Interlude 5: Not Much, What’s Upsilon With You?

Source material: Worm, Interlude 5

Originally blogged: August 14-16, 2017


Howdy! It’s time to get ‘lude.

So, whom are we following today? This time, I happen to know that the focus character(s) of the Interlude was chosen by poll a while back, starting around the time of 5.4. I don’t know when the results were called, so I’m not sure how much impact the chapters since would have on how people voted.

If not for the poll, I’d suggest (as I already have, while forgetting about the poll) that this Interlude might follow Alec. On one level, I kind of hope so anyway, not only because I want to hear about his and Tattle’s adventures during the raid, but because he’s now the Undersider I arguably know the least about. Maybe some of the poll voters thought the same.

I suppose the poll would likely include some of the people and groups we met in 5.1. The Travellers seem like a good option, especially if the poll was still active a bit into the raid.

On the other end of the scale, I don’t want a Skidmark Interlude.

Whomever it is, I don’t expect this Interlude to be particularly plot-critical, but we’ll have to see. Maybe Wildbow decided to move something he had planned to the Interlude once he saw the poll results.

Without further ado, let’s take a look!


“This what you wanted?” the teenager with scruff on his chin and his hood up handed over the paper bag.

Coddammit, is this a Skidmark Interlude? I was joking about that, but it’s true that it’s not something I particularly want.

Broad hands with ruined, rotten brown fingernails pawed through the contents, “It is. Here.” The voice was slightly accented, the words and sounds very careful, as though he were not comfortable with English.

The young man reached out and his eyes widened as a fold of bills was pressed into his hands.

Skidmark wasn’t a teenager, was he, though? And we seem to be following the buyer’s perspective, here.

“This is… more than I thought it would be.”

“Are you complaining?”

The young man shook his head.

Yeah, no, on either side of this deal, getting more than expected is a good thing.

Gregor the Snail put his hands in his pockets, as if to hide the fingernails and the growths that scabbed the backs of his hands.

…oh, hi.

So did Wildbow just misdirect us or is Gregor doing drugs?

…do drugs even work properly on his snail biology? Also, why would he even buy drugs when he’s got a teammate he can just touch for effectively the same result?

Each of the hard growths, which might have been shell or scale, none any larger than a silver dollar, had a prominent spiral shape to it. As much as he could tuck his hands into his pockets, he was unable to hide his face. He had no hair on his head, not even eyebrows or eyelashes, and the hard growths crusted his face like a terminal case of acne. Most strange and disconcerting of all was the fact that his pale skin was translucent enough that one could see shadows of his skeleton, his teeth and the tongue in his mouth.

Yeah, that’s bound to draw some gazes.


“As you can see,” Gregor said, without any affectation, “It would be hard for me to walk into a store and make simple purchases. I do not like to rely on my friends for this.

Yep, looks like it was a misdirection. So what did you have the teen buy for you?

Makes me feel indebted to them, and this is not good for friendships. If you are interested in repeating this sort of transaction, being on call to run errands for me for a time, it could be arranged.”

Hm. Gregor seems to have a rather particular way of speaking. For instance, the phrase “and this is not good for friendships”, and the way he hasn’t used a contraction yet despite plenty of opportunities to.

“Really?” the guy rubbed his chin, “For how long?”

“Until I called and you were unable or unwilling to run my errand. If this happened more than once, or if the reason was not good, I would find someone else, as I did with the last individual.”

Seems reasonable.

“You didn’t hurt him or anything?”

“No. I did not. He decided he would rather spend the evening with his girlfriend. I have not called him again.”

I mean, what was he supposed to say? “Honey, I just have to go buy something for a snail man, I’ll be right back. Just keep watching the movie.”

“This won’t be anything illegal?”

“No. No drugs, no prostitutes, no weapons.”

“So you call me, I run out and grab you groceries, or clothes, or take-out, or shampoo, or whatever, and you pay me three-”

“That is four.

That’s a damn good deal you’ve got there. And Gregor appears to be pretty rich. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re on a team of criminal mercenaries and doing a good job.

And I do not have hair, so you would not need to concern yourself with shampoo.”

“Right. Sorry.

Hehe.

So, four hundred dollars each time? What’s the catch?”

Ah, four hundred, not thousand. Still a fantastic deal for the kid. No wonder he’s asking about a catch.


“No catch. I have money, I like things to be convenient. Only one small chance of trouble. My first assistant, she quit because she was concerned that my enemies would use her to get to me. I will not deny this is possible.”

“You have enemies?”

I suppose this is a real risk, yeah. Granted, this kind of behavior is established as looked down on by the cape community as a whole, at least when it’s involving family, but maybe it doesn’t apply to assistants. Also, we do have some people around who don’t care what the cape community looks down on.

“Yes. But there has not been a case yet where any of my assistants ran into trouble with them.”

“Have any of them run into trouble at all?”

“The last assistant, the boy with the girlfriend. He thought he could get more money, because he could go to the police and tell them what he knew about me.

Oh boy. What happened to him then?

He was lucky to try this when I was in a generous mood. I dissuaded him. He worked for me for two months after that with no complaint. We were not friendly, it was pure business. I would recommend, gently, that you not try the same thing.”

I wonder if “dissuaded” involved simply this kind of matter-of-fact talking, or something more… violent.

Whatever happened, it was enough for Gregor to count it as the assistant “running into trouble”.


“Hey. Live and let live, right?”

“That is a good saying.”

Yeah, it’s nice.

“Okay. I’m wanting to go to college this fall, and this is sounding a hell of a lot better than working minimum wage for fifty hours a week. Here, my cell phone number,” he handed over his phone.

