Hive 5.5: Takeover

Source material: Worm, Hive 5.5

Originally blogged: July 25, 2017


Boom, here I am! Wait, shit, loaded term these days.

It is time for some more Worm! This chapter, Taylor is going to join up with Bitch, some Travelers, some Faultliners and some E88ers – probably including Purity – to contribute to a community raid on the Antimatter Bunker Busters, which sounds like it’s going to be awesome.

Not only will we almost certainly get to see the other members of this group in action, but we’ll get to see the dynamics of these characters (and especially Taylor) fighting alongside each other instead of in their usual teams. Many of them are out of their element and we might get to look at how they handle that.

I’m also predicting some further Taylor/Rachel bonding. Also, we might learn more about how the ABB are doing with Lung back in charge.

That said, there’s no guarantee any of the actual raid will happen in this chapter. The above speculation goes for the raid in its entirety.

Let’s get this party (and/or raid) started!


Time was short, so Tattletale was in my room of the loft while I changed.

I bet the Taylor/Lisa shippers liked that.

“The idea Coil proposed was that we would mix and match the members of the groups, so nobody can pull anything without their teammates being hostage to the other groups.”

Nice thinking!

I like Coil so far, though being a chessmaster, he may not have shown his true colors yet. Maybe some day he’ll shed his outer skin, so to speak.

“Gotcha,” I replied. I busied myself double checking the items from the utility compartment. Tattletale reached in and snatched the cell phone. “Hey?”

“One sec. I’m programming the alarm on your phone. When it goes off, an hour from now, you call Grue.

It briefly crossed my mind to talk about a sense of respect for other people’s property, but then it occurred to me that just a couple Arcs ago, these kids robbed a bank. And that was Tattle’s idea, too.

Anyway, I bet Taylor has a lock screen (in whatever form was appropriate for a low-budget phone in 2011) and Tattle Knew the code.

Then again an hour later, if we’re out that long. We’ll all be checking in with each other every fifteen minutes or so. If someone doesn’t pick up, assume they’re in trouble.”

“Okay,” I agreed.

Makes sense.


“If you can’t pick up the phone for whatever reason, be sure to call back at the first opportunity. Let us know you’re fine.”

“Got it.” I hiked the cloth portion of my armor up around my waist, then began sliding my arms through the sleeves. The cloth part was form-fitting, and all in all, putting it on was like putting on a pair of full-body pantyhose. Not prone to tear, of course, but like the pantyhose, it always took longer than I expected.

Heh, I know the feeling.

Wait.

Full-body pantyhose??

I’m reeeally no expert at clothing and the terms thereof, but it seems to me that pantyhose should cover about half your body at most.

“We’ll be using a password system every time we check in, in case you’re taken hostage and forced to answer a call. Two parts to it. The first part is simple, you give the other person the first letter of one of our names, the other person replies with the last. If it winds up being a longer night, move on to other people we know.”

“So if I said L?”

“A. How would you respond to B?”

“N.”

Huh, not bad. Kinda prone to giving people hints about their civilian identities if they figure out how the code works, but not major ones, and if the Undersiders are the only ones doing this, it’s gonna be hard to figure out in the first place.


“Exactly. The second part is color based. When you’re replying to a call, name an object that’s a certain color. Think traffic lights. Green for go, everything is okay. Yellow for warning, if you aren’t sure about things. Red for stop, need help. It lets you keep us informed without tipping off the capes that are with you.”

“Okay.”

So a conversation could go something like this:

*ring ring*

*answers call* “L?”

“A. Sun.”

“Grass.”

“Good to hea– Wait, which season? Is it dead grass in the winter, yellowish-brown? Or is it vivid green spring grass? Is it rice, that’s a type of grass, wait that’s white what does white even mean AAAAAAAAAAHH”


Rice still on the plant isn’t actually white. Unfortunately, the color does vary a bit as far as I can tell, encompassing at least green, black and light yellow, so the confusion remains.


“I’m going with the group that has Faultline, Trickster, and the Traveller’s shapeshifter.

I guess that would be the apparent ape?

I did note that they seemed to be treated as a person more than an animal, didn’t I?

I’m betting there will be a few from Empire Eighty-Eight and some of Coil’s soldiers, too.”

