Plague 12.8: Morning After Blues

Source material: Worm, Plague 12.8

Originally blogged: May 26-27, 2018


I know the world can get ya down
Things don’t work out quite the way that you thought
Feeling like all your best days are done
Your fears and doubts are all you’ve got

But there’s a light, shining deep inside
Beneath those fears and doubts so just squash ‘em
And let it shine for all the world to see
That it is time, yeah, time to read Wo-orm!

Ah, ah, ah, ah – Wo-orm!
It’s time to read – this chapter!
Ah, ah, ah, ah – Wo-orm!
It’s time to read – this chapter!

Howdy!

Last time, Taylor broke a doll. Whoops!

This time, she’s probably going to be feeling the guilt of not having managed to save the four people Mannequin killed before she could stop him. But even with Taylor, it would be both difficult and excessive to fill an entire chapter with that, so other things are also going to happen. Which other things depends largely on where she’s headed now. Is she going off to her Hive? Seeking out Tattletale and/or Danny? Heading to a different part of her territory to help out there?

I think I’d prefer one of the first two options. The last one just sounds like it’d feel repetitive after 12.6.

No matter where she goes, it’s possible she’ll run into another Slaughterhouse member, though improbable. There’s only eight of them, and a big city. Effectively seven for this purpose, since we’re not running into Mannequin again so soon, and at least three of them are likely to not be anywhere near Skitter’s territory.

But yeah, much like Skitter right now, this chapter could go in a lot of different directions. I should probably just dive in and find out which one it takes!


I hadn’t actually slept in for a long, long time.

…the conversation I was in during the minutes before I scrolled down to read this sentence:

[Discord]

I-AM-YOUR-LORD:
do you people sleep

Optiprism:
No
Why you asking?

Member of the Midnight Crew [me]:
What the hell is sleep

Optiprism:
Me personally, I haven’t slept in like 3 years

(I’m “Member of the Midnight Crew” in this screenshot.)

It was not the start I wanted for my day.

Ah, right. Taylor’s in the mindset where sleeping in is not a luxury, but a failure.

So it turns out we’re not following right on from the end of the last chapter. Due to the amount of immediate continuity between chapters recently, I didn’t actually consider that possibility.

I guess that means she went back to the Hive to recover.

I’d been too tired to sleep, I hadn’t been able to get my thoughts to slow down, and I hadn’t been able to resist just one more check of my territory to ensure people were safe and sound.

Checking if people are okay is Taylor’s version of checking her phone in bed.

I don’t know if that’s funny or just sad.

Compounding it all were my injuries, which did an excellent job of jolting me from the twilight of almost-sleep any time I moved the wrong way or shifted position.  When daylight had started to stream in through the slits in the metal shutters, I’d pulled a pillow over my head and tried to get just a few hours more.

I guess she must’ve managed it eventually, because at this point it doesn’t sound like she slept in.

If I wound up having to face down Mannequin or any other members of the Nine, I’d need to be well rested.  Running on two or three hours of sleep would get me killed.

…that’s probably true, yes.

It sure didn’t feel like the added sleep I got made any difference.

I think sometimes it’s worse to get a short sleep than a very short or no sleep, due to the sleep getting interrupted before it can properly end. Like turning off a computer without a soft shutdown, but for the sleep cycle.


My injuries and the general aches from running barefoot and fighting Mannequin had all melded together into one giant, stiff bruise.

This is how the name Bruce came to be. “Hi, I’m a bruise.”

It would be easier to name the parts of me that didn’t hurt.  My chest was the worst, each of my breaths drawing a stab of pain from the lowermost ribs of the right side of my body.

No wonder. She kept getting knocked back by hits to the chests, if I’m not mistaken.

It took me two tries to get up from my bed and stand.

Ow.

A quick investigation showed that bruises had spread across my abdomen, yellow and blue.

This reminds me of the aftermath of Hive.

Some careful prodding showed that the tissues beneath the bruises weren’t rigid or particularly tender.  That meant there was no serious internal bleeding, if I was remembering right.

Well, that’s good at least.

If this kept up, I was going to need another go at the first aid courses, to refresh my memory on the particulars and brush up on my skills.  February felt so very long ago.

A lot has happened since then, yeah.

So much had happened in the last few months.

Yes, Taylor, I already said that. :p


Shuffling over to my bathroom, I groaned quietly at the sight of the shards of mirror and shower door that were carpeting the floor.

“Oh come onnn.”

Yeah, gonna take a bit of work before this bathroom can be used.

I made my way back to my room and put on some slippers, grabbed a shirt I didn’t care much about and dropped it on the bathroom floor.  I kicked it around enough to get the worst of the shards out of the way, brushed the glass out of the shower and onto the tiled floor, and then cranked the shower on.

I suppose that’s good enough for now.

The water pressure wasn’t even half of what it should be, and it was cold.  It didn’t warm up over the thirty seconds I stood there holding my hand under the flow.

I guess something’s broken in the water heater. Maybe it’s advanced enough to use a computer chip? Or maybe there was a glass window on it or something.

I jumped in anyways, in the hopes of waking myself up and getting my hair wet enough that I could make myself look somewhat presentable.

If this is the result of glass involved in the heater system, better hope shards of it don’t come through the pipes.

I knew from experience that not washing my hair had a way of making it frizz out hardcore.  Not that I’d be able to tell, with every mirror within a thousand miles in pieces.

