Monarch 16.6: Movin’ Night

Source material: Worm, Monarch 16.6

Blogged: May 26-28, 2019


It’s been way too long.

Alright, so, when we last left off, the Undersiders had won. For better or worse. They’ve successfully taken over the city, and now all that remains is staying down while the election happens and Coil maybe does something very important for Cauldron.

Yeah, there’s no way things are going to go that smoothly here. And so I suppose it might be time for the Undersiders to finally take down Coil and attract the attention of Cauldron for fucking things up for them?

Sounds like fun, let’s go!


“We should throw a party,” Imp said. “Celebrate. Rub it in a little.”

Sure, I’m down.

Oh, right, just remembered the other prediction I have: Brian and Taylor are going out and might run into Emma Barnes.

“Rub it in?” Grue asked.

To whom? Coil? Like, “HAH! Told ya we could do it.”?

“Yeah. Party in the streets, maybe some fireworks. Show the heroes that we know we won and we’re doing fine.”

Round and round, let the city burn
We can party in the hills,
We can party in the ‘burbs

Roof on fire, let it burn
Champagne in my hand,
I’m not concerned!

There were a few chuckles from the others. Regent and the Travelers, primarily.

“In what way is that even close to being a sensible idea?” Grue asked.

I mean, it’s literally the exact opposite of what Coil is asking them to do now, for one thing.

“I didn’t say it was sensible. But it’s fun, and that’s why we got into this, right?”

“No. No it isn’t. It was maybe a side-bonus when I joined the group, if anything, but things have changed since then. I warned you this would be hard work, that it wouldn’t be fun and games. And throwing a party to celebrate a win is a monumentally bad idea when we don’t even want the heroes to know we consider this victory anything out of the ordinary.”

Yeah, I’m gonna have to side with Brian on this one.

“It is out of the ordinary. We’re not giving anything away if we’re celebrating scaring off Dragon.”

“I kind of have to agree,” Regent chimed in. Grue turned his way, and I could imagine the death glare that was behind his mask. Probably scarier than the mask itself.

Hah!

death glare 1

“Maybe you’re right,” Grue said, “Maybe, I won’t say you’re absolutely right there-”

“Of course not,” Imp said, sighing.

…honestly, he’s conceding further than I’d expect him to.

“-But we definitely don’t need to rub it in the heroes’ noses. Not if it means they have both an excuse and motivation to try this again, sooner.”

“If you’re afraid of that, we’ll never be able to celebrate a win.”

Do you think that’s going to convince him?

“I’m okay with that,” Grue said.

“Do we get to chime in?” Trickster asked. “Because I’m siding with the Imp, here. Morale could become pretty important if we’re going to be building up individual gangs and collections of henchmen.”

Okay, yeah, they do have a point there.

Grue sighed. “Feeling outnumbered here. Skitter?”

“What?” I blinked. “Sorry, not keeping track of the conversation.”

Huh?

The narration seemed to have no trouble following – possibly a result of Skitter’s subconscious multitasking? – but it seems she’s been distracted. Thinking about Dinah?

“She’s out of it. Tattletale broke Skitter when she said we won,” Regent said.

“I’m… I’m alright. Lost in thought”

She’s so lost in thought she forgot to punctuate the sentence.

Grue settled a hand on my shoulder. I couldn’t read his expression with his mask in the way.

I sighed and confessed, “I’m… I guess I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Isn’t that what happens? The second things start to go right, the next disaster strikes? Empire Eighty-Eight, Leviathan, The Nine, Dragon…”

Stories do often work like that, and we’re only about halfway through this one…

“That’s a pretty defeatist way of thinking,” Trickster commented. “Didn’t Tattletale basically say that there’s nobody left to cause us any problems?”

Well, there is this one guy with a snake around his leg…

“There’s always something,” I said. “I’d rather anticipate it and be ready.”

Always prepared!

“Look at it this way,” Genesis spoke. She was in a human-ish form, not unlike her real self, though she was wheelchair-free. “If it’s more dangerous than Leviathan, the Nine or the Dragon suits, there’s no way we can make some plan to deal with them until they make the first move. If they’re less dangerous, we can deal. Relax. We’re in good shape.”

🤔 Great job, Genesis, you just guaranteed the next threat is going to be even more dangerous.

Also I don’t think Brockton Bay would be in great shape to do a rematch against Leviathan right now, so maybe don’t include him in this statement?

Then again, I really do think the Simurgh is bound to become a direct threat we see up close at some point, if not necessarily in the same form Leviathan was. I’d take seeing her in an Interlude like we did Behemoth.

(I do know her omniscience gets clarified a bit later on, at least.)

I shrugged.

“Sooo,” Imp drew out the word, “Party?”

Does a public party in-costume not count as costumed shenanigans?

(It’d have to be in-costume if the point is for the heroes to see them rub in that they won.)

“No,” Grue and I spoke at the same time. Imp groaned.

Hehe.

“Coil told us to check on our territories. We should do that,” I said. “Take your costumes off, take it easy. I’m going to see if the food and drink I’d arranged to go to people in my territory is still okay, and make sure that they get fed and don’t have cause to lynch me.

Or your drones. Sierra and especially Charlotte have had enough of that for a while.

Then I’m probably going to sleep for twelve straight hours.”

You have really earned that.

There’s no fucking way this isn’t going to hell in a handbasket before she gets that far.

“Wait, didn’t you just say no party?” Imp asked.

Pff.

“It’s not a party. It’s something I was doing before the Dragon suits came.”

“Do the heroes know that?”

…yes, I would think they do, actually.

