Interlude 13½: Poltergeist

Source material: Worm, Interlude 13½

Originally blogged: June 16-18, 2018


Oh hey, what have we here?

A look into Mannequin’s… wherever he keeps his think pan, perhaps? Maybe we’re about to see what he’s up to in Skitter’s territory before Skitter does, and get some insight into how his senses work?

(I still suspect one of them is temperature, but it’s definitely not just that. He’s able to read Scrabble pieces, after all.)

Or maybe we’re taking a break from Skitter and co. to check on Hookwolf’s side or the southern Undertravelers? Unless we follow someone outside the group who interact with them, the latter would have to be from a Traveler’s perspective, since Tattletale and Regent have both had Interludes already. In that case we’d probably end up finding out more about the Travelers’ secrets too.

Or, perhaps, we’ll be following someone entirely new. Ooh, or Sierra or Charlotte – I’m still hoping for an Interlude like that.

Well, one way to find out – let’s read some Worm!


“Sam!  Sam!”  Celia’s voice was grating and nasal.

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I’m pretty sure we don’t know a Celia – or at least don’t know that we know one – but do we know a Sam? I’m not really sure. I don’t think so, but it’s a common enough name that it ends up sounding familiar nonetheless.

I’m going to guess he’s a hero, though. Sam is a very heroic name.

Meanwhile Celia so far sounds like a somewhat annoying (to Sam) little girl. It would be entirely possible for this to be Bonesaw and another member of the Nine, but they seem to stick to their cape names (in the cases where there’s a difference) when talking to and about each other from what we’ve seen, with the exception of Jack reminding Mannequin about his old self. Besides, I feel like we’d have a description of Bonesaw’s voice earlier if this were her.

“I’m coming!”  The heavyset man grumbled, as he made his way into the living room.  Celia sat on the floor between the couch and the coffee table.  The white of her t-shirt and panties was a stark contrast to her dark skin.

Definitely sounds like a kid, yeah.

Sam leered at the woman.  She was good-looking for her age, slim, though her breasts sagged behind her shirt without the benefit of a bra.

…but apparently she’s not. Fair enough, I was basing that on almost nothing anyway.


“You said you were five minutes ago, asswipe.  Takes you five minutes to find your wallet?”

I’m not sure I like Celia very much so far.

“Needed to piss.  Your fatass friend was in your bathroom, so I pissed in your sink.”

I’m even less sure I like Sam.

Friend, huh. Anyone we know?

Celia kicked under the coffee table to strike his shin.

Sam just smiled and stepped back.  “Kidding.  I went off the fire escape.”

Right, because public urination is better than in a private sink.

“That’s not any better!”

“It’s all water and shit down there.  Any place that doesn’t smell like hot garbage smells like a toilet.

Before reading this part, I considered going into how I could understand it if it were into the ocean or something but I doubted there would be an ocean on the same side as a fire escape, so I was surprised by the water excuse. Until I remembered the state of Brockton Bay streets.

Still, though, I do think the sink would be marginally better.

Here.  Stop bitching.”  He threw a plastic movie rental card at her.

…alright, let’s rent Monsters Inc, that’s a good one.


She cut open a plastic wrapped block of powder and shook a small amount of the powder onto the coffee table.

*goes to fetch his bag of “tw: drugs” tags*

So are these people just random, kinda awful mundane civilians of Brockton Bay? I’m suspecting that the “fatass friend” is going to be the most important character here.

…actually, it wouldn’t surprise me too much right now if these were former Merchants.

She used the laminated card to cut it into lines, a set on each side of the table, with none in front of her.

Monsters Inc would give you a better time.

“You’re not having any?”

“I told you.  I’m pregnant.”

Oh?

Honestly, I think this is more interesting because of what it says about Sam and Celia’s relationship than about the pregnancy itself. Celia is clearly familiar with Sam, but it sounds like he only just learned about this pregnancy (either that or Celia has had to point to her pregnancy as a reason for abstinence before). Add that to Sam’s statement about the friend using Celia’s bathroom rather than their, and it’s pretty clear that he’s a (probably infrequent, if it’s not the first time) visitor of some description.


“You’re too old to be pregnant,” Sam commented.  She kicked him again.

Hmm.

Does she not want to tell him the real reason she’s abstaining, or is this just Sam exaggerating her age as a burn?

“Not that old!”

Jennifer emerged from the washroom and stopped in the doorway, staring at the scene.

Hello!

“I didn’t think you’d actually use any of the stuff.”

“Jen, hon,” Celia said, “We’ve got enough to go around.  Even if we only sold half, we’d be made in the shade for five or ten years.”

Ah, alright, definitely some trade planned. I feel more confident in the former Merchant suggestion now.

“And you just took it?”

“Leaders of the Merchants got killed, everyone else decided to run off with what they could carry of the stockpiles.  Sam and I decided to play it smart.  Sam got his truck, and I guarded the stash from the other assholes.  Paid off.”

Aaand confirmed. 🙂

I’m not gonna lie, that’s not a bad idea.


“I… what is it?”

“Little bit of everything.  Come, sit.  Try some.”

“What is it?”

Jennifer seems a bit more reluctant than the other two to actually use this stuff. Maybe she’s a friend of Celia but wasn’t a Merchant?

Sam seated himself at the table, by one set of the lines of powder.  He picked up a pinch and put it on his tongue.  “H.”

Ah. I may be about as street smart as a teacup, but I do know what that nickname refers to.

…at least I think I do.

…alright, fine, I’ll look it up just to be sure. *does so*

Oh, right, it was heroin, not hash.

Teacup, guys.


“No way,” Jennifer said.  She dropped into one of the felt-covered chairs at the far end of the room.

See, I know what “felt-covered” means, but part of my brain can only imagine a pile of plain wooden chairs covered in fifteen green men in colorful hats.

[Fifteen? There are fourteen of them, dude. Snowman doesn’t count.]

