Cell 22.1

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I remained where I was, hands folded on the back of my head, kneeling, while the PRT officers bellowed at me, almost incoherent, impossible to obey as they gave me contradictory orders.  Down on the ground, stand up, throw any weapons to the side, do not touch anything.

They were afraid to approach, too, apparently.  Maybe word had gotten out about what happened to Armsmaster when he’d gotten ahold of me at the fundraiser.  They each stopped about ten feet from me, forming a loose ring.  I’d thought they might have hit me with one of their nonlethal weapons, but they didn’t shoot.  Maybe the audience was giving them second thoughts.

Miss Militia broke the stalemate, such as it was.  I could see her put one hand on Clockblocker’s shoulder, giving him a gentle push.

In his white costume, he advanced.  He was inscribed with images of clocks in gray, some animated, little hands spinning at different speeds at his shoulder, the center of his chest, and the backs of his hands, places where the armor panels were broadest.  He crossed the perimeter of guards, getting closer to me.

When I didn’t react, they seemed to take that as permission to move closer.  The bellowing reached a crescendo, and one officer was apparently unhappy that I wasn’t already lying prone on the ground.  He planted a heavy boot between my shoulder blades, then thrust me into the ground.  I only barely managed to turn my head to avoid cracking my chin on the floor, pulling my head back so I didn’t smash it.  I felt the air huff out of my chest, pain jolting through me.  My chest wasn’t large, was a ways from ‘medium’, even, but that didn’t make it any better when it bore the brunt of the impact.

The other guards were alternately herding the civilians out of the area or forming a wall to keep them from watching.

“Hey!” Clockblocker said.  “That’s enough.  I got this.”

The shouting stopped.  There was only the noise of the guards on the far ends of the room, giving orders to tourists and staff members, taking charge of the situation and escorting people out.

I had to twist my head to look up at Clockblocker.   For his part, he stared down at me, his expression hidden by the featureless white pane of his mask.

“This is a trick,” he said.

“Yeah,” I admitted.  “But not the way you’re thinking.”

He didn’t respond to that.

“Do you need me to take a different position?” I asked.

“Once upon a time, I would have had something clever to say in response to that,” he said, quiet.


“Nevermind.  Kneel, with your arms behind you.”

I moved slowly, so I wouldn’t provoke any rash actions from the uniforms, climbing to my knees, then extending my arms behind me.

He reached out and touched the top of my head.

What felt like an instant later, my arms were weighed down.  Clockblocker was behind me, his hand on the heavy metal restraints to keep them from slamming into my tailbone.  Everyone else in the lobby had moved.  The Wards filled the area, along with the members of the Protectorate, new and old.  Flechette was only a short distance away, while Miss Militia stood just beside Clockblocker.  Even heroes that had presumably been on patrol were back, along with more PRT members than I’d counted in the building when I’d surrendered.

Tagg was there too, flanked by two PRT uniforms and one man who was wearing a suit, rather than a uniform.  The deputy director?

I’d lost control of my bugs while I’d been timed out.  In many cases, it wasn’t a problem.  Still, I’d lost the ability to track most of those who were present, as mosquitoes, flies and ants went about their merry way.

“Stand,” Miss Militia told me.

I tried to stand, but found more restraints on my ankles.  They were connected to the massive metal handcuffs I wore, which only made an awkward setup worse.

“Clockblocker,” Miss Militia said.  She reached under one of my arms.  Clockblocker took her cue and did the same.  Together, they hauled me to my feet.  They stayed beside me, holding my arms, as they led me past all of the gathered heroes and PRT officers.  All people I’d hurt, people I’d humiliated.

I had no friends here.

Director Tagg was lighting up a cigarette, despite the prominent ‘no smoking’ signs nearby.  As I passed, he gave me a hard stare, heavily lined eyes glaring beneath thick black eyebrows, his face otherwise expressionless.  He pointed, and a PRT uniform joined our group.

Miss Militia handed me off to Triumph, and he helped Clockblocker lead me through the corridor to the PRT elevator.  The doors whisked shut, sealing the four of us inside.

Damn, these handcuffs were uncomfortable.  They had to be a design meant for the heavy hitters, for capes who could rend steel with their bare hands.  Was it spite that made them use these cuffs?

They weren’t reading me my rights.  Was there a reason?  I might have asked, but I didn’t want to show ignorance.  Better to be confident, to act as if I knew exactly what was going on.

Above us, Tagg extinguished his cigarette, barely touched, fished in a nearby trashcan for a soda can, and dropped the butt inside before disposing of it.

I couldn’t quite make out his words.  Not enough bugs in position.  “- now.  PRT-”

All of the capes mobilized, joining Tagg and his immediate underlings in entering the stairwell.  The PRT moved as well, but in a wholly different direction.  They were taking defensive positions, leaders barking out orders.

I couldn’t be absolutely sure, given how little I knew about guns, but I was pretty sure the PRT was packing more in the way of lethal weapons than they had been on my last visit.

The elevator stopped, so gently I might have missed it if my bugs didn’t give me perspective on a larger scale.  We stepped out into a brightly lit hallway.

“This is an E-type containment cell.  Countermeasures include containment foam and these beauties,” Triumph said.


He was pointing up.  I followed the direction and looked.  Spheres the size of beach balls, chrome, with small windows on the bottom.  Familiar.

“Touch the door, make too much noise or use your power, and the room gets flooded with an electric charge,” Triumph explained.  “Calculated so it’s only a little less powerful than it’d need to be to do permanent damage.  Push it any further and the room is flooded with containment foam.  The same measures are packed into this whole hallway.”

Ah.  They were the same devices that had been loaded into the drones that one of Dragon’s suits had deployed.

“It’s okay,” I said.  “I don’t plan on escaping.”

“What are you planning?” Clockblocker asked.

“Don’t engage her,” Triumph said.  He brought us to a stop by one metal door.  There was a letter etched on the surface of the metal, a large ‘E’, and smaller codes in boxes beside it.  M-21, CC-2, Bat-4

He tapped his phone against the wall, and two sets of metal doors slid open.  Very similar to the elevatorSame design?

Thick walls, I noted.  The walls that framed the door were a foot and a half deep.  It somehow made the small cell a little more claustrophobic.  It was daunting as it was, six feet by six feet, with sheet metal laid out over the floor and walls, welded together where they joined, with openings cut in where necessary.  There was a vent above me, pumping in a constant flow of fresh air, a little too cold, and another vent beneath the bed, blocked off by a grid of metal bars that extended between the bed and the floor.

The bed itself featured a mattress no thicker than my hand, covered in plastic and laid out on an arrangement of metal strips that wove into one another.  The ‘toilet’ wasn’t a toilet at all, but looked to be a urinal, horizontal and sunken into the ground, a shallow chrome basin with a drain and three thick buttons where it met the wall.  On the opposite wall, a television was set into the wall, protected by a clear pane.  I didn’t see controls or anything resembling a remote.

Above me, another one of those beachball-sized orbs was embedded into the ceiling.  Ominous.

Everything was sealed and reinforced twice over.  Everything but the vents, but they were too small to crawl through.  Was this the kind of cell they put Lung in?  With all the metal and the relatively meager amounts of cloth, I didn’t imagine even his pyrokinesis would do much, unless he’d grown considerably.

I turned around to look at my three escorts, and noted that Clockblocker and Triumph had backed off.  It was just the PRT uniform, now.

I felt a moment’s trepidation.  Was this the point where the PRT officer beat me within an inch of my life, while everyone else turned a blind eye?

“Kit, and one bundle,” the PRT told Clockblocker.  I was surprised to note that it was a woman’s voice, behind the featureless helmet.  The junior hero hurried off to the end of the hall opposite the elevator.  She wrenched me around until my back was to her, then bent down to remove the leg restraints.  Triumph stared at me, arms folded, while she did it, the threat implicit.  She removed my hand restraints as well, then handed the gear to the hero.

The officer stepped into the cell with me, and the door shut behind her.  “Clothes off.”

Oh.  Worse than a beating, then.

I tried to tell myself to stay calm, to not be embarrassed.  This was a combination of procedure and psychology.  They wanted me off guard, feeling vulnerable.  In the time Clockblocker had me on pause, Tagg had likely outlined orders to this extent.

I kicked off my shoes, removed my top and running pants, folded them, and set them aside.  There were no shelves, so I left them in one corner of the room.

The PRT officer undid the neat folding, rifling through pockets for something, anything, then left my clothes in a heap.

Once I had my underwear off, she checked it, then gave me my next order.  “Glasses.”

I removed my glasses and handed them over.  She turned them over in her hands, twisted and manhandled them until I worried the frames would snap.

“Shower.  Rinse off until I say stop.”

I gave her a quizzical look, and she pointed.

I crossed the room to investigate.  Above the toilet, there was an opening in the wall, about four feet above the ground.

“Three buttons,” the uniform said.  “Flush, sink and shower.  Squat to use the bathroom, get on all fours or squat to shower.  If the screen flashes yellow and beeps, that means cameras are going on and someone’s got something to say to you.  You’ll have six seconds to finish your business and cover up.  Screen flashes red, beeps twice, it means door’s opening.  Again, six seconds to cover up.”

A little inhumane, I thought.  Would that be more psychological pressure?  Regular visits?  Interrupting my sleep?  Unreliable privacy?

“Rinse,” she repeated.

Maybe Tagg wants me to snap and attack her, I mused.

But I did as she’d asked.  The spray was lukewarm, and the stream was directed into the toilet, using the same drain, which made it awkward to get underneath without actually crouching in the toilet itself.  That was only compounded by the fact that the vent was still blasting in cool air, chilling the parts of me that weren’t immediately under the stream.

I grit my teeth, told myself that Lung had probably dealt with it, wedging his six-foot-plus frame beneath the stream.  It would have been worse for him, being larger, blind, missing something between the legs.  Except he maybe hadn’t had a guard in the room with him.  Too dangerous.

For an instant, I wished I had enough of a reputation that this woman wouldn’t be there, watching me.

The door opened partway, while I stood there dripping.  She was kind enough to block the opening with her body, so I didn’t flash the two young heroes.

She threw a bundle onto the bed.  A towel?  Clothes?

I started to move towards it and she barked out, “Stop.”

Apparently I wasn’t allowed to dress.  She had more things in her hands.  A tool kit.  She fished out a set of sterile gloves.  “Allergies?”

“I’m allergic to bee stings,” I said, trying to inject some levity into the proceedings. I couldn’t see her expression.

Damn it.  I was wet, beaded with moisture, my hair clinging to my scalp, and doing my best not to shiver as I cursed the cold air that flooded the room.  I used my fingers and fingernails to comb my hair back away from my face.

“Latex allergy?”

“No,” I said, “And I was joking about the bee stings.”

Not even a recognition of the joke.  “Are you on any medications?”


“Birth control?”

“No.”  Condoms, I thought.

“Two ways we can do this.  You cooperate, takes five to ten minutes to do a full search.  You fail to cooperate, if you fight me, bite or struggle, I step outside and we turn on the countermeasure, and then do a search while you’re incapacitated.”

Her head lifted fractionally, as if she was glancing up at the electricity-dispensing orb above.

“I’ll cooperate,” I said.

Oh, how glad I was, that I could focus my power elsewhere, distract myself.

Tagg had arranged everyone in a conference room upstairs.  The heroes, suits and uniforms I presumed were key members of the PRT, and one or two more, who sat a distance away from the Director and his people.

“Plans,” Tagg said, “Go.”

“We bring Defiant and Dragon in,” Miss Militia said.  “They ship her to another PRT office where we can hold her until a trial.”

“Sensible,” Tagg said, “Except we expose ourselves to attack while …ing her.”

“We’re vulnerable to attack here,” Miss Militia said.

“We can’t act until we know what she’s doing,” another cape said.  A woman with a high collar.  Dovetail.  “What’s her plan?”

There was a silence.

“Thoughts, Miss Militia?” Tagg asked.

“She’s… intelligent.  In every case we’ve crossed paths with her, she’s proved resourceful.  She was confident and self-assured when she turned herself in.  Whatever this maneuver is, it was calculated.”

“Mrs. Yamada?” Tagg asked one of the people in suits at the far end of the table.

“I’ve read up on her, studied the records you have of her, talked to the students that knew her best, for better or worse.  Greg Veder, Emma Barnes, Sophia Hess, Madison Clements… her teachers, her father… I’m not so convinced.”

“You disagree with Miss Militia?”

“I can’t say for sure without talking to the girl, but actual surrender isn’t impossible, given my understanding of her.”

“I’m not saying she’s not surrendering,” Miss Militia said.  “I’m saying she’s plotting something.  The two things aren’t mutually exclusive.”

“She could be attempting to bring down the PRT,” Assault said.  “Do it from within.  With the charges we have lined up against her, she can request a jury trial.  She uses that as a platform to dish out dirty secrets.  Confidential data on Armsmaster, details from records they stole from the database, the Echidna event and the fallout therein…”

“Given how that’s gone,” Dovetail said, “She’d be digging her own grave.  We all thought the details would leak, but Cauldron’s cleanup is efficient.  Anyone who tries to leak details gets… censored.”

“Killed,” Adamant clarified.  “Or disappeared.”

“It would be unfortunate if she were killed in our custody,” Tagg said.  “She’d be safer in the Birdcage.”

“With the public support she has within the city?” Miss Militia asked.  “Good luck getting her there without a fair trial.  There’s going to be a lot of eyes on this.”

“So she’s forcing our hand,” Tagg said.  “The question is why.”

“To oust you,” Miss Militia said.

“Revenge?” Tagg asked.

“I don’t know, but I had a conversation with her a few days ago, and she said she had something in mind that she could use against you.  I didn’t know what it was before now.”

“I see,” Tagg said, rubbing his chin.

Back in the cell, I sighed.  I could see the uniform flinch in reaction.  She had her fingers in my mouth, feeling beneath my tongue and around the base of my gums.  When I didn’t bite like she’d feared, she finished and removed her fingers from my mouth.  She removed the gloves, where they joined the first pair she’d donned.

Miss Militia had told Tagg.  I wasn’t surprised; she gave me the impression of someone who followed the letter of the law.  As willing as she’d been to open negotiations, she would still do what it took to keep her job and maintain the peace.

I was maybe a little disappointed.  I hadn’t demanded she keep it a secret, and it wasn’t liable to change anything, but it made for a small breach of faith.

The PRT officer finished off the search by combing my hair with a metal comb that I suspected was sharpened at the points to double as a wood saw.  It felt like it, at least.  The combing wasn’t done to look tidy, but to search my hair for any foreign matter or tools.  I was just glad they hadn’t decided to shave it all off.  I wouldn’t have put it past them.

“Towel is in the bag,” the PRT officer said.  She shook a plastic bag to open it, then began putting my clothes inside, leaving me only the underwear.

I opened the drawstring bag, which was missing a drawstring, then sorted out the contents.  A thin towel, a single sheet so thin it was translucent, a pillow and pillowcase that looked to be the same fabric as the mattress, folded double, half the size of a normal pillow.  There were prison sweats, black, with the word ‘Villain’ printed across the shoulders and down the right leg in white, with a white t-shirt with the same word in black.  There was a small kit with a rubbery, flexible thimble-toothbrush that fit over one finger and a small tube of toothpaste, three tampons with soap, three cardboard applicators, and three pads.

Not that it mattered.  I’d been under enough stress the past few months that I’d missed my periods entirely.  I might have panicked, if the timing of it had been different.  I was safe.  Ninety-nine point nine percent sure I was safe.

She waited until I had quickly toweled dry, put the underwear and prison sweats on, then handed me my glasses and opened the door.  I caught a glimpse of Triumph and Clockblocker before she blocked my line of sight.

“Sit tight, princess,” she said.

The door whisked shut, leaving me confined in a space so narrow that I could lay down and touch two opposing walls with toe and outstretched hand.  Only the ceiling was out of reach.

I adjusted the sweats, leaving the front open, headed to the bed, laid down the pillow and stretched out.

“…Alcott girl,” Tagg was saying.  “Is she here?”

“On her way,” the deputy director answered.

“Then I think it’s time to settle on a game plan,” the Director said.  “I’m Skitter’s target, or one of them.  …ssination?”

“Coercion,” Miss Militia said.

“I see.  Her power extends to the remainder of this building, even now, am I right?”

“Arthropodokinesis, arthropodovoyance,” the Deputy Director said.  “She’s on record as a master eight, thinker one.  The thinker classification is key here: ex-Director Piggot noted Skitter can see through her bugs’ eyes.”

