Colony 15.4: Two Birds, One Pin

Source material: Worm, Colony 15.4

Originally blogged: November 8-10, 2018


Howdy! It’s me again!

Last time, *LOUD SHIP HORN NOISE*

This time… morning after, perhaps checking on Taylor’s territory?

I don’t have much to go on, and I’m running kinda low on time for this session anyway, so let’s just cut to the chase and find out what 15.4 is about!


Sundancer had once described her life in costume as intense, violent and lonely.  I’d had a hard time understanding the last point.

Not too surprising considering avoiding loneliness is part of why you’re in costume in the first place.

That had been about the same time that I had been riding the high of having friends for the first time, after a couple of years spent in almost total solitude.

Right, she’s talking about their meeting in Hive, rather than when they parted ways in Prey.

Maybe, if the subject had come up again in recent weeks, I might have understood, nodding my head in sympathy.

And that’s largely Coil’s fault, splitting the team up like he has, right?

Powers raised us above the common people.  It was maybe arrogant to think that way, to say I was better than the likes of Sierra, Charlotte or my father, but I sort of was.

…this is very dangerous territory, Taylor.

I hope you get proven wrong soon.

You’re not better. You’re different. You have an extra feature, but it doesn’t make you better. I think that’s the entire point of both the franchise and the in-universe powered people being called Parahumans rather than Superhumans.

I had all the potential they did and then more.

The potential for this kind of thinking is what had me headcanoning up a parahuman supremacist organization that tries to cause as many trigger events as possible, all the way back in Shell. (That headcanon still stands, by the way.)


Even if I looked at how powers elevated us, though, I had to admit we weren’t raised to the same level.  We weren’t all raised up together.  If anything, the powers drove us apart: our trigger events, our reasons for wanting to use our powers, the agendas and missions we took upon ourselves, and even how those powers made us think and operate in different ways…

I still feel like “different” is a much better term here. It makes you different, but not different together, because you become different from each other too.

they put barriers between ourselves and others.  I just had to think of Panacea or Bitch, and I had some damn good examples of that.

…fair.

I couldn’t think of two capes who were in a committed relationship where there wasn’t some degree of fucked-up-ness.

Ohh, is that where we’re going with this? Reflecting on the fucked-up-ness of Taylor’s new relationship with Brian, and perhaps wondering whether it’d be better if neither of them had powers?

(I’m sure there are plenty of powerless AUs on the fanfiction scene.)

Night and Fog were, if I’d understood Tattletale right, essentially functional sociopaths.  They’d acted out the role of a married couple with none of the affection or fondness.  Victor and Othala were screwed up in a different way, burdened by a shared event in their past.  Brandish and Flashbang?  If their kids were any indication… yeah.  Fucked up.

That’s an unfair assumption, but… yeah. Judging by some of the things Carol said in her Interlude, it seems like she cares about Mark a bit in spite of her trust issues, but still feels like the kids were the only thing keeping them together.

But how much of this is really related to the powers? Brandish’s trust issues could’ve arisen from her trigger event even if it hadn’t given her powers (if she’d survived it in that case). Victor and Othala are victims of “noble house”-style politics, and otherwise seem like one of the healthiest romantic relationships we’ve seen. I don’t know enough about Night and Fog to tell if their behavior has anything to do with their powers (in-universe, that is; from a Doylist point of view it’s pretty obviously because they’re a monster and a toxic individual, respectively), but I don’t know that Taylor does either.


It was no small wonder we were all so fucked up.  It was the human condition, to need a supporting hand now and again, and yet we could barely help ourselves, let alone each other.

Ouch.

Worse, if by some small miracle two capes managed to find comfort and support in each other, there was no guarantee that those other two points that Sundancer had raised wouldn’t ruin things.  The intensity of our lifestyle and the sheer violence.  Lady Photon had lost her husband in the Leviathan fight.  Glory Girl had, if the magazines and papers were any indication, maintained an on-and-off relationship with Gallant.  He’d died too.

This is a very fair point. That’s much more reasonable to worry about.

I think the healthiest way to deal with this would be to adapt a “carpe diem”, “live in the moment” attitude to the relationship. Enjoy it while it lasts, make it worth it.

That’s not really… Taylor, though.

So this?  Lying here beside Brian?  It was sort of bittersweet, with maybe a 60-40 split on the sweet vs. the bitter.

At least that’s still more sweet than bitter. But that is a lot of bitter.


I couldn’t see Brian’s face without raising my head, and I didn’t want to do that and risk waking him.  I’d left my glasses on the table with the knife and gun, so I couldn’t see that well anyways.  I settled for studying the fabric of his sleeveless shirt, the nubs of lint, the weave of the textile, and how it shifted with the slow, deep and rhythmic breaths he was taking.  I could smell his sweat, with the faint traces of his deodorant beneath.

The Taylor focuses on the fabric. Heh.

…concept: Skitter version of “Art of the Dress”, with references to the other Undersiders’ new outfits (the number of characters even fits) and to using spiders instead of some of the actual dressmaking terms.

