Queen 18.4

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We had to take the elevator in two trips, due to the size of our group, and that meant splitting us up.  The heroes were too wary to leave any number of us unsupervised, whether it was on the ground floor or upstairs.

I entered the elevator in the company of Parian, Regent, Bitch, Bastard and Bentley, Miss Militia, Weld, Clockblocker, and Triumph.  It seemed to be an advanced design, the elevator offering so smooth a ride that I might not have been able to tell it was in motion if it weren’t for the bugs elsewhere in the building.

We exited at the third floor.  I could use the bugs that had gathered near the waste bins or in the walls to try to get a sense of who and what was around me.  I recognized the area as the site where I’d entered via Trickster’s teleportation: desks, cubicles, computers and paperwork.  I could sense some people heading into back rooms to rouse people who were sleeping in the office, on benches and in chairs.  All of the officers and out-of-uniform PRT operatives were gathering to look.

One of them stepped forward from the rest of the crowd.

“Deputy director,” Miss Militia said, standing straighter.

“I’m too cynical to think this is an arrest, or to hope that it’s anything more than another ruse,” the Deputy Director said.  “And I can’t help but note these villains aren’t in restraints.”

“It’s not an arrest, and I hope it’s a trick,” Miss Militia replied.

“You hope it’s a trick?” the Deputy Director asked.

“Because I like the truth even less.  A new class S-threat.”

Every officer in the room reacted, a general murmur punctuated with swearing and exclamations.


“An unknown.  Possibly a fourth Endbringer, not yet fully grown.  I’d like to get in contact with PRT thinkers to verify.”

“Waites,” the Deputy Director called out, over the noise from the gathered police,  “Doyon.  Get on the phone.  Patch them through to me as soon as you get hold of someone.”

“We should wake people up,” Miss Militia said.  She glanced at the nearest clock, “It’s four twenty-four in the morning.  If this is real, we’ll want the heaviest hitters ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.  There’s a chance this may be our one chance to kill her.”

“You’re killing her?” I asked, quiet.

“No,” Miss Militia said.  “Nothing’s set in stone.  But there’s a chance it may be our only opportunity and our only option.  If we’re going to do it, I want to do it successfully.”

“No word from Director Calvert?” the Deputy Director asked.

One of the guys in plainclothes spoke up, “He’s gone silent, sir.”

I didn’t miss the fact that nearly a third of the local officers glanced my way.  We were apparently the prime suspects.  Which wasn’t wrong, per se.

The Deputy Director ordered, “Militia, join me in the Director’s office.  Triumph, see to it that the villains are detained and separated.  Interview rooms one and two for Regent and Skitter.  Conference room for Hellhound.”

I could sense Rachel shifting position.

“If I may make a suggestion, sir,” Miss Militia cut in, “I think we should put Skitter in the conference room?  She and Tattletale are our main sources of information.”

“Not complaining,” I said, “But Bitch, or Hellhound if you want to call her that, may be more comfortable in my company.  Her dogs are their normal size.  If she uses her power, you’ll be able to see.  Miss Militia already saw to it I was disarmed.”

“This sounds like you’re positioning people for a maneuver,” the Deputy Director said.

“No.  Just trying to keep things as copacetic as possible,” I said.

“I’d okay it,” Miss Militia said.

“Fine.  Hellhound and Skitter in the conference room-” the Deputy Director paused as the elevator opened with nearly all of Brockton Bay’s remaining parahumans.  “Tattletale to the conference room.  Parian in the legal room.  Grue and Imp in interview room two.  Put police tape and a sign on the door with a notice of Imp’s stranger classification to remind people why it’s shut and staying shut.”


“Relax, Imp,” Grue said.  “You want to confirm this is alright, Skitter?”

“So long as my teammates go free when trouble starts,” I said.  “But yeah.  I understand the paranoia.”

And I think we could break out if we had to, I thought.  I didn’t say that part.

“This sucks,” Imp commented.

“Suck it up,” Grue responded.  “Come on.”

We split up, with Rachel, Tattletale and I settling in the conference room, at the end furthest from the door.  Triumph stood watch, and the blinds were left open, leaving us visible to the countless officers who were now on their computers and phones.  There wasn’t one of them who wasn’t casting us suspicious glances every minute or so, or peering through the windows of the interview rooms at Regent, Grue and Imp.

I also noted the fact that there were nearly a dozen PRT officers fully suited up in their combat gear, complete with the full-face helmets, the chainmail-mesh covered body armor and containment foam sprayers.  They kept out of the way.  If I was using my eyes and I didn’t have my swarm sense, I wouldn’t have known they were there.

“Sorry, by the way,” I told Triumph.

“The fuck you apologizing for?” Rachel grumbled.  She’d settled into a chair, feet on the table, Bastard curled up in her lap.  One hand dangled, resting on Bentley’s head.

“I attacked his home, remember?  Didn’t know it was him, but Trickster threatened his family.  A fight broke out and I nearly killed Triumph.”

“They know?”  Triumph asked.  “You shared the details already?”

“More or less,” I said.  “Bitch doesn’t care and isn’t the type to use it against you, and Tattletale would have figured it out anyways.”

Tattletale nodded.

“Fuck,” Triumph swore.  “Weld was right.”

“Anyways,” I said, “It… there were better ways to do it.  So I am sorry.”

“Didn’t need doing in the first place,” Triumph said, sighing.  “I was prepared to risk my life the day I graduated from the Wards.  Knew what I’d be getting into.  Week I had clearance, I watched all the video we have of the class S threats.  Leviathan, Simurgh, Behemoth, Slaughterhouse Nine, Nilbog, Sleeper.  I knew what I was getting into.  So I’m not shocked or horrified at the attempt on my life.  What gets me is what you did to my dad.  Set his career back years, if it’s even recoverable, by forcing him to take that stance.  The whole thing, start to finish, was unnecessary.”

“He’ll recover,” Tattletale said, “I’d argue his career was already pretty fucked after the way things went down, here.  Not saying he was to blame, or that he wasn’t, but it’s hard to graduate from mayor to governor when your legacy is a flooded ruin of a city.”

“It’s not that bad,” I said.

Tattletale shrugged, “Not if you’re here, but the photographers and reporters who are getting pictures and video footage of Brockton Bay aren’t going to take pictures of the barely affected areas.  They’re going to get the beaches, the south end and the crater.  Because that’s what sells.  The people outside the city only see the worst bits.  When we’re talking public perception, it’s not what is, it’s the picture that’s painted.”

“And the picture is of a handful of scary and powerful supervillains running a fucked up city,” Triumph said.  “Which is about to get more fucked up if you aren’t pulling our legs.  So yeah, not a good legacy for my dad.”

“We have no reason to pull your leg,” I said.

“Getting access to something else that’s confidential?  Covering your kidnapping of Vista so you’re clear to use Regent’s power on her later?”

“Why would we want her?”  Rachel asked.

“She’s strong.”

“Bitch’s question is a good one,” Tattletale said.  “Yes, Vista’s strong, but why would we want her?  It’d be putting ourselves at risk, for no particular gain.  If we wanted raw power, we’d have kept your cousin.  There’s nothing left in the city that we want or need, so it’s not like we really need her assistance to get a job done.  We have money, we have resources, and anything that’s worth anything is destroyed or taken by now.”

“Then what do you want?” Triumph asked.

“Security.  We have all of the basics.  Shelter, food, warmth, companionship, money.  Anything we do from here on out’s going to involve better securing ourselves where we’re at.  We want to stop visiting villains from getting a footing anywhere in the city unless they’re joining us.  Keep the peace so we keep you guys off our backs.  I wouldn’t mind a system like the Yakuza of Japan’s yesteryear, where we support and involve ourselves in local business, legally, to the point that nobody will be able to shake us.”

“That’s terrifying,” Triumph said.

“Why?  Because we’re bad?  Ooh, spooky,” Tattletale waggled her fingers at him.  “If we do it right, we won’t have to extort anything from the locals.  We can do more to stop the drug trade than any of your guys.  Then we disappear into the background, make enough money off the side benefits of our powers and investments to live a life of comfort.  Mobilize only if and when there’s a new threat.  Build trust with you guys, ensure that any new parahumans go to either your group, go to ours, or they get dealt with some other way.  Ensure that anyone like Hellhound who needs more elbow room or freedom is somewhere they’re comfortable, where they won’t do any real harm.”

“And she’s okay with that?” Triumph asked,  “Being benched?”

“Give me my dogs, don’t bother me, don’t get in my face, I’m okay with whatever,” Rachel said.  Her arm was moving.  It took me a second to realize she was scratching Bastard.

“Calmer than you were a week and a half ago, if that’s the case,” Triumph said.

“Dunno,” Rachel replied.  “That was then.  This is now.”

Triumph sighed.

Weld and Clockblocker joined us.  Clockblocker handed Triumph a can of coke or something like it.

“They behaving?” Clockblocker asked.

“Pretty much.  Tattletale mentioned Dinah, but it wasn’t to fuck with me.  We were talking about their master plan, if you can call it that.  Not much else.”

Clockblocker looked at me.  “Skitter and I had a discussion on the way over.”

