Infestation 11.8: Bryce Bond

Source material: Worm, Infestation 11.8

Originally blogged: March 3-6, 2018


INFESTATION 11.8

ATTENTION MORTALS!

MY HUMAN AVATAR HAS RETURNED TO EARTH SO I MAY CONTINUE TO READ YOUR LATEST OFFERING TO THE GODS, THE WORK OF FICTION KNOWN AS “WORM”. I SHALL DEIGN TO KEEP YOU UPDATED ON MY THOUGHTS AS I DO SO.

LAST TIME, THE MORTALS WHOM THOSE WITHOUT ENDLESS WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE OF TRUE NAMES CALL “TAYLOR HEBERT” AND “LISA WILBOURN”, AND THEIR COMPANIONS, SUCCESSFULLY MADE THEIR WAY OUT OF THE FORMER ENCLOSED HUMAN TRANSACTION ZONE IN WHICH THE “MERCHANTS” DWELLED, AND LEARNED MORE ABOUT THE ENTERPRISE THAT CALLS ITSELF “CAULDRON”.

NEXT UP, TAYLOR WILL HAVE TO GO THROUGH THE DREADFUL MORTAL PROCESS OF SOCIAL INTERACTION.

…WE DON’T DO THAT UP HERE, IT’S NOT WORTH IT. THAT DID LEAD TO A COUPLE WARS BETWEEN MORTALS, BUT WHATEVER.

ANYWAY, “TAYLOR” MUST INFORM “SIERRA” ABOUT THE BEHAVIOR OF “BRYCE”, AND DEAL WITH THE FACT THAT “CHARLOTTE” IS AWARE THAT THE FACES OF “TAYLOR” AND “SKITTER” BELONG TO THE SAME SOUL.

I BELIEVE THAT WILL BE THE MAIN FOCUS OF THE CHAPTER. HOWEVER, THROUGH MY ENDLESS DIVINE WISDOM (AND TOTALLY NOT BEING TOLD BY THE PRIEST [HERE]), I AM NOW AWARE THAT THIS IS THE FINAL CHAPTER OF THE ARC PROPER BEFORE DELVING INTO INTERLUDES. AS SUCH, I BELIEVE THE CHAPTER MAY ALSO END WITH THE GROUP KNOWN AS THE “SLAUGHTERHOUSE NINE” OFFICIALLY REVEALING THEIR PRESENCE IN BROCKTON BAY TO THE PUBLIC.

WITHOUT DELAYING FURTHER, I SHALL NOW BEGIN READING AND SHARING MY THOUGHTS. LISTEN CLOSELY OR YOU SHALL BE SMITED. SMITEN? …SMOTE? SMATED. YOU SHALL BE SMATED.

JUST GET WORSHIPPING ALREADY.

[the tags on this post were in caps too]


I could see Dr. Q grow more irritated with every person that filed into the office.

Oh my cod ahaha

Hiya, dr. Cleese. Got a bunch of people for you to patch up over here.

Ten people in total.  There were the eight that we’d all packed into the car and fake ambulance Coil had sent.  Lisa, me, Bryce, Charlotte, Minor, Senegal, Jaw and Brooks.  Two more, our drivers, had stepped in to verify everything was okay before leaving to stand guard outside the front of the building.

Ah, yeah, that’s a lot of people.

Considering the size I’ve been imagining Dr. Cleese’s office as all this time, my mental image has it quite crowded right now. No one can swing their arms without hitting someone else.

Of course, I don’t think the size has actually been specified, so that’s just how it looks in my head.

The good doctor took one look at our group, ordered us to put Bryce on the first bed, then sighed and said he’d patch the rest of us up when he was done with the boy.

Of course. The doctor can’t just let them walk out in the state they came in.

First bed? Sounds like the room is large enough for at least two beds, then.

Lisa suggested me for the next in line, which means I was made to sit down on the bed in the far corner.  It wound up working out on several levels, because it gave Lisa a chance to talk privately with Minor, and it gave me a chance to have words with Charlotte.

Ooh, nice.


Dr. Q ordered the remainder of Minor’s squad to leave until they were called in, which meant there were more people standing guard outside.

Well, at least we know no one’s going to be bursting in through that door anytime soon.

I wondered if it was reaching the point where the guards would attract more problems just by virtue of drawing attention to themselves than we’d face otherwise.

Hm, fair. Though I guess John Cleese knows what he’s doing. The guards too, for that matter.

Charlotte looked spooked.  Maybe rightly so.  She had to be aware that she was privy to information and details to a degree that we couldn’t just let her go.

Yeah, which would be spooky enough if that information didn’t involve someone being a villain.


Dr. Q gets to work each day by Silly Walking through the streets of Brockton Bay.

(#headcanon)


I moved into a cross legged position on the bed, adjusting the pillow behind me to keep the headboard from rubbing against my back.  I pointed, and told Charlottte, “Sit.”

Good job making her less spooked.

Although that might not be your goal. The spook in her might be your best bet to keeping your secret, besides gratitude.

She obeyed, but she sat on the edge with her legs dangling, her body twisted to face me, as if she wanted to be able to run at a moment’s notice.

I don’t think John Cleese would let her.

I feel like it says something that I thought about that before the six Coildiers standing outside the door.

After some consideration, I frowned and told her, “I don’t know what to do with you.”

Honesty. Good starting point.


“You don’t need to do anything?” She made it a question, a request.

That depends entirely on how much Taylor can trust you.

Honestly, I like the idea of this Arc ending up as Taylor collecting civilian subordinates, with Sierra, Bryce and Charlotte all ending up living in the Hive (although Charlotte might have a family to go back to) and working for Taylor.

I don’t think it’s going to happen, especially with Bryce, but I think it’s a neat concept.

“You’re the first person who knew me that knows about this.”  I paused.  “Or knew of me.”

Huh, yeah. In all the other cases, it’s been the other way around, with people finding out who Skitter is under the mask rather than finding out who Taylor is when she puts one on.

