Colony 15.6: Stealth Beetle

Source material: Worm, Colony 15.6

Originally blogged: November 17, 2018


Howdy!

So. Taylor’s gotten herself Flechetted.

The only reason I can take Flechette seriously as a threat to Taylor is her ability to ignore Taylor’s armor, and the fact that she’s already gotten in a good hit on her. It means Taylor is starting this fight, if she chooses to fight, at disadvantage, and one of her usual advantages in fights that involve her body (it’s not every character you have to use that qualifier for) is nullified.

Taylor still has her bugs, but Flechette is in a position where she can threaten to deal more damage if she sees even the slightest movement of the bugs in the room.

And then there’s Parian, whom we should seriously not underestimate, though she might be more reluctant to fight here.

We’ve also got Ballistic knocking on the door with the odd car or two, thus far unaware that Taylor is stuck in here.

This is a pretty solid setup, leaving Taylor in a tricky situation without having to make her opponents particularly powerful in order to make it feel tricky.

I do think talking is likely to be the way out – continuing the previous chapter’s illustration of Taylor trying to do Tattletale’s thing – but it might come to blows anyway. Uh, further blows.

I don’t really have much in terms of speculations here, so let’s jump in and see what Wildbow does with this situation!


Not my brightest move, I had to admit.  The problem with acting like I was tough enough to shrug off an attack from a knife wielder was that the illusion failed pretty damn hard when I actually got stabbed.

Whoops.

To be fair, Flechette isn’t just any knife wielder.

Then again, I don’t know if Taylor knows what Flechette’s power is. The only reason we do is because we’ve had a chapter from her POV.

I’d been relying too much on my costume.

“If I see a single bug, I’ll be forced to use this,” Flechette said, angling the spike of metal in her hand so I could see it better.

Yeah, here we go with the restraining of the bugs through threats.

Then again, there are definitely bugs on all of you already. Especially you.

“Isn’t that going too far?” Parian asked, her voice small.

It’s certainly rude.

I’m not surprised to see Parian being a bit more reluctant here. She’s not to be underestimated in a fight, but she’s not a fighter.

“No,” Flechette said.  Her hand was still poised to strike the second I moved.

“She was just talking.”

“She just talked to Panacea, if you remember.  And I told you before, the last time Glory Girl was seen was in her company.  I’ve explained what happened after that.”

Oh fuck. Yeeah, that looks bad.

So I guess this is how Taylor learns what happened to Victoria and Amy? Or at least learns that something happened. Flechette and Parian both know, where Wildbow could’ve easily let Parian not know so as to prompt Flechette to summarize it for her while Taylor could hear it.


“You think she did it?”

Did what?

“I think the thinker-seven on her team might have.  Running theory is that Tattletale has a clairvoyance that lets her see weak points.

As in psychological weak points? Not a bad guess.

It also reminds me of the ask I got [here] about the fanfic titled The Othersiders (presumably named as such before “The Othersiders” was brought up in canon), in which Lisa’s power is to see the weak points of people’s nervous systems.

Finds the points to attack in people, security systems, patrol routes, reverse-engineers the results to get general information.”

Seriously not that far off, really.

Okay, she’d hit the key points, but sort of got it backwards.

Yeah.

“That was Jack,” I said.  “Jack was the one who got to Amy.”

“Occam’s razor.  Most likely answer is often the correct one.  Or something like that,” Flechette said,  “Is it going to be Jack, who has powers we already know?  Or is it going to be Tattletale, who has set down more than enough precedent for that kind of behavior and a still-unknown power?

Pretty sure Occam’s razor more formally suggests that the answer that requires the fewest assumptions is the most likely one, and you’re assuming Tattletale’s power.

The Jack theory requires assuming that Jack at some point got the chance to talk to Amy, but that’s less of a stretch.

It fits what your group’s trying to do, taking over the city for yourselves.  And I should point out that records do seem to point to people being left devastated or ruined wherever you go.  Panacea, Armsmaster, the Slaughterhouse Nine-”

Oh my cod are you seriously bringing up the Nine as an example here ahahaha

I mean yes, they did help whittle the Nine down to 3-5 members, but still.


“You’re complaining about us taking out the Nine?  And that wasn’t all us.  It wasn’t even mostly us.  That was everything going to hell and people with issues getting pushed past their limits.  We were only involved because we’ve tried to help every step of the way.”

They did do that, yeah.

“You think she was going to do to me what she did to Glory Girl and Panacea?” Parian asked.

Fuck, looks like Parian’s convinced.

“I’d say the possibility exists,” Flechette said. “And that’s reason enough to be very careful.”

Damn this.  “I’m not trying to fucking corrupt or psychologically traumatize Parian.  Or anyone else!  Yes, we’re trying to take over the city.  Yes, we’re currently working on eliminating the competition-”

Careful what you say here, Taylor.