“And you won’t have another,” Miss Militia cut in.  She’d stepped out of the Director’s office next door and into the doorway.  “We’re not here to socialize.  We got in touch with some thinkers.  Eleventh Hour says he gets an ‘eight’.  Appraiser’s read says we’re ‘purple’.  Rule for any pre-situ call is we get three points of reference,  going by thinkers alone, that means a third thinker.  The first they were able to get in touch with was Hunch.  Your old teammate, Weld.”

“Didn’t think he rated, yet,” Weld said.

“Chief Director Costa-Brown gave the a-ok, and Hunch says it’s bad.  All together, we’re calling this a threat level A.”

“No shit.  The Undersiders are for real?”  Triumph asked.

Tattletale didn’t wait for him to get an answer, “That’s threat level S.  S-class.”

“The Chief Director of the PRT determined it was an A-class threat.”

“Bullshit,” Tattletale said.  “S-class.  I know Appraiser offered a purple-velvet diagnosis for his previous ratings on Endbringer attacks, so that’s not the reason it’s so low.  Eleven’s score of eight has to be above the seventy-five percent mark, and an answer as vague as Hunch’s is going to be a seventy-five percent exact, as per section nine-seven-six, article seventy-one.  That’s three values that have to be above the threshold for declaring a threat level S situation.”

“How the hell do you know all that?” Weld asked.

Tattletale waved him off.

“The Chief Director made the call.  We’re standing by it,” Miss Militia said.

“We’re talking class-S, even if you ignore pre-situation verification.  Section nine-seven-five, article fifty-seven.  Classifying high level duplicators and villains who operate to any exponential degree.  Nilbog and Simurgh both count, and Noelle does too.  If the powers generate more instances of power generation or recurring effect in an epidemic pattern…”

“She’s not a self duplicator,” Miss Militia said, “And yes, she’s creating powers, but they’re copies of other people’s powers.  They’re not exponential or self-recursive in effect.”

“You’re splitting hairs.”

“And,” Miss Militia said, “She doesn’t create more powers on her own.  She has an intrinsic requirement of needing contact and time to absorb.  She doesn’t meet the criteria as they stand.”

“Still splitting those hairs,” Tattletale said.  “Her threat level zooms up to S as soon as she gets her hands on anyone who can enable something like that.  Like, say, any tinker.”

“I don’t know why we’re even discussing this, when you seem to have our operations manual memorized and you’re capable of realizing it for yourself,” Miss Militia said, “but it doesn’t bear dwelling on.  The difference in our response to a class A crisis and a class S one is minor at best.  Some tertiary protocols change, we won’t necessarily have Alexandria, Legend or Eidolon assisting, and there’s no penalties for anyone who subscribed to the critical situation roster if they sit this one out.”

“Which they will,” Tattletale said.  “You’re ignoring the fact that people are inherently selfish.  It takes something to shake them from that reality, and that’s not common.”

“I think you’re underestimating the inherent goodness of people who dedicate their lives to heroism.  I know for a fact we have ample volunteers already informed on the situation.  They’re en route.”

“If the heroes aren’t showing in full force, others won’t either.” Tattletale said, “And there’s no epidemic protocols with a class-A.”

“We have one tinker,” Miss Militia said.  “Kid Win.  Armsmaster is no longer on the premises.  We have no duplicators.  The risk is one we can control, either through the organization of our forces or turning any combatants with problematic interactions away.  Epidemic protocols are unnecessary.”

“Armsmaster escaped, you mean,” Tattletale said.  “And it won’t be that easy.”

“Maybe not, but that’s the word from above.  I’m not interested in debating this further, Tattletale.” Miss Militia said.  She turned her head slightly toward me, clearly expecting me to comment along the lines of what I’d said in the containment van, about authority tying one’s hands.  When I didn’t rise to the challenge, she said, “We’re having a strategy meeting in a matter of minutes.  The first phase of the response will be teleporting in momentarily, but our best mass-teleporter died in the Leviathan attack, and the process is slow.  I’ll be releasing the rest of the Undersiders to join you soon.”

“As soon as you have enough extra bodies to watch us,” Tattletale commented.

“Yes,” Miss Militia said, terse.  She looked at the three young heroes who had gathered at the wall by the door.  “Be good.  Excuses or no excuses, it looked bad when we had the last incident with a break in the truce.  Don’t let Tattletale provoke you, don’t provoke them.”

“You can’t blame them if they get emotional,” Tattletale sighed.  “It’s only natural, three young men, three young women, a possibility of Capulet-Montague forbidden love between hero and villain…”

“My warning goes for you too, Tattletale.  I already instructed Triumph to shout at the first sign of trouble.”

“I’ll be angelic,” Tattletale said.

“Good.  You should also know that Parian is leaving.  She asked me to tell you, and to let you know she’ll be at her territory.”

Parian was gone?  Shit.

“I wouldn’t have let her go,” I said.  “For a lot of reasons.”

“It’s unfortunate, I agree,” Miss Militia said, “But we’re not in a position to stop her, short of fighting her.  She was adamant about not wanting to participate in this fight.  Flechette is escorting her back.”

“And however Noelle found Vista, she might find Parian and Flechette and target them the same way,” Tattletale said.

“Maybe.  They both have devices to alert us.  In the worst-case scenario, they can inform us if something’s happened.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to prepare.”

Miss Militia didn’t wait for a response.  She was already striding down the hall, gesturing to get someone’s attention.  Someone too small and too young to be a cop.

The three boys at the other end of the long table started talking among themselves.

“This is falling apart before it begins,” Tattletale commented.

“I get the impression Miss Militia’s spooked,” I said.  “She’s tense.”

“Anyone would be,” Tattletale replied.  “Doesn’t help that the last Endbringer fight ended her predecessor’s career.”

I nodded.

“Our muscle’s going to suffer in this fight,” Tattletale said.  “Your bugs, Bitch’s dogs, they can’t hurt her, if she absorbs things on contact.  Not unless we want clones of Bitch’s dogs running rampant.”

“The heroes have long ranged fire,” I replied.  “Kid Win, Miss Militia, Triumph.  So Bitch and I adopt a support role.  The dogs get our key players around the battlefield, if Bitch is willing.”

Rachel grunted something that could have been agreement.

“And I might be able to tie Noelle up without the bugs touching her.  Grue can slow her down, Regent could do the same.” I finished.

“Regent couldn’t use his power against Leviathan.  Can you imagine him getting Leviathan under control?”

“I’d rather not,” I admitted.  “There’s a sweet spot as far as rep goes.  Having a pet Endbringer puts us in the ‘too scary to be allowed to live’ category.”

“We’d have to do what the Slaughterhouse Nine do, win frequently enough against high odds that people can’t afford the losses.”

“Would mean we have to go mobile,” I said.  “So we have time to recuperate while the enemy tries to track us down.  Anyways, enough ‘what if’.  Let’s get back on topic.”

Tattletale nodded.  “Imp?”

“For this coming fight?  Rescue,” I said.  “The enemy won’t target her, they might not target anyone she can get in contact with.  Fallen allies, captives, Imp gets them to safety.”

Tattletale nodded.  The tone of her voice shifted fractionally as she said, “You guys can chime in at any point here.”

The young heroes had stopped talking and were listening in.

“I don’t know what you want us to add,” Clockblocker said.

“Interactions,” I said.  “Maybe we put you on Bentley’s back.  We won’t have to kill Noelle if you can tag her.  We’ll be able to keep her frozen long enough for us to erect some form of containment.”

“Me?  On the dog?”

“You scared?” Rachel asked.

“I think anyone would be a little scared.  You can’t tell me they aren’t a little intimidating.”

“Your power nullifies any threat they could pose,” I said.

“If it closes its teeth around my arm, the fraction of a second it takes my power to kick in is going to buy it time to dig in just a little.  Jaws clamped on my arm, I freeze it, sure, but then every time it unfreezes, it closes a little more before I can freeze it again.  No thank you.”

“He’s scared,” Rachel said.  She scratched the top of Bastard’s head, and I realized she was talking to the wolf cub that was sleeping in her lap.  “You’re the stuff of nightmares.”

Clockblocker snorted, then got caught up in a murmured conversation with Weld and Triumph.  They were facing our way as they talked.

I tried to ignore them, focused on taking deep breaths, controlling the intake so I wouldn’t start coughing and humiliate myself in front of the local heroes.

“You okay?” Tattletale asked.

“Coughing less.  I feel like I’ve maybe got the worst of it out of my lungs and throat.”

“I meant you.  You’ve been quiet.  You weren’t saying as much as you normally might when I was talking to Miss Militia.”


“Important you keep doing that,” she said.  “But not if it’s getting you like this.  Unless you’re putting together a master plan.”

I shook my head.  “No plan.  Just fatigue and-”

I stopped.  Each and every officer in the next room was turning their heads.  I used my bugs to feel out the subject.  A hood, with the warmth of a faint natural glow from beneath, with the same effect around his hands, with his loose sleeves.  I noted that a glass helm like the one Clockblocker wore fit over his face beneath the hood.  People went out of their way to clear out of his path, to such an extent that I might have thought they were in front of an elephant and not a man.

Eidolon entered the conference room and grabbed the seat just to the right of the one at the far end of the table.  He swept his cape to one side before he sat down.

