Interlude 14: Homecoming

Source material: Worm, Interlude 14

Originally blogged: September 17-23, 2018


Howdy! It’s time to wrap up Prey – and, at long last, the presence of the Slaughterhouse Nine in Brockton Bay – with an Interlude.

Who are we in for today? Well, that’s usually pretty difficult to speculate on, but I had some ideas at the end of the previous chapter [here]:

If it’s an Interlude… fuck, Interludes are so difficult to speculate on. Maybe we’d have a look at what someone else has been up to under the miasma’s effect? Ooh, maybe we could get Legend’s perspective on the miasma and his head clearing? Though I do feel like if Wildbow had had a Legend Interlude planned around the time of Interlude 13, he might’ve saved the details on Legend’s family life for Legend’s own Interlude.

Another option is that we might follow one of the Nine – Bonesaw, Siberian or Mannequin if he’s alive – and seeing how they feel about the retreat. That feels wrong, though, due to the finality issue.

Hmm. Honestly, I feel like a Protectorate perspective on the Bakuda bombing and its consequences would be quite appropriate, ideally from someone who didn’t know about it like Legend did. Though such a thing could still be presented from Legend’s POV, as someone confronts him and/or Piggy about it.

But we’ve got other Protectorate characters we could use for that, such as Triumph or one of Legend’s people.

Then again, we had a PRT perspective last time. It’s probably more likely Wildbow’s going to switch it up.

Victoria could be an interesting and relevant POV character, but I’m not sure she’s in a good state to be giving her POV right now.

I should probably just jump into it and find out. Let’s go!


“Lift!” Sierra grunted.

Oh hell yes.

Sierra (or Charlotte) POV? I am so here for this.

The tightness in her back was reminder enough to use her legs to rise to a standing position.

Alright, definitely Sierra. Hell yes.

Her hands were blistered and every knuckle was scraped or bruised. They were carrying a door, torn from its hinges; the peeling paint, the worn wood, and the weight of their burden made it less than comfortable to hold.

So are they working on the shelter? Or maybe other repairs in Skitter’s territory?

…are we going to see Sierra receive the news that the Nine have retreated?

She held one end of the door. Jay was at the opposite end, his back to the man who was draped over it. She wanted to ask Jay to hold the other end; she doubted looking down at the figure as he carried the makeshift stretcher would even bother him.

…oh.

Well that would explain why the door was so heavy.

Is the man alive?

But she didn’t ask. She couldn’t spare the breath. They’d been working so long already, it was easier to forge ahead than to stop for any reason.

Despite being a lazy sack of potatoes sometimes, I know the feel.

Still, her silence meant she was faced with the corpse of the man who had once lived here.

Hey, guys, I think the man might not be alive.

I didn’t have high hopes for that.

Once upon a time, he’d had parents, had a first day at school, had made friends, even had a crush on someone. He had probably worked. He’d had things he loved about life, no doubt, and if he was living here, he probably had more than enough things about life that he’d hated.

A life cut short.

Whoever he’d been, he was another one of Mannequin’s victims now. Not quite so disturbing as the ones killed by Burnscar.

I suppose Mannequin didn’t do much fancy stuff with most of his victims. Especially the gassing victims wouldn’t have many outward marks. But Burnscar? Charred remains still look just human enough to be very disturbing, I’d guess.

He didn’t have a wallet on him, so he was a John Doe for now.

Doe, a deer, a female deer
Ray, a drop of golden sun…


When they’d started working yesterday, that sort of thinking had made her want to cry. Now she felt numb.

Too many people to cry for.

Too few tears.

She could have thought about something else, but a part of her wanted to pay John Doe his due respect. If nothing else, he deserved to be looked at as a human being rather than another body.

Yeah, this is true. Each one counts. Each one is a person the world no longer has.

She bent down to set the door on the ground. Jay took hold of the man by the shoulders, she lifted by the pants legs, and they moved him three feet to the right. John Doe was set down on the concrete floor. He joined twenty-nine other bodies, now arranged in two rows of fifteen people. Too many were fellow John and Jane Does.

That’s a lot of people, and I’m guessing they’re nowhere near done.

Oh man, I mentioned receiving the news about the Nine earlier, but you know what’d be even better? Seeing Sierra’s reaction to Skitter’s reaction to finally coming back to NeoPets the territory and seeing this. It’d mean we’d most likely miss out on seeing Taylor’s perspective on this, but that’s fine. I’d love to see what Sierra thinks of Skitter when she sees something like that, whichever way Taylor’s reaction plays out.

A blister had popped on her hand as she’d carried the door. It smarted, but her focus was on the man. Forty or so, but the yellow of his skin pointed to liver problems.

Alcohol, perhaps?

He could be as young as thirty, prematurely aged by alcoholism; it wasn’t like she hadn’t seen enough drunks around the city to be blind to the signs.

Ahh, yeah.


She felt like she should say something, but the words didn’t come to her. Had he been a mean-spirited lecher of a drunk? Someone who’d worked hard at whatever job he could find to support his family, then drank his worries away with his buddies after a shift? A lonely man without anyone to care for him?

A runaway from a circus? Maybe he worked at the carousel, ‘cause he looks a little dizzy.

What do you say for someone you didn’t know at all?

She considered a simple ‘sorry’, not necessarily because she felt guilty. She was speaking more for the fact that she couldn’t do more for him, and apologizing on behalf of the random, senseless events that had taken his life.

That’s definitely a feeling Taylor can empathize with, except she’d feel guilty for those random, senseless events.

“Next?” Jay asked.

She looked at him. He was tired, but she didn’t see any signs of the same emotional drain she was experiencing herself. He’d been a gang member in the ABB, had preyed on others, maybe even killing.

He’s used to this kind of thing.

Sierra on the other hand is just a young woman who got involved in this life out of desperation.

This job didn’t faze him in the slightest. Behind his shaggy hair, his narrow eyes were cold, uncaring. He could have been carrying groceries for all he seemed to care.

Jay. Jay no. We’ve had enough cannibalism for a while.

It creeped her out.

That is very fair.


“No,” she said. “I’ve hit my limit. Can you find someone else to move the last two bodies from the factory to here?”

“Okay.”

It’s important to know when to stop even if you’re not entirely done.

She stared at the bodies. Hopefully they could arrange something early in the morning. Maybe if she put together a group and sent them downtown to verbally request help? It was only one of a growing number of issues she was having to solve.

Help from whom exactly? The other Undertravelers? The PRT?

She sighed. “I’m going to go see how things are inside.”

“Okay.”

She watched as he left to rejoin Yan and Sugita, the other two ex-ABB members.

I guess Sugita is the Japanese one?

He must have said something to them, because Yan turned to look at Sierra. The look was intense.

Woah, chill.

It wasn’t jealousy from the Chinese-American girl. It was something else. As creepy as Jay was, his girlfriend’s stare scared Sierra more.

I’m disturbed and I can’t even see it except in my head.


Exhausted and unnerved, Sierra headed back to Skitter’s headquarters. She double-checked that nobody was following before entering the storm drain. It was pitch black inside. Humid.

How long has it been since Skitter was home?

Few days? A week?

She walked with fingertips tracing the right-hand wall. When that wall ended, she kept walking. It was disorienting, uncomfortable, walking without a guide in darkness so absolute she couldn’t see her hand in front of her face.

Taylor’s used to it, in part because of Brian and in part because she has thousands of “hands” to touch the walls with. Sierra, not so much.

She felt the wall again, and she kept her hand on it as she rounded the next corner. There was a wet patch where some small amounts of water were trickling down from the street above… two more paces, then a left hand turn. She fumbled around briefly to find the opening.

Is Skitter going to be inside for once?


