Cell 22.5

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The word hit me before I was fully conscious, as though my brain had grasped the idea before I even had half of a brain functioning.

My father, gone.  My lawyer was gone as well.  Not such a big surprise.  I’d gone all out, held little back, and I’d given no apparent justification.  To them, to my dad especially, I would have looked like a monster.

Fitting, because I’d been one.  I was one.  Was that a label that was affixed to me permanently, now?

My mind was wandering more than it should have.  My head hurt.  I tried to focus, turning to my bugs.

Except my swarm was nearly gone.  Only a small fraction remained.  Hundreds, if that.  My bugs had carried out the last order I’d given them, to attack, before I was knocked out.  I knew that.  What confused me were the other behaviors my bugs had performed.

They’d spread out and searched my surroundings, and they’d been gunned down en masse by Kid Win’s drones. I could sort of understand that, especially if they were actively searching for the last targets I’d given them. That, and I could picture myself unconsciously wanting to check for incoming threats and assess the battlefield before the tranquilizer took hold.  Odd, fucking inconvenient, but understandable.

But the fact that bugs had spent the time I was out to weave lengths of silk cord?  That was unusual, something out of place.  It was something I’d taken to having my bugs handle in the background at any given moment, but why would I carry it out in my sleep?  I was pretty sure I hadn’t given that order, which left only three real possibilities.  Either my unconscious mind had willed it while I slept, or my passenger had.  Unnerving.

More unnerving was the third possibility – that there wasn’t a real distinction between my unconscious mind and the passenger.

I sat up, contorted in pain as I felt bruises and cuts making themselves known, and then groaned as my expression shifted and I felt the damage above and around my eye.  There was a wound: my skin had split, and the tightness coupled with the crusty wet sensation suggested drying blood.

My glasses were screwed up too.  Tagg had knocked one lens out of the frame when he’d slammed my face into the table.  My vision was oddly dreamlike, blurry through my right eye, too crisp through my left.  I moved my hands to move the glasses, and felt the heavy-duty cuffs encasing them.  The sort of handcuffs reserved for low-level Brutes, that covered my hands entirely, each hand welded to the other.

I was in the PRT offices.  I was back in my cell.

As far as I could tell, the building was empty.  My power reached five blocks, and… nothing.  There were no people. Computers were active, television screens were glowing with shifting images, and cars sat in the middle of the road outside, but the people were gone.

Evacuation?  When my power hadn’t stopped, the PRT would have ordered people to clear out of the area.

Maybe they weren’t sure if my power would keep going if they shot me.

I stood and rolled my shoulders, feeling things pop, grind and sing with pain in response to the movement.  I’d had my hands fixed in front of me for the better part of the day, with only a brief respite in my cell while I’d showered.

Showering… it made me think of being in my lair after the first night I’d been with Brian.

I pushed it out of my mind, and Rachel appeared instead, stepping to fill the blank in my mind’s eye.

As if I were suddenly channeling her, I struck at the door with the restraints that encased my hands.  Metal struck metal, the strike barely denting the brushed stainless steel of the door’s surface.

A rapid, high-pitched beeping sounded from above me.  I looked up at the orb just in time to see it lighting up.  I threw myself to the ground, felt the shock jolt through me.

If I’d been sore before, the jolt cranked it up to ten.  I felt my mind go white, heat coiling through the interior of my body, as though it were dancing around my internal organs and bones.  The strength went out of me; my cuffs were too heavy, and I didn’t have the ability to hold them up.  I fell, as though the restraints were an anchor pulling me down.

I could feel my muscles twitching in a way that seemed like it was intentionally making the sorest parts of me move.

Do not disturb the peace of your cell.  This deterrence measure was calculated at twenty percent of your overall capacity.  The next response will be at twice the strength.  Thank you,” the automated voice informed me.

For long minutes, I lay there, spasming and searching the building with surviving bugs, because doing anything else was impossible or futile.

Needed out.

How had they unlocked my cell and the interrogation room?  They’d had phones.  PRT issue, probably, and had tapped the phone against the wall.

Phones… there were no PRT officers in the building.

In the morgue… there was a body bag.  Bugs clung to it.

Brian?  Rachel?  Someone else?

I sent bugs over to explore it.  One centipede to latch the zipper, other bugs to haul it back.

It was Tagg, dead.

I’d killed a man, and I had done it with my power, which somehow felt more intimate than the gun that killed Coil.  My power made the bugs an extension of myself, and I’d used them to murder the man.  It was little different from wrapping my hands around his throat and squeezing, or biting him in the throat and tearing deep enough that he couldn’t survive.

I couldn’t bring myself to feel anything meaningful about it.  I wanted to.  I wanted to think of his daughters, apparently college students overseas, and his apparently loving wife, and the fact that I’d just taken a member of their family from them, much as my mom had been taken from me.  I wanted to feel terrible, to cry, but I couldn’t bring myself to.  I felt bad, but not as bad as I should have.

No.  I could only see the bully, the monster, the threat he posed to the city or the world.  To my team.

Or was that the threat he had posed?  Was it too late to save them?

I couldn’t check the time without sacrificing bugs to the patrolling drones.  However long I’d been out, the remainder of the Undersiders could be embroiled in an all-out war.

Tagg,  I thought.  Have to focus.

His phone was in his jacket pocket, his key ring in his pants pocket.  Getting the items to me would be harder.  There were closed doors, vents, the elevator and the blocked elevator shaft.  The morgue was in a separate building, joined to the PRT office at one corner.

Worse, the numerous skirmishes in, outside and around the building had led to there being a great deal of renovation and rebuilding.  New things were that much harder to get bugs through.  There were no open grates, no gaps in air conditioning ducts or anything in that vein.

There had to be a way.  I was down to a few hundred bugs.  Barely enough to matter.  I wasn’t about to brute force my way through anything.

I thought of the hole Alexandria had put in the roof during her hurried exit.  It was the most indirect way, getting bugs from the basement of one building outside, to the roof, and back down to the basement of the next building… but it was a path.  If there were barriers I wasn’t sensing, I’d handle them.

Working together, bugs began dragging the keys and smart phone down the hall to the mortician’s office.  Windows, squat, looked out at the parking lot, no doubt intended more to bring natural light into the office than for the sake of the view.  I knew before approaching them that the windows were open – there was fresh air flowing into the hallway, and my bugs could sense the shifting air currents.

A screen blocked the way.  Not a serious issue.  The bugs started chewing through the individual wires, while the bugs with the phone and key ring began binding the items in silk, connecting them to a line.

Minutes passed while the bugs made their way up to the hole in the roof, down the shaft to the Wards headquarters one floor below me, and to the elevator.

The stairwell was blocked off, the elevator… the buttons.

I had the largest bug ram it.

Nothing.  Feeble at best.

The wiring.  Could I hotwire it like someone hotwired a car?

Getting into the walls wasn’t as hard as it should have been.  Rachel had done a little damage when she’d attacked with the dogs a week ago.  Even though they’d shored it up and sealed the exterior from the interior, there were gaps that I could use to get inside from the building’s interior, much as I’d done when disconnecting the outlet for Kid Win’s drone recharging station.

The actual connection… the damn thing seemed to be reinforced, with thick wires and a button mechanism that was too heavy to move from within.  The bugs themselves couldn’t form a live connection between the button and the contact.

A workaround.  I used cockroaches to carefully strip away insulation, two centipedes positioning themselves so their mandibles were above two respective pieces of wire, their tail ends entwined with one another.  Then they let themselves drop.  Their bodies bridged the gap between the wire behind the contact and the wiring by the button.

The centipedes died in an instant, and the door opened.

I dragged the smart phone and keys in, being careful to use bugs to bridge the gap so the phone and the keys wouldn’t fall through, and then let the elevator carry the bugs to the floor above.  The doors opened automatically as the elevator arrived, and I brought the items out the same way.

The bugs began the slow process of bringing the phone to a point high enough on the wall.  I spent the time recovering, flexing my muscles until I was sure they moved right.  I had to draw out more silk to have a line strong enough, and set to reeling it in, anchoring end at the corner of the door frame, pushing up with the bugs and looping any slack around the corner of metal.

It wasn’t halfway up when the heroes arrived to collect their prisoner.  A vibration through the building as a heavy vehicle landed on the helicopter pad on the roof.  Four legged, with turbines in the place of wings, and a neckless head.  A man stepped out.  Defiant.

Dragon arrived as Defiant reached the elevator door on the rooftop.  My bugs inside continued the glacial process of raising the phone to the necessary height, while the ones outside clustered on Defiant and Dragon.  They knew I was here.  There was no reason to be subtle.  The only thing I had to be careful of was keeping Defiant from killing the swarm with one of his bug zapping tricks.

His focus was on his phone and the door, instead.  He was typing something.  A password?

If one was required to access the phone, I was screwed.  If it was access specific…

I memorized the sequence.  Now I had the problem of using it on the touch screen of the smart phone.

If it was pressure sensitive, then I could use it.

If it was heat-sensitive…

Bugs approached the fluorescent lightbulbs in the hallway outside, warming themselves until their wings and legs threatened to burn up.

The pair of heroes was halfway to the elevator on the top floor when the phone reached the correct height.  Bugs I’d warmed on the bulbs moved to the keyboard, copying the same sequence of movements I’d tracked with the bugs on Defiant’s glove and phone.

The door slid open.

I dropped to my hands and knees to get the phone in my teeth, stooped down so the bugs with the keys could latch on to my gauntlet-restraints, then speed-hobbled for the elevator, chains at my ankles clanking.

I hit the button a second before Defiant hit the one on the top floor.  The doors opened immediately.

They hadn’t reacted yet.  The delay before the elevator moved hadn’t registered with them.  Once they saw the elevator moving… they would expect me to run, cut me off.

Fuck that.

Had to second guess them, which was harder than it sounded, because they weren’t dumb.  If they expected me to make a break for the ground floor, I’d have to do something else.

I leaned back against the wall and used my bare toe to hit the button for the first and third floors.  That done, I turned my attention to the keys.  The phone went into one pocket, moved by a swarm of bugs and the slope of my arm.  When that was done, smaller bugs searched the keyhole at the base of my restraints to gauge the width.  Other bugs marked the keys that fit the same size, yet others holding the ring against my restraints so I could use my teeth to pick through them, sliding them around the ring when they weren’t appropriate.  Cockroaches wedged themselves in between keys to speed the process along.

Defiant and Dragon were moving.  Dragon opened a window and moved outside, while Defiant headed into the stairwell.  They wanted to cut me off on the ground floor.

They could communicate without talking.  Some kind of system built into their masks.  It made this harder.  I couldn’t listen in and anticipate what they were saying.

By the time I passed the first floor, they were turning around.  I hurried to the stairwell, and took the stairs two at a time in a hurry to get up to the second floor.

Just inside the door, I used my toes to ease it closed, then crouched to stay out of sight as Dragon patrolled outside, peeking in the windows.

I tried a key, sliding it into the hole before successfully turning it with my teeth.  My lips came in contact with the cockroaches I was using to guide the metal into place.  I didn’t care.

Disease, filth, disgust, they all came in a distant second to other priorities.  I felt numb, and it wasn’t the electrocution.  They’d taken away someone important to me, pushed me.  My dad was gone, my lawyer, my team… my team wasn’t here.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to know why they hadn’t come to the rescue, or why the mercenaries we’d hired hadn’t been called in.

I had an ugly feeling in my gut that something was wrong.  Something beyond what had just happened here, beyond the possibility that someone I loved, romantically or platonically, was gone.

I got the cuffs off, set them down on a computer chair and slid it neatly under the desk so the cuffs wouldn’t be immediately apparent.

My hands were free.  I needed tools and I needed weapons.

I scooped up silk cords from the floor, where they’d been abandoned by the bugs that had been working on them.  Not much.  Most were short, but it was something.  I set my bugs to splicing them together.  One twenty-foot rope was more use to me than ten cords that were each two or three feet long.

Other priorities.  Those fucking drones.  I could see them, footballs with one end sawn off, carried aloft by antigravity panels like the ones from Kid Win’s skateboard.  I could see one switch modes, unfolding and reconfiguring to an entirely different setup, from white to red.

I used my body to block its line of sight to my swarm, trusting that it wouldn’t do any serious damage if there was a human in its line of sight, then grabbed the thing out of the air and shoved it into a desk drawer.  I shut the drawer firmly before blocking it with a box of paperwork.

I’d slipped out of the pair’s grasp for just a moment.  I had little doubt they’d pull some other solution out of their tinker caps before long.  I crossed the room to get to a second drone, picking up a trash can from beside one desk, catching it like I might a large butterfly in a net, and then planting it on the ground, moving a monitor from someone’s desk to sit on top.

Once the way was clear, my swarm worked to catch up.  Tagg’s phone wasn’t good for anything more than access until I figured out his password.  A check of the phones failed to give me a dial tone.  Dragon’s work?

This floor was where the PRT officers worked.  It was where they got briefed and debriefed, and where they typed up their paperwork.  I’d observed them at work with my bugs, had seen the patterns and figured it out in advance.  I’d also seen where they kept their stuff.

Tagg’s phone and the code Defiant had used served to open the supply room.  In the same moment the lock opened, Dragon turned around and made a beeline for the stairwell, using her jetpack to pick up speed.  Defiant changed direction only a moment later.

She’d tapped into the security system, no doubt.  Defiant would know the building’s layout if he had any of his old technology.  I couldn’t give them any advantages, and if she had eyes on the security system, it would eliminate any possibility of me evading them.  I set bugs to chewing on the lines that fed into the building from outside.

The boxes were locked, but I had Tagg’s keys and nothing to lose.  Fully aware of Dragon and Defiant’s approach, I worked my way through the keys in much the same way I had with the keys for the cuffs.

The lights abruptly went out.  After a moment, the lights came back on, with a dim red glow.  The backup generator.  I started to work on that as well.  I could fight in darkness.  I wasn’t sure they could.

I could hear them walking by the time I got the box open.

Grenade launchers, with special shells.  I turned a grenade launcher over in my hands before figuring out how to open it and load the cartridges.  Each was color coded, with a symbol and two-letter code stenciled on it.  A green cartridge with a face, eyes squinting, mouth open with tongue extended, T.G. beneath.  A red cartridge with the letters I.G. and a flame.  A blue cartridge with a stick-man stuck in goop, C.F. no doubt standing for containment foam.  A yellow cartridge with a lightning bolt and E.M. beneath.

I loaded the last, aiming out the open door of the storage area, and pulled the trigger.


A bar of black on the back of the grip lit up with letters, running vertically from above my thumb to the bottom of the grip.  ‘NONCONFIRMED’.

They’d either learned since we attacked the fundraiser, or they took stricter measures with their more dangerous weaponry.

I investigated, but there didn’t seem to be a place to input any code.

The footsteps drew closer, heavy.  I could sense Defiant with my swarm, only a short distance away, looking into the briefing room to see if he could spot me.

Fingerprints, I thought.  Except there wasn’t a flat panel to press the finger against.  The grip was textured, and nothing about the barrel suggested it was meant to read anything.

The gloves.

I used the same key that had opened the box to access the locker with the armor the PRT officers wore.  I found a glove and began pulling it on.

Defiant appeared in the doorway.  He aimed the butt of his spear at me, and the display on the gun dissipated.

He lunged, and the butt of his spear caught me just below the collarbone.  With that alone, he pushed me into the lockers with enough force that they rocked against my back, rendering me pinned.

I let the grenade launcher fall to the ground.

Dragon appeared behind him, setting one hand on his arm as she passed through the door.  He eased back on the pressure.

I glared at them, but they didn’t speak, and Defiant didn’t move to release me.  Were they talking with one another?

“Fine,” I said.  “You got me.  I had to-”

Defiant was shaking his head.  He tapped his mask.

Bugs flowed over the outside of his armor, and he didn’t seem to mind.  There were no openings, no apertures, no air holes or gaps I could work a bug into.  He was playing the same game Mannequin had, to counteract my power.  Fuck it.  I wouldn’t be able to sting him.  Dragon either, apparently.

He couldn’t talk.  I wasn’t positive he could even hear.

He shifted his grip, then grabbed my upper left arm.  Dragon took hold of the right.  They half-walked, half-carried me towards the stairwells and elevator.  I walked more to keep them from putting more strain on my already sore shoulders than out of any need.  Their grip left me little doubt they could have held me off the ground if they wanted.

Defiant stopped mid-stride, then glanced at Dragon and me.

