Colony 15.10: On the Run

Source material: Worm, Colony 15.10

Originally blogged: March 17, 2019


Oh, why not…

I liveblogged the previous chapter in under three hours (I don’t know why, but I have a few hypotheses, and if we’re lucky it’ll be the one that makes me faster in general rather than just today), I’ve got plenty of time left in the day, and I’m hungry for more, so let’s just dive right into the next one!

Alright, no Interlude this time.

My predictions haven’t changed in the last fifty or so minutes, so Pastwell, take it away:

Next up, if not Interlude 15d, is most likely Taylor getting Trickster out of there, possibly with Genesis’ help. Maybe she’ll find out what Coil meant to happen to her here. It’s also possible the reinforcements will show up and make things difficult, but it seems they’ve got a bit of time.

If we’re skipping the egress, well… maybe we’ll have more shenanigans with Victor, trying to put his stolen talents to use against Coil?

Let’s see what Colony 15.10 has to offer!


I passed the invisible boundary between the neatly manicured lawn of the mayor’s expansive backyard to the tall grass at the glade’s edge.

Alright, so we’re seeing a bit of the egress. Nice.

My hands were shaking and my breathing was heavy.  I hadn’t done anything more strenuous in the past few minutes than talking to the mayor and walking at a good pace, but my body was reacting like I’d just sprinted halfway across the mayor’s property.

You did just act. Like an actor on a stage, you sold the image of a terrifying and cruel villain.

I put a hand on a tree as I walked, as if it could steady me and keep me from falling.  I wasn’t in any danger of falling that I was aware of, but it was reassuring nonetheless.

And it sickens her.

Damn him.  How big was his property?  And he could still afford to hire someone to cut his grass?  Eat a nice dinner on a huge wooden table, complete with courses?  Blithely ignoring what was going on in the rest of the city with his superhero son and superheroine date?

Hmm. Latching on to whatever she can to convince herself the mayor deserved what he got?

No, try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to get angry.  Couldn’t blame him for what I’d done.

This is a thing I like about Taylor.

She’s very prone to rationalizations, shifting blame, and so on, but she’s self-aware about those flaws. She can, from time to time, tell when she’s doing it, and why she’s doing it.

Yet she’s not so self-aware that it becomes an issue of “well if you know this is a thing you do, why aren’t you trying harder to fix it”.

I’d deliberately let someone come within seconds of dying, and he hadn’t been a monster, like Lung or the Slaughterhouse Nine.  He hadn’t even necessarily been a bad person.  If I’d waited just ten or twenty seconds longer, he might have stopped breathing.  CPR would be that much more difficult with a closed airway, and he could have died or suffered brain damage while they attempted to revive him.

Yeeeah, you took that really close to the edge.

Of course, my first aid knowledge wasn’t all that recent or complete.

I let go of the tree, adjusted my sling and moved on.  Drawing my cell phone from the armor at my back, I made a call.  “Cranston?”

“What can I do for you, Skitter?”

Howdy!

Asking for a pickup, mission complete, or?

My voice sounded too calm for how my body seemed to be reacting.  “Need an ambulance to the mayor’s residence, backyard.  There’s a young man having breathing difficulties.  Can you use untraceable channels to get in touch with emergency services?”

Ahh, right. The paramedics she mentioned last chapter.

“I’ll do that.  Anything else?”

“Tell Coil the job’s done.”

“The second this phone call is over.”

I hung up.

“I lived, bitch.”

Triumph’s family would probably do that anyways, but it made me feel a little better.

I couldn’t afford to dwell.  I headed for Genesis, stalling her movements by signaling her with my bugs.  I wrote out a message: ‘Job done.  Trickster hurt.  Need help taking him to Coil.’

I wonder if Genesis came back with a form suitable for that?

I directed her to me with my bugs, drawing arrows in the air.  A minute or two passed before she caught up.

Genesis had decided on a form that was an overlarge woman’s face carved out of bone, surrounded by long, thin, branching tentacles.

…odd choice but okay.

She would have come up with that as a counter for Triumph and either Prism or Ursa Aurora; something that could take a heavy hit, either from a bear made of forcefields or Triumph’s shouts and punches.  It would also be pretty effective against Prism for the same reasons I was: Multitasking and the ability to handle multiple foes at once.

Right, I suppose the tentacles would be really good for that.

“Where’s Trickster?” she asked.

I brought him down from above the treeline, unconscious and strapped to Atlas’ back.  “I can’t carry him all the way back.  It’s too far, and it’ll be too slow.  Atlas is leashed to me by my maximum range.”

Sounds like Taylor doesn’t intend to head back to Coil’s place herself. Going back to the territory instead?

And as long as I’m on foot, I’m vulnerable to any attacks from Coil or Prism’s reinforcements.

Ah, right, wanting to get up in the air makes sense. That would heavily limit which capes could reach her, especially now that Legend’s left.

“You want me to carry you?”

I shook my head.  “I want you to carry him.  Flying Atlas is hard enough as it is without an uneven weight on top of him, and if Trickster wakes up and starts moving, he’s going to fall.”

“Fine.  Damn it.  Making a new body’s slow when I’m this far from myself.”

“when I’m this far from myself” is another fun phrase you don’t really hear much in real life. 😛

“Can you make it at the far end of this glade?  I can jog there by the time you’re done, and I’ll bring Trickster.”

She didn’t respond.  Instead, she began breaking down into a gelatinous, blurry mess.  Her power was like mine, I supposed.  It took time to prepare.  I had to get my bugs to the battlefield, she had to put herself together.

Yeah, in that fashion you’re a bit alike.

