Infestation 11.2: Big Skitter is Watching You

Source material: Worm, Infestation 11.2

Originally blogged: February 2, 2018


[pre-intro]

Infenestration 11.2

wait no


Infestation 11.2

That’s better. Fewer windows involved.

Hi! Welcome back to the livebabble! Tonight, we’re going out with Skitter and her borrowed goons to lay claim to some territory, whatever that actually entails. Chances are we’ll also run into the Merchants by the end of the chapter, though I don’t think Skitter actually intends to.

I don’t think there is much more to say here, so without further ado, let’s dive into it!


Water sprayed in the truck’s wake as we cut a path through the flooded streets.

At a certain point, you gotta start questioning whether a car is still a car or if it’s more accurate to call it a boat.

We haven’t quite reached that point yet, fortunately. Especially fortunate since it only works with the few cars that, y’know, float.

It was a military vehicle. I wasn’t one to know much about cars, and I knew even less about stuff like military vehicles, so I couldn’t put a name to the truck that was carting me and eight of Coil’s workers through the Docks.

Right there with ya.

It was like a sturdy pickup truck, but the rear section was wider and it was hidden beneath a green tarp that had been stretched over a framework of metal bars.

Well, at least the description sounds sort of familiar.

The tires were massive, with deep treads allowing the truck to navigate all but the most cracked sections of road where Leviathan had brought the underground pipes and drains through the surface.

Nice.


The interior was loaded with the supply crates that I’d had Coil’s guys load into the vehicle. Each set was strapped together and tied down to the floor and sides of the truck with belts.

Supply crates, huh? Maybe Skitter’s aiming for a more benevolent sort of control over her territory, a sort of Robin Hood deal where she steals from the good guys on behalf of the civilians who can’t compete with the villains to get supplies?

There wasn’t much room for the seven of us in the back, and we’d been forced to sit on the crates with little legroom.

Doesn’t sound particularly comfortable.

Another option is that they’re trying to lure out the Merchants by passing as a supply vehicle, but if that were the case, why would she bring actual supplies and soldiers without weapons?

I mean, maybe she’s very confident in her own abilities and doesn’t want anyone to get shot, Merchant or not, but it seems naïve not to ask for gunmen if she’s actually expecting a conflict. Naïve is not a word I’d generally use to describe Taylor.


A part of me wanted to converse with Coil’s men and get to know them. Another part of me, a larger part, told me that I shouldn’t. I had to convey power and confidence.

I suppose so, yeah. Though a friendly boss can be quite effective too, being respected is important either way.

I wasn’t sure I could do that while making small talk. With much the same reasoning, I’d chosen not to help with the loading of the truck.

That’s fair. I don’t think Taylor is all that great at small talk anyway, so doing so confidently could be difficult.

The men Coil had sent me were dressed up in the same outfits worn by the cleanup crews I’d seen around the city, picking up debris, trash and dead things.

Neat. Seems like a fairly solid cover if needed.

They wore heavy plastic one-piece bodysuits, made of a material I compared to those heavy-duty industrial rubber gloves that my dad kept under the sink, each in blue and yellow.

Swedish bees!

The suits were loose-fitting, and only the upper halves of their faces were visible behind the clear plastic goggles they wore.

The goggles do nothing to dissuade me from thinking about bees.

Their mouths were hidden by the filters intended to prevent mold, dust and airborne pathogens from getting into the worker’s lungs.

Seems like a pretty decent getup for the workers.


The masks also, I noted, did a good job at hiding the identities of the six men and two women. If it weren’t for that, I’d think Coil was trying to be funny, giving the hazmat crew to the bug girl.

Heh.

Whatever image I conveyed, whether it was in the role of a leader or as a potentially dangerous villain, it had given me elbow room. Coil’s employees had chosen to sit, cramped together, closer to the rear of the truck. I sat atop a crate with my back to the truck’s cab, watching the road behind us.

It’s pretty clear that this whole individual base thing is functionally a promotion for each of the Undersiders. I doubt it’s random that this happened so soon after Extermination, from a metatextual perspective – after Leviathan’s attack as a climax for a supposed part 1 of the story (it’ll be easier to see if that’s an accurate description in retrospect), it makes a whole lot of sense to start shaking up the status quo a bit, by first adding Imp to the group, then revealing the true extent of Regent’s power, and now having Skitter and the rest sort of “graduate” from the Undersiders. I know they’re still a team and will be working together again, but they’re much looser-knit all of a sudden and now can start leading their own groups under the Undersider umbrella and Coil.

In other words, after the end of part 1, it’s time for part 2 of Skitter’s career.


In a way, it was good that I wasn’t engaging in conversation. It let me focus on what I needed to – my bugs.

Either she is preparing for conflict, or she’s doing something else with the bugs. Maybe they’re her scouts to avoid conflict?

Generally speaking, there were two routes I tended to go. The first put me in one spot, drawing my bugs from the area. A three block radius made for a good number of bugs.

Three blocks? With the exception of those times her power was doubled for some mysterious reason, the figure we’ve heard before was two blocks. Does this mean her power has gotten stronger with practice over the last two months, or are there just smaller blocks around here?

Also I guess the other route she’s about to mention is driving around and turning that circle into a snake, thereby amassing more bugs (like she did in Agitation and Hive)?

Hm, maybe she intends to claim her territory by assembling a humongous swarm and making it into a sign in the sky, saying something like “All your base are belong to Skitter!”

