Hive 5.10: Communicating, Doggy Style

Source material: Worm, Hive 5.10

Originally blogged: August 9-12, 2017


Howdy! It’s time for some more Small Squiggly Creature!

Last chapter, Taylor carved Lung’s eyes out. ‘Nuff said, really.

Now I think it’s time to wrap up the raid if there’s anything to wrap up (maybe say goodbye to Sundancer, whom I’d say Taylor connected well with), and hopefully learn what the other groups have been up to.

Not much more to say, so let’s get going!


“Brockton Bay 911, what is your emergency?”

“Multiple injured,” I said, glancing at the nearest street sign, “Warehouse at Whitemore and Sunset. Send police and capes, too. These guys are ABB members.”

Nice. Let’s see if they can’t lock Lung up again.

That said, Lung’s gonna wake up by the time they get there, isn’t he? He may be blind, but as I pointed out before, that’s only one sense down, and at least one of his other senses is parapowered.

There was the briefest of pauses, “That’s Whitemore and Sunset?”

“Whitemore and Sunset, yes. Listen, the leader of the ABB, a parahuman by the name of Lung, is incapacitated at the scene, but that won’t be entirely true for long. He’s drugged and blinded, but the drugs will be out of his system before too long.”

Oh hey, she’s pointing it out. Good. This could get ugly if she didn’t.

I mean, it still can, it’s just less likely.

“You’re a cape?” she asked, “Can I get your identification?”

“I repeat,” I ignored her,

I mean, it’s not super important right now who’s calling.

“He’s drugged and blinded, but only the blindness will be a factor when the first responders arrive on the scene. Warn them to be careful. You can also tell them that a second parahuman calling himself Oni Lee was present but fled after being injured. He may still be in the area.”

Taylor is doing good work here, giving the response team all the information they need.

If there’s one thing this story has pounded into the reader, it’s the importance of information.

“I understand. The Protectorate will be informed before they arrive on scene. I’ve got ambulances, police and PRT teams on their way. Can I please get your identification?”

Hm… I’m sure Lung will tell them soon enough. There’s little reason for Taylor to stay anonymous, really, especially if she’d actually like the credit for taking down Lung (again, but the public doesn’t know that). Then again, she’d also be the girl who pried out a man’s eyeballs after he was down.


I hung up.

“I can’t believe you carved out his eyes,” Sundancer said. We were walking briskly back to where we’d left Labyrinth.

It was a surprising move for sure.

I didn’t find an opportunity to mention this, but nice work to Wildbow on the slight misdirection with the knife. It absolutely looked like Taylor intended to kill Lung back then, especially with the line “I’m ending this.”, and then she went and did something different. Still fucked up, arguably even moreso than killing him, but non-lethal. It went very smoothly from the misdirection to the truth, too, and the things that contributed to the misdirection make total sense even in retrospect.

Y’know, unless I was just reading too much into things back then and there was no intentional misdirection at work. That happens sometimes.


“He’ll heal,” I pointed out, “Eventually.”

“You blinded someone who was helpless to fight back. That’s kind of fucked up.”

Li’l bit, yes.

I couldn’t say much to that. Fucked up or not, it had been necessary. I couldn’t have dealt with it if I’d known we left him there and he got back to business as usual by the end of the day. I’d stopped him, best as I was able.

I mean, she does have a point. It’s a rationalization, yes, but it’s a much more solid rationalization than in the case of Clockblocker.

Okay, alright, I was willing to admit that maybe the means were a little suspect. I’d fought alongside some fucked up people, I’d maimed him. By letting Fenja, Menja and Kaiser go I’d sort of condoned what they’d done to Lung’s men. But in the end, it was what I’d wanted to do when I’d wanted to be a superhero. I’d taken down a horrible person.

Ahh, here come the weaker arguments.

I’ll help her with another one: Letting Fenja, Menja and Kaiser go had to happen to preserve her cover.

I just hoped the heroes could clean up the mess and get Lung behind bars for good this time.

Yeah, no, this was clearly an intermediate-level Lung fight, even at the end. I think it’s pretty much guaranteed that Taylor will be up against full dragon form Lung by the end of this story.


“Hey Bitch,” I said, “Why’d you come back?” I couldn’t phrase it better without offending her, but I wanted to know was why she’d come back when she was supposed to be taking Newter and Coil’s soldier to a doctor.

I guess she finished that task?

