Parasite 10.2: Insinuations

Source material: Worm, Parasite 10.2

Originally blogged: January 11, 2018


[pre-intro]

I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit sleepy today. Efforts to become diurnal again are going well, but my body hasn’t quite caught up yet.

Still, though, I don’t want to postpone today’s liveblog session (in part because something I thought might force me to postpone to tomorrow ended up getting postponed to tomorrow itself), so I’m going to try to give you a proper quality liveblog. Hell, maybe it’ll help me be less sleepy. But yeah, if my sleepiness does become too much of an issue, I’ll just have to split the chapter.


Everybody do the flop!

Alright, now that our faces have been tenderized a bit, we’re all ready to read some Worm!

So, last chapter we got to learn a bit about Imp and see the resurfacing of one of Regent’s darker sides. Then one of them, probably Imp but possibly Regent, played a prank by controlling Sophia’s body to faux attack Taylor.

Today, we’ll almost certainly find out for certain which one it was. If it was Imp, we’ll probably learn a bit more about her power, too.

But if it was Regent… One possibility is that this was the entire reason for the torture in the first place. The thing that could take minutes or hours depending on Shadow Stalker. Regent’s power is to control bodies on a small scale, an impulse here and an impulse there, but maybe breaking down someone’s mind through torture allows him to take full control because they’ll have a harder time fighting it?

I think it’s time to jump in and find out. 🙂


3 Days Ago

Oh nice, this is new.

So we’re going back to the day Taylor met Imp and finding out what the deal is. Sounds good to me!

I drew in a deep breath, then exhaled, long and slow.

“I got your back,” Lisa told me. I nodded.

Whatcha doooin’?

With a push, the door swung wide open.

The inside of the building didn’t match the exterior. It was situated in one of the low-lying areas of the Docks, where the flooding had yet to fully dissipate.

I guess they are out to find and recruit Imp, much like Kid Win with Chariot.

The buildings around here were in such bad shape that nobody was willing to use them for shelter or venture inside to take things.

And considering the state of things, that takes a lot.

I suppose there’s no reason to expect to find Imp here, then? Unless she’s the exception to the “nobody”..

On the inside, however, the place was reinforced with girders and beams. Pieces of sheet metal sat between the thick metal shafts and the exterior wall, with holes cut to accommodate the windows. Handles on the metal shutters suggested that the plywood could be moved aside in a pinch. At ground level, there were stacked sandbags of a slightly different make from the usual, with plastic stapled over each pile.

Hm. Don’t judge a bookkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk kkkkk kk k k k k k, I guess. Or a building.

…oh right, “The inside of the building didn’t match the exterior.” right at the top of the paragraph.

(See, this is one reason why I don’t usually liveblog while slightly sleepy. If that keeps up I’m gonna have to split the session.)


The place hadn’t yet been organized. A pair of beds sat in one corner, surrounded by assorted pieces of furniture. The building’s interior was dry, crisp, and brightly lit. It might have appeared sterile, if not for the spray paint on much of the sheet metal, and the tracks of dried mud on the ground near the door.

True sterility is hard to come across these days, isn’t it, in most parts of the city?

Our arrival was met by the furious barking of a half-dozen dogs. A set of gates ringing the front door stopped them from attacking us.

Hm. We might not be visiting Imp here.

Brian was sitting on the far end of the room, beside Aisha. He wore his regular sparring uniform, and Aisha wore much the same thing, though she was wearing shorts instead of yoga pants.

Hiya. I take it Rachel’s around too, and probably Alec. I guess we’re about to see Taylor trying (successfully, somehow) to get the remaining Undersiders on her side. This ought to be interesting.


His little sister? Here?

…ah yeah, I forgot to comment on that.

Shit, she doesn’t happen to be Imp?

Either, it seems Brian has found out about Aisha’s awareness of his powered antics.

Alec was sitting cross-legged on a pile of furniture, a bowl of colorful cereal balanced on one knee. A long cut ran from just beneath his ear to his shoulder, beneath his shirt. He was watching a TV that was plugged into an extension cord that hung from the ceiling.

Howdy.

He’d turned my way at the barking of the dogs, and I almost missed him uttering the words, “You gotta be kidding.

Honestly, this is an entirely fair response. Even if he didn’t have reason to be pissed at Taylor and surprised to see Lisa bringing her back to their place, everything about the way she left the hospital and didn’t come back to them over the next few weeks would’ve suggested to him that it was unlikely she’d never come back, yet here she is.

One of the dogs apparently recognized me, because it stopped at the gate and wagged its tail. A part of me took that as a good sign. Then Bitch appeared, immediately wheeling on me, water flying from her damp hair.

Ah, uh, hi there.

Let’s not have round two of 2.8, alright?

She’d probably just come from the shower – she wore loose fitting army pants and a black tank top that had darker spots where beads of water had soaked into it. A towel hung around her shoulders. As she saw me, emotion hardened the lines of her face. Her hands clenched as she strode toward me. I saw the aggression in her body language, squeezed my eyes shut and tried to relax. I remembered what Brian had said during our sparring, about how tensing up would only make you more vulnerable.

Taylor is entirely prepared for the fact that Rachel might attack her right now.

I’m not sure the others would be quite as inclined to help stop her this time.


If that was true, I was really glad I hadn’t tensed up. She was sturdily built and she didn’t hold back in the slightest. She kicked down the dog gate, and an instant later, her fist connected with my cheekbone to send me sprawling to the ground, my tailbone absorbing most of the impact.

Welp, here we go.

I’d been knocked around by Lung, Glory Girl, Bakuda and even Leviathan. Some of those guys hit magnitudes harder than Bitch did, but it still hurt like hell.