Hehe. Sounds like major fanart potential.

Also, imagine if Shatterbird were superstitious about mirrors…


I dried off, put on my contacts, combed my dripping-wet hair into place, and stepped back into my slippers to navigate through the sea of glass shards and head back to my bedroom to dress.

Y’know, considering that every window in the building is broken, it’s probably a good thing Shatterbird hit in late spring rather than, like, the winter. And that Brockton Bay is explicitly a relatively warm place.

My TV, laptop and phone were all useless.  There was no way to get information on recent events.  I couldn’t call the others, couldn’t check the news for details on the events of the past night, couldn’t even know if I’d managed to save anyone when I’d been waking them and leaving messages.

Once again, Shatterbird’s versatility shows: She deals considerable damage to both people and property, she puts communications out of order, she flies or at least hovers, she breaks tons of equipment that could be used against her or the other Fellowship members, she obscures vision (through sandstorms), makes it risky to cross ground without being careful by covering it with glass, she creates obstructions (like the glass walls she put up against Hookwolf), and so on. It’s a really good power as long as you’re fine with and/or want collateral damage.

And apparently she’s not the only one who has it, either. Let’s not forget that tidbit.

I was left to expect the worst, and it soured my already iffy mood.

Yeeeah… the mood has been quite tangibly sour so far, even though nothing had really been said about it until this point. Good writing.

(#yes my memory sucks from time to time but i do remember some minor setting details from way back in 1.2
#like brockton bay being warm #which is good for both capes and bugs)


I made my way downstairs, unlocking the door that led between the second and third floors.  The second floor was relatively unscathed – the metal shutter had kept the floor-to-ceiling windows from sending their contents indoors, and the terrariums were hard plastic rather than glass.

Oh, nice. I actually did spare a stray thought for the terrariums at some point last chapter, but I don’t remember why and I don’t think I wrote it down.

Knowing Shatterbird was in town, I’d been reluctant to spend much time in a room with sixty or seventy sturdy glass cases, and I was glad to have one less room to clean.  Still, there was no shortage of mess.

Yeah, good call there.

…wait, sixty or seventy??

I was picturing, like… twelve at most.

I guess they’re smaller than I thought.

Sierra and Charlotte were downstairs, talking at the kitchen counter.  They fell silent as I appeared.

Hi there. Are we about to deal with the issue Charlotte brought up over the phone, that Skitter should’ve informed them that she was aware of the Slaughterhouse Nine being in town, and more generally that there needs to be more open communication?

They didn’t speak as I walked over to the cupboard.  Tea.  Tea, maybe some toasted breakfast pitas, some bacon, an egg…

Whatever they were talking about, they probably don’t want Skitter to hear them talking about it. It’s most likely either that or they’re distracted by watching her moves.


Opening the cupboard, my hopes of having a solid breakfast to start my day were dashed. Bottles of spices that had been on the same shelf as the teabags had exploded, sending their contents and countless glass shards throughout the cupboard.

Sheesh. Nothing’s working out today, is it.

The cupboard reeked of cinnamon and cumin and various peppers.  They weren’t the only casualties there.  Bottles of cooking supplies had exploded on the upper shelves, and their contents had settled overnight, most of it pooling on the shelves in layers of congealed liquid that were thick with the needle-thin particles of shattered glass.

The fridge, assuming there is one, probably isn’t faring any better. Especially if its shelves were made of glass.

I looked at the pair of them.  Neither spoke, and Charlotte even looked away.

Yeeah, definitely an issue here.

I hated this.  Hated feeling flawed, knowing they saw me that way.  Being bruised, sore and stiff, I was visibly mortal to them.

I don’t think that’s the problem, though.

I hadn’t been able to stop Mannequin from hurting bystanders, or protect and warn my people about Shatterbird.  How were they supposed to respect me as someone in charge?  Sierra was even older than I was.

You did, though. You didn’t do a perfect job of it, no, but you were able to stop him from hurting more bystanders, and you were able to warn at least some of your people about Shatterbird via Charlotte. Hell, you even warned more people on your way to your dad. Sierra and especially Charlotte personally saw you doing everything you possibly could to make a difference, as a leader of the territory and otherwise.

Your standards for yourself are too high.


Well, I’d have to make use of them anyways.  My focus on the cupboards and the damage inside, I asked, “Charlotte, you up for a job?”

Cleaning duty? I don’t suppose it’s as easy as going to the store under these conditions – there’s tons of glass in most stores that carry these sorts of products. Any given food store is going to look a lot like the inside of these cupboards.

“Yeah,” she said, behind me.  When I glanced back at her, she looked away again.  I knew I’d taken some hits, but did I look that bad?

Again, I think this is about communication. She’s clearly still loyal, but I think she has her thoughts about the fact that she wasn’t told this might happen and isn’t sure she can face Skitter with them.

“It’s a bit of a walk, but I need to get up to date on events.  You’ll be going to the territory of a guy named Regent.  He’s a friend, and it’s close.  Tell him about the Mannequin incident, tell him I’m alive, and get details on what happened to Tattletale and the father.”

Oh, I see. She wasn’t literally focusing on the cupboards, that’s just where she was looking.

This is a quite sensible course of action.

Also, “the father” – interesting phrasing there. I’m guessing it’s for Sierra’s sake, so as to not let on which father she’s talking about. Charlotte can probably figure it out fairly easily, though, especially once she talks to Alec.