It was funny, because when we’d settled in, I hadn’t been able to smell anything.

…oh shit, guys!

What if Brian is the Scentless Man?? 😮

Such a twist!


I felt warm in the core of my chest.  That wasn’t just the morning light streaming in through the windows.

:3

Not happy, exactly.  I didn’t feel like I deserved to be happy, not with the responsibilities I wasn’t attending to right now, not with the mistakes I’d made and the people I’d failed.

Damn it, Taylor, you do deserve happiness.

But I could convince myself that this was something I should be doing.  It was one of the tasks that I had to tend to, no matter how the coming days and weeks unfolded, and we’d settled on making those tasks a priority.  We had to support Grue if we wanted him around to help us when everything started going down.

That’s not the real reason why you’re doing it, though, right?

But it’s a nice bonus.

I wouldn’t rest any hopes on this, not with the way every other parahuman relationship seemed to go.  I’d take these individual moments for what they were.

Hey, remember what I said about moment-to-moment appreciation being the healthiest way to deal with the risks? I stand by that. Taylor is thinking along the right lines here.

All of which amounted to a pile of excuses and rationalizations I was layering on top of one another, trying to convince myself this wouldn’t end disastrously, that I wasn’t being irresponsible or that I wasn’t going to regret this on a hundred different levels.  It was enough that I could feel at peace, here.

She has always been good at rationalizing things. For once, it might be better if she wasn’t so self-aware about it, though.


Mostly at peace.  I had to pee, and yet I didn’t want to move and disturb him.

Oh my cod that’s relatable. Well, if you substitute a cat for Brian.

Nothing was easy, it seemed.

My body won out over my willpower, and I decided to extricate myself.  I didn’t even try to get to my feet, instead easing myself down to the ground as I unwrapped myself from Brian as slowly as I could.

It’s not gonna work, is it?

At least it seems she was on the outer side of the couch. This would be much more difficult if she were on the inner side.

Once I’d disentangled myself from Brian and the couch, I grabbed my glasses, knife, cellphone and gun and rushed to the washroom.

Alright, it seems she succeeded for now. I’m betting he’s awake when she comes back, though.

The cell phone rang while I was on the toilet.  Tattletale.  For Brian’s sake and my own sense of decency, I refused the call and texted her instead:

Is it ever not Tattletale?

What’s up?

She replied soon after:

R is done.  Bird in the pen 4 now.  C wants a meeting neways.  Get G I and come 4 11am?

The fact that these teens haven’t had the chance to live with smartphone keyboards yet is pretty clear in their text message writing sometimes. I mean, look at this. She even used “ne” in place of “any” to save two clicks.

Taylor is a bit like I was, though. The type to spend the extra time painstakingly typing out everything.


So it was time to see if Brian could glean anything from Victor’s power.  I responded:

G sleeping.  Don’t want to wake him.

Doubt you’ll have to worry about that much longer.

I could guess her reply before it appeared:

hate to break u 2 lovebirds up but we r tight on time and C is impatient

Fair enough.

I texted her an a-ok before hanging up and putting the phone away.

The kitchen had been cleaned up, but my bugs hadn’t alerted me to anyone coming in.  Had Aisha returned and used her power to stay quiet?

Oh hey. If that’s the case, I appreciate the tact. And also that she cleaned up the chicken.

I decided to assume she had and began preparing breakfast for three people.

Nice.

If I had to rouse Brian, I’d do it with the smells of bacon, coffee and toast.  It was as inoffensive a method as I could think of.

I don’t like bacon (yes, yes, I know, shock and horror), but I do like the scent of it. Though I do kind of associate the scent more with pancakes after years of smelling bacon only when we were having pancakes before I realized it was coming from the bacon.

So even though I’m not as crazy about bacon as some people, I can understand the desire for things like those alarm clocks that release the scent of bacon when it’s time to wake up.


Aisha woke up before Brian did, venturing downstairs in a long t-shirt.

Good morning, sunshine!

“Thanks for cleaning up,” I said, quiet.  I could remember her reaction the last time I’d been talking to Brian, and added, “And for not getting upset.”

“I can’t help him, don’t know how.  So I’m putting it in your hands.”

I think you made a good choice there. Though we don’t need Taylor starting to feel like this is another responsibility.

“Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me.  If you screw this up, I can and will make your life a living hell.”

Heh.

It’s true.

I frowned.  “Honestly?  That’s not very fair.  I think I probably will screw up along the way.  This isn’t going to be smooth sailing, whatever happens.  So maybe it’d be better if you just trust that I’m going into this with the best intentions for him.”

She plucked a piece of bacon from a plate and popped it into her mouth.  “Maybe.  But no. Don’t fuck this up.”

I appreciate the concern, but this is seriously not something Taylor needed to hear right now.


I rolled my eyes.

“I’ve had a lot of practice.  It’s the little things, convincing someone they’re going crazy, nothing they put down is where they left it.  Things go missing.  Furniture gets moved.  Then it gets more serious, they find the stash of drugs they were supposed to barter for stuff is missing-“

So, uh.

