Colony 15.9: Divide and Holler

Source material: Worm, Colony 15.9

Blogged: March 17, 2019


It's been a while

I AM FUCKING BACK

Let’s read some coddamn Worm!

So! I still don’t know for sure whether this next chapter is 15.9 or a fourth Interlude 15, but I heavily suspect it’s 15.9, since it’s only been two chapters since the previous Interlude 15. After four months, let’s finally turn the page and find out…

Yep, it’s Colony 15.9. Cool.

Last time, Skitter, Genesis and Trickster were attempting to intimidate the mayor, but kinda ran into a little snag in the form of two heroes in civilian guise being there. Whoops.

We’ve got Triumph – who is the reason my background music while blogging today will be the complete Skyrim soundtrack, at least to begin with – and either Prism or Ursa.

Before the migration, I said she was probably Ursa because it would explain why she wasn’t using her power yet, due to the indoor environment being cramped for her bear forms, but I’m not sure how well that logic applies. I don’t actually know how big those bear forms are, there’s little reason to have her here if she’s not going to be able to use her power at some point (could mean we’re moving outside if her bear forms are too big), and there are plenty of reasons either heroine might choose to hold off on using her power.

Plus, I gotta say, Prism sounds like a more interesting combatant in this scenario. Although Skitter is already outnumbered enough without one of her opponents splitting into three.

In any case, our objective today is to get Trickster out of there without getting captured, before the Protectorate reinforcements arrive, and without falling into Coil’s trap in the process. Genesis may be able to help if Triumph slamming her into a wall last chapter didn’t poof her (or if this takes a bit longer than I think we actually have before reinforcements arrive), but like Atlas, her current form doesn’t seem strong enough to carry Trickster (which Taylor seems to have quietly realized if Genesis didn’t get poofed, as she sees it as necessary to go in there herself), and generally isn’t built for a fight.

Triumph’s very capable of getting Taylor’s swarms out of his way with his shouts, and he’s physically tough, and who knows how well the swarm would work on Ursa’s bear forms, if that is indeed her.

Sooo… this isn’t going to be easy. Let’s hope Trickster wakes up at some point.

Without further ado, let’s get this show back on the road!


I had two different heroes to deal with, one of whom I couldn’t identify yet. That posed something of a problem: each likely possibility for the heroine’s identity made for a very different scenario in how this fight could play out.

Alright, starting out with this question. Makes sense – this is something Taylor needs to figure out sooner rather than later.

Process of elimination had told me that Rory would be one of the local heroes, because there weren’t any prominent male villains who I couldn’t identify with their masks off; Coil had outed Empire Eighty-Eight, which had split into the Chosen and the Pure and everyone else had been eliminated or driven out of the city.

Well, I suppose there’s Coil, but Rory being Coil would be a really weird way to spin this.

I’d identified him as Triumph from his build. Assault and Cache weren’t as muscular, the Wards were younger and smaller, and the remainder of local heroes were women. That had been easy enough once I’d pegged him as a cape.

Nice work.

I do appreciate that we’re getting a little insight into how exactly she figured this out.

His ‘girlfriend’ was harder to pin down, both as a cape and in terms of her costumed identity. I’d read her confidence and judged that she wasn’t terrified enough to be ignorant about Rory’s secret. She probably wasn’t a civilian in the know, either, because she hadn’t been cowering behind Rory.

Makes sense.

So how did you get to Prism or Ursa? Body type?

Going by her appearance, I didn’t think she could be Miss Militia or Battery. Her blonde hair didn’t fit, for one thing, and she was too tall, too muscular.

Oof, Taylor doesn’t know Battery is dead.

She had to be one of the two female capes who came to Brockton Bay with Legend. It was critical that I figure out which of the two she was before getting into a fight with her. Prism was a duplicator who could consolidate into one body to get a temporary boost in strength, speed and durability. Maybe other areas too. Fighting her would mean staying out of close-quarters combat at any cost.

Which is a bit of a problem considering you’re forced to go in there to fetch Trickster.

This is why I think Prism would be more interesting in this scenario. I mean, sure, Ursa has her bear forms and that’s awesome, but that’s just one singular body that is going to be tough. Skitter’s dealt with that plenty of times. A self-duplicator, on the other hand, has the potential to make for a very interesting close-quarters fight.

Also, I appreciate the reminder that Prism can pull her duplicates back into herself for a physical boost. I would definitely not have remembered that myself had I not recently reread her previous appearance for the migration.

Ursa Aurora, by contrast, summoned ghostly ‘bears’ onto the battlefield. On a level, she’d want to fight like I preferred to, relying on her minions while staying out of the thick of things.

