Plague 12.3: Fun and Board Games

Source material: Worm, Plague 12.3

Originally blogged: May 8-9, 2018


[pre-intro]

We!
Are Undersiders
We’ll always save the day
And if you think we can’t
We’ll put bugs in your eye
That’s why the people of this world
Believe in
Regent, Tattletale
And Gruuue
AND SKITTER!

(#imp is forgotten and bitch isn’t believed in
#i’ve done this before but at least this time i actually know their team name)


That’s probably an improvement over the “3-minute overdramatic intro theme[here] from session 2 of 12.1.


Plague 12.3

So, with the intro theme out of the way… Howdy, everyone! Krixwell here, back to liveblog another chapter of Worm!

Last time, the third truce meeting (I’m counting Extermination) in the story went right down the crapper for the Undersiders and Travelers, thanks to some clever group manipulation by Hookwolf. Now the Undersiders are in the precarious position of being excluded from the truce, which means not only do they not have the other teams’ direct support in the event of the Slaughterhouse attacking them, but they also have to deal with the potential for one or more of the allied parties (especially Fenrir’s Chosen) keeping up their attacks on Undertraveler territories without repercussions for breaking the truce, on top of preparing for the Slaughterhouse without getting to cooperate with the other groups.

Coil, being in on the alliance, might be able to help by feeding the Undertravelers information, but other than that, they’re largely left to fend for themselves. All they have is each other, which I think might lead to some Undersider-Traveler bonding.

And on top of everything, the Undersiders have a potential betrayal brewing in their midst.

Yeeeeah. Things are not stacked in their favor.

This chapter, I expect they’ll be heading off to discuss how they’ll deal with this mess. Maybe the Travelers will be included in the discussion, too. Maybe we’ll also see one of the Nine again at the end of the chapter, though it might be too early.

So, without further ado, let’s dive in and figure out what the hell we do now!


“Fuck!” Grue swore the second his boat hit land.

Yeah, fuck sounds about right, Grue.

“Let me guess,” Regent remarked to Bitch, “He’s been swearing since we left.”

I may have been imagining the boats wrong. I would’ve thought they’d hear it in the other boat. Then again, though, motors are loud.

Bitch nodded.

Hehe.

The Travelers had already arrived.  They stood in a huddle by the water while Genesis disintegrated into several vague floating body parts.

Lakeside discussion? I’d be down for that.

“Coil just bent us over and fucked us,” Grue said.

“I dunno,” Tattletale answered.  “That might have been the only way for him to play things, with the way his power and operations work.”

Yeah, and with the possibility of him feeding them information like I mentioned in the intro post.

…come to think of it, the way Tattle phrased that might prompt Grue to ask about Coil’s power and, due to anger, not accept “I’m not allowed to tell” as an answer.

“That would do a hell of a lot more to ease my concerns if I had any idea what his power was.”

This counts for the first part of that prediction. He’s asking implicitly.


Tattletale only offered an apologetic half-smile and a shrug to that.

I tried to help her out.  “Look, we do know that Coil is smart, he’s proud, and he’s at his best when he’s managing his enterprise.

I suppose so.

Being cooped up, he’d be hit hard in all three areas.  Limited tools to work with, limited access to his people, and he’d be less powerful in a way that everyone would be aware of.”

Ah, yeah, that’s true. By putting himself on the Undertravelers’ side, he’d just needlessly put himself in the same awkward spot as them, while also weakening his position even more.

“That doesn’t excuse how thoroughly he just screwed us, without even trying to help us out.”

Fair. He did seem to actively argue in favor of the unfair terms, even.

I shook my head. “I don’t think he’s completely screwed us over.  We know Coil’s got at least one undercover agent, Trainwreck-“

…who is also on the other side.

That actually weakens my argument about him feeding them information. He could feed them information he himself got from his undercover agents, though by being in there himself, he’ll be privy to stuff that’s only between the leaders.

Tattletale interrupted to say, “He’s got a whole lot more than one.”

Yeah.


“Thought he might.  Doesn’t it make sense that he’d assist us by being one himself?  I get the impression he likes the control it affords him and the amount of information he can get this way.”

Looks like Taylor at least is on board with my interpretation. 🙂

“Maybe,” Grue conceded.

“We should focus on where we go from here,” I said.

Sounds about right.

“Agreed,” Trickster called out.

Genesis had finished disappearing, and Trickster was walking over to our group, followed by Sundancer and Ballistic.  He extended a hand for Grue to shake, then turned to Tattletale, me, Regent and Bitch to do the same.  Bitch didn’t take his hand, turning away to focus on her dogs instead.

Rude.

So did Genesis just basically leave?

Trickster took the snub in stride.  “If nothing else, I’m glad we get a chance to talk.  Unless things get a lot worse from here, I’m hoping we’ll all be working side by side for a little while.”

This seems like a good opportunity to get to know the Travelers better. 🙂


Come to think of it, the Undersiders – except maybe Tattletale – have no idea how personally significant the Slaughterhouse threat is to the Travelers yet.


“Let’s hope,” Grue agreed.

Trickster said, “We just sent Genesis back in a more discreet form to listen in.”

Ohh, nice! Good idea!

“Imp is staying behind as well,” Tattletale informed him, “So we’ve got redundancy there.”

Oh my cod, well played, Wildbow.

I hope either Taylor or Trickster goes “Who’s Imp?” or something like it.

“Christ,” Grue snapped his head from one side to the next, as if he could spot his sister that way.  With a note of alarm in his voice, he asked, “Imp’s still there?”

Apparently so!

I really love the subtlety of this – Imp wasn’t mentioned at all in the previous chapter, even when going over who were in each boat, suggesting Taylor had forgotten about her again and her power was active. I didn’t catch on, but it was absolutely possible to do so, not because of what was there, but because of what wasn’t there.