I checked Trickster was securely in place, adjusted my sling so my arm wouldn’t bounce too much and then hurried for the meeting place.  Atlas followed, flying just above the treeline.

It was times like this that I felt less normal, less human.  It was dark, the foliage overhead dense, branches blocked my way and the ground was riddled with roots, stones and uneven footing.  It barely mattered.  My bugs flowed ahead of me to check surfaces, clinging to branches and carpeting the ground.

The enhanced spatial awareness Taylor has through the bugs is really handy.

I passed through the trees as though I’d spent my life among them, memorizing where everything was.  I extended my foot just a bit further to accommodate the slope ahead of me, ducked a branch with wickedly pointed tips and found a handhold on another branch to help myself hop over a spot where water had pooled.

“wickedly pointed tips”, hehe

But yeah, this is really cool.

I liked running.  For months, I’d used running as a way to forget about whatever was plaguing me.  Before, it had been the bullying.  Then it had been the pressures of dealing with the Undersiders, my undercover ruse.  Separating from my dad.  Dinah.  The fallout from the Endbringer attack.  Coil.

Escapism that helpfully doubled as training for what was originally even greater escapism.

The times I hadn’t run, I’d felt like I was losing my mind.  Did correlation equal causation, there?  Or was it just that the moments I was unable to run were the same moments I was under the most stress?

Hmm.

I do like the idea that it helps clear her head.

 When the Slaughterhouse Nine had been in town, when I’d been living in the shelters after Leviathan hit the city, before I rejoined the Undersiders?

Hm. Taylor is considering one of the periods we skipped as one of the times she’d been under the most stress.

Fair enough, I suppose, but I kinda wish we’d seen some of that, then.

Either way, it was good to break free of my thoughts on Triumph and what I’d done to him. I could focus on breathing, on putting each foot exactly where it needed to be, keeping my balance and letting my subconscious guide me through the woods.

Sounds very relaxing.

I felt vaguely disappointed when I reached the point where the small forest ended and the roads began.  One of the busiest streets in Brockton Bay was desolate, a lone car cutting a path through the shallow water as it headed away from the city.  I stayed in the shadow of the trees until it was well out of sight.  I didn’t want to do this, didn’t want to step back into the city and face everything that waited for me there.

Bugs do tend to like the forest…

The threats on my life from an employer who divided and pruned realities was only a small part of that.

I feel it’s worth noting that Taylor doesn’t even know that the Barneses are back in town, on top of everything else. Not that she’s likely to run into them right now, but still.

Then again, I don’t think she knew they left in the first place.

I would have left, if I could afford to.  If Dinah and my people could afford for me to.

My bugs found Genesis, and even with the indirect route I’d taken, I reached her before she was fully formed.

It seems Taylor has, to some extent, given up on the city, but not on its people.

She looked like a bison with wings, but her back had a bowl-shaped depression, and she had stubby little legs and antennae.

A pegabison, nice.

Since she didn’t have the means, I was left to try to ease Trickster into the basin.  I could see why she did it, cradling him and ensuring he couldn’t fall, but it was still dangerous and tricky to move him with just the one arm.  I wondered if she’d seen the sling.

Yeah, that doesn’t sound easy, sheesh.

We took off, and Atlas proved faster than she was.  She had to ride the air currents and she was heavier overall.  I scouted forward some in case we crossed paths with Legend or any other heroes.

It’s kinda interesting how we have these reminders of how much we know that Taylor doesn’t. She doesn’t know that Battery’s dead, she doesn’t know that Legend’s left, she doesn’t know much of anything about Cauldron beyond that they sell powers…

I paused on one rooftop while I waited for her to catch up again.  I drew my cell phone and called Tattletale this time.

First ring!

Hopefully. Who knows, maybe this is leading to a new conflict that has Tattletale incapacitated.

“Skitter?” She answered on the first ring.

But no, first ring. 🙂

“Job’s done.  Already told Coil.  Triumph was there, along with Prism.  They hurt Trickster, took Genesis out of action.  I stopped them and finished the job, got the mayor to agree to the terms we wanted.”

She really wiped the board singlehandedly back there.

“Are you still there?  At the mayor’s place?”

“No.  Just left.”

There was a pause.

Something occur to you about Coil’s trap, Tattle?

“That doesn’t make sense,” she told me.

What? That nothing happened with Coil’s trap? That the whole thing went so smoothly?

That Triumph and Prism were there?

“What doesn’t?”

“We’re clear to talk, no bugs, I’m ninety-nine percent sure.  So listen, if Coil wanted to assassinate you, that’d be his chance.  Once you leave the mayor’s property, that’s it.  He doesn’t know where you’re going.”

Yeah… so why didn’t he?

“Trickster got hurt,” I told her.  “Maybe he was supposed to do it?”

“Maybe,” she admitted, “But that still feels wrong.  Why wouldn’t Coil have a backup plan?”

Also, for all of this to be canon, he needs to fail in the other world too, or deem the success of the mission more important than succeeding at taking out Skitter.

“Or maybe Dinah’s power is working, and he’s got some bigger plan in mind?”

“I’m at his base right now.  It doesn’t fit with his movements.  He’s not really visiting her.”

You’re sure there’s no surveillance microphones, right? I mean, what she said can be interpreted as just their phones not being bugged – has she checked the room she’s in too?

I shivered.  Visiting her, dosing her with drugs, interrogating her for answers about his grand plan… I hated the images that popped into my mind when I thought about Dinah in captivity.

Me too, Taylor. Me too.

“Listen,” she said, “I’m going to try to find out more.  I’ll call you back.”

“I don’t like that you’re there without backup.  You said he might want to get rid of you too.”

“I’ll know if he does.”

Try not to rely too much on your power. It’s blinded you before.