Doesn’t explain the need for the supplies or soldiers, but that might be for something meant to go along with such a sign.

The second situation came about when I’d taken the time to gather a few select bugs from here or there, while covering a whole lot more area. I’d done it before the bank robbery, to get a prime selection of bugs. I’d also done it before we attacked the ABB the first time, with the other groups. Never enough to draw attention.

Exactly. She even mentioned the examples I thought to add to my commentary just before moving on to this quote!


This was different. This time, I wanted attention. This time, the city was a breeding ground for the bugs. Warm, moist, and filled with food. This time, I was gathering everything I could and I was covering a lot of ground.

Oooh.

Even if she doesn’t actually form a humongous sky sign, this ought to do almost a good a job of alerting everyone to her presence and strength.

We’d been driving for fifteen minutes around the perimeter of what I hoped would be my territory, gradually closing in towards the center. I found the bugs closest to the edges and sent them toward the middle. Of the ones that could fly, I had them gather overhead. It was more bugs than I’d ever controlled at once. My power seemed to crackle in my head as I drew in and interpreted all of the data.

Daayum, nice work.

Just, don’t overexert yourself to the point of backfire or sensory overload.

I was almost convinced I would finally see the upper limit of my power. That I’d reach for more bugs and realize I couldn’t control any more. It didn’t happen.

Oh wow. I guess Regent isn’t the only one who’s more powerful than we realized. Taylor does have a range restriction (possibly increasing), but seemingly no upper limit to how many bugs she can control at once – that, or a really high upper limit – so if she just gets a shitton of bugs transported into or bred within range, she might be able to control all of them.


The clouds of bugs that were gathering in the center of my territory were starting to cast a visible shadow on the area.

Even without letter shapes, that’s practically a humongous sky sign.

“This whole area is now under the shadow of Skitter!”

They weren’t the only bugs I controlled. I had others on separate tasks.

Like scouting, I’m guessing?

With a number, I created barriers, heavy clouds in alleyways and across streets. My motives here were purely selfish – I laid these barriers between the southmost end of the old Boardwalk and the Docks because I didn’t want my dad entering the area.

Nice.

My gut told me that if he got a good look at me in costume, he’d know who I was.

That could very well be the case. Especially if he also hears you speak. I think Danny is a man who’d recognize his daughter’s voice anywhere.

Besides, it didn’t factor into my plan.

Sure, tell yourself that’s why you don’t want your dad caught in the crossfire of whatever you’re doing here.


I had other bugs sweep through the inside of the buildings in my range. I made contact with people, stirring some from their sleep.

I doubt Skitter intends to sting civilians unless she has to, but there are other ways this could be useful. Such as the usual tracking trick, or just to plain scare people and get their attention.

As I sat on the crate in the back of the truck, nearly motionless, I was making a tally. How many people were here, and where were they?

That too.

If it were this easy to count people back in the days of the Roman Empire, maybe barns would hold less religious importance.

When I had a sense of things, I began organizing my bugs into formations. I started in the areas with lots of people clustered together: a warehouse with no less than eighteen people; a tenement crammed with what I assumed were families, with lots of small children; and an overly warm building with a large group of half-dressed people drenched in sweat.

Did she just find a sauna?

As I got those groups out of the way, I turned to targeting smaller groups, probably collections of families or friends. Where people were too deep in their sleep, I had the bugs nip at them to wake them.

Hey.

Hey. Listen.

Watch out.


They would wake up and see what I’d done. On their walls and floors, much as I’d done at the fundraiser, I had my bugs organized into arrows, pointing the way out the doors, down to the streets, and towards the truck’s destination.

Hah, nice! I guess she’s gathering everyone to where she’s going to make her announcement and maybe share the supplies they brought, then.

I drew out the letters to the word ‘supplies’ and left them in the brightest lit, warmest spots in the rooms where people were.

Nice.

Man, can you imagine waking up to something like this? Your house is crawling with bugs, you know there’s a semi-known bug-based villain in the city, but the bugs point you to a place where you can allegedly get stuff you need to survive…

I feel like some of the people might try to go back to sleep in hopes of it making them wake up.


Accounting for the illiterate, I put the bugs down in the shapes of basic food – a drumstick, a cut of cheese, a can.

Heh, not bad. And since they’re bugs rather than ink, you can do it in *advertisement voiceover voice* WONDERFUL THREE DEE

I knew I wasn’t the best artist. I worried I was confusing matters with the pictures. I could only cross my fingers.

Good luck, I suppose.

Today wasn’t one of the days my power was working double time, with double the range. I’d wanted to make sure to reach as many as I could, so I’d started drawing the arrows and words with the bugs early.

Yeah, still no idea what’s up with those double power days.

Hm. I wonder if it could have something to do with whatever happened to Noelle? We’ve seen double power happen twice – in Hive and in Extermination. If I’m not mistaken, Hive wasn’t all that long before Noelle’s problem kicked in, and it’s been suggested that Noelle could have something to do with Leviathan coming to Brockton Bay in the first place.

The unfortunate downside of that was that it meant we were left with barely any time to set up after we arrived at our destination.

Ah, yeah, that could be an issue.

I’d knocked on the window to get the driver to stop at an intersection where the road was torn up and traffic was difficult for conventional vehicles.

That might be helpful if other villains try to crash the party with conventional vehicles.


I stayed in the truck as Coil’s men unloaded it. I sensed some of the people venturing out of their residences, and I was careful to leave them unmolested by the bugs, using only what I had to in order to track them.

