Prey 14.4: Taking Flight

Source material: Worm, Prey 14.4

Originally blogged: August 13, 2018


Oink! Krixwell here, ready to read some more Worm!

So. Last time, the Protectorate showed up, and Piggot wants to talk to Lisa. I do not trust this in the slightest, knowing Piggot’s plans of backstabbing the villains of Brockton Bay. Even if the main topic on the surface is Siberian’s “creator”, she’s quite likely going to try to set up the situation that allows that backstab.

At least she’s talking to Tattletale, which might have some interesting results. Though as a downside, that probably means we’ll have to rely on context clues to tell what Piggot is saying as it happens, unless Lisa puts Taylor on the line for some reason. Hrm.

As for Siberian… their real body is, as far as we know, still in the crater, possibly suffering from whiplash (the car being invulnerable wouldn’t help against that), so unless the Protectorate, Wards and Undertravelers all spectacularly fail to pay attention to the crater, they can at least arrest the real body. Question then is whether they’ll be able to hold on to them with the Monochrome running around.

And that’s if Piggot doesn’t completely mess up the priorities here.

So yeah… let’s hear what the Jirector of the PRT has to say!


Prey 14.4 came out on September 15th, 2012, huh… If I’m not mistaken, that means we’re going to hit my sister’s birthday a couple chapters from now.


“Me?”  Tattletale quirked an eyebrow.

I suppose Lisa’s about as surprised at that as I am.

Piggot should definitely know this is a bad idea, even if they’re not entirely sure how Lisa’s power works.

“Sure,” Chariot said.  Just behind and to one side of him, Glory Girl was glaring at Tattletale.

Right, I suppose she wouldn’t like Lisa either. She probably thinks Lisa’s talked Amy into joining the Undersiders, too. And she’s not entirely wrong if she does.

She looked like she was ready to hit people.  It was the kind of latent hostility I was used to seeing in Bitch.

Victoria can be pretty scary if you get on her bad side, even without her aura. And right now she seems to be in a frame of mind where it doesn’t take much to get on her bad side.

“Not terribly fair to my teammates, if it’s just a one-on-one conversation.”

Ahh, so that’s how we’re solving that.

“Are you going to take this or not?” Chariot asked, his hand still extended in her direction.

Well, maybe.

“No real point,” Tattletale shrugged.  She tucked her hair behind her ear and turned her head.  “Already have one.”

…fuck, I forgot about that! Ahaha, nice!

So does Taylor get the other one?


Battery stepped forward, glancing over at our team, “This one is already set to the encrypted channel, it’s faster if-”

Tattletale probably did that with the one she has, didn’t she. There’s a good chance she’d Know how to if she tried.

Tattletale interrupted, “Uplink three-three-five, encryption forty-two mod three-four-two-one-zero-zero-six-six-three-one-zero-”

Ahahaha

Shenanigans like these are part of why I like her so much. 😛

“You have access to our channel,” Battery growled, interrupting Tattletale’s spiel of numbers.

Tattletale shrugged.  “Have for a while now.”

I wonder how much info she’s been able to glean that way.

Battery raised one hand to her ear.

“Yeah, Battery,” Tattletale grinned, “Let’s do as the Director says and get down to business.”

Pffft.

So wait. Wouldn’t Lisa have heard Piggot tell Chariot– oh, that’s how she knew that “they want to talk” last chapter. I guess Piggot didn’t specify Tattletale after all? In which case this is on Chariot, Glory Girl and Battery. (Yes, all three of them, even if it was all Chariot’s decision.)


Battery drew a phone from her belt and tapped her fingers on the keypad for a moment.  She gave Tattletale a dark look as she held the phone out.

…what? Is this so you can put it on speaker?

A woman’s voice said, “Not like you to tip your hand, Tattletale.”

She is acting a bit less subtle than usual. Now the PRT can demand the return of the earpiece, and she’s given them more to go on when it comes to figuring out her power.

They’ll also change the encryption key either way, but that won’t help for long if she has the earpiece.

“Director.  Are we really going to pretend you didn’t know I was listening in?  You’ve been putting out misleading details to screw with my information gathering.

Has she, or did you just pick up the misleading details meant for Chariot?

Done quite a good job of it, if I may say so myself.  Very subtle, all of it just right enough that even was thrown off.  Couldn’t trust much of it.”

Huh, not bad, Piggot. I’ll give you that one.

(Of course, if it was the misinformation meant for Chariot, Piggot can’t exactly say so.)


“Yeah, Battery,” Tattletale grinned, “Let’s do as the Director says and get down to business. To defeat the Nine. Did they send me daughters, when I asked for sons?”

(#altered quote)


“Thank you.”

“And you did catch me off guard here.  I didn’t expect you to contact me.”

I suppose it is possible that contacting specifically Tattletale on sight was pre-planned, so that Piggot didn’t need to specify it over the radio.

“You’ve been busy, your groups.  Fighting Burnscar in the Docks, I gather that didn’t go so well,” the Director said, pausing.

That was less of a fight and more of an escape, except for Genesis’ contribution.

I didn’t even want to think about that.  I hadn’t been back to check on my people or my territory since then.  We had been busy.

If she puts this off much longer her territory might become like my old NeoPets account. I was away from it for an extended period, and then I never returned because I didn’t want to face the death of my NeoPets due to neglect. (I’m not even sure that would’ve happened. Again, I never returned.)

My point is it’s just going to get harder to face the longer she puts it off.

But yeah, they have been super busy, so she has some valid reasons.

“Then you ambush the Nine, capturing two, one of whom you enslaved, but you lose one of your own in the process.  You mount a rescue attempt.  I take it that you were successful?”

I mean, he’s standing here next to the phone, so…

Honestly, I kind of want Grue to answer this one, just interjecting with a “Yeah.” and letting his spooky voice say the rest.

“Grue’s here,” Battery informed her.  “But he looks different.”

Right, because the darkness surrounding him is a bit different now.

“So they were successful.  And now we find the Undersiders mounting a pincer attack, with this group targeting Siberian?  I suspect you’re crossing the threshold of fearlessness and entering into foolishness.”