“Like you knew he’d try to kill me?”

Another pause.

“I’ll call you later,” she said.

The line went dead.

Please do.

Maybe someone showed up where she was in the base and she had to go?

I reluctantly put my phone away.  I had a hollow feeling in the center of my chest.  A huge part of me wanted to call Grue, but I couldn’t convince myself that it was really what I was aching for.  I might have anyways, but I wasn’t sure what I would have said.  Would I have asked for a hug, another cuddle?  For advice, tactical suggestions?  For reassurances?

A good old phone hug sounds nice.

I wouldn’t have said the thought had ever explicitly crossed my mind, but somehow I’d always assumed that I’d know what to do when I got into a relationship.  I didn’t want this thing to be designated the nice memory that we avoided mentioning until things had returned to the old status quo.

…I know the feeling.

But I wasn’t sure he was the person I wanted to reach out to.  The people in my territory?  Was I seeking some validation there, some cheers, smiles, hugs and other assurances that I was really on the right track, doing the right things?

You know what, I think I know who you need.

You need Danny.

Please.

I couldn’t be sure.

I met with Genesis in the air, flying just beneath her so our heads were as close to one another as possible.  “Is he okay?”

“He was awake a second, then went under again,” she said, “Might be a good thing.  He’s hurting.”

Unconsciousness (not to be confused with sleep) for extended periods isn’t healthy, so him waking up is a good sign. Going back to being unconscious less so.

“Probably.  Why?  Why did he pick a fight like that?”

“It’s how he operates.  I’m not saying this is usual, or that this wasn’t an extreme case, but… it’s always how he dealt with things, big or small.  The worse things get, the more stubborn and cocky he gets in going up against them.

Trickster’s Karkatness levels are beginning to resemble Armsmaster’s Vriskaness levels.

It worked when we were just messing around together, just playing around.  But we were never suited to be… I dunno, a family?”

Yeah, you’re way too dysfunctional for that.

Tell me more about this messing around?

“A family?”

“We’ve spent two years together, with just each other.  I don’t know what you could call us, if not that.”

Timeframe!

So in Hive and Prey, we got some insight into Sundancer’s view of life in the Travelers. Then we had 15.5 with insight into Ballistic’s perspective, and now it’s Genesis’ turn. Nice.

“Why don’t you quit?  Split up?  Is it Noelle?”

“She’s only half of it,” Genesis said.  She didn’t volunteer anything more.

Would you say the other half is the Promise? Or perhaps Cauldron?

We flew in silence for a few long seconds.

“Don’t blame him, okay?  He has his way of handling stuff, but those methods don’t scale up so well when we’re dealing with stuff this screwed up.”

tumblr_inline_pi59o8jJOn1sxgvvn_400.png

I definitely placed Genesis wrong on the Trickster alignment chart. It seems she belongs in the bottom right corner: Respects Trickster, doesn’t hate him.

“Things are getting better.  The Nine are gone, we’re cleaning up the city, our enemies are getting driven out of Brockton Bay.”

“Better for you, maybe, but those are your priorities.”

Fair point. Then what are yours? Fixing Noelle’s situation and?

I didn’t respond, wasn’t sure how to.

“Just… don’t blame him.  I’m sorry things got so bad tonight.”

“Okay,” I said.  I hadn’t meant to get caught up in a conversation.  I saw a chance to say what I wanted to, “Are you good with going to Coil’s on your own?”

Alright, so I was right about Taylor wanting to head off somewhere else…

She looked surprised.

It was too dangerous to meet with Coil right now.  I wasn’t thinking straight, and I wasn’t willing to walk into the lion’s den.  Another day, under different circumstances, with backup?  Maybe.  But not now.

Makes sense.

“I’m going to head back to my territory,” I lied.

“Yeah.  Sure.”

Ooh, ooh! Where else is she going to go?

please say home please say home please say home

“Okay.  Good luck?  Coil can call me if he needs anything.”

“Alright.”

I veered off to head north, leaving Genesis to continue in the direction of Coil’s headquarters.

As Tattletale had suggested, the window of opportunity had passed.  If I returned to my territory, would I be walking into a trap?  The same could be true if I went to any familiar place.

Fuck. Coil knows about Danny, which makes his house a “familiar place” that counts for this.

Coil had enough soldiers to have one lying in wait in any given area.

On the other hand, if I broke pattern and stayed somewhere off his radar, I’d be letting him know I was suspicious.  That might be all he needed to decide to step up his plans and go all-out.

Hm, true.

I came to a decision, all my disparate thoughts and concerns snapping together into one simple, inelegant solution.

How do you third-option this dilemma?

Too dangerous to go to my territory.  I set Atlas down on top of the tallest building in the area, climbed off and sent my bugs into my territory instead.  They flowed into my lair as a mass.  I left some in the appropriate terrariums to restock my supply of some of the rarer spiders and larger beetles.  The rest passed through the upper floors of my lair and retrieved the necessities.  They returned, surrounding Atlas as a cloud.

Ahh, by way of illusion. She makes it look like she’s going to her territory.

Once Atlas had landed beside me, I began getting everything in order.

Wait, no, I misread. She made it look like she went to her territory to fetch something and then left again.

Atlas held my rain boots in his front claws and carried my backpack and some of the clothes I’d had him pack on his back.  Using my hand, I swatted other items through the backpack’s opening as my bugs brought them into position – underwear, socks, wallet.

Are you going undercover as your civilian self? Except surely Coil knows your face.

I ran one hand over Atlas’ rough exterior.  “What am I going to do with you?”

