Monarch 16.2

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“We’re not going to be able to take on Dragon without a plan,” Grue said, “A damn good one.”

“You taking point on this?” Trickster asked.  He stepped forward to unlock the gate and held it open for us.

I knew Grue well enough that I noticed the delay before he responded. “I don’t have a plan, but I’ll take lead if we need it.”

Was he hesitating?  We hadn’t really asked a lot of Grue since he’d been taken by the Nine.  Lisa had expressed concerns that he might be shaky if we put him under the pressures a leader had to handle, and the others had apparently agreed.  They’d talked about nominating me.

I wasn’t sure I was up for the role, but I was even less sure about having Grue calling the shots when he might shut down or get distracted at a crucial moment.  I didn’t know what form his trauma might take in this kind of situation.  Our side consisted of Trickster and Sundancer from the Travelers, with Regent, Shatterbird, maybe Victor, Grue, Imp and me. Grue’s own self-preservation or his feelings for Imp and me could cause him to play it too safe when we needed to make a decisive strike.

“Actually-” I started to interject, but the words disappeared the second everyone turned my way.  Grue’s attention, in particular, was making it hard to be confident.  I didn’t want to hurt him, and trying to figure out how to phrase things without hurting his feelings, raising a sensitive subject and actually saying what I wanted to say…

We’d stepped outside.  The half-finished building that loomed over the entrance to Coil’s underground base sheltered us, allowing intermittent sunlight through where plywood hadn’t yet been erected to fill the gaps.  Patches of bright and dark.  I turned and looked at Grue, trying to read him, to see if there was some clue about what he’d say.

Regent spoke up, “Spit it out.  Actually what?”

“Can I?”  I asked.  “Can I take point here?”

When in doubt, keep it simple.

“You have a plan?” Trickster asked.

“Maybe.  No, plan is the wrong word.  Call it a strategy.”  I was studying our group, assessing the tools we had at our disposal.  “But it’s becoming a plan as I think about it, and I think Imp plays the key role here.”

“Fuck yeah!”

Imp?” Trickster asked.  “Dragon can see her, can’t she?  She’s the most useless person here.  I mean, I know I’m not in any shape to fight, but at least my power does something.”

“Fuck you,” Imp snarled.

“No,” I said.  “We can definitely use her.”

“Let’s hear the plan,” Grue said.  I was relieved that there was no anger or irritation in his voice, nothing to indicate he was upset over my co-opting the leadership role.

“The first priority will be making sure Bitch, Genesis and Ballistic are okay.  I’m thinking the easiest way to do that will be to pay the heroes a visit at the PRT headquarters.”

“Dangerous,” Grue said.

“And it’s something Dragon will anticipate, I think,” I said.  “It’s a safe bet to say she’s smart, even if the actual machines aren’t getting her full attention or if they’re dumber because their artificial intelligences don’t function at the same level as an actual human brain.  She’s still organizing the suits, and she’s going to be able to anticipate that we might go for the most vulnerable elements of their operation, the local heroes.”

“You’re thinking we go after them?”

“We have to.  The individual suits are going to be tough to take down, if not outright impossible.  We can take down the local heroes and get leverage, information, or at least stop them from interfering when we go up against one or more of Dragon’s suits.”

“Makes sense,” Trickster said.  “Unless we’re putting ourselves in that worst-case scenario where we’re dealing with multiple suits plus the local heroes.”

“It’s possible.  Even here, I’m willing to bet my left hand that there’s going to be a Dragon suit parked on the roof of that building, or somewhere near by.”

“And you’re thinking we use Imp?”  Grue asked.

I nodded.  “We can leave her there as a saboteur, maybe, or just have her in place to get information or methodically take threats out of action.  But it won’t be that simple.  They’ll have security cameras throughout the building.  Which means we need to take them out if she’s going to walk around without a problem.  Regent, can Shatterbird kill all the cameras and lights in the building without killing anyone?  Nothing explosive.”

“A gentle break?  I’d have to be close.  Closer if I don’t know where it is.”

“And by ‘I’ you mean Shatterbird?” Grue asked.

“Yeah.  I can’t get that far from her though.”

“I can probably find the location to target with my bugs.  But getting Shatterbird in close means we need a distraction.  So this is a two-pronged plan.”

“The problem with that,” Grue said, “Is this is also a plan with a lot of steps, each dependent on the success of the step before it, as well as the success of the second ‘prong’.  If we fuck up or run into a snag somewhere along the line, it falls apart.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “And we’re going to be outnumbered and outgunned, even if we don’t count the squads of PRT uniforms that are going to be stationed in there.  But I think we can use that to our advantage.”

“Disguises?” Sundancer asked.

“No.  Not disguises.  Let’s hurry.  We’re working with a hard time limit, we have to travel on foot, and we’re going to be forced to stay out of the open as we travel.”

Grue filled the area with darkness as we approached, and then cleared enough away for us to talk.  With luck, it would help keep them from detecting us with any of the countless tools tinkers like Dragon, Chariot or Kid Win had at their disposal.  Radar, thermal imaging, stuff I’d never even heard of.

They had modified the PRT building since our last visit.  The windows had been destroyed when Shatterbird had attacked the city, and were now filled with screens and plywood.  PRT uniforms stood on the rooftop, observing the surrounding area.  Trucks ringed the area, each with police officers, detectives in bulletproof vests and more PRT uniforms standing nearby.

One of Dragon’s suits was perched on the rooftop of the tallest building in the area.  The legs were long enough that the knees rose above the body, ending in four sharp points, and wing panels seemed to join each of the legs, like the flaps of skin between the legs of a flying squirrel.  The actual body was low to the ground, with a long tail that had entwined from a point at the back of the rooftop to the front, caressing the corner closest to me.  The head swiveled slowly from side to side, scanning for threats.

It wasn’t the drone ship.  Good.  That would have been disastrous.  But I didn’t know what this suit did.  The feature that caught my eye was the wheel.  As big around as the suit was long, the spoked wheel ran through the shoulders of the suit, jutting straight up.  It rotated slowly, arcs of electricity occasionally flashing between the center and the edges, killing any bugs that settled on the spokes and leaving a heavy scent of ozone in their wake.

I described the general shape for them.

“Anyone recognize what Skitter’s describing?” Grue asked.

“That’s not the one that came after me,” Sundancer said.

“It’s in my territory,” Trickster said.  “Maybe she picked it to come after me?”

“How do you counter a teleporter?”  I asked.

“With that thing, apparently,” Regent commented.  “So we’re dividing our group?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m tracking you guys with my bugs.  Take your time getting into position.  Better to take a bit longer than to alert them too early.  Grue’s with me.  Trickster, Imp and Sundancer stay here, keep out of sight at all costs.  Regent and Shatterbird, you stay here in the darkness for cover until we make a move, then head out and circle around.  When we’re all in place, I’ll let you know.”

Grue and I headed out, navigating through back alleys and side streets, detouring far enough away that the curve of the road kept us out of sight of the officers stationed by the intersection, with my swarm to check for any bystanders and Grue’s darkness to keep us off the armored mech’s radar.  I used my bugs to start tracking the people inside the headquarters.

Heat and humidity were my allies here.  The main floors had open areas with desks and areas with blocks of cubicles, packed with officers working elbow to elbow.  They’d worked long days, judging by the heavy taste of the sweat on their skin, and they’d let food pile up. With the general warmth of summer, bugs were secretly thriving.  Some vegetable mush had leaked from the trash can to the bottom of a bin, maybe spaghetti or some pizza sauce, and maggots were happily devouring a meal there.  Small flies had amassed where the trash hadn’t been promptly cleared away, and piles of paper offered a home to the enterprising spiders that wanted to devour this growing population of pests.

I’d worried I wouldn’t be able to get my bugs on everyone present without alerting them.  It wasn’t a problem in the end.  A small number of maggots could be delivered by a fly, dropped into the midst of an officer’s shoelaces, the pocket of their pants or the holster of their gun.  From there, it was easy enough to keep track of where they were moving and what they were doing.  Counting the bodies, checking the various people inside, I could tell that Bitch, Genesis and Ballistic weren’t present.  Nobody matched their build or style of dress, in costume or out.

On the third floor the three local members of the Protectorate were in the company of the Wards, a pair of PRT uniforms and the woman I took to be the Director.  Triumph seemed to be okay, I could sense the general shape of Miss Militia, as well as Assault.  I didn’t spot Prism, Cache or Ursa Aurora.  That was good.

All of the Wards were present, too:  Weld, Clockblocker, Flechette, Kid Win, Vista, and Chariot.

We had two big guns.  If we were willing to be monsters, to go all out, it would be a fairly simple matter to hit them with Shatterbird to slow them down, use Sundancer’s sun at maximum power, tear the building apart and incinerate the residents before everyone could clear out.  It wouldn’t even be hard.

But what was the point if we went that far?  I was in this to save Dinah.  It didn’t do any good if I ruined the lives of a hundred Dinahs in the process – the daughters and sisters of the employees here, fathers, mothers and other people who did nothing to get caught up in this war.

“This spot good?” Grue asked, stopping.

I looked around.  We didn’t have a view of the building, but we did have a view of Trickster.  Which is what we needed.

“It’s good.  One minute while I fill them in.”

“Feel confident?”

“Wish I had time to practice this before trying it in the field,” I replied.

“Yeah,” he answered.

I used my bugs to spell out the various information they needed.  The presence and location of the armored suit, the general number and location of the enemy forces and the floors they were currently on.  It took me a few minutes to spell everything out and verify that they understood.

The plan called for a distraction.  Sundancer would take the lead on that.  I signaled the go-ahead, and she created her orb, shoving it down through the road’s surface.  However many thousands of degrees it was, it melted through pavement and bored into whatever pipes and drainage spaces were beneath the roads.

When it rose through an intersection some distance away, it was significantly larger.  Sundancer began bringing it steadily towards the headquarters, moving in towards the opposite face of the building that Grue and I were closest to.

