Queen 18.1

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The empty vault loomed before us, dark and fetid.

“It’s that bad?” I asked.  “Do we need to contact the PRT and Protectorate?  Get the heroes on board?”

“No,” Dinah said, quiet.  “Not immediately.”

The others looked at her.  I couldn’t see her, but I had a pretty distinct mental picture.  A pre-adolescent girl, thin, with straight brown hair.  Cursory inspection with my swarm suggested her hair was tied into a braid, but many strands were coming loose.  Unless a lot had changed since I’d last seen her, Dinah would be pale.  My mental picture of her was of a girl that was almost ghostly.  It said something that she was still able to command our attention with a few quiet words.

“One point seven percent chance she does any serious damage before dawn.  We have time.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“Useful to know,” Tattletale said, “But this is bad enough that we may have to go running to the heroes, eat crow and ask for their assistance, get it sooner than later.”

Regent had followed Grue, Dinah and I down the stairs.  He peered into the darkness, then said, “I don’t think we’ll have much pull with the white hats.  Among other things, we’ve conquered the city, gave their heroes a series of spankings, gave the world-reknowned tinker a very expensive spanking, kidnapped one of their Directors and if I just heard you right, you just offed the replacement director.”

He stepped back, moved his mask and whistled.  I had to step back to see Rachel on her way from the entrance, her dogs following behind.

I couldn’t help but cough at the rancid smell from the vault, which made me cough more.

“Hospital,” Grue said, for the umpteenth time.

“Soon,” I said.

“The heroes don’t know we offed Calvert,” Tattletale said.

“Yet,” Regent added.

“My question stands.  Do we need to contact them?” I said.

“Maybe.  I don’t know,” Tattletale shook her head a little.

“What do you know?” I asked.  “Because as far as the rest of us are aware, there’s a teenage girl that’s capable of tearing through two vault doors like they’re nothing, and she’s free, and she’s pissed at us.  Quite possibly at me, depending on how much she heard.”

“Coil sent the Travelers to me for help.  She’s had some physical changes,” Tattletale said.  She traced one of the creases in the crumpled vault door with her gloved fingers.  “They wanted to get a better idea of what was going on, so they could maybe change her back.”

“And when I asked about her before, you brushed me off.”

“Don’t like admitting I don’t know something,” she said.  “And I don’t know the full story.  They were working on the assumption that she’s turning into an Endbringer.”

That gave us all a moment’s pause.  Rachel had just descended from the walkway in time to catch the last part.  She grabbed Bastard’s chain to keep him from venturing into the vault, but her attention was on Tattletale.

Seriously?” Regent asked.

“No.  Well, it’s what they were thinking.  It’s not what I think.”

“Elaborate,” Grue said.

“When I saw Leviathan, I got the distinct impression that the Endbringers aren’t human and never were.  Noelle?  She’s human.  So I’ve got two running theories.  Theory one is that she is turning into an Endbringer, with her body serving as the host to a growth that’s eventually going to shed off the Noelle bits and go full-monster.”

“And theory two?”  Grue asked.

“Someone’s doing their level best to make their own Endbringer.”

“Who?” I asked.

Tattletale shrugged, “No clue.  Could be any of the major players.  To figure out which one, I’m going to need time with the database on capes we downloaded from the PRT.  Even then, I’m not sure it covers the high-clearance stuff we need.”

“Off the top of your head?”  I asked.

“Who could it be?  The Protectorate might have been aiming to make an Endbringer with the idea that it could fight the other Endbringers, only for things to go sour.  There’s the group that made people like Gregor the Snail and Newter,” Tattletale looked at me, “You remember that paperwork we found when we infiltrated the Merchant’s party.”


“Yes.  There’s also any number of megalomaniac tinkers out there who might have tried something. Bonesaw, Rattenfänger, Jamestowner, Blasto, Mosaic, Monstrum, some non-tinkers like Chrysalis and Nilbog, bunch of others.”

“Too many,” Grue said.

“But their powers don’t fit this scenario that well, so it would have to be some alliance between two of them, or one would need to get ahold of the tools and blueprints from one of the others and reverse engineer it, or one had a second trigger event and their powers expanded.”

“A lot of ‘ors’,” Grue said.

“Too many possibilities,” Tattletale said.  “We could be on the complete wrong tack, where I’m overthinking it, or I’m overlooking the most obvious possiblity, that she’s just unlucky.”

“What if we ask the kid?” Regent asked.  He turned his attention to Dinah.

“Only if she’s up to it,” I said.

“Head hurts, still fixing things, putting all the worlds in the right places,” Dinah said.  She was clutching my wrist as though I were a life preserver and she was going to drown if she let go, but she stared at the ground as she spoke.  “But I’ll help now.  I fear I won’t be useful for much longer.”

I fear?  Who talked like that?

“Why not?” Regent asked.

“I’ll get sick without the candy.  Soon.”

“Withdrawal,” Grue said.

Dinah nodded.

“Fuck,” I said.  “We need to get her to a hospital so they can see her through it.”

“I can see it,” she said, and her voice was smaller.  There wasn’t any inflection when she spoke; the only indication that she had any emotion at all was the changing volume of her voice, more volume as she got more confident, less as she drew into herself.  “I see myself getting sick, and it’s so clear a picture, so many pictures it’s almost as bad as being sick right here and right now.”

“There’s ways they can help you through it,” I said.  “I looked it up.  The hospital can put you under, so you’re not awake for the worst of it.”

She squeezed my wrist a little tighter.  “It’s okay.  I can see the chances and I know I’ll be okay.  So long as it’s just once.  Ask me questions.”

Tattletale glanced at me.

“Go ahead,” I told her.

“Chance she’s turning into an Endbringer?” Tattletale asked.

“Those aren’t the kind of odds I can give,” Dinah said  “It has to be something I can picture.  Scenes.”

“I thought so.  And that’d mean I can’t really use it to pin down who’s behind Noelle’s situation.”

Dinah shook her head.

“Chance of trouble in the next twenty four hours?” I asked.  “Violence, she attacks us, she attacks other people…”

“Ninety-nine point three four six three zero one percent,” Dinah said.

“What happens in that not-even-one-percent chance?” Regent asked.

“I can’t go looking.  I have to ask, and figure it out from there, which hurts if I do it too much, or someone else asks, which makes it hurt less, because I can focus on the numbers and just the numbers.”

“Okay,” Tattletale said, “Chance she runs? ”

“Twenty-three point three one one percent.”

“That doesn’t add up,” Regent said.  “Unless I’m way worse at math than I thought.”

“She does some damage and then flees,” Grue suggested.  Tattletale nodded confirmation.

“Chance someone stops her?” Tattletale asked.  “Defeats her, kills her?”

Dinah shook her head.

“You don’t know?”

“I can’t see it.”

“Okay,” Tattletale said.  “That means we probably can’t stop her with sheer firepower.”

“Didn’t see it.”

“Okay.  Thank you, by the way,” Tattletale said.  “Appreciate it.”

“You’re quite welcome,” Dinah said, dropping her eyes to the ground.

Quite welcome.  Dinah kept phrasing things in a funny manner.  An old fashioned or proper way.  It wasn’t quite like how Coil spoke, but there were similarities.  Was it a side effect of spending way too much time around Coil?

I didn’t like the idea of that.  That either Coil had molded her, or that she’d spent enough time in a pliable mental state that she’d adopted his speaking patterns.

“This situation is bad,” Tattletale said.  “We can’t take her on, but we don’t know enough about her to plan against her.  I was going to reposition everyone so our territories covered the entire city, under the assumption that the Travelers were leaving.  Now I’m suspicious they’ll be staying, which complicates matters, and I don’t want us spread too thin, either.”

“We could get hold of Ballistic,” Grue said.  “Get his version of events.”

“He went back to his territory.  I’ll make calls and see if we can bring him on board,” Tattletale said.  “I have two squads of soldiers that I’m keeping on retainer.  They’ll serve as my hands for right now, while I try and get myself sorted out here, establish this as my new headquarters.  If you guys want to go to the hospital, maybe see about getting Skitter and Dinah looked after, I’ll handle things on this end.  We regroup at least an hour before dawn and we plan with whatever new information we have.”