“The father?”

“He should know what I mean.”

“Okay.”  She met my eyes as she responded.  Better.   I wrote the address down for her, then watched as she headed off to pull on her shoes and make her way off to the cellar exit.

Regent: “Huh. I didn’t know the dork was religious.”

“And me?” Sierra asked.

“Go to the basement, get a box of supplies, and bring it up.  There should be a propane stove in there.  Cook up some rice, and then start cleaning out the cupboards.

Ah, so Sierra gets the cleaning duty.

Wear gloves, and focus on picking out the stuff we can keep from the stuff that needs to be thrown out.  Use the box from the supplies to hold some of the extra trash if you need to.”

Makes sense. There’s still going to be a couple things that weren’t ruined by the Shattering in there. Like bottles made of hard plastic.

“Okay.”

I walked over to the corner to find a broom and dustpan.

Are you going to help with the cleaning too?

“You’re cleaning up too?”

“Yeah.  You were at the hospital last night, right?  How did things go?”

I would very much like to know that too.

…are your parents alive?


“Nobody listened to me at first when I tried to warn them.  It was only when Battery showed up at the hospital and confirmed that the Slaughterhouse Nine were around that people started trying to prepare, but there wasn’t a lot we could do in those ten minutes.

Go Battery!

So wait, why did she show up right then? A result of the meeting, maybe? It’s not like the PRT didn’t know the Slaughterhouse Nine were around before, though. They could’ve done this earlier, though they’d risk causing a bit of panic.

Unless either Battery knew about the incoming attack (possibly due to someone from the Slaughterhouse warning Armmaster, or due to Skitter’s warnings to the civilians) or they agreed to it at the meeting, there’d be no difference prompting the PRT to do this now as opposed to before.

There were a lot of people in the hospital, and a lot of equipment, monitors and displays, lots of windows.  Everyone who could got under their beds, and people put mattresses against the windows in rooms where there were people who couldn’t move.”

Ooh, nice.

The equipment getting busted would still kill a lot of people on its own, but at least they could minimize the danger from the windows.

“But they were okay?”

“Most?” Sierra frowned. “I couldn’t really tell.  It was chaotic, lots of people running around, equipment failing.  Battery tried to grab me to ask me how I knew what was happening, and I used the chaos to slip away, spent the rest of the night in my parent’s room, hoping she wouldn’t spot me.”

I wonder what Battery would do if Sierra told her the truth, that she was warned by Skitter. I do think that would reflect positively on Skitter, at least.

“And they’re okay?  Your parents?”

“They’re okay.”

That’s good to hear. And I guess Bryce is okay too, or Sierra would be far more upset than this. Same thing would probably be the case if her parents weren’t okay, for that matter.


I smiled a little.  “Well, that’s good.”

She smiled back.  “You know, you’re not what I expected.”

…fuck. I think I might ship it.

Ships aside, though, this is a very good line. Taylor might take it the wrong way, though, since she’s concerned about her subordinates not seeing her as a strong, inhuman leader.

But I don’t think a strong, inhuman leader is what she needs to be. She needs to be a competent, human leader.

There’s a difference between strong and competent.

“I’m not what expected, frankly,” I said.  I turned my attention back to the cabinet, found the dustpan and stood up.

Heh.

A good line answered with another good line.

“That reminds me-”  She paused.  “Nevermind.”

…hm?


“Say it.”

“It wasn’t last night, but I overheard something at the hospital.  Something involving you and Armsmaster?”

Oh shit.

Time for Sierra to learn some backstory, perhaps?

I sighed, suddenly reminded of how weary I felt.  I saw her expression fall.  She said, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“No.  It’s fine.  What did you hear?”

“That you betrayed your team, and that you’d wanted to be a hero but, um,” she paused, “Couldn’t?”

That’s… not quite what happened? Although I guess it works with a certain definition of “couldn’t”.

She’d changed her mind about how she was going to finish speaking.  What had she left out, and had she stopped herself from saying it for my sake or for her own self-preservation, not wanting to piss off the villain?  I wanted to be a hero and I failed? 

Hmm. Perhaps.

It’s still not quite accurate, unless you mean “failed to resist the temptation of actually having friends for once”.


Given recent events, I wasn’t sure I could blame her for thinking along those lines.

“No, that’s not exactly right,” I responded.  “Long story short, once upon a time, I wanted to be one of the good guys.”

“Then I didn’t. The end.”

“What happened?”

“Took me a while, but I decided I’d rather have the likes of Tattletale and Grue at my back instead of siding with the sort of people who follow Armsmaster.”

Yeah, though a lot of those people do seem to be a bit more decent than Vriskmaster turned out to be.

And, hell, even he seems to be getting a redemption of sorts, with more recent chapters showing his better side.

But none of that is stuff Taylor knows.


“Really, Armsmaster?  Is he that bad?”

“Bad enough that Mannequin wants him to be the ninth member of their group.”

That should be some food for thought.

‘Course, might want to avoid mentioning that you just sent Charlotte to someone with the same distinction. Though it’s a little different since Alec was nominated out of spite.

Sierra’s eyes widened.

I figured I wouldn’t mention that two of my teammates, including the one I’d sent Charlotte to meet, had also been nominated.  Regent had only been nominated out of spite, and Bitch… I wasn’t sure what the story was there.