On whom have you been practicing? The Merchants, Pure and Chosen?

“I don’t have any drugs,” I told her.

“Talking hy-po-theticals.  I get them in trouble with people they know.  Then they have little injures they can’t remember getting.  Splinters under their fingernails, papercuts between their fingers or at the corners of their mouths, little cuts on the back of their hands.  That’s usually when they freak out.

Yeeah, she’s got this down.

They run, go somewhere else, and it stops, just a little while.  Until it comes again, twice as bad as before.  They snap.  Then I leave them a message telling them that it all stops when they leave the city.  Put it on their walls in blood or put it on their bathroom mirror in soap so it shows up when the room gets all steamy.  They’re glad.  They’re happy to have a way out.  Except I wouldn’t leave you that note.”

When did Aisha find the time to go to evil ghost school? She seems to have graduated with flying colors.

…where does she get the blood?

“What the hell are you talking about?” Brian asked, from behind her.  “And where are you getting that blood?”

Ahahaha

Good morning.


Aisha wheeled around, not appearing even half as guilty as she should have.

“I asked Coil’s lieutenant for some.  He asked me how many gallons I wanted.  How weird is that?  I mean, seriously, who needs gallons of blood?  Or maybe I could use it.  Paint someone’s house, see if I can’t freak them out hardcore,” Aisha smiled wickedly.

Pffft.

So where do Coil’s people get it? Their enemies? Do they just buy it from a slaughterhouse (a regular slaughterhouse, not the Nine)?

I do suppose gallons of blood could be useful if you want to fake a massacre crime scene with the corpses gone.

“Ignore that question.  What were you saying to Taylor, about not giving her a note?”

“It’s fine,” I told him.  “She’s being protective of her big brother.”

I don’t think Brian has ever really seen that before his Interlude. Sure, it’s probably happened, but he may not have realized what was going on beneath Aisha’s surface.

It probably raises a lot of thoughts about how he’s supposed to be the protector.

Aisha plastered a fake smile on her face.

“I didn’t know you cared,” Brian told Aisha, with a touch of sarcasm.  “I’m dropping this only because Taylor’s sticking up for you.”

Sure, there’s a touch of sarcasm, but I think there’s some genuineness in this too.


Aisha rolled her eyes and began serving herself.

It was nine-thirty.  Assuming it would take us half an hour to forty-five minutes to get to Coil’s place, that left us only about an hour to get ready.  We ate in awkward silence.  Aisha took the first turn in the shower, leaving Brian and me alone once again.

Careful. You never know when she’ll be back.

I wonder what happens if Aisha lets her power take hold while she’s showering. Will they start wondering why they hear the shower running?

Except Aisha’s power usually takes care of things that indicate her presence, so they might not be able to remember that the shower is running? For instance, Taylor isn’t able to detect her with the bugs when the power is active. But that’s a lot more direct than “the shower is running”, which is more on par with the sort of things Aisha said she’d do to drive someone crazy.

I didn’t know what to do with myself.  We had taken a step forward, but I didn’t exactly have any experience on this front.  What was I supposed to do?  What did I say?  I wanted to hug him, to hold his hand or raise the idea of spending time together later, but I didn’t know what was allowed, or what would be pushing boundaries or taking things too far.

Do what feels right, I think.

…not that I really have much more experience, especially if it has to be in meatspace.


He sat down on the couch, putting his feet up on the coffee table, and I grabbed a glass of orange juice before sitting down next to him.  Would he put his arm around me, or-

“This thing with Coil.  Do you have a plan?”

Time to talk business, eh?

Opportunity missed.

I shook my head.  “More like I have a bunch of smaller plans.  Can’t commit to anything, in case things unfold in an unexpected way.”

Given factors like Coil and Imp and the various powers on either side, that’s fairly likely. And, y’know, because this is a story.

“Okay.  Let’s talk about them.  Plan A?”

“I whip my territory into shape, Coil decides that it’s more valuable to keep me in his service.  The idea is that he values my ability to keep an area stable more than he values having Dinah.  He lets her go.”

So the plan that you’ve been gunning towards for a while now. Not going to happen.

“Not likely.”

I frowned.  “I almost gave up on it after Burnscar torched everything.  It isn’t that impossible.”

So you’re seriously going for it after all? I suppose this Arc is called Colony for a reason.

“Think about what it would mean in terms of security leaks.  If he let Dinah go home to her family, she wouldn’t be able to return to her normal life.  If Coil was dumb enough to let her go with no safeguards and without people to watch her, then the heroes would swoop in on her and use her to get him.”

Good point. She’s kinda screwed on that front now that the Protectorate, Triumvirate and Cauldron know about her, though at least the heroes are better about consent and treatment.


I nodded, glum.

“And really, can you honestly say that your services are worth the cost of everything you’re taking from Coil in the way of resources, plus the cost of the agents he’d need watching Dinah at all hours?”

Coil and Dinah’s powers synergize quite well, making her much more useful to him than she already would be to anyone else, which is already quite a lot of usefulness.

“So you think he’ll say no.”

