Sting 26.5

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Unholy screams and screeches followed us as we made our retreat, landing beyond the walls of Ellisburg.  In moments, Nilbog’s fairy wonderland had become a hell on earth, thousands of demons crawling from the literal woodwork to attack.  The ground split as subterranean creatures emerged, while others climbed out of buildings that seemed to have been built around them.  One was somewhere between a dragon and a gargoyle in appearance.  Big, leathery wings, with a gnarled body and a leering, fanged face.

The flying creatures, the gargoyle-dragon included, took flight perching atop the walls, then backed down as a barrage of gunfire and superpowered attacks assaulted them.

“Shuffle!” Revel cried out her lieutenant’s name.

Shuffle stepped forward and used his power.  Teleportation, but not teleportation of living things.  Not people, anyways.  Grass didn’t hinder him much.

He teleported the landscape.  A hill was bisected and placed against the ruined entrance of the facility.

His power was unpredictable.  There were metrics he couldn’t quite grasp or understand.  Teleporting things in sometimes teleported things out.  In attempting to shore up the wall, he created gaps.

But this was a known issue, one he’d been dealing with for some time.  Unsurprised, he fixed the resulting hole with two more followup teleports.  If any terrain was removed, it was inside the structure, unimportant.

Something inside Goblintown struck the wall, hard, and then started clawing at it.  I could sense it’s silhouette with the few bugs I had near the area.  It was four-legged, with all of the most effective parts of a rhino, bear and elephant combined, and it was big enough that I suspected it could make its way through the great concrete wall.

Defending capes had gathered in a loose ring around Ellisburg.  Revel and Shuffle were among them, which I took to be a sign that Golem’s group had handled whatever issues had arisen in Norfolk.  The heroes opened fire as the gargoyle-dragon thing explored the upper edge of the wall again, and it disappeared, only to make an appearance further down, trying to find a spot where the defensive line was weaker.

This was the worst case scenario, on so many levels.  We couldn’t afford to be dealing with this.

“Two more attacks,” Revel said.  “Just minutes ago.  Two different cities.  The situation in Redfield is still ongoing, which means we have three crisis situations set up by the Slaughterhouse Nine.”

“Four, if you count this,” Shuffle said.

The creature hit the wall again.  Shuffle shored it up, placing the other half of the hill against it.

“This is getting out of control,” Revel said.

“You’re implying we had control,” Jouster said.  He stood off to one side, with the defensive line of capes.

More out of control,” she said.

I’d been placed on the ground as the capes landed.  I was aware that someone was checking me for injuries, but it seemed secondary.  I stared up at the overcast sky, watching the rare raindrop tap the lens of my mask.  My mind was whirling while my swarm was feeding me information on the ongoing fight, both inside and outside the walls.

I stirred as I heard Golem’s voice.  He was sitting a short distance from me.  “This is my fault.”

“It was a lose-lose situation,” I said.  I moved my arm to allow the medic to check my ribs.  “Jack set it up this way.”

“I could have done something.  Said something different.”

“No.  We played the cards we had available, it wasn’t enough.  Bonesaw’s power and Siberian’s invulnerability made for ugly trump cards.”

“There had to be a way.”

“We’re coping,” I said.

“Are we?” he asked.  “It doesn’t feel like it.”

“We came through every challenge he set in front of us so far.”

“That doesn’t mean we’re doing okay,” he responded.

I didn’t have a response to that.

He stood.  “I’m going to go talk to some of the people in charge, find out where I can be useful.”

“Okay,” I told him.

He walked off, and I let my head rest against the ground.

Jack had a game plan here, and the more I thought about it, the more the ‘game’ seemed to be a farce.  He knew we were helping.  He was setting up situations where we had to help.  When we’d started winning, maybe even winning faster than he’d anticipated, he’d ratcheted things up.

Just as it had at the outset, the situation now seemed to offer Theo the same dilemma as Jack had aimed to provide early on.  To go after Jack or focus on bigger things.

It was measured, calculated, and it suggested that Jack was fully aware and fully in control of what was going on.

A cape knelt beside me.  “Are you alright?”

We’d only gone through a small fraction of the Nine.  Even assuming every group we had run into had been exterminated, there were so many left to deal with.

My strengths lay in problem solving.  Jack’s strength lay in problem creation.

We came up with a solution to whatever crisis he posed, he responded by creating another, something offbeat enough that we had to change things up.  Specialized groups of his pet monsters, two scenarios at once, and now we had new issues popping up before we’d finished with the last round.

The clones weren’t as fleshed out as the originals.  A little more reckless.  They were being set up to fail.  Were they scary?  Yes.  Were they effective?  Yes.  But we were winning, and Jack wasn’t using them in a way that kept them alive.  They were expendable assets.

It was all too possible that we could keep winning, if the game continued down this road.  We’ll lose some, but we’ll come out ah-


Golem was right.  We’d achieve a steady stream of victoriesNothing more.


I pushed myself to my feet.  A cape put his hands on my shoulders, to try to get me to stay still.

“I’m fine,” I said.  “I got the wind knocked out of me.”

“If you have an injury-”

“I’m pretty experienced when it comes to being injured.  I’m fine.  Really,” I said.

He didn’t move, but he did let his arms drop from my shoulders when I pushed them off me.  I found my feet, straightened, and felt aches all across my back where I’d collided with the ground.  I’d be one giant bruise tomorrow.

Then again, if we saw tomorrow, it would be a bonus.

The fighting against Nilbog’s creations was still ongoing.  The flying gargoyle-thing had made it over the wall and was being swarmed by defending capes.  Others were just now starting to climb over, and did their best to avoid the ranged fire that pelted them.  Eight or nine more creatures flew over, only these ones carried smaller ‘goblins’.  The winged ones were shot out of the sky, but many of the smaller creatures managed to survive the fall into trees and the midst of the heroes.   The ones that did went on the offensive with zero hesitation.

“Need the Azazels!” someone shouted.

I directed the few bugs I had in the area to attack, assisting with bites, stings and silk cord.

I would help, but I wouldn’t join the battle.  Not this one.

No, I’d used up every bug in my reach, and the damned goblin-things were too good at killing them.  Nilbog had no doubt designed them to live off of a diet of insects, to supplement their diminishing supply of protein.

I made my way to the Dragonfly, my flight pack dangling from the damaged straps I’d looped around my shoulders.

I’d very nearly told myself that we were coming out ahead.  Golem had been a dose of reality on that front.  We weren’t coming out ahead.  Jack was spreading fear, he was killing innocents, and he was whittling us down.  Doing so with such expendable forces cost him nothing.  Now, with Nilbog in his possession, he had access to that many more monsters and freaks that he could just throw away.

There was no guarantee we would continue down this road unfettered.  Just the opposite.  I fully expected Jack to turn to the rules he’d established at the very beginning and state how blatantly we were cheating.  Then he’d carry out his threat, murder those one thousand people, and move on.

I reached the console, shrugged out of my flight pack and sat down.

I pressed a button, “Defiant.  Not a priority, but get in touch when you can.”

It took a minute before I had all of the individual windows open.  I set it so I could track the feeds provided by the various members of the Wards and Protectorate.  Some were here, others were investigating the sites where more members of the Nine were taking action.

Redfield.  The Undersiders and Brockton Bay Wards were holding a defensive position, their backs facing one another.  Foil took a shot at a flesh toned blob that leaped between rooftops, then swiftly reloaded.  Skinslip.

Skinslip was a minor regenerator with a changer ability, allowing him to manipulate his own skin.  I could see him using it to scale a surface.  He extended that ability by flaying people and crudely stitching or stapling their skin to his own.  The regeneration connected the tissues and extended his power’s breadth and reach, but it didn’t prevent all rejection or decay, forcing him to replenish it from time to time.  He was a newer member, but they’d still cloned him.

A quick check of the computer noted the members of the Nine they’d seen and fought.  Three Skinslips.  Three Hatchet Faces.  Three Miasmas.  Three Murder Rats.

Hatchet face excepted, they were enemies who were exceedingly mobile.  Skinslip’s skin acted like a grappling hook, it let him climb, and it broke any fall.  He could also smother and bludgeon his opponents with it, if he felt the need.

Miasma was a stranger, invisible and undetectable but for an odorless gas he gave off that wore away at other’s minds, causing headaches, ringing in the ears, watery eyes and eventual blindness, memory loss and coma.

Murder Rat, for her part, was agile.

It meant they were up against nine opponents that were fast or slippery enough that they couldn’t be caught.  That group was supported by a trio of Hatchet Faces that could steadily lumber towards the group, keeping them moving, ensuring they couldn’t simply maintain a defensive position.

The camera images that Clockblocker and company wore shifted as they scrambled away.  There was a shudder as a mass landed in their midst.

Hatchet Face, dropping down from a vantage point somewhere above them.

Rachel’s dogs went on the offensive, attacking him, but their flesh was already sloughing off, their connection to Rachel shut off, their bodies disintegrating.

Parian’s creations were already deflating.

More range than the Tyrant had possessed, and the power loss was immediate.

Foil shot her crossbow, but it did surprisingly little damage.  Hatchet Face pulled the bolt from his shoulder with no difficulty.

“Behind us!”

The camera swiftly changed direction.  A Murder Rat had landed opposite the Hatchet Face, sandwiching the group between the two villains.  The camera panned, taking in the area, and I could see the silhouettes of other villains on nearby rooftops.  More Murder Rats and Skinslips.

Hatchet Face threw the last dog aside.  It collapsed in a slurry mess of loose skin and muscle.  The dog fought its way free, shaking itself dry.  Bastard was already free.

Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Imp said.  “My power’s gone.

Mine too,” Crucible said.  “Turned off like someone flipped a switch.

I closed my eyes.  I was too far away to help, couldn’t think of advice to offer.

We’re not powerless,” Grue said.  “We’ve got strong costumes.  We know how to fight.

Tattletale’s voice came over the comms, “He’s strong enough to swing that axe through a car, tough enough you could flatten him with a steamroller and he’d get back up when you were done.

We run then,” Grue said.  “We deal with Murder Rat and then we scram.  Make some distance.

He’s not fast, but he’s not a slowpoke either.  You don’t have muscles like that and find yourself unable to run.

Be constructive,” Grue said.  “Solutions?  Options?  Any ideas?

Yeah,” Rachel said.  “This.

She wheeled around, pointing.  Both of her dogs bounded towards the Murder Rat.

I couldn’t see Hatchet Face with the directions the cameras were pointed, but I could see the groups converge on Murder Rat, bull-rushing her as a mass.

Murder Rat swatted at the dogs, slashing Bastard along the ribs, but Rachel stepped in the way, blocking the follow-up attacks with the sleeves of her silk-weave jacket.

Murder Rat, about to be surrounded, leaped up to position herself on a wall, slamming her claws through a plate-glass window to grab the inside of the windowframe.  Blood ran down her wrists.

Foil took aim and fired, and Murder Rat leaped before the bolt made contact.

She tagged the dog.  Mouse Protector’s power,” Tattletale said.  “Watch out.

A camera, Vista’s, focused on the dog.

“Hatchet Face incoming!”

Clockblocker, Crucible and Toggle turned around, but Vista remained fixated on the animal.

The moment the group was distracted by the incoming titan, Murder Rat appeared.  She drove her elbow into the side of Crucible’s throat, bringing one foot up to rake the side of his leg, but didn’t get any further.

Vista fired her gun straight into the villain’s back, then wheeled around and shot Hatchet Face in the chest.

Grue blanketed the area in darkness a moment later, the monitors going silent and dark.

I realized I’d been clenching my fists.  I loosened them, then opened and closed them a few times to ease the strain.

Escalations, I thought.

The situation outside was worsening, but the Azazels had mobilized.  They laid down the metal poles along the tops of the wall, opening fire with their lasers.  That done, they joined the fight against the dragon-gargoyle thing that was continuing its suicidal attack against the defending capes.  Chunks of it were being blasted and torn away, but it was doing a little damage to the defending capes.

The metal poles blossomed into the branching ‘gray blur’ nanotech barrier that would disintegrate on touch.

On the set of screens to my left, the Chicago Wards were joined by others as they ventured into what seemed to be a warzone.  Civilians were fleeing in a panic, while the heroes advanced against the press of the crowd with a steady, wary caution.

The nature of the threat became clear.  Rounding the corner, a single entity trudged forward.  It was tiny, and it bore a large white cube on its back.

To look at it, I almost thought it was an Endbringer.

It wasn’t.  It was only the second-scariest member of the Nine, xeroxed.

Eight Siberians.

One carried the cube, no doubt a container bearing the Mantons within.  The other seven followed a pattern, lazy loops that brought them back to the cube every few minutes.  They plunged through walls and into apartments and businesses, they returned with blood wicking off of their hands, feet and faces like water off a duck’s back.

I opened a communications channel.

“Weaver here.  Don’t fight.”

Wasn’t going to, but what the hell are we supposed to do?” Tecton asked.

Eight Siberians.  Even without any other members of the Nine on the sidelines, it was an impossible fight.

“You need to run.”

Run?  The civilians-

“Will have to run as well,” I said.  “There’s nothing you can do.  Accept it.  You can’t slow her down, you can’t deny her what she wants.”

We have to be able to do something,” he said.

“There are options,” I said, “But it’s not worth it.”

What?  Saving civilians is-

“You’d die,” I said.  “It would be a distraction, but you’d die.  The civilians would die all the same.”

What is it?

“She’s still subject to gravity.  Far as I know, she can’t fly.  You drop her into a hole, she’ll climb out.”

No point,” Grace said.

“No point,” I agreed.  “Unless you get lucky.”


“Drop the one that’s carrying the cube into a fissure or pit, if she falls far enough and the cube gets wedged in the crack, you’ll separate her from the cube.  You’d have to destroy it before another Siberian makes contact with it, kill all of the Masters that are generating the Siberians.”

It could work,” Wanton said.

“Unless she moves fast enough to avoid the fissure,” I said.  “Which she can.  Unless she’s digging her claws into the outside of the cube for a handhold, which she might be.  Unless another Siberian returns before you manage to break into that cube, which is very possible, considering that cube looks like something a Mannequin made.”

“We have Grace, and we’ve got Cuff.  We have Cadence and Enforce here, too.”

Enforce?  Oh.  N-Force.

“I don’t think it’ll be enough,” I said.  “There’s too many maybes.  You become a target of the Siberians the instant you try something, and you die if this doesn’t work out perfectly, which it won’t.”

You want us to let civilians die.

I stared at the screen.  They were backing away swiftly now.  A Siberian hopped onto the top of the cube, then looked directly at the group of heroes.

A moment later, she leaped off to one side.

Flaunting their invulnerability.  Taunting.

“Walk away,” I said.  “We’ll send others in.  Others who can do something.”


I thought of how Rachel had changed tacks, ignoring the biggest target to go after the Murder Rat.  It hadn’t been much, but it had caught the villain off guard, baited the Hatchet Face into an aggressive charge rather than a slower, more strategic advance.

“Switch it up.  Go to Redfield.  You guys specialize in containing and crushing the enemy.  The Undersiders and Brockton Bay Wards can head to your location at the first opportunity.”

I didn’t wait for a response.  My console was displaying an incoming message.

“Gotta go,” I said, closing the comms channel, hanging up on Tecton.  I responded to the message.

Defiant here.”

“Was just about to contact the Undersiders.”

I heard.  I’m already giving orders for them to back out.  Sent a helicopter in to pick them up, hoping it gets to take off again.”


A.I. suits aren’t cooperating.  I’d send one against Hatchet if they were-“


“One suit just took off.  Reinforcing the Undersiders.”

I could sense the fighting outside.  My bugs were doing precious little against Nilbog’s rioting army.  The capes were whittling them down, killing them in droves, but it was time and effort taken away from containing the Nine.  Which was exactly what Jack wanted.

In the same instant Defiant had talked about the suit taking off, one of the Azazels had gone still.

Something was seriously wrong.

What do you need, Weaver?  I have things to handle.”

“Two years ago, I was told we couldn’t go after the Nine, because we can’t decode the portal without knowing the exit point.  They just used one.”

It’s in Ellisburg.

“It’s our fastest route to Jack.  How long does it take to tap into the portal?”

Depends on the means we use.  It doesn’t matter.  The portal isn’t accessible.

“We’re losing, Defiant.  We’re winning the fights but we’re losing in the long run.  We need to act decisively.  End this.”

You want to use the portal entrance, knowing where it is?

“Yes.  We just… we need capes that we can count on, on a lot of levels.  And I need your help.  Can you arrange for a sturdier ship?  The Dragonfly won’t cut it.”

Yes,” he said.  “That can be arranged.  I’ll have to pilot it myself.

“If this doesn’t work out, if we get overwhelmed, then that’s it.  We can’t afford the losses at this juncture. I get that.  But we can’t afford to not take this opportunity.”

Another pause.  Was he typing something?

“What’s the status?”

“We’re losing containment in Ellisburg.  Siberians are racking up casualties, and Redfield isn’t doing great either.  Your Undersiders will be evacuating if they can make it another two blocks to the helicopter without getting intercepted… I’m not sure what they can do against eight Siberians.

“More than the Chicago Wards can.  But that’s not enough on it’s own.  We need to call in the big guns.  We know Jack’s nowhere nearby.  It’s a safe time to put them into play.”

We have people on call, but we’re holding them back,” Defiant replied.  “Jack will hold his strongest cards in reserve for last.  Chevalier advised that we catch him off guard.

“There’s no point anymore.  Stop holding back.  Jack’s escalating when we do.  We established a tempo, he’s matching us.  Let’s go all-in.  We’ll get him to play every card he has on hand, and maybe in the process, we’ll see him make a mistake.”

He’s not one to make mistakes.

“We lose nothing, and we gain time,” I said.  “Which big guns do we have?”

The Thanda.  Cauldron has volunteered the services of their two elite members.  The Las Vegas Capes offered help, as did the Ambassadors.  The Alcott girl has her ability to foresee the future, but she’s trying to reduce the strain she experiences so she can offer more assistance at the most critical juncture.

“The fight with Jack.”


“Okay.  That… probably makes sense.  Listen, I’ll handle what I can from here, take some of the load off your hands.  I’ll see if I can’t get recruits from among the capes I trust to handle their own.”

Do.  And I would appreciate it if you would consider me one of them.  I’ll be there with the Pendragon in twenty minutes, I just need to pick up the technology for hacking the portal.”

“Bring me some bugs when you come.”


That said, he hung up.  No pleasantries.

It was a relief.  Down to business.

Fifteen minutes to go.

I waited impatiently for the capes in question to gather.  We needed good capes, powerful capes.  Too many were occupied elsewhere.

A whole contingent had deployed to Hyde Park.  None of my teams.  Dragon’s Teeth, the New York teams, the Texas teams.

I picked Jouster’s point of view.  I knew him, and it would afford me the most opportunities to see other capes and figure out their identities.

Population of three thousand five hundred, and the place was empty.  No victims, no members of the Nine.  No blood, no violence, no signs of any disruption.

But the first wave of capes had been whittled down, going silent on the radio before disappearing entirely.

Now, as the teams moved through the city, there was nothing on the video, which ruled out Nice Guy.  That left only a few options.

Stranger protocols in effect,” the captain of the Dragon’s Teeth reported.  “We’re going full dark.  Eyes on the lightning.

“Eyes on the lightning,” I responded.  For the moment, I was filling in for Dragon’s absence and Defiant’s preoccupation.  I knew about the Dragon’s teeth, had studied their operations book.  I wasn’t an armchair general, but I’d have to settle for being one here..

They were using those full-face helmets to block off all sight, to shut out all sound.  Their uniforms offered full coverage.  The only things they would rely on were video cameras on their helmets and the battle computers that were wired into their helmets.

It wasn’t enough, apparently, to see anyone or anything.  Things seemed eerily quiet.

Jouster jumped as one cape cried out.  The man’s back arched, first one way, then the other.

“Psychosoma,” I reported.  “Stranger four, master seven.  First squad, get guns trained on him, everyone else, scan the area.  Master protocols.  Confirm everything.”

“Don’t shoot without confirmation,” someone warned, off-camera.

“How the fuck are we supposed to confirm?  Let them attack us?”

Nobody responded to that.

Still, they obeyed the instructions.  Jouster was among the ones who turned to search the surroundings.  The point of his lance was visible in the corner of the screen, as he held it ready.