Perhaps, though you don’t have the information they do. As long as the Monochrome doesn’t return and the real body stays in the crater, this was actually a success. Probably the first one there’s ever been against Siberian specifically.

Though the real body is still dangerous as long as they’re capable of unsummoning the Monochrome and resummoning her next to the people trying to arrest them.


That last comment nettled me.  I spoke up, “The Nine don’t really leave you alone once you’ve scored a win.  We had to seize our advantage.”

Good point. If they didn’t push, the Nine would.

“I see.”

“And she has a weakness.  Siberian, I mean,” Tattletale said.

“Do tell?”

This is not one to barter for. People need to know. The more the better.

“She’s a projection.  Like Genesis is, as I’m sure you’re aware.  Like Crusader’s duplicates.  A quirk in reality that draws from her creator’s brain to create a body complete with all the physiological substructure.  Which is largely for aesthetic effect, and I’d guess it gives her real self something the brain is familiar with controlling anyways.”

That’s a believable reason for the Monochrome’s humanoid nature, yeah.

“And the controller is vulnerable?”  There was a note of interest in the Director’s voice.

Vulnerable and currently trapped in a crater.

Again, provided someone took Skitter’s text as a cue to pay attention.

“Particularly vulnerable.  She can’t extend her invincibility over her real body.”

“I’m not sure I believe this.  The Nine would have discovered this and I doubt the baser members could resist taking advantage of such a weakness.”

It’s incredible what some people can manage to keep secret.

“The power has range.  I suspect the creator can stay miles away and still manage some control, but ventures closer for voyeuristic purposes or because it offers more control and faster response times.”

More control when closer? Sounds familiar.

“Much like Regent, hmm?”

Yep.

Tattletale paused.  “So you know that.”

From the tone of the conversation, I would have expected a ‘No, you just told me.‘, but Tattletale wouldn’t have done that.  More likely that her power confirmed her thoughts.

Yeah, Lisa’s too used to doing this herself to fall for a trick like that this easily.

“Shadow Stalker debriefed us.  What do we know about this woman who controls-”

Based on what they saw of Regent controlling Sophia, do the Undersiders have reason to believe she’d know that, or more importantly, reason to believe she wouldn’t?

I wonder if Lisa has figured out what Alec did to Sophia yet.

“Man.  The person who projects Siberian is male.  But he creates a female body.  I think it’s tied into his trigger event.  Someone he lost.

…aww. That’s pretty sad. He lost someone dear to him, so the Dandelions gave him the power to make a copy of her.

Though Brian’s Monochrome when borrowing the power still manifests as a copy of himself.

If I had to guess, he sought revenge for her, but something happened.  A side effect of the power, or just a seriously unhinged mental state… he lost it.”

And that’s how he turned into a monster who’d fit into the Nine?

“I see.  Thank you for the information.  Unfortunately none of those possibilities are narrow enough that we can use them to track him down.”

I wonder if Lisa has been prolonging the buildup to the bombshell that “actually he’s right here, stuck in a pit” on purpose.

“Not in the short-term.  In the long-term-”

“I don’t intend for there to be a long-term, Tattletale.  This ends today.”

Tattletale paused.  “What did you do?”

Uh oh. Lisa has caught onto something.


I didn’t miss the Monochrome getting the real body out of the crater, did I?


“Hmm?”

“You’re planning something.  Something you’re wanting to keep a secret, and it’s big.”

Yep, here we go. Can’t keep this from the Undersiders, Jirector.

“Tattletale, you’ve been observing and gathering information on the PRT for some time now.  Do you think I’m a stupid woman?”

“Stupid?  No.  Genius?  No.”

Not smart enough to have figured out how Tattletale works.

There was the sound of a dry laugh from the other end of the phone.  “No, I admit that’s true.  But I’d like to think I’m resourceful.  I’m fighting in a ring where my opponents are bigger, stronger, smarter, faster and better equipped than I am, and the cost of failure on my end is far greater than it is for any of you.  You understand?

Because she’s not (just) fighting for the heroes against villains, she’s fighting for the mundanes against parahumans.

In retrospect I like that that’s the kind of person who breaks the Rules of the Game for (in their own view) good. The Game is between the parahumans, turning the world of the mundane folks into a playground for demigods. That’s what she’s fighting against. She’s not following the Rules of the Game because she’s fighting against the Game itself.

Incidentally, I just lost a different Game.

I’m competent, and I wouldn’t waste my time trying to pull the wool over your eyes.”

Not if you actually thought it was a waste of time.

“So?”

“No secrets.  I’d planned to bait you here with the same subtle offers of information you praised me for earlier, but you’re here anyways, so I’ll tell you what I’m planning.

Fair enough! At least this way we can skip the Undersiders trying to figure it out for themselves while we readers already know.

In a matter of minutes, we firebomb the area where the main group of the Nine are situated.”

So the area where the other half of the Undertravelers are. I guess even with Siberian… hindered… the rush to get over there and extract the others is still on.

“That’s insane,” I spoke.

And she hasn’t even mentioned which bombs they’re using yet.

“Was that Skitter?”

“Yeah,” Battery replied.

“It’s necessary, Skitter,” the Director told me.

To take out the Nine, maybe. The rest of the targets being involved is just a massive dick move.

Also, how much have you done for any civilians that might be nearby?


“It’s breaking the rules between capes.  The same rules that hold things together in an Endbringer event.  We’re fighting a common enemy.”

Is she going to point out that she’s not a cape again?

“True, but not the full story.  We made no agreement of cooperation, and so there can be no betrayal here.”

That’s complete bullshit and you know it.

“My teammates are there, fighting the Nine, and they’re doing it for this city.  You’d be punishing them for that.”

“Legend did warn them that they shouldn’t.  He was told to, I quote, ‘suck shit’.”

Pfft.

Bitch’s words?

That would be Bitch.  Or maybe Imp.  Probably Bitch. 

Ahahaha

Tattletale quirked an eyebrow, “Did he specifically tell them they shouldn’t because you’re bombing the neighborhood?”

I’m sure that was part of why he warned them, at least, even if he (against his will) didn’t say it.

