Monarch 16.5

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If I was remembering right, the Slaughterhouse Nine had introduced themselves to their prospective members roughly two weeks ago.  I couldn’t be sure what had happened, but Piggot had alluded to the idea that Armsmaster had banded together with Dragon.

Two weeks, and they’d built this.

The other dragon suits had the general stylings of dragons, with claws, armor plating that resembled scales and heads or faces that resembled a reptile.  In the end, though, they were still machines, and the theme was just that.  A theme.

Rather than armor plates, the scales were fine, intricately detailed and arranged with a kind of natural sense to it, with denser scaling in the areas which saw the most movement, creasing and folding and heavier scales around the elbows, talons and face.  There were wings, batlike, with openings at the base of each ‘finger’ that the membrane stretched between.  The actual body was more like a lizard, but the angle of the forelimbs and shoulders resembled those of a human.  When Azazel moved, its scaled exterior rippled with the shifting movements of the mechanisms underneath.

My bugs found their way inside, and I discovered it was very different from the machine we’d just fought.  It wasn’t sturdily built, nor was it solid.  The wires and internal mechanisms weren’t heavy-duty, reinforced or covered in chain mesh.  They were so numerous and dense that I couldn’t hope to make any headway with every bug in the city committed to the task.

It was, just going by what I could tell from my swarm-sense, a machine as intricate and multilayered as a living, organic being.

But how?  It didn’t make sense in terms of the timeframe.  It would have taken time to make each individual, unique part with their condensed and intricate design, but he’d only had two weeks.

A thought dawned on me.  It was a half-formed thought up until the moment I devoted some attention to it.  Then it clicked.  Tinkers had a knack, a specialty, be it a particular field of work or something they could do with their designs that nobody else could, and I knew Dragon’s.  She could intuit and appropriate the designs of other tinkers.

It put everything in perspective.  The machines she was using, half of them drew on ideas I’d seen other tinkers put to work.  The drone model had used Kid Win’s antigravity generators and Armsmaster’s ambient taser, the wheel-dragon might have used the same theories as the electromagnetic harness Kid Win had been packing when we attacked the PRT headquarters.

It also served to explain how she could invest the time to make the suits.  If her power afforded her the brainpower and raw thinking power to understand and apply the work of other tinkers, then she could put all of her resources towards manufacturing.  Armsmaster made the base design, she appropriated it and then turned artificial intelligence or her own power to creating the necessary variations.

I could imagine how she had worked herself into the Protectorate and the Guild for just this reason.  It would get her the funding and raw materials she needed.  Being a member of the team would give her access to the work of the various tinker heroes, in the name of oversight and security.  Add the confiscated material from criminals like Bakuda, and she had unparalleled access to other tinkers’ work.

There were realizations that were kind of a ‘eureka’ moment, except not so much an inspiration borne of creativity or creation as being about finding that weak point, finding that way out of a corner.  This wasn’t one of those.  This was one of the realizations I wish I hadn’t had, because I could feel my own morale plummeting.  If I was even close to being right, then Dragon was the incarnation of why tinkers were so dangerous.

Which didn’t change the fact that we had to find a way to stop her or everything we’d worked for would be for nothing.

I used the relay bugs to extend my search out further, and ran into a snag.  My swarm died in droves, bugs being obliterated or having half their bodies sheared off as they approached too close to what the suit was building.

It slammed one claw down, and my bugs could sense a thin rod skimming along the surface of the ground, tracing bumps and depressions.   The telescoping rod extended several hundred feet, crossing from the corner of one building to the base of a wall on the other side of the street.  It stopped, and there was a pause as the suit moved on.  Then the rod bloomed.

There wasn’t a better way to put it.  It expanded, unfolded, the rod of metal peeling open like a stick of bamboo, leaves and shoots unfolding over miliseconds.  The final stage, what I might call the ‘flowering’ was familiar enough.  If I could see it, I’d describe it as a vague blur.  Armsmaster had used the effect for the weapon he’d used to hack away at Leviathan, and Mannequin had been in possession of a knife with the same effect.  Except these blurs were five or six feet around.

I watched as the suit scanned the area, its head sweeping right to left to survey the area before it planted two more.  One extended for what must have been a tenth of a mile before it met another wall and stopped.  Since I’d been watching, four streets had been rendered impassable.

What did the Undersiders and the Slaughterhouse Nine have in common?  Besides our general intimidating natures and disturbing powers, we were both elusive, favoring hit and run tactics with a degree of shock and awe to keep our enemies off-balance.

Dragon and Armsmaster had decided on this as their means of attack.  They would seal off our movements by erecting barriers that were the high-tech equivalent of barbed wire.  Barbed wire that would turn steel into vapor.

That wouldn’t stop Siberian though.  What technologies had I seen that they might use against her?  Or was it a technology I hadn’t seen before?  There were some ugly possibilities there.  Something long ranged that could take him out before he could get to cover?  A microscopic form of attack that could fill the air and debilitate him if he wasn’t in an airtight container?

“What’s wrong?” Bitch asked.

“Found it.  Trying to find the others but I’m running into a bit of a snag.  The suit’s setting up barriers.”

“The forcefield thing they sent against Sundancer?”  Regent asked.

I shook my head.  “I think it’s the Azazel suit the Director mentioned.  It’s using that blurry stuff that cuts through anything, I told you about it.”

“I don’t remember that,” Imp said.

“Just don’t touch it,” I told her.  “Not even in a joking way.  You’re likely to lose your finger or your hand before you realize something’s wrong.”

“Uh huh.”

“I thought these things were supposed to be packing nonlethal hardware,” Regent said.  “Blue fire and now this?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “The Director said these suits were supposed to go up against the Nine.  You want to be as lethal as you can get.  I- I’m pretty sure they’re holding back, though.  They could have hit us a few times and didn’t.  We might be able to use that, but that’s testing our luck.”

“What?  You’re thinking about a kamikaze attack?”  Regent asked.

“Probably not.  We don’t know everything that suit could be packing in terms of devices or hardware.  Especially with Armsmaster helping out.  It’s definitely going to have something they think can counteract Siberian, so let’s rule out a brute force attack.  The hedge maze it’s building would hold off Hookwolf or Bonesaw’s creations, and the sturdiness of the design would protect it against Jack.  In terms of other tactics the Slaughterhouse Nine might use… hostages.  I’d bet it’s packing containment foam.”

“So what do we do?”

“It’s still a machine, a well made machine, but it’s a machine.  We can break it, given an opportunity.  But our number one goal is going to be keeping it from catching us out of position and walling us in.”

“We could move up to the rooftops,” Regent said.

“I have a bit of a policy against doing that,” I replied.  “It leaves you with a shortage of escape routes.”

“Doesn’t sound like we’ll have many anyways.”

“No.  But we’ll worry about that when it comes up.  Worst case scenario, we climb for the rooftops when it happens.  The dogs are mobile, and I assume Shatterbird can lift one or two people at a time?”  I asked.  Regent nodded confirmation.  I continued, “For now, we’ll take the long way, keep our distance from it, see if we can’t find the others.”

I looked around, saw some nods.  I glanced at Bitch.  Would she see it as cowardly?

“Okay,” Bitch said.

“Good.  Let’s leave your people behind?  No use bringing them into a fight.”

She nodded.  I looked over my shoulder at the vet trainee and the guy, and they took that as their cue to climb down.

The remainder of us rode.  Me on Bentley, Bitch on the wolf cub’s back, Barker and Biter riding in tandem on one door just behind Regent and Imp on the other.

The machine was gradually taking over an area near Ballistic’s territory with the disintegration ‘hedges’.  Going counter-clockwise around Azazel would have meant running face first into the crater Leviathan had made.  Traveling the edge threatened to put us dangerously close to the suit, and with the water on one side we’d have denied ourselves one of the cardinal directions as far as escape routes went.  That meant we were left with only one viable route to travel if we wanted to head further into the downtown areas; turning left and giving the suit as wide a berth as possible.

I kept one metaphorical eye on the suit as we traveled, while sweeping out with my swarm to scan for the others.  Azazel was laying down more of the ‘hedges’, not connecting them but placing one and then winging past intersections and streets to place another two or three blocks away.  I couldn’t be sure what the point was.  Our teammates were nowhere nearby, as far as I could tell, and the openings were wide enough that the barriers wouldn’t really hamper us even if we were running straight through the area.  Maybe a bit if my power wasn’t informing me of where we needed to go, but even Bitch would be able to get by without too much trouble.

I couldn’t shake the notion that I was missing something.  Was there something about those rods that I wasn’t aware of?  None of the rods were any thicker around than my pinky fingers, so they didn’t leave room for any real traps to be hidden inside, Armsmaster’s special talent or no.

It had been too long since I rode one of the dogs.  They weren’t well suited for riding, and that was doubly the case with Bentley, with his broad shoulders and barrel-like chest.  It forced my legs apart, and that made for an uncomfortable ride when coupled with the bouncing motion as he ran and the lingering soreness of my shoulder from the battlefield surgery Brooks had provided.

I thought about calling for a break when I noticed movement.  Not Azazel.  It was coming from the other direction.  My heart sank.

The drone-dragon.

“Incoming!”  I called out, using my bad arm to point in the general direction of the approaching suit.  It was approaching at a right angle, accurately enough that I feared it had a way of tracking us.

This was one of those moments where I had to make a clutch decision as leader, but it seemed like a choice of a half-dozen equally awful options.  Splitting up, moving closer to Azazel, trying to confront the drone deployer, hiding and risking getting cornered?


I wondered if I was maybe better at improvising than I was at spur-of-the-moment strategy.   There was a distinction there.

“This way!”  I shouted.

Running straight down the road left us dangerously exposed.  I led the group down a diagonal route, zig-zagging between alleyways and the main streets.  Away from the drone-deployer and slightly towards Azazel.

When Azazel shifted positions and took flight, heading straight for us, I was left to wonder if that had been their plan all along.

“We’re being herded!”  I called out.  “Reverse directions!”

I hauled hard on Bentley’s chain, getting him to turn, then goading him to start running the way we’d come.  Regent, Imp, Barker and Biter had a harder time.  The ‘sleds’ were too dependent on momentum, and they didn’t have built-in traction.  Bitch and I pulled ahead on our respective mounts while the others tried to get turned around and build up speed again.  We couldn’t afford to stop and wait for them.