Yeeah, a hard punch is a hard punch, even if some people punch even harder.

It spoke volumes that while Lisa stepped forward so she could defend me, Grue and Alec didn’t.

About what I had expected, yeah.

The dogs tentatively passed through the open gate, but hung back in deference to their master.

“I-” I broke off mid-sentence – opening my mouth to speak had caused the pain in the right side of my face to come to bear, full force. “I deserved that.”

Probably the best she can say right now. Good Taylor.


Bitch delivered a swift kick to my shoulder, making me grunt and fall flat onto my back. “Deserved that too.”

Fair enough.

“Point made,” Lisa told her. “Stop.”

“Fuck you,” Bitch snarled. She pointed at Brian. “It’s irritating enough that he wants to start giving orders and calling himself our leader, I’m not putting up with it from you, too. I do what I want, and what I want is to beat her face in.”

I suggest you don’t tell Rachel whose idea it was for Brian to make himself official leader.

Bitch turned, strode to the pile of furniture, and then lifted one of the loose shelves that had been removed from the bookcase. It was a piece of wood chipboard about three feet long and a foot deep. Lisa moved to put herself between Bitch and me and stave off Bitch’s attack. She turned to Brian, “Hey, a little help, here?”

Yeah, no, Brian has just as much reason to be upset with Taylor as Rachel does. Maybe even more so, what with the romantic shenanigans between them during what as far as Brian knows was Taylor’s plot to betray them all. He rejected her, but her trying at all might make him feel even more that she abused his trust.

Brian frowned, “Why did you bring her here?”

“To talk,” Lisa said. When Bitch tried to move around to her left, Lisa shifted her position to stay in her way. I sat up, used my legs and hands to put some distance between Bitch and I.

I wonder if what helped / is about to help Brian agree to take Taylor back in might’ve been / might be about to be (coddamn flashback tenses…) her telling him that she had decided not to betray them by the time of Buzz.


Alright, timeout, let’s talk about Imp for a second.

This all recontextualizes Taylor’s comment about meeting Imp three days ago – they didn’t recruit Imp three days ago, they had already done that and rerecruited Taylor three days ago.

Also, if Imp really is Aisha, then that adds a layer of identity disassociation to the comment, in that Taylor actually met her a while back but was specifically talking about meeting her cape identity.

Another implication of the two being the same person is that Imp had her trigger event recently, likely during the Endbringer attack. This fits with the attack also triggering other people and thus giving them multiple powers (as it’s been indicated Imp has). Given that Aisha knew about Grue and the Undersiders, she probably went straight to him when she discovered her power, explaining how she got in touch with the Undersiders and why Grue is okay with her being here along with the team.


“She was going to fuck us over!” Bitch shouted.

She absolutely was, yes.

I wonder, has Lisa told them anything about her own awareness of it from the start? Probably not. So what did she tell Brian when he inevitably asked why she didn’t Know and/or tell them about it earlier?

I shook my head, but Bitch and Lisa’s movements left me unsure if Brian had seen. I called out, “No! I wasn’t!”

Well, fair enough, not after a certain point.

Brian stepped forward and put a hand on Bitch’s arm. She scowled but lowered her improvised weapon.

Brian’s got every right to be upset, but I think most of all he just wants to know the truth, and he hasn’t heard Taylor’s perspective on this before, only Armsmaster’s and – to whatever extent – Lisa’s.

He can be harsh, but he’s also fair enough to give the accused an opportunity to make her case.

Besides, she’s being defended by the main “witness” despite that witness saying she was guilty, so there’s gotta be something more to it, right?


He leveled a serious look at me, “Lisa said you were, and when it comes down to the two of you, I’m going to choose her. What Armsmaster said made too much sense, and a few of the little things about you suddenly made a lot of sense.”

Ah, yeah, I suppose the reveal would (re)contextualize a lot for you.

“No, I- I mean, I was going to betray you-”

Pfft, Taylor! You really need to collect your thoughts before you get ripped to pieces by the dogs.

“I’m going to fucking kick her teeth in!” Bitch shouted.

“Past tense!” I raised my voice, “I changed my mind!”

I think that was technically the future-in-the-past tense with imperfective aspect. (Apparently, in spite of having “pluperfect” for past-in-the-past, English doesn’t have a better word for future-in-the-past. Seriously, “future-in-the-past” is the term I got off Wikipedia.)

Now let’s see how the Undersiders take this.

Bitch made a deeper noise, low in her throat. Aisha and Alec approached, which contributed to the loose half-circle of people and animals around Lisa and me. Tension hung heavy in the air.

I wonder how in-the-loop Aisha actually is on this whole situation.

“You changed your mind,” Brian didn’t sound as though he believed me.

I guess he doesn’t really have reason to.

“Dealing with Armsmaster? Realizing what an asshole he was? It was kind of a wake up call. I’d already begun to think of you guys as my friends. And what we were doing, it wasn’t so bad. Most of our fights were against Lung’s gang…”

I guess that makes 3.4 one of the major starting points for the process leading up to the Decision. Though I suppose she might be talking about 6.6, which is far closer to when it was finalized, she had already started swaying before that.


Barring Lisa and Aisha, every set of eyes on me was glaring. I climbed to my feet, flinched a little as Bitch shifted position, fearing another attack. My cheek was radiating pain, like someone was driving a nail into it. My shoulder didn’t hurt half as much, but it wasn’t exactly fun, either.

“I-I changed my mind after we raided the fundraiser and talked to Coil. I went home, and when I started thinking about sending that email to the Protectorate, I realized I couldn’t. It would have meant explaining things to my dad and leaving you guys. I couldn’t do either.”