“Mm,” Flechette murmured, her expression hard.

“But that’s not why I’m here, not exactly.  It serves our goals just as well if I recruit Parian.  It’s one person out of the way, and it gives us a way to help people who need it.”

Good.


“So you say.”

Fuck, I hate it when people do that.  ‘Everything you say is a lie, including any protests or arguments over the fact that you’re a liar.‘”

“But do you really hate that?”

There was a crash, further away than the last.  Ballistic had headed in a different direction.  For the moment, at least, we were out of harm’s way.

Alright, good to know we’ve got time.

“You’re sort of well-known in the community for being deceptive and underhanded.”

Hm. This isn’t the first time we’ve touched on this in this Arc, between Regent pointing out her past and Ballistic’s skepticism. I smell a red thread.

“Because of what Armsmaster said at the hospital?”

“In part.”

“Is nobody paying attention to the fact that he was seriously bent in the head?  To the point that the Slaughterhouse Nine thought he was a good candidate for their group?”

Uh. Taylor. You’re right, to some extent, but also take a moment to consider that two of your teammates were also nominees, and then consider how that might affect the way this argument comes across.

“Mannequin targeted Armsmaster to mess with him.  It’s his M.O..  He goes out of his way to attack and ruin tinkers and other individuals who could do something for society.”

…of course Piggot would ensure that this didn’t come out as the full truth, even within the PRT.

Also, Flechette, why are you talking about Mannequin in present tense? Do you believe him to have survived, something which the Nine’s note also seems to suggest despite him previously being stated as dead?


“I love how the so-called ‘good’ guys get to revise events to make stuff more convenient for them.”

History is written by the victors, and the public likes to accept the heroes as victors by default.

“It’s a perk.  People tend to trust your version of events when you’re doing what’s right,” Flechette said.  The spike she gripped between two fingers tapped against my throat, but didn’t pierce the fabric.  She wasn’t using her power or she could have killed me.

That’s… quite a multifaceted line. We’ve got an admission that Taylor is right (though not necessarily about Armsmaster), mixed with a jab at how Flechette doesn’t believe Taylor is telling the truth because she’s a villain, mixed with a threat implying that Flechette would get away with killing Skitter. Nice.

Don’t do this, Flechette. I liked you.

“You’re implying that you guys are doing what’s ‘right’ that much more often than we are.”

We’re really getting into some of the core themes of Taylor’s arc, here, huh?


“That should be obvious.”

“And you really believe that?”

“Have to.”

Why?

“Do you know why Armsmaster was arrested?”

“He wasn’t.”

House arrest, but I suppose they never made that official.

Piggot, again, I’m sure.

…also, Flechette should know this. She should’ve heard Tattletale’s announcement, provided she still had her armband. Though she might not have believed it, I suppose.

“Unofficially arrested, then.  Do you know why he was cooped up in the local PRT headquarters, with no official title or role?”

“He was in therapy for his injury.  He lost an arm.”

Piggot did a good job covering over this.

“I know.  I was there when Leviathan tore it out of the socket.  I applied pressure to the wound to try to stop the blood loss.  But that’s not why they locked him up.  They could have given him an administrative position if it was just an injury, and they didn’t.”

Nice, bringing up the way you helped him, there. Though if she’s stubborn enough, Flechette might just hear “I caused him to lose that arm, cursing him with my presence.”

“Maybe they did.  It’s not like either of us were there when the decisions were made.”

“With no job title?  They didn’t list one for him, and with the state of the city, they could have leveraged his reputation alone to boost morale, just by saying Armsmaster was in charge of the local task-forces.”

True.

I’m sure he’d love that.

“There’s emotional stress with permanent injuries, too.”

“Plenty of people under just as much stress, if not more, after the Endbringer hit.  But I’ll admit your perspective’s better than mine,” I said, looking up at her.  “You joined the Wards just in time to see the aftermath of Gallant and Aegis dying.  How did they handle that?  If the PRT was that accommodating with Armsmaster, I’m sure they arranged for therapy and time off for all the Wards.”

Ooooh.

Taylor’s making some really solid points here. Lisa, watch out for your job.


“Yes to therapy,” she said.  “No to the time off.  Too much to take care of.”

“Oh?” I asked.  I hadn’t honestly expected them to enforce and allow for therapy.  It threw me off my stride.

Nice.

Your point still stands, at least.

“Why are you so surprised?  And where is this coming from?  Tattletale feed you this information?”

“Only some of the general details, like what Armsmaster was up to.  The bit about the PRT dropping the ball in taking care of you guys was mainly drawn from past experience.”

“But they didn’t.”

Turns out they can be kinda decent from time to time too.

“Flechette,” Parian spoke up, “Weren’t you saying it was Weld who pushed for the therapy?”