“Didn’t think you were coming,” Tattletale said.  “With it being just a Class-A threat.”

“The infamous Undersiders,” Eidolon spoke.  His voice reverberated slightly, an effect similar to Grue’s.

“And the famous Eidolon,” Tattletale retorted, “while we’re doing the reverse-introductions.      I thought I told Miss Militia that we shouldn’t bring in anyone we can’t beat in a fight.”

“Don’t concern yourself over it,” Eidolon said.  “I can render myself immune.”

“We won’t know until it happens,” she replied.

There was a pause.

“Tattletale.  Are you looking for a chink in the armor?”

“You can’t blame me, can you?  If we wind up having to fight you, then it might be all over.  So I’m gathering intel.”

Eidolon didn’t reply.

“Okay, sure.  Fine,” Tattletale raised her hands in surrender.  “It’s cool.”

Eidolon turned away to follow the murmured conversation between Weld, Triumph and Clockblocker.  Tattletale rested her elbows on the table, rubbed at her eyes.

“Tired?” I asked.

“Exhausted.  Been using my power all night, my head’s throbbing, and this whole business with Noelle hasn’t even started.”

“Take a nap,” I suggested.

“No time.  And I do want to make sure I have some ideas in advance, for anyone we might have to face.  Noelle is going to target Eidolon.  If we fight him, we’ll have to use his weaknesses against him.”

“Tattletale,” Eidolon cut Clockblocker off mid-sentence, his voice carrying across the room.  “Could you elaborate?”

“Don’t worry,” she said, “No weaknesses you don’t already know about.”

“Is that so?”

“You’re losing your powers,” she said.  “Not fast enough that it matters today, but enough that the difference is appreciable.”

It was hard to read Eidolon’s body language with the few bugs I’d permitted myself.  He was leaning forward slightly, and his upper arms pressed against the fabric of his costume as he flexed or clenched a fist.

“And how would you know this, if it were true?”

“Because any other day, with you heroes being as short on teleporters as you are, you’d be helping bring people in.  You’re conserving your strength.  It might even be a long term fear, like you’ve only got so much power to use over your lifetime before it’s all spent.  Candle that burns twice as hot, or something.”

“Simple deduction?  Did you consider that I am not teleporting people because there’s a shortage of volunteers?”

“That would contradict what Miss Militia said, and she wasn’t lying.  And it doesn’t fit the overall picture.  Alexandria-”

Eidolon slapped his hand down against the table.  A forcefield expanded from the impact site, forcing Rachel and I out of our chairs and against the wall.  I slumped down to the ground, grabbing my rib, and coughed painfully.

The forcefield had kept Rachel and I out, but Tattletale was inside with Eidolon.  The sounds from within were muffled.

But I had bugs on both Eidolon and Tattletale, and I could almost make out their words.

Tattletale was speaking.  “…reason you … this situation a class-A threat isn’t because it doesn’t fit.  …did it is because Alexandria wanted an excuse not… …  You came because you needed to prove something to yourself.  Test … measure of your power in a …nse situation… work best when… danger.  This is best challenge you’ll have…”

“…treading dangerous waters,” Eidolon spoke.  There was no growl in his voice, no anger, irritation or emotion at all.  Only calm.  It made him easier to understand.

“…can live with danger, … it’s interesting.  Awfully interesting… why Alexandria’s not coming… … me?  …secret.”

Eidolon said something, but his tone had changed and I wasn’t able to switch mental gears fast enough.

“…you?”  Tattletale asked. “Years…-”

“The fuck!?” Rachel snarled.  Bentley growled as if to accompany her words.  He was already growing.

“Relax,” I said, before I started coughing again.  “They aren’t fighting.”

“He knocked me over!”

I could see Miss Militia and Assault at the other end of the room, but the forcefield bubble was blocking us.

“What happened!?” Miss Militia shouted.

I tried to respond, coughed instead.  My voice was weak with the fresh rawness of my throat as I did manage to utter a reply, “Eidolon flipped…”

“Eidolon attacked!” Rachel yelled.

“Did she provoke him?”  Miss Militia asked.  Her gun was raised.

“No,” I managed only a whisper.

The forcefield winked out.  Eidolon was still sitting, he hadn’t moved except to slap the table with his hand, but Tattletale was standing.

“Just wanted to have a private conversation,” Eidolon said.  “I’m sorry.  I’ll be getting some fresh air.”

With that, he stood and strode out of the room.  He made his way to the stairwell and I could track him moving to the roof.

I picked up my chair and sat, still coughing intermittently.  Rachel was still standing, and her dogs were still growing.  I gestured for her to sit.

She just glared across the room.

I gestured again, but the force of the motion made my chest hurt and I started coughing.  Before I recovered, Rachel sat with an audible thud.  She kicked her boot against the edge of the table, hard, and left it there.

“What did you do?” Miss Militia asked.  She was facing Tattletale.  I could see the other Undersiders behind her.

“Was just commenting that it seemed odd he wasn’t helping you guys out with teleporting people in,” Tattletale said.

“You said more than that,” Weld noted.

“I’m tired, he’s tired, we talked it out.  All copacetic,” Tattletale said.  She leaned back and stretched.

“I’m not so sure,” Miss Militia said.  “Skitter, are you alright?”

“Recent injury,” I managed.  “Will be fine in a minute.”

Miss Militia nodded.  Not much sympathy, but I couldn’t blame her.  “Then let’s get things underway.  Everyone, please get seated, or find space to stand.”

Grue, Regent and Imp joined us, and Grue set his hands on my shoulders as he stood behind me.  He rubbed my exposed back where the armor panel was missing as I coughed hoarsely once or twice.

I counted the people in costume with my swarm.  It wasn’t nearly as many reinforcements as we’d had against Leviathan.  I saw Chevalier and Myrddin, but didn’t recognize anyone else.  There were the Wards and Protectorate members from Brockton Bay, with perhaps twenty more.

“Tentative ratings, based on what we know, we have her down as a brute eight, a changer two and a combination of striker and master with a rating of ten.”

“Too low,” I heard Tattletale murmur.

I suppressed a cough, managed only a choke.  It drew more attention to me, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone was already paying way too much attention.  I was wearing my older costume, and somehow felt more juvenile, more exposed.  I didn’t have the covering of bugs over the exterior of my costume like I was used to, either.

“Her ability allows her to create clones of anyone she touches.  The PRT office believes she’s a class-A threat, but Tattletale’s expectation is that this individual has the potential to become an Endbringer.  We’re moving forward with extreme caution.

“Our primary issue at the moment is that we can’t yet locate her.  She has one hostage, a young member of the Wards.  The girl was attacked en route to her home.  Locating our target quickly is paramount, but we should also be careful to avoid giving her a chance to use her power on us.  For the time being, we will be operating with the same protocols and plans that we employ against Hadhayosh.  Hit and run, maintain a safe distance as priority number one, and employ continuous attacks.  We’ll be dividing you into teams-”

Miss Militia stopped short as an officer pushed his way through the people near the door, Chevalier included.  He handed Miss Militia a phone.

She turned around and pressed a button on the wall.  The faux-wooden panels separated to reveal a widescreen television.

It flickered on.

Her?” Kid Win asked.  “That’s the class-S threat?”

“She’s bigger than she looks,” Tattletale commented.

I was disappointed I couldn’t see.  I tried looking at the screen with my bugs, but they saw only a rectangular glow.

“Quiet,” Miss Militia said, “It’s a webcam feed.  I’m setting it so we’ll be transmitting audio only… Hello, Noelle.”

“Who is this?”  Noelle asked.

“She talks,” I heard someone whisper.

“Miss Militia,” Miss Militia said, louder.

“The gun woman.  Who else is there?”

“Other local heroes,” Miss Militia replied.

“Oh.  There aren’t more?  The Undersiders didn’t get in touch with you?”  Noelle sounded funny.  Her voice was hollow, almost disappointed.

“It’s just us right now.”

“Because I smell more,” Noelle said.  “Which makes it hard to believe you.  But you can lie if you have to.”

“You can smell us.”

“Not you.  But it doesn’t matter,” Noelle’s voice broke.  She stopped.

“Are you there?” Miss Militia asked.

“I’m here.  I was telling you it doesn’t matter.  I only called because… I killed her.  The space-warper.  I’m so bad with the names.  So many names for you capes.  I only ever paid attention to the powers.”

“You killed Vista,” Miss Militia said.  “Why?”

“Because I could.  Because I was hungry, and I’d already used her up.  See?”

There was a brief pause, then a number of gasps and breathless words all at once.  One of my bugs caught a noise from Clockblocker, deep in his throat.

Grue leaned close, whispered in my ear, “Five Vistas.  All but one of them have faces more like masks than skin and muscle.  Hard, rigid.  Wearing borrowed clothes, not costumes.  The fifth one might be taller than I am, and her bones look curved.”

I nodded.

There was a thump from the microphone on Noelle’s end, presumably as she turned the camera back to herself.

“Just wanted to let you know that.  I’m sorry.  This isn’t like me.  It’s the stuff that’s growing on me.  I have my memories, and when I think, it’s always my thoughts, but it feels like it’s taking over my subconscious, and when it wants something the hormones and adrenaline flood into my body and my brain, so I feel what it feels.  Twists the way I think.”