“Shapeshifter?”

“That gorilla with four arms, from the other night.

Gorilla, sorry.

Only I don’t know exactly what she is, yet, but she’s not quite a shapeshifter.

That’s… interesting. Is she more like Newter and Gregor, stuck in that form? Or maybe it’s her only alternate form, but she does have a human form?

I guess I can’t rule out a literal alien passing as a parahuman, either.

I’m hoping to get a better sense of her abilities by spending some time around her. Ditto for Trickster. Regent’s coming with so we’re contributing some firepower. Kind of.”

I suppose you have to count the taser. His actual power is better for combat than Tattle’s, but it’s still more about sabotaging the opponent’s firepower than adding to your own.


“Don’t you and Faultline have issues with each other?”

I suppose she’ll work with anyone provided they pay enough.

Lisa grinned, “Yup. It’s going to be fun, pushing her buttons, knowing she can’t touch me.”

Ahaha, the good old semi-sadistic playfulness. And/or playful semi-sadism.

*puts on Homestuck hat* Sounds like a good kismessisitude. 🙂

I winced. “Just be careful. What’s Grue doing?”

“Another group. All in all, we’ll be coordinating to strike three locations simultaneously with three different teams, overwhelming force. Hit hard, hit fast, get out of there. If you aren’t making much of a dent, don’t sweat it. Unless something goes horribly wrong, we’ll repeat this process a few more times over the next couple of days.”

Niiice.

Of course, this pretty much guarantees something will go horribly wrong. Otherwise Wildbow will have to write about this all happening a couple more times, which… well, might work if things go differently enough or if Taylor sits the next few times out. But something going horribly wrong is very likely, narratively speaking.


There was a knock on the door. Brian called from the other side, “Just about ready?”

I zipped up the back of my costume and strapped my armor in place over it, then opened the door, mask in one hand, “Ready.”

Hi, Brian!

Brian, like me, was costumed but didn’t have any headgear on. “You sure you’re up to this? You’re recovered from the knock you took to the head?”

“No,” I admitted, “Not entirely. But I’m pissed, and I think I’ll be less okay in the long run if I don’t go out and vent somehow.”

Escapism at its finest. Go put yourself in danger while still under the effects of a concussion, that’s a good way to vent.

He paused, as if he were thinking things over, “Okay. You going to be alright dealing with Bitch on your own?”

I frowned, “I’ll manage somehow.”

“Don’t show her any weakness, or she won’t let up on you.”

Sounds quite… wolf-y.

“I figured as much,” I agreed.

Heh.


As we headed for the stairs, I mused that maybe Bitch and I were more on the same page today. I was pissed at life in general, feeling just a bit off kilter in a way that wasn’t one-hundred-percent the concussion.

Yeah, I’m feeling good about my “Taylor/Bitch bonding” prediction right now.

I pulled on my mask as we headed outside. There was a nondescript van pulled over in front of the door, blocking line of sight to the rest of the street. Bitch and Regent were already inside, waiting.

“Hey dork,” Regent greeted me.

Howdy!

He was in costume, typical except for the shirt he was wearing – other nights it had been white, but it was a dark gray today. It was still the same slightly elaborate, puffy renaissance fair style of clothing, though.

I guess the dark gray might be to stand out a little less in the dark?

“You can call me Skitter. I won’t mind.”

Heh.

Even if it’s just a joke on her part, this is noteworthy as the first time Taylor has actually self-identified as Skitter.

I was actually thinking earlier about making a “by the way” post about why I still call Taylor “Taylor” when she’s in costume: It’s the same reason I call Rachel “Bitch” rather than “Hellhound” – I wanted to have Taylor identify herself as Skitter before I joined the multitude of people in-universe who already do it for her.


While we’re on the topic of identity, there’s also a reason I use terms like “civilian identity/name” instead of “real identity/name”. I already avoid the term “real name” in reference to real people (online or otherwise), and the same line of thinking applies here: The identities and names of “Tattletale”, “Grue”, “Regent”, “Bitch” and, yes, “Skitter” are just as real as the unmasked identities and names of “Lisa”, “Brian”, “Alec”, “Rachel” and “Taylor”.

“Krixwell” is just as much a real name and a real identity I have as “Kristian” is.


