Interlude 25

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July 8th, 2011

“...The reality is clear.  The repercussions of what happened today will change the relationship between hero, villain and civilian.  It remains up to them to decide whether it will be a change for the better, or a change for the worse.”

“Pretentious, isn’t he?” Jack asked.  He was naked, covering himself with both hands, sitting on a metal bench with more brushed stainless steel behind him.  With the angle of the device, he faced the ceiling.

“Likes to hear himself talk,” Bonesaw replied, agreeing.  “Which do you think it’ll be?  Change for the better or change for the worse?”

Jack only smiled, his eyes crinkling a bit at the edges.  He was getting older.  It was reassuring and spooky at the same time.  He’s the daddy of the group and I’m the kid and he’s getting older which makes him more daddylike.

But it meant he moved slower and got tired more easily.  It was only a matter of time before he made a mistake, lost a fight.

“It’s a given?” she asked.  She pressed the button, and the lights started to flicker again.

“I think so,” Jack commented.  “But I almost hope things do turn out well.”

The flickering steadily increased.  The progression had to be slow, or they could set off a cascade cycle and overwhelm the power cell they had liberated from Toybox.  If that happened, then the shell that was keeping this reality together would break, the holding grid for the pocket dimension’s substrata would become fluid and leak out into other hardened realities.  They would likely be crushed by the air, pulped as gravity twisted into eddies and condensed points of hyperconcentration.

Which would be funny, really.  A reckless, violent, unpredictable death would be awfully ironic, really.  An artful death, almost, in an anticlimactic way.  It would be better if there was an audience, if anyone could even know and tell the story.  But art wasn’t art without an audience.

“Makes for a greater fall?” she asked.

“Exactly,” Jack replied.  He had to raise his voice to be heard over the whine of the generator.  “I guess we find out soon!”

She laughed in response, giddy with the idea, with possibilities, ideas.

Then she pulled the switch.  In a heartbeat, Jack was frozen in stasis, contained.

She walked over to the computer.  Flowers, rainbows and gray-green smiley faces with the eyes crossed out in death bounced around the screen.  She moved the mouse to end the screensaver, giggles still periodically finding their way out of her mouth.

She set the timer, the alarm clock for the stasis to end.

The giggles trailed off.


The lights slowly flickered back to life, and Bonesaw found herself standing in front of the keyboard.  The smile fell from her face.

Jack had assumed she would freeze herself.  The empty pod reinforced the idea.

Except… she was telling herself she had to be there to wake them up, and that wasn’t wholly true.  It was smart, but it wasn’t true.  She wasn’t one to be afraid of something, but she felt a touch of trepidation at the idea of entering stasis without someone to handle the exit process, without assurance she would wake up.  That was without touching on the issue of the power cell, watching that things didn’t go tilt with the pocket dimension.

No, that wasn’t wholly true either.  It was a one percent chance.  Five percent, if she counted her lack of knowledge about other tinker’s stuff.  But she hadn’t touched it, even to move it.  It should be safe.

Her eyes tracked the rows and columns of incubation chambers.  They weren’t her field either.  A different row for each member of the Slaughterhouse Nine, past or present.

Gray Boy

There were ten of each in various glass chambers. The original members.

With many, many more besides.  She looked down the length of the room.  Most members of the Nine had lasted only weeks or months.  She could count the ones who’d lasted longer than that on the one hand.  A shame she didn’t have samples for all of the past members, but she had most of the good ones.

Her, Jack, Mannequin, Siberian, Shatterbird.

Crawler had managed pretty well, too.

He’d been a doofus in the end, though.

She smiled.  It would be a family reunion, really.  But there was work to be done.

They’d come out blank.  Wouldn’t do.  She had access to some of the toys they’d liberated from the Toybox.  She’d have to put the new Slaughterhouse’s memories together herself.  Brains.  Memories, or things close enough to memories.  She had notes and records, all of the bedtime stories Jack had told her as she drifted off to sleep these past few years.  There was information saved on the computer.  She could hodgepodge it together.

This would be real art.  How well could she rebuild them?

Cranial had been selling memories on the black market, selling skills.  She’d kept bad memories too, took them from people, even gave them to some people.  Silly, really.  A lot of them had wanted trigger events, except the trigger events didn’t work like that.

This computer was only an access point.  The other computers took up vast amounts of space, out of sight, out of mind.  If something failed, she’d have to go fix it, but she would spend most of her time here, surrounded by her family, some she’d never met.

Mannequin had lost his wife and children in a Simurgh attack.  How to approach it?  A file here, with a woman who had lost her spouse and children in a car accident she’d driven.  Close enough.  She could leave gaps and it would fill in all on its own.  Build it all on a foundation of an academic background, a doctor with confidence to spare, an architect in the same vein, a celebrity singer who’d come in wanting inspiration at the press of a button… run everything in parallel, with the ideas of the former two and the experience of the other…

But that wasn’t enough.  He’d been driven, haunted.  How was she supposed to put it all together?  Could she make it a recurring idea, so this Mannequin-clone would see the events flashing before his eyes with every waking moment?  Something he could only quench with a quiet, cold rage?  Or was it something he’d put behind him?

Winter had been an arms dealer, sadistic, ruthless, cold.

Bonesaw giggled at the private joke.  The noise echoed in the utter silence.  It was quiet enough that she could hear her own heartbeat and the blood rushing in her ears, the creak of her muscles shifting, even.  That wasn’t anything she had enhanced.  Humans simply never experienced true quiet.  Those that had come close tended to go insane.

Another giggle, smaller.  No worry on that score.

How to model Winter?  She wasn’t truly a person who created or manipulated cold.  It was a different power.  A dampening power, causing objects and people both to lose inertia.  The ambient effect was one of altered physics, the effect on people was one of will.  The woman had gained power, money and more, and she’d found she liked tormenting people as much as anything else.  She’d turned to the slave trade, then crossed paths with the Nine.

How to make the Winters with the materials she had?  A child that had a gun in her hand before she could read, someone who had found the drive necessary to rise above her roots, meeting all expectations.  She’d taught herself numbers and business, she’d ruthlessly eliminated competition, and then when she had everything she’d wanted, she had stagnated, rotted like an overripe fruit.

Searches for keywords in Cranial’s notes failed to turn up any of the necessary elements.

“Hey, Blasto, buddy,” she said, and her voice sounded artificially chirpy, even to her.  She looked at her minion, who stood at the other end of the desk, staring off into space, his entire body rigid.  A tear was running down his cheek.

Would have to cauterize his tear ducts, maybe.

“Speak,” she ordered.  She tapped a key to open a menu, then released the lock on his lung control and breathing.  “Try now.”

“Ungh,” he rasped.  “Ugh.”

Would have to exercise his vocal cords, or he might lose the ability to speak.

“It’s too quiet.  Let’s see… do you know the theme song to Love Bug?”

“Ugh.  Guh.  Fuh- fuck-”

She hit the key to lock him down, feeling irritated.

“Swearing is so crass!  Okay.  Guess you don’t know them.  Let’s see.  I’ve got something in my backpack…”

It took only moments to rig.  Her spider boxes ran on interconnected lumps of gray matter, basic impulses, motor control and storage, with some computer chips to handle functions that were more trouble than they were worth to implement.  One of those chips managed rote movements.  She removed a defunct spider box from the backpack she was keeping beneath her desk and attached it to Blasto’s spine, between his shoulder blades.

Overriding motor control, rote movement operation, hook it to the lungs and mouth, tongue, jaw…

Her hands were crimson halfway up to the elbow by the time she was done setting it all up.  She handed the task over to a spider box to handle stitches and cauterizing the bleeds.  A quickie job.

Would be better with a real eyeball, but she’d settle for a camera.

She set a video to play.  Furry cartoon bugs with hearts, peace symbols and other icons on their backs began to dance with cartoon children.

Love bug love hug!  A, B, C, D!
There they are, coming to say hi!
Love bugs are here, no need to cry!
When you’re feeling lonely, when you’re alone,
Who can you count on, to be in the zone?”

“Get a love bug love hug!” Bonesaw sang along, pulling up a chair.  She used a pencil to press the buttons on the keyboard so she didn’t get it mucky.  Few things were quite as fun as letting the blood dry and then peeling it all off in one congealed strip.

Behind her, Blasto watched the video.  She set it to repeat, and the bug box kicked in the second time around.  Blasto’s reedy voice sang along.  It was so pathetic and mournful that she laughed aloud.

Better give him some exercise too.

By the time the fourth repeat had finished, he was all set up.  He started dancing along with the fifth, mimicking characters on the screen.  Each repeat would be a little more precise, as the camera captured the necessary elements.


Something to occupy herself with, for the next year and a half.

September 28th, 2011

“I’m going to take over the world!”

“Wonderful,” Bonesaw commented, feigning a cultured voice.  “More tea?”

“Tea, yes!  Obey, serve me.  Give me tea.”

Bonesaw dutifully poured a beakerful of hot water into the cup, then set a spoon by the saucer.  “No milk?  You’re sure?”

“Milk is for weaklings and children.  I’ll drink it black,” Damsel said.

“We are children, Damsel.”

A biologically seven year old Damsel of Distress glared across the table at Bonesaw as she took a sip, then had to momentarily steel herself to keep from making a face.  Her face was gaunt, but that was her natural appearance.  Her pale blue eyes deep set, platinum blond hair simultaneously fine and thick, matted together.  The chemical stew the clones were growing in didn’t make for typical looking hair growth.

“I could end you, for that insult.”

“Yes,” Bonesaw said.  “But then you wouldn’t have anybody to pour you tea.”

“This tea is too hot anyways.”

“I’ll strive to do better,” Bonesaw said.  “World domination, hm?  Sounds like a bother.”

“It’s my natural place.”

“Maybe,” Bonesaw said.  “Well, I don’t envy you.  You’ll need to hurry, too.  World’s going to end soon, I think.”

“I’ll rule the ashes.”

“I see.  That’s even harder, isn’t it?  If there’s no way to communicate, then how do you manage it all?  There won’t be phones or internet after everything else is gone.”

Damsel’s forehead furrowed in concern.  “I’ll delegate.”

“Can you trust the people you delegate to?”

“No.  I trust nobody.”

“Well,” Bonesaw said, pausing as she took a sip of tea.  “That’s a problem.”

“Yes,” Damsel agreed.  She swayed in her seat for a moment, then gripped the table with foot-long, clawed fingers to steady herself.  Bonesaw’s design, replacing the skeletal structure.  A way to channel Damsel’s power and -if needed- briefly shut it off.

“I put a little something in your tea to help you sleep,” Bonesaw commented.  “Best to see you off to bed.”

“I’m not…”

“Not sleepy?  You’re going to faceplant in your tea.”

Damsel’s confusion became a swift, violent anger.  “You poisoned me, wretch!”

“Yes.  I thought you didn’t trust anyone.  What a shame that you couldn’t be constructive in that distrust,” Bonesaw said.  She stood and walked around the table, then took the little girl’s hand, leading her back to the incubation chamber.  The girl obeyed, though she spat epithets.

“I’ll flay your skin from your bones, irrevocably destroy everything you cherish,” Damsel said, her voice fainter.  “You’ll cry your rage to the heavens until your torment subsumes everything.  Madness will be a refuge.”

She was virtually whispering by the time she was done.

“Yes, sweetie,” Bonesaw answered, dropping the fake accent.  She leaned forward and gave Damsel a kiss on the cheek.  Damsel blinked, as if in slow motion, opened her eyes briefly, then shut them.

A press of a button and a flick of a switch bid the glass case to rise and surround Damsel before she could tip over.  The tube rapidly filled with a soupy liquid, rich in nutrients.  Damsel was fully asleep before the fluid raised her from the ground to float buoyantly in the middle of the tube.  Her tea party outfit billowed out around her, making her look like a jellyfish in the pale lighting.  Her hat, a wide-brimmed, shallow-topped hat with a false flower on the ribbon, drifted off her head and gradually sank to the base of the tube.

She sought out the other clone, finding him at the far end of her lab.  He was a boy, narrow, with long blond hair and a very worried expression.  A complex pyramid of beakers and glass measuring cups was arranged around him.

He was muttering to himself, “Wall them in.  Wall myself in.  Wall them in.  Wall myself in.”

“Come on, A.G.,” Bonesaw said.  She reached through the structure and took his hand.  “Out through the door.”

“Not a door.  Trap.  Safest way to ward off attackers.  Used my hair, made a tripwire, tying ends together.  Maximum devastation if intruder breaks perimeter.”

“Through the window, then.  I’ll wall you in.  Promise.”

He nodded.  With excessive care, he climbed on top of the jars that were precariously balanced on one another and slipped out through another aperture in the arrangement, higher up.  He stumbled as he landed.

“This way.  We’ll wall you in.”

He followed obediently.  “Where’s my Catherine?  She’s my…”

“Your mom, silly billy.”  Cognitive dissonance would be bad.  He could lash out.  Not that he was that dangerous, like this.

“I was going to say wife.  And I have two children.  They’re seven and five.  Except I’m…”

“You’re seven.  You’re thinking of your sisters.”

“I’m confused,” he almost mewled the words.  “It hurts, so much of it hurts to think about.  I- I let a lot of people down.  I can feel their disappointment like… like it’s pressing in on me from all sides.  I can’t hide from it and I can’t stop myself from caring.  I-“

“Hush,” she said.  “It all gets better when you wall yourself in, doesn’t it?”

He nodded mutely.

“Walling you in,” she said, as she put him on top of the stand.  A press of the button raised the glass enclosure.  She could see him relax a fraction at that.

A bit of a problem, Bonesaw mused, as the container filled with the nutrient fluid.

Various elements that were unique to every individual served as a signal that the passenger could reach out to in an attempt at reconnecting with a host.  DNA, electromagnetic patterns, patterns she could barely measure with instruments, all contributed, none was absolute.  Once the connection was established, powers were possible as well.  A moment of trauma sped the process along considerably.  Her initial assumption had been that coming to life would be enough for the clones.

But the clones were dreaming, and those dreams were founded in the fabricated memories she was providing.  It was something of an art, an interesting experiment, to strike all the right notes, to get geography and birthplace right, culture, custom, habit and every other detail, along with the major, defining moments of their lives.

The Corona Pollentia was developing as the originals did, drawing from DNA to form as a lobe in the brain, right from the outset.  The dreams formed the connections between the corona and the clone.  The bonds were forming too quickly and easily.

It was interfering with the cloning process, as the passenger’s typically indistinct and subtle influence on the subject was becoming rather dramatic.  The brain was too pliable while the clones were in their formative ages, the passenger too insistent.

She’d have to scrap everything.  Wipe them clean, grow a new batch of clones.  Nearly three weeks of work down the drain.

Already, she was figuring out how to solve the problem.  She’d have to stagger it, introduce memories in phases, starting with earliest and working her way forward.  Maybe it would be easier, organized.  She could consider each member of the Nine in turn and decide if they had been treated well as babies, if their home and school lives were comfortable… that would be a yes for someone like Mannequin, less so for Ned, for Crawler.

She typed on the computer for a minute.  Special disposal procedures for Crawler.  The rest could be boiled to death.

She watched until the bubbles started to rise.  One or two woke.  It didn’t matter.

She returned to her makeshift bedroom.  There hadn’t been a mattress, so she’d made a hammock instead.

Blasto lay on the floor.  His voice was barely audible.  He couldn’t stand, and his attempts at trying to dance were scraping his arms against the floor.

Bug… hug.  I, J, K, L.”

“Forgot to turn the music off,” she said.  She found the smartphone and switched off the music.  “Have a bit of an errand.  Sleep for now, I’ll patch you up when I get back.”

Her hair dyed black, a bit of makeup and clothes made the same way she’d made her mattress, creating a lifeform that could spin and ink fabric.

A touch roughspun, but it would do.

She found the remote and hit the button.  There was a quiet whoosh, and she was on the other side.

Back in Earth Bet.

Her heart was pounding.  If Jack found out about this, he’d be furious.  The risk, the idea that someone would be checking this one spot for a signal, or using a parahuman ability to search for her here

But, she thought, she needed supplies she couldn’t make on her own.  Resources, information, materials.

She entered a small grocery store.

“Good morning,” the man at the counter said.  Thirty-two or thirty-three, to judge by his appearance.  His hair was too long in the back, just starting to recede in the front, his stare intense, but he wasn’t unattractive otherwise.

“Good morning,” she responded, upbeat.  Don’t talk to me.  It would be messy if I had to kill you.  She corrected herself.  I’ll fix your hair and then I’d kill you.

“We don’t get many new people here.  Kind of out of the way.”  He smiled.

“Driving through,” she said.  “My mom is shopping down the street.”

“Dollar store or the boutique?”


“Don’t blame you for not wanting to go,” he said.  “Let me know if you need help finding something.”

She made her way through the store.  Lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, salt, a box of Frooty Toots, some milk, pancake mix.  Nutrient slop was great when she needed to work without cooking, but it was still slop.

Glancing up, she could see the man at the counter looking at her in the mirror that had been positioned to give him a view of the aisle.

She wondered momentarily if he’d recognized her.  No, the reaction would be different.

A distrust of outsiders?  No, he seemed too at ease for that.

Something else, then.

She felt more at ease, realizing what it had to be.

She deposited the things on the counter, then paid.  He bagged it and she waved goodbye as she left, offering him a winning smile.

She’d need to stop by a library, there were a few things she needed to look up.  There wasn’t enough information on Harbinger, for one thing.  King’s background was another blank.  People Jack didn’t talk about much, even if he talked about them fondly.

He’d be so pleased, she could imagine, if she hit the right notes with them and got their basic personalities right.

Then she could buy clothes and sheets. If there was a good hardware store, she could imagine some tools that would serve.  Her scalpels were getting dull.

This little bumhole of a town didn’t have much, and she’d seen maybe one car on the road since she had arrived, but still, she looked both ways before crossing the street.

A pale, dark-haired woman stepped out of the bank, wearing a black suit.

Her attitude, her demeanor, casual.  Nothing combative in the slightest.

Bonesaw still felt a twang of alarm.  The timing with which she’d appeared, the way the clothes didn’t fit the area…

Better to guess and be wrong.  “Are you picking a fight with me?”

“No,” the woman replied.  “No I’m not, Bonesaw.”

Gosh darn ding darn… golly.  Jack was going to be maaaaad if he found out about this.

“Because if you kill me, it doesn’t change anything.”

“You worked a biological key into the transporter device.  Unless you are alive, calm and holding the device, it won’t work.  It will only transport you.  We can’t use it to get inside, and killing you wouldn’t stop the stasis period from ending.”

“Yeah.  That’s why.”

“I understand.  But I wasn’t sent here to assassinate you.  We could.  We could even reach Jack, I think, now that we know where to make an entrance.  Still, that’s a dangerous prospect, putting powerful parahumans in the same space as a man who’s been prophesied to end the world.”

“I’m not a pushover, you know,” Bonesaw said.  She stabbed a finger in the woman’s direction.

It would be so easy to fire a poison needle into her throat.

“I only want to talk.  I’ll ask a favor, then leave you alone,” the woman said.

“You don’t know how the Slaughterhouse Nine work, do you?  We don’t do favors.”

“You’ll do this one.  The Slaughterhouse Nine you’re mass producing, you’re going to install a control switch.  You’ll give that switch to me.  Not soon, but later.  Later than you think.”

Bonesaw laughed, high and shrill.  Then she laughed some more.

The woman only waited patiently.

“Silly!  You couldn’t be more wrong,” Bonesaw said.  “Betray Jack?  Betray the others?”

“You will.”

Bonesaw laughed again, not for quite so long.  Through the giggles, she said, “If you’re going to try to mind control me, I can tell you you’ve got another thing coming.  I’ve got safeguards.  You’ll only activate my berserker mode.”

“No mind control.  There’s a great deal at work here, and this is the best way to go about it, even with the blind spot looming.”

“That’s the best argument you can give me?”

“No.  I can tell you two things.”

Bonesaw raised her eyebrows, smiling.  “Two things?”

“Breadth and Depth.”

“I don’t get it.  Those are the things?”

“No.  There’s another.  Each of these things is a sentence, an idea.  The second sentence is simple.  Say goodbye.”

Bonesaw bristled.  Mechanical traps, spring-loaded needles and venom venting systems readied throughout her body.  She let the bags drop to the ground.

The woman didn’t attack.  Instead, she turned to leave.

An empty threat?

She debated firing her hollow needles at the woman’s back.  But if she missed, she’d be largely unarmed.  She’d have to get even closer to use a venom spray, or poison spit, or her telescoping humerus with flesh dissolving acid capsules beneath her fingernails.

The woman entered the bank, and Bonesaw hurried across the street to follow.

But her quarry was gone.

January 20th, 2005

Riley panted for breath.  Her body wasn’t listening, now.

She reached her mommy’s room, then collapsed on the floor, head turned towards the foot of the bed.

The carpet was stained with blood.  On it, just beside the bed, her mother lay face down, head turned to one side just like Riley’s was.  She was covered in stitches.  There wasn’t a place where Riley could have reached out and placed a hand down flat without touching one of the marks.

