Monarch 16.4

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I was turning to leave when I was struck with a thought.  “Did Bitch move to her new territory yet?  I know we planned for her to relocate to the city outskirts.”

“Not yet,” Tattletale answered.  She was tying the gag back in place.  Piggot was screwing her eyes closed in disgust.

“So she’s somewhere near the Trainyard.”

“Yeah,” Tattletale replied.

“We’re going to need transportation if we’re going to get there without losing too much time.”

“Brooks can hotwire a car for you, show you how to start it up again when you’re ready to head back,” Tattletale suggested.

“No.  I’m not sure it’ll be able to navigate all the fenced off areas and debris that’ll be in the Trainyard.  Bitch hasn’t been clearing the mess, as far as I know, and it wasn’t easy to navigate to begin with.”

“If we use the car to get there…” Grue started.

I finished his sentence for him, “We run the risk that it’ll break down, run out of gas or get wrecked somewhere, stranding us and forcing us to hike across half the city to get to Ballistic’s territory.  Let’s minimize the opportunities for stuff to go wrong.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Tattletale said.

I glanced at Piggot.  “We’re capes, not beggars.  I was thinking about Sundancer and something like a hot air balloon, but I’m not sure how much forward acceleration you could pick up that way.  But something like that.  A lot of our powers operate off virtually limitless power sources.  I’ve used my power all day, every day and I haven’t been any worse for wear.  Can we use that for some extra mobility while we don’t have Bitch on the team?”

“You could try a James and the Giant Peach thing with us,” Imp said, “Only it’d be backwards: bugs on strings and the ‘bird along for the ride.”

I shook my head.  “My bugs would get tired.  That leaves Shatterbird.”

“I can only fly with one person, maybe two,” Regent and Shatterbird spoke in unison.

“What if you aren’t flying?”  I asked.

Maybe not my best idea in retrospect.

We were putting our lives in Shatterbird’s hands.  Or in Regent’s hands, depending on how I interpreted it.  Which wasn’t to say we weren’t getting where we needed to be in record time.

Shatterbird had pressed and embedded glass into the wood of a door we’d taken off the hinges, and Regent, Imp and I were standing on the surface while Shatterbird flew above us, using her power to pull on the glass.  With our weight resting more towards the back than the front, the door was angled upward, skimming on the surface of the road or through the shallow water of streets that were still flooded.

We had to be pushing forty or fifty miles an hour, and any time we were forced to make a turn, we inevitably went wide, sometimes bouncing off of a wall.  That was without getting into the cars and debris that still covered the roads or our total lack of solid hand-holds, seats, seatbelts or brakes.  I’d parceled out silk cord to grip, but they also served to emphasize how momentum swung us out to one side or another when we turned.  It was easy to underestimate how fast even a lower cruising speed was when safe inside the interior of a vehicle, removed from the road by two to four feet of solid material..

Either way, we headed into the thick of the Docks.  Our makeshift vehicle sped towards a chain link fence.

“Regent, fence,” I warned, leaning forward to speak into his ear and make sure he could hear me.

We continued forward without slowing.  Half a block away, seventy feet away…

“Fence!” I raised my voice.

Thirty feet away…

Shatterbird hit the fence with a wave of glass, knocking it down to a forty-five degree angle.  Our makeshift craft lifted up fractionally and we hit the makeshift ramp, remaining airborne for only a second or two before hitting the ground and continuing forward.

“You dick,” I swore.

Regent and Imp laughed and cackled.

What had I been thinking, inflicting this pair on myself?

We made our way into the Trainyard, and the ride became much bumpier as we navigated areas with overgrown grass, train tracks and piles of trash.  A crash and howl informed us of our destination before my bugs did.  I signaled Regent when we were close enough so he could bring the craft to a stop.

Bitch and the dogs were fighting, and there were signs the fighting had been going on for a while.

There were six dogs in the area, including Bastard, Bentley and Sirius, but only Bastard and Bentley were still fighting.  Bitch, Barker and Biter had stepped up to fight, as well, with Bitch’s civilian henchpersons were hiding nearby.  The vet-girl was taking care of a smaller dog.

Looking at the situation, I couldn’t figure out why they’d be having trouble with their opponent.  Dragon’s suit wasn’t that large, didn’t seem to have that much in the way of weapons or gear.  She stood maybe eight feet tall, eight feet wide, with each arm forming roughly a third of its mass, ending in disproportionately large, squat claws.

Barker screamed, then slammed his teeth together with a clack my bugs could hear.  His power turned the noise into a concussive force, erupting around the armored suit.  The suit reeled, staggering back from where it stood on top of a derelict train, nearly falling.  One of the dogs charged and tackled it, tearing into it with claws and teeth.

The suit hauled the dog off it, climbing to its feet in an instant.  It leaped forward to close the distance to its human opponents, and Biter stepped forward to meet it, his fist swelling to five times the normal size, along with the spikes and blades he’d worked into the fabric of his glove.  The suit went flying, gathering itself into a rough ball shape as it careened backwards into the side of a train.

Had we stepped in just as the fight was wrapping up?

The suit stood.  That didn’t surprise me.  It brought its claws to either side and clawed at the side of the train, crumpling metal in its massive claws.  My bugs gave me a sense of what was going on as the suit drew the metal into itself with crushing mechanisms and gears.  Its torso expanded slightly as it made room for the new material, armor plates reshaped by internal mechanisms and shifted into place to patch up the worst of the damage.

I arrived on the scene, Imp and Regent only a short distance behind me.  A glance showed me that Bitch, her underlings and her dogs were injured, beaten to the point that they were dirty, bruised and scraped.  Her eyes widened as I approached.

“It won’t,” she growled the words between pants for breath, “Fucking die!”

I wouldn’t have picked a brute-type machine to go up against Bitch, if I’d been in Dragon’s shoes, but she’d apparently decided this would be a good matchup.  Or was this Armsmaster’s idea?  I was put in mind of the fight at the fundraiser, him trying to not just defeat Bitch, but to beat her into submission.

Not that he was really fighting for a crowd, here.

Or was it something else?  The suit could absorb metal, what would give Bitch that much trouble?

“It’s drawing scrap metal into itself,” I said.  “Self repairing.”

“I know.”

“So stop it from getting the scrap metal.”

“You want to fucking try?”

This wasn’t good.  From the moment we arrived on the scene, this suit would probably be signalling others.  We couldn’t be sure that Piggot’s order to stand down would still be in effect for the other suits, so we had to anticipate reinforcements.  Except this suit seemed to be made to be durable, to stall and wear us down.  It wouldn’t be easy to take this down in the limited time we had.

Which was it?  The Melusine?  The whatchamacallit-Nidhug hybrid?  Or was it the Azazel, presumably designed to take on the Nine, with defeating the Undersiders as a secondary design goal?

“We’ll try together,” I said.  “Regent, we need Shatterbird in here.  Imp, you’re backing us up.  Drag the injured to safety.  Did you ever take that first aid class?”

“Grue told me to, but I haven’t gotten around to it.”

I swore under my breath.

“Not totally my fault.  Things have been kind of a mess since I joined the team.  Not like there’re classes or anything.”

“There probably are.”  I watched the suit step away from the train, adjusting its shape to sort out the additional material it had absorbed into its body.

“Not like it’s easy to find classes,” she clarified.

“Just take care of anyone that gets hurt.  I don’t know how much you can do here.  I think one of Bitch’s henchmen is over there,” I said, pointing.

“Okay,” Imp retreated.

“I’m telling you,” Bitch growled the words, “Can’t fight it.  It doesn’t die.”

“We’ll try.  There’s got to be a way.  Barker, Biter, you two okay?”

“Hurt,” Biter said.

Barker nodded, “Throat’s sore.  Keep knocking it down, it keeps getting back up.”

“One or two more tries,” I said.  “We hit it with everything we’ve got.  Bitch, which dogs are least hurt?”

“Bentley and Bastard.  Had a few more I was sending in, but they’re hard enough to order around when something isn’t hurting them.”

“We’ll need their help, then.”

“Bastard’s not trained enough.”

I glanced at the wolf cub.  He was five or six times his usual size.  He’d grown rapidly in the past few weeks, but it still meant he was small.  His mutation seemed different from the other dogs.  Was there a whole other department of changes with various subcategories of the wolf breed?

The suit raised one hand, and a chain fired out, a grappling hook on the end.  We threw ourselves out of the way before it could catch any of us.

“Keeps doing that,” Barker muttered.  His voice was gravelly.  “Trying to tire us out.  Wear us down.”

“Let’s avoid giving it another chance.  Longer range powers first, everyone else close in.”

I hadn’t even finished talking before Shatterbird was hurling the glass-coated door into the suit.  She followed up with a veritable tide of glass shards, pulling them from debris and the edges of the street.  The suit staggered back, putting it closer to the train she had just harvested scrap metal from.

“Keep it away from anything metal!”  I reminded them.

Easier said than done.  The area was a fenced in yard with railroad tracks, rusted train cars and trash that ranged from sign posts to disused trash cans.  There was metal to spare.

I was limited in my options.  Bugs wouldn’t hurt this thing’s metal body.  That left me the less stellar option of fighting it like I had Mannequin.

Barker shouted three times in short succession before bidding the resulting clouds of smoke to detonate violently.  The suit shielded itself with its arms, leaving it defenseless as Bentley flanked and charged it from one side.  It sprawled, landing face down, and reached over to grab two rails from the train track.  In one motion it rose to its feet and hauled two lengths track out of the ground.  Each of the rails bent and folded as they were absorbed into the suit, churned up by grinders and more complex devices.

Bentley charged again, but the suit swung both rails simultaneously to catch the dog in mid-air and hurl him to one side.  Bentley was on his feet in a second, getting his paws under him and lunging for the suit before it could turn to face him, savaging the suit’s metal exterior with claws and teeth.

My bugs began to encircle the suit.  The silk had enough areas to catch on, and my bugs were finding openings to crawl within, but I couldn’t find much in the way of stuff to interfere with or attack.  The suit’s interior was hot, more so as my bugs drew closer to the very center, to the point that my bugs died if they got too far inside.  Everything was solidly made; wires had chain mesh protecting the insulation, pistons and valves were sealed and reinforced, with more delicate technology presumably contained within cases and covers. There was nothing for my bugs to get into.

Using silk to bind the main body wouldn’t do anything.  Spider silk had strength on par with steel, but this was an armored suit capable of tearing railroad tracks from the ground and crushing them in one hand.  A material as strong as steel wouldn’t accomplish anything against a machine that could rend metal.

I’d have to play this smarter.  I used cords of silk to seal valves shut or bind them in an open position where I could, and focused the rest of my efforts on more strategic deployments, forming cords as big around as my arm.  The suit’s arms and legs would be free to move, but my goal was more along the lines of restricting its movements.

Biter used the metal ‘bear trap’ jaw-guard in combination with his ability to distort parts of his body to large sizes, clamping down on the suit’s hand.  He had to hurl himself back and out of the way to avoid the suit’s retaliatory attack.  As he climbed to his feet, he spat out two fingers and a section of the suit’s hand.  I hurried to send my swarm after the discarded parts, using silk and the cumulative strength of the swarm to haul the bits away.

Biter hit the suit twice with enlarged hands and then backed off as Bentley hurled himself into the fray, catching hold of the suit’s other arm and hauling on it with all the strength afforded by his muscular forelimbs, neck, jaw and shoulders.  He struggled, strained, to tear the arm from its housing.

The suit fought to keep its feet beneath it, leaning hard to one side to compensate for the two-ton bulldog’s weight hanging off its arm.  It used its free, damaged hand to grab the dog by the scruff of the neck and flung it hard to one side.

Shatterbird hurled a wave of glass-encrusted debris at the suit.  Not one second after the suit was bludgeoned by the trash cans, wooden planks and pallets, a second wave caught it from behind, striking its legs out from beneath it.

Lying on its back it reached for us and fired another grappling hook.  With the speed it was moving, it looked like it could have caved in someone’s ribs, but we each managed to get out of the way.  Some of the people in Bitch’s group were moving slower, their reflexes and mobility suffering due to their fatigue.

Okay, this wasn’t easy, but it didn’t seem as impossibly hard a fight as some of the other suits, either.  It was just a question of keeping up the onslaught, keeping the suit from gathering too much metal for self-repair and hoping that the suit didn’t get any reinforcements.  With luck, the other suits would be either on standby due to Piggot’s orders or they would be occupied with Trickster, Sundancer and Grue.  Not that it would be a good thing if they were fighting, but it would at least mean we got out of here okay.

The suit struggled to its feet, using its arms to shield itself from two more shouts from Barker and a barrage from Shatterbird, then stopped short as the cord of silk I’d bound around its neck pulled taut.  The other end was wound around one of the coupling rods that stretched between the wheels of one rusted train.  I’d worried the coupling rod would come loose, but the elasticity of the silk combined with the durability and sheer thickness of it meant it didn’t snap.  The suit was pulled off-balance, giving Biter and Bentley a chance to close in, hammer it into the ground and thrash it.

I glanced at Bitch, saw her mouth set in a grim line.

The suit fought its way free, and Bitch whistled for Bentley to back up.  I could see how it was mangled, metal torn and rent.  Yes, it had displayed some self-repair technology, but every part of it was a ruined mess.  I didn’t want to underestimate Dragon’s work, but-

Hot steam hissed out from the gaps in the suit, seconds before it turned itself inside out.  The parts on the exterior folded out and were absorbed into the suit’s interior, new components emerged from within and locked into place.  They still smoked from the heat of being forged and reforged in the heart of the machine.

The suit’s joints shifted position as it settled into a quadruped stance.

I recognized it, now.  It didn’t have missile launchers, and it was a fraction smaller than it had been, but it was the same suit Dragon had used when I’d first seen her.  The suit she’d used against Leviathan.  That suit had also peeled apart to reveal a lesser suit beneath.  Presumably it had possessed the same self repair capability and the ability to do what this suit had done, but hadn’t had the chance.  Except I wasn’t even sure how to define or process what I’d just seen.  It was such an overhaul that I was left grasping for a word to explain it.  Reincarnation?

It was easy enough to picture.  Any time the suit took enough damage, it reforged itself into a different shape with the reserve components deep inside its body, or it shed its outer layer, ensuring that it was always in pristine fighting condition.  Give it an opportunity and it harvested metal for raw materials, and it would keep going until its battery ran out.