…ooh, right. They didn’t do it on their own initiative. There’s the catch.

Flechette shot her a look, as if she were thinking, Whose side are you on?

“Wards taking care of Wards,” I said.  “Okay, I think my argument stands.  No reason to suggest that Armsmaster was being coddled to that degree for any emotional or mental distress he went through.”

Even with his high rank.


“What are you getting at?”

“I’m saying he was arrested.  Off the books.  And there aren’t really any reasonable explanations to the contrary.  People are still taking his word on events, taking his word on me, but he was as fucked up as any of us.”

“Parahumans were, after all, people with powers, and people are flawed at their core.”

“Given the choice, I’m going to take his word over yours, sorry.”

“That’s what I’m saying is screwed up!”  I hissed the last two words.  “Why?  Because of the label he chose to identify by?  He calls himself a hero and he gets more credit?”

Taylor is making good points, but she’s also the one getting riled up here. This is pretty much Taylor laying out her development from the end of Extermination, and that’s something she feels strongly about.

“Because he put in a good fifteen years of hard work to improve this city, and because I think your perspective’s warped.”

…okay yeah, that’s fair.

Everyone has a screwed up perspective!  Especially here, especially now, with the way this city is.  My perspective’s fucked up because everyone I was supposed to rely on dropped the ball, and the only people I could count on were crooks!

She’s self-aware about it, at least.

Panacea got warped because her parents let her down, because nobody ever sat down and talked to her about who her dad was.  So she convinced herself that she was doomed to follow in his footsteps.”

And she’s come to understand Amy’s struggles quite well too.

“How do you know that?”

“I was there!  I, we, tried to help.  But she’s never had someone talk to her, so she didn’t know how to listen to us.  Which is probably a blessing in disguise, because she didn’t listen to Jack or Bonesaw either.”

Whoops. You’re contradicting yourself due to not knowing how this ended. You said earlier that Jack got through to her.

Flechette gave me a funny look.  Her eyes were vague shadows behind her visor, but I could see one distort in size as she raised an eyebrow.

“What?”  I asked.  Something about Panacea and Glory Girl?  She’d said something earlier too.

Yeah, looks like she caught on.


She spoke, interrupting my thoughts before I could frame them into a question.  “Nothing.  I guess you’re going to tell me you tried to help Armsmaster too?”

I mean, she already said she tried to help him when his arm got ripped off.

“No.  I turned to him for help, and he tried to screw me over.  I joined the Undersiders to give him the details he wanted on their powers and methods and he not only hung me out to dry, but he tried to kill me.  He did kill Kaiser and Fenja, nearly killed Kid Win by accident, and there were others there too.  All for his own personal glory.  Because he had some kind of crazy tunnel-vision when it came to his personal ambition and successes.”

This is a good chapter to read if you need a recap on Armsmaster. How long until we see him again in person? A few chapters? Next Arc?

Flechette frowned.

I took the chance to hammer my point home.  “He knew I was just an undercover agent, but he thought my death and the casual sacrifices of the others who had chosen to risk their lives to stop Leviathan were worth getting a personal shot at killing Leviathan one on one.”

It’s also a good chapter to read if you were under the impression that Armsmaster’s actions weren’t seriously fucked up.

I can actually understand forgetting that by this point, because he’s been portrayed more and more sympathetically since Interlude 10b.

“What?” Parian asked.  “Seriously?  Doesn’t that violate the deal with-”

It does.

“Yes,” Flechette cut her off.  “Yes it would.”

Flechette is still not convinced.

I shrugged, looking at Flechette, Parian and the Dolltown residents.  “Probably going to get in trouble for revealing that, but I’ll leave it to you to decide what to do with that information.  I’m already a priority target anyways, pretty much, what with our intended takeover of the city.”

…none of this should be new information to Flechette and Parian, though?? Unless they were unconscious when the hospital broadcast happened, they should’ve heard about Armsmaster’s exploits before.


“You seem to be missing the point that you’re under arrest right now,” Flechette spoke.

Right. Except to actually bring her anywhere, you’ll need to get away from Ballistic.

I sighed.  “And nothing I say is getting through.”

“It’s exactly what I was talking about before, you’re just using information Tattletale fed you to try to screw with my head, fill me with doubts and paranoia.”

Is it working, even a little bit?

“And how would I know you’d be here?  I’d have to get the information from her in advance, remember?”

Something something bug sense.

“Tattletale told you I’d be here.”

Okay, that’s admittedly possible.

Fair enough. But then why would Taylor let Flechette stab her?

“So your interpretation of events is that I knew you were here, I came prepared with all this made up information on Armsmaster to mess with you, and I just let you stab me?”

As if mentioning it reminded my brain, I could feel the pain radiating from my shoulder.  At least she’d left the spike in there.  It seemed even better at preventing the bleeding than I’d guessed it would be.  A snug fit?