That was the hardest part. The rest was easy – finding the doorway, entering the cellar, then heading upstairs to the main floor. She was glad to see light, to let go of that fear that she’d miss the gap and find herself wandering the storm drains and getting lost, unable to find a way back to the surface or the beach. She wondered if Skitter had felt the same way.

Probably not, given her tendency to navigate with her power.

I notice that Sierra is talking about Skitter in past perfect here. Does she think Skitter didn’t make it, or something, since she hasn’t returned? Or is it just “when she used to actually be here”?

She nearly tripped over a small child as she made her way into the kitchen.

Heh. Did Charlotte turn the place into an orphanage?

Charlotte was there, and she was busy emptying the cupboards. Everything edible was on the counter or on the floor, neatly arranged. Sierra estimated roughly twenty children were on the ground floor.

Seems like it.

I love the idea of Charlotte just being really good with kids.

“There’s more than there used to be.”

“O’Daly clan.”

Was that the family that volunteered to help with the shelter?

Or maybe it’s another set of victims.

Sierra frowned. “They need to take care of their own kids.”

“They’re kind of preoccupied. They were hit harder than anyone else by the attack. I think only six of the twenty who were with us are left.”

Damn.

That doesn’t include the kids, right?

“I know. But they still need to take care of their kids.”

“Give them one more day to mourn?” Charlotte asked.

Fair enough, I suppose, if you’re up for taking care of the kids.

“It’s your call. You’re the one babysitting in the meantime.”

“I’m trying,” Charlotte said. “But they’re switching between playing and being pretty normal kids to crying because their parents are… you know.”

Yeeeah, that’s not easy.

All the more reason for those who still have parents to be taken care of by them, I suppose.

Dead.

“Yeah,” Sierra confirmed.

Charlotte had taken off her mask and was using it to tie her hair back. She straightened it and tied it over her forehead again. “Isn’t the city supposed to handle this? There should be something like foster care, or a special evacuation plan for orphaned kids.”

There should be, but have you met Brockton Bay?

“I don’t think the city knows. It’s not just the kids. We’ve got thirty dead bodies and it’s not exactly cool out, and there aren’t any ambulances or anything showing up to handle it.

Oh yeah, that’s fair. They kinda need to know about it to do anything.

You should probably tell them.

We just spent the entire afternoon moving them to a new spot with Jay and two locals.

We were talking about burning them in a mass grave, but I’m worried that’s against the law.

Hmm.

I don’t know, is it?

I would think the burning might be the most legally iffy bit there.

And since half of them don’t have ID, we might ruin any chance of their families identifying them.”

“Not easy.”

“No,” Sierra admitted. “How’s the rationing?”

“Irrational.”


“It’s less like she went shopping and more like she wanted to stock this place like it was a miniature grocery store. A little bit of everything.

Hehe.

Like me buying candy. Gotta have variety.

I’m trying to organize it by expiry date so we can prioritize eating and serving the food that’s going bad now, in case she never comes back and the food starts to get low.”

Alright, so Charlotte at least believes Skitter is alive, but doubts whether she’s coming back.

“I know it’s a bit late, but there’s a lot of us who’ve been working hard, cleaning up the mess from the attacks…” Sierra hedged.

What are you getting at? You want extra rations for the workers?

That does seem reasonably fair.

“You want dinner?”

Sierra pressed her hands together in a pleading gesture.

This is cute. :p


“Maybe soup? I figure we need to eat these vegetables, there’s stock, and if we water it down so we can split it up more…” Charlotte trailed off. “I never really cooked at home. I helped my parents cook, but that’s not the same thing.”

Yeah, when you do that, you’ve got an authority to look to, who can help you know what to do.

“It works. Prepare some rice from the supplies, since we have more than enough of that. Bulk it out. We have a lot of mouths to feed.”

“Okay.”

All she wanted to do was stop. Instead, she stepped into the living room, where makeshift beds had been arranged with piles of blankets and sleeping bags.

The momentum keeps her trucking.

Only two kids were sleeping there, both clearly brother and sister. It was as much privacy as she was going to get. She plucked the satellite phone from her pocket.

Oh right, I forgot they’d have phone contact with Skitter.

So when is this, exactly? Has the PRT’s jamming stopped?

This scenario wasn’t what she’d expected, on any level. Even as Skitter had explained the job duties as being helping out, rebuilding, organizing, Sierra had maintained doubts. She’d been waiting for that one job where Skitter tested her limits, asked her to do something a little dangerous, something morally ambiguous.

Tried to turn her into a villain…

That’s Tattletale’s MO, though, not Skitter’s.

It would be subtle, or it would have consequences she wasn’t immediately aware of, but it would set her on the road to something darker.

Or both.

If you were working for Tattletale.

Except it hadn’t happened yet. Even the scope of what she was doing here caught her off guard. There were innumerable dead, and yet more people forced out of their homes by the fires Burnscar had started. It seemed like everyone was walking a narrow line between banding together as a community and killing one another.

Yikes.

Has the miasma even happened yet? Are we in the past, seeing how the miasma caused the civilians in the territory to act?

It felt strange to identify as one of the key people who were pulling for the former. She was organizing everone, keeping in touch with the groups handling the other cleanup jobs and working tirelessly at the hardest and most unwanted jobs in the hopes of inspiring others to keep going.

You’re doing a great job.

When the smell of shit and rot that accompanied the dead got to someone, Sierra was at their side, helping calm them down, always ready to name another place where they were needed.

Taylor made some really good choices of people to hire as her right and left hands.


It was almost too much. A huge part of her wanted to call Skitter, to get some guidance, to order supplies and defer on the harder problems, like the bodies.

Ah. So while they have access to phone contact with Skitter, they haven’t used it yet since Burnscar?

Another part of her was scared to.

She dialed another number instead.

Ooh, who are we about to meet?

Or maybe it’s one of the other Undertravelers?

“Yes?” the voice was deep.

Coil?

She was put in mind of being a little kid, calling a friend and hearing an adult on the other end. It felt awkward. She sort of resented it.

That is a really good analogy here.

“I’d like to talk to Bryce?” It came out as more of a question than a statement.

Ohh. I guess the deep voice is one of Lisa’s Coildiers.

“One moment.”

She watched with the phone pressed to one ear as Charlotte recruited some of the older children to prepare dinner. They started putting things back in cabinets, ordered not by the type of food, but by how long it would last. One of the children found a cutting board and began to cut lettuce.

That’s child labor.

But y’know, since they’re there, I suppose. It’s not heavy child labor. Nothing schools don’t make kids do.

“Sierra?”

“Yeah,” she answered.

“Well? What do you want?”

“Checking up on you, moron.”

Heh.

“I’m fine,” Bryce said. He managed to sound sullen.

You sure?

She crossed the room to approach the kitchen counter and mimed proper cutting technique for the ten-year-old that was preparing the lettuce. It wouldn’t do to have the kid lose any fingertips. Or maybe she was sensitive to the idea while talking to Bryce.

Also fingertips make a terrible addition to the soup, unless your name is Siberian.


Skitter had been gone for roughly as long as Tattletale. “Is that it?” Bryce asked.

I’m sorry, Sierra, but I have to say it: Bryce is an inconsiderate, ungrateful little fucker.

“I was hoping for more than two words of response. How’s your hand?”

“Hurts.”

“Here, have a third word.”

“That’s going to happen. You lost all four fingers.”

“No. It hurts like my fingers are still there and they’re being crushed.”

That’s called phantom pains, right? The nerves have been cut off at the roots of the fingers, but the brain can’t tell the signals don’t come from further out.

She didn’t know what to say to that. I’m sorry? You deserved what you got?

I’m not sure I’d say he deserved it, but he sure as hell didn’t make it so he didn’t deserve it.

