Plague 12.5: Best Runner in Glass

Source material: Worm, Plague 12.5

Originally blogged: May 13, 2018


Hello, everybody! This is the guy who reads the thing, back to do more of that!

Last time, our main girl had to leave a hurt friend behind and run off to tell other people, like her dad and the people she decides over, about the fact that the glass bird is going to do bad stuff to the whole city soon.

This time, I think we’re going to see how that goes for her, and probably get a first look at how much of a hurt the glass bird makes. I hope she actually finds her dad and we get to see her try to tell him about the trouble without giving away the hidden truth of how she learned about it. Or better yet, forget completely about that and get caught off guard by her dad asking about it.

And then she’s going to have to tell the people in her area about it. That’s a lot of people, but she has a lot of small creatures, so she might be able to tell them in a way at least some of them will accept. She doesn’t have time to ask them all to come to one place so she can tell them in person, which would be the best at making people go and be safe.

In the bit at the end of last time, I also talked about Tiny-Run using her small creatures to lower the hurt done by the glass bird, such as by having them be in the way of the glass to slow it down. I still think that’s a thing she might do.

So yeah, without further waiting, let’s stop talking like this and get on with it! 🙂

(#xkcd.com/simplewriter)


victory mass compartmentalize warn hydrokinesis defense waterlogged antidisestablishmentarianism


I could kill them right now. 

The Nine?

It would be so easy.  Jack, Bonesaw and Cherish were all in my range.  I could drop poisonous spiders on them, sting them each with dozens of bees and wasps in the hopes of provoking anaphylactic shock.

Ohh, she was being literal. She has the ability to kill them, she’s not just expressing a restrained desire to.

Honestly, I think the only one who’s going to stand in Taylor’s way here is herself. And maybe the threat of revenge from other Slaughterhouse members, but I think it’s going to be primarily a part of Taylor’s mind that doesn’t want her to become a killer, even if the people she killed were mass murderers who have killed and would continue to kill tons of innocent people.

That’s already a strenuous argument before you consider the standing order of “kill or the world ends sooner” on Jack Slash in particular.

But there’s another thing too: This brings us right back to Arc 11 and the topic of bystanderism again, because it forces us to ask if Skitter is alreadya killer. Did she kill that one wounded Merchant, Thomas, by leaving him to die, or does that not count?

I don’t think it quite counts, but it’s still relevant to the argument, and I think Taylor might look at it differently than I do.

It would be easy, and I might save the world by doing it.  I’d get revenge for the countless people they’d murdered, for their attacking Tattletale, and maybe even save hundreds of people’s lives by distracting Shatterbird.

And by preventing them from personally killing tons of people later.

As much as I like these villains, when it comes to this moral dilemma, I’m honestly very much in favor of killing them.


But I wouldn’t be able to kill Siberian.  She’d fought Alexandria, Legend and Eidolon at the same time and walked away unscathed.  She hadn’t been able to hurt them due to her inability to fly, but she’d still survived.

Confirmation that she can’t ignore the first law of motion, only the second (I previously mentioned her ignoring the third too, but I’ve realized that was just a consequence of ignoring the second).

More to the point, she can treat incoming forces like they’re not there, but she can’t make her body move like there are forces acting on her that actually aren’t there.

If I attacked Jack, she would come after me and I’d probably die.  Would it even work?  Bonesaw was a medical tinker.  She could theoretically save all three of them.  Then I’d accomplish nothing but getting the Nine pissed off at me.

That’s why you’d go after Bonesaw first.


Oh, and I suppose not being able to fly also means gravity is exempt from Siberian’s ability to deny forces from applying to herself. Though turning off gravity would be more like super-jumping than flying, that would still apply to the Triumvirate fights as a way to get high enough to hit them.

And hey, even besides the usual flexibility of powers (like how glass powers may or may not affect sand), that can be explained by the fact that not all models interpret gravity as a force. General relativity, for example, famously interprets it as curvatures in spacetime instead.

By the way, I do think that with the forces she can deny, it’s not an on/off “forces apply to me” vs. “forces don’t apply to me”, but rather a flexible thing where she can pick and choose which forces do still apply. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to walk/run while her power was active, as the reaction to her pushing against the ground wouldn’t push her forward.


If it was just my life at stake, a part of me hoped I might do it anyways. But it wasn’t.  Others would pay the price if I got away from Siberian, and maybe even if I didn’t.

Yes, but not nearly as many as will pay the price if she doesn’t do this.

Which I don’t think she will. That would surprise me, and not just because of Jack’s plot armor (which may have been taken off in Interlude 11b).

Even if I escaped and Siberian didn’t get her hands on any of us, the added distraction and detours that came with evading her would probably mean I couldn’t make it to my dad in time.  And if I did die, Dinah might never go free.

It’s sad that Dinah almost seems to be Taylor’s primary reason to care about her own life.

Which only led to the greater question: would I be willing to trade ten lives for the hundreds or thousands those members of the Slaughterhouse Nine might potentially kill if they walked away here?  The billions, if Dinah’s prediction about Jack came true?

And here I thought we finished the trolley problem last chapter. But I suppose Taylor got off easy then, not having to choose herself.


So here’s the thing.

Taylor’s trolley problem doesn’t look like this:

tumblr_inline_p8osnmBeN11sxgvvn_1280

It looks like this:

tumblr_inline_p8oso8y67s1sxgvvn_1280

I’m not sure upping the scale like this without balancing the options against each other does the dilemma any favors. It just makes Taylor appear far more selfish if she chooses to send the trolley down the lower line, which I believe she will.