Good. Put every card on the table. Face up.

No more secrets.

“That wasn’t all that long ago, and it sounds pretty thin to me.”

I raised my arms, in a bit of a helpless gesture, then let them flop back to my sides. “It’s the truth. I’m not good at this, at talking to people or convincing them. All I can do is tell you how things were from my perspective and hope you’ll see I’m sincere.”

Yeah, I mean, it happening recently is kind of just… a coincidence.


He folded his arms, “Is that all you came to say?”

I drew in a deep breath, then sighed, “And I’d like to be back on the team if you’ll have me. Please.”

I think he might want an apology, Taylor.

I wouldn’t fault him for that.

His eyebrows rose, “I seem to recall you leaving in a huff after our last conversation with Coil. What’s changed?”

“You have to understand, I was angry at myself as much… more than I was angry at you guys. For letting that thing with the little girl happen, for not connecting the dots. But I’ve thought about it, talked to Lisa, and I’m open to talking about it if you’re willing.”

Sometimes we make rash decisions while angry, even if that anger isn’t directed at those it’s taken out on.

“And why should we believe you, in all this?” he challenged me.

Aaand there’s the hard part.

Lisa, you got anything? A voucher for the change of heart?


“I can vouch-” Lisa started to speak.

“Taylor can answer for herself,” Brian cut her off.

Well, there went that way out.

I floundered for an answer. I got the distinct impression that they wouldn’t be satisfied if I couldn’t provide one. A knot of ugly emotions gathered in my stomach, building as I felt the condemnation of these people I’d been so close to, not so long ago.

Yeeah, fighting with former friends is not exactly a nice feeling.

Realizing that much gave me an idea. It wasn’t much, though.

I turned to Brian, “You remember when we were on the way to your apartment, what happened?”

“Which? That thing with the bully, or-”

After that… Hm. I suppose that could be a pretty good thing to prove the genuineness of her change of heart, as long as it doesn’t get Brian thinking that Taylor was trying to abuse his trust even more.

Bit of a double-edged sword, I suppose.

“After that. The, um, awkward conversation.”

“Hey, dork,” Alec cut in, “He’s not the only one you have to convince. You can’t omit details and leave us in the dark here.”

Welp, looks like this is about to get a little awkward… they didn’t tell Alec and Rachel (or Lisa, maybe, but I assume she knows anyway) about what happened at the mall, huh? Which means they’re gonna have to do that now of all times.


“Yeah!” Aisha added. Brian gave her an annoyed look.

Oh cod, and her too. Forgot about that detail. I doubt Brian’s gonna like having to let his sister know about that awkward situation.

I looked at him, then looked down at the ground, feeling heat spread across my face. The flush in my cheeks made the side of my face throb. I hated feeling humiliated, felt way too many ugly emotions rising in a long-conditioned response, a spark of anger at the forefront of them.

Uh-oh.

Somehow I think Taylor would agree with those of my friends who despise cringe humor.

Stiffly, I replied, “I… let Brian know I was interested in him. Romantically. It was the truth.”

“Ahhhh,” Alec responded.

How long do you reckon it’ll take before Alec lets either of them live that down?

Though he does seem to be taking it a bit more maturely than I was expecting for now.

…how about Aisha?

I knew it! Totally knew it from the second I saw you at his apartment!” Aisha cackled.

Pfffahahaha

I stole a glance at Brian and saw his expression hadn’t changed in the least. When he spoke, he did it with a small shake of his head, “You could have been doing that to get me to let my guard down.”

I mean… just look at how red Taylor is right now. She’s either telling the truth or a fantastic actor.


“Bullshit,” Alec retorted.

“What?” Brian turned toward Alec.

“I said bullshit,” Alec repeated himself. “Taylor said it herself, she sucks ass when it comes to lying and being smooth.”

And yeah, if she was as fantastic an actor as Brian would have it, and was lying now, she would’ve had a better lie earlier, or she would be pretending to be a bad liar by telling a lie that did a worse job at convincing them than what she could really come up with… which sounds quite convoluted.

“She lied well enough when she was keeping her undercover act a secret.”

“I didn’t lie, exactly,” I said, quiet, “I just didn’t tell you.”

Yeah, surprisingly enough there were pretty few situations that caused her to have to actually lie.

The Undersiders kinda dropped the ball on trusting her that much in the first place, although it’s unclear how much Lisa manipulated the others into doing so. It’s worth noting that it was Brian’s idea to show up in civilian clothing on the rooftop in 2.6, as a “token show of trust”.


Nobody answered that statement. I felt dumb for saying it, however true it may or may not have been.

Alec added to his earlier comment, “I don’t ever pay attention to that team drama shit, and I picked up on the fact that she liked you. It was so obvious it was irritating.”

Hah, nice.

And hell, even Rachel knew about it. Practically suggested Taylor should go up to Brian and say “hey wanna fuck?” too.

It was strange, Alec was standing up for me. He was insulting me while he did it, but he was still backing me up.

“That could have been an act,” Brian stressed. “And even if it wasn’t, it doesn’t mean anything in the end.”

Brian is being stubbornly skeptic, and while he has the right to be, it’s getting thin. It’s down to Taylor being either genuine or an utterly amazing actor. Either you should consider whether you’ll let her back on the team, or you should point her towards Hollywood or Broadway.

“You don’t really believe that,” Lisa replied, “You’re pissed at us. I don’t blame you. I’d be pissed at us, too. But you’re only calling her a liar because it’s a hell of a lot easier to be angry at her if you think the person you befriended was a fake.”

I like that Lisa’s including herself here. She’s very much aware that Brian has beef with her too, even if he doesn’t know that, and she’s also implicitly allying herself with Taylor.

