Colony 15.5: Breastfeeding

Source material: Worm, Colony 15.5

Originally blogged: November 12-13, 2018


Come, little children, I’ll take thee away, into a land of enchantment… and also parahumans.

So, last time, Coil snared Taylor and Lisa into a rough spot. Today, we’re probably seeing whether Brian was right about his power not being able to fully replicate Victor’s past the immediate use. Judging by the way his power acted when he was tapping into Taylor’s, I think he was right, but we’ll have to see what happens.

Taylor, though, might be somewhat distracted by the news she just got from Lisa. She’ll probably spend a fair bit of this chapter considering her course of action, I think, though I don’t think she’s going to throw Lisa under the bus.

That is, if we don’t skip right to Taylor walking into the trap and having to figure out a way to get out of it without letting on that she knew about it from Lisa.

I’m more looking forward to the latter, but either way, this should be nice. Let’s go!


Posted on October 30, 2012

Happy almost-Halloween, people of the time when this was uploaded!

I doubt we’re in for anything particularly spoopy, but it’s fun nonetheless.


We fell silent as Regent stepped out of the cell with Victor in tow.

So, you’ve successfully taken control?

“How’s he handle?” Tattletale asked.

“Like a Mercedes with an invisible, sticky gear shift,” Regent said.

Pfft.

“Care to explain?”

Victor stretched, and said, “Everything moves well, peak condition, but his power doesn’t work so hot with him as a puppet. Can’t tell what I’m borrowing or who I’m stealing from. I think I’d need his cooperation-”

Interesting. Did Lisa figure that out beforehand, that being part of why she worked so hard to make him come pseudo-willingly?

Our captive sneered a little.

“-And I don’t think he’s willing to give it,” Regent said.

“So the question is whether we want to take the time to try to convince him or take an indirect route,” Grue said.

He came willingly, eventually, but he’s not gonna make this easy for them.

“Skitter’s going to have to go in a few minutes, so let’s see what you can do in the here and now?”

Ooh, the mission starts that soon? Nice. That gives us just enough time to do this before a change of focus, so we don’t have to sit through a full chapter of considerations. Not that considerations are bad, but it’d drag a bit at that point. This leads to much better pacing.

“Sure.” Grue extended a hand and smothered Victor in darkness. A second later, he said, “I’m getting something. Anyone here speak another language? Sug puppene til horemammaen din?”

Oh my cod, it’s Norwegian.

I distinctly get the sense that Brian has no idea what this sentence means, and that it probably comes from Victor himself. Because “Suck your whore mother’s tits” is not exactly a Brian thing to say. :p


“No,” Tattletale said. “You’re getting that from Victor.”

Yeah, sounds about right.

I wonder if her power translated it for her.

“Can’t really use it. Now how do I change what I’m stealing?”

Tattletale shrugged. “It could be you’re only picking up the surface stuff. Here, Regent, try some martial arts forms.”

“Like what? I don’t know this stuff.”

“Victor does. You fight using your puppets’ muscle memory, right? Try moving around, see what clicks and Grue will let you know if we’re accomplishing anything.”

Makes sense.

There was a pause. Victor’s hand briefly flashed out of the cloud of darkness as he shifted positions.

Grue rolled his shoulders some. “Yeah. There’s a martial art in there somewhere. I’m picking something up, but it’s slow.”

Fair, considering the power reduction.

Tattletale smiled. “Take everything you can. We’ll see what sticks.”

“It’s kind of depressing,” Grue said, settling onto a stool, “I always took some pride in honing my body, training, all that. This feels like cheating. Skipping the hard work.”

Hey, at least you’re not licking any magic lollipops to “solve” all your personal problems.

References aside, let’s consider that Victor is consciously hearing this. This comment might sting a little.


“You said you never had the time or interest to dedicate yourself to investing in a martial art,” Tattletale pointed out.

“I didn’t. But that’s not to say I wouldn’t eventually. A few years down the line, when things are quieter, I can see myself doing that, earning belts and learning to fight.”

Consider this a little head start, then.

I do get it. This kind of thing doesn’t feel right when you value honest self-improvement like Brian does, and that’s very fair.

“If you don’t want to do this,” Regent said, “I could do something else with my day.”

Grue shook his head. “No. It’s fine. Doesn’t feel quite right, but I’ll be able to do more to help you guys if I can fight better, if I’m more versatile. And I’m getting another language, again. Latin, I think. Get him doing the forms again?”

I wonder if Victor knows any super rude phrases in Latin too.

Regent sighed.

Tattletale frowned, “He’s trying to drag you off course. Using his brain to bring other stuff to the surface. Listen, I’m going to see Skitter off, and then I’ll talk to Coil, see if he has anyone who could drug Victor and mess with his mental functions without incapacitating him.”

Victor isn’t just doing this out of spite. He has skills to lose here.’


Drugs, like the ones Coil’s using on Dinah, I thought. And this would give Tattletale and me a chance to have some words about the hit Coil had put on my head.

Excellent.

I had to wonder why? I was arguably doing the best among his underlings.