“Why Vista?”

“She was alone.  And could smell how strong she was.  Read about her online, too.  Internet was all I had for a long time.  Now I’ve got them.  They’re pretty obedient, and it’s nice to have company.  I haven’t had any physical contact with anyone for a while, and they like giving me hugs.  Except the sixth.”

“Sixth,” Miss Militia said.

“Not as obedient.  She ran off.  Gibbering something about killing her family.”

Miss Militia thrust her index finger toward the door, and the Wards were gone in a flash, running for the stairwell.

“Can we negotiate?”  Miss Militia asked, her voice oddly calm given the ferocity of the gesture and the threat against one of her colleagues’ family.

“Not really a negotiation… but I can offer you a deal.”

“What’s the deal?”

“Kill the Undersiders.  Or hand them to me so I can torment them before I kill them.  You can do it any time you want to.  Just… knock them out, or hurt them, or find a way to tell me where they are.  If it’s a choice between hurting one of you or hurting one of them, I’ll hurt them.  I promise.  If I’ve taken someone hostage, you probably have a little while before the hostage is dead.  Just know that I’ll trade you any of my hostages for any Undersider, any time, any situation.  When the Undersiders are all dealt with, I’ll sniff out and kill all of the clones I’ve made, then I’ll let you try to kill me.  Or imprison me.  Do whatever.  I don’t care anymore, because I don’t think I’ll be me much longer.  I don’t think I’m even me right now.  Not the me I was… I’m rambling.

“They took away my only chance.  My only chance to get well.  Until they’ve paid for that, I’m going to make this hard on you, heroes.  I don’t think I can die, and I don’t think I’m that easy to stop in other ways.  I’ll hunt you down, I’ll copy you until you’re all used up, let your copies ruin your reputations and your lives, and then I’ll eat you.  I’ll do it to each of you, one by one, until you realize it’s easier to go after the Undersiders than to come after me.  Give me my revenge, and this ends.”

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

193 thoughts on “Queen 18.4

      • I think she’d be like SCP-682 and break into the Birdcage THEN kill all the peoples. xD

        Also I suspect one of the under siders to be killed off. Either by No’, a crazed clone, or one of the heroes. Do they have any of Bakuda’s bombs left Wildbow?

        • SCP?

          Noelle would burn. She absorbs living tissue, not lava. Sundancer might be able to survive a dip in lava, as would Alexandria. But at the moment Noelle isn’t anything but flesh. Tough flesh, but lava is really, really hot.

          • So, acid bath containment as per SCP-682’s standard containment procedures? I’m sure as hell not advising use of procedure 110-Montauk and no way are we sending SCP-76-02 after her. SCP-173 may be useful for this one. I doubt she can keep that good an eye on it.

            • Montauk is for 231, not 682. 076 is dangerous in any circumstances, but worse here, you are correct. 173 wouldn’t be as good as you’d think–Noelle has at least two heads.
              I’m thinking 343. He’s sort of the Scion of the SCP universe, except less active. 239 is a consideration, too, if they wake her up.

              • I think he was implying a saya no uta situation… though i’m not sure how an amnesia agent application would assist in the situation. SCP-173 would be a terrible idea, it is a living being, hence malevolent 173 clones running around. Acid might work though if not concentrated enough her regeneration would just outpace it i imagine.

              • 173 is a nonliving thing, as shown by tests such as…that tree that duplicates stuff. Besides, being inorganic but motile doesn’t cut it for clones–Weld’s okay despite cutting his way into Echidna.

          • look it up Endo. Its a creature that could give Crawler a run for his money…..and I suspect it could survive the bomb that killed Crawler.

            • Don’t think Sundancer needs air considering she immersed herself in her orbs on multiple occasions. Chances of getting oxygen there are nil, and all the oxygen in your lungs would be used up fast

              • It is mentioned that Sundancer tunneled away from Dragon. She said it was stupid of her, as she could have suffocated.

  1. Things just got a lot more…complicated.
    Good chapter though, nice to see that Noelle will actually be an intelligent enemy as opposed to some screaming berserker.

  2. Well shit. Another ward joins the fallen. I liked her attitude, I hope it was at least quick. Vista clones will be powerful but they are still vulnerable to damage. I would suggest snipers positioned to shoot her the second she drops her guard, especially if the clones can bypass the manton effect. Eidolon can make things very bad very fast. I wonder what Tattletale knows about him? I also thought it was funny that the all knowing Tattletale was hoping Taylor could come up with a plan. I doubt the heroes will negotiate, at least at first. Their protocol seems too rigid for that. If Noelle continues to kill the other heroes, than things might change. We also heard about a new class s threat called sleeper. Noelle smelling people over an internet connection speaks scary things about her tracking abilities. I would suggest containment foam but she might be too strong for that. Either way, bad shit is about to go down.

    • Vista’s death is, indeed, sad.
      Tattletale is “all-knowing,” but she’s not all-thinking. She seems more analytical, which is perfectly fine until you run into a situation where coming up with a good plan now is more important than a perfect one tomorrow.
      Protocol is, indeed, hamstringing the heroes. Which is why Marvel and DC have many of their heroes be vigilantes, I’d imagine.
      I, too, wonder what Sleeper is.

      And your last conclusion is so obvious that Bitch’s dogs in the shelter are probably aware of it.

      • Indeed, my first reaction was “No…”, my second was something vauge about the local Endwar and fallen heroes, and my third was oh no Noelle’s Passenger/Agent/Fairy/Entity is waking up and taking over, and my fourth was that all powers have violent applications, the Endbringers seem to want to encourage conflict rather than kill all humans (case in point: The Simurgh would never have tipped her hand about the long term effects of her song as early as she did otherwise unless she was an idiot, the whole take turns every couple months thing is also suspicious).
        I suspect Panacea realised that Endbringers are probably awakend Passengers (or Entities, as I am beginning to suspect every general power, and possibly every Trigger has a unique set) and that the Simurgh decided that this would lead to an unsatisfactory situation.
        Maybe the local Endwar is the result of several Entities using Earth Bet as a battlefield for their own personal war? Or reproduction sequence…

        • Consider the responses to the Simurgh (those have been brought up by now, right? The quarantine and stuff?). Is it so impossible that those were part of the plan? That probably ruins more lives per incident than the Noelle incident.
          Aside from that, I agree with your arguments.

          As to your idea…maybe. I wish I could comment on it more, but I’m afraid my perspective would ruin things, having read through the whole story. And most of it twice.

  3. “I entered the elevator in the company of Parian, Regent, Bastard and Bentley, Miss Militia, Weld, Clockblocker, and Trimph.” – Misspelled his name there.

    I sincerely doubt the Heroes are just going to hand over the Undersiders. I mean, they may not like them all that much and less supervillains can only be a good thing but that would be consigning them to a certain, painful death which I imagine is totally against the Law and their moral codes.

    Also, Skitter doesn’t seem nearly as handicapped by her blindness as she should be. She seems a little too aware of everything at times.

    Another thing I just want to say Wildbow, this is going to sound terrible but I like how you’re able to kill off characters so… simply. Most authors I’ve read tend to focus a lot on the deaths while you are able to just mention it offhandedly with the minimum of details added. Still a bit disappointed Vista died, she was interesting.

    • I doubt the heroes are going to hand them over because

      1. They can’t necessarily trust Noelle. For all they know, she’ll copy the villains they’ve been having so much trouble with and instead they’ll have 6 teams of Undersiders to face on top of Noelle.

      2. Even if Noelle does keep to her word, that still leaves an S-class threat that’s losing her mind constantly to try and lock up. Guarantee it isn’t going to work. Especially if they put her in the Bird Cage. You want your ultimate break out end of the world scenario? That’s it right there.

      3. After all that talk about the truce, they have to stick with it now. That should mean no handing over the villains to be massacreized.

      4. They’ll want revenge for Noelle more at this point because of what she did to Vista.

      5. I wish I had some cheese. And some chocolate chip cheesecake. Is there any way to make a cheesecake with cheddar in it? Like a Cheddar cheesecake? I bet the chocolate chips would still be good. Johnsonville Brats are good with the cheddar in them, even if you feel like you’re eating a fancier version of something found in a gas station. I wonder how a bratwurst works on a taco.

      6. Chances are Noelle is pulling a divide and conquer here as far as the heroes know. Send the Wards off after a copied or traumatized Vista, have the heroes hand over the Undersiders, and suddenly there’s Noelle, near a bunch of heroes with copies of Vista and the Undersiders, and numerically depleted heroes who didn’t bother to call in more reinforcements because they wimped out on calling her S-class and because they thought they could handle it with just throwing her the Undersiders.

      • Re: #5 — yes to all, though you have to skin the bratwurst first.
        Re: #6 — “Vista & the Undersiders” sounds like a band that could cut a few tracks for Wildbow.

    • I actually think this is one chapter where Skitter’s blindness is noticeably a disadvantage. It made it tricky for her to watch the video with the others.

