Monarch 16.3: The Other Half of the Battle

Source material: Worm, Monarch 16.3

Blogged: April 5, 2019


Alright, between an Interlude, April Fool’s and work-related back problems (which I’m still recovering from – feeling good today but still staying home to let my back finish healing), it’s been a little bit, but let’s get back to the Undertravelers!

Despite the nearly two weeks between regular chapters, my predictions still haven’t changed all that much:

So now Jirector Jemily Piggot is in Undertravelers custody, which ought to be interesting. It sounds like this was part of the plan even before they found out she has some control over the Dragon suits, which raises the question of what they intend to use her for. Do they just intend to have Regent infiltrate the PRT as her, or is there something else? Hmm.

“Leverage” suggests they might be using her as a hostage, eventually? Maybe?

Next chapter, I suppose they need to try a different route to figure out where Bitch, Ballistic and Genesis are? At least they could probably interrogate Piggot for some info on whether or not they have been captured. But yeah, probably going to need to visit one or more of the territories.

Unless they’re going to focus on sending Piggot back in?

Except that they may want to be wary of Piggot’s fighting skills.

Fighting skills aside, I’m thinking Piggot will try to fuck with the Undertravelers in other ways. She’s certainly not the type to cooperate. But Regent’s on their side and that could be a problem for her.

I’m thinking we’re more likely to send Piggot back in than to go searching the territories for the missing members just yet.

So yeah, let’s jump in and see what’s going on!


Well, we’d gone up against Dragon, the Wards and the Protectorate at the same time, and our pains had earned us our hostage.

Nice work.

I was worried the next part would be harder.

…how?

Are they planning on trying to get into the territories?

Trickster started fishing through the pockets of the Director’s suit-jacket.

Fishing for information, eh?

“Looking for this?” Imp held up the Director’s phone.

“Yeah,” Trickster replied.  He took the phone.  “There’s a chance it’s not scrambled.”

I suppose, yeah… though Piggot does seem the type to go for digital security, perhaps courtesy of Dragon.

 

“Bad idea,” I said.  “If-”

I stopped when Grue reached over and blanketed the Director’s head in darkness.

Right, good idea, don’t want her knowing the full deets of whatever this plan may be.

“Don’t need her listening in if we’re talking strategy,” Grue explained.  “Go on.”

“If Dragon’s listening in on the call, and it sounded like she was, we might accidentally divulge some crucial info.  Or we could be alerting those suits to our location.  Or the location of whoever you’re calling.”  I finished.

Ohhh. I misunderstood what they meant by “scrambled”. He was talking about Dragon’s anti-communications measures.

And yeah, it does make sense that she’d exempt the PRT/Protectorate’s devices if she could, but also that she’d have the ability to track the use of those.

“Might be.” Trickster replied, “But it’s handy to be able to contact others, and that might be worth the chance that we’d have to run again.”

“Maybe.”

Perhaps keep around in case of crucial need?

Trickster went on, “We could call Tattletale right now, hop in the truck Imp brought and have her meet us somewhere secluded, or we could split up, with one or more people going ahead to pass word on to her, then wait for her to meet us, wasting a hell of a lot of time in the process.  Keep in mind the suits are still disabled.”

He does have a point. Time is kind of at a premium here.

“There’s still the Protectorate and the Wards,” Grue said.

“The only ones capable of moving that fast are Assault and maybe Chariot,” I said.

Both of whom I currently think could use a little extra focus, so I wouldn’t say no thanks to Assault and Chariot vs Undertravelers.

“We’re short enough on time, and we need to know what happened to our other teammates,” Trickster said.

“It’s not a good idea.”  Grue folded his arms.

We’re in a strange situation where Trickster seems to have convinced Skitter of his viewpoint after Skitter convinced Grue of hers.

“I’m making the call anyways.  We can’t afford to wait.”

Grue stood there, literally fuming as the darkness roiled around him.  After a few long seconds, his pose relaxed and he held his hand out, “Then let me talk to her.  We have a password system.  The rest of you, keep an eye on her, and don’t forget to watch out for incoming threats.”

Wait, does that mean you haven’t clued the Travelers in on the passwords? …I suppose that would require everyone knowing each other’s civilian names, so fair enough.

Grue doesn’t seem happy with this, but goes along. I do feel like there’s a bit of tension here between him and Trickster that might develop into something more down the line.

(No, Homestucks, get your minds out of the spades–shaped gutter, that’s not what I’m talking about. For once. Although… okay fine, I could see it.)

“Good man.  The two of us will be over there,” Trickster said, pointing to one area where sand and debris had been bulldozed into a small hill.  “Need to talk with ‘Dancer for a second.  Shout if you need a hand.”

Hmm. Okay. 👀

I nodded.  Grue, Trickster and Sundancer all stepped away, leaving Regent, Shatterbird, Imp and I to watch over our hostage.

Oh, I guess we’re not hearing the conversation, then, instead focusing on Piggot.

A minute passed, and she shifted position, her head leaving Grue’s darkness.

You got something to say?

“Back up,” Regent warned.

“I have bad knees,” the Director said.  “I will if you make me, but it’s painful.  I suppose that could be a way of easing into torture, if that’s your style.”

This is a nice little bit of continuity with the Interlude. Without the Interlude, this would look like a throwaway detail, but now we know what’s likely to be why she’s got bad knees. She had goblins gnawing on them.

And of course, as innocent as this statement looks, she’s still prodding, by calling what Regent does torture. Everything points to that being approximately accurate, but it’s still her prodding at him by being very frank about what she expects of him.

“Sounds like a plan,” Regent said, uncharacteristically cheery.

Regent doesn’t mind, though. But I wonder how much of that cheeriness is an act.