You also seem to be the least loyal. (Yes, I’m including Rachel in that.) If Coil has figured out how much you spearhead scheming against him, you’re on thin ice.

Why was it so hard for him to simply let Dinah go, maybe take countermeasures to ensure she didn’t betray him, and leave things alone?

She’s incredibly valuable to him and he doesn’t give a shit about the morals of keeping her?

Are you suggesting there’s more to it, Wildbow? Like for example some sort of relation (as if Coil’s “pet” thing and coilpet shipping weren’t creepy enough)?

How did Coil even find out about Dinah in the first place?


I wouldn’t be any threat to him if he wasn’t doing something morally reprehensible.

We left Regent and Grue to their task and stepped out of the wing with the cells, venturing onto the metal walkway that overlooked the lower level. I could see the Travelers at the vault door that kept Noelle contained, as well as the soldiers going about their business.

Maybe it’s time to learn a bit about that too? I don’t see why Lisa would be more forthcoming right now than before about that particular thing, but the information might come in handy for dealing with the Travelers later.

Which struck me as odd, when I thought about it.

…why? Because they were already there earlier?

“What’s with the soldiers?” I asked. “He’s got, what, fifty or sixty here?”

Hm. If he’s onto them, maybe he’s making sure he’s prepared in case they attempt a breakout?

“A little under that, but some are elsewhere.”

“Why? I get that he was using them before, fighting Empire Eighty-Eight, but what’s he using them for now? He didn’t send them against the Endbringer, he didn’t use them against the Nine. I get that he maybe fought off the Merchants and the Chosen when they were thriving, kept them from gaining too much steam, but it seems like a lot of money to spend on soldiers he doesn’t intend to use.”

Hmm, good point. I can understand not sending them against Leviathan, but they could’ve been useful against the Nine, even with Bonesaw’s protections.


“Well,” Tattletale said, leaning on the railing. “One, keeping them employed here means they won’t be hired by someone else.”

“Right.”

True.

“And I think they factor into his plan. Either as a contingency or a greater aspect of it.”

Like I mentioned before, having them stationed across town means they could pop out and terrorize the whole city at a moment’s notice. Not really Coil’s style, but a believable backup plan if other things fail.

I nodded. I would have asked what that plan was, but I didn’t want to say anything that would be too suspicious if overheard. Not while we were on Coil’s turf, especially.

Tattletale didn’t seem to have those same concerns. She leaned closer and murmured, “You’ve got two jobs back to back. That means you’ve got a few things to do. Number one, if we’ve got a mole in our group and our communications are compromised, that means we need a mole in Coil’s group.

Hey, Aisha, you were talking about looking for your niche in the group?

Someone that can inform us about any of Coil’s movements he’s wanting to keep concealed from us.”

“Ballistic?” I asked.

“Mm,” she murmured a response. “Sound him out. Be careful about it, but try to get a sense of how tight he is with the rest of the Travelers.

Hm. This could get interesting.

Two jobs back to back. So we’re going with Ballistic first, to check on Parian, then? And then into the trap with Trickster and Genesis?

Like Cherish said, Trickster isn’t tight with his team. See just how un-tight Ballistic is with his boss, and maybe we can make some inroads.”

I don’t really know why, but I still feel like Ballistic is the one who’d be most upset about the 325 if he were to learn it, whatever it might be. Whether that would mean he’s especially tight or especially loose, I’m not sure.


“Okay.”

“That won’t be easy, because I get the sense he doesn’t like you, and he’s upset you’ve stepped on his toes here.”

I frowned.

Yeah, there’s some animosity there now. Why?

“The second thing? About the possible murder attempt?” She asked.

“Just a little worried about that.”

“He only decided it as recently as this morning, so anything he’s set up is going to happen later.”

Interesting.

“And you don’t know how he’s going to approach this, or what he’ll do?”

She shook her head. “All I know is that Coil’s intending for it to happen tonight, probably related to your job with the mayor.”

The most obvious road there would be that he’d work with Trickster and Genesis to get it done, but given that the approach is being questioned, I’m not so sure anymore.

“And you’re positive on this?”

“It’s one of those things where everything clicks into place perfectly if we acknowledge this one fact: he wants to kill you. For example, he has more reasons to send Imp than to send Trickster.”

…interesting. Was the mention of Imp towards the end of the previous chapter an error, then, born from Wildbow changing it so Coil’d send Trickster instead and missing a spot?


“How’s that work?”

“I’ve already filled Imp in on this, but Coil’s concerned about Grue’s emotional state and what it means for our team as a whole.”

He’s not the only one.

So is that why Aisha thought it was best to avoid Coil hearing any more about that than he had to?

I nodded. Which means he wants to remove Imp from the picture to see how Grue handles himself.

Ahhh… yeeah, that’d be a colossal fuck-up, Coil. Remember Burnscar?

“So we’re keeping that on the down-low. I’m not sure when we’ll be able to do it, but I’ve talked with Imp and Regent, and sort of hinted on the subject with Bitch, and we might be looking at making you our team leader. At least for a little while.”