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Homestuck, man. Once you’re infected you can’t escape it.

Aisha had to hop out of the way so she didn’t get sat on.

!!!

YES

Now this is someone I’d much rather read an Interlude about!

She watched the dialogue between her mother, her mother’s boyfriend of the week and her mother’s new friend with a dispassionate expression.

Oh, huh. So we did kind of know Celia already, and a part of the Laborn family had ties to the Merchants.

This is… less surprising than it probably should be.

Seeing this scene, she didn’t really feel much.  A little disappointment.

I guess she’s kind of used to it.

Embarrassment.  Disgust.

Now this I can absolutely understand.


No, it was less this scene and more the discovery that her mother was pregnant that nailed her in the gut with a profound kind of sadness.

Oh shit, that’s right. The child would be a half-sibling of Aisha and Brian, and it seems like neither of them knew about it.

I wonder what kind of power the child might end up with if they survive the apocalypse. Probably something to do with hiding. Maybe shrinking to a size that gets into small hiding places easily?

The first place her mind went, before joy at the idea of having a brother or sister, before anger at her mom for letting it happen and not using protection, was hope.

Hope was really not where I thought that sentence was going.

What kind of hope are we talking here? Hope that it might help Celia shape up her life? Hope that the child doesn’t have to grow up with their biological parents? Hope that the child can replace Aisha herself?

“Sam, do you have any papers?”

“Rolling papers?  I thought you were going clean.”

Come on, Celia, don’t tell me you’re going back on the one redeeming feature you’ve established.

Tell me you’re talking about some other sort of papers.

“It’s just weed.  I need to have something.”

Ugh… fair enough, though. Addiction is hard to just turn off at will. That’s kind of the main problem with it.

At the very least she’s stepping it down, in the best case scenario helping her gradually go completely clean.

(#for the record i’m against legalization of recreational marihuana use
#and in favor of making alcohol and tobacco illegal
#though i’m aware that didn’t really work out in the u.s. that one time)


“Isn’t that bad for the kid-in-progress?”

“It’s weed, dumbass.  Nothing they tell you about it is true.  Kid isn’t going to wind up addicted from birth or anything, ’cause it’s not addictive.  Right?”

Riiight. Of course the thing you’re taking specifically because you’re addicted and “need to have something” isn’t addictive. Sure.

“Sure,” he reached into his back pocket and slipped a packet to her, along with a dime bag.

Aisha bit her lip.  Maybe hope was the wrong word, because she didn’t really feel anything on the subject.

Aisha is repeatedly claiming not to feel things… and then talking about what she feels?

But she knew it would probably be better if her mom miscarried and the kid was spared this shit.

Hoo boy, this must’ve stirred up some abortion debates when it was posted.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with abortion (a stance I do not feel like debating with askers on this blog), but that’s not really the question here, despite what I just said. It’s whether it would be better not to live in the first place than to be born into a bad home.

Honestly? I’m not sure Aisha’s wrong here, though it feels weird to suggest that not living in the first place is better than having a life that starts out bad and can get better… no, actually, by writing that sentence I ended up talking myself out of it.

I don’t agree with Aisha, not entirely. Yes, the child would have a bad childhood, but they could get out of it and create a wonderful life for themself afterwards. There is a large potential for it to be worth it to be born in spite of these circumstances.


I think the most fucked up direction this could go would be Aisha using her power to walk in front of her mother and attack her in the hopes of forcing a miscarriage.

Abortion as a choice by the mother is okay in my book, but that most certainly wouldn’t be.


How much of Aisha’s problems were because of her mom’s lack of self-control and how many others were because of this environment?  She’d grown up with a mom who’d never mentally or emotionally aged past fourteen or fifteen.

I think the intense childishness we saw in Celia at the beginning of the chapter was quite intentional.

Though I was thinking closer to ten.

A new man in the house every week or two, with his own idea of how things should work, Celia generally content to let him run things however he wanted.

Well… at least it makes for some variation?

Aisha tried not to think about the men.  It was like having a broken arm; so long as she didn’t move it, so long as she didn’t think about it, it was okay, a dull throb in the back of her mind.

I can’t imagine all the men would be okay with that approach, though, when Aisha was living here.

Something she could ignore.  But even a stray thought could remind her that the arm was broken, and then it sometimes took days before she could get out of that head space.

Ouch, yeah. This is a pretty decent analogy.

There was no distraction that worked, because the fact that she was consciously looking for a distraction only reminded her of what she was trying to distract herself from.

Don’t think about broken arms, blue elephants, or this one Game I just lost!


Of course, there was no way to avoid the countless reminders in everyday life that would remind her of Guy, or Bridge, or Darren, or Lonnie.

Guy is such a weird name.

Yes, weirder than “Bridge”.

I wonder if one of these men was the guy Brian fought when he triggered.

Thinking about a broken arm was one such reminder.

…right.

Not thinking about things is difficult.

Being ignored by her teammates and told to go to her room and play along for everyone else’s sake was another.

Ah, yeah, that makes sense. No wonder it ticks her off.

Although to be fair, being ignored is kind of her specialty.

How many afternoons had she come home from school, only for her mom or one of her mom’s boyfriends to shoo her off or bribe her to leave the apartment for a bit?

Eesh.

Pissed her off.  She didn’t need that from her brother, too.

The one good family member she has.


“Come on, Jennifer,” Celia urged her friend.  She took a long draw from the spliff she held in her fingers. “Oh fuck!  Sam, you jackass!  This isn’t just weed, is it?”

Not cool, dude.

“Thought it was.”

“There’s a kick to it.  Amp or something.”  Celia took another puff.  “Amp.  Hey, Jen, join in. Have some of what Sam’s having.”

Ah, I guess he didn’t know. I mean, if he’s telling the truth, but I believe him.