Ahaha! I just said that, Taylor!

Well, I did deliberately leave Bitch out of it, but still.

Speaking of her, it seems Taylor is giving her the benefit of the doubt. I wonder if she’d still do that if Regent hadn’t been nominated.


“I’m going to be upstairs, cleaning up the balcony and the other rooms.  Give me a shout when the rice is done, or if you find anything breakfast-ish that’s edible.”

“Okay.”

I guess that’s all she’s getting for now.

I headed up to my bathroom and began to sweep up.  I deployed bugs to help me find the shards that the broom wasn’t catching.

Handy!

I occupied myself with my other bugs as well.  I went out of my way to avoid using the spiders I’d employed to fight Mannequin, drawing from bugs in the streets and surrounding area instead.  I sent the weakest, smallest and most useless of the bugs to my spiders for a morning meal, then fed the non-spiders who were a little less reliant on protein.

Breakfast is served!

With the other nearby bugs, I started collecting the smallest pieces of glass throughout the house.

Using bugs to help do this is a very good idea, especially since she can multitask so effectively with them. It can help her get the cleaning done like a hundred times faster.


[End of session]


Random 4 AM prediction: At some point there will be a character (if there isn’t one already) whose civilian name is Rose. It seems like most works I’m actively in the fandom of has one at this point.

(#Steven Universe #Homestuck #Miraculous Ladybug #mlp:fim #rwby #ranma 1/2 #doctor who #sonic
#(though I’m not really actively a fan of the last two)
#there’s probably still more I’m forgetting
#I’m guessing there’s a rose somewhere in #the wheel of time #since that series has over 2700 named characters
#rose bouquet)


[Session 2]


The uncertainties of the day, the worries about Lisa and Dad, having my routine disrupted and the spoiling of my breakfast and morning shower had put me in a bad mood.

Yeah, bit of a shitty morning after, this.

It would have been nice to say that it made me feel better, getting things in order again, and it did, but it wasn’t a cure-all nor was it a perfect distraction.  There was no way I could relax with the things I had hanging over my head.

At least it’s a little help?

But yeah… guilt time?

Doing this felt like I wasn’t doing something to help Dinah.

Boom, there we go.


Once I finished the bathroom, I tidied my room and opened the shutters on the windows.  Glass that had fallen against the shutter sloughed off to the second floor balcony, with stray shards falling onto the hardwood.  My bugs obligingly fetched them up for me.

AU where the Slaughterhouse Nine have a member whose power is to control window shutters. Her name would be Shutterbird.

Reams of glass shards fell as I opened the heavy shutters that stood just behind the pedestals with the mannequins I was using to design the costumes.  I stepped out onto the balcony and set about sweeping up the glass and dumping it into the trash can, using my bugs to collect what the dustpan wasn’t catching.  I wasn’t in costume, and I was in plain sight on the balcony, but I doubted the concentration of bugs was enough to draw attention.

O Taylor, Taylor! Wherefore art thou Taylor? Deny thy father and refuse thy name. Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Wilbourn, Kiley, Laborn, Dallon or… whatever my surname may be depending on the reader’s preference!

Ten minutes passed before I heard from Sierra.  I assumed it would be about the food, but it wasn’t.

…oh?


The main thing keeping me from more wholeheartedly shipping Taylor and Sierra was that I wasn’t sure how much older Sierra was. Upon some archive diving, I’ve just found that she’s twenty or so [here].

That makes this a ship I’m only really okay with as long as it’s aged up. Still, under those circumstances, I think it could be good.

(#this is the same age difference as in the case i mentioned while reeling from senegal)


“Skitter!  You’ve got company!”

Did Regent come with Charlotte, or is this someone else?

Most importantly, are they friendly?

I think the best scenario would be that it’s Tattletale, already recovered enough to be up and running.

Every bug I had in the cabinets and corners of the room streamed forth to check the intruder, my thoughts immediately shifting into a combat mode.  What escape routes did I have?  Could I help Sierra if there was trouble?  What tools and weapons did I have on hand?

It’s a bit paranoid, but it’s entirely justified right now. For the most part, Sierra and Charlotte wouldn’t know who is or isn’t friendly, with the exception of Grue, Lisa (in Charlotte’s case), the Coildiers (and as far as I’ve gathered, the Coildiers aren’t exactly uniformed) and the more obvious Slaughterhouse members like Mannequin, Shatterbird and Crawler. And none of the last three would be the type to stop politely at the entryway.


The second my bugs settled on the intruder and felt that familiar emanation of outward pressure, like a faint breeze, I calmed down.

That would be Grue. Hi!

I felt a mite embarrassed as I made my way downstairs to greet Grue.

It’s okay, he was probably expecting it.

“Christ, T- Skitter!” he exclaimed, the second he saw me.

…right. “Every bug” is probably a bit much.

“What?”

“Your, um-” he gestured at Sierra shaking his hand, agitated.

Drone. If it were up to me, anyway.

So what did Sierra do, when– oh! That’s not it. Taylor seems to have forgotten she’s out of costume.

Whoops!


“Employee?”  I suggested.

“Your employee just informed me that you fought Mannequin last night?”

Oh, never mind, I guess.

“Yeah.”

“Are you suicidal!?”

This is not an unreasonable response, regardless of how much Taylor has proven her skill. Mannequin is quite dangerous and Grue may be just as aware of Mannequin’s power being well suited to keeping bugs out as Taylor was.

