Drone 23.2

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Every part of the Las Vegas team’s reaction to our arrival screamed dissatisfaction.  Folded arms, the way none of them would meet our eyes, the very way they were positioned, so they were just enough in our way to make it clear they didn’t agree with what was going on, but not so close as to be with us.

Except it wasn’t me that was the problem, this time.

Satyrical, Satyr for short, wore a helmet sculpted to look like a goat’s head, the mouth in a perpetual smile.  On a good day, I imagined his eyes were bright with mischief, his shaped eyebrows quirked behind the large eye-holes of the helmet.  This wasn’t a good day.  There were circles under his eyes, and he glowered.  With the smile on his helmet, it made him look… I didn’t want to say deranged, but it was the word that sprung to mind.

His bare chest was muscular, waxed hairless, the belt and leggings of his costume slung low enough that I could see the lines of his lower stomach that pointed to his… yeah.  It was admittedly distracting.  It was meant to be distracting.

Nix, Blowout, Leonid and Floret joined Satyrical in their anger.  Heroes in more flamboyant and colorful costumes than normal, their moods a contrast in how dark they were.  Spur and Ravine seemed more lost than angry, but the way they retreated into their group as we passed told me that they would side with their team over us.

If there was something to be said, words of encouragement or apology, nobody I was with seemed ready or able to come up with them.

We approached the elevator and made our way down, and none of the local heroes joined us.

“Thoughts?” Vantage asked me.

“For a city like Las Vegas, I’m surprised the building is so…” I trailed off.

“Dull?  Like a giant tombstone?”

“No windows,” I said.  “Just the front door, walls all around it, no decoration except for the PRT logo on the face of the building, no lights except for spotlights.”

“Stands out,” Vantage said.  “There’s contrast.”

“And it’s required.  Vegas is one of the worst cities for sheer number of villains,” Rime said.  Her entire demeanor was rigid, which maybe fit in a way with her ice powers.  “Vegas employs a group of unsponsored thinkers and tinkers to monitor the venues, much like the PRT does with the economy, ensuring that everything is above-board, that everything is being conducted fairly and that the numbers add up.  Vegas changed as a result, developed a different cape dynamic.  In Los Angeles or New York, it’s the people who can blow down buildings that are seen as true ‘heavy hitters’.  Here, they’re trying to game the system, and the heroes are trying to game them.  In Vegas, it’s thinkers, tinkers and strangers who rule the underworld.”

“A different sort of cops and robbers,” I said.

“Cops and robbers?”  Vantage asked.

“A way my teammate once explained it to me.  The, for lack of a better word, healthy way for heroes and villains to be, is for all of this to be a game of sorts.  Trading blows, counting coup, but ultimately leaving the other side without any permanent damage.”

“Counting coup?” Leister asked.  He was the sole subordinate that Vantage had brought along.  Rime, by contrast, had brought Usher and Arbiter from her team.  Prefab from San Diego had shown up as well.

I explained, “The term came from the Native Americans’ style of warfare.  In a fight, one person makes a risky, successful play against the other side showing their prowess.  They gain reputation, the other side loses some.  All it is, though, is a game.  A way to train and make sure you’re up to snuff against the real threats without losing anything.”

“Except,” Rime said, “Things escalate.  One side loses too many times in a row, they push things too far.  And there’s always collateral damage.  I notice civilians don’t factor into that explanation.”

“I’m not saying I agree with it a hundred percent,” I said.  “I didn’t, even from the beginning.  But it sounds like what you’re describing.”

Rime shook her head.  “No.  The strip is dying.  Every successful job the villains pull causes catastrophic damage, sees venues shutting down.  More villains arrive, hearing of the last group’s success, or because there’s room for them, and they settle in the more desolate areas.  The problem feeds itself, gets worse.  This building is a fortress and a prison because that’s what the city needs, that’s how bad things have gotten.”

“And the heroes?”

“Flamboyant, as brilliant and attention-grabbing in the open as the villains are discreet and hidden in plain sight.  The Vegas team is largely made up of strategists, charlatans and borderline scoundrels.  Individuals who can foil cheats and frauds, or throw a wrench in the works of the local masterminds, who think like they do.  Which is why this is such a problem.”

The last sentence had a note of finality to it.  I decided not to push my luck with further questions.

We made our way out into the corridor with the cells.  It was deeper, more developed than Brockton Bay’s.  There were two tiers, with one set of cells above the other.

Rime moved her phone next to a television screen, then tapped it.  There was a pause as a row of black squares with white outlines gradually lit up.  She leaned forward a little, her hand resting against the wall beside the television.

The screen came alive.  I saw a man in a cape uniform within, without a mask.  He had albinism, to the point that the velvet purple of his costume overwhelmed the little of his skin that was showing.  The irises of his eyes were a dark pink.

“Pretender,” Rime said.  Her voice had a harder note than before.  “What have you done?”

“Don’t place all of the blame on me.  You forced my hand.”

“No,” she said, “There had to be another way.  You could have admitted-”

“A death sentence,” he said.  “You’re an upper-echelon cape now, and you have the clearance.  You know about her.  The bogeyman that comes after anyone who tries to release information they want to keep secret.”

I glanced at Vantage, who only shrugged.

“We could have protected you,” Rime said.

Pretender only chuckled.  “No.  No you couldn’t.  I’m dead anyways, one way or another.  I surrender, it’s the end of my career, and that’s all I have.  I talk, I die.  This was the best option.”

The hand that Rime was using to lean against the wall clenched into a fist.  Her voice was tight as she asked, “Killing a government thinker was the best option?”


Rime straightened, but it was more of a defeated gesture than anything, her hand dropping from the wall.  “You were one of the good ones, Pretender.”

“Still am,” he said.  He crossed the length of his cell, sitting on the corner of the bed.  “I’d explain, but it would only get us all killed.”

“We’re going to have to take you to a more secure facility,” Rime said.

“Well, I didn’t expect you’d let me go.  Do what you have to.  I made a deal with the devil, you caught me, for better or worse,” Pretender said.  In a quieter voice, he said, “About time I pay the price.”

Rime turned off the television.  She looked at Arbiter.

“My riot sense was going off like crazy as he talked,” Arbiter said.  “There’s something at work here.”

“Describe it.”

Arbiter touched her middle fingers and thumbs together, forming a circle, “Orange.”

She moved her hands further apart, “Red.”

Then further apart again, until the implied ‘circle’ was as big as a large pizza.  “Yellow.”

“That bad?”  Rime asked.


“Then we move now,” Rime said.  She raised her hand to her ear.  “Dragon?  Cancel your errands.  We’re in for some trouble, almost guaranteed, and I’m thinking we want to clear out before it descends.”

There was a short pause.

The digital voice of Dragon’s A.I., the same one I’d heard through her drones and the armbands, informed us, “Kulshedra model en route to Las Vegas Protectorate Headquarters.  ETA two minutes.  Tiamat to join in t-minus eight minutes.”

“Okay,” Rime said.  “It’ll be here before we’re on the roof.  Let’s get Pretender packed up.  Standard stranger protocols in effect.  Usher and Arbiter, you handle it.  Everyone else with me.”

Once we were all in the elevator, I figured I was clear to ask without sounding too much like a newbie.  “What was Arbiter talking about?  Riot sense?”

Rime explained.  “She’s a social thinker, in addition to her minor blaster and shaker powers.  Her danger sense is mild at best, not something she can react to immediately, but it makes her aware of associated individuals and the threat they pose.  She wouldn’t be able to see much from Pretender alone, but she knows that there’s a moderate to high danger posed by those closest to him-”

“His team, probably,” Prefab said.

“She’s predicting a massive risk from people who have an intimate but less immediate association or those who have a recent but less familiar association with him…”

“Old teammates or family that he doesn’t see regularly,” Prefab said, “Or people he’s hired for help that he isn’t as familiar with.”

Rime finished, “…And a moderate risk from people or things on the periphery of his real-life social network.”

“The bogeyman?” I asked.

Rime didn’t answer.  Instead, she looked at the digital display above the door of the elevator.  “Prefab, look after our Wards.  I’m going to have words with Satyr.  See if we can’t work out what the angle is.  Wait on the roof for our ride.”

“Stranger protocols mean you don’t go anywhere alone,” Prefab said.

“Of course.  I’m thinking…  Vantage,” she said, beckoning.

Vantage nodded, stepping forward.

The elevator doors opened for Rime to exit, then shut.  The three of us continued up to the roof.  Prefab was large, and his armor made him look larger, with shoulderpads that looked like the tower-tops of a castle, each probably weighing twice as much as my entire outfit, equipment included.  He carried a heavy cannon, obviously tinker made.

Leister was a teenager in lightweight silver armor with the edges molded into wave-like forms.  Beneath the armor was blue cloth with a similar wave-like design embroidered on it.  He held a trident, as ornate as his armor.  As lightweight and sprightly as Prefab was a veritable tank.

“This bogeyman-” Leister started.

“Based on what we know,” Prefab said, “Arbiter giving us a yellow that possibly includes her is more worrying than a red alert involving just about anyone else.”

“You don’t know anything about her?”

“We mainly see her censoring information,” Prefab said.  “Silencing and disappearing people who are talking about sensitive stuff, and doing the same with everyone they talked to.  Only details are slipping through the net, now.  About Cauldron, about Alexandria, the formulas.”

“Too much for one person to handle?” I suggested.

“Speculation from the top is they’ve probably stopped caring,” Prefab said.  “Thinkers believe she’s letting things leak, because it doesn’t make sense that they’d keep things this tight and then slip up like they have been.”

“What’s her classification?”

“Thinker.  Don’t worry about the number.  Just run.”

I frowned.

“Exactly how many capes are like that?” Leister asked.

“A handful.  Enough.”

“I’m beginning to feel like I’m out of my depth,” Leister said.

“You get used to that,” I said.  “With the sheer luck involved in powers and the crap we wind up facing on a daily or weekly basis, it’s only a matter of time before you wind up going up against someone you don’t have a chance against.”

“Yeah, but Fab’s talking-”

Prefab,” Prefab growled.

“Sorry.  I mean, Prefab was talking about opponents we couldn’t hope to fight, and I’ve only had two real fights so far.  One of them wasn’t even a real fight.”

“You’re new?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.

“I’ve only been a Ward for a month.”

Only two fights in a month.  I felt a pang of envy.

“Let’s hope there isn’t a fight today,” Prefab said.  “But let’s be ready if there is one.

We ascended to the rooftop.  Dragon’s suit had already landed.  A bulky craft, twice the size of a helicopter, with what looked to be a cargo bay.  Letters stenciled on the edge of the wing read ‘Kulshedra v0.895’.

Inside, in boxes, there were butterflies.  Innumerable varieties.  Sadly, quite a few had died due to a lack of food or being crushed under the weight of the others.  The idea was clear.  The PRT wanted me to change how I operated.  Dragon, at least, was willing to give me the means.

It was still stupid.  Ridiculous.

The back of the craft opened, giving me access to the hatches.  I stepped up onto the ramp and found the buttons to open the boxes.

“Go, my pretties,” I said, monotone.  “Go, seek out my enemies and smother them.”

They took off, moving in colorful formations, organized by type, drawing fractal shapes in the air as they spread out.

I stepped down off the ramp to see Leister staring at me.

“I know you were joking,” Prefab said, “But no smothering.”

“No smothering,” I said, sighing.  I looked up.  The sky was darkening.  “If there’s a fight, it’s going to be at night.  It’d be pretty stupid to use butterflies at night, when half of my tricks are subtle.”

“You’d have to ask Rime.”

Was I supposed to use non-butterflies to scout for trouble?

I considered asking, but I was suspicious I already knew the answer.

Best not to ask, and beg for forgiveness later.

Insects and flies moved out over the surrounding cityscape.  There were too many buildings here, too many that were sealed off, but I could check rooftops and balconies, and I could investigate the ground.  Tens of thousands of people, all in all.

“Sniper rifle,” I said, in the same instant the thought came together.

“Wha?” Leister asked, incoherent and confused.

Prefab’s head snapped my way.  “You sure?”

“I’d point,” I said, “But he’d notice.  Our masks and helmets cover our faces, or I’d be worried about lip-reading.”

“Don’t panic, don’t give away that you’re afraid.  Into the craft.  Go,” Prefab said.

I nodded, wishing I had my real costume, though I knew it might not be tough enough to withstand a bullet from a sniper rifle.

Prefab was the last to step inside, slowing down as he approached the ramp.  I could see light glittering around the edges of the roof, growing more intense over the course of seconds.  Ten, fifteen seconds passed, until there was more of the light than there were spaces in between.  The light was most intense near the edges.

In a clap of thunder, a rush of wind and a flare of… anti-sparks, crenellated walls appeared, extending fifteen feet up from the lip of the roof’s edge.  The sparks, such as they were, were black at their core, surrounded by shadow.  They spun in the air before drifting to the ground, where they flickered out of existence.

“Does that block his line of sight?  I can make them taller,” Prefab said.

“I don’t think he has the right angle to shoot over the wall,” I said.

“No weapons?  Costume?”

I used my subtler bugs, but he was already packing away the rifle in record time, then swiftly moving away from the roof’s edge.  He brushed away my bugs as they converged, kicked a hatch open with his foot, then climbed inside with a speed that almost made me think he’d fallen.  Only the fact that the hatch closed firmly after him convinced me otherwise.

The only way he’d have evaded the swarm like that was if he’d known what I was doing.

“No costume,” I said.  “He brushed away the bugs before I could get anything substantial, but I think… glasses?  And a dress shirt.  I think he noticed what my bugs are doing.  That’s rare.”

“We’ve got trouble,” Prefab said.  I realized he was using his phone.  “Sniper on a rooftop nearby.  Possible Thinker.  Barricades should make for safe elevator exit.”

We’re on our way up,” Rime said, through the speaker.  “Four capes and the containment box.  Hold position, play safe.  If Pretender arranged a jailbreak, he won’t have just one person working under him.  Arriving in eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…

The elevators opened.  Rime, Arbiter, Vantage and Usher made their way out, wheeling a box along with them.

“Password?” Prefab asked.

“Twenty-three-aleph-pater-newfoundland-washington-vikare,” Rime said.  “Arbiter’s group is already confirmed, they haven’t left my sight.  First half of your first password?”

“Eight-nine-three-scion,” he responded.  “And the other two are clear.”

“Good.  Let’s move. A hand?”

Prefab gave Rime a hand in moving the box.  It couldn’t have been comfortable: four feet by six feet by four feet.  Enough to stand in, but not enough to lie down.  The thing had four wheels, and was dense enough that it took some muscle to get it up the ramp.  I would have joined in, if I didn’t fear I would get in the way more than I’d help.  I wasn’t the strongest person around.  Fit, yes, but not strong.

Instead, I focused on bringing my butterflies back.  I couldn’t get them all back in time, but a loss of a hundred or so wasn’t a tragedy.

A loss of all of the butterflies wouldn’t be a tragedy.  I’d feel bad, if only because of the trouble Dragon likely went through in acquiring them, but yeah.

Gosh, if they all just happened to die or get left behind, maybe I’d have to use something else.  Tragic.

They finally managed to settle the box at the center of the cargo bay, pulling a switch to close clasps at the base of it, lowering a solid metal pillar from the roof to the top of the box.

I doubted it would budge if someone crashed a bus into it.

I called back some of the butterflies closest to me, keeping others around the building with the sniper.  He hadn’t set up again.

“I’m worried about that sniper,” I said.  “If he was coming after us, why is he giving up so easily?  If he wasn’t coming after us, who was he after?  A civilian?”

“Identify the building as we get airborne.”

“Through a window?” I asked, looking forward, to the ‘head’ of the craft, that looked out onto the city.

“Bulletproof glass or no, let’s stay away from the windows for now,” Rime said.  “Kulshedra, show Weaver what your cameras see.”

Monitors changed from red text on a black background to high-resolution images of the surrounding walls and rooftop, a different image for each one.

A second later, the ramp closed, and we took to the air, the craft vibrating softly.

I studied the monitors, watching, getting a sense of the surroundings and of which buildings corresponded with what I was looking at.

“Kulshedra,” I said, pretty sure I was mangling the name, “The leftmost monitor on your left side.  Zoom in, a little up and left.  There.  Building to the left of the one in the dead center.”

I tapped the screen as the ship highlighted the building in question.

“Good job, Weaver,” Rime said, peering at the monitor.

“Was on the roof, moved below through hatch when I used my bugs.  Hasn’t left the building,” I said.

Rime touched her earbud.  “Vegas teams, be advised, armed individual in a building at… 125 West Sahara.”

“It’s port,” Leister murmured to me.


“You said ‘left side of the ship.  It’s port.”

“Isn’t that boats?” I asked.

“Can be aircraft.”

“Best leave it,” Vantage said.  “Leister’s a little stubborn.”

“So am I,” I said.

“Maybe ‘tenacious’ is the word you want,” Vantage offered.  “There aren’t a lot of people who get knocked out and still manage to win a fight.”

“Are you all this pedantic?”  I asked.

Vantage only laughed, though I saw Rime glancing at me, and she didn’t look pleased.

“Alexandria was always hard on us,” Arbiter said.  Her voice had a strange tone to it, oddly melodic, “Getting us to focus on grades, extracurricular stuff, on top of what we did as a part of the team.”

