Source material: Worm, Plague 12.1
Originally blogged: May 1-3, 2018
Plague, huh? Massively deadly, making things worse in a city already hurt by a natural catastrophe, spreading fear and suffering… sounds about right for an Arc I expect to be dominated by the Slaughterhouse Nine as they begin testing their nominees and possibly terrorizing civilians.
Howdy, everybody, and welcome to Arc 12! …or is it I who should be welcomed to Arc 12? I guess so, though I do think there are some of you who read alongside me.
Anyway, welcome nonetheless! If not to Arc 12, then back to the liveblog!
So, what are we in for today?
I assume Wildbow’s had his fill of alternate POVs for some time, and we’re following Taylor in the Arc proper, not having another Arc like Sentinel (besides, the Arc 11 Interludes were practically one of those) just yet.
(If my speculations about the story’s overall structure are correct, we probably won’t get another one of those before the next majorly climactic Arc, like how Sentinel came after Extermination).
So what happens to Taylor in 12.1? It’s possible that we’ll see the Undersiders getting together to discuss Alec’s trouble with the Slaughterhouse Nine. I don’t think he sees it as their problem, but unlike Rachel, I don’t think he’s stubborn or stupid enough to not ask for help when it’s like this. Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s neglected to tell the others things, especially regarding his family.
It’s also possible we’ll hold off on the Slaughterhouse’s influence for this chapter and instead explore some other side of how Taylor is doing now, such as how she’s adjusting to having staff and a claimed territory and feeling a bit better about things than she did in 11.1. Maybe we could even run into Danny again, though that seems a bit too much like a repeat of 11.1 at this point.
Without further ado, let’s leap into it and find out!
(#after that many interludes it’s gonna be even harder than usual to redirect my muscle memory to dealing with arc 12)
The first beetle gripped the corner of the paper in his mandibles and slowly pulled it back.
Hello, there, li’l friend.
So is that a paper as in a newspaper, book or something like that? Is this Taylor using her bugs for utility purposes while reading?
Two more moved to the edges of the folds and held them firm. The fourth and largest of the four beetles ran its head left and right along the paper until it was firmly creased. Each of the four changed positions and repeated the steps at a different point.
Hmm. Sound more like folding the paper than turning a page.
“That’s really creepy to watch,” Charlotte said, from where she sat at the kitchen table.
Hehe, yeah, I can imagine.
In an odd way, this line is making me think more about Charlotte’s role in the story. She’s one who now works with Taylor, and knows her secret, but doesn’t have powers or as much of a personal stake in things as the other Undersiders, and she’s clearly willing to speak frankly to Taylor at this point.
That might make her someone who can act as a person on the sidelines who Taylor will be able to trust. Someone whom Taylor may eventually be willing to confide in at times when she can’t do so to Lisa or the other Undersiders. Someone who can and will call Taylor out on some of her more bullshitty moments without being – except through reluctant employment – a villain. Lisa has fulfilled those roles up until now, but Lisa a) has a mildly villainous perspective, and b) now has her own things to do when the Undersiders aren’t out fighting. Charlotte, on another hand, will be staying close to Taylor while Taylor is at the Hive and ruling her territory.
Sierra, meanwhile… I’m not sure yet. And hey, I might be completely off the mark re: Charlotte, too.
I looked up from the laptop I was using to view a webpage on origami.
Oh, nice! Using the bugs for more artistic purposes. I like it!
So what got Taylor into this? Is she doing it to pass time and as an outlet for creativity? That would be a healthy change of pace for Taylor.
Alternatively, it might just be a way to train her fine control over the bugs.
“Is it? I’m pretty used to them, so I don’t give it a lot of thought.”
“They’re so organized and human. Bugs shouldn’t act that way.”
They’re basically a swarm of tiny bodies with a human brain when she’s controlling them, so it’s no wonder they act human.
I do like that it’s not the bugs themselves that creep Charlotte out, but the way they act nothing like bugs. They fall into the uncanny valley, bug edition, where they look completely normal for bugs, but feel sort of wrong.
“I don’t really believe in thinking that way anymore,” I said, absently.
I guess that’s fair.
I had to stop to compose my thoughts. I glanced at Charlotte, and Sierra, who was standing by the fridge, silently eating her breakfast. “I don’t believe in shouldn’t, like there’s some universal rules about the way things should be, the way people should act.”
Oh! She’s extending this beyond just how the bugs should act – she’s going much deeper into the chaotic mindset than ever before. She’s denying the existence of natural law, the idea that there’s something beyond human social structures and ideas that dictates how things should be.
And honestly, I’m inclined to agree. There are ways the world naturally is as a result of how it has developed (and I mean all the way since the Big Bang), but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something that says it should be that way.
One thing I’m interested to see is what sort of influence this development of Taylor’s worldview has on her view of social law. Does the idea that there’s no shouldn’t extend to society and the rules humans set for themselves and each other?
Whatever the case, we’ve come a long way from Arc 1 Taylor’s attitude of “heroes are always good and villains are always bad and doing illegal things”.
“So there’s no right or wrong? People and animals should do whatever?”
That’s an easy conclusion to come to based on what Taylor just said, but I think you’re thinking on the wrong axis of the D&D alignment chart. No rules doesn’t necessarily mean no accounting for good vs evil, altruism vs malice.
“No, there’s always going to be consequences. Believe me when I say I know about that. But I do think there’s always going to be extenuating circumstances, where a lot of things we normally assume are wrong become excusable.”
This is really helping to sell Taylor’s descent into villainy. And the idea that the things are not so much “not wrong” as “can be excusable” ties in perfectly with an aspect of Taylor’s personality I’ve been pointing out ever since Agitation: She’s always had a penchant for rationalizing her actions and treating them as fine as long as she has something she can claim as a “good reason”.
“Like rape? Are you going to tell me there’s a situation where rape is okay?” Charlotte asked. I would have thought I’d touched on a hot subject if her voice wasn’t so level.
Charlotte bringing out the big guns. But yeah, it’s a good question.
Be careful when you talk in absolutes like “always”, Taylor.
I shook my head. “No. I know some things are never excusable.”
“But as far as bugs are concerned, at least, I figure anything goes.”
“It’s still creepy.”
Maybe anything goes as far as how you treat the bugs, but that doesn’t cover how you treat people using those bugs, right, Taylor? Like putting them in extremely uncomfortable places for no reason, Taylor? Like perhaps under the eyelids, Taylor?
Seriously, though, she convinced herself that was what she had to do to further her information-gathering mission, and sure, incapacitating Clockblocker was important to that. But there was no real reason to stick the bugs in the most uncomfortable places Taylor could find.
“Give it time. You’ll get used to it.” I picked up the tightly folded piece of paper that was the end result of my little experiment.
After so many Interludes, it’s an odd feeling to be back to first-person narration.
Also, “experiment” seems to suggest this isn’t just a hobby activity. I guess that was too much to hope for.
I pushed at two corners of the tight paper square, and it settled into a cube about three-quarters of an inch on each side, with holes on two opposing faces.
Huh. Some sort of decoration to be put on a string?
I directed a housefly into one hole and settled it inside, then fed a braided length of twine through the holes. I handed the result to Charlotte and ordered the bugs to start making another.
