Prey 14.5: Corrosion

Source material: Worm, Prey 14.5

Originally blogged: August 17-22, 2018


A comfortable chair, computer on my lap, music getting pumped into my ears, bombs primed to grievously harm characters I like… It’s time to read some Worm. 😀

So, last chapter, Taylor and co. started a daring escape from the PRT’s blast zone, during which Taylor acquired a really cool steed (whom I’ll be calling Bailey [here] until we get an actual name for him).

Now, they need to make sure they actually are or quickly get out of it as the bombings start. This chapter might continue and amplify the intensity from the previous chapter if they didn’t make it all the way out yet (or Piggot calls for the bombers to target the escaping Undertravelers, though that’d be harder to excuse on the PR and governmental fronts).

Alternatively, we might be getting the Undertravelers reporting to the Protectorate (maybe even directly to Piggot) that we lived, bitches, and/or more development on Amy.

Or all of the above. When liveblogging, you can’t dismiss the possibility that it can be motherfucking BOTH THINGS.

I worry for Amy’s life. She’s currently not equipped to move anywhere near as fast as the Undertravelers, and they’ve passed her, so if they’re still in the blast zone, so is she. I’ve been getting the impression from asks (more vibes than actual outright spoilers) that she does not become a villain or a permanent aid to the Undertravelers. There are plenty of other reasons for that available, but maybe this is why.

Without further ado, let’s dodge some bombs!


In the time we had remaining, I directed my mount as high as he could manage.  My power gave me a sense of how far I was above the ground.

If they aren’t out of the blast zone, it is interesting that specifically our POV character and main protagonist gets the ability to dodge the blast zone entirely by flying.

Well, maybe not entirely. When Bakuda’s stuff comes into play, who knows what will happen. Probably not the Protectorate, Tinker labs or no.

Honestly, I think the “POV character” outweighed the “main protagonist” part. The tension may be less direct this way, but we already had lots of tension last time, and Taylor flying offers an interesting perspective on the blast zone for us readers.

My range formed a loose sphere around me, and as I made my way skyward, my power covered less and less ground, on a literal level.  It wasn’t long before my power didn’t reach the ground beneath me.

So that puts her at least 300 feet above ground. Nice.

A little daunting, being so high when I was so new to flying.

Yeah… at least you’ve got more control than last time, though.

Though that also comes with no one else being there to take that pressure.


But I was flying.  It was as close to unassisted flight as anything I could hope to experience.  I felt what he felt, his every movement was as much an extension of my will as moving my hands, blinking or controlling my breathing.

In a very real way, Taylor is one with the swarm. She has been for a while.

It was almost eerie, the quiet.  The buzz of signals and responses from my swarm grew as quiet as it had been since my powers manifested.

Oh yeah, I suppose most bugs don’t fly this high (unprompted, anyway). She has barely had the chance to be away from bugs since that fateful day in the locker.

I had the capsaicin-laced bugs in my armor, a few hundred bugs stored in my utility compartment and shoulderpads, as well as the outside fabric of my costume.  I’d brought the relay bugs up into the air around me for safety, and directed everything else to find cover.  Compared to my dim awareness of the tens of thousands of bugs that I could feel from anywhere in the city, this was almost silence.

At least she’s got some company.

How long had I been relying on my bugs to provide sensory input?  Using my own eyes, I followed my teammates as they raced for cover.

You started doing that in Agitation, and ever since you’ve been using it more and more.

I do like this moment of realization that “oh hey, maybe I should use my other senses for once”.

I felt distracted, as if it was something I wanted to relegate to my bugs while I glanced over my surroundings for potential threats.

She’s been developing some strong habits.


The plane wasn’t as fast as I’d thought it would be.  It appeared from the clouds and crossed the skyline a distance away, at an altitude not much higher than me.

Wow, she’s going really high up now.

Either that or that’s a low-flying plane. I wonder if they’ve gotten the airport back up and running yet?

It left a muted roar in its wake, and the payload of bombs.

Oh. Right.

For some reason I was picturing a more… catapult-like bombing.

Black specks, smaller than I would have guessed, but more numerous.  Fifty?  A hundred?  I couldn’t tell from my vantage point, and I doubted I could have made an accurate estimate.

So these are the incendiary rounds, right?

The bombs were targeted at the parking lot where Jack and Bonesaw had been.  They detonated across the surrounding neighborhood, a carpet of explosions and flame that ripped through everything.  In a heartbeat, an area that had been drowning in stagnant water was lit up by fires that rose higher than the smallest buildings.

Fire and water together just keeps happening in this part of the story, huh.

Maybe the prevalence in this “book” (Arc 9-?) of fire going on top of the water Leviathan left could be considered foreshadowing that Behemoth is next. I’m fairly sure the Simurgh is next if they are all going to come here, but if it turns out I’m wrong, I’m probably going to count this as foreshadowing.


A wash of heated air hit me just moments after the bombs hit.  The effect on a flying creature was the same as a wave or a current in water.  It took all I had to keep from panicking, to maintain my concentration and control the giant beetle.

The shockwave is the same as a wave in water, just through air, so that makes sense.

Rather than fight the turbulence, I rolled with it, letting it push and accepting the instability.  As it passed, I focused on righting myself and regaining my sense of orientation.

Ahh-ee-ah-ee-ayy
While I roll with the wind,
Bringing distance to everything
Ahh-ee-ah-ee-ayy, oh ohh

Ahh-ee-ah-ee-ayy
While I sit by the fire
And glance at the pouring rain
Ahh-ee-ah-ee-ayy 

Ahh-ee-ah-ee-ayy

The bomb had hit close to where we’d been, but not so close that we would have been in the impact site.  That said, I wasn’t sure the heat -or the shockwave, if there was one- wouldn’t have done us in.

I think that might’ve been bad. Maybe.

My phone rang.

Oh hey. Lisa?

Man, imagine if Danny had this number and a working phone, but no idea that his daughter was hundreds of feet in the sky over an active bomb site on a giant beetle.

“Frog R,” Tattletale’s voice greeted me.

Taylor: “Frog T.”

