Monarch 16.7: Under Reconstruction

Source material: Worm, Monarch 16.7

Blogged: June 18, 2019


Howdy!

It’s time to get back to Taylor and… well, presumably see how she feels about what happened when we last left her.

That’s probably not enough for a chapter on its own, though, so maybe we’ll see some more civilian shenanigans, now perhaps with a less gloomy Taylor? Raise the mood a bit before it all comes crashing down on her again?

Perhaps we’ll also follow up a bit on some of the more peripheral conflicts from 15.6, like Aisha and Brian, or even Trickster going to see Coil (this one is significantly less likely to show up here).

Let’s jump in and see what’s up!


Living in a city meant dealing with some recurring issues.  Crime, having to lock the doors, congestion on the roads, crowds getting in the way on footpaths; stuff we dealt with so often that we considered it routine.

Sounds pretty standard.

Even if “crime” in this ‘verse presumably includes reality-bending antics.

We considered it background noise or we managed without even thinking about it.  Construction work was something we couldn’t dismiss so readily, something that always seemed to elicit groans and complaints.

Oh! Oh! Construction work! Are we meeting Danny today? 😀

Maybe because it was so blatant, so grating, and it changed in tone, location and degree often enough that we couldn’t adjust.

Wouldn’t those things apply just as much to congestion and footpath crowds? Except those change even faster, so you can often wait them out if you’re not in too much of a hurry.

Not today.

So the construction work… is ignorable for once?

No, I felt a level of satisfaction and security as the bulldozers and piledrivers went to work in my territory.

Ahh, it’s that it feels like a good thing for once, because she’s involved and responsible for the work they’re doing.

For every car on the road, there were ten trucks carrying debris out and five trucks bringing materials in.

A lot of that would be Coil’s doing, I knew.  There was construction and clearing going on throughout my territory and building inspectors were checking blocks, all despite the warnings that were going around regarding big, bad, unpredictable Skitter, and that would be because he greased palms or the construction companies at work were his.

Oh, I see. Yeah, that makes sense.

Damn it, I felt restless.  I wanted to go to Coil’s territory and discuss Dinah, and I might have, if Trickster hadn’t been the first to speak up and declare he was going to confront Coil.

…since Coil might not be too happy with both of you doing it in so quick succession?

I suspected that Coil wouldn’t release Dinah this soon, and if he was under too much pressure to hear Trickster out, he certainly wouldn’t listen to me.  If he did have something to offer Trickster, he wouldn’t welcome my distraction.  I had to wait.  I hated it, but I recognized it as the sensible route.

I really don’t know that he’ll release her when Taylor does get around to it, but I appreciate the fact that she sees this reality in the meantime.

Trickster’s focus was on Noelle, though, and nothing I’d seen indicated that Coil had made any advances on that front.  All I knew, really, was what Tattletale had told me and the little things that had come up in our brief discussion with the Travelers about our strategy.  She’d been a girl,

A summary on what Taylor knows about Noelle? Yes please. Maybe it’ll help me put some things together.

Plus, it might serve as a recap for upcoming events to do with Noelle.

maybe not in the best of health.

It was possible Trickster had been trying to save Noelle in the same way I was trying to save Dinah.  The circumstances were different, obviously: Coil was the best answer the Travelers had to Noelle’s situation, but he was the cause of Dinah’s.

…right. Taylor really doesn’t know much about the situation.

And yeah, in this sense she and Trickster do seem to have something in common.

Still, it made me think.

I was officially hands-off in my territory.  I wasn’t going to deviate from orders now and risk upsetting Coil.  That meant no costume, no showing my face, no intervention in the management of things.

Not even from the background?

Which turned my thoughts to Sierra.  As far as my ability to sense things with my swarm went, Sierra was easier to identify than many.  Her dreads gave her a distinct profile.

I can picture her silhouette fairly clearly.

I couldn’t find her.

could find Charlotte.

Hmm. If Sierra decided to take the offer to leave, I’d expect her to actually tell Taylor about it first. Maybe she’s just visiting Bryce or her other family or something, but still, it’s concerning that she’s just gone like this.

That wasn’t a problem; she was in the company of the kids, half a block away, giving each kid two six-packs of plastic water bottles to ferry out to the various work sites.

Charlotte’s bond with the kids is so nice, even if it does involve occasionally putting them to work.

“You’ve been lying there since I woke up, eyes half-open, staring off into space.”

Hi, Brian.

Surely you know lying still doesn’t mean Taylor isn’t doing anything…

I blinked hard, then rubbed my eyes.  “Hey.”

“Hey.”

🙂

I looked at Brian.  He was pulling himself up to a sitting position, the covers over his lap.  I glanced over his upper body.  None of the battle wounds I’d seen him sustain in the past were there anymore.

A bittersweet removal. Even if he weren’t the type to value his scars as evidence of experience, their absence is tied to bad memories.

The scars from the shallow cuts Cricket had carved into his chest were gone, as were the defensive wounds and old scars on his hands and arms.  He was in perfect shape, physically.  Physically.

Yeah. Physically.

There’s a thick irony in the fact that his lack of scars on the outside is so heavily tied to the big scars on the inside.

But I’d sort of explored enough to discover that last night.  It hadn’t been a perfect night, not even excellent, but it had been nice.

Yeah, that’s pretty much what I expected. This is Worm. Nothing’s ever perfect.