With the kind of stuff a tinker like Dragon could make, cold fusion reactors and self-sustaining energy sources, that battery could have one hell of a long life.

Either way, it wasn’t a new model.  That meant it wasn’t the Azazel suit Piggot had told us about.

“You could have explained,” I said.

“I did,” Bitch answered, glowering at the smoking suit.  “I said it won’t fucking go down.”

“You could have explained why.”

“I don’t understand why!”

The reforging process had killed every bug I had on the thing, and it had burned through the silk cord I’d leashed it with.  I was left wondering what the black market price would be for something like Armsmaster’s EMP device.  Something that would serve as a get-out-of-a-fight-with-a-tinker-card.

Tinkers had so many options that they brought to the table, a crazy synergy with any teammates, and an ability to customize their approach to counter specific threats or individuals.  I, on the other hand, was pretty screwed if I went up against anyone with flame powers, cold powers, electricity powers, enough durability to shrug off my bugs or a way to clear out large numbers of bugs at once.  I’d managed thus far by thinking on my feet, but it sort of pissed me off that tinkers existed as the antithesis of that.

Yes, I was aware that tinkers had to put in hours upon hours of work, and that I only ever really experienced the end results of that investment.  I didn’t care.  Whether they had vat grown monsters, clockwork lairs, impenetrable suits of armor, jetpacks and exploding guitars or programs to tell them how to win a fight, tinkers were a fucking pain in the ass.

“New plan,” I announced.  “We hit it hard enough to slow it down and then we scram.”

“You want to run?” Bitch asked.

“We don’t have a choice.”

“We do,” she said, still glowering at the suit.  “We gotta kill this thing sometime anyways, so you come up with a plan like you usually do, we’ll make it happen, and I won’t have to give up territory to this armor asshole.”

I stared at her, trying and failing to process how she was looking at the situation.  Then it dawned on me.  This was why Dragon and Armsmaster had pit this suit against her.  It wasn’t that it countered her power, exactly.  It was that it was set up to work against her stubborn nature.  With the way her mind worked, she couldn’t back down from a fight she subconsciously felt like she was winning.  It didn’t matter that we were losing in the long run, she was focused on the fact that we could do damage, and walking away would be a forfeit.

Barker was screaming a long series of invectives at the suit, detonating them.  With four legs solidly on the ground, it wasn’t budging, and Barker’s shouts weren’t doing much to the armor.

“Look at it this way,” I said, trying to stay calm,  “We just defeated it.  Heck, every time you’ve forced it to change like that, that’s been a win for you.  How many times was that?”


“Four times, you’ve kicked its ass.  If you walk away, that’s five wins total and one loss, if you can even call that a loss.  But we can’t afford to stay much longer, or one of your dogs is bound to get hurt.”

As if to give evidence to my statement, Bentley howled as he grappled with the suit, trying to tear into its neck while the suit attempted to wrestle him down to the ground.  Biter leaped onto the machine’s back, his hands with the spiked knuckles worked into the gloves growing larger so he could tear the armor plates away.  Bentley joined in, setting his teeth at the lower part of the armored suit’s ‘spine’, for lack of a better word.

Her eyes narrowed.  “We run?”

“We have to stop it from following first.  One more time, guys!  Regent, stand ready!  We need as much glass as you can spare!”

The suit turned our way.  Three masters, standing in the back lines while we sent our bugs, dogs and lunatic supervillain thrall into the fray.

It began to glow, steaming, and Biter virtually yelped as he threw himself off of its back.  Bentley was slower to react, but he fell back, shaking his head violently as flesh sizzled around his muzzle.

We backed up a few paces as it advanced one step.  It whipped its head up until it almost pointed to the sky, then opened its mouth.  Blue flame streamed over our heads to pool behind us, cutting off our retreat.  We had to scramble for cover before any droplets or sparks landed on us.  I wasn’t sure if it was flame at a temperature I wasn’t used to seeing, if it was a liquid accellerant that just happened to be on fire or if it was plasma, but I didn’t want to touch it and find out the particulars.

All of us, dogs, Barker and Biter included, headed inside a building to seek further cover.  The structure rumbled as the suit climbed the side and settled on the roof.  The A.I.s liked high places, it seemed.

“Need to hit it hard,” I said, my voice pitched low so the suit wouldn’t overhear.  “One good hit.”

“We don’t have one good hitter,” Imp said.  I turned my head to see her crouching by the vet and one wounded dog.  “Maybe Shatterbird, but everyone else is about a lot of littler hits.”

“We need one good hit from someone who isn’t Shatterbird,” I clarified.

“Can’t,” Biter said.  “Limit to how big I can grow myself before I do permanent damage.”

“Define permanent damage.”

“Stretch marks, scarring, permanent aches and pains.  I have some in my midsection, all day, every day, it hurts.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Barker?”

“I can’t hurt the fucker.”

“You screamed something like three times, then detonated that smoke you make whenever you make noise.  Can you do it more?  More shouts, louder?”

“At my limit.  Probably not.”

“Bentley’s hurt,” I said, “What about Bastard?”

“He’ll probably listen to me, but he might attack anyone else.  He’s too dangerous when big.”

“And that suit’s dangerous too.  In case you haven’t noticed, it’s either trying to beat us to a pulp so it can drag us into custody or it’s going to burn us alive.  We have to use one of your dogs, and Bastard’s in the best shape.  We have to use him.”

Bitch frowned, “How?”

I told her.  “You’ve taught him to fetch?”

She nodded.

“Fetch something big, then,” I said.  “Wait until my signal, hit him as hard as you can. Everyone else, let’s run for it.”

I could see Bitch tense.  Her henchwoman, the vet, stood and nervously circled around the edge of the room to join us, giving Bitch a bit of space.

“You’re leaving me behind.”

“We’re counting on you,” I said.  “Wait for my signal, then come with Bastard.  More damage you can do, the better.”

All together, we bolted, Bentley following immediately behind us.  I could feel the Dragon suit reorienting to face us, felt it angle its head before it spewed another stream of liquid fire.

In a residential area?  This wasn’t an occupied area, but… well, the suit might know that.  It might be another reason it was deployed here.

“Hard right!”  I shouted.  We turned to head for a nearby alleyway before the liquid fire even touched ground.

The suit leaped, and I grabbed Imp’s wrist, hauling her out of the way.  It landed a short distance from us, then barreled through our group, sending Biter, Barker and the vet-in-training sprawling.

Controlled movements.  Everything it’s doing, it’s all calculated.  Even the more dangerous attacks were geared to hold back just enough to hurt, not to kill.  Even the hurt was fairly minimal.  If Biter had still been on the suit’s back when it turned red-hot, I was willing to bet it would have shaken him off to avoid giving him terminal burns.  There had to be something about that I could use.  Trouble was, I wasn’t sure when or where the suits drew the line.  I couldn’t trust that they’d follow the rules enough that I could offer my own life in the bargain, much less anyone else’s.

I signaled Bitch, and she was out of the building in a second.  Bastard was as large as I’d ever seen him, and there was something about his appearance… he looked less wrong than the others.  The spikes and ridges of bone that lined his body weren’t asymmetrical, and there seemed to be more art to the design.  Drool flew out of the corners of his mouth as he bounded forward, fangs clamped around a wooden post.

The suit was halfway through turning around to face them when Bastard drove the end of the post into its stomach.  It skidded, sparks flying as its claws dug into the pavement for traction.

“Pull it free!”  I shouted.  I didn’t wait for her to follow through before calling out the next order, “Regent, fill the hole!”

Bitch hauled on Bastard’s chain and he followed the direction, pulling back, the post still clamped in his mouth.  When it came loose, it revealed a rent in the armor’s side, far less empty space than I’d hoped, and a dislodged joint where the leg met the pelvis.

Shatterbird called forth a stream of glass, shoving it into the hole.  I didn’t need to give the next order.  I realized she was using her power more through my bugs than any other sign, the telltale high-pitched noise that was above my human limits.  A second later, the suit’s rear legs lost their traction on the ground.  Its lower body collapsed.

The suit began struggling for footing.  It was still operational.  I swore under my breath, still backing away.

Shatterbird moved one arm, and the suit slid a few feet in that direction.  She had a hold on the glass.  More forcefully, she pushed it into the nearest building, then dragged it across the alleyway to slam it into the opposite wall.

She repeated the process two more times before the suit tried a counterplan.  It began to reshape itself, glass shards pouring out of the openings as pieces slid in and out.  A third form, something airborne.

Shatterbird slammed it into a wall before it was done reshaping.  The fallen glass shards levitated into the air to find new nooks and crannies to slide into.

The suit was hot, naturally heating up as part of the reincarnation or reformation process.  I watched as glass melted, running into holes and slats in the armor.

Shatterbird pushed again.  The suit barely moved.  She wasn’t so adept at moving molten silicon.

We continued backing down the alley.  The suit raised its head, preparing to cut off our retreat with another pool of flame.

In her second jousting run, Bitch lanced the thing through the base of the neck.  Fire spilled down around it, setting the post aflame, and the attack was stalled.

She wheeled Bastard around and shouted, “That’s six fucking wins to one!  Go!”

We ran.  I maneuvered my swarm behind me to watch for its approach, felt it step forward and then collapse, its legs giving way.

Even the forelegs?  Okay, that was interesting.

The glass.  It had melted, and it was cooling in the lower recesses, farthest from the body’s core.

I could have told Bitch she’d beat the suit, that we might have defeated it a hundred percent, but I kept my mouth shut.  Didn’t need her acting on what might be a false assumption.  If it freed itself, found a way of reconfiguring where all of the glass-affected areas were contained, or if it simply abandoned its legs in favor of a smaller form… too many possibilities.  Better to leave it and cross our fingers.

Damn tinkers.  What the hell was Dragon’s specialty?  The ability to make stuff without half the time other tinkers would need?  So many different suits, so many different projects and tasks, and it rarely interconnected, if ever.

We ran two or three blocks before we had to stop.  Shatterbird sent glass shards into a nearby door, then tugged it free.  A sled for Regent and Imp.

With some coaxing, I got the vet-trainee to climb onto Bentley’s back.  The other henchman, the guy, climbed up behind me.  Barker approached Bastard, and received a mean growl in response.  We searched for an option for Barker and Biter before Regent and Shatterbird offered another door.

We made good time on our way to Ballistic’s lair.  We’d planned to arrive by dusk, but the sun wasn’t even setting.

The others weren’t there.  We double checked, then mobilized to find them, spreading out.  With reluctance, I drew my relay bugs from the interior of my shoulderpad.  I felt a twinge of disappointment as I handled them, gently passing them on to dragonflies that could carry them.  They were dying.

Panacea hadn’t given the relay bugs a digestive system, and in my haste to save Atlas from a slow death by starvation, I’d neglected to pay attention to them.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyways, probably, because Grue had only had so much time to work with.

The dragonflies sent my relay bugs out so I could keep in touch with the others as we searched for Grue, Trickster, Sundancer and Ballistic.  Bugs were tough, natural survivors.  I knew that cockroaches could survive lengthy periods of time without heads, that other bugs could be frozen solid and thawed and be little worse for wear.  They subsisted on relatively little food considering their body size, and the relay bugs had held on this long with an inability to eat at all.  Their physiology wasn’t quite the mess that Atlas’s was, and they retained some basic hibernation instincts, defaulting to a near-immobile state.  It was a struggle to even get them to extend my power’s range for me.

I found the next dragon suit before I found the others, and I immediately knew it for what it was.  It had to be Azazel.

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246 thoughts on “Monarch 16.4

  1. Sorry in advance for lack of polish. Had a long weekend & then today was busy too – hashed this together from written pages & some interrupted typing, so I know there’s some pronoun inconsistency in there.

  2. Haha, I guess Taylor isn’t a fan of Legion of Nothing!

    “the ruff of the neck” I think it’d be the ‘scruff’ of the neck; Ruff would be if they had plumage or something.
    “told him to fetch?”” Taught?

  3. No wonder Taylor hates Tinkers. But the undersiders at a big disadvantage. Their specialty is hitting and running while choosing their battles. They simply aren’t tough enough or hit hard enough to do well in these standup fights. Even worse, her bugs aren’t as useful as I thought they could be because her suits are insulated against them. They need a new plan. But loved Regent in this chapter. I just find it hilarious picturing feared supervillains riding around on a freaking door.

  4. Place your bets! Place your bets! Will a fight with the Azazel convince Skitter that Dragon is something other than a Tinker?

  5. I glanced at Piggot. ”We’re capes, not beggars. Looking at Sundancer, I was thinking along the lines of a hot air balloon, but I’m not sure how much forward acceleration you could pick up that way.

    No quotation marks after beggars.

    *Pulls up beside Skitter on a hovering pink scooter as she surfs on her door, soon joined by the Silver Surfer and Marty McFly, “Well look at that, it’s the Skitter Surfer!”

    Also, there seems to be an illness associated with this paragraph here “Hot steam hissed out from the gaps in the suit. Then it turned itself inside out. The parts on the exterior folded out and were absorbed into the suit’s interior, new components emerged from within and locked into place, still smoking from where they had been forged or reforged in the center of the suit’s mass. Joints shifted and the ground vibrated as it settled into a quadruped stance.”

    I caught spontaneous acute tourette’s syndrome from reading that… “Motherfucker!”

    • It is because you are not used to read Dark Icon`s fiction, almost all monsters there can do something like this, or worse.

  6. Ok, so Dragon, an artificial intelligence, is capable of building all these suits, including one that absorbs metal to repair damage to itself, has little enough pieces of silicon and glass in it that Shatterbird can’t control them, and can come back from defeat indefinitely with a new form more suited to the situation that defeated it last time.

    Tropers, the Computer is a Cheating Bastard.

      • I get it, it’s a roly-poly toy, round-bottomed doll, tilting doll, tumbler or wobbly man whatever you call it. Armsmaster is treating Bitch like a dog by throwing her a chew toy.

          • The fact that it didn’t work when Taylor arrived to talk her out of it, and that she could talk her out of it, is an indication of how well Taylor understands Bitch and possibly how much Bitch trusts Taylor in whatever way that Bitch trusts anything.

            Maybe it was the kiss. Some say Bitch’s heart grew three sizes that day. No word on its effect on other body parts.

