Scarab 25.3

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Wind stirred the snow that had piled up at the rooftop’s edge.  As it entered the space over the Chicago street, city lights caught the flurry and made it almost luminescent, whirling clouds in intense, intricate patterns.

I was, in other words, bored beyond comprehension.

Stakeouts?  Not nearly as interesting as they were in the movies.  Not even as interesting as they were in the TV shows where nothing happened and the cops complained about how dull things were.

No, this was a special kind of boring, where I was told to limit how much I moved, because of the half-a-percent chance that the targets in the building on the other side of the street might look out a window, and the ensuing one-in-a-thousand chance that they might actually be able to see me perched on the rooftop, surrounded by snow in my dark gray and white costume.

A boring, even, where I wasn’t allowed to read or listen to music.

Weaver,” the voice came through my earbud.

“Talk to me.  Please.”

Grace complied.  “Police chief and the Mayor are talking to Revel and the Director.  Thought you’d want an update.”

“You could give me minute by minute updates on golf and I’d love you forever.”

Hyperbole.  That’s not like you.

“It’s been a while,” I muttered.  I shifted position to bring my feet up onto my ‘bug box’.  The case was insulated, but there was some heat loss, so it included a heater that turned on periodically to maintain a consistent internal temperature.  At the same time, I was wearing a PRT issue winter-weather costume beneath a doublethick silk ‘Weaver’ costume, complete with a hood, shawl and something of a skirt.  It took time for my fingers and toes to get cold, so things more or less evened out with the heater.

Well, this is your five minute check-in.  Again.”  I could hear the noise of a show or something on in the background.

“Thank you, Grace.  Situation unchanged.  Target’s grabbing a late dinner.  There’s seven others working under him.  Nothing special in their chatter.  There’s plainclothes capes in there, but they’re not using names.”

You’re sure they’re capes?”

“He warned them when they stepped inside that he’d act the second they used powers, so… yeah.”

Gotcha.  I’ll be in touch in another five min.”

“These five minute check-ins make it so much worse,” I groused.  “It’s like, if it weren’t for those, I could let time slip by, but no.  I get measured reminders of how long I’ve been here.”

This was your idea.”

“Dumb idea,” I commented.

You were the one who wanted to do the stakeout, even,” she reminded me.

“Kind of thought I’d get to read,” I said.

That, and it had been a way to finally get some time to myself.  We had run it by the Director, and I’d known right off the bat that he was itching to shut me down.  Orders from above, no doubt.  A way to get credit with the guys upstairs.

Still, I’d explained how my bugs would let me track the target’s movements.  Our boss had okayed the job, with certain restrictions.  The surveillance had to be airtight, with the check-ins, a mandate that any breaks had to fall between check-ins, and the restrictions on entertaining myself or drawing attention.  At the same time, he’d said with a smile, the PRT rulebook said a Ward couldn’t be forced to undertake or carry out a mission.  If I wanted to walk away, I could.  If I got too cold I had to.

He wanted me to quit.  To exercise a measure of control over me, so he’d have something to leverage against me at a later date.

Six hours in, I’d left for three bathroom breaks, each between four and a half and five minutes in duration, and had relocated three times, as our target went out to lunch and then returned to check on the business.  Wanton and Annex had both come to keep me company, until the Director had found something else for them to do.

Then Revel had come on shift, and I had an ally who wasn’t just ready to go to bat for me, but able to.  She was working reduced hours after her head injury, deferring more tasks to Shuffle, but she was still the boss.  She’d read the logs from the check-ins, called me to verify facts on the drugs and guns I’d noted moving through the apartment, and then reached out to the Director.

That had been two hours ago.  Somewhere in the midst of her battle with the Director, she’d reached out to the police chief and mayor.  She would be trying to sell them on our plan.

Or, it was easily possible, they were sold and they were trying to get the ducks in a row and favors pulled to make our plan a reality.

And with all the excitement that was no doubt happening over there, I was sitting here, a little cold, wishing I’d saved a little something from the lunch I’d packed into my plastic Alexandria lunchbox.

The lunchbox was a memento, really, an impulse I’d justified in the moment by telling me it fit with my general camouflage, that it was ironic.  I hadn’t counted on how long I’d be left to stare at it, while my bugs tracked the target going about his day.  It made for a long time spent ruminating on past events, debating just how the bureaucrats could sabotage me, intentionally or otherwise.

For several dangerous minutes, I’d seriously considered going back to the Undersiders if this mission got derailed.  I’d stopped myself before I got too far into that line of thinking, knowing it was a trap that would lead to me compromising, giving up in a way.  Playing into the Directors’ hands.

No, I wouldn’t go back.  I missed them; scarcely an hour went by where I didn’t wonder how they were getting by, but I wasn’t allowed to contact them.  I wanted to know how Imp had changed in response to Regent’s passing, if Grue was getting enough support, or if Rachel was managing in the cold on the other side of the Brockton Bay portal.  Was Tattletale using her power too much, still?  How was Sierra managing as a corporate magnate and front-man for a villainous organization?

Hell, how was the Boardwalk getting on?

They were questions I couldn’t ask or answer without raising red flags with the people who were watching me for the slightest excuse.  I’d cheated and sent letters, written by my bugs, delivered to a mail box while I was hundreds of feet away, and I’d received ‘fan letters’ with coded messages from Tattletale.  It wasn’t enough, didn’t have the details I craved.

Five minute check-in,” Grace said, interrupting my train of thought.

“Situation unchanged,” I replied.

Stuff’s happening over here.  Revel is right beside me.  She’ll fill you in.

I perked up a little at that.

Weaver.  Revel here.  I’ve talked it over with everyone that matters and too many people that don’t, and they’re saying it’s okay.  Tecton and the rest of the Wards, minus Grace and Wanton, will be mobilizing shortly.”

We’re good to go?”

Shortly.  PRT trucks are already en route and will be standing by, when they’re not actively transporting your teammates.  Campanile, Brazier, Shuffle and Gauss will be a short distance away, but they won’t engage unless this goes belly-up.  This is your show.  You and the Wards.  Quite a few people hoping you guys can pull this off.  A handful hoping you fail.”

Like the Directors.  “Got it.  Do me a favor and fill me in on everyone else’s status and locations until they’re within a twelve-hundred feet of me.  Coordination is going to be key here.”

Grace will handle it.

Not a hundred percent necessary, but it would keep me sane.  I suspected the remaining minutes of waiting would be as bad as the first three hours had been.

We’re controlling traffic,” Grace said.  I could hear others speaking in the background.  “Flow through the area should slow and eventually stop.

“Good to know,” I said.  My eyes roved over the face of the building opposite me, while my bugs tracked our quarry.

Where do you want your team?”  Revel asked.

My team?

“Keep them in the vehicles,” I answered.  “I’ll let them know where to set up when things are underway.”

I stood up from my perch, making sure that our target and his employees weren’t watching out the windows before I stretched.  I was alternately cool and toasty warm, where different body parts had been closer to the vent, and my costume layers thicker.  Not cold, though.  Not so much that I’d be affected.

Snow slid off the top of my hood as I bent down, lifting the insulated box with my bugs inside and setting it on the roof’s edge.  It was essentially a thermos, but as lightweight as the materials were in the case and the heating system, the bugs I’d packed inside made it heavy.

I worried it would be an issue in my plan.  With roughly eight hours by myself to think, I’d considered various ways this could go.  Tactics our enemies could employ, things that could trip us up, ways our supervisors could derail the plan, but this forty pound box was something that rested entirely on my shoulders.

We’re close to the perimeter,” Tecton reported, his voice buzzing in my ear.

I pressed a finger to my earbud, “I’m going to get us started.  Sound off from all corners, please.”

Roger from HQ,” Grace said.

“Roger-roger from the field team,” Tecton said.  “Just reached perimeter.  Sending Annex and Cuff your way.  Golem and I will be working.”

I stepped over to the rooftop’s edge.  The streets had gone quiet.  The unsteady evening traffic that had a way of continuing in the dead of night had stopped, leaving the area more or less isolated.   I’d spent the better part of the day organizing bugs in the surrounding buildings, and I now moved them into position.  Swarms formed into large ‘x’ marks on major exits, elevators and stairwells.  In higher traffic spots where people were more likely to move, I drew out words with the swarm.

‘Cape fight in progress.’

I suspected this was a not-insignificant part of how Revel had managed to get the police chief and mayor on board with the plan, despite any protests or manipulations from the Director.  The chance of bystanders getting caught up in this was minimal.  As minimal as it was possible to get in the midst of a larger city, anyways.

I activated my flight pack and crossed the street, simultaneously making my way down to the ground.  Not so hard, with the extra weight that made up my burden.

The doorway that led into the lobby of the apartment building required a keycard or a number punched into a resident’s phone upstairs.  Not so difficult, after a day’s surveillance.  My bugs were already prepared to knock a phone off the hook in an older woman’s apartment, a moment after I’d found her name on the board and dialed the number.  Much as I’d done in Tagg’s office, I had my bugs punch the buttons.

The door buzzed.  I walked backwards into it, carrying the insulated box, then dropped the box in the base of the lobby, opening the little door.

The bugs flowed out of the box and disappeared into the air vents.  Slowly, they made their way up to the apartment of a local supervillain.  A black market storehouse first, an apartment second, really.  The only reason it seemed he slept here was convenience.  The old adage of not shitting where one ate fell apart when ninety percent of the day was spent eating.

I knew how easy it was to fall into that trap.  I thought of the Boardwalk and felt a trace of nostalgia.

The apartment was one of many detours in an extended distribution chain that saw guns and drugs making their way to the Folk, one of the rare criminal organizations that predated capes and still functioned in more or less the same fashion today.  Topsy and his underlings were guarantors, middlemen who made it possible for diehard enemies to do business.  If a fight erupted, he and his minions would deal with the situation quickly, promptly and efficiently.

It was a simple job, and it was one he’d done for nearly a decade.  In the process, he’d apparently grown exceedingly rich, and he had recently started to become more ambitious.  Campanile and Shuffle had interfered with a deal, and Topsy had hired some mercenaries to seek out retaliation.  If the escalation of the situation wasn’t bad enough, the mercenaries had crossed lines, and Topsy had been relocated to the heroes’ shit list as a consequence.  He was an acceptable target.

The only thing that would make Campanile and Shuffle happier than us fucking up and giving them an excuse to step in would be a perfectly executed operation and a humiliating loss for Topsy.  I’d do my best to oblige on that front.

Finding the way through the building’s ventilation system was a question of mapping the system.  Once I knew the way, the bugs abandoned the map and made their way into the apartment.

I could have gone on the offensive right away, but this wasn’t a conventional attack.  Every step of this had to be considered, measured, and plotted.

Minutes passed as I followed Topsy’s movements through the apartment.  One by one, I collected his underling’s phones, as they put them down.  A girl in the group said she needed to make a call, couldn’t find her phone, and borrowed one from someone else.  The second she put it down and turned her back, cockroaches swept it into the space between the table and the wall, and then proceeded to nudge it well out of reach, beneath furniture.

Topsy’s phone was the only one left, and he wouldn’t put it down long enough for me to claim it.  I focused on the front hall instead, bugs collecting around jackets, boots and the winterized costume pieces, complete with warm coverings.

I could sense Annex and Cuff through the bugs that were warm and safe in the folds of their costumes.  They trudged through the two inches of snow that had accumulated on the plowed sidewalks.  Cuff seemed oddly more comfortable compared to Annex, who clutched his cloak around his shoulders.

“Annex, Cuff, I’m half a block up and to your right,” I said, one finger on my earpiece.  “Look for me in the lobby.”

“Got it,” Annex reported.

Back to the preparations.  The goal here wasn’t to defeat Topsy, but to break him.  Part of the goal, anyways.

Silk lines tangled zippers and bound laces.  Gloves, both the ones for costumes and the ones for regular winter wear, were knotted with more silk, or they became home to wasps, cockroaches and millipedes.

Bugs too large or too small to be crushed found their way into boots.  Cockroaches bit and chewed at the finer straps that held the inner lining of jackets against the exterior.  The bugs I’d laced with capsaicin were relatively few in number due to the fact that it would kill the bugs next to them in the box, but I didn’t need a lot of the stuff.  I transferred some to scarves and balaclavas by rubbing their bodies against the fabrics.

Annex knocked on the glass door, then melded into it and passed through before I could approach to open the door.  He rubbed at his upper arms as he opened the door for Cuff.

“You okay?” I asked.

Annex only nodded.

There.  I snapped my head up to look in the direction of the upstairs apartment, as though I could see through the walls.  Topsy had put his phone down on the kitchen counter to grab a beer, setting the thing to speaker mode while he looked for a bottle opener.

Bugs from the front hallway of the apartment flowed into the kitchen and swept the phone into the half-full sink.  Topsy didn’t notice right away.

“Creepy when you do that,” Cuff said.


“Zoning out.”

“I’ve disabled their communications,” I said.  “Let’s go.”

I moved the empty box to a corner of the lobby, hidden in plain sight, then led the way out of the building, with Cuff and Tecton following me into the adjacent alleyway.

Topsy was swearing as he nearly dropped his beer in his haste to rush to the sink and push his sleeves up to dig for the smartphone in the mess of dishes and scummy water.  I could taste how much old food was in the water.  It wasn’t a sense that translated well, but I could detect a thin, strong scent permeating the kitchen, one a select few of my bugs were attracted to.

“Tecton, Grace,” I said, “Annex and Cuff are here, we’re standing aside while I engage.  I’m not forcing this.  Longer it takes them to catch on, the better the psychological effect.”

“Roger you,” Grace answered.

It was all about thinking a step ahead.  I sent bugs into the room with the money and drugs and set them to destroying the plastic bags and eating through the paper bands of money.  Wasps and other hostile bugs nestled in the gun cases and around handles.  I didn’t have many bugs to spare, so I used the others from the building that I hadn’t deployed to make warning signs for the residents.

All in all, I managed about five or six minutes of quiet, steady destruction before one of the underlings walked in and saw what was happening.  I rewarded him by flying two capsaicin-laced insects into his eyes.

“They’re sounding the alarm,” I said.  The thug was hollering, and Topsy was shouting something about calling for the reinforcements, directing some swear words at the fact that nobody apparently had a working phone on hand.

That swearing swiftly became a stream of curses aimed at ‘that fucking bug bitch’.

“Annex, inside,” I said.

“Good,” Annex said.  “Because I just stepped outside, and now I’m going back in.  It’s a pain to move through walls this cold.  Sucks the heat out of me.”

“Warm up inside,” I said.  “Take your time, but try to move upstairs.  Keep your head poked out so you can hear me.  I’ll let you know what route they take.”

“Right,” he said, reaching into the wall.  “Fuck, that’s cold.”

Then he was gone.

My swarm continued to plague Topsy and his people.  I slowly escalated the intensity of the attack, until Topsy gave the order to retreat.

“Get what you can and get the fuck out,” Topsy ordered, “Yeah, you too.  I’m paying you, aren’t I?  Go find the bitch.”

Not so cheery for a guy with a playful name like ‘Topsy’.  Then again, I’d caught him at the end of his work day.  By contrast, I’d woken up, donned my costume and started my stakeout.  Eight hours, starting at four, watching and following as Topsy and his men conducted their business.  He was more tired than I was, and he was both a little drunk and a little high.

It meant he was a little more likely to freak out when their outdoor clothing turned out to be festooned with stinging, biting insects, falling to pieces or too entangled in silk to use.

“Bitch!  That bitch!” the girl in the group cussed.

They knew who I was, apparently.  Fame had its disadvantages.

“Get downstairs, carry everything.  I’ll bring the rest.  We’ll take the trucks,” Topsy said.

I smiled a little, “Cuff, garage entrance.  Spike strip.”

“On it,” she said, disappearing out the front door.

Once the majority of his underlings were out of the apartment, Topsy leveraged his power, reorienting gravity to shift the boxes and piles of stuff.  They hit the wall, slid down the hallway, and finally tumbled through the open front door of the apartment in a heap.  With money bands cut and bags chewed open, much of the merchandise in Topsy’s stock was scattered to the wind.  My bugs could sense the clouds of powder filling the air.  Evidence, if nothing else.

He wasn’t screaming, now, which I found odd.  Now that his underlings had gone ahead, he’d settled into a grim and quiet attitude.  He turned to the sole remaining underling.  “Anything?”

“Too far to see,” the man said.

“Keep looking as we head down.”

Topsy was tricky.  Part of the reason for the surveillance had been to identify the other parahumans in his group.  He hired mercenaries, paying well, and there was no sure way to tell who he had with him, short of seeing them in costume.  Trouble was, his people were defaulting to heavier clothing over their costumes, due to the cold weather. Identities were doubly hard to discern, and Topsy wasn’t one to blab over the phone about who was working for him.

“Annex,” I said, touching my earpiece, “They’re heading for the stairwell.  Do what you can, but let them keep moving forward.”

Got it.”

I sent bugs ahead of the group to check the way.  Annex flowed up the stairs to intercept them.  Some steps became slopes instead, others had the supports removed, so the stairs collapsed underfoot.  Each of Topsy’s underlings fell at some point, their burdens thrown from their arms or crushed beneath them.  An unlucky or clumsy few fell more than once.

“Annex,” I said.  No use.  He was inside the stair’s surface.  An unfortunate side effect of his power was the fact that his senses were limited while he was inside an object.  He was blind, deaf, and his ability to feel was limited by the material he occupied.  He could sense heat as much as the object could hold heat, could sense vibrations as much as the material could receive them.

“Annex,” I tried again.

I’m here.

“Back off.  They’re catching up to you, and Topsy’s on his way down with an avalanche of stuff.”