Unless I’m wrong about that, this is what sets Taylor apart from the archetypal super good hero (not to be confused with a typical Worm superhero) – a strong touch of selfishness in her heroic actions. She’s not actually interested in the greater good, only protecting those specific people she personally considers herself responsible for: Dinah, Danny, her team, her territory and – arbitrarily – Charlotte.

I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, though. I’ve been getting on Taylor’s case for focusing too much on Dinah and not being selfish enough. I don’t want to put the burden on her of having feel the same way about the whole world’s population as she does about the people she’s in a position to actually help.

No, this is something that goes beyond Taylor. This is why the archetypal super good hero who cares only about the greater good and saving as many lives as possible is not to be confused with a Worm hero. Worm heroes (and villains) are allowed to have the “flaw” of valuing some few people’s lives above many others, which makes them realistic.

(I think the closest we’ve seen to the archetype is Amy, but she’s not actually like that – she just feels like people expect her to be. I suppose Scion might actually fit, given his activity, but we don’t know much of what’s up with him yet.)

But yeah, from what I know about Taylor and the way this section is written, I feel fairly confident that she is not going to attack the Nine. With that as a foregone conclusion, making the dilemma less balanced – ten versus 2.3 to 6.6912 billion, instead of one versus five – doesn’t make it a tougher moral dilemma for the reader to consider, but rather a device that emphasizes characterization by showing how even with these overwhelming odds, Taylor picks the few she cares about over literally 33-96% of the population.

tumblr_inline_p8ou63jikr1sxgvvn_1280.png

(#those numbers do not account for increased death rates caused by the introduction of superpowers
#they do account for the story taking place in 2011 though)


Now watch as I turn out to be wrong about Taylor’s decision and half the stuff I said in that last post becomes irrelevant…


I do feel it’s worth noting that killing Jack doesn’t actually save the world. It just delays the issue, allowing another 15 or so years for humanity to prepare.


A couple friends sent these images in our Discord server:

tumblr_inline_p8ow8dOdPx1sxgvvn_500tumblr_inline_p8ow8oj5T11sxgvvn_500

…and since I was already in a headspace set on “Worm and image editing”, I couldn’t help myself.

tumblr_inline_p8owb4cylF1sxgvvn_500


Anyway, let’s get back to Taylor’s musings. 🙂

I remembered what Brian had said back when we’d found out about Dinah: the choices we made in terms of who we tried to save: those we cared about versus complete strangers.  I’d rebelled at the idea of people abandoning people to their fates simply because they didn’t know them and weren’t connected to them in any meaningful way.

Yet that is precisely what I think Taylor is going to do.

Could I be wrong?

But now that I faced having to make the call and decide if my life and the lives of just about everyone I cared about were worth less than everyone else’s, it didn’t seem so black and white.

Yeah.

I talk about the moral dilemma being a lot easier when it’s unbalanced like this, and on a global scale, but there’s a big difference between me and Taylor beyond just philosophies: She’s living it.

Logically, there are a lot of good reasons to send the trolley down the short path. But Taylor isn’t making this decision with just logic in mind. She’s the one who values the people tied to the short track, who has an emotional connection to them.


The decision to attack and kill Jack and potentially sacrifice our lives in the process wasn’t binary, I told myself.  It wasn’t limited to two options.  I would try to save the people I could tonight.

Hm, what sort of third option do you have in mind here?

Then our teams could collectively prepare to do something about Jack and the other Nine, after we were all ready to defend ourselves.

Ah! Makes sense. She’ll untie the people on the short track and enlist their help to stop the trolley while it’s going down the long track.

As much as a small part of me wanted to make the heroic sacrifice, I couldn’t throw away my life for the mere chance to kill him, and I definitely couldn’t throw away the lives of others.

Fair enough. That is a somewhat different story than if it were a certainty.


The inch deep water splashed as I ran, my feet already sore from the impacts against the pavement.  The soft soles of my costumed feet made me quieter when I walked, but it wasn’t fit for running.

Huh. I suppose she didn’t anticipate how much she would be skittering around while out in costume, due to her power letting her fight from a hidden location, like she started her career by doing against Lung.

How much of my decision just now had been because I didn’t want to kill a man?

Before she went into detail, I figured that would be her primary reason, so this is a question I’m interested in.

To what extent was she justifying not killing to herself?

I was indirectly responsible for the deaths of others.  I’d looked at the information on the capes who’d died during Leviathan’s attack and found Chubster, the fat man I’d failed to save.  Innumerable others had died because we hadn’t been able to stop Bakuda, giving her the chance to attack the city, killing forty-three people and inflicting horrific injuries on dozens more in the process.

Hell, if you allow more layers of indirectness, it can be argued that Taylor may have been a cause of Leviathan’s attack in the first place, unless there’s something to Coil’s hypothesis that he was attracted to Noelle for some reason.

But I don’t think these are cases for Taylor to beat herself up over. She did what she could. She failed, but she tried.

When Thomas, the man from the Merchants, had been bleeding to death, I’d given the order to leave him there to die.

This one, on the other hand…

I don’t think it quite counts as her killing him, but it’s the closest we’ve seen by far, and she was actively responsible for it.


There were others, too, I was sure.  A part of me was horrified that I couldn’t even keep track of it all.

Hmm…

Park Jihoo might count, but he could be considered to fall under the Bakuda umbrella from the previous paragraph even though he and people like him went unmentioned.