The Protectorate headed to the windows to see what was happening.  I highlighted the window frame with my bugs, clustering them so a general rectangle surrounded the area.  Did Trickster have the ability to see them through the window?  It was hard to calculate the angles-

I found myself in the midst of the local heroes.  Bugs exploded out from within my costume, covering them.  Capsaicin-laced bugs found every uncovered eye, mouth and nose before they realized what had just happened.  My bugs could sense Triumph bending his knees to lunge for me-

And I’d shifted a few feet to the right.  Even as my orientation and senses were thrown by the sudden movement, my bugs let me figure out where I’d moved a fraction of a second before the enemy did.  I was already reaching for my baton, whipping it out to its full length.

Trickster switched me again before I could strike Miss Militia with my combat stick.  Vista was in front of me, and without really thinking about it, I struck her in the most vulnerable area I could reach, across the bridge of her nose, swatting her in the ear with a stroke in the opposite direction.

Another swap, not a half-second later.  We were counting on my swarm-sense giving me the edge in this chaos, the close proximity and unclear positioning of their allies would keep them from hitting me with the worst of their powers.  I caught Miss Militia in the midsection with my baton, swung overhead to try to catch her hand, but missed when Trickster teleported me again.

Assault kicked me before I could recover and strike my next target.  The hit didn’t feel that hard, but it sent me sliding across the floor, into a trio of chairs with plastic seats.

“The window!” Miss Militia choked out the orders through the pain of the capsaicin and the massed bugs.  “Block Trickster!”

I climbed to my feet.  I’d waited too long to signal for an exit.  The plan had been to bring Grue in as I wrapped up my initial attack, let him use his darkness to disable, steal whatever power would serve best and dispatch the enemy.  They’d caught on to what we were doing, and they were making their counter-move.  If Trickster couldn’t see me, he couldn’t swap me with anyone, meaning I was on my own.

My opponents were suffering, though.  Clockblocker was gone, teleported out as I’d teleported in.  Miss Militia, Vista, Flechette, Triumph, Chariot and Kid Win were down, more or less out of commission with their eyes swollen shut and the bugs crawling into their ears and airways.  At Miss Militia’s instruction, they had backed up to the window, blocking Trickster’s view.

Besides bringing Grue in, the plan had been for Trickster to swap the heroes out as he spotted them, using bystanders or any officers in the area.  Right this moment, he should have eyes on the uniforms on the roof, could switch their locations with that of the heroes, but he wasn’t.  Maybe he felt it was more dangerous for me to be up against a cop with a gun or a PRT uniform with containment foam than against heroes we’d already disabled.

Or maybe he was fucking me over on purpose.  No, it didn’t make sense.  He had his teammates to rescue.  I was still suffering latent paranoia from Coil’s ‘test’.

Still, the other heroes were more or less incapacitated.  That left me to deal with Weld, Assault, the two PRT officers and the Director.  She was an obese woman, two-hundred and fifty pounds at a minimum, with an unflattering, old-fashioned haircut that might have looked good on a model with the right clothes to go with it.  Neither Weld nor Assault were advancing, choosing to block my access to the exits.  The area was some kind of office, filled with desks, chairs, cubicles and computers.  More like an office building than I’d expected from a law enforcement facility.

“This-” the Director started, stopping to cough and gag as one of the capsaicin bugs found the inside of her mouth.  It had already smeared its payload along the inside of Vista’s nostril, so the payload wouldn’t be that intense.  “This was a mistake.”

“If it wasn’t a little reckless, Dragon would have probably anticipated it.”

“You’ve trapped yourself in here.  Two other Dragon models are already on the way.”


“Good,” I told her.  I was pretty sure I managed to hide the fact that I was lying through my teeth.

She straightened, pressing one hand to her right eye.  “Is this Tattletale’s plan?”


“I see, and-”

I didn’t hear the rest.  Behind my back, Assault moved to kick one of the desks.  It went flying into the air in the same instant I threw myself to the ground.  I could feel the rush of wind as it passed over me, hurtling into a cubicle.  I scrambled for cover.

“Prescience.  Interesting,” the Director called out, as I ducked low and used the cubicles to hide.  “We assigned you a thinker-one classification, but perhaps we fell short.”

“I really don’t care.”  I used my bugs to speak, so they couldn’t use my voice to pinpoint my location.  She was trying to distract me so the others could act, or buying the Dragon suits time to arrive.  I was calling in more bugs to the area and slowly gathering them around myself, now that I didn’t need to worry about people spotting them.

“You can see through their eyes, hear what they hear?  Can you see the suit that was outside?”

The armored mech was moving, its limbs outstretched to catch the air with the flying-squirrel wing flaps.  Panels around its body were venting out hot air and giving it lift, and the giant wheel was tilted back at a forty-five degree angle.  The suit was clearly designed to fly forward, relying on the wing flaps to make intricate and acrobatic twists and turns in the air.  Sundancer’s miniature sun was blocking the suit’s progress, forcing it to make lengthy detours and twist in the air, stalling and dropping several feet before it could catch the air beneath it again.  More than once, it lost more ground than it gained while retreating from the burning orb.

“Yeah.  It’s handled,” I called out, from behind the desk.  My swarm felt the Director make a hand motion, apparently to signal Weld.  As he began advancing towards me, I stayed low and retreated into a cubicle.

The Director spoke, “More will come.  Not just the seven suits that are currently in Brockton Bay.  So long as you hold this city, Dragon will bring in more suits on a weekly basis.  Dragon will shore up weaknesses, augment strengths.  If you’re lucky here, you might win.  I’ll credit you that.  But you won’t get two or three days of rest before you have to fight again.  How many times can you abandon your territory before your followers abandon you?”

The swarm’s buzz helped mask the location of my voice.  “How many times can you afford to let the crooks clean up your messes before the public realizes your Protectorate is little more than good PR, fancy talk and wasted tax dollars?”

“We’re doing more than you think,” she responded.

“And less than the people need.  I’m filling a void you people left behind.  If you were doing a satisfactory job, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing.”

Come on, come on.

“Don’t act stupider than you are, Skitter.  The city can’t step in to help the people in your territories because we can’t trust you.  Your Bitch is already mauling anyone that sets foot in her territory.  Any electrician, carpenter or doctor that we send into your territory might come back to us dying from anaphylactic shock.”

I shut my mouth.  I didn’t have a response to that.  At least, I didn’t have a response which wasn’t a mere, I promise I’ll be good.

It wasn’t worth worrying about, because I didn’t get the chance to reply anyways.  There was a crashing sound and the lights cracked.  Fragments and splinters of glass showered down on top of us as everything suddenly went dark.  To take maximum advantage of this shift in circumstance, I complemented the effect by moving the bugs I’d gathered just outside the windows, blocking the meagre light that was filtering through the screens and plunging the entire room into a dimly lit twilight.

I drew my knife and bolted.  Glass crunched underfoot and caused my feet to slip under me as I ran.  Assault charged my way, one arm still covering his mouth.  More bugs covered the lenses of his mask, but they slid off him as if he were oiled.  His power at work.

With the bugs around me, I pulled a quick, crude decoy together, running in one direction as my bugs moved in another, slightly closer to him.  In the dim, his mask partially covered, he went after the decoy.  When his hand passed through, he reached just a little further to grab a desk and heave it my way.

Once again, I only barely managed to dodge by throwing myself to one side.  My landing was hard, undignified, and ended with the armor of my mask and shoulder hitting the corner where two walls met.

“What are you hoping to accomplish?” the Director called out.

I stood, trying to look as if I was considering my answer.  Weld was approaching, and Assault stood ready to attack.  Not like he had anything to lose – I was cornered, quite literally.

I turned the knife around in my hand so the blade pointed down and slashed to my right, cutting the bug-covered screen with a loose ‘x’.  Assault lunged for me, crossing half the room with a single leap.  He was too late – I let myself fall through the third story window.

The outdoors were startlingly bright after the gloom of the building’s interior.  I felt my hair whip around me for one second, then landed, sprawling, in a dim setting.

I hadn’t fallen the full distance.  I was inside again, surrounded by the other heroes.  I had only a second before they realized what I’d done.  I turned and slashed the screen behind me, throwing myself from the window a second time.

Again, Trickster swapped me with one of the heroes.  I landed with my feet skidding on the floor beneath me and caught the windowsill for balance.  I waved: my signal.

“Get away from the window!”  Assault bellowed.

Then I was teleported yet again.  I found myself back in the alleyway I’d been in with Grue.  Clockblocker was facing away from me, Grue was gone.

A quick check showed he wasn’t moving.  Grue had caught him off guard, and his initiative had beat out Clockblocker’s concern about potentially disabling an ally.  Clockblocker was frozen by his own borrowed power.  Perfect.

I reached behind my back and unspooled the length of thread.  My bugs took hold of it at various points along its length and began traveling across Clockblocker’s body, winding the silk cord around him and tying it in knots.

With luck he wouldn’t be a threat even after he got loose.

I reached out with my power to assess the general situation. Grue’s darkness surrounded the area, keeping the officers and PRT uniforms at the blockades from opening fire.

The mechanical suit that had been perched on the rooftop nearby was on the ground now, fighting Sundancer, Shatterbird and Grue, the latter two of which were out in the open.

The plan was to avoid leaving cover, I thought.

The wheel on the back of Dragon’s machine was already spinning at full speed.  I could make out a red eye in the center, identical to the ones that had been on the drone.  The suit thrust itself forward with the vents around its body, lunging for Grue, and Trickster swapped Grue’s location with a PRT uniform, putting Grue on the rooftop.  It avoided hitting the man by dragging its two left claws in the pavement, lifting its tail so it wouldn’t swing around and strike him.

The wheel blazed with a wreath of electricity, the entire suit thrumming with enough charge to kill every bug touching it.  Without warning, the wheel flared and Grue was yanked over the edge of the rooftop by an invisible force.  Trickster caught Grue, swapping him for the same officer before he was halfway to the ground.