Lisa: “Uh… not that set?”

Taylor: “L! I mean L! Sorry, I was thinking of ‘ribbit’. Because frogs.”

Alec, in the background: “Dork.”

(#to be clear
#’not that set?’ is referring to the fact that R-T fits ‘Regent’
#and Lisa is reminding Taylor that this system uses the civilian names
#the other set of names)


“Leaf L,” I replied.  “We’re all okay?”

“All of us.  Amy’s here.”

Hell yes! That’s one thing I really don’t mind being wrong about.

“Any idea if that did anything to Jack and Bonesaw?  Or Crawler?”

Crawler, probably not.

Jack… maybe it hurt him, but I doubt he’s dead. His death is too plot critical for him to go out like this. If he dies, it’ll be at Undertraveler hands, I think.

Bonesaw – having had her big confrontation with the Undertravelers already – might be dead, in which case the PRT might look forward to a visit from Siberian if they learn of Piggot’s role.

“Crawler’s probably taken worse.  I can picture him crawling into an incinerator and sitting in there for long enough that he can take this.”

Pffft. That’s honestly a funny mental image, and given his current size… Well, the image of him crawling into a space that’s way too small for him and just sitting there for a while isn’t doing anything to dissuade me from the impression that he’s way more of a cat than Siberian.


“Crawler loves to fit in a box.”


“The fire will have undone the silk bindings,” I said.

Fuck, good point. Better make sure he can’t jump hundreds of feet.

“Can you do it again?”

“Not here, not anytime soon.”

Yeah, he’s currently a bit out of range.

“Okay.”

“What are the odds that Bonesaw and Jack survived?”

“Too high.”

Especially Jack, from a narrative perspective.

I stared down at the inferno.  The tallest fires had dwindled, but a carpet of fire covered everything for a five block radius.  Cars that had been mostly intact were charred hulks now, and the explosions had torn chunks out of buildings, or the flames hollowed out the interiors.

Hey, Piggot, I hope you have people ready to stop these fires from spreading too far.

“How would he survive this?”

“How would you survive this?” she asked.  “Or- if you didn’t know precisely what was happening, where would you find the most secure cover?”

In Bonesaw’s case, she might hide inside a body again. Or maybe make a pillow fort, except the pillows are people.

I thought back to the options I had considered.  “The sewer?  Or find a bank vault?  Not sure if the sewers or storm drains wouldn’t collapse, and the bank vault could easily become an oven.”

Though considering the bank vault becoming an oven kind of requires you to have an idea that high temperatures are involved. In any case, there are more drawbacks to that idea, such as breaking into the vault taking time if your name ain’t Crawler or Siberian.


“Places to look, anyways.”

“We can’t get to them if they are there.”

I suppose not. Taylor may be able to descend and find them with her surviving bugs, but they’ll probably be long gone by the time anyone else could get there.

Also, going back in after the first round of bombings is a supremely bad idea. You have no idea how bad it is, but even without the knowledge that Bakuda bombs are coming soon, you should still be wary of the possibility of a second barrage. That’s just a good tactic for the PRT to do: Lull any of the Nine or Undertravelers who found cover into a false sense of security, then strike again.

“And they can’t get away, either.  Jack’s slippery, but he’s pinned down for the time being.  Just one second.”

Is that something your power is telling you about physical obstacles, or just a logical result of Jack being the kind of smart cookie who’d see the second strike coming?

Or both?

I could hear other voices in the background.

A few seconds later, Tattletale was back on the phone, “Genesis is already making a body that can withstand the fire.  Sundancer thinks she can clear away some of the blaze by flash-burning the oxygen from the area and drawing the heat and flame into her sun.  If she can, it might give us some elbow room.”

No, seriously, do not fucking go back in there

Well.

If they’re not gonna listen to me, I guess we know how the Bakuda bombs become relevant now.


“What do you want me to do?” I asked.

“Scout.  See if there’s any clues about the opposition’s movements.  If you can’t figure anything out on that front, track Crawler from above.

Keep in mind that the “opposition” currently also includes the Protectorate.

They’ll have some agreed-upon place to meet, and he could lead us to the other four… you haven’t seen Legend?”

He was last seen chasing Siberian, right?

“No.”

“Then I’d bet he’s still chasing Siberian.  Or minimizing the damage she can do, anyways. He can’t hurt her, but she’s at a disadvantage as long as she has to carry that truck and protect the occupant.  Legend will know how to use that.”

Excellent. If we can keep her out of this fray, that would be great.

“Right.”

“So Crawler will maybe lead us to the other three.”

Sounds reasonable.

Though it’s worth noting that we still haven’t sensed Mannequin here in any way. He’s able to avoid Taylor’s bugs, but he’s not one for staying out of sight (then again, neither is Jack). I’m wondering if he’s even here at all.

“On it.”  I hung up.

I’d dealt with it against Lung, I’d dealt with it against Burnscar.  Fire was something of a problem when it came to using my power.

Yeeah. Major type advantage. At least in this case nobody’s actively controlling the fire.

Unless Bonesaw went back for Burnscar’s corpse.


So few bugs were alive down there.  Some had retreated beneath the pavement, or into the lowermost parts of nearby buildings, but the heat and the hot air was killing them.

I like the contrast between the situation before and after the bombs hit, regarding how many bugs are available. Before, she had way more bugs than usual, and now she has… pretty much just a handful or five.

Some died quickly, others slow.  I was careful about how close I got, devoting extra attention to ensuring that the beetle didn’t perish or find himself unable to fly as the heat damaged his wings.

Yeah, try not to go upside down Icarus on us.

Wait, would that involve “falling” up into the sea of the stars when the wings break?

Amy had made him durable, but there was a limit to how far I wanted to push my luck when there was two hundred feet of open air between me and the ground, and a sea of fire waiting for any scenario where I managed to survive the impact.

Yeah, that’s quite reasonable.

It was a bit of a task, to focus on flying -there was no autopilot like there was with my other bugs- and to track the remaining bugs on the ground.  The sewers and storm drains were hot, but hospitable.  Navigation would be difficult for Jack and Bonesaw underground.  Between Leviathan’s active destruction of the storm drains and the more passive deterioration as they got clogged with rubble and debris and flooded, there were few spaces underground where the villains would be able to navigate.