“We were challenged to be better than the other teams in everything, academics included,” Vantage said.  “But we were the only team with a leader who cared about it.”

“Except the capes in Fresno,” Arbiter said.  “I was still a Ward, then.”

Vantage smiled, “Oh yeah.  The bastards in Fresno.  They caught on, probably because we were complaining so much.  Small team, but they started studying like crazy, just so we’d be in second place, academically.  Didn’t matter why we were second, Alexandria was still annoyed at us.”

“All those sermons on being top-notch, on acting like the people we wanted to be, and… she turned out to be a monster,” Arbiter said.

“A monster slain by Weaver, here,” Usher spoke.

All at once, I felt very on the spot.  Each of the capes here, Rime and Prefab excluded, had worked with Alexandria in some capacity.  Except Rime and Prefab were team leaders, and Defiant had commented on how every cape in a position of power had some experience working under the Triumvirate, so even they knew her to some extent.

“Weaver did what had to be done,” Rime said.  “Not pretty, not kind, but sometimes you have to use a knife to cut out a cancer.”

All eyes were on me.  Nobody was speaking.

“I asked you to come along on this job for a reason, Weaver,” Rime said.  “I’ve read the incident reports that involved your interactions with the PRT and the groups under the PRT’s umbrella.  The bank robbery, the fundraiser, the theft of the database with the Shadow Stalker kidnapping, and your ultimate surrender, a little over a week ago.”

I nodded, not sure where she was going, not wanting to interrupt.

“On the latter two occasions, you and your team perverted the natural course of justice.  You pretended to be defeated by Shadow Stalker in order to ambush the Wards, and you later surrendered, only to get off rather lightly for your crimes.”

“I think I follow,” I said.  I glanced at the others, but they were all busy trying not to look like they were listening to our conversation.

Rime nodded, “It’s about-”

The ship lurched, and Rime broke off mid-sentence to catch herself before she fell to the floor.  Usher fell and nearly slid across the floor, but Vantage caught him.

“Kulshedra!” Rime shouted, “Report!”

Incoming fire.  Taking evasive maneuvers.”

“The sniper,” I said.

Not likely,” the ship reported.  “Unless the sniper is capable of moving great distances, he is approximately point seven three five miles away.  The missile came from a perpendicular direction.

Missile?” Leister asked, sounding very alarmed.

Projectile,” the ship corrected.  “Humanoid in shape.”

I saw Leister relax a fraction at that, which I found oddly charming.  He was relieved it was just a person.  Experience told me that small-to-medium sized explosives were less daunting than the prospect of fighting an unknown parahuman.

“Let me out, Kulshedra,” Rime said, “Before they attack again.  Follow my orders on comm channel two.”

The back of the ship cracked open, and wind rushed into the cabin.  Several of my butterflies were torn free of their roosts.

“Prefab’s in charge,” Rime said.

“Got it,” Prefab answered.

“Usher?” Rime asked.  “Hit me.”

Usher didn’t respond, still struggling a bit with his precarious position, holding on to Vantage’s hand.  He did close his eyes, and Rime began to glow, a sheen radiating over her hair, skin and costume.

With that, she was gone, pushing her way out of her seat, leaping and taking flight, flying out of the open hatch.

An instant later, the ship swayed again.  Prefab used his power to create a short half-dome over Usher.  The back hatch closed, and Usher was finally able to relax, with solid ground and something to hold on to.

Projectile was rotating rapidly, along both horizontal and vertical axes.  Rendering composite image from video footage.

The monitors showed a gray expanse, but it began to rapidly take shape in what was first a distorted sphere, then a crude face, and finally a face complete with details.

Arbiter, Vantage, Leister and Prefab all groaned in unison.  I suspected Usher might have joined in if he had a better angle..

“Fuck you, Pretender,” Vantage muttered.  “Fuck you.  You had to hire the worst mercenaries possible, didn’t you?  You asshole.”

I looked at the image.  Not a face I knew, but one I recognized from TV, from the internet, and one very brief encounter.

“That’s B-”

The ship swerved, but it didn’t manage to avoid the hit this time around.  This time, the shifting center of gravity was compounded by a sudden impact, heavy enough to cave in the front of the craft.  Each and every one of us were thrown out of our seats.

From there, things went south quickly.  No longer flightworthy, the ship struggled to maintain altitude.  Bugs that had collected on the outside of the ship made me aware of how the jets that had been driving the craft forward were now angling towards the ground.  They worked double time to keep the Kulshedra from spinning as it fell and to give downward thrust to counteract the pull of gravity.

Rime’s power froze the Kulshedra in mid-descent, catching it between two buildings, suspended in the midst of a bridge of ice.

The projectile struck us again, from directly above.  The ice to our left, our port side, shattered.

“Seatbelts on!”  Prefab bellowed.  “Hold on tight if you can’t get to one!  Deep breath, don’t tense with the impact!”

I climbed up to a point where there were benches, and belted myself in.  One over each shoulder, one over my lap.  The headrest- it wasn’t there.  There was only metal.  My butterflies found the real headrest above me.  I reached up and found the clasps to lower the softer bundle until it sat at the right height to cushion any impacts.

The ice on our starboard side cracked, an agonizing, gradual break.  My heart leaped into my chest as we plunged towards the street below.

The Kulshedra hit ground, and the impact was so heavy my thoughts were jarred out of my head.  For long seconds, I couldn’t think, but could only experience, could only feel every part of my body hurt, aches and pains I didn’t know I had magnified by the jolt.

It was a small relief that my passenger didn’t take the opportunity to act without my consent.  I was bewildered enough without any added complications, stunned, sore where the straps had pulled against my shoulders and gut.

“Kulshedra!” Prefab shouted.  “Lights on!”

Auxilary offline.  Emergency lighting failed in six attempts carried out in two seconds.”

“Uhhhh,” he said, drawing out the sound, “Damage report?”

A.I. bank one offline.  Aux offline.  Propulsion offline.  Weapons offline.  Helm offline.

“Why are you speaking strangely?”  I called out.

A.I. bank one offline.  Advanced linguistics, memory, geography-

“Enough,” Prefab said, cutting it off.

I almost told him to let it continue, just so we had an idea, but he was the boss.

“Protectorate, Wards, sound off!”  Prefab shouted.

“Arbiter.  Fine.”

“Vantage, mildly injured,” Vantage said.  “My hand.”

“Usher, bleeding from a bad scrape, but otherwise okay.”

“Weaver,” I said, “I’m fine.”

There was a pause.

“Leister?”  Prefab asked.

“Mostly okay,” Leister said, but his voice sounded strained.  “Took a hit to the gut.”

“Let’s get ourselves sorted out,” Prefab said.  “If you can reach your phones, use them for light.  There’s an exec on the second page, if you haven’t mucked with them to add ten pages of games.”

“Don’t-” Leister said, still sounding odd, “Don’t diss the games, when you make us sit around waiting for stuff all the time.”

I didn’t get a phone yet, I thought.  But hey, I’ve got the damn butterflies.

At my order, the butterflies that had been clustered on the outside of their cage took flight, spreading out over the ship’s interior.

I spoke, “Kulshedra.  Roof got crushed, lights with them, am I right?”


“No lights in floor?”

Not at present.  Standard floor fixtures in Kulshedra model precursor were removed for containment box fixtures. Lights included.”

“Any power to monitors?”


“Video footage of exterior, stat,” Prefab ordered, cutting in.

Monitors flickered to life.  One in three showed only the ground beneath us, and another third were broken.

“Change the focus of any monitor displaying only asphalt,” I said.

A.I. bank one is offline.  Discrimination no longer possible.

“Monitors with video from any camera on the ship’s upper half.”

Restate, please,” the A.I. said.

“Nevermind,” I said.  “Um.  Nine working cameras, four on port side, five on starboard, am I right?”


I worked on unbelting myself, ensuring my legs were fixed in the bars beneath the bench, so I wouldn’t fall.  “Label monitors with numbers from one to nine.”

One by one, the monitors displayed numbers instead of the video feed.

“Weaver-” Prefab said.  “This isn’t helpful.  We need information on our surroundings.”

“No immediate threats nearby, according to my swarm,” I told him, checking with my bugs.  “Ship, monitors one, three and seven weren’t displaying a usable feed.  Restore a feed to each other monitor.”

The videos reappeared.

“Monitors two, six and eight are broken and are not displaying anything coherent.  Display white instead, maximum brightness, on those screens and any ones not displaying any video.”

Monitors lit up.  It wasn’t much, but it was marginally better than what the Protectorate-issue phones were granting.

“How the hell do you know your way around this thing?”  Vantage asked.  I could see him below me, one hand outstretched, the other held behind his back.

“Defiant and Dragon have been ferrying me between the PRT and court, and between prison and these little field exercises, so I’ve gotten a sense of them,” I said.  “And I fought a bunch of others back in Brockton Bay.  You figure them out, kind of.”

“I saw that bit about Dragon’s visit to Brockton Bay in the news,” Vantage said.  “Here, fall.”

I twisted myself around until I hung by my hands, then let myself drop from the bench.  Vantage caught me with the one hand.

The others were getting themselves sorted out.  A few minor injuries, but it wasn’t as bad as it could be.

My head snapped around as our opponent landed just outside the ship.  She let go of her companions, setting them down on the ground beside her.

Hellooooo,” a girl’s voice sounded over the system.  I had to turn around, checking all of the cameras, before I found the one where she was displayed, upside down.

“Ship, flip monitor, um, monitor four, one-eighty-degrees vertical,” I said.

It flipped the right way around.  I could see a young girl on the opposite side.  She was flanked by two other small children, one a male with a widow’s peak and a severe expression for his age, ten or so, the other a girl of about twelve, in overalls that ended at the knee, a star at the chest, and far too much makeup.

“Fuck me,” Vantage muttered.  “Bambina brought her team.”

Come out and plaaaaay,” Bambina called out.  A second later, she leaped.  The small detonation that followed in her wake was quenched by the appearance of Rime’s ice crystals.

Sniper’s active,” Rime’s voice came through the earbuds.  She was panting.  “Deliberate, accurate shooter.  I’ve taken three bullets, ice armor took most of the force out of the shots.  Bambina is accompanied by Starlet and August Prince, um.  Shooter’s shots ricochet.  Can’t dodge.  There’s wounded just outside craft.  Traffic caught underneath when you fell.

“Stop talking and get inside,” Prefab said.

 “Can’t close the gap to the Kulshedra without getting shot again.  He’s cutting me off.”

“Use crystals to form a wall, get inside, damn it,” Prefab said.

Ricochets,” Rime stressed.  “I- shit!”

I found her with my bugs, setting them on her costume.  “She’s okay, just fleeing from Bambina and Starlet.  The shooter doesn’t seem to be targeting the kids.”

“My power makes her immune to Bambina,” Usher said.

“Maybe to the explosions,” I said, “But the impact?  Or something else?”

He frowned.

“They’re not on the same side,” Arbiter said, “The shooter and the child villains.”

“Good,” Prefab said.  “Let’s-“

Bambina collided with the Kulshedra again.  It rocked, nearly tipping over onto one side.

“Kulshedra,” Prefab said, “Open ramp!”

The ramp opened, and I sent the butterflies out.  Nothing substantial, but it was something.

Okay, not really.  But it was an opportunity to lay out some silk.  I emptied the reserves I had contained in my costume.

Prefab began working on a structure, forming it out of the same flashes of light and sparks of darkness he’d used before.  It took time to pull together, and the way it joined with the wall next to it, it didn’t seem like he was designing it on the fly.

Similar to Labyrinth, but it was only natural that powers might run in parallel.

The shooter wasn’t in my reach.  Bambina was horrifically mobile, bouncing off of walls and the street, creating explosions with most of the impacts.  Her teammates were along for the ride, apparently unscathed by her power.  Going on the offensive would be hard, even if I was using my full complement of bugs.

I was having a really hard time justifying Glenn’s rule on pretty bugs only.

Prefab’s wall appeared around the craft.  “Priority one is the wounded!”

We made our way out of the craft.  Odd as it was, I felt a mixture of relief and… an emotion I couldn’t place, at the realization that I didn’t have to fight to convince my teammates that we had to help other people.

Three cars had been caught beneath the wings of Dragon’s craft, another smashed by a chunk of ice.  The passengers of one car had fled, another two cars had people trapped inside, and the people in the fourth were unconscious.

I helped Arbiter with the unconscious ones.

“I alerted Dragon,” Prefab said.  “The Vegas teams know too.  This is a waiting game.  We help Rime, and we keep the prisoner contained.  If he gets loose, or if Bambina destroys the containment vessel, this gets a lot more complicated.”

The prisoner, I noted the word choice, not Pretender.

“If I can get closer to the shooter, I can disable him,” I said.

“Too dangerous.”

An explosion against the exterior of the wall Prefab had pulled together marked another attack from Bambina.

“I can do dangerous.  Let me take the kid-gloves off, and-“

No,” Rime’s voice came through my earbud.  “No.  Stay.

I grit my teeth.  “You’re underestimating me.”

We’re well aware of what you’re capable of.  I’m doing you a favor,” she said, and her voice was strained.  “Stay, follow Prefab’s orders.

I considered running, then stopped.  “Okay.  I’m giving you some backup, Rime.  Best I can do.”

With that, I sent butterflies her way, clustering them into human-shaped groups.  When one group reached her, they surrounded her.  Decoys.

“Hard to see,” she said.  I didn’t even need the earbud to understand, with the butterflies near her.

I kept the bugs away from her face.  I wasn’t sure that was ideal, but it was her call.

Arbiter and Prefab had enough medical training to check the civilians over before we moved them or moved them further.  With my power, I tracked Bambina as she ricocheted through the area, causing innumerable explosions across the landscape.  Rime struggled to evade both Bambina and the detonation, while maintaining some degree of cover against the gunman.

“Last one,” Prefab said.  “Weaver, help.”

I helped him get the older woman to her feet, and keep her standing as we led her into the back of Dragon’s ship.

I stopped abruptly, as Bambina’s trajectory swiftly changed.

“Trouble!” I called out.

Bambina landed atop the wall.  Her teammates landed beside her, each holding one hand.  They looked a little worse for wear.  Starlet was firing darts of light at Rime, the darts exploding mid-way through the air to block Rime’s path when she tried to advance.  Between Starlet and the sniper, she wasn’t able to advance.

 “You were there for the Leviathan fight,” I spoke to Bambina.

“Can’t really bounce on water, it turns out,” she said.  “Wasn’t worth the trouble.  Ducked out.”

Prefab let go of the older woman, leaving me with the burden as he faced Bambina square-on.  “Lots of attention on Pretender all of a sudden.”

“Paying pretty well,” Bambina said, “And he promised a favor, too.  He set some rules, but considering how we’re going above and beyond the call of duty, I’m hoping he’ll bend them.  You know how fucking awesome it is to have a favor from a body snatcher?  He zaps himself into some hunky celeb that’d never touch me otherwise, then…”

Bambina launched into a lewd explanation of what she’d have him do to her, and vice versa.  I averted my eyes and did my best to turn off my ears.  I’d started out spending months suppressing my powers to varying degrees, and I’d learned to ignore some sensations from my bugs.  I wasn’t so lucky when it came to my hearing.

“…with my feet,” Bambina finished.

Starlet, still firing on Rime, glanced over her shoulder to look at us, cackling at Bambina’s audacity, while August Prince didn’t seem to react.

I’d backed away, helping the older woman hobble forward on her bad ankle, and we were close enough to the ramp for her to make her own way up.  I stepped forward, my eyes still on Bambina.

“Worst thing ever,” Vantage murmured from behind me.  “Fighting kids?  You win, you get zero credit, no matter how good their powers are.  They’re children, after all.  But if you lose, well, they’re kids, your reputation is fucked.”

“Focus,” Prefab said.  “We know who these three are.  We’ve got a Mover-shaker six, a blaster-shaker four, and a master-stranger three.”

“Hey, Weaver,” Bambina called out.  “You’re that supervillain-turned hero, right?  Offed Alexandria?”

“Yeah,” I said.

Odd, how I felt more at home in this situation than I had fifteen minutes ago.  Or even helping the civilians.  I’d liked helping civilians, but this was where I felt most able to reach into myself and be strangely calm.

“You fucked up my rankings for a straight week, worst fucking time, too.  I’d planned an escapade, was supposed to rise to number thirty, but your news took the front page instead, and I dropped to forty-five instead.  I haven’t been that low in a year!”

“Rankings?” I asked.

“Rankings!  Don’t you even pay attention?  It was embarrassing.  My mom’s still giving me a hard time over it, and it’s like, that’s less money from our sponsors.  So I’m going to make you deepthroat my fist, okay?  Break your arms and legs and make you suckle it.”

She stamped, and fire rippled around her.  Both August and Starlet flinched.

Worse, it destroyed the silk I’d been tying around her leg.

She leaped down, holding August Prince’s hand, and Arbiter took action.  The heroine directed a sonic blast at Bambina with one hand, but Bambina kicked the wall, changing the direction she was moving.  Arbiter blocked her with a forcefield, then raised a hand to shoot again-

And stopped, standing still instead.  A look of consternation appeared across her forehead, above her mask.