“No,” I told him.  To her, I said, “Sit however you want.  We’ll cover you again if we start talking work.”

How polite.

“Please, take a seat.”

She gave me a curt nod.

“Maybe we should get her to command the suits?”  Regent asked.

Piggot appears to be playing along for now, but I’m not sure it’ll last. She’s probably going to attempt to twist everything in her favor while appearing cooperative.

“Won’t work,” the Director replied.

“Why’s that?”  Regent asked.

“I can send them in, I can tell them where to go or when to stand by, but they do what they’re programmed to, and they’re programmed to avoid attacking civilians and local heroes.”

Ahh, makes sense.

“That didn’t stop the foam-spraying-”  Regent started.

Hm, good point.

“The Cawthorne model,” the Director interrupted.

“Sure.  That didn’t stop the Cawthorne thing from shooting Trickster when he had Kid Win hostage.”

“I expect Dragon accounted for the fact that you might take hostages and use the nonlethality restrictions of the A.I. against it.  She would have given the machines tools or strategies to work around it.”

Yeah, but y’know, if she can exploit those things, then the Undertravelers can, if they gain enough control.

Also, I’m fairly sure the restrictions are just part of Dragon herself (though it’s unclear how much Defiant has changed about that), meaning in theory, her mechs can attack civilians and local heroes, but she can’t control them to do so. Someone gaining control of her tech through other methods may not have such restrictions, like perhaps the Dragonslayers.

Then again, the Dragonslayers would be exactly why she might incorporate the restrictions into her tech on top of her own restrictions.

“And you’re just volunteering this information?” I asked.

This skepticism is good. Piggot is definitely the type to, in this sort of situation, put on a facade of playing along but feed them incomplete or slightly inaccurate information that can get them into a vulnerable situation or dissuade them from doing the optimal thing.

I don’t think she’s lying here, but she’s probably trying to manipulate them away from the course of action she’s advising against because she thinks that’ll benefit her in some way.

“I said it earlier, I think, but you’re not a stupid girl, Skitter.  Reckless, shortsighted, capricious, violent, even vicious… but not stupid.  I’m hoping you have the sense to realize how dangerous your current position is.  There will be more mechanical suits coming.  There will be heroes coming to Brockton Bay to assist us.  You can’t afford to hold this city, and we can’t afford to let you.  Not in the grand scheme of things.”

Ah, yes, the other thing she’s doing – wearing down morale, convincing the Undertravelers that they’ve lost.

“She likes to jabber,” Imp said.  “Should we gag her?  Or make her stick her head back in the dark?”

Like Bitch would say, “Words.”

“Might be better,” Regent answered, looking down at the Director.

“Need a cloth.  I could pull off a sock, jam in her mouth, maybe we tie it in there with Skitter’s silk.  My feet are sweating like crazy in these boots, so it’d be really gross.”

I’m not sure the silk would work very well in that environment?

“No,” I said.  “We’re not going to humiliate her.  We get the information we need from her, see if we can’t use her as a hostage to leverage for peace.  That’s all.”

Hmm. I’m not sure that would work, given the whole city is at stake from the PRT’s POV. “Peace” would mean them at least pretending to give up on keeping the city out of villains’ grasp, and they can’t do that.

The Director shook her head.

“What?”

“Extorting for peace when you started the war.”

I mean… true.

“When are you saying we started the war?  When the ABB came after us and we fought back?  When we ambushed the fundraiser to embarrass you?  When we fought Leviathan and the Slaughterhouse Nine and then picked up the pieces ourselves, clearing our territories of the low-level threats while leaving the civilians more or less alone?”

I do suppose there is that charitable look at it. Hell, the Protectorate even decided to let them do it at first. At least Skitter.

“Except for Bitch.”

“We adjusted Bitch’s territory so she wouldn’t have as much cause to harass the locals, not so long ago.”

Alright, they did go through with that.

“I suppose that’s a consolation to the people she injured.”

Yeeah, I’m with Piggot on that one.

“I’m not saying we’re perfect.  We aren’t.  But we’re doing something.

“So are we.”

Yeah, but is that something really helping?

“You’re not doing enough.”

“And when you subtract the blood you’ve spilled and the pain you’ve caused, have you really done that much more, Skitter?  That’s oversimplifying, obviously.  Right and wrong aren’t a matter of adding the good deeds and subtracting the bad.”

If it were, and you went by Skitter’s perception of good and bad deeds, she’d be a hell of a long way down the negatives. Even if you didn’t count “letting Jack escape the city”.

(It’s a hell of a good thing for Skitter’s conscience that Jack is/was only the catalyst and the apocalypse would happen anyway.)

“I’m bad at math anyways,” Regent said.

Hah!

And of course he’s the one saying it. The guy with a ton of bad deeds behind him. I’m personally prone to glossing over that shit a bit more than I should, in part because he’s put it behind him (though that doesn’t help his victims), but he’d be waaaaaaay down in the negatives.

The Director ignored him, her eyes on me.  “I presume you’ve been paying for the supplies and materials you’ve been importing to your territory with your own money?  You’ve been paying your people, I know.”

Right, the whole blood money issue. I stand by my stance on this, but neither character actually knows about the thing that leads me to believe a lot of it isn’t technically dirty (unless you count cheating at the stock market by using a power as dirty).

“Yeah.”

“How much damage was done in the course of earning that money?  I see the repercussions you don’t.  Things pass my desk: hospital bills, property damage, psychiatrist’s notes.  People lose their jobs, lose precious belongings.

Of course, the Undertravelers can’t just tell Piggot about Coil’s involvement.

Although it might help them in the long run.