So if they went down there, they probably wouldn’t get out anywhere useful.

Had they died?  It was possible, and I was swiftly eliminating areas where there was both a population of bugs and space for the Nine to hide.

I don’t think any of them are dead, but if one of them is, it’s Mannequin or Bonesaw. More likely Mannequin out of those two, because he’s been fairly irrelevant ever since his second defeat by Taylor.

Also worth noting: We don’t know what fresh hell Bonesaw was up to this time with the civilians she “recruited”. I have a feeling we’ll find out somehow.


Crawler- I could see him prowling the streets, soaking up the flame without a care.  He was headed in the general direction of the parking lot where the heroes were, taking his time, his movements languid.

Clockblocker and Cache (and everyone stored inside Cache’s power) are gonna be in trouble once they unfreeze, if Crawler camps them.

The heroes were still frozen in time, I noted.  It was hard to make them out, as they’d been at the epicenter of the blast.  Ursa was fading away, and Weld-

Weld was fighting.

Oh shit. Mannequin? I mean, if it were one of the others, Taylor would probably notice them before noticing what Weld was doing, but Mannequin stays invisible to her by dodging the bugs.

Cache and Clockblocker stood frozen in time as Weld defended them against a series of attacks.  The boy’s skin was glowing from the ambient heat, the fine wire strands of his hair melted into a single smooth layer.

tumblr_inline_pdmey8v6oM1sxgvvn_500.gif

He might have been rendered nude as the flames ate at his clothing and costume, but he wore the same fireproof suit as his teammates, the arms and upper body tied around the waist.

should I read anything into the fact that Taylor thinks about Weld being rendered nude by the flames

(#I suppose I can’t blame her for low-key wanting a look at the hardest rod in town)


It was Mannequin.  Of all of them, he was the hardest to make out as he moved close to the ground, slipping between cars and through the flames to disappear from Weld’s sight.

I realized at the end of the last post that she was looking at the fight using her eyes rather than her bugs, thus invalidating the stated half of my reasoning for why it’d be Mannequin (the other half being that he’d been remarkably unseen thus far), but I’m still going to call this a win.

Oh, and a third half I didn’t consider: Bonesaw and Jack can’t do shit to Weld directly (or at least, Jack would need a lot of range) with their specialties, and Weld wouldn’t be defending the time-stopped heroes in quite the same way against their attacks.

He had four arms, one set longer than the other, which combined with his jerky movements to give him an almost bug-like demeanor.

Quick, Taylor, control him! :p

I watched as he paused at the rear of one car, crouching with his two sets of arms at the bumper, then unfolded explosively, steam or vapor billowing around him as he launched the car through the air.

Mannequin and Lung have a thing in common: From a writing perspective, they’re both good for repeat encounters thanks to bodily changes.

Lung had several stages, allowing for very different fights depending on which stage he starts in (even as Lung has pretty thoroughly lost relevance, I’m still not entirely convinced we won’t see him fully draconic some day).

Meanwhile, Mannequin adapts, changing his body after each loss and adding new features that change the game next time.

These features make these two more interesting to read about when the same characters go up against them again.

It wasn’t much distance, only ten or so feet, but the car rolled and slammed into Weld, knocking the junior hero into his frozen teammates and pinning him there.

Weld, looking down at the car stuck to his chest: “Shit. This is gonna take a while to get rid of.”


Weld pushed hard against the flaming hulk of the car, attempting to make room to free himself, but another car sailed through the air to land on top of Cache and Weld.

Shouldn’t the first car be stuck to his body anyway? And to his hands as well, now? At least if I understood Weld’s state of dress correctly.

Maybe the polish helps.

While Weld hacked at the cars, shearing through the undercarriage to make for pieces that were smaller to move, Mannequin began moving through the parking lot, pushing at more cars to get them closer to Weld and his teammates.  A minivan, a sedan, a pickup, pushed into Weld’s immediate surroundings.

He’s almost swimming in cars at this point… this must be what they call a carpool.

There was no swagger, no monologue, nothing from Mannequin but the methodical execution of his simple plan.  He approached the front of the pickup, tore off the hood and grabbed the engine block with all four arms.  Again, the billowing vapor and that explosive strength, as he brought it over his head and down on top of the second car he’d thrown, stacking them two high.

Hmm. This vapor… a byproduct of whatever he’s added that makes him so strong? Maybe something that can be used against him.

He crouched beneath the sedan and prepared to launch it as he had with the first two cars.

Poor Weld is going to come back to the Wards HQ struggling to carry like five cars that are stuck to his body.


So when a piece of metal gets stuck to Weld, does it immediately become part of his body and thus likely to attack to any other metals it touches? That seems likely to me.


Cache and Clockblocker wouldn’t be frozen forever.  It could be as short a time as thirty seconds.  If Cache or Clockblocker emerged from the effects of Clockblocker’s power, and there were two cars piled on top of them?  It would be grim.

Ahhh, yeah, that’s not ideal.

Clockblocker might be okay, freezing the bottom car the moment he’s free, but Cache might not be so lucky if he unfreezes before Clocky.

Worse, Cache was storing a number of the other heroes in his personal dimension.  What would happen to them if he died?

That’s a damn good question.

In some ‘verses I’d say the answer would be [EJECT]. But this is Worm. I’m inclined to think Cache a) acts as a gateway and they might be stuck in there until they die of thirst if he doesn’t survive to get them back out, or b) acts as a container and if he goes squish, so does the pocket dimension.

They had to have anticipated the possibility of Crawler interfering before they all recovered, but Mannequin?  I was surprised he was able to function in the midst of this blaze.

He probably took measures to be more resistant to explosions and fire after the gas encounter.


I had to remind myself he was a specialist in hostile environments, and they didn’t get much more hostile than this.  He was a genius, a problem solver, and a survivor.  He was relentless, and as much as I’d managed to take the advantage in our previous confrontations, that was because he’d been out of his element, taking us on directly.