I could see Cuff returning.  She saw my hand at my ear and didn’t speak, giving me a thumbs up instead.

Annex spoke, his voice low, “Okay.  I’ll take a detour, fix the damage I did to the stairs, then rendezvous.

Very calm.  Assured.  It wasn’t even something we’d plotted out beforehand, but there was no urgency here, no panic or distress.

Not on our end, anyways.

Topsy’s crew reached the first floor of the basement, which included the parking garage.  Topsy followed right after with the piles of goods, abused by their rough tumble down a dozen flights of stairs.  The packages of powder virtually floated in the air, with Topsy batting them in the direction of his people.

“Everything with red tape is highest priority,” Topsy said.  “Load it into the trucks first.  We can take a loss on the rest, pay the fucks back and claim intervention of bug bitch.”

“Two trips,” the man I took to be Topsy’s lieutenant said.  “Bug girl can see what her bugs see.  She’ll be on our heels.”

I’m not even fifteen paces away, I thought.  I’d worried they would exit at the ground floor, but it was safe.  I made my way inside to grab my insulated box.  Heavy.

The lieutenant continued, “Mockshow, open the garage doors.  Get some cold air in here.”

“I’m already freezing,” the girl of the group said.  “We left our jackets up there.”

“Don’t fucking care.  Bit of cold will deal with these bugs faster than it hurts us.  Move.”

Mock obeyed, while the others loaded up the trucks.

“Be advised,” I reported, my hand to my ear, “They’re attempting retreat in vehicles.  Original plan may hit a snag.  Topsy’s got a newbie supervillain working for him.  Mockshow.  If I’m remembering right, she’s a master-slash-shaker six.”

Roger,” Tecton said.

Hold on,” Grace said.

Mockshow touched the garage door, and the mechanisms shifted to life.  Cold air flooded into the garage.  I was forced to pull my bugs back, drawing them into the stairwell and through the vents to the box I held.  Only the bugs nestled in the villains’ clothing remained.

I could barely hear as the lieutenant spoke to Mockshow, “See?”

Bosses are advising we try plan as detailed,” Grace said.  “If it fails, orders are to abort.

And there was our first bit of interference.  The Director didn’t want us to succeed.  Topsy wasn’t a likable guy, was dangerous in his own way, even, but he was a known quantity.  Manageable.

Fuck that, I thought.  I didn’t sit in the snow for eight hours, bored to tears, to have this  mission end at the first excuse.

I didn’t say it aloud.  I focused on what our targets were doing.

The trucks had apparently been loaded up, because the villains were gathering into three vehicles.  They peeled out with a squeal both I and my bugs could hear.

No less than ten seconds later, they ran over the chain that Cuff had laid in the snow just past the garage door.  She’d reshaped it so spikes jutted out, I knew.  I could hear the tires pop, and pieced together the scene from the movements of the people and boxes within the trucks.  The second truck had made it halfway across the spike strip losing its front tires, but the collision of the third truck ramming it from behind drove its rear wheels over the strip.

Two of three trucks disabled.

I stayed where I was, letting the last of my bugs finish gathering in the insulated box, then carried it outside to Cuff.

“Spiked chain worked,” I commented, my voice a murmur.

Cuff pumped a fist.

I touched my earpiece.  “Two cars disabled and a third trapped behind.  They-”

“Watch,” Topsy said, as he climbed out of the truck.

Not a statement.  A name.  I felt my heart sink a touch.  Of all the motherfucking people he could have hired-

“What?” his lieutenant asked.

“They’ve got to be close.  Take a second, look for them.  Mockshow?  Get us moving.”

It didn’t take Watch two seconds to turn and face the alley where Cuff and I were hiding.

It’s Watch,” I whispered, “They’re on to us.  Go.

Cuff nodded and reached for her left ear.  I seized her wrist to stop her.

She gave me a funny look.  “Mission’s a bust.”

“Mission is on,” I hissed the words.  “Go.”

I lifted the box, as Watch and Topsy made their way up the snow-covered ramp to us, underlings following them.  An adjustment of gravity removed the issues the slope posed.  Watch was saying something I couldn’t make out over the rush of wind.  Something about our location.  We didn’t have long.

Watch was a package deal like Grace or Circus.  A lot of powers, flexible.  His specific powers weren’t on record, but it was fairly well known that he was capable of short bursts of intense, short-ranged clairvoyance.  He could see people’s biology, ignore the issues of light, darkness or intervening objects, and he had a limited super speed coupled with what had been dubbed ‘phantom hands’.  The ability to reach through people like Shadow Stalker might, targeting particular aspects of people’s body to shred arteries or tear through nerves with his fingers and fingernails.

He was a monster who left his victims dead if they were lucky, quadriplegic if they weren’t.  Maybe that was ableist, but I didn’t fancy being left to rely on the care of others for the rest of my natural life, suffering what was, by all accounts, an indescribably painful case of phantom limb.

It said a lot about Topsy and the direction he was taking his enterprise, that he’d hire this bastard.

I nearly dropped the box, slick as it was with the snow that had melted while it sat in the lobby.  Cuff helped me catch it.  A moment’s delay, but enough time for Topsy, Watch and the others to crest the top of the ramp that led from the basement level to the street.

As we ducked behind cover, taking our steps into the alley, the snow that had accumulated on the ground began to fall in reverse, in thick, wet clumps.  I felt the same kind of lift that accompanied a use of my flight pack, and both Cuff and I were lifted off the ground as well.

The weightlessness ceased, and we fell.  Only we fell up.

My flight pack kicked to life, and the wings unfolded so I could use the propulsion.  I reached for Cuff with one free hand, nearly grabbing one of her braids, but found her wrist instead, felt her hand clasp my wrist in return.  Snow and ice pummeled us as it broke free of the sidewalk and flew skyward.

It also, I noted, helped to obscure us.  Some gunshots sounded, though we were safe around the corner.

With the flight pack, I managed to steer us towards the fire escape, throwing the box down -or up- and seizing a handhold.  I found a grip and started to swing Cuff towards the railing when gravity shifted again.  Cuff jerked, and I found myself half-folded over the railing, trying to keep her from falling through the open mouth of the alley and into Topsy and Watch’s sights.

Her legs dangled towards the street we’d just left, and I couldn’t muster the upper body strength to lift her.  Worse, her grip was too tenuous for her to risk letting go to climb up my arms and shoulders and reach safety.  Her right arm still wasn’t as strong as it should be.

The arms of my flight pack reached out to try and grip Cuff, but the angles of our bodies didn’t offer anything substantial to grab.  Her braids?  No.  Nothing on her costume either.

The chain looped around her back?  Yes.

“Chain,” I gasped the word in the moment her gauntlet slid from my grip.  The insectile arm at the side of my flight suit snagged the chain and passed it to my hand in a sudden, jerky motion.  She caught the lower half of the loop and jolted to a stop, her lower body dangling out in sight of Topsy and his men.

They opened fire, and Cuff shrieked in alarm.

Not quite so calm, leisurely and confident, now.  Damn it.

Still, we managed to reel her in, her climbing, me hauling the chain in, inch by agonizing inch.  The men with the guns rounded the corner, still shooting, as they kept out of the way of Topsy’s power.  I had to duck low to take some cover behind the insulated metal box and the metal slats of the fire escape.  More bullets ricocheted off of Cuff’s armor.

She found the railing, and I gripped her armor to help pull her over.

Getting reports of shots fired,” Grace said.  “Bosses are worried.”

Fuck the bosses.  “All good,” I responded, injecting calm into my voice.  “We weren’t in danger.  They’re ticked and shooting indiscriminately.”

“Roger,” Grace said.  “Be safe.”

“Not in danger?” Cuff practically snarled the question at me.  It was out of character for her, but that was excusable considering she’d just been shot at.

“You’re bulletproof.  I’m bulletproof, even.  Between the new Darwin’s bark spider silk costumes, and your armor, you were safe.”

As if punctuating my statement, a gun went off below, making the railing sing with the impact.

“Annex,” I said, communicating using the earpiece.  “I can sense your location.  Climb two stories and give me an exit on the north face of the building.”

Which way is north?

“Your left.”


“The way you worded that…” Cuff said.

“You’re not coming with,” I told her.

Gravity shifted again.  Our backs slammed against the side of the building, the two of us grunting in unison.  My metal box scraped against the metal of the fire escape to land beside me.  We were now more or less lying down on the building’s face.

Watch and Topsy’s men were making their way along the side of the building, walking on it.

I pulled off my flight pack and handed it to Cuff.

“I don’t know how to fly this,” she said.

I’ll fly it,” I told her.  I noted the hole Annex was making.  “Go over the top of the building to the roof.  Fall.  It’ll take you out of range of Topsy’s power, you’ll be returned to a normal orientation.  Drop again, off the other side of the building, sneak around and stop Mockshow.  If she gets the group moving, we won’t be able to intercept and carry out the plan.”

“We’re supposed to report if we run into trouble, cancel the mission.  This is a lot of trouble.”

“Trust me,” I told her.  “Please.  Go fast, before Watch catches up.”

She nodded, and I gave her a boost with the flight pack to move her along as I dropped into Annex’s hole.  I made it ten feet into the hallway before getting out of range of Topsy’s power and skidding to a halt on the carpeted floor.

Cuff sprinted for the ledge that was the rooftop.  She fell only three or so feet before gravity reasserted itself, driving her into the snow and gravel.

I noted Mock, but I couldn’t see much of what she was doing.  Her power, though, put her in the same general category as Rachel.  She empowered minions.  They even fit into the same general weight class as Rachel’s dogs.  The difference, though, was that they were inanimate.  Loose, telekinetically animated servants, typically with the size, clout and general strategy of a grown rhino.  Charge things, hit them hard, repeat.

I had no doubt she’d be working on the truck.  Maybe multiple trucks.  Bugs were still inside the vehicles, and I could sense things shifting and lurching as she reconfigured it into a more or less mobile form.

Watch was suffering with both the winter weather and his lack of proper footwear.  He was fast, but the terrain was slowing him.  Ice and snow had been thrown against the side of the building by Topsy’s power, and every other step threatened to send Watch tumbling.  His super speed wouldn’t help him much when he had to plot his movements like this, but it still made him incredibly dangerous if he did get one of us in reach.

He crested the top of the building as Cuff reached the other side of the roof and jumped down.

Propulsion and antigravity together weren’t enough to slow her fall.  A miscalculation.  She was too heavy, with her armor.

I promised myself I’d owe her one and slowed her the only way I could – I used the flight pack to push her against the side of the building, using friction and drag to slow the fall.

She hit the alley on the far side of the building at a speed that was probably too fast to be comfortable, not so fast she was gravely hurt.  I used the propulsion in the flight pack’s wings to help speed her along as she stumbled, jogged, then sprinted towards the front of the apartment building.

Cuff rounded the corner just as Mockshow led her quadruped truck-minion outside.  I folded the wings in just as she made contact.

Cuff could use her short range metallokinesis to manipulate her armor, effectively granting herself increased strength.  She could, it seemed, also use it to impact the metal she was hitting.  She wasn’t moving that fast, but everything my limited senses could tell me suggested she delivered a hit like a freight train striking a car that had stalled on the tracks.

“No!  Fuck no, fuck damn!” Mockshow shouted.

Cuff threw out a chain with an audible clatter, then caught the end, moving like she was winding it around the villain.  She reconsidered as Topsy and his minions reacted to the noise of the collision and came after her.  She was nearly at the far end of the street when Topsy used his power.  He reoriented gravity, and she veered to one side, striking the wall beside the alleyway rather than disappearing inside.  The tilt continued, and she turned away, moving with the tilt.

He leveraged his power further, only this time, it was his namesake topsy-turvy ‘up is down’ variant.  It was his most offensive power, the ability to hurl large numbers of people or objects into the city’s skyline, then revoke his power to let them fall.

Cuff, to her credit, was ready.  I could sense her catching ahold of the building’s face, using the cover of the rising snow around her to climb up and disappear into the alley.

Status, Weaver?” Grace’s voice came over the channel.

“All kosher,” I replied, managing to sound calm.  I walked to the far end of the hall and turned a corner, until I stood by a window with a view of the villains.  “Waiting to see which way they go, so sit tight, Golem and Tecton.”

Fuck,” Topsy was saying, as he approached the wreckage.  Mockshow was using her power to animate the chain and help herself out of it.

“What the hell was that?” Mockshow asked.

“Wards.  … this, it’s a trap,” Watch said.  He’d made his way back down the side of the building, where Topsy’s power had oriented gravity at a right angle.  He was calm as he spoke, “They shut down this … area, and they’re making …cal strikes to disable us.  Even the fact that …show here doesn’t have a … and I’m wearing sneakers instead of boots, they wanted that.  They want us unprepared, angry, even cold.”

“I’m paying you to get me out of this kind of situation,” Topsy said.  “Do your job.  How do we handle this?”

“They want us pissed enough to fight,” Watch said.  “Don’t.  Also… yeah.  Bug bitch tagged us.  Here.”

He reached for Mockshow, and she slapped his hand away.  He caught her wrist, simultaneously capturing her arm and blocking the path of the cockroach I’d hidden in between her sweatshirt and her jacket.  He plucked it out.

“Ew!  Ew, ew!”

With a systematic, accurate and patient series of movements, Watch began catching and killing every single one of my bugs.  Slowly but surely, I was being rendered blind and deaf.  It would make tracking a great deal harder.

“Cuff,” I communicated over the earbud, “Let me have the flight pack.”

Dutifully, she unhitched the harness and let me pilot the thing back in my general direction.  Annex and I made our way outdoors, back to the fire escape, as Watch killed the last bugs.

“Ew, ew, ew,” Mockshow moaned, with each bug that was revealed.

“… … think we should fight?” Topsy asked.  “… …ing kids.  … money, my rep…”

“Could fight,” Watch said.  “…ther plan.  Let me kill these last few, then I’ll …”

Over the ensuing four or five seconds, he killed the bugs I’d planted on him despite my best effort to retreat them to inconvenient and inaccessible areas.

My flight pack returned to me, and I strapped it on, before flying to the roof for a better vantage point.

“Going to be hard to track,” I reported.  I could see them running.  “Watch killed my tracking bugs.  They’re heading north, along Addison. roughly four hundred feet away from my location.”

It was Revel’s voice, not Grace’s, that came over the channel.  “Watch?”

“With Topsy and Mockshow and five underlings with guns and no apparent powers.  They’re on foot, trucks are disabled.  Can I get a roger?”

Roger,” Tecton said, “Moving to intercept with Golem.

Belay that,” Revel cut in.  “I’m not throwing my Wards to the wolves like this.  Abort.  Protectorate moves in.

“You let them face Behemoth,” I said.

Different story.”

“We’re safe,” I said, taking flight to keep my eyes on the villains.  “There’ more danger if you derail the plan.  They won’t even see us.”

Watch sees everything,” Revel answered.  “Everything within range of conventional eyesight, from every angle.

“Revel,” I said.  “We won’t get close to him.  Promise.  I’ve been on the team for six months, I’ve shown you guys I can play nice, play safe, avoid making trouble.  But you guys brought me on board to be the shot caller in the field, with Tecton as the leader.  Let me do what I’m supposed to do and call the shots.  It’ll be a win for the good guys, I promise.”

There was a long pause.  I’m up against Revel and the Director, now.  My advocate had switched stances.

I took flight again to maintain a good distance.  I wasn’t sure, but I thought maybe Watch had briefly turned my way.

He knew I was following, but he didn’t seem to mind.  He had a plan.  Maybe more than one.

They wasted no time in putting it into action.  Topsy used his power over a wide area, reversing gravity’s effect.  Snow began to fly in the air, and was soon joined by a pair of cars.  They reached the top of Topsy’s effect, caught between the two gravities, and began to rotate aimlessly in the weightless middle-ground between normal gravity and the area Topsy had altered.

Then he shifted gravity’s direction again.  An attack, such as it was.  The snow and cars fell in my direction.  Were flung, for lack of a better term.  I flew for cover, ungainly as I raised the insulated box as a shield, snow and ice slamming into the buildings around me, pinging off of the metal.  I managed to duck out of sight.  The cars, for their part, were only thrown into the street a block away.

It wasn’t an attack he’d aimed, but a scattershot approach, meant to scare, to allow the possibility that he’d get lucky.

And it had given them the chance to try and slip away.  A few minutes, while I recouped and tried to get my sights on them in the midst of the stirring snow and limited visibility.

Okay,” Revel said.  “Only because we can’t move the Protectorate heroes there fast enough.  You are not to engage.”

“Roger,” I reported, my relief mixed with a frustration that the go-ahead had come so late.

Their attempt to occupy me and break away might have worked, if it weren’t for Golem and Tecton.  The villains had come to a complete stop as they reached the barrier.  A row of asphalt and concrete hands, the gaps filled by Tecton’s power.  The wall was as tall as the buildings on either side of it, spanning the breadth of the street.

Topsy began to use his power, moving snow at the far left of the wall, no doubt intending to scale the structure, move over the wall.  Watch stopped him.

They turned to run instead, moving parallel with the wall.

Watch, I guessed, had seen Tecton, Golem, and the two PRT trucks on the other side of the wall, ready to spray the villains with containment foam.

By the time Topsy and his crew reached the next street over, the PRT van had pulled to a stop.  Golem was outside the vehicle, creating another barrier.  The implication was clear.  Every escape route would be cut off.

This was a battle of attrition, a patient fight, with civilians kept out of reach.  We’d let them get tired, frustrated, cold, and we’d break their spirits.

The goal here wasn’t just to win.  It was to win so irrevocably that we took the fight out of them altogether, left them without any hope that they could win the next time.