Parents are woken in the middle of the night because their children are seriously injured.   I see the details from detectives in narcotics who track the drug trade-”

“I-”

She interrupted me before I could protest.  “I know you don’t sell drugs, Skitter.  But you’re interacting with people who do.  If you buy a favor from someone who does, the Merchants, Coil, the Chosen, then you’re indirectly supporting that trade.  Just like you’re supporting any number of evils every time you help a fellow villain.

She’s not wrong.

I’ve talked to homicide detectives who have dealt with the bodies in the wake of your shenanigans.”

…and that might be why we had a guy last chapter who possibly went on to be left for dead by Skitter.

“Shenanigans” is and always has been a good word.

“We don’t kill.”

“People die when you start feuds.  Bakuda was injured by you in one altercation, and she attacked the city over the course of several days.  Do you know how many people were harmed, then?  Because you set her off?  I could show you photos.  People with flesh melted off, frozen, burned, turned to glass.  When I don’t see these things in person, I see them on my desk, in high-definition glossy photos.

…meanwhile the capes working under her are arguing that she and other suits don’t know what it’s like out there.

And even besides this, besides her dealing indirectly with what’s out there, we know from the Interlude that it’s not true. She has been out there, fighting like the capes do, but without powers.

I could arrange for you to see the photos if you don’t believe me, or if you want to see the damage you’ve done for yourself.”

Piggot is absolutely trying to get under Skitter’s skin here.

“No.  I don’t need to see them.”

She looked up at me, one eye half closed, both eyes bloodshot.  “Why is that, Skitter?  Are you afraid facing that reality would shatter this nice little delusion you’re living under?”

Piggot is similar in some ways to Taylor, and in other ways to Lisa, while at the same time being a wonderfully complicated bitch (though she’s not like Bitch). She’s a very good character.

“I’m not to blame for whatever crimes Bakuda committed.”

That’s either a new outlook or a lie.

“You played a role.”

“Anything she did is on her head, just like anything the Nine did is on them.”

I’m inclined to think it’s a new outlook.

Took her long enough to realize this. I think it’s healthy for her. And now that she’s finally grown out of that particular funk, here Piggot is, challenging her on it.

Consider this, Piggot: By your logic, you are to blame for the Undertravelers attacking the Protectorate HQ and capturing you. Oh, and for the miasma, let’s not forget that.

“Where do you draw the line?  When do you start taking responsibility?  Or will you explain away every evil you’ve done and count only the actions you want?”

I could have protested, argued that I did take the blame for some things, I did blame myself for Dinah, for not seeing the bigger picture, for acting when I’d known Coil needed a distraction for something bigger.

Wait, did she figure that out in Agitation, before the robbery? I don’t remember that.

“Hey,” Regent said.

I turned to face him.

Hey.

“This is going nowhere.  Let’s wait until Tattletale can talk to her.”

Yeah, though Piggot might decide to shut up and try her best to ignore anything Tattle says.

Then again, she’s been willing to talk to Tattle before in spite of what Tattle’s files say about avoiding that. Maybe she thinks she can out-Tattle Tattle.

“Right,” I said.  Not only had it been going nowhere, but she’d had had the upper hand, so to speak.  Not necessarily in the strength or validity of her arguments, but in the psychological and emotional sense.  I’d failed to budge her and she’d provoked a response from me.

Yeah. She’s smarter than she might seem at a glance, so she knows where to prod.

The Director didn’t open her mouth again, apparently satisfied.

Grue returned with Trickster and Sundancer following behind him.  “Imp, where’s the truck you used to get here?”

Grue let Imp drive a truck…? Okay, fair enough, it’s not exactly the most dangerous thing she’s been doing recently, but still.

“You passed it as you came here.”

“We’ll have to be careful,” Grue said,  “Anything from the Protectorate, her included, may be bugged.  No talking about anything sensitive on our way back, and we’ll ditch it asap.”

Actually, that’s a good point – covering her ears doesn’t help that much if she has a microphone in her clothes.

…also I just realized Imp might’ve just forced the Director to drive. Though that might put too much power in her hands.

We nodded.  I had only the one good arm, my other shoulder still tender, so I walked around to the Director’s left side to grab her under the shoulder and help haul her to her feet.

What a haul.

I was surprised that she cooperated.  If she’d delayed us by forcing us to carry her, she might have bought time for reinforcements to arrive.  If we’d forced the issue with violence, it would have reinforced her argument.

…which raises the question of what her play is.

I still suggest you don’t underestimate her.

In her shoes, I might have done it, just to apply that stress to my enemy.  It said something that she didn’t.  I just wasn’t sure what.

Somehow what you’re doing is more beneficial for her.

We emerged from the truck at the rear of a liquor store.  Tattletale stood in the open doorway of the loading area with Brooks and Minor beside her.

Howdy-doo!

We hauled the Director out of the back of the truck.  Grue had covered her in darkness to keep her unawares, and she looked more than a little disoriented.

love little touches like Taylor using “unawares”.

Though apparently “unawares” isn’t as much of a hip and colloquial corruption of “unaware” as it looks. It dates back to the 16th century at least, and if you go by the definition from back then, Taylor is actually misusing it, because it started out as an adverb, the -s ending having previously had the same function -ly does now.

(The site I found that last bit of info on treats it as still being exclusively an adverb, but I am very much a descriptivist when it comes to linguistics. As far as I’m concerned, it’s used enough in the way Taylor is using it that it’s now also a synonym for “unaware”. Claiming otherwise is like saying humans walking on two legs is wrong because we once only walked on all fours.)

Her hair was in disarray and she couldn’t fix it with the cuffs on, and the effects of the capsaicin hadn’t entirely worn off; her eyes were puffy, her face red.

She’s having a bit of a bad everything day.

But when she looked at Tattletale, the smallest smile touched her lips.

…uh-oh.