Atlas didn’t have the instincts to operate on his own.  He was an entirely unique creation, designed from scratch with no real blueprint or model for behavior.  He couldn’t move, couldn’t eat and couldn’t defend himself if I wasn’t in range to control him.

That could be an issue if you want to park him for a while.

I’d have to figure something out.  Some place I could stick him so I could keep him close.

I picked out what I wanted to wear, checked there wasn’t anyone nearby and changed on the rooftop.  I had to take off the sling to free my arm, which maybe wasn’t the best idea, but I was gentle with my shoulder as I worked my way into a tank top.

Hmm.

She’s definitely going into some form of hiding, here. But for how long? Just for tonight, returning to the territory tomorrow? And how does this not fall under breaking pattern as soon as Coil learns she’s not actually in her territory?

When I was changed, I fixed my sling, I packed my stuff in my bag and bound my costume loosely in silk to keep it compact and tied that package loosely to Atlas’ back.  I wouldn’t be going anywhere without him, and wherever I was, he could probably bring my costume to me faster than I could access whatever hiding place I’d chosen.

If she’s supposed to be undercover, I guess he’ll have to stay in the periphery?

I double-checked there wasn’t anyone watching, stepped up onto Atlas’ back and stayed standing as he lowered us to the street.  I skipped down with a bit of a splash, slung the backpack over my good shoulder and started walking.

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,
Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me? 🎵

Now that she’s out in civilian garb, running into Emma or Dragon is actually a decent possibility. Kinda unlikely to happen immediately, though.

Things were getting better.  The flooding was more under control, and less streets were sitting beneath inches of water.  The work my people had done in our district had helped, here.  We were downhill, and the efforts in clearing out the storm drains and dismantling the trash and rubble that was trapping water in certain areas had freed the water to flow down towards the beaches.

Nice work!

Still, that wasn’t saying a whole lot.  There were too many areas where it was dangerous to walk without proper boots, due to the glass and the wooden boards with nails in them. Piles of trash sat everywhere, with nobody to clear them away.

Right, that’s still an issue.

When people had run out of plastic bags, they began throwing the trash in cardboard boxes or plastic totes.  When those had proved too short in supply, they’d started throwing debris and litter wherever they pleased; out windows and into alleyways.  I could see rats in the spaces between some houses, not even shy about being out in plain view while I walked by with my oversized rain boots.

This city is a bit of a dump.

Plant life was alternately dying and flourishing, with trees and lawns drowned and algae and moss blooming.  Weeds were cautiously emerging wherever there was ground to take root.

Life finds a way. If the climate changes so one type of life can’t survive there, another can take its place.

It was funny how nature reclaimed this world in its own way.  It was silly to say humans were destroying the environment; we were simply changing it.  Nature would persevere until the world was a barren wasteland.

Looks like Taylor and I are on the same wavelength about that observation.

Whatever apocalypse Jack was supposed to set in motion, I suspected Jack was right in what he’d said to Bonesaw.  Something would undoubtedly survive, and this sort of thing would likely happen across the world, starting in the cracks, spreading out, only to overwhelm and bury the ruins of civilization.

This chapter so far is rather… relaxing. We’re seeing Taylor take a break(!) and observe her surroundings, finding comfort and hope in the small things, like running, or nature. It reminds me of Interlude 15b, where we got to see her take comfort in her bugs, in sensing those small critters going on with their business, living their lives, being small parts of a greater whole.

Here, Taylor seems to take comfort in the idea that even if humanity ends, something valuable will still remain, something living will still be around to keep going, to create new beauty in the world.

It’s a nice thought.

A weird direction for my train of thought, but this was one circumstance where I didn’t want to think too much on things beforehand.

That’s very fair.

I stopped, not out of hesitation, but nostalgia.  The wooden staircase in front of me had rotted out on the bottom-most step.

Oh boy, here we go. Did Danny come home from the hospital yet? It’s been a while since the Shattering, and I don’t think his injuries were that bad.

Not recent, not a fault of Leviathan or the city’s conditions.  Older.  I skipped past it and headed up to the front door and rang the bell.

Once in a while, wishful thinking can actually come true.

Thank you, Wildbow.

Thank you.

My heart pounded.  I tried not to think about anything particular.  Didn’t want to chicken out.

The door opened, and I found myself face to face with my dad.

YESSS

It took all the courage I had not to turn around and run.  I was such a coward.  I’d been like this with school; I’d stopped going to classes for reasons that were more or less reasonable in the moments I’d made the decision, and somewhere along the line, I’d continued to avoid school because I didn’t have the courage to own up to my previous absences.

I’m reminded of NeoPets again.

Only this wasn’t school.  It was my dad.  He still had marks all over his body where the glass had cut him, dried scabs in lines and circles all over his face and arms.  He had one large bandage on his shoulder.  Shouldn’t he have healed by now?

Maybe a piece that got especially deep in?

Or maybe you’re too used to healers.

Or had it been that bad?

“It’s good to see you,” he said.  His forehead was creased in concern.  “You’re hurt.”

It’s good to see you too, pal.

I looked down at the sling.  “It’s not major.”

“Is it why you-” he said, stopping himself as if he didn’t want to jinx things and scare me off with a poor choice of words.

Why she came here? Nah.

Why she’s been staying away? Nah.

“No,” I said.  I found myself searching for an explanation, opening my mouth to respond and then closing it when that explanation didn’t readily come.

He’s my boy, I could imagine the mayor’s voice, the pain and raw emotion I’d heard.  I only ever wanted what was best for him.

Ouch.

Well fucking played, Wildbow. That’s how this connects, besides Taylor wanting a very specific kind of comfort.

What she did to the mayor gave her a burst of perspective, a look into a father’s love and worry for his child without the lens that clouds her perspective on the same thing from Danny. She saw the mayor and subconsciously recognized Danny in him.