“A necklace?” Sierra asked. She put her plate down in the sink and ran water over it.
“Or bracelet, or a key chain. So long as you have this, I’ll know where you are, because I can keep an eye out for the fly in a box.
That makes sense!
The real purpose of this, though, is when there’s an emergency. You can crush the box and the bug inside, and the moment that happens, I”ll use my power to protect you. It won’t be instantaneous, but you’ll have a swarm descending on whoever is giving you trouble in anywhere from fifteen seconds to a minute.
Provided she’s within range, of course. But yeah, that’s a good idea.
If it works out, I can make something a little more stylish for the future.”
When you get better at origami? 😛
Or maybe getting Coil’s help to make them out of a different material?
Also, one potential problem: Don’t flies need nourishment like most other creatures? What if the fly dies of starvation or, more likely, dehydration?
I suppose Taylor would detect the cause of death, but it’d still mean she’d need to put a new fly in there.
There were nods from both of them.
“I can’t protect you from a bullet or a knife wound, but I can screen the people in your vicinity, feeling them out to see if they have weapons on them and give you a heads up so you don’t get in that situation to begin with. If there’s potential trouble like that, I’ll warn you by drawing this symbol with my bugs…”
Seems like a very useful trick, this. Will you be making one for Sierra too?
I drew three lines that crossed in the center, using the flies and beetles that were working on a cube for Sierra.
Something like this, perhaps: x
“Okay,” Charlotte said. Sierra nodded.
I got the bugs working on the second cube again. “I’ll use numbers to inform you on the number of people nearby. You’ll want to approach a situation differently if there’s twenty people than if there’s five.
So does she only intend to do this if the box is squashed, or are these symbols just going to constantly be around Charlotte and Sierra?
Maybe have one of you hang back and be in a position to crush the cube, or just keeping your distance. Or just avoid the situation. Trust your gut, use your best judgement.”
Yeah, sounds good to me.
Also, yep, seems this is a constant thing.
Are they preparing for specific trouble here? Is Taylor thinking about the Slaughterhouse’s presence in Brockton Bay, or just wanting to protect and feelsafify her subordinates in general?
(Feelsafify is a word now, because I said so.)
“What exactly are we doing?”
“For now, just door to door. I’m going to mark the places you should visit, where there are families or groups of people.
Ahh, giving out the supplies you promised? Seems reasonable to expect problems then. Not everyone is going to be on board with the Bug Queen’s reign, and then there’s those who would try to grab more supplies than they’re supposed to get.
I need the info I can’t get with my bugs. Who are the people in my territory? What do they need: Maybe medical care, clothes, more food, maybe someone’s giving them trouble? You find out, take notes, then pass that information to me.”
Oh, okay. Not quite there yet – just recon for now. The first issue I mentioned still holds true, though.
“For now. I’m going to ask you guys to travel as a pair, obviously. You’ll be safer and there’s a better chance you’ll be able to signal me with the necklace if something goes wrong. Not that you should need the cube, but I prefer having some redundancy.”
Makes sense. One of them could be incapacitated before she gets a chance to crush the cube, in which case it’s the other one’s turn.
The pair nodded. Sierra bent over to pull on the rain boots I’d provided her. Charlotte was already wearing hers.
Taylor gave them the booties.
“That’s the general plan. We’ll work out other tasks and maybe other signals later, in case you need my attention but not for an emergency, or if you want to cancel a request for help, whatever. That leaves payment.”
Those do sound worthwhile. Maybe separate cubes for different messages? Though something reusable might be nice to have for the less emergent situations.
“I was wondering about that,” Charlotte said. “But didn’t know how to ask.”
Well, guess you were lucky Taylor already had it on her to-do.
“We’ll try for six to eight hours a day, five days a week, but consider it flexible. Not to spook you or anything, but I’ll know if you’re slacking.
Of course she will.
I’m thinking two hundred and fifty dollars a day, and obviously it’s under the table, so you’re not getting taxed on it.”
Sounds like a pretty good salary! Of course, it comes with risk because of the whole “people may violently disapprove of your employer” thing, but still.
“That’s a little more generous than I was expecting,” Sierra said.
That’s pretty much how it went for Taylor too.
I didn’t like Coil, pretty much despised his methods, but I did agree with his sensibilities on some things, like personnel and making sure people wanted to work for you.
Yeah, though in Coil’s case it seems to be in a more manipulative sense.
But yes, this is important. It’s why Hookwolf might become a bad recruitment to the Slaughterhouse Nine, it’s why Burnscar already is a bad recruitment, and it’s why Shatterbird should probably just stop recruiting people in general.
It wasn’t like I couldn’t afford it. I had yet to spend the earnings from any of my earlier villainous stints, since Coil was providing everything major I needed.
Oh yeah, and because you previously felt it wasn’t your money to spend, intending to turn it in alongside the Undersiders.
“There’s another reason I’m putting you guys out there. Two people aren’t going to be enough for what I’m planning long-term.
“Have you heard the good buzz about our Lady and Savior Skitter?”
I want you two to trust your guts on this, but you’re also going to be keeping an eye out for possible recruits.”
So do they just report about the recruits to Taylor afterwards, or do they try to actually recruit on the spot?
The former seems more like Taylor’s style.
“You’re hiring others?” Charlotte asked.
Does that surprise you?
Or maybe you’ve got someone in mind?
I nodded. “I’m looking for people who are young, reasonably fit, and able to follow orders. With you two out there, I’m hoping others see a pair of girls who are secure, happy and healthy in my employ. You recruit someone I decide is worth keeping? I’ll reward you. But this isn’t a competition, got it?”
Sounds good to me!
Both girls nodded their heads.
“If you don’t have any questions-”
“I do,” Charlotte piped up. “Do you have a mask I could wear?”
I understand this desire. She doesn’t want her name sullied, or to be arrested in her home for working for Skitter.
On Skitter’s side of things, that does kind of run counter to the idea of wanting people to see her subordinates in a positive light, unless she can find a particularly non-threatening mask.
(Using live bugs for a mask does not fulfill that.)
I frowned. “I was hoping you guys would put a more human, less sinister face on things.”
“I don’t want to run into someone I know and have to explain. Not that I think anyone I know lives around here, but-”
Yeah, it’s a very reasonable desire.
“Okay, no, I wouldn’t expect you guys to go unmasked when I won’t. That wouldn’t be fair. Give me a few seconds,” I told them. I headed upstairs to my office.
So, whatcha got?
Probably nothing like the one Taylor herself wears, since those take a while to make.
Over the past few days, I’d received deliveries of the more specific and obscure items I had requested from Coil. Among them were cases of more exotic bugs, a sturdy work table I kept upstairs in my room and five mannequins with custom measurements.
…or, she might actually have some of those lying around after all, because she’s been working on costumes for the other Undersiders! Nice!
Coil’s people had taken the time with Brian, Lisa, Alec and Aisha to get comprehensive measurements and hand casts. Bitch had refused.
Ah, yeah, that’s what I was thinking too. I was going to mention that but forgot. Much like I forgot about Aisha. As one does.
But yeah, even if Rachel wasn’t currently considering leaving the Undersiders behind – which she might not have been when this happened – she’d refuse. Not much for costumes, that one.
This had led in turn to the creation of the mannequins, which had been shipped to me and set up on the pedestals beneath the shuttered window.