Nice. Yeah, this call to meet is unsettling enough as it is, try not to unsettle them more by swarming them with too many bugs.

Watching from windows and entryways, encouraged by those who left, others ventured to follow.

“Might as well… Not like she couldn’t have killed us already if she wanted to.”

The area in which I’d ordered the truck to stop was open. I hoped would encourage the growing crowd to approach.

Nice.

The truck was parked in the middle of the road, and the boxes were unloaded onto the ground just below the rear of the truck. I wasn’t sure I liked that they were getting wet, but I knew they were at least partially waterproof. I should have thought to ask Coil for some kind of platform or pallet to set them down on.

I doubt the civilians mind the supplies being a bit wet at this point.

Besides, what isn’t wet in Brockton Bay these days?


I meant what I stuck in that false dialogue. Taylor genuinely could have killed tons of people rather quickly if she’d wanted to. Let’s not underestimate the bug power.


It wasn’t two minutes before the first people started to arrive. The first few were kids, no older than ten, gathered in a loose pack, maintaining a wary distance. The next two groups were families, parents with their kids in tow.

Huh. I guess the kids want to see what’s going on and run a bit faster than the adults, and the families are more desperate for supplies than most single people.

I noted that the group of men who stepped out of an alley were armed, with knives and clubbing weapons hidden under their clothes and in their jackets.

Hello there. Merchants?

One of them swatted one of the flies I was using to feel him out. Were they members of the Merchants, or just a band of grown men that had taken to carrying weapons to protect themselves?

Could be either, I’m guessing the former. Either way they could mean trouble.

I’d known this move of mine would attract people of all types. If they were Merchants, I was okay with that, I’d accounted for it. Above all, I knew that this offering of supplies would attract the people who were hungry enough to venture out into the outdoors with the oppressive cloud of bugs looming above them.

I guess she’s willing to feed the Merchants too, as long as they don’t try to take the others’ shares, or otherwise start trouble.

Also, yeah, I suppose this is a good way of finding the people who want the resources most.

I would also attract the people who would want to confront me, Merchants included.

Naturally.


As people arrived and some ventured closer to the pile of boxes, one of Coil’s workers cast a wary glance over his shoulder, in my general direction.

Doesn’t seem comfortable with how close they’re getting. Maybe they’re worried Skitter and co. might lose control over the crowd.

I should have told Coil’s men not to look my way or show any uncertainty. It would hurt the effect I had hoped to generate.

Ah, yeah, I suppose.

To dissuade people from taking the supplies, I set a cloud of bugs around the piles of boxes, enough to be obvious without obscuring what was there.

“Not yet. This is still Skitter’s.”

One of the guys with weapons approached anyways, and I had the swarm move towards him, condensing into a dark shape, buzzing loudly. He backed off.

“NOT YET WE SAID”


In this manner, weighing enticement against implicit threat, I managed to keep the crowd in place as it grew to dozens, then a hundred people, with more still approaching, pushing the number closer to two hundred. Barely a fifth of all the people I’d tried to get in touch with. I was okay with that. It was enough to spread the word.

It’s still a pretty sizable crowd. Nice work.

Also, getting one in five people to follow the instructions written in bugs on their walls by a known villain is honestly impressive.


I was taking a risk, here. Gambling. It was like betting someone a million dollars that you’d hit a bullseye, when you’d barely played darts before. It wasn’t that I was confident this would succeed. It was that I really needed that million dollars.

I see… Good luck.

In short, I needed to get underway with Coil’s agenda, and I needed to do it fast.

In order to prove your value to him and get us up to Dinah’s possible release when/if the plan succeeds faster?

More people were still making their way towards us, joining the crowd. The bystanders would be getting more confident with numbers at their back, and they would be getting increasingly worried that if the crowd grew too large, maybe they wouldn’t get any supplies for themselves.

Ouch, yeah, better not keep them waiting too long.

If I put it off any longer, they could mob us, and I didn’t want that.

Yeah.


No, my gut told me this had reached the point where I had to act. From my seat in the truck, I drew my bugs together into a humanoid shape, and had the figure approach from the rear of the crowd, walking towards me. I waited, my attention focused on my swarm’s senses.

Niiice.

There was a gasp, then a general murmur. A woman shrieked. I felt the crowd part, heard the shouts. They’d noticed the figure I’d created with the swarm.

This is really cool. So is this figure human-sized, or a bit bigger? I’m currently imagining it as maybe 2-3 times human size.

Most eyes would be on it, now. I scattered its shape and had the swarm leap or shoot towards the rear of the truck in a loose blob, arcing slowly through the air to land at the rear of the truck, on top of the crates.

It really feels like putting on a show.

I guess to an extent, that’s exactly what this is.

The moment I knew the crowd would be unable to see, I stepped out of my hiding spot and into the midst of the swarm.

Ooh, are you creating the illusion that the swarm was (or was containing) you? Neat.

I scattered the bugs explosively, sending every one of the bugs flying or crawling directly away from me, revealing myself. The people closest to the pile of crates I was standing on backed away.

What an entrance. I love this so far.


To the crowd, it would look like I’d just transported myself to the back of the truck and materialized from the swarm. I hoped. It was a cheap ploy, obvious to anyone who thought about it.

But really cool.

I was banking on the fact that the swarm I had blocking out most of the sun and the whole dramatic lead-up would help sell the illusion.

Let no one claim that Skitter Hebert doesn’t have a sense for the theatrical.