“Can she lipread?” Tagg asked.

“No idea,” the Deputy Director replied.

“I said it before,” Miss Militia said.  Her voice was a fraction quieter than before, but I couldn’t read her tone with the bugs’ hearing.  “She’s resourceful.  I’d assume she took the time to learn, if it would expand her capabilities.”

Director Tagg nodded slowly, then rubbed his chin again.  The movement of his wrist against his armrest nearly killed the bug I had in between his dress shirt and jacket.  “Agreed.  I already informed each of my officers to treat her as though she had a two point classification in every category, or two points higher in cases where she’s already received scores.  Brute two, mover two… all the way down the list.  It won’t do to underestimate her.  Let’s anticipate that she’s put herself in this position to have full access to the building by way of her power.  Until further notice, staff aren’t to access any confidential files, we don’t speak on any private matters while within her reach, capes are to remain masked at all times while on the premises, and we’ll devote all remaining resources to preparing for any conflict.”

Clockblocker and Triumph had entered just as he finished speaking.

“Conflict?” Clockblocker asked.  He took a chair among the other Wards.

“It remains a possibility.  If her teammates were to attack, she’d be positioned to use her power to hamper us, up until we used the nonlethal measures to incapacitate her,” Tagg replied.

“I could use my power,” Clockblocker said.  “Put her on pause, repeat the process until we have other measures in place.”

“No,” Tagg said.  “We need you elsewhere, and each contact gives her a chance to act against you or escape.  She’s confined, and we can use countermeasures to incapacitate her if need be.”

The Director set his elbows on the table and leaned over, covering his mouth with his hands.  I missed some of what he said, as his words were muffled.  “And … her stew for a while.”

Ah.  So the psychological pressure extended another step.  A strip search, a claustrophobic cell, stripping away my possessions, and now he planned to keep me cooped up in here until my composure cracked.  Not so effective if I was being put on pause, with only a fraction of the time passing.

“The alternative,” Assault said, “Is that this is exactly what she wants.  She wants us to react.”

“It’s possible,” Tagg said.  “Getting us agitated, getting media attention, having us call in assistance, only to humiliate us further.”

“You’re bringing in help?” Miss Militia asked.

“We’ll see,” Tagg said.  He touched his face as he spoke, and it muddled his words, “In the …, see to the … I recommended in dealing with her.  It would be best if you didn’t use your computer, with her … watching-”

“No need.  I remember what we discussed,” Miss Militia said.  “I’ll arrange it.”

“Make any and all calls outside of her power’s range.”

“We will,” Miss Militia said.

“If she’s … fight a war over the city’s heart, let’s make the first move.  We contact the media, control … … they have access to, make sure the first thing the public hears is our side.  Make sure we make some mention of Accord, and Hellhound’s penchant for chewing up people who trespass on her territory.”

“I’ll see to it,” the deputy director said.

Odd, to be so utterly helpless while I watched my enemies maneuver against me.  I couldn’t, wouldn’t use my power here.  I couldn’t talk to them, or request anything.

I shifted position, and the metal bands squeaked.  I couldn’t find a position to lie down, and wound up sitting.  I toweled my hair ineffectually in an attempt to get it dry.

An officer, out of uniform, appeared at the door to the conference room.  “Media already has the story.  Vickery, with channel twelve.  He’s asking us for final comments before the story goes live.”

“Is he on the phone right now?”

“Yes sir.”

Tagg stood, “Tell him I’ll talk to him when I’m done here, and I’ll make any wait worth his while.”

“Yes sir.”

As the uniform left, Tagg remained standing at the end of the table.  “Anticipate confrontation, but don’t seek it out.  Whatever they have planned, they’ll want to rescue her.”

“We can seal off the stairwell access with containment foam,” Kid Win spoke up.  “Seize the elevator, to prevent access to the cells.  If there’s an attack, we shut down the elevator.  In the worst case scenario, they can’t get her out before reinforcements arrived from other cities.”

“You can do it fast?”  Tagg asked.

“Very,” Kid Win said.

“See to it.  Where do things stand with the defense system against the bugs?”

“Not done, but I could wrap it up soonish with Sere’s help, maybe.”

“Sere?  You’ll cooperate?”

“Yes,” Sere replied.  “Of course.”

“Then it’s settled.  Everyone else, double the number of patrols, form pairs at a bare minimum, focus on recon more than fighting.  Track the Undersiders, meet with contacts.  Consider this a mid-to-high priority situation, keep that in mind if you’ve any favors to call in and you’re weighing whether you should.  Miss Militia?  Ready the measures we discussed, and use the Wards.  We don’t want them in a direct confrontation, and they can fend for themselves if ambushed.”

“Yes sir.”

With that, the meeting was broken up.  Tagg headed to his office, the Wards moved to the elevator to head down to their headquarters, below the cell that held me, and the Protectorate headed out on patrols.

My power’s range was about five blocks.  It should have been larger, going by the running theory that feeling ‘trapped’ extended my reach, but I was in here by my own device.  I couldn’t necessarily force it.

Five blocks felt oppressively small, in the grand scheme of things.  I was in a six-foot by six-foot cell with thick walls, nothing to read, no television to watch, and only dull metal and chrome to look at.  The vague blur of my reflection in the walls was only a dark shadow, the occasional gleam of light of my glasses.

Around me, the PRT office buzzed like an anthill I’d kicked.  People were heading here and there on tasks and missions, reacting, preparing, anticipating some form of attack.  The higher-ranking members of the PRT made calls to contacts, prepared, and set security measures in place.  PRT uniforms got geared up, off-duty teams were called in and prepared, organized in defensive lines around the building.

Miss Militia, for her part, sent Flechette on an errand, instructing her to make a phone call and return as soon as possible, and then started organizing the Wards.

I set bugs on the minute and hour hands of a clock.  It was both a curse and a blessing, because it made me acutely aware of how slowly time was passing.

“Things are going crazy,” Crucible said.

“This is big,” Clockblocker said.

“I’m just saying, you’d think things get calmer when the kingpin- queenpin-“

“Crime lord,” Clockblocker said, “It’s easier.”

“When the crime lord of the city turns themselves in.”

Vista spun around in her chair to face Crucible, “She’s probably planning something like getting put in jail, then breaking out and showing us there’s no point in trying to catch her, because we can’t keep her.  And she’ll do it with teeny-weeny bugs, make Tagg look bad, maybe get him fired.”

“Fits,” Clockblocker mused.

“But she can’t know she’ll escape.  What if we did have Dragon and Defiant move her halfway across the country?”

“She used my power to cut Echidna in half,” Clockblocker said.  “She could deal with that, too.”

“Again with the Echidna thing,” Crucible said.  “Can’t you tell-”

“Classified,” Clockblocker, Kid Win and Vista said, at the same time.  Kid Win didn’t even look up from the containment foam dispenser he was tinkering with.

“Fuck you guys.”

The screen in my cell flashed yellow, then beeped once, a sound loud enough that it made me jump.

I stood from the bed and walked around until I faced the screen.

It stayed yellow for long seconds, then went dark.

Checking on me?

I sat back down.

The minutes were ticking away.  Tagg was counting on this confinement wearing on me.  Putting me in a different headspace for when he finally decided to come down and grill me.  It… was working, but probably not to the degree he was thinking.  Being manhandled by the PRT officer had been another attempt at getting me outside of my comfort zone, no doubt a gambit, where any resistance from me would be met by a shout from Triumph, a beating and a use of Clockblocker’s power before the door was shut in my face.  A lack of resistance only making me uncomfortable, putting me in my place, for lack of a better phrase.

But again, it didn’t matter.  My concerns were on bigger things, on the space beyond this cell, on everything I needed to achieve.

A family made their way to the lobby.  I assumed them to be tourists, until the guards let them into the building.  Two adults and a young girl.  The Alcotts.

Dinah had cut her hair short.

Reinventing herself?  Distancing herself from being Coil’s ‘pet’?

Tagg met them at the end of the lobby, then ushered them upstairs to the conference room.  They were joined by Mrs. Yamada, her cousin Triumph, and Miss Militia.

Tagg waited until everyone else was seated before sitting at the head of the table.

He pressed a key, and the monitor in my room beeped.  I lay down on the bed before the six seconds were up and the cameras went on.

When he was done looking in on me, he closed the laptop.

“She turned herself in,” Dinah said.

“Your power pick up on that?”  Triumph asked.

“We watched the news,” Dinah’s mom said.

“When you said sending Defiant and Dragon into the school would virtually guarantee that Skitter was brought into custody,” Tagg said, and his phrasing was odd, as if he were choosing words carefully or there was a tone my bugs’ hearing wasn’t picking up on, “you didn’t say anything about this.”

I did catch the emphasis on ‘this’ as he finished.

“This?” Dinah’s father asked.

“That she’d surrender, nearly a week later.  The timing of it, the fact that it could be a ploy.”

“I didn’t know,” Dinah said.

“If you have an accusation,” Mr. Alcott said, “Say it outright.”

“I’m saying your daughter was helping Skitter, not us.  That everything seems to suggest she was aiding and abetting a known criminal.”

“Are you insane?” Mr. Alcott asked.  The volume of his voice rose.  “Those thoughts don’t even connect!”

“I don’t necessarily agree with the Director’s line of reasoning, Dinah,” Miss Militia said, “But Skitter’s a known criminal mastermind, with an emphasis on the latter.  She’s a capable strategist and a battlefield tactician.  As far as we were aware, she was well situated as one of the more powerful villains in North America, judging by her control over this city.  In the past week alone, she’s … two villainous organizations and folded a third into her own.  There’s no reason for her to surrender.  The only way any of this makes sense is if there’s a greater plan at work.”

“And you think Dinah had something to do with that plan?”  Mrs. Alcott asked.

Mrs. Yamada leaned forward, “It’s very understandable if Dinah feels indebted or attached to Skitter, to Taylor Hebert.  She owes her a great deal.”

Dinah mumbled something.  I wasn’t sure if it was even a word.

Mrs. Yamada continued, “We’re only trying to make sense of this.  Wanting to help someone who’s done a great deal for you isn’t a bad thing, Dinah, understand?  But there’s other things going on.  Sensitive things.  Skitter may unwittingly do a lot of damage or put herself at risk, if she says the wrong things and the wrong people hear.”

“…,” Dinah said something under her breath.

“Beg pardon?” Mrs. Yamada asked.

“Good.  If she does a lot of damage, then good.”

Director Tagg started to speak, but Mrs. Yamada cut him off.  “Why is that good, Dinah?”

“Can’t say.  Won’t say.”

“You are working with her, then,” Tagg said.  He shifted position in his chair.

“No.  Yes.  Both.  I’m working for everyone.  I don’t think Skitter’s very happy with me, really.  But she’s still here, because I told her to be.”

“You’ve been in communication with her?” Miss Militia asked.  I could tell how much gentler her voice was than Tagg’s.


“Oh my lord,” Tagg said, leaning back in his chair and staring up at the ceiling.  “I think I’m about to have an aneurysm.”

Dinah didn’t reply.

“Do you hate the PRT, Dinah?” Miss Militia asked.


“Or heroes?  Do you blame us for not helping you when you needed it?”

“No.  A little, but that’s not important.”

“But you want Skitter to do damage?  To hurt us?”

“She’ll do damage, one way or another.  If she didn’t come here voluntarily, she probably would have become meaner.  It would have turned into a big fight, and she would make a mistake eventually and get brought in.  But she decided to surrender, so the same thing happens.  I’m glad that happened.”

“All because we revealed her identity,” Yamada said.


“But we don’t know the ramifications of this ploy of hers,” Miss Militia said.

“I do,” Dinah replied.  “But I’m not telling.  And I’m charging ten times as much if you ask me for a number, and then I’ll lie, and I won’t be able to use my power for a while after.  And your bosses don’t want that.  Not with an Endbringer coming soon.”

“You’ll charge us for a number you won’t provide?”  Tagg asked.

“Yes.  Because I charge you for asking.  I can’t help but look for the numbers, so I have to look.  And that makes my head hurt if I do it too much.”

Tagg let his hand drop to the table with enough force to make a noise and make the lid of the laptop in front of him clatter.

“Why, Dinah?” Miss Militia asked.  “Why do this?”

“For everyone.  Because we got this far, it makes the numbers a little better.  Whatever happens from here on out, it makes the end of the world a little less bad.”

“A little less bad,” Triumph echoed her.

“But it still happens,” Tagg said.

“Almost always.  The world ends, in two years or in fifteen or sixteen.”

Tagg opened his laptop, “Do you have anything to say to Skitter?”

“No,” Dinah said.  “I’m done.”


“Yes.  I’m busy.  It’s only because my cousin works here that I even came.”

“You seem to be playing a dangerous game,” Tagg said, “Testing our goodwill, manipulating us for your own ends.”

Everyone’s ends, and I didn’t manipulate you.  You asked for a number, I gave it.”

He ignored her.  “Helping her when you should be helping us.”

“I don’t have to help you,” she said.  “I’m not a good guy.  I’m not a bad guy.  I’m done working for other people, answering their questions when I don’t want to.  I work for me, and for everyone.”

Odd, to think how much time I’d dedicated to Dinah, and how little I really knew her.  There was this, only now, and the discussions we had prior to me taking her home.  So little.

Tagg was rubbing his temples.  “Fine.  Now, when you said that the outcome of this improves the numbers, I understand that includes sending her to the Birdcage?”

“When I said I was done, I meant it,” Dinah said.  She pushed her chair back.  Her parents joined her, standing.  “You want more answers, get in contact with my dad, he’ll let you know my rates.  They change every day.”

“Not a wise business decision for a rogue starting out,” Tagg said, without rising from his chair.  “Offending an organization like the PRT, a young lady like you mouthing off.  We could cooperate, instead.”

He was threatening her?  I clenched a fist.

Dinah looked back at him.  “I don’t think you have any conception how valuable my answers are.  I could answer one question a week for people in Asia and I’d be set for life.  I don’t care if I offend you.”

“And you don’t care about your savior, locked away in that cell?” Tagg asked.

Dinah stopped in her tracks.  “Are you threatening Taylor?”

“I don’t know,” the Director said.  “You said she’ll do damage in some form.  Maybe we need to stop that from happening.  And you said that no matter what happens, the outcome’s more in our favor than it was before she surrendered.  Why?  Is it that important to remove her from Brockton Bay?  To unseat her from her throne?”

“I’m not answering any more questions.”

“You’ll answer what I ask you to answer,” Tagg said, “Because we need to go into this with our eyes open.  We can’t have Skitter damage us.”

“Director,” Mrs. Yamada said, “This isn’t constructive.  The last thing she wants-”

“The last thing I want is another arrogant dickface telling me what to do,” Dinah said.  “You want answers, Director?  Fine.  Twenty two point eight one three percent chance you die painfully, over long, slow minutes or hours.  Maybe soon, maybe in twenty years, but it’ll bring you to tears, and you’ll wail in pain.  That’s a freebie.  Want more details?”

“Guys,” Miss Militia said.

“You assume I care about that,” the Director said.

“You will.”

“Guys,” Miss Militia said, louder.

“If you refuse to give us assistance, and people get hurt, then that’s on your head,” Director Tagg said.

“I deal with that every day,” Dinah said.  “I’ll cope.”

“Guys!”  Miss Militia stood from her chair, the feet screeching against the ground.  She raised her voice another notch.  “Look.”

She pointed at the window.

I moved my bugs to check for whatever it was she was pointing at, then stopped.

She was pointing at the bugs.  They’d reacted to my irritation, and were swirling just beyond the window of the conference room, clustering on the glass surface.

“Is she making a move?”  Tagg asked.

“No.  They’re… just there.  Reacting,” Miss Militia said.  “To this.  Here.”

“She’s watching,” Tagg said.

“Watching what?  There’s nothing to look at,” Miss Militia said.  “Think about it.  What this is to her.”

“She hears,” Mrs. Yamada finished the thought.

I shut my eyes, swore under my breath.  I’d let my guard down.  I’d been too focused on what was going on inside the building, letting bugs cluster on the outside, that I’d given my reactions away.  So much for gathering intel.

Tagg faced the window, no doubt staring at it, at the bugs.

“Arthropodaudience,” Miss Militia said.  “She’s fully aware of everything that’s been going on in this building.”

“I’m gone,” Dinah said.  “I can’t communicate with her or the numbers change.  I’ll be letting the PRT know you pissed me off.  They can expect prices to go up five percent from here on out.”

With that, Dinah was gone, saying something to her parents that I couldn’t make out.