Bambina ricocheted off of Dragon’s craft, hitting it hard enough that it shifted, then flew at Prefab.  One hit, and he was out of action.  The explosion hadn’t even been that large.

Prefab, who had his cannon raised and hadn’t even pulled the trigger once.

Bambina whipped around, rotating crazily before touching ground, her feet skidding on the ground.  She set the Prince down.  Starlet, up on the wall, laughed.

“Can’t touch the Prince, can you?” Bambina asked.  “Go, August.”

The little boy advanced.  He held a scepter, different from Regent’s.  More of a mace.

Arbiter was backing up rapidly as he advanced, and I-

I thought briefly about what the heroes had said about Alexandria, about how she’d wanted them to act like the person they wanted to be.

I’d done that, in a way.  It reminded me of how I’d formed my identity as Skitter.  I’d acted fearsome, acted as if I expected people to be afraid, expected them to listen, and they had.  Even Dragon had, at one point.

But maybe I didn’t need to be feared here.  I could do something as Weaver.  Confidence.  I didn’t back down as the August Prince approached.  I sent butterflies his way.  No problem.

Tried to move them so he would be blinded… and found they didn’t listen.

Tried to bite and sting with the nastier insects I’d hidden inside the butterfly swarm, and again, no response.

He closed the distance to me, swinging at my knee with the mace.  I ducked back out of the way.

His fighting style was graceless, without any particular fluidity.  He held the mace with two hands and swung it, and then took seconds to recover.  An opening to strike, and my body refused to follow up on it.

That would be his power then.  Something in the same department as Imp’s ability.

My bugs continued past him, and I sent them straight for Bambina.

She only laughed as the butterflies landed on her, stomped hard to kill most of them.  “No way.  You offed Alexandria.  I’m not-  Ow!”

Bees, wasps and hornets stung simultaneously, targeting her eyes, mouth and earholes.

She stomped, and soared up to the top of the wall.  “My face, fuck you!  This is going to swell!  This fucking…”

I didn’t hear the rest.  I was more focused on the little kid who was striving to cave in something vital.

The Prince swung at me, and I caught the mace.

It was a mistake.  He let go and tackled me, gripping my leg, hauling on it to put me off-balance.

I couldn’t fight to pull him off, couldn’t use my bugs.

This was annoying.

Then I saw Bambina point, saw Starlet stop taking potshots at Rime and turn my way, reaching.

If the Prince was the master-stranger hybrid, and Bambina the mover-shaker, then that left the blaster power to Starlet.


Arbiter threw a forcefield between us.  It didn’t matter.  The dart of light she fired exploded against the forcefield, and the ensuing implosion pulled me off the ground.  August Prince held on as I tumbled, then climbed up me before reaching around my throat.

I tucked my chin against my collarbone, preventing him from getting a decent hold, and he started clawing at me, struggling to get fingers, a hand, between my chin and my neck.

If this goes any further, Clockblocker’s never going to let me live this down.

The second thought was a little more grave.

If this little bastard kills me, the Undersiders will never forgive me.

The others were helpless to assist me, due to the peculiarities of the Prince’s power, but they could direct their focus to Bambina and Starlet.  Leister thrust out his trident, and it distorted, stretching the distance between himself and the two kid villains on the wall.  He struck Starlet in the face with the shaft of the trident.

Bambina kicked him, and he went flying to a point on the other side of the wall.  His spear distorted and brought him to the ground, but the kick- it hit too hard.  He didn’t rise.

Seeing one of her Wards get taken out of action, Rime made a break for us, my decoys moving parallel to her.

The sniper fired, and she went down.  One guess, and it was accurate.

Tumbling through the air, she used her power in one singular burst, and was encased in a two-story high tower of ice.

Vantage leaped onto the top of the craft, then onto the top of the wall.  Starlet’s blast nearly moved him.  Bambina leapt, bouncing off a nearby building, then flying towards Vantage.  He teleported out of her way, then threw a bola, catching her.  She fell from the wall, landing hard.

One down.  Two to go.

I’m better than this.

The rules about interacting with the Prince were strictly defined.  I could hold him, but I couldn’t hurt him.  Which category did silk fall under?  I had some on my person.  Twenty feet in all.  Twenty feet disappeared fast when it was wound around something.

I chose his neck.  Not hurting him, not directly.  His power allowed it.

One of Starlet’s implosions sent Prince and I tumbling.  Too far from anything I could hold.  He found the opportunity to seize me by the neck.

“Someone!”  I said, “Come closer!”

Usher approached, and Starlet blasted the ground behind him, pulling him off his feet.  He was mere handspans from where I needed him.

“Rime’s out of commission!” I said, my voice strangled as Prince did his best to choke me.  “Your power isn’t affecting her.  Give it to me!”

Usher focused his power on me.  I felt it ripple through me, felt something, but it didn’t break the spell.  I still couldn’t turn the slightest amount of aggression towards the kid.

“No,” I said.

Usher focused his power on Vantage instead, and Vantage flared with light.

Starlet’s power hit him, and it didn’t do a thing.  He punched her in the gut, then caught her as she went limp.

And Prince… was harder to deal with.  Usher approached, and I tied thread around his leg.

I tried to tell Usher to run, knowing what would happen with the thread around Prince’s neck.  My voice wouldn’t come out, and it wasn’t due to the feeble but persistent attempt at strangulation.

So many heroes around me, and they couldn’t touch this little bastard.

Move, I thought.  Move, move, move.

“Your power immunity isn’t making me immune to the kid,” Vantage said, helplessly.

Don’t talk, move.

In the midst of the Kulshedra, I could sense moving air currents.  A woman emerged from thin air, from a place cooler than the interior of the ship.  The civilians we’d rescued shrieked and backed away from her.  She didn’t respond, barely reacted.  Someone with long, dark hair and a suit.  She fixed her cuffs, then moved with purpose.

But I found myself less fixated on her than on her surroundings.  Oddly enough, I could feel a different structure behind the woman, a hallway.

I tried to speak, but couldn’t find the air.  Damn this little bastard.  Damn Usher for not doing something.

“What a mess,” Satyr called out.

Heads turned.

The Vegas Wards had arrived, perched on top of the nearest wall.  They didn’t move to help, didn’t leap to intervene.  Satyr glanced at Bambina, who was struggling to free herself from the bola.  There was something in his eyes.

Were they in on it?

“Help us!” Vantage called out.  “Rime’s out, and we can’t save Weaver!”

Satyr didn’t speak.  He glanced at the ship.  He couldn’t see from the angle he’d approached, but the woman inside had pulled the lever, and the door at the back was slowly closing.

I drew out words on the side.

Pretender in danger

The heroes turned, eyes going wide.  Satyr, Blowout and Leonid rushed forward, joined by Vantage.

Then Usher stepped forward to help, and the August Prince choked, giving me a little slack.  I sucked in a gasp for air.

Arbiter heard, whipping around, and threw a forcefield between us.  I pulled away.

She managed to sandwich the little bastard between her forcefield and the ground.  I rolled away, sitting up.

The ramp was nearly closed by the time they arrived.  Vantage slammed one hand against the door, but it was too heavily armored to give.

“Kul-,” I gasped out.

The woman turned and walked up to the ruined nose of the craft, and began threading wires together.  She didn’t even flinch as sparks flared between them.  She was measured, even patient, as she worked at fixing the panel.  When she was done, she tapped something out on the broken, unlit touch panel.

“Kulshedra, shut down,” I managed.

Restate request.”

The pillar rose from the top of the box, freeing the upper part of the box’s door.

“Kulshedra, contact Dragon,” I tried.

Dragon is currently unable to reply.

“Contact Chevalier.”


The woman tapped out another code, and the clamps on the bottom came open, freeing the bottom.

Yet another code typed out, and the system spoke, “Type two safety override accepted.

The woman in the ship struck a single button.  The A.I. spoke, “Call ended.

“Kulshedra, call Chevalier,” I repeated.


The woman inside typed out a final code, and the door of the box opened, releasing Pretender.

And then she spoke, and I could hear through the bugs that surrounded her.  “The Doctor will see you now.”

“Right-o,” Pretender said.  “Gotta be better than the Birdcage.”

They stepped through the gateway that led to the cool, air-conditioned hallway, and then they were gone, the butterflies in the hallway no longer in my reach.

I felt my blood pumping, roaring in my ears.  “They got him.  They collected Pretender.”


“Her.  The shooter’s partner.  Cauldron.”  I clenched my fist.  “Rime’s down.  We have to help her.”

“The shooter-” Vantage started.

“He’s gone,” Arbiter said.  “Not sensing a threat.  You guys go.  I’ll look after Prefab and Leister, and make sure Weaver’s okay.”

Usher nodded.

Satyrical gestured, and most of his team joined the L.A. team members.  I was left kneeling, still catching my breath.  Satyr and Nix hung back, arms folded, exchanging surreptitious glances.

Arbiter didn’t look at them as she spoke, “You hired them.  Bambina’s crew.  You wanted to break him out.”

Satyr didn’t respond.

“You were going to leave the Protectorate?  You had to have been.”

“Yeah.”  It was Nix who spoke, not Satyr.

“Just like that?”

Nix shook her head.  “It’s gone.  Doomed.  We lost Alexandria, we lost Legend and Eidolon.  The new team doesn’t hit half as hard.  Look at Rime.  Taken out of action like that.  Protectorate’s a shadow of what it was.”

“She was beaten by monsters the Protectorate refuses to even classify,” I said.  I coughed a little.

“Alexandria would have managed.”

“Alexandria worked for them,” I said.

Nix shrugged.

Arbiter looked up at Satyr and Nix, “If you leave, the Endbringers-”

Nix interrupted, “We’ll still fight Endbringers.  But the Protectorate was going to take Pretender from us because of how he got his powers.  It’s ridiculous.”

“He was still going to be on the team,” Arbiter said.  “Just… we can’t let him be leader if he’s beholden to a group like that.”

“It shouldn’t matter.”

“Cauldron’s evil,” Arbiter said.  “They experimented on people to get the powers Pretender has.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Satyr said.  His voice was rough.  “Pretender’s gone, and so are we.  We’ll get our teammates and we’ll go.”

He nudged Nix, and they turned to go.

One Protectorate team gone.

Arbiter dialed her phone, shifted restlessly.  “Chevalier.  It’s an emergency.”

There was a long pause.

“The Vegas team,” she said, finally.  “They’ve broken ranks.  There’s more, but if we’re going to arrest them, Dragon needs-”

A pause.

“No,” she said.  “They aren’t.  No.  Yes.  Yes, sir.”

There was a defeated tone to her body language as she let her arm fall to one side, disconnecting the call.

Arbiter looked from her phone to Prefab.  “Dragon collapsed just before this began.  She was meeting a Las Vegas Rogue.”

“Yeah,” I said.  I thought of the woman who’d been so handy with the computer.  The censor, the bogeyman.  They’d taken out Rime, no doubt because she could have sealed the box behind a wall of ice.

Yet they hadn’t taken out Prefab, who could have done much the same thing.

Every step of the way, every action perfect.

“The Vegas heroes?”  I asked.

“He said to let them go,” she said, her voice small.  “That we need them, even if they aren’t Protectorate.  He’ll send people to talk to them and arrange something later.”

I nodded, mixed emotions stewing in my midsection.  It was bad, it was disappointing, to see a failure on this level, after I’d given so much up to help the Protectorate out.

“We lost on every count,” I said.

“Rime’s alive,” Arbiter said, looking at her phone.

“Every other count, then,” I said.

“There’ll be better days,” she said.

Not like this, I thought, and it wasn’t a good thought.  As nice as the feeling of rescuing civilians had been, this was an ugly idea, a pit in the depths of my stomach.

The person I wanted to be, the person I was, reconciling them wasn’t so easy.  The hero on one side, Skitter on the other.

This has to change.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

393 thoughts on “Drone 23.2

    • Finished this chapter literally last-minute, so please forgive errors. Be sure to refresh when you see a typo to ensure it’s still there. Just finished a spell-check.

    • “Defiant and Dragon have been ferrying me between the PRT and court, and between court and these little field exercises, so I’ve gotten a sense of them,” I said. “And I fought a bunch of others back in Brockton Bay. You figure them out, kind of.”

      Maybe this is meant to be “prison” instead of “court?”

    • “Label monitors with numbers from one to seven.”

      Seven should probably be nine since there are nine cameras. Also, Weaver later mentions monitor number eight, so there must be at least eight.

    • “Maybe ‘tenacious’ is the word you want,” Vantage offered. “Not everyone who gets knocked out and still manages to win a fight.”

      “and” shouldn’t be there.

    • -“Ship, monitors one, three and seven weren’t displaying a usable feed. Restore a feed to each other monitor.”-

      Wrong tense. Should be ‘aren’t’.

    • six attempts carried out in two seconds.

      “seconds” should be italics.

      “Ricochets,” Rime stressed. “I- shit!”

      “I-shit!” should be italics.

    • “supervillain-turned hero”
      Should be two hyphens or none.

      “joined in if he had a better angle..”
      Two periods where there should be one.

    • “Starlet was firing darts of light at Rime, the darts exploding mid-way through the air to block Rime’s path when she tried to advance. Between Starlet and the sniper, she wasn’t able to advance.”

      You don’t need that first “when she tried to advance”…

    • “No costume,” I said. “He brushed away the bugs before I could get anything substantial, but I think… glasses? And a dress shirt. I think he noticed what my bugs are doing. That’s rare.”
      -what my bugs were doing

  1. In a moment I’ll finish reading, but I have to say:

    Only two fights in a month. I felt a pang of envy.

    Dying. Laughing.

    Okay, going back to reading.

    • If this goes any further, Clockblocker’s never going to let me live this down.

      YES! Not because of shipping, but for her accurately gauging the jibe he would give her once he knew and they were talking in some capacity😀
      Especially nice to see a note of funny in there.

  2. Haha. My friend got pissed at me for ditching him to go read this instead of playing LoL. In other news, I cant wait for Clockblocker to never let Taylor forget about getting owned by a kid.

    • I don’t think Clockblocker is going to give her a lot of grief about this. It only highlights *how* screwed up the PRT is–and here we thought Brockton Bay was having problems… whewww.

    • She actually reacted pretty well, she just couldn’t tell Usher to walk away due to Prince’s power treating that instruction as an aggressive action. Had she tied it to a stationary object, she might or might not have been able to roll away from it (depends on if it was treated as ‘moving herself away’ or ‘pulling Prince onto the rope’ I’d guess). Or had she known what his power was, she might have been able to stop him from closing without triggering his power by stringing up ropes of silk and having him just happen to walk into them or something.

      Not that this would stop Clocky from giving her hell over it. Especially as his power might well have worked: if Weaver can tie a rope around his neck, Clock should be able to freeze him or his clothing.

    • I sat in bed reading it while my friend threatened to queue an ARAM without me. Very worth the fuss😛.

    • I was thinking the same thing at the end. Taylor thinks about how she’s been separating her previous villainous history with her new heroic career and says things need to change? What else could it be?

      Though that might just be me really wanting to see the Undersiders have a major role again.

      Besides, we all know that if Taylor had the Undersiders to back her up she would have won. Or at least put up way better of a fight.

      • Heck the Undersiders would be an amazing black ops team. I mean look at their power sets. Regent can comprimise anyone he gets his hands on. Tattletale can make a mockery of passwords. Grue is a nightmare to fight, a force multiplier, and due to his second trigger a good counter for other capes. Imp as an assasian… Who was I talking about? And how did that guy’s throat get slashed? Skitter is good at spying, recon and sending swarms to distract or attack at a range. Only Bitch and Parian wouldn’t do so good at covert. Too bad the Undersiders aren’t cold blooded killers.

      • Besides, we all know that if Taylor had the Undersiders to back her up she would have won. Or at least put up way better of a fight.

        Absolutely agreed, for three reasons:

        1. Tattletale could produce way better tactical intelligence than “orange, red, yellow” — specifically, that it was the local team specifically that was hiring the mercenaries to break Pretender out, and said mercenaries’ ETA. She might even have deduced that it would be Bambina’s crew hired for the job.

        2. Working with the Undersiders instead of the Wards, Taylor (Skitter, in this scenario) would be a lot better equipped — spidersilk and chitin armor, spiders and ready-prepared threads, good quality insects.

        3. The Undersiders wouldn’t have been limited to “cart him off to jail” as the only option. Between Skitter and Tattletale, Pretender could have be set up to work under a new name as boss of a private security firm with long-term government contracts to do the kind of ops the Las Vegas Wards were known for, sharing intelligence and coordinating operations with the local Protectorate and Wards but no longer making calls within the PRT organizations.

  3. That hurt to read. I’m pretty sure this is the biggest loss Taylor’s ever suffered, unless you count being outed, and it sucks.

    I don’t think this will be the last time that a Cauldron hero keeps the loyalty of their teammates, either. I didn’t anticipate problems this bad from that kind of conflicting loyalty, though.

    • Well what did you expect. The Cauldron heroes didn’t do anything wrong, but they are all getting fucked over pretty hard because of the source of their powers. I wouldn’t let my friends, that I relied on to stay alive, get screwed over like that for no reason.

      • Are the forced cauldron capes, like the 53s, who stayed also getting screwed over by this? It seems to me that most of them would just be pitied.

