Infestation 11.6: – Ḿ̴́͠͝ot̷̨́͠i͢͠o͏̡́n͜ ̷̡͞S̵̸̡̕͟į̛̀c̷ḱ̀͝n͜͏e̵͟͟͜s̷̢̀͝s

Source material: Worm, Infestation 11.6

Originally blogged: February 21-23, 2018


Howdy! It’s time to play some Super Merchant Bros. Brawl!

Uh, read Worm, I mean.

So, last time, Taylor & co. toured the museum of debauchery, saved a girl from a peep show who then immediately brought up Taylor’s trigger event, discovered that Bryce is a little brat who joined the Merchants because he was bored and sick of chores… and then Skidmark showed up to force a bunch of his subordinates into duking it out for some super juice he’d somehow obtained.

This chapter will very likely have Taylor filled in on what Lisa knows about case 53 and the Dealer, followed by the two of them deciding they need to keep the Merchants from using the vial in some way. I described a few ways they could go about that in the end-of-11.5 post [here]. I guess the stealth idea is the most likely. Either that, or an outright bug attack.

So yeah, without further ado, let’s jump in and see what happens!


“Is he for real?” I looked to Lisa for an answer. “Can they do that?”

Going right into the “Taylor getting filled in” part, I see. 🙂 Helpful for anyone who’s forgotten about Upsilon at this point.

“Don’t think he’s lying.”

The crowd roared, and I turned to see why, just in time to see the aftermath of the first attack. One of the Merchants in the ring had just bludgeoned someone with a length of pipe.

I guess Lisa might not have gotten deep enough into the subject of case 53 to know about the Dealer yet. That’s fair – apparently it took quite a while for Faultline’s Crew to get that far.

Meanwhile, the brawl is on.

Backing away, he found someone he knew, and through some unspoken agreement, they drew together, each protecting the other’s back.

Nice, got some alliances in here. That works a lot better when there are multiple prizes.

Others were having similar ideas. Groups of friends were banding together, leaving others alone. One of the loners found another guy without any friends around, shouted something I couldn’t hear, and they drew together. His new ‘friend’ turned and struck him down from behind not two seconds later.

…good job.

The traitor got his just reward when three young men and a grungy looking old man tackled him to the ground and started beating him.

DRAMA! ACTION! BLOODSHED!


At the corner nearest to us, a woman got smashed in the nose. The spray of blood landed in the area of Skidmark’s power and shot straight back into the melee.

“Here, you can have this back.”

Inspired by this sight, a man who stood outside the ring grabbed a piece of rubble and threw it down at the edge of the ring.

Ouch, that’s gonna hurt.

I missed “who stood outside the ring” for a moment and thought this was a clever competitor, but on fully reading the sentence, it’s just a jerk.

The chunk of concrete flew into the massed people, striking a man who was crouching and trying to avoid the worst of the fighting.

Oof.


This act started a chain reaction. The audience turned on the man who’d launched the chunk of rubble, clustering around him, punching and kicking him, and shoving him to the ground.

I guess they see interfering with the brawl in much the same way they saw interfering with the peep show.

Others were inspired by his idea, and did much the same thing, using Skidmark’s power to pelt the people in the arena.

Oh jeez, now it’s split. Those who want to pelt the people in the arena with rubble, and those who want to beat up the other group.

You know, it actually surprises me that we have yet to see someone outside either deliberately launching themselves into the arena or getting shoved in.

One man helped by a kid who might have been his son upended a trash can on the glowing ground to send rotted food and other rubbish flying into the ring.

Ew. At least the food is less painful than the concrete.

Others moved to stop them or shove anyone who got close enough onto the colored ground. The violence was escalating and it didn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

All of a sudden it’s a brawl even outside the arena.


I realize now that it might be a bit weird to be surprised about people not voluntarily entering the fray under these conditions, but I mean… surely someone outside the arena wants those superpowers, believes Skidmark is telling the truth, and has faith that they can win?


“We should go,” Lisa said. She turned to Jaw and ordered, “Bring the boy.”

I guess it’s up to Taylor to point out that they really don’t want the Merchants to get five more capes.

Also, bringing Bryce back against his will… Nice reversal.

Jaw grabbed Bryce by the shirt and hauled him to his feet. He pointed at the girl who had been sitting next to Bryce, “And her?”

Ask the girl and Bryce, I guess.

Not that I think they’re going to do that.

“Leave her.” Lisa called out, raising her voice to be heard over the screams and cheering. She said something else, but I couldn’t make it out.

Yeah, seems reasonable enough. We don’t need her.

The crack of a gun being fired went off somewhere.

Ah, right, weapons allowed. I wonder how many Merchants are dying to their peers tonight.

Instead of stopping the crowd, it seemed to provoke them, pushing those who hadn’t been participating into action, like runners who’d been waiting for a starter’s pistol.

…fair enough.

It was as though the Merchants felt more secure with their hands around people’s throats than they did trying to get away.

That… sounds like classic bully mentality. Applying it to the Merchants seems pretty accurate.


Skidmark gripped the railing as he hunched over it, grinning a smile with teeth that seemed to be every color but white.

Rainbow Road might not be made of Skidmark’s power, but it sure sounds like he’s taken a bite of it.

His eyes were almost glittering as he watched the chaos he’d set in motion.

He may also have gobbled up some of the stars surrounding it.


We moved as a group, Lisa’s soldiers in a tight circle around us with Bryce, Lisa, the rescued girl and me in the center.

The rescued girl has been markedly silent since we first saw Bryce. It’s been like she wasn’t there.

We made our way toward the nearest exit, but our way was barred by an unfolding brawl between two groups a good distance from the main spectacle. Rivals?

Well, that’s inconvenient.

Enemies seeing an opportunity to exact vengeance for some past event?

Perhaps.

The girl who’d been on the bench with Bryce ran for the thick of the melee surrounding the ring. She was shouting, almost screeching, “Thomas! Mom!”

Huh?

Oh… she might be getting help for Bryce. Shit.

Bryce struggled in an attempt to go after her, but Jaw held him firm.

I almost missed what happened next. A woman from the group fighting in front of us ran, and a band of young men charged after her, which brought them just in front of us.

Yeeah, this isn’t good.


We collectively backed out of the way, but Bryce had other intentions. The boy wrenched out of Jaw’s grip and threw his shoulder into the small of Senegal’s back.

Hm. Not bad. I guess they taught you (or caused you to teach yourself) how to fight to some extent.

The man was only barely able to keep from stumbling forward into the charging Merchants, but with his attention elsewhere, Bryce managed to slip past.

We got a fugitive over here!

I joined Minor and Brooks in giving chase, and though Minor was bigger and stronger, I had the advantage of a slight build.

Ah, yeah, that would make it a little bit easier to navigate this mess.

I’m not sure whether it’s worth the effort, really, but I guess this might be the only chance they’d get to get him out of here.

I ducked between the people and followed Bryce into the thick of the ‘audience’.

This should be interesting.


Bryce had reached his girlfriend, and wrapped his arms around her.

Huh, that was quick. I guess he’s experienced at getting where he wants through the crowd at this point.

Still holding her, he turned to see us approaching. I was in the lead, and Minor close behind me.

Maybe he just wanted to say goodbye?

He looked the other way, past the glowing perimeter of Skidmark’s arena, and I followed his gaze to where a middle-aged woman with bleached blond hair and a taller black man with a scar on his lips stood.