And yeah, this sounds about right. That’s what I meant by “stubbornly skeptic” – Lisa’s (Wildbow’s) just better at actually explaining things than like that than I am. What I meant was essentially that he’s being reluctant to believe her because he doesn’t want to believe her.


Brian sighed, loudly. “Don’t turn your power on me.”

“Who says I am?”

Chancing a look at Bitch, I saw she was pacing back and forth, each set of paces short and restless. She didn’t seem to have calmed down any.

I’m not sure even believing you would really do that. Not quickly, anyway. And then there’s the way we know she acts towards you in the future…

I wasn’t feeling much better myself. I said as much, “All I want is for things to go back to the way they were.”

“It’s not that easy,” Brian replied. When I met his eyes, he looked away, his brow furrowing.

Taylor’s line feels like a callback to this one exchange between Sophia and Taylor in 9.6:

Shadow Stalker: “I guess everything’s back to normal for you freaks.”
Skitter: “No…”
Skitter: “…things are different now.”

It also reminds me of Doki Doki Literature Club, but that’s less relevant right now.

When had things been good? What point in time was I so eager to return to, where I hadn’t been wracked by guilt or nervousness? By the time I got over my fear of getting caught, I’d run away from home and cut ties with my dad. Then, before I could come to terms with that, I’d found out about Dinah, which had affected me more than anything else. I’d terrorized hostages, maimed a supervillain, hurt superheroes, but it was Dinah that left me lying awake at night, feeling helpless, feeling like I was the scum of the earth.

This is actually a good point. Besides, going back to “the way it was” technically includes going back to the situation where Taylor was an undercover hero or hiding the secret that she at one point was.

There’s no taking this back. And honestly, I feel like that’s a theme of Extermination that I didn’t really think enough about when I was back there: There’s no taking this back. Everything that happened in Extermination has consequences. Those deaths were final. Armmaster is probably going to prison for life. The city was wrecked and it’s gonna be a bitch to repair. The Undersiders were alerted to the potential traitor in their midst.

That’s how the reveal fits in, besides the general climactic feel of Arc 8. It fits in because like just about everything else that happened in that Arc, it changes everything and there’s no taking it back.


And I couldn’t help her from the outside. That, more than anything, was why I was here. I wasn’t strong enough to fight Coil on my own, I couldn’t go to the heroes and rely on them to handle it, not with Coil’s power giving him two attempts to escape,

It occurred to me recently, while I wasn’t blogging (I forgot to make a post about it), that another thing that’s a lot like Coil’s power is the D&D 5e game mechanic for “advantage”, in which you roll twice and use the higher roll.

two attempts to any counterattacks, two attempts to track down the person who’d informed on him and deal with her, and take his pick of the outcomes he wanted.

Yeah, his power is pretty strong. I really like the way Wildbow implemented this, though – he managed to give a character the power to decide outcomes without it being too stupidly overpowered. He’s still limited in that he can only run two realities at a time, and they only vary based on his actions… It’s a strong power, sure, but it’s well balanced.

That wasn’t even getting into the more complex uses of his abilities, only using one of his concurrent realities to try something, doing it over and over again until he got a result he wanted to keep. I couldn’t beat him in any kind of confrontation.

If his more mundane use of the power is “advantage”, then this is “taking twenty”, where you basically just try, try again until it works. Like in D&D, it’s limited by time – a sane DM might not allow you to take twenty if your character doesn’t reasonably have time to keep trying, and Coil needs to make sure the Coil in the reality where he isn’t trying survives until he knows whether the other one does.

Though to be fair, in both of these analogies, Coil’s power is quite a bit stronger and more versatile than their D&D counterparts.


Lisa had convinced me. I would only solve this by getting in Coil’s good graces, talking to him as someone he could respect and listen to.

Hm. Succeeding at that seems a little far-fetched knowing his current attitude towards other people, but I suppose that makes sense.

I couldn’t do that without convincing these guys to let me back on the team.

Ah, right, yeah, let’s get back to that.

“No,” I answered Brian, “You’re right. It’s not that easy. But if you’ll have me, I’m willing to work my ass off to make it up to you. I’m pretty good as a member of this team, you know it. If you want to monitor my every move, fine. Any restrictions you want to put on me, fine. I’ll even give up my pay from Coil and any jobs we do. Whatever you want.”

Sounds good, although giving up the money might only cause him to wonder more about your motivations. Granted, you just told us about your intentions re: Coil and Dinah via narration, so I doubt Brian’s about to make you repeat it in dialogue.

He shook his head, then asked me, “Why? Why come back?”

In which case… what are you going to say here? That they’re your friends? That you had fun? That you have nowhere else to turn?

That you have a plan to make things better?


“Because I’ve been to the shelters, I’ve walked the streets and seen what the Merchants and Chosen are doing out there. I want to resolve this thing with Dinah. Whether I like it or not, I know that the fastest way to get to that point where everything’s okay again is working with Coil.”

Alright so she did repeat it in dialogue, but at least she gave the abridged version.

Lisa spoke, “I want her back on the team, obviously. If we’re voting, that’s where my vote is going.”

“Mine too,” Alec said, “You’re wound up, Brian, maybe it’s Taylor being gone, maybe it’s Aisha and your dad getting attacked, maybe it’s the general situation with the city, but it’s getting miserable to be around you.

This sounds… familiar.

There seems to be some paralleling going on here.