And this time… he’s in his element…

Yeeah, maybe avoid direct confrontation if you can help it.

This was Mannequin’s specialty: attacking from the indirect angle, at the unexpected moment to target the weak.  He favored Tinkers both because they were often vulnerable if you caught them without their gear, and for his own neuroses.

Makes sense.

Weld managed to push the car that was pinning him from the side.  Holding the stack of vehicles up over his head, he found a point where he could set his foot without the scorched frame collapsing and kicked the car away.

Woo, go Weld!

As he tried to figure out how to manage the pile of flaming cars that sat atop him and his teammates, Mannequin struck.  Like a piston, Mannequin slammed into him, thrusting him away, then danced back into the cover of the flames and smoke.  Weld slid on the pavement until he collided with a car, and the cars that he’d been supporting collapsed.

And yeah, here Mannequin goes with his carefully and unpredictably timed attacks.

At least one fell so that Cache’s upper body speared through its undercarriage.  The top one tipped over and landed so it was propped up on a diagonal.

You know, normally, the idea that someone’s “upper body speared through [a car’s] undercarriage” is not a good thing. But here it means Cache avoided death by not having been unfrozen yet.

What could I do?  I didn’t have a long ranged weapon.  I didn’t trust my beetle’s ability to hold me and some heavy weight I could drop on Mannequin from above.

Not sure you can carry anything heavy enough to make much of a difference anyway. Maybe Bailey could, if he weren’t carrying you, but it’s a stretch.


I turned around and headed for my companions.  I withdrew my cell phone.

“Need gear,” I told Tattletale.  “Mannequin’s attacking the heroes and Crawler’s approaching.”

Gear?

“Got it.”

Sundancer’s orb appeared in the sky, flickered, and disappeared.  A flare.  I headed in that direction.

That’s a pretty nice use of the power.

As Tattletale had said, Sundancer was using her orb to try to clear the way.  Grue was also using his darkness, oddly enough.

Hmm. Looking out for the Nine, maybe, or other capes whose powers may come in handy?

The others stood by, watching, arranged so they were watching all potential avenues of attack.

I appreciate that they haven’t let their guard down just yet.

I landed, and I couldn’t get the beetle’s legs under him to brace our landing.  He hit his stomach, his legs squashing against his underside.

You’ll get the hang of it.


“What?” I hurried to get off him.  “Is he okay?”

“It’s a he?”  Tattletale asked.

Taylor seems to have decided so. But whether she did it arbitrarily or based on bug genitalia or other sexual characteristics of some kind, I can’t tell you.

Amy stepped forward a little, “Its legs work through something like hydraulics.  When it’s flying, it diverts those fluids to the flight system.  Do you know how hard it was to make that thing able to fly?  It’s not like I’ve practiced this sort of thing.”

Ahh. So it’s walk or fly with this one. That probably contributed to the takeoff troubles, too.

Also, thank you, Amy. You did a fantastic job. 🙂

“It’s fantastic,” I said.  “Really.  Thank you.  Do you think you could work on making him a little bigger while I get prepared?  I can supply the bugs.”

Hmm. That sounds difficult, but hey, making the whole thing in the first place was probably way more difficult.

“No.”

That’s fair.

I was midway to turning towards Tattletale when Amy refused me.  “No?  If it’s the physical limitations of something that big, then maybe the nervous system, or if you could copy over some flight instincts so I don’t need to devote so much focus-”

I was unsure about whether it was the physical limitations or Amy limiting how much she wants to help these villains, but judging by this paragraph, I take it it’s the latter.

“No, Skitter.  It’s not that I can’t.  I won’t.”

Yeah.

Also, she sounds way more confident right now than we’ve heard her ever since Interlude 11h. That seems like a good sign.

I turned back to Amy.

She shook her head, “This isn’t a luxury.  It’s not a present from me to you.  You said you needed some help escaping, you needed some mobility?  Fine.  This is it.”

That is very fair. Don’t look a gift beetle in the mandibles, Taylor.


“Right now, Mannequin and Crawler are attacking the Wards.  Your sister is with them.”

Let’s see if Amy’s confidence is partially related to her having spent some of her off-screen time thinking over what Victoria said and deciding that “fuck it, maybe I don’t want her to be my sister either”.

I could see her expression change at hearing that.

“She’s tough, she’ll be okay.”

Okay, good, looks like she didn’t have that big piece of development off-screen.

“Not in this case.  She was stored away in some other dimension by Cache’s power.  If he dies before he gets her out-”

She paled.

Yeeeeeah.

“Idiot,” I muttered.  “Can’t waste any more time on you.”

Taylor, you’ve been making so much progress with Amy. Don’t throw it away like this.

Before she could reply, I turned to my teammates, “I need bombs.  Grenades, something I can drop from above and do some damage.”

Okay, yeah, that ought to work better than simply “something heavy”. Though I do stand by what I said about Mannequin reinforcing himself against explosions.

“Here,” Ballistic said.  He undid one of his belts and handed it to me.  Six grenades were placed around it.  It was too wide for my waist, so I hung it around my neck instead.

A badass necklace like few others.

Amy stepped forward and put her hands on my bug.  I went out of my way to ignore her.

*spritzes Taylor’s mask with bug spray* No. Bad Taylor. Be nice.


“Take this,” Trickster said.  He drew a small handgun and handed it to me.  He pointed as he explained.  “Ten rounds.  Thumb safety.  Grip safety.  It’s my spare.”

“It’s dangerous to fly alone.”

But yeah, I doubt a handgun is going to do anything against Mannequin. Maybe even less against Jack or Bonesaw.

It was heavier than it looked.  There was also a weight to it that had more to do with what the gun meant.  I stuck it through one of the loops in my utility compartment that I hadn’t used since I started out, then double checked it was firmly in place.

Does the gun really mean any more than the grenades do, when it comes down to it?

“Thanks.”

I turned and climbed on top of the beetle.

Damn it, Taylor, you’re in for so much more chaos than you think.

“Can’t make any promises, but flying should require less of your attention,” Amy said.

Thank you.

“Okay,” I said.

Well, at least she didn’t completely ignore her?