“Tattletale thinks that Coil may be considering dropping you from the team once he has what he needs.”

I turned to look at Brian.  His forehead was creased in a frown.

Sounds about right, honestly.

Did you not expect such a backstab, Taylor?

“You think I’m expendable.”

“To Coil?  Possibly.”

I nodded.

“It’s something to keep in mind,” he said.

“Thing is, I don’t know how that really changes anything.  Should I stop helping the people in my territory?  I’m not going to.  It wouldn’t be fair to them, and it would tip Coil off.”

Fair point. There’s also the issue of what you do with the territory afterwards, if this leads to parting with Coil.

“I think it was a bad idea to tip him off by making the deal in the first place.  Now he knows you’ve got pretty strong morals.  On a level, anyways.”

I nodded.  On a level.

Seems like a fair description to me.

He went on, “I imagine it’s troublesome to have someone with those sorts of moral concerns that could throw his long-term plan off course.  He might be looking to replace you.”

I wonder if he’s got anyone in mind.


“And with his power, that might make for a bit of a pinch.”

“His power?”

Are you talking about how he’d be able to pursue a potential replacement in one world and only getting rid of Taylor if the replacing succeeded?

Also… nobody’s filled the rest of the team in on what exactly they’re up against?

I paused.  “Tattletale clued me in.  He creates parallel realities.  Makes two different decisions, and he gets to see the outcome of each as they unfold.  Decides which he wants in the end.”

Brian frowned.  “And he’s been doing that with us?”

“Since before I joined the team.  Send us on a job in one reality, keep us back in another.  If we succeed, great.  If we fail… well, nothing lost.  He deletes the reality where he sent us out.”

Pretty solid use of the power, really.

He rubbed his chin.  I noticed he had stubble.  “So he gets two tries at everything.  Including dealing with any of us who cause him any trouble.”

I nodded.  “Which is why we need to play along for as long as possible.”

“Fair.  What’s your plan B?”

“Plan B… well, it’s not so much a plan as a fallback.  If I get found out before we make any headway, it means fighting Coil and his underlings.”

It’s worrying that that’s apparently plan B rather than, like, plan E.

“The Travelers and Circus included.”

“Tattletale and I have talked about how we might approach that.  The problem is that Coil would be backing them up.  Normally I’d suggest we go on the offensive, so they don’t have time to go after our weaknesses, but with Coil at work, we have to assume that it’s all the more likely that the Travelers would get that one lucky hit off, or that they’d pick the plan of attack that would work out for them.”

True. But playing defensively has its flaws too, such as giving them that time to go after your weaknesses.


[Session 2]

Sorry for disappearing last night. I ran out of time and started to write a post about that and that we’d be picking up today, but… apparently I managed to forget to finish and post it. I went on through the day thinking I’d only forgotten to add the chrono links, only to open up my computer today and find an unfinished post.

Anyway… let’s pick this back up!


“And they’re powerful enough that they’d really only need to get lucky once,” Brian said.  I saw his expression darken.  He was staring off into space.

Yep. Powerhouses with really high crit damage.

“Sorry,” I said.  Impulsively, I leaned closer, so my arm and shoulder pressed against his arm.

“Hm?”

“If you want to talk about something else-“

“I want to make sure we come out of this alive.”

This is a good little somber moment.

“But it’s stressing you out.”

“I’ll manage,” he answered, putting one arm around my shoulders and hugging me close.

But he didn’t raise the subject again.  Aisha got out of the shower, he took the next turn, ostensibly to clean up after her.

It’s not just the fluffy moments that help to sell a relationship. This moment, the way Taylor recognizes Brian’s feelings and addresses them like this, including with physical comfort, helps too. It’s something that could happen between them as just friends, sure, but in the context of them being in a relationship, it makes the whole thing more believable. These moments where it shows how much they care for each other.

Come to think of it, that goes for last chapter too. I may have reacted to it with a “shippers squeeing” reaction image, but it was not the kiss that sold it. The kiss was a neat bonus that helped make it more… official, but it wasn’t the main attraction. It was the caring, both ways.

I took the brief period of quiet to get my stuff in order.  I’d worn my costume under my clothes, the top and dress portion bound around my waist, beneath the sweatshirt.

Called it. Kinda.


Once I was free to use the shower, I pulled off the costume and hung it up.  The steam would help with any wrinkles for the parts that weren’t skintight.

Huh, alright.

I had to admit to being a little disappointed with the way the morning was unfolding.  Part of that was with myself, not knowing how to act, but part of it was with the lack of romance.  Rationally, I knew that the movies, TV, books and all that, they didn’t paint a realistic picture.

That’s honestly very fair. We get these ideas stuck in our heads and even if we’re aware that they’re fantasies, we can still be a bit disappointed that they don’t come true.

I knew that we wouldn’t instantaneously click, that everything would be fixed.

But at the core of it all, I wasn’t a hundred percent rational.

pppfffffffffff

ahahahahahahahaha

you don’t say


Had to take what I could get.  Last night, cuddling?  It had been nice.  Really nice.

