Venom 29.1

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

Tattletale stirred.  I could see the usual confusion that went with waking up in unfamiliar surroundings.  She adjusted faster than most.  There was no flailing about for a point of reference so everything could start to make sense again.  Her power supplied it.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey,” I replied.

“Think the world’s going to end today?”  she asked, as she stretched, still lying down.

“World already ended, if we’re talking about our world.  Too much damage done.”

“Maybe,” she said.  “Humans are resourceful.  Resourceful and stubborn.  But you kind of live that, don’t you?”

I nodded.  “Guess so.”

Tattletale picked a bit of grit out of the corner of her eye with a fingernail.  “You didn’t sleep.”

“Not so much.”


“I’ve learned to deal.  Pulled enough stakeouts to adapt.”

“Idiot,” Tattletale said again.  She raised herself to a sitting position.  “You need to be in top fighting shape.”

“I slept for three days after getting cut in half,” I protested.

“Only shows how much you needed the sleep,” she said.

“The Simurgh was being eerie, singing you a lullaby.  You really expect me to sleep after that?”

“The lullaby wasn’t for me,” Tattletale said.  “And I didn’t sense any hostile intent.”

I turned my head.  My expression was hidden, but she read my confusion anyways.

“I mean, I think some of it was for my benefit, but it didn’t fit like that was the be-all and end-all of the singing.  She was doing something else.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Neither do I.  But she’s not exactly an easy one to get.  Who knows what she sees?  Maybe she’s singing for a reason that isn’t apparent yet?”

That was unsettling.  I thought of what the Simurgh had said.

It didn’t serve to keep secrets right now.  It’d be disastrous in the worst case scenario, and Tattletale was the best person to go to when I needed answers.  “She apologized.”

“The Simurgh?” Tattletale asked.  She gave me a funny look.

“Believe it or not.  She said ‘I’m sorry’.”

“She doesn’t talk,” Tattletale said.

“I know.  But I heard it.”

“Anyways, she isn’t sorry,” Tattletale said.  “I’d put money on it.  I’ve got a lot of money to put on it, if anyone’s willing to take the bet.  Couple million in liquid assets.”

I shook my head.  “I won’t take that bet.  Look, just keep it in mind.”

“Filed away,” Tattletale promised.

“For now though, we should mobilize,” I said, as if I could distract myself.  “Get everyone on the same page, start putting heads and powers together.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Tattletale responded.  She pulled off a glove, then reached into her belt to get a small tin from one pouch.  “Two minutes to get myself presentable.  Could do with a shower, but I think people are a little past that right now.”

I nodded.  Most of the capes I’d seen were just a little rougher around the edges.  The shine gone from their costumes, a little dustier, their hair greasier, chins unshaven.  Psychologically, it was much the same.

This had hit all of us hard.  I liked to think I was rolling with it better than some, if only because I’d had two years to anticipate it.  Then again, I was good at self-delusion.

I thought about Clockblocker, his optimism.  When I’d been talking about expecting the worst, he’d argued for the opposite.  I didn’t want to diminish what I felt about him being dead in the general sense by thinking about something so petty, but a part of me was disappointed I couldn’t talk to him now, after the fact, and see how he was doing.  If he was coping better than I had.

It wasn’t that I was coping, exactly.  I wasn’t happy, confident or unafraid.  The only thing I could say was that I’d been able to brace myself.  I’d bought into Dinah’s prophecy more than just about anyone else.  I’d braced myself and I’d nearly broken, regardless.  I could tell myself that the point where I’d been floating over the ocean by New Brockton Bay had only been a desire to get away, nothing darker, but I wasn’t sure I was telling myself the truth.  I could think back to the point where I’d snapped after being cut in half by Scion and tell myself I was lucid, but I wasn’t sure that was true either.

Hard to say I’d held my own when I wasn’t sure how much of it was me and how much was the adrenaline at work.  Or other things.

Any opinion, passenger?  I asked.  We’re going up against your maker.  You going to hold back or are you going to go all-out?

No response, of course.

Tattletale was smearing black greasepaint around her eyes.  She’d finished the hardest part, around the eyelashes, and spoke up as she filled the rest in,  “You get in touch with everyone you wanted to talk to?”

“Almost everyone.”

“Ah.  I can guess who you didn’t actively look for.  This denial worries me.”

I shrugged.

“No use dwelling on it.  Your decision in the end.  Let’s move on to a happier topic.  You ever think we’d make it this far?”

“To the end of the world?”  That’s a happier topic?

“To the top of the heap.  As far up there as we could hope to be.”

“We’re not big leaguers, Tattletale.  Not the most powerful capes out there.”

“But we’re talked about around the world.  We’re on speaking terms with some of the biggest and scariest motherfuckers out there.”  Tattletale gestured towards the window.  Towards the Simurgh.  “We’d be front page news, if the news still existed.”

“I’m not sure being news would be a good thing,” I said.  “Which isn’t to say word isn’t getting around, you know.  Charlotte knew.”

“Charlotte’s connected to Sierra and the rest of our infrastructure in Gimel.  That doesn’t really surprise me,” Tattletale said.  She pulled her hair out of the loose ponytail she’d had it in, then combed her fingers through it to get it more or less straight.  It still had kinks and waves where it had been braided.  Something she would have fixed before going out in costume in more ordinary circumstances, for caution’s sake.

“Mm,” I acknowledged her.  Maybe I was tired.  My thoughts were wandering some.

“I tried to set things up so we’d have some way of maintaining communications and getting some information in, getting information out.  Like, I told people about what you said about Scion hating duplication powers.  Anyways, only the very high tech and very low tech have really survived.  Satellites and hard copies.”  She lifted one of the files I’d stacked on the floor, as if to give evidence to the point. “Reading up?”

I picked up a file as well, leafing through it.  “I wasn’t sleeping, so while you were out, I got in touch with Defiant and one of your minions, arranged for only the most essential status updates to come in on paper.  I figured I could update you after you got up.  The deliveries stopped a good bit ago, but one of the last status updates was about Dragon, so I guess she’s handling her old duties while Defiant recuperates from the last few days.”

“Guess so,” Tattletale said.  I turned my head to see what she was doing, but she was already crossing the room.

“Doormaker is napping as well, I guess,” I said.  “He just decided to leave one open, and he hasn’t been responding.  I double checked the portal, making sure he wasn’t trying to tip us off to anything important, but it opens to a pretty remote area of Earth Bet.”

Tattletale went still, “Doormaker doesn’t sleep.”

I raised my eyebrows, realized Tattletale couldn’t see them, and cocked my head quizzically instead.

“There’re lots of capes who don’t sleep.  About a year ago, I started digging into the PRT files.  Hired the Red Hands to steal a more up to date set, even.  I was looking into clues for understanding this whole thing, y’know?  Best leads at the time were memories and dreams.  Clues popping up here and there, relating to people’s dreams, or gaps in memories.  Dreaming differently, seeing things instead of dreaming, case fifty-threes suffering from their amnesia… Well, there are a number of ‘Noctis’ cases.  Named after a vigilante hero that was up at all hours.  The opposite of what I was looking for, but a good data point anyways: capes who don’t dream because they don’t sleep.  PRT confirmed a few members of their own, Miss Militia included, as examples.  Others have only been marked down as guesses.  Doormaker and Contessa were among them, they said, going by the times the ‘bogeyman’ was showing up.”

“So if he doesn’t sleep, why leave a door open and ignore us?” Tattletale asked.

I shook my head a little.

“Doorway,” Tattletale tried.

There was no response.  No portal, no door.

“Door?  Portal?  Open sesame?”  I tried.

“That’s worrisome,” Tattletale said, keeping her voice low.  She clipped on her belt, tapping each of the pockets, as if to check the contents were still there.  She drew her gun and checked it for bullets.

“We should go,” I said.

“We’re definitely going,” Tattletale said, but she didn’t budge as she double-checked her gun, pulling the slide back.  I resisted the urge to comment on just how useless a gun was, considering what we were up against; I could remember how she’d fared when the assassin targeted her, Accord and Chevalier.

There were other threats.

“Right,” Tattletale said, finally finishing, grabbing her laptop and tucking it under one arm.

That was our go signal.  We broke into stride.

We passed a soldier, and Tattletale signaled him, raising a finger.  He stopped and wheeled around, following.

“We’re going,” Tattletale said.  “Ship up, move out.  If we come back and settle in here, then so be it, but let’s not plan on it.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Get someone to collect my things.  All the files, the computers, the food.  Everything.  Get it all to the far side of the little doorway…”  Tattletale looked at me.  “Where’s the doorway?”

“A bit outside the front doors,” I said.

“What she said,” Tattletale told her mercenary.  “If we’re gone, just hold position.  If we’re still gone after twenty four hours, assume we’re dead.  Get my data and the backups of my notes to someone who matters, then consider the job done, collect your payment, go on your merry way.”

“I’ll make sure everyone’s informed.”

“Do,” she said.  Then, as if to offset the curt command, she added, “Thanks, Tug.”

He gave us a sloppy salute as he broke away, turning down a different corridor.

I had my phone out before I was outside.  My bugs let me navigate the stairs without taking my eyes from the screen, as I input commands.  It was cold out, almost cold enough it would impair my bugs, and a heavy fog hung in the open clearing.  The stout military building stood in an open, overgrown grassland, encircled by evergreen trees.

No reception.  Not a surprise, but inconvenient.  I watched as we got closer to the portal Doormaker had left open.

Tattletale, for her part, turned around, walking backwards as we reached the bottom of the steps.  With the phone still dark, I took a moment to look in the same direction.  I was treated to the intimidating image of the Simurgh passing over the building.  She moved as if she were as light as a feather, but I knew that wasn’t true.  She was heavier than she looked, by a considerable margin.  Had she set her full weight on the roof, she would plunge through.

Like someone playing hopscotch on the moon, the Simurgh set one foot down on the roof, hopping forward, set another foot on the very edge and pushed herself off.  She floated down to the space beside the portal, then unfolded her wings, drawing the halo out to its full breadth.  The movements sent swirls of dust and fog rippling across the edges of the clearing, stopping only as they crashed into the line of trees.

“She changed the guns?” I observed.

“She did,” Tattletale observed, “Cosmetic changes.”

Each of the Simurgh’s guns had been streamlined, the outer casings, barrels and handles reworked into wings.  Three concentric circles of interconnected guns, all redesigned to appear like an extension of her own wings, behind her.

“Why cosmetic?”

“Way I understand it, she needs to have a tinker in her sphere of influence to borrow their schematics, or a specific device, if she wants to copy it.  Thinkers, too, I think she borrows their perception powers as long as she’s tapped into them.  Might be why she’s attached to me.  Either way, she didn’t have schematics or anything she’d need to modify the guns.”

“Or she can modify them, and it’s a card she’s been keeping up her sleeve for the last while.  I mean, it was only three years ago or whatever that she really showed off her ability to copy a tinker’s work wholesale.”

Tattletale nodded.  She frowned.  “I don’t like being in the dark.  But that’s the gist of it.  She made cosmetic changes because she couldn’t make concrete ones.”

“Well, it’s unnerving to think about, but anything about the Simurgh is,” I commented.  “When I asked about the aesthetics, though, I wasn’t asking about the why so much as the…”

“So much as the why?”  Tattletale asked, emphasizing the word.

“Yeah,” I said, lamely.  “Why does she care?”

