Source material: Worm, Parasite 10.4
Originally blogged: January 15, 2018
“Officer Krixwell, please prepare to read another chapter of the Worm arc Parasite.”
“Yes, that one.”
“Do you even know what that one means?”
Howdy, everyone! It’s time for some more Worm!
Last time, we had a good battle between the Undersiders, a puppeteered Shadow Stalker and some horned girl on one side and the remaining Wards on the other, which the Undersiders won… but their file shenanigans were interrupted by Dragon. I don’t know exactly what she can do from wherever she is (if she is anywhere), but I wouldn’t underestimate her.
I don’t have much in terms of predictions for how this is going to go, except that the Undersiders will somehow get out of this situation successfully. Tattletale might be the key to this, as a skilled manipulator with a knack for knowing stuff about people going up against an enemy who is not physically present and hides just about everything about herself behind a virtual representation.
Imp might also be useful here, but that depends a lot on whether or not her power has a range. If it only affects those physically present, it’s not going to work on Dragon. That said, she does have other powers according to Taylor (though they may be minor ones, like Flechette’s understanding of angles, which I originally interpreted as a side effect of her main power).
So yeah. Without further ado, let’s jump in and 10-51!
I could detect a definite note of irritation in Dragon’s voice, despite how she’d synthesized it to mask her tone, inflection and speech patterns. “You were tampering with my system,” she accused us.
At the end of the last chapter, I mentioned “the cold wrath of the Dragon”, but this is something much scarier:
The cold wrath of the sysadmin.
Criminal: We took the hostages, secured the building and cut the communication lines like you said.
Criminal: But then this guy climbed up the ventilation ducts and walked across broken glass, killing anyone we sent to stop him.
Phone: And he rescued the hostages?
Criminal: No, he ignored them. He just reconnected the cables we cut, muttering something about “uptime”.
Phone: Shit, we’re dealing with a sysadmin.
In the dim light the monitors shed, I could see Imp trying the door by the stairs. It didn’t open. I gave it a try and verified it had sealed shut.
You are currently in a building where Dragon presumably has remote control over just about everything. You’re gonna have a hard time getting out of here if she’s intent on keeping you trapped.
I wasn’t entirely sure why I’d expected a different result. Maybe I’d been hoping Imp had been making a horribly timed joke? It wouldn’t be beyond her.
“We were, but we’re done now, so we’ll be on our way,” Tattletale called out, her voice raised to be picked up by whatever microphones Dragon was using to listen in on us. I could see her pulling the USB drives from the computer.
Ahaha! Have I made it clear enough how much I love Tattletale’s frankness yet? 😛
Dragon informed us, “I’m reading the files and notes we have on you as we speak. Tattletale, it seems you have a penchant for needling your opponents. Rest assured, if you intend to try it, I won’t rise to the bait.”
Good luck with that. This girl is good.
Imp hefted her fire axe and struck just beside the handle of the door. The door itself was hollow, but it was made of something like fiberglass, and the axe only made a small hole, a half inch across and less than two inches long. She struck again, slightly higher.
A small hole is better than nothing, I suppose. It means it’s possible to make a bigger hole if you’ve got time and stamina.
“So few think they will,” Tattletale said with a grin. “So. I guess you’ve locked us in here, huh?”
“Yes. You’ll get out, perhaps, but not before reinforcements arrive.”
“We’ll see,” Tattletale answered. She began moving toward the Wards’ quarters.
I mean, it’s not a bad plan. I imagine there’s more Dragon could do if she felt the need to, but she evidently doesn’t right now.
She looked from one security camera to the next, as if trying to figure out if she was being watched. I did have my bugs covering the lenses of the cameras I’d been able to find, but that wasn’t to say that they could have something more concealed.
(I assume that’s supposed to say “couldn’t”)
Yeah, considering how common it is to disable any apparent security cameras, it makes total sense to install some hidden ones too, and the PRT probably has access to a hidden sensor tinker somewhere who can make some damn well-hidden cameras.
It was kind of creepy, that the kids here were observed constantly like that.
Eh. Dunno, seems reasonable to me. I mean, if there’s security cams in the bathrooms, that’s a whole other matter, but this room is essentially their workplace. I don’t find it any more creepy than security cameras in a shop watching over the employees.