“She’s okay,” Tattletale reassured him, “They won’t notice her.”

“They could.  We don’t know how consistently her power works, or if it works in a group that large, and we can’t be sure we know every power the people there have, if anyone has some extra senses that might bypass her ability.  Fuck!  This is the exact type of situation I wanted to keep her away from.

…I suppose he does have a point.

Honestly, if anything, I’d expect her power to work better in a large group, at least for each person affected by it.

The whole reason I let her join this group was to keep her close enough that I could rein in this sort of recklessness.”

I see. I’m guessing Coil knew about that? It would explain why he put Imp and Grue together at one base.


“She’s a bit of a rebel, but she’s not stupid,” Tattletale said, “Trust her to hold her own.”

She can be kinda rash, I think, but Tattletale is right. She’s not stupid.

“I wouldn’t trust myself to hold my own in her shoes,” Grue told her.  “Christ.  Skitter, can you send a few bugs over that way, tell me if she’s in one piece?”

Might as well, if it’s within range.

I nodded, while Trickster slapped his forehead.

“The bugs,” he said, “I could have told Genesis to stick around while you scouted, wait, no.  Why send Imp if you have the bugs?”

Because while she can access the bugs’ audiovisual senses directly, that’s not something she can do without risking sensory overload.

I suppose Trickster thinks that’s what she’s doing when she uses the bugs to scout out places.

“I can’t see or hear through the swarm, really.  Not well enough to listen in.”

“You did once,” Tattletale told me.

That surprised me.  “When?”

Wait, what?

Is she talking about the one time we’ve seen Taylor look through the eyes of the bugs, right before she met the Undersiders for the second time? Or has Taylor been doing this without realizing it?

“After the fight with Bakuda.  You were doped up, hurt, you had a concussion, but you were able to tell us the kind of music someone was listening to, and he was way out of earshot.”

Oh right, that!

I can’t blame Taylor for forgetting anything that happened during that time.

“Seriously?  And you didn’t tell me this?”

Grue shook his head.  “Just speaking for myself, I had a lot on my mind, between you and the others being in rough shape and the ABB setting off bombs across the city.  I completely forgot until just now.  Sorry.”

That’s fair.


Tattletale nodded.

“That’s huge,” I said, “Do you know how much I could use something like that?”

Just as long as it doesn’t fuck her over, it seems incredibly powerful, especially for stuff like monitoring her territory.

“Why can’t you now?” Trickster asked.

“Bugs sense things so differently, my brain can’t translate what they see and hear into something I can process.  It’s all black and white blotches, high-pitched squeals and bass throbs.”  I paused.  “Imp’s perfectly fine, by the way.  At least, I can’t find her, but nobody’s reacting like they found a spy in their midst.”

Nice.


So wait.

Taylor was able to do this without issue while drugged down. Dinah wants the “candy” to lessen the overload from her power.

This might have some unfortunate implications.


Grue sighed, “Okay.”

“So this sensory part of your power, you stopped trying?” Tattletale asked.

The way she phrased that nettled me.  “In the three months between my getting my powers and first going out in costume, I saw zero improvement in that department.  None, zilch.  When I did start going out in costume, I was worried the useless sights and sounds might distract me at some crucial juncture.

Makes sense. Though we’ve seen improvement in other areas, so it’s not far-fetched that she’d eventually have some here too.

Between that and the fact that it was like hitting my head against a metaphorical brick wall…”

Yeah, no wonder.

“You gave up,” Regent said.  He was trying to get on my nerves, I knew it.

Getting on people’s nerves is kind of his thing, isn’t it? :p


“I stopped trying.  But now that I know it’s somehow possible, I dunno.  I can start looking for a way.”

The degree to which it would expand my capabilities, it was tempting.  That kind of expansion of my sensory abilities could be a matter of life and death at some point.

Definitely. And if she can do multiple bugs at once – hell, maybe even the whole swarm when she gets really good at this – she can have eyes and ears all over an area, and really see situations from a lot of perspectives at once.

I could theoretically listen in on most of the people in my territory.  Would I want to, though?  The invasiveness of that kind of creeped me out, and I had a pretty high creepiness tolerance.

Well, I mean, I already used “Big Skitter is Watching You” as the Tebble of Constants title of 11.2. And back then, it was just about her tracking them with the bugs, not actually looking through the bugs’ senses.

“It might be like your range boosts.  Tied to your mental state,” Tattletale said.

Possibly.

“Except my range boosts are probably linked to me feeling trapped, and I somehow doubt I felt that way when I was doped up and waking up in that hospital bed or ambulance or wherever.”

Hmmm. Yeah, I don’t remember that emotion in that scene, but she was absolutely feeling trapped in the situation that led up to it. Besides, how does feeling trapped, specifically, tie in with the first instance of the range boost, in Hive? Again, she wasn’t feeling trapped in the specific situation, but in the situation leading up to it.


“It’s something you can work through,” she said.  “And now that you know to look for it, you should push yourself to use that part of your power so you can see when it’s stronger or weaker.”

Science Skitter!

I nodded, and willed myself to tear down all the mental barriers and safeguards that walled my brain off from the sights and sounds the bugs wanted to send my way.

Let’s take a look! Might be a good idea to start with only a few bugs rather than all of them, though?

It was every bit as grating and annoying as I recalled.  This would take some getting used to.

“Listen,” Trickster said.  “Ballistic’s HQ is close by.  Since my group is going to be waiting for Genesis, and you guys will want to hang around and pick up Imp when she’s done, maybe you want to come by and we can discuss strategy in the meantime?”

Sounds good to me!


“Sounds like a good idea,” Grue said.  “Thanks.”

Ballistic gestured toward a nearby street and we all started walking in that direction.

Grue started us off.  “Number one, we know that they were here to recruit.  Who were they recruiting?”