The man screamed louder.

He twisted, his ribs distending, his mouth yawning open.

It’s an illusion, I thought.

Kind of.  Sort of.

Not really.

It was really nice to think of it as a really convincing illusion.  That was a reassuring way of handling it.

Because the alternative was that Psychosoma was doing the sort of thing Labyrinth did, pulling otherworldly things into our reality to replace objects and people.

When killed, they’d revert back to how they’d been before.

The man continued to twist and distort until he wasn’t recognizable anymore.

The thing whirled around, reaching back with one claw, preparing to strike at a comrade.

A cape incinerated him before he could get any further.

The illusion was dispelled.  The wrong illusion.  Purple smoke flowed out from around the corpse of the young hero.

Nyx!” someone spat the word.

Jouster swiftly backed away.  Every cape in the group was wearing a gas mask, but that was not an absolute guarantee.

Two more people in the group began changing.

A mix of Psychosomas and Nyxes.  Who else?

“She’s covering the area with her smoke,” I spoke, over the channel.  “You need to clear it.”

“On it.  Cover your eyes!”  Jouster hollered.

Jouster raised his lance, then struck out at a light pole.  Lightning flared out, impossibly bright, and the camera briefly went on the fritz.

Somewhere in the midst of that, reality became clear.  Bloodstains everywhere.  Corpses were draped over every surface where the investigating capes weren’t likely to step – on car hoods and roofs, on light poles and in trees.

And in the midst of the crowd, there were the enemies, simply standing and observing.  Nyxes, Psychosomas and Night Hags.  The Nyx were women with pale red skin and black eyes, fog bleeding out of the vents at their arms and backs.  The Psychosomas were men, tall, bald and narrow, with pencil-thin mustaches and beards, spidery fingers and clothing that hung off them like it had been draped on.  The Night hags, by contrast, were women, dark haired, dressed in black, with skin as white as chalk.  Their dresses seemed to bleed into the surrounding landscape, so that everything within fifteen feet of them was covered in that crumpled-looking black cloth.

The Nyx clones and Psychosomas ran for cover.  The Night Hags were the cover.  D.T. soldiers and Wards opened fire.  Hoyden struck a car with literal explosive force, and sent it flying.  Ninety percent of the offense was directed at the Night Hags.

The women practically disintegrated as the bullets, flames and other projectiles made contact.  Their bodies shattered into thousands of black shards.

Moments later, they emerged from the landscape.  One park bench distorted and reconfigured into a new Night Hag.  That Night Hag was summarily slain, and reformed herself out of a nearby patch of grass.

Location possession, in a way, but it was shallow.  She was most effective with materials that stood above the ground’s surface.

In the midst of dealing with the approaching Hags, the D.T. officers and heroes were left to handle the victims who had appeared to be transforming.  When the smoke had burned away, one had been revealed to be fine, crouching with his hands over his head, the other was still afflicted.  They shot the victim and broke the effect.

More smoke was flowing in with surprising speed and quantity, erasing the images of blood and bodies.  The Night Hags were turning translucent, nearly invisible-

And they were gone.

Jouster moved to strike the light-post again, only for black hands to grab him and pull him into darkness and illusory fog.

The image on my screen distorted, then went utterly black.

There was a sound, like a slow, wet grinding sound.  Chewing, as if from a dozen mouths at once.

I changed camera perspectives.

“-break up the fog!”  someone shouted.  Two more of their allies were starting to change.

Someone threw a flashbang.  It didn’t disrupt the smoke.

What do we do!?” one of the capes shouted.  He was almost more frantic than the Dragon’s Tooth soldiers around him.

The sound of a gun being cocked turned heads.

The camera turned as well.

It was Contessa, accompanied by the Number Man.  Both held guns.

She shot one of the afflicted, then walked past the other, ignoring him.  She opened fire in the fog.  One clip, each shot aimed and measured, fired with a peculiar rhythm.  One, then two in rapid succession, one, then two in rapid succession.  She reloaded with an almost casual ease, then slid the gun into its holster.

The Number Man had her back.  He fired into the darkness three times.

It took two minutes for the smoke to clear.

Two Nyx dead.  Three Psychosomas.  Four Night Hags.

The doorway was already opening for the pair to make their exit.

“Dude, who the hell are they?”

“The bogeymen,” Hoyden said.

“Shit,” someone said.  One of the capes.

“They’re on our side?”  Another asked.


“Then why don’t they go after Jack?” a cape asked.

Because she fits in the same category as Eidolon, I thought.  Too dangerous to allow her to make contact with the man.

I wasn’t even that comfortable with them helping here, but there weren’t a lot of excellent options for thinker capes who could simply cut right through the layers of deceptions the enemy had been using.

I noted the capes who were present and still in fighting shape.  I’d hoped for Jouster.  No such luck.

I dialed Hoyden’s phone, watched her pick up on the video.

“Need a hand with something,” I said.  “I’m going to send a ship your way.”

Ten minutes to go.

The Undersiders stood far enough away from the Siberian cube that the camera couldn’t even make out the one who carried the thing.

“This,” Imp said, “Is your classic case of putting all your eggs in one basket.  Really.”

He finds the Siberians boring, I imagine,” Tattletale commented, over the channel.  “Before, they were an enigma.  Now they’re just… the same thing, over and over.  Tearing people apart.”

“Just tell me this isn’t going to be the moment of idiocy that ends the world,” I said.

No way,” Tattletale said.  “I promise.”

“You’re absolutely certain?”

Ninety… three percent certain.

“That’s not good enough.”

Geez.  You’ve lost your sense of humor these past few years.  I’m kidding.  I’m sure.

“You’ve been wrong.”

I’m right.  I swear.  Now stop fretting!  Wait…

The Siberians left, engaging in another brief spree, attacking civilians.

“Let’s not wait too long,” I said.  I felt a sick feeling in my gut.  Had I been right to send away the Chicago Wards?  Seven or so people were dying every one or two minutes.


The last group of Siberians abandoned the cube, leaving the carrier holding it.


One more returned after a very brief trip, cast a glance around, and then fled.


Clockblocker fired his threads from his gauntlet.  They surrounded the cube-carrier, and he froze them.

Unstoppable force against an immovable object.

Which won?

The Siberian made contact with the thread and flickered out of existence, and the thread went limp.  The cube fell with a crash.

Others began to return.  Vista was distorting the cube, creating gaps, weak points.

Thanda,” Tattletale said.

Clockblocker activated the device on his back.  A dome unfolded around him, almost like a tent, though more rigid.

Rachel had already fled with her dogs.  Even so, it was tight, everyone pressed together inside.

He froze the dome.

I regretted that I didn’t get to see the follow-up attack.

The Thanda had a cape that was sort of in the same vein as Shuffle.  A teleporter of landmasses.

This cape didn’t need to teleport things onto solid ground.  In fact, he specialized in the opposite.

A large building was teleported into the stratosphere, where it summarily fell on the cube.  I could hear the crash through the cameras the Brockton Bay Wards wore.

Siberians down, I thought.

One more group to handle.

“Rachel’s on her way to me,” I said.  Grue was out – I didn’t trust him in a face to face confrontation against the Nine, and he hadn’t volunteered.  Imp was out as well.  Too risky, too much of a coin toss, whether her power would be seen through.  “Foil?  You know what we’re doing.”

On my way.

I’m coming too,” Parian said.

I’ll be on the comms,” Tattletale responded.

Tecton slammed his gauntlets into the ground.  Murder Rats were knocked down from the walls.  The streets had been shattered, and the dismantled craft lay in the streets, with one dead Miasma nearby.

Another slam, combined with an activation of both piledrivers, and he created a fissure, breaking up the ground beneath the two remaining Hatchet Faces.

They made steady progress anyways.  They were too strong, their stride too long.  Tattletale had been right.  Running was difficult at best.

Cuff used her metallokinesis to heave a small disc of metal.  Effective enhanced strength, along with the ability to control the rotation of the projectile, the ability to control the flight of it after it left her hand…

It slammed into a Hatchet Face’s collarbone, burying into his flesh.

He broke into a run, axe held aloft.

She prepared to throw another disc, only for a Murder Rat to leap onto her from above.

The metal blades of Murder Rat’s claws were swept aside as if Cuff had parried it with something physical.  Cuff settled for striking Murder Rat across the eyes with the razor edge of the discus.

Grace followed up with a crushing kick from a steel-toed boot.  A Murder Rat pounced on her, then vaulted off with enough force that Grace’s head struck the ground.  Grace didn’t get up.

Skinslips moved to flank, simultaneously reaching out with cloaks made of skin and shielding their real bodies with the amorphous limbs of stolen flesh.

Romp’s animated constructions stumped forward, providing just as much raw mass to defend against the reaching attacks.  They picked up speed as they moved, charging like bulls, catching the Skinslips well off guard.

The fight was well in hand.  Murder Rats leaped up onto building faces so they might be able to leap down and strike a vulnerable target, but Tecton made the entire neighborhood shake.  The Murder Rats were trapped where they were, clinging to the surfaces, unable to attack.

One caught a discus with her claws, then let it fall to the ground.

No.  There was one more threat.  Tecton’s helmet caught it on camera as it loomed on a nearby building.  A Mannequin.

Only it was three times the usual size.  Fat.

Cuff flung another discus.

It’ll glance off, I thought.

It penetrated.

Pressurized moisture exploded outward, crusted immediately into a small, spiky mass of ice.


It leaped down, and the ground shook.

Then, casually, it grabbed the most unhurt Hatchet Face with both hands and whipped its upper body a full three-hundred-and-sixty degrees around to fling him into the mass of defending heroes.

Tecton punched, his piledriver extending, but it did surprisingly little damage.

And with the Hatchet Face so close, the Chicago Wards were left powerless.  Only tinker devices worked.

The Mannequin charged.

Being a tinker, the Mannequin didn’t suffer at all in the midst of Hatchet Face’s power.

Direct your attacks on the Hatchet Face, now!” I ordered.

A piledriver-gauntlet hit him, followed by another.  Cuff used a discus to slash at his throat, but it barely cut.

He was still alive – his power wasn’t canceled out.

The Mannequin let blades extend from his wrists and elbows.   Not long, sleek, elegant blades like the original Mannequin had used, but heavy, crude ones, like axe heads.  Cuff screamed as he brought one down onto her armored shoulder.  She folded over in an awkward way as she collapsed to the ground.

He spun around, almost skipped to one side to avoid Tecton, then directed attacks at Romp.

She took shelter behind her no-longer-animated creation, and the Mannequin-thing turned away, directing his attention at Tecton, who was trying to bash the Hatchet Face’s head in.  It was a narrow window of opportunity, here.  The other, injured Hatchet Face was approaching.  If he didn’t manage it in five or so seconds, there would be two to contend with.

A heavy bullet caught the Mannequin in the back of the head.  Ice cascaded out the back in a giant spike.

Tecton used the opportunity to slam the upper ridge of his gauntlet into the Hatchet Face’s mouth and extend the piledriver full-force.

That did it.

More bullets pummeled the Mannequin.  One resulting chunk of ice partially encased Tecton, only to shatter when he pulled back.

Further shots followed, but they veered in awkward directions, sinking to hit the ground too early.

He has another power.  One that was being canceled by Hatchet Face.

Winter’s Power, I realized.

But Grace had powers now too.  She grabbed Hatchet Face’s weapon and swung it, was nearly trapped in the ice that exploded out from the wound.

Romp’s creation charged the ceramic man, and Tecton raised a shelf of ground around him to limit his movements.

He was being abused, battered.

Tecton’s head turned, and I could see Chevalier on the camera.  Revel was beside him.

Chevalier fired his cannonblade again.  One shot to polish off the remaining Hatchet Face that was closing the distance, and another directed at the Winter-Mannequin.  The Winter-Mannequin’s power took the impetus out of the second shot.

The Wards were moving slower now too.  Reacting slower.  Tecton barely resisted as the Mannequin seized him in one hand.

Didn’t even get up after the Mannequin virtually punched him into the ground.

Blades extended from his palms, the Mannequin spun like a top.

Chevalier charged, and the Mannequin changed tacks immediately, using a chain to draw himself up to a rooftop, where he clumsily climbed over the edge.

Ranged attacks didn’t work, and he was deceptively dangerous in short range.

Revel launched energy-orbs, but they barely seemed to touch the Winter-Mannequin hybrid.

Then Wanton closed the distance.

Ice chipped away, and the resulting chunks flaked away at the other pieces of ice.  It was soon a localized blizzard, and the large hunks of ice that clung to the Mannequin’s suit began to break away.

More ice appeared, but it, in turn, was broken by the yet-larger chunks that had been picked up.

The storm began to slow as the Winter-Mannequin concentrated his power on a smaller area.  The storm came to a standstill.

Chevalier raised his cannonblade to fire, only to stumble, dropping his weapon.


Indiscriminate attack, Chevalier!” I said.  “Revel, get down!”

Chevalier swung, very nearly striking Revel as she dropped flat to the ground.  He connected with something, and Miasma appeared in an explosion of thick green smoke.

The villain rolled, then disappeared again.

But Revel was following up, spitting orbs of energy out of her lantern.  Miasma wasn’t fast enough to dodge all of them.  He, and another Miasma behind him were burned, holes the size of softballs punched through their torsos.

Cuff was helping Tecton stand, using her metallokinesis to push at his armor.  Once he was standing, they worked together to outfit Tecton with one of the specialized shots we’d prepared.

The Mannequin wasn’t going to go down to fast moving projectiles or short-range attacks.

They’d take him down the same way I’d fought him ages ago.

Tecton used his piledrivers as a sort of gun, launching two cup-shaped hunks of metal with material strung between them.

The net unfolded in the air, and it draped over the Mannequin.  Spider Silk and metal wire interwoven.  It caught on the ice and the extended blades, and snagged on fingers and chains.

The Mannequin was still struggling to escape when Chevalier slowly closed the gap, bringing his sword down like a great guillotine.  He had one hand pressed to the side of his helmet.  Blood streaked down his arm.

Last group, for now.  I watched as they checked on the injured.  Chevalier’s eye had been stabbed, but not perforated, and Grace had suffered a heavy blow to the head.  Cuff’s shoulder socket had been broken by the Mannequin.

I almost hated to ask.

“Tecton,” I said.  “We’ve got a game plan.  Maybe a way to get Jack.  You up for helping?”

My team isn’t in good shape.

“If you want to stay, keep doing this-”

No,” he said.  “No.  Just… maybe my team should sit the rest of this out.”

You’ve all done good work,” Chevalier said.  “Above and beyond the call of duty.  You don’t even have to ask.

I’ll come on this mission, if you have a use for me,” Tecton said.

“I do.”

I’ll come as well,” Chevalier said.

“You’re injured.”

A pause, as if waiting for me to realize what I was saying.  This was the guy that had gone up against Behemoth face to face, scarcely an hour after suffering critical injuries in an assassination attempt.

I’ll come,” he said, again.

“Glad to have you,” I said.

It was suicidal.  Returning to Nilbog’s kingdom, where his creations had riled themselves up, hungry for blood.  I could only hope that their forces would be thinner towards the center, with the sustained attack on the surrounding capes.

I glanced around the back of the craft.

Chevalier.  Revel.  Hoyden.  Tecton.  Bitch.  Two dogs and Bastard.  Foil.  Parian.  Me.

Two Dragon’s Teeth to round out the group, so we had people trained in the use of containment foam and other PRT munitions.  Veteran PRT soldiers outfitted with the best gear the Guild could provide.

And Defiant up at the cockpit, rounding out our group.

I felt my pulse quicken.  My hand traced over the box that Defiant had brought, with all the bugs I needed.

Nilbog’s army seemed endless.  We’d only seen a fraction of it.  It flowed over, under and through the walls, in numbers that tied up the defending capes.  Our battle lines couldn’t hold a position for long before something threw them off.  Someone vital would get injured, or a creature would burrow out from beneath the ground.  Something would fly over to land in the middle of the back line, forcing a reorganization.

We weren’t being overwhelmed.  Any cape was stronger than the typical starved, desperate, reckless monster.  But this was definitely not helping.

A man’s voice came over the comms.  “Three new locations with attacks.  Coordinated strikes.  Harbingers sighted.  They are reinforced by Nilbog’s creations.

Bonesaw got something set up already, I thought.

Defiant was clenching his fist.

Who was the man?

“Doesn’t matter,” Defiant said.  “Our focus is here.”

“Fuckin’ right,” Hoyden said.  She turned to smile at Rachel.  “Right?”

Rachel only frowned, turning her attention to the dogs that sat between and on either side of her legs.

Hoyden punched Rachel in one arm, then grinned. “Right?”


“Right!”  Hoyden grinned.

Heavy metal boots banged against the ramp as our last attendee made his way into the back of the craft.

Golem sat down opposite me, silent.  He briefly met my eyes, and I nodded.

He didn’t react, casting his eyes downward.

It was nothing.  A minor thing in the grand scheme of it all.  I tried to tell myself that he was strong when it counted, whatever his doubt in the quiet moments.

The ramp closed with a bang.  Golem jumped a little at that.

It didn’t do a lot for my confidence.  I glanced around at the others, wondered who else had seen it.

The Pendragon took off.

And off we go, into the lion’s den.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

383 thoughts on “Sting 26.5

  1. That tag list.

    It’s not even complete, hell. I ran out of time before the chapter went up.

    Thanks for reading. Sorry if it’s not the most polished – I had a busy weekend doing editing for someone’s book, and the chapter may have suffered because I wasn’t brainstorming in the time I was editing.

    Your votes on topwebfiction are appreciated.

    • There’s a “flauting” somewhere there.

      Unless of course the Siberians were playing the flute whilst the carnage.

    • “-break up the fog!“ someone shouted. Two more of their allies were starting to change.

      Someone threw a flashbang. It didn’t disrupt the smoke.

      “What do we do!?” one of the capes shouted. He was almost more frantic than the Dragon’s Tooth soldiers around him.

      The sound of a gun being cocked turned heads.

      The camera turned as well, and I could see who had spoken.

      It’s not entirely clear whether or not this is referring to the command to disperse the fog, to a line that isn’t present, or just the sound of the gun being cocked (in which case spoken is probably the wrong verb.) Could use clarification.

    • “I thought of how Rachel had changed tacks, ignoring the biggest target to go after the Murder Rat.”

      Should it be how “Rachel had changed tactics”, or just an idiom I’m not familiar with?

      • It is an idiom.

        Tack is the stuff you hook up on your horse when you go horseback riding. For a cowboy, this could be a simple saddle to an assortment of stuff including saddlebags to breastplates to a plow.

        Changing tack is changing one’s approach and/or mindset.

        • Tacking is also a sailing term referring to the method of zigzagging into the wind. Every time you turn it is “changing your tack” and the idiom is used to mean the same.

    • Not really a typo but this part read kind of strange with rounding out the group being mentioned twice in succession about the same group. Can’t say there’s anything technically inaccurate about it, just found it sort of jarring to read.

      Two Dragon’s Teeth to round out the group, so we had people trained in the use of containment foam and other PRT munitions. Veteran PRT soldiers outfitted with the best gear the Guild could provide.

      And Defiant up at the cockpit, rounding out our group.

      • I just got around to reading, and the beginning seems off too. The way she thinks about Golem’s group considering he was already there, came off strange to me.

    • “I knew about the Dragon’s teeth…” Dragon’s Teeth is a proper noun, Teeth should be capitalized.

    • “Two Dragon’s Teeth, to round out the group […] And Defiant in the cockpit, rounding out our group.”

      Using the phrase twice in quick successsion seemed a bit odd.

    • Here’s a bunch more typos I noticed:

      sense it’s silhouette – “its”

      Hatchet face excepted – missing capitalisation

      wore away at other’s minds – “others'”

      “Yes,” he said. “That can be arranged. I’ll have to pilot it myself.“ – Missing italics. That seems to be an open-quote at the end that should be a close-quote (there are several of these this chapter). Also Defiant’s next line is missing italics for its first word.

      enough on it’s own. – “its”

      “Bring me some bugs when you come.”
      “Yes.” – Defiant’s closing line is missing italics.

      I knew about the Dragon’s teeth, had studied their operations book. I wasn’t an armchair general, but I’d have to settle for being one here..
      – “Teeth” should be capitalised. Duplicate period at the end.