My focus was more on Tagg.

“So,” he said, his voice low, “You can hear me.”

Yes,” my bugs replied, speaking throughout the building.  They were distributed evenly enough that it would barely be audible.  A thin, almost imperceptible sound.  More than a few people jumped in reaction to it.

“I see,” the Director said.  “You tipped your hand.”

I didn’t have a response to that.  I had.

He turned to Miss Militia.  “See that Kid Win gets the defense system online sooner than later.  I’d like this building cleared of bugs.”

“I’ll talk to him.”

“And you,” the Director said.  I was getting used to his voice.  I caught the emphasis there.  “You stay put and be good.”

I shifted position, sitting on the end of the bed, elbows on my knees, staring at the floor.

Waiting, listening, watching.

Another twenty minutes, forty minutes, sixty minutes passing, with irregular check-ins by way of the monitor.  Every member of the PRT was set in place, some near the PRT headquarters, others elsewhere in the city.  Heroes went on patrol and came back, making short trips, no longer than half an hour each.  Each hero in a pairing took turns reporting to Tagg.

Rachel had been seen crossing the city earlier, as had Grue.  A meeting at the Forsberg Gallery.  If they were following Tagg’s orders, there was now a PRT wagon stationed nearby, ready with a containment foam turret, in case the villains decided to meet there again.

Miss Militia got a list of phone calls to make from Tagg, then left, exiting my range.

Another half hour.  Another check-in, a group of four heroes teleported in, Miss Militia returned and whispered back and forth with Tagg.  There was a long discussion between the new heroes, Assault, Miss Militia and Tagg about how concentrated the forces were, now.  Too many PRT uniforms and heroes in one place, the danger if they were all wiped out.

In a matter of minutes, they’d organized another distribution.  Expanding control over the area, keeping two major groups out of my reach.

Only five minutes after the groups had departed, Kid Win activated his system.  Floating drones started to roam the PRT headquarters, each no larger than a toaster, each with multiple settings that they rotated between.  They emulated Sere’s power on a low enough level to kill bugs in the area without doing undue harm to any people, then became laser turrets, firing an invisible beam every second for about a minute, killing a bug with each shot.  Then they shifted focus and accelerated, veering to a different location with unpredictable trajectories.

Kid Win was making more, too.  He was joined by one of the heroes that had just arrived.  Another tinker.  I caught a snippet of what they were talking about before the next drone kicked to life and killed the bugs I had on the new arrival.  Workshop talk.  Improving designs.

Damn tinkers.

Avoiding the drones became something of a game, occupying my attention to the point that I was still able to keep tabs on a few important people, but I was badly limited in terms of my ability to listen in.  Fifteen minutes passed without me seeing or hearing anything significant.  The monitor flared yellow for another check-in.  Two minutes later, there was another.  Irregular, unpredictable.

As a plus, Tagg seemed to be getting restless, if the movements of his blurry form within his office were any indication.  He’d arranged his forces, and the only thing he could do now was wait.

We were both waiting.  Both biding our time in the hopes that the other would crack first, make the first move and initiate conversation.

Miss Militia left to make another batch of calls outside my range.  She returned sooner than before, made a beeline straight for Tagg, and exchanged a few more whispered words.

Together, they made their way to the elevator.  The Protectorate tinker that had just arrived was sealing off the staircase, and there was only one way down.

As a pair, Miss Militia and Tagg walked down the length of the hallway, stopping outside of my cell.  I combed my hair out of my face, squared my shoulders and faced the door.

The screen turned red.  A matter of seconds later, the doors slid open.

“Flechette?” Miss Militia asked.

Flechette?  Had my allies done something?

“Did you plan this?” Miss Militia asked.

I elected not to answer.  This was a small victory, no matter what they were referring to.  Tagg had broken first, had come to me more on my terms than his.  I was going to play it for everything it was worth.

I met Tagg’s glare with a level stare of my own.

“If you used Regent to make this happen-” Miss Militia said.


“Not Regent,” I said.  I hope it’s not Regent.

“You’re admitting you planned her defection, then?”

Defection?  I thought of Parian.

“I… left the door open for it to happen,” I said.  True, though not nearly to the extent I was implying.

“And this plays a role in your greater plan?” Miss Militia asked.  She was doing all the talking, here.  It seemed Tagg didn’t want to break the silence.

I thought for a second.  “Consider it symbolic.”


I smiled a little, then shrugged.

That seemed to be the point where Tagg lost his cool.  He didn’t get angry.  Instead, he merely said, “Interrogation room B.”

Miss Militia held a pair of ordinary handcuffs in one hand, a taser in the other.  I turned and extended my hands behind me, and she set the handcuffs in place, holding my arm as she led me down the length of the hall, around the corner and into a large room with only a table, a chair, and more sheet metal covering everything.

“One o’clock,” I said, when I’d taken my seat.  Miss Militia was unclipping my cuffs, moving my hands around in front of me to slip them through the reinforced table.

“I think it’s about one,” Miss Militia said.

“Exactly one,” I said.

“Is the time important?” she stepped away from the table.

“Her friends will move to attack at a set time,” Tagg said.  “She won’t share that time, because she wants us to squirm, to be on high alert.”

“Eight thirty,” I said.  “Sunset.”

I could see his heavy eyebrows rise in mild surprise.

“You planned something for eight-thirty?”

“No,” I said.  I smiled a little, looking down at the table.  “I didn’t plan anything.  I didn’t say goodbye.  I walked away, and I turned myself in.”

“You’re acting like that’s something special,” Tagg said, leaning against the wall by the door, his arms folded.

“The only instruction I gave was to Tattletale, to hold the others back until sunset, and to give them direction when they do act.  They’ll have time to get angry in the meantime.  They’ll be mad at me, but they’ll take it out on you.  You have to understand, even at my worst, even when I’m as mad as I was the other night, when you’d outed me, I was sensible, reasonable in terms of how I dealt with you and held back.  Now you get to see how unreasonable the rest of the Undersiders can be, without me to rein them in.”

“I thought this might be it.  A lesson in the role you play here.  Leading us to think that we need you,” Tagg said, “To keep them in line.”

“That’s not it,” I said.


“It’s not even secondary, in terms of what I’m looking to achieve.  I don’t think I could go back to them and return to my position if I wanted to.  And I don’t.”

“Then what?” he asked.

“It’s a time limit.  You saw what we were willing to do to Butcher, to Valefor.  Even with that, even there, we were holding back as a group.  Trust me when I say that I know my friends.  If you stand between them and me?  If you hurt me?  They’re going to go thermonuclear on you.  On the PRT as a whole.  Tattletale will make sure of it.  She’ll keep them on target, guide them, and maximize the damage.  She’ll do most of the damage.”

“You said you weren’t going to do any harm to the PRT,” Miss Militia said.

“If things go that way,” I said, “It’s because the PRT is hurting the PRT.  Which wouldn’t be an isolated incident.”

“Cute,” Tagg said.

I met his eyes.  “I’m just saying.  It’s really up to you guys.  Send me to the Birdcage, you lose everything.  Things get ugly for the PRT at a critical point in time.  I suffer, the Undersiders suffer, you suffer, the world suffers.”

I stopped, watching him for any sign of doubt, for a waver in his eyes, for a change in his expression or posture.  His poker face was good.

Miss Militia shifted position, but didn’t speak.

“Or?” Tagg finally asked.

“Or you let me call my lawyer, and then you hear my demands,” I said.

“Demands?” he growled the word.

“Demands.  I have several conditions you guys will have to meet before I capitulate.  I’ll bow my head, appear in public, plea bargain, do whatever you want.  You get me, wholesale, no contest, and no complications.  The PRT gets a victory at a point in time when, like I said, it’s most vulnerable.”

I studied his expression, then looked at Miss Militia.

“It’s your choice.  You won’t like my demands.  They call for big changes.  But the alternative is an all-out war.  I think Miss Militia will agree with me here, if the PRT doesn’t hear me out, it deserves what it gets.”

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

464 thoughts on “Cell 22.1

    • “See that Clockblocker gets the defense system online sooner than later. I’d like this building cleared of bugs.”

      Why tell Clockblocker? Did you mean Kid Win? He’s the one working on it, right?

    • Was “It will” in Dinah’s smackdown of Douchetagg supposed to be “You will”? The latter seems to make more sense in context.

    • “…sourceful. I’d assume she took the time to learn, if it would expand her capabilities”

      Missing period.

    • Not simply lawyers, but superpowered lawyers, cape lawyers and villain lawyers, get your ass ready Tagg, they are coming to town.

      • Tattletale would make a grat lawyer.
        She would find proof where there wasn’t any to be found.

          • That actually makes sense logistically, too — it’s probably his best bet to protect Emma from suffering the same fate as Sophia.

          • Not to mindscrew him. It’s actually a logical move. He has to understand (or at least have some idea) of how restrained Skitter was in dealing with his daughter.

          • They actively tortured her enough to cause a trigger event, she has personally dealt with S class threats, and she never harmed a hair on their heads. Though I still think she screw with them occasionally to relieve stress. Nothing major, just a roach waking her occasionally.

          • @Yog: Sad but true given Taylor’s personality. The mindscrew could still be unintentional with his own realization of his involvement with Sophia’s probation a the fallout from that which affected Taylor.

            @theant87: No need for Taylor to exert any effort at all now, Emma is now very likely suffering from Agoraphobia out of fear that even if Taylor doesn’t come after her the rest of the Undersiders will & Entomophobia out of fear that Taylor will come after her that she’s driving the rest of her family crazy with intermittent crying, panic attacks, nervous breakdowns and sleepless wanderings about the house in a Beekeeping Suit and a can of insecticide.

          • Every lawyer know how to hold a negotiation, is a basic set of skills. Even the worst lawyer could make you give up your firstborn.

          • A bad move by a lawyer is paid for by the client. Since there is no way Taylor could trust Barnes to act in her best interests she would be reckless to the extent of being self-destructive to chose him.

          • Individuo.
            umm… bullshit. Lawyers know law. And negotiations, but… they ain’t that good. I know master negotiators, and they’re not that good.

  1. And so Tagg is once again an idiot, which really just means he was making decisions.

    Good on Dinah though. Rates for being asked a question. I just think she didn’t increase the rate enough. Should have been a temporary 50% increase that is gradually lowered to maybe 10% every couple of months or so. I have no idea if that’s good negotiating, I just don’t like the PRT.

    Just brings a warm fuzzy feeling to see someone punish him after calling him an arrogant dickface, especially when he basically wanted to be the next Coil to her. He wanted to lock her up under the pretense of helping out Skitter, even with her basically trying in a roundabout way to ensure the survival of the Earth.

    I guess that if D&D aren’t going to do anything, Skitter is going to. I don’t have a lot of confidence in how well they clean up their act, because there are a lot of Taggs out there. I hear the whole family once served as the bridge crew of Spaceball One.

    • Maybe she Dinah didn’t want to look like a total economic villain in front of her parents.

    • Though I wonder why she isn’t filthy rich at the moment. She said it herself, she could be set for life in a week. Then she can simply charge and send the rest to a charity of her choice. I hope the girl hired some decent security at least. Even if the chance of someone daring to attack her in Skitter’s city is only 2%, there is still a chance.

      • What would they get by attacking her?

        If she doesn’t want to answer, she’ll lie and her power will become useless to them for awhile and that’s if they even figure out she is compelled to answer questions that are asked of her.

  2. That’s actually a pretty well thought-out plan on Taylor’s part.

    And wow, Douchetagg just gets worse every time he opens his mouth.

    I wonder if the neutralization of her bugs is going to finally get Skitter to start making more use of whatever other critters she can control aside from insects? Unless she already did the experiments off-screen and is just waiting for the appropriate time to reveal the results on-camera.

    For some reason, I think this is going to make Accord feel a lot better about the whole “turning herself in” thing. Elegant and effective plans are like catnip to him. Cauldron’s gonna be pissed, though, since her demands are likely to include things they emphatically don’t want.

    Assuming that Taylor is permanently gone from the Undersiders, I have this feeling that Parian is actually going to end up as the new leader. She’s the only member without some sort of major psychological problem (at the very least, she doesn’t have any obvious ones that would interfere with a leadership role), she’s the one with the most functional moral compass (which I think all the others realize they need to avoid slipping into shit that gets them smacked down by everybody), and she’s the easiest for outsiders to interact with.

    Finally: Dinah is awesome. If the eventual sequel to Worm was nothing more than “Dinah Alcott Schools Everybody”, I’d still be staying up till midnight for updates.

    • The problem with “Dinah Alcott Schools Everybody” is that you have to plot out multiple futures in enough detail to estimate probabilities for every question she asks. I remember reading a quote from a science fiction author complaining that it took him weeks to come up with difficult-enough problems that his hyperintelligent protagonist would take a few minutes to solve them.

    • Dinah was unadulterated awesome, that’s all I got to say.

      Tagg seems somewhat borderline to me. To him, you’re either working with him or against him and he’s almost incapable of acting somewhat reasonable with the latter. I mean, he seems so inept at actually being diplomatic that I’m kinda wondering how he got so high on the command chain in the first place.

      • You realize that Piggot wasn’t promoted on merit, right? It was sheer coincidence that she happened to be frighteningly competent — she was given the job as a sinecure to shut her up about the PRT’s Nilbog fiasco.

        • I’d rather say Nilbog was a factor in her promotion, not the reason. Like you said, she was frighteningly competent, and I doubt the powers that be would have put her at the local top is she weren’t (wasn’t?). More likely her involvement in Nilbog was another factor to be taken into account when deciding who was to lead the local PRT office – “Candidates A and B are good, but Piggot isn’t to be underestimated either. Even after the Nilbog incident. Especially after Nilbog. I support Piggot.”

          • @comickry: Yep.

            Of course, historically, that’s not an uncommon thing — Ulysses S. Grant got his position in the Union army during the American Civil War not for being a military genius (his grades at West Point were poor and his peers in the professional army thought him a drunkard), but for being the only military professional in Galena, Illinois when the call for volunteers reached that station.

          • Interlude 16 (Bonus) is the relevant chapter:

            “I… I’m glad I don’t have powers. That I can’t have powers.”


            “They’re monsters. Freaks. Lunatics. They fight only because they have the impression that they’re stronger than their opponents, and when they aren’t they run.” She thought of the squad of capes that had accompanied them. “They abandon the rest of us.”

            Thomas chuckled, and it sounded mean. Mocking.


            “I suggest you change your attitude,” he said.


            “It’s ironic. When the doctor and the Chief Director were talking to your sister, the Chief Director assured her that you still had a position in the PRT. Some of it is probably to keep you quiet, a cushy desk job and fat paycheck to make up for the fact that they sent you into a deathtrap and killed your teammates.”

            “A desk job?”

            “Director. You’ll manage the local teams, handle the PR, convince everyone else that they aren’t freaks, monsters, lunatics and bullies. I suggest you fake it, pretend you really do believe it. You might start to believe your lies.”

            • I stand corrected and bow my head to the mighty google fu of Packbeat.

              Though this raises my respect for Piggot a notch or two, to grow into her position so well.

          • @Psycho Gecko: s/General/Colonel — he wasn’t promoted to Major General until 1962.

            *closes Wikipedia tab*

            Besides, I was talking about not being promoted for merit — I’m pretty sure all of Grant’s advancements in rank since his appointment as a colonel were for merit. “I can’t spare this man; he fights” and all that.

          • Also from Wikipedia:

            1861: Having initially pushed back the Confederate forces from Camp Johnson, Grant’s undisciplined volunteers wildly celebrated rather than continuing the fight. Pillow, who was given reinforcements by Polk from Columbus, forced the Union troops to make a hasty retreat. Although the battle was considered inconclusive and futile, Grant and his troops gained the confidence needed to continue on the offensive. More importantly, President Lincoln took notice of Grant’s willingness to fight.[3]

            1862: The 23,746 casualties at Shiloh shocked both the Union and Confederacy, whose combined totals exceeded casualties from all of the United States’ previous wars. The Battle of Shiloh led to much criticism of Grant for leaving his army unprepared defensively; he was also falsely accused of being drunk. According to one account, President Lincoln rejected suggestions to dismiss Grant, saying, “I can’t spare this man; he fights.”