          • I’ll go ahead and point out that Bitch and Skitter had a very fast friendship once you account for their…oddities. Accounting for her issues, Bitch first reached out to Skitter at the bank job, yeah way back then, when Taylor first screwed up due to not getting her.

            Then the stuff with Lung which seemed to establish Trust.

            The Gala events, where Bitch showed herself to have genuine confidence in Skitter. Trust and Respect.

            Skitter was by all apparent accounts the very first person Bitch ever let in to help with her dogs. She gave what her perception of romantic advice is.

            Basically Taylor was very much Rachel’s first ever real human friend. Ever.

            She was willing to risk her pack to fight Leviathan and save Taylor’s life. That was something huge.

            Which kind of shows in how hard she takes the reveal of Taylor being a mole. From her perspective (though of course there’s no way to do this now without memory wiping) the story is a similarly heartwarming tale of growing friendship that is caught by a really, really, REALLY Gut-wrenching betrayal. That’s a pretty cool thought now I think of it, this story from the other Undersiders’ perspectives. Grue would be fun as well but Rachel takes the cake.

            Anyhoo, my Point be that this is not that sudden a shift. We’re just back on track with this heartwarming tale of two girls with very alien mindsets learning to have a functional friendship. Tattletale doesn’t count because her mindset is also very alien indeed. Heck any Thinker seems to have a realistically inhuman thought process.

          • Learn about people long enough and you’ll notice every human has an inhuman mindset. It’s like there’s something built into humanity that causes everyone to act at least a little bit crazy. I propose we put it in the DSM and name it “The Human Condition”

      • Shatterbird was there. Are you referring to SunDancer? That is who I was thinking of during that entire fight. She probably could have ripped that thing up.

  7. Looking over the different dragon suits we have seen so far, I think Armsmaster fixing Dragon’s code might have just saved the world. A combination of those suits and a bunch of capes with the predictive visors might be able to pull off an actual win against an endbringer.

    • We don’t know the predictive tech works for anyone other than Armsmaster — or could handle that many variables. We don’t know the suits will have much of an effect on a dynakinetic like Behemoth, much less whatever Simurgh turns out to be. So lets not count our chickens.

      • Oh I am not saying its a guarantee. The predictive visors obviously won’t be amazing until you get a team that has used them quite a bit. At least at the beginning they probably won’t be good for much aside from some limited warning, and speedsters and other enhanced capes are probably the only ones that will be able to make the most of them.

        The dragon suits though are probably going to make a pretty big difference. They might not quite win the fight, but they will at the least help mitigate the losses. You can bet your ass Dragon is going to be receiving the materials to pop out those suits as fast as possible. Short of finding a new Scion I can’t think of a single more beneficial thing to happen for the campaign against the endbringers.

        • I think a better bet — against Leviathan at least — would be to arm a few more heroes with Armsmaster’s nanotech weapons. Alexandria could probably sever the Endbringer’s limbs with a nano- enhanced longsword, and Flechette armed with that tech could be devastating. And if the heroes would actually coordinate with the villains, you could have Othala grant Clockblocker invulnerability and create many new possibilities.

          • Yeah the nanoweapons are a pretty big deal too. Between Dragon and Armsmaster they have a really good loadout for fighting things like the endbringers, assuming this gear gets at least a small production run. Even if Armsmaster needs to be nearby to keep his nanotech working it would still be worth making a few weapons and just breaking them out next time leviathan shows up.

          • If the heroes and villains co-ordinated then I’m pretty sure there’s a thousand ways the resultant power pool could kick an endbringer into next week.

          • I just don’t see that as a viable option. There are just too many trust issues for anything more than the basic cooperation that is already in place. Capes telling the other side about the specific details of their power might lead to your death down the line. Tinkers sharing equipment with the other side could lead to someone not returning your gear and claiming it is broken.

            Admittedly there are degrees in this sort of thing. Actual villains like members of Empire Eighty Eight just work together for that moment. The real high point has to be afterwards where the capes that are really only criminals, like Taylor, get their recruitment offers. Until you accept that offer though I just can’t see more cooperation actually happening.

          • I agree, my point was more that there are plenty of methods on the table, the realistic (somewhat analogous to climate change and so on) limiting factor is one of my favourite things. All the tools are on the table, but people are getting in the way as much as they help.

            From villains expressing their own lunacy to the sh*tty heroes messing up recruitments.

          • I wonder what other members of the Undersiders they would have tried to recruit after Leviathan if they had had the chance. They probably would have gone for Grue, because he was basically the worst thing he had really done was beat people up at that point. I think Tattletale would have had a decent chance too, because at that point they didn’t seem to think she was in charge, and she had provided helpful information about Leviathan.

            I wouldn’t be surprised if lower level memberes of the Empire would have gotten recruitment offers. The villains that hadn’t been involved that long or that had the less lethal powers.

          • Bitch is actually kind of confusing, it’s not that hard to see that she really just has issues. Stick her with dogs and she’s happy as can be, I’m surprised that there never seems to have been an attempt to just defuse her. Would be much simpler and more effective than attacking.

            However the recruitment point does stand, heck ironically Grue could have joined the Wards if he’d known how much they can have rules bent in their favour. That’d have been enough to get Aisha in his care I bet.

            Tattletale is an obvious one.

            The Empire are too indoctrinated. Remember that they seem to just decide anyone they fight is not-white simply because they oppose their racist crap. A pretty good sign of crazy levels of belief.

          • Well the empire candidates would probably be people like Othala. Ones that hadn’t killed anyone yet, and that could eventually be mellowed out if they were just around the right people for long enough. They would be on probation for years I am sure, but I could see it potentially happening.

            I think if Bitch hadn’t accidently killed anyone they would be actively looking for ways to mellow her out. As it is though she has at least one death on her hands, and she seems like the type to kill by accident as well. If only by leaving seriously injured people behind her to bleed to death. Iirc didn’t she basically murder a guy in her interlude? Bitch just probably doesn’t seem like a viable target for conversion to being a rogue.

            Grue would definitely have fit in just fine among the Wards. He would have gotten pretty much everything he wanted AND a team that took what they were doing seriously.

          • Large amounts of deprogramming. And maybe percussive cranial maintenance.

            That’s just it though, her initial kills were very obviously accidental. Or at least manageable. A kid triggers and abusive foster parent dies. It would have taken about five words to explain what happened. Thereafter the logical thing to do would have been care and therapy to shape her empathetic nature into the kind person we do occasionally see glimpses of.
            The only explanations I can see are
            a) They never caught up to her, which I just don’t buy given her age.
            b) The PR issue meant that they couldn’t do it, since it risked legitimising fears of sudden horrible triggers. Of course those fears would be well grounded but still, it would make sense given the PRT’s goals.

            • They also thought that Bitch directly controlled her dogs until the bank fight, meaning they thought she was in direct control of the murder (actually manslaughter at worst but they didn’t know that) of her foster family and any other times she lost control of her dogs after that.

          • As for Grue, yeah he’d have fit like a glove. Probably ended up leading them After Triumph left, and he would have just loved not having to break the flow every five minutes to remind everyone to be serious.

            He and Taylor occasionally feel like exasperated babysitters with the lunatics they have to hand XD

          • I think Bitch could get away so long as she wasn’t caught right away. Two reasons she could pull it off. First thing is she keeps moving around. There is alot of nasty shit going on in this universe, so I could see people being too busy to chase after her very often. That first death WAS accidental, so at first they might not have invested quite so heavily in catching up to her. She probably didn’t draw much attention until she kept attacking people.

            The other thing to keep in mind is that Bitch is a genuine heavy hitter. Her dogs are incredibly dangerous, and until Grue showed up she probably didn’t show the slim restraint that she does now. So if you do catch up to her and she has a few dogs with her she is no longer a target you can solo. You need a team of medium rate heroes or a higher end one to take out Bitch with a pack of dogs.

            Grue would have made a wonderful leader for the Wards imo. He seemed so happy when he found out that Taylor was actually taking supervillainy seriously. Having a team that seemed mildly professional at worst, with some of them being very serious about the whole heroism thing would have been wonderful for him.

          • She was like seven years old. She should have been a huge priority, not least because it’s a small miracle she didn’t end up another monster, mostly cause she actually cares about dogs.

            Also, that’s not true. We know that she shows massive reluctance to kill without any input from Grue. Early on he mentions having no real connection or control over her, yet Bentley’s POV makes clear that she adamantly trains her dogs never to inflict fatal damage. For all her bravado every glimpse we get of Bitch implies a rough (and really pretty fragile) person rather then a cruel or particularly violent one.
            My point is that when she first triggered what you needed was a guy with a well cared for Labrador who understood dogs, you place said person in her path, talk her down and get her some help. Declaring a child a public enemy is a bad idea on all kinds of levels. Her being a villain was pretty much guaranteed after that.

            Yeah, I imagine that if these two alt-Grues ever met there would be much jealousy. Though it wouldn’t really have been perfect unless Taylor was also Wards.

          • I have to agree, someone with a well taken care of dog probably could have talked her down for awhile after she got her powers. However I think she was probably still quite dangerous at seven. She wouldn’t have the skill at dealing with her dogs or the physical ability to handle them as well as she does now. While she may not have wanted to kill anyone, that was probably the time she would be most likely to do it by accident.

            I had thought that Grue was the one coaching her on restraint. My memory might be off, but wasn’t she basically jumping at the chance to have her dogs go all out against Aegis? Grue told her not to, that they couldn’t risk killing him.

            I have to disagree on your interpretation of Bitch though. She is definitely rough, and I think fragile applies as well. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say she isn’t violent. At this point and time violence has become a part of her. It takes a trigger to cause it, but she has a bunch of triggers and not much sense of restraint. In her interlude she mauled a few people, to the point Glory Girl thought one was going to die, because she didn’t understand what they were trying to get across. That lack of understanding makes her buttons crazy easy to push, and her response to that from anyone she doesn’t consider her alpha is going to be violence. It is unfortunate because she didn’t have to end up that way, but that is how she is now.

            I feel kind of bad for Wards!Grue. Taylor probably still ended up with the Undersiders, but without Grue around she became the leader. Tattletale managed to silver toungue her into staying and the constant balancing act to keep Bitch under control, keep their mysterious benefactor happy, and stay ahead of the sheer number of capes in town has led her to be rather more viscious than one would expect. Things have gotten so bad from their constant harassment that Dragon had to assign multiple suits to keep the town under control.

          • Oh certainly, master powers and all, but she was also much more emotional. She was also young enough that someone really should have taken responsibility and helped her. I’ve said it before but I see one of the biggest themes of the Undersiders as “Failed by Society”.

            Her Bentley interlude mentions she has an ironclad rule about only ever giving the kill command for the occasional squirrel. Which was part of what made the fight with Leviathan so emotive. Notice that even then she lost a few dogs before she gave that command. It also shows her trying to teach a mother not to endanger her kid and breaking down over what people have done to dogs, still without actually killing anyone.
            Which for her is like finding a building full of children fighting to the death and not getting murder-happy.
            So yes, she seems to like getting violent, that doesn’t preclude her from having rules about it though.

            I would say violence is a part of her due to her doggish nature. Same as her perception of smells and territory and so on. She’s violent with her territory but I think she is genuinely baffled by people not understanding what to her is as natural as a smile meaning someone is happy. She was also in a pretty bad state at that point what with her first friend ever seeming to betray her. I’d say that in the absence of all the horrible stuff she’d likely stick with what we saw in the Bentley Interlude or with her henchwoman. Rough but well-meaning.
            Honestly she’s sort of just a less crazy poison ivy. Though given how lucid Bentley was I am really hoping that her power just makes her dogs become smarter over time as a side effect. Otherwise she’s less a villain and more the only one aware that dogs in wormverse are fully sentient and sapient and all the horror that implies.

            Bah, I see them as being like Batman and Catwoman. Though that does work better with Taylor as the villain then Mr Serious. I can see him trying hard to keep reaching out to her and so on, her sticking with her anti-authority ways. Adorable. Also I disagree that they’d be worse off, Taylor is better able to control Bitch which would give them Spitfire. They might even have another of the solos around the place. In any case, the addition of some firepower would be nasty.

          • The Dog Whisperer catching up to little girl Bitch would have done a lot for her, but her powers seem like they’d scare the crap out of most people too much to have her use them as a hero.

            Thinking about it some, I don’t think she’d ever smile if she were happy. Dogs don’t smile. Baring your teeth means something different to them. *scritches Bitch behind the ears* Who’s a good girl, huh? Who’s a good wittle puppy wuppy.

          • If Wildbow does eventually start repeating interludes, I wouldn’t mind taking a look at another Bitch one. She came off as rather lonely in her first one, I wonder how she thinks of Taylor now. While Lisa wants her to be the “leader”, I don’t think Bitch can really picture her as an Alpha. Then again Taylor did kick the crap out her during their first meeting. I am very interested in how she sees Taylor now. She mentions that she started to feel what she thinks it must be like to have a friend before she betrayed her. But despite everything that has happened, Taylor STILL is friendly/nice to her and gave her a gift. Her very first too. Does she see her as a friend, packmate, or leader?

          • I still think Taylor fits better as a tactician than a leader. For this kind of reason.

            Bitch taking orders from her in a fight makes sense, she was one of the first to acknowledge Taylor’s abilities when she told Armsmaster he’d go the way of Lung. She obviously trusted the hell out of Taylor (coming to save her from Leviathan) and seems to do so again now.

            But I just can’t see that kind of relationship between them, I’m not sure I even want to. Rachel and Taylor work so much better as these mutually awkward friends that they are right now.

            Also, when she finds out what’s going on with Taylor and Brian these days, I wonder what Bitch will advise this time? Actually, if she finds out the details then she’ll have at least some grounds for smugness.

          • @PG: I dunno, maybe you’ve never had a dog. I have two, and I see both of them smile all the time — but it is different, because they don’t show any teeth when they do it, just opening their mouths softly, with the corners of their mouths drawn up, and letting their eyelids droop a little. However, my one dog’s mother picked up the human smiling trick as a puppy, and does it all the time, whenever she greets people. Her lips peel right back, showing as much teeth as she can, but again with the mouth loosely opened, and her entire backside wagging. And yes, it could be quite frightening, and looks a tad gruesome (not, not Grue-some, no darkness involved), until you realize that she’s trying to smile at you.