At the very same time, another part of me was just as horrified at the idea that I might not have the ability to pull the trigger, to deliver the venomous payload or drive the knife home. So much could hinge on that.

Pull the trigger, Piglet.

Yeah, this would be the part that… well, the same part that keeps me from swatting flies, except applied to a human in this case.

I don’t swat humans either.


I shook my head.  No.  I didn’t want to dwell on the subject of murder.  I had to save people.

Yeah, probably worth focusing on that for now. Time is limited.

The upper downtown area had no power, and it was just warm enough that people had their windows open to get some reprieve from the heat.  That made it easier.  I sent some bugs into every open window, using the roaches and flies that were already present when possible.

So are you going for the message tactic, or the “chase away from windows” tactic?

One of the two would be easier to explain afterwards without people blaming you, but the other would probably be more effective.

How many people did I have to reach?  The buildings here were anywhere from six to twelve floors, and there were anywhere from one to six apartments to a floor.  Less than half of the apartments were occupied following the evacuations, but it still made for hundreds of people on each city block.

Damn. I keep forgetting how tall this city is compared to anything near me.

I think I know of, like… three buildings within 100 kilometers of me that have 9 or more floors.

Then again, it does seem like the number of tall buildings around here is going up. Hell, there are even plans to build an enormous hotel right here in my little hometown, with… 24 floors, 8-12 times as many as most of the buildings around it… Holy fuck, I knew there was a big hotel planned, but I didn’t realize it was going to be that big!

Seriously, look at this concept art:

tumblr_inline_p8p0qoHGHm1sxgvvn_1280tumblr_inline_p8p0t044iT1sxgvvn_1280

This is insane.

(#kudos to the concept artists btw #this looks very real
#which is even more of a feat when the building itself is so out of place for the town)


I didn’t slow my pace as I worked.  Bugs swept over the surfaces of rooms for any smooth surfaces that indicated glass or mirrors.  I checked bedside tables for eyeglasses and alarm clocks.  If I found glass, a bed positioned too close to a window or mirror, something potentially dangerous on the bedside table or if there were enough attack bugs around, I attacked the residents.

Going for the chase tactic, I see.

Better some mosquito bites than glass shards.

The bugs bit, stung, or momentarily smothered them, covering their noses and mouths, waking them.

Taylor.

Taylor we’ve talked about this.

Orifices are not for bugs.


Hundreds of people at a time.

It dawned on me as worked through each bedroom in each apartment: I doubted there were five other people in the world, cape or not, who could multi-task like I was.

Heh, yeah, Taylor can be pretty damn efficient that way. I suppose the massive extent to which she can do it at this point does point to it being a part of the power.

It had to be a side-benefit of my power.  My consciousness divided a hundred ways, problem solving, performing complex tasks for a hundred different scenarios at once.

Almost like she’s a hivemind with the swarm, huh.

Once each person was awake, I had to warn them.  But that wasn’t simple – apartments without power didn’t have light, either.

Ah, right.

Got any fireflies in there?

For many, I could put the bugs on the window and spell out words with their silhouettes, but there were people with blinds and curtains that would obscure that.

See, this is one of those cases where if I’d been reading my own comments as part of the audience, I’d be quoting this:

TC: can’t it be motherfuckin
TC: BOTH THINGS. 

It’s incredible how often this is applicable when following along with a liveblog, honestly.

I forced myself to use the bug’s sensory inputs, to seek out the biggest patches of light and warmth in each room where a person was being woken up, so the bugs could cluster in those spots and hopefully be seen.

Ooh, following up on that plot thread from 12.3 in a very constructive way, nice!


But what could I write?  I looked at my cell phone to see how much time I had left. For some, where I had enough bugs and space to write, I told the bugs to spell out ‘Glass explosion 28 min’.

I suppose that works. Tells what needs to be said in a way that doesn’t leave out those who don’t know about Shatterbird and her power.

For the places I didn’t, I spelled out ‘take cover’ or ‘hide under bed’.

Nice.

Thousands of people, a thousand warnings.  I couldn’t be sure that everyone saw or listened and I couldn’t hang back to make things clearer or pass on more detailed information.

This is very much a “do what you can and hope for the best” sort of situation.

It was stupid and selfish, but I had to reach my dad.  Not for any greater plan or for the greater good, but for me.

I don’t blame you, Taylor. Go find your dad.

Because I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t.

Aw 😦


And even this, helping people here, striving to help my dad, wasn’t the extent of my responsibility.  I selected Sierra from my contact list and called her, trusting my bugs to give me a sense of anything I might run into or trip over while my eyes were on the screen.

Probably good to warn them too, yeah.

“Yes?”

“Where are you?”

“Hospital with my parents and Bryce.  You said I could have the night off, that you’d be busy.”

Ah shit.

Hospitals.

Full of people who can’t easily move to cover. Even more importantly, full of glass, in windows and otherwise, a lot of it in devices people need to live and in monitors right next to their beds.

And if Shatterbird’s power really does work on all silicon, then integrated circuits – essential to a lot of modern technology – likely won’t fare well either, breaking many of the devices that could survive glass exploding.

There is a good chance Sierra’s parents won’t make it, among countless others.


I was short on breath from the running.  “Emergency.  Shatterbird’s about to hit the city.  Twenty-seven minutes.  Warn the hospital, now.  Convince them.”

On one hand, that might be a difficult task because they have to be a bit skeptical of a random teen giving them a warning most people shouldn’t be able to give, but on the other hand? They can’t afford to be skeptical, especially in this world of capes.