Still. *holds bug spray towards Taylor threateningly*


“So you focus on helping my sister.”

“I’ll help anyone that needs it,” I said.  With one false start, I managed to take off.

Taylor is good like that.

I stayed low to the ground for as long as I could, to try to judge what Amy had done to the beetle.

There was some underlying logic, but it wasn’t the same sort of instinctual behavior I was used to.  As far as I could tell, she had set him up to continue whatever I’d last instructed him to do, so I didn’t need to maintain focus to keep him going.

Ah, so a game of Snake. Sure, that works. Just try not to ask him to travel in a direction real fast and then fall off.


For now, though, I think it’s time to ask myself to go in the direction of my bed and then fall off. We’ll pick this up on Sunday or Monday, depending on how much time I have on Sunday. See ya!

[End of session]


I just rewatched The Incredibles in preparation for seeing the sequel at the cinema when it finally comes here in about a week (no spoilers for that, please).

While watching the early parts of the movie, I kept silently comparing the movie’s setting/premise to Worm, more specifically Emily Piggot.

For those unfamiliar with Incredibles backstory: In the 40’s, superheroes were fairly common, but after a 1947 incident involving a suicidal man suing the hero who rescued him (“I saved your life!” “You ruined my death!”), many collateral damage lawsuits cropped up. Public opinion of the supers dropped so hard that the government chose to force them into hiding, abandoning superheroics (though some heroes still did their thing in secret) and living normal lives like normal people. The movie’s main plot is set in 1962 and follows a family of two retired supers and their kids.

This can’t happen in the Wormverse, because supervillains are much more common there and there’s the Endbringers (and a bigger future threat) to contend with. As things stand, no one with any sense would suggest that getting rid of superheroes (just the heroes) would be a service to the greater good of the mundanes.

If not for those things, it does seem like a future Jirector Piggot would appreciate. Letting the parahumans keep their abilities to themselves and out of the mundanes’ lives, aided and restrained by the government, sounds like a dream for her.

But because that’s not an option, she does the next best thing, which ironically is to make sure the government-controlled superheroes’ PR stays positive, and do her best to help them get rid of the supervillains by all means necessary. She can’t help the mundanes be free of all parahuman influence, but she can help the more lawful parahumans free them of the most detrimental of it.

If she could finally put an end to supervillains and Endbringers somehow, then her focus might change.

I’m not sure how clear I’ve been about this so far, but I think the perspective shown in Interlude 13 turned Director Emily Piggot into a very interesting spanner to throw into this story’s conflicts.


All that said, “Worm but superheroes are driven into hiding by the government á là The Incredibles” would probably be a pretty cool AU.


[Session 2]

Now, where were we…

Ah, right, Taylor was flying off to help Weld, Clocky, Cache, and everyone Cache has in store, on a Bailey with a little more autopilot than before.

And probably getting herself trapped by a rain of Bakuda bombs. Though I suppose the PRT might be saving those until all the good guys are out of the blast zone. Which would be a good tactic considering that Bakuda’s bombs might be among incredibly few things that could bypass Clocky’s power, and even if they don’t, some of the effects can linger until the freezing wears off. Or cause it to never wear off.

Let’s try not to get anyone blown up or crushed by cars, okay? Unless they’re members of the Nine, of course.


I frowned and suppressed that instinct.  As it stood, it was dangerous.  If he was flying and I got knocked out, he might keep flying.

…that’s exactly what I pointed out!

The same might apply if I was turning, or adjusting to compensate for my weight and got distracted partway through.

Suddenly you’re going in circles.

Also, if you get knocked out while calling for Bailey to come to you, but the others get you out and to a doctor, John Cleese might not be happy.

Even less so if you ask Bailey to stay close and defend you.

No, after testing it I didn’t like how slippery it made the navigation feel.  I’d only use it on a case-by-case basis.

Hey, at least you can toggle it, so if it does come in handy sometime, it’s available.

Besides, it was something I could do with my power anyways, with greater effect and nuance.  I’d been knocked out once, and my power had continued directing insects by my last given order.

Hm. Might that still happen with Bailey even with this instinct suppressed, or even before Amy added this feature?

Irritating.

If it’s Amy you’re irritated at now, please cut her some slack. She was trying.


I hurried back to the scene of the fight.  Clockblocker’s power lasted anywhere from thirty seconds to ten minutes.  Weld had been on the defensive when I’d left, and the Wards were relying on pure chance to determine if they’d make it out of this okay.

That might be a good idea if your name is Matrim Cauthon, but I don’t think he’s on the team.

…I’ve been on a Wheel of Time kick lately.

I could hear the fight before I could make anything out through the smoke.  The fires were still burning, but most seemed to have burned through whatever fuel sources they’d found. Beyond what was in the bombs themselves, anyways.

The fires are barely a threat compared to what’s coming down next.

It was probably dangerous to be taking in too much smoke, both for me and for the beetle, but I had to be close.

Which is not to say that the fires aren’t dangerous. Just less dangerous. Much less.


There were crunching sounds and the noise of metal striking metal.  I directed the beetle around one particularly thick cloud of black smoke and saw Weld hacking the cars to pieces, his arms a pair of oversized blades.

Nice. That does kinda give Mannequin a lot of ammo to work with, but it’s smaller ammo that’s slightly less dangerous for the time-frozen heroes, as it’s harder for Mannequin to stack the weight of it all on top of them.

Mannequin threw a car at him, and Weld lunged forward to slam it down into the ground with both hands.  Mannequin used the opening to leap forward, his feet momentarily resting on Weld’s shoulders, before he hopped down to the ground.

Weld is being pretty cool in this fight.

Meanwhile, Mannequin is… doing something.

Spools of chain unfolded in Mannequin’s wake, and he bound Weld, dragging him away from his allies.

Well, shit.

Okay, seriously, did I misinterpret the bit about Weld’s clothing? Is he not basically topless here, his metallic chest exposed?

Because it really seems like both the cars and the chain should be sticking to him. Especially the cars, which he’s definitely touching with exposed blade-shaped arms.