For some reason she wanted to talk to Tattletale. Maybe to try once more to nail down what her power is?

“What’s this, Piggot?” Tattletale asked, hopping down from the ledge to the parking lot.  “Looking forward to a duel of wits?”

Dang it, I almost suggested that.

Director Piggot shook her head, still smiling.

“Staying mum?  Lips sealed, so you can’t betray vital information?”

Ahh, right, smugness over obeying that protocol.

Worked so well for Cherish.

“I trust you’ll get it anyways,” the Director replied.

“First things first,” Grue said, “Are we bugged?”

You’ve got Skitter with you…

“The truck is.  But we’ll have my guy drive it a ways and then leave it somewhere.”  Tattletale jerked a thumb towards Minor, and he marched over to the truck, catching the keys as Grue tossed them.

“They’ll know the truck stopped here,” the Director said.

Fair point.

“I know.  We’re going to go for a walk,” Tattletale said.  “Up for that?”

“I don’t think I have a choice, do I?”

Hell no.

“Nope.”

We headed down a back alley.  I saw the Director struggling to keep her feet under her, her pumps sloshing in shallow water.  She stumbled once, and I put a hand out to steady her.  I was more likely to be crushed beneath her than to catch her if she fell, but at the same time, I wasn’t sure we could get her off the ground without uncuffing her if she did slip.

I suppose that might be an issue, yes. 😛

I didn’t like her.  Maybe that was an obvious conclusion for me to come to, but she reminded me of my high school principal in some ways: she was the authority figure, the person who embodied an institution I had no respect for.

Taylor has never meshed well with authority figures, even before she became a villain.

On a more concrete level, she was indirectly or directly responsible for Armsmaster, for Sophia and the other bullies getting away with what they did.

You should have a chat with Triumph about some of that.

Even on a basic, abstract level, she reminded me of Emma in how quickly and easily she’d gone for the throat in trying to cut me down and provoke a reaction from me.  Again, much like Emma, it was all the more nettling because she wasn’t entirely wrong.

Much like Tattletale, too. This is how Lisa works a lot of the time.

“You have our teammates in custody?” Tattletale asked.

The Director didn’t respond.

“No? Alright, good to know.”

“That’s a no.  Which means they’re either injured or dead and you aren’t aware, or they’re holed up and can’t leave their territory because of the suits that are sitting there.”

Rescue missions!

“Perhaps.”  Even with the unsteady footing, the Director was focusing more on Tattletale than where she was going, studying her.  But I knew that if Icould see that much, Tattletale would as well.

“Is Dragon in town?”

Yes, but Piggot might not know that she is, since she believes Dragon to only have one body.

“Last I saw,” the Director replied, hedging.

“She’s gone,” Tattletale said, for the benefit of the rest of us.  “Another task.  Wouldn’t be an Endbringer.  Not yet.  The Nine.”

Yep. Though according to Eidolon, it won’t be long before the next Endbringer strike.

“Yes.”

“Want to give up the information now, spare me the hassle of twenty questions?”

Are you kidding? Of course she’ll make this difficult for you.

“My delaying you means the other models have a chance to find and arrest your teammates.  You’ll have to ask.”

I love this about Piggot. She’s upfront about it when she does stuff like this. She’ll play along to some extent while making things difficult for them, but she’s not about to pretend that isn’t what she’s doing unless such a pretense would be of use in itself.

“We have other tools at our disposal,” Tattletale glanced at Regent.

Hm. True, though unless you mean to force her to give up the info through the torture itself, I’m fairly sure relying on Regent’s sense of her bodily impulses would be even slower.

“And I know Regent takes anywhere from fifteen minutes to two and a half hours to take control.”

Right, that too.

“After which point you wouldn’t ever be able to work in this town again.”

Ahh, extorting her by threatening her position. Though she’d probably just become Director somewhere else.

“Taking the same approach you did with Shadow Stalker?”  The Director asked.

This much, the Undersiders overall know, but maybe the extent Regent went to back then is about to come out.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, like Shadow Stalker,” Tattletale replied.

“We have records from when Regent worked for Heartbreaker, under his previous name, Hijack.  Interviews with people Regent controlled.”

“Good for you,” Regent replied.

That’s nice, honey. Now as I was saying about this newspaper…

“I know his power gets weaker as you spread it thin, control slips.  You can’t afford to loosen your hold on Shatterbird, so no, I don’t think you’ll try to take control of me.”

…ah, yeah, that’s a good point.

“And you believe that,” Tattletale said.  “Enough that you’re confident.  You aren’t worried here, even when you’ve been taken hostage.”

Piggot does strike me as a potential Icarus sometimes. Her confidence might come back to bite her in the oversized ass at some point.

“Which leaves you the options of playing twenty questions to get all the information you need, or you can try something more dire.  Torture?”

It’s not every day you hear someone suggest you torture them.

“That’s the second time she’s brought that up,” I said.

“Because she’s trying to get a sense of us,” Tattletale said.  “She wants to see our reactions and body language as the subject comes up.”

She really does act a lot like Lisa sometimes.

“Yes,” the Director said.  “Based on that much, I’m almost certain you wouldn’t torture me and you aren’t the type to kill unless absolutely backed against the wall.  Which means I can be home before midnight.”

Right, keep believing that.

“A little optimistic,” Trickster growled the words.

“I don’t think so,” Director Piggot replied, turning to level a glare at him.  She looked almost feral, even as her voice was controlled.  “See, I know you might try to kill me if these others weren’t around.  But the others won’t let you.  There’s Regent too: little to no compunctions, as we saw with Shadow Stalker.”

Oh, here we go. 🙂

Her eye darted to Tattletale, then to Grue, and finally to me.

