Colony 15.7: The Buzzer in “Operation”

Source material: Worm, Colony 15.7

Originally blogged: November 20-24, 2018


Howdy! Let’s go walk into a trap. Or check on Taylor’s territory. Or both.

I don’t really have anything to add to my predictions from the end of last chapter [here] (which boil down to the above), and I’m starting kind of late, so let’s just cut to the chase and start reading!


How the hell was I supposed to get medical assistance when the guy I was supposed to ask was looking for a covert way to murder me?

…good point.

And Amy’s not around anymore, so she can’t help you. I guess the other Undersiders’ first aid skills are your best bet.

Would John Cleese be too risky to go to considering he works with Coil to some extent? Note that I don’t think he works for Coil and I’m pretty sure he’d get huffy if you insinuated he did.

And I did need help.  I was bleeding, for one thing.  It had only started when I’d moved my arm to unstrap my armor.  If I’d known, I would have tried to undo the straps with my bugs.

Ouch.

Worse, the spike had penetrated the bone of my shoulder and any movement of my arm rewarded me with scraping sensations in my shoulder socket that made my skin crawl, not to mention the pain.

Ouch.

I was surprised it didn’t hurt more.  I hoped that wasn’t a bad sign.  My fingers moved without a problem, but the lack of pain could still point to bigger problems.  Pain was a natural response, after all, and the lack of pain was unnatural.

That’s true. Maybe Alec can check for neural damage?

That is, if there’s any truth to the old explanation that he manipulates nerves, from before we knew he can take full control. In retrospect, it occurs to me that if he could create nerve impulses, why not send signals through pain nerves, causing phantom pains for his opponents?


I called Tattletale instead.

“Skitter?” she answered.  “How did it go?”

“Could have gone worse.  I paid Parian off, and she’s leaving the city.  No blood shed, mostly.”

Y’know, apart from yours.

“Mostly?”

“Flechette was there.  I got stabbed.” I remembered that Coil could be listening in.  “I don’t want to bother Coil with it, busy as he is.”

Nice save.

“Being stabbed is serious.”

“It’s not too bad.  Can you lend me your medic?”

“You’re just leaving Dolltown now?”

Ooh, yes, let that guy do it, whatshisface… Brooks, that’s the one.

“Flying home.”

“He should be there before you arrive.  I know you two haven’t gotten along in the past, but he won’t trouble you.”

He won’t trouble me.  Was that her way of informing me that he was safe?  Well, I still felt better than I would be if I were putting my life in Coil’s hands.

Makes sense. Lisa wouldn’t send him if she thought it wasn’t safe, I think, unless she also thought Taylor’s situation was definitely life-threatening anyway.


My desire to convey the image of someone who was confident, fearless and untouchable had led to me getting impaled in the shoulder.  It was something of a weakness, but I still found myself doing it as I reached my own territory.

Interesting. This seems to be something of a wake-up call for Taylor when it comes to her putting on that facade.

I landed Atlas on the beach and made my way into the storm drain, wincing every time my arm moved.  By the time I was inside, however, I was pulling myself straighter, raising my chin and squaring my shoulders.  I tried to focus on my power to remove my attention from my body.

Not a bad idea, in theory.

Checking the status of the various cleanup projects, some basic reconstruction, setting up dry and clean sleeping areas, stocking up on food and medical supplies…

Sierra and her little one-handed brother Bryce were there as I stepped into my lair, along with a small cluster of older kids and Tattletale’s medic, Brooks.

Brooks and Bryce? Looks like we’re gathering the li’l shits in the room today. Brooks is a far more respectable li’l shit than Bryce, though.


I sat down on the stool by the kitchen counter and Brooks started examining my shoulder.

Not even gonna greet each other first? Well, at least he’s focused, I guess.

“You guys get the most interesting injuries,” he said, in his characteristic, hard-to-place accent that seemed to put hard emphasis on syllables.

Hm.

I don’t know enough about accents to get even close to understanding where this might suggest he’s from. This isn’t a Newfoundlander accent like Dragon’s, is it?

“Interesting?”

“Metal bonded to the bone.  You have some sticking through and into the cavity your socket sits in.  I have no idea how I’m going to get to the far end, cannot pull it out, and if I try sawing it off, I am not sure the shavings and flecks wouldn’t do catastrophic damage over the long run.  I would say you need surgery.”

Hmm.

Maybe Weld can help?

…yes, I know he’s on Flechette’s team. Yes, I know he has the same obligation to arrest Skitter as Flechette does.

“Damn it,” I said.  “She probably intended for something like that, and every hospital in the area’s going to be looking for someone with a spike in their shoulder.”

Damn.

“I could try to handle it, but it’s going to take time to get necessary tools.”

“What tools?”

“At the very minimum, a small rotary grinder, suction, some fine wire, blood…”

Maybe you could borrow some from Bonesaw, wherever she is now.


“We have those things.”

He looked surprised.

I looked to Sierra, “We did get that delivery of stuff for Dr. Tegeler?”

Doctor who now? …No reference intended.

No results for “Tegeler” on the blog. Either it’s a new character whose off-screen acquaintance is pretty convenient right now, or it’s blog search being unreliable again.