I’m sure a certain biosphere tinker would approve.
One mannequin for each of my teammates and one for me.
I guess you do need one for when you want to make changes to your own costume.
There was also a little folder of notes from each of the others on what they wanted, including some photos, clippings and print-outs for reference. Grue had included pictures of the little statuette he had bought at the Market, which he wanted me to copy for his new mask.
I’m sure there’ll be a lot of neat fanart of these new outfits. 🙂
I wonder, will they be colored? I hope Tattletale keeps her lavender.
I hoped to have a costume for each of us in short order.
That’s going to be very nice and useful.
I’d already finished a few draft attempts at designing Lisa’s mask, since it didn’t require much cloth and the nuances of it were tricky. The way her old mask fit her, it hid her freckles and eyebrows and changed the apparent angles of her eyes and cheekbones so her entire face had a different look to it.
Huh. That makes that kind of mask a bit better at hiding identity than I thought.
Emulating that was hard, since the texture of the silk compared to the material of her mask didn’t let me copy it over exactly. I’d used the scrapped attempts to test different dyes and how they reacted with the fabric.
Yay, she’ll still be colored!
So then Taylor has at least two scrapped copies of Tattletale’s mask that Sierra and Charlotte can use to become their masked selves, Canyon and P-Chan.
I grabbed the failed masks, pressing each against a white piece of paper to ensure they weren’t going to stain skin, and then headed back downstairs.
Nice. Good timing to have been working on those costumes!
“Got black, more black, dark purple, blue and blotchy crimson. Take your pick.”
Blue and crimson, huh? Were you considering alternative colors for Tattletale?
Also I’m not sure “blotchy crimson” is a good choice if you want them to look non-threatening. That sounds like it looks like blood.
Charlotte took a black mask that would cover her eyes and the lower half of her face, adjusted it until the eyeholes were in place, and then set about fixing her hair.
But yeah, Sierra might take the blotchy crimson one. The color suits her.
“Not much point. My hair is pretty recognizable,” she flicked one of her dreadlocks.
Oh yeah, that’s true.
Might be worth it to take the other black one anyway, just for coordination’s sake. Make the two of you look like you’re basically in uniform, to appear more professional.
“Won’t do any harm.”
She took the second, smaller black mask. While she put it on, I deposited a fly and threaded twine into the second origami cube so she had her emergency signal.
Yep, double black it is. Nice.
“Good luck,” I told them, grabbing two black clipboards with attached notepads and handing them over. “Come back around noon, we’ll eat, and you can give me an update on how things are going.”
“Will do,” Sierra replied.
My minions moved on to their morning’s tasks. I headed back upstairs and finally let myself breathe.
Minions… I still think “drones” would be a fitting title, but I guess that would explain the salary.
[El Goonish Shive comic excerpt]
Dan: Minion! What went wrong?
Minion: I prefer to be referred to as an “administrative assistant”, sir.
Dan: Really? Minions get paid more.
Minion: …minion is it. Anyway, a glitch caused the cameras to point at the wrong dimension yesterday.
#assuming 8-hour work days
#taylor’s minions get paid about twice as much as the average administrative assistant)
“Anyway, a glitch caused the cameras to point at the wrong dimension yesterday.”
I missed staying at the loft, when things were easy and I was free.
RIP the Loft.
I was happy with how things were going with my new recruits, but I was realizing that living with them would mandate changes to my lifestyle.
Gotta sign a roommate contract and everything!
There were appearances to maintain, and I couldn’t be seen slacking off or being a slob. I couldn’t sleep in or put off my shower until later in the day.
Ahh, yeah… she has nowhere to be Taylor. Even out of costume, even when she’s up in her private quarters, she has to be Skitter, for her minions.
Tying the times at the Loft to freedom makes more sense with that in mind.
I couldn’t let myself collapse in a sweaty heap after a hard morning run. I’d woken up at six in the morning to be sure that I could run, shower, dress and look like I was on top of things by the time they were up. After a late night, it left me feeling a little worn around the edges. I harbored some concerns about my ability to help Dinah if this kept up.
It’s as you said to Sierra. You’re a human underneath the mask. Maybe after a while, you can let yourself begin to let that show more.
Then again, there are more recruits a-coming, and the more she gets, the less she’ll feel she can do that.
It’s the pressure of being a boss, and it’s the pressure of being a ruler. Two slightly different, but very similar things.
The pair had spent some time with their families before returning to my lair. I’d been anxious in the meantime, worrying they would have second thoughts or turn me in, wearing my costume and waiting in a nearby position in case capes converged on my lair.
I can’t blame Taylor for worrying about being double-crossed by a new recruit who wasn’t originally villainously inclined. The idea sounds… familiar.
I’d been both gratified and relieved when they’d returned. One hurdle crossed.
Unless of course someone’s playing the long game, like Taylor was.
I don’t think either of them is, but it’s something worth considering, though Taylor has enough to worry about.
Both Sierra and Charlotte had seen me bleeding, when I’d come back from rescuing Bryce. It sounded so minor, but I didn’t want them imagining me as hurt and mortal when they were supposed to trust me and look up to me. What bugged me even more than that was the fact that Charlotte knew my secret identity.
Yeah, if one of them were to betray you, Charlotte would be able to do the most damage.
I was fairly certain she would keep it to herself, but she’d seen me as Taylor. She’d seen me at what was perhaps the lowest point in my life. From a distance, but she’d seen it.
That’s also a good point. If you really want to be someone who doesn’t show weakness, having been seen getting shoved into a locker probably isn’t ideal.
But are you sure not showing weakness is really the best way to go about this?
Charlotte now served under me out of a mixture of obligation and fear, but I wouldn’t feel secure in my reputation until I’d divorced Skitter from that image of a weaker, abused Taylor.
Fair enough, I guess.
I worked on all five costumes at the same time. Low-level multitasking was either a minor benefit that had come with my powers or, more likely, a skill I’d developed in the half-year I’d spent micromanaging thousands or tens of thousands of bugs at the same time.
Yeah, that’s a thing we’ve been subtly seeing Taylor get better and better at. Keeping track of all the bugs within range at once, directing multiple parts of the swarms at a time, that kind of thing.
I didn’t need to expend any focus on the simple task of laying out the thread, and the only time I really had to pause to give them direction was when it came to the creative input and the more complicated tasks of deciding how everything fit together.
Insects may be decent tailors, but fashion designers they are not.
I could only make some calls on style and what would suit the respective recipients’ tastes when I’d made enough progress and seen the groundwork laid out. Where I could, I used my bugs to model ideas and options, forming possible shapes for masks, collars and armor panels.
Hah, that’s neat.
When I wasn’t occupied with that, I focused on Sierra and Charlotte. I checked their surroundings, discreetly screened nearby groups of people for weapons. I marked each door with symbols to count the people inside, notified the girls if people were armed, and I put a circle on doors that they were to visit, an ‘x’ on doors they should skip.
An x-shaped bug swarm: The poor villain’s lamb blood.
A lot of people were ignoring the knocks. I let them be. After a few days, if they were still ignoring my minion’s attempts to talk to them, I’d maybe give them a bit of a nudge or leave them a message using my bugs.
They come downstairs to find ’SUP on their living room wall.