Without letting go of me he charged the very air with a current from his spear, frying each and every one of the bugs I had in the area.  It included, unfortunately, the two groups of bugs that were following me, each group discreetly escorting specialized canisters from the grenade launcher.  I could feel my hair shift in reaction to the strike, the little hairs on my arms and the nape of my neck standing to attention.

I wasn’t sure if it would have worked, but my hope had been to possibly drop the grenades from overhead after we’d reached the roof.  No such luck.  I hung my head as we entered the stairwell, making our way up to the roof and the waiting vehicle.

This was my escort, apparently.  Heroes with the tools to disable and defeat my most common methods, sealed in suits that my bugs couldn’t touch, overloaded with firepower, while I had none.

Unfair.  All of it.  On so many levels.  Too many situations, all together, with no perfect, right answers.  Over and over, being faced with lose-lose situations.  Cutting ties with the Undersiders versus helping Dinah.  Leaving my dad versus abandoning the people in my territory.  Leaving the city versus letting the world blow up in some unknown, undefined end of the world scenario.

And maybe I could have lived with that, could have accepted that things weren’t fair and the world was biased, but I wasn’t the one paying the price.  All too often, it was others around me who paid the price.  My dad had suffered for my decisions before.  And now?  This.

Emotion was starting to creep back in.  Anger, frustration, despair, heartbreak.

I blinked rapidly, to keep my eyes as dry as possible.

The anger, of all things, was comforting.  It was something that pushed me to act, to move, when I wanted nothing more than to give up.  I hurt everywhere, I had nobody left to rely on, and I felt drained.  The fear, the hopelessness, it was seductive.  It was urging me to give up.

The lights in the stairwell died as the bugs severed the output from the generator.  I tried to use the surprise to pull free, but Defiant and Dragon didn’t even slow down.  Their grips were firm.

I gave up when the struggling became too much of a chore with the pain in my shoulders.  I still had the silk cord, if nothing else.  Escape wasn’t a good option.  Offense, then.

When we stepped out of the stairwell and onto the rooftop, the light momentarily blinded me.  Defiant’s vessel was a mechanized dragon painted in black and green, glossy, with gold framing the shield at the dragon’s forehead, at the ‘wings’ and shoulders.  The sleek form focused the light cast by the reddening sun at the horizon’s edge.  It felt like the design had all been engineered to direct a hundred gleaming daggers of light right into my eyes.

To the people out there, barring those within a third of a mile who had been evacuated, this was a diversion.  It was little more than something to discuss at the dinner table, or watch on the late night news.  The area being evacuated, the fighting, the destruction.  Even the demise of the PRT director wouldn’t have a huge impact on the average citizen of Brockton Bay.  Spotting Dragon’s heavy vehicle-suit circling overhead would barely warrant twenty words in small talk.  It wasn’t so noteworthy to the people down there, probably wouldn’t change the course of their weeks or evenings.

To me, this was everything.  It was the rest of my life, my friends, my father.  I’d lost someone.  Brian or Rachel.  The only people who would fit the bag.  I was doing what I could to avoid dwelling on it, glad that I hadn’t yet confirmed it either way, because it let me feel like it was Rachel when I was thinking about Brian, or vice versa.

It couldn’t end like this.  I didn’t want to get taken in.  I had to find a way.  My plan, as minor and feeble as it was, was easy enough to put into action, with him holding me like he was.  My bugs moved down the length of his arm, then traveled around his midsection, twice, with the cord following them.  There were only two people to tie Defiant to.  Doing it to myself would be nearly useless.  That left only Dragon.

I bound the other end around her left foot.  The slack trailed several feet behind us.  A cord as thick around as two of my fingers put together, as strong as steel.

“Before you take me in,” I said, “Could I have a word?”

Dragon turned to look at me, but didn’t speak.

“A word with Defiant,” I said.  “I’m not going to try anything.  He doesn’t even have to say anything.  It’s sort of a last request.”

Defiant’s mask opened with a barely perceptible noise.

“A last request,” he made it a statement rather than a question.  “We can talk in the Pendragon.  There’s no need.”

“I spent the day in a cell, I wanted some fresh air.  Sue me for thinking you actually meant something when you apologized, that you were sorry for not being fair to me back then,”  I sounded more petulant and bitter than I liked.

He glanced at Dragon, and the silence suggested there was a dialogue happening.

“It’s rude to whisper,” I said.  Again, more petty than I wanted to be.

“She can’t speak out loud,” Defiant said.  “It’s complicated to explain.  She’s under certain restrictions, many related to the PRT, and we’d agreed we didn’t want to win like that, back at the school.  The only way for Dragon to stop was if I stepped in and made her stop, and she was hurt in the process.  The recovery is slow.”

Only if he made her stop?  Because the PRT would be harsher with her, with whatever leverage they had over her?  I thought.  Was that something I could use?  What did they have on her that they didn’t have on the hero-on-probation?

“Thank you,” I said, to Dragon.  “For doing that.”

She gave me a curt nod in response.

“I’ve been trying to grow as a person, with Dragon’s help,” Defiant said.  “I’m willing to listen, but it’ll have to be fast.”

“Okay,” I said.  I glanced at Dragon.  I almost hated to do this, but I’d already started, and I couldn’t go to jail.  Not with things as they stood.  “Can I talk to him in private?”

Defiant and Dragon exchanged a look.  He nodded once, and she took flight, heading towards her airborne vehicle-suit.

The cord went taut, and Defiant’s grip on my arm was wrenched away as he was dragged back.  Heavy as he was, Dragon’s jet was powerful, and he wasn’t on his guard.  It took him seconds to realize what was happening, to get his footing and shift his center of balance lower to the ground.

I was already moving, chasing him.  There was no point to trying to escape if they were right on my heels.

He came to a stop at the edge of the roof, but I was already arriving, taking advantage of his lack of balance to throw myself into his upper body.

Not the first time I’ve fought a dragon-man on a rooftop, I thought, as I felt Defiant move in response, all of his sturdiness and armor nothing with a strong push at the right moment.  One to mark the start of my career in costume, the other to mark the end?

If he’d had a mind to, he could have grabbed me and taken me down with him.  Maybe Armsmaster would have.

But Defiant twisted as he tilted backwards, drawing his folded-up spear and striking out in the same motion.  It bit into the concrete of the rooftop’s edge, the head expanding for a more secure grip.

I kicked the spear, as if I could dislodge it, but only succeeded in hurting my foot.

Dragon caught me a moment later, pushing me away.  She offered Defiant a hand, and he used both her grip and the spear to right himself, pulling himself back from the edge.

He stepped forward and gripped me by the front of my oversized prison-uniform t-shirt.  “Stop that.”

I only glared.

Stop trying things,” he repeated, as if he thought repetition would get through more than articulation.

“Fuck you,” I said.  I didn’t like how I sounded.  The guise of confidence I was so used to wearing was slipping away.  “Fuck you and the people you work for.”

“I don’t know why I-” he said, then he stopped abruptly.  Was Dragon interrupting?

“You bastards,” I said.  I could feel the veneer starting to crack.  The tears that had threatened earlier were now promising to overflow.

“You don’t have any conception of what you did, do you?” he asked.

“I have some,” I said.  “But no, you assholes knocked me out.  I don’t know anything that’s been going on.  I attacked Tagg and Alexandria-”

“They’re dead,” Defiant said.

Dead.  I hadn’t believed Alexandria would die like that.  She’d flown away.  Surely there were methods.

“A family man-”

“A bully,” I said.  “Twisted by the Simurgh, probably-”

“He was vetted,” Defiant said.  “But he’s not important.  You killed one of the strongest recognized heroes in the world, at a time we needed her most.  Her image, her courage, her help.  Do you know what’s going to happen, now?”

“I do,” I said.  “It’s going to crush the morale of our defending forces, and it’s going to break the hearts of billions of people around the world.  I knew it when I made the call, but I did it anyways.”

“And you doomed us all.”

She doomed us all.  She was the one who did it, her and Tagg.”

“Maybe.  Probably.  They forced your hand.  I understand that, and I’ve been trying to be lenient.  Gentle, even, though it’s not familiar to me.”  His tone changed, “You’re making it hard, you keep trying things.  Trying to kill me.”

“You would have survived,” I said.  “A six-story fall in armor like yours?  I could have run while Dragon looked after you.  Gotten my hands on another weapon or something.”

He didn’t answer right away, but there was nothing indicating an exchange between him and Dragon.  His voice was tight with restrained anger when he said, “You could make this easier.”

“I don’t want to make this easy,” I said.  “As long as you work for them, I’m going to fight you.  You want to know what Alexandria did?  She and Tagg convinced me that the PRT is more trouble than it’s worth.  If we have to rely on them to win this, then we don’t deserve to win.”

“That’s a choice you just made for a whole planet of people,” Defiant said.

“A choice I’m making for me.  I think we can find a way past the end of the world, it can’t be impossible to survive the meantime without the PRT.”

This isn’t going to work.”

The voice was female, and it came from Dragon’s direction.

“I’m having my doubts as well,” Defiant said.

We’re low on options,” the voice sounded.  It wasn’t Dragon, but someone communicating through a speaker on her shoulder.  I recognized the voice.  Miss Militia.

“Where is she?” I asked.

Defiant pointed at Dragon’s airborne craft.

“You’re not just here to arrest me?” I asked.

“No,” Defiant said.  “Or we weren’t, until you decided to try to push me off a building.  Now I’m reconsidering.”

Tell her the plan,” Miss Militia said, through the speaker,  “We don’t have any more time, for reconsidering or anything else.


I glanced over my shoulder at the sun on the horizon.  It was still twenty or thirty minutes from sunset.  I must have been out for an hour or so.

But… the deadline didn’t matter anymore, did it?  The Undersiders should be attacking already, after being attacked, it was almost inevitable, if Grue or Rachel…

I shook my head.  “No.  No, no, no.  No.


Too many things that hadn’t made sense.

The fact that the Undersiders hadn’t gone on the offensive, or rescued me here after the PRT left me in my cell.

Alexandria keeping to her schedule, the little clues she’d given, like reminding me she could be drowned.  The baiting, the pressure, even from the moment Tagg was introduced.

Even the way she’d avoided stopping Coil, avoided stopping us.  The way she hadn’t stepped in against the Nine, or against Echidna, at first.  There had been something bigger going on.

“Why?  For what?” I asked.  “A ruse?  Playing me?”

“Yes.  With one tragic mistake that we’re all about to pay for.”

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427 thoughts on “Cell 22.5

  1. hello all, I created a subreddit for worm, from speculation and discussion to fan fiction, it’s at reddit.com/r/parahumans, right now it is essentially empty, but it could be an awesome place!

  2. Not interlude! Brain…overjoyed…absolutely worth staying up for…hope I don’t faint from exhaustion halfway through…

  3. Wait..now Im like double confused as to what the fuck is going on. Also, HOLY SHIT SHE KILLED ALEXANDRIA.

    • Packbat, I’m just curious about something and I’d like a little help figuring it out since you’re in the know and probably get more sleep than I do. Do you remember if any of the named Endbringer casualties were Cauldron-made parahumans?

      • I just ask because Alexandria’s right. She’s been in a lot of fights with Endbringers to still be around. And the first time Behemoth showed up, he took out some other capes than the Triumvirate. Even seemed to aim right for her before the lightning arced down to hit a different one and kill them.

        Doesn’t seem like Siberian and Shatterbird were ever up against Endbringers either, despite all the destruction they caused around them.

        And the way Leviathan made for Noelle’s hiding spot. Cauldron cauldron cauldron.

        • Sorry — I haven’t been my usual comment-trawling self after this chapter, I think because it doesn’t have much plot advancement. I was researching and writing a reply while you posted this, though, and posted it below.

      • I like the way you’re thinking. It’s a little tricky to determine, unfortunately. I think the only casualty data we have is from Leviathan’s attack on Brockton Bay, and we only see three sides of the Endbringer moment in Extermination 8.8. I found a few others I found searching for “deceased” in Arc 8 — Acoustic, Aegis, Alabaster, Apotheosis, Brigandine, Cloister, and Dauntless — and we know Chubster died, so we can add him to the list.

        Searching for the names of these confirmed dead reveals (a) the word “Humble” only ever appears as reference to the cape with that codename, which is unsurprising given how many parahumans have monstrous egos, (b) Wildbow clearly had the existence of a Christianity-based superhero group planned early, because there are a lot of names that are quite blatantly Haven-ish, and (c) none of them seem to be described as Cauldron-born, monstrous or non. Looking for the possibles from the mass-casualty wave — Debaser, Ascendant, Elegance, Cloister, and The Dart — again turns up zippo.

        All that said…

        …if Allfather and Kaiser bought their powers, then that would both explain why purportedly-third-generation Theo hasn’t triggered and why nobody has heard anything about either of their trigger events. Also, given his wealth, Gallant has to come under suspicion as a possible Cauldron cape (although Sarah Livsey proves trigger events fall on the rich and the poor alike). It’s also speculated that Aegis’s superhero name was actually cribbed off of the “Aegis”-type Cauldron serum, but given that said serum turned Mars into Sundancer I don’t see the connection.

        On the other hand, it would be worth checking to see if any Case-53s have died in Endbringer fights on-screen. I haven’t identified any, admittedly.

        • A quick disclaimer: all I did to check these was search for their names and check chapters in which they appeared after the Endbringer fight. Thoroughness would probably demand rereading Arc 8 and putting faces to as many of the names as possible, in order to rule out any of the dead being Case 53s.

          • Not sure if my way of thinking is quite what you’re thinking, but here’s what my thinking is at the moment. I wonder if Cauldron’s version in some way serves an inoculation or some sort of connection to the Endbringers, like how Simurgh was able to pull out parts of their labs and bring their guys in to the fray.

            If Cauldron realizes that’s going on, their plan for surviving the end of the world might just mean providing a means for the rich and powerful, and an uglier underclass, to survive due to slipping past the Endbringers’ IFF.

            But yeah, a little tough to tell right now. Not too many incidents to go off. One of many things that would explain Scion’s reaction to Eidolon and it leaves open some possibilities about where his arc is going. Cauldron mobilizing to take on Scion for killing Endbringers AND Cauldron-made parahumans, for instance.

            • That actually always struck me as odd – The Travelers were somehow to Bet, along with quite a few buildings, if not parts of the city, yet the Simurgh needed that floating ring to access other parallel worlds. It doesn’t fit, or I’m missing something…

              • I think it was stated she made two attempts at making the ring. I could be wrong about that; most of what we see of that action is from the Travelers’ view and they didn’t know crap. It would have been one of the other capes talking about the event.

                Alternatively, she/it (you’ll excuse me if I don’t compound those two) could access Aleph and other worlds without help, but actually needed to break into Cauldron’s domain.

  4. So speculation time. Taylor thinks that the good heroes have a plan. I think the mistake was that they honestly didn’t think she could hurt alexandria, much less kill the bitch. Dare I hope there is now a new conspiracy of heroes that aims to take down Cauldron and fix the PRT?

    • A new conspiracy that is willing to work with outlaws? I am using outlaws from an old thread way back to discuss villains who break the law but don’t cross certain lines and follow the unwritten rules. Dragon could conceivably have already identified many than work with Cauldron now that she is no longer bound by her programming, and identified Accord as working with them based on his power/habit of buying powers. A alliance between Dragon and the Undersiders would be useful for both parties. They both admit they have bigger enemies to fight.

        • Yeah but Tagg/Alexandria broke them first, and Dragon seems intelligent enough to realize that they needed to be removed. It’s just that they really could have used Alexandria apparently.

          • Or they seemed to break them; Taylor’s revelation at the end looks like Alexandria was bringing in doubles rather than the real Undersiders, which would explain how A was able to bring them in like clockwork. Maybe part of what Taylor realises then, anyway.

          • They still outed her in front of everyone, so they still broke the rules. Besides, the law can be unforgiving about just making something look like something. It’s still considered torture to act like you’re giving something to a prisoner that would hurt or kill them even if it’s just sugar water, for instance.

        • When your ploy involves making someone think you killed their friend i don’t think you get to say “whoa overreaction the you went too far.”

          If there was a reality TV show about mugging and some fake mugger got the shit kicked out of him the courts would look at the case and just “What are you, fucking stupid?”

          • Which is why Defiant is calling it a ‘mistake’.

            Still a stupid plan. Any plan that revolves around Skitter not being able to kill something is a stupid plan.