Gregor the Snail took a second to put the number in his own phone. “I have it. I will call.”

They parted ways.

Pleasure doing business.

If Gregor is always this business-minded, he’ll fit right into Faultline’s crew.

Ooh, I just realized, if we’re following Gregor, there’s a pretty decent chance we’ll run into Newter (and maybe Labyrinth, Spitfire and/or Faultline) along the way, depending on what Gregor is up to next.

Gregor walked down the side streets of downtown Brockton Bay with the hood of his sweatshirt casting his face in shadow. Anyone who happened to cross his path and look beneath his hood were quick to glance away. Embarrassed, spooked. Those that saw him from a distance knew him as monstrous as well, but in a different way. To them, he was simply one of the morbidly obese.

Fatphobia or commentary on fatphobia? Hard to tell, considering we get seemingly fatphobic comments from Taylor every once in a while too. But Taylor’s comments reflect what the Harpies have drilled into her head, and Gregor’s narration is commenting on how other people, flawed people, society as a whole, see him.

A man in his late twenties or early thirties, nearly three times the weight he should be for his five feet and ten inches of height. His weight, he knew, was one of the rare things in this modern world that someone could use to mock him openly.

Hm, gonna count this as evidence in favor of this being social commentary, not direct fatphobia on Wildbow’s part.

It had taken him years to come to peace with this. With being one of the monsters.

In more than one way.


As he came to his destination, the throbbing pulse of music reached his ears.

I’m actually surprised he has ears.

The club sat two blocks away from Lord Street, and there was a line extending around the side of the building. Glowing yellow letters in an almost intentionally plain script spelled out ‘Palanquin’.

Ooh, that’s a neat name for a club. I like it.

(I do know what a palanquin is, thanks to Steven Universe.)

He skipped the line and headed straight for the front door. A burly Hispanic doorman with a beard tracing the edges of his jaw undid the chain fence to let him through.

I guess Gregor is a regular. Maybe so regular he practically lives here. This might be where Faultline’s hideout is.

“What the hell?” one of the girls near the front of the line complained, “We’ve been waiting for forty five minutes and you let that fat fuck through like that?”

“Out of the line,” the doorman said, his voice bored.

“The hell? Why?”

“You just dissed the owner’s brother, fuckwit,” the doorman told her, “Out of the line. You and your friends are banned.”

Niice.


Gregor smiled and shook his head. The line the doorman had pulled was bullshit, of course, he wasn’t the owner’s brother. But it was nice to see one of the assholes getting what was coming to them.

Ah, I see. My “Niice” still stands, though, because it was more about that last part.

He had worked as a bouncer for clubs that wanted someone more exotic and attention-getting, way back when he was first getting on his feet, so he knew that the line you saw out the door was rarely an indication of how many people were inside.

Huh.

An empty club could have a line of people waiting to get in, to give the right image. Even though it was a Tuesday night, Palanquin had no such need for such deceptions. It bustled with people.

I suppose that makes sense, though I’d probably pass by a club with a long line myself. But then again I’m not exactly a socialite or party animal.

Gregor carefully navigated the crowd of dancers and people holding drinks, until he reached a stairwell guarded by a bouncer. As with the front door, his admittance to the stairs was automatic, unquestioned.

Yeah, he may not be the owner’s brother, but the staff definitely knows him.

The upstairs balcony wasn’t filled with people, and those that were present, a dozen or so, were almost boneless in their lethargy. Mostly girls, they lay prone on couches and in booths throughout the balcony that overlooked the dance floor. Only three people were more or less alert as Gregor approached.

“Gregor, my boy!” Newter grinned from ear to ear.

Hiii!

I’m willing to bet the other two are Spitfire and… probably not Labyrinth, so Faultline.


Gregor caught the briefest flash of disgust on the face of one of the girls sitting with Newter, as she looked at him. She was a blonde with blue lipstick and pink highlights in her hair. Had Gregor been working as the doorman, he would have checked her ID, double checked it, then even if it did look real, he would have kicked her out anyways for being too young. She couldn’t have been older than sixteen.

To be fair, it is entirely plausible for someone to have a power that happens to make them look a little younger, but that’s gonna be very much an exception. And also a smack in the face for Gregor.

Still, that was roughly how old Newter was, and he could hardly fault the boy for being interested in someone his own age.

Yeah, fair.

The other girl, dark haired, had a European cast to her features. She showed no such distaste. When she smiled up at him, there was no sign the expression was forced. That was both rare and interesting.

Nice. 🙂

“I brought your dinner,” Gregor said.

“Good man! Pull up a chair!”

“The others will want their food as well.”

“Pull up a chair, come on. I’ve got two stunning girls here, and they’re not believing me when I’m telling them about some of the cooler jobs we’ve pulled. I need backup here, bro.”

I like the relationship Gregor and Newter seem to have so far, though it kind of looks like Newter is… overacting. Either that or showing a different side of himself from the one we saw in the raid. Probably because he’s trying to impress the girls.

“I do not think it is a good idea to be talking about these things,” Gregor said. He stayed standing.

He does have a point. Enemies could use the information against the crew.

Newter reached for the bag and grabbed a sandwich from inside. “It’s cool. Faultline joined the conversation a while ago, so she’s obviously okay with it. You aren’t going to tell, right, Laura? Mary?”

Each girl shook her head as Newter asked them by name. That let Gregor label the dark haired girl as Laura and the girl with the blue lipstick as Mary.

Sure, because lying isn’t a thing.