An entire row had been cut open, the stitches severed, from temple, down the side of her throat, along the side of her body to her pelvis.

Too much blood loss.  Her mind leaped into action, reaching for knowledge she hadn’t had earlier in the night, knowledge of how to fix people.  She took in details, grasped everything from the amount of blood her mommy had to heart rate and the amount of air she was breathing, just from the clues in how fast the blood flowed and the color of the skin.  She knew the order she’d have to fix things.  Ideas fired through her mind, telling her how to close the wounds, to draw the blood out of the carpet and clean it, or even making something that would do the same thing blood did, out of water and some junk from the kitchen, all with the exact right amount of electricity, to fill the veins and carry a low amount of air throughout the body, staving off the shut down of her brain long enough for Riley to figure out something else.

But she was too tired.

“Hurry,” Mister Jack’s voice was almost gentle.  “You have time.  You can fix her, can’t you?”

She could.  Maybe she even had the strength to do it, to get downstairs and climb up onto the kitchen counter to get the things she needed out of the cabinets, and get back up here.  She could cut the lamp cord and use the frayed end with… with a lot of salt, to get the right frequency.

But she was too tired.  The moment she was done saving her mommy, she’d have to run to the bathroom and save daddy.  Then she’d have to run downstairs and save Drew.  After that she’d save Muffles, and hurry back to mommy.  In each room, one or two scary people waited for her.  Waited and watched while she worked, then undid her work or came up with worse things to do.

She knew because she’d been doing this for hours.

“Come on,” Mister Jack whispered.  “You can do it.  Don’t you love your mommy?”

She stared across the room at her mommy.  They were lying with their heads pointed in different direction, so her mommy’s face was upside down, almost covered with as many stitches as skin.

She’d done a bad job, she knew.  She couldn’t even cut a straight line with the scissors in school, how was she supposed to do this?

Mommy mouthed some words, but the stitches pulled her lips in funny directions.

She thought maybe she knew what mommy was saying.

“No,” she told Mister Jack.


“I don’t love her,” she answered.  She blinked, slow, so she wouldn’t have to look her mommy in the eyes, and tears were squeezed out.

“Alrighty,” Mister Jack said.  “Say goodbye, then.”

Say goodbye.

“Goodbye, mommy,” Riley said, obediently.

Silent, her mom mouthed a reply.

It took a long time.

A long, long time, watching the blood volume tick down, seeing how the breathing rate changed, and the heartbeat slowed.  Knowing how the brain would be affected, knowing what the organs were doing, and the order they were shutting down.

At some point, it ceased to be mommy, became something else.  A moment when her mommy became only a dying thing, a machine of flesh and blood that was winding down.

It was easier.

Didn’t make her chest hurt as much.

Lips that had been fixed up with imperfect stitches mouthed one final sentence.

“There we go,” Mister Jack whispered.  “…There.  That’s it.”

For a little while longer, the three of them rested on the floor of the room.  Mister Jack, Riley, and her mommy.

Others appeared in the doorway, casting the room in shadow.

“She done?”

“She’s done,” Mister Jack said, standing.  He stretched.  “As for what we do with her, we-”

He broke off as the clown in the hallway laughed, an eerie, offbeat sound that seemed to be missing something most laughs had.  It seemed to take Jack a moment to gather why the clown had laughed.

When he looked down, Riley was looking up at him, smiling.  It was a forced expression.

“What’s this?” Jack asked.  He smiled back.  “Something funny?”

“No.  I just… I wanted to smile.”

“Well,” he said.  “Me too.  Let’s smile together.”

She looked momentarily uncertain, but kept the strained smile in place.

“Yes.  Come with us.  We’ll keep you safe.”

She didn’t want to.  She wanted nothing less.

But she had nowhere else to go.

“Yes please,” she said.  “That… that sounds nice.”

Her mother’s final words rang through Riley’s head, the last words she’d before she had become a machine that had stopped working.

Be a good girl.

She’d be good.  She’d be polite and cheerful and she’d do her chores and she would mind her manners and she’d eat all of her dinner and she’d keep her hair nice and she wouldn’t swear and…

November 15th, 2011

She woke from a nightmare that was becoming all too familiar.  Usually it was only a few times a week, fragments.  Now it was more distinct, more cohesive.

She didn’t like it.

As was her habit, she reached across the bed, holding her companion close.

Not enough.  Not warm enough, not responsive, not caring.

He wasn’t family.

She pushed her covers away, annoyed.

Blasto lay there, unmoving.

“Up,” she said.

The hardware worked throughout his body bid him to move.

She stared at him, unfamiliar feelings warring inside her.  The dream was fresh in her mind and she couldn’t banish it, just like she hadn’t been able to banish it yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that.

It was just a little harder every day.

She felt a flare of anger, but pasted a smile on her face instead.  Think happy.

Be good, she thought, and the thought was too close to an idea in her dream.  It had the opposite effect, dashed her resolve to the wind.

She was left only with a mingled sense of unease and frustration.

No mind control?  My fanny!  The darn woman in the suit had put a mind-whammy on her!

It made her upset, which was a terrible way to start the day.  Most days, she could cuddle with whoever was sleeping beside her.  Blasto wasn’t so good at that.

It didn’t help that Blasto had died a week ago.  A stroke, no doubt from stress, in the midst of a refrain of the Love Bugs theme song.  The only thing that let him move now were the control mechanisms she’d set up.

Not so good for snuggling.

Most days, if snuggling didn’t quite cut it, Jack would keep her busy, give her something to do, and entertain her.  Always, his voice in her ear, always ushering her forwards, praising her for being a good girl, for her art, for her talent.  Others were interested.  Her family.

Now she was alone.

She left the closet that was her bedroom, with Blasto standing beside the fleshy mattress, and she approached the cases.

The third draft, still in a foetal state, nine of each.  She had a good feeling about it.  There were a few more brains to create, more personalities to research and draw up, but she felt fairly confident about her ability to piece it all together.

The only rub was the Bonesaws.  A whole row, empty.

They didn’t need as long to gestate, but she had yet to begin figuring out how to create them.

She could have scanned her own brain and copied over the results, but the setup was awkward to manage, best done with a sleeping subject.  She could have set Blasto up to manage it, but… that was tricky in its own way.

She wasn’t used to feeling a lack of confidence.  The thing about art was that one could create anything, could incorporate mistakes.  But art needed an audience and she had none here.

She’d set herself the task of having everything ready for when Jack and the others woke up, and now she felt she was unraveling, coming apart in the quiet and the solitude.

She stared at the seeds of the Bonesaws that hadn’t grown and wondered if she really could look long enough to see the real her, to fabricate anything like herself.  Her test runs with the others had all worked.  They were close enough to feel familiar, even if little details were off.  Their personalities, their approaches, all would be close enough.  Here and there, she’d fixed things, corrected the most detrimental personality traits that had been turned against them and allowed them to be captured or killed.

Sighing, she turned away.  She took the time to dress in the clothes she’d bought, and then used the remote to teleport to Earth Bet.

“Our regular is back,” the man at the counter said.  “You get out a lot, with that home schooling.”

“Yeah,” she said.  She folded her hands on the edge of the counter and rested her chin on them.  “Your haircut looks good, Eli.”

“Thank you,” he said.  He looked genuinely embarrassed.  She smiled a little at that.

“See any good movies lately?” she asked.

“You like horror movies right?”

“Mm hmm.”

“The Darkness.  You’d like it, it comes from a good pedigree.  It’s about a mafia-“

A woman entered the store, and Eli jumped as though he’d been caught doing something wrong.

“Can I- can I put up a sign in the window?” the woman asked.

“I’d have to see it first,” Eli responded.  “Might have to ask my dad.  He owns the store, even if I run it.  If there’s any question, it’d be his call.  He gets back this Monday.”

The woman’s face was grave as she handed over the paper.

Eli took the time to read it.  “I think everyone in town knows about this, Mrs. Hemston.”

“Can I put it up anyways?  If someone passes through and sees it-“

Eli shifted, uncomfortable.  “I don’t see any reason you couldn’t.  My dad wouldn’t say no.”

Without responding, Mrs. Hemston set about taping it to a spot at eye level on the back of the glass door.

She glanced at Bonesaw.  “You shouldn’t be out without a guardian.  Go home.”

“Yes ma’am,” Bonesaw replied, smiling.

And then the woman was gone.

Bonesaw opened the door and held it open so she could see the sign.  A missing person sign, with a picture of a girl.  She let the door swing closed.

Eli hesitated.  “Riley, I was thinking, if you wanted to come over and watch that movie…”


“No?  Why?”

“You know why,” she said.  She walked down the aisle to grab some snacks.  Gummy candies, more Frooty Toots, some more milk.

“I wouldn’t, you know I-“

“You’d be a gentleman, I’m sure,” she replied.  The funny thing was, she was sure.  She knew her monsters.

He struggled to recover.  “I… you’re talking about the home schooling.  Strict parents?”

It was feeble.  She knew it was feeble.

“Exactly,” she responded, setting the stuff on the counter.  “Sorry.”

“Eight ninety-five,” was all he said.

He was hurt.  He’d recover.  She collected her things, gave him a small wave, and then made her way back.  She glanced at the woman who was making her way into the next store.

She stepped out of sight, then used the remote to exit back to the pocket realm.

She felt a growing sense of unease as she set the milk in the fridge and put the Frooty Toots on the counter with the candy.  Not an unease with what had happened with Eli.  That would resolve itself.  She’d see him in two or three days, and it would be awkward.  Then she’d see him after that, and things would be okay again.

No.  That wasn’t what was resting heavily on her heart.

She called for Blasto and then entered one of the other closets.

Melanie, the girl’s name was.

A week and a half ago, it had been so commonsense.  A solution to her problems.  The girl had been right there.  So easy to approach.  A tranquilizer shot to the neck, calculated on the fly to fit with body weight and overall health.  Recalibrating the teleporting remote with the unconscious girl in the back lot had been a little riskier, but it was a quiet town.

Bonesaw had found herself busy enough that the girl could be left here, an IV in her neck, catheter and poop tube inserted.  Now that she had free time, she could handle the Winter issue.

She needed a child soldier.  This was a way to make one.  To insert the wartime memories from Cranial’s database into the girl, let it steep, then harvest the results.  The rest could be tweaked, rebalanced, fixed.

And there, again, that unease.

She couldn’t think of her mother’s face, only stitches.  Her father she hadn’t even seen.  His face was a vague idea in her head, a few isolated features with nothing to bind them together.

Yet when she tried to visualize herself going ahead with it, it was Eli’s face that intruded.  Disappointed, confused.

Eli and Mrs. Hemston both, now.

The girl was meat.  A tool, a collection of resources to be taken apart and put together in a different configuration, a machine.  Any number of things, but not a person.

But the people from the periphery of the girl’s life… they were harder to compartmentalize.  Distant.  They weren’t at arm’s reach to use as resources.

An emotional factor.

Darn it, she thought.  She’d stopped talking to herself, after she’d gotten in the habit and weirded Eli out.

She turned her attention to the computer, crossing the room.  Need a distraction.

Except it backfired.  She thought of the woman in the suit, and the statement.  Breadth and depth.

As things tended to do, a connection drew across her mind’s eye.  All of the problems at hand, the challenges, dealing with the clones, figuring out how to program them.

The first batch had failed because they were too young, and the connection with the passenger had become too broad, consuming too much of their personality, leaving room for little growth as a human being.  Things were missing, other things bloated or exaggerated as the passenger needed.

Jack had a different kind of connection.  A deep connection.  He was in alignment with the particular nature of his passenger.  The passengers naturally sought conflict, and Jack had fed that need from very early on, and he had sustained it for years.  The line between the two was so thin as to be impossible to mark, but Jack’s personality remained his own.  Altered, but not subsumed.

And Bonesaw… well, she was talented.  There was little doubt her passenger fed her a great amount of detail.

But what kind of connection was it?

Darn mind whammies!  Darn it, drat, gosh, golly fuck!

She stared down at her hands, splayed and resting on either side of the keyboard.

What kind of connection was it?

Young age?  Check.  That had meant breadth for the others.

Fed by conflict?  Check.  Depth, if the single data point that was Jack was any indication.

How much of me is me?

She stared at the backs of her hands.

What difference does it make?  It wasn’t a rhetorical question.  There was a difference, it did matter in the grand scheme of things.  She just wasn’t sure what that difference was, how it mattered.

She hadn’t had to make many of her own decisions before.  Or, it was better to say, she hadn’t had to make important ones.  There was a security in being with Jack, because it meant she didn’t have to face this sort of thing.  One comment, and the question was decided.

She turned to look at Melanie.  The girl was her age.

Odd to think about.

The girl had seen her face.  She couldn’t trust her ability to erase memories, not without test subjects, which was a new set of risks, a new set of problems.  It would only compound the problem she was trying to solve.

She wasn’t used to thinking like this, considering ways to minimize chaos.

Couldn’t trust that she’d scrub the right memory.  It wasn’t her tinker tech.

Couldn’t trust that she could overwrite the memories either.  Inserting memories, yes, but the brain was a funny thing.  Again, it wasn’t her tinker tech.

Going ahead would be safest.

She thought of Eli.  A friend.  Not family, like the Nine had become, but a friend.

She thought of the effect of the passenger on her personality.  Was the art hers or did it belong to it?  Her sense of family among the other Nine, again, who did it belong to?

She bit a thumbnail, cut deep into the material with the special cutting materials she’d laced her incisors with, and then tore the end off in one swift motion.  The quick of her nail started bleeding.

The pain gave her clarity.

Maybe the family thing was the passenger’s.  Maybe the art was too.

But Eli?  It wasn’t perfect.  It wasn’t normal.  But if the passenger had never made contact, and she’d still lived a life a little like the one she lived now, she could see herself being Eli’s friend.

That in mind, she made her decision.

November 12th, 2012

She shifted her weight from foot to foot.

A lot of time alone.  A lot of time to think.

Every decision now was made on a fulcrum.  Was she acting as Riley or as Bonesaw?

This… it wasn’t a hard decision.  In a way, she’d imagined she’d always make it.  But it, like every other call, had to be carefully measured.

First menstruation, check.

Might as well get it over with.  She made notes on the computer.



Limb shortening.

Bone shaving.

Plastic surgery.

Bonesaw would approve.  Maybe it would be better to be taller, to have more room for equipment.  Still, she could reverse the procedure.  It wouldn’t be her parts, but that wasn’t such a problem.

But for Riley, this was essential.  It was a matter of months before Jack woke.  She needed time to recover.  The clones were in a good state.  Only the Bonesaw vats were empty.  Each of the others had an adolescent or nearly-adult clone inside.  A month or two before the others woke from cryo-stasis, she’d start doing the surgeries, adding the augments, combining a handful of them together.

She laid out everything on the table next to her.  Scalpels, blood bags, IV drips, screwdrivers, wire, staple, cauterizing gun, hammer, stapler… a mix and match.

She hefted the bonesaw and frowned a little.  The word had taken on a different meaning for her, in recent months.  It had stopped being her name somewhere along the line, had become her passenger’s.

Anesthetic?  No.  She needed optimal awareness of her own body.  Anything that dulled her senses would spoil that.

She had the ability to switch off pain at will.  She wouldn’t use it.

No.  She wouldn’t say she felt guilty about the things she’d done, but she recognized that she was broken, now.  She recognized that maybe she should.

A part of her wished she could reach inside and find that carefree perspective, the innocence she’d enjoyed.  Another part of her was glad.  Everything about herself was modifiable, reversible, pliable.  Pieces in the machine.  But this?  She wasn’t sure she could alter it, nor that she wanted to.

This wouldn’t be a penance.  That would suggest penitence.  But it’d be just, as best as she could figure.

She started cutting.

January 24th, 2013

“The sign’s down,” she commented.

“Riley!”  Eli looked startled.  He glanced back at his dad, who was stocking shelves.  “It’s been… a really long time.  I was worried I said something.”

“No.  Went to live with my dad,” she said.  The lie was smooth, effortless.  She didn’t even feel bad.

“You’re back?”

“Stopping by, like the first time you saw me.”

He nodded, still a little stunned.  “Uh… they found the girl dead in the woods.  Some dogs had chewed her up pretty badly.”

“Oh,” she responded.  She’d practiced the look of concern in the mirror.  Even now, she didn’t really feel guilt, but nothing was reliable, like it once had been.  “I stopped in to say goodbye, Eli.”

“Goodbye?”  He seemed more surprised than disappointed.

Maybe he already said goodbye to me, she thought.  She didn’t feel hurt.  Growing up with the Slaughterhouse Nine had numbed her in many respects.  It made sense, little more.

“I wanted to give you a gift,” she said.  “As thanks for the movie advice, and the conversation over the past while.  You helped me, gave me a friend when I needed one.”

He frowned.  “After your parent’s divorce, you mean.”

“Yes.”  Another easy lie.

“I get that,” he said.  He looked at the card.  “Can I open it?”

“No.  There’s a date on it.  Wait, then read it on the date in question.  Break that rule and I’ll be mad, understand?”

“I understand,” he responded.  He looked down at the envelope.  “My birthday.”

“Yeah.  And I don’t think you do understand,” she said, “But that’s okay.  Just don’t break the rule, and don’t lose the letter.”

“Okay,” he said.  “Um.  I would’ve gotten you something, but… oh.”

He rummaged in his bag, then handed her a video tape.

“I… I rented it, but I’ll pay the fee to replace it.  One of my favorites from the last year.”

A horror movie.  A child werewolf?

A child monster.

She glanced at him, but there was nothing in his expression.  She’d become exceptionally good at reading people, and… no.  He had no idea how ironic the gift was.

“Thank you,” she said, holding it to her stomach.  “It’s probably okay if we just say hi and bye like usual, isn’t it?  Fits?”

“You look different,” he blurted out the words, a non-sequitur.

She’d hoped the winter clothes would hide any of the reversions she’d made.

“You look good,” he added.

“Be fucking good, Eli,” she retorted, staring at him.

Before, he might have protested, feigned confusion.  He’d changed, much as she had.

Now, he only nodded a little.  “I will.”

May 25th, 2013

She sat with her feet propped up on the table, a bowl of Frooty Toots on her stomach, as the alarm went off.

She felt a momentary sadness.  She tapped her pinky with her thumb twice, and the embedded magnets noted the signal.  She’d recorded her own brain activity and movements when contemplating the Bonesaw clones, and it was this that she drew on, manipulating her own body much as she had manipulated Blasto’s.

Her body language wasn’t her own.  Her smile, the way she walked, the gestures, all were fine tuned to match the Bonesaw of before.

Her height, too, had changed.  She’d cut her hair to match, had downgraded her body so the last year and a half of development had never happened.

It was the burning of a bridge, in a way.  It would retard her growth in the future, and that would arouse suspicion.

In a way, she couldn’t carry on her relationship with the Nine.  There would be too many tells, no time to herself to make changes in secret.

The individual cases opened, and slowly but surely, the members of the current Slaughterhouse Nine stepped out.  Jack, Hookwolf, Skinslip, Night Hag.

She could see the conscious effort on Jack’s part to maintain his composure.  He was barely able to stand.

His eyes fixed on her.

Somehow, she knew.  She knew he knew.  But that was no surprise.

All she really needed was reasonable doubt.  He would harbor suspicions, and he would pull something on her.  Later.

In the meantime, she’d have options.

“You’re awake,” he commented.

“And you’re nude,” she said, covering her eyes.  “Where are your manners?”

Like riding a bike.  Back to her old self.  Playing the role.

“I’ll remedy that in an instant.  Cereal?”

“Made it myself.  Took me a whole three hours to get it right.  Felt like keeping busy.”

“And the milk?”

“Made it myself,” she responded.  She grinned, and the device took over, gave it that width, that guilelessness she couldn’t manage on her own.

“I won’t ask.  My clothes?”

She pointed him in the direction of the closet where she’d placed all of the roughspun uniforms, alongside the clothes Jack and the others had removed before stepping into the cryostasis chambers.

He took a step, then stumbled.

“I’m… not as coordinated as I should be,” he said.

“Seems there’s trouble with the recovery phase,” Riley said.  “Be a month or two before you’re on your feet.”

“We have a schedule.”

“I know.  But I can’t fix this.  Not my stuff.”

He stared at her, brushed ice-crusted hair away from his face.

But she wasn’t lying.  There was no falsehood to pick out.

“You could have woken us sooner.”

“Nope, nope,” she said.  “Would’ve mucked up the scheduling.”

Still, that penetrating stare.  This was the make or break moment.

“Well,” Jack said, smiling, “Unavoidable.  We’ll have to make it extra special.”

“Triple special,” she answered.  “Things have been interesting while we’ve been gone.”


“I’ll show you later.”

“And the clones?”

“I was waiting for you to wake up before we greeted them.”

“Good,” Jack said.  “Excellent.”

She smiled wide as he turned, covering his bare rear end on his way to the closet, even as she felt coldness in her heart.

Hookwolf, for his part, only drew blades around his body, forming into a giant metal form.  She wondered if he looked a little introspective, before his head was covered in the mass of shifting, skirring hooks and needles.

She chewed on her cereal, and watched more of her movie.