“No sleep tonight?” Regent asked.

“No sleep,” Grue confirmed.

I turned to Tattletale, “We don’t have access to all of Coil’s resources, now.  Or Calvert’s, for that matter.  Can you find us a doctor who we can trust?”

“Someone you can trust?  No.  But I can find someone not altogether untrustworthy.

We were just finishing sorting out who was going where when Tattletale called us with a name and an address.

The group heading to the hospital consisted of Me, Grue, Rachel and Dinah.  I had the smoke inhalation and breathing problems, as well as the pain in my chest and my eyes to look after.  Grue and Rachel had been shot.  As for Dinah, we needed to make sure there weren’t any severe problems before we sent her home.  Regent headed back to his place with Imp for backup.

Dinah, Rachel and I settled in the back of one of Coil’s trucks with Bastard and Bentley.  Grue took the wheel.

I focused on canvassing the area with my swarm as Grue drove.  Dinah had assured us that things were safe for the rest of night, but I couldn’t ignore the existence of a dangerous pseudo-Endbringer with a very good reason to want to hurt me.

You’re quiet,” Rachel said.

I turned my attention to her, then realized she was talking to Dinah.

“I considered saying something, but you would get upset,” Dinah said.  Again, the low volume.

“Huh,” Rachel said.  “Why?”

Dinah paused for long seconds.  I wondered if she was trying to work something out with her power.  “I was going to ask if I could pet your puppy, but it’s… not my place.  He’s not mine.”

“He’s not a dog.  He’s a wolf.  He doesn’t react like a dog will.  And I’m trying to train him before he’s old enough that he won’t listen, and I don’t need people mucking that up.”

“Okay,” Dinah said.  There was no fight there, no resistance, total compliance.

Rachel put one boot against the edge of the bench across from her, a foot to the right of Dinah.  As far as I knew, Rachel didn’t take her eyes off the girl.

“Rachel,” I said.  “Just curious, but you’re hoping to eventually adopt your dogs out, right?”

“To good owners.  So?”

“Just saying, but as much as the owners need to adapt to the dog and understand the dog, the opposite is true.”

I couldn’t read Rachel’s expression.

“The dog has to adapt to the owner?” She asked.

“Right.  And that means the dogs need a chance to get used to people.  Dogs and humans have a partnership, right?  So they need to meet halfway in that understanding.  Mutual understanding.”


Enough time passed that I wasn’t sure if she’d picked up on my meaning.

“You want to pet Bentley?” Rachel offered.

“Very much,” Dinah replied.

“Bentley, go.  Up.”

Bentley hopped up between Dinah and I on the bench.


The bulldog turned around once, then flopped down on the bench so his head was pressed against my hip.

“Give him a sniff of your hand before you touch him,” Rachel said.  “Bentley’s a good boy, but it’s a good habit to get into with dogs.  You don’t want to surprise him and get bitten.”

I kept still while Dinah took Rachel’s suggestion and extended a hand.  Without standing, he twisted himself around until his oversized head was in Dinah’s lap.

Months since she’s seen a dog, let alone touched one.  How would that affect her in the long run?  I hoped she wouldn’t be in therapy for the rest of her life.  I turned my attention to scanning the area, while Bentley reveled in the attention and affection.

It was another five minutes before Grue stopped the van and we had a chance to get out.

“Chance of trouble?” I asked.

“Fifteen point three three percent,” Dinah answered.

“Can you tell me who causes the trouble?”

“I only know we’ll be in there, so I have to look at each of us, one by one, and then I see the number.”


“When there’s trouble,” she said, “It’s you.  Eighty percent of the time.”

“Me?” I asked.

She nodded.

“Okay,” I said.  “I’ll try to be good.”

With ‘Doctor Q’, the man Coil had always referred us to, it had been one man operating solo.  He’d known his stuff.  But he’d been Coil’s man, and we couldn’t trust him until things had time to settle down.

This doctor’s office had a staff, and they didn’t even react as we entered.

“What do you need?” a woman asked.  She had a musical voice that was almost irritatingly sweet.  Condescending, like a kindergarten teacher or a character in a show for very young kids.  Not to the point that I saw myself causing any trouble, but… yeah.

“Three of us took gunshots, but they didn’t penetrate.  Costumes stopped the hits, but I want to be sure there isn’t lasting damage,” Grue said.  “The little girl needs a full checkup and maybe a brief stay, while she suffers withdrawal from some unspecified drugs or drug cocktails.  And we’ve got one case of smoke inhalation coupled with severe chest pain.”

“Understood.  Your bill has been paid in advance.  My mother and I will be looking after you,” the young woman chirped.  “Please come this way.”

We followed.  The place was like any old doctor’s office, but I noted statues and innumerable picture frames, and the floor was tiled.  Going by my swarm sense alone, I got the impression the place was upscale.  And it was empty.

“You don’t seem bothered to have supervillains coming through.”

“We’ve dealt with supervillains before,” she said, and the way she said it suggested she didn’t plan on elaborating.  “You’ll need to remove your costumes and masks.  You can each have a separate room to disrobe, and we’ll be seeing each of you in turn.  Rest assured, your privacy and safety is our top concern.”

I could feel Dinah’s deathgrip on my arm.

I bent down and murmured, “Do you want a separate room?”   She shook her head.

I straightened and told the woman, “We’ll share a room.”

“Neither of you are bashful?”

“I’m blind,” I said, “And no, I guess I’m not bashful.”

“Blind?” Grue said, his head snapping around as he looked at me.  Rachel did as well.

“Tattletale didn’t mention it?”

“No.  And you didn’t either.”

“I’m functioning.  I probably won’t when I can’t use my power, but yeah.”

“Is everything all right?” the young woman asked.

“It’s fine,” Grue said, heading into one of the rooms.  He stopped in the doorway, turned to me, “We’ll talk after.”

I bobbed my head in a nod, then led Dinah into an empty room.  As far as I could tell, everything was as one might expect for a doctor’s office, down to the jar of tongue depressors and a bowl of lollipops.

“How’s your head?” I asked.  “Headaches?”

“Getting worse.  But I’ll get sick tonight, before the headache gets too bad, then it won’t really matter.”


“Do you have more questions?”

“Some, but I don’t want to burden you, or make you feel like I’m using you.”

“Go ahead.”

“The end of the world.  Did Coil ask about it?  Did he get more details on what happens?”

“He would ask how the number changed, some mornings when he asked the usual questions, before Crawler came and I couldn’t use my power for a while.  He wanted to figure out what happened, but the only way to do that was to make guesses and see the numbers with my power.  Every day, he’d always asked the same sorts of questions about whether one thing was safe or whether another was safe and chance of success for this plan or that.  There weren’t many questions left for the day after he was done asking all those, so it was slow.”

I worked to take off my armor, unstrapping the armor to uncover the zipper.  It wasn’t easy, with the pain in my chest, and when it hit me, I’d have to suppress coughs to continue listening to Dinah.  “I guess he figured he’d be around long enough to figure it out.”

Dinah didn’t respond.

“What’s the chance the world ends, Dinah?  That these billions die because of something Jack Slash does?  Has the number changed?”

“It’s changed.  Ninety-seven point seven nine zero seven three percent.”

Ninety-seven point eight.  It’s higher.

“What did you and Coil figure out?  In terms of twenty questions?”

“People are spread out.  I know you’re there.  You’re different but you’re there.”

“And the others?”

“Sometimes there.”

“Can you give me more details?  How am I different?  Which of the others are there?”

“I don’t know.  There’s too many capes and too many capes with powers that make it fuzzy, because some powers make it harder and a bunch of those powers together make it impossible.   I don’t know what happens to start all of it and I don’t know much of what happens during, but billions are dead afterward.”

Damn.  “Okay.  You said we’re spread out?”

“Yes.  Five big groups, lots and lots of capes from all around the world, and armies.  Coil asked a lot about that.  He wanted to know about his chances for survival or the total number of casualties if he focused on one area over another.”