“Why does she have feathers and wings?  For all intents and purposes, she could be a crystal that floats here and there.  The end result is pretty much the same.  A few less weapons.  Behemoth?  I mean, you saw what he was, when we reduced him to a bare skeleton.  All the extra flesh, it’s decorative.  He doesn’t really need any particular parts, except legs to move around.”

“It’s there to dress them up so they make better terror weapons,” I said.

“Basically,” Tattletale said.

“That’s not a good omen,” I said.  “Because Scion doesn’t feel fear.  I’m pretty sure.”

“Maybe he doesn’t, and this is a little embellishment for our sake, for when she turns on us,” Tattletale said.

“Can you not spell that out when she’s standing twenty feet away?” I asked.  My pulse picked up a little at the idea, my heart kicking a little in my chest as it switched to a different gear.

“She knows we’re thinking it,” Tattletale said.  “And she knows there’s another explanation we could make.  Maybe it’s a clue.  A hint.”

“About what?” I asked.  “About Scion?”

“About Scion,” she said.

A hint that he can feel fear?  It didn’t ring true, but I preferred it to the alternative.

“Let’s go through and…” I said.  I couldn’t bring myself to say I hoped.  “…Maybe the Simurgh can make her way through the portal, and maybe we’ll find out.”

“Yep,” Tattletale said, smiling a little.  She probably knew the reasoning behind my word choice.

For that matter, it was very possible the Simurgh did too.

Which left me with the question of why I’d even bothered.

Going through, I thought.  Hopefully there’s people on the other side that can’t read me like a book.

My phone lit up as a connection was established to a satellite.

A moment later, the connection was secured.

The clock changed, followed by a time zone and a symbol.  Four forty-six, Eastern standard time, Earth Bet.

I stared at the world that stretched out before us, and it was wrong.  Perspective was skewed.  Lines bent where they should have been straight, and the expanse to our left was somehow more extensive than the space to our right.

The horizon should have been straight, or at least a gentle curve to accomodate the planet’s natural curvature, but it was almost a wavy line.

“The fuck?” I muttered.

“Vista,” Tattletale said, very matter-of-factly.

The Simurgh reached the portal.  I was reminded of Leviathan breaking into the shelter beneath the library as I saw her put one hand on each side of the portal.  She wasn’t quite as large as he was, until you added up the wings and wingspan.  Put all the wings together, and her mass was probably equivalent to her older brother’s.

She passed through with little effort, dropping almost to her knees to get her head through.  The wings followed, each wing stretched all the way behind her.  The feathers rasped against the boundaries of the portal as she floated forward.

The outer edges wavered a fraction, as if the stress threatened to bring the portal down entirely.

Then she was through.  She flexed her wings, then folded them around herself.  The halo came through in pieces.

“That answers that,” Tattletale said.  She added a very unenthusiastic, “Yay.”

The Dragonfly made its way to us, stopping no less than four times.  With each stop, it descended to the ground and refused all incoming commands.  A minute would pass, and then it would take off again.

It took me a bit to realize why.

Vista.  The autopilot didn’t seem to like her power.

“Just how much area is she manipulating?” I asked.

“She was only ever held back by the Manton effect,” Tattletale said.  “Number of people in the area.”

“And there’s not many people left in Bet,” I spoke my thoughts aloud, as I made the connection.

“Consider it a bonus,” Tattletale said, raising her head as the Dragonfly came into view, “In a sad, not-really-a-bonus sort of way.  Empty earth makes for a convenient battleground.  If we’re able to fight here, that is.”

The Dragonfly set down, the ramp opening before it was even on terra firma.

It took a minute to plot out the route the Dragonfly should take, looking at what the cameras had tracked, seeing where the distortions were.

“Something’s really wrong,” Tattletale said.

“With the distortions?”

“The distortions are a band-aid.  Vista’s trying to fix something that’s gotten fucked up,” she said.  “How do you plot the course?”

I mapped out a course to take us to the Gimel portal.

Tattletale changed the course, adjusting it to match the distortions we’d mapped and some we hadn’t.

It took several minutes, all in all, but the resulting trip was fast.  The Dragonfly’s onboard system kept trying to calculating the remaining time for the trip based on our location, only to get tripped up by the folded and pinched space.

Then we hit Silkroad’s power, and accelerated to nearly three times the speed.  Tattletale was caught off guard, standing beside my chair, and fell, dropping her laptop onto the hard floor.

Both the distortion and Silkroad’s power stopped when we were a distance from the portal.  The effect was disorienting.

Corridors of folded space with the dim pink corridors of Silkroad’s power stretched out in every direction.  Connecting points.

Towers surrounded Brockton Bay, set on mountaintops and high ground within the city itself.  It necessitated a careful approach.  As we passed between two, I saw that they were communication towers, crafted to put satellite dishes at high points rather than provide shelter.

The craft settled down, and we climbed out.  They’d finished the ramp leading up to the portal, and it was easy enough to make our way up.  I opted to walk beside Tattletale instead of use up my jetpack’s fuel.

Twelve percent capacity remaining.  An hour or two of flight.

Vista stood at the top of the platform, on our side of the portal.  A Chinese woman in an elaborate Sari-style dress stood beside her, as did a man I recognized as the Knave of Hearts from the Suits.  Others were nearby, but seemed less like part of the group and more like bystanders.  Kid Win was sitting at the edge of the platform, tools and a gun in his lap, abandoned as he stared at the Simurgh.

The Knave of Hearts muttered something in what I was guessing was Dutch.  Louder, he commented, “They weren’t joking.”

“What happened?”  I asked, the second we had their attention.

“Cauldron’s running with their tail between their legs,” Vista said.  “Big promises, excuses about having all the power and being the only ones who can really put the screws to Scion, and then they run at the last minute.”

“Let us not be hasty,” the Knave of Hearts said.  “It is possible Scion hit their headquarters.  We won’t know until we have more information.”

“We can’t get information,” Vista said.  “Because they never gave us a better way of getting in contact, and they never told us where their headquarters are.”

“Yes,” Knave said.  He looked at me.  “We have no portals but the ones that were left open.  We cannot communicate by opening a door and talking to the other person.  Vista, Silk Road and I are attempting to patch together an answer.”

“A workaround,” Vista said.

“Fast transportation between key areas,” Tattletale observed.  “Your power and Silk Road’s to make the corridors…”

“I am handling communication and pinpointing the other portal locations,” Knave said.  “The Hearts of the Suits have good relations with other teams and places.”

“I can give you the coordinates,” Tattletale said.

“We have the coordinates,” Knave said, sounding annoyed.  “All but the concealed portals.”

“I think I know where those are,” Tattletale said.

Knave looked even more annoyed at that, but he nodded.  “Step through, talk to the guys at the station, they’ll get you set up.  We’ll handle the ones we know about while we wait.”

The station was on the other side of the portal.  A way to keep the civilians from trying to go back to Bet to loot and getting themselves killed or stranded, and a place where they could organize things.

Tattletale and I both gave up our phones.  The technicians on the other end changed settings to bring them on board with the hodgepodge arrays they’d put up on both Bet and Gimel.

Tattletale reclaimed her phone, then paged through the contents, checking settings.  When she was satisfied, she looked at me.  “I don’t expect you to hang around while I’m doing the geek thing and pointing those guys to the right places.”

I nodded.  “I’ll see how the others are doing and get back to you.”

Getting the Endbringers on board had marked the point we’d stopped reeling and started preparing again.  I could see the results.  The Gimel settlement was swiftly transforming from a sprawling refugee camp to a standing ground.  Refugees were being escorted or transported to other locations, packing up tents and possessions and climbing into trucks and helicopters.  It made room for the capes that were here.

Miss Militia was at the center of it, giving orders, managing the capes and the civilians in charge.

Squads were organized, many from the Protectorate, not in rank and file, but clustering according to their respective teams or organization.  Here and there, they’d gathered in more specialized groups.

I could see Rachel, Imp, Foil and Parian with the Chicago Wards, sitting or lying on the closed bins that held supplies for the settlement.  Only Golem was absent.

I felt a moment’s trepidation.  I had doubts, regrets, even a kind of shame, when it came to the Chicago teams.

I’d said it out loud, but I’d never really faced the decision I’d made: giving up on being a hero.

Still, I found myself walking up to them.

“Here she is,” Grace said.  “Make your way here okay, Weaver?”

“Doormaker left a door open for us,” I said.

“He left doors open for everyone,” Tecton said.  “But navigation’s a little tricky.  Can’t always make it from point A to point B.”

“We did okay,” I said.  “Vista was saying this is a cut and run on Cauldron’s part, but I can’t imagine this as something malicious or cowardly.  They wouldn’t have left the portals here if it was.”

“I agree,” Tecton said.

“Who’s looking into it?” I asked.

“Satyr and the other ex-Vegas capes,” Grace replied.

“Isn’t that like sending the fucking fox to guard the henhouse?” Romp asked.  “Except it’s sending the confusing mind-game head-fuckers to answer the confusing, fucked-up riddle?”

Yes,” Imp said.  “Totally.  God, it’s nice to finally have someone who can explain situations clearly.”

“More like,” Foil said, “sending a group that’s very well versed in conspiracy and subterfuge to deal with the sort of thing they’re very good at handling.”

“Now you’re being confusing,” Imp said.

“Where’s Tattletale?” Rachel asked.

“Outside.  Helping Vista and Silk Road to put together new rapid-travel routes.”

“Okay,” she said.

“Do you miss her?” Imp asked, turning around.  “Like, actually?”

“She’s a member of the team.”

“But you miss her!  That’s awesome!”

“I don’t,” Rachel said.  Then, after a moment’s thought, she added, “And that means it isn’t awesome.”

“I thought you couldn’t stand her.”

“I can stand her, and it took a long time to get that far.  That’s all it is,” Rachel said.

“But you asked.  Like, for the first time ever.”

“I have a question for her.  That’s all.”

Romp looked at her teammates, turning to Grace, then Tecton.  “Am I the only one who hears these guys talk and wonders how the fuck they ever got to be in charge of a city?”

“Don’t fucking swear,” Grace said, saying the line as if it were reflexive by now.  Romp looked annoyed, but Cuff smiled, and I could see Tecton looking away, as if he was forgetting that people couldn’t see his face while he had the helmet on.  I, too, smiled.  Romp was completely unware about why it was funny that Grace was admonishing her on the swearing.

I turned to Rachel, “What’s the question?  Something I can help with?”

She shrugged.  “This dork with Miss Militia was telling me some tinker was wanting to try something with my power.  Give my dog some drug shit a rat made?  I didn’t follow, and he kept talking to me like I have brain damage, which I don’t, so I didn’t listen.”

“Which made the guy step it up even more,” Imp commented.  “Until it sounded like he was talking to a five year old.”

“I walked away,” Rachel said.

“Stuff a rat made?” I asked.

“Lab Rat,” Imp said.

“Wouldn’t work,” I said.  “Her power burns up toxins and chemicals in the dog’s systems.”

“I said that when they said they wanted to use drugs,” Rachel said.

“They know that already,” Imp said.  “They wanted to try anyways.  Have some things left over from the previous fight.

Dosing mutated dogs with Lab Rat’s leftover transformation serums?

Would the gains be additive?

“The drugs they’re talking about are the only reason I’m still here,” I said.  “Honestly, I’m seeing only two outcomes.  Three, maybe: the effects stack up and Rachel’s dog gets even tougher or more versatile; the dog ceases to be a dog while the serum’s active and Rachel’s power stops working; or it’s made for humans and not dogs, and we get a negative reaction.”