Or pawned it off on Labyrinth. Labyrinth doesn’t have a quick and strong hellhound to carry them on, though.

Bitch was sitting tall astride Brutus. She seemed to get my meaning, “The other soldier said he was a trained medic. Told me he could handle it, so I came back to fight.”

“Ah,” I said. “Got it.”

Huh. That makes sense, I suppose.

Bitch hadn’t been lying, I saw, as we approached the rest of our group. Newter was bandaged and awake, while the other soldier was lying down, unconscious. Maybe drugged for the pain.

“You made it,” Newter grinned.

😀

Newter is my favorite new character from this Arc, so I’m glad we’re getting to see him awake and well(ish) again before it ends.

“Barely,” I admitted, “You okay?”

“I’m tougher than I look,” he responded, “Benefit of my, um, unique biology.”

Hm, didn’t I suggest that might be the case at some point? I don’t remember.

(I still think Aegis’ biology is freakier, by the way.)

“Cool,” I replied, feeling lame for not having a better reply, but I couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t sound like it was trying too hard or, worse, sound sarcastic.

Trying too hard to… what exactly?

I’m guessing there are fanfics of Newter x Taylor featuring angst around not being able to be intimate with each other (be it sexually or just generally romantically) without Taylor slipping into the fabled blackdeath trance of the drug-gothics.

(#they are stubborn throes)


“This fella says you guys probably saved my life,” Newter jerked a thumb toward the one of Coil’s guys that was awake.

“Honest, I’m having a hard time believing you’re up and talking right now,” the medic replied.

That’s what happens when your patients are parahumans. Things that you have a hard time believing happen.

“Anyways, thanks,” Newter said, eyes moving from me to Sundancer to Bitch and back again.

“No problem,” I answered him, feeling lame for not having a better or more suitable reply.

This sounds familiar.

Embarrased, I looked for a reason to change the subject. “Look, we should get out of here in the next few minutes. Capes, cops and ambulances are on their way to deal with the aftermath.”

“Alright,” Newter said, “But I have to ask… a small army of roaches dropped those off?”

Hm?

He was smiling as he pointed to a spot near where he was lying. A stack of paper bags were organized in a pile.

“I forgot I did that,” I admitted,

Ahaha, right! The moneybugs! I kinda forgot about that too.

“It didn’t feel right to leave the ABB’s money behind if we wound up retreating, so I had my bugs haul it out of there. Everyone might as well take a bag.”

“We can take it?” Newter asked, “You sure?”

Sharing is caring!

I shrugged in response. The money didn’t matter much to me. “Consider it a bonus, a thanks for helping. It’s, um, not exactly divided to be fair, so no insult intended if any of them end up being a bag full of ones.”

It’s like a little lottery!

And yeah, it was surprising enough that the bugs could do the money gathering semi-autonomously. Having them understand the values of money and do the math necessary to divide evenly would be so hard on suspension of disbelief that Taylor herself might have trouble believing the world was real. 😛

“No complaints,” Newter said. He reached out with his tail and used it encircle and pick up a bag. Coil’s guy gave him a hand in standing up, and you could see him wince and huff out a breath at the effort. He swayed a bit on his feet, then put a hand on Labyrinth’s shoulder to steady himself. Sundancer grabbed a bag, and Coil’s medic/spotter grabbed two.

Labyrinth didn’t reach for one, so I walked over, grabbed one, and held it out for her. She didn’t respond.

“I’ll hold that for her,” Newter offered.

What’s up, Labyrinth?


“Is she okay?”

“She’s… pretty much normal. For her, anyways.”

Well, good to know, I guess.

He claimed the bag, leaving three for Bitch and I, but nobody was complaining or pointing that out.

Considering you’re the one who a) gathered the money and decided to share it, and b) defeated Lung, I think everyone ought to be fine with you getting two bags.

Anything else would honestly be kind of ungrateful.

“You guys need a ride?” I asked.

Newter shook his head, then pointed to a manhole cover a ways down the road, “We’ll head back to one of our hideouts through there. Familiar territory for me.”

On one hand, this sounds like a simple joke about critters like newts sometimes living in the sewers (do newts ever live in the sewers?), and maybe even a slight nod to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

On the other, this is more likely a reminder of Newter’s backstory. Turned into a newt man by his power, couldn’t fit into human society, quite possibly literally lived/hid in the sewer for a while.

“Is that a good idea, with your injury? I mean, stating the obvious, but it’s gonna be pretty gross down there.”