All in all, we were ready to move out well ahead of time.

These paragraphs feel a little disconnected (understandably so since the former is the end of a tangent and we’re going back to the main narrative with the latter), because when I do read them as connected to each other one it sounds like Brian and Taylor are now looking to move out of their bases and find a house to make a home together. :p

I wracked my brain, trying to think of things to say.  Everything social or romantic seemed forced or awkward, especially with Imp there.  Everything related to our costumed selves seemed too delicate, fraught with reminders for Brian.

That’s a bit of a problem since it seems like everything about your shared life has revolved around your costumed selves since at least Extermination.

Each time I entered Coil’s headquarters, it seemed like it had transformed.  On our first visit it had been a bare bones setup with piles upon piles of crates, and soldiers congregating wherever there was room.  Our last visit had seen some organization.  Now it had finally taken form.

Great. Time to tear it to pieces, right?

This could be read as a metaphor for the gradual build-up of Coil as an antagonist.

The interior was divided into two levels.  The lower level sported a cafeteria, a bar, a small computer lab and bunk beds for the soldiers on standby.  Doorways leading to what I suspected were washrooms.  I knew that Coil had squads positioned across the city by now, in quarters not unlike the lairs he had assigned us, if a little more austere.  Anyone who stayed here had the bare necessities.

Sounds kinda nice.

There was an area with more of a focus on the actual ‘war’ part of soldiering, with men at the ready to hand out the guns and ammunition that were tidily arranged on racks and shelves, a massive laundry room that appeared to be devoted to washing and preparing the uniforms and two more stations for heavier gear and more esoteric stuff like walkie-talkies and explosives.

It seems like they’re gearing up. With stations across the city, Coil’s people can crawl out of the woodwork, armed, at a moment’s notice, if he should need it.

Perfect for a violent takeover if the peaceful takeover should fail.


The upper level was pretty plain, with a metal walkway bridging the gaps to the doorways that were recessed in the concrete walls.  Still, things had been added, including whiteboards with shift schedules and maps very similar to the one I’d seen in Tattletale’s base of operations.

Right. He needs that information too. That’s why she’s even running that intel shelter.

I glanced at one map; our territory had expanded somewhat.  Or maybe it was better to say that the pockets of enemy forces that had lurked at the edges of our territory were collapsing.

Nice work.

So here’s a thought I don’t think I’ve ever actually voiced: Is Skitter’s territory smaller than the rest? It seems to have been lined up nicely with her power’s range, but even with her growth in range, I don’t think she’s quite at “sizable chunk of city” scale yet.

Cranston, the blond woman who served as one of Coil’s liasons to us, who was my contact when I needed something, was standing outside the door to the conference room.

Hiya.

It’s nice that she’s blonde, because while I don’t remember if I’ve gotten an actual physical description of Cranston yet (was she the heavyset woman working for Coil in, uh, that one chapter?), I’ve kind of been imagining her as looking a bit like agent Cranium from El Goonish Shive. It’s probably mostly the name’s fault, but the professionalism also seems to fit.

tumblr_inline_phxev8qv8x1sxgvvn_250.png


“Skitter.  How are you?”

“I’m fine, Ms. Cranston.”

“You’re a bit early.  Can I offer you anything while you wait for Coil to arrive?”

I shook my head.

Polite but to the point.

“Grue?  Imp?”

They refused as well.

“It’ll only be a few minutes.”

Grue and Imp stepped away to talk to the fat, short man who I took to be theirliason.  I stepped over to the railing and watched the scene below.

Let’s see what’s going on downstairs.

A group far to my left caught my eye.  I ventured closer.

Trickster, Sundancer, Genesis and Ballistic were gathered around Tattletale, joined by Coil and a blond boy with striking good looks.

Hello, guys!

The blond boy is Oliver, right? Except Taylor knows about Oliver and hasn’t commented on his looks before, to my recollection. Though to be fair, “to my recollection” isn’t saying much considering I had to go blog searching for Noelle to remember his name.

(The first option that came to mind was Ethan, but I was able to recall that Ethan was Madcap/Assault.)

I couldn’t really get a good look at it from my vantage point, but the wall jutted out beneath the walkway, and there was a heavy vault door set into the concrete, similar to the ones I’d seen at the shelters.

Ah, so they’ve been visiting Noelle. Did you figure anything out, Lisa?

Is Noelle going to be important for (or perhaps against) taking down Coil?


Noelle.

Tattletale was shaking her head as she talked.  She gestured toward the door.

I could see the Travelers respond to that.  Trickster folding his arms, Sundancer turning away slightly.

Looks like she’s having trouble figuring it out (is Noelle protected from Lisa’s power somehow?), or pretending as such.

Genesis, in her wheelchair, hung her head just a bit, her mop of hair blocking the view.

They weren’t hearing what they wanted to hear.

Tattletale touched the wall, some panel or button system, said something, and then turned away, walking towards the staircase.  The Travelers and Coil followed behind.

😦

“Everything okay?” I asked Tattletale, as she joined me.

