Buzz 7.3: Bug Girl, Literal Edition

Source material: Worm, Buzz 7.3

Originally blogged: October 13, 2017


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Other impersonation with with an bad, the while otherwise Krixwell Sirius. Is and out going!


Wait, are intro posts supposed to make sense? Hang on.


Buzz 7.3

Hey, Tumblr, Krixwell here! Blogs, liveblogs, lives… okay no, I can’t keep up a Vsauce impersonation past this point, never mind. Point is I’m back to liveblog some more Worm!

So, last time, Taylor and Rachel helped clear out heartworm in an undermedicated dog named Sirius. Then Taylor left to get some food while Rachel took care of Sirius, and I was left with the question: Will this chapter start with the lunch trip or when Taylor comes back? If it’s the former, I have a feeling something bad, or at least noteworthy, is going to happen on the trip… otherwise it’s back to Taylor and Rachel and the dogs.

Other than that, I don’t really have much of an idea where this chapter will be heading… I guess it’ll just have to dive into it and find out!


It’s Friday the 13th as I’m reading this, by the way… let’s hope that doesn’t somehow bring bad luck to Taylor in this chapter. 😉


I was nervous, returning to Bitch’s spot with lunch in hand.

Okay, good, nothing important happened on the lunch run. Probably.

It may have seemed silly of me to worry that something would, but it’s genuinely a direction the story could’ve taken. It wasn’t the most likely one, but possible enough to be worth considering.

It wasn’t just that I’d left her alone with an uncontrollable beast composed almost entirely of fangs, nails, bone and muscle.  It was that it was lunchtime.

Ohh boy. It’s a notably social situation when you do it together.

Between countless run-ins with the bullies, getting in contact with the Undersiders and the bank robbery, it felt like stuff seemed to go down around noon.

Honestly, yeah, that’s a fair assessment by this point.

A lot of the events in this story so far would typically happen in the evening or at night if they were placed in most other works, but that’s not how Wildbow rolls, it seems.


I was relieved when I got back and there wasn’t any carnage.

“Oh good, my teammate and friend? isn’t dead.”

But yeah, that is good.

A dozen or so dogs greeted me, many poking their noses into the paper bag I held.

D’aw.

I navigated my way through them to Bitch, who was sitting on a pallet of concrete blocks by the open back wall.  Sirius was lying beside her with his head on her lap.

“Food?” I offered.

Seems Taylor is getting better at moving through the dog swarm.

Should she be offering the food, or does that come across to Rachel as a sign of submission?

She reached down, so I got a chicken souvlaki wrap and a coke out of the bag and handed them up to her.

Eh, looks fine.

As she peeled the paper away from one end of the wrap, I found myself a spot to sit on a part of the wall where it was incomplete or damaged.  The weather had worn at the concrete blocks, and some greenery had managed to grow in the cracks, making for a not entirely uncomfortable seat.

I wonder just how old this building actually is. It seems like the work on it may have been abandoned when things started going downhill for the Docks, but I don’t recall if I know exactly when that happened.

Outside, behind the building, there was a field of uncut grass surrounded by chain link fence.  As they lost interest in the food, dogs wandered out there, chasing one another or baiting others into playing, trampling that long grass flat enough that we could see them.  The view of their playing was accompanied by a soundtrack of endless barks and snarls.

bork! :ÅD

Hm… this kind of feels like a transition into a quiet conversation with Rachel.


A white dog with a nub of a tail and chestnut colored patches on its body and over its ears approached me, sitting to stare at me as I took my first bite of my wrap.

Or maybe to this adorableness! :3

I swallowed, and I told the dog,  “No.  This is too good to share, and it probably wouldn’t be good for you anyways.”

The dog cocked its head quizzically.

“Too good to share” – nice reason right there 😛

What is Taylor eating, anyway? Another chicken souvlaki, maybe?

“You are awfully pretty, though,” I told it.

I heard a scoffing noise from Bitch’s direction.  I turned her way just in time to see her glance away.

“What?”

Hm. Does she just not value prettiness in dogs (this would be in keeping with her usual attitude)? Is there something in what makes Taylor say this that Rachel can tell is actually a symbol of abuse? Or maybe she’s reminded of her disdain for dog owners who value prettiness over the health and thriving of the dog?


“You should never own a dog.”

That was fairly harsh, especially coming from her.  “What are you basing this on?”

Hm. Sounds like the third option.

“Most dog owners are retards, and the most retarded are the ones who pick a dog because it’s cute, or because its pretty, without knowing anything about the breed, the temperament, the dog’s needs.”