Hmm. Did they cover Weld in some sort of organic oil or something? (Zinc, while appropriate as a covering for him, wouldn’t work because it’s a metal.)


Weld had undone much of Mannequin’s setup, but there was still one flaming truck leaning against Cache.

I believe that makes it a firetruck.

It was heavy enough to crush Legend’s teammate beneath it if Clockblocker wasn’t quick enough to reach out and freeze it.

It occurred to me a few minutes ago that if he were alone, Clocky would be mostly safe. As far as we know, he’s unfrozen inside his costume, which means he can hear that there’s reason to refreeze immediately the moment it wears off. But because Cache is there and needs help, he can’t just do that.

Carefully, I positioned myself, noted the wind, and then grabbed a grenade from the sash that hung around my neck.

Just make sure Weld doesn’t think you’re attacking him and the other heroes.

I really shouldn’t be using this without any training, I thought.

Yeah… I’m not sure how her parents were ok with that. Pretty sure you need to be 16 for a grenade license


There’s making obscure references and then there’s invoking year-old Discord liveblogging community memes.

Yeah… I’m not sure how my parents were ok with that. Pretty sure you need to be 16 for an in-joke meming license

(#boat licenses)


I pulled the pin free, then dropped it straight down.

Easy as, uh, dropping a grenade!

Wind carried the grenade further than I expected.  It landed somewhere a few feet behind Cache, rolled, then detonated.  The car that had been propped up against Cache was thrown off, rolling onto its roof.

I think that’s a success!

How did Weld and Mannequin take that?

The other debris scattered.

I felt a wave of relief that I hadn’t managed to hit them with the grenade just as they came out of stasis.

That would be… less of a success.

Mannequin backed away from Weld to stare up at me.  Weld, for his part, had absorbed the metal of the chains and disconnected the excess from his body.

Oh, so he did get stuck to the chains. Fair enough, that settles my concerns on that front! That just leaves the question of why the cars don’t get stuck on his blades (or vice versa).

When he reshaped his hands into weapons, it was faster than I’d seen him do it during our attack on the PRT headquarters.

Hm. Practice? Holding back before? Or perhaps this situation has put him in a state of mind similar to his trigger event somehow and that made the shapeshifting more powerful and thus faster?


Weld gave me a salute, using a knife-hand that was as long as he was tall.

😀

Let’s take a moment to appreciate this reminder of why I like Weld.

We went on the offense, going after Mannequin.  I used two more grenades to drive him out of cover and to stop him from flinging any more cars at the heroes, while Weld maintained the pressure by constantly closing in.

So, remember how there was a little period where I low-key shipped Weld and Taylor with little basis?

That’s faded by now, but there’s still a part of me that really likes seeing them fight together, and wordlessly falling into good teamwork like this.

Both Weld and Mannequin had seemingly unlimited physical reserves.  Both had equipment they could spring from nowhere – Mannequin had his concealed equipment and weapons, Weld had his crude shapeshifting abilities.

In other words, Mannequin has quality, Weld has versatility.

Not that Mannequin isn’t versatile, but he has to specifically install something ahead of time.

That wasn’t to say they were evenly matched.

Honestly? I’d be betting on Weld in a direct fight. He can take a lot of what Mannequin can dish out, and dish out a lot himself, possibly enough to crack Mannequin’s casing, which is more than I think most of Mannequin’s attacks can do to Weld’s metal body. It’s just a matter of actually hitting the target.

Mannequin is vastly superior in terms of mobility, but Weld is well equipped to restrain him compared to most melee fighters, because of Mannequin’s metallic limb… joints. If Weld grabbed one of those with his hand, Mannequin wouldn’t be able to get loose from his grip unless Weld allowed it or he ejected the chain. Granted, Mannequin can use this against Weld, too.


Mannequin could have hit Weld with everything he had, and I doubted he would have even slowed Weld down.  The opposite wasn’t so true – I suspected that one solid blow from Weld would leave Mannequin a wreck.

The fact that Taylor agrees with me is always a good sign. 🙂

The problem was that even though Weld was strong, he was heavy, and this put him somewhere near the upper limits of what you’d expect an athlete to be able to perform.

Weld’s trigger event was getting kicked out of boxing lessons because he was too light and soft for even the atomweight class.

The Dandelions, as usual, took things a little too far in the opposite direction.

Mannequin, by contrast, was faster than any olympic runner, more agile than any gymnast.  He could contort and slide through the space beneath a car, change directions on a dime, and that was without getting into the other advantages he brought to the table.  I suspected he could see through the fire and smoke, and where Weld’s shapeshifting was largely limited to hitting stuff, Mannequin could use his arms like grappling hooks to cover more ground and keep his distance.

Mannequin is ridiculous and terrifying.

If we had any advantage, it was that we were buying time.  Mannequin couldn’t stop to throw vehicles at the frozen heroes.

That’s really the most important thing right now anyway, isn’t it?

(#yes atomweight is a thing
#featherweight is around the halfway point of the scale)


The counterpoint to that was that Crawler had heard the commotion and was approaching.

Well, fuck.

He shifted from a walk to a head-on charge as he got a block away.

*nervously retrieves a laser pointer from his pocket*

“Crawler!”  I shouted the words at full volume.  Weld snapped his head up to look at me, and I extended one arm out to inform him on the direction.

The problem was that Mannequin could hear too.  He shifted positions and prepared to heave another car at the heroes.

Honestly, Mannequin might as well ask Crawler to sit down on top of the heroes.

Though it might not work, because fortunately, Crawler seems intent on tearing Skitter in particular to pieces before doing much else.

Fortunately…


I pulled the pin on another grenade and lobbed it in Mannequin’s direction.

Call it chemistry, rhythm, or just the nuances one picked up after fighting alongside someone else, there was a flow to working with a member of your team, a way I could trust others to have my back and vice versa.  Weld and I didn’t have that.  It was my understanding, my assumption, that the bruiser would take on the heaviest hitter on the opposing side, and the others in the team would focus their efforts on the secondary threats with using utility and technique.

Well. When you build it up like this, it seems Weld is going after Mannequin too, which means nobody’s dealing with Crawler. Damn.