“Oh, not really,” she gave me a tight smile.

Is Noelle getting worse?

“Fill me in later?”

“Can’t.  Sworn to secrecy.”

“Uh huh.  You know, for someone who calls herself Tattletale, you’re way too fond of keeping secrets.”

Hah.


“Believe me, some secrets aren’t so fun to keep.”

I frowned.  What was going on there?

What would happen if Grue used his power-borrowing on Noelle?

I could only trust that she’d inform us when we weren’t in earshot of Coil and the Travelers.

Let’s hope so.

Bitch and Regent were waiting outside the conference room as we approached.  I gave Bitch a small nod of acknowledgement, and she returned it.

That Rachel nods back is such a little thing, yet it means so much after all the things they’ve gone through.

All together, we got seated; Travelers on one side of the table, Undersiders on the other, Coil at the head.

While this is the most sensible way for the seating to work, I think it’s also meant as a metaphor. This hasn’t been specified in earlier meetings like this. This time the seating is specified because it reflects that the Travelers may end up “on the other side”.

Or I could be reading too much into it. Only Wildbow knows, probably.

“I understand that things have been hectic since the Nine departed the city.  Communications are difficult to establish, there’s still lasting damage from the Endbringer attack, and everyone has their individual concerns.  Before our focus fell on the Nine and eliminating Jack Slash, I told you to establish your territories and do what you could to effect some sort of control.  As Tattletale may not have all of the necessary information to draw the right conclusions, I’d like each of you to inform us on your progress.”

Status updates. Makes sense.


He gestured to Trickster.

“Putting me on the spot, huh?”  Trickster asked.  “Dunno.  Nobody’s doing business in my neighborhood, and there aren’t any crooks there that the public knows about, but Purity and her people are still hanging around, and I’m waiting on my teammates to wrap up their stuff so they can lend me a hand.”

I suppose it wouldn’t be easy dealing with them on his own. Trickster’s power is more versatile than it sounds, but even so, it’s not enough to deal with the Pure alone.

“Infrastructure, recruitment?” Coil prompted.

“I’ve made a few small steps forward for each of those things.  I offered some of the low-level thugs the option of moving out of the city or serving under me.  Got a half-and-half split of each, more or less.  Enough people to deal product, if you want, or to scare some people.”

Be careful with that. Sometimes loyalty can be an issue. *sideeyes Yan & co.*

“Good.  Sundancer?”

Sundancer had the posture of someone who’d desperately hoped to avoid being called on in class.  “I don’t know.  I’ve been working with the maps Tattletale provided me, but I’m not good at this.  I burn them out of whatever place they’re holed up in, they run, then half the time it’s like they settle somewhere else that’s nearby.”

You’d think they’d learn not to put their hands on the stove after a while.

This does reflect her reluctance to kill, by way of that being the obvious solution here to certain people.

“You have to scare them more,” Trickster said.

Maybe don’t kill, but make it look like you would?

“I burn their houses down.  I don’t know why that’s not scary enough.”

“You’re too soft about it, being too careful to let them know what you’re doing and when, because you don’t want to hurt them and they can tell.”

Right.

Coil cleared his throat.  “How far along?”

Sundancer didn’t look happy.  “I dunno.  I’ve maybe cleared out one in four of the local groups?”

How many are there in total?


“Genesis?” Coil asked.

“Mostly clear,” Genesis replied, leaning forward and putting her elbows on the table, “Not sure how to get anything going in the way of operations.  It’s not exactly heavily populated territory.”

Genesis can essentially torment her enemies with new monsters each day, so it’s no wonder if she’s a bit scarier than Sunny.

“You’re keeping Noelle company tonight, yes?”

Genesis nodded.

That’s nice.

“Then we’ll discuss it then.”

“Okay.”

“And Ballistic?”

“Further along than him,” Ballistic jerked a thumb toward Trickster.  “Nobody doing business in my area, only two capes hanging around.  Got that girl from Dolltown who’s pretty insistent on holding onto her neighborhood, even if pretty much everyone that lived there is dead, now.  It’s the only spot that I haven’t taken over.”

Uh oh. Looks like Parian’s gone a bit… irrationally determined. She’s probably in that state where the only thing you can do to keep holding on is refuse to acknowledge that hope is already lost.

“I see.  And the second cape?”

“There’s a kid from the old Merchants group.  Has powers.  Going to try to scare off the Doll girl and recruit the Merchant kid.”

Scrub?

Honestly, the other way around sounds like a better idea, but you do you.


“You might start with remembering their names,” Genesis pointed out.

“I’m not a cape geek like you.”

Hah.

“You’re a cape.”

“Parian and Scrub?” I spoke up, hoping to keep them from going off on a tangent.

“Sure.  Sounds right,” Ballistic conceded.

“If you’re dealing with Parian, can I come along?”

…oooh. Now that’s an idea I like. Are we getting that in one of the next few chapters?

“Actually,” Coil said, “I had a request to make of you, Skitter.”

Aw, don’t take this from me, Coil.

I turned my attention to him.