This is Dragon’s counter to a teleporter?  I would have called it a magnet, but Grue wasn’t carrying or wearing anything substantial with metal on it.  Or was this the suit Dragon had deployed against Genesis, Ballistic or Bitch?

Maybe I was missing something.

I used my swarm to keep the windows blocked and the people inside under assault, just enough that they couldn’t recover and complicate an already dangerous situation.  I tried to position the bugs I could spare so they hovered around the sensors and the ‘eye’ of the wheel.  Shatterbird was pelting it with a stream of glass shards that looped back in her general direction to rejoin the stream and strike over and over again.

It didn’t work.  The thing targeted Grue again and hauled him a hundred feet towards it.  Still crackling with electricity from its nose to the tip of its tail, it advanced on him, tail stretching forward to reach for him.

The machine suddenly shifted position and powered its thrusters to lunge away.  Sundancer’s orb erupted from the ground just behind the spot the suit had been standing.  I could see Grue raising his hands to shield his face from the waves of heated air as he scrambled to his feet and ran.

The first of the reinforcements arrived.  I recognized it as the suit that had been deployed against Leviathan.  The same one that had gone after Tattletale, unless she had more than one.  This one had the foam sprayer.  It set down on the edge of the battlefield opposite the wheel-dragon.

We took too long.  Or the suits had arrived too soon.  There wasn’t really a difference.  The wheel-dragon must have pulled Grue from cover and forced Shatterbird to step up to help, and my own invasion of the main building had taken just a little too long, giving Assault a chance to get his bearings and hit me.

My swarm informed me in advance of the second of the suits that were arriving on scene.  The wheel-dragon thrust itself forward, skimming the road’s surface to put itself next to the PRT headquarters.  The drone-deployment suit set down on top of a nearby building so they were spaced out evenly.

They had Grue and Shatterbird surrounded.  I stood off to one side, between the drone-deployer and the foam-sprayer, still too close for comfort but they didn’t seem to have noticed me.

I glanced towards the building where Trickster and Sundancer were holed up.  Sundancer wasn’t moving her sun, and Trickster was apparently unable to see a valid target to swap Grue for.  The officers and PRT uniforms had been disabled while I was indoors, and both Kid Win and Miss Militia lay at the base of the building.

I used my bugs to write him out an order: ‘swap me for sun, swap me for kid’.

A long second passed.  Was Trickster illiterate?  Why was it so hard for him to notice the key info I was trying to write down-

I found myself surrounded by darkness.  Only a slit of light filtered into the room through the plywood.  Trickster stood beside me, and the words I’d written out with bugs were on the plywood.  He’d swapped me for Sundancer.

“You sure?”  He asked.  He’d gathered what I was hoping to do.

“Yeah,” I said.  I pressed my knife into his hand.

He moved me in an instant, putting me at the base of the headquarters, facing a wall.  As I turned around, the three suits shifted position to look my way.

Trickster stepped out of the building, the tip of my knife pressed to the point where Kid Win’s chin joined his neck.

We could have used Sundancer’s sun to threaten the people inside the building and get the suits to back off, but I didn’t trust her to be mean enough.  I didn’t have much respect for Trickster as a human being, but that was an advantage when we needed someone to be more vicious.

The suits stood down.  I could see the wheel spin to a stop, the drones returning to dock.

Right.  Dragon wouldn’t risk a human life.  She’d discarded her suit rather than let an established criminal die.  She wouldn’t let a young hero die for the sake of getting us into custody.

“Let’s go!” Trickster called.

I hurried to cross the area between the three Dragon-suits, Grue joining me halfway.  Trickster backed up with a barely conscious Kid Win in his grip.

We’d nearly reached safety when one suit shuddered to life.  Trickster spun around, still holding Kid Win, turning his attention to the wheel-dragon.  The wheel was moving again. “No funny business!”

It wasn’t the wheel-dragon that attacked.  Before I could open my mouth to warn Trickster, the suit with the containment foam sprayed him, swamping him from behind.  The weight and force of the spray knocked his knife-hand away from Kid Win, and the swelling, gummy mess kept it away.  The sprayer proceeded to slowly bury the two of them, trapping hostage and hostage-taker together.

“Swap for Miss Militia!”  Grue shouted, turning around as the drones began deploying once again.  The wheel was getting up to speed, crackling with electricity.

“Can’t- Can’t turn my head to get a look at her!”  The foam was spraying him from behind.  If he turned his head, he’d be blinded.

And we weren’t in a position to grab her and haul her into Trickster’s field of view.  It would take too long.  Drones were sweeping down onto the street level, moving into position so they hovered above Grue and I.  I waited for the electrical charge to hit.

It didn’t.

The drone tapped my head as it descended.  I stepped back and let it descend slowly to the ground.

The foam sprayer had stopped.  Trickster was buried up to his waist, Kid Win face down in the foam in front of him.  The wheel was spinning down for the second time in the span of twenty seconds.

Trickster swapped himself for Kid Win, putting himself knee-deep in the foam.  He craned his head around and managed to get Miss Militia in his sight, then swapped for her.

We ran, following after the others, who’d already left the battlefield.

“Why did they stop?” Grue asked.

I shook my head.  “Tattletale?”

I kept waiting for the suits to perk up and give chase, or for further reinforcements to appear.  There was no pursuit.  Fifteen minutes passed before we had to stop, settling in an abandoned building to hide and catch our breath.

I sorted out my weapons, taking my knife back from Trickster, and sat down to rest.  I ran my fingers through my hair to get it in a semblance of order.

My fingers snagged on something.  For a second, I thought maybe I’d gotten some containment foam in it.

No.  My hair was tied around a piece of paper.  I had to use my bugs to untie it.

I recognized the lettering.  A series of symbols that all strung together so it was hard to tell where one began and one ended.  I’d designed it, when I was making up the code to keep my superhero notes private.

I’d left myself a message?  When?

“I gave myself a reminder, telling me to take our group to the south end of the main beach,” I said.

“The fuck?” Regent asked.

“I dunno,” I said.  “But we didn’t get the hostage we’d planned on taking, so I think we should go, if nobody else has a better idea.”

It took some time to get there, sticking to back alleys and roads, and it took more time to verify that there were no threats in the area.

As confusing as the message was, everything made sense when Imp made her presence known, dropping the veil of her power’s effect.

Right.  I’d had her tie the note into my hair so it wouldn’t confuse or distract me while I was in the field, something I’d only notice after the fact.

She was practically bouncing with excitement.

“Saved your asses,” she said.

“And she’s never going to let us forget,” Regent commented.

“You got out okay?” Grue asked.

“I marched the fatty out of the building as soon as I’d made sure the robots weren’t going to attack again.  Grabbed the keys from a cop and drove off.  No way you can say I’m useless again, Tricksy.”

Trickster looked at her ‘guest’.  “I won’t.”

Director Piggot, the fat woman, was handcuffed and kneeling beside Imp, head hanging.

“Well,” I said, “Could have gone better, but we got what we needed.  You had her order them to shut down, right?”


“Dragon must have given the Director the ability to command the suits.  Wouldn’t have guessed,” Grue said.

I nodded in agreement.  “It’s a matter of time before they arrange some workaround, take away the Director’s access or Dragon reprograms the suits, but this is good.  We’ve got some leverage now.”

The Director raised her head to direct a glare at us with swollen, bloodshot eyes.

Funny as it was, I couldn’t bring myself to feel bad about it.

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189 thoughts on “Monarch 16.2

  1. You know, if Dragon really gave Piggot access codes to the suits (and is not just playing with her), then taking control of Piggot (via Regent) gets villains a short window of opportunity to actually use the suits offensively. I.e. eradicate (drive out / capture) the heroes. All the heroes. And it would give Undersides an opportunity to attack Coil.

    So much ways this could go.


    • Maybe, and that’s a big maybe. Regent can control her body, but he doesn’t get any insight into her mind, except that gained by exploiting muscle memory. But Tattletale might be able to “read” Piggot in order to figure out such codes.

      • Of course, now that I just re-read the last section, it appears that maybe Piggot’s control of the suits is keyed to verbal commands, so a tag team of Regent and Tattletale would have a good chance of working.

      • I say they do it anyway as a big FU to the heroes for their little bombing plan, their lack of help against the 9, and sicking the Dragons on their territories. At the very least, Piggot can’t work in the city every again, or Regent could take control of her.

        • Yeah, I love how they managed to take hostage the one person we feel absolutely no guilt about.

          Also I finally realised that Piggot has never actually been described as black and I’m just thinking of her as the woman from DC who runs cadmus/the suicide squad.

          • Doesn’t make the heroes look any better if their Director Piggot is to them like The Wall is to the Suicide Squad. I wonder which of Worm’s heroes is supposed to be Captain Boomerang.

          • The difference between Waller and Piggot is Waller is not facing the not so gradual destruction of earth and humanity. At least Piggot can try to justify most of what she does. Also Piggot’s plans make some sense and aren’t almost universally pants on head retarded.

          • Shadowstalker is captain boomerang. The arrogant jerk, who is full of herself, and nobody else likes. She, like him, also has less than pleasant things happen to her.

    • I don’t think she GAVE permission to Pidgot. Dragon is already programmed to obey the law and higher authority, curtisory of her monster of a father that died with the job half-finished.
      Poor Dragon is slave to the system, literally.

      Once they take over the city, whoever is given the highest position, Coil, someone else or a puppet, will have her at their beck and call. Maybe if Skitter leads she can give her more freedom…

    • Damn, people are finally starting to treat her as dangerous.

      She needs some gymnastics training, this scene would have been much cooler wioth backflips over Assault’s attempts at giving the lady a chair.

      • Fancy shit like that gets baseline humans beaten into a paste when they are fighting superhumans. I much prefer her simple, practical actions in combat.

        • Yes. Jumping out of the way is generally regarded as a better way to do it. Less chance of injury, less training and expertise, and it could help her build up her thighs for when she loses her virginity to Grue on the back of an exploding Dragon suit as it plummets to the earth.