Topsy hit Golem and the truck with flipped gravity.  Both moved, but neither lifted off the ground.  Even before he started raising the wall, Golem would have used his power to hold his feet against the ground, to grab the truck’s axle.  Tecton would be waiting inside, ready to leap out and break the hands if necessary.

The villains could have continued.  In their shoes, I might have.  It made sense, to force Tecton and Golem to stop and start until an opening presented itself.

Except they were cold, tired, and being countered at every turn was starting to take a psychological toll.

They might have split up, scattered, but they didn’t.  Again, they suspected a counterplan.  Which we did have.  Golem and Tecton could have tripped up the most problematic combatants while the rest of us picked off the weakest members one by one.  I didn’t have bugs, but I could fly, and I had coiled lassos of silk cord that I could use in a pinch, along with a taser that I could use if I wanted to end things sooner than later.  A good attack from above, I could manage.  If they went inside, I could unload the bugs I had in my insulated box.

They had a different plan in mind.  They reversed direction and headed straight for a restaurant with a sign showing a gold dragon against a red background.

“Grace,” I said.  “Wei shu wu?  Does typing it into the computer turn up anything?”

A cover business for a group with affiliations to the Folk,” Revel volunteered.

“We safe to harass them, or-”

No.  They have people with powers, and that’s beyond the scope of this manhunt.

“Can you find the number at the building?  A restaurant, Wei shu wu.”

“Weaver,” Revel said, her tone a warning.

“Please,” I said, as the villains disappeared inside.

Revel only sighed.

A moment later, the phone rang, and I could hear a voice.

Wei shu wu dining.  Would you like delivery?  We can also arrange reservations if needed.

“We would, if it’s no trouble,” I said, hoping I was connected.  “Eight criminals just entered your restaurant on Addison.  They’re cold, bedraggled, a little desperate.  It’s an ugly situation, and I’m sorry for the trouble that’s found its way to your doorstep.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

Playing dumb?

“It was trouble they started,” I said.  “They crossed lines, and now that we’re coming after them, they’ve come running to your place for shelter.”

“We can hardly offer anyone shelter.”

“I know,” I said.  “But call your boss, if you need to.  Let them know that the heroes aren’t going to start a fight, but the villains inside the building need to leave and get taken into custody.  If this goes any further, we’re not going to press you, but it’s going to draw attention.  People will wonder why the bad guys are hiding there.”

Weaver,” it was a man’s voice this time, over the comms.  “You don’t have the authority to make promises or offers.

We can’t make them leave,” the man from the restaurant said, his voice a whisper.  “We don’t have ability to make threats.”

Because you’re hapless restaurant owners or because your gang doesn’t have the clout there to go head to head with Topsy?

“Don’t hang up the phone,” I said, “Use your cell phones, talk to anyone you can think of that might help.  Bosses, franchise owners, whoever.  Fill them in.  Let them know that the guests in your store include men called Topsy and Watch.  If they ask who I am, you tell them I’m a superhero called Weaver.”

“From the video?”

“From the video,” I said.

His tone changed, as if he’d shifted mental gears, at that.  He sounded vaguely plaintive.  “You’re talking as if my boss is an important man, but-”

“You’re just a restaurant employee,” I said.  “I understand.  Call whoever.  We’ll figure this out together.”

There was a muffled sound, as if he was covering the phone’s mouthpiece with his hand.

You’re talking as if you’re on the same side,” the man said.  The Director, I was pretty sure.

Weaver,” Revel chimed in, sounding annoyed.

“Mute me so he doesn’t hear?” I asked.

“Already done,” Revel said.  “This isn’t the way we should do this.”

I bit my lip.  I wanted to retort, to argue, but I knew there were too many listening ears.

This is exactly what we should be doing.

“They’re people,” I said.  “They’re bad guys, maybe, but they’re all people.  Topsy and Watch and Mockshow want the same things we do, to be safe, warm, dry and well rested, and we’re taking that away from them.  And the people who work with this restaurant?  They don’t want to deal with people like Topsy and Watch.  All we have to do to resolve this is make it easier to deal with us than to deal with the other villains.”

We shouldn’t be dealing with them, period,” the Director said.

“We-” I started to reply, then I stopped.

Topsy, Watch and Mockshow had stepped from the building.

“They just decided to leave,” the restaurant employee said.  His voice shook a little.

I could see the body language of the three villains and their henchmen.  Topsy kicked the window at the outside of the restaurant, and a crack appeared in it.  He shouted something I couldn’t make out from my vantage point.

I’m sure they did, I thought.  But I only said.  “Thank you for cooperating.”

“Thank you for talking me through this,” the man said.

With that, he hung up.

Something had gone on that I hadn’t overheard.  An exchange of words, a message from the Folk?

It didn’t matter right now.  I watched as the villains made their way down the street, then broke into a store to find shelter from the cold.

It was over.  I could read it in their body language.  As much as the Director had wanted to wear me down, to have me sit in the cold with nothing to occupy myself with but the five minute check-ins, we’d achieved the same thing against the villains, and we’d been successful in doing it.  This was only residual stubbornness.

My arms were stiff with the weight of my bug box.  I was glad to set down on the roof and deploy the bugs, flooding the building and driving the villains out into the elements.  They had winter clothing they’d stolen, but it wasn’t enough to restore the warmth they’d already lost.

By the time they found more shelter, Annex and Cuff had met up with a PRT van and been delivered to the scene.  Annex approached from behind, slithering close, and then used his power to open up a closed storefront, allowing cold to pour into the building’s interior.

This time, when the villains emerged, they did so with arms raised in surrender.

“We did it,” I muttered.

Be wary of Watch,” Revel said.  “Containment foam him first, then move him to a truck.  Good job, Wards.

I watched Mockshow on the monitors.  She was young.  Well, young was relative.  She was fourteen or so, and now that she had her costume with her, she wore a hard mask sporting a stylized smiley-face, a headband with screws sticking out like antennae.  She’d lost the outdoor clothing and had donned her mask, as if it were a shield between her and us.

I glanced over at our superiors.  Revel was in a discussion with the Director, the Mayor and the police chief.

Mockshow’s eyes widened as she saw the bugs filtering into the interrogation room.  The tables and chairs had been removed to deny her anything solid enough to use her power on, so she had nothing to hide behind as they began forming into a mass.

“Aw hell no,” she said, as she backed into a corner.  “No, no, no, no…”

They gathered into a rough humanoid shape.  My shape.  A swarm-clone.

“No!” she shouted, as if her refusal to accept it could banish the thing from existence.

Let’s chat,” I communicated through the swarm.  “Off the record.

“Screw you!  Driving me out into the cold, fucking with us without a fair fight?  Go die in a fire!”

I’ve been in a lot of fights,” I commented, “Rare to have one that’s actually fair.  Most are pretty brutally one sided.

“Do you not hear me?  Screw yourself!”

The swarm advanced a little, and she shrunk back.

Paradigm is changing, Mockshow.  I want to make that clear, so you know what people are talking about when they offer you deals.  People aren’t going to be inclined to play nice.”


The three strike rule, cowboys and indians, counting coup…

“You’re cracked.  The fuck are you talking about?”

It doesn’t matter.  Things are shifting.  People are relaxing when they shouldn’t be, because Behemoth died, and-

“Pat yourself on the back more, why don’t you?  I saw that video.”

Everyone did, I thought.

I couldn’t let her get me off topic.  “I’m going to tell you what I would’ve wanted to hear if I found myself in your shoes, at this point in time.

“Oh, so generous.”

There’s two groups of people.  There’s the people who’re preparing for the end of the world, who are on pins and needles waiting to see just what hits us next, how the dynamic’s going to change.  I’m in that group, understand?  In my book, in our book, anyone who isn’t keeping the peace and isn’t helping doesn’t deserve any mercy.  They’re detriments.  You’re dangerously close to falling into that category.”


And the other group?  They’re the people who’ve finally found a glimmer of hope, and they’re relaxing, thinking maybe we can take out the remaining Endbringers, maybe the world can go back to normal.

She snorted.

Yeah.  Exactly,” I said.  I glanced at the others.  The Director wasn’t participating in the conversation anymore.  He was staring at a monitor, but his reaction didn’t suggest he was watching me interact with Mock.

Either way, I had to wrap it up.  “But those guys?  They aren’t on your side either.  Once upon a time, they’d be the same people who’d push for people like you to go free.  Because maybe you’d help somewhere down the road.  Now?  They have no reason to give you that slack.  You’ve got no help here, and I think you’ll be surprised at how hard they come after you.”

“I didn’t do shit.  I’ve barely had my powers a month.”

“You signed up with Topsy.  With Watch.  This is as much about them as it is about you. Making Topsy uncomfortable, denying him a resource they’d just acquired.  Stripping away his conveniences, leaving him wondering if you’ll plea out.”

“Fuck that.  I’m good.  Not saying a word.”

“Probably,” I said.  “But take it from someone who’s been there.  You don’t want to go down this road.  The heroes will come after you hard, the villains will never trust you.  Honestly?  I don’t care if you stay a villain or become a hero.  But it’s not worth it to be a villain and stick with guys like Topsy.  The gains aren’t worth what it costs you.”

“I turn traitor and walk away, I’m fucked.”

“Join the Wards,” I suggested.

I experienced a momentary flashback to my first night out in costume, talking to Armsmaster.

Holy shit, have I become him?  Pursuing my agenda, offering the options I know she won’t take, steering her towards my self-serving goal?

It chilled me, bothered me far, far more than Mockshow’s snort of derision.

“Or go be a scumbag, but be a scumbag who helps save the world,” I said.

She rolled her eyes.

“Us or them, Mockshow,” I told her.  “Saving the world or getting in the way.  If you’re helping, we pull our punches, the charges don’t stick, whatever.  You get in the way, well, every night can be like tonight was.”

She scowled.

“That’s all.”

“Fucking rich.  You’re just pushing me to go join your old team.”

“I’m suggesting that you consider your options.  Pay fucking attention to where you’re going.  I wish I had.  That’s all.  If you want to contact me, that door will be left open.  I’ll pull strings to make sure of it.”

“I gotcha,” she said.  Her shoulders slumped a little, as if in defeat.  She glanced up at me, and I could see a glimmer of vulnerability in her expression.  “Weaver?”


“Can I ask you something personal?”

“Yes.  Of course.”

She opened her mouth, then closed it.  She stuck her hands in her pockets, then glanced at the windows, which were partially obscured with half-closed blinds.

Finally, she spoke.  “Would you please, please go fuck yourself?  Upside-down and backwards?”

I sighed, dissipating the swarm.

I felt my hair stand on end as the Director approached.  I’d always felt a little caught off guard by him.  He looked more like a classic politician than the generals and soldiers I was used to associating with the PRT, with dimples, styled sandy hair and a tidy suit.  His demeanor, body language, everything, it was warm.  That warmth didn’t reach his eyes.  Not when he’d looked at me.  Especially not right now.

He’d seen the swarm-clone in the interrogation room.  I knew it.

For long seconds, we stared at each other.  I’d thought he would say something, but he didn’t.

“Thanks,” I said, “For playing ball.”

“I didn’t.”

“You could have made that harder.”

“Making it harder would have done more harm than good,” he said.  “I’ve still got two teams to run, a specialized police force to organize.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Mockshow.  Was she receptive?”

I shook my head, but I said, “Maybe.  Maybe something will sink in.”

“Teenagers have a way of being bullheaded,” the Director said.  “Villains too.  Teenaged villains?  Well.”

His eyes didn’t move one iota away from me as he said it.  It left no question about how he’d compartmentalized me in his head.

“I suppose you’re right,” I said.

“Having Topsy off the streets is going to be a feather in a few caps, I think,” he said.  “It’s messy to credit you.”

“I really don’t care,” I said.  “I just want to make some steps forward in this mess.  Prepare for the worst.”

He studied me in a very slow, careful way, as though taking everything in.  Assessing the target.

“I could raise an issue with you being in that interrogation room.”

“Maybe,” I said.  “It’d look obvious, that you were coming after me.  I didn’t say anything really problematic.  But it’s an option.”

“You withheld details.”

“It’s kind of crazy out there, in the midst of a fight.  You lose track of stuff.”

“I know,” he said.  “I used to be a soldier.”

That caught me off guard.  He didn’t look like he’d ever been in a fight, let alone a war.  He was so young, too.

“You haven’t been a cape for long,” he said.

“A year.”

“A year.  But you’ve been through a lot.  I’d hope you were better about minding those details.”

A slap in the face, not calling me out on the fib, but turning it against me.

He seemed content with that for the moment.  He didn’t press the offensive.  I didn’t either.

“We both got what we wanted tonight,” I said.  “It’s a win, isn’t it?”

He didn’t reply, glancing at the Mayor.  The man seemed happy as he talked to Revel and the police chief.  Not giddy, but happy.

“Is this going to let up?” I asked.  “Or are we going to be fighting each other constantly?”

The Director glanced at me.  “You want this to stop?”

“It’s a waste of energy.  There can’t be compromise?”

He didn’t even have to think about it.  He shook his head, briefly pursing his lips.  “No compromise.”

I clenched my fist.  Damn him.

“A balance,” he said.  “Maybe a balance.”

“What’s the difference?”

“I think,” he said, choosing his words carefully, “That a compromise would be disastrous.  You’re not going to be confined.  You showed that in the interrogation room in Brockton Bay, when you murdered Director James Tagg and Alexandria.  You’re not going to be confined by law.  I haven’t seen a single case where you’ve followed the rules that were outlined for you.  Boundaries don’t work, in any sense.  If we reached a compromise, worked out some kind of a deal, you’d find a way around it, extending your influence.”

“That’s not fair,” I said.

“It’s reality.  It’s a horrible waste of energy, a tragedy, really, but I’m forced to dedicate time to reining you in, controlling you, keeping you in check.  If that results in nights like tonight, we have a balance.  Hardly a compromise, but we’ll manage.”

“I suppose we’ll have to,” I said.

“I’d tell you to avoid leaking the fact that you played a major role in tonight’s events, but we both know you wouldn’t listen,” he said.  “I’d threaten punishment, but you’d do what you wanted and even enjoy it, feeling vindicated.  So we’ll go another route.  If you don’t play ball and let us share this narrative the way we need to, I punish the other Chicago Wards.  Inconvenient shifts, extra volunteer work, more paperwork.”

“I told you, taking credit isn’t a concern for me.  I’ve got other priorities.”

“Good,” he said.  He flashed me a smile.  White capped teeth.  “Good.  Then this is ideal.  We may not have a compromise, but a consensus?  It’ll do.”

“It’ll do,” I said.

“Just do me a favor?  Try not to murder me like you did the other three Directors.”  He winked.

It was a jibe, a verbal thrust, delivered with humor and offhandedness, but it struck home, stirred ugly feelings.

He turned to rejoin the others.  The Mayor looked at me, and Revel waved me over.  I knew the Director wouldn’t want me to, so I walked over with confidence, my head held high.

Eight hours?” the Mayor asked.  “Sitting in the cold?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Is that even legal?”

The Director stepped in, “It wasn’t on the clock.  For all intents and purposes, she wanted to take the day off, have some time by herself.  We had the tracking device monitored by GPS, so we knew she wasn’t going anywhere she shouldn’t.  Being the workaholic she is, she wanted to get intel while she had her alone time.”

I didn’t argue the point.  He wasn’t wrong.  That was how it was going down in the paperwork.  Part of the deal we’d arranged to get this off the ground.

The mayor smiled.  “Well, good to see our most controversial member is doing her part.   You should smile more.  Can we get a smile out of you?”

I smiled a little.

“Better, better!  You do bide your time, then make a big splash, don’t you, Ms. Weaver?”

He was managing to sound a little condescending, which was at odds with the events he was alluding to.  How did one make me sound so diminutive when making vague reference to the death of an Endbringer, to the murder of Alexandria and the takeover of a city?

I didn’t mention it.  I had my pride, but it wasn’t something worth fighting over.  I wanted to pick my battles, and any moment now-

“Hopefully we’ll see more of the same from you in the future,” the Mayor said.

The Director started to speak, deflecting, but I cut in.  “Actually-“

Eyes fell on me.

Picking my battles.  If the Director wanted this to be a war, if he thought I needed to be tempered by an opposing force, then I was game.

I glanced at the Mayor.  “Tecton went over it with me, we’ve got more plans like we had for tonight.  If you guys are willing.”

“Willing?  I can’t imagine why not!” the Mayor said.  He smiled at Director Hearthrow, who smiled back.

The moment the Mayor wasn’t looking, the Director shot me a glance, a dangerous, warning look.

I told you, I thought.  My priorities are elsewhere.

“How soon?” the police chief asked.  Her stare was hard, judgmental, but there was curiosity in her tone.

“The sooner the better,” I said.  “Before they catch on about what we’re doing and adjust.  I think I know where a few possible major players are situated.  I’ve spent the past few months looking for them.  I gathered the intel in my spare time, on my morning runs and patrols.  Just like Director Hearthrow was saying.  I’m a bit of a workaholic.”

“Like, two weeks?” she asked.

“Give me a day to recuperate, maybe two days if the other Wards need it, I’d be down for another.  We could potentially hit seven or eight major targets in the next two weeks, if you wanted.  Each of them would be major targets, villains who aren’t playing along, who are more trouble than they’re worth.”

The Director shook his head.  “I think that may be extreme.  The resources expended, funding-“

“Funding can be conjured up for a project like this,” the Mayor said.  “Imagine the impact.  Can we do this with the Protectorate team as well?  Switch off with the minors?”

“It’s a good idea,” Revel commented.  “Weaver’s capable of handling her own in high pressure situations, but the other team members might not be.  They have school, family, other concerns.”