Friends of yours?

A.k.a. bodyguards?

I recognized them from Sierra’s description. They were the same people who had attacked the church.

Oh yeah!


So with developments with Bryce being as they are, are we still on for making the Merchants hurt?


The man -Thomas?- beckoned with a wave of his arm, and Bryce and his girlfriend ran, dropping to the ground as they touched the border of the ring.

Oh don’t you dare

Welp, I guess Taylor’s going in.

“No!” I shouted, as the effect of Skidmark’s power sent them careening into the ongoing free-for-all. My voice was lost in the cacophony of the screaming, shouting, hollering crowd.

Cod damn it, Bryce.

So you know how I was talking about people voluntarily entering the arena…?

I stared helplessly at the unfolding scene. The two teenagers managed to get to their feet and gather together with Thomas, the mother, and one or two others. They were soon lost in the jumble of people that were all punching, kicking and strangling one another, spurred on by adrenaline, self-preservation, alcohol, stimulants and greed.

Yeeah, you’re either going in there or leaving Bryce and his girlfriend alone for now. Time to make a choice. I think the latter is better.

There was little enough room that when someone fell, they were trampled by those that were still fighting.

I doubt Bryce can win.


But if he does win… imagine explaining to Sierra that not only did Bryce willingly join the Merchants, but Skidmark gave him superpowers on a can and he’s now a supervillain.


Minor reached me and ushered me back to the others, and we backed as far away from the fighting as we could.

Yeah, good call, Minor.

The moment I saw Lisa, I asked her, “Should I-” I left my question unfinished. Should I use my bugs?

I don’t think it’s worth it.

“No. The moment an enemy makes their presence known, Skidmark might try to break this up and send the crowd after any unfamiliar faces. Not saying they’d get us, but they could, and there’d be other victims too.”

That is a very good point.

“Fuck.” I looked at the ongoing fighting. “We should do something.”

It’s okay, Taylor. Most of these people are here by choice, and besides, at least you already saved one person.

“I’m open to ideas,” she said.

Oh, huh.

“Can we- can’t we run?” the girl we’d rescued asked.

I think she has a point, though Taylor might not want to hear it, especially coming from her – Taylor really doesn’t want to be a bystander who runs away instead of helping.

“Look, um, what’s your name?” Lisa said.

Yes, please. It’s been a bit awkward to call her the “rescued girl” all the time.

“Charlotte.”

Did the merchant who abducted you insist on calling you “P-chan”?

(#context: #the girl is azusa a kleptomaniac who insists on stealing and (re)naming anything she deems cute

#such as poor p-chan here #she calls him charlotte)

[…was it something about Ranma ½ in particular that had me supplying context for my references?]


“Charlotte, we came to get that kid. My friend feels it’s important, and she’s usually got a pretty damn good reason for doing what she does.”

That is true, even if it does come with a talent for rationalizing things.

“Thank you,” I said.

“So it’s up to her, what we do here”

What were our options. Using Lisa’s power? I wasn’t sure how it applied here.

Yeah, what is she supposed to Know that would help them get Bryce out of the brawl?

If she had a way of addressing the audience, maybe there was something she could say to turn the tide, or turn them against their leaders… but the only way to do that would be to get the microphone Skidmark had.

Hm. Might work, but would probably be difficult.

We had Lisa’s soldiers, but no matter how well-trained they were, there was a certain point where fighters in quantity overcame fewer fighters of higher quality in a brawl.

True.

Not to mention that some of the Merchants had guns. The great equalizer. I was pretty sure Lisa’s soldiers would be packing, but the problem with guns was that they drew attention, and we definitely did not want to fall under too much scrutiny.

Another good point.


This was what the Merchants were. Even less organized than the ABB, they were humans reduced to pack behavior, with Skidmark and his people acting like kids who would put animals in a cage and shake it set them on each other, instead of house-training them.

An apt description. We’ve seen so much bullshit from them that doesn’t seem at all organized by anything other than “might makes right”.

None of this made the Merchants any less dangerous, though. Just the opposite.

Yeah. :/

I had no options here, in the face of this. The most I could do would be to use my power on the entire crowd, and that would turn this already disturbed situation into something else entirely.

Yep, and I’m not sure it would even accomplish much of use.

So what now? Tactical retreat?


“We hold our ground,” I told Lisa, “Unless things get bad enough that we’re at risk. We wait for the fight to end, we see if we can find him, and we make our exit.

Hm, alright. Fair enough.

So… you’re alright with the Merchants getting five new capes? Nobody’s even brought it up besides Taylor asking if it was possible.

Sticking around also means we can get more info on what Skidmark’s got in those vials and where he got them.”

…I guess it was a good time for me to say that.

“Okay,” Lisa confirmed. “That works.”

Yeah, it’s the best plan we’ve got.


The minutes that followed were among the longest I’d experienced in my life. It wasn’t a tedious, slow, agonizing passage of time like I’d experienced in the hospital bed, waiting to find out if I was being arrested or if my back was broken.

This is probably a good thing. It means the doctors and nurses aren’t attacking you too in all the mayhem.

No, these minutes stretched on because there was so much going on, and I couldn’t lose my focus, look away or pause for contemplation for a second.

Oh. Never mind. I misread that “wasn’t” up there.

Different groups tried to pick fights with us. It was nonsensical, given that we weren’t even in the ring, but adrenaline was running high and we stood out because we were apart from the rest of the fighting, isolated.

Which is what you didn’t want to do, stand out.

We had stuff they could take, and warm bodies they could… well, warm bodies. It was enough.

Eesh.


[End of session]


[chain of reblogs]

krixwell-liveblogs:
Knock knock.

epsilonsmemories:
Who’s there?

krixwell-liveblogs:
Woo.

epsilonsmemories:
Woo who?

krixwell-liveblogs:
I’m happy to see you too! 😀


[Session 2]
Anyway, Bryce for impact, we’re going back in!


We tried to hold a formation, with the bodyguards holding the outer perimeter and the less experienced combatants, myself included, in the center.

Makes sense. I think I’m gonna call this a jawbreaker formation – a hard, thick shell around a squishy gum core.

How many licks does it take to get through the bodyguards?

It quickly became apparent that these things didn’t really hold up in a real combat situation.

Apparently not many.

For one thing, our enemies quickly figured out what we were trying to do and tried to force Lisa’s soldiers to break ranks. They would hang back and throw things, or stay just out of reach as they held weapons at the ready, looking for a moment when our front-line fighters were distracted or otherwise occupied.

Y’know, this isn’t exactly the fight I was expecting to see solid tactical warfare in.

It forced Lisa’s soldiers to move out of formation to deliver with the enemy with a few decisive hits, then back up to close the gap in the line.

I feel like the fact that I feel like I’m watching chess moves in this quote says a lot.


That was the plan, anyways, but sometimes the opponent was too nimble to be taken down, and other times, they delayed Lisa’s people enough that someone could slip through the line and attack one of our less capable combatants, myself included.

Time to fight. Did you bring your knife?

I held a knife in each hand – my combat knife and the one I’d taken when we’d rescued Charlotte.

Oh yeah!

Sweet, we get dual-wielding Taylor.