Well, you’re walking with two of them.

Though only one’s going to admit it.

“Me,” Regent said.  That drew a few looks of surprise from the Travelers.  He elaborated, “My sister is their newest member, replaced Hatchet Face.  She did it to fuck with me more than out of a genuine desire to have me join.”

I think this situation is less “fuck with me” and more “fuck me over”, but I guess Alec’s not in the best position to tell the difference.

“Armsmaster is another,” I pointed out.  “According to Miss Militia, Mannequin wanted him.”

The Travelers might be among those less surprised by this. They were there when Armmaster’s scheming was exposed.

“The, uh, sixth member of the Travelers is the next recruit, I guess,” Trickster admitted.  “Crawler hit Coil’s place.”

There’s been a bit of back and forth on how Noelle’s been described in relation to the other Travelers, but it seems like member is about right.

“Sixth?” I asked.  “If there’s four of you, then-“

Oh wait, that’s a good point. Who’s the fifth?


“We have two group members who don’t see any combat.  They spend most or all of their time at Coil’s headquarters.  I understand if that raises a lot of questions, but I –we– would really appreciate it if you guys could leave it at that for now.  I’m thinking we’ll introduce you to the others soon.”

I see… we’ve of course got Noelle, but I’m not sure we’ve heard of this fifth (from our perspective sixth, but let’s stick to Trickster’s numbering) member before. It seems likely that like Noelle, there’s more to it than them spending their time in the background like Tattletale wanted to, in part because they didn’t show up with the rest in 5.1.

“I’m okay with dropping it so long as you’re not withholding anything crucial,” Grue said.  “I’m happy to stay on topic as much as possible anyways.”

Yeah, things went off-topic enough last time.

Trickster tipped his hat.  “Appreciated.  Looked like Hookwolf got hit.  His entire group did.  Shatterbird?”

Judging by the scars, are we?

“Yeah,” Tattletale replied.  “Can confirm that one.”

“Shatterbird, Crawler, Mannequin and…” I trailed off, looking at Regent for help in placing the name.

“Cherish.”

“If the condition of Faultline’s crew was any indication,” Tattletale said, “We can make an educated guess that Burnscar paid them a visit.  Thing is, I can’t even begin to guess who she visited.  Spitfire’s too nice, and none of the others really have the, I dunno, edge?”

Hehe. But don’t you know, Tattletale? Edge is Jack’s domain!

Also I suppose the Spitfire misdirection in Interlude 11c benefited from the fact that we knew approximately jack shit about Spitfire’s personality, so we didn’t know that she was “too nice” yet.


“In any case, that leaves the people who Jack, Siberian and Bonesaw nominated.  Any ideas?”

Bitch, internally: “Shit.”

I glanced across our groups.  Nobody moved to reply.

“Maybe they’re not done?” Sundancer spoke up, “Or maybe some of them aren’t picking new members?”

Well, that was the case with Burnscar, apparently, according to askers. Not so with any of these three, though.

“Maybe they’re not done,” Tattletale spoke, “But I think they are.  From what I’ve read on them, and from what my power is giving me, I have the distinct impression they all would have made some kind of move by now.  They either hit all at once, shock and awe, or they draw it out.  This is the former.”

Yeeah. Bonesaw and Siberian hit at the same time, the rest over the course of just a few days. Coil had no sooner gotten the news about Shatterbird’s attack before Crawler was on his way.

Also, do the Travelers know about Tattle’s true power by now?

“But are they all picking new members?”

Tattletale shrugged.  “No clue.  We know of four, at least.”

That’s something.

Not sure how useful it’s going to be, but hey, knowledge is power.


Ballistic led us into a parking garage.  We walked between rows of cars that had been pummelled by the floodwater.  Panels had been dented, windows shattered, and some of the cars had been lifted and pushed into one another.

Are there any that look like they’ve been launched?

Sundancer formed a tiny ‘sun’ and held it up for light, while Regent turned on the flashlight he’d brought.

I like the juxtaposition here.

“A flashlight? Bitch, please. …Uh, not you, Bitch.”

We descended into the bowels of the garage,

garage vore

and stopped at the ramp between the second level down and the third.  It had collapsed, and both rubble and two or three cars sat in the water that flooded the floor below.

I wonder whose cars these are, in the garage as a whole. Like, did the owners try to retrieve them? Were they not around to do so? Did they just figure there wasn’t much chance of getting their car back in one piece? Is someone still casually using this garage for their intact car?

“This way,” Ballistic said.  He grabbed a length of pipe that stuck out where the ramp had collapsed and climbed down.  Trickster gestured and we moved to follow.

Just don’t accidentally activate your power and send the pipe flying!


Clever, clever.  Out of sight from any vantage point on the level above, short walls had been set around the fallen ramp.  They ensured that the flooding and the wreckage were all contained to one area to sell the illusion, and kept everything else on the lowest level of the basement dry.  Cars had been removed, clearing the area for use as an underground base.

“dry”?

Hang on, I gotta look this word up.

  1. having or characterized by little or no rain: a dry climate; the dry season.
  2. not yielding milk: a dry cow.
  3. free from tears: dry eyes. 

Oh, okay, that makes sense. Thanks to the walls, this basement level doesn’t produce milk.


Ballistic pulled off his mask and tossed it onto the bed that sat in one corner.  He cleared a few dirty dishes from the table in the middle of the area and invited us to sit while he fetched some extra seats.

Huh. Guess he’s comfortable being unmasked around the Undersiders.

There’s been a fair bit of offscreen Undersider-Traveler interaction, so I suppose it makes sense they might be past that hurdle by now.

He had a bit of a heavy brow and a snub nose, and his short brown hair, damp with sweat, made me think of the jocks that always seemed to gravitate towards Sophia.

I wonder if this prompted any Ballistalker shipping.