        • True, but it looks awesome. Anyway, I’m still hoping she’ll get enhanced physical capacities as a result of some new power. Bugs within her body to inject chemicals and boost muscles.

          Actually more awesome thought, if she does gain a swarm transformation, partial transformation could let her do stuff like auto-patch wounds. Get cut, needly spiders form out of underlying flesh and emerge to stitch it up. Tell me that wouldn;t look cool.

    • Originally had more, Don, but it didn’t make sense in the context of what was going on, with the reinforcements arriving – Skitter couldn’t afford to talk, and wouldn’t have had time either way.

  2. Thinker one my ass. That was bloody brilliant! A great synergy of powers and tactics. They OWNED the heroes in this chapter. I think we can officially consider Skitter the leader of the Undersiders now. But they need something more long term to stop any reinforcements Dragon could send. Well if Dragon is outed, her true nature might scare people into controlling her actions more. But whats next? They’re going to interrogate her, but what should they ransom her for?

    • Blackmail. Regent (as lie detector) + Tattetale (to ask the right questions) = insane amounts of blackmail material.

      Hell, the biggest landfall they could catch is getting the information about the existence of the Cauldron (which most of the villains are unaware of, I think, if I remember correctly) and about Manton (did Taylor tell Tattletale about him?). And some of the PRT policies.

      With the right amounts of blackmail arranged correctly they can hold heroes off, tuning the conflict down to “cold war” status – heroes don’t attack them actively without provocation, villains don’t attack heroes directly, Dragon (nuke equivalent) withdraws.

      • Great Plan, but there is the chance that a leader descide to say screw it and let the info get out. The PRT offices/heroes would lose a lot of support, goodwill, and respect. But they may put someone more competent in charge or someone who will want retribution. Not to mention it would make them enemy number one to ALL of the PRT, not just those in the city.

      • They don’t even need Regent as a lie detector here. Tattletale is very, very good at that sort of thing. Cherish was barely reacting to her statements and she was pulling out huge amounts of information.

    • I disagree, the Undersider’s whole flat structure thing makes a leader role mostly about being a steady figure to lead the charge. Skitter is an excellent tactician, but Grue would still make a better leader if he ever recovers enough.

      • At the beginning of the story I would agree, but Skitter has really risen in confidence, and dedication. She can remain calm and composed when the shit hits the fan, and is able to think analytically. Most importantly, her team trusts her and looks to her support. She is Brian’s rock, Tattletale looks to her before making a choice of action, Aisha is trusts her enough to help her brother, Regent went out of his way to screw with someone who hurt her, and she is the closest thing to a friend Bitch has ever/probably will ever have. I think they have more of a pyramid structure to leadership now. Everyone has a voice, but Aisha/Alex both admit that the Trio make the big decisions, and Tyler’s voice carries more weight than I think she realizes. Tattletale looked to her when trying to decide if she they take on Dragon for Coil, and Bryan instantly followed her lead at the meeting of the Villains to deal with the 9.

          • Not much I can do then if Word of God is overruling me. Didn’t figure Regent cared that much. Thought it had more to do with the way she’d been stalking Grue’s shadow so much. Along with some of his annoyance at Taylor, lended a close guy friends feel to it like it could eventually be heterosexual lifemates.

          • I don’t think he particularly cared at the time, he just couldn’t allow someone that had fucked with a teammate like that walk away when he already had her in his grasp.

  3. “forcing it to make , ”

    Seems to be some words missing here.

    “just enoguh that they couldn’t recover and complicate”


  4. “forcing it to make , which subsequently ”


    It’s in the bit where Skitter and Piggot are talking about the Dragon suit outside.

  5. Amazing synergy there between Trickster and Skitter. Taking out half the PRT by themselves – that’s no mean feat. Otherwise, solid planning on Skitters part, she seems to be taking to leadership quite well. Her Swarm Sense and multitasking evidently come in handy there too.
    I also like the Thinker comment.
    Here’s waiting for the inevitable talk with Piggot.

  6. “Presience. Interesting,” the Director called out, as I ducked low and used the cubicles to hide. “We assigned you a thinker-one classification, but perhaps we fell short.”

    *Prescience, I think it is spelled? Minor detail.

  7. For a second there, I thought the Dragon drone was trying to communicate something to Skitter. Damn my hopes and expectations.

    Still, that was a great plan. The best part is, even I forgot about Imp during the fight. When the story immerses you to such an extent that it affects you the exact way the characters would be, that’s great writing!

      • Everytime she pisses Grue off from now to the end of time.

        “Aisha, take my costume down off the ceiling fan right no-!”

        “Hey remember that time I saved your ass?”

        • Taylor forgot about something Imp did while Imp’s power was active. So it’s like they forget she ever existed and did anything she did, even to them?

          That’s going to cause some major relationship problems later on. “You cheated on me, you bastard!” “I didn’t know I was dating you at the time!” “We’ve been married for 25 years!” “I didn’t even know who our kids’ mother was when you did that.”

          Man, threesomes would be interesting in retrospect.

  8. OH SHI*.
    Incredible chapter. For one moment i forgot about Imp😄. These superheroes suffer the same problem they have in the comicbooks, they cant workarround problems that doesnt involve hitting or destroying something.

  9. So, um, this is a hard topic to broach, because I don’t like doing it to you guys, and I don’t like doing it to myself… But the long and short of it is that I’m having trouble keeping up with the donation bonuses.

    Essentially, the difficulty is from both a time/effort perspective and from a creativity standpoint.

    Time/effort: I started off writing chapters of about 1500-2000 words, and gradually scaled up as I got more comfortable writing more. I kind of liken it to exercise – you build that muscle, scale up the workout so you’re straining yourself just enough to keep fit. I settled on a minimum of 4k words per update because that’s just long enough that I can’t let myself be lazy, and it allows room for twists and a balance of dialogue and exposition. Sometimes I write more (sometimes as much as 10k words). But I didn’t push myself to go beyond 4k words for my own sanity. Two updates of 4k words still requires me to put in a few hours every day, but it allowed me to take a day off while still keeping up.

    I’ve written a bonus update for something like 9 of the past 10 weeks and it’s starting to wear me out, to the point that I’m okay getting less in the way of donations for a bit more of a chance to breathe. That isn’t to say I want to discourage donations -they’re majorly appreciated-, it’s just that I’m also getting worn out. One point doesn’t detract from the other.

    Creativity? There’s only so many characters to cover, and I like to make the interludes relevant for the point in time that the interlude happens – in terms of atmosphere, tone, theme, story, whatever. So it gets hard to keep coming up with stuff to fit that gap. Last Thursday I tried a chapter, then realized it was crap. Basically 10ish hours of writing/time wasted, because I was trying to shoehorn an idea in.

    Anyways, that’s my line of thinking. I realize that raising the donation cap will disappoint some people, and will make for less chapter releases in the next while. It’ll also mean less donations, probably, as there’ll be less impulse donations to bring in the last $15-20, and which I understand & accept.

    So I’m thinking $120 for the new donation cap. At the current rate of donations, it’d mean a steady rate, but not one 90% of the time a Thursday rolls around. Also, it was suggested recently that I perhaps do some of the donation chapters as series/substories – releasing a part 1 followed by a part 2 for the second end of it (with each being a full chapter unto itself, rest assured).


    • Raising the cap works, but I personally prefer the substories/ side series idea. More donations could mean funding more world-building chapters. Honestly, I feel an extra update per week wouldn’t be necessary if you feel it doesn’t fit. See if it works better in a regular update schedule.

    • Multi-part interludes would be great, especially if one of them is the Dragon/Armsmaster thing I suggested last chapter, because I like my ideas. I promise not to complain if you cut back on interludes, either. We get plenty of content with the main chapters; I’ve been feeling spoiled the past few weeks with all the bonuses.

      • We also get insane Gecko drabbles in the meantime, so it works out. Gecko, start churning out more to relieve Wildbow’s workload!

    • I completely understand not wanting to burn out. I’d rather you cut back as much as you felt you needed and still keep up with the quality than feel obligated to turn out donation chapters that you felt were subpar. As for topics for interludes, I personally like the idea of more worldbuilding chapters, even if they have nothing to do with Skitter and her ragtag band of misfits.
      What is that tinker in Dallas that makes crystals like? What are some of the issues facing Myrridon’s team in Chicago? What’s life like for a power in a subsaharan warlord’s camp? I imagine, what with “have a really bad day” there’s plenty of ’em in that sort of place.

      But yeah, if you think you need to cut back? Cut back. Seriously.

    • I am just amazingly impressed that you can keep to your current schedule. The worst that could happen is that you will get burned out. In fact, I think you are due donations just for keeping up with the main story.

      I have donated, and I don’t really expect anything in return. Call it payment for 15 chapters of excellent fiction, if you like. It was well worth it without any kind of donation incentive.

    • whatever works for you. I’m only writing one chapter a week and I’m already having trouble sometimes, so I totally get where you’re coming from.

      also, love the multi-chapter/substory idea

    • My thought is this: The pace of writing you’re hitting is drawing a crowd – it’s impressive enough on its own that I’ve pointed out your story to a few friends just on that basis. it’s bad to get burned out, nobody wants that. But right now you stand out; and going every other day or so with an update means you stay in people’s minds.

      Raising the donation cap a bit seems like the right thing to do. But I’d also recommend throwing in a ‘freebie’ bonus story, as a way of celebrating the fact that you’re becoming so popular you can’t keep up with demand. I don’t think anyone who donates or is inclined to would begrudge a higher cap after a gesture like that.

    • Whatever it takes to keep you going. You have a supportive community of readers, and we don’t want you to work yourself to death (mostly because we wouldn’t get any more chapters).

      As far as ideas for bonus chapters, I would LOVE to see something from Scion’s perspective, or at least something that gives us some more information on him. Then again, you cited relevance to the current plot as a limitation for bonus chapters and I don’t know how relevant anything about him would be.

      I must say, you should feel a certain amount of pride that you’re getting so many donations that you’re having trouble keeping up with them.