She’s been de facto leader – or at least, de facto team tactician – for a few Arcs already anyway, so it might be time to make it official.

I snapped my head around to look at her.

“It makes the most sense. You have the best grip on who’s in play and how to use our abilities. You think tactically,” she murmured.

As I’ve been saying since Gestation.

“Why not you?” I asked. “You have seniority, you have more experience, you can apparently keep track of Imp, and you can identify our enemy’s weaknesses.”

She’s got the intel, Taylor’s got the tactics and leadership.


“I’m not sure I have more experience,” Tattletale admitted, “Or at least, my experience doesn’t count for much. Robbing software companies and casinos doesn’t really compare to going toe to toe with Mannequin.”

“My other points stand.”

“Just because we’re putting you in charge doesn’t mean I can’t still handle that stuff. If you want to delegate to me at any point, that’s fine. It’s just a question of who we turn to when we need a spur of the moment decision.”

Sounds good to me.

“I’m not good at those. I’m only good when I can plan, consider everything that’s at play.”

“I don’t think you give yourself credit. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, you’re good at improvising.”

She’s certainly creative under pressure.

“With just me, maybe. Just my own abilities. I’m not sure I can do that if I’m also worrying about the four of you.”

Four.

Tattletale, Grue, Regent and Bitch.

Yeah, that sounds like all of the remaining Undersiders.

(Is she forgetting about Imp all of a sudden, or is she just discounting her because of the fact that she’ll usually not be able to plan around Aisha’s power when it’s active?)


“We’ll have to see in the field. Unless you’re really going to argue Grue’s going to be able to hold his own in a high pressure situation?”

I frowned behind my mask and shook my head.

“Of course, discussing this means nothing if you get killed. Don’t.”

Yeah, that’s something we’d rather avoid.

“Easy as that? Don’t get killed?”

“You’re going into a tricky situation with the most amoral member and the most versatile member of their group. Keep an eye on everything and try to be unpredictable so they can’t get you in a trap.”

The whole thing is a trap, but fair enough.

I just had to figure out how to do that with a job this cut and dry.

“Ballistic’s coming,” Tattletale said. I looked and saw Ballistic ascending the staircase at the far end of the walkway. It would take him a minute or three to join us.

“Any final tips before I’m left with him?”

“He’s angry. Coil’s roped in the Travelers by promising to help them with Noelle, but there’s two snags in that which we may be able to use. For one thing, I don’t know if Coil seriously intends to offer any fix he does find.

I suppose if he does find a fix, he can withhold it to make sure they continue to need him.

For another, Ballistic cares less about that than anyone else. Or maybe it would be better to say he almost doesn’t want to help with that because Trickster wants it so badly.”

…interesting. Got a bit of intense spite between these two, huh?

I’m not sure if that makes my theory that he’d be the one to get murderously upset over the 325 more likely (it seems he already doesn’t like Trickster much) or less (there’d be less of a sense of betrayal by someone close to him).

Probably the former, honestly.


“That sounds like it’s less about team friction and more about sheer enmity.”

“I think they were really good friends once and now they’re distant.”

Interesting.

Well, it wasn’t like I wasn’t unfamiliar with that idea.

Oof.

Uh.

Looks like you messed up your negatives a little there. I think “it wasn’t like” was the last part of this sentence that was written.

“And,” she said, her voice low, “I can tell you the Noelle thing isn’t the only crisis they’re working on handling. The focus on Noelle is something of a sore point with Ballistic.”

I see. So he wishes they’d focus a bit more on the other issue, then?

To recap, my current theory is that this other issue, and their backstory, involves Cauldron, and possibly getting chased by them. It’s not a theory I’m super confident in, but it’s my best guess.

“Vague. And I can’t really say anything about that without admitting the info came from you.”

Right, good point.

“Yeah,” she said. Then she straightened, turning toward Ballistic.

“That huddle looked like a conspiracy at work,” he commented. He looked like he’d based his costume off of the capes of a different era, with only some concessions made to fitting in with his team’s color scheme; a costume in black with red patterns on the fabric, heavy on the armor panels and padding, making a big guy look even bigger.

Astute one, eh?

His mask was square, with holes only for the eyes. Belts and pouches were strapped across his entire body.

“Conspiracy? Us?” Tattletale grinned.

“You were whispering about something.”

They were just talking about boys.

“Boys,” she said, winking.

fuck


“Hm,” he didn’t look impressed.

“No, we really were talking about boys. About Grue, specifically, and maybe replacing him as leader.”

Among others, yes.

I like things like this, where the characters just bend the truth rather than outright lie, like this.

“Hey,” I said, before I’d processed why she was saying that. She wanted to earn some measure of trust by volunteering a secret.

She shrugged. “They’re going to find out eventually. We’ll have to trust Ballistic to not go running to Coil to tell on us.”

Nice, subtly testing Ballistic’s loyalty to Coil.

He folded his arms. “Putting me in a compromising spot?”

“Sure. You can handle it,” she told him. She gave me a pat on the shoulder, “I’m going to see about those drugs for Victor. Good luck to you two.”