  • Brian here is Clockblocker – wound up, situation involving his dad, hostile to the “newcomer” (a returning newcomer in Taylor’s case, but still).
  • Taylor is Weld. Coming into the team with good intentions, to a hostile-to-lukewarm reception.
  • Alec is Kid Win. The seemingly laid-back one who probably feels like the fifth wheel of the team.
  • Lisa is Vista. The understanding one who tries to help mend relations with Taylor/Weld.
  • Aisha, if she’s Imp, is Flechette. The other newcomer, who is somewhat more welcomed to the team.
  • Rachel is Shadow Stalker. The hostile, aggressive one.

Taylor was always the one who was on the same page as you, she’d be someone you can work with and talk to, at least. You’ll be happier in the long run if she’s around. And we’ll be happier if you’re not so fucking crabby. ‘Sides, if she’s giving up her pay, then it doesn’t even cost us anything.”

He has a point there. I mean, she does still require some food and such, but yeah.


“It costs us a lot,” Brian said, his voice low, “If mistrust and tension fucks up our team chemistry, especially if we start fucking up in the field, because of it.”

He also has a point.

“So you’re voting no?” Lisa pressed him.

“Do I get a vote?” Aisha cut in, before he could respond.

Ah, might be time for them to break it to Taylor that Aisha’s on the team now?

“No,” Brian and Lisa refused her in unison. Aisha made a face, but didn’t seem too bothered.

Fair enough. Even if she is on the team now, which hasn’t been confirmed, she doesn’t quite have the necessary perspective, not having been around when Taylor was on the team.

“I don’t want her on the team,” Bitch spoke.

Brian shook his head, “I don’t know what to tell you, Rachel. Alec’s right, for once. We need her. We need the firepower, out there, at the very least. Looking at this objectively, I think I’d have to say we should keep her.”

Nice!

“Which is three votes for, one against,” Regent noted.

Y’know, this is also kind of familiar… “Rachel always votes against recruiting new members.”


Bitch threw the piece of chipboard she was carrying into the wall, hard. One of the dogs started barking in response or in alarm. She spat in my general direction and then stalked over to the far end of the room, her dogs trailing after her. The metal stairs clanged with the impacts of her boots as she ascended to the next floor.

Besides the more Taylor specific reasons for this outburst… I think Rachel is sick to death of being outvoted on things that matter to her.

Lisa hesitated, then followed after. Alec glanced at us, then put a hand on Aisha’s shoulder and led her away, leaving Brian and me alone.

Just doin’ my part as awkward silence.

“Thank you,” I said, quietly, to Brian.

Brian shook his head, “Don’t thank me. Alec’s right when he says that we’ll probably get over this. Maybe we’ll even become friends again and get to the point where we can talk about it. But that isn’t going to happen today, and definitely not right here and now.”

Yeah, that’s fair. 🙂


“Okay,” I replied. But he was already walking away, leaving me standing alone at the entrance.

I had told myself I would rise above the likes of Sophia and Armsmaster. I was all too aware of their flaws, and first and foremost among them was arrogance, pride.

So you’re embracing the opposite, humility, then?

So I’d swallowed mine.

Sounds good. 🙂


So is this box taking us back to the present, or to a second scene in-between?

Now

Ah, well, that’s helpful.

There were so many ways this could go wrong.

Tattletale held a pair of binoculars and scanned the building in front of us. “There’s movement. We’re good to go.”

Hmm. Is “now” not quite the “now” of the previous chapter? Did we jump forward to the next part of whatever plan they’ve laid?

“Go,” Grue ordered.

Hitting the target wasn’t so hard. My bugs flowed in through windows and Bitch took the entrances. Angelica had free rein, slow as she was, while the other dogs stayed on leash. Grue hung back with Tattletale, Regent and me, while Imp moved forward, not charging in, but staying close.

Alright. So what is this building?

The tricky part would be balancing this. Too far one way or the other, and this got really ugly, really fast.

Our targets were looters, and they were well armed, though bullets were getting to be in shorter and shorter supply.

Ah, I see… so they’ve taken it upon themselves to stop looters and such now, or?

Coil had sources, and the Chosen did as well, but these guys were from the Merchants.

Ahhh. Coil mission, I guess, now that the situation within the Undersiders has been resolved one way or another. So is Coil calling shots against both E44s and the Merchants now?

They were vagrants, addicts and people who subsisted by mooching off the system. When the system had failed, they’d latched on to the only group that would take them.

The group that subsists by mooching off the addicts.

More had joined because it was safer and easier to be among the thugs, looters, scavengers and thieves than it was to be among the victims. Safety in numbers.

People Sophia would call predators.


They weren’t strong or trained, and I couldn’t call them brave. That said, they were bolstered by a kind of desperation. I’d seen it before, when I set my bugs on some of my enemies, how some panicked or saw the futility in fighting the swarm and others just fought on heedless of the damage they were taking and the pain they were feeling.

Only the fearless may proceed. Brave ones, foolish ones. Both walk not the middle road.

The Undertale wall sign I’m quoting kinda missed out on the desperate ones.

That same desperation posed an issue as far as our plan. If we gave them a chance, they wouldn’t hesitate to hurt or kill us.

Ah, I see. So does that mean you have something to do in this building and the looters are unfortunately in the way, or are you just rooting the looters out before they come to you?

They’d raided countless homes and businesses, taken everything of value they could uncover. Phone lines were down everywhere, police response times far slower with the roads in the condition they were. The looters had amassed a small fortune in stolen possessions, and intel said they were storing it here. As reasonable a target as any.

Yeah, I suppose. There’s loot in there and they’re from a team that’s currently in power and thus standing in Coil’s way. Makes sense.

My bugs drove the bulk of the looters out into the street. Between Grue’s darkness and Bitch’s dogs, those same looters were driven back and cornered, hemmed in by the snarling beasts.

Nice work! This seems to be going rather smoothly.