The drone suit flanked us on our right, drones spilling out of its ports to trail behind it like my bugs trailed behind me.  Other drones were moving to cut us off in front.  Azazel was behind us and to our left.  The herding was still underway – the sole route left to us, if we didn’t want to run straight into a mess of drones or one of the suits, would be going left.

Left took us into the area Azazel had employed the rods and the ‘hedges’.  Fuck that.  I could see what Azazel wanted to do, now.  The moment we were in there, it would take flight, setting down rods to close the gaps and trapping us inside.

My swarm and my eyes scanned the area.  In a matter of seconds this decision would be made for us.

I saw what I was looking for.  A third option.  If I was eyeballing this wrong, or if Bentley didn’t have a hard enough head… well, one of us would get hurt.

“Go!” I urged the mutant bulldog on, steering him for the nearest building.  He pulled away, and I steered him back on course, ducking low so I was hugging his neck as I drove him forward into the already ruined display window of a minimall.  I could feel the top of the display window scraping against the armor on my back as we passed through.

We stampeded past a store that had already been looted, headed for the glass window that faced the mall interior.  If I could find a shortcut through here, exit on the far side of the drone-dragon, we would be able to make a break for it.  Shatterbird could drag the two sleds faster than the dogs could run.  She wasn’t that fast: I could remember how she’d fallen behind the rest of the Nine in the fight where we’d taken her captive.  Still, they could fend for themselves for just a little while, while Bitch and I got some breathing room to prepare a counterattack.

The drone-deployer could see what I was doing.  Drones were moving down to cut me off.  Cut us off, as Bitch had followed.  Bentley and I crashed through the store entryway and into the mall proper.  It wasn’t a big place, and the interior was riddled with tents where some people had holed up.  Store owners wanting to protect their goods?  The area was empty now.  Had Azazel evacuated it?

I could sense two drones orienting themselves to bar our way, and steered Bentley between them.  Twenty or twenty-five feet of distance would be enough, if there wasn’t anything to conduct the ambient electric charge.

There was.  Bentley and I were rocked as both drones fired off at once.  The dog took it harder than I did, and we sprawled.

Bitch slowed as she approached.  She started to head my way, maybe to rescue me, maybe to help Bentley, but I could sense a drone moving straight for me.

“Go!”  I shouted.

She turned and ran, the third drone turning to pursue her.  It was too slow.  She, at least, would get away.

I couldn’t say why the electricity had reached me.  I’d thought I’d figured out their basic range when I’d first fought them, but maybe the simultaneous effect had extended the charge between them?  Or there was something nearby that had helped carry the charge, something in the tents or the mall’s design?

Through the plexiglass that framed the mall entrance, I caught a glimpse of Azazel.  The scales that covered it were small and dark, glossy, and the spaces between them glowed like hot coals, red and orange.  Its head paused as it glanced through the window, and a red eye fixed on me.  It stamped one claw down on the ground, in a movement my swarm had felt too many times.


The rod extended beneath me before I could climb to my feet.  In one second, smaller branches had extended under, over and around me.  One more second passed, and they bloomed into the blurry effect.  Bright red, orange and purple, as if to signify the danger it posed in the most basic, primal sense, like the yellow of hornets or the bright red of poisonous berries.

I froze, afraid to even breathe.  I was still in one piece.

Tentatively, I commanded some of the bugs out from beneath my costume.  The insulation had protected some, luck and sheer durability had saved a scant few others.  They died the second they moved more than an inch away from my body, vaporized.

My heart was pounding from the recent exertion, adrenaline still flowing through my veins.  As I realized the situation I was in, my body was shifting into fight or flight mode, but humans weren’t engineered to go into the same ‘deer in the headlights’ state like conventional prey animals.  And that was what I needed to do.  I needed to freeze, not to fight, struggle or run.

My lungs screamed for oxygen, and I let out a small breath.  It came out as a half-whimper.  I watched as one lock of hair shifted from where it was draped over my shoulderpad, slipped down to touch the blurry growth that surrounded me.  It turned to dust, and I held my breath yet again, afraid I’d inhale the vaporized hair and cough.

Azazel was taking the long way around the building, heading into the same storefront I’d ridden Bentley through.  It wasn’t huge, but it was big, and its progress was agonizingly slow.

I’d been on my hands and knees for ten seconds, maybe twenty, but already my body was feeling the strain, screaming at me to change position.  A crease on the inside of one of my kneepads was digging against the bone of my kneecap.  The branches that extended around me might hold me, but they might not, either.

And there was nobody even close by.  If this was the movies, it would have been an opportune time for Tattletale to make her move, but we’d already been that fortunate once, with Imp forcing Piggot to order a standby.  I couldn’t hope for a second lucky save.

Azazel was moving through the store now.  It was a minute away, as it carefully planted its feet to avoid crushing store merchandise.  I wanted to scream at it to move faster, that I was afraid my hand would lose traction on the dusty tile and slip into the disintegration effect.  I could lose a limb like that, or belly-flop onto the blur beneath me, bisecting myself.

Why hadn’t it cut me when it grew?  Because whatever guided the growth kept it from tearing up the surrounding material.  It was why the Halberd and dagger hadn’t been destroyed by the growth of the disintegration cloud around them, why the growing ‘hedges’ of the stuff hadn’t cut out sections of building.

I wasn’t in immediate danger, besides the obvious, so I decided to try something.

“I’m going to fall!” I screamed.

I could sense Azazel lunging forward, crushing a store display as it hurried to the opening, its mouth opening.  It directed a blast of superheated air at the ground, so it cut through the lowest portion of the disintegration hedge, clearing the area beneath and around me.  I winced at the heat of it, but took it for what it was.

You may lie down but do not try to move from your current location, Skitter,” the machine spoke.  It was the same voice as the armbands and drones, but deeper.  “Do not stand or make dramatic movements or you may be harmed.”

The message delivered, Azazel began spraying Bentley down with containment foam.

I checked with my remaining bugs.  A bubble with a four-foot radius had been cleared around me, but the larger branches still existed and a rough dome loomed over me.  The area where the hot air had been vented in made for an area I might have been able to fit an arm or leg through if I felt brave, but I wouldn’t be able to crawl through, not with the branches being where they were.

“You assholes aren’t holding back,” I muttered.  When the suit didn’t respond, I glanced up.  It was standing stationary above me, apparently content to have me and me alone.

My allies were still making a run for it.  The drone ship pursued Shatterbird, Regent, Imp, Barker and Biter, and some stray drones were chasing Bitch but falling behind.  I positioned the relay bugs to keep in touch, but didn’t know what to communicate.  That I was captured, but they shouldn’t come back for me without a plan or reinforcements?  Bitch would let them know.

No, I was stuck here, in custody.

“So, she design you to talk?”  I asked.


“This statement is false,” I told it.

I’ll go with true.  There, that was easy,” Azazel replied.

Damn.  Wouldn’t be able to shut it down with paradox.  Dragon apparently had a sense of humor.  The reply sounded canned, a recitation.  Or she had a liking for popular culture I wasn’t aware of.

Think, Taylor, think!  What were my options?  I had bugs, but they wouldn’t be able to do anything.  I drew them closer, wary of the two drones that were picking themselves off the ground.  Bentley was down.  My weapons wouldn’t cut me free, and I was leery of trying to use my weapons on the larger branches, in case I brought something down on my head.

Armsmaster had called it nanotechnology.  It cut through anything, everything.  If some dropped free and fell to the ground, would it keep falling, cutting out a bottomless pit?

No, I needed to find and exploit weaknesses.  If my costumed career had taught me two things, it was that things could always get worse, and there was always a solution.  It was, in a way, why I wasn’t freaking out over the end of the world.  I’d already accepted that things could get bad, and I held out hope that we could find a way out.

I could find a way out here.

The suit had used a heat gun.  Was the nanotech vulnerable to heat?  To fire?  It would be ironic in a way.  The growth around me resembled fire with its hues and blurry, transparent nature.  Fire frozen in time.  The entire scene made for a strange picture.  Azazel and its ‘fire’ weren’t moving in the slightest, and the only things that were moving were the two drones that were rotating lazily around Azazel and the clouds of dust that had been stirred by the blast of hot air.

With my swarm, I felt around my utility compartment.  Yes, I had a box of matches.  I’d packed tissues in there to keep them from rattling around, like I did with my changepurse, so I’d have to use my hands to withdraw them, probably.  The suit wouldn’t let me once it saw what I was doing.  I wasn’t sure what the response would be, but it could range from blasting me with containment foam the second the fire ate at the nanotech to hitting me with that superheated air to blow me into the side of the dome, vaporizing me.

Had to deal with Azazel first.  I looked up at the reptilian face with glowing red eyes.  I could see the snakelike neck, the human-ish shoulders and arms.  It looked more like a demon than a dragon, from this perspective.

The only weapons I had were my bugs.  There weren’t enough in my range, even with the relay bugs, to do anything to the suit.  The model we’d just fought in Bitch’s territory had been able to bend steel, would have been able to tear my spider’s silk.  I couldn’t hope to tie Azazel up.  It was bigger and I was willing to bet it had more raw strength.  Maybe it was better to say that I was confident enough it had more raw strength that I wasn’t willing to take the risk.

No, my bugs wouldn’t serve.  I sent some cockroaches in to see if they could nibble through the insulation of some wires, but it felt futile.  Even in what stood to be the more vital areas, like the neck, I doubted my ability to do any real damage.

What other tools did I have?

My voice.

Dragon was smart.  Smart enough to write an A.I. that wouldn’t crumble to a simple issue with paradox.  But the A.I. wasn’t necessarily brilliant.  It had leaped to my defense when I’d said I was in danger.  Either it wasn’t smart enough to discern truth from a lie, or it wasn’t allowed to when a life was potentially in danger.

I’d wondered if the machines were obligated to preserve our lives.  Now I had a better sense of it.  Now how to use it?

Regent and Imp were still fleeing the area on one of Shatterbird’s sleds.  They had outpaced the drone ship, which was moving too slowly to pursue even Shatterbird.  It was better suited, it seemed, for seizing and protecting an area than for pursuit.  Good.

I drew out a message on Regent’s back.  ‘Hide’.  Imp was directly behind him, and bugs on a white shirt would be clear as day to her.  I hoped.  They were almost out of my range, relay bugs or no.

“You’re Azazel, correct?”


“What’s the other ship called?”

The Glaurung Zero is an old model, designed to deploy drones of varying loadouts.