“Two out of three odds,” Romp said.

“Actually,” Tecton said, “Nothing’s guaranteeing that the odds of any result are even.  Could be a ten percent chance of the first, five percent chance of the second and an eighty-five percent chance of the last one.”

“And a five percent chance it’s something else entirely,” Imp said, sagely.

Tecton shook his head.  “That doesn’t add up.”

“Ignore her,” Parian said.

“The numbers don’t mean anything to me,” Rachel said.  She frowned, making eye contact with me.  “You think I should?”

“I do.  Anything and everything we can think of to mix things up or combine powers is good.  I really like that there are people out there thinking outside the box.  It’s exactly what we need right now.”

“Right,” Rachel said.  She hopped down from the lid of the supply container.  “Going to go talk to her then.  If that guy tries baby-talking to me again, I’m going to make Bastard bite him.”

“No way.  You gotta fuck with his head,” Imp said.

“Biting people is more satisfying,” Rachel responded.

“No, look… uh… Tecton.  You gotta give me something really smart and scientific sounding.  Like, say what Taylor said, but in smart-guy words.”

“Critical mistake here: you’re implying Tecton is smart,” Romp said.

Tecton sat up straighter.  “Hey.  Just because I’m not your team leader anymore-”

“-You’re totally not the one who gets to order me around,” Romp replied.  “Deal with it.”

“Run a lap,” Grace said, her voice quiet.

Romp turned around, eyebrows raised.

“A lap?”

Two laps,” Grace said, her voice quiet, cold and dangerous.  “For not moving the second I gave the order.”

“What am I supposed to fucking run around?”

Three laps for swearing, four because you’re still here.  We can do five if you don’t move now.  Start running, and if you don’t pick a big enough area to run around, I can give you another few laps.”

“This is balls,” Romp said, hopping down from the bin’s lid.

“Five laps, then,”  Grace said.

“I know I’m getting more laps by talking, but I needed to state the truth for the record.”  She kept talking, speaking with each footfall.  “Balls, balls, balls.”

The moment she was out of earshot, Grace and the others broke into laughter.  Foil was the only member of the Undersiders who seemed to get it, her shoulders shaking in silent laughter.

“I can’t believe she actually went,” Cuff said.

“Don’t let her exhaust herself,” Tecton said.

Grace shook her head, still smiling.  “I’ll stop her after she finishes the first lap.”

“Okay, I need something to write on,”  Imp said.  “Anyone?”

“Here,” I said, getting a notepad from my belt.  I handed it to her.  “Why?”

She handed the notepad to Tecton.  “So Tecton can write something down.  And I hold it up, like a cue card, and Rachel recites it, sounding like a genius, and we blow dr. baby-talk’s mind.  And if he turns around, I use my power, so he’s never the wiser.”

Tecton nodded, “I can do that.”

I winced.  “There’s a flaw in that.”

“It’s brilliant,” Imp said.  She looked around, turning to Parian and Foil.

Parian only extended a hand towards Rachel.

“What?” Imp asked.

Parian gestured again, pointing.

“I don’t get it… Rachel… oh.”

“I don’t read much,” Rachel said, blunt.

“Annnd now I feel like a dick,” Imp said.

“I don’t care,” Rachel said.

She probably doesn’t.

“That doesn’t make me any less of a dick.  How often do I get reminders about the reading thing?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Rachel said.  She looked annoyed.  “This is why I don’t talk to people.  Why are we still talking about this?”

She was more irritated at the fact that Imp wasn’t dropping it than the fact that her illiteracy had been brought up.

“Maybe if I come with?” Tecton offered.  “I’ll distract whoever Dr. baby-talk is, and you can talk to Miss Militia about dosing your dogs.”

“Or you can tell me what you were going to write down and I memorize it,” Rachel said.

A few people in the group exchanged glances.

“Really simple solution,” Rachel said.  Except now she was talking to us like we were the idiots.

“I’m not sure I could memorize it,” Tecton confessed.

“The kid that’s running the lap said you weren’t that smart,” Rachel answered.  “Try me.”

“Okay, uh.  ‘I see three possible outcomes’…”

Rachel repeated what he’d said.

They continued, Imp leaning forward and kicking her legs where they dangled from the edge of the bin.

Grace interrupted my observations.  “You’re wearing black.”

I felt a bit of guilt welling.  No, guilt wasn’t the right word.  I was at peace with my decision.

I just felt a little ashamed that I hadn’t been more upfront about it, with the people I’d spent years working with.


“I suppose you’re not going to get around to having that meeting with the PRT guys, getting yourself moved up from the Wards to the Protectorate?  Unless I’m reading too much into the costume choice.”

“You’re not,” I said.  “No, I suppose I’m not going to have that meeting.”

“Is it that we failed with the Jack thing?”

“That’s not the entirety of it,” I said.

“But it’s part of it, right?  Isn’t that unfair?  We had, like, a four percent chance of success going in, and we didn’t stop it from coming to pass, so you bail?”

“I said it’s only part of it,” I repeated myself.

“I know,” she said.  I could see Tecton and Rachel pause, catching something in Grace’s tone.

When Grace and I remained silent, they resumed.  “…the cross species interactions…”

“…the cross species interactions.”

“I know,” Grace said, after a pause.  “I get that.  I get that there’s other reasons.  Like the fact that you love those guys and you never loved us.  Cool.  Makes sense.”

“I liked you guys.”

“But you didn’t love us.”

“No,” I said.

“I get all that.  But Golem’s pulling away too, and I know that’s because that we had only that fucking four percent chance and we failed.  So I draw a connection, think maybe you’re more bothered about that than you let on.”

I looked at Cuff, who was watching me intently.  She looked even more intent and focused than Grace did.

Then again, she was a little more invested in how Golem was doing than most.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Probably.”

“It’s shitty,” she said.  “Both Golem and you, drifting away.”

“I know, and it feels shitty,” I said.

“Then that’s consolation enough, for me,” Grace said.  She relaxed a little, then glanced at Cuff.

“I’m not really the type to nurse grudges,” Cuff said.  “I just want Golem thinking straight again.  He took it hard.  So you’ll get my forgiveness if you go talk to him.”

“I think that’s something I can do,” I answered her.

She smiled.  “He’s at the phone bank, near the station, if you want to find him.”


But Cuff was smiling, looking so intent.

Weaponized niceness.

“Right,” I said.  I turned to go.

And I could see people moving, running.

I felt a pit swell in my stomach.

“No,” Imp said, following my line of sight.  She could see squads getting into formation.  In the distance, the aircraft that had been moving refugees were turning around, coming back to us.  “No, no.  We had such a good joke going, don’t you dare ruin it.”

Romp returned to us, breaking into a run to close the remainder of the distance.  “Someone’s saying he’s hitting Samech.  It’s one of the Earths Cauldron was going to watch over.  There’s only Dragon, the Guild and some Protectorate guys there.”

“Let’s move,” I said.  “Through the portal.  We’ll use the Dragonfly.  Faster than waiting for another ship.  Rachel, look for doctor baby-talk, if we can grab something from him before we leave, great, but let’s not dawdle.”

There were nods all around.

I could see the other heroes.  Miss Militia and Glaistig Uaine.  Revel and Exalt.  Protectorate teams, sub-teams of the Suits, including the non-combat teams of the Hearts and Cups.

People hurried to organize, pulling on costume pieces they’d left off and checking weapons, clearing out of the open spaces where shadows grew as the aircraft descended.

One by one, the ships began to take off, flying through the tall, narrow portal.

Three ships, then four.

But the fifth didn’t take off.  I reached out with my swarm, trying to catch what people were talking about, to make sense of the situation, but everyone important was already on a ship.

King of Hearts was the only person of any meaningful rank who spoke the same language I did and who wasn’t mobilizing to leave.  The leader of the Meisters, Vornehm, was giving orders in German.  A scary-looking Master class cape with an army of clay men carrying tinker weapons was ordering other people around with the same harsh voice he was commanding his own troops.

But there was no explanation of why more ships weren’t taking off.

Had the fight already ended?

“Keep moving,” I said, ordering the teams forward.  Tattletale will know.

As confusion descended, people started falling back into their previous state, gathering in clusters of familiar people.  It almost seemed like we were the only group with direction, pushing against a milling crowd.  We weren’t, but the illusion was there.

And that same effect made it possible to see when the crowd did find direction, a common, mutual interest.  Heads turned, chins raised.  People found postures where their feet were set apart, as if ready to move at a moment’s notice.

Scion.  Here.  Floating above the bay like he’d floated above the ocean in his first appearance.

He’s targeting us, I realized.  Two of our organized settlements in as many minutes?

His hands hung at his sides.  The golden light that radiated from him cleaned his clothes and hair, but there was enough blood on his costume that the light wasn’t rendering it as pristine as it should.  His eye sockets were dark, with the way his forehead blocked the sun’s light.  That same sunlight made the edges of his hair and body glow with the light that wasn’t completely blocked.

He didn’t even raise his hand before he fired.  Lights no bigger than basketballs streaked forward, leaving trails glittering behind them.

Two of Dragon’s ships detonated violently.  Occupants dead or grievously injured, people in the area of the craft wounded by the fallout.

By the time I’d turned my head to see his follow-up, Scion had closed the distance, moving right into our midst.

Capes with reflexes better than mine were already reacting, throwing a multitude of effects in his way.  He plunged through the defenses like they weren’t even there.

Something got in his way, but he flew around it without a second thought.  He stopped right in front of a cape.  Quite possibly the cape that had stalled him momentarily.  A dark-skinned man in gray.

A swirling gray effect swelled between him and the target.  He struck it with a glowing hand, and the effect distorted, growing thin.  Another strike, and the effect dissipated.

Other capes were hurling effects at him.  Most glanced off.

He caught his target around the throat.  Didn’t squeeze.

But the golden light began to eat into the target’s body and costume.  Scion let the man drop.

Not a scream.  Only twitching, frantic thrashing as the golden light continued to consume.

Foil raised her arbalest.  I could see our entire group tense as she raised it, Parian’s hands going to her mouth.

A moment later, Parian’s cloth was unfurling from behind her back.  Rachel was making her dogs grow, while Cuff was manipulating a shotput into a blade like the one from a circular saw.

For my part, I began drawing the bugs into decoys, sending them into the air.

Oblivious to it all, Foil took aim, then ran her hand along the bolt she’d loaded in place.

I could see her draw in a breath.  I’d taken marksmanship classes.  Squeeze the trigger as you exhale.

The shot flew through the air.

Scion wheeled around and caught it.

It wasn’t just his costume, I could see.  All the lines of his body, his hands, lines that made it so he didn’t look wholly artificial, they were filled with the detritus of smoke and blood and other grit, and the golden light had only washed the surface clean.  The deepest cracks held the remainder.  It made fine lines look more like crags.

I was almost glad that it took away from his human appearance.

He let the arbalest’s bolt drop to the ground.

His eyes were on Foil.

A golden light swelled in his hand.

We spread out, but Foil didn’t even flinch.  Even as Cuff backed away, Foil reached out to touch the sawblade, imbuing it with power.

Scion reached out, and Parian used her power, encircling Foil with the end of a length of cloth.  Not an animal, only an arm.

In the instant Scion loosed the bolt of light, Parian flung Foil away.  Not a simple throw, but a reckless, inhumanly strong one.

Foil was removed from the battle.  Sent beyond what would have been the outskirts of the city, if we were in Bet, cast out in the direction of the Bay itself, until she was only a speck.