“You tried to steal official data, and you put a virus on my system. Epeios’ work, I believe.
Shit, I fell into the “can’t it be motherfucking both things” trap…
So, Epeios? Mundane virus programmer, or one who is parahumanly good at that?
…would that make them a tinker?
I’m more insulted by the fact that you went to that hack than I am about the virus.”
“Had to slow you guys down somehow,” Tattletale called out.
So does that mean the virus is the only reason Dragon didn’t interrupt this until the end of the transfer?
She motioned to me, and I hurried toward her. Imp let go of the axe to rub and shake her hand. Regent grabbed the weapon to take over the job of hacking at the door.
Hm, whatcha want with Taylor?
I followed Tattletale into one of the rooms at the other end of the Ward’s headquarters. Pieces of technology littered the area. There was a small bed in one corner so littered with pieces of junk, screws, scraps of metal and unfinished projects that I doubted the occupant had used it to sleep in a long time.
Kid Win’s room, it seems.
Kid Win’s room, had to be.
“Gear up,” Tattletale said.
Oh damn. The Undersiders with Kid Win’s tinkertech guns… sounds like a fun time.
“Taking a tinker’s stuff to keep is a bad idea, what with GPS signals and tracking and all that, but at the very least, we can use this to get out.” She swept her arm over the room, where stuff lay on every surface.
Ah, right, they can’t keep it. Still, though, fun time while they’re still around here!
Dragon’s voice echoed through the chamber, “I can hear you, Tattletale. Do not use a tinker’s devices. Power supplies can overload, weapons and equipment can misfire. Only the tinker who made it can verify the devices as safe and operate them properly.”
You say as if the Protectorate wasn’t using Bakuda’s bombs against Leviathan and isn’t constantly providing plenty of PRT soldiers and capes with equipment made by tinkers other than themselves.
“Right, sure,” Tattletale called out with a note of sarcasm in her voice. “Because it’s not like there’s any high profile mercenaries out there who’ve made a career off of using a tinker’s stuff.”
Ahaha yeah, that too. Getting personal here, bringing up the Dragonslayers… nice.
Dragon didn’t reply. Had Tattletale found a sore spot? I knew the Dragonslayers were mercenaries who had taken the parts of one of Dragon’s armored suits to outfit themselves as high tech mercenaries.
Everyone has sore spots, and this one is fairly well known, so you don’t even need the power of knowledge to find it.
You were saying about not being affected by Tattle’s words, Dragon?
Tattletale looked up and glanced around the room, then whispered to me, “Don’t worry about misfires. I think my power will help us spot those.”
Ah, yeah, that’s helpful.
I wanted to believe her, but she’d been wrong before. It would be Murphy’s law for her power to go awry here, with us blowing our faces off or something.
Hm, fair enough.
Still, I didn’t stop her from picking up a gun without a handle. She pointed it at the wall and pulled the trigger that sort of dangled beneath the gun. A yellow dot appeared on the wall, then started smoking. She glanced over her shoulder, and when I turned to see what she was looking at, I saw a matching dot on the wall. She moved the gun, and the dots both moved.
…don’t use whatever this is near any cats.
“Laser with invisible beam. Ricochets,” she murmured. “Doesn’t burn that hot, wouldn’t do any damage to anything or anyone.
Ah, I see.
Still seems to fit with my speculated specialty for Kid, “manipulation of energy”. I wonder how much the rest of the equipment here will.
Wouldn’t incapacitate our opposition or get us out of here.” She put it aside. “Look for something better.”
Dangers aside, borrowing Kid Win’s stuff wasn’t a bad idea. At the speed Regent and Imp were cutting through the door handle, I figured it would be minutes before they were through. We had to get out of here before the Protectorate arrived.
Yeah, I mentioned that a small hole could be turned into a bigger hole if you had time, but the Undersiders don’t.
Even with their numbers cut by recent casualties and injuries, that would be very, very bad for us.