Yep, it was that one. Fair enough.

I sighed, “Fuck off, Rache.  I can say it’s a pretty dog without saying I’m going to take it home.”

Yeah. How is Rachel going to take this, though?

“Whatever,” she didn’t take her eyes off the dogs in the back field.

“No, don’t brush me off.  You want to start something, fine.  But if you do, you gotta hear what I have to say.  Listen to what I have to say.  Acknowledge me, damn it.”

Hm, yes, this assertiveness might get her attention.

She turned to glance at me.  She wasn’t frowning or glaring, but her gaze was so dispassionate it made me uncomfortable.

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“Come on, you know me pretty well.  All the others describe me as careful and cautious, though I’m not entirely sure why.  Do you really think I’d pick something as important as a dog, a new addition to my family, without researching, first?”

That’s a really good point. Taylor gathers all the information she can before she does anything – of course she’d do her research.

She didn’t reply.  Instead, she turned her attention back to the dogs outside.

“Right,” I said.  “I wouldn’t.”

Yeah. Rachel can’t really argue with that.

I didn’t press things any further.  We finished our wraps, I dug one piece of the foil-wrapped baklava out of the bag, set it down on the paper from my wrap and bunched up the foil around the remainder to throw up to Bitch.

Since I’m not really familiar with Greek food, I just looked up both baklava and chicken souvlaki. They both look quite tasty, though I’m not sure I’d like baklava since it apparently contains nuts. Chicken souvlaki, on the other hand? I’m a big fan of chicken, and I think I’d really like to try this some day.

When I was done eating my dessert and licking my fingers clean, I hopped down from my seat on the wall, found a ball and started throwing it for the dogs.

Playtime!


“Here,” Bitch told me.  I turned around, and she handed me the blue stick that had been jutting out of the zipper of the backpack.  It was plastic, molded to have a handle with finger-holds on one end and a cup on the other.

Ooh! So it’s kind of like an arm extension so you can throw the ball further?

As a dog brought the ball to me, I experimentally pressed the cupped end down on it, and the ball snapped into place.

When I whipped it forward, the ball went flying, five times as far than it had when I’d used my hand.  Most of the dogs stampeded after it, racing to be the first to grab it or chasing after the ones in the lead.

Niiice.

It was nice, enjoying the sunshine, playing with the dogs, having no responsibilities or pressures for the moment.

I turned to look over my shoulder.  “Can you tell me about some of them?  The dogs?”

Yes please.

I’m aware this is probably headed into discussion of animal abuse, so not really happy fun time, but still, I do want to hear about the dogs.


Bitch frowned, but she didn’t refuse me.  “This is Sirius.  He was bought as a puppy for some twelve year old, then grew too big and unruly to stay in the house.  He was caged outside and ignored, his nails grew too long, and he wound up with an infection in his foot.  They decided it was easier to leave him at a shelter than pay for medical care.  Since he wasn’t trained or socialized, he came off too wild and excitable to get adopted.  I got him in the week he was due to get put down.”

Aww.

Well, at the very least, a shelter is better than just abandoning him in the wild like way too many people (that Rachel would hate) would do. Though apparently this particular shelter was a bit inept, given the whole medication issue.

“That’s fucked up,” I looked at Sirius, who was sleeping.  “How do you know the story?”

That’s… actually a really good question. Is Tattletale involved, or did Rachel just straight up track down the former owners and get it directly from them?

“I know some people that volunteer at shelters, from when I used to.  They let me know if there’s a dog that deserves a second chance.  Not that many don’t.”

Ah, okay. I guess the shelter folks would know a bit more than I figured about the dog’s backstory.


“Ah.”

“The one you were talking to a few minutes ago is Bullet.  She’s the smartest in the group.

The white one that wanted Taylor’s food?

Her breed craves exercise, they’re meant to run around all day with hunters… except she was used as a beta to warm dogs up for one of the dogfighting rings around here and her shoulder was torn up pretty badly.

Ouch.

Even with the shoulder healed as well as it’s gonna get, it hurts too much for her to run as much as she needs.”

I spotted Bullet in the crowd.  Sure enough, she was lagging behind the rest.  I thought maybe she was favoring one leg.

Aww.

There’s a certain irony in the name. She’s got natural potential to be fast as a bullet, but she’s a bullet that was misused and damaged, and now she lags behind the others.

“If your power heals, why doesn’t it help her?  Or Angelica’s eye and ear?”

Bitch shrugged.

Really, this kind of thing goes for any healing power. How does the power determine what needs to be healed? What the state to which the target should be returned is?