Considering all of the other humiliating or awkward possibilities, I was happy to take nice.

Very, very fair.

Thinking about it made me self conscious.  I pulled the sheets up to my collarbone.  “You sleep any?”

*makes doomed attempt to waggle eyebrows*

He just told you he woke up at some point, so he must’ve slept a little

“Some.  Woke up in the middle of the night, I made some noise.  I’m surprised I didn’t wake you.”

Maybe she was deep in sleep, having nice dreams about eldritch beings.

I frowned.  “You should have.”

He shook his head.  “You were exhausted.  Once I saw you there, it helped me to realize where I was, dismiss them for the dreams they were.

…oh. That’s why he woke up.

Took me a bit to relax, but it wasn’t bad.  Being here.”

Hated that, that he was struggling like that and I couldn’t help fix it.

But… you are helping him.

You might not be able to help him fix it, but you are helping him cope. That’s almost more important, in the day-to-day.

“Do you need to talk to someone?  A psychiatrist?”

That would be a good call.

Psychiatrists are underemployed in fiction.

I’d also recommend a hypnotist, personally. Helped me, even if my thing wasn’t on this scale.

I could see him flinch at that, his entire upper body stiffening in some kind of knee jerk resistance.

…right. Admitting weakness.

I waited, not pushing.

He sighed, and I watched that battle-readiness slowly seep from him, the tension leaving him.  Up to a point.  “Don’t we all?”

*glances at everyone on the team*

Yeah, wouldn’t hurt.

“Probably.  But you’re the one I’m worried about.”

“I’ll figure this out myself.  Have to do this myself, or I feel like it won’t count, it won’t really be a fix.”

…you know yourself better than most, so if that’s what you feel needs to happen, it very well might be.

I didn’t like that response, but it was a hard one to argue with.

“I won’t pester you about it.  But can you at least tell me that if this goes on for any length of time, you’ll go get help?”

An acceptable compromise.

“It’ll get better.  Has to.  I feel like I’ve taken strides forward, forcing myself to let down my guard, to be here with you.”

It’s a beginning. Just try not to strain yourself too much, though, even if what you’re straining for is a good thing. Everything in moderation.

I tensed, “Forcing yourself?”

“That’s not what I mean.  I mean, you know.  I… I can’t relax.  Can’t stay still, can’t stop watching over my shoulder or make my brain stop replaying scenes in my head.  Except I can, if I’m active, if I’m doing something like we were against those Dragon suits, or if I’m with you, and I’m lying here in your bed, trying not to wake you up.  Then I know I can’t get worked up, it gives me these boundaries I can force myself to work inside.”

So… part of why he didn’t wake her may have been that her being asleep helped him keep these boundaries?

My eyebrows drew together in concern.  “It sounds like it’s causing you more stress in the long run.”

“No,” he said.  He reached out and used both of his hands to seize mine.  He squeezed.  “Come on, no.  Is that really what you want to talk about right now?”

It does seem to be.

“I’d love to talk about other stuff,” I said.  I wasn’t sure I was telling the truth.  Things were more awkward in the light of day.  Only seconds ago, I had prodded a sore spot for him by raising the idea of psychiatric help.  Offended him.  If I didn’t clear my head and get centered, I wasn’t sure I trusted my ability to avoid another misstep.

Things were more awkward in the light of day.

So she goes ahead and dates a guy who can take the light of day away.

“But?”

“But I made plans with my dad.  It’s…”  I paused, closing my eyes, “Nine-twenty-eight.

Hell yes, it is time.

Also, loving the use of the bug-clock.

I figure I need to shower and get dressed, which might take an hour, eat, do a quick walk around my territory in civilian clothes, then head over.  I want to spend time with you, but after the intensity of the past little while, taking things slow this morning feels like a nice idea.”

Taking things slow for once is nice, yeah.

“How do you know the time?”

“Bugs on clock hands,” I said, pointing toward my bathroom.

I somehow remembered that one. Yay memory!

“Ah.  You want company?”

My eyes widened a little.  “In the bathroom?”

*raises eyebrows*

*gets them in a twist as he tries to waggle them again*

Well, if there’s room in the shower…

He grinned.  “For breakfast.  And the walk-around, if you want.  I could learn stuff.  We’re liable to lose track of time if we share a shower.”

help, my eyebrows caught fire

“Yeah,” I said.  “Please, we’ll have breakfast, walk.”

I climbed out of bed, tugging one of the sheets free of the bed so I had something to wrap around myself as I made my way to the bathroom.

A move that would be a little more awkward if it had been a double-width sheet covering both of them.

With my bugs, I could sense Brian getting out of bed shortly after I’d abandoned the sheet, climbed into the shower and pulled the makeshift shower curtain into position.

Power perversion potential: Sticking bugs on the bits she didn’t want a topological map of when fighting Lung (I guess she stopped caring by the time she fought Triumph)… ‘course, Brian would know what was up, so it’d be a little teasing thing.

He made his way downstairs and began putting breakfast together.  He set two plates down, and then said something to the empty room.

…Imp? Except Taylor should be able to sense Aisha if Brian can.

I still had the scene in mind a little while later, as I ventured downstairs.  I was dressed now, a tank top, jeans and sweatshirt around my waist, my hair towel dried but still damp.  “Were you talking to me?”

I guess maybe he was talking to Bonesaw.