  5. My brain can’t hold all this fuck.

    But I guess I’ll have to try anyway until Thursday or Saturday.

    Only thing I’m sure of at the moment, though: whatever the plan was, it could have used a run by the standard “would a five-year old say this was stupid” test first.

    • Armsmaster, is it? Why don’t you just have a seat over there. I’m Chris Hansen. I have a copy of the chat logs between you and Dragon and I have to ask, what was it you were doing coming over here tonight?

          • The oldest Dragon can be is thirty-ish, because Scion and stuff. Depending on how self-sufficient, sentient and sapient she was at the time of the sinking of Newfoundland one can either mark that as her defining (birthing) moment, or some time prior to that.
            Either way, the Birdcage was (probably) built some years after Newfoundland, since Dragon had to make a persona and gain trust and stuff. What did the law system do prior to the Birdcages establishment, and is it an international prison or more like a continental one, with off-shoots on the other continents?

  6. I had that feeling, ya know, as soon as I started reading this that defiant and dragon weren’t arresting skitter, but, rather, joining forces.

  7. Wait, what? Huh? What just, I don’t even? Are you cliffhanging me again? How much sleep have I lost because of you?!

  8. Huh, so the double and the use of third person DID mean something after all, along with bringing the bodies and such there rather than to Boston or New York.

    • I guess they just forgot about the part where any time someone fucks with her, she retaliates tenfold.

      • Except that Alexandria explicitly never forgets anything. There is no excuse for this aside from blatant idiocy. Alexandria got what she deserved, no more, no less.

        • It would have done her well to remember that she dropped a Parahuman who was both able to torch her insects with ease, and become increasingly invulnerable. She may not have KILLED Lung, but she was the first to bring a known bastard down. And converted him into a eunich for free.

          • Not to mention the critical role she played in the Echidna fight. And the Crawler/Mannequin fight. And in beating the Dragon suits. And that she beat Mannequin. And Sere and Triumph. Not to mention HOW she beat Triumph and Clockblocker.

  9. “Oh hey guys, let’s try playing some kind of mindfuckery on a cape with a track record of absolutely crushing any and all opponents who underestimate her. Let’s make sure to use all the same behaviors that we know caused her trigger event and act like total jackasses too! What could possibly go wrong? And we absolutely cannot go wrong by confirming the weakness of the toughest cape on the planet right to her face after giving her every possible reason to exploit it!” I’d say this would qualify under the TV Tropes page for “Too Dumb to Live”.

    • It seems that they were deliberately trying to cause the second trigger event.

      It didn’t work as planned.

      • actually i think either tagg or alexandria where trying to get her to kill the other, and instead she killed both. i suspect alexandria was the ringleader, thinking to use skitter to fake her death. only not as fake as expected.

      • I’m pretty sure her initial trigger event was a two barrels deal and the minute control was her second power.

        Honestly, a second trigger power would just serve to complicate the story, now that she’s set up with a more powerful team that will likely need her brain more than her abilities.

        • I wouldn’t mind one. More mental angst for Skitter, a chance for Wildbow to show his patented creativity with powers, and it’s fun to speculate. Though I am of the opinion that she won’t be given a 2nd trigger event, she’ll just find out a hidden use to her power that no one realized.

          • Yes, actually.

            The one with flakes made me think of the flakes being what gives humans power, but that hypothesis was lost credence as the story went on.

            The single entity ones made me consider if every power was based off of one being, with the specific powerset meaning what part of the entity it represented, like an organ.

            The double entity ones had me wondering, to be honest. They lend some probability to your second trigger hypothesis. Not to counter, but to discuss, here’s another thought:

            Capes gain their power by virtue of emotional trauma and the potential for powers, however that is represented. The trigger event is like a flare, with a certain taste or quality or infused with information for a multitude of passengers to take a sniff at and, if case be, connect with. I think you might agree with me so far?
            There are some passengers, though, travelling in pairs (or more), much rarer than the single one, and one or more connect with the triggering individual. This would present a case when a cape had more than one trigger event at a time. And on occasion, when a cape send up another flare, perhaps with a different taste, i.e. having another trigger event, the passenger either gains a mate/partner, or the other of the paired passengers connects to the individual.

            In other words, most capes won’t be able to have another trigger event, because they’re only connected to one passenger. Those with a connection to more passengers either had a double trigger event, or the potential for more trigger events.

            • Going back to the Noelle interval, she gets a vision from whatever is trying to take her over (implied to be her passenger), and it shows her that it was destined for someone else and intercepted by her and that’s why it’s so pissed. Granted, this could be because she wasn’t the /kind/ of person it wanted, but I got the impression it was intended for a specific person. This specific person theory would also help explain why families have such similar powers, and why people are theorized to need a specific trigger event or it won’t work.

    • I think Alexandria wanted to fake her death, and possibly get rid of Tagg at the same time. She might have had some kind of agreement/plan with Dragon. It’s just that they all seriously underestimated Taylor. Oh well, no great loss. I am also of the opinion that she really didn’t matter too much fighting the Endbringers considering how great she did against Leviathan/Behemoth.

      • It is also possible that they OVERestimated her and counted on her figuring out what they were doing and playing along (and helping Alexandria to fake her death).

        They just didn’t plan on her taking them seriously.

    • I don’t know what everyone’s obsession with a second trigger event is about or why you think they would want her to have one.

      I’m guessing that they wanted Skitter to attack them like that, maybe even kill Tagg. The clue part is suggested to have been deliberate, perhaps Alexandria figuring she could survive that just as easily as all the other times. That’s why Alexandria didn’t just drop the captured Undersiders off elsewhere like she said she’d do and that’s why they made sure to bring the corpse back to the headquarters. I still don’t understand what exactly is up with the rest of the Undersiders.

      As for this, at the very least they wanted a reason to toss Skitter in the Birdcage for some reason.

      That’s what I’m going for so far.

      • I’m guessing Alexandria figured she could survive whatever asphyxiation attempts Skitter tried, except she underestimated her. No surprise there.

      • Agreed. Skitter, a 16 year old girl with a *Meh. I could take her!* power is ALREADY edging against S-Class threat (As in “Scary as Fuck”) territory with this stunt.

        Another trigger event, and corresponding powers would probably have every cape on the planet hunting her down.

        Honestly, I do think that, in addition to her classifications in Master and Thinker, she picked up something ELSE. Possibly Shaker/Breaker/Trump/Changer related. Notice all the times she’s gone against CRAZILY long odds, yet she’s CONSISTENTLY beaten those long odds?

        You have Coil grabbing the best of two worlds’ worth of options.
        You have Dinah giving you tiny odds for a given outcome.

        Seriously. Set it up so that the world ends or someone she loves dies/gets hurt unless a coin lands on its edge.

        Betting she could pull an edge-on landing out of it. On the first try.

        If that’s the case, who would you MOST want on your side, battling a precog like the Simurgh?

        Dinah: You have one octillionth of a percent chance of pulling this off.
        Skitter: Pfft. That’s a Tuesday!

        And everyone’s left standing around with their eyes popping out of their head at weapons-grade velocities when she pulls it off with about the same effort you or I put into climbing a flight of stairs.

        • Skitter isn’t anywhere near S-Class yet. To be S-Class, she should have the ability to create copies that make copies, or have such overwhelming power that she cannot be killed and can dish out a ridiculous amount of damage.

          • When she can call on every single simple-nervous system in an area, from the flies in the trash to the worms in your heart, I’d say she has the capability to be overwhelming. It’s just a matter of how she’s handling her concentrations.

            Really, if she ends up in the Birdcage, what’s to prevent her from meeting with Amy, and maybe having herself redefined to manufacture the highly dangerous insects she tends to rely on, or really any swarm?

            She doesn’t need a second trigger to gain powers, after all. Sometimes, you just have to redefine how you’re using what you have.

    • This is going to sound horribly stupid.


      I think they were bullying her to try and get her to have a second trigger event, and Tattletale was in on it.

      Every action, leaving her no recourse, all of it was to put more and more pressure on her, in the hope that she would trigger again.

      And the mistake was they didn’t account for her breaking and killing people.

      That was why miss militia dropped the Gun and asked her to stop. That’s why a bully like Tagg was brought in. That’s why Alexandria deviated from her word and brought the undersiders to the PTR building.

      And the Officers were laughing because they were playing a trick on Skitter, no-one actually died.

      • Why?

        I really don’t understand why people think that other people want Skitter to have another trigger event and motives seem to play in to a lot of actions in the Wormverse.

      • If Tattletale WAS in on it (I don’t think she was, it was more likely dragon on the other end of Tagg’s phone), Miss Militia wouldn’t have been there to side with skitter (or her father for that matter), because Tattletale is quite learned in everything that goes into a trigger, and would know that any sort of positive reinforcement would take away from the possibility of triggering.

      • Alexandria might have wanted an attempt on her life to justify dropping Taylor/Skitter into the Birdcage posthaste (without being able to communicate her knowledge to others), with the possibility of Skitter simply knuckling under and agreeing to all terms being a reasonable 2nd best.

        Alexandria’s been thru enough life-threatening stuff that she might believe that only a monster like an Endbringer or Siberian could harm her. Skitter doesn’t seem to have inbuilt top-notch killing powers, rather she usually acts as a force multiplier or makes use of resources present (like Newt’s blood.) Hence, one more underestimation.

        Other people in this scenario might have wildly divergent aims. Dragon, Defiant and Miss Militia in particular.

        Why would the heroes want Skitter in particular to have a 2nd trigger event, after all, rather than one of their own?

      • I think they wanted Skitter to snap and attack. Alexandria was planning on dragging Skitter out with her and disappearing her so Skitter could fight elsewhere with the Defiant-Dragon team.

        She wasn’t expecting Skitter to figure out a way to kill her.

      • I don’t see the need for a second trigger either, she’s pracically Super Sonic already, back in the Noelle arc I might have agreed it was a possible route, but given how many times she’s been really badly cornered now… Just doesn’t seem likely.

        On the other hand, why does a second trigger need to be caused in the same fashion as the first? Like I said, she’s been trapped and nothings happened, quite a few times, perhaps if it were to happen, it would be a totally new kind of trauma

        • That actually plays in favour of my hypothesis, with the flavour of trauma needing to be sufficiently different to attract a second passenger.
          But then again Rika made a salient point in favour of Skitter already having two passengers / double triggered.

    • Alexandria tried to bully her to crack… so she could openly justify her depature to the Birdcage …

      Skitter cracked … her.

  10. So… somebody (Cauldron or Dragon&co) sent Tagg there to antagonize Skitter. Alexandria deliberately made the situation worse, not realizing that Skitter could kill her (I can’t think of any reason for Dragon&co to be lying to Skitter now). Since Alexandria was deliberatly baiting Skitter, I’m guessing that the body bag was a fake?

    One horrible idea: Alexandria was deliberately using Skitter’s imprisonment and trying to make her feel helpless in order to force a second trigger event. Reason I hate that idea? I think the “second trigger event” thing has been done to death in these comments; it seems like every week there’s a new “OMG, Taylor’s gonna have a second trigger event!” thing. Unfortunately, if there’s anybody in the world who’s powerful enough and cold-hearted enough to do this, it’s Cauldron. But I really hope that Wildbow has a better idea than this, and instead the whole charade was either Mr. Number Man’s plan to reinstate Skitter in charge, or else Dragon&co’s plan to move against Cauldron.

    • I’m still glad that because Taylor attacked her, Alexandria DID die. That should keep anyone from ever underestimating her again.

      • Umm, are we reading the same story? Everybody underestimates Skitter, and pays the price. I mean, I’m also glad that Alexandria died, but there’s no way that’ll get people to treat Skitter with the respect she deserves. 🙂

        You know, her real super power is really just “not giving up”. She’s been in so many hopeless situations, but she keeps on planning and trying different things.

        • Actually I her real power is as a Battle Commander. Some commanders in the military are just “meh” during peace time but get them into combat and then watch out. They are typically good at seeing the timing and flow of battles and can change the tide just from that. That is Skitter in a nut shell. Go back and read just about every fight she was in and somewhere in the middle of it she notices one little piece and uses it at just the right time to turn the fight. The School, she noticed the students reaction and used it. Leviathan she started taking over as commander there and same thing with Echinda (Remember it was her plan that worked). Against the Nine she was the one that noticed about Siberian and it was her plan that took out 2 of the Nine in the first attack. That is what they need Skitter for, to be in command and she could have done that through Dragon like MM is right now.

          • I think that she does have a secondary power, but not as a Battle Commander per se. I think her secondary Thinker power is one that looks for a way to escape. Why?
            We know her power and multitasking go up when she feels trapped.
            While in normal situations it means she looks for keys or ways to remove guards (like she does in this chapter) in battle it often becomes looking for ways to win, as sometimes that is the only way to escape.
            So I do think that the Thinker rating is justified, just not as a commander-type power. She just proves her adaptability once again by turning it towards that usage.

        • Oh, good point. Well, at least hopefully the good guy’s won’t keep her in the dark and try to push her over the edge.

  11. Goddammit. Looks like I lost my bet about whether or not Alexandria was faking the whole capturing Undersiders business. I was so certain she had no reason to be putting on a charade.

          • People of public interest and/or high profile usually have eulogies written beforehand and adapted every few years. At least the press does this kind of stuff, and some people behind the scenes in politics as well. See the speech for the failed moon mission, for one.

          • I have seen that one. Puts a bit of a negative spin for the moon to become the permanent tomb of the first U.S. astronauts to land there. You always have to have a speech for one something goes wrong or you fail. It’s like the West Wing says, you don’t want to tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing.

            Now go outside, turn around three times, spit, and curse.

            I was just hoping I might crash a funeral and write some things about her. I don’t have much planned so far, but I think I can work in Groucho glasses. Well, maybe a Groucho monocle for her.

        • Yep, two undersiders have wavefunctions that can be written as something like: Psi = 1/sqrt(2)*life+1/sqrt(2)*dead
          This wavefunction will colapse when an observation about their state has been made.
          We just thought that these wavefunctions were interconnected, if bitch = life, grue = dead. Now we know that this is not the case.
          My opinion: Alexandria wanted to kill Tagg and fake her death. Didn`t work.
          This, or something similar.

  12. allright… i got nothing. whats going on here?
    ok, actually i have a little speculation. the plan is to break the villians out of the bircage so they will have enough firepower to beat the enbringers/slaughterhouse. but that seems unlikely as hell.

    • Maybe that can pick and choose. If so the could just take out prisoners similar to, and including, Panacea and Canary.

  13. Oh man. They… They tried to put on a show. They tried to be clever. And oh god, did it ever go so wrong.

    Guess we can file this one under “Good job breaking it, villain?” Well, we’d best wait until a full explanation is offered. I can see the edges of it, but not the whole, and I don’t want to speculate prematurely…

    • You’re further than most people. A lot f us lost the box with the picture of the puzzle on it. We’re flying blind.

      • I think someone mixed a box of puzzles and the cumulative edges are non-euclidean… which has a disturbing resemblance to passenger biology °_°

        • And it comes complete with a bunch of freaky people in black leather with hooks in their skin saying something about pleasure like we’ve never felt before. They seem a friendly bunch, though the head honcho looks like the spokesman for Home Depot’s fetish department.

    • I’m with you on the not speculating prematurely. Every scenario I try to dream up circles back to some sort of uber-conspiracy spearheaded by Dinah, Tattletale, and Cauldron from the very beginning…which would be just so absolutely ludicrous that the line between improbable and impossible becomes blurred.

      I will just be eagerly awaiting the next installment to find out how utterly Wildbow blows my mind.

      • If that’s the case, we could be looking at a solid chapter of “Nice Job Breaking it, Hero,” where the “good guys” realize the horrible mistake they made of pushing Taylor past her limits without realizing that she’s ALWAYS been holding back.

    • Wouldn’t it be “Good job breaking it, hero?” – after all, it was the heroes who were active force here.

      Unless it as all Tattletale’s plan, I guess.

      • Heh, thanks! Last week was delayed, due to a hard drive failure. Things are about up and running though, so I should be able to get back into the swing of things…

  14. I figure that it was Cauldron getting Alexandria to force Skitter’s capture into a bloodbath, decapitating the local PRT and allowing Skitter to take full control of the city and get her to cross the deep end. Then Cauldron might have gone forward with the usual plan from there through Accord’s influence to manipulate the Undersiders into completing their goals.