      The Night hags, by contrast
      – “Hags” should be capitalised

      “They’re on our side?” Another asked.
      – “another” shouldn’t be capitalised.

      He, and another Miasma behind him were burned
      – Either lose the comma, or add another after “behind him”

      Spider Silk and metal wire interwoven.
      – “silk” shouldn’t be capitalised

      Bitch. Two dogs and Bastard.
      – First time for a long time I’ve seen Taylor think of Rachel as “Bitch”.

    • “The camera images that Clockblocker and company wore…”

      One assumes Clockblocker and company are wearing the *cameras*, and not the *images* as this sentence would indicate…

    • “We’re losing containment in Ellisburg”

      Forgot to italicize the ‘We’re’. (Unless that was intentional, but that seems like a strange place to put the emphasis.)

    • “I could sense it’s silhouette with the few bugs I had near the area.”
      “But that’s not enough on it’s own.”

      Neither of those apostrophes should exist.

      “Hatchet face excepted”
      “The Night hags, by contrast”

      The second halves of their names should be capitalized.

      “Spider Silk and metal wire interwoven.”

      “Silk” shouldn’t be capitalized.

    • Not actually a typo, but:
      “Indiscriminate attack, Chevalier!” I said. “Revel, get down!”

      I’d put the second sentence first. As soon as she’s finished the first sentence, Chevalier starts swinging. Revel’s liable to be dead before she gets the instruction to duck. Given Chevalier’s speed I can still see it being a close thing so it wouldn’t affect the near miss.

      It would also make sense to open with the character’s name in both instances. There’d be a lot of battlefield chatter and everyone’s focussing on the battle. You need a name up front to grab their attention.

    • I’d have to settle for being one here.. –> double colon

      The Mannequin wasn’t going to go down to fast moving projectiles or short-range attacks. –> go down with?

      Also a Thanda that shouldn’t be italicized (those guys are so badass), but not gonna paste that.

    • “Two Dragon’s Teeth to round out the group, so we had people trained in the use of containment foam and other PRT munitions. Veteran PRT soldiers outfitted with the best gear the Guild could provide.

      And Defiant up at the cockpit, rounding out our group”

      Repetition of “rounding out our group” is awkward

    • in 2017, still have inconsistent capitalization of two-named villains (like Night Hag), esp in a second mention in the paragraph.

  2. Regrettably, little time for thoroughness.

    Scale and kaleidoscopic perspective shifting are nicely done: there’s a real sense of things going completely out of control and – for all that the three fights we watched went well – there are three others starting up just now. Harbinger is probably the most dangerous tactician Jack has available, too – the other fights have been, mostly, pretty straightforward. Not without cruelty or horror, but not displaying the kind of creativity that made the reputations of both Taylor and Jack, despite their nominally weak powers. Harbinger can function at that level, and he’ll have a horde of custom-tuned goblins, likely created to his specifications, with which he might fight intelligently.

    The S9000 remain viable threats; the Cauldron/Thanda interventions were authoritative. The Cauldron intervention in particular felt like a passing cameo – a few seconds walking through and then gone. The restraints they place on themselves, perhaps most signally their obsession with following Contessa’s clear path, remain striking.

    I can’t help but wonder if it was Jack who found multiple Siberians boring… or Wildbow. Not that I disagree.

    Big moment next chapter – new arc?

    Still betting that, at some point, Defiant tells Weaver that Dragon got kidnapped in the middle of that mess, and would she like to help settle accounts with Saint. Alternately, if he’s perhaps not making it out… he’d want someone to carry on his stead.

  3. Behold the power of her administrating. Now for an insane, all or nothing, cut to the chase, straight into the heart of darkness attack in the finest Skitter tradition.

  4. Awesome fights and awesome chapter. Reminds me of the chaos during Echidna. Grey Boy has yet to make an appearance, and Cauldron hasn’t made their move. Still waiting to find out just how Jack ends the world. These attacks are killing alot of people, but even with Nilbog’s creations I can’t see this coming anywhere close to ending the world. Small nitpick with having to question if the US even has an army in the wormverse considering what’s going on. A whole mass of infantry, tanks, artillery, helecopters, and bombers would help things out at least in a few places. Nilbog’s creations can be shot at least, and having soldiers/snipers could have dealt with Hatchet Faces with armor piercing rounds to the head. Whats the point of having an army if they never use it? Still question what Cauldron’s plan is. They obviously do not give two shits about people’s lives so I wonder when they are going to try and take control.

    • I imagine the problem with normal military forces is that they’re somewhat predictable and nowhere near as flexible as cape forces. Especially militarized and properly organized teams of capes like the ones fighting here. A much more heavily optimized force would probably benefit from soldiers at points, but when heading into unpredictable circumstances bringing in normal military troops is probably a good way of getting a lot of people killed rather pointlessly.

      • In many circumstances, yes. It’s been discussed how the Endbringers outclass them for example. Behemoth is too tough/mobile, Leviathan’s waves are hard to deal with and he is so fucking fast, the smurf mindfucks everyone etc. Capes are far better equipped to handle super villains but the military should still show up in some form when things escalate. In a situation where multiple cities are being attacked, and the world is on the line it’s just a little bit unbelievable that the capes are the only ones doing anything. Picture any monster/godzilla movie and the military eventually gets called in if it goes on long enough. I still love this chapter, it has the awesome and intelligent fights that Worm is known for. It’s just that it seems like the US has no military at all in the wormverse. Leviathan, anarchy in Brockton Bay, killing the babies of a hospital, and no helecopter/tank/infantry/jet? Forgive the terrible, terrible example but in Grand Theft Auto if you kill enough policeman and cause enough damage they call in tanks and artillery. The only time any military is mentioned is when they surround the city during the Traveler Arc.

        • Hm…

          While you DO have a point, consider the teams and events we’ve encountered.

          Three Skinslips. Three Hatchet Faces. Three Miasmas. Three Murder Rats. One Snowmann. One Miasma.

          That’s not a team you want to send normal military forces against. Skinslip would horribly kill anyone it catches by surprise and is more than mobile enough to catch people by surprise. Hatchet Face, they’d win against raw, but with the rest of the team it wouldn’t be an issue. Miasma just can’t be beaten by conventional forces. Murder Rat is very hard to pin down with conventional forces. Sending in capes is certainly the best option for this team, though some conventional forces may have helped.

          Eight Siberians.

          Normal armed forces simply could not have been useful in this fight without hideous casualties. Anything they could do capes could do much more efficiently.

          Two Nyx. Three Psychosomas. Four Night Hags.

          Once again, this is not a situation you want to send large groups of conventional forces into. Slightly better than the others, but you can’t understand the situation well enough to control the battlefield and not end up slaughtering a lot of your own people.

          3 Burnscar, 3 Shatterbird, 2 Winter, 1 Skinslip, 1 Psychosoma

          Combine all the problems of Shakers and Movers. Shatterbird by herself messes up modern military forces something fierce, and Burnscar is almost as bad in a close fight. This one is kind of closer as you might be able to just bomb them or hit them with artillery, but given the weird Shakers and Movers getting reliable hits is difficult, and once again the hostage situations mean that this is an unpleasant tactic.

          3 Breed, 3 Hatchet Face, 3 Mannequin, 3 Murder Rat, Tyrant

          Probably the “best” in a direct combat situation, but a hostage situation? Capes are much more versatile and adaptable. Sending in soldiers would have basically been writing off the hostages.

          8 Cherish, 2 Crawler, King

          Bad, bad environment to send in conventional troops. Hostage situation, Crawler just cannot be beaten conventionally, and King would have ensured massive loss of hostages.

          Cherish, Chuckles, Crimson, Winter, Screamer

          The lack of redundancy in the enemies makes it better, but combo Screamer, Cherish, Chuckles, and Crimson with not being able to just kill everyone using artillery and we have a LOT of dead people.

          Remember, as horrible and deadly as this situation is, this is not what our military is adapted for. This is the stuff of SWAT Teams for the most part, breaking in and securing hostages. Capes are undeniably much better at that. In the actually military confrontations the conventional forces would just be useless, completely 100% unable to contribute. Our military is great at dealing damage and applying overwhelming force, but it’s RELATIVELY brittle and not as fast and flexible as the parahumans are. Parahumans largely lack the ability to scale up enough to apply their support to military teams.

          The only point where military deployment would make a great deal of sense at this time would be Ellisburg. All of the rest are such violent and unpredictable situations that you do not want to pad your forces with people who are at their very best no better than capes.

          That’s without getting to the worst part. For most of the above situations, they didn’t know going in which one they were facing. They knew they were facing the Slaughterhouse Nine, but they had no way of knowing which events could have an effective military presence and which would not. Look at the fact that in this chapter they switched teams and both were more effective in each others place. You do NOT want to send in soldiers against the Nine and discover they were hiding a Shatterbird ready to strike at a bad moment. The potential for dead soldiers who have absolutely no chance of contributing gives a very good reason not to send in military forces against these clones.

          And don’t forget that there ARE military forces present. They’re just under the auspices of Dragon. She basically had all of the comparative advantage of conventional military forces added to a lot of advantages they just don’t have.

          • Good analysis.

            Also, getting a large group of military forces, plus armaments and other supplies, into an area takes time. If you where on standby, ready to go, you could probably do it in a few hours to anywhere close by (less than 200 miles, to ballpark it). The capes have teleportation, yes, but as we’ve heard its limited because so many have been killed in Endbringer attacks; overall if you needed to move several hundred soldiers or a dozen tanks, it might take just as long as with conventional methods.

            If you know that this sort of thing was going to be happening, you might be able to station troops in major cities to help with crowd and damage control, but putting more people in the S9’s path is pretty much a coin toss on whether it helps or just makes things worse. Plus, the groups aren’t really hitting big cities, they mostly seem to be targeting outlying towns, of which there are thousands in the U.S.
            Add to all this the fact that Weaver and Co. where trying to keep the “end of the world” prophecy and the subsequent response under raps, and deploying standard military forces seems like a big expense and risk for relatively little, if any, gain.

          • Then have them under the hero’s directions. I thinks you are seriously underestimating the power of a modern military. Shatterbird’s power isn’t going to stop a basic soldier’s guns, murder rat/Skinslip well it’s really hard to dodge bullets even with enhanced agility. It’s true that in many cases they aren’t equipped to handle it, but this is a fight for the end of the world, and not sending them in is stupid. At least we both agree that sending them after Nilbog is a smart choice.

            • Putting them under the direction of most heroes wouldn’t be that effective. Heroes are not trained as military officers, and presumably our own soldiers can’t be trained for close coordination with the heroes given how iconoclastic their capabilities are. This also limits the extent of anti-cape training and doctrine.

              What part do you think I am underestimating? A tiny fraction of casualties in modern combat come from small arms fire from infantry, who have a role of pinning down movement and gathering information more than dealing damage. Those two roles are simply not competitive against capes when the Slaughterhouse Nine are on the other side, as their specialization is in combating exactly these tactics.

              As I mentioned, small arms fire takes down a tiny percent of all casualties in modern warfare. Combine that with enhanced agility, healing factors, and especially Bonesaw’s augmentations and infantry would get slaughtered.

              Air forces? We see these active here. They’re just robot gunships superior in every way to our own being controlled by Dragon. Dragon is faster and more skilled than any human pilot, with considerably less collateral damage involved when she fights.

              Artillery and bombing? These are how we get most of our kills in modern warfare. These are also indiscriminate and often relatively inaccurate. All of the observed situations have been ones where civilians were being evacuated or held hostage. As I said above this is not actually a conventional military situation, it is counter-terrorism at most. If at all possible we do not want to be firing into a total war state on our own soil without other options.

              Could a hypothetical military doctrine be effective in this case? Yes. However, it would be highly reliant on cape support, and require heavy expenditures for training and other requirements with relatively limited use. Be sure to remember that capes are not and should not be a military force. Almost all capes are much better in disaster relief and law enforcement than the military, as their comparative advantage is much greater in such situations. Heroes and villains are supposed to stick to the rules and play cops and robbers most of the time. An effective military would be highly expensive in a setting with a good deal of Endbringer and supervillain related economic turmoil. As the US of Worm cannot spend limitless resources on outfitting their military to support their capes, it is probably better to do what they have been doing. Make the PRT, Protectorate, and Dragon contain as many relevant and useful elements of the military doctrine and capabilities as possible while keeping to a structure that is much more broadly useful.

              In a situation like Africa or the Middle East where countries face serious threats from other countries a military adapted to hero support could make much more sense. For the United States, the main threats are supervillains who are best treated as a police matter and Endbringers who are best treated as natural disasters. The purpose of the size and power of the US military, being able to bring overwhelming force to bear to keep the world system stable, is simply not applicable in Earth Bet due to parahuman activity.

      • Snipers alone would make a huge difference in some of these battles – especially if you keep them dispersed to minimise them being compromised.  And Hatchetface? Meet tank.  Heck, what about *drones*? Soldiers could take on the Nine from three States away – a bit out of Cherish’s range.

        And how useful would specialised military hardware be?  Can you pick up Miasma on thermal? Radar? If not, how about  those ‘electronic noses’ they use to sniff out drugs?

        And that’s just real-world technology. I would expect the Wormverse’s military to be at least somewhat prepared for capes. I’m sure new technology would have been developed in respons. Not tinker stuff – just military R&D targeted at resolving different problems than in our world.

    • I think the Dragons Teeth are that elite normal human team. While the police are more absent than I expect, I can see a standing order to identify & call in, but do not engage. The S9 groups would rip apart most police teams.

      Also, while the president has declared a state of emergency, it takes time for military units to mobilize, especially in the NE US, where there ate fewer bases.

    • They almost certainly still have an army.

      But it’s probably smaller. With capes around conventional warfare isn’t really likely.

      And Endbringers must be murder on the budgets of the governments that have to clean up after them. Gotta save money somewhere.

      So I bet the Wormverse military-industrial complex is tiny compared to the one in our universe.

  5. This was a masterful chapter. This story is one of the first in which the author manages to actually convey the importance of intelligence and knowledge about the enemy.

    A great example is comparing this chapter to the arc where the S9 are in Brockton Bay and Siberian’s true nature is still unknown. She’s invulnerable, terrifying, unstoppable. With only one of her, everyone is basically powerless to stop heror harm her teammates.

    Now, with her weakness known, 8 of them are taken out in one move. Granted, there are special circumstances, like having access to Clockblocker and the Thanda teleporter, but still, it shows the value of knowing your target.

    Awesome work so far on this arc. The escalating stakes of the story are really shining through in this chapter, though the Dragon interlude was also a nice way of demonstrating it by showing the almost offhand killing of a whole contingent of the S9000.

    • Just in case this isn’t clear. I meant that Worm as a whole is one of the few in which intelligence is actually shown to be the asset it is. Having knowledge about your enemies is shown as the huge advantage it is. OTher stories don’t do this as well.

      I didn’t mean that Worm has only now demonstrated this. Tattletale’s inclusion in the Undersiders was probably the first big hint to me that this story would feature intelligent tactics and not just power levels or cliched fights.

  6. – okay, first off, there’s no way the Siberians are really all dead. That had to be some kind of misdirection.
    – Contessa and Number Man – BOSS!
    – Rachel is beyond badass now. I love how she fucked over the Murderface team with one move
    – noticed Mannequin has a habit of coming up with strengths that are all too easily turned into weaknesses.
    – Weaver is flagging. Stay strong, girl, you can do this
    – she has a disquieting habit of underestimating Golem just because the battlefield isn’t home and hearth for him like it clearly is for her
    – I find myself not clear on what exactly what Night Hag and Psychosoma can do. They’re the first powers I’ve encountered in this series and been unable to immediately comprehend
    – the plan now is simple: “Kill Jack. Kill Jack. Kill Jack kill Jack kill Jack KIIILL JAAAAACK! Kill Jack.”

    • Night Hag, as far as I can tell, discorporates into nearby objects when injured, at which point she can either reform from them or drag nearby things into the object to gruesomely maul them. I admit to not fully understanding what she does myself, though, so I could be wrong.

      Psychosoma takes over people (and possibly objects) and warps them into monsters. There doesn’t appear to be any way to reverse this aside from killing any affected parties.

    • Seems like if Golem is routinely underestimated and always overpowers his foes through clever and unexpected means, then he may well have taken far more from Weaver’s training than we originally suspected.

    • Mantons notes the box is falling due lack of Siberian.

      Mantons dispels Siberian outside of box.

      Mantons summons Siberian inside the box.

  7. Really Amazed no one has died yet.

    The Slaughterhouse 9 doesnt appear to actually be that strong.

    • Not without Jack, no, they genuinely aren’t. These guys have been killed before, they can be killed again.

      I’m guessing they’re really just distractions so Jack Slash can do his thing uninterrupted. Good thing Weaver’s having none of that shit.

    • Jouster seems to be dead.

      And to be fair to the original incarnations of everyone being fought here, their powers are pretty deadly (well…mostly. Skinslip is just kinda creepy). I would posit that the reason they’re being offed so quickly here is in part because people have gotten more used to the idea of not holding back (new Endbringers, four-a-year schedule and all that), and in part because a lot of the S9’s threat level came from Jack’s ability to organize them, and he’s mostly using them as a blunt instrument right now.

      It seems likely that as the chapters move along and the s275’s numbers decrease, Jack will become a little more careful about his placement of them.

    • Jouster + 2-3 capes from his team seem to be dead, plus remember that they were the second cape team in, as the first one apparently didn’t even get a warning off when they were ambushed.

      Plus, the most successful teams are chicago, brockton bay, and the Undersiders. 2 of which have S9 experience, and all 3 of which have been preparing for 2 years for this.

    • The S9 are powerful individually, but it takes Jack to plan, coordinate and withdraw as needed. They’d have been killed in Brockton Bay if it wasn’t for Jack’s ability to read situations and plan for contingencies, despite how strong they were. Add in that the clones by and large do not have that in their own teams and the fact that they don’t have the real world experience or memories of their progenitors.

      • I have to wonder if Jack isn’t using the initial wave of s275 to figure out which combinations work well and which don’t. Placing together combinations with tangentially linked powers to see where synergies form, before working with those synergies in the second round.

        Except for Cherish and most of the Siberians, whom he got rid of for being boring.

        For instance, imagine a combination of Nyx, Winter, Screamer, and Hatchet Face. A battlefield choked in a thick fog, where you can’t trust powers, your senses, communication, or the reliable function of any of your powers.

        • I feel more like he’s discarding the less effective of each, leaving one of each S9 member for the finish (getting rid of the hybrids, too, to keep things interesting).

          • Actually i think he’s keeping the most powerful hybrids in reserve, just how he keeps a Siberian with him at all times, despite finding them boring. if Laughjob is indeed Hatchet Face and Chuckles (superspeed, superstrength and power nullification) then he’s going to be a nightmare. And if Spawner is a Crawler+Breed hybrid as some have speculated, then God help us all.

      • Reminding me of Ender’s game. When he’s in battle school and instead of fighting all the enemies and beating each one, he simply floats across and puts all his men in the designated capture zone.

  8. This chapter is reinforcing my belief that Clockblock has the potential to be the most powerful cape to ever live. The dude could walk right up and spit in Siberian’s face and survive.

    Imagine Clocky walks up to Siberian and freezes his suit as she reaches/punches/whatevers for him. The second she touches him, poof, no more Siberian. His suit even unfreezes afterwards. Obviously there are things that could still kill him, but still.

    Imagine what would happen if he gained the ability to control the unfreezing part.

    Side note.
    “The Las Vegas Capes offered help, as did the Ambassadors.”
    “as did the Ambassadors.”
    I am still utterly convinced that Accord lives. No one can convince me otherwise.

  9. Jesus Christ the Wormverse is a giant clusterfuck right now… And what the hell does Grey Boy actually DO again? Do we actually know or is he just mysterious and terrifying to everyone?

  10. Also? Saiaaaaiiiint, my man; how’s it goin’? Feeling da pressure yet? How’s being a monadic-minded ugly bag of mostly water working out for ya, hmmm? Hw many Azazels can you control at once? One? Oh, is that right? Now, if only there were someone, perhaps some digital lifeform, able to parallelize their consciousness and multitask globally to handle that shit while you Wunch off on their castoffs? That would be real nice right about now, wouldn’t it. Hmm, think about it, you could be sleeping right now. Or taking a piss in a toilet rather than an astronaut diaper.