“I was saying it probably isn’t very hygienic to have houseflies landing on dinner plates.”

Pfft.

I’m not sure I believe him, but good point.

Ok, so he wasn’t going crazy.

Go talk to Rand al’Thor about that.

“They landed on the edge, and they’re mine.  From the terrariums upstairs.  They’re in as sterile an environment as you’ll get.”

“Okay.  Just saying.”

Hehe, fair enough.

“I can’t hear you through my bugs, by the way.  It’s not the first time you’ve done that.”

The issue of trying has been brought up a few times, but Taylor doesn’t seem to have made much progress on that front.

“Right.  Wasn’t sure, because Tattletale said you were working on it.”

I shook my head, “No progress.”

That’s what I said.

“And I’m getting used to talking to empty rooms.  Sometimes catch Aisha off guard.  Breakfast?

Hah!

i_know_youre_listening.png

[xkcd comic]

Now and then, I announce “I know you’re listening” to empty rooms.

If I’m wrong, no one knows. And if I’m right, maybe I just freaked the hell out of some secret organization.

Sit down, I’ll put the kettle on.  Didn’t want to fill it while you were in the shower.”

“Thank you.”

Through some unspoken agreement, we didn’t talk about ‘work’.  We didn’t discuss Coil, Dinah, the Travelers, Dragon or the Nine.  Instead, our discussions turned to favorite movies and shows, my favorite books and memories from our childhoods.

Excellent. Let’s take some time off from all that stressful stuff and talk about the civilian stuff you don’t necessarily share.

Shows we’d watched and nearly forgotten, moments from school.

…school. Yeah, uh, that sounds like a minefield of buzzkill memories on Taylor’s end.

Emma came up a lot, as I thought back on it.  My parents too.  The three of them had been the focus of my world, with everything else taking a distant second place.  Emma had turned on me, my mom had left me, and my dad… I had to admit I’d left him.

Gee, ya think? It was only the most painful scene in Book 1.

“my mom had left me”… So far everything about Taylor’s mom has painted a positive view of her, but is there some underlying blame? Like, does Taylor subconsciously blame her mom for not being around anymore?

I didn’t raise any of the heavier stuff, but I mentioned that Emma had turned out to be one of the bullies that plagued me throughout my stay in high school.

We’re bringing up Emma in a chapter where Taylor is with Brian and preparing to go meet her dad. I may not have been too far off when I predicted that Brian and Taylor would run into Emma if/when they went out together.

So will Taylor run into her before, during or after the thing with Danny?

Brian, in turn, talked about his life growing up.  That did touch on the heavier stuff, and as much as I liked learning a bit more about the details of his life, I was glad when we detoured into a discussion of martial arts.

I guess some of these things get to stay private between the lovebugs, as much as I would’ve liked to hear it.

As he explained it, he was more interested in the broader strokes and philosophy of a given style than on the particulars.  Once he had a sense of how a given adherent of the style might approach a fight and enough basic techniques to see how they put it into practice, he tended to lose interest.

Interesting.

That’d contribute to the variety in his repertoire, as he learned the broad strokes of each style and moved on to the next.

All around us, I could see people hard at work.  My people were deferring to any legitimate construction crew that set to work, shifting their focus to nearby areas.

Makes sense. Let the experts handle it.

I could see people moving supplies out of a nearby building so the crews could bulldoze it, others helping to unload a truck of building supplies.  When I got back to this and started to give orders, I’d have to find work for them that wouldn’t put them in the way.  I couldn’t quite track how many people were working for me in my territory, but it was far more than before.

Before, she was able to track that easily, which suggests a pretty big increase.

I felt like I should be losing people each time I got pulled into a fight against a major threat.  I had, when Mannequin and Burnscar had attacked, but I’d walked away from the first Mannequin fight with something of a following, and I’d expected to see my people leaving in droves after Dragon made her move.

Yeah, but see, the thing is… each time this happens, you prove yourself. You draw enemies, sure, but you prove that you can and will step up to protect your people.

The one time you failed on that front is the one time you say they left.

Except it wasn’t happening, and I wasn’t entirely sure why.

But Taylor refuses to acknowledge her successes. Especially the first Mannequin fight, because she did lose people then.

Our walk took us on a circuit, with us turning back to my lair, and I left to go back to my dad’s while Brian headed back to my place to use the shower.

Danny time!

(And maybe Emma time, though I’m not looking forward to that anywhere near as much.)

I felt weird about that.  Parting ways so casually after spending the night together.  Oddly enough, I felt weird about letting him in my lair while I wasn’t there.  He’d be passing through my room, seeing my stuff.  I knew it was paradoxical to be bashful, covering myself with a sheet and feeling guarded about my privacy, all things considered, but that didn’t change the fact that I felt that way.

Feelings are weird. Especially bashfulness and the like.

I wouldn’t refuse to let him use my bathroom because of it, but yeah.

In a way, we’d sort of done everything backward.  We’d started with the long-running partnership.  With the ‘family’, if I wanted to think about managing the others in that sense.

Heh.

Family AU where Brian and Taylor are the parents, Lisa is the aunt (on Taylor’s side) and everyone else is one of the kids.

(Aisha can be an aunt on Brian’s side if she insists.)

In the course of that, we’d been through hell and back, we’d backed each other up, helped each other.  All hurdles one might face in a marriage.

