Hive 5.3: Touchdown

Source material: Worm, Hive 5.3

Originally blogged: July 17, 2017


Whooop! It’s me again, ready to jive… Oh, you said “Hive”? Okay then.

Last chapter things got tense between the Undersiders. This time, I think we might either continue exploring the way this tension affects the team, have some more Taylor/Rachel bonding or take a look at how the Harpy situation is doing after Taylor’s week-long absence. Or maybe it’s some combination. I suppose we could also check in with Danny.

That said, Wildbow is getting good at throwing my expectations for what each chapter will be about for a loop, so the only way I’ll really know is by diving into it!


There was a long squeal of feedback, followed by the barely audible sound of a man clearing his throat.

“Attention shoppers. Please be informed that stores will be closing at five-thirty this evening, in cooperation with the city-wide curfew.

A curfew, huh? Makes sense, I guess, what with Bakuda’s attacks, but honestly I’d be surprised if she only attacked at night.

Make sure to cooperate with authorities at the entrances and exits of the Weymouth shopping center, and return to your homes by six o’clock. Thank you.”

That said, keeping people out of the warzone at certain times of the day might help avoid senseless collateral injury in the event of cape fights.

The crowd of people that had paused in their conversation and meandering to hear the announcement started moving and talking again, like someone had paused a video and had pressed the play button to get things started once more.

It’s funny how that works, yeah.

I looked at my dad, “Should we go? Beat the last minute rush?”

Danny time! 😀


“Sure. If there’s nothing else you need.”

I was due back at school tomorrow, and my dad had maybe sensed how stressed I was, because he offered to take me shopping.

Ahh, I guess the chapter I’ve been suggesting in the intro posts for 5.2 and 5.3 might be up next, unless we’re pulling a time skip this chapter.

It felt a little redundant after having been out with Lisa and the guys a week ago, but it did give me the chance to pick up some essentials and to spend some quality time with my dad.

It pleases me that Taylor cares about that.

In the bags my dad was holding, I had a new backpack, some notebooks, pens, a half-dozen books, and a new pair of running shoes. The sort of stuff that I wouldn’t have bought with Lisa, because they were so boring, like the notebooks, or because they were the sort of thing I took forever deciding on, like the books and shoes.

I don’t think Lisa would really mind – especially the books and shoes – but fair enough.

All in all, the trip to the mall was a nice gesture, and it somehow meant more to me than Lisa treating me to a few hundred dollars worth of clothes. Maybe because it was stuff for me.

And the clothes weren’t? Are you thinking of those as stuff for Skitter?


Or maybe she’s thinking of the clothes as not stuff for her because Lisa went out of her way to break with Taylor’s usual style of fashion.


We made our way to the exit, and I had to hold back a groan. There was still over half an hour before the doors were due to close, but there was a crush of bodies at the exit. Maybe half were trying to leave, but the other half were gawking.

Yeesh.

I suppose when you drastically cut down on the open hours of presumably most legal shops in the city on short notice, people are going to rush to them. But what is the other half gawking at?

Both inside and outside the glass doors of the mall’s entrance, there were soldiers. Their guns were holstered, but they looked pretty intimidating anyways. In the midst of the soldiers were two capes; Battery and Shadow Stalker.

Oh boy, there she is. Nice to finally meet you, Shadow Stalker.

And you too, Battery, I suppose. I remember Battery being mentioned before, but I don’t recall much about the context and blog search is being unhelpful again. Was Battery paired up with someone called Assault, or was that just a joke/speculation I made at the time, whenever it was?

I knew that members of the Protectorate, the Wards, and various volunteers were stationed at places where there were groups of people, especially in areas in and around the ABB’s territory. The Wards, I supposed, were too young to handle a single location all by themselves, which was probably why Shadow Stalker was in a ‘sidekick’ role here.

Makes sense.

I guess Battery might’ve been name dropped when some of the Protectorate members were listed a while back.


I’d had a lot of time to watch the news as I was on bed rest. Bakuda was living up to what she’d been saying about maximizing fear and panic by combining unpredictability with grim certainty.

I think she was absolutely right about that, by the way. I don’t really watch horror movies or play horror games (simply because they don’t interest me much), but I do know combining the certainty that there’s something out there with the uncertainty of what it is and the unpredictability of where it is and when it’ll strike is pretty damn effective.