    And Dragon+Defiant got wind of this and decided to take advantage of the situation to spring Taylor, but didn’t realize things would blow up so badly.

    Maybe this means that neither Rachel or Brian died, but the “offends me as a comedian” part of my brain kind of wishes it’s a legit death. Imp better be okay, and Regent too I guess.

    • I doubt that Alexandria dying was in their plan, assuling tat skitter is being given correct information and she isn’t just “missing”, or something.

      • I am with you Freak King, until we “see the body” it is possible that Alexandria survived the attack. After so many mind games, anything is possible.

        The only thing that we can be reasonably certain of is that Tagg is dead.

        Everything else is hanging off a cliff …

        • What makes you sure that seeing the body would be enough we already saw one power that could clone people and if one organization has a working example of that its cauldron ^^

          • In this case it’s pretty easy to prove the body is hers. Shoot it, or try to light it on fire, or throw it in front of a speeding snowplow. If it takes damage, it wasn’t Alexandria.

    • Holy shit, that got crazy. I’m just worried about the psychological effect on Taylor if she learns that one of her teammates HADN’T died. Though what would comfort me is how the good guys would feel, for both not considering what would happen if they pushed her too hard, and also having pushed her to that point at all.

    • The lack of Undersider attack indicates that either they were in on it, or there was no attack on Undersiders at all.

      I.e. it was all a ruse. A play.

      Which backfired badly.

      • Or that Alexandria took them all down at the same time and was just bringing them in one-by-one.

      • Ew. I just had a nasty thought.

        Remember, early on, where they were talking about the unwritten rules?
        Where villains would do their little deeds, occasionally get caught, and the sprung before they could be Birdcaged?

        It sounds like this is what they were trying to set up (possibly behind Tagg’s back). A chance for Skitter to spring herself or get sprung by her allies. The PRT looks good for taking her into custody and punting her to the birdcage. And then Skitter gets a badass reputation upgrade when she escapes on the way to incarceration.

        They just went about it in the most horrifically DUMB way imaginable, and now they’re snakebit (well, spiderbit…)

        • I think if that were the case, they would have just shipped her off the the Birdcage straight away. If the plan was to spring her, they didn’t really need to have solid charges against her.

          • Provoking her into attacking and killing a PRT director in custody would be just the sort of thing to use to ship her off then and there. Problem was, she also took out Alexandria.

          • I’m always a little bit confused about the conditions for being sent to the Birdcage. Canary was sent in on one count of accidental sexual assault. If the charges they already have on Skitter aren’t enough to lock her up, I don’t know what would be. Though, if you’re suggesting they want to get her in without a trial in the first place, Tagg would be my first choice for being expendable…

    • This is probably the best theory I’ve heard in these comments so far, as far as giving Alexandria a comprehensible motive for what she did. Alexandria has always been in favor of capes policing capes, and she’s always been willing to use subterfuge. Cauldron wants the Undersiders in charge of Brockton Bay. Removing Tagg would serve Alexandria’s goals and Cauldron’s; pinning the blame on Skitter would further serve Cauldron’s goals by building her reputation and influence.
      Alexandria was never there to make Skitter crack and abandon her demands. She was there to make her lash out, so that she’d cement herself in place rather than leave and weaken the Undersiders. That explains why she was so over-the-top and unreasonable in attacking Taylor’s friends, and why she ignored how she was letting more bugs into the interrogation room. Hell, it explains why she let the body bag arrive at headquarters before she did- she wanted an alibi for not saving Tagg when Skitter suddenly lashed out and killed him. “Oh, it’s such a tragic loss to the organization. If only I’d been there when it happened, instead of cleaning up the impact site where I attacked …”
      Alexandria’s remark about (the futility of) drowning her still doesn’t make sense in the context of Taylor eventually suffocating her- but it does make sense if Alexandria never intended that context. It wasn’t a deliberate hint, it was bragging about how unstoppable she was (a topic that needed shoring up, considering how silly she looked walking around soaking wet). And then she wasn’t.

  15. Okay so what are they’re goals.
    1. Keep the PRT afloat to help combat the Endbringers. This involves keeping Cauldron secret, trying to keep people from leaving in disgust, and stop escalation in fights they can’t afford.
    2. Purge the PRT of idiots, Cauldron spies, and war mongers. Difficult considering the PRT leadership we saw except for the liason guy to other hero teams.
    3. Keep the truce with the not so bad villains, outlaws, to help fight the Endbringers, take down the nastier villains, and preserve order.
    4. Stop Cauldron completely to remove another threat comparable to the Endbringers according to Dragon. Possibly involving Alexandria/Legend becoming a double agent, and working with Faultline.
    5. Put whatever their plan is into action involving Skitter.
    6. Profit?

  16. Thanks for the chapter! first things first, wildbow: I’ve been meaning to say, it seems like a lot of work to both write the story, especially with your frequency, which has been three chqpters a week for an amazing several weeks by now (thank you for that, by the way. It’s wonderful.) and also update the cast page. i know that, to keep the matter of it all belonging to you simple, you don’t take advice from the commments, but would you consider having a proficient fan doing it? Probably not me, I’m not very good at summarising things, but must an idea, in case you’d like it or any fan is willing to do it.

    Now, thoughts for the chapter: Am I the only one who thinks this was the timeskip? I have this really weird feeling, and I kept expecting the, to say a year and a half has passed or something. Honestly, I expected her to wake up in the birdcage, not her old cell, because the only way that’s almost completely safe to be around Taylor is for her to be unconscious. Before this chapter’s new evidence, at least, an unconscious Skitter was a safe Skitter, so they would have held the trial with her knocked out, convicted her in about a second, and she wakes up in the birdcage.

    I was happy this is a resolution to the cliffhanger…but this answers the previous cliffhanger with an even more massive one due to its mere “what the hell is going on”-ness. I was pretty sure Alexandria was dead, but now Taylor seems to be thinking of herself as a monster. Wonderful. And I’m pretty sure this new thing is a Cauldron plot, but with this story, who knows. Seriously, this cliffhanger… Just can’t win. *fake sigh* 🙂 Well, looking forward to next update as always, as the plot thickens for the hundredth time or so, and strange, evil deeds are afoot.

      • You’re referring to my opinion that they would hold a trial with skitter unconscious?

          • Well, figured it seemed something like what would happen coming from the judicial system that brought us Canary’s inexplicable imprisonment. I honestly think the judges might have just done it for the innate hilarity of putting Canary in the Birdcage,

    • I for one am glad for the current cliffhanger, since it has me less agitated about the next chapter. To use a simile: The previous one had me hanging from a precipice kilometres deep; this one? I could survive horribly mangled.

      • I think it’s more ambiguous, less “god oh god skitters going to jail she killed people and we don’t know for sure if one is dead wow major wham episode oh my god!”. So, guess it’s somewhat a matter of taste.

    • Finding her waking up with -no one- inside the range of her power? My first thought was that this chapter was starting off like every zombie apocalypse movie ever. So, yeah I was ready for the end of the world scenario.

  17. Time for me and my Crazy Speculations(TM)

    Possibilities Of why everything is going horribly weird:
    Endbringer attack. Perfect time for it, for them, but comes off as a little Diablos Ex Machina than wildbow usually does.

    Horrible Experiment on Skitter: Trying to get her to get a second trigger event, as mentioned above, I really don’t think that she had a second trigger event. If anything, you will notice that through the entirety of this fiction she gets more powerful and innovative as things get on. When she gets to a ‘breaking’ point she gets stronger. But she has never actually been ‘broken’ yet, or had something so traumatic and out of her grasp that she goes all out with her powers. I think her passenger helped a lot with this last situation. I think while she was unconscious, she was the most terrifying person alive to everyone in the building.

    Plot to kill Cauldron: I see this one as possible. There is evidence to support this, but not what I would call strong evidence.

    • Actually, the Endbringer attack thing makes the most sense. That or some other huge event hitting Brockton Bay. Something that would require everyone else gone from the building, because I don’t think their leaving was all that much of an emergency. After all, they had time to stick her in brute cuffs and dump her in a cell.

      And then there’s the whole “A mistake we’re all about to pay for.” which suggests something going down soon.

      • If she’s awake on the same day, then I figure they ran around in panic for a few minutes (including the Brute handcuffs), then evacuated the building due to Skitter’s bugs still attacking people. Or just because they wanted to make sure that she couldn’t hear what was happening.

        I’m not convinced it’s the same day, though. The whole setting seemed too quiet, too suspicious. What if they kept her asleep with knockout gas for a day or two? OTOH, if they’ve got that gas around, I don’t see why they would have stopped it just before Dragon&co arrived. It’s not like the gas would harm the mech suits (I think? or maybe they just didn’t want to reveal their immunity, and thus stopped it to keep up the ruse?).

        • If it’s not the same day, how did she not realise this? For one she had a working smart phone, which often come with some kind of unobtrusive calender display on the home/start screen.
          On the other hand, the number of bugs left indicate the drones having decimated a lot over the alloted time (and also supplying some kind of defence for regular people). I’m not sure she’s been out of action for a day instead of an hour, but the odds for that aren’t terrible either.

      • An endbringer attack would have them acting differently. They would mention telepathic screaming, and I’m sure Behemoth is pretty hard to miss. Maybe Defiant’s software/Dinah predicted a new attack is about to happen there but the Endbringers never attack the same place twice. While it makes sense to evacuate out of range of her power, it does seem a little too quiet.

        • According to the parahumans online interlude, the official projection for the next endbringer attack is Aug 30 +/- 15 days. It’s currently, what, mid July? Unless she was knocked out for a few weeks, I don’t think it’s an endbringer. I’d say it’s either the S9, or a threat we haven’t seen before.

          • Please expand on that. When is a fight with an Endbringer lost, a draw or won, respectively?
            I think:
            Lose = free reign for the Endbringer
            Draw = Endbringer retreats, but inflicts heavy casualties
            Win = Endbringer retreats to lick its wounds, no/light casualties
            By this reasoning the Brockton Bay Attack seems to be closest to win.

            On an unrelated note… I’m curious and afraid to know how it is common knowledge Endbringers don’t attack twice in a row, unless they only inferred this statistically. Which makes me wonder what places got roflstomped twice by Endbringers…

          • I personally view a win against an Endbringer to be either an successful interception before it reaches it’s target and wounding to the point of the Endbringer retreating, or permanently removing the Endbringer from play as it were. The 2nd win condition could be anything from killing it to sending it to like… mars or another earth where it can rampage all it wants and nobody cares.
            Better yet would be making it useful, like sending Behemoth or Leviathan to other earths for terraforming purposes. Doubt that one is even in the room, let alone on the table.
            A draw would be forcing the Endbringer to retreat before it can do its thing to full or even 60% effect. Leviathan would have to run away before the target area is significantly sunk (Brockton Bay was still above the water table in most locations so this counts). Behemoth would have to retreat before more than a few dozen people are killed (ideally before the city is slagged too). Smigh- Simguh- the flying one would have to retreat before i dunno… more than 30 minutes had passed? That one is tricky.
            A loss would be when no matter what is done, the Endbringer gets a nice long time period in which to rampage.
            I suppose it depends on the Endbringer.
            The point I was trying to make was that Endbringers like to attack locations with significance. What place is more significant than the only location where humanity came closer to winning against them than ever before? It would be a morale attack, so I’d expect the winged wonder to do it.

            • Are you implying the Endbringers have a long-term plan? Because to me they at the very least the seemed pretty feral creatures. Behemoth want to kill and destroy, Leviathan want to destroy and kill, and Simurgh wants to killstroy, with the added benefit of knowing what to do to inflict the most damage/casualties. So only the Simurgh would have the planning capabilities to attack Brockton Bay voluntarily – because she want to killstroy, and she sees Brockton Bay as affecting most victims. No real planning necessary.

    • Oh god, I think I just realized what happened. What known event causes a massive area evacuation and the standard protocol is to not engage in speaking with someone in the affected area? What would prompt the PRT to NOT post guards of some sort on the most dangerous cape on the planet who just offed Alexandria? Skitter was doing things in her sleep, and hinted that something may have been controlling or influencing her while she slept. Defiant just mentioned as the last line that it was a tragic mistake they are all *about* to pay for, meaning the event is ongoing or impending. I think Brockton Bay is getting a visit from the friendly neighborhood Simurgh. I can’t think of any confluence of events in the Wormverse that could cause such a response.

      • Alternatively, since we can’t hear the Simurgh’s song and the air raid sirens aren’t going off: They evacuated the premises because Skitter’s bugs were still active, they didn’t know how to shut them off, and they knew that the rest of the Undersiders and a large force of mercenaries would be assaulting the building within a couple of hours.

        • I just don’t think they evacuated due to Skitter’s powers. They panicked and fled but had time to change Skitter’s cuffs, lock her in her cell, and get Tagg’s body to the morgue in a bag? Did they stop and dust on their way out too?

          • I think it’s far more likely that they didn’t want anyone to be within her range when she woke up, least she attack them in the belief that they are Tagg or Alexandria.

          • I’m sure that despite Alexandria’s death, they might have had one or two capes they trusted to be able to at least lock up Skitter. Though while your statements do have merit; I can’t deny the clear possibility of more elements at work here, I think someone being capable of killing Alexandria within a radius of a few blocks might be ample reason to stay away from that person when they’re on a rampage, even if they are unconscious.

      • An Endbringer attack of pretty much any sort would do that, with evacuations and deploying and all. Only problem is they don’t hit the same place twice in a row.

        • and i doubt that anyone would be like an endbringer is attacking lets get all of our super armored personnel to escort this villain out of here.

      • Agreed, Simurgh would make sense in this situation… Hmmm…

        Looking at the evidence other people provided, I’m going for either Endbringer came in, or a Parahuman Revolution situation.

      • They never attack the same place twice but having her attack there would be truly cruel. Despite all they worked for/sacrificed, Brockton Bay would be evacuated for some time, she could do ALOT of damage if she mindfucks certain people in the city, and it could force Skitter to leave. Considering this is worm we’re talking about, I could see it happening. Though Skitter would probably consider herself cursed afterward considering all the terrible things she had to deal with.

      • Ooh, I like it! Except for the whole “not twice in a row” pattern the Endbringers have been following in their attacks. And another attack somewhere else in-between Leviathan and the proposed Simurgh would probably been have mentioned in-story.
        But then again, the not-twice-in-a-row is a pattern, not a rule. Patterns can be broken. (so can rules, but that’s not the salient point here)

    • My insane speculation:
      Taylor went crazy when she got stuffed in that locker by her former best friend and the trauma of that as well as the suffering caused by her mothers death made her create a world in her head where people with issues got superpowers when in reality these people are all just the other patients whose stories she’s using to flesh out her fantasy where she is awesome and has friends, and as an added bonus the three endbringers are the three main girls who tormented her, Sophia, Emma, and that other girl who i can’t remember because she isn’t important.

    • About the Endbringer thing, and something I haven’t seen stated yet. What about the possibility of a new Endbringer? It was already mentioned that the Endbringers didn’t come all at once, so it leaves the possibility of a new Endbringer.

      • While possible, there was about half a decade between the first appearance of each, and a decade since Simurgh joined the fry. Not impossible, but unlikely it waited half a decade for the giggles.

        • Considering the timing, I’d consider it fairly appropriate. Both timeline wise, and in line with what’s currently happening in the story.

  18. Anybody else find the fact that the bugs did things without her orders disturbing? Is it possible we have another Echidna situation where her passenger is starting to influence her in different ways?

    • yeah but Taylor’s passenger is probably chill it was all like “shes always makin these ropes so why dont I just keep makin them while she sleps”

      • This is at least the 2nd time in recent chapters that we’ve seen a reference to Taylor’s passenger being a somewhat “independent” entity.

        Since we’re approaching end game by the end of the year-ish (as of last reports), I’m betting we’ll see a lot more about that as we go.

  19. I was so excited to resolve the previous cliffhanger. Finally, I read this chapter, and I got an even bigger one.

    Sometimes, I really hate you. 🙂

    Okay, wild mass guessing time.

    The one tragic mistake is, almost certainly, the fact that Skitter actually managed to kill Alexandria. I don’t think they were too happy about her killing Tagg, either, but he wasn’t important enough to rank as a tragic mistake.

    But, since they were dropping hints about water being Alexandria’s weakness, they did want her to attack Alexandria. If Miss Militia, Dragon, and Defiant hadn’t been in on the plan, I might have thought that they wanted Skitter to make the first move, so that they would be justified in killing her. Then they could boost the PRT with the story of how Alexandria had defeated the crime lord of Brockton Bay.