“Thank you for the information.”

You’re welcome.”

“Don’t suppose you’ll tell me how to defeat you?”


“Or your self destruct code?”


“What if I told you that you were putting a human life in grave danger?”

I have no reasonable cause to believe that.


But if it wasn’t designed to tell truth from a falsehood, maybe…

“Imp had a second trigger event.  She should be invisible to your sensors.”

I have no reasonable cause to believe that.

“Doesn’t matter.  Imp may be in this room.  If you move a foot, you could be stepping on her.”

“Imp could not be in this room.  As of two minutes ago she was recorded at a distance of .4 miles away from this location.  She could not return here in that span of time unobserved.”

The suits were communicating.  That was good to know, but it wasn’t exactly good.  It made this harder.

“She could if Trickster leapfrogged her here,” I said.  If Trickster was currently engaged in a fight with one of the other models, this could blow up in my face.

But the suit didn’t refute me.  It didn’t speak at all.

“I used my power to signal Imp and Trickster and ask them to help.  They’re nearby, and it’s very possible Imp is here.  She could be crawling on top of you, for all you know.  If you open your mouth, move your head or move a wing, you might be causing her to fall.  With your head being where it is, it’s not impossible she could fall and roll into this nanotech hedge you’ve made, right?”

I waited for a response, for the canned reply saying Azazel had no reasonable cause ot believe it.  Nothing.

Had it worked?

“Maybe I should be more specific,” I said.  “I told them to help in general.  They might not be helping me, so it’s very possible that any other suit might be in immediate proximity to Imp.  Be careful you don’t accidentally crush her.”

No reply.  Hopefully that would help the others somehow.  It wouldn’t stop any of the ones in the air like that Glaurung drone suit, but it could stall others.

“Now,” I said, picking my words carefully, my pulse pounding, “I’m going to light a match and try to burn this thing away.”

I drew the matchbook from behind my back, grabbed a match from the box.


If the hedge burned quickly enough to matter, what would happen?  Azazel could easily spray me down in containment foam.

I began organizing my bugs, placing them on the ceiling, drawing out lines of silk cord.

The PRT could be entering my range any second, ready to take me into custody.  I needed to be fast, but I couldn’t rush this.  I was replicating the natural design of a spiderweb, three times over, but I was making each strand fifty or sixty times as thick, braiding other threads into cords and braiding cords into thicker strands.

It took a minute before I was satisfied.  I was aware of the drone that hovered some distance over my head.  I adopted a general runner’s pose, then lit the match.  With my bugs, I was able to sense the safe distance I could raise my hand, match held high.

It burned faster than I would have thought.  With a whoosh like I might expect from lighting a barbecue, it was gone.

A series of things happened in that instant.  I pulled free of the branches that hadn’t burned away, sprinting for the exit,  Azazel opened its mouth and began spewing containment foam, and the drone began speaking, “Attention Citizen…

I maneuvered the spiderweb-nets into place in the stream.  Two were far enough away to catch only a little, but the burden was heavy, growing more awkward for my bugs as the expanding foam captured some and rendered them unable to fly.

I still managed to drag the foam-nets into place, covering one drone’s eye-lens and the other’s gravity panel.  They spiraled out of control, one striking a column, the other plummeting for the ground.

The other net was fixed just in front of Azazel’s mouth, strands already wound around the scales of its face.  It tore free on one side, but the foam expanded, forming a beard, then covering its mouth.

The makeshift barrier had kept the worst of the foam from reaching me.  I scrambled out of the way of the rest, narrowly avoiding getting the damned stuff on my costume.

Azazel’s chest opened, and a grappling hook speared out.  Still trying to recover from dodging the foam, I couldn’t dodge it.  It seized me, and I hurried to climb over the railing that surrounded the now-empty fountain to keep Azazel from drawing me up into its chest.  Or into the foam that wreathed its head.

I climbed under the railing, to see if I could wind it up any further, then jerked to a stop.  The hook was frozen in midair, still clutching the armor at my chest and shoulder.

Right.  So this was how they’d planned to counteract Siberian.

I couldn’t free myself, and I couldn’t fight back, so I waited.

Armsmaster had said this technology drained his batteries, but Azazel could have a major power source in its chest.

It took only a minute before the hook went limp.  I managed to pry myself free.

Other than opening its mouth to spray the foam and turning its head, Azazel hadn’t budged from its position.

With my swarm, I signaled Regent and Imp:  ‘Good job.  Come back fast.’

Without Bentley, I couldn’t cover enough ground.  Couldn’t run.  I found a hiding spot by the mall entrance instead.  From the spot, I used my swarm to covertly keep an eye on Azazel, praying that whatever Dragon was doing was consuming her attention.  Praying that she wasn’t about to override the simple head game I’d pulled on her hyperadvanced mecha-suit.

A very satisfying crunching noise rang through the minimall.  I stood there, watching in approval with my arms folded as Grue, Sundancer, Ballistic and Genesis approached.  I’d signaled Trickster to tell him to stay back.  No use giving the suit a way to rationalize its way out of my lie.

“Is that the Azazel?”  Grue asked.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“It’s not moving.”

“Because I told it that it might crush Imp if it did.”

“Ah,” Grue answered.  He didn’t ask for clarification.

“How’d it go?”  Regent asked.  Azazel had started venting the mist to clear away the containment foam, freeing its head and front claws where it had been covered in its own foam, but I’d already formed a mesh of spiderwebs to keep it from opening fire with any of its weapons.  The mist had also exposed enough of Bentley for us to save him.  Working together, we’d already cut the real Bentley free of the desiccated flesh of his larger self that contained him.  The bulldog and Bastard were happily sitting between Bitch and I.  Shatterbird was hammering at Azazel, smashing it repeatedly with a massive wrecking ball of condensed glass.

Sundancer spoke up, “We took down the hybrid model.  Giant gun, was sitting in the stratosphere, shooting down Genesis every time she sent a body out into the open.”

“Our group took down two,” Bitch said.

“Where are the others?  Shouldn’t more reinforcements be arriving?”  Grue asked.

I shrugged, “If they come, I’ll know, and we can react.  We’ve gotten this far.”

A minute passed, punctuated by the thud of the glass sphere against Azazel’s outer body. Only a little damage was done with each hit, but it was adding up.  That, and it felt good, in a way.

Sundancer created an orb of flame and drove it into Azazel.  I watched as the metal melted and the wiring burned in clouds of acrid black smoke.  In the span of a minute, the suit was slag.  I signaled Imp and Trickster to tell them it was okay to approach.

We watched the suit burn.  Trickster and Imp joined us from the outskirts of the mall.

“I feel bad about this,” I said.

“Why the fuck would you feel bad?” Bitch asked.

“They must have put millions into manufacturing this.  That was supposed to stop the Nine, and It was powerful enough that it might have, if it’d had Dragon’s brain backing it up.”

“They can build more,” Grue said.

“Scary thought,” Sundancer commented.

“We got lucky,” I said.  “What with Imp being able to force Piggot to shut them down, and the way I could exploit it’s A.I. to lock down its movements.  Maybe you can make a program versatile and leave yourself open to the program using loopholes to work around any safeties you put in place.  Or you can make it heavily restricted and leave it open to vulnerabilities like what I exploited there.  I guess we’re a ways off from an A.I. being smart enough to work around those limitations.”

“It’s a matter of time,” Regent said.

“You’re such a pessimist,” Imp retorted.

“And I’m so right.”

The suit continued to burn.  Containment foam billowed out of a container within Azazel’s body, putting out the worst of the flames and leaving us with an assurance that Azazel wouldn’t be lurching back to life the second we turned our backs.

“Let’s go,” Grue said.  “Four more suits to take down, and we don’t have long before it gets dark.”

I nodded.

We were half a block away from the minimall when a phone rang, startling the living daylights out of us.  It was my satellite phone.


Tattletale: “Phones are back on.”

“Why?  Is she baiting us?  Trying to get us to reveal our positions?”

“She’s gone,” Tattletale replied.  “Suits leaving the city, satellite phones are working.  Few factors at play, there.  I got word back from the Dragonslayers.  Paid them a few million bucks to tell me how they keep getting the upper hand on Dragon, tell me how she’s relaying commands to her suits.  With that, I had some squads plant C-4 and knock down cell towers.  That slowed her down, cut her bandwidth, so to speak, and limited her ability to reprogram them on the fly.  I’m guessing you guys took out one or more suits?”

“Three,” Bitch said.

“Two or three,” I clarified.

“That cost the Protectorate a good chunk of cash, and it’s detracting from Dragon’s primary mission, which is the Nine.  My guess is she’s zeroing in on them.  Better to have a few suits closer to where she thinks they are than to leave them here in the city for you guys to keep breaking.  So she thinks, anyways, and the bigwigs that are footing the bill seem to agree.”

“I can live with that,” I said.

“I think we all can.  It doesn’t mean there won’t be more coming down the road.  But whatever else she does, she won’t be able to sell the local government on the idea that victory is a hundred percent assured, and she’ll have to justify the costs to the PRT.  That means we’re getting a reprieve.  When she does come back, it’ll only be because she’s certain she can win.”

I glanced around at the others.  “That’s good to know, kind of.”

“What’s important is it won’t be in the next little while.  If they intend to send someone like Eidolon or Alexandria here, even, it won’t be anytime soon.  So I can give you the official announcement.  We won.  Job complete.  The Pure have hauled ass out of town, Faultline’s apparently decided it’s safer to be out of the city, and you’ve humiliated the heroes enough that they can’t honestly contest your claim.  There’s nobody left.”

“The city is ours?” Grue asked.

“The city is ours.  And here’s the thing.  Order from the one in charge,” Lisa paused, and her meaning was clear.  An order from Coil.  “You’re done.  Good job.  Your final order for the time being is to take a few days off.  No costumed tomfoolery.  Go back to your territories, make sure things are okay, but no getting into fights.  If I see you out in costume, you’re fired.  Hell, I’ll shoot you.”

It sounded like a joke, the way Tattletale put it, but the deeper meaning was clear.  Coil was telling us to stand down.  No matter what.

“Just like that?” Grue asked.

“Yeah,” Tattletale said.

“I was going to go out,” I said, “Uncostumed, don’t worry, but um-“

Didn’t want to say where I was going on a line the heroes might be listening in on.

“I get it,” Tattletale said.  “I know where.  One sec.”