It’s like a bomb threat. They have to treat it as if it’s real, even if they’re skeptical, because losses if it’s fake are much lower than losses if it’s real.

“I’ll try,” she said.  I hung up and dialed Charlotte.

“Skitter?”

“Twenty-seven minutes and change before Shatterbird hits the city with her power.  Spread the word, fast.  Avoid glass, take cover from a potential sandstorm.”

Damn, I didn’t even think of that potential use of it.

Hookwolf was right: Shatterbird’s power is versatile as fuck.


“The Slaughterhouse Nine are here?

“They’ve been here a little while.  Go!”

“Sorry, it’s just, that’s a bit of a bombshell to drop on me like this–”

“The time to deal with bombshells was eight Arcs ago. Shut up and go warn people!”

“I don’t… how?  How do I tell everyone?”

“Tell as many people as you can, tell them to tell as many people as they can.  Now go!”  I hung up, to force her to move sooner and because I couldn’t spare the breath.

The best and worst part of word of mouth: Exponential growth.

My range and fine control were extending.  This not only kept the people behind me in my range for a precious few extra seconds, but it extended my range forward and to either side, adding one hundred people to the total who fell within my range.

Oh hey, range boost time.

I’m not sure Taylor has correctly identified what state of mind relating to her trigger event is causing this. She doesn’t seem to be feeling “trapped” right now, although she does want to be somewhere else (wherever Danny is), but she is in a frantic, worried rush to help people, much like in Extermination. Not so much like Hive, though.

Come to think of it, here’s the main thing Hive, Extermination and this situation do have in common: Large portions of the city were being threatened.

However, I don’t think that’s it, at least if Tattle was right. It doesn’t relate to her trigger event, and in Hive, she was motivated more by escapism than by fighting the ABB’s threat to the city, suggesting it wasn’t really that prominent a part of her mindset right then.

Soon that became two, three and four hundred more.

Niiice.


My legs burned, my feet throbbed, and I could feel sweat soaking the fabric of my costume where the water I was running through didn’t.  On one block, the water would be only a half-inch deep, but the next might prove to be nearly a foot in depth, adding extra resistance to each movement of my already complaining legs.

Oof.

Really wish you could fly on an insect cloud right about now, don’tcha?

The block after that, it could just as easily be a split-second decision between trying to make my way past the piles of rubble and parked cars and detouring to the next block over.  Which would cost me more time?

In short: Brockton Bay sucks for running these days, especially when you’re actually trying to get somewhere.

If only Bitch and I were on better terms, maybe she could have explained about the Nine approaching her.  If I could only trust her, if she could only trust me, I could have borrowed one of her dogs, and this wouldn’t seem as impossible as it did now.

It really is a shame Taylor’s efforts to bond with Rachel didn’t get the chance to work out before Leviathan happened and the truth about Taylor came out.

But Rachel never seemed to put in any effort to meet Taylor halfway. She does have the whole dog-brain thing going to explain her behavior, but it doesn’t necessarily excuse it.

At this point, it’s getting kind of difficult to sympathize with Rachel much.


I made my way through the college area that was Regent’s territory.  The buildings here were in rougher shape.  There were fewer people to warn, but they were harder to find.  I used the bugs I could afford to check my way was clear.  Five blocks ahead of me, I could feel the presence of construction equipment, of temporary fencing and barricades.

Would that be the same construction site from 11.1?

Chancing a look at my phone, I felt a chill.  Time had flown while I’d worked, my attention elsewhere.  I had eleven minutes, and I wasn’t close enough.  I couldn’t afford to take a detour.

Ah, no, it’s a hurdle.

Welp, guess we’re heading through the construction site!

I threw every bug that wasn’t warning someone at the fencing, flying insects gripping the thin metal bars, crawling insects swarming at and under the concrete pads beneath each post.  Tens of thousands of bugs gathering together to surge forward as a single mass.  I tried pushing, pulling, trying to rock it and build enough momentum with the bugs to bring it down.

Shatterbird’s power is versatile, but so is Skitter’s.

My bugs hadn’t managed to push it over by the time I reached the fence.  It had been designed to withstand strong winds, and the concrete feet at the base of each pole gave it too much stability.

Welp.

As I got there, I had to stop running for the first time, panting for breath.  My fingers clutched the grid of fine metal wire until it hurt.

What do you do now? Climb?


The thin metal wire pressed hard against the deep tissue of my gloved fingers as I climbed the fence, while my toes scrabbled for a hold on the metal hinge that divided one section of fence from another.

Up, up and away!

Precious long seconds, maybe a minute or two and I knew I’d have to get by the fence on the far side as well.  I wobbled on top of the fence and then hopped down with a splash.  I was running again the second I had my feet under me.

I know she means once she’s steadied herself, but the idea of Taylor’s feet literally not being under her while she climbed entered my head and now I can’t help but imagine her climbing the fence upside-down.

Why wasn’t I stronger?  My disappointment in my luck and the power it had given me was an almost physical pain.

Maybe it’s because with all that daily running, you skipped arm day?

I could warn people, but I couldn’t push down a fence.  I felt cheated.

Hehe.

Imagine Taylor banging on the fence uselessly like in the Poka Poka meme:

Complete with cutesy Japanese music. :p


I managed to squeeze between the edge of the second fence and the neighboring building.  My phone showed the time as 12:33 at night.

Hey, nice, no more climbing. That ought to count for a few seconds, unless it took her a while to find and squeeze through the gap.

I had seven minutes.  Something as stupid as fences had cost me so much time.