She did like it, after all.  Eli had been right.

She smiled, hiding the sense of loss as she deleted it from the system and cleaned up the evidence.

One by one, the recently unfrozen members of the Nine rejoined them, dressed in their outfits and costumes.

Jack gestured, and she hit the key on the keyboard.  Lights.

Spotlights went on beneath each of the glass chambers.


The fluids poured out, draining into the openings in the floor.  Blurry figures became more distinct, marred only by the residual droplets clinging to the interior of each chamber.

“You didn’t do yours,” Jack commented.

“Didn’t work out.”

“I see,” he said.

Every line of dialogue felt like a nail in the coffin.

But that coffin wasn’t a concern today, or even tomorrow.

For now, Jack needed her.  For now, she had options.

She smiled, wide, with a glee she didn’t feel.

The woman in the suit had options.  She would come to Riley and claim the remote.

Countless enemies would be mustering their forces, ready to deal with this.

Eli had the letter.  He’d find a plane ticket inside, along with an urging to leave and stay gone.  To drive the point home, she’d revealed her identity.

Yet Riley still felt a moment’s doubt.

Some rose from their knees.  Others had managed to remain standing from the moments the fluid left the chambers.  As they roused, powers flickered into action.

Siberians flickered into being near the Mantons.  Six like the daughter, three more like Manton himself, all in black and white.

Chuckles, tall, fat, with arms that zig-zagged, her own addition.  Thirty-one elbows, and arms that dragged behind them as they moved.  Here and there, one of them would twitch, a tic.  The clown makeup was a series of scars, tattooed on.  One activated his speedster abilities experimentally, crossing the room in a flash.

Nostalgic, in a way.  Chuckles had been around when she’d joined.

Murder Rat.  Not stapled together as the original had been.  She’d taken the time to do it well.  When membership had been down, Bonesaw had made Murder Rat as a created addition to the Slaughterhouse Nine.  She’d passed the tests, but degradation in mental and physical faculties over time had seen to her demotion.

Winter, white-haired, with white irises edged in black, nude, her eyes peering.  Madeline’s eyes, Riley thought.  Winter would need guns, of course.

Crimson, Winter’s brief-lived lover.  Riley had taken the time to program their relationship into them.  Crimson had been one of the first members in the group, Winter one of the more recent ones to die.  Winter had been followed by Hatchet Face -there he was, over there, nine of them- and Hatchet Face had been followed by Cherish.

Nine Cherishes, gathering in a huddle.  She’d forgotten to give them the tattoos.  It didn’t matter.  A glance suggested they were discussing different ways to do their hair.

The smile on her own face was so wide it hurt, but it wasn’t her smile.

King, tall and blond, unabashed in his nudity.  All nine Kings were broad-shouldered, each half a foot taller than Jack.

Their interaction would be an interesting one.  She’d wondered if she should program King with the knowledge that Jack had been the one to kill him, reconsidered.

Oh, and there were others.  Some were harder to recognize.  Nine Alan Grammes, who lacked his armor.  Nine Neds, narrow shouldered and only five and a half feet tall.  When the others had done some damage and given him a chance to regenerate, he’d resemble his true self a little better.  He’d be Crawler.

“And the last one?”  Jack pointed at the remaining chamber.

She hit a button, and for a moment, her expression slipped.  She closed her eyes, a brief moment too long, as nutrient soup drained out of the chamber and the glass lowered.

But nobody was looking at her.

The boy stepped out, and there was no sign of any difficulty.  He didn’t struggle as others had, nor have trouble finding his feet.  He was prepubescent, to look at him, older than ten but younger than fourteen.  His hair was neatly parted, and he wore a private school uniform, complete with glossy black shoes.  Dry.

Even though he was naked in the tube.

Then again, that was sort of his thing.  One of them, anyways.

Visually, the most notable part of him was the effect that surrounded him.  He was monochrome, all grays and whites and blacks, with spots of light and shadow flickering around him.  Here and there, he flickered, a double image momentarily overlapping him, ghostly, looking in a different direction.

As far as parahuman powers went, his was as unfair as they got.

“Jack,” Gray Boy said.  His voice was high, clear as a bell.


Jack extended a hand and Nicholas shook it.

Riley felt her stomach sink.

It would be like Gray Boy to use his power and take out someone in the room, just because he could.  Jack had only wanted one, and the unspoken reality was that he only wanted one because he could only control one.

If he wasn’t going after Jack, then… she was the only other person in the room without clones surrounding her.

He approached her, his expression placid.

For a brief moment, she felt stark fear.

It was perhaps her salvation that the fear was buried under the expressions that her system pasted on her face.  The false smile that spread across her face was the push she needed to hop down from her seat, approaching him.  She leaned in close to kiss him on the cheeks, her hands on his shoulders, one leg cocking upward like she’d seen women in older films doing.

“Little brother,” she murmured.

“Bonesaw,” he said, voicing a name she hadn’t programmed into him.  His hand found hers, and he held it.  She felt a chill.  “We’ll be inseparable, I think.”

“Inseparable,” she answered, smiling falsely.

The others from rows further down in the chamber slowly approached.  She watched Jack taking it all in.  Two hundred and seventy-five in all.  Two hundred and seventy regulars, five special makes.  Snowmann, Nighty Night, Laughjob, Tyrant, Spawner.

The names had never been a strength of hers.

I’ve given you everything you want, she thought.  Now we see who comes out ahead.  Succeed, and Bonesaw comes to the fore.  Fail, and Riley wins.

She wanted Riley to win, but that wasn’t as simple as making a decision.  She had to bury her life with the Nine.  Bury Jack, and see him defeated.

Gray Boy squeezed her hand.  She would have jumped, if her body language wasn’t in the system’s control.  She looked at him, and he winked.

Her expression hadn’t wavered, she hadn’t allowed herself the slightest tell, but somehow he fell in the same category as Jack.

He knew.

Staring out at the gathered crowd, Jack seemed to reach a conclusion.  He glanced at her, as Gray Boy was doing.

“Good,” he said.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

405 thoughts on “Interlude 25

  1. Thanks to everyone who gave feedback last chapter. Took a bit to bite the leather strap and take it, but I need a dose of reality now and again. Double the thanks to those who chose to read on.😉

    So, this was fun to write. No idea what the reception will be. Just do me a favor and keep name calling to a minimum. Got a little rough (between users, less so directed at me) last chapter.

    Oh, and vote on Topwebfiction if you enjoyed. Or if you didn’t. :p

    • Take everything negative I said about the last chapter, reverse it, apply. Jesus christ the shivers and chills and laughs and groans this chapter gave me. Glad I encouraged you to continue on rather than rewrite, but daaaaaaaaaamn. ._.;

      • Roughly the same here, minus the blasphemy. If only Riley had killed the Nine before fixing her family.

        Also, thoughts on Grey Boy’s power? I’m thinking a combination of Contessa and Ignis Faatus’s reality shifting. Maybe a dash of point blank Citrine, too.

    • I have no words. Any gripes I may have had after the last chapter were completely erased by this work of art. This interlude completely blew me away.

      Thanks for writing.

    • Great interlude. One question (out of many, but this is the most pertinent): Weren’t there ten clones each? Why does the last part say there were nine clones apiece?

    • This update is so good. I never thought I’d feel sympathy for Bonesaw, but now, here we are. Her induction into the S9 – ugh, chilling. Really great work, Wildbow.

    • Why is it when I read this chapter I had a Rolling Stone’s moment? “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name….” wildbow’s own Sympathy for the Bonesaw.

    • Now that I’m sure the last arc is over, I’ll say that its probably my least favorite. In an effort to make my criticism constructive, I’ve tried to figure out why, and I think its that every time the reader settles down into a sequence of events, another time skip comes out of nowhere, and suddenly we’re in a completely different scene.

      I don’t think the problem is that 2 years pass in one arc, I think it is that this is in no way foreseeable in Scarab chapter one. Maybe when you re-write it, have the scene with Taylor in a plane as the first scene of the arc, and use her reviewing the records as a framing device for all the other scenes. This might stop the time skips from being so jarring.

    • Well… that was horrifying.

      But, like, in a good way. 🙂

      And indeed, as Rika said… this is a perfect reversal. Reading all of these years to months later, I was a bit worried you’d stumbled hard at the end, but this chapter indicates that the last one was really just a minor piece of gravel rolling under a foot. to extend a metaphor way too far. 🙂

      So, basically, my input, paired with what I wrote on the last chapter, would be, expand that chapter into … well, honestly, two or three more arcs. You need the full first battle with Khonsu. You probably need a full battle with Toru Boru, and the intervening story arc leading up to that. And you probably need a story arc that transitions between the first arrival of Toru Boru and Taylor’s 18th birthday.

      *hands you a piece of rock salt*

  2. Am waiting for people to finish, as people in IRC squeak and squirm in discomfort, quoting lines. It’s fun. Nice way to recharge after the drain that was the weekend. 😀

  3. …Okay then.

    I admit, given the content of Blasto’s interlude, I was prepared for Bonesaw to be more lucid than normal during this.

    I was not prepared to learn that her constant cheerfulness is even in any part an act. I mean…wow.

    Throughout the Slaughterhouse 9 arcs, Jack kept bringing up his ability to break people, find their weakpoints and all that….it’s moments like Bonesaw’s induction to the 9 where that really shines through.

    A nice combination of terrifying and heartwrenching. Looking forward to learning more about Gray Boy.

      • I take it you mean for his own good. That… was an unfortunate situation in which he found himself. Not mentioning his introduction to this life by way of prehensile spine to the throat…

      • He didn’t deserve what he got but considering what he almost made I’m unsure which is worse. Depends on just how little old jack ends the world. But I did find some gallows humor in that she made him dance to death listening/singing the same stupid kids song for quite a while.

        • Who says the world is going to end? Cauldron saved it once already :D:D:D

          But then, maybe the world needs saving on a per-member basis. Jack may be the sharpest of the lot, but from what we’ve seen a whole bunch of the Slaughterhouse Nine Classics could find ways to end the world if they so chose.
          And he doesn’t have to do it personally to fulfill the prophecy, just do something that leads to it happening.

          • The very act that Jack was involved in to usher in the end of the world may be the moment he made Bonesaw clone the former members of the Slaughterhouse 9. AND, if Cherish really did get Butcher’s powers, will that insanity divide itself amongst the clones, or remain with the missing body at the bottom of the bay?

            Decisions decisions…

            And if the clones ARE the myriad Butchers XV, does that mean they’ll go insane and try to off the rest of the Slaughterhouse members?

            GOD…waiting is painful, Wildbow. You’ve made a spectacular story here, and I can’t wait to tear in to the next chapter.

            • Actually, the prophecy was that so long as Jack left Brockton Bay, the world would end 2 years later. Jack and the others could have died in the next town they got to and the end would still be on its way.

              • It’s also possible that, if Jack left Brockton Bay, there was no probable course of events that would result in him dying before he did his thing here. Nitpicky, but it does have an effect on predictions as to what causes the end of the world.

                Personally, I think it’s Gray Boy. If Jack hadn’t pushed Bonesaw, she probably wouldn’t have cloned the Slaughterhouse 9000, but remember that the end still happened most of the time without Jack, just later. Hypothesis: without Jack, it was Blasto creating something from Gray Boy at a future point that led to the end, or in some realities possibly Bonesaw continuing on without him. In any case, I can’t wait to see more of Gray Boy.

      • No, I meant it was for his own good. I’d rather it came sooner than all this. The reason I originally decided the Endbringers should win was because of the Slaughterhouse. Now it’s kinda 50/50 between the Slaughterhouse and Cauldron.

    • hahaha stop stealing my lines Razor😛

      Anyways I adore the nine, I know alot of folks don’t but theres all thos intresting backstory just beneath the surface .

      Loved the chapter as bonesaw has always been a fave

    • Yep. The moment I read read that Bonesaw had created 275 clones of the most dangerous psychopaths in the world… Well, somehow, this is worse than all the Endbringers put together. Weaver will have to get really clever. Really, really clever.

      • Unless Bonesaw makes it so they do not have to breath (possible),she can kill most alone.The rest are troublesome,but more beatable than an Endbringer.

  4. I really liked this interlude, even though the Slaughterhouse 9 are not my favorite characters. Never thought that Bonesaw could be made even a little bit sympathetic until now. It’s tantalizing and frustrating at the same time to get more hints about the true nature of the passengers and how the powers work, since that overarching mythology is one of the most interesting aspects of the story for me.

  5. Well, that was fun. Different than I expected a Bonesaw interlude to be, in a good way.

    The Gray Boy is the most frightening of the lot.

    So, there’s only a third of the 9000 we thought we might get for the Slaughterhouse. Still a terrifying number of monsters.

    • A thirtieth. 275/9000.

      Still a lot of awful in that room, though, if the 30-strong Yangban was the biggest single force seen in a while, as of Behemoth.

      With the heavier-hitting Endbringers and everything else that’s been going down, I think this qualifies as at least as dangerous a situation, possibly. In some ways more dangerous than Echidna wound up being.

      • I read it as 275 members of the Slaughterhouse Nine, rows of clones, each of which had nine or ten clones. (I saw both numbers used.)

  6. Bonesaw. ;~; I want to hug and vaporize her at the same time.

    Also…..The Gray Boy terrifies me. :c Great chapter Wildbow.

  7. Interesting implications about the passengers that they crave conflict and seem to try and push out at least part of the host’s personality. Chuckles the killer speeding clown, hah. Gray boy is actually a boy and looks grey. I see he picked up his little sister’s ability with names. So both Jack and grey boy know but they both like it because it gives them something to manipulate around each other. I’m guessing Gray boy is a reality warper but on a fit scale. He can control/do almost anything in his field so people have to fight him like they did Behemoth. So Cauldron has control over them but to what end? Do they want to control Jack or use them for another purpose? Can’t wait to hear Cauldron justify letting the 275 live for the greater good. I’m guessing they are going to kill everyone in the town, and then they have two choices. They can split up across the country in small teams to cause chaos everywhere or they can all gang up and attack something important. If it was me and Grey Boy had the ability, I would attack Cauldron to try and end the world with how they manufacture powers.

    • Why would they attack Cauldron? Cauldron is just as bad as the Slaughterhouse! Between the two of them, the world doesn’t stand a chance. Sure, maybe Jack doesn’t want competition in helping to end the world, but the most evil option is letting Cauldron continue to aid the gradual decline into Armageddon. Not saying Cauldron doesn’t help, but they could certainly help a lot more, but they don’t.
      So, another confirmation that Cauldron is either stupid or evil. They’re either incapable of achieving any greater good, or they were never trying to in the first place.

  8. I find myself feeling sympathetic towards Bonesaw, didn’t see that coming. Pity for the world that her moral crisis didn’t lead her to sabotage the clones and/or the stasis units so that the rest of the Nine simply never woke up. Excellent chapter.

    • Trying not to go in a fate vs free will debate, but Contessa’s power is apparently powerful to reawaken Bonesaw’s conscience, but only to a point.

      • EDIT: Realised I may not have been clear. Contessa’s power made sure that Bonesaw’s newly found conscience only did what Cauldron wanted her to do, and nothing more.

    • I think “moral crisis” might be a strong term. She realises that Jack probably doesn’t genuinely care about her, and she’s remembering that she had other human bonds that they took away, and she formed a bond with that Eli guy*. This is enough to break her loyalty and make her want to get away, and possibly eventually seek better bonds. She’s still undamaged enough that she finds of the things she and they did distasteful, but making a full moral judgement?

      I honestly don’t think she’s yet capable of one. This isn’t intended as a criticism of Riley, but as a comment on the amount of damage she’s taken, and the amount of healing she’ll need to do before she can feel full, morally developed remorse for her actions with the S9 and about the S9 generally.

      *(Who I think was heavily implied to be a closet paedophile, but by Riley’s standards since her parent’s deaths, that’s still a relatively positive relationship.)

    • Ok, wow. The adventures of Riley, sweet little girl.

      I wonder what sort of power Bonesaw thinks is really unfair. The uniform… could be an illusion, shapeshifting, reality warping or something else entirely.

      And multiple Harbingers? The world really needed multiple evil(er) clones of the Number Man?

      Chuckles the Clown, a speedster working for the Nine, so many horrifying possibilities.

      Alas, poor Mannequin clone immediately feels a need to wall off the world.

      The Love Bug theme! Bonesaw, you monster!

      So Bonesaw is maybe going to be secretly good and give Cauldron the killswitch for all the clones. Being Cauldron, they’ll probably sit on it while millions die only to use it at a time convenient to them. Still, Contessa is a magnificent bastard for pulling that off.

      Contessa has a bling spot, a time that is approaching. That can’t be good.

      More tantalizing hints about the passengers. They seek out conflict and do influence the host.

      • Makes me curious about Taylor’s passenger and just how her pet eldritch abomination is acting. Perhaps its just a natural effect of a parahuman aging? I mean Taylor’s passenger didn’t start acting on its own until much later, and I never noticed Taylor acting too different. Is it possible Alexandria became her bitchy doomed self because of her passenger?

      • The flickering… it reminds me of the evil Eidolon from the Echidna arc. Maybe something like that, but faster – he was already dressed when he walked out.

      • as for Contessa’s blind spot, she had a blind spot when it came to the endbringers as well, so maybe Zion will happen once again

        • And this brings something else I was wondering about.

          Jack is smart enough to know that while a small band of superpowered thugs, no matter how dangerous, may pass under Scion’s radar, an entire army of psychomonsters isn’t. He may not intervene at first, he may intervene when it’s far too late, but intervene he will. What the heck is Jack going to do then. I doubt even multiple Siberians can stop the golden fool. And Grey Boy may be scary but he already died once.

          • If Grey Boy is so powerful, and he seems to be, I wonder what killed him?
            Since Cauldron turned Bonesaw, I wonder if Jack will try to turn Numbers Man in retaliation? I’m sure something is going to go horribly wrong with Cauldron’s plan.

  9. Bonesaw interlude. Suitably disturbing. Somewhat reassuring that cloning so many parahumans was a difficult task even for the most powerful biotinker ever.

    Contessa’s power has truly remarkable reach, if she can pick out the occasion to speak to Bonesaw, and the necessary words to persuade her to (possibly) hand over a killswitch on the S9000. Still – there’s a blind spot looming, and Cauldron will eventually learn that Contessa’s map is not the territory. Their refusal to engage a hibernating Jack is exemplary of Cauldron’s inability to run even a calculated risk when Contessa is available. Interesting also that Contessa didn’t simply say the words necessary to persuade Bonesaw to flush them all.

    Depth implies that stress strengthens the connection, helps the Passenger lock more firmly on to this reality. Cauldron capes are the reverse. The natural capes in nigh-constant conflict should be terrifying, having gained both experience and depth from it. How much of the upper echelons of the Protectorate are natural, and how much Cauldron? Compare the LA Wards discussion of ‘a couple of fights a month’ with this heightened Endbringer schedule on top of Weaver’s program of hunting down unhelpful villains… the Chicago Wards who kept pace may be similarly terrifying, though presumably lacking the second trigger. (At least, I can find no other explanation for Taylor and Grue – for whom we have a confirmed on-screen second trigger – rating up there with Eidolon, the lone Cauldron cape known to receive regular booster shots, to Echidna’s senses at that point in time). Tecton and Golem seem almost certain to have fought in the majority of Taylor’s fights over the last year. No idea how often the Undersiders have been in conflict – could be plenty, or they could have had a relatively calm year.

    Not sure how young matters for breadth.

    Bonesaw was the previous high-water mark for explaining how powers worked with her discussion of what she was doing with Grue; it’s clear either that Cauldron has a much deeper understanding still (most plausible alternative) or Contessa’s power lets her say things she doesn’t understand the purpose of if it’s on the road to victory (terrifying in power, and terrifying in that this seems to set up a very rapid, very bad failure condition for her).

    Bonesaw’s trigger and origin make sense; even the prospect of a hero turn for her offers remarkable prospects. Her ability to engineer or shut down parahumans, to say nothing of her medicinal or bioweapon skills, is a game changer. Pair her with Panacea (or Nilbog, actually), and it’s a singularity waiting to happen: the ability to shape life gets staggeringly more powerful when supported by the power to understand it.

    Harbinger walked away from an early incarnation of the S9 to join Cauldron, rather than having been with Jack in a different organization before Jack left to join the S9. 11 active Harbingers. The original may have sentiments to express about this.

    278 parahumans with a singular purpose probably makes this the most dangerous force on Earth Bet, Endbringers perhaps included. 27 main types, 5 chimaera, and Jack, Bonesaw, and Grey Boy. (N.b. – 10 Murder Rats. Probably not 10 Hackjobs – though 10 Hatchet Faces, and one Laughjob, probably a Hatchet Face / Chuckles cross. So, a speedster who shuts down powers around him).

    Were the Hatchet Face clones on the other side of the pocket dimension, or did Grey Boy simply ignore the power dampening field? Ability is to pull in different dimensional versions depending on what he wants – cf. Eidolon-clone’s flickering trick?

    • “Their refusal to engage a hibernating Jack is exemplary of Cauldron’s inability to run even a calculated risk when Contessa is available.”