“He wasn’t interested in stopping it?”

“He asked about that at first.  But nothing changed the numbers enough.  He said it was better to accept that it’s going to happen and do what he could to minimize the damage.”

“Five major groups,” I said.  “You don’t know why?”

She shook her head.

“Do you know if it’s like, a natural disaster sort of mass-death, or death by violence, or…”

I trailed off.  Dinah was already shaking her head.

“Alright,” I said.  I finished pulling my costume off, grunting at the pain in my chest, then sat on the bed in my bike shorts and tank top.  Dinah sat beside me.

She looked up at me, and there was a hint of surprise in her voice.  “You’re burned.”

“Yeah.  Just a bit.  Is it bad?”

“Not bad.  But it looks painful.”

“My chest hurts more,” I said.  Then, as if I were reminded of it, I coughed, hoarse.

We sat.  I could sense the Doctor talking to Rachel, and ‘heard’ Rachel’s raised voice with the bugs I’d placed on her.  I didn’t envy the doctor for having to deal with her as a patient.

“Theoretically speaking,” I said, “Just in the interest of problem solving, or figuring out what’s going to work or not, would the chance of this happening change if I just drove around America and killed everyone in my power’s reach?”

“Not really,” Dinah said.

“Damn,” I replied.  If she’d said yes, I could have narrowed it down to maybe the eastern United States or the west, then cut it in half again with north versus south, or narrowed it down to certain states.  Home in on the person or people that the problem centered around, dealt with them one way or another

Except that wouldn’t work.

“Would you?”


“Kill all those people, if you had to?”

“No,” I assured her.  “I’m not that kind of villain.”

“You killed Coil, didn’t you?  I saw.  Thirty-two percent chance it was you who did it.  Five percent chance you couldn’t and asked someone else to.  Sixty percent chance you were dead.”

“I killed him,” I admitted.  “But that was a special case.”

“Okay,” she said.

What I wouldn’t have given to be able to read her expression.

“Does that bother you?” I asked.

She shook her head, but she said, “It did at first, when I first saw that possibility.  But I had a lot of time to wait, and eventually the idea of being rescued mattered more than his life did.”

“That’s… pretty grim,” I said.  I didn’t get a chance to say more.  The female doctor was leaving Rachel’s room, and Rachel was storming out.

Both Dinah and I turned toward the door before the doctor had even touched the handle.

The woman entered and hesitated a fraction when she saw us staring.  Her voice was just as cheery as her daughter’s.  “Hello!  I’m Dr. Brimher.”

“Hello,” I said.  “Have trouble with my teammate?”

“She was uncooperative.  I suppose we’ll have to refund the amount that was already paid for her care.  I hope that’s alright.  Everything indicated she was fine, healthwise.”

“So long as she was fine.”

She perked up a little at that, “Well then!  Who’s first?”

“Her,” Dinah said, before I had a chance to speak.

The overall checkup went much as I’d expected.  I was diagnosed with a fractured rib, the smoke inhalation was apparently something that should have been treated earlier, but I wasn’t showing any lingering signs of mental or personality changes, and I wasn’t dizzy, so she let me off with instructions to breathe deep.  I got a cream for my burn and three bottles of eye drops for my eyes.

“Once every two hours,” she said.  “And as for you, little miss, you seem undernourished.”

“I haven’t had much of an appetite for a while.”


“Involuntary incarceration,” I said.

“Ah.  Well,” the woman’s voice jumped up a notch on the cheeriness scale, “None of my business.”

“It wasn’t me,” I said.  “We weren’t keeping her prisoner.”

“Of course.  I wouldn’t act any differently if you had been.”

“Really?” I asked.

Dinah grabbed my hand.  I forced myself to shut up.

“Well.  What drugs were you taking, sweetie?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can you describe what you felt when you took them?”

“Felt good.  Calm.  Relaxed.  Very sleepy, thinking through a thick soup.”

The woman was scribbling with a pen.  She shook it to banish the fly that I’d landed on the end.

“And now?  You’re a little flushed.”

Was Dinah showing symptoms that I couldn’t see?

“I’m hot, and my legs ache.  I’m sweating, but that might be because I’m hot.  That’s all for now.  Later, I’ll be throwing up, and crying.  I’ll be very tired but I won’t be able to sleep.”

“You’ve been through this before?”

“No.  Not much past this.  This will be the first time.  Hopefully the last.”

“I… see.  The time of your last dose?”

“I don’t know.  I couldn’t see a clock.  But things start getting bad in one and a half hours,” Dinah said.  “They get to the very worst in one day.”

“Can you put her in a coma?” I asked.  “I read about it.”

“No.  I wouldn’t feel confident in doing that without knowing the substances in her system.”

“Then do a blood screen first,” I said.  “If it’s a question of money-“

“No,” Dinah was the one who spoke.  “Has to be the hard way.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because there’s a seventy point one five nine percent chance that I relapse if I don’t.  The cravings get too bad and I can see more cravings in the future and it gets to be too much and I go looking for some eventually,” there was a hint of hysteria in her voice.

I sighed.  “Okay.  No induced coma.”

“One bad week,” Dinah said.  “Six days.”

“Okay then,” the doctor said.  Still chipper, strangely sounding pleased at this situation.  “I’ll go prepare a room so you have a place to rest.  I’ll grab some things to help quiet your tummy, too.”

A moment later, she was gone.

“I can stay with you,” I said.  “At least tonight.”

“You need to go and help the others with Noelle.”

“I will.  But first I’ll see you through tonight, okay?”

She nodded.

We sat in silence for a few long moments.  The doctor stopped in to say something to Grue, and there was something about her voice, the higher pitch…

“Hey, Dinah, since I can’t see, can you do me a favor and tell me if you see anything around here that says ‘Medhall’?”

“Medhall?  No.  I don’t think so.  Why?”

“These guys are too comfortable around supervillains, and this place is too expensive.  Medhall was the company that Kaiser ran, and he also ran the biggest gang of villains in town, before Leviathan came.  I’m just wondering if this was the place the white supremacists went to when they needed medical care.”

“Oh.  I don’t know.”

“If it is, I’ll have to have words with Tattletale.  And I guess I can see why you saw me possibly causing trouble.  If they said something to Grue, that’d probably do it.”

Dinah nodded.

I sighed.  “A week to recuperate?”

“Six days.  Eight percent chance I need another day to rest,” her voice seemed a touch tight, maybe a little anxious.  I wasn’t sure I could blame her.

“I’m not leaving you in their care, okay?  We’ll spend enough time here for me to get the details on what to do and what to look out for, and then we’ll find another place to rest up.”

“Okay,” she said, and her voice was far quieter than it had been since we’d rescued her.

It caught me off guard.  The quiet.  I’d pegged the changes in volume as being tied to her confidence, but the way she’d dropped her voice, it suggested she was anxious about something.  Something she apparently wasn’t sharing with me.

“Mind if I run a few more questions by you?”

“I should save my strength, so only a couple more?”  She was still quiet as she replied.

I wasn’t sure if Dinah was aware, but the bugs I’d placed on her shoulders sensed the movement, the way she drew her shoulders in.

She was afraid?  Was it the impending withdrawal?

“Okay,” I said.  “Chance we come out of this okay?”

“Sixty four point two percent chance.”

“And chance the rest of the city does?”

“…Not as high.  It depends how I ask the question, but if I do-“

“No.  I get it.  If you could ballpark it?”

“Eighteen point two two five eight percent.”

“Okay.  There’s going to be some catastrophic damage, then?”

“It’s very likely.”

I sighed.  I still had to figure out what we were doing about Noelle.  There were roughly eight hours before we had to address that issue.  Five or six hours before we really needed to act on the knowledge, calling in help, hiring assistance or notifying the heroes.  This was a threat just one step below an Endbringer.  Hopefully Ballistic would brief us on her powers, and Tattletale could get us on target as far as her location or weak points.

Tattletale might have been the ruler of Brockton Bay in a general sense, but I was still team leader of the Undersiders.  I was blind, we had a pseudo-Endbringer to tackle, and the lives of everyone in the city potentially hinged on it.