    But, the last paragraphs made it clear that Alexandria, along with who knows else, was actively trying to make life harder for Skitter, in the hope of ‘playing her.’ Maybe this was for Skitter’s development. (not necessarily a second trigger event, just standard improvement) Perhaps precogs had informed them that Skitter was essential, so they were throwing her against some large problems, in the hopes that she would become strong enough to face the later, even larger problems. Maybe forcing her to fight Alexandria was an important step in Skitter’s guided development.

    • I think what happened with Grue has gotten us too focused on the idea of a secondary trigger event and the clear boost in pure power that entails. None of this really is about pure strength of powers. The entire paradigm of Skitter’s development has been finding ways to utilize the power she has as constructively as possible. Her primary limitation has been a matter of creativity, not a lack of brute power. Death of Alexandria here being the new ultimate example.

      Gonna throw out some more possible ideas. We essentially have between 4 to 6 possible factions at work here that I can see. So the question is if this whole scenario has been a ruse, just who is staging the ruse?

      1. Alexandria I am assuming represents Cauldron’s agenda regardless of any possible orders from the PRT. If she planned and staged the events as a ruse then what is occurring is going to be Cauldron’s agenda. Cauldron seems to be looking to get a known major supervillian into a prominent public position of power. We know they considered Coil their best hope for whatever exactly it is they are after. After Coil died they decided that Skitter seemed a good replacement candidate after she and the Undersiders claimed the city. I am speculating based on the way this has been discussed so far that they are probably attempting to fulfill a precognitive prophecy that improves their chances of survival/holding off the end of the world if they can get the right type of villian to “step up” as it were.

      2. Tagg(PRT) – If Tagg has been operating on his own agenda and the ruse is his, what is he after if it wasn’t just to defeat Skitter? Was he/the PRT trying to get rid of Alexandria(and thus Cauldron’s influence)? Was he trying to provoke Skitter to the attack so as to invalidate her surrender or guarantee that she be sent to the Birdcage? Couple options there.

      3. Dragon/Defiant – These two seem to represent what the PRT could be. They believe in what it does but are actively opposed to the operational choices currently being made. If this has been their ruse and the others are working with them then they probably wanted either Taylor to join them and whatever new team that develops around them, or were hoping that the whole situation would lead to a backlash against the PRT forcing them to reform and clean up their act in regards to both Cauldron and their allowances for the sake of appearances.

      4. Miss Militia (The Protectorate) – Not sure if she would count as a faction or not here since she is inside Dragon’s suit leading me to assume that her agenda and theirs are the same – clean up the PRT. If Miss Militia is running the show she could be hoping to get Tagg removed and/or Alexandria discredited.

      5. Tattletale – If Tattletale has been directing the ruse then likely it’s been while allying with one of the other factions, possibly more than one since really this show was being run by Tagg and Alexandria (at least as the lead actors). Guessing Tattle would pretty much be happy with any agenda that would result in Taylor staying alive/being released.

      6. Dinah – Let’s be honest, this whole thing is really Dinah’s show. Even if she hasn’t provided any further input since she left (assuming that everyone wasn’t following her script in the first place) it’s Dinah’s prediction that brought Taylor in. It was her note that made Taylor decide to go ahead and surrender. Taylor knows what Dinah can do and seems to trust her because of it. Since Dinah wanted her to turn herself in clearly Taylor has assumed that Dinah has asked her to because in the long run it will lead to a better chance vs the “End of the World.” The only real question regarding Dinah’s involvement isn’t if she is involved and what she is hoping will occur, it’s just HOW MUCH is she involved and how much of what is occurring has been set in motion because Dinah is trying to arrange for it, much like she did in order to arrange for Taylor to free her from Coil?

      Sorry for the long post, it was helping get my thoughts in order but clearly I’m still totally brain-strained trying to figure out just what the hell is going on. This chapter has also made me wonder is Wildbow is a fan of “The Usual Suspects” because this chapter is reminding me that as readers we make certain assumptions about events and narrative as we read. Those assumptions are not necessarily true.

      • There’s also a decent chance (see: Skitter, Grue, Eidolon) that Taylor already HAD her second trigger event. Perhaps that’s what added all those sensing, or possibly multitasking capabilities to her control swarm ability.

  20. The Herokiller and the death of the hero.

    There’s a perfect storm coming. The next Endbringer attack is going to be a hell on earth. The Truce is irrevocably fucked to hell, the PRT is in crisis, it’s going to be either the Herokiller or the Simurgh, and Scion is getting ready to kill.

    I think Scion’s going to end up, essentially, alone against the endbringer he fights and powerful though he may be, I think that if he goes all out, stops at nothing, to kill it, then it’ll kill him, too.]

    Behemoth, despite being the most lethal, is probably the least over-all damaging to human society. His terror is the way he can kill capes. Anyone who’s less than a diamond gets turned into dust. He’s the one who kills heroes just for facing up against him. He can leave a city a radioactive wreck, but he can’t crush a coastline into pulverized stone and swampland, he can’t turn people into guided time-bombs set on a course to fuck each other over. And most importantly, Skitter and every single one of the Undersiders would be, basically, completely fucked if they ever had to go up against him.

    Also worth noting are the parallels. Scion, the golden boy, an autistic Super-Man. Behemoth, the beast of muscle and rock, the Hero-Killer. The two are going to kill each other. And the world will be down one end-bringer… And down the only man who can stop the Endbringers. So far.

    I don’t know that this is a for-sure thing. But things are building. We know Scion’s out for blood, and one of the two end-bringers is going up against him. If The Simurgh went down, well… Let’s just say I don’t see her going down THAT easily. But Behemoth could.

    Why? Well, Scion’s been let off the leash. If he can’t kill an Endbringer while going all-out, then shit’s kind of fucked. Killing an Endbringer would give some kind of hope to people, it would show that it can be done. If Scion dies in the process, then we see that there’s a great price for that. Losing Scion would be bad- The best defense against the Endbringers, gone. But let’s face it. Scion was never going to be the one who was simply defeating all of the Endbringers and making everything okay again.

    He’s not Superman.

    • Was it lunchtime when she asked for that food from Mr. Calle cause if it was things started going bad after that.

      • Well, if we place sunset somewhere between eight and nine pm and it was two and a half hours to it when Skitter flipped her shit, plus 1.5 hours for the three Undersiders… it was about three to four PM when Alexandria arrived. Not lunchtime. (can’t be bothered to look it up, time constraints)

  21. So i have no idea whats going on but this cliffhanger is conspiracy bait, it does explain why Miss Militia didn’t try to stop Taylor from killing Tagg which I was a bit confused about but if she was working to get Taylor or reach some goal for something I can see why. This has got me thinking about some conspiracies especially concerning why Alexandria would hint at Taylor how to kill her, but I really can’t imagine why except maybe with her cover blown she would be under constant surveillance and unable to affect the PTR so maybe she faked her death so she could work for Cauldron full-time and believed Taylor would be a believable patsy or maybe she even wanted Skitter to gain the respect making the Undersiders territory easier to control or maybe give Taylor the ultimate street cred to become the queen of all villains. Also this whole why didn’t they come rescue me has me thinking that Accord decided he didn’t like working for the Undersiders anymore especially considering they got messed up by Alexandria.
    – Overall all I am really positive about this is that Miss Militia, Dragon, and Defiant are probably working together against Cauldron, and Taylor isn’t JUST being arrested.

    • Did Alexandria hint that she could be drowned? I’m unconvinced. She came back drenched and Taylor asked if her team mates fought back. In response Alexandira dismissively says that they tried to drown her and yet again it didn’t work. Totally consistent with Alexandira being a smug head bitch. Anyway it reminds me of the old joke of Kissenger, a priest, and a boy scout on the plane with only two parachutes (google it). The smartest super hero in the world died after telling her opponent how to defeat her. Sorta keystone cops ain’t it?

      • It was subtle, but she leaves several hints.
        She mentioned that the Endbringers recognize her when she fights them –that led Taylor to remeber that Leviathan tried to drown her. When the subject of Tattletell figuring her out came up, she straight up admitted she has a weakness, but didn’t think the Undersiders would be able to exploit it on the fly. When she came back soaking wet, she didn’t say “stupid villains I can’t drown”, just that people have tried and failed in the past.

        I still don’t know why though.

      • but what if we assume that she never attacked the Undersiders? If she had attacked even one of them, they wouldn’t have waited until the deadline to attack.
        if it was all staged, then that means that her returning drenched in water was ALSO staged, thus hinting at a weakness – after all, Taylor has to assume that if both Leviathan AND Tattletale consider it a viable option, then it has to be one!

        • Not necessarily. Remember that Alexandria is smart, and if this is being faked she has to make it believable to Skitter. Tattle is one of the Undersider’s primary defensive weapons, and Alexandria knows enough about them to know that. If Tattle wasn’t doing something to try and neutralize Alexandria, Skitter would get suspicious about the whole thing. Didn’t matter weather it was something that was a true weakness for her, it just mattered that Skitter believed that Tattle might think so. The stupidity was in revealing something that was a true weakness and that Skitter could conceivably be able to take advantage of, particularly given what they were doing to her at the time.

  22. Ok. Way out of left field, but this occurred to me. What if the Simurgh is attacking the Birdcage? I know it doesn’t really account for the evacuation, but I’m gonna attribute that to Skitter’s unconscious actions still.
    This brings in the Birdcage, which we’ve been seeing glimpses of, and counts as a pretty major crisis. The Endbringers easily bypass the Manton Effect, meaning the Smurf likely wouldn’t find it difficult to bust that thing wide open. Without Alexandria, the best defenses are Legend, Eidolon, and timely intervention from Scion.
    That’s the best I can do for wild speculation. As far as a second trigger… I wouldn’t think they’d want that. What would that even entail? There’s no way they can even be sure it wouldn’t fundamentally change their powers. Though if they were trying to make it possible to change her costumed identity and get her into the wards, that’d pretty much be the only way to do it.
    I’m very confused right now. Last time I was just hoping for resolution, this time I need clarity! The wait will be nearly interminable! 😉

  23. Betting that the bugs just wouldn’t stop – and their last order was attack. I don’t think we know of any active powers that work while someone’s unconscious – that’s the whole point of the tranquilizers and the electric shocks. That alone should freak people out.

    If killing her is out – and it does seem to be – then the only option left is running. Optional extra reason not to kill her: they know Butcher’s dead, but I don’t think the PRT knows that the kill went to Cherish. Killing a Skitter who may have killed Butcher… isn’t so much a solution as a new, perhaps worse, problem. Plus, of course, if knocking her out doesn’t stop the bugs, if Bonesaw’s targeted shutdown of the Corona Pollentia didn’t stop the bugs… killing her might not do it either. Besides – if MM wanted Skitter dead, she would have pulled the trigger last update.

    Paranoid speculation: perhaps the relay bugs were obvious to Panacea because that’s how it works all the time… because Skitter (technically) didn’t so much trigger herself as become someone who triggers the insects around her at will – she gives them passengers, and Bonesaw should have been dissecting the insects. Which raises… interesting thoughts for how the ‘normal’ passengers relate to their source. And offers something Panacea could easily have been ‘praying’ to Dragon about, if she didn’t figure it out until later.

    Regardless: can’t kill her, can’t risk anyone in range of her power. They don’t know the range. They don’t know when she’ll wake up. So they evacuate as wide a range as possible… in case she wakes up swinging. She perceives that as abandonment, in her hivemind, and that’s why it’s on the tip of her tongue as she wakes up. And now? Now there’s something quite urgent that MM, Dragon, and Armsmaster want her help with.

    Best guess is another Endbringer – and not in Brockton Bay, or there’d be sirens everywhere, plus a highly visible light show going on in the distance. The Birdcage? Now that fits. Panacea figured something out about the Birdcage, warned Dragon, Simurgh intercepted it and is about to take advantage.

    Alexandria’s not at the fight for obvious reasons (not saying she didn’t fake her death… but if she did, she can’t exactly show up either), everyone else is, and when Skitter triggered the shock globe in her cell… Dragon noticed. And Dragon, Defiant, and MM went to pick her up and see if Skitter can pull off the impossible, because things aren’t going so well. That would explain why Defiant is really missing Alexandria right now. It being the Simurgh would explain why these heroes are free to pick her up – doctrine against the Simurgh is apparently rotating people so no one’s exposed too long, and if they’re off rotation right now – and the Undersiders are on – that would explain why they’re the ones to pick her up. Plus, hey – S-class fights = amnesty. So Skitter might literally get away with murder.

    Current best guess as to the plot and ruse? Doctor Mother is looking to build a better parahuman. Exerting powers can strengthen them (or at least provide skill in addition to strength – cf. the fact that Skitter can mostly hear through her bugs now); being around powers can trigger others. The PRT has been designed, from the beginning, to keep the game of cops and robbers humming along: maximum power strengthening, minimum collateral damage is their mandate from Cauldron. Alexandria mostly acts to escalate things because she’s hoping out of a crucible will come someone strong enough for their Terminus project to work. Maybe that’s beating the Endbringers. Maybe that’s beating whatever’s sending passengers. Maybe it’s triggering all humanity – I don’t know.

    • Your argument made me realize a tangent: A few hundred bugs in a radius of 5 blocks is very little. Even if she excluded all those immobile and useless bugs, it is still way too low. And like I pointed out in a previous comment, the drones didn’t seem to be that effective, not in the timespan given. Something is terribly wrong.

      • It is odd. She could be speaking of only those in the PRT building, in which case them spreading out and ignoring drones might have vastly increased the drone effectiveness.

        Then again, maybe there’s an enormous swarm somewhere over the Atlantic, having lost contact with Alexandria an hour ago.

    • A further thought – did Alexandria fake her attacks on the Undersiders?

      She could have, I suppose – if her goal there was to break Skitter in time for Taylor to call off the sunset Undersider assault, faking their capture or death isn’t crazy. And Alexandria is a mastermind – she could have figured out what she’d need to use the arthropodvoyance to sell the deception (coming up with the costumes or a body in a bodybag – easy. Coming up with a person with an arm and leg half-twisted off to dress up as Regent… harder, but hardly beyond some tinkers). Alexandria has a reputation, knows it, and is undoubtedly prepared to use it when she finds it useful. This may even be a standard PRT interrogation process, when someone has a team outside of custody.

      Would she have? When she could (almost) as easily just go out and capture/kill her targets? Hard to say. An hour ago, I would have said she’d just do whatever it was for real. The end of this update does, however, push toward it being an interrogation tactic. For the moment, that’s an improved guess as to the ruse (though the prior paragraph stands as a general guess at Cauldron’s purpose).

      If she did, then she wasn’t trying to fake her death – or she was running a double fakeout, telling the PRT she’d be faking her kill and planning to use the event to fake her death.

      Evacuating the building and area might also be a way to avoid giving the Undersider assault an easy target.

      I’ve never been fond of the ‘it was all a dream!’ school of storytelling… but Tagg’s death was real enough (though a distant third in impact on reading), whatever else may have been faked. Perhaps that’s enough.

  24. ‘Oh sure, blame the passengers…’

    Passengers. They’ve got a lot of negative stuff thrown around about them, at this point. They keep giving powers that are meant to hurt, superheroes are always fighting, and just look at Echidna, and what about the endbringers, and look at the way they’re doing weird things to people’s personalities, and, and, and…

    People are broken. The concept of sanity only exists as an average of all possible extremes of behavior, a happy and completely nonexistent medium that exists as much as distinct cold rays or waves of darkness do.

    Into this volatile mix, we introduce what appear to be symbiotic creatures, intrigued by experiences, and desperately wanting to protect their only link to the world. With vast power, they reach out, and twist, shape, and in the ways that human desires, twist the world. They do this not because they want to turn the human into a weapon, but because they want to experience. It’s the fact that the humans are living in a world with seven billion other humans, pressed on all sides, that makes them lash out.

    Humans live with innumerable rules. Stand on Zanzibar, one of the better sci-fi stories I’ve ever read, addressed this. The story took place during a period of time when the world population would no longer all fit on the island of Zanzibar, due to overpopulation. Among many other elements, people would spontaneously snap, and run amok- These people were referred to as Muckers. It was a daily element and danger to life, and frankly if you look at our world things are not much different. When humans are put under sufficient pressure, the thin veil of civilization tears, and a psychotic ape goes clever and decides to take as many lives as it can. And these are people whose most significant power is ‘knife’ or ‘gun’. Imagine the way most people would react to having superpowers.