I do think Ballistic seems like an okay guy, though, from what little we’ve seen of him. One who wouldn’t go for Sophia.

Still, he wasn’t a bad looking guy.  If a guy like him had asked me out in some alternate universe where Emma had never stopped being my friend and I’d never been bullied?  Just going by his looks, I might have said yes.

Okay now this I’m sure prompted some shipping.

Trickster unmasked as well.  He definitely didn’t remind me of one of the jocks.  His hair was longer than many girls wore theirs, he had light brown skin and an unfortunate hook nose.  Combined with his intense stare, he gave me the impression of a hawk or some other bird of prey.

Craws! Craws!

That’s probably not quite how you pronounce his name. :p

Grue, Tattletale and Regent all unmasked as well while they got themselves seated.  Trickster offered each of them a cigarette, then offered one to me.  I turned him down, as did the others.

Is Taylor also willing to unmask?

“So what are we discussing here?” Sundancer asked from behind me.  I turned and saw a rather attractive blonde girl with a long neck and delicate features.  Her hair was expertly pinned up behind her head.

I’m not sure how clear I’ve made it, but Sundancer is by far my favorite Traveler.

“I was under the impression that the Slaughterhouse Nine were pretty much unbeatable.”

They’ve got some really good powers on their team, but honestly? Some of them are less powerful than I expected. They’re beatable, but it’s gonna be very difficult.


“No,” Brian said.  “Some of them, maybe, but others are as vulnerable as you or me.  Thing is, Dinah told us that our odds against these bastards aren’t good.

That they are not. Even for the Travelers, who had better odds.

Though I wonder what she’d say about the Undersiders and Travelers working together against them.

Our chances of winning are pretty low, and it’s pretty damn likely we’ll get killed if we confront them head on.”

Hell, Cherish alone could easily fuck them all over.

No, probably need a sneakier tactic here.

“So we don’t confront them head on,” Trickster said.

Feeling conspicuous as the only one with a mask on, I pulled mine off.  It took me a second to adjust to the blue tint that everything had after I’d spent over an hour looking through the pale yellow lenses of my mask.

Ah, there she goes.

I realized Trickster was setting up a laptop.  He placed it at one corner of the table, facing the rest of us.

This feels oddly familiar.


“Oliver?”

“I’m here, Trickster,” a male voice came from the computer.

Ohhh.

Oliver is not Ballistic.

Got it.

“Feel like patching in Noelle?”

“Sure.  She’s in an okay mood.  A little drowsy.  I’ll be right back.”

Time to get everyone on board!

Trickster pressed a button on the keyboard and then turned to us, “Tattletale.  I’ll be as quick as I can.  Coil promised he’d get you to help us, but he’s taken his time introducing you to our group.  The cynic in me suspects there’s a reason, and the pessimist in me says that reason is that he’s already figured out what you’re going to tell us, and it isn’t going to be pretty.”

Oof.

Let’s hope she has something good to say. But hey, at least we’ll probably find out more about what the hell is going on with Noelle now, unless she’s somehow immune to Tattle’s power. And hey, not even Imp is, and her power is all about people not knowing things about her, right down to her existence.

“Okay.”  Tattletale was all business.

“Noelle’s going to ask you for help.  Lie to her.  Tell her you’re already on it.  Roll with it if she gets angry, or if she gets impatient.  She’s sensitive.

Ahh, yeah, I suppose she wouldn’t take it well if she found out Coil hasn’t gotten Tattle on it yet.

I don’t know how your power works, really, but if you realize whatever it is that Coil doesn’t want us to know, don’t tell Noelle.”

Keep it to herself until after the call. Sounds doable.


“She’s the one Crawler visited?” I asked.

Trickster nodded once.

“Hello?’  A girl’s voice came from the computer.  Trickster hit a key, which I assumed was to take himself off mute.

No video for either Oliver or Noelle… of course. Still keeping Noelle as the monster in the dark.

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He hit another combination of keys and a webcam feed snapped up to cover the screen.

…or maybe not! Let’s see what this transformation looks like.

Heh, maybe there is no visible transformation after all, that’d be quite the twist. The ferocity, the strength, the hunger… and she looks completely normal.

Noelle had long brown hair and she wore a red sweatshirt.  She looked like someone who was ill.  She was horribly pale, she had dark circles under her sunken eyes, and her lips were chapped.

…nice. Not completely normal, but not a monster either. Right now, anyway – there might be a transformation when she loses control and goes feral.

I was reminded of drug addicts in an early stage of addiction, where they were deteriorating because the drugs took a higher priority than taking care of themselves.  Was Coil drugging her too?

Not q– actually, I don’t know. He might be. It’s not the main cause of this, though.


”Noelle, “ Trickster said, “You’ve asked to be included more.  I thought you’d be okay with this?”

She nodded.

“Left to right, we have Grue, Regent, Skitter, Bitch and Tattletale.”

Hello!

By the way, are the doggos in here too? I would think so.

There wasn’t a flicker of a smile or any interest on her face until she heard that last name.  “Tattletale?”

Ah, yes. The one who was supposed to be contacted to help her, of course she recognizes that name.

“Noelle,” Tattletale spoke, “It’s nice to finally meet you.  Listen, I’m working on your situation.  Coil’s filled me in on the basics and I’m chasing down some leads, but something’s come up with the Slaughterhouse Nine, and everything’s on hold until we can be sure they won’t try to kill us in the meantime.”

I don’t know why I ever thought Tattle was the type to not lie, just spin the truth. She’s a damn good liar when she goes in for it.

I could see Trickster tense.  Was Noelle so high strung or desperate that she’d throw a tantrum over being asked to wait?

…honestly, I could believe that.

“Coil was telling the truth,” Noelle said, in a small voice, “You can help?”