“Dragon could confirm it,” I said. “She disrupted the preparations.”

“Dunno, that sounds pretty flimsy,” Imp said, sounding way too pleased with herself, “Maybe you better cancel, just to be safe.”

I love Imp’s vindictiveness here.

“Imp,” Grue growled the word.

Imp laughed, “I’ll go patrol our territory. I’ll be using my power, so no worries about being seen in costume.”

Heh, that’s a nice benefit of her power. She can circumvent this kind of obstacle.

Unless of course someone like Dragon comes along.

“Coil said we shouldn’t go out in costume at all,” I said. “I thought that part of the message was pretty clear.”

“Fine,” Imp said. “Whatever. If I’m not supposed to do anything, I’m going back to our place, gonna to kick back and catch up on some shitty reality shows.”

“No TV,” Grue said.

Sure, that sound ni– Oh come on!

“Nuh uh. No way. If you two want to play hardass mom and dad and be controlling assholes, okay. But you can’t tell me I can’t watch T.V.”

What is even Brian’s reason for saying that?

“I mean you won’t get any channels. There’s no cable, no digital connection and no satellite. Only static.”

Ohh. Not “[I will let you watch] no TV”, but “[There is] no TV”.

Fair enough.

Imp groaned, an agonized sound one might expect from someone who had just been speared through the gut.

She is so beautifully melodramatic sometimes.

What did it say about me that my metaphors were tending towards that kind of violent imagery?

…you need some catharsis, some closure out of battle mode that the fight against Azazel didn’t give…?

There’s also the fact that you’ve been getting increasingly ruthless with your enemies as time went on.

“Why don’t you come by?” Regent asked her, “Play video games? I’ve got shows on DVD. No shitty reality shows, but stuff.”

I would not be opposed to reading about these two playing video games together.

What kinds of shows would Alec have…? Probably nothing Brian would approve of.

I looked Grue’s way to gauge his reaction to Imp and Regent hanging out, only for our eyes to meet, so to speak. We were thinking the same thing.

Ahaha.

“I don’t think-” Grue started to speak.

Imp wheeled on him, jabbing a finger in his direction, “Enough! You don’t dictate how I live my life!”

This has been a long time coming.

You go, Aisha!

“No fighting, please,” Sundancer said, from the sidelines, “We’ve been through too much already.”

stop fighting 1stop fighting 2

Grue stepped forward, raising one hand, but Imp didn’t give him a chance to touch her, backing away, swinging one hand through the air, as if to swat his hand away if he tried. “You’ve said enough! You don’t want me to celebrate my first legit win where I was actually fucking useful? Fine! Don’t want me to go on patrol? Fine! I’ll accept that shit because I’ll take orders from the guy who actually pays me. But if you’re going to whine because I want to play video games with a teammate, I’m not going to stand here and listen to it! Deal!”

Brian has often had good points, but he has come across as smothering Aisha a bit. He fails to accept that she’s no longer “just” his helpless little sister (I kinda doubt she was ever really as helpless as he’s been picturing her, anyway) who must be protected, and has grown into a teen who can to some extent take care of herself. For all that Brian’s been trying to take care of Aisha, he is not her parent and she’s done letting him think he has the authority of one.

But the problem is Brian is doing all of this for her. Almost everything he’s been doing has been centered around his image of Aisha as someone who needs to be taken care of and protected, and if he accepts that that’s not true… what is he for? He’s struggling with that question already, after his second trigger event reduced his ability to lead the team, and so he just can’t accept it right now.

I think his relationship with Taylor is going be necessary to get him through something like this… and if Taylor were to end up siding with Imp against all odds, then hoo boy. He might not take that very well.

“If you’d just-” Grue started. He stopped and sighed.

“What?” I asked.

“I was going to say something,” he said, turning around. “But I can’t remember what.”

See you later, Aisha.

We experienced a moment where the conversation died, where nobody was sure what to say next, and nobody was able to tie things back to the prior conversation to resume an earlier topic.

May have a little to do with the fact that no one remembers what the previous conversation actually was.

And that should go all the way back to the beginning of the chapter, since Aisha was central to the conversation throughout it.

“We did what we were supposed to do,” Trickster said, finally. “Good work. Skitter’s right. Let’s go retreat, tend to any wounds, and we’ll take a breather.”

…except that part, yes.

I suppose they might to some extent remember things everyone except Imp said, but not necessarily why they said them.

There were nods and murmurs of assent from everyone present, myself included.

More to his team than the rest of us, Trickster said, “I’m located closest to Coil, so I’m stopping by, going to check on Noelle, see if Tattletale needs help setting our captive Director free, and then I’ll talk to Coil about his progress with our issues.”

Ah, yes, the issues he’s probably not doing much to help you with, just like he’s unlikely to set Dinah free of his own volition anytime soon.

“Don’t get on his case,” Genesis said. “Whatever his plan is, he’s under a lot of pressure right now. I’d rather wait another few days and then talk about it with him than push it now and risk upsetting him.”

I think he’s under more pressure than you know, if my theory that Cauldron called in their favor is right.

“The difference between us,” Trickster said, terse, “is I’m not willing to wait.”

Seems Trickster is getting impatient with the C-man.

With that said, he tipped his hat at me and walked away. He wasn’t three paces out the door before he found something to swap with, leaving a mailbox at the mall’s edge. The rest of the Travelers began to file off.

I love the image of Trickster signing off and strolling out the door and suddenly there’s just a random mailbox in his place. Beautiful.

“I’ll be off too,” Regent said. He offered me a sloppy mock-salute, “Good work, chief.”