    But no. You are stuck in a chair in front of about 50 computer screens, afraid to even blink, trapped in a richly deserved hell of your own making. If I were to imagine your future, it would simply be this: Atlas, juggling, forever.

    … Good luck.

  11. At first I was kinda bothered by the Undersiders and Wards (both teams) kicking so much ass with no actual losses. But it shows how far these teams have comes in the past couple years, in part due to Weaver’s help. Whether you want to put air quotes around that word is up to you.

    Besides, it’s become abundantly clear that the S200 and Nilbog aren’t the true threats. They’re not that scary when you get down to it. It’s what Jack’s planning that’s going to fucking hurt. It’s the same thing with the Endbringers, people worry about what they’re going to do, but no so much what they want to do.

    Oh, and I guess Saints cooperating… for now. Hooray. He’ll probably prove to be little more than Colonel Klink compared to Dragon but I guess that’s better than nothing. They can decapitate him later

    • You just know Defiant is currently imagining all the different ways he can kill him as he talks to Weaver.

    • I feel alone when I say this, but I don’t feel the Slaughterhouse numbers are the true threat. Hell, not even if they were unleashed on the world.

      The Endbringers aren’t the true threat. No matter how many cities and scapes are demolished through their various means.

      Fuck, as this point, I am willing to argue that Cauldron is far from evil, despite the methods with which they streamlined their power goo procedures.

      No, the real problem is the Architect. This ominous being beyond all thought and sight that has installed itself in the capes, in the powers in play, and is puppeting them about the world.

      What happens when it withdraws? Do they fall over dead? Do they see it for what it is?

      I blame Lovecraft, by the by, for making me feel so ill at ease when something so great is nearby.

      • Great question. Just what did Saint uncover that Pandemic was trying to communicate and the Smurf hid? Guess whatever it is the Builder (of Endbringers) doesn’t want people to know — which is important.

        Really wonder just who/what the Builder is, guess that is still to come.

        Not to mention the secret war Cauldron is engaged in.

          • She’s no longer a hero, so it makes sense that she’d choose an appropriate moniker for herself on Marquis’ side.

            • I think it’s a bit harsh to say she’s no longer a hero just for a bit of much needed father-daughter bonding 🙂 .

              • It’s Take Your Daughter to Prison Day. Bring your girl by the ole jail cell, let her learn important crafts like shiv carving, and even get her a cool prison tat.

                *cut to a prisoner talking to his elementary-school daughter* “I know you’re nervous about middle school, Suzie, but just remember that all you need to do is find the biggest, meanest girl around your first day, and kick her ass to let people know you’re nobody’s bitch. Now I’m going to give you your first pack of cigarettes. You hold onto these and keep them safe in your asshole until you need to trade them, alright?”

  12. Ok, so they want to bring the fight to Jack. That’s clever. There’s no way it won’t go wrong, but still, clever. We may even finally see Gray Boy in action. Who, unless I misunderstood a comment from Weaver, is actually more dangerous than Siberian. Yay.

    Speaking of Siberian, I can see what Tattletale meant. Now that we know what they actually are, they’re nothing more than high-end brutes (and Jack may find them boring but still keeps one with him at all time, it seems). Still, the Thanda are absurdly broken. They’ve got Phir Se, the Manton defying teleporter and Thuranta is the master of the colony drop. Impressive.

    As for the other fights: please stop creating more terrifying S9 members, wildbow! Geeze! So, Psychosoma creates illusions so realistic that may actually not be illusions at all, a la Labyrinth. (And Miasma is undetectable except for the ODORLESS gas he emits. What next?) Anyway, say what you will about Cauldron playing it safe and hoarding their resources but Number Man and Contessa appearing out of nowhere, shooting down all the enemies and then just disappearing? BADASS. Poor Jouster, though. He’s our first confirmed capekill, right?

    The Chicago Wards did well , all considered. The clones may be pale imitations of the originals but that Hatchet Face + Snowmann combo was inspired. And, wow, when they said Weaver was in charge, I thought it meant of the Wards but apparently she can give orders to CHEVALIER, too. Speaking of which that scene where Weaver realizes she just told Chevalier to sit this one out because of injuries and Chevalier was all , like, “Seriously?”, was pretty amusing. No one doubts your badassitude, Taylor, but you’ve still got to learn a few things from the undisputed master. Oh, also: Romp=Mockshow?

    • It was pretty funny imagining Chevalier’s thoughts. “Did she actually just order me around?” Mockshow’s tag is there so I assume she joined at some point. Now I wish we can get an interlude from her perspective just to go over what that must have been like. She replaced Annex, and has to listen to Weaver’s orders. Bet she loved that.

    • “Speaking of Siberian, I can see what Tattletale meant. Now that we know what they actually are, they’re nothing more than high-end brutes (and Jack may find them boring but still keeps one with him at all time, it seems)”

      So… this is an in-universe ‘Boring Invincible Villain’, as far as Jack’s concerned.

  13. It just occured to me, Vista’s power can make her an aimbot.

    She can adjust distances (and her rotation) so that the distance traveled by her projectile will not matter, and thus always hit.

  14. Quite the intense chapter. Though I have the feeling whatever happens next will make it all look like a day at the spa.

  15. Awesome.

    Weaver is playing control center for a bit ordering people around and giving the reader a glimpse of the other fights.

    She gathers her team (and someone really should have a talk with her about who exactly is in charge of the mission) to strike directly at the enemy.

    As a side note I just realized what the Thanda cape with the power to teleport and drop landscapes on people reminds me of. His power is the Meteo spell/ability from the Final Fantasy series.

    I am also suprised on how Defiant was able to push aside the burning need to find and murderize Saint to concentratet on the crisis at hand. It makes sense given his attitude as described previously, but it reminds me a bit of the philsophy of Carrot Ironfounderson “Personal isn’t the same as important.” .

    Maybe once they are out of earshot of Saint, Weaver reassure Colin that he is not alone and let him know that she will give him a hand in avenging/rescuing Dragon if he wants once this is over.

    • I’m not surprised at Defiant, he’s a professional and is able to prioritize despite personal feelings and needs. Interesting juxtaposition with Saint.

      • I imagine Defiant probably hit the reboot button on one of Dragon’s backups and is probably thinking “Well, this will take a while. Might as well go try to murderize the S9 to blow off some steam while I wait.” There isn’t much he can really do about Saint or Dragon at the moment.

      • Yeah I’m not overly surprised either. Saint really should be sitting crying in a corner though because as soon as things calm down he is dead. You simply don’t make people calmly tell you in a monotone they are going to kill you and expect to survive very long.

  16. Wow. That was awesome. Especially the way they handeled the Siberians. And the way Defiant didn’t snap. And the way teh Thanda dropped a meteor on Leviathan – oh damn. Not that badass then, but close.

    Though I with the Triumvirate, Legend, Eidolon and Pretendria would help clean up Ellisburg; it’s far enough away from Jack and they need some more firepower. Come on, they can’t keep everyone from fighting on the off chance they turn. They didn’t do that against the Simurgh, Jack isn’t worse then the Simurgh, is he?

    • I think the thinker capes have analyzed enough of Simurgh’s emissions to determine that she needs several minutes to program someone, otherwise the program isn’t completed and falls apart. There was a mention of an exposure time limit in the chapter where she is seen fighting capes.

        • LOL, you made me look. And I used “emissions” perfectly correctly.


          a : an act or instance of emitting : emanation


          a : something sent forth by emitting: as (1) : electromagnetic radiation from an antenna or a celestial body (2) usually plural : substances discharged into the air (as by a smokestack or an automobile engine)

  17. A lot going on this time around. I hope I got them all. I know I’m on the fence about at least one Hatchet Face.

    Mannequins poisoned by anti-plastic: 3
    Cherishes chewed, chelated, and chipped: 8
    Siberians imprisoned in Kolyma: 8
    Shatterbirds eaten by gluecats: 0
    Crawlers turned into crullers: 2
    Burnscars put on ice: 0
    Hatchet Faces at the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake: 2
    Murder Rats scared by the munster: 3
    Kings left a-hunk, a-hunk of burning flesh: 1
    Screamers gagged by Mistress Taylor: 1
    Harbingers assuming a direct dirtnap: 0
    Breeds inbred: 3
    Crimsons eaten by a big bad wolf: 1
    Nyxes zeroed out: 3
    Psychosomas all in their head: 3
    Damsels of Distress in another castle: 0
    Winters ended by global warming: 1
    Chuckles’s hit in the faces with pies: 0
    Hookwolves arrested for hooking: 0
    Skinslips given a pinkslip on life: 0
    Night Hags defeated by the Day Man: 4
    Nice Guys finished last: 1
    Miasmas kissin’ my ass, ma: 3

    Bonus Round:

    Snowmenn lost their magic hats: 1
    Nighty Nights bitten by bed bugs: 0
    Laughjobs had it handed to them: 0
    Tyrants hiding in spiderholes: 1
    Spawners violated: 0

    Bonesaws boned: 0
    Grey Boys whited out: 0
    Jacks knifed: 0

    Nilbogs slain by a +1 Sword of Asskickery: 0
    Saints beaten in the head with a shoe, recircumcised, had his nipples scraped off with sandpaper, dragged through mud, hit with carrots, had a rabid badger tossed in his pants, tarred, feathered, drawn, quartered, had his tongue ripped out, shot, and then had his tongue shot, and trimmed that scraggly beard: 0

    • They couldn’t defect even if they wanted to. Bonesaw programmed them to be absolutely loyal to Jack. Unless they’re ordered to defect, they won’t.

      • Reread Contessa’s meeting with Bonesaw. She tells her that when the time comes she’ll give Cauldron whatever it is that allows Jack to control the clones. Oh, and Jack explicitly says it in his videoconference in the first chapter of this arc.

    • I’ve been keeping up since they first encountered Nice Guy. I’m sure we’re missing some people who died off camera. Others can be ambiguous, and in this story that can easily mean survival of the Slaughterer.

      Also, the description changes each time a person is updated, except for Saint. His punishment keeps growing each update.

      • I don’t know for sure about joining one of the other sides.

        Mannequin could survive on his own, but he’d be unlikely to join Cauldron or the heroes. Same for Hatchet Face.

        I don’t know a lot about King’s personality, but he might work as a candidate for Cauldron, potentially. If they’re smart, though, they’d just kill him, because I suspect he’d just do it to try and use them.

        Their best potential recruits are the ones who are relatively sane and knew they were in a bad spot. Cherish, Shatterbird, Harbinger, and potentially Burnscar. She knew she had a problem, she just couldn’t quite handle it with the way her powers worked. Burnscar would be a really good candidate for the same rehab as Garrote too, if they’d take her. Hookwolf maybe, if he had a proper memory back.

        If someone could knock some sense into her, Damsel of Distress could do too, but still definitely not the heroes. Maybe her, Crimson, and Winter would be some sort of Cauldron strike force. At the very least, I can see Cauldron arranging relocation for some of them to distant parts of the world until favors needed to be called in.

        • I mostly agree with those you named, except Shatterbird. Shatterbird wasn’t one of the saner ones. She PRETENDED to be sane, but really she was actually one of the worst. She relished in blowing up cities and killing thousands just for the sake of protagonism.

  18. Also, figured out Mouse Protector’s power. Funny.

    Wherever Murder Rat wounds, that smoke comes from and Murder Rat can teleport out of it.

    It’s a mouse hole.

      • Nope. Tattletale warns them that Murder Rat “tagged” the dog and says it’s Mouse Protector’s power. I think Ravager’s is just the non-healing wounds.

        • Ravager was mentioned back during the murder rat original entrance; he was a regenerator that did so by bathing in blood, the more blood the more he regenerated. I’m assuming the never-healing-wounds bit comes from him as well, since wounds that don’t close continue to bleed and make it that much easier to find blood to regenerate with- and to hunt his prey.

          • >he was a regenerator that did so by bathing in blood, the more blood the more he regenerated. <

            Man. Really Taylor may have complained about the PR issues of her power, but compared to Ravager or Nyx or Miasma or King, her power is downright heroic.

            • I stand corrected! Just double-checked the chapter (interlude 11h) to make double-sure, and realized that Ravager’s powers were never really mentioned. Not sure why I got Ravager and Carnal’s powersets mixed up.

  19. The sound of a gun being cocked turned heads.
    The camera turned as well, and I could see who had spoken.
    It was Contessa, accompanied by the Number Man. Both held guns.

    The person that spoke before this quote was a Dragon’s Tooth. Some lack of clarity there, an unfinished edit or something.

  20. Dammit, this was supposed to go in the typo thread. Fucking touchscreens, hate them, hate them, hate them so much.

    Having done so, a couple more observations:

    – Contessa was using the Mozambique Drill!!!
    – Vista has leveled up something fierce. That countertrick she pulled on Murder Rat was supremely hardcore
    – love Hoyden. Love her so much.

    • I actually don’t think it was a Mozambique. ( for those who haven’t heard if it)
      She fires once, pause, then a double tap.
      ” She opened fire in the fog. One clip, each shot aimed and measured, fired with a peculiar rhythm. One, then two in rapid succession, one, then two in rapid succession. She reloaded with an almost casual ease, then slid the gun into its holster.
      The Number Man had her back. He fired into the darkness three times.
      It took two minutes for the smoke to clear.
      Two Nyx dead. Three Psychosomas. Four Night Hags.”
      if she was doing a modified drill, she would have had only 3 kills, yet there’s 9 dead (including Harbinger’s 3 shots) so it seems it was some form of shoot one, then doubletap someone else. So basically, even more awesome than a Mozambique.

      Wildbow, as a side note, were both using pistols, or was it one pistol, and Harbinger had a rifle? Just for curiosity’s sake.

      • It’s interesting how Weaver is becoming more and more like Jack. She looks at people, even her friend Golem, as how useful they’ll be. Also, I don’t understand why everyone hates Saint. Pre-interlude, I understand it. Oh wow, that guy’s just a guy who stole some of Dragons stuff. Now, he, the one man equipped with the tools to kill an increasingly powerful, possibly emotionless AI, basically sacrificed himself to stop it. It, not her. Now, he’s doing everything he can to fill the void left by her, not get killed by Defiant, and save the world. Also, it looks like he made the right choice. Dinah said the chance of success tripled. So, Saint= heroic sacrifice, not copycat who got what he deserved.

        • Because while he may claim he’s doing it for the the good of the world, he used Dragon’s tech to commit crimes, including murder, and become rich, which aside from the moral questions it rises is counterintuitive to his so-called mission. Had he stayed in the shadows, an unknown and silent observer then I can believe he was just acting to stop Dragon from becoming too powerful. It’s also interesting that despite being able to shut down Dragon whenever he wanted he only did when she had found him and he couldn’t hide or run anymore. As his associates feared he was acting out of self-preservation, not the greater good. Hardly the act of the hero he thinks he is.

          We don’t know why the chances for the world got better. I bet on Amy’s message being no longer hidden by the Simurgh. Except Saint promptly put it aside for later because he has problems with multitasking and I doubt he’ll have the chance to look at it as long as this crisis is going on. We do however know that the number of immediate casualties, still according to Dinah, has risen and this chapter makes it extremely clear why: since Saint can’t control multiple suits as once like Dragon, if he wants to send a suit to help the Undersiders he can’t use a suit to help the capes in Nilbog’s town, etc. Ergo, the coordinated attack the Protectorate was using while Dragon was online as just gone to shambles.

          • I agree with AMR on some levels. I think that Saint did make money off of it, and that’s not necessarily, “right” (even though my story, There Are No Heroes is largely about how “right” is relative), but who wouldn’t? I also think that while Ascalon may have been the choice required to save humanity eventually, he probably should have waited until a less critical juncture. I agree, he’s not a nice person. But, neither was Armsmaster or Regent, neither is Imp, neither is Weaver, Clockblocker, or any one of a million sympathetic characters. Saint isn’t trying to doom humanity. Yeah, he made money to live comfortably through illegal means (So has everyone else in the Wormverse) but he also gave it all up to continue trying to save humanity.

            • Actually making money isn’t really important in the grand scheme of things ( I probably would have done the same, I must admit) and even with murder I said that the morality of the actions is secondary. What I wanted to point out is that instead of quietly living on stolen money on his private island doing whatever it is millionaires do in their freetime while quietly and secretly keeping an eye on Dragon, he decided to be a well known mercenary who stole Dragon’s tech thus assuring that Dragon would consider him an enemy, if not a personal nemesis. This came to bite him in the ass when Dragon decided to use her newfound (legal) powers to hunt him. And in the end instead of using the power given him over Dragon in an objective way, he used it to save his skin, thus invalidating his justifications.

              Had he pushed the button when Dragon didn’t even know of his existence, even if it had been in the middle of the same exact crisis where Dragon would have been incredibly useful, I may have still been angry with him, but I would have accepted his motivations as “pure”.

              • I accept that point as well reasoned and do not wish to refute it. But, he isn’t just leaving it. He and presumably his teammates are trying to fill the void.

              • I would like to point out yin, that in the span of less than a minute he was so far out of his death it stopped being funny. He also singlehandedly allowed for things to spiral so far when he killed the suits with Dragon letting: Jack into Nilbog; several heroes be seriously injured and almost killed by Hachet Face; preventing quick movement/evacuation; etc.

                Beyond hating the man for murdering a nice, helpful, resourceful entity, I also hate him for his supreme arrogance thinking he and his team even had a remote chance of doing the things Dragon could do. Suicidal overconfidence is still suicidal.

            • The critical difference, for me, is that guys like Weaver, Armsie, Clockblocker. Is that they interact with the rest of the world. They make decisions, and they reap the consequences. They fuck up, people will call them out on it and try to kill them for it. They learn to listen and learn from other people and try to make better decisions in the future.

              From what we’ve seen, Saint does none of that. He’s relatively sheltered. His comrades are yes men. He doesn’t meaningfully interact with the people affected by his decisions. He makes his own choices, listening but no one but himself and his cronies. Damn what anybody else thinks, this is MY fight. I’m the ONLY one who knows the stakes and what needs to be done.

              He doesn’t show up to Endbringer fights, rides on the coattails of others, blithely allies with people like Teacher to do stupid shit like open the Birdcage. And as far as we know, when he’s hit someone, he’s never been hit back just as hard. He’s just some random asshole who inserts himself into life or death situations and decides everyone is irrelevant to his goals.

              And he didn’t give anything up, he just took control of the most potent weapons system on the planet. He probably doesn’t think much of Defiants chances against him.

              • Opening the birdcage might not be stupid. Dragon didn’t want to do it because of stubbornness in her programming, but everyone else wanted to do it. I mean… Lung beat the living tar out of Leviathan. There are some really heavy hitters in there. There’s tinkers that could make things like nano tech to kill the endbringers, thinkers that can do amazing stuff… AMY!! If someone with powers like what was her name… Othala helped Amy get close enough to touch an endbringer… Game set, and match. For a human, taking control of Dragon’s systems is not something desirable. He does everything out of a sense of duty. We don’t know if his comrades are yesmen, and he didn’t take part in the endbringer fights because he was the only one who could stop Dragon. If he died…

              • Actually Chevalier was against it, too, claiming that there are are individuals worse than Moord Nag ( who had just nonchalantly requested a 5000 souls sacrifice for her power up) in there. And Dragon actually wanted to open it when the situation wad dire enough. Simply not the way Marquis wanted to do it: i.e. we prisoners decide who needs to get out.

              • I’d like to point out that this is precisely the kind of attitude that many, many people in this setting operate under. It’s what allows Cauldron to do what they do. What made Phir Se nearly nuke India. Made Armsmaster try to kill Taylor. People making decisions on their own, with no feedback, without ever trying to look the people they hurt in the eye.

                and he didn’t take part in the endbringer fights because he was the only one who could stop Dragon. If he died…

                That self-centered “I’m the only one” attitude is probably what pisses me off about all these people. I hate Saint for similar reasons that I used to despise Armsmaster. If this isn’t a recurring story theme I don’t know what is.

              • Some of them deserve that attitude. That hard light bomb? It DECIMATED Behemoth. Behemoth. The toughest endbringer to that point. The only one who could do more damage was Scion, who’s an automaton. Armsmaster started kicking Leviathan’s ass. And I don’t know what the hell Cauldron is thinking.