      • I think the main reason why Douchetagg got his position is because the PRT probably didn’t want to send someone competent to the ‘Bay. I mean, look at the last directors, one resigned, another turned out to be a supervillain crime lord…

    • +1 internets for Dinah Alcott Schools Everybody

      I imagine it playing out like the scene from 21 Jump Street where Channing Tatum is writing fours all over the whiteboard

    • I find it interesting that she assumes she can never go back at all, much less to her former position. I wonder if that is actually the case or her tendency to expect the worse. Brian said it best, they have been through hell together. Bitch forgave her for being a traitor after all. I can see bitch hitting her, then hugging her the next time they meet. Parian seems good for running the city morally like Skitter used to, as long as Grue/Bitch are there to make examples of other idiots like the people who attacked her people in her territory. Dinah IS Awesome. I see alot of Taylor in her. Doing whats best for people as a whole, standing up for herself, and calling people out on their bullshit.

    • I’d read Dinah Alcott Schools Everybody. Even if it only updated once every other week to allow Wildbow to conceptualize the probabilistic reality matrices necessary. I’d read it and I’d tell all my friends to read it. Because Dinah Alcott schools everybody.

    • Yeah I’d definitely read Dinah Alcott Schools Everyone. She just earned a Little Miss Badass tag in this chapter I think. I’d almost love to see Coil pop up again so she can kick his ass too.

      Douchetagg is an idiot. Trying to play hardball with one of the most impressive precogs who just pretty much flat out stated you are an insect to her and that Taylor is epic awesomeness? Stupid little man will not be surviving whatever shit goes down if he keeps up these Darwin Award nominations.

  3. Lessee, initial thoughts… Dinah was awesome. It’s wonderful to know that, when she’s not sick as a dog, she’s intensely intelligent, capable, and willing to put the boot in against anyone who’s not willing to give her the respect she deserves.

    It’s interesting to see just how thoroughly the PRT underestimated Skitter, too – the range of her powers and all that. I imagine that when Tagg saw the bugs clustering on the window, a tiny little twinge of fear ran down his spine.

    Managing to ward off the crippling boredom of that incarceration is an interesting way to use her powers, even if it weren’t incredibly useful for any number of other reasons. I wish that if I were ever locked up, I could have a fly on every wall. And finally… hooboy. The Undersiders don’t just have raw power on their sides: they have resources, they have chips they can call in from all over the town, and they have no reason to hold back. This is going to be the end of Tagg’s little reign of terror, I’d bet.

    • Yeah even with upping all of her skills by two points they still really don’t get just how badly outclassed they’ve been this entire time. Kid Win is annoying but not an issue, the antibug measures in the spheres should be relatively simply to deal with with the mass idiocy the PRT has just shown. You keep a girl who you know can cover the building in range at least in a still infested building? Wow Tagg way to go for smarts there…

    • Well, I suppose it depends on how soon we invent either biological or technological immortality.

    • If I’m calculating correctly, it’s approximately July 12th in-story. The story started on April 8th, so it covers about 95 days, and wildbow posted the first update on June 11th, 2011 — approximately 693 days ago.

      Either the deadline’s moving up, there’s a time jump, or we’re looking at 2025 or later for plot resolution.

        • It’s going to be really hard to sell the story on new readers by 2017, though.

          “Where are you going? It’s only a little over three million words!”

            • Huh. I likely never spoke that many words in my whole life. Still, that’s more than 12 million words. putting that in print would… take some time. And volume. And at least two shelves of my book case.

            • If I leave out the first few years to learn speaking that gives me about 9k days, or more than 300 words per day. Humm… you’re probably right. School made talk necessary. Nowadays I have days I don’t talk at all, not counting grunts or comments to myself, but still with an amount past 3M words, probably. But talkative I am not.

          • 3 million is one of the more popular estimates for the number of words in the English language. I’d say there are more than that, because of technical jargon and dialects, but still, it’s on the same order of magnitude.

          • I discovered this in late summer 2017. raced through, then a few months later am doing a read-with-comments.

            My husband was intrigued when I described the story, but the length has stopped him from starting it, even when I assured him it was complete. (I haven’t mentioned the sequel — nor started it myself.)

            • I think the easiest way is not to even mention the length if you know they’re not the type for lengthy stories.

              Get them to read till the bank robbery. Then the pace of the story won’t allow them to stop 😂

              I didn’t know how long it was when I first read this. Only realised after many many chapters. Holy hell. This thing is long and so good!

      • My money’s on “something happens that moves the deadline to (for example) six months from now.”


    I was trying to think if there was an appropriate trope for Miss Militia spotting the movements of the bugs. The only one I could think of was Cover Blowing Superpower, which fails on at least two levels: Skitter isn’t hiding her presence, and Skitter is using her power.

    Any thoughts?

  5. Taylor outmaneuvering the PRT? That’s the awesome girl we know and love.

    Taylor “not going back to them (the Undersiders)”? Ouch. Unless what she’s ruling out if going back to lead them — aka this also forces Grue to understand that he can still lead the team. The prospect of Taylor abandoning Rachel and Lisa feels unpleasant though – possibly just because of how much I’d hate to lose them from the narrative at this point.

    • They could all end up in the birdcage together, however I doubt that that soil originate from skitters conditions. She seems likely to ask for her dad to be left alone and for whatever it is that will be necessary for her plan.

      Also, the last time we were told skitters power rating thing it was master 5, right?

    • I still am unsure if she will end up there. I can see two different ways it could go that would be very interesting to see. Option One: She goes to the birdcage for pick a reason. Dragon wants to talk/partner up, to protect her from Cauldron coming after her, Tagg/Piggot wanting revenge etc. Then she can interact with everyone there, see her become a leader of a cellblock/politics, and be part of the eventual escape. Option Two: The PRT plays ball and she goes to the juvie center for parahumans where she meets and talks with Sophia and Theo. I think she underestimates how much the team cares for her and I could see them accepting her as leader again depending on the outcome of her plan. But until then, she is on her own. If/when she escapes she will probably be going around the country trying to stop the end of the world. I can see her interacting with Dragon, other heroes, or perhaps a temporary team. It would be so ironic for Sophia and Taylor to have to work together to escape.

      • i figured if she went to the birdcage there would be an Endbringer turn up (behemoth? it is in a mountain)

          • Well, it is in a Canadian Rockies but teacher thinks it’s actually very small, like the size of a fist. I figure there a huge underground facility surrounding a small hunk of rock that holds the birdcage itself, that is then surrounded by a machine that creates a deadly vacuum around it/filled with huge amounts of containment foam. As for size, who knows. If Dragon used some type of size changing tech it might a be a huge facility. I guess it depends on how many cell blocks it has, how the blocks are designed compared to a conventional prison, and how many prisoners to a block. Though I think I heard somewhere that Canadian prisons are different from the ones here in the US.

          • Are they more polite about the rape?

            “Excuse me, sir, fine day we’re having. Say, you wouldn’t mind bending over and picking up this soap I dropped, would you?”

            “Not at all, but I think you’re just trying to rape me.”

            “Right you are, you found me out. If it’s all fine with you, I would like to go ahead though. It’s been a long four years.”

            “Who am I to come between a man and his pent up sexual frustrations. Please, go easy. Is there any chance of a reacharound?”

            “I’m afraid not, I just can’t *grunt” coordinate my hands very well. By the way, do I detect a hint of lavender?”

            “Why yes, there’s no reason we shouldn’t smell our best around the others, is there? Say, is this going to take awhile? I’m do at the laundry in a half hour.”

            “I’ll have Bernie over there shank you after I’m done so you can get a doctor’s note.”

            “Thank you very much.”

            “You’re very welcome.”

      • my main argument for a Birdcage Arc is and always has been Conservation of Detail: “every detail given is important” (to the plot)

        i’m willing to admit that interludes with Canary, Marquis/Panacea, and Lung/Bakuda we can assume are for closure or sneaking in/implying the corruption in the PRT, but what about details like Glaistig or the internal politics of the various cell blocks? to me, this is foreshadowing or setting up the possibility of a lengthier POV that takes place there.

    • It’s pretty obvious from the way that Taylor is talking that if she gets sent to the birdcage the PRT will take a major hit.

  6. Very unlikely hypothesis, skitter is pregnant and does go to the birdcage. Flash forward 16 or so years and the world is starting to end. At this point the remaining capes need help, a lot of help, so they release the prisoners of th bird cage to fight the Endbringers/ jacks army/ cauldron or whatever else might possibly be threatening the world.

    • It seems rather unlikely she’s been pregnant for a few months without noticing.

      The stress, high level of physical activity, and already low amount of bodyfat make it likely that she’s just stopped having her period. It happens sometimes, like with Olympic gymnasts. You know, the 16 year olds going on 11?

      In female humans, puberty is partially dependent upon body fat. That’s one reason why it appears girls are hitting it earlier and earlier in places with high levels of obesity.

    • Still, if she is pregnant and goes to normal Jail instead of the Birdcage, Grue will completely lose it; break her out (willingly or not) cuff her to him & never let her out of his sight again.

      • I don’t think Wildbow would do that. Though I can’t say a grub wouldn’t be interesting. :3

        • And imagine if it gets versions of its parents powers. A young Nymph able to spread a swarm of shadow insects that allow them to steal and utilize the powers of other capes. That sounds massively awesome and terrifying. Ooh! What if they go one further and can teleport between insect clones? You’d never know which one is the real one!

    • While I doubt that is where this is going that would be awesome to see Taylor kicking ass with her 16 year old kid and a fully grown up Dinah as sidekicks with the rest of the Undersiders having grown to the point that most of the heroes are now joining their ranks as well. We could have the villains be the Slaughterhouse 9000!

  7. Since Ms. Yamada is back in the picture, what do you think the chances are that she has a session with Skitter?

    • Session as in counseling? I wouldn’t give it more than forty percent, more’s the pity. The only ways I’m seeing it happen are if Taylor goes to juvie or to the Wards.

      • The real question is, if the did have a counseling session, how would skitter act durin it.

        I’ve mostly given up on capitalization, it sucks on an iPad.

      • Well, and if you take into the account whom she talked with – Greg, all three bullies – she probably got a distorted picture at best.

        • Given that she’s a professional and this presumably isn’t the first time she’s had to get an idea about someone’s personality using what other people said: not necessarily.

          • I guess? I mean, I’d say there aren’t really hints going FOR the theory, and there are some details AGAINST the theory. Given how the PRT is (in theory) built to have the normals controlling the parahumans, giving a delicate job like Ward psychologist to a thinker doesn’t seem like something they’d do. But it’s possible.

          • @Freak King: Don’t underestimate the power of having two brain cells to rub together. Yamada is pretty sharp — maybe not Skitter-sharp, but probably Piggot-sharp or sharper.

            @Bobby: I agree. Right now, I’m putting her in the number two slot for “best understanding of Skitter’s headspace”, between Dragon and Parian. Her data is probably better, but she’s had less time to ruminate.

  8. Hoho, the plot is really starting to get underway now. At least now we now that Skitter’s surrender is, at the very least, not just a straight up “I give up and thats it” type deal. I wonder if this is still apart of the intermission arc before the conclusion stuff, or this is the beginning of the end (arc)

    Some more thoughts:

    -Cell, haha, very nice. I however think its more indicative of something else to come. Maybe it’s referring to Skitter having to keep her passenger in control, what with her accidentally letting out that she could hear through he bugs when they gathered around. Alternatively, it could mean a more biological sense, meaning the Skitter could have a second trigger soon that alters her chemistry

    -Dinah seems to have changed, but still remains rather cryptic. The PRT seems ok with letting her be a for-hire psychic, but like she says, she really can be racking in the dough though. Also, her vagueness about working for “everyone” and not answering some questions seems to indicate that she is starting to realize that just the act of announcing her predictions seems to change them.

    -As for her actual predictions, why has the deadline for Armageddon suddenly been able to be pushed back to 16 years? She did say that it would always happen before, but if I recall correctly, it was only supposed to be 2 years away, and never 16 years? So does that mean circumstances have changed or what? Also, the part about Tagg suggests that he will probably be killed by Jack.

    -In terms of how Skitter plays a role in all of this, it seems that no matter what, she would have been caught and brought in somehow. By surrendering at least, she avoiding having a big fight and possible mistakes (taking on a kill order, having her friends injured or worse, etc) However, given that the numbers improved no matter what, as long as the “get this far” (with Skitter alive or without any major catastrophes or what?) suggests that Skitter will still be up and kicking if she really does have an impact on these numbers.

    -So Skitter would seem to get what she wants no matter how this plays out. Either they listen to her and her demands, or they don’t and start an all out war. Assuming that Tagg is not a complete idiot and war hawk, and at the very least listens to what Skitter says, the demands could be very interesting. I could imagine one would deal with cutting off connections with Cauldron/ revealing the truth somehow. But honestly, I have next to no idea how Skitter’s demands and the PRT’s reaction would play out. Although I have a feeling that if Tagg goes to war, this will almost certainly alienate the Heroes, possibly causing them to leave/ defect.

    -One thing that bothers me a bit is Skitter’s reaction to her own team. It seems like she really is cutting off ties for good, saying that she she won’t be able to go back even if she could or wanted to. If this separation really carries through, this has some really interesting impacts on the story. We know Skitter works best in charge of a team. By herself, sure, she is powerful, but her real strength really shines through her planning and tactics. Also, this may also mean the story focus might split, with one side showing Skitter by herself and the other following the Undersiders. Of course, I might be wrong, and I personally would like to be, and have her go back to her team. Besides, we still need the scene where Bitch hits Skitter for leaving again.

    • > -As for her actual predictions, why has the deadline for Armageddon suddenly been able to be pushed back to 16 years? She did say that it would always happen before, but if I recall correctly, it was only supposed to be 2 years away, and never 16 years? So does that mean circumstances have changed or what? Also, the part about Tagg suggests that he will probably be killed by Jack.

      Without Jack, it would be closer to 16 years away. Whatever Jack does that makes it happen in 2 isn’t yet certain.

        • Will we be getting a “current” percent chance on It happening in two years, happening in sixteen years an not happening soon?

          • Not likely. By the flow of the story any interaction with Dinah will happen at a later date, and rather later than not considering any interactions of Dinah with Skitter seem to skew the end prediction to the bad side.

            Rather sad, actually. It means Taylor won’t be able to communicate with her for a few years, at least.

    • 1. If this really is the last arc, then a time jump of at least a year is bound to happen. Could be the whole of skitter’s imprisonment.

      2. It is beginning to seem like, at least to me, that skitter may never have a second trigger event.

      3. When you say jack kills tagg, do you mean the slaughterhouse 9? Because I think the torture is much more likely to be don by bonesaw.

      4. If skitter does go to the birdcage she is likely to expand the Undersiders. Being gone for the while that that would take may earn her an uber bitch punch. ( ironically bitch doesn’t dole out bitch slaps, but rather punches)

      • This is my own preference, but I really would like the story to keep going as is so far, and not have a whole imprisonment/ time skip thing. It makes sense for the purposes of the story, but there are just way to many loose ends, with the Irregulars, Cauldron, S9, Regent/Imp, Ambassadors, etc are all still up in the air without much indication as to where they are going. A time skip means that a lot would need to happen off-screen. Also, the flow of the story kinda feels like we need to be building up the conflict again (possibly with Cauldron). We know that the PRT, in some shape or form, is almost certainly not going to continue (whether it is because of Skitter’s “Demands” or Cauldron’s own prediction), so having a longer, drawn out conflict with the PRT with the use of a time skip seems a bit much. This is just my own opinion though, and a lot could change.

        Also, yeah, I kinda just say “Jack” when I refer to the S9 as a whole.

        • No timeskip but an arc that details her stay in Juvie/the birdcage. There is so much story potential. She can interact and talk with Theo/Sophia, we meet a bunch of new young parahuman criminals who could possibly form a new team/go to the Undersiders, and the escape plan. The birdcage is OZ parahuman edition. Prison politics, forming/joining a gang, becoming a cell leader, dealing with old foes, and maybe her presence will keep that clusterfuck waiting to happen from becoming too terrible.

          • Thought that occurred to me:

            Theo wants to kill Jack Slash.

            Skitter is one of the few living human beings who has actually been in a fight with Jack Slash.

          • Sophia didn’t go to the Birdcage. Emma visited her behind bars in her interlude, and the Birdcage has no direct communication with the outside world.

            Also I’m not sure why we’re assuming Theo was incarcerated. He’s been living with criminals, sure, but he hasn’t committed any crimes that I know of. I could see the cops keeping him in the hot seat for a day or two- maybe longer, if he did trigger on them- but eventually they’d have to figure out that he was basically a hostage. What would they charge him with? Getting beaten up a lot?

    • 1) Regarding last arc, Wildbow named off like 9 more arcs before the end on IRC a week or so ago.