Everything about these two hurts in the best of ways.

I just had to look my dad in the eyes, and I could see that same expression in my dad’s eyes.

“No,” I said, again.  “I just saw someone nearly lose her daughter.  It made me think of you and mom.”  I’d changed the genders on the spur of the moment to be safe.

And always with the slight lies…

As if I’d prodded a wound, I could feel that deep-seated ache from earlier come alive.  I wanted to look away, but I forced myself to meet my dad’s eyes.

“Do you,” he said, pausing, “Want to come in?”

Please.

I nodded.  He stepped out of the doorway and I stepped into the house for the first time since Shatterbird had attacked.  That had been the start of June, or thereabouts.  I hadn’t exactly had time to look around, nor had I really been in a stable state of mind.

Hm, yeah, the timeline there sounds about right.

But, uh… what date is now?

The last time I’d really been able to look around the house had been the start of May.  Nearly two months ago.

It’s nice to get these timeline points cemented a little. It’s hard to keep track of the exact passage of time sometimes.

I looked at the mantlepiece above the fireplace.  Things had been rearranged.  There was a small clock with a broken face, a family picture of Dad, Mom and me that had survived Shatterbird’s attack and a little statue/candlestick featuring a woman with a flowing dress.

Sounds nice.

I touched the statuette.  There were memories there.  Too many things in the house had them.  The statuette was part of a pair.  My mom had bought them at the market.  The overly tall, skinny, exaggerated figures had seemed to match my mom and dad, in a way.

Aww. And now there’s only the woman, on the mantlepiece. Y’know, where people put things like their loved ones’ ashes.

The only way I can think of to make it hurt more would be for there to be only the man, and for the woman to have been broken at some point…

“Where’s the husband statue?  Were you robbed?”

I looked at him, and he looked embarrassed.  “I traded it away.  More than a few things.”

I take it back. He had to trade the statuette but he couldn’t give up the woman along with the man.

“Why?  For what?”

“Selling and bartering for food,” he answered.

Meanwhile Taylor has a territory where she’s rationing out food to people for free.

Suggest he should move there? Though the house itself probably has sentimental value too.

“But there’s supplies.  Did you not get enough, or…” I trailed off.  Why was I attacking him? Accusing him?  Was it guilt, failing to look after my dad and make sure he got the supplies he needed?

Yeah, I think it’s the latter.

“The explosion with the glass.  I suffered some minor kidney damage.  The doctor advised me to up my iron and protein intake while we wait to see if it’ll scar.  Not nutrients you find in good supply in supply kits.”

Ahh, that makes sense.

Kidney damage.

“Is that the worst injury?  You’re otherwise okay?”

“I’m mostly okay.  Better than most, thanks to the warning you gave me about the Slaughterhouse Nine being in town.  Some of my coworkers owe you thanks as well.”

You did good, Taylor.

I nodded.  I was glad people were okay, but the fact that word was spreading, it put me in a dangerous spot.

“But I should be the one asking how you’re doing.  What happened to your arm?”

Awkward question.

Let’s see how long Taylor keeps up the lies.

“Foreign body got trapped in there at some point,” I said, “Needed minor surgery.”

Nice.

I do kinda like Taylor’s lies to her dad because she tries to stick as close to the truth as she can, which often leaves her spouting Aes Sedai / Doc Scratch lies. True statements with false implications.

I could see the alarm crossing over his face.  Had he heard something?  Flechette passing on a message that people with injured shoulders-

Surgery?” he asked.

Taylor’s mind keeps jumping to these security concerns when Danny shows normal civilian dad reactions and it’s lowkey heartbreaking. It shows how entrenched she is in cape thinking.

“It was only local anesthetic.  Really.  Not that big a deal.”

I looked over the bookshelves.  One of the better pictures of mom and me had been destroyed by the explosion of glass, ripped to shreds.  He had to have picked up that frame and stood it up on its own, sometime after Shatterbird’s attack.  I prodded at the picture, as if I could push the tattered remains back together.

😦

“You’re so different,” he said.  “You’re standing straighter, dressing like you aren’t trying to hide in your clothes, moving with more purpose.  I think you’ve grown, too.  So many people, they seem like they’ve been burdened by what’s going on, they’ve given up a little, lost important things.  That just makes the contrast between you and them that much stronger.”

He comes right out and says it. I like that. He couldn’t keep it in anymore.

He sees his girl, but he also sees how much she’s changed, how far she’s come.

And he sees someone who’s grown into strength rather than been torn down by the state of the city.

I turned around.  Was I?  “I don’t feel that much stronger.”

“I spent fifteen years raising you.  Two and a half of those years I spent raising you alone.  I can see a difference.”

If anyone knows Taylor well enough to, it’s him.

“I’m not saying there isn’t a change.  There probably is.  I just- I dunno if I’m better because of it.”

Well… yeah, that can be debated.

“Oh.”

A silence stretched out.  Neither of us were adept conversationalists, and any familiarity we’d had was gone.

You were doing so well…

“Do you want to sit?” he asked.

I nodded and seated myself.  There were papers on the coffee table.  Two loose stacks, headed with the title ‘Know where you are’.

Know where you are in life.

Know where you stand with each other.

Know who you are.

They looked as though they had been printed using a fifteen year old photocopier.  I picked one up.

‘Know where you are:

The area extending east of Captain’s hill is believed to be under claim by the supervillains Grue and Imp.  Both are members of a group known as the Undersiders, who have joined with the Travelers in an unnamed alliance.  These villains will not attack civilians unless provoked, and clean-up is tentatively progressing throughout the area with no objections from either villain.