    • As far as I can see, your work is becoming more well known, which naturally leads to donations and thus to this situation. It only makes sense to raise the cap on donations (assuming we take as intrinsic, this bourgeois capitalist model XD) now that you are getting more of them.

      It will raise some complaints, and if I’m honest a part of me genuinely wants to say that you should sacrifice yourself to the pyre of this mighty work, but that part’s an asshole and you’re giving us an incredible story. Even the broke morons like me who aren’t paying you beyond tropes and word of mouth (poor repayment for this much writing I feel). The complainers are being unreasonable, you cannot write that much so don’t try to do so.

      Still, I’m actually curious if the signs of increasing popularity and monetary input motivate you to increase the story length/stay in this world so as to continue to build this fanbase?

    • yada yada yada *SUPORT* yada yada yada
      (all about us accepting your decision and supporting it
      [I dont think i have to repeat what is written above])

      If i were you i would add a line about not making an interlude every week
      (75% off all weeks, or every second week)

      interesting interludes would be some
      from an Endbringers perspective
      about a different country
      about/from within mirrorverse/another one of Coils dimensions
      another one about tattletale
      one about Taylors dad

        • Not horribly. But I feel like the moment I do that is the moment I’m saying, “Yeah, that’s the sum total of the world insofar as it’s relevant.” and I know there are other stories I do want to tell.

          In a way, that rule is a way for me to flex my worldbuilding abilities. The creativity issue is less about the characters that are available and more a question of matching tone, not repeating scenes/events (or using material I have in mind for later) and all of that.

          • So it is a possibility for us to get another Grue perspective, or revisit another character? Just not a likely one, or something that would happen overmuch. That about right?

    • Sounds good, as others have said, that’s a problem many authors would kill–or at least stab someone with a pen–to have.

      I know this has been said before, but it’d be interesting to see a Civilian perspective, either in Brockton Bay or, as previously pointed out, learn more about how superheroes and supervillains have effected culture, pop-culture, and the internet. We got a little bit of it early on, when Skitter was half-civvy half-would-be-superhero, but we haven’t in a long time, mostly because Skitter’s too busy living it (the super livestyle, that is) to be working on updating the Wikis or debating about which Villain is the coolest, which Hero the most orginal, or whatever else DOES go on in the internet. And you know it’d be a big deal.

      • Wildbow, why don’t you try something like this:

        Say you don’t want to have to write more than one bonus chaper per month. You could set a target whereby if the donations exceed $xxx by say, the 15th of the month, you will write a bonus episode for the following week, or the week after.

        – You have control over how many bonus episodes you will write and when and can plan accordingly
        – Readers have no incentive to donate more than the target amount until after the target date.

        However: Some may donate more anyway, just to show their appreciation for what has already been written and give you a tip, as Skyweir said. That makes any extra donations *extra nice*, because they are being given above and beyond without any self benefitting motivations😉

        It’s a credit to your success that you have this problem🙂

    • Your update schedule is already very impressive, and consistent… So cutting back a bit – I don’t think anyone would mind, we all want you to not burn out and to keep up the consistently awesome writing.

      But I wanted to also comment on something else entirely! If I hadn’t specifically decided to check out the comments, I would have no idea that you’re thinking about this… It would be excellent for any new and old readers, and just good marketing sense, to make these announcements at the very top (Author’s note) or right after the story itself. Or with a link to an author’s blog corner of the site or something, if you want specific feedback or to discuss with readers. With the comments included, this page is veeeery loooong and so a more “casual reader” (one who doesn’t participate in/read the comments) will completely miss author’s notes/thoughts.

      One more thing, maybe uninvited advice, but whatever: If you’re also maybe wanting to drum up extra income from this story, I like the idea one web author does – bonus story rallies, where readers can donate for a particular theme or character to be written about (assuming you already have ideas for all the options, you’re just offering the readers to choose a direction), with the winner getting more attention with, like, one big bonus, or a short side series or whatever. I think many of your readers would jump at that😛

      Umm… yeah. Anyway, this story is pretty mindblowingly awesome, so… whatever you’re doing now also seems to work well😀 Just some thoughts.

    • I think she deserves worse. I did fell a little bad about the Wards though. They and Miss Militia aren’t so bad. She probably broke Vista’s nose, and they don’t have a local healer anymore.

        • I kind of disagree, they insist on kicking the proverbial (and not so proverbial) hornet’s nest over and over again. Simultaneously refusing and rejecting every single attempt Skitter has made at co-operation.

          • If the Undersiders and Travelers as a whole weren’t so untrustworthy her attempts at cooperation would probably go much better. Guilt by association drags down just about everything Taylor tries.

          • It’s hard to really justify that after stuff like them refusing to fight the nine…who had just invaded Dolltown. That scenario in particular was pure self preservation.

          • …she’s a villain. They were unwise and unreasonable to refuse cooperation on taking down the Nine, given the danger they represented, but they have every reason to attack her territory now that Coil’s group are the primary criminal organization in the city.

            Providing social services to people in their areas of control isn’t uncommon for gangs and other criminal organizations – it gains the cooperation of the surrounding populace. To say that’s a reason the heroes shouldn’t go after Skitter and Coil’s other people is equivalent to saying it’s a reason cops shouldn’t go after mobsters.

            The Protectorate are not simply going to cede a city to the control of a ruthless criminal like Coil so that he can run it for his own purposes. They want people to be able to receive services, yes, but from the government and from legitimate businesses.

            If you do things like rob banks, attack civic events, and attack the mayor’s family in order to control his political decisions, then yes, you’re going to be treated as a bad guy.

          • Fair point, some of the heroes merely failed to do anything to help her when she really, obviously needed it.

            But the mere fact that Vista is fighting at all is pretty disgusting.

          • think about it Anzer’ke – how would STOP a girl who can bend space like play-do from going out and fighting crime? remember, the government encourages parahumans to become rogues; for missy to be a ward, she must have insisted on being a hero. better to have her in a (as much as possible) controlled environment, so she does not get killed, maimed or worse.

            that is kind of the whole point of the wards to begin with.

            so yeah, we may not like it that a little girl is out fighting since prepuberty (I think I remember that she started out at ten?), but this is one of the few things I cannot fault the PRT for – it is the best of several bad alternatives.

          • Superhero academy. She should be in a Training program all day every day until she is older. Probably not till she is 18, the “heroes” are badly outnumbered.

          • that’s just the problem, my six-legged friend; the heroes are outnumbered. they NEED every possible advantage they can get, and Vista IS one of the most powerful residents of brockton bay – and her potential powerlevel is even higher

          • Exactly, it’s about them needing her, not it being a good thing to do. Which is another example of the heroes vast hypocrisy. It’s okay for them to do questionable things because…stuff.

            For instance, Dragon randomly making a mess amidst a city full of people who at no point asked her to come do so. I mean do you honestly think any of Skitter’s territory are thinking ‘yay, dragon has liberated us!’ or would you say they’re worried that their main protector may have been taken out. Skitter at least functions like a more aloof version of what Parian was doing.

          • But she is just a kid and her power isn’t being terribly useful right now. When they fought the Travelers, Ballistic could have easily killed her. She should be in a training program until she can use her powers at a level to really be a powerhouse. Using her like this gives too big a chance of losing her like they have with others like Aegis. I’m not saying forever, maybe just two or three years of her doing nothing but practicing. From her interlude, she would feel terrible about not helping the rest of the Wards, but a thirteen year old girl probably has a she can learn about her power since it is so versatile and powerful.

          • Most of the heroes didn’t have any impact on Panacea, and didn’t have any reason to. She got screwed over by New Wave, who for the most part didn’t provide her with the support she needed. It is a tragedy, but after what she did I don’t think most of the heroes have the kind of pull needed to stop her voluntary commitment to the birdcage.

  10. Excellent! I have a feeling that they missed out on their chance to use Piggot to best effect, but damn that was intense. And it is more exciting this way, in any event!

    “detect the second suit” I suppose it is the second arriving suit, but it is a bit confusing to read where it is- maybe “detect a third suit” or ‘a second reinforcement’ to clear it up?
    “next to the building. The drone-deployment suit set down on a building.” I’m guessing you mean the PRT building for the first, and another for the second? Or is it the building the wheel had started out on?

  11. Another swap, not a half-second later. We were counting on my swarm-sense giving me the edge in this chaos, the close proximity and unclear positioning of their allies would keep them from hitting me with the worst of their powers. I caught Miss Militia in the midsection with my baton, swung overhead to try to catch her hand, but missed when Trickster teleported me again.

    “This! Is! My! Bugstick!” Taylor called as she pounded Assault’s crotch with her baton.

    Very good use of powers there. Especially liked the part where she jumped out the windows and got swapped with heroes. Almost a version of what I call the Cape Elevator. Jump out a window with a superhero around, wait for them to catch you, sandbag them, and use them to break your fall. It’s just not all that useful in the Wormverse since most of these guys don’t really give a shit if anyone falls to their deaths. Was nice that she gave a nod to my more lethal form of thinking.

    Now would be a great time to bring in the guys from Deliverance to interrogate Piggot. She’s been called Piggy before… “I bet you can squeal. I bet you can squeal like a pig. Eeeeee!” Coincidentally, the first time I ever tried to watch that movie on satellite, that was the scene it happened to be on when I changed to that channel. Isn’t that just a wonderful thing to walk in on?

    • And people wondered camping attendance dropped to record lows that year. I actually like the bugstick name. If she ever has a black market action figure, having accessories would help sell it to kids who hate the heroes. She has to have fans in-universe, especially after helping people unlike the heroes. Now all she needs is a badass creed/boast that the action figure says or maybe a pre-asskicking one liner.

      • *sigh*…reminds me of Ascendant, a hero in City of Heroes famous for standing by a pay phone and running some long script of a conversation, either wish his mother or with his agent who is merchandising him.

        Like his secret lair marketed as “The A-Hole. Ascendant keeps his equipment packed in his A-Hole!” or something like that.