Trickster and now Regent are both acknowledging Skitter as the Undersiders’ leader in this particular venture, which is fun to see. Yes, she officially was the leader of the mission, so it’s not a matter of them being like “y’know, Grue wasn’t nearly as leadery as you here”, but it still looks like she earned their respect with her leadership. Even though Regent’s half joking.

I winced at that. I hadn’t wanted to raise the subject of me taking over as leader for the previous confrontation. I glanced at Grue and found him looking at me.

Oh boy, how does he feel about it?

“Can we talk?” he asked. Thanks, Regent.

This just in: Regent is secretly Barack Obama.

…not the weirdest thing I’ve seen about Obama in fiction recently. Trickster is also Obama, by the way, but less directly.

“Yeah,” I said.

My money is on Brian actually being kinda thankful that Taylor took charge, even if it does leave him wondering what his role on the team is if he can’t lead.

“We did make plans.”

Ooh, we’re going there? Yes please.

“You’re dating?” Bitch asked.

Ahahaha

It didn’t actually occur to me that she was here, which added even more hilarity to this line… I was picturing the lovebugs having a moment to themselves and then suddenly Rachel.

And even without that, it amuses me that Rachel seems to have been unaware that their relationship reached this level. Granted, it happened recently, neither of them have been telegraphing it much, and she has trouble reading social stuff, so it’s pretty justified, but still.

And then… the element of where this could be going.

Remember Rachel’s romantic advice from Arc 7? I have a feeling that might come hilariously into play here.

“I didn’t say that,” Grue said.

“But you’re dating.”

I suppose they never actually labeled it as such…

Don’t get me wrong, they’re totally dating. They just need to figure out and admit that that’s what they’re doing, if they haven’t.

“Yeah,” he admitted. Bitch looked at me to double check and I nodded.

“Hm.” She somehow conveyed smugness with the monosyllablic response.

PFFF

SMUGNESS

SMUG RACHEL, and over THIS?

I love

“You want to come?” I asked her. “Hang out?”

“Nah.”

I think even she can tell the lovebugs want some time to themselves.

“You sure?” I asked. “You’re welcome to spend some time with us, kick back, watch something, eat some good food?”

“Being around people’s too tiring. Warm night like this, nice weather, figure I’ll go play with my dogs. Make sure they aren’t too hurt, throw a few balls for ’em in the moonlight, eat when I want to eat, sleep when I feel like sleeping, not having to worry about getting in anyone’s way.”

Aww. 🙂

“You wouldn’t be getting in the way,” I assured her.

“It’s all good. I’m happiest doing this.”

And the thing is, she really does seem happy for once. She really does seem to be looking forward to taking this time off from fighting or socializing with humans.

But we can’t have that so of course hell is about to descend on everyone.

“Well, stay in touch. If you feel like some company, come by again?”

She shrugged and turned to leave, Bentley to her right and Bastard to her left. With every step Bentley was taking, he was getting larger. When she was nearly out of sight, Bentley was big enough for her to climb on top of.

Seems like she poured a lot of her power into that.

Leaving Grue and me standing in the mall.

Alright, now they have a moment to themselves.

We didn’t get an explicit callback to Rachel’s advice, but instead we got smug Rachel and that was even more beautiful.

“I’d almost think you didn’t want to spend time alone with me,” he commented.

Yeeah, maybe check with Brian next time you want to invite Rachel to your date.

He was looking at me. I felt scrutinized, like every movement and every part of me was suddenly under the spotlight, anything I did potentially being read as meaning something.

mood

“No,” I said, very carefully. Not exactly. I just didn’t want to hurt him by taking away his role on the team, and I knew it would come up.

Ahh. She’s trying to avoid that awkward conversation.

I tucked my hair behind the spot where the armor of my mask covered my ear. “No. Being alone together is good.”

MaxthonSnap20190526223503.png

MaxthonSnap20190526223549.png

Alright, definitely not a reference…

“Your place?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

Sure, we could mix their plans with Taylor’s intentions to finish up grill day.

My people were active in my territory, but they were busier cleaning up the mess than they were actually getting stuff done. It was irritating on a lot of levels. We’d been accomplishing something, and Dragon had interrupted. We’re in the world on the other side of the looking glass, I thought, where it’s the heroes who get in the way of progress and recovery.

Question is, does the front of the looking glass exist?

I could understand why Dragon did it. I wasn’t saying it was her fault, exactly. Especially if it wasn’t actually her directing the suits. But it was still irritating.

The silence between us was a tense one. I wished Bitch had decided to come along. Not because it would have generated conversation, but because it would have put off the subject of discussing team leadership, and the third wheel would have made for a reason for the quiet.

Yeah, she’s not much for unnecessary words, and she might ward off awkward ones… although that smugness might affect things in this context…

Was it bad of me to think about using her like that? Or was it just accepting that she made an uncomfortable silence comfortable by her very nature?

I’ve been listening to the Wheel of Time lately, so I’ve gotten kind of used to characters using each other. That element of it barely even registered for me.

I don’t think this kind of thing (on this level) is morally bad, honestly. It’s just how we think about social stuff sometimes.

I used my power to scout for any groups of people as we made our way to the beach. We weren’t supposed to be out in costume, but we didn’t have any great options at this point. I figured Coil would forgive us this much. We entered the storm drain and made our way up to my lair.

Yeah, I mean, surely there’s a little grace period so they can at least get somewhere they can take their costumes off.

Charlotte and Sierra looked surprised to see us as I opened the door. Charlotte had three kids sitting on the couch with her, while Sierra reclined. She rose to a sitting position.