(The mask needs not be physical.)

She looked down at her hands, “I- I don’t… I didn’t see anything.”

Sure you didn’t. Just keep up that story towards others.


“Charlotte,” I frowned, “Look up at me.  Meet my eyes.”

Reluctantly, she did.

“I’m not stupid,” I told her.  “And as cute as that whole cliche is, you and I both know you saw everything. This is serious.”

Yeah. No ignoring this.

She looked at the scene to our left, the doctor, Bryce, Lisa and Minor.  Leaning towards me, she whispered, almost plaintive, “Why did you bring me here?

In part to have this conversation, I guess. Doesn’t hurt to get checked over by the doc, though.

“Because you’d already seen too much.  There was no avoiding it.  We couldn’t hide it from you without leaving you behind, and neither of us wanted that to happen, right?”

Fair.


She shook her head with a glum expression on her face.

Seeing that, I answered her question from before, “I brought you here because I wanted you to know that our group isn’t just a few kids in costumes running around.  We’re an organization.”

Oh damn.

Yeah, if she wasn’t already intimidated…

“I don’t want to know this!” she said, clutching her pants leg in her hands.

Ahh, she’s gotten terrified of knowing even more too much than she already does.

“You need to,” I started.  I was about to go on to say something more, but I was distracted as another group of soldiers entered the room.  They carried a white cooler between them, and set it at Bryce’s bedside.

Another group? Subservient to Dr. Cleese, maybe?

I lost my train of thought as I watched to see if Bryce was okay.

The cooler was opened, and bags of blood were hung on the wall beside Bryce.

Oh, going for a blood transfusion?

Once that was done, the soldiers wordlessly carried the cooler out the door.

See ya, maybe.


I sighed, “Look, Charlotte, I’m not your enemy.”

Always good to establish that.

“You saved my life,” she said.

Yeah, I’m glad she acknowledges that here.

Although, as I’ve said, it’s worse grounds for trusting someone than many think.

“That’s maybe an exaggeration.  I saved you from being assaulted by those men, probably-”

I was kind of thinking the same thing, but the way Taylor’s getting cut off here makes me think Charlotte is about to give us more details that show how staying would likely have led to her death.

I could see her shrink into herself.

“-I’m sorry.”  I finished, lamely.

Oh, never mind, Taylor was cutting herself off.

Yeah, I guess this technicality isn’t the best thing to remind Charlotte of right now.

“You’re a villain,” she said, and it took me a second to realize it was more of a non-sequitor than an admonishment for reminding her of what had nearly happened to her.

That moment of confusion is entirely fair. Then again, it doesn’t really need to be a non-sequitur, per se – she might be bringing it up as an implied question about “why”.

But it’s also important as a moment of acknowledgement of that fact out loud between the two of them.


“I’m a villain,” I agreed.

“And you’re going to tell me that if I ever open my mouth, you’ll kill me.”

Yeeeah, no, that’s not how this particular villain works. Better still keep it shut, though.

“That is one option.  Or, theoretically speaking, I could hurt you or your loved ones.”

And for the purposes of making her do that, some bluffing is in order.

She deflated, which was pretty impressive given that she hadn’t exactly been brimming with vigor before I’d opened my mouth.

*makes the sound of a balloon letting out air*

It was like she didn’t even have the energy to be afraid.

It’s been a long day. Plus however long she spent with the Merchants.


“I’m not going that route,” I told her, “I don’t want to be that kind of bad guy.”

Oh, okay, sticking to the honesty.

She looked up at me.

“I’m improvising, and you’re going to have to forgive me if my ideas are a little rough around the edges… but two ideas spring to mind.  Number one is that you leave.  I’m offering you an out.”

Is my idea actually happening? Because if one option is leave, the other is…

“Leave?  The city?”

I nodded.  “Leave Brockton Bay.  You have any family here?”

Oh.

“My mom.  She’s doing the training to join the construction crews.”

That might put her in contact with Danny.

“You’d leave the city with your mom.  Put all this behind you, the ruined city, what happened at the mall, me, everything.”

Given the state of the town right now, and what Charlotte has been through, it probably wouldn’t be hard to convince her mom without saying “a villain is forcing me to”.

Though I guess the question of “how did you get away” would come up anyway.


“And I wouldn’t say anything,” she finished my thought.

Naturally.

“Right.  You’d keep your mouth shut.  Because if you did start discussing stuff you shouldn’t know?  Those soldiers, the hackers, the plants we have with police and FBI and government?  My psychic friend over there?  They’d find you.”

Yeah, definitely.

I don’t think Coil having plants in the police, FBI and government has been mentioned before, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if that’s true.

I could see her clutch her pants leg a little tighter.

Better keep your mouth as shut as that hand.

“And believe me, Charlotte, I don’t want to hurt you.  But it would be out of my hands.  I’m not the top dog here.  The person in charge?  They would handle things after that.  Understand?  They would handle you.”

Taylor is… remarkably good at doing intimidating talk in the same paragraph as insisting genuinely that she doesn’t want someone hurt.

“I’m not saying anything.  Really.”

“I know.  And I know you wouldn’t say anything even hinting at what you know, unless it was to a therapist and you were absolutely sure it was confidential.  That’s what I’m proposing.”

Hm, are you saying that particular scenario would be fine, or that that’s a sort of situation you want to avoid because you don’t think there’s a risk of Charlotte blabbing to anyone else? It’s a little unclear.

Incidentally, I know a really good Miraculous Ladybug fanfic that among other things involves a superhero-turned-antihero going to therapy and eventually revealing his secret to the therapist.


Her head hung, “I… don’t think I can leave like that.  I wanted to, before all of this, but my zaydee, my grandpa, he refuses to leave, and he can’t take care of himself when the city’s like this.  It’s why we didn’t evacuate.”