  4. I wonder if Noelle was stroking one of the vistas like a cat as she delivered her villain speech. Poor Vista. Though I wouldn’t be entirely sure that I trust Noelle’s carefully worded explanation of her fate, or her extremely clear yet subtle instruction on where to send some heroes with the expectation of fighting a single clone and not herself…

    “entered via. Trickster’s teleportation” Extra period.
    “Clockblocker handed Triumph a diet coke.” Not sure how she could tell what kinda drink it was- other than kamikaze-ing a bug into the can maybe.(That is a hilarious image)

    • First Leviathan, then the Nine, now this…I wonder when all the class S threats will decide to pick on somewhere else. I hear New York is great to smash this time of year.

  5. Hello
    I’ve been reading Worm since late October, and it quickly became one of my favorite works of online and general fiction, but this chapter is the first time I’ve actually been really scared by a story in a long time. Maybe its just because its midnight, but the reveal of what Noelle is now seriously shook me up.

    So good work with that.

  6. Well, this development is just horrible. I’m absolutely sure some of the heroes would be all for handing over the Undersiders. This will of course divide everyone up even further. Nothing will get done, now, unless Wildbow throws us a curveball and Scion/Zion appears, along with whoever is his current “trainer.”

    I’m still wondering where the Travelers will come in. They won’t just abandon Noelle, especially Trickster. Their actions will definitely throw a wrench into any working plan. They and Noelle just can’t seem to get over the fact that Coil was a false hope.

    Speaking of Coil, won’t anyone just say that Calvert was Coil? It doesn’t matter if they believe it now, but it will plant the idea and make someone investigate, especially when Dinah is up to testifying.

    One thing I’ve been wondering since last chapter: does Tattletale know about Cauldron’s connection to the PRT heads? She did mention doing tests on the evidence, but not using standard labs. Now, she even confronts Eidolon. If Tattletale talks with Legend about his suspicions, things could get ugly for everyone.

    Honestly, I think that, while things are starting to wrap up, too many story climaxes are occurring at once, making the plotlines harder and harder to keep track of. It works a bit, since the story seems to intend for a giant CF, as I once mentioned. It just gets a bit tiring sometimes.

    Or maybe I just need to get to sleep instead of typing this comment.

  7. Good news, the Undersiders won’t be handed over. No matter how dumb the heroes are, that won’t happen.

    The bad news, Vista may be dead. Or she was traumatized by the event, Noelle didn’t eat her, and instead the Wards are going to get to Vista’s house only to face a traumatized Vista that they THINK is an evil clone.

    And I think Tattletale’s first words after this call ends is “Told ya so.”

    Though I liked the “Why? Because we’re bad? Ooh, spooky,” Tattletale waggled her fingers at him.

    Fun stuff.

    • If we’re making wages on what happens next, I’m betting Skitter tries to take control of the situation by ‘surrendering’ to Noelle. Of course, I doubt Noelle will fall for that kind of trap, but still.

      • I could see Skitter volunteering, problem is she’s after the full set.

        Though, if Skitter admits she killed Coil and was the driving force behind it all, she might be able to bargain Noelle down. She strikes me as being the type to do that, in part because she doesn’t put a lot of value on herself.

        • I agree. On one level, if Noelle really would surrender, how many among us wouldn’t sacrifice themselves to save all of our friends? (Or would we just say that?) On the other hand, we know that Noelle is smart enough play tricks. This is a brilliant gambit by Noelle because she loses nothing by making it and whether she intends to carry out her promise or not she wins. Even if the heroes don’t turn on the Undersiders, it will at least drive a wedge between them.

          “We promise in accordance with our calculations, and we carry out in accordance with our fears.” – Мор (Утопия)

          • Pathologic? Congratulations! You just won this week’s prize for most obscure reference!
            I’m guessing this is the arc that separates the men from the boys in terms of who’s fit to wear a cape or not. I’m gonna take a leap and guess that Eidolon will fall into the latter category.

      • She did say “any situation,” which could be a promise to walk into obvious traps if the bait is a real Undersider.

    • I don’t know, our ‘heroes’ haven’t exactly proven themselves the saintliest of folks thus far. There’ll be some who want to take the deal; Tattletale’s best response would probably be to point out that Noelle is pretty obviously insane and hungry, and therefore can’t be trusted to uphold her end of the bargain.

      Also, is Skitter permanently blind? The Medhall people did give her something for her eyes, right?

      • I know that we’ve all gotten attached to the Undersiders, but the heroes as a whole are definitely better to deal with in the absolute sense. And besides, this isn’t a black-and-white moral decision in the first place. Nonetheless, I agree there is no guarantee AT ALL that Noelle will be able to stop herself from going on a rampage.

        She’s not permanently blind, I hope. They gave her some sort of prescription eye drops to be used 3x a day.

    • Hmm… She talks about smelling the fact that there are more heroes than they’re saying, but she says she can’t smell THEM. She says she only ever thinks about the powers people have, not their codenames. She says she could tell Vista was strong. How much do you bet she can somehow sense the presence of every superpower in the city? (Maybe the passengers?) Though obviously it’s not too precise at long ranges, or she would have already tracked down the Undersiders.

  8. Noelle’s supposed to be smart, so a few thoughts on what her game plan might be.

    1. The sixth Viista might be a red herring, intended to separate some heroes from the pack to take them in.
    2. Maybe wishful thinking, but Vista might not be dead. Perhaps she’s being kept around to throw a curveball when the heroes take out all the Viistas and they suddenly find themselves under attack by another one.
    3. On that note, the sixth Viista might be the actual Vista, who Noelle released after lying about sending a Viista to kill her family, other Wards see her from assistance, attack, and are pretty shook up when they find out they just friendly-fired their teammate.
    4. Any hero who buys her “gimme the undersiders” gambit is an idiot. They do that, Noelle goes back on her word, and now they have an insane, beefed up Skiiter and Biitch to contend with. It’s probably a ploy to divide them and make smaller groups easier prey.
    5. The other Travelers are a loose end and presumably the only people Noelle still cares about. I suggest they bring them in and put the boots to Trickster (medium) style, in full view of Noelle. Make her go berserk and throw off her strategy. It would end up causing alot of damage, but’s it’s probably better than actual plan.

    This has been another episode of Armchair Strategist Theater.

    • Whoo, I forgot about the Travelers. Six Sundancers and Ballistics, all juiced-up and devoid of morals. That’d make for a bad day.

      • You mean Suundancers and Baallistics. And that’s another reason to take them in. If she get’s ahold of them that that’s it, everyone is fucked. The end.

          • Timothy Zahn used that convention in his Star Wars books to designate that a person was a clone. (Published a fair bit before the prequels were filmed). …All of which is making me wonder whether “Reven” would approve of this Reveen character.😀

    • Game plan 3 sounds pretty unlikely to me, it seems to be a somewhat popular theory but I don’t see it.

      I mean, the Vista clones are quite clearly deformed and aren’t wearing actual costumes and the Wardes know that so I find the idea they might mistake real Vista for Evil-Twin!Vista pretty unlikely.

  9. I still have to wonder if it’s possible Noelle was a Chimera or something and a lot of this is the absorbed twin sibling getting the powers and starting to take over, building itself in a strange fashion. Not all Class S threats are Endbringers, after all, and Tattletale may not be wrong that Endbringers weren’t human.

  10. I’m interested in how much strategy Noelle is actually employing at this time. Is she actually on the level, and only interested in revenge against the Undersiders? Or has she completely lost her shit and taken a flying leap off of the slippery slope, in which case the demand could simply be a plausible means of acquiring access to other metahumans for cloning fodder, to bolster her position. I mean, considering her experiences with this particular universe, it’s not much of a stretch to think she could bear a grudge against everything and everyone in it.

  11. Oh, and it also occurs to me, that if Taylor did want to get her sight back, she should probably see about asking Eidolon at some point. With Amy in the Birdcage, he’s pretty much the only option.

    • If he or she is up there with the likes of Nilbog, the Nine and the Endbringers, lord knows that it can’t be good. Going just off the name, I’m going to guess that it has something to do with dreaming or inducing sleep. Saying that, I’m envisioning a Freddy-like character.

    • I’m guessing that it’s kind of like the Red King in Alice Through the Looking-Glass: if his sleep is disturbed, we stop existing. After all, he’s dreaming us🙂

      • Regardless, Noelle has managed to look more and more pathetic since she first showed up in story and spoke.

        She blames everyone else for her problems, never seems to deal with her issues and now that she is able to do so she resorts to violence at the drop of a hat.

        Brainwashed or not, I do not see what Krouse saw in her. She’s like Skitter with all the good bits removed.

          • Eh, he may be a bad person at socialising and have terrible decision making. But between the two, he wasn’t throwing irrational blame at her nor did her abandon her at any point. I find myself thinking he’s the better of the two.

            Noelle seems incredibly egocentric to me.

          • To be fair, what we’re seeing now is potentially more “Echidna” than Noelle.

            Meaning, it’s hard to say how much of what we’re seeing is actually Noelle and how much is the monster that she’s becoming (or already become) just wearing a Noelle flavored mask.

            Maybe big parts or all of Noelle are gone now and the monster that remains is just using the remembered bits to achieve its ends. Or maybe this is what Noelle became as a result of the isolation and stress that she’s been under since they arrived.

            Short of getting an Interlude chapter focused on her, it’s not likely that we can tell the difference, and either way what she is now is a monster.