“If Faultline said it was fine.” Gregor said. He took the bag back from Newter and found his own sandwich. “Laura and Mary, I am sorry, the other sandwiches I have here are spoken for. I could offer you some of my own, if you would like.”

“That’s okay, I’m not hungry,” Laura replied, “I like your accent. Is it Norwegian?”

Ayyy

He doesn’t sound particularly Norwegian to me, he’s just generically alien-sounding, but I guess it could work.

Gregor finished his first bite, swallowed, and shook his head, “I am not sure. But I have spoken to an expert and he says the other language I speak is Icelandic.”

That’s… interesting. Why would Gregor not know what the other language he knows how to speak is? Did he lose his memory at some point, possibly due to his trigger event? Or maybe learn Icelandic at a very young age and then get abandoned before he started making solid memories?


“You don’t know?”

“No,” Gregor replied.

His brusque answer only stalled the conversation for a moment before Newter got it going again, “Okay, bro, tell these girls who we went up against last month.”

I guess we’re not getting more details on the language thing for now.

“The toybox job?” Gregor asked, “With the Tinker black market? There was nobody-”

“The other one. The job in Philadelphia.”

In west Philadelphia born and raised
On the playground was where I spent most of my days
Chillin’ out maxin’ relaxin’ all cool
And all shootin some b-ball outside of the school
When a couple of guys who were up to no good
Started making trouble in my neighborhood
I got in one little fight and my mom got scared
She said “You’re movin’ with your auntie and uncle in Bel Air”

“Ah. Chevalier and Myrddin.”

Newter clapped his hands together, rocking back in his seat, “Told you!”

“And you beat them,” the dark haired girl said, disbelieving.

“We didn’t lose!” Newter crowed.

Hehe. What does not losing entail in this case? 😛

So, we’ve got a couple names!

Chevalier… that’s like a French cavalry knight, right? I’m guessing this one has powers involving horses or something like that, and maybe a knightly theme.

Myrddin is the old Welsh/Gaelic name for Merlin, if I remember correctly. A knight and a wizard seems like a good team.


“It was a close call,” Gregor added his own two cents. “Chevalier is leader of Protectorate in Philadelphia. Myrddin leads Protectorate of Chicago. These are people whole world recognizes.

Oh wow, what a team-up. No wonder “not losing” qualifies as a success.

They got positions protecting big cities in America because they are strong, because they are smart and talented. We got the job done, as we always do, and we walked away.”

It’s not always about beating the enemy in a fight.

Newter laughed, “Pay up.”

Neither Laura nor Mary looked bothered as they reached into their pocket and purse, respectively, and fished out some bills.

“What was the bet?” Gregor asked.

“I told them they didn’t have to pay if I was lying.”

Heh.

“And if you weren’t lying? They pay more?”

“No penalty. I got company and conversation for a while,” Newter smiled.

Seems like a good bet to me.

He reached up to the back of the booth, grabbed a bag that sat there, and fished out a pair of plastic spoons and a bottle of water. With a water dropper he retrieved from his pocket, he siphoned water from the bottle and placed a few drops in each spoon. The final step was dipping the tip of his tongue in each drop of water.

…because of course he’s selling his spit as drugs.

Of course.

“Lick it up,” he told the girls.

“That’s all?” Laura asked him.

“It’s enough. Any more and you might be out for an inconveniently long time. That right there,” Newter pointed to the spoon with the tip of his tail, “Is a little less than an hour of psychadelic tripping.

He’s done this enough to measure precisely.

No hangover, no side effects, it’s not addictive, and you can’t overdose on it. Trust me, I’ve tried to make someone overdose before, combat situation, and I couldn’t make it happen.”

That’s pretty handy, unless you’re actually trying for a kill, like Newter apparently was.


Mary was the first to take the spoon and pop it into her mouth. Moments later, her eyes went wide, and she fell limp against the back of the booth.

“Hey,” Laura said, turning to Gregor. She reached into her pocket, found a receipt and a pen, and scribbled on the blank backside of the paper. She handed it to him. “My number. If you want to talk, or, you know, something else.”

She winked at him, then popped the spoon into her mouth.

Yeah, good call doing that before using the drugs.

I guess Laura is into the idea of fucking a snail man. Hey, no kinkshaming from me.

Gregor blinked in a mild confusion as her head lolled back.

“Looks like you made a good impression, Gregster,” Newter chuckled.

“Maybe,” Gregor said.

Gregor isn’t used to this at all, that much is obvious.

(Heh, “Gregster”.)

He put the half of his sandwich that remained back in the paper bag, then balled up the wrapper. After a moment’s hesitation, he crumpled the receipt with Laura’s number into the ball. He pitched it to a trash can halfway across the room.

Laura, muttering in her psychedelic trance: “mhm i’ll tk that as a noom”

Maybe Gregor identified it as fetishization of his condition, and didn’t want anything to do with that.

“Hey! What gives?”

“I do not think she liked me because I am me,” Gregor said, “I think she liked me because I am a monster.”

Exactly. Laura hardly knew Gregor for long enough to know who he is at all, only what he is.

“I think you’re sabotaging yourself, man. She’s hot. Look at her.”

Gregor did. She was attractive. He sighed.

On the outside, at least.

“Newter, do you know what a devotee is?”

Newter shook his head.

“It is a slang term for someone who is attracted to people with disabilities, because of the disability.

It sounds like Wildbow has been doing his research before writing about this phenomenon.

I think it is about power, attraction to someone because they are weak somehow. I think it likely that this Laura sees me as weak because of the way I look, the way I may have trouble day to day, and this is compelling to her in a similar way to how a cripple or a blind man might be to a devotee. This does not appeal to me.”