When I was forced to fight, I avoided lethal strikes. I had a sense of where the major arteries were and avoided them, even when I knew I could make a quick cut at someone’s wrists or neck. Holding back didn’t do me any favors, and I got smashed in the left ear once, struck in the gut and chest a few times, and a nail that was stuck through someone’s makeshift club sliced the back of my upper arm.

Ouch.

Hm. One day she’s gonna fail to fight non-lethally and end up killing someone by accident, isn’t she, creating more guilt for her to deal with?

Still, Lisa’s soldiers afforded me time to breathe. I remained vigilant for any break in ranks and incoming attacks.

At least the formation helps somewhat, then.


My arm smarted where I’d been cut, and my ear throbbed. I swallowed hard, glancing towards the ring, where people lay in heaps, and only two-thirds of the combatants were either injured, unconscious, dead or playing dead.

Yeeah, this is gonna go on a bit longer.

Really, the best case scenario for Taylor & co. regarding Bryce is that he gets knocked out but is otherwise okay. That way it’s pretty much just an issue of picking him up afterwards.

If he wins, against all odds, things are gonna be a bit harder, and if he dies… yeeah, Sierra won’t be happy.

Not that I think she’ll be happy in any outcome once she finds out what Bryce did to her.

Feeling pressured, Senegal reached for his gun, but was forced to duck back and to the side to avoid being bludgeoned by a heavy metal lock one of the Merchants had clipped to the end of a length of chain.

Woah. Got a pretty good makeshift flail, there, buddy.

The follow-up swing knocked his weapon from his hand. Someone else, a stocky man with eyebrows like caterpillars, moved through the gap to charge for me bare handed.

Shit.

Also, “eyebrows like caterpillars” is a great description.

Could be worse. I set my balance and readied to strike with my knives, waiting until he closed in and-

I don’t think this cutting off is a good sign.

I really don’t think it’s a good sign.

And I was somewhere else.

What?

Is Trickster here?

It was like remembering something profound that I’d forgotten. I’d seen this before.

A flashback in-universe, basically?

Whatever this is, it really sounds like powers are involved. But who’s doing it? Caterpillar dude, or someone else? Maybe one of the capes on-stage decided to mess with some of the people in the crowd?


Huge creatures filled my perception.

Hm.

Huge creatures, or are you tiny?

Could Taylor have accidentally wound up looking from a bug’s perspective, or something like that?

It was hard to say how I knew they were two different creatures, when each of them existed in multiple parallel spaces all at once.

Oh cod. That’s why it’s like remembering something profound she’d forgotten – we’re getting into Karahindiba territory, and it seems Miss Militia was right in guessing that others had also seen similar things but forgotten.

But why is Taylor remembering this now of all times? Or is it legitimately happening again, and she’s remembering because she’s reminded? If that’s the case, she might forget again afterwards.

Countless mirror moved in sync with one another, each occupying the same space, just as solid as the others, differing in how they moved and the worlds they interacted with.

On some level Taylor might just be bringing up the worlds because that’s the best way she knows to describe it, but we do know for a fact that alternate realities are a thing in Worm. We’ve literally had the Undersiders casually watching movies from another world, implied to be almost entirely like ours.

So it’s entirely possible that Karahindiba and its like are literally between worlds, able to choose which ones to interact with at any given time. That would explain how they can appear gradually out of nowhere like a sphere descending into Flatland.

Which I suppose is also a fitting comparison considering that as I reread the original description from Interlude 7 [here], I get the sense that these beings are at least four-dimensional.

Each of them folded, unfolded, expanded and shifted without taking more or less space. I couldn’t wrap my head around it, even as I felt there was something like a pattern there.

If you treat it as a three-dimensional shadow of a 4+-dimensional being, it does make a bit more sense. There is meaning to the incomprehensibility.


And here I thought it was Interlude five that was going to be important in this chapter.


Some distant part of me realized I’d seen something similar to that folding and unfolding once, in a much simpler form. A tesseract, a fourth dimensional analogue to the cube.

Alright, so it wasn’t by much but I did catch on before Taylor spelled it out. 😛

I feel like “in a much simpler form” is to imply that either this is a much more complex fourth-dimensional shape, or it’s a shape of a much higher dimensionality than a measly four.

The difference was that while the cube had six flat faces, each ‘side’ of the tesseract had six cubes, each connected to the others another at each corner.

True.

To perceptions attuned to three dimensions, it seemed to constantly shift, each side folding or reshaping so that they could all simultaneously be perfect cubes, and each ‘side’ was simultaneously the center cube from which all the others extended outward.

This is a pretty good description.


The primary difference between these things and the tesseract was that these beings I was looking at were alive, and they weren’t simple models I was viewing on a computer screen.

3D living beings do tend to be a bit more complex than a simple model of a cube.

They were living entities, lifeforms. There wasn’t anything I could relate to any biology I knew or understood, nothing even remotely recognizable, but they were undoubtedly alive.

It’s very interesting how Taylor and Hana were both able to tell this with such ease, despite these lifeforms being unrecognizable and incomprehensible. And then Hana was suddenly really certain that Karahindiba was dying.

I wonder if Taylor is seeing this because someone is about to get powers. That would be kind of strange, though, considering that time appeared to stop for everyone around Hana – that, or it all happened in an instant perceptible only through her mind. Either way, this implies that whatever the reason is for Taylor to see this right now, it probably has something to do with her specifically.

They were enigmas of organs that were also limbs and also the exteriors of the creatures, each simultaneously some aspect of the entity as it flowed through empty space.

I really do think Wildbow chose an excellent way to portray these beings. Why have Lovecraftian horrors be incomprehensible only by size and number of tentacles, when you can make them multidimensional? I really like it.

Also, another thing that’s interesting about this situation versus Hana’s experience – Taylor specifically narrated that she’s somewhere else now. She hasn’t described that somewhere else, she’s too understandably busy with the multidimensional beings, but she is somewhere else. Hana, on the other hand, seemed to stay in the same place – possibly minus the other people, she never looked back to check – just with time stopped.

It didn’t help that the things were the size of small planets, and the scope of my perceptions was so small.

I did say “only” by size (and number of tentacles). I’m fully aware that that is another way these beings are incomprehensible.

It helped even less that parts of them seemed to move in and out of the other dimensions or realities where the mirror images were.

Yeeah, it seems what you’re seeing isn’t even the full extent of them.


The pair moved in sync, spiraling around one another in what I realized was a double helix.

Hm, interesting.

So… might their presence have something to do with the super juice around here?

Each revolution brought them further and further apart. Innumerable motes drifted from their bodies as they moved, leaving thick trails of shed tissues or energies painting the void of empty space in the wake of their spiraling dance, as though they were made of a vast quantity of sand and they were flying against a gale force headwind.

That sounds familiar. Karahindiba appeared to disintegrate as it “fell” down to Hana, too. Are both of these beings “dying” in the same sense Hana observed that Karahindiba was, whether or not what happened with Karahindiba was genuinely its death?

When they were too far away to see one another, they communicated, and each message was enormous and violent in scope, expressed with the energy of a star going supernova.

Oh boy.

I’m guessing it’s not going to be comprehensible for Taylor. Even if they do communicate via sound and language, which I find unlikely, I highly doubt these beings speak English to each other.

Then again, if they actually want Taylor to understand them, they might have their ways to make her comprehend the incomprehensible.

One ‘word’, one idea, for each message.

Interesting. It implies a sense of… rawness to it. Like they communicate their ideas directly as ideas, rather than via the mimema, the imperfect reflection of the ideas, that is words.