If that makes any sense.

“Ask Tattletale about it?”

I think this is a normal result of amputations. I’ve heard of the same thing happening with entire limbs, like leg amputees thinking they can feel toe pains.

Of course, it’s also possible that there’s some parahuman stuff going on, but I doubt it.

“She’s gone. Has been for more than a day, now. Jaw said she’s not to be disturbed with phone calls or anything like that.”

Well, that’s gonna sound familiar to Sierra.

Skitter had been gone for roughly as long as Tattletale.

Alright, so she hasn’t been away for that long. Might even be a bit early for Charlotte to be thinking “what if she never comes back”.

According to Charlotte, Skitter had invited a bunch of local villains over and then left shortly after. They were probably the other eight territory bosses who were working to occupy the city. That had been over forty-eight hours ago.

Ah, two days. Yeah, sounds about right.


“Jaw gave me some painkillers,” Bryce said.

I do not trust these painkillers.

“What kind?” Sierra felt a stab of alarm.

It must have been audible, because Bryce replied, “Relax. Over the counter stuff.”

Are you sure?

“Okay. What have you been doing?”

“Nothing big. Keeping track of some members of the Chosen as they move around. Hookwolf’s guys.”

“I know who they are.”

Probably worth keeping track of them, yeah. If you don’t, before you know it they’re somewhere you don’t expect, interfering with your plans.

“They’ve been moving in. I thought we were going to get in a fight, but Jaw had us all retreat. I think because I was with them. It’s annoying.”

I mean, I get it, he doesn’t want to be patronized, but he is a kid without powers.

(#i looked away from my screen for a second and managed to spell ‘without’ as ‘wotjpit’)


“It’s a good thing that you’re not being dragged into a firefight. Especially one with capes.”

“They’ve been teaching me how to fight with a knife, how to throw one, how to use a gun-”

That doesn’t mean you should seek out situations where you have to do it.

“I don’t want you learning that stuff.”

Also that. I didn’t expect her to take kindly to that.

“I have to, in case we get ambushed or something. And I’m not bad at it. We could have fought those guys.”

“Did Tattletale tell you that you should fight them?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

“No…”

“Like I said, Tattletale isn’t around and hasn’t been for a while.”

“So the answer is no, she didn’t give you the go-ahead.”

So if Lisa did tell Bryce to fight some capes, how would you take that, Sierra?

“No.”

“That’s a good enough reason to back off, then. I don’t know exactly who she is or what she does, but she knows what she’s doing. Trust her in that.”

Most of the time, yeah.


“Always awesome to talk to you, Sierra.  Thanks.  Bye now.”

why i must kill you

[El Goonish Shive panel]

Abraham: I will now explain why I must kill you.

“Don’t hang up on me.  Put me on the phone with Jaw.”

Bryce hung up.

dang it sir

[Squirrel Girl panel]

Doreen: Dang it, sir.


He’s supposed to be getting better, more disciplined.  Had she made the wrong call?  If Bryce was getting training with guns and knives, and still failing to shape up, this thing with him being recruited by Tattletale could be disastrous in the long run.

Hm. Perhaps.

It’s not like I didn’t spend some time right before this call talking about how Lisa is more likely to manipulate someone into villainy than Taylor, while largely forgetting about Bryce.

She waited a minute, then called the same number.

“Yes?”  Again, Jaw’s deep voice.

Hi. The little douche hung up on her.

“He hung up on me.  I wanted to ask you how he was doing.”

“The boy is learning.”

Yeah, but learning what? Clearly not decency.

“I’d rather he wasn’t learning how to use weapons.  If he’s getting in a situation where he needs to fight, you guys aren’t keeping your end of the deal.”

I mean, would you rather he get killed if he ends up in such a situation by accident?

“That would be Pritt.  He thinks she’s attractive, and listens to her best, so Minor has her accompany him much of the time.  She is a former child soldier, she would have thought self-defense was a good way to regain confidence after the boy lost his fingers.”

…sure, that does make a bit of sense. Just… make sure the confidence extends to other things, and he doesn’t rely on having weapons.

She could imagine Jaw saying that with Bryce overhearing, her brother getting simultaneously annoyed and embarrassed.  She liked it.

omae wa mou shindeiru


“Have her cut it out?  I don’t want to sound like I’m giving you orders, but I don’t want my little brother shooting people.”

“It’s fine.  Tattletale told us to do whatever you required as far as the boy is concerned.  I will tell Minor, and he will order the others to keep the boy away from weapons.”

Sounds alright.

“Thank you.”

“I will also decide on a punishment for the boy for being rude and hanging up on his sister.  I think we would all like him to learn some respect for his betters.”

I know, right?

She could imagine him looking at Bryce as he said it.

Hehe.

“Nothing too serious?  As punishment goes?”

“Nothing serious.  It will build character.”

‘Course, who knows what “nothing serious” means to Jaw.

“Thank you.  Any word on what Skitter and Tattletale are doing?”

“No.  All I know is that it will be dangerous, and every squad is on high alert.  We are sleeping in shifts, maintaining combat readiness and doubling patrols.

In case the Undertravelers need backup.

I take it they haven’t requested the Coildier support to the Boat Graveyard yet?

We were informed three hours ago that the downtown area is off-limits.  I know Lieutenant Fish was deployed there when the order came down, and he has ceased all communications.”

Alright, I’m pretty sure it hadn’t been three hours since the miasma struck, so it looks like the chronology is linear here.

“All of downtown?”

“Yes.”

Probably worth staying out of a bit beyond that, too.

She hung up and headed for the bathroom to tend to the damage her hands had accumulated over the day’s work.  Disinfectant, antibiotic ointment, bandages.  Every time she thought she’d found the last small scrape, she found another.

I hope there was an unnarrated goodbye here. Otherwise I’d have to question the entire Kiley family’s phone manners.


By the time she was done, her hands had as much in the way of bandages as there was exposed skin.  She flexed her fingers to make sure she could still move them, adjusted two bandages, and then returned to the kitchen.

“Progress?”

“Nearly done.  It hasn’t cooked very long, and I’m worried it’ll just taste like boiled vegetables in water, but you said people were hungry.  How do you want to get the soup out there?”

Just let it trickle off the roof and let gravity do the rest.

“There’s three spots where people are sleeping tonight.  Let’s mobilize the kids and get some food out to everyone.”

“The kids?”

“Everyone needs to contribute.  Maybe if they see seven-year-olds doing their part, the O’Daly clan will get the message.”

…I suppose.

“Sierra,” Charlotte made a pained expression as she spoke, “They’ve been through a lot.”

That’s true. So has everyone here, but the kids need special care.

“They’re using our sleeping space, they’re eating our food supplies.  We can’t hold their hands and baby them.  Everyone’s having a hard time these days.”

If there’s anyone who should be babied, it’s the kids.

Also, the contrast between this and Sierra’s attitude towards Bryce is not lost on me.

“That’s cold.”

It is. Skitter may not have made an effort to change you, Sierra, but I think the whole situation has done it anyway. Made you colder, harder.

“Maybe, but I’ve been working from sunrise to well after dark, here, and they were just sitting around, getting in the way, complaining and crying.”

“Most of their family died just a few days ago.”

I’m with Charlotte here. Sierra talks like someone who barely knows what a child is.

Sierra didn’t have a response to that.  They were still eating far too much and taking up too much room for people who hadn’t lifted a finger to help.  “Anyways, think I can use the kids?”

“Don’t push them.  Some are pretty emotionally sensitive.  But yeah.”

Use the ones who want to help.

Sierra turned around, “Hey, munchkins!  Got a job for you.  Help out and we’ll give you first dibs on the after-dinner treats!”