Just had to consider my options.

“Fifty eight point five,” Dinah said, and there was a hint of emotion in her voice.

“What?  What’s that number?”

“It’s my chance of getting home.”

“Why is it so low?”

She shrugged.

Did that mean she didn’t know, or she wasn’t willing to use her power to find out?

Then I sensed her lean slightly away from me, and I got an inkling why.


It was so seductive, when I thought about possible risk to my dad, to the people in my territory, to my teammates and friends, and even to me, to think about drawing on Dinah’s assistance.  With Dinah’s help, we could avoid the worst case scenarios.  And maybe in some not-quite conscious way, I was thinking about how to retain her help, one way or another.

If she was sick, after all, I could look after her while dealing with the situation.  Just a week of keeping Dinah close, drawing on her abilities to help everyone, and to ensure her safety.  With that in mind, and the way she’d clutched at me for security, I’d been assuming she’d stay with me for just a little while.

She knew that.  She saw the numbers changing.

And just with that, there was a breach in trust.  The savior wasn’t quite what she’d expected?  Dangerous, even?  It explained why she was anxious.

“Dinah, listen,” I said.  “I can guess what you’re thinking.  I don’t want to be that person.  I don’t want to trick myself into believing it’s right or better to keep you, that it serves the greater good or whatever.  Because that’s a slippery, fast road to doing what Coil was doing.”

She turned her head to look at me.

“We’ll get you home as soon as possible, okay?  Within twenty-four hours.  And if there’s more risk, if there’s more danger to me, or to you, or everyone?  I’ll shoulder that, okay?  I’ll make sure we come out of this okay.  You can go home.  You deserve to go home.”

A full minute passed before she responded with a murmured, “Thank you.”

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

156 thoughts on “Queen 18.1

  1. This is why I stay up on Fridays. Perfect as always Wildbow. :3 the title has me curious though……who is the queen and in what terms? Could be either chess or insect….also Taylor is blind now? Wat?

      • I think Queen is meant to refer to Noelle, what with her being female and capable of popping out huge numbers of minions, like an insect queen. Or it refers to Skitter coming into her full leadership abilities, but I like the first one better.

      • Really? Hmm, must’ve missed it. I seriously can’t wait till Tuesday…. You spoiled me last week. 😛 If No’ does birth an End bringer….why do I see it being like on Clover field? Like when that girl exploded…… But even messier and moar body horror.

        To you lein, may be its both? Taylor is the White Queen and No’ the Black Queen. Just a tired minds ramblings again.

  2. First Post! Interesting perspectives on the end of the world. I am very curious about the fact that Skitter is involved but is different. Different in terms of personality or power? I am also liking the name of this arc. Does it refer to Noelle or Skitter I wonder? New names to worry about. There are five groups involved. I’m guessing Skitter’s group, Cauldron/PRT, Dragon/Armsmaster, and two other groups with at least one affected by Jack Slash. I could just picture the “Oh Crap” on people’s faces when Tattletale said shes turning into a Endbringer.

    • She sees scenes, so she wouldn’t know it’s Skitter for sure. It could also be an evil Skitter clone…

      “People are spread out. I know you’re there. You’re different but you’re there.”

      “And the others?”

      “Sometimes there.”

  3. Back to the main story! We’re in the Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene, now. The major developments seem to still be between Taylor and Dinah, with a side of Rachel opening up. I hope Dinah can get back home, that she herself believes it to be true.

    Now I just need to figure out why this arc is called Queen.

  4. Fascinating setup for an arc. I’m not even sure how far things will go yet, and I’ve usually been able to get at least an inkling of where the focus will be by the end of .1.

    Oh, and ” Home in on the person or people that the problem centered around, dealt with them one way or another” is missing a period.

  5. I can’t help but wonder if the reason Skitter couldn’t stop the apocalypse by driving around killing everyone she finds is just because the cause is outside of her weight class. After a certain point she has extreme trouble in actually putting people down. I would be very curious if she had asked the odds of finding the cause of the apocalypse by just driving around killing people instead.

    • She specifically notes that she was trying to narrow down ground zero (maybe even patient zero?) by asking after that scenario. There’s also something to be said for finding out whether a loss of most of the Eastern seaboard would have a statistically significant impact on the data.

      • There is also the fact that I just don’t think she would get as far as we might think. If she went around murdering everyone she would be tracked down incredibly quickly, and someone with a power that she couldn’t really impact would show up and put her down.

      • But she can’t do that Skitter would never be able to go on a murder spree so suggesting that she should reveals a future where nothing happens, what possible series of events would cause Taylor to go an murder spree and manage to destroy the entire population of the USA? There isn’t any

    • Yeah she simply can’t hurt capes that are tough enough/different enough to take her bugs, which makes me wonder if Skitter is the queen of this arc. Dinah mentions that she is different during the end of the world. Maybe a second trigger event? There is also the possibility of her bugs gaining a major power up from touching Noelle if her ability works on all living things. So she’ll have a new source of relay bugs, her blindness is great for advancing the training of her power, and the simple fact that she is willing to kill. Taylor mentions when they stormed the PRT headquarters that they only reason they got away was Miss Militia and Dragon didn’t use lethal force, but she doesn’t realize the same is said for her. Many of her past fights would have been different if she used her bugs with the intent to kill. Taylor has changed so much in only a few months. I wonder just what she will be like a year down the road.

      • I find it highly amusing that you make such a finite statement about Skitter’s ability to hurt someone when she ultimately was the one who killed Coil (regardless of how she came to be there, it was her that pulled the trigger). She can hurt them given the right circumstances.

        • But there are clearly people that she simply can’t hurt. If she met one of those in her murder spree then it wouldn’t matter what she did, she wouldn’t have been able to stop the apocalypse.

          • Think of asking Dinah questions like asking the Cruelly Literal Genie for wishes. What did she specifically say? “Would the chance of this happening change if I just drove around America and killed everyone in my power’s reach?” She didn’t say ‘kill everyone with my power,’ or ‘hurt’ them, or even ‘kill them one at a time.’ What if Skitter got ahold of a bomb? Or some plague agent?

            It’s possible Dinah said ‘not really’ because the scenario just isn’t feasible, but it’s equally possible that the scenario could happen but just provided a negative answer to the question asked.

        • Oh but thats what I mean. She begins the story being very careful about not hurting someone too much, and while she has become much more casual with violence when the situation calls for it, she is still hesitant to use full force. She bluffed the former ABB minions, scared off the nazis that attacked Bitch because she didn’t what Bitch to kill them, and was careful to only pull the pins of smoke grenades from people that were actively shooting to kill her. Look at what she did to Defiant, to the merchants who attacked her territory, and to the heroes with her marked bugs. If Skitter was actively willing to use lethal force with poisonous bugs, she could have killed pretty much every hero in the city already, except for Dragon. She can kill now given the right circumstances. Which is why I am interested in just how she will act from now on. Her power is ,arguably, a great counter to Noelles. A giant swarm of bugs using lethal force can wipe out a small army of vulnerable mutants, that includes mutant heroes.

          • I meant on the army of mutants that she will create in her rampage, not Noelle herself. Does Noelle’s power work on all living things or just people? If she touched a goat in a petting zoo, would there be a mutant, killer, goat running around? It doesn’t really matter if Taylor’s bugs are copied into bigger, badder mutants as long as she can control them. This way she can make copies of her relay bugs, and just keep swarming Noelle in her ever growing swarm until she can’t move anymore. I somehow doubt it would work because otherwise the chances of destruction would be much lower than they are, but I think Skitter will finally have a real chance to truly cut loose with her bugs for the first time.

          • The thing about that is that huuuuuge ‘if.’ Also, those relay bugs are dying because they have no way to sustain themselves. Mutated ones would be as likely to grow fully functioning digestive systems as they would, I don’t know, a line of inside-out eyeballs down either side of their thorax.

          • An awful lot depends on whether Skitter can control a bug after it has been altered by Noelle’s power.

            And whether Noelle’s power being used reduces her mass.

