Monarch 16.9: Sans Voir Chess

Source material: Worm, Monarch 16.9

Blogged: June 23-30, 2019


Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

Howdy! It’s bloggerin’ time again!

Last time, “Coil” was blown to pieces and Taylor and a whole bunch of civilians – Danny included – were caught in the blast of an exploding power cell. Fun times!

I’m thinking today we’ll either pick up with Taylor in pain and possibly about to find Danny dead, or Taylor waking up at the hospital and perhaps getting frantic about whether Danny is okay.

I hope he’s not dead, but let’s face it, the guy is a point of great potential angst for Taylor and that really doesn’t bode well for his odds of surviving throughout the story. Especially now that things are finally going in the right direction between them.

I don’t know whether to expect any kind of confirmation one way or another on Coil’s supposed death in this chapter. I’m leaning towards “not yet”, I suppose.

I don’t feel like I need to say much more, so let’s get into it!


“Posted on 

Heavy.  The weight of the body on top of me was making it hard to breathe.

Ouch. Is that Danny, or someone else?

Some backup process kicked into gear as my body tried and failed to take in air.  I was thrust out of unconsciousness, or out of the semiconscious daze I’d been in.

Yeah, this ain’t the best of situations to be in.

How many corpses are around them?

I managed to struggle to get my upper body free, fighting past the aches that made every joint and every bone hurt to heave the body off me.

It hadn’t felt like sleep, or the darkness of unconsciousness, but I hadn’t been thinking either.

Considering how much Taylor’s mind usually buzzes, that’s saying something.

I felt a moment’s disorientation and wondered if I’d suffered another concussion.  My thoughts felt too lucid.

At least it’s unlikely that there was a Bakuda bomb inside that powercell. Still hurts like hell, still deadly, but unlikely to have caused this effect by way of some kind of mind-affecting power.

The body.  My dad?  I opened my eyes to look, saw only cloudy white.  Dust?  It was similar to when I woke up with bleary eyes, but no matter how many times I blinked, I could only see a white haze with vague patches of light and dark.

…if this sticks and she’s almost-blind now, she’ll be forced to sense things through her swarm even more than before…

Blinking made my face burn where the skin of my eyelids and around my eyes moved.  More irritating was the sensation that I had something in my eyes, except no amount of blinking was helping.  They’d been damaged?

You did look straight at a bright explosion, so that’s very much a possibility right now.

Wait, was she wearing glasses or contacts? Maybe it’s just broken contacts.

Well. “Just” broken contacts. That still sounds like a hellish experience and likely to cause permanent damage.

Stupid to look straight at the explosion.  I’d thought I had another half-second to grasp what was going on before I had to turn my head and shut my eyes.  Apparently that wasn’t good enough.

Clearly.

My dad.  Right.  I reached over and fumbled to find his throat.  He had a pulse.

Thank cod.

I put one hand in front of his mouth and found him breathing.

I was whole, he was alive.  Anything else would be hard to verify.

It’s a beginning.

I was forced to use my bugs to see.  What their eyes processed might not translate well in my brain, but it was about as good as what I had.

Ooh, she’s not just using her swarm the usual way, she’s making rare use of the ability to actually see through them!

I don’t think we’ve seen that since Insinuation.

Didn’t want to move the bugs or gather a swarm.  It would be too easy to track me down, to find Skitter lying among the wounded.

Makes sense.

No, I only looked, keeping the bugs where they were, and feeling things out where necessary with only a handful of flies.  I could feel a breeze.  The front of the building had a hole in it.

I suppose that’s what happens when people blow part of it up.

The lobby had been annihilated, and much of it was open to the sky.  The black blobs that had pulled up around the building had flickering lights on top.  Sirens.  They would be the first responders.

For a moment there I pictured first responder sirens, as in the mythological creatures.

*shifty eyes*

…okay, okay, you got me, I pictured them as the MLP version of the mythological sirens, are you happy now?

I’d noted the structural damage.  I tried to picture the scene as I’d last glimpsed it.  What had been where?  Who had been where?