And they continue to press Jennifer. I’m still not sure Jennifer doesn’t have some secrets in store for us – she seems quite out of place in this group, so it’s thus far unclear why she’s in this chapter. Maybe Wildbow just needed a third party to prompt something down the line, though.

“But H is fucking scary,” Jen protested.

“So you hear.  But why is it scary?”

Because it’s a strong drug that fucks up lives. That’s enough for me.

“It’s addictive.”

Yes, thank you.

Seriously, that part’s scary enough on its own.

Aisha tuned out the sound of her mother and Sam cajoling the woman and walked over to the table.  Her mom didn’t notice her.  Nobody ever noticed her, and they noticed even less ever since she’d gotten her power.  It was like a dark joke, a grim comedy.  Just when she’d started to figure things out, grow up and catch people’s eye, the world went to hell and she got her powers.

Yeeah. Usually the powers seem to help the recipient out in their trigger event, but Aisha’s power seems more like something that adjusted itself to her general problem and amplified it.

Although not being noticed and being able to make people forget her existence ought to make it easier to get away from this family.

Now she became invisible if she lost her concentration.

Interesting. Her power works backwards – it’s passive and she has to actively keep it turned off if she wants to, not actively use it.


Not that it was invisibility, really.  It was memories.  People forgot her as soon as they saw her, to the point that they didn’t register her presence.

There goes the “out of sight, out of mind” hypothesis for her more thorough memory wipes (is there even a difference?). Before I came up with that, this was my assumption about how the unnoticeability worked, though.

She could feel it, her power rolling over her skin, jabbing outward, invisible to sight, touch and anything else, making contact with the people around her and pushing those memories away.

Hmm. Is there a maximum range, and will people remember her longer if they’re further away within range? Can it be blocked by a wall?

And like her metaphor comparing her memories to a broken arm, her power seemed to respond to the attention of her subjects; the harder they tried to remember and focus on her, the faster she slipped through their minds.

Man, I already thought this was very similar to the effects of the post-Dandelion haze, but it really does seem like they work almost exactly the same way.

Maybe if we find out what would protect someone from Imp’s power, it would let us remember stuff about the Dandelions too. But as it stands, Miss Militia is the only character we know would have reason to try to figure out something like that. Maybe also Tattletale or Bonesaw, but it seemed like the forgetting caught up with Tattletale eventually.


The metaphor applied in another way, too.  Her power operated on its own, doing its thing, and if she very casually noted what it was doing, without pushing it forward or holding it back, she could feel it doing something else.

Hmm.

As if it was ready to push away memories that didn’t relate to her, exactly.  It never did.

Maybe we should keep Imp away from Miss Militia.

Any time it built up enough that it came close to doing anything, she noticed, and it retreated like a turtle pulling its head into its shell.

I suppose it’s possible that if it got the chance to do it – such as at a moment where Imp was thoroughly distracted – it might not specifically wipe out memories of the Dandelions (like I suspect it might be wanting to because of its apparent origins), but rather wipe out all memories, inflicting total retrograde amnesia on anyone it could hit. That would be nasty.

Frustrating.  Her power didn’t do anything because she wanted it to.  It worked only if she surrendered to it, let it act on its own.  Pushing it to work harder had the opposite effect.

This is a very interesting power.

Much moreso than any other power we’ve seen, this one seems to have a sort of mind of its own. A stubborn, rebellious one.

Heh, I suppose that too kind of reflects Aisha.


How easy would it be to just carry this stuff away?  She could hand it to Coil for some brownie points, and he could decide what to distribute.  It would be out of her mother’s hands, and money would become a limiter on her mother’s habit.

That would probably be a decent idea, except Coil distributing it would just put it in the hands of other people and fuel similar problems in other families. But as far as saving Celia, it’s not bad.

If the drugs weren’t around, maybe Sam would leave.

Maybe, if Aisha got rid of the drugs, her mom would have an excuse to get things back on track, somehow.

Maybe. Still feels a bit too hopeful for the setting, though.

The city was paying people who joined the clean-up crews.  Three square meals, simple and bland but they gave the essential nutrients, and they gave you twenty dollars for nine hours of work.  Fuck around or slack off, and they just kicked you off the crew for the day, no pay.

I suppose that’s not too bad.

Idle hopes.  Aisha had spent long years wishing her mom could pull it together, dating back to just after the divorce, when a bad day was still better than most good days were now.  Or maybe that was nostalgia and a child’s eye view.

Who knows. Either way this is something I really can’t blame Aisha for entertaining.

No.  If she got rid of the drugs, it was more likely that someone would erupt in anger.  Sam or her mom, getting violent, verbally or otherwise.  It would do more harm than good.

Yikes. Yeah, I suppose if neither of them noticed the thief, they’d each assume it was the other, or Jennifer.


She sat down on the coffee table, directly opposite her mother.  Reaching forward, she plucked the spliff from her mother’s lips and dropped it, grinding it under her toes.

Heh, that must be a weird experience from the point of view of someone who doesn’t realize Aisha is there.

I guess Celia would perceive it as dropping the spliff herself, but how would her brain lie to her to fill the blank of how it got ground against the floor?

Her mother blinked a few times, then reached for her rolling papers.

I guess maybe she didn’t realize it ended up on the floor, just that it disappeared.

Aisha used her hand to cover the papers and whispered, “No.”

Ooh, how does this manifest? Does what she says enter her mother’s subconscious, or does that get wiped too?

Again, the dazed blinking.  Her mother asked, “Sam?  Got any more papers?”

“I just gave you a full package.”

If Aisha were feeling prankish, she could uncover the package of papers once Sam looked. That would probably escalate, though.

“The hell?  Maybe that hit me harder than I thought,” Aisha’s mother giggled.

Ah, right, I suppose that’s a reasonable rationalization for her brain to come up with.


Aisha stared her mother in the eyes.  She didn’t deactivate her power.  “Mom.  You gotta stop.”

“Where are the rest of the papers, Sam?” her mom asked, oblivious.