A pause.  No doubt while she checked with Coil.

“Okay.  Cool,” she said.

“I can go?  It won’t cause issues?”

“No issues.  So long as you-“

“I know,” I cut her off.  So long as I left the costume at home.

“We’ll talk later,” she said.  “Gonna go see if I can get more details on what happened.  Betting someone blew their top when they realized you guys demolished two of those suits.”

“Three,” Bitch said.

“Sure, three,” Tattletale clarified.  “Ta ta.”

She hung up.

Our group paused, each of us looking to the others, as if we couldn’t believe it, or we were measuring each other’s reactions.

We’d won.  We’d cost the PRT too much in resources, pride and money, and they’d apparently decided it wasn’t worth their time to uproot us.  I hated the bureaucracy, the fucked up mindset of the institutions, but it was clearly working in our favor here, at least.

Coil had his city.  There was nothing more I could do.  The only thing stopping Coil from following through on his end of the deal and releasing Dinah was, well, Coil.

I exhaled slowly, letting out a deep breath that I felt like I’d been holding in for a month.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

207 thoughts on “Monarch 16.5

  1. Go Taylor. She beat the suit using her big, beautiful, brain and they own the city. Now we finally get to see what Coil’s plan is and why its so important.

  2. Winner and still champion of the city: Skitter!
    Stray thought: I think it’s safe to say that using nanotech weaponry against Behemoth would not work out too well for the heroes.

    • Depends if they can get it close to him. He still can only point at one suit/person at a time, besides his area attacks.

      • I’m guessing he heats up the area around him too, based on this passage from the Alexandria interlude: “He struck her and drove her into the ground. His flame burned through her, the sand was turning to glass around her, burning her costume, but it didn’t burn her.”

        • They’re going to need some serious waterproofing to take down Leviathan. They’ll also need a way for the furnace suit to keep burning underwater. The idea that Dragon’s new partnership with Armsmaster would make her just about unbeatable has been shattered so hard, you’d think it was one of her suits.

        • I just meant this suit in particular could hurt them. Armsmaster little stick did a lot of damage to Leviathan and he was pretty much a normal guy in that fight. If the suit is rebuilt and it can get close to Leviathan, I think it could wound it enough to cause it retreat right there, if not kill it. The only reason Taylor won was because of it valuing of human life. But yeah, they’re not invincible. But I could see this suit really killing Leviathan with a bit of luck.

        • The greatest weapon Dragon has is her manufacturing capability. What should have worried Taylor more is that no matter what, they build that thing in that little amount of time. If she worked at it, Dragon could build up enough suits to fight the next Endbringer attack alone. At that rate, she’s her own worldpower.

          And we know that if there’s anything the U.S. loves, it’s well-armed foreign powers operating on their turf. It’s not like we live in the kind of country where people are so paranoid about foreign involvementthe Senate would vote down ratification of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities which is based on U.S. law and requires no actual change to U.S. law?

          Hold on one second, I hear someone knocking at the door. Why, it’s my old friend reality! How are you, you old dog?

        • Then again, one change in this reality is that those issues would already be up in the air. After all, the PRT and Guild could both crush their home governments easily if they suddenly decided to do so.

  3. Very good design on the Azazel! And Skitter’s conclusion about Dragon’s Tinker specialty is perfectly logical given her information, although I would have thought Tattletale would have had an inkling by now.

    I am a bit concerned for Dragon, now. If her offspring AI are artificially constricted to keep humans alive, then Armsmaster/Defiant might not have fully reprogrammed her, as I don’t see Dragon willingly constraining any AI to that which she hated. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

    Now I really wonder where Taylor’s planning to go, and what they are going to do with Piggot. I don’t like the bigoted Director, but she shouldn’t be subjected to a horrid fate, especially if it enforces her idea of all capes being bad.

    • Also, Coil telling them to do nothing for a few days, out of costume? Sounds like he’s planning something. I fear for our protagonists.

    • Concerning Skitters conlclusion: So close, and yet she missed.
      If Dragon only uses other Tinker’s tech and good oldfashioned engineering, however, it would answer a question that’s been asked before: Namely, she is not a Tinker herself, but she can understand other Tinker’s designs.

    • Aren’t those clones rather than offspring?

      I can’t see Dragon doing something as monstrous as birthing children to fight and die for her. Also Colin likely isn’t ready for kids.

      • I don’t think they are clones, because Dragon herself almost certainly wouldn’t be taken in the way the suit was. At the very worst she would have been able to retreat, or not let herself be wrecked by the minisun. I wouldn’t quite say they are offspring either though. She didn’t seem to have paricular affection for the webtrawler AI, and that is basically what she created to pilot the suits, even if it is a bit smarter.

        • Dragon also mentions that the webcrawler has no emotions or thoughts and she cannot talk to it in any form, nor commiserate with it. Given she herself is an AI angered by her own slaving, creating slave AI would be utterly out of character.

          Going off them having canned responses, I would venture that these aren’t even sentient. Just puppets. Complex enough to work, but mostly just placeholders until she ASSUMES DIRECT CONTROL!!!

          • I don’t think we are actually disagreeing here. I guess my point is if they were clones they would actually be sentient AIs, and so they can’t be actual clones.

  4. That was awesome.
    Taylor outsmarting a suit and defeating it almost by herself.
    And let me guess: she didn’t take a trophy this time either? A Dragon’s head above the fire would definitely add something to the ambiente.

    By the way, anyone else find Dragon quoting Wheatley a bit ominous?

    Though I have to admit, after all this build-up, it was over rather fast. Not that that’s bad or so. It just further outlines how far she has come.

  5. Cue Skitter getting snatched up while in her civilian identity. Think it’ll happen next chapter, or be a cliffhanger for the one after that?

    • Hmmm, possible but unlikely in my opinion. Tattletale has already said that Coil could really use them to actually run the city, they have proven to very effective, and he seemed insulted when Taylor asked him to keep his promise. Besides he doesn’t need to kill her. He just has to send her a picture of her dad asleep. No, I think the cliffhanger will be when we finally find out his plan, that Cauldron thinks can save the world. Either that or Noelle breaks out and is hungry.

  6. Don’t worry, Taylor! You might have broken some of Dragon’s anti-Nine machines, but you also taught her what some of the weaknesses she needs to address are!


      • YET. Which she won’t do yet. Depending on how Coil handles the city I could easily see everyone involved getting a kill order placed on them. If you squint a bit it could even be a completely justified one. On that day the whole lot of them are screwed.

        • I can’t see Coil being that dumb.

          Presumably he knows full well that his power right now is tenuous. If he does anything like that it’ll be after he’s expanded his power from this initial base.

          Honestly he doesn’t really have to change much to make money, the original city was certainly bringing in a lot of protection and drug money. His point on soft drugs rather than hard is smart enough that real life drug lords are known to do it (several places in south america get very angry about crystal meth due to how much it screws up communities which they rely on) as well, junkies aren’t good for business long term and Coil is very much playing the long game.
          He’s not nice, but then that hardly matters as long as he’s smart enough to understand that treating people well gets you power. Given that he seems to have read the evil overlord list I don;t see him turning the Bay into a den of evil.

          More likely he’ll make it a very nice place to live, thus encouraging growth and bringing a lot of business to it. This in turn gives him a thousand opportunities to extend his claws into said businesses and expand his supervillain empire at the same time. Possibly getting his current batch to take lieutenants and spread their control further eventually.

          His goal is mentioned to be control and power, the more strings he can pull the more effective his power becomes. Being evil doesn’t give you connections, being a callous businessman does. So I’m thinking he’ll go that route instead. Which again, would be aided by making the Bay nicer, which also further reduces heroic hold on it. Remember that the Chosen and so on were previously doing all kinds of nasty stuff. And now they’re gone and it wasn’t the heroes who drove them out. If he’s smart he’ll play that for all it’s worth, get popular support and invent himself as a rogue political leader.

          I kind of think that the end plan for Cauldron may well be to get him enough power that he can use his ability to destroy all the major threats. Then they pull a trump card to kill him in turn, or just step aside to let someone else do it.

  7. Piggot is going to be fucking pissed. That’s great. Just wonderful. That’d be one hell of a face to see. “Oh, by the way, Dragon’s running scared. And we took out the new Azazel suit. And a couple of others. You can keep the gag in. Imp doesn’t want it back now. So, you want to go home, or maybe we can just drop you off at somewhere like Washington D.C. so you can explain to your bosses why you keep losing so much?”

    I think Taylor’s trophy for this fight ought to be a plaque or something that reads, “I Bluffed a Motherfuckin’ Dragon.”

    Oooh, now that’d be low… Dragon, you devious son of a biscuit-eating bulldog.
    I was just thinking that I wonder if Dragon might show up to help guard the press conference in another human body designed to look like Taylor’s mother. It’s not required that Dragon pull something there, but there’s got to be something done. I swear by all that is low-fat and biodegradeable this girl doesn’t get a happy ending yet!

    First she needs to go to Fist of the North Star Massage Parlor, ask for Kim Lo Pryce, and tell her she wants the Noisy Rooster special. Make sure to bring cash.

  8. I really want to see a reaction shot of Piggot. She is going to be so PISSED. If I was in charge of the PRT, I would find a replacement for her after this debacle.

  9. Heh, she is thinking of Dragon as a ‘Knackpire’! And if Azazel got Wheatley, which bot got the Space Core? That one can team up with Legend and go exploring space!
    I loved Taylor’s comment about AI. I’m kinda surprised that she didn’t try convincing Dragon that releasing her was the only way to guarantee Piggot’s survival(and for all we know that might not even be a lie…)

    Man, even if Dragon is feinting, visibly withdrawing will be a pretty massive and public blow to Protectorate morale.

    “blast of hot air and .” an ellipsis or a dash?

  10. Hooray The Undersiders managed to secure the rule of a drugdealing crime lord that pays his subordinates by allowing them to be pedophiles!

    Very well done on Skitter’s part though. I really thought she was probably fucked there.

      • To be clear that was a joke about your summary of Coil, admittedly he really is more complex than that.

        Still, I also thought she was done for, I was all yay Skitter got captured and then booo, no she’s kicking ass instead. Wait that’s awesome too!

        • I am just waiting for Taylor to realize exactly who she has put in charge of the city. She seems to be ignoring that part of what she is doing, and the response when she acknowledges what she just made happen will be interesting to see.