I mean, is there even a hole?

I wouldn’t bleed to death in the next ten minutes.

She didn’t venture a response.

“Flechette, if you don’t believe me, you can look at the armband Dragon gave us for the fight against Leviathan.  Armsmaster fried it with an EMP to keep me from broadcasting Leviathan’s location to anyone, and then he moved in only after he’d thought Leviathan had killed me.  It’s on top of a ceiling panel in the shelter on Slater street.

Unless they’ve cleaned that up.

Women’s bathroom, above the middle toilet.  I couldn’t keep it in case Dragon used it to track me down, but you can go grab it if she hasn’t sent someone already.  Get a tinker you trust to look at it.”

Dragon would probably like to be able to track you down.


“The results could be fabricated.”

“Tell your tinker that.  He’ll keep it in mind, and he can tell you the likelihood of it being something I’m doing to frame Armsmaster versus it being Armsmaster’s work.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

I think at this point, Taylor just wants you to understand.

“Because I’m trying to convince you that ‘right’ isn’t the exclusive property of the good guys, just like ‘wrong’ isn’t wholly on our side of the fence.  Armsmaster’s sense of ‘good’ was purely what was good for his own interests.  I’m trying to do the right thing more often than not, believe it or not, or I’m doing the wrong things for the right reasons.”

Armsmaster, meanwhile, did the right things for the wrong reasons. Up until he decided to do the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

“And which were you doing here, trying to recruit Parian?”

I glanced at Parian, “I don’t know yet.  Thinking it’s more the latter.”

Seems that way.

There was a rumble as Ballistic knocked over a building somewhere a distance away.

“We don’t need your help,” Flechette said.

“Don’t you?  I don’t know why you’re wearing that getup, but I’m assuming those other people are because of what Bonesaw did.”

If Bonesaw had gotten her hands on Parian before getting them cut off, Parian would probably end up looking something like this. Just without a costume.

I could see the people in the concealing costumes shifting uncomfortably.

“Why I’m in this costume isn’t any of your business.  I’m here to help.”

“I can help more.  I can get them medical attention, start reversing what the Slaughterhouse Nine did to them.”

Not much to say at this point. Arguments are being repeated.


Parian spoke, her voice quiet, “So you’re asking me to choose between being loyal to a friend who’s helped me, comforted me and kept me sane these past few weeks, or selling my soul for the… supposed greater good.”

When you put it like that

“Saying you’d be selling your soul is a bit overdramatic,” I said.

“I’m an artist, I’m dramatic by nature.”

Hah!

“Then let me make an emotional appeal.  Come to my territory.  Let me show you what I’m doing there, and what I want to help you do for your people.”

Flechette’s ears: “Come into my t r a p .

“You’ll just take the advantage of the situation to escape,” Flechette said.

Perhaps she might. What’s it to you?

“I don’t really think you can keep me,” I said, sounding calmer than I felt.

“We’ll see,” she responded.

I sent a command to Atlas.

Oh hell yes.

Either Atlas comes storming in, knocking Flechette over before she can pick up her jaw and make good on her threat regarding “if I see a single bug”, or Taylor’s signalling Ballistic. This ought to get wild in a few seconds, either way.

“Easiest option is that I send a message to Ballistic.  I really don’t want to do that, because it’s going to get people hurt or killed.”

Right. So you just went for the other option, eh?

Or did she get really creative with what she’s making Atlas do?

“His files say he doesn’t kill,” she responded.

On purpose.

“With his power?  It’s easy to accidentally go too far.  Combine that with the sheer danger your own power presents?  It’s like playing tag with guns.  Not saying I don’t respect your power, with the damage you did to Leviathan, but he can escalate harder and faster than you.  If you two get in a shootout, someone’s going to get hurt.”

“And it won’t be him.”


As if to punctuate my statement, there was a sound of a building collapsing nearby.

“Well then,” Flechette said.  She adjusted her grip on the spike of metal that she held between her fingers.  A dart.  She poked it through the armor of my wrist.  When I tried to move my arm, it was fixed to the ground.  “I guess I’ll come back for you later, after Ballistic’s left.”

…do you really think that’ll work? You know Taylor can signal Ballistic to come and help free her.

“Undo it, release me,” I said, pulling harder.

“No.  And stop struggling.  Unless you can tear that costume, you’re not going to pull free.  It’s bonded.”

To both the costume and the floor?

“You’re making a mistake,” I growled.  “I’m only trying to help.”

“And I’m doing my job.  I get that maybe your intentions are good, but I’m obligated to take you in, especially now that I’ve heard your confession of intent to seize the city.”

Dammit, Taylor. I told you to be careful when you said that.

“How many wrongs have been done by people who were ‘just following orders’?” I asked.