“Honestly?  I don’t know.  But I’m a fucking genius when it comes to getting answers, and Coil’s got all the resources in the world.  If there’s help to be had, we’ll give it to you.”

She’s not lying anymore.

“How soon before you know?”

“No idea.  I don’t think it’ll be as fast as you want, but it’s doable, and it won’t take so long that you should give up.”

That’s a good thing to say. 🙂

“Okay.”

“In the meantime,” Trickster cut in, giving Tattletale a thumbs-up gesture from a position outside of the laptop’s field of view, “We need our old field commander’s brain on the Slaughterhouse Nine sitch.”

Ah, so she did have the sort of role Tattletale originally wanted before this started happening. Whatever this is. Makes sense.

So what’s Oliver’s role? New field commander?


“A distraction would be nice,” Noelle smiled for the first time.

Field commander.  She used to be the leader of their group?  I wondered if I could dig up any information about her if I hunted far enough back.

Hm, maybe. I’m not sure whether the previously nomadic nature of the Travelers would make that more or less likely, but it probably makes a difference.

I could see Brian fidget under the table.  He wasn’t liking the constant distractions from the subject at hand.

“Eight enemies,” Trickster said.  “Now, I’m not a serious player of the game, I’m sorry to any of you Undersiders who are irritated by the way I’m about to butcher it, but the way I see it, their leader is like the king in chess.  More raw power than a pawn, but in the end, he’s simultaneously the second weakest piece in the game and the one everything hinges on.

He’s talking about Jack, right? Sounds about right. His power is the weakest of all of them, I think, with only the mundanes (pawns) below him.

Is Trickster going to compare all of them to chess pieces? Let’s take a stab at it before he can.

  • Queen: Shatterbird. Very powerful, quite mobile, incredible range.
  • Bishops: Burnscar, Mannequin. Effective on the offensive, might attack from unexpected angles.
  • Knights: Bonesaw, Cherish, Pinkie Pie. Hard to predict.
  • Rooks: Siberian, Crawler. Tough on the defensive, can barrel right through on the offensive.

I find myself switching Mannequin, Cherish and Crawler around a bit, but the rest I’m sure of.

We take him down without getting massacred in the process, I think we win.”

Maybe. He does play an essential role in keeping the team together, but what happens if you take out the head and dismantle the team? You’ll have seven individual Slaughterhouse members working separately in Brockton Bay.

Also, Jack’s not dying unless it’s too late.


“Jack Slash,” Noelle said.

“Right.  Siberian’s like the queen.  She’s fast, mobile, one of the strongest physically, and the bitch of the matter is, she can’t be taken off the board, and she can’t be contained.  A special queen, if you will.  Physically she’s an unstoppable force and an immovable object any time she wants to be.”

Siberian as the queen, huh? Interesting.

To my right, Bitch picked up the puppy and settled it in her lap.  It curled up and nestled against the cupped circle of her arms and hands.

Heh. Memories come to mind, Rachel?

“Then there’s Crawler, who visited us the other night.  Maybe not as fast or agile as Siberian, and he can be contained, but he can’t be taken off the board.  A special rook.”

Honestly, the “can’t be contained” thing reminds me more of a knight, though by the sound of it, it’s because Siberian just barrels through whatever’s in her way. Unstoppable force. Fluff-wise, that’s more the style of a queen, bishop or rook.

Crawler is similar, but more defensive.


“I’m wondering how far you can stretch this chess analogy, Trickster,” Ballistic commented.

And I’m wondering what came first, the chicken or the chess analogy.

Trickster ignored him.  “Shatterbird and Burnscar are like bishops.  They’ve got mobility, reach, and they can bury you damn fast if you don’t have the right kind of cover.”

Yeah, that’s pretty much my logic too, though I put Shatterbird as the queen because of her incredible versatility and range even beyond what Burnscar can do. Mannequin was more uncertain, but if he’s not here and Siberian isn’t a rook, I guess he can be one of those instead, alongside Crawler.

“What about Mannequin?  Another rook?”  I asked.

“I’d peg him a knight.  He’s more close range, but he’ll catch you from an oblique angle, maybe slip past whatever defences you think you have.”

Alright, fair enough. That means either Bonesaw or Cherish is the other rook. I’d put Cherish there, then, but it seems like Trickster is using slightly more practical criteria than I am.

But while I think either of them would fit the description he’s giving for a knight here, it does seem to me that Bonesaw fits slightly better, whereas Cherish is a heavy hitter like Crawler – though mentally rather than physically.


“Which leaves Cherish and Bonesaw,” Grue said.  “We’ll have to trust Regent to give us the details on Cherish.”

Regent nodded and tapped his finger against his chin, “My sister.  I don’t know if you could call her a third bishop or a knight.  Long range on her power, gets stronger as she gets closer.  Affects your emotions and as far as I’m aware, there’s no way to defend against it or to take cover.

I mean, a bishop and a rook aren’t all that different, really, though a rook has more access to the board and is usually better defensively.

[I’m not sure why past me is talking about rooks here, after guessing Cherish would be a knight.]

If she decides she wants to hurt you or make you hurt yourself, she can find you and she’ll make it happen.”

Yeeah, she’s pretty scary.

“But she has no special defences,” Grue cut in.  “She’s vulnerable to pretty much any knife, gun or power we can hit her with.”

That’s the one part where the idea of putting her as a rook falls apart, but the rook isn’t all that much more defended than the bishop, really. The idea that rooks are tough defensively is just fluff.

“Can we gang up on her?” Sundancer asked.

“She can affect multiple people at once,” Regent said.  “So it’s not that easy.”

Trouble, that.

“That means we have to beat her at her own game,” Trickster mused, “Track her, beat her in long-range warfare.”

CARGO CONTAINER SNIPE


“I could use puppets to go after her,” Regent said, “But she can paralyze them with the kind of uncontrolled physical reactions I can’t cover with my power.  I am immune to her, for all the good that does.”