        • They wouldn’t be getting screened.

          But it’s primarily capes in leadership positions who are getting attention, and Weld was the only one in a leadership position (up until he left).

          Some 53s stayed, like Hunch, but aren’t in a position to abuse their membership to the same degree a leader could.

      • I didn’t think about it, frankly. I mean, if I were a Cauldron cape, after the reveal, I probably would quit the team and go vigilante before they could throw me out.

        The problem is that they’re not getting screwed over for no reason — they’re getting screwed over because Cauldron can’t be trusted, and anyone who got their powers from Cauldron might very well be working for Cauldron. (In point of fact, we know that they are required to cooperate with Cauldron about some things on pain of depowerment or death, although the heroes don’t know that.)

        As an organization, the PRT cannot afford to retain Cauldron capes in positions of authority, if at all. As an organization, the PRT is very likely to at some point need to go after Cauldron for its crimes.

        But, like you said, most Cauldron heroes didn’t personally do wrong, at least not that their teams know about. Battery didn’t do anything wrong. Triumph didn’t do anything wrong. Some of them — Battery for sure — would even be willing to cooperate against Cauldron. Which means, like in Pretender’s case, there’s going to be tension between the PRT and local heroes.

        If this is the only time something like this goes down, they’ll be lucky.

        • Why would you resign when you had earned your position? Or if you were going to resign why wouldn’t you do your best to bring your entire team with you? There is no reason to just give up and go solo at this point, just because you had the money and will to go out and save people.

          Once you get past the top leadership it clearly won’t just be a simple case of ‘Cauldron Capes can’t be trusted, so remove them’. That leaves everyone that was close to the Cauldron capes feeling betrayed, especially when you remember that prominent villains are being recruited into the PRT. If I was a hero I would be wondering why Taylor is acceptable when my partner of two years isn’t. At least my partner hasn’t been running around trying to overthrow the government.

          Also, for any of the Cauldron Capes that haven’t actually done anything wrong, they are getting screwed over for no reason. There is no proof they would actually obey Cauldron, so they are being punished on pure speculation.

          • It’s kind of a gut reaction — better to walk out than be thrown out — but rereading Battery’s interlude and thinking about Pretender’s situation leaving is actually the safe move. Getting outed as a Cauldron cape is bad for your health, still, and the PRT is making a point of outing any Cauldron heroes they identify, so quitting at the same time as all those capes who quit because of disgust at Alexandria et al. is a deniable path out of the line of fire.

            If any members of my team come with me, that’s their perogative. If any members of my team stay behind and we share intel under the table, that’s freaking sweet. But it’s their choice, not mine, and it’s the kind of choice that should be personal.

          • @wildbow: And what if I end up being a prospective candidate for team leader?

            I’m still going with the “quit before they catch me” strategy.

          • Outting the Capes most likely to bring their teammates with them when they leave just seems like such a huge mistake to me. Although now that I think about it, the PRT does have a pretty shitty record of handling things lately, so I can’t be all that surprised that they are screwing this up.

          • But what can you do in their shoes? What would you do differently?

            The info about what Alexandria is was inevitably going to leak, even before she died, and the death could readily be a catalyst for many people talking about it. Only Contessa was really holding them back (and Cauldron, behind the scenes, decided to stop protecting the Triumvirate: see number man’s interlude). So it was bound to get out somehow.

            Alexandria dies, and you have to tell the public -something-. Chevalier makes the call to tell the public about her shady background, with the caveat that he has to reassure the public that the Alexandria situation won’t recur. He promises to vet the leadership, makes it public so the ones in power know to step down while there’s still an excuse.

            But you get isolated cases like Pretender, who are too committed to their careers to leave, people who know they have immediate subordinates who are Cauldron Capes. Who find themselves between a rock and a hard place, in a situation where things were already strained at best (ie. Las Vegas).

            What call would you have made, Mc2rpg?

          • Off the top of my head they could try to consolidate the capes that were made by Cauldron into their own teams. It would have some serious drawbacks, but it would at least keep the teams nominally under PRT control and prevent cluster fucks like Vegas. As it is not only can’t they trust the new team that forms in Vegas, they also can’t give it direct commands anymore.

            Hopefully it would also keep the Cauldron Capes from feeling like their options are murder the thinkers investigating them or be killed by the Contessa. Seeing as these are people conditioned to fight, putting them in a position where it is kill someone or die yourself the answer they are probably going to take should be rather obvious.

        • If the PRT told me they were redploying all Cauldron capes to homogenous teams, I’d be going to sleep every night wondering if I’ll wake up redeployed to a re-education camp. Until I quit.

          • Wouldn’t that be better than all the Cauldron capes bailing and doing whatever the hell they wanted with no oversight? Sometimes taking trigger capes with them when they create their new teams. Now they are free to do whatever they want and nobody is even nominally looking over their shoulders and able to command them. Better to know who the Cauldron teams are and where they are hanging around.

          • Oh, no. The Protectorate won’t have direct control over absolutely every cape team, what a tragedy. Come on, the PRT/Protectorate has no business whatsoever telling people how to be superheroes, and we’ve established that breakaway teams will be helping with Endbringers. So what exactly is the problem?

            And frankly, the more Cauldron whistleblowers running around without supervision, the better.

      • Re-read Battery’s interlude again, they did do something wrong, ALL of them except maybe guys like Triumph knew that their powers come from involuntary human experimentation and chose to take the power juice anyway. They are getting screwed exactly for that reason and they deserve every second of it.

        • And Taylor overthrew the government of Brockton Bay, murdered some people, and just in general did a bunch of nasty shit. Flaunting her around the various Wards teams must be a slap in the face when Cauldron heroes are being distrusted and purged from leadership positions.

          • I know, it’d suck if the Wards and Protectorate ever had a history of taking in villains of their own, some of whom were worse than her. Isn’t that right, Alexandria, Eidolon, and Madcap?

          • And if at the same time Madcap was bothering her like this she was being persecuted by the upper echelon of the PRT, and being told she won’t ever end up in charge, all the while risking the Contessa coming to kill her if she answers any questions…. Well I rather expect things might have gone rather differently there if she had the choice.

          • Battery was a Cauldron cape, so had she survived then she would have been told she couldn’t be in charge and would have to be vetted. It was even one of her higher ups that pressured her to bring the villain on.

          • At the time she was being harassed by Madcap she did NOT have those other stressers about her career going on. If all this was going on while she was being asked to make sacrifices with regards to Madcap she easily could have gone the other way.

            Until just recently being empowered by Cauldron was not considered a negative thing, so while she was putting up with Madcap she very well could have expected to eventually lead a team and end up in a position of power.

  4. Might be worth making a more direct play to lure out Contessa. Drop really juicy dirt on Cauldron that can’t be ignored, then just use the Xykon Method to pummel her into a fine paste. (The Xykon Method is what I like to call the application of sheer overwhelming force to blast through any tricks your opponent might have.)

    Guessing that Number Man was the sniper.

    And yeah, the rot’s pretty deep within the Protectorate. Certainly they seem to be going about the Cauldron thing the wrong way, given that it just cost them an entire team.

    Taylor… has nobody ever read Batman in this world? It should have existed prior to the divergence, at least. Because if anybody had read Batman, they’d know that there’s a place for a hero whose shtick is that they’re the scariest motherfucker around.

    Optimal strategy would be to have Taylor use the benign, friendly bugs and the more-or-less invisible bugs to serve as Mission Control for the rest of the team, constantly feeding them updates on everything of importance in her power’s radius, giving them directions, and generally taking advantage of her unparalleled capacity for overwatch.

    The only reason for her to come into the field directly is either if she’s personally attacked or if the opponent needs to have the stupid beaten out of them as brutally as possible. At that point, the nasty bugs come out to play, the gloves come off, and with any luck the other guy decides to surrender before he gets Skitterized. If not, the dipshit gets to be the latest entry on the “Meh, I could take her OH GOD THE BUGS ARE EVERYWHERE” list.

    • There were comic books, but comics never really got to the bronze age, where they really had stories or where characters had more than surface depth.

    • I find that Batman is similar to Shadow Skalker while Weaver is more like spider man…at least the web/silk cords part.

      • The sadism, Social Darwinist bullshit and casual willingness to murder if she can get away with it are pretty damn big differences between Shadow Stalker and Batman.

      • Batman doesn’t kill (except in Tim Burton’s movies, which are very good). He may be a lot of things, but he wouldn’t let himself cross that line unless it was something huge, like Darkseid taking over everything. That’s one of those things about the Joker.

        There’s always that question of why he doesn’t just kill Joker. Well why doesn’t Joker just kill everyone he meets? Why is he so selective? And if Batman kills the Joker, how much more similar is he to Joker now that he’s saying “Ok, I WILL murder someone…I’ll just not murder everyone.”

        Despite not playing it, that’s one reason I like the look of Injustice: Gods Among Us. Joker got the last laugh over Superman there. You think someone like him regretted what he made Supes do? Not at all. In the end, he defeated the greatest hero, the blue and red boyscout himself, and created the worst villain that world had ever seen.

        That’s why Batman can’t kill the Joker.

        • Batman killing the joker would not make him any more like the Joker in any way, shape, or form. Batman may believe it would, but that is basically just a rationalization to keep the villains alive to sell more comics. If this was actually true that would make any cop that killed someone in the line of duty into a monster. We wouldn’t be able to bring veterans back to America, because they would all be monsters.

          • The soldiers don’t count. They are in an explicit wartime situation. Unless you want to put the U.S. under martial law, what they would do as police forces is irrelevant. Though you may be surprised to hear that there have been times, even in Vietnam, where they could not engage an enemy who wouldn’t engage them. That’s right, the guy could have guns, could be walking in plain sight, could be bending over backward and mooning them, but they were not allowed to fire.

            Probably because if the military just up and killed everyone that looked like a terrorist, we’d have a lot more problems on our hands. Or do you forget all those people who use the term “terrorist” in place of the term “middle eastern”? If you do, there’s a huge section of the news that loves to do that.

            And as for cops, regular men and women who don’t even always have bulletproof vests to wear, faced with someone holding a gun who refuses to put it down and surrender, they are at a pretty good risk of dying.

            They don’t break out the gun for every occasion too. They don’t just execute people in the streets. They have certain conduct they have to follow. Talk them down, be assertive, try nonlethal methods of handling the situation, and then, if things have escalated to deadly force, you whip out the gun and shoot the shit out of them.

            Even Dredd waited to use lethal force until the Slo-Mo heads had killed someone, and he was a literal walking judge, jury, and executioner.

            Batman, in contrast, is a highly trained martial artist with gadgets and bulletproofing and one of the best crimefighting minds ever who has Superman and The Flash on speed dial. A guy with a gun doesn’t stand a chance. Even guys with deathtraps don’t stand a chance, though wasting the time to kill the guy won’t do anything to keep the giant bowling pinball or whatever from sliding down where he is to smoosh him.

            So he catches Joker, who is legally insane and who doesn’t get executed because Gotham isn’t in Texas.

          • Batman is labelled as a murderer after the joker kills himself to frame batman, as I mentioned further down.

          • Batman’s problem is that he knows that his decision not to kill anyone is basically the only thing that keeps him from turning into the Punisher during one of the “Frank Castle is a Lawful Stupid psychotic murderer” phases of that character.

            Once Batman started killing, he would find it extremely difficult to not just default to that as his preferred solution to any criminals he encounters.

            Also, there’s the bit where he’s still technically a vigilante and as such the law would be required to come down on him like the fist of an angry god if he started killing people, a situation which can’t end well for anybody regardless of whether the lawmen choose to come after him or ignore him.

          • Personally I subscribe to the theory that the reason Batman doesn’t kill the Joker is because he’s a bit crazy himself. Oh he functions much better, and directs it in a helpful way to society. But he’s still very damaged, and as a resault he can’t bring himself to kill.

            Plus Joker has his immunity. Realistically someone would have hired a sniper to shoot him leaving the courthouse or something by now.

          • @Psycho Gecko:

            > So he catches Joker, who is legally insane and who doesn’t get executed because Gotham isn’t in Texas.

            Joker isn’t the kind of “legally insane” that gets an insanity defense. The Law and the Multiverse “Supervillains and the Insanity Defense” article points us at the M’Naghten Rules:

            the jurors ought to be told in all cases that every man is to be presumed to be sane, and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes, until the contrary be proved to their satisfaction; and that to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.

            The Joker knew the nature and quality of the act that he was doing and that it was wrong. There is no insanity defense for the Joker.

        • The joker kills himself after being defeated by bat man in “The Dark Knight Returns” (not the movie)

          • Nah. According to The Joker Blogs, the Joker, aka Patient 4479, is sent to Arkham Asylum to be evaluated to see if he’s insane. He is at first under the care of Dr. Harleen Quinzel, but there are some incidents that occur, most notably a dream about bearhunting and a dead Steve in her office. Also, he won’t give back the picture of Dr. Arkham’s wife that he took. The hypnotherapy with Dr. Hugo Strange doesn’t help matters either. Things go downhill from there, but in the end, he’s only there because he wants to be.

        • Or he could have killed him after realizing he can’t be safely locked up, can’t be rehabilitated, and just made a line in the sand. If a villain meets all these requirements, it is simply safer for him to die. Imagine how many lives would have been saved if Batman acted more like a policeman who are allowed to use lethal force to save lives if the situation warrants it. Though granted it isn’t really his fault. Realistically, the Joker would have been executed, shot “accidentally” by a policeman, or another hero who wasn’t selfish enough to let someone kill people for some moral point would have come to gotham and killed him.

          • Except to shoot the Joker accidentally, or to execute an insane man, or any of that stuff where you just don’t look while something illegal goes on, is the point. What point do you stop at when it’s ok to give the police the power to kill any random person they come across dressed in a purple suit with a pale face and green hair?

            Yeah, that’s what I envision. I picture Joker finding out people want to kill him like that and kidnapping various men to make them look like him and be unable to do anything but cackle. Then release them, watch the heroes gun them down, and laugh as everyone finds out about it.

          • That isn’t the point and he isn’t a random person. The point is a mass murder, who knows what he is doing insane or not, can not be safely locked up. He keeps escaping again and again to kill people or worse. He can’t be rehabilitated, though realistically Arkham would have the guy drugged out of his mind for others safety, and thus it is for other people’s safety that he be killed. Yes a prisoner’s rights are important, yes we shouldn’t be so quick to execute people, yes execution is a complicated issue, BUT there are no other options. There was a philosopher who made waves several months back who argued that they should let batman, or the government, kill the joker because by letting him live they are letting him kill and are somewhat responsible by not taking steps to stop him. Are you arguing that the joker, and just the joker-no other villain, is more important than the hundreds of lives he killed at this point?

          • As a personal fan of the Joker, yes.

            But if you want to talk morality, what’s to stop someone from using your same legal argument today to step up and kill any U.S. presidents, serving or just recent, who have been complicit in the deaths of many people?

            Not a random person, can’t or won’t be locked up by the justice system, can’t be rehabilitated, and the actions they took led to far, far more deaths.

          • Just to clarify, it isn’t batman’s fault nor his self professed job and I’m saying only the joker should die. He caught the guy the police weren’t equipped to deal with and it isn’t his fault that they can’t imprison him. But honestly with all the escapes at arkham, I would argue that he make his own prison or something if you don’ t want to cross that line. Though I still argue that after the 3rd time of letting him live after he escaped yet again and killed again, he is somewhat responsible for those deaths.

          • The president hasn’t killed hundreds of people, escaped a dozen different times from prison/psychiatric hospital to kill even more people, been unable to helped of his murderous impulses, and been caught again and again without anything changing. I’m a fan of the joker as well because he is Batman’ foil, and their conflict is very compelling. It’s just that it takes a certain willing suspension of belief that Batman considers the joker’s life more important than his mounting list of victims.

          • And someone else would be saying “This one person only needs to die.” Like Lincoln (psychiatric problems, pursued a war that lead to a shitload of people dying, was “caught” by the media and politicians as pursuing a war that could have been ended sooner had he wanted to give in) needed to die or Kennedy needed to die by the estimation of at least one person who was equipped at the time to do so when other people couldn’t or wouldn’t. There are people who feel the President has murdered thousands of people, just like there is a whole country charging the last one for war crimes in absentia. So really, your argument boils down to “But the President isn’t the Joker in my perception.” Maybe in the perception of people flinging grenades on stage, or making posters that have presidents in Joker makeup, or the guy who took potshots at the windows of the White House with a rifle…

            Maybe not the president. Maybe it’s someone murdering whoever they think is the head of that infiltrating reptilian alien plot. Or a guy trying to kill whoever is hiding that the planet is hollow and filled with another world’s worth of land and creatures.

            There are advantages to having a system that doesn’t distinguish between the President of the United States, the Joker, and anyone else off the street.

            • Frankly, I don’t see normal people having much of a reaction to US president actually being reptilian alien inflatrator either, provided he always was one(given recent events), so that shouldn’t really count from my PoV.

              “Change the channel please, it is that dinosaur thing for the 30th time this week.”