Hmm. It seems I may have misunderstood Ursa’s power. I’ve been understanding it as closer to a transformation. A summoner might make for an interesting battle, but again, this is kinda cramped for that kind of thing.

Two possibilities, each requiring very different tactics to handle.

I set my bugs on her and her alone in the hopes of forcing her hand. Atlas had returned to my side, and I made sure to collect Triumph’s phone before climbing on.

Oooh, right, she sent his phone outside last chapter, didn’t she. This could come in handy, if not now, then later when Tattletale can get a look at it.

Attacking Prism/Ursa primarily in order to make her reveal herself is a decent tactic, too.

(I suppose there is a third option, that she’s a new heroine Taylor didn’t know about, but I find that narratively unlikely.)

Triumph had picked up Trickster’s limp body and was mounting a fighting retreat in the direction the heroine and his family had gone.

A fighting retreat? That suggests Genesis is still active. Good.

He shouted again and again, controlling the magnitude, force and breadth of each strike to hit the maximum number of bugs with just enough force that he was killing or crippling them without destroying the house.

Oh, right, he’s fighting the bugs too.

Walls of bugs pressed against the exits of the house. If they escaped before I got there, I wasn’t sure I’d catch up. Triumph would be able to run faster than I could, Ursa Aurora could presumably ride her bears like Bitch rode her dogs, and Prism had the ability to move faster after consolidating her clones into one person again; if she didn’t run faster than me, the little boost she got there would keep her far enough ahead.

So… where would they run? Towards the Protectorate’s place or somewhere else they could take Trickster into custody?

There was the family holding them back, yes, but there was also the possibility that there was a vehicle they could all climb into. I could maybe keep up while riding Atlas, but I wouldn’t be able to mount a serious attack while doing so.

I suppose not, not if you mean a physical attack with your real body.

How well would the silk tactics you used against Mannequin and Crawler work here? I suppose there’s a risk of Triumph shouting down the insects carrying the silk.

I suspected the makeshift bug-barriers wouldn’t hold up. They wouldn’t stand up to Triumph’s shouts, and Ursa Aurora could summon her ‘bears’. That was if they didn’t choose to just charge through.

I needed more redundancies. More fallback plans. I began drawing out lines of silk at the lower half of the doorframes, while gathering the bulk of my bugs in the upper halves.

Apparently well enough that I suggested it just in time, huh.

Though this sounds less like “slather in as much silk as you can” and more like “trip them with wires”, which is fun.

The question was, would they go through the doors or would they settle for the windows? Would human habit triumph over slightly more abstract thinking?

Triumph, heh.

The heroine led the way, already under attack from hundreds of bugs. She grabbed a coat from the nearby rack and draped it over herself for cover against the swarm as she threw herself headlong into it.

Decent move, but trust me, miss. If Skitter wants those bugs to get to you she’ll make them get to you. Maybe even into you. You may want to consider putting on a mask of some form, if you have one around.

Her legs caught on the tripwire and she tumbled down the stairs. I rebuilt the barrier of bugs behind her, condensing it to the point that they couldn’t see through.

Watch out for the st– ah, too late.

I swear, it keeps happening.

I directed fly-borne spiders to extend threads around the heroine’s arms and legs, as well as her fingers. After a moment’s consideration, I started packing them in her pockets, sending bugs crawling beneath her clothes.

Just beneath her clothes? You’re growing soft, Taylor.

Right. A gun at her ankle. I set spiders to the task of binding that up too.

Ahh, yeah, might want to prevent that from being used when you go in there.

So here’s the thing: Regardless of whether this is Prism or Ursa, tying her up like this might ultimately be fruitless. Prism can split and probably reconsolidate in the position of one of her other selves (we do know she can survive as long as one of her selves does, not necessarily the “original”, if that term even means anything to her), and Ursa can fight from a bound position (though she’ll be easier to knock out if you can get to her).

Maybe she’s a PRT officer? Gun, no apparent powers?

I mean, maybe, but I don’t find it likely after all this talk of which heroine she is. Don’t let her lull you into a false security.

None of the rest of the family seemed willing to try exiting by the same door after she’d disappeared into the cloud of bugs and promptly shrieked. Okay. That meant I’d separated the family from the woman.

Nice.

Triumph would catch up to them in a moment, so I had to make the most of this advantage if I was going to slow them down further.

I began moving the bugs from the door towards the family, simultaneously bringing more bugs in behind them.

I can’t imagine being in there is very… heartening right now.

They quickly realized they were cornered and backed into the nearby closet, closing it behind them. I could sense them throwing coats and boots down at the gap between the bottom end of the closet door and the ground, trying to block my bugs from getting in.

Not a bad choice on their part, really.

Not quite good enough to stop the bugs, but I could leave them where they were.