“That’s alright,” he answered. There was a note of humor in his voice, which I took to mean he was just having fun at my expense. I resolved to ignore him.

Hehe.

Bitch just stared angrily at me. It was so intense I had to look away. So much for being on the same page.

Well then.

What are you so pissed about? Taylor being a last-minute addition to the group?

The interior of the van had benches on either side. Since we were in a rush, I had only a second to decide whether I wanted to sit next to Regent – and be facing Bitch for the duration of the trip – or plop myself down next to her and the dogs. I opted for the former, hoping I wouldn’t manage to do or say anything that would get us off on a bad start for the evening.

An excellent position for getting stared at, good choice.

Tattletale sat in the passenger seat, with Grue driving. As the van pulled onto the road, she called back to us, “Hey, Bitch, Skitter. We’re dropping you off first, but you’re going to have to walk to the meeting place. You might be short on time, so walk fast. Cool?”

I suppose that gives them a short time to themselves to say a few words in private before they arrive.

Bitch shrugged, “Works.”

“No complaints,” I added my own two cents. I could see where it would be advantageous – Bitch would have time to get her dogs beefed up, and I could gather some bugs.

Ah, yeah, that’s handy too.

Besides, it gave us something to do – if we had to stand idle for a few minutes, I was pretty sure it would only increase the chances of Bitch finding a reason to pick a fight with me or one of the other villains.

Taylor’s taking Bitch for walkies so she’ll be a good dog, best friend.

(#when one’s read homestuck

#one does not simply say ‘good dog’ without appending ‘best friend’)


Remembering my bugs, I took a few seconds to extend my powers outward and begin gathering them. I was surprised at how far my reach was extending. I generally measured things in city blocks – I’ve never been good at eyeballing distance – and I would say my range usually sat at around two blocks. Today I was reaching just shy of three and a half.

Hm… Smaller blocks than normal, or something beefing up her power?

Possibly someone, but I don’t see why that would be the case before they arrive.

“Hey Tattletale?” I asked.

“‘Sup?”

“Two questions.”

“Go for it.”

“What general direction is the spot you’re dropping me off? Need to know where to send the bugs.”

“Northwest.”

Good to know, I suppose. What else? I’d ask about the range thing.

I glanced out the tinted windows of the van to judge which direction we were going, then began giving commands to the bugs that fell within my reach.

“Second question. Um. My power’s a fair bit stronger today. Not sure about technique, but I’m extending a lot further. Any idea why?”

“Can’t say. Sorry, I could usually try to figure it out, but I’m focusing on other things right now. If you think it’s really crucial-”

“No,” I stopped her, “It’s not. I’ll bug you about it later, when your attention isn’t divided.”

“bug you about it”

Is this the subtle beginning of punster cape Taylor? 😉


“Pun intended?” Regent mused.

“What?”

“Guess not. Nevermind,” he chuckled a little.

Ahaha!

Bitch was using her power on her dogs. It was really my first opportunity seeing it happen from the beginning. It was like seeing a sausage split its casing, only the casing was fur and skin.

Hm… Makes sense, what with the inside-out aesthetic of the hellhounds.

Where the rifts appeared, it wasn’t just muscle spilling out, but spears and ridges of bone. Some of the exposed muscle shriveled into scaly growths. Yet they kept growing to the point the back of the van was feeling crowded. Where did that mass come from? Was it pulled out of thin air, or was she drawing in some kind of energy and converting it into matter?

That’s actually a very interesting question. It’s also interesting that Taylor thinks to ask it, because that means she believes the law of conservation of mass and energy to be in effect for parahumans… at least possibly.

For that matter, if my brain was a radio tower of sorts, pinging every bug for their locations on a near-constant basis and sending them instructions to override their own brains… where was the energy to keep that up coming from?

It was a little disconcerting to think about.

That’s a cool way to visualize Taylor’s power.


When Grue stopped the van to let us out, I realized why we were walking. Our stop was a bridge with bus stations on either side. Problem was, it seemed the ABB had decided to cut off this route – the bridge had been reduced to rubble.

Well ain’t that helpful.

Large orange and black detour signs with blinking lights barred entry to the shattered bridge, and similar measures had been used to cordon off the piles of rubble below.