          • Ditto. Think of Regent, too. He used to be a serial rapist, and nothing says he won’t do that again. Plus, his version of “fun” is taking a joyride in someone else’s body.

            The thing is, she’s a kid–15 years old. It’s understandable that she would get wrapped up in saving Dinah and taking care of her territory and not see the bigger picture.

          • I still don’t buy Regent’s dismissal of himself. For all he claims to have left purely out of convenience, that’s hardly surprising considering Heartbreaker pretty much stripped him of emotion.

            He’s certainly not nice, but Regent seems to have a fair number of pretty clear rules about what he will and will not do. I doubt he’ll rape anyone again, not when he wouldn’t do it to Stalker.

    • I don’t remember the pedophile part.

      Just goes to show you the drug deaing crime lord has a better eye for talent. Puts a little twinkle in my eye to think that nowadays any kid with access to crude equipment and cleaning supplies can try to make it big as a crime lord. Today, the hood or the trailer park, tomorrow the entire city.

      It really is the American dream. Las Vegas. Hollywood. Broadway. Even the White House. They could reach for the American Dream and sell at all of them! Whether it is opium from the war in Afghanistan, heroine from Vietnam, pot from behind the mom and pop store down the street, a lawyer’s high-class nose powder, good old Appalachian crystal meth, or LSD and Ecstacy cooked up at the finest institutions of higher learning, the United States has always been a melting pot of drugs. We even consume enough headache meds to get nosebleeds and rebound headaches.

      We wouldn’t even have cities like Las Vegas if it wasn’t for a bunch of people running alcohol when it was illegal, and dealing the drug of alcohol is a fine tradition that goes all the way back to before the Whiskey Rebellion. Then you look in the Bible and even there you find drugs like marijuana, coca leaves, and opium have been a part of life since the Garden of Eden: Genesis 1:29, Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

      God Bless America and God Bless Drugs.

      *Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” plays while he stands, flag cape draped over his shoulders, holding the hand of a tied-off arm over his heart with a syringe in the other hand all in the fore of an American flag on a pole surrounded by healthy pot plants with a rising sun behind it accompanied by a flight of F-22s*

      • The pedophile part came up in his interlude. One of the employees he hired joined up for the ability to continue with his predilictions and be protected from the consequences.

        • Banner idea!

          Worm: “Give a villain a city to give a child the world? Worth it.”

          Maybe variants for different characters. Grue, “Threaten your family to look after my own? Worth it.”

          Panacea “Take a life to save millions? Not worth it.”

          Dragon “I could save the world tomorrow if I was a monster today. Not worth it.”

          Leviathan “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women. Worth it.”

    • “pays his subordinates by allowing them to be pedophiles”

      I don’t remember this. Is this just wild mass guessing or did it have some basis?

      Did I miss something? Are you implying he’d use Dinah this way? Respectfully, would have to disagree–not because he’s not capable of it but because she’s WAY too valuable for him to risk her like that.

      But he’s already a horrible person that tortures people in alternate realities ‘guilt-free’ so no excuses for him anyway.

  11. Bitch was so wonderful in this chapter, every single line and event made me smile. The trust is back and so is the talking everyone else up.

    I just love that they are now boasting about how many Dragon suits they took out. How many villains can do that I wonder?

  12. It seems that Taylor’s most dangerous power is not her control of bugs but her ability to analyse other people’s abilities.

    She has always been going “If I had that power I would use it much more effectively.” which is only natural considering the setting. After all who hasn’t read a superhero comic and thought that they could think of ways to use a character’s powers more effectively. But I think this goes further than that.

    We are in a setting that includes being smart/observant as a power with the ‘Thinker’ classification. The director has already said that they assigned skitter a Thinker 1 classification and she thought they should probably upgrade it.

    I would think Taylor is actually much more than just a Thinker 1. The way she can make up plans while under pressure, strategize and see the strength and weaknesses in powers that even the users themselves don’t is sort of scary. It might be more than Taylor being smart and actually part of her power-set.

    If she develops it more, she might go from being a minor supervillain with control over insects, who can think on her feet to a criminal mastermind with an insect theme.

    • actually, I think that her thinker ability is more limited, namely to improving her computing ability in regards to and through the mass of, her bugs. so she is the world’s best multitasker and she gets better at multitasking and general computing the more bugs she has in her reach. everything else, I’d say, is just her big, beautiful brain. especially since thinker powers seem to be less “extra-intelligence” and more “thinking in ways not possible otherwise” (extreme multitasking, preternatural intuition, etc)

      and since we’re on the topic, here some thoughts of mine on Skitter’s power (I probably have expressed at least some of them already):

      I think that Taylor is not actually a bug controller – or rather, the bug controlling is just one application of her power (and, currently, the only one possible).
      My theory is that Taylor is an actual Telepath! Let me elaborate.
      We know, from Glory Girl’s and Tattletale’s conversation during the bank job that true telepaths (people who can both read and influence minds) are not possible in the worm verse, due to reading a persons mind requiring far, FAR more computing power than the biggest supercomputer has, much less the average human brain.
      -> Taylor mentioned to Brian when they met for the first time in civilian identities that she can control anything with a simple enough mind – she is not actually limited to bugs (she was controlling a crab at the time).
      –> she has telepathy, but not the computing power to use it on anything with a nervous system more complex than, well, bugs and equivalent.

      Question/Problem: why can’t she at least sense other minds, even if she can’t read or influence them?
      -> we know that almost every parahuman has secondary effects that protect them from their own power
      –> trying to interface with more complex minds would probably cause damage, or at least extreme pain, to Taylor, so she has a block against even sensing anything she cannot safely interface with

      Hypothesis: taylor’s mind is getting more and more efficient/powerful. we have observed her becoming more and more capable of highspeed though and multitasking (compare her having to concentrate on a few bugs to keep track of the hostages during the bank heist, to her casually creating surveillance systems in brians territory, searching for weapons etc, while also keeping track of brian AND having her own thoughs during Brian’s Interlude)
      -> eventually, she might be able to interface with more complex minds (at most, animals like dogs -> and wouldn’t that be interesting, she would get crazy synergy with Bitch, provided Bitch did not try to kill her for mind controlling her dogs)
      –> a second trigger event might improve her brain to the point of allowing her to interface with animals the way she interfaces with bugs and/or it might allow her to interface with human minds

      Wild Ass Guess: if she got the ability to interface with human minds, she would probably be limited to a single person at a time, while also losing control of everything else she was controlling at the time, since she would need to devote her entire ressources to interfacing with a human mind
      -> this would be a fitting limiter for her, making her powerful enough to play in the big leagues (and a possible counter for the Simurgh), without turning her into a Mary Sue.

      Thoughts on that?

      • I don’t think it is telepathy for two reasons. One, I don’t see wildbow creating one of the, maybe the only power law, that the universe follows and then breaking it. Second I have always found telepathy to be too lazy and uninteresting as a plot device. You can instantly know things, it makes Bitch obsolete/regent obsolete, and it makes fights boring because there is no way to really stop it except some kind of shield. I agree with the thinker/swarm intelligence theory. Her bugs act as extra computing power for her brain, but she can only use it in extreme stressful situation, she mentions in this chapter that her talents lay in the indy ploy. She is the best at gathering data, analyzing it, weighing options, and executing a plan even better than Tattletale. Tattletale’s power is limited in that it can take time they don’t have in the middle of fight, lead her to wrong conclusions, and has a limit to how much data she can process. Taylor doesn’t seem to have an effective limit to the amount of bugs she can control, only a range. If her brain is effectively a swarm computer, she may eventually learn to use it all of the time, instantly being able to predict an what action a person will use. Similar to Armsmaster data program. It would be ironic if Piggot was right and she actually develops a form of prescience. Instead of a second trigger event, which I kind of want just to see what Wildbow could come up with, she can simply develop her “thinker” status. I think her new stats are Thinker 3, at least but potentially much higher depending on how many bugs she is controlling, and Master 6.

          • Actually, while reading this chapter, I was thinking about the intelligence of nanobots, and then something clicked when you mentioned Taylor could control anything with a “simple enough mind”. Does it have to be biological?

              • What about the people who’ve overcome this limitation? (For example one who affected non-living material but then was able to affect both after overcoming this restriction). I apologize for not taking notes but could you tell me the chapter that discusses the Manton effect so I can clarify this?

              • i dont know which chapter it is, but the character you are refering to is Narwhal, whose forcefields were originally unable to affect living matter, but are now capable of slicing and dicing both living and unliving matter

              • See, what I was wondering is, how did this change occur? Was it a second trigger event or training that did the trick? Training seems less likely (remember the tree xylophone someone was practising on?).

              • as I said, this kind of power is really high-level. skitter is limited by the manton effect, so she cannot affect nanomachines – a second trigger event could fix that, but somehow i don’t think that wildbow is going to go down that route

            • it’s actually part of the manton limitation: you can either affect only non-living or living targets – the few cases that ignore that restriction (Behemoth, Siberian, Narwhal) are top-class

        • there is something BIG speaking for the development of mindreading powers
          wildbow mentioned that the story will jump the shark in 2 arcs
          instead of meaning that the story will end he could just imply that the story will take a turn to the worse (including powers that where agains the story rules),
          most easy way to do that: mindreading power

    • Um…Minor Supervillain?

      The girl who was involved in one of the Territory Losses? As in, like with Nilbog and so on? The points when the government just said fine, you keep it? How on earth is that minor?

      • one, she did not do it by herself

        also, nilbog won the town by being so freaking powerful they had to give up – and he did it in less than a week

        coil/undersiders/travelers won the city after months of work, several setbacks and sheer luck. and individually, we know skitter to run up against a hefty glass ceiling pretty quickly. i’m pretty sure the smarter ‘good guys’ can figure that out too, meaning that she just won’t rate a threat level as high as Nilbog.

        also, the PRT are probably not going to completely pull their people out of Brockton Bay – they’ll just cut down on their patrols and involvement. and they don’t know that the government has been/will be subverted by coil.

        • Fair points but she’s still hardly a minor villain.

          We had it confirmed that the eyes of the nation are on the Bay, and they just saw these guys drive out all comers to take control. Though it’s a shame that Faultline was so smart, they’d have made good extra allies…and I bet Tattletale was taunting her the entire way out of town.

          Anyway, the entire nation/world is watching. Skitter is undoubtedly somewhat famous by now. Defining a minor supervillain as one you may not have heard of, Skitter is not world stage class yet but she’s sure as hell a scary bedtime story.