Yeeah, if this is sinking in at all, it’s not showing any signs of it yet.

“Kitchen.”

“But I don’t want to get up.  I’m comfy,” Celia whined.

“Hey, you managed to misplace an entire package of papers, deal with it yourself.”

“You keep going down this road, your kid is going to be born without a face or something,” Aisha said, her voice quiet.

That is not entirely impossible, especially in this ‘verse. Though it doesn’t sound like anyone’s (known to have) been born parahuman yet.

“You know how hard school was for me?  Even as far back as kindergarten, I couldn’t sit still.  Teacher tells me three things, and by the time they’ve gotten to the third, I’ve forgotten the first.  And Brian doesn’t have any of that.”

That… sounds like ADHD, potentially. Not necessarily, but we’ve got the two main ingredients right here: Attention Deficit (seemingly manifesting in part as poor memory, which is absolutely a thing with ADHD), and Hyperactivity.


“Go get some papers, Sam.  Sam McSamsam.  Sammy-sam.  Samster-”

Hamster. Sammy-sam McSamsam the classroom hamster.

“I don’t want to get up any more than you do,” Sam growled.  “You’re not one of the talkative ones, are you?  I like it quiet.”

Seriously, how many days have they been together?

“Mom,” Aisha said, as if she could get her mom’s attention.  Ironically enough, she knew that if she deactivated her power, she’d have even less chance of talking to her mom.  It wasn’t just the horned mask and the black costume.  She’d never had anyone just sit down and listen to her.

Yeah, I think if she’d made herself visible, they’d do quite a lot of other things than listening to her. Especially since she’d appear to show up out of nowhere in that costume, though that might change their tune from anger to fear.

Dad ignored her, mom was self-centered and Brian was too focused on what needed to be done that he ignored everything else.

That sounds like a really good description of Brian.

Taylor’s got a bit of that too, but it manifests somewhat differently.


“Mom.  You’re going to have some fucked up kid, and then you’re going to die of an OD before it’s even grown up.  It’s not fair that you leave some kid that’s more retarded than me, or some deformed freak for Brian to take care of.  Not fair on him, and it’s not fair on the kid to make them put up with the dick, either.”

Ouch.

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“Fine,” her mother said, standing.  “I’ll get the papers myself.”

I should probably acknowledge that I’m not sure Aisha’s actually saying any of this for Celia’s sake so much as for her own. She wants to get it out, and since her mom can’t notice her unless she wants to be noticed, she can say it to her face without consequences – for good or bad.

Aisha sighed.  Was it cowardice that kept her from confronting her mother, or the knowledge backed by years of experience that it wouldn’t make a difference?

Bit of both, perhaps?

Maybe, if everything with the Nine worked out and Coil got control of the city, maybe she could get her mom some help, or report her to the police.

Hm, yeah, might work. For now, though, I’m sure the police have a lot to deal with.


But not now, not when things were like this, when she had to prove she deserved her place in the group.

Sounds familiar.

Abandoning her mother to a noisy search of the kitchen, Aisha headed into her old room.

Her room smelled like sex, and faintly of urine.  Her mom had apparently had a party since Aisha had left.

…of course.

Now, to be somewhat fair, there’s a good chance she didn’t remember what that room was previously used for, but still.

Holding her breath, she opened her closet door.  She pushed past the clothes she’d stolen, shoplifted and bought, and past the old clothes she couldn’t or wouldn’t wear anymore.  Her closet was in layers, and each layer held clothes and trinkets from a different era.

And behind the innermost layer lies a winter wonderland ruled by an evil witch.

Her girl guide stuff was in the very back, too wrinkled by years to wear.  Her dad had pushed her into that.  He’d wanted her to have structure.

That’s like girl scouts, right?

Little adorable Aisha asking if people want to buy cookies…

After a year and a half, even he had pulled her out.  A bad fit.  She didn’t have the personality type for it.

Yeah, I can’t see her fitting in there either.


Around the girl guide stuff, she found a small tape recorder and an old pair of binoculars.  After finding an old backpack that had never been emptied of the school supplies, she found some notebooks that had only been filled in about a third of the way.

Spying equipment? You going ahead and looking for the Nine, Aisha?

She tore out those pages and tucked the notebooks under one arm.

Good idea tearing out that stuff. If the notebook were to be lost and found by the Nine, it might’ve contained enough information to identify her as its owner.

Everything went into a compact black handbag, along with her taser and knives.

Hey, at least she’s going prepared. This still might end badly if she gets too close to Cherish (which isn’t very close), but still, she’s trying.

Also, it’s entirely possible that the power does work on Cherish’s more unusual senses. The Dragon thing was most likely a result of her brain being silicon. Hell, Mannequin might be more dangerous, since we don’t know how his brain still works – he might’ve integrated it into some artificial internal system that could mess with Imp’s power.


Small things.  Nothing she couldn’t have bought in a well stocked convenience store, maybe.  But she would operate best if she was relaxed, and having some personal items made her feel better.

Makes sense. Especially since it just hit me that a natural reaction to fear would be to instinctively tell her power to hide her more effectively, which apparently makes it weaker – if Imp is startled or frightened, it might make her more noticeable.

That only left the problem of finding them.

Yeah, that’s gonna be the tricky part, unless she gets super lucky. I guess the luckiest thing short of stumbling over all of them would be running into Bonesaw without Siberian present. Bonesaw would be easier than many of them to follow and less likely to put Imp in the crossfire of an attack without noticing her than Jack or Burnscar. Though it’s possible that Hack Job would sense Imp’s power and disable it if she got too close to him.

They’d attacked the Merchants, and observing her mom had given her the chance to find out where.  It was a starting point.

I suppose it’s better than nothing.

I guess we’re skipping ahead in her efforts.


That ■ was almost as perfectly timed as it could be, because it’s definitely time for me to stop for the night. See you Monday for more!