The reporters had been at the very back of the room, the last to make their way down the aisles in the press of the crowd and the people making their way out of their seats.

And so likely to be further away from the bomb when it went off but probably knocked over by other people getting blasted back?

Some had lingered, protecting their equipment or filming the scene.  I tenderly moved one fly over the area, feeling the shattered boards, the blood-slick expanses of floor, the charred flesh.

Doesn’t sound like being in the back helped.

Several of the Wards were working to tend to the wounded.  Clockblocker had saved the Wards, apparently, but had been too late in tending to himself, and was currently lying prone, receiving some care from Weld.  Chariot was gone.

Huh. So Clocky unfroze at just the right time, and Chariot at just the wrong time.

There had been hundreds of people present, and too many had still been in the building when the explosion went off.  The dad and son who’d been restrained in the lobby?  The mayor, candidates and director who’d been wounded, then left without aid when the explosion injured the people who were giving them first aid, sent the people flying?

Yeah, so… this is gonna be hell for Kid Win’s self-conscious. He’s very likely to consider this a personal failure, since he was the one rewiring the teleporter. Might even consider all the deaths his fault because of it.

I couldn’t even grasp the entirety of the scene, not without bringing my swarm to bear.  I couldn’t do that without possibly revealing my presence when I was in a vulnerable position.

Better to hold off on that, yeah. Honestly, you might not want to grasp the entirety of this scene.

I felt around to find Kurt and Lacey.

“Hey baby,” Lacey said.  “You woke up.”

Well, that’s Lacey accounted for. Is Kurt dead? They did seem happy together, why not ruin that while we’re here?

“You hurt?”

“Just a little bit.  Might have slipped a disc.  Probably nothing to worry about, but I’m going to stay as still as I can with how bad this hurts.  I’ve been watching your dad, trying to tell if he’s breathing or if I’m imagining it.  You didn’t freak out, so I take it that our Danny’s okay?”

Yeah, for the time being.

Similarly, the fact that Lacey seems so calm suggests the same about Kurt.

“He’s okay.  I think.”

“Good.  Kurt’s unconscious but he’s alright.  You see Alexander anywhere?”

Maybe he was closer to Coil.

I blinked a few times.  Did she not realize I couldn’t see?  “No.”

I mean, fair enough. It’s not always obvious that someone is blinded.

“Okay, hon.  You should stay as still as possible.”

I shook my head.  “No.  Going to see if anyone needs help.”

Um.

Taylor.

She might be aware of some injuries you have that you can’t feel, or about ongoing threats around you that you didn’t notice with your bugs, or orders from the heroes to stay in place to help the first aid work stay organized.

She gripped my hand, started to say something, then winced.

“What’s wrong.”

“Hurts, is all.  Stay put?  Safest thing to do.”

Yeah, sounds about right.

I shook my head.  I couldn’t say it, but I felt like I’d been through enough crises and suffered enough that I was aware of what the pain was telling me.  I was almost certain I wasn’t in critical danger.  It was what my gut was telling me.

I mean, there is the whole issue of being blinded, though you’re better equipped to deal with that than most.

With only a small few bugs to guide me, I left my dad, Kurt and Lacey behind, climbing up the stairs to the damaged stage, fumbling for the other wounded.  I could only draw crude images of the situation from touch, from the blurry images my eyes offered me and through my bugs.  A woman, unconscious like my dad.

What do you even expect to do to help them? Blinded no-equipment first aid?

A man, his arms hugged to his lower stomach as he writhed in perpetual agony.

The mayor.  I crawled over to him, pressing my fingers to his throat.  He had a pulse, but it was thready.

He’s had a very bad debate night.

I drew bugs from where they hid in the midst of my hair, commanded them down my arms and tried to bend over so my hair masked what I was doing.  Once they were on him, I sent them over the length of his body, noting where there was blood.  No use fumbling around with my hands.  I didn’t want to bump one of the throwing knives and gave it the push necessary to drive it into one of his arteries.

That’d probably make the night worse for him. Might not even get reelected.