I kept the bugs swirling around me, tightly packed together so they would be moving in tendrils and loops. Like Grue habitually did with his power, I was aiming to use my own abilities to make myself look bigger, more impressive. It was like a dog raising its hackles or a cat arching its back.

Sweet.

“Some of you know of me!” I called out, and the noises of the swarm accented the words, gave an eerie, strangely loud echo to my voice. “My name is Skitter!”

Admittedly not the most intimidating name you could’ve ended up with. The swarm echo might help with that, though.

I looked over the crowd. So many kids. So many who looked sick, pale with red cheeks. Some people were dressed too heavily for this warm weather. Everyone was dirty and damp, their hair greasy and clothes wrinkled.

“damp”

What did I say? Ain’t nothing dry in town anymore.

My eyes fell on a figure in the back of the crowd, who stood out because she wasn’t unwashed or wrinkled. Her white and gray costume had patterns on it in light blue that weren’t too different from a circuit board.

…heroic intervention? Or is that Purity? I don’t recall the circuit board thing with her, but it’s been a while.

If she’s a hero, the outfit sounds New Wave-y.

She leaned against a power pole, her arms folded, content to watch. The people nearest her were watching her as much as they watched me.

Looks like whoever this is, she’s intrigued. Wants to see where this is going.

I’d known I’d attract attention from the heroes. Still, it was intimidating, a reminder of how fragile this whole thing was.

Hang on, I think I know who it is!

*does a blog search for the suspect to confirm*

“Her costume was white and dark gray, with cobalt blue lines tracing it like you might see on a circuit board.”

It’s Battery!


I swallowed. I had to be confident. I lowered my volume a step, relying on my swarm to convey my words for me. It wasn’t perfect, there were parts of speech they weren’t good at making, but it worked well enough that I kept at it.

Whether they’re perfect speakers or not, it’s really damn cool.

“I am laying claim to this area! From this moment, I rule this territory!”

Nice work.

Now how does the crowd feel about that?

People could have booed or jeered. I’d been almost convinced they would. Instead, I heard a murmur running through the crowd. Battery hadn’t budged, but I saw her pressing her fingers to her ear, and her lips were moving.

I guess they’re too intimidated to show their opinion much to the villain laying claim to their neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Battery’s doing her job and reporting what’s happening. If more Protectorate members show up to help detain Skitter here, that could be a problem.

She didn’t turn her head away from me, and I could imagine her staring at me.

Yeah, probably. I’d want to do the same in her place.


“I am not the ABB, I am not the Merchants, the Empire or the Chosen! I am acting in your interests!”

Let’s hope they actually believe that.

Our group had discussed this, after talking to Coil the other night, and we’d hammered out more details yesterday, passing on the details to the Travelers. Our methods would vary wildly, but we were all making our bids for territory this morning.

Ah, cool, got it coordinated and everything.

I decided not to mention that. Let the others arrive at that conclusion themselves.

Wait, mention what, that you were all making your bids for territory this morning? That you’re working for the public’s interests?

“I demand no money from you, I do not intend to interfere in your lives unless you interfere in mine! I do not want to take or destroy what you have!”

I pointed at the crates that were beneath my feet. I lowered my voice. “These supplies are yours, a gift from me to you. And there will be more, delivered regularly for as long as I am here. My abilities will mean there will be no buzzing or biting flies harassing you, no cockroaches crawling over you as you sleep. I am offering you protection, security, and reprieve, for as long as you are my subjects! All I require is that you obey my rules, so hear me!”

This really sounds like a good deal for the public so far. Depends a lot on what the rules she requires them to follow are, of course.

Also, it’s a lot like any non-villainous social contract. It feels more like she’s taking over governance of the area than anything else.

“No gangs will operate here. Merchants? Chosen? I know some of you are in this crowd. Consider this my declaration of war. I will not permit you to sell drugs, to hurt my people or steal from them, or to seek shelter in my territory!”

Niice.

I raised my hand, and the swarm gathered coalesced into a tight mass above me, a vaguely spherical shape, six feet in diameter.

Uh?

“My bugs can devour a cow to the bone in one and a half minutes.” I had no idea if that was true. It sounded good. “I have a million eyes to watch you with. Go elsewhere.”

You make a compelling argument.


“To everyone else! If you assist any of these groups, give them food, shelter, or business? If you sell drugs, steal or prey on people in this area, you lose my goodwill. You will receive no more supplies, and you will earn my attention, with eyes on you for every waking hour. That’s strike one. If I catch you doing it again? I treat you as one of the enemy.”

Niiice. Big Skitter is watching you.

I let my words hang in the air for effect, and to give my audience time to consider what I was saying. I glanced at Battery. She wasn’t moving to stop me… interesting.

Out of all the things a villain could say while staking claim to a territory, these are some of the most heroic ones. She probably recognizes that Skitter taking over this area might actually be a good thing.

It’s not sure that the rest of the PRT will agree, but we’ll have to cover that bridge with bugs when we get to it.


“Each box contains enough basic food rations for four people. They also have first aid supplies and water filters. These supplies will keep you going until we can start fixing things and making more basic conveniences available.”

Nice.

“If you want more? Work for me. This work does not have to be criminal, for I need people to pass on messages, to act as spokespersons for these neighborhoods, and to clean up or rebuild.

That seems reasonable! And hey, Coil did say she could hire whoever she wanted.

For anyone who does assist me, them and their families will have access to some of those foods you miss, to showers and electricity, and generous payment. You and your loved ones will be dry, clean, and you will have fresh clothes.”