He smiled, “Can’t get an infection. My biology’s toxic to the bacteria and parasites, I think. Never been sick, that I can remember.”

Huh, that’s handy.


Of course. Now I felt dumb for making Sundancer use the alcohol to sterilize him, and for going the extra mile with the sanitary pads, to ensure what I was using was clean.

Nahh, it was good thinking. You couldn’t know about his immunity. Better safe than sorry.

“And you guys?” I asked Coil’s guy, “Ride?”

“We’ve got one, but thanks.” The medic bent down, bound his buddy’s wrists, and then pulled the loop of arms over his head, so he was effectively giving his buddy a piggyback. He took another second to arrange his guns, then headed through the same alley that Kaiser, Fenja and Menja had gone through before the fight started.

Well, okay then. See ya!

Sundancer was going the opposite way, so she said a brief goodbye and left. Newter and Labyrinth were walking in the same direction as Bitch and I, so we walked together.

Nice!

Labyrinth walked like she was in a daze, with Newter leading her along by the hand like she was a child.

In her own world, you could say?

Maybe her power is blending reality with her imaginary world, in a way that’s not quite a mass hallucination or illusion.

It was interesting, not just to see that kind of interaction between them, but noting that her gloves looked like cloth, and that he was probably risking drugging her… unless she was immune. A consequence of her ability? He caught me looking, smiled and shrugged.

Maybe she’s in a permanently drug-like state.


“Autistic?” I guessed.

He shook his head, “No, though we thought that, at first. Seems she was a normal kid until her powers showed up. Since then, she’s been off in her own little world, more or less. A little worse right now, I think, after seeing me hurt.”

Hm. So there is a very high chance the daziness is directly related to her power.

One of the reasons I’m not saying it’s outright confirmed is that trigger events seem to have a tendency to be mildly or majorly traumatic for some people, which can also cause the development of certain mental disorders. For instance, I think most phobias are the result of traumatic moments (the brain associating what stands out from the moment with the fear/pain/etc felt during it).

“That happens?” I asked, gesturing towards my head, unable to come up with an inoffensive and simple way of phrasing it.

He shrugged, “Sometimes getting powers fucks up your body,” he gestured to himself using his tail, which was still holding the paper bags, “Sometimes it fucks up your head. Bad luck, but you deal with the cards you’re dealt.”

I am very glad this concept is being introduced to us via a trio of so far sympathetic characters.

I wonder if the final member of Faultline’s Crew, Spitfire, also has something like this going on, where getting the power “fucked her up” in some way.


“Oh,” I replied. I wasn’t sure how to respond. A cold, quiet horror crept up on me. My powers had something to do with my brain. I could remember how crazy I’d felt right after my powers showed up, that torrent of nightmare images, signals and details from my bugs. I still had bad dreams about it. How close had I come to being like that permanently?

That’s a scary thought.

He grinned, “It’s cool. She’s really fond of us, and we’re attached to her, too. She has her lucid moments, when she’s let us know she’s cool with the status quo. Sure, she has bad days when she’s dead to the world, but all of our powers have drawbacks, yeah?”

I guess for Taylor that would be the risk of sensory overload.

Also, she seemed relatively lucid during the fight against Oni Lee, but then again Newter did just say she’s worse than usual at the moment, so I don’t really have any baseline to compare that to.

“Yeah,” I echoed him, though I couldn’t think of a drawback to my power that even came close.

Yeah, the sensory overload thing barely qualifies. It’s not at all permanent, and quite easily avoidable, from what we’v– oh shit

I think I know a drawback that might count. Still not permanent, still avoidable, but… the way she gets close to losing control of the power when agitated or strongly upset. It could cause a lot of trouble someday, and probably will before the story ends.

“I think we’re okay where we’re at. Eh, L? You’ve been happy since we got you out of that place?”

Labyrinth kind of stirred from her daze and looked at him.

“that place”

…an asylum?

“Yeah,” Newter grinned, ” You can tell because the stuff she does with her power is prettier, these days.”

You know whom this kind of reminds me of? Bitch. They’ve both done some nastier things with their powers in the past, though it seems mostly unintentionally.

He gestured at the manhole cover, “This is where we part ways.”

“If you ever need us, just knock.”

“On the manhole cover?”

“Yeah, any manhole cover.”

“Uh, okay.”


