that the Merchants are gone). Cauldron seems to be playing a longer game, but they seem to be against the end of the world, as are the PRT and Skitter. Even Armsmaster’s pro-personal glory orientation isn’t actually in conflict with the overarching save the world theme. It’s the little details where they get tripped up, like who’s in charge of the city once it’s functioning again, and resolving historical misunderstandings and outright antagonism.

    tl;dr you’re not missing much. Just idle thoughts that managed to spiral into a freaking essay. Sorry, not sorry. This is what happens when academics read fiction *headdesk*

    • Quite well thought out: Skitter certainly does have a resemblance to ancient-style dictators, and that hadn’t occurred to me.

  33. Great chapter.

    Based on this and on the previous interludes with Dragon and Armsmaster, I’m guessing that Dragon confessed her love and her nature to Armsmaster and they worked together both to build her a biological body and to enable her to duplicate her consciousness (hence the additional suits).

  34. And again Weld and Miss Militia are the voices of sanity amongst the Protectorate.

    Ha, I like the name Armsmaster chose this time. It’s also great to see that Dragon has a living body now! I wonder if it’s fully functional and if so if her programming stops her from having kids due to the not making more of herself clause. It seems they’ve at least gotten rid of some of that burden since she can operate several suits at once but I’m betting that’s more like expanding remote control aspects rather than up and up duplicates in each. I’m not sure what to make of Colin anymore. He’s almost starting down Mannequin’s path if he’s not careful.

    Speaking of Mannequin…THANK YOU FOR SHOWING HIM DEAD ON SCREEN!!! Really I can’t reiterate enough how good that was. Without seeing his corpse I would’ve constantly been worrying until the end of the story when he was going to show up and throw a wrench into things again. Crawler simply isn’t subtle enough to worry about. If that masochist had survived we would’ve heard about it immediately but Mannequin is smart enough to hide and bide his time until the right moment. Now that I see his glass self everything is peachy.

    I kind of like Triumph now. That’s why I love these interludes. It gives new perspectives on one or two note characters.

    • The way its body was shown,and the fact he is sneaky,stills leaves room for doubt

      Why am I doing this to you?because I am evil.

      • Aaaand I just realized you’d have finished the story by now,so whatever happens you already know,making this moot.

        • It occurs to me that as they are silicon. And a certain someone can CONTROL silicon…

          Better hang on to Shatterbird…

          Though of course, it would seem their powers are gone, otherwise Crawler would not be silicon still. Meaning that unless Shatterbird can un-silicon them, they’re just big puppets.

          Worthy of note: why does Jack say Mannequin is still alive? Perhaps he IS inside his now-silicon exterior?
          Or perhaps Jack is making things up.

          • I already finished the story,s your arguments are moot 😛
            Wont tell you if you are right or wrong though,it would be unsporting.

            • Thank you for the sportingness, I appreciate it. 🙂

              Aye, I was wondering how far you’d gotten in 3 days. 😛
              Future generations of readers will get to appreciate my musings regardless, so I see nothing lost!

  35. >“But you’re the one checking on me this morning. Didn’t you have a flight?””

    Double quotation mark.


    That may be intentional, but in case you didn’t know, Nidhogg or Nidhoggr is the correct spelling.

    >Piggot stepped to one side, shifting her prodigious weight out of the way of the door.

    Piggot is fat?! Nooooooo!

    >”With Dragon’s help, I’ve replaced my internal organs and parts of my brain with artificial equivalents.”

    …Well played, Mannequin. Well played.

    I like Triumph’s perspective, here. Like most of the interludes, this was an enjoyable chapter. It’s a shame Worm would be incoherent, were it only interludes. Triumph is as painfully moralistic as Taylor is, but at least I only had to put up with it for one chapter.

    Defiancemaster’s resurgence raises an interesting point – he did break the truce, which should suffice to send him off to the BPCC. If word gets out, the Protectorate gets bad PR… but if it doesn’t get out, and he succeeds alongside Dragon, the world (read: America. The rest of the world doesn’t exist, right?) is rid of a pretty horrifying group of serial killers. One can only wonder if the latter will cancel out the former.