What is this word you’re using, “dry”?


I looked over the crowd. I could see people getting restless. At least they weren’t lynching me.

It’s always nice when people don’t lynch you.

“Thank you for listening. These supplies are yours to take. One to each family or group, up to two if your family is large enough.”

My monologue finished, I waited. Nobody ventured forward. Had I done too effective a job at intimidating them?

I guess it’s part that, and part that none of them want to be the first to accept a gift from a villain, the first to accept that villain’s claim of your area.

I was just starting to wonder what I’d do if nobody moved, when the first man stepped forward, followed immediately by his wife and a pair of kids.

There we go.

The wife had a very red nose and circles under her eyes that made me think she had a bad cold. The parents didn’t make eye contact with me as they accepted the box that one of Coil’s workers lifted down to hand to them.

Desperation is one of the strongest motivators there is to accepting any help you can get.

The children hid behind their mother. There was no gratitude, nor any thanks given, as the father turned to carry the box of food and necessities back to wherever he was taking shelter.

They clearly don’t like this, but they know they need the resources whether they like it or not.


Seeing the first family leaving with their supplies, others grew brave enough to venture forward.

Exactly. No one wanted to be first.

In moments, there was a crush of bodies.

Woah, woah, calm down please! Try not to trample anyone.

I stepped onto the back of the truck as the boxes disappeared from beneath me, and I watched the crowd for any violence or fighting. One altercation began as two men both grabbed the same box.

Uh-oh.

Before their violent tugging match got them or someone else hurt, I sent a buzzing flurry of bugs in between them. They dropped the box and backed off, staring at me.

Yeaah, it’s probably disconcerting to have the bug villain queen of your area (hm, we need a name for it… Skitterville?) break up your fight like that.

When I didn’t move to stop them or do anything further, they each returned to the pile to scrounge up different boxes, leaving the other on its side in the water.

Seems reasonable.


There wasn’t enough in the way of supplies. I could see the atmosphere shift slightly as people realized it.

Welp.

Might end up with more trouble to intervene in here.

There were too many people present versus the amount of boxes Coil had provided me, even with one box serving a whole family.

Shame, really.

I knew Coil had more – his underground base had stored ridiculous amounts, so he had access to a supplier, or he was the supplier.

Well, he did supply them to you. Not quite what you mean, though, I know.

I began formulating a plan, figuring out how I’d get boxes to those who were walking away from here empty-handed.

Good luck with that. How do you intend to identify who those were, for one thing?


I was interrupted from my thoughts. A man shouted, and I saw the crowd backing away.

Ah, shit. Heroes, Merchants, desperate person who didn’t get a box?

Either way, this sounds like trouble.

It was one of the men who’d had a weapon. He’d drawn and swung a crude knife to ward people off and grinned maniacally at the reaction he was getting.

Of course one of these guys ended up causing trouble. No real surprise there.

The scruff of beard on his chin was white, but it seemed rather premature given his apparent age. He was shirtless, with a long sleeve shirt tied around his waist, and scratches crisscrossing his upper body. His buddies stood back, smirking and grinning.

Huh, interesting design.

At least it’s not Jack Slash, unless he’s got a pretty good disguise.

It was a bad judgement call to pull this right in front of me, but I supposed people were at a point where they weren’t at their most rational. That, or he was high on something. I could see him as a member of the Merchants, either way.

Yeeah. To all of that.


“Big man,” I called out, “You feel proud with that knife of yours?”

You should try giving him a basketball to show off with instead. It might turn out to be crazy what kind of dunks this guy has.

He turned towards me, “Fuck you! I’m not scared of bugs.”

Oh, you should be.

Lung didn’t seem to be scared of bugs either, and look what that got him. A rotting crotch is what.

I stepped down from the back of the truck. People backed away, but the man held his ground. As I got closer, I saw how his eyes were too wide, and he chewed his lip like it was trying to get away from him.

Symptoms of drug use?

“You a member of the Merchants?” I asked.

“Fuck you!” he snarled.

Sounds like a yes to me.


I wasn’t going to be able to have a conversation with this guy.

Pfft, yeah, no shit.

He doesn’t seem much for words.

Time for action, then?

“Fine. Don’t care. You’re threatening my people? You’d better be ready to take me on.”

“Not scared of you!”

Only the fearless may proceed. Brave ones, foolish ones, both walk not the, uh, road that involves not taunting Skitter.

I shrugged, “Prove it. Use that rusty thing on me. Stab me.”

‘Cause as we all know, trying to cut her outfit worked out well for Shadow Stalker.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Taylor’s costume is slightly weaker to piercing than slashing damage. It seems like something could get in between the threads more easily than it could cut them.

He looked around at the crowd, hesitated.

“What?” I asked him. “I thought you weren’t scared.”

Hehe. How does it feel to have your bravado challenged, big man?