Labyrinth glanced down where he was pointing. A moment later, a tracery of silvery lines spiderwebbed out around the manhole cover, extending and forking like veins. As the lines met and sectioned off parts of the road, those bits of road lifted and flipped over, revealing a white marble texture on their undersides. When sufficiently surrounded by the expanse of cracked white marble, the manhole flipped over, revealing a silvery underside, and then popped open on an unseen hinge. A spiral stairway of more marble or ivory led down into the depths. The white walls had a faint glow to them.

That is the fanciest way I’ve ever heard of anyone opening a manhole cover.

It seems like Labyrinth is essentially “flipping” the area over to a sort of parallel world where the manhole cover leads to the staircase. Maybe it’s a world-blending ability like I suspected, but the other world isn’t necessarily Labyrinth’s imagination.

Under that interpretation, what she did to Taylor during the Oni Lee fight would essentially be to make Taylor interact only with her own world, whereas Oni had to interact with both worlds, or just the one being blended with his own.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Newter replied. When he stepped down onto the stair, it was solid under his foot. He held up the paper bags as he said, “Thanks guys.”

“Sure thing,” I replied. “Later.”

See ya!

Also, I guess this officially puts to rest the idea that Oni tried to teleport onto a platform and fell right through it.

The manhole shut behind them, and almost immediately, the white around the manhole began to fade.

And they’re gone.


I looked up at Bitch where she sat on one-eyed Brutus. Angelica and a still-dusty Judas stood just behind her.

Does this count as possession of drugs? Probably.

She offered me a hand up onto Brutus’ back.

There were a lot of drawbacks to having a mask or helmet that didn’t cover my entire head. If I’d sat myself down and put in the extra hours to finish my mask and expand the armored sections, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten that concussion that was proving to be such a pain in my ass.

Oh yeah, that. I guess I was wrong on that getting significantly in the way during the raid.

The upside, though, was that it felt awesome to have the wind blowing in my hair as we rode down the empty streets.

Ahaha, nice. Not gonna lie, I’d probably love this.

The perfect wind-down from that crazy adrenaline rush that had come with going up against Oni Lee and Lung within minutes of each other. I closed my eyes and let the tension flow out of me.

Kind of meta, I suppose, in that this seems to be a chapter for the reader to do exactly the same.

We rode like that for a few minutes. Bitch took turns and moved sorta aimlessly as she headed East, towards the water and the beaches. Maybe she was taking evasive action in case we were being followed, maybe she just wanted to ride. I didn’t really care.

Nice.


I was a little disoriented when we finally stopped. Brutus padded through sand as he stepped down onto the beach. Bitch hopped down, and I followed her cue.

The beach, huh?

It was still early afternoon, so the beach was deserted, and it wasn’t the sort of beach that saw much tourist use anyways. A concrete wall separated the beach from the roadside above us, and a yawning hole with the rusty remains of what had once been a grate marked the exit of the various storm drains beneath the Docks. Trash, rotted leaves and one or two needles had filtered down to the sand below the drain.

“Go home,” Bitch ordered the dogs. One by one, they filed into the drain. I guessed they would let the transformation subside before they returned to the loft on their own.

Probably a good idea. Might get a little bit cramped up there if they didn’t.

Then Bitch pulled off her mask. She gave me a derisive look.

“What?”

“You gonna change? Can’t walk back like that.”

Good point.

“I don’t have a change of clothes with me. Or stashed anywhere.”

“Well. That’s fucking stupid,” she answered me.

Ahaha, yeah.

I think I pointed out that this could give Taylor some trouble allll the way back in Gestation 1.2.

“I wasn’t thinking ahead when I decided to go. Sue me,” I challenged her.

“What’re you wearing under that?”

“Tank top and stretch shorts.”

Ahh. Well, at least it’s more than I thought she might be wearing, judging by 1.2.

She looked around. “It’s not that cold.”

I sighed and unstrapped my armor enough to unzip my costume at the back. I pulled it off – far easier than putting it on – and bundled it up so all the identifiable parts of the mask and armor were hidden by fabric. The sand was damp and clammy under my bare feet.

When Bitch reached for my face, I startled.

“Um, excuse me?”

She put one hand on the side of my face, and for just a fraction of a second, I thought something incredibly awkward was about to happen.

This is feeling a little awkward as it is.

What did you think she was gonna do? Kiss you? 😛

Then she wrenched my head to enough of a tilt that it was almost horizontal.

“You look like someone tried to hang you.”

…not far from the truth, I suppose.

“What?” I asked.