[excerpt (see below)]

Remember Longcat, Jane? I remember Longcat. Fuck the picture on this page, I want to talk about Longcat. Memes were simpler back then, in 2006. They stood for something. And that something was nothing. Memes just were. “Longcat is long.” An undeniably true, self-reflexive statement. Water is wet, fire is hot, Longcat is long. Memes were floating signifiers without signifieds, meaningful in their meaninglessness. Nobody made memes, they just arose through spontaneous generation; Athena being birthed, fully formed, from her own skull.
You could talk about them around the proverbial water cooler, taking comfort in their absurdity. “Hey, Johnston, have you seen the picture of that cat? They call it Longcat because it’s long!” “Ha ha, sounds like good fun, Stevenson! That reminds me, I need to show you this webpage I found the other day; it contains numerous animated dancing hamsters. It’s called — you’ll never believe this — hamsterdance!” And then Johnston and Stevenson went on to have a wonderful friendship based on the comfortable banality of self-evident digitized animals.
But then 2007 came, and along with it came I Can Has, and everything was forever ruined. It was hubris, Jane. We did it to ourselves. The minute we added written language beyond the reflexive, it all went to shit. Suddenly memes had an excess of information to be parsed. It wasn’t just a picture of a cat, perhaps with a simple description appended to it; now the cat spoke to us via a written caption on the picture itself. It referred to an item of food that existed in our world but not in the world of the meme, rupturing the boundary between the two. The cat wanted something. Which forced us to recognize that what it wanted was us, was our attention. WE are the cheezburger, Jane, and we always were. But by the time we realized this, it was too late. We were slaves to the very memes that we had created. We toiled to earn the privilege of being distracted by them. They fiddled while Rome burned, and we threw ourselves into the fire so that we might listen to the music. The memes had us. Or, rather, they could has us.
And it just got worse from there. Soon the cats had invisible bicycles and played keyboards. They gained complex identities, and so we hollowed out our own identities to accommodate them. We prayed to return to the simple days when we would admire a cat for its exceptional length alone, the days when the cat itself was the meme and not merely a vehicle for the complex memetic text. And the fact that this text was so sparse, informal, and broken ironically made it even more demanding. The intentional grammatical and syntactical flaws drew attention to themselves, making the meme even more about the captioning words and less about the pictures. Words, words, words. Wurds werds wordz. Stumbling through a crooked, dead-end hallway of a mangled clause describing a simple feline sentiment was a torture that we inflicted on ourselves daily. Let’s not forget where the word “caption” itself comes from: capio, Latin for both “I understand” and “I capture.” We thought that by captioning the memes, we were understanding them. Instead, our captions allowed them to capture us. The memes that had once been a cure for our cultural ills were now the illness itself.
It goes right back to the Phaedrus, really. Think about it. Back in the innocent days of 2006, we naïvely thought that the grapheme had subjugated the phoneme, that the belief in the primacy of the spoken word was an ancient and backwards folly on par with burning witches or practicing phrenology or thinking that Smash Mouth was good. Fucking Smash Mouth. But we were wrong. About the phoneme, I mean. Theuth came to us again, this time in the guise of a grinning grey cat. The cat hungered, and so did Theuth. He offered us an updated choice, and we greedily took it, oblivious to the consequences. To borrow the parlance of a contemporary meme, he baked us a pharmakon, and we eated it.
Pharmakon, φάρμακον, the Greek word that means both “poison” and “cure,” but, because of the limitations of the English language, can only be translated one way or the other depending on the context and the translator’s whims. No possible translation can capture the full implications of a Greek text including this word. In the Phaedrus, writing is the pharmakon that the trickster god Theuth offers, the toxin and remedy in one. With writing, man will no longer forget; but he will also no longer think. A double-edged (s)word, if you will. But the new iteration of the pharmakon is the meme. Specifically, the post-I-Can-Has memescape of 2007 onward. And it was the language that did it, Jane. The addition of written language twisted the remedy into a poison, flipped the pharmakon on its invisible axis.
In retrospect, it was in front of our eyes all along. Meme. The noxious word was given to us by who else but those wily ancient Greeks themselves. μίμημα, or mīmēma. Defined as an imitation, a copy. The exact thing Plato warned us against in the Republic. Remember? The simulacrum that is two steps removed from the perfection of the original by the process of — note the root of the word — mimesis. The Platonic ideal of an object is the source: the father, the sun, the ghostly whole. The corporeal manifestation of the object is one step removed from perfection. The image of the object (be it in letters or in pigments) is two steps removed. The author is inferior to the craftsman is inferior to God.
Fuck, out of space. Okay, the illustration on page 46 is fucking useless; I’ll see you there.
(21)


But we’ll go farther than Plato. Longcat, a photograph, is a textbook example of a second-degree mimesis. (We might promote it to the third degree since the image on the internet is a digital copy of the original photograph of the physical cat which is itself a copy of Platonic ideal of a cat (the Godcat, if you will); but this line of thought doesn’t change anything in the argument.) The text-supplemented meme, on the other hand, the captioned cat, is at an infinite remove from the Godcat, the ultimate mimesis, copying the copy of itself eternally, the written language and the image echoing off each other, until it finally loops back around to the truth by virtue of being so far from it. It becomes its own truth, the fidelity of the eternal copy. It becomes a God.
Writing itself is the archetypical pharmakon and the archetypical copy, if you’ll come back with me to the Phaedrus (if we ever really left it). Speech is the real deal, Socrates says, with a smug little wink to his (written) dialogic buddy. Speech is alive, it can defend itself, it can adapt and change. Writing is its bastard son, the mimic, the dead, rigid simulacrum. Writing is a copy, a mīmēma, of truth in speech. To return to our analogous issue: the image of the cheezburger cat, the copy of the picture-copy-copy, is so much closer to the original Platonic ideal than the written language that accompanies it. (“Pharmakon” can also mean “paint.” Think about it, Jane. Just think about it.) The image is still fake, but it’s the caption on the cat that is the downfall of the republic, the real fakeness, which is both realer and faker than whatever original it is that it represents. Men and gods abhor the lie, Plato says in sections 382 a and b of the Republic.
οὐκ οἶσθα, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, ὅτι τό γε ὡς ἀληθῶς ψεῦδος, εἰ οἷόν τε τοῦτο εἰπεῖν, πάντες θεοί τε καὶ ἄνθρωποι μισοῦσιν;
πῶς, ἔφη, λέγεις;
οὕτως, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, ὅτι τῷ κυριωτάτῳ που ἑαυτῶν ψεύδεσθαι καὶ περὶ τὰ κυριώτατα οὐδεὶς ἑκὼν ἐθέλει, ἀλλὰ πάντων μάλιστα φοβεῖται ἐκεῖ αὐτὸ κεκτῆσθαι.