[Homestuck pesterlog]

TG: we agreed id do it though
TG: or at least you pretended to agree
TG: just before going into a major league wind up with your nap yarn
TT: A major league wind up?
TG: sports
TT: It’s always been pretty sad that I seem to know more about sports than you. Which is really saying something.
TG: all im saying is
TG: no one likes a basketball hog
TT: It’s probably just “ball hog.”
TG: i just think you should know
TG: that in the athletic arena of competitive achievement
TG: its a widely known fact that cherry picking posers get showered in nothin but boos
TG: you dont gank the rock and steal the big mans thunder on his raucus drive to the hole
TT: Oh lord.
TG: is that the sort of ignominy you want
TG: see you didnt consider sports you never consider the sports
TT: The last thing I want to do is come between a big man’s thunder and any particular hole he might prize.
TG: and yet
TG: such has been whats happened
TG: it like the tight end was going long down the yard in sudden death
TG: its me im the tight end
TG: and the quarterback sniped the fieldgoal just before the nfl buzzer went off
TG: the greedy qb is you
TT: That’s not even close to being a thing in football.
TG: but instead of winning the gold sports prize you just fucking die and nobody cares and it didnt mean anything
TT: Which prize is that?
TG: the football prize
TT: You mean the most vaunted accolade associated with the gridiron, known as “Stanley’s Cup?”
TG: no come on
TG: its called the bruce bombardi trophy or something
TG: for best pile squad
TT: I’ll take your word for it.
TG: and even though youre dead all these fat millionaires in helmets just leap on your corpse anyway and pile up and i mean WAY up
TT: How high do they even have to be?
TG: the sport pile doesnt stop from getting taller
TT: Does the officiator have a means of measurement on hand?
TT: I wouldn’t want to be crushed by a nonregulation sport pile.
TG: what do you care youll be dead like the mission thieving poser you are
TT: Poser?
TT: So not cool.
TG: yes poser it should be my torso getting pulverized by that avalanche of overpaid beefcakes and you know it
TT: I forget what we were doing exactly.
TT: Were we pursuing the hackneyed debate over who has the best claim to self sacrifice,
TT: Or seeing who can out-dumbass the other with obtuse sports lingo?
TG: there obviously stopped being a difference between those things the question is offensive

In addition to the Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff comic I linked, Taylor calling the knife guy “big man” reminded me of one of my favorite exchanges in Homestuck.

…I kinda hope this excerpt convinces some of you to read it.


“I’m not!”

“Then stab me!” I raised my voice, shouted at him. “Or are you just a bully, getting weak in the knees when you’re facing someone that stands up to you!?”

Either way, not the kind of person we want in Skitterville.

He made a motion as if he was going to lunge for me, then stopped.

“Pathetic,” I snarled. Not for the crowd. I said it for him and him alone.

Much like what she said to Bitch, although here it seems more like a matter of who she meant to draw meaning from it than whom she made it audible to.

He lunged, holding the knife with both hands to drive it into my stomach, just beside where I had the armor. I resisted the urge to bend over, but I did have to step back for balance, and I had to put my hands on his shoulders to steady myself.

Time to tango!

I clutched his shoulders, digging my nails in for grip. I could feel pain radiate from my stomach and into my lower abdomen and chest. That was despite the fact that the fabric of my costume had kept it from piercing my flesh.

I suppose the pressure and possible small cut is bad enough.

I forced myself to stand straighter, still holding his shoulders. He stabbed again, but it was ineffectual.

Big Man used Stab!

It’s not very effective…

Knocking one of my hands from his shoulder, he used the space that gave him to slash at my throat. The first hit had hurt because of the force of the charge behind it, I could almost ignore these follow-up strikes.

Good thing we’ve established that throat slashing doesn’t work all that well with this costume.

He stepped back and looked at his knife, confused. I hadn’t gone down.

I can’t help but imagine Link. Specifically, Link from Ocarina of Time, staring at the ocarina after learning a song, looking like he’s never seen an ocarina before.


I extended my arm and let the bugs flow from beneath my costume in one swift movement, like water poured from a cup, covering him. The crowd backed away as the man began screaming incoherently.

My turn.

He threw himself backward into the inch-deep water and rolled around like he was trying to put out a fire. Maybe he was – the bugs I’d set on him were laced with capsaicin.

Heh, nice.

As his thrashing continued, I waited patiently, watching. As he used one hand to prop himself up in a crawl, I stepped forward onto his knife hand.

Yeah, might as well disable that for the time being.

My heel settled on his knuckles, and after I’d readjusted my footing, I ground it down, letting most of my body weight rest on that heel.

Ow.


The volume of his screams increased. As I lifted my foot, he moved his hand, rolling onto his back to clutch at it, dropping the knife in the process.

This guy is turning out to be pretty good for setting an example.

I bent down to pick up the blade, and when I stood up again, Battery was ten feet in front of me, one pace closer to me than any of the rest of the crowd that ringed me and the Merchant.

Oh, right. ‘Course, the heroes don’t like that.

Then again, she might want to take this guy in too. He did threaten the crowd with a weapon and attempt (provokedly) to seriously maim or murder Skitter.

“I can’t let you use that,” she gestured towards the knife. There was a faint glow from her costume. I gathered she was charging up her power.

Ah, is she worried about Skitter turning the guy’s knife on him?

“Wasn’t planning on it,” I lied, swarm buzzing in sync with my words.

I was expecting her to say this honestly, but fair enough.

I’d considered stabbing the guy in the hand or somewhere where it wouldn’t be terminal, but hadn’t been certain on the route I would go. I reversed the knife and gently lobbed it towards her.

Fair. I don’t think it’s necessary at this point – in fact, using a weapon other than your bugs might undermine what you’re doing here, example-wise – but fair.


She spent the accumulated charge of her power and caught the knife out of the air by the handle. “How does this tie into the stunt you helped pull at the HQ?”

That’s a pretty good question, considering what the PRT knows about Skitter and the Undersiders. Namely not that they’ve got Coil.