This is good, though: Promising a reward rather than a punishment.

Roughly half of the little ones approached her.  Six to ten years old, boys and girls, a variety of ethnicities.

“Who’s the oldest?  Raise your hand if you’re ten… okay, if you’re nine?  Eight?”

It’s like a switch was flipped when she turned around.


She mentally sorted them out, then directed them, “You, you’re in charge of those three.  You’re in charge of these two… You’re in charge of this pair, okay?”

Older kids looking after little kids.  They sorted into their groups.

That makes sense.

“You’re carrying soup out to the sleeping areas.  We’ve got something to carry them in, Charlotte?”

“Yeah.  Just give me a minute.  Don’t want them to burn their hands.”

Is Sierra going to be cynical about this too? Oh poor kids having to worry about burning their little hands when she’s been out hauling corpses all day…

“Everyone carries what they can.  Take the soup out there and then come back here.”

Charlotte put the lids on the first few containers of soup, and the kids scampered off.

Okay, looks like we’re good.


Sierra didn’t give it a second thought until she heard the shutter sliding open.

Hm?

Skitter’s back?

“Not the front door!”  Sierra called out, but the kids were already out the front door.  She sighed.

Oh.

Whoops. Kinda wanted to keep this building secret.

“They’re afraid of the storm sewer,” Charlotte pointed out.

Ahh. Sierra’s not one to speak when it comes to that.

“I know.  It’s not that big a deal.  I’m going to go out with the next group, just to keep an eye on the delivery process.”

“Okay.  I’ll prep some for you to carry,” Charlotte said.  “Find more tupperware or pots I can put this in?”

Alright, so if things go as planned, we’re probably going out with Sierra and the kids.

Sierra nodded and turned to do as she’d been asked, but the kids were already hopping to the task.  She let them go ahead.  It seemed they were glad for something to occupy themselves with.

People deal with grief in different ways. This is one of them. Child labor or not, allowing them to help like this is kind as long as it’s allowing them to help rather than making them help.

Maybe they recognized how shitty the overall situation was and they wanted to help fix it.

Some of the older ones, maybe.

She suspected she’d find the necessary tupperware faster than the four kids combined, but it wasn’t a big deal.

“Well, well, well.”

That doesn’t sound like anyone present, nor like Skitter.

If anything, it sounds like Jack.

Don’t you fucking dare. Just leave the city and doom the world already.


Sierra whirled around before the man was even finished talking.  Not a man, exactly, but boy didn’t fit.

Hmm.

It was Jay.  The Japanese-American boy glared at her through his mop of hair.

Oh. Hi. What the fuck?

Did Yan say something to him about Sierra?

“Jay.  You weren’t invited here.”

“I can see why.  Electricity, running water, food… you’ve got it made.

Ahhh. So that’s where we’re going.

Was wondering where you were going, tried following you, but you disappeared.  Thought we’d missed our chance until we saw some ankle-biters running down the street with plastic containers of food.  Seems you’re hoarding the good shit.”

I mean, where do you think the ankle-biters (no actual ankle-biting, kids, we’ve had enough cannibalism) were bringing the food?

“We’re not hoarding,” she spoke.  She had to swallow to clear her throat.  She knew she had to sound confident, “This is Skitter’s place.”

I’m not 100% sure saying that was a good idea, but at least it’s a good reason.

“Skitter’s, sure.  If she’s still alive.  But not your space.  Don’t see why you can have this stuff and we can’t.”

You can. They are actively working on distributing it.


“Skitter gave us permission.”

“We supposed to believe?” Sugita asked, his voice heavily accented.

Oh hey, you’re here too.

Is Yan with you?

“Yeah.”

“No,” Yan spoke.  She reached behind her back and drew a handgun.

Well, fuck.

“Don’t believe you.”

There are kids here, Sierra thought.

They don’t need another corpse on the floor.

“Stupid,” she spoke without thinking.

Yan pointed the gun at her.  “What did you say?”

Oops.

“You know Skitter gave us the go-ahead to use her place.”

“That so?  I overheard someone complaining that Skitter left without announcing anything, after the fires,” Yan said.  Her tone was mocking.

Taylor may have fucked up in that regard.


“You assholes.  Least you can do is drop the bullshit and admit you just want to take our stuff.”

Heh, yeah.

“Was thinking about it, sure,” Jay said, “Doesn’t look like Skitter’s coming back.  Two days, situation like this?  But you’re dreaming if you think we’re going to just walk away with some food.  I think we’re going to evict you.”

“Evict us?

Well fuck you too.

“Move out of the way,” Yan ordered Sierra, twitching the gun to her left.

“Why?” Sierra asked.

So they can get to the food, I guess?

“Because I’ll shoot you if you don’t,” Yan said.  “I can’t believe you’re not listening.  You’re either stubborn or stupid.”

“I’m tired,” Sierra replied.  “And what you’re doing here isn’t exactly brilliant.  Think about it. Where did this food come from?  The equipment?”

Skitter, and they think she’s probably dead and thus unable to provide more of it.

Or maybe Sierra’s talking about how there’s got to be some bigger man who’d take issue with their behavior.

“Skitter bought it.”

“From who?  From where?  It’s pretty obvious this place was set up after Leviathan came, but where’d she get it?  She had it delivered.  And the same people who make deliveries like this to a supervillain are going to be pretty ticked off if they find out someone’s messed with one of their customers.”

Pretty solid logic here.

The argument was feeble, and she knew it.

“If these people exist, they won’t show up tonight.  We’ll spend the night.  I figure we’re overdue for a party.”

Hey, Jaw, you busy?


“Leaving us to clean up the mess?”

“Sierra,” Charlotte spoke, her voice quiet, “Not worth it.”

Charlotte’s right, even with her own concerns about running low on food.

Yan gestured with the gun, and Sierra listened this time, stepping out of the way.

Sugita and Jay headed past the counter and into the kitchen, while Yan stood where she could block the front door.  Sierra could see Charlotte shrinking away.  Like a shark that smelled blood, Sugita turned his attention to her.

Sugita… *pulls up Google Translate on a suspicion*

…does not mean “shark”. It means “passed away”.

Yan means “eye”.

He stepped close, invading her personal space.

Fuck off.

Don’t show fear, Sierra prayed.

But Charlotte did.  In an instant, it was as though she was a different person than she’d been five minutes ago.  Weak-kneed, cringing, not even resisting as Sugita grabbed at her wrist.

death glare 3


[Session 2]


There was something at play there that Sierra hadn’t been told about.  “Leave her alone!”

Hm? History between Charlotte and Sugita?

Surely nothing good.

“Shut up, bitch,” Yan stepped closer, waggling the gun, “You want to get shot?”

Few people want that.

I’m sure Crawler did at one point, and a couple other weirdos, but for the most part it’s not something we want.

“Just let us go.  Do whatever the fuck you want here, it’s on your head, but let us go.”

I don’t get the impression they’re gonna let you off that easily.

“Don’t think so.  I hate arrogant bitches.  Going to spoil my mood if I don’t do anything about it.  Your choice.  I can shoot you through your palm, shoot you in a knee, or I can shoot one of the kids.”

Somehow I feel like Mannequin would appreciate this ultimatum. Maybe Jack too.


For Charlotte this choice would definitely be easy.

But just how hard is Sierra by comparison?


Sierra glanced at the kids who had shrunk back against counters, cabinets and the wall.  There were tears tracking through the dirt on their faces, but they were mostly managing to keep quiet.

“Well?” Yan asked, raising her voice.

Sierra couldn’t bring herself to speak.  Being shot in the hand- she might never use it again.  But the knee was supposedly the part of the body that had the hardest time recovering from a major injury.