Zaydee? Sounds like an implication of Charlotte’s ancestry and culture. I’m not going to google it in case I’m wrong and it’s just a Worm thing (though I find that unlikely), so I’m going to guess that it’s a word from a Native American language of some variety.

“You could tell your mom and grandpa some of what happened.  That the Merchants got you, that you got away, that you don’t feel safe here.”

Yeah, if the grandpa remains stubborn after that, I don’t think I’ll like him very much.

She buried her face in her knees.  “No.”

Oh? Not willing to tell them about it, is that the issue?

“Okay.  So that leaves option two.”

Here we go. If option one is leave, option two is stay. And I don’t just mean in the city.


“I-” she started.  She stopped when I raised one hand.

“Don’t say anything until I explain it.  I’ll forget what I want to say if I get distracted.  You’re going to work for me.

😀

And every doubt and possibility that just made you tense up at that idea?  It’s not going to happen.  You’ll be safe.  Safer than you were before.  You won’t have to do anything illegal unless you’re willing.”

Sounds great!

“I’d still be helping you, I’d be helping a criminal, indirectly.”

That is true. Maybe it’s worth telling Charlotte about your methods and goals?

“You would.  But I think you’d be surprised at my approach.  I’m not looking to hurt innocents.  I’m not pushing hard drugs, I’m not demanding protection money.”

“Then what are you doing?”

Much the same thing the heroes are supposed to do, but in illegal ways. Chaotic good in a nutshell.


Funny, how everything always seemed to tie back to the beginning.  I was put in mind of the conversation I’d had with the Undersiders on our second meeting.  The same conversation that had led to me joining them.

Huh… I guess this is kind of reminiscent of that.

“I’m afraid the full details only come with membership,” I echoed Lisa’s words to me from back then.

Hah! I love it.

I wonder if Lisa can hear this conversation and is wearing a subtle smirk right now.

“I don’t really have much of a choice, do I?”

I mean, the other option is apparently out, so I guess not.

…the out is out.

“You do.  More than you think.  Don’t give me a response just yet.  Think about it for a bit.  You’re staying at least until you get those scrapes and scratches looked at.”

Yeah, Cleese ain’t gonna let you leave before that.


Charlotte looked at her hands.  Her knuckles and fingertips were torn up, and she had a shallow cut on the side of her neck.  “This isn’t anything worth worrying about.”

Fair, though John Cleese might disagree.

“The way this city is right now?  You’ll get an infection if you don’t get that taken care of.  Relax.

Oh yeah, good point.

Believe it or not, you’re safer right here, right now, than you’ve been for the past few weeks.  Breathe, think about what you want to do.”

I guess Taylor’s including the whole broken city situation, not just the unknown amount of time Charlotte spent with the Merchants.

She glanced around, and I could tell she didn’t believe me.  Still, she met my eyes and offered me a nod.

Well, that’s something.


So if we’re about to leave Charlotte to think, is the next step checking on Bryce?

Well, I hadn’t solved the Charlotte problem just yet, but I’d at least addressed it.  If I was honest with myself, part of the reason I told her to wait on her answer was to buy myself a reprieve, give myself time to think.

Ah, and giving Taylor some time to think too.

Maybe that was a bad idea, because being left to ponder let the anxiety build up.  I was worried.  Not just about Charlotte, but about my territory.  Had the Merchants attacked it in the meantime?  Lisa had said they would mostly be at the party, but I couldn’t be absolutely sure.

Hm, yeah, that would be a problem. It really wouldn’t look good to promise protection and then fail to protect the area from Merchants within 12 hours.

Grue would have been watching it for me, but he’d be tired, and he didn’t have the same awareness over the area that I did.

Yeah, he’d have to rely on different tactics of some sort.


I almost regretted leaving for this, for Bryce, even though I knew I’d do it again.

#responsibility

If anything calmed me down, it was seeing Lisa with the two squad leaders.  She laughed a little, and put her hand on the arm of the other squad captain, Fish.

😀

Hey, nice nickname. Maybe he’s good at swimming?

When she caught me looking her way, she smiled and gave me a wink.

Not going to lie, this sounds awfully suggestive, but I don’t really want to think about that given the sort of ages these people would be.

So I’m going to focus on Lisa smiling at Taylor instead.

Man, I bet the Skittletale shippers loved this moment, though. “Aww, looking at Lisa calms Taylor down from her anxieties…” Not gonna lie, it’s dangerously close to putting me on board the ship myself.


When Dr. Q had done everything he could for Bryce, he turned his attentions to me.  I got more stitches, in my arm this time, which was fun.

Heh.

I also got to see every single one of my cuts and scrapes fizz with foam as he disinfected my injuries, which stung like hell.

I love the sort of semi-sarcastic enjoyment this paragraph is written in.

He was nearly done when a knock came at the door.  Jaw was on the other side, and he was escorting Sierra, as I’d requested.

Oh hey, that’s convenient. Now we don’t need to have a change of locations before Taylor can talk to Sierra. This way we can also have Taylor’s conversation with Sierra between her conversations with Charlotte.

She went immediately to Bryce’s bedside.

“His hand,” she said.

She knows her priorities.


“Things got violent,” Lisa said, stepping towards her.  “We didn’t start it, but they got ugly.”

Yeah, and it’s Bryce’s own fault he got injured, really. That’s how much he didn’t want to go back home, Sierra.

Sierra nodded mutely, then turned to Bryce.  She knelt at the side of the bed and held his intact hand.

“I’m sorry,” Lisa said.

It’s interesting that it’s Lisa talking to Sierra rather than Taylor, for the time being.

I wonder if Sierra has recognized Taylor, actually.

Sierra shook her head, her dreadlocks swinging, “No.  I understand.  The hand isn’t your fault.  He’s here and he’s alive because of you.”

That he is. 🙂

“No.  I’m sorry because I have something to tell you that’s going to be hard to hear.  But you need to know this.”

Ah, yes. Thank you, Lisa, for not making Taylor have to tell her.