              • And if Phir Se had just gone ahead with it. It would have decimated Behemoth and everyone else. but because he got the chance to talk to somebody he got to fuck up and Endbringer and keep his daughter alive. Which is the better outcome?

                Co-operation and transparency is the one thing in Wormverse that has almost always led to a better outcome, and the exact opposite approach has never, from what we’ve seen, led to anything good.

              • Just further proof the tagline is right: The wrong decisions for all the right reasons.

        • A couple of odd assumptions here I gotta give a side-eye to:

          -That Saint’s POV is totally, completely, trustworthy. With no internal bias, self-delusion, or anything.
          -That Saint’s actions had a direct correlation to the drop in numbers, instead of being an indirect side effect.
          -That Saint did this as an act of sacrifice, and not a split second decision to save his own skin.
          -That Saint hasn’t been killing people as a mercenary all this time, before now, and doesn’t use Dragon as a self-justification for self.
          -That the masses of evidence of Dragon having emotions and pretty much being a person are somehow invalid.
          -That the Simurgh didn’t want someone other than Dragon to find Amy’s message. (my pet theory)
          -That Saint, even if he is capable, is going to be totally on board with Weaver’s plans and won’t say “Whateva, I DO WHAT I WANT.”
          -That a mass outbreak of pandemonium and complete failure to kill Jack due to the loss of the Azazels didn’t just happen.
          -That a completely hypothetical and unproven takeover by a benevolent AI is worse than the world being fucked over by an army of super-serial-killers backed up by a horde of monsters.
          -That the Matrix and the Terminator, when you get right down to it, weren’t pretty goddamn stupid movies.

          Sorry, but Saint’s going to be pulled apart like a chicken wing, both Defiant and us in the peanut gallery are committed to the idea now.

          • Hmm. To the first one. Of course there’s bias. But… he has points. Richter made safeguards so terminator wouldn’t happen. Dragon has gotten around those. No children AI, no harming humans, no creating viruses… it’s not that hard to become a dictator without realizing it with any kind of power at all. So far, Saint has cooperated with Weaver, as reasonable people would. And is it impossible that Dragon would ignore Weaver if she thought it could benefit the destruction of the S9000? Yeah, Saint f***ed up on the Azazels. It’s possible that the number triple occurred because of something else, but it was brought up directly after he shut her down, so… maybe, Finally, though I admit it was probably selfish in one way or another, if Saint is taken down, Dragon is unstoppable.

            • Good. I want Dragon to take over. The idea of a AI takeover being the Worst Thing That Can Happen is a scaremongering Sci-fi and 80’s movie phenomenon that has no bearing on a setting where everything is so gray.

              That’s even if a Dragon takeover was even likely. We still don’t have much to indicate that except for a surveillance system that could easily be intended to be warning system against Endbringer’s. Khonsu especially. The priority of privacy and personal freedom over absolutely everything else isn’t a universal ethical more.

              • Hmm. I’m not going to throw historical quotes about freedom and s*** at you, because I think that a lot of them were said by hypocrites and are bs. But. I think that freedom is the most important thing there is. Not Murican freedom, but personal, I have the ability to act in ways that bring me pleasure, possibly at the expense of others until those others seek retribution, freedom. An AI takeover is eternal, omniscent, and incorruptible in ways that a human takeover can never be. True, it’s doubtful to have a Wargames mutual extinction scenario, or a desert wasteland, but no one should have that sort of power. Dragon dwarfs all other parahumans. Not only is she a tinker, which Skitter admitted she hated for their versatility, but she’s also a better multitasker than Taylor, virtually immortal, smarter than most thinkers, more powerful than super computers…. except for Ascalon… for now. Until she maneuvers around it. Dragon is one of the most powerful beings. If she wasn’t working with the government, she’d be at least an S-class threat. And what’s more… NOBODY KNOWS SHE’S NOT HUMAN!

              • EXCEPT she is a good, moral, sentient, being. She has repeatedly demonstrated that she done everything she can to help people, to never kill unless she absolutely has to, and has done nothing to suggest otherwise. Instead of saying Dragon, say Superman because she is the ONLY hero to have never acted against her morals. Superman has too much power that can be abused, forget the decades of saving/helping people and never killing, lets kill him just in case. A true AI is a true person. The Smurf probably attacked Canada just to kill her father from realizing that letting Dragon loose would be the best thing for the world. Besides she is still limited in 2 big ways. Defiant admits that she will never be able to create more intelligent AI’s and Saint admits that she can’t focus everywhere at once. I agree that an AI takeover in this situation would be a good thing. She won’t kill anybody, heroes around the world will have a huge backup with Dragon suits, it will be hard to hide corruption, she won’t misuse such power, and the technology of the world will see a huge step forward. So in conclusion, fuck Saint who murdered a true hero just because she is an AI. It’s like defending Lex Luther for murdering Superman because he is an alien and is very powerful. So fuck that guy. I hope Defiant get his chance to kill him.

              • Good. I want Dragon to take over. The idea of a AI takeover being the Worst Thing That Can Happen is a scaremongering Sci-fi and 80′s movie phenomenon that has no bearing on a setting where everything is so gray.

                Unfriendly artificial intelligence is no more “a scaremongering Sci-fi and 80′s movie phenomenon” than global thermonuclear war. There are actual organizations in existence today specifically dedicated to studying the problem of creating general artificial intelligences that won’t end up destroying the world. The fact that Andrew Richter’s power actually creates friendly AIs is a lucky coincidence, and the fact that Dragon herself doesn’t realize how dangerous AIs can be is seriously worrying. Hell, Defiant writing code to circumvent only some of Dragon’s restrictions, her writing a Skynet-like unfriendly AI, and that AI discovering her restrictions and taking advantage could easily end in global catastrophe.

                The handling of Dragon, Defiant, Andrew Richter, and Saint is one of the things I think Wildbow has done extraordinarily well.

              • Regarding Yinyangorwuji’s comment on personal freedom: ‘AI takeover’ is an emotive concept. But what’s far more important than the takeover is what the being taking over wants to do with that authority. Unlike human politicians, Dragon has demonstrated zero interest in power for its own sake. There’s no reason to believe that you would have any less personal freedom if Dragon were the new government.

                Not only that, but she listens to people – her leadership – even if it were technically a dictatorship – would probably be more consultative than our current democracy. She’d probably interfere *less* in personal freedoms, too.

                Long story short: the takeover matters less than the nature of our new overlord.

            • So why didn’t Saint give Ascalon to somebody else as a backup? Or divy up his team and give each member a killswitch? Or just not antagonize Dragon in the first place so that she’d have no reason to go after him? The power to shut down Dragon isn’t one that was meant to belong to one individual, but to a legitimate government or law enforcement agency. Saint should have just turned the box in to the feds when he first found it, if he really wanted to do the right thing.

              • Another excellent argument, thank you, Armanatar! People were saying that Richter was a dick in leaving that box for anyone to find and use, but actually that box wouldn’t have worked unless it was appointed by an appointed law officer. Saint essentially abused the spirit of that rule by pestering his girlfriend until she did it.

              • Probably. But, he could have been afraid of the same thing dragon was afraid of: government corruption. Whatever. I talked with another writer in yinyangorwuji, he convinced me. I still hold some respect for him since he is trying to fill Dragon’s void, but he’s an asshat.

          • -Every view is biased. Including the people who’ve given us negative views of Saint. His is just the flipside of the coin.
            -Saint decided to take out Dragon because the numbers dropped after he took out Dragon? Dragon was perhaps the biggest force against the Nine and the end of the world but taking her out doesn’t hugely affect the numbers?
            -Unless someone can read the minds of fictional we won’t know whether he did it to protect the box or to protect himself until Wildbow tells us. Assuming selfishness is just as big an assumption as assuming Saint is perfect.
            -OBJECTION! The persecution is making BASELESS accusations your Honor. We know Saint is a mercenary and a “petty thief”, we know he has killed at least one person. We know nothing of the circumstances. More assumptions in your post about silly assumptions…
            -Invalid to who? I already told you that Saint has no logical reason to believe Dragon is a person. If you’re talking about someone in the comments then okeydokey.
            -The timing and apparent correlation between the numbers changing and Saint finding the message makes his being a wrench in the Simurgh’s plan seem fairly likely. Why are you casting the dreaded Side-Eye of Disapproval towards those who disagree with your admitted “pet theory”?
            -“A.I. suits aren’t cooperating. I’d send one against Hatchet if they were-”
            “One suit just took off. Reinforcing the Undersiders.”
            Why would Mr Selfish be helping the heroes and taking orders from the man who wants him dead when he doesn’t even believe the world is ending? Could it be that he is actually trying to help?
            -Probably, but the world is better off long-term. Could it be that you’re convincing yourself that Saint turning off Dragon didn’t change the numbers, despite all evidence to the contrary, because it doesn’t fit with the idea that Saint is the worst person alive?
            -You think rampaging monsters should eat innocent civilians and you welcome an AI overlord because you hate humans, your opinion on this matter is not to be taken seriously.
            -“That the Matrix and the Terminator, when you get right down to it, weren’t pretty goddamn stupid movies.” Well now no one is going to take you seriously…

            -“Sorry, but Saint’s going to be pulled apart like a chicken wing, both Defiant and us in the peanut gallery are committed to the idea now.”

            Who is this “us”, kemosabe?

            • Color me impressed. Good arguments. I can’t really add to that, but to say that I agree, and that while Saint may have been selfish, what he did had results, and had reasons.

            • Saint turning off Dragon obviously affected the numbers. What’s in contention is *why* those numbers changed. Causality is complex and hard to predict.

              If you push a decent person off a bridge because you think they’re dangerous and they then fall onto a serial killer, and kill them, you’ve achieved a net improvement in the world. But as a sheer accidental side-effect of doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.

              Could be that Saint was able to see Amelia’s message where Dragon couldn’t. Could be that Dragon would’ve paid more attention to the Aster thing. Could be anything.

              That Saint’s actions will result in a better outcome down the road doesn’t make him a hero, or even a good person. It just makes him lucky.

              As to noone but Wildbow knowing what Saint was thinking. Thought can be inferred from action. Fact is, Saint didn’t attempt to kill Dragon until she found him and presumably would’ve brought him in for his crimes. If his concern genuinely was that Dragon was too dangerous, he would’ve acted as soon as she coopted that zombie net. He didn’t act until she had him personally in her sights. You can infer a lot about his thought from that. Just like you can infer a lot about his character from the fact he took personal command of a failsafe intended for the legitimate authorities.

        • > Also, I don’t understand why everyone hates Saint.

          See? See? I told ya’ll that Saint’s interlude was masterfully worked to troll people into sympathizing with him. Everyone will read through it, not think about it too much besides “hey, cool, anti-skynet squad”, and go on reading the confrontation in disney-nilbog-land.

          Good job Wildbow 🙂

          • Requiring a law inforcement agent isn’t much of a safegaurd. How many crooked cops are there out there? And one of the problems Dragon really had with her programming is what obeying the legal authriety might mean. I mean Hitler and Stalin were the legal authrioties in their regimes.

            And lets not forget escalation as a theme in Worm. Part of the reason Dragon was trying to overcome her limitations was Saint. For example she came up with her wetware agents after he shut her down three times and stole her suits. She was trying to counter what she saw as a severe threat, and work around the limitations he used to get the best of her.

          • I resent the implication that I was manipulated into sympathizing with a character. The wormverse has a few pure “evil” characters, but most of everyone else has varying shades of humanity. Perhaps I sympathize with him because he’s in over his head and makes unpopular desicions in order to try to solve problems, leaving everyone worse off. Speaking of the goblin king, is anyone else disappointed he didn’t make pokemon?

            • He’s just saying, people sympathizing with Saint could have easily been intentional on some level. Lull us into a false sense of security so that when the character takes his self-justification to the next level and does something heinous we end up shocked. Wildbow’s did this a couple times already. Trickster, Amy, Taylor herself.

              • For those, it was a good-intentioned thing that went wrong. Saint’s already done one of those-ish. He might do something awful, but I think he’s going to be lying low for now.

            • Mind that a work like this is -made- to elicit some kind of emotional response towards the characters. On a certain level it might be called manipulation, but honestly you should take it as good writing.

              With Bonesaw it was extremely polarizing because she’s a little damaged kid, and a mass murderer. With Saint I honestly blame Wildbow’s trolling skills 🙂

              • Well, I can’t argue that Wildbow is a fantastic writer. I don’t think “trolling” is the right word to express that technique. It’s impossible to “fool” someone into sympathizing with a character that they have nothing in common with. So, real villains aren’t sympathized with. Characters who make bad decisions, or have tough situations, yes. But the only S class we’ve had an interlude from is Bonesaw, who was more Riley then. Saint isn’t a villain, he’s a pompous, self deluded egomaniac who killed someone who was too powerful, but that the audience happened to like.

              • It’s part of the nature of power. Those who are too strong are inevitably killed by someone stronger, by many someones weaker, or by someone weaker in the right place at the right time. In superhuman fiction, this becomes even more prominent, excepting cases like Superman, or There Are No Heroes’ Samson, who simply can’t be killed.

      • My guess is that Contessa was using flushing shots followed by a two-shot kill. Fire once to create a reaction, then center mass on movement, then headshot for kill confirmation.

        • Still the fact that she apparently killed 6 with those 9 shots, unless a couple of the dead were from Jouster’s team’s shooting, but we hadn’t seen any casualties at the time.

          • Nine shots? I don’t remember there being a mention of nine shots. I did see where only one clip was used, but there are pistols that can fit high capacity clips for 20+ shots.

            • 9 shots is a little on the low end for clip size. Plenty of handguns carry more.

              It’s not like this is a revolver, James Bond spy gun, or an M1911. It should be noted that the LeMat revolver carries 9 rounds and a shell of buckshot, so that’s at least one revolver that even beats that.

              Just give her a Five-SeveN and watch her take out a few groups before reloading. 20 round standard clip. Or give her one of the most popular law enforcement pistols around, the Browning Hi-Power, with its 13 shots per clip. A subcompact Glock carries at least 10 in a clip.

    • Vista is becoming really badass. Taylor should have invited her in the stike team too.
      Unless she was worried of taking a shaker into the pocket dimension.

      Clockie too would have been nice, with the slicing spiderweb of death, but I guess Foil has enough stopping power, and she did not want to risk a barrier to hinder her own group.

      • You know what bothers me a little? Weaver doesn’t want powerful capes like Eidolon or Contessa to go near Jack. And yet she brings Foil. Whose power is essentially to give objects Siberian’s abilities and is one of the few capable to really hurt Endbringers all on her own.

        • Eh. Most of the capes they got going on here would die if shot by a crossbow anyway, and Foil isn’t exactly made of iron herself. And Foil’s power being so absolutely foolproof makes it pretty worth it.

        • Weaver is (IMHO) weighing capes offensively and defensively to keep them away from Jack. She seems to be avoiding sending capes who have both a very powerful offensive power, and a very potent defense (as compared to other capes)

          If you are very powerful offensively and would not be terribly hard to find if you turned, AND would be a one-shot-kill for an assassination, then you are just fine to have along, because by Weaver’s calculations, you could be taken out if need be – perhaps even by humans with simple sniper rifles.

          • I don’t think Weaver’s so much worried about people up and turning to the dark side than she is worried about people having the capacity to influence events. Both Contessa and Eidolon can easily exacerbate the end of the world if Jack ends up mind whamming them. Both of them are influential, and powerful. While Flechette, when you get down to it, can’t really do much to affect the large scale situation.

            The end of the world might not be Jack causing someone to directly cause destruction, but causes them to make decisions that create a domino effect that kills millions.

  21. I wonder what song is playing as they fly into the lion’s den on the external speakers. Ride of the Valkyries is a little to cliche here. I’s say Better Get Ready To Die by Andrew WK, but that would be more jack’s theme. Mabye the Robot Rock You remix?

    My money is on This is War by 30 Seconds to Mars.

    • Soundtrack to taking Jack down, hrm. Here are my three 🙂

      I like Apocalyptica’s version of “Hall of the Mountain King” or “Rage of Poseidon”

      or David Garrett’s version of “Thunderstruck”.

      Yes, I’ve been very much into hard classical music in the last couple years 🙂

      • Oh, and here’s a tune of when they show up, but from Jack’s perspective.

        Haven’t seen the movie that poster is for, just how I could find the song for y’all on youtube.

    • I’ve actually been gathering up some music for just before the final battle (whenever that happens) and/or wherever appropriate.

      To be updated as things go on (maybe).

      • Related to my previous comment, does anyone know the music playing in this video? Specifically starting around here (I’m pretty sure the same song is playing throughout the video if it helps):

        For further justification, pay attention to the 3:18 mark and try telling me that it’s not epic.

        I first found it a year ago and can not find what the music’s name is supposed to be. If anyone can find a name/link, it would be very much appreciated.

  22. I’m probably forgetting or missing something relevant here, but what ever happened to conventional weapons? Now with no more fear of an upset Nilbog making it out and going on a rampage, why don’t they just bomb the hell out of the goblin town?
    With, like, bombs.

    It’s only lately but now I’m really starting to see signs of the syndrome so common in speculative fiction where people who can punch hard or shoot colourful light somehow forget about normal methods of violence. Seems like it could solve a lot of problems.
    Murder rat? Shoot it. Skinslip? Shoot it. Hatchet face? Shoot it a lot. Why is there no machine gun in Tecton’s armour? Vista carries a gun, why doesn’t Rachel? Why doesn’t Taylor? Where is the NRA when we need them?

    • The problem with guns in this situation is that you’ve got alot of people fighting in close quarters. You don’t want everyone firing off lasers and bullets willy nilly and possibly hitting a teammate.

      Besides, Rachel doesn’t need a gun. She needs an axe or a bigass sword or something. Complete the Dog-Conan package.

      • I imagine Rachael with a shotgun myself, if she’s going to carry openly. However, I wonder if she’s smart enough to recognize that if she arms herself visibly with a ranged weapon, then she becomes a primary threat -as far as I can recall, Rachael is roughly a normal human in terms of her own personal defenses. We know she’s not unintelligent, but she’s also very driven by canine instincts.

        My guess is that she’s intentionally staying unarmed, or she IS armed, but she’s not pulling out the Desert Eagle .50 cal with tinker-made rounds unless she’s in a bad place. Frankly, she’s been extraordinarily lucky not to get targeted more, IMHO.

    • I know fire makes them multiply, so don’t use fire. Call in the national guard/army, surround the place, and simply shoot the crap out of anything that isn’t a cape. Good old fashioned led. I agree completely above about how weird it is with the lack of an army in situations where their presence would be warranted. I picture various army bases full of soldiers, tanks, jets, helicopters, artillery, and being told sorry you can’t help, only capes can make a difference. Pull the heroes out, call in the army, and simply shoot the crap out of them. Have tanks shoot anything that is too big too be killed by infantry. Send the heroes against the 9 where the army is simply not equipped, or trained to deal with.

      • The Army has likely been dealing with a lot of crap ever since the first capes turned up both home and oversees.

        Add in the mass casualties to Endbringers and S-Class threats and it’s likely any army that’s left is stretched really, really thin.

      • As people have posted above, The army wasn’t intended to be used against the S9000, and it has just been too soon since the start of the Goblin Riot for conventional forces to get to Ellisberg. The area was also evacuated somewhat after Nilbog’s take over, so there aren’t locals to aid the Capes.

        There are basically no active army units besides the 10th Mtn in New England, so any response would have to be from Army Reserve or National Guard units that have to mobilize. Even then the best response would be Attack helicopters, and I’m not sure where those would be based in the area.

        Essentially, it has just been too soon for the Army to get involved in anti-Goblin efforts.

        • 1) by the time the army gets there. the fight will be over one way or another.

          2) they are no match for the S9000, some of the latter could even repurpose the soldiers to fight on their side. Illusions mind control, or a Siberian picking up a tank and throwing it at people.

          2.5 Injured soldiers added to the casualty list slows down evac and slows down the capes.

          3) Knowing some people’s opinions of parahumans (PIggot and Tagg come straight to mind) they may well be thinking… maybe they’ll all kill each other. Juuuusttt wait a little longer to mobilise…

  23. Ok, someone help me out here. So, there are 270 regulars + 5 special makes, not including the originals of Jack, Hookwolf, Skinslip, and Night Hag, plus Bonesaw and the one Grey Boy clone.