“Would you believe me if I said he didn’t get the chance?”

Yes. I would, actually. Especially if Bitch was taking the lead.

“I’d say fifty percent of it is that he didn’t get the chance, and fifty percent is that he didn’t try that hard.”

And fifty percent of those last fifty percent were probably because he wasn’t allowed to. Piggot is his superior. Which brings us up to 75% that he didn’t get the chance, sort of.


The Director offered a noncommittal ‘mm hmm’ in reply.

“And you’re telling us this because?”

“Because we’ve studied you.  We know what you prioritize, and I believe that you’ll enter the fray to save your teammates.”

I… yeah.

They totally will.

I already took that for granted, actually, which only goes to show how right Piggot is.

“Or we could phone them.”

That’s at least partially a bluff, given that that already failed once.

“Do you want to try?”

Tattletale glanced at me and Grue.  “No point, I guess.  You’re blocking unofficial communications in the area.”

Oh. I guess that might be why they failed to get through last time too.

“Yes.  We have to hamper communication between the Nine if we want to catch them off guard.  You understand.”

Yeah, like fuck that’s why you did that. The Nine don’t seem the type for phones.

Them getting phones would actually be a bit of a logistical issue for them, even. Shatterbird broke the ones in the city, including any the Nine might’ve had with them, and they don’t seem to have access to a provider of satellite phones the way Coil has. I suppose they might have gathered the phones they had outside Shatterbird’s Shattering range, but it seems like a lot of trouble to go to.

It’s totally possible that Bonesaw made biological satellite phones inside their heads or some shit like that.


“I do, and that’s totally the entire reason you’re doing that,” Tattletale said.  She glanced over in the direction of the fighting.  “How long before the area is bombed?”

Time to set the countdown clock.

Also, be sure to use your power to find out how much time you should cut from whatever she says because there’s no way she won’t inflate the number.

“Can’t say.  On the record, as with your teammates, we’re forbidding you from entering the area, but I expect you’re doing so anyways.  Against my recommendation.”

Coddammit. That’d totally work to cover their bases.

It’s like my analogy about Amy’s responsibility and cliffside warning signs [here] from yesterday. The PRT is planning to claim that they – metaphorically speaking – set up warning sings and fences that the Undertravelers rudely barreled past despite how thoroughly the PRT pleaded for them not to!

After that it’s not the PRT’s fault if the Undertravelers happen to get caught in the crossfire…

Piggot may not be a genius, but she has thought this through.


So who else is going to be in the blast zone? The plan wasn’t meant to attract just the Undertravelers. Has Hookwolf’s contingent shown up?


“Absolved of blame,” Grue spoke.  His voice was tight, his body tense.

The Director ignored him.  “The moment I heard you were in the picture, I told my subordinates to change the time.

Because you figured Lisa would know when it was going to happen.

They’ll inform me about the new time of attack as soon as I’ve hung up.  It’s not a perfect solution, but perhaps your actions from this point will reveal something about your power and its limitations.

I will admit that’s a pretty solid way of testing whether Lisa works by reading the mind of people she can hear talking.

But please understand that we just can’t risk that you’ll inform the Slaughterhouse Nine about the scheduled attack.”

Okay, yeah, that one’s a fair point.

“And there’s a chance we’ll be collateral damage, out of the picture and out of your hair after the Nine are gone.”

They’re counting on it.


It’s worth noting that Piggot is still holding back the information that these are fucking Bakuda bombs they’re talking about.


“How sad, that you see monsters where none exist.”

Right back at ya.

“Right.”

“It was nice to finally talk with you, Tattletale.  You should go help your teammates, if you’re going to.”

“Fuck you, Piggot.”

Yeaaah, Jemily has taken a turn for the far less sympathetic since Interlude 13, damn.

On the other hand, she’s also taken a turn for the more interesting, with her… perpendicular motivations and willingness to go really far for her goals.

There was no response, and Battery deemed the conversation over, putting away the phone.

See ya, ya warthog.

…sorry, that’s mean to warthogs.


In the brief period of silence that followed, while we got ourselves ready, a voice broke through, “Victoria-”

Oh boy, this could be interesting. Is Amy going to side with the Undertravelers regarding this being super fucked up, while Victoria sides with Piggot?

“Don’t,” Glory Girl snapped.  “I didn’t tell anyone what you did, but that’s the last nice thing I’m going to do for you, understand?

Oh, alright. I’m sure the rest of the family knows something’s up between them, though, even worse than it already was.

We’re not teammates.  We’re not sisters.  We’re not friends.”

Ow.

“I’m sorry, Amy,” Tattletale said, “But we’ve got to go.”

“I’ll go with you”? Perhaps more stuttery?

We were moving a minute later, leaving the squad of heroes behind.  Looking over my shoulder, I could see them getting in formation, clustering around Cache, who was regaining consciousness.

Aw, guess not. Fair enough. She’s had enough danger for a day without running straight into a zone that’s about to be bombed to hell and back in order to save some villains she has no reason to care for.

Only Glory Girl stood apart, her arms folded.

Wasn’t quite sure about the story there, but I was getting a sense of it.

Amy did something to Glory Girl and things went to shit between them.

That’s like a quarter of the story at most.

I could feel Amy tapping my arm.

!!

She did go with them!

Hell yes.

“What?” I had to raise my voice to be heard.

“Drop me off,” she spoke into my ear.

Dang it. I knew that might be coming.

I’m getting jerked around here, though…

But yeah, I can’t blame her.

It took a few seconds to get the message to Grue and come to a complete stop.  Tattletale stopped Bentley a hundred feet ahead.  Trickster and Sundancer looked back with mild curiosity.  Their costumes didn’t reveal much about their expressions.

I mean, she’s not quite an Undertraveler. She agreed to help you against Siberian, but this is something entirely different.

I do think the range relays are going to come in handy, though, somehow.


“Not thinking straight,” Amy said, “Not enough to go into a situation like this.  Don’t want to get bombed.  Um.”

I get it. They should probably have asked if you wanted to get off before they started moving.

“It’s fine,” I said.  “Still willing to help?”