Didn’t expect her to be back so soon this time?

“What happened?” Sierra asked. She glanced nervously at Grue.

I saw Charlotte and the kids had plates on their laps. The pork we’d been cooking earlier in the day. I headed for the fridge and found a hunk of it wrapped in cling film. “The PRT didn’t like the fact that we’d claimed control over Brockton Bay, so they sent in seven Dragon suits to root us out.”

I like that Sierra is willing to frankly ask this question, even with Grue present.

“What do you want us to do?” She asked.

Resume, I suppose.

“Nothing. It’s fine. Stick to business as usual. I’m glad you managed to get back to the food in time to make sure it finished cooking alright. Any other problems?”

“We didn’t get a lot of work done,” Charlotte said.

That’s fair.

“We weren’t going to anyways,” I said, “That’s fine. I’m going to grab some food. Grue, you want any?”

“Yeah. Please.”

I wonder what Sierra and Charlotte are thinking right now, seeing how casual the two capes are being after dealing with seven Dragon suits for a few hours.

“Seven Dragon suits?” Sierra said. “If they come back-“

“They’re dealt with,” Grue said. Was the surprise on Sierra and Charlotte’s faces because of what Grue had said, or was it the way he’d said it with such confidence in his strange, echoey voice?

Hehe. Both?

I set two servings worth of the pork onto one plate and put it in the microwave. “They may come back, but that’ll be a little while coming. What I’m worried about is my territory. Were people upset?”

“Yeah,” Sierra said. “A few people got shocked by those floating flying saucer things.”

Ouch.

Wait, wouldn’t they only go after perceived criminals?

“The drones,” I said. My heart sank a little. My promise to protect my people had been broken yet again.

I’m reminded of the first Mannequin fight. The second Mannequin fight and Burnscar’s appearance thereafter are also relevant, but the end of the first Mannequin fight highlighted Taylor’s tendency to accentuate the small failures over the big successes, which is once again on display here.

“Yeah. Drones. People were pissed. They were trying to get the drones, catch them in trash cans, but the wings got in the way, so they started using tarps. They even got hold of a few before the drones started fighting back.”

Ohh, that’d be why the drones shocked people – the people of the territory took up arms for their homes and Skitter.

That’s interesting, especially if the balance between those things leans towards Skitter.

Grue gave me a look that I couldn’t read. Stupid masks.

Heh.

All kinds of obvious themes attached there. Masks, facades, detachment, separation… The parahuman stuff gets between people…

But sometimes a stupid mask is just a stupid mask, too.

“Anyone seriously hurt?”

Sierra shook her head.

“Ok, good. Listen, I’m going to be working from the background these next few days. I won’t be appearing anywhere in costume or overtly using my powers. Are you okay with keeping things running smoothly? I’ll be available by phone if you run into any problems.”

Sierra and Charlotte’s territory is looking pretty good these days.

“I, um, I don’t know.”

I opened the microwave and withdrew the plate of smoking, herb-rubbed pork. “What’s the problem?”

“I’m worried people are going to recognize me, and it’ll get around to the people I know.”

Wait, did the microphone just move to Charlotte?

Before, Sierra seemed to be cool with the idea that her hair was so recognizable she didn’t even really need a mask. Did that change?

“I’m not asking you to do anything criminal. I’m just looking for someone I can trust enough to put in a management role. Make sure things are cleaned up and that nobody’s slacking off. It’s nothing you wouldn’t be doing working for a cleanup crew somewhere else in the city.”

You know, that doesn’t help that much if what she’s concerned about is getting a reputation for working for a supervillain.

“Except I’m doing it for you. I’m working for a criminal. Even doing what I’m doing right now, it doesn’t sit right. No offense.”

Exactly.

“Okay,” I said, pausing. I was apparently taking too long to prepare the food, because Grue was edging in to take over the preparation, cutting the meat into two portions and arranging the plates.

Heh. The boi hungers.

How was I supposed to manage this? “Listen, I’ll take five thousand dollars out of the safe upstairs, sometime late tonight or early tomorrow.”

“It’s not about the money, or the lack of money, or any of that-” she protested.

I went back to Insinuation 2.1 to see how the old Taylor felt about that one dockworker guy Danny knew who went to hench for villains, but the employers were Über and Leet, so it was just funny to them. Maybe things would’ve been different if the employers had been, say, Empire 88. Though that’d have “is probably a Nazi” as an additional factor.

“I know. I’m not trying to bribe you. Not exactly. I guess, um…” I trailed off. I was tired, thinking at high intensity for too much of the day. “Um, I’m trying to say I trust you, and I value the work you put in. So take that money, then if you know of someone who could do what I’m asking, someone like Charlotte or someone else you think we could trust, give them as much as you think is appropriate. If there’s any left over, maybe you and Charlotte split it. Or split an amount between the people who fought the drones, and be sure to tell them that as much as I appreciate them standing up to Dragon, I don’t want them to do anything like that again.”

Hmm… alright, yeah, this seems like a decent plan.

Plus, this way we might get another couple sub-drones into the Hive. Could be fun.

“You don’t?”

“The last thing I want is people who live in my territory to get hurt for my sake. And I don’t want you to be inconvenienced either. Think about what you’ll do with the money tonight. But don’t overthink it. It’s a gift, a thank you.”

I’ve been noticing that Taylor seems to have given up on appearing unflappable in front of Sierra and Charlotte, being more willing to show her human side like this. It’s nice.

“I can’t take your money,” Sierra said.

Because it’s dirty money?

Now I’m reminded of Taylor in Arc 2-3.