That ought to let them know you don’t just ignore the Skitter.
Apparently overwhelmed with the requests from his various rulers of the Brockton Bay territories, Coil had started delegating some of his people to act as intermediaries.
Hm, realizing you promised a bit too much, Coil? Or are you actually just busy protecting your base against future Slaughterhouse intrusions?
I got in contact with Mrs. Cranston, the intermediary he’d designated to me, and outlined what I needed. Waste removal was a big priority, as was clearing out the storm drains so the water could drain from the flooded streets.
What, and make an area in Brockton Bay dry?
*grumbles at Interlude 11c for weakening that running joke by introducing a dry spot*
(But hey, at least Labyrinth fixed that.)
I let her know that my services were available if she wanted help identifying where the blockages were, or if the trash removal teams needed protection from interference.
The bug-o-”vision” can be really damn useful.
Once those big issues were resolved, a lot of the smaller ones could be attended to. Too many problems came with large numbers of people spending the majority of their time wading ankle-deep in water that was swimming with warm garbage.
Sounds about right. We’ve seen some of those already, but I’m sure Wildbow has more examples to throw at us.
Time passed quickly, what with my focusing on the costumes, Sierra and Charlotte, arranging the cleaning up of the area, using bugs to sweep for troublemakers in my vicinity and experimenting on a smaller scale with dyes and costume options. I had a smaller collection of Darwin’s bark spiders that Coil had procured for me in a specialized terrarium to emulate the hot temperatures they were used to, but I couldn’t use them to make anything until they had given birth to at least one new generation.
Why’s that? To make sure you have reserves if they should die? Or are the specimens you have too old to properly use, or something?
When I did, though, I expected that the fabric they created would be as superior to the black widow’s work as the black widow’s silk was to conventional cloth.
Damn, that’s good fabric.
There wasn’t much room for error with the small number Coil had provided, so I was being careful with the breeding process.
I wonder how much research Taylor had to do on Darwin’s bark spider breeding and how much comes naturally to her from her power.
My cell phone rang, and I knew from the bugs I had placed on the two girls that it was Charlotte calling. That, or someone else had coincidentally phoned me the same instant Charlotte dialed on her phone and raised it to her ear.
Oh yeah, that would be another good way of getting Taylor’s attention without bug signals. Not sure why I didn’t think of that.
Who is the mysterious caller? Find out next time on KRIXWELL LIVEBLOGS!
Next time is tomorrow. See ya!
[End of session]
Last time on Krixwell Liveblogs chapter 12.1 of Worm:
“I don’t believe in shouldn’t, like there’s some universal rules about the way things should be, the way people should act.”
“It’s still creepy.”
“You can crush the box and the bug inside, and the moment that happens, I”ll use my power to protect you.”
“For now, just door to door.”
Taylor gave them the booties.
“You’re hiring others?”
…their masked selves, Canyon and P-Chan.
She has nowhere to be Taylor. Even out of costume, even when she’s up in her private quarters, she has to be Skitter, for her minions.
I didn’t want them imagining me as hurt and mortal when they were supposed to trust me and look up to me.
My cell phone rang,
Dun dun dunnnnnnnnnn!
*3-minute overdramatic intro theme*
Based on the web serial by John McCrae
Written by Krixwell Jace
Directed by Krixwell Jace
Produced by Krixwell Jace
Lead PR manager: Elizabeth Claire
Camera operator: Krixwell Jace
Boom operator: Krixwell Jace
(#at least put the credits at the end you ridiculous douchewaffle)
“Yes, Charlotte?” I asked.
“Um,” she was taken back a little.
It was Charlotte after all! What a twist!
“There’s this place here with two families, and they’re in the middle of packing up to leave. I thought you’d want to know, in case they were gone before we came back at noon to eat and tell you about it.”
Ahh. Yeah, that makes sense – Taylor bug-sensing a bunch of people leaving the area right after her minions stopped by might give her the wrong idea.
But then there’s another question: Are they leaving the area because of Skitter’s takeover? Or just joining the droves of people evacuating the city as a whole?
“That’s fine. What’s the problem?”
Of course. The trash would offer a steady diet to vermin, and the flooding would deter many of their natural predators. The rodent population had exploded, and it could easily be getting to the point where it was interfering with people’s daily lives.
It clearly is, if it’s actively driving them out of their homes.
“Their neighbors have the same problem?”
“We haven’t been able to get any of them to answer the door.”
Brockton Bay isn’t in a state that’s conducive to people trusting strangers knocking on their doors, especially ones wearing masks.
…try again in October?
I searched the area around Charlotte. Sure enough, there were hundreds of rodents lurking in the areas where humans weren’t active. They nested in rafters, walls and piles of rubble. Some were apparently getting courageous enough to venture into people’s living spaces, climbing onto tables and into discarded clothes and beds.
“Hey. Could you pass on to Coil that I need about four hundred full-grown cats delivered to my base at earliest convenience? Actually, let’s make that five hundred. Thanks a lot, Mrs. Cranston!”
(#’dinah what are the chances of my soldiers successfully carrying out this request without anyone getting mauled?’
#’zero point zero zero zero one two seven eight percent’
#’what about if i use my power?’
#’that *is* if you use your power’)
No wonder they wanted to leave.
“Tell them to step outside. If they hesitate, warn them they might get hurt. They won’t, but it’ll make them move.”
So what are you going to do? Chase out the rodents with painful bugs?
I hung up, then hurried to pull on my costume, donning latex rubber socks before pulling on the leggings. At the same time, I gathered a swarm near the rat house.
Oh, are you going out there yourself?
I began a systematic attack against the rodents there. Bees, wasps, hornets, fire ants, regular ants, mosquitoes, biting flies and spiders gathered and began attacking the rats furthest from the house and began steadily working their way inward.
…but won’t that cause the rats to flee inward? Isn’t that the opposite of what you want?
Though it’s not like you’d want the rodents to spread to other houses, either.
Some rats fought or ran, but more bugs gathered each second.
I hurried out the door and took my shortcut through the false storm drain to the beach. Drawing a host of bugs around myself, I headed toward the rat house with long strides.
Meanwhile, I’m not sure what Skitter will be able to do in person. Just show herself to establish her responsibility for the rats’ defeat?
The compartment of armor at my back buzzed, and I reached back to retrieve my cell phone. It was Grue:
can I come by?
Oh hey! Sorry, Taylor’s a little busy at the moment.
So is that just a social call or more important stuff?
I quickly replied:
On errand. Don’t come to my place. Meet me at Bayview and Clover. Not too far from our old place.
This seems like a nice compromise.
It was only a moment before I got a reply:
got it. am already otw. close.
So was he already out and went “hey, why don’t I visit Taylor on the way”, or was he already on his way to Taylor’s when he remembered that he should probably ask first?
So he was already on the way when he called? I wasn’t sure what to think about that. It suggested it was a social call with the assumption I would be okay with it, which I didn’t mind, but that didn’t really fit his personality.
I’m glad to see Taylor too give that some more thought, because it suggests I was onto something.
I suspect that something is Brian wanting to warn her about the Slaughterhouse Nine face to face.
More likely there was something that he wanted to discuss with me in person.
Yeah, sounds about right.