Wait, so if you’ve got a doctor in the territory who can use these things, why did you get Brooks over here instead? Trust? Or do you not believe Tegeler’s got what it takes?

“The dentist?  Yeah.  But it’s not unpacked.”

Ah. That would explain it.

I turned to Brooks, “We have rotary grinders that we’ve been using for the cleanup, not sure how clean they’d be.  But the rest of that stuff, we’ve been having it delivered, so the people with medical training can start helping out.  Since we already have an able-bodied dentist, we’ve been setting her up.  It’s kind of surprising how many people will start having issues with their teeth over just a month.”

Makes sense!


“Okay.  Let me pack this wound and then I will need to go there.  I’ll grab what I need myself.”

I waited while Brooks unpackaged and pressed bandages in place around the spike.

“How is the pain, on a scale of one to ten?”

tumblr_inline_piienybk9M1sxgvvn_1280.png

[xkcd comic]

Doctor: Any pain?
Cueball: My arm really hurts.

Doctor: How would you rate the pain, from one to ten, where ten is the worst pain you can imagine?

Cueball: The worst pain I can imagine?

(beat panels as Cueball considers and becomes horrified)

Cueball: One.
Doctor: …what the hell is wrong with his imagination?
Megan: It’s not a normal place.

I bet Taylor’s narration is about to comment on how uselessly abstract this system is.

“Ten high?  Maybe a three until I move it, then it’s more like a seven.”

“I am surprised you are not passed out already.  Do you have a high pain tolerance?”

Huh. I was very much expecting her to comment on that.

Is the use of “are not” instead of “haven’t”/”have not” just a bit of wonky writing or is it a subtle reinforcement of Brooks’ accent?

“I wouldn’t have thought so.  But maybe.  Or maybe the way it bonded kept it from damaging or exposing nerve endings?”

“Maybe.  Okay.  Ginger girl, show me the stuff?”

Ginger… y’know, Sierra was described as red-haired, but I may have taken it a bit too literally in my imagination. The scarlet red I’ve been imagining her with doesn’t still count as “ginger” in my book.


Ginger girl?”  Sierra asked, archly.

Brooks smirked.

“Brooks,” I said, “Treat my employees with respect or I’m going to have words with Tattletale about you.”

Am I missing something here? Because unless he does remember her name, I don’t think this is particularly more disrespectful than “you there, in the blue sweater”.

“Yes.  I am sorry,” he said, not sounding sorry at all.  “Please show me where I can find the dentist’s equipment.”

Sierra looked at me, and I gave her a nod as my ‘go ahead’.

The deadpan apology seems more disrespectful than the thing he’s supposed to be apologizing for.


That left me with the kids and Bryce.  I studied him.

Time to figure out why he’s in this chapter.

Is it simply a matter of getting an update on how things are going with him, or does he have a more significant purpose?

His black hair was cut so short he was nearly bald, and like Brooks he was wearing dark gray cargo pants and a beige sleeveless t-shirt.

So they’ve made him look like a little soldier. I’m sure he’s thrilled at the gesture of inclusion.

He’d put on some muscle since I’d seen him last.  His still-bandaged stump of a wrist tapped impatiently against his leg.

And the kids… they were wearing some of the clothes I’d had shipped in, but they didn’t look like the typical bunch of kids one would see around a schoolyard.  Before taking advantage of what I had to offer, they’d been eating the bare minimum, spending all of their time outdoors.

I suppose the outdoors is what was familiar to them, compared to the hive of this strange bug villain.

But diet and exercise weren’t entirely to blame for the lack of softness in their faces or expressions.  They’d seen people they loved die.

Which means they can now see thestrals and be angry and annoyed at the revelation that it’s been spooky ghost horses that were chewing on their shoelaces all along, thus wearing down their youthful love of equines and the softness it brought to their faces.


I wasn’t sure what to say.  Making small talk seemed like it would lower me to their level.

:/

I used my power to check on progress in the area instead.  I’d had a hand in getting recovery efforts underway and ordering both tools and supplies, so I was fairly in touch with what was going on.  The streets were draining or drained in the areas we’d settled, with sandbags holding back or diverting the flooding.

“drained”? Is that another made-up word, like “dry”?

Crews were filling more sandbags and loading them onto trucks at the beach.  Still others were working to clear the storm drains of blockages where they’d verified that both sides were clear of water and that the storm drains were intact.  The storm drain leading to my base had been classified unsafe for the time being, meaning I wouldn’t find strangers nosing around in there.

Nice.

Burned buildings were being torn down where there wasn’t any hope of salvaging them, and small crews of people with the necessary skills were working to assess what could be recovered, assigning simple tasks to people who didn’t have the training or know-how.  Massive tarps were going up over roofs and being tied down.

It’s nice to see that the fixing up of the territory is going so well.

How long will it last until the next disaster?

It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t fantastic, but it was something.  My bugs noted a hundred and seventy people at work, one-seventy-four if I included the kids here.

Damn, not bad!

One-eighty-four, I realized.  I’d nearly missed a crew that was working beneath the streets.  The numbers were growing.

It was a little intimidating.  I didn’t have any particular training or talents that really equipped me for a leadership position.  Now I was in charge of this many people.

Ahh, we’re back to this theme. Nice.