Oh hell yes.

So I take it these are produced by the PRT to inform civilians on what’s going on? Or is it that Danny has specifically been doing research into– oh, “clean-up”, it’s probably from the company he’s working for in the rebuilding.

Heh, it’s kinda weird to me to see the alliance between the Undersiders and Travelers specifically described as “unnamed”, after almost a year of me calling them the Undertravelers.

Grue has the ability to create clouds of darkness.  Should you find yourself in one of these clouds, retreat to the nearest cover you remember seeing and assume there is immediate and present danger from vehicles, gunfire, moving pedestrians and fighting between capes…’

I put it down.  There was more, noting a lack of information about Imp as well as the gangs and possible rivals that Grue and Imp might be fighting with, but it was over a week out of date.

I mean, I’m kinda surprised they even knew to include her in the first place.

The second paper:

‘Know where you are:

The area extending west of the ferry station north, including the factories and the remains of the Boardwalk, is believed to be under claim by the supervillain Skitter.

Now here’s the really juicy stuff.

I’ve been asking for a long time how much Danny knew of Skitter, speculating on whether he had pieced it together with his daughter’s… behaviors…

Let’s see what he’s being told by his superiors.

Skitter is a member of the Undersiders, who are allied with the Travelers in an as-of-yet unnamed alliance.  Skitter is an unpredictable young woman tending towards acts of apparent kindness to those she deems her subjects and bursts of sudden and extreme violence towards those she sees as her enemies.  The city is not funding work in her territory, as Skitter is handling matters there.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Skitter controls insects and senses what they do.  Anyone with allergies to stings or insect bites would be advised to leave this area.  She offers food, shelter and care to anyone who agrees to work under her, but the Dockworkers Association cannot suggest that anyone accept her offers, as her ulterior motives are unknown.

Ohh, it’s the DA making these.

Isn’t Danny in charge of the DA? That doesn’t mean he wrote this or did any of the research, but it does mean he probably had a hand in getting this written up.

This area is not currently the site of any ongoing disputes between capes.  There is limited power in this area.  There is limited cell service in this area.  There is not water service in this area.’

Things Skitter would like to work on, I’m sure.

Again, a little out of date.  Our water was running.  Still, it was startling to see this here.  From the beginning, I’d wanted to keep that part of my life and this part of my life separate. It had been a fierce enough desire that I’d avoided taking revenge on the bullies because of it, at least a little, and it might have had something to do with my running away from home.

Might have?

“Your DAU has been putting these up?”

“Yes.  Making sure people are informed.  Too many stories of people taking the wrong path through the city and getting cornered by a mutant dog the size of a small tank.”

“Right.”

Yeeeah, you may want to stay out of that area. Though at least there’s talk of moving Rachel’s territory to the outskirts, which should mean people will be less likely to wander into it.

“You said you were staying outside the city, with Lisa’s family?  At the North end?  How did you get here?”

Whoops.

“Oh, I just caught a flight.”

“I walked across the market, down to the Boardwalk and crossed through Skitter’s territory.”

Again with the half-truths! I love it.

I was pretty sure I wasn’t acting strange as I said the name.

“They didn’t give you any trouble?”

“Nah, trust me, I’m the last person they’d want to give trouble.”

“They stopped me at the border and I asked permission.  They were nice about it.”

“Okay.”

…Taylor doesn’t actually have them doing this, right? In which case this could cause/exacerbate suspicion if Danny ever goes there and finds himself no having to ask permission.

Lie after lie.

Another uncomfortable pause.

“Have you eaten?  I have some liver and mashed potato in the fridge.”

I’m just gonna go out on a limb and say that half these uncomfortable pauses happen because Danny knows – or at least highly suspects – that she’s lying.

“I’ve eaten,” I lied.  No use taking some of my dad’s money when he was having to sell stuff to get food.

“Would you like some tea?”

“Please,” I said, grateful for an offer I could accept in good conscience.  He retreated into the kitchen to put the kettle on.

Taylor can’t just say no thanks to tea.

I looked around.  It didn’t feel like my house anymore.  I’d only been gone two months, but things were different.  Things in the house had moved, or been sold, or they’d been damaged by Shatterbird’s attack.

Two months is a lot of time sometimes.

The atmosphere was different too.  I wasn’t sure how much of that was the humidity, the lack of upkeep and the fact that the family of two had been just a family of one for nearly two months and how much of it was me.  It was all too possible that I was viewing my surroundings in a different light, tinting things with my paranoia about my dad making the connection between me and Skitter, viewing things more negatively because of my guilt over leaving him.

Or maybe all of the above?

My dad rejoined me.  “If you give me a minute, I can make your bed-”

Nooooo

“I’m not staying,” I blurted the words.

“Oh.”  I could see the pain on his face.

😦

In the mutual awkwardness that followed, the vibration of my cell phone was a mercy.  I picked it up and checked the display.  Heart-c-c-apostrophe-square.  Tattletale.

I thought for a moment the narration had had a stroke. Didn’t help that I read “c-c-apostrophe” as “c-c-atastrophe”.

“I’ll be right back,” I said, hopping off the couch and hurrying out the door as I hit the button to pick up.

Please be okay, I thought, shutting the door behind me.

Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to actually be Coil or something.

“Hey,” she replied.

“You’re okay?  Cactus-B.”

Imagine Danny overhearing this.

Also I take it B is for Bentley?

“Sun-Y.  Or Sun-N.  Whichever you prefer.”

Oh, right, we’ve got Brian too, of course. I do like that Lisa, just like me, went for Bentley first, though.

So Tattle’s got a yellow situation. What’s up?

“I’m not sure what color that’s supposed to be.”