[End of session]


Will Imp succeed in her espionage mission, or will she be captured or worse? Will Taylor get back to her territory in time to stop Mannequin? Does Jack Slash have a secret crush on Miss Militia?

We need answers, and fortunately,

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Let’s read some Worm.


It was worse than she’d expected.  She ducked under the police tape and pushed one officer out of her way as she stepped into the area.

Oh yeah, I suppose they’d want to investigate the carnage from Jack’s Interlude.

Police cars and PRT vans had formed a broad perimeter, with police tape strung between them.  She momentarily wondered why they didn’t have the wooden barricades.  It was flimsy as security went.

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Humans will just see this and walk away!

It was drizzling, and the small amounts of rain did little to clean the streets of the blood that spattered it.  Water soaked into the white and brown sheets that had been draped over the bodies that still waited for someone to clean them up.  The brown, she realized, was dried blood.

Nasty stuff.

Aisha picked her way through the fallen.  The worst of the carnage was at the edges, as if some invisible line had been drawn that nobody was permitted to cross, and in the center, where the masses of people had gathered before being murdered together.

There may be some truth to the invisible line thing. I don’t recall it specifically mentioned, but there were eight psychopaths to keep track of, so who knows, maybe one or more of them made sure nobody would get away.


She’d hoped for a lead.  A piece of evidence, or an overheard tidbit of information from the cops.

No such luck.

Shame. So what’s your next plan?

There was an overabundance of evidence.  By the time the cops processed everything here and managed to identify the bodies, the leaves would be falling off the trees and the Nine would be long gone, one way or another.  The cops weren’t talking, either.  They were working silently, or the things they were saying weren’t interesting.

I would imagine this scene doesn’t put them in a talkative mood.

Catching the Nine wasn’t their job.  If they found something worthwhile, they would pass it on to the local capes, probably.

Makes sense. The cops aren’t really as equipped to take on enemies like these, even if the PRT supplies them with tinkertech.


No.  If there was something to be found, it wouldn’t be here.  She headed to the edge of the scene, where the police cars had all stopped.  There were still spots and spatters of blood here and there, and bloody footprints, but not much.  She walked around the police and the cars to check each set out.  In every case, it seemed, the bloodied victims had either fallen where they lay or disappeared.  Ambulances?

Or perhaps Siberian. See any power armor nearby?

Having checked the area, she moved further down the street to see the next closed-off alleyway.  The same thing.  A few more bloody footprints, but nothing beyond that.

Seems like we’ve got some sort of trail, at least?

The third blockade offered something.  There was a spot where the blood was thicker, which didn’t match up with the other spaces.

Ahh – a little newer, maybe?

The trail extended further than it did elsewhere.

Yeah, here we go, trail acquired.


Looking around, she spotted a smear of blood on the side of a building, three stories up.

Siberian’s trail, I suppose. Boing!

Okay.  So maybe they’d gone this way.

The trail of breadcrumbs that the blood provided were slowly being eroded or masked by the light rain.  The water raised the oils from the cracks in the road, giving the ground a rainbow sheen.

Mr. Leviathan N. D. Bringer, the direct consequences of your visit are making this trail harder to follow. This is obstruction of justice – I’m gonna have to take you down to the station.

The signs of blood faded too soon, and Aisha could only guess whether she had taken the wrong road, gone too far or if the rain had cleared it away.  She might have given up right then, but she saw a group of men standing outside of an apartment building.

Hello, there. Just out of curiosity, would you happen to have seen the Slaughterhouse Nine running past here recently?

It was only when she got close that she saw the badge clipped to the front of one of their jackets.  A detective.

I suppose it’s possible that they (or he? might be only one detective here) too found the trail Aisha’s following.

There was blood on the door that led into the apartment lobby.

I think that means you’re supposed to pass over it. It’s little late for that particular holiday, though.


The elevator wouldn’t be working.  She headed for the stairwell, only to find more blood.  It was as though a body had been dragged.

Again, probably Siberian.

So how recently did this happen? Was she feeding separately from the Merchant massacre?

Going forward was a stupid idea, she knew.  Brian and Skitter had gone into way too much fucking depth about the risks.   Still, that hadn’t stopped her before.

At least she’s somewhat self-aware? She’s not dismissing their points as wrong, she just doesn’t care, and she’s aware of that.

She got her taser and knife from her bag and made her way upstairs.

If it turns out Siberian’s still here – unlikely given the men standing outside – the knife ain’t gonna be much help as anything but a comfort item.

As for the taser, electricity in general might work on Siberian, but most tasers work by piercing the skin with electrodes. That won’t help. I guess the variants with “drive stun” functionality (which is what I’ve been assuming Regent’s scepter has, the kind you just press against the body rather than shoot with) might, though, since they don’t need to pierce the skin to stay in place.

It’s also worth noting that this functionality isn’t usually enough to incapacitate, only cause pain and involuntary nerve stimulation (have I mentioned how appropriate it is that Regent has one of these?), so it might not be very effective.


Third floor up, blood on the door leading into the hall.  More blood trailing down the hallway, stopping at one apartment.

There’s a lot of that stuff around here, huh.

She double checked that her power was active and pushed her way inside.

Only a few of the Nine were present.

Huh. So what’s up with the men outside, then? Hired guards disguised as a detective and some other people?

Crawler slept with his ponderous head on paws that were crossed over one another, his back rising and falling with each deep breath.

disturbingly adorable 2.png

He was large enough that the highest part of his back rose nearly to the ceiling with each breath he drew in through his nostrils.  Only half of the eyes on his body were closed, covered with thick, dark gray lids.

I guess this is the semi-eldritch monstrosity equivalent of sleeping with one eye open.

Shatterbird and Burnscar were on the couch, Burnscar stretched out with her head on the armrest, her feet propped up on Shatterbird’s lap.

Is Shatterbird actually accepting that? She really does not seem like the type to accept that.