“Tell me,” Ballistic said, as Tattletale strolled off, “Do you ever get past that point where you feel painfully uncomfortable around her?”

See ya, Lisa!

And yeah, that’s, uh, only when you stop having secrets to hide from her.


“Yeah,” I said. “You get over that with time.”

I didn’t add that the discomfort he was describing was largely linked to the number of secrets one was trying to keep from her. It almost went without saying.

I was about to argue, but then that last bit of narration followed, and I am pleased.

“You’re still insisting on coming along?” he asked. “You know I can handle this on my own.”

“I don’t doubt that. But I’m kind of wanting to see this place.”

Is it Dolltown post-Nine you want to see, or Parian?

Why?

“I’m running my own territory. Maybe there are ideas I can use. And I want to see how people are coping in other districts.”

Fair point. Parian and Taylor did already use somewhat similar methods, too.

“I’d ask ‘why’ again, but I’m not sure I’d get it.”

“If this city doesn’t get condemned, you’re going to have people moving into your district. Even after the city’s infrastructure is up and running again, those people are going to put pressure on you for certain things.”

“See, you’re approaching this like a medieval lord, managing her serfs and servants and I see this more as being a watchdog.”

Heh, nice analogy. So basically he’s more just watching out for trouble than really managing the territory, then?


I gestured toward the exit, and he sighed. We began making our way out of the base.

“Do you really want to limit yourself to being a watchdog?”

That’s another good, subtle “How loyal are you to Coil” question. How much more power do you want?

“When I’m making this much cash? When even the top guys in this town would run scared from me? Sure.” He held the door open for me.

No accounting for taste.

But is he telling the truth? Maybe he’d rather try to do something about the other issue than be stuck working for Coil?

“And that’s all it comes down to? Cash and being feared?”

“I’m a living gun and my surroundings are nothing but piles of ammunition. What do you expect? You don’t think you’re scary?”

That’s not what she was asking about. Yes, you’re scary. She’s asking if that’s all you want to be.

And yeah, Taylor’s very scary too. More so.

“I think you can have money and power, you can be fearsome where necessary, but you can still make a difference at the same time.”

“Doesn’t seem worth it, working your ass off to make some people a little happier and more comfortable before the world ends.”

Perhaps not.

I’m a fan of epicureanism, under which the main goal of life is simply to enjoy it, to live happily in peace, free of pain. I think that if you can help others towards reaching that goal as well as yourself, that is a good thing, but you also need to balance it so that you don’t sacrifice all your own pleasure for others’. (Though that’s still a good act, it’s not a great thing for you. Taylor can probably relate more to that than I can.)

My point is that Ballistic seems to have decided that the amount of work it takes relative to the amount of pleasure he can bring is just not worth it to him. It doesn’t sound good to say it, but I think that’s entirely fair.


“You’re one of the people that’s fixated on that, huh?”

“The world’s gonna end. How can you shrug that off?”

Honestly, that’s a good question. I was expecting Taylor to be fixated on it too, due to her role in Jack finding out about the prophecy.

“It might not.”

You heard the prophecy. Have you considered the timelines where Dinah dies, or is this just straight up denial?

“Right,” he said, clearly humoring me.

This wasn’t working. Tattletale had said Ballistic was angry, but I’d taken that to be the same sort of anger that Bitch harbored. Whatever was going on with Noelle and the group dynamics that had Sundancer so unhappy, it had made Ballistic angry at the world, angry at circumstance. A different sort of anger, really: he didn’t really care about anything or anyone.

Ouch.

Wait. Is the whole world-ending thing part of why he doesn’t seem to like Taylor all of a sudden? Does he blame her where she doesn’t?

I mean, on top of the general negativity among the Travelers at the moment.


At least Ballistic’s anger isn’t causing him to live up to his name.


How was I supposed to get through to him if that was the case?

I decided to call him on it.

“Okay, so your only priorities are money and power? Then why are you so annoyed that I’m coming along? What does it matter?”

Ooh.

“It’s my business, my territory, and I’m capable of handling her on my own. It’s insulting that Coil thinks I’d need any help, and it’s rude that you’d volunteer yourself without checking with me first.”

I can see that, honestly. Like, the initial volunteering was alright (Taylor framed it as a request to Ballistic, didn’t she?), but then she went and said it was Coil’s call.

“Okay,” I said. “Hypothetically, just going by what you were saying earlier, why should I give a damn? The world’s going to end in a few years anyways. What does it matter if I get on your bad side?”

“That’s different,” he said, sounding annoyed.

Heh. Not appreciating getting your nihilism turned back on you?

“Why? Because it’s you that’s getting shortchanged?”

“Because we’re basically coworkers. If we’re going to have to fight alongside one another, we can’t be worried about this sort of thing.”

Why? Does it matter how the fights go as a result of you being on bad terms?

“Okay, first of all? I have a closer working relationship with the people in my territory than I do with any of the Travelers. If and when you get more people in your territory, you might find that’s the same with you, too. So I’m not sure I buy that coworker thing.”