As I was arriving on the property, the heroine was partially disabled and Triumph was en route. Genesis would be pulling herself back together in another body, I supposed, but that wasn’t so reassuring – the heroine had made a call to the PRT and there would be reinforcements on the way.

Yeah, like I said, I don’t think we have time for that. At the very least, not much excess time after Genesis shows up again.

Okay. How was I supposed to do this? I had to deal with Triumph, but he was shutting down my swarm. I’d probably lose in a straight up fight as well. Whatever damage my bugs were doing with bites and stings, it wasn’t enough to bring him down. He’d kicked a long oak table that had to weigh six hundred pounds at a bare minimum, sent it skidding across the room. There was no doubt he had some superhuman physique. That same advantage might be giving him the ability to hold out against what my bugs were doing.

Sounds about right, yes.

I was forced to scale up, to start injecting more than the trace amounts of venom, and I was all too aware of how easy it was to go too far or go over the top.

Try not to rot his dick off!

Life would be so much easier if I didn’t give a damn about other people’s well-being.

Pfft. Yeah, it’d probably be a fun alternate timeline where you ended up nominated for the Slaughterhouse Nine.

But I wouldn’t be able to step up my attack without getting more bugs on him, and I wouldn’t be able to do that without a different tactic. I began pulling my bugs out of the house and gathering them.

Alright, let’s leave the family alone for now.

By the time Triumph found his way to the hallway where his family was hiding in the closet, the bugs were almost entirely gone.

Wait, so she pulled the bugs out of where he was going anyway? I suppose her tactic isn’t sheer numbers.

What’cha got in mind? Decoys? Sneak attack?

There were too few bugs there for me to catch it, but someone in the closet must have made a noise, because Triumph made a beeline right for them.

The word “beeline” was used a few chapters ago too, and it’s kind of funny to me, coming from Taylor’s narration. Like when something’s bugging her.

He stopped when he saw the heroine outside the door, lying on the ground under a carpet of bugs.

“Hello.”

He said something to his family that was probably along the lines of ‘stay there’ and headed for the door. He could see the human shaped figures I’d molded out of bugs and positioned around the lawn and proceeded to gun them down one by one. His shouts were short, on target and devastatingly effective.

Damn, nice work.

I briefly thought Taylor meant Triumph pulled out a literal gun and shot the clones. Maybe a tommy gun or some other automatic. (I may have been affected by recently watching an episode of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure where Joseph pulls a tommy gun out of nowhere.)

Of course, the clones would only die to gunfire if Taylor made them die to gunfire.

…I wonder how the neighbors feel about all this shouting.

The heroine was starting to get free. Two additional versions of herself had appeared next to her, quickly searching out and cutting the silk cords that bound her. At least I knew who I was up against, now.

Called it! Kinda – I suppose one of the versions of her does still count as “the original” and she can’t just reconsolidate as one of the other versions.

So we’ve got Prism. Nice, I’m down for that.

Damn it. Unlike Oni Lee, Prism didn’t materialize her duplicates along with whatever additional baggage her original self had.

Do clothes count as additional baggage?

I feel it’s worth noting that back in Prey, Taylor was unable to identify two of the heroes in their special gear, which I speculated to be copies of Prism (before her power was confirmed – I called it right then). I don’t recall whether I was right about that, but if I was, that does suggest clothes carry over.

None of the restraints and none of the bugs hampered her copies. Not to mention that her guns were probably free as well. I quickly directed Atlas to the roof and took cover in case she spotted me and decided to open fire.

Alright, so her own clothes and gun carry over, but the bugs and their silk don’t.

“Sam!” Triumph shouted.

Who’s Sam? Is that Prism?

One of the duplicates turned to look at him, her eyes widening. She shouted, “Careful! Tripwire!”

Yep.

He jumped at the last second, hopping over the tripwire.

Perfect.

Nice jump.

But, uh, are you saying that was a perfect jump, that the situation is sarcastically perfect, or that this is exactly what you wanted Triumph to do for some reason?

He landed on the stairs and stumbled. The entirety of his focus was on the tripwire, on the stairs beneath his feet and on his attempt to keep from falling down the stairs with his unconscious burden.

Pfffft!

IT. KEEPS. HAPPENING.

During the Slaughterhouse Nine fiasco, it had come up that our species was pretty bad at looking up.

Right, I remember that comment. I forget the context, though.

I also ran into a video recently that mentioned that in game design, you don’t want to put something the player is supposed to see above or below them unless you specifically call attention to it.

I’d pulled bugs out of the hallway and from around the backyard and gathered them above the door, with airborne bugs helping by ferrying the slower moving ones up to a higher vantage point. I gave the command at the same time that Prism shouted her warning, and the bugs dropped down onto Triumph’s head.