And here I thought Dothraki marriage ceremonies were supposed to be intense.

…okay, I realize she’s talking about the post-marital relationship, but can you imagine everything these two have been through stuffed into a wedding?

Then there were the more recent cases of actually talking about the relationship happening, there was last night, then the more casual date and getting to know each other better this morning.  If it wasn’t a hundred percent backwards, it was at least pretty jumbled up.

At least the first kiss happened fairly early.

Or maybe I was looking at it in an immature way, expecting some simplistic, formulaic, storybook notion of how a relationship was supposed to proceed.

I mean, there’s nothing wrong with having some fun by comparing what you’ve been through with the storybook formula and laughing at how wrong the formula got it.

I made my way to my dad’s, thinking about a thousand things at once, not wanting to think about anything in particular.

Like looking at a swarm of insects.

There were cars parked out front.  There was a strange car in the garage with the door open, two others in the driveway, my dad’s at the end.

Hmm.

I doubt Danny would be welcoming Alan and Emma Barnes, these days.

With a few stray houseflies, I casually noted a dozen people inside the house.  My dad was there, too.

Jeez, that’s a lot of people.

Dragon, did you send people to lie in wait at Danny’s place and arrest Skitter on arrival?

(Pretty sure that would be considered a breach of two of the unwritten rules at once, though.)

I immediately thought of Coil.  Had he divined what I had planned today?  Planned some counterattack?

Coil is also an option, I suppose.

The innocuous explanation, of course, would be that Danny was having a house party, but he knew he had plans with Taylor.

I’d foregone my costume, so I wouldn’t feel compelled to use it in a pinch, and I’d removed my knife holster from the costume and had it clipped to the back of my waistband, so it was in the midst of the folds, blanketed by various wasps and spiders.  The setup might have been awkward for anyone else, but spending the past few weeks and months while using my bugs to help guide my hand left me fairly confident that I could slip my hand through the folds and draw it at a moment’s notice if I had to.

The true moral of Worm: There are so many excellent uses for a power like Taylor’s.

Then a man opened the door.  I let myself relax.

Could it be a Workers’ Union meeting that’s just ending?

“No shit,” he said.  “Taylor?”

“Hi, Kurt,” I greeted my dad’s coworker and longtime friend.

Hm, looks like it.

“Been a long time.  Barely recognize you, kid.”

I shrugged.  “How’re you doing?”

He cracked a wide grin.  “Working.  Getting by.  Better than we were doing.  Now, you coming inside or are you going to stand in the driveway for the next five minutes?”

I think Taylor would rather stand in the driveway for five minutes than go into her living room with a baker’s dozen other people crammed into it.

I followed him into the house.

But of course, she’s got to, since she’s here to see Danny.

My dad was in the living room, surrounded by familiar faces.  People I’d seen around when I’d gone to his workplace or when they’d dropped by the house.  I could only put a name to the people who my dad called friends: Kurt, Kurt’s wife Lacey, and Alexander.

I wonder if anyone them double as capes.

Even Lacey was burlier than my dad, with a build like Rachel’s, muscle added onto that.  The other three were familiar, but I didn’t know them well.  My dad and myself excepted, every person in the house had spent their lives doing manual labor.  Just looking at him, he looked like the odd one out in every way, in clothes and body type and demeanor, but he was relaxed in a way I hadn’t seen in years, surrounded by friends with a beer in hand.

That’s very nice to see. Good to know he isn’t all alone.

My dad saw me, mouthed the word ‘sorry’.

Hehe, yeah, didn’t plan for these meetings to overlap.

Kurt saw it.  “Don’t blame your old man.  Alexander brought a truckload of beer in from out of town, we got to drinking.  We thought we’d include Danny, drag him along, invited ourselves.  Didn’t know he had plans.”

Ahh. 😛

“It’s fine,” I said.  Nobody that could be a threat, none of Coil’s people.  I let myself relax.  What had I been thinking?  That he’d strongarm my dad?

I mean.

That’s not impossible, even if Coil does hold himself a more honorable man than that.

(Yet here I am suspecting him of not coming through on a deal he made in front of nearly the whole Undertraveler fusion team.)

“Heya Taylor,” Lacey said.  “Haven’t seen you since the funeral.”

Oof.

Nearly two years after the fact, it still hit me like a punch in the gut.

Yeah, so… the first character trait that comes to mind when a character opens like that is “tactless”.

“Hell, Lacey,” Kurt said.  “Give the girl a second to get used to having people in her house before you drop that on her.”

I like Kurt, though.

I glanced at my dad, elbows on his knees, a 24 ounce beer clasped in both hands.  He’d lowered his head to stare at the can.  He didn’t look devastated, or even unhappy.  It hadn’t caught him off guard like it had hit me.  Knowing these guys, I could guess it came up with enough regularity that he was used to it.

Yeah, I suppose. Especially given Lacey’s apparent tactlessness around the subject.

“Ah, baby,” Lacey said.  She raised a beer in my direction.  “Just a little drunk.  Wanted to say, your mom was good peoples.

Fair enough. Tact isn’t exactly a thing associated with drunk people.

Speaking of drunk people, I came up with an alcohol-related power yesterday (which I will bring up in my ficlets if I find an opportunity to, because I think it’s hilarious): A speedster whose speed boost is exponentially proportional to their blood alcohol level.

She hasn’t been forgotten.  Sorry if that came out a little direct.”