“Then don’t,” I told her, trying to look like I was more focused on the food than anything else. It wouldn’t do for her to see how much this was gutting me, and I didn’t want her to get guilted into anything. I grabbed a coke from the fridge. I gestured with it to Grue, and he nodded. I grabbed another for him.

Taylor may be willing to show her human side, but there’s a limit, and there is the whole accidental guilting issue. That’s another mood.

I had to swallow and clear my throat before I said, “I hope you’ll stay. I really do. But if you’re not comfortable doing what you’re doing, that’s okay too. You can take a secondary role, or you can leave. I’ll be disappointed, but I won’t be angry.”

How does Charlotte, who was coerced into working here because she knew Taylor’s identity, feel about all of this?

“Okay.”

Okay… what?

I looked at Charlotte and the kids, the steaming plate in my hand, a coke in the other, my right foot resting on the bottom stair of the staircase. I asked Charlotte, “Are you okay with the status quo?”

Charlotte, at least, seems to have found her true calling as a nanny.

“Yeah. But I’m just looking after the little ones, and making sure people get fed. I’m out of sight, I don’t come off like a second in command or anything. I- Sierra and I have talked about this, before, her being uncomfortable. I’m okay because this works for right now, but I understand what she’s saying?”

Ahh. That seems very fair.

So Charlotte might not be willing to perform the duties Sierra might be leaving behind either.

Her voice quirked with uncertainty as she finished speaking, as if she were asking a question, or asking permission to have that opinion.

“I understand too,” I said, sighing. “I’m sorry I haven’t been around enough for you to talk to me about this, Sierra.”

I don’t know if it’s entirely an issue of presence or absence.

“You’ve had bigger things to worry about.”

“And I shouldn’t have forgotten about this stuff while I was doing it. I’m sorry. You do what you need to do, decide if there’s any compromises or options you want to ask for. I think I’ll understand, whatever you do.”

You should be careful about generalizing like that. Before you know it, Sierra decides to go seek out Cauldron and get herself a power that gives her three extra arms, and when you come home to find her in your bathroom, juggling teapots while doing a handstand and T-posing with her legs, I assure you you won’t understand.

She nodded.

Grue had walked ahead of me and stopped halfway up the stairs.

I briefly misread that as “dropped halfway down the stairs” somehow.

I feel a great urge to warn Grue about the stairs.

I followed him, leaving my nanny-cook and reluctant lieutenant behind.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

No more distractions.

“You going to work that out?” Grue asked. He paused on the second floor. After a moment’s thought, I tilted my head up toward the next set of stairs.

Don’t want to be accidentally overheard?

“Don’t know. Hope I can keep her. Wouldn’t have made it this far without her to hold things together when I was away. If there was something I could do for her, maybe I would. I dunno.”

We stepped into my bedroom. I was glad I’d left it more or less tidy, but I had to take a second to hastily make my bed and throw some stray clothes in the hamper. I moved some folded clothes from a wooden chair and let Grue take the seat.

COMPANY IS COMING ALREADY HERE

I grabbed a remote and turned on the TV, only to remember that there wouldn’t be anything to watch. I left it on the display screen for the DVD player.

Imp, somewhere, smiles and doesn’t know why.

Edgy with nervous energy, I took a moment to remove my mask and find a pair of glasses from the bedside table before seating myself on the edge of my mattress, my soda at my feet.

The word “edgy” has, with this, been used three times in the text of Worm so far, and none of them had anything to do with Jack Slash.

Grue had pulled off his helmet in the meantime to start eating, and I saw his face for the first time since we’d left his apartment for Coil’s. I could see the dark circles under his eyes, which suggested he probably hadn’t slept well last night. He wasn’t better, but it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect him to be.

Yeah, no, that’s gonna take some time and care.

Brian swallowed, “I wish I could offer you advice, but Imp and I are at a point where it’d be nice if we had to worry about retaining… what did you call them, way back when?”

Uhh…

For once I didn’t adopt whatever term she came up with in canon, so I actually forgot what it was. Minions, was that it? Employees?

“Employees.”

“Right. If we had to worry about keeping our employees, it’d be good, because it’d mean we actually had some. I’m not sure how to get underway on that front. We’re intimidating.”

Imagine if Imp were working separately from Grue and decided to get herself some employees, but whenever she let her power take hold, her employees would forget who they were working for…

“I’m intimidating,” I said, admittedly defensive.

Hehe. Yeah, you are. More than you realize, sometimes.

“You are. But I’d say you’re more intimidating as an idea than you are in person.”

That’s a good way of putting it. Taylor is intimidating when she doesn’t let people see her true self.

Except when her true self happens to be in the mood to shove bugs up someone’s urethra.

“Gee, thanks.”

“No. That’s not bad. You’re more intimidating overall than I am, and yet you’re more approachable than I am. I’m tall, I’ve got broad shoulders, I’ve got the mask, I’ve got the mass of darkness rolling off me. People run when they see me coming for them.”

There’s a certain irony in that considering how gentle his true self is and the fact that unless he’s near someone with powers, all he can really draw on to actually hurt someone inside the darkness is mundane strength and fighting skills (and mundane weapons if he brings them).

“My costume isn’t exactly lovey-dovey, either. I’ve got the bugs crawling on me. Sure, I’m smaller, narrower, but-“

“The idea of being attacked by you might be spooky, but even if you can hold your own most of the time, people don’t imagine getting in a hand to hand fight with you and feel scared. It’s your power that’s scary. Me? I think people look at me and they can imagine me pounding them into a bloody pulp, or worse. My power’s inconvenient, it’s spooky, but it’s not the scary thing.”