Hm. I think if I was forced to choose, I’d go with the hand. Being forced to use only one hand sounds better than having trouble walking. Even if I am a sack of ‘taters.

Yan bent down and grabbed one of the oldest boys by the hair.  Ten years old, blond hair in bad need of a cut and a pugnacious nose.  He squealed and writhed in pain at the grip on his scalp, until he wrenched himself out of Yan’s grip, falling flat on his back.

Clock is ticking, Sierra.

The girl jammed the gun in his mouth before he could recover, and he froze.

“Choose!”

you can't tell us what to do

[El Goonish Shive panel]

Ellen: You can’t tell us what to do.


I’m quickly discovering that I’m not really in the mood for this right now, leaving me easily distracted and prone to uninteresting commentary. I’m sorry. Let’s try again tomorrow.

[End of session]


[Session 3 was postponed repeatedly for a variety of reasons. Eventually it got to the point where I said something to the effect of “session tomorrow, no matter what”, prompting the following.]

[Discord]

[name omitted]:
@Lizzy Shork Queen (Can you tell Krix anonymously that he doesn’t need to do a chapter tomorrow if he’s really not down for it?)

emmafrog:
yeah, we’d rather he take care of himself than force himself to work when he’s not ready

Thank you. I’m just… getting a bit frustrated myself by having to continually postpone the rest of the chapter.

That said, I’m rather sleepy tonight. Should be better tomorrow, because weekend, and I’ll have a lot more free time to blog too. So yeah, I do think I’ll postpone it one last time. Sorry!


Also, I have been informed by Sharks that there’s a second Interlude after this one. 🙂


So I got distracted for a while there by humongous slime cubes and teaching llamas to spit fire, but there’s still time to get in a short Worm session tonight. Let’s try to make some progress, shall we?

(#the llamas don’t just spit fire
#they spit *living* fire
#i am so proud of them)


So when we last left off, grade-A-minus bitch Yan was sadistically forcing Sierra to choose. Hand, knee or a ten-year-old.

Of course it’d be great if they could find a fourth option, but I’m thinking it’s going to be the hand.

“My hand.”

Booyeah.

45-45 odds at worst, I know, but it still feels good to get it right.

Yan smirked, taking the gun out of the boy’s mouth.  “Put it flat against the wall.”

Maybe if Sierra gets lucky here with the placements, she could disarm Yan. But even then they’d still have two strong, combat-trained guys and one strong, combat-trained woman against a young, untrained woman and an even younger, untrained teen girl who seems to have submitted to the opponents… as well as, what, seven kids, ten and below?

Honestly, the kids might be the key to turning the tide here. Do not underestimate kids. They can be vicious. (The fact that I just came from playing Minecraft, where baby zombies are significantly more of a threat than adult zombies, only strengthens my conviction on that front.)

Alternatively, the key might be Skitter’s return. While it’d be an unexpected rescue from the characters’ perspective, it wouldn’t be a deus ex machina, because both this chapter and natural consequences of recent events have set up the return as something that should either happen now (15.1 is also acceptable, but disappointing) or not for a long while still.

That, and I want to see Taylor react to finding out that the ABB members she hired are in fact shitty people and she made a mistake in hiring them.

…actually, that last thing is part of what I don’t like about this chapter so far. There was so much potential for these three to get partially reformed, and then as soon as we see them again they go and do this. Maybe there still is potential, though. It depends on how forgiving Taylor is feeling.

Though I doubt she’ll be in a great mood after Jack and co. escaped the city.


Sierra started raising her hand, then stopped.

Is this just regular hesitation, or did she just go “wait, no, fuck this”?

A figure stood behind Yan.  Her costume was barely recognizable

Oh hell yes.

Hello.

You’ve got a little situation to deal with here. Some of your lower-level drones have been naughty.

– She wore a short cape of tattered black cloth over her body armor, a skintight black suit beneath that, and there were folds of black cloth draped around her legs like a dress or a robe.  The entire fabric seemed to ripple and move.  It took Sierra a second to realize it was crawling with a carpet of insects.

She looks fucking awesome.

It reminds me of Brian’s use of the darkness in his costume. I like the creativity involved in using the powers for the costumes, and it makes for some truly unique ones.

Skitter: “Where’s Tattletale?”
Grue: “She’s coming. She told me to go ahead, she’d catch up after doing something.”
Skitter: “Oh, there she… what.”
Grue: “Hm?”
Tattletale: “Hey, guys!”
Skitter: “Why are you naked?”
Grue: “Uhh.”
Tattletale: “What? Oh, right, that. I wanted to try using my power for my costume like you and Grue do. I’m not naked, I’m dressed in knowledge!”
Grue: “Uuuuhhhhhh.”
Skitter: “What knowledge?”
Regent: “Biblical?”
Tattletale: “The knowledge,” *flips hair* “that I’m sexy.”

(#poor grue can’t even words right now)


Skitter, ten minutes later: “Hey, Tattle… you do know Grue and I aren’t naked under our powers, right?”
Grue: *shifts awkwardly*


The disconcerting part was the girl’s face, or lack thereof.  Her expression was masked behind a shifting mass of bugs that moved in and out of her hairline.

Hang on. Is any of the suit actually visible beneath the bugs?

Skitter has been known to use decoys, after all.

Sierra couldn’t even tell where the bugs ended and the scalp began, as the small black bodies crawled into and onto the black curls.  There was a hint of something like glass where Skitter’s eyes were, but the bugs ventured far enough over her eyelids and around the frames that nothing was visible in the way of goggles, glasses or skin.

Alright, it looks like it’s really her.

Skitter hadn’t made a sound as she entered.  She hadn’t spoken, and her footsteps had been quiet.

…or is it?

It would make sense for her footsteps to be quiet if she didn’t have any.

But I suppose they’d hear the buzz if the bugs were flying.

Maybe it’s another situation where they’re holding each other up from the bottom?


Yan pointed the gun at Skitter.  “You’re back, huh?”

I hope this is a fake Skitter and Yan tries to shoot her.

I’m not sure what would be better, the decoy feigning death at the gunshot so that Yan thinks they don’t need to worry about her anymore, or the bullets just going right on through, causing Yan to start worrying when her gun isn’t the all-powerful tool of intimidation she’s been using it as.

Then again, if this is a decoy, then what’s with the glass? Did Taylor decide to pick that up with the bugs to make it look more real?

Because if so, she’s succeeding. It’s not even the only thing that makes this look more real than most of her decoys.

I’m thinking there’s a 20% chance of this being a decoy, maybe.

The villainess didn’t speak.  She pointed to her right instead.

The lack of speaking on “Taylor’s” part is a pretty big indicator that it might be a decoy, though.

Fuck it, let’s say 40%.

Advancing toward the group was a beetle the size of a small pony.  It didn’t use its forelimbs to walk, but held them up so the razor edge was both visible and ready to strike.

Hell yes.

“Call it off or I shoot!”

I’m becoming more and more sure that shooting wouldn’t do much. You’d be better off shooting Atlas, if I’m right.

“Shoot and you die,” Skitter’s voice was distorted, not really resembling a sound from human lips.

Yeah, that’s because she’s not making it with human lips.

Also Skitter is really threatening to kill someone here. I wonder if she means to back it up.

She’s had a bad day at work.

The beetle seemed to offer a deep buzz to accompany the ‘oo’ sounds.  “It won’t be pretty.  Brown recluse venom makes your muscles necrotize.  That means it decays while you’re still alive.

Oh man, going into detail on the gruesome way she’d die. Fantastic for intimidation.

I don’t think Skitter is seriously intending to do this if she doesn’t get her way, but damn if she isn’t going to make Yan and co. think she is.