Sierra looked up, her brow creased in concern, “Did they drug him?  Dirty needles?  Did they… was he-”

For once, it’s a bad thing that the answer to that first question is “no”.

“They didn’t touch him,” Lisa reassured Sierra, “But that’s because he wasn’t one of their victims.  He was one of them.”

And there it is.

Denial in…

countdown.png

Sierra shook her head, “No.  You must have misunderstood.”

you lie.png

Just, a lot less forcefully.

“The people who attacked the church?  He was with them.  He got hurt helping them fight to win some prize the leaders were offering.”

Probably a good call not to mention what that prize was. I have a feeling “to win superpowers on a vial” wouldn’t go over well.

“No,” Sierra shook her head again.  “He wouldn’t!”

The denial intensifies.

I think the only ways to make her believe it might be either concrete evidence, which they don’t really have, to my knowledge, or Bryce waking up and telling her himself.


Lisa shrugged, unable to find the words to convince her.

This means a lot coming from Lisa.

Sierra sounded angry now.  She stood, confronting Lisa, “No!  Where’s Skitter?  Where’s your boss?”

Aand there goes the next stage.

What do you do, Taylor? Step in as a target of wrath while also giving up your civilian face to another person? Or let Lisa take it?

I hesitated.  My secret identity, such as it was, was already falling apart.  It wasn’t that I was that committed to it, since I wasn’t ‘Taylor’ that much of the time these days, but there was always that worry in the back of my mind that I was burning my bridges as far as being able to go back home, or that I was possibly giving out clues that someone could use to trace back to my dad and hurt him.

Honestly? I’m surprised she didn’t mention the possibility of the information making its way to Danny. But the points she does bring up are honestly better.

On the other hand, I could see how Sierra was on the verge of losing it.  I couldn’t tell if she was going to cry, hit Lisa or say something she shouldn’t, but I couldn’t let her do anything that would get her in trouble with the soldiers.

Oh yeah, let’s try to avoid that.

I stood from the bed.

Good woman.


“Sierra,” I called out.

She wheeled on me.  I watched her expression change as she stared at me and realized who I was.

“Told ya there was a human under the costume.”

“You got hurt,” she said, looking almost stunned by that realization.

Ohh, nice. That’s what pulls her out of this, seeing with her own eyes the fact that Skitter genuinely put herself, not just her lackeys (as she believes Lisa to be), in harm’s way to retrieve Bryce.

How bad did I look, that my injuries distracted her from her brother?  Or was it the realization that a supervillain could get hurt?

In this particular case I think it’s more the realization that a supervillain would get hurt.

“Things got ugly,” I said.  Then I added, with emphasis, “Lisa wasn’t lying.”

She wasn’t lying about either thing.

She shook her head, “It doesn’t make any sense.  He wouldn’t do that.  It doesn’t fit with the guy I grew up with, ate dinner with.”

I’m sorry, Sierra. Turns out the guy you grew up with is a privileged douche.


Lisa spoke from behind her, “His parents were in the hospital, his home and school was gone, and he was a scared, confused kid that was offered a community and the power to change things.  It’s like what cults do.  They prey on people who are at their most vulnerable, people who are lost, with no attachments, who are hungry and weak.  It’s easy to underestimate how readily they can get to someone.”

True.

I mean, I know I call him a douche and all, but that doesn’t make him not a victim of manipulation here. I absolutely do think he’s not that great, especially for doing this and not telling Sierra (this is why I have described Sierra as a victim of Bryce – he hurt her by letting her think he’d been captured), and doing it for shitty reasons, but he is a kid who was roped into this by manipulative adults. He’s naïve enough that he wasn’t aware that the Merchants hurt Sierra, even.

He’s a kid who used to be privileged and reacted to that being taken away in a bad way. That’s pretty much what it amounts to. I don’t think he’s blameless, but it’s understandable.


“Fuck!”  Sierra turned to kick the side of Bryce’s bed. “Is that supposed to be an excuse?  No way he gets off that easy!  He joined them, you said!  He wasn’t brainwashed when he fucking decided to go with him!”

And there we go. We’ve got her convinced, and the anger is turned in the proper direction. Now it’s a matter of toning it down.

She kicked the bed again, hard enough that it shifted an inch or two away from her.

Is John Cleese still in the room? I can’t imagine he’d approve of this.

I could see the Doctor start forward in response to the assault on his furniture and patient, but Minor, Jaw and Fish moved first.

Yeah, he didn’t like that one bit.

“Guys, stop,” I ordered.

They did.  It was kind of strange, to have people listening to me.

Nice.

Sierra turned and saw the soldiers, and I could see emotions flicker across her face.

Which ones? Fear, realization that she just became a threat, that kind of thing?

“He’s not getting off easy,” I said, “He lost most of his hand.  I’m not a doctor, but he might lose the rest, depending on how the circulation is.”

Oof, yeah. I think that’s enough punishment for his bad choices.


“He’ll lose his remaining fingers, keep the thumb,” the Doctor spoke.

Huh. Sounds like a pretty… strange and inconvenient state to have a hand in, but at least he’s keeping something.

“So he’ll have the rest of his life with that as a reminder of his bad call,” I told her.  “The real question is what we do with him.”

Ah, yes. And with Sierra, too. They are both aware of Skitter’s face now. Or, well, Bryce will be when he’s back to being conscious and presumably learns what happened from Sierra. Unless Sierra is sworn to not tell him who the girls who saved him were.

Sierra was so focused on the responsibility, the blame and the betrayal that I think it took her a few seconds to process the problems that came with getting her brother back.  I could see it hit her, the idea that she might have to repeat the experience of losing her brother, with all of the same pain and worry, the moment he got a chance to slip away.

…oh, right, that too.

Dr. Q apparently didn’t care about the drama.