It was how the Undersiders tended to handle matters.

Weld… I don’t know what his assumption was, but maybe he was used to having people like Clockblocker and Vista handle the most threatening and problematic enemies, while he threw himself at the enemy ranks and drew the secondary fire.

A damage sponge. Except very different from an actual sponge for once.

This makes a lot of sense. Clockblocker and Vista are good at temporarily disabling the big threats, but right now they’re not available to do that with Crawler, which Weld forgot to account for.

Maybe they were even tactics he’d been drilled on with his previous team.  Maybe he was too focused on protecting his teammates from Mannequin and didn’t trust me to handle it.

That also doesn’t help.


I didn’t know what his reasons were, but Weld turned toward Mannequin in the same moment the grenade left my hand.

Ow.

It was disastrous on two levels.  Whatever surprise I’d hoped to retain was lost when I was forced to shout out, “Grenade!”

Did the shout help Weld stop?

Mannequin abandoned his hold on the car as he leaped to one side to get clear well before it exploded.  Weld, too, managed to stay out of the way, stopping in his tracks.

Good. So what’s the situation with Crawler?

Crawler came tearing through the blazing parking booth and blindsided Weld.  In terms of raw power, the junior hero might as well have been a powerless human for all the defense he could muster.

I’m unsure about Weld’s chances of surviving this chapter. Fuck.

Crawler’s claws tore into him, revealing bones in silver, organs in copper and gold.

Yeeeeah, that doesn’t sound alive to me.

You were a good lad, Weld.


If he is still alive, he’s gonna be badly hurt, and I don’t think Amy can help him. He’s immune to her power, counting as inorganic for its purposes.


Two grenades left.  I threw one down at them.  Mannequin backed away, and Crawler, though his head was directed at Weld, rose up onto his two hind legs and batted at the grenade with Weld’s body.

Oh jeez, we’re playing baseball now.

With a metal bat and everything.

The explosive went off a second after the impact, and Weld was thrown free of Crawler’s grip.  I saw him stagger to his feet, his wounds closing as he shapeshifted them.

Oh hey, he’s still alive! And the shapeshifting lets him take care of the healing himself. Nice.

Now can he manage to stay that way?

He couldn’t do much about the material that had been raked off of him.

Absorb some cars when this is over?

This wasn’t going well.

Wait, really? 😮


Mannequin made a gesture at Crawler, fingertips of two hands all touching, pressed to his ‘mouth’, then he pulled his hands away, splaying his fingers.

Air kiss? Roar? Tear him to pieces with teeth and claws?

Crawler cocked his head and Mannequin pointed at the frozen heroes.  I heard Crawler rumble with guttural laughter.

…bite over the heroes and wait for the unfreezing?

Sounds like a good way to give half the local heroes access to your guts.

No.

What could I do?  I was a bystander here, effectively powerless, but for my beetle.  I had the gun, but it wouldn’t do anything to Crawler and I didn’t trust myself to hit Mannequin at this range.

Would it do much more to Mannequin, for that matter?

I had a single grenade, and I knew that wouldn’t even make Crawler flinch.

Crawler spat a caustic spray onto Cache and Clockblocker.

Oh. Oh jeez.

That’s a problem.

I could see the mucus fizz and pop from my vantage point high above.

If I used a grenade, could I clear it away?  Or was it too viscous?  Would I be losing something I couldn’t afford to throw away?

I doubt it’d get it all away. Also, try not to take too many risks re: grenades right when they unfreeze.


I wonder if Crawler is more vulnerable from the inside. Maybe throwing the grenade into his mouth could work.

Or it could give him a fancy new kind of breath/spit weapon.

I didn’t get a chance to see.  Cache came to life.

Ah, fuck.

Quick, get everyone out of your pocket, Cache! Even if you don’t make it because of the caustic spray, we need the rest of the team!

I couldn’t even imagine what went through his mind.  He went from disengaging from a fight with Jack and Bonesaw in a flooded parking lot to facing down Crawler and Mannequin in the middle of a sea of fire.

While covered in boiling corrosive mucus.

Maybe he’d anticipated that, but he couldn’t have anticipated the acid spittle.  Holes began to appear in the fabric of his fireproof costume.

Unfortunately not acidproof, clearly.

He managed to maintain his composure- I had no idea how.  I couldn’t imagine how it must have felt to be down there, feeling the heat and smoke coming in through the widening holes in the fabric.

And the acid, I’d imagine?

He began using his power, calling up the shadowy geometry that would deposit the heroes onto the battlefield.

Let’s call in the reinforcements!

The two members of the Nine, it seemed, didn’t intend to give him the chance.  Both charged for the hero.

Of course. If they can stop this, that’s fantastic news for them. They’d be rid of a whole bunch of local heroes, as well as Legend.

And all this so they could avoid some incendiary bombs Piggot insisted on dropping.


This time, at least, Weld took on the heavy hitter.  He leaped at Crawler from the side, his hand becoming needle-fine as he plunged it into one of Crawler’s largest eye sockets.

WOO!

I knew that Crawler could dodge Ballistic’s hits.  He must have seen Weld coming and simply not cared.  The needle barely penetrated Crawler’s eye, but Weld used the leverage to wrap himself around Crawler’s face.

…still cool.

So what’s he doing now, just trying to be the giant bug on Crawler’s windshield, blinding him that way?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but bugs are Taylor’s specialty.

I drew the gun and leveled it at Mannequin’s back.  He was running in a straight line, I remembered to click the thumb safety, squeezing the handle with both hands to get the grip safety on the back of the gun, and put him in the crosshairs, leading just a bit.  I could remember the tip you always heard in the movies.  Squeeze, don’t pull.

I’ve never heard that in the movies, that I can remember.

Maybe that just means I have a different taste in movies than Taylor. Very likely, that.

Exhale as you squeeze…

Visions of the dead Mannequin had left in my district flashed through my mind’s eye.  The paramedics, the bitchy old doctor, the people he’d gassed.  My people.

Time for vengeance, huh?

I could feel the recoil jolt its way through my arms to rattle my body at its core.