She nodded.

Remote help – the kind of “send the bugs my way” arrangement Taylor was talking about before?

Or maybe Amy’s going to be their spy and communicate to Taylor by manipulating bugs when the bombing seems to draw near?

“I’m going to send you the bugs I can’t use.  If you want to make more bugs that can relay my signal, that’d be great.  If you can think of something else… I need firepower.”

Right, let’s see if she’s actually willing to do that.

“And we’re going to be short on mobility if we need to make a run for it,” Grue said.  “Too many of us for two dogs that can carry people, unless we’re lucky and Genesis picked a form that works.”

Hmm.

I doubt Amy can make steeds out of bugs given the established limitations, but maybe she could send something else useful their way.

We’d sent Regent’s group out with Shatterbird, Imp and Ballistic, with the idea that Genesis would meet them there.  They’d taken one of Coil’s trucks, since Bastard wasn’t old enough, big enough or trained enough to carry a rider.

“What am I supposed to make?”

Ah, yeah, Bastard’s not gonna be able to carry them. But at least that truck might come in handy, if the Nine haven’t destroyed it.

“Figure it out, Amy.  If you can’t think of anything, the relay bugs are excellent.  Really.”

“Okay.”  She let me help her down.

Again, I appreciate that Taylor is validating her efforts.


“Skitter,”  Tattletale called out, “We should be close enough.  Want to pass them a message?”

Oh yeah! Good idea!

I nodded.  I had six of the relay bugs, and it took only a minute to set them up so they formed a chain, extending my reach for an additional six city blocks in one direction.  Eight and a half in total.

These are really, really good for this kind of thing. Told ya they’d come in handy!

(Not that that’s an amazing prediction. That’s just basic storytelling.)

I swept them outward, and the one at the furthest point lagged behind.  Still, it gave me the opportunity to cover a wide area.  Bugs mobilized throughout, and I began funneling the less offensive ones back toward Amy.  No-see-ums, earthworms, caterpillars and roughly half of the houseflies in the area began filtering back.

Awesome.

I maintained some of the dragonflies and other mobile bugs for the sake of getting a feel for the area.

I could sense Regent’s group, running to cover.  Ballistic was bombarding Crawler, relying on the impacts to drive the brute back.  Crawler was fast -and he was agile, with preternatural reflexes- but Ballistic was unloading on him with projectiles that moved faster than sound.

Niice. That’s gonna pack a punch even if the punch doesn’t deal damage.

Crawler dodged only two in three, and Ballistic followed up on any successful hits with a series of shots to pound Crawler into the nearest available surface and pin him there.  Genesis had formed a body that was winged.  It resembled a pterodactyl with arms, a griffon or something in that vein.

…alright. I don’t think a “pterodactyl with arms” and a griffon would look much alike except having a similar arrangement of limbs, but sure.

Doesn’t sound like a form that’s particularly rideable.

She was making an effort to drop large chunks of rubble onto Crawler.  He was strong enough that it barely slowed him down, but time he spent hauling a section of wall off of himself was time for Ballistic to get his hands on material for another shot.

Teamwork!

Shatterbird offered support with a constant hail of glass to harry Crawler and keep him from finding traction on the pavement.

It seems like there’s a lot of firepower focused on Crawler right now. What’s the status of the other members of the Nine?


Jack, Bonesaw, Mannequin… I found the former two in a parking lot.  My bugs sensed what I judged were Bonesaw’s mechanical spiders, tearing cars apart and converting the components into more spiders.

I suppose that’s her way of “reloading”.

There was a group of people with her, shuffling behind them.

Oh jeez, what has she cooked up this time?

Mannequin was MIA.  That was bothersome.  He was able to detect and avoid my bugs, which meant he was a factor I had to keep in the back of my mind.

Damn. And if he’s taking care to avoid the bugs, he’s probably figured out that Skitter is here now.

Although with the other half of her team here, that’s probably a worthwhile thing for him to assume anyway.

“Found them, except for Mannequin.  Amy?  Be careful.  I don’t know if Jack’s team is going to break the rules they set, but Mannequin could come after you.”

Ah, yeah, he would definitely have a vendetta against Amy because of the whole “helping the sick” thing Amy’s been doing ever since she got her power.

I was so used to dealing with my teammates, people who were experienced in this sort of thing, that I hadn’t expected much more than confirmation.  She looked legitimately scared at the prospect.

Right. This would take a while to get used to for Amy.


“Here,” I directed a ladybug into my palm and extended it towards her.  “Crush it, and I’ll come.  Or transmit some signal with my power.  You have my backup, understand?”

Tried and true tactics. This is a thing I like about Worm. When Taylor comes up with a technique, she’s not afraid to reuse and perfect it as needed. Very few tricks get left behind as one-offs, if any.

Would Amy hurt a fly ladybug?

“Okay.”  She took it, but she didn’t look reassured.  The first bugs were flowing into her cupped hands.  I could feel nervous systems intermingling, two bugs becoming one, and that strange hollowness that told me I didn’t have a complete grasp on how they functioned, that there was a part of them that was beyond the reach of my power.

fusions?

Can she make a steed out of bugs after all? A bug horse (not the shapeshifting kind) or something, made from a ton of bugs merged together and just barely under Taylor’s control?

That would be amazing.


I drew out words with my bugs, on a surface of wall where Regent would be able to see.  ‘Evacuate.’

He ran his fingers through the bugs.  After a moment’s thought, I gathered them into a square, organized by rank and file.  It took me two tries, but I managed to make them move to form letters, then regroup.

What’s with the square army? I could see that being the start of forming a map to show him which way to go (though arrows would probably be better)…

Oh, now I get it. It’s an easy starting point for moving them into letter forms quickly.

He dragged his fingertip through the bugs to spell out a reply.  ‘Can’t.  We run we can’t keep crawler down’.

A keyboard. This is neat.

Also I know it’s just a result of how Wildbow decided to format this, but I like the slight implication that Regent somehow capitalized the starts of each sentence but not Crawler’s name. That kind of typing… quirk, if you will, carrying through implies that Taylor included a shift key or a caps set, and Regent bothered to use it. :p

‘We’re coming,’ I wrote to him.