She held a graphic novel on her stomach with one hand and created flames in the other, shaping them to match the people she saw as she flicked from page to page.  Shatterbird was sitting upright, a novel in her hands.

Sorry, Imp, looks like you’ve got the wrong place. This is clearly a literature club.


There is one circumstance where I can see Shatterbird accepting the lap thing, besides simply having a more chill side than we’ve seen so far.

The only problem is that this ship seems one-sided at best in canon, judging by Burnscar’s attitude in Labyrinth’s Interlude.


Bonesaw stood over the dining room table, with a mechanical spider-thing on the opposite side of the table, assisting her.  A young man was on the table itself, his wrists and ankles tied down.

Aw, look, she’s working!

…alright, it’s not that adorable right now, but this is Bonesaw. It’s only a matter of time.

His torso was open from collar-bone to crotch, his ribs splayed apart.  Bonesaw and her mechanical spider were elbow deep in the contents of his torso.

Usually when a character is red-faced in fiction, this isn’t why.

The spiders. 

Ah, fuck. Robots. If the spiders have any semblance of sentience (not to be confused with them being AIs – they just need to sense and remember things, not be intelligent), they’re a risk for Imp just like Dragon was.


Aisha moved quickly aside as a spider moved from the kitchen, past her and to the table.  Whatever cameras or artificial intelligence it used, it didn’t seem to notice her.

Oh, good.

Unless otherwise suggested, I’m going to attribute that more to the spiders not being tasked with watching out than to Imp’s power for now.

It handed Bonesaw a diet cola that the little girl opened with bloody fingers and drank.

Gotta keep hydrated while working!

With a little more confidence, Aisha moved further inside, giving a wide berth to Crawler and Burnscar’s foot-high images of flame.

Probably a good idea. I get the feeling they’d be more likely to notice Imp if she caught fire. Especially Burnscar, who can probably sense nearby fires.

Holding her weapons, Aisha stood next to Shatterbird, at one end of the couch.

See, this is where you could use that knife. Shatterbird is by far the most deadly Slaughterhouse member, but she’s fragile. You could probably stab her in the back easily, and maybe even get away with it unnoticed.

At least mechanically speaking. The emotional difficulty of assassinating someone is a whole other can of worms.

Also, assassinating one of the Nine other than Jack could be disastrous for the city, due to revenge and such.


Assassinating Jack could also be disastrous, but in a much less structured fashion.


Aisha had never killed anyone, but here she was, holding a lethal weapon.  She could slice Shatterbird’s throat and they wouldn’t even realize she was there.

Yep! Or stab her in the back, whichever works for you.

They would, she suspected, realize that Shatterbird was dead or dying.  There was a fifty-fifty chance, anyways, that it would force them out of whatever effect her powers had on their brains.

Hm, intriguing.

I’m kind of partial to the idea of Imp staying unnoticed, if only because of the Wheel of Time analogue [here] having been known to stab people in front of others and still not be noticed.

It had happened to her before.

But yeah, it makes sense that there’d be a limit to how far it can stretch.

I wonder if it has to do with whether people are actively looking for her. Maybe they might not notice her due to focusing on the victim, Shatterbird, rather than looking for the attacker? I don’t think that’s likely except in Bonesaw’s (and maybe Burnscar’s, if I was onto something and wrong about the one-sidedness) case, though.

Except that Shatterbird would kill her in her last moments, using the glass that had been swept to the corners of the room, or one of the others would.

Quite possible, yeah. Unless she died immediately, there would be retribution.

Burnscar or Crawler could deal a hell of a lot of damage, even if they didn’t know who they were attacking.

Their biggest limitation would be Bonesaw. I’m sure Crawler is immune to fire and Shatterbird would be too dead to care if Burnscar just set fire to the whole room, but Bonesaw has no such luck. She probably wouldn’t appreciate her work being torched either.


Slowly, she walked over to Bonesaw, navigating around the drones.  Could she kill the kid?

She’s too adorable to die. I’m not saying I don’t want it to happen, it’s just not physically possible in-universe, regardless of Wildbow’s wishes.

On the one hand, Bonesaw was the one who kept the other members going.  Removing her would take a lot of problems off the board.

Oh yeah, that is true. Jack’s the brains, but Bonesaw is the heart.

She could finish off Bonesaw and run for cover in the kitchen, out of Burnscar and Shatterbird’s line of fire.  From there, it was only steps to the front door and safety.

Line of fire, heh.

Also she seems to be forgetting about, or unaware of, Burnscar’s mobility. I suppose she wouldn’t know about that if she’s basing all this off Coil’s intel.

On the other hand, it was still murder, and it was a kid.  A kid that had a hundred kills under her belt.

Yeeah. And who’ll go on to do much more if you don’t intervene.


A squeaking sound distracted her from her thoughts.  It was like air being let out of a balloon, but in shorter spurts.  Bonesaw?

It’s the arrival of the secret ninth member, Helium Guy.

No, the girl wasn’t making any noise.  The mechanical spider?  No.  Not the spider either.

Maybe it’s Crawler snoring.

Hm, okay, serious speculation… Maybe Cherish is in the hallway, trying to sneak out, but the floorboards are creaky. Or maybe it’s Mannequin?

Okay, it’s probably not creaky floorboards, but I’m stumped.

Stepping as close to Bonesaw and the spider as she dared, Aisha investigated the sounds.  Where were they coming from?

Maybe Bonesaw’s sticking mice into this person’s chest cavity.

Bonesaw smiled, “You’re going to have to speak up if you want me to hear you, Jonathan.”

Ahh, the patient!


Jonathan?

Aisha looked down at the body, and realized the heart was beating inside Bonesaw’s hands.  The man’s eyes were moving, and his lips moved as he struggled and failed to make words come up through his windpipe.

Oh, I see. The squeaking may seem to come from the guy attempting to speak, but it’s actually a dove named Archimedes.