“He’s not that strong,” I said, defensively.  “I mean, scary as fuck, he’s strong, but he was beatable.”

“Do you not recall the very specific numbers we got on our chances against these guys?  Fifty-five percent chance we die if we fight them!”

Oh yeah!

Then again, who knows what sort of scenarios were counted in that? Do 1-on-1s count, or did Dinah assume all-on-all? We just don’t know.

Coil isn’t always careful enough with his wording when asking for the numbers, as highlighted when Dinah was first introduced. Minor differences in the terms and points where he’s not specific enough can make a major difference in the numbers.


“There were people in danger.  My people.  I thought a forty-five percent chance of survival was worth the risk.”

Honestly, it didn’t seem like she considered the risk much at all.

He tapped his finger against the forehead of his helmet.  I could almost make out the noise through the thin emanation of his power.  “Could you ask your employee to give us some privacy?”

Grue really doesn’t like what he’s hearing, it seems. Makes sense – Taylor’s heroic side is showing again.

“I can go for a walk,” Sierra said.

“Thank you,” I told her, “I’ll signal you with my power when we’re done.”

The range of Taylor’s power is quite practical.

My heart was speeding up just a bit as we waited for her to leave.  I distracted myself by limping over to the propane stove that was positioned on the countertop and checking the rice.  There were containers and boxes of food arranged on the counter that Sierra had apparently checked and deemed edible.  Nothing especially good for breakfast.

Of course, because we can’t have the morning improved by good breakfast.

As the door closed behind Sierra, I hugged my arms against my body and said, “Please don’t tell me you asked her to leave because you have bad news about Lisa or my dad.”

…ahh. No wonder her heart was speeding up.


Grue pulled off his helmet and the darkness dissipated around his head.  It was Brian’s frowning face I saw, now.  “Your dad is fine.  He was already fully checked out and sent home.  Lisa is… less fine.”

Uh oh.

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s not life threatening.  I just don’t know if it’s hit her yet.

Good, so she’s alive at least. That was not a death euphemism.

But… if what’s hit her yet? Did something about the injury mess with her ability to continue working on the team or something? Or… make her mute? No, she’d notice that pretty quickly…

Coil’s doctor stitched her up, but he told her to expect a scar.  I don’t know if it’s shock, the blood loss, or if it’s that she hasn’t seen herself in a mirror, but she doesn’t seem to care.  Cracking jokes, even.  Isn’t- is it sexist of me to wonder why a girl doesn’t care more about her looks being spoiled?”

Ahh.

Hey, we’re back to Brian’s lowkey sexism – and this is also a great example of why it’s not as bad as it could be: he’s self-aware about it. He knows some of the view of women his dad beat into him isn’t right, he’s just not entirely sure which parts, and he’s trying to correct himself.

“It’s easily possible she does care,” I said.  I was thinking back to her interactions with our enemies in fights.  In particular, our run-ins with Glory Girl and Panacea during the bank robbery and Jack Slash last night seemed to stand out.  “I think maybe she handles stress and problems by throwing herself headlong against them.  It’s how she operates in costume, against serious threats and unexpected situations.

That sounds about right. It’s what she does – she catches enemies off-guard by acting completely unfazed and uses that along with her knowledge to manipulate them.

It makes a lot of sense that she’d extend that M.O. to other problems.

There’s a word I’m trying to pin down, it’s not reckless, but-”

Brash? Spiteful? No, spiteful sounds more like Amy when she’s dealing with Taylor. I think I’ll go with brash.

Actually, looks like brash has a lot of meanings that don’t all fit what I’m going for. Impudent is probably better.


“I think reckless may be a very good word to choose,” Brian replied.

Her impudence can result in recklessness, yes. That’s gotten her in trouble more than once.

“No.  It’s…” I reached for the word and couldn’t find it.  I was too tired, and my brain wasn’t really in that gear.

“I’m surprised, sometimes, at how much attention you pay to us.  You seemed to have Rachel down cold, and your description of Lisa seems pretty apt.  Makes me wonder how you’ve analyzed me.”

To be fair, she got a little help when it came to Rachel, and Lisa is her best friend.

But yeah, Taylor is a fairly good judge of character. We’ve seen that plenty of times.

“I’m not all that.  Really.  There are exceptions, but dealing with people isn’t my thing,” I said.  Feeling awkward, I distracted myself with the rice, taking it off the propane stove and scooping some out into a bowl.

She’s better at understanding people than at dealing with them.

Holding the pot, I pulled at the wrong muscle and felt my rib protest.  I winced, and I wasn’t able to hide it.

Ow.


Taylor is decent at understanding people, but she tends to ignore the potential for there to be sides to them that she doesn’t see, and she’s had a history of a very black and white view of people that still hasn’t quite left her. She’s just stopped equating that divide with the hero/villain divide.


Noting my pain, Brian commented, “I can’t help but worry you’re self destructing, Taylor.  You can’t go up against the Nine to protect people you don’t even know.”

That’s what the heroes do. And even then, two out of the five heroes we’ve seen actually encounter a Slaughterhouse member without that Slaughterhouse member coming specifically to nominate them ran away without a fight, and at least two of the others didn’t have that option.

“I can.  I’ll manage.”

“How much sleep did you get last night?”

He’s onto her.

“Dunno.  Two or three hours, but I slept in.  What time is it?”