I don’t think what happened with Sirius is really healing, though, so much as getting rid of internal interlopers and injuries that might get in the way of the transformation. Alternatively, the worms simply can’t survive in the environment that a hellhound’s body becomes.

“Lisa said it has something to do with me making a ‘blueprint’.  It’s babble to me.

Sounds like Rachel subconsciously decides what the true state should be.

I actually briefly talked to someone about something similar earlier today – the topic was how Steven Universe’s healing powers worked. Specifically, in a world where not every character it’s been used on is organic, how does the power determine what it should work on? My take on it is that it works on whatever Steven himself perceives as “alive” – including a teddy bear – and by extension, it returns the target to the state that Steven considers healthy and whole.

With Faultline’s theories in Gregor’s interlude, we’ve got confirmation that some of the powers in the Wormverse, and notably the Manton effect, have been theorized by researchers to work similarly to that – it would make sense for both Rachel’s and Panacea’s healing (if we’ll call this side effect of Rachel’s power that) to be among those powers.

All I know is that it doesn’t help older health problems.  It gets rid of disease and cancer, and parasites, and most damage they take when they’re big.  That’s all.”

Hm. Maybe not so much Rachel’s subconscious deciding how the dogs should be as essentially checking how they are before the power is used on them, minus disease, cancer and parasites… no, something’s not quite adding up about this formulation.


“I think I get it,” I told her.  I looked at Bullet, who had stopped running and was sitting in the middle of the field, watching others run.  “Do they all have stories like that?”

“Most.”

“Damn,” I felt a pang of sympathy for the animals.

Yeah, this place isn’t one filled with happy stories.

The herd of dogs returned to me, and a shaggy dog dropped the ball at my feet.

The phrase “shaggy dog” honestly just makes me think of the tropes “Shaggy Dog Story” and “Shoot the Shaggy Dog”… neither of which I hope we’ll be encountering here.

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“Good dog,” I told it.  I threw the ball, aiming to get it near Bullet, and the herd of dogs rushed off again, with more than a few excited barks.

Bitch and I weren’t conversing, but neither of us were conversation people.  I was too socially clumsy to maintain small talk for any length of time, and Bitch was… well, she was Bitch.

Yeah, this is to be expected.

So we sat, minutes passed between each exchange of dialogue, and it somehow didn’t bother me.  It was letting me pick and choose what I was talking about very carefully.

Sometimes it’s nice to have this kind of friend. It might be what ultimately makes Rachel more positive towards Taylor, too.

“It’s too bad dogs can’t have trigger events,” Bitch mused aloud.  “If they did, some people might think twice.”

Well…

huh.

That would make for quite the chaos, now wouldn’t it. Imagine it – a whole bunch of abused dogs suddenly going wild with parapowers of their own! You’ve got flying dogs, dogs that can shoot lasers around corners, hyperintelligent Tinker dogs, dogs that can cause explosions without actually blowing anything up, dogs that can turn other humans into demons…


I could have argued the details, pointed out that most people weren’t aware of the ins and outs of trigger events, I could have argued that some things could get worse if dogs could get powers.  It didn’t feel necessary.

“Yeah,” I agreed.

Sometimes, you don’t need to go into the realistic results. Just appreciate the fantasy.

And the funny mental images.

Do the dogs get costumes, too? Please tell me there’s art of dog versions of some of the capes I’ve met out there!

That was the extent of that dialogue.  We enjoyed another long silence and the dogs competed with one another to fetch the ball.

The sound of a breaking bottle and very human shouts disturbed our peace.

…well, that’s not good. Are some Docks drunkards fighting outside? Or maybe they want to hassle the dogs, unaware that Rachel is present?

“These guys again,” Bitch snarled, moving Sirius’ head from her lap and hopping down from her seat on the pile of concrete blocks.

Rachel has encountered them before, at least.

The black lab turned his head to watch as she stalked towards the front of the building.  Bitch whistled for her dogs and Brutus, Judas and Angelica rushed to her side.

“What’s going on?” I called after her, moving to follow.

She seems to find it necessary to chase them off – it’s almost like she’s straight up getting ready for battle, though at least she doesn’t seem to be powering up the doggos.

“Stay inside,” she told me.

I did as she asked, but that didn’t mean I didn’t try to get closer, to get a better picture of what was going on.  I approached one of the boarded up windows at the front of the building and peeked through a gap in the plywood.

Skitter! What do your bug eyes see?


(THEY’RE TAKING THE DOGGOS TO ISENGARD!)