“Don’t you know,” said I, “that the veritable lie, if the expression is permissible, is a thing that all gods and men abhor?”
“What do you mean?” he said.
“This,” said I, “that falsehood in the most vital part of themselves, and about their most vital concerns, is something that no one willingly accepts, but it is there above all that everyone fears it.”
Man’s worst fear is that he will hold existential falsehood within himself. And the verbal lies that he tells are a copy of this feared dishonesty in the soul. Plato goes on to elaborate: “the falsehood in words is a copy of the affection in the soul, an after-rising image of it and not an altogether unmixed falsehood.” A copy of man’s false internal copy of truth. And what word does Plato use for “copy” in this sentence? That’s fucking right, μίμημα. Mīmēma. Mimesis. Meme. The new meme is a lie, manifested in (written) words, that reflects the lack of truth, the emptiness, within the very soul of a human. The meme is now not only an inferior copy, it is a deceptive copy.
But just wait, it gets better. Plato continues in the very next section of the Republic, 382 c. Sometimes, he says, the lie, the meme, is appropriate, even moral. It is not abhorrent to lie to your enemy, or to your friend in order to keep him from harm. “Does it [the lie] not then become useful to avert the evil—as a medicine?” You get one fucking guess for what Greek word is being translated as “medicine” in this passage. Ding ding motherfucking ding, you got it, φάρμακον, pharmakon. The μίμημα is a φάρμακον, the lie is a medicine/poison, the meme is a pharmakon.
But I’m sure that by now you’ve realized the (intentional) mistake in my argument that brought us to this point. I said earlier that the addition of written language to the meme flipped the pharmakon on its axis. But the pharmakon didn’t flip, it doesn’t have an axis. It was always both remedy and poison. The fact that this isn’t obvious to us from the very beginning of the discussion is the fault of, you guessed it, language. The initial lie (writing) clouds our vision and keeps us from realizing how false the second-order lie (the meme) is.
The very structure of the lying meme mirrors the structure of the written word that defines and corrupts it. Once you try to identify an “outside” in order to reveal the lie, the whole framework turns itself inside-out so that you can never escape it. The cat wants the cheezburger that exists outside the meme, but only through the meme do we become aware of the presumed existence of the cheezburger — we can’t point out the absurdity of the world of the meme without also indicting our own world. We can’t talk about language without language, we can’t meme without mimesis. Memes didn’t change between ‘06 and ‘07, it was us who changed. Or rather, our understanding of what we had always been changed. The lie became truth, the remedy became the poison, the outside became the inside. Which is to say that the truth became lie, the pharmakon was always the remedy and the poison, and the inside retreated further inside. It all came full circle. Because here’s the secret, Jane. Language ruined the meme, yes. But language itself had already been ruined. By that initial poisonous, lying copy. Writing.
The First Meme.
Language didn’t attack the meme in 2007 out of spite. It attacked it to get revenge.
Longcat is long. Language is language. Pharmakon is pharmakon. The phoneme topples the grapheme, witches ride through the night, our skulls hide secret messages on their surfaces, Smash Mouth is good after all. Hey now, you’re an all-star. Get your game on.
Go play.
(46)

For some insight into what the fuck I’m talking about with “mimema”, here’s an excerpt from the excellent Homestuck fanwork known as Pony Pals: Detective Pony.

…no, really.


Destination. Agreement. Trajectory. Agreement.

Interesting. Seems they’re planning to move somewhere. Could it be towards one of the humans in the Wormverse, or maybe they have other plans?

They would meet again at the same place. At a set time, they would cease to expand their revolution and contract once again, until they drew together to arrive at their meeting place.

Ah.

This all sounds like a sort of dance.

-the Merchant caught me off guard, as I reeled from the image of what I’d just seen.

Aand we’re out. Or maybe in. Who knows where we just were – Taylor’s consciousness may well have exited the universe.

She’s not going to remember any of it, is she?


He caught me across the cheekbone with his elbow, and pain shot through my entire skull, bringing me halfway back to reality.

I mean, she’s remembering so far, but for Hana it started to fade rather quickly after time resumed, even if her psychic link with her weapon (at least I presume that’s the reason) allowed her to remember the most important bits.

Someone grabbed me, her chest soft against my back, her grip around my shoulders painfully tight. Charlotte? Or Lisa?

I don’t think Lisa would do this unless she were physically trying to restrict Taylor from fighting back. I guess it’s either a scared Charlotte, or a female merchant getting in from behind.

The shift from what I had seen to relative normalcy was so drastic that I could barely grasp what I was sensing.

Yeeah, got a lot to process right now.

I opened my mouth to say something and then closed it. I couldn’t unfocus or take in the scene as a whole, as the entirety of my attention was geared for seeing…

Seeing the unseeable?

what had I been looking at? It escaped me as I tried to remember.

Ah, there we go.

It reminds me a lot of someone’s power. I wonder if more powers are similar to things about the beings?

I shook my head, striving and failing to see past the countless minute details or the shape of things: the way the Merchant’s facial features seemed to spread out as he advanced towards me, the contraction of his body as he bent down, the nicks and brown of rust on the knife he picked up, the one I’d dropped. I still held my good knife.

Taylor seems to have ended up in a state of hyperawareness following a timeless moment of being aware of something most people have no idea exists… if anything her awareness has gone down.

But it also appears to be working against her right now – she can’t see the forest for the trees, and the forest is currently attacking her with a knife.


I closed my eyes, trying to blink and fix the distorted focus, and it only helped a little. I looked to my left for help, saw Minor and Jaw with their hands full, their movements too hard for my eyes to follow. To my right? Lisa was slumped over, and Brooks held her.

Welp.

Merchants were closing in on them. Senegal stood in front of me, and though his gun was gone, he was using the length of chain that he’d taken from one of the Merchants to drive our opponents back and buy us breathing room.

Nice!

It wasn’t enough. Three capable fighters weren’t able to protect seven people in total.

Might have to bring in some bugs after all. Or run.

I used my power, and wrenched my eyes closed. It helped more than anything, as the tactility of my swarm sense gave me a concrete, solid sense of the things around us.

Excellent.

Many of the Merchants had lice on their skin, in their clothes and on their hair. A small handful of flies buzzed around the area. With a bit of direction to guide those flies to where I needed them, I had a solid sense of my surroundings and what the enemy combatants were doing.

In this state, she’s more in tune with her bug sense than with her vision, it seems. That’s probably not a coincidence.


With panic and disorientation nearly overwhelming me, I had to resist the urge to use my power to call a swarm together.

It’s been a while since that was an issue last, but it’s still very much a thing that can happen. I’m still not backing down on my 1.1 prediction that at some point, likely a moment of intense rage or despair, she will fail to control her power.

Using this many bugs, to get a sense of what was going on? It wouldn’t attract undue attention.

Yeah, this is fine.

I let bugs gather on the ceiling of the mall, drawing them down through the large crack where part of the roof had caved in, as a just-in-case.

Good call.


I kept my eyes closed as I fought back, pulling out of Charlotte’s grip to strike at the Merchant, cutting him across the forehead.

From the outside, it’s going to look like Taylor is being a badass while fighting blindly, but the truth is she’s just “looking” in a very different way.

He growled something I couldn’t make out and charged me. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to beat him in any contest of strength, I threw myself to one side, landing hard on the ground and nearly tripping Senegal.

Whoops, careful.

I brought my knees to my chest, and then I kicked outward to strike him in the calf with both heels.

Niice.

I wasn’t thinking straight. I should have predicted that he’d fall on top of me.

…ah, shit.

His shoulder hit my chest, his body weight heavy on top of me. His knife hand was trapped under his body, near my waist. I was more fortunate, with my right arm free, and I pulled the knife’s point across his ribs, aiming for a shallow cut that hurt more than it injured.

Phew.

He screamed and dropped his weapon, and I scrabbled to slide it back towards Charlotte, Brooks and Lisa.

