Hive 5.2: Tension

Source material: Worm, Hive 5.2

Originally blogged: July 15, 2017


[pre-intro]
Blah blah, blah blah Taylor blah, blah. Blah? Blah blah blah Worm!


Hive 5.2

Is something crawling out of that apple? Oh no, it’s a worm! …followed by some dude who’s trying to read the letters written on the worm for some reason. How did he even fit in there? And now he’s talking to us about what he just read. Honey, let’s go buy apples somewhere else, this place is weird.

So! Last chapter, the major villains of Brockton Bay called a truce, not only between themselves but between themselves and the law, for the purpose of going after the fucker – i.e. Lung, Bakuda and the rest of the Abbreviated Body Benders. But of course, most of the villains are trying to take advantage of the situation.

I think we’ll get to see some of the consequences of that as the Arc progresses, but first, I have a suspicion that we’re in for the regularly scheduled early-in-the-Arc checkup with the Harpies. If not, I don’t really know what to expect.

Let’s get on with it and find out how inaccurate my suspicion is!


Coil addressed the room, “Then that’s our major piece of business concluded tonight. Anything else before we go our separate ways? Offers, announcements, grievances?”

Oh, we’re continuing the meeting? Hrm, I guess this is where the conflict one would’ve expected in the last chapter might come in.

“I’ve got a complaint,” a man at the side of the room spoke. Heads turned to Kaiser’s group. Hookwolf.

“Why aren’t there more bones around here?”

He wore a mask that was little more than a piece of sheet metal cut and shaped to resemble a wolf’s features, attached to his head with straps of black leather. He had a chain threaded through the belt loops of his jeans, sporting a heavy metal belt buckle. The buckle featured a wolf superimposed on a swastika – the same image he had tattooed on one of his biceps. The opposite arm simply had ‘E88’ on it.

So they abbreviate it to E88, not EEE. Good to have that cleared up.

I wasn’t sure, in part considering triple Es seemed to have significance to white supremacists back in… I can’t seem to find it, but when Taylor was talking about how she could tell a guy was a white supremacist because of his tattoo having three E words in it. But again, that might be because of the E88, I don’t know.


Outside of the mask and the belt buckle, you couldn’t really say he had a costume. He was shirtless, shoeless, and hairy.

“No shirt, no shoes, no service,” said the sign at the barbershop.

His blond hair was long and greasy, and he had thick hair on his chest, stomach and arms.

So basically this guy is Nicolas Cage in a wolf mask. Nice. I’ll be reading everything he says in Cage’s overacted drawl from Con Air for now.

Harpoon-like spears and metal that curled like fishhooks radiated out from his shoulders, elbows and knees, all bristling with barbs or wickedly serrated edges.

Hooks and a wolf mask. I mean, to be fair, what else was he supposed to do with the name Hookwolf.

Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe the Protectorate went like “What do we call that guy with the hooks and the wolf mask? Uhh… Hook…wolf? Sure, that sounds fine.”


Nobody, to date, had ever escaped the Birdcage, the name that had been coined for the supervillain prison in British Columbia. Hookwolf, though, had escaped on no less than two occasions while being transported there. He was a killer, and thought nothing of murdering people if they didn’t fit the Aryan ideal.

Welp.

Remember how I speculated on Hookwolf being the only one of Purity’s bunch who wanted to be reunited under the E88 (other than Purity, who wanted it as a last resort)? Yeah, I think it’s safe to say he still supports the E88′s ideals, at least.

Provided what Taylor knows about him isn’t outdated.

He turned to look at our table, very pale blue eyes visible through the slits in his metal mask, “My complaint’s with her.”

“What’s the issue?” Grue’s voice was calm,

Her who, Tattletale or Taylor? I’m guessing the latter, but why?

but it looked like he was generating a bit more darkness around him than he had been, making himself look a fraction bigger. I wondered if he knew he was doing it.

Nice. I honestly like this more if he doesn’t know he’s doing it. Subconscious power usage is good shit.

“The crazy one, Hellhound, she-”

Oh right, forgot she was here. Is this about the dog-fighting ring? Also, is Bitch or Grue about to correct him about the name?