The second we had the situation under control, Shadow Stalker dropped out of the sky, a crossbow in each hand.

Okay is this before or after the last chapter? If it’s after, then does that mean this is actually Imp or Regent controlling Shadow Stalker?

Tattletale and Grue were darted a second later.

Hmm.

She reloaded in a second using the cartridges that had been set on her gloves, then darted Imp and me. By the time the dart embedded in the armor of my costume, Tattletale and Grue were slumping to the ground.

But are they acting? Are these darts actually effective at all? Is this a plot to have “Shadow Stalker” get them into the PRT or Wards HQ? I’m confused.

The fabric of my costume blocked the dart, so I didn’t go down. I drew my baton, snapped it out to its full length, and charged her.

There’s definitely something off here and it feels like Taylor is acting by the way the narration is written. She’s not at all indicating any surprise to see Shadow Stalker, worry about Tattletale or Grue, anything.

She backed away, loading and firing another series of bolts at Regent and the dog closest to her. By the time I reached her, she’d fired a second dart into the dog, then shot Bitch.

And everyone seems less effective against her than they should be.

My baton passed through her, of course. She walked through my arm, stepping right behind me, and then drove her knee into my side. I grunted and fell over, and she retrieved and slammed a dart into my shoulder before I could recover.

It passed through her, of course. Of course, as planned.

Right?


Take it easy, Regent.

Alright, I guess that confirms who’s controlling Sophia. Nice work, Alec.

So what are Imp’s powers, then?

Bitch managed to scream an order to her dogs before she ‘passed out’, “Go!”

Looks like that thought was the cue for the narration to stop pretending they’re not all acting.

The three newer dogs hesitated, but Angelica didn’t. She huffed out a snarl as she passed them, and the others took her lead and joined her in stampeding down the street until they disappeared from sight.

Ah, smart. This way, when “Shadow Stalker” “arrests” them, “she”’ll have a good explanation for where Bitch’s (note to Regent, remember to call her Hellhound if you’re going to impersonate Sophia) dogs are – they ran away on Bitch’s order.

I laid in the water, aware of how cold it was, trying to ignore how dirty it was. My lenses afforded me an advantage in that I could watch what was going on without my open eyes giving anything away.

Nice.

I saw Shadow Stalker touch her ear, then murmur something. Tattletale had gone over everything Regent needed to know as far as that particular routine and the orders to give.

Tattletale knows how the Wards operate. Taylor knows the girl he’s impersonating, and anything she doesn’t know, Tattle can help fill in with her power. This team is better equipped than most to pull off a plot like this.

I still have no clue what the goal is, but things are coming together a bit.


It took three minutes for the PRT to arrive. I saw the green and white flashing lights and heard the splashing before anyone stepped into my field of view.

Good work, “Shadow Stalker”, you took down the Undersiders singlehandedly! 😮

“Holy shit,” one of the PRT uniforms spoke.

“Restrain them and throw them in the van,” Shadow Stalker ordered him.

Yeah, “holy shit” is right. This feat is practically unreal!

“Jao, get the containment foam,” one uniform spoke. The captain?

“They’re tranquilized,” Shadow Stalker spoke, sounding disinterested, “Don’t waste resources.”

Fair enough. If “she” successfully convinces them not to use the foam, that’s one less hurdle to get out of later.

“Protocol states we use containment foam, especially when there’s an unknown.”

Ah, right, Imp. Yeah, I’d like to know more about that unknown myself.

“The girl with the horns? Mover three, teleports through shadows,” Shadow Stalker lied. “None of them can escape restraints on their own.”

Well, at least we know that’s not her power.

Also I suppose someone with this power would need to have their whole body, or at least a significant portion, in shadow for it to count. Just standing on shadow isn’t normally enough, because everyone’s always standing on their own shadow.


“But if Grue uses his power-“

That, my man, is a damn good point.

Shadow Stalker turned, then fired another dart into Grue. “Satisfied?”

Heh.

We’d drained the darts of the sedative, of course. Still, I was betting Grue would have words for Regent after this was over and done with.

Pffft.

The uniform didn’t back down, “No. I want to know why you don’t want them fully contained.”

This guy is smart. He knows that when someone’s being adamant about not following protocol, something’s up.

I like him, even though he’s a bit in the way.

“Because I’ve been up since five in the morning, it’s well past midnight now, and I’m going to have to start doing fucking paperwork the second we get these guys in a cell. I’m not allowed to walk away until they’re in custody, so if I let you foam them, I’m going to have to wait another half an hour to an hour for the solvent to get mixed and brought to them, five or ten minutes for it to work. Fuck that, they’re down. Listen to the hero who just took down a whole fucking team and get them in the truck.”

Nice argument, fairly in character too.


There was no reply to that, but a moment later, someone picked me up and started carrying me. I maintained deep breaths, kept my body limp. A few bugs congregated on me and the uniforms moving us, and I didn’t do anything to dismiss them. Maybe they would distract the uniform from the fact that any of us were still conscious.

Nice.

I was placed on the cool metal floor of the containment vehicle, my hands cuffed behind my back. A few seconds later, someone was thrown over top of my upper body. Too light to be Grue or Bitch. It would be Imp or Regent.

Hiya!

The metal doors slammed shut and locked with an audible shift of internal machinery.

So many ways this could go wrong.

Oh, absolutely, and I’m saying that while only having an idea about approximately one more step of your plan – “Shadow Stalker” letting you out within the place you’re going to. I’m not even 100% sure about that one and it’s still obvious that there are lots of ways this could backfire.

We had safeguards, of course, including but not being limited to Coil’s assistance. Still, there was something profoundly unsettling about allowing myself to be cuffed and imprisoned.