    • Could be that she’s been locked in a dungeon for months/years in more or less total isolation while watching herself grow into a monster, knowing at any time she could become a reality-ending monstrosity and with only one vague, slim hope for recovery that was recently dashed into the pavement. That’s enough to drive anyone crazy and, y’know, just a LITTLE irrational.
      There’s also the little fact that there’s a fucking endbringer on her ass that’s not-so-subtly influencing her body chemistry, mind and hormones in order to make her more irrational, irritable, and occasionally fly into murderous rages. Try pumping yourself full of hormones and see how rational you are.

  12. Well, it got worse, again. I am beginning to see a pattern here🙂

    Some observations:

    1. Skitter has improved tremendously when it comes to sensing through her bugs. Even limited in the number of bugs as she is, she still manages to see and hear a lot.
    2. Myrddin saw Noelle back in the hospital and I think she gave her real name back then. If he or one of the othetr heores manages to connect Noelle with Simurgh they might upgrade her to S-Class.
    3. We finally learned the name of the sixth S-class threat: Sleeper – what are the chances that he will come to Brockton Bay at some point?
    4. Skitter’s current apperance is far more non-threatening then her recent ‘normal’ outfit. Because of her injuries, her improvised old costume, bugs not crawling all over her and her not speaking with a reverb effect, she might seem more approachable and vulnerable. This might lead th heroes to treat more as a little girl and underestimate her which might be both good and bad.
    5. Noelle can sense (“smell”) powers even over long distances. This is bad and might among other things become Imp’s undoing.
    6. Skitter really needs some more in-depth medical help. Unfortunately the Heroes don’t seem to have brought a healer and probably wouldn’t have let them close to her if they did. Maybe she can convince Eidolon to heal her once things get really bad.
    7. The heroes seem to have a lack of certain abilities like teleportation (I think their premier teleporter was killed by Leviathan) Why isn’t Cauldron wroking harder on creating capes with important support powers like teleport and healing?
    8. The heroes seemed to be really shook up when they learned that the possible nascent endbringer had human intelligence. How will they react when they learn that Noelle used to be her teams tactican and leader?
    9. Tattletale seems to be intentionally obtuse when it comes to mischarcterizing Noelle as a threat with exponential abilities which she at this point isn’t. Then again Noelle has a RPG background and might be enough of a munchkin to see and use a gamebreaking combo of powers if one presents itself.

    • Just to add to my own post (for which Gravatar somehow didn’t work)

      One obvious power combo that would elevate Noelle’s threat level is Grue’s power.

      Grue can copy powers. A cloned Grue could too. A cloned grue could touch Noelle without triggering her power. A cloned Grue could use his power to copy hers and Touch Noelle to use her own power on her to create a copy Noelle. Copy Noelle and Noelle might be able to use their powers on each other…

      Unless the limit for copying Noelle alluded to by saying she used Vista up is an intrinsic limitation of the powered individual (The passenger can only be spread this thin.) and not of her own powers, things might very well be over once she figures out how to self-duplicate however indirectly.

  13. I think that has more to do with the Endbringer controlling her subconsciousness. I’m not certain whether this is about throwing blame or utilizing an excellent divide & conquer strategy.

  14. Hm…

    Okay, let’s assume for a moment that Noelle is doing this as a calculated effort to throw our heroes off their game. Let’s see how her statements are useful.

    1. She shares that she knows they have the Undersiders. This is an interesting call. On one hand if she pretended to ignore them she’d make them more likely to make mistakes of a “okay that’s our secret weapon” type. On the other hand she shows that deceiving her is difficult, which probably gives her more accurate information in the long run.

    2. Her declaration of killing Vista is another interesting call. It seems probable that she’d want to say Vista’s alive if she’s dead, and Noelle could probably fake an alive Vista under the circumstances. Trying to rescue a dead teammate would throw them off. However there’s less of an incentive to say she is dead if she’s alive. The best reasoning for this is the theory that Vista is running home and there is no sixth Vista, but that’s a bit overly complicated, and eating someone is definitely in character for Noelle. I REALLY want Vista to be alive, but this seems unlikely. The only thing I can think of is Vista may have had a second Trigger Event which allowed her to escape, but that’s a bit contrived. If that is the case though it would make for a much more solid distraction.

    3. Noelle definitely gave the impression that she didn’t care anymore and was losing grip pretty badly. Whether or not this is true she probably wants that impression.

    4. So, the demand for the Undersiders. It’s hard to tell if it’s genuine or not, but my impression is that it kind of has to be, given her deal. She’s willing to trade for them one at a time. That’s the big one. If she just wanted a mass team of Undersiders that she tricks the heroes into giving her she’d be a lot less willing to go that route, probably. Admittedly this isn’t that strong an argument. Whether or not she’d really surrender is questionable, but she probably does want the Undersiders dead more than a clone army of them. Of course these are not mutually exclusive ends. The Undersiders are probably the most dangerous people to throw around in teams like that.

  15. Grue in a small room full of powered people that do not know the new ability of his darkness = forget any threat to the undersiders.
    Imagine what will happen if grue get a small fraction of the power of everyone in the room.

    • No it’s Who is Atlas. xD
      I’m going to guess (s)he has abilities like Drowzee from Pokémon. Put people to sleep, maybe bring their nightmares into reality, gets stronger the more people are in some kind of chemically induced sleep/coma. Just my thoughts on a name like ‘Sleeper’.

      • For an individual to be on the same level as all the Nine combined I would expect them to do more than just putting people to sleep.

        My guess would be more along the lines of “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” or “The Kraken Wakes!”; something incredible dangerous that is currently dormant and everyone is rather concerned about waking up and laying waste to everything.

        Another idea would be along the lines of turning people into sleeper-agents or something like Randall Dowling’s power as described in Planetary: “Anyone who’s ever been within a hundred feet of Randall Dowling… probably is Randall Dowling.”

        If it is someone with power over dreams I at the very least expect them to have Freddy Krueger like powers.

        In any case to be on the same level as the Endbringers, the Nine or Nilbog it should be someone with terrifying nightmarish and generally bowel loosening frightful powers.

        • What about sleep on a truly massive scale? That’s a terrifying thought. Patients, planes, cars causing untold damage. And bringing nightmares into the physical world…could potentially be like laberenth but on a huge scale. Killing them with nightmares would be like an ultimatum move. Half a city dead in their sleep, then the other half sleeps…….

          But I like yer idea too. A literal sleeping giant with potentially continent ending powers. The sleeper agent sounds like Ziz in many ways.

          • There was an ace in the wild cards stories called sleeper who when he slept, he would sleep for days to months at a time. when he woke he would have a new appearance and a new power, sometimes something harmless or at least relatively ordinary in as far as any superpowers are ordinary, other times he would wind up with abilities that were just scary. He would take amphetamines just to stretch out the interludes between sleeping and essentially discarding and drawing a new power.

          • I read another character in this story. A to Z in the something something universe. Each little section was a letter that stood for a name of a hero or villain or something that told a certain amount of the story from their perspective. It’s in an anthology of superhero stories called Masked.

            Anyway, one of the heroes is Dormouse, a champion most able. Her power is that she controls when she gets tired. Sounds kind of useless, more so than bug control. Except she can stay up as long as she wants to without a deterioration of abilities. Standing guard, researching, covering a stakeout, or just dodging a lion. She’s not faster, just that she can dodge it long enough for it to get tired. She, meanwhile, can just keep running.

            The downside is she has to make it all up whenever she does sleep. Leaves little bugs around called mousetraps, because she can be out for days, weeks, even months at a time.

  16. Must say, this chapter was great until Noelle said that Vista died. Then it kinda plumeted for me.

    It’s one thing to have a bleak world where anyone can die. I can accept and even like that, as I like it here with worm. But I really hope that Vista is not dead. Not only is she one of my favourite wards, she also simply deserves better, if only a better death than “oh, she was eaten offscreen”.
    To paraphrase Linkara: “If you absolutely, totally, HAVE to kill one of your heroes/villains, you’d better make sure they go down swinging.

    • I’m sure she did. I’m also sure that her death was needed. It was the most thorough way to convince us that Noelle is not redeemable. And I bet that was pary of her instinct too. She has wanted to die… Now we see if she takes the rest of the city with her. So wait… she can’t eat the things she clones? And they can touch her?

      … Huh.

    • What I meant is that her death just seems so senseless. Not in-story – it’s supposed to be senseless in-story, a show of just how utterly lost Noelle is – but out-of-story as well. vista was one of the more engaging, sympathetic characters and to have her die like this is just a waste of a good character, in my opinion.

      also, she said “i had used her up” and “until I use you up” so maybe noelle can only create a finite number of clones from each person. since she seems capable of “smelling” the passengers, she may be ripping off pieces of them every time she clones someone, until they have no passengers/powers left. that would also fit the fact that her victims seem to be still alive after having been used up

  17. Well that’s interesting, was checking the tags and noticed a new one simply called ‘Scape’.

    Considering the tags are reserved for characters, it’s most likely referring to the Vista clones since their are no new characters in this chapter it could go to. According to Google, Scape means either a leafless flower that grows straight from the root or is part of an insect’s antenna which doesn’t really make all that much sense considering Vista’s powers have nothing to do with bugs or botany.