I’m gonna have to disagree with you, Taylor. You do have a couple talents that really help out here: Multitasking, organization and a knack for seeing what needs to be done.

You’ve used those talents to great effect here, and I’m sure you can use them to similarly great effect as leader of the Undersiders.


Well, I’d do what I could.  Supply what they needed, keep an eye on things.

“Your name?” I asked one of the oldest kids.

Viceroy Sir Bobert von Berenstæin the fifth.

“Guy.”

“Not your gender, your name.”
“Guy.”
“Your sister’s name?”
“Girl.”
“I’m not asking you whether she’s a girl.”
“That’s my aunt.”

(I’m just gonna go ahead and headcanon that Guy is just the Viceroy’s nickname… y’know I’m starting to think there may be some differences in how Wildbow and I name characters.)

“Sierra didn’t have anything for you to do?”

“We’re waiting until Char comes back,” he said, pronouncing it ‘shar’.

Oh, trust me, you don’t want to mess with Chara, they’ll… oh, wait, you mean Charlotte?

Just in case, stay away from buttercups, okay?

“She said she was going to put us in charge of some younger kids, then have us run water out to the people working.”

Nice.

“Good.  For now, you can run an errand for me.  Head out the door, turn right, go two blocks.  There’ll be an open manhole with a cordon around it.”

I briefly misread that as “condom” and I don’t think a manhole with a condom wrapped around it is a good sign that you should send kids down there.

I also don’t think there’s one of these wrapped around it:

tumblr_inline_piigvb2wvP1sxgvvn_1280.png

And I highly doubt she’s sending them to a manhole two blocks away in the French commune of Cordon:

tumblr_inline_piigxojRtb1sxgvvn_640.png

I also suspect there isn’t a mayoral sash, a bunch of cricket players, or a pruned plant around the manhole:

[Wiktionary]

Noun

cordon (plural cordons)

  1. (archaic) A ribbon normally worn diagonally across the chest as a decoration or insignia of rank etc.
  2. A line of people or things placed around an area to enclose or protect it.
  3. (cricket) The arc of fielders on the off side, behind the batsman – the slips and gully.
  4. (botany) A woody plant, such as a fruit tree, pruned and trained to grow as a single stem on a support.

Which leaves a line of things meant to enclose the manhole, like traffic cones. Makes sense.


“A what?”

“Tape and warning signs.  Ignore the warnings, just go to the manhole cover and shout down at them, tell them to get back to work.

Hah, all that on my end and then she ended up explaining what she meant immediately afterwards.

know they’re just sitting in the dark and drinking.  And tell them no power tools, now.  Not if they’ve got alcohol on their breath.”

Can’t just slack off with Skitter around to keep them in line.

“Okay.  If they don’t listen to me?”

“I’ll take care of that,” I told him.

He ran off.

Ominous. For them.

“Big bad supervillain, giving orders to little kids,” Bryce commented.

Ahh, here we go. Time for him to live up to his title as a li’l shit.


Alright, so it’s getting late, I’m about 45% of the way through the chapter judging by the scroll bar, this seems like a relatively natural break point, and I don’t really feel like I’ve got the patience for Bryce’s bullshit right at this moment. So that’s where I’ll stop for tonight.

I’ll try to get in a session tomorrow night, but failing that, Thursday morning should also be available. See you soon!

[End of session]


[Session 2]

Let’s see what the li’l shit has to say today!


Why did people insist on testing me?  Was it something about being in charge that demanded that they try to establish their dominance?

Rachel might have some thoughts on that. Not that she’d be likely to admit that Taylor’s in charge in the first place, I suppose.

Did people like Bryce have a natural propensity for bucking authority, with me as the only clear target?  Or was it more that they were angry in general?

That honestly sounds about right. The first (middle, if you include the previous blockquote) thing in particular.

Either way, what did that mean for this city in the long run, if anyone who tried to change things for the better was facing this sort of resistance.

Honestly? On this scale, it seems to be mostly just an annoyance. Scaled up to city level, it could be an issue, perhaps, but nothing Skitter doesn’t seem capable of dealing with.

“I’m giving orders to everyone.  Everyone contributes, everyone benefits.”

One of the good sides of communism.

(I know I might be invoking No True Scotsman here, but I genuinely don’t think the historical examples of the bad sides were actually communist anymore in anything but name. The Soviet Union’s communism, for instance, broke down as early as the 1920′s. But I suppose the propensity of communism to break down into totalitarianism/fascism so quickly is in itself a bad side of it, even if the actions of the totalitarian/fascist regime that rises from its ashes aren’t.)

“To be more specific, you’re having my sister give orders to everyone while you go out and get yourself injured in fights with other capes.”

This line would work a little better if Guy had been getting his orders from Sierra rather than Charlotte, but I think I prefer the way it stands. Charlotte consistently being the one in charge of and caring for the kids is a dynamic I like.


“Don’t you dare,” Sierra said, stalking back into the room.  She put down a plastic tote of medical supplies.

Oh boy. Has Sierra been confiding in Bryce and now he’s echoing it against her will?

She sounded angry.  And scared?  “Do not pick a fight with my boss.”

Ohh. She remembers what happened to Barker.

(I don’t recall whether or not she was there or if it was just Charlotte, but if not, she would’ve heard the story from Charlotte.)