          • Three German Shepherds (each looking more like a wolf than the last, with the current one being all white. Not albino, just white fur), one Pekingese, one grumpy Lhasa Apsa inherited from a grandma, a Golden Retriever from the pound, an Eskimo Dog from the pound (that little thing is by far the most vicious killer of any dogs we’ve had). Also, two potbellied pigs, 5 cats (remember, these animals weren’t all owned at once), two guinea pigs, and an unknown number of horses in the past but currently 4.

            We like to anthropomorphize animals by imagining the features we are used to seeing in each other are also in animals, like smiling. But just because they don’t treat smiling the same doesn’t mean they lack the feelings toward us that would be shown by smiling. And some animals can mimic human behavior. Cats apparently can learn to sound like babies when they meow to attract more urgent attention from their humans. Goats can sound scarily like humans when they scream (Ok, now how do we get the humans to help us when we’re in trouble? I know, we’ll sound like one!)

    • Yeah, just give the psycho and the unleashed AI enough materials to make an army of suits, each with its own abilities.
      Next you will listen to something like: Stay at your homes for your own safety, Dragon is your friend, she will do everything to help you.
      Or, not trusting Dragon is treason, treason is punished with death.
      Or: Are you happy citizen?
      Complex Alpha anyone?

      • I think it is more like give the hero that has been running the birdcage, tracking the endbringers, and fighting villains across the world the resources to build an army of suits, or hobble her and let the endbringers continue going to town on the world. I can understand the distrust of alot of the characters in this series, but Dragon seems to be at the top of the morality chart alongside Legend.

      • I honestly cannot imagine Dragon killing anyone.Creating a society where no one is allowed to die and there is sparse freedom on the other hand,is not impossible for her…she did create the birdcage.

    • I haven’t been following this story as closely lately, but are we sure that Armsmaster did indeed fix Dragon?

      He might have just decided to take advantage of Dragon’s trust and enslaved her to him as he reprogrammed her in his quest for glory. He might easily have justified it to himself be pointing out that Dragon wasn’t human, had been lying to everyone and might be a potential danger to the public and that generally the ends justify the means.

        • It is ironic that we have become as cynical as the characters in the story. We assume they are all evil, self-important bastards until they prove otherwise. I’ve said it before, but his is one of the darkest hero settings I have every come across.

          • It can be a short leap from idealism to pessimism. Like being a horrible destroyer of all that is good in the hopes that it will prompt the emergence of a powerful idealistic representative of good that can destroy you. Come to think of it, sounds a little like Mr. Glass from Unbreakable.

    • Maybe.
      It also seems possible that Armsmaster fixing Dragon’s code could be the catalyst to the end of the world. Dragon’s limitations might include something that makes her ‘nice’.

      Skynet, anyone?

  8. Azazel

    In the Old Testament: originally, a word for scapegoat. Two goats were used for atonement. One was sacrificed, the other had the sins of Israel ritualistically transferred onto it. Then it was cast out to die.

    In the Book of Enoch he teaches men warfare and women makeup (which explains his having to provide some cream to Margarita in The Master and Margarita). A fallen angel who married a mortal woman. (A fallen good being that marries a woman of a different nature than himself? Or a superior being that has become capable of marrying a mortal?)

    In the Apocalypse of Abraham he has 7 heads, 14 faces, human hands and feet, and 6 pairs of wings. This suggests he is two faced. He’s going to need one hell of a strange coin for this one.

    Parallels have drawn between the scapegoat that has to carry off people’s sin and Jesus. Other times he is a demon or another name for Satan.

    • gotta love the old testament. back then, angels were badass eldritch abominations. also, since the azazel is controlled by dragon (-sub-ai), I’d say the “superior being that has become capable of marrying a mortal” is more appropriate.

    • While we’re speaking biblically, the book of Revelation says that the apocalypse will feature a dragon with seven heads.

      Hmm. Remind me how many suits Dragon deployed against the Undersiders again?

  9. Also, damn. I wanted to have a robot like that appear in my story. now I need to work out a new one…
    I hope Azazel does not turn out to work the way MY azazel-bot is supposed to work. seriously. that would be creeeeepy – and annoying.

    regardless, love this chapter. you might have noticed by now that I am seriously into tech-heroes. and this makes my favourite one even more awesome than ever!

    • I’ve had the same issue. You wouldn’t believe all the odd coincidences, and not even stuff from a story either. Now let’s just hope Azazel isn’t a white robot with saw-like weapons on the end of its arms and a smaller pair of arms in its chest where the pilot can manually aim a weapon in addition to controlling the robot via a system that stabs into his spine. While it might be a possible thing for Armsmaster to use, I just hope no one steals my Man-Opener.

      • nice idea, though i doubt that – these suits are all controlled by AIs, so I doubt they have seats for (humanoid) pilots.
        also, I think sawblades are a bit too simple for dragon. she probably has something way more insidious, especially if she specifically designed the azazel to go up against the S9 (which would include the siberian).

        damn, how am i supposed to wait till saturday!? i’ll have to let the bonus interlude on thursday help me survive long enough…

        • My idea originally was someone really good at materials, hence having a “simply” sawblade like weapon that is capable of taking on supers, and a suit capable of standing up to them as well.

          That’s the best way to describe the weapon itself, though, since I basically got the name and weapon idea from Fallout 3 DLC The Pitt’s auto axes. It’s like it is set up to be a sawblade with three axeheads attached.

          If you can think up a better description after looking up what they look like, let me know.

          • wow. i knew fallout had some cool weapons, but that thing is like every zombie-hunters wetdream. seriously, axe and saw in one?

            a name. hmm. how about “Goblin” as in the Goblin Shark. but that’s not really all that good, either. cant come up with anything right now

          • Nut up or shut up. I loved that weapon, even though I was more of a stealth guy. Nothing like swinging it to take the top of a troglodyte’s head off and send it plummeting over the side of a railing to the ground far below.

            A description would be more helpful, and I’m not calling anything a goblin. That’s leaning into the coincidences with Nilbog around.

            I keep thinking I’d get too hung up on the triple axe saw thing so I just go with it being some vaguely circular sawblade-like thing. Might put my own Psycho Gecko armor up to see if anyone else can come up with a pretty good description on that too. Even if I don’t copy and paste, it can give me a good idea what people look at and what to focus on in my own descriptions.

    • I agree – cool how it fits so well in the context of Taylor’s thoughts that it wouldn’t seem out of place to someone who doesn’t know LoN.

      If you are one of those people, get out from under your rock and click the ‘Legion of Nothing’ link on the right 🙂

      • Spur of the moment thing, almost forgot I did that.

        I stress that Taylor’s opinions are not necessarily those of the author’s – Guys with exploding guitars can be pretty cool, as LoN demonstrates.

          • I was wondering why you hadn’t commented on it. Was thinking you either weren’t following the story anymore or that I’d offended you with the context surrounding the statement.

          • You know, I may have noticed, been amused and went to bed. I’m often awake when you update (or fall asleep while doing something else, wake up, and read it before going to bed for real). For me at least, that’s not a point where I’m going to comment.

            Apparently it’s also not a time when I’m likely to retain small details either because I specifically remember the “I hate tinkers” statement, but somehow didn’t remember the exploding guitars part.


            So anyway, definitely not offended. I’m amused, and it never occurred to me that I should be anything else.

            In another superhero web fiction I read, someone included a character called “The Rocket” who could fly as a result of controlled farting.

            That, I wondered about.

            In the end, I decided it probably wasn’t some kind of comment but it did make me wonder for a second.

  10. Bitch and Regent were brilliant here. One golden line after another.

    Regent and the fence was a spark of fun that we sometimes seem to lose for a chunk of time. Taylor’s reaction as well was just…

    As for Bitch and Taylor fighting the suit, that was punchy and well-characterized. I loved the line about six wins so damn much.

      • Now there’s a way to spin this to the media.

        Terrified but intrepid Reporter asks, “So, I hear Dragon attacked your alliance.”

        “Yes, but well my friend Bitch, for instance, beat her suit so many times that she got bored of it. Not challenging enough to hold attention.”

  11. 2 things first: I am still not sure how Dragon as an AI actually manages to pull of tinkerstuff(does she borrow and adjust other peoples work?),because she should not have the same realitywarping effect.
    second: Why not just perform a direct infusion of bugplasma into the relay bugs(bugfluid cleaned of cellular material), should provide them with the nutritients needed to survive?

    • tinkers in this world are not like Devisers in Whateley or those mad scientists in wild cards. they do real, actual science. they just have either a kind of precognition that allows them to draw tech from the future or a kind of empathy/clairvoyance that lets them KNOW how to assemble something.
      once their stuff is designed, anyone with access to the blueprints can build and use it.

      • Except that we’ve seen how Tinkers operate and we know that they cannot mass produce (ie, no one else can make it) stuff, they have weird limitations like things only working near to them and the tech itself seems to function on totally different rules to the ones we actually have.

        Tinker tech seems a mix of reality warping and other such stuff. Heck, Dauntless was probably at least somewhat Tinker classified.

        • That being said, I’m inclined by her lack of factories to think that Dragon is an actual Tinker. She is alive, had a highly traumatic event (the death of her father and resultant upload) and shows bizarro tech too.

          I think it’s more just the fact that she doesn’t need sleep, is naturally also very intelligent and has a higher natural manufacture capability. Other Tinkers have to build with their hands too, but her hands are better suited.

          The big advantages of being an AI are intellect, multi-tasking and large capacity for making stuff.

        • Actually we know that at least some tinker inventions can be mass produced. The big example is the containment foam. That stuff was made on a HUGE scale to fill up the empty Bird Cage mountain. Some of them don’t work that way of course, Armsmaster comes to mind, but there seems to be quite a bit of diversity in how tinker powers work. Before this story I wouldn’t have imagined a powerset like Dauntless’ as a tinker, he seemed to just be enchanting his inventions a little bit more every day.

          • armsmasters tech is quite reproducable so long as he did not use that minituarization-effect of his (which I still believe to be a seperate power that synergizes with his tinkering – it’s just too unnatural to be just part of his tech and it has also been confirmed to only work in his vicinity). every other tinker can have his stuff mass-produced (like the foam or the tinker-made bulletproof vests the PRT are using). for example, kid wins talk about patents to Chariot would not make any sense if no one could reproduce a tinkers tech anyway.

          • Simple tinker tech, yes. Complex stuff likely requires a tinker to build it at all.

            A battle suit does not compare to foam.

            Also miniaturisation is explictgly stated to be Armsmaster’s knack.

        • nope. Dauntless was a trump.Trumps are powers that deal with other powers. cycling through powers like eidolon, granting them like othala or blocking them like hatchetface.
          dauntless could imbue objects with powers. he had a variety to choose from but he could only imbue so much per day and so the power took time to build up.

    • as for dragon, she is an AI with beyond-human intelligence. ironically, that means that she does the tinker stuff the natural way: by thinking and inventing stuff, instead of having a power tell her how to do it.
      the only reason why people call her a tinker is because they think she is human and a human could not do what she does (also, misinformation that hides her true identity).

      • Build a modern semi-automatic handgun in the 1700s and you’re suddenly a Tinker. Do it today and you’re someone who doesn’t want to go through the paperwork to buy one.

        • would that be legal? i mean, building the weapon yourself, without the paperwork normally associated? I don’t live in the us so I don’t know how the law about this is over there. here in germany, it would be as illegal as Spongebob Squarepants should be

          • Depends on how dangerous it is and state by state. It is technically legal to build a homemade flamethrower here in Texas.

          • With certain exceptions a firearm may be made by a non-licensee provided it is not for sale and the maker is not prohibited from possessing firearms. However, a person is prohibited from assembling a non-sporting semi-automatic rifle or non-sporting shotgun from imported parts. In addition, the making of an NFA firearm requires a tax payment and approval by ATF. An application to make a machine gun will not be approved unless documentation is submitted showing that the firearm is being made for a Federal or State agency.

            [18 U.S.C. 922(o) and (r), 26 U.S.C. 5822, 27 CFR 478.39, 479.62 and 479.105]

          • I think it is all miniguns made or imported before a certain year that are legal. And flamethrowers in general are legal too. Apparently we got super scared of Africanized bees a few years back, and they were supposed to have caused a buzzing cloud of honey-making doom by now. Or at least that’s what the sensationalist types predicted, along with Y2k, the Raptures of May 2011 and October 2011, and the Apocalypse of December 2012. Those are just the ones from the top of my head.

            Oh, and I think thermite is legal too.

          • Who you calling “us,” right lobe?

            My half of the skull has never been to Scotland, let alone lived there and read the Daily Mail. “Suri Cruise Caught Playing With Thermite and Turning the Heat Way Up!”

          • Tieshaunn, be careful what you wish for. This may be the land of the free and the home of the Whopper, but it’s got some disadvantages compared to other countries. Politics, for instance. It’s a lot easier to laugh at it if it isn’t affecting you. Can’t even be more specific about it, because I might start a flame war on here and that’s just bad for everyone involved.

            Always some bollocks to go with the dog’s bollocks.

            Now if you’ll excuse me, i should shove some chicken fried steak with white gravy into my face while drinking sweet tea and eating cornbread.

        • Hardly. All the theory was already existent, or most of it at least.

          You could explain to any reasonably smart person how it works, and how to make more.

          Tinker tech on the other hand just doesn’t work that way. That’s a bit more comparable to building a steampunk spaceship in the 1700s, and going to Mars.

          • You’re going to feel real smart when Curiosity gets attacked by Chinese settlers on Mars who made use of their early knowledge of rockets.

    • Capes are capable of violating the known laws of physics. Tinkers are capable of building things that violate the known laws of physics.

      So, two interpretations based on what we’ve seen:
      1. Dragon builds machines that are complex wonders of engineering but don’t actually violate the known laws of physics. (This is the way I leant before the suit with the apparent tractor beam a chapter or two back)

      2. Things built by tinkers can violate the laws of physics. Dragon was built by a tinker. Therefore Dragon can violate the laws of physics…

    • Late to the party,but has nobody noticed all of Dragon’s suits until Armsmaster/Defiant joined her were recycled/fused parts of older suits?I think she used her inventors inventions.

  12. I call shenanigans on the tech as well. Sure, Dragon might be more intelligent than a human – and does plain think a million times faster – but there are a few issues here, especially with some of her suits.