Hmm, fair enough.

…are we going to get into the fact that some of Brian’s scary attributes are still present out of costume? And the way racial issues might play into it for some people?

“You can’t really see your darkness, though.”

He shook his head, “I know where it is, but I don’t really see it.”

“I think you underestimate what it’s like.”

That’s true enough. It’s one thing to know that people are inside that void where they can’t see or hear anything, and a whole other thing to know what that’s actually like.

“Maybe. But my point is that people are more likely to run than stick around and talk when I’m approaching. You can take your bugs off the table, make it clear they aren’t a threat, and people feel less threatened, they’re willing to hear you out.”

“Maybe. But if that’s the case, don’t give them a chance to run.”

Yeah, but even that’s easier for you.

“What? Pop out from around a corner, scare the living daylights out of them, then offer them a job?”

Is that not how every job opportunity presents itself?

Have I been doing my job search wrong?

“Sure. Why the hell not? Or have Imp break into apartments and leave a card.”

Imp’s pretty good at scaring the living daylights out of people too. Maybe that’s an important step? At least it might be a fun one.

“I don’t think that would send the right message. It’s vaguely threatening.”

You’re vaguely threatening. If your prospective hires can’t deal with that much, then they probably won’t handle the job all that well, either.

Valid point.

If you can’t find anyone, then maybe I send some of my people your way to help get you started, or you could shell out for some decent mercenaries.”

Shame Faultline skipped town.

I know that’s not what she means, but can you imagine?

“Maybe.”

“There’s options. Don’t stress about it. Whatever else happens, we have a few days before we decide on the next leg of our plan. Let’s relax. Movie?”

What’cha watchin’?

Something about darkness and bugs? Or something about the exact opposite, whatever that may be?

“Sure.”

I stood from my bed and began going through the box of DVDs that Coil had supplied with the TV.

Ooh, this should be fun. If we get a look at the selection, we can imagine Coil personally hand-picking these movies and have some fun with that mental image.

Most were still in the tight plastic wrap that they’d been bought in. I looked through, then handed some to Brian before turning back to the bag to keep browsing.

What the hell were we supposed to watch? I didn’t want anything that would ruin Brian’s mood or remind him what had happened, so horror was probably out, I was sick of the high intensity stuff, but I couldn’t stand romance or bad comedies.

Hmm. Lord of the Rings?

Or perhaps Monsters, Inc., if you want something lighter and less time-intensive. That’s a comedy, but by no means a bad one. But neither of them seem to be into movies meant for the younger crowds.

*looks through his own collection*

It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but Disney’s The Kid might be good… Ooh, and Bolt is a good laid-back movie that seems to fit the criteria (plus has a thematic relation to superpowers but doesn’t rely on them enough to be uncomfortable, unless the movie is significantly different in the Wormverse), though then we’re back to the issue of animated family movies not necessarily being to their tastes. Rachel might like that one, though.

“Going back to the earlier topic,” Brian said, “The subject of leadership, being in charge…”

“LOOK I FOUND A MOVIE”

I winced.

“You took over today. Are you wanting that to be a permanent thing?”

He can tell what was going on there.

I turned around. “No. Not permanent. Just until-” I stopped short. How to put it?

Until Grue is fit to lead again… which might be never.

“Until?”

“When I was getting really obsessive about what I was doing, when I was losing sleep and making mistakes, I deferred control.”

“To Trickster,” Brian said. I could see a shadow pass over his expression.

Hrm. Seems Brian doesn’t like that last part of it very much.

“Yeah. And that’s a bad example because it didn’t work. It’s just that we both know you’re not getting enough rest. So maybe I can pick up the slack in the meantime.”

I’ll give it to her, she found a pretty good way to approach this topic.

Brian sighed. He didn’t look any happier.

“I don’t want to make you unhappy,” I said. “I’m not wanting to oust you, or co-opt your role permanently or completely. You were the leader, even if we didn’t really establish an official title over it.

Even before he took her advice to make it more official.

But we can divide the duties for the time being. Tattletale handles the information angle of things, I maybe keep Bitch reined in and handle the spur of the moment calls, while you handle Regent and Imp and all the rest.”

That does sound pretty good. Play to everyone’s strengths.

“Which is less than it sounds like, especially when you and Tattletale contribute on ‘the rest’ in little ways.”

I suppose…

“No-” I started, then I sighed. “Maybe, yeah. I don’t want to come off as manipulative or anything. Like I said, I don’t want you to be unhappy, but at the same time I do want the whole team to get by in the meantime.”

“You don’t sound manipulative,” he said. His fork hit the plate with a clatter. “Jesus, this sucks. I know you’re right. I know this is for the good of the team, and if I could just get over this shit-“

He’s spiralling. Agent Skitter, go in for the hug.

“It’s not that easy. Don’t do yourself a disservice and expect too much.”

“My whole life, I’ve been bigger than my peers, I’ve been stronger than most. Spent my time around pretty powerful guys. Boxers, martial artists, other criminals. I didn’t have many friends, but they were the people who were around me, you know? And they were the types to go after you if you show any weakness.”

In that sense, he has some thematic similarity to Rachel, actually. They’re both concerned with the issue of showing weakness because of their backgrounds (I’m counting Rachel’s power as part of her background).

“You get shot, nobody’s going to call you a wimp. I don’t see why it’s different if the damage is mental or emotional instead of physical.”

Nice analogy.

“I know, but you’re not getting it. I was the type to go after someone if they showed a vulnerability.

Hmm. I wonder if this is part of why he’s shown a sense of responsibility for keeping Rachel in line in the past.