I suppose Coil’s assistance in this case amounts to not having done it at all if they fail, unless this is a super critical mission. So in that case they’ve essentially got plot armor in that this being canon means Coil will decide it was canon. Also, they already have the unspoken plan guarantee, which counts for a lot even in a seat-of-your-pants narrative.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be a total success, of course.


“No ears on us,” Tattletale murmured, “We’re good so long as we keep our voices down.”

“PRT is having words with the remaining ‘witnesses’ who stuck around to grab loot after the dogs ran off,” Regent informed us with a whisper.

I guess he has full access to Shadow Stalker’s senses, then. I suppose that’s to be expected. It’s hard to do a puppet job if you have to rely on your own senses.

“They’re backing up the story we wanted to sell.”

Perfect. I guess that’s why they bothered to act it out in the first place.

We’d passed one hurdle, at least. The act could have gone either way – if we didn’t sell it well enough, we could have wound up with the PRT arresting us for real.

Including Shadow Stalker, I suppose. Man, imagine her waking up from whatever her consciousness is going through while this is happening, locked in a cell?

Maybe she sees everything, hears herself talk… She has a mouth and she must scream but the mouth is currently in use by someone else…

If we timed it wrong or if one of the looters decided to attack us while we were pretending to be tranquilized, something ugly might have happened.

Oof, yeah. The scene would’ve been much less orderly when the PRT arrived.


“You hit me way too hard,” I murmured.

“Muscle memory,” Regent replied. “Blame her, not me.”

Ah, interesting, so he has some access to that kind of thing. I wonder if he has access to her mind in any capacity? I mean, it’s made of nerves too. This seems like puppeteering of her body rather than controlling the mind, but he might have read access?

Wait, no, we’ve had a whole thing about mind reading, which is what that would technically amount to. The only known potential mind reader is the Simurgh.

“You alright, Imp?” Grue asked.

“Duh,” she replied.

Heh.

It was a good few minutes before the truck bucked into motion. Out of unspoken agreement, we stayed quiet, just to be absolutely sure that the driver wouldn’t hear us. It was maybe ten or fifteen minutes before we arrived.

Yeah, staying silent seems reasonable. Can’t take too many risks, and you’re supposed to be out cold right now.

“We’re at their headquarters,” Regent spoke, his voice hushed.

“Then we’re in good shape,” Grue answered.

Nice.


“Weld and the Wards are coming out to meet Shadow Stalker. Heads up.”

Was that Tattle?

Let’s see how good Regent is at roleplaying.

The back door of the van opened. I could feel cooler air enter the enclosed space. There was an audible click of a gun, as if they were anticipating an attack the moment the doors opened.

I mean it’s probably not unprecedented.

“Wow,” one of the boys commented. I was guessing it was Kid Win or Clockblocker. “How’d you pull that off?”

Sounds more like Kid than Clocky.

I think. You know I’m not good at identifying characters by speech patterns, with some exceptions.

“They were distracted, I picked them off. That little freak that saw me with my mask off was wearing armor, so I had to resort to CQC,” Shadow Stalker made it sound matter-of-fact.

CQC?

Close quarters combat. Took me a while, but I got it in the end. I think.

“Riiiight,” one of the other boys said, sarcastic.

What, you don’t believe that that’s the only reason she did that? o:)

“You’re quiet, Weld,” a girl’s voice. Vista?

Who was Weld?

The shiny boy who smiled at you at the Endbringer meeting entrance, remember him? 🙂


“Basking in how fucking awesome I am?” Shadow Stalker gloated.

The other thing Weld is, besides shiny boi, is smarter than he looks. He’s probably trying to puzzle together how Shadow Stalker managed to take out the entire Undersider team, who managed to beat and escape the full old Wards team, plus Glory Girl and Panacea, that one time according to the files.

“Maybe later. For now…” the accented male voice spoke, “Just satisfy my curiosity. You know the passwords we memorize each week, and you know why we memorize them, right?”

Yeeah, he’s definitely suspecting that something’s up with Sophia. Tattletale, your turn. Unless Regent does have access to Sophia’s memories, that is.

“Yeah,” Shadow Stalker replied.

One of the other boys spoke, “For any interaction with any flagged shifter or,” the boy paused, “master. Oh.

And the Undersiders have two masters and an unknown (Weld can’t trust “Sophia”’s classification of Imp as a Mover 3 right now, nor am I sure that he’s seen that yet) among them, something Weld himself pointed out (minus the unknown) back in 9.1.

“So,” Weld said, “Keeping in mind that Regent is the highest rated Master in the city, I’d like for you to give us this week’s password.”

Oh wow. That really says a lot.

I mean, the fact that we’re even in this situation is already saying a lot, but still.


There was a pause.

“Comanche Six-six-two,” Shadow Stalker spoke.

Didn’t hear anything from Tattle. I guess either he has access to Sophia’s brain, or they had prepared for this.

Another pause.

“Alright,” Weld confirmed, “Pick ’em up and haul them into the holding cells.”

It was all I could do to stay still and not show my relief. Tattletale had anticipated this much, had drilled Regent on it, but she had been wrong in the past.

Phew. Alright, preparation it is, then. 🙂

Imp was lifted from on top of me, and Tattletale was picked up next, from right beside me.

I was among the last to get lifted off the floor of the truck. Shadow Stalker held me until a pair of PRT uniforms could haul me to my feet and lift me by my armpits, my feet dragging on the ground, my head hanging. I chanced a partial opening of my eyes, knowing my lenses would hide them, to sneak a sidelong peek at this ‘Weld’. Metal skin, metal hair, and a strange melted-junkyard texture to his shoulders. I’d crossed paths with him before the Endbringer event.