It takes days, but the only real cure is taking a knife to the area around the bite.  That might be okay if you have one bite, carve out a half-pound of flesh, let the wound drain, stitch it up.  But what if you have three or four bites?  Or ten?”

“Just ask Lung, he knows what it’s like.”

“You’re bullshitting me,” Yan spat the words.

Skitter ignored her.  “It’s excruciatingly painful.  Nothing you experienced during your initiation into the ABB even compares, I can guarantee it.

How much does Skitter know about ABB initiation rituals?

You’re rotting alive, your flesh turning black as it liquefies.  So maybe you shoot me.  Maybe you even kill me, though I doubt it.  Either way, whether I walk away from here alive or not, you get bitten.  They’re already on you.  All three of you.”

Hm. I was going to say I was sure she’s telling the truth, because she can easily do this, but it might actually be more effective to tell them there are spiders on them that they can’t find.


Yan glanced down at her body.  In that same instant, the beetle took flight.  It crossed the room in the span of a heartbeat and slammed into her.

“Don’t look for them.”

Its blade-like forelimbs caught around Yan and pulled her to the ground.

“Also the beetle is very capable of killing you faster if I need to.”

There’s also the fact that Skitter just knocked down the one with the gun, possibly disarming her.

Sierra turned her attention to the other two, saw Sugita lunging to one side.  She practically threw herself between him and the countertop where the knife still lay on top of the cutting board.

Skitter: “Look, I’ve faced way more skilled knife-wielders than you today.”

Jay drew his knife, but dropped it in the same motion.  His other hand clutched his forearm as his eyes went wide.

Regent here too?

Or maybe Taylor just paralyzed his arm with a bug of some kind?

“That’s one bite, Shaggy,” Skitter said.  “Giving you two seconds to kick the knife under the stove before I give you another.  One-”

Oh, maybe it was just that it hurt in the moment. Makes sense.

But was it actually a brown recluse?

Jay kicked the knife across the kitchen floor.  It slid out of sight.

“And you, I think you were the one with the bad accent?  You can step away from Charlotte now.”

YES. PLEASE DO.

Sugita scowled, but he did as he was asked.  He backed away from Charlotte until he stood beside Jay.  Charlotte let one sob escape before she hurried across the kitchen and moved to stand behind Skitter.

You’re safe…r now.

She’s been through something, Sierra thought.  She knew Charlotte was staying in town only because of her family, that she’d been captured by the Merchants and held for at least a short while… and there was some reason she couldn’t explain that to her family and just leave the city.

Hmm. Maybe she got romantically involved with someone bad or something?

Also, wasn’t the explanation she gave at John Cleese’s office something about a family member she needed to take care of? Was she lying?


“I hope the rest of you are okay?”  Skitter asked.

You arrived right in time. A moment later and they wouldn’t all be entirely okay, physically.

Mentally, I don’t think Charlotte’s in a great state.

“Where were you?” Sierra returned the question with one of her own.

She was doing her best to save literally everyone downtown.

“Dealing with the Nine.  They’re not a concern anymore, at least for now.”

I like how matter-of-factly she says that.

It was surreal, hearing the girl talk about dealing with the Slaughterhouse Nine.  They weren’t in the same category as your average villain.

That wasn’t even the part I was talking about, but yeah, the matter-of-factness of that part is great too. Skitter just earned herself some major badass points with Sierra, I think.

They were like monsters from horror films, the killer who always got up at the end of the film, the monster who never died.

Fuck.

That’s been the theme of the group all along! Of course it has! How the hell did I not catch onto that, only applying the connection to that genre to Crawler? I’ve had plenty of time!

Literally every one of them fits into some sort of horror trope!

I stopped thinking about this, didn’t I. After my first guess for the group’s theme (historical serial killers [here]) didn’t pan out. The only time I’ve taken time to speculate on a wider theme for the group since that, as far as I remember, was when I pointed to most of them having great potential wasted on evil [here].


In my defense, I don’t watch horror very often. Doesn’t mean I don’t know what sort of tropes the villains tend to fall into, though.


“You mean they won’t attack anytime soon, or-”

“They’re dealt with.  Burnscar’s dead.  Crawler’s dead.  Mannequin’s probably dead.  Cherish and Shatterbird wish they were dead.

Heh.

Found Siberian’s weak point, and it’ll be international news soon, if it isn’t already.  She, Jack and Bonesaw ran.  Tried to pursue, couldn’t track them.  It’ll be a while before they bounce back.”

Good fucking work.

“You took on the Nine and won?”

Skitter ventured toward Yan, then used one foot to hold the girl’s arm down against the ground.

And she just leaves that question hanging, like it’s no big deal. For now, anyway.

Man, she sounds so exhausted.

The beetle pinned it there, pressing the point of one forelimb into her palm with enough pressure that a bead of blood appeared.  Skitter stepped around the girl so the beetle could do the same.

…what are you doing now?

When Yan clenched her fist, Skitter stepped on her fist, crushing it underfoot.

Is this just about restraining them?

She took her time responding.  When she did speak, all she said was, “I didn’t say we won.”

…right. Victory for Skitter would mean wiping the Nine out completely. At the very least Jack, not letting him escape.

Taylor has a history of blaming herself for the actions of antagonists if she fails to stop them. If she does that here, she’s going to be blaming herself for the end of the world coming in two years rather than 15+ (even if I’m right that she never had the opportunity to change that).

Fuck, that’s a heavy burden.


She lifted her foot, Yan unclenched it, and the beetle stabbed down with another pointed forelimb to pin it to the ground.

Another thing that helps show how out of it Taylor is: She’s casually inflicting pain, barely even acknowledging what she’s doing, while carrying an unrelated conversation.

To be fair, she is good at multitasking.

“What are you doing?” Yan asked, a note of desperation in her voice.

It kinda looks like you’re getting crucified. To the floor. Which kind of disqualifies it from being called crucifixion, but still.

At the very least you’re being restrained.

Skitter didn’t respond.  “Sierra?  Charlotte?”

Charlotte didn’t venture a reply, but Sierra managed one.  “Yeah?”

Were it not for the accompanying buzz of the bugs, Sierra suspected she wouldn’t have heard Skitter speak.  “You’ve been working hard.  Thank you.  I didn’t expect to have anything to come back to.”

Oh man, those are some words that say a lot.

We’re getting a really good look at Taylor’s feelings here despite not being in her head. They’re easier to understand than most times this sort of thing happens because we’re used to the way her mind works, but she’s still being incredibly expressive in her lack of expression, if that makes any sense. She’s so mentally exhausted and that’s before you add her concern over being responsible for the world ending sooner.

Which she’s not. But that rarely means she’s not going to beat herself up over it, and that’s exhausting in its own way.

“It’s okay,” Sierra said.  The words were a bit of a non-sequitur, but Skitter seemed to accept them.

The words, perhaps, but not the sentiment. It feels like Sierra picked up on the implicit “I’m sorry I left you to deal with my mess” and responded in kind, even if she doesn’t quite consciously know why.

“Thought you would have left,” Skitter said.

That’s.

Actually a good point.

They both could’ve left, easily, if they thought Skitter wouldn’t return. In theory, Skitter was supposed to be the only thing keeping them here. But they stayed and made the most of it, tried to take care of people and restore the community.

They too have grown to care about this place and its people.


“Anyone that’s still in the city probably has some reason they can’t go.  But things here aren’t good.”

…fair point.

“We can fix that,” Skitter said.  It sounded more like she was talking to herself than to anyone in the room.

I think she is.

It would have been reassuring if she hadn’t been staring down at Yan.

Oh, yikes.

“What are you going to do?” Yan repeated herself.

“Charlotte, would you take the children into another room?”

Second time asked, second time ignored.

And yeeeah, that’s not gonna be a reassuring sentiment for Yan.