Makes a lot of sense. Being in a relationship with the “weakened” person would put the devotee in a position where they can be expected to take care of their disabled mate, and getting a power kick out of that. “He needs me. I’m important. I could dump him at a moment’s notice and it would ruin his life.”

“No way. Maybe she likes you because of the person underneath.”

Again, what the fuck does she know about the person underneath?


[End of session]


Actually, Wildbow is disabled himself, he’s hard of hearing.

Oh, interesting. Maybe he’s encountered some of these problems in person, then.

Y’know, I never should’ve assumed he wasn’t disabled. Even if he hadn’t been, that was a mistake, and I’m sorry.


craftycowboyenemy:

Bingo achieved. Your first use of the Harpies in Insinuation 2.3 filled the third row. Now to take those five markers off (and then put the Free Space one back on) and continue playing.

Nice! 😀


craftycowboyenemy:

Another bingo hit. Second column filled in the coverage of Insinuation 2.5.

Another bingo. Row 4 is filled as I’m sitting in the asks between Interlude 2 and Agitation 3.1

And because I didn’t clear out row 1 after getting Bingo in row 4, I get another Bingo halfway through 3.1.

Nice.

I think personally, I’d play it on a chapter by chapter basis (including the asks after each chapter), but it’s fun to hear how the board develops as you go along. 🙂


[Session 2]
Let’s get back to reading Interlude 5!


“She did not see enough of me to know who that person might be,” Gregor replied.

Exactly.

“I think you’re doing yourself a disservice. I’d jump on that opportunity.”

Newter is a bit shallow. He doesn’t seem to care much about the emotions involved in romance, only the appearance (and perhaps presumed sexual prowess) of the potential mate.

Shallow Newt wants a… gewt… no, never mind, that doesn’t work at all.

“You are a stronger person than I in many ways, Newter. I should bring the others their dinner,” Gregor turned to leave.

Ehh, not sure this really qualifies as a measure of strength, in any sense of the word.

“Hey, signal Pierce downstairs to send another girl or two up, will ya?”

Gregor did as he was asked, getting the attention of the bouncer at the foot of the stairs. The bouncer, in turn, got the attention of a set of girls on the dance floor.

While the girls made their way up, Gregor turned to Newter, “Are you happy?”

Hm. Newter might hear “are you happy right now”, but I think Gregor means more generally, and more broadly.

“Oh man. You’re not going into a philosophical phase again, are you?”

“I will spare you that. Are you?”

Eh, I still might’ve been half right.

“Dude. Look at me. I have money to burn, I’ve got the hottest girls in the city begging to get a taste of me. Literally wanting to taste me! What do you think?”

“You are happy, then?”

“Time of my life, bro.” Newter opened his arms wide to greet a trio of girls as they reached the top of the stairs.

If you say so. If you mean it, then good for you! If that’s what it takes for you to be happy, then who am I to judge?


“I am glad.” Gregor turned and entered the hallway at the back of the balcony. As the door sealed shut behind him, the pounding of the music behind him dimmed.

If this were a visual medium, this is where the shot would linger on Newter for a couple seconds after the door shut so the audience could watch his smile slightly fade, before cutting back to Gregor.

Unless of course he is happy like that. Despite all the persistent morals in our popular culture about how living like Newter isn’t the key to true happiness, it’s a real possibility. People are different; why shouldn’t also the key to true happiness for each of them be different?

His next stop was the first door on his left. He knocked.

“Come in.”

The bedroom had a bed on each side, in opposite corners.

Now who lives here? Faultline?

Or maybe Spitfire? We haven’t really met Spitfire yet, so this would be a nice opportunity to do so.

One side of the room was cluttered with posters, pictures, a bookshelf overflowing with books, an Apple computer with two CD racks towering above it, and two speaker systems. The music from the computer speakers only barely managed to drown out the music from the club downstairs. The girl who was lying back on the bed had a dense covering of freckles on her face and hands, and curly brown hair. Magazines were piled in stacks around her on the bed, threatening to topple over at the slightest movement.

This sounds like a very nice room. Cluttered, sure, but neatly organized is far from my definition of a nice room. If anything, the clutter is part of the charm.

The other side of the room was spartan. Nothing adorned the walls, there were no books, no computer or computer paraphernalia. There was a bed, a bedside table and a dresser. The only character whatsoever was a colorful bedspread and pillowcase. Gregor knew it had been a gift from Faultline.

Ooh, roommates.

See, this part is far less nice. It lacks personality, except for the personality conveyed ironically by a lack of personality in one’s bedroom decorations.

The owner wouldn’t have gone out to get it herself. The resident of that side of the room was seated in the corner, staring into the wall. She was blonde, the sort of platinum white-blond hair that rarely lasted through puberty. Her royal purple sweater was slightly too large for her, drooping over her hands, and her pale jeans were clearly intended to be more comfortable than fashionable.

I can relate to comfort over fashion, at least.

Also what’cha staring into the wall for? Is this Labyrinth? I guess it makes sense that she wouldn’t bother to decorate in this world.

“I brought your dinner, Emily.”

“Thanks,” the freckled girl answered him. She caught the sandwich he threw to her and began to peel open the package.

Nom.

By the way, freckles, A+.


“Is she okay?” he asked, gesturing to the girl in the corner.

“Not one of her better days.”

He nodded.

“Elle,” he spoke, gently, “May I come closer?”

Definitely Labyrinth.

I’m not quite sure if Emily is Faultline or Spitfire, yet. Did Faultline have brown hair and freckles? I don’t remember.