“Bitch,” Bitch interrupted him, “Only the panty-ass heroes call me Hellhound. It’s Bitch.”

Bingo 😀


“Don’t fucking care,” Hookwolf growled, “You attacked my business. Set your fucking dog on my customers. Lucky I wasn’t there, whore.”

Grue gave Bitch a long look, then he spoke to Hookwolf, “That’s the kind of risk you run, doing business in Brockton Bay. Capes can and will get in your way, hero or villain.”

I mean, fair enough. The truce ought to cut down on that, I think, but it wasn’t in effect when she did it.

Hookwolf glared at him, “It’s a matter of respect. You want to fuck with my business, and we’re not at war? You let me know if you’ve got an issue, first. Let me decide if I want to move shop.”

This would’ve been reasonable if the issue for Bitch had been where he did it, but that’s not the case.

“You mean give you a warning I’m coming,” Bitch spat the words, “That’s the dumbest fucking thing I ever heard. Just so you know, moving to a different neighborhood won’t be good enough. You open up another dogfighting ring, I’ll be visiting that one too.”

…as she makes clear here.

Oh, that’s what she’d done. I glanced at Tattletale, then at Grue. I was getting the impression neither of them had known.

Remember how I pointed out that Bitch has so far not been treated as an Undersider by the narrative when Wildbow briefly tricked me into thinking she’d betrayed them all? That’s still a thing even though I was wrong about the reason. Bitch is sort of disconnected from the rest, which manifests in her working alone like this.

It’s also the main reason there is any kind of uncertainty left about whether the scentless man is the Undersiders’ boss. If there’s any Undersider who’s going to have a second boss on the side that she hasn’t told the others about, it seems likely to be Rachel, just because of that sense of detachment.

Granted, I do think the Brutus interlude (which is still damn adorable) was an important step towards the reader getting to know Rachel better, and perhaps eventually include her as one of the Undersiders fully.


Kaiser spoke, “Is that a declaration of war, Undersiders? We just agreed to a truce, if you recall.” He was utterly calm, a stark contrast to Hookwolf.

He does have a point.

Hookwolf was brimming with barely suppressed rage to the point that I could picture him leaping across the room and attacking us if someone so much as dropped a glass.

Grue shook his head. I think. I couldn’t really tell with the way his darkness shrouded him, with his back turned to us. He answered, “Not interested in war, but I’m not going to stop my teammate from doing what she has to.”

Nice one, Grue. I think Bitch will appreciate that sentiment.

“You mean you can’t stop your subordinate,” Kaiser mused.

Well, she isn’t technically his subordinate.

Grue didn’t have a quick response to that. I suspected he couldn’t say Bitch wasn’t a subordinate without demoting himself in the eyes of the others at the table. Kaiser, Trickster, Faultline and Coil were all leaders. Grue took a leadership role when needed, but he wasn’t in charge of us. Not exactly.

Yeah, exactly. Doesn’t make it any better that Kaiser’s ideology is centered around the idea of a powerful leader restoring glory to the nation.


Grue clasped his hands in front of him, leaning forward with his elbows on the table. “It’s not so unusual for a cape to have a pet issue. You should know that as much as anyone. How would your people react if you forbid them from harassing or hurting gays, Kaiser?”

…good …point??

I mean, it is a decent argument, but I really do not want to sound even remotely like I think Kaiser forbidding that would be a bad thing.

Also fuck you, Max.

“I wouldn’t.”

“Exactly. Same with her. Word gets around that you’re someone who hurts dogs, she’ll fuck you up. It’s kind of common knowledge here.”

“Not something I’d pay attention to. I’m more of a cat person.” The sardonic comment elicited a few chuckles from the room.

…heh.


“I think it’s worth paying attention to if it leads to situations like this,” Grue responded, his voice firm.

“I delegate to my underlings and trust them to keep track of minor details. Hookwolf has been out of town until recently. He must not have heard.”

That’s fair. I’m not sure how true it is, but if it’s true, it’s fair.

The bullshit was so transparent I couldn’t help but wonder if he was baiting us.

Hehe.