Alright, Lacey, you get a second chance. You seem like good peoples too, when you’re not too sauced.

“S’okay,” I replied.  I shifted my feet restlessly.  I’d never felt more a stranger in my own house.  Didn’t know where to go, where I wouldn’t be drawing attention, have people asking me questions.  It was hard enough with my dad and I having this distance between us, but there were other people in the equation now.

Yeeeah, having guests in the house can be like that, and here there are a dozen.

Kurt spoke up, “We’re leaving in a few minutes.  It’s hard to get around, so they’re scheduling events together so we don’t need to make two trips.  The last debate is this afternoon, then mayoral vote right after.  You catch the debate the other night?”

I appreciate getting a clearer timeline on when the mayoral vote is happening. Thank you, Kurt!

I shook my head.  “Didn’t even know it happened.”

“Well, if that’s any indication, this one’s bound to be a pisser.  So we’re drinking to mellow out.  And I’d feel a hell of a lot better if your dad had more than the one beer, so he can relax some and hold back from choking one of the smarmy bastards.”

Maybe the smarmy bastards Danny are most pissed at are the ones working for Coil.

Also I suppose a desire to choke smarmy bastards runs in the family.

“Not about to do that,” my dad said.

“Wish you could.  But it wouldn’t be worth it in the end if you wound up in jail and left that daughter of yours alone.  It’s all good.

Hah! Irony.

We’ll go in stinking of beer, offer some drunken commentary from the sidelines, punctuated by a few off-color words,” Kurt smiled.

Sounds like fun. 🙂

“Please don’t,” my dad said.  He hadn’t raised his eyes from the beer in his hands, but he was smiling, too.

“You want to sit and let ’em say what sounds good for them?”  Kurt asked.

“I was thinking it’d be better to ask the hard questions, if we get a chance.  A big part of the crowd’s going to be people from the north end.  Good few of them are going to be from the Docks.  So why don’t we ask him what’s happening with the ferry?”

Fair enough. Maybe Coil’s mayor can do something about that if Taylor pulls some strings.

“He’s going to brush it off,” Lacey said, “Not in the budget, with everything that’s going on.”

“Then that’s a good time for some booing and drunken swearing,” my dad answered, smiling.

Hehe.

And that’d reinforce the idea that it matters to the people.

Kurt busted out a laugh.  “You want to start a riot, Danny?”

“No.  But might sway the undecideds to see just how unimpressed we are with the man.”

It sounds like they’re speaking of a particular candidate. The sitting mayor? One of Coil’s guys?

Everyone’s unimpressed with Mayor Christner,” Alexander spoke up.  He was a younger guy, heavily tattooed, with thick eyebrows that gave him a perpetual glower.  Every time I saw him, he had his hair cut in a wild style.  Today he had the left one-third of his head shaved, showing off a fresh tattoo of an old-school pinup girl in a bikini with her elbow appearing to rest on his ear.

I like the idea that this guy has a different wild style every time. There’s a lot of character in a detail like that.

The tattoo also gives off this laid-back vibe.

“Disaster does that.” I spoke up.  “We want someone to blame, and the guy in charge makes for an easy target.”

Fair point. Though Christner isn’t a terribly impressive guy in person, either.

“He’s a deserving target,” Kurt said, seating himself on the arm of the chair Lacey was in.  She wrapped one arm around his waist.  He went on, “There was this thing in Washington.  Talking about whether they should throw walls up around the edge of the city, blockade the streets and shut off services, get everyone out of here.”

Yeah, how did that go?

“He said no, right?”

“He said no.  Asshole.  Probably earns more money this way.  Take a few million for restoring and helping the city, help himself to a percentage.”

Good work, Skitter.

Let’s be real, I could get on Taylor’s case about making Christner look bad, but the thing is, even if he’d said yes, there’d be people like Kurt who’d be unhappy with it. Perhaps even more of them. So it just changes whom Christner looks bad to.

That surprised me.  “You’re not happy the city was saved from being condemned?  Did you want to be kicked out of the city?  To leave your home?”

To be fair, there’s not much left here for some people.

“It’d suck, but the way they were talking about it in the paper, there’s a big fund that’s set aside for covering the damages those Endbringer motherfuckers cause.

A reasonable economic decision by whichever politicians were involved in that. Clearly this is fiction.

Idea was that they’d dip into those funds, give everyone that they ousted a bit to cover the cost of their homes.”

“There’s no way that’s doable,” I said.  “What about everyone who left when they were told to evacuate?”

Damn, good question.

“Don’t know,” Kurt said.  “I’m just saying what the papers did.”

I felt an ugly feeling in my gut.  “And they’d give us what the houses used to be worth?”

Probably not.

“They’d give us what the houses might be worth now,” he said.

Yeah, and then thousands of people would be left without enough money to pay for non-broken homes.

“So not much.”

“It’s more than they’ll be worth a few years down the line, after the rot sets in and any mold problems get worse.  Getting expensive to get supplies into the city, which means it’ll be costly to fix things up and renovate.  Not necessarily worth it.”

Hmm. Fair point. And it’d be hard to sell the houses privately because of it.

“I saw construction crews at work.”

Kurt downed a swig of his beer and cleared his throat, “Sure.  The companies that are buying up all the materials, purchasing land on the cheap, all in the hopes that this city gets its act together and the land turns out to be worth something.”