Niice.

Bugs tended to be very durable when it came to falling from high places. It had something to do with the amount of air resistance when compared to their surface area or mass. Something like that. Either way, it barely did any damage to my swarm when they fell to the ground.

Huh. I wouldn’t have thought to tie that to air resistance, but it does make some sense.

For Triumph, on the other hand, he was dealing with the sudden appearance of enough bugs that I could have formed three or four densely-packed swarm clones from their number, on top of the fact that he was carrying Trickster, who had to weigh one hundred and thirty or one hundred and forty pounds.

Yeah, I think you succeeded at “getting more bugs on him”. 😛

It probably didn’t help that he was standing on a staircase and was already somewhat off-balance.

The timing proved to be lucky for me. As strong as Triumph was, a strike at the right moment could still knock him off-balance. I’d seen Alexandria do something like that to Leviathan, knocking something as big and horribly strong as the Endbringer to the ground.

and it was awesome

Blind and struck at an opportune moment, Triumph fell. I swept the bugs over him. There was no room for holding back or playing nice. I sent bugs into his nose and mouth, into his ear canals and biting at folds and crevices below the belt.

Y’know what?

I’ll let it slide this time.

This time there’s actually a case to be made for this being necessary.

I could have been squeamish about that, but that would require thinking in too much depth about what I was doing.

Pffffft.

I attacked his more sensitive areas, including the insides of his mouth, the sensitive edges of his nostrils and the insides of his ears. Others stung and bit at his eyelids. Some of my capsaicin-laced bugs flew from my cover at the roof’s edge to Triumph and Prism. I directed them to the vulnerable mucus membranes of the eye, the nose, the mouth – and again, beneath the belt – the urinary tract and anus.

…I take it back.

Holy fuck, Taylor.

I kinda love that we’ve got a protagonist who acts like this, y’know? I get on her case about it, but it’s all in good fun, and I appreciate it from a story perspective. While I had started to like her much earlier, I think 3.9 is when I was thoroughly sold on Taylor as an interesting character.

The most important thing was to keep him from getting his bearings and dealing with the bugs. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to catch him by surprise a second time.

There was a secondary goal, too.

Oh? Something about getting Trickster?

We’d come here for a reason.

Ah, I see, you want to terrorize him and his family.

Though like the mayor suggested, last chapter, they’re kinda making a good argument for why the city should be condemned by being here.

If it came down to it, the mayor might change his tune once he’d seen his superhero son brought low. This was leverage.

Perhaps.

Prism was back on her feet, alongside her two copies. I was forced to split my bugs among them. What rules did she follow in terms of consolidating? How did she pull back together, and what happened to injuries? I knew she could survive if one copy was taken out of action.

Maybe the intensity of the injuries is divided by three somehow?

If she had a knife wound on one body of the three she had active, did it stay? Or did the damage get divided to only a third of what it should be?

Taylor’s thinking along the same lines I am. On one level, that’s usually a good sign that I’m not being a complete idiot, but on another, it seems too early for Taylor to guess the correct answer here.

Whatever abuse my swarm was inflicting on her, she wasn’t activating or deactivating her power like I might if I had her abilities at my disposal. In her shoes I’d be splitting, spreading out, then consolidating into the body furthest from the bulk of the swarm.

I would’ve thought she’d do something like that myself, but she’s already shown that she can’t just do that. At least, not without the restraints coming along.

My secondary goals would be getting to a vantage point where I could shoot down my assailant. If I assumed she’d use the same basic tactic against me…

Yes?

Also I’m not sure that’s a safe assumption considering you just pointed out she’s not doing what you’d do.

I began gathering bugs around myself for additional cover and for a potential counterattack.

I swept some bugs over the surrounding landscape while I waited for her to either decide on a plan of attack or succumb to the bugs. No threat of imminent attack by Coil.

I really don’t think Coil would do it that unsubtly.

It was spooky, having that hanging over my head. I almost wished he’d attack already and get it over with.

Heh.

I couldn’t be sure how she spotted me, but Prism turned my way. Maybe it was the size of the cloud of bugs I had around me. It was almost a good thing that I had her attention.

Hmmm.

How did she spot Taylor…

I had to take her out of action as soon as superhumanly possible if I wanted to get Trickster out of here before the reinforcements arrived.

Heh, “superhumanly possible”. Nice.

And yeah, that would be ideal.

She backed up, spreading out across the lawn. One copy swatted at the bugs that crawled on her, another was gagging and coughing from the capsaicin, but they seemed to be holding out remarkably well.

At least they’re not dealing with bugs inside them. Yet.