I feel like this scene would be a lot more tense if I was under the impression that shooting Mannequin would actually kill him.


Mannequin fell.

How the hell did I manage that?  Between the recoil and the shock of what I’d just managed, it was all I could do to stay seated.

Good work, Taylor!

Now how long before he’s back up?

I aimed and fired again at his prone form, the shot going off just before he rolled to his feet.  I couldn’t make out if I hit or not.

Two paragraphs. Sounds about right.

Crawler was distracted just long enough for Cache to bring out the first heroes.  Glory Girl, Prism, Miss Militia, Triumph…

Heya! Now don’t die on us right away, folks.

Weld tumbled to the ground, and switched targets to the retreating Mannequin.  Maybe he’d coordinated something with the others.  I couldn’t say.

Oh yeah, I suppose he would still have his earpiece.

Glory Girl, in her all-concealing fireproof suit, certainly seemed ready to serve as the frontline defense.

Makes sense, given that she’s pseudo-invulnerable.

I was so busy tracking Mannequin, looking for an opportunity to shoot him again, that I nearly missed what happened next.

Uh oh?

Crawler got close enough for Glory Girl to swing a punch.  She took the bait and swung, then twisted in mid-air to deliver a kick.

Oh cod.

The mention of “bait” doesn’t give me high hopes for how this is going.

In any case, what did you expect these attacks to accomplish, Victoria?

He pulled just out of reach of both hits, then opened his mouth to retch spittle and bile all over her.

Hmm. I wonder if corrosion works for slowly tearing down the forcefield, or if she needs to get hit again for the acid to do anything.

It had the same effect on her costume that it did on Cache, only far, far faster.  In moments, she was down to the skin-tight costume she wore beneath her white and gold dress, her forcefield protecting her.

Oh, alright, so her regular blue and black costume goes outside the forcefield, but the forcefield does protect her for now. She’s probably glad she had that skintight under-costume on, huh…


I pulled a grenade free.  Maybe it could distract him long enough for her to-

Didn’t you already use your last grenade?

Crawler surged forward, slamming his head into her.  Like a spiked volleyball, she slammed hard into the ground.

Aaand there goes the forcefield.

I could see her skin turning red, then black, where the spittle had covered it.  Flesh melted away to reveal muscle, then the acidic vomit began to eat away at that.  She screamed, frantic, thrashing, oblivious to the flaming patches of ground that she was rolling into.

What a way to go. :/

The bugs I’d placed on my teammates told me they weren’t close.  Glory Girl and Cache were down and needed immediate medical attention – Cache had managed to call in the rest of the Protectorate and the remaining Wards, but he’d collapsed into the arms of one of the adults.

Good job, Cache.


So it sounds like Victoria isn’t quite dead yet, and won’t die since that didn’t kill her outright. Which means she needs to allow Amy to heal her if she wants to have her flesh back. Oh man, I like the sound of Vicky having to face that dilemma. 😀


Before that can happen, though, I need to sleep. Next part tomorrow. See you then!

[End of session]


[Session 3]

BLAG.


Crawler paced forward with an almost anticipatory slowness.  I could make out his tongue, licking around his lips.

Y’know, I think I predicted that there was no way we’d be having the focus on both Siberian and Crawler in the same Arc, but while this is an ensemble fight and I wouldn’t say he’s in focus in quite the same way the others have been (yet), Crawler is getting more attention in this Arc than before.

I suppose that’s only natural with the dwindling of their numbers and the fact that he was the only remaining member who hadn’t gotten much attention… First we don’t see him until a whole Arc after we got to meet the rest, and then he’s the last to get significant attention? It’s like he’s on a delay, slow-paced like his idle walking. Though I still think Jack’s going to be the last one to be in focus.

Anyway, while I did make that prediction because they’re both so powerful, it would be quite appropriate to have them together in an Arc titled Prey. They’ve got a lot of things in common, and among them is that they treat enemies as prey, and play with their food.


This was going south fast, and I wasn’t sure what I could even do.

“going south”, you say? LINGUISTICS TIME [here]

*punches self in snout to establish focus* NO


did have the feeling someone might be making fun of me for stopping right before the end of the chapter. 😛

Should’ve checked last time, like I usually do.


End of Prey 14.5

This was another good one. 🙂

I found myself talking to Taylor’s deaf ears a lot regarding two issues: Going back into the fray (though given the trouble Cache was in, it was probably worth it), and her attitude towards Amy after Amy showed frankly not unreasonable restraint in helping villains (not helped by Amy’s reluctant addition to Bailey proving unwanted, though that’s really not Amy’s fault). I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, though. The tension in the chapter is somewhat aided by the knowledge that the Bakuda carpet is coming in time (though presumably only after the Protectorate and Wards get out of the blast zone), and the bits with Amy serve to show Taylor’s harder side when she has things to do and little patience for those who stand in the way of that.

I very much enjoyed Taylor fighting alongside Weld. Not just for shippy reasons, either – my shipping of them has faded to the point where that’s just an afterthought – but because it’s neat to see them silently slip into teamwork like they did, and it’s an interesting break from the team dynamics we’re used to. Weld also cemented his worth as a quite capable fighter when it counts, which was cool.

I do kinda hope there’s an answer for why the cars didn’t stick to his blades, though. That was kind of distracting. I’m guessing I’ll have a few asks about that, unless answering it is spoilery, so I’m looking forward to seeing what you guys have to say about it.

Crawler’s finally getting some significant attention, which is fun. The bigger kitty seems to be a bit of a raging asshole, but that’s to be expected. The Nine can’t all be Bonesaw. Only the ones Bonesaw can perform plastic and brain surgery on can be Bonesaw.

So, next time, I guess we’re going to be dealing with Crawler somehow. Maybe the silk technique could work again, but Skitter is very low on bugs now compared to the millions she had before the bombs, and the surviving spiders might be out of silk.

Also, it might not be next chapter, but I think Grue using his darkness is going to become relevant. “Grue was also using his darkness, oddly enough.” with no further elaboration is very suspicious. Maybe he’ll be borrowing a bit of power that helps him save the day?

So yeah… see you there!

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