      • I imagine those fans are currently raging across the internet, possibly questioning if this is really the most useful thing Dragon could be doing with all those bloody suits.

        • Why the hell aren’t all of these suits tracking down the 9, Nilbog, and going after the nasty villains? Yeah, I know they have taken over the city but that is mostly because the PRT is dong such a bad job that they are making Michael Brown look good by comparison. Of course citizen will flock to them if they are the only ones giving them protection and supplies.

          • It’s a question of resources.

            Keeping the suits active and scanning the countryside gets expensive as they start accruing fuel costs, some of which may be rarer and more expensive.

            As is, they’re stationed around the city in sleep mode (See the Pythios/Wheel Dragon as they approach), and only active for thirty minutes at a time.

            As for why the suits aren’t going after bigger/badder villains? The Undersider-Traveler alliance is fairly easy to find, and they’re in a city that’s the subject of national attention.

          • “As for why the suits aren’t going after bigger/badder villains? The Undersider-Traveler alliance is fairly easy to find, and they’re in a city that’s the subject of national attention.”

            My cynicism smiles inside. Yay for PR nonsense, though surely that’ll be picked up on by critics of these actions? That this is more PR then a genuine attempt to address urgent problems. After all, even the worst of the territories is reasonably stable for the moment.

            And thanks for the confirmation of national attention. I guess that the story kind of makes it feel like this is all happening in isolation but of course this would be massive news. So the Travellers/Undersiders aren’t as low key as they used to be, any news cameras found them yet?

            • It’s especially interesting given that the suits appear to have been custom-built to deal specifically with the Undersiders and Travellers. They can probably be retrofitted but that still seems like a huge resource investment.

              That said, you have to remember that the world doesn’t see Brockton Bay from the same perspective we do. Preventing the imminent fall of a US City to total domination by supervillains would have to be fairly high up the priority list.

      • Nevermind, found out its all the little buttons over there. All this time I was checking from Moment of Awesome and Moment of Funny pages. Someone ought to get those linked up.

        As for me? I must sleep the sleep of the darkest knight and dream the dream of the Michelle Pfeifer Catwoman.

        • I had a dream where buildings were catching on fire at random and random people claimed to know me by some website I could never find. And I accidently used the women’s restroom and got caught. And Worm ended on the very next update without tying up loose ends.

          Damn you, Catwoman!

  12. Hey wildbow, a random suggestion for you. If you are worried about burning out, just give us some random background information/factoids about the characters or the setting as a bonus. Not a story, just straight info. I feel that a setting really comes alive with little details about it. I have all these random questions about the setting. It is probably a good thing you don’t have a formspring, otherwise I would ask stupid things ever day.
    Does having Atlas make Skitter a Mover 1?
    Does Bitch know how to swim?
    What is Aisha’s favorite color?
    What is a guilty pleasure of lisa?
    What is Alex’s favorite food?
    What other weird changes have happened since powered people appeared?

    • How did superpowers affect Hollywood?
      What is Alec’s (not Alex. You should be ashamed of yourself, TheAnt) favourite artstyle?
      how does Myrrdins power work (judging from the fact that he is using Merlin’s celtic name and the evidence during the leviathan fight, it is some kind of magic-like ability, but with what limits/technique?)
      How did tinkers affect videogame culture?
      How did parahumans in general affect the porn industry?
      What about other countries, like russia, china, the arabic emirate, Great Britain, etc? any major deviations from our world?
      IS there a supervillain called “Genoscythe the Eyeraper”?

      And, my personal pet peeve:


      • “How did parahumans in general affect the porn industry?”


        I’m noping right out of this one, it actually comes in at the top of my big long list of things I absolutely don’t need nor want to know. The porn industry already disturbs me, this is a subject that…and now I’m thinking about it and curiousity keeps popping up questions and titles.

        Like “Siberian eats meat” as a creepy fetish vid (given that Manton is projecting his daughter, that kind of thing probably doesn’t fly) or…tieshaunn I am not pleased with this.

        Where did I leave that brain bleach?

      • I beg forgiveness, I always type too fast and make a mistake, and never proofread. I think it was mentioned in Kid Win’s interlude that there are no rouge TInkers. They are too big of a resource and would be bullied into building things for both heroes and villains if they weren’t part of a team. Wildbow also gave us some info a few chapter back on how much damage the Endbringers have done, with Japan not being a world power and there being 8 attacks in the US. Behemoth having hit major oil fields might mean gas is more expensive in the Wormverse. Depending on much fresh water Leviathan has polluted, parts of the US might not exist anymore because they can’t get enough fresh water to support a big population. Vegas might have been abandoned! If there was an attack on a Nuclear power plant, there might be a less reliance on nuclear power. Depending on how bad the attack was, there might be a Chenobyl like place here in the US. Not to mention that really crappy places are probably even more chaotic with all of the powereds running around. On the bright side, maybe there are less dictators because the more they cracked down on the populace, the more trigger events there probably were.

        • Wow, come to think of it the porn industry question would be a huge one. We’re talking billions of dollars in the U.S. without nearly the overhead Hollywood requires. Aside from the various hero parodies and leaked sextapes (One Night in Alexandria) there’s also the technical side of things.

          I mean, the porn industry has been a huge factor in DVD, Blu-Ray, and online security. They have some of the best civilian security out there, so we’re talking both a potential for tinkers to pirate or to be paid to protect them, especially with Chinese pirates. And they’d likely have accelerated the demand for cheaper, more widely viewable media like DVDs or Blu-Rays.

          Oh boy, and then there’s the virus wars. They are some of the cleaner sites on the internet, according to people who actually check that. You’re more likely to get malware from a religious website than a pornographic one. Then there’s the fact that porn sites are unlikely to make use of the kinds of ads that have malvertisements, since they’d be self-promoting or promoting within a certain network. Your search engine, especially image searches, is generally more vulnerable to malware. Makes sense, since those sites, unlike so many others, rely on people stopping buy and trusting them enough to make a purchase. So if any tinker tries to unleash some super worm on them, they would rain holy hell upon them.

          If people were smart, it would probably discourage the leaking of private home videos or photos of that subject matter, as some places do, since the ex you’re getting back at might be able to throw a house at you from two states away. However, I prefer to underestimate the intelligence of people as a group.

  13. I was just having a random thought about how Worm would be so interesting but possibly difficult to play as a video game. The Dragon suits would be like a boss fight but instead of actually fighting them you have to find a whole different strategy — nice play by Skitter and Imp, the whole “communicate despite memory loss” was smart.

    • I’d probably aim for an adventure game, a-la King’s Quest/Monkey Island/the Chzo Mythos, minus the humor. I’m also a fan of simplicity, so I’d probably break the mess of options (often a grid of buttons like ‘look, use, talk, combine…’ down into interact/look, and a tertiary button for the use of her power (So Interact>Person = talk, Bug>Skyline/window = call more bugs in, etc.)

      But it wouldn’t be strictly linear. Much of what you do winds up being about managing time. Major events/chapters still come around, but do you stay in school up until the point where Leviathan attacks? Fight back against the bullies or no? Focus on building your relationship with Bitch or working on your territory? As critical moments roll around, the decisions you made alter your available options.

      Only way I can really see Worm as a video game.

      • Bah, I say a tv series. At the sort of scale that Game of Thrones received I might even by satisfied with it.😉

        Though doing Skitter’s battles as RTS bug control style might be cool. You control a vast army of bugs all to attack a much larger opponent.

        • Hollywood is so desperate for new hero franchises I can totally see a movie or tv series. Make a big production like game of thrones or a trilogy with Johnny Depp playing Jack Slash. Movie one the rise of Skitter detailing her joining the Undersiders and ending with the Leviathan attacking. Movie two detailing their struggles against the 9, and the final movie with her being sent to the birdcage, busting out, and a epic final fight against Cauldron or killing an endbringer. But I can’t think of an actress who could play Taylor well.

          • I think with the sheer amount of content a tv series would be preferable.

            Though Johnny Depp as Jack Slash is one of the most horrendously unnerving things I’ve heard recently

          • Ohhh, yes, I think Mr. Depp would be an excellent Jack Slash. But who could we get for the other characters? I’m not going to try to place them all, but here’s a few that popped to mind:

            Trickster: Kunal Nayyar
            Triumph: Taylor Lautner
            Armsmaster: Matt Damon
            Piggot: Melissa McCarthy
            Crawler: Andy Serkis


          • This is just my take on it, but I see Bruce Campbell as Armsmaster in a more serious role. I was thinking Johnny Depp as Jack Slash too. Does Jack have a goatee? I see a goatee. And have it be more like his part in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Hey, maybe Tom Waits can play Trickster.

            I think Michael Ironside would be perfect for a certain role too, but the makeup and effects department would have to work overtime to make him fit as Piggot enough to justify it as a serious work.

          • Bruce Campbell could be a very good fit for Armsmaster. He is starting to get up there in age, right around the point where he really has to do something genuinely amazing because his body won’t be able to keep it up at the current performance rate for many more years.

      • Yes can we do some crowd sourcing to get a video game? Some friends and I were talking about how good Worm would be as a MMO or something similar to the X-Men Legends games. Many hours of play time. Ok here is my 5 year Worm plan, get it turned into a graphic novel by maybe Dark Horse or Image, that raises the interest and popularity of the series and keeps long time fans highly entertained as a way of re-reading the series with a new twist. Series gets video game endorsement. Minds get blown. Alright team, break!

        • I think it’d be best with an X-com style. Trick would be to get enough variety in powers. So you don’t have just a laser power or an emotion control power, you set things up so there are variables.

          Like… [Form], [Effect].

          Then you create the forms that a power takes. An emanation around the cape. A projectile that explodes after a set distance. A breaker cape that becomes a living embodiment of [Effect].

          And you create the effects… blinding light, searing flame, time acceleration, etc.

          Mix up characters with traits (brawny, good with computers, etc) and trained skills (athletics, CQC strength, research, etc). Randomly generate.