Of course. He’s more the type to silently be like “Blasted capes and all their drama. Maybe I should quit and move to the Bahamas someday soon, just so I don’t have to listen to more whining about secret identities and allegiances and all that shit, or have my office regularly filled with bugs or lasers.”

Once he was more or less confident that Sierra wouldn’t be disturbing his patient, he got up and walked over to Charlotte to start patching up the girl.  I walked over to Sierra and led her away from her brother’s bedside to the far corner of the room, next to Charlotte and the doctor, where she wasn’t getting in anyone’s way.

Ooh, time for Sierra and Charlotte to meet? That ought to help reinforce Skitter’s good intentions to… well, both of them.


[Session 2]

Yo, let’s do the worm – Infestation 11.8, part two, here we go!


So when we left off, Charlotte and Sierra were about to meet. I think.

That sounds like a nice scene, as Charlotte presumably learns more about why Taylor was there in the first place, and Sierra learns that Skitter saved an actual Merchant victim along the way without being asked to.

“Can you keep him?” she asked, as we stopped.

What? Keep Bryce around, in the Hive? Let Skitter make personally sure he doesn’t go back to the Merchants?

I guess that would be a good way to get this to the conclusion I’ve been thinking of for a couple chapters now, with Charlotte, Sierra and Bryce all staying with Skitter.

“Can I offer him a bed?  Theoretically.  But he’s just going to run.  Not that there’s anywhere for him to run to, but-”

Oh yeah, it was heavily implied that Faultline’s attack on the Merchants might cause the group to fall apart, at least a bit. Go Faultline’s Crew!

I stopped as I saw a confused expression on her face.

Oh yeah, she wouldn’t know that.

“The Merchants may be done for.”

“Because of you?”

Not quite. Taylor was just there for the ride.

I shook my head, “Someone else.  The leaders got pretty badly embarassed, they may have trouble getting their followers to respect them after getting their asses kicked like they did.  The actual criminals would still be on the streets, probably, but they won’t be as organized.  Add infighting, rival groups, greed… they won’t be as focused.”

GO FAULTLINE’S CREW


“But that girl said my brother was with the people from the Church, he could find them, or they could find him.”

Yeeeah, don’t think you need to worry about them anymore.

“They’re not a consideration any more,” I told her.

Her eyes widened.  “Because of what I asked you to do?”

Poor Sierra has so little of the context here and that leaves her quite confused. Maybe you should tell her the full story later, Taylor. 😛

What was the proper response, here?  I felt like anything I told her might offend her.  If I said yes, would she be horrified?  If I said no, would she see it as a failure on my part?

The best part of this is both things are true. Yes, Sierra asking Skitter to make them hurt did have an impact on Skitter’s decision about Thomas, but no, that’s not the main reason they’re out of the picture. Skitter didn’t make them hurt, but she did let them hurt.

But yeah, should probably go for a middle option here.


“In small part because of that, yes,” I admitted, leaving it vague.

Yes, this is a good way to answer that. I approve.

Her forehead creased in a frown.

“Look,” I admitted, “I need to get back to my territory.  If you need a place to stay, you’re welcome to come with, but we do need to decide what to do with Bryce.”

Yes, do come with, Sierra 😀

Bryce is indeed a bit of an issue. I wonder what he’ll have to say when he wakes up.

“Can you keep him prisoner?  Until he comes to his senses?’

An interesting request, but it makes sense.

“I would if I thought it would do any good.  He’s only going to get angry and resentful at being locked up, and he’ll be all the more eager to run.”

Hm, good point.

“But he’s going to run anyways.”

Yes, probably, but if/when he does, we don’t want him to be even more eager to escape.

“Probably.  He won’t believe me if I tell him about his buddies.”  It doesn’t help that Lisa lied to him about Sierra. 

Hm, yeah, you aren’t exactly the most trustworthy people from Bryce’s perspective.

“So what do we do?”

I was at a loss for an answer.  I turned and called across the room, “Lisa!”

When all else fails… 🙂


She broke away from her conversation with Minor and Fish to join us.  “‘Sup?”

“We’re worried the kid will run.  You have any ideas on what would work?”

She shrugged. “What if you give him what he wants?”

Letting him run, stealthily supervised? Crazy enough that it just might work.

Or wait, do you mean the things he felt were missing before running? I guess that makes sense. Feels a little like rewarding him for running the first time, but I guess it’s more being better parents. He’s gotten his punishment. Now it’s time to address the root cause.

“Which is?”

“He wants excitement, he wants to feel like a grown up, he wants respect, and maybe a bit of power at a time in his life he maybe feels pretty powerless, what with losing his house, his family, his safety, all that.”

And yeah, these aren’t unreasonable desires, either.

…allowing him to work with a cape like Taylor could provide some of these.

“Okay.  And we do this by?”

“With your okay, I’d recruit him.”

Oh! Or with Lisa. That works too!

I would like Sierra to stick around, but I don’t care much for Bryce, so I’m totally fine with him being elsewhere but in touch.

“That sounds like a monumentally bad idea,” I admitted.

…but to be fair, Lisa is working with some really sketchy people. Working under Lisa, Bryce could be exposed to people like Senegal, for example.


“The soldiers there can keep him in line.  I’ll keep him away from Senegal and Brooks.  Minor, Pritt and Jaw could watch him and instill some discipline in him, and they’re uniquely equipped to track him down if he tries to slip away.

Okay, that’s fair.

I’d keep him out of trouble, and have him gather information and act as a pair of eyes on the street.  He’ll hate it at first, with the soldiers giving him a hard time, on top of the missing hand, but I think he’ll take to it once he’s actually doing something concrete.  What kid doesn’t want to be a secret agent?”

Bryce, wearing sunglasses: Mesa. Bryce Mesa. Lemon Coke Zero, shaken, not stirred.”

Cashier: “…you want me to shake this soda bottle for you, kid? Are you sure–”

Bryce: “It’s okay. I’ve got a license to spill.”