Every day, there were reports of anywhere from one to five bombs going off, and while every single one was probably to the advantage of the ABB in some way, there was no way to tell what she’d hit next or why. One article online had surmised that as the military and superhero presence forced the ABB into a corner, the attacks would only escalate. Schools, malls and office buildings were all potential targets. Justification enough for an armed presence here at the mall.

This would be a massive threat even if the bombs weren’tTinkertech devices capable of messing with spacetime itself.

The upside was that the mall had organized major sales in pretty much every store, to keep business going. Maybe not the brightest or most logical thing, but too many businesses and employees were getting by on a day to day basis, around here.

I suppose that makes some sense, from a capitalist point of view. Gives the people an incentive to leave the relative safety of their homes to come to the stores.


Getting in had been like passing through airport security, getting our bags checked, showing ID. Nothing too bad. It had been only Manpower from New Wave standing watch when we arrived, and there hadn’t been much of a crowd.

Glory Girl’s uncle, if my speculation from 3.11 is correct.

This was something more, two attractive, dangerous heroines,

There she goes again, immediately describing women by their attractiveness. Geez, no wonder most of the fandom considers her bi, even beyond the usual ignoring of canon sexuality for shipping purposes.

That said, I want it to be clear that I’m still very much aware that some of this is because she’s inclined to unfavorably compare her own attractiveness against other girls’.

both with some controversy around them. As much as I could understand why the heroes were here, I could tell they were slowing things down, as the rubberneckers got in the way of the people who were actually leaving.

This bottleneck, on top of the curfew rush, on top of the major sales… yeah, it’s gonna be pretty cramped getting in and out here.

Half of the military presence that was inside the mall was busy working to keep the crowd back from the doors and the two heroes and trying to organize people into lines.

Good luck with that!


Progress through the line was slow, but I admit, it was interesting to be able to watch Shadow Stalker and Battery going about their business from a safe perspective.

Maybe she’ll make some observations that’ll come in handy when the Undersiders next fight Shadow Stalker.

Battery was a member of the Protectorate. When I’d been starting junior high, she’d been the head of the Wards for a brief while, and she’d soon after graduated to the Protectorate.

So she’s still relatively young, compared to for example Armsmaster.

I could guess she was twenty-two or thereabouts now, if they didn’t fudge the graduation date or anything to make it harder to guess the hero’s real age.

Oh hey, nice, I don’t have to do the math.

Her power let her charge up as she stood still and concentrated, with every second spent charging giving her a few seconds of greatly enhanced speed, some extra strength and some electromagnetic powers.

Niiice. And it seems to me that this particular mission gives her plenty of time to charge.

Her costume was white and dark gray, with cobalt blue lines tracing it like you might see on a circuit board. Inquiries about whether her teammate Assault was her boyfriend or her brother had been met with coy deflections, leading a small fraction of the local superhero fans to surmise he was both.

Oh hey, I remembered correctly. I like the double meaning here, with Assault & Battery but Battery referring to her charge-based powers.

…both? Yikes, let’s uh, move on.

Any time she did something in public, you could trust the online message boards to explode with speculation and theory.

Hehe.


That soap-opera/paparazzi style drama had never really grabbed my attention.

Not surprising. It’s really not Taylor’s style.

Ignoring the vague possibly-maybe chance there was something going on there, I thought she was the kind of hero I could look up to. She was nice, she worked hard, and in those inevitable situations where she found herself on TV with some asshole getting in her face about something, she handled things rather well.

Nice. 🙂

Battery leaned over to cup her hand over Shadow Stalker’s ear and whisper something. Shadow Stalker nodded and then turned to walk through the glass door to say something to the soldiers stationed outside. Literally through the door.

Heh, that’s a really handy power. Fantastic for badass entrances, too.

As she did it she turned a little smoky, like she was made of sand and not anything solid. It didn’t seem constructive to me. In her shoes, I think I would have stuck to business as usual, without giving them more reason to stare – I would have used a door normally.

Not everyone wants to avoid the attention as much as Taylor. Even though Shadow Stalker’s powers and especially name are very evocative of ninjas.


Maybe I was biased. I kind of felt like I should dislike or hate her on principle, since she was Grue’s self-declared nemesis. Lisa and Alec had explained how Shadow Stalker was a vigilante that agreed to join the Wards rather than jail, after going too far in the pursuit of justice. She was supposed to be using nonlethal weapons, but she wasn’t.

This is a nice recap. It fits in smoothly and reminds the reader of the essentials (about a character who was discussed in Agitation 3.3 and last mentioned in Interlude 3) without taking up too much space.

I’ll freely admit that I had forgotten the jail bit myself.