“The Wards’ building? The intel we got from there was valuable, and that kind of money buys a lot of things.”

Right, that’s a pretty decent – and mostly true – answer. Dragon will be interested and horrified to know this.

I looked at the remaining pile of supplies. The majority of the crowd had stopped collecting their boxes to watch the fight with the Merchant and my exchange with Battery.

I wonder what they all think of the way Battery doesn’t seem to be doing anything to stop Skitter, other than stop her from going too far against the Merchant.


As if noting what I was looking at, she glanced at the crowd encircling around us. “I don’t agree with this.”

That’s a very interesting way of putting it. She seems to be implying that she doesn’t think she has any right or duty to stop it, even if she doesn’t think it’s right, even if it’s being done by a known villain (with a heroic side if Armmaster is to be believed, admittedly) using quite possibly stolen supplies.

“But you’re not going to stop me, and you’re not going to try and arrest me, despite what happened the other night,” I answered her, “Because I’m the lesser of a whole lot of evils that are in the city right now.”

Sure seems that way.

“Mm. For now.”

Yeah, that’s fair.

“For now. Until then, I’ve got supplies from an outside agent, I’m not stealing them from the same sources you guys use, and I’m getting them out to these people at my own expense.

Hm, yeah, it’s a good idea to be upfront about this. Essentially going “I’m not stealing this from you” probably helps tip the PRT perception of this further away from “problem”.

I’m policing this area until the police can get back to doing it themselves, and I’m dealing with people who need to be dealt with. You’re not about to get in my way, are you?”

The big question is to what extent Battery is speaking for the entire Protectorate here. She did talk with console before doing anything, but how much of this is just her?


Battery surveyed the crowd again. “What’s your agenda?”

Y’know, I really like this sort of upfront conversation between hero and villain-with-good-intentions.

“Do I have to have one?”

“Yes. Your kind always has an agenda.”

That’s a bit alignmentist, but not unjustified.

“Maybe I’m unique.”

“No, knowing what you tried to pull with pretending to be a villain? Or pretending to be a hero that’s pretending to be a villain?

Heh, yeah, figures there’d be a bit of uncertainty around that. She either tricked the Undersiders into thinking she was a villain or she tricked Armsmaster into thinking she was trying to be a hero. Either way, she had a facade and a plan.

You’re more likely to have some scheme at play than anyone else.”

That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I see what you mean.


I sighed. “Don’t know what to tell you. No agenda.”

She frowned, “When we first set post-Endbringer measures in place, your team was listed as low priority, and we were instructed to ignore you. Too costly in time and resources. I suspect someone intended to change that after your little stunt the other night, but the memo hasn’t gone out yet. You hear me?”

You saying you can pull some strings?

I tilted my head in a small nod.

“So I’m going by the book, and I’m walking away. But I’ll be keeping an eye on you, on this, and the moment you go too far, we’re coming after you, no holds barred.”

Ahh, so that’s her excuse for letting this go for now. I like this.


“I wouldn’t expect any less,” I answered her.

With that, she disappeared in a blur, the water parting in her wake.

Byyye!

That was a fun interaction.

With her gone, the rest of the crowd swooped down on the remaining supplies. People maintained a respectful distance, but oddly enough, they weren’t acting as scared of me as they’d been before I attacked the Merchant and before I’d talked to Battery.

Might have to do with the facts that you just protected them from the Big Man, that a Protectorate member seems to accept what you’re doing, and that the same Protectorate member says they’ll step in if Queen Skitter’s reign goes too far.

Had her leaving me alone given me a measure of legitimacy? More importantly, had it been intended to give me legitimacy as ruler of the area? She hadn’t needed to step in right then. Probably.

Hm. I suppose it’s possible.

If that’s the case, it was probably on orders from console, considering she personally didn’t approve.

I had to admit I wasn’t sure if I would’ve gone through with stabbing the guy.

Who knows. Maybe Dinah, but I doubt she can go back and then sideways.


“Listen up!” I shouted. I used my swarm to give me more volume, and to stand out against the noise of the crowd. People went silent, and every set of eyes turned towards me. I stepped up onto the truck, hiding myself briefly in the swarm as I hopped up.

Hey! Listen!

(I know that’s my second Navi joke tonight. Sue me. Besides, it’s only fitting for them to be annoyingly frequent, is it not?)

I addressed them, “Not everyone will get a box today. That is not an excuse to take what others have already claimed. As I said, I will not tolerate stealing or theft among you.

This is a good announcement to make. I think you’ll be a pretty decent queen.

If you try it, I’ll treat you the same as I treated him.”

And we’ve got a touch of intimidation, pulling in the example-making to full effect. Excellent.


As I pointed, the crowd parted slightly to reveal the Merchant who was still crawling away, simultaneously struggling to douse himself in the one or two inches water on the street and to crawl with three limbs – he was favoring the hand I’d stepped on. His buddies were gone. They’d left him.

That capsaicin is pretty intense stuff.

“If you do not get a box, stay. I want the head of each family or group to raise their hands. This will help me ensure you get something before the day is over.”

Ooh, nice. She does intend to keep track of who didn’t get anything.

It took a minute before the last of the boxes were claimed. There were some resentful looks as the last of the people left. I had thirty or so remaining people, and after some brief discussion, seven of them raised their hands.

Nice, that’s not too many more boxes to get.

I concentrated on the swarm, and found a collection of ladybugs. I piloted a group into each set of raised hands, and watched as people lowered their hands to look.

Hm. Alright? Are these their tickets for later?