          • Just realised that the fizzing Noelle noticed was most likely small organisms being effected by her power. Which is like something out of whatever the hell Bonesaw’s wetdreams would be called.

    • Well barring people with healing factors if she just drove around and set a few killer spiders onto every person she could get most everyone rather quickly without massive attention drawn until everyone starts literally dropping dead for no reason one after the other.

      An unleashed Skitter is a terrifying Skitter.

  6. Hey! She caught herself on the she who fights monster thing in record time! Good to see.

    I think Dinah’s power would just jinx the Undersiders anyway they haven’t survived as long as they did by playing the odds.

    Interesting though that Noelle could be the host for the new Endbringer and that Cauldron might have been making it intentionally. Maybe Oliver’s power was intended to make the thing malleable by humans, make it look and think like a person so they’ll be able to reason with and control it.

    • I honestly don’t think this would have been a case of She who fights monsters. The chance of Dinah going home doesn’t have to be based on anything Skitter is actually doing to or doing about Dinah. Dinah could very very easily come to the decision all on her own that Skitter = savior = safety and just not go home. The decision would be entirely hers, but she wouldn’t know that in the present, she would just know she didn’t go home.

      • Well her uncle the mayor is dead, and Cauldron probably knows about her if they knew about Coil’s plan. She might very well be much safer with Skitter than going home to her parents. My main question is just what she reveals, if anything, to the PRT when she goes home. She can drop the bombshell about Coil’s identity, the end of the world, what Noelle can do, and any info she has on The Undersiders.

          • I think it was said that only the female candidate survived. Regardless, If Dinah spills the beans that the Undersiders were working for Coil then they’ll earn an even bigger target on their backs. I can picture Triumph declaring Skitter his nemesis for the damage she did to him, his family, and supporting the man who killed his father.

          • Well I kind of want Skitter to have a nemesis. Shadowstalker won’t come anywhere near regent, Defiant has bigger fish to fly/is more sympathetic to her now, and Mannequin is sadly dead. In my opinion, a good archenemy can take the whole hero/villain concept to a new realm of conflict adding in feelings of revenge, competition, and can push each other to new heights. Triumph is okay, but I think the best bet would be a hero she accidentally created who thinks very much in black and white, is a good counter to her power, and really wants to beat/kill her.

      • I’m leaning this way, she just needs one good shock at home not being rose tinted as she would prefer and I can see her fleeing to the new normal.

        Maybe they don’t like her being addicted to drugs and aren’t nice about it.

  7. I wonder how Dinah ballparks so many significant figures- is it an average, or did she choose a median scenario somehow? But then the mechanics of her power are hard to pin down even after watching it from her own perspective- you could probably have a whole series about her without exploring every permutation.
    I really hope Taylor gets to keep her promise. And that a large chunk of the probability for Dinah not going home is not ‘Home gets destroyed first’.

    “one of their Directors” Caps.
    “impossible. I don’t” Extra space.

    • I wonder if returning Dinah improves their chances. They can be honest about it, don’t even have to inform anyone they took out Calvert. Just be like “We knew Coil had her so we attacked his base and released her. It was awesome. I was riding a black unicorn down the side of an exploding volcano while drinking from a chalice filled with the laughter of small children. While blindfolded.”

      • I wonder what the Wards will think about Skitter after they return Dinah. From their perspective, she is hard to pin down. She has, as Regent so eloquently put it, spanked them pretty bad in alot of ways. But she rescued the Wards from Mannequin, and from Bonesaw’s miasma, was an undercover hero, and it is much better for the citizens of the city if she is in control as opposed to another villain. She is still a minor after all and her story will give her an edge if she gets a good lawyer.

          • Yeah, at this point Skitter being doomed to being misunderstood has become one of my major sources of comedy in my thoughts on this series.

            Reason #548736527 For Worm getting Uber popular being fun.

            An Advice Animal of Skitter. Does something, gets misunderstood Example:

            Saves entire world.

            Must be holding world to ransom.


            Gets cat down from a tree.

            Must be trying to spread plague fleas.

          • I had one in mind that was more politically motivated concerning a very recent president and a very bad “news” channel.

            “There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” said Skitter.

            Later… “And apparently she likes to practice skinning cats in different ways,” said Miss Militia.

    • If her predicted damage to the city come true, then I think that is it for Brockton Bay. The government will probably condemn it. Which I kind of don’t mind because then the Undersiders might try to start over in a new city. If her home is destroyed, I can picture Dinah choosing to go with them.

          • “Mr. President, Godzilla has been sighted off the coast of Japan.”
            “Bomb New Jersey.”
            “Mr. President, your opponent in the last election just got caught having sex with an underage homosexual drug-dealing prostitute…kitten.”
            “Bomb New Jersey.”
            “Mr. President, your mother-in-law just called. She was wondering if you and the wife could visit her this weekend.”
            “Tell her I can’t. Too busy bombing New Jersey.”
            “Mr. President, a new season of Jersey Shore-”
            “Bomb New fucking Jersey right fucking now!”

          • Well this is an alternate universe full of supers. How do you know WIldbow won’t turn his New Jersey into a city famous for its culture, art, and famous Universities that rivals Paris in renown? Nah, an Endbringer probably went out of their way NOT to destroy it.

          • I can just see the Winged Wonder circling in the air above it, cackling to herself.

            “And he’ll insist on referring to himself with a ‘The’ at all times. I’ll never let them near this place. Kyahahahahahahahahaha!!!!”

          • “Hello, welcome to NPR, the largest and most trusted name in news, I’m The Situation and THIS is The Situation Room.”

          • See it’s discussions like this that make us Jerseyians want to kick North Jersey into it’s own state to stop giving the rest of us a bad name. Virginia succeeded with West Virginia I don’t see what New Jersey can’t become New Jersey and North Jersey.

            • It’s been done.

              No, really; Wikipedia tells you about it, but if you blink you’ll miss it. Isaac Asimov wrote one of his Black Widowers mysteries about it, “The One and Only East”.


    • The statistics part of her power strikes me as more of a Required Secondary Power rather than an aspect of her primary one. Like how the Flash needs some sort of friction or inertia power set Dinah would need to be really good at numbers.

  8. Its better for the Undersiders not to rely on Dinah’s power anyway, if they keep her, they’ll only endup over-relying on it and end up second guessing their every action ending up going through cycles of Self-Fulfilling/Defeating Prophecy tropes

  9. You know, I get a horrid feeling that Skitter is just one question away from the solution. “chances of apocalypse happening if I kill myself here and now? “

    • 0%

      Actually it just occurred that Wildbow is setting up a really powerful thing with Dinah’s stupidly long numbers. Given that it’s either been that or no answer so far.

      It means that only absolutes will give a simple number, the one with the most impact will be her answering with zero/hundred. In the suggested scenario by Yog, Dinah saying that this is absolutely certain would be rather…neatly phrased I guess?

  10. The Reason the Arc is Called Queen:

    Dinah: “Is this the real life?
    Is this just fantasy?
    Caught in a landslide
    No escape from reality
    Open your eyes
    Look up to the skies and see
    I’m just a poor girl, I need no sympathy
    Because I’m “easy come, easy go”
    Little high, little low
    Any way the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me, to me”

    Skitter: “Mama, just killed a man
    Put a gun against his head
    Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead
    Mama, life had just begun
    But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away
    Mama, ooo
    Didn’t mean to make you cry
    If I’m not back again this time tomorrow
    Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters”

    Dinah: “Too late, my time has come
    Sends shivers down my spine
    Body’s aching all the time
    Goodbye everybody – I’ve got to go
    Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth

    Mama, ooo
    I don’t want to die
    I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all”

    Skitter: “Any way you can narrow down who causes the end of the world?”

    Dinah: “I see a little silhouette-o of a man
    Scaramouche, scaramouche, will you do the Fandango

    Thunderbolt and lightning — very, very frightening me
    Gallileo!, Gallileo,
    Gallileo!, Gallileo,
    Gallileo, Figaro — magnificooooo!

    I’m just a poor girl, nobody loves me”

    Skitter: “She’s just a poor girl, from a rich family
    Spare her her life from this monstrosity”

    Dinah: “Easy come easy go — will you let me go?”