The bolt hit ground, fifty or sixty feet behind us.  Other people died instead.  People I didn’t know.

No longer interested in Foil, Scion turned to the nearest cape, lunging.

Cuff threw her circular blade.  Without even looking, Scion batted it aside, striking an unaffected part towards the middle.  His attention was on a cape, and he swiped a glowing hand through the cape’s abdomen.

What didn’t burn spilled forth.  His screams were joined by that of a friend, another cape who screamed in horror over what had happened to him.  Scion very deliberately walked past this other cape to attack someone else.

Picking us off, choosing targets.

Maximizing pain and suffering over raw destruction.


And there was precious little we could do about it.

Precious little I could do about it.  My bugs formed into more decoys.  Other bugs searched for the key players.  Where was the man Rachel had described?  The one with the serums?  Where was Miss Milita?

The Simurgh was passing through the portal, and people who’d been trying to flee to Earth Bet were now scattering, trying to flee both the Endbringer and Scion at the same time.

Horribly timed, as entrances went.  Our best hope was that he’d keep toying with us, that enough time would pass that capes stationed at the other major portals could use the fast-travel routes to get to us.

Something like an Endbringer was all too likely to change his mind.

It’s the beginning of the end.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

260 thoughts on “Venom 29.1

  1. Among the least fun chapters to get done, panic inducing from a purely IRL perspective.

    Apparently some phone tech was working on the phone box to fix someone else’s problem, and cut both my phone and internet line.

    So my ‘net wasn’t available through all of yesterday until six this afternoon. I was very unsure if I’d be able to get it live. Was considering going to the university to use their library, but that’s travel time & I’m not sure when it closes – I can’t call or google to find out the hours, can I?

    But I got it done anyways, woohoo!

    And in the 30 hours my ‘net was down, I got record views! Woohoo! 20k views in one day, 22k today, and I broke 4k unique views in one day (that is, 4k unique addresses, or 4k people, who viewed a total of 22k pages between them). So happy. So nice to see after the mingled anger, frustration, horror and despair that any self respecting nerd knows is part and parcel with any internet outage. Thank you to everyone who’s spreading the word.

    And thanks to the rest of you for reading. See you Saturday.

    • {“I know it’s five laps, but I needed to state the truth for the record. She kept talking, speaking with each footfall. “Balls, balls, balls.”}
      Missing quotation mark.

      {and we blow dr. baby-talk’s mind. And if he turns around, I use my power, so he’s never the wiser.”}
      Dr. should be capitalized.

      {“I’ll distract whoever Dr. baby-talk is, andyou can talk to Miss Militia about dosing your dogs.”}
      Missing space between ‘and’ and ‘you’.

    • “Had she set her full weight on the roof, she would plunge through.”

      That mixes the hypothetical and the actual. Which sounds wrong to me. Pretty sure it should be something like “would have plunged” or “If she set”.

      “Like someone hopscotch on the moon, the Simurgh set one foot down on the roof, hopping forward, set another foot on the very edge and pushed herself off.”

      I think that should be “playing hopscotch” or something like that.

    • one of the last status updates was about Dragon, so I guess she’s handling her old duties
      –> from Dragon?
      “We can’t get information, Vista said.
      –> quotation mark
      –> technicians
      andyou can talk to Miss Militia
      –> and you
      over what had happened to him Scion very
      –> him. Scion

    • ““Fast transportation between key areas,” Tattletale observed. “Your power and Silk Road’s to make the cor/ridors…””

      Still going awesomely…

    • “The Gimel settlement was swiftly transforming from a sprawling refugee camp to a standing ground.”
      Should that be staging ground?

    • “The Dragonfly’s onboard system kept trying to calculating the remaining time”

      “calculating” should be “calculate”.

    • Romp was completely unware about why it was funny that Grace was admonishing her on the swearing. –> unaware
      I should just reread this, I had no idea why that was funny:/ First gonna finish it tho

  2. Suitably grim, but the Endbringers haven’t tried anything yet either, and the assembled capes haven’t tried anything organized yet either.

    Foil is probably somewhere between crippled and dead without intervention – you don’t get hurled until you’re a speck on the horizon and land softly – and it being water won’t help at that speed. Plausible intervention candidates – Legend, Simurgh, Leviathan. Scion does seem to respect Foil’s power, but unless he can be held in place, it’s not likely to hit him.

    The beats with the Chicago Wards and Undersiders were solid.

    Grue is palpable in his absence.

    • If Tattletale’s right that there’s a hint in the Simurgh’s cosmetic modifications, it’s about Scion’s perceptions. He may not feel fear, but he can be misled by appearances.

        • God damn, you torment me. Dragon and Defiant were on an earth targeted by Scion, so we don’t know what happened to them. And both Foil and Parian’s fates are unclear. I’m not sure if Parian got hit by the shot, and as stated above, things could be bad for Foil. Next chapter we can get started on the Chicago Wards and the rest of the Undersiders.

    • Of course Scion respects Foil’s power. Didn’t his interlude mention that hers was the stinger power his species used to kill each other?

    • Ah, You remember that Foil’s partner is Parian, right? There’s a pretty damn good chance that this was something planned between Parian, Foil, and Cuff. Direct attack, evasion, and secondary unexpected attack. My guess is that Foil is wearing a Parian-made parachute.

      What we need now is a non-cape lawn darts player with some skill to pick up Foil’s discarded bolt and throw it at Scion. Hopefully Scion pays as little attention to non-capes as Jack did.

      I’m hoping that Foil and others might have considered that approach and prepared a few humans with foil-imbued weapons.

      • I like to imagine that Rachel doesn’t really understand she’s involved in a prank. Imp says, “We should do this! It would be cool.” and Rachel’s just like, “I don’t understand why we would do that… but I don’t understand why would do like 80% of what you guys say we should do, and it tends to work out better when I just go along with it. So… sure, we’ll do this thing. I’m sure you have a good reason.”

          • “why don’t I memorise it?” Rachel is cunning and has savvy. and awww, she cares about TT. she wouldn’t have bothered learning to tolerate her if she didn’t care a tad…

  3. Taylor is worried that bringing in an endbringer might cause Scion to escalate too quickly for them to bring everything else they have to bear. But if there’s one endbringer that can think tactically, it’s the Simurgh. She has to know that other capes (and probably endbringers) will be arriving in the future. And I rather doubt that she will consider saving the lives of people here to be worth putting herself at risk.

    Unless he goes after Tattletale pehaps.

    • Well, she’s presumably got a few baseballs on ballistic trajectory — given that Scion is a bit of a difficulty for her, I can see why she might opt to take a quick look and make sure the key ones aren’t knocked off course.

      • Except that she is ‘present-blind’, and depending on how her ‘past viewing’ works she may not even need to be nearby to know what is going on.

          • Are they assets? We still know nothing about the Smurf and last chapter showed that she has been manipulating Tattletale in small ways so she doesn’t notice her glass cylinder. She may just be doing what she always has. Control the Endbringers to be in right place and the right time with the right people to get the outcome she wants. For all we know she knows killing Scion rids other parahumans of their powers.

              • The Smurf may be blind to Scion, but she can see his effects, and I would imagine can do that in the past. Hell if she just sees what happened a split second ago, she’s pretty well set.

                Man does anyone remember when we were hoping Scion would kill the Endbringers?

              • Yeah, I remember. 😄 Of course, none of us caught the fact that Scion would go off the deep end, so it all balances out.

        • Isn’t that a problem Tattletales power pretty much solves?
          Point A in the past is like that Point C in the future like this, therefore B is now between.

          • Pretty sure this is why she’s hanging around Tattletale. Might be that she can’t even do it herself normally, or it might be that tapping Tattletale’s power just lets her do it better or quicker. Filling in the gaps, extrapolating from known information … perfect for overcoming a blind spot in your omniscience.

  4. So Rachel didn’t become friends with Tattletale, and Taylor has decided to never become a “hero” but to remain with the Undersiders. Curious about the Suit’s chain of command. Does every suit have a king/queen who is in charge or is an Ace in charge? Who leads? Okay I admit to not getting the joke with Romp. Still curious about what else happened to the Chicago wards during the timeskip and just what happened between them and Taylor. Anyone else predicting Grue making like Han Solo and coming in for a quick rescue with his darkness?

      • I got that, I just thought that was a way for Grace to illustrate who was in charge. She can swear all she likes, but Romp can’t just because Grace told her she can’t. Sort of like telling a recruit to give you 50 pushups in the hot sun, while casually relaxing in the shade with a glass of water next to them. I read too much into things.

        • For example I just read interviewing Trey and how the Jack of Knaves organizes his henchman with a card theme. He doesn’t use face cards or Aces. Shouldn’t the suits be led by an Ace since it is technically the highest card?

            • Yeah as in Number One in charge. Jack, Queen, King, than Ace to start the cycle over again. I always thought of the Ace card as both the highest and lowest card at the same time. If I’m ever a supervillain with a card theme the Aces would be the leaders. Now I’m curious about how Psycho Gecko would organize his henchmen. By number like the Monarch with the lower the number the higher the status, by committee like AIM, or like the joker where only the most insane, bloodthirsty, or obedient would be in charge. Tattletale has her mercenaries into squads with team leaders that report to her, Rachel has her few minions who basically operate like a pack with her in charge, Taylor had a second in command but didn’t have an organization, and who knows how the Heartbroken follow Imp. Just stupid thoughts in my head.

              • Ace is often interchangeably the highest card of a suit and the lowest, like in poker and in blackjack. Some people stick with the lowest interpretation.

              • They are European and in a lot of our card games the Knave/Jack/Bube/Under is the most valuable card. Not from points but from special features.

              • If I were a card themed villian Ace would be the best field agent, not the leader. The ace is the trump card, but being the best at kicking ass does not make you the best at leading.

        • I thought that was the joke. Grace getting Romp to run laps and showing her whose the boss here is something they do in the Wards, which is why only the only people who laughed were/are in the Wards.

  5. – Scion, you asshole! You ruined the joke!
    – there is anecdotal evidence that the advent of literacy reduced our mnemonic capabilities. Nice touch, what you did with Rachel there.
    – holy shit, Foil’s power can actually hurt him! Holy shit!
    – I wonder if Ms. Militia’s can too if she replicates the right tinker weapon (G-Driver, anyone?). She got her power from the dying entity’s castoffs before Scion could start nerfing them. Her power is unnerfed. This means something.
    – they really need to get Operation Talk To Scion off the ground. Preferably before he puts them all *in* said ground.
    – why is he using such scaled down attacks? Either he’s being experimentally sadistic as Taylor theorized or he’s running low on juice. Notice how his golden light didn’t clean up the blood and dirt as quickly as normal
    – save us, Simurgh!

    … dear God they’re fucked.

    • “She got her power from the dying entity’s castoffs before Scion could start nerfing them. Her power is unnerfed.”

      Where’d you get that from? I don’t doubt it, I’m probably just not remembering.

        • But, but, it makes SO MUCH sense.Unlike others MM vision has sickly, dying entities. Despite Scion putting mental blocks her power gives her eidetic memory that allows her to remember her trigger event.

          Can’t we just chop off his right hand?

          • Ah, I had wondered about that at the time but never really thought about it again after we got the new info in Scion’s interlude. That does make a good deal of sense.

            Now, back to the matter at… hand. We must have justice after all.

            • Krustacean, can you do us a favor and close your sketchbook and tell us what’s on the cover? Does it by chance say “Death Note” on it?