Also, I usually let typos be, but this is one Wildbow might want to fix. The “gave” should be “give” – otherwise this sentence might read to a reader who isn’t paying attention like “I didn’t want to bump one of the knives, so I pushed it into his arteries to get it out of my way.”

One of the knives that impaled his hip had moved, probably when the explosion happened, and the offending weapon wasn’t serving to cork the blood flow.

Really bad debate night.

I pulled my sweatshirt from around my waist, leaving my knife where it was on my belt, folding one sleeve and pressing it around the base of where the knife had penetrated.  It wasn’t enough, didn’t feel like I was doing anything, but I wasn’t sure what else I could do.

You don’t have a lot of options here, but I’m proud of you for trying. Even if I did argue against it.

I wasn’t strong enough to do chest compressions.

“Help!”  I shouted.  “I need help here!”

“I can help you!”

“Great, can you do chest compressions?”

“They’re not my specialty, but I’ll do what I can.”

“…I can’t really see you, but you sound kind of familiar.”

“So do you, but I don’t think we’ve met. Name’s Greenfire.”

Nobody leaped to the rescue.  Anyone else that was still in the building was too busy with their own injuries, were still unconscious or were making their way outside.

And Greenfire is probably in a completely different state. Let’s hope the mayor’s face doesn’t need burning.

Damn them.

Damn Coil.  I would make him answer for this.

Yeah, about Coil, remember a little thing you saw on that front?

Or are you going to be with me in pressing X to doubt?

Yes, I had seen ‘Coil’ die.  I had little doubt others had as well, even news cameras would have had eyes on the scene.  Especially news cameras.  Coil had staged this, taken advantage of the reporters’ cameras, the fact that there were no working communications, and all the important figures would be attending.  He was too savvy, too invested in his plan to not have taken all the variables into account.  Just the fact that I knew about his power turned this whole scenario on its head.  He wouldn’t have charged in like this without a backup, without a version of himself staying safe and secure in his underground base, just in case things went awry.

Exactly!

Thank you for cutting right to the chase with this realization, Taylor.

His body double would be suspicious even if that wasn’t his power, but his power really makes the fact that he “died” here at all suspicious.

No.  I might have seen the man die, but the more I thought about it, the less I could believe that man was Coil.

The emergency response team had stopped outside, at the perimeter of the building.  I listened through the bugs in the area, but I couldn’t follow any of the conversation.

It’s good to see her making use of these abilities, even if it’s not helping much. Maybe we’ll train them to be helpful while her eyes recover.

Even tracking who was speaking was nearly impossible.

Whatever they had been discussing, they ventured inside.  Some, who I gathered might be police officers, were moving to the most affected areas, the places where the reporters had been, the lobby.  The paramedics proceeded down the aisles, too slowly for my liking, checking on the wounded.

Ultimately, a knife pales in comparison to an explosion, and I don’t think the mayor was all that close to the explosion, so there are likely to be many who are in even more immediate need of attention than the mayor.

“Help!” I called out, but my voice was nearly drowned out by the other wounded.  It was one or two minutes before a paramedic saw the mayor and hurried to my side.

Short enough that he’s probably still alive but long enough that Taylor’s first aid, limited as it was, may be the main reason for that.

I could tell where he was because of the bug I’d planted on him, but I couldn’t say as much.

“I’ve got this,” she said.  The paramedic was a woman.

Right, fair enough. Hard to judge genders when you can’t see and are using only a minimal amount of bugs.

I gratefully backed away.  Even the strain of pushing the makeshift bandage down had been making every ache and pain across my body stand out in sharp relief.

ow

“Your name?” she asked me.

“Skitter. Uh, I mean, Taylor. Taylor Ski– Taylor Hebert. Not Skitter, definitely got nothing to do with anyone who might go by that name, no missee.”

“Taylor.”

A short distance away, my dad groaned a response, as if he’d heard my voice.

Welcome back to awakeland, Danny. It’s a bit busted at the moment.

I noticed more because of the mosquito I’d placed over his carotid artery than my ears.  I didn’t let on that I’d noticed anything.

This is like Taylor keeping a finger on Danny’s pulse from a distance.