She touched the side of my neck, but it wasn’t possible to see that part of myself without a mirror. I did realize what she was talking about, after a moment’s thought. I pulled up the side of my tank top, and sure enough, there was a red-black bruise at my stomach and waist. Hiking up my top a bit more, I found another at my ribs. I knew there would be another up near my armpit, and one encircling my neck.

From when Lung was holding her, right?

Bitch might have some similar marks, come to think of it.

I had a giant fucking handprint on my body, courtesy of Lung.

I let out a long groan, touching my neck where I felt tender. “No way I can hide this from my dad.”

Yeeah, that might be a problem.

“Oh, I just met someone with a really strong handshake.”

“Strong enough to bruise your whole body?”

“Yes.”

“…I can respect that.”


My good mood was dashed to the winds as we started trudging back to the Loft. It was made all the more unpleasant because I was underdressed and barefoot, and the ground was cold under my feet.

I shivered and hugged my arms to my body as best as I could while still keeping my costume bundled up and the paper bags of money in hand.

Maybe you would’ve looked less suspicious if you’d remained in costume after all.

Something warm settled over my shoulders. I looked at Bitch as she finished draping her jacket over me.

I think Rachel is warming up to Taylor a bit. No pun intended.

As she drew back, her eyebrows furrowed, glaring at me, I wrangled the bags and my bundle of costume so I could get my arms through the sleeves and do up the buttons. It was a canvas down jacket with a fur-ruff collar, but it was the wrong size for me and it was heavy.

Ruff ruff!

I suppose this would be the jacket from this fanart [here on WordPress] by aslovefromlies. It looks cozy. That fur-ruff collar probably helps hide the mark on Taylor’s neck, too, as a bonus.

The pockets, I found, as I tried to jam my hands in there, were filled with stuff. A mess of plastic bags, chocolate bars, protein bars, a juice box, pellets that ground together – what I guessed were dog treats or dog food. Not exactly cape supplies. All in all, it was almost uncomfortable.

Snacks for Master and snacks for doggos.

But it was warm.

Relatable.


“Thank you,” I told her, floored by the gesture.

“You needed something to cover your neck,” she looked bothered, “People would stare.”

“Doesn’t matter. Thank you.” I offered a smile.

Hehe. Nice try, Rachel.

“You already said that,” she switched from looking bothered to looking angry, “It’s mine, I can take it back.”

“Of course,” I said. Then to be safe, I offered, “Do you want to?”

Pfft. She’s really not comfortable with being thanked by Taylor, huh.

She didn’t reply, leaving me absolutely baffled. Why was it that when I thanked someone like my dad for giving me a gift, it felt like it sounded sarcastic or lame no matter how I tried to say it, but the one damn time I was ninety-five percent sure I sounded as sincere as I felt, it was with Bitch, and she didn’t buy it?

“Oh yes, thank you soo much, Dad. I really like it, sure.”

This is a little bit relatable, though. I don’t think I really have this exact problem, but there are certain common courtesies I feel weird saying. Like “get well soon” and variants of it, in English. It always feels like I’m gonna sound like I’m demanding someone to get over their sicknesses and such because they inconvenience me, even though I know people aren’t going to take it that way.

I much prefer the Norwegian equivalent, which is more about wishing someone a good recuperation.


Worried anything I could say would rub her the wrong way, I defaulted to silence, as I found myself doing more and more often with her.

That’s a little sad, but at least Rachel doesn’t seem like much of a conversationalist anyway, so maybe she likes that.

It wasn’t a short trip, and my feet still felt the heat leeching out of them as I took each step on the pavement, but the core of my body was warm, and that was enough to keep me going. Like that, we made our way back to the loft.

Loft, sweet loft.


She unlocked the door and let us in. I shouted up for Brian and Lisa, but no voices greeted me in return. The others weren’t back yet, which made sense, since Grue would have to pick up Tattletale and Regent before they got back, and it hadn’t sounded like Tattletale’s team was close to wrapping things up when I’d called.

Ah. More quality time with Rachel, I suppose.

Bitch led the way up to the Loft, and the second I was up there, I took off the jacket and wordlessly handed it to her. She was still glaring at me.

What could I do, what could I say? It seemed like everything I did pissed her off, sent the wrong signal.

Y’know, I think there might be more to it than what we’ve been told. I mentioned back in 2.8 (I think) that it seemed a bit odd for Rachel to react so violently to the prospect of getting a fifth instead of a quarter unless she was quite greedy, and nowadays, I don’t think Rachel is greedy. At all.