That does mean we’ve got one person who can go after her, confronting her up close with a gun or something.

“How far does her offensive range extend?” I asked.

“No clue.  I’d guess she can sense emotions across the entire city, which is how she’s finding people, but in terms of attack? I don’t have any basis to make a guess.  Farther than my dad, Heartbreaker, but not city-wide, no.”

Not quite at Shatterbird levels, but still terrifying.

“The ability to track us by our emotions is a good enough reason to take her out of action ASAP,” Trickster said.  “So long as she’s active, it’ll be that much harder to catch the others off guard.”

Yeah, that’s a good point.

“Maybe…” I started, then I hesitated.  Feeling the pressure of everyone’s attention on me, I said, “…Maybe my power will outrange hers?  Not in terms of what we see and sense, but in terms of who can do more damage from further away?”

Hm, could be the case! She did say she was just across the street when she took out Hatchet Face, didn’t she, and getting as close as she could without her power turning off?


“It’s a thought,” Grue agreed, “Risky, but we don’t have many options.  Trickster, where does Bonesaw fit into your analogy?”

Trickster shook his head, “She doesn’t.  She’s relatively weak in terms of raw power, but her presence on the field threatens to change the rules.

Aaand the analogy breaks.

She’s definitely a knight in terms of personality, at least.

She’s a medical tinker.  The medical tinker.  So long as she’s in play, we can’t be certain of our enemy’s attack power, we can’t know that any enemy we clear from the field will stay gone, and there could be harsh penalties if they catch or kill one of us.  It sucks to think about, but if Bonesaw got her hands on, say, Sundancer, I’d be a hell of a lot more worried than if Hookwolf or Skidmark did.”

Yeeeeeeah.

Sundancer muttered something to Ballistic, but I couldn’t make it out.

“What about our side?” Noelle asked.

“Lots of playing pieces, not all cooperating, and we have one debatable advantage,” Trickster said, “We know in advance, pretty much for a fact, that if any of us, Undersider or Traveler, try to fight these bastards, we’re going to lose, and we’ll lose hard.”

At least if you fight separately. Probably still if you fight together, but we don’t know the numbers on that.


[Session 2]

If I could
Begin to be
Half of what you think of me
I could do about anything
I could even learn how to look

When I see
The way you act
Wondering when I’m coming back
I could do about anything
I could even learn how to look… through bugs

(#yes i’m doing this twice in one chapter
#what can i say #su’s been on my mind
#the episodes we got on monday were a real doozy)


In other words, let’s get back to chess analysis with Trickster!

Though he’s probably done now.


“Tattletale say that?” Noelle asked.

That’s not really Tattle’s role, though she is good at educated guesswork.

“Coil did,” Trickster answered.

Odd.  So Noelle was staying with Coil, but she didn’t know about Dinah?  Another secret or white lie from her team?

Yeeah, they may not want to tell her that there’s someone around who can give her the precise odds of fixing whatever is happening to her, and more importantly, that the odds are low.

“I can’t help but think of the Desecrated Monk scenario,” Noelle said.  I saw Trickster, Sundancer and Ballistic all nodding.

Is that like a codename for a specific type of situation they’ve trained for?

Desecrated Monk sounds like it refers to someone who can’t or won’t fight back with violence against the people who attacked them and their home.

When I turned to my team, they looked as confused as I was.  Was this Desecrated Monk someone the Travelers had gone up against at some point before they came to Brockton Bay?

I suppose it’s not the stupidest hero name, but I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think she’d say “scenario” in that case.

“Go on,” Trickster encouraged her.

“The rules are unfair.  Half of our opponents are pretty blatantly cheating.  But we have to deal with them anyways.  So either we cheat back-“

Or we knock the board over and refuse to play?

“Which we can’t.”

“Or you guys handle it the way we did it before.  You don’t fight the way they want to fight.”

The Slaughterhouse members are like a set of chess pieces.

So let’s play backgammon.


“Okay,” Trickster nodded, “So the first question we ask ourselves is how they want to play this.  What do they want?  In terms a five-year-old could understand.”

They want to “test” their nominees, in whatever ways suit their fancy. This makes the nominees targets, though for each of most of them, there’s one Slaughterhouse member that probably won’t attack them during this process, and will root for them.

Ah, sorry – /r/explainlikeimfive mode.

The bad people want to find out how good the good people some of them like are at doing bad things, in whatever ways they like. So they will try more to do bad things to those good people. But each of the bad people likes one of the good people, and will want the good person they like to win. Now, where are your parents, little buddy?

(#xkcd.com/simplewriter)


“They want their ninth member,” I said.

“Right.”

“They want to hurt, scare and kill people,” Tattletale put in her two cents.

Ah, yes, that too.

“Why?”

“Reputation, entertainment,” Tattletale said, “These guys are monsters, and pretty much anyone who watches T.V., surfs the web, or reads the papers knows it.”

Yeah, they haven’t exactly made a secret out of what they are.

I saw it out of the corner of my eye.  Noelle’s expression shifted all at once from being animated and engaged to the same look she’d worn when the webcam feed first went live.

…uh oh. Bad word to use around someone who is a) a Slaughterhouse nominee in presumably a less ironic sense than Alec, and b) kinda turning into a monster in the more primal sense.

Disinterested, hurt, hopeless.

She’d been scouted.  Unlike Regent, it hadn’t been to mess with her.  It had been because a freak like Crawler legitimately thought she was one of them.

Yep. As far as we know, anyway – it’s not like Crawler got a chance to talk about it.


If Tattletale was sitting next to me, I would have kicked her under the table.

Better not kick in that direction right now. Not only would she hit the wrong person, but the person she’d hit would be Bitch.