“After,” he told me.  “Let me get to the main topic of this meeting before I address it.  For now, I’d like to hear how the Undersiders are coming along.”

Alright. That ought to be interesting. We’ll probably end the chapter with that.


“Been busy helping everyone else out,” Tattletale admitted.  “Like Trickster, I guess, I’m waiting for others to finish what they’re doing.  I’m pretty solid for business, though.  Bringing in more cash than I’m spending.”

Nice. Uh… how, exactly? Drugs? Extortion? Blackmail? The shelter doesn’t seem like a source of income in itself.

“What’s the business?”  Trickster asked.

“The big one is reclaiming items and homes.  I offer goodies to any people from the shelter willing to band together and scare them off, anything too difficult, I use the mercenaries you provided.

Ooh, that’s pretty nice.

Coil’s hooked me up with some banking services so we can actually make the transactions.  People don’t have a lot of use for money with the way things are right now, and they do have stuff that they value.  Figure a few hundred to a thousand dollars per job, three or four jobs a day, and they’re sort of doing my work for us, dealing with the gang members.”

Clever. I like it.


“With the idea that your teammates will claim the areas at a later date,” Coil said, his voice firm.

“Right.”

“Grue and Imp?”

I saw Grue hesitate.

Right, of course he doesn’t want to show his weakness to Coil, but he’s also stuck with the reality that he hasn’t gotten much done recently. Imp has, though. So the question becomes, does he frame it so that he mooches some credit off of her?

“Seventy-five percent clear,” Imp said.  “The Chosen and leftover Merchants mainly moved into our territory and Regent’s.  Maybe we’re not a hundred percent done, but when we scare people off, they stay gone.”

Alright, that works. Letting Imp take charge in answering the question (whether he wanted her to or not) and leaving out any specific credit.

“Good.  Can you drive out the remaining threats in the next two days?”

“Got this far in three, don’t see why not.”

“Excellent.  Regent?”

Why two days?

“About the same.  Nobody wants to cross Shatterbird, but lots of people keep popping up, moving in because they’re oblivious that she’s there.  With no radio or TV, they’re clueless.”

And whose fault is that?

“Make it more obvious, then.”

Regent nodded.

“Bitch?”

“Nobody left in my territory.”

“No threats?”

“Nobody.”

She’s just chased off everyone. Because everyone’s a threat.


Coil sighed, “I did tell you that you could run your territory as you wished.  Still, that’s not ideal.  Would you object to a rearrangement of territory?  I would grant you more overall area to control, but it would be limited to the outskirts of the city.”

Where there’s not much of a population in the first place. Makes sense to me, though the damage is already done in Rachel’s current territory.

“So long as it’s mine.”

“Good.  And Skitter?”

I shrugged.  “No threats, nobody’s daring to pop their heads in.”

“Then consider working on rooting out the individuals too afraid to show themselves, before they cause a problem.”

Sure, do some digging.

“They’re dealt with,” I said.

“Explain?”

“I’m doing two sweeps through my territory every day.  Only one yesterday, but we were busy dealing with the Chosen.  I’m checking every building for trouble.  If I find contraband, drugs or weapons, I confront the individuals in question.  Past two days, I haven’t had to confront anyone.”

Niice.

So that’s what she was doing when she was at Brian’s, out of habit.

“The only people with weapons are your people, then?”

I nodded.  “I’ve got sixty people working under me, and maybe a hundred more who are working for me in an indirect way, joining the community that’s started on the cleanup projects.  Filling, moving and placing sandbags to control and reroute the flooding, clearing the area Burnscar burned down, and setting up accommodations.”

You’re doing pretty well, Taylor!

Only thing missing is business, I suppose.


“Impressive,” Coil said.

I nodded.  “I feel like I’m cheating, though.  My power’s suited to this.”

It is, I suppose. Surveillance, multitasking, leading the swarm of bugs and humans…

“It remains impressive.  Let me explain just why I find this of interest, Undersiders, Travelers.  The mayoral elections are in one week.  Before this occurs, I would like to have this city firmly in my control.  It will shift the tone and the aim of the election, which would be to my advantage.  Our advantage.”

Ahh, right, that’s why two days.

“So you’re saying we have less than a week to wrap stuff up in our territory,” Trickster said.

“Yes.  I also have some other issues I would like you to address.  Skitter, Genesis, I trust you’re able to step away from your territories to give me a hand?”

Alright, what does he have in mind that requires these two in particular? Skitter for surveillance and Genesis for something else in the area being surveilled, maybe?

Tattletale leaned forward over the table, looking at me.  I glanced at her, then turned to Coil, “Yes.”

“Sure,” Genesis said.

“And Trickster, if you’re idle while you wait for your teammates to come assist with Purity’s group, I’m sure you can lend your assistance for one night?”

Trickster nodded.

This is an intriguing collection of capes to have a need for. What is he up to now?


“The mayor and several members of the city council will be traveling to Washington to discuss the state of Brockton Bay and the possibility of condemning the city.  Skitter, Imp, Genesis, I would like you to visit him and ensure he argues towards our ends.  Brockton Bay will stand, and it will recover.”