    Alternatively, it might be a play on Vista’s name: a vista is a pleasant view and that view typically that of a landSCAPE.

    • Well, Vista got a tag too despite being supposedly dead and only talked about. Maybe the clones count as vista for tag purposes and only the sixth that “came out wrong” is her own person as “Scape”.

      Of course if the clones have the ability to develop into their own persons even if they are ‘evil’ persons this makes dealing with them more problematic, you can’t easily defend just kill them for being potentially dangerous and for being ‘born’.

      • From what we’ve gathered, Noelle copies a cape and builds the copy out of whatever biomatter she has accumulated. And maybe the degree of variance and instability the clone displays depends on how different the flesh used is to the originals own.

        What if she absorbs Vista and uses Vista’s own biomatter to make the copy? Perhaps that would result in a clone that’s closer to the original in terms of appearance and personality but still pretty fucked up by the imperfect process of Noelle’s copy ability.

        The new Vista ends up still being a good guy, but having to grapple with the existential crisis of taking someone else’s place. Pretty interesting.

        But still, probably wishful thinking.

  18. Impressive, my faith in your writing has been rewarded Wildbow, you managed to cover all the bases. The solution to Noelle’s problem is rather simple, barring any author’s prerogative surprises in her abilities. Tattletale is exhausted so it’s easy to see why she missed it, even though she should have seen it earlier; Noelle needs a bio-tinker like Panacea, or Bonesaw. Bonesaw would be preferable because she has those nifty new cyber arms (thanks Mannequin), and could potentially operate on Noelle without being duplicated; a duplicate of Panacea that is hostile and willing to use her power without restraint would be terrifying. Bonesaw would need to be controlled via Regent, Panacea or her power used though Grue.
    First stabilize No’s neurochemistry; it’s common knowledge minor changes in neurochemistry can radically alter behavior patterns. Just the fat leaking into the bloodstream from a broken bone can lead from people being very confused to being thought of as insane. A Hemispherectomy (really just cutting the corpus callosum), can lead to alien hand syndrome. Imagine what poor No is going through.

    Offer her a return to control.

    Second modify her physiology. Give her a waste disposal symptom, we have been given enough clues in the story that it is a combination of the damage she sustained during the Simurgh attack plus the consumption of only half of the power potion that led to her power manifesting in such a problematic way. Bonesaw demonstrated that powers can be modified by bio-tinkers.

    Make the expression of her power conscious and return her to physical normalcy.

    Voila! From nascent Endbringer to superhero!

    As for her and the Travelers’ other problem, they can never go home it may extend the Simurgh’s influence, sorry.

    • Regent’s control doesn’t work quite so fine when it comes to using their powers, like Bonesaw’s biotinker stuff. Plus, he’d still need knowledge in her mind, not just control of her body.

      Letting Panacea or Bonesaw near Noelle is a bad idea.

      • Well, speaking of people with such powers, there’s also Eidolon. He has ANY power. He’s already indicated he can make himself un-clonable by Noelle (although we’ll have to see whether that ends up being true), and we know he can heal people. So, even if he needs to lay on hands to do so, he should be able to do something to Noelle’s physiology along those lines.

        Of course, since he appears to be a fairly unoriginal thinker, he’ll never think of that on his own.


    • If what’s happening to Noelle is just a function of her incomplete transformation, then the solution is to feed Oliver to her. After all, he got the other half of the potion, right? Perhaps they’re broken because they’re sharing a passenger between them. Granted, we’re not sure HOW Oliver is broken, but I’m pretty sure he is.

  19. Well, *shit*.

    I genuinely didn’t expect Noelle to still be smart. Or even sapient. This is huge.

    My prediction is that Skitter will be able to control Noelle’s clones of her bugs if any and that’s how it’ll go down. Alternatively, Dragon sends a helping hand in the form of semi-autonomous driverless powered armor/giant robot.

  20. Skitter has a couple of developing abilities showing here. Although she cannot see what is on the screen, she can see where the screen is via her bugs. More importantly, she is able to listen in to some of Tattletales private conversation with Eiddolon. I wonder if she is going to get better at this stuff: in which case I wouldn’t be surprised to find that, far from getting healed, Skitter takes more damage, and possibly loses another sense: goes deaf, or turns dumb? I’m thinking she is going to become totally dependant on the swarm, and fade more into the background herself.

  21. Minor typo: Chevalier – Should be Cavalier

    Aside from that, Loving this story. I think it’s interesting that Skitter “can’t” hear / see through her bugs when she tries, but when she’s hurt, confused, and / or exhausted, it’s fairly easy.

      • The word “chevalier” is french for “cavalier”, meaning “dude on a horse”. (Okay, that’s a tiny bit loose on the translation, but the intent is correct. Literally, it means “horse-er”, as in “one who works with horses”.) The French Chevaliers were mounted “knights”, warriors of higher bearing who wore armour and rode on horseback, and the english word, “cavalier” was absorbed directly, with minor anglicization of pronunciation, from the French influence in noble affairs and culture after 1066.

        And Wildbow, being a Canuck, likely knew some of that already, given the “two official languages” thing in the Great White North.


  22. How did Vista receive her powers again?

    Just curious, because Noelle can’t smell Miss Militia, who we have confirmed gained her powers via trauma. She also may not be able to smell the Undersiders, and all but Tattletale are confirmed to have gotten theirs the normal way too.

    • My interpretation was that Noelle was saying she couldn’t smell people in an individual sense, but that she smells passengers and the power thereof –she went after Vista because she could smell how powerful she was. The gathering of anti-Noelle forces there must smell delicious, too fancy a feast to be just the heroes alone.

      If so, this sense probably isn’t really smell, but that’s all Noelle has the mental framework for, so she’s getting it filtered through in a funky “I hear colors!” way. Super-powered synesthesia.

  23. “My warning goes for you too, Tattletale. I already instructed Triumph to shout at the first sign of trouble.”

    “You should know he’s a screamer. Next time he has sex you’ll knock down my door,” Tattletale said.

    “Good. You should also know that Parian is leaving. She asked me to tell you, and to let you know she’ll be at her territory. Her and her little dachshund Toto too. ”

    Parian was gone? Shit.

    “I wouldn’t have let her go,” I said. ”For a lot of reasons.”

    “It’s unfortunate, I agree,” Miss Militia said, “The pouty lips, the firm ass, the titillating tongue play. But we’re not in a position to stop her, short of fighting her. She was adamant about not wanting to participate in this fight. Flechette is escorting her back, so at least someone’s getting laid this morning.”

    “And however Noelle found Vista, she might find Parian and Flechette and target them the same way,” Tattletale said.

    “Maybe. They both have devices to alert us. Parian doesn’t know she has one yet, but that’s what Flechette’s tongue is for. In the worst-case scenario, they can inform us if something’s happened. Given our normal track record, that means we’ll arrive just in time to yell dramatically at the sky and curse someone. Test audiences say we should curse Balthazar.”

    Miss Militia didn’t wait for a response. She was already striding down the hall, gesturing to get someone’s attention. Someone too small and too young to be a cop. From the pitch of his voice and the sugary smell, I assumed he was sent as a representative of the Lollipop Guild.
    The three boys at the other end of the long table started talking among themselves.

    “This is falling apart before it begins,” Tattletale commented.

    “I get the impression Miss Militia’s spooked,” I said. ”She’s tense. She might need a massage. Or maybe she’s tired of this assclown writing us as lesbians because of his own stupid mysoginistic fantasies.”

    “Anyone would be,” Tattletale replied. ”Doesn’t help that the last Endbringer fight ended her predecessor’s career and gave him a good eulogy to write.”

    I nodded.

    “Our muscle’s going to suffer in this fight,” Tattletale said. ”Your bugs, Bitch’s dogs, they can’t hurt her, if she absorbs things on contact. Not unless we want clones of Bitch’s dogs running rampant. It’ll be bad enough having mutant evil killer cannibal ladybugs swarming us.”

    “The heroes have long ranged fire,” I replied. ”Kid Win, Miss Militia, Triumph. We know just how good they are at fighting. So Bitch and I adopt a support role. The dogs get our key players around the battlefield, if Bitch is willing. I take bets on when the heroes screw everything up.”

    Rachel grunted something that could have been agreement.

    “And I might be able to tie Noelle up without the bugs touching her. Grue taught me this thing with ribbons. Regent could do the same.” I finished.

    “Regent’s about as useful as a poopy-flavored lollipop. And his chest is still sore from my black latex boots. Can you imagine what an lazy hedonist he’d be if he had Leviathan under his control?”

    “I’d rather not,” I admitted. ”There’s a sweet spot as far as rep goes. Having a pet Endbringer puts us in the ‘too scary to be allowed to live’ category.”

    “We’d have to do what the Slaughterhouse Nine or Microsoft do, win frequently enough against high odds that people can’t afford the losses.”

    “Would mean we have to go mobile,” I said. ”So we have time to recuperate while the enemy tries to track us down. Anyways, enough ‘what if’ in this story of a world of superheroes and no 9/11. Let’s get back on topic.”

    Tattletale nodded. ”Imp?”

    “For this coming fight? Rescue,” I said. ”The enemy won’t target her, they might not target anyone she can get in contact with. Fallen allies, captives, Imp gets them to safety. She might be able to shut up Noelle with a well-placed sock to the mouth.”