          • Still open to speculation. We don’t know if MM got her powers from Scion or his mate after all nor the timeline. Scion is responsible for half of the world’s superpowers but is he technically responsible for all of them after his mate’s death?

            How do you know he isn’t a southpaw?

              • Larks’ tongues. Wrens’ livers. Chaffinch brains. Jaguars’ earlobes. Wolf nipple chips. Get ’em while they’re hot. They’re lovely. Dromedary pretzels, only half a denar. Tuscany fried bats.

              • …it’s priest. Have a little priest.

                Is it really good?

                Sir, it’s too good, at least. Then again, they don’t commit sins of the flesh, so it’s pretty fresh.

                Awful lot of fat.

                Only where it sat.

                Haven’t you got poet, or something like that?

                No you see the trouble with poet is how do you know it’s deceased? Stick to priest.

                Heavenly! Not as hearty as bishop, perhaps, but then again, not as bland as curate either.

      • It’s speculation but it’s supportable speculation.
        – Her particular trigger event showed an entity shedding shards, one of which connected to her. Scion’s interlude talked about Counterpart dropping shards before pre-Scion figured out there was a problem.
        – She remembers her trigger event when most capes don’t because a Stranger effect is in place on the memories. Scion tells us that said memory suppression is, along with the Manton Effect, calculated to prevent the hosts from ever challenging the Passengers.

        A case could be made but I freely admit it is speculation. Don’t draw me, thank you very much. I’d like to live to see the end of this story🙂

    • Razorsmile, the idea seems to be that, as the need to memorize information has become less important, we’ve simply stopped making use of our ability to memorize quite so much. Some see this is a bad thing, but it’s merely an adaption to a world that became increasingly literate and then capable of storing information on computers.

      Yes, it’s true we are unlikely to remember the oral history of a particular tribe for the last 500 years. However, we have the ability at our fingertips to call up the unbiased history of hundreds of tribes all over the world for the past 1,000 years.

      • Yes, we are evolving into a dependency on technology. Nature abhors a vacuum, so as we develop tools that allow us to be less dependent on memory for survival, it’s more likely that those with lesser ability to memorize will reproduce. Just like people with deadly allergies now survive childhood when they could never have survived to adulthood before modern medicine. And children born with crippling physical defects that are surgically correctable with modern medicine, but would have resulted in death before modern technology.

        My grandfather learned the periodic table in the sixth grade. He recited it to me once when he was around 80 years old. All 90 of them… When I looked confused because he left out some that I knew he had missed, he chuckled and said that was all there were when he was in school. Me, however, I have terrible rote memory, but I am very good when you throw a bunch of pieces of a problem in front of me and let me sort through the pieces and clues to determine what happened and why. My grandfather was not very imaginative, but even very late in life, you didn’t challenge his memory without a very strong chance of being proven wrong.

        It makes me chuckle when I hear people try to explain that evolution no longer shapes humanity.

        • I think memory is more learned then genetic to be honest.

          What I find funny is an evolutionists view on homosexuals. If society discriminates them, more homosexuals deny their tendencies and live a heterosexual lifestyle. And reproduce.

          • I don’t know what this evolutionism is, as I’m not aware of some sort of religious group based around the Theory of Evolution. It’s like calling someone a gravitist or an atomist or a germist.

            As it stands, though, heterosexual couples have homosexual children as well. It may simply be one of those strategies like birds that never leave the nest and find a mate of their own and instead help pass on their genes via helping parents raise their siblings and giving them a better chance of surviving and reproducing. Or like the Mosuo, who don’t marry. Instead, a man helps raise his sister’s children because he can’t necessarily be sure the kids his girlfriend has will be his, but he knows for a fact that his sister’s children are his relatives.

            And it’s not really a laughing matter to suggest that a part of someone’s identity be violently repressed to reproduce more, especially when it suggests that the person suggesting this lacks a complete understanding of what the hell they’re talking about.

            • I assume that an evolutionist is to evolution as a physicist is to physics – a scientist who focusses on that particular area of we’ll-established scientific knowledge.

          • I… really don’t get how that’s funny? Is it that when bigoted, closed-minded people try to repress homosexuality they only serve to increase their numbers?

            I guess that *is* funny in a bitter irony sort of way.

            Though personally I question the assumption. If society discriminated against you for wanting to sleep with members of the opposite sex, would you just go “Oh well” and start sleeping with members of the same sex instead? I kinda doubt it. So why would the reverse be true?

        • There was an interesting TED talk about how it’s shaping people nowadays, mentioning a couple of feats only accomplished by humans with certain genes. Like no one had been an Olympic gold medalist in weightlifting without this gene and nobody had ever climbed up this mountain without additional oxygen without this other gene.

          Of course, a lot of blindness to the idea that it no longer shapes humanity is because so many people don’t think it’s happening at all. You know, people who think that if it were real, then their grandpa would have been a different species, because they don’t actually understand the amounts of time involved in it all.

          • As I said. Nature abhors a vacuum. If the Grandpa thing was aimed at me, you completely understood what I intended.

            My grandfather expressed high retention memory because it was a survival requirement for him. I probably have (or had when I was a child) the capability to develop a memory nearly as good as his was, but I didn’t need it, so I didn’t develop it.

            For younger generations, pattern matching and analysis is being expressed more than memory retention. My grandfather, certainly could have been raised in such a way that they depended less on memorization and more on problem analysis, which would probably led to him having a less good memory and a better ability to solve complex problems. But he was a farmer. Memory served him well. He didn’t have a big enough picture of the world for his experiences to get better answers from problem solving than from memory.

            Now move forward 1000 generations of people needing problem solving more than they need memory. Yes, there will be changes in how the human brain is optimized, especially if there is a statistically greater chance that good pattern matchers will have more kids than good memorizers.

            As for the other examples I gave, that IS fast track evolution. When you allow deadly genetics to propagate by using medical tools to prevent death long enough for another generation to be born, you will very quickly (in an evolutionary sense) become dependent on said medical tools. We’re GOING to do it. Those are our kids. It’s the price we pay for being intelligent tool users – we become dependent on them for survival.

            • I wasn’t referring to your grandpa right then and there. I was referring to real life people who think that evolution means someone really close in their family tree would have been a chimp or something like that. I’m not sure where you’re from, but I’ve seen my fair share of people who are clueless about evolution.

              Thing is, civilization is generally user-friendly, so even if his memory hadn’t been as good back then, he’d have likely still survived to pass on his genes. For a couple hundred, anyone can find a mate for at least a short amount of time.

              Still, I think that same TED talk also discussed autism cases seen as being on the rise in the middle of a time when we’re exposed to more information than ever before. It’s certainly a lot to consider, but I’m wary of people who might confuse it with a mindset similar to Jack’s or Shadow Stalker’s.

              And nature may abhor a vacuum, but space hates mops, so there.

              • I keep referring to it but I can’t even remember if that’s the same talk I considered far too optimistic about the development of body modification. One of them made it seem like immortality would be achievable in our lifetimes. Way too optimistic of a guy.

              • (*sigh* If someone could delete the posted early version of this above, that would be awesome, please.).

                In reply to PG, immortality *may* well be available in our lifetimes (though I doubt the average person would benefit from it in our lifetimes). The thing about breakthroughs is that they’re really hard to predict. In 1900 we had no idea that we’d have viable heavier-than-air aircraft within our lifetimes. There are still people alive today to whom the idea of computers would’ve seemed magic. And now we may or may not have invented the reaction less drive.

                We’re discovering new things at an ever-increasing rate. And we don’t know if the key discovery which leads to immortality (if there is one) is a billion discoveries away or a dozen.

                Penicillin wasn’t even on the radar until the *day* it was discovered. So who knows…

        • Evolution definitely still shapes humanity, but it tends to be a much longer term thing. What you’re describing is really just the difference between someone investing effort to develop an inherent potential vs not.

          And there’s really no reason that potential should atrophy in humanity over time. Nature is full of species with features that are no longer strictly necessary, but haven’t been lost because there’s no evolutionary advantage to losing them.

          Though honestly, the ability to remember stuff is so useful that I suspect it will still be selected for, no matter how technological we get. In fact it’s probably *more* useful now than ever, since we have so much technology to wrap our heads around! :O

          I can’t see that change short of direct brain-internet interfaces.

          Personally, I suspect that what has changed in the last few generations is not that our memories are poorer, but that we spread our focus a lot thinner. I bet if we stopped focussing on a dozen things at once and dedicated our concentration solely to memorising a table, we’d be just as good at it as your grandparents was. But we almost never want to nowadays.

        • @PG and a muscle fibre that is appears to be predominant in West Africans thereby enhancing speed. If I can find the article again, I will gladly link it.

  6. Jack would be so proud of Scion right now. No more impersonal city-wide destruction but actual evisceration (or burning or other slow deaths) while looking at his victims in the eyes. He probably would frown at the all caked in blood thing. Jack was always well groomed when he participated in mass murder. Also, Scion showed up just as they were deciding to inject Bitch’s dogs with potentially dangerous formulas. He’s still saving the dogs!

    So, it seems that Foil is an actual threat to Scion ( the entity is another part) and Parian saved her from certain death by,hmm, sending her to almost certain death. That’s love, folks!

    Knave of Hearts is Dutch? Then the Suits are a European organisation not just an UK one. Or maybe Taylor just confused British English with Dutch?🙂 .

    Liked that moment of bitterest companionship between Taylor, the Wards and the Undersiders.

    Silkroad is a great name for a Chinese cape with the power to make fast corridors. And I’m saying this because after finally deciding to start writing about my own superhero-world I realised how difficult it is to come with names that don’t sound corny or lame or even damn cliché. And yet, with the possible exception of Raymancer , who was even ribbed in-universe about it, wildbow manages to pull it off. It’s a small thing, but it’s another thing i want to congratulate him for.

    • The naming of capes in Worm has always majorly impressed me. Seriously, we’ve got things like Eidolon, Regent and Othello (my personal favorite names in Worm) in a genre dominated by “______-Man”.

      • The naming is great.

        But Vornehm ticks me of Wrong … thats not a name a german cape would give itself.
        The Meisters – “Die Meister” is great as a groups name.

        but Vornehm (genteel, elegant, refined) … germans don’t name themselfs so.

        Der Vornehme or Vornehmer would do but not just an adjective alone.

        • It could be Taylor or the English press that are getting it wrong. Maybe his actual name is Der Vornehme and non-germans who are looking to shorten it just lop of the Der (which is sad, because it sounds much better that way). Or, alternatively, Vornehme himself isn’t a native speaker and he’s had the name too long to correct it.

            • You know I like all these Watsonian explanation for the rather boring Doylist answer that wildbow, while all kinds of awesome, probably isn’t a polyglot. I believe some South Africans readers pointed out he made some mistakes with the Afrikaans back when Moord Nag was introduced.

              Oh and since I’m here and I don’t want to sound like a spoilsport, maybe Vornehm realised that being grammatically correct was a bother when people were calling his name in the middle of a fight. Die Vornehme is sort of a mouthful.🙂 .

              • “Die Vornehme” which would be female😉

                wildbow don’t have to be a polyglot. He has a lot of fans that would help him, >>later<< on. (Thats actually a offer, Mr. Writer) English names are as abstract to me than german names are to him.

              • Ouch. That should teach me not to butt in when i don’t know anything about the language.

                Anyway since DasNiveau already volunteered, I also offer my expertise if you ever need help with Italian names for capes. Seriously, you can’t have just the Brits and the Germans saving the day. Unless the European community sees us as a joke even in the Wormverse.