Bitch had her dogs standing around her, and she stood opposite a group of seven or so people.  They ranged from thirtyish to twelve in age.  It wasn’t hard to figure out who they identified with.  Half of the guys were blond or dyed blond, and the others had shaved heads.

Well, shit. Hi, there, E88.

So are they sent by Hookwolf?

The youngest was a twelve-ish girl who’d taken a razor to her scalp, too, leaving only her bangs and the hair hanging around her ears and the back of her neck.

Ughh.

The detail that confirmed my suspicions of their affiliation was the number eighty-three that I saw etched on one of the guys’ t-shirts in permanent marker.

Eighty… three?

Did part of it rub off or something? Or is this just their way of not-so-effectively establishing deniability while still getting close enough to wearing one of the gang’s symbols that other E88ers will recognize it? “Of course I’m not a Nazi, does this look like it says 88 to you?”

The white supremacists loved codes in numbers.  If you were suspicious about whether a number was one of their codes, the number eight was a good clue, since it cropped up a lot.  The eight referred to the 8th letter of the alphabet, H; Eighty-eight stood for H.H. or ‘Heil Hitler’, while eighteen pointed to Adolf Hitler in the same way.

Some of this I knew from when I first learned about 14/88 via this block, though 18 is new to me.

By this system, 83 would be “HC”… Um… I got nothing. “Heil Christ”?

The eighty-three wasn’t one I’d seen before, but I knew it would have stood for H.C… Heil something.  Heil Christ?

…apparently Taylor and I are on the same page today.

Honestly, though, I feel like part of the number rubbing off is a more likely explanation than “Heil Christ”.

Maybe Taylor is wrong to assume the H is for Heil. Her assuming so could be a simple misdirection by Wildbow to make the reader not consider other options, in addition to explaining why she didn’t.

“Hookwolf’s Crew”?

“Hi, Colin”?


If your name is Colin, I genuinely apologize for involving you with the white supremacists in that last post.


In any case, these numbers had been a way to keep one’s racist feelings on the down low, around those that weren’t already affiliated, until Kaiser’s predecessor formed Empire Eighty-Eight here in Brockton Bay.

1) It really seems like these codes are common knowledge now. I guess that’s a natural result of a far from low-key group of supremacists parading them around and identifying themselves with one of them.

2) Apparently Kaiser didn’t found the E88… interesting.

The move had pushed an ultimatum on the more secretive racists in the area, forcing them to either join the aggressive, active group in the public eye or retreat further into hiding.

Both of which are bad for actually dealing with the racism.

It had also drawn crowds of the more diehard white supremacists from the surrounding regions to Brockton Bay.  When people with powers, Kaiser included, started to congregate in the group, Brockton Bay became something of a magnet for those sorts.

Welp. No wonder the E88 is so big, then.

One of the bigger collections of racists above the bible belt.  Quite possibly the biggest congregation of racist supervillains.

Not exactly the feat you’d want your city to be known for.

The day Empire Eighty-Eight had gotten its name hadn’t been a good day for our city.

Evidently not.


A guy, thirty or so, was holding a carton of empty beer bottles.  He held one by the neck, tossed it into the air and caught it again, then whipped it in Bitch’s direction.  I flinched more than she did as it shattered explosively against the front of the door.

Rude.

“We told you to get of here,” he sneered at her.

“I was here first.”

“Doesn’t matter.  We’re claiming this neighborhood, and that barking is driving me up the fucking wall.”

…the E88 is expanding into the Docks, like they were planning to in Interlude 2. With them being in practically a war with Coil right now, it’s fair to say that this is the first we’ve really seen directly of the War of the Docks.

Though that might be putting it a bit more strongly than it deserves. So far this doesn’t amount to much more than a neighbor feud.

“You’ve said so before.  Try earplugs.”

He grabbed another bottle and threw it, hard.  Bitch had to lean out of the way this time, to keep it from hitting her shoulder.

He doesn’t seem to have the best of aims. Say, what happened to the beer that used to be in those bottles?

“Can’t do business wearing earplugs, you dumb whore,” the man put his hand on the head of the partially bald girl, who made a face at Bitch.

“Then don’t do business.  I don’t care.”

Hehe.


He reached for another bottle, then stopped.  A slow smile crossed his face as he looked to a teenage boy that was standing just beside the bald girl,  “Thing about something as goddamn irritating as that barking, is it gets us talking about how we could deal with it.  Tom, here, had my favorite suggestion.  He said we could soak hot dogs in antifreeze and throw ’em into the field back there.  Whaddya say?”

So yeah, I’m gonna give you what should essentially be the standard greeting for E88 members:

Go fuck yourself with a shovel.