“Each of you now has three ladybugs in your hands. Keep them, and I will use them to find you later today to drop something off for you, with a small gift to each group of you for being patient.”

Right, how did I forget about her ability to track them.


Slowly, they began to peel away from the group and leave. I began letting the swarm disperse, but I used the fact that I had the bugs all together to direct a mass towards my lair. The cream of the crop – the good ones.

Sweet. I guess this could act as protection for the Hive?

As Coil’s men got back in the truck, my swarm-sense told me that one person had stayed behind. I turned to get a better look at her.

Hm, what’s up? Battery stick around out of costume or something?

She was twenty or so, and her red hair had been set into long dreadlocks that she must have been growing for years. I wasn’t sure on the effect – white people didn’t grow good dreadlocks.

True. I’m no dreadlock expert, but I seem to recall hearing about that having something to do with genetics and white people having to do something to their hair for dreadlocks to be possible at all, something that doesn’t go well with water (resulting in the stereotype that black people with dreadlocks don’t wash their hair) and doesn’t look as good as black people’s dreadlocks. Something like that.

I do like red hair, though.

She wore rain boots, a calf-length skirt, and had a colorful bandanna around her forehead. She was pale, and she fidgeted nervously, not making eye contact. High or afraid?

Whoever she is, she’s got a neat design. More detailed than Big Man’s, too, which makes me think she might be a more important character. The way she’s lingering behind, not part of the crowd scene, adds to that feeling.


Unlikely thought that crossed my mind: Messenger of Dragon. Very unlikely because it’d be quicker for Dragon to come here herself than get some random person to pass on a message to Skitter.


Then she saw I was looking and she met my eyes.

“Yes?” I asked her. “You’ve got the ladybugs. I will get you a box.”

Oh, nice, she’s one of the heads of the families.

“No. It’s not that.” She looked at her hand where the ladybugs were.

“Then what is it?

“You said we were your people, that you were protecting us. Does that mean you’re going against the other groups?”

“Yes.”

I suppose that does mean a gang war, essentially, though one side cares way more about the civilians than the other.

“My kid brother. I- he needs help. My parents are sick and they’re in the hospital and I can’t tell them because I told them I’d take care of him, um, and I asked the cops but they’re so busy and there’s no way they can help, and I was going to ask that hero, Battery, but then she disappeared so fast-” The words spilled out of her mouth, less and less intelligible as she kept talking.

Aw. She seems to have decided she can trust Skitter.

What kind of help does he need? It sounds like she thinks Battery would’ve been able to help, and with that first question… Did he get in trouble with the Merchants? Or worse, the Chosen?

I doubt it’s the Slaughterhouse, considering it sounds like she thinks he’s still alive.


She only stopped when her voice cracked.

Breathing hard, out of breathlessness or emotion, she stared at the ground, clenching her fists. I could feel one of the ladybugs get crushed in her grip, fading out of existence as far as my power was concerned.

Whoops. Rest in peace, li’l lady.

“Stop,” I told her, without using my swarm to change my voice. “Breathe. What happened?”

She looked up at me, then she swallowed hard.

I like that Taylor deliberately doesn’t use her swarm echo here. The swarm echo makes her less human-sounding, and in this case, human is exactly what she needs to be.

“The Merchants took him. My kid brother. I want you to get him back. Please.”

Looks like we’ve got a specific goal for Skitter’s upcoming attack on the Merchants!

I suppose this is why we had that bit in the previous chapter about the people the Merchants decided to keep around. So that we’d know how much trouble this means for the kid. And yeah, it certainly doesn’t sound pleasant.

There’s no way Taylor wouldn’t want to save him, especially when you consider how similar the situation is to Dinah’s.


End of Infection 11.2

…no.


End of Infestation 11.2

So! This was a really cool chapter – Skitter has a theatrical side that shows once in a while, and she used it to good effect here. She’s now the Queen of Skitterville, and the fifth or so of the population that showed up to her announcement seems to be mostly fine with that, after she explained her good intentions, set an example of the Big Man despite all his best dunks stabs, and was sorta kinda publicly accepted by a Protectorate member.

I really enjoyed the forthright interaction between Battery and Skitter. I hope we’ll see more of Battery (with a speaking role) in not too long, because she seems interesting. Maybe we’ll even learn the true relationship between her and Assault someday! 😛

And finally, we met the dreadlock redhead whose brother Taylor will certainly be trying to save when she goes up against the Merchants. I’m pretty certain that we’re doing that in this Arc at this point, unless Wildbow decides to pull a bait-and-switch and go “SURPRISE IT’S THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE NINE” instead. We’ll have to see, but I’m fairly sure we’re sticking with the Merchants for now. (Though we’ll probably be getting to know the Fellowship with those Interludes at the end of the Arc, so they might be somewhat relevant nonetheless.)

Next chapter… maybe we’ll meet up with the other Undersiders and discuss how the claims went and how everyone’s adjusting? Or maybe Taylor intends to do some planning at the Hive before launching an attack on the Merchants on her own? Or, perhaps, we’ll dive straight into it.

It’s a little unclear to me still how much the Undersiders will work together when it comes to attacking enemies in their separate territories, but I’ll just have to see.

…huh. It’d be really fitting if Bitch’s territory just so happened to be frequented by Fenrir’s Chosen. Hookwolf is the perfect nemesis to her.

Anyway, yeah. See you then!

2 thoughts on “Infestation 11.2: Big Skitter is Watching You

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