      2) I think “Cell” is indicative of pregnancy, specifically the zygote (the initial cell that is the start of the embryo).

      3) I think she’s cutting ties so that they’re insulated from whatever she’s doing going forward. Or is trying to.

        • There’s ALWAYS the chance ANYTHING Wildbow notes is a red herring, but then we get things like the nearly million word callback to Greg. ANYTHING being used as foreshadowing is possible.

      • Timeline doesn’t match up for a pregnancy I think. I know I count a few as a minimum of 3. She’s been missing periods even before she and Grue played jack-in-the-box.

        The scenarios where she’d be pregnant from before Grue wouldn’t be very pleasant either.

        Even if it was two months there’s a problem. She’s undergone a LOT of physical trauma in that time. Everything she went through with Coil and Echidna? If they can’t cause a miscarriage, I somehow doubt Stairmaster is the only villain who could handle it.

        It also sounds like a skinny girl would show a little by that time.

        • First time didn’t necessarily have to catch; There was a very recent hanky panky session, after all.

            • Is it actually possible to get pregnant when you’re skipping periods? Doesn’t that indicate that the reproductive system has been put ‘on pause’ until conditions (food, rest, etc. ) are suitable for childbearing?

              • That’s exactly what it implies, but the person searching her doesn’t know she’s been missing periods.

  9. Well, food for thought, if the PRT officially adds a +2 rating to all categories that Skitter doesn’t already have, doesn’t that start to really push her up the threat brackets?

    Well done, Wildbow. Well done.

    ‘Just as planned.’

    • They aren’t upgrading her ranking (yet) — they’re treating the situation as if her ranking was higher.

      Which, to Tagg’s credit, they should — Thinker 3 is probably a minimum given what we know.

      • You know, this means that they are treating her as master TEN. I.e. as Simurgh basically.

        You know, when you get a reputation of having power on par with an Endbringer in less than a year… Yeah. That’s something.

      • Its kind of humorous when you consider how much more seriously they start taking her AFTER she surrenders.

  10. Hope it works. If Tagg’s really in charge, it might not – challenged on his home ground and in his authority by someone he despises, when he’s in a position to try to take action.

    I had no idea arthropodaudience was even a word. You learn a new thing every day.

        • Not really, but yes. Chortled is somewhat accepted, but I dearly doubt Arthopodaudience or what it was called will be accepted as such in common or scientific tongue. Perhaps in the cape scene, though,

          Initially, sonoluminescence describes light from sound, most commonly employed by the pistol shrimp.

          Too bad Triumph never read up on that specimen. Might have expanded his powerset a bit.

    • I highly doubt it is. It’s just a custom prefix-sufix mix. She has clairvoyance and clairaudience channeled through bugs, which means you add arthropod, and it gives: arthropodovoyance and arthropodaudience.

      Actually, it’s funny when you think about it: Taylor merits that new words be made up to describe her accurately.

  11. Well, that was certainly interesting, but so is easily every chapter you writer. It was nice to see Dinah again and have her more fleshed out. And you knew Clockblocker was of the rocker when he didn’t react to the (unintentional) bait Skitter gave him.

        • Given the choice between working for Tagg and working for Skitter, I know I’d have to give it a pretty long think, and my respect for law and authority is a lot greater than Clockie’s.

          • It would be completely believable for me either way. Thats how much crap the wards have gone through. He mentions how once upon a time he would have made that joke about position, but he isn’t that kid anymore. He lost all his teammates too, saw many flaws of the PRT before cauldron was outed, so his viewpoint is far from black and white at this point. But this isn’t our universe. If you lived in the wormverse, and knew all about the PRT, how much respect for law and order would you have compared to now?

          • > If you lived in the wormverse, and knew all about the PRT, how much respect for law and order would you have compared to now?

            I don’t want to incite a political debate, and I don’t mean to imply an equivalence of guilt that doesn’t exist, but I have to say that my respect for law and order has already survived the appointment of those who have respect for neither to positions of responsibility and oversight.

            My respect for law is based on the ideal of impartial justice meted out by a system that is specifically designed to protect the innocent from false accusations of guilt. However corrupt the PRT is, however badly it fails that ideal, it is the only organization set up specifically to operate that way.

          • I may be misremembering, but I think Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that you shouldn’t try to avoid the punishment for unjust laws out of respect for the just ones.

            Then again, the PRT would have likely recruited Bitch to take on protestors back then, so it’s a good thing they weren’t around at the time.

          • To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”

          • Also,
            One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

            How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts the human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.

            An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

            • Of course, St Augustine was working from the assumption that there would be ultimate judgement after death and that that judgement would correspond with what it says in his holy book.

              Once you set aside the Bible as the One True Morality (and given some of the stuff in the Old Testament, you pretty much have to), agreeing on a common morality to adhere to becomes a lot more complicated.

          • Alright, now I’m curious where I got that bit about punishment.

            But, if you’re ever looking for something to degrade people’s personalities, bring on the PRT.

        • If it was only a question of Tagg v Skitter, or about the corruption of the PRT, then it might be an option for Clockblocker to defect. But in this case his loyalty to his remaining teammates, and everything they’ve gone through together, probably takes precedence.

  12. Tick tock! Tick tock! The times ticking down before Miss Militia proves herself and her entire team to be completely worthless fluff! Seriously, you not going to be sarcastic to Tagg a bit? He’s the only reason why poor Vista and Kid Win will probably have their skulls crushed by a monster dog in a couple hours. He’s fucking threatening 12 year olds! Even if it’s not in favor of the Undersiders, do something!

    And I hope Assault fucking dies. Hate that fucking guy. Dishing out dirty secrets! Boo fucking hoo! Sad song! Worlds smallest violin!

    • I’m with you on that. Take a stand Miss Miliita. Peaceful protest, go over his head, give a statement to the media, something. I can cut Assault a little slack after finding out Battery was his wife. He’s in pain, and looking for someone to lash out since the 9 aren’t there. To be honest, I’m surprised he hasn’t joined Mr. and Mrs. Dragon at this point for revenge. I could see him agree to work with Skitter if she promised to help him track down and fight the 9.

      • So his wife is killed by the Slaughterhouse Nine, so he’s going to take it out on teenagers who are not the Slaughterhouse Nine, and helped save the city from the Slaughterhouse Nine?

        Screw that! I hate that kind of manpain, especially when it comes from a joker like Assault who has done nothing visibly useful in the story to justify the taxes spent on his costume and training.

        And now he’s whining about the PR of an organization that deserves to burn to the ground? I hope he gets stabbed to death by a gang of clowns.

          • He used to be Madcap, fought Battery while freeing villains on the way to the Birdcage all the time. Then they caught him, and he became her partner as Assault, changing the meaning people would take from her name (instead of a battery that charges up power, battery as in assault & battery) and eventually changing her attitude towards him such that they ended up getting married.

        • Yes, but he has served as a hero off-screen. I suspect that that more than justifies what has been spent on him.

        • Also remember that there were -threads from spiders- found on her when she was found nearly dead. It implies that Skitter helped kill her- Which she sorta did indirectly, by not helping. :/

  13. Neat!

    It’s got to be detrimental to the sanity to work at an institution with so many ties to precogs and thinkers. Even though Miss Militia is a much better person, both she and Tagg display the same mental tic here, where their enemies are responsible _if outcomes don’t go the PRT’s way._

    Arguably Tagg has reason for legitimate annoyance with Dinah, which he’s escalating into accusations of criminal culpability for . . .

    Well, since he doesn’t even know what will happen, and at the time he was in basically the position he wanted, accusations of criminal culpability for _his fear that the future won’t go the way he wants it to._

    And Miss Militia’s comparatively mild complaint to Skitter still boils down to “well, you should have done more to defang your friends before surrendering.”

    And the thing is, looking at that, you can not only see why interacting with the PRT has been so difficult—because both of these ideas boil down to the fact that Skitter is being held to an impossible standard, where actively buying time for the PRT by eliminating two villain groups and asking two more to hold off at least until sunset before surrendering *isn’t good enough* because the PRT might still lose due to others’ actions that she didn’t prevent, but because you can sort of see (by way of the interaction with Dinah) just how much having thinkers and precogs involved with stuff encourages thinking that way.

    Things end badly? Your thinkers and precogs must be betraying you, or the enemy thinkers and precogs must be working against you and outclassing them. A potential enemy standing with their finger in the dike holding back the waters to drown you? Shoot them anyway; if the waters get out, it’s probably the fault of some thinker or precog or something.

    I’m probably overstating the connection—I mean, “I blame you because things ended badly for me” is a common element of real-world thought, too. But . . . in the real world, everyone’s *mostly* on the same footing when it comes to intentions vs. outcomes. In the real world, you can reasonably expect that thinking clearly and doing the right thing will bring intentions and outcomes closer together, and that it’s bad luck, enemy action, or a failure to think clearly and do the right thing when you don’t get the outcomes you aim for. Here, everyone’s embedded in a network of gods playing with the strands of fate and it has to be even more poisonous to the mind than the presence of physically dangerous powers.

    I mean, physical powers are ultimately just another form of coercion or, at the high end, natural disaster; precog and thinker powers, on the other hand, start to undermine the reasoning that makes civil disobedience, passive resistance, and telling truth to power feasible real-world strategies.

    • “I mean, physical powers are ultimately just another form of coercion or, at the high end, natural disaster; precog and thinker powers, on the other hand, start to undermine the reasoning that makes civil disobedience, passive resistance, and telling truth to power feasible real-world strategies.”

      Which is one reason I’d want thinker power, given the chance. Or tinker, that would suit me equally.

      • I’d want a master power since sloth is my cardinal sin. Depends heavily on what minions I could create though. Who wouldn’t want to ride a forcefield bear? Thinker powers would give me worse migraines and most precogs aren’t very accurate/made irrelevant from interacting with other precogs. I had an idea for a shifter character who creates a large bubble around themselves that causes everything in it to act like it was underwater, and it would feel like you were somewhere very high up when you breathe. The shifter could fly/move freely in the bubble while everyone else had to swim. Though if you were off the ground and the bubble moved then gravity took back over.

        • In had an idea for a short ranged hemakinetic that could literally pop people’s hearts to join as a temporary member of the Slaughterhouse 9.

    • Id want the standard looney tunes power to be able to paint doors and tunnels and run through them while folks following me would hit a wall 🙂 I would also leave large forks in the road !

  14. “But she can’t know she’ll escape. What if we did have Dragon and Defiant move her halfway across the country?”
    “She used my power to cut Echidna in half,” Clockblocker said. “She could deal with that, too.”

    Hah! I love how paranoid they are about what Taylor could do.

    • Obviously not paranoid enough.

      I am sure that when she used her powers to speak through the bugs, more than one PRT member was in sudden need of an underwear change as the implications caught up with them.

      • I really love the whole concept. Here’s this whole good guy base, and at the center of it all there’s a villain in prison. She can see you, she can hear you. She can even talk to you… a little bit. But she can’t get out. Probably.

        Can you imagine being the receptionist, or the janitor, in a place like that? Freaky. I’d like to see more of the scenario from the jailor perspective, instead of the jailed. Ah, well. Maybe she’ll stay there long enough that we can get an interlude like that. If not, I’ll just put it with my other “stuff I’d do if I was a writer”.

        • Well the drones could keep it from being too bad, but it would take an obscene amount of resources and spending to even attempt to keep every bug out of the entire complex. But yeah, I can see her talking to random people as they go about their day and Tagg’s paranoia building. Clockblocker was talking to Skitter in the bathroom, the janitor is passing information in his closet with roach, etc.

          • The drones don’t seem to be super effective.

            We learn about them being deployed from Skitter’s perspective and she considers avoiding them like a game.

            Sure she might not be able to listen in as much as before, but she is far from neutralized. If she were really mean she could start making random comments while observing the people trying to contain. Stuff like pointing out spots they missed or air-pockets in the containment foam. Or perhaps giving the new arrivals directions to the restroom.

          • I have this picture in my head: Tagg has crabs, not because Skitter had anything to do with it but because he’s been cheating on his wife with hookers; the drones detect the crabs and begin firing all weaponry at his crotch (that’s why Dinah predicted that he’ll die screaming).

  15. Ok, allow me to play Dinah and try to explain why sixteen years is again possible.

    Jack is going to stage a simultaneous attack on all PRT chapters in America some time soon. Possibly / likely coinciding with Skitter’s trial. He’ll lead the attack on the one where Skitter is. By surrendering herself she got a chance to kill him.

    • Yes, maybe the 16 years will have to do with bonesaw having to create a clone of jack and possibly catch it up to speed if it doesn’t retain enough memories. Oh, and they would have to rebuild their army, most likely larger.

  16. Also, not sure when you put it there, but thanks Wildbow for the listing. I’d say something about the name, but I take the publicity that I can get and I have more passive aggressive ways of bringing it up.

  17. Skitter said she didn’t like there cape name. Any one have any ideas for if she renames herself? (though I doubt that she will)

      • This seems likely.

        The question is will they even attempt to act as if she wasn’t Skitter like they did with Armsmaster and Assault or will they be open about it to the public.

        • Even if it was coil, she did kill a PRT director. Kinda a problem. Not to mention the fact tat tagg hates her with a passion.

          • Tagg was no longer relevant the moment Skitter surrendered, besides, Dinah already predicted that he’s likely gonna die screaming and him knowing is even more likely going to up that by several percent to make it a self fulfilling phrophecy.

  18. I don’t think I could go back to them and return to my position if I wanted to. And I don’t.

    I guess she really doesn’t plan on going back to the Undersiders. Is she actually going to demand a new identity as a hero instead?

    In any case I expect her first demand to be that Tagg is fired. That would neatly accomplish her stated goal of removing him.

    I wonder why Dinah is so convinced that interacting with Taylor would be bad, if everything is already going as planned…

    • Maybe she’s concerned that “you have a 3% chance of reducing the number of casualties from 5 billion to 3 billion” would have a negative impact on Skitter’s morale.

  19. I’ll start with a message to Wildbow: I fucking love you.

    -Dinah is awesome, how old is she again? Because there should be an age requirement for being that fucking badass
    -Clockblocker is still my favorite member of the Wards, I hope he never changes his name
    -Taylor continues to remind me of a certain Timelord.
    -I kind of wish the heroes had more of a visible reaction to Flechette’s defection.
    – And lastly, What do you guys think Taylor’s demands will be? And how much longer do you give before GT loses his shit?

    • You know, Tagg is reminding me of another fictional leader …

      At that moment a rabbit came out of the grass and sat up in the middle of the track. He paused for a few moments and then moved toward them. He was limping and had a strained, resolute look.

      “You’re General Woundwort, aren’t you?” said the rabbit. “I’ve come to talk to you.”

      “Did Thlayli send you?” asked Woundwort.

      “I’m a friend of Thlayli,” replied the rabbit. “I’ve come to ask why you’re here and what it is you want.”

      “Were you on the riverbank in the rain?” said Woundwort.

      “Yes, I was.”

      “What was left unfinished there will be finished now,” said Woundwort. “We are going to destroy you.”

      “You won’t find it easy,” replied the other. “You’ll take fewer rabbits home than you brought. We should both do better to come to terms.”

      “Very well,” said Woundwort. “These are the terms. You will give back all the does who ran from Efrafa and you will hand over the deserters Thlayli and Blackavar to my Owsla.”

      “No, we can’t agree to that. I’ve come to suggest something altogether different and better for us both. A rabbit has two ears; a rabbit has two eyes, two nostrils. Our two warrens ought to be like that. They ought to be together — not fighting. We ought to make other warrens between us — start one between here and Efrafa, with rabbits from both sides. You wouldn’t lose by that, you’d gain. We both would. A lot of your rabbits are unhappy now and it’s all you can do to control them, but with this plan you’d soon see a difference. Rabbits have enough enemies as it is. They ought not to make more among themselves. A mating between free, independent warrens-what do you say?”

      At that moment, in the sunset on Watership Down, there was offered to General Woundwort the opportunity to show whether he was really the leader of vision and genius which he believed himself to be, or whether he was no more than a tyrant with the courage and cunning of a pirate. For one beat of his pulse the lame rabbit’s idea shone clearly before him. He grasped it and realized what it meant. The next, he had pushed it away from him. The sun dipped into the cloud bank and now he could see clearly the track along the ridge, leading to the beech hanger and the bloodshed for which he had prepared with so much energy and care.

      “I haven’t time to sit here talking nonsense,” said Woundwort. “You’re in no position to bargain with us. There’s nothing more to be said. Thistle, go back and tell Captain Vervain I want everyone up here at once.”