Noelle suddenly perked up, saying, “They want to hunt.  They’re predators.”

“Okay, how can we use that?” Trickster leaned forward to look at the screen.

…is she talking from experience as a “monster”?

“They want to be the predators, we make them prey,” Noelle said.  She was looking more animated again.

Sooo…

That implies hunting them down. Coming to them instead of letting them come to the Undertravelers.

That does give an element of surprise and preparation advantage, but I thought we were trying to avoid direct combat altogether. Hunting traps?

“Not sure that’s possible, but keep going.”

“It’s not possible because, um.  You described them like they’re chess pieces, and we’re thinking in terms of a chess game.  What if we changed the game?”

Okay, so I wasn’t expecting Wildbow to actually spell this out when I made the analogy to playing backgammon instead, but here we are.

I kinda wish I’d gone with my urge to use checkers instead. It’s played on the same board and can be merged with chess without much difficulty (one side has checkers pieces and wins by checkmating the king, the other side has chess pieces and wins by capturing all the checkers pieces), weakening the analogy’s focus on throwing the opponent’s assumptions out the window, but at least it’s a game I actually know how to play. It’d be easier to make further references to it.


“I always preferred Go,” Trickster said, “But Go is about territory, give and take, less about aggression than an educational sparring match between two master swordsmen, each walking away with a new kernel of knowledge.

Hm. I think to play Go against the Slaughterhouse, you’re going to need more pieces.

Go applies more to taking over the city than it does to this scenario.”

Yeah, it does seem that way.

“Shogi?” Noelle suggested.

Shogi is basically just like international chess but with a couple of the pieces moving slightly differently, more complicated promotion rules, and the ability to take control of captured pieces. It’s too similar to what the Slaughterhouse are expecting and the biggest difference – pieces changing sides when captured – doesn’t apply unless Regent gets some time in private with them. And even then, the Slaughterhouse have two members who can do the same.

Shogi.  I got her meaning almost immediately, and I wasn’t alone. Tattletale, the Travelers and I all looked at Regent.

To do that, you need to capture at least one Slaughterhouse member first. That’s not going to be easy, but if you can pull it off, it might just be the key to success against the rest of them.

Cherish is the greatest threat against this tactic, being able to counter the control. Maybe that means she should be the target. She can’t do anything against Alec with her power, either, making it possible for him to be near her long enough to take full control.

After her, I suppose Jack would be the best target, but even if he is the weakest of them, he’s smart, and if taking him out – checkmate – is the main goal, then I doubt that’s going to be the first step on the way.


A thing I’ve been meaning to say since the board game analogy started:

Being similar in composition to a chess team is actually really good for the Slaughterhouse. One of the reasons chess is such an interesting game is the fact that both players are playing with a really well-balanced set of pieces that work well as a team. The developers of western chess movesets and rules knew what they were doing.

What I think might be the Nine’s weakness is not working all that well as a team, though.


Regent, Bitch and Grue, for their parts, were left looking bewildered.

Maybe they don’t know stuff about shogi.

“Maybe you should clarify?” Grue suggested.

“Shogi is an Eastern variant of chess,” I said, “Some of the pieces move a little differently, though I can’t remember how.  But the big difference is that there’s a rule that says you can take any of the opponent’s pieces you’ve captured and place them on the board as your own.”

“More or less right,” Trickster said.

It’s a pretty huge difference. In regular chess, the resources on both sides dwindle as the game goes on. In shogi, however, the winning side gets more resources as they go along, resources that can be dropped in almost anywhere on the board at any time as the player sees fit.

That fact alone probably makes it a good thing most pieces are weaker by themselves than in western chess. Even the promoted rook and promoted bishop, the most mobile pieces, don’t quite match up to a western queen.

“So the question becomes,” Grue thought aloud, “Who can we beat in an indirect confrontation, capture and control?”

I’ve already given my thoughts on that, but maybe Bonesaw is worth considering too, though I’m not sure how useful she’d be as a controlled piece.

Mannequin is right out, not because I don’t think they can beat him, but because there’s no telling if Regent’s power would work on him.

And then there’s Burnscar. I think they could take her, and her power might lend itself well to their needs.

“Jack, Bonesaw-“ I said.

Grue shook his head.  “They know they’re vulnerable.  Either they’ll be watching their backs or the others will watch their backs for them.”

Fair.

Regent said, “Siberian is out, and while we might theoretically be able to catch and contain Crawler or Mannequin, I dunno if we could keep them still long enough for me to use my power on them.  If I can.  Their bodies are different.”

Yeah, I highly doubt Mannequin would work. I didn’t consider it for Crawler, but with the changes to his physiology, who knows.

I counted the enemies off on one hand, “Leaving Cherish-“

Regent shook his head, “She knows me, has measures in place.”

Yeeah. The bomb is an issue. They’d need to find out what the phone number is first.

“Burnscar and Shatterbird,” I finished.

“The bishops,” Trickster said.

Burnscar’s probably the easier of the two to catch, though the teleportation complicates things. Shatterbird would be good for offensive power, both in terms of what Regent would have at his disposal and in terms of what the Slaughterhouse wouldn’t.


“Easier said than done,” Grue sighed.

Noelle’s face disappeared from the webcam, and a blond boy popped up in its place.  Oliver?  “Trickster, Genesis is waking up.  She’s done whatever you had her doing.”

Oh, so doing her thing puts her real body to “sleep”? Makes sense.

Reminds me of the fairy doll spell from El Goonish Shive. It puts the real body to sleep and creates a directly-controlled fairy avatar of the caster somewhere else, which turns into a doll (that can be reanimated by the spell at a later time) when the spell is dismissed.

“Long stint,” Trickster replied, “She’ll be groggy.”

“That means Imp is probably done too,” Grue spoke.

Ah, yeah… I wonder whose boat she snuck on board to get back to shore. And she doesn’t know where the Undersiders went.