The rats died at the hands of my bugs, thoroughly poisoned or envenomed, or even eaten alive by the ones that bit repeatedly and didn’t even bother to chew or swallow the flesh.
Are we sure this isn’t the Arc that should go by the title Extermination?
Speaking of Arc titles, I suppose it’s quite fitting that Taylor’s exterminating an infestation of rats in the first chapter of Plague. I highly doubt that’s going to be one of the main reasons for the title, but it’s a fun correlation.
I suppose it is possible that we’re dealing with a literal plague of disease and other issues in this Arc, focusing on Taylor’s efforts to rule her territory rather than on the Slaughterhouse plot. Or, more likely, there’ll be a balance of both things.
It wasn’t a fast job, as there were hundreds of the rodents and they were surprisingly tenacious. I wanted to be thorough.
Of course, now they’ll have hundreds of rat corpses in and around their house, unless Taylor takes measures to remove those. I’m not sure that’s much better.
It took me eight or so minutes to arrive, with the roundabout route I had to take to get from my lair to the beach and then back over toward the Docks. A heavy cloud of bugs surrounded the house, and a group of eight people of different ages were clustered on the far side of the street, watching the scene like they were watching their house burn down.
“It’s a cleansing fire, okay? Or, uh, swarm.”
Did Sierra and Charlotte move on to the next houses on their round?
Sierra and Charlotte stood apart from the huddle, a short distance away.
Apparently not. Hi!
I wonder what Dragon thought of the news about Skitter’s allegedly benevolent reign.
I covered my approach with a cloud of bugs and slow, quiet footsteps. Nobody noticed me arrive.
Heh, stealth bug. Maybe she’ll sneak into the cloud of bugs surrounding the house, appearing in front of it as the bugs finish their job and clear out?
“Just a minute or two longer,” I said. Charlotte and some of the family members jumped.
Hehe, or that. Her startling people is just as good as badassery, and the other thing I was hoping for.
“You,” a man who might have been the patriarch of one of the families pointed at me, “You did this!”
Yes. Yes she did.
You just don’t know what she’s doing, though.
“Yes,” I answered him.
“Is this some sort of game to you!? We were prepared to leave, and you keep us from getting our things? Add another infestation to the one that’s already there!?”
Yeeah, might want to tell this guy what you’re actually up to, Skitter.
“She’s just trying to help!” Charlotte said, with a tone like she wasn’t expecting to be listened to. I got the impression she’d tried convincing him earlier. I raised one hand to stop her.
Ah, so they did give more explanation than just “stand back, this could get nasty”. That’s good.
It was better if I handled this myself.
The man drew himself up a fraction, “No reply, huh? I’d punch you right here, right now, if I thought you’d give me a fair, no-powers fight.”
I kinda like this guy, actually. He’s angry, sure, but from his perspective, he has good reason to be, and he doesn’t let it override his survival instincts. Well, too much. He’s still antagonizing a supervillain and well aware of it, but at least he has the sense to keep it non-physical from his side.
Irritated, I told him, “Count backwards from a hundred. If you still want to when you’re done, I’ll give you that fight.”
Hehe. By then, she’ll be done with the rats, right?
He set his jaw stubbornly, refusing me the courtesy of a countdown.
I wonder if he’s counting internally, though.
Ignoring him, I looked at a young boy in the group. Eight or nine years old, “What’s your name?”
He looked up at his mother, then at me, “R.J.”
Oh hey, it’s my dad… Wait, what?
“R.J. Can you count to a hundred?”
Ahahahaha! She really wants that countdown, doesn’t she!
“Of course,” he looked offended at the idea that he couldn’t.
Though in this case it seems like it’ll be a count-up instead.
“One, two, three…”
I love this.
Only a small fraction of the rats were left. The largest mass of them had been herded into a corner by the swarm, and in their panic they had done nearly as much damage to each other as they were doing to the bugs.
I guess it does make sense to herd them into one spot if you’re going to be killing them anyway.
Stragglers remained elsewhere, but as good as they were at navigating the nooks and small spaces of the house, the bugs were just as good, organized by my will, and they vastly outnumbered the rodents.
The addition of Taylor practically turns the swarm into a hivemind that is much smarter than the individual bugs, and that makes the swarm incredibly effective at navigating mazelike environments and keeping track of things.
Before the last of the rats were dead, I began organizing roaches and other sturdier bugs to have them cart the dead rats away.
Ah, okay, so she is handling that. Good.
So we’ve got roach hearses carrying hundreds of rats to the rat graveyard to be rat buried by a rat undertaker.
I filled the corners of the stairs with massed insect bodies, until it was more like a ramp than a set of steps. I stepped up to the house to open the door and let the swarm start bringing the dead rats outdoors.
I do think there’s an element of showbugship in Taylor’s motivations here. Showing a way she can dramatically make a difference to some of the people living under her care, dramatically. That’s why she came here, that’s why she’s opening the door instead of having the swarm carry the rats out some other way (I’m sure there are some available for creatures at that size, especially with the rat infestation in mind), that’s why she’s not explaining herself. She’s going to let the visual of roaches and other insects carrying rat corpses out the door in droves do the talking for her.
“Seventy-seven, seventy-eight, seventy-nine…”
I knew I wouldn’t quite have enough time to clear out the entire house of the rat corpses, so I cheated by hauling the rats through the walls, into the unoccupied neighbor’s residence and out the kitchen window at the back of that building.
Hehe. It would probably have worked better if you’d successfully gotten the angry guy to do the counting. Counting backwards is usually just a little slower, after all.
On the other hand, R.J. might be relatively slow too because of his age. I don’t know, nothing’s been said for or against that.
The last of my bugs left the sky around the house. I timed the arrival of the last few dead rats with the end of R.J.’s countdown.
“So many,” Charlotte gasped, as she saw the three or four hundred rats held high by the swarm. Judging by the family’s expressions, they hadn’t known how many rats they’d had nesting inside their home.
Yeeah, most of them stayed hidden, didn’t they? Only some of them braved the open.
Turning to the dad, I told him, “Your rat problem is dealt with, and nearly all of the bugs are gone. Some of my swarm will remain so I can keep an eye out for any future infestations, but you won’t see them. Now, if you still want to swing at me, I’m okay to go a round or two. No powers.”
“Man, I’ve been itching for a good unpowered fist fight ever since I stopped sparring with my teammate.”
His mouth twisted in a scowl, but he didn’t move to attack me.
Walking over to Sierra and Charlotte, I quietly asked them, “Would I be right if I guessed he wasn’t the one who asked for help?”
Heh, ya think?
Did any of them ask for help?
“Yeah,” Sierra said, “She did.”
Sierra pointed at the woman who was protectively clutching R.J.’s shoulders.
“Is this satisfactory?” I asked the woman, raising my voice. “The dead rats will be cleared out of the area in a few minutes.”
Taylor is implicitly asking them if they’ll stay now. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t – they’ve already packed, and this wasn’t a super immediate problem, so they have quite likely arranged a place to go, which might even be better than what they have here.
“They’re really gone? They won’t come back?”
“They’re gone, and they won’t come back until someone forces me to move out of this territory.”
That’s a nice way to spin it.
“Thank you,” she said. She opened her mouth as if she was going to say something else, then stopped.
Hm… Something along the lines of “we owe you”, stopped as she remembered what she was talking to?