Tattletale leaned out the open window and pointed, “See that tower, there? Looks like a lighthouse? It’s an old tourist shop that closed down a decade ago. It’s where the Merchants – Skidmark and his crew of dealers – hung out, before the ABB expanded and forced them out. You’re supposed to meet the others there.”

So they used to have a little more territory.

I looked and saw the building she was pointing at. It didn’t look much like a lighthouse, but whatever. “Gotcha.”

Pfft. Maybe it looks like a lighthouse from a different angle?


“Go,” Brian said, “Good luck.”

Bitch whistled for her dogs, and we headed for the stairs. We’d have to head down, across the street and back up to get where we needed to be.

It was weird, picking our way through the rubble of the destroyed bridge to cross the street. You didn’t usually cross the road like this, and the streets were deserted here.

Yeeah, this is kind of an unusual path.

The dogs seemed to like the experience though. I saw Judas’ tail wagging as he hopped from one slab of road to another.

Walkies!

I pulled open the door with shattered glass panes that led to the other set of stairs, letting Bitch and the dogs through. As she passed me, Bitch murmured, “You’re angry.”

Huh. I suppose she would be quite qualified to recognize that particular emotion.

“Yeah,” I admitted, “Bunch of stuff earlier this afternoon. Didn’t go the way I wanted. Assholes.”

“Should hit ’em. Teach them to fuck with you.”

“I did,” I answered, “Knocked one of them on her ass last night. Part of the reason things didn’t go so hot, today.”

“Mmm. Story of my life.”

#relatable


We headed up the stairs and towards the lighthouse. My bugs were starting to accumulate. Our detour had given the flying bugs time to catch up to me. Wasps, moths, houseflies, no-see-ums, a few bees and a fair few cockroaches.

No-see-ums? That’s a term I haven’t encountered before… I don’t know what they are, but I bet you don’t see them easily.

*looks up* Ahh, biting midges. Yeah, those can be hard to spot for sure.

I’d learned my lesson on our last outing. I wasn’t going in unprepared and unarmed. As they arrived, I drew the bugs close. Selecting the best of them, I directed them under my armor – in the hollow space beneath my shoulderpads, under my belt, my elbows and wristguards, in my hair and the concave panel of armor that covered my spine. They were there if I needed them. I doubted anyone would notice unless I let them.

Wow, that’s actually pretty damn cool. No bugs in sight, then suddenly Skitter raises her arms and fills the room with them…

“How’d you know I was angry?” I asked.

“Dunno. Looked that way.”

“Yeah, but you can’t see my face.”

“Way you’re standing, I guess. You going to get on my case about this?”

“No. Sorry,” I answered.

Body language is pretty expressive if you know what to look for.


I decided to keep quiet for the rest of our trip to the ‘lighthouse’. Interestingly, she almost seemed to relax as the silence lingered. Her face lost that slightly angry expression and she reached over to scratch Brutus on the side of his neck in what seemed a very normal, casual gesture, for someone I viewed as anything but.

It’s time for Taylor to see more of Rachel’s human side.

Or at least, it would have been normal and casual if the dogs weren’t currently the size of small ponies.

There have been so many My Little Pony jokes made about this comparison, haven’t there?

My little pony, my little pony
I used to wonder what walkies could be
Until Master shared its magic with me

We reached the lighthouse, and sure enough, there was a group of villains waiting.

Here we go :


Kaiser was first and foremost among them. He was decked out head to toe in elaborate, ornate armor with a crown of blades, but the configuration, I noticed with interest, was totally different than it had been just two days ago.

I guess that’s because he makes his armor from scratch each time.

Fenja and Menja stood at either side of him.

Only one of the Travelers was accompanying our group: The girl with the sun design on her costume, red suns on black form-fitting armor.

I think she might have a thing for suns, guys.

Possibly a heat- and/or light-based power?

Just behind her were two members of Faultline’s crew. Newter was hanging off the wall by his fingertips and toes, and Labyrinth was leaning against the same wall, just below him, her arms folded. Newter was wearing tattered jeans and had dyed his hair a cobalt blue, setting off the orange of his skin. He had cloth wrap, like you’d see a kickboxer use, wrapped around his hands and feet.