“You’re talking apples and oranges. Capes and non-capes.”

I’m sorry, El Goonish Shive has laid claim to “apples and oranges” in my head.

“Fine.” He’d left an opening for me to target. “Then I’ll just point to your other ‘coworkers’. The other Travelers. There’s obvious friction. There’s resentment. Cherish said as much. So I don’t think you buy the coworker thing either.”

Oooh, cutting right into the meat of it now.


“Again, that’s different.”

“You say that a lot. Maybe this principle you’re living by isn’t that strong if it can’t hold up to the most basic arguments. Unless you care to explain why that’s different?”

Please do.

“You’re grilling me for info on my team.”

“I’m curious what’s going on there, yeah. But I’m also trying to figure you out. As you said, we’re coworkers.”

“Weren’t you just debating the coworker thing?”

I like the back and forth here. He’s astute, she’s fairly open about what she’s doing, and it’s a pretty good debate topic, too.

“Decide if you really believe it, let me know, and I’ll change my argument accordingly,” I said.

He sighed.

“I’m not trying to get on your bad side,” I said. “Really. But I’ve dealt with some interesting personalities like Bitch, Regent and Imp for a little while now, and I know I won’t be able to communicate with you until I understand where you’re coming from. So I’m willing to go the extra mile to figure you out now so I can understand you in the future…”

This is becoming a recurring social tactic for Taylor. Figuring people out in order to work with them as well as possible.

I trailed off, but I kept one eye on him to see if there was any hint that he knew about Coil’s plans to terminate my future. There was nothing. I couldn’t see his face, but nothing had changed in his posture, his stride or overall body language.

Sneaky.

“You’re not going to stop digging and get off my case here, huh?” He asked.

I was mentally categorizing him as very similar to Bitch in many respects. He was smarter, though, and the weapons he wielded in a discussion were less about threatening imminent harm than, what? Setting himself further apart from me? Breaking ties, categorizing me as an enemy in his head and making dealing with him harder in the future?

That does sound similar to Rachel, too, though.


It would explain why there was a schism between him and the other members of his group.

Like how Rachel has sometimes been so far removed from the rest of the team that I’ve hesitated to include her among the Undersiders.

“If you ask me to? I’ll back off. But…” I made the call on the spur of the moment, as I might with Bitch if I were positive she wasn’t about to hit me. “I think you and I would both agree that you’d be admitting I’m right if you did.”

Hrm. Well, at least this might work psychologically.

“That’s dirty.”

“Sure.”

“So what do you want to know, then? Shall I divulge my deepest, darkest secrets?”

Sure. :p

“I’ll settle for knowing why you’re all so angry at Trickster, why you specifically are angry at him.”

“Nope. Can’t say.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

Sounds like a “won’t”, probably tied to the promise they made to each other.

“Won’t. We made a deal, and that deal means we’ve kept some stuff from Coil, even. I’m not about to tell you.”

That’s a potentially useful tidbit. I wonder what Lisa can make of that information.

“I don’t need to know specifics.”

“You don’t need to know the general details, either.”

Fair.

I like the dynamic these two have got going, even if it does paint Taylor in a somewhat annoying light.


“Not really. But maybe youneed to tell me? One of your teammates said they were awfully lonely, and they’re closer with the rest of the team than you are. Maybe you’re lonely too, nobody to vent to?”

Nice angle.

Though this does tell him that you’ve talked to one of the others about life in the Travelers already.

“I’m a guy. We don’t do the whole emotional sharing thing.

Fuck that noise.

It’s largely true, but fuck that noise anyway.

You trying to channel Tattletale here? Why are you so intent on getting the details, here? This isn’t just curiosity or wanting to know your coworkers.”

Because so much hinges on my ability to get you on board against Coil.

Which of course she can’t say.

I didn’t have a good response, so I fell silent. We continued walking down the streets towards the crater-lake, our footsteps sloshing in the shallow water.

Eyy, Lake Heroic. My favorite body of water in the bigger body of water that is Brockton Bay.


[Session 2]
Let’s go see how Parian is holding up!


“He took everything from us,” Ballistic said, breaking the silence.

“Trickster?”

Or perhaps Coil?

“Trickster. When everything started falling apart, he stepped up to make the calls. Bad ones.

…I’ve compared him to Karkat before and honestly, I stand by that.

So this is why we’re getting this in the same chapter as a discussion about whether Taylor would be a good team leader. Thematic consistency. I like how Wildbow does this without it getting too heavy-handed or stilted.

And now the group is all we have left. No friends, no family, no home to go back to, no goals beyond fixing Trickster’s fuckups.”

So does that mean you think he’s responsible for whatever’s happening to Noelle, too?

I was thinking of how it had come out that Sundancer was reluctant to use her powers because of the damage she’d done in the past. Civilian deaths? Had they included their own families? Had Noelle been included in that?

Hrm. I don’t know, it seems a bit weird for that to happen to all their friends and families. Maybe one of them went through something like that, but not all.

My primary existing theory would explain the friends and family thing, with Cauldron silencing those they have to on their path to tracking down the Travelers.