                And since I’m already rambling, I always wanted to ask: does the European Union exist in the Wormverse?

              • It did just occur to me that Vornehm’s gender wasn’t specified. So if it is an error in translation, it could just as easily be Vornehmerin or Die Vornehme.

        • Possible explanation: he ended up like Taylor and was given a name by the local organization of asshole hero capes. She didn’t exactly choose the name Skitter, but she accepted it for a while nonetheless.

        • Why wouldn’t it work? There are American capes with names like Gallant and Brandish. Capes have a habit of giving themselves clever names that aren’t always nouns.

          If it’s actually a difference between German and English I’m interested to hear it — I’m learning German, but I’m not at the point where I can make native-level judgements on things like the quality of names.

    • Presumably Jack’s out there in the chaos somewhere still looking. I wonder if Scion will come back for him eventually, and what he’ll do to him when/if he does…

  7. Y’know, I keep thinking things can’t get any worse. But they keep getting exponentially worse. Things have gotten so bad, I kinda wanna make a chart measuring how much worse things have gotten. Five “oh hell’s”? Thirty “wham’s”? Fifteen “well at least things can’t get any worse oh shoot it’s lunchtime’s”?

    In other news, it just hit me that, after the whole Endbringer thing and crossing the Godzilla Threshold, the long wait for the Birdcage to opened seems like not too big a deal anymore.

  8. Screw those Case 53 !!(excluding Weld and those that that hold to him,and tried to stop them).When it comes to it they shown that they are even less noble than Cauldron,Saint or even Tagg,at least those guys were doing bad and wrong things for GOOD reasons(revenge isn’t one of them).

    • Not really. The Case 53s are just being very human. They have no great agenda in mind, just revenge, because doom is certain anyway. They’ve given up, that’s all.

      • The only reason why the decide to off her now instead of after the final battle was because they were worried that they won’t be the ones the finish her .They were driven by their personal need for vengeance.

        “Personal isn’t the same as important”.You know who else put their personal needs above everyone else?Cody and Krouse, and like these guys they ending up screwing people big time.

        I would put those Case 53 in the same category as the Yangban,the Elites and the rest of the idiots that Taylor is wiling to sic and Endbringer on(in this case they deserve it).

        Defiant is willing to work with Saint(he had every reason to pummel him to mush,hope he does his eventually) who unlike Teacher have no safeguard against him ,but of course the fate of the human race took greater importance.

        So yeah, these Case 53s are worse than anyone misguided sods who thought they were trying to do the right thing(Cauldron, Saint,Tagg,The Triumvirate etc).

        • Saint killed Defiant’s girlfriend.

          Cauldron stole people from their lives and families, turned them into monsters, tortured them until they agreed to let themselves be experimented upon to study their powers and then got brainwashed so they forgot about their previous life.

          Perspective is important, sometimes. And always thinking about the greater good is what turned Doctor Mother (and Alexandria) into what she is now.

          As I said in the previous chapter, had the Irregulars limited themselves in killing Doctor I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. Smashing Doormaker’s head against a wall, however, was morally wrong (he’s as much a victim of Cauldron as the Case 53), stupid (the cohordination of the anti-Scion league just went to shambles) and unnecesary (they are 50 parahumans capable of taking out Contessa and the Custodian against a normal human, two brainwashed capes and two hired goons with no aggressive powers ).

          • Saint didn’t just “killed” his girlfriend , he causes untold amount of death and destruction in his mishandling of the”Dragon Threat” both by taking her out at that particular moment and his fumbling with the control of the Dragon network afterwards.Cauldron took people who are destined to certain death in a crapsack world/circumstances and gave them at least some chance of survival(arguably many of them would prefer death had they knew what was coming).Both these people thought they were doing what was necessary for the greater good,both were wrong(although until we find out the Cauldron’s full game plan, the jury is till out on them)

            I’m not saying they should be absolved , they all need to answer for they crimes but there a time and place for that. What those Case 53s did was unnecessary.The only way this could turned out good is if Weld manage to take back control of the situation and restore the support that Cauldron was providing to the Scionic defence.

          • Saint didn’t kill Dragon – she’s still around.

            And yeah, the Case 53s kinda *did* need to take out Doormaker. Unless they wanted to kill Doctor Mother instantly (and were confident of doing so flawlessly before she could speak) they needed to cut off her means of escape first. That goes double if they wanted to hold and interrogate her. Hard to do that with someone who could just say “Paris” and be teleport to… well, probably a smoking crater in the ground, but you get the point…

        • You reap what you sow though. Cauldron laid the seeds of very very ugly payback long long ago. In a sense this outcome is Contessa and Doctor Mother’s fault, they made Cauldron the lynchpin of everything, so that they can control the maximum factors and direct the fight. They operated with a plan based on precognition, directed against an opponent immune to precognition.

          Arguably, without Cauldron acting to scatter and crush independent operatives that threaten to take control of their plan, the more decentralized parahuman world would be less vulnerable to a decapitation strike. The Case 53s seeking payback was inevitable and entirely predictable. That they’d succeed was not.

          • Cauldron stopped trying to take out people interfering with their plans for quite a while(they believe it was hardly a point that matters any more)now .They wouldn’t be any decapitating strike as there is nothing to decapitate, these Case 53s already have that head in a bag. What Cauldron was providing(which these dolts took out) was essentially the only thing that made humanity last this long against Scion.

            • If you’re talking about the portals then Doctor Mother isn’t necessary. Doormaker is a vegetable that opens doors whenever someone tells him to. As I said bashing his head in was wrong both on the moral and the utilitarian level.

              The Irregulars killing Doctor is, IMO, opinion far more understandable than,say, Tagg telling a surrendering 16 years old that if he could get away with it he’d put a bullet in her head then and there.

              • Until we knew what her endgame is,we don’t know how essential she is to the equation.We both could agree that taking out Doormaker is extremely unnecessary.

                I could actually understand both Tagg and these Case 53s reasoning behind their action and I find Tagg to a lot less reprehensible of the lot (to the uninitiated ,Taylor could seems just be as bad as Jack Slash).Besides both Jack Slash and Grey Boy were pretty much children when they casually stroll past the moral event horizon.

            • Except, the ENTIRE scenario was their doing in the first place. Large numbers of vengeance seeking Case 53s. Lack of organization and information in the resistance groups.They took the whole world in their hands on the assumption that they can handle what comes.

              And they can’t.

              • Absolutely none of those justify betraying humanity for personal vengeance or else Cody would be completely in the right (Accord is asshole, he deserve it right?Oh wait,he also sabotage the Delhi defence too).Now thanks to the Case 53s selfserving idiocy,the resistance is in a far worse shape.

                Not that their care though,they seems to believe the fight against Scion is already lost any way.

              • Exactly. Hell, even the people going to the fight think it’s impossible. Taylor and co want to go down struggling even if all hope seems lost. The Case 53s decided their revenge was more important than a largely symbolic attempt to spit in Scion’s face before they go.

              • Ironically, this would never have happened if Cauldron had been the ice cold monsters everyone credits them as and just killed the Case 53s to start with instead of the much more cumbersome and risky business of wiping their memories and setting them free.

                They didn’t *have* to have the Nemesis program. They were never needing cash.

                The only rationale I can see is that Cauldron felt bad for the Case 53s and wanted to at least let them have some chance at a life.

                This uncharacteristic empathy came back to bite them on the butt…

              • #irreverant,Cauldron was cold,but they believed in their purpose,they wanted more capes out there,which is why they were reluctant to kill capes.

              • Yup. And there’s little so dangerous as people with an apparently noble purpose and a willingness to do absolutely anything to achieve it.

                Cauldron’s pigheaded unwillingness to even *consider* that they were headed down the wrong path was their undoing. Given that their entire plan was based on one very shaky assumption – that the way to defeat Scion was by amassing a large enough army, they really did have more confidence in it than they had any right to. See my later comments on this issue though, when you get to that point.🙂

                Good point about why they let the Case 53s live – I hadn’t thought of it that way.

                And BTW, it’s “Irrevenant”. The base word is “revenant” as in undead.🙂

              • irrevenant,irreverant,its irrelevant as long as no revenant becomes soon relevant,due to there being more irreverent ways to talk about undead or ghost things,it is irrelevant to be reverent about a renevant,lest you wish to turn renegade by your reverent feelings for undead,and once you go renegate,you never go irrenegade,so be irreverent on your feelings about revenants,irrevenant but not irreverant.On second thought how could I,a reverent person,call you irreverant instead of irrevenant,irrevenant,when there is no meaning to the word reverant,but a clear one for the word revenant,from which you,irrevenant,take your name,while being reverent to beings the likes of which you should not be reverent,if you wish to stay relevant,and not become irrelevant,irreverant.

              • Meh,the renegade one was bad,and I should have used irrelevant more

      • Their selfishness and pettiness may literally kill all remaining humans. Who gives a shit what their agenda is? It’s the fact that they’re apparently *not* giving any sort of a shit about the consequences of their actions which is a problem!

        • The problem with Revenge is how it creates new victims. Kill the man who killed your family before your eyes? Well too bad you did it in front of his son, who will come back in 15 years to kill you or your family for revenge. Decide to get revenge on the man your wife ran off with by raising the daughter said wife returned with and gave to you right before dying, by making her grow up to be a drug addicted prostitue? Well you’ve just revealed all this to him, and why is he laughing? What does he mean it’s not his daughter? Then who’s is… Oh Shit! You want justice you get another party to administer it. You want revenge, you’d better make damn sure you don’t cause others to seek it on you.

    • Eh, if Cauldron really had something that powerful to use against Scion, do you think they’d have easily fallen to the Case 53s in the first place? Anything they can do, he can do better, it’s just a matter of when he gets around to doing it.

      They even had to buy an Endbringer from Teacher. For a group that’s been planning for all this, they aren’t making a good showing of themselves.

  9. Vista is… seriously badass here. I wonder how much of the Earth is she warping.

    I also found interesting the part where Taylor likes the wards, but loves the undersiders… Leaving aside the shipping, at least for now, it’s telling that she loves the people who she met before “hardening”. And before her shard matured.

    And finally, the chapter went from relaxed to extremely chaotic and disorganized in a heartbeat. The general feeling of “wtf is happening” and disorganization was very well done.

    In order: Defiant, Chevalier, Legend, Weld.
    Are there any other interesting male capes remaining?

    No, wait, let me rephrase that: Are there any other interesting male characters remaining? That are not canis lupus?
    Forrest has too little screentime, but maybe counts. I’m not even considering Grue, Krouse is braindead, #36 is missing, Saint is only interesting because he’s Dragon’s foil, Aidan is nowhere to be found… is Leviathan a he?

    • Lung has Chechov’s Gunman written on him in giant white letters. Marquis may also have his chance to shine (again he was built up as this uber-badass). I won’t exclude Grue pulling a “he’s back!” moment but I admit it’s unlikely. Tecton is still there.

      If we’re counting villains, then Teacher just jumped to number one threat after Scion and nobody mentioned the Number Man during the raid on Cauldron. And now I’m picturing Number Man in a (completely out of character) Roaring Rampage of Revenge, mowing down the Irregulars with a giant tinker-made (seriously Cauldron must have some tinkers somewhere) machine gun.

      • You’re right, both Marquis and Lung are interesting, despite the small screentime.

        Teacher and Saint, while threats (present and past), are not interesting at all imho.