    So why blame the passengers? Well, because it’s /easier/. If you can just say it’s the passengers fault you’re doing evil things, you can justify a lot. You can justify attacking and lashing out and killing people because a mistake you made in the span of a second has turned you from a sweet, lovely young girl into a hideously bloated, monstrous freak who can no longer touch anyone. It’s not you doing it. It’s Echidna.

    I don’t think it’s quite that humans are the real monsters. That’s a ridiculously stupid aesop, and worse than the idea that humans are all noble, in my mind, because not only is it not true, it’s not a moral that we should strive towards- It’s a self-destructive stricture. Humans are intense, and passionate. At the same time as a human can decide to destroy everything and anything good, turning into a butcher who never stops, a human can also strive through any adversity and go to any length to make things better. Two people going through the same trauma could each go to those vastly disparate lengths. The ineffable miracle of compulsion, of the mind breaking and choosing a path that it will devote itself to… The reason that economics is always going to be an inexact science, because people’s self-interest can vary.

    To say that passengers are responsible for the evil is ridiculous. Human beings have done things far more shocking than has been done by any of the villains. All the passengers provide is power. They are perhaps influenced by the personality of the one they are with, which explains the way those powers are performed, but they do nothing more than provide the tools.

    Defiant, the guy who I kind of like.

    I’ll be honest. I like Armsmaster/Defiant. He’s done some questionable things, most notable among them being that he let Kaiser, a vicious neo-nazi with a penchant for breaking human beings down and making them dependent on him, with a long-running plan to corrupt Brockton Bay, die while fighting Leviathan, and sought out personal glory, by trying to use an innovative new method to actually kill one of the Endbringers.

    Also he was mean and unfair to Skitter quite a bit.

    But, I genuinely like Armsmaster, because while he may be brusque, a glory-hound, and impulsive, there is also the sense that he is trying to be better. God knows that he could REALLY do a lot to work on his attitude with Skitter, but I think that there is a friendship that could really blossom there and dear god I wish it could. Armsmaster even has a pretty strong parallel to Rachel, in his altered state of mind, defensiveness towards Skitter, and his overall attitude, in some ways- Armsmaster is not good with people, and is ambitious. This is a tough combination.

    Let’s look at some of Armsmaster’s motivations. He seeks glory quite a bit, but consider the methods he used- He went up against an Endbringer, mano-y-monstro, and did more damage than basically anyone who is not Scion has ever done, from what we can tell. That’s downright incredible. He decided, when mannequin taunted him the way he did, to go out and take on the Slaughterhouse nine. You can fault his wisdom, but not his courage, or his dedication. If he simply wanted glory, there are other things that he could do that would be significantly less dangerous, but he’s never shied away from putting his own neck on the line.

    Let’s look at some of his troubles. Armsmaster is a compulsive over-worker, because he is not a natural talent. He has to put brutal amounts of work in, training himself to be the best there is, to accomplish what he needs to do. And he’s surrounded by people who succeed without effort. Miss Militia knew how to work with people. Dauntless grew a bit stronger every day. Skitter came out of nowhere, and this young girl humiliated him, time and again, worse and worse.

    And it’s a fucking shame, because in a different world, they could’ve been an unbeatable pair. A clever, tactical mind, and a tinker genius who can multiply functionality almost beyond limit? Jesus, the two of them could bring an Endbringer down. But Armsmaster is still brusque with Skitter, because he’s still stinging, and Skitter still thinks of Armsmaster as just another adult who sees things going wrong and refuses to step in.

    So. Is Armsmaster a bully? That’s an important question. Does he exert his power over others for his own self-satisfaction? He’s a bit cocky, god knows, and he likes to win a fight, but he wants to help people. He’s not good at expressing it, but he’s not /bored/ with doing these things, and I don’t think he just does it because he thinks people will think he’s great. I think he does it, in a way, because he wants to prove his worth to people. If he could kill an Endbringer, he could be overcome.

    Dragon’s a good thing for Armsmaster. Two broken people can support one another, like the two sides of an arch, and a structure that can’t stand on its own can become capable.

    You know how Armsmaster and Skitter are also similar? Both are compulsive over-workers. Skitter has worked herself to exhaustion so many times in this story, spending long hours preparing herself for every possibility. They’re almost mirrors of each other in many ways.

    I really, really, /really/ want to see them become friends. I think they’re finally taking the first steps towards it. I hope they are. Things just snowballed for the two of them, and I hope it gets better, because that’ll give me some genuine hope.

    • Skitter and Defiant would be great for a buddy cop show. I think Skitter probably could someday forgive him. He honestly seemed sorry, and Dinah was the one who truthfully instigated the outing of her identity. Maybe they’ll both be part of the wormverse’s legion of doom conspiracy that are secretly the good guys.

      • Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. And either Dragon or Tattletale could be the mission control girl. Probably Dragon, because then Defiant could flirt with her every episode, and there’d be something for the fans to ask “Will they get together or not.”

        Since Skitter is sure as heck not his love-interest, in this or any universe.

        …And now I’m wondering who would play who.

    • Once more a compelling argument. One that can neither be easily dismissed, nor easily disproven. We cannot reasonably know the passenger’s motives, but only infer, but that in itself is a broken method for our case, because it heavily relies on broken people as points of data.

    • I don’t want Taylor to make buddy buddy with Colin if that means leaving her friends to be screwed over. As hard as he’s trying, the guy is still a teenager in a man’s body and Skitter owes his ass precisely nothing. If he still needs to have Dragon walk him through basic social cues and displays of empathy then I don’t see why people should make time for him.

      I only say that because Defiant, social neanderthal that his is, will probably lobby for Taylor to abandon the other Undersiders and she will have to make amnesty the price of her working for them.

      • As far as Armsmaster goes, remember that their powers mess with their minds some. It’s like saying no one should have to walk Rachel through basic human interaction.

        • I would really like to see a psych evaluation of capes before and after triggering, especially thinkers, and masters. Given the number of capes and the circumstance how people trigger, it isn’t unlikely some were being treated psychologically or something beforehand.
          This would give the researchers some insight into the thinking process and if/what the power changes.

  25. Holy crap, she actually killed Alexandria…..

    I mean I knew that Alexandria wasn’t going to get away unhurt…but damn.

    I guess that’s what happens when you take a mind-screw too far with Taylor. When you act like you’re screwing with her TEAM.

  26. I don’t get why everyone thinks they were trying to force a secondary trigger when it’s been noted, in story, that trying to force a trigger event (without the use of Cauldron formula) actually makes it less likely happen; regardless of whether the intended recipient is aware of it or not. I’d imagine someone who works for Cauldron would know that.

    I mean, we had an entire interlude devoted to Trigger Events, you’d think people would remember it.

  27. They evacuated because Skitter just killed Alexandria and Tagg and they couldn’t get anyone to call the shots to do a kill order. Miss Militia likely shouted down anyone from even thinking about it, leaving them no choice but to just get the hell out of dodge. In their minds no one’s safe within Skitter’s range any more.

    It’s not an Endbringer, Dragon and Defiant would have a hell of a lot more rush on if it was. Not to mention Defiant would have said it first thing after opening up the suit. There’s a fair few things it could be, problems with the portal, problems with the Birdcage and from the fact that they were leading Skitter to a transport it might be something outside of the city limits.

    I guess we have to hold on until next time to find out what. So cruel D:

  28. Theme: Twenty-eleven, blog at WordPress.com.

    That’s about all that makes sense here right now.

    It’s not nonsensical; it’s just beyond my ability to grasp. I think I’m with everyone else when I say I am flummoxed by what’s happening, and have no idea why or how or what’s next. Yet, I know enough to rule out a few things, which almost makes it worse.

    Good job.

    Are we going to see an update on Thursday?

  29. Wildbow, you are a cruel, cruel God. Why do you torment your faithful believers so?

    First a major cliffhanger after a long, harrowing chapter.

    Then ANOTHER major cliffhanger after way too short, agonizing chapter.

    Have you no Heart? I’m crying tears of blood here.

    If you have any shred of humanity left in you, you’ll push out a normal chapter this thursday, not interlude. Seriously, show some decency!

    • If that was coming from me, it’d be a different story. But you, Jim, and even Wildbow have no right to criticize each other over cliffhangers and mysterious conspiracies and answers that haven’t yet shown up.

      Then again, maybe it’s because I get to be the one to drop mountains whenever I feel like it.

      • Please remember that my story is still at its beginning – I am contractually obligated to have cliffhangers and mysterious conspiracies in abundance 😛

        Who do you drop mountains on? Can I ask for a specific drop?

        • Aside from this guy named Muhammad that I’ve been going medieval on, there were several dropped on Holdout. And on Sixgun. And on the space marines. And Jetbomb. And technically on Forecelight. And the city of Memphis, Tennessee…

          • You do not want that, if Germany’s bureaucrats get taken out the french ones will cross over and take their place.

          • Memphis was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

            It all started with some reality shows and a storage locker…well, it started before that with me leaving Kingscrow short my equipment. So yeah, there’s some things tied in there. The mountain dropping on Memphis is just covered in the current part, Reality Check. You can find it over at my site if you click my name. Hopefully you won’t have the same problems with WordPress I’ve been having.

            I haven’t been to Germany. Be nice to head on over and be despised there at some point. I’ve only heard of German bureaucracy a couple of times, and that tended to involve the phrase “Alles in ordnung”.

    • Also: Angrish.

      Scenario: Alexandria leaves — and TALKS to the undersiders, suggesting a ploy of some sort. The Undersiders decide to play along, and Tattletale is trying to fill Skitter in, not realizing she can’t understand, at first. Alexandria is thus left under the impression, perhaps, that Skitter is playing along and….

      Maybe the idea was to bring ALL of the Undersiders in from the cold, so to speak, but that doesn’t explain Tagg.

        • Arf, bug.
          22.4 : “Tattletale was still periodically speaking into the phone, while I typed out letters. She’d stopped talking as much when I’d typed out a few words to let her know I couldn’t understand.”

  30. I wonder what the odds are that they’re *still* trying to play her. After all, if Alexandria really wanted to fake her death, it would probably look something like this. It’s maybe a bit more elaborate than strictly necessary. But even that may not properly be the case, if what they’re trying to do is produce a particular response from Skitter.

    After all, making Taylor believe that the heroes’ underestimation of Skitter and their attempted trickery are the immediate cause of her *killing Alexandria* may be the only way they could find to drive home the fact that her pattern of escalation and retaliation aren’t particularly healthy or useful all the time. She does seem legitimately horrified.

    • I figure MM, Dragon, and Defiant have allied to a certain extent, but Alexandria isn’t actually dead. The idea was that she’d attempt to fake her death (which MM, Dragon, and Defiant were in on). MM and everyone else think she *failed,* but it seems more likely that she faked failing.

      • Actually, having read other comments, it seems more likely they wanted to sidestep a trial process that aired all their dirty laundry by entrapping Skitter another way: her (attempted or otherwise) murder of Tagg/Alexandria.

  31. I suspect their big mistake was failing to realise that knocking her unconscious would just result in the bugs sticking to standing orders. They probably expected the bugs to go back to behaving like bugs when they tranqed her.

  32. Ha, nice bait with the “Abandoned”.

    I was really thinking second trigger for most of the first part. It would be nice to have it happen when it’s not useable as a deus ex machina.

    We’re still in doubt about Alexandria’s fate, and it would be the perfect opportunity for a “compromised” superheroine to stage her own death. That’s… bothersome because it means I’ll not be able to counter-check my theory about endbringers, but hey, it makes for some more tension in the story. And it would make sense to retire Alexandria for a bit and use Harbringer as agent.

    The bit about the silk cords was a smidge on the heavy handed side however. It does make sense for her to worry, but personally I found it innocuous. It’s like a pet dog doing tricks… or like a pet dog noticing you saying “thanks” to people and starting to do so too.
    (To be clear: it looks like you’re emphasizing an important hint)

    passenger: oooh, my host is all trippy, what I should do now? Let’s see, she usually has the bugs running around in circles… hey, they’re all disappearing, I wonder why. What else can I do? Strings! She likes strings! I bet if I make some for her she’ll pat me on the head when she wakes up.

    • And now I have the mental image of her passenger acting like a happy puppy/spider/thing. “Strings! See! I made strings for you! Aren’t I a good little eldritch abomination?”

      • That’s more or less the image I have of hers. A Labrador tarantula retriever.

        It would be the most unexpected twist of all. For all the stuff going against humanity and the parahumans, even if the big entities are unfriendly, what if the passengers are genuinely trying to help out their hosts?

        I know Noelle’s one did not, at least from our perspective (maybe it reasoned the best thing for her was to be taken out), but it was… damaged.

  33. I’m not sure why so many people are glad Alexandria died. Sure she kidnapped people– when they were dying, after giving them a choice (at least in the one interlude we saw). She experimented on them –again, the justification for her spending the time to save them when they’re working on a world-destruction threat–.

    She doesn’t appear a lot in the description of Endbringer battle… but she has fought them multiple times, and her power is mostly mental.

    I mean, Wildbow seems to have made an effort to make her a sympathetic, if alien and cold, figure. Their cause is to prevent the near-future extinction of humanity, and they’ve all demonstrated a willingness to die for it. The setting has a universal policy of allowing any sort of past criminal behavior slide for the duration of that kind of event (granted, they helped shape that), and any number of losses being acceptable, as long as it achieved the goal (again, they probably shaped that some).

    • The main problem is that we do NOT know what their goal is.
      What if they’re basing the plan off mein kampf? “Übermensch” can have… several meanings in this universe.

      • Then they read a rather boring book…
        and not as scifi as some media put it

        The whole random-trigger vs medicated-trigger thing does not fit well with the “creating Superhuman” theme we did. Far to random for our german minds.

        I am still not convinced couldron is the bigger bad.

          • I just don’t get a (national) socialist vibe from them, at least not now.
            Couldron so far is more like a blank sheet. We get a lot of “what”, some “how” but nearly no “why”.

      • Yeah, Cauldron lies to everyone. They’ll claim they are making more heroes to fight Endbringers, but they also don’t care if their customers are villains. They lie to members of their own conspiracy as well. Like Legend. Like Eidolon thinking he’d get stronger in more stressful situations when Cauldron already knows their powers get weaker in those situations, unlike triggered parahumans. They’re lying to Accord and they didn’t even let Coil in on the conspiracy. They just used him without him ever knowing.

  34. This chapter returned me to making Karate like moves then making scooby doo noise at the end Uuuhhhh?

  35. Ive been expecting Dragon and Defiant to switch sides, and start fighting for everyone not just their PRT overlords since he started working on opening up her code. Now Im very curious to find out whose bodies were brought in, and why…. Why would the PRT officers laugh at a body that was brought in…seems odd that anyone would laugh at ANY dead body…

    Cant wait for Saturday!

    • Have you never seen a group of people filled with irrational hate? The officers could be no different than a racist who make jokes when a minority kid gets killed. Hell, soldiers in war theaters have done worse than laugh with the body’s of the enemy for fun. It all is a question of if they think the body in the bag is a person or not. Dehumanization is the first step to genocide.

    • Ever seen Generation Kill? People make jokes all the time for horrible situations, especially when dealing with something as screwed up as war. Or just death in general. Physicians have their jokes about dead people too. Probably one of the better known ones is referring to motorcycle riders as organ donors.

      In fact, I had a great time thinking up stuff about the time the Slaughterhouse 9 hit up the hospital’s nursery. Siberian loves the taste of stem cells in the morning.
      Tricks are for kids, but kids are for Siberian.

      Let’s see, what might they have said, if the body was actually a real Undersider…

      “That’s one Bitch not in heat anymore.”
      “See you in hell, hound.”
      “Dog girl’s not walking away from that cat fight.”
      “You have slain a Grue! You gain 2,000 XP.”
      “Didn’t anyone ever tell you smoking was bad for your health?”
      “Let’s hope Rodney King and a cameraman weren’t hiding around that fight.”

  36. First off, I won’t believe Alexandria is dead until I see a corpse. Frankly, given Cauldron’s capabilities, I might not even believe it *then*.