      Is it really? Here’s a calculated risk.: Would you let the Slaughterhouse 9000 live… if you could make them into your army?

      • No.

        The point of an army is that it’s nice if it doesn’t turn on you and kill you. Especially if the army is made up of copies of your former head scientist, copies of one of the greatest Tinkers on earth, an incredibly grey boy, copies of one of your own best superpowered assets, and copies of a man capable of negating all superpowers around himself to take out your person with the FTW power.

        • And I would totally buy that if Calderon hadn’t proved to be a giant bad idea factory for the entire story. Everything the do screams: “We can see the lines of victory! Nothing could possibly go wrong!”

        • If I could leave them as blanks, or selectively edit their experiences to make them “not crazy”? Definite yes.

          • The problem is that they’re already crazy. Intervening before their activation… that would be sane. Or why not just make clones yourself, with Cauldron’s apparant unlimited reasources and access to powers. Maybe even Clone a load of Eidolons or Alexandrias instead! To control the new Slaughterhouse, Cauldron now has to capture 275 people who were near unstoppable when there was only 9 of them, then somehow make them sane and controlable. Any plan like that is a terribly bad idea. Even seeing a path to victory has limits. Sometimes, there isn’t a way to win, as shown by the Endbringers.
            I can think of plenty of better ideas, so I’d definatly not go for any plan that involves controlling evil. That almost never works.

    • Cauldron’s blind spot is that they think what Contessa and their other precogs see as THE road to victory is in reality only a single one out of many. It’s like determining which roads to take from point A to point B. One set of roads gets you there the fastest but it might be full of bumps and potholes that knock the crap out of your car and the view sucks. Another path takes longer and is less bumpy and has a better view and a third is smooth, has the best view but takes three times as long.

      The path you choose fits the circumstances as you see them to fit your needs. However in this case Cauldron is forgetting or doesn’t know what Bonesaw knows about the passengers. The Path Contessa is charting for Cauldron is being influenced by her passenger so that she chooses the path with the most conflict.

      Use Lung’s interlude as an example. Contessa drew out that fight when she could have ended it right after stopping the gang the young, powerless Lung belonged to the first time they used their powers. Her passenger influenced her to choose a path that maximized the conflict. As Lung surmised (correctly) she was toying with them, there was multiple paths to victory for Contessa ,she choose the one with the most conflict and violence.

      • Excellent point that Contessa’s passenger will shape her understanding of ‘victory’ to its tastes, in ways that are systematically biased.

        Note that Doctor Mother explicitly instructed Contessa ‘no bloodshed’ in the fight with Lung – is Doctor Mother aware of this bias toward conflict, and attempting to compensate for it? Is she aware of the ways in which a seemingly riskless path is a trap for her organization? Is she engineering, or at least prepared for, the fall of Cauldron?

        Or was the ‘no bloodshed’ a matter of courtesy to her business partners in the trade on that occasion?

        Given that Cauldron put Bonesaw on the path to understanding that stress leads to depth, I’m going with the theory that Doctor Mother does understand the bias, perhaps even understands the ways in which her organization is courting paralysis by precognition… and is letting Contessa run the grand strategy anyway, with some kind of contingency plan in mind. To the extent that I’ve theorized that this upcoming blind spot is an ambush, using Cauldron’s Contessa-driven predictability to set them up… could Doctor Mother be expecting this? Be prepared to reverse the ambush? Have plans which require the sacrifice of Cauldron itself?

        Alternately, Contessa really can say things she doesn’t understand if they’re on her path to victory, in which case Cauldron is beyond screwed: Contessa has been guiding them toward a ‘victory’ which she likely does not understand.

        • Now there’s a terrifying thought. If the passengers desire conflict so much, that might be another reason Contessa can’t see an end to the Endbringers and thinkers have trouble figuring them out.

          • Set aside the thought that Passengers might be conspiring among themselves for a chapter where you need more nightmare fuel.

            The problem might simply be that when all you have is a hammer… screws are really confusing. The Endbringers may not be susceptible to a solution through violence, but that might not stop Thinker/Precog passengers from running every possible violent solution against them… and getting tired before trying any of the things that would actually work.

            • “The problem might simply be that when all you have is a hammer… screws are really confusing.”

              No they’re not.

              *WHAM!* *WHAM!* *WHAM!*

              {Hammer Time} This’d be going faster if not for these weird, shoddy nails…

    • One of the Chuckles was able to ignore it, too, to test his speedster powers. Either this is an extremely big dimension, or Hatchet Face can rein in his damping field.

        • Bonesaw talked about having to make Hackjob with a telepresence rig, and Hatchet Face’s usual M.O. was to chase people (with a hatchet) – so further than arm’s length. Not a whole city, maybe not a whole city block, but far enough for the victim to get the classic horror movie experience.

    • Either his power allows sufficient control over energy and/or matter to create clothes around himself, or he has an ability that allows him to flawlessly alter what people see and experience.

      • Or a green lantern-lite power. Or he teleports clothes from Earth (in another dimension!) Or he’s the world’s greatest shapeshifter. Or a limited reality warper. 3 of those 4 are more powerful than anyone we’ve seen who wasn’t Scion or an Endbringer, but they’d certainly count as unfair.

      • The description makes me think that at the very least he has some space/time fuckery going on. Probably more. Maybe he has the power to have any power he wants?

  10. So Cauldron’s plans continue to look horrible. They’ll get some sort of control mechanism on the Slaughterhouse that they’ll use at just the right time to make themselves look better. Or at least they will try. The Slaughterhouse has some very smart, vicious, and talented people in it.

    If they’re really so interested in saving the world, then why didn’t they just save the world? You know, when this Slaughterhouse was a bunch of fetuses in tubes? After all, that’s their stated goal which leads to people letting them get away with so much crap.

    So in a way, I’m actually looking forward to watch Cauldron get its ass kicked thanks to their own arrogance and power playing.

    And continuing in Wildbow’s tradition of making everybody sympathetic, Bonesaw reminds me a little bit of myself.

    You know, there’s a reason that I never run into any other me’s despite knowledge of how to traverse dimensions.

    • Well there is always the possibility the 9 do something we don’t expect and attack Cauldron. They make a big splash but its all a diversion to get to their home dimension. Considering we don’t know what Grey Boy can do, it is possible he has the ability to get them there and shut off the kill switch. I’m trying to think what I would do to end the world if I controlled them and I hit a dead end. They can try and send some Siberians against nilbog and use him to breed an army, spread out and attack every cape city at once, try to kill the primary defenders against the Endbringers, try to get Panacea to make a world killing virus, but I can’t see any of that truly ending the world. The only thing I can see really and truly having a shot is if they take control of whatever is in Cauldron’s basement that grants powers. Considering Cauldron almost ended the world by accident with Noelle’s ability, I can see Jack outmaneuvering Contessa, and launching a sneak attack.

      • The team has multiple Mantons, multible Mannequins, multiple Crawlers, a Grey Boy, and multiple Hatchetfaces. Something tells me that some sort of control chip or organism implanted to give Cauldron an edge is susceptible to failure.

        In fact, I’d love to see Contessa v. Hatchetface. Just one Hatchetface.

        • >In fact, I’d love to see Contessa v. Hatchetface. Just one Hatchetface

          Easy enough. Contessa thinks up a way to victory while outside Hatchetface’s range. She then executes it. Now Contessa versus Siberian THAT I would like to see.

          Of course, things ARE going to go horribly wrong for Cauldron. It’s a given when trying to control an army of superpowered serial killers.

          • Bah, she attacks where SIberian is vulnerable, the projector Manton. Even Legend managed to figure that one out, and he’s so clueless he spent twenty years convinced Cauldron was the good guys!

            • Of course now that there are ,what, nine Siberians. One could stay with al the Mantons giving them invulnerability while all the others roam around killing people.

              • The original Siberian couldn’t make Manton invulnerable, that may not apply if they grab a different Manton.

              • @ sun dog: as there are multiple Siberians/Mantons, one or two Siberians can at least bodyguard the Mantons. Even if invulnerability can’t be shared with Mantons, Siberians can still kill anyone who gets close. Or extend their power to an object that the Mantons are in.
                I now hate using names in plural. Probably going to continue in the next few chapters.

      • Actually it is nothing that Jack does now that causes the end of the world. Remember Dinah told them that it doesn’t matter if Jack dies or not after a certain date while in Brockton Bay. If he was able to leave Brockton Bay alive it doesn’t matter if Gray Boy, Contessa or Mickey Mouse kills him afterwards, the damage has been done. The key all along has been Theo, if Jack died in Brockton Bay than Purity and her crew never would have done what they did in Boston.

          • Because when Jack found out about the “Prophecy” he went directly to Theo.

            First the background:
            “More information? Yes. I have sought further details and pieced together a general picture of things. Jack Slash is the catalyst for this event, not the cause. At some point in the coming years, Jack Slash kills, talks to, meets or influences someone. This causes a chain of events to occur, leading to the deaths of anywhere from thirty-three to ninety-six percent of the world’s population.”

            That gave everyone pause.

            Coil went on, “If Jack Slash is killed, the event is likely to occur at some point in the more distant future instead.”

            So if Jack died in Brockton Bay it would only have delayed the inevitable.

            Now go back to Interlude 11b and the discussion between Jack and Theo:

            “I wanted to be a superhero,” Theo blurted.

            Jack laughed abruptly enough that Aster was spooked and started screaming louder. His laughs continued for several long seconds.

            Theo went on, as if Jack were still listening, “I’m probably going to get powers, because I’m Kaiser’s son. But I don’t want to be a member of Purity’s group, I don’t want to cleanse the world or try to fix things by killing or through hate. Sir.”

            “And you’d fight people like me, I suppose?”

            Theo nodded.

            Jack was still grinning. ”What would you do to people like me, then? Let’s say you got powers. Would you right wrongs, lecture schoolchildren on doing what’s right, and see bad guys like me carted off to the Birdcage?”

            Somehow, knowing the inevitability of his own death gave him a measure of courage he had never had before. Even so, it took all of the willpower he had. Theo met Jack’s eyes for the first time. The man’s eyes were a very pale blue, and there were lines at the corners.

            Theo swallowed the lump in his throat. ”People like you? I’d kill. Sir.”

            Jack broke into a second spell of hysterical laughter, and it was all Theo could do to keep Aster from squirming out of his grasp in her distress.

            “Can’t-” Jack had to break off to let another small laugh pass, “Can’t say I can imagine that, boy. You, as one of the vigilantes?”

            Neither can I, Theo thought, but he remained silent.

            “But you’ve piqued my interest, and if there’s any reason I do what I do, it’s because I find it interesting.”

            “I’ve changed my mind,” Jack said.

            Theo stared, trying to fathom what the man was saying.

            “Don’t let it be said that I can’t delay my gratification. Listen carefully now, I’m making you a deal.”

            Theo nodded, mute.

            “I want to see this. This picture you paint. So I’m going to give you a chance to make this happen.”

            Theo nodded slowly, but his thoughts were on Kayden’s approach. How long until Kayden opened the door? Would Jack attack her? Attack Aster? Despite what he was saying now? Or would Kayden attack him and provoke something?

            “How old are you? Fourteen? Fifteen?”

            “Fifteen, sir,” Theo said. Hurry up, finish before she comes.

            “Two years then. Two years to get your powers, to train, to do whatever it takes to become the motherfucking badass you describe. That should be long enough without risking that one of us gets offed by bad luck or picking the wrong fight. At that two-year mark? You hunt me down, you kill, disable or sneak past my Nine, whoever they are two years from now, you look me in the eyes, and then you try to kill me.

            Right there the deadline that Dinah saw if Jack lived through Brockton Bay, 2 years and you now see who it was he influenced. If Jack died, Theo would have got his powers but he wouldn’t “destroy” the world fighting Jack it would be against an Endbriger that is why Dinah says it would be many years later. Remember if Theo fails to kill Jack, Jack has promised to kill 999 people in Theo’s name:

            Jack went on. ”If you fail in this, I’ll kill nine hundred and ninety-nine people in your name. I’ll even break my usual rules to get the body count that high, so it’s something special, beyond my usual habits. Maybe a bomb, maybe poison. I’ll come up with something. I can target the people you love, those you’re closest to, people you’ve affected. Aster there can be the nine hundred and ninety ninth, and you’ll be the thousandth. Perfect. Canceling out the impact you’ve made in the world, it’s poetic.”

            • Except Jack only found out about the Prophecy from Cherish during the amnesia plague thingy. And he didn’t know it was going to happen in two years. Hence his frustration and the change of tactics that brought the S275 to life.

            • As said he is a catalyst and it would happen whether he survived BB or not, so it possible that he speeds up the world’s end by destroying and endbringer or two with his army. The destruction of another Endbringer would likely cause the creation of more, and/or different tactics from the endbringers in general including a lack of restraint

              • Don’t let the Slaughterhouse find out that killing Endbringers makes more Endbringers… Several of their members would probably do that… Mannequin in particular.
                Crap. They’re doomed.

          • EDIT: I think it’s unlikely that Theo causes the End of the World though. DInah said there wasn’t anyone else in the city they could kill to prevent the end, and later she told Taylor even if she drove around for a year and killed eveyrone in her power’s reach she wouldn’t stop it.

            • The one person Taylor wouldn’t kill driving around killing everyone is herself. Theo having powers means he is on a team with Taylor, and could possibly prompt her to some unwise action (perhaps through his death.) Killing Jack wouldn’t have stopped the apocalypse, just slowed it down, because Theo wouldn’t be there to prompt Taylor so soon.

              Anyone want to make a bet how long humanity would last if Taylor’s power had infinite range, and her passenger put her in the backseat permanently?

    • On the surface, it certainly looks like Cauldron’s holding all the cards. Contessa’s power apparently extends years in advance, no one comes close to the Doormaker’s ability to transport people, they have their pick of the best Case 53s, and now they’re basically in charge of Endbringer defense. I’d frankly be surprised if they didn’t deliberately set up Blasto’s lab just so they’d have the S275 ready for just the right moment.

      Which is all why Cauldron is probably fucked. Even with awareness of that blind spot, they’re arrogant and they treat people like game tokens. In the Worm universe, hubris is one of the best ways to get yourself killed. Just ask Coil or Alexandria.

  11. “All the goddamn psychopaths” is officially my favorite tag ever.

    So Riley grew up a little, and sort of became her own woman. Bonesaw always irritated me before with how relentlessly cruel she was with that adorable act. Now it seems it actually was an act, to cover up the dread she felt at the people with whom she had to live. I’m not sure it makes me like her better, she even admits that to an extent they did become her true family, but it makes it understandable. Of course she’s still a grade A psycho, but that goes without saying. Her initiation was… unspeakable.

    Also, what the hell? Are Jack and Gray Boy psychic? There’s no way Gray Boy has the slightest frame of reference… and Jack, well, maybe. If her alterations weren’t exact, and under the conditions she placed on herself (no anesthetic, leaving the pain on) maybe they weren’t, he might have slight suspicions, but not instant knowledge. I remember speculation he had a social ability, possibly part of why he could run the Nine, so maybe he’s picking up on her doubt.

    Ah, interludes. Giving me feels, even about characters I don’t particularly care for.

    • I think it’s kind of implied that Jack “knows” because he realises Bonesaw didn’t go into stasis, and is able to extrapolate from there — he created her, after all.

    • Quite possible that neither actually know, but Bonesaw is simply terrified of both, and so jumping to conclusions.

      Of course, anything that scares Bonesaw is a real problem. Anything that scares Jack… is a real problem.

      Might be good to look up exactly how Grey Boy ceased the first time around.

      • And of course jumping around every time Jack or Grey Boy look at you isn’t the best way to assure them everything is fine.

        And yeah I was wondering how Grey boy died seeing his legendary reputation. At one point I was fantasizing a team up between Siberian and Scion and a fight that ripped the time-space continuum in half🙂 .

    • It’s implied that Jack is extremely in tune with his passenger, and it wouldn’t be farfetched to say Gray Boy is too. It’s possible that their passengers can tell Bonesaw is in the backseat and Riley is driving, but that this is vague enough to produce a general sense of disquiet in them towards Riley rather than anything specific.

  12. This was really good.

    Bonesaw is an interesting character.

    Contessa’s power of manipulation here almost seem to reach Simurgh levels. Knowing exactly when and where to appear and what to say to sort of turn Bonesaw. And she didn’T even get her own tag and was just lumped in with all the other goddamn psychopaths. I really hope that if we ever get an interlude from her PoV we will learn that she has some serious draw-backs or negative side-effects.

    The 5 specials and Gray boy seem the most worrisome of the newly awakened with perhaps the clones of the Numbers Man also warranting some extra concern as he and Chesire are the only ones alive outside that Lab. Did Chesires Butcher powers get transferred to the clones too?

    • I think back to Taylor’s DM session in the park. Having an awesome power, but requiring the care of another. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Contessa turned out to be autistic, or even blind.

      As far as I know, Butcher’s power is inherited, so that wouldn’t be able to transfer, right? For the love of all the Hug Bugs let that be true!

      • Well, since they were talking about their hairstyles as opposed to going insane from 14 voices in their heads, I’d say the Cherish’s are Butcher-free.

      • Cherish didn’t inherit the Butcher powers until well after Bonesaw and Jack left her where she is trapped underwater. By the time that happened Jack’s plans were well into fruition and they were in hiding, so I don’t see any possible way the Cherish Clones have the Butcher powers.

        The really scary thing is all those multiple Siberians. You would have to track down everyone of the controller clones. Find one and 9 Siberian constructs start killing you. Remember it was a Siberian Construct that actually injured Alexandria, not Behemoth or Leviathan.

        • Not really now that people know what they are looking for. Give Taylor some time to find the host bodies while keeping herself hidden, get bugs in throat, suffocate, and you’re done. They have to be in a vehicle to be mobile, and every mover will be looking for them while Siberian can’t fly. Jump like a motherfucker, but can’t fly. So Siberians will still be nasty but will be forced to keep themselves somewhat closer to their creator. Taylor will have learned her lessons from previous fights and attack them when they are vulnerable.

            • A Siberian couldn’t protect their own projector. Now TWO Siberians protecting the other, that’s a different story. Unless they run off the same ‘frequency’ so to speak.

              • From where did you get that Siberian can’t protect the projector? Wasn’t she doing that after the Undersiders discovered her true nature?Even if that was true she certainly was expanding her invulnerability to the truck with Manton inside. So all the Manton clones have to do is get inside a car and have one Siberian perched on it. There, Siberian’s achilles heel has just suddenly disappeared.

              • Siberian was using ‘her’ power to protect the truck Manton was in, not Manton himself.

          • Well, if I were Bonesaw I’d use my surgical genius to alter the Mantons appearances so that they’re harder to target. It seems like something that they’d do. Then stick them in a van and make it invulnerable with a Siberian.

    • Doctor Mother already confirmed strongest precog on her team, so not hard to imagine she was given instructions, combined with her power to see victory.

        • List of things Contessa can’t do:

          Get 100% victory rate on Solitaire
          Get 100% victory rate on Mahjongg
          Beat Tetris
          Play “Through the Fire and the Flames” on Guitar Hero 3’s hardest difficulty setting on just one try
          Invent a food everyone likes
          Convince people that the moon landing wasn’t a hoax
          Stop your cat from sleeping on the keyboard
          Beat Psycho Mantis without the controller being switched over
          Beat Contra without the Konami code
          Keep from laughing during a Paul Bearer promo
          Have just one Krispy Kreme donut
          Eat a Reese’s the wrong way

  13. Now then, I believe there are a couple of new commentators who showed up late yesterday. It would be a shame if they weren’t properly inducted.

    So hello there, whiteagle808.

    Welcome to our little forum. It’s a lot of things. Disorganized. Messy. Full of spoilers and strange theories about what’s about to happen. In fact, to quote Ren & Stimpy, it reeks of trees, our yaks are really large, and they smell like rotting beef carcasses.

    Also, our typos can never be deleted except by Wildbow, so we have to clean up after them. And our seated butt callouses are the best. We proudly wear women’s clothing and searing sand blows up our skirts. And the darkness, it soars overhead, and deep meta debates will devour us whole, and our bonesaw will bleach in the sun.

    And we will probably go to #*)($&, and that is our great reward, for being the Royal Canadian kilted Wormreaders.

    Or something like that. And despite all that, we seem to manage the kilt-wearing and the commentating well enough, probably because there’s at least a little bit of a sense of community in all of it. We’ve all gone through the same things together reading the story, except you new people who showed up, all happy and excited. Now, though, the waiting begins. And that’s when the madness begins.

    Partially because waiting around here means exposure to me. That’s right, I’ll expose myself to you. And yet, some might say my dedication is very touching, so I’ll likely touch you too. Somewhere, somehow. The point is, welcome to the comments whiteagle808.

      • So I’ve apparently gained the attention of a multi-verse traveling Fran Madaraki…
        Meh, I’ve done worse, EarthScorpion for example.
        Just remember your choice of words there; You are EXPOSING yourself to ME!

        [Manic Laughter Intensifies]

        • Hahahahahahahahahaha!