To be fair, fences are designed for this exact purpose: keeping people from passing through.

But yeah. Might’ve been faster going around after all.

That doubt and fear that had rested with me the second I’d realized how far I’d need to travel in this short span of time was crystallizing into a dawning realization that I wasn’t going to make it.

Well, shit.


The window of opportunity for getting to the house and getting my costume off and getting dad somewhere safe was long gone.

You’d probably be better off going to him in costume, honestly.

But I’m guessing there’s no time for that either.

Even the window for doing all of that without taking the time to get my costume off was long past.  I was too far away.

Yeah.

That left only one option.  Could I save him with my power the same way I’d been trying to do with everyone else that fell in my range?

Better hope the range boost is big enough. How far away is he?

I still needed to get closer, fast.

Too far away for now, at least.

I held my phone in one hand, sneaking glances as I made my way from one block to the next.  The six-minute mark came all too fast.  The clock on my cell phone ticked to 12:36.  Four minutes left.  Three.


Judging by how far down the page I’m getting, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this chapter ends right when the figurative fireworks go off, or at most a minute later.


Then I couldn’t look anymore. I threw it aside, trusting my bugs to nudge it into a storm drain where it wouldn’t be found.  The time wasn’t exact; I couldn’t be sure exactly how much time had passed since Jack had told us about Shatterbird’s attack.

Fair.

Bit of a waste of a useful phone, though – not because of cost but because she might still need one – but I can’t blame her for wanting the clock out of her arm’s reach.

…oh wait, right. It’s not about emotions, it’s that the phone is going to explode along with everything else.

I couldn’t say if Shatterbird’s clock was a few minutes fast or a few minutes late.  There was no point on dwelling on the final minutes, and keeping my cell phone on me was dangerous.

Yeah, that.

That, and I wasn’t sure I could bear to watch the clock hit zero.

This is the part I was thinking of. Well, not just watching the clock hit zero, but nervously watching the clock in those last few minutes rather than focusing on warning people and getting to shelter herself.

Oh yeah, by the way, Taylor, you may want to do that. Spidersilk costume or not.


I heard sirens nearby.  Not just from one vehicle, but several, all getting closer.

Anyone who’s in a car when Shatterbird hits is fucked.

So are they coming to assist after reports of Skitter’s rude awakenings and bug text?

I could sense my neighborhood, and the black widows that were still where I’d put them.  Every step brought more bugs into my focus.

Oh yeah, the black widows that wove the costume I just mentioned!

Ants beneath people’s lawns, earthworms in gardens, pillbugs and earwigs under stones and objects in garages and carports, cockroaches in the darkest corners of cabinets.  I woke the people I could and left them their warnings.

I think this makes for the second chapter of Worm to explicitly feature actual worms, after 7.2.

I knew the time had to have run out.  But I was so close.  I could sense the block my house was on, the neighbor’s house.

Taylor’s house is still there, right? Didn’t she at some point mention checking on it?

I get the sense that she’s about to arrive just in time to sense her house getting glassploded, possibly with Danny inside.

Danny’s death flag isn’t catching anywhere near as much wind as it was during Buzz and Extermination, but him potentially dying and Taylor having to deal with that is not an idea I’m willing to dismiss offhandedly.

I’m not sure whether the fact that he’s currently Taylor’s only real tie back to her civilian identity makes that more likely or less likely. It can be argued either way.


And then my dad’s house.  I dropped onto my hands and feet the second I was in range, my legs aching.

countdown.png

My bugs swept over the interior.  I knew the layout, so it was quick.  Dad was in his bed, bundled up in the covers.

Oh, okay, she did arrive at least slightly in time!

He was taking up only one side of the bed, leaving the space that mom had once occupied empty.

Aww.

It was like a punch in the gut, a reminder of how alone he was.  How alone I had left him.

Yeeah, the dude doesn’t have much left but his work. And he doesn’t even know why you left, or why you haven’t returned.

Though it is possible he has suspicions. He’s probably given a lot of thought to it, to all the little things you did before you left, and to how exactly you would’ve heard the Slaughterhouse Nine were in town.


I needed more bugs to wake him, still more to write a message.  I began drawing them up to his bedroom.

I might not have noticed it if I hadn’t been listening through the bugs.

Oh boy. What is it? Shatterbird’s “song”?

I primarily heard it through the moths and beetles, a sound like someone running their finger along the rim of a wine glass, painful to hear, only it kept getting sharper and higher pitched until it was well beyond the limits of anything my human ears could hear.

Yeeeah, here we fucking go.

It was coming from the windows.

There were enough bugs in place to wake up my dad.  I could have disturbed him from his sleep… but would he react fast enough to any message I left?

Is she considering what I think she’s considering? That it might be kinder to let him go in his sleep?

Or would he sit up and put his head and upper body in harm’s way of the windows?

Okay, yeah, that’s a good point. He’d be making himself a bigger target and exposing vulnerable areas.

I couldn’t risk it.  Instead, I took the bugs near him and threw them against his alarm clock, a miniaturized version of what I had attempted to do with the temporary fence.

Shaking it off the table? Ahh, right, glass display cover.

It was thin, a tilted capital ‘L’ shape with a digital display.

Huh, that’s an interesting shape for a clock.


I pulled my knees up against my face and my hands up around the back of my head to shield myself where my mask didn’t have coverage.

Good thinking!

The alarm clock was in the midst of tipping over when Shatterbird used her power.

Oh cod.

Don’t tell me the timing of the tip just made it even more likely to hit Danny.