    Skitter: “Bismillah! No! We will not let you go!”

    Skitter’s Conscience: “Let her go!”

    Skitter: “Bismillah! We will not let you go!”

    Conscience: “Let her go!”

    Skitter: “Bismillah! We will not let you go!”

    Dinah: “Let me go!”

    Skitter: “Will not let you go!”

    Dinah: “Let me go!”

    Skitter: “Never! Never let you go!”

    Dinah: “Let me go! Never let me go!

    No, no, no, no, no, no, no!
    Oh Mama mia, Mama mia, Mama mia! Let me go!
    Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me!
    for me!
    for me!!”

    Noelle: “So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye
    So you think you can love me and leave me to die
    Oh baby — can’t do this to me, baby
    Just gotta get out — just gotta get right outta here

    Ooh yeah, ooh yeah
    Nothing really matters
    Anyone can see
    Nothing really matters
    Nothing really matters to me”

  11. “Okay,” I said. ”Chance we come out of this okay?”

    “Sixty four point two percent chance.”

    “And chance the rest of the city does?”

    “…Not as high. It depends how I ask the question, but if I do-”

    “No. I get it. If you could ballpark it?”

    “If I was taking steroids, eighteen point two two five eight percent.”

    “Okay. There’s going to be some catastrophic damage, then?”

    “If you had to fight a parking ticket in traffic court, there would still somehow be catastrophic damage.”

    “Ok. Chance we’ll be saved by hitchhiking to another world or being saved by aliens?”

    “Forty two percent.”

    “Chance we’ll give it everything we’ve got?”

    “One hundred and ten percent.”

    “Chance the world is ended by the summoning of a god of metal whose very voice screams through the heavens like a thousand devils and angels in endless ecstasy?”

    “Eleven percent.”

    “Chance that Grue enjoys oral sex?”

    “Sixty nine.”

    “Good advice. Chance that Tattletale wants me?”

    “3.14 percent”

    “Why so low?”

    “She prefers cherry pie.”

  12. I really liked this chapter. The interaction between Dinah and Taylor was very interesting and I also like that Rachel (not Bitch in Taylor’s thoughts) was getting along better with her human pack. Oh, yeah and the revelation that she was blind and her friends reaction to it was nice.

    Skitter’s thoughts about not using Dinah the way Coil did were a turning point I think. She always wanted to be a hero and every step of the way she was forced to be the villain by circumstances. She never wanted to be a criminal or to take over territory or to terrorize people or to become a killer, but every step of the way fate (or the author) conspired against her. Now she is the super-villain nominally in control of the city (Lisa only works from behind the scenes).

    It would have been all to easy for her to tell herself that it would have been okay to delay Dinah’s withdrawal until Noelle had been dealt with and then extend these emergency rationalisations to the end of the world itself. She was very close to walking down the path of good intentions to become the very same sort of monster that she had just killed.

    Of course she might still end up a Coil-like supervillain in time.

    I guess the next step is to fight her inner demons by facing an evil more powerful Noelle generated version of herself. She will also likely have to kill clones of all sorts of people created by Noelle with the justification that they aren’t real people and that she already killed coil before. She’s been sliding down the slope the whole story but this chapter gives hope that she will at least will do it her won way.

    Some speculation:

    If the Heroes assign Noelle a codename Echidna seems like the most likely, but considering her status as a pseudo Endbringer perhaps Lillith might be appropriate.

    • Odd coincidences. I find (for some bizarre reason) that imagining random crossovers helps me flesh out details of things I’m thinking of writing. Suffice to say I was thinking a fair bit about an encounter between a character named Lilith and Noelle.

    • Now? Not when she introduced to us a pseudo teenager girl that loved to do surgeries in living people without anesthesia while turning them into monsters?
      The nine were not dark enough already?
      Fortunately dark tales where morality is in shades of gray do not bother me in the least.
      Put, perhaps, the only way for it to become really dark is if Taylor latter goes “Carie, the stranger” on her old school mates. While she still keeps a moral code and do the right thing even when it is the hard thing to do I will not consider this tale completely dark.

      • It’s not darkness that bothers me, it’s complete darkness.

        The last rays of hope are gone and now…I guess it doesn’t feel like there’s anything much at stake any more when we now things are going to go shitfaced anyway. Best way I can think to phrase it.

        The example I often come back to is Berserk. Worse content then anything else I’ve encountered as far as dark and horrible is concerned. The Eclipse beat everything I had read before or read since. Yet the author kept the hopeful side there. I might just be woozy from trying to get my sleep pattern to stop being nocturnal but I feel like that’s gone in this story, which is a shame.

        • I don’t think it’s completely dark so much as open ended and uncertain. Taylor and the Undersiders are in a position where a lot of things are up to them without any outside direction. Coil isn’t giving them orders, no one’s attacking them (yet), and Taylor doesn’t have a goal to cling to to keep her going. They’re the ones who have to figure out how to deal with Noelle, and if they survive that, what next?

          It seems bleak, but there’s alot of opportunity for the ‘Siders to decide what they want to do. This might be being hopelessly naive, but I don’t see much of a future in villainy for Skitter, her motivation and justification for doing questionable shit is gone. Unless she decides that being the bad guy is the best way to prevent the apocalypse I can see her start gravitating towards becoming a hero, or a reasonable facsimile of one.

          Or y’know, Noelle might eat everything and then the world ends. That might happen too.

        • I think that I understand. You think that this is apot like: group of teenagers meet undestructible monster and, no matter what they do they end dying in horrible ways anyou keep wonderimg why you bothered to watch something so predictable.
          I do not think that there is no way to avoid the end of the world, if I thought so I ould agree with you.
          atching a movie so predictable.

          • Closer to something like Battle Royale. It just feels a lot like a pen and paper game I played a fairly long while back (homebrew, fantasy+sci-fi, high-powered, dm made it out of a couple things included Mutants & Masterminds I think, might have been some pathfinder in there it was a great system despite some big flaws) wherein the dm was determined to kill the party and turn the setting to ash.

            For about six months (played once or twice a week) the group played it and for the majority of that time it was fun. We were having to seriously fight to survive (we had something like an average of two or three dead characters each by the end) and not have the setting fall apart, lots of thinking on our feet and such (dm used an hourglass to enforce time limits on each turn, I still swear that thing hated me) the exploits in the system were found, used and closed at a speedy rate. It was engaging.

            Then it just reached a point where most of us stopped caring. The dm just wouldn’t give ground (and was also a bit of a dick who I think took it as a competition, he was a bad -read, smug- winner) and we all stopped caring in the end. No real conclusion other then him blowing up the setting.

            Anyway, my point is…well first I should be clear that I’m not trying to dictate or criticise this story. More just trying to get across my feelings on it as it stands. Heck, I should point out that getting the same level of investment with a story as I for one felt in a group rpg is incredibly impressive work. Getting readers to feel as close to Taylor as I for one felt with characters I had made myself is, well I’m amazed you managed it. Also the setting for that campaign was, anachronisms and touches of genius aside, not even a thousandth as imaginative, developed and awesome as Worm’s. So please don’t take this as a tantrum or something, I love this story and admire its author.

            But my point is that it feels like the story has been balanced between optimism and pessimism, with the struggle being the source of tension in the story. Taylor tried, we got into her mindset and thus the plot so on and such forth, all self apparent to fiction so far. But at this point, whether it’s because the story moves so damn fast, or because of the drift towards the darker side of it as plot lines resolve badly one after another, I guess my take is that it no longer seems like there’s a fight going on.