“Nine.”

“Maybe four hours?”

Better than nothing, but not enough.

“You’re going to run yourself into the ground at this rate.  Or get yourself killed.  Take your time.  Go on the defensive, tell your people to stay out of trouble and avoid drawing the Nine’s attention, rest.  You can work on this territory thing over the next few weeks, instead of days.”

Grue is right. Taylor has been working herself way too hard, and still feels guilty about not working harder.


I shook my head, “I can’t.”

“Right.  Just like you rejected Hookwolf’s suggestion that our groups take a break.  I won’t say that hearing you muttering to yourself was the entire reason I refused his offer, or even half the reason, but it was a factor, and I think I deserve answers for going up to bat for you.

Coming clean about how much she wants to help Dinah might be healthy for Taylor, though I doubt Brian will approve.

What’s going on?”

“I made a deal with Coil.”

Brian folded his arms, much as I was doing.  “What deal?”

“I made a deal with the devil.”

Although judging by my ToC “titles”, the devil was Kaiser.

[screenshot from the ToC]

Interlude 3½ – Deal with the Devil

“He said that if I can prove my services are worth it, he’ll release Dinah.”

Which he’s not going to do. Coil can set the bar however high he wants, and unless she changes her mind significantly, Skitter probably isn’t going to go through with leaving Coil’s employ if he doesn’t release Dinah – especially since neither party set a timeframe for it – because it feels too much like giving up and failing Dinah, and I think Coil has that figured out.

It’s a sucker’s deal that allows Coil to put lots of pressure on Skitter with no real risk of her going “fuck this shit I’m out”.


Brian shook his head.  “No.  There’s got to be more to it.  You’ve been distant, driven, and you’ve done some very un-Taylor-like things in the past few weeks.”

She does focus ridiculously hard on Dinah. It’s not far-fetched that it’s partially a form of denial about the other things driving her.

I ate some of the plain brown rice.  Could I tell him?

“There is more to it.  Lisa and I talked it over after the Endbringer thing.  She doesn’t like the Dinah situation either, even if she’s more willing to roll with it.”

Where is this going?

“Right.  Just for the record, I’m not in love with the kidnapping and confinement of some kid, either.”

And yeah, it’s much the same case with Grue, though he’s even less willing to do something about it.

I nodded.  “So Lisa suggested the deal.  But knowing Coil, and from what Lisa says, and from the way Coil framed it when I posed the deal to him and just my gut, I- we don’t think he’s going to let her go.”

Oh right, I forgot she was the one behind that idea.

But yeah, good to hear she’s not completely fooled.


“No, I don’t think he would.  Her talents are too valuable for him.  But that doesn’t explain your attitude lately.”

I shook my head.  “I-”

I stopped and raised one hand.  Sierra was outside, not too far away, and there was a small group of people around her.  What had gotten my attention was the fact that she was tapping her finger against the origami cube.  She’d wanted to signal me without doing anything overt, maybe.

…um. Citizens, perhaps, wanting Skitter’s attention and going to the redhead they’d seen going around gathering information for her?

The tapping would then be because she didn’t want Skitter to attack the people.

Or without my calling a swarm down to her location.

“-Something’s going on outside.  Come with?”

Sounds good.

Brian nodded.

I headed upstairs and got my costume on in record time.  I couldn’t help but note how dusty it was from last night’s encounter, and how the one arm was still crusty with old containment foam.

Alright, that confirms it – it wasn’t called attention to (maybe meaning it’s happened before, offscreen), but Sierra has now seen Skitter out of costume.


It was torture to actually get my limbs into the legs and sleeves and zip up, and to contort myself to attach my armor.  Especially doing it quickly.  I ended up enlisting Brian’s help with the armor at my shoulders and back.

This is more relatable than it has any right to be.

I could feel Sierra’s steady but insistent tapping on the cube all the while.

“Come on, come on, come on…”

Seems like whatever the people around her want, they’re pressuring her.

They were a short distance down the beach, but they started walking towards us a little bit after we entered the storm drain, and met us halfway.

How did they know to start walking?

Sierra was in the company of a pair of Japanese boys and a petite Chinese girl with a pierced nose and a thousand-yard stare.  There was a degree of attitude coming from them that was all too familiar.  Gang members.  Of course.

I should’ve known the ABB wouldn’t stay entirely irrelevant.

Just because Lung and Bakuda were no longer around didn’t mean there wouldn’t be scraps of the ABB in the area.  They wouldn’t be liked, but they were there, they were equipped for trouble and criminal activity was all they knew.

Yeeah. And if they find another leader, they might come back in force.


“Sorry to interrupt your business meeting,” Sierra said, looking from me to Grue.

“It’s fine.  What’s going on here?”  I controlled the tone of my voice.  They didn’t seem too fazed by this encounter with two supervillains.  Were they veterans of Lung’s rule?  Or Bakuda’s?

Maybe both?

A Japanese guy with a mop of hair covering his eyes and a bad slouch looked from Sierra to me and spoke in a very American accent, “You still looking for muscle?”

Ohh!

Hey, look! They found a new leader for the Arduous Bug Bites!


He didn’t look like he had much muscle, but I wasn’t about to comment on that.  If nothing else, I was a little too stunned at what he was offering to say anything witty.  “Pretty much.”

It makes a load of sense. Skitter’s a villain who lacks muscle willing to work for a supervillain. They’re muscle who lack a villain to work for. The pieces fit together beautifully.