“I agree,” I chimed in.  “Makes sense.  We could have the bad guys reeling.”

“We can’t set our hopes too high,” the Director warned.  He gave me another dirty look.

The Mayor chuckled.  “No.  Of course not.  But the impact.  And to do it with so little risk?  They barely interacted with the villains, by all accounts.  It would be insane to pass up the opportunity.”

“Insane,” Revel said, her tone flat.  I couldn’t read her feelings on this.  I hoped I hadn’t provoked her as much as I had the Director.

“If you’re willing to allow me to suggest some targets,” the police chief said, “I think I could adjust shifts, ensure we have enough squad members to limit or stop traffic inside potential sites of conflict.”

It was consent, in the form of a negotiation.  The mayor and police chief were interested, Revel was probably on board.  The Director would be forced to play along.

It was done.  I was all set to hit the ground running, like Glenn had recommended.  Big moves.  Actions with momentum.  Here on out, I’d have to keep moving so they couldn’t get me.

And hopefully, in the midst of this, we’d be able to organize things for our potential end of the world scenario.  Eliminate the obstacles, big and small, train up the rank and file troops.

If anyone thought I was cleaning up Chicago, they were wrong.  Like the Director had said, I’d take as much rein as they gave me, use all of the leverage and momentum I could get my hands on.  Topsy was a small fry in the grand scheme of things.  A test run.  I wanted to hit big targets in other cities.  To get as many Mockshows into the interrogation rooms as possible, to play the odds and increase the chances that we could get those people on the fence and make sure they were positioned appropriately.

The clock was ticking.

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288 thoughts on “Scarab 25.3

  1. I handwrote this chapter while at the cabin, taking a break with family, and then transcribed it to the screen only to find it was longer than I expected (11000 words).

    Hope it’s acceptable. Thanks to everyone who took the last two chapters (and typos) in stride – I wrote both in a 24 hour period (25.1 from 10am to 11pm, 25.2 from 11pm to 10am) before leaving for vacation. I had no internet access while out in the middle of nowhere (beautiful nowhere, though) and was tearing my hair out, wondering what the reception was. To see that people voted on topwebfiction and seemed to enjoy it meant a lot. Thanks guys.

    And thanks for reading.

    • I know you were hoping for “acceptable”, but will you settle for “terrific”? 😀

      Seriously, though, it was glorious. Remember my comment on 23.3 about how I was totally jazzed about Taylor’s new Weaver plans, and I couldn’t wait until Saturday? Today is the Saturday I was dreaming of. From the eight-hour stakeout to the casual breach of the building security to the sabotage of her enemies’ winter gear to the whole fight — a fight conveyed in your writing with glorious clarity — to Weaver’s leaning upon the restaurant owners to Weaver leaning on Mockshow to Weaver completely outmaneuvering the obstructive Director … I’m getting chills. One of my favorite chapters.

    • You did leave a lot of space for dick jokes, though. They sure did try to cram in as many as they could. I tried to keep it clean here, but then it blew up in my face.

      By the way, since you were out of internet range, Egypt had another revolution. So, you know, if you ever wonder if you missed anything important.

          • I wasn’t TRYING to kill some of those people, you know. I totally tranqed that guy…a little too close to the cliff with the waterfall below it. And then that other guy, I tried to leave him napping in that bunker and left the claymore in case any of his friends tried to wake him up. I can’t be held responsible for my enemies’ lack of education.

            As for the guys walking between two big metal crates when I had the single action army…yeah, that was for fun.

    • Seriously, the catharsis of watching something go RIGHT for Weaver, for her life to finally, FINALLY not get slapped in the kneecaps with a 2×4, cannot be overstated.

      This was a wonderful chapter. Fantastic work.

        • No problems with this chapter. For the writing equivelent of a box of scraps in a cave it was amazing. The last one sort of felt a little bit like it was jumping around with the time skip. I guess I just would have liked a bit more with Taylor getting to know the Chicago Wards. Sort of like when Taylor joined the Undersiders and they just hung out at the hideout. Do we even know Cuff and Tecton’s real names yet?

    • I am pretty sure this was my favorite or second favorite Weaver chapter. Really nice and kind of what I missed for a while. I have hope that development now goes forward without too many timeskips larger than a week

    • I used to think all super hero stories were crap until I read Worm. Now I think all super hero stories are crap, excluding Worm. Why? Because in Worm victory goes to the one who applies their power more effectively rather than both sides basically yelling MY POWER IS OVER 9000! at each other to see whose bullshit is stronger. Another fact I greatly enjoy in Worm is that people don’t fit into neat boxes of black/grey/white morality. People come off very differently when they are on the same side and when they oppose one another.

      I do have one nitpick with this chapter though: I get a feeling the author does not have much experience operating in cold weather. Although I have never taken part in a stake out I have had guard duty and it is possible to dress well enough to remain warm even if you are stationary. However, if you don’t remove clothing before you become active you get hot and you sweat. No matter what you are wearing once it is wet with your sweat you will get cold fast once you slow down so your activity isn’t keeping you warm any more. If you can’t change into dry clothes you need to remain active at a level where your activity keeps you warm enough to dry the sweat without adding to it until you are dry and can stop.

      Or maybe PRT winter gear is superior. 🙂 Not that it would change the outcome of the chapter: stuff like that is mostly a matter of comfort until a few hours have passed.

      • I live in Canada. I have experience in cold weather.

        Then again, I operate well at a cold temperature (and suffer in Summer), so maybe I’m not average.

        Either way, a lot of Taylor’s movement is by way of flight pack. She’s not really sprinting anywhere or doing much (which was part of the strategy) – so I don’t think it’s out of sync.

        • Yeah I totally prefer the cold months as well; even Seattle summers are too hot for me. And yet, I chose to go to college in Arizona. … Sometimes I wonder what’s wrong with my brain.

    • I’ve just read this start to finish in the last 4 days. Found this on the Top Web Fiction vote. Thank you for writing.

    • “Roger-roger from the field team,” Tecton said. ”Just reached perimeter. Sending Annex and Cuff your way. Golem and I will be working.”
      Italics, since it’s through the earbud?

    • Not exactly a typo, but one she’s discussing Watch’s powers, she uses ablest, a word that just threw me off. I think I’ve heard it once before, and it just doesn’t seem like something that is in her vocabulary.

      • Given Taylor’s previous blinding and near crippling and her comments then, I’m not surprised at all that she’s looked into that stuff.

      • Yeah that sentence threw me, too; needs an “even with” or something. I did like the repeating pattern of sentences starting with “Not so”, that was subtle and cool. (Pattern is maybe a strong word, I think I saw two of them ).

    • They flowed out and disappeared into the air vents. Slowly, they made their way up to the apartment of a local supervillain.

      first “they” should be the bugs?

      I stayed where I was, letting the last of my bugs finish gathering in the incubated box

      “incubated” – insulated?

    • When she’s talking to Mock show, the italics disappear about halfway through.

      Also, “share this narrative” might be intended as “shape this narrative.”

    • “They’re heading north, along Addison. roughly four hundred feet away from my location.”

      Need to capitalize “roughly.”

    • The lunchbox was a memento, really, an impulse I’d justified in the moment by telling me it fit with my general camouflage, that it was ironic.

      Telling myself.

    • The second truck had made it halfway across the spike strip losing its front tires, but the collision of the third truck ramming it from behind drove its rear wheels over the strip.
      There should be a comma between ‘strip’ and ‘losing’.

    • until they’re within a twelve-hundred feet of me.
      -“a” or +”radius”/”distance”

      “Okay,” Revel said. “Only because we can’t move the Protectorate heroes there fast enough. You are not to engage.”
      Inconsistent italics (spoken over radio).

      Also, that fight was glorious. It was almost comedic just how close to victory they were by the time the ‘fight’ even began.

    • “There’ more danger if you derail the plan. –> There’s

      end things sooner than later –> sooner ‘rather’ than later

      have I become him? –> (someone) like him, maybe?

      Yeah, I know, I’m way late with this, but whatever. I like the new director, because he both has a point (she can indeed not really be trusted) and is as reasonable as we can hope for. And I have exams tomorrow. Huh. Thanks for ruining my studies wildbow, why do you have to write as amazing as you do ٩(๑òωó๑)۶

  2. Wow… Things are certainly heating up, aren’t they? Except for Weaver, lol. I look forward to seeing where this goes. It’s nice to see one-sided fights like this sometimes, it’s pretty cool. I really, really like everything about this chapter.

    Good work!

  3. Did Cuff just deliver a Falcon Punch to a truck? She’s a lot nastier than I thought she would be in a fight.

  4. Fuck yeah, no mercy for PRT Directors who don’t deserve it. Weaver knows what to do, bull through and make it too painful to do anything other than accept what she’s done, lol. Sucks to be Revel, caught between what looks to be a mediocre politico and a new brand of American cold cape?

    Cue Eminem – Cold Wind Blows.

    • This director was better than Tagg though. Okay not hard. The Chicago directors problem seems to that he really doesn’t comprehend that a storm is coming. They can’t leave things as they are. They can’t just close the windows. Put up the boards, stock up on canned goods, get gas for the generators, and then get really serous about the preperations.

      Also Taylor just does not work well with authority figures.

      • Given that she tends to swarm her thoughts, I wonder how she’d fare with a Matriarchal figure.

        Or, maybe she wants to BE that Matriarchal figure! Could you imagine it…she saves the world by taking it over, and renames herself Queen Bee.

  5. Looks like it’s going to be a bad winter for super criminals in Chicago, and time for the PRT Director to stock up on headache medicine since with Weaver finally given the green light to put some plans in motion I’m sure his stress will just keep ratcheting up. I wonder if there is a villainous cape in Chicago calling himself Bad Bad Leroy Brown, if there isn’t there should be cause that fight could be hilarious.

    • The Mayor may be a slimy self-serving politician but at least in this case he is useful enough as a pawn to derail the Director. Speaking of which the Director should keep in mind that Taylor didn’t answer when he asked her not to murder him like she did the other three Directors.

      • Should he somehow fail to learn from his predecessors and push her that far I’m sure she find a completely new way to murder him, she wouldn’t want to get predictable after all.

      • This one will be more dangerous as a passive aggressive type like Regent only politically, He doesn’t run, he evades. He’d say or do whatever it took to stop everyone else from focusing on him, stop them from threatening him and the status quo, and he’d go right back to what he was doing, in a different way, a different angle, so they’re less likely to catch on. And if they upset the status quo and the “balance”, he’d make them answer for it somehow. It won’t show, but he’ll push back a little harder when pushed. He makes dealing with him annoying or toxic in a thousand small ways, until you can’t continue to press him. Then he uses that, goes right back to doing what he wanted to do. Imagine him doing all this politically to Taylor and the Chicago Wards + the Chicago Protectorate.

        • Well, that may be true, but compare him to someone like West, whose first action after Behemoth’s death was to try to imprison the person largely responsible for his defeat. Yeah, this director in Chicago may be a bit of a pain in the ass, but at least he isn’t going out of his way to do the single most asinine action in any given situation.

            • Nah, I think he meant Usher. After all without him Chevalier could have never got close enough to hit Behemoth’s core.

              • I’m certain that they believed Taylor to be the person who “contributed the most”, and as such, these latter comments are hilarious to read.

              • And I’m certain that negadarkwing (and I) were joking. The point being that Taylor sure did a lot of coordinating and was essential in the Phir Se bomb attack, but saying she was the one who contributed the most is a bit…extreme

              • I agree … but I suspect that if Weaver hadn’t set up the strike, it’s possible that Behemoth would have caught the energy and used it.

                To use a baseball metaphor, if we say Phir Se is a pitcher throwing a perfect game, Weaver is an outfielder catching a would-be home run off the fence for an out and Scion is a pinch-hitter slamming in a solo homer in the ninth for the win.

  6. If you’ll forgive my being off-topic for a moment: I know a lot of people here liked Eric Burns-White’s Interviewing Leather and/or are following the sequel, Interviewing Trey — given that, I thought it would be worth sparing a moment to mentioning the other serial he has running at present, Lovelace 1/2.

    Lovelace 1/2 isn’t a superhero story — at least, not so far — but it occurred to me that one of the wonderful things about Worm is the exploration of the powers that the characters have, powers that are clearly, obviously well thought out and subtle, but that the characters themselves do not fully comprehend. Well, in Lovelace 1/2, the protagonist, Andi Gannett-Moore, finds herself imbued with just such a power one Saturday morning and is left to deal with the consequences in a world where powers are not normal or expected.

    It’s a nifty story, updating once a week on Wednesdays, starting the week after Trey did. I like it. I think some of you might too.

  7. And in another universe, Harry Dresden feels an inexplicable sense of camaraderie. 😀

    Six months, huh? Time keeps on slippin’…

    It also means that Leviathan is probably due any day now. I wonder if he’ll head for Chicago? It is on the lakefront, after all.

    • How would Leviathan get there? Try to sneak on his tippy-toes from the deep ocean to Lake Michigan and hope no one notices?

      • Take the Eerie Canal, I’d assume. Leviathan’s demonstrably hard to track while he’s swimming, and he’s not so big that the Eerie Canal wouldn’t be plenty deep enough for him.

        • Isn’t the Eerie Canal, like, 14 feet deep? I really don’t think Leviathan can conceal himself for long even if he lies on his belly like Solid Snake, especially with the water afterimage.


      • St. Lawrence River.

        Or the Erie Canal, like pidgey said.

        Heck, he might even be able to use the Mississippi; I think that between smaller rivers and canals there’s at least one route between it and the Great Lakes that doesn’t require you to leave the water.

        And remember, it’s not just that it’s hard to track him in the water. He also moves incredibly fast.

    • According to Chevalier’s files, Leviathan attacked Madrid. So there’s precedent for non-seaside locations.

    • I wonder what would happen if the two of them (Harry and Taylor) were locked into a room for a day.

      Crossover Fanfic writers, I call you to arms!

      • How would you lock those two in a room for a day?

        If you stick Harry in a circle to reduce his magic, does it prevent Taylor from accessing bugs outside the circle? Does Taylor’s paradimensional link to her passenger provide a gap in the circle that Harry can draw power through? Can Harry summon super-bugs from the Nevernever through the circle, and can Taylor then control them?

        … you’re right, we must have answers. Prepare the room!

        • even better, tell them that there is another, second room where Maggie and the Undersiders are locked in and which will flood and kill them within an hour or so. also tell them that cauldron/the endbringers/the denarians have joined up and are responsible.

          behold the awesome

          • And just like that some of the largest problems of two universes are eliminated. Along with a significant percentage of the universes themselves…. Seriously, those two have some of the deadliest Berserk Buttons in the history of literature, and a history of accomplishing the improbable.

              • I don’t think I can stand anymore of these puns. When I sit down here and see them, I just wanna go on a long flight, or maybe catch a lift somewhere. Sure, they bring the mood up to start with, but before you know it, you’re treading all the way back down again.

              • Oh I don’t know, when I’m feeling low during the day, I read one of the puns in the comments and it gives me a little lift.

                Helps to raise my spirits.

              • Puns are one thing I ascent to for when y’all hope to keep things descent around here. It may bring people low when I think them up and they’ll accuse me of being high, but I’m just not down with that.

              • What an elevated discussion; the height of classy humor. The level of these puns just keeps ramping up.

      • I guess I should explain a statement like that. First, he tosses himself and his crew into the air by manipulating gravity, keeping on raising them up by redoing the field centered around them. Then he switches it so that gravity moves him in a certain direction. He could have even accelerated Watch to help him catch up, or just toss Truckasauruses over the barrier to fight, unless he’s not allowed to think with diagonals or can’t raise them up then chuck them forward.

        Not sure how well he can manipulate the strength of the pull of gravity, but if he was capable of doing that then he’d be pretty darn powerful indeed. Just create an area around part of a building that’s far stronger than it should be and watch the building tumble.

        This was a victory for the Wards team concept though. Battlefield control and psyops, combined with the rare ability of a hero to not treat villains like pieces of shit, all coming together.

        • If by villains you mean the restaurant owner, then yeah. Not sure I see how systematically stripping a villain of every basic need, with the express purpose of wearing him down until he gives up, is much different from what Tagg was originally trying to do. The only difference is that Tagg was far less capable of managing it, and was pushed to escalate to hostage-taking.

          Not that I’m saying it’s a problem for Weaver to be doing it. I’m more saying it’s kinda silly to say that the PRT directors are terrible for doing it just because they’re doing it to protect the status quo. The status quo’s only fatal flaw is that Weaver wants to buck it.

          • Taylor has always learned from her foes as well as her friends. The Lung & Bakuda school of motivational terror? The Mannequin indirect attack style of fighting? Jack Slash and the offensive uses of rep and style?

            Tagg and Alexandria taught her how to run psychological pressure games like a pro. If the Director is very fortunate indeed, he won’t be her political tutor.

            On the moral side of adopting harsh tactics… one of the nice things about Worm is that just about everyone, PRT Directors included, thinks themselves justified.

            • I think it’s extremely important to recognize the differences between the steps taken. Weaver was harsh as hell. But she didn’t pretend to kill off the friends and loved ones of these people. She didn’t target their families. She didn’t out their backgrounds to the news.

              She simply deprived them of home and hearth. She made the place unsafe for them, without being lethal, or letting them get civilians in the crossfire. She made it clear that they would not be safe, that they could not escape, and simply let them run themselves ragged.

              It’s easy to intimidate people if you beat them half to death. She did better than that. She ran them to exhaustion, and let them surrender, without harm. She was prepared to keep running them down. She didn’t initiate the violence.