      “And this rabbit, sir,” asked Campion. “Shall I kill him?”

      “No,” replied Woundwort. “Since they’ve sent him to ask our terms, he’d better take them back. –Go and tell Thlayli that if the does aren’t waiting outside your warren, with him and Blackavar, by the time I get down there, I’ll tear the throat out of every buck in the place by ni-Frith tomorrow.”

      The lame rabbit seemed about to reply, but Woundwort had already turned away and was explaining to Campion what he was to do. Neither of them bothered to watch the lame rabbit as he limped back by the way he had come.

      • Whats that from?

        Also, Who do you think is next on the fuck the PRT im joining the Undersiders list?

        • (a) Watership Down by Richard Adams. My first favorite book of all time — probably one of the best books ever written in the English language.

          (b) My gut says Truimph — remembering his interlude, I think his disillusionment is stronger than Clockblocker’s, and being a Cauldron cape after Echidna is hell on the conscience — but I don’t think any defections to the Undersiders are likely.

          • Richard Adams is probably the best prosesmith I’ve ever read and his worldbuilding is first-rate. You won’t regret it.

            Try Shardik as well – most people would say it’s depressing, but it’s less dark than this.

  20. Huh, the ending changed. Or I really wasn’t paying attention during my first read through.

    Someone mentioned this is the last arc, is there a reference for that?

    Awesome chapter Wildbow, you really know how to set everything up and then leave us all wondering again and again.

    • Not necessarily last arc as in a number (like this arc being arc 22: Cell) Rather, arc as in overall plot line. I remember back during the last part of 19, Wildbow said that there would be around 3 more numbered arcs before the conclusion plot line would start, and end by around the end of this year.

  21. Re-reading, and just thought os something. Skitter says she is going to call her lawyer, but it pretty much won’t be Tattletale (given Skitter’s intended role for her to direct the Undersiders and that the PRT would never allow someone like Tattletale anywhere near a courtroom, despite the circumstances)

    So who else could it be? We need someone who is close to Skitter, well versed in law, and would be allowed to be with Skitter during the negotiations/ court procedures. Given that, I think it might honestly be Skitter’s dad, Danny. I mean, he works for the Dockworkers Association, so he must know at least a bit of law, negotiations, and bureaucratic procedures, and him being with Skitter doesn’t really pose that much of a threat. It also offers a really nice dynamic, and also help give more closure to Danny’s subplot.

      • That actually works too, but I think that the Undersider’s cooperation with the Ambassadors is still on the down low, so getting Accord to be Skitter’s lawyer would probably blow it out of the water (and probably also take a bat to the Undersider’s image, which is now more than ever of upmost importance)

        • They are considered to have folded Accord’s organisation into their own. At this point calling on him would not ruin their image of strength.

          Adding to that the fact that Accord is a Cauldron-sponsored/connected cape (and is thus almost safe from prosecution), and calling onto him doesn’t present a danger to him (at least at the first glance – part of Skitter’s plan could be to disable Accord too).

          And he’ll enjoy the lawyering too.

      • I don’t think accord would make a very good lawyer, as evidence by his inability to even start dealing with Tattletale last chapter.

        I hope by “lawyer” she meant a napalm bomb to finally send this FUCKING organization back to hell where it belongs.

    • I subscribe to Someguy’s theory: she’ll call the Hebert’s old family friend in the law business. Sure, he’s technically a divorce lawyer, but he has been effective as the legal advocate for a teenage cape before. Plus, he has every reason to want help her, given the nature of their personal connection.

      Of course, the Barnes have moved since Taylor spent a lot of time at their house, so I imagine she’ll have to ask for a phone book or something.

        • You mean she wouldn’t want to call him? When has not wanting to do something ever stopped Skitter?

          And given the situation and what she needs from her lawyer, I’d put “willing to issue threats against his best friend with a grin on his face” in the pluses column.

          • She’s more Skitter than Taylor. It’d be strange for her to ask help from a former family friend when she has cut ties so thoroughly with that part of her life. Tattletale has no doubt hired some of the best lawyers in the country to defend her property rights over the portal. I’m sure they can handle the negotiation with the PRT as well.

          • He’s also a divorce, not a defense, lawyer. She MIGHt call him to get a lawyer appropriate tod efense on line… But something tells me she already planned that out in advance.

        • Considering she (and everyone else) seems to blame Skitter for what went down between Amy and Vicky, putting Brandish and Skitter in a room together is likely to result in a death.

          Taylor has not made many friends on the hero side of things, to put it mildly.

  22. At some point in time, possibly after the series is over, can a power classification table for all characters be, made?

  23. Oh the possibilities this story can go now. I kind of want her to escape and have her go a long roadtrip to save the world. That way we can explore more of the wormverse. But man, Taylor has come far. I still remember when Armsmaster had pretty much single handedly dealt with the Undersiders and he tells bitch Skitter is no threat, and she reminds him that Lung though that too. She is now the undisputed queen of the underworld, a known criminal MASTERMIND, a Master 8/thinker 1, and is feared that no matter how stacked the odds are against her, people still worry she will win. When she talked with Miss Militia/Flechette and she says she can make them leave, I realized there wasn’t any internal debate all. She was completely confident she could beat them. But Dinah makes me curious. She could have been even meaner than the girl who puts maggots in people eyes, breaks the legs of intruders, and forces heroes to kneel. If she does go to the birdcage, I wonder if anyone will fear her/look to leadership. Many thinkers are leaders despite having no combat ability so I could see her taking over a cell block without any bugs.

    • I would also like a greater exploration of the wormverse. Would like to see Nilbog and heartbreaker have a bigger role overall.

      • I’m not too sure about that. Save a few for a possible sequel and it probably isn’t very realistic to have the main protagonist interact with EVERY big name villain in America. She mentions when she talked to Dinah what would happen if she just upped and attacked everywhere she traveled to try and narrow down the important places of the apocalypse. But there are alot of interesting places she can go now. Cape cities like Chicago, San Diego, New York, Boston, and a few other places I can’t remember. Maybe to past sites of Endbringer attacks like those condemned by the Smurf, a few American Chernobyl sites that Behemoth caused, and pull an aquaman by swimming to Dragon’s father’s site.

      • I personally would love to see the situation in other countries and cultures. How is China dealing with capes? Is torture globally still as prevalent if there’s a chance of 1 in 10-30k prisoners triggering and killing everyone in perhaps a hundred meters radius, depending on power?
        Is the naming scheme global? (I still dislike the Richter name. Judge is one translation of it, but it can easily mean executioner as well. Various cultural connotations.) What is their legal standing? Are nation states openly or clandestinely threatening other states with “or else… we’ll send our capes in!” akin to nuclear weapons?

    • A roadtrip would be interesting, but the rest of Skitter’s story has been solidly in Brockton Bay, and I feel it would be strange to relocate after we’ve spent so much time getting to know this city. Can’t really see it happening.

  24. @Packbat: New quotes/moments of awesome/whatever.

    “I already informed each of my officers to treat her as though she had a two point classification in every category, or two points higher in cases where she’s already received scores. Brute two, mover two… all the way down the list. It won’t do to underestimate her.”

    “Classified.” “Fuck you guys.”

    “Good. If she does a lot of damage, then good.” “Oh my lord,” Tagg said, leaning back in his chair and staring up at the ceiling. “I think I’m about to have an aneurysm.”

    “I don’t have to help you,” she said. “I’m not a good guy. I’m not a bad guy. I’m done working for other people, answering their questions when I don’t want to. I work for me, and for everyone.”

    “The last thing I want is another arrogant dickface telling me what to do,” Dinah said. “You want answers, Director? Fine. Twenty two point eight one three percent chance you die painfully, over long, slow minutes or hours. Maybe soon, maybe in twenty years, but it’ll bring you to tears, and you’ll wail in pain. That’s a freebie. Want more details?”

    “Damn tinkers.”

    “I’m just saying. It’s really up to you guys. Send me to the birdcage, you lose everything. Things get ugly for the PRT at a critical point in time. I suffer, the Undersiders suffer, you suffer, the world suffers.”

  25. So are we going to talk about the elephant in the room? The fact that Tagg ordered an invasive body cavity search on a minor for the sole purpose of exerting pressure makes my fucking skin crawl.

    And don’t tell me it’s justified. Skitter is being completely compliant, there’s no real evidence of smuggled items, and that the practice isn’t all that effective anyway, They don’t even have tinker bullshit for this?

    Gross. This makes me think alot less of the heroes present and of the PRT in general, and makes me want to see Tagg take a load of buckshot to the craw.

    • I suppose you should hope that she had her fingers in Taylor’s mouth before she searched lower down on the body.

      I mean, they just had her take a shower for the guard with some monitoring in the room that they could turn on at any time. She’s laying there asleep, they figure she’s noncompliant or just know he’s sleeping, and they zap the hell out of the room in the middle of the night.

      Plus, you know, the Ward heroes stuck around rather close too. Presumably this would be to protect the PRT guard, but still.

      This doesn’t change my opinion of the PRT and heroes at all. This is completely in line with how they treat villains and part of why Taylor points out that the PRT is hurting the PRT.

      • You should hope so, but the sequence implies otherwise – first she put her mental focus someplace else and by the time she’s back again, there are fingers in her mouth and the thereafter the search is finished. The implications are unfortunate.

        Which does not prevent a change of gloves, or that the guard didn’t invade everywhere, of course.

      • > I suppose you should hope that she had her fingers in Taylor’s mouth before she searched lower down on the body.

        The guard had changed gloves before putting her fingers in Taylor’s mouth.

    • I also want to note that apparently it’s part of procedure to knock the person out and do a cavity search while they’re unconscious. Which is a whole hundred new layers of creepy. Do they not have scanners or something?

      If this is brought up again and we find out that Tagg specifically ordered that, my assessment of him with go down from raging jackass to subhuman maggot.

      • Uhm, I don’t see them saying it’s part of procedure unless they act up, and considering these are super-powered individuals, I can understand that at least being procedure. Imagine bakuda sneaking in a few bits and pieces where the sun don’t shine. The last thing you need is a tinker-made device snuck in like that. Do I agree it is a good practice? No. But I can see where it comes from.

  26. I’m actually a bit terrified. Not at the idea that her plan will fail. But the idea that her plan will work. I mean, this could very well be the start of a new ‘part’ of the series. Heck, if I didn’t know better (Word of Wildbow) I might guess that this is the last arc, and it ends on some sort of “grace note” of the redemptive power of surrender or…I dunno, something like that, in the martyrdom sense.

    No, what I’m worried about is whether she’s moved beyond/past the Undersiders which, considering how much time we’ve put into them (I sure as heck like all the characters, even those I’d find infuriating in real life), is a real shame. And yet if the necessities of the plot demanded it, that would happen.

    Maybe I’m worrying for nothing: it depends, of course, on what her demands are.

    • My guesses on demands (what some of them may be):

      1) No mask policy / public access to identities. Full accountability.

      2) Full review of all birdcage sentences

      3) Directors of PRT to become an elected position, voted by general population (and thus I present you the new Brockton Bay PRT director – Taylor Hebert!)

      4) Full PRT withdrawal from Brockton Bay. As in, a complete one.

      5) Free distribution of superpwoer formula (sponsored from PRT budget) to the hospitals / terminal patients / etc (volunteers only).

      • 1) Seems problematic. It’s not like Taylor voluntarily unmasked, too
        2) Might make sense, but does Taylor KNOW of any of the unjust Birdcage send-offs?
        3) Perhaps that, but it doesn’t really change anything. Alexandria, from what I gathered, did a good job as the head of PRT.
        4) Not really seeing much point in that – it might be something Taylor would want, but not anything that helps preventing the end of the world.
        5) Would be a clever idea, but Taylor knows very little about how the Cauldron actually operates. I don’t think the healing aspect is even publicly known.

    • My guess as to some of what Taylor wants:

      1) The same thing D&D demanded (in which Alexandria, Cauldron, Saint & Tagg now has to bend over and take it doggy style [no offence to Rachael]; D&D will also have to swallow that a “Villain” can get their bosses to do what they couldn’t as “Heroes”)

      2) An improvement of the Probation deal that Sophia got but instead of joining the Wards or Protectorate, Taylor’s probation will be as the Head of the PRT, taking the place of Director Costa-Brown.

  27. Is anyone else half tempted to have the PRT outright refuse the deal, just to read exactly what thermonuclear undersider justice is like?

    • Each of the Undersiders except Parian could easily star in their own horror film franchise. The girl who knows too much and can manipulate you into killing your best friend, the girl with the mutant dogs, the mind-controller, the knife-wielding psycho who you can’t see and can’t remember is hunting you. Grue used to just create darkness, which was creepy but only mildly disabling, but now he’s a Trump who can copy the powers of whoever’s in his darkness. And his darkness powers can engulf several streets, probably easily enough to black out PRT headquarters and go to town with the powers of the entire protectorate. Worse, I don’t think the PRT knows about his second trigger and new powers, so they’re not thinking of how to avoid it.

      Part of Taylor’s pep talk when dealing with the Nine was “they’re us in ten years.” Considering who walked away worse off for their encounter, I think the Undersiders on a roaring rampage of revenge would be at least as bad as the Nine.

      • Each of the Undersiders except Parian could easily star in their own horror film franchise. The girl who knows too much and can manipulate you into killing your best friend, the girl with the mutant dogs, the mind-controller, the knife-wielding psycho who you can’t see and can’t remember is hunting you. Grue used to just create darkness, which was creepy but only mildly disabling, but now he’s a Trump who can copy the powers of whoever’s in his darkness. And his darkness powers can engulf several streets, probably easily enough to black out PRT headquarters and go to town with the powers of the entire protectorate. Worse, I don’t think the PRT knows about his second trigger and new powers, so they’re not thinking of how to avoid it.

        The Chicago Wards saw him using his power-copying – the PRT really should know. Then again, the Chicago Wards saw Skitter use her bugs to listen in on conversation, so they should know about that, too.

      • Regent’s more of a body-controller, actually. Which is probably just as bad or worse.
        Also, you left out Taylor herself. /That/ I understand, as she needs no further introduction.

      • The implications of how scary their powers can be are mentioned in the nightmare fuel page. Though you can always add to it. Maybe look at them from an ordinary citizens perspective. Parian though Grue and Bitch were scary, while Taylor mentioned she though Imp/Regent were the scariest to the public.

        • Nah, Imp/Regent are the scariest to the other Cape teams due to the security implications. Ground Zero Brocktonites know better of course, not sure about the returnees and outsiders.

          • Yes, nobody during the whole arrest and body cavity search asks the question “Where is the Stranger type teammate of hers who could be standing in the room and we’d never know?” Then again, if you can think to ask the question, the answer is “not here.”

  28. Another thing just occured to me:

    I already informed each of my officers to treat her as though she had a two point classification in every category, or two points higher in cases where she’s already received scores. Brute two, mover two… all the way down the list. It won’t do to underestimate her

    This at first glance seems like perfectly justified paranoia in the face of an extremely resourceful villain, but does it really make sense to assume that Skitter for example now has super strength or can do energy blasts etc?

    But I realize that if they have heard that Skitter was present when Butcher died it would make sense to consider that she might have a wide variety of low level powers. In that case it might also be wise that she is completely insane, that killing her would be a bad idea and that she might turned herself in because she feels herself going mad…

    • They also have to take into account that villains had 2nd trigger events offscreen. I figure after a few times of weak parahumans catching them off guard with new/more expansive powers has caused them them to treat every villain as stronger than they are to be safe.

  29. She should have brought fleas or lice if there for intel. Ants, fruit flies and ladybugs would be small enough to avoid notice for a bit.

  30. I’m actually going to bet that Skitter’s demands are intended to advance some of Accord’s plan for the betterment of the world, in some ways.

  31. Hey Wildbow! Not sure if you’ll read this so far down, but thanks so much for writing this story. It’s fantastic. I had a major case of archive addiction as soon as I found Worm, and this is the first update since I finished so I’ve been looking forwards to it very hard.

    I’m so impressed by your ability to write situations containing just the right amounts of hints for the future. I know you say you like to write in the moment, but you must have some big plans to be able to foreshadow so well. I’ve been loving your writing style and I’m amazed at how much you manage to write as well, so colour me impressed, you’ve definitely gained a fan here.

    PS. Also loved that you mentioned capoeira once as a martial art the ability vampire might know, I’m teaching capoeira so I love any mention of it.