These are some of the things Taylor will need to handle if she ends up taking control of the city.

“It could.”

Come on,” he made the words a groan, “We’re under the tyranny of supervillains.  Heroes don’t have what it takes.  Used to be they were outnumbered but they were trying, making a difference in little ways.  Now they’re outnumbered and losing.  What’s the point?”

This is one of the most fun things about secret identities as a trope. Characters getting to see what others think of their alter egos without the filter that comes into play when they’re faced with those alter egos.

“Just a hypothetical question,” I said, “But isn’t it better to be in a city that works, where villains rule the streets, instead of a failed city with the same villains in a less prominent position?”

I don’t think Taylor always realizes how radical this idea is to most people.

Lacey groaned a little, “Sweetie, had a few too many to wrap my head around the question.”

“Might be time to stop then, Lacey,” my dad said.  Turning to me, he said, “I suppose you’re asking the classic question, Taylor.  Would you rather be a slave in heaven or a free man in hell?”

I suppose the questions are to some extent comparable. Except Taylor might disagree on whether the villain rule actually makes people slaves or free.

For the record, I’d prefer freedom in hell, at least if they installed some air conditioning.

“Free man in hell,” Kurt responded.  “Fuck.  You think I’d be doing what I do, living here, if I was willing to make nice, suck up to the guys in charge and do what I was told?”

I do like Kurt.

Some of the others were nodding, Lacey and Alexander included.

I looked at my dad.

“What’s your answer, Danny?”  Kurt asked.

*drumroll*

“I’d rather not be a slave or in hell,” my dad responded.  “But sometimes I worry I’m both.  Maybe we don’t get the choice?”

Dodging the question. Fair enough.

But it’s a response that suits this story. On the other hand, taking the choice is to some extent what Taylor has been doing, or trying to do.

“You’re the most depressing asshole of a friend I’ve got,” Kurt said, but he said it with a smile.

Hehe.

“Why are you asking, Taylor?”  Lacey asked.

“Oh, well, you see, it began when some bullies trapped me in a locker…”

I shrugged.  How much could I say without giving them cause for suspicion?  “Saw some of the stuff going on in the shelters.  Some sick people, unhappy people.  It was a long while before anything started getting better, and as I understand it, it was the villains who made the first move in getting things fixed up.”

Nice way to spin it.

“For their own benefit.  You can’t rule a hole in the ground,” Alexander said.

I think that’s part of why the Undertravelers’ victory felt a little hollow. They won, but what’s even left to have won?

Taylor’s territory is a prime example of fixing that, though.

“Maybe,” I said.  “Or maybe bad people can do good for the sake of doing good, at least once in a while.  They’re taking charge, they’re keeping things more or less quiet and peaceful.  It’s better than what we had.”

“The problem with that,” my dad said, “Is that we’d be setting humanity back by about three thousand years if we let that happen.

Harsh.

It’d be falling back into an iron age mindset and leadership.  The people with the numbers and the weaponry lay claim to an area through sheer military strength.  They stay in charge as long as they can through family lines, merging families with whoever else has the military strength.  That lasts until the family in power peters out or someone smarter, stronger or better armed comes in to seize control.  Might not sound so bad, until you figure that sooner or later, the person who gets control is going to be someone like Kaiser.”

…okay, yeah, fair.

That said, “sooner or later, the person who gets control is going to be someone like Kaiser” is a problem with every form of government. Even democracy (just look at Trump, Bolsonaro, etc.).

“Kaiser’s dead,” Kurt said.

Not the point.

“Yeah?” my dad raised an eyebrow.  “Okay, but I was speaking in general terms.  Could just as easily be Lung or Jack Slash, instead of the relatively benign villains that are in charge right now.  Again, I stress, it’s just a matter of time.”

Hm. So Danny wasn’t aware that Kaiser was dead. Am I supposed to be suspicious about the fact that Kurt knew?

If Kurt is a cape, which one might he be? I’m thinking he’d probably be a villain, given a) I think we know the names of every male local hero at this point and b) the thing about not being willing to make nice. But the main villains are all gone, and if he were in the E88 before it broke in twain, his identity would’ve been revealed to the public.

It seems more likely that it’s just a simple matter of Danny having missed that Kaiser was killed among all the other stuff that’s happened, but consider my eyes narrowed.

On a vaguely related note, I really do wonder if Danny suspects Taylor. Maybe that’s why he was reluctant to give a clear answer to his stance on the philosobabble.

Just a matter of time until we lose -I lose- and someone else claims Brockton bay for themselves, I thought.

It’s definitely something to keep in mind.

Good ideas have fallen before because successors weren’t as keen on the ideas as on the power they brought.

“What would you rather have happen?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” he said.  “But I don’t think complacency’s the answer.”

Except a lack of complacency on the villains’ part is also part of why this is happening.

“Last debate,” Kurt said, “People kept bringing up the capes, moderator kept shutting them down, telling them that they were supposed to be talking economy and education.  Today we’ll hear some talk on the crooks running the city.

Ooh, sounds interesting.

Hear what the candidates have to say on the subject.”

“We should go soon,” Lacey said.  “If we want to get a seat instead of standing around at the sides.”

Hey, Danny, what do you say we join them?

My dad looked up at me, “Can I get you any food, Taylor?  I promised you something.”

“I’m alright.  Had a late breakfast.  Maybe when we get back?”