[Notice that Charlotte and Lisa have been omitted. Proper names are not allowed in Scrabble, after all. But “brooks” is still a valid word.]


Senegal turned and kicked my attacker away from me.

Nice work.

While Senegal used the lock on the end of the length of chain to strike the man in the jaw, I tried to stand.

Senegal may be a creep, but he knows what he’s doing in a fight.

Stupidly, I’d opened my eyes as I stood, instead of trusting to my power to keep a sense of the immediate situation.

Whoops. Probably not a good idea right now.

Motion sickness hit me like a sack of bricks, and I nearly fell over.

Yeah.

Charlotte caught me to keep me from tipping over, only narrowly avoiding stabbing herself on my good knife.

Good job.


“Oh my god,” she murmured. “You’re…”

Hm? Heavy? Or is this a reaction to Taylor being unsteady?

Or maybe whatever just happened with Taylor, seeing multidimensional beings and whatnot, had an outwardly visible effect on her?

Had I given myself away? I hadn’t used that many bugs.

No, it was something else. I could tell from the flies I’d placed on her head that she was looking up.

Hm… but didn’t you just place a bunch of bugs above you? I trust you when you say it’s something else, but I wouldn’t assume that based on this.

Her attention turned to me, then Lisa, and then back to the higher object. I forced my eyes open, controlling my movement and my breathing to reduce the threat of nausea, and saw she was looking at Skidmark’s platform.

…alright, what’s that doing above them? Did they accidentally move much closer to it while fighting?

Skidmark was slumped against the railing, struggling to his feet.

Woah. You okay, there, buddy?

…how are the other parahumans looking? Is this motion sickness happening to all of them? We did see Lisa slumped over a bit too, which I thought was from having been attacked.

Squealer, Mush, Trainwreck and their other subordinates weren’t faring much better.

Seems like it. So did all of them see the beings?

Dammit, I need a temporary name for them. I’ve painted myself into a corner by using Karahindiba specifically for the one Hana saw, and now I’m forced to just call them multidimensional beings unless I make up a name for them.

How about tesseractids?


Skidmark grabbed his microphone and broke into laughter, the nasty chuckles echoing through the area.

Alright. Whatcha got to say?

“Seems like one of you assdrips just earned his stripes,” he cackled.

Hm, did he figure out that there’s a connection between the tesseractids and trigger events, or is he just assuming that the motion sickness is the result of someone’s first, uncontrolled use of their power?

Alternatively, it’s possible he’s been present for trigger events multiple times before – Lisa did say he was using brawls like this to recruit new parahumans, like the subordinates behind him – so maybe he’s just noticed that trigger events cause motion sickness for other parahumans, not remembering the tesseractids.

I saw a flash of white from within the ring and it dawned on me what had just happened.

Alright, so what sort of power did the tesseractids bestow today?

Also, were they aware of future trigger events? I mean, planning to come back, and all that?

Another flash sparked in the ring, then a second. Both were in close proximity to a boy no older than I was.

Got another young villain, huh.

Man, imagine if it had been Bryce. Although I’m still not ruling out that he might indeed end up with powers by the end of this.

White smoke poured from his eyes, nose, ears and mouth, with smaller traces flowing from his scalp, stirring his hair.

Well that’s pretty intimidating.

At least this was a natural trigger event, rather than one spurred on by super juice – I’m curious as to whether/how the super juice and the tesseractids may be connected by the way – so he shouldn’t end up as one of the monstrous parahumans. Probably.

He flinched as someone whirled on him and raised their weapon, and a burst of white light appeared two feet to the other person’s left. A miss.

It seems like this person creates bursts instantly where they’re supposed to hit, rather than sending out any sort of projectile.

The person swayed toward where the flash had been, as if it had pulled at him.

Huh, interesting. Bursts of gravity?

The glowing boy stuck one arm out, towards his target, and another flash of white appeared a yard behind his target.

The man charged, and the boy tried a third time. The blast intersected the man, and when it faded, the man’s upper arm, forearm, elbow, and the right side of his torso and hip were gone.

Welp.

Blood gushed from the area where his flesh had been carved away by the light, and his dismembered hand dropped to his feet.

Yeeeah, try not to get in this guy’s way.

It seems like it’s a sort of… burst of non-existence. The person swaying may have been due to air rushing into where it was just erased.


The boy screamed in some combination of horror, pain and rage, and flashes of the whiteness erupted randomly around him.

Ah, shit, here comes the “out of control” part.

Some caught people who were lying prone on the ground, others hit standing combatants, while most simply hit thin air.

The chances of Sierra not being happy at the end of this all just keep on rising.

A trigger event. I’d just seen someone have their trigger event.

So you did, and it was a lot more interesting than I had expected.

But what had happened to Skidmark’s group, Tattletale and I? I could vaguely remember something, thought about trying to put it into words, as if describing it could help call it to mind in a way that I could describe it, but they disappeared as I reached for them.

Judging by Skidmark’s reaction, it really does seem like this is a common occurrence when parahumans are close enough to other parahumans during their trigger event. He seemed to have experienced the same thing Taylor did and he knew what it meant. But none of them remember what they actually experienced, just the aftereffects.

I was reminded of Imp’s power. Before I could get a handle on it, I’d forgotten entirely, and I was struggling to even remember what I was trying to do, my thoughts muddling the idea of it with my attempts to get my bearings.

Who’s Imp again?

But yes, it’s very reminiscent of that. It’s like the tesseractids are suppressing all memory of themselves in humans, whether that’s intentional or not.


And Charlotte, who was helping me stay balanced on my feet, was staring at me wide-eyed. I remembered her exclamation of surprise.

Yeah, what was up with that? Did she realize what Taylor’s instability means, by comparison with Skidmark & co.?

“Oh my god. You’re [a parahuman]?”

Or, “You’re [like them]?”

If everyone on stage with powers had been affected, and Lisa and I were reacting the same way, it couldn’t be that hard for her to put the pieces together. Charlotte knew.

Seems like it. She might not know which parahumans you are, but she seems to have figured out you are among them. And if she knows anything about trigger events, or figured that too out from what just happened, she might also have figured out since when.

I looked to Lisa, for advice or ideas, but she was still slumped over, and she wasn’t recovering. Why? If this was some kind of psychic backlash from someone else having their trigger event, had she maybe been hit harder because of her power?

Yeah, that’s what I was about to suggest too.

Hell, if she used her power on the tesseractids, that’s definitely bound to have caused a psychic overload.

I wonder how much of that she would remember. We do know it’s possible to remember under certain circumstances, and I think it’s implied that the reason the other person we know of who remembers did so is because her power is a separated part of her psyche. It wouldn’t surprise me too much if Lisa’s power lent itself to remembering in a similar way, especially if she used it in the timeless moment. Then again, psychic overload might cause it to go the other way, too.


I hurried to her side, while Brooks turned to rejoin the fight and help re-establish our front lines.

“Lisa!” I shook her. She looked at me, her eyes unfocused.

Come back to this world, Lisa!

“They’re like viruses,” she said. Her voice was thin, as if she were talking to herself. “And babies. And gods. All at the same time.”

She did it.

She actually fucking did it.

“Viruses”, huh… that would be in line with the idea that parahumans are the result of absorbing a “seed” of a tesseractid. And implies that they might be using the parahumans to create more of themselves.