“Neither am I.  Um.  So I talked to Coil.  Things have been clarified some.”

I mean… the sun can be described as a variety of colors, including all three of the ones involved in the code, but it’s classically described as yellow or white, so at least it should be clearer than Coil’s coddamn toe disease.

“Okay.  Should we-”

“It’s fine, pretty much, even if he’s listening in.  You’re not in danger.  No threat on your life at this present moment.”

Okay, there are two main ways this could spin out.

Either Tattletale was wrong earlier.

Or she’s being forced to say this now. Thus the ambiguous color, too.

I feel like Taylor might not take it well if it’s the latter and Lisa doesn’t do what she can to communicate that to Taylor. A forced betrayal is probably still a betrayal in her eyes.

“Okay,” I said, not sure how to expand on that.  She hadn’t precisely said it was Coil that was the threat, so maybe she was hedging her words to be safe.

“Which scares me,” she confessed.

“Scares you?”

Huh??

“Um,” she said.  It wasn’t like her to be lost for words.  “I told Coil that Trickster got injured. I wasn’t sure if you’d told him.  He didn’t seem concerned.  There was zero indication that his plan had been disrupted.  Told him you were on your way back, again, no concern.

Okay, no, seems she’s telling the truth as best she can, but she seems very confused by Coil’s behavior, and scared.

…maybe she thinks Coil succeeded in the other reality and is going to void this one?

Everything that had been telling me he was harboring plans to assassinate you was telling me he wasn’t and hadn’t ever been, this time around.”

What???

Yeah, no, I can’t blame her for being confused.

“Your power lied to you?”

“Um.  That’s what I thought.  I was thinking maybe I was working under a mistaken impression, tried adding and removing the elements to see if I could get a different result, interpret his earlier behavior differently.  No go.  And I was doing all this while having a perfectly normal conversation with Coil, until he says something like ‘Very dangerous.  You want to be careful who you’re picking a fight with.’”

:s

Yeeah, this is unsettling.

I felt my blood run cold.  I had to sit down on the stair.  “He meant-”

“Oh, he totally meant.  If I was one-hundred percent sure he was planning on killing you before, I’m five-hundred percent sure he was telling me he knows what we’re up to.”

It really does sound that way.

“What should I do?  What should we do?”

“I don’t know.  But that wasn’t the end of it.  I was still processing what he’d just said when he stepped toward the door to leave.  He put one hand on my shoulder, leaned close, and he spoke in this very quiet voice.  He said, ‘Be careful, Tattletale.  I value your service, but you should know your power isn’t as reliable as you like to think.’”

I really get the sense that he’s acting on information from another world here, but something fucky seems to be going on here besides that.

Sounding civil and caring while expressing a very clear threat.  “So the fact that it lied before-”

“It didn’t lie, Skitter.  I said he was testing me, before.  He was, just not like I thought.  He’s found a way to confuse my power, to counteract it.  This thing with the hit on your head.

Damn.

It was just to scare us.  To let us know that any security my power afforded us, it doesn’t apply to him.  He can make us think you’re going to be killed when you aren’t, and-”

“And the opposite is true.  He can make us think we’re safe when we aren’t,” I finished.

Like the proud chessmaster he is, he can’t resist showing off the fact that his moves are inscrutable until you’re in checkmate.

“Exactly.”

“What do we do?”

“I don’t know,” she said, again.  “Listen, I’ve got to call the others.  Are you with Grue?”

“No.  Maybe I’ll head that way before the end of the night.”

That might be nice.

“We’ll figure something out,” she said.

Figure something out?  Coil was on to us, he’d effectively taken Tattletale out of the equation, and by all accounts, he seemed confident enough to continue letting us work for him, despite our intended mutiny.

That might be his downfall, I suppose.

Y’know, I really think Coil should lose his legs somehow when he’s finally cast down? For the biblical allusion.

I couldn’t bring myself to agree.  “Bye,” I said.

“Bye.”

I hung up.

So. How much did Danny manage to overhear?

Before I could convince myself to head back to my territory and start plotting some counteroffensive, I stood from the stair and walked back inside.

Seeing my dad’s face, I was reminded of the dream I’d had, where my dad had turned out to be Coil, where I’d taken too long and Dinah had died.  I looked away, made my way back to the couch.  My dad set a cup of tea down in front of me, then sat beside me.

If he did eavesdrop, he seems to hide it well.

I wasn’t religious.  Didn’t believe in a higher power.  Mundane government was crappy enough, the idea of a divine one simultaneously scared me and made me want to laugh.

Pffft! Not a bad reason to disbelieve. 😛

Then again, their ineptitude might explain the crapsackiness of the world.

As a consequence, when I thought of a soul, I was thinking more about some collection of the abstract parts of the mind that covered a person’s mental and emotional well-being, their psyche and the defining aspects of their personality.  A more religious view of the soul would probably add up to a rough equivalent.

Yeah, that sounds a lot like my perspective.

Full disclosure: I am also an atheist, like Taylor here. That’s why I use “cod” in phrases like “coddamn” – I don’t want to invoke a deity I neither believe in, worship, nor like as a person or character (the Christian god is a malevolent, selfish, hot-tempered Mary Sue, though at least I’ve gotten the sense that he chills out a bit in the New Testament), but the English phrases that make use of his moniker for the sake of intensity just sound too good to give up entirely. So I replace him with a fish as a matter of both respect and disrespect.

(For the record, I don’t worship cod either.)

I do not believe in an actual soul. To me, it’s an abstract concept made up of the things Taylor mentions here, but ultimately I see even those parts as physical parts of the natural robot that is the human body.