It was as though the glass broke in response to some invisible tidal wave, caught in the nonexistent ‘water’, carried along, shattering on impacts with surfaces, slashing anything that would cut, piercing deep into any surface soft enough.  I could feel it roll past me, south to north.

Huh, interesting. So a quick-thinking team of heroes with radio communication that happened to be spread out in the city could attempt to follow it to find where Shatterbird was when she released her “song”.

Loud. 

I suppose it’s gotta be to travel as far as it does. Very loud, even though most people don’t hear it.

The sound seemed to come a second later, like the sonic boom following a jet.  I’d halfway expected a boom, but it sounded more like a heavy impact, as loud and powerful as a bullet the size of the moon striking the city, followed by the sound of trillions of glass shards simultaneously falling like rain across the cityscape.

…interesting. Is the wave of glassplosion faster than the sound that unleashes its power?


There was a cloud to the east, where the beaches were, reaching up to the cloud level, like some pale wall.


The moment I was sure it was over, I was on my feet, running around the back to the kitchen door.  I tore off my mask as I made my way there, and some bugs helped guide my hand to the latch as I reached through the broken window of the kitchen door and opened it.

It’s been a long time since we last saw Taylor enter here.

Also, she has clearly thrown away all concern for her secret now, going in to check on Danny while wearing the costume but not the mask.

Unless she stops to take off the costume and devise an explanation for why she’s all of a sudden in the house, this is probably going to end one of two ways: Either Danny’s about to find out – or have confirmed – that Taylor is Skitter, or Taylor is going to find her dad badly hurt or dead.

I’m somewhat leaning towards the latter as far as what I think is going to happen, but I can’t deny that I’m hoping for the former. Not just because I like Danny, either, but because I think there’s more interesting story potential in Danny finding out what sort of life Taylor has made for herself, while him dying would’ve been more interesting four or five Arcs back.


I tore at the straps connecting my armor to my back as I ran upstairs, taking the steps two at a time, pulled the zipper down as I ran down the hallway.

Ah, okay, so she is taking the whole costume off. Fair enough.

Getting my arms free of the sleeves, I tied the inside-out arms around my waist.  It wasn’t nearly enough to seriously hide my costumed identity, but I wasn’t about to delay for another second.

It might’ve been easier to explain why she was in here as Skitter than as Taylor, but I think she wants to have her true face out, not have the barrier of secrecy that is Skitter’s mask in between her and Danny.

Almost none of which matters if he’s dead, of course.

I pulled open his bedroom door and hurried to his side, glass crunching under my feet.  I gingerly peeled away the layers of blankets that had draped over my dad as he was thrown from the bed.

That is bad news. To be thrown from the bed, he would have to be hit hard by the glass.

I don’t have high hopes for what Taylor is about to find under those shrouds, uh, I mean, blankets.


So much blood.  Two thirds of his face was covered in blood that looked more black than red in the gloom.  Darker lines marked where the blood was welling from.  Cuts across the side of his head, the edge of his forehead, his temple and cheek.  His ear had been almost cut in half.

Hm. Looks like we need Greenfire again. Dude’s taking regular trips to Brockton Bay these days. Tells his teammates he’s going to “practice medicine”, to their confusion.

So we’ve established that things are looking bad. But is he breathing?

There was a rattling from the window.  I looked and saw strips of shredded duct tape.  It looked like the tape had been taped around the edges, then taped in an asterisk-like pattern.

Yes! Good man, Danny, taking his daughter’s warning seriously and doing his best – if perhaps not enough, as foreshadowed in 11.1 (Taylor commenting on Danny’s glasses not being that much safer in his pocket) – to make things safer.

He’d taken my warning seriously.

I investigated further.  More blood at the back of his head.  Had the glass penetrated into his brain?  No, I could feel the edges of the glass.  It had stopped at his skull, maybe splintered under the surface of his skin.  I had no way of telling.

It doesn’t sound like he might be alive from the way Taylor is acting. But this is also not how I expected her to behave if she found him dead, so??


His hands fumbled blindly for my wrists, seized them.

DANNY! 😀

Hiya, man, how you doing?

He couldn’t see me with the blood in his eyes.  That fact didn’t make me happy or relieved in the slightest, however it might have kept him from discovering my costumed identity.

maybe.

“Taylor?”

“I’m here.  Don’t move too much.  I’m going to see what I can do.”

“I might have to call in help from this one guy I know who’s really good at burning people’s faces off. He should be done burning off Lisa’s by now.”

“Are you okay?”

“Not even scratched.”

“How?”

“I was protected by some widows down the street.”

I could see him sagging with relief.

“You were right,” he said.  He tried to stand, and I pushed him back down.

That she was – somehow…

“Stay still,” I said.  “At least until we can be sure there’s nothing more serious.”

“Right,” he mumbled.  “You took that first aid class.”

You have no idea how handy that’s been these last few months, Danny!


More glass had penetrated his blankets and sheets.  There were holes in his back, his arm and shoulder.  All bled, but none seemed to have hit any arteries, gushing or releasing copious amounts of blood.

That’s good.

It seems Danny’s status right now boils down to lots of smaller injuries that add together to look worse than they are.

It was still far more blood loss than I would have liked – his undershirt was turning crimson.

But yeah, many small streams make a big river.* You generally don’t want a river of blood flowing out of you, whether it’s from one big hole or many small ones.

I climbed over him, glass stabbing my palm as I put a hand on the ground for balance.  I wanted a closer look at his back.  Had anything hit his spine?  Fuck.  There was one hole close to the spine, around the same distance down as his belly button.