          The game is about managing a team of generated heroes/villains/whatevers in a procedurally generated town. Managing them outside of combat, headquarters, spending money, maintaining loyalty, researching the bad guys… and tactical, dangerous fights. How far can you get them? Do you fight against the Endbringer or other class-S threat? Or do you avoid it and let things go to hell?

  14. You know guys, if PRT has just learned about Skitter being able to use her bugs’ senses (hearing what they hear and seeing what they see), they are likely to, first, overestimate Skitter (thinker 10 or something like that) based on the worst case scenario (pheromone tracking using bugs, full access to all bug senses) and, second, go through a lot of paranoid counter-measures. Like sterilizing and vacuum-sealing all their meeting rooms and undergoing extensive health evaluations to prevent any possibble parasytes from coming in on/in their own bodies before any meeting. Also no unsecured meetings or remote communications at all, because Skitter could be listening. And no taking your mask off. At all. Because Skitter is watching.

    If one assumes that she can hear, see and smell (and track via smell) everything any of her bugs can hear/see/smell perfectly, Skitter becomes an absolute intelligence nightmare. Because she may as well be omniscient in Brockton Bay.

    • Thinker 10 is probably the Simurgh. Your point still stands though. I do expect them to be much more aggressive with clearing out bugs in their headquarters after this. I expect them to put her around thinker 4, because they tend to highball in the hopes of avoiding surprises just like this.

    • The might overestimate her even more if they interrogated Panacea about Atlas and the relay bugs she made for her. It would be a bitch to make a clean, totally cut off environment but I can see them throwing money at the problem. Skitter and Tattletale working together are a serious intelligence nightmare. Do you think having Atlas counts her as a low Mover? I mean she can fly while controlling him.

  15. Hi, I’ve just caught up to the current chapter. Skitter’s journey feels so real. Reason why I haven’t commented until today was because everyone else in these replies already explore every idea I could possibly have about this series. To have a piece of literature (web literature) this thought provoking gives me joy. As an aspiring writer I take your work to heart when trying to overcome writer’s block and I hope you can expand into other works where your great ideas can be realized.

  16. You know, I just had a hilarious thought. Would it not be ironic for Piggot to undergo a trigger event right now? After all, being kidnapped (and probably forced to give information to your enemies that would (in her mind) doom many people) is pretty damn traumatic.

    • I wonder how old you can be and still have a trigger event? Well I think Trigger events are rarer than we think. I thought there would have been at least a dozen new powereds after Leviathan, but only Aisha and Chariot were created. Unless they are out there hiding their powers for fear the Undersiders will attack them.

      • Or worse, that the crazy bug girl might recruit them. You know as much as we often talk about her having fans, the misconceptions are just as amusing to consider. There are probably plenty of people by now who are deeply terrified of her, maybe even some kids for whom she is their boogeyman.

        • Well, Skitter is pretty freaking scary from an outside perspective. Look what she already done to Lung, Mannequin, and Triumph. Not to mention what she could potentially do if she went all out. With Wildbow’s reminder that the world is watching, she probably already is a feared and internationally known villain. She just hasn’t realized it yet.

          • That has the potential to be hilarious when she finally comes across a huge internet following. Maybe if she checks that website from the earlier chapters and finds a massive number of pages on her and the other undersiders.

            Then she finds the fanfics.

            And the ideas of what she looks like without the mask.

            And the creepy messages to her.

            And the people talking about how she’s an awful person and they wish she’d just die already, and make it so much easier on those poor people in the Bay.

            And then she finds a post by someone, some random person, who was in Brockton Bay until things really went to hell (“I got out reasonably quickly, thank god.”). They acknowledge that Skitter is a controversal topic, then relate a little tale.

            This person talks about how they were having a normal day when the sirens sounded. How they had barely been able to believe it, even when they were in the shelter, even when they could hear the rumbling of distant battles.

            And then the shelter had begun to flood. Panic took over, and reversed direction when Leviathan came inside. About to die alone, far from everyone they loved and in pain and fear, this random internet poster saw a small figure bursting up behind the monster. Saw Skitter save every last one of them.

            The battle ended, this person never found out how things ended, and it wasn’t until the news coverage that he/she even discovered the young villain lived through it. “But regardless of what she’s doing currently, Skitter was the one who saved my life. She didn’t have any reason to do it that I can think of, no-one even knew she was there until she attacked that thing, until she risked her life…I guess she’s probably still a villain but to me she’s everything a hero could ever be.

            If Skitter ends up reading this somehow…

            Thank you.”

            At which Skitter is probably crying. Or being all stoic. Either way, her actually getting some damn appreciation would be nice. So far only her minions and teammates have given her that.

    • Speaking of which, do we actually know that Piggot is not a parahuman? Maybe she hides it or maybe we just don’t know enough about her. It would finally explain why she’s in charge.
      The last line also kind of sounds like she is. She glares at Skitter with “bloodshot eyes.” Why are they bloodshot? I don’t see any reason to believe that she was crying or doing drugs. It could simply be all the sand and wind whipping around, but I’m seeing it as a possible clue.
      If nothing else, at least we can tell that she’s actually human (or at least organic). For a moment, I wondered if she wasn’t a manifestation of Dragon.
      If you think that my paranoia has reached insanity levels, my next thought will probably confirm it: what if the Director is one of the hackers that plundered Dragon? That would also explain why she’s in charge, despite all of her screw-ups.

      • Skitter’s coated bugs attacked her too, that’s why they are bloodshot. It would be an interesting twist if was actually a powered. Alexandria mentioned that she has another identity in the PRT. But she seems too much like a bureaucrat to me.

      • She is very likely a normal human. It’s a political thing – government trying to keep the lid on the possible uprising. Basically, by putting a human (that government has something on) in charge they prevent possible Justice Lords situation.

        • Yep. Piggot used her nonpowered status as an excuse/loophole as to why secret airstrikes against the Slaughterhouse Nine, which could hit our heroic villains too, would not violate the hero-villain truce in effect against Endbringer- and Slaughterhouse Nine-level threats.

          • Which was a very stupid plan. People aren’t generally inclined to acknowledge the small print when at risk of getting the crap bombed out of them.

            If it were a legal contract this would be fine, but it’s not. Rather, it is a loosely defined deed based contract which is mostly between amorphous sides in any case. The fact that Piggot herself is a civilian wouldn’t make any difference even if she wasn’t already heavily involved in the PRT. Sure no technical breech occurred, but they got out the bombs and that’ll keep villains from helping out in the future.

          • I agree with you completely, Anzer’ke. The heroes have already been pretty stupid about a lot of things concerning such truces. Now, imagine how much worse that situation could possibly get when Skitter encounters “Defiant” for the first time. There’s almost no chance she won’t know instantly who he is. His continued activity could easily lead her team to publicize what Armsmaster did, confirmation of the PRT’s role is establishing his new persona — and a global abandonment of the truce, to the detriment of all mankind.

          • Honestly I think Piggot earned a pass on the bombing plan. Crawler was a very serious threat, nothing so far had been able to permanantly harm him, and he was just going to get stronger and stronger as time went by. The fact that he died balances out a bunch of damage to the city. After all, she DID tell the Undersiders to stay out of the area, it is their own damn fault for going in.

            You really can’t afford to forget that this series isn’t DC or Marvel. The global situation is clearly degenerating at a not so gradual pace. There is no deus ex machina waiting around to save everyone. Superman isn’t going to fly on down and solve all their problems in 15 minutes. People just have to hope they can clear out as many of the monsters as possible and that some combination of powers will manage to take out the endbringers before they destroy the world.

          • What about Faultline’s Crew? The Pure? They didn’t get warned.

            Piggot risked villainous lives, whether it was justified is irrelevant to the villains who will no longer want to team up when their lives are treated as fodder.

            Not to mention that killing Crawler and Mannequin didn’t really accomplish anything worth losing the truce for. Especially considering that it then lead directly into the Miasma being released and Battery dying. Which would have been a complete wipe-out slaughter of the heroes had Skitter not intervened.

          • Do you KNOW they didn’t get warned off? Or are you just assuming they didn’t because Skitter is our viewpoint character and she wasn’t there for it? The villains were warned off, if they go in and feel betrayed afterwards it is because they actively ignored that warning. If they no longer feel like teaming up against an Endbringer because they didn’t feel like listening to Piggot’s warning then that is on them.

            We did see Crawler butchering people. No other way of killing him had been found so far, so even if he was killing people at a slightly slower rate, he would have kept on slaughtering people forever if he hadn’t been hit by a bomb that ignored the Manton effect. Also, do you seriously think the plague wouldn’t have been released once the Nine felt like they were going to lose? If Crawler hadn’t died they might not have felt pressured enough to use it, but then they still would have had it ready to use against someone else later on. Someone who was willing to put on the pressure and actually try to stop these monsters.

          • When the plan was discussed Piggot openly stated they weren’t going to warn them, this was why she and Legend discussed the truce.

            And that doesn’t change that the circumstances under which it was released were due to the bombs and they were bad circumstances. They put themselves in position to be wiped out.

    • That’s why I figure torture is no longer considered a good idea by anybody at all in the Wormverse.

      “I’m not waterboarding him.” “Don’t look at me, I won’t want to give the alleged terrorist superpowers.” “Screw you, I had to electrocute his nads yesterday. I don’t have anymore clean pants to wear.”

      “Oh boys, I think I’m beginning to develop a phobia of the dark with this cloth over my head.”

      “Quickly, get that off him and turn him rightside up before he tears our arms out through our asses!”

  17. I’m just wincing through this…all along I’ve been hoping that SOMEONE on the heroes’ side would notice that Skitter isn’t a monster, but the villain brigade has really been put in a position that makes that impossible. Because are the heroes all nice guys? Nope. But are they worse than the villains, taking each group as a whole? No. I can’t cheer here – they won the fight, but the hope of eventual cooperation against the real bad guys is getting dimmer.