I directed Atlas in through an open window.  Every set of eyes was on Flechette and I, which made it easy for him to slip into the room.

…are you telling me.

That a six-and-a-half-foot beetle.

Flew in through the window.

And nobody noticed.

My bugs had identified tripwires Parian had set, and navigating Atlas around them wasn’t too hard.

I’ve got a lot of suspension of disbelief in me, but this is a bit much.


“Stop it!”  Parian cried.  For a second, I thought it had to do with Atlas, but her shout followed within a second of my question to Flechette.

Flechette looked like she’d been slapped.  I stopped Atlas where he was, poised a few feet behind Parian.  I folded his scythe-like claws down and out of the way.

A six-foot flying beetle is sneaking up on her.

I do love that Taylor makes even Atlas lower his weapons.

Anyway, I get the sense that Parian is sick of all the fighting and is going to do an excellent job mediating here.

“Skitter… if we let you go, do you promise not to attack or interfere under any circumstance?”

If I let you go, I will never know, what my life would be, holding you close to me… Oh, sorry, don’t mind me, just flashing back to my entire life and one of my favorite songs growing up.

“Parian?”  Flechette asked.  She sounded almost hurt.

Yeah, I can understand that. Her almost-girlfriend is pretty much saying she’ll hear the enemy out and consider joining them.

“It depends, are you going to go confront Ballistic?”

“Honestly?  Yes.  You said he’d keep coming until he took us out.”

It’s a bad idea.


I frowned, but they couldn’t see that behind my mask.  Ballistic was angry, he was dangerous, and there was little to nothing tying him to Coil’s service, outside of some vague sense of duty.

“Are you going to arrest him?” I asked.

“No,” Parian responded, at the same time Flechette said, “Yes.”

Parian’s just looking out for her “friend”.

“We could scare him off,” Parian said.  “Beat him up a little.”

“And he’d bring in the other Travelers and Undersiders to wipe us out,” Flechette said.

Not really his style. Or the other Undertravelers’.

Parian looked at me, “He wouldn’t, would he?”

I nodded, “He would.”

Not helping, Taylor.

But I suppose it’s true. He might not like it, but I suppose he would.

Parian sagged, dropping into a sitting position.  Flechette turned to look at her and froze.  “What the hell is that?”

Pfft. Took ya long enough.


She’d seen Atlas.

“I brought him in here as insurance,” I said.  “I was thinking about taking Parian hostage if you went ahead with my arrest, but she started being reasonable and I told him to back down.”

Nice.

“What is he?”

“Panacea made him for me, for fighting the Nine.  Just a big beetle with sharp claws.”

That’s what you were using to fly around, when we were fighting the Nine?”

I take it she didn’t get a good look at him back then, or just heard about Taylor flying from the records. She did know about Taylor taking Victoria out of the battle.

I nodded.

“Creepy.”

“Look,” I said, seeing a chance to regain control of the conversation.  “I’ll extend my offer a third time.  Join us, Parian.  We’re not as scary or as bad as we look at first glance.  You’ll see that if you check out my territory.  I’m not threatening you or extorting this out of you.  You can say no-”

There are two ways this can go: Either Flechette cuts her off, or Parian does. I’m going with Flechette with some protests with dwindling confidence.

“Because I have a weapon at your throat,” Flechette said.

Heh.

“Because it’s her call,” I said, my voice firm.  “Because I really do think she’ll be safer overall.”

“From those people who ‘aren’t as scary or bad at first glance’,” Flechette said.

Right.

“From all the other capes and unpowered individuals who would prey on her and her people.”

“I can’t,” Parian said.  “No.  I have to turn down your offer.”

Aw.


Skitter: “Well, fair enough. I guess it’s time for me to take my leave, then.”


I sighed.  Damn.  Damn, damn, damn.  “Can I ask why?”

“Flechette’s done too much to help me, to help us, for me to turn around and become her enemy.  Even if it’s for the greater good.

Hey, Flechette, why don’t you join us too?

Do the actual Bonesaw victims themselves have nothing to say here?

…can they even talk?

And maybe they won’t forgive me for it, but I can’t agree to short-term gains, to giving them some medical care and reconstructive surgery now, in exchange for becoming a criminal for the rest of my life.”

At least she acknowledges that she’s making that decision for them.

“What if this was temporary?”  Can’t reveal too much.  Can’t let them know Coil’s reign ends soon, if everything goes according to plan. 

That’d be risky, yeah. Too many of Coil’s eyes and ears within the PRT.

“I’d still carry the label, wouldn’t I?  Maybe I don’t agree with everything Flechette said, but I do agree that just calling myself a villain, even for a short time, it wouldn’t be something I could shake so easily.  We’ll find another way.  I can use my power to make money, I’ll heal them.  I’ll make up for failing to protect them.”