“You shouldn’t be moving, Taylor.”

Yeah, that’s what Lacey said too, but do you think she listens? Hell naw.

“I’m sore, but I don’t think I’m hurt.  I wanted to help.”

“What kind of pain?”

“Bruises, aches.  My dad took the brunt of it,” I pointed in his general direction.  “My face hurts, and, um, I can’t see.”

Might be a little tricky to explain how you were able to help so much without seeing.

“Don’t worry.  Soon as we take care of the critically injured, we’ll look after you.”

I like this paramedic so far. She sounds pleasant.

“I’m alive,” I said.  “I mean, I’m okay.  I’d rather you guys checked my dad and his friends, make sure they aren’t hurt, help the other candidates, and the Director.  They were stabbed before the explosion.  All of them like this.  Um.  They were getting help when the bomb blew.

Sharing that information ought to be helpful. 🙂

I think whoever was helping them got knocked away by the explosion.”

I was rambling.  How fine was I?

At least it’s helpful rambling.

The paramedic shouted, “Boroughs!  Sturdevant!  Manry!  Girl here says there’re MSW victims on the stage here!”

Interesting names there.

I assume MSW stands for minor or major stab wounds.

I could hear running footsteps, one of my bugs brushed against one of them as they ran past.

There wasn’t much more I could do.  I’d gladly out myself if it meant I could use my power to help people, maybe identify the most wounded, but I was worried it would do more harm than good, both in the short-term and in the long.

Well, for one thing you’d probably get arrested in the process, though the helping might earn you some good favor in court or in getting a Madcap-esque deal with the PRT.

I was left to sit there, blind, while the paramedic checked my dad over and then got someone else’s help to lift him to the ground.

As the paramedics checked whether people were alive, others were rousing.  I could hear the cries of pain, the shouts and screams.

The silence gradually disappears.

Coil would answer for this.  For the people he’d hurt for his own selfish ends.  For knowingly putting me in the line of fire.  For the lives he’d spent like currency.

Told you, Coil.

You fucked up now.

“Taylor, was it?” the paramedic asked me.

“Yeah.”

“You’re very quiet.  You’re breathing hard-”

Any lung damage? Rib damage?

“Angry.  And a little sore.  But I’m okay.  Really.  There’re others who need help.”

“Others are getting help.  We’ve got a lot of people here, and very few with serious injuries.  You have a burn on your face, we’re going to want to look after that.”

Few with serious injuries.

After a bomb that ripped a man to pieces.

Is the line between “minor injuries” and “straight up dead” that small?

“The reporters, at the back of the auditorium-”

“I thought you couldn’t see.”

Fuck, that’s a slip.

“I remember seeing them there, just before it went off.”

Nice save.

“Very few people were badly hurt.  Less than you might think.  Just stay calm.”

If I hadn’t used my bugs to see the evidence for myself, would I have been able to tell she was lying?

Ah, fair enough.

Also, the line “You have a burn on your face” from a few quotes back just caught up to me. Y’know, Taylor has a decent idea of who can help deal with bad facial burns…

She wanted me to stay calm.  It was odd, but I felt very calm, and I didn’t feel like I was in shock.

Are you sure that’s not the main indication that you are? The fact that you feel so calm and unshocked?

I suppose there’s a lot to be said for experience.

I was pissed, I was worried about my dad, worried that I was missing something critical with Coil’s overarching plan, but I wasn’t panicking, I wasn’t stressing about the burn, or my eyes, or any of that.

I feel like she might’ve stressed a little bit more about the eyes if she’d internalized the fact that Amy’s no longer around. And Othala seems to have left, leaving no one known in the city with healing powers.

I’d handled worse, in terms of injuries.  I wouldn’t freak over that much.  I’d love to be able to see what was going on, to not have to worry about permanent blindness, but I wouldn’t worry about it until I could confirm how bad it was, confirm that it was permanent.

Fair enough. Let’s not take our sorrows for granted.

Sort of like how I was looking at the potential end of the world.  I wouldn’t worry about it until we’d exhausted every resource available and verified that in this era where countless people had the ability to break the fundamental rules of reality, someone couldn’t stop it from happening.