          Well that was fun to let out. Never read Franken Fran but that is an interesting analogy to make. Several inaccuracies but I can see where you got your idea.

          Yep. Really exposing myself. With, like, nudity and stuff. And a fan of several things myself. Like wrestling. Have you ever heard of a German suplex? Perhaps an abdominal stretch? Or even a Thesz press?

          I’m guessing that exposure lead to you reading through the site? Go head. And don’t forget to stop by the TV Tropes page. I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I don’t mind if other people give it a blow for me.

          It’s not like I expect to be for everyone.

          Meanwhile, you can still stay here and enjoy commenting on a family friendly coming of age tale where good always compromises over evil!

          • Actually I was brought here by the TV Tropes page, and what I read there interested me as it reminded me of a story concept my sister once had.
            Except in her idea, the girl with the plant wilting powers that would undoubtedly get her pegged as a Villain ends up shoved into the Hero Spotlight when she ends up using her ability to prevent an assassination.
            Both still end up finding out the supposed dichotomy isn’t as black and white as everyone wants it to be…

            As for the Franken Fran reference, that’s more because you stated you can see yourself in Riley, who I was kind of surprised didn’t turn out to be this Universe’s version of Fran herself.
            It’s the same as how I equate Taylor to the Worm-verse’s Squirrel Girl.

            • Ah, figures. Just ought to choose the option that doesn’t indicate someone’s reading me.

              Hold on, I should go make sure the commenters over there are reading me too.

      • For those wondering; For a brief period, apparently, in the table of contents, this chapter was marked as being Taylor’s Mom.

        I really hope that was a straight-up error.

        • Joke. I usually throw something random/crazy/overly disappointing up for interludes before they go live, so people aren’t reading/previewing what it’s about until they’ve read it.

          • Yeah, sure, deny it. You’ve already introduced time travel. Some time in the not-too-distant future, after escaping the Slaughterhouse, Bonesaw slips into the past, and meets up with a spirited young union organizer, knowing what she must do…

            • Well, this kinda explains tons of how Taylor is so powerful. Second generation cape + very powerful trigger + possible modifications done to her as a child…

          • Refreshes TOC page at straight up 2300 central.
            WTH?? Taylors mom?
            Did he change the last chapter?? Nope.
            Back to the TOC… OK, lets see what the hell this is about….
            Lots of Bonesaw here…. Nothing that could be Mommy.
            Contessa??? No way
            Ok. That was one hell of a ride, but I still don’t see a connection to Taylors mom….
            Back to TOC.
            … Ahh! Bonesaw.

            Well trolled, Wildbow. Well trolled.

              • I think it’s obvious at this point that Numbers Man/Harbinger is Taylor’s mom. Search your feelings you know it to be true.

              • Taylor meets Bonesaw again, expects gas assault after last meeting so wears full face gasmask and asks whilst looking at Bonesaw: “Are you my mummy?”

    • I still don’t like her, she’s still evil, but knowing how she became like that… I can sympathize with her. But she’s still evil. Obviously, Jackand theothers are more evil for making her like that, but Bonesaw’s too screwed up now to be helped.

  14. Wow. That is some seriously DEEP character building on what I thought to be the most flat and uninteresting character in the series. I hate to sound critical in the middle of my raving complement, but I really didn’t like Bonesaw as a character. This is perfect, this takes everything I thought was wrong and twists it around into yet another complex and intriguing character in the cast of Worm. I’m not skilled enough with words to describe how completely thrilled I am with this chapter. I’m literally giddy.

    Any doubts I had about the last chapter are thoroughly vanquished. This is the Worm we all know and love. This is perfection.

    • There had to be depth to her. A psychopath as creative and unique in this series as her simply had to. That we get to see this is great.

      The nightmare fuel of my favorit nightmarefuel… great.

      • Yeah… I never thought that I would feel sympathy for BONESAW, of all characters. This one knocked it out of the park, Wildbow!

  15. i have been waiting for this chapter since the end of the slaughterhouse 9 arc. the fight is going to be epic. i can’t wait to see how they are going to destroy the world.

  16. Wow. Intense, great chapter. That last glimpse we have of Riley’s family was so subtly horrifying; it added more to her character than I could’ve believed. At the end of this chapter I had an entirely different impression of Bonesaw than I had before. No, she’s Riley now.

    As always, I’m impressed by your ability for characterization.

  17. And the other welcome mat to lay out is for Tompliss.

    First off, has anyone every told you you’re one letter from being topliss?

    But enough about that. I am just here to do my thang and welcome you to the comments. The story has trapped you, but that’s no need to leave just yet. Think of us something to keep you here at the story. Like bars or manacles. You were trapped by the story, but you’ll stay for the rest that our fine penal commentary has to offer. If you like wordplay, we can dish out all kinds of punishment. Want to stand on the soapbox in the shower? You’ll find at least one other person willing to go back and forth with you in a debate.

    No, that’s not very appealing. Need to reframe this. Ok, you didn’t get trapped by the story and we aren’t like a prison. It’s more like you became committed to the story, and we’re a bunch of other committed people and some of us get a little crazy and shocking at times, but we’re generally ok as long as we have our little room here to bounce around in with all the soft padded walls.

    Not working either? Ok, it’s like you were buried under a mound of Worm and we are other people under here becoming Wormfood with you.

    This isn’t working very well. Ok, so imagine you read a really good story and you’re waiting for it to update and you get to hang out with a bunch of other people who like it like you do, but to do that, you’ve got to put up with something weird and annoying and offputting. I have yet to figure out what that is, but I’ll let you know when I have it.

    Anyways, Tompliss, welcome to the comments.

  18. What we were told in the last chapter is really driven to home here. The end is coming. (Both of the world and of Worm.)

    Let’s see.

    Wow, Contessa’s power is more powerful than I thought. She can screw up Bonesaw with only two words. Impressive.

    Still, while more confident in Cauldron’s effectiveness than most, this is going to backfire spectacularly wrong. Manton is one of Cauldron’s founder and apparently Grey Boy was already uncontrollable before.

    Speaking of which what is exactly Grey Boy’s power? The ability to create clothes? A bit underwhelming🙂 .

    Am I the only one who wants to see Number Man vs the 11 Harbingers? That would be a fight of epic proportions. I can see them staying like still for hours as they have to endlessly change all of they’re calculations. Massive scry vs scry.

    King will try to betray Jack. Called it.

    And poor Bonesaw (who would have thought, during the S9 arc, to one day say such a thing, eh?).

    • Number man v. 10 Harbingers. He’s the eleventh. Should be an interesting fight if it happens. It might not.

      It’s entirely possible that the Number Man can just walk through any S9000 operation with a tip of the hat and the occasional friendly murder attempt – professional courtesy to one of their own. Certainly any operation being run by Jack would invite him in for a glass-clinking, smiling, brotherhood of simpler days reminiscence bit before they got back to the usual ultraviolence.

      King and Jack are definitely going to face off again.

      • It all depends on what terms Jack and Number Man left each other. One doesn’t usually have the option of simply retiring from the Slaughterhouse Nine.

        • The Number Man’s interlude has the episode. They killed King together, and parted ways to play the game in different ways. The Number Man still thinks of Jack as a friend. Jack’s opinion… who knows. But he’d enjoy a conversation, I’m quite convinced.

          • I’m not sure that’s the episode. Number Man and Jack kill King, then Number Man says he doesn’t want to this anymore, Jack is ready to kill him, and Number Man appeases him by telling him he’ll continue their game. It can mean he left S9 then and went on his own, but that’s not how I read it. I thought he continued working with Jack for a while and then left later.

    • I just noticed the embarrassing number of typos in this post, including the unmentionable their/they’re fuckup. Ouch.

    • If I had to guess… It’s ability to edit reality as if it was a movie. Or something like that.

      I don’t know why, but I get the whole “Twilight Zone” vibe from Grey Boy. The clothes, the monochrome world, the acting…

      That, or it’s sort of meta-existence. As in, the grey boy we see is a character that is been drawn / described / observed by an out-of-the-universe true grey boy, who is the author / artist.

  19. Grey Boy

    Let’s consider this. Area around him becomes monochrome. Two possibilities; This is deliberate, or this is an uncontrollable element of his being.

    Latter seems unlikely; That’s more Case 53 territory. Most capes look basically human. Of course, Case 53s may have been going back a while. That’d be a scary one, huh?

    So, let’s say it’s deliberate. Potentials. We also know that he can kill Bonesaw- A remarkably resilient person, for a human. Essentially at will. This suggests a striker or blaster ability, or possibly a Breaker/Shaker based ability.

    Manipulation of color. I can’t see how this would kill anyone, but it’s a straightforward, obvious thing. Not likely.

    Manipulation of energy, particularly light. Black is what we see when the material absorbs all wavelengths of incoming light. White (pure 100% white) is when all wavelengths are reflected. Grey would be the case when all wavelengths are absorbed at (about) the same percentage. The darker the grey, the lower that percentage is. So, this speaks to an ‘evening’ of energy. Creating an equal absorption of all particles. Monochrome works much the same way, distributing black and white over the entire spectrum. So, let’s say an evening of energy levels. How could this kill someone? Well, I imagine you could do some nasty things to the brain-waves, to the heart, anything relying on electricity. Heat equalization? Shocking the system? There’s a possibility there. All of these things seem like Bonesaw would have a resistance to them, though.

    Reality-warping. Direct manipulation. This would suggest that the monochrome coloration is a simple affectation, rather than a hint as to his power. How the fuck would a reality warper die, though? Sorry bonesaw for swearing. And what does he manipulate, exactly? This one’s a toughie. Entropy is suggested by the connotations of monochrome; Increasing the entropy of something? Everything dies in time, after all. Would be a nice counter to all those powers that DECREASE entropy, for chrissakes.

    More metaphysical powers. This is hard to describe; Not simply a straightforward manipulation. Changing people’s minds. What if the effect is a mental one, making you see him in monochrome? Being able to shut off someone’s brain? Jack needs to finesse him, or he’d be screwed; That suggests a powerful ability to kill. Jack’s able to kill with the slash of a knife on someone who’s in range. Grey Boy is either able to resist that, or is faster than that; psionic powers would be a possibility, there.

    I can not possibly guess the exact nature of his powers, and even if I did, it’d be only one pellet out of a dozen managing by some miracle to hit the right target. But it is interesting to consider what broad patterns his powers could work on.

    Two revelations that stood out to me about Passengers. The revelation of the compulsive nature of capes being a result of their passenger connections- Mannequin’s determination to build walls, Damsel’s world domination, perhaps Taylor’s control issues. Compulsive behavior, fed by conflict. An interesting concept.

    Second revelation: The Trauma does not trigger the connection with the Passengers; It merely accelerates the procedure. “Various elements that were unique to every individual served as a signal that the passenger could reach out to in an attempt at reconnecting with a host. DNA, electromagnetic patterns, patterns she could barely measure with instruments, all contributed, none was absolute. Once the connection was established, powers were possible as well. A moment of trauma sped the process along considerably. Her initial assumption had been that coming to life would be enough for the clones.” This suggests to me that it’s possible that passengers are there from before you become a Cape. It’s unclear; The reason the powers are showing up so soon in the clones seems to be because the passenger already made connection. ‘Trigger events don’t work if you’re trying to make them work’. Trigger events seem to depend on a certain sense of helplessness, that nothing can help you. Despair, perhaps. If you think a trigger event will happen, then, well, you’re not really helpless, are you, now?

    Back to the second revelation. The vision of two bodies, in connection; What if there is a certain quality of ‘destiny’? People are connected to them from the moment they are born- But until the trauma is felt, there’s not enough of a ‘signal’ to reach their passenger, and to start influencing them. Being around another cape, like a super’s kids, is like standing next to a light. Even if you’re not emitting the light yourself, it may make you more ‘obvious’ to the passenger’s senses.

    Thought: Young capes. More affected by their compulsions? Panacea’s desperate need to help people and her terror of manipulating their minds? A conflict with her passenger? Vista’s fatalistic outlook? Are these the results of their being younger when they become traumatized? An interesting selection of questions. And what does Cauldron do? Balance seems to be meant to prevent the impact of the creature on you. Natural capes are not prone to physical instability, and while invariably somewhat loony, they seem to be fairly capable. The Balance may be a buffer of sorts; This may tie in with the ‘passenger goes back before development of powers’ things. Without the time to grow insulated towards the connection with the passenger, without Balance, the creature will overwhelm you with its differences from you. It’s like pressure differentials; You need to decompress, or else you’ll get overwhelmed. The balance aspect is like a pressure suit.

    Difference in powers, and different ‘types’; Different species of ‘passenger’? Calling out to different ‘types’? Hmmm. Interesting thought; The injection is like a faked signal, trying to call in a passenger to someone.

    Childhood’s End. The idea that the endbringers are unrelated to anything introduced so far would be strange, but not impossible. It could simply have something to do with others. If this process is repeated for various species, then some might have survived, and wish to save other species from being wiped out by the creatures. Endbringers, as biologically designed creatures seeded onto the earth, using their advanced knowledge of the Passengers? Passengers as the ‘hive mind’ of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, the Endbringers the result of a sort of opposite of the Overseers, trying to stop the destruction of species… Again, not enough data.

    • Regarding Gray Boy, the Alexandria clone confirmed that Gray Boy was created by cauldron and that they couldn’t control him. Later it was confirmed hat all Cauldron capes are case 53 to a degree in that their bodies have been mutated. There is no evidence of powers being uncontrolled being limited to cauldron capes either.

      The way powers connect to their hosts is starnge, but I understand it that once a connection has been established between the passanger and the host the passanger will reconnect to anything sufficiently similar in some way.

      The clones Echidna made all connected to the same passengers as the originals, Every time dragon ‘reincarnates’ her passanger reconnects and the clones that Bonesaw made reconnected once they were physically and mentally similar enough to the original.

      It should also be noted that in cases related people tend to get related powers. It might mean that there is no hard one-to-one relation (bijection) between capes and passangers. Did the giant Nazi twins Menja and Fenja have the same passanger or just two very similar ones? What about the brother and sister duo Shielder and Laserdream from New wave that both had the same powers in different propertions? Did they share a passanger, share two passangers or had different but similar ones? What about cape familes in general where themes of power tend to run in the family. Waht about cauldron. Does everyone who gets a serum with ‘Deus’ as a component connect to the same Deus passanger?

      At least cauldron seems to belive that the Endbringers are unrelated to the true nature of the passangers that Pancea has discovered. Tattletale would have picked up on it if they were just lieing, but that doesn’t mean that tehy were right.

      • When a clone is created and receives a passenger is it the same passenger as in the original case or one that is similar? I think that this concept hasn’t been really thought out or expressed as it says something fundamental about what the passengers are.

      • It might not be that people connect to the different “signals” emitted by passengers, but rather that passengers connect to different people based on their signals. I think it was mentioned or hinted somewhere that passengers grant different powers based on the person, rather than granting different powers based on themselves. For example, the reason Menja and Fenja have similar powers is because they themselves are similar. I’m not sure if this theory holds up in light of recent revelations, but it might be passengers actually grant very similar powers, but different people can only use them in a specific way.

  20. So the Slaughterhouse “275” then, hmm?
    …. 2+7+5=14. 1+4=5. 5 upside down kinda looks like a 9.
    Yep, Slaughterhouse “9” still fits.

      • 5 Bonesaw monsters (who IIRC didn’t count as members before) and 270. 270 is 9 times 30. So that’s how many new and distinctly horrific members there are.

    • I prefer the term “Slaughterhouse 9*9”, since it’s the Slaughterhouse 9, all of them, multiplied 9 times.

      Yes I know 9*9 = 81, I’m allowing for some leeway since there’s more than 9 Slaughterhouse Nine base members at the moment.

    • I wan’t sure. At first I thought so. But I don’t know, it could just be Bonesaw having different ideas on what is a monster.

      • Well, she remarks on her thoughts as to his feelings. He clearly is aware of his feelings. She tells him to be good, and he doesn’t act on his urges, which is an important difference between a monster and a human. The whole movies thing.

        I mean, he could just be into My Little Pony or cosplay or something.

      • Don’t forget that you’re viewing even that sentence through Bonesaw-tinted glasses.

        Protagonist PoV is dangerous things, as you saw in many comments before people expressed sympathy for people they were disgusted by before.

  21. A question. Is Grey Boy really Bonesaw’s brother? Someone on TvTropes seems to think so. I thought it was just her trying to be in character by doing her “the S9 are my family” schtick.

    According to Evil(er)!Eidolon Grey Boy was a client of Cauldron’s until he became uncontrollable. That doesn’t seem to fit with Riley’s family being victims of the S9.

  22. Cauldron has wanted Siberian and Shatterbird since way, way back. With whole piles of them, Bonesaw has neatly addressed any variable concerns that they might have had with trying to recreate either one by themselves, and who’s going to miss one or two, right?

    Just food for thought.

  23. Now I’ve got to go back through the archives looking for whether other second-generation capes are influenced by their passengers.

  24. Bonesaw is the best nightmare fuel in this damn’ Web Serial.
    I do love this little girl.

    Yay for Bonesaw❤

  25. Wow. I will not echo the usual sentiments of new readers/commenters who just archive binged through Worm(Wow what an awesome, weird, crazy and messed up story, etc).

    I will not even echo the usual reactions to another chapter of Worm(Excellent writing, another great chapter…how do you manage to make us care about someone like *insert random crazy character from the Wormverse*)

    I will, instead, offer two theories:

    1. Wildbow is a cape with the superpower to write amazing stories and keep writing in excellent quality at a crazily fast pace

    2. Sometime in the future, there will be an Interlude about an Endbringer. And it will be strange and awesome in a weird, unfathomable way that is highly likely to make said Endbringer, whoever/whatever it is, actually LIKABLE.

    P.S.: As a minor feedback to your self-assessment as a writer: I have found very few stories of similar quality to this. For now, I will be content to compare you to Michael Ende.
    I look forward to any story you write, and any book(s) you publish in whatever format.

    • 1. Not only is Wildbow a Cape with Awesome Speedy Story Superpowers, but they are also a hive-mind of adorable mutant piglets.

      2. This actually wouldn’t be that hard, especially for the newbies Tohu and Bohu.
      The reason I don’t really care about the who or how behind the Endbringers is that I can in here easily seeing them as just Uber-powerful Parahumans much like the Slaughterhouse Nine, and ToBo’s sibling dynamic can be played for maximum D’awww factor.

  26. I would like to add a couple of observations mostly reagrding the previous chapter, since I was to distracted by the timeskip to properly apriciate it thw first read-though.

    Taylor had her 18th Birthday in the last chapter and there apparently was a small ceremony planned for her graduation to the protectorate. Relations between Taylor and the authorities in the PRT were apparently still bad enough that Tecton feared she might not show up for it.

    If graduation from the wards at 18 is the rule, it would mean that everyone older than Taylor already graduated before her. Is Tecton a member of the protectorate by now, if yes who was leading the wards after he graduated, Weaver?

    I also did not properly appreciate that Weaver had her own (at least de-facto) ‘Dragonfly’ ship at that point. Which is very cool.

    It will certainly be interesting to see her face the Slaughterhouse Nine as an adult hero instead of a rookie villain just as an indicator of how far she has really come.

    • Rematch time! Weaver against the New Slaughterhouse (my name for them).
      I’m not sure how she’s going to win. She’s stronger, but they’ve got over 30 times as many members .

  27. I’ll laugh very hard (but won’t be surprised) if it turns out that Grey Boy is the designer of Endbringers.

    After all, we don’t know when he was killed and if Simurgh appeared after the fact. When Khonsu appeared, he was, in some sense, already alive. He has some reality warping / matter creation powers. Endbringers are designed to be scary, to terrify people, not just kill them, which fits well with Slaughterhouse 9’s modus operandi. So… Yes, I can see it.

    • The only notable chink in this rather amusing theory is that Cauldron sold powers to Grey Boy until he became uncontrollable. You’d think they would realise a connection if he really was behind the Enbringers. Instead they have no idea on where the Endbringers come from.

      Of course, nothing stop Grey Boy’s powers from having developed in ways Cauldron could never imagine but if they considered him uncontrollable he probably gave them a sampling of what he can do.

      • His powers could have taken time to develop. They could be not what Cauldron thinks they are. It is possible that his power allows for bootstrapping (using his power to get more powers). There are many possibilities.

    • Had the same idea. He could have made up khon and touhou/booru while… well, while “dead”. Maybe he’s so connected to his passenger that he continued to work while “elsewhere” and without an actual body.

    • Apparently Bonesaw implanted safeguards on the S9 against the original Cherish and were amusing themselves in waiting for her to realize her powers weren’t working. So Bonesaw is probably safe from the Cherish clones. Of course the point is moot because both Jack and Grey Boy already know.

  28. If anything this made Bonesaw even more nightmarish. It’s too bad she has gone so far that she can’t ever be given a second cance, and stil wondering just what the fuck Grayboy does.

    • Well they have the ability to travel to other realities, so she could potentially start a new life in one.
      …Never going to make her feel like she’s made up for what she’s done though…

      • Redemption is an interesting concept, but there is a point at which it fails. You may have noticed that Bonesaw doesn’t care about penitence. Basically, her life is forfeit, without guilt, to the first person who takes it and it would be more right than to leave her alive.