Yeeah, I’d probably be doubting the veracity of the statement even if Interlude 3½ hadn’t happened.

“I’d like to resolve this peacefully,” Grue reiterated.

Kaiser shook his head with the sound of metal edges scraping on metal, “Peace is always preferable, but I can’t let an insult like this slide. We’ll need restitution before this can be put to rest. Money or blood. Your choice.”

Now who’s asking for war?

And of course if the Undersiders refuse to pay, Kaiser can claim they’ve chosen the violent route and are thus in violation of the truce.

Bitch made a sound low in her throat. She and Hookwolf weren’t the only ones bristling. I looked at the table where Hookwolf sat with Fenja, Menja, Night, Fog, and Krieg, and everyone there looked visibly angry.

Sounds like people are seeing the bullshit, at least.

“Then let’s sit on it until we’re freer to give the matter our full attention,” Grue spoke, “The truce is in effect, and we’ll meet again when things are more or less resolved with the ABB.” He looked to the others at the table for confirmation.

Not a bad answer! Implicitly refuses to pay but stays within the bounds of the truce.


“We will,” Coil replied. Faultline nodded.

“What do you say?” Grue asked Kaiser, “Set this aside for now?”

Kaiser nodded, once. “Fair. We’ll discuss the matter further at our next meeting.”

“That’s settled then. Anything else?” Coil asked, “Issues, negotiations, requests?”

There was no reply.

Done and dusted?

Coil took that as answer enough. “Then let’s conclude the meeting. Thank you for attending. Faultline, could I have a word before you leave?”

I wonder if he intends to pay the rates.

There was the sound of chairs scraping against the floor as the people at the table got up, Faultline and Coil excepted. Skidmark’s group headed out the door to leave right away, while Kaiser and Purity walked to the table where their underlings sat with their drinks. The Travelers loitered around their table, not quite settling in, not leaving.

Time for the afterparty!

Grue returned to us, but he didn’t sit.

“Let’s go.”

Nobody argued. We stood and left Somer’s Rock.

Yeah, it’s not really a place you’d want to linger, especially considering the company.


Skidmark’s group was taking their time leaving down one end of the street, so, unspoken, we headed in the other direction, just to be safe. There was no doubt those guys were spoiling for a fight. They were the diametrical opposite of Kaiser, Coil, and Faultline. Hotheaded, reckless, unpredictable. They would start a fight, even knowing they would set every other gang in the city against them for abusing neutral territory.

Relatedly, they technically never agreed to the truce, since they were kept off the negotiation table. It’s worth keeping an eye out for these guys causing trouble during the truce period.

We were a block away from the pub when Grue spoke, “Bitch. Do you understand why I’m pissed right now?”

“Why we’re pissed,” Tattletale added.

“I guess.”

Grue paused, as if he was choosing his words carefully, “I want to be certain you know what you did wrong.”

The main thing she did wrong, I suppose, was not consulting the other Undersiders first, or even informing them about it. Hell, informing them about it after the fact would’ve been preferable to having it thrown at them as a surprise during the meeting.

Also Grue and Tattle sound very parental right now.

“Fuck you,” she snapped, “I get the idea. You don’t have to get on my case.”

Grue glanced at the rest of us, then looked over his shoulder in the direction of the pub.

Do you, though, Rachel?

“Tell me what you think I mean” may sound patronizing from time to time, but it can be a very useful tool for communication. If you just say you get it before the other party says the thing, neither party will know whether you’re actually talking about the same thing.


We walked in grim silence past three different stores before he lashed out. He grabbed Bitch by the shoulder, then pulled her backward to break her stride and put her off balance enough that she stumbled.

Woah!

Yeesh, I think Grue has had enough.

Before she could regain her footing, he forced her bodily into the recessed area at the front of an old bookstore and shoved her against the door, his hand gripping her throat.

Tensions: high.

I looked towards the pub. There was nobody leaving, and nobody looking our way. Biting my lip, I joined Tattletale and Regent in stepping inside the alcove. I was praying Grue knew what he was doing.

I… don’t know that he does. I think he’ll restrain himself, but this seems very much like pure anger at this point.