And this is a conclusion she’s come to while listening to Flechette and Skitter arguing about the labels and how Flechette refuses to believe Skitter in part because of them. I like how it all ties together into this, makes it make sense.


A woman with a cloth hood covering everything but one eye reached out and put a hand on Parian’s shoulder, squeezed.

Aww.

She felt the same kind of responsibility for her people that I did for mine.  The realization made me all the more disappointed that she’d said no.

You tried to recruit someone you’d be able to relate to.

Sounds familiar.

“Okay,” I said.  “Flechette, I’m going to reach behind my back.  I’m not drawing a weapon.”

What are you going for? Your phone?

“No,” she said, “Whatever deals Parian is making, they don’t change the fact that you’re under arrest.  I have to do my job, and with the Nine gone, your faction is a priority.  Especially with your suspected involvement in the incident with Glory Girl and Panacea.”

Might be time to mention that you don’t know what that incident was, Taylor.

I frowned.  I needed another option.  My armor was loaded down with bugs, and that included the compartment.  I could feel what I needed.  It was just a question of getting it free.

The narration’s being coy about what it is. Probably not the phone, then, and the pepper spray is a weapon if you ask me. Definitely counts as one for the purposes of this situation.

What else does she even have back there these days? I just reread what she originally had there a few hours ago, but it’s changed a lot since then, hasn’t it?

Epipens aren’t useful here. Neither is spare change, unless Taylor thinks she can bribe her way out with a small amount of cash. (Flechette might stab her just for implying it.) Anything else I can think of is a weapon.

Spiders drew silk around the object in question, then made their way across my shoulder and up the back of my arm, braiding the threads together as they went and hooking them against the edges of my armor to get traction in the right areas.  They reached my hand and encircled one finger.

“the object in question” see what I mean


I twitched that finger and tugged the thread.  Another, harder pull, and it came free.   My bugs muffled the sound of the object hitting ground.

Nice and sneaky.

So it’s something she can pull loose with a single finger, so probably not too heavy.

“What was that?” Flechette asked.

As a mass, they carried the object into plain view.  My cell phone.

Oh, alright, it was the phone after all. I guess the coyness was to hide that she was indeed thinking what I was thinking for a few more paragraphs. Making a phone call.

Hey, it’s her right, if she’s been arrested, is it not?

“You make the call, so you know I’m not trying something,” I said.

Alright, makes sense. The call to whom? Lisa?


Flechette frowned.  “There’s no reason.”

“There’s a great reason, but I don’t think you’ll believe me if we don’t do things my way.  Password to unlock the phone is seven-two-eight-one.”

There’s a part of me that’s inclined to look for meaning in the numbers here, but knowing Taylor, there’s another part that says I’d be looking in vain.

She picked up the phone and threw it over her shoulder at Parian.  Parian caught it.

“Me?”

I guess Flechette has decided Skitter’s right. It’s Parian’s choice. Not Skitter’s, but also not Flechette’s.

“I’m keeping my attention on Skitter.  Don’t forget to watch that beetle of hers while you’re making the call.”

Fair enough.

Parian nodded, too quickly.  “What was that number?”

“Seven-two-eight-one.”

“Okay.”

“Go to the contact list.”

“It’s all gibberish.  Symbols and numbers and stuff.”

Huh. Makes sense, I suppose, as a measure of security.

Hell, to really drive the security home, many of those numbers could be lines that, when called, essentially tell Coil that Skitter’s phone has been compromised.

“It’s a code.  First number that starts with heart-star-colon.”

You vaguely recall seeing somewhere the sequence of symbols, STAR – HEART – HORSESHOE. However, you can’t quite remember the symbols STAR – HEART – HORSESHOE. You will need the piece of paper with STAR – HEART – HORSESHOE written on it if you wish to remember the sequence STAR – HEART – HORSESHOE.


“Okay.  It’s ringing.  Should I put it on speaker phone?”

“No,” Flechette said.

You sure about that?

…I suppose that would allow Taylor to say something.

“Tell her you’re speaking on behalf of Skitter,” I said.

Parian nodded.  “Um.  Hi?  I’m speaking for Skitter.”

Is it Cranston?

“Tell her-”

“She just said, um, Emerald-S.”

Lisa. I don’t think Cranston knows their code.

So is this a yellow situation? Or red? I’m gonna say yellow.

Lemon-R?

“Tell her Celery-A.”

Right, not cape names. And celery is yellow.

…I can’t think of an S-A. Did they change it up, is Taylor intentionally making Parian fail this, or am I just being a dummy again?

“Celery-A.  Okay.”

“Upstairs, beneath the workbench, to the bottom-left of the painting, there’s a panel.  Tell her to remove it.”

Oh! It’s Sierra!

So what’s behind the panel?


Parian relayed the instructions.  There was a pause of no less than two minutes before she said,  “The girl on the other end says there’s a safe.”