One by one, they started towards me, running across the lawn. I did what I could to obstruct and hamper them, but the rightmost copy slipped past the line of my bugs and bent down, the other copies snapping back into her body.

Uh oh, here we go.

Also, this is a cool benefit of her power: She can try multiple angles of attack at once and then if only one of them works, she can power up that one at the cost of dropping the other two.

She flashed with light as she leaped with incredible strength. She arced through the air until she was higher than the rooftop, set to land in front of me.

Boing.

I sent the swarm forward to meet her, lines of silk stretched between them. If I could disrupt her landing or even push her back enough that she missed the roof-

Getting cut off… did she just break that line of thought by splitting again?

She split into three copies in mid-air. The swarm caught the central one and tangled it. It landed hard on the roof and rolled, falling a solid twenty feet to the ground, while the other two landed and skidded for a grip on the shallow slope of the building. An instant later, she split off a replacement third, surrounding me.

“Uhh… hi?”

Okay. This wasn’t as bad as it looked. I had Atlas. Yes, she could shoot him -and me- out of the air, but I had an escape route and this terrain suited me fairly well. The shingled roof had a shallow slope leading to gargoyles and gutters at the edges, but I stood at the roof’s peak, giving me the steadiest footing.

Hmm. If this was going to succeed easily, we’d hear about it through Taylor doing it.

She was pacing, each of her copies slowly moving clockwise around me as they searched for a glimpse of me or some weakness. I was doing much the same, trying to think of an approach that would work here.

Let the rainbow surround you… 🎵

What did I know about her? Prism was one of Legend’s people, which meant it was very likely she was being groomed to manage her own team somewhere. Or she was considered effective enough to warrant fighting at Legend’s side. She would be good, if nothing else.

Sounds about right.

In a way, that was useful to me. Any points where I’d had the advantage would be pretty indicative of her limits and weaknesses, since I wouldn’t necessarily have to account for mistakes, accidents and idiocy on her part.

Pfft, fair enough!

She hadn’t immediately opened with her duplicates. Why? Did she have a reserve of power she drew on? Some restriction on when or where she could duplicate herself?

I got the sense that she was trying to hide who she was at the start, but maybe there’s more to it.

I’d seen her fight alongside Battery when they’d been tackling Mannequin. They’d paced the fight so each of them took turns. It made me think that maybe she needed to charge before she made her duplicates.

Part of that was supposedly (by Taylor’s assessment, admittedly) so Battery could attack while Prism split, then Prism could consolidate and attack while Battery was charging, but Prism’s split-and-consolidate seems a bit faster than Battery’s charging was, so she would’ve had to slow down to do that if she didn’t have to charge.

But yeah, a charge approach to this could work to balance the power a bit.

It would explain why she hadn’t made them the second I’d outed them as superheroes. That, or she’d had another reason and she needed time to recharge after using her power.

Is there a difference?

I suppose if she doesn’t need to charge the first time, then recharging afterwards would be a more apt description.

One of her copies rubbed at her eye, then disappeared. She replaced it with a version of herself that wasn’t suffering. That’s one question answered, sort of.

Neat.

It was all too easy to see how she’d gotten this far. I couldn’t keep all three versions of her in sight at the same time and taking her out of action necessitated taking all three versions of her down before her power recharged. Couple that with how hard and fast she could hit? She could be a nightmare.

Yeeeah, she’s got a really good power.

…Cauldron?

Could be a nightmare. Emphasis on the could. I countered her powers, in large part. If my suspicions were right, I had some kind of enhanced multitasking as a side-benefit of my powers.

Hm, yeah, but how much does that actually help you in close quarters?

I wasn’t limited to seeing with just my eyes, so her circling me wasn’t such a drawback, either. And I could easily attack all three at once.

I suppose that is true.

The trick would be doing it without giving her an avenue for attack. She seemed reluctant to charge blindly into the swarm, but I was equally reluctant to use those same bugs to attack when I needed them for cover. If I waited, her reinforcements would arrive, which put the pressure on me to end this.

Yeah, she’s got time on her side. You, on the other hand, really don’t.

I let out one deep breath, then carried out my plan of attack. I unwound the silk cords I’d gathered and climbed off Atlas, sending him out with one, taking hold of another.

Are you… trying to tie her up again?

Crouching to make myself a smaller target, I sent my bugs out to carry the string.

She moved to try to find a point where the swarm was thinner, while avoiding the clusters of bugs. It wasn’t quite fast enough.

I’d used my silk to grab Triumph’s cell phone and yank it from his hand. I did much the same thing here. One silk cord wound around the throat of Prism A, masked by the presence of bugs. Another wound around the leg of Prism B.

Pfft, you’re going to yank them?