Taylor is a realist, but she’s a very optimistic realist from time to time.

I wonder what Taylor might think if she came to realize that any timeline where it’s stopped almost certainly involves Dinah dying first?

“I am calm,” I said, after confirming it for myself.  I tried to take a deep breath to demonstrate, but winced at the pain from the bruising.  I might have been pushed into the railing by the force of the explosion.  “But I don’t want you to worry about me.  My dad-”

“–is okay, Taylor.”

“The bald guy by the stairs?”

“Yeah.”

“My partner’s looking after him.  Let’s make sure you’re okay.  If there’s spinal damage or internal damage and we’re ignoring it and letting you move around like you have been, things could get much worse than they are now.”

Internal damage is a bitch.

I shut my eyes, noting how the blurry white haze gave way to darkness.  I could remember when Leviathan had hit me, how Panacea had noted internal damage that I’d been entirely unaware of.

With her hand, wasn’t it?

I sighed, opened my eyes to stare at the hazy figure.  “Okay.”

“We’re going to be putting you onto a stretcher, but we won’t be carrying you out for a minute.  We can’t leave you alone, but I’ll need to help my partner carry your dad out.

Makes sense.

What we’re going to do is put you next to someone, so someone can watch two or three of you at once.”

…now that would be a hell of a way to run into Emma.

“Okay.”

I was lifted into place, then carried a short distance before being set down with great care.  The paramedic there was talking with one of the other patients, leaving me free to think.

and leaving the other patient occupied until they notice Taylor if it’s someone we know

Why?

Why did Coil do this?

Seems to me that it was to take out the heroes in one fell swoop.

That is, assuming it was his work and not Cauldron’s, but the real Coil seemed to be aware of what was going to happen when he left the room.

That was what got me.  This whole thing bordered on senselessness.  Hurting these people, putting me in the line of fire.  Why attack the event?  It would draw attention from heroes across the nation and it would make holding the city that much harder.

Hm, fair point.

Had he abandoned the plan?  Or were there nuances I wasn’t aware of?

It’s possible his favor to Cauldron has something to do with it.

What was deliberate, in how this had unfolded?  He’d wanted to take out the mayor.  But the candidates?  Hadn’t they been his?

I mean he claimed so, but they were ordered stabbed like the mayor. And I mean, his whole claim of the city kind of meant he didn’t need them. He might’ve only claimed they were his to mislead you and the other Undertravelers into thinking it was going to be a peaceful, behind-the-scenes takeover.

I was looking at it the wrong way.  Circus.  She had been part of the plan from the beginning, and he’d hired her for an explicit reason.  Her powers included her personal pocket dimension for storing items.  I couldn’t think of how that might be used.  She had minor pyrokinesis, but that didn’t apply here, either.  She also had an enhanced sense of balance and enhanced coordination.

Like I said last time, her powerset is excellent.

Enhanced coordination might let her stab the supposedly-Coil-loyal candidates non-lethally but the mayor more lethally?

The balance wasn’t a major thing here.  But the coordination?  The way she’d been able to casually target Piggot as she tossed the throwing knives over one shoulder?  If I had to guess, Circus’ knives had only killed the people Coil wanted dead.  The others would have been hit in nonvital areas.

Bingo.

Her enhanced hand-eye coordination would have given her the accuracy needed to ensure the knives hit where she wanted them to hit.

Über, then?  Leet?  What was the rationale for them?  When we’d left the fundraiser and Coil had revealed himself as our employer, it had been Trainwreck in Coil’s company, but Trainwreck had joined the Merchants, possibly at Coil’s behest, and the Merchants had been eradicated.  He was dead.

Very dead.

The best reason for having Über aboard is for combining his power with the captive Victor’s if possible, but that’s a personal bias. Something I probably won’t see happen, considering he was right next to “Coil” when the bomb went off.

That led me to wonder if Coil had brought in Über as a stand-in for Trainwreck, wearing another heavy metal suit.