            The struggle is decided, dark winning is slightly worse than light winning but I think that it would be a loss either way. Does that make sense? What is more, Taylor’s efforts -indeed every character’s efforts- have ultimately been ineffective. Which is interesting conceptually, but the emotional effect is more or less just darkness induced apathy. Again, this wouldn’t trouble me enough to type all this if the setting wasn’t so incredible, but well, that’s my take. Probably just me being stupid XD

            • Hmm, I don’t know how much of that is in the eye of the beholder. Yes, things have gotten darker and harder. The story’s official motto might as well be “and then it got worse” xD. But so far, every time it got worse, Taylor and Co. have been equal to the task. I see no reason to assume they’re totally screwed now anymore than when they fell into Bakuda’s hands. Or Leviathan attacked. Or Armsmaster backstabbed Taylor. Or Dragon attacked. Or…

          • While undoubtedly a few or her decisions have led to bad outcomes, on the whole Taylor has made many positive changes to the wormverse. She took down Lung, her plan led to the capture of Shatterbird which will have saved numerous future lives, her presence led to a psycho killer named shadowstalker retiring, and her survival might have been the catalyst to fix Armsmaster of his flaws/pair him with Dragon/freeing Dragon from some her restrictions. I think we can all agree a free dragon is good for the wormverse. She kept the city from being condemned, she freed Dinah, and she was a giant wrench in Coil’s plan. Her biggest contribution has been her affect on the Undersiders themselves. I argue that she has made them better people and brought them much closer together. Yes many characters efforts have been ineffective but this is a setting where the outcome isn’t guaranteed and the bad guys can win. The Endbringers are still alive, the 9 escape again and again, and Cauldron’s agenda goes unchallenged. But that is one of the setting’s strong points, with the possible exception of the 9 who seem like a bunch of villain sues to me. Taylor’s story isn’t done yet, and she has beaten the odds before. While I can’t predict how Wildbow will end the story, I don’t think he will completely destroy the world. He will probably want to revisit the setting at some point or at least keep that option open.

  13. Horrible thought of the day.
    – In the best case, Noelle’s power only affects people with powers. In other words, she can only make a huge army of superpowered monsters to destroy the earth.
    – The second best case is that it affects any humans, which means she makes a copy of anyone she kills, but at least the normal human copies don’t have superpowers. Probably.
    – The second worst case is that her power affects most living things so Skitter can’t touch Noelle with bugs. Still not much worse that case 1.
    – The absolute worst case is that her power affects all living things, including viruses and bacteria. The Earth is only 2 years away from an apocalyptic super virus wiping out humanity even if Noelle retains self control.

    • The last one doesn’t make much sense, though.
      Cause if her power worked on such a small scale, wouldn’t the Travellers be dead?

      • Yeah, Noelle’s been constantly exposed to bacteria and viruses since she got her power. I’m just thinking it might be human only. Genetic limit. One possible explanation for how she can eat all that meat and not constantly spit out dinochickens, minotaurs, and wild boars. The other way that would account for that is if dead bodies don’t work.

        • It’s possible that the bacteria and viruses get cloned, only for the stronger clones to kill off/assimilate the weaker ones. Although, wouldn’t that make Trickster et al get sick?

          • Yes. She’d be spitting out super bacteria and viruses constantly. She could probably start a plague by spitting on someone, given the stuff in her mouth. And then there’s whatever is coming out in her feces that’s supercharged and going into water treatment that’s woefully unprepared for her.

            If it doesn’t kill off and replace the weaker versions, then it is still outcompeting them probably, reproducing more.

            That alone would make her a major threat to the world.

            • This one fact is actually almost more disturbing to me than the other parts of her problems. She is driven to eat like mad and is already huge yet there is no way all of that mass is still inside her considering that it she should be large enough to fill several building not just a large vault if it was. This means that she is violating Conservation of Mass even more than most of the cast. Though granted this is a universe where lasers can do a 90 degree turn so this shouldn’t scare me so much…

          • The revelation that she has no waste at all makes me wonder if she might do the bacteria thing after all. Why?

            Because Wildbow planned for this girl’s feces, or lack thereof. He or she made this character however long ago and then said, “Ok, how does poop play into this?” I imagine there was intensive research. Comparing colors and textures at the home improvement store’s plumbing section. Going to Bathroom and Bodyworks to see which smelled best for this. Maybe even polling. Excuse me sir, would you like to tell me what you think about this crap? How does it make you feel inside? Lonely? Scared? Happy? The numbers are in and after surveying 7500 randomly selected households in Canada and the Northern U.S., we have come to the conclusion that Mississippi mudbutt is the best brand to go with. It beat Georgia gooey, the Ohio ouchies, and Quebec crunch. You don’t even want to know about the taste test. Seriously, you don’t want to know. Please don’t ask us to check on it.

          • There was also a nice joke from Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert about the woman who had to receive a fecal transplant to save her life. It had to be taken orally, or as whichever host put it, “The doctor told her to eat shit and live.”

            • That’s actually not a joke, but a valid treatment to replace intestinal bacteria, and it’s proven to be incredibly effective to boot. There’s an entire revolution going on in the medical world about it.

      • There are billions of germs on your body right now. Most of them have nothing to do with you. You just have to wait for that one in a billion chance of a horrible mutation…

  14. I have a theory on the Winged Wonder.

    She’s not actually as horrifying as she seems, Anthropic Principle works in her favour.

    Rather then being some slick uber mastermind who’s never wrong, despite Worm explicitly having branching realities and thus free will, I think that she bets on as many horses as she can. As wonderfully demonstrated in an episode of the Mentalist when Jane looks like an awesome horse eye when he bets on the three top spots of a major day’s races…only to turn out to have bet on every possible combination because looking competent was what he needed most.

    Course she’s not betting on everyone, but say that she pulls her stuff on a few hundred people. Aiming for everything from supervillain creations to civilian bombings like of that TV station. Some succeed, no-one knows what she’s doing and thus she looks incredible (I’m guessing she’d target Tattletale if they ever crossed paths) and is feared even more then she should be. Which closes off variables and lets her increase her focus and accuracy.

    • Well I think she can predict the future but only a few moments ahead of her. Notice that she high tailed it almost immediately before/during Amy’s message to Dragon. The rest I think follows your theory and she makes decisions on people based on the percentages that they will cause damage in the future. She hedges her bets by betting on a few very influential/powerful people such as Amy, and Mannequin, and no notices the numerous other plots that failed because they only focus on the few cases that caused damage.

      • I’m trying to figure out if I’m wrong or what, but I got the impression that what she did was to shift her orbit slightly so that Dragon’s heuristics would send her alerts which would overshadow Panacea’s message to the point where Dragon never noticed. Meaning that was the time she had to shift, and not any sooner.

  15. A megahuge thank you goes out to Aaron.

    And as a small bonus, I don’t even have to redraw/update the meter. Putting another bonus chapter on the to-do list.

    I… may need a new system for determining the benchmark amount. I’m not going to be able to keep up at this rate. There’s bonus chapters scheduled all through next month. I’m immensely grateful, but they’re almost coming up faster than I have opportunities to write them.

    • “My readers are giving me so much money I can’t write fast enough to keep up with it.”

      You brought this on yourself, you know. Maybe if you missed a few updates now and then, and dropped your writing standards overall, you wouldn’t have this problem.

      Seriously though, we appreciate how professionally you are handling this kind of thing. Even though, as someone previously pointed out, it seems many of these donations are simply because we enjoy your work.

    • Go ahead. We all support you, and would like to see you thrive and enjoy writing rather than be forced to churn another masterpiece out. Wait a minute…

    • I’ve tried to be upfront about how the target amount might change over time, but at the same time it feels crummy to make another adjustment after only a month and a half.

      I’m wondering if there’s a system where the target amount could change fluidly based on some specific value/measure. I’m just not sure what that measure would be.

      I’ll think on it and get back to you guys.

      • Well word of mouth/good reviews will bring in more and more readers so any price raise for extra chapters might only be temporary depending on who well known the story becomes. Who knows, with enough readers, you could do this professionally. The writing is definitely more than good enough. A few people raised it previously but you could always give us bonus content on the setting instead of a extra interlude to give you more time to flex your creative juices. More than a few readers would probably like some clarification on the power classifications, maybe some in universe content like the mutant website, or just an infodump describing the world itself. How does the PRT operate, what else is different about this world, how bad is the middleeast/africa, what does the average citizen think about Skitter?

      • I guess the only way it could be any worse was if you complained around the holidays about the lack of donations.