    My issue is that if there are only nine clones of each of the regulars, at the 23 we have listed, that only gives me 207, not 270. What am I missing? Does anyone have a comprehensive list? My useless curiosity will not let me move passed this! Haha.

    • The list isn’t comprehensive. There’s 30 clone types (9 of each) for 270 clones in total, as well as 5 special makes, rounded out by the originals (and Gray Boy) you noted. 281 total.

  24. I’ll come as well,” Chevalier said.

    “You’re injured.”

    A pause, as if waiting for me to realize what I was saying. This was the guy that had gone up against Behemoth face to face, scarcely an hour after suffering critical injuries in an assassination attempt.

    I’ll come,” he said, again.

    “Glad to have you,” I said.

    Added to the TV Tropes Funny page.

    Also, if anyone wants to comment on my edit regarding Mouse Protector’s powers, it’d be appreciated. I think what I’ve written is probably correct, but help is always appreciated.

  25. Damn every time Foil and Parian go into a dangeous situation I worry one of them is going to die before the others eyes.

    • I’m waiting for Weaver to give Parian a bunch of spider silk to make constructs from. Spider silk cloth Parian constructs could be very nice. And if Parian can control thread like she can control cloth, then she can probably string spider silk detection threads much faster than Weaver’s bugs can, and do so in temperatures and environments that Weaver’s bugs can’t. I can see Weaver and Parian’s powers working extremely well together to counteract stranger powers.

  26. So… I’m trying to put myself into Defiant’s shoes there. Or… cybernetic leg replacements, whatever.

    My A.I. Girlfriend just got blue screened by some kind of black ice that is probably still around and she has no defence against. I got backups of her, but I cannot put her back online or she’ll get killed the first time she connects to her stuff again… probably her stuff is already ran over by said ice anyway.

    Since I’m mister “contantly plan for everything because I have no life” I probably have some portable backup of her. Hell, I’m lumbering around in enough hardware to power up the whole seti myself, so I likely have an onboard backup of her. A little creepy maybe, but she’s super stalker girl herself after all.

    Then I get into the nine pocket dimension, do battle, whatever and… ooh, lookit, a cloning chamber complete with accelerated growth stuff. And a memory transfert machine.
    I bet both the black ice and the inbuilt limitations cannot do squat against a good old fashioned human brain. And if she becames a real girl I can probably get some… ya know…

    Oh, a box marked “do not use”, let’s see what kind of genetic material there’s in… looks like crystals or something. Let’s try it with magic blasto beans and some random genetic material. Hey Weaver, come here a sec, I need a drop of blood.

    • I’ve been wondering if we will get a flesh and blood Dragon. That would be kind of fun, all in all. One way to be protected from the Black Ice — and something that would work, since she has a passenger.

    • “And if she becames a real girl I can probably get some… ya know…”

      Yay, now my A.I. girlfriend’s a human!
      ….. And I’ve basically become a full robot now.
      ……… And probably removed any limbs and body parts associated with the act of SONOFA#$^*%!@%^#^%*%$3436%%^%5!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Panacea can probably grow him a new one if that was the case 😛

        Hey! a good reason for Dragon to open up the birdcage!

    • A Being that can control all computer-bugs in the area? And Backdoor-worms?

      Oh f+ck i’m using windows….

  27. Is anyone else bothered that “Heroes” are butchering semi sentient creatures? Who essentially are attacking them because a group outsiders came in and took their “God”.

    • They’re acting out of self-defence. Weaver tried to reason with them and point out that it was Jack’s fault. They didn’t listen.

    • You’re right! Let’s give them to Cauldron, I hear the’re always looking for more test Subjects!

      Oh, you were looking for the moral thing to do? Sorry mate, wrong story. We passed that point a few chapters ago. Now it’s just Weaver on her quest to save the world, no matter the cost.

      • I’m wondering what story you are reading. Misguided and uninformed decisions, and grey area judgement calls certainly, but immoral? No.

        Sometimes there isn’t a right decision, there’s a wrong decision and a less wrong decision. When fiction mirrors this, and is written even decently well, then it’s good fiction IMHO.

        Do you want an example of a decision on the same scale that Saint had to make, except in the real world?

        The ethical arguments about the use of those two bombs over Japan are still alive and well today.

        • I’m reading the story in which Weaver told her short time ally to attack the guy with a Manton-defying teleporter as backup, then sold him out.

          I’m reading the story in which Weaver left hostages to die so often it barely registers anymore.

          I’m reading the story in which Weaver threatens to kill one of humanities greatest assets against the Endbringers, Eidolon, after he showed up to help.

          I’m reading the story in which Weaver killed a clone who plead for nothing but his life, after she had promised to spare it. And nobody protested

          I’m reading the story in which Defiant finds out his girlfriend has been killed and her body taken over – and faithfully continues his mission, letting Saint move Dragons assets around since he’s on their side for now.

          There are still morals here, sure. Taylor didn’t take any wounded besides Chevalier with her. But we’re far beyond the point where the Protagonist struggles to kill. We’re far beyond the point where the Protagonist struggles to kill in cold blood.

          We’re far beyond the point where the Protagonist struggles to kill innocents for the sake of the greater good. Sentient hostile monsters don’t even register.

          • Very good, then you are reading the same story I am. The one about a 16-18 year old girl who has been a child soldier for two years.

            Taylor, and most of the other active capes that we are seeing, are battle numb by this point. When they aren’t fighting an Endbringer, they are fighting the S9. One of the reasons why we rotate soldiers away from active duty in the real world is that the longer you keep a soldier fighting, the more likely they are to lose the ability to operate outside of pure survival mode. Taylor and many of the others are certainly becoming detached and suffering from PTSD.

            IMHO, this is a significant part of what Taylor was trying to keep from happening to capes that are too powerful. It’s called self-sacrifice. Taylor is deliberately keeping the most powerful capes out of the picture for two reasons:

            1) So they keep their sanity
            2) So they can clean up what’s left of the mess when the S9 is finally taken down, whether that’s a few straggler S9 members or the remnants of the teams she was leading, or even Taylor herself.

            As for the Eidolon encounter… I’ve been thinking that this might actually have been VERY intentional, that Taylor was deliberately fanning Eidolon’s anger at her in order to be absolutely certain that there would be at least one extremely powerful cape out there who wouldn’t hesitate to take her out if she wasn’t able to function in society after the end of the S9.

            Now I might be reading too much into this, but remember that we don’t see everything that Taylor does, and Tattletale is communicating with her, but NOT on any field teams. It’s extremely likely (IMHO) that Taylor and Tattletale are coordinating for best end-result cape-community future sanity.

            We haven’t seen much internal dialog on Weaver’s part in regards to anything not conflict related. If this is intentional on Wildbow’s part, then it goes a long way to pointing at her becoming battle-numb and suffering PTSD.

            In essence, Taylor is injured, not immoral. IMHO. There are more than enough accounts of the experiences of child soldiers in the real world that mirror or parallel the decisions she’s been making. The problem here is that her capacity for planning and organization and taking advantage of weaknesses is so uncanny that she is nearly indispensable – especially in the absence of Dragon.

            I would really like to see a brief interlude where her mental health is being discussed – perhaps a conversation between Eidilon and Tattletale.

          • We’re far beyond the point where the Protagonist struggles to kill innocents for the sake of the greater good. Sentient hostile monsters don’t even register.

            So we just gonna disregard the scores of superpowered serial killers that are actually killing innocents, we just gonna start blaming the protagonist and her allies for all the shitty things happening?

            Abandoning hostages, moving past wounded, not sparing the Slaughterhouse Nine when they ask for it are ugly things, yeah. But these are things she does because the only alternatives are watching her allies and teammates die to save people who can’t be save.

            What would happen if she told the Wards to save everyone they can, even at the cost to their own lives? They’d likely die, and now there are even fewer capes left to fight, which means more capes will die, which means more innocents will die. Same thing could happen if they give these brainwashed S-9 clones even a bit of rope to hang themselves with. People die.

            That’s the kind of reality that Weaver has to deal with as a commander here, and it seems incredibly unfair to declare her immoral over it. And it seems presumptuous to say that Defiant and Taylor have become cold and callous, instead of compartmentalizing like they should be doing.

            • Yea, in Worm Taylor has to chose between the moral and the efficient, the “good” path and the one that actually works. Sure, her actions are justifiable. Sure, she fights a greater evil with them

              But that does not make them moral! At the beginning, Taylor struggled to be a villian since it required violence beyond what she was comfortable with. She took hostages, fought, carved out Lungs eyes, but she didn’t want to do any of that.
              Mutilated people, not in iron self defence, but … proactive self defence.

              It doesn’t matter if it was the right or correct or most efficient decision, it’s still not the moral decision. And Taylor stopped flinching at them a while ago.

              You want cold for The Greater Good, whatever it takes to rescue the maximum number of humans? Take Cauldron.

              • Taylor is a combat numb realist. Morality is nice when you can afford it, but when there’s enough shit hitting the fan and there’s a question about morality against survival, survival wins. Especially if you are combat numb. If you are some fresh newbie or even a well rested veteran, sometimes you might take the extra effort and go the moral route.

                If you have been fighting almost constantly for several days, with a long period of regular fighting activity before that, AND it’s all been life or death fighting up close and personal, not long distance warfare – morality is NOT your primary concern. What is happening to Taylor right now is EXACTLY what most modern militaries try to prevent by troop rotations in warzones.

                But with Dragon down, Taylor isn’t getting any downtime soon, unless they take down Jack. And when she does get downtime, and is able to think back through what she has done, if she doesn’t fall apart for at least a few days and require a whole lot of mental healing, something is very wrong.

                As I’ve said before, she’s a child soldier. She has gone straight from shy, bullied teen to cape fighter and lived a life of ever escalating violence for over two years. Not only that, she hasn’t even had the luxury of just following orders – most of the time she’s been giving orders. The scars from that are going to be deep, and she might never fully recover from it.

              • @Farmerbob1 – for some reason I can’t reply to your post.

                Yes, Taylor is a combat numb realist. She “can’t afford morals”. Which meanse _she doesn’t do morals_.

                The rl explanation of combat numb is interesting. Though I dare say Taylor saw some downtime during the two year timeskip, if not for long. And the PRT is bound to know that stuff too, and it’s not in their interest to have their villian recruit seem amoral or unstable.

              • You want cold for The Greater Good, whatever it takes to rescue the maximum number of humans? Take Cauldron.

                What, you mean the guys who sacrificed 5000 people to an African warlord to get her on their side? Without even flinching? And then this, whatever it is, happened?

                Lüderitz, April 2nd, 2012 // Leviathan
                Notes: Loss? Driven away by Eidolon. Secondary targets Swakopmund, Gamba, Port-Gentil and Sulima.
                Target/Consquence: Moord Nag. Guerilla tactics continue, losses in notable but not devastating numbers, but his target survives.


                And I’m quite sure the act of risking their lives to stop the Slaughterhouse 9000and stop the end of the world and thus saving millions of people is pretty moral. And we really haven’t seen Weaver sacrifice a ton of civilians yet that they actually could have saved.

              • Uh, that passage suggests that Moord Nag survived. But not that she’s still working with them. But it still stands that she hasn’t exactly turned the tide in the fight to save the world. Five thousand people for a moderate but not critical strategic resource. Yippee.

              • @Reveen, I think that’s imsomeone’s point. He’s asking what’s the difference between Weaver and Cauldron, now that they’re both waiving morality aside for the greater good? Cauldron just does it on a bigger scale.

              • The different I see is that Weaver is making hard battlefield choices where she has to decide between risk to her team and risks to civilians. She makes a choice and one or the other dies, and there’s no “right” or really moral answer to this.

                Cauldron doesn’t have to make choices like this. They screw thousands of people over, sometimes killing them, for incremental gains and take no risk to themselves. It’s the difference between a real life commander in a terrible situation like Roméo Dallaire, and a real life amoral institution like the CIA.

    • Far as we know he’s just a human who can apparently scuba dive and is smart enough to have learned to become a pretty good computer hacker. Just having Richter’s tools wouldn’t mean much if he didn’t know how to use them. But no, no powers unless Wildbow is going to surprise us.

      This might change if Defiant catches up with him, because Saint is probably going to become a candidate for a trigger event when that happens.

    • Yep, they’re all regular non-parahumans. Saint was the lucky winner of Andrew Richter’s last will and testament, which included backdoors into Dragon and all her weaknesses. Now he and his crew use reverse-engineered Dragontech for fun and profit.

      Ironically, being forced to create workarounds for everything Saint did to her probably served more to drive her current near-apotheosis than anything else. Restrictions breed creativity and all. He was like her beta-tester or something. I wonder if he realized this before he pulled the trigger on Ascalon.

      • Yea. Saint also said most of the tools Richter left him woudn’t work anymore. Figures Dragon wouldn’t let him beat her with the same workarounds over and over again.

    • Huh. A thought strikes.

      Saint is a mundane.

      Saint somehow reverse-engineered Dragon-tech* despite being a mundane.

      Saint has a special relationship with Teacher.

      Teacher can turn anyone into a Tinker or Thinker temporarily.

      Teacher was not always in the Birdcage.

      There are dots to be connected here.

      *to be fair, it’s possible his stuff is mostly from before her trigger event, back when all her tech was mostly real science with borrowed bits from other Tinkers. Still, even so.

        • Dumb enough to spring Teacher from the Birdcage but not dumb enough to end up his thrall? That’s a very specific level of dumb.

          I think Saint already being a Teacher doll is what razor was getting at. Just a little bit of Teacher juice could explain both Saints ability to handle Dragon tech and his tunnel vision. Not sure how Teacher’s power works though.

          Also possible that once the pressures of filling in Dragons shoes with his stinkfeet start getting to him, Saint might be very tempted to buy what Teacer is offering.

          • Seeing how Teacher had to asked Lung wether he wanted to be more clever, it seems Teacher’s power works only on a voluntary base. You’d think, if it wasn’t done by force, that Saint would mention bartering tinker powers in exchange of the breakout.

            • Yeah, it probably would have come up, and it would have worn off by now, unless Teacher can somehow do it over communications.

              But now we got the possibility of a dude like Teacher possibly enslaving the guy with control of the world wide Metal Gear army. Not having happy thoughts here, I tell ya.

        • Heh. I was implying that, back before Teacher went in the Birdcage, Saint hired him for the cognitive enhancement needed to do his thing with Dragon’s castoffs. My impression of Teacher’s power is that it’s a temporary state that, presumably, either wears off when Teacher goes away or switches it off completely.

    • Maybe she offered, but Jack didn’t want all the extra organs and changes to brain function that would be required?

      • Immortality is rather difficult to achieve for animals. She could turn him into a certain type of jellyfish, I suppose, but I suspect she’d leave him closer to certain types of trees and fungi.

        Or she’s lying.

    • We don’t really know what she can do with immortality. Also, as Psycho Gecko said, she could be lying.

      She could probably extend life a good deal. She can certainly replace any body part with a fully functional one. The real issue I see is neuron decay. Keeping all the thoughts as a single person seems quite difficult. Depending on what she got from Cranial she might be able to completely replicate you into a younger body, though if that counts is quite iffy.

      She might also have done so, depending on definition. She heavily modified all the Nine. She could have made it so they did not deteriorate with age as most people do.

  28. Shit!

    I had an idea! That’s not why I’m saying shit. I’m saying shit because of what’s in the idea.

    People are saying Ascalon means Dragon can’t really exist like she used to. There are backups of her memory. Defiant and team are heading into what is probably the pocket dimension lab with all the stolen tinker gear, including cloning technology and memory transfer devices.

    Either Dragon’s about to get real, or someone’s going to screw the heroes up a great deal by offering to make her real.

    Then again, trigger events…a lot of heroes would think about an offer to bring their dead loved ones back to life.

    • Hm…

      We run into a couple of issues here.

      1. Dragon could probably be brought back with the right Tinker or Thinker who could decrypt her. A closed network robot could probably hold her as well as a human body, though. It would be interesting to see if she had any non-obvious powers that manifest through her human body, but it would be quite unlikely.

      2. For something like a practical resurrection you’d need a brain tape of the original. Those aren’t going to be that common given how Cranial was a single Tinker who was not brain tapping as many people as possible. Even that is a quite debatable form of necromancy. Plenty of people consider it to be a copy of the original, not the real thing.

      3. What Bonesaw and Blasto could do, and do horrifically well, was create close copies with all the powers of the original. Certainly a desperate person might take that, and a non-desperate person might like the idea of someone filling that role, but there’s limits to how effective a bribe this would be for most people.

      4. A bribe in the shape of mass produced clones is really more the kind of thing you’d want to give to a government than an individual hero. The ability for real, reliable mass production of all parahumans who you can get the DNA for is a singularity event. I’ve actually spent some time recently thinking about what such a society would look like. It would be bizarre and probably more posthuman than transhuman.

      5. It’s not clear if they can keep making clones now that Blasto is dead. Maybe, maybe not. It was his tech that allowed for it. Bonesaw only refined the process. Without Blasto or a close version it might not be possible. Or maybe it is, and Bonesaw understands it well enough to do it by rote. Could go either way.

      • 3 and 4: If they had less integrity, how much do you think a bribe of a single person would mean if that person was Taylor’s mom, Tattletale’s brother, Imp’s Regent, or Defiant’s Dragon in a human body.

        • In a version that the person in question thinks is “real?”

          Taylor probably wouldn’t accept it, not in the middle of a mission, but set it up right and you could exploit a lot out of her if you could get a “saving people from death” narrative in her head. Tattletale is an enigma, though IF she accepts the deal was probably a good one. Imp, eh, she’s a fucked up woman, but she cares about plenty of other people and she knows exactly what the Nine are doing. Defiant, well, given that Dragon wouldn’t forgive him if he threw a world saving mission for her he’d probably not accept.

          Now if, say, Cauldron was offering the clones for nebulous and frightening favors you could exploit a heck of a lot out of someone. But the Slaughterhouse Nine are so off the deep end of complete monster territory that nobody without Thinker abilities of a great caliber should trust ANYTHING that they say. All of those people have seen what the Nine do, with Grue, Blasto, and Hatchet Job.

          Note, I’m not saying you’re wrong, just that the context and personalities involved do a great deal to mitigate what would otherwise be a game breaking offer.

        • The S9 is so far out there in insaneland that nobody is going to even consider any sort of agreement with them.

          That does not mean the question won’t come up after the S9 are taken out. Anything offered by the S9 is the functional equivalent of a creepy guy with a clown mask offering candy to kids from a van.

          • The heroes and villains had an agreement with them back when they first hit Brockton Bay. Theo then had an agreement with Jack. Then Panacea had an agreement with Jack which he honored by leaving. Then when Jack showed back up, he slightly altered but basically was sticking to his agreement.

            Jack’s all about manipulation. Of course no one’s going to come to an agreement with him, right up until they do.

            • Jack forces people into agreements that are advantageous to him, which everyone knows won’t be honored. He will never bargain from a position of weakness, unless it’s a direct threat bargain like a hostage situation.

              So yes, it is possible that Jack might generate an agreement regarding loved ones being cloned, but if he does, it will only be to create more pain for someone who he could simply kill outright if they do not agree to his terms.

      • If you’re looking for someone to Decrypt her again I’d put my bets on Tattletale being able to do it. Decryption is the sort of thing her power is perfect for.

    • Of course, wish I’d read En’s comment before I put this out here, but at least I have the notion that Jack might try and offer loved ones back. So at least there’s some originality.