Prism: “You gotta be pulling my leg.”

In the same moment I pulled on the cord leading to Prism B’s leg, Atlas pulled back on the cord leading to Prism A’s throat and my swarm bull-rushed Prism C, aiming to drive her off the roof through sheer force of numbers, surprise and the pull of silk cords.

Niiice.

Try not to accidentally hang Prism A and cause B and C to crack their skulls, though.

A and B fell from the roof, then promptly disappeared, consolidating into C. She flashed with a light I could see through the dense cloud of my swarm and charged forward. In a heartbeat, she was out of my swarm and capable of seeing me.

Welp.

I do like the lightshow whenever she consolidates.

Prism reached down to her ankle and grabbed for her gun. It didn’t come free of the holster.

Did Taylor tie that up again?

She could come with baggage she wasn’t aware of? She had some control. Maybe she had to go out of her way to exclude certain matter or material from her duplicates?

Hmm. Interesting.

She formed two new duplicates, and I caught a glimpse of them pulling their guns free before I was back in the cover of my swarm.

Sounds like Taylor interpreted that correctly.

At my bidding, Atlas flew low, close to the building where he was out of sight of the rooftop. He circled around until he was behind me.

I formed a crude swarm-clone and then stepped back onto Atlas. I didn’t sit, but relied instead on control of his flight and the angles he moved to help match my own balance.

This is like the Skitter equivalent of stepping off the edge a rooftop and onto a hovering vehicle that’s hidden from the camera just below until it floats up with the villain on board.

We swiftly descended to the ground as the part of my swarm that wasn’t dedicated to forming my double moved forward to attack once more. I could hear and feel Prism firing blind into the center mass of the swarm. She was mad now. I’d nearly taken her out.

What a good exit.

But we still need Trickster. How’s Triumph doing? Not well, I’d imagine.

Had to think ahead. She would use the same tactic as before, consolidating to barrel through, she’d see my decoy and attack it, then come looking for me.

I reused the cord that I’d had around her foot, winding it around one gargoyle. The trick was figuring out which copy I’d target.

Hmm. Force her to consolidate into one copy dangling from the roof?

This wouldn’t work if she unmade the copy to supercharge one of the other ones.

I’d have to bait her.

My bugs tied the silk around one of her wrists, letting the rest sit slack against the rooftop.

Hmmmm.

As I’d expected, the three of her appeared at the edge of the roof, looking down to the ground to find me.

Phrases like “the three of her” are always fun. 😛

One of my favorite powers from the webcomic Grrl Power is that of Harem. She’s kind of like Oni Lee, teleporting without destroying the original, but her copies act as a hivemind (also she’s not limited by line of sight). In practice, this means she has up to five different bodies (each copy has been customized over time) which can teleport wherever she wants to be.

So kind of like if you cross Oni Lee and Regent.

I was already heading for Triumph, putting myself roughly between them and him. It would serve two purposes, the primary purpose being that it would give them reason to think twice before shooting.

Good move. What’s the second purpose? Getting close to Trickster?

They leaped, then consolidated with a flash of light before they hit ground, to absorb the impact with superior strength and durability.

Sweet superhero landing.

Only the silk thread connected the gargoyle to the Prism-duplicate closest to me. She didn’t make it all the way to the ground. In the blink of an eye, she was whipped sideways, one arm hyperextended.

Ow!

Right, since she wasn’t aware of the silk thread, she ended up consolidating into that duplicate, making all of her whip sideways. Nice work, Taylor.

She dangled for a second or two before the silk gave way and she fell to the ground.

This is an oddly funny mental image to me. 😛

The power boost was temporary enough that she wasn’t invincible as she made her awkward landing.

Oof.

I hurried to where Triumph and Trickster were.

Triumph had managed to move a short distance away before collapsing again, and remained buried beneath a pile of my bugs. He wasn’t doing well. It was very much what I’d been concerned about at the outset, going a little too far.

Maybe it’s finally time for those epipens in your back compartment to be useful?

On their own, the choking bugs, the inflammation from the capsaicin and the stings weren’t too bad, but together?

I eased up on him just a bit.

A quick survey of the area told me that there weren’t any imminent threats in the vicinity.

Let it not be said that Skitter doesn’t have any sense of mercy.

Prism wasn’t standing back up. There was a kernel of something where Genesis was rebuilding a body. The policeman Trickster had swapped with was making his way back here, and other cops were en route as well. I still had a minute or two.

Huh, not bad! This is looking like a victory thus far.

The mayor, I noted, had left the closet, heading for a room lined with bookcases and cabinets.

My swarm sense allowed me to feel him opening one cabinet, unlocking and opening a drawer beneath. He retrieved a shotgun from the cabinet above and a box of ammunition from the drawer.