Fuck. I looked around the inside of the building for something I could use as a mask, but there wasn’t anything.  Why hadn’t I brought my costume?

Rachel has dealt with this before, and still doesn’t seem to be powering up her dogs. She, the aggressive team member with most of the offensive power and trouble with social situations, is opting for talking to the enemy.

And honestly, I think she might be right to, for now. If this escalates into a fight, it’s bad for relations between the Undersiders and E88. The attack on Hookwolf’s establishment was trouble enough.

The situation was a hair away from devolving into a bloodbath, and my civilian identity was plain to see.  I couldn’t even work from inside the building, without risking that someone might have heard about my power or how I operated, and come in after me.

In other words, Taylor is forced to sit and watch Rachel deal with this her way.

I could only see Bitch from behind, but I saw her turn her head to evaluate the group.  Maybe sizing up how long it would take her dogs to murder them all.

Maybe… but I honestly think Taylor is overestimating how much of a cold-blooded killer Rachel actually is.

“If you were going to do that,” she said, “You would have done it before now, and I’d kill you for it.  Either you’re too scared to really do something about it, which you should be, or Kaiser told you hands off.”

She may not be the best at social situations, but she can call a bluff when she sees it.

In fact, she may be better at it than most, given her inclination to distrust the intentions behind sincere remarks.

It was the last attitude I would’ve expected from her.  Bitch, being level-headed?

Yeah, as I was saying, I think Taylor has built up an image in her head of Rachel as this crazy, bloodthirsty girl, and now she’s seeing that it’s not quite accurate.


The man with the bottles sneered, “Nah.  See, we heard that howling earlier.  So did some of our neighbors.  Kaiser did tell us to play nice, but way I figure it, if we tell Kaiser you started this shit, and he asks around to check our story, he’s gonna hear there was howling before there was fighting.”

…fair enough.

“You know who I am,” Bitch threatened them, “You know my abilities.  You’re really going to fuck with me, here?  With my dogs around? Really?”

To be fair, we don’t know if any of these people are parahumans. But yeah, Rachel isn’t one you fuck with lightly.

in any sense of the wNO. BAD KRIXWELL.

I heard, rather than saw, the sound of a gun cocking.  The teenage boy, who I identified as Tom, raised a gun in Bitch’s direction.

“Still think you’re tough?” the man mocked Bitch, “Guns are the great equalizer, y’know?

Well, fuck.

One particularly strong parahuman may be equivalent to 50 people with guns, but one gun can still easily take down most parahumans with a single shot. Rachel is very much one of those parahumans.

My son here wants a place in the Empire, and to do that, he’s gotta earn his stripes.  Killing you would be a good way to go about it, I’m thinking.”

This feels eerily familiar. I can’t help but think back to a certain situation we’ve seen recently, in the Birdcage.

Oh, and the Park Jihoo incident, for that matter. Bottle guy probably isn’t going to liquify Tom if he doesn’t shoot, but still.


I didn’t wait to hear the rest of the dialogue.  There was no way this wasn’t going to come to violence, now.  I pulled off my shoes, then ran in my sock feet across the concrete floor, keeping as low as I could.

Welp. Yeah, honestly, this has gone too far to sit back and do nothing but watch. I’m still not 100% sure Bitch won’t find a way around this, but it’s not looking good.

I found the knife that Bitch had used to open the bags of dog food, then stuck it in my back pocket.  Still nothing I could see that would work as a mask.  I wasn’t even wearing a sweatshirt or enough extra layers to use a piece of my clothing for a mask.  It had been too warm a day.

Which left me one very unpleasant option.

Hm…

Barring the idea of using the one layer of clothing she has and exposing herself more than she’s comfortable with, and more than I’d expect from this story that so far doesn’t play out like an ecchi anime… I guess she could cover her head with a swarm of insects? That would make a lot more sense anyway.

I exerted my power, and was glad to find that the grassy field and the half built building had a fair supply of bugs to work with.  Grasshoppers migrated my way, and I emptied a wasp nest that nestled in the wall above the unfinished second floor.  Blackflies that had been enjoying the copious amounts of dog waste flew my way, and innumerable ants and spiders formed the remainder of the swarm.

Hiya!

All together, they streamed my way to gather on my skin, crawling up my legs and torso, some turning downward to cover my arms.  As one, they covered every inch of my body, even creating a mass over my mouth and glasses to obscure everything.  It didn’t tickle as much as I thought it might, but I did shudder.

She’s not even stopping at “mask” – she’s making an entire makeshift bug swarm costume!