Capes always seemed so much bigger and impressive on the news. Once you looked past the dark gray urban-camouflage hood and cape, and the black-painted metal of her mask, Shadow Stalker was still just a teenage girl. Only about as tall as me.

“Parahumans were, after all, people with powers, and people are flawed at their core.”

I still think this quote from Interlude 1 is integral to the entire story and setting. It’s clearly the reason they’re called parahumans in the first place – they are notsuperhumans. They are simply unusual humans. Humans first, capes second.

Battery was only two or so inches taller than either Shadow Stalker or myself, which meant she was still shorter than most of the men in the crowd. Now that I had been involved in cape stuff, I felt like I could look past the costume in a way most didn’t. They looked normal, pretty much.

Makes sense. She’s beginning to see capes as people, now that she’s been a cape and remains a person, and now that she’s been regularly interacting with other people in costumes.


“Alan,” my dad spoke, “It’s been a long time.”

I turned to look. I should have been surprised, or shocked, but by the time I realized who we’d run into, I felt too deflated.

“It’s good to see you, Danny. I’ve been meaning to get in touch.”

Alan, Alan… sounds a little bit familiar, especially with Taylor’s reaction. Has Danny talked about him before?

“Not a problem, not a problem,” my dad laughed easily. He shook the hand of the red cheeked, red haired man. Alan Barnes. “These days, we can count it as a good thing if we’re busy. Is your daughter here?”

Yeah, the full name definitely sounds familiar.

Alan looked around, “She was thirsty, so I’m holding our place in line while she… ah, here she is.”

Emma joined us, a diet sprite in one hand. She looked momentarily surprised as she saw me. Then she smiled, “Hi Taylor.”

Oh.

That Barnes.

Well, then, looks like we’re getting Harpy today after all!


I didn’t reply. A few moments of awkward silence lingered.

“We need to get back in touch, Danny,” Emma’s dad smiled, “Maybe you could come over for a barbecue sometime. When it’s a little warmer, the weather will be perfect for it.”

“I’d like that,” my dad agreed.

Hoo boy. And Danny doesn’t know Emma’s the main Harpy, so he’d think he was doing his daughter a favor by bringing her along. Which means that either Taylor needs a good excuse, or she has to choose between spending the evening with Emma or telling Danny more about the Harpies.

“How’s work?

“Better and worse. There’s work to be had for the Dockworkers, with cleanup, reconstruction efforts, so that’s good.”

“And your projects? The ferry?”

“I’ve resigned myself to waiting a few more months before I start making noise again. Mayoral elections are this coming summer, and there will be elections for the city council this fall. I’m hoping to see some fresh faces, people who won’t dismiss some revival efforts as options.”

Adult talk…

“I wish you luck, then. You know my firm is there if you need us.”

“Appreciated.”

Emma turned her attention from idly watching the heroes and army at work to our dads’ conversation. My dad saw her looking his way and decided to include her in the conversation.

Only one more step before Taylor gets involved too. Yikes.

“So. Is Emma still modeling?”

“She is!” Alan smiled proudly, “And doing quite well, but that’s not why we’re here today. We were just here for the sales,” Alan chuckled a little, “My daughter wouldn’t let me relax the second she heard about it.”

I wonder what Emma thinks of Alan telling this to Danny and especially Taylor.

“Ah. Us too. Shopping, I mean. Taylor was caught at the edge of one of the explosions, around the time this whole scene started,” my dad answered, “She’s been home for a week recuperating. I thought we’d go shopping before she got back into the swing of things.”

Aaand there we go.


“Nothing serious in the way of injuries, I hope?” Alan asked.

“I’m in one piece,” I answered, not taking my eyes off Emma.

“Yes, that’s right, you harpy bitch, not even a bomb can take me down and you sure as hell can’t.”

“That’s good. My god, you’re the third person I know who’s been affected by this anarchy. One of my partners is in recovery from surgery. An explosion crystallized his arm, turned it to glass. Terrifying.” Alan told my dad, “When does this end?”

Yikes. And that sounds like he got grazed by it.

While our dads talked, Emma and I just stared at each other.

Then Emma smiled. It was a look I’d seen so many times in the past few years.

Oh boy.

It was the smile that had greeted me when I came back to school from the hospital, back in January, that look that let me know she wasn’t done. The same expression she’d had when she was looking down on me, covered in juice and cola in the stall of the school bathroom. The one she’d been wearing when I’d come out of the showers to find my clothes crammed in the toilets, both my gym clothes and regular ones.