“Babies” implies a sense of immaturity. They don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t fully understand their impact.

“Gods” is… pretty self-explanatory in this case. Anyone could look at these beings and say “that’s some god-level shit right there”.


“You’re not making any sense, Lisa. Come on, get it together.

She is if you remember what she’s talking about, but unfortunately, you don’t.

Things are pretty ugly right now.”

To be fair, Lisa has pretty much been mind-blown with grand truths of the multiverse right now. The world just told her “42” out of nowhere.

So yeah, she does need to get it together (because this is an ugly situation), but it’s very, very understandable that she’s not.

“Almost there. It’s like it’s at the tip of my tongue, but it’s my brain, not my tongue,” her voice was thin, barely audible, as though she was talking to herself and not to me. “Still fillin’ in the blanks.”

Hm, yeah, this is a good explanation for exactly why Lisa’s power helps her remember: Her power fills in the blanks. As the knowledge begins to get imped, her power continuously fills in the holes that makes.

And hey, speaking of, uh… We did see that Lisa is immune or at least resistant to her power, too, back in Parasite. That’s a neat bit of consistency.


I slapped her lightly across the face, “Lisa! Need you to come back to reality, not go further into your delirium.”

I wonder if she would be able to continue filling in the blanks later, or if the imping would start preventing that.

The slap seemed to do it. She shook her head, like a dog trying to shake off water. “Taylor?”

“Oh hey, Taylor, you’re here.”

“Come on,” I helped her to her feet. She almost lost her balance, but she was still recuperating faster than I had.

I’m sure her power is helping with that too, now that it’s directed towards the world she inhabits.

I wonder how long she’ll retain the knowledge she just obtained after she stops focusing on it.

Charlotte took over the job of ensuring Lisa was okay, and I moved forward to help back up the other guys. With a knife in each hand, I stood behind the trio of Brooks, Senegal and Minor, ready to stop anyone who tried to slip by. I kept my eyes closed.

Badass.

I could manage so long as I didn’t try to move and keep my eyes open at the same time. It was swiftly receding.

That’s good.


The last group to tackle us had largely been beaten back. Another group made some threatening moves, but they seemed to be in rougher shape than us. Their leader was an amazon of a woman with a wild look in her eyes and matted hair, and I could see concern flash across her face as she looked us over and noted the disparity in the condition of our groups.

Yeeah, don’t even bother.

It struck me she was in a bad spot, knowing her group would be thrashed if she took us on, but at the same time, she couldn’t order her guys to back off without looking like a coward.

Hm. Tricky situation for both sides. I’m not sure how to solve this – backing off might give the amazon’s guys confidence and spur them on, but intimidation might also spur them on by virtue of them having the same “I’m not a coward” attitude as the amazon. Holding their place doesn’t solve anything either.

…move sideways?

Whatever decision she would have made, we didn’t get to find out.

Oh? Did the guy with the bursts of non-existence come too close, or something? I doubt it’s another trigger event, given that that would presumably cause another round in the tesseractid zone.

“Stop!” Skidmark hollered into his microphone.

Hm. Alright, sure.


I don’t think there’s much left of the chapter, but Skidmark told me to stop so– no, I’m kidding, let’s move on. 😛


It took a full minute for everyone to break off in the fighting and back off to a point where they didn’t feel immediately threatened.

So is this just halftime, or did the still-fighting population of the arena reach five, or…

So many injured. How many of his own people had Skidmark just lost in this stunt?

Probably a lot, both injured and dead. We’ve seen some of the deaths happen, after the trigger event, and the narration, rules and people involved make it seem like there’s been more.

But hey. A single parahuman can be worth a lot of mundanes in some people’s eyes.

(I’m still 98% certain there are parahuman supremacist terror organizations out there whose primary goal is to cause as many trigger events as possible for the public. Doesn’t matter whether they show up in the story or not, I’m just pretty sure they’d exist in the setting.)

Did he care? He stood to gain five new parahumans for his group. Six if you counted the guy who’d had his trigger event.

To be fair, he could’ve gained the other five without this mess, but as I described last chapter, this whole thing is a pretty solid way to find the most useful people to give the super juice to. (With the exception that it doesn’t account for loyalty.)


“If we wait any longer, there’s only going to be one of you cockbiters left in the ring! We got five of you fuckers left, and that’s all we need!”

We’ve got some winners! Time to see super juice in action, perhaps.

Only five? There had been at least eighty in the ring at the beginning, and still more had joined the fight afterward, one way or another.

Ah! I guess Taylor just didn’t make note of that, with the obvious exception of Bryce.

I’m sure the rampaging new parahuman had something to do with the numbers dropping so much more quickly now.

I could see the remaining five as the audience moved back to give them space. A family of three, it seemed, a woman with a gaping wound in her stomach, her hand crimson where it pressed against the injury, and the boy who’d had his trigger event.

Why is the boy who had his trigger event counted for the purposes of finding five people to give superpowers to? Can the juice give him more powers?

Other than that we’ve got a family – nice work making it through this together – and Kanaya. I hope the stomach-wounded woman gets vampire powers.

I didn’t see Bryce or his new ‘family’ in the mist of the people retreating from the scene.

Welp. Time to search, I guess.

Let’s hope you find more than just his legs.


A flash of light marked another uncontrolled use of the new cape’s power. It struck close to the ground, removing the leg of someone who lay unconscious or dead on the ground, but it left the ground perfectly intact. Why? When it consumed clothing and flesh but not the building itself?

That is very interesting. Maybe it only works on organic material? Though that doesn’t cover all clothes. That would also invalidate my explanation for the “pull” after the flash.

Or maybe it’s just specifically for the use of erasing people and their clothes? Powers can be weirdly specific sometimes.

“Boy,” Skidmark pointed, “Approach the stage!”

To be fair, Skidmark didn’t say the winners had to use the super juice themselves. It seems like a reasonable compromise to allow the boy’s prize to go to someone else of the boy’s own choosing.

But that might not be how Skidmark intends to do this.

The ring flashed and disappeared. The boy turned, as though in a daze. He flinched as another burst of light sparked a good ten feet away.

Yeeah, better get control of that sooner rather than later.

He limped toward Skidmark and stared up at the Merchant’s leader.

“You’re gonna need a name, kid, if you’re going to join the Merchant’s upper circle.”

Hmm… Voidlight?

The boy blinked, looking around, as if he didn’t quite understand. Was he in shock?

Would make a lot of sense.

“Come on, now. Let’s hurry it up.”

There was a spark of the boy’s power, and the flash removed a beachball-sized section of rubble beneath Skidmark’s ‘stage’. The boy stared at it.

Wait, now it’s removing part of the building?

Also, imagine if he accidentally removed Skidmark. That would probably not end well for the boy.

“E-Eraser?” he answered, making it a question.

Fair. Not super inventive, but he was put on the spot.


“Like the puny pink nipple on the end of a pencil? Fuck that,” Skidmark snarled.

Pfft, hehe

“Um,” the boy drew out the noise, all too aware of his audience, probably unable to think straight.

“Scrub!” Skidmark shouted, and the crowd roared.

Sure, that works!

How in the hell was Scrub better than Eraser? In what insane reality?

It does sound a bit more insulting, but that’s the norm when it comes to what Skidmark calls his people, and I do think it’s more creative.