What it doesn’t explain is how they haven’t been found. If Cauldron is after them, there’s no way Cauldron doesn’t know what their powers are, and they’re fairly noticeable powers. Especially Sundancer’s. Even if they changed their cape identities, word would make it to Cauldron about the whereabouts of a team with that particular set of powers.

So yeah, it’s not an extremely sound theory. It’s going to be nice to get a few answers, finally.


It might explain why they were so gun-shy about using their powers to their fullest potential and why they’d been so insistent on keeping Noelle locked up when we were up against the Nine.

I mean, besides the whole thing she’s going through, there’s also the fact that Crawler was after her.

He went on, “The others might hate Trickster but they still respect him. Or they don’t respect him but they don’t hate him either. Probably more the former than the latter.

Interesting.

But I don’t have any love for the guy, I don’t have any respect for him either, and I seem to be alone in that.”

“So where do you go from there?”

New alignment chart!

[2 by 2 alignment grid]

Doesn’t respect Trickster, hates Trickster:
Ballistic

Doesn’t respect Trickster, doesn’t hate him:
Oliver?

Respects Trickster, hates Trickster:
Sundancer?
Genesis?

Respects Trickster, doesn’t hate him:
Noelle?
Trickster?

(Yes, even Trickster himself gets the question mark. He might belong in the lower left quadrant.)


“Now we’re back to square one. I already explained. Money, being feared, respect and living in comfort as a badass watchdog.”

“All that stuff about hating him, blaming him for ruining your life, and you don’t want any revenge on him?” I asked, as casually as I could manage.

Pfft, subtle.

Guess he’s not the vengeful type, for all his grumbling.

“No. I’m with the group for one reason. I stick with shit. Not going to turn on the guy.

That’s not particularly promising when you’re trying to get him on your side.

Ballistic sticks with shit, but anything he touches fucks right off.

I agreed to this thing with Coil because I thought it’d be a way to get back some of what we’ve lost, maybe. But all I see is my teammates getting all starry-eyed with hope while Coil feeds us empty promises. Saying Tattletale will find an answer, or he’ll make a request to some major scientists in parahuman study. And of course there’s no answers.”

He remains an astute one. He’s figured out Coil’s play without the help of Lisa’s power. It’s a fairly straightforward manipulative tactic, so it’s not that impressive, but still.

At least it might be possible to get him to turn on Coil even if he won’t turn on Trickster.


“There could be.”

“Nah. Why would he give us what we want if it means losing our services? But I don’t really care anymore. I made a deal with Coil and I’ll stick that through until I have a good reason not to. Way I figure it, fuck my team, fuck Coil, but it’s not worth confronting anyone over if it means I’m wasting the remaining two years of my life trying to get another gig this cushy.”

…fair enough.

“That seems kind of claustrophobic, setting those restrictions on yourself, letting things with your team drop by the wayside. Being all alone?”

And we’re back to the topic of Travelers and loneliness. Bit of a recurring theme surrounding them at this point, though up until this point it’s largely seemed like a Sundancer theme specifically.

“Won’t be alone. Figure I’ve got enough cash and respect I can get groupies. That’ll do for the next couple of years. Unless you’re going to argue there’s some point to a committed, long term relationship when there’s no long term?”

…ouch.

I mean, he has a point, to some extent, but considering Taylor’s worries regarding her relationship with Brian, it’s probably not something she’d like to be reminded of.

I sighed. There was no point in continuing this. I could tell that Ballistic wasn’t going to budge, and I didn’t have a ‘good reason’ to convince him to join us.

Sometimes you just have to admit defeat.


We crossed several city blocks in silence. When we’d reached the lake Leviathan had created downtown, we began to walk around to the north end to Dolltown.

“So how are we doing this? Attack strategy?” Ballistic asked.

he’s asking her.

She’s supposedly the one tagging along here on his mission, but he’s been fighting alongside her, following plans she’s laid, enough that he’s still, to some extent, letting her take charge. He knows she’s skilled at this, and he’s not going to let something like whose mission this technically is get in the way of using that skill for what it’s worth. And he just asks it, like it’s common sense.

I appreciate this a lot.

“Any chance you’ll let me make the first move?”

“And take all the credit?” His voice hardened.

Heh. It only stretches so far, eh?

“I’ll let you take half the credit if I’m successful. You can take all the credit if I fail.”

Successful… at what, exactly? You didn’t say first “attack”.

“Nope.”

“What?”

“I get what you’re doing. You want to make us Travelers look bad. Get yourself a bigger slice of the pie somewhere down the road. More respect, more power, and you’re doing that by wedging yourself into everything, getting hyperinvolved. Gotta be in first place.”

You’re a smart guy, but… nah. You’re being a little too paranoid, I think.

Either that or Taylor’s doing this subconsciously.

“That’s crazy.”

“Right. Then explain why you’re going overboard with your territory.”

Time to turn the tables and interrogate her.


“I’m getting the job done, taking care of my people.”

“Nah. It’s more than that. There’s something driving you to work that hard. You’re looking to supplant us.”