Maybe it is as simple as a conflict of personalities, but it sometimes seems like Rachel is angry at Taylor for something.


I think I’ll call an end to part 1 of chapter 5.10 here. Conveniently coinciding with my intended time to end the session, I’ve just been sent some asks while liveblogging, so I’m gonna answer those and call it a night.

[End of session]


Now that you mention it, I’ve never seen any Taylor/Newter fanfic, which is disappointing.

Aw, that’s a shame.


thats-rough-buddy:

I already know your position on it, at least how it was before, but I’m still of the school that not every single paragraph needs a comment. That showing us your thoughts by irregular “chunks” of the story, if anything really comes to mind, instead of sometimes forcing a comment or comparison or theory that two paragraphs down is getting debunked, is going to save a lot of time AND make the process less tiring. But that’s just me! If it is or not up to debate, it’s on you.

The thinking is this: Combing through everything forces me to analyze better and express most of my thoughts. It does leave a couple posts where there’s not much to say, and makes things go a bit slower, but I think that’s a fair trade-off.

Both approaches have their benefits, though.


[fanart submission, will be handled in a separate WordPress post]


[Session 2]
Alright, let’s pick this back up!


I returned to my room in the Loft and dug through the shopping bags I still had in there, finding a loose pair of jeans and a long sleeved shirt to pull over my top.

Are these the same shopping bags from the Market trip a week ago?

I mean, I can’t blame her. It’s not like I don’t leave things in bags in my room from time to time.

No clean socks, sadly, but there were some covers laid out on the bed. I grabbed some and dragged them behind me to the living room, where Bitch was watching TV. She gave me the evil eye, but didn’t complain, as I got myself bundled up in the covers on the other couch.

What’cha watchin’?

She had the remote, and I was willing to let her have it. She channel surfed relentlessly, settling on an action movie for five minutes, then started surfing again when the ads started, and didn’t go back to it.

Hm. Maybe she has something else on her mind. Maybe she’s not really getting invested in anything on the TV because she’s busy thinking. Maybe she’s trying to distract herself and failing, or just trying to make it look like she’s occupied with the TV.

It wasn’t too interesting to watch, but I didn’t mind. I lay back, thinking back to the events of the day, the conversations, the tidbits of info.

I’m sure there’s a lot to think about, for both of you.


If there was ever a good time for Rachel to suddenly decide to break the silence out of seemingly nowhere (from Taylor’s perspective), this would be it, I think.


I almost dozed off, when my lazy train of thought stumbled onto something that I was afraid I’d forget if I let myself go the rest of the way to sleep. I forced myself to open my eyes and sat up a bit.

“Bitch?” I risked drawing her attention, hoping she’d calmed down a bit. She looked at me.

Hm?

“Um. When we were talking, a little bit ago, I thanked you. Did that sound sarcastic to you, or what?”

“You’re getting on my case again?”

“No,” I raised my hands to stop her, “Not what I was trying to do. I’m just wondering.”

Ahh. This might be a good move. If you’re worried you may have offended someone, it might help to ask. That way, you might get to know for sure, and the other party gets to see that if you did, you weren’t fully aware of it and/or didn’t intend to.

“Keep your wondering to yourself,” she snapped. When she turned her attention back to the TV, her channel surfing was cranked up a notch.

“I’ll pay you to answer me,” I tried.

Pfft.

I’ve already stated I don’t think Rachel is actually greedyat all, but this might still work.

She looked at me.

“That money we grabbed. You can keep all of it.”

Her eyes narrowed, “We’re supposed to split our take five ways.”

“We earned that, right? The both of us? I won’t tell the others if you don’t. And I’m saying you can have it all. Not sure how much it is, but it’d be yours.”

That said, “not greedy” doesn’t mean “immune to monetary temptation”. Especially if, like Brian and Haley Starshine, she has a good reason for wanting significantly more money than what she needs for survival.


“Is this a trick?”

“No trick. Just answer my question. You can even tell me to get lost after, I’ll go to my room and grab a nap or something.”

She leaned back, and put the hand with the remote in her lap, glaring at me. I took that for consent.

Talk about taking “a penny for your thoughts” one step further.

Maybe more than one step.

“So, what I was asking before, when I said thanks, did you think I was sarcastic, did you think I was genuine, what?”

“Dunno.”

“You mean you didn’t know, or you can’t remember, or-”

“I said dunno.”