I’d need a shower after this.  Ten showers.  And I’d pay to use a gym or pool or something, so I didn’t have to endure the craptacular shower at the loft while I scrubbed my skin raw.

Hehehe.

Ninety percent of my rationale for designing a costume that covered my entire body was for this exact reason, damn it.

That’s good thinking. Shoulda brought it with you, though!

Why hadn’t I brought my costume?  Why?

To be fair, you had no expectation that you might need it. Happens to a lot of heroes from time to time – though really, you should start bringing it everywhere when you’re hanging out with the Undersiders.

I flinched at the deafening roar of a gunshot.  Waited with my breath held, until I heard the murmur of conversation at the door again, Bitch’s voice.  A warning shot?

Maybe Tom’s aim is as bad as his father’s, perhaps for the same reason. Not sure if that’s a good thing if it’s true.

I grabbed my cell phone from my pocket and sent a text out, selecting Brian, Lisa and Alec as the recipients:

Half a dozen skinheads here.  At least one gun.  Need backup.

Yes, good move. Get everyone in on this if you can.

My phone vibrated with a reply a few seconds later. Brian:

Omw.  was headin home.  will take minute.

I guess this implies that Brian’s home is in a similar direction as the doghouse? Since it seems like it took more than “a minute” – even in the imprecise metaphorical sense – to get here from the base. Or it could mean the exact opposite and Brian means it’ll take a minute to get back to the Undersiders’ base before he can start heading to the doghouse.


No immediate reply from the other two.  My phone displayed the time as 1:38.  Close enough to lunch for me to mark it as a continuation of the trend.

Heh. Lunchtime really isn’t treating Taylor well.

So hang on, didn’t 1.1 start out with a comment on lunchtime?

Yes, it did: “Class ended in five minutes and all I could think was, an hour is too long for lunch.“

I was going to develop an anxiety disorder over this.  I texted him directions, informing him to look for the building with the crane.

I would’ve guessed the Undersiders knew where the doghouse was – especially considering Brian didn’t ask – but it’s entirely possible they don’t. Rachel doesn’t seem like the type to tell them if she didn’t see a reason to, and Taylor is quite possibly the first to have successfully negotiated her way into visiting.

That said, I’m fairly sure Brian would want to know where she goes in case trouble came up. Y’know, like it just did.

Enough bugs had gathered to cover me, with plenty to spare.  I’d wanted to be absolutely sure I was covered, so I piled them on top of one another, several layers deep.  It was stifling.

Yeah, I can’t imagine this is particularly comfortable.

I was forced to breathe through my nose, and my vision was obscured by the bugs that had collected on my glasses.

The fact that she’s covering her glasses like this kind of forces her to use other senses, including her power, to navigate. Is she going to look through the eyes of a bug on the glasses?

More than that, it was hot in the midst of the dense swarm.  Still, I was happier enduring it than risking being identified.

Yeah, it’s a necessary evil.


I looked out the nearest boarded up window that I could see through, and saw that the group hadn’t moved.  The man with the bottles said something, but I couldn’t make it out.  My leaving to grab the knife and send the texts had carried me out of earshot.

Hm. Still seems relatively calm out there aside from that shot earlier.

I ran back to the front door, keeping to the same half-crouch as before, to ensure nobody saw me through the gaps in the boards on the windows.  I pulled my shoes back on, straightened, took a deep breath, and opened the door.

“Jesus fuck!” a twenty-something skinhead cursed as I moved to Bitch’s side.

A humanoid swarm of bugs just walked out the door. I think that’s very much an appropriate reaction.

I had a vague sense of what I must have looked like – a tower of swarming insects with vague human definition to it, giving the loose shape of a head, with vague indents in the ‘face’ where my eyes were.

Why would there be indents? She’s wearing glasses. If anything, there’d be a visor-like plateau.

Even Bitch’s eyes widened a fraction as she saw me.

“The hell?” she muttered.

Pretty much what she looks like right now, yes.


I stayed quiet, keeping my attention on their group.

Bottle man looked me over, then spoke in a low voice, “Tom, was it?  Would you do the honors and deal with this amateur horror show?”

Wait, I thought you said he was your son? Or was that one of the other guys saying that? These skinheads are blending together a bit.

The teenage boy, turned the handgun my way, pointed at chest level.  He smirked and grinned, “My pleasure.”

The scene with Bakuda and her minions hadn’t been so different.  Only difference was, Tom didn’t hesitate a second when it came to pulling the trigger.

Welp. Taylor’s dead, see ya next chapter as Enoby from “Interlude 2″ takes over as the main character.