For several long seconds, he just held her there, leaving her to claw for a grip on his arm and glove, kick ineffectually at his leg. Twice, as she looked like she had enough leverage to hit him harder, he used his grip on her throat to pull her forward and then shove her back against the door again, hard enough to give her coughing fits.

On the other hand, it might be a calculated effort to assert himself as someone Bitch should take seriously.

She didn’t stop fighting as he spoke, his quiet voice hollow with the effects of his power, “I hate this, Rachel. That you make me do shit like this. That when I say things like that, I sound like everything I hate most in this world. But that’s just the way you play things. It’s the only time you’re willing to listen. You hearing what I’m saying?”

I see… It’s a particularly forceful moirallegiance [WordPress link], because that’s what’s Rachel needs to get the point.


Bitch jabbed at the center of his stomach, but he used the length of his arms to pull his body back enough to avoid the worst of the hit, while still holding on to her throat. He slammed her against the door again. “You hearing me, Rachel?”

Much like Alec, the hand-to-hand combat doesn’t really seem to be Rachel’s forte, so Brian has a clear advantage on that front. His size certainly doesn’t hurt either.

She nodded sullenly, eyes darting in every direction but directly at him. He eased up a fraction, and she was able to gasp in a few breaths.

“Look me in the eyes,” he intoned.

It just occurred to me that he’s still in costume, so he’s got the voice-altering thing and a spooky skull face going on here…

She did. His visor was just an inch from her face, and she couldn’t actually see his eyes, but she stared steadily into the dark holes of his skull mask. I wasn’t sure I could have, and he wasn’t angry at me.

Brian does have that air about him. The kind where you really don’t want to anger, or worse, disappoint him.

“You made me look bad. You made us look bad. I’m not pissed because of what you did to Hookwolf’s business. That’s you. That’s your baggage, your shit. I get that it’s par for the course with you on the team. I can live with that. You following?”

Another reluctant nod. Not breaking eye contact.

But at least she should’ve talked to them about it, right?


I peeked around the corner to make sure this conversation was still private. The Travelers were outside the pub now, but they were taking their time leaving. Trickster was smoking a cigarette through the mouth-hole of his mask.

Of course he’s a smoker – it totally fits the archetype he seems to have going for himself. Relatedly, my comparison to Tyki Mikk grows stronger.

Grue went on, “You know what you did wrong? You didn’t fucking tell us. You let me fucking go in there and talk to those guys and get caught with my pants down.

Exactly.

Not much fun, that.

I had to fucking defend the actions of my team without knowing what the fuck people were talking about. It made me look weak. It made all of us look weak.”

A really damn awkward situation for Grue.

“You want an apology?”

No, he doesn’t. He wants you to learn, and change. To think about it next time, to involve the rest of the group, to connect.

After all, if she can’t act like part of the team, then why should she remain on it?


“Would you mean it? I haven’t heard a honest apology from you since I met you, and believe me, an insincere apology from you would only piss me off more right now. So it’s your call. You want to try?”

Fair.

Bitch didn’t answer. I could see her square her shoulders, straighten her head, a change of posture that was subtly challenging.

…she still doesn’t get it.

“Christ, Rachel. This is your second major fuckup in the span of two weeks. Do I need to talk to the boss and-”

“Stop,” Tattletale cut in, “My turn.”

Now what? I notice Tattle’s interruption happens right when the boss gets mentioned – the boss that it’s been suggested that Tattle Knows the identity of and Rachel knows in person.

Grue dropped his hand from Bitch’s neck and stepped away, folding his arms as he turned his back to her. What had he been saying before Tattletale interrupted? Do I need to talk to the boss and see if we can replace you?

…I don’t really think Grue was going to say that, but it would honestly be justified.

If that was it, I could see why Tattletale had stepped in.

But yeah, if it was, then that makes sense.

Even if it is justified, bringing the possibility up to Rachel would likely result in nothing good.


“You’re frustrated, I get it,” Tattletale spoke. Bitch was staring in the window of the bookstore, avoiding eye contact while she rubbed her neck. Tattletale went on, “You don’t feel like you did anything wrong, and if you had another chance to do things over, you feel like you’d do everything the same way… yet people are pissed at you.”