Hm… my first thought was “to protect his hands and feet in melee”, but what if it’s so he doesn’t stick?

Also I like that Labyrinth is here. Her name suggests a potentially interesting power, such as making places mazelike and possibly non-euclidean in a somewhat different way than Vista does.


I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed that I seem to have been wrong about Purity being part of Taylor’s group, but I suppose it makes sense. We’ve seen Purity, we know what she’s about – it’s time to focus on characters we know less, such as Fenja and Menja, the furies.


Rounding out our group were two men in matching kevlar armor, with balaclavas, visors, and tricked out assault rifles. Each of the men had a second gun slung over their back – I thought one was another rifle, but I didn’t have a good view of the other. I might have pegged it a grenade launcher. Coil’s men, probably.

They’re skiers who just happened to land in this building by accident as they went off-track. There are two skier-shaped holes in the roof.

The weapons, you ask? It was, uh, extreme skiing.


Fenja or Menja – I wasn’t sure which – leaned over and whispered in Kaiser’s ear.

“Arrived with less than a minute to spare, Undersiders,” he purred. “Watches out, everyone.”

Watches, huh? I guess they’ve planned this out thoroughly.

I paused – I hadn’t brought one. Then I remembered the cell phone. I retrieved it from the compartment, the cluster of bugs I had in there moving automatically out of the way of my hands. If anything, they made it easier to know where my fingers should reach to grab it.

Makes sense, given the apparent space between the bugs in her bug sense. She’s detecting the phone like she’s previously been detecting people in her swarms.

“Set time to four-forty in three, two, one… set. The attack is scheduled to start in five minutes. We’ll use the time to get there, get in position and decide our method of attack.”

Nobody argued.

“Move out,” he directed us.

I guess the minutiae of it aren’t finely planned, if they’re just now deciding their method of attack.


Bitch turned her attention to Brutus, who made a groaning noise as he suddenly swelled. Splits appeared in his skin as he grew another two or three feet taller at the shoulder, and spikes of bone erupted from his exterior. He stretched, then shook abruptly, spraying all of us with the bloody aftermath of his sudden growth. There were reactions of alarm and startled shouts from everyone present, with the exception of myself, Bitch and Labyrinth.

Interesting. Labyrinth is not easily shook, apparently. It’s also a possibility that she’s familiar with Bitch’s power from before.

Kaiser, surprisingly, was among them, backing away several steps before he realized Brutus wasn’t attacking.

What’s the matter, Max? Afraid of dogs and/or terrifying hellbeasts?

There was a bit of swagger in her posture as Bitch walked the two steps to where Brutus stood, grabbed a spike of bone and hauled herself onto his back.

It was intentional, maybe a bit immature, but she’d made Kaiser flinch. Taking him down a notch like that, so soon after he’d assumed control of this impromptu team, it was probably more of a statement than anyone present could have accomplished with words.

Nice.

So does this mean Bitch is taking some control now, or is she still leaving that to Kaiser?

As if to drive the point home, she gave Brutus a light kick in the ribs, prompting him to walk in the direction Kaiser had indicated. Judas, Angelica and I were right behind her. I didn’t turn to see how long it took the others to pull themselves together and follow.

Looks like she is! This development could get quite interesting.


End of Hive 5.5

This was a… fairly idle chapter. It’s very reminiscent of Agitation 3.6, except I feel like we learned more back then. Agitation 3.6 was an important chapter because it established Tattle’s theory about the nature of the cape game, a theory which is largely being proven true by Hive. Hive 5.5, on the other hand, didn’t really seem to do that much? It established a couple safety precautions, the mysterious boost to Taylor’s power, who all is in Taylor’s group more specifically, and that Bitch is taking charge.

Don’t get me wrong, it was not a bad chapter. I do, however, feel like it lacks a bit of substance compared to most chapters. I don’t know, maybe my opinion will change as I learn more about the overall structure of the Arc, like my thoughts on the placement of Interlude 3½ did.

Next chapter, the raid will start. I don’t have much to add to my speculations about the raid itself from the opening of this chapter, but Bitch taking charge certainly has the potential to make things even more interesting than I thought. It also puts her in a central position – it makes it clearer that this is Bitch’s time to shine.

And I’m very much looking forward to seeing that. See you then!

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