“I’m just saying-”

“Don’t.  Don’t ‘just say’ anything.  If nothing else, she saved your life.”

“I wouldn’t have needed saving if she hadn’t been there,” Bryce said.  He gave me a look that was just short of a glare.

You wouldn’t have needed saving if you hadn’t deliberately run straight into a deadly battle royale because you were being a li’l shit.

“Don’t be an idiot,” Sierra said.  “You were with the Merchants.”

“And things were cool.  Party all day, relax, had a girlfriend.  If she’d left things alone, I’d be okay.”

“I’m surprised Tattletale didn’t mention it,” I said.  “The Slaughterhouse Nine eradicated the Merchants.  Barely one in twenty survived.  The ones that are left are scattered across the city.  If you’d stayed with them, you’d be dead.”

Fair point, if a little bit tangential.


“She did mention it.  But I would have made it.”

Of course you would. Sure.

Cocky.  “Then you’d be starving to death, dirty, probably sick.  Going through withdrawal, maybe.  Don’t know what you were taking with them.”

It wouldn’t be pretty.

He scowled, glancing at his sister.  “None of your business.”

“Hey!”  Sierra raised her voice.  She grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, and he slapped her hand away.  She stabbed a finger into his chest, “Treat her with respect, damn it!”

Some might argue that Sierra is being too aggressive here, but honestly, he deserves it. He needs it, even.

I wonder how Bryce would fare in the military with his attitude. It’s pretty obvious that, for all the time he’s spent with soldiers recently, he hasn’t been given the boot camp treatment.

(Neither have I, and for that I am thankful. Happy slightly-belated Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate that, by the way.)

Again, that note of fear.

“I treat people with respect if they deserve it.”

“She does.  She’s saved us, here.  That’s big.”

I wonder what it does take for Bryce to deem someone worthy of respect.


“Wouldn’t need saving if it wasn’t for the people with powers being around here in the first place.”

Ah, we’re getting into parahuman-vs-mundane territory?

He wasn’t wrong.  As validating as it was for Sierra to stick up for me, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt at the idea that these circumstances were because of capes.  Hell, if I hadn’t provoked the Nine by humiliating Mannequin then this district wouldn’t have come under fire by Burnscar.

Don’t forget that the Nine were after Rachel too, though Burnscar only took that here because she wanted to protect her teammate and Rachel happened to be there.

There was Dolltown too, and my complicity there.  I was personally at fault when it came to some of the damage that had been done across the city.

The guilt pile doesn’t stop from getting taller.

“You want a better reason?” she asked.  She stepped close and pulled him down to hiss words in his ear.

I wonder if she’s telling him about Barker. Ooh, or Yan & co.

She wasn’t being as quiet as she seemed to think she was, trying to hide her words from me and the kids.  “…they attacked me and Char… mauled them…  Mannequin…”

The first thing is definitely about Yan & co., but it looks like she’s telling him more.

I shifted positions, and Sierra must have seen it, because she lowered her voice to an inaudible hush as she finished.

Rattling off a list of the things she’d seen me do.  Reasons that gave her cause to be spooked if her brother was mouthing off to me.

Yeah. This is less about her genuinely thinking Skitter deserves respect and more about her not wanting Skitter to make an example of her brother.


When we’d met, Sierra had commented that I wasn’t what she’d expected from a supervillain.  Somewhere along the line, I’d painted a different picture.

Ouch.

I loved that exchange when it happened. I had hopes for Sierra to be someone Taylor could find herself confiding in, relating to, a mundane who could see Taylor, not just Skitter.

Charlotte ended up taking the last part to some extent, since she recognized Taylor, but she still seems to view her primarily as Skitter too.

She clearly had no trouble with me on a day-to-day basis, but she also knew that when I was pushed… well, I’d gone easy on the three ABB members that had attacked her and Charlotte, but that was only in a matter of speaking.  I’d still left them fleeing in mortal terror.

That was going easy?

I suppose in the sense that she didn’t physically hurt them much…

Bryce looked at me and I could see him give me a once-over glance, as if assessing me in a new light.

So does this instill respect, or fear? Both? Neither?

I honestly have a hard time even imagining Bryce respecting someone.

“Go help Brooks,” I told him.  “I’ll direct you to him with my swarm.”

It took him a second to weigh whether he wanted to or not, but he did turn and step out the front door, following the thin trail of bugs that I was gathering between him and the warehouse we were keeping supplies.

Congratulations, Sierra. You left him speechless! You win Skitter’s firstborn daughter and half the territory.


“Want me to go, too?” Sierra asked.

“Your choice.  Might be better to give him space.”

Translation: Let him think without you feeding him more horror stories.

“I keep having to do that.  When do we start being a family again?”

I’m not the person to answer that question.

Yeah, I think that falls on Bryce. And if he continues to be such a li’l shit, it might be a while.

“If you decide to leave him be, I could use a hand collecting some things so I can make effective use of my time.”

“Okay,” she said.  She seemed to pull herself together a bit.  “What do you need?”

“My laptop from my room, and the surveillance stuff from the cellar.  There’s another set of surveillance gear in the bag beneath the shelves.”

Surveillance? What do you have in mind? Do you intend to use this on the mayor mission, perhaps in a similar way as how you talked to the Protectorate that one time?