I’ve said it before: Tattle could make a good psychiatrist.

Bitch met Tattletale’s eyes. Her tone was a combination of irritation and boredom, “And people are taking turns chewing me out and spewing psychobabble shit at me.”

…I mean, true.

Tattletale waited, maybe to get her composure, to figure out another approach, or to use her power to dig for information she could use. Or maybe she was waiting to give Bitch time to think about how she wasn’t helping herself any with what she was saying. I wasn’t sure – I couldn’t read her expression. She wasn’t smiling or grinning like she usually did, though.

Poker face even when the usual poker face falters.

Oh yeah, that’s a thing too: Tattle would do great at poker even if she didn’t have her power to easily cheat at it.

Tattletale’s tone was more exasperated as she replied, “Fine. I’ll cut right to the point. Both of your screwups this past week had to do with a lack of communication. If you’d called to let us know you were heading out to the money early, maybe we could have anticipated the ambush. If you let us know you’d messed with Hookwolf’s dogfighting ring, we’d have been more prepared tonight. So open your mouth more. Talk to us, let us know what’s going on. Alright?”

That’s a pretty straightforward way to say it, and hopefully an effective one.

Bitch didn’t respond, tension standing out on her neck, posture stiff, hands in her pockets.

“Think on it,” Tattletale suggested.

I think she will. She may not want to admit it to herself at first, but I do think she’ll see the point over time.


I checked around the corner again. Trickster was still smoking his cigarette, but he was looking directly at us. At me. The gorilla-thing was too, but the others were looking at Trickster. I think he was talking. It was hard to tell.

The Travellers are suspicious. We don’t at all know what their deal is other than that they’re nomadic, and now this… Taylor’s been checking to make sure their conversation was in private, but Trickster could easily have a power that circumvents that, like remote senses or astral projection, or even just illusion, with the real Trickster being hidden somewhere listening to the Undersiders. Though it didn’t sound like there were many hiding spots around.

“I think it’s time to wrap this up,” I informed the others, “Eyes on us.”

Good call, I suppose.

We left the nook, with only Bitch’s slumped posture giving any indication that anything had gone on. She trailed a few feet behind the rest of us. There was tension, and it wasn’t all directed at or coming from her. Grue and Tattletale were walking slightly apart from one another. He either hadn’t liked it when she cut in, or he was angry at himself, but something was bugging one or both of them.

It seems like they had very different approaches to how to deal with Rachel, and that in itself could be a source of tension.

Regent had been quiet throughout.

Ah, yeah, I was just thinking that he’d been a bit quiet. What’s up? Maybe he just doesn’t want to get wrapped up in the conflict?

From what Lisa had said as she visited me earlier in the week, he was still getting twinges of pain from his arm. I suspected his current state was a combination of painkillers and a lack of a good night’s sleep. He hadn’t been a part of the recent dialogue, but his silence wasn’t helping the mood any either.

Ah, I see – good old sleep deprivation.


I didn’t like this. This friction spoiling the camaraderie of the group, the undercurrent of tension. I liked these guys. Even Bitch, I dunno, I supposed it would be a stretch to say I liked her, but I could maybe respect her for what she brought to the table.

That’s… progress, I suppose.

But yeah, the tension is getting out of hand. Maybe the team should take a trip to the spa – no, not the team members, the team itself. It doesn’t make any sense, but I’m sure they can work that out.

I knew it would be hard to turn on them, to pull off that grand betrayal and turn their information over to the Protectorate, once I had the information I needed… but when I thought on it, I knew I could bite the bullet and do it. I would have less regrets in the long run. I could even be proud of it, in the grand scheme of things, maybe.

“Maybe.”

Maybe you’d be proud of it. Maybe you’d have less regrets in the long run. Maybe you could bite the bullet and do it.

The fact that this is being brought up now is giving me hope for my theory that her decision – which I seriously doubt is going to be as easy as she claims – might happen at the end of Hive.