They had learned the hard way, that the more distant the girl was, the stronger her power. This made her particularly dangerous when she was so lost that she might not recognize him.

Ouch, that’s not good.

This does make sense, though I think it’s likely more accurate to put it the other way around. Her power was said to be the source of her distant nature, so I could see her being more distant when her power is at its strongest.

Hang on. Fluctuating power strength? We didn’t get an explanation in Hive for Taylor’s power being twice as powerful as normal; maybe it’s related to this.

Cruel irony, Gregor observed, that she had virtually no power at all when she was most herself. It was a problem they hoped to find an answer to, someday.

Now, back during the Oni Lee fight, Labyrinth seemed relatively lucid, though I don’t have a clear baseline yet. What this tells me is that she is often way more powerful than what we’ve seen so far.

The girl in the corner turned to meet his eyes. He took that for consent, approached her, and pressed a sandwich into her hands.

“Eat,” he instructed her.

She did, almost mechanical in her movements.

At least she’s lucid enough to get some food in at the moment. That’s good.

After Faultline had enlisted him and Newter, a job had taken them into a high security asylum.

“out of that place”! Called it.

They had been there to question someone about the Dragonslayers, a villain group that used tinker technology stolen from the most powerful and highest profile tinker in the world for petty theft and mercenary work.

Oooh, interesting. That’s a fun thing about Tinkers, you can practically steal the use of their powers.

Although apparently the most powerful and highest profile Tinker in the world is either not worth a damn [WordPress link], doesn’t care, or is actively providing the Dragonslayers with equipment under the guise of having it stolen from them.


Also I find the lack of a name for this powerful Tinker suspicious.


Their invasion of the asylum had not gone as well as it might have, and had led to a high-tech lockdown of the facility. Not only did it extend their mission by several hours, but it had led to issues with one of the residents, a parahuman that apparently had to be moved regularly, lest her influence over her surroundings spread beyond the confines of her cell, making her a serious problem for the staff, other residents and unwitting bystanders.

Man, asylums in a world full of parahumans must be a handful to run.

In the end, after dealing with the dispatched squad from the Boston Protectorate and getting the information they needed about the Dragonslayers, they had recruited the girl.

Boston, Philadelphia… the Crew gets around, huh.

He watched and waited long enough to ensure she was on her way to finishing her sandwich, then turned to leave. Emily gave him a small wave of the hand in goodbye, and he nodded once in acknowledgment.

His final stop was the office at the end of the second floor hallway. He peered in the window, then let himself in as quietly as he could.

Faultline, owner of Palanquin and several other cover businesses across Brockton Bay, was seated at a large oak desk.

So that means Emily was Spitfire, then. Got it.

In front of her, in the midst of ledgers, notebooks and university textbooks, was something that looked similar to a xylophone, a series of rods lined up next to one another, strapped tight to a board.

Hmm.

Faultline was in her professional clothes; a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and black slacks tucked into shiny black riding boots with steel toes.

At least this outfit makes some sense. 😛


Her wavy black hair was tied back in a ponytail. She wore no mask – those employees of Palanquin who ventured as far as this office were too well paid to turn on her.

Hm. Maybe so, but it seems like a mercenary’s fallacy, to believe that everyone else also only cares about money. Could be her downfall someday.

Her features were perhaps too sharp to be called conventionally attractive, but Gregor knew she was certainly more attractive than Newter or himself.

I dunno, I guess it depends what you’re looking for. For one thing, I think a lot of people would be very attracted to a newt man without involving the drug sweat or the devotee factor from earlier. What can I say, orange skin and a tail is hot to some people.

As Gregor watched, she closed her eyes, then swiped her hand across the top ends of the rods. Red and blue energy crackled, and coin-shaped pieces of wood, metal, stone and plastic fell to the desktop. Other rods, several of which were green wood, were untouched.

…interesting.

I’ve speculated on Faultline’s power involving the creation of earthquakes, or more generally vibrations. Maybe she’s calibrating it to the resonance frequencies of each of the rods, or something like that.

The red and blue energy and coin-shaped pieces don’t seem to really match that hypothesis, though. Maybe it’s more like cutting through things at their weak points?

“Fuck,” she muttered. She swept the coin shaped bits of various materials into a trash can that sat beside her desk. Glancing up at where Gregor stood just inside the doorway, she raised one eyebrow.

It does seem like she’s trying and failing to make it affect the green wood and whatever else the remaining rods consist of.


“I did not wish to interrupt you.”

“Don’t worry about it. Maybe distracting me will help.”

“If you are sure.” He approached the desk, setting the paper bag down on it, “It was seven o’clock, nobody had eaten yet. I got us some sandwiches.”

“Thank you. How’s Elle?”

“Spitfire said she was having a bad day, but she has eaten now. Perhaps tomorrow will be better.”

Faultline sighed, “Let’s hope.

Maybe getting some more energy in your body will help you with your power.

It’s very easy to let yourself grow attached to that girl, know what I mean?”

“Yes.”

“Fuck!” she swore, as she swiped her hand over the rods and, again, the green wood refused to be cut.

“What are you doing?”

Seriously, though, why green wood?

Is… color involved somehow? Red and blue energy can’t cut green? Ehh, doesn’t seem likely.

“We’ve talked about the Manton effect.”

Ohh. She can’t cut the green wood because it’s organic. But then why could she cut the other wood?

“The rule that prevents some powers from affecting living things. You have been trying to remove such restrictions from yourself.”

“Without luck. It’s a matter of time before we’re on a job, things come down to the wire, and I’m too weak, because of this arbitrary limitation.”