I mean… fair enough.

“Fine,” I sighed, “Whatever. Money’s yours.”

“That easy?”

I shrugged.

“You said you’d get lost if I asked,” she pointed out.

I nodded, gathered the covers and retreated to my room.

Well, that went… okay, I guess. Ish.


I didn’t nap, though. Instead, I stared up at the iron girders that framed the ceiling, deep in thought, thinking about the conversation with Newter about Labyrinth.

Oh yeah, figures that would stay on her mind.

I was still sorting through my thoughts when the rest of the gang returned.

I ventured out of the room, still bundled in a blanket, to greet them. Brian gave me a winning smile as he pulled off his helmet, and I got some attention for having the most noteworthy injury of the afternoon.

Heh. Yeah, a giant handprint is pretty noticable.

So are we going to hear what happened with the other groups now?


As Alec, Brian and Bitch started talking about their individual adventures, Lisa pulled me aside. We wound up walking to the kitchen. Lisa put a kettle on as she asked me, “You okay?”

“It looks like Lung had a bit of a hands-on approach…”

So wait, we’re getting pulled away from people sharing the stories of each group.

“Not really hurt, ugly as this looks, and I think I’m feeling better about the school thing.”

“But you’re distracted by something.”

With Tattle, it can be hard to distinguish between what she Knows and what she can tell just from being good at reading people. Because she is good at psychology and reading people even without her power’s input – that’s been showcased before.

I wonder if she herself has trouble telling the difference sometimes.

“I was talking to Newter. You know Labyrinth’s kind of out of it, because of her power, right?”

“You want to know if there’s anything wrong with you, that you don’t know about?”

“No,” I shook my head, “Wait, is there?”

“Nah. So what’s up?”

“Doctor, I think something might be wrong with me.”

“Nah.”

“Bitch.”

“Ahhh.”

Ohh.

Yeeah, that makes a lot of sense. Heck, I even directly compared Labyrinth to Bitch myself, due to their similar stories of “did nasty things in the past, perhaps mainly because of their power”.

So now Taylor is wondering if Rachel too had her mind affected by the power. If that’s why Rachel is… well, the way she is.

I kind of hope it isn’t. Like, not because it’s not a compelling concept, but because I like the way Rachel’s attitude has been portrayed as just the way she is, and I feel like “oh that’s because of her power” would be a bit cheap of an explanation in her case.

“I’ve been thinking, but I don’t want to build up some theory in my head, make an assumption and embarrass myself.”

“Tell me what you’re thinking, and I’ll tell you if you’re wrong.”

Seems reasonable.


“She’s really good at reading body language, right? She could read Brian even when he was blurred by his darkness with a mask on. It’s, what, some kind of minor power of hers?”

I dunno. I suppose it would make sense given the amount of body language dogs use, but it seems kind of… unnecessary to ascribe that skill to her power.

Maybe it’s a result of Rachel having had trouble understanding and communicating with other humans on an emotional level. She may have forced herself to learn how to interpret body language to a larger degree than other people would ever bother to.

“Some of it’s natural ability. Some of it’s, yeah, that her power adjusted how she thinks. So she can communicate better with her dogs.”

Fair enough, I guess.

“Right,” I glanced down the hall to where the others were talking. Or rather, where Brian and Alec were talking and Bitch was standing there. “That’s the thing. What I’m thinking is… maybe when her power gave her the ability to understand dogs, it overwrote something else? Fucked up her ability to deal with people?”

It makes sense. I don’t really want it to be true, but it makes sense.

Lisa turned and got some mugs out of the cupboard. She gave me an apologetic half-smile. “Yeah. Something like that.”

Ah, okay.

See, I’m a bit on the fence about this whole thing because on one hand, it’s an interesting concept that powers can affect people in this way, but on the other hand, there are perfectly mundane ways to explain the way Rachel’s brain functions.

The autism spectrum, for one thing – I’m by no means an expert on autism (and feel free to correct me if I say something stupid here), but a lot about the way she interacts with people strikes me as that of someone who hasn’t been equipped to learn the social language naturally, thus my interpretation of the body language thing earlier in this post.

One could still argue that her power made her autistic, but that’s my point: It never felt like we needed an explanation for that, and the explanation we got doesn’t apply to any of the real autistic people who might relate to Rachel.

Whether this explanation being given was a bad thing remains to be seen. It depends on what Wildbow does with it from here on out.


“So, what, she can’t read expressions, or tone?”