              • I did say I was comparing Weaver’s strategy to what Tagg was originally trying to do, and specifically excluded the whole bit after him holding the well-being of the Undersiders over her head.

                Not that I’d be particularly surprised to see her go there, at some point. She has little reason to avoid using that kind of strategy, and she wouldn’t even consider losing as an option over it. And I rather suspect suspect a lot of people on the forums would be totally fine with it if she did. But regardless, it wasn’t what she did here, and I wasn’t comparing her behavior to Tagg’s final hour.

            • Don’t forget a healthy helping of Coil’s home recipe for careful planning and avoiding unneccessary (read: any) risk of failure.

              And I think Lisa taught her more than Tagg and Alexandria ever could about headgames.

        • Topsy’s power has a startup time, and he simply doesn’t have the fine control to fly with his power: witness both the fact he didn’t and that when he threw cars at Weaver, he missed by a block. If he were a brick, that might be close enough to work – as it is, trying to fly away like that would just be fast suicide.

  8. The one thing I love about Weaver is the fights can be a lot more suspenseful than they would be if Taylor was still Skitter. Being Weaver forces her to be far more creative than she was Skitter because of all the rules and restrictions. That and the Chicago Wards aren’t as skilled as the Undersiders. I kept feeling like one of them was going to screw up at a pivotal moment. Great job Wildbow.

    Also, I love how Taylor kept the lunchbox. It’s twice as ironic now as it was then.

    • > That and the Chicago Wards aren’t as skilled as the Undersiders.

      You say that, and I won’t contradict you … but remember that every member of the Undersiders outside of Taylor were already experienced operatives when they joined the team. Annex, Cuff, and Golem were raw recruits six months ago, and they’re kicking this much ass already.

      Sure, the Undersiders are top of the major leagues — but these guys were drafted this year and they’re already batting triple-A ball.

      • It wasn’t meant to be an insult towards the Chicago Wards. They handled themselves pretty damn well during an Endbringer fight when half the members had very little experience.

        It’s probably because of the timeskips but I don’t have the same grasp over what they’re capable of like I am of the Undersiders.

        • I agree, these time skips may be necessary, but we are missing out on a lot of little details.

          for example, I’d really like to have some more private interaction between Taylor and the wards. And I’d like to finally see what Tecton looks like under that armor!

          • I totally agree. Well, maybe a few Chicago Ward interludes on thursdays may help, but I really would like to see some more heartfelt day to day moments from Taylors viewpoint too.

            • Of course the one thing that the Chicago wards have in common with the undersiders is that they have Taylor. She’s that unifying factor that brings out the best in her teams. My best analogy would be comparing Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard with her teams in ME 1 and ME 2.

              In the case of Taylor’s allies, The Undersiders were a mixed bag when they were recruited but the Chicago Wards were designed to be a team.

              Might’ve been fun to have seen Taylor stage a mock contest between the under siders and Wards to assess stregnths and weaknesses, with Taylor staying neutral. How she’d get away with that though..

              Oh and congrats to Taylor on her promotion from antivillain to antihero.

              • “My best analogy would be comparing Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard with her teams in ME 1 and ME 2. ”
                But not ME 3 Shepard I note. I spend 3 games being all “No, this time the Reapers lose, and I plan on living” and the end comes down to agreeing with the horrible decietful manipulative bastard that made the mess in the first place. Also the writers fucked up the Geth.

              • The purpose of the reapers revealed in ME3 is pretty much a logic bomb so bad, it’s surprising the Reapers haven’t shut themselves down. That’s just bad writing.

  9. The Director here seems like a reasonably intelligent person even though he’s against our protagonist. And the Mayor seems like a fool, even though he’s on our side.

    I mean, I want Taylor to get more-or-less free rein, but I get the impression that the Mayor has no idea how dangerous this kind of thing is. He just sees an easy way to get good PR.

    • No way! If Taylor gets free rein, then she wouldn’t to try nearly as hard, and we wouldn’t get awesome chapters like this one. Restrictions breed creativity, after all.

      She really took Glenn’s advice to heart. I’d love to see him back in some capacity.

    • You realize he just turned this into a courtroom-like adversarial process, right? By insisting he can’t compromise with Weaver, but they’ll have balance because he’ll stop her when she gets out of hand, he gives her permission to go wild as long as he isn’t able or willing to rein her in.

      If Taylor comes to this same interpretation, she’ll be ruling Chicago before the month’s end.

      • Making a deal with Taylor isn’t really viable since she can’t be trusted to keep her end.

        And it’s probably impossible to make friends with her, since she regards PRT Directors as enemies. (She’s probably right to do so.)

        So if the Director wants to get results out of her without letting her do as she pleases, this is pretty much his only option.

        • She can be trusted to a reasonable degree, actually. She’s brokered and kept a deal with Miss Milita, and with many others. She even put herself at great personal risk to broker the Brockton Bay Truce, because she felt it was the right thing to do, and that the PRT was too important to allow to destroy itself.

          The extent to which the Director can be forgiven for not recognizing that is debatable. One sticking point may be that he clearly thinks in terms of a compromise where he’s dominant- making a deal on an equal footing with a foundation of mutual respect, with a mere Ward, must feel foreign to him. Look at the tactics that Piggot liked to employ with her Wards.

          • Eh.

            Sure, she kept the deal with Miss Militia. But she had no reason not to.

            If Taylor’s deal with the Director got in the way of something Taylor thought was important, she’d ignore it and not feel guilty.

            But yeah, it’s clear that Wards get looked down on somewhat. Possibly because the program was originally designed to keep children out of trouble.

            I mean…look at the name. A Ward is a person who is under someone else’s protection.

            • Look at Chevy’s interlude. The Wards really were meant to be a safe haven. A place for the younger Parahumans to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives, and in some cases to give them a second chance. That changed thanks to the Endbringers showing up and inflicting such casualties that they had to let the Wards fight them. And the kids had to grow up real fast in that kind of life or death situation. Look at people like Taylor and Vista.

              • Yeah, I know.

                What I’m saying is that if the Wards were intended from day 1 as child soldiers, they’d probably get more respect.

              • That’s certainly a good point. Sorry if my tone on the other point was a little snippy, I tend to get like that when I haven’t eaten or slept.

                Should probably go do the latter of those things, actually…

              • I thought your tone was fine.

                Still disagree with you though.

            • Taylor wouldn’t have tried to keep her deal with Miss Milita if things got difficult?

              The deal with Miss Militia that Taylor volunteered herself to PRT custody in order to try and further the spirit of?

              The deal she was still willing to honour even after she’d be subjected to an unnecessary and lengthy cavity search as a form of degradation, been psychologically tortured with the peril and deaths of her loved ones, and then had a man attempt to beat her to death?

              That deal?

              Of course, Taylor will not inflexibly stick to any agreement like some kind of rule-bot. She would break or bend an agreement if she felt lives were at risk otherwise, or the other party had begun doing great harm. But it’s a long distance from there to the position that you cannot possibly make a deal with her for fear that she’d break it.

              I mean, let’s turn this around. You presumably would no longer honour a deal with someone if you sincerely and strongly believed lives would be at risk if you did not, or if the other party had been revealed to be grossly immoral. (I hope that you would not, at least.) Do you thusly consider yourself a flighty and mercurial person, who could not be trusted to hold to an agreement?

              Taylor is reasonably trustworthy if you make a deal or compromise with her, and will only break or bend them in extremis where one would hope that any morally courageous person would do the same. The director’s issue does not seem to be that, it’s that Taylor will not submit to authority if she doesn’t believe it’s the right thing to do. Submission may be the only sense in which he can understand “compromise”.

              We’ll see. I’d like to be proved wrong about him, and it turns out that he was simply working off of incomplete information about her, and becomes reasonable later. But I don’t hold out a tremendous amount of hope.

              • Yes, Taylor is willing to suffer for what she believes in. She’s willing to do more or less anything for what she believes in. Including break the rules she’s agreed to.

                Taylor lied (by omission) to the PRT in this chapter because she deemed it necessary for the completion of her mission. She knew that the mission was supposed to be aborted if there was any risk at all, but she chose to ignore that.

                She would treat any deal with the Director in a similar fashion.

                Anyway, putting myself in Taylor’s shoes…I’d probably stick inflexibly to any agreement like some kind of rule-bot. My personality is a bit rule-bot-like, I’m afraid.

  10. Man, this was such a great chapter. Possibly my favorite chapter since Coil was first revealed as the Undersiders’ benefactor.

    So much subtle manipulation on everyone’s part, and all the dialogue is true to the characters. I loved it. Thanks so much wildbow!

  11. Taylor might want to watch out. She actually is coming across somewhat like Tagg now, even if she’s still using some of that to compromise.

    Good on the Folk, too. Sometimes you just have to ask nicely, you know? Most people just come in shooting or tossing powers around.

    For a quick way to break someone’s spirit, it wasn’t bad. Going to be problematic for her to keep on using her bugs in that cold, though.

    Someone should tell Mockshow her name sucks. Just to be clear. Must be some reason she couldn’t go with Mock-up. At least she didn’t stick to mainly using toys and stuffed animals. They’d stick her with a dumb name like Velveteen then, maybe put her in a bunny costume.

    • Maybe there is an underlying theme regarding the corruptive nature of authority positions, what with Weaver reminding herself of Armsmaster back in the day.

      • To be fair, Weaver usually realises whenever she starts playing mind games like Jack or starts using Lung and Bakuda’s “fear is power” schtick and feels uncomfortable doing it. But yeah, it’s becoming more and more often.

        • There is one big difference between Armsmaster then and Taylor now. Armsmaster’s motivation was to get a feather in his cap. Taylor is motivated by trying to keep the world from ending.

          • Not to mention that she’s trying to push this girl’s buttons to help her, and knows a bit about where she’s coming from. In contrast, Armsmaster was mainly looking out for his career, and at best kinda notionally looking out for Taylor, in a rather ham-fisted way.

  12. Yesssssssssss, the Darwin’s bark spider silk suits! Finally! And obviously I’m intrigued by Taylor’s long-term plans.

    • Hmm, I wonder if she’s secretly made some”in the walls” and mailed them with bugs to the undersiders.

  13. It seems that Taylor is seeing the whole thing from a completely different perspective than everyone else. She does not really care all that much about heroes and villains, but about capes who will help in the Endbringer extermination and End Of The World battle and those who won’t.

    She is sort of concentrating on the big picture here trying to get as many ducks in a row for the final battle as possible. A completely different approach than most of those around her.

    She also seems to be doing well in Chicago despite the insect unfriendly weather. It seems that she grows with the restrictions placed upon her like being temporarily blinded or having to toe the line set by some director. Her ability to see, hear, taste and talk though her bugs has come a long way.

      • So you’re saying that in the end, anything she does doesn’t actually matter and everything will turn out to have been about the great, unavoidable and irreconcilable conflict between two things nobody can actually perceive any real conflict between?

        • Yes. And if you don’t like it your an entitled whiner. And this will all be presented by something that was never mentioned before and the existance of which creates a huge plot hole for the first part of the series.

        • I really just go with the theory that the ‘star child’ was a last ditch manipulation on part of the reapers.

          What I really wanted was an option to just ignore the child and go blow up the reapers anyways.

          • Oh they gave you the ignore option in the Extended Cut… It just means the Reapers go and kill everyone anyways. Way to railroad us in a series where our choices are supposed to matter.

            I used to think that anyone who claimed that a bad ending ruined it all for them was exagerating. Espesially for video games. I can’t even bring myself to touch ME1 or ME2 Anymore.

        • “It seems that Taylor is seeing the whole thing from a completely different perspective than everyone else. She does not really care all that much about heroes and villains, but about capes who will help in the Endbringer extermination and End Of The World battle and those who won’t.”

          Just like Commander Shepherd doesn’t give a damn about Quarians wanting to bite off a piece of the Geth or the Salarians wanting the Krogans to fire blanks from their quad rocket launchers, he’s just in it for the best way to beat the Reapers, because all those petty conflicts don’t matter if they’re all harvested by the Reapers. He’ll deal with those conflicts as far as they interfere with his mission, but they really aren’t more important than the impending apocalypse.

  14. 1) That lunchbox was her old Alexandria lunchbox wasn’t it now?
    2) The director seems to have been hired to maintaIn the fine tradition of stupidity of the PRT

    3) *also, send email to India confirms long held suspicion. Behemoth’s last words confirmed as “Meh, I can take her.”

    • 1) Yes.
      2) I honestly believe that the Director isnt nearly as asinine as the others. I feel like he probably operates at Piggot levels of efficiency, but is understandably spooked. Taylor is fond of manipulative behavior, half truths, and weaselling every advantage in any situation. She is /not/ trustworthy, she is extremely dangerous, proven to be ruthless, and at least on three occasions, has killed- all people holding his current title as it were. The guy is probably not handling things in the /best/ way, but when you have civilians, peers, your city and your LIFE all threatened by the presence of one girl, i doubt most could manage as much composure.

      3) As far as the “Meh, I could take her” meme; he actually could. Even with her ability to interface with others to make everyone more effective, Shitcrumb almost got away with killing her and everyone with her. Scion is the only reason the radiation didnt do her in. So, yes, in this instance (Just like with Contessa and Leviathan), he is very much correct if he did have such a thought.
      *pushes up glasses and reads the rest of the comments*

      • 3. It’s a shame. She’s had so many tough opponents to fight before she even got to go to prom. But who would her date be?

        Grue: “Meh, I could take her.”

        • eh, I know behemoth could’ve crushed her like a bug if he’d been trying. Still, in the two Endbringer fights Taylor’s been involved in, it has gone the worst it ever has for the Endbringer. So i thought i’d have a bit of fun with the memeBoth took more damage form capes then they ever had before.

          I read your words on the director and had me re evaluate. He actually is dealing with one of the poster children for ptsd and who has a shortish fuse a trigger ante power to back it up.

          Nice to see Piggot get mentioned. So far it’s Piggot that has been, to my mind one of the most competent PRT personnel and her opposition to breaking the code.

          P.S Pleased to make your acquaintance Pandemonium Ivy

          • I read your words on the director and had me re evaluate. He actually is dealing with one of the poster children for ptsd and who has a shortish fuse a trigger ante power to back it up.

            I haven’t noticed PTSD symptoms in Taylor. Or Theo, for that matter.

      • I greatly appreciate your take on Taylor, the director, and Behemoth. Taylor may be the protagonist and I like her and love the story, but any restriction or person that gets in the way of her goals gets bypassed, ignored, broken, or killed. People like that are horribly dangerous.
        Her goal now is to prepare for the end of the world and she is doing it openly. Apparently she took her talk with Contessa during the Behemoth fight to heart.

      • Is Scion really the reason the radiation didn’t get people? I’d thought it might be more something related to what Behemoth had been eating – Phir Se’s pure light vs, say, Lyons’ nuclear power plants. I might have missed something though.

    • Pretty sure it was the Alexandria lunchbox that the Undersiders gave her her first payment in, for defeating Lung. Lots of emotional attachments there.

  15. “Just do me a favor? Try not to murder me like you did the other three Directors.”

    You got it dude, she’ll murder all the PRT directors except for you. A guy can dream, right? Fuckin’ bullshit anti-assassnation laws.

    Not sure how much it’s worth after what I just said, but I’m fully on board with this “convince villains to be manageable” plan. There NEEDS to be some sort of agreement and tolerance for more moderate villains for more help with Endbrigers and other S-classes.

    As long as the majority of capes that aren’t part of the PRT cartel don’t have these sort of guarantees you leave room for another incident like Armsmaster or a disaster like an unrestrained Phir Se. There’s no sense in alienating thousands of potential allies when the fate of the planet is on the line.

    • Yeah. That he’s willing to joke about that strongly suggests that he doesn’t see it as a real possibility. Which kind of undermines his using it as a justification to be a dick to her, no?

      You can’t play it both ways…

  16. Rules for containing Weaver during an operation.

    1. Don’t try and engage her in a game of chicken with her own plans.
    2. Having done this, don’t panic when an unforeseen cape appears.
    3. Having done this, don’t underestimate Weaver’s ability to adapt.
    4. Having done this, don’t undercut Weaver when she tries to use the environment.
    5. Having done this, don’t tell her you will be fighting her every step of the way.
    6. Having done this, don’t let her within talking distance of an authority figure who’s already impressed by the whole debacle.
    7. Having done this, don’t come crying to me.

    • 22. I am not allowed to wear any costume that conforms to any stereotype after that incident as Fu Manchu the Redskin Hipster.

      23. I am not allowed to wear wigs with my costume anymore. While a blond afro would help to protect my identity, it causes too many problems in combat.

      24. Body armor issued to me for my costume is to be used for official duty only. Tricking my family into thinking I was committing suicide was not only cruel, but a potential breach of my secret identity. Also, totally worth it.

      25. While in costume, and even out of costume, I am no longer allowed to order cavity searches of suspects, supercriminals, or my girlfriend’s new boyfriend who happened to be a bystander.

      26. It is now explicitly against the rules for new members of the team to be hazed by testing the impact resistance of their special issue cups.

      27. Coffee does not give me superspeed.

      28. And jalapenos do not give me the ability to breathe fire.

      29. If Simurgh is anywhere within the country, I am not allowed to drink any more slushees or next time they’ll just go ahead and give the order to fire on me.

      30. I do not get to justify dipping into the budget for a hot tub by claiming it’s a trap set for Leviathan.

      31. No longer allowed to commission Tinker projects without written and recorded audio permission of at least one Director after the incident with the Adam West Vocal Translation Unit.

      32. I am not authorized to decide the fate of the world by Rock Paper Scissors after all, it turns out.

      33. Modifying a blank-faced department store mannequin by connecting its arms to the body by chains, then slipping it into the Director’s bed while he’s asleep is strictly forbidden.