Seriously, Faultline overcoming the Manton effect sounds terrifying. Just, red and blue energy crackles and a slice of her enemy’s body falls down on the ground.

“I find it hard to believe that anyone who has toppled a building on someone could call themselves weak.”

“That was luck more than anything else,” she sighed, as she adjusted the positions of the rods.

I suppose the Manton effect might get involved while cutting buildings and such, similar to how it makes it harder for Vista to affect space with people inside. But the Vista example makes more sense, as the power would naturally directly affect anyone inside the space she warps.

“If you say so.”

“It’s not like there isn’t precedent for this. We know for a fact that some capes who were once held back by the Manton effect have figured out a way around it, or past it. Narwhal being the most obvious case.”

“Yes.”

I think this has been mentioned before. Like, specifically with Narwhal being brought up in passing. Either way, it was very relevant in 4.10, with Bakuda accidentally bypassing the Manton effect with bomb 227.

Also, it’s obviously not what his power is, but I can’t help but imagine Narwhal as just some dude with a sword for a nose.


“There’s a school of theory that says that the Manton effect is a psychological block. That, because of our empathy for living things, we hold back our powers on an instinctual level.

But then why would the reverse be true? As Bakuda said, one of the formulations is that the powers work either not on organic things, or on nothing but organic things. Granted, none of the powers we’ve seen on the organic side are actually applicable to anything else.

Also, I guess what Faultline’s doing here disproves the idea that it’s about organic vs non-organic. She cut the regular wood without issue, and that’s just as organic as the green wood, which I guess counts as still alive for whatever decides this.

Which, if Faultline’s right, would be her own perception that it’s alive. Maybe overcoming the psychological block in this case would involve pretending the green wood isn’t alive?

Or, maybe, we hold back against other living things because there is a subconsciously imposed limitation that prevents us from hurting ourselves with our own powers, and it’s too general, encompassing other living things instead of only ourselves.”

“I see.”

Hm… I mean, this would absolutely make sense, at least if the powers had had time to evolve naturally. They didn’t, though – there are currently only two generations known to have powers, and a clear divide between them indicating that the first of the two probably is the first, not just the descendants of parahumans who kept it from the public.

“So I’m trying to trick my brain. With this setup, I move from inorganic material to dead organic material to living tissues. Green wood, in this case. Or I mix it up so it goes from one to the other without any pattern.

Ahh, I see. She’s trying to rely on the momentum of using the power on inorganic matter.

If I can trick my brain into slipping up, anticipating the wrong material, maybe I can push through that mental block. Do that once, and it’d be easier for future tries. That’s the theory, anyways.”

I mean, it’s not a bad plan,

She tried again. “Fuck!”

“It does not seem to be working.”

though… exactly.


“No kidding. Do me a favor. Rearrange these. Don’t let me see them.”

Maybe go so far as to wear a blindfold? Though that might just make her unable to affect any of the rods, since her brain goes “shit, I don’t know what is living and what isn’t, I can’t do this”.

He approached the desk, unstrapped the rods, shuffled them, and then strapped them in place while she sat there with her eyes closed.

Not a blindfold, but close enough.

“Go,” he told her.

She tried again, eyes still closed. When she opened them, she cussed a few times in a row.

Ah, didn’t work, huh. Did any of them break at all?

Gregor stepped around the desk, grabbed her by the throat with his left hand, and pulled her out of the chair.

Woah, what?

Do you have something, uh, against swearing?

He shoved her to the ground and climbed atop of her so he was straddling her, his knees pressing her arms down. His grip tightened incrementally.

…maybe he’s trying to psyche her into using the power on him?

Faultline’s eyes widened and her face began to turn colors as she struggled. She brought her knees up into his back, but one might have had more success hitting a waterbed. The effect was the same.

Sploosh.

Beneath his skin, which was tougher than one might guess, his skeleton, muscles and organs all sat in a sea of viscous fluids. His skeleton, he’d learned, was more like a shark’s than a human’s. It was a flexible cartilage that bent where bone would break, and healed faster than bone. He’d been hit by a car and climbed to his feet shortly after. Her kicks would not have much effect.

Pretty good tank right there.

“I am sorry,” he told her.

Her struggles gradually became weaker. It took some time before she started to go limp.

He waited a second longer, then released her. She sputtered into a cough as she heaved air into her lungs.

“MAN WHAT THE FUCK.”


He waited patiently for her to recover. When she looked more or less in control of her own breathing, he spoke, “Months ago, we were talking about this subject, the Manton effect. You mentioned how it might be possible for someone like us to have a second trigger event. A radical change or improvement in their powers as a result of a life or death moment. Such might explain how one broke the Manton rule.”

That’s… huh. Very interesting.

So Gregor was just trying to instigate a second trigger event for Faultline. Damn.

She nodded, coughing again.

“It would not have worked if I had warned you in advance. I am sorry.”

She shook her head, coughed once, then answered him, her voice hoarse, “It didn’t work anyways.”

“I’m sorry.”

Yeah, no, didn’t think so.

“What if it had worked, you big lunatic? What did you expect me to do to you? Cut off your hand? Kill you?”

“I thought perhaps my hand or my arm, at worst. I do not think you would kill me, even in a moment such as that. You have done much for me. Even if it proved impossible to reattach, I would not say it is a very attractive hand,”

Pfft.

he examined the hand he’d just used to strangle Faultline, “To lose it, for something you have been working on for a long time is not a regrettable thing.”

Kinda sweet, really. Gregor is essentially saying “I’d gladly give my arm to help you.”