So… let’s see. How could this be resolved without Taylor getting shot? My current best bet is on Regent having just shown up and caused Tom to flinch.

The sheer force of the gunshot left me reeling, and it hadn’t even hit me.

I had dropped to a crouch as I stepped outside, leaving most of the bugs where they were above me.  Some had fallen down, but the overall structure had remained more or less stable, each of the bugs gripping one another and spreading out enough to fill in the gap of the vacated head and chest area.

Oh hey, the shadow trick! She did say she needed to remember that after Grue did it in Shell. 😀

From what my bugs had experienced, I knew the shot had passed only inches above my head, around the center of my chest.  The swarm down where I crouched was denser, to support the structure above them, so I couldn’t see through them as easily.  I could only wait with my breath held, hope that the bugs offered me enough cover to hide my real self.

So now this humanoid swarm of bugs that walked out the door will look immune – practically unaffected, even – to “the great equalizer”. That’s a massive bonus to intimidation right there!


“The fuck?” Tom spoke.  I moved the bugs in front of my eyes so I could get a partial look at him, and saw him backing away, gun still raised.

Yep, there we go. The fear is taking hold. Still think you’re tough, Tom?

I’d borrowed a trick from Grue, and figured it only made sense to borrow one from Tattletale, too.

Oh fuck yes. Mind games.

When I spoke, I hissed the words, and at the same time, I had every bug in the swarm make noise: buzzing, chirping and droning in time with my words, doing everything I could to sound less human.  “Guns are not going to work when my body is like this.”

Niiice.

It’ll be even better if they start spreading the word that Taylor can turn into a swarm of bugs. We know how much this story thrives on not only the fact that “knowledge is power”, but also that relying on false information can be even more dangerous than not knowing at all.

Putting my hands on the ground, bringing the upright mass of bugs with me, I crawled forward a step.  I saw almost everyone in their group move away.  Only the man with the bottles remained where he was, and he used one outstretched arm to keep Tom from retreating as well.

It seems someone still feels tough.

My ploy was working.  As Tattletale had done with Glory Girl and Panacea, then again with Bakuda, I could sell the idea I had powers I didn’t to mislead and misdirect.

Excellent work, Taylor.


“Shoot, boy!”  The man tightened his grip Tom’s shoulder.

Not gonna help if he keeps aiming for the “chest”…

The teenager obeyed, firing thrice more into the swarm, aiming too high to hit me.  Two more shots struck where my chest would have been.  The third passed through my fake ‘head’.

Getting colder, Tom, much like your blood.

Tom, his eyes wide in alarm, decided to change targets.  He swung his arm to my right to point his handgun at Bitch.

…not good. Bullets aren’t going to pass through her… well, not without hurting her on the way, at least.

I lunged forward, drawing the knife and swinging it in one motion.  I stabbed Tom in the thigh, as Bitch simultaneously evaded to one side.  Through a combination of my attack, Tom having to adjust his aim and Bitch’s movements, the shot went astray.

Niice.

As Tom fell over, I collapsed the swarm on top of him.  Avoiding touching him directly, I pulled the gun from his hand, retrieved my knife, and stabbed the point of the knife down on his palm to eliminate any possibility of him retaliating or grabbing for his weapon.

By not touching him directly, she keeps up the illusion that she doesn’t have a more physical body underneath the bugs.

On an impulse, I drew the knife across his forehead.

Hm. Okay, then.

According to Brian, cuts to the forehead were rarely serious, but they bled enough to look like they were.

Ah, I see – another piece of intimidation without actually doing serious harm.

It was a fact that people that staged fights often played up, and a technique boxers used to blind their opponents with blood in the eyes.

Interesting. 🙂


I left some of my bugs on and around Tom as I moved away from him.  He screamed frantically and struggled to crawl away.

So to recap, this person (I’m not sure Tom can tell it’s a girl) made entirely of bugs enveloped Tom, stabbed him from the inside of their body, and left part of said body on him…

yeah, Tom is having a bad day.

It was more brutal an approach than I might have liked, but as I interpreted it, any effect I generated by injuring him like this, would hopefully prevent others from joining the fight, and would lead to less people getting hurt in the long run.

Yeah. That said, I’d feel no sympathy for Tom or any of the others (except maybe the twelve-year-old, who quite possibly doesn’t fully understand what’s going on) if Taylor were to hurt them more.

I didn’t like Kaiser’s followers, I had zero respect for them, but I didn’t want to see them torn apart by Bitch’s dogs.

That’s fair, though.