    1) The forcefield suit. Creating comicbook “forcefields” violate the laws of thermodynamics. Their ability to stop attacks means the kinetic and thermal energy of those attacks has to go somewhere – and since the forcefield isn’t an object with mass, that energy can’t go to it. So where does it go? Also, conservation of momentum/inertia.
    Then, there’s the issue of creating the forcefield in the first place. Whichever of the four Forces you use (electromagnetism, gravity, strong, weak) you have to provide the source of that force (i.e. mass for gravity or electric charge for electromagnetism) and the power has to spread in a sphere out from that source – there isn’t a way to “shape” it if natural laws apply.

    2) The metal-eating, regenerating suit. Sorry, a suit like that is physically impossible. Yes, the energy required could be provided by a microfusion plant. Yes, nanite fabricators could potentially shape the metal in the required parts. The problem is heat. Once you heat the metal to melt it, the energy has to go somewhere in order for it to solidify. A drop of iron will cool in seconds. A ton of iron would take hours – look at a car engine for example. It has way more open surface per mass than that robot and is only a couple hundred pounds and yet takes over ten minutes to cool down from a couple hundred degrees. Metal melts in well over a thousand.
    And that’s not even counting the efficiency of the robot itself. Real machines don’t get to turn energy directly into something useful without losses and the highest efficiency possible for fusion is 50% due to high-energy neutrons. Other types of energy production are a lot worse. So every time the robot expends energy, at least as much energy turns into internal heat. No machine as dense as that robot that is made of common metal could ever hope to get rid of it. And why is heat bad? As I said, the new parts would take a long time to fully solidify at least. Or, the robot would melt altogether.
    But the most important thing is that heat is bad for electronics. Somewhere around 800 degrees, most materials change their electric and magnetic properties. Heat a computer chip enough and it can no longer function as one. Computer memory loses stored information at even lower temperatures.
    So even if a robot with a high-temperature core that occasionally superheats entirely could avoid melting, it could have no functional electronics at all, let alone artificial intelligence.

        • I’m in agreement. Again I mention Kid Win’s gun working via troll science levels of awesome. That’s not tech that’s years ahead of it’s time (though I can see how it looks like that to everyone else in their world) it’s just plain not possible.

          As such I wonder if Tinker’s are less a single power and more a bunch of them, basically Thinker+Shaker+a few others giving people who can make bizarro-stuff. It would account for the wide range in them, if that class is not a class at all.

          • From what I remember Tinkers are the newest power class in the Wormverse. Before people thought that they were just a combo of powers, similar to the Alexandria package except instead of being like superman you get to be like batman. I figure Tinker class power is just an itch to build better tools and the ability to make those tools work regardless of the laws of nature (bat tech is awesome).

          • we all assume that the wormverse follows exactly the same laws as our world. but that is evidentily not true. superpowers are supernatural (or at least not yet properly analyzable), so if a tinker could, in a limited way, tap with one of his/her inventions into the source of these powers, they could create tech that is impossible for us, but very much possible for the wormverse (like forcefield generators or Kid Win’s gun). also, the existence of parallel universes opens up even more possibilities.

            lastly, don’t forget that this is a fictional story. much like, for example, Iron Man, it can and does take some liberties with actual science, especially in regards to superpowers (though it is far more realistic than any other story I have read). Iron Man’s suit is logically impossible in our world, but in the marvelverse, it is hard science. the same applies here, I think.

    • There is one possible explanation I can see here – space warping and manipulation. We know that higher-dimensional objects (tesseract) and parallel dimensions (Coil, Cauldron) are in play in the wormverse power mechanics, as well as time manipulation (Clock Blocker). Is it not possible that the excess heat is shifted into parallel dimension / different directions / different time?

    • Generally agree, but wanted to point out: Just because Sundancer called something a ‘force field’ doesn’t mean it utilises one of the four things science calls ‘forces’. We know nothing about it other than that it’s capable of containing Sundancer’s ‘sun’ and ‘forcefield’ was the easiest way for her to describe it…

  13. It seems like Taylor doesn’t so much hate Tinkers as she’s starting to really, really want one for her team. Like, want one a *lot*. There seem like two possibilities from existing characters.

    Taylor and the other Undersiders laughed off the idea of recruiting Leet before, but it’s theoretically possible.

    There’s also Chariot. His cover has already been blown, and it’s just a matter of time before the Wards decide to shut him down. He’s going to need somwhere to go. I think Chariot is a strong possibility. For one thing, his specialty is transport, and this very chapter showed the team’s need for better trasnport.

    • I don’t think anyone knows his cover is blown though. Until the truth actually comes out he won’t be joining up with the Undersiders.

      • What we know of his personality suggests he’d match them like oil and fire. Regent and Aisha are one thing, but Chariot isn’t even reliable, he just seems to be a slightly idiotic ass.

        • That means he will fit in perfectly with them. Come on look at the way AIsha and Regent act and tell me how he could be worse. But he may have changed. He seemed serious and all business when he appeared fighting the 9. The wards aren’t the Undersiders. If they don’t take things seriously they either get thrown off the team, or Piggot puts them back into training. He was technically recruited to be a spy, so Coil saw him as being able to throw suspicion off of himself and competent enough to control himself. But yeah, they could use some new transportation. Maybe he can turn Atlas into a Bug cyborg to make it easier to care for/feed him. They need their own version of the Tumbler. Quick lads, to the Skittermobile!

      • I’m still voting for Sierra to trigger and be a Tinker.

        My hopes that this would then lead into a friend for Amy have been dashed, but I’m not abandoning my wild, totally impossible speculations!

        • Speaking of triggering into a Tinker, that’s something that’s been bugging me for a while, and never addressed, as near as I can tell. What kind of trigger events might produce a Tinker? A situation like Tony Stark was in when he built the first Iron Man armour? Pretty much every other power we’ve seen has an instant and immediate application, but a Tinker’s power is almost by definition time-delayed. What triggered Kid Win? What triggered Chariot? What triggered Armsmaster, or Bonesaw, or Hero, or Dragon’s dad, or the guy who makes super-computer cores? It could be that some of them got their powers from Cauldron, but we pretty much know for a fact that Kid Win and Chariot both are not Cauldron-born. (Yes, that was a deliberate reference.)

          Oh, wait, I forgot about Bakuda. We have a pretty good idea what her trigger event was, and it makes complete sense in relation to her specialty. She’s basically a super version of the Unabomber, only without the hermit-like tendencies (i.e. even more ego).\


          • Bakuda also showed us that Tinker powers aren’t necessarily slow burners.

            She rigged stuff in extremely short time frames out of random crap around her, which could easily be a common thing for Triggering Tinkers.

            For instance my beloved idea was that Sierra would be trapped by fires when Burnscar attacked, Trigger, and then rig a super level fire extinguishing foam or some such out of random cleaning supplies and some pipe cleaners (chemical specialised tinker, magic potion functionality). I bring this up to make the point that the same event could also give you a fire power (immunity to the flames included) ice power, teleport power, damn near any kind of power in fact.

            Which is part of the cleverness of the Trigger system as I understand it. It’s as much about the person as the event itself. Because how they would go about overcoming the event and what they see as important is well…important. A hostage situation might give a coward running powers or a hero bullet blocking powers (subdividing further, someone who takes on obstacles might destroy the bullets while someone else might be inclined towards a power that defends against them, another might be inclined to run from their problems or put them elsewhere and become able to teleport the bullets away…given the setting likely into the nearest nursery), a doctory minded person might gain healing or an opportunist might gain the power to control the hostage takers and take over whatever they were doing.

            So Any Trigger event could lead to a Tinker, the only real requirement is that they have a few moments left and some bits and pieces nearby to rig some lunatic device from.

            Which by the way links back to my point that Tinkers are not simply doing very advanced future science. There’s no freaking way Bakuda would be able to rig a high explosive out of bedsprings if that were the case. Nor a city killer out of stuff she found in an old warehouse.

          • Mainly the notion that a coward would get running, for example, or that the powers granted would necessarily offer an answer to a current predicament. It’s a little less cut & dry.

            • Of course. Stands to reason, given the situations that can arise. Some just don’t figure out their powers fast enough to act, others don’t get powers that serve to fix their immediate situation (Taylor doesn’t get out of the locker, for example – her situation gets worse) and yet others are just unlucky (getting shot seconds after manifesting – imagine the situation in Brandish’s interlude if Brandish had been targeted by the gunfire before Little Miss Photon erected a forcefield).

              • I have to disagree with you re: Taylor (as foolish as it probably is to disagree with the *author*. xD).

                In Taylor’s own words, when she was trapped in that locker, her “mind went someplace else, and it found the bugs there.”. In short: her powers *did* get her out of the locker, if only mentally. They helped her to survive mentally…

              • “That would really suck.”

                “Of course.”

                Welcome to the Wormverse.

          • Okay, well now this story just has to become some form of visual media, cos a screencap of that with laughter as a subtitle would be comic gold.

            Wormverse, the only superhero setting I’ve ever met which was so unrelentingly cruel that an origin story might get you killed before it even began. Well the first such setting which did this level of realism and setting continuity without being a miserable, hopeless pile of dark and edgy wank. I continue to have no idea how you do that, but I’m certainly not complaining. XD

          • Thank you Wildbow, my mental image of you is now forever cemented as your avatar critter in the guise of the “I have no idea what I’m doing, scientist dog” but banging away at the keys of a computer instead of lab equipment.

            I know that’s not accurate at all. But I doubt the image will go away anyway. Or maybe it is accurate and the genius just gets into the computer by sheer osmotic pressure 😉

  14. God I hate Tinkers and other such tech-heroes; there is such a gulf between being written a blank cheque of reality warping and being able to write them yourself 😉

    Though for me that’s a narrative issue rather than getting hung up on the physics of stuff.

    Even the base parts of Skitters powers alone are absurd physics when reduced to their bare elements: a channelless and noiseless information transfer that can coerce the electrochemical system of invertebrate neurons, and receive information back? If we say she’s affecting 100 neurons per bug (a conservative estimate considering the level of control) and your basic classical action potential (sure to be wrong since it will vary by species and neuron type and what not), then a controlling a million insects sees her directing the same energy flow as the output of several car engines, and ditto the signals coming back without her brain being turned to vapor.

    And that is before you get into the literal mass from nowhere of Bitch and her ilk. Changing a 50kg dog to a 450kg dog is an energy output equal to a hundred and ninety Tsar Bombas (the largest nuclear devices ever detonated).

    I never get annoyed at the science heroes antics (unless the author gets terminology wrong, which is just unforgivable), its more the why the fuck haven’t they *actually* saved the world with those techniques. Norman Borlaug is a thousand times the hero Tony Stark could ever hope to be :). Even the old ‘not wanting to cause too much change’ canards don’t hold up in the Wormverse where the world is literally falling apart under the Endbringer assault, each of the *old* dragon suits has innovations the principles of which could change the entire fabric of society, and yet the PRT fucks make signing yourself over to them a prerequisite to even get a basic look in.

    • I think the main issue is time. Since they can’t mass produce things, they have to spend hours and hours making anything, and repairing it. No to mention that unlike super scientists of other universes, they can’t all do everything. Tony stark can make battle suits, weapons, new chemicals, has unlimited funds but the wormverse tinkers are limited to one or two fields. Just because they can make tech doesn’t mean they are any good in a fight. But there should be some kind of sharing of tech/tinker meet and greet to combine their tech to make something to kill and Endbringer. It think the main reason Taylor hates them is that unlike her, they can completely change their tech to fit a situation while she has to really struggle to figure out how to win with what she has and they all seem to have a way to counter her nowadays. She mentions she can’t take someone who is strong enough, uses fire etc. While a Tinker can spend time to come up with a counter to someone who is super tough or uses fire. I think Taylor is really just feeling frustrated because she is hitting the hard upper limit of what her power can do now that her relay bugs are dying. But she should experiment and see what else she can do. She is still practicing multi-tasking, hasn’t recreated her trick with hearing moth from the music, and hasn’t gone under water to see what she can control yet. I mean worse comes to worse, she knows enough to maybe try and recreate her trigger event.

        • Not to mention that I don’t see her going that far without something pretty fucking horrible having already happened.

          Her Trigger was being locked in a tight, dark box with no real ventilation and full of toxic, horrible things. Suffocating and alone and begging for help. Though I continue to find it quite interesting that she actually had it even worse after the Trigger when she was stuffed with info for the first time. I guess her brain had just changed vastly and her mind needed the next week to catch up.

          Now while I’m sure we all have a few ideas as to what the next step up from that could be, I really don’t see any of them as being things you’d willingly do to yourself.

        • Thats the point though, more drama. Besides they need hail mary pass with the way things are going. I am a bit worried about Taylor’s potential mental state though. She states in Brian’s interlude that a scary number of people who have had a 2nd trigger event met bad ends soon afterward.

          • Now that think about it a little bit, I think the main issue is that Taylor is useless in this fight. Now don’t get me wrong, she is a great leader, tactician, and scout, but she simply can’t do anything to Dragon period. I thought if she could get some bugs into a suit they could damage it, but Dragon has insulated them against her. There are simply certain enemies that her power simply won’t work against. Taylor takes things all on herself. Knowing her I think she would start to feel guilt if she feels like she let down her team. Not to mention Brian has mentioned that she is very reckless at times. I don’t think she is going to do it now, they simply have no time, but she might decide to try something in the future. Her other option is to inquire with Cauldron. She is connected with Coil, who is important to Cauldron, and has quite a bit of money stashed away. We know they do injections for other heroes to increase their powers, so maybe they would inquire with her just to keep a closer eye on Coil. Granted the chances of that happening seem pretty slim. I don’t think she is the type of person to want to have anything to do with Cauldron.

          • I don’t see cauldron, but when you put it that way I can kind of see how she could end up trying for a second trigger.

            Of course given that she’s already barely holding together her mental state after another trigger would likely be pretty bad. Like going feral with her bugs kind of bad.

          • I can see her having a second trigger event (or perhaps forcing herself into one) if something happens to Grue (or perhaps her father). or perhaps if coil goes back on his promise and she cant fight himt anymore without a serious power-up

          • I’m not sure, Grue’s the only one we’ve seen yet and his second trigger mimicked his first (someone he loved in danger, already hurt badly) at a higher trauma level.