They’ve gotten away from the Protectorate before (minus Skitter and Imp), as I understand it, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
I uncovered three guns that looked like they might work. Tattletale looked them over. “Nonlethal flamethrower that probably didn’t pass review, some kind of forcefield barrier cannon and some kind of gun for fighting bigger foes. Nothing too dangerous, but don’t point them at any of the rest of us until you’ve tested ’em out.”
Flames are characterized by release of energy, forcefields tend to be made of some kind of energy…
But how does a “forcefield barrier cannon” work in practice? Does it place forcefields centered on where a projectile hits?
Nodding, I lifted the one that was five feet long, needle-thin and spearlike. I worked to get it out of Kid Win’s quarters and aimed it at the largest chair, by the computers. I depressed the trigger, and a blue flame the length of my forearm spat out the end, consuming the chair.
I dunno how he made a blue flame nonlethal. Good job on that, I suppose.
The seat bent under the heat, melted plastic pooling on the floor, an acrid smell assaulting my nostrils. The flames that licked the remaining material cast some extra light on our surroundings. It was pretty thorough destruction for less than two seconds of sustained fire.
But seriously, some pretty good manipulation of energy must be in place to make sure it doesn’t do the same thing to people.
Also was that Weld’s custom chair?
How the hell is that nonlethal?
Ahaha! Taylor and I are on the same page here.
I hurried over to the door, and both Imp and Regent backed away to let me fire. I pulled the trigger… nothing.
…welp. I guess it’s out of fuel or something. Or maybe Imp and/or Regent are still too close and it’s nonlethal by way of not letting you fire if it detects people in the way?
“He took the power and fuel supply from that to use for something else, put crap components in there instead! Let it recharge!” Tattletale shouted across the room, “Almost one minute before you can shoot again!”
Ah. Well, at least it can recharge, even if it’s too slow for their current purposes.
Dragon would have overheard that, but she didn’t comment.
It seems she was thoroughly silenced by the Dragonslayer sting, for now.
Instead, a sprinkler system kicked into gear, misting down from the ceiling. Though the quantity of water was low, the effect on the burning chair was immediate, and the flames disappeared with surprising quickness. What little of the moisture soaked into my mask tasted faintly bitter.
…I suppose that was to be expected.
So is the bitterness tied to the flames disappearing so quickly? Does the PRT have a tinker chemist?
Then Dragon shut off the monitors, plunging us into absolute darkness.
I suppose she realized that the monitors were making things a little easier for the Undersiders.
I left the weapon with Imp and hurried over to the other guns, using the few bugs I had with me to ‘feel’ my way, sensing their locations and identifying anything I might trip over. The second gun, though it had looked more complete than any of the others, had two triggers on the front and two by the handle. I tried various combinations and got nowhere.
Huh. Dud, I guess, unless it’s just too complicated to use without knowing how.
The last gun was heavy. I hefted it with both hands, then told Regent and Imp to move aside as I aimed it at the door.
“against bigger foes”… no telling what the hell this might do.
Didn’t want to waste any first shots if this was going to take forever to recharge as well. The gun vibrated, rattled, and shuddered for a full five seconds before it fired. The shot didn’t cast any light, but it struck the door with enough force that the entire door buckled outward.
I hit the door with my shoulder, and the upper hinge came free. There was a light in the stairwell, shedding some meager light on us.
*backwards hacker voice*
Well, out of that room, anyway. I’m sure Dragon has control over more than that.
“Tattletale!” I called out. “We got through!”
By the time Tattletale reached us, Regent and I had brought the door down. The lock was still extending from the handle to the frame, but we’d taken the door off its hinges, and we were free to pull the door open from the other side. We hurried into the stairwell and began heading back upstairs.
“Fight upstairs is going south, we need to step in, fast,” Regent spoke.
Shit. Wait, it’s a fight again? Seems like something you should’ve mentioned before.
I felt out with my bugs to get a sense of where each of the combatants were, then nodded a hasty agreement. I began taking the stairs two at a time, though the gun I carried had to weigh a good thirty or forty pounds.
I suppose the gun could still come in handy upstairs. Probably worth it to bring it.
We were halfway up when we came across a pair of unconscious PRT officers. I looked at Tattletale.
“Imp did this,” she told Regent and me. “She went ahead, remember?”
So is Tattletale actually immune, then?