(#i don’t know [read: i forgot] his surname so i made one up
#it’s mostly a minecraft thing and by extension a reference to bryce canyon
#but i do think it sounds good
#sierra would be sierra mesa
#it certainly doesn’t hurt that sierra and mesa are both spanish words)


I had my doubts, but I didn’t want to shoot Lisa’s idea down.  So I looked to Sierra and asked, “Thoughts?”

She frowned.  “Can it be temporary?  I don’t want him to be locked into anything even after schools get going again and we’re trying to get things normal again.”

Of course. I don’t think Lisa’s the type to go “no he’s mine now mwahaha”.

“It can be temporary,” Lisa assured her.

“He doesn’t get hurt.”

“He’ll have one of those guys with him ninety percent of the time,” Lisa said, pointing to Minor, Jaw and Fish.

Sounds good to me.

I saw Sierra look at me, noting my injuries, and I knew exactly what she was thinking.  Still, she kept her mouth shut on that particular topic.

Ah, yeah. Point taken. It’s dangerous work even with the bodyguards.

“Okay.  But I join too, so I can keep an eye on him.”

Fair enough.

I guess Sierra and Bryce are going to be staying at the shelter instead of the Hive… though there wasn’t much space left there, right?

Well, at least we’ve got Charlotte as a potential Hive-mate.


“I’d love to take on another recruit,” Lisa smiled.  She turned to me, “But she saw you first.”

Hah! Whaddaya say, Taylor?

I guess Taylor is going to be okay with Sierra’s wishes, though.

Sierra looked between the two of us, then asked Lisa, “You don’t work for Skitter?”

Not quite.

“Partners, believe it or not,” Lisa replied.  “We’re controlling different territories.”

Even though she clearly meant it in a different sense, I’m sure the shippers like the word “partners” here. 😉

“Oh.  Two territories.”

“Nine,” Lisa corrected her.  “Nine villains, nine territories.

Nine, you say? Are you just inflating the number, or are you counting outside the Undersiders?

Hm. Are the Travelers going through the same thing as the Undersiders, with a Trickster territory, a Sundancer territory, a Genesis territory and a Ballistic territory?

Oh, yeah: “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.” (11.2) [here]

The city isn’t getting better and the people in charge aren’t up to the task, so we’re taking over.”

A pretty neat way to put it that helps to make it sound like you’re the good guys. Though it’s true, at least in Skitter’s case.


“You’re trying to fix things?”

“Some of us.  Most of us.  Some of us want to help, like Skitter there, and others are doing it because we know that when things are up and running again, we’re going to be a part of the status quo.”  Lisa grinned.

At least she’s upfront about it.

I spoke up, “That’s the basic idea of what we’re doing.  You heard what I said to the people in my territory.  I’m trying to get people fed, I want them safe, and I wanted to help you and your brother.  If you’re working for me, that’s the sort of thing you’re going to be helping me with.”

Taylor is really tiptoeing the line between hero and villain, when you stop to think about what she’s actually doing and why.

Sierra shook her head, “I only said I’d join because I wanted to keep an eye on my brother.”

Yeah, that’s fair.

Lisa shrugged, “Then I’ll make you a deal.  You join Skitter’s group, and I’ll give you a contact number.  Whoever is babysitting Bryce will have the answering phone, to give you an update on your brother, anytime, anywhere. Or put you on the phone with him, if that’s what you want.”

This sounds good to me!


“That’s not-”

“It’s not perfect, no.  But Skitter’s probably going to let you head into my territory to see Bryce any time you want-”

“Definitely,” I interjected.

‘Course.

Hm. I wonder if part of why Lisa is so set on Sierra joining Skitter instead of herself is that keeping Sierra at arm’s length from, but not away from, Bryce might help him feel the way they intended to make him feel, through him not having Sierra watching over him all the time.

“-and not to put too fine a point on it, but the guilt over betraying you, coupled with resentment, and the fact that he’s in this rebel-against-your-parents phase and you’re the closest thing he has to a parent right now? It’s maybe best if you give him his space.”

…yes, exactly. I guess I couldn’t have picked a better time to think about it that way.

I saw the faintest change in Sierra’s facial expression, saw her look over at Bryce, her eyebrows drawing together.  Lisa’s words had hurt her.

Aww.

They’d been true, no doubt, but I had to find a way of gently suggesting that Lisa take a gentler approach.

Yeeah, she got a little blunt there.

Lisa is good with words, but at this point, she’s used to hurting strangers with the truth. She may not be aware of it, and it’s not a super prominent thing, but she might have some trouble adjusting to situations like this one, where she intends to reassure and reason instead.


“Okay,” Sierra said to me.  “But I can leave any time.”

Of course.

Until then, though, I’m happy to have you onboard!

“You can,” I replied.

“And I will, the moment you break our deal, or the moment Bryce gets hurt.”

Seems reasonable, though that does put Lisa in a place of responsibility to keep one of Taylor’s subordinates from leaving. Although she already put herself in a place of responsibility to Sierra in the first place.

“I believe you.”

She stuck out her hand to me and I shook it.

Nice. 🙂

Now for Charlotte, I guess. I think she too is going to be accepting Taylor’s offer and joining the cause, but I wouldn’t be quite as disappointed to hear otherwise as I would with Sierra. I like Sierra. Charlotte I’m kind of lukewarm on.

“Now go,” Lisa said, “I’ll send Sierra your way with one of my boys, when she’s done visiting Bryce and seeing that he’s settled in.  I know you’re itching to check on your territory.”

Oh, alright. Not going to check on Charlotte first? Also, I would’ve liked to see Charlotte and Sierra talk to each other, but I guess that might not be happening.


I nodded.  “Thank you.  For the help finding Bryce, for making this work, here.”

She grinned and waved a hand at me, “No problem, no problem.”

😀

I gave Lisa a quick hug before heading over to Charlotte.

😀 

Hugs are good.

Oh, cool, we are checking on Charlotte first. Nice.