“Let’s go!”  I called out.  Tattletale turned in her seat and kicked Bentley to get him going.  Grue did the same for Sirius.

It was worth a shot.


Having gathered as many bugs as I could, I drew my relay bugs back and spaced them around the perimeter of my own range, effectively extending it by a block in every direction.

Sweet.

“Have to stall Crawler long enough to make a run for it!”  I shouted.

“Have to do it in the next eight minutes!”  Tattletale called out.

Ah, I see you found out the time. Honestly, eight minutes is more than I thought it’d be.

Grue was getting Sirius to keep pace with Bentley, who was brawnier and slower.

“Bomb hits then?”

“Sometime after then.  Could be eight minutes and ten seconds, could be fifteen minutes!”

Ah, fair enough. At least knowing the minimum time you’ve got is way more useful than knowing the maximum time.

I swore under my breath.  Eight minutes made for a deceptively small amount of time.

The heroes were gathered.  I couldn’t set them apart.  With few exceptions, they each wore an identical costume with full body coverage.

I forgot they’d be here too, in addition to any other villains falling into the trap.

There were subtle differences in height  and body shape, which let me identify the people at the extreme ends of the physical spectrum: Vista, who was the smallest, and Triumph, the most musclebound.  Weld wasn’t in the concealing costume, presumably to retain more of his shapeshifting capability.

Seems reasonable. It also wouldn’t be difficult to tell who the guy with the really heavy footsteps was anyway.


Vista, Clockblocker, Weld, Flechette, Triumph, Miss Militia, Assault… Glory Girl, Battery, Cache and the ghostly bear were joining them.  That left two more I couldn’t place.  They moved in formation.

Hm. The two she can’t place might both be Prism. Multicolored duplicates would be an appropriate power for that name.

Might as well do what I could to help.  I drew out arrows and words on the ground, with names by each arrow to point them to Jack, Bonesaw and Crawler.  With the arrow length, I tried to indicate how far the distance was to each of the enemies in question.

Nice, I think that’s gonna help out a lot. Not least by letting them cut off Bonesaw’s shenanigans.

They spent about ten seconds discussing it, then broke into a run, going for Jack and Bonesaw.  Good.

We reached the scene of the ongoing fight with Crawler.  Sundancer was off the dog and on the ground the second we could see him, creating her orb and increasing its size.  She was fireproof, but she didn’t have the ability to grant that benefit to others.

Probably a good idea to move the sun away before increasing the size too much then.

Once she was standing, the orb was free to grow.

There wasn’t much my bugs could do.  They settled on Crawler and found his flesh impenetrable.

It’d be pretty ridiculous if Taylor found that Crawler, for all his immunities and tough skin, was still vulnerable to bugs. :p

If he has any vulnerability to them, it’s that you might be able to make him chase a swarm of them like a laser pointer. :3

I began preparing web nets, drawing lines of silk between my airborne bugs.  Amy’s relay bugs had afforded me the chance to pick up far more bugs than I otherwise might have.  My attention flickered over my swarm.

Are you trying to catch Mannequin?

Nearly a million spiders.  They were only a relatively small percentage of the swarm itself.

Coddamn.

I had more ants, termites, flies, aphids, gnats and beetles to form the bulk of my army.

I sent the more useless ones toward Amy.  Not so many that I overwhelmed her, but enough that she always had more at hand.

Excellent. So what is she doing with the ones you’ve already sent?


He’s big, he’s strong, he’s ridiculously tough, but he’s no Leviathan. 

Leviathan had a crapton of offensive power on top of his near-impenetrable flesh. Crawler has a decent bit of that too, but he’s definitely specialized in defense.

My spiders began weaving their threads into braids, the flying bugs directing them in and through loops of silk as the threads spooled out.  Where bugs couldn’t hover, they directed their flight into tight corkscrews to slow themselves.

So does that mean they’re making ropes, in the hopes of tying Crawler up?

Spider silk or no, I’m not sure that’s going to work.

I wondered if this was the most bugs I’d ever controlled.  The buzz of my power thrummed through me to the point that I was barely aware of myself and where I was standing.

Careful! Don’t lose yourself to the swarm!

It wasn’t just the number of  bugs, but the number of instructions.  Spiders were spooling thread, organizing by the amounts they had remaining.

I guess even Skitter’s multitasking has limits.


Flying bugs were gathering in formations, carrying the slower bugs forward and maneuvering the spiders to spin webs.  Smaller bugs, the useless ones, I directed to Amy and formed into dozens of decoys.  Millions of instructions a second.

But I’m not sure Skitter’s multitasking limits take the form of her not being able to multitask past a certain point. The way this is being described, it sounds like she’s losing focus, becoming one with the swarm. She is the swarm.

Estimates said that insects outnumbered people by two hundred million to one in worldwide population.  Part of that distribution was biased toward rainforests and other areas humans left uninhabited.

Welcome to beautiful Brockton Rainforest!

That’s a fuckton of bugs. And “insects” doesn’t even cover the whole phylum of creatures Taylor can control.

At the end of the day, that was just insects, and there were more creatures under my sway than the six-legged variety.

…like I was saying.

Taylor controls arthropods. It took me a while to connect the fact that she can control crabs and arachnids to that higher classification, but I got there eventually.

I could feel them in the earth, in the walls, beneath the pavement, even.  Even from the weeks after I’d left the hospital, I’d dismissed them as background noise, just sources to draw from in amassing my swarms.

Honestly, as far as creature control powers go, arthropod control is really good for always having some ammunition handy.

Now, it felt different.  My range was extended, and it wasn’t because I was distracted, cornered, trapped.  As Crawler noticed us and shifted his position to keep us all in line of sight with his innumerable eyes, I had a few moments to think, to experience my power at its best.

She’s going mad with power! Mad I say! 😮


We were so small.  Even in the scope of a single neighborhood, my power extending for roughly a thousand feet in every direction, it made us all seem tiny.  Even Crawler.

There’s a certain irony to that given the size of the creatures that are giving her that feeling.