Uh oh.

Danny, can you move your legs? Your toes?

(#* mange bekker små gjør en stor å
#it’s a norwegian saying
it uses some creative syntax and an old word for ‘river’ to rhyme
#though that doesn’t carry over in translation)


I didn’t add the question about toes for no reason. It’s very much possible to have a spinal injury that causes you to lose feeling in and fine control of some or all of your toes but not the legs/feet they’re attached to. That is the case for my dad.


“Can you move your toes?”

There was a pause.  “Yes.”

Ah, good. 🙂 Let’s hope it extends to the rest of the legs. I don’t know if the reverse of what I just described can happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me all that much.

I breathed a sigh of relief.  “Then the next biggest issue is possible internal bleeding.  We need to get you to a hospital.”

Ah, yes, the hospitals. They’re in for a busy night, that’s for sure.

Especially since a lot of their equipment – both for management and for actual medical procedures – is going to be broken now.

“They hit the entire city?”

“I think so,” I told him.  No use letting on exactly how much I knew.  It would only cause the both of us more distress in the long run.

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Alright, fine, it’s pretty likely. It’s distress I wouldn’t mind reading about though.

“The hospitals will be overcrowded.”

“Yeah.  But not going isn’t an option.”

Not a good one. But if you go, Danny will probably be low priority.


“Okay,” he said.  “I’ll need my sandals, downstairs.”

I was using my power to find them by the time I was standing again.  I found something else.  There were people in our kitchen.

Now what is this. PRT? Or did some S9 member(s) decide to follow Skitter for some reason?

The Slaughterhouse Nine?  Had they followed me here?

My dad was unable to see, thanks to the blood.  I drew my bugs together into a cluster, hid them in the folds of my costume, which I had tied around my waist.  I crossed the hall to my room and found a pair of loose-fitting cargo pants from when I’d had a bit of a belly and a wider waistband.

I suppose slimming down a little might’ve been a result of the hero training. Maybe.

I zipped up the pants and tied a sweatshirt around my waist to hide the rest of my costume.  I could sense them approach.  One of them waved at a fly that flew too close to their head.  Both were men.

So it’s not two of the S9 members from the encounter earlier, then. Jack was the only man among them.

I think PRT or medics is much more likely than S9, but I don’t fully trust it. Who else could it be? Chosen or something? I don’t see why the Chosen would care about entering this house immediately after the Shattering, though, and not everyone was aware that it was coming, so most people wouldn’t enter to seek shelter in-between Skitter running in there.

…Skitter running in there. If they’re PRT, they might be after her, having been following her since she heard the sirens.


Floorboards creaked as they ascended the stairs.

Rude.

“Hello?” one of them called out.  I tensed.  I didn’t recognize the voice.  They were right by my dad’s bedroom.  I heard my dad respond and swore under my breath.

I guess they’re not going for stealth, at least. Good sign.

My knife was still strapped in against the back of my costume, which dangled around my knees.  I bent down and drew it from beneath my sweatshirt.

Hopefully she won’t need it, but who knows.

Voices.  One of them murmured something, and my dad replied.  I couldn’t make out anything in terms of the words or the tone of what they were saying.

“lorem ipsum dolor sit amet”

“uhuh”


Quietly, aiming each footstep to avoid the worst patches of broken glass, I stepped from my bedroom, my knife held low and ready.

Two paramedics were working together to shift my dad onto a stretcher.  I hurried to put the knife away.

Nice 🙂

One noticed me.  “Miss?  You’re alright?”

“I’m fine.”

“Miss Alright lives two doors down the street.”

“This your dad?”

“Yeah.”

“We’re going to take him to the hospital.  Mind making sure our way out is clear?  Maybe open the front door for us?”

“Okay.”

Sounds good.

As long as they’re real paramedics, of course, but Occam’s razor is in full effect right here. There’s no reason for them not to be real paramedics, I’m just infected by Taylor’s justified paranoia.

…I was going to comment on how the only suspicious thing was how fast they got here after the Shattering, but thinking through it a bit, I think it’s actually thanks to Taylor. Taylor asked Sierra to warn the hospital. The hospital took it seriously enough to not just do what they could for the existing patients, but preemptively send out paramedic teams to get an early start on helping the victims, and prepare the emergency rooms for the mass arrivals. Many lives may be getting saved even outside the hospital by the early warning they got because Sierra happened to be there when Taylor called.


I felt like a machine, clumsy, almost emotionless, as I led them out of the house.  There were two other ambulances parked in places I could see.  None had windshields, mirrors or headlights.

As in they’ve been shattered or they’ve been removed in advance?

The explosion had blown out the flashing lights and whatever system had handled the sirens.

Maybe some circuitry in there?

It didn’t fit.  The timing of this, their preparedness.

Except it does. Thanks to you.

But if you don’t think that through, it is possible to land on the conclusion that they’re disguised Slaughterhouse subordinates come to kidnap Danny, or something.

But they didn’t look like any members of the Nine I knew.  I could see one of the paramedics down the street – she was black.  So it wasn’t the Chosen, either.  Merchants wouldn’t be this organized or devious.

Yeah, the Merchants are just a mess in general.

Coil’s actually worth considering if you’re going down this route. It wouldn’t be the first time his soldiers used paramedic vehicles as a form of disguise.

I reminded myself of where my knife was, in case I needed to draw it at a moment’s notice.

The two paramedics began loading my dad into the back.