Sierra hurried off to gather the equipment.

The ensuing minutes were a little disorganized, as Bryce and Brooks both arrived with the last of the medical equipment.

Oh great, they’re back.

Let’s keep a narrative eye on Bryce’s behavior around Skitter.


“Blood type?”

“AB.”

“Oh good, it’s not that mutant blood type that used to be common in the Docks area, especially among the Asian population.”

He took one bag of blood out of the box and placed it on the counter.  “Want to do this in your room?”

“I have an armchair on the second floor I could sit in.”

“Need you reclining.”

“I have somewhere to be tonight,” I told him.  Though this would be something of an excuse to avoid the kill.  “Don’t put me under.”

Unfortunately, letting something like this stop her from fulfilling her mission duties would be uncharacteristic of Taylor and thus might tip Coil off, even if it would be pretty reasonable.

At best, he’d just have it postponed to tomorrow.

“This is going to hurt.”

I had another reason for not wanting to be put under.  I wanted to keep an eye on him.  My conversation with Tattletale had suggested he wasn’t a threat, but I’d feel a heck of a lot better if I could verify that for myself.

Reasonable.

“Do you have local anesthetic?” I asked.

“Yes.”  He tapped one finger on a tiny bottle.  Lidocaine.  I recognized the name.  “But will not prevent all pain.  I do not want to use too much.”

“We’ll try that, then.”

We headed up to the second level and I settled into my chair.  For additional lighting, I had my ‘switch beetle’ flick the concealed switch that was contained in his terrarium.  They lit up as I settled in.

I love these little tricks Taylor has. Why have a regular light switch when she can have a bug turn on the lights for her?

Well, so others can use it if they need to go into the room while she’s not there, like Sierra while looking for the safe, but how often is that going to happen?


Brooks hooked up the blood bag but left the tube hanging, unconnected.  Other supplies were arranged on the table he’d had Bryce bring up.  He seemed very particular about the order and what was being kept

Uh.

The paragraph cuts off like that. That doesn’t seem quite right.

“For a field medic you seem pretty well versed in this stuff.”

“Worked in many hospitals,” he replied.  “Many places.  Often with less than this.  Sometimes with more.”

Nice.

“Okay.”

“We will have to dislocate your shoulder to access the inside of shoulder socket.”

“Okay.”

“You will take muscle relaxant to minimize damage from dislocation.  You will need to exercise arm to prevent more dislocations.”

“Okay.”?

I haven’t really been commenting on it, but I have been noticing that the reinforcement of Brooks having an accent, in the form of slightly awkward sentences and grammar, has continued. Was this a thing back in Infestation too, that I just didn’t notice?

[Having recently reread Infestation for the migration, I don’t think it was.]

I didn’t like the sound of that, the possibility that it was actually poison, but the muscle relaxant came from the bottle, and they had the brand logo etched into them.  One potential danger averted.  No way he’d arranged it this quickly.

Fair enough.


“I can do that.”  I took the pills with a swig from the offered bottle of water.

Sierra arrived with the laptop and a large bag.  She handed me the laptop and then plugged it in beneath one of the lower shelves.  I balanced it on my armrest, turning sideways so I was sitting with my bad shoulder facing out front, my legs curled around me for as much stability as I could hope for.

Y’know, there’s multitasking and then there’s this.

Sierra began arranging towels and plastic cloth around the chair.

“This would be easier if you just lay down,” Bryce said.  I saw Sierra scowl at him.

He’s probably right, for once.

“It is fine,” Brooks said.  He lifted my arm and let it flop back down.  I tried not to react to the pain that elicited.  “Only one that suffers is her.”

Hah.

“Ever a charmer, Brooks,” I commented, but my attention was on the laptop.  I used the switch beetle to open all of the terrariums, and withdrew collections of spiders, dragonflies, large moths and roaches.

It’s like a little bug bank.

“I’d like to make a withdrawal, please.”

I wonder if Brooks is more okay with this than John Cleese was.

“They should not touch chair,” Brooks said.  “Or anything on table.  Must keep everything as sterile as we can.”

He is. I’m not surprised; this is much more in line with his characterization so far.


“I know,” I said.

I gathered the components from the bag, using my bugs to draw them out and airlift the miniature cameras, microphones and transmitters into the air.  One by one, I turned them on and used the laptop to connect to them.  I used my free hand to click through each camera in turn, making their feeds the focus of the main window.

So where are you going to send these? I mean, you’re kind of limited by your range. Are you trying to get a better look at how the repairs are going?

Using my bugs, I drew forms around each, vaguely humanoid.  It wasn’t as intuitive as I was forced to use my own eyes to assess the accuracy.  Still, I managed to rearrange each until they vaguely resembled me.  I marched them down the stairs.

It’s a small army of Skitters, nice.

One idea would be one of these showing up to meet Trickster and Genesis in her place, but that ruse would fall apart the moment they moved out of the territory. I highly doubt the mayor lives in Taylor’s territory.

“Outside end first,” Brooks said, starting up the rotary saw.

Not my favorite sound.  And the sensation of it sawing at the metal, it brought back even more unpleasant memories.  Being on my back, Bonesaw trying to cut a hole through my skull…

Before I saw the name “Bonesaw”, I was about to talk about unpleasant dentistry.