Well then, that could be a minor issue. But Taylor’s dealt with people with guns plenty of times by now. It’s just a matter of disarming him before he can poke holes in your costume.

I could have taken him out right there, hit him hard with my bugs. I didn’t. I’d have to leave after that, and I could almost believe that he’d be angry, that he’d argue for the city to be condemned with even more fervor than he might have otherwise.

That might already be the case if you don’t turn this around somehow. He said as much last chapter.

This could backfire if we simply left him wounded.

Instead, I focused on building up several swarm-decoys before he could make his way to the back door. I lifted Trickster up and draped him across Atlas’ back, binding him in place with silk thread.

I thought you said Atlas wasn’t strong enough for that?

Maybe he’s strong enough if she doesn’t have him fly?

Or maybe it’s because she was expecting to be on Atlas’ back herself in that scenario. That would be more consistent with the portrayal in Prey.

The mayor had loaded the gun by the time he was in the doorframe. He must have overheard Prism shouting about the tripwire, because he moved fairly gingerly through the threshold. His eyes roved over my massed decoys, his gun drifting from side to side as if he was getting ready to shoot at any instant.

Probably is.

“Mayor,” I spoke to him through one decoy, buzzing and droning the words.

Boom, shot through the decoy.

(And you’re to blame! You give mayors a bad name!)

He turned and fired, blowing a hole through its chest.

Now continue talking through the same decoy, please!

Or all of them, that’s even better.

“Your son is-” another spoke, while the first reformed.

He fired again, blasting the head off the second decoy.

How many shots does a shotgun have before he has to reload?

“-Dying” the first finished.

Ouch.

Leave one of your epipens behind, just in case?

He was in the midst of reloading the shotgun when he stopped. “What?”

“Suffocating,” I spoke through a third decoy.

Not a pleasant way to go.

She’s lying now, right, or did she really go that overboard?

“No. He-”

“Stings aren’t helping,” I began rotating through the decoys, each speaking a different sentence. “The allergic reaction’s causing his throat to close up. He can’t swallow. There are bugs in his mouth, nose and throat. They’re making a dangerous situation worse. He can barely even cough to clear his airways to breathe.”

I’ve said before that Taylor has a sense for theatrics, and that’s really coming in handy here.

“If I shoot you-” he tightened his grip on his gun.

“My power rewrites the basic behavior patterns of my insects from moment to moment. If you shoot me, they’ll continue attacking, and there’ll be no chance of getting them to stop. You’ll be sealing Triumph’s fate. Rory’s fate.”

Fuck, that’s a good point. It really does seem like she’s probably right about this.

“He’s stronger than that,” the mayor said. He didn’t sound sure.

“We all need to breathe,” I replied. I could have said more, but I judged it more effective to let the thought sit with the mayor.

Arguable, but Rory does.

I cleared the bugs away from Triumph, giving the mayor a visual of his superhero son lying on the ground, struggling. To make his struggles a little more pronounced, I briefly increased the pressure, shifting the bugs to limit the available oxygen. I wasn’t sure exactly how much danger he was in, but he wasn’t doing well.

Taylor really knows how to make a point.

As much as I wanted to pressure the mayor, I was ready to apply the epipen the second Triumph’s breathing slowed enough.

Yes, excellent.

For long seconds, the only sounds were the small noises that Triumph could manage, gagging, feeble coughing and wheezing.

“You’re going to kill him?”

“I would rather not.”

Truth, but phrased in a way that reads like a threat.

“He’s my boy,” the mayor said, his voice suddenly choked with emotion.

“Yeah.” I blinked hard, to clear my own eyes of moisture. I couldn’t meet his eyes. I focused my attention on Triumph instead.

You’re getting through to him.

So are you going to spin this like “If you don’t argue for the continuation of the city, I’ll be back”?

“I only ever wanted what was best for him. I didn’t want this. Please.”

I couldn’t muster a response.

“Please.”

Of course, Taylor doesn’t want to do this, so the emotional appeal does get to her a bit.

This time, I thought maybe I could have said something to him. I deliberately chose to remain silent.

“Hey!” he roared. He raised his gun, cocking it, “Don’t ignore me!”

Roaring runs in the family.

…I wonder if Triumph’s trigger event involved a feeling of not being heard.

Triumph coughed, then his chest heaved. I forced a bug down his throat to check and found it almost entirely closed up. I moved the bug away so it wouldn’t block the already limited airway.

“He’s almost stopped breathing,” I said, almost in shock at what this had come to. I’d been so preoccupied with Prism, I’d pushed things just a bit too far, I’d allowed my bugs to sting him because he was tough enough to take it, but I’d forgotten to account for the other variables, the pepper spray and the reduced air volume thanks to the bugs in his nose and mouth…

This really is reminiscent of the Lung fight, except the variable she didn’t take into account back then was Armsmaster messing with Lung’s regen afterwards.