And yes, I mean “what”.
Well, at least the mom thanked me.
Yeah! Look, it’s not completely thankless work!
“You’ll want to sterilize the place. Rubber gloves, bleach. Boil or replace every dish, every piece of silverware, toothbrushes, linens and clothes.”
“We don’t really have the ability to do all that. We don’t have much money, let alone those things. Stores aren’t exactly open, and we don’t have running water or electricity either.”
Hm. Time for Taylor to generously provide them with some money to buy those things?
Geez. “What have you been drinking?”
“We have a rain barrel and we have a water collector on the roof that came with the supply kit.”
Better than drinking the water on the ground, at least. Not great, though.
That’s not good enough for this many people. “Do you have a propane tank? One should have come with the supply kit.”
“It’s nearly empty. We’ve been using the propane to cook rice, but we don’t have measuring cups, and if we use too much water, it takes too long to cook, and so we’re running out of the gas.”
And the oil pump’s broken, the guy who could fix it is dead, the well’s drying up, Don Paragon wants them to trade their last bit of oil for just a little more water, and things are just generally not great for them.
(Maybe it’s too early to make references to Nomad of Nowhere with only six episodes out so far, but I don’t care. I am an endless barrel of references!)
She sounded so tired. Getting by with eight people in one household and no facilities would be such a chore. Add the stress of rats getting into the food, tearing at sheets to get material for nests, crawling on them as they slept? I didn’t know how she’d coped.
No wonder they were getting ready to leave.
I hoped my dad’s situation was better.
Ouch, right in the feels.
Hey, maybe you should go visit him sometime, wherever he lives now.
“Make a note,” I ordered Sierra, “If these people are having trouble, it’s easily possible others are in similar straits. We’ll want a fresh set of supplies going out to everyone in my territory. For this family, a delivery of cleaning supplies; bleach, rubber gloves. They’ll want some new clothes, you can get their sizes after I leave. Supplies, of course, and containers to keep the food in. Tupperware. We’ll arrange for a doctor to come by and check them for bites, scratches and infections. Standard inoculations. The doctor will know how to handle that stuff better than we do.” Hopefully.
Now this is how you act as a benevolent ruler! Good job, Taylor.
Now we just need Sierra to burn the note with her fire breath so it travels to Miss Militia Coil.
Wait, what, you’re saying she doesn’t have fire breath? What kind of note-taking assistant doesn’t have magic mailing fire breath! Nonsense.
I wonder if the doctor Coil sends is going to be our good friend Dr. Cleese.
(#though he seems to focus on parahumans)
“And measuring cups.” I smiled behind my mask.
Oh yeah, good call.
Seriously, this whole scene is a fantastic display of Taylor fulfilling her promise to improve things for people in her territory. I love it.
The only question is when it’s going to cross Coil’s line. How long until Coil decides it’s costing more than it’s worth to him?
“We can’t pay you back for this, even if you give us a loan, we won’t be able to.” the mom said.
So they were assuming I was putting myself in some loan shark role.
Well, if not assuming, then at least being prepared for the possibility. It’s a very reasonable reaction, especially since Skitter is supposedly a villain.
Get them indebted to me, leech them for cash.
“It’s on the house,” I waved her off.
“Thank you,” she said, again. I felt bad for feeling the way I did, but I thought her gratitude was a little muted for what I was giving her.
Hm, yeah. I guess maybe she just doesn’t know how to feel? Again, Skitter is supposedly a villain, but here she is doing things that are not only non-villainous but insanely altruistic for them, for no apparent compensation. Mix not being sure how to feel about that, with not being sure what she’s hearing is true, with it not having fully sunken in what Skitter is actually doing for them and that it’s really happening… Yeah, I could see that leading to some lack of enthusiasm.
I could sense Grue a block away, my bugs settling on his helmet, unable to see as they got close. I could feel that faint push of the darkness billowing away from him. He’d been watching for a minute or two.
Oy. You’re keeping the boy waiting.
Though to be fair, when you set the location, you weren’t expecting him to be close.
“If there’s nothing else that’s pressing?” I asked.
Silence, a few shaken heads. I turned to go and meet Grue where he stood at the corner of one building.
See ya! Enjoy your newly ratless house!
“Taking up a side business in extermination?” he asked me. I thought I detected a note of humor in his voice.
Yes, clearly. :p
“Assisting my people. Some goodwill will help when I’m more firmly in power here.” I couldn’t help but sound a mite defensive.
“Yep. That guy over there will be singing your praises.”
“Yeah, I was thinking of inviting him as my plus one to the boxing club gala this weekend. Have some fun beating the crap out of each other in formal clothing.”
I looked over my shoulder at the ‘dad’ who’d been giving me a hard time. He was ignoring Sierra and Charlotte, who were talking to the larger group of people. Instead, he watched the bugs cart the dead rats down the street, as if he thought I would slack on the job.
I would imagine that would be the more interesting sight anyway. :p
“I don’t understand people sometimes.”
I don’t know if anyone does, really.
“My guess? When everything went to hell, he told himself he’d be the ‘man’ for his family. Take charge, provide, protect. He failed. Then some little girl waltzes in and takes care of all that all at once?”
Ah, yeeah, that might spur some irritation.
“You know what I mean. Look at it from his perspective.”
That’s the kind of thinking that led me down the train of thought at the end of this post [above, the bit about the mom in the family not knowing how to feel about Skitter].
“What if I recruited him? Gave him the opportunity and the power to help others?”
Hm… It’s an interesting idea, but I’m not sure he’d accept. First being upstaged by Taylor like this, and then immediately after getting asked to work under her?
“He’d be intolerable. I mean, sure, things would get better in the short-term. But over the long haul? You’d wind up with someone who criticizes every last thing you do, every last call you make, to make himself feel better about the fact that he isn’t the one in control, the one calling the shots.”
Yeah, that too. Charlotte might become someone who’s willing to call it as she sees it when Taylor does something she doesn’t think is good, but she’d fill that sort of role in a much more healthy way, criticizing Taylor when and only when she saw a need to criticize her, when there’s something to criticize, in the interest of genuinely helping. This guy would just criticize for the sake of criticizing, in the interest of feeling better about himself.
“Fuck,” I said. “I thought you said you weren’t good with people.”
Hah! He did, didn’t he!
Then again, it’s not the first time he’s shown an understanding of how people act in response to certain things. For instance, there’s the way he deliberately added an incomplete description of his power because it was easier to catch people off guard with the finer details if they thought they knew his power than if they didn’t know anything about it. That wasn’t anywhere near as thorough as this, though.
“I’m not good with girls, mainly. Guys? Or ‘manly’ guys like him? I’ve met enough people like him in the gyms with my dad, in fighting classes.”
“Guys and girls aren’t that different.”
“Aren’t we? Look at our group. Regent and I are going on the offensive. I’ve got Aisha and I making constant, coordinated attacks against enemies in my territory, terrorizing groups with attacks from the cover of my darkness, or from someone they can’t even remember fighting.
Regent’s got a squad of Coil’s soldiers with him, and he’s tracking and kidnapping the leaders of enemy groups and gangs, using his power to control them and then having them sabotage their own operations, or start fights with other groups that leave both almost totally wiped out. Then he cleans up the mess.”