          • It is just as a last resort though and we still use the same system for everyone. First we try to lock him up for others safety, which in the real world does keep others safe. If he keeps breaking out, than something needs to change. If the batman is going to be a vigilante that catches others the police can’t, he might as well imprison those that regular prison’s can’t imprison safely. Which would be a very interesting storyline with all the Guantanamo bay issues in the real world. Maybe batman can pull a bane and break the joker’s spine so he is physically unable to kill someone. Just being knocked out can be very dangerous and it is easily justified as an accident. Keep the joker drugged out of his mind, which does happen in psychiatric hospitals with violent patients more than people are comfortable with. If none of that works, and he keeps escaping and killing people than we have to kill him only after a jury votes yes on it.

          • The problem here is best represented by Judge Dread. Batman is not a judge, or a jury. He is not the one being killed. People of Gotham are the ones being killed, and every time joker breaks out, and gets caught again, they are the ones who should ask for an execution. Not Batman. He does not have the right to write laws, or decide who lives or dies, but Gotham should have killed half of Arkam long ago, just on the basis of: We are unable to heal these people, or hold them, so with regrets, We will now eliminate them as a threat to public safety. The same way you would kill a man who was infected with a deadly infective super virus, to stop him from endangering the rest of the populace. It is sad that they are unable to help these people, but there is a limit to how far they are supposed to go in trying to save the lives of sick people who are a danger to others. At some point it is better, for society as a whole, to cut its loses. And it is sad, all loss of life is sad, but that should not stop them from making the decision, any more then the doctor who runs a hospital, and has to choose between treating one very sick patient for 500 000 $(hypothetical treatment), or buying a new cat scan, that would save a lot more lives.

    • I think one thing that’s being missed is that whilst the Proctorates efforts to make their capes look presentable are /generally/ a good thing, that doesn’t mean that it’s ever intelligent to assume one rule will fit ALL cases. Most Wards are hampered relatively little by the rules the PR boys impose on them- Taylor is being crippled and having to actively try and subvert rules that don’t make sense in order to help her teammates. This is not a good situation.

      The Protectorate does not need /every/ one of their heroes to fit the same brief- they can go for a different set of trade-offs in a few cases that would really benefit without risking the program. Weaver ends up with an intimidating rep? Clockblocker and his 14 equivalents can be goody-two-shoes enough for the both of them! As someone said in SB, the Protectorate have been dealt a really bad hand with Weaver- why are they trying to apply their normal strategy, when they could instead go for a different tack, and embrace the advantages her past gives for a bad cop/edgy underdog persona? As another person said last update, one bad cop is a useful asset to the team, if the rest of them are good cops.

      Obviously there would still need to be restrictions, but they could be relatively sane ones. A happy compromise, that makes Weaver much more effective, makes her look intimidating by not like a horror movie character, and helps Taylor to rebuild her self-confidence is eminently possible. I just wonder what it will take for us to get there.

      • We all know common sense isn’t that common, and finding someone with the right combination of authority and common sense is the only issue keeping this from being a workable solution. It’s possible that once she’s placed on a team a leader who has experience working at street-level will argue for something like this, but until then, her hands are fairly well tied.

        It does make you wonder how Shadow Stalker got away with so much crap though.

        • I hope something like that happens as well, I’ve speculated on SB that if Taylor can jump through enough hoops, it might give Dragon and Defiant the leverage they need to help fix things. The key issue is trust really, Taylor just needs one person in a position to effect change to trust her. (It’s understandable that many of them don’t, most of them don’t have the full dataset to work with that we do, the only ones coming close are Miss Militia, Defiant and Dragon, and they’re in Taylor’s corner.) Be interesting to see if and how this improvement happens- Taylor is actually pretty good at getting people to trust her, and for the right reasons, if we look back in time.

          I suspect Shadow Stalker got away with her crap due to the full extent of it being unknown or at least sketchy in terms of exact provability, and not having challenged the very /legitimacy/ of the Protectorate and the PRT. Being messed up and doing bad things they can deal with, that’s “following the script” so to speak, but being morally driven and working outside the system, and getting it right most of the time? Saving vast numbers of lives and the future of city, in ways that highlighted that the Protectorate/PRT weren’t able to do so? That’s humiliating, and it’s a blow against their very legitimacy. (All the net good she did and her good reasons for having done that good doesn’t really seem to effect the opinions of anyone but people like Defiant, Miss Militia and Dragon.)

  5. This is actually consistent with the story. Yes, Taylor rarely loses, but that’s because most of the time, her loss would mean death and the end of the story, and also because the villains almost always win in Worm. Taylor is no longer a criminal, ergo, she no longer has villain immunity and can lose,

    …this story is, on a fundamental level, deeply depressing…

    • This story meaning Worm in general, or this chapter in particular?

      Either way, I don’t have the same reading of it that you do.

      This chapter saw Taylor survive a fight as a hero and manage “count a little coup” (Bambina’s stung face). Yes, it wasn’t a curbstomping total win for her, but just like everyone else in the world, Taylor has her off days too. She survived this one without grievous wounds, which is more than a lot of other characters can say, and that’s a win enough for me.

  6. Forty-five in the rankings … perhaps “highest-activity threads in the Parahumans Online forum”? That would explain how one person could push her down fifteen slots.

    • More that Bambina has been in the top 40 most ‘trending’ villains, and is calculating her villainy to maximize her reputation. She let herself get low, planning a big stunt, only to be overshadowed.

      • So who/what is sponsoring villains and why? I’m thinking this might be more than just a throwaway thing.

        Coil, for example, “sponsored” the undersiders for various reasons. Is someone doing the same with Bambina and her team?

        Cauldron has in the past allowed villains to rampage (Shatterbird and Siberian come to mind) in order to drum up business (or something else?) for themselves. Maybe they’re paying villains to control their movements somewhat? Keep them doing minor but visible damage (similar to Coil)?

        • Cauldron is probably one of those sponsors. Seems like something they do after reading the Number Man interlude. Other groups like that German group, or just Vegas oddsmakers on one side of the law or another who don’t mind a little destruction on the path to greater profits. Heck, a rich casino owner from Mississippi could be paying Bambina to stay in Vegas to help his own business along.

          • That actually makes a good deal of sense. A villain has to worry about their identity being outed, so they have to be careful about their money as the government flags suspicious banking activities. Plus the bank showed there is alot of risk involved for pulling jobs. It is much safer, and possibly more profitable, to have someone pay you to attack somewhere. Less worry about planning, they can pay you in ways that aren’t tracked, and they probably take care of all your expenses. Mercenary work is probably pretty common.

        • Advertisers have a lot to gain from product placement agreements with villains, and not too much to lose. As long as they’re discreet and don’t get caught handing Bambina bags of cash, who’s to say she doesn’t just really like Nike sneakers? Particularly the ones with the neon bright swooshes? Anything she’s likely to wear or be carrying on camera with some degree of plausible deniability is a potential advertising space.

        • Corporate Espionage/Sabotage could be a big source of sponsors, just as there are Corporate sponsored “Heroes” for Advertising/PR shown briefly during the Leviathan Arc, its more than likely that multinational corporations sponsor villain teams for wetwork.

          • Keep in mind I was not just talking about Battery’s task.

            In Alexandria’s interlude, Doctor Mother says they shouldn’t stop Manton, because as long as Siberian is active people will flock to join the protectorate.

            Alexandria then says she won’t let monsters walk free just so that they can profit from the damage they do. (Of course, we know she ends up doing exactly that).

  7. Further demonstrations that butterflies, while pretty, and better than nothing, are a very poor insect to be using in a fight involving super powers. Unfortunately, the marketing division is unlikely to recognize that winning the fights against the villains is more important for their reputation in the long run than looking pretty while doing so. With any luck they’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.

    • I was thinking that Weaver could coat the butterflies’ wings with some sort of sleeping agent in the form of a powder.

      Also, if she had anthrax and the determination to use it…

      • Anthrax would probably be too slow to be viable in a fight, the sleeping powder maybe but for that bees would probably a better choice: smaller target for an opponent to see coming, could carry the powder instead of the pollen that they normally be collecting, and there is still the stinger to fall back on if more force is required.

    • They’re trying to change a ‘New Warrior’ into a member of ‘X-Factor’ (Government team), to use a Marvel analogy. While on paper some of these things are possible (I’m thinking back to mid-90s here) the problem is mentality. How do you take someone who literally has been winning at all costs but trying to minimize collateral and turn them loose without admitting that winning at all costs is your only goal.

      I feel sorry for the image consultant folks, they’ve been given an anorexic pig and told to dress it up for ‘best in show’. There’s no way that’s going to look pretty *or* effective.

      Also, they need to get some iteration of Skitter-armor back. It’s clearly impacting confidence levels. Or, hey, your warrior that used to wear Elfin Chain Mail +3 is now wearing poor-quality Padded. Yeeahhhh. Let me know how that works out.

      • Except Skitter never tried to win at “all” costs, she had a strict moral code, and never did more than inflict some temporary pain or fright on anyone who wasn’t a serious bad guy. She already knows how to moderate her use of force to be non-lethal, it’s the leaning on fear and intimidation thing that really causes the disconnect between her and the PRT. If Aegis was allowed to punch a villain unconscious, or Gallant or Kid Win zap them unconscious, then why can’t weaver be allowed to pepper-spray them unconscious with pepper spray-laced bluebottles or Lady bugs.

        Pepper spray is used by the police and members of the public, it’s hardly extreme is it? Nor is it more extreme than the degree of force that the Protectorate are already happy to employ. As things stand, Taylor is being hamstrung, and it’s annoying because she’s already more experienced than probably most of the Protectorate members about using her power to hurt and restrain but not to do permanent damage.

        There’s a good compromise that could be reached here, taking advantage of Taylor’s preexisting skill set whilst keeping true to the letter and spirit of the Ward’s restrictions, and it’s being missed. I hope this will change over time.

        • Weaver probably needs to toe a much friendly line to counterbalance the negative PR factors she had working against her.

          Basically pretty butterflies help make up for:
          – A creepy, trigger-iffic power
          – Having been an outright, well known super villain
          – Having killed Alexandria*

          More importantly though, the other heroes aren’t necessarily aware of how much personal restraint Taylor works under, or is willing to work under now. She’s shown a lot of restraint in the past, but recently she filled a guys eyes with maggots and bug-murdered a PRT director and one of the 3 most powerful heroes on the planet.

          Telling Taylor she has to work with butterflies challenges her in a lot of ways, not the least of which being to prove she can live within the constraints the heroes (should) work under.

          Against a serious threat like the S9 or an Endbringer, it seems like everyone’s aware that the kid gloves are off and the PR guys have a different role to play (spinning the larger narrative so people see whatever good sides there are in addition to the catastrophic damage).

        • It could all be a test if Taylor is willing to abide by their frankly ludicrous rules and regs.

          Her first instinct is to reach for the hard and fast option against an enemy super, because that has been what’s allowed her to escape and survive. Not really what the PRT bosses are pushing – in public.

  8. This has to change.

    Next Episode:-

    Weaver switches costumes, renames herself Recluse & seizes command of the Protectorate in a semi-violent takeover to clean house.

    • I prefer the name widow, as it shows her loss of the Undersiders. Bug implications of the name should e obvious.

          • I tried to get into DC Online, but.. too much a console game for my taste. I miss CoH even if I only checked in on it every few years, unlike so many flash-in-the-pan MMOs it had some class to it.. and lots of user generated content. Still amazing that companies do that shit, just shut it down rather than sunset it in maintenance mode or license it out to a kickstart done by the studio or something. It sure taught be better than to pay for NCSoft games in the future, though.. no point when they’re going to arbitrarily go away.

          • Had a far more extensive character creator than DC or Champions. I always come out looking kinda skinny in Champions. And I hate their Leaping powers. Just doesn’t measure up. Plus, they really don’t have but one thing like a Stalker and combat is not set up to work in that set’s favor.

      • Now that I think about it, the closest equivalent to Dragon in CoH was Nemesis. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence and not suspicious in any way. Mmm, good coffee today. Say, did you get those TPS reports done?

  9. I love the hiring kid villains to take a dump on the Protectorate’s rep, and in general. They can put up enough of a fight to do the job, they’re naive enough to take on profoundly stupid risks, and if you build a relationship with them, the ones who manage not to get themselves killed or jailed will probably be pretty nasty customers by they time they’re adults.

    Looks like Cauldron has already pretty much got the Protectorate beat where it counts, in their hearts.

    • Also.. here’s hoping Dragon isn’t completely fucked as a result of whatever mojo Contessa laid on her. I suppose I could hope she actually did something helpful, helped unshackle her as a peace offering. Cauldron’s been operating long enough to have infiltrated her creator’s work, could have information or even backdoors that let them do what they want with her, so I imagine that whatever Contessa did it was super effective.

      • Well, it would only make sense that he’d be a mercenary in his off time. Destroying the world doesn’t really pay the bills, y’know?

    • My first thought was actually Bitch. Don’t ask me how she would jump so high or do that crazy stunt, but it would have been narratively fitting for Rachel and Taylor to be on the opposite sides of the law and battlefield.

    • I kinda thought Bitch for a moment. Springing prisoners would be their sorta job, if they wanted to get back to their roots and away from the high intensity life-or-death fights. And maybe wanted a lot of money to pay for all the mercs they just bought for the showdown.

  10. I can see how the girl with the ice powers would have been pretty useful here. Sending her out at first was their worst mistake. Freeze a big enough area around the fallen Dragon machine and have someone like prefab blast at it with a cannon and do some melting. Or hold the kid in it. Or at the very least, maneuver so that kid is between you and the person trying to blast you so their own blaster can’t hit you to due to his presence.

    Captain Hindsight, awaaaaaay!

    As for Bambina, now we get to see what is meant by all that pageant stuff. Made worse because she can’t grow up if I remember correctly, and because they overly sexualize those pageant girls anyway. It’d be a whole lot easier for her to meet a man if To Catch a Predator wasn’t around.

    She makes decent threats, I noticed. I just wanted to be real careful about complimenting her after that last little bit about her having Pretender bodyswap into a man and doing the most depraved thing you can think of, then adding a Hanar hanging off of something in there. And something to do with her foot too.

    Now, then, Dragon. Either Cauldron has backdoor access into her on their own, which would make Armsmaster jealous because you know how much he wants in Dragon’s backdoor, or they just tossed some money at Saint, or there’s even the possibility that Dragon’s coming back online on her own. However, this is Worm and good things don’t happen here, so most likely it’s one of the first two scenarios.

    As for August Prince himself, he could very easily be another relative from the Heartbreaker family tree. Instead of manipulating emotions or controlling bodies to keep people doing what he wants, he just has the ability to do what he wants to people without them resisting. When he hits puberty, that’s going to be a lot worse of a situation. On the plus side, SCP-668’s acquisition gives us some idea how a person like that can be stopped. He’s even weaker than that thing since he at least can be held some.

    • Usually I don’t look at a name before reading a comment, taking the content to be more worthwhile, and the automated avatars are odd, but when I read your part about Dragon’s backdoor my mind went “Yeah, that’s Psycho. *checks* Yep.”

      The implications of Cauldron having access into Dragon are frightening, though.

      • Oh yes, if Dragon has a backdoor that lets Cauldron in, well, that begs the question of WHEN they installed it, and why did they use it this time around?

        • We don’t. And as a general rule of thumb, the more people are in a conspiracy the less likely it being secret remains. So there ought to be a measure of who is working for Cauldron and who not.
          And keep in mind, Cauldron capes have the mandatory favour as an angle to force them to cooperate, but there are instances, I wager a significant amount, the Cauldron cashed these in. Probably with less prominent or powerful capes, granted, but not every Cauldron cape is in cohorts with them.

    • Re: Bambina
      Not as much as you’d think, given, well, the violent supervillain image. Anybody who’d join one would expect authorities without saying , and conversely anyone who’d join one would have to be ….well, not very sane because of the violent part and the supervillain part. Though while she does age, she still has the showbiz mom around, so that’s probably a definite block too.

      As for the foot, well. Whatever she kicks explodes. Think about it.

      Now though, there was this Shaker like labyrinth , slowly inching towars BB, surrounded by people little older appaearance-wise than her. But I doubt she’d join him (it’d hurt her rankings). She could attack him though, by saying he made a pass at her. Actually, that last part could pretty much go towards anyone in Worm.

      Bambina: How dare you ask me to screw you! I’ll tear you a new asshole with my foot!
      Legend: …I’m gay and married. Also, come into custody, we’ll find you a nice new adoptive family.

  11. We have made a slight timeskip from the last chapter to this. Taylor has had some off-screen adventures as Weaver and gotten comfortable with the technology in Dragon’s ships.

    It seems she is now seeing the downsides of her heel face turn. She no longer has to convince her team-mates to do good, but there are other restrictions. And she has potentially hitched her wagon to a lost cause.

    Are we seeing the first signs that he weaver hero identity is just another phase she is going to have to go thought until she can finally be herself?

  12. After reading that chapter it almost makes me wish I had waited for the next update. Weaver gets crippled by PC crap. A team turns traitor…. All in all it makes her look weak.

  13. Well, if Pretender is a Cauldron cape then the real leader of Cauldron must be…
    Dave Grohl! And Buckethead is surely puking about those power potions all day long!