“This territory is ours,” Bitch growled at them, as people backed away.  Brutus, Judas and Angelica were larger now, their skin split with bloody spikes of bone sticking out of the gaps.  “Leave.”

“Kaiser will hear about this!” the bottle man shouted.

This was a really cool moment… and then bottle man went and reminded me of Draco Malfoy and suddenly it’s a lot sillier 😛

Still cool, though.


“Leave!” Bitch shouted.

Tom, still mindless with pain and fear, jumped at that command.  He tried to pull himself to his feet and failed, falling to the ground again with a ragged scream.

😀

When he reached out, imploring his friends for help, the skin of his hands and face were almost completely covered in bugs and blood.  It did a lot to help spook the rest into a retreat.  Most of them fled.

Let me guess – bottle man stayed?

The bottle man cautiously moved forward to Tom’s side.  I didn’t move from where I stood/crouched as he bent down to help Tom stand and limp away.

Did he walk away with the limping Tom, or did he help Tom stand up and then Tom limped away on his own as bottle man stayed behind?

“Fuck,” Bitch muttered.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I hope I didn’t do anything wrong by stepping in.”

The former, then. It’s over… for now. As silly as it sounds, Kaiser will hear about this – and then there’s a good chance shit hits the fan. Or at least starts flying in slow motion towards it.


She shook her head.

“I mean, maybe if I hadn’t come out, it wouldn’t have gotten violent.”

“He was working up the courage to shoot me,” she spoke.  “It’s fine.”

Yeah, it might be a bit harder to get yourself to shoot an actual human than a humanoid mass of bugs, but he was getting close.

“What are you going to do?”

“What?”

“I mean, they’re going to come again.  Maybe soon.  Depending on what they say or who they complain to, there might be people with powers the next time around.”

“I’ll manage.”

Seems like an excellent time to accept help. Worth noting that Taylor is talking like it’s not really being offered – maybe she’s adjusting to the knowledge that Rachel would take that offer as an implication that she’s not capable of dealing with this herself.

Which… she might not be able to, but still.

“I know this is your space, I think it’s perfect, but maybe you should consider moving somewhere-”

Nah, she’s not backing down.

She gave me a hard look.  “Do you want to get hit today?”

Hehe. Yeah, that was the wrong thing to say.

I shut my mouth.

“I’m going inside to pick up the shit.  You can help, or you can go back.  Doesn’t matter to me.”

As in the literal shit? The stuff she asked Taylor to pick up last chapter?

The two of them picking up the shit side by side like Taylor said last chapter would be a pretty good way to end this chapter, to be honest. It would be symbolic of the development of a certain respect between them that wasn’t there last time picking up the shit was discussed.


I looked over my shoulder in the direction the skinheads had retreated.

“I’ll help,” I decided aloud. “I said I would, and you might need backup if they decide to come back in force.”  Besides, I’d texted Brian to come, and he’d need a proper recap of what had gone on.

Yeah, better stick around.

She only whistled twice for her dogs to follow her back inside, glancing back to see they were still following.  She looked at me, and I wasn’t entirely sure, but I thought maybe she didn’t look as angry as she usually did.

Development! 😀


End of Buzz 7.3

Bonding between Rachel and Taylor is kind of quiet and lowkey, but it’s still bonding. And this chapter had quite a bit of excellent Rachel-Taylor bonding. Taylor is beginning to understand Rachel better, and Rachel is beginning to respect Taylor more. It’s great on both ends. 🙂

And then there’s the encounter with Tom, Draco Bottlefoy and the other skinheads. Rachel showed her more level-headed side, which was cool, and then Taylor became a bug monster and scared the E88ers away, which was awesome.

…hm. We never did get an explanation for 83. Maybe it’s something one could look up, or maybe I’ll learn about it later in the story. We’ll see, I guess!

Next time, we’ll probably get to know what Brian has to say about what happened here, whether it’s through Taylor’s narration or actually getting to see the scene starting immediately after Taylor filled him in on what happened. Other than that, though, I have no idea what’s up next. The end of this chapter does seem like the end of Rachel-Taylor bonding time for now, though maybe I’m mistaken.

So… yeah. See you then!


[postscript]

Tom is actually much more analogous to Draco Malfoy than bottle man is, by the way. Kid from supremacist family, tasked with proving himself by killing someone and trying to work up the courage to do so…

Bottle man, however, was the one who said “Kaiser will hear about this!”, though, so he’s the one who gets to be nicknamed after Malfoy. Them’s the breaks!

One thought on “Buzz 7.3: Bug Girl, Literal Edition

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