Also, this kind of loyalty is part of why “I’m paying them too much for them to betray me” is flawed, if your lackeys happen to have this kind of loyalty to your enemies.


“Idiot,” she pulled herself to her feet, coughing again, “How the hell am I supposed to get pissed at you when you say something like that?”

He stayed silent.

Hehe.

“Well, either that’s not going to work, or I need something that gets me even closer to death… in which case I’m scratching it off the list anyways.”

Yeeah, I don’t think Gregor could’ve taken it much further and still had you getting up this quickly.

She moved her chair and sat down at her desk, shoving the apparatus with the rods into the trash. “I like being alive too much to dance on that razor’s edge.”

“Yes,” his voice was quiet.

Being alive is nice.

(Another point against “I’m paying them too much for them to betray me.” That line of thinking is falling apart rapidly.)

“Thank you, by the way, for trying that” she told him, as she emptied the bag of one and a half sandwiches. She returned Gregor’s half-sandwich to the bag and put hers aside, unopened. “I don’t expect it was easy.”

He shook his head.

“So, returning a favor, then. Sit down.”

Let’s hope she chooses a different form for the repayment.

He pulled a chair over and sat on the other side of the desk.

“A year ago, you agreed to give me a share of your earnings in our little group, if I put them towards answering some questions we had.”

“I remember.”

Questions like “What is this language I can speak?”?

“I’ll talk to the others about this, soon, but since you were the one that paid the most, I thought it only right that I share with you first.”

I guess these are questions that matter to all of them, then.

Or at least multiple.

She opened a drawer and retrieved a file. She pushed it across the desk. “This is what I’ve found, so far.”

He opened the file. The first page was an image, high resolution, of a stylized ‘u’, or a ‘c’ turned ninety-degrees counter clockwise. He touched his upper arm, where a tattoo identical to the image marked him.

“Whoever it is,” Faultline explained, “Whether it’s one person or many, is very, very good at covering their tracks.”

…oh boy. It seems they didn’t get their matching tattoos [WordPress link] voluntarily. Whoever and whatever this is, it’s likely the reason Gregor didn’t remember that his other language was Icelandic.

I wonder if Labyrinth has one of these tattoos, or if it happened to the rest of them before they rescued her from the asylum.


He turned the pages. The next set of pages were pictures, crime scene reports, official files and news articles about various parahumans, each set of pages relating to a specific one. The first was a monster of a man with a beetle-like shell covering his body. Gregor himself was the second.

…hm. What if… what if Gregor, Newter and Beetle Bailey over here are results of some kind of experiment to create artificial parahumans by mixing mundane people with the traits of small animals?

(That actually sounds a bit familiar.)

“You and Newter, you already know, aren’t alone. On a steady basis, parahumans have been turning up across North America. Retrograde amnesia, all marked by that same tattoo as you are on various parts of their body.

Interesting. Also, I like that Wildbow/Faultline bothered to specify “retrograde”. Anterograde amnesia is arguably even more heartbreaking and much more debilitating in the long run, but a lot of people don’t know about it because retrograde is more interesting in fiction.

Each was dumped in an out of the way location in an urban area. Alleys, ditches, rooftops, under bridges.”

Why, though? Was the experiment not considered successful? If so, what are they actually trying to achieve?


“Yes.” Gregor turned more pages. Each set of pages had more individuals like him.

“Here’s the thing, though. At first, most were strange in appearance. As many as four out of five monstrous parahumans, if you’ll excuse the term, follow the pattern, and that number might increase if you got a chance to examine or get a decent interview with the others.

That’s very interesting. Either someone is making “monstrous” parahumans, or they’re targeting them. But in the latter case, there’d almost certainly be easily found records of these parahumans from before the point where their amnesia kicked in. If Gregor was already snaily before the Umegas got their hands on him, it shouldn’t be that hard to find out who he once was.

The tattoo, amnesia, their first memories are waking up somewhere in a strange city.”

“At first, you said?” Gregor asked, “This changed?”

“Turn to the red tab.”

Oh yeah… I guess maybe the Umegas are getting closer to making parahumans who appear mundane? Is that their goal, the reason they’re dumping the monstrous ones?

He found the red tab that stuck out and turned to that page. A high quality picture of an attractive redheaded girl.

Ooh.

“She showed up in Vegas. The whole casino thing has bitten the dust, pretty much, since parahumans who could game the odds or cheat started showing up.

Heh, nice. Reminds me of a certain Homestuck character with the ability to steal luck.

But there’s underground games, still. She participated in a few, and had a bounty on her head in a matter of days. She’s calling herself Shamrock, and I’d put good money on the fact that she’s got powers that let her manipulate probabilities.”

That’s a good name to go with that power.

“I see. Why are we talking about her?”

“Next page.”

He turned the page. “Ah.”

It was a grainy surveillance camera image. Shamrock was in the midst of changing clothes in what looked like an underground parking lot, and, though partially obscured by her bra strap, the tattoo was visible on her shoulderblade. A stylized ‘u’.

*throws Pokéball*

Shamrock! I choose ʊ!


In the process of fetching the ʊ character, Wikipedia informed me that Ʊ/ʊ is an actual letter in the classical Latin alphabet. It’s the Roman version of upsilon.

Upsilon is a much cooler placeholder name for this… whatever this is, than “Umegas”, so I’m gonna call it that from now on.

Hell, maybe that is actually what it’s called and that’s why Wildbow is using terms like “upside-down omega” even after the symbol has been described multiple times? (Even if he’d move on to call it upsilon eventually, “upside-down” omega is more recognizable and therefore more suited for use in the first description. Especially with Taylor narrating.)