But with their sheer number, they suddenly become big.

“Don’t use your orb on him,” Tattletale cautioned.  “Won’t do us any favors, and it’ll only make him stronger for the future.”

And that’s if it actually hurts him.

“Then what should I do?”

“There’s no civilians here.  Legend and the others have evacuated.”  I told her.  “The buildings are empty.

Except for the other Nine?

She nodded, apparently grasping my meaning.

“You go high, ‘Dancer, I go low?” Grue asked.

She nodded.

What does Grue– he’s gonna borrow her power?

I held back as they advanced, ready to make their move.  Ballistic caught Crawler with a projectile, and the monster went sliding.  Shatterbird hit him with a wave of glass to keep him down, and Genesis swooped down to smash him over the head with the wreckage of a small car.

It did surprisingly little to keep him down.

Well that’s helpful.


Grue and Sundancer made their moves, Grue swamping Crawler in darkness while Sundancer brought her orb around into the face of the building.

Ahh. Blinding him so he doesn’t jump to block the orb?

With her miniature sun, she sheared through the concrete and metal, zig-zagging the orb through one floor.

The supports obliterated or melted, the building crashed down to the street with enough force that the rolling cloud of dust and was enough to drive us back.

And then burying him to stop him from immediately following you. Sure, that might work!

He had to weigh several tons, but the building had him beat in that regard.

We hurried to gather.  Genesis landed.

Now you need to get out of here ASAP!

How’s the steed coming along, Amy, if that is indeed what you’re doing?

“One minute, forty-five seconds,” Tattletale said, “More if we’re lucky.”

Time is ticking down quickly!


“Until?”  Regent asked.

Until everything goes to hell.

“They’re bombing the area,” I explained.

Tattletale, Sundancer and Trickster found seats on Bentley’s back.  Bitch climbed up behind me.  Imp materialized, for lack of a better word, dropping the effect of her power.

Hah. Hey there, Imp.

That left her and Ballistic.

Okay, so what you do is you let Ballistic launch Imp into the sky and–

*gets clocked in the face by Grue*


“Three people, two fliers?” Tattletale asked.

Maybe you have enough time to let the fliers come back for Imp and Ballistic? Although Genesis might not be able to carry them in her current form, so maybe Shatterbird would have to make two trips.

“Can carry one,” Regent said.  “Too tired to carry more.”  Shatterbird landed and wrapped her arms around him.

Looks like he’s handling himself.

“I can try to carry the others,” Genesis’s voice sounded very normal considering her gargoyle-like face.  Bitch handed her a length of chain.

Alright, I guess she’s stronger than the pterodactyl comparison suggests.

“One minute and fifteen seconds.  Not sure if it’s paranoia or my power, but I think the bomb’s going to hit closer to the deadline than not.”

It’s also better for writing a nick-of-time escape.

Genesis gathered the chain into a loop.  As Imp and Ballistic found their seats and Genesis made motions to take off, there was the sound of shifting rubble.

Crawler, no. Bad kitty.


“Damn it!”  Grue swore.  “Go!  Go!’

One minute, give or take.

We ran.  There was the sound of more rubble shifting out of place, and then a guttural laughter.  It sounded more like it came from multiple gargantuan people laughing in sync than it did from the one monster.

How many mouths does he have?

“More!”  His voice was even more unnatural, a jumble of individual sounds that only barely came together into something like a word.

Wait, what? Did he actually get hurt somehow? Or is he just thrilled by the fight?

Not so different from when I spoke through my swarm.  “Fight me!”

The impacts of heavy footfalls were audible as Crawler broke into a run, giving chase.  They were even tactile.

Is it perhaps that he’s seen the results of Sundancer’s power and wants to touch?

He was more than a hundred feet behind us, but I could feel his impacts shake Sirius.

Damn.

As my bugs struggled to catch up, my swarm sense felt Crawler stop, rearing up on his two hindmost legs.

Hm? What’s wrong, kitty? Timmy fall in a well again?

He caught at one corner of a building and tore, twisting his body to throw a chunk of brick.

Oh. That’s not good.

“Look out!”  I shouted.

My words were too slow.  The rock collided with Genesis, catching one wing.

Shit!

(One rock, three Undertravelers, yada yada…)

She collapsed to the ground, and both Ballistic and Imp fell the fifteen or so feet to the ground.  Imp shrieked as she landed.

Hey, Imp, at least you have the super useful power in this situation that you can avoid people noticing your embarassingly painful landing!

Or maybe Ballistic could stick his hand down and launch the Earth out of orbit!


No.

Crawler’s pause to grab concrete had bought me time to get my bugs into position.  They swept over Crawler, laying down braided ropes of silk joined by adhesive lines and thin gossamer.

Still not sure these are going to be strong enough.

Even caterpillars began offering their assistance, using the silk they produced for cocoons.

Using every resource available, I see.

He was a big guy, but it was a lot of silk.

Hm. I suppose so.

I could see how it hampered his movements.  There was even something approximating surprise on his face as he dropped down so all six legs were firmly on the ground, and his forelimbs didn’t extend as far as he’d expected.

Alright, I can accept this. They’re not strong enough to stand in his way, but they can weigh him down.

He tried to run and found himself hampered further.

And make his legs sticky.

Crawler sported two or three tons of physical prowess, and his power had fine tuned him into a physical specimen like few others.  My bugs had millions of years of evolution to refine the quality of their silk and their ability to produce it.

True enough. It’s good stuff.


For now, at the very least, I had the advantage.

“Genesis, can you run?”

Fuck.  No,” Genesis spoke.  “Made these claws for grabbing.”

These claws are made for grabbing, and that’s just what they’ll do…

True enough, her forelimbs and rear limbs were more like clawed hands than feet or hooves.

So to recap, she’s a winged gargoyle with clawed monkey hands.

“Imp, Ballistic, run!”

It wasn’t enough.  We had too much distance to cover before we could be sure of our safety.  Or of Imp and Ballistic’s safety, anyways.

Well, fuck. These two may come out of this with some nasty changes courtesy of Bakuda if they’re unlucky.