      34. Even if it might be true, cannot suggest that an attraction to Alexandria is classified as necrophilia.

      35. Labeling all toasters in the base as Death Rays is inconvenient, inconsiderate, and, in my case, punishable by firing squad.

      36. No longer allowed to replace hair dryers with similar-looking containment foam guns.

      37. Not allowed to claim the name of a mythological deity as my codename after that incident in Iran.

      38. Not allowed to wear a female teammate’s form-fitting, full-body costume and claim to be her with a gender-bending power while fighting villains.

      39. Not allowed to trick a female teammate into fighting in a copy of Eidolon’s costume and claim Eidolon has acquired gender-bending powers.

      40. Speaking up at a press conference to claim the new sonic scream super’s codename is “Castrato” is grounds for being put in solitary lockup.

      41. I am not Plaidman and my archnemeses are not the Fashion Police.

      42. Any team dinners I have a hand in fixing must be scanned thoroughly by at least two Tinkers and/or Thinkers. I am accountable for all such violations of the Geneva Conventions.

      43. Using ice powers to end a sparring session by leaving my opponent trapped in a snowman is just rubbing it in and discouraged.

      44. Deliberately mishearing orders in the Tinker workshop is no excuse. While not technically illegal, the Lazy Beam takes too long to charge up and only does the job halfway before the battery goes dead.

  17. There’s a good argument that handwriting and transcription produces better revision.

    A vindication of Tecton’s team concept: control the battlespace, control the battle. It does look like we’ll see the Ward team in action as well.

    Insect taste, too? She’s steadily moving toward omniscience in her range. But the most terrifying thing about that fight was the stakeout and phone-removal. Swarms going down your throat, swarms in the shape of a person… those are atavistically scary. That kind of unobtrusive environmental control? Is a staggeringly deadly form of ambush predation. If she’s ever of a mind, there are a lot of traceless accidents she could arrange up to and including suicides. And, had she chosen, she could have simply drowned everyone there in bugs, the way she took out the PRT HQ after being outed – that’s not an attack that Topsy, Mockshow, or even Watch could hope to counter. Glenn’s PR restrictions may simply have functioned as fine control exercises.

    Setting aside the lethality of her various options, her battlefield awareness plus Annex/Golem especially is simply begging for those horror-movie moments where the party splits and people just vanish.

    Director Hearthwell sounds like he’s concerned more about Weaver than the local criminal operations. To be fair, she’s more dangerous on several levels, most especially including personally. (The leading cause of death in PRT directors for the last 12 months is undoubtedly Skitter). It is interesting that no one since Clockblocker has challenged her ideas head on, pushed her to consider the ways in which ‘conquering’ Chicago as she’s planning won’t serve her cause of Apocalypse preparedness. It would be a subtler way of trying to leash Weaver – and, I think, a more effective one. Caging her has never worked well – pointing her at one target, instead of another… Coil did quite well with that, and he never bothered with subtlety.

    Some of those ops will be simple. Some will be contested. And, at some point, someone may try to reclaim the offensive. A snatch at a Ward school? When Taylor’s running with Theo? A thank-you ball? A blatant crime, with an ambush set to mousetrap the reaction force? An outright assault on PRT HQ?

    Hearthwell may have legitimate concerns about her methods: the PRT functions mostly as a police force – a heavily paramilitary force, but still a force primarily focused on keeping the peace. Weaver is a warlord, and that’s how she wants to fight: to win. Not to preserve the (often bad, but it could be worse!) status quo, but to claim the authority to dictate terms for what follows.

    Internal politics will be… interesting. Revel and the police chief seem focused on the job. The Mayor is undoubtedly focused on the PR. Shuffle may matter much as handling Revel’s workload, and he did have a grudge against Topsy. And the Director… looks like he just wants things under control.

    Long run? She’s pushing for a roaming proactive assault team, hitting targets throughout the Protectorate’s jurisdiction, and perhaps in friendly other jurisdictions. And that… would be a big change. It would also be a staggering concentration of cape power, and putting that in her hands would be enough to scare anyone.

    • I will say that if Taylor’s aim, alongside her recruitment, is to make the PRT leadership and previous strategies look bad, she will likely accomplish this in spades. Glenn told her to make waves, but without going so far out of line that they have an excuse to remove her, and I’d think removing most of Chicago’s villain teams will accomplish that.

      I’d imagine the positive publicity she is bound to receive, and one way or another her name will get out there despite Hearthwell’s wishes to the contrary, will be especially grating to the Directors. Taylor is good enough that success is the most likely outcome. What will be interesting to see is the Directors’ response.

      • Making it look easy also implies making previous people look incompetent.

        Funnily enough, the easiest way to defuse that PR bomb is for the PRT to explain that it’s not easy, she’s just. that. good. Whether they’d prefer that set of consequences to the consequences of seeming incompetent… will be an interesting question.

    • As I interpret her internal monologue, she’s not trying to sweep away all the villains or assert control. Just remove the villains who don’t play nice, as well as recruiting or positioning villains who can still be “saved” as pieces on her side of the board for when things reach the endgame. Not a total assault on the status quo- look at how she was happy to negotiate with the Folk, who presumably know how to play within bounds.

  18. – Weaver handled that shit LIKE A BOSS. Aside from that one guy she capsaicin-ed, not a single one of her bugs actually stung someone
    – damn, I actually started feeling sorry for the villains there.
    – I knew you had to do a gravity-controller eventually. I assume Topsy can’t alter the number of gees, just the direction? Game balance!
    – Watch must be quite the nightmare if you don’t pick your battlefield carefully
    – fighting Skitter is even more of a nightmare if you don’t know she’s coming
    – or don’t have fire powers. Or electrical powers. Or sealed powered armor. Or human-safe anti-bug gas.
    – Rather like that Director. Too bad he went against the bawse.
    – Tecton’s team is really really nifty if you use them right. He should get a lot of credit for that
    – I was able to figure out Mockshow’s powers as soon as I heard she was a master-shaker. Testament to how deeply Worm has colonized my imagination
    – seriously, some villain or rogue Thinker needs to come up with an anti-Skitter tactics course. E’d make billions
    – that final paragraph. Skitter has gone full visionary, huh. This bodes … interesting.

    • “- Weaver handled that shit LIKE A BOSS. Aside from that one guy she capsaicin-ed, not a single one of her bugs actually stung someone”
      That may have been the point. It’ll be harder to aurgue in court that it was excessive force, or cruel and unusual as an insect sting. It was basicly pepper spray with a different deleviery medium.
      “- Watch must be quite the nightmare if you don’t pick your battlefield carefully”
      He sounds sort of like the kind of guy the S9 might recruit. Nasty reputation, and fondness for fates worse than death. Course he might wash out like Oni Lee on account of personality.

  19. The maddening nature of the ultimate general.

    Thrawn. One of the great military leaders of fiction, and a genuinely brilliant man. For those who haven’t read it, basically the thing that put Star Wars back into the collective consciousness was the Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn, a story of the fledgling New Republic facing the greatest admiral that had ever lived, quite possibly.

    Taylor is in a similar position. Her forces are not overwhelming, but her tactical ability with them is. Patience is a large part of this; patience to do things right, every time you do them, to make sure that you put absolute effort into this.

    Now, this is a grand position to be in, because being naturally suited to brilliant actions is kind of great, I don’t mind telling you.

    Let us consider, then, what the greatest dangers to a great planner are. The first, is overwhelming force. Echidna, Behemoth, Alexandria- These were all people who, if they wanted, could’ve snuffed out Taylor. This is the ‘meh, I could take her’ principle; The reason she succeeds is because she is not registered as the threat she should be registered as.

    The other threat is that of the single underestimated mistake. Thrawn made a mistake, which led to him not realizing that a strategic asset had been turned against him, and it got him killed. A single mistake shattered any chance that the Empire had to rise again. Being on the other side of the ‘meh, I could take her’ issue. This can show up in several different ways; failure to plan for an opponents abilities- A notable danger in Worm, but one that Taylor is good at dealing with- or failure to plan for an opponent’s desperation.

    Her specific tactic lends itself to that, as well. Hounding people to the ends is a good way to break their spirit, but a caged tiger will fight to the death, so to speak. I was, frankly, on my toes waiting for something to go really wrong; Granted, when you have a solid, strong plan, and when you’re in the middle of an arc following something like Crushed, you’re less likely to have to worry about that.

    God I love this story.

    • In response to a very good insight I saw above.

      Total War: The art of terrain.

      Mastery of terrain is a tremendous advantage. In war, someone with advantageous terrain can defeat far greater forces.

      I recall a particular battle in Rome: Total War, where a relatively small force was, through the use of a moderately stiff slope, and superior armaments, able to defeat a force at least twice its size, gradually cutting down the tired troops.

      Tecton’s entire group is built around battlefield control. The ability to be extremely aware of your battlefield, through Taylor, and to manipulate it through Golem, Tecton, Annex, and Cuff. It’s an incredible combination. In the hands of a good general, this team is pretty fucking close to unbeatable.

      I can’t wait for Jack to watch his razor get turned into a club.

        • If he gets his hands on him (oh god unintentional pun), then Golem can completely fuck him over. Sprouting hands and feet everywhere and ruining his agility.

          • All he’d need is a spare, broken-off piece of Mannequin’s armor, like that head lost in the fight against Skitter. Forget agility, he’d pretty much own Mannequin at that point.

            • Yeah, there would be some hilarious comedy if Theo got the drop on Mannequin. Exactly how do you defend yourself against your own body parts sprouting limbs that are savagely beating and grappling you? And even if he got away, he’d probably have a bunch of arms projecting out of his body making rude gestures. And the crowning moment would be Theo shouting “Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!”. Bonus points if he then steals Mannequins lunch money.

              • Actually, there’s no reason Golem can’t sprout hands from the *internal* surfaces of Mannequin’s shell. He could stir the guy’s grey matter like a smoothie.

      • “I can’t wait for Jack to watch his razor get turned into a club.”

        For extra security, every sharp object in the vicinity. For more paranoia, remove all his appendages, his teeth, his tongue & his eyes then teleport him to Butcher 15.

      • Forget the razor! I still want to know if the metal mesh around his organs can be affected by Golem’s power. That would be hilariously satisfying.

  20. Wheee! Great chapter, but then you don’t really do bad chapters, do you? 😀 Oh Tay, soon you shall have your own satellite starbase from which to deploy Strikeforce Weaver. XD

      • Whoops, that comment was supposed to attach to Naeddyr’s comment about Armstrong being apparently the only reasonable PRT authority figure. Crap. Well, that pretty much ruins a joke I’ve been dying to make for a few chapters; now I know how PG feels after those joke typos 😉

  21. Good chapter.

    Makes me wonder though, will we ever see a reasonable PRT authority figure in Worm, besides small glimpses of Armstrong?

    • To be fair the Chigaco Director seems a reasonable antagonist. At least he isn’t an anti-capes bigot, or a sadistic kingpin or a gun-toting nutjob. Sure, he’s taking the obstructive bureaucrat route and he’s waiting for Weaver to slip but at least he’s being somewhat civil about it and does have some good points. Oh, and he’s not an idiot.

    • Actually, I thought Piggy was okay. She was an anti-cape bigot, but never really let it interefere with the job. A lot of actions are reasonable given what she knows, though she made some questionable calls during the S9 arc. Finally, even when kidnapped by the very scary Undersiders, she didn’t lose her composure. Easily my favorite PRT director to date.

      … Which isn’t saying much, granted.

      • Agreed, I respected Piggot, even though she was a bit of a bigot, and part of a system with deep problems. She was the kind of person who simply demands it of you, whatever else you might say of her. I also remember that she advised Tagg to take Taylor/Skitter’s deal for the safety of the city, in it’s earliest incarnation. That degree of vision and ability to ignore the fact that these people had kidnapped her was pretty impressive.

      • People keep saying Piggy was an anti-cape bigot. As I recall it, Caldwell’s actions in that encounter with Nilbog left her disillusioned with humanity as well as capes.

        She comes across mostly as being very aware of the crap sack world she lives in.

  22. “I haven’t seen a single case where you’ve followed the rules that were outlined for you. Boundaries don’t work, in any sense. If we reached a compromise, worked out some kind of a deal, you’d find a way around it, extending your influence.”
    Well, this certainly doesn’t make me think of Taylor’s trigger event, eh? Being confined, reaching out, “extending your influence”…

    • Of course threatening her team works even worse as Tagg and Alexandria can attest.
      What we need for a Director or overseer for Taylor is someone who also has a flexible approach.

  23. First time waiting for an update – I read the archive and caught up over the last week or so. Worm is really great, Wildbow. I am in awe of the world building and the character work. This is like, my favorite thing. A great book that never ends.

    It’s not ending, right? Ever?? 😉

    Anyway, terrific chapter. I’m so glad things are going ok for Taylor at the moment.:D

    • Hi Jainhollie. Glad you’re enjoying. 😀

      Afraid the story’s moving towards its conclusion, though. Sorry. Hoping to finish around the new year (give or take a couple months), move on to another story and then get to a possible Worm sequel further down the road.

      • I swear I dont get why you keep taunting us with that word “possible” in reference to the sequel. Your sadistic streak never ends, does it? Hmph.

        • Honestly? It comes down to what the story demands, whether I can figure out a good direction to take the sequel and funding.

          The first point (story demands) is beyond anyone’s control, really. You’d think I had more say, but the story writes itself, and my brain is the vehicle for it. Trying to shoehorn in details or facts or scenes makes the writing process harder and inevitably when I get to that point I find the reception isn’t quite so strong for the time invested in it. (It’s much the same for comedy and romance – writing such is time consuming to tune and get right, even if it ends up being delivered alright).

          The second point (coming up with a good storyline/protagonist/scenario) is more in my control, and it’s one reason why I’m taking a break before taking a stab at the sequel.

          The third point, well, I hate talking about money because it feels crass, but my current financial situation isn’t sustainable in the long run. I’d love to get to the point where I’m writing full time, and I have no idea how things will progress in the coming 2-4 years, but the book sales/financial support/kickstarters may make the difference between my being able to devote my time to a megaproject like Worm2 or me doing the writing thing on the side while I do something else for a living. I’m optimistic, but not so much that I feel like I could promise the sequel.

          That’s really it. I can’t make promises in good faith, all those things in consideration. I think I could manage, but I wouldn’t want to say “You -will- get a sequel” and then renege.

      • All good things come to an end, I guess! I’m going to do my part to expand your exposure because you deserve more eyes on your work. I imagined Worm as a TV show at one point and it was glorious. 😀

        (I’d imagine the “possible sequel” bit is because we don’t really know of the world of Worm is going to end or not!)

      • I’m really glad that you are ending Worm. I love the world and the characters you have crated, but a story needs an ending. I tend to get dissappointed in series’ that just meander on and on. A proper conclusion is needed. A sequel can be good, but it is rarely as good as the story that established things.

        I am much more interested in this new story you mentioned. Of course, there is stil quite a bit of Worm left to enjoy before that stage.

    • Sorry, but this is not the Neverending Story. For one thing, any luck dragons would be shot down on sight in the Wormverse.

      Another person to catch up to us. Ah yes, jainhollie, the end of worm shall stink, as do many ends. At least we know Worm won’t be wiped away completely. Too good of a story for it not to linger a bit, even if the smell leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Luckily, even caught up and waiting for the next update, you can join us down here in the comments and spray what you need to help things smell a little better. A lemony fanfic is acceptable, as is pining for a big discussion of something serious like ethics and the nature of mankind. I like to blow raspberries myself, but they’re surprisingly smart raspberries at time. You may be cherry as far as our interesting little comments section goes, but that’s fine. Of course, I’m more likely to add some corn to the bowl myself as I am to freshen things up. I love me some corn, ham, and cheese. It can lead to some painful writer’s block at times, though.

      Well, not to be a potty mouth, but we’re all damn happy to have another person show up in our little comments section. I’m sure it makes Wildbow flush with pride. Feel free to have a fun time here with the rest of us while you fidget and dance around for the next update, and welcome to the comments section, jainhollie, even if it was a crappy welcome.

  24. Yes! This is the Taylor we know and love. Seriously, great chapter, wild bow.

    One of the more tantalising aspects of this location change, is that everything is still new. We have no idea what powers people like Campanile or Gauss have, how the various villain gangs operate (and it’s interesting to know that most criminal organisations folded after capes arrived and that the Folk are one of the few to still keep going), etc.

    As for the new Director ( and I also hope that he doesn’t get a lethal dose of Tayloritis.) on a second read he seemed lee nice than I thought originally. Still, I think things with him can go both ways. I have hope.

  25. You know, I really thought, ever since Tecton decided to take her into his team, that she would go down this route – aggressively taking down the villains, cleaning up the city but with an ulterior motive in mind.

    Nice to have been able to correctly predict a plot development for once ^o^

  26. Well, there’s nothing that I like more than a clever plan coming together sucessfully. That’s why this story’s storystory’s so good. Weaver isn’t just fighting back, she’s taking the fight to her enemies, and there was some great teamwork with the Wards.
    Also, this director may be someone she can get along with. By that I mean “not kill”.

  27. The arms of my flight pack reached out to try and grip Cuff, but the angles of our bodies didn’t offer anything substantial to grab.

    Subtle. She doesn’t even think about doing it (unless it’s Cuff, which seems unlikely). Of course, she’s obviously had a long time to practice, and look how little time it took her to adapt to piloting Atlas. She’s also more comfortable piloting someone else with her flight pack, which she never was with Atlas. Seems likely it’s at least partially related to her power ‘learning’ what she does with it (like tying up the Adepts). Still very interesting and impressive.