I shivered.

“Don’t move,” Brooks said.

I focused on my swarm-clones, staying totally still while he worked on removing the metal end of the dart.  They were largely composed of flying bugs, but I was bulking each of the forms out as more bugs arrived, giving them a more solid mass.  I used my free hand to pop my ear-buds in.

So now Taylor is “moving about” with, what, four to eight versions of herself that she can see and hear through. And speak through, too, with her little buzz-speech trick.

I felt bad about leaving my territory as often as I had been.  People were spooked, scared and insecure.  Having a leadership figure that was never around wasn’t helping matters.

So this is basically an attempt to show that you’re here? And over there. And in that spot. And–

This would, I hoped, establish a kind of presence that had been lacking.

Maybe even omnipresence?


Sierra had been coordinating everyone, trying to put people with experience in charge of people who were lacking it.  It was interesting, trying to hold multiple conversations at once with the various project leaders.  Difficult, too.  For one thing, my speech with my swarms was somewhat lacking, missing consonants, but I could still make myself more or less understood.  For another, my ears could only process one thing at a time.

You’re good at multitasking, but there’s only so much room for sounds in your ears.

I managed by talking with one or more swarm-clone while listening with one at a time.  After too many misfires and moments of confusion, I scaled down my efforts to a single conversation at once, simply standing silently by with my other selves.

Yeah, probably a good call.

I made a mental note to try to practice with that.  Exercising the range of my power hadn’t done anything for me, and there didn’t seem to be any upper limits to how many bugs I could control at once, but there had to be other ways I could train my abilities.  Multitasking was one I hadn’t tried yet.

Considering how much you rely on multitasking these days, I’d say you’ve already made unconscious progress there, and can probably make more through conscious effort.

Trying to interpret the senses of my bugs was another, though I feared it would take a more concerted effort to effect any sort of change.

The kind that might lead to sensory overload.


When Charlotte returned, I was in the middle of helping a foreman with the layout of a building, using spiders to draw out a loose web in the general shape of the planned shelter, lifting bits of wood to make the lines more visible from a distance.  I adjusted the threads as required to meet his needs.

Sweet.

Charlotte climbed out of a truck with five more of my people and made a beeline to my swarm-clone.  One hundred and ninety people working for me.

This little colony is getting pretty big, at least in population and relative prosperity.

Word was apparently getting out about this being a safe haven.

Excellent.

My conversation with her was delayed as Brooks enlisted Bryce in twisting and pulling on my arm while Brooks held my neck and torso.  Bryce drove his elbow against my shoulder while it was being twisted to its absolute limits, effectively knocking my arm out of its socket.

He probably did that on purpose.

I managed to avoid making any noise beyond a guttural grunt, then took a few seconds to try to avoid blacking out from the pain.

As heavily as I was breathing, back in my lair, my swarm-people didn’t show any sign.  I focused the whole of my attention on them, as if I could remove my consciousness from my real body.

Become one with the swarm… or rather, become like eight or so with the swarm.


“Any problems?”  I asked Charlotte, once I’d recovered enough to pay attention.  Glancing at my shoulder, I could see Brooks making an incision in the skin of my shoulder.  He’d managed to open the tear in my costume.  I hadn’t been paying attention to how.

Huh. Good job, man.

I deliberately looked away as Brooks tried to forge a path to the inside of my shoulder socket.

“Not sure,” Charlotte said.  “Have a look.”

It was Parian.  I’d been so focused on my shoulder, the three-dimensional web-blueprint and my swarm-selves that I hadn’t noticed her getting out of the truck.

Huh. Hi there.

Did you change your mind?

“You didn’t leave,” I said, when she’d joined Charlotte and my swarm-clone.

“I didn’t think the money would be real,” she responded.

So then why did you accept? To get Flechette off yours and Skitter’s case?

“Of course it was.”

“It’s… it was a lot of money.  Very generous.  But we were talking about it, and split between us, it’s not enough to give everyone all the care they need.  I told them to go ahead, that I didn’t need a share.”

“Sorry.  I was worried it wouldn’t be enough,” I said.  “Are you saying you want more money?  I might have to say no.  There’s a limit to what I can spare.”

Hrm. I don’t think that’s it, simply because it’d be an odd narrative decision to have her show up in this chapter just to add to the number and leave.

“No!  No.”  She hugged her arms to her body, looking around at the people who were working.  “Just… I thought maybe I should hear you out.”

Nice. She’s realized that perhaps Skitter isn’t so bad.

Poor Flechette if she ends up finding out that Parian is working with Skitter, though.


“Okay,” I responded.

“Except it’s not really you?”

Ooh, she can tell?

I mean, to be fair, it’s not gonna be that convincing. And Flechette might’ve told her about Skitter’s swarm-people.

My clone shook her head.

“Can I talk with the real you?”

“I’m in my lair, and I’m preoccupied.  You’ll understand if I don’t reveal the location, given who your friends are?”

Parian coming into the room and seeing Skitter using her laptop and (not so obviously) talking to four different people at once while enduring an operation…


“Yeah,” she said.  She was still looking around, watching as a group moved by, pushing wheelbarrows of burned wood.  “I… I was telling myself that there was no point to taking your offer, that I could use my power and make more money legitimately.  But that’s not true at all, is it?”