And Leet to make it, if he wasn’t using one of Trainwreck’s old ones? And because Über and Leet were a package deal, I suppose.

Also, I suppose the metal suit might save him from the ‘splosion. Leet’s a bit more fucked, perhaps.

Was there a reason for why Coil wanted it?

I see the pile pieces you’re putting in front of me here and asking me to puzzle out before Taylor gets it, but damn if I can see how they fit together.

Circus, Über, Leet, Chariot, the candidates… moving parts in a greater set of machinations that I wasn’t aware of.  The reporters, me, my dad, and any number of people in the area, we were the bystanders, the casualties.

And the gears keep turning…

And I couldn’t get why.  Was it to attack or assassinate the mayor and Director?  To mark his candidates as survivors of a supervillain attack and give them more standing in the eyes of the public?  It didn’t make sense.

That’s the best explanation so far on the candidates, but it doesn’t add up. They might be significantly less loyal after something like this.

Why go to the effort of positioning the Undersiders and the Travelers in the city if that was his goal?  Any advantage he might glean from us holding territory would be counterbalanced by the chaos and the national attention that he drew from this kind of terrorism.  It wouldn’t be directed at him, because his body double had been killed in the attack, but it couldn’t help, either.

Hmmmmmmmmm.

What if he wants national attention for some reason?

If I thought about it, I could almost believe the bombing had been intentional.  I couldn’t say how he’d arranged it, but the fact that he’d thought to have a body double and the man had died and that ‘Coil’ was effectively off everyone’s radar seemed too coincidental.

I mean half the reason I caught the body double was because I was looking out for a body double from the start of the chapter, just because it was Coil going out in the open in a way that was likely to draw heroes. Then when it was time to fuck with the heroes, he sent the body double in to press the button in such a way that it would be seen that it was his doing.

But then why did the body double stay for so long after pressing it?

It was something I needed to ruminate on.  Minutes passed, and I was left with only my bugs to occupy me, and the periodic attention of the paramedic who’d been assigned to watch me, making sure I was still alive and lucid.  I directed bugs into the rubble, beneath the chairs that had been unrooted from the auditorium floor, under and onto bodies.

Checking on everyone else, eh?

Slowly, I gained a greater picture of the scene, a topographical map of what Coil had done.  I couldn’t count the bodies, not with the way the reporters had been pulverized, limbs and bones torn free and left lying beneath chairs or at the sides of the aisles

Shame you don’t have a human skull counting AI in your ear.

Though some the reporters (who were apparently the closest to the bomb rather than the furthest away, which makes sense when I think about it more) might not have recognizable skulls anymore.

“We’re moving you now,” a man said.

“Me?”

“Yeah.  Just stay put, don’t move.”

Alright. Let’s trust you.

I was lifted into the air, carried past the ruined wall at the rear of the auditorium.  I could smell the scent of death, the mingled smells of blood and shit, of human bodies that had been torn open, singed, the vitreous fluids and all the messy ugliness from inside our bodies exposed to the air.

Well… at least you can’t see it for once?

It seemed incongruous with the cool breeze and the gentle warmth of the sun on my face.  I had to turn my head so the sun wasn’t shining on the burn.

How the fuck could this be (there’s a rainbow)
Up in the sky (over the ghetto)
There is a rainbow (there’s a rainbow)
Over the-eh

Shouldn’t a catastrophe like this be met with rain?  An overcast sky?  It didn’t seem right that things were so quiet, so calm, the day so tranquil when so many people had died, lost loved ones or suffered serious injury.

Rainbows don’t hate or discriminate
It’s mankind’s fate to create mistakes
Just look at the skies above the ghetto,
Above the warzones, above each other
Rainbows stretch over lands a-ruin
Over troubles brewin’, whatever you doin’
Don’t live blind, a sheep in line
Find it, make the best of yo’ time!

I bit my lip, focusing on my bugs, sweeping them through the area as the ambulance made its way to the hospital and the paramedic in the back carefully checked my vitals, asking me questions about the degree of pain, stiffness here or there and checking for hard tissue where there might be internal injuries.