I can’t blame Taylor for paranoia right now. She’s been through a lot of stress in the last 45 minutes, and at first glance, the convenient timing of the paramedics does seem suspicious.


“Can I ride along?” I asked one, the second they were done.

That would be a good way to soothe the paranoia.

And also to take us, the readers, to the hospital to see more consequences of the Shattering.

He looked at me, then grabbed something large, black and irregularly shaped from a pocket beneath the stretcher.  Holding it in one hand, he put one hand on my shoulder and led me a short distance away.  My heart rate tripled.

Um.

Ummm.

My gut was telling me they weren’t normal paramedics, and this was the moment I found out just how.

“Here,” he pressed a bundle into my hands.  It was large, bulky, and there were hard bits beneath the cloth.  “You don’t want to leave this behind.”

…Is it her mask?

Where did she put that again… she didn’t say, but it seems she might’ve dropped it outside the back door, or right inside it.

I peeked at the contents of the bundle, then swallowed hard.  It was my mask and the back sheath of my armor with the stuff inside.

Yep.

I like the implication that the paramedic is totally cool with this and helping to keep her secret. They’re probably trained as such, since this sort of situation probably happens from time to time.

In my haste, I’d torn them off and left them where they fell.

“You’re with Coil?” I asked.  I felt a quiet horror at the realization that Coil would now know who my dad was, and who I was by proxy.

It might be the case, but I think what I just said works too.

Of course, if I’m onto something, there might be differences in how they’re supposed to treat heroes and villains, but no one can be expected to recognize every mask or armor piece and identify whether or not the wearer is a villain. That’s not the paramedic’s job.


He nodded once.  “More specifically, your teammates sent us.  They’d hoped we would pick you up and drive you here, but we weren’t able to find you, and we were delayed because we had to take safety measures first.”

Ahh, fair enough!

Not gonna lie, though, I really liked my idea of them being early because of Taylor’s/Sierra’s warning.

He looked towards the van.  I realized he was talking about the removal of the glass.

Yeah, I figured.

Relief surged through me, and I felt tears welling up.

That relief proved short-lived.

What now?

“Our employer feels there’s very little you’ll be able to do with your father here, and quite a bit you could do elsewhere.

Oh fuck off, Coil.

He did say he understands if you want to prioritize your family.”

Sure, but did he also tell you to put that super passive-agressive emphasis on “employer”?

My eyes widened in understanding.  Coil wanted me to attend to my territory, now, in this moment of crisis.  “He wants me to leave my dad?”

While pretending it’s up to you, yes.

It might as well have been a rhetorical question.  The paramedic didn’t respond.  I felt my heart sink.

“We’ll give him the best care we can,” he said.

Thank you.

You seem like a good enough guy. It’s just your employer who’s a dick in sheep’s clothing. I hope you didn’t take too much flak from fans for the message he had you deliver.

I turned and climbed into the ambulance.  My dad was gingerly dabbing at one of his eyes with a wet cloth.  I was pretty sure he didn’t see me.

Time to dramatically put the mask back on?

I bent over him and kissed him on the corner of his forehead, in a spot where the blood didn’t cover his face.

Aw, that’s sweet.

Y’know, besides all the blood. That’s salty-sweet, and faintly metallic.

He snapped his head up to look at me.  The white of one of his eyes had turned crimson, the green of his iris pale in the midst of it.

H’eye there.


“I love you dad,” I said, then I backed away a step.

“Stay,” he said.  “Please.”

This poor man.

I’m so sorry, Danny. Taylor can’t stay. Skitter has to go.

I shook my head.

I stepped back once again, and then hopped down from the back of the ambulance, turning away.

“Taylor!”

Here we are again.

Always like this, now.  Always walking away, knowing how much it hurt him.  I blinked more tears out of my eyes.

“You make sure he’s alright,” I ordered the paramedic, ignoring another of my father’s shouts.

The man nodded.

:’|

“I can tell him we aren’t allowing ride-alongs, just in case we need more bodies in the back.”

That would be a nice white lie.

I like this guy.

“Thank you.”

My power buzzed at the edge of my consciousness as I turned my back on the scene.

“Hey. Hey, listen. Skitter. Talk to us.”

Fuck all of this.  Fuck the Nine.  Fuck Shatterbird.  Fuck Jack.  Fuck Leviathan.  Fuck Coil.  Fuck Hookwolf.

Fuck Kaiser too, just for old times’ sake.

Fuck me, most of all.

And yeah, that’s about how I expected that to end.


End of Plague 12.5

That was a very good chapter.

We had a nice sense of urgency running through the first part of it as Taylor saved as many people as she could on her way home. Then the Shattering hit, just too late for Taylor to really save Danny from it like she was trying to, but fortunately, Danny’s a smart cookie and knows to take Taylor seriously.

Then at the end we had a bit of paranoia directed at some paramedics who, indeed, turned out to not quite be what they seemed. I liked my explanation for why they could be regular paramedics, but that wasn’t what the story needed right now. Right now it needed someone who could bring Taylor the message that Coil wanted her to take care of her territory.

And with another painful departure from the Hebert family house as Danny begged her to stay, Skitter took off to do just that.

So next chapter, it’s time to find out how badly things went there. I’m going to refrain from speculating much right now because I fucked up and did a chapter in one really long session again, and all I really want to do right now is go to sleep. More on what I expect for next chapter in next chapter’s intro post!

Until then, I leave you with this:

tumblr_inline_p8ou63jikr1sxgvvn_1280

See ya!

2 thoughts on “Plague 12.5: Best Runner in Glass

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s