“Six-one-one,” I paused to let Parian relay the numbers, “Two-zero-three… one-zero-zero… six-six-three.”

“It’s open.  She says there’s stacks of money?”

…what are you doing, Taylor? Is this a way to show that you can back up your claims of having the resources to help out?

Or is there something else in there?

“Tell her to gather two hundred thousand dollars from the safe, pick five people who need a break from work, C included.  Only C should know about it, I don’t want the others to get greedy.

Bail?

…cod dammit she did basically just pull spare change out of her compartment to bribe them, didn’t she. Just a bit more indirectly.

They can pack it into a truck, head north and meet you just before the ramp where Lord Street turns on to the ninety-five.”

“I don’t understand.”

Though I’m not sure Taylor sees it entirely as a bribe. More as a show of goodwill.


“Leave this city, Parian.  There’s nothing good left here anymore.  That money’s yours.  Use it to heal and help the friends and family you still have left.  Get out of here, use the money to get yourselves settled, get some therapy for everything you’ve been through, and go pursue that career in fashion you said you wanted.”

Nice.

Why?”

“There’s been too much ugliness here.  There’s bound to be more.  I… I guess I have the money, and you need it.  And I guess I feel complicit in what happened.  The Nine did what they did to Dolltown because we’d forced them into a corner.  Maybe they would have attacked anyways, they were headed your way.  I don’t know, but let me do this.  Let me… I don’t know.  Saying ‘clear my conscience’ sounds naive.”

“Help”?

“And to get this money, I have to leave this city?” Parian asked.  She looked stunned.

Not keen on that? Still want to hold on to Dolltown?

“Consider it a strong encouragement.  In the end, it’s your choice.  I’d appreciate it if you kept quiet about my role in your leaving, and about me giving you the money.  I think the Undersiders would understand, for the most part, but the Travelers might take issue with my interference.”

Right, Ballistic would really not appreciate you sneaking in and stealing this from him.

She didn’t have a reply.  I glanced at Flechette but I didn’t see anything in her expression.

What’cha think, Flechette? Do you still think she’s no good?


“My employee is still on the phone,” I reminded her.

“Oh.  Um.  What was I supposed to say, again?”

I repeated the message.

While Parian relayed it, Flechette commented, “That’s a lot of money to be giving away.”

They’ve got a lot of it. For now.

“I have more.”  I did.  The amount I was giving Parian amounted to a little less than a third of my current holdings.  The bank account Coil had assigned to me seemed to be growing in alternating stutters and huge bounds.  The benefit of having a bank account that was managed by a guy who called himself ‘the Number Man’, I supposed.

Oh hey, a reminder of that connection, for those who didn’t catch it in Legend’s Interlude and didn’t have several hundred people reading along to remind them of it. Nice. Does suggest it might be becoming important, though, which is a little ominous.

“Lucrative job you have there.”

I didn’t reply.  It was just enough money that it’d be just a little tight to manage in the immediate future, but I felt like it wouldn’t be meaningful if it didn’t inconvenience me somehow.

That’s fair.


“Okay,” Parian said.  “She said they’ll be waiting.”

“My territory is closer to the destination than you are.  You should leave sooner than later.”

She nodded.

Time to go?

“This isn’t some trick?” Flechette asked.  “Some trap you pre-arranged with those code words?”

She’d have to have some pretty good foresight.

“The code was just to inform her everything was fine.  No trap.  But I think you’ll want to accompany her and the others, just to make sure they arrive safely.  There’s still dangerous people on these streets.”

Would she tell me Parian could handle herself?

Probably not. She cares too much, even if she does think that.

Flechette turned to look at Parian, apparently considering the same thing.  “You play dirty, Skitter.”

“All things considered, I think I’ve been exceedingly fair.”

Yeah, I’m with Taylor on this one. :p


“I can’t guard her and keep an eye on you at the same time.”

“That was the idea.”

“I could nail you down to the ground.  Wouldn’t even be hard.  You’d have to tear your costume to shreds and run back to your territory in whatever you’re wearing underneath that.”

But you’re not gonna, are you.

“You could.”  I didn’t point out that if she did do that, I wouldn’t have a chance of tearing my costume.

“I still think you have a warped perspective on things.  I don’t think you’re right.”

“I told you where the armband is.  Slater street, women’s toilets, on top of the ceiling panel above the second of the three toilets.  If Dragon hasn’t tracked and removed it.”

I think this has caused just enough doubt that Flechette is going to go look for it afterwards.

“Right.”

“Good luck,” I told her.  “Whatever happens.”

“We’re on opposing sides, you know?  The next time we meet, we’ll be fighting.”

If you say so.

“Doesn’t mean I wish you badly.”

“Right.”