The surge of horror and disgust gave Aisha the strength to cast aside her doubts.

Y’know… when I talked about Bonesaw being impossible to kill, that was a joke, but it honestly does seem believable that she’d install some failsafes in her own body. Though self-modification is more Mannequin’s thing, and biological failsafes was Aegis’.

“Sorry kid,” she said.

She plunged the knife into Bonesaw’s bare throat.

Let’s see how this goes. Good luck, Imp.

Bonesaw screamed, shrill and loud, which caught Aisha off guard.  With a knife in her throat, the girl was screaming?

Hm. Was I right?

Or did Aisha just miss the throat proper?

Reacting more on instinct than wit, Aisha pulled the knife out and then slashed it horizontally across Bonesaw’s throat.

She’d expected a spray of blood or gurgling.  Neither happened.  Bonesaw screamed again.

Yep, looks like she did install some protections.


So she pulled the knife free and stabbed Bonesaw in one eye.  The blade scraped against the bone of Bonesaw’s eye socket.

…isn’t this supposed to go straight into the brain? Or is the knife too big for that?

Flame erupted and pieces of glass came to life around Aisha.

And there we have the others stepping in. Have they noticed her?

She backed away quickly as a wall of flame rolled over Jonathan on the table and divided her from Bonesaw.  There was a rumble and the sound of falling furniture as Crawler stood.

How tall is this room, anyway?

“Ow, ow, ow, ow!”  Bonesaw shrieked.  “It hurts!”

I’m sure she’ll fix it up fairly quickly, but that rarely helps with the pain in the moment.

Why isn’t she dead? 

I mean, if I’m right, it’s clear enough that I’m ashamed I didn’t think of it earlier. She specializes in tinkering with biology, so why wouldn’t she tinker with her own to make herself better protected?


Aisha yanked the knife out and then gripped her taser.

Hm, maybe the electricity could mess with whatever tech she’s got under there?

“Is it Jack?” Burnscar asked, looking around, then turning to the window, “What the hell?”

Alright, so Burnscar hasn’t noticed Aisha yet. That’s good.

“It’s not Jack,” Bonesaw said.  She snapped her fingers, and the mechanical spider leaped on top of her, beginning to suture the wounds in her neck.  “I gave Jack the same safeguards I gave us, he would have succeeded if he tried it.”

…well, fuck, of course she would.

This just threw a big spanner in the works for any plans to simply kill Jack in a mundane way, and it seems the other physically weak members – Shatterbird, Burnscar and Cherish – have the same protection.

If Taylor had tried to send the trolley the other way in 12.4, she would probably have failed.


Shatterbird scowled.  “Then who or what was that?  Crawler, do you know?”

Hmm. Inhuman eyes, and more importantly, possibly an inhuman brain. Might cause trouble.

Aisha backed toward the front door.  She stopped as Crawler appeared in the doorway that led from the kitchen to the front hall, looking through to see his teammates on the far end.  His voice was a mangled mess of sounds that only barely approximated anything like speech.  “I don’t smell anyone.”

I suppose it makes sense to try a different sense when dealing with a seemingly invisible enemy.

Smells can’t find me, then, Aisha thought.  Still, she didn’t have her escape route.

Yeah, makes sense that they wouldn’t, really. It’s one of the important distinctions between this power and invisibility – anyone who smells you, or hears you, still has their memories of that wiped.

“Torch the apartment and make a break for it?” Burnscar asked.  “We can meet up as a group later.”

Better hope they leave space for you to follow them out before they torch it up, Imp.


“No.  Cherish has a hard time tracking Mannequin, and he won’t know how to find us,” Shatterbird said.

Oh, huh, that’s an interesting tidbit. Something that might come in handy at a later date, perhaps.

“I’m okay,” Bonesaw piped up.  She held one hand to her eye socket, which had trails of smoke rising from it.  “You don’t need to worry.  I can put my throat back together easy, after I get my kit out to check the sheaths for my vitals to make sure there’s no abrasions, and I’ve got spare eyes.  I could go with green eyes.  Or one green and one blue, or if I alter them, I could have-“

See? I told you it was only a matter of time.

Hm, I think I’ve seen fanart of heterochromic Bonesaw, though I figured it was just a headcanon or something I’d missed. I do like that idea.

“Quiet,” Shatterbird cut in.  “It’s less about you being hurt and more about the fact that someone had the audacity to attack us here.

Man, even when saying something like this within the team, she manages to sound terse and self-important in my head.

Burnscar, put out those fires.  We don’t want attention.”

Good point.


The wall of flame shrunk and faded away.

“Really hope you don’t have another way of sensing me, big guy,” Aisha said to Crawler, ducking between his legs and stepping towards the door.  “I’m gonna make my exit now.”

Hehe. “Okay, I’m outie. See ya.”

None of the Nine reacted as she shut the door behind her.

I like that her power extends to things like this. Someone who was just plain invisible wouldn’t be able to open and close a door non-sneakily, but with Imp, every moment of the door moving is forgotten once it happens, so they’ll only notice it if they realize the door is in a different state than it was earlier.

Lesson learned.  The more ‘vulnerable’ members of the Nine weren’t as vulnerable as they looked.  Sheaths, Bonesaw had said?

Imp may not have gotten as much information as she wanted, but this piece was worth it. As long as she shares it with the others (prompting a confrontation about her going behind their backs, probably), they’ll be able to account for this from the start rather than be unpleasantly surprised.

Stepping into the lobby, she stopped in her tracks.

Hm?


One of the detectives who’d been standing by the door was dead, his throat slit.  He laid in the center of the lobby.

Oh hi, Jack, what’s up?

Two more blood trails ran to the side of the lobby opposite the stairs.

Manager’s office?

…wait, why would Jack bother to move them? Or did they not die immediately and make it over there before succumbing?

Her weapon drawn, she reached for the doorknob, and collided with Jack as he strode out of the office.