You’d have to do a lot of work to do that.

“Walk with me?” I asked.

She nodded.

I led the way through my territory with my clone as I talked.  “Crime does pay.  I made the offer to you because I thought it would be the best way to get your Dolltown residents the money they needed to get their old lives back.  Or get as close to their old lives as possible.”

I like how this isn’t even manipulation, like you’d expect from a villain. It’s just the plain truth.

“I kind of hate you,” she said.

“Why?”

Huh?

Parian wouldn’t know about Skitter’s involvement in the damage to Dolltown, so what’s this about?

It’s also interesting how matter-of-factly she states this.

Is it a form of envy, from seeing how much more successful Skitter is at making her territory work out?


“You’re making it out like I’m a bad person because I won’t betray Flechette and my own moral code to help them.”

Oh. I don’t think that’s quite what Taylor means, though she’s got strong feelings about the whole “hero” label.

“I don’t blame you for your decision.  I don’t think any less of you.”

“But you wouldn’t make the choice I’m making.”

Sounds like you’re saying you haven’t changed your mind just yet. You just thought Skitter deserved to be heard out, at least.

“No.  I didn’t.”

“And you’ve done more to help my people than I have.”

“You’ve protected them to the best of your ability through this city’s darkest hours.”

“You really think we’re past that?  The bad days?”

As a reader reading a narrative? Not a fucking chance. But from Taylor’s perspective, I could see thinking that it could only go up from here.

Though here’s an interesting thing: For all their horrible deeds, the Nine didn’t actually kill any named characters we really cared about, to my current knowledge. They killed Oni Lee, the Merchants and Trainwreck, but that’s pretty much it. On that front, Leviathan was much harsher.

(That’s assuming they didn’t kill Armsmaster off-screen, which I don’t think they did because it would make a lot of his continued presence in the story since Extermination feel pointless.)


“Yes.”

I winced as the grinding resumed, this time inside my shoulder socket.  A makeshift rigging inside the cavity caught the metal shavings, while Bryce held the tube to suction the metal shavings out.  So far, no assassination attempts.  Good.

That does tend to be a good thing.

“I don’t know what to do,” Parian admitted.  “This is… seeing it makes me wish I’d done something like it.”

“I’m not going to push you towards one choice or another.”

“I know.  You made that clear when you gave me the money with no strings attached.”

🙂

“Look,” I said.  “I know Flechette was saying my perspective is warped, but I think the system… you know, society, it’s like a series of rules and expectations that we established under some general expectations.  But recent events have made it pretty clear that those expectations, those assumptions, they might not apply.”

Taylor has previously stated that she no longer believes in natural law. Now she’s saying that social law is based on flawed assumptions. Yeah, she’s going deep into her chaotic alignment.


[End of session]


tumblr_pip9i4vRc51sxgvvn_1280.jpg

 

[screenshot of an unfinished Discord message]

Zombie Slide is a better “monsters dancing” song than Spooky Scary Sk

[keyboard suggestions for the last word]

Skitter | Ski | Skype

Spooky scary Skitter
Sends shivers down your spine
Shrieking bugs will shock your soul
Sting your eyes tonight

Spooky scary Skitter
Speaks with such a buzz
You’ll shake and shudder in surprise
When you hear these swarm clones fuss

We’re so sorry Skitter
You’re so misunderstood
You only want to socialize
But I don’t think we should

‘Cause spooky scary Skitter
Shouts startling shrilly screams
She’ll sneak from her hive and cocoon
And just won’t leave you be!

Spirits paranatural
Are shy, whats all the fuss
But bags of bugs seem so unsafe
It’s semi-serious!

Spooky scary Skitter
Is silly all the same
She’ll smile and scrabble slowly by
And drive you so insane!

Sticks and stones will break your bones
They seldom let you snooze
Spooky scary Skitter
Will wake you with a buzz!

(#it’s not even Halloween season anymore
#spooky scary skitter
#spooky scary skype will wake you with a beep)


[Session 3]

*fighting game announcer voice* “FINISH IT.


“Because of us?  Capes?”

“Yeah.  At the end of the day, barring some extreme examples like powerful dictators, there’s always the fact that any bad person who doesn’t have powers can be killed with a gun, a knife, or even a good punch in the right place.

It surprises me that Taylor agrees that capes are the reason such assumptions don’t necessarily apply. Did I misunderstand her? Did she not mean that they don’t necessarily apply because it’s not always human nature to play into those expectations?

That’s not the case with us parahumans.  The balance of power is pretty damned off-kilter.  Things aren’t fair.”

I see. That does make a lot of sense.

“Are you making that imbalance better or worse?”

“I’m… addressing the problem.  I’m saying there’s no point to trying to hold on to the old status quo when it’s based on a foundation that no longer exists.”

So you’re a revolutionary, is that what you’re saying?

This all seems to tie back to that moment we had recently where Taylor came dangerously close to expressing parahuman supremacist views in her narration. I think I see what she meant now: She thinks that parahumans are superior in power, and it’s not fair on the mundanes.

This, interestingly enough, makes Taylor a parahuman parallel to Piggot.

“So you’re going to take over the city.”