    Also, should ‘angle’ be pluralized here? I see it written more often as the singular.

  28. “along with a taser that I could use if I wanted to end things sooner than later.”
    -> rather then later I think

    That Director is surprisingly reasonable. He actually wants to see villians taken down!

    If the Protagonist wern’t Taylor, and he went up against her, Worm would totally classify as horror.

    Difference between Tagg and Weaver – she barrels them doen before they give themselves up, Tagg went for her after she turned herself in.

    And, driving a villian to desperation? Thats just dying to go wrong. Like we saw with Tagg and Alexandria. Weaver needs to pick her targets or the local Big Bads might start to think of a preventative strike.

    • She seems to be picking them, and last chapter showed that she’s aware of the danger of destabilizing the local villian underworld. It seems her main target is going to be those that are unlikely to help, or who might outright hinder during S-Class emergencies. She mentions Topsy violated a few of the unwritten rules. The Folk on the other hand were willing to refuse sancutary to them in light of that. So that’s a point in the favor of The Folk.

        • Or they may have been a traditional crime family that was smart enough to see how the times were changing and recruit capes who rose in the ranks.

      • As mentioned to the kids, the heroes are more or less a united front working on the same side. Or they MOSTLY are when we talk about cities. The villains are separate entities and groups competing with law-abiding society and with each other. It’s a situation in which their numbers only provide some relief against heroes because those same numbers would just as easily turn against them.

        As someone who has been there, Taylor’s just exploiting that.

    • The Director has basically two goals: to make the Protectorate look strong and effective, and to make the PRT look like it is in control of the situation. From that perspective, this raid was a win for him, especially since Taylor agreed not to interfere with how it is spun in the media. He is not a rabid dog like Tagg, he isn’t going to come after her directly or go for the throat immediately. He won’t make deals with her because (as he correctly pointed out) she won’t deal in good faith. She is too idealistic and stubborn for that. He will work with her when he can, rein her in when he can’t, and give her enough rope to hang herself. The second one of her tactical ops goes really bad and results in the deaths of good capes and civilians, he will crucify her. And good buddies like the mayor will drop her in a second.

      On the other hand, if she keeps pulling these missions off, he still wins. The public is happy, and the Protectorate and Wards rack up a few desperately needed victories. Until and unless Taylor manages to undercut the political power his faction of the PRT has built up over the years, he can’t lose. She won’t be able to do that directly, but she is feeding ammunition to Chevalier, Armstrong, and other people who can fight that fight. So in the short to medium term, he can simply stress her out and wait for her to make a mistake. In the long term, he definitely means to convert her, force her out of the Protectorate, or destroy her.

      He doesn’t come off as a bad guy, really. He’s just more concerned about keeping the billions of non-capes from falling into anarchy and despair than he is about the lives of a few thousand capes. To do that, he needs to keep up appearances, regardless of the cost. I’d call him a well intentioned extremist. Taylor is one too, she just has different priorities.

      • I agree with all that you said about the Director, but Chevalier is dead. Unless I’m mistaken. Feel free to correct me if I am.

        • Chevalier was in recovery after Behemoth – haven’t seen a reference to him dying since. If you’re thinking that because Revel’s the boss – well, she’s run the Chicago Protectorate almost as long as we’ve known her; since Myrddin bought it against Echidna.

        • Not only was Chevalier only hospitalised but since Glenn accused the Directors of striking as fast as possible at Weaver while Chevalier couldn’t stop them and the Directors basically admitted it, it was probably nothing serious and he’s probably out now.

  29. I have a question about Watch. From the way he behaved, it is obvious that he is a clever, calm professional mercenary. He didn’t show any desire to hurt civilians or cause damage for the fun of it. On the other hand, his powers are terrifying enough to qualify as one of the 9, and he clearly has racked up a substantial body count of dead and crippled victims, some of them probably capes. Why hasn’t this guy gotten a one-way ticket to the Birdcage yet?

    On the other hand, I hope Mockshow straightens up. She’s obviously just a kid out of her depth, only a month or so away from whatever hellish experience was her trigger event. Master, so probably psychological horror of some kind. I doubt she is smart or stable enough to join the Wards, but maybe she will end up going to the Undersiders when she eventually gets out. It would be a good fit, Tattletale could take her under her wing and use her as an enforcer until she is experienced enough to run a territory of her own. If her junk critters really are as tough as Rachel’s dogs, she could be a serious heavy hitter once she’s had some time to practice. And yeah, she could use a better name.

    Of course, if she did go to the Undersiders, it could seriously bite Weaver in the ass, making it look like she is recruiting for her old villain team while working for the Wards. I’m sure the Director could have some real fun with a tidbit like that.

    • Trying to get more of the villians who are just starting out to turn to the Wards before they get a rap sheet, or body count is something the Protectorate should do more often.

      I find Mockshow kind of interesting. Clearly she’s not fond of Weaver, what with the go fuck yourself. But Taylor gave her some good advice. I don’t see Topsy or Watch being as good a group to run with as the Undersiders. Maybe I’m wrong. Or maybe Mockshow is just a total bitch. But she really could benefit from a more supportive team. Taylor was reminded of Armsmaster in how she acted, but I wonder if subconcusly she didn’t see some of herself in Mockshow.

      • Watch was presented as a sadist, but he honestly seemed very professional and competent, especially in a nasty situation. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but he could probably play ball.

        • Watch is a guy who kills or cripples people by clawing at their internal organs. Even if the Protectorate were willing to hire such a person (and I frankly don’t think, whatever their many sins, they’d go so low), his powers are aesily recognisable and there would be a public uproar. At least Madcap’s (who had never killed anyone) powers were generic enough, that no one connected him with Assault.

          • And association with Topsy (hired some mercs that violated the rules) and Watch (You know at the very least he’s crippled some cops and PRT troops) probably doesn’t make too many people in the PRT inclined to give Mockshow the benifit of the doubt.

  30. Taylor is the only person who could have made that phone call work. She’s been on both sides. She understands how villains think. So the Folk are very established. And they can’t have been around that long if they didn’t abide by the unwritten rules and the Truce. I would imagine that any of the major players with half a brain in Chicago would have tried to dig up info on her. Get a feel for what they might expect. Maybe try to get in contact with someone who has worked with her in the past. The Undersiders would be too much of a risk. Perhaps Faultline’s crew? Get an idea of what she is really like, and what they can expect.

    So Revel hasn’t recovered from her head trauma from New Dehli? When you factor in Wanton’s arm, Cuff’s nerve damage, and this, I wonder if Tattletale can even talk anymore? Seems like the gap between Pancea and all the other healers is even greater than that between Scion and Eidolon.

    • Bit confused over that line, Taylor’s PRT director bodycount is two, not three.

      Last I knew, Piggot was alive, because Coil believed it better for her to be humiliated and marginalized than killed.

  31. It occurs to me that from the villain point of view, this plan could have been an ingenious way to kill Watch and Topsy in a 100% deniable fashion. They got shoved out into the Chicago winter denied their coats and gear, pursued but not attacked, harassed and denied shelter. It wouldn’t have taken that long for hypothermia to set in, and really, who’s gonna cry over known killers screwing up and dying in the snow?

    Topsy and Watch had to know it was the sort of thing that could happen to villains who crossed lines.

  32. Once again we see that Taylor is an excellent general, and she’s moving forward nicely in her/Chevalier and Glenn’s goals. I worry that she’s not pushing for enough media attention for her role- this was a key part of Glenn’s plan. Her natural reticence towards accepting praise or attention rearing it’s head, perhaps?

    The new Director is an interesting one. At the moment his reservations are not yet inconsistent with him being on the side of the angels, given what he doesn’t know compared to us, and Taylor’s hype. One hopes that as he comes to know Taylor and her moral compass, he may not exactly become an ally or friend, but at least be more reasonable. If not, then he adds himself to the ranks of those who need to be quietly bundled off into retirement, or regrettably removed via other means.

    • I think the media attention thing is a matter of picking battles. You don’t want her to get widespread credit for the first job? That’s fine. The Mayor, the police chief, and the local Protectorate leader all know who was responsible, and they can pave the way for her to do this again. And again. Even with all the resources of the PRT spinning it, it’ll be hard to conceal the fact that this is Weaver’s campaign. In two weeks, everyone who needs to know will know what she’s doing, and she won’t have to talk to a single reporter or post a single thing to twitter.

      Man. Just imagine the pressure she could apply through strategic use of social media, especially with someone like Dinah or Lisa guiding her. “Just took out the last villain in Chicago. New York, you’re next.” 50,000 retweets later, the entire planet is watching her dismantle criminal organizations the PRT and police haven’t been able to touch for decades.

      • This is a fair point, however I think a key part of Glenn’s strategy was developing her public profile and reputation, not just focusing on key people. This is because it’s ultimately her public profile that can protect her the most from reprisals by the PRT leadership, and help drive a sea change in the PRT’s culture and the profile of parahumans in general. I think it’s quite plausible that she’d tend focus more on the mission side and subconsciously avoid the talking to journalists part of the plan, due to her issues with what she sees social stuff. Moreover, I don’t think it can be assumed that Revel, the mayor or the police chief can be relied upon to do that for her.

        The social media thing is cool, but it’s really not very Taylor, is it? That’s kind of part of the issue.

        I suspect that grabbing the attention of the public whilst mastering her own fears to do with being under everyone’s attention may be one of the challenges she faces in coming chapters. I’m sure she can rise to it, but it will no doubt be hard-fought and interesting like all of Taylor’s battles have been.

      • At the very least, her reputation among villians is rapidly spreading.

        On another note, she’s not touching bug, established villians for now, just those who cross the line.

    • I wouldn’t worry about the media attention aspect too much. The heroes know who’s responsible and they’ve shown a willingness to go to bat for Weaver before. If it becomes important later down the road you can bet they’ll be singing like canaries.

      Urm, unfortunate metaphor. :/

  33. Well, I’ve finally caught up. Beautiful story, Wildbow.

    (Although given the themes of Psycho Gecko’s latest welcome, maybe this wasn’t the best time to delurk…)

    • That last welcome was the shit, wasn’t it?

      Yes, you have delurked, and now you shall be welcomed. I am going to welcome you so hard, you’re going to be like “Wow, I’ve never been welcomed that hard before.” Truly, I will greet the shit out of you. You’ll be standing there, greeted, and you’ll realize your colon now feels empty. No one will know where it went to, either. It’ll be one of the great mysteries that will never be answered like “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” and “Who put the bop in the bop she-bop she-bop?” We can put it in TV Tropes as “What Ever Happened to the Mouse?” and then people will be like “Ew, Trevor had WHAT up in there?”

      Are you ready? Better get ready. You might want to stretch for this one. Are you stretching? Good. Don’t forget to crack your knuckles and shave your eyebrows. You’ll need to look good for this one. Ok, ready?


      Well, my work here is done. Welcome to the comments, Trevor.

      • I see that peoples stil want gecko to welcome them with a stiff firm welcome and that he is willing to give them one.

  34. I was just thinking: What would the Endbringers (and Scion + some other S-class threat to round out the cycle) look like as M:tG cards? I’d think they be mono-color (Behemoth is obv. red-aligned, for instance, while Scion could be either white or green depending on interpretation) to minimize the characters necessary to complete the cycle (although all-ally or all-enemy color pairings would work as well), mythic rare (read: nigh unbalanced), and with mechanics reflecting their known powers. Simurgh, for instance, could get something like “at the beginning of your upkeep, place one wish counter on Simurgh and one wing counter on target permanent. Remove a wish counter from Simurgh: Untap target permanent with a wing counter on it. You control it until the end of the turn. (It gains haste). Likewise Behemoth could get “R: Regenerate. RR: deal 20 damage to target creature. RRR, discard a card at random: 3 damage to target player, draw a card.”


    • Ok, so Scions white – ‘Justice!’ doesn’t quite fit, but he’s uncompromising and fights with giant laser beams, so …

      Simurgh is blue, it flies and manipulates.

      Echidna as another S-Rank, even if she doesn’t really fit in is black, for absorption and twisted clones.

      Behemoth red, for total annihilation.

      And Leviathan green. What? I know he’s a mythical sea beast, and I know he fights using water, but he’s not calm, and he’s not manipulative. He builds up monumentum, which is a green trait imo.

      Alternatively Leviathan could be blue, the Simurgh black and Echidna green.

      The Simurgh could put a Scream Counter on each creature every turn, you control all creatures with x or more Scream Counters on them.

      Leviathan exponentially builds up charge counters on himself and deals damage to everything proportional to the number of charge counters on him.

      • I was thinking “Leviathan = blue” because giant sea creature, “Simurgh = black” because of her controlling nature. I like Echidna for green, although my first thoughts tended towards Nilbog in that category.

        I’m not sure Leviathan would exponentially build up counters on himself (seems broken, even for Endbringer, Mythic-Rare). However, I think Leviathan’s mechanic could be “{X}: deal X damage to all creatures without flying. Tap those creatures. They don’t untap during their controller’s next untap step. Use only blue mana to pay for this ability” or something similar.

        Simurgh having a straight “you control all creatures” ability similarly rubs me the wrong way, if only because the point of Simurgh’s pawns is that no one but her knows their part in her plan until it’s too late. I also think that she can be much more tactical than straight control (i.e. “remove a wish counter: destroy target creature with a scream counter on it” “Remove a wish counter: target creature with a scream counter fights another target creature”, etc.)

        Echidna, on the other hand, is much more straightforward, IMO. “Whenever Echidna deals damage to a creature, exile it face-down. All token creatures you control get +1/+1. G: Put a token into play that’s a copy of a creature exiled with Echidna.”

        And last but not least, the Endbringers and Scion should have riders that shuffle them back into the library on death. (And Scion should have an ability to exile Simurgh, Leviathan, and Behemoth.)

        • Unless Behemoth comes back, I don’t agree with that ‘shuffle them back into the library on death’. But maybe an ability that lets you take them back to your hand.

          Agreed on Echidna. She feels green/black or even green/blue, but we don’t do mixed colors, so green it is.

          The exponential increase was because the long fight always favors the Endbringer (unless Svion shows up, he’s a gamebreaker). Leviathan builds up waves/monumentum, the Simurghs Screams influence adds up and Behemoths radiaton adds up. Even if you drive them off, it’s a phyrrick victory.

          Also, they have AoE effects (especially Simurghs Scream).

          On another note, why do I feel like saying ‘Behemoth’, ‘Leviathan’ but ‘the Simurgh’.

          • Simurgh parses as a proper name or title because it’s unfamiliar, whereas Behemoth and Leviathan first parse as the familiar adjective? Also, I think characters in-universe have used that speech pattern, referring to “the Simurgh”.

          • Taking them back to the hand would probably lead to a very short time between appearances, which doesn’t quite gel with the month-long reprieves we’ve seen. Besides, if planeswalker cards can planeswalk away once their loyalty hits zero, Endbringers can fly/swim/burrow back into the deck.

            Leviathan’s “long fight” bonus could be pretty clear: “U: search your library for a Land card and put it into play.” Thereby feeding into his first ability and the devastating barrage of his waves. Or, if we wanted to tie them together by use of scream counters (excellent name for them, BTW) Leviathan could have a bunch of persistent scream counters that are checked for his power, which in turn could be checked for his wave ability. Behemoth’s I’m not too sure about, since it’s currently templated as repeatable burn at instant speed. Also, there’s a whole extra line devoted to its escape route; having a radiation mechanic may not be feasible to include. However, going back to the scream counter idea, it could be “at the beginning of your upkeep, put a scream counter on Behemoth. When Behemoth leaves the battlefield, put X -1/-1 counters divided as you choose on creatures you do not control, where X is the number of scream counters on Behemoth.”

            Actually, let me implement the scream counters as a cycle theme (mana costs are highly speculative):

            Leviathan, the Ocean Serpent – XUUU
            Trample, basic landwalk.
            CARDNAME comes into play with X scream counters on it. CARDNAME gets +1/+0 for each scream counter on it.
            When CARDNAME leaves the battlefield, shuffle it into its owner’s library.
            UU: CARDNAME deals damage equal to its power to all creatures you don’t control. Tap those creatures, they don’t untap during their controller’s next untap step.

            Behemoth, the Beast Below – 5RRR
            Trample, basic landwalk.
            At the beginning of your upkeep, you may put a scream counter on CARDNAME.
            When CARDNAME leaves the battlefield put X -1/-1 counters divided as you choose on up to 5 target creatures, where X is the number of scream counters on CARDNAME. Shuffle it into its owner’s library.
            RR, discard a card at random: deal 3 damage to target creature or player. Draw a card.

            Simurgh, the Winds of Change – XBBB
            Trample, flying.
            CARDNAME comes into play with X wish counters on it.
            At the beginning of your upkeep, you may put a scream counter on target creature.
            When CARDNAME leaves the battlefield, shuffle it into it’s owner’s library
            BB, remove a wish counter from CARDNAME: Target creature with a scream counter on it fights another target creature.

            Scion, the Harbinger – 3WWW
            Flying, protection from creatures
            When CARDNAME deals damage to cards named Simurgh, Leviathan, or Behemoth, exile those cards.
            When CARDNAME leaves the battlefield, shuffle it into its owner’s library.
            WW: Remove all scream counters from target permanent.

            Echidna, the Great Mother – 3GGG
            When CARDNAME deals damage to a creature, exile it face-down. CARDNAME gets +1/+1 for each creature exiled this way.
            Token creatures get +1/+1.
            GG: Place a creature token into play that’s a copy of a creature exiled with CARDNAME.