How much does she know about why Regent did what he did there? Regent told Shadow Stalker that he did it because of the shit the latter did to his teammate, but didn’t specify which teammate. But Stalker might’ve been able to deduce some of that from Skitter’s behavior and from the stuff Regent sought out on her phone and sent to the police.

“Do they know the full story?” the Director asked.

“No,” Tattletale replied.  She sighed a little.

Ahh, Lisa has figured it out.

“Tell us what?” I asked.

“I’m interested, too,” Grue added.

Skitter’s line here kind of sounds like Piggot’s line has been changed from something like “Did you tell them the full story?”, but it still works.

The Director only smiled.

Because now she’s Tattletaled them, brought some darker internal secrets into the daylight and possibly caused conflict between the teammates depending on their reactions to what Regent really did.

“Do you trust me?”  Lisa asked.

“Pretty much,” I replied.  “A little bit less right now than I did a minute ago.”

At least she’s open about it?

“Fair.  She’s trying to derail our interrogation.  She knows we won’t get violent with her to get the details we need, but I’ll be able to get the answers out of her with a bit of time to ask and apply my power.  Knowing this, she’s trying to fuck with us, set us against each other, and delay us.”

Sounds about right. Are you asking them to wait until later to get the full deets so as to keep this on track?

I nodded slowly, glancing between Tattletale and Director Piggot.

Tattletale shrugged, “If you trust me, can you agree to drop the subject?  I’ll explain before too long.”

“Knowing is half the battle,” the Director said.  “Only half.  Being aware of what I’m doing doesn’t stop me.  I’ve learned a lot since you took me hostage, and I already knew some things from research, observation, paperwork and background checks.  I have a read on your personalities and how you operate, and I know some background details.  How is your brother, Tattletale? Sarah?”

Oooh! Ooh! Now these are some deets I’d like to hear. Brother, eh?

Also, the thing about being aware of what she’s doing not stopping her is very good. And hey, my TV screen, playing Homestuck music while I read, just started displaying track art that involves exactly the character that just got me thinking of: Doc Scratch.

a2604501045_16.jpg

Piggot and Scratch, and even Tattletale to some extent, all have that air of smugness mixed with openness, the idea that it doesn’t matter if the opponent is fully aware of what they’re up to because they’re just that good at manipulating people, and have extensive knowledge to back that manipulation up with.

And Doc Scratch is one of my favorite antagonists ever.

Sarah?

Yeah, Alec’s not the only one who’s changed his name in the past.

I glanced at Tattletale, saw a flicker of emotion cross her face before she smirked, wagged a finger at the Director and spoke with a touch too much cheer, “Low blow.”

Piggot does have a fondness for low blows, it seems.

“I’ve been looking forward to having a conversation with you for some time, playing it out in my head.  I paid out of my own pocket for information so I can beat you at your own game.  You would have done well to erase the trail leading back home, Sarah.  But then, that would have required thinking about it, maybe even going back.”

The way Piggot is weaponizing the name Sarah reminds me of Jack, Mannequin and Alan.

“You’re glad we took you hostage.”

Yeah, seems she views it as an opportunity.

Piggot smiled.  It wasn’t pretty.

“Ball’s still in our court,” Tattletale said.

Watch out for low blows as Piggot tries to take it, though. There’s no judge around to give her a red card.

“But you have a time limit.  Like I said, I expect to be home and in my bed before the night’s out.”

How much do you actually know about their time limit?

“You have a card up your sleeve, leverage.”

“In a way.  I’m dying.”

What?

…does this have anything to do with her kidney problems and need for dialysis?

Our group had been walking across a street, and we all stopped to look at her.

“You need constant medical care?” Tattletale said.

“I have a setup at home.  Hemodialysis.  I hook myself up to it every night, flush my blood of excess water and pollutants over the course of eight hours while I’m sleeping.  If I don’t get the dialysis, I expect I’ll go downhill very quickly.

Bingo.

My body’s already in rough shape, and I’ve overworked myself these past few weeks.  I wouldn’t die that quickly, but you wouldn’t get any use out of me, either.  So we get to enjoy each other’s company for about five or six hours.  Then you decide whether you let me go home or whether you let me die.”

Well played.

“And in the meantime, you intend to stall.”

“To the best of my ability,” the Director said.

“What suit did they send against Bitch?  Hellhound?”

“Did you know your parents are still looking for you?  They never stopped.”

Cherish mentioned that Lisa ran away from home, if I’m not mistaken. Sounds like she didn’t give any heads up as to why.

So why hasn’t Piggot contacted her parents with this info? Would that count as going after family?

Tattletale pursed her lips.  “A model Dragon’s used before?”

“You should have seen the looks on their faces when I told them you were alive and well,” Piggot said.  She measured the look on Tattletale’s face, smiled.  “Yes, I visited them in person.”

Oh, okay, she did.

I like how they’re each talking around each other here, the two of them holding two different conversations with each other and reading the other’s answers from body language.

Tattletale’s eyes narrowed.  “I could turn the tables on you, pick you apart.”

Lisa’s quickly growing sick of it, it seems.

“Please do.  Waste time.  You won’t accomplish much.  Look at me.  You know as well as I do that I wear my shame and disappointment on the outside, for the world to see.  I had the muscles of my legs torn apart years ago on the job, lost the ability to keep up exercise, coupled with hours behind a desk, hours of the dialysis and recovery from surgeries, no time to take care of myself with work.  I know I’m ugly, I know I’m fat.  There’s nothing you could say to me that I haven’t said to myself a hundred times over.”

And all of this goes well with the whole openness angle.

Lisa’s deal when talking to enemies is taking advantage of people’s secrets and hidden insecurities to break them, but here she’s up against someone who’s not only trying to do the same thing to her, but claims to not have those things.