Even with another two minutes, or another five- well, people weren’t that fast as a rule, and neither Imp nor Ballistic were runners.  It looked like Imp had hurt herself in the fall.

That certainly doesn’t help.

“Tattletale!”  I shouted.  “Take Imp!  Bentley’s strong enough to take four!”

Desperate times call for desperate overloading of doggos.

“Got it!”  She cried, steering Bentley around and their group scooped up Imp, pulling her up onto Tattletale’s lap.  Four people, but three of them were girls in good shape.

Sirius wasn’t as strong, and Grue was heavy, Bitch wasn’t exactly slight, and Ballistic was built like a football player.

Trickster ain’t gonna be happy.

Ballistic even less so.


Between the four of us, I doubted Sirius had it in him.  Not if we wanted to move fast.

“Grue!”  I called out.

“Don’t you fucking dare!”  He turned his head around.

What. You’re not thinking of trading places, are you?

To be fair, unlike Ballistic, Skitter is a runner who didn’t just get dropped 15 feet.

I disentangled from Bitch’s grip, avoided Grue’s clutching hand and slid to the ground.  I didn’t land with both feet under me, so I tipped over and rolled.

Taylor, you’re not on fire yet, you don’t need to stop, drop and roll!

“Ballistic, take my seat!”  I shouted, as I got my feet under me.  I glanced behind me at Crawler and broke into a run.

Yeah, I can understand why Grue doesn’t like this (his something is potentially sacrificing her life for Ballistic), but it does mean a better overall chance of team survival than Ballistic running.

“Skitter!”  Grue barked the word.

“Just go!  I have a plan!”

You do?

Have you sensed something Amy produced that can help you out?


Easier to lie when I was shouting, my face hidden.

Oh.

They picked up Ballistic and bolted.

I was left behind in moments.

Now what, Taylor?


“Run, little girl!”  Crawler’s broken voice carried, a rumble so low I could feel it.  “I’ll get free!  I’ll catch you!  I’ll hold you down and lick your skin until it melts!  I’ll pluck your eyes out with the tip of my tongue!  I have your scent and you cannot ever stop me!  You cannot ever escape!”

And here I was about to mention the possibility of Crawler not caring about Taylor.

Although… it is still possible that he’s talking to Sunny.

Even the practiced motions of running couldn’t take the edge off.  Running had been my reprieve for so long, my escape long before I’d had costumes and the distractions of everything that was involved there.  It wasn’t doing anything to help the panic that was taking hold of me.

Yeeeah, that’s very understandable.

I wracked my mind for something, anything that might serve as an option.  Sewer?  Could I get down into the sewer or storm drain?

Ooh, that might work. Though we’re talking Bakuda bombs, which could majorly fuck up the infrastructure where they hit, even more so than regular bombs.

It was a possibility, though with the structural integrity of the city being what it was, it could just as easily be suicidal.

Yeah, and that’s before considering further damage by the bombs.

My bugs.  Could I lift myself up the same way I’d lifted up the small tools?  More silk, millions more bugs?

Oh fuck, are we actually doing this after all this time?! I’ve been semi-jokingly entertaining this idea since Gestation [here]!

Though I didn’t think of using the silk.


I couldn’t take the chance it wouldn’t work.

Aww.

Fair enough.

The one minute mark had surely passed.  I was on borrowed time, now, trusting my fate to luck.

Could Genesis form a new body in time?  It took her minutes, and I didn’t have that time to spare.  She would have to find me, too.

Yeah, that’s not very likely.

No.  Genesis couldn’t help.

And the heroes?  I searched in the direction of Jack and Bonesaw.  The heroes were fending off a group of people.  The group was larger than it had been the last time my focus was on them.  She was recruiting civilians?

Of course she is. She’s Bonesaw.

Or, wait, is the point here that she’s still recruiting them? And thus must have gotten them from somewhere nearby?

The heroes were falling back, gathering in formation.  Cache was using his power, if I was judging right.  I felt some of my bugs disappear from existence as he used his power on members of his team.

Looks like they’re packing up. Not much time left.

Putting them in some extradimensional compartment.  The others around him, one member of the Wards, Ursa and Weld.

The good guys were preparing for an imminent bombing run.  Jack and Bonesaw were making a run for it, too.  They’d sensed something was wrong from the way the heroes were acting.

Makes sense. Jack’s a smart dude.


Their chances were about as good as mine.

Amy.  She was turning to run.  The others crossed her path, shouted a warning.

Right, we want her to get out of the way too, yeah.

She used her power on the bug she was touching, making a final, haphazard connection.

Please tell me it’s a fusion steed!

My grip over the relay bugs had been tenuous.  This wasn’t much better.  One bug, and I couldn’t sense enough about it.  I didn’t have that innate grasp of its biology, of how it operated, or the instincts that drove it.

It’s really sounding like it’s a fusion, at least!

It would have to do.

I chanced a look over my shoulder and regretted it.  Crawler was bound tighter than ever, caught by my bugs, but the look threw me off-balance.  I stumbled, nearly falling over.

Whoops.

I managed to keep my feet under me, righting myself, but the movement of my leg made me aware of the strain.

Coddammit, I told you to get that leg fixed!


Come on, come on.

We met each other halfway.  Listening to my power, it turned in midair, so its back was to me.  It skidded on the ground.

What does it look like!

Clearly it’s got wings… does it just look like one enormous fly or wasp or something?

Six and a half feet long, five feet across and five feet tall.  A giant beetle.

Close enough and just as awesome!

It looked like she had used a Hercules beetle as a starting point, but built it broader, with larger, longer legs and two forelimbs with what looked like praying mantis style blades.  Sporting a black shell that looked almost ragged, the tips a gray-white, it also featured a single large horn that curved overhand, pointing down at the ground.

This is really awesome. I’d like to see fanart of this!

(Please tell me we’re getting a shot of Taylor flying away from explosions…)


“Please,” I prayed.  I swung one leg over its thorax and gripped the horn.  It was an awkward posture, making me feel like I’d fall forward and face-plant on the ground with the slightest excuse.  “Come on.”