I wonder what Lung would think if he learned that parts of his gang had gone to the annoying bug kid for work.

“We heard you took on Mannequin,” the girl said.  “That’s ballsy.”

It really was.

“Thanks,” I said, in my driest tone.  Stupid as it was, that statement meant something to me.  Nobody had really congratulated me since my fight with Mannequin.  hadn’t congratulated myself.

Yeah, see? It was a victory.

It was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that they respected me for what had happened with Mannequin.  A victory was a victory, but people had gotten hurt, I’d gotten hurt.

Yes, and thanks to you, way fewer people got hurt than if you hadn’t stepped in.


The second Japanese guy spoke up.  He was in his early twenties and his accent was thick enough that I didn’t realize he was speaking English at first.  He pronounced ‘girl’ more like ‘gurru’.

That’s pretty thick.

“Other day, girl was knocking on neighbor’s door, talking about you.  Said you was good boss.  Nice, generous, fair.  But we think that means you weak, before, not so much of that now.”

I like this sense of payoff.

I shook my head slowly.  “No.  I’m not weak.”

“We know you has trouble with Lung and ABB before.  Not friendly.  But they gone, we still here.”

I suppose that means they no longer really identify as “ABB”, though they’ve still been shaped by their experiences in the gang.

“You should know this isn’t about preying on the people in my territory.  Just the opposite.  If you’re looking for an excuse to bully the people around here, you’re in the wrong place.  The only people we fuck with are our enemies.”

Good to get that out in the open where everyone can see it, yeah.

There were nods from all three.

“No starting violence, no drug dealing, no prostitution, no threatening people, and no drug use or drinking unless it’s a hundred percent limited to your own time.”

Gonna take a bit of getting used to, maybe, but these seem like reasonable terms.


A look passed between the two boys.  Which of my points had given them that momentary hesitation?  Still, they nodded again.

I’m guessing that last one.

“Do you guys have a place?”

“Nah,” said shaggy-hair.

“Come on,” I said.

Welcome aboard.

I led them to the nearest spot to get from the beach to the old Boardwalk, and into the Docks.

I had our destination in mind.  During my stay in the area, nobody had occupied it.  A thorough check of the structure found no splintering supports or framework, and there was no crumbling masonry.

Oh, neat, she’s giving them a place to live separate from the Hive.

Wait, didn’t the one with the thick accent talk about a “neighbor”?


I opened the doors and strode inside, followed by the new members and Sierra.  Grue followed at the tail end of our group.

It’s going to be interesting to see what Grue has to say about this decision and Taylor’s behavior afterwards.

The square building had been a garage for the biggest sorts of trucks or for boats, and sported three sliding metal garage doors, only one of which still opened.  A cargo container sat in the back corner.  I had my suspicions that boxes of recyclables had been piled up along the walls when Leviathan’s wave hit.

With a little TLC, it could become a nice little hideout for these people.

Now, scraps of metal, paper and other trash littered the floor inside until the floor was barely visible.  “If you’re really interested in joining, you can start by cleaning this place up.”

“Why?” the girl asked.

So you can live in it! And so you can show that you’re willing to do work that’s not just “punch this, shoot that”.

“If my say-so isn’t good enough-”

“No,” she raised her hands to stop me.  “Just… can’t I know what the point is?”

That’s fair.

“I want you somewhere accessible.  This is close to my command center, it’s dry, it took a hit from a tidal wave and it’s still in remarkably good shape, and it’s spacious enough to serve our purposes.  At least to start off.”

Dry?


“Can I ask what they are?”

I looked around, and it was Grue I looked at while I spoke.  “Having everyone in the Docks spread out like this, over this wide an area?  It’s a problem.  We’ve got single families living in warehouses and factories that could comfortably house three to five families, and they’re dealing with problems that we could handle far more easily as a group.  And there’s the logistics of it, getting supplies to everyone when there’s only three to six groups of people on a given city block.  I want to bring people from the fringes in, so we’re not so spread out.  Get everyone working for the collective good.  Build a community and tie everything to a smaller area.”

That makes a lot of sense. If this plan extends far enough, it would also put a lot more people within the range of Skitter’s bugs.

“There’s going to be resistance,” Grue spoke.  “People aren’t going to want to move, and they’re too spooked about run-ins with Chosen and Merchants to trust one another.”

Of course. There’s always going to be stubbornness and fear. I doubt the patriarch is going to like this.

“If-” Sierra started, but she stopped when Grue snapped his head around to face her, intimidated.  She tried again, “If she’s going to try it, now would be a good time.  Word’s getting out.”

About the Mannequin fight, like what brought these former ABBs to Skitter’s doorstep? Or?

“About what, specifically?” I asked.

“You fought Mannequin, you said you’d make him pay, and then you did.  And you did it to save people, people from the docks.  I think people are realizing you’re for real.”

Yep. She’s proven herself, proven that she’s willing and capable of really protecting them.

And with the Slaughterhouse Nine in town, they’ll be well aware that there’s something to protect them from, and since Taylor beat Mannequin, they’ll know she’s not going to back off when faced with such a foe.


I couldn’t think of a response to that, and nobody volunteered anything further.  Instead, I said, “Come on, let’s get to work.”