          Can you imagine if she is known to have left the Bay for some reason (maybe she goes on holiday, presumably it would take a few days for heroes to confirm she wasn’t there) what the general thoughts would be? ‘Oh god, she could be anywhere!’ Comes to mind.

          • I agree, the Undersiders and Travelers as a whole can no longer be considered minor villains. They have national attention and collectively are incredibly hard to root out of the city. The downside of being major villains is that anyone coming to take Brockton Bay back are going to be coming in ready and ordered to kill. Next time around Dragon probably won’t just stop because she might kill one of them.

          • I seriously doubt it.

            People were avoiding killing against stuff up to and including Lung and Kaiser.

            Armsmaster got into all kinds of trouble for almost accidentally killing Lung. No matter how you play it, Lung had done for more despicable things.

            Could be that success will count for more than moral standing, but I doubt it. The Truce is mainly for the heroes benefit after all, to keep things from devolving into a massive bloodbath. They don’t kill villains, most villains don’t kill them, they all fight the big stuff.

            That’s not a rule that you can break just cause it’s convenient. Indeed I think Piggot is going to be in a lot of trouble soon enough for her own breaches, it seemed to be forgotten in the chaos but the bombing will hurt her eventually.

            Going after Tattletale’s family is such an enormously stupid and spiteful move that it will most likely lose her her job. No real gain, pissed off a villain who can reveal heroic identities the moment she feels like it, didn’t help anyway. Given that Tattletale knows this, I imagine this is the point when she tells Piggot that all the director has left is her job and that if she ever goes near Tattletale’s family again then Piggot will lose that as well. Then she’ll end up in prison just to make sure she can’t go for Tattletale’s family at all.

          • I honestly don’t think there will be any dedicated efforts to retake the city. Not unless Coil moves too fast or is too noticeable. However, if there IS an attempt to retake the city I could easily see lethal force being allowed. At the very least it would certainly be available against the Travelers. They have at least 44 deaths to their name, killing them would be easily explained away.

            Unfortunately The Undersider/Traveler alliance are more dangerous as a group than Lung or Kaiser ever were. They took the city and fought things that the others just couldn’t handle. They didn’t have the organization or troops to take over the city, and they almost certainly never would.

            I don’t think Piggot was ever going to “go after” Tattletale’s family in a threatening way. The way I read that was that she would tell Tattletale’s family about her. No threat, but almost as bad. I don’t actually think she planned to do it though, because there is no upside. As much as Piggot is bigoted, that doesn’t make her stupid.

          • Lung had also killed civilains.

            As I read it, the truce is more about keeping capes alive. It makes their lives easier and means there’s more of them for dealing with the bigger threats. Considering that they’ve been involved in at least two endbringer fights by now I doubt anyone is eager to kill the Travellers without a good reason.

            Piggot already went after Tattletale’s family by telling them she was alive when Lisa plainly didn’t want them to know. Since she’d have had to explain things she probably also told them what she’s taken to doing. The Mayor’s family can be explained with a fair degree of rationality behind it, the story makes sense. Piggot has absolutely nothing to cover her ass regarding this one however. I seriously doubt the heroes value her above not having their true identities plastered everywhere because she pissed off the Thinker…7? Probably higher by now anyway.

          • Noone wants to kill the Travelers without a good reason, but I’m not saying they will. I said that unless Coil provides a serious reason there won’t be an attempt to retake the city. Anything that pushes the heroes to make the attempt will probably be bad enough to make the death of his soldiers a viable option.

            Lung killed civilians yes, but he was not in any way the threat that the Undersiders, Travellers, and Coil are. Lung ran a very successful street gang. The U/T/C alliance conquered the city in the face of dedicated PRT attempts to roust them. They now own the city in everything but name. The difference in threat level is massive. I still don’t think they will do anything about it, because they will seem even worse off if they fail to take the city back again. If they DO make that move though I expect lethal levels of force to be tossed around across the board.

          • Fair points.

            I think the key is that as you say, it’s not really worth it for them to do anything unless things get really bad. Coil knows this, so I doubt things will get that bad.

            However he also knows that if he loses his villains, the ones who put him in this position, then he’ll be vulnerable enough that they’ll take the city back. He’d get away easily, but he’d be back to square one. So I don’t really see him betraying any of them, he seems to have a firm grasp of not screwing over his employees without a very good reason. His offense at Skitter doubting his promise seems to almost suggest a degree of loyalty, or perhaps a better word is pride.

            At this point it really seems like the best Coil can do is use this as a base and expand his influence. A city is a lot of leverage to get his strings into good positions.

        • Hey, Faultline’s crew had a club? Tattletale is going to be taking pictures in there I will bet!

          “I’m in ur club, eating ur sammichs”

          “Nice office”

          and because it’s Lisa

          “Labyrinth left this teddybear, sending it to you via this bank’s armoured car”

          “P.S. I still beat u, suck it!”

        • Short of any of them doing something stupid I don’t think Coil will turn on them. The downside of that is that Taylor would do something stupid if she thought she needed to.

          I could see Coil overreaching with the city. He did have his troops firing laser beams out in the streets after all. It really depends on what his actual plans are. Having a backup universe probably breeds a degree of risk taking that makes long term plans more dangerous.

          • That habit is probably what led Tattletale to think he was planning to off Skitter. Because he was, but wasn’t planning for her to die from it.

          • Ah, so that’s how he did that…okay. Now I’m disturbed.

            Still, it’s harmless as long as he doesn’t have to collapse the wrong universe. Otherwise it’s little different from if he dreamed of killing her.

            • You assume, of course, that the other universe doesn’t continue on once Coil’s awareness of it ends.

              Even if it doesn’t I’m still not convinced. Here’s a thought experiment for you:
              There’s a prisoner on death row. They may or may not be actually guilty, but either way there is zero chance of a reprieve – in an hour they will be dead. Since they’ll cease to exist in an hour anyway is there anything wrong with doing horrible things to them in the meantime?

    • Her Thinker ability seems to me to mainly enable her to think clearly in any situation.

      A combination of insane multitasking ability and natural detachment from her situation. Both due to her bugs. The two together giving her the ability to plan incredibly well under pressure.

      • This is also why she’ll never have a second trigger event. In a way, the reason Skitter is so versatile is because her power prevents her, Taylor, from ever feeling the emotions that lead to her trigger event: frustration and hopelessness.

        Taylor was put in a situation where there was *literally* no way out–she was surrounded by four walls and used tampons. So, she gained a power that let her always see a way out and never be overcome by fear.

        • …I think you may be onto something.

          However her active power has a range, so I can see plenty of ways to turn this against her.

          Best I’ve got, bury her alive. Such that the very limit of her range is just below the ground. But injure her heavily first. That should do it.

          • Sure, if someone’s outright trying to give her a second trigger, and doesn’t care how much they piss her off doing it. And even then she could probably do something with earthworms.

        • So that’s why she has a high pain tolerance. Makes sense. Probably a nice cozy side effect of also living through bugs now so often, the needs of her own body can be ignored to some extent.

        • I don’t really see how that’s a spoiler, when it’s pretty much already what we’ve seen? Maybe it only seems like a spoiler because you know it’s leading up to something. To me, it seems kind of obvious.

    • >It seems that Taylor’s most dangerous power is not her control of bugs but her ability to analyse other people’s abilities.

      It would certainly seem that way, would it not? 🙂

      –Dave, remember later that you posted this

  13. I think the most interesting thing is that once Skitter was captured, the rest of the efforts went into herding the rest off without making much of a major effort into capturing them. Dragon has told her that she looks forward to talking to her … after she’s captured. I think this reveals just how much. The next foray into the city, rather than be the massive — possibly lethal — assault everyone is envisioning, could be an attempt to talk without capture. Just what in the world does Dragon want to say?

    • “Hey, I need a few decorations for my wedding. I thought your spiders would let you make some wonderful bunting.”?

      Seems to me she’d be more likely just to talk to Taylor. Who is now confirmed as non-costume for a few days. Well other than maintaining her territory. I suppose they’ll probably be glad to have her back, at least if she brings some more barbecue.

      That’s actually a good point, how insanely badass does Skitter look to her people by this point?

      Merchants attack, crushes them. Goes off and wrecks their party to bring back a few people.

      Mannequin attacks, fights him off, Burnscar attacks. Goes off and fights off the Nine.

      DRAGON attacks, skirmish, goes off and drives Dragon off. Comes back.

      No wonder they got out her way when she walked over to Grue, as nice as she is they might be worried that being in her presence risks death by badassitude overdose.

      • No matter what, the talk between Dragon and Skitter will be tense, since Dragon is with the jerk who pushed Skitter into her current position. And it be a wonderful read.

        With Taylor out of costume, though, how would anyone in her territory recognize and respect her badassitude? She’d be a sitting duck for anything.

        • Sierra and Charlotte know what she looks like with the latter actually knowing who she is. Besides, even if they don’t know who Taylor is, her People know Skitter sees all and hears all and wouldn’t appreciate them picking on some random girl.

      • Haha agreed. She’s got to be approaching Chuck Norris levels of Badass to the locals.

        Endbringer comes to town? Skitter sticks it in the ass. Alone.
        The Slaughterhouse Nine come to town? Skitter kills half their members and sends them running.
        Dragon comes to town with seven suits? Skitter kills one by talking.

        Hell send her after Nillbog. The girl has enough of a track record now she’d probably win that one relatively easily.

    • I am still not convinced that Dragon is any longer her own master. For all we know she now little more than a slave to Armsmaster and he has plenty reasons to want to talk with Skitter up close and personal. (none of them good)

      • I don’t think Armsmaster is holding a grudge in that way. The man got literally everything he could ever want out of what happened. He is with someone that actually understands him, and that he understands, he will have huge prestige once he kills the Nine, and he gets massive amounts of resources to continue his work.

        • Skitter’s perception of such a grudge can be just as dangerous, though, particularly if she finds out Dragon’s nature and how he’s helped her.

          • The problem is that Skitter has literally no reason to trust the heroes at this point. Given that the last time they met was right after he tried to kill her, she certainly isn’t trusting Armsmaster. As for Dragon, she’s a threat to Skitter’s goals and so is also off the trusted list.

          • I love how many problems are caused because noone can trust eachother. There has not been a single team or group in the series that hasn’t had serious trust issues with others and themselves at any point in the series.