              • Not that those abilities are “balanced” at any cost, but 8 mana seems awfully low. There are actually creatures that exist at those costs, that are completely beatable. I’d expect something more along the lines of 9CCCDDD. :p

                Looking at Behemoth, I was going to try to make the cards work in the actual Magic rules, but then I read the other two and realized there was no intent to make the cards actually work in a Magic game. The first paragraph’s worth of abilities are impossible to format anyway, since you’re preventing bouncing in all its forms, exiling, and destroying all in one fell swoop. I thought about saying something like “As long as ~ is face up, it can’t change zones” but that screws with the basic rules of the game in such a fundamental way that I don’t know how to justify it. You’d need something like 7 lines of text to spell out every exclusion and exception in order to make it function.

                I might suggest some alternatives, like just making them indestructible and untargetable, which covers 90% of the same stuff, but leaves it vulnerable to spells like Upheaval, Terminus, and Warp World. And also then combat damage would be useless, when I guess your intent is to force people to stick a large team in front of it.

                If I could suggest some more printable text (not balanced, just within the rules), it might go something like, for Behemoth:

                Trample, Shroud, Annihilator 10
                Behemoth, Herokiller is indestructible.
                Players can’t play lands or spells, or gain life.
                If a creature would deal combat damage to Behemoth, put two -1/-1 counters on it instead.
                Remove all -1/-1 counters from Behemoth at the beginning of each end step.

                That’s definitely not as strong as the original, especially in multiplayer, but it’d actually fit in the text box. ;p

              • A little Constructive criticism?
                1)Behemoth should have Infect.
                Basically, radiation poison.

                2)Leviathan should have Islandwalk(can’t be blocked if opponent has any islands out).

                3)Simurgh could have Double Strike as well.

                4)Echidna could be a Green/Black that makes clone tokens?
                And they could all use Regeneration.

              • Oh, I know it’s terrible. I couldn’t really fit more mana symbols in there without screwing up the card, though.

                I never got that into MTG. I always preferred the out of the box stuff, trying to think beyond the rules as outlined. Endbringers don’t really work unless you break some established rules, ergo the explorations noted above.

              • “Upheaval”, “Terminus”, and “Warp World” sound like the sort of names I’d give to some of Eidolon’s powers that have functioned against Endbringers.

    • For Simurgh I’d say something like…

      Simurgh 6UUU
      Creature – Endbringer
      Flying, Vigilance
      At the beginning of your upkeep, Scry 2.
      At the beginning of each opponent’s upkeep, Fateseal 1.
      Whenever a creature you don’t control attacks or blocks, put a scream counter on it.
      At the beginning of each end step, you gain control of each creature with 3 or more scream counters on it.

  35. Excelent chapter as always.
    And I amuse myself imagining that Emma`s father had just got a promotion to Chicago`s office when they learned that Taylor was there.
    Actually, if Emma is in Brokton Bay she may be living a normal life now. IF Tatletale is above pety revenge for a friend.

    • Tattletale, Grue, Imp, Bitch… (Wouldn’t that be hell? “Taylor refused to hit you back with her bugs so I decided a dog or 2 would do.), not to mention all of the kids who stood with Taylor in the cafeteria.
      After the Ward demo and ‘Hero vs Villain’ game when Dr. Yamada revealed that the bullying she endured was more or less public knowledge, I like to think that Emma will have to change her name in order to hide. Then again, maybe just no one will talk to her for the rest of high school.

        • If Imp feels bored and decides to have some fun with a deserving target, Emma will not remain emotionally stable enough to brush her teeth.

          • I’m actually reminded of a Hulk story here. Hulk confronts the spy who had been Banners assistaint. The guy who didn’t stop the Gamma bomb countdown. He confronts the guy with the fact he made the Hulk and is responsible for all the destruction the Hulk caused. The guy eventually looses it, and has a nervous breakdown, pointing out that while the Hulk is destructive, he’s also saved the world many times, and goes crazy trying to figure out if what he did was good or bad.

        • Would be interesting if both Emma and Shadowstalker both wound up as batshit crazy due to the revelations about Taylor / Skitter. Though I figured in 20.5 when all of the kids joined Taylor, Emma was standing there, fists clenched, saying “This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, …….”

  36. Also, fuck Watch and his assassin powers. ‘Cuz you know, what does an assassin do? “Uh, they find their targets, they know how to kill people and can get at them through any protection.”

      • I suppose that technically, Watch could use his powers to be a super-surgeon, or to merely disable enemies with nerve strikes* and other non-lethal methods rather than killing them.

        But yeah, there seems quite the bias towards killing people with his power, even by the standards of other parahuman powers. I suppose you could say the same of Miss Militia’s power though, and she’s a decent person nonetheless. He was mostly likely unbalanced before he got his power, and his trigger event was probably violent.

        *(Less impractical when you have minor clairvoyance, your fingers and gaze can penetrate flesh like smoke, and you’re as fast as lightning.)

        • I’m thinking Watch, rather than triggering off something happening to him like most paras, instead triggered off an overwhelming desire to hurt someone who did him wrong. Perhaps this person was gEttINg aWay and absotively posolutely could not be permitted to geT aWay.

          Maybe he was a grown-up version of Sophia/Shadow Stalker who just could not abide someone stepping out of what he saw as ‘their place.’ There’s precedent; look at Bakuda’s trigger.

          • Very well put. I was overly vague above, I really meant to say “his trigger event was probably violent, though he may have been under extreme stress and then used his power to strike out, rather than being the victim of the violence”.

            To be charitable, he may not have started as a pyscho. Almost every “monster” has a frightened, abused child who needed help and a hug and didn’t get it somewhere in their beginning. One trigger scenario which makes him seem much less like a horror movie villain and much more human might be if he was beaten up and forced to watch a girl/boyfriend or family member be brutalized. Or if he’d suffered a long history of abuse as a child, and his sibling was his only consolation and friend in the world, then one day their abuser murders the sibling in front of him.

            He probably wouldn’t have realised what he was doing before he’d done it, without invoking speculation about what state he goes into when his power switches from “detect” to “strike” mode.

            Combine that with him having a body on his hands in the aftermath, and him feeling like he has to run from the authorities. Then consider the way his power lends itself towards violence and killing, and his power is his only defence as he flees, and hence he’ll constantly get thrown into situations where he’s tempted or forced to use it. How long then, even if he was a nice boy to start with, before that breaks him and turns him into a killer, even if he tries to be non-lethal at the start?

            Of course, this is all just a flight of fancy- he could of course have been very damaged and have hurt people before he triggered. But I was trying to illustrate a point that I feel often gets overlooked. You really don’t need sociopathy or anything big and profound like that to turn a gentle, decent person into a monster. The world can do it perfectly well on it’s own. 😦

          • Or maybe he was stuck in a sensory deprivation chamber or something like that (we know that people have tried them to induce trigger events in Crusader’s interlude) and he was understandably panicking and so he got powers that allowed him to see outside it (and I bet that having 360 degree view must have been pretty unsettling at first, probably even more so than seeing through people.) Of course, it doesn’t really explain his others powers, unless he also, aside from getting out of there, really angry with the people who put them there (another problem that people who try to force trigger events have to consider still according to Crusader’s interlude.

            • Watch’s vision powers can’t be of the always on variety. If they were, Weaver would never have been able to set up her attack. He’d have seen the bugs as soon as they started to steal the phones and stuff.

              • Yes,of course. Still the first time his powers went on, after a probably traumatic trigger event, it must have ben unsettling.

                Like when young Clark in “Man of Steel” freaked out because he could suddenly see people’s skeletons. Only worse, because Watch can see everything around him at once.

  37. No worries! We can all stand you being less attentive to us and more attentive to, y’know, the people in your life like your family.

    • Weaver then hits every state taking down notorious villains with one glaringly obvious exception.

      • She’s not taking down villains on the basis of notoriety, she’s taking down those who’ve crossed boundaries like killing people, or generally violating the rules of “cops and robbers”. The Undersiders, with their rules and ethics and truce their with the PRT and Protectorate in BB, are practically the definition of the kind of villains she’d cooperate with or ignore, under her new strategy. It isn’t even really about taking down villains, it’s about removing hindrances when the end of the world rolls around, and collecting young villains who can be turned into heroes or prompted to join villain groups with rules like the Undersiders or Faultline, who will stand with humanity when the big day comes.

        • I still wonder if there’s anyone in the PRT that is daft enough to push for a loyalty test on Weaver by deliberately trying to put her in direct conflict with the Undersiders. Once someone within the PRT realises how she is outmaneouvring them they’re going to try and retake control I think. I’ve been pretty badly wrong before though

  38. When I first read the opening to this chapter I wondered. Do you suppose that a “Polar Blast Weaver tm” action figure would get made? Comes with insulated bug box, and for some reason a huge gun with missile firing action.

  39. You know if the assholes in charge didn’t have a hate boner it would probably be a good idea to relocate the girl whose powers are completely neutralized by cold for the winter…

    • There’d be a better argument for that if she hadn’t just completely owned Topsy and his people even with that handicap.

  40. ”There’ more danger if you derail the plan. They won’t even see us.” Either Taylor added a random glottal stop on top of poor grammar, or a typo survived this long.

    In other news: Holy carp, Taylor’s beating the bureaucracy at bureaucracy.

  41. As a Chicagoan:

    1)YES to using the cold as a weapon, denying them shelter, and the problem of keeping bugs alive.

    2)Chicagoans don’t refer to the mayor as “the Mayor.” EVER. Call it a relic of having the same last name work for over 50 years. Even now that we’ve got Rahm, you might say “Mayor Emmanuel” or “Mayor Daley”, but generally you just say their last name (or in Rahmbo’s case, the first name/a pejorative nickname). Since this is 2012 in-universe and Daley had already stepped down, the identity of the person in office might well be different over in Earth Bet, but the form of reference would not be different.

    3)Whoever becomes Mayor of Chicago in 2012 Earth Bet? They’re not going to be nice. Hell, you know what Rahm said after he was sworn in? “Time to make some enemies.” It’s one of those Big City Identity things, where somehow being that asshole who doesn’t take shit from nobody and sticks it to the Teachers’ Union is somehow a good thing. Every big city in the US–and some in Canada, if “crack smoking mayor” is to be believed–elects an asshole for mayor. It’s just something you do. He can still be totally on board with Weaver’s plan, but if you want to be convincing to anyone who’s familiar with Chicago, he’ll be full of profanity as soon as the cameras are off–and power hungry, domineering, and combative even when they’re on. The mayor of Chicago will always be someone like Tagg. If you want to keep the mayor’s personality as written, you’d better put in some line about how weirdly different he is from Earth Aleph’s mayor.

    • Also nice touch with the name “Folk.” It’s nice to see a bit of legit Chicago gang history (the Folk Nation started here) peeking out from under the edges.

  42. Typo: “until they’re within a twelve-hundred feet of me”
    Should probably be “until they’re within twelve-hundred feet of me”.

  43. Taylor understands something I read somewhere about impossible fights/problems – when you’re faced with an obstacle of such unfavorable odds, you search for a flaw or any weakness, and *exploit* it for all it’s worth.

  44. Oh crap Weaver has learned how to fight in politics!!! The PRT is fucked six ways to Sunday now. They might as well give up and go home at this point.

    I love how she also basically told Mockshow to either join the Undersiders or join the Wards otherwise she’d get screwed. Way to go Weaver! Play politics and recruit soldiers at the same time!

    I can’t tell whether I think this director is mildly intelligent or simply less stupid than the others have been. At least he has enough sense to realize that three previous Directors have been removed directly by Weaver with two out of three being straight up murders. That is a step up from the idiots on the tribunal at least.

  45. why does everyone think Taylor said “join the Wards or join the Undersiders”?she didn’t,thats just what Mockshow assumed,she said “join the Wards or join some gang that plays by the rules”,big difference.

    On another note,does Taylor remind anyone else an overleveled character?Once her oppoments become more efficient,she becomes more efficient squared to beat them,and she even managed to win an unwinnable boss battle.This director was good…compared to his predecents…but light years weaker .

    • Actually, no. If anything she reminds me of a power gamer/rules lawyer. Her abilities have only levelled in a minor way since she got them. She just uses them in very clever ways. I can totally see a GM sitting across from her at the table constantly looking like :O and pulling their hair out as she derails their campaign. xD

      • I agree with irrevenant. Taylor is a complete rules lawyer cheater. She knows what she can do isn’t powerful or impressive so she games the system and figures out perfectly logical hacks that completely play within all established rules yet jump her up several tiers at once. As soon as someone tries to say that they can counter her method she just works immediately on a new logical hack that hasn’t been seen yet again jumping her tiers up above the competitors.

        Also yes, story, this Director tried hard, I’ll give him that. But he was so far out of his league I almost felt bad for him lol.

        Concerning the recruitment, I didn’t originally see it personally but I when I had reread the chapter afterwards I felt subtext with her basically telling the girl to join with her or her old buddies or she’d be making Mockshow’s life difficult.

  46. Man, Weaver really is a perfect name for her. Weaving her net around, connecting and preparing like that.

  47. It’s the little things. Like that “bug bitch intervention” appears to be an excuse for breaking an underworld deal that requires no elaboration. Or that, “Hi, I’m Weaver. Yeah, that Weaver,” is sufficient leverage to get fugitives ejected from an organized crime front, and have the owner thanking her for letting him cooperate.

    Mr. “Ha ha don’t murder me like you did Coil, Tagg, and Alexandria” doesn’t seem to have really grasped what Taylor’s capable of when pushed, for all that he jokes about it, but the bad guys sure have.

  48. Every one keeps saying “go weaver and down with the big bad pet” well that’s bull to be honest. She keeps asking for compromise yet she doesn’t even deserve it. This is supposed to be in part a bloody punishment, not a compromise. She wants compromise then she has to first prove she deserves it. As he said she has pushed, bent, broken, or got around every stipulation that has pretty much been put on her. And she wants compromise? You don’t get compromise by pushing everything to its boundaries, what she did in the interrogation room just now should have her benched, put into a containment cell and only allowed out for her ward duties. Think that’s harsh? Well its because it is, she is a criminal, a villain who took over a city. The fact she is on the wards and not in the birdcage is the gift/compromise they gave her. Everything else is supposed to be a punishment for her crimes, not some free time bullshit. She wants compromise she needs to prove she can fall in line, you don’t get compromise when your a criminal whose being punished. I personally thinks its complete and utter garbage she has been even remotely allowed to break\push so many rules without some kind of retaliation. She’s a fucking utter imbecile for thinking that just because she place loose within the rules she deserves anything at all and it tiring how pathetic people are at enforcing anything, oh she’ll only push back against those, ok then birdcage. People may say that’s overly harsh or unfair well its meant to be. She is a prisoner tried as an adult who is being allowed to have great freedoms, she is NOT a hero first and prisoner second. This is the biggest issue I have with this story right now, she expects everyone to play by her ball game and when they don’t she pushes them. That is not how it should or would work, I like weaver but its too bad wildblow didn’t ever seem to think she actually deserved a punishment. Let criminals escape if it means reeling in the supervillain\hero who conquered a city.

    • Problem is, it isn’t about law, it is about politics and ideals. The Birdcage goes against several of the human rights, and the protectorate itself has commited, in story, numerous underhanded actions, up and including abetting criminals under the table and throwing civilians under the bus for capes.

      See, difference between law and politics is that the law applies to all. As long as the Protectorate remains the Protectorate, with Cauldron, corruption, and an agenda that corrupts the legal system, all that is left is politics.

      Taylor wouldn’t even be a villain , maybe not even a cape, if not for the Protectorate and its policies- and they only got her cause she surrendered, which she didn’t do because she thought she thought that she “deserved” punishment, but because she wanted to achieve cooperation to face a greater threat.

  49. As someone that has worked customer service jobs for far too long, screw anyone that asks you to smile.

  50. Wildbow, I stumbled on Worm only recently… and I don’t know if you look back often, but I hope you at least read this someday.

    I just hope you know what you’ve done with this work. It’s amazing. I haven’t even read your recent stuff yet and I’m in awe every time I get to read a few chapters of an arc.

    The themes you delve into in your works, the characters (even the minor ones), the world itself… Do you have a weakness? Seriously, just by the archives, it sounds like you did an impressive amount of writing with so few errors relatively… and somehow had an intuitive sense for conveying precisely what you seemed to be aiming for, or at least as close to it as the English language allows.

    I could write for days JUST focused on different aspects of Worm.

    But I’m posting for the first time because one line made me FEEL like I understood the best aspects of Worm and your talent: “How soon?” the police chief asked. Her stare was hard, judgmental, but there was curiosity in her tone.”

    It doesn’t seem like much, but somehow you convey almost everything anyone could want or expect out of an English sentence, in as few words as possible to be accurate.

    That single sentence, much like the rest of Worm is a freakin’ roller coaster ride that I’ve enjoyed immensely… and honestly, enjoyment doesn’t come easy for me these days.

    …but your sentences, so long as I can squeeze a few paragraphs in while I’m in the midst of other work or another tasks: those sentences mean a lot to me.

    Worm may have usurped my “#1 Work of Fiction” spot. Over every visual or graphic medium, over everything with audio, and over every other thing with writing.

    I feel like that says a lot considering the things I’ve read/watched/listened to on the internet alone.

    I just wish I had your predilection for words because I’m not sure I can convey exactly how much this story has meant for me over the last month and a half I’ve been reading and studying it.

    Because you’ve done something great with this and I hope you never look back on it and feel like it’s something you wish could have been improved by the knowledge you have now…

    Because it was exactly what it needed to be, when it needed to be, for the reasons that it needed to be. (I haven’t finished, but I’m confident.)

    Thank you.

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