Hmm. Is there any real reason for Taylor not to explain the Dinah situation? I mean, yes, she’s been tightlipped about it to others for a while, but it’s not like it’s something she really needs to keep secret.

He’d stopped walking. I paused and turned to face him.

He chuckled lightly, “I don’t blame you for it. I mean, it’s pretty scummy, when we’re supposed to be working together, but I get that you want to be on top.”

“We are working together.”

Hey, some people are overachievers by nature.

Myself not included.

“I may be taller and in better shape than average, but I’m not dumb. You think I didn’t catch the wedge you were trying to drive into our team? Sounding me out for any hard feelings I might have for the others?”

Yeah, I can see why he’d come to this conclusion.


Shit. This sort of thing was Tattletale’s field, not mine. Now it was going south fast, and I could imagine how this would explode in my face.

(I know I made this image to represent a situation “going downhill fast”, but I can’t for the life of me remember why I made the vehicle some kind of bike/sailboat fusion.)

I cleared my throat a little and clarified, “I was sounding you out because it was clear you did have hard feelings for the other members of your team, and I wanted to give you a chance to talk about it.”

Yeeah, I don’t think he’s going to buy it.

“Ah, so the creepy bug girl is really a softie in the end,” his voice was laced with sarcasm. “No ulterior motives at all.”

“Whatever,” I said. “Nevermind.”

Hehe.

“So fuck you,” he said. “No, I’m not giving you first dibs on this doll woman. Second I see her, I’m taking her out of action and making it a hundred percent clear it was all my doing. You’ll get what you wanted, which you said was to see the territory, and I get what I want, which is to finish up my territory so I can kick back.”

“Second I see her”. Of course, Taylor could deal with her long before that happens, but I doubt Ballistic would take kindly to that. Especially if dealing with her actually means protecting her.


This wasn’t how I wanted things to go on any level. I could have groaned in frustration. Instead, I sent out a command to my bugs and took a deep breath.

So how did you want the Parian part of this to go?

“Okay,” I told him.

“Yeah?”

Alright, not gonna tell us what the bugs are doing yet. Interesting.

“But I think I’ll stay out of the line of fire. I get the impression I offended you, so maybe we give each other some breathing room? Avoid getting shot?”

“I wouldn’t jeopardize the setup I’ve got with Coil for that. But maybe it’s best you do stay out of the way.”

Taylor works best from out of sight anyway.

I nodded and turned to go.

Okay, so no mole inside the Travelers.

Not this one, at least. But it won’t be as easy to get the opportunity to talk to the others, and Ballistic is now on guard for that kind of thing.

I could still hope to achieve something here.

Using my bugs, I tracked Parian’s movements within Dolltown. She was moving quickly, joined by a small collection of people.

Are you certain they’re actually people?

So is she aware of Ballistic? Did Taylor warn her with the bugs?

Many were shrouded in cloth, leaving me to guess if they were real people or something new she’d done with her creations.

Maybe they’re both.


I drew out directions with my bugs, guiding her away from Ballistic. She didn’t listen at first, but that changed when Ballistic fired off his first attack, creating a deafening crash.

Yep, here we go. Better hope he doesn’t find out you’re doing this.

From the sound of it, he’d done something to send a car flying into a building. A moment later, he did it again. I walked faster. I could call Atlas to me, but I didn’t want to get spotted in the air.

For example because of you doing that.

Dolltown was ugly. It had been hit hard by the Nine and the fight between them and Hookwolf’s army. There were scars on the buildings where Hookwolf had struck, holes and marks in the wall where Purity had fired her beams.

Oh yeah, they did get struck by the Collateral Damage Club.

Menja had done some damage here and there, with some handprints marking various pieces of architecture where her gauntlets had bit into stone and metal.

I pushed open a doorway and stepped into a ruined building. Parian faced me.

Hey there!


Her mask had a crack in it, and there was blood staining her worn frock. She was surrounded by a half-dozen of her remaining people, each of whom wore masks and costumes. A life-size doll, a man who was wrapped in fabric to the point that he looked something like a mummy, a little girl in a skintight suit of flannel with holes cut out for the eyes, one blue and one green.

Ooh, she’s assembled a bit of a team, has she? Then again, these people don’t really need to have powers to have reason to dress up, after what Bonesaw did to them.

Did Parian have capes working for her? Or-

No.

They were the people Bonesaw had done surgery on. The ones she’d altered to look like members of the Nine. They were covering the faces and bodies Bonesaw had given them.

Yes, exactly.

“What do you want?” Parian asked.

“To negotiate,” I said.

Hm. Interesting move considering Ballistic’s out there and won’t accept it. Are you going to have her “surrender” without telling Ballistic about the deal she struck with you?

“Your buddy isn’t too interested in negotiating, by the sounds of it,” she said. She flinched as another crash sounded somewhere nearby.

“I took a gamble here, warning you about him. He wanted to hurt you, make you into an example. I don’t operate that way.”

“Don’t think I can trust you on that.”

…fair enough.