So yeah, Emma? Real talk for a moment?

Fuck you.

The same smile she’d had before she reminded me of how my mom had died, in front of everyone.

…so I know I’ve made sort of a running gag out of saying “fuck you” to Kaiser, but honestly Emma is not far below him in shittiness, if she’s below him at all.


I still want to find out why Emma changed so drastically someday, by the way.


The sound of the impact was like a splash of water in my face. I felt a twinge of pain from that gouge one of Bitch’s dogs had made in my arm, when I first met her. Still sore.

Emma fell over, bumping into her dad, who dropped the bags he was holding. There were gasps from the crowd around us.

Oh

fuck

yes

“Taylor!” My dad cried out, aghast.

My hand was stinging. Outstretched in front of me, like I was reaching out to shake someone’s hand. It took me a seconds to connect the dots. I’d hit her?

Usually I don’t support senseless violence much, but she’s had it coming for so damn long.

Now, the problem is… no one else in the shop, including their fathers, have any sort of context for this. Well, I suppose Danny might connect the dots and figure it out, but no one else would know.

And as far as anyone could’ve seen, Taylor was the aggressor here, unprovoked (because no one could’ve known how provoking Emma’s smile is to Taylor).

And we’ve got a bully here who now gets to play victim.


Emma looked up at me, eyes wide, mouth open, one hand to the side of her face. I was as shocked at what I’d done as she was. Not that I felt bad. A large part of me wanted to laugh in her face. Weren’t expecting that? Miscalculated how I’d react?

Taylor would make a good villain.

Hands seized me with an iron grip and spun me around. Shadow Stalker. She interposed herself between me and Emma. Dark brown eyes glowered at me from behind her mask.

And here’s the other half of the problem: Parahuman keepers of the peace were around.

“What was that for?!” Alan protested, “Emma didn’t even say anything!”

“I’m so sorry,” my dad hurried to explain to the superheroine and Emma’s dad, “She’s still recovering from a concussion, it’s affected her mood. I didn’t expect anything this extreme.”

…I think Danny has figured out the truth by now. Defending it with the concussion is nice, and there might be some truth to the concussion affecting it. After all, it was said to reduce her inhibitions.


Shadow Stalker scolded him, “This is not the time or place for arguments. If your daughter is this… unwell, then that’s your responsibility.”

She does have a point there. The concussion was compared to Taylor being drunk, and if you bring a drunk person out to the store and they break something or attack someone because they’re drunk, then that’s on you.

I felt like laughing. Part of it was just being giddy at doing something to get back at Emma. The other part was that this whole scenario was so ridiculously upside-down. Shadow Stalker wasn’t really anything special. She was just a teenage girl, lecturing my dad, an adult.

The other side of beginning to see capes as normal humans: Losing the respect for them that comes with them being, well, capes.

The crowd that was watching was seeing Emma as the victim, me as the bad guy. But if you stripped away the costume, if everyone knew the real story, this would all be playing out so differently. Emma would be the bad guy, and my dad wouldn’t be so conciliatory about this girl telling him off.

I think there’d still be some who wouldn’t condone the violent reaction, but they’d probably understand it a lot more.


I had the presence of mind to not laugh aloud. Maybe it was the adrenaline, the relief that flowed from what I’d just done. Maybe it was the concussion, again, but I did find the conviction to do something else.

I pointed at Emma, turned to my dad, “You want to know why I hit her?”

Oh boy, here we go. It’s time to tell the truth.

No barbecue party needed, even!

Shadow Stalker put one hand on the side of my face, forced me to look at her, stopping me from talking in the process. “No. I’m stopping this right here. No arguments, no excuses as to why you just assaulted someone. We’re breaking this up now. Turn around.”

“What?” I half-laughed, incredulous, “Why?”

Weeell shit. Is she getting arrested for assault? I think she’s getting arrested for assault.

I do actually agree with that course of action, to some extent, but not with not letting Taylor explain it to her father in short.

“Taylor,” my dad said, looking drained, “Do as she says.”

It didn’t really matter, because she forced me to turn around anyways, wrenching my arm until I did, then pulling my arms behind my back.

“Please, miss,” my dad said, “This isn’t necessary.”

Maybe not, but the fact of the matter is that justified or not, Taylor did just commit assault. As a keeper of the law, Shadow Stalker is practically required to do this, I think.