There was no negotiation.  She was close enough to have heard some of our conversation, and she’d seen the bit with Sierra, besides.

In narration form, apparently.

I’m glad Charlotte did hear what was said over there. A lot of it pertains to her too.

Whatever it was, it seemed to have grounded her.  She didn’t look as uncertain as before, and she had one hand extended for me to shake.

Hah, nice.


“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Because really, you can leave the city.”

She shook her head, “My grandfather needs to stay.  He’s spent the latter half of his life in his home, and I think it would kill him to leave.”

…fair enough.

Good to have you on board. 🙂

“If you’re sure,” I told her.  She nodded.

I shook her hand.

Welcome to team Skitter!

Hm. It makes sense that the bug queen Skitter’s subordinates would be called her “drones”, right? Although that might cause confusion with Skitter sending out actual bug drones to do her bidding.

Then again, I’m the guy who decided to call Skitter’s hideout the Hive, despite there being an Arc titled that in a way that was clearly referring to a particular location.


“Grue?” I hollered into my lair, as Charlotte and I stepped inside.  “Mask on!  Got a guest here!”

Ah, good call.

Time for Charlotte to meet Brian, I guess!

Despite Lisa’s relatively cavalier attitude on the subject and my own concessions, there was no point in spoiling his secret identity, too.

True, especially without giving him the chance to make that call.

“Right!” he called down from upstairs.  In a moment, he came down the stairs, his helmet on.  He stopped as he saw me, “What happened?”

Oh, just your average free-for-all deadly brawl for free superpowers the price ceremony of which got interrupted by your average supervillain team attack on the villainous group hosting the brawl.

No biggie.


I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I don’t call the Merchants as we’ve seen them in this Arc a “team”. They are far too disorganized for that moniker.


“Bit of a scuffle.”  I replied.  I’d had a chance to see myself in the mirror.  The bruise on my cheekbone had been a nice mottled yellow-green.  I asked, “Any trouble?”

He shook his head.  He wasn’t smothered in darkness, so his voice was normal as he said, “Quiet.  Was your errand successful, at least?”

Good to hear.

“Successful enough.  This is Charlotte, one of my new… employees.” What was I supposed to call them?  Henchmen, employees, minions?

Drones.

“Already recruiting?” he whistled, low.

It just kinda happened, y’know?

…but yes, Taylor is officially recruiting right now, even besides Charlotte and Sierra. She basically put out a recruitment ad in her speech this morning.

“Two new hires.  The other girl’s going to be on her way in a while.”

“You’ve gotta slow down.  I only heard what you’d done to take control here after I’d arrived.  I was worried you’d provoked a war and left me to handle things, until Lisa told me the major threats were occupied elsewhere.”

Hah, good point! She did kind of do that!

“Sorry.”

“Seriously, you’re moving fast on this.  Imp and I have only just started rooting out the gangs and other criminals in our territory.  We haven’t even talked about who we’re going to recruit or how.”

I guess Taylor’s just eager to get to making this a better place.

“I’ll explain later?”

Hehe, I like the questioning tone here.


“You don’t have to.”

“I want to.  Just… later.”

Fair.

“I’m getting the feeling I’m in the way,” Charlotte spoke up, “Is there any place I can go to get out of your hair?”

Um… upstairs, check out Skitter’s office? Although maybe it’d be better for Taylor and Grue to go up there.

“Kitchen, if you’re hungry, or-”  I stopped as she practically lit up at the suggestion.  I pointed at the kitchen, “Go.  Take whatever, enjoy.”

Hehe. Yeah, I suppose the Merchants wouldn’t be the most generous with their food.

It was gratifying to see her glee as she started rifling through the cabinets to find piles of stuff ranging from treats to dry pasta to cases of soda.

WHEE! 😀

Grue and I migrated to the empty room that had held the supply crates, where we were able to see Charlotte but not necessarily in earshot.

Neat.


“If you’re pushing yourself this hard to prove yourself to me-“

I don’t think that’s the case.

Taylor has plenty of other reasons to push herself way too hard. Such as proving herself to Coil, and her massive guilt over Dinah.

“It’s not that.”

“Okay.  But really, you don’t need to prove yourself.  You know Tattletale just called me on the phone?  Ten minutes ago?”

The way Taylor sees it, she really does need to prove herself, just not to you.

So what did Tattle say?

Ten minutes ago, I would’ve just left the doctor’s place, en route for my lair with Charlotte.  I frowned.  “What did she say?”

“Chewed me out big time, about how I was being too hard on you, after the… revelations at the hospital, about turning you down.  Calling me a clod, basically.”

Huh. Why’d she end up doing that now?

Oh, right, Lisa and Taylor’s conversation on the way out to the mall.

I do not think Brian deserves to be chewed out over turning Taylor down. That sort of thing, that sort of pressure to accept, just leads to even more heartache than a straight turn-down.

Also, the word “clod” has not escaped the attention of my brain’s Steven Universe compartment. 😛


I felt a flush warm my ears.  “I told her not to interfere.”

Evidently, she didn’t listen.

“Well, she did, and I think she was right to.  I’ve been a bit hard headed.”

About Taylor coming back to the team.

Not about the rejection.

Please.

I know I used to ship these two a lot, but the rejection changed that. I respected Brian’s stance on it and I respected Wildbow for letting that happen and treating it as well as he did. So while these two do go well together when they get along and aren’t disagreeing over things due to their alignments, I’d honestly prefer if we didn’t go back on that. Especially as a result of Brian getting chewed out over it.

I shrugged.  Couldn’t agree without offending him, but I didn’t disagree either.   I’d been stubborn in my own ways too.

That’s fair.

He asked, “So do you want to call it even?  I said it before, but I thought maybe we could become best friends, somewhere down the line.  I’d like to go there again, if you’re willing.  If it’s not awkward or-“

Okay, good. This sounds like a much better outcome of this.