It took me a few seconds to realize who she meant. Damn it, having to keep track of Imp and having her power throwing me off my stride was getting to be annoying.
The team prior to now had a kind of synergy, with the way my bugs and Tattletale’s power let us deal with Grue’s darkness, and how the dogs could smell opponents through it.
Yeah, it’s been a rather well-oiled machine. Imp’s power, on the other hand, is not well suited for teamwork in combat – it ends up more like the rest of the team is doing their thing and some mysterious horned girl shows up out of nowhere once in a while to accomplish the same goal.
She could do well as a solo cape compared to some of the other Undersiders, for that matter.
We found Imp at the top of the stairs, aiming the spearlike gun. The blue flame poured out, melting a large hole in the fiberglass.
We crouched in the stairwell as Imp opened the door. I was so distracted by the sight of the PRT uniforms waiting for us in the hallway that I didn’t see where Imp went.
Where who went?
The reaction wasn’t as strong or immediate as I would have expected, given the burst of flame and the door opening. A side effect of Imp being the one to carry it out?
“Someone burst through the door with fire a second ago? I don’t remember that.”
One person shouted and alerted the others. Regent used his power on the one closest to him, causing him to stumble sideways into his comrades. Their ranks descended into chaos.
Nice work! Just don’t overexert yourself again.
I readied the few bugs I had on my person, then hefted my borrowed gun. I backed down a stair as I asked Tattletale, “This thing is nonlethal, right?”
It… should be, but we don’t know if it’s been approved, and Kid has been known to skirt the rules a little, with the Tiro Finale.
She didn’t have an answer for me. Instead, she yelped out, “Back!”
That’s not very comforting.
She practically pushed me down the stairs, and I caught a glimpse of her covering her ears, shutting her eyes.
Despite the fact that I was on the verge of landing face first on the landing of the stairwell, I didn’t use my hands to stop myself. I turned to take the impact with my shoulder, tucked my chin to my chest and covered my ears. Regent jumped out of my way as I landed, his arms pressed against the sides of his head.
It had to have been a grenade. The blast ripped through the upstairs hallway, and left me gasping even from inside the stairwell. Tattletale was up before I was, hauling me to my feet and up the stairs, Regent followed just behind us.
Ouch. How is that nonlethal?
Could it be that we’re not up against the PRT? It’s an unfounded theory so far, but it’s possible that one of the other villain groups noticed the ongoing debacle at the Wards HQ somehow and decided to take advantage.
The grenade had been of the nonlethal variety, but not quite a flashbang. The gathered soldiers were reeling, stunned, and Imp was crouched by the only one who was still conscious.
Huh. I guess maybe it wasn’t all that strong compared to lethal grenades?
But… the soldiers are down too. Did one of them throw the grenade, and they got taken down by Imp, or is there a third party doing it?
Or was it Imp who threw it? Seems kinda unlikely.
She drew a taser from her sleeve, tagged him, then stood. She had one of the PRT’s grenade launchers slung over one shoulder, the flamethrower-thing in one hand, and the taser in the other.
…alrighty then. Let’s update that from “unlikely” to “reckless”.
She handed off the grenade launcher to Regent, then put the taser away, holding the flamethrower.
I suppose it’s possible she took the launcher from one of the PRT guys after the grenade was launched? Either way, I’m more comfortable with Regent having that.
To reach the hallway where Grue and the elevator were, we had to head out past the gift shop and around the front desk.
Hey, might as well grab a souvenir of the mission while you’re here. Little figurines of the people whose asses you just kicked, perhaps.
Everyone we’d left behind was still there, friend and foe, but things hadn’t gone well in our absence.
Seriously, why did Regent not notify them that the fighting had started back up until it was going bad?
Or is all of it because of Weld, who I suppose wasn’t technically down yet when they went in?
We found Bitch and Shadow Stalker backed against the elevator at the far end of the hallway. The three dogs were spread out between them and Weld, limp and unmoving. They’d shrunk down almost to their normal size. I had to watch for a few seconds before I could see the rise and fall of Sirius’ chest and verify he was alive.