        Number man is… an odd duck out. The cape is interesting, but the character is boring, if it makes some sense.

        • You find Number Man boring, really?

          This is the guy who was best pals with Jack Slash, helped him kill King (whose power is essentially to be unkillable), walked out of the S9 as if he were walking out of a basketball team, was recruited by Doctor Mother and helped found Cauldron. All of this while he was still a TEENAGER (Taylor doesn’t sound so impressive anymore, huh?). He’s the secret mastermind behind pretty much any financial transaction made by capes, villains and heroes alike, worldwide. He outwitted one of Richter’s AIs. When one of Cauldron’s experiments tries to escape he beats them up with the power of super-maths and threatens to shatter their skulls with a pen. All the while musing such charming thoughts on how morality, ethic and friendship are lies and embellishments civilisation tells itself to avoid facing the truth. Only numbers are real. Oh and he beats his clones (the ones that curbstomped the best the Protectorate could offer) by purposefully giving them an opening for a lethal shot, knowing that if they take it Contessa will kill them all. COME ON!

          By the way I also think he’s one of the most chilling and creepy “bad guy” to appear in Worm. I like the CHARACTER, I don’t admire the person.

          • Sorry for the double post but just wanted to add that, while I agree that Saint is there only for his connection to Dragon, teacher is, IMO, an interesting villain that may have suffered a little because of a too-late introduction/day in the limelight. He’s a more civilised version of Jack: screwing everyone just to show he can.

              • I think he makes for an interesting character, though I have to mentally edit him to have at least a little bit of superhuman physiology too since “Super Maths” automatically equaling “Bad Ass Fighter” have grated on my nerves ever since “The Clock King” episode of the Batman Animated Series.

              • To be fair, Clock King was a middle-aged man who somehow could evade Batman’s punches because he was obsessed with being on time, whereas Number Man has a bonafide superhuman ability to see the numbers in…well everything. I can see why it can be annoying, though, hence why I like that wildbow had him acknowledge that he prefers shooting people from a distance rather than engage in melee.

              • Haven’t seen the Clock King’s appearance in Batman, but he was badass in both Arrow and JLU.

                Totally agree about the hand-to-hand thing, though: being able to get a feel for an opponent’s rhythm is one thing. Being able to respond fast enough with enough force to do something with that information is another.

                There’s a character called Speed-0 (yes, deliberate pun. :P) in the Dasien webcomic who riffs off this idea. He has the ability to perceive things at superhuman speed and has spent his life honing his body to be fast and strong enough to take at least *some* advantage of it…

          • Number Man fans unite!

            I hope he was conveniently not at Cauldron HQ when the Irregulars stormed the place. They didn’t mention him as being taken care of so there’s hope.

            I just really want him to arrive at this Scion fight in a sweater vest and dorky glasses with some hidden Cauldron super weapon.

          • Nobody has mentioned Golem? I mean he spent the last two years with the wieght of the world on his shoulders. He knew that if the end of the world was going to be averted, he was going to be one of the key people for doing it. And he failed. His little sister, who was one of his anchors was killed. And he knows it was probably a friend that did it.

    • To answer everyone at once:

      First of all, I’m happy for Wildbow that other people find all the characters mentioned interesting. It means he’s doing things right.

      Personally, however, I find theacher, golem, tecton, the number man extremely flat characters.
      The last one has some depth only in relation to Jack, by himself I do not find him interesting at all. His gimmick is nice, but Harbinger’s backstory was maybe a bit rushed for my tastes, dunno.

      If I manage to find out exactly why I find him flat I’ll post.

      • Ok, after this I’ll stop because I don’t want to sound like Number Man’s greatest fan (I like him but there’s people I like more, say Chevalier, Lung, Marquis, Eidolon just to mention some male characters) or, God forbid, his apologist.

        Just wanted to say this: you think his backstory was rushed, I think it was done on purpose. We know he was Harbinger, he left after killing King, joined Caulron and disappeared from the face of the Earth. It’s supposed to be a mystery, one that probably won’t ever be answered, even after getting an entire chapter in his head. And i think it’s even lampshades in-story. Remember what Riley was doing before meeting Contessa? Going to the library to do some research on Harbinger because she wanted to give all the clones personalities matching the originals but not even Jack could help her in that regard. And then when Golem fights the Harbingers clones, what does he think? That the reason they’re so dangerous it’s because nobody even managed to start guessing what Harbinger’s power was before he disappeared leaving no trace.

        But as I said, I rest my case. Worm as lots of characters, i wouldn’t be surprised if everyone had a different favourite.🙂 .

    • It occurs to me that Vista could easily end the world if she wanted to do so. She showed during the S9K arc that she could warp holes through solid objects, and here she showed that she can act over a huge area. I imagine she could fairly easily warp a hole straight down into the Earth’s mantle and cause a supervolcanic eruption that could end all life.

  10. PORTAL TO CAULDRON. Still think Taylor suffered brain damage after Scion first attacked them and, even if Panacea can restore neurons and the brain, Taylor seemed to be better at making connections before. If they really need to get to Cauldron, hunt down Faultline’s crew. I think Cauldron’s headquarters was the first connection they made to another Earth (when Alexandria tensed before they found the Travelers’ dimension).

  11. Tattletale: “Taylor didn’t sleep a wink last night.”

    Imp: “Oh?”

    Tattletale: “Yeah, Simurgh kept her awake all night.”

    You know, a part of me worries about what it says about the inherent sexism in constantly shipping female characters together. It could be argued we do so less frequently because the cast’s focus is predominantly on the women now, but in the interest of fairness:

    Miss Militia: “How’s working with Leviathan going?”

    Hoyden: “Ugh, total sea-sausage fest. Do you know how hard it is to keep him from hosing down Rawhide?”

    Miss Militia: “That bad, huh?”

    Hoyden: “Worse. All sorts of things wash up from Leviathan now. Turns out the Japanese were wrong about all the naughty sea creatures wanting girls. I now know for a fact that octopi prefer a macho man to cling to. And to cling inside of.”

    • Don’t blame Leviathan. He’s just lonely since Behemoth died. They used to meet up near those oceanic volcanoes, and pour all that heat into that watery abyss.

    • “You know, a part of me worries about what it says about the inherent sexism in constantly shipping female characters together.”

      I do find this interesting.

      I do think there is a problematic and sexist element to lesbian shipping. There is something objectifying about it. Still, I have known real lesbians who frequently ship lesbian couples in works of media, up to writing lemon fanfics, though whether or not this implies the behavior is less sexist is up for debate.

      Personally, I do tend to see more relationship chemistry among female characters than male ones, but it’s not an absolute thing. I suspect part of it is just that women are socialized with more intimacy in their friendships. There’s also something to be said for seeing both members of a couple as attractive and hence seeing how they would see each other as attractive?

      I think there are valid feminist objections to lesbian shipping, but I don’t think it’s an especially problematic one as long as it’s done with respect towards the agency of the characters involved.

      • Shipping in general is objectifying. It’s pretty ridiculous to say that one arbitrary kind of shipping is worse or more gratuitous than another kind when all ships start off with the intention to be gratuitous objectification.

        But please remember that this is a work of fiction. People are allowed to do things to fictional characters that they would never consider doing in real life, and it’s totally okay. How many people have been shot to death in video games by people who would be horrified at the thought of actually murdering someone? Fictional torture and fictional sex and fictionally breaking the law and fictional objectification has little to no correlation with a person’s tendency to do those things to actual people, so who cares? Being judgmental for the sake of being judgmental does no one any favors.

        • There’s also a bit of self projection I think with Shipping. Or maybe it’s like bieng someones meddeling mother. The one who keeps setting you up with her friends daughters for dates because “She’s such a nice girl, and you’ll be so happy together.” You tend to want happiness for characters you like, and a happy relationship is something that can be part of that.

  12. Well Scion has moved from “wiping out the anthill to build a house” to “Kicking over the anthill because he’s upset” and is now at “Using a magnifying glass and pulling off the legs”. In short he’s gotten crueler and more evil.

        • Psh, Jack’s still trapped in that time loop. I’d hesitate to call that state “alive.” Besides, Scion hit New York, dead-on, with a beam whose shockwaves devastated Brockton Bay. Depending on how close the final S9x9 showdown was to New York, he may be actually dead by this point.

        • It’s weird to suggest this but I can see a story thread where Scion growing crueler and more evil winds up leading to his ‘redemption’.

          Jack’s irredeemable in the sense that he already knows why what he’s doing is wrong and that’s why he loves doing it. He’s actively choosing to be evil.

          Scion though? He’s “innocent” in the the definition of the word which reads “free from guilt or sin especially through lack of knowledge of evil”. Previously, Scion didn’t seem to be much more than a blob of power with a fuzzy set of directions on it. “Good” was “fulfilling the worm lifecycle”. Then his mate died and “Good” as he understood it became impossible. Kevin Norton railed at him and he shrugged and tried accepting another set of external criteria as a definition of “Good”. Time passed though and being “Good” wasn’t doing anything for him.

          Now he’s trying a new set of behavior and it’s being directed from within. It’s ridiculously, unforgivably evil behavior but it’s his own behavior. That’s a very tiny peg to hang a redemption off but it is something. Where before he didn’t really have a “self” to be good or evil, he’s at least started to grow a bit beyond his initial programming and if he can change himself to be “evil”, that opens the door to him discovering concepts like “Empathy” and being able to change himself to someone who’s actually good.

          • Ya, I can see that.

            Anger Is destructive and ultimately negative, but it’s a step up the ladder from apathy and depression because at least it’s *motivation*. It’s an attempt to change things.

            The pendulum always swings too far one way then the other before we find balance. Must of us don’t have the capacity to destroy entire planets while adjusting, though…

  13. Hrm. How about this idea. Jack Slash saves what’s left of the world. After he learns a bit from killing 90% of the populations of all worlds, Scion pays a visit to Jack, who tells him that there’s a better way to do it. Now that he can understand terror and fear in others, he needs to cultivate it. Allow humans to rebuild and repopulate. Strike silently and from hiding, rarely, but for maximum psychological effect. Create a multiverse of worlds where all humans are in constant terror that they might be one of a few Scion victims each year on each world, and over the next couple thousand years, he would develop into an artist.

    How about it Scion? Free Jack, heal him, and let him teach you to be a truly scary boogeyman, rather than just an unstoppable force of nature.

    Jack saves the world by making the Wormverse even MORE dark.

    • Hey there’s a high chance of everyone dying horribly soon. Well okay, somebody is going to live because Wildbow did state he was going to do charecter epilouge interludes.

  14. Hrm. I wonder. Chevalier is going to try to wear some sort of Endbringer-material gear.

    Maybe Golem could also use Endbringer bits? He grows materials independent of available mass, so give him Endbringer bits and he can make huge arms and legs out of them, stacked and positioned around a large area.

    But I’m still in favor of Jack Slash saving the rest of humanity so he can teach Scion how to better terrorize humans and grow as a monster. That’s pretty high up the list of “Doing the right things for the wrong reasons.”

    • He seems to only be able to work with non-living material, so he could only use cut-off Endbringer bits. That’s one limitation. Also, he has to have a like surface to extrude his hand out of, so he couldn’t just grow Endbringer bits willy-nilly: another limitation.

      Aside from that, though, I think he’s good to go, probably. He sticks his hand into one end of Leviathan’s severed leg or whatever Chevy got, and a huge hand made of Leviathan bone comes out of it. Repeat, and another huge hand comes out of that one. He can generate an unlimited amount of said material, limited only by his endurance. For all we know, that’s where he is right now, making a mountain of the stuff for Chevy to stick in his armor.