        And I say this because I think she can’t get rid of the part she calls “Bonesaw”. Look at her, she could have sabotaged things at any time but she didn’t. Probably wants Jack to fail miserably and publicly as a final humiliation. It’s very fitting with Jack’s philosophy. She’s internalized some of it.

        The problem is that sometimes your showboat is the Titanic and things don’t go according to your fancy little plans.

        She did have her chance to get out a long time ago, but she stuck with it. All these opportunities to try and use her spiders on her own allies, use various mechanisms they had her implant in them, or purposefully botch operations. This wasn’t even something that could be justified by a cowardly fear of death seeing as she had so many opportunities. There is a game afoot with her, and I’m not her pediphile.

        • Yes, because a scared little girl who was just trying to be good for her “family” has to be taken out back and shot like a rabid dog…

          • Said scared little girl who has now spent a long time with them and has never once installed something in Jack or Siberian to make them kill the other members and then die.

            Boy oh boy, did she ever make so many escape attempts. Here, just in case you can’t read the sarcasm tag, imagine that last sentence as spoken by Ben Stein.

            • Yes, because all sufferers of Stockholm syndrome go out of their way to sabotage the Authority Figures they’ve been mentally broken into being dependant on…
              Especially when said figure took on a parental role after repeatedly killing her actual parents in front of her.

              • So even in the unlikely case that Bonesaw only began to feel like this when Jack and the 9 went into stasis, which doesn’t seem to be the case, she still could have, you know, killed each and every one of them. And even set Blasto free or at least given him a quick death instead of having a stroke while being forced to sing and dance for her constant amusement.

                You know, so there’s absolutely no chance that Jack’s actually going to trick his way out of Cauldron’s clutches like he’ll most likely do. He’s a showman too and the best way to kill him isn’t on stage. It’s in the dark where he’ll no that, win or lose, no one gets to see.

                But nope, she just lets him live and pop out with his army.

              • She’s a frightened and abused child, not a rationally acting agent. Of course she isn’t going to try to kill them while they’re in their pods, because she’s still terrified of them and Jack is still some of the only family she’s ever had. Stockholm Syndrome and children being very easy to emotionally manipulate is like, a thing.

                Nor is not the same thing as her being unable to respond to therapy if she could be brought to a secure facility. Indeed, from the glimpse of her inner mind that we’ve seen, it seems very likely that she’s still undamaged enough to be able to respond to such therapy.

                Were we to go by the standard you advocate, any child soldier who didn’t take the opportunity to kill their adult “officers” and fellow child soldiers in their sleep and then flee is clearly an irredeemable monster who must be put down for the good of humanity. Any attempts to deprogrammed and heal them would be dangerous follies doomed to failure, akin to trying to help a rabid dog and being bitten.

                This is not how humans work.

              • Ah, yes, I must have missed her remorseful attitude and her desire to change somewhere up there, those being a major thing in rehabilitation. Oh wait, no, she’s still conciously acting to lead people to die. She didn’t even just open up the dimension and go “Come here, Protectorate, come stop these guys before they awake so I won’t have to have killed any.”

                So I guess that makes her less of a child soldier that wants to leave and more like a child soldier who knows what they are doing is wrong but keeps on taking drugs and shooting up places. Oh, that’s right, they give a lot of those kids drugs to screw with their minds. So where’s Bonesaw’s mix of cocaine and gunpowder?

                Oh, right, she doesn’t take anything to compromise her decision-making skills when she decides to do things like sew together Murder Rat. She’s quite the non-rational actor, isn’t she? And then cloned Murder Rat so that there are Mouse Protectors going through all that all over again. It’s too bad she doesn’t have something like a superpower capable of giving her a better understanding of the world to help her make these kinds of decisions.

              • Isn’t that what Jack DOES?
                He tries to fuck up your mind well enough that he doesn’t NEED drugs, so he can mold you into his own personal Manson Family?
                I had to double check to make sure this wasn’t his damn superpower for crying out loud!

          • Some people are too dangerous to live. Bonesaw’s one of them.
            It’s exactly like shooting a rabid dog, in that that her issues have reached the point where death is the only cure. It’s sad, but the only option.
            Nobody really wants to shoot rabid Fido, but but he’ll just maul you if you don’t.

            • Buddy, have you ever actually had to personally put down an animal?

              By your logic, EVERY Parahuman should die because they MIGHT be a threat to humanity…

              • Actually, every parahuman would be equivalent to every dog. Because every dog has teeth and could theoretically bite you. However, some of them have certain diseases or were raised a certain way that they are unfit for peaceful cohabitation with humans. Presumably, someone arguing that a rabid dog can be cured by the power of love would either have their throat ripped out or would survive and contract rabies and have to be put down themselves.

                Or are you going to argue that putting down a rabid human is like saying every parahuman should die too?

              • >Or are you going to argue that putting down a rabid human is like saying every parahuman should die too?
                No, considering Rabies will kill its victims eventually…
                What I am saying is that mental illnesses, especially those caused by extreme emotional trauma, aren’t the same fucking thing as an inflammatory neural virus that causes your brain to swell.

                Would you argue that its much more “Humane” to kill everyone affected in a Simurgh attack?
                Or someone like Sveta, who’s unable to properly control her abilities?

              • Well… I guess what I’m saying is that:
                I wouldn’t put a bullet through her if was a prisoner that was unlikely to escape, and would instead try to provide psychological help. The same would extend to anyone else.
                However, in a fight with Bonesaw, it is right to shoot to kill or at least permanently maim. She’s too dangerous. Sure, she’s a damaged little girl who should be pitied. But the people who she has and will cause the deaths of are also to be pitied.
                Yes, I’m a logical, heartless bastard. Yes, I agree with the needs of the many over the few, as most of us are the many. It seems evil, but nobody can really argue that one dead child isn’t better than two dead children, in the circumstances where that is those are the only options.
                So, while curing is better than killing, sometimes killing is the kinder option. I’m not one for taking it to its illogical extremes (Straw Consequentialist: Kill the parahumans! Kill the soldiers! Establish a dictatorship and kill all who disagree! For the greater good of course!), but I’m all for the solution that involves the fewest corpses.
                The rabid dog analogy was probably taken a little too literally. A better analogy – lets say there’s an abused dog, and you might be able to nurture it into normality, but it will take months to work, and it may not work anyway, oh, and the dog is looking right at a kindergarten. Oh, and it’s really big and so hard to imprison, and surrounded by lots of other dangerous animals who will attempt to regain it, oh and the analogy is now stretched beyond reason, but I think we’d have to kill it.

              • Killing in a fight I can understand, that is the unwritten law of mutual combat, but I doubt Bonesaw will be on the front lines hewing a path of blood and destruction like the others.
                In fact, the very idea that people would rather hunt her down and kill her then bother with apprehension will probably cause her to lash out even worse under delusions of self defense.

                I mean, there is a reason why police are suppose to affirm they mean a person no harm when they approach someone who may be mentally ill!

              • The difference is the degree of choice. Simurgh’s victims have their minds messed with. Sveta is unable to control her powers but would if she could. Bonesaw’s mental processes come across as fairly mature, you may have noticed.

                Some people have been confused over the idea that why you do something can matter more than the actions themselves, and that’s a huge part of it right there. She ultimately chose to stay and make things like Murder Rat. Sveta didn’t get a choice. Simurgh’s victims don’t get a choice.

                That said, it’s been pointed out that she’s a kid. Maybe it’s Wildbow’s writing, maybe it’s meant to be that way due to all that she knows and has done, but she doesn’t come across much like one. It is possible that I should cut her some slack for being a kid.

                That said, I reserve the right as a supervillain to advocate the death of anyone I want to in the future. It’s the morality clause. It doesn’t have to factor into my decisions, and it’s helpful for when the correct answer is the morally wrong one. I’ll take Kantian Ethics during Nazi Germany for $500, Alex!

                Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go steal a bunch of pies from a school bake sale. And that’s terrible.

              • You act as though it’d be such an easy decision to make…
                Remember that a large part of her attachment to Jack is that he is her surrogate FATHER FIGURE!
                Do you think it’d so easily kill the man you saw as a father AND destroy the life’s work he has entrusted you with even if you were in the RIGHT mind?
                Personally I think that’d be a pretty hard pill to swallow sane, let alone when you’ve been broken to be emotionally dependant on said person.

              • Oh, so tl;dr for my earlier comment – I probably couldn’t pull the trigger myself, but if killing Bonesaw is the only option it’s better than letting her kill any more people. I know, real life situations are more complex than that, but that’s the system of morality I believe in. It’s better to do something wrong than let somebody do something worse.

  29. Has anyone else come to the realization that Cauldron may have just pulled off a masterful victory against the Endbringers and the S9K all at once? Cauldron made a point of trying to allow Shatterbird and Siberian escape Brockton Bay because they knew that those two might be key weapons against the Endbringers. Now, it looks like Bonesaw is going to hand the keys over to Cauldron, giving them the weapons they so desired. The amount of manipulation and genius involved is astounding, especially when you realize that this was planned at least 2 years in advance. As much as Cauldron is irredeemably evil, I can’t help but cheer for them on this maneuver.

    • Yeah, but they’ll still screw it up somewhere, which is a problem when you play for such high stakes with carefully planned flourishes.

    • For a long time while I could understand while Cauldron was interested in Siberian, I couldn’t understand why Shatterbird was so valuable to them. Now I realise that the Endbringers are silicon-based lifeforms and that Shatterbird controls not simply glass but silicon in general. Still, since we have authorial fiat that Siberian couldn’t defeat an Endbringer, it’s unlikely Shaterbird’s power would have worked on them.

      • Well, let’s consider. Siberian is a construct; It appears that powers stop working when they hit the Core. So, Siberian, if she struck directly at the core, would shut down. This doesn’t mean, however, that she couldn’t give them really-quite-a-lot -of-trouble, and the same goes for Shatterbird.

        • Well, look at how Alexandria is able to toss around the Endbringers quite easily when she lands a punch. Remember that Alexandria lost an eye and probably a lot of the surrounding facial orbit when the Siberian punched her. The Siberian’s schtick is all about no-selling everything sent her way and overriding any sort of invulnerability she encounters. While she may not be able to touch the core, that doesn’t mean she can’t rip the Endbringers to fine chunks and make them a more manageable foe. I imagine 6 Siberians against an Endbringer would be a no-holds-barred beatdown, so long as they don’t breach the core.

              • Exactly. Also, does anyone else suspect that part of the reason that Jack is wobbly and messed up at the end is because Bonesaw may have installed some sort of control device in him as well?

              • A similar thought crossed my mind but I discarded it in the end for two reasons.
                1. Bonesaw apparently knew that Jack would be suspicious of her so she was probably too scared to really mess him and the S275 up.
                2. Cauldron presumably wants their army to be in good conditions and I trust Contessa’s power to be good enough to ensure that Bonesaw doesn’t do anything more than what she has been asked to do. So control switch yes, sabotage no.

            • Nah. I think Cauldron’s plan is to contact people via email to help them remove some funds from the banks secretly. The person they contact just has to send a little money so that Cauldron can get the rest of theirs out of the various banks it is in, then Cauldron guarantees they’ll pay them millions of dollars back.

              And even when they’re singing “Trololo” there will still be people going, “Well, maybe Trololo saves the world somehow.”

  30. Well, Riley is screwed. Even though she’s got irreplaceable skills, Gray Boy seems crazy enough to kill her just for the hell of it.

    And I doubt his methods of killing people are all that merciful.

  31. Excellent interlude. Surprised that Bonesaw got an initiation just like Panacea et al., though not surprising in retrospect. You can almost see Riley the innocent tinker hiding beneath Bonesaw, Jack’s “good girl. ” Can’t wait to see the exploits of the S9*9.

  32. I actually feel bad for Bonesaw. Well, Riley. I feel bad for Riley, and I hope to hell she wins. I’m not sure if she can be a hero now, not after all she’s done, but I don’t think she wants to be a hero, either. She wants to be a normal kid. And that’s impossible, too, but…

    …I hope she kills Jack.😡

  33. Out of all wormverse characters introduced so far, I now actually believe that Riley’s story is one of, if not the most tragic.

    I really hope that she gets a happy ending. Like Jack and the rest of S9 dying, and her getting caught in some type of temporal rewind attack / blast, that both reverts her mentally and physically to before her family was attacked, and brings her loved ones to life at the same time.

    Honestly, girl deserves it for what she was through.

    And no, atrocities she has committed don’t negate this statement at all. It’s classical Stockholm syndrome + crime under duress. Also an extensive passenger mindrape.

    • Additional thought: Riley (Bonesaw) is very similar to Annika (Seven of Nine), of Star Trek fame, only her story is arguably even more tragic.

      I hope that Riley gets at least as good of an ending as Annika.

    • Actually I don’t even think her Passenger did all that much…
      Yes they enable people to do these amazing things, but Riley gained her ability when sincerely trying to save her family.
      It was Jack and Friends repeating killings that forced her to emotionally detach herself from her “artwork,” the trauma was just too much for a child’s mind to bare.

      That isn’t to say that the Passengers aren’t fucking with humanity for their own entertainment, but I don’t think Riley’s was all that malevolent.
      …But again, I’ve only just started reading the beginning, so I’ve yet to personally see anything more about them from another perspective.

      • Oh that the Passengers are subtly turning their hosts into psychopaths is without doubt. Taylor’s wants to kill everyone whenever it’s on autopilot. The reason Jack is so good at what he does is because he’s particularly attuned (depth to use Contessa and Bonesaw’s words.) to his. Numberman realises that his agent is bored when he’s using it to do accounting (who can blame it) and superexcited when he’s beating people up. And in this very chapter Bonesaw wonders if she’s not one of those with the deep connection simply because she was so young when she triggered.

        • Well Taylor’s give her power over Arthropod… who generally deal with things by killing them…
          Harbinger and Jack are psychopaths, it’s likely they attracted sympathetic Passengers…
          Riley’s seems to actually be semi-benevolent, but Jack’s repeating killings of her family forced her to emotionally disassociate her “medium” from being anything more then that…

          • Ah but I think it’s important to determine if someone like, say, Harbinger was a psychopath BEFORE his powers or BECAUSE of his powers.

            Someone like Jack would probably be the same even if they hadn’t got powers.

            People like Accord or Bakuda seem to have already been a bit crazy but only after triggering did they became really insane.

            And then there’s someone like Lung, who may have been a petty criminal but probably would have never come to the conclusion that he’s not part of the human race anymore if his powers didn’t allow to transform into a giant dragon. Similarly, Number Man refuses ethics and morals as civilization’s lies because he sees numbers everywhere and for him they’re the only concrete thing. He may have become a psychopath regardless of his powers, but that particular view is a clear consequence of his powers.

            • Well I’m not claiming the powers themselves don’t have a consequence on a person’s sanity, but how do we KNOW that every Passenger has malignant intent with their respective “Gifts?”

              They could very well be working with an incompatible system of Morality compared to the human norm.

            • I’m guessing that the passenger’s that interact with humans don’t have a consciousness, or morals, or goals of their own, but are more like a disembodied will or instinct that seeks to push their host into situations closer to the original trigger in order to grow.

              The more in tune with the passenger a cape is, the less they rely on their broader spectrum emotions and reasoning and start being defined by the personality traits and emotions that have more to do with the trigger and provide a better connection. The fact that a cape becomes more unstable when they’re passengerified is incidental to the passenger’s will.

              Bonesaw isn’t the passenger taken over, she was just the result of a mind that hones in on love for family, fear of loss, and sadism at the expense of everything else that makes up a human, caricature that serve’s as an optimized conduit to help the passenger get what it needs to get.

              We say Taylor slipping into this a while back. Falling back on her emotions and traits that seek to avoid and fight back against helplessness and the passenger ends up taking over.

              • >I’m guessing that the passenger’s that interact with humans don’t have a consciousness, or morals, or goals of their own, but are more like a disembodied will or instinct that seeks to push their host into situations closer to the original trigger in order to grow.
                Indeed, the mention of Fairies a while back makes me think that the Passengers have more in common with the classical Fey of old; Supernatural spirit creatures who thought process is completely alien to humanity.
                Whether they’ve orchestrated all of this for their own amusement, or the apocalyptic situation is simply a result of their careless meddling remains to be seen.

    • You were? What was your guess and what is his power? Because right now, as far as I understand, it’s still open to debate.

    • Yeah, what was your guess?. Since for know we know nothing except that he can create clothes at will, has some weir shadow effect around him and believes to live on the set of “Casablanca”, you may actually be COMPLETELY correct.

      • Oh, sorry guys. Should have included that in the top post. My guess was “the area around him is a black and white movie, with no sound”.

      • There were a few less obvious powers that were displayed by Grey Boy. For example, he came out of a fluid filled tube… completely dry with immaculately groomed appearance, even though earlier in the chapter it explicitly stated that the tubes had an effect on people that caused issues with hair growth, and he also was not disoriented by his resurrection like most others were. This implies some sort of reality warping ability, at least to himself. Next, notice that he knew Bonesaw’s name when he had no way of knowing it. He also only winked at Bonesaw when thoughts of seeing Jack defeated came to mind. This seems to imply either precognition or psychic powers. Considering the fact the story made a point early on about there having been no known psychics in the series aside from the Simurgh and the visceral horror it seemed to cause in people who thought for a bit that Tattletale was psychic, I’m going to say that Grey Boy is at least somewhat telepathic.

        • Wild theory time.

          Grey Boy is the only one who survived one of Cauldron’s earliest experiments: feeding their guinea pigs multiple powers cocktails.

          And seriously, even this incredibly brief glimpse of him seems to live up to his legend, so how the heck did he die? Was he fatally allergic to peanuts and didn’t know it?

          • Who actually said he did?

            No, seriously, was Grey Boy’s death ever confirmed? For all we know, his powers include dimensional travel and he just grew bored and went away.

            • I bet on the fact that Jack wouldn’t have dared to make a clone of him, unless he was absolutely sure he’d be the only Grey Boy around.

              • Maybe he retreated to a secret pocket dimension somewhere and uses his abilities to create giant monsters that aren’t quite alive in the conventional sense.

              • Hmm. Given Grey Boy’s potential power, it may be that his original body was killed but his mind survived and floated around until it could integrate with this clone body.

              • I concur with Irregular’s supposition. Grey Boy was killed, but his power (or his attachment to his passenger) is such that his clone holds his original consciousness. Thus, this isn’t a clone with artificial memories. This is the real Grey Boy resurrected.

  34. Like an emotional Crawler, I am now immune to Bonesaw squick. COME AT ME, WILDBOW! There will be pain, but I will adapt! Mwahahahha!

    …Wait, that didn’t actually work out of well for him, did it? Nononono, never mind!

  35. So, who wants to guess at the nature of Bonesaw’s mixmatch critters? Apparently she’s so bad at names that they should be easily identified.

    Laughjob. Probably a combo of Chuckles and Hatchet Face.

    Snowmann. Winter and Mannequin?

    Nighty Night. I’d go for Nyx (goddess of Night) and NIght Hag.

    Tyrant. King is probably there, somewhere. Can’t think of the other(s).

    Spawner. This one escapes me completely. Maybe partly Crawler?

    • Laughjob: chuckling giant perverted prostitute version of the Hamburger Helper mitt.

      Snowmann: A woman who really likes the letter N

      Nighty Night: A super with the power of functioning like a children’s night light

      Tyrant: Has the ability to be temporarily put in charge of a democracy in order to handle an extraordinary crisis. Used to be pretty good about stepping down at the right time.

      Spawner: has powers relating to Salmon and waterfalls. One of the slipperiest of enemies to face.

      • Blasto had lots of parahuman DNA but if I recall correctly Bonesaw only collected that of the ex-S9 members. I imagine claiming that he defied Death so that the Slaughterhouse Nine may be truly whole( or something similar) fits with Jack’s rather bombastic nature.

    • Snowmann would be a good counter to Weaver. Mannequin keeps her bugs out while winters powers keep them from wrapping him in silk, without having to use a flammable gas. I wonder how much the mannequins remember about Taylor?

      • Mannequin has always been “a good counter” to Taylor. How has that worked out for him so far? Hell, he was emitting toxic gas at one point, something that instantly killed any bugs that got near him, yet he still got his ass handed to him. If you label someone as a “good counter” to Taylor, you instantly doom them to a humiliating defeat with about a 50% chance of being killed or mutilated as a result. So yeah, I would have liked to have seen Snowmann in action, but you just guaranteed he’ll get owned. Thanks for ruining it for me😡

        • Except that if you think about it ont only Mannequin IS the perfect counter to Taylor’s (almost wrote Skitter there, guess the S9 bring the worse of every person to the front🙂 ) but he was never actually defeated. Oh sure Taylor beat him twice, even badly, but Mannequin’s nature makes sure he always come back and next time the same tricks won’t work because he will have made some changes in his armor. If Piggot hadn’t dropped some Bakuda bombs on him things would have probably escalated to the point Taylor would have ran out of tricks. Mannequin can afford to make many mistakes, Taylor not even one.