Honestly, it should’ve been obvious it wouldn’t turn out the way I worried about for a moment just now. Brian isn’t the type who’d let himself get bullied into a romantic relationship, Taylor isn’t the type to accept a relationship knowing it was caused by that, and Wildbow is a good writer with respect for his characters.


I felt the flush deepen and hurried to interrupt him before he could bring up my asinine confession again, “It’s good.  Yes.  Let’s go with that.”

Hehe. 🙂

Good thing Charlotte isn’t hearing this, right, Taylor? 😛

“Good.”  He clapped one hand on my shoulder.  A sign of camraderie, friendship, with the subtle effect of reinforcing that I was at arm’s length.

He’s learning.

Or was I reading too much into things?

It wouldn’t be the first time for that, though.

I could live with it.  It was worlds better than the quiet hostility and hurt I’d been sensing from him as of late.

Yeah!


“Is it cool if I drop by sometime?” he asked.  “So we can keep each other up to date, or maybe just hang out?”

These two… no, all six of them, should play video games together sometime. Though I’d imagine Rachel would want to sit out.

Aisha uses her power to make the others, except Lisa, think her character is an NPC. Alec makes people’s fingers twitch. Lisa figures out how the game works pretty much immediately. As it becomes clearer that half the players are cheating, it becomes more blatant, with Brian covering the screen in darkness, controllers falling entirely out of hands at Alec’s command, and Taylor covering all of the other players except Aisha in harmless bugs – as if they weren’t already thrown off by a dark screen, twitching hands, an opponent who knows everything about the game and an NPC that keeps attacking the players.

(#brian probably wins #being the only one who can even see the screen)


“Hanging sounds good,” I answered him, feeling lame as I said it.

Careful about the wording there. 😛

“I’m gonna go sleep.  Long day.  You take care of yourself, alright?” he said by way of a goodbye as he headed for the door.

Good night, Grue!

I nodded, “You too.”

When I walked over to the kitchen, Charlotte had a box of toaster strudels in one hand and a package of cookie dough in the other.  She’d washed her face, and only trace amounts of the caked-on makeup were still there.

Nice. Maybe we can find out how she looks when she’s not a stripper clown now.

She looked worlds younger, and was like a little kid as she asked me, “Can I use your oven?”

To be fair, I think there are more reasons for Charlotte to look younger right now than just the makeup. She’s had a stressful however many days.


“Go for it.  But I get some,” I smiled.

Heh, nice.

As my new minion set about figuring out the oven, I was able to stop for a moment.  Doubts and insecurities still weighed on me, but I couldn’t feel guilty for not making more progress today.  I’d done what I could to move forward on my plan to help Dinah.

You’ve done good today, Taylor. Good job. 🙂

Both Lisa and Brian had acknowledged that I was making great strides forward, and that gave me hope that I might be impressing Coil as well.

Could very well be the case. Brian does have a point, though: You need to pace yourself.

Like I do with my liveblog: Physically, it would be possible for me to do this daily (at least until I get a job). In practice, I deliberately give myself at least one day off between chapters, because if I didn’t, I would exhaust myself mentally.

The same concept applies to what Taylor is trying to do here – she’s putting herself fully into Skittering without taking any time off, and it’s mentally exhausting. As she put it earlier in this chapter, she’s not “Taylor” very often these days. She needs to take some time to be Taylor.


Things weren’t perfect, but they were better.  I was on speaking terms with Brian, I was making headway on my plans, Lisa was making headway on her end of things, and in some small way, I felt like I’d finally followed through with that dream I’d had at the start of the year, of being a superhero.

Heh, yeah. A villainous superhero, but a superhero nonetheless.

I was a villain.  I’d given the order to let a man die.   Maybe my abandonment of Thomas would weigh on my conscience more after I got some sleep and my thoughts were clearer.  Maybe not.  But I’d also done something to help people, without ulterior motives.

That you did. On both counts.

Your placement on the scale is kind of… ambiguous. I think the best term right now is anti-villain, but that might wobble into anti-hero. She might already be there, for that matter. I honestly don’t know.

I’d given Sierra her brother back, I’d saved Charlotte.  I was happy about that.

You should be!


All in all?  If I didn’t think too hard about it?  I could feel cautiously optimistic for the first time in a long while.  For the first time in weeks, months, I could feel like everything just might work out.

😀

And then the next paragraph we learn the Slaughterhouse just went public or something like that?

Oh! Nope – end of the chapter! We’re left on this high note, which is nice! 🙂


End of Infestation 11.8

This was a decent wind-down chapter.

We got to talk to Charlotte and Sierra about how to continue from here, and I correctly predicted that they would both end up as Skitter’s drones, minions, employees, whatever you want to call them. Granted, I also predicted the same would happen with Bryce, just because I expected it to happen with Sierra and didn’t think they’d be separated, but I’m much more pleased with the actual outcome.

Then we had a nice little chat with Brian, in which he and Taylor agreed to let their tension be water under the bridge and move on as friends. I’m glad we got to see that.

This wasn’t the most exciting chapter, but I’m overall happy with it and its outcomes, and the high note of a cautiously optimistic Taylor capping off an Arc in which her mood has been characterized by anxiety and guilt.

Next chapter, we’re heading into a sequence of eight consecutive Interludes, which, due to the number of them and the fact that they are apparently “not connected” to Arc 11 proper, I’ll be treating as basically an Arc 11½ for the purposes of Arc Thoughts. This means I’ll be doing Arc Thoughts for Arc 11 before I move on to the next chapter, and then another round of Arc Thoughts for the Interludes when I’m done with them (but still keeping in mind they were supposed to be part of this Arc rather than their own thing like Sentinel was).

Since my predictions for all of the Interludes are pretty much the same at this point, I think I’ll leave recapping my predictions about the next chapter for the Arc Thoughts post.

So yeah, see you next time!

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One thought on “Infestation 11.8: Bryce Bond

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