“She’ll need a ride back,” I finished his thought.

“Should leave her there for a bit as punishment for staying behind,” Grue grumbled.  Still, he stood and pulled on his helmet.  “But it’s not worth the grief she’ll give me.”

Hehe. 🙂


“Softie.” Tattletale grinned.

“Are you coming back?” Trickster asked.

“How long will it be before Genesis is able to brief us on the meeting?”

Ah, yeah, that would probably get us some interesting information.

“Fifteen, twenty minutes?”

“Then we’ll be back to finish the strategy session,” Grue responded.

Sounds like it’s a thing for another chapter, unless we’re going for a minor time skip here.

Trickster turned to his teammates, “Mind giving Noelle and me a minute to talk?”  Sundancer and Ballistic stood.

Hm. Alright, I guess?

Joined by the two Travelers, we made our way up the disguised ladder to the second sub-level of the parking garage.  As one of the last to head up, I saw the adorable sight of Bitch managing the sleeping puppy, tucking it against her body with one arm so she could scale the ladder one-handed.

D’aww.

Don’t let her know that you just thought the word “adorable” about something she did, though.

As she reached the top, I could hear Sundancer cooing, “It’s so cute.  Is it a he or a she?”

However, she might be fine with one of her doggos – her wild doggo, in this case – being complimented like that.

Then again, she doesn’t like when people but dogs’ appearances above other things about them…

Let’s just see how it goes.

“He.”

“What’s his name?”

“Bastard.”

Pfft!

She would.


“I’m guessing you named him?” Regent asked, as I reached the top and stepped down onto solid ground.  I missed Bitch’s response.  Had she nodded?

“I was surprised you brought him tonight,” Grue said, being remarkably delicate about the fact that Bitch had undercut any presence our group had by bringing the cute ball of fluff.  It would have been better if he’d brought it up earlier, but he might have felt the same way I did about provoking Bitch before a major event, when she’d been so short tempered lately.

Yeah, I think he too knows to be cautious about that by now.

Also, I think undercutting the presence of the group is excusable when it comes with this sort of cuteness. :p

Of course, none of them know what it really signifies.

Bitch’s response was surprisingly verbose.  “Had to.  For the first year and a half, he’s going to be like a dog.  Need to train him as much as I can, get him used to me.  It’ll be too hard if I wait.”

“He’s going to be like a dog.”

So she’s not going to maintain the pretense that he is a dog. That might lead to some awkward questions. Like “How did you end up with a wolf pupy, anyway?”


For the record, I do know how “puppy” is spelled. I just can’t help but misspell it on purpose when it’s preceded by “wolf”. This is what the refrance.

(#wolf pupy
#and the sentence the link is on is another reference to #Homestuck)


“Like a dog?” I asked.  In the corner of my eye, I could see Tattletale’s expression change as she looked at the dog, clearly realizing something.  As fast as I could turn her way to try and piece together what that was, something else got her attention.

Oh. Oh shit.

How did I not see that coming?

There’s only one step from “Bitch has a wolf pupy” to Tattle’s power telling her why Bitch has a wolf pupy, and that piece of info is not pleasant.

At least this means the Undersiders can have this realization before they get into an unexpected fight against the Slaughterhouse because of Bitch’s silence.

At least as long as Tattletale doesn’t remain silent for some reason. I could see not wanting to discuss it in front of the Travelers, but it needs to come out.

“Shit,” she breathed.  She clutched at my arm with one hand and at Bitch’s with the other, stepping back to pull us with her.  Bitch pulled her arm from Tattletale’s grip, looking angry at the invasion of personal space.

Oh, personal space is the least of your worries right now, Rachel.

What about Grue, is she going to pull him in too? Or is she already right next to him?


“Oh fuck,” I muttered, as I saw through the darkness to spot what Tattletale’s power had noticed first.

What? Bitch’s bruises from her run-in with Siberian?

Four of the Slaughterhouse Nine were stepping through the entrance of the parking garage.

Alright, yeah, that’s also worthy of “Shit.” “Oh fuck.”

Shit. Oh fuck.

The Siberian was in the lead, her waist-length hair blowing in the wind from outside, her eyes practically glowing in the gloom.

Coming to say hi to your nominee, Sibby?

Behind her, Jack Slash held Bonesaw’s hand as the young girl skipped to make it so she only walked on the yellow lines that divided the lanes.

Relatable.

They were accompanied by a young woman who might’ve been eighteen or so years old, who bore a striking resemblance to Alec.  Cherish.  None of them wore costumes.  The Siberian didn’t wear anything.  She was as nude as the day she’d been born, her skin patterned with stripes of alabaster white and jet black.

Quite a sight, all of them, aren’t they?

Did Bonesaw bring some of her chimeras too?


Jack Slash noticed us, and his his eyes drifted around the arch that led from the parking garage to the wet outdoors.  He smiled, “This is not an exit.”

Well, clearly not, with the Slaughterhouse members in the way.


End of Plague 12.3

Well, that was unexpected, even though I actually predicted it at the start of the chapter. Huh.

I guess the testing is about to begin.

This was a pretty solid tactics chapter. I especially liked the whole board game analogy – that helped to spice things up a bit. I also like the idea they eventually ended up at, capturing a Slaughterhouse member and having Regent take control. That ought to be interesting.

Before they can do that, though, they have to deal with the fact that Siberian and Cherish have brought friends to their location, presumably for the sake of the testing of Bitch and Regent. We’ve got the king, the queen, a cardinal (combined bishop/knight) and a (loose) cannon… yeeah, this is not ideal for the Undertravelers.

Unless of course they’re just here to talk. But let’s be real – they’ve done enough of that in the Interludes. It’s time for some action.

This is not an exit. But it’s time for me to take my leave – see you next chapter!

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