Ohh, so that’s how he got those people he had in Interlude 11g! Maybe.
“And us girls?”
“Lisa’s running the shelter, and she says she’s doing it to get more info, but I think she doesn’t mind how it connects her to the community there, either. You, too, are almost nurturing in how you’re treating the people in your territory.
Yeah, I suppose that’s true.
And Rachel you could argue doesn’t count because she’s Rachel.
Or, hell, you could even claim she’s nurturing too, but to her dogs.
And you’re acting like you’re getting that aspiring superhero thing out of your system. Or entrenched deeper into it. I can’t tell.”
It really could go either way right now, but I think it’s closer to the latter. I do think Taylor is striking a sort of balance these days – she’s unapologetically on the villains’ side, but her main objective in everything she does is still helping. She’s a villain on one axis but a hero on the other, and I think most people would say the latter is the one that counts.
I didn’t like that he was mentioning that. Sore spot for both of us. “Just following my instincts.”
Yeeeah, of all the people to get that from, Brian might be the worst.
“And maybe pushing yourself a little too hard, too fast in the process.”
“Mmm,” I offered a noncommittal response.
Yes. Yes, she is. If you can help her cut herself some healthy slack, that would be nice.
I could have asked how Bitch fit into his interpretation of events, but I already knew the answer. Normal rules didn’t apply to her.
Yep. Rachel doesn’t count, because she’s Rachel.
“I think all this ties more closely into how our individual powers work than it does to gender.”
Probably, yeah. Hard to use the darkness and oblivion as more than defensive measures in combat, Tattletale’s power is almost useless for direct combat, and what else is Alec supposed to do? Manipulate people’s nerves to make them help themselves? Make them trip over winning lottery tickets?
Granted, they all do have access to the Coil resources Taylor is making use of to help people.
“Maybe. But… no,” he changed his mind after thinking for a second. “I think both you and Lisa could be a lot more aggressive. It kind of worries me that you aren’t.”
Taylor, sure, but Lisa… I guess Lisa could use blackmail to make people willingly submit to her reign?
“If you aren’t taking out the other gangs in your territory and turning a profit, why should Coil bother keeping you there?”
Aaand we have a thing for Taylor to worry about in this Arc. It’s kind of close to what I was talking about earlier with Coil’s expenses towards Taylor’s altruism. If Taylor doesn’t figure out a way to turn a profit instead of just blindly spending to help people, she risks Coil going back on things. And isn’t Taylor’s main objective across Arcs currently to prove her worth to Coil, in order to convince him that she’s more useful than Dinah?
Of course Taylor doesn’t want to stop helping people, but Brian has a point.
“First of all, I’m totally prepared to squash any troublemakers the second they make themselves known around here.”
Yeah, I don’t question that part. We’ve seen Taylor do this already.
“Assuming you can find them.”
“I can. Second of all, Coil didn’t say a thing about turning a profit. He has money. Scads.”
Hm, true enough.
“He has his own money. Money that he has to devote time and attention to earning. If your territory never starts earning for him and just becomes some black hole that sucks up tens of thousands of dollars of his money each week, you think he’s going to be okay with that?”
But yeah, this is a valid point.
“What do you want me to do? That doesn’t involve taking protection money or peddling drugs?”
“Those would be your biggest revenue streams.”
Are you doing that?
“I’m taking control like he wanted me to. Faster than the rest of you.”
“But you’re not leaving yourself in a position to do anything with that control.”
Well, besides helping people.
“I can get all of the people in my territory onto Coil’s side. And I have over three hundred and fifty thousand dollars I can put towards infrastructure here.”
Skitter is certainly not poor these days.
The point about making people loyal to Coil is an interesting one. I suppose a good start is making them loyal to yourself. And while it’s an outright lie that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, the meaning behind that saying does hold true here.
Or at least the flies you catch will get more stuck. Metaphorically speaking.
“No, but it’s something. Look, Coil’s a proud guy. He said it himself. He’d be upset if he took over the city and it wasn’t better than it was before. I’ve got the old Boardwalk here. I can help set that going again. I’ve also got the Docks, here. A part of it. If I can improve things here, if I can take this place and make it better than it’s been in decades, wouldn’t that be a feather in his cap?”
That is assuming he was telling the truth, but yes.
“Even if things went smoothly, that’s not going to happen fast, and it’s not going to be easy.”
I don’t think Taylor is in it for “easy”.
Not fast. Grue had been pretty merciless in trying to poke holes in my approach, but the realization that he was right on that score was like a punch in the gut. “If I can show Coil I’m making headway…”
But here we have Taylor, who’s been trying to do everything as fast as she could, to show Coil that she’s serious about this, and maybe to set Dinah free faster. Getting a reality check on how fast she can actually do this is something she kinda needed, I think.
Even I wasn’t convincing myself. Coil wouldn’t give Dinah up for something as minor as a good start. I think Grue noticed my dejection.
Slow down, focus on doing a good job over time rather than on doing everything at once.
“I’m sorry if I’m being hard on you,” Grue settled one hand on the armor of my shoulder.
I don’t think he is. He’s being blunt about some truths and opinions that are hard for Taylor to swallow right now, but I think he’s fairly civil about it and not making it feel like an attack.
“No. You’re right. I’ve been thinking too short-term.”
“I really did want to come by and talk about less serious things. It’s a shame we can’t.”
“We have time to do that, don’t we? We could go back to my lair, hang. I can show you what I’ve got done on your new costume, and we could talk about the mask,” I suggested.
“Let’s go home to my place and talk about clothes.”
So is this where the Slaughterhouse get involved?
He shook his head. “No. What I meant was that I’d hoped to spend today talking about that stuff. But we’re not going to get the chance. Something more serious has come up.”
Looking like it.
“Oh hell.” My initial suspicions had been right. This wasn’t a social call.
“Regent got a visit from one of the Slaughterhouse Nine last night. So did Coil, though the man is quiet on details.
Interesting that Coil mentioned that. I suppose it makes sense to keep them informed, though, and it might’ve come up naturally when he was informed about Cherish’s visit to Alec.
Also apparently Interludes 11f and 11g took place on the same day.
Coil’s also reporting that Hookwolf got a visit on Tuesday, and one of Coil’s undercover operatives died in the ensuing carnage.
What day is it today? Thursday?
The PRT office downtown also got hit, according to Tattletale…”
Nice, so by now the Undersiders as a whole know vaguely about at least four out of the events from the Interludes, not counting the fifth one Rachel is presumably keeping to herself. Them being informed on this could come in handy later.
“Yeah. More to the point, they’re recruiting. Looking for a ninth to round out their group. Regent was one candidate.”
Which is a huge problem, though likely not as big of one as the fact that Bitch is also a candidate. I think that might create problems even beyond bringing a second set of tests down on the Undersiders.
“Who was the other, at Coil’s?”
“Coil isn’t saying. We think, with Tattletale’s educated guess helping us out, that Hookwolf might have been another possible recruit.”
Don’t look at me, Taylor. I wouldn’t know. *shifty eyes*
“And at the PRT offices? Shadow Stalker?”
Heh, she would jump to that guess.
Of course, Taylor doesn’t know what Regent did to Shadow Stalker. Maybe Grue’s about to inform her that Shadow Stalker hasn’t been seen in town for a while?