Weld stood beside Grue, binding a length of cord around our leader. The way he was positioned, Bitch wasn’t able to get by, and I could only assume that Regent had Shadow Stalker there because Bitch lacked the means to defend herself solo. The elevator, naturally, wasn’t running.
Hm, yeah, this is unfortunate.
I lifted the heavy gun, then aimed it at Weld and Grue.
I suppose Weld does qualify as a “bigger foe”, or at least a heavier one. But he’s also practically got Grue as a hostage… then again, I suppose the gun wouldn’t harm Grue while he’s still time-stopped.
“Where did you get those guns?” Weld asked, squaring his shoulders as he turned to face us.
They knocked out Kid before going in, right? It doesn’t sound like he’s back up yet, but I do wonder if he’s conscious enough to see this.
“Borrowed ’em,” Tattletale smirked. Then she fired the gun she was carrying. An arc of electricity crackled between the nozzle of her gun and Weld.
Heh, I suppose that’s what happens when you’re made of metal. I wonder if it acts as a weakness of his? That would make him the third person in this arc to have that as a weakness.
Also, if Weld plays cleverly enough, he could try to put Shadow Stalker between Tattletale and himself. He knows that if she gets zapped, it’ll disrupt Regent’s control of her.
Seemingly unconcerned, he started running towards us, metal feet pounding on the tile.
I guess it’s more an immunity than a weakness, then.
Tattletale backed up one step, and I took that as my cue to back up three. This guy could hit hard, and none of us was capable of going toe-to-toe with him.
Yeah, this could be an issue.
There was no need to worry, as the lightning gun’s effects added up and Weld collapsed to the ground before he got halfway to us.
Tattletale stopped firing, and I could see that the metal of Weld’s body was glowing with the heat he’d absorbed.
Ahhh, I see. He’s immune to electricity, but he can only take so much heat.
She stepped closer and swung her gun at him, smacking him across the face with the barrel. It stuck, and she swiftly backed up. I wouldn’t have thought he was that hot, that the metal would bond.
Hehe. I wonder if Tattle knew that would happen? It doesn’t sound like it, since she did just lose her weapon.
Weld staggered to his feet and tore the gun away with both hands, leaving a melted mess that extended from his cheekbone to his forehead on one side of his face.
A barely conscious Kid Win, internally: “Aww, I spent so much time on that gun.”
Gun removed, he started reforming his hands into sticks, four feet long, with the ends curved into blunted hooks.
Every so often, we see some parallels between Weld’s power and Hookwolf’s. I kinda like that, honestly.
I raised the gun that had nearly knocked the door off its hinges and pulled the trigger, aiming it at both Weld and Grue. Nothing. Whether it was due to a lack of charge, a malfunction, or whatever, it just didn’t work.
Weld began to charge us, and he was nearly to us when Imp stepped in his way and tried to fire.
“Don’t-” Tattletale started.
As with my gun, the flamethrower didn’t work. Weld clobbered her just as she was beginning to utter a swear word, catching her with both hands to fling her aside. She tumbled into a sign. That put him only a few paces from me.
IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME
Shadow Stalker was already running toward us. She entered her shadow state to leap forward, interjecting herself between us and him before going solid. There was no grace in her movement as she threw herself at him, no particular technique she employed.
All about getting her there ASAP.
They slammed into one another, and she went limp, her body getting tangled up in his legs as he trampled her to the ground.
A short distance from us, Regent fell to one knee, grunting slightly. A backfire? Or something else?
…can he feel what happens to Shadow Stalker?
More out of an attempt to minimize the damage to Shadow Stalker than actually being bowled over, Weld fell. I did as Tattletale had done before, and struck Weld with the metal of my gun’s barrel.
Well, guess we’re not seeing any more shots from that gun, then.
As I’d hoped, he was still hot enough that the gun bonded to the metal of his body, I could help to hamper his movements.
That’s not how that works, but it’s a reasonable assumption.
Rather than hit him in the face, I struck him across one arm, so the gun made contact with both his forearm, where the hook-hand started, and his bicep. My hope was that it would limit his range of movement.
Tattletale, Weld and I hurried to back away as he began to climb to his feet, Tattletale recovering her lightning gun. I could see her debate striking him again, but she seemed to decide it would be better to keep her distance and hold on to it.