        But hey, don’t feel alone in your crumminess. I have never donated to you and feel bad about that. I even once dreamed about an interlude completely funded by me. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen. And I guess I shouldn’t donate to you given the end of the story and overload of interludes.

        Leaves me out of options for paying you back over this nice comfy comments section I’ve invaded and storified up from time to time. Oh, and I suppose the awesome story is nice too.

        • Re: your first point. I’m aware, embarrassed, and kicking myself for not putting more trust in my readers (they’re fantastic) and myself.

          You don’t have to feel bad or pay me back for the comments section – but if you happened to start your blog/serial and get famous, you could send some readers my way. 😉

          • I know a few professional artists and writers, and they all say that the “ego balance” is the most difficult part. You need to be humble so that you can improve, but also have the courage of your convictions vis-á-vis the quality of your work.

            At the same time, though, after you’ve spent all this time being humbled (in part by being your own toughest critic, in part from getting honest, constructive criticism), to make money you need to be able to say “you know what, this is worth paying for.”

            I think that means swallowing whatever crummy feelings you may have about raising the benchmark, and just raising the benchmark. Wildbow, it’s undoubtedly good that you’ve reached this point, and totally acceptable to raise the bar.

          • As if I’m ever going to be more famous than you. Still, if there’s any year to get my rear in gear, this is the one. That second option I mentioned over at LoN still seems to be the best as far as accounting for spontaneity and reacting to the occasional real life craziness as well. Or maybe dragging real life into it would be a bad thing in my case. Either way, I have no clue about an endpoint and very few ideas for story arcs. A few good ones rolling around up there.

            It’s also completely possible that someone just needs to send me a lot of alcohol so that I get drunk one night, start one, and from there am obligated to keep to it.

            For just 80 cents a day, you can send brandy, sake, plum wine, Smirnoff Ice, or Bailey’s Irish Cream to a Gecko in need.

  16. Those of you trying to figure out Tattletales riddle of ‘who could be intentionally trying to make an Endbringer out of Noelle?’, don’t forget….it was entirely accidental – sort of.

    No one could have predicted Krouse would give her half a vial. No one except maybe Simurgh. Is Simurgh the mastermind, or is something greater pulling the Endbringer’s strings?

    Maybe they should chop up Oliver and feed him to Noelle so she can get the other half of the vial 🙂

    • That might actually work, given how Noelle’s powers seem to work.

      Or maybe she’d just grow Oliver’s face on her shoulder, like a memorial tattoo, only ‘ew’-er.

      (Not ‘ewe’-er — that would be the sheep’s head emerging from her left buttock.)


  17. Well, a great chapter, but I found a spelling error. “This doctor’s office had a staff, and they didn’t even react as we entered.” That should probably not hat an “a”, Unless of course you mean that they actually had a staff (maybe a Caduceus), in which case “it didn’t react.”

  18. Minor error:
    “I had to step back to see Rachel on her way from the entrance, her dogs following behind.”
    She’s blind.

  19. “I didn’t like the idea of that. That either Coil had molded her, or that she’d spent enough time in a pliable mental state that she’d adopted his speaking patterns.”

    Of course Taylor, of course. Whenever I think of “You’re quite welcome.” I think instantly of Coil, he was always so polite with his thank yous and pleases. I never noticed that Coil spoke proper either.

    • And also: “the Merchant’s party” should have the apostrophe after the s – there was (a heck of a lot) more than one Merchant there.

  20. “Fifty eight point five,” Dinah said, and there was a hint of emotion in her voice.
    Damn, Wildbow, you don’t pull your punches. This one hit my gut pretty damn hard, I have to say. At least Taylor managed to interpret it correctly and back away from that slippery slope. Although, now that I think about it, I wonder if Dinah calculated the chance that saying it to Taylor would turn her thoughts in the appropriate direction…my head hurts. On that bright side, that could result in Dinah helping Taylor remember to be a good person.
    Either way, a great chapter. It’s amazing how much weight the interactions between Dinah and Taylor have for me, given that they’ve barely spoken before.

    This chapter kicks off what is probably my favorite section of Worm, starting here and lasting through the end of Cell. I like the whole story, but there are just so many great moments packed into these arcs that they stand out for me.

    I do think that Worm is a story which benefits greatly from its length, though; characterization and history built up over time definitely informs readers in later chapters. So all the pieces have value to the whole, as well as their individual merits.

  21. This chapter was awesome. Grue’s reaction to Taylor casually commenting “Oh I’m blind, it’s cool” was priceless. I can’t wait to read their conversation later.

    “Honestly it’s not that big a deal. I can see so much through my bugs I barely notice.”
    “No really, it’s annoying but this barely rates a 2 on the pain scale. I just can’t read faces. Actually this probably makes interacting with Rachel easier…”

    Dinah’s interactions and comments also just validated the entire save her plot. She is so adorable and sweet I hate Coil now. I kind of actually hope things don’t go well with her family just so we can have more super cute interactions with her and Taylor. Plus I love the way that she speaks so proper.

    I think this makes a new record for Rachel on sweetness! Taylor is a great influence!

  22. “Blind?” Grue said, his head snapping around as he looked at me. Rachel did as well.
    “Tattletale didn’t mention it?”
    “No. And you didn’t either.”

    Oh yeah, I forgot.
    All hail Skitter, she who dismantles empires with her eyes closed.

  23. “Can you find us a doctor who we can trust?” should be “Can you find us a doctor whom we can trust?”

  24. Honestly if the world were ending, I’d chat with Lisa to try and find the right questions for Dinah, and then call her a few times a weeknight to try and figure out how to prevent the world.

  25. Qvanu pna frr gur nsgrezngu bs gur ncbpnylcfr, ohg abg gur rirag… abg whfg orpnhfr vg’f pbairavrag sbe gur fgbel, ohg orpnhfr bs n cerivbhfyl rfgnoyvfurq snpg: Fpvba vf vzzhar gb cbjref.
    V ybir vg jura V pna frr na nhgube fubj gurve jbex.

  26. “When there’s trouble,” she said [to Taylor], “It’s you. Eighty percent of the time.”

    Ain’t it the truth

    • She didn’t even have to examine the futures — she just knows Taylor that well by now.

      –Dave, notice there were no decimals involved

  27. gave the world-reknowned tinker a very expensive spanking should be given instead of gave I believe, also renowned instead of reknowned.

  28. He stepped back, moved his mask and whistled. I had to step back to see Rachel on her way from the entrance, her dogs following behind.

    Shouldn’t she still be blind?

  29. «I had to step back to see Rachel» she can’t see Dinah (even though others can) but she can see Rachel? I assumed not seeing Dinah is because she’s blind — something missing here?

  30. I’m really late to the party, but as I am reading this I just realized something.

    Taylor might be the perfect counter to Noelle. If Noelle involuntarily spits out augmented, mutant versions of life forms that touch her… And Taylor can control bugs… She could use Noelle’s power against her, creating an army of mutant bugs under Taylor’s control.

    …especially if she started creating copies of Atlas…

    I highly doubt that this would be able to seriously hurt Noelle, but it could probably seriously mitigate the damage done at least.

  31. Also, if I am actually right about this I suppose it might get removed as a spoiler, but:

    I predict that Noelle’s codename will become “Echidna” after she does her thing in Brockton Bay.
    That name just seems so very, very fitting.

  32. Re-read: The moment where Skitter feels tempted to keep Dinah but doesn’t is a really good character moment. Shows that she’s willing to go so far, but no further for her goals. It would be easy for her to justify ut to herself as the utilitarian best thing to do, greatest good for the greatest number, but she doesn’t. Either because she doesn’t trust herself or because her self image relies on her being better than someone like Coil


    Possible foreshadowing of what happens later when she turns herself in. Realising where her limits are

  33. “I’m functioning. I probably won’t when I can’t use my power, but yeah.”

    Years after, just now reading this, and I noticed a double-space and a dropped ‘be’ in there. I know you’re working on the sequel, just thought I’d mention it!

  34. How does she now that she will throw up and feel miserable? She would have to ask dozens of questions to come to this simple conclusion!

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