    We know/strongly suspect:

    – that Cauldron wants a superhuman in charge of Brockton Bay. This is apparently vital to the survival of Cauldron/the planet.
    – that it can’t be one of their core people. In fact, it has to be someone who knows little about Cauldron
    – it is also noteworthy that Number Man neatly shut out the international threats to Brockton Bay while leaving the local ones intact.
    – Alexandria set out to piss off Skitter in a very particular fashion.
    – consequently, Tagg is definitely dead and Alexandria is possibly dead.

    What does it all mean? There seem to be pieces from more than one puzzle in the mix here. My guess is that Cauldron is (a) trying to fit the world into a prophecy one of their Thinkers made, one in which a para that meets certain criteria is in charge of Brockton Bay by a certain date AND (b) having lost Coil, is running an Ender’s Game on Skitter. Their Project Terminus is … what, making sure that their Earth is the last one standing when the Passengers have destroyed the rest of the multiverse?

    What’s the situation now? Too much we don’t know: who’s alive, who’s dead, are the S9000 and/or an Endbringer attacking? – there has been an evacuation. What caused the evacuation? My wild-ass guess is that Skitter’s range went infinite while she was unconscious. Her bugs may not have killed anyone (else) but they scared the crap out of folks. Could be external attack of course. Could even be both.

    Regardless, I’m avidly looking forward to Thursday (presumably an interlude that adds more pieces to the puzzle) and Saturday (direct follow-up on Skitter’s situation.)

  37. Tinfoil Hat Mode: What if this was never about Skitter in the first place? Cauldron’s plan was for Brockton’s Bay’s leading criminal elements to take out the local PRT Director and a member of the Triumvirate in order to create a situation that will further their agenda? What if Alexandria knew this and willingly gave her life to do so?

  38. I think people are too focused on a second trigger and conspiracies when good old fashion hubris and human stupidity covers the most logical explanation.

    Alexandria shows up, takes Tagg aside, and sets up a plan. They can’t bow to Taylor’s demands, so they need an excuse to bypass any tricks she might try. Since she came peacefully, they can’t just throw her ass in the birdcage. The plan? Pretend to capture/kill members of the Undersiders to push Taylor into attempting to murder Alexandria (don’t worry, she can take Bug Girl, no problem) so they can skip all the pesky due process.

    Only it goes terribly wrong, doesn’t it? Taylor snuck enough bugs into the interrogation room to kill Tagg, and what’s worse, she also managed to kill a terminally overconfident Alexandria. The PRT dose her unconscious, but her bugs are still working, so they evacuate the surrounding area and call Dragon and Defiant to take her away. The Undersiders, of course, aren’t attacking yet because they don’t know what the hell is going on. They were prepped for getting ambushed by Alexandria, but no Alexandria ever showed up. Unfortunately, Skitter couldn’t hear Tattletale explain that it must all be a ruse.

    So now Taylor almost certainly has a kill order on her, and at the very least has a one-way ticket to the birdcage, only Dragon, Miss Militia, and Defiant all know this isn’t her fault, and are looking to circumvent her fate somehow. Added into the mix, a little despair, either because Taylor just offed one of the few weapons known to be useful against the s-class threats (reason enough, certainly), or because Dragon & Co realize that cauldron is going to come down like the hammer of god on them all for getting one of their highest ranking operatives killed. At the very least, Dragon & Co might be forced to birdcage her when previously they wanted her help against the nine, which they figured they really needed.

    I bet basically every single other demand gets met though.

    • This sounds plausible. Probably the best working theory I’ve seen so far. Well summarized, too!

    • Finally someone else gets it! Though I think Tagg was meant to be killed as he was chosen from the very start precisely because he’d be such an ass this entire time.

      • I’m inclined to disagree. I think Tagg was chosen because he was an ass and very bull-headed, yes, but I don’t think he was meant to be killed. Tagg was the one person the PRT knew would bother Skitter to no end, and he’s the type of person that has to have things done ‘his way or the highway.’ The PRT doesn’t seem the type of organisation to just throw their experienced officers around like pawns. It doesn’t make for good long-term strategy.

        Now, that said, I can’t honestly even begin to vouch for Alexandria or her motives for Cauldron, because that’s either two parts justified pride, three parts mastermind or 4 parts hubris,1 part lapse of good judgement.

    • Yeah,good luck taking out a team of Defiant,Dragon,Skitter (oh,and miss Militia,I guess).Skitter has only failed to win vs 4 enemies:Leviathan,(frickin Endbringer)Bonesaw (only won thanks to a deus ex machina),Armsmaster (round 1:she gave her a black eye,but essentially she would have lost if not for Coil and his supers,subsequent rounds:only won by social fu,not in a battle) and Dragon (consistently only wins thanks to her morals,and,in one case,by social fu).Notice 3 are tinkers and 1 is an Endbringer

      Now,if Skitter is allied with 2 of these people…yeah,I’d bet on them over Slauterhouse 9000 plus 3 Endbringers in tow.

  39. When Skitter does trigger, I expect her to be a full blown psychic, at least to some degree. I think it would be pretty underwhelming if all her trigger event did was give her a few more blocks of bug range. I guess it would be neat if she could control all of the bugs on earth, but there’s only so much that you can do with a story like /that/. It seems more reasonable that when Skitter triggers again, she’ll be some combination of Regent and Rachel.

      • A range of a couple miles would probably make her the most dangerous non-Endbringer on the planet. It’d probably FIRMLY lock her into a very REAL status as a Class S threat. Not just “we think she’s this” like they’re doing with her power classifications.

    • You are very welcome. I was glad to donate.

      Still reading FAQ, wiki and such until the next episode. It was such a rush reading this from start to this cliffhanger. I’m amazed at your consistency and output.

      From the other response, looks like two of us may have donated on the same day, both named Stephen, which would be neat.

      Nothing much to add, beyond my comments in the FAQ.

      • Or I thanked you twice & added the amount to the counter twice, in which case my being a lamebrain is to your collective advantage.

        Thanks for that whole ‘impressed at consistency’ bit. Means a lot.

        • Well, I came back and donated a second time. (4DD168249H4857144 for the second). The consistency in quality was really important to my enjoying the series.

          The other really neat thing is how you manage to be consistent without being predictable. Or how I have many, many questions, but plenty of patience and nothing rubbing me the wrong way.

          I was guessing that comickry had also donated and was also a Stephen, given his response to this thread, sorry if that was too terse.

          Anyway, looking forward to tomorrow’s post, do not let me distract you further.

  40. I find it interesting that (ignoring whatever else is going on) Taylor once again ends up being shown to be a lot more resourceful even in defeat than anyone else expected her to be.

    When they attacked her at school she took out the prsent heroes and was a few steps away from walking away wehn D&D showed up.

    This time they expected her to be locked in her cell and they find her a few seconds away from being able to fire EMP greandes at them.

    The whole thing must be terribly frustrating for Defiant and Dragon, that Taylor needlessly complicates matters by being far more skilled and disinclined to give up than she is supposed to.

  41. I haven’t read the comments, so perhaps others have said this … my prediction is:
    The S9 are coming (Dragon and Defiant are there; city is evacuated), with their cloned members (doesn’t take too long, based on the description about creating the Simurgh clone). They want to recruit Skitter (both Jack and Bonesaw are interested in her). Bonesaw can bring back the recently dead (cannon), so they will offer to raise Skitter’s dead teammate if she joins them (guess). If that’s the case, there aren’t enough swear words in the English language to express how bad this is for Skitter.

    • Wow. that would be some seriously heavy drama there however D&D were pulled off of the Slaughterhouse 9 when they went dormant i thought.

  42. Just caught up with the story, and the above post was my first.

    I just want to say for the record, Wildbow, that I hate you sooooo much right now…

    • For some reason thought I’d seen you around here before, Bester, but that could be some confusion coupled with Babylon 5. I know I’m all for Babylon coupling. Nothing like getting our Worm crossed over with another man’s work. But then, that’s down here in the comments where we all get our hopes up with Worm hanging over us. Face it, we get a little wild under Wildbow’s stuff. Collectively, we all wind up even longer than what Wildbow’s showing off. His evokes a lot more feeling from us, though.

      Still, hating Wildbow is hard. He works hard and long to fill our heads with all kinds of intimate stories about underage girls in skintight outfits. Despite the fact that I am a serious pain his ass, he never blows his stack. He just gets up, walks outside with his dog, and blows off some steam. He doesn’t even bat an eye when I stick my junk on here for everyone to see and comment on as well. It’s a little twisted, to be sure, but his is pretty twisted in its own way too.

      I mean, when you get down to it, Wildbow’s stuff is more polished and people just feel dirty after taking me in, but everyone has a lot of fun and that’s the point of all of this.

      Welcome to the comments, Bester, where you don’t have to have clothes on to have a good time. We hope you stick around and find a niche that fits.

      • Twas not me, but that doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t used a similar name before.

        B5 is my all-time favorite televised series, helped in a large part because Bester is my all-time favorite character. He was one of the first TV characters that I felt was believable and avoided cookie-cutter tropes (though they have becomes tropes now, imitation being the highest form of flattery and whatnot). Keonig was cast absolutely perfectly for it and he just brought incredible life to an already insidious but charismatic character on paper.

  43. As much as I would dearly love to read through all five jillion comments to make sure I haven’t been ninjaed in the past 12 hours, I just don’t, so please excuse if this has been said.

    My reading of this is that Skitter’s realization is as follows. The following pieces click together: Alexandria never tried to stop Coil or the Undersiders. Alexandria introduced Tagg into Skitter’s world and left him unchecked, knowing perfectly well the sorts of decisions he was likely to make. Alexandria pressured Taylor to an incredible level, making her extremely likely to react. Alexandria made sure that her weakness or supposed weakness to asphyxiation was fresh in Taylor’s mind.

    What picture do these pieces make? There are a few possibilities, all of which involve some blank space or coloring in the blank space with supposition, but we know that a big part of it is Taylor realizing that she’s been manipulated into this position and into her recent actions. The question is, “Who is responsible for this manipulation and who is opposed to it?” The corollary, of course, is, “What was the goal of this manipulation.”

    Several people seem to be assuming that the parahuman known as Alexandria is actually dead. I think we still need to be very skeptical on this point for several reasons. One, she deliberately provoked Taylor into trying to kill her. She’s a decently high-level Thinker, so it’s unlikely she would drastically underestimate Taylor’s chances of success. Unless she was truly willing to give her life for the plan (either due to belief in its necessity or pressure from Cauldron or some other third party), she staged her own murder because the plan called for eliminating “Alexandria” and the repercussions that would cause. Two, we only have Defiant’s word on it. He’s standing on top of a building inside a quiet, evacuated zone of the city, where it would be terribly simple for someone to point a shotgun mic at him, and he’s trying to encourage Taylor to get in the ship so they can talk privately. If it serves his purposes for the public to believe Alexandria’s dead, that’s what he’s going to say, even if it’s not true. We can’t just assume that something is true because a character says it. Three, we haven’t seen the body. In superhero fiction, especially, it is rarely a wise bet to assume someone’s dead until you’ve seen the body. Even then, your odds aren’t great.

    So, as to that blank space in the picture, we have information Taylor doesn’t. We know that Cauldron has a plan that involved Coil and now involves Taylor, and what we’ve heard of that plan seems to fit with the way Alexandria (and the rest of the Triumvirate, before the Echidna incident) treated Taylor. What we don’t know is whether Alexandria’s recent actions deviated from that plan, whether there are other plans involved from groups we don’t know about, and what the goals of said plans are/were.

    My hope is that Cauldron really is acting in the best interests of humanity/Earth Bet/all Earths/something like that. They’ve done horrible, monstrous things, but those were the /right/ things. Using Thinkers and precogs, they determined that winning against whichever force is truly inimical to life required sacrifices, and they made them. Most or all of the Case 53s and other, even less fortunate, rejects of their program were volunteers, though they don’t remember that now. Without the Cauldron-made capes in the world and whatever other measures they’ve taken (including all the murders the Contessa and others have committed), their projections showed that humanity would be fucked. They may be responsible in some way for attracting the passengers to the world, which allowed trigger events to happen. They may be responsible in some way for the Endbringers and/or their attacks. (Maybe they’ve been provoking the Endbringers to attack, because it would be even more devastating if they’d been allowed to rest up long enough to stage a coordinated attack with all three.) In any case, they’ve been making the hard choices on behalf of a humanity they know will hate them for it, because the alternative was watching everyone die.

    Thus, Alexandria has brought D&D and MM in on the secret in order to secure the assistance of solid, dependable, non-Cauldron-made capes in this time of crisis, and the recent events with Skitter, including having her kill Tagg, outing her, and having her kill “Alexandria” were all done to divorce her from her former ties so that she could be recruited into this conspiracy.

    Now that I’ve said this, however, I’m almost certain that it won’t be the possibility Wildbow reveals. It’s always the unexpected… almost as though he could somehow SENSE what we’re thinking… aloud… in the comments section…

    • There have been some who painted a picture akin to the one you did, but the original part, as far as I was able to discern, was proposing Cauldron not only having a hand in the Endbringers, but rather in provoking or otherwise influencing them to attack in some kind of pattern or prevent them from ganging up or coordinating.

    • The Numbers Man Interlude does not exactly paint that picture. They have prisoners who remember who they used to be, who remember their names, and who know what has been done to them, but do not fully understand it. The Numbers Man’s response to this is to say “You are a number, not a person. There is no such thing as morality. Get back in your cell.”

  44. Hello all,
    Long time lurker first time poster. I recommend worm to all my friends who like fiction. I also partake of PG’s and Tieshaunn’s work. I just wanted to give a few of my opinions in response to some of the comments I have read.

    1. I do not think a second trigger event was ever in the cards. I think if Wildbow was going to do something like that he would wait till it was almost the end of the story if at all. Plus by trying to force it they could have wound up creating a second Nilbog.

    2. Alexandria was most likely telling the truth about going after the Undersiders. She put Regent and Imp in the hospital. I can’t imagine either of those two getting broken bones in order to sell a ruse or that Grue would allow it. She just made the mistake of thinking she was truly invincible and let it give her a giant ego which made her underestimate Taylor. Lets just hope the body bag held someone from Accords group or a something like that.

    3. People seem to ignore the fact that Defiant was upset about Tagg’s death. This indicates that the attack on Tagg was not part of the plan.

    I cant wait for the next update. If it is an interlude though I would like to hear Clockblockers opinion on recent events. Possibly if it was in the same vein as scapegoats “I used to be happy” speech.

    • I’ll agree with your #1 point.

      As to #2, you are assuming that the people that were brought in were actually Regent and Imp. As I recall, Skitter made the automatic assumption that they were because of the costumes (and in the case of Imp more or less just noticed the mask). I think most here are assuming that these were imposters just wearing costumes that looked close to the real thing.

      #3 – Despite the conspiracy theories, I don’t know if I buy into the idea that they were trying to instigate her into attacking to faking Alexandria’s death. They were doing several things to severely mitigate her abilities (such as Kid Win’s drones), and it is doubtful that the average person would believe that Skitter could actually kill Alexandria. To fake a death, particularly a high-profile death like that of Alexandria, they would have had to have a situation that the average person would find believable.

      More likely, the ruse was more to cause Skitter to break and give in to their one-sided demands. Hard to say what the plan was because Cauldron’s (and even more so Alexandria’s specifically) motives and goals aren’t particularly clear right now. We don’t know why Cauldron wasn’t a Villain in charge in BB, other than a probably true but still vague prognostic prophecy.

      Regardless, I sincerely doubt that their intention was to instigate an attack, particularly one as devastating and effective as the one Skitter actually made. Given that, I could see the group of D&D and MM (even assuming they were in on the original plan) being nonplussed and in a certain amount of shock and disbelief over the massive retaliation for an action that didn’t actually occur (despite them knowing that Skitter believed that it did).

          • Mind if I take a stab?

            DM: I dunno. These Endbringers don’t seem so tough.
            Eidolon: Meh. I could take ’em!
            TNM: Calculating the best odds of avoiding boredom.
            DM: What we REALLY need
            Eidolon: Is new powers?
            DM: Shut UP Eidolon.
            Eidolon: Sorry mum.
            TNM: A new threat.
            DM: Something that makes the Endbringers look like fuzzy puppies!
            TNM: Something that can collectively make the heroes of the world squirm and poop their costumes simultaneously!
            DM: Now how do we manufacture such a…
            Legend: Hey! There’s this new bug girl roaming the streets of Brockton Bay.
            TNM: Hmmm. Fortuitous…
            Eidolon: But she’s only like what? Twelve?
            DM: I’ve decided! She’s our new “shit your britches” nemesis. Class S will now stand for…what shall we call her
            Legend: The news crews call her Skitter.
            DM: How ironic!
            Eidolon: Make it so!
            DM: Will someone shut him up please?
            TNM: *ASSASSIN STRIKE!*
            DM: Eeeeexcellent!