“That’s puzzle piece number one. Given the dates, and you’re free to look them over in your own time, going by the first sightings, the people that are showing up with these tattoos are getting less and less monstrous with each passing year. Not always, but it’s a trend. Then, boom, we get Shamrock. No strange features to speak of.”

Very interesting indeed.

He turned ahead a few pages.

“Puzzle piece number two. I’m afraid it’s one of those cases where things have been covered up too well for us to verify, but I’ll tell you what I heard. Tallahassee, Florida, just three months ago, a rumor circulated about someone calling themselves the Dealer.”

“What was he dealing?”

We’ve had plenty of drugs already. Maybe this time it’s just cards?

“Powers.”

“Powers,” Gregor echoed her.

…shit.

See, this is the kind of power that can really shake things up. Metapowers, powers that affect powers. And out of all the metapowers there are, being able to give others powers is one of the most over, uh, powered ones.

(Also that’s one more Miraculous Ladybug parallel for the count! The main villain’s MO in Miraculous is handing out powers and making the recipients do his bidding.)


“Pay him an amount in the neighborhood of thirty five thousand dollars, the Dealer gives you something to drink, and you join the ranks of the heroes and villains in the cape community. Powers in a bottle.”

“I see. How does this relate?”

You’re taking this very calmly.

“Because one individual claiming to be a customer made a blog post about his transaction. It’s near the end of that file. In his post, he described the Dealer as having a metal suitcase filled with vials. Engraved on the inside of the lid…”

“The same symbol as the tattoo,” Gregor guessed.

Faultline nodded, “And that’s where we stand.”

This doesn’t quite explain why the parahumans end up dumped in a city with retrograde amnesia, though. Supposedly, this one individual was able to remember at least long enough to make a blog post, and there’s no mention yet of this person getting a tattoo.

Maybe it only happens when the resulting power leads to a monstrous parahuman?

Hm… does the Dealer determine the power while making the liquid, or is it essentially a replacement for a trigger event that unlocks the power already inside? There’s no apparent reason the latter should lead to monsters more often than a regular trigger event, though.


“I see. Can we track down this individual with the blog?”

“He’s dead. Murdered by two unnamed capes less than a day after he made the post.”

“Ah.”

Well, shit.

One thing is pretty clear: Ʊpsilon wants to stay secret.

“What I think is that someone out there has figured out how people get powers, and they’ve made a business out of it. But the first attempts didn’t go so well. It could be that, if the chemistry is bad, the people who drink the stuff become like you, like Newter, like Sybill and Scarab.”

Sounds about right.

“So this person, or people. You think they are experimenting. They have been refining their work, and the physical changes have become smaller.”

“And this Dealer was either their salesman, or more likely, someone who stole some of their work and tried to profit from it. The people he dealt to didn’t get the tattoos.”

Ah, yeah, makes sense. The Dealer may be dead now too. Ʊpsilon didn’t take kindly to his talkative customer, and I doubt they took kindly to him either.

Gregor’s chair groaned painfully as he leaned back.

“What is next?”

“No one’s seen or heard of this Dealer since the blog poster was murdered. The Dealer’s either dead or gone to ground.

Considering the blog poster was essentially a beacon saying “hey, Ʊpsilon, the thief is over here”… yeah.

So we follow our other lead. I’ve got private investigators looking for Shamrock. I’m thinking we wrap up our contract with Coil, here, then, if we’re lucky enough that our PIs find her before the bounty hunters do, we pay her a visit. Either she can tell us something, or we can offer her a position on the team.”

“Or both,” he said.

Nice.


“In an ideal world,” Faultline smiled.

Doesn’t seem like she finds it particularly likely.


End of Interlude 5

Well, that was very interesting.

We got to know Gregor. We got to see Newter’s shallow side. We got some nice commentary on fatphobia and ableism, and on how disabilities can affect people differently (I didn’t talk about it during the scene, but it’s not lost on me that Newter is way better off despite being just as much a “monster” as Gregor). We got some fascinating theories on the Manton effect.

But most importantly, it seems, we were introduced to Ʊpsilon, a mysterious and secretive organization that’s the source of most monstrous parahumans, as well as some less monstrous ones in more recent years. Someone’s found out how to make power potions, which is huge, and they’re very much unwilling to share their secrets with the world.

Y’know, Interludes like this one really help to make the world feel like there are lots of stories going on at once. This Interlude’s focus character was chosen by poll – it could’ve easily been someone with no connection to Ʊpsilon, in which case Wildbow would presumably not introduce the concept at this point. That makes me wonder if Ʊpsilon is actually relevant to Taylor’s story, the story we follow outside the Interludes, in any way other than as backstory for parts of Faultline’s crew. Yet the concept is still part of the world now, and could spawn a lot of stories about Faultline’s crew that are completely removed from Taylor’s.

Things like this quite simply make it seem like the entire world consists of people whose stories span far beyond the narrative we’re seeing through Taylor’s eyes. It makes it feel like every character has a life, a story, a personality… that everything is real.

It also sends the fanfic potential for this setting through the roof…

Anyway, here’s Wonderwall.

See ya in Arc 6!


[postscript]

So as I laid down to try to sleep, I decided I wanted to listen to “How Soon Is Now” with Love Spit Love (originally by The Smiths, but I personally prefer the LSL version)… and partway through the song I realized why it had come to mind tonight of all nights.

I present to you, the theme of Gregor the Snail.

(#the lsl version is the intro melody to the series charmed

#which is why these fine witches are in the background staring at you throughout the song)

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3 thoughts on “Interlude 5: Not Much, What’s Upsilon With You?

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