          • You seem to be conflating “defeated” with “outright killed”. Mannequin was defeated in both of their encounters (three if you count when Taylor prevented him from killing the Brockton Bay Wards). If surviving an encounter can be considered criteria for avoiding defeat, then Taylor was never defeated by Contessa back in New Delhi, even though it was blatantly obvious her team was curbstomped. Taylor’s biggest superpower thus far has been her ability to continually escalate conflicts to levels that nobody could predict. I would daresay that Mannequin would have run out of tricks long before Taylor would have. The PRT was forced into accepting a truce with the Undersiders largely because Taylor definitively proved that continuing to assault them would result in a string of body bags filled with high profile corpses. Even forcing Taylor to fight on constrained terms with severe handicaps just causes her to find workarounds and still win (just ask the Adepts and Topsy). Taylor has thus far been the counter-counter.

            • The main difference being that Contessa WASN’T trying to put Weaver down (something Taylor understands immediately), whereas Taylor was at one point, I believe, trying to bash Mannequin’s head with a rock. Sure she was twice interrupted by outside forces but from what we know of Mannequin’s constructions he seems to be capable of no-selling attacks better than Behemoth.

              • Taylor was bashing his head in with a cinder block mostly to throw him off his game and upset him enough to make a mistake. And remember that he left that battle missing an arm and his head while his remaining limbs were badly malfunctioning at that point due to the gunk, glue, and scrap cloth Taylor jammed up into him. He wasn’t no-selling that fight at all, he was more badly beat up than Taylor was. He knew that there was a very high possibility he was going to get destroyed if he stuck around. Their second encounter ended with him losing another arm and having his shell cracked by Bitch’s dogs. He only got out of that one alive because Burnscar intervened in violation of the rules. He didn’t no-sell things, he got his ass kicked by someone who had no business even slowing him down.

          • Mannequin was to perfect counter to her, just her, one on one. Once she has a team backing her up everything changes. Judging her skill mostly on her mano-a-mano capabilities seems strange considering how co-ordination with allies is her true strength.

            I’d love to see Mannequin deal with the spinning fuck-off blade from hell she hit Behemoth with.

    • Bonesaw is right about being bad at cape names. I would’ve called a Winter/Mannequin hybrid Icebox: a sealed place where things are left to freeze. (But then, Mannequin has always been a silly name, more about the appearance than the actual person. It does make sense, but only when you consider that he doesn’t talk- like the power classifications, his codename comes from a third party more concerned with surviving him than describing him.)

  36. Well this was unexpected, very interesting interlude and I am amazed how you managed to portray Bonesaw/Riley so well.

  37. I’m interested in figuring out how the clones all manage to snag their old passengers. Wouldn’t there still only be one passenger to attach to them, or does the semi infinite nature of the worm like beings we’ve seen have something to do with this development.

  38. Hm…

    I don’t think the numbers for the Slaughterhouse work quite right.

    The first, natural reading of the numbers is that there have been 30 members of the Slaughterhouse Nine and the Bonesaw cloned nine of each, using one of the cloning tanks for experimentation for each one. Jack Slash, Grey Boy, and Bonesaw did not have any clones made of them. There are five “special makes” each with a single unique example.

    This would say that there are 30 rows, for clarity’s sake, each one representing a different member of the Slaughterhouse Nine.

    So, giving all the names I’m sure count, probably missing a few that were mentioned in other chapters:

    Hatchet Face
    Murder Rat
    Damsel of Distress
    Night Hag

    However, here’s the part I’m having trouble with.

    “With many, many more besides. She looked down the length of the room. Most members of the Nine had lasted only weeks or months. She could count the ones who’d lasted longer than that on the one hand.

    Her, Jack, Mannequin, Siberian, Shatterbird.

    Crawler had managed pretty well, too.”

    The Slaughterhouse Nine has been active since before 1987. No longer recruiting as of 2011 that gives them 24 years of continuous activity since Jack and Harbinger killed King. 30 members would imply a turnover rate of slightly more than one death a year. Given the five long term members this would really suggest that the average life span of a member of the Slaughterhouse Nine is five years. This does not match Bonesaw’s statements at all, and Bonesaw’s statements are just more precise versions of a lot of statements that imply high turnover rates and constant recruitment.

    The other interpretation, that there were 270 rows, each representing a member of the Slaughterhouse Nine, is extreme in the other direction. This would imply a turnover rate of 11.25 a year. This fits with Bonesaw’s statements about weeks or months with a small core group. As discussed on the SpaceBattles forum, this is such a large number that it seems implausible that the Slaughterhouse Nine could have built such a large facility and that Bonesaw could have run it by herself.

    This would also IMO imply that the other “templates” that she created as unique jobs were probably multiplied by ten, to make this statement work:

    “Two hundred and seventy-five in all. Two hundred and seventy regulars, five special makes.”

    This would imply the number means 275 rows rather than 275 people. This would suggest 2475 members of the Slaughterhouse, or possibly 2435 if the special makes were not multiplied by ten.

    I don’t think either answer is entirely satisfactory.

    • The S9 went long lengths of time without the full complement of members. They only got Bonesaw relatively recently, and they’d go with only 6 members for a time and have a number of potential recruits fail to make the cut.

      • Hm…

        So, we have 33 members total, minus Mannequin, Siberian, Shatterbird. Crawler, Gray Boy, Jack Slash, and Bonesaw.

        So, that’s 26 cycling members over an absolute minimum of 24 years, assuming that the Slaughterhouse Nine was started in 1987.

        This would suggest that there was a turnover every 0.92 years, assuming that all of the seven who didn’t have fast turnover lasted for the entire stay, which we know isn’t the case, but I’m being conservative.

        This really still suggests that the average length of time a member of the Slaughterhouse Nine stayed on was a year or two, and really begs the question why “nine” was a number in the name for more conservative estimates. Perhaps it was an affection from the founding or something similar, but the Nine that attacked Brockton Bay numbered eight, so there seemed to be some effort put into that number.

        Combine Bonesaw’s thoughts with Jack’s thoughts in Interlude 12:

        ” He doubted either Hookwolf or Bitch had what it took to stay in the group long-term. They would soon be replaced, killed by an enemy or a member of the group, but they would not upset his carefully staged balance while they remained members.”

        This seems to fit with Bonesaw’s idea that weeks or months is a fitting membership length for a non-core member of the Slaughterhouse Nine.

        Overall, this isn’t quite impossible, but it is bizarre and all of these numbers are based on the most conservative estimates possible for their turnover rate, which I don’t quite buy given their history. Especially vulnerable is that the core members were not core members for the entire 24 year period. Bonesaw had seven years for example, and she’s a notable member. While the idea of a core group that lasted for a long time has always been present the interpretation this requires is quite extreme.

        You’re the author, but the numbers just don’t seem to fit with the overall impressions unless there is something weird we don’t know like “they were the Slaughterhouse 4 for most of the 90s” or something.

        • Founding in ’87 is the most vulnerable part of the trail of assumptions.

          Run a scenario where Jack bumps around, being underestimated, doing his thing, and then in around 2004 gathers a group of likeminded fellows, and then in January 2005 triggers Bonesaw. Seven active years, turnover of almost 4 per year, Bonesaw as having been there almost at the founding.

          Alternately, take the idea that the Slaughterhouse 9 tagline was later applied to a group that was more usually referred to as ‘those psychopaths’ or similar, and that nine was then and (till just lately) ever the high-water mark of their membership: it might be a decade or so of Jack and (occasional) friend, followed by a few years of Jack and friends, followed by the Slaughterhouse 9. Turnover might be heavily concentrated toward the tail-end of the time-period, even though a few of the members (Jack and Grey Boy, notably), do most plausibly per Harbinger’s interlude date back to 1987.

          • While that is a good explanation it raises the question of why Harbinger, Gray Boy, and King are included. I was under the impression that the Slaughterhouse Nine was not actually founded by Jack, and that Gray Boy, King, Jack Slash, and Harbinger were part of the Slaughterhouse Nine at one point.

            If your explanation is correct I just think we’d have more of a hint of this. The clones have been repeatedly referenced as the clones of the Slaughterhouse Nine, not the Slaughterhouse Nine plus a few old horrors that Jack requested specifically. It seems we’d have a line of dialog if this is the case, though it is of course possible there is one that I have missed.

            • What we know is that Jack, King, Harbinger, and Grey Boy all worked together as part of something, and that Jack and Harbinger killed King. The fact that King got cloned is pretty solid evidence that Jack considers that 1987 or earlier organization to have been the S9, or at the very least to have been something that he inherited and later developed into the S9. Always did wonder if the “King’s Men” Harbinger’s mentioned were loyal to the King of England… or to the parahuman King.

              Current best guess is that Jack killed King, took leadership of that group, let Harbinger walk off to play the game from another angle, and worked with Gray Boy until Gray Boy died. After which that it took him quite a while to find people with whom he could really work (core group members), leading to most of the turnover being in the last 7-8 years. (Auditions probably continued… but note that Oni Lee isn’t being cloned).

              Sidenote: Look at the dates! 1982: Scion shows, 1987: first parahumans are recognized by public (though 1986: Alexandria receives serum shows that some were clearly active beforehand). Jack’s one of the first active parahumans ever, and he’s been in nigh-constant conflict ever since. No wonder he seems… disproportionate.

              • Hm…

                That does work out quite well, but it’s still a very strange arrangement. Jack considering the original group to be the S9 but taking ages to build up to the modern larger group that is an S-Class threat does work, but it is still strange that we didn’t have more implications of this. Given the buildup for the Gray Boy I assumed he lasted a good while and built the Slaughterhouse Nine that Jack Slash has maintained.

                It’s not that there aren’t ways to justify this, it’s just that all the justifications seem inelegant and a bit peculiar.

              • Quite possible that Gray Boy was enormous in his time, and then no one really took Jack seriously as an A or S rank threat again before he picked up Siberian. (And that was probably enough, right there, and quite plausibly the catalyst for the group’s rapid growth).

                Agreed that what I’m doing right now is looking for ways the numbers could add up. Not terribly concerned about the fact that the numbers do not, at first blush, fit the most natural narrative: the last time that happened, the comment section was able to correctly deduce Khonsu’s existence. Point being, Wildbow has a good track record with having thought things through: if something seems off, that’s a clue for us to investigate.

      • Wait, possible point of confusion. Are these only the members since Bonesaw’s been on the team, with an exception or two?

        That would actually explain everything. If most of them besides Grey Boy, King, Harbinger, and maybe one or two others are from Bonesaw’s samples and not Blasto’s, then we do not need to stretch it out over 24 years. If this was the group since 2005, or six years, then the numbers make much more sense, with a roughly 4 per year turnover rate.

        I was assuming that these were all members the S9 have had since their creation, cloned from DNA that Blasto had, but if the resources are based on Bonesaw’s mildly augmented samples she collected herself that would explain everything.

  39. Superb. Truly a blow to those who doubted you after the last chapter in addition to being a perfect choice for driving the story forward. Very glad you decided against your idea to rewrite Scarab.

    On an unrelated note, why are various other chapters showing up in my RSS feed? Are they being revised? Is WordPress being wonky? If you’ve found the time/energy to do some of the revisions to the early story that you’ve been talking about for a while, I’m very glad for you.

    • Odd that it’s doing that. I made edits based on typo notifications based on two early chapters not long ago. I’m not really making changes besides that.

      • If you’re just responding to typo notifications, I’ll leave off on re-reading them and trying to figure out what you’ve improved, then.

        This makes me wonder, though. Have you ever read Worm? As in, the finished version that new readers see when they start their archive binge? I can’t imagine you’ve found the time to stop writing long enough to read through all of it. It’s odd to imagine the differences between your conception of the story to date, with all of your memories of earlier drafts and parts that got edited out and so on, compared to the conception of someone who’s read most/all of the story as it was released, compared to someone who’s reading through it all in one go. Insert some sort of intelligent, post-modern comment about the collaborative nature of author, text, and reader here.

        • Yeah. I reread it through once every month or so (though I often get distracted by the middle) to familiarize myself with plot threads and details.

          I started Worm to break myself of a habit of endless revision, and that may play a role in why I haven’t really gone back to make major changes. If a typo bugs someone enough that they mention it, I fix it, but I don’t generally fix typos (except to mark them if I’m reading on my e-reader).

          • So, I see you’ve finally caught up. We all know what time it is now.

            You know, if you make it this far, you’ve read through a hell of a lot at least once. Some people got to it early on and have slowly waited through most of the story, begging in agony for more. Others caught up through most of it in a rush and now have to wait for the very last part.

            And then we have this fucking guy, who not only writes the entire thing, but rereads it every friggin’ month, teases us in the IRC, feeds on the tears and “Fuck”s of those he’s blown away in the comments, writes extra when going on vacation, and occasionally sings “Mamma Mia” in the shower while washing his back with a loofa. Technically I could be arrested for how I know that last one, but considering that I just recently got what he found so funny about our similar idea regarding Siberian, I’m inclined to call it even. Well, mostly even. Maybe a little angled.

            But of course, this kooky canuck also lets me run rampant around here and puts on one hell of a show, so we most definitely welcome Wildbow to the comments.

            P.S. Not doing this again next time you reread.

  40. I wonder if the Mantons that project themselves are the ones who figured out in the tube that if they exist, the original is dead.

    And while I’ve mostly discounted all this interdimensional warfare hooey, an easy way to start one is to suggest that some incredibly malevolent force has been recruiting from other dimensions where they also exist. To do that, you’d need a lot of copies of said people.

    And an easy way to end such a war is with a bomb in the shape of a dog bone. It’s a tried and true method, like rhythm.

  41. *rushes to the abandoned protest zone with his “Down with the bacon!” sign and looks around to find abandoned megaphones and dropped signs.*

    What the hell? I just get here and everyone’s decided to give up on declaring it the worst arc ever and the point at which Wildbow screwed up mightily? Well I’m really glad to see you all felt that way sooooooo much. Throw another peace and see if I fucking show up.

    *stomps off, dropping his sign. Then walks back* Might as well sell this thing to one of those health groups that hates people buying greaseburgers because they can’t afford apple tofu lasagna. Which would still taste better than the betrayal you have all left in the back of my throat.

    • Actually the only complaint I had about this arc was the jerky time-skip transition of the last chapter…

      It wasn’t even the time skip itself, but how it was used to pretty much gloss over the Khonsu fight.

    • And I begin laughing whilst manning my water cannon, along with all the other commentators in riot gear on the other side of the now-abandoned barricades…

      Actually, screw that, I have a water cannon!

      I start hosing you down Gecko!

      (If this isn’t a good set-up then I don’t know what is.)

    • Yes, I know you’re joking, but there’s a sense in which dwelling on past chapters isn’t particularly useful, even if they had a negative impact on you.

      Personally, I was completely thrown off by the last arc, to the point where I was literally finding it difficult to read by the end. It wasn’t just the structure (which I could deal with, even though it didn’t work that well for me). It wasn’t just that it felt to me like Taylor didn’t exist outside of the snippets we saw, and didn’t show any real growth or relationship development during the timeskip. It was also that the timeskip undercut, for me, an awful lot of the previous storytelling.

      Worm, up through Arc 24, was steadily building up to something. The world was doomed, on the brink of destruction, to the point where drastic measures are not only reasonable but mandated. Then, at the darkest hour, the heroes rallied, Behemoth was killed and a ray of hope was seen.

      Except, eh, not really. Things got even worse, but it turns out the world’s still spinning. The ray of hope was illusory, but it didn’t matter. Scion went back to his previous mindset (not even participating in some Endbringer fights) and the world survived. Taylor basically took a vacation, but it turns out she wasn’t that important. The Undersiders are off doing their own thing, to the extent that Taylor apparently hadn’t had a meaningful conversation with them in almost two years, but it turns out they weren’t that crucial.

      The Slaughterhouse Nine are back? Pff, so what? They’ll be dealt with by somebody. Maybe Taylor, maybe someone else; maybe on-screen, maybe off.

      This is all, of course, subjective, but for me, a lot of the urgency and significance has been drained out of the work. I’m back at square one, just hoping that Wildbow can build things back up before the end, even though it took 24 arcs to accomplish that last time.

      But, in a sense, commenting on past chapters is somewhat pointless. It’s a serial work, so whatever’s out there is out there, and we move on from there.

      • “I know you’re joking, but there’s a point in which dwelling on past chapters isn’t particularly useful.”

        Followed by dwelling on past chapters in the next breath.

        Sorry, couldn’t resist pointing it out.

        • Wildbow: Lives in Canada, dwells in past chapters.

          At least Wildbow can appreciate the humor in last chapter being a base breaker and this chapter a lot of people being “OMG Wildbow father my babies!”

        • Haha, yeah I noticed that.

          I’m honestly a little thrown by the whole “we shouldn’t dwell on past chapters” thing. I mean, it’s not fucking ethnic trauma in the Balkans, it’s a web serial!

          Also, as fans and amateur reviewers, isn’t it kind of our aim to dwell on past chapters, so we can better appreciate, understand and criticize them in the context of the story as a whole? I mean love of god, that’s more or less what the word “review” means!

          How are you meant to be a fan of a story, let alone review it, if you have the memory of a goldfish*?

          *(Yes, I’m aware that’s actually apocryphal.)

  42. So, I think that the one thing that may save the world is that the New Slaughterhouse may find it hard to work together. With that many members, someone’s going to feel like just another expendable clone, maybe try and kill their duplicates off, and then some will decide to go off on their own…
    Divide and Conquer would be the best way to beat them.

    • I suspect that’s actually intended, or else they’d have mentioned putting things in place to stop it.

      My original theory for the tenth tank in each row was that all of the new clones would have to select one of their own and kill him as part of their christening as new members of the Slaughterhouse. Bonesaw mentioned she expected the other clones to start brutalizing Ned to make him into Crawler. The Nine have never, ever been that protective of their own.

      Remember that Bonesaw really can always make more clones until the pocket dimension is attacked. There are failure modes, but they seem more related to a complete civil war or someone like Shatterbird deciding to screw this and kill them all.

  43. Well, drat. The only way things can get worse is if original Cherish busts out and Jack manages to kill her.

    Butcher XVI – Jack Slash

  44. Ok, wow. Just thought I’d comment, but it took me nearly ten minutes to get to the bottom of the page…

    Really, only have one thought that hasn’t already been mentioned by someone else. (I hope.) If being connected to your passenger earlier in life gives the connection breadth, and breadth means that your mind is more and more like the passenger, does that mean the gen3 capes, who acquire their powers as early as two or three, are going to be pretty much subsumed by their passengers? This might give us a bit of insight into what the passengers actually want. Besides conflict, that is…oh man, maybe the gen3 capes are going to cause some problems.

    Also, Wildbow, I don’t know if you read all the comments or what, but it seems to me that maybe you should consider getting a web forum? I dunno, but I think there’s a lot of good discussion that’s being stifled here, because the comments section is not really designed for this sort of heavy duty posting. I know there are free options out there…I’m sure you could find a few people dedicated enough to moderate it.

    • Yeah. I think I might look into it.

      Suggestions on forum hosts? Or I could do a wordpress forum install, but that’d be wonky/a little outside my realm of experience.

      • I know that WordPress has a sister project, a forum plugin which i believe is called called BBpress that would probably be pretty simple to use. There are free forum hosting websites out there, but they’re probably ad based…no idea if they’re good or not. Also, integration with WP would probably be minimal or nonexistent.

        I’m not really qualified to give advice on software, however, since I don’t even have a blog. I have been part of an active forum, though, and the biggest thing a forum needs is a few smart and committed moderators who can police the members and control trolls and spam. I think you’ve got a few people here who comment regularly, who you could commission. The trick is to grow the community without creating a big timesink that will pull you away from life, or more importantly, writing.

        I must say, though, that you’re project here is very inspiring; I’ve considered writing stories for quite a while, and to see someone consistently putting out such high-quality work, at such volume, makes me want to have a go, too.

        Also, I really enjoy the ‘web-serial’ format. It’s stuff like this that makes the internet so great.

    • I agree. it would be easier, would allow longer discussions and would really help to reduce the length of the comments sections.

  45. So lil’ Damsel wants to take over the world. If that’s effect of her Passenger, then maybe their goal is to to have Capes rule the world. Cauldron is following Contessa’s path to victory and they are trying to have Capes rule the world. What if in this case path of victory means that an enemy you can’t hope to defeat ends the war, because they get what they wants. If Passengers are behind Endbringers and world’s end, then if they achieve their objective they’d stop both.

  46. I always liked Bonesaw’s character; both because she’s written well and because she’s as adorable as a box of kittens.

    But her backstory was fantastic… And now I kinda want to take Riley/Bonesaw home with me…
    Does this make me like Jack Slash?

    On to the chapter (and the arc). I really enjoyed the whole arc. The staggered time skips made for a period of time that looks uncannily like what you’ll get in a large military organization.
    Not enough information for the foot soldiers an a general “hurry up and wait” feeling.

    That’s exactly how Taylor felt about the whole thing in my opinion.