Charlotte seemed relieved to have the chance to escape.  Every child that was present flocked to her and she hurried into the bedroom.

Charlotte has always been the more skittish of the two original drones, so I can imagine she doesn’t want to see what’s going to happen either.

That’s on top of wanting to get away from Sugita, of course. I’m sure that’s her main concern.

Yan raised her voice, “You left!  You abandoned us!”

Trying to play on her guilt? I’m not entirely sure that’s going to work right now. Later, sure, but right now she might be too exhausted to acknowledge the guilt below extinction-level.

…then again, she just did.


They were as insecure as the rest of us, Sierra thought.  Not that it excuses their behavior. 

It really doesn’t.

“Hand or knee?” Skitter asked.

Ohhh.

Going for karmic retribution.

I like it!

“Fuck you!”  Yan shouted.

Then she convulsed.  She thrashed, dragging her hands against the pointed forelimbs with such violence that she opened ragged cuts in her palms.

Oh wow. What just bit her?

She stopped as quickly as she’d started, her eyes going wide.

She’d been bitten, more than once.

Was it the brown recluses?

Also, did Taylor go for “both” when Yan refused to choose?

“Shaggy-hair, hand or knee?”

Looks like that’s what happened, yeah.

Your turn, Jay.

Jay’s eyes went wide, but he very calmly stated, “Hand.”

Not bad, managing to stay calm after seeing what just happened to Yan. Does he think Skitter is bluffing, that the convulsions were just for show?

His eyes went wide as a spider crawled down the length of his arm to the back of his hand.  He jumped like he’d been electrocuted.

Yeah, looks like he didn’t expect that to actually happen.

Y’know, I kinda hope Taylor takes the time at some point to mention that she did this to Lung’s dick, but even if she doesn’t, I like the parallels. The progression from that revelation horrifying her, to her doing this casually to three people who didn’t get anywhere near Lung’s supposed level of shittiness.

I say “supposed” because the only things we’ve really been shown of it are that his operation dealt in drugs and that he was willing to kill powered kids.


“And Mr. Accent.  Hand or knee?”

Sugita glanced around, then lunged for Sierra.  Going for the knife on the counter yet again.  She blocked him for the second time, he tried to shove her aside, and she used the distraction to drive her knee into his stomach.  He grunted and folded over.

“What’s that you said? Was it

both

by any chance? Because I’m pretty sure I heard you say

both

and I just wanted to confirm if

both

was what you just said to me.”

She blocked him for the second time, he tried to shove her aside, and she used the distraction to drive her knee into his stomach.  He grunted and folded over.

“Both, then,” Skitter said.

Both is good.


Sugita was too busy reeling from the knee to the gut to respond or react.

“Attacking my people?  That was dumb.  Attacking a little kid?  Dumber.  Consider my territory to be a very bad place to be from now on.

She’s making it incredibly clear how unwanted they are here now.

I mean, if the spider bites weren’t enough of an indication.

My bugs can see you, they can hear you, and I’ll know if you slow down even a little as you leave, give you a few more bites.”

RUN.

The beetle climbed off Yan, using its forelimbs to pick up the gun by driving the points through the trigger-guard.  It moved to Skitter’s side.

Y’know, I never thought I’d be reading about a beetle with a gun, but now that I am, it does not disappoint.

Yan, Sugita and Jay all took that as their leave to climb to their feet and head toward the door.  None of them even looked at Skitter, but they stopped when she pushed the door closed.

Not go-time yet?

Oh! Is she gonna use the gun as a starting signal for them to race out the door?

“There’s no safe haven for you in Brockton Bay.  My allies have control of every district, every territory.  No shelter will host you, and our individual forces will be searching every other place you might want to sleep.  Before you get far enough to find a doctor and get those bites treated, my contacts will have spread the word.

“Get the fuck out of our city.”

The doctors may have to treat you, but we can have our people sitting in the waiting rooms, or working as assistants to the doctors.  If you show your face, you’ll get attacked.  Maybe it’ll be a direct attack, maybe it won’t.  Trust me when I say you won’t be in any shape to defend yourselves.”

Damn.

She seems to be exaggerating slightly, but Coil could genuinely have his Coildiers in such roles, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility for her. Just outside of the amount of effort she’d want to go to to deal with just these three thugs.

The suggestion is enough. The fear it’ll put in them.

The paranoia that anyone around them might be out to get them. That sounds familiar for some reason.


“So you’re condemning us to die?”  Any bravado Yan might have had before had been excised and replaced by wide-eyed fear.

“No.  Leave the city as fast as you can, and you can get help somewhere else.

“This way, if you die from this, it’ll be on you for not getting out of my way quickly enough.”

I don’t really care, so long as you’re out of my city.  You’ll have some ugly scars if you don’t hurry.”

My city. Not even our city.

Though it could be in the sense of “my home city”, I kinda doubt that’s the full extent of it.

Skitter gestured to the door, and the three were quick to leave.  “Sierra, the shutter.”

Bye bye!


She hurried to obey, stepping into the open doorframe and reaching up to bring it down to the ground.  It latched at the door’s base.  She shut the door after it.  “There’re kids still on an errand, I think.”

After that display, Sierra doesn’t want to waste a moment in doing what Skitter wants.

“I’ll let you know when to open the shutter again.”

“Okay.”

Right, she’ll sense the kids.

Skitter scattered the bugs around her face and ran her gloved fingers through her hair to straighten it.  “I’m sorry.”

“That was a touch dramatic.”

But which thing is she apologizing for here? Not coming back sooner? Letting Sierra see her go a bit heavy on the intimidation there?

Moments like this are part of why Skitter would fit into the Nine.

“It’s okay,” Sierra replied, not quite sure what the apology was for.

You and me both, Sierra.

“Couldn’t focus on this place and the Nine at the same time, and I thought this place was a lost cause.”

Ah. The former, then.

That stung, but Sierra didn’t voice the thought.  “Might be.  We’ve got bodies to get rid of-”

Yeah, I can see why she would be a little bit hurt by Skitter admitting to have pretty much given up on them.

I think Skitter is a little too exhausted to worry about the bodies right at the moment.

“I’ll handle that tonight.”

What time even is it right now?

“The Chosen have been moving into the edges of your area, here and elsewhere, according to Tattletale’s soldier.”

I guess they might be our next antagonists? Maybe? Seems like a step down from the Nine, but most local antagonists do right now and I doubt we’ll be seeing Nilbog right after the Nine left. So what else might be next? The Simurgh?


Skitter let herself drop into a chair.  “Anything serious?  Ongoing attacks?”

“Just occupying the territory, I think.  Maybe making trouble for minorities nearby, but nothing so serious that I’ve hard about it.”

(I assume that’s supposed to be “heard”. Maybe Sierra developed an interesting accent just for that one word…)

“Then I’ll deal with them after an afternoon’s rest.  Maybe open a discussion before I try anything more serious.”

So that’s two things she intends to “deal with” tonight.

Jeez, she needs and deserves at least a couple days of rest.

Skitter’s voice buzzed as she spoke.  She pulled off the mask that covered the lower half of her face.

“Your voice.  You’re still doing the thing where your bugs talk with you.”

Oh yeah, I suppose she forgot to stop.

“Sorry,” Skitter said, the swarm suddenly quiet.  “I don’t even think about it anymore.”

Taylor automates bug maneuvers like this remarkably quickly.

“Your gang’s a lot smaller.  A lot of people died.”

These are things Taylor probably doesn’t need to hear about right now, maybe.

Skitter put her elbows on her knees, removed her glasses and buried her face in her hands.

Crying?