Yup! That’s the guy.

Pretty nice one too, maybe you should get to know him.

He spoke, his voice quiet enough that it was probably intended for just him and Sophia, “Where are the dogs?”

Another question they were prepared for.

“Tranquilized them, they didn’t go down. Ran when Hellhound dropped.”

Weld nodded, “This is good work, but it doesn’t excuse or make up for what happened earlier.”

Looks like Vista tattled. Fair enough.

The vagueness of that statement isn’t exactly helpful to Regent, though. Did Tattle know anything about this?


“Whatever,” Shadow Stalker replied.

Heh, at least he got a character with an easy out from having to make value-loaded replies.

“No. This is serious. You assaulted a team member. I’m not about to let that slide.”

Regent, internally: “Seriously?”

Skitter, internally: “Of course she did…”

On one level, I wasn’t surprised to hear that. I knew, cognitively, that she had that kind of personality. But emotionally? I hadn’t really believed it. It caught me off guard to hear she was that big a problem in the Wards, as well.

On a third level, that’s one of the reasons you didn’t join.

I think the issue here might be not that you didn’t expect her to be trouble in the Wards too so much as that you didn’t expect her to be this much trouble to people other than you.

A few seconds passed before she finally asked, “What are you going to do?”

“After these guys are securely in custody, we’re going to have words with the Director. She wants you on this team, for whatever reason, so I don’t expect your probation will be broken, but there’s going to be consequences.”

Seriously, what does it take to break that probation?

“Fuck,” Shadow Stalker said.

“And you’re going to apologize to Kid Win. I don’t ever want you assaulting him again.”

To… Kid Win?

Wait, is he not talking about her interrupted attack on Vista? Or is he deliberately getting details wrong to check if “Shadow Stalker” calls him out on it?

Shadow Stalker paused. “Stop fucking testing me. I’m too tired for this. It wasn’t Kid Win.”

Yeah. I guess Tattle filled him in on that too, unless Sophia did so during the torture session.

But Sophia’s smart enough that I’m pretty sure she’d give him wrong but believable information, at least at first.


Weld nodded. I blinked a few times in surprise. Tattletale hadn’t gone into this, hadn’t anticipated it. Weld had just tried to trip up Regent/Shadow Stalker, and Regent had anticipated it. A bullet dodged.

Oh, okay. But in that case he’s stuck if Weld asks “Then who was it?”

I saw we were passing by a front desk. I’d never been in the building, but I had passed by it a few times. It was surprisingly empty. There weren’t many PRT uniforms around, either.

Huh. Got business out of the building, perhaps?

“Who was it, then?” Weld asked. It took me a second to parse what he meant.

Hah! I got the placement of the “then” wrong, but other than that I totally called it.

Shadow Stalker groaned, “Fuck off! It’s me.”

“Hey,” he turned, putting one hand on her shoulder to stop her mid-stride. “Who was it?”

He’s smart, and he’s thorough, and he’s probably read Regent’s file and knows what he can do. And the PRT knows that Tattletale has a way with knowing some things she shouldn’t, such as passwords.

She glanced at the group. Clockblocker, Kid Win, Vista, and the girl from the Endbringer fight who called herself Flechette.

Think fast. Who would Shadow Stalker attack?

Or, let me rephrase that. Out of three mid-late teens and one early teen, who would a humongous asshole target?

“Clockblocker,” she guessed.

Fuck.


Weld didn’t move an inch, and my gut told me Regent/Shadow Stalker was off the mark. My heart sank.

Clockblocker and Kid Win stopped walking and looked our way curiously.

Yeeah, this mission just officially went off the rails.

“Heads up! Trap!” Weld shouted.

Wards Neo vs the Undersiders, here we go.

So the Undersiders have a mishmash of advantages and disadvantages…

  • Advantage: Regent is controlling one of the Wards, giving an advantage in numbers 7-5 as far as bodies go.
  • Advantage: Element of surprise.
  • Advantage: Coil made this canon. Doesn’t actually help them win, but indicates they probably do.
  • Advantage?: Wards don’t know the powers of Imp. We’re likely to find out what those are in the next chapter.
  • Disadvantage: Shadow Stalker’s ammunition has been drained of tranquilizer, unless they brought bolts they didn’t drain.
  • Disadvantage: Ward home turf.
  • Disadvantage: Six out of seven bodies on their side are currently restrained.
  • Disadvantage: Rachel doesn’t have her dogs and is therefore practically a mundane in this situation.
  • Disadvantage: The 7-5 numerical advantage doesn’t count the mundane PRT soldiers that I think are still around.

Overall, the Undersiders seem to be at a disadvantage here, but who knows what Imp brings to the table. This could get very interesting.


End of Parasite 10.2

This was a very good chapter! We got to watch Taylor humbling herself and asking to rejoin the Undersiders, explaining the situation and… possibly meeting Imp, even if she didn’t find out about that yet and it hasn’t been confirmed.

Then we got step three of Project Parasite, whatever that might be working towards, which worked out perfectly. This is really Regent’s time to shine, that much is clear! Unfortunately it kind of fell apart on step four because Weld is a smart guy.

So now the Wards are aware of the shenanigans in play, and we’re probably getting into a fight next chapter, in which the Undersiders are largely at a disadvantage, but we still don’t know what Imp’s powers are… it’s probably time to find out next time.

Hm. My standing guess is the super vague “something mischievious”, but maybe her powerset is kind of like the D&D cantrip Thaumaturgy, a compilation of a bunch of minor powers that all tieflings start with? Or maybe pyrokinesis is one of her powers… I mean, hellish associations and all.

I really don’t know. We’ll have to see next time. ‘Til then!

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