Is it still functional?
I could see Shadow Stalker materialize behind Weld, with Bitch approaching from the other end of the hallway. One of the dogs, the setter whose name I couldn’t quite remember, had climbed to her feet to join Bitch. Grue was still out of action.
Plot twist, the setter’s name is Aisha.
Weld started laughing, the noise just a little off, coming from someone who I suspected didn’t even have to breathe.
Tattletale caught some meaning in his laughter a second before Regent did. Tattletale, Regent and Shadow Stalker all simultaneously turned toward the front of the building. Regent and his puppet uttered a whispered “Oh shit” in unison.
The floodwater and moisture were stirred into an whirlwind flurry around the metal frame by turbines and jets, pushing water and debris a distance away as it set down.
Why’s it always gotta be water…
As the engines turned off, the water slopped back into place, lapping around four metal legs.
Reinforcements have arrived… and the Undersiders were having enough trouble with Weld alone.
It was squat, the frame low to the ground, with a snakelike head, and a segmented, sinous body. It had four legs and a long tail that trailed on the ground in a zig-zagging shape, segmented much as the body had been.
Wait, what? A salamander bot, or something like that?
These reinforcements are taking a very different form than I had expected.
Also if this thing has a lot of exposed metal, try to get it to collide with Weld.
It would have been intimidating enough on its own, but the four engines that were mounted on its upper body, extending out of each of its shoulders in two places, were some combination of a weapons array and a propulsion system.
Hm. Maybe it’s less like a salamander and more like a… dragon.
They bristled with turrets and missiles. It opened its mouth briefly to vent off some vapor and I could see more weapons contained within. Foremost among them was some kind of massive cannon.
Evidently this thing comes prepared, whatever it is.
That explained why Dragon had been so quiet. When she’d talked about reinforcements, Dragon had been talking about herself.
I’m not convinced that she’s actually inside that, but she’s presumably controlling it remotely.
Then again, I can’t rule out that she is this thing, in a sense. I mean, if she’s actually some sort of AI or otherwise virtual in nature, she can have a hivemind of mechanical bodies that she controls directly. But that’s more of a possibility that I can’t rule out than something I actually believe is the case.
“Okay,” Tattletale spoke as she backed up, moving her gun to point it at Weld, then Dragon and then back to Weld again. “Good news, that’s a model Dragon designed for speed, meant to get places fast. Like, say, if she wanted to get an armored suit from Toronto to Brockton Bay to personally take a hand in dealing with a group of teenage villains. It’s not really that serious a combat model.”
It’s armed to the teeth it may or may not have… if that’s not either meant for intimidation or a serious combat feature, then wow the serious ones must be chock full. No wonder the Dragonslayers are so effective with only a little bit of Dragon tech.
I looked at the weapons that bristled from Dragon’s shoulders. If I didn’t know Tattletale’s power, I wasn’t sure I’d believe her.
Dragon does seem to know how to intimidate. Then again, I don’t think that means those weapons aren’t fully functional.
“Well, that’s good,” Regent replied, “Except it can still totally kick our asses.”
Yeah, that’s the bad news.
Tattletale didn’t disagree. “Best tinker in the world? Probably.”
Yep, Dragon really knows her stuff.
I glanced behind us, where Weld was standing with excruciating slowness. He was already cooling off. The dog by Bitch’s side was growling, now.
The good news: Sticking metal to him will still work.
Seriously, do try to get Dragon and Weld to collide.
Tattletale continued, “The bad news is that the Protectorate is about a minute away, Grue’s still out of action, and there’s pretty much no chance we’re going to get out of here before then.”
As I was saying: Weld was trouble enough.
End of Parasite 10.4
This was a neat little chapter. Dragon did less with her access to the building than I had expected, opting to simply delay the Undersiders, but then she went and sent one of her mechs after the Undersiders got out – allegedly showing up in person. (I’m not convinced until Taylor sees her body or we get an Interlude confirming that she was actually there.) Now the Undersiders are up against Weld, Dragon and, soon enough, more of the Protectorate.
Next time, the Undersiders will have to figure out… what do? They really need to live up to their reputation as masters of the getaway right now.
So… yeah! See you next chapter!