She didn’t free my armor from the floor, but she stood and joined Parian, who was already walking away.  I heard her murmuring, “…to New York City.  I’ll be finished here in two weeks…”

Oh hell yes. I was just about to talk about how Taylor was unwittingly separating lovebirds, but it looks like they’ve still got a chance.

Y’know, if Flechette doesn’t die or suffer some other horrible fate first. It’s the same deal as with Legend.


And then they were out of earshot.  There was the sound of Ballistic continuing his rampage, tearing Dolltown to the ground.

Maybe it was good if this place was leveled to the ground.  I wasn’t superstitious, I wasn’t religious, but with what the Nine had done here, even their relatively short visit to this area, it felt darker.  Wrong.  There was too much death and sadness that had occurred here.

A cursed location.

Was that true of the city as well?  Was it better just to raze it to the ground and start anew?

Not gonna lie… I can see why condemnation is on the table and I’m not sure they’re wrong to consider it.

This place is still liveable, but only barely.

I reached over slowly, wincing at the coarse sensation of metal dragging against bone and the red-hot pain of my own tearing flesh..  The movement in my shoulder had shifted the metal spike Flechette had embedded there, pulling sideways against the hole it had punched in my shoulder. I could see the blood welling out, running down into the fabric of my costume.

Oh, great. That’s a bit of an inconvenience.

Once I had my hand in position, I began unstrapping the armor panel from my wrist.

Free to stand, I used my knife and some kicks to get the armor free of the floor.  Rather than pull the spike free of the flooring as I might have with a nail, I wound up pulling out a roughly cone-shaped chunk of wood, the spike and everything it had contacted seeming to have bonded together.  I picked up the armor and tucked it under one arm.

Well, guess we’re carrying with us a piece of the floor, now.


This could have gone worse.  I might have to face some ramifications if the PRT took offense to my bringing up what had happened with Armsmaster, but somehow I felt like I couldn’t have let Flechette stay in the dark.

Again. Why did Flechette not know these things? I could understand her not believing them, but she should be aware of them, and the narration is implying that Taylor thinks otherwise.

I just wasn’t sure if that was for my sake or if it was for hers.  The money I’d handed away would hurt, too, but it felt necessary.

I think it was more for your sake. The common view on heroes and villains hurts you, personally offends you, so you do what you can to change it, even if only in one person.

I needed medical attention, and I felt like I had to check on my territory after I’d seen Parian’s.  I climbed onto Atlas.  His flight would be smoother and less jarring than walking.

Sounds like she’s going to her territory (in part) to get the medical attention. Shame, honestly. John Cleese is a fun character, even if he might be annoyed at her coming to him with such a relatively minor injury. Or maybe he’d be annoyed at her for not coming.

I heard another crash as Ballistic continued tearing through Dolltown.  I could have notified him that Parian was gone, but… no.

Nah, let him have his fun and discover that for himself.

Maybe this wanton destruction would give him a chance to vent and find release over whatever it was that was haunting him.

I’d have to get in touch with Trickster and Genesis to arrange our visit with the Mayor for tonight.  I’d have to deal with the threat on my life, whatever form it took.

Ah, yeah, that should be fun.

For me. Not so much for you.

I didn’t feel afraid.  Anxious?  Yes.  But not terrified, not quivering or panicking.  I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad.  Grue had lamented my lack of survival instincts, not so long ago.  Had recent events worn them down even further?

Hrm.

I don’t like that either.

I shook my head.  I’d have time for introspection later.  For now, I had to plan.

It’s time for a different kind of thinking.


End of Colony 15.6

In which Atlas rolls a natural 20 for Stealth and Taylor has a lot of spare change in her back compartment.

This was fairly good, if a bit recappy at some points. Possibly for good reason – I think we’re going to see Armsmaster again soon.

On a related note, there being a connection between Cauldron and Taylor’s bank account (even if the Number Man isn’t inclined to let Cauldron access it) might be relevant soon. Maybe Cauldron won’t take kindly to Coil’s fall for some reason?

In other news, we may finally have something that strains my suspension of disbelief harder than most of Taylor’s classmates doing non-mandatory weekend homework: Atlas being a stealthy boi. How the actual fuck did nobody notice him? Like, not seeing him is one thing, but he was flying. With wings. With big wings. Beetles may not be the noisiest of fliers, but there’s no way he doesn’t make quite a bit of sound and cause a bit of wind when he flies a few feet behind someone. Even if he landed after making it in through the window, they should be able to hear him.

Wild.

Anyway, next chapter… either we’re going with Taylor to get medical aid and check on her territory, or we’re skipping to the mayor mission. I’m hoping for the latter, even if it means we’ll likely not hear her plans in advance. That might be a good thing, too, as frustrating as it may be when speculating.

Or perhaps she’ll get back to the territory and find Armsmaster there. Nah, too on the nose.

I’m looking forward to it either way. See you then!

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