I looked at the mayor and found his gun pointing at me. I spoke with my own voice.

The human voice.

That might help make the words truly connect.

Oh, wait, she means she said “He’s almost stopped breathing” in her own voice, not whatever next thing she’d say, giving away her real location. Whoops.

With a calmness that caught me off guard, I said, “It’s not too late.”

And here comes the “I can stop this” side of it.

The voice of the sixty-ish man who could address whole crowds with conviction and charisma sounded painfully feeble as he spoke, “CPR?”

I’m not sure that would help on its own.

“Yes. But primarily this.” I drew an EpiPen from my utility compartment and held it up. “Do you know how to use it?”

He shook his head.

“I do,” I told the mayor.

“And I’ll use it if you argue in the city’s favor.”

Even as I was painfully aware of Triumph’s slowing struggles, his body swiftly growing weak in the absence of air, I waited.

“Use it!”

Again, I didn’t move, I didn’t respond. I saw Triumph’s hand close into a fist and then stop.

There’s one condition, mayor.

A person can hold their breath for roughly two minutes… he’s still almost breathing, but how much breath is actually getting in and out of his lungs?

“Use it!” the mayor threatened me with a motion of the gun.

Fun fact: Two minutes is a good average for a physically fit person, but it’s far from the actual maximum record, which currently lies at 24 minutes and three seconds.

“We both know you can’t use that. I’m the only one who can save Rory.”

He sounded more like he was trying to convince himself than me, “There’ll be instructions. There’ll-”

“And if I break the needle in my death throes? Or if I drop it and you can’t find it in time to read the instructions and deliver it? Or if a stray shell fragment hits the needle?”

That first option is petty, but the mayor doesn’t know that Skitter isn’t that petty.

The mayor’s voice was a roar. It was as if he could will me to act by sheer emotion and volume. “He’s not moving! He’s dying!”

“I know.”

Seconds passed.

Taylor, maybe you should make your demand clear?

How long can I wait until I break?

The gun clattered to the grass, the mayor dropping to his knees. His voice was hollow. “I’ll give you what you want. Anything.”

I didn’t waste a second in stepping to Triumph’s side. I tilted his head to establish the airway, swept my fingers and bugs through to clear away the worst of the blockages and mucus and then pulled his pants down. I stabbed him in the thigh with the pen.

There we go.

I couldn’t afford to stay. I couldn’t be the one to administer the ongoing care Triumph needed. Coil was still after me, the reinforcements were coming, and I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to leave if I stayed much longer.

Fair enough. Just make what you want clear (I mean, he knows what they came to argue for, but it bears reinforcing) and leave, then.

“Do you know how to give CPR?” I asked.

“No. But my wife-”

“Bring her here. Hurry.”

He practically crawled on all fours in his hurry to get up the stairs and up to where his wife waited in the closet.

CPR it up!

“Sorry,” I murmured to Triumph. “I didn’t want this to go this far.”

He wheezed, a strangled squeal.

“Yeah,” I told him. “I know.”

Heh, this is a nice little exchange.

The older woman bent over her son and began administering CPR. I watched a few seconds to ensure she was doing everything right. I threw a second EpiPen to the mayor. “In fifteen minutes, if the paramedics aren’t here yet, use that.”

His hands were shaking so violently I was momentarily worried he’d break it.

“Washington,” I told him. “The city survives.”

Simple, clear and direct.

He nodded. There were tears in his eyes, this stubborn man who’d talked so casually with the supervillains who had invaded his home and threatened his family, who’d tried to take me on with a shotgun.

Remember Taylor’s guilt over terrorizing the hostages back in Agitation? That was nothing compared to breaking this man like this.

I turned to walk away, my swarm-decoys moving in the same direction. Before he could think to go back for the shotgun and shoot me in the back, I had a swarm gathered around me, hiding me from view.

And she makes her exit.


End of Colony 15.9

This was well worth the wait.

Taylor has come so far in so many ways. She went into a tough situation against Prism and Triumph, solved it beautifully, and surpassed herself on the “horrifying bug attack” front before going on to downright terrorize the mayor. It’s going to be interesting to see how much she condemns her own actions here in retrospect, relative to how much she’s condemned similar actions in the past.

The fighting was great, but the highlight of the chapter was definitely the emotions in the scene at the end. Really well written – you could feel the pain on both sides of the conflict.

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?

It feels really, really good to be back to this. See you soon with the next chapter!

One thought on “Colony 15.9: Divide and Holler

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