      On the other hand, there’s a decent chance that the nature of the material puts it outside the ability of his power to replicate. He may only be able to create material that follows Euclidean geometry and/or the laws of physics.

  15. Didn’t realize this before, but man Foil is a fucking badass. Scion is staring her down, right after she saw him give another cape a painful death, and she calmly stands her ground.

    That takes balls so big they warp space.

  16. It’s telling they lose all contact to Cauldron and think they’ve ditched them instead of Cauldron got killed of, is under attack or otherwise occupied.

    Comes with constantly ditching the heroes, leaving no call back adress, almost always seeming under control, getting the last word and Contessa.

  17. Takin’ all bets! Takin’ all bets! Spooky feathered fiend versus the golden skinned master of disaster! Heavyweight match for the fate of the multiverse!

    This may just be my inability to take a hint that everything goes wrong in Worm, but I got a good feeling about this. Scion just comes swaggering in like he owns the place, killing people like he don’t give a fuck. Even in Worm something like this is a sign that someone’s gonna get their ass handed to them.

    Of course, that won’t exactly comfort the schmucks that get killed in the crossfire.

    Also, I bet you anything Foil’s getaway was less a desperation move by Parian and more a crazy-ass flying squirrel escape strategy. Maybe, depends if Foil took some of the cloth with her.

    • I got a pack of milkduds and a squirrel on The Admin-bringer team. Scion’s tough, but he’s new to the Heel biz. GIVE ‘EM THE CHAIR, SMURFY!

    • Estimated end of story is the next arc. Which means Scion either gets taken down this arc, the end-of-chapter interlude, or something got fouled up in the planning and it takes a few more arcs. Assuming of course that Taylor and co. are allowed a chance to breathe and rebuild at the end, instead of just dying.

      Also, I noticed that you may have weasel-worded your way around saying the magic phrase that gets all of Taylor’s enemies killed. (I’m not going to say it either, if only because Taylor’s power is kind of undermatched vs. Scion)

  18. SOooo… The capes need to hold off scion long enough and survive until an Endrbinger can show up to reinforce them…

    “We need more Endbringers!!!”

        • I don’t see compelling evidence one way or the other. She thinks in an alien way. But she has an alien brain to think with and a set of goals that are alien as well.

          I don’t see how she’s fundamentally something Eidolon’s passenger couldn’t have spun up for him to play with – especially since the discussion was never that he consciously designed them.

          • I’m going with the theory that they were just a part of the system, independent shards who were supposed to create more conflict but broken in some way by the death of the second entity, which is why they don’t know about scion. Perhaps the issues with them would be linked to the third entity, that would still fulfill the truth of the need for worthy opponents.

  19. I was thinking the internet outage really threw me for a loop, but holy crap, I’ve not updated the donation tracker in ten days. That’s really falling behind.


    Thank you to Andres, Jeremiah, Siddarth, Mark, Nicholas, Stephen, Jeff, David R, David B, Simon and Vladimir for their donations.

    An especially big thank-you going out to Mike G for his.

    I’ve queued another chapter.

    You guys are fuckin’ awesome. Thanks. 😀

  20. The irregulars have just lapped saint on my seriously annoyed at list. Taking out Contessa (killed?) and the door maker? Wow way to screw humanity over. Cauldron is annoying, but having a bunch of super powerful precogs working for you takes away almost all of the criticisms you can level against extreme methods. If you are willing to accept even a little consequentialism, Cauldron is right. The irregulars are just petty – way worse than the elite or even the yangban. I hope Weaver sics Simurg on them for breaking the truce. In contrast I appreciated that Saint was legitimately afraid of what dragon could do. He showed that he had a big bias and against her and AI’s in general (all the machines can’t love talk). Sad considering a self improving AI might be the only thing to save them (disregarding the meta perspective for the moment). So he might be wrong, but at least he wasn’t purely selfish.

    I’m going to put some thoughts I had on the series as a whole here since this is where I got current.
    I really enjoyed the whole story. Great, interesting characters. I love that she fights much more powerful things and comes out ahead (or at least not dead) by being smart. The praise section really ought to be much longer than the criticism section, but criticisms are what niggle, even if there’s a hundred great things to each little niggle.
    So these aren’t exactly criticisms, just things that bothered me a little or which I was expectant of throughout the story and haven’t yet seen.

    The timing strikes me as too fast. She’s only with the Undersiders for 2-3 months IIRC. It strikes me as unnecessary. I love a fast pace, but if you look at how many serious fights she has in such a short time… she’s fighting an all out war. It also means that she has ‘owned’ the city for a ridiculously short time to start bragging about it – or even treat it as a meaningful part of her life. Furthermore I think she develops her combat skills and mindset too fast. She jumps straight into combat veteran – in something like 2 weeks. I think it would be more realistic to have a few more months with the Undersiders, maybe even a year and take that out of the time in the wards that’s skipped. I don’t mean insert filler, just let it be clear that occasionally a week goes by where she does her ‘mundane’ work without three life threatening events.

    It’s noticeable when several different characters use copacetic and headspace. These are unusual words. I like having Taylor use headspace and Lisa use copacetic, it says something about how they think. But the shrink using headspace? Doesn’t jibe – headspace is a rare, unprofessional, internet specific word. Frame of mind would be more appropriate.

    The bullying is kinda annoying (she writes it all down but doesn’t record it)? Teachers offer help that she doesn’t accept? I get that passive victims are realistic – they don’t fight back because they’re afraid the bullies will escalate. The bullies will pick on the people who let themselves get picked on. However stories with pathetic protagonists are irritating. Taylor is far from pathetic except in this one instance. I would expect her to research it some. It just seems a bit ridiculous that for years she’s trained herself not to fight back ( or even talk back), and then with minimal transition she starts fighting freaking Lung in hand to hand. Obviously the story developed past this issue, and the resolution acted as good character development. Still was irritating enough in the early chapters that I felt I should mention it.

    I’m surprised she hasn’t tried to develop control of more complicated brains – or at least picked at that definition. As a complex and difficult to define restriction I suspect she could have found a loophole or at least realized the artificial nature of the limitation. For a morally questionable option: could she control severely brain damaged people or creatures? I was expecting a moment with giant crabs or some other small brained but intimidating underwater creature marching out in a miniature godzilla attack.

    The first three things I thought of when I learned her power was controlling bugs: poison (nerve gas?) delivery, camera/microphone carriers, explosives, and miniature tools made for bugs. She did capacin delivery so I’ll assume she considers other artificial venoms too dangerous. She did cameras. She hasn’t done explosives or miniature tools. I was excited when we learn about Bakuda’s mini bombs because I was sure she would use them for suicide bomber beetles. Simply piling up the plastic explosive a bit at a time would be pretty effective too. Her multitasking realization made miniature tools even more viable (why chew when you can use your razor sharp mandible saw)!

    • A couple of other points:

      1. Tohu missing is a potential clue. Her powers seemed very similar to Eidolon’s. Maybe she’s on a covert mission for Simurg? I strongly suspect that this is an alliance of convenience for Simurg, but it depends whether her programming included ‘scare humanity, but don’t wipe it out.’ Possibly it’s just that she’s supposed to provoke non-lethal fights with powerful enemies (so doesn’t kill Eidilon, but when scion starts killing they back off).
      2. Why do Bonesaw’s clones have the same passenger? They shouldn’t from what we know. Why would her cloning technique clone the shards? Is it somehow forcing the shard to fragment? We thought that was a natural process when the shard had lots of info, but maybe the S9 have enough conflict info to fragment a lot. Regardless it seems kinda odd that they aren’t replicating Bonesaw’s experiments to get a hundred legends or something.

      • 2. Because it wasn’t Bonesaw’s work. It was mostly Blasto with a touch of Cranial. Once Defiant torched the labs down, all their notes and instruments were lost forever.

      • Pretty sure it was explained somewhere that the clones were similar enough to the originals that the passengers of the originals decided to bond with the clones. It’s the reason how Dragon’s passenger connects to her every time she comes back.

  21. Quick question, did they say that the Travelers dimension had zero super heroes or just very very few. I was rereading the scion interlude and i noticed that the first plan had the worms going to separate dimensions first. The plan was to have shards fight each other first, then fight each other.

    • Aleph (Travelers’ world) started to get parahumans (few and rather weak) after the first contact with Bet (Taylor’s world). the common theory is that the shards spread from one world to the other thanks to the same portals that allowed communication (and ONLY communication) between them.

    • I’m betting Bonesaw isn’t being mentioned much as a way to misdirect from what the Simurgh was doing with that glass tube. Bonesaw is known to steal the work from other tinkers to incorporate into her projects. Bonesaw is a bio-tinker who was known to have made a great many superbugs. I think the Simurgh has made some sort of plague cannon there. It almost certainly wouldn’t affect Scion, but everyone pretty much feels that it’s not a matter of if the Endbringers will turn on humanity, but when.

  22. You know, I don’t know how to feel about “surprise” (non-Tues/Sat) updates. On one hand, more Worm! On the other hand, I typically miss them until the next Saturday or so.

  23. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:
    ” Like the fact that you love those guys and you never loved us.”
    This really really really needs to be explained when you go over this story with your editor.

  24. Well, I just started playing around with text mining software (specifically KH Coder) and have been using this chapter to play around.
    Using only the frequency, before I have read the chapter, I am guessing this about it:
    Something bad happened, probably with Scion, possibly with the Simurgh, though she could just be important in another area, and Tattletale discusses the effect will have on people. It is bad.

    (TattleTale is the most used Proper Noun, 42 times, Scion is third at 17 times. Simurgh is at 13 times; People is the most used noun at 23 utterances, way has 16 uses, effect and guy has 9; Portal was used 16 times. Adjectives used are little, good, better, annoyed, golden, possible, second, and best (Among the most used of relevance); Adverbs used are really, just, probably, maybe, fast. Most used verbs are say, make, look, think, know, in that order.)

    Now to read and see how correct I was.

    • But first some more data analysis with a graph of word co-occurence, suggests Tattletale and Rachel discuss something, not certain, probably pertaining to an action;
      Something happens with Grace and Tecton, non-aggresive.
      Imp is up to her usual deviousness,
      Scion uses his power and they want to make him stop. Reinforces what I thought earlier. He will do something bad.
      The Simurgh tries something with the portal. NOW I read.

      • Interesting. I was right about Tt and Rachel.
        And Grace and Tecton, but for the wrong reason (Graph connected Grace tecton and Romp together, Grace was connected to “Lap” – I interpreted it as a physical lap of a person.
        Simurgh I was sorta right, but less than I thought.

        I was right on Scion. Also I just noticed Scion was slightly connected to Hand and Light which would make me sure he would be present attacking.

        I think I did fairly well.

        Great chapter.

  25. Simurgh? Horribly timed? It’s possible, since Scion blocks her sight, but I doubt it…

    Okay, it could well be horribly-timed for some people, but whatever Simurgh’s goal is, she wants her toys. Probably. She won’t let the big golden bully break them all.

  26. “Maybe,” she said. “Humans are resourceful. Resourceful and stubborn. But you kind of live that, don’t you?”

    Guessing “live” should be “love”?

    • I’m guessing it’s right as is. “You kind of live that, don’t you?” indicates that Taylor’s life recently is the perfect example of resourceful and stubborn – she lives that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s