There’s been this ongoing progression with Skitter, the drones and showing her humanity, and I love it. For all her badassery just now, this is one of the most vulnerable states Sierra has seen Taylor in, and Taylor is letting it show, even if she isn’t actively reaching out to Sierra for comfort. They’re not quite there yet.


Sierra hesitated.  What was she supposed to do here?

She ventured forward and reached out to put a hand on the girl’s shoulder.

Yes, good. Be the one who treats Skitter as a human when Skitter herself won’t.

She stopped when she saw the carpet of ants, cockroaches and wasps.

Oh. Right. Might be a bit prickly.

“I’m okay,” Skitter said, without looking up.  She removed her hands from her face and leaned back.  There was no sign of tears – her eyes were dry.  Just tired. 

No, she might not be crying, but this isn’t just regular tiredness.

“Could I bother you to make me a cup of tea?  Milk, drop of honey.”

I don’t even drink tea (I’m not one for warm drinks), but this still sounds nice.

Sierra nodded, “I remember.”

Silence reigned as she filled the kettle and set it down on the stove.  Still have to deliver the soup.  Sierra tried to surreptitiously examine Skitter.

Ah, yes, the soup. That somewhat uninteresting subplot is still a thing. Maybe it can get tied into the rest in a metaphorical sense by the end of the chapter?

The girl was removing all of the bugs from the surface of her costume and the gaps in the armor.  The swarm flowed up the stairs as a single mass.

The gaps in the armor are definitely relevant in a metaphorical sense, though, intended or otherwise. Skitter is rapidly losing the armor, the costume, showing the human underneath.


“Those three… are they going to die?”

“No.  The bites weren’t from a brown recluse.

Hah! Called it!

Kinda.

They’ll hurt, they’ll swell, and the three will probably leave the city to find a doctor.  Even if they realize I conned them, I think I scared them enough that they won’t be coming back to challenge me.”

Especially since she is in fact capable of really doing what she threatened, at least physically. Her conscience might not agree.

“Ah.”

They say we fear the unknown, Sierra thought to herself.  So why does she freak me out more as I get to know her?

You’ve got the wrong Undersider for fear of the unknown.

I think part of this is because she’s falling into the uncanny valley. When you started out, she was a faceless villain who’d do villainy stuff. Then you learned there was a human behind the mask, but she was still a faceless villain who’d do villainy stuff. Nowadays, she’s a human with emotions and a face and a personality and she still does villainy stuff.

She brought her employer tea in the largest cup she’d been able to find.

“Priscilla, cup of coffee! No, the small one. The small one!

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Thank you.


“Things are going to get better now?” she asked.  “You’re not worried about the Chosen?”

Don’t jinx us, Sierra.

That’s like… something you’d say two seconds before the Endbringer alarm goes off again.

“No.  I think their leader is gone, and after facing down the Nine, somehow I’m not worried about dealing with them.”

That’s fair. And yeah, the point about Hookwolf didn’t occur to me.

So then what is next?

Facing down the Nine.  Sierra shivered a bit.

I wonder what her reaction would be if it had been Legend who said it.

“No,” Skitter thought aloud.  “I think the biggest challenge I face comes from within our organization.”

People like Yan? Or are you looking the other way along the ladder, up at Coil?

That gave Sierra pause.  Had Skitter intended to include her with that ‘our’, or was it just vaguely phrased?

I think she might mean “our” as in the Undertravelers, but you’re absolutely a part of their organization, so you could be included, “our” being in the sense of “the organization we are part of”.

“An ally?  One of the other people with their own territories?”

“I shouldn’t have said that,” Skitter said.

Now Sierra knows how to get past Fluffy! And that Legend is Nicholas Flamel!


There was a pause.  Sierra thought of how she would excuse herself, go tend to the soup and check on Charlotte, but Skitter spoke first. “But no.  Not an ally.  At least half of them might get involved, and that could get pretty ugly, fast, but I’m thinking the biggest issue right now is the man at the top.”

She continues to open up. This is stuff it took Taylor a while to come clean about to some of her Undersider friends, and she hasn’t done that to all of them.

Hell, I’m not sure she’s even told Sierra there was a man at the top before, for that matter.

So is that where we’re going next? Dealing with Coil?

…end of chapter. Well, that sounds very close to a confirmation to me.


End of Interlude 14

This chapter was a mixed bag. It started out with some nice thoughts about the corpses and dealing with them, as well as setting up some Chekhov’s gunmen (though the one using the literal gun ended up being the woman), but then it proceeded to talk about soup for a while (admittedly we got a nice contrasting of Sierra and Charlotte, helping to expand on Sierra’s character, when they discussed caring for the children vs putting them to work), with a “Bryce is a little shit” intermission. It wasn’t bad, but it felt dull by comparison when coming down from the excitement of the miasma.

Then the ABB members in the crew threw away the hope of redemption, which I wasn’t thrilled about. I know this isn’t a story where redemption is easy, but I still kinda wish this had happened with some other people. Some jerks that weren’t introduced a couple Arcs ago as former antagonist mooks. Sure, it makes sense that it’d be them, and it helped make them a credible threat, but I had better hopes for them.

Sugita’s treatment of Charlotte and the way she reacted immediately made me very uncomfortable. I only tagged the initial bit of this with the rape and abuse TWs once I got to the later part where that was made a little more explicit by Sierra speculating on Charlotte’s behavior (the other post with those tags), because that’s when I realized I should probably go back and add those, but the warning bells for those things were definitely going off in my head when I first blogged that part too. I think this might be a part of why I had some trouble getting back to the chapter, mixed with the other criticisms I’ve mentioned so far.

am interested in hearing Charlotte’s story later, though.

Things rapidly got better the moment Taylor showed up, though! We got treated to some fantastic character writing here as she displayed her theatrical and intimidating side while also being very transparently exhausted as fuck. I could almost hear the exhaustion in her voice, the matter-of-factness of everything, things said by someone who just doesn’t have the mental energy to feel the emotions right now. The casualness of her cruel punishments, even if some of that was for show. And then the way she briefly broke down afterwards, showing her human side to Sierra more than ever, before opening up about her plans. So much good character stuff in the latter part of the chapter.

This is exactly the kind of role I was hoping Sierra could play for Taylor, isn’t it?

So – there’s one more Interlude before we reach the end of Arc 14. I don’t know if I dare to hope that it’ll be Charlotte’s POV, though that’d be neat. She’s my favorite of the drones (Sierra didn’t manage to take over that spot in this Interlude), and there’s clearly a story to be told regarding her reaction to Sugita. And I’d like to hear how she perceives Skitter too.

But if it’s not her… maybe someone in the Chosen (Cricket in particular comes to mind) learning about Hookwolf having gone?

Or maybe someone who was deeply affected by the miasma, perhaps finding out the member of the Nine they killed in self defense was actually a family member or something? Except the Interludes usually have an impact on the main story somehow. Maybe they’d trigger in response to the realization, or something like that. But now I’m less speculating and more making up a fanfic premise (that has probably been done at least five times). What kind of power would that lead to… Maybe the power to know who anyone you see is?

Hmmm. Well, I’ll have to find out next time. See you then! 🙂


[postscript]

Oh yeah, before I finish up, I had a work thought yesterday that I forgot to post about:

What’s going to happen to Battery if Cauldron determines that being controlled by Regent while the rest of the Nine leave means Shatterbird hasn’t escaped the city like Cauldron asked. Maybe they don’t count that as a failure until Shatterbird’s actually dead, though, expecting Battery to make an effort to free Shatterbird from Regent?

If she fails in Cauldron’s eyes, does she get another task, another chance to pay up her debt? Or do they send out agents immediately to get rid of the debtor? They do seem relatively agreeable, if amoral, so I feel like they might give her a chance, at least.

3 thoughts on “Interlude 14: Homecoming

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