Ahh. Intimidation, that’s where it lies. The swarm, the monster and the, uh, Karkat. Not gonna lie, Trickster is the odd one out here. Maybe he’s there to teleport the others in? Except neither Genesis nor Skitter actually need to be in a room with their real bodies to intimidate someone. They’re actually better at it if they’re not really there.

*reads a little closer* Wait, Imp too? Alright, sure. She’s good at freaking people out, as we’ve just established.

Maybe Trickster has a separate task?

I nodded slowly.  “Sure.  I think I can do that and still help Ballistic with Parian.”

“I haven’t asked for your help,” Ballistic said.

…fair enough, he didn’t get the chance to answer earlier. Bit rude, though.

“Coil’s call,” I responded.

“If Skitter feels she can spare the time, I would be glad to have the extra assurance the job will get done.”

Did he just split the timeline to see whether sending Skitter was a good call? Except this seems like a minor decision to use that on relative to the time it takes before he gets the results.

Ballistic folded his arms.  Didn’t look happy at that.

I guess he prefers working alone??

Not gonna lie, Ballistic feels different from the last time we had any extended quality time with him.


“That’s the last point of discussion.  I will provide anything you need to see your tasks to completion.  If there’s no questions, that will be all.”

After a brief pause to check that nobody wanted to speak, we all stood from our seats.  The Travelers headed out the door and turned a right to go back to where Noelle was sealed up.  Tattletale led our group to the cells where Shatterbird and Victor were.

Alright, Victor time.

While we waited for Regent to go and bring Victfor out of his cell,

Sorry, I meant Victfor.

Tattletale stepped close, so she was right next to Grue and me.  She murmured,  “One piece of good news, two pieces of bad news and one spot of catastrophic news.  The good news is that Coil is impressed with you, Skitter.”

Well, that’s nice. The rest of the news sound great too.

“Okay,” I said.  “That’s what we were hoping for, right?”

“But something tells me we’ve got a major snag.  I’d say odds are pretty fucking good that he’s on to us.”

Wonderful.

I felt my heart drop.

“How sure are you?” I asked.

“Not positive, but pretty damn sure.  And I’d say there’s a fifty-fifty chance one of ours informed him of our aims.”

What? Oh fuck.

Hey, Regent, do you know anything about this?

“A member of the Undersiders?” Grue asked.

“That, or he’s got our places bugged.  But I didn’t get the sense that anyone who built the place or brought our stuff in knew about any electronic bugging.  Like I said, fifty-fifty chance.”

Right. Maybe he’s been spying on them through other means?


I nodded.  I glanced around, looking at Bitch, Imp, and the door Regent had disappeared through.

“Fuck,” Tattletale swore under her breath.  “I was trying to signal you to say no to Coil’s request, but you weren’t looking at the right moments and I couldn’t exactly tip anyone off.

Welp.

I’m positive he’s asking you to go on that errand with Genesis and Trickster because he’s planning on eliminating you.”

Is he planning to eliminate them too, or are they going to be in on it?

I feel like Genesis might have qualms with that.

I felt Grue’s hand squeeze my shoulder.  He’d gone rigid, as if he was more spooked than I was.

“And of course, he knows know.  So this is a loyalty test, I’m betting.  If you don’t go, I flunk.”

Well. Looks like we’ve got ourselves into a bit of a pickle.


End of Colony 15.4

This was pretty decent. It feels a lot like setup, but that’s good to have from time to time. If nothing else, at least it gives me more ground to stand on when speculating.

The biggest highlight here was definitely Aisha’s speech about why Taylor really shouldn’t fuck up her care for Brian. It’s not a great thing for Taylor to get told, but the imagery Aisha used to drive the point home was great. I find myself liking her more and more by the chapter. >:)

It was also neat to get a look at how far the other Undertravelers have gotten relative to Taylor.

So. Coil has made his move and stuck Taylor and Lisa in a pin/skewer. Either Taylor walks into a trap, or Lisa gets punished for disloyalty. I think it’s pretty clear which option Taylor’s going to choose, so we get to see her figure out a way out of that trap. Ideally without letting on that she knows the trap is there. That should be fun.

Is Imp supposed to be involved in that? The more I look at it and its surrounding context, the more it looks like “Skitter, Imp, Genesis, I would like you to (…)” is a writing error and it’s supposed to be “Skitter, Trickster, Genesis”. To be fair, imps are typically known to be tricksters.

Ballistic seems to not be particularly fond of Skitter all of a sudden, or oddly intent on dealing with Parian solo. I wonder if that’s enough to motivate Ballistic to work against Skitter at some point.

Next chapter, we’re probably going to see whether the Grue-Victor thing works. We could skip to Coil’s trap mission, but that would be odd considering the buildup of this experiment. I don’t think we’ll linger too long, though – the trap mission will probably begin at most three chapters from now, not counting Interludes. (And so will the bank robbery.)

So yeah. See you next time!

One thought on “Colony 15.4: Two Birds, One Pin

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