Whatever my overall motives might be, some part of what drove me was some desire to patch up the damage, fix that part of myself that had been taking a beating ever since I’d gotten that call about my mom’s death.

Oof.

You’ve, uh. Been doing a great job of that.

Only it wasn’t working.

Try to help the city, help the heroes, shore up my sense of self worth, find myself fumbling, tearing and discovering fresh holes in my subconscious makeup, with Dinah and my betrayal of the people who’d become my friends, betraying myself by failing to keep to that overall goal.

Gestation, Insinuation, Agitation and Shell, Hive and Tangle and Buzz and…

And there were other moments, moments where I’d been brutal and violent, accidental or otherwise.  Moments I’d made sacrifices, or where I’d been callous.  It wasn’t subtle, either.  The stack of papers in front of me said it, clear as day.  Sudden and extreme violence.

They’re not wrong. They’re really not wrong.

Even coming here, it had been at least partially motivated by my desire to fill that hole deep inside, that spot where family was supposed to fit.

Thing is, when you fill that hole, you need to let things connect. You can shove the piece of your soul labeled “Danny” back into that hole as many times as you like, but unless you let it actually reattach to the rest of your soul, it’s just going to fall out again once you let go of it.

I sipped on the tea.  My dad had made it with sugar, not honey.

Ahhh, that hits harder than it by any rights should.

This… sitting here and drinking tea with my dad, my head someplace else entirely?  It wasn’t fixing anything.  Wasn’t mending or filling anything.

And thus she grows restless.

I sipped again, then drank it in big gulps.  It burned going down, and I pounded my collarbone, as if I could banish that sensation.

“Taylor?”

And so it’s time to leave.

Again.

I stood and picked up my backpack and shrugged it over the one shoulder.  “I’ve got to go.”

He stood too.

“I’m sorry.  We’re- we’re heading back, and it’s dark, so we’re going with a group.”

You never said anything about being with anyone. At least Danny’s probably going to assume she’s talking about Lisa and co.

“I’ll come.”

“No.  You’d be alone going back.  It’s okay.”

That’d be a little awkward.

He looked hurt.  “A hug?”

I hesitated, then stepped close and hugged him with the one arm.  He gingerly wrapped his arms around my shoulders and squeezed.

Aww.

“I’ll be back,” I mumbled into his shirt.

“No vague promises.  You’re going to promise,” he said.

“Day after tomorrow?”

“Okay.  I don’t have work then, with the mayoral elections.  We can eat lunch here and then go to the town hall.”

My bet is there’s going to be something in Taylor’s cape life getting in the way right then.

Poor Danny.

At least they’re slowly reconnecting.

Oh shit.  If Coil had something for us to do-

I stepped away, thinking of a way to formulate an excuse.  I saw his forehead creased with worry.  As thin as he’d been before, he looked thinner now.  Looked years older, wounded, tired, lonely.

“I’ll see you then, then,” I told him.

So much coddamn pain.

“See you,” he said, smiling sadly.  No pressure to stay.  He had no idea what was going on, I hoped, but he was still letting me do what I needed to.

I don’t know, I still think he suspects to some extent.

He’s a reasonably smart guy.

I felt the need to reward him, to express some kind of gratitude, but I had only one thing to offer that he really wanted.  “I-  don’t know when.  But maybe I’ll come home?”

Someday…

Vague, again.  Just like with what I’d said before, there was no set date.  I’d said the exact same thing when I’d left in the first place.  It was almost an insult.

Oof.

But I saw him smile.  “Anytime, any day.  But we can talk about that over lunch, day after tomorrow.”

I nodded and turned to leave.  I wasn’t half a block away from the house before I felt the tears welling up, running down my face.

😦

Even as the scrollbar hasn’t quite reached the end yet, I’m a little surprised this wasn’t the last line.

I couldn’t say whether they were because of my love for my dad or my despair for Dinah.

Oh.

Ow.


End of Colony 15.10

Danny is second only to Charlotte for my favorite mundane (followed by Piggot in third), and Taylor-Danny remains one of my favorite relationships in the story. So much pain.

It’s good pain, is the thing.

Overall, this was a really, really good, lowkey chapter. It was largely about Taylor seeking comfort in a few different ways. In running, in nature, and most importantly in Danny. It made for a… relaxed experience, though one filled with good pain towards the end.

Taylor’s introspective side had a good showing here, too, both when she caught herself trying to shift blame to the mayor and tried to figure out what kind of comfort she was actually looking for, and later when she started thinking about how broken she really is and how she’s looking for ways to fix it. Good stuff.

Even as Taylor left her costume behind and went in civilian guise, elements of her cape life were constantly woven into it, reinforcing the fact that hell no she hasn’t managed to keep them separate, and she’s too restless and broken to spend much time being “Taylor” anymore. Most notably, seeing papers about her cape self in Danny’s house and having to take a time-out from talking to Danny to learn of Coil’s highly unsettling move against Tattletale and the rest of the Undersiders. And on smaller scales, constantly being on-guard against Danny’s mundane expressions and having to lie to him.

It’s not just well woven together – the fact that it’s woven together to such an extent, in itself, seems to be the point.

Oh yeah, the Genesis-Trickster bits were good too; they just kinda get overshadowed by the rest of the chapter.

So, next time… This may have been the last regular chapter of Colony, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Interlude 15d up next to close us out. I’m losing track of how many times I’ve suggested Traveler Interludes, but it really does seem like one would be fitting for this Arc, after getting insights from both Ballistic and Genesis, and Sunny in previous Arcs.

If there’s a 15.11, I have no idea what it’ll be. Something with Victor, maybe. But honestly, a 15.11 seems like dénouement overkill right now.

In any case, see you soon for whatever is up next!

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