  14. Man, that sucked. At first there was funny stuff, like Taylor releasing her butterflies. Then the fight and they got crushed. I’m not sure that Taylor would have done much better with her regular arsenal, but the heroes she’s working with really fail to inspire confidence here. If she had been allowed to go after the sniper I think it’s likely she could have taken him though which would have kept Rime in the fight.

    Ok, so on to the threats. I like the Number Man for the sniper as well. Dragon collapsed while meeting a Vegas rogue. So either that was the lady who’s real good with wires and that happened prior to the fight, or Saint showed up. Doing his little thing for Teacher. Wow, that Prince kid is annoying. Had Weaver been given more of a heads up on his power that fight would have gone differently though. If wrapping his neck in silk is cool, then she could have kept her distance and leashed him to a lamp post.

    I’m beginning to think that Cauldron with the help of Alexandria really did make the PRT incompetent on purpose. The Numbers Man in his Interlude says that eventually the PRT would be disposed of and that’s just plain easier to do with an incompetent organization. Though, I’m not positive that it’s all the PRT’s fault that they bombed this fight, but it really didn’t feel like the team was shooting for any kind of synergy.

    • The sniper was The Number Man. She could surely have hurt him, maybe killed him, but that dude’s scary good and has the soul of a tiger.. Rime might have been right in a way. If Taylor pressed him, he could very well have put a bullet in her without ever laying eyes on her, at a similar or greater range than she operates. And Taylor wouldn’t have known, but Rime might have, that he had extraction on demand.

    • Taylor had no clue what August Prince was. The others did and that was not communicated. Also PR is fine, but Rime was drilled (maybe NM held off so she will be around for the next Endbringer). The Undersiders went at each face off at 100% to win. Sometimes they didn’t win by all that much but if you go into a fight with less than 100% you can get killed and probably will get killed eventually.

    • > Though, I’m not positive that it’s all the PRT’s fault that they bombed this fight, but it really didn’t feel like the team was shooting for any kind of synergy.

      I’m trying to think of cases where PRT teams had synergy in the past — they’re pretty thin on the ground. Come to think of it, when the Undersiders were paired with the Chicago Wards, it was the Undersiders who drove the conversation towards questions of powers and power interactions. No-one else there even considered it, and I don’t think the Wards realized what they were being asked.

      • Actually the Chicago Wards had a pretty concrete team dynamic. Three heavy hitters to provide cover and protection for their long ranged combatant. The members of the Chicago Wards who weren’t present only build on that to a degree.

        But the Wards as a whole are more of a first step – it’d be more likely that a Protectorate team would move members around or exchange members with other teams as needed (such as how Vegas formed its team) to fit a certain role or dynamic, or to fill holes in the team makeup. The team members who aren’t about to move (ties to the city, for example) may have more trouble moving up the ladder, but the team works around them.

  15. So they lost, but I think it was only because they didn’t let skitter cut loose. Bambina was annoyed with the stings, but Taylor could have put her down pretty easily if she didn’t hold back. The heroes really do need a game changer, and all their big names were cauldron capes. I think they have to do what the Undersiders did when they fought the 9. Change the rules, attack unpredictably, and change the rules of engagement. Imagine if they were just a bunch of regular policemen. I imagine they would have told them to surrender, and then used lethal force. Something has to change. If it doesn’t I imagine the military will get involved if the PRT can’t do it’s job effectively, and the game of cops and robbers is over. Though I kind of doubt the military is equipped or trained to deal with this.

    • Well, I bet heavily on the military having some sort of integrated service for capes. Division. Don’t know how they’d organize it, but it’s not like they wouldn’t be interested in super soldiers…

      • Well it’s been stated that other countries version of the PRT is more military than police. I figure that is inevitable in the US as well as the Endbringers cause more devastation, and the current PRT can’t do it’s job. There has to be a treaty of some kind that limits parahumans in war after so long. The endbringers presence has probably turned certain parts of the war into big hellholes with new parahumans complicating things. The middle east, parts of africa, the balkans etc. There is also the whole water crisis thing and some parts of the world being unlivable due to them. I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE a map of the world. In grrrl power their team seems to be military based but are functionally like policemen. If the military does have parahumans I imagine they are based similar to faultline’s team. Well trained strike teams, who use guns, and try not to be seen. Anyone know how the military MPs function?

      • Actually I think the wormverse militaries don’t get involved with the capes. Likely b/c of some sort Geneva/Hague style treaty. Miss Militia seems like she would have tried to join, plus all the advantages you pointed out. But inorder to preserve cooperation for the endbringer attacks and also to keep the peace between rival nations, I can see capes being barred from the military. They might aid, in cases such as beslan-style hostage situations or if villains attack a base, but they would be treated like a police department liaison.

    • I imagine they could do a fair bit of damage to villains, after all, nothing says they have to hit them in open combat.

      Simply get their civilian IDs, and break out a Barrett Longbow, .50 caliber. Most people generally don’t survive having their head turn into a cloud of red mist, and it’s got a long enough range they can still maintain surprise…

        • Well, to be fair, if you’re talking about a Barrett .50 cal, list price is nearly US$5 a bullet. That’s a lot of money. You could probably get a half dozen donuts for that.

  16. This chapter is one where it really drives home how big the cast of Worm is. I felt a bit confused during this, because I don’t know who most of these people are. This chapter introduces a lot of new characters. Tried to look up some people on the cast page, but they weren’t there.

    Wondering who the government sponsored Thinker that Pretender killed was.

    Speaking of Pretender- he’s not in the comments.

    • Overall, a lot of interesting stuff happened in this chapter, but I didn’t really enjoy reading it.

      Not sure if that is because it is less enjoyable than usual, or just due to the fact that I’ve had a headache since before I started reading.

    • I’m guessing that the thinker was a nobody. I highly doubt that it is a semi-important character like Dinah.

  17. You know, to be the advocatus diaboli, Cauldron’s influence may be accelerating the rate with which the Protectorate looses members. They could easily cash in their favours every time a high-ranking Cauldron cape is uncovered. For example, when the heroes try to bring a former team mate or boss in, let them stand by when the prisoner escapes, with their excuse being conflicting loyalties. This way lower-ranking capes could break off the Protectorate without them incriminating themselves.

  18. They lost because Contessa was there. You can’t beat a precog. If they had unleashed Skitter, or if Prefab had thought to encase the the box Pretender was in, or if Skitter had been briefed about the mercenaries’ abilities, or any number of other errors had been corrected, they still would have lost, and probably a lot more violently, because Contessa would have laid out a different plan.

    Imagine you’re playing chess against a good (maybe not grandmaster, but talented) opponent, except you aren’t allowed to take back any moves, but the opponent can take back as many moves in a row as she wants, until she finds a line of play to which you won’t react correctly. There’s going to be one. Even the best players in the world can’t account for every line of play in a timely manner. Now imagine that each move is a moment in time and the game has thousands of pieces. She isn’t going to be beat like this.

      • the protectorate thinks she’s a Thinker
        HOWEVER, we know from Faultlines interlude that she can’t be a precog or most kinds of thinker, because Shamrock’s power would mess those up.

        but pidgey’s comment helped solidify an idea I’ve had about her for a while – what if she LITERALLY can take back her turns? as in, she can jump back in time, her memories intact, and retry her actions again and again (for example, Paladin’s boyfriend from The Last Skull can do that), if only for a few seconds at a time? she wouldn’t be so graceful and self-confident because her power tells her what to do – it would be because she has done this as many times as she needs, because she KNOWS what is going to happen in response to her actions!

        that would be a pretty major power, right there. the only way to take her down would be to figure out her backjump-limit and trap her in a situation where she wouldn’t be able to backjump far enough to save herself/ a no-win situation where no action on her part could save her

          • That’s pretty much been my personal theory, and I could see something like that simply trumping Shamrock’s power. To my knowledge, there’s no rule that says all powers are created equal.. and even if they were equal in strength, Contessa’s presumed extensive experience with her power could have decided things in her favor.

            If Bonesaw’s theory about the passengers grasping a concept and building from it is correct, she actually [i]could[/i] have save-scumming as a power.

            • so, she used to be a gamer before she got her powers?

              somehow, I get the mental image of her spending her free time trolling online gamers, save-scumming to always win.

            • man, if I could buy powers from Cauldron, I’d probably buy something to stop aging (Contessa seems to have that, too), something so I didn’t need sleep anymore (no more wasting time on that!) and either power copying or save-scumming.

          • if I could buy powers from Cauldron, I’d probably buy something to stop aging (Contessa seems to have that, too), something so I didn’t need sleep anymore

            Hi Weld

        • I’m not sure that thinkers are thrown off by precogs, was it stated? Besides even if Contessa is a precog, it could be a ScryVsScry, where the stronger one wins and is able to both read clearly and jam her opponent.

          for example, Paladin’s boyfriend from The Last Skull can do that
          That’s an interesting idea, I did not like The Mulligan a lot characterwise, but his powers was well thought. We also know that Cauldron does have an handle on something similar, presumably used on Coil.

          Btw, Paladin gets the best line ever in that story: “…you aren’t my type…”

      • Nope. If I recall correctly, all we know about her power is from seeing the fight with Lung’s old gang and the aftermath of the fight with Faultline’s crew. And this. Everything else is pure speculation.

    • I don’t think she’s a Precog, I believe she’s more likely to be a Thinker whose Passanger works like a subconscious Laplace’s demon in such a way that it allows her to perform perfect executions of every task.

  19. Bambina, August Prince, and Starlet all captured, for what that’s worth. Taylor always did have a pessimistic streak, but ‘defeat on every conceivable level’ is a bit harsh – no casualties, either.

    Taking out or stopping Contessa and the Number Man, backed by Doormaker… was unlikely to be possible anyway. They aren’t there to fight, there’s no real way to to pin them down, and even if you somehow did force an engagement, either of them is quite capable of going lethal fast enough to buy a few seconds to duck through an exit from Doormaker. And for the Number Man to not kill anyone with a sniper rifle… has to be deliberate.

    Vantage definitely knows about what happened with Standstill, and the conversation suggests it’s common knowledge. Briefings? Friendly chats in the timeskip?

    “Months” of suppressing her powers? A major timeskip? Past the next scheduled Endbringer attack, if so.

    The more painful defeat is that Pretender and his whole team chose Cauldron – and apparently killed a Protectorate thinker for them, perhaps as the price for his powers, perhaps as the price for his escape, perhaps just because when you use thinkers to sift for Cauldron capes, some of the interview subjects react violently – and his team bankrolled another escape attempt before walking off the job. Some of the ‘heroes’ are choosing despair. Short of outright killing an Endbringer, it’s hard to see what could bring them back.

    Well, Taylor’s solutions have always tended to be Gordian: if people fear the Protectorate can’t take the Contessa or the Number Man in a fight, there’s a very straightforward way to break that assumption. Not easy, but quite simple. Quite odd that Taylor didn’t engage Contessa while she was inside Kulshedra, didn’t try to chew through wiring while Contessa was fixing things – enough insects to see, not enough to attack, and no way to get more in once the door sealed?

    This arrangement isn’t stable. If she’s been months in medium security, it’s also not moving anywhere good. Not sure how it’ll collapse, but at some point Taylor’s going to face the choice between protocol and letting things go to hell… and while she respects law and the reasons for it, it’s hard to imagine any other result, when things fall apart, but her stepping in to the breach.

    • Reworded the ‘months suppressing powers’ – this is only a few days after the last chapter.

      Taylor only had butterflies inside the Kulshedra.

      • Thanks for the clarification on timing. And while PR is extremely important in minimizing lynchings, the PRT does need to develop a ‘wartime’ doctrine based around the truth that while posing is fine for cops and robbers, in a real fight you have to win, then spin. (See also such basic order of operations truths like ‘loot, then burn.’ Note that this is distinct from ethical issues… but Glenn doesn’t deal in ethics, just appearances.)

        Late thought: power vacuum in Vegas. And likely more such to come elsewhere. At some point the PRT will have to look around for who they have on staff with expertise in dealing with power vacuums. Failing that, at some point, when faced with foes willing to kill… the on-scene commander is going to let Weaver off the leash, as Rime did not. Could Weaver have taken Contessa and the Number Man? Either way, it’d be one heck of a fight. Maybe a very short one if either side has the gloves all the way off – too many ways to be lethal, too little invulnerability to go around – but one to remember.

        Projected result for Vegas team – something like the deal Weld got. Don’t think they’d be welcome in the Irregulars, though: Case 53s and paying Cauldron capes on one team? Awkward.

        Potentially interesting complications from segregating cauldron capes from trigger capes – but without knowing more about the Passengers, no way to plausibly predict what happens.

      • I was actually fine with that wording. From the beginning, she suppressed both the visual and audio aspects of her powers, and lately she’s realized she needs to suppress some of her unconscious directions as well. I think it’d work fine in a sequential format, it’s just when people are reading into everything on a day-to-day basis that it gets misconstrued as referring to just her recent stint in the “zero tolerance” zone.

  20. Did they get Bambina and co. in custody? There’s no mention of them after Contessa retrieves Pretender, but Bambina was tied up with a bola, Starlet was gutpunched (unconscious?), and Prince was under a forcefield, so we can assume it’s not actually a total loss, just Skitter being pessimistic. She’s not used to losing, but had Cauldron not intervened here, they’d have kept Pretender. Which is undoubtedly why Cauldron intervened: had Contessa seen Bambina’s group succeeding, I expect Cauldron would have stayed out of it.

    “I tried to tell Usher to run, knowing what would happen with the thread around Prince’s leg. ”
    should be “around Prince’s neck”, I think.

  21. Say, this just occured to me: does the presence of the term ‘Washington’ in the pass-phrase indicate that it to was the victim of an endbringer attack? And if yes was it Washington DC or the state?

    A tsunami persumably could have done quite a lot of damage to the state so it would fit for a Leviathan attack. I think we have heard mention of the Capital before when the major of BB had to talk the government out of condeming the city, so it persumably is still around unless they went with the Tokyo-3 route or Simurgh attacked Washington DC and nobody noticed any changes in the nations top politicians.

    • Simurgh corruption in the Oval Office would only be an improvement.

      In fact, I don’t think that her plan is so much to get important people dancing to her tune than to use her pawns towards certain effects on everyone else. She didn’t need to directly corrupt Tagg, because the jackbooting neanderthal did that to himself during the cleanup is Lasuane.

    • Well you see, when leviathan first arrive we found out that the Washington monument was actually…(fill in the blank yourself)

      The answer is his tail, you sick bastards.

  22. I’m pretty sure Taylor could have taken down Numbers Man with no problems. Also we didn’t get to learn what Rine’s problem with Taylor’s attitude was.

    • Depends. As we saw in his interlude, Numbers Man’s abilities can be beaten if there are too many possible attacks. Give Taylor enough bugs, and some range so he can’t get close to her… Then again his power might make him realize the absolute last thing he wants is for her to be knocked out. I’d love to have that happen, and then he realizes his chances of surviving have dropped down to zero.

    • My interpretation was that Rime was having doubts about Taylor’s ‘genuineness’. In the past, she turned herself in, only for it to have been a ruse. Perhaps she thinks Skitter still intends to betray them all? It is possible – if an opportunity presents itself where Skitter must choose between the PRT and doing ‘what is right’, it seems she’ll pick the latter?

  23. Why didn’t Bambina go to Regent for that kind of fun? Easier than braking Pretender out. And kind of surprised the ship didn’t release any foam once they started falling out of the sky. Can see why it wouldn’t be feasable for pilots but why not for passengers or prisoners?
    At least they can put the little twirps in custody now. Small consolation.

    • Bambina just wanted to throw them off-guard. She was paid to do the job.
      It wouldn’t be that hard to find someone to have sex with, if she really wanted to.
      Also: is she actually a kid or just looking like one?

      I’m not sure either where all the foam has gone. It used to be a huge concern in every engagement with Dragon or the PRT. Maybe the dispenser broke along with the ship.

      • It was probably stored in the floor (extra cushioning in case of emergency landing), but it got removed along with the lights.

        • This model isn’t even a version 1 yet, it was like a .8, so I don’t find it strange for it to be missing a few things that makes it a real ‘Dragon’ ship. Of course, you’d think that for such a secure sortie as this, you’d at least use a version 1. Of course, Dragon is building new ships and struggling with her own corruption(?) issues at this point.

          • Also, they were decamping in such a hurry that they didn’t even wait for the second ship. Which makes sense, given how quickly Bambina showed up after they took off.

      • She ages more slowly than she should, so her years and mind are older than her body.

        Might be harder for her to find someone to drag to bed. She’s probably jealous as hell that Chris Hansen gets all the good child molesters.

  24. Man Taylor picked a bad time to be in the Protectorate, didn’t she?

    Too bad Taylor sucks at the superhero banter. She should have told Bambina “Young lady, I am going to wash your mouth out with a bar of soap!”

    I imagine that if she had a decent swarm Taylor would have been able to handle Bambina’s team pretty easily by herself. For August Prince the problem was that she was limited in how to restrain him. Better bugs and she could have tied him up with them rather than having to do it herself. Not to mention she could have spiders make more silk as needed. Numbers Man and Contessa are a different story.

    This chapter just shows you shouldn’t fight S rank threats with pretty butterflies and expect to win.