    • Most likely attempts to turn Taylor to the hero side. Which I look forward to seeing from someone as competent and well-intentioned as Dragon, personally – for one thing, such a person is the only type who has a chance of succeeding.

      • It’d be interesting to see Taylor join the heroes for a while. Just for some of the interactions between her and, say, the Wards.

        • God, yes. I want her to do a training session with all of them and be exasperated and sassy when confronted with the Wards’ stupidity. It would also be awesome when she pulls off her mask and they see that she’s younger than (all but one?) of them.

          Also, for some reason I imagine Taylor at a corporate office dealing with petty drama totally calmly, using the emotional intelligence she acquired from her career as a villain.

          Speaking of training, I thought of a flaw in the whole “give the PRT visors” thing. Couldn’t the Undersiders just steal a visor, look at the information the PRT has on them, and (with the help of Tattletale’s power and Skitter’s raw intelligence) adjust their fighting style to something completely different? The visors would, in their case, be a liability.

      • I think that it would be even more interesting if Dragon and Skitter form an alliance that is apart from the heroes. Maybe Dragon suspects Cauldron has infiltrated the ranks?

  14. “To make the condensed, intricate designs that must have been worked into the design for it to be this complex, but he’d only had two weeks. To make each individual, unique part, it would have taken time.”
    It seems the “but” part should have been after the rest.

    “but here it at least it was clearly”
    one “it” too many

  15. Hm…

    So, I think we can all conclude from this victory that the shit is about to REALLY hit the fan. More so than the Slaughterhouse Nine and Leviathan and Dragon managed. Cauldron seems like the only remaining threat serious enough.

    Pieces are likely to come together. We’re roughly ten weeks from the Special Event, so presumably we’re going to see something really grand even by this story’s standards.

    This is quite likely to be really, really cool.

  16. Something I should have said first when this chapter came out:

    Cudos on the design of the Azazel. Seriously, one of the, if not the, coolest robots I’ve ever read about. More of that, please!

    • Maybe I’ll do a sci-fi story down the road.

      I find myself wondering what kind of story I could tell that retains the elements of Worm where my writing’s strongest, without getting too entrenched in writing ‘superhero fiction’. Genres/settings with the most avenues for creativity, the right tone, etc.

      Have some ideas that are brewing in the old brainpan right now.

          • My dream story would just be a short story by you with more robots and stuff. Love the AI so far. I’ll just cross my fingers that by the time I hit Ward, there might be more around since from what I know of Pact and Twig, those settings don’t contain them.

        • No, too many of those out there. I am a much bigger horror fan. I would like to see an Apocalyptic log of one of the residents in the town Nilbog took over/devoured. Or maybe a Mannequin interlude, back when he was still a doctor to see the last of the Endbringers we haven’t seen yet.

          • Or the perspective of someone with Entomophobia encountering Skitter. Or maybe do a Cloverfield homage, with an interlude of a normal person during and Endbringer attack. Your story lends itself very easily to horror Wildbow. I love that about it.

          • I think I can manage that first one myself.

            Here goes:


            And then his/her heart explodes from terror.

          • Outright panic would have been involved, but I figured he was slow to start things off. He arrives a stranger, and his creations slowly start to pick off people until someone tries to get away and they find the roads blocked. I figure it could sort of be like Stephen King’s Jerusalem’s lot. It took a whole week after all. If you want a young adult love triangle, Taylor did consider Newter sort of attractive despite being bright orange and a walking hallucinogen.

          • Please lets not even talk about ruining the awesome, rather realistically done, romance that Taylor has.

            The association of this introverted heroine with the on-paper-only-introverted heroine of a certain chronologically named series is downright poisonous. Not least because this heroine actually does stuff instead of moping all the damn time.

            And there’s another crossover I desperately want to see. Taylor meeting Bella.

            “Oh my boyfriend left me, I am so sad.”

            “Well my boyfriend was vivisected. I went and did something about it.”

          • Too many superhero fanfics out there, too. Somehow I think the one written by WildBow would stand out…

      • Actually, I would love to see you write an urban fantasy story. I myself have been tossing around the idea of a setting where, after centuries of being sealed away, the magic returns to the real world after the moon-landings (because those disturbed the seal that kept the magic away) and the world has to deal with humans learning wizardry – and demons, angels, fairies, gods and other stuff returning and trying to reestablish their place in the world.

        I think something like that would be great for you – it could have the dark themes, the clash of normal society with the supernatural, that Worm has, but in a completely different way. if you are interested, you are welcome to use my idea.

        But either way, I’d read anything you write, so long as it was not about sparkly vampires (unless they get slowly and deliciously tortured to death) or another love-triangle romance fiction. I HATE romance fiction and love-triangles. I mean, why can’t they just sit down at talk? Why? Every single romance fiction I have ever read could be resolved in the first two or three pages, if people just opened their mouths and talked to each other for a change! Seriously.

        Other than that, maybe a Space Opera would suit you. Though in that case, I would ask you to not go the dystopic route. I’m sick and tired of Dystopic science-fiction. I want the old, over-the-top, optimistic sci-fi stories back, when science used to be a good thing and not a boogeyman.

        How about a space opera with a setting that has the same themes as worm, but with a hopeful, optimistic protagonist who actually changes things for the better, gradually converting others to his/her more optimistic outlook on life and science?

        • I’m considering some ideas for when I move on from Worm. One is an urban fantasy story, and like Worm, there’s a lot of prior drafts and earlier material to build on. But my primary issue with that is that it’s liable to get as long and involved as Worm has, if not more so. Believe it or not, it was my first consideration for a web serial, rather than a superhero story. Since starting Worm, I’ve learned enough & thought on the storyline enough that I think I could do away with the core problems that plagued the concept.

          But again, I don’t want to jump straight into another big project. Something smaller to whet my appetite, maybe give myself a breather while I risk experimenting and seeing what stays the same and what changes when moving on from Worm to something new. I have one idea in mind.

          Space opera isn’t necessarily in the cards – At least, not a wholly optimistic, things get better one. That’s not me, I fear, and I suspect I’d have trouble writing it for the same reasons I find the humor or romance parts of Worm to be ten times harder to write than anything else (or everything else combined). I’m a humorless, heartless individual with no hope for the future, and writing something that’s lovey-dovey, funny or optimistic requires me to adopt an alien mindset. I’m kidding there, sort of.

          • *tunnels his way long the ground, then lifts his head, a hole appearing in the ground right in front of Wildbow.* Eeeeeh, excuse me, doc, but could you help me find where to go? I’m looking for Brockton Bay and I think I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque. New Mexico looks the same as Mexico or anywhere else underground. *calls back into the hole* Rapidamente, companeros! Y bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos! *looks around* O posiblemente Canada! Hey buddy, are we in Canada by chance?

            *Wildbow turns around, revealing he’s wearing a militia uniform with a big floppy hat on his head and a shotgun in hand.* You know, my friends down here have a little gift for you. A necktie ALLL the way from Colombia.

            *Wildbow aims the gun, steam coming out of his ears, only to be cut off as Gecko reaches in the hole and then shoves a necktie on Widlbow’s neck, tightening it up enough to turn his face blue. Gecko then pulls out a pair of shears and cuts away Wildbow’s clothes into the shape of a lacy dress. Wildbow struggles with the necktie and covering himself up as Gecko then hops into the air, spinning his legs for a moment, and shoots off into the distance, followed by a dozen other people out of the hole.*

          • don’t sell yourself short – the romance and humor parts of worm may be harder for you, but they are still exquisite. Adversity breeds genius, afterall. and may I say that I love the brian-taylor romance way more than most romances I’ve read about, simply because it is so realistic?
            as for the optimism: let me make one thing clear. I HATE bad endings. I HATE stories were everything turns bad, where nothing the protagonists do seems to make a difference, with no hope for something better.
            what I do love is when everything seems to always go wrong, but there is a note of hope beneath it, the possibility for something better.
            maybe I am completely misinterpreting Worm, but I always had the feeling that it is quietly optimistic – the fact alone that taylor keeps on struggling, unwilling to give up her goals or her ideals. despite everything that has gone wrong for her, is a pretty big sign towards that, at least for me. a work does not have to be all sparkles and sunshine to be optimistic, in can be quiet, subtle and even in contrast to its overt message.

            as for a short breather between works: how about a short epic fantasy story (it IS possible to write them short) or a detective/mystery story (those lend themselves well to being short and it would fit your style)?

      • “Urban fantasy” seems closest, mostly because it is a term that encompasses an incredible amount of variety. Same with “horror”, though the two genres bleed into each other around the edges.

  17. I’ve updated the ‘about’ page to give a more succinct/less misleading description of the story and to better note the dark themes/subject matter so prospective readers are informed about what they’re getting into.

    • I actually liked that I didn’t know how dark the story was. I read it assuming it would be the same kind of superhero story you always see, and was pleasantly surprised at how complex and dark it was. I was hooked right about the time our protagonist carved out a villain’s eyes.

      • That’s fair, but I’ve also had reports of people who recommended the story before they were at that point only to be embarrassed when it turned out to be too much for the recomendee.

        • I forget sometimes that not everyone enjoys a dark, complex story. But your story is a bit more realistic than most, in that superpowers would almost certainly not make the world a better/safer place, and many would grow disillusioned with it. I think that is why I rather like the wards, they are still full of hope and optimism, for the most part. I have been a horror movie fan since I saw the first friday the 13th fan when I was five, so my standards of dark are probably not like the average reader.

      • Carving out eyes is when things got dark for you? Took a bit longer on my end. Was sometime after the endbringer attack

        • I’m with Gecko, that just felt like practicality to me.

          I’d say it got dark when Taylor left the Undersiders, simply because that was when it started to feel like things really could end very badly.

        • I didn’t think it was dark, that was when I was hooked on the story. I thought it was getting good when quite a few heroes died at the hands of Leviathan, and things got nice and dark right about the time Regent was about to force shadowstalker to hang herself. Based on his behavior, I thought he was going to actually do it.

          • That wasn’t dark, that would have been karmic irony if Regent’s last words to her were: “There are 2 kinds of people in this world predators and prey, guess what you are not a predator.” Things got truely dark at Interlude 14.5 when you realise that nothing is true everything is permitted.