Shadow Stalker bound my wrists with what I guessed was a plastic wrist-tie. Too tight. Then she turned to my dad, and her voice was hushed. “Look at this crowd. These people. They’re scared. A place like this, with this much suppressed panic, fear and worry, this many people close together? I don’t care if your daughter is an idiot or just ill. She’s proven to be volatile in a powder-keg situation. It’s both dangerous and stupid to have her here. You can cut off the plasti-cuffs when she’s separated from anyone she might harm.”

This is actually very reasonable.

Also, sounds like she’s not actually bringing Taylor in, just preventing further attacks and sending them off to get Taylor out of this place.

“I’m not dangerous,” I protested.

“Didn’t look like it to me.” Shadow Stalker shook her head and gave me a push towards the exit, “Go home and be grateful your dad isn’t having to post bail for you to sleep in your own room tonight.”

This could’ve gone a lot worse.

My dad held his bags with one hand so he could help usher me toward the door. He looked over his shoulder at Alan, “I’m very sorry. It’s the concussion.”

I guess he hasn’t figured it out after all.

Alan nodded, sympathetic. His ruddy cheeks were redder at the attention our scene had drawn, “I know. It’s alright. Just… maybe she should stay home from school for a bit longer.”

My dad nodded, embarrassed. I felt bad at that. I felt worse at being led off like a criminal, while Shadow Stalker gave Emma a hand to help her up.

Again, this is all quite reasonable from the perspective of the characters in the scene who don’t know the full story, and still would be for some of them if they did.


Emma was beaming, smiling one of the widest smiles I’d seen her give, despite the red mark on the side of her face. Smiling as much at the way things had turned out, I imagined, as she was at getting the chance to talk with the concerned superheroine.

Yikes, who even knows what bullshit she’ll spin about Taylor.

We headed out to the car, away from the crowd, the soldiers and Emma. I stood by the open passenger door for two minutes before my dad scrounged up some nail clippers to cut off the plasti-cuffs.

“I’m not mad,” he told me, quietly, after we’d settled in, as he started up the car and took us out of the parking garage.

“Okay.”

But is that because he thinks it was the concussion or because he’s figured it out… and/or because he would react similarly in certain situations? We know he has a temper.

“It’s perfectly understandable. You’re emotionally sensitive, after getting knocked around by the explosion, and she reminds you of what’s going on at school.”

“More than you know,” I muttered.

“Hm?”

Ahh, yeah, this time I think the truth might be coming out.


I looked down at my hands, rubbed my wrists where the plastic tie had cut into them.

If I didn’t tell him now, I don’t think I ever would.

“It’s her. Emma.”

“Oh? What?” He sounded confused.

I didn’t have it in me to clarify matters. I just let him think it over.

“How ironic, that your very demise would be in the proximity of some horses. What? You didn’t follow that? Just think it over. Think it over… “

It’s out. You did it, Taylor. Good job.

After a long pause, he just said, “Oh.”

“From the beginning. Her and her friends,” I added, needlessly.

Tears welled up, unexpected. I hadn’t even realized I felt like crying. I raised my glasses to rub them away, but more came streaming out.

Let it out. I think you really, really need this right now.

“Stupid head injury,” I mumbled, “Stupid mood swings. I’m supposed to be better by now.”

My dad shook his head, “Taylor, kiddo, I don’t think it’s the only reason.”

He pulled over.

Yeah, no, these tears aren’t just because of some mood swings, that’s for sure.


“What are you doing?” I asked, wiping ineffectually at my cheek, “We gotta be home before the curfew.”

He undid our seat belts and pulled me into a hug, my face against his shoulder. My breath hitched with a sob.

“It’s fine,” he assured me.

“But-”

“We’ve got time. Take as long as you need.”

The curfew doesn’t matter so much at the moment. Taylor’s emotions do.

…and that’s the end of the chapter. Huh, I wasn’t expecting that.


End of Hive 5.3

Well that was fantastic. Especially at the end, with Taylor telling Danny, after all this time, who was behind the Harpy attacks, then breaking into tears and Danny being a great parent.

Not to mention the catharsis of the punch itself and Taylor’s adrenaline high following it. That was great too.

And continuing this odd reverse chronological sequence I have here, I love how the punch came completely out of nowhere for Emma, Taylor and the reader. It really caught me off-guard and it was awesome.

Next chapter, I suppose we might go more in-depth with Danny’s reaction to finding out Emma’s behind the attacks, but I feel like another scene change is more likely. I suppose Taylor might go to school as intended, ignoring Alan’s comment about waiting a couple more days? We’ll see.

See you then!

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