    • Wildbow does read through the comments, so I expect he’ll see this whenever he checks through them. I think I’m the only one he skips.

      Greetings, Lobo, and any other antiheroes you might have hiding with you in those Capoeira pants. Or whatever Capoeira people wear when they’re spinning and dancing about. Togas, maybe?

      Ah yes, Capoeira. While I look up more information, I’ll go ahead and discuss what I know of that mystical of martial arts. The ancient Greek martial art of drunken kicking. I believe it started when Leonidas faced off against the invading Persian hordes and decided to stall for time by holding a dance-off. Little did the Persians know that Spartan’s were militaristic in their dancing as well. The poor, overwhelming numbers of the Persian army were left with so little room at the cliffs that they could only line dance. It was not pretty. However, it did increase sales of the Thespians’ phat backup beat, “Your Dad is a Cyclops and He Never Saw Me Climbing In The Rear Window”. Reportedly this whole sequence of events even led to Socrates’s most famous questions, “What’s it like to get served?” and “Who is your daddy?”

      Alright, done looking it up for confirmation and…

      Well, the important thing is I know it exists. Now I need to go work on upgrading the groin armor before angry Brazilians attempt to give me their infamous Brazilian Scalping of the bikini region.

      Still, at least on what you can read online, I can see a few interesting things. A martial art with somewhat ritualized combat, complete with background music, between opponents going under nicknames, with two of them occasionally working side by side until one of them betrays the other, complete with emphasis on determining someone’s intentions, tricks, and problem-solving capability.

      Not sure if it’ll catch on, but I guess I’ll go read about more superhero fights or play Mortal Kombat or something.

      Welcome to the comments, Lobo.

      • Ah yes, the ancient Persian dance-fight. Tragically this formerly deadly art form withered away throughout the ages and now only survives at weddings, where it is known as “Dad dancing”.

        You seem to have a handle on capoeira’s ambiguous nature. Depending on the group, the two individuals involved or your mood it can be anything between a ritual dance and a bareknuckle fight. Keeps me entertained. 🙂

        Thanks for the lovely welcome.

    • So we’ve got an Australian capoeira teacher, a guy who’s been shot before, a guy who works the night shift in a 70’s slasher film motel, and whatever the hell Gecko is supposed to be… what else? Wildbow’s building a pretty eclectic fanbase here.

  32. Something just hit me. If Skitter is pregnant then the two years thing could be if Bonesaw got ahold of her baby or if the baby, now a young adult, triggered. As unlikely as it maybe it could be that. Bonesaw gets the two year old to trigger with Jacks telling her to, or with Jackie boy dead the kids grows up then triggers at 16 bring about the end.

    • If that were the case then Skitter’s death could have saved the world. I think that would have shown up in Dinah’s questions, although I could be wrong.

      • What bugs me is Dinah’s insistence of other possible presence at the end of the world, but Skitters certainty therein. Whatever happens, it somehow depends on Taylor being present for both the end of the world to happen and – supposedly – to prevent or mitigate it.

        • A queen of blades scenario maybe? Perhaps a fourth endbringer shows up who has a power similar to nilbog and a creates self-replicating army of creatures that can be stopped as long as the military of various countries get involved. It will require alot of time, resources, and casualties to clear a city of the things. Then it’s discovered that Taylor can control it/the minions it makes thereby becoming a world power in her own right who now has the means to make a difference in whether to save the world or not.

          • I don’t know Queen of Blades, doesn’t ring a bell, but the scenario you describe might be one explanation. One caveat though: So far we’ve seen Skitter unable to control anything not naturally evolved without explicit consideration of her. Granted, we only had two cases – Echidna spawn and Atlas – but tentatively I would say it’s unlikely.

          • Starcraft reference. Atlas and the Echidna bugs makes me think her power is not actually bug control per say. Atlas seemed to have an exoskeleton but he has to have lungs of some kind to be able to breath and who knows what else to function. So I kind of doubt he would count as an insect while the Echidna bugs are clones of bugs but she should have been able to control them if she can control Atlas. Wildbow mentioned she does technically have telepathy, just a limited form. I have a feeling the reason she is so important is that she thrives under impossible circumstances and her power has an unforseen ability.

    • Not fucked up enough for Bonesaw. I figure she tries to make her wish of a family come true by putting a clone of herself into Skitter’s womb and wiring it so she’d die if she tried to get rid of it. Then when she is born, Taylor has decide whether to raise her or send her out into the world where people would either kill her or take advantage of her.

  33. I’m using my otherworldly superpowers here to predict that the next chapter will be an interlude. 74.4434335% chance

  34. Wow. Tagg is really the worst kind of bully, isn’t he? The ends justify the means, I have a badge, so therefore anything I do is by definition Good(tm)!


    There’s enough of that crap in the real world.

  35. Oh, and I also wanted to say that although I sort-of like this development, I think it’s /really/ transparent where this is going.

    Skitter goes to jail
    Skitter has to deal with all the fucked up prisoners; probably has a second trigger event since she’ll feel more trapped than ever
    Skitter is probably pregnant; why else does the story talk so much about 2nd and 3rd generation chidlreh? Skitter is probably 2nd generation
    Skitter /probably/ ends up in birdcage or something (eventually right? And we know Dragon will ally with her and let her out of said prison)

    This segment also stands to be one of the more depressing arcs, what with Skitter being powerless, friendless, and alone. I hope you don’t wallow too much in that because it’ll just get exhausting to read.

    • Uh, are you new? Because with this story, /nothing/ goes the way you think it will, even if it does seem “really transparent” at the time. A few arcs ago, everyone thought Skitter would trigger in Echidna since she was (to use your phrasing) “more trapped than ever”, but that ultimately didn’t happen.

      Also, on an unrelated note, I think it was discussed a few chapters ago that Skitter probably wasn’t 2nd generation because of the whole trigger event thing (or something to that effect).

      • IMO a second trigger for our beloved skitty will probably happen, but only because Grue’s case has so amply demonstrated that it is categorically not something you want to happen to you. The power isn’t worth the kind of personal horror required to obtain it and in the end it will leave you so broken you’ll be less effective than before despite the level up. And something that awful is just *bound* to happen to Skitter eventually, the only thing you can count on in the Wormverse is Shit Gets Worse.

        • On that note, my thoughts on what her second trigger might be:
          She gains the ability to take on the physical characteristics of insects/whatever else she can control. Can anyone else see her attacking [insert target here] while possessing crab pinchers for hands, with spider legs coming out her back? Add in acidic fly spit and say good bye to [aforementioned target].

          • One major (though obscure) theory is that gaining the ability to control bugs WAS her second trigger event. The first granted her either her protagonism, or the ability to completely change fate’s direction so long as it is lunchtime.

          • I think the ability to sense and control bugs was her first trigger event. The ability to leverage their sensory input (hearing, most notably) was her second.

    • > Skitter goes to jail

      Perhaps. For now it’s custody, and jail is one of the more likely scenarios, if somehow the Undersiders don’t interfere.

      > Skitter has to deal with all the fucked up prisoners; probably has a second trigger event since she’ll feel more trapped than ever

      Relies on first. Given what was necessary for Grue to get a 2nd trigger event… no. Those seem to be hard to come by, and supposedly there aren’t many individuals who had one. I can only think of Grue (verified) and Narwhal (supposedly overcame Manton effect; WMG Cauldron)

      > Skitter is probably pregnant; why else does the story talk so much about 2nd and 3rd generation chidlreh? Skitter is probably 2nd generation

      Worldbuilding. Implications of 30 years of superpowers, each triggering in puberty. Consequences of triggered individuals growing up with all the accompanying baggage. I think it unlikely for Skitter to be pregnant, because she is both responsible – condoms – and it would be a cheap shot, narratively.

      > Skitter /probably/ ends up in birdcage or something (eventually right? And we know Dragon will ally with her and let her out of said prison)

      If it comes so far as her being detained, yes, she’ll be in Juvie or Birdcage. Dragon will not necessarily ally with her. Depending on how much Deviant tinkered with her, she’ll be less restrained by hardcoded rules and laws and more by her conscience. Dragon unfettered is a technological singularity waiting to happen, which might or might not be The End Dinah talks about. Regardless of that, with her hardcoded rules removed she’ll only be restricted by her acquired mindset and conscience, and at the same time be unable to shift blame on anything beside her choices.

      • Addendum:
        Skitter being a 2nd or 3rd generation cape unlikely based on prior probability calculation. Parental capes have hard triggers, whereas filial capes have soft triggers. In other words, 1st generations had to deal with a lot more crap to trigger than their children. It wasn’t a mere temper tantrum for them, either, but still relatively minor.
        Now if you agree on the severity of Taylors trigger being hard, then yes, a hard event would trigger both parental and filial capes, but at the same time she also had endured a litter of soft events. If she didn’t trigger on these, and the chance for triggering is the same for each, then it is to reason she is a first generation cape.

        • I want you to note that those who triggered on hard events triggered because they had to deal with instability. They were broken people. Skitter is a survivor. Things we see as being soft events didn’t even pass as blips on her radar as such. yes, they were greivances brought forward, and recognized, but they weren’t things that broke her. Not like the locker did.

          “Even then, her mother’s death could have been the initial trigger.” I’ve said this before, without thinking too much about it, but- I can say this from experience. Not even seeing and touching the corpse do you really get the feeling, “She’s dead.” It takes many, many years (and some therapy) to finally come to terms with it and accept it, finally allow yourself to feel the pain of it… And even then it might not be fully dealt with. It, agian, depends on how much of a survivor Skitter is. And I’m sure we can all agree she’s one hell of a survivor.

          • I… don’t actually get what you are getting at, sorry.

            Furthermore, Skitter having triggered at her mother’s death seems unfeasible to me, because the way it is presented, gaining a power can be likened to having a new arm or sense of perception. This in no way mitigates the effects of the trigger event, but is still jarring and notable, which Skitter didn’t.
            I’m not saying the death of her Mom couldn’t have triggered her, but for whatever reason it didn’t. Perhaps because of the characteristic you prescribed for Taylor – being a survivor.

      • Perhaps this too obvious, I’ve assumed the “end” Dinah refers too will be the result of the majority of Earth’s surviving population migrating through one of the dimensional holes leaving the Endbringers behind.

        • I assumed that as well. Then I went back and looked at the actual predictions, and she explicitly says that everyone dies. Which is unfortunate, because I rather liked that theory.

  36. So, need to get rid of this pun that’s been lurking in my brain these past hours:
    Imagine our dear friend Tecton constructs caves, or designed buildings. He’d be an architecton!

  37. You know, with the clones in the S9k all having access to their respective powers… that must essentially wreak havoc on the passengers/agents/space fleas giving/sustaining the powers.

    • We do have to account for the fact that the clones will only have more or less the same powers, depending on how the DNA gaps are filled and such.

      • The point still stands. Plus the clones might be more proficient with the use of their powers, since they “grew up” with it. If it can be compared to a sense, then imagine being born blind and then gain sight in puberty. You’ll always be a step behind those who were born with sight.

  38. No problem. I should also say thanks for your consistent updates and this lovely story so far. I honestly don’t know how you keep a story of this length together. I’d have fallen apart at 400k words, let alone four or five times that.

  39. Random thing I can’t seem to find: who is Crucible? Just some cape that’s come into town to help the PRT? He’s only tagged at the end of last arc and this chapter, and he’s not on the cast page. Did I miss something? Are we supposed to have any clue who this guy is?

  40. Since TT is incapacitated I wonder if she worked this out with her or was working this out what incapacitated TT? Could her demands be as simple as requiring absolute transparency from PRT? Given how the PRT has operated that would hit them like a bomb.

    • I don’t know of any organizations with “absolute transparency” let alone one which is basically part of an executive branch of government (manages prisons, military hospitals, security, et cetera – certain things the public just can’t know for security reasons); you couldn’t possibly expect full transparency. Maybe minor transparency – but it’s going to have to be explicit from Skitter.

      If I were her, I’d probably demand a few things:

      1. Concessions to the people. Provide them more food, housing, utilities and what-not (this prevents a smear campaign against her that the PRT will not doubt try to do).
      2. Reveal certain truths about Cauldron to the people. Try to get her side of the story published; a totally fair trial. Get people like Armsmaster to stand witness for her, in exchange of immunity.
      3. Unbiased investigation that Coil’s death was justified.
      4. Her father can’t be harassed by them? Some form of protection for him.

      Skitter should probably spin it so that she’s a martyr (which she kind of is, though I admit it’s not so black and white). It’d put her in a very good position to ‘corrupt’ more heroes in the future.

      If there is going to be a full-on trial with witness testimony and anything, I mean… trials are supposed to be expedient, but we all know they can take months and years. Is this going to be like military court or something? But either way, it could get long, dragged out and dramatic. Given the title of this arc is Cell, I imagine she’s going to be imprisoned (unless the arc title is meant to imply a biological cell), though I’d otherwise expect her to be rescued before that, even if it would be interesting to see her united with Sophia and that parahuman therapist.

      • I was discussing Taylor’s chances in a no-powers fight with Sophia with a friend of mine — I think the consensus was that Taylor was the favorite thanks to her toughness and the fact that her hand-to-hand style was unpowered anyway.

        • Hm, well, we don’t know what Sophia’s really been up to. Most people in prison work the fuck out. I’d say they would be about even in a fight without powers. Skitter is more devious, but Sophia’s more willing to play dirty. In prison with her, Sophia would try to ambush her like she did waaaaay back in the story. She’d also try to humiliate her, which would put her at a disadvantage when Skitter takes her seriously.

          • The ultimate, poetic irony though, would be if Skitter healed Sophia and she joined the Undersiders. Could be one reason Dinah “destined her” to go to prison.

          • It does depend on the circumstances of the fight — Sophia going off the chain and charging as Taylor walks in is very different from Sophia (or Taylor!) planning and executing (or attempting) an ambush.

      • “…certain things the public just can’t know for security reasons…” like? Please include PRT stance on why as well.

      • “I don’t know of any organizations with “absolute transparency” let alone one which is basically part of an executive branch of government (manages prisons, military hospitals, security, et cetera – certain things the public just can’t know for security reasons); you couldn’t possibly expect full transparency. Maybe minor transparency – but it’s going to have to be explicit from Skitter.”

        I was not arguing whether or not full transparency was good or bad or even possible. I was thinking of the simplest way Skitter could punish PRT. She is certainly justified in considering PRT unworthy of trust. Skitter has developed a tendency to engage in very strong responses to problems. She sees it as the best way to insure those problems don’t reoccur. PRT’s secrecy and manipulativeness has cost her therefore the most effective way to punish them and make the lesson stick is expose all their secrets.

  41. YES! I was waiting for this story arc. This right here is what makes Taylor such an amazing character. Her ability to scheme is simply amazing. Even more so when she has time to work out a plan and isn’t not doing it in the heat of battle.

  42. There is one thing I don’t like about this chapter.
    I think Taylor really needs to think about the ramifications of Dinah’s powers and her relationship toward them.
    Is she okay with letting another person telling her what to do? Dictating her destiny? She’s become like Coil, in a way. Skitter didn’t really devise this plan she’s executing. Okay, sure, the details she is, but this wasn’t her idea.

    It could have been, though. I think this would have been way more satisfying if Skitter had used the Go analogy here. The martial artist concept of push-and-pull. She could have simply realized on her own that hey – if they want her in custody, let them have her. If the Protectorate want to pull, she can push, make them stumble backwards with their own strength. Giving herself up isn’t a stupid plan – it turns her into a martyr and allows her to publicly defend herself, strengthening the cause of her organization. I think a rationale like that could have been Taylor’s plan all along. Dinah shouldn’t be the one to control her destiny, I mean, you really need to tackle this whole determinism thing, don’t sweep it up under the rug. Yes, Skitter has free will, but if she’s always picking the choice with the highest chance at success – there’s no choice there.

    Skitter also knows she knows very little about Dinah. How can she just trust her? She’s just like Coil here, just younger and with less resources. Her appearances make her look trustworthy, but who knows.

    I hope Skitter is the master of her own destiny in this story, but if she’s not going to be, that needs to be addressed. As the reader, I want to understand why she’s willing to bow to a little girl with mysterious soothsaying powers. What is that saying about her character? Is the spine she’s grown over this entire story artificial?

    • Interesting to note: Maybe this was her plan all along, or she considered it, and Dinah’s note, while not explicitly pushing her the last step along the way, was a justification Skitter felt she needed to go through with it. Oft enough people come to a decision pretty quickly and spend the remainder of their thinking time on justifying and finding logical reasons for their (prior maybe subconscious) decision.