I’ll be honest, I completely forgot the specifics of their plans.

Was this debate what they were supposed to be doing today?

“I’d offer you a drink,” Kurt said, chuckling, “But that’d be against the law.  How old are you, anyways?”

“Fifteen,” I said.

…what?

*grumbles about the miasma*

(Maybe she was rounding up?)

“Sixteen.”

Okay, so the reason this was brought up was so Danny could remind her that her birthday had passed?

Though she got it right back during the miasma.

…I can’t blame her. My own idea of how old I am sometimes lags behind my actual age by up to two years.

And that’s me, the guy whose birthday is so close to New Year’s that I can reliably just add 2 to the last two digits of the year and get my age at a given date without sparing thought to whether or not the date I’m thinking about was before or after my birthday.

(It rolls over. I was not 101 years old in 1999. I think.)

I turned to look at my dad.

“It’s the nineteenth,” he said.  “Your birthday was a week ago.”

*adjusts it all again*

Okay, so she was rounding up when she thought she was sixteen during the miasma.

It’d be July by now, right? If it were June, her birthday would be around the Mannequin phase of the Nine’s stay, and that certainly wasn’t a week ago. (It’d also be on a Homestuck day.)

So then Taylor was born July 12th, 1995, or thereabouts (depending on how exact “a week ago” is).

“Oh.”  I’d been a little distracted at the time.  A week ago, that would have been around the time we were wrapping up our confrontation with the Slaughterhouse Nine.  Lovely.

Wait, are we in June still?

I’ve never been good with fictional timelines. That’s why I paid such close attention to that in the early Arcs. I have a hard enough time (no pun intended) keeping track of time in reality.

“That’s the saddest goddamn thing I ever heard,” Kurt said, getting off the chair’s armrest and helping Lacey to her feet.  “Girl missing her birthday like that.  I’m guessing you don’t have your license, then, huh?”

MaxthonSnap20190618224929

[Homestuck]

TG: thats just about the saddest thing i ever heard get said

She only has her beetle piloting license.

Wait. Was he hoping Taylor might be able to drive them? Do they not have DDs?

“No.”

“Damn.  Was hoping you’d be our designated driver so your dad could have another.”

Yeah, see, the thing about designated drivers is you need to designate them ahead of time.

So that’s part of why Danny has barely touched his beer.

“I’ve only had half a tallboy,” my dad said, shaking his can lightly to let us hear the contents sloshing against the sides.  “And we’ll be driving slow on these streets anyways.  Who’s driving the other car?”

Let’s hope the other DD stuck to their guns.

Let’s hope it wasn’t Lacey.

Alexander raised his hand.  He only had a glass of water.

Nice.

“Then we’re off.  Out of my house,” he said.  I could see him wincing in pain as he used the chair’s back to help himself to a standing position, but he recovered.  He started shooing the burly dockworkers out the door.  “Go.  Into the cars.”

Pfffft. “Get your asses out of here.”

We began to file out.  Kurt and Lacey climbed into the back seat of my dad’s car.  The others got into Alexander’s truck.

“Should you be drinking with the kidney damage?” I asked, as the doors shut.  “You had trouble standing.”

Oh fuck, right, the kidney damage. Good point, Taylor.

“I got cleared yesterday.  I’m back on a regular diet.  Any hurt is just the muscle and the stitches.  Thanks for worrying about me.”

“Of course I’m going to worry about you,” I said, frowning.

:/

Was he unsure about whether she still cared to?

“You have changed,” my dad commented, resting his elbows on the roof of the car.

Ouch.

“Hm?”

“Wasn’t so long ago that you would have walked into that situation and clammed up.”

Yeah, that sounds about right. In the last few months, she’s gotten used to being around a lot more people at once than before (school doesn’t count, because of the strict rules and the bullies), and of taking charge in social situations.

“Feels like that was a year ago.”

“Anyways, I’m sorry,” he said.  “I’d hoped this would be just you and me, having a chance to catch up.  They invited themselves.”

“It’s okay.  I’m glad that you’ve got friends like that.”

So am I. They seem like good people.

“They’re a bit overbearing,” my dad said.

“The window’s open a crack,” Kurt said, from inside the car.  “We can hear you.”

Pfft.

Kurt seems like the type to take that in good humor, though.

“They’re overbearing,” my dad repeated himself, raising his voice a notch.  At a normal volume, he finished by saying, “But they’re alright.”

Ahaha

Smiling a little, I climbed into the passenger seat.

“Hey, Taylor?” Lacey asked.  Her voice was overly gentle, and for a moment I thought she was going to mention my mom again.  I winced a little.

(None of them are off the “potential cape” hook, even as unlikely as that seems.)

“What?”  I turned around in my seat, as much as I was able with my seatbelt on.

“Just wanted to say thanks.  For the warning.  You told your dad that Shatterbird was around, didn’t you?”

Ooh. Did that end up helping you too?

I remember Danny went and warned some of his coworkers, too. Maybe including Kurt and/or Lacey.

I nodded.

“He told us.  We were careful.  I don’t know if it saved our lives or not, but thanks for watching out for him, and helping us out as collater- collar-”

Collaratelollacatelar.

“You’re welcome,” I said, before she could fumble over her words any further.

was glad he was in touch with them.  From what I’d seen, I’d been left with worries that my dad was all on his lonesome.  Introverted people like him, like us, were best paired with  the Kurts of the world.  Or the Lisas.  People that wouldn’t be ignored or shrugged off, people who pushed the boundaries, so to speak, and drew us out of our shells.