Anything of interest outside the car? Also try not to put your insects close enough together that it seems like an enormous swarm is following your ambulance.

It was odd, going to the same hospital where I’d been taken after fighting Leviathan.  I maintained a few bugs to feel things out – a stray housefly or mosquito would likely go unnoticed if it kept out of the way.  There were no capes, no blue tags or red tags on the curtain rods, nor PRT uniforms keeping order and informing the staff of who they were treating.

Because they don’t expect to be treating capes this time.


With me having passed midnight and Taylor having reached the hospital, I think that’s a good stopping point for the night. 🙂

[End of session]


Or for a week. Again. *sighs*

This week turned out a lot busier than expected. A coworker went and had a stroke (she’s okay now) and had to go down to 50% for a while, so now that I went down from full time via social services to part time  with room for some extra shifts, I got a bunch of those other 50% from her, taking me almost back to where I started.

But my schedule really will clear up a lot soon, and I’m getting much more money for each hour now, so I’m not complaining.

Anyway, let’s get back to this thing!


[Session 2]

So, last we left Taylor, she was arriving at the hospital.

They took me to a curtained off area, very similar to the one I’d been in before.  Except here I was Taylor, not Skitter.  I wasn’t handcuffed, treated roughly or outed for my most damaging secrets.

Gee, it’s almost like people don’t like or trust villains.

They investigated me thoroughly, shone a light in my eyes and asked me far too many questions.  A cream was spread across the mild burn on a quarter of my face, and the nurse picked grit out from beneath my skin.  The process hurt, but it was a two at most on a scale of one to ten.  I’d dealt with tens before.

Not that many people can honestly say that, thankfully.

I mean, people do get inflicted with horrific pains, but 10 is supposed to be the worst thing you can possibly imagine.

The fact that I couldn’t see was starting to wear on me.  My left eye was worse than my right, but neither let me see details, only smudges.  Only light and dark.

…like how Taylor, early on in the story, saw things in black and white…

Except to be fair, smudges of light and dark like this probably means there’s a lot of gray, too.

I was so used to having an unnaturally broad sense of what was going on, but I’d just had one of my most essential senses stripped away from me.

I don’t know whether or not I’d like it to stay that way.

Pros: It’d be kind of neat, a fitting disability for someone with Taylor’s power to offset with said power, and an interesting step in her path of becoming more tied to her parahuman side than her human side.

Cons: We’d lose most visual descriptions of things and characters, except in Interludes and cases like other characters describing the things through dialogue. It might also be too close to Daredevil for Wildbow’s tastes – both in terms of him not wanting to make Skitter too similar to any given well-known pre-existing character, and in terms of him wanting to avoid the problems that come with Daredevil’s whole thing, being blind representation without quite being blind representation because h3’s bl1nd but c4n s33 4nyw4y.

Though looking it up so as to not make a complete fool of myself, it seems Daredevil is much better received by blind people than I (or Stan Lee) would’ve expected, so maybe that’s not as much of a problem as I thought it might be.

As the medical professionals left, a young woman slipped into the curtained enclosure.

Oh! Oh! Please tell me it’s the nurse-in-training from Extermination!

“Hey,” she said.  “You’re alive?”

Heh. That’s certainly a way to greet someone. Tattletale?

“Lisa?”

“Yeah.”

Not gonna lie, I’d love to see the nurse-in-training show up here, but I won’t complain if it means I get some good Lisa content instead. 🙂

“Honeybee-T.”

Ah. She Knows that Taylor can’t tell if it’s actually her, so she’s confirming her identity and indicating that it’s safe to talk shop.

“Praying-mantis-R.  You’re blind.  Damn, that sucks,” she said.

Oh wait, I messed up my dialogue reading. Taylor initiated that, and that tipped Lisa’s power off. Little bit risky to use the code within potential earshot of others while dressed as civilians, but fair enough.

“Yeah,” I sighed.  “My dad?”

“He’s okay.  Looked in on him.  He woke up and was asking after you.  He doesn’t like me much, anymore.”

…yeah that sounds about right

“You took me away from him.  He’ll blame you for that because it’s easier than blaming me, I guess.”