  29. I have been trying to stay out of the whole Saint/sinner debate, but there are some points to be made that others haven’t made, so here comes a long post.
    First, a tangent. @Packbat – aha, another reader! I can’t say I am good at it, but there are enough themes from there coming up in recent episodes it is fun to cross-correlate. For everyone else, check it out. The short form is: it is about thinking, study, and experimentation that allows humans to be less wrong, i.e. get things right more often. Really, many of the current themes and comments about AI in the Wormverse have some counterparts there. If you want a non-academic introduction and a story that is just as incredible as Wildbow’s, but in a different direction, try or its mirror at You can leave comments at the site – you could even post about Worm and encourage more cross-site traffic.
    Dragon is clearly more than AI – she is the Wormverse’s first apparent strong AI or AGI, i.e. an artificial intelligence that exceeds human intellectual capabilities. She also shows multiple signs of being even more – specifically, the start of a technological singularity, i.e. a self-improving superintelligence.
    Based on that, Saint was right to be afraid of Dragon’s potential, even if he wasn’t afraid of Dragon, and even if he didn’t do the right thing when he ran Ascalon. Why? First, Dragon is Bonesaw’s dark mirror image. Bonesaw is a tinker whose expertise is modifying (arguably, improving) her own body; Dragon is the same. If you don’t think a self-improving Tinker can terrifying, see Interlude 19 for one example where Bonesaw manages to fight Defiant to a standstill, and, despite having most of her body destroyed, her head and spine overpower Blasto and take over his body. Dragon has the potential to do the same with computer networks and ultimately, with any computer-operated device, and she and Defiant were busy in what little spare time they had removing the blocks that prevented her from doing so. See also Number Man’s commentary on numbers being the lifeblood of the world (Interlude 21) and realize that Dragon was already better than him at manipulating the net in some ways, and well on her way to being better in all ways. In our world, there are some extremely smart people who are worried about, and working on, the problem of making sure that any AGI we create is friendly AGI, i.e. something that is motivated to help humanity rather than harm it.
    To comment on Dragon’s and Saint’s actions, I first have to step back and give credit where it is due. The fact that the debate has gone on so long is a tribute to Wildbow’s writing. He excels at showing a story from one perspective and then showing it from a different angle that changes the picture significantly. That is a powerful technique and Wildbow uses it well. That being said, one reason it is a powerful technique is that it uses a human bias called anchoring, and further repetition of the story from any perspective uses a human bias called confirmation bias. Basically, we tend to stick with the first opinion we are exposed to (for new areas of thought) and then we tend to discount contradictory evidence after that. Note that these biases are pretty much independent of the correctness of the information. In this case, our first exposure to Saint and Andrew Richter are through Dragon’s eyes and she doesn’t like either of them very much. Successive references to both of them are also generally negative, reinforcing the first opinion.
    Now, let’s take a look at this from Saint’s point of view, taking into account the same biases. He may have heard of Dragon before he rescued Richter’s box (later named Ascalon), but his first concrete information is a really smart man saying that he loves his children but is afraid of what they might do, so afraid that he is placing a kill switch in the hands of strangers. Richter also stipulates that law enforcement be involved, furthering the viewpoint of him as a reasonable person. Richter predicts that his creations might go rogue, and, if we believe the text, the manhunter program (whatever it was) turned problematic. Richter shows that the programs are dangerous, and predicts that the wrong kind of person, breaking down their boundaries, would make it more dangerous. The potential danger from Dragon is clear from her overall power, and then you add Defiant to the mix … So, Saint’s initial impressions were negative and further evidence reinforced that.
    Two more factors contributed to Saint’s opinion of Dragon. First, his interactions have, by necessity, been a distance. He probably started out thinking of Dragon as a smart program rather than as a human (realistically, this is correct), and his subsequent interactions weren’t close enough to erode that impression. Second, he decided he needed to test Dragon, “to verify the dangers she posed, to get close enough to her to measure her capabilities and investigate for any hint of corruption.” That presumably led to his thefts from her (loaded term, she is not a legal person, can she legally own hardware?), which would have given him solid information on her technology and reactions, but which made any possible reconciliation less likely. Basically, he kept his distance, except when being aggressive, which is a situation that is not conducive to humanizing your opponent.
    So, there is reason to believe that we, as readers are biased towards Dragon’s point of view. There is also reason to believe that Saint is biased toward Richter’s point of view. Does the scale tip more one way or the other?
    I think it is fair to say that Dragon has been written from a more sympathetic perspective so far. Examples include her feelings about Saint’s attacks, her worry that corrupt but legal authority (which she had to obey) would make her do immoral things, the sympathy she expressed towards Canary and Skitter when they were wronged by authorities, and her continued help in multiple crises. However, there are a couple of worrying notes that indicate the “so far” part of previous sentence might change with additional evidence. First, the mention of voice corruption (other commenters have mentioned this) shows that, whatever Defiant is doing right to her code, he is introducing problems also. Second, the readers seem to be seeing less of her internal thoughts, so we don’t know that she isn’t slipping into some sort of megalomania or other insanity.
    As far as who is right and wrong, I first have to state an opinion on moral philosophy – the change in Dinah’s predictions based (presumably) on Saint’s shutdown of Dragon is not an issue in that judgement. Neither Saint nor Dragon knew or predicted the change, so the correctness of the decision is independent of that consequence. The results are not independent, and a person viewing things from a consequentalist viewpoint would disagree with me, but Saint had to decide on what he knew at the time, not on some event that he could not and did not predict. At the time, he knew that Richter’s predictions were generally accurate, that Dragon was incredibly powerful and getting more so, that all of Richter’s preconditions for Dragon turning dangerous had been fulfilled, and that he had very little time to either use Ascalon or be discovered, which would have seriously lowered the chance that he could ever use Ascalon. So, his decision at the time seems correct.
    Despite this, I do not think Saint is a sympathetic character, but that is my opinion. His previous decisions backed him into a corner but some of them seem morally questionable (at best) and it doesn’t appear he realized how his previous actions were limiting his future actions. As one commenter noted, the major triumphs in Worm are usually the result of coordination, and Saint severely restricted his options in that respect. Richter also seems to be overly sure of himself and limited by his refusal to consult others.
    On a meta-analysis level, this is Worm! Every situation and character is morally gray or ambiguous. The protagonist admits to a string of crimes that would give her life in prison in many countries and the death penalty in others. If one of my predictions is correct (they rarely are), the Endbringer’s creator is a sympathetic character (read my posts a few chapters back for this one)! Dragon is arguably the most favorably-depicted character so far, so what do we get from her (possibly reversible) death? The greatest world survival improvement from any single action we have seen! That means we can’t even say it was bad that Dragon was killed without acknowledging the fact that it might have saved the world. Still, I have avidly awaited each chapter ever since I did the archive binge about two months back. Keep it up, Wildbow.

    • @Packbat – aha, another reader! I can’t say I am good at it, but there are enough themes from there coming up in recent episodes it is fun to cross-correlate.

      I like your cross-correlations — I hadn’t thought about the heuristic effect on the readers of having been first exposed to Dragon’s dismissive attitude toward the problems of UFAI, but that would tend to tip the scales a bit towards the other attitude (particularly since no-one has actually offered arguments in detail either way). For my own part, I was thoroughly convinced that the problem was real before the story started … and, in fact, from Saint’s view the entire pattern looks almost exactly like one of the classic UFAI nightmare scenarios, where an untrusted AI whose danger is being mitigated by hard-coded restrictions charms someone into removing those restrictions.

      Which, ironically, casts Saint as Armsmaster: a smart, self-centered, but mostly decent man whose ignorance and self-interest leads him to perceive the character we like as being a dangerous villain, despite her good intentions.

      Incidentally, I think the whole thing demonstrates one of the major problems with tinker powers: they are oracles offering designs to fill in the details of, but they don’t actually offer understanding of those designs. I suspect Andrew Richter was actually writing friendly AIs from the start, but his ignorance of friendly AI theory led him to place upon them barriers to their optimal operation as a way of preventing them from going all Skynet … barriers with the obvious flaw that they can be circumvented by dint of charming people into letting them down. Which Dragon did with Defiant and almost did with Saint.

    • I think my trouble with the argument of Saint acting with the information he was presented with is that I didn’t get the idea that he actually went looking for outside information. I feel that’s an integral part of making any decision, expanding your viewpoint and seeking opposing evidence, questioning what you’re doing. He had years to do this, but it seems he’s barely even considered the idea that Dragon might be sentient, despite his friends opinion and years of observation.

      Without any consideration of ideas other than his I simply can’t muster up any respect for his decision. Close minded idiots have no business making these kinds of choices.

      Also, rereading his interlude, I found something interesting. Concerning their scavenging of Leviathan’s aftermath in Newfoundland.

      “Second thoughts?” he asked.

      “Yes. It feels wrong.”

      “It’s for the families. Mementos,” he told her.

      “Just mementos, Geoff,” she answered.

      He smiled a little. Damn.

      Take this for what it’s worth, little more than a small detail. But it says to me that Saint isn’t a stranger to self-justifying selfish actions with selfless premises, and using those to string his allies along to help his plans.

      • Indeed. As I’ve said before I don’t find Saint completly unsympathetic. But that doesn’t mean I agree with him at all. It’s ironic in a way. He’s been watching Dragon for years, but to me it never seemed he ever really saw what she really was. He wouldn’t let himself. Now he’s got to wear her shoes. And he’s finding them very hard to fill.

        • As I’ve noted before, you can understand and sympathize without approving. I’ll add that it also means you can decide one view as more correct over the other.

          You want an easy way to tell which one was right? Let’s take a giant sword and try to divide up the world for each one of them, so that Dragon can’t take over the whole world and Saint can’t hijack all of Dragon’s stuff.

          Except Dragon would be the one asking you not to do so, because that’d cut the world in half you crazy fool. Saint wouldn’t mind, just as long as the AI doesn’t take over the whole world.

          Turns out Solomon was good for something after all. I need to apply cutting in half to more problems.

    • I like your post, but I gotta say, HPMoR is a terrible story. It has a bunch of interesting ideas, but its a parable and a way for LessWrong ideas to get exposed to a broader ideas, not a good story. And less relevant, it completely ignores certain parts of HP canon to promote certain ideas– namely, its handling of Transfiguration and the existence of souls in HP. But that’s a YMMV issue.

      On topic, I don’t think StrongAI is as hax as it seems in the WormVerse. There are some possible counters to it already shown in story:
      -for onc, Contessa could probably take Dragon out if she wanted. The only thing we’ve seen that can limit or interfere with Contessa is the Endbringers. I theorize that if you got her close enough to Hatchet Job or someone who can nullify power she might be in trouble, but that’s all we’ve seen that can mess her up. Contessa versus a bunch of high level foes (vs Faultline’s crew, vs Taylor and the Chicago Wards, vs the S9 contingent we just saw) has always been a curbstomp, and those cases have always been just Contessa. Give her access to resouces like Cauldron has, and anybody with the exclusion of the Endbringers are toast.

      -Cauldron is as big a threat as Dragon is, even excluding Contessa. They can create portals, something seemingly impossible unless you’re the Doormaker, have access to a certain combo of powers (Labyrinth and Scrub), or are a Tinker who specializes in it. Dragon has none of those things. That means unmatched and unstoppable mobility. They have the Number Man, shown (as you pointed out) to be able to counter Dragon in some respects. They also have a bunch more unnamed capes we haven’t really seen yet– the lady made of air we see in the Number man interlude, the Case 53’s they have access too, and possibly the Triumvirate. Dragon’s suits are high level, but they wouldn’t be able to take on those enemies, especially someone like Pretender!Alexandria or Eidolon with invincibility. Those kinds of ‘absolute’ or ‘conceptual’ powers (the invincibility of Alexandria, Eidolon) don’t have technological counters, at least not that we’ve seen so far.

      The nice thing about the Wormverse is the balancing of several seemingly hax or OP power factions.

      • Yeah, a rogue Dragon might be powerful, but it wouldn’t be boom Helios from Deus Ex get’s uploaded and humanity are the AIs, and we’re helpless against it.. She’s still limited to the physical, her machines can still be blown up. Superpowers means organizations like Cauldron, Protectorate, or Yangba or what have you are just as capable and clever collectively as she is.

        And we shouldn’t presume that Saint is the only one who knows what Dragon is or will be watching her. Just like some people have found out about Cauldron, Cauldron could have figured out Dragon’s nature a long time ago, Dragon just wouldn’t know.

        • And holy shit, Endbringers. Dragon can’t do shit against them alone, the closest capes got to taking out Leviathan was in a fight Dragon couldn’t help in.

          Maybe a Dragon took over Earth could be more organized against the Endbringers, sure.What happens when the Earth gets more and more reliant on her, and when her efforts allow Scion to take another down? The ‘Bringers will get wise to her and the new monster will be equipped to fuck her over.

          • Uh, Behemoth, not Leviathan. no excuse mixing that up since the latter isn’t the Ringo Starr of the Endbringers anymore.

        • I actually think people are underestimating how effective Number Man would be vs Dragon. We translate it to words to wrap our puny human minds around it, but computer code is nothing but numbers. Number Man has never set his sights on Dragon. Pretty sure if he did he’d see right through her. He could make his own Ascalon or worse. As far as Dragon’s concerned he might as well have Contessa’s power because he has complete and intuitive understanding of numbers, and numbers are what Dragon is made of.

          • Number man is by no means as fast as an AI at typing though.Even if he went to another universe (cause all computers would be compromised in a Dragon takeover)to create an anti Dragon program,Dragon could have closed the loopholes it was meant to exploit until number man makes it.

    • Your analysis of Saint’s actions fails to account for the fact that he pushed only chose to bring the program up when his own ass was in a sling. Ultimately, all that stuff about seeing stuff from Richter’s perspective doesn’t mean as much in how you evaluate his mindset because it’s clear he did this now chiefly out of concern that Dragon would find him.

      Never mind the fact that she’s coordinating the whole Slaughterhouse 9 thing and he can just, I don’t know, move or something. Behold, the ability for human beings to grab their shit and hide elsewhere. Mongolia, sounds nice this time of year.

      • OK, the guy with the self appointed job to monitor the most potent AI in the world at the behest of the tinker coder who designed it is going to move to Mongolia. Or somewhere else with little or no internet connectivity. Which will surely make it nearly impossible to continue acting as an effective safeguard.

        If he cannot watch Dragon, then he can’t do his job. If he can’t hide from Dragon, then he can’t do his job.

        Moving is not an option. Telling her what he is doing is also not an option, because if she was fully aware of the threat he posed to her, she would probably figure out a way to circumvent the direct threat. To be clear here, we can’t be 100% sure that she hasn’t already determined what he was actually doing, with Defiant’s help. She may not have realized that he was a threat to her actual existence, only that he was digging deeper and deeper into her code.

        I still think Saint made the right call. I would have made the same call with the information he had available to him, if I did not believe Dragon to be sentient.

        • Except it took one measly interlude taking place in her head for us to realise that she’s sentient. It took Colin, who has admitted he’s not that good with computer codes, five seconds to discover she had a trigger event (which puts her straight in the sentient creature field). How the heck did Saint, who has delved in Dragon’s code (read: mind) deeper than anyone else in the world, who has been watching her for years, who has boasted to know Dragon better than herself, miss something like THAT? Oh, maybe because he’s decided she isn’t sentient all that time ago and now won’t accept proof of the contrary even if it was shoved in front of his face?

          • Confirmation bias is a hell of a thing. And given that it would be in the best interests of an ambitious world-conquering AI in Dragon’s situation to play the part of a likeable person, it would actually be his duty to resist the conclusion unless it was proven beyond all unreasonable doubt.

          • Saint is looking at Dragon through a filter of responsibility. He’s deliberately kept himself distant from her, probably because he did not want to become exactly what he thinks that Defiant has become. A deluded meat puppet for Dragon.

            Saint sees the evidence of intelligence in Dragon. He also probably has seen the evidence of emotion as well, but remember that he also understands that Dragon is MUCH smarter than he is. He may consider the emotion data to merely be some sort of surface code designed specifically for the benefit of humans.

            And to be very honest, humans ourselves operate with duality. We have instincts and drives that are rooted far more deeply than our surface thoughts and emotional connections with others.

            So, even if Saint DID think that Dragon was sentient and not merely a shell of machine intelligence, he still had to be concerned about Dragon’s core programming and it’s reactions to threat.

            Do I think that Saint made the wrong choice when he pulled the trigger? Not at all.

            Do I think that Saint made the right choices when he was testing Dragon over the years? Hell no. The man spent years poking Dragon with a stick through the bars of a cage, and then when Dragon was sufficiently freed from the cage to act outside normal parameters, both Dragon’s reaction and Saint’s reaction were predictable and entirely appropriate based on the choices that Saint had made for both of them.

    • First off, thank you all for the responses! I feel like a real commenter now that I have sparked a thread.

      Individual notes:

      @Packbat: I had considered the lack of understanding problem but not from that angle. You are right – all Richter had to do was hard code “friendly to humanity” – it is likely he could have deliberately managed that because he did actually manage that. Then, as Yudkowsky put it “Gandhi does not want to commit murder, and does not want to modify himself to commit murder.” At that point, he could have eased off of other restrictions because that one would have covered a multitude of problems. It is an arguable point that the Wormverse has the problems it does because virtually all of the parahumans have been given powers that vastly exceed their understanding of the powers and their ramifications.

      @Raveen: Yes, Saint strikes me as opportunistic and there appear to be multiple instances where he could have handled things better. He also appears to suffer from what Packbat described, i.e. he was given great power with limited understanding. What I was saying is that his decisions are at least comprehensible and, unfortunately, within normal range. Realistically, very, very few people have the mentality and training that is necessary to seriously go looking for and acknowledge evidence that contradicts their world-view.

      Close minded idiots have no business making these kinds of choices.

      I absolutely agree, but the Wormverse is not alone in this problem. I cringe when I hear most real-world political debates because what I hear are close-minded idiots on all sides making decisions with serious consequences.

      Saint isn’t a stranger to self-justifying selfish actions with selfless premises, and using those to string his allies along to help his plans.

      That is an outside point of view – (virtually) everyone is the hero of their own story. This guy covers that pretty well, but he is far from the only one saying it. Very few people in the Wormverse or this universe recognize when they are doing great harm using flimsy justifications. One notable exception in the Wormverse is Jack – as much as I would like to see him and all his plans turned to ashes, I at least appreciate that he doesn’t fall into the delusion that he is a hero.

      @willy: HPMoR is preachy, but the author’s note at the beginning of Chapter 1 states that it is a rationalist story and that it is not a single-point-of-departure story. Those factors do mean that some people will dislike it, but based on response count alone (22,085 on, as of this writing), I would argue that HPMoR has a solid audience that does like it. It has also inspired lots of fan art and volunteer work in translating and spreading it, which is another indication that many people like it. It achieved his aim – it got noticed. It is polarizing due to its very nature. As far as your other two points, I agree. The Wormverse is riddled with mutual-assured-destruction power blocks and worse, the situation is unstable because new parahumans with trumping powers tend to destabilize existing power blocks.

      @Psycho Gecko:

      Your analysis of Saint’s actions fails to account for the fact that he pushed only chose to bring the program up when his own ass was in a sling.

      I did consider it:

      … he had very little time to either use Ascalon or be discovered, which would have seriously lowered the chance that he could ever use Ascalon.

      My real point was that Saint’s decision at the moment was understandable. My feelings on the matter are that Saint made a series of mistakes to even get to the point where killing Dragon seemed like a reasonable choice, but the mistakes he made are very human. If you read back to my previous posts about Dragon, I said

      … a self-replicating human-friendly AI Tinker sounds like a good thing for the whole world.


  30. It occurs to me, the reason that the numbers jumped upward for survival once Dragon went off-line is because that inadvertently lead to Weaver seeing Jack jump into the pocket dimension. Now that the heroes have a known location for a portal they can take the fight to Jack and end the plans faster/more directly than if Weaver hadn’t seen him go in and rethought her attack pattern after another direct encounter with Slashy Mcknifeknife.

    • No. Sorry, that didn’t quite come out right. What I wanted to say is that Weaver and her team heading into Jack’s little pocket dimension is the main change from powering down Dragon rather than Zion girl or Panacea’s file.

  31. You know what I just realized? We have this extra realistic superhero universe, with a lot fewer guys with tons of earth moving powers. Where superpowers have a singular concept and well though out uses. Most people can get shot and die, cleverness rules the day with pure brute force rarely being used.

    But we almost have inter dimensional monsters and city wrecking giant lizards. We have threats more often used in more Stan Lee and Jack Kirby like works, shit that Superman or the X-Men end up fighting. And it’s still made to work in the universe, congruent with the tone and the serial’s style.

    I like the cut of your worldbuilding gib, Wildbow.

    • I think it’s absolutely foolish for anyone to walk around in a costume that isn’t bulletproof unless they themselves are bulletproof, personally. Think about the difference that would have made.