Bomp.

Well, then. I’d imagine he’d notice that.

Unless her power is strong enough to force his brain to ignore the odd resistance from the doorway.

“What’s wrong?” Cherish asked.

Aisha backed away.

Hm. This is a good sign – Cherish doesn’t seem to have noticed Aisha despite Aisha having been within range ever since she came close to the building unless Cherish just arrived. That does seem likely given the detective and other assorted corpses, but still, she doesn’t seem to have noticed Aisha with her power yet.

“Nothing,” Jack said.  “You grab the last body and then find a mop.”

“Me?”

Huh. Aisha’s power really is that powerful.

But seriously, I’m surprised they’re bothering to clean up.


“I think I’ve been exceedingly generous, giving you a second chance.  You can repay me by doing the heavy lifting.”

Honestly, yeah, that’s fair.

“Ever the gentleman.”

“Go on, now.  I’ll wait here.”

Aisha watched as Cherish walked past her, grabbed the heavyset detective and began dragging him inch by inch toward the office.

Imp: *helps Cherish drag the guy*
Cherish: “Hey, Jack, I think I just developed super strength somehow.”

She only remembered one other time when her heart had pounded this hard.  It had been when the fledgling Merchants had attacked her and her father.  It was another chance.

Hm. Are we about to learn her trigger event?

By fledgling, does she mean the mostly harmless pre-Extermination Merchants, or the still small but less harmless ones from sometime between Extermination and Sentinel? The latter would make more sense for her trigger event, since I doubt she went long before telling Grue about her power.

While they were separated, she could go after one.  But which?

Go after Jack or Cherish? I mean, Bonesaw did indicate that they’re both protected the same way she is, so Imp would have to get clever about it.

Jack might be the better one to go for even without the prophecy. Cherish can’t do much if she doesn’t notice her target, while Jack can slice around the entire room. Then again, attacking Jack might cause him to do so on reflex, whereas him processing that Cherish was being attacked would give Imp a little more time.


She held the taser and the knife, adjusting her grip so she was secure.

Jack was the key figure.  Aisha knew she could attack him, knew she maybe should, but would she succeed any more than she did against Bonesaw?  Cherish might be able to lash out with some kind of blind fire, affecting the emotions of everyone nearby.

Hmm, I didn’t think of that. I doubt that’s a thing based on the depiction of her power so far, but it’s definitely something worth considering for Imp.

No.  Cherish was the newest member, wasn’t she?  There were better odds that Cherish didn’t have the protections that Jack and the others did.

Ooh, that’s a really good point.

I don’t think this is going to work. There are some narrative issues with the idea of offing a second Slaughterhouse member before the recruitment is at least 60% over, unless it’s Jack (in which case I still think it would happen later, since we’re only in the first round of nominations) or they decide to take both Hookwolf and Bitch on the team in spite of the game.

Exhaling slowly, Aisha followed behind Cherish as the girl tugged the body into the other room.  She stepped inside and shut the door.

Hm. Might’ve been better to do it in a different room from where Jack is.

“Put the weapon away,” Cherish said, her voice quiet.

Ah. Hiya.

So she’s feigning ignorance, huh. Thinking of doublecrossing Jack, perhaps?


Aisha gulped, realizing the trap she’d just stepped into.  “You can hear me?”

Trap, you say…

Also, I suppose she hears Aisha in more than one way, although Aisha probably doesn’t know about how Cherish’s power manifests for her.

A second passed, and there was no response.

“Put it away, or I’m going to leave you quivering in a corner, shitting your pants.”

Sounds unpleasant.

“You can’t hear me.”  Aisha gripped her weapon and stepped closer.

Well, not quite, apparently. Not in the mundane way, at least.

Maybe she’s bluffing? Perhaps she heard the emotions of the people upstairs, figured there was an invisible enemy around that would be using a bladed weapon, and is now just saying this in case Aisha’s there?

tumblr_inline_pajbr71sOm1sxgvvn_400.png

[xkcd comic]

Caption: Now and then, I announce “I know you’re listening” to empty rooms.
Caption: If I’m wrong, no one knows. And if I’m right, maybe I just freaked the hell out of some secret organization.

…but that sounds much less likely than her being able to partially sense Aisha.


Cherish whirled around, her eyes flitting right and left, searching for Aisha.  “I’ll scream.  He’ll come in here, and a couple swings of his knife, he can cut you down, invisible or no.”

That’s true, he could.

But it seems she’s not quite as calm and collected as she sounded at first.

“It’s not invisibility,” Imp said, uselessly.

“Put your weapon away,” Cherish said, her voice quiet and carefully measured, “We only have a few seconds before Jack gets suspicious.  Listen.  I want to strike a deal.”

Now this is the good stuff. :3

I’m listening.


*scrolls down, sees “Last Chapter”*

Dammit!


End of Interlude 13½

Hell yes.

What’s not to like about this chapter? We got a direct look at Grue and Imp’s mother and the people she surrounds herself with (poor Jennifer, get out while you still can), insight into how Imp’s power works (most notably that it has to be actively turned *off*, not on), stealthy secret agent double-0h-Imp, the reveal of Bonesaw having protected the squishies (which I somehow managed to partially call out of nowhere just a couple paragraphs before the reveal? I swear I didn’t edit anything after moving on to the next blockquote.) and perhaps most importantly, Cherish wanting to make a deal behind Jack’s back.

I can’t find it, but I’m pretty sure I kind of called that at some point before this chapter, musing on Cherish’s best options – betraying the Nine and seeking protection with the protagonists is her best shot at non-horrific survival, even if it’s going to take some convincing for the protagonists to let her stay. In any case, Cherish wanting to make a deal, whatever the specifics may be, is a quite satisfying development and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

In the meantime, next chapter:

villagers.png

See you then!

(#i’ve got an image involving this character saved as ‘taylor is that you.png’)

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