    And yes, please raise the cap! “Some bourgeois capitalist assumption” means that something we all value realizes that value, in cash. Someone who produces something awesome gets paid more than someone who produces crap! And we all get to decide whom and how much! Yay! The free market is beautiful. Congratulations, Wildbow, you’ve earned yourself a raise and no one has to tell you you deserve it.

    • *Is writing this comment from a balcony of the Kremlin while overlooking a massive military parade of the Russian army*

      Yes, truly Widlbow is a socialist success. After all, we all get to enjoy the fruits of your creativity without being constrained to only what we pay for, in turn helping to provide free editing. And it has been shown that more creative or better work/art is not connected to any extra rewarded pay itself. Which kinda got shown here, in fact, as the only update Wildbow’s missed is an extra one obligated to be made by donations.

      If you need to move the cap to address this problem, by all means do so and please continue to freely distribute your great story. Socialism is beautiful. Congratulations, Wildbow, you’ve earned relief and no one has to tell you you deserve it.

  18. I, I thought… um… hrm. Truthseeker, the great and powerful prognosticator, thought this update might be “slow” as our villains planned and regrouped and all. Pfffffftahahhaa.

    Keeping that testament to my accuracy in mind, I have nevertheless had a thought. Does anyone remember anyone from Coil or his side discussing info from Chariot, ever? Because it seems to me that Chariot was specifically in on that meeting where Dragon arrived and declared her intentions to leave a whole bunch’a suits in Brockton Bay, but Coil seems to have been caught off-guard. So who else would Chariot be working for?

    Discussion with Piggot might lead to Taylor hearing about the “extended cut” of Shadow Stalker’s fate. Teehee.

    On the exaggeration front, the heroes already drive themselves nuts thinking about what Tattletale can do. They think she’s in charge of the Undersiders and tend to assign her more responsibility than she’s due for various intelligence coups and “bad things” in general that happen to them. Between the episode with Triumph and Prism and now THIS, I can’t wait to see how they start thinking of Skitter. Assault is almost certainly going to have more of a focus for his grief-driven rampagings, too…

    On the subject of donations and the pace of updates: Congratulations, Wildbow, that is a great problem to have, and the appreciation behind the issue is well-deserved. I’m late to the crowd saying so, but I’ll say it again: nobody wants to see you burn out. You’d be entirely justified to consider a full-on vacation, so far as I’m concerned. It’s not that I want less Worm, but the writer’s creative well-being is a valued commodity worth protecting.

    I don’t begrudge them this (sticking to a rigid schedule is hard, life gets in the way), but I’ve lost track of the number of webcomics I’ve got bookmarked who’ve had their schedules slip JUST within the small period of time that I’ve been caught up with Worm, and you’re gonna feel bad about the situation with BONUS updates? Don’t even.😀

    • Maybe Chariot is having second thoughts about working for Coil. Or Coil doesn’t want anyone else to know about his mole, so he held back info on Dragon. Or they intentionally left him in the dark because they know he is a mole.

      • Chariot was at the meeting with Dragon, Defiant and Piggot so he’s in the know. So either Chariot didn’t pass it on to Coil (because he didn’t get the chance or because he’s not actually working for Coil), or Coil didn’t pass it on to everyone else.

    • Well, in conflicts there are known unkowns and there are unknown unknowns. They know they don’t know exactly how Tattletale’s powers work and they know Skitter can control bugs. What they don’t know they don’t know is that Tattletale isn’t the leader and Skitter’s power comes with a mind capable of managing the millions of bugs in any given area.

      Generally, what you don’t know you don’t know hurts you a lot worse than what you know you don’t know, because you can at least be wary about what you know you don’t know, you know?

  19. Love this story – never comment, though.

    Until now.

    What happened to Skitters shoulder? A few hours ago (in the wormverse) she had some of the embedded metal work removed, but the remainder was fused to her bone. I’m not sure most people could wield a baton and take part in a vicious fight with a freshly stitched operation, and a shoulder blade fused with some sort of metal.

    Otherwise – nice take down of the PRT.

    • The baton is sized to be wielded one-handed, the worst of the metal was removed, and the only real damage now is a minor laceration (with stitches) and the strain she suffered with the dislocation.

      • Wait, does this mean that Taylor spends the entire rest of the series with a piece of metal fused into her shoulder? Even if it’s flush with her bone, that seems like it could cause problems.

        Also, is there some alternate reality where a knife-sized piece of bone and flesh randomly popped into existence on some poor family’s dinner table and ruined a perfectly nice evening?

  20. I’ve been following Worm for a few months now, I’m seriously impressed with just how much you have written and plan to write wildbow. Real quality stuff and updating twice a week is awesome. Personally I would be more than happy if the Interludes took the place of one of your chapter updates on a Tuesday or Saturday. My logic being less pressure on you and us readers get to read your work over a longer period of time. Gives you a chance to recharge your batterys a bit and if sometimes you only update once a week I’m happy to wait. Your Bonus interludes are worth at least $200 in my opinion. Long my Worm continue

    • Thank you, sir.

      I shy away from that idea because I don’t want to give my readers cause to complain about the donation bonuses. If they replaced regular chapters, I think people would get upset because it was delaying the ‘real’ story. As is, if people don’t donate/care about the interludes, they don’t lose anything. They can skip them, even.

  21. “The armored mech was moving, its limbs outstretched to catch the air with the flying-squirrel wing flaps. Panels around its body were venting out hot *hair*”

    Interesting image but I don’t think that’s what you meant to say

    163 comments and nobody caught that one yet?

  22. Looks like Dragon got hit with a nerf bat.
    Where are all the networked cameras hidden around the area (there’s been plenty of time for that kind of setup)? Where are the tasers? The sleeping gas? The foam? The drones with those things in them?
    A few fast moving drones with a foam weapon would have taken out their entire force.

  23. “…because their artificial intelligences don’t function at the same level as an actual human brain.”
    I wonder what Dragon would say if she overheard that.

    Was Trickster illiterate?
    Hm…nothing comes to mind directly against this claim. Highly unlikely, but possible.

    • Taylor was specifically referring to the hypothetical AIs currently driving the individual suits; her statement isn’t general enough to be a slur against AI as a whole. If she learned that Dragon was remotely controlling all of them, and that Dragon was an AI, I think she’d file that under her other hypothesis- the suits’ performance is suffering from the operator dividing their attention too many ways.

      There are lots of different AI systems that do different jobs with different levels of efficiency; Dragon is smart enough to recognize that some of them really do suck sometimes, and pragmatic enough not to take it personally.

  24. “Our side consisted of Trickster and Sundancer from the Travelers, with Regent, Shatterbird, maybe Victor, Grue, Imp and me.”
    The ‘maybe Victor’ threw me; first, because I’d forgotten he was still on a ‘Regent-leash’, second, because I figured Regent would be overwhelmed trying to deploy both him and Shatterbird. If he can — WOW, he’s much scarier than I realized!
    But then Victor wasn’t in the fight, so why did Skitter think he was?
    And where’s Tattletale? What about Oliver (what’s his ‘non-combatant’ story, anyway)? I understand why they aren’t in the field, but why not in the planning, or doing some observing or info analysis from afar?
    “Don’t act stupider than you are, Skitter.” Piggot would say ‘more stupid’ — proper grammar. I know the word ‘stupider’ is beginning to be accepted by some, but Piggot is old-school.
    ” …informed me in advance of the second of the suits…” Second batch or wave, maybe? Seems like there’s a word missing in that phrase.

  25. “I shut my mouth. I didn’t have a response to that. At least, I didn’t have a response which wasn’t a mere, I promise I’ll be good.”

    That would have been an excellent time for Skitter to ask Piggot when she had ever broken her word. When she was helping out against Leviathan end Armsmaster tried to have her killed? When she put her life on the line against the Nine and Piggot stabbed her team in the back?

    She’s done some bad things, but so far, she hasn’t exactly been the untrustworthy one. Her motives are doubtful, sure, but to state that she can’t be trusted with a couple of electricians – especially without even asking her if she’s going to cause a problem for them – seems awfully low.

    LOVE the series so far in my life-deteriorating binge-reading, but that particular conversation left me incredibly frustrated on Taylors behalf!

  26. It started out as a feeling, nagging the back of my mind. It gradually grew as this chapter progressed until I was practically screaming it.

    WHY is it so hard for Sundancer to hit Dragon’s mechs? They’re not human, and she can move her sun pretty dang fast when she wants to. The mechs were the only thing even remotely threatening here. Grue could easily have held one in place for the half second needed by borrowing Assault’s power.

    C’mon Skitter. I thought you were smarter than this.

    • I’m guessing Sundancer would’ve refused if someone proposed this. She’s really opposed to killing anyone, and the Travelers and Undersiders don’t know if any of these suits actually has Dragon inside.

  27. I turned the knife around in my hand so the blade pointed down and slashed to my right, cutting the bug-covered screen with a loose ‘x’. Assault lunged for me, crossing half the room with a single leap. He was too late – I let myself fall through the third story window.

    The outdoors were startlingly bright after the gloom of the building’s interior. I felt my hair whip around me for one second, then landed, sprawling, in a dim setting.

    I hadn’t fallen the full distance. I was inside again, surrounded by the other heroes. I had only a second before they realized what I’d done. I turned and slashed the screen behind me, throwing myself from the window a second time.

    Again, Trickster swapped me with one of the heroes. I landed with my feet skidding on the floor beneath me and caught the windowsill for balance. I waved: my signal.

    This is one of those little moments that could be Memetic Badass on its own if it weren’t being overshadowed by the general awesomeness that is Taylor Hebert. Like, for one thing, she didn’t even hesitate to jump out the third story window, even when she wasn’t sure if Trickster would catch her. For another…

    “Skitter just went out the window!”
    “All right. Let the suit go after her, give me an injury repo-”
    “No, you don’t understand- she’s attacking!

    • (If I were Trickster, I’d probably do this all the time. Stand on a ledge with a good view of approaching foes, start to lean over, then swap myself for an opponent the second I lost my balance. Now he’s over the edge, and I’m standing behind his teammates…)

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