Claims. That’s the keyword.

“You sound almost proud,” Trickster said, a hint of disgust in his voice.

Eesh.

There’s this one episode of MLP:FiM that is a bit of a trainwreck (or maybe a roadblock) because, in part, of its message. Among other issues, there’s a song in it (a catchy one, admittedly) that claims that it’s good to have flaws, which… yes, for characters, that’s good, but the song had the characters claim that they liked each other as people because of their flaws and that was supposed to be a good thing.

(One of the other flaws of the episode is that it’s really unclear whether it wants us to see the characters as characters or as people. It has a tendency to excuse the show’s flaws on the writing front with “but they’re people” and, vice versa, justifying their flaws as people in-universe with arguments that usually apply to characters.)

This caused the Mysterious Mr. Enter, a critic who started out as an MLP episode reviewer but let MLP fall to the side a couple seasons before this episode, to go on a huge rant about the messages of this episode and the horrible lesson of the song, pointing to how thinking your flaws are a good thing means you won’t do anything to get better and grow as a person. It’s a good review in general, even if it focuses very heavily on the messages.

(I’ve actually mentioned this episode on the blog before, as an example of the writers getting meta.)

Anyway, back to Worm: I think to some extent Piggot sounds proud because she’s wielding her openness about her flaws as a defense against Tattletale and is smug about it, there does seem to be an element of pride that she doesn’t feel the need to hide her flaws, rather than the pride in having those flaws that Trickster seems to interpret it as.

“I have no powers, Trickster.  I’m lowly, a mere mortal compared to you.  I admit it, I admit I’m weaker, slower, my options are pretty limited in a fight.  But I’m tenacious.  I’m shameless, if I have to be, because I refuse to lose to you.”  Her voice bordered on a growl as she uttered the word ‘refuse’.

And this is stuff I like about her. As. A. Character.

Piggot as a person is pretty horrible, but she’s fascinating as a character.

This was the director of the PRT?  Hearing her speak, I’d almost thought she was like Coil, at first.  Cultured, proud, arrogant.  Now that she was showing her true colors, it was almost the opposite.  And strangely, it was equally problematic.

She’s taking a kind of perverse pride in being uncultured and less powerful where Coil is a cultured man seeking power and proud of that.

A fleck of spit flew from her lips as she continued her rant, “And I find it pretty fucking poetic that I have the upper hand because of the very things that you capes look down on us for.  I’m fat, frail, scarred, and I have old wounds that I’ll never recover from.  But because of that, because I could die in a matter of hours if you don’t let me seek treatment, you’re either going to have to compromise with your personal code or you’re going to have to let me walk away and find another way to beat Dragon.”

I mean… she’s not wrong, that is just about the most poetic thing that could happen with her particular character and outlook.

This isn’t working.

“Trickster, watch her,” I said.  “Sundancer, you and the medic watch Trickster and the Director.  Rest of you with me.  We’ll talk over there.”

Uh. Watch Trickster? You afraid he’ll do something stupid, provoked by Piggot?

We retreated from the woman.

Regent ran his fingers through his hair.  Tattletale had her arms folded as she leaned against a wall, staring at the ground.  She wasn’t smiling, and she wasn’t venturing to comment.

I’m not sure we’ll be getting any more details on the former Sarah this chapter.

“What’re you thinking?” I asked.

“This isn’t working, obviously.”

“We could take her to her house, give her the treatment she needs,” Grue said.

Right. That did occur to me, but I didn’t find a good opportunity to say it.

Except Piggot suggested it took several hours, and they don’t have that kind of time.

“That’s what she wants.  There’s a trap there.  Either she’s got some measures in place at home, guns hidden where she can get at them or some kind of safe room, or the PRT is already there, waiting to ambush us.”

Hm, makes sense.

“I could control her,” Regent said.  “Send Shatterbird back, lock her up, get control.”

“Which would take time, again,” Tattletale said.  “The benefits would be negligible, and it would take longer than you think, because she’s trained in resisting mental and emotional attacks.”

Another detail that would have much less context without that Interlude. Yeah, that was clearly a well-placed one.

“I wouldn’t have thought,” I commented.

Tattletale shook her head, “Let’s figure it’s half an hour for Shatterbird to get snug in her cage.  Two or three hours to get control of her… and for what?  They have an idea we captured her.  If they haven’t revoked her access and powers by now, they will have by the time Regent’s finished with her.  So how do we use her?”

Makes sense. Not much use of that.

“We’re running out of time,” Grue said.  “It’s maybe two or three in the afternoon.  That gives us maybe twenty hours to get this done by Coil’s schedule.  Brainstorm.  More ideas, come on.”

“We could abandon the job.  Say fuck you to Coil, let his grand plan fall apart,” Regent said.  “Get Bitch and leave town.”

Of course Regent doesn’t mind that, but I doubt Skitter’s fine with it. For multiple reasons.

“I don’t like that,” Grue said.  “On a lot of levels.”

“Sure, sure.  But it’s the most obvious choice.”

“Not an option as far as I’m concerned,” I replied.  “I won’t blame you guys if you want to do that, but I gotta do this, finish the job or fail trying.”

Yeah.

“Okay, I sort of expected you to say that.  Um, hear me out on this before jumping down my throat, but why don’t we torture her?  She’s been begging for it, practically.”

aye fair enough.jpg

[TF2 comic panels]

[beat]

Demoman: Aye, fair enough.

I stared at him.

“Torture doesn’t work,” Grue said.

Right, I watched a video about GTA V recently that briefly touched on a character talking about that.

“Without getting into too much detail, I’d say it does.  Sometimes,” Regent replied.

…Regent is the one with experience, though.