*looks at himself and the odd contrast he had with his old best friend*

Yeah, I can relate.

I enjoyed the drive as we made our way downtown, more than I thought I would.  My dad and Kurt knew each other well enough that their dialogue flowed easily, and the same went for Lacey and Kurt, what with the pair being married.  I had a feeling that, by the end, Kurt was feeling like he’d wound up on the short end of both exchanges.

Pfft.

The town hall had survived the waves.  The stone building had crenelations and an American flag over the door.  We joined the trail of people who were filing in, walking past stands with the posters and images of the candidates, booklets of brochures about the issues and stands with newspapers from neighboring cities.  My dad and Kurt grabbed a few papers each and put them into the plastic bags that had been made available to us.  It was a nice thought, putting those out.  There wasn’t any TV at present and we had to keep abreast of what was going on somehow.

Seems reasonable.

Also reminds me of the times I’ve been to holiday sermons at church.

The signs led us past the old historical courthouse and to the auditorium.  We’d expected the seats to be filled, leaving us only with standing room, but the opposite was true.

Huh. Any particular reason people don’t want to sit?

The back of the auditorium and the rear rows were filled with reporters and camera crews, and the rest of the crowd had filled in random spaces on the benches.  Five or six hundred people.  Somehow less than I’d thought.

Not everyone’s going to care enough to actually go to the debates. Fewer than would watch them on TV, for sure.

It was an odd election, in a way.  The city had been without working computers for a week and a half, most had lost their cell phones, and were left without landlines.  An election without media for advertisement.  For many here, this would be the first and last time they heard a candidate’s stances on the issues before voting.  Was this how it had been in the past?  When poorer households hadn’t gotten newspapers and there hadn’t been televisions or radios?

That’s an interesting question. Now you’ve got the history nerd in me intrigued.

I looked at the candidates.  A dark haired woman in a dark blue suit, a blond man, and the older incumbent, Mayor Christner.  How many others in this auditorium were aware?  Some time ago, Coil had told us that two of the candidates for office had been bought.  Mayor Christner… well, I could remember standing in his backyard, him pointing a gun at me, pleading for me to step in and save his son’s life.

I pictured that scene as being inside the building, but I guess I got that wrong.

I’m guessing Coil’s candidates have opposing values upfront, so that he’ll have a chance of winning even if people’s opinions don’t line up with the ones one of his candidates spout.

Would the debate turn to the subject of him arguing against the condemnation of the city, and if it did, how would Christner justify the decision he’d made?

That’d be awkward.

But since Taylor’s asking, I doubt we’ll see it come to pass.

Especially since there’s not much left of the chapter and we’re likely to get a curveball any moment now.

I was caught between an ugly feeling of guilt and genuine curiosity in how the event would play out.  Mostly guilt, but I couldn’t do anything about that.  I’d done what had to be done.

On the curiosity side of things, I wondered momentarily if either of Coil’s mayoral candidates had military backgrounds or if he’d hand-picked his politicians the same way he selected his elite soldiers.

The latter sounds more like his style.

That train of thought ground to a halt as something caught my attention.

Emma Barnes?

It was habit, now, to have my bugs sweeping over my surroundings, giving me a perpetual sense of what was going on in the surrounding three or four city blocks.  When the vans found parking spots around the building, it didn’t even warrant a conscious thought.  When the soldiers began filing out of the vans, it startled me.  Men and women with machine guns and body armor.  Not PRT.

…Coil?

Unrelated terrorism is also an option, but seems like too hard of a curveball.

If this is Coil’s doing, is the deviation from his supposed plans something he’s been talked into by Cauldron?

No.  Definitely not PRT.

The armored limousine pulled into the middle of the street, just outside the front doors.  By the time Coil climbed out of the vehicle, his soldiers were either just past the doors on either side of the building or standing at the ready to accompany him by the front.

Oh damn, stepping out into the public!

Does he want them to actually “elect” him directly?

Coil, here?  It didn’t make sense.  He wasn’t the type to show himself.  It didn’t fit how he operated.  Hell, if the mayor was here, his son would be too.  Triumph would be in the crowd.

A body double, probably.

I glanced at my dad, and he squeezed my hand, “Not too bored?”

Oh, I think in a few moments, she’s going to be anything but bored.

I shook my head, trying to keep my expression placid as my mind raced.

Coil was making his play right here, right now.

Excellent.


End of Monarch 16.7

Morning after fluff, mental health, Danny’s cool friends, politics and an election debate curveball. Fun times!

This chapter touched a fair bit on various forms of repairs and rebuilding, both of Brian’s psyche and of the city. Construction work, in other words. A good chapter theme.

I think I kinda saw something like this coming, except I put it up as a backup plan, on the off-chance Coil ended up losing the election. But it seems he either a) was truth-lying about his means of taking over (I think we all know how I feel about characters who lie using the truth by now), or b) had his hand forced by Cauldron.

In any case this is looking like it’ll become a different kind of takeover than Taylor pictured. And that might be what tips her over into actively opposing him, and more importantly what tips the other Undertravelers (or at least Undersiders) into being willing to join her.

Next time, let’s see what the specifics of Coil’s move are. 🙂

See you then!

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