    Tattletale nodded. The tone of her voice shifted fractionally as she said, “You guys can chime in at any point here.”

    The young heroes had stopped talking and were listening in.

    “I don’t know what you want us to add,” Clockblocker said.

    “No wonder you buys do such a fantastic job against us,” Tattletale said.

    “We were just going to use Attack Pattern Alpha,” said Clockblocker, “and the 5 Ds of dodgeball. Duck, dip, dive, dodge, and duck.”

    “You said duck twice, goose,” I said. ”Maybe we put you on Bentley’s back. We won’t have to kill Noelle if you can tag her. We’ll be able to keep her frozen long enough for us to erect some form of containment.”

    “Me? On the dog? I’m all for erecting something around a girl, but come on.”

    “You scared? Frozen chicken?” Rachel asked.

    “I think anyone would be a little scared. You can’t tell me they aren’t a little intimidating.”

    “Not used to having something intimidating between your legs? Or is it that you still haven’t learned how to freeze a giant target with your ability to stop the time of things you touch?” I asked.

    “If it closes its teeth around my arm, the fraction of a second it takes my power to kick in is going to buy it time to dig in just a little. Jaws clamped on my arm, I freeze it, sure, but then every time it unfreezes, it closes a little more before I can freeze it again. No thank you.”

    “Oh poor baby. How hard it would be to get you free of that. Maybe we can send the same whambulance for you that I took when Flechette fused metal to my bones. Oh, that’s right, I walked to medical care and then did things while they cut me open without putting me out. Reclassify yourself as a changer and go grow a pair,” I said.

    “He’s scared,” Rachel said. She scratched the top of Bastard’s head, and I realized she was talking to the wolf cub that was sleeping in her lap. ”You’re the stuff of nightmares.”

    Clockblocker snorted, then got caught up in a murmured conversation with Weld and Triumph. They were facing our way as they talked.

    I tried to ignore them, focused on taking deep breaths, controlling the intake so I wouldn’t start coughing and humiliate myself in front of the local heroes.

    “You okay?” Tattletale asked.

    “Coughing less. I feel like I’ve maybe got the worst of it out of my lungs and throat.”

    “I meant you. You’ve been quiet. Not chiming in.”

    “Oh. My tongue got tired after that long conversation we just had.”

    “Important you keep working it out,” she said. ”But not if it’s getting you like this. Unless you’re putting together a master plan.”

    I shook my head. ”No plan. Just fatigue and a bad case of anal itch and stinky finger.”

  24. I don’t know if this is an error, but it was confusing when Tattletale said Skitter had been quiet and not chiming in, when in fact she had been leading the conversation (ie. strategy on how to use each person, putting Clockblocker on Bentley) up until she took a moment for a few breaths.

  25. When Skitter has these debates with heroes and “heroes,” I keep hoping to see her say “I used to want to be a superhero. Then I met a superhero.”

    • Oh snap…izzle. Luckily Triump seems to be one of the unquotationed. I don’t remember enough about Clockblocker to tell about him though. Weld strikes me as adhering pretty closely to the rules because they’re the rules. Or he seems to. He does a lot more seeming than issing to me. That much seem is untrustworthy. One reason why I’m picky over my tailoring.

      Nope, just don’t trust Weld. Something about him doesn’t seem known. Probably a member of the Cauldron Conspiracy and did things to get Piggot demoted. Not that Piggot wasn’t doing a fantastic job herself, but everyone needs a helping hand from time to time.

      That’ll do, Piggot. That’ll do.

      • Well, Weld is a case 53… I’d be willing to bet they all have some kind of kill switch or override built in, so the Doctor can pull a Palpatine and execute Order 66 when the end rolls around.

        • I had wondered if they might have something in the formula that they can use to shut it off. Or just someone capable of doing something to stop anyone who has taken the formula. That would be very useful in this scenario, but I doubt they can manage it.

        • I suggest puppybombs. Strap a bomb to a puppy or force it to swallow it, or just sew one up in its belly. Then, when the little kid goes to pet it, kablooey!

          Don’t remember how old Vista was, but at least double digits of age. It may just be that the clone is copied with all the brains and memories of the original, just in a horribly disfigured body and powers that aren’t quite working like they normally are. Chances are good that if you went from looking however you look to being a horribly deformed, bony, fatty, hunchbacked, bucktoothed, bugeyed, giant elongated skulled, digitagrade, chicken-legged, club tailed, oozy, elbow bladed, blonde afroed, three toed, five antennaed, six assed, two tone, slime spewing, beastial version of yourself, knowing you have just been condemned to that life when a few minutes ago you were a normal looking person with family and loved ones, you might do something screwed up too.

          The one that ran off to kill her family may have just figured that if she was Vista and looked that way from now on, then she’d rather her family die than see her having become such a monster and what she’d likely have to do to survive.

          Which is why we need to deploy the puppybombs, possibly with AK-47s strapped to kittens for added firepower. That’ll help save us from the evil people.

  26. might have gotten it wrong, but isn’t noelle the perfect enemy for taylor,
    so what if there are “evil” clones of her bugs?
    she is still the one controling them!

    She could attack noelle with bugs to get mutated “super”-bugs
    multiple mutated-atlas,
    mutated relay-bugs, if some haven’t starved already,
    hoping for the mutated version to have a digesting system,
    be reproducable
    or to change her “frequency” to maybe “dogs” or even “human” (i know wont hapen)
    and mutated “normal” bugs would alsow be usefull.

    on the other hand a mutated evel clone (you but different) might be what diana,
    a more powerfull evil skitter does could do incredible much damage.

  27. “I entered the elevator in the company of Parian, Regent, Bastard and Bentley, Miss Militia, Weld, Clockblocker, and Triumph.”

    Shouldn’t Bitch be in there somewhere? I have trouble imagining her sending Bastard and Bentley up separately.

  28. Also:


    “They behaving?” Clockblocker asked.

    “Nah. Tattletale mentioned Dinah, but it wasn’t to fuck with me. We were talking about their master plan, if you can call it that. Not much else.”


    Should this be “Nah” or “Yeah”? The rest of the dialog seems to suggest that they *have* been behaving.

  29. “You can’t blame them if they get emotional,” Tattletale sighed. ”It’s only natural, three young men, three young women, a possibility of Capulet-Montague forbidden love between hero and villain…”

    Laughed so hard at that.

  30. “Fine. Hellhound and Skitter in the conference room-” the Deputy Director paused as the elevator opened with nearly all of Brockton Bay’s remaining parahumans. “Tattletale to the conference room. Parian in the legal room. Grue and Imp in interview room two. Put police tape and a sign on the door with a notice of Imp’s stranger classification to remind people why it’s shut and staying shut.”

    forgot regent.

  31. More fantastic interactions in this chapter. I loved how Tattletale was able to figure out in less than a minute enough about Eidolon that he was scared/pissed enough to practically start a war in the office if people were more jumpy. And that Taylor was actually able to still hear some of their conversation! Now we just have to get her seeing through the bugs and she becomes the most epic spy ever.

    It’s nice that Skitter goes into the coughing fits and that Miss Militia actually almost cares. It both brings Skitter down and simultaneous jacks her cred up because she is still doing awesome things despite being critically injured. Still would love to see them figure out she is blind and freak out even more.

    I REALLY hope Noelle was lying about killing Vista…I like her…

    While I don’t think it likely that the heroes will be handing the Undersiders over I do think they are going to have to explain things completely now.

    Hmm, the Sleeper eh? Interesting. Hope we get an interlude telling about him more. I’m imagining a Cthulhu-esc person.

    And final note: “Having a pet Endbringer puts us in the ‘too scary to be allowed to live’ category.” Epic quote. Actually the entire amusing exchange about consequences of having a pet Endbringer was sheer comic gold.

    • They’re both forgetting something: the Travelers DID have a pet Endbringer, albeit one they weren’t willing to use.

      You could also say that Scion/Zion is similar to a pet Endbringer.

      And yes, epic quote.

  32. “He’s scared,” Rachel said. She scratched the top of Bastard’s head, and I realized she was talking to the wolf cub that was sleeping in her lap. “You’re the stuff of nightmares.”

    Hahahahaha. The most adorable terror.

  33. “There’s a sweet spot as far as rep goes. Having a pet Endbringer puts us in the ‘too scary to be allowed to live’ category.”

    The irony of this statement is not lost on me, things like this make me wonder exactly how much Wildbow had this story sketched out before he ever put pen to paper (so to speak)

  34. Man, Tattletale’s power is so useful! Makes me surprised she wasn’t more aggressively recruited for Team Hero.

    Noelle is so creepy! Oh yeah, she’ll be a Class S alright.

  35. “‘but it’s hard to graduate from mayor to governor when your legacy is a flooded ruin of a city'”

    I’m about 70-30 as to whether this is a Ray Nagin reference or not. If it is, I love you.

  36. “It’s only natural, three young men, three young women, a possibility of Capulet-Montague forbidden love between hero and villain…” Classic Lisa.

  37. “combination of striker and master with a rating of ten”
    I was wrong earlier. That’s Panacea’s classification. Powers that require a touch attack to use, but have master-type capabilities.

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