    Then we had the Cauldron meeting, with all the question it raised. We had not knowing much about the udersiders except for the brief encounter. We had old characters that moved on without us knowing it.

    And again that’s how Taylor probably felt about the whole thing.

    In my opinion the whole arc was a masterful piece of work, both by itself and as one of the nicest timeskips I’ve ever seen pulled off…

    And then we have the bonesaw interlude, she’s my second favourite character, the chapter has an extremely solid storyline… and I did not like it much😦

    It reads a bit as… well, as reality told by the perspective of an insane pre-teen. With split personality issues.
    And that’s very good as far as writing technique go, but I fear I’m not insane enough to appreciate it fully or something. It’s like looking at a Dali painting or at awk code and wondering if you’ll able to understand it if you do enough lsd.
    And I cannot even offer constructive criticism becasue I cannot find exactly what’s bugging me besides “it’s hard to read and make sense of everything”. Sorry😦

    @Wildbow: You should not take it as a suggestion to stop writing things from a sanity-challenged individual’s perspective however.
    The story is probably better for it and…. umh… let’s just say that looking at most commenters it’s probably hitting the targeted demographic square on.

      • Yeah. She’s a precocious child that needs a maternal figure enough to go seek it into the Siberian.
        She’s very passionate about what she does, tries to maintain some composure even hanging out with people like Crawler, she cares for all her companions, she’s a tinker so she probably makes stuff for their living accomodations or something too.

        That’s really adorable.

        Ok, she is nuts, but I do not usually hold that against people.

      • This is an interesting statement on the passengers/agents in general.

        We know that powers do not usually get weakened in situations involving cloning. This, and second trigger events, imply that the machinery of the passengers is scales and is considerably larger than what the parahumans are actually using. It is difficult to know why specifically this is, though there are logical explanations such as quantum wobbliness allowing for fission or the passengers being extensive.

        We also know that weaker versions of powers do sometimes get displayed. Usually this involves powers being copied, for example Grue’s abilities and Butcher’s abilities. My read on these powers is that a single passenger is attempting to copy the abilities of others and isn’t quite as good at it.

        We also know that single passengers appear to grant different abilities. The transmission between siblings, variance in Cauldron formulas, and Noelle’s clones all suggest this, though Noelle’s clones could hypothetically result from either Noelle’s own passenger or the passenger of the cloning subject’s.

        Bonesaw’s explanation of how powers work is as far as I can remember the best one we have. The passengers do not understand the world particularly well, and the powers work based on what they do understand. This does place an upper limit on how intelligent, powerful, and well designed the passengers are without some seriously strange explanations for circuitous motivations or logic.

      • Thanks. I had seen the variances with Enchidna as a projection of her power rather than the clones keeping the same passenger. Means that passengers are not limited in a meaningful sense as to how much power they transmit, which explains some things about the endbringer designer.

        Really interesting.

  47. We may get a Thursday update, which may have spoilers as to the end of the world, so I am speculating now, before I read it. My record for guessing what Wildbow comes up with is would make your average compulsive gambler shy away, but it is fun.
    I am going to assume that it very much has to do with the super-entities and focus on that. Why? First, they and the consequences of their existence are very much the spine of the story. Second, there are too many powers that, by removing one or two restraints, could end the world as is: Nilbolg with an urge to conquer; a duplicator whose duplicates are permanent and have similar powers; the Endbringer’s Master giving them a “fight until you die” order; a Scrub type leaving permanent, uncontrollable dimensional holes into something nasty (Ligea apparently died and her portal remained); etc. Basically, the world ending by a single parahuman power is almost too tame for the Wormverse.
    So, what do we know about the superentities? In no particular order:

    They exist and move in multiple dimensions at once (17.7, Krouse viewing Noelle’s first trigger, hereafter 17.7.1; Taylor’s viewing of Scrub’s trigger, hereafter 11.6.1; Interlude 18, Noelle’s view given by her Passenger, hereafter I.18.1; Interlude 7, Hana’s trigger, hereafter I.7.1; Interlude 22, Kenta’s (Lung’s) trigger, hereafter I.22.1; 13.9, Taylor’s view of Brian’s second trigger, hereafter 13.9.1). They communicate with each other (17.7.1; 11.6.1;I.7.1; 17.6.1; 13.9.1). They move and/or grow leaving “dead” crystal behind (17.7.1; 11.6.1; I.7.1; 17.6, Krouse’s trigger, hereafter 17.6.1). Two of them move without leaving a trail and those two are coming together (17.7.1). When the entities meet, they birth countless more (17.7, Krouse viewing Noelle’s second trigger, hereafter 17.7.2; 17.6.1). Viewers see them in pairs (17.1.1; 11.6.1). The pairs initially move away from each other but eventually come back together (11.6.1; I.22.1). They are recognizably alive (17.1.1; 11.6.1, I.7.1). Viewers see them as large as a planet (11.6.1; I.7.1) or small enough to look like ordinary life on a planet (17.1.1). “They’re like viruses, And babies. And gods. All at the same time.” (Lisa’s comment on viewing Scrub’s trigger, hereafter 11.6.2). They are massive collectives (I.18.1; 17.7.1; 11.6.1). The children have all the abilities of the parent (I.18.1). Their fragments (Passengers?) bond with living beings and give them powers (I.18.1; I.7.1). Their fragment’s purpose is to “affect the cycle” and they will bond with younger, fitter living being to do so (I.18.1). The Passengers may bond to the wrong person (I.18.1). They decide where they travel (11.6.1; I.22.1; 13.9.1). When the entities come together, the world turns crystalline (17.6.1). They are looking for some desirable set of circumstances in Earth; things they don’t like are perpetual winter, low population, or high population but culturally stagnated (13.9.1). I can’t find the reference at the moment, but sometimes the entities move as triplets instead of pairs. I also seem to remember someone (Bonesaw, or maybe Doctor Mother) saying that the powers weren’t meant for those humans who got them.

    So, the superentities are born with the merging of others of their kind, form pairs (maybe triplets) and travel to chosen destinations (specific alternate worlds out of a large number of possibilities). At the destination they merge, take over or convert the world, and birth more. Their discarded flakes are the Passengers that grant powers.

    And then the commenter notes said something under 25-5 I thought was right on target:

    Hypothesis as to Panacea’s discovery – passengers are a larval form, not of Endbringers. On maturation, once there’s a critical mass, they terraform the planet or the universe into something a little more comfortable for eldritch beings from beyond time and space. Cauldron’s efforts have been at introducing enough capes – from a different source or shaped in a different way – to delay critical mass as long as possible; Cauldron’s backup plan is evacuating to a different universe less well adapted to the comfort of gibbering horrors from beyond the stars. Guess based on Glaistig Uaine’s critical mass/celebration comment, Doctor Mother’s comment about having saved the world before, Cauldron’s repeated concerns about the steady growth of triggered capes and the impossibility of keeping up with it.

    Basically, I think notes got it right – Cauldron is aware that after a certain number of “natural” triggers, the world is prepared for the superentities’ arrival, which heralds the end of the world (transformation to crystal and birth of more of the superentities). Perhaps creation of parahumans is how the superentities “grow” towards a destination. Cauldron thinks that their plan will delay or divert the event, perhaps by making the Wormverse Earth less desirable and thereby making the superentities change from their original target. It is unclear how knowing this would make things worse and it is unclear how Cauldron is capable of diverting such a fate. One way to do this would be to lower the number of natural triggers, but it is unclear if Cauldron’s strategy has that as an endpoint.

  48. I see the next update is up, but I will read it after posting this.
    Calling it now: “blind spot looming”
    There has always been one thing that will (temporarily) incapacitate any parahuman, no matter how powerful, and that thing therefore includes temporary blocks to precog and prescience: a nearby trigger event. If there is a mass trigger event, it is possible that parahumans in a large area would be affected, perhaps even the whole world. I am still guessing that Brockton Bay residents exposed to Bonesaw’s and Panacea’s brain parasites may now have the ability to trigger, but I give that low probability. Whether or not that is true, the S275’s rampage is likely to cause a lot of triggers, especially if Jack is trying to increase the damage far beyond his normal reign of terror.

  49. Aw, Bonesaw is so cute! You know, when she’s not creepy and/or horrifying. And I feel really sorry for Riley, as well as a bit sorry for Bonesaw. I’d want to give her a hug, but there’s a good chance that I would be turned into some kind of abomination or killed by another member of the Nine for my troubles.
    It’s nice to see Bonesaw, or rather Riley, grow as a person, get past being a Slaughterhouse Niner. It makes me feel less in danger with that want-to-hug thing, too, which might contribute to it.
    Maybe it’s just a weird bit of protective instinct, but I’m really worried for Bonesaw, especially not knowing what Gray Boy can do, why his power is “unfair”…

    Latecomer’s Typo Brigade:
    “She wasn’t sure she could alter it, nor that she wanted to.” Should probably be “not”.

      • “Nor” is almost always used with “neither,” “not that [x] wanted to” is a fairly standard phrase, and “nor” just seems…clunkier.

        • The neither can be omitted — I’ve seen it done more than once. Looking at online definitons, the 1913 Webster’s dictionary quotes Shakespeare’s Henry VIII (Act 2, Scene 2), and remarks, “Nor is also used sometimes in the first member for neither, and sometimes the neither is omitted and implied by the use of nor.”

          Also, “She wasn’t sure she could alter it, not that she wanted to” would mean something very different — to wit, that she was sure she didn’t want to. She is sure of neither.

          • I’ll grant that you countered my first point. And if your interpretation is correct, then my second is fallen as well. I’m not sure that it is, though, and regardless of almost anything that you say I stand by my statement that that is a clunky way to put it.

    • It is entirely probable. Part of that depends on how much of the shard is part of the body and how much is…not, I suppose.

      It would help explain why the S275-ish are so much more…lackluster than the S9 were. Aside from conserving ninjitsu, of course.

  50. Oh, Bonesaw. You terrifying, disturbing, unrelentingly offensive to the most basic of human values little girl you. Doctor without borders, master of life and death without any understanding of what makes a living creature choose one over the other; most enlightened physician so gifted with understanding of the function of the human body, without any of the respect for its form that makes most people puke blood at the sight of your work. So much power, without even the slightest capacity of responsibility.

    It’s not your fault, of course. You’re brainwashed by Jack, a child battlefield surgeon in his war against people. You’ve never had a chance to learn how to care about people, that larger scale of pragmatism we call morality. It’s not your fault.

    But you just started the end of the world as we know it, didn’t you.

  51. My compendium, so far, of WORM TEARJERKERS:
    (I do, admittedly, cry kind of easily.)

    20.5 The Confrontation in the Cafeteria – where Dragon and Defiant finally have a real conversation with Taylor/Skitter. I felt such relief for Taylor to be acknowledged by powerful people as her whole self, not just an immature teenager or just an evil villian. I hadn’t realized how much tension I was carrying for her because no one with authority was giving her any respect or understanding.

    23.3 News of the Death of Atlas – I was suprised to feel so affected by the news from Charlotte that Atlas has died. I think it was a cumulative effect from all these letters from home, but the fact that Skitter’s gang was treated Atlas with honor just really got to me.

    24.5 The Undersiders Learn of Regent’s Death – need I say more?

    25 Interlude: Bonesaw – it hit me hard when I learned that Jack and his friends had been hurting Riley’s family for hours, watching her go from one to the other patching them up. Oh my god, Wildbow, that is really, really, sick and sad. So sick and sad that it went right past my rather thick horror calluses. But rather than horrifying me, it hurt me, like Bonesaw was my own sweet little sister or something. You have a talent for creating these acme points where your imagery, pathos, and understanding of human psychology meet up with the deep well of context that you’ve created with your LONG story to create something breathtakingly moving and pofound.

    And then the story shows in a masterful way how that traumatic event (and her continued relationship with Jack) shaped her super-scary personality. Awesome writing!


    I can’t help but thinking Contessa could have won right there. And by won, I mean fulfilled all of Cauldron’s objectives at once, and then some.

    Step 1: Make Bonesaw switch sides. You’re Contessa, that’s certainly possible given how two sentences shook her faith.
    Step 2 : Mass-produce Eidolons. He is Cauldron’s trump card against the apocalypse, so get an entire deck of them. Also make Siberias, Foils, Lungs and Clockblockers to fight the Endbringers, because you can. Make them all loyal to Cauldron, obviously. If possible, make more Bonesaws and Blastos to run multiple facilities.
    Step 3 : Make experiments on the clones. Test your formulas on unpowered ones. Dissect as many powered ones as you need to understand how their powers work. Use your Bonesaw(s) to make hybrids, including Eidolon hybrids.
    Step 4 : Profit. You may or may not want to get more time by killing Jack.

    That parahuman cloning facility may be the most overpowered thing in a universe filled with them.

    • Well if we’re hinting at spoilers for the rest of the story, I have to say that cloning Eidolon would not be the best option here.

  53. Wow. This is probably one of your better chapters… yet also one of the most fucked up. We know how much of a sociopath Bonesaw is, she’s a rabid dog that needs to be put down, but you show us that she was also once a little girl who snapped when forced to use her power to try and save her family when they where constantly being cut open in front of her.

    All the ‘what ifs’ are pretty heartbreaking. You sir are a great writer and I tip my hat to you. But reading your stuff can leave me feeling like absolute balls😦

    You definitely provoke very strong reactions in your audience.

    • Would I kill Bonesaw/Riley in self defense or defense of others?Sure,if only because what she does is worse than killing children.

      But she is fixable.She is not unrepentant .She isn’t someone you HAVE to put down.

      True,I say that about everyone,but here its actually clear cut.

  54. I get that Bonesaw at her core is just a scared broken little girl. I still hold her as a monster. Jack has been elevated back to the worse monster again which is nice but even a sympathetic monster is still a monster. Riley may have been sweet, pitiable and sad but Bonesaw if one of the worst people in the setting. Now being able to separate Bonesaw and Riley as two separate entities with one being essentially the Passenger and one being the little girl along for the ride helps but I think the deeper problem for me here is that I WANT to keep hating Bonesaw. I want the little psycho to burn. And I don’t know if I can keep wanting that anymore or if I feel dirty because of it. Okay so sure, Bonesaw is evil and psycho but Riley knows she is wrong and broken but can’t feel guilty. This strikes me as horribly reminiscent of Regent/Alec. Except the main difference was that Regent decided to deal with his issues of lack of guilt by pretending he still could feel that and acting like how people normally do for the most part. Whereas Riley compartmentalizes and secrets herself away to stay safe while still playing the part. I think that’s why I can still dislike her even if I can’t utterly hate her anymore. *Sigh* dammit Wildbow, why can’t your bad guys simply be Black? The heroes and villains are already Gray and Grey and the Endbringers are apparently Blue and Orange. Besides Jack is it really so much to ask for another simple Black villain?

    I think…I could’ve forgiven her. If she was willing to go a bit further than simple acting. All she had to do was break the pocket dimension and everyone there would’ve been gone. If she really wanted to be Riley like she seems to now…it would’ve been simple. It’s a shame really.

    Congrats to Contessa though. She managed to flip a girl from someone who Became the Mask back into simply pretending to be the mask all with a simple sentence or two. Her power is broken. In a good way I think but still broken.

    I like the explanation for why clones have the same powers as the original. There really was no reason that a multidimensional critter can’t connect to multiple instances of the same person at once as long as it recognizes them as the same person. Thanks for clearing up that problem!

    It is very worrisome to have it blatantly stated that the Passengers seek conflict as part of their nature. I know it’s been hinted at and speculated on for a bit now but to have it confirmed is problematic. Lends far more credence to these things being some sort of eldritch abominations that want us all to destroy each other.

      • Oh I totally agree with you on Coil being the only one I felt less sympathy for after reading his interlude. Actually without reading his interlude I probably almost would’ve agreed with most of his moves. But after reading his perspective and seeing how he…um…plays…I did a complete 180 on my feelings for him. I still don’t think he was down and out pure evil if only because he was practical to a fault. Prior to this chapter I pretty much subscribed Bonesaw as Evil with a capital “E.” Now though I’ve had to downgrade her to a lowercase while upgrading Jack to a capital. I thought he was a psychopath before but after hearing about his rampage in maternity wards and his treatment of a preteen who had just triggered…yeah he gets a capital E.

        Coil was simply too practical and small time to be a capital E for me. He was a really bad guy and a complete psycho but he wasn’t drowning babies in their own blood just ’cause the mood struck him that he needed a bit more red in his life.

    • C’mon,you can do it!I gave up my hateboner for Glenn and even admired him,you can give up your hateboner for Bonesaw.Or at least transfer it to Jack

      • Most of my hate was transferred to Jack. Just that I moved her from Big E to Little e gives her a chance in my book truly. Not a good chance but a chance. She just turned me against her so hard for so long that I have trouble truly rooting for redemption at this point in the story. Riley is sad, sympathetic and broken and Bonesaw has totally warped the poor girl’s mind but this girl still has sewn many people on both sides of the line together in fates far far worse than death not to mention killed Battery who I really liked and missed her golden chance to end things before they ramped by being the scared child she was inside when she just needed to be the monster for long enough to push a button.

        Plus she modded herself so she has prehensile spine which I already expressed my feelings for in the earlier chapter and how utterly hax and Villain Sue she became there. (Though the agnosia fog did lead to Taylor kissing Lisa so that was a major plus for Bonesaw/Riley in my book!)

        So do I HATE her anymore here? No. But I still don’t particularly want her to survive.

        • Works for me.And really,what did you except from a bio tinker?anything less reduntant than Aegis is not gonna do the trick,tinkers are reduntant defenses factories by nature of their abilities.Its the reason “fucking tinkers”is a meme.

          • Sweet! And now you see why I had to stop arguing in our earlier discussion. I couldn’t avoid spoilering this backstory if I had kept going lol.

            Yeah agreed. I mean sure it was within character but…seriously she’s basically the Borg Queen there with a side helping of the Terminatrix and “Oh come on!” sprinkled on top. In this universe with the amount of realism displayed getting cut in half should warrant death or at the very least incapacitation for several minutes to hours instead of mild annoyance for a few seconds. Looking back it’s probably just more of frustration with wondering just how she is supposed to be killed because she’s taken more punishment than the majority of any other characters besides Endbringers with next to no problems.

            • A major theme of Worm is that superpowers are unfair.See Contessa.Also that creativity trumps good powers,but then again tinker powers are creativity powers,so they sorta are a de facto win on the superpowered lottery of Worm.Squishing her should do the trick.Frankly,before the Number Man’s interlude,Jack had much less excuse for staying alive.

              • Agreed on both counts of themes.

                I’ve always been annoyed with Jack’s survival through the impossible. That’s why I hated the S9 arc for a long time. The Endbringers surviving things up to Physical God levels is frustrating but in universe acceptable while the S9 are just pyschopathic humans who had no business continuing to survive when quite literally everything and everyone was thrown at them. I’ll say more later to avoid spoiler comments.

  55. Congratulations,if you read this,you are a maniac like me who obssesively reads all the comments in all the chapters.

    • Or you read half the comments and skip to the end lol! Though yes I am a maniac like you and read the all😉 I think I only ended up skipping a portion on like two chapters but those had upwards of over a thousand comments and I just wanted to move onto the next chapter because I was so engrossed with seeing how it turned out.

  56. Damn, I never even imagined Bonesaw had the potential of being a hero at some point. Jack really fucked her up. Too bad she’s at the point of no return. I suppose if she used that s9 army to kill the endbringers it would compensate for all the murder she’s done (How many people has she killed? Thousands? Endbringers have killed millions, it would be a “fair” trade-off). I’m REALLY curious in what way she’s planning to betray Jack.

    And in what POSSIBLE way is Cauldron letting the s9 live benefit the greater good? They had the perfect chance to stop them, but didn’t.:/ Shitty heroes yo.

    • Even if we assume good/evil asre mathematical, like you do, she would still not be in the point of no return. World’s best surgeon by far can easily save millions within a lifetime.

  57. I came here from the distant future. I know exactly what Gray Boy’s power is and why he’s so terrifying even to Jack and Bonesaw. And I still have no idea how he does any of the weird shit he does in this chapter.

    A+ work on the horror factor, wildbow.

    • Really? its clear though. Comment to a chapter after his powers have been revealed, asking about each thing you do not understand, and I can explain to you.

  58. Ugh, seriously? The Slaughterhouse 9 was was the weakest part of the story so far, and now we’re bringing them back, only even more so?

    Why do I get the feeling the next arc is going to be a really painful slog?

  59. If someone had told me I would end up feeling sorry for Bonesaw–who I regard as the most horrifying monster in this work by far–I would not have believed it.

    Well played.

    • All in all, I regard Jack as the most horrifying monster.Most people have the capability of being a horrifying monster, even though some have the creativity, or, in works where this applies, superpowers to do it somewhat better.

      But few have the capability to twist so many into horrifying monsters. I am pretty sure most, if not all, members of S9 were not so horrifying before they met Jack. He is the true monster, the monster that makes monsters instead of the monster that does the horrid deeds. And in a work where there are so many people with different superpowers, thats far far worse.

  60. I always feel a need to hug Riley after rereading this. Now I just need a way of hugging people from VERY FAR AWAY

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