“Not with someone like her,” Tattletale said, sighing.  “Even if she didn’t have a background in that sort of thing, her personality… if anything I think she’d be glad we did it.  Not while we were doing it, but it’d validate her view of the world.”

“Which is?” Grue asked.

That the parahumans are monsters who’d torture people for their own gain.

“That we’re monsters.  In her eyes, our trigger events highlight a moment at the worst point of our lives and our powers make it so we can never put that behind us.  Good guy or bad, she sees us as walking personifications of whatever issues drove us to get our powers in the first place, inflicting some shadow or abstract representation of those traumas on others with our powers.”

Considering connections between powers and trigger events, it’s not entirely off-base, either. It’s far from correct, but it’s not entirely wrong.

“How can someone educated and professional like her think that way?”  Grue asked.

“For one thing, she’s not all that wrong,” Tattletale replied, shrugging.

Exactly.

“Hm?”

“We are.  But even people without powers are walking issues.  That’s no big surprise.  Having powers just… makes it all more noticeable.  Piggot’s suffering from some tunnel vision, is all.  Happens with any bigot.

Piggot the bigot.

I wonder if that was intentional all along.

Anyways, my point was, if we torture her, we’re only reinforcing her worldview.  It would almost negate any psychological stress we put her under.  No, torture is out for a few reasons.”

“What if we give her treatment?”  I asked.  “Not at her house.  Off-site.”

Hm. Not a bad idea. Does Dr. Q have a dialysis machine?

“We’d be showing our hand, maybe cluing her in to our connection with Coil, and it would still take time we don’t have,” Grue answered.  “Nothing saying we’d get enough in the way of answers to be worth the time spent.”

“I don’t see what was wrong with my suggestion,” Imp said.

Which one was that again? Are you talking about the sock gag?

“Which was?”

Imp pulled off her boot and then peeled off a knee-high sock, wiggled her toes before jamming her bare foot back in the boot.  She stretched out the sock, “Gag the fatty.”

She wouldn’t be able to say words to give you information, for one thing. Though that’s less of an issue with Tattletale around, and the sock would stop Piggot from disturbing her with thoughts of her family…

“I need her to answer if I’m going to get the detail we need in any reasonable length of time,” Tattletale said.

“She’s not answering anyways, right?  Get what you need from her body language.”

Tattletale frowned.  “Yeah.  You’re right.  But it’s going to take time.”

And time is at a premium.

“And we’re operating in the dark until then,” Grue said.

Says the guy who thrives on creating darkness.

“We did okay with the last fight,” Imp said.

“Barely,” I cut in, at the same moment Grue said, “We didn’t-“

“We walked away,” Imp clarified.

…heh.

“Where are you on the other thing, what you were talking to Coil about?”  I asked Tattletale.

Right, what mysteries do you have in store for me?

“Trying to get info.  It’s hard with the way communications are down.  We sent some soldiers out in trucks, each going down a different major road in the hopes of getting far enough away to get cell service.  Then they gotta get back here to bring me what they got.”

Oof.

“Time’s our most valuable resource here,” Grue said.

I spoke up, “I don’t think we can afford to wait until we hear from your soldiers or the Director.”

“Heading out?”

I nodded, pointing towards the others.  We rejoined Trickster, Sundancer and Brooks.  Imp shoved her sock in the Director’s mouth and took the silk cord I offered, tying it in place.

jake_bigtext9.gif

“Careful,” I said.  “Trouble with this sort of gag is that if she pukes, she could choke on her own vomit.”

Right, that’d be gross.

Oh, and unfortunate, given that we want to keep her alive.

…but mostly gross.

“How do you know these things?” Regent asked.

Pfft.

That’s honestly a very fair question.

“I’ll be careful,” Tattletale assured me.

“Let’s plan, then.  Tattletale, any idea if the other suits would be active yet?  The ones we had Piggot shut down?”

And she just lets it hang there, hah.

“Not yet, but soon.”

“Then I’m thinking we should split up into two teams” I said.  “Strike while the other three suits are shut down and waiting for Dragon’s attention.  If we can rescue our teammates, we’ll be half-again as strong.”

Be careful about splitting the party when communications are down and your numbers are already lowered. But otherwise, this does make sense.

“We don’t have the firepower to fight those things,” Trickster said.

“We have lots of firepower,” I replied.  “Problem is they have a lot more.  So pick your fights, strike at the right time and hit hard.  Play dirty, don’t give them a chance if you can help it.  Grue, you should go with Sundancer and Trickster, so we’ve got even numbers on both sides.”

Uhh.

Taylor.

I don’t know if you’re planning something you haven’t mentioned yet, but on the surface, that’s the worst decision you’ve made in this whole situation thus far.

Grue’s power doesn’t synergize with the Travelers’ at all – both of them need to see what they’re doing, especially Trickster – but it does synergize with yours. Additionally, Grue is your best Undersider equivalent to Trickster as far as control of the battlefield goes (though admittedly the bugs are good for that too sometimes, that depends a lot on the enemy and they’re not good for it against Dragon), and you may want one of those on your side. You’d probably be far better off sending Tattletale with the two of them (I’d say Regent, but he controls the Undersiders’ only real match to Sundancer in terms of firepower), unless you specifically expect to need her more on your end.

Oh, except “even numbers” suggests Tattletale might still not be coming, instead focusing on the other thing she’s doing. Even without her this doesn’t technically result in even numbers, because of Shatterbird. Hmm. Okay, fair enough, keeping Shatterbird in the group opposite Sundancer may be more important than keeping Grue in a group he can synergize with and opposite Trickster.

“You sure?”

“Your power works well with Sundancer, keeps the enemy unaware until she can get that miniature sun close, and you can keep them off the machine’s radar, thermals or whatever.  Hopefully.”