      • But that’s just my point – they should be spending their time making stuff rather than galvanting around in the line of fire, and that stuff should be prioritised for the greatest good. You’ve made a super-suit? Nice, give it to some other hero or a PRT officer and get back into the lab making another one. Even if they don’t use it as well as you would this is a better use of human resources. Your little drone has a cold fusion reactor? Good work, now forget about the drones and build a fusion reactor we can use to power the goddamned eastern seaboard.

        This isn’t some arty farty civil-liberties ‘let them have their freedom’ shit either, the nation-states of the Wormverse are facing an existential threat from the Endbringers (they destroyed flipping *Moscow*!). NATO should be on a war footing and all Tinkers should report for their local Manhattan projects as they a resource much to valuable to be wasted.

        • Maybe there are too few Tinkers and PRT wants to use their resources for themselves. This is a dangerous universe, and the heroes are outnumbered after all. Not to mention their tech simply isn’t at the level where they might be able to hurt an Endbringer. If Dragon, the greatest tinker in the universe, couldn’t hurt one, maybe they don’t see the point of throwing such rare/useful assets into the meat grinder. We also know from Kid Win’s interlude that the government requires them to make a certain number of tech items, like that generator, for others to use. While many heroes use that tech, there is nothing that says the government also makes use of it whenever they can. If the Endbringers have already hit a nuclear power plant, who is to say that part of the US isn’t already being powered by TInker made equipment. But you do make a good point about how they should be spending all of their time making things. Instead of Kid Win firing off a large amount of lazers, give his guns to a dozen trained swat offficers to help even the odds.

          • We don’t actually know that dragon couldn’t hurt Leviathan. Just that the suit she was able to get to the fight in time couldn’t hurt Leviathan enough. If Leviathan had showed up right outside her robot bay her heaviest suit might have been able to make more of a difference, and now that she can control all of her robots at once she could throw down on decent footing with an endbringer if she is provided with the resources. I am quite sure she will be provided with all the resources she can handle too.

        • Which is a good chunk of why I think only Tinkers can really use their gear.

          Which makes a lot of sense, consider for a second how much work Armsmaster cites it being to make his visor usable on a wide scale. Why? He already made it, if it was as simple as you claim then he could just give the blueprints to someone. What’s more there’s the question of how the hell some of this stuff gets built, I mean the guy made nanomachines at his desk, there’s a point where you have to hold up your hands and admit reality got sucker punched.
          So plainly even stuff which can be used by someone other than the tinker is very hard to make ready for such a thing.

          But even then we still see plenty of what you talk about. Tons of Tinker made stuff is in circulation. Mannequin used to be doing exactly what you ask (which got him targeted by an Endbringer don’t forget), Flechette is capable of doing what she does thanks to more of it. Dragon is the result of it. Most Tinkers may well be doing as you ask. Other realise that they can make the best use of what they can make and that someone needs to stop the Kaisers of the world from killing everyone.

          And further to that is the issue that only the Tinker will understand what they’ve made. As in only the Tinker is even capable of understanding it. Kid Win could give someone his guns but they’d have no idea how they work, which is a pretty good recipe for bad shit. Simple stuff is fine, but for the more complex things this is a serious issue. That generator for instance, the Tinker is the only person able to maintain and repair it. Anyone else might as well not bother. So they could do it but they are now stuck in one place, they could then expand power output but oh woops now you’re a huge target.

          • I think at this point it would be great if wildbow could put his/her foot down and explain whether tinkers work along the “Gadgeteer Genius” or “Spark of Genius” trope. right now there is evidence towards both and we really can’t continue this debate if we do not know wich one applies.
            if they are gadgeteer geniuses then yes, they should not waste their time on the streets, instead working to improve the world. if they are sparks of genius, then there would not be much merit to that course of action, at least for most of them.

            • Super late to the party, but I think you’re kinda missing the point of the cape classifications. When a person gets their power in the Wormverse, they don’t get a Striker, Stranger, Trump, or Tinker power. They just get an ability, and then the PRT puts a label on it. So most likely some Tinkers are gadgeteer geniuses, and other have a spark of genius. Still others are probably both or neither. They all make stuff though so the PRT considers them the same thing.

          • This is why documentation is an incredibly crucial part of the scientific method and compensating and overcoming irreducible complexity is an important part of systems design and there are whole fields of study devoted to the subject. If there is a black box of tinker needed cognition, then you put the work in so that everything around that be done by lesser minds.

            Sharing and remote stuff is possible has been demonstrated many times in the main text here, you do not need your tinkers in the front line. So what if everyone else can only use their toys 10% as well? PRT officers/soldiers are not a finite resource, I’d still rather have the tinkers back in the base writing user manuals than on the front lines. If you think *most* people understand the technology they use every day in their daily life and work I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

            Mannequin being targeted just shows tinkers more effectively using their talents *works*, why else would the Endbringers try and prevent it? :3

            • Now I wonder if there’s a tinker that specializes in documentation. They can summarize and explain any subject, now matter how complex or esoteric or bureaucratic, and make it interesting too.

          • Perhaps it depends on the Tinker in question on how it works and depends on tech. Maybe there are things only a Tinker can get to work and others than can be given away. I don’t think they should even be putting their talent to use fighting crime at all. If several cities are simply gone, there is a huge freshwater shortage, and who else knows what they have done. Scion is mentioned as having stopped a erupting volcano so I can picture Behemoth trying to get the supervolcano under Yellowstone to explode. They should be working on ways to purify saltwater, grow food, etc. like Mannequin. But unlike him, don’t put it all in one place or that is a surefire way to get an Endbringer to attack and the bloody things have shrugged off nukes. But we still don’t know how the government is reacting to things except they may start evacuating/condemning vulnerable points of interest. Forget the tinkers, where the heck are the normal scientists? Our universe has made some, admittedly small, steps toward more energy efficient power and water purification. Technology always jumps ahead in war, and they are at war with the Endbringers. Where is the manhattan project of this universe?

          • Why does everyone seem to be assuming these things aren’t already going on?

            It was mentioned several times that there are a lot of rogues, heroes as well. So isn’t it more likely that the story just doesn’t focus much on those people?

          • I feel kind of stupid when you pointed that out. There probably is a top secret bunker of scientists trying to replicate Tinker Tech, a super secret black ops team of supers for use of espionage, and a president only eyes plan for what to do if the heroes go rouge. Hmmm, maybe wildbow can give us a picture of a front paige of a tech magazine, or newspaper like he did when he gave us the city map.

            • I’m leery of doing that, because I tried to do a series of forum posts for an interlude 2 weeks ago and it sucked. I’m much stronger when I can craft a narrative, and that sort of ‘snapshot’ stuff tends to fall flat, IMHO.

          • Well, I get most of my news from online nowadays. Maybe a printout of an online article with a reporter writing on some new tech that is coming on. I see stuff like that all the time in online newspapers.

          • “PRT officers/soldiers are not a finite resource”

            Woohoo, some old-school X-Com thinking there. Can’t say I’ve ever heard irreducible complexity used outside of the context of intelligent design. So by overcoming it in an engineering sense, you mean making it to where you can add a lot of bells and whistles like a scope, flashlight, and mounted grenade launcher? Or did you mean making sure that it was as simple as possibly with no extra gadgets, gizmos, whatchamacallits, thingamajigs, or thingamabobs that are unnecessary and could complicate others using it?

          • The forum post thing sounds awesome, if you really don’t like it then of course that’s cool but surely the worst it can be is still not that awful? I doubt anyone would complain about you experimenting a bit. Heck, maybe it would be easier if you had some underlying narrative to it, one of the oneshots of Anachronauts (easily my favourite piece of free online fictional text after this story) does it pretty well. Link,


            @ TheAnt, yeah, I’m pretty sure they do have all of that. I’m also pretty sure that they won’t have much success but in any case hero Tinkers do serve a genuine purpose. Especially given that most of those we have seen have been explicitly suited for combat.

  15. By handle irreducible complexity I mean you unravel the system as much as possible to uncover which bits of the ol’ Tinker lasergun (and lasergun production process) require the superhuman magic science and which don’t.

    It is not a good use of your tinkers to work on anything but those parts whilst the rest of the project are handed off to regular engineers and scientists. You also get your tinkers to make sure these irreducible black boxes are modular and interchangible and definable. You also get them to work on automating the production process of those elements. The other engineers and end users do not need to understand the principles of the black box as long as output behaviour is predictably correlated to input (after all most of the capes here have no fucking idea how their powers work at a physical level but are still pretty effective).

    Simple vs not simple may or may not come into it, but these are basic principles to get the most utility of a large scale engineering project. The Heroic Lone Inventor might be a pleasant trope, but its not been how science or engineering has worked since the beginning of the twentieth century, and indulging it during a time crisis is criminally negligent.

    X-Com, or general military attitudes towards personnel attrition are justified, this is a war after all and an existential one at that. If I was a soldier in the Wormverse I’d rather go down because the experimental strange-quark hypericecreamscoopmixer I was firing at the local Endbringer malfunctioned than waiting to die when said monster turns up at my home city a few years down the line.

    @Anzer’ke; whilst there may be secret projects (though why secret in existance vs details? who are we worried about finding out?) the fact that all the government Tinkers we’ve encountered in the story are used terribly (the two younger ones deployed in combat situations, Armsmaster wasting his time on management) suggests against it.

    • How do you assume that any part at all comes under that umbrella? Anything that meshes with the blackbox will itself be blackbox-like so at the very least you’re going to talking a large amount of the total components.

      And you make two massive assumptions here. Firstly that this modular talk is even possible (and again, look how hard Armsmaster was finding it to do that with something as simple (relatively) as some software and a visor, the guy is a genius with tech and seldom sleeps so his six months are someon else’s lifetime) or easy enough to have a useful timeframe. If it takes years then the Tinker is probably better off just making stuff and using it themselves.
      Secondly, that Tinker tech is perfect, never breaks, never fails, never overloads…what happened with that electric gun again? If Kid Win’s stuff starts to blow he has a chance at stopping it and will certainly be capable of seeing it coming. Which is why knowing how your gear works is actually a VERY important stage in any serious military training. It’s why you get trained in how to do damn near everything with your standard weapons.

      You seriously have an odd way of viewing this. How precisely would you go about coercing the superpowered in any case? You plan to order around people like Armsmaster like slaves? Seriously? Tell me again how that doesn’t lead to villains everywhere? People are not resources, they are people. You can’t just throw them where you want them to go. Especially when they are capable of going rogue and killing hundreds or thousands if you really fuck with them. Think for instance of Panacea, that turned out just great. /s

      Yeah, we also heard from Panacea that the government accepts that kind of thing (when she mentions her age limiting her) and other sources further corroberate it. We had mannequin doing that kind of thing, mentions all over of Tinkers doing just this. We have Tinker tech everywhere, from Coil’s lasers to the PRT foam. We had Dragon’s father and the Forger from Alexandria’s Interlude.
      I don’t see how all of this is cancelled out because some Tinkers when given the choice (not that it can be effectively taken from them) choose to apply themselves to other areas. Especially when one of them is a glory hound, another is an adrenaline junkie and the other is struggling to make much of anything and focuses on laser guns anyway.

      • 1) I think you are fundamentally misunderstanding my premise. I’m not saying its bad that its written like it is – the institutional systems of the Wormverse are more fucked up than those of Baltimore as portrayed the Wire. I think its bad in the sense the invasion of Iraq was bad, a political choice I think horrendously stupid and if I was in the setting I would object too it (probably only by voting and writing letters ;)) but have no trouble with its narrative or direction.

        2) Using Panacea as an example of effective oversight is laughable, she was sent to to Birdcage on her own wishes (whoever authorized that should be fired), no one in social services batted an eye about the BBB adopting her, and not a single person involved in the management of this incredibly important asset asked her any questions or tried to help her with her well-being, I know companies who look after their mid-level employees better than she was handled. You throw out treating people like resources like its always bad thing, but part of maintaining a resource is developing, caring, and actualising it if that will serve your interests. The army treats its Generals like a resource, and doesn’t put them on the frontlines, but that doesn’t mean it treats them fucking badly.

        3) You get powerful tinkers to work for you the same way you get any highly regarded expert to work for you – you have the money and resources and social capital to actualise their goals and employ them. You influence them the same way any government influences its high value citizens by being the gatekeeper to civil society. Plus you know the fact that the Endbringers are attacking indiscriminately gives quite the incentive to pitch in! Run some public service announcements and create societal pressure in exactly the same way governments have recruited experts and lower level staff in the past. In fact you don’t even need them on a tight lease, all you want to do is maximise their time tinkering and minimise their time doing dangerous stunts.

        4) The tinker designs being reducible is possible, read the interlude with Canary regarding the design of the collars. Ditto the foam guns which I’m pretty sure Dragon isn’t building every example of herself – its funny you’re offering the counterexamples to your own points. The point of the term irreducible complexity is to reduce it to those black boxes – if that’s most of the system shrug and try something else until your understanding advances. I’m just saying we shouldn’t be seeing tinkers in the front lines, and the fact thats happening is just as much an example of institutional dysfunction as having Piggot in charge or the clusterfuck that happened with Panacea. Armsmaster trying to do the programming all himself is terrible management (fitting in with him being an arrogant douche), no one does development like that, he should be handing off the grunt coding to assistants and subcontractors whenever he can, and if the PRT does intend to give this technology out to their frontline troops they should be insisting on review and documentation, from other tinkers at least. ‘Heroic Programming’ is a pejorative term for a reason.

        • 1) No, I get that fully. My point is that a) They’re idiots but this kind of thing would appear to be happening quite a lot. b) You are going too far with the claims that Tinkers should act purely as you say. There’s evidence that it wouldn’t work for one thing. c) You dehumanise the theoretical people too unrealistically.

          2) Which is why I didn’t use her as an example of good oversight. I even used a sarcasm tag, dude. Panacea is an excellent example of why this sort of thing ends horribly. She was used and broken. Now I know your reply will be that she should have been focusing on research, I agree with you, though I disagree regarding her curing everything in a week via that approach. However this would have gone just the same, she would have been pushed and gone unthought of and snapped like a mind-twig just the same.
          Sure you can talk about how a perfect government would not do this, but you can’t have your cake and eat it. Are they desperate enough to consider PRT expendable? Then they’ll damn sure give zero shits about Panacea’s mental health. Even a normal government would likely screw this up, given how monumentally bad Wormverse’s is, I doubt that Government Tinkers get the best of it in the end. Luxury is no substitute for a life.
          In any case a person is valued for being a person. A resource is a means. Desperate people do bad things and once someone is reduced to a resource that is only going to get worse.