    • I think part of why Taylor trusts Dinah is that when they first met, Dinah had just recently become a prisoner of Coil due in part to her own actions. I’m too tired to explain my reasoning properly at the moment, but I believe that plays some part in her trust of Dinah.

      • Wow I wish I could delete that poorly constructed post, but as I can’t, I will just go to sleep.

    • I dunno.

      I don’t think Taylor *wants* to be in charge. I think she wants to be part of a well-ordered system. She just has the kind of trust issues you get when betrayals keep coming one after another and you’re a better tactical and strategic thinker than your peers. Her spine isn’t there so she can boldly go her own way and impose her will on the world; her spine is there so that she can wriggle out from under burdens that would crush a pure invertebrate.

      As a precog, Dinah is a kind of authority structure—and one that both *hasn’t* betrayed Skitter, is apologetic rather than self-righteous when her actions are harmful to Skitter, and gets a lot of free slack because Skitter has some arguable level of responsibility for her getting badly hurt.

      I can see why trusting her would be flat-out irresistible, kid or not. I’m sure she’s doing everything possible to hedge against betrayal there, but I’m not sure how you’d even go about defending against a potential Dinah-betrayal except “be generally wary.”

  43. Skitter gets the world’s most stylish prison gear, and starts making moves to rule the heroes from within. Badass.

    • Well wildbow, here we go.

      Can we get Skitties prison gear as merchandise?
      The t-shirt is a great idea.

      • You know, I just realized that I have never heard of custom pants as a piece of merchandise except for the most mainstream of mainstream things (and then it was strictly emblems). Is that something that can be done?

  44. So I realize…. The undersiders are a group because coil recruited them to be, while they may have ended up minor villains, some of them, most would have been more rogue, I think, without Coil. Which was a plot of cauldron. Who also ran the PRT secretly.

    It’s the PRT’s fault they even ARE villains.

    • Well, no. There is only so far that we can blame the PRT. This is very much not a case of entrapment or anything similar. The Undersiders chose to rob banks and casinos, chose to raid the fundraiser, chose to terrorise the city (even if they did more good than harm in the long run, post-Leviathan).

      What we can blame the PRT for is having a truly, truly shitty rehabilitation policy. Shadow Stalker was a murderous sociopath, and they chose to warp society around her rather than face up to that fact. Conversely, they basically wrote off the Undersiders, and never gave them a chance to come in from the cold.

      Part of the problem there is the “full contact cops and robbers” thing. Something underlying the entire series is how fucked up and harmful the frankly artificial divide between “heroes” and “villains” is. The PRT cut Stalker slack for murdering and hospitalising people because she was a vigilante, and technically therefore a “hero”. The Undersiders don’t get any slack for robbing a bank because robbing a bank is a “villain” thing to do, despite the fact that murder is obviously way worse than grand larceny.

      The PRT is one of those things that was necessary when it was set up, but which has created a really toxic and fucked up culture and set of expectations.

      PRT delenda est.

      • This can be extended to the bullying Skitter endured. In a school environment with administrators and staff that are complacent, a toxic culture exists that perpetuates the weak vs the strong; where the weak have no recourse. Even in the last major arc, Skitter couldn’t attack Emma against the verbal onslaught she was receiving, because she would be perceived as the aggressor.

        Basically, both systems are fucked up for similar reasons. Skitter has made a few comparisons already between school staff and the Protectorate’s policies. The PRT and the people in its organization see their ways as true/just/fair/for-the-greater-good and blind themselves to the actual ramifications of their behavior. Tagg is a pretty good example of this; he wants to make “war”. He sees the conflict with the Undersiders in the same way certain gov’ts view “drugs”; a battle in the ring, a battle of control and dominance, et cetera; but it’s not at all like that. It’s a game of territory, politics, and ideology (it’s one reason why the war on drugs is a miserable failure). If they did go to war, Tagg would actually lose the support of the people eventually, whether he won battles or not. This is obvious when Skitter gains that throng of students as a personal guard.

  45. One of the interesting things about this particular chapter is just how much ‘one of the swarm’ her real body is.

    Going through something rough? Focus on the local swarm. Act elsewhere, perceive elsewhere, talk elsewhere.

    Her range is good enough that she could easily talk to the undersides, or another ally, several blocks away in relative privacy, which kind of diminishes the whole point of locking her up. The point being that, sure, she’s localized to *near* PRT HQ, but not inside it, with much less of a restriction on her freedom of action or communication.

    As long as she has access to bugs, she’s very hard to hold incommunicado or to hold isolated.

    • I’m curious how her range would work if she was in the Birdcage. Would her range be proportionate to her size, or would she be able to control insects outside of it.

  46. Just had a brainwave. Seriously, I R a Genus. Here it go:

    – some of the strongest Cauldron supers resulted from the ugliest version of the serum (Alexandria, Legend, Shatterbird?)
    – since then, they’ve been trying to repeat people of that caliber with minimal success.
    – the reason for that is that Alexandria et al aren’t really Cauldron supers. They are trigger-effect supers whose trigger was being injected with a horrrendously dangerous super-serum. They triggered in order to survive their dose of Cauldron juice.
    – ???
    – profit!

    • Trigger and got their trigger power AND got a Cauldron power at the same time? Their trigger passenger ate the cauldron-given stuff? Interesting…

    • I don’t find this very plausible. Being injected willingly isn’t exactly a traumatic experience.

          • This hypothesis is interesting.

            Faerie, the point wasn’t the artificial trigger generally being traumatic, but rather the version of the serum used for the highest tier cauldrons being horribly flawed or otherwise defective. Essentially it kills most subjects, unless they have the potential for powers AND whatever this version of the formula is doing is pure terror. Regardless of the viability of this particular formula, if it would have granted powers, its effects are psychologically mauling the subjects and unless they “naturally” trigger, they’ll die horribly.
            Think of this formula not being just more potent stuff, but rather being mindfuck+3 in a bottle.

            Is it now feasibly, in your opinion? I’m not saying it’s true, but rather intriguing, especially from a narrative point of view.

  47. It sounds like you do a lot research to make everything sound legitimate, Wildbow. I wonder what your search history looks like…

    • I had an online buddy that was following along for a bit. I’d regularly mention the tabs I currently had open, leaving him to guess how they fit into the chapter-in-progress.

      • Can I ask you how thoroughly you plan in advance? Like 500k words? 100k words? You keep up a regular update rate with a lot of words/day ratio, so you must not stop writing much to think things over? One of the problems with doing a serial release is that if you build on top of work you later find contradictions in, you have to retcon the story for your audience, which you’d otherwise avoid if you were publishing something you’ve reviewed all at once.

        • I’m pretty good at keeping track of the essential details.

          In a way, the volume of writing I do -helps-. I live, eat, sleep, breathe Worm, to the point that I think about it while walking the dog or taking a shower, turning possibilities around in my head. If I were writing half the amount I do, I’d have trouble keeping all the ideas in my head.

          I have scenes I know I want to cover further down the road, I know how the story starts, and how it ends, but I don’t really plan so much as sketch things out in my head in a rough sort of way, and only usually start thinking about the details of a particular chapter when the prior chapter is posted.

  48. Not yet completely caught up with Worm – I’m still on 14.11 right now – but I made a little playlist! Five songs, the first 4 are for Mimi, Taylor, Bitch, and the Siberian, respectively, and the last one is a general setting song.

    1. Imogen Heap – Glittering Cloud: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7QhE_SLULc
    2. Imagine Dragons – Underdog: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsnvLX-1GMc
    3. Marina and the Diamonds – The Outsider: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNXK4ysCtAQ
    4. Florence and the Machine – Howl: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZweDwbJ_Ic
    5. Vienna Teng – Watershed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7iRsDUUAC8

    • Interesting choices (and great music)! “Howl” I think is very appropriate for The Siberian — the mixture of prettiness and savagery is very much the essence of that particular monster.

      I can’t help but think there must be some better track for Taylor, though. She’s not just an underdog, or even always an underdog — the key in my mind is that she picks out objectives and pursues them with terrifying force, imagination, and determination. She is an underdog because she throws herself headlong against anything that stands in her way, strong or weak, hostile, neutral, or friendly.

      I think the song has to exist that fits, but I can’t think of it just yet.

    • I read this comment and thought about it for at least five minutes straight without being able to place who Mimi was. I clicked the link, wondering if hearing the song would slot something into place- and after the first line, I knew. Excellent choice.

  49. So I am a huge fan of worm, and it really got me into the idea of a web serial- it seemed like an excellent way to get a large volume of writing done, because the regular posting gives an incentive to not disappoint the internet. So I tried doing it for a while- just one chapter a week, and I had it going quite well for a little while. I liked the setting, I had some great characters set up, (or so I thought at the time, looking back I realize how silly they were.)

    Then I just… ran out. The characters had shifted into people I could no longer identify with, the plot ran away without me, it just kinda fell apart. I think the main problem was that I had too many ideas, and I tried to cram them all in at once, but it just resulted in me having to shuffle baddies out as fast as they came in (the original Big Bad got offed in one chapter) to make way for my next big idea. It really lessened the feeling of danger and the impact of each character.

    My goal of it was to get a whole bunch of writing done so I could figure out what I need to do better, though, which I suppose I was successful in; it showed me that I am nowhere near the caliber of writer I would need to be to get even once weekly on a regular schedule (at least with how busy I am at the moment).

    I have a new-found respect for you, Wildbow, having tried doing something in a similar format and having it collapse- with not nearly the quantity, quality, or longevity that you have demonstrated in your work (I confess I actually stole a few ideas from your work accidentally; the kind of thing where you think it’s a original idea, then you remember it was from something else. Maybe that just happens to me).

    Not that I ever didn’t respect you, mind, but now I have a better understanding of how AMAZING it is that you are able to do this.

    A side note, it’s really neat how you’ve essentially managed to crowdsource editing, though I’m not sure if that was deliberate or not.

  50. The thick plottens…

    Also, do the happyfun containment bubble things not detect Skitter’s use of her power? Or is she just being subtle enough that it does not activate?
    If that’s the case, I would heartily enjoy if she intentionally triggers it while Tagg is in the room and he gets tasered.

    • I’m guessing they don’t — as far as I know, the only people who managed to reverse-engineer what she does are Panacea and Leet. I imagine that they detect usage of her power by people getting attacked and have a button to press to zap her.

  51. My thoughts:

    Taylor is ninety-nine point nine percent sure she’s “safe”? Given previous tendencies of this story, I wouldn’t put it above ninety.

    As to her going to the Birdcage…I’d had an idea that it could happen, maybe, from when it was mentioned. The chances increased with each named character sent there, starting with Lung, but they stayed below 10% until Taylor turned herself in, when they shot to about 80-90%. Now? I’d call it 25 or so.

    The conditions in Taylor’s cell would be sparse for Spartans. I’m pretty sure it violates the Bill of Rights. I know that they shouldn’t have interrogated her without making sure she was aware of her Miranda rights, unless the PRT operates under different rules than the police. Which it probably does, come to think of it. Still, unless I’ve forgotten or missed something, they won’t be able to use what they’ve learned in any kind of trial.

    And, of course, holy carp. Taylor is fighting the law and winning.

    • Heck, the law for unpowered criminals might be different from our world. Remember how many major laws got added/changed after 9/11? Not to dismiss the tragedy of that fateful day, but it kinda pales compared to things like Nilbog, the Undersiders/Travellers alliance, Endbringer attacks, and of course the Slaughterhouse Nine (who are at best a walking, member-replacing 9/11, with a lot wider collateral damage). Moreover, there is always the chance that the perp has powers hidden. What makes you think that the laws would be anything resembling our own?

  52. Don’t like this. Kind of feels like shes thrown away everything she’d built through this whole fucking story. Probably because that’s exactly what she’s doing unless there another plan in place. If there’s no plan then… I’m pissed. Should have stopped reading before the last chapter of arc 21

  53. Okay so the shit hits the fan and Skitter had done absolutely nothing besides walk in the door. That is massively impressive. I think the reactions of the PRT in this chapter have confirmed Skitter’s memetic badassery in universe. She definitely deserves the Skitter Facts from a few chapters ago now.

    Master 8 eh? And Thinker 1 plus EVERYTHING +2? Impressive. Does that mean she should be treated as a Master 10, Thinker 3, everything else 2?

    I have to say I am blown away by Dinah. Just, wow. I think she just qualified as Little Miss Badass with how she handed everyone in that room their asses on a platter. Oh I’m sorry did Tagg just try to manipulate her? Nope, not gonna happen with this twelve year old. She just bitch slapped you. It’s really sweet to see that the she only started to truly lash out when they had the stupidity to try and threaten Taylor. I was worried that Dinah didn’t feel all that protective of her anymore but was very glad to see that worry dashed.

    It was also nice to see Taylor essentially zoning out during her induction and not letting it affect her as much as it probably would almost anyone else. That was a bit uncomfortable to read about though, I can only imagine how the other heroes in the building really reacted to it.

    And it is entertaining to see confirmed beyond any shadow of a doubt that yes, she and Brian have made it to home base several times. (Though that was incredibly funny last chapter too reading Imp confirming walking in on them lol!) Not having gotten her period in a bit definitely does not surprise me with the amount of shit that has been going on for her. From my friends comments I wouldn’t have been surprised if she stopped getting it sometime during the bullying and things haven’t really calmed down stress wise since.

    I find it hilarious how they simply assume that Skitter can read lips now and how they had figured out she could see through the bugs while she is leagues better at hearing through them. And five blocks range eh? Interesting. Not as good as the six from before but not bad considering.

  54. “I do,” Dinah replied. “But I’m not telling. And I’m charging ten times as much if you ask me for a number, and then I’ll lie, and I won’t be able to use my power for a while after. And your bosses don’t want that. Not with an Endbringer coming soon.”

    Dinah got hardcore FAST.
    I approve.

  55. “No,” I said. I smiled a little, looking down at the table. “I didn’t plan anything. I didn’t say goodbye. I walked away, and I turned myself in.”

    “You’re acting like that’s something special,” Tagg said, leaning against the wall by the door, his arms folded.


  56. I like the subtle implications inherent in Taylor’s phrasing here:

    “It’s okay,” I said. “I don’t plan on escaping.”

    Not “trying to escape”. There is no “try”; just unspoken confidence that the only reason that she isn’t walking out of this place as easily as she walked in is that she’s not planning to do that. Taylor’s come a long way from that scared little girl hiding in the bathroom during lunch.

  57. “I’m allergic to bee stings,” I was confused as hell when she said that. Glad Skitter can keep calm in her situation.

    Dinah grew some backbone, she just morphed from damsel in distress to badass with some street cred.

    I didn’t think we’d hear about the Fletchette things so soon. Glad it went in Taylor’s favor.

  58. “Mrs. Yamada?” Tagg asked one of the people in suits at the far end of the table.

    You know, I always think of her as having a doctorate for some reason, even though she’s repeatedly referred to as “Mrs.” in dialogue and her own narration during her interlude. And even though I’ve personally received great therapy from someone who didn’t have a doctorate. ^^;

  59. “Revenge?” Tagg asked.

    “I don’t know, but I had a conversation with her a few days ago, and she said she had something in mind that she could use against you. I didn’t know what it was before now.”

    “I see,” Tagg said, rubbing his chin.

    Back in the cell, I sighed. I could see the uniform flinch in reaction. She had her fingers in my mouth, feeling beneath my tongue and around the base of my gums. When I didn’t bite like she’d feared, she finished and removed her fingers from my mouth. She removed the gloves, where they joined the first pair she’d donned.

    Miss Militia had told Tagg. I wasn’t surprised; she gave me the impression of someone who followed the letter of the law. As willing as she’d been to open negotiations, she would still do what it took to keep her job and maintain the peace.

    Taylor, no. Miss Militia is clearly just now telling Tagg (it was “I had a conversation with her…” not “In my conversation with her…”), and only telling him the immediately relevant bit- not spilling the beans about the informal truce with the Undersiders. She’s still the most reasonable hero in the Bay.

  60. I already informed each of my officers to treat her as though she had a two point classification in every category, or two points higher in cases where she’s already received scores. Brute two, mover two… all the way down the list. It won’t do to underestimate her.

    I just realized that this ought to mean they’re using Stranger and Changer protocols. They clearly aren’t- no passwords, no formations, no hint of obfuscating communications- but they should be.

  61. I thought if she uses her power she will be electrocuted?
    And nicely played.

    And how exactly is she a Brute or trump? Stranger? Sure.

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