Eraser is a bit more immediately descriptive, but it’s like calling Skitter “Bug”. I think we all knew that wasn’t going to stick.

Skidmark waited until the noise of the crowd had died down before he raised the vial, “No point in you having a drink of this shit. Wouldn’t do sweet fuck all. Pick someone.”

Oh, he is doing what I suggested. Nice.

…watch as it turns out this guy is a friend of Bryce’s.

The boy stared at Skidmark, processing the words. He flinched as another flash occurred near him. A hand clutching one elbow, he turned toward the crowd. When he spoke, his voice was shaky, “R-Rick! Doug!”

Uh. Two names?

I’d assume there’s only enough for one in that vial.

Two people emerged from the massed people who stood around where the audience had been. One had blood running from his scalp to cover half his face, while the other was coughing violently, blood thick around his mouth and nose.

“Can… Can I give it to both? Can they share it?” the boy with the glowing hair asked.

No, if that were the case and Skidmark was aware of it, he would be looking for ten winners.

Skidmark chuckled, and it was a nasty sound with very little humor to it. “No, no. You definitely don’t want to do that. Pick one.”

Hm. Based on the way he’s talking, it really seems like Skidmark knows a few things about this stuff. Something about that “definitely” suggests that he knows what would happen if someone took a half-dose, and it’s not pleasant.

“Doug. Doug can have it.”

Rick might not be happy. At least until he sees what happens to Doug.


The boy who was coughing looked up, surprised. The one with blood on his face, Rick, suddenly looked angry. “What the fuck!?”

About as expected.

A flash of white high above and to the right of the boy with the powers made everyone nearby cringe. It tore away a chunk of a metal beam that was helping to support the damaged roof.

Whoops.

Seriously, dude, this place is wrecked enough already, try not to make the roof collapse.

People were giving a wider berth to the boy with the powers. I suspected his abilities and his apparent lack of control were the only things keeping Rick from running up and punching him.

Hehe, yeah, that might end badly.


Was this division & the hard feelings on purpose? If it was intentional, if Skidmark was dividing his allies from their former groups and cliques so they couldn’t gang up against him, I’d have to adjust my estimation of him.

I think this particular issue is on the boy making the choice, for giving Rick hope by trying to pick both his friends, and then picking Doug without hesitation when asked to pick one of them. I don’t think Skidmark made him pick one specifically to cause divisions.

That said, what Taylor is suggesting here is the classic Roman tactic of divide and conquer, and it sure worked for them!

Not that I’d like him any more, or even respect him, but I’d give him credit for intelligence.

That’s about how I feel about the Romans doing it too.

“You didn’t help me when I got pulled into the ring,” the boy with the powers told Rick, “Doug at least tried. He gets my prize.”

Hey, seems like a good reason to me.


As Doug approached the stage, taking the long way to keep his distance from his newly empowered ‘friend’, I became aware that my bugs were dying on the roof, where I’d gathered a swarm in preparation during the chaos. A patch here, a patch there.

Shit. Dude, seriously, I know you can’t fully control it yet, but try to keep your power away from the roof, please?

No. Not dying. They were stunned, their senses obliterated by bursts of chaos and false sensations.

Hm…

Does someone else have powers?

Or did Faultline’s Crew show up? Because this kind of sounds like the bugs have wound up in an area affected by Labyrinth’s power.

I had an idea of what it was. I’d felt the same thing before.

Yeah, I think that’s what this is.

I turned to Lisa. Moving my left hand from the scratch on the back of my upper arm, I discreetly pointed up and murmured, “There’s company on the way. We should go before there’s trouble.”

Heh, as if there hasn’t been trouble throughout the chapter.

It makes a lot of sense for Faultline’s Crew to show up. They’re the ones we know have ties to the Dealer subplot, and it’s believable that they may have recovered these vials while investigating that, only for the Merchants to come and steal them, possibly not knowing at first what exactly they had found.

So, of course, it’s time to steal them back, and maybe punish the Merchants.

She looked up, then nodded assent. Tapping Minor on the shoulder, she gave him a hand signal, and he notified the others. We began moving.

I will admit I’m a bit disappointed at the prospect of leaving instead of seeing the Crew in action against Skidmark and his people.

The person on the roof was joined by others. Some bugs died beneath their footfalls. More bugs were stunned as the first individual crawled forward on all fours, around the lip of the roof and onto the ceiling of the mall, hanging off of it by his hands.

Hiya, Newter. 🙂

Ohh. It wasn’t Labyrinth’s power causing “chaos and false sensations”, it was Newter’s. The bugs are drugged again.

I guess I was wrong in a way that still led me to the correct conclusion.

With the building largely unlit, I couldn’t make him out.

Ninjewter.


Newter was here, and the rest of Faultline’s crew.

For those who didn’t catch on yet.

We reached the first exit, and no sooner had we reached for the door than the handle disappeared.

Ahh. Now it’s Labyrinth’s turn.

The gaps separating the door from the wall filled in, as though wax matching the color of the door was dripping through the gaps. There were similar things happening at the other entrances, I saw, the doors fading into the walls, becoming little more than discolored blotches.

Because of course they can’t just let the Merchants escape.

And they don’t currently know that Taylor and co. aren’t Merchants. That might become a problem.

Nobody else had seemed to notice, with their attention wholly focused on the woman who was making her way down from the stage with the vial for ‘Doug’.

The Crew are really showing up at the last second.

When the fighting had started, Lisa had dissuaded me from using my power, out of a concern that the ensuing riot and chaos would get people hurt, and that the mob might start to hunt for strangers in their ranks.

Thaaat also might become a problem, yes. Shit.

I had no idea why they were here, but it seemed Faultline was about to crash the party in a far more direct way than we had. We were about to see that bad scenario unfold, and our escape routes had vanished.

Yeah, this is quite unfortunate.


End of Infestation 11.6

This was a very interesting chapter. I hadn’t expected anything even remotely like this.

We learned a lot about the mysterious eldritch beings that appear to be the source of powers, which I’ve chosen to call tesseractids for now. They’re multidimensional, they can appear across multiple realities at once, and it seems they don’t always “die” like Karahindiba supposedly did when they bestow the powers. They are “like viruses, babies and gods at the same time”, suggesting they might reproduce via parahumans and don’t really know what they’re doing, but they’re also capable of planning and communication and may be aware of upcoming trigger events.

And apparently all existing parahumans can see them when a trigger event happens nearby, but not mundanes. The experience takes a psychic toll and often causes motion sickness, but those exposed to it quickly forget what happened unless their power helps them remember.

Very, very interesting revelations there. You may color me highly intrigued.

It’s also going to be interesting to see whether Lisa remembers anything.

At the end we also found out that Faultline’s Crew has arrived. Long time no see! I don’t think we’ve seen them since Interlude 5, actually, so I guess this is a very appropriate point for them to come back.

Taylor doesn’t know it, but they’re obviously after the vials of super juice. They’re gonna have to act fast to get ahold of the first one, though, before Doug drinks it.

And once they do act, using the element of surprise by the looks of it, things are not gonna be good. Especially considering they clearly don’t want any Merchants to escape the building and they’re currently counting Taylor and co. as Merchants.

Incidentally, Charlotte might think Taylor and Lisa are doing it at first.

So yeah! With this setup, next chapter looks like it’ll be interesting, but I highly doubt it’ll be as interesting as this one was, because damn.

See you next time!

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