Wasn’t until I’d had my powers about a year, Aisha tells me I was being an asshole, just like one of her stepdads used to be. So I tried to be better, but I always wanted to protect her, always wanted to help others. Teach you and Alec to fight, step up and take charge when a situation demanded it. Sometimes when a situation didn’t.”

And of course it comes back to Aisha being the one prompting a change in how he thinks. Does he remember his confrontation with her from earlier this chapter yet, or was that permanently erased?

I suppose the hair-note trick from earlier in the Arc suggests that some of the erasing is permanent, since Taylor had to logic out what she’d done even after remembering Aisha.

“Yeah.”

“So it isn’t just about me trying to adjust. Christ, it’s me having my world turned upside down. It’s others protecting me, others helping me, others covering me in a fight, others taking charge. Aisha’s the one fixing things for me. And you-“

When your world gets turned upside down, maybe you should think about whether you were standing on your head all along.


Alright, there’s not that much left, but it’s late and I’ve taken a sleeping pill, so it’s time to shut down for the night. Good night, people who won’t read this until at least most of a day from now!

[End of session]


[tweet]

J a m e s R o a c h (@hamesatron):

i wish we could consolidate the mass of every bug in the world into just one huge hundreds feet tall bug that rises from the depths every few years to terrorize mankind before returning from whence it came

An interesting proposal. Hey, Skitter, Panacea, you up for a job?


[Session 2]

Let’s wrap this up!

“Me?”

“This thing with Coil.  Don’t think I’m so obsessed with what’s going on with me that I don’t see it.

Is he about to lay a truth bomb here about how Coil is unlikely to actually release Dinah?

It’s like a burden’s fallen from your shoulders.  You’ve got concerns, but you’re more relaxed.  You’ve got hope that you didn’t have twelve hours ago, and it’s dramatic enough that your posture’s changing.

I have previously described Coil as a man of his word, but I have lower hopes that he’s actually going to honor it this time.

Then again, Coil knows that Skitter is likely to become an opponent if he doesn’t, and he is about to succeed at what he claims is the main thing he wanted Dinah’s help for…

Maybe there is a chance. I’m still skeptical, though.

Even since we left the mall, it’s like you’re slowly convincing yourself that this is over, Coil’s going to follow through, we’ll move on to taking care of our territories and everything works out in the end.”

Sounds like Brian’s skeptical as well.

I folded my arms.  “I don’t think that.  Like I said, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“You say that, you tell yourself that, but I don’t know that you’re feeling it.  I’m worried you’re setting yourself up for a massive disappointment, and that you’ll be affected enough that you won’t be able to deal when it happens.

Hmm. Yeah, I’d imagine the realization would pop her like a balloon, even if Brian’s wrong here.

But I’m mostly worried that all that will happen and I won’t be in a position to help because I’m distracted by my own shit.”

He’s a mess after Bonesaw, but he still keeps putting everyone else (and Aisha and Taylor in particular) before himself… He’s such a sweet boy.

“You don’t have to take up all the slack.  We have other teammates.”

“Lisa isn’t exactly a heavy hitter, and let’s not fool ourselves into believing that Alec, Rachel or Aisha are going to offer any meaningful emotional support.”

finger lowered.png

…yeah, no, that’s fair.

Though at least Lisa can provide emotional support and Alec and Rachel can provide heavy hitting minions.

“We’ll manage,” I said.  “We’ve managed this far.”

“More or less.  Problem is, ‘managing’ is fine, up until we don’t manage, if that makes any sense.  Then it’s over.”

Life is on hardcore mode and it’s a problem sometimes.

I sighed.  “How did Genesis put it?  There’s no use in getting worked up over it if we can’t plan around it or do anything to change it.

What cannot be cured must be endured.

So we’ll each do our own imperfect jobs of taking care of each other and taking care of ourselves, and be as ready as we can for whatever comes up.”

If that ain’t Worm…

Worm is a story of imperfect people, but like most themes, it has multiple sides to it. There’s the way the flaws lead to really fucked up things happening, the way they paint the world and the antagonists as pretty horrible. But there’s also an optimistic element to it that we see in the protagonists, in that we see them making it through these hardships in spite of the flaws and supporting each other to make up for them.

Worm is dark, it’s gritty, it has horrible things happen to its characters, but even at its most hopeless moments, there’s still hope that the characters can overcome or endure it all with each other’s support.

Hell, even one of the most hopeless chapters so far, 8.3, is part of one of the Arcs that really drives this home on a larger scale – Leviathan and the other Endbringers are like manifestations of the large-scale issues of the world, and taken as a whole, Extermination is a showcase of parahumans putting their issues with each other (mostly) aside and standing up against that common enemy. It is incredibly daunting and hopeless to fight against the Endbringers, but through the power of teamwork and noble effort at the not-insignificant risk of being torn apart, all these puny, flawed humans did their best and successfully held off Leviathan long enough for Scion to arrive.

They took a lot of casualties and a lot of damage to the city, but they did it.

He sighed.

“We’re not perfect.  We’re flawed people, and as much as I want to help you in every way I can, I know I can’t.  I don’t- I’m not good at this.  I don’t know how to act, or what to say.  But I like you.  I care about you.  I’m going to do my best, even if I know it’s not good enough.  And I won’t expect any more of you.”

…yeah, that.

This is, to some extent, what I feel Worm is about.

He nodded, but he looked glum.

“No hard feelings?”

He shook his head.  He didn’t look happy.

😦

hug him.png

[El Goonish Shive panel]

Susan’s Nature: Hug him!
Susan’s Nature: Hug him like you’ve never hugged anyone before!