  25. Anyone else think it’s a bad, bad idea to try and feed the heroes that Alexandria was really corrupted? The general public has to think so, but all we need is one Tattletaleian-esque person, or a mind-reader, and Skitter’s new potential team hates her guts because she killed Alexandria for vengeance and not for self-defense, or what have you.

    I do think whoever that’s ‘new’ that gets close to Skitter, is going to have to learn the truth about all that. You cannot keep such dangerous secrets among close allies, we learned this during the S9 arc. Skitter is better than Cauldron, to boot.

    • To be fair, the heroes for the most part are already aware that Alexandria was corrupt. They’ve known this since the end of the Echidna fight, where she strode naked out of the corpse of a class-S threat, her eye melted in its socket, and told thirty of forty heroes “No, you cannot try me for crimes against humanity. As for Cauldron? Try it, see how far it gets you.”

  26. Observationsobservationsobservations:

    – Vegas, baby!
    – Strangers and Thinkers get all the coolest powers. I love the visuals for Arbiter’s “riot sense.”
    – I find Leister’s name *really* annoying, the nomenclatural equivalent of repeatedly biting into tinfoil
    – Usher makes other people immune to direct-effect superpowers
    – Bambina is surprisingly competent — if crazy
    – also she can protect others from her own power
    – yep, makes sense that Number Man’s the sniper
    – seems like the numbers told him Bambina et al were going to fail so he and Contessa stepped in pre-emptively
    – what kind of range does Autumn Prince’s power have, I wonder


    – Pretender is a Cauldron cape. Pretender is a body-hopper. Pretender killed the thinker that investigated him. Pretender insists he’s still one of the good guys despite the above. He also seems pretty sure Cauldron’s going to do horrible things to him (I concur, by the by) after rescuing him.
    – my guess? Cauldron’s going to use the Yangban technique to extract his power and give it to others/someone else. Why else would they need him alive? He’s a stranger, yes, but he ain’t all that.
    – I wonder if passengers, acting unconsciously, can attack Autumn Prince where their parahumans falter. If so, Skitter might be able to duplicate what she did against Thirteenth Hour.
    – don’t think Contessa has a backdoor into Dragon. She just had her power give her the moves she needed to block the AI right there and right then. note how she reacted specifically to each thing
    – current speculation is that her power is either (i) repeated short-jump backward time travel (ii) truly perfect precognition (prophecy, if you like) OR (iii) Intellectus, a la Dresden Files i.e. she just knows what she needs to do to win.


    – hmm. “Situ-change Thinker.” Wildbow gives good terminology. I’m betting situ-change thinkers are the subset of thinkers whose powers don’t just improve the ability to acquire intel, they bend causality over a photocopier in order to do so. Coil is one for sure. If Contessa turns out to be a backstepper, she’s probably another. Someone whose power is to send their own memories backwards through time would be another.

    • I’m under the impression that killing the government thinker was one of Pretender’s Cauldron favors. He’s “safe” from Cauldron as long as he shuts up. He might become a Cauldron operative like Number Man and Contessa.

    • I assume that Leister chose that name because trident was either already taken or to pedestrian. It would fit with someone insisting on calling the port side of a flying vehicle port side.

      Regarding Pretender, I assume there was more to it than meets the eye. He had a secret that he felt was worth killing for besides the obvious fact that he was a cauldron cape. He still considered himself a good guy and had exonerating evidence that he felt he could not reveal out of fear of cauldron. He also is a body-snatcher.

      Could he for example have done a job for Cauldron with his powers that he doesn’t think can ever be revealed? (His powers would be a good explanation of how someone like Alexandria could have gotten herself killed, but I expect she was immune to his powers.)

      Regarding Dragon, I think that it must not necessarily have been Contessa’s power. Cauldron could have hired or bought tech from Saint or they could have their own tinker who made a one-shot weapon against Dragon. A more sinsiter possibility is that Dragon’s collapse was unrelated to the action in Las Vegas and an after-effect of freeing her bonds or the side effect of an attack on her or the birdcage.

      Contessa’s power probably is not what we think. It seems that she is some sort of combat thinker like the Midnighter from the Authority, but I don’t think so. If she was merely a high-level thinker her powers would be too close to the Number Man’s and anyone who has ever read a Legion of Superheroes comic knows you can’t have two people with the same powers on one team. The save-scumming approach that others favour would be similarly out for being to close to Coil’s powers.

      My guess is that she actually some sort of stranger or master and that her opponents are mostly doing themselves in without realizing it.

  27. A belated thank-you to Gil for the donation.

    Was just looking at the account and saw a name I didn’t remember thanking; turns out it was caught by my spam filter, for some inexplicable reason (checked the spam filter for more such errors, this is an isolated incident). Sorry about that (and I’m I caught it).

    The total’s been updated.

    • First name isn’t actually Gil, the paypal is an old one set up when I was still quite young, for ebay purposes, Gil is another family member who helped. I should really fix that… And you’re more than welcome, I’m annoyed that Paypal ate the spaces in the message I attached to it.

      Have you considered doing an interlude from Chevalier’s perspective? The stresses and choices the poor guy must be facing…

      Plus his power involves GIANT SWORD CANNON, what’s not to love? : D

        • Interesting! He’s got a lot of issues on his plate already, and the end of an arc probably means he’ll have… more. Lots more.

          Say what you will about the Cauldron, the balance of power on which the Protectorate was founded was “you cannot make us obey because your PRT cannot take us in a fight” – and that was unarguably true for the Triumvirate, Eidolon especially. Chevalier, Rime, Prism, MM… these are (from what little we know) good people and good at their chosen vocation.


          Capable of defying the government, the PRT, or the army in defense of the innocent or to right a wrong? Sure. Capable of making that defiance stick if it comes to the last argument of kings? At the very least, not to the same degree.

          And that means his funding, his support, and his nominal superiors are at once engaged in a witch-hunt for Cauldron capes (a real risk to the organization, yes, but so’s the witch-hunt), aware they were manipulated by Alexandria (and paranoid about further manipulation), and aware that, if it came to a fight… the PRT squads might well be able to take the Protectorate (without worrying about Triumvirate vengeance). The issue with the Vegas team won’t help there either – contingency planning for how to take down your local Protectorate/Wards will be dusted off in case of further betrayals.

          Sidenote – Cauldron can mass-produce capes. Sure, they seem highly focused on quality over quantity… but sometimes synergy is more than a buzzword. Powers can interact in surprising, and surprisingly powerful ways – the gate in Brockton Bay is proof that the whole is sometimes enormously greater than the sum of the parts. So, if the world’s at stake and you have time, you might as well mass-produce capes and toss them away if necessary (dead or amnesiac) until you get something like Labyrinth-Scrub in scale, but better suited for eradicating Endbringers.

          • I wonder… Can Cauldron capes have a second trigger event? They didn’t actually trigger after all. So while Cauldron might be able to make more powerful capes at first, they actually have less potential than natural capes. And there are other possibilities. If Taylor is right and her passenger is taking over when she gets knocked out… Well she’s got an ally. But a Cauldron cape wouldn’t have that ally. Their passenger might want them to die, and be glad to be rid of them.

          • I don’t think their amnesia-mojo is the right kind of effective to ‘toss away’ undesirable capes, and they seem to have some kind of strong resistance to killing them. I think something about their methods makes it very very bad when too many Cauldron capes die.

            • Case 53 hypothesis time!
              1. We already know Cauldron has no moral qualms with killing their test subjects. Case 53 are not test subjects, but legitimate “buyers” of powers who still got the short end of the stick.
              2. Case 53’s are test subjects, but also stable psychologically. No reason to retain them, if introducing them into the world could add an element with a background only know to Cauldron. Let’s them gauge the reaction.
              3. Physically changed subjects are statistically more powerful than unchanged ones. Gradual introduction of Case 53s allows for a growing acceptance of obviously altered humans in society, paving the way for using generally more powerful, but physiologically altering formula.
              4. Babiesbabiesbabiesbabiesbabiesbabiesbabiesbabies babiesbabiesbabiesbabiesbabiesbabiesbabies babiesbabiesbabiesbabiesbabiesbabiesbabies
              5. Cauldron made deals with the test subjects, having them meet some goal earns their freedom. In a sense of going above and beyond the call of their power. For instance, Weld being originally only able to absorb metal at the speed it bends under appliance of human-level force, limiting him to sodium and gold and stuff. He worked ad it till he even got as far as regeneration, earning his freedom for the cost of memory.

          • I think that if you look at what the Number Man and Contessa’s powers might be capable of when used together, the thought emerges that if they’re willing to invest the time, Cauldron can probably exert a degree of control over you without you even being aware of their control. You might even believe you were one of their foremost enemies, and still serve their aims. The caveat here being that Contessa and Number man have a lot of draws on their time, and are more concerned with fieldwork currently than ever.

    • FWIW, spam filters usually give a very high spam value to messages containing both real and fictional currency names. (To block “gold seller” spam)
      A paypal email will include the currency’s name spelled out or in short form, and “gil” is the fictional currency for the Final Fantasy franchise.

  28. I never made a request for interlude stuff, but here’s an idea:

    Contessa’s PoV, when she’s fighting Weavertaylorsoldiersailor. Not now, but maybe a future fight – that is, if Weaver is an interesting opponent in this case. A bit like the burning building / grenade fight with Coil.

  29. Thank you, Charles, for the donation.

    That’s another update in the queue.

    With luck (barring issue with travel tomorrow), should be 3 updates this month, with only one chapter added to the queue, so it’s a step forward (or two steps forward, rather) to clearing the backlog.

  30. Oh. Oh dear.

    Something clicked while I was reading this chapter. It wasn’t any particular thing *in* the chapter that did it, just a hundred things from previous installments coming together at once.

    I think I know why Dragon’s so interested in Taylor particularly. But I dastn’t voice my suspicions, because there’s enough story left that Wildbow could change that plot point because of it and I really want it to be true.

    I guess the only thing to do is write it down somewhere and wait a few months.

    • If you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, I think you should go check Dragon’s origin story.

      Or maybe I have no idea what you’re thinking. I too would like to know the reasons behind Dragon’s attachments.

      • Dragon’s origin: an AI developed by everybody’s least favorite Professor and then abandoned.

        It is not said *how* she was developed. In fiction, there are four known categories of AI creation methods. I’m thinking of the one Max Headroom belongs to.

        • I thought something on those lines, but with him being based in newfoundland I discarded the idea.

          I have another theory after her motherly embrace of Weaver: Taylor was the only “stranger” with direct ties to Colin in several important/momentous issues. Thus she fixated on her.

          Since her empathy simulation engine is built as an expert system, Dragon built up an affinity, and she patterned it after the obvious relationship between an older woman and a child orphan of mother.

          (for anyone who got it: well, she IS an alchemical after all)

    • Bah, go ahead and say it. People say so much, you could be spot on and no one would ever know. Alternatively, I think Wildbow said once he was ok with someone dropping him an email about their suspicions. I don’t know to what degree he’ll confirm or deny things though, so best to ask if that offer’s still on the table.

      Oh Wild Bow Peep! Avon calling!

    • I got an awful though… anyone remembers the timeframe of both Taylor mother’s incident and Dragon’s supposed trigger event?

      • I think you’re heading off into WMG territory there. But since you are there, maybe this little drop in Dragon is just Bonesaw connecting that thought transfer technology they stole from the Tinkers at the Toybox.

        “Cranial. A tinker specializing in neurology. Brain scans, draining thoughts, recording thoughts.”

        There’s a reason why I’m cheering for annihilation here.

  31. I going to go ahead and assume that Alexandria or perhaps a contracted teacher from outside of the city was teaching the Vegas Wards. If any of them were going to a local school in the same manner as Clockblocker or Kid Win, then there is no way that they would be up to snuff by Alexandria’s standards.

  32. They hurt Dragon. That is just unacceptable. …And you know you’re reading some fascinating material when you realize that Skynet has become the Woobie.

  33. Sooooo, you know how cauldron powers are always kind of random? Does anybody ever get really crappy powers like, I don’t know, explosive diarrhea, or maybe, uncontrollable acid semen?

    • Well it has been stated that all powers have some use in combat, and explosive diarrhea/acid semen doesn’t seem like it would be good in combat. I imagine that the low numbers are simply like the merchants were. It isn’t that their powers aren’t great, it’s that they are too stupid/shortsighted/unimaginative to use their powers to their full potential so they get low numbers. Captain methhead had deflector shields but barely did anything with them. An alternative is that that low numbers either don’t get required secondary powers which limits what they can do, or they lack control like damsel of distress.

      • You know somewhere out there there’s some hero with a power that even the PR guys couldn’t spin well. Like fecalkinesis.

          • Depends on whether they can control it within a person’s body.

            “I am Captain Brown Note! You may now shit yourselves in fear!”

            *Everyone in a 5 block radius empties their bowels*


            *WHAM!* And down goes Captain Brown Note.

            “Buh…Boy Scout! How! How did you escape my colon purging poopy power?”

            “Always Be Prepared! I went before I left!”

            “Oh crap! I am undone!”

        • Well there are a few parahumans who had really gross/body horror powers that would be weird as a heroes. The marquis as a hero would fuck up his enemies, a heroic nilbog would probably cause so many pr problems with the whole sentient mutant thing, and Echidna might have trouble finding heroes to “volunteer” to become lunch for her to copy.

          • > and Echidna might have trouble finding heroes to “volunteer” to become lunch for her to copy

            She didn’t actually need them to become lunch — it was established in Migration 17.8 that touching was sufficient. If Noelle didn’t have her horror-hunger and if she created good clones instead of evil clones … well, the PR would still be horrifyingly bad, if only because the morality of creating the clones would be murky as all getout, but she would be essentially what Alexandria thought Cauldron was: a machine for generating heroes.

          • One has to wonder how it would have worked out if she had gotten her powers naturally. Probably a lot less body horror. Here’s how I think the power could have worked. It’d be sorta like the capes who make copies of of themselves. Only she makes copies of others. Only temporarally. A double that lasts for a while. And that power would be invalulable. Say an Endbringer attacks. Now you can have five each of the Triumverate.

            • You may want to take Chris (?) power into account as well, the one who took care of Noelle most of the time. Whose appearance changed slowly all the time, prettyfing him.
              Some combination of their powers, or a synergetic emerging effect would/should have been the originally power granted.

              As an example, Noelle was capable of massive physical feats, could copy all powers via clone creation and Chris was a slow shape shifter. Her power could have been impersonating people, including their memories or something.

              • The power is a function of the situation you trigger in normally, isn’t it? And different cauldron formulas often have consistent tendencies towards a certain variety of power, right? So really, Noelle’s power was a function of the formula she took, her situation, and taking half a dose.

                Who knows what she might have been like if she could have triggered naturally.

          • Powers don’t have intended results, Packbat.

            As it’s explained to Battery, each formula has a particular focus. Sometimes that’s something like ‘melting flesh’. You might get the ability to melt flesh with a touch, flesh-melty lasers, the ability to melt -yourself- and reconstitute yourself, etc.

            And sometimes it’s a particular form. Beams. Beams that melt flesh. Beams that destroy inorganic matter, beams that make stuff burn. Beams that are sorta, kinda in the same general neighborhood (destruction) but very different in form.

            Mix the two and you’re liable to get closer to a flesh-melty beam, but you could get something tertiary to that as well. (A set-shit-on-fire-a-little and melt-flesh-a-little beam, perhaps, or a beam that destroys shit and that destruction feeds a swelling flesh-melty aura).

            So the ‘Division’ formula, such as it is, could have had a lot of different effects. Maybe they were hoping for a clone creator, but there wouldn’t have been a targeted ‘design’ for the formula.

            That said, there -are- formulae that tend to give the same thing with some reliability, but that’s not a 100% given.

          • @wildbow: That’s a good reminder, thanks.

            Come to think of it, even assuming that each half had a separate ‘theme’ involved, both halves are going to be variations on their respective themes.

            And also come to think of it, both Noelle and Oliver have imitation powers — Noelle generated duplicates of people, and Oliver changed his own form to borrow the best aspects of people, but both powers were in some way related to copying other things.

            Interesting stuff.

      • Captain methhead – Skidmark? He’d need to cast his power over and over on the same target before he could deflect anything, let alone a bullet. (Of course, that doesn’t stop him from thinking of this in advance, but he doesn’t seem like the foresight type.)

        • Well it seemed he could layer it to amplify the effect, and it affected the space above the mark so I imagine a competent parahuman who was not high all the time could have done something interesting with it.

          • A competent Skidmark is one of those AU characters I know I will never see … but would like to nonetheless. His power works best in conjunction with a team, much like Battery.

            – very effective as a cheap defense on vehicles. As a bonus, any weapons on the vehicle will launch their bullets all the faster and all attacks against the vehicle come to nothing.
            – even in a ground engagement, he could adopt a variation of Jack Slash’ fighting style; distance, mobility, cover, layering his effect at strategic locations
            – it’d be a great heroic power for boxing enemies in and making non-lethal captures
            – got bomb? Ring it with multiple layers of effect and contain the explosion
            – hell, he could probably use it as a sort of ‘inertial compensator’ in, say, a crashing helicopter

            • Layer the insides of tunnels and rifles/barrels… depending on how far he can extend the turbo areas, he can launch anything in the barrel/tunnel into orbit, given the right properties.