More and more, I was seeing the day I turned that information over and said goodbye to the Undersiders as the day I wanted to transform myself. Start transforming Skitter into a hero in the public eye, doing what I could to repair my image, and redefining Taylor into someone confident and outgoing and brave. If I could cut ties with the Undersiders and take that plunge, I knew I could change myself.

You could. But do you want to? It seems to me that you’ve spent a couple Arcs learning the thrills of being a villain. And then there’s Tattletale’s theory of the game, which is proving itself to you as we speak. Ultimately, when it’s all a game, it doesn’t really matter which side you’re on as long as you’re having fun and staying out of the real trouble, like the Bakuda situation.


But, strange as it sounded, I would feel worse about handing their information to the Protectorate if this sort of negativity was what I was leaving behind when I did it. I knew it made no sense, but I wanted to be able to tell myself I’d had one successful set of friendships, before I severed ties for the sake of doing the right thing.

Heh. The rationalization for staying just a little bit longeris kicking in.

“Just one more level.”

I could only hope that the sore feelings would fade. Even when I’d had friends, it had just been me and Emma. I didn’t have enough experience to really know one way or the other, as far as how groups of friends handled these sorts of sore feelings and resentment. It sucked.

This is a pretty realistic treatment of the issue. I like it, maybe especially because it’s good characterization.

As I glanced back at Bitch, it struck me that this had to suck worse for her. I felt a twinge of sympathy.

I knew what it felt like, to be the one alone in the midst of a group of people.

Ahh, is this how their relationship starts to mend? Taylor has found a way to relate to Rachel…

Slowing my pace until I was walking beside her, I found myself struggling to find words. Make small talk? I wasn’t sure how. Reassure her? I didn’t think I could say anything without seeming like I was siding with her on things, or opening a can of worms as far as getting the argument going again.

Maybe wait until you’re elsewhere?

Adding my own voice to Grue’s and Tattletale’s would only make her feel worse, and I had my suspicions she wouldn’t stand and take it from me the same way she had with the other two.

Yeah, no, she hasn’t got the same kind of relationship to you.


“Hookwolf was running a dogfighting ring?” I asked her, my voice lowered, “Like, making dogs fight?”

“Fight to the death,” Bitch answered, almost inaudible.

Nice, Taylor. This reminds me of what little they spoke to each other during the bank robbery – Rachel might not generally want to talk to Taylor much, but if there’s one thing she’ll be willing to talk about, it’s the dogs.

Also, Taylor can support Rachel’s attack on the ring without actually siding with her in the conflict, because it’s not actually about the attack.

When your only real companions or family in the world were your dogs, I could see where that hit home. I’d never had a dog, but the way I saw things, dogs were like kids. They were at the mercy of specific people, and if those people decided to abuse that, it was just flat out wrong.

Yeah, I agree with Taylor’s assessment here.

“You stopped them?”

She turned her head my way, met my eyes. “Made them bleed.”

I felt goosebumps prickle the back of my neck and my arms. I wasn’t sure if I would feel better or worse if she decided to elaborate.

“Good,” I replied.

Yeah, fuck dogfighters. Unless they’re, like, fighting with planes. That’s an entirely different kind of dogfight.

We didn’t say anything more the rest of the way back. Probably for the best.

Huh.

I think she said enough, at least. Enough to let Rachel know she has some support and hopefully to make her start reconsidering her grievances with Taylor.


End of Hive 5.2

The tension is high among the Undersiders after Rachel’s latest shenanigans went uncommunicated about, Grue finally had enough of it, we may have a future spat between the Undersiders and the E88 on our hands, the Travellers are suspicious, Taylor is thinking about her future betrayal but wanting to help patch things up in the team first, and some bonding between Rachel and Taylor is finally happening!

Damn, this was a good chapter.

Next chapter we’ll probably be going back to the Undersiders HQ. What we’ll be doing there, though, I’m not really sure. I feel like it might continue being quiet and awkward.

Alternatively, we might be doing what I suspected this chapter would be about: Taylor’s first day back at school after the concussion. As unpleasant as chapters about them generally are, I’d like to see what’s up on the Harpy front after the stunt Taylor pulled in 3.1.

I guess I’ll just have to wait and see! 🙂

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