          • I wish I knew when it was, but there was a point where I did a big long rant where I guessed the next turn of the story…might have been around when Mannequin attacked…and I was talking about how we’re gonna have Skitter horribly disfigured, organs stolen for Armsmaster, and then Shadowstalker’s going to come back surgically altered to look like Taylor so she can steal, screw, and then kill Grue. Right around that time I was pretty well in the “this thing is kinda dark” part of it. The absolute latest you hit that thought is Grue as Bonesaw’s experiment.

    • I was a bit leery when I read the description which only mentioned a teenage girl and bullying; I was pleasantly surprised with the way the story developed. But I can see how people would be shocked- this story takes a much darker view of superheroes than most.

  18. Why’d they destroy the dragon suit? 😦
    Stopping the Nine is very important, destroying one of the most important tools for doing so seems shortsighted. Plus, as mentioned, the cost. Just destroy the legs so Dragon can rebuild it.
    Also still unhappy about the lack of variety in the weapons (no pop up turrets or drones it can use to attack at odd angles?).
    AI was also quite stupid to not realize it could slowly shuffle around.

    What happened to the drone dragon?

    • Just disabling the suit would likely trigger the self-destruct protocols, or wouldn’t have had the same impact and not been as succsessful at driving dragon out of the city. Remember that Dragon is paranoid about her suits.

  19. I don’t suppose skitter could get the relay bugs to try breeding before they die? A la mayflies? Maybe try getting someway to feed them with direct nutrient transfusions? They’re just so useful I can’t believe she’ll just have them die without trying something.

  20. “We stampeded past a store that had already been looted, headed for the glass window that faced the mall interior. ”

    You said pexiglass later so I’m assuming this is a mistake.

    On the chapter: I’m quite, quite upset that Dragon devoted all those resources to them, they’re not mass murderers even if they’re taking over the city so I seriously wonder how high they can really be on priority? Those suits could be flying all across Canada and the USA capturing villains, villains who are murdering people. And they could have easily wiped out Endbringer’s as well. I guess I just don’t understand how just Armsmaster boosted Dragon’s capabilities so so much. Imagine if that technology was put towards rebuilding the Bay instead of destroying more of it, or even just going to New York or Boston (the only other cities mentioned I believe) and cleaning the villains out.

  21. The Azazel is awesome, but its defeat is the one confrontation in Worm that I feel was poorly handled. The guilibity of the Azazel is not a problem by itself, because we have been told multiple Dragon can’t make real AIs and limitations were a big part of her character.
    More bothersome to me is that the Azazel could have done a lot of things without moving: it could have blanketed the area with foam to catch “Imp”, called Dragon, or foam Taylor as soon as she announced her intent to burn the nanotech, instead of waiting until she runs. This is not intelligence as much as having a line of “what do I do if I can’t move for any reason?” in the code.

    But unless I missed something, the real plot hole is that Armsmaster has been using a lie detector since day one. Legend used it two arcs ago. With all the buildup about Defiant and Dragon cooperating and taking the best of their respective talents, they couldn’t add lie detection to the AI that’s obligated to act when told people are in danger?
    I hope I’m not sounding harsh or anything, it was such an obvious idea to me that I had thought of it before I got to this chapter.

    • The lie detector thing isn’t unreasonable – it would make sense for that to be standard hardware in any suit that can hear and talk – but it’s never made clear exactly how much input the thing requires to function correctly or reliably. It’s possible that Skitter’s mask and/or the bugs she often has crawling on top of it would obscure enough facial and body language cues to prevent its effective use. Similarly, any changes in her breathing and posture might be attributed entirely or partially to the way she is trapped by the nanotech weaponry and the stress of the situation. So even if the suit was appropriately equipped, it might not have helped in this particular situation.

      “Still trying to recover from dodging the foam, I couldn’t dodge it.” This sentence isn’t wrong, but the word “dodge” is a bit abrasive used twice so close together. Recommend changing the first to “avoiding” or something. During Taylor’s escape from Azazel.

      Love this chapter. Taylor stays smart, Dragon continues to watch the level of force she’ll employ, and the Undersiders/Travellers have outlasted all other contenders in the Brockton Bay Supervillain Marathon, winning control of the city by sheer endurance and tenacity. I do think the decision to employ the suits in Brockton Bay was a mistake, but it’s a mistake that makes sense from the PRT’s perspective beforehand. Not taking action to reclaim the city would be insane for them, and that requires a sustained effort. Presumably the Protectorare/Wards teams in other areas have their own problems, so long-term redeployments aren’t an option, which must have made the Dragon reinforcements seem like a godsend.


  22. Awesome! I had been thinking the teamwork between several suits would be ridiculously hard to overcome, but Skitter manages it handily – uses her giant brain too turn the game around…
    Also great to have Tattletale fulfilling the Voice With An Internet Connection role that she’s so clearly suited for 🙂

    I did expect the suit to have Armsmaster’s lie detector built in, but I agree there are plausible explanations why that might not work. I did expect it to radio Dragon when it got frozen though – or maybe Tattletale had taken down the comms towers by then?

    Several editing comments:
    Imp could not be in this room… – Whole paragraph should be in italics for consistency
    That was supposed to stop the Nine, and It was powerful enough that it might have – stray capital letter on “It”
    the way I could exploit it’s A.I. – kill the apostrophe, kill it with fire

  23. “This statement is false,” I told it.
    I love that. It is very Skitter: No hesitation, just immediate improvisation, and going for the jugular.

  24. Bitches ‘people’: Barker, Biter, “vet trainee” and “the guy”. Ever since Taylor first got familiar with them in her lair a few chapters back, I’ve noticed that “the guy” got no moment to give his story and we seem to just keep having him tagging along behind. It is starting to make me wonder; is he an over-looked Checkov’s character?
    After the S9 visit and Shatterbird’s effects, I found it hard to buy that a local mall had any of
    its big glass windows back in place when the PRT HQ hadn’t. It would seem a more plausible escape route if they had to break in through boarded up window frames, somehow.
    The whole physicality of ‘caught by grappling hook, THEN climbed over railing, then tried to go under it’ with a still wonky shoulder seemed a little awkward to envision and believe. The fact that Skitter basically won by tripping Azazel with Asimov’s Robot Laws was nifty, but having Azazel be that clumsy and weak as it was developing seemed off. Azazel letting her get out the matches? Not noticing huge spiderwebs forming overhead? Nah.

    Also finding it difficult to buy the idea that Dragon isn’t more directly listening in/ monitoring/ able to over-ride what the suits are doing. She’s already proved that she can keep an eye on the Birdcage while being involved in the Endbringer attack while monitoring all her other duties and interests. Why would they be on auto-pilot?

    Sorry, it just feels too ‘MacGyver beats the whole 6th Armored Division with only a paper clip.’ Of course I want Skitter to triumph, but this particular scene just seemed a bit too easy, given who’s matched up.

    • Tattletale had the cell towers blown up to restrict Dragon’s bandwidth.

      I agree that the confrontation with Azazel felt a little convenient.

    • But you forget, she was able to keep an eye on the Birdcage while fighting an Endbringer because she could put the Birdcage on autopilot.

  25. >miliseconds


    >If this was the movies,


    >It had leaped to my defense when I’d said I was in danger. Either it wasn’t smart enough to discern truth from a lie, or it wasn’t allowed to when a life was potentially in danger.

    I’d replace the second ‘in danger’ with ‘at risk’ to avoid repetition.

    >Now I had a better sense of it. Now how to use it?

    And the second ‘now’ with ‘but’, in the same vein.

    >I waited for a response, for the canned reply saying Azazel had no reasonable cause ot believe it.


    >and the way I could exploit it’s A.I. to lock down its movements.


    >Tattletale: “Phones are back on.”

    This feels like it’s from a script, flows really, really badly.

    I get that Taylor’s supposed to be brighter than the rest of ’em, but conversations with regards to anything tactical at this point makes everyone else look like drooling retards with no agency. Which is rather unfortunate.

    Also, curbstomping DRAGON, of all people, it’s… well. There’s no suspense when the good guys win every fight.

  26. The problam with self-replicating nanomachines that eat away at things is that at the rate they’d have to be multiplying, it’d probably be statistically impossible for there not to be an eventual mistake in the replication process, causing a “grey goo” scenario (look it up) that destroys some, most or all of the world.

  27. Why doesn’t Tattletale give the code when she calls?

    Seems like this is a huge error, and an easy win for Dragon. If it isn’t, you’ve made a huge gaff, Wildbow!

  28. Ok, this was a pure and simple cop-out. Any AI smart enough to detect a verbal paradox would have sensors that could easily detect another human being, even a parahuman. As a machine, it’s unaffected by perception-altering powers.

    Why hasn’t the PRT just gone to guns, and finished these villains off?

    • There’s no direct correlation between an Al’s intelligence and his good its sensors are. That’s a separate hardware issue.

      More importantly, it doesn’t actually *matter* how good its sensors are. Sure, Imp’s initial ability disrupts memory and doesn’t affect machines. But there’s a massive question mark over her hypothetical new ability to hide from sensors – the AI has no way to know the details of how such an ability works, so it cannot safely assume that being a machine makes it immune.

      The cultural issues around the whole “heroes vs villains” thing is one of the major themes of Worm. “Why don’t the heroes just go after the villains guns blazing?” is addressed in the story. There are a few reasons for it. I can’t remember if they’re before or after this point though, so I won’t go into detail for fear of spoilers.

      • OK, I’ll read on. It just bugs me that time and lives are put at risk to capture a clearly irredeemable foe in a lot of cases (maybe not this one, but a lot from earlier arcs), when a bullet would cost a Lot less.

        I still think it was a cop-out. The dragon units aren’t really “true” AI’s, more like sophisticated Expert Systems. Very good at an assigned task, but absolute crap at anything outside their scope, however broad or limited that scope may be.

  29. One typo:
    “saying Azazel had no reasonable cause ot believe it” should be “to believe”.

  30. I can’t say the outcome of this chapter makes much sense. Especially the part about taking down a suit sitting in the stratosphere — they don’t have anything that would let them see that, let alone attack it.

  31. Oh my god. Pbvy, lbh qvpx! Lbh xarj jurer Gnlybe jnf tbvat gb or, jvgu ure qnq, naq lbh qvqa’g fb zhpu nf jnea ure?! Lbh onfgneq!

  32. Wow, I really can see them reclassifying Skitter as a higher level Thinker soon, if only to salve their egos from her kicking their asses so often.

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