“You’ll have to. Because I’ve gone around Ballistic’s back, I’m kind of counting on you hearing me out, because if I fail here, it’s going to fuck up things with this alliance my team has with the Travelers.” And with Coil.

Right. Even Ballistic just finding out that you’re doing something would be an issue.


She glanced around. I could sense someone moving nearby. One of her people, sneaking up behind me. No gun, a light search with my bugs told me, and more of the same cloth costume the other Dolltown residents were wearing.

Nice try, pal.

I ignored my potential assailant. I could handle an attack from a knife. I’d just need to be on guard in case they aimed to club me over the head.

Just as long as they don’t go for the back of your head with the knife.

“I know about the person that’s circling around to ambush me,” I said. “Can we just talk, without someone trying to hurt me?”

“What are you wanting to talk about, then?”

“You got dealt a raw hand. The Nine targeted you, like they targeted some people I care about. People I love. That’s not fair. So I was thinking, I’ve got a lot of money. I have access to resources. I know it’s not much, it’s not really enough, but maybe we could get doctors for your friends and family. Fix what’s been done to them.”

Now that’s gotta be a tempting offer. Question is what she wants in return, if anything, and I think Parian is suspicious and smart enough to question that.

I do think Taylor genuinely wants to help them, but she’s taking a fairly sizable risk to do so, instead of just going to talk to her earlier.


“And what would you want in exchange?”

“Join my team,” I said. “I-”

I appreciate it, but narratively, it seems too sudden to work out.

Then again, they recruited Aisha during a time skip.

“No.”

Listen,” I hissed the word, “It’s the best way to guarantee safety for everyone here. It gets Ballistic off your back. Even if you avoid him today, he’s going to level half of Dolltown, and he’ll come back tomorrow to level the other half. Everything else would stay the same, you’d have the same freedoms, only we’d supply you with everything you need. Not just rice and fresh water, but good food. Medical care. Proper shelter. All you need to offer is lip service and we can fix so many of the things that have gone wrong here.”

It’s a pretty convincing argument. Though Parian doesn’t have much reason to believe that there’s someone actually providing them with these kinds of thing.

What’d Coil have to say to this, for that matter?

The person behind me stepped closer. I turned to keep an eye on her and she lunged in that same instant.

[Squirrel Girl panel]

Doreen: Dang it, sir.


Three spikes of metal were sticking out from between her fingers, like improvised brass knuckles.  When she punched them into my shoulder, they went straight through my costume, piercing through the bone as though they were hot knives and I were nothing but soft butter. She swept my feet from under me and pushed me to the ground.

I just learned that “wolverine” doesn’t mean what I thought it did.

I was going to point out the obvious parallel to Wolverine by making a non-sequitur of sorts about how “female wolf” is an odd name for a male superhero, but then I looked it up, and it turns out it’s a separate species. Well, at least Wolverine’s name makes sense now.

(I knew about wolverines as a species, but didn’t know that was the English word for them. I’ve only really heard of them in Norwegian, as “jerv”.)

Anyway, a female wolverine is apparently called an angeline, so until further notice, I’m going to call this lady assailant Angelina.

Oh, and Skitter? Next time, remember that a knife can do piercing damage too, not just slashing.


So are the claws just a really sharp weapon, or are they a product of a power Angelina’s received?

“The lady said no,” Flechette told me, one hand holding me down, the other hand raised to strike me again.

Oh!

Alright, not a new parahuman character, but certainly someone I’m pleased to find here.

…though Taylor probably isn’t quite as pleased.


I’m honestly kind of glad we found out who it was so quickly. I don’t actually like the name Angelina (I’m sorry if that’s yours).


End of Colony 15.5

This was packed with good stuff!

From Grue speaking Norwegian, to Lisa and Taylor’s discussions about the upcoming missions and Taylor becoming leader, to whispering about boys, to Ballistic and Taylor’s lengthy debate, to Taylor underestimating Flechette…

There was nothing particularly exceptional, I suppose, but everything was solid. It was consistently good rather than putting all the excellency into one peak. I appreciate that.

Next up: Skitter’s wound up in the clutches of a dollmaker and a Ward. Does Flechette have the authority to try to arrest Taylor here, on counts of her various past crimes? And then there’s the issue of Ballistic, and what he’ll do if he discovers that Skitter has been captured. This is a complicated little pickle.

Taylor getting arrested actually sounds interesting, though it’d get in the way of the mayor mission subplot.

So, yeah. This was good. See you next time!


[postscript]

By the way, Lily? You’re being a bit rude, attacking Skitter like that.

Yes, she’s a villain, but she also came in peace (though with a stated ally attacking separately), helped you evade Ballistic’s first attacks, explicitly requested peaceful negotiations, was offering majorly beneficial things, didn’t use her power to stop you despite making it clear that she’d noticed you… and you attack just because she didn’t take an immediate “no” for a final answer?

Hell, I’m no expert on war law, but I think if this were a war, your attack would’ve been a war crime. Possibly. The askers can correct me if I’m wrong on that.


I wonder how many of you knew what the language Brian spoke there was and were looking forward to me seeing that as a result.

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