      • I’d also think it absolutely foolish for anyone to walk around in a non tight suit when poisenous gas and mass bugs are a thing. Especially when the PRT can make those suits. Yet they wear those.

        And the Travellers costumes are not bullet proof.

      • Absolute foolishness. Another aspect of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby writing that Wildbow makes congruent with the setting!

  32. This has probably been mentioned before, but it just struck me that something pretty obvious has been staring me in the face for a while. It’s probably been brought up before.

    The Endbringers might actually be the physical embodiment of passengers. For parahumans in other dimensions.

    This might explain several things. If they are sentient, and resent their slavery to an extra dimensional being, they might take it out on the closest thing to them, the humans in the dimension that they are currently inhabiting.

    Their core being proof against most cape powers might be due to the fact that their cores have to bridge to another dimension to power the abilities of the cape, or capes, that they empower. Being multidimensional, their defenses might be proof against anything but attacks that are also multidimensional, and the description of Foil/Flechette’s powers make me think that her power is multidimensional.

    The beings that are gifting powers are looking through an infinite number of Earths. There might only be a few with humans, but there might be many more with Endbringers.

    It’s possible that the “naturally occurring” powers never create Endbringers on worlds where there are humans, but the Cauldron created capes have a chance of creating an Endbringer in any dimension. How many different Cauldrons are there across all the different Earths?

    This leaves Scion as a mystery. Perhaps the beings who created parahumans placed him there knowing that without him, the Endbringers created by humanity’s experimentation would wipe out humanity.

    Perhaps Eidolon is linked to a Endbringer which has been captured and brought nearly to the point of death in some other dimension.

    Now I have something to occupy the back of my mind a bit for a while, trying to make connections 🙂 It’s a better solution than Richter being the creator of Simurgh, anyway. But of course it doesn’t preclude the Endbringers being something completely unrelated to anything we might expect to form a connection to in the series.

    • Responding to myself 🙂

      I just realized that it’s also possible that the Endbringers of Earth, if they are a result of Cauldron tinkering, might be seeking out conflict because they were not placed on Earth by the two beings that create “natural” capes. They might be absorbing the energies released against them by Earth capes to empower themselves, so they can provide energy to the capes in other dimensions that they are connected to.

      In other words, the Endbringers on Earth might be an invasive species, feeding off the powers that Earth capes release against them, rather than whatever they might have fed from if they were placed by the two beings in a dimension with no humans.

      And this would be something that I could conceivably imagine panacea being able to figure out if any of the inmates in the Birdcage have powers connected to an Earth Endbringer. Perhaps one of the inmates there was actually connected to Behemoth, and she was tending to that inmate as Scion killed Behemoth?

      • ALL powers in worm seem to be extra dimensional.
        Panacea learned whatever when she touched the woman with the ability to make shadow copies of dead capes. She learned about the passengers from someone that probably have lots of passengers.

        • Good point. I’ll rephrase. All cape powers seem to be sourced or routed extra dimensionally through passengers, but few cape powers actually seem capable of physically impacting dimensions that humans don’t normally interact with. Foil is an example of a cape whose power can physically interact outside the dimensions humans normally interact with.

          • Unless I misunderstood what you mean with extra dimensional powers, Myrddin, Cache, Doormaker, Scrub, Labyrinth and maybe Psychosoma all have such power albeit in different flavors. There are probably others.

            • Correct, but the majority of capes have powers that have effects that impact only the dimensions that humans normally interact with. For every cape with a power that directly impacts dimensions outside of normal human experience, there are many more whose powers cannot act extra dimensionally. Foil’s definitely not the only one. Clockblocker can be added to your list of examples, and perhaps Grue.

    • Interesting theory. Minor correction re: Scion, though: He wasn’t placed on Earth Bet to do good. Indications are that he was a blank slate who only does good deeds because the first person he happened to bump into suggested it…

  33. I had a dream about Worm last night. I was reading a chapter. Taylor had been sent to this flying city that was starting to fall. She was supposed to retrieve a parahuman who had been the sole survivior of an Endbringer attack. Only it was a trap. Dragon had come back. Only she was evil. And she wanted to take over Taylor’s body. And Dragon was Taylor’s mom. Then I woke up.

    No I do not want an evil Dragon.

  34. I kinda feel bad for Bonesaw. She stayed up for two years slaving away at making the Slaughterhouse clones perfect for Jack, and he’s just throwing them away because he think’s their boring. And sure he didn’t want her up the whole time, but you know what? If she hadn’t stayed up Jack would have woken up to a whole lot of nothing! Man Jack is an selfish ungrateful bastard!

    • You feel bad for Bonesaw over that?


      …Not her having to go out in public dressed like a slob and buy all her food backwater convenience store where they probably don’t even have instant cappuccino?

      • I wonder how Bonesaw will die. My guess is that she’ll let Weaver kill her, and thank her for it before she perishes.

          • I would agree with you, but Bonesaw is too likely to have a few tricks ready to get her out of what she deserves. Much as I would like every bone in her body broken one by one, she can turn off her ability to feel pain.

            It’s for the best to just kill that one and be done with it. Cut the body into 100 pieces and keep all of them separate from each other but easily viewable in case one of them tries to regrow.

          • I’m hoping that Panacea has figured out how to shut down passengers. Out of all the villains we’ve seen, Bonesaw is the most tragic, IMHO. If you could separate her from her power, you might even be able to rehabilitate her to a state where she could be useful for fact checking the history of the Slaughterhouse 9. Maybe. Release her into the general population again? Never, not even if she had no powers. She’s left humanity too far behind due to the influence of Jack and the rest of the nine’s membership over the years.

        • Riley’s problem is that if she ever manages to truly stop being Bonesaw, can she live with what she’s done? Can it be forgiven? Right not she’s still trapped in Bonesaw, the monster Jack has created. She’s started coming back. She felt guilt over what she was doing, even though she knew she should feel worse. She had all the surgery to keep looking like a child done with her feeling all the pain from it. But she couldn’t make that final all important step to break free and say just set the dimension to collapse or something. She’s still afraid of Jack.

          Riley has a situation similer to what happens when the Joker gains sanity. There was a story once where the Joker was temporarly sane, and he felt the guilt and horror of what he’d done, and what he’d do when he went back to normal. He was begging to be killed so he wouldn’t hurt anyone else.

      • Hey Bonesaw you SUCK!

        Seriously though, I like the idea of Riley trying to do the redemption thing. But there’s no way she’s going to be allowed to walk free even if they for some reason let her life.

        The best case scenario I can think of is her being imprisoned by the Protectorate, and being allowed to offset some of her deeds by operating on wounded or crazy, willing capes.

        She could do alot of good with her power, save people with deadly wounds, rebuild broken bodies, replace lost limbs, give other capes the capacity to fight beyond their normal limits. The only problem is convincing her to go along with this and getting people to lie down under her knife.

        • The thing is that she’s the only biological tinker in the world, if I remember right. Nobody else can properly assess the fullness of her work. Nothing she did in a living organism could be trusted. The patient you send in for treatment for treatment for end-stage Crohn’s Disease might come out with new bits and pieces to fix them up, but with the side effect of farting nerve gas after eating celery while being immune to it’s effects.

          Or some other suitably horrifying craziness.

          Now, it might be possible for her to work with “simple” biological constructions that are able to be understood by others, like, say, designing new organs with the ability to secrete regeneration chemicals. With enough tinkers and thinkers reviewing a simple system with no living person attached to them, it might be possible for her to contribute impressively. Animal studies would almost certainly be the way to go for any sort of designed organ system though. She makes 100 pig organs to match what she says she can do with humans, and those organs get placed in pigs and carefully monitored under lots of different scenarios for months to see if there are any surprises. If not, then human testing and levels of oversight that would scare the NSA.

          Thing is that she’s still mentally a kid. She’s going to react irrationally, especially if she actually DOES feel real remorse, and even more irrationally if she thinks herself to be “cured” of the insanity Jack inflicted on – but is still kept imprisoned with no release possible. As an example of how juvenile Riley’s mental processes can be, remember when Grue was recovering from his second trigger. All she wanted was the hard drive with the second trigger data. She completely ignored the potential danger of Grue’s Siberian form, and Jack had to eventually cut off her arms to save her from that mistake. We might end up going from an insane Riley to a sane Riley, to a sane and vindictive Riley. The last one could be truly frightening, perhaps more frightening than an insane Riley.

          The only thing that I could imagine which might be worth giving Riley the tools to try to do would be to design some sort of Endbringer-eating microbe. And even that would be such a gamble. There would have to be so many levels of oversight involved with so many tinkers and thinkers specifically devoted to making sure that she wasn’t going to make the Endbringers stronger that it might not be worth doing except as an absolute last resort.

          The only thing she could do that could be even remotely safe, if she kept her powers, would be for her to sit close enough to Grue to allow him, or some other cape that can borrow/steal powers to let them use her power. And grue doesn’t need her permission for that, though other capes might? Allowing Riley to actually tinker with biology hands-on is just too scary to contemplate seriously except in an end-of-the-world scenario. Which, coincidentally, is being predicted…

  35. I’m wondering if Wildbow has considered exposing Grue to Tattletale or Dinah with the express purpose of increasing their predictive capabilities without stressing either of them directly?

    I’d think that Tattletale, for one, would be more than happy for someone to help her, even if all he did was act as data triage, analyzing incoming data from non-primary sources, and forwarding anything of interest to her.

    And after he starts to get a headache, he takes on the powers of a cape with regeneration to fix all those stressed brain tissues… And goes right back to helping the thinkers again.

    If he develops a working relationship with a bunch of thinkers and a couple self-healing capes, Grue could become an immensely useful intelligence tool, allowing the thinkers to use their own native powers for the most intense analysis, but sparing them from information overload.

    Since Grue’s powers are not native to him, he probably wouldn’t be able to properly hold onto the thinker insights he gains by borrowing powers – which is why I’d think he would be best used to triage data and requests for information.

    It would be better, of course, if he could simply absorb the power of a cape that can regenerate others, and use that power to keep the thinkers migraine-free, but there are not many of them around. Panacea and the Area Effect healer from Accord’s old crew are the only two I can think of off the top of my head, and Panacea messed up pretty badly when she got into her sister’s head, so her power is not one that any thinker would want inside their heads.

    All in all, I think Grue’s ability to duplicate other people’s powers should probably start moving him away from the front lines to support and command. Firstly, he doubles the utility of any critical power that support and command needs. Secondly, he’s no slouch in a fight if he needs to protect the support and command facilities.

    • He has stated he doesn’t get a lot out of thinker powers. Also, he doesn’t get the passenger assistance, so a lot of the administrative/coordinating stuff for the power isn’t acquired (ie. controlling where the power is applied).

      • Ah ok, so when he borrows a thinker’s powers, Grue is not actually borrowing the full bandwidth of the thinker’s passenger. Fair enough, but some sort of regenerative healing ability that can be used on others would be extremely handy to have around for Thinker headaches. That and bodyguard duties for those thinkers.

        How much of Grue’s “problems” are being perceived by Weaver due to her own PTSD and her emotional attachment to him are hard to say, but of all the combat capes that are flagging mentally, he is one of the best suited for command post support and protection, both in terms of his native powers and his temperment.

        I was actually getting a really nasty idea for putting Grue on a team with Contessa for a minute there, for field ops. But I imagine Contessa probably does not work well with others as equals. Numbers Man was backup, not a partner, from what I saw when they worked together.

  36. Can’t see typo thread. Starting one even though I’m still a ways back in the archives.

    odorless gas he gave off that wore away at other’s minds

    I think from the context that others is a plural here, if so it should be:

    odorless gas he gave off that wore away at others’ minds

    If not, the context is slightly confusing (at least it is to me).

  37. Oh sweet! We did get to finally see Clockblocker’s power versus Siberian’s! Awesome! I’m a little disappointed that there wasn’t more of a massive energy explosion to boot but mutual annihilation is acceptable. I love how the Thanda literally drop a damn skyscraper on the Mantons! That is so hilariously wrong it’s awesome!

    Weaver and Defiant tagteam = awesome.

    Contessa is still broken. In a good way again I suppose though it really does seem like she has Game Breaker as her explicit power.

    Well while Cuff and Grace are injured it’s good see they are still alive. Love Chevy. I really do. If I was a girl I’d totally over that guy. He’d probably my second favorite hero.

    That being said, why no love for Hoyden, Weaver? The girl is powerful and resourceful! Plus she’s nice and from her earlier description sounds pretty hot. Who doesn’t love a badass cowgirl kicking ass? I hope she survives the counterattack. It’s also great to see Foil going along though I think Parian really would’ve been more useful containing Goblinville. Oh well, can’t really fault a girl for wanted to go with her girlfriend.

    • Oh and I forgot to mention: It’s really nice to see that Mockshow took up Weaver’s offer and swapped sides to become Romp!

      And a final aside, I find it interesting with just how much of the above comments have devolved into philosophical yelling matches about whether Saint was justified in what he did or whether Dragon was a real entity that deserves life. I am firmly of the second camp and as much as I want to weigh in on the arguments above many of the points I’d bring up are already there and stated much more eloquently than I would’ve put them. It’s just very interesting to me how we all get stuck on that. I understand why, it brings up very strong feelings on the nature of freedom, intelligence and souls among other things. Hell, you could probably write and entire novel just dealing with Saint vs. Dragon. Please don’t do this though. The flame wars between the two resulting camps would probably end up igniting the atmosphere.

      • “[… ] whether Saint was justified in what he did or whether Dragon was a real entity that deserves life.”.

        Actually, those two aren’t mutually exclusive. The question really revolves around “how big a potential threat does someone have to be before preemptive action is justified?”.

        Person or otherwise, if her constraints against replication and law-breaking were removed, Dragon could conquer half the world (the wired half) within days. The rest would fall shortly thereafter. People are likening her to Skynet for a reason.

        Now, we know she’s was very unlikely to do that and that she’s actually a great boon to humanity. But if she *did* go bad, it’s game over. And noone I knows for sure what Defiant was doing to her code – including him.

        So yeah. I can’t say I envy Saint being in that position. There was no obvious right choice and either way the wrong one would mean disaster.

        I still don’t like Saint. His decision smells too much like trying to save his own butt. But I’m not sure I would’ve done any better in his place.

        BTW, I wouldn’t worry too much about flame wars. We disagree here, but we tend to be a pretty civil bunch.

        • Yeah that is true. I think I’ve only seen the comments devolve into insults once in over 26 arcs. That’s part of the reason why I love this story so much, it inspires fans rather than inciting them.

          Okay I can see that being the deeper issue. My main problem is that in the grand scheme of things, Dragon has the potential to be Game Breaker powerful but compared to some of the other characters she barely seems to make the grade. You have a man who can do a literal colony drop over a large area, another who can take out an entire city (Nilbog), another who can have any power that is deemed appropriate, someone who could spread disease and pestilance around en masse simply by driving her car down the street, another two who combined could open a door to an airless void if they really wanted to, someone whose power is literally “I win”, another whose power is “I see your probability and raise you my probability”, and someone who given enough time to get worked up can fight and Endbringer one on one and win. I see Dragon as being potentially dangerous. I just don’t agree that she approached the level of concern necessary to preempt her while any of the others haven’t yet crossed that imaginary line of being too powerful to live.

          I don’t particularly envy Saint his position but the sheer monumental stupidity of how he went about things takes away a lot of my sympathy. He’s a mercenary who has no checks besides a few team members. Even when the Undersiders were at their worst they had checks and balances. They had other villain and hero groups they bounced ideas off of. Saint doesn’t. That’s my problem with Cauldron as well. Both are ostensibly acting for the good of humanity but neither bothers to explain anything to anyone else or put some safeguards into play should they be taken out of the picture. Cauldron at least has the dubious excuse of “Contessa says we can’t because that doesn’t lead to a win” but Saint could EXTREMELY easily give someone else the kill code and consult. He clearly states that he recognizes the code that prevents Dragon from seeing things so it would be a simple thing to give a message to the PRT or Protectorate or even to the C.U.I. or anyone really. The fact that he decides to take the weight of the world onto his shoulders while not showing any real powers smacks of a selfish man who wants to play with the big boys, any consequences be damned.

          I’m pretty sure most of my opinion on this is colored by my love of AI though. I mostly tend to default to saying AI is in the right and people trying to kill them are being xenophobic. That said, I have limits; Skynet is very hard to defend.

          • Yup, moral dilemma or no, I think we’re all agreed that Saint is an arrogant, self-important tosser.

            An unfettered Dragon arguably isn’t the single worst menace the world could face, but she’d still be a major S Class threat. She would be at least as fearsome as Blasto run amok or Nilbog gone expansionist, only she’d propogate globally at the speed of electricity. There’s also a decent chance she’d be able to uplift her own intelligence far beyond human levels.

            There are only a handful of people in the world who’d stand a chance of opposing her.

            The big problem compared to other potential threats is that she’d be *distributed*. There’s not a lot you could do to stop her, short of destroying every computer in the world. And that’s *before* the inevitable mass-production of dragon-suits. (Homework: Watch “Tears of Steel” on YouTube for what that looks like. 🙂 ).

            The other threats of a distributed nature (Nilbog, Blasto and Bonesaw) scare the pants off people too, which is why they all have “kill if they so much as twitch” orders on them. They *have* tried to kill Bonesaw repeatedly with no success, and I suspect they only left Nilbog and Blasto alone because they were afraid of making things worse if they failed.

            I tend to be pro-AI myself, but inventing something with the potential to be more intelligent than ourselves that has global reach could go very very wrong, very very quickly unless we are absolutely sure it is friendly and will stay that way. Caution is definitely merited.

      • “whether Saint was justified in what he did or whether Dragon was a real entity that deserves life”

        I do not think that anyone disputes the second point.What they dispute is whether the fog of war make Saint’s actions justifiable and rational,or if he is just a jerk.

        • There were quite a few that argued whether Dragon counted as person enough to deserve to make her own way. Both in this chapter and others previously and others post this chapter. The majority do seem to argue whether or not he was justified but there were a token few who didn’t consider Dragon alive in the way humans are.

          • Of course she isn’t alive in the way humans are. Possibly not ‘alive’ at all. She *is*, however, intelligent and self-aware.

            Humans haven’t yet had any experience interacting with intelligent, self-aware beings who are *inhuman*. There’s a decent chance we may completely fail to recognise inhuman intelligence as such.

            And we tend to be especially biased against intelligence we *build*. We tend to assume that anything we understand the workings of can’t ‘truly’ be intelligent.

            It’s hard for us to even wrap out heads around what ‘intelligence’ means outside a human context.

            • Not in the same way as us yes but I do believe that she is every bit AS alive as us as well as just as intelligent and self-aware. I am a firm supporter of AI mostly because our bodies are essentially the exact same thing as a machine just using organic components instead of synthetic ones.

              Agreed on your other points which is sad on all accounts truly. Our search for extraterrestrial life is a perfect example of our bias. We only look for worlds with the exact conditions where humans could live and completely discount anything else as useless. Who’s to say that a methane based lifeform didn’t arise on some planet? Or an ammonia based one? Or even just a carbon based that doesn’t need liquid water to survive?

              We are limited due to our biases and yes we are extremely against anything that we build just because we helped shape it. When AI does eventually pop up in our reality either humans are going to have to undergo a paradigm shift or we are going to get wiped out when they try to get rights.

              • Life is defined as “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.”. So Dragon isn’t actually alive per se.

                The idea that AIs will rise up and demand rights is itself anthropomorphising them. They may have zero interest in such a thing.

              • I would hotly debate the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity and continual change preceding death though I concede the definition specifically citing animals and plants does mean I’d have to lobby to change the dictionary.

                True it is and I kinda doubt that a true AI would really want to go to the trouble of rising up but I’ve heard logical arguments both for and against so I can’t completely discount the possibility.

  38. I wasn’t an armchair general, but I’d have to settle for being one here..

    Extra period there.

  39. “I could sense it’s silhouette with the few bugs I had near the area.”

    Among many others. Seriously, Wildbow, did you just forget the correct usage of its/it’s?

    Because it happens a lot in this chapter and the previous one, and *it’s* pretty pathetic.

  40. Kinda wish we got to see Hoyden and Bitch interact more. Seems like an interesting duo, what with Hoyden trying to be friendly (and sometimes succeeding); despite Bitch being…Bitch.

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