I’m imagining Bitch seeing this fusion later and being vaguely offended. “Giant rideable creatures are my thing.”

It ran on the ground, slower than me.  Its shell parted behind me, revealing an overlarge, complicated set of wings.  They began to beat, thrumming with sixty or seventy flaps a second, powered by an efficient machine of what I took to be a combination of biological hydraulics and musculature.

Good fucking work, Amy! 😀

“Come on,” I begged it.

I felt it begin to lift.  I even pushed with my toes, as if that could give it what it needed.

Hehe.

We accelerated, my hair whipping behind me as we gained a dramatic boost in speed.  But our trajectory was almost directly forward, not up.  I kicked at the ground as we landed, as if that could lift us into the air.  It wasn’t working.

Well, at least you’re successfully moving away from the center faster than you were.

Boing. Boing. Boing.

It dawned on me why.

My bugs normally had ingrained knowledge of how to function.  This was a new lifeform.  It had all the necessary parts.  Amy had probably scaled everything up, given it every advantage in design I could want, counteracting all the problems that came with being proportionately larger.

So… you’re saying this thing doesn’t know how to fly with a weight on top?

But at the end of the day, it didn’t know how to fly.

Or how to land, explaining the skidding earlier. Makes sense.


I used my power to control every movement.  I felt it accelerate again, and tilted our orientation.

Niiice. It doesn’t know how to fly, so Taylor micromanages it. She acts as the brains of the operation.

I felt myself shift slightly as I found myself almost directly on top, my legs gripping the underside of his thorax, and I overcompensated.  We both crashed to the ground.  A ten or twelve foot drop for me.

Fuck.

My armor absorbed the worst of the impact, but I felt my forehead hit pavement.  I always thought of the concussion I’d suffered whenever I took a blow to the head.

Not something you’re eager to go through again, I’d imagine.

“Come on!”  I growled the words, scrambling to my feet.  “Don’t be hurt, don’t be hurt.”

He was okay.  I could examine him with my power, I just couldn’t comprehend him in the same natural, instinctive manner.

Well, at least she seems to have decided a gender for him.

It took attention, focus.  With my direction, he used a flutter of his wings and the points of his scythe-tipped claws to flip over so he was ready as I reached him.  I mounted him and tried again.  We repeated the takeoff process, faster this time.

Let’s do this thing!

We lifted off on the first try.  I controlled my breathing, focused my attention on him, tried to avoid that same reflexive compensation that came with a shift of my balance.

When I account for the wing compartments and the amount of space that the wings take up at the back of the shell, He’s not much bigger than a motorcycle.

A flying motorcycle. I’m torn between Harry Potter and Ghost Rider.

Upon further research, it seems Ghost Rider bikes don’t actually fly, so Harry Potter it is.

*pictures Taylor being tasked with delivering Harry’s Hogwarts letter and birthday cake on the fusion bug*


Relating him to a motorcycle helped, giving me the confidence to lean gently into the turns he needed to make in shifting with the air currents.

Nice!

A laugh bubbled out from between my lips, one part hysteria to two parts relief and three parts exhilaration.  I was higher up than some six-story buildings and I’d barely realized it.

Woohoo! 😀

Amy had heard what Grue said about our possible shortage of transportation and my lack of firepower.  She’d supplied something to serve in the time allotted, with the resources I’d provided.  She’d put this together in minutes.

Amy Dallon is fucking awesome.


Growing confident in the mechanics of flying, I swooped us down.  We were faster than the others on the ground, and we passed them with ease.  I loosened my deathgrip on the horn to extend one arm out to one side.  A wave, a salute.

Howdy! 😀

That done, I pulled up.

Crawler, still bound, was unable to tear through the silk as fast as the millions of spiders were connecting it.  If there was only a way to stop the bombing, I could do something to pin him down, buy time for the heroes to arrange more permanent accommodations.

I wonder if he’s too big for Cache to pick up.

But there wasn’t.  I could feel the effects as Clockblocker froze Cache in time, then froze himself.  His suit, at least.

Oh yeah, that protection!

It was only the four of them – Clockblocker, Cache, Ursa and Weld.

The bomb was about to hit, and I could only guess if we were going to be out of the blast zone.

I think you’re good, if only barely.

…except that was the end of the chapter. Hrm.


End of Prey 14.4

My prediction that we’d be seeing Greg and Lisa’s first kiss didn’t come true, so this was clearly the most disappointing chapter yet.

…nah, this was a really solid one. Piggot can be beautifully devious when she wants to be, and the tension in the Undertraveler rescue mission was supreme.

And then there’s Amy giving Skitter a flying mount by merging many small bugs into one big bug (that Taylor has to micromanage in flight because it doesn’t know how to function)! That was awesome. I’m looking forward to seeing Taylor incorporate her new steed into her tactics, and maybe even bonding with him. I wonder what she’s going to name him – Buzz Lightyear is a bit too untaylorish and unwormish. Buzz Aldrin might work a little better. Fly-int Coal? Beetle Ray Cyrus?

But nah, Taylor’s not one for silly names, so she might just call him Boberto Francesco or something serious like that.

The end of the chapter unexpectedly left the question of whether the Undertravelers were out of the blast zone as a cliffhanger, rather than give us an action hero explosion escape shot (or at least showing the explosion in this chapter), so I guess they’re still not quite in the clear. Time to dodge Bakuda tech? Though Taylor has a major advantage with flight capabilities, she’d still need to find a way to help the others.

Maybe she could do that by having the bugs (try to) catch the bombs in silk nets? Or failing that, at least fill the air above her friends with bugs so she can sense the bombs’ trajectories and give them signals regarding where to move?

It’s also worth noting that the Undertravelers are moving way faster than Amy is, so if they’re not out of the blast zone, I worry for her.

Whatever the case, the Undertravelers are going to have a serious bone to pick with the Jirector of the PRT when this is over and the Nine are defeated, if not before.

So yeah! Next time we make sure we’re out of the blast zone and maybe tell Jemily than “we lived, bitch”. Also Leviathan invites the Undertravelers to some tea and cakes. See you then!

2 thoughts on “Prey 14.4: Taking Flight

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