So, uh, did you find any good movies? Maybe a distraction would be in order.

“I won’t be leader forever.”

I don’t know about that.

“I don’t know,” he said.  “Might be better that you keep the job, even if I do bounce back eventually.”

“Except I don’t want the job.”

Fair enough, though that just makes you even more likely to have to keep it.

“That might be why you should take it.  I don’t know.  Can we drop the subject?”

There is some wisdom to the old adage that the best leaders are the ones who do not want to lead.

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay.  Just… heavy topics, with lots of ramifications.  And it’s hard to shake the negative thoughts.  I’d rather talk along the lines of what you said before, about taking care of each other.”

You should definitely take care of each other, if you know what I mean.

“And taking care of ourselves,” I said.  “Getting enough sleep, eating right.”

*shifty eyes*

“Okay,” he said.  There was a pause.  “I slept well the other night.”

😀

“Then stay over.  There’s nothing pressing coming up, so we’ll watch movies until we fall asleep.”

See, on one hand, we did kinda need the downtime, and it’s nice to get to see them relax a bit?

But on another hand, every time they call out how there’s “nothing pressing coming up” or describe their plans to relax, it feels like tempting fate. There’s a pile of red flags over here that I don’t know whether to hoist or burn, and it’s putting me in a similar state to what Taylor’s been describing. Enjoying the casual stuff but waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And with a flag pile that doesn’t stop from getting taller, it feels like it might be a pretty big shoe. Could even be claw-shaped.

He smiled a little, and for the first time in a long time there was a glimmer of that expression that had gotten my attention in the first place.

It’s the smile, isn’t it? 😀

I put three DVDs into the drive so I could use the remote to play the next movie without having to get up, then pulled off the armor panels of my costume before settling into bed.

Huh. Fancy DVD player.

My back pressed against his chest, and I could feel his breath against my hair.

I suppose it’d be difficult for Taylor to be the big spoon.

I felt so self conscious that I could barely keep track of what was going on.  I was thinking every unromantic thought there was: worrying if I had body odor from being in costume and running all day, wondering if I should get up to go to the bathroom now so I wouldn’t have to go as desperately as I had the other morning.

He might like that first thing, who knows.

And the bathroom thing might be a good idea, yes.

I felt his hand on the zipper at the back of my costume, lowering it an inch, then stopping.  A fingertip traced from the ‘v’ where the top of my costume parted, all the way up to the the nape of my neck, then back down.  I could feel his fingers on the zipper, felt every tiny hair on my body standing on end.

Is this getting steamy by the end?

A million thoughts raced through my head at once.  All put together, they amounted to a mumbled, “Um.”

Um.

There was no response from behind me.  I could hear him breathing, I could feel the warmth of his breath, the slow rise and fall of his chest against my back.  He was waiting for me to make my decision, and the thing that loomed largest in my mind was the sensation of his fingers on the tiny tag of the zipper, strong, insistent, there.

He’s not saying anything, but he’s still asking consent.

Any confidence I’d picked up in the past weeks or months fled.  I felt as vulnerable as I had in early April, brought to tears in front of my worst enemies.  Except this… wasn’t wholly negative.

A positive kind of vulnerability. It’s good for you sometimes, as long as it’s with someone you trust.

Not entirely: I still felt acutely aware of every vulnerability, I thought of every part of myself that I tried to ignore when I looked in the mirror in the same way I might see my life flash before my eyes before I died.

Right, body image issues.

I don’t know, maybe Brian can… help a little there?

Again, thinking that way.  Why couldn’t I think in a more romantic way at a moment like this?  Was I broken in my own way?

I don’t have the perspective to say, really. I’m a possibly-gray-ace-or-something virgin whose ADD messes with the way I’d think in a situation like this, so what the hell do I know? But it wouldn’t surprise me if nearly everyone’s like this.

“Let me get up and turn off the lights?” I asked.

His power blanketed the room.

Ahaha!

I could feel the phantom touches of it on against the thin fabric of my costume and my bare face, leaving me blind and deaf as we were plunged into darkness.

End chapter?

As was plunged into darkness; he could see just as well.  This totally wasn’t what I’d wanted.

…oh, right.

“That’s not fair,” I murmured.

He placed one hand on the side of my head to get me to turn his way, then pressed his lips against mine.

Heh. Have fun, you two. 🙂

I didn’t protest any further.

*shuts up and leaves the room to give them some privacy*


End of Monarch 16.6

This was very nice. Fun, casual downtime shenanigans mixed with serious conversation about the nature of interpersonal support, Aisha speaking up against Brian’s controlling attitude towards her, Sierra voicing her concerns, a pile of flags and a classy (if one-sided, heh) fade to black as Braylor goes to the next level of intimacy… This chapter was lowkey on the action side compared to the earlier parts of the Arc, but delivered tons of good stuff on the interaction side.

I’m really not trusting the flag pile right now, but I would be totally down for the rest of the Arc being more low-intensity stuff like this, honestly. Maybe it’ll take some time before something comes along to hoist them, giving us the best of both worlds?

Next chapter… the morning after?? Y’know, maybe we should have an Interlude next chapter, just so that it feels like we the readers are giving Brian and Taylor their privacy, moreso than a simple time skip between chapters would. Maybe see how confronting Coil goes for Trickster.

If not, maybe we’re still in for some developments on the Coil front via Lisa? In addition to the interpersonal stuff in the aftermath of the night’s shenanigans, of course.

Whatever the case, should be fun. See ya!

*fade to black*

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