“Yes.  Because at least for right now, I can give these people what they need.”

At this point it kinda looks like Taylor plans to continue the takeover when Coil has been dealt with, essentially replacing his megalomaniacal takeover with a benevolent one. She’s still somewhat limited by her power’s range, but it’s not like she needs every part of her territory to be in range at all times.


I moved my clone’s ‘head’ and followed a group of kids who were running away from my lair, carrying six-packs of water bottles.

I briefly misread that as “I removed my clone’s ‘head’”. That’s a great way to further mentally scar the poor kids who might not realize that’s not actually Skitter.

“And later?”

“I don’t know.”

We walked in silence, past a bonfire where scrap wood was being burned.  Brooks and Bryce, meanwhile, set to shoving my arm back into its socket.  All of the ambient pain disappeared in an instant.

Shoulder: “AAAAAAAAAaaaa…ahh?”
Shoulder, to Brain: “…never mind, I’m fine now. All is where it should be.”

Parian needed the money, she needed the assurance that she could help the people she’d failed.  I understood that.

“I can offer you one last compromise,” I said.

I’m listening.

“What?”

“I can’t guarantee it’ll work, I can’t say if anyone else will accept the proposal, and I don’t know what’s going to happen long-term, but we don’t have to call you a member of our team.  We don’t have to call you a villain.”

I’m not sure it’s what you call her she cares about.

“But I’d take territory for myself anyways?”

“Yes.”

“Others would call me a villain, just because I wasn’t fighting you guys.  They’d know I was cooperating with you.”

Yeah, probably.

“Not necessarily.  Maybe the people in charge, the Protectorate and Wards, maybe they’d understand it, but the people on the ground level wouldn’t.”

“The media would out me.”

“I think we control the media.  Or enough to throw some doubt into the mix.  The rules are pretty simple.  You take territory, you hold it, and you ensure that there’s no crime or parahumans operating there without your consent.”

Pretty much what she was already doing before Ballistic came along.

does Coil control the media?

“And Flechette-”

“I don’t know her.  I can’t say how she’ll react, but maybe if you explain nicely, maybe if you frame it right, you could convince her it’s for the greater good.  So long as she convinced the other heroes to leave your territory alone, let you enforce the law there all by yourself, you wouldn’t have to fight them.”

Hm. Might work. Lots of moving pieces, though.


“And if she didn’t-”

“That’s up to her.  Or you.”

She stared around my territory.  It wasn’t pretty, there was still devastation everywhere, but things were getting better.  It was maybe the only place in the city where things were improving as fast as they were.  We weren’t taking two steps forward and one step back.  It was all forward momentum.  Not even a week had passed, admittedly, but it was progress.  And it was apparent.

😀

You’re doing good work, Taylor.

“I don’t think I could accept if Flechette doesn’t agree.”

Go discuss it with your girlfriend then, and come back to Skitter with a reply?

“Okay.”  The alternative was unspoken.  If she does…

“I hate you,” Parian said, and it was answer enough.

Hehe.

That would’ve been a good ending line (though one that doesn’t set up the next chapter), but it looks like there’s still a little bit more.


Brooks was finishing stitching up the incision in my shoulder.  I already had two pieces of scrap spider silk at the ready – one to cover the hole in my costume and another to serve as a sling until my shoulder was stronger.

Sweet!

If I adjusted my cape, I could cover the arm so the injury wasn’t too obvious.  I stood from the chair and stretched, then reached for my cell phone.

“I can live with that,” I told her, speaking through my swarm-clone.  I clicked through my contact list and called the man who was plotting to kill me.

Yeah, he kinda needs to know what Taylor’s been up to here.


End of Colony 15.7

This was nice.

I’m generally not a huge fan of the medical attention scenes in Worm, but all the other things going on in this chapter made it worthwhile.

I like Brooks. He can be a li’l shit from time to time, but he keeps it serious when it comes to his medical work, and I respect that. And even in his less serious moments, he’s still a lot more bearable than Bryce.

Speaking of the true li’l shit in the room, I very much enjoyed the scene of Sierra worrying about Skitter lashing out against him. It’s always nice to get a look at how others view Skitter, and in this case, we get to see Taylor herself get reminded of how scary she’s become even to the one who once said she was surprisingly human.

At the same time we also got Taylor realizing just how many lives she’s at the center of right now, how many people are working under her to make the territory a better place. Nice touch.

And then there’s Parian coming around to hear Skitter out.

Wait a minute…

“I know.  You made that clear when you gave me the money with no strings attached.”

…says the girl with power over strings. This is like Taylor saying something is bugging her. :p

Anyway, Parian’s visit helped provide a little more insight into Taylor’s perspective on parahumans vs. mundanes and the social structure of the post-Scion world. And I’m down with letting her run Dolltown as her territory, secretly cooperating with the Undertravelers. Let’s hope Coil is too.

I suppose next chapter it’s time for the mayor mission, unless talking to Coil about Parian somehow results in a full chapter’s worth of events. See you then!


[postscript]

Oh, one last thing: Mentioning “post-Scion” got me thinking about Scion’s death, since that was a possible misinterpretation of what I was saying. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that he’s going to be very visibly killed by the final threat early on, illustrating its power and bringing down morale in one fell swoop.

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