“All the cues we give to others as a part of regular conversation? She doesn’t get them, she probably couldn’t learn them with a year of concerted effort. It’s not just that she doesn’t get it… the most basic interactions are messed up by the canine psychology that’s hardwired into her head.

So basically… you need to talk to her like you’re a dog?

Though I think if Taylor went out there and started talking to Rachel like she were narrating the Brutus Interlude, Rachel would punch her into orbit.

You smile at her and ask her how she’s doing, her first thought is that you’re baring your teeth at her in anger, and she has to remind herself you aren’t. But even after that, she’s probably wondering if you were being sarcastic, or condescending, or kind, or whatever. She knows you aren’t shouting at her from your tone of voice, but we don’t always raise our voices when we’re angry, you know?”

“Yeah.”

This is making a lot of sense.

“And she falls back on the one thing she does get, canine behavior, because it does work on a level. Bids for dominance, eye contact, pack heirarchies and establishing territory, all adjusted and adapted to her human life.”

“So she’s not really a sociopath.”

“No, not so much.”

I wonder if switching to feline behavior would make this better or worse.


“Why didn’t you say anything?” I realized belatedly, that I sounded accusatory. Maybe I was right to.

“Because she’d leave if she heard about it, and for reasons I don’t know, the boss wants her to stick with us.

Hm. It makes sense that it would be a bit of a sore point for her. I guess that’s why she didn’t want to talk about how she interpreted Taylor’s thanks.

She’s spent her whole life accepting the fact that she had a shitty childhood, and it made her into a screwed up person. Her dogs are the only thing that’s normal and right for her. If she found out that the reason she’s so messed up is the very same thing that makes her so close to her dogs?”

Oh… she doesn’t know. I thought Lisa meant “if she heard about me telling you”. In retrospect that would be a silly reason to leave the team.

This is the kind of information Lisa would weaponize if Rachel were her enemy, much like the identity of Panacea’s father.

She let the thought hang.

“Got it,” I replied.

Yeah, that’d mess her up more than anything.


“So not another word of this, please, unless it’s absolutely necessary and you’re absolutely, one-hundred percent positive she’s not going to overhear.”

“Do the others know?”

That’s what I was about to ask!

I’m guessing Brian knows but not Alec.

“I don’t think it would change much, and I don’t trust those two to keep a secret. Brian is… I don’t want to say too honest. But he’s transparent, and Bitch can read him. Alec would forget and let it slip as part of a joke. He doesn’t get the gravity of stuff, sometimes.”

Fair.

“Okay.”

She poured a cup and stirred it, then handed me a mug of Ovaltine. She got the other mugs arranged on a tray, and carried it through to the living room. I stayed where I was, to think.

Yeeah, Lisa just recontextualized every interaction with Rachel so far for Taylor. Some thinking is required.


I was reminded of a non-fiction book I’d read where a kid got halfway through high school before his teachers realized he was illiterate. He did it by being the class clown, by acting out.

Wow. You’d think they’d at least notice on written tests, but I guess not.

I have little to no doubt that this can, and does, happen, though. This non-fiction book might be something Wildbow’s actually read; that would not surprise me.

Was Bitch the same? The violence and hostility could be a cover to distract from her own inability to interact, at least partially.

Instead of talking to the other Undersiders and the new recruit about how you’re not happy with the recruitment, why not attack her and fight for relative dominance in the people-pack?

I guessed a fair bit of it was genuine, though. She hadhad a crappy childhood, she had lived on the streets and had fought tooth and nail to get by and avoid arrest.

True.

But at the end of the day? As awkward as I felt in day to day interactions? She was a hundred times worse off.

Certainly sounds like it.


End of Hive 5.10

Well, that was interesting.

We learned about a fascinating new way getting powers could fuck someone over: Messing with their mind in smaller or larger ways. Then this red thread was expertly pulled through a bit of mostly unsuccessful Taylor/Rachel bonding to Taylor and the audience learning why communication with Rachel is as difficult as it is, and how Rachel’s mind works.

I’m withholding judgement on whether this particular explanation was a good or bad thing, for reasons I’ve covered, but I will say it’s nice to finally learn more about Rachel and why she is the way she is, whether I like the reasons or not.

We didn’t get to hear about what the other two groups were up to, which is a bit of a shame. Maybe we’ll learn more about this during Interlude 5, which is up next. Before that, though, stay tuned for my Hive arc thoughts!

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