“As good a guess as any. We’re not sure where she wound up.”
“So what does this mean?”
“It means Hookwolf is calling together a meeting of the local powers that be. Crook, criminal, mercenary and warlord. We have to decide if we want to go.”
Ooh, another villain get-together á là Hive! I like this.
“He was one of the people they visited.”
“He was. Which means this could be a trap. Some kind of grand slaughter to commemorate his joining the group. Taking out the other prospective members in the process, like Regent.”
As someone who’s read Interlude 11e, no. That’s not what this is. But from the perspective of the characters, this is a completely justified fear, especially given their history with the E88 and Hookwolf in particular.
“Or it could be a target for the Slaughterhouse Nine to attack. Create chaos, maximum bloodshed, the kind of stuff that gets attention. They’d be killing some of their possible recruits, but that’d suit them, being unpredictable, never letting you think you’re safe.”
Another quite valid concern. It’s a risky endeavor, especially since Cherish would be able to detect the concentration of people of interest.
“At the same time, if we don’t go, it’s crucial info that we’re missing out on.” I thought aloud. “What does Dinah say?”
The latest fad in bumper stickers!
“Her power is out of commission after the attack on Coil’s base, apparently.”
Ah, right. That’s unfortunate.
Is Taylor going to latch onto the idea of that possibly being a result of Coil’s abuse (which it is, born from necessity or otherwise)?
“So we’re flying blind, with only Coil’s power to back us up.”
“Whatever it is.”
Well, at least Taylor knows.
“Whatever it is.” I echoed him, feeling bad for the dishonesty and my lack of disclosure. “What do Coil and Tattletale have to say about the meeting?”
Coil’s input could be incredibly valuable here. He can tell them to go in one reality and not to go in the other, and then see how it goes.
“Coil wants everyone present. Tattletale thinks Hookwolf is on the up and up, but he’s only one of the potential problems that could come up.”
I’d trust Coil on this one. The fact that this is what’s happening suggests it’s going to go alright. At least better than staying home.
I thought of the others who would be at the meeting. “Like the fact that Skidmark is one of the local powers. Or he is if he’s managed to recuperate rep-wise from the ass kicking that Faultline gave him. He’s not exactly the type to keep to the truce at the meeting. An unpredictable element.”
I dunno. Last time, he kept it about as civil as you can expect from a guy like him. Even when he was met with racism and condescension at the main table, he didn’t stir up too much trouble. And while he’s gotten a bit more of a taste of power these days, right now, right after that defeat, would be a bad time to do something stupid at the meeting.
“But if Tattletale is right, and Hookwolf isn’t on the side of the Slaughterhouse Nine, if we can trust Skidmark to have the basic common sense to back the rest of us up if they attack-”
Now that part I’m less sold on.
Brian turned toward me, and I could imagine him giving me an ‘are you serious?’ look behind his visor.
“-Or at least not get in our way,” I corrected myself.
Ahaha, yeah, that sounds more like it!
“We could fight back, if it wound up being most of the villain groups against the Nine. Our group’s powersets lend themselves to slipping away if that went sour, and Tattletale might be able to sense trouble before it hit us.”
This approach, the villains of Brockton Bay teaming up against the Slaughterhouse Nine, makes a ton of sense compared to the Undersiders taking them on by themselves, and I’m ashamed I didn’t think of it.
Hell, just like the Endbringers, the name of the Slaughterhouse Nine was literally introduced as an example of enemies prompting this reaction. It was in the cards all along, especially as we reached the Arc 11 Interludes and started putting capes beyond the Undersiders up against them. This, if it works for the characters, is an excellent way of dealing with a) most nominees being almost defenseless against the Slaughterhouse’s powers on their own and b) telling the story of the testing of the non-Undersider nominees without resorting to more Interludes.
“You’re talking like you want to do this.”
“I do. Kind of. If all the top villains of the city attend and we don’t, are we really doing ourselves any favors?
Only if all the other top villains get brutally attacked, and I’m fairly confident that won’t happen.
Our rep will take a nosedive, we’ll be out of the loop, and there’s nothing saying we wouldn’t be targeted by the Nine all the same if we sit it out.”
In fact, we have Cherish saying you definitely will. Twice over, though you don’t know that.
“Why do I get the feeling your decision here is motivated by your rushed attempts to get more control, more rep and finish this phase of our territory grab as soon as possible?”
Oh, looks like I got mixed up with regard to who was speaking which lines for a moment. Taylor’s probably got one more reason to want to do it, namely that Coil said so and she knows he’s probably split the timeline and told another version of them to not go.
And hey, if Grue comes up with her excuse for suddenly being so interested in the Undersiders’ rep, that’s convenient for her.
“Because it is.”
He sighed, and the sound was eerie, altered by his darkness. “To think I used to like that you were hardcore serious about the supervillain thing.”
Hah! Would you rather she be hardcore serious about the superhero thing?
That touched on that sensitive subject again. My original motivations, my act, such as it was back then. I turned the subject of our debate back to the meeting. “What do you think? If it was up to you and you alone, would you want us to go?”
I’m thinking no. He’s giving plenty of signals that he doesn’t agree with Taylor’s desire to go.
“No. But it isn’t up to me and me alone. When I weigh everything in my head, including the risk of our groups spending time fighting and arguing on the subject when we could be organizing and putting measures in place to protect our territory in our absence? I think it makes more sense to accept it and go with the flow.”
That’s a wise train of thought. I like it.
“When is the meeting?”
“With a situation this critical? There’s no time to waste. Tonight.”
Good. The sooner the meeting is, the sooner Coil can drop the timeline branching and go back to using that for other things.
End of Plague 12.1
That was a fairly strong opening chapter for the Arc. We got to watch Taylor do pest control and rock the benevolent ruler role, had an interesting discussion with Brian about Coil’s acceptance of Taylor’s way of ruling her territory, and then got to the Slaughterhouse developments fairly quickly. It looks like we’re in for a third truce, which I’m absolutely down for.
Seriously, I really should’ve thought of that. I know I’m not that great at predictions most of the time, but this is downright embarrassing.
But yeah, I think we’re in for an interesting Arc.
Next chapter, it’s meeting time! It’s going to be interesting to see how different it’ll be from the one in Hive. Most notably, Hookwolf taking the initiative, suggesting he might take charge rather than Coil. Something tells me the mediation of the meeting will be a little more aggressive this time around.
And then there’s Skidmark, who’s much more powerful in a social sense this time. Last time he was a pathetic whelp, easily dismissed by the big shots, especially Kaiser. This time, he’s a pathetic whelp with a following. Kaiser isn’t here and Skidmark belongs at the table, but Hookwolf, a fellow racist, is in charge and Skidmark just suffered an embarrassing defeat, so he might find himself just as excluded as last time. Though Hookwolf at least seems more inclined to stay professional than Kaiser was, and might not act on his racism.
Skidmark did get set up in this chapter as one to watch, though. That might be a red herring, or just something that made it in because of the Undersiders’ conceptions of him. But it’s possible that the caped Skidmark wouldn’t take getting excluded as well as he did last time, so it might be worth keeping an eye on him either way. That is, if he shows up.
So yeah! I’m looking forward to this. See you next time!