          • Eidolon is pretty strong, so it’s best to placate him, then hit build up, THEN go for the assassin’s strike. If he survives that, hit the energy transfer and total focus.

    • Greetings, Javaking.

      It is hard to say what is in the cards with Wildbow’s writing, but I agree that a second trigger event doesn’t stack up. I think they should flush the idea of Alexandria wanting Skitter to trigger again down the toilet. You’d be royally screwed trying to force a trigger event on someone and expecting them to play on your side.

      She appears to have been bluffing about Regent and Imp and just went with a teen boy and early teen girl who felt right to Skitter. Armsy himself wasn’t part of the plan, nor did he much have to put up with that Jackass.

      So now Armsmaster and MM have to lay their cards on the table. Skitter gets to read them and weep. Hopefully this won’t turn into some sort of trick where Armsmaster goes to poker. They’ll probably want to speak in the transport where they can call a spade a spade without all the cloak and dagger. It seems like their hearts are in the right place, even if they use their clubs a little too often. Those two pair have a lot of work to do tilt Cauldron is defeated, but now they have a shot.

      You may have noticed all the card puns straight away, Java, but that was just my little card trick. I know diamonds are forever, but I have none to give. Queen may be four of a kind, but I’m a horrible singer. So it’s a pun-filled welcome for you that I hope is aces. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go drop a deuce.

      Welcome to the comments section, Javaking369, where we have plenty of room for you too before it’s a full house.

      • Yeah, I’m not sure that would work anymore if Skitter has some sort of unconscious control of her powers now…

    • Certain temporal leeway, if they know it. If they don’t know it, no cred. If they do know it, you will still need to prove or convince them you’re the baddest fish in the sea.

      Also I only now realised the irony of (a) Canary being stuck in (a) Birdcage.
      Sharpest of mind, I am not.

  45. Man, now that Alexandria might actually be dead I feel bad about calling for her death. Fictional character and all, but still.

    Tragic mistake, huh? I’m gonna call it as some convoluted scheme to breed functional 2nd trigger parahumans, or perhaps get Taylor a bit of whatever Jack and Harbinger found. The mistake was some combination of underestimating Taylor, assuming she hadn’t already had a second event, and maybe overestimating Alexandria’s wellbeing and peace of mind. It kinda felt like suicide-by-Skitter, with the commentary about what she lost when the Triumvirate was shattered, when Myrddin was killed. She as much as said she couldn’t beat the Endbringers, she tried forty-nine times and they long since figured out how to fight her. Doesn’t suggest a terribly hopeful mindset.

    Sorta makes me hope Alexandria faked her death, even if she’s been a tremendous bastard.

  46. I’m very disappointed with all this nonsense about the Fabled Second Trigger Event. If Echinda couldn’t do it, nothing can. That’s all there is to i

    • While I generally agree with the sentiment. That said, you present this as a fact and ultimatum and that’s generally not a good idea to do when the writer of said world can see your message. Notice everyone else is talking in opinions, conjecture, and suppositions.

  47. The reason why Alexandria avoided going against the S-9 and Echdina is tied to the reason why she needs the undersiders?
    If so, she wanted to give street cred to the undersiders.

    Why did she tell the girl that uses to insert insects in odd places that she could be killed by asphyxiation?
    She certainly wanted to fake her death (healer, suction device or dragon tech in someplace above the city, out of Skitter`s range).

    If the undersiders had really been attacked, the PRT offices would be in the middle of a war right now. So, the attack at least was a ploy. May have worked too well.

    They didn`t know that her powers continue to act when she is sleeping and/or unconscious. This may have been a huge mistake.

  48. They may have been trying to provoke her into attacking them, assuming that she wouldn’t go as far as lethal force since she has go to pains to avoid that in past incidents, or perhaps to try and take a hostage as leverage, as a way of undermining Taylor’s perceived position in the city of having the moral high ground in spite of being a villain. Alexandria may waved the fact that she could be drowned in front of Taylor to make sure that Taylor would go after her instead of a softer target, and her past experiences surviving super-villains and Leviathan trying to drown her may have made her fatally overconfident regarding Taylor’s ability to do the same. Regarding the Undersiders, while we can’t rule out body doubles until the next update confirms it one way or the other. I think Imp and Regent really were captured and brought in, the body bag harder to say, but the body double thing just seems too complicated to set up with no advance warning. If the PRT are so crazy-prepared that they could go “Hmm teen crimelord turns herself in and is trying to negotiate for terms we find unreasonable. Better activate contingency plan 8395f.” they wouldn’t be in the shape that they’re in now.

  49. Here’s what I’m gathering so far:

    1. The rest of the Undersiders are MIA at the moment. No true confirmations other than what Skitter was able to sense before being bashed into the table.

    2. The city has evacuated. For what cause we’re not truly sure. Up to speculation at the moment.

    3. Tagg is definitely dead. Alexandria is supposedly dead, but there is no body in the area to completely confirm.

    4. D&D did not go to just arrest Skitter. Odd.

    5. There’s a plan in the works by the heroes, namely MM it seems.

    6. It’s the same day about half an hour before sunset, Taylor’s deadline.

    7. A whole mess of stuff is about to all come together.

    Why did they just leave Tagg’s corpse at the PRT buildings? That doesn’t seem to make sense. He was effectively killed on duty and the other body bag is nowhere to be found unless they stuck it in a morgue fridge (or it was a hoax), and if they did stick the other in there (or not), why leave Tagg out? Bodies decay rapidly (which frustrates Bonesaw to no end because it’s practically unavoidable), so I’m baffled as to why they didn’t do anything to preserve him or take measure to avoid having to clean up a rotting lump of flesh, muscle, and various tissues. Unless they pumped him with formaldehyde, but that doesn’t line up with the whole time frame of things well to make sure it was done efficiently.

      • Weren’t Defiant and Dragon going to try to meet with Skitter before Tagg made them go attack her at the school instead?

        • Yeah. If I’m remembering correctly, they were actually en route to her when Dragon received the arrest command.

        • I think this might back up the Endbringer return visit theory. What else could make D&D drop out of their relentless pursuit of the S9 aside from an imminent greater threat? After all, it was D&D that perfectly predicted where and when Leviathan was going to strike… D&D said they were going to see Skitter, and that much might be true, but they also have a horrible habit of leaving out critical information. Sure, they revealed in public that they were going to ask Taylor what her plans were for the city, but I don’t think even Defiant is dense enough to blurt out in front of hundreds of people that a possible Endbringer strike was about to occur. The whole showing up in person and abandoning their hunt thing just to ask a question that could be just as easily asked through email or phone proxy doesn’t make much sense when you think about it…

          • That may be the case, but you have two of the world’s most talented tinkers working together, with one who specializes in adapting the tech of other tinkers. I would think they would have applied their efforts to tracking the S9 down, pocket dimension or not. Then again, D&D have been known to firmly grasp hold of the Idiot Ball quite frequently.

  50. Greg? Thanks for the donation.

    Pretty sure he’s not that Greg, unless we’ve got some Stranger Than Fiction stuff going on here. In which case I’m pretty doomed.

  51. Okay… is MM actually in Dragon’s suit, or is she just speaking through a speaker integrated in the suit, with MM being somewhere else and Dragon controlling the suit?
    Because I assumed the suit having some kind of cybernetic set-up, both for theft protection and faster reaction times.

  52. The building is emptied, the Undersiders and mercs never hit, and there’s some plan for which only one big mistake was made?
    Something big has happened – probably was expected to happen – much bigger than just Alex faking her death, or an attempt at a second trigger (and as we know, those tend to fail when you try to force them).
    My first thought was Smurf, just because the start reminded me of the Travellers arc, but that doesn’t line up with things we know about Endbringers. But something very major.

  53. Well, I am feeling a bit down now after having finished up the Velveteen stuff, and boy is it going to suck big time when Worm ends, but there is some joyous news to be had.

    The Joker Blog Series 2 has started!

    It’s going to be less found footage style than series 1, which I recommend to people, but I am excited to have it back. Seeing as this is a sequel to series 1, it’d be a good idea to watch that. There’s also the Further Evidence series that bridges the gap between the two and gives some hints of what is to come. FE #6, Therapy Ends, is set right before Series 2 starts, so get to watching!


    • I’m feeling the same way. I this week I read The Last Skull, which I liked, and then Super Powereds, which I REALLY liked. Now I’ve got to wait a few more years to see what happens in that. And then I get to be sad because it’s finished.
      I really need to get to writing my own stuff.

  54. A quick general question:

    What do you think of the origin of powers in super hero/villain fiction? Is it detrimental or elemental to have none?

    • I think that depends on the setting and the goals of the character/setting. Especially in mainstream comics there is typically some sort of origin/backstory, but in many cases it is just the barest cardboard cutout to say that they did. I think a lot of those characters would actually do better without it. Off-mainstream it seems to be hit-or-miss, and some do better or worse for whatever decision the author has made. Some, like with what Wildbow seems to be putting together with the Worm universe, it is entirely necessary because it is directly tied into the ongoing story.

      A notable series in this aspect (though in a slightly different genre) is “The Walking Dead”, which was a comic/graphic novel before it became a series. Most zombie stories make it a point to tell you what caused the outbreak (virus, magic, space aliens, radiation, the rotation of the moon of Jupiter, etc), but TWD was notable because it didn’t. There was the barest hint of discussion amongst the characters, but it was made clear that the characters were just pulling ideas out of their asses and were not definitive answers. At one point, someone asked Kirkman (the creator/writer) and he said that he neither knew nor cared what caused the outbreak in TWD universe; it was beside the point, irrelevant to the story, and the characters were too consumed with trying to survive (with very mediocre rates of success) to worry about something like that.

      Short answer, as above, is it really just depends on what the writer is trying to accomplish and whether it makes sense to worry about it in the context of the setting.

      • Basically reflecting my thoughts on the matter: Ignore if unnecessary, spend effort on if relevant.
        A bad example was Y – The Last Man, in which a global gendercide happened. The explanation for it was ridiculous in my opinion. I for one didn’t care for it and it really felt tacked on. On the opposite site of the spectrum, the powers origin is skilfully ignored in Grrl Power. The characters can only guess, and something ridiculous like a single gene being responsible for it is discarded wholesale.
        An interesting case is Worm. The myth arc of the story isn’t actually the passengers, but Cauldron. And Cauldrons motivation, we can only guess at this point, if it is something like capturing a passenger or what not, as far as we have seen it could easily be to ensure the survival of mankind because the trigger ratio favours villains. What I’m getting at, this far in the story passengers are not an elemental ingredient for the cake that is Worm, but rather a flavour in the icing.

    • I agree with Bester. It really depends on what the author is aiming to accomplish. If the origin of powers isn’t relevant to the overall story, then there isn’t any reason to have them there. Maybe if the way the characters acquired their powers is relevant to character development, relationships, etc. then it is necessary to better understand the character, but it shouldn’t be a crutch. Most often it’s been better to have left out the explanation of the origins rather than to include it in my opinion.

    • I’m with the others. It really depends on how relevant the information is to the story you’re telling. For instance, I’m starting to write about a world where people are getting powers, but any reason I might have for it (which currently happens to be a contrived Deus Ex WITHIN a Deus Ex) wouldn’t really affect anything anyone in the story would be doing. Therefore I will leave my characters to guess at the cause.

    • You are more than welcome – more will come in time. I was reminded to donate after watching a superhero movie that fails to hold a candle to your work and yet earns millions of dollars in revenue.

      My vote is for an interlude that explores the identity and existential complexities that Dragon faces.

      Bright blessings — Ivo

  55. “I have some,” I said. “But no, you assholes knocked me out. I don’t know anything that’s been going on. I attacked Tagg and Alexandria-”

    “They’re dead,” Defiant said.



  56. But… the deadline didn’t matter anymore, did it? The Undersiders should be attacking already, after being attacked, it was almost inevitable, if Grue or Rachel…

    I shook my head. “No. No, no, no. No.“


    Doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t have reacted any differently. I knew this was a possibility. I’d still have killed them all – for making it so close to what it seemed that there was no way I could tell the difference for certain.

  57. Holy carp, that was a stupid plan. What, did they think that Taylor was just going to go along with what seemed to be the death of a close friend, with the apparent arrest? Would it have derailed the plan that much to explain to her that it was a ruse? Or am I misunderstanding the plan?

    Adding what I know from next section: I misunderstood their plan but stand by my analysis.

  58. How come the cells weren’t in total lockdown? Just a simple cell and passcode to unlock? Foolish.
    Leaving Tagg’s keys and phone behind was also foolish. Mary Sue reality warping perhaps?

    There are cameras in the building, why doesn’t Dragon have access to them?

    Dang, often seems like someone should have put a bullet in Taylors head ages ago.

  59. Does anyone else feel like people are sometimes a bit to oblivious to having their stuff tied up by Tayor? I mean. it makes sense when it’s just thread-thin silk, or when someone doesn’t know what she can do, but it really does seem to me like dragon should’ve noticed a cord as thick as the one Taylor was using moving between her and Defiant, carried by bugs.

  60. Sadly as I proceeded almost immediately into the next chapter I don’t feel I can leave a full comment without spoilers.

    So in the interest of avoiding that I will simply comment how freaking awesome Taylor is at improv and how amazingly well she did getting out of her cell. Like wow, I can’t even imagine a prison that could hold her minus something hermetically sealed and flying around in orbit or the moon or something. Even the Birdcage is probably too small to effectively avoid having her gather bugs around the mountain.

  61. Damn. This chapter. This. Is. Freaking. Beautiful. I’m reeling. So happy I found this whole thing finished so I don’t have to wait on pins and needles. Nicely done, as always.

  62. “I threw myself to the ground, felt the shock jolt through me.”

    “… I fell, as though the restraints were an anchor pulling me down.”

    Seems like she’s falling after already being on the ground.

    “I had to draw out more silk to have a line strong enough, and set to reeling it in, anchoring end at the corner of the door frame,”

    Think you meant to have “an end” here? I dunno, this whole sentence was a little rough.

    “I think we can find a way past the end of the world, it can’t be impossible to survive the meantime without the PRT.”

    Is this meant to be “I think if we…” or should that be a semi-colon rather than a comma?

  63. Wildlife I literally sat in my armchair laughing my ass of for about an hour when you revealed that skitter had killed Alexandria. Ducking genius work man, you are a storytelling God!!!

  64. Skitter has now shown herself to be reasonably effective both blind and without the use of her hands. It occurs to me that she wouldn’t be that much less effective if she was simply a bodiless mind-entity with the power she has over bugs, and she’d be a heck of a lot less vulnerable.

  65. Can we, like, stop overfocusing on the fact that Taylor and Brian had sex? Not only is it weird because she’s underage, so it’s vaguely statutory, it’s *definitely* unnecessary, and Skitter is a highly unsexual being. It really just detracts from the narrative and it’s more gross than anything.

    • Can you, like, understand that this is a years old thread which has already stopped saying ANYTHING years ago, except for the occasional new reader, and that for that reason, what you say will barely affect the comments, if at all?

  66. “which left only three real possibilities. Either my unconscious mind had willed it while I slept, or my passenger had. Unnerving.”

    1: Either my unconscious mind had willed it while I slept
    2: or my passenger had
    3: missing

  67. «They’d spread out and searched my surroundings, and they’d been gunned down en masse by Kid Win’s drones.» how does she know what the bugs did while she was unconscious if those bugs were killed?

  68. «television screens were glowing with shifting images» so before she could only sense a glowing rectangle on a display screen, but now she can sense “shifting images”? Makes me wonder why it’s improved.

  69. «Defiant would know the building’s layout if he had any of his old technology» wouldn’t he know the building from having worked there? What does old tech have to do with it?

  70. I don´t get what´s this bullshit with the suits.
    I mean, it´s not like we don´t knew nigh vision, video cameras and speakers.
    ” like reminding me she could be drowned. ”
    When did she hint that she can be drowned? She only said that she has a weakness.
    And why would they if they have to flee the building take imp/regent with them?
    Honestly it would have been more interesting if her swarm would have attacked everyone and killed many.

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