          3) Which ignores that they have already got all the cards. Can freely choose who to work for, or make as much money as they want. The PRT has some stuff but even they can only recruit, not tell their Tinker’s what to make. Which in itself is an issue as Tinker show little sign of being that easily directed. They go where inspiration takes them, trying to cage that likely would fail.
          And again, Dangerous stunts are necessary. Armsmaster and Kid Win have done a lot of good. By this kind of logic Dragon should stop fighting and get back in the kitchen, devoting all her robots to making the world better. Which would be great if their weren’t clearly people actively fighting them.
          Most Tinkers seem to do exactly as you ask, all you’re saying is that they should have no choice at all and just be lumped in the most useful place as if that makes the slightest realistic sense. People don’t work like that, and again Battle Tinkers are probably not going to be well suited for much else.
          Kid Win definitely wouldn’t be any good in what you are trying to claim. Chariot and Armsmaster as well.

          4) I agreed that the simple stuff was workable. And those were p[resented to show that my point stands, that this is happening in Wormverse off screen. You just seem to be offended that it’s not a total ironclad rule for everyone. Which I do not understand.

          Finally how is it you keep going back to this idea that Armsmaster can just hand off the work? I mean do you even think through how difficult that would be? The amount of time he’d be spending trying to get people up to date on stuff they probably aren’t even capable of understanding? Then he’s got to keep them up to date, which means slowing his thinking down to their speed. So no gains and for what reward? How on earth do you think they’d be useful?

          Your disparaging of ‘heroic programming’ is a bit odd when Dragon’s father shows it to be a perfectly legitimate thing in this setting. He has to do it because no-one else can understand it. Except another Tinker such as Dragon and she is also helping out.

          • You don’t get what the criticism of ‘heroic programming’ (the industry term, rather than programming by heroes) is; that it creates idiosyncratic and non-robust solutions, not that it doesn’t produce solutions at all. If Armsmaster can’t explain to at least a few other tinkers how the system works the PRT should never ever use it in mass deployment – it will be completely reliant on Armsmaster (if he dies it can’t be updated or changed), and there is no way of knowing if there is security holes or features that should really be left out or gaps that have been fudged over.

            You can see these problems in action with Dragon herself for Christs sake! Armsmaster bringing other people up to speed means the project doesn’t live or die with him, it allows review of specifications even if the technical details are hard to digest (“It’ll do X, Y, and Z in under 10 seconds!” “That’s great Colin, but it really just needs to do X”).

            Panacea wasn’t used, she was abandoned. You don’t need a perfect government, you need someone capable of rubbing two or more braincell’s together and going ‘heywaitaminute’ or at least bouncing this further up the chain of command. Saying their disregard of a PRT officers life means they will think Panacea is expendable or disposable is lubricious; the US military takes the same level concern for the care of its jeeps as it does its nuclear submarines after all! Before you go on about ‘dehumanising’, these are the kinds of decisions and weightings of human assets the security services make all the time in real life.

          • …Yes…and? That’s exactly what I’ve been saying is the issue here. And given that it took Dragon to find those kinds of security holes it would appear to be entirely accurate.

            The issue with this is that they would be speaking entirely different languages. He knows how it works and has optimised it in such and such a way. They want certain things out of it but have no idea how it works or whether that’s possible. Whatever they get they’ll be totally reliant on his work. Not so bad for easily tested foam, a bit worse for this sort of thing.
            As for Dragon, it took another Tinker to even modify her, clearly he hadn’t the slightest hope of actually recreating her.

            Yes, and I have a good few choice words and critiques of the security services. Not least is that the approach used in real life would be ludicrously insane with this level of personal power (a factor that will be very important as weapon tech continues to improve) and certainly doesn’t work for this. Soldiers in the current system go crazy and kill a few dozen people. Parahumans are not going to be stopped at a few dozen.

            As for Panacea, the point is moot because that’s been demonstrated to not be the kind of government Worm has. Hence my point that this stuff is being done but meeting the brick wall of human dumb. Which is pretty realistic really.

          • Fluff, the problem with complaining about heroic programming in this setting is that they are losing. They can’t afford to give up the things that Armsmaster is producing just because they don’t work without him. If the visors were mass produced the potential benefits could be huge. Even if you were only able to benefit from them for a few years due to Armsmaster’s death, that is still a few years where you are pushing back the tide. It is basically the same case for any sufficiently powerful tinker.

            • *Walks out to the middle of the boxing ring, adjusts my bowtie, and speaks into the mircophone lowered for the rafters* “Ladies and commmenters, We….Are…..Live……,This is the main argument od the chapter, in the Red corner, Fighting out of the Utilitarianism camp, Trained by the teachings of John Stuart Mill and Peter Singer, Fluff “Needs of the Many” Fluff” *takes a deepb breath and faces the other way* “And in the Blue corner, Fighting out of the Kantianism camp. Trained by the teachings of Immanuel Kant and David Hume, Anzer “Kingdom of Ends” ‘Ke *Pause for dramatic effect* “Lets get ready to Moralize!!!!!!”

              By the way, Wildbow, Love the story, been addicticed to it since I started….and so glad I dont have to wait for update.

  16. All this Tinker talk makes me wonder who else exists in this universe. Possible Tinker specializations: Steam, sound systems, gases, chemicals, sensors, armors, robots that mimic animals. Does Trainwreck count as a Tinker? He made a big robot suit.

  17. Trainwreck as a steam tinker. That makes sense but if that was the case wouldnt we have seen trainwreck tech other than his suit?

    • Why would we have seen that? Trainwreck showed up all of three times, and we didn’t necessarily see his full capabilities. There are plenty of things in this verse that we just don’t see because our viewpoint character is Taylor.

  18. I’ve never heard of the term “heroic programming,” but it makes a lot of sense. If somebody makes a custom device that doesn’t make much sense to anybody but the original inventor, then that’s a serious drawback. What if the inventor isn’t available for maintenance? Charges huge fees for maintenance? Forgets his own design as he has probably worked on hundreds in the meantime? Even if the above are resolved, you’re wasting a genius’s time.

    It seems so much cheaper and more effective if the designs are separated from one another and if the designs were well-documented. There’s no good reason why you can’t just set cameras to record what Tinkers do when they’re inventing and have some intern go over the file to write down what they do, or at least the parts that were used.

    By the way, here’s my take on how Tinkers work. Each design is specific to the Tinker that designed it. Once designed, though, any Tinker–but only Tinkers–can replicate it. That would explain why the designs are widely available and still not mass-produced.

    Oh, one last point: Wildbow told us in a comment that the foam is Tinker made and then later revealed in-story that Dragon is the one who designed it. That suggests that Dragon really is a Tinker (either that, or she took credit for somebody else’s invention for some reason). Relevant parts: Tangle 6.5 (comments section) and Interlude 6.

    OK, I never thought that I’d get excited enough about a story to start quoting chapter and verse of a fictional story like that. I’m going to go hide my head in shame forever–or until the next chapter comes out.

  19. I think I’ve just realised(/had a wild theory for) what Tattletale’s power is.

    Access to the Akashic Records. (I’m not that well read, I just loved Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer)
    In other words, she’s omniscient. But (and I’m guessing that her memory and mind in general are still far above a normal human’s in several aspects) she can’t have it all up there at once or even her parahuman brain would break. So perhaps she had a moment of absolute knowledge when she Triggered then the safeties of her power developed and stemmed the flow.

    Which also explains why she can make mistakes, her knowledge includes all possible corollaries. Indeed, I’m guessing that the real effort is not in accessing the knowledge but in finding it amidst all the alternate dimensions and other worlds that she also has access for. So when she gets into a groove on one of those alternate realities we get the Tattletale brand screw up.

  20. By the way, I’d like to give a shout out to @Overclocked (or was it Overclock? Sorry if I got it wrong) who said hi while the world was ending. I’d have talked more, but Rularru appeared over my shoulder and I was forced to open a box of kickass puffs on him.

    And for your friends at that rpg forum, I just would like to say:

    *Gets down on his knees, grasping at their shirts* Like me!

  21. I’m not going to say this quite right, but I find myself wondering about Tinker trigger events. Other supers seem to trigger in ways that help them deal in some way with trauma they’re experiencing. Tinkers trigger and then know how to build things; there’s no instant gratification to “fix” a major trauma (like Bitch’s trigger incident saved the dog or Miss Militia’s triggering allowed her to kill her village’s captors.) Well, at least not as far as I can easily imagine. So what triggers a Tinker? A need to win a science fair? Frustration over a car breaking down? It makes me curious.

    • Bakuda serves as one example. It’s implied that her trigger event involved her building up a huge ego with natural genius/intellect, only to have a crushing blow delivered to that ego & her self worth in an case of failure or academic rejection while attending University.

      In a broader context for tinkers as a whole, the trauma would be more likely to be mental strain than anything physical, quite possibly an ongoing challenge rather than an immediate crisis.

        • She missed an important exam and didn’t have a perfect class due to everyone taking up the parking spaces at her university. So she got a power that let her clear some space. And some traffic on the way over there. Long story short, she made sure other drivers were late, not her.

      • Interesting! I sort of assumed that what power people got was more or less random, but now that I think about it the Tinkers we know well all have ego issues. Bakuda is an obvious one. Armsmaster also has a massive ego and I wouldn’t be surprised if a blow to it is what triggered him. Kid Win has self-esteem issues. Don’t know enough about Bonesaw, Chariot, or Trainwreck to say if they continued the pattern but I like this line of inquiry.

  22. ok totally offtopic, since a while I am trying to figure out a bit of superhero physics relating to to time manipulation(prefer that over simple speedsters), basically how are materials, exspecially air and humans with two different timeframes going to interact?
    Basically I see 3 possibilities:
    1)mass stays the same
    2)impulse stays the same
    3)energy stays the same

    When 1) would the body not seem incredible hot to the outside,
    leading to rapid expansion of speed up air and rapid cooling of any accelerated bodies?

    When 2) mass would have to be reduced proportional to time the energy would still be higher in the speed up system , If we double time energy is doubled (*4(speed)/2(mass)) the frequency of particle collision is doubled, the mass difference should reduce the percentage of energy transfered from collisions however if i found the right formula only to 8/9(max dE/E=4m*m’/(m+m’)^2) that of normal time.
    Basically we still have rapid cooling but punches would be faster but have tzhe same impact like your normal punches.
    Not sure about breathing.

    When 3) Frequency doubled energy transfer 16/25 …. still stronger cooling
    your hit would be shit.
    You would probably suffocate.

    well that is if that damned formula is the right one
    So anyone has a useful link for me?

    • Ugh sorry I forgot that interaction does not mean only energyloss but also energy gain so there would be no cooling in case 3) also if i increase the timespeed I actually gasin less instead of more energy exchange … thats why i really need a helpful link sigh
      I keep to overlook aspects

    • There is absolutely no way to know. You can explain it any way you like, so long as you keep it convincing within the narrative. Asking how something like this works seems kind of silly. In Worm I would guess that all three of them happen. Depending on the hero and their specific breakthrough.

    • Well, if you consider that moving through time faster than everyone else is simply moving along another axis in the space/time continuum, and if you assume that otherwise all particles behave the same way, then it’s simply a matter of considering what happens when you move by the same multiplier through any of the other three dimensions.


      • Moving through time would require moving through space as well. If you stay in the exact same spot in the universe and go back an hour, you’d better have a spacesuit on.

          • Any chance there’s a sort of intertia related to time? Gravity effects time, even if the best idea for time travel seemed to involve being uncomfortably close to a pair of colliding black holes.

  23. A friend linked this story to me, and I’d like to note that even though I generally dislike most things to do with superheroes or other superpowered individuals, it’s one of the rare exceptions. Good work, I’ll be sure to follow this in the future, as well as inform my friends.

  24. Okay, this was originally in response to Wildbow’s comment on trigger events, but it’s long enough that I’m making it its own comment. Warning: contains fastidiousness and weak arguments. If you’re upset about those things going together, read no further.

    TL;DR: Assumptions about trigger events corrected; “anyway” vs. “anyways” – regionalism or not; “Worm” as Marxist allegory

    That’s interesting. I assumed that triggers were caused by sudden trauma, rather than disappointment, i.e. Bitch, Taylor, and even Glory Girl. And given Triumph’s situation, I thought that anyone whose trigger event had nebulous boundaries, like Prism, had purchased their powers.

    Not that I’m ruling out Prism purchasing her powers. I only mean that one of my assumptions about trigger events has been debunked.

    Now, I have two random questions. First: anyway vs. anyways. My understanding, as an American, is that “anyway” is correct, but many people (usually younger or less educated–no offense to the readers here who say “anyways,” I only mean that in real life you wouldn’t see a professor or older individual say “anyways,” so it’s relative) say “anyways” and maintain that both are correct.

    People who are older, more educated, or more fastidious say “anyway,” in my experience. However, I went to Vancouver a couple years back and everyone there said “anyways,” so could it be a regional thing? Just thought I’d bring it up. Grue, for example, seems like someone who would say “anyway” because of his father’s authoritarianism. Aisha, who grew up in a different environment and wouldn’t care about that sort of thing, strikes me as someone who would say “anyways.”

    Okay, I’m obviously weird about grammar, and fit firmly in the “fastidious” category.

    Second, well, I’m a capitalist through and through. That said, Wildbow, did it occur to you that Worm could be read as a Marxist parable? I’ll try to be brief. DISCLAIMER: This is by no means a rigorous scholarly analysis. I’m tired, and don’t really care for Marx anyway.

    Villains are the proletariat: landless, disenfranchised, and existing on the fringes of society. This isn’t as true for Empire Eighty-Eight, as they’re simply racist, but the Undersiders (the main villains the story focuses on) have all been failed by the system, as previously discussed.
    Cauldron and heroes in general represent the bourgeoisie. They mandate the status of Brockton Bay’s inhabitants relative to the rest of the population and the “in group” of Protectorate, Wards, et cetera. Taylor is essentially a villain because Armsmaster said she was, no matter her protestations to the contrary. And Cauldron *literally* owns the means of production.