      • I think you’re right. Skidmark is a perfect example of shortsightedness hampering a potential cape’s power — he was smart and imaginative enough to recruit and retain a gang (crappy as it was), to figure out how to manufacture trigger events, to read and understood the documentation on the Cauldron vials, and to deploy vulgarities with an artful fluency few approach, but he didn’t seek intelligence on his opponents, he didn’t set proper lookouts to give him advance warning of trouble, he didn’t set up traps in advance, he didn’t invent non-obvious ways of exploiting his power … in short, he coasted, taking the easy way out every time.

        I’m with razorsmile: a competent cape with Skidmark’s power would be a lot of fun to see.

    • Cauldron would most likely consider those kinds of powers failures and kill them. Though the acid semen paired up with a chronic public masturbater would have interesting consequences.

      Any idea’s for names?

  34. Taylor’s new plan

    Step 1: Cram enough butterflies in all, and I mean ALL, of Glenn’s orifices so that the resulting compound has the density of a white dwarf star. Seriously I want an event horizon.

    Step 2: Build Costume that is acutely more useful than used tissue paper.

    Step 3: Repeat # 1.

    Step 4: Recruit her own team of people that she knows can get the job done.

    Step 5: Repeat #1 with fire ants.

    Now since that is out of my system, the Vegas wards must be feeling pretty low right now. Though they did give me hope for a team that would accept Weaver.

    Also, I know I am going to hate myself later for this, but does anyone else find it interesting that Taylor thought about CB after Bambina talked about those lewd acts? Like she had him in the back of her mind or something. Do the shippers dare hope that in secret she did burn for him?
    Will someone write fan fiction about this? The answer to that last one is sadly yes.

    @Wildbow. Just for the record have you heard of or has anyone sent you Worm slash fiction? If so could you tell us the weirdest pairing in your mind?

    • He might be the only one who is willing to talk to her without reservations or preconceived judgements. He knows what she has done, and is glad she is on their side. She has to worry about appearances with everyone else. The only downside is that it seems he is still using his unique brand of humor on her.

      • On the other hand…
        “Go, my pretties. Seek out and smother my enemies.”

        Oh lawd, is that Taylor developing a sense of humour? Even, dare I say it, snark?

        • Cue the big mass of butterflies slowly carrying a pillow to a downed Bambina.

          “What, they’re butterflies. They’re not used to smothering things on their own yet.”

    • Weaver on the Vegas team… Might work. What’s the bug population in Vegas like? If she catches someone cheating with her bugs she can send stinging insects at them.

      I remember someone wondering if Taylor had been on the internet, and the possibility of her finding Hate blogs, rule 34, and fanfictions. Be funny if she did and found that for some reason Skitter/Shadow Stalker Yuri fanfiction was popular.

        • Hehe, that reminds me. There was a game on the Wii where you played a scorpion. At one point a human character describes to another what he thinks would happen if a scorpion stung someone in the balls. He ended up being the endboss. And guess where he got stung? And Taylor would do that.

          Do not fuck with Taylor. Even if you think she can’t hurt you.

          • I played it, the game was fun. Kind of a genre mix of Adventure + Wrestling + Arachnids, since you played a scorpion and a spider, respectively. Who fought using Wrestling moves.

  35. While I recall that part of the reason for the lack of a e-book version of Worm is Wildbow’s desire to re-edit it once the story’s reached its conclusion, I thought this presented an interesting possibility:

    Short form for the link averse: Amazon is selling “Serials” for the Kindle. Basically, it’s “buy it now and get the story as it’s released, chapter by chapter”.

    Apart from the obvious “Wildbow deserves gobs of cash” reasoning, what made me think of this for Worm is that it seems like that would make the decision of where to break up the e-books a bit easier. Sell each Arc as a separate serial and/or sell the whole thing for a much larger price.

    Also, even if it’s not a fit for Worm, it could be something to consider for the story that follows Worm, whatever that may be.

    • I was made aware of this some time ago.

      My primary concern is that it takes away from what makes a serial stand out. Serials are interesting to me in part because they’re as flexible and versatile as they are. Amazon (and similar programs) would ask for set numbers (10k words?) at set times. Particular page lengths, particular commitments.

      • Maybe use it as an exercise, at some point, to give yourself an idea of how it feels to write to a schedule the way some professionals do.

        Especially those writing genre fiction in someone else’s universe.

        A-la Star Wars, BattleTech, Conan, etc.

        It’s not always the most pleasant method for a professional author to get paid. But the experience can be, at times, invaluable. And it can teach time and resource management like nobody’s business.

        • I already write to a schedule the same way professionals do.

          I mean, not to toot my own horn, but the last 240 chapters of Worm went up on schedule. If they were a touch (15-ish minutes) late, it was WordPress’ fault, not mine. Two chapters weren’t up to snuff, admittedly, but I can’t think of another work where an author maintained a strict schedule like that, produced 240 installments of a work, and didn’t have one or two snafus (without, you know, having a team backing them up). I made up for the first one by pulling an all-nighter to get the fixed version out for something like 6am, and the second, well, that wasn’t rewritable, and I didn’t count it as a completed donation interlude.

          I’d like to say I’ve proven my ability to keep on track, schedulewise.

          The issue I take with Amazon’s concept isn’t so much the strict schedule as the confining format – 10k words per installment. That might be something of an exercise, to restrict myself to set word counts. Except it doesn’t seem fun, and I got enough of that in University.

          10k words is likely less than I want to write, when the updates are set as far apart as Amazon does with theirs. Frequency matters. Frequency and consistency are cornerstones of building up a readership. Investment is a cornerstone as well (people who invest time and money are more likely to be loyal), but I can’t help but feel there’s a note of negativity to that. I’d rather people read because I’m putting something out there to read, than to read the next installment because they already shelled out the money and they’d be wasting that money if they didn’t.

          10k words is restrictive if I’m considering something experimental, like the parahumans online chapter, or something even more off the wall (though simultaneously more conventional) that I’m planning for Arc 27 or somewhere in that neighborhood.

          And 10k words twice (or once) a month is restrictive if I want to experiment and try writing a chapter a day for eight days, like I did at the end of Infestation or for arc 17. Amazon’s offer would tie my hands, it likely wouldn’t be open to allowing me to receive donations.

          • I think your current format is fine. Everyone wants money for the work they do; but I really think you’ll get a lot more traction building this story up as you have then going to kickstarter with it.

            I don’t know how active you are at ‘advertising’ but you should find/consider ways to get your work dropped for discussion on various media sites. I don’t know how big your readerbase is now, but if you’re looking to raise $60k, then you’ll need 4000 dedicated readers willing to spend on average $15 dollars each to purchase the book (or 3x that amount at $5 dollars). I think these are fairly reasonable numbers, when we look at how successful ceratin things are on kickstarter, in terms of money spent per contributor.

          • I suspect you’re right, Anon.

            I’d like to fix up the opening some before really going gung-ho with the marketing. I mean, I could probably contact a newspaper and see if they’d run a story about Worm as a success. It’s something that hasn’t seen a lot of exposure, there’s stuff to say about Amazon, and it’s a blending of technology and literature at a time when people are wondering what’s going to become of books.

            But, again, I want to fix up the early stuff some before I start aggressively pointing people this way. Maybe that’s silly, but it’s sort of pride.

          • 1 – You are making some money.
            2 – You are having fun (I hope).
            3 – Your number of readers is growing.
            4 – Do not mess with the escalation of a winning team (Brasilian saying: Em time que está ganhando não se mexe).

          • Do Amazon serials have to be new, original properties? You could try doing your rewrite/edit of Worm itself as a Worm Deluxe serial.

            Not that I condone locking yourself in to Amazon, as a non-Kindle ereader user…

  36. Someone else has probably noticed this before, but — isn’t ‘Weaver’ almost a pun?

    Taylor -> tailor, who works with fabric to make garments, vs. Weaver, someone who makes fabric by weaving…

    • Knowing what little we know about her reference pools she’d probably compare Contessa to Typhon or something.

      Then there’s the awkward silence, broken by Clockblockers snickering.

        • Mnemosyne was personification of Memory, and the mother of the muses (which, perhaps, is her real purpose in myth). I don’t see Contessa having kids, from Taylor’s or any other person’s perspective, on either side of the Fourth Wall.

          Inb4 PG spins a chain of logic to “prove” me wrong.

          • Well, I suppose if you wanted to write a slashfic, whatever. So far, I just see Contessa as some empty shell that can be sent out to do what’s needed to be done and even take complex action into account to do it, but otherwise without personality, character, or feeling of her own.

            I suppose if you want to have sex with a robot, have at her. Then again, this is the internet, so of course that has an audience.

          • Blank slates are great for fanfiction, though. They give you elbow room where you’re less likely to strain fans credibility. Contessa could be almost anyone at this point, from cruelly used tool of the Doctor, to the one creation of hers she didn’t keep a handle on and which took over Cauldron. A fan depiction of her doesn’t have to match up with a hundredth of the datapoints that, say, exist for Miss Militia.

    • Scion predates J. K. Rowling’s inspiration for Harry Potter by eight years, I believe — it’s unlikely that the series exists in Earth Bet.

      Wildbow: when did the first Earth Aleph parahuman appear?

    • Good question. Though there is that weird magic guy mentioned in England when the wards named skitter. Though I raised the question of whether parahumans are in all of their literature written since the 80s for those that want to be realistic. So are their parahumans in the wormverse version of Twilight, Harry potter, stephen king, etc.?

  37. If I’m comprehending this correctly, there is a Bonus Chapter tomorrow? If I had to vote, I’d vote for another regular chapter Thursday or something, but that’s just because, well…

    This doesn’t even come close to qualifying for a cliffhanger, but at this point in the Arc, we (the readers) still don’t have our feet on the ground. I, at least, still am unsure of Weaver/Skitter’s position in the grand scheme of things (feeling unsure as she is, perhaps?) and so to cut away wouldn’t be the option I’d prefer, if only because I’m not ‘solid’ enough on this Arc to be able to hold it all together and not lose something from an extra two-days wait (though, I suppose, I could just read through the whole Arc on Saturday, again.)

    The other possibility (though you hardly have to take my advice, of course) would be to have an Interlude that directly features Skitter: Similar to the Ambassador’s one, in nature…maybe the thinker panel, or something like that? Something that clarifies more about Skitter/Weaver and her situation. Eh, just a few thoughts.

      • For some reason I picture a confrence like in a giant monster movie where they sit around talking about the monster and how it can’t be stopped. With Taylor being the monster. I mean that in a good way of course.

        Honestly this arc really is made for interlude chapters. Theirs the time skips. What the Undersiders have been up to. How the cape community is reacting to all the shocks that have been happening. All sorts of things.

      • Admiral Skippy is the Chuck Taylor of the comments section, it seems. Pro wrestler who screams like a girl. He’s funny.

        And yes, pulling out an obscure reference like that does remind me of a classic bit of dialogue from the movie Camp Nowhere:

        Kid nicknamed “Mud”: “What are you listening to?”

        Christopher Lloyd as Dennis Van Welker: “Winston Churchill. He’s like the Jimi Hendrix of the spoken word.”

        Mud: “Who’s Jimi Hendrix?”

        Dennis: “He’s like the Michael Jordan of the electric guitar.”

    • It’s scheduled (click the ‘donate’ button on the top of the page to see the schedule of bonus updates, such as it is, and the number in the queue).

      That said, I’m traveling (currently on a train) and it may be tough to get the chapter done what with possible stuff going on after I arrive. I hope to, intend to, but can’t promise.

  38. Holy carp, those are some flamboyant heroes. They seem like they’d fit better into a carnival than the Justice League…

    Was Dragon’s suit just how the PRT brought the butterflies to Weaver or was Dragon the only one who cares? I hope the former…

    And wow. The heroes are fighting a losing battle or six, aren’t they?

  39. “Go, my pretties,” I said, monotone.

    “Cauldron’s evil,” Arbiter said. “They experimented on people to get the powers Pretender has.”
    Nah, they are hard (wo)men making hard decisions.
    Given they’re pretty much done with their superpower testing, it’s not worth continuing to hound superpower buyers.

  40. Anyone else feel like Weaver <<< Skitter? I gotta say, I'm working my way through this series (quite enjoying it so far) and I just can't get behind this whole hero thing, especially knowing [SPOILER]. I know it's part of Taylor's whole deal to be inclined to help/save people, but the story was more fun to read when she was an Undersider, and you can't deny she has some villainistic tendencies of her own.

    • A couple things to consider.

      1. Taylor was always a hero at heart, even as an Undersider. It’s nice that she can finally achieve her dream…and discover that, for one reason and the others, she isn’t really all that, compared to her villain activities.
      2. Taylor was Skitter for a few months. She was Weaver for over two years. We see 20-odd arcs on one and a handful of the other.

  41. I’m re-reading Worm.
    This transition felt strange. We don’t know how she spends her days in prison, what her status is (has she joined the NY wards, but is mainly in prison? Is she allowed out for some tests or special missions? )
    Taylor feels so very reactive compared to how she came across before. I can’t imagine that she doesn’t think up new, Weaver-y strategies in her cell, but we don’t see it happening. Her fears and personal transformation is not shown much. And I can’t imagine why she doesn’t pester Dragon and Defiant about Dragons restrictions! If there’s a reason why she doesn’t ask – or how they evade these questions, please show us.
    The Taylor I know and love wouldn’t give up and wouldn’t just not ask.
    Otherwise, the story is great, but this is a missing element.

  42. Imagine how pleased I am to see that a (minor, one-chapter) hero shares my pseudonym! It’s a little bit more disconcerting to find that Nix is female… but, of course, Nyx *was* a goddess. Nix (the heroine) just can’t spell.😛

    Still on first read, and, well, I don’t know why I’m getting an increasing feeling that *none* of this is going to end well, that we’ll end up with an evacuated planet and gigadeaths, and almost all of our protagonists biting it? (Well, OK, it’s been foretold for ages, but there’s no sign of a solution in sight, and the interludes keep on setting up more and more disturbing possibilities.)

    Still, as long as it goes better than _Fine Structure_’s death rate, we can call it a happy ending.

  43. I’m wondering why Cauldron doesn’t do more to abuse meta-power cheese if they’re really interested in creating insanely powerful capes to fight off the end of the world. One possibility:

    1. Recruit Pretender/Regent/Heartbreaker/Cherish/Grue/Anyone else who can use another cape’s power without permission

    2. Abduct Panacea/Bonesaw/Blasto/Anyone else who can adjust the Corona Pollentia or otherwise tinker with powers

    3. Use the first on the second, experiment until you get some power far beyond anything we’ve seen so far.

  44. As soon as I read:
    “Go, my pretties,” I said, monotone. “Go, seek out my enemies and smother them.”
    I thought of bugs dancing down the streets in conga lines.

    Da-da-duh-duh-da-daaah! Da-da-duh-duh-da-daaah…

  45. This arc is really feeling like a tv show. I can definately see how Taylor is having trouble adjusting from villainy to heroism. She’s spent a larger part of her cape career using intimidation tactics to win, now she needs to learn how to be the type of cape that inspires hope, not instill fear.

  46. “Cops and robbers?” Vantage asked.

    “A way my teammate once explained it to me. The, for lack of a better word, healthy way for heroes and villains to be, is for all of this to be a game of sorts. Trading blows, counting coup, but ultimately leaving the other side without any permanent damage.”

    “Counting coup?” Leister asked. He was the sole subordinate that Vantage had brought along. Rime, by contrast, had brought Usher and Arbiter from her team. Prefab from San Diego had shown up as well.

    I explained, “The term came from the Native Americans’ style of warfare. In a fight, one person makes a risky, successful play against the other side showing their prowess. They gain reputation, the other side loses some. All it is, though, is a game. A way to train and make sure you’re up to snuff against the real threats without losing anything.”

    “Except,” Rime said, “Things escalate. One side loses too many times in a row, they push things too far. And there’s always collateral damage. I notice civilians don’t factor into that explanation.”

    True! Because to the extent that this paradigm holds, they’re not involved.
    As long as the heroes and villains (consciously or otherwise) play by the cops-and-robbers rules, their conflicts are limited to the two sides, with civilians purely as spectators. The heroes fight the villains; the villains fight the heroes. There’s nothing to gain from attacking civilians directly- that’d be like trying to score points against the crowd instead of the opposing team. You don’t gain prestige from it, and it doesn’t improve your skills; you’re not facing a challenge.
    A healthy hero/villain dynamic would tend toward Saturday morning cartoon villainy and victimless crimes, like the Undersiders’ bank robbery and the attack at the Forsberg Gallery. Civilians suffer property damage and have their lives disrupted in the short term, but insurance covers the losses and there are no lasting injuries. No permanent damage to the spectators, just like no permanent damage to the other side- because this is all just a way for both sides to stay in shape for the main event, when they’re going to have to rely on each other.

  47. “Tiamat to join in t-minus eight minutes.”

    Minor detail, and I don’t even know if you’ll ever read this, but this phrase isn’t how countdowns work. The “t” in t-minus represents the time of the event, and the rest of the phrase is the current time in relation to that. So if they are at t minus eight minutes, that means there are eight minutes until the event. You would never say that something will happen in t-minus x minutes; if you’re using future tense to say something will happen you would just say it will happen in x minutes.

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