Hmm. Fair enough, I suppose.

“And you?”

“My bugs will give us early warning if a suit’s nearby, and they might alert me if there’s radar or anything subsonic.  If Regent and Imp come with me, we’ll have some firepower from Shatterbird.”

Oh, right, Imp’s here.

…how is this even numbers, Taylor?

I mean, look at this:

  1. Trickster
  2. Sundancer
  3. Grue

Now look at this:

  1. Skitter
  2. Regent
    1. Shatterbird
  3. Imp
  4. Tattletale?

…okay, fair enough, Regent and Shatterbird may count as only one, and Tattletale seems to not be coming along.

“Okay.”

“My team will go see if we can find Bitch, rescue her from whatever they sent after her.  You guys do what you can to rescue Ballistic, then hunker down.  If you succeed, stay put, wait for us.

Alright, this division makes sense.

If we don’t arrive before dark, assume we lost, mount a rescue.  If you aren’t there, we’ll assume the same.”

What if you both lose?

“Sounds good,” Grue said.

“Either way, we’ll figure out where we’re going from there.”

One step at a time.

One foot in front of the other.

Paul next.

The Director raised her head, staring up at the sky.

So how is this chapter going to end? Is the Director going to get ungagged just in time to mention something that’s about to cause trouble for the Undertravelers?

“You have something you want to say?”  Tattletale asked.

The Director shrugged.

Tattletale removed the gag.  “What?”

“I’m looking forward to this.”

Hmm?

“Which part?”  Tattletale asked.  “The interrogation?  The rescue mission?”

“The fight.  Seven suits in this city right now.  The Melusine-six, Cawthorne M.K. Three, the Glaurung Zero, the Ladon-two, the Astaroth-Nidhug, the Pythios-two.  That’s six ships right there, that Dragon explained were old models.  Previous versions of her suits that were cannibalized for parts, abandoned after taking severe damage and recently repaired or simply outdated.”

“M.K. Three” – does Piggot not know what Mk. stands for?

So how does the seventh suit stick out?

“And the seventh?”

“The Azazel.  Note that there’s no version number.  It’s a fresh design, crafted to go up against the Nine and put up a serious fight.  The first truly original suit she’s made in four years, and I assure you that Dragon has advanced her skills in that timeframe.  If that isn’t enough of a pedigree, the Azazel was created by Dragon working in tandem with her new partner, a fellow tinker.”

Why did she not make any new models in those four years?

And it seems the Undertravelers are about to learn about Defiant. Has he gone off with Dragon like he was supposed to, or is he hanging back in Brockton Bay for a little bit before following? I could see him wanting to make trouble for Skitter and Tattletale in person.

Armsmaster.

Oh damn, Taylor didn’t even need any further hints.

Right, of course, she already noticed Armsmaster’s work with the bug zappers.

She saw the reaction from us, smiled a little.

“Yes.  A new partner.  It was his suggestion that we park the suits here when they aren’t needed.  And even though I know he’s a new cape, nobody you’d know, certainly nobody who’d have a grudge,” she smirked a little, “I think it’s a safe bet to say he had you in mind when he was building it.”

Yeeeah he’s got a grudge and she’s milking it for all it’s worth.

So we’d better watch out for the Azazel, got it.

Tattletale jammed the sock into Piggot’s mouth and turned to us.  “Which ones did you fight?”

“Foam sprayer, drone deployer, forcefield generator and a wheel-dragon with electricity and some electromagnet,” I said.

“Cawthorne, Glaurung, Ladon, Pythios, I’d guess, with only the names and what little I’ve seen of Dragon to go by.  That leaves the Astaroth-Nidhug, Melusine and the Azazel.  One went after Ballistic, another after Genesis, and a third went after Bitch.”

Hm. I think out of those three, Defiant might be most likely to have accounted for Bitch in the Azazel, even with knowledge of the Undertraveler alliance. Personal bias due to having fought them when the Travelers weren’t involved.

That is, if he hasn’t accounted for all of them at once.

“Meaning that with the way we’re splitting up and taking on whatever machines attacked our missing teammates, each of our groups has a one-in-three chance of going up against this Azazel,” I concluded.

This being a story told from Taylor’s perspective and Taylor’s group going after Bitch considerably heightens the odds that I’m right.

“Better cross your fingers,” Tattletale suggested.

Yep. This is gonna be a bumpy ride.


End of Monarch 16.3

A lowkey strategy chapter, a bit of a lull, but that’s certainly not out of place after the high-octane action of the last few chapters.

This was good. Piggot is a fantastic antagonist, and the Interlude we had last time – no, the other last time – was used to great effect to contextualize Piggot’s behaviors and tricks in this chapter. The way she insolently aimed to out-Tattle Tattletale was great, and she even somewhat succeeded (giving us some juicy hints to Tattle’s backstory in the process). Nice work, Piggot.

And now the cat’s peeking out of the bag re: Shadow Stalker, which could lead to some interesting internal conflict later on, if we get to see Tattletale and/or Regent filling the rest of them in on what happened. For all that Taylor though Sophia deserved what she got, she might take issue with Regent’s actions… and the fact that I feel the need to say “might” there is a huge indicator of how much she’s changed since Shell.

Next chapter of Worm, we’re going in to try to find Bitch before the local mech – very probably the Azazel – comes back online. Bitch is not the type to go down quietly, and she’d generally have one of the best shots at actually fleeing the territory out of all of them unless her dogs were incapacitated, so I’m not terribly optimistic about her state. But at least she’s not detained.

That should be fun. 🙂

Next up, though, I’ve got something a little different in store for you guys. See you soon for that!

One thought on “Monarch 16.3: The Other Half of the Battle

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