    As Taylor notes time and time again, the heroes stratify society into “good” and “evil” classes, regardless of their protestations to the contrary re: rogues. No one, it’s worth noting, has *stayed* a rogue in this story: everyone has to choose what class they’re part of after they have a trigger event (i.e. class consciousness). Because of this stratification, and because cape society appears to ultimately be regulated by Cauldron (the bourgeoisie), Taylor is forced to act through her bugs more and more. She literally becomes alienated from her human nature, as in Marx’s theory of alienation.

    In fact, the good/evil (i.e. bourgeois/proletarian) dichotomy perpetuated by Cauldron—through their formation of the Protectorate and ownership of the means of production (of powers)—hurts good capes, too. Case in point: Armsmaster also gives up a lot of his humanity, and Dragon literally isn’t human. It’s fitting that Taylor’s antagonist at the moment is someone completely alienated from his/her/its human nature.

    But Dragon’s interest in becoming “more” human suggests that there is an alternate model, one outside the “Cauldron framework” (aka the capitalist system). This is where Taylor and Coil come in for real.

    Taylor is basically running a commune. Everything is centrally organized, and everyone works for her. It’s a dictatorship of the proletariat, and something that applies to all of Brockton Bay under the Travelsiders. What about Coil, you ask?

    Yeah, he’s Stalin. Coil is the guy who helps the “country” transition into a full dictatorship of the proletariat, but, like the actual Stalin, he instead chooses to seize power for himself. Of course, it turns out that Coil purchased his powers, and that Cauldron has plans for him, suggesting that the “USSR model” of a transition stage before the dictatorship of the proletariat is in fact merely an extension of the capitalist order.

    This also provides philosophical justification for why Taylor (proletarian par excellence) will never have a second trigger event: you can’t come into class consciousness twice. Okay, yeah, Grue had a second trigger event. *But* he’s not the main character, and also, it was with the Slaughterhouse Nine.

    They’re inhuman in a totally different way, for obvious reasons. Fitting that Manton stole his powers from Cauldron, and that Shatterbird is the only person who has ever mentioned *selling* a power.

    • Incidentally, this also turns Worm into a philosophical novel in the style of James Baldwin or Flannery O’Conner (or Ayn Rand, actually): the story wrestles with and proposes a solution to the “problem” of class relations, class consciousness, and sociopolitical/economic systems by examining its embodiment in superpowered heroes and villains.

      O’Conner, to use a more obvious example, examines what it means to be a Christian and the role of religion in public life by having her stories *all* be parables for that. If anyone’s read John Dewey, she and he were basically the Biggie and 2Pac of mid-century debates over religion in public life.

      (Hey, there are all these people getting excited about the science of Worm, so I figure I’m allowed to get excited about political theory)

      • Capitalism is all-consuming and self-destructive. Most of the outcomes depend on how they’re portrayed, of course.

        • Anyways, sounds similar to some things that have been thrown out here in regards to who the privileged buying powers and the traumatic ones usually being let down by society. The revolution and the resistance was also probably covered by some of our arguments over morality in villains and the heroes being good for upholding the laws.

          As far as your comparison of Stalin to Coil, remember that the Bolsheviks didn’t even follow Marxist thinking in that the revolution is supposed to be a grassroots revolution using what was then supposed to be the modern working poor: industrial workers. This wasn’t supposed to be a system put in place by intellectuals (like in Russia) or by an agricultural society (like in China).

          If anything, my guess is that the end of the world is a big symbol for how sometimes people get so busy caught up in the arguments that they fail to notice they’re being manipulated or undermined by outside forces like Cauldron. Or since it is happening anyways, the inevitable end of all civilizations. Or it could just mean that something’s going to destroy the planet, because that’s inevitable too. Which leads me to my next point: sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes people get so caught up in interpretations that they miss the main point.

          Don’t worry, we’re all guilty of taking the story way too seriously sometimes.

        • whoa this gives an interesting spin to the end of the story.

          this makes the BBEG what, the personification of capitalism itself?
          what would that make the endbringers though?

      • Marx was a protege of Hegel, who proposed a theory that socioeconomic structures evolve when they collide. Marx took this theory to suggest that neither socialism or capitalism were ends in themselves. Instead, they would collide (violently) to form something closer to the ideal, which Marx names Communism. Marx never actually explains what communism *is*, but if it’s going to have elements of both Capitalism and Socialism, I imagine that it would be a free-market society where the landowners/ capital owners have to also be workers and workers are also land- or capital owners.

        In the context of the story, everybody with powers would have to lease them to the people in some way. In other words, you couldn’t withhold your gifts for political leverage. You would still be compensated for their usage, however.

        This collapse of the system would also bring about the collapse of the world as we know it. Everything would have to change if the end goal is to make it impossible for somebody to do things in order to gain power.

    • I find all of this very interesting indeed because I have a very similar take on it.

      Personally, likely due to my own views leaking through, I see the dictatorship Taylor establishes as the necessary evil often initially devised by people coming into these ideas. That since power cannot be equally shared and someone “has” to be in charge (in this case shown by the parahumans versus the human majority) a benevolent dictatorship becomes the best step to take. Whether in the form of a literal one or just an elected government. It should be noted that Taylor herself seems very open to suggestion and less in charge so much as fulfilling a specific role herself.

      She doesn’t rule so much as she protects and manages. This (combined with the Undersiders’ unmistakeably flat structure and it’s favourable comparison with the Travellers structure of Trickster in charge and screwing up a lot) gives me the impression that this is itself only transitory towards a less ruled state.

      Now obviously, anarchism is a difficulty here as the parahuman minority creates an unnatural, imposed hierarchy. However this is not that dissimilar to real life’s own unfair distribution and similar points apply. The argument for a lack of hierarchal structure is easily in place, the many failure’s of the governing bodes and so on as opposed to the successes of the less confined actors (obviously this is mostly my wild imaginings but I would point out now that it’s not nearly this black and white in the story, which can be attributed to Wildbow being a far better author than Ayn Rand) and so on and etc. So the next step becomes either the transhuman option or the naturalist (I lean towards the former).

      Either cauldron is used to give absolutely fucking everyone powers. Thereby levelling the field enough for equality to begin, while also solving a lot of the world’s problems. With the cons of massive chaos and control difficulties.

      Or the current minority powers remains (though even this seems a slower transition as logically the number of parahumans must increase by what we’ve seen thus far) with equality achieved by the more difficult path of social contract and agreement.

      In any case, to my lunatic mind the end of the world can be used to represent the natural end which man made nastiness induces along with natural changes (either I’m crazy or the Endbringers represent the “revenge of mother earth” trope) really is bringing about in reality (not nearly so violently, but it’s now well agreed that the world is getting less hospitable and we’re in trouble with that). The crisis thus created is paralleled with a real one, not only in its magnitude but in other factors such as the failure of large groups to act in a manner that addresses it, the failure again of these groups to really organise against changing conditions and tech (represented by powers) that cannot fail to alter the structure of society and another failure in that these cannot respond nearly so well to needs of those in trouble.

      That last one being seen in Skitter’s territory but also in how often the Undersiders who are far more agile in their structure and variation, run rings around more hierarchal and fixed groups.

      Finally the solution to this crisis is presented a) As possibly not existing, it could just be hopeless. and b) Being found in radical alterations to damn near everything, I still hold that either spreading powers to a wider population and/or coil succeeding and the structure of society changing as the affect of this spreads, could fight back against the end.

      Of course this is all totally wrong and nonsensical, but hey. It’s fun to think of.

    • In reference to the last paragraph: Cauldron sells powers. Shatterbird didn’t mention selling a power. She mentioned “men who bought her power”. That could mean, and I took it to mean, that they bought the power for her, rather than from her. She still has it, after all.

    • Okay now I’m curious; how does Scion fit into this?
      As for Shatterbird, I always assumed she was referring to other people who had bought the same power as her (possibly buying it because she was famous).

  25. Also, where the hell is Clockblocker? I assumed that they would stash Shatterbird, control him, freeze Dragon’s robot (giving Sundancer time to set up an orb), and cook it.

  26. The problem I really have with Dragon as a sub-AI (with limited design and innovation capabilities) is that the way you’ve written her/it to be in the story, she/it simply couldn’t pull something like this off. It’s radically new, and her/its creator placed limits that would prevent exactly this.

    My only criticism.

  27. “I’d parceled out silk cord to grip, but they also served to emphasize how momentum swung us out to one side or another when we turned. It was easy to underestimate how fast even a lower cruising speed was when safe inside the interior of a vehicle, removed from the road by two to four feet of solid material..”

    I’m confused about the “they” in the first sentence.

    I’m also faulting at the syntax at the second sentence. What’s the noun of the sentence? Nevermind, I got it. the sentence just seemed extremely weird at first. I had to re-read it a bunch of times.

    There’s also am extra period there.

  28. So some claws and a running two ton doggy can bust through Dragon’s armour? What’s it made of? Aluminium? Tanks from WW2 had better armour!
    And still not using any of the varied weaponry that it should have available (the first Dragon suit in the story had a massive number of different weapons (but apparently less than normal), but was very much geared towards lethal).
    Not really liking the nerfed dragons.

    • I think the armor was constructed under the same rules mannequin fought:”an oak tree bends,a willow bends”,in order for it to get repaired easier

      This,and Bitch’s dogs seem deceptively tough.

  29. “She wasn’t so adept at moving molten silicon.” Again with the silicon rather than silicon dioxide/sand/glass. Silicon would be all over Dragon, if Shatterbird can destroy phones/computers why can’t she manipulate them?

  30. Did skitter ever try freezing the relay bugs, to see if she could preserve them until she found panacea again(keeping in mind that she doesn’t know Amy is in the bird cage, of course)? It seems like something she might try, given her knowledge of the possibility and some of the more esoteric experiments she’s done.

    • Freezing comes with its own set of problems. “Kill them while freezing” problems. Aside from a very few cold-weather critters, when the water inside an organism’s cell freezes, it crystalizes and pulverizes the cellular membranes. Forget Panacea, you’d need…I dunno, the blood of Khan in order to get the bugs back into shape.

  31. Man, f%#* tinkers. When they’re not Sphere, they’re kind of annoying. It gets even worse when you consider, say, Sphere, and realize that if you brought together all of the world’s tinkers, plus a few well-chosen thinkers, they could probably solve all the worlds problems up to and maybe including the Endbringers.

  32. In honor of this chapter, to the tune of “Jingle Bells”:

    Dashing through the streets!
    With a Shatterbird pulling a sled!
    This was a terrible plan!
    What is wrong with my head!

    Regent and Imp are a pain!
    Obnoxious and juvenile!
    Why do I hang out with crazies!
    Maybe I’m in denial!

    Oh, Dragon suits, Dragon suits, Dragon suits galore!
    Oh how much I hate tinkers; never know what they have in sto-ore!
    Dragon suits, Dragon suits, Dragon suits galore!
    Oh how much I hate tinkers; wish I was still fighting the Wards!


  33. Call it two years’ worth of hindsight if you must, but I thought of something Taylor could have said to Piggot: “We’d rather work with you than with the likes of Coil, except you decided you don’t trust us. We have to work outside the system because you won’t give us a chance. You want us to give up our territory to Dragon, take the chance that her suits can do more help our people than we can? (Assuming there’s nothing better for them to do.) That’s not a bad idea. That’s totally a possibility worth considering, and any other day we could probably make a deal. But right now we’re on a deadline, right now we have a very small window of opportunity to save an innocent person from a very dangerous, very clever criminal.

    “Right now we need Dragon to back off for twenty four hours. If you can’t trust us, that’s your problem. But if you can trust us not to tear the city apart in the next twenty four hours we’ve got a small chance to fix some of the things we have done. Your choice.”

    In the best case scenario, they get a free win, swagger in to Coil the next day, kill all of his faces and get Dinah back home, the Undersiders and Travellers not terribly upset with Taylor for forcing them to commit to her do-gooder ways, a truce is struck with the Protectorate and everyone goes home happy.

    And in the worst case, Piggot shuts up. Okay, there’s also the possibility that she’d go along with this bold plan of trusting the villains and then eight out of nine of them turn around and continue the dick measuring contest with Dragon tomorrow, Taylor’s credibility sinks even lower, Coil kicks her out, her friends freeze her out, Dinah is never seen again and in two years most of human civilization is wiped out. But I think that gamble would be in character for Taylor.

  34. >with Bitch’s civilian henchpersons were hiding nearby.

    Replace ‘with’ with ‘while’, or remove the ‘were’.

  35. Can Taylor reproduce the relay bugs? Some bugs are born without mouths and die within two weeks, forcing them to have very fast reproductive cycles.

  36. We’ve already established that Shatterbird’s power is able to destroy electronic circuitry. How is this not an intakill against any and all of Dragon’s suits? Why has no one thought of that in-universe?

    • That’s an extremely good point… Maybe they’re too worried that using her to target-shatter something would end up destroying all the glass in the area, including things on or near themselves or civilians. But I don’t think it’s ever been talked about in-universe.

      • This implies tinkers use the same materials regular inventors use. For all we know, there is one unique alloy per tinker.

        • But they are inventors, just magical and with specialties. There’s no concievable reason they would be limited to unique materials. And the point is, yes, certainly some Tinkers could find a way to make circuitry that doesn’t involve silicon, but it’s never been mentioned as a factor.

          • As you said, “magical” inventors.

            Their inventions are soadvanced comparedgo ours, that to except them to have the same weaknesses would be absurd, even if they do use the same circutry. The only way we have seen Dragon mechs going down is by overhelming force or by giving up.Besides, the S9 are one of the most famous supervillains, Dragon’s first bussiness should be to make her mechas immune to the famous supervillain’s shticks. It is unlikely glass-shattering would work.

  37. “Damn tinkers. What the hell was Dragon’s specialty? The ability to make stuff without half the time other tinkers would need?“ Ermmmm… If she WAS a Tinker, wouldn’t her specialty be suits/mechs? I would think that would be obvious. It’s practically all we’ve seen her build.

  38. While this is hardly relevant to this chapter, I wonder if anything is going to be done about Othala and the “heeb” comment that threw Taylor for a loop a while back. To Taylor, it seemed to be a bigger deal than it seemed, and everything revealed in this story generally seems to have a purpose.

    In any case, it’s funny to see a win come unintentionally for once, rather than being a super-calculated takedown on Taylor’s part.

  39. Really hoping that the “End of the world” in two years isn’t a cliche Robot Apocalypse via Dragon going crazy (catalyzed by her effort to get Jack).

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