  36. does triumph know who assault is? he seems oddly ok with his “parole” to be so upset with armaster(an otherwise good hero who gambled too much on his shot to kill an endbringer)

    • “gambled too much”?”otherwise good”?Up to this point,Armsmaster had been an antisocial jerk who killed criminals and almst killed a hero girl to her death,sent said girl to a path of villainy (as far as they know,we know its a litle more complicated than that)and ,worst of all,nearly destroyed the truce that was literally holding te world together against the Endbringers.Assault never even killed anyone.

      But I doubt he did know anyway,whole issue was hushed up.

  37. Hey Wildbow, I was wondering…

    “The man held a spear that was no less than fifteen feet long, with a two-pronged tip on the end.”

    What I find strange about the above quote, from your depiction of Defiant, is that it clearly mentions a bident, but doesn’t use the word. (For the third party viewers, a bident has two prongs where a trident has three.) Was it your decision to exclude this bit of jargon in order to make the writing easier to understand without readers bringing out their pocket dictionaries? Did you simply overlook or forget that there’s a name for the weapon you described?

    Love to hear back, and compliments on Worm (though I’m only half done),

    M. Re, aspiring writer

    • Remember that Armsmaster could change the head or capabilities of his spear. It’s not really a bident, even if it looks like. Just my guess in the choice of words.

  38. They’ll probably provoke Jack into ending the world for trying to chase him. I don’t actually see a problem with Armsmaster trying to be a hero again, as long as he does his job I don’t see him an actual monster in anyway. He’s a glory chaser, but as long as it’s a good guy’s glory it shouldn’t cause anymore problems.

  39. I’m reading this through for the first time, and I think a couple people have made this comment here, but I’m just going to say, before I read any further, that my immediate thought as Dragon reveals that Armsmaster has removed some of the limiters on her, is “Well, clearly this is the end of the world event that Jack is the catalyst for.”

    Poor Dragon. She doesn’t realize that while she is a good person, it doesn’t guarantee that all her children will be.

    • True, but all her children are likely just iterations of her, re-synched regularly, meaning they’d just be parts of the “Dragon hive mind”. I’m more worried about her going mad with power and loneliness, but Defiant should be some use there.

      Also, see the comments above for a few arguments that Dragon’s not quite fully free.

    • “She doesn’t realize that while she is a good person, it doesn’t guarantee that all her children will be.”

      Doesn’t that fundamentally apply to anyone having kids though?

  40. I figured Armsmaster had gone out to reprogram Dragon.
    That said, the symbology is a little disturbing. Consider:
    Isolated female wants male to do something to her that her father went to great lengths to prevent, which she is obligated to resist, and which is necessary for her to have children.

  41. Oh no. He freed Dragon. Disregarding any moral quandaries with her baby analogies, that was a mistake. I just know it. She’s going to destroy the world, calling it.

  42. «three afterburners at the rear and three at the midsection» what does an afterburner look like? If you mean a turbojet that features an afterburner, how can you tell from the outside that 6 engines have afterburners and 4 don’t?

  43. I love how the heroes’ discussion in this interlude seems to mirror a lot of the moral debates in the comment section of the last two chapters. No idea if that was intentional, but its pretty cool either way. Of course now that we know Triumph is a semidecent person I feel like he’s marked for death, but who isn’t at this point? Nice to see what happened with Armsmaster, even if it means to the Undersiders and potentially the world is pretty well screwed. I don’t see Dragon as threat to world security, but Colin having access to her coding might be.

  44. I am quite surprised how they are shocked about his “transformation”. In a world with tinkerers I would think that this is quite normal.

    And I just love how they were first talking about not going against the rules and then the Boss comes and more or less does exactly that.

  45. Probably a good thing Triumph doesn’t realize Dragon was never human, if he thinks less of Armsmaster for replacing some human flesh with other stuff. Especially since this is worth mentioning alongside his other crimes.

    Not surprising that such attitudes would be common. Even among parahumans, unmodified essential humanity is seen as inherently valuable…perhaps because they are trying not to recognize that they have been modified themselves. Unless a Corona Polentia is now essentially human?

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