It wasn’t the nicest of jobs, but my new employees worked without complaint.  Or, to be more specific, the girl and shaggy-hair complained often but they didn’t direct those complaints at me or the job, specifically.

More at things like the conditions of the garage, maybe?

Since the usual means of communication were out, and it might be some time before cell phone towers were out, I’d have to use messengers to pass word on to Coil.  I began explaining what I planned to do with the space to Sierra, outlining the need for bunk beds, a cafeteria or kitchen and an area for people to sit.

This is going to be pretty nice when they’re done.

The area wasn’t a quarter of the size of Lisa’s shelter, but it was a refuge, maybe.  A place where people could congregate and get some peace.  And, ideally, it could be a barracks for my soldiers.

I like this plan.


I instructed my new employees to stack the crates of trash outside the door.  I stayed outside with Sierra and Grue when they went back in to get more.

Talking time?

“You’re going to have to watch those ones,” Grue said.

“I know.  Listen, I want to send Sierra down to meet the boss, pass on word about stuff I need.  Can you escort her part of the way?”

Any particular reason for that?

Honestly, I’d like to see the conversation they might end up having on the way.

“Sure,” he said.

“If you’re willing, Sierra?  I know it’s somewhat dangerous to cross the city, and our groups don’t control all of the territory between here and there.  I could send one of those guys with you.  Bit of a walk, though.  Maybe forty-five minutes both ways.”

Ah, I guess that would be why she’s sending Grue with her.

“No, I can go alone, if it’s not too bad.”

“Good,”  I said.  I turned my head to see a trio of young men who were approaching us.

I think if I were in Sierra’s shoes, I’d probably prefer going alone too, over going with these former ABB members I just met.


It took the one in the lead a bit of courage before he could approach me.

Hello!

“Yes?” I asked, when he didn’t speak.

“We were remembering how some girl was saying you were recruiting, the other day.”

Nice, looks like we’ve got more people who want to join after what just happened.

“I was and I am.”  My heart was pounding.  Why was this happening now, when it had met with only resistance earlier?

I mean, Sierra basically spelled it out just about a dozen paragraphs ago.

“Don’t want to do anything illegal.”

“Not asking you to.  You okay with starting with some clean-up?”

That’s reasonable. Not all her employees are going to be okay with the more legally dubious parts.

He looked at his buddies -or were they brothers?- and nodded.

“Sierra here will tell you what needs to be done.  Put in a good effort and I’ll pay you at the end of the day.”  My thoughts were on the small safe that I was using as a bedside table.

The swarm is expanding rapidly now!

His eyes widened slightly at that.  “Mind if I go and get my cousin?  He’ll be interested too.”

Oh wow, it seems like he didn’t realize he’d get paid. I suppose she didn’t say anything explicitly about monetary payment back at the announcement of her takeover.

“Go.”  I ordered, and Sierra led two of them inside while the leader of the newest group ran off at a half-jog.

Excellent.


“Seems like you started something,” Grue said, when the last of them were out of earshot.

I shook my head.  “I don’t even understand how.”

Sierra seems to get it, at least.

“Still think you’re moving too fast.  Like I said earlier, there’s no good reason for it.”

“Dinah’s a good enough reason for me.”

I’m mostly with Grue, thinking Taylor is focusing too hard on Dinah, but I get where she’s coming from. She feels responsible for the whole thing, so she feels she has to correct it at any cost to her own well-being.

“Maybe.  But you’ve got to find time to relax, get some sleep, maybe have some fun.  Or you’re going to make mistakes, and you’ll set yourself back days or weeks in your plan.  Slow and steady wins this race.”

Yes.


“Can’t afford slow and steady,” I said.

“Why?  You were telling me earlier, but we got interrupted.”

I’d been glad for the interruption, and I was profoundly disappointed the subject had come up again.

Why, though. Is it that you don’t want to tell Grue your answer, or that you don’t have an answer?

I folded my arms and looked away, down the road to where it gradually sloped to the shattered Boardwalk and the ocean beyond.

Here was the leap of faith.  The test of my trust in him.  “Because if I don’t amaze Coil, if I don’t force his hand and give him absolutely no reason to say I failed… he’s going to keep Dinah.  If he does, the only way to free her is going to be if Tattletale and I take Coil down.  And I don’t think we’d succeed.”

Taylor.

It’s not going to work. He’ll find a way, and if he doesn’t, well… he’s an “honorable” man who’s been true to his word so far, but I still think he’d go back on the deal if he had to.


End of Plague 12.8

This was a better chapter than I expected, honestly.

I was expecting a lot more moping than we got, and I think it’s a good thing that I was wrong. There’s only so much wallowing in guilt we can get before it gets stale.

The chapter still noticeably touched on the issue of Taylor not viewing the Mannequin fight as a success and more heavily on the subject of Dinah, but in a better way. Skitter finally opened up about the latter to someone whose perspective might help her to deal with this more healthily if she’ll just listen to him, and she’s seeing positive consequences of the former.

Regarding the latter, I think it’s nice to see that the swarm is growing now. I really like that Wildbow brought in some former ABB members for this, and Taylor’s plan to make the territory more livable for more people is very good.

Next chapter… is Interlude 12. That was the end of the Arc! As usual with Interludes, it’s very difficult for me to speculate on what we’ll be getting, but I’m hoping for either Sierra or Charlotte’s perspective.

So yeah! See you soon!

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2 thoughts on “Plague 12.8: Morning After Blues

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