“I guess.”  I planted a mosquito between her shoulder blades, and I could track her as she stepped closer, crouching with her arms resting on the rail of the hospital bed.  When she spoke, she was quiet enough that only I could hear her.  “We can get you a healer or something.  Kidnap someone like Othala, have Regent or Grue use her powers.”

I thought Othala had left the city (though perhaps she’s hanging back to wait for Victor?), and there aren’t many other choices like that around here.

“Othala isn’t around.  Left the city.”

“We’ll hire someone with healing powers, then.”

And where will you find them? Outward healing powers seem to be rare. You’d probably have to go looking out of town to get someone.

“They won’t want to come here, because of the very thing you were talking about with Othala.  Word’s probably out about us owning the city, especially after we kicked out groups like the Chosen, and Faultline’s crew.

I won’t miss the Pure and the Chosen much, but I do wish the Crew could’ve stuck around.

They’ll tell people just how dangerous we are, the kind of tactics we can employ, like using Regent or Grue.”

“We have options.”

Sounds like Lisa’s running out of options that are ready enough in her head to speak.

“I know.  I’m not worried about me.  What gets me is what happened.  So many were hurt or killed.”

How much intel do the Undersiders have on what actually went down?

As in, all the Undersiders. The question applies separately to Lisa.

“Lots hurt, not so many killed, from what I’ve seen and heard on the subject.  But that’s not important right now.  What are your priorities?”

Lisa knows what this is prone to making Taylor think regarding Coil.

Lowercase k.

I blinked.  “My dad-”

“Is fine.”

“My territory, the fires?”

“Strategically placed, nowhere near our real lairs.  Nobody hurt, but I think he molotov’d one of your barracks, setting the fire high so people had a chance to get out.”

How nice of him.

“The others, Grue-”

“They weren’t anywhere nearby.  We’re going to meet up with them soon.”

Alright, sounds good.

“Dinah.”

Of course.

Now you’re on track.  We’ve talked about plans.  And Coil-”

“He’s alive, right?” I asked.

Right, let’s get that confirmed for sure.

“Mm hmm,” Lisa affirmed.  “And better for us, he’s probably happy.  Everything’s coming together for him, just the way he wanted it to.  Which means that right now, today, is going to be our best bet for talking to him, getting at him when he’s in a mood to release the tyke.

Yeeeeah I don’t know about that.

Sure, he might be in the mood to go “oh, right, that, sure, you can take her, it won’t even spoil my day!”

Or he might be like “yeah, yeah, in a bit, what I’ve got going on right now is so much more interesting”.

Not that he’d say it like that in either case.

My point is I read this speculation by Lisa and picture Tarquin.

omelette.jpg

[official shirt motif]

“You can’t make an omelette without ruthlessly crushing dozens of eggs beneath your steel boot and then publicly disemboweling the chickens that laid them as a warning to others.”
– Tarquin, The Order of the Stick

Come on, out of bed.”

My head was spinning, but it wasn’t a concussion at work.  After everything I’d done, everything I’d put in, we were this close?  I accepted Lisa’s help in getting out of the hospital bed, and she hooked her arm beneath mine to lead me away.

Uh. Do the hospital staff approve of this?

“So we just ask, and hope he’s feeling good enough to say yes?”  Which means biting my tongue when it comes to the accusationscalling him on what he did at the debate.

“Hey, Coil, could you be so kind and pretty pretty please release Dinah also FUCK YOU FOR WHAT YOU DID BACK THERE with a cherry on top?”

Lisa spoke at a more normal volume, “He doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who’ll be influenced much by his emotions.  He probably decided a while ago whether he’ll give up the girl or not.

True, and the only thing that makes me think there’s a slim chance he might actually do it is that supposed honor of his.

But I don’t think all of that honor is actually real. And, hell, he may have seen Taylor being present at the debate as fortunate, since if he got lucky and she became a casualty, he might not have to follow through on his deal.

(Though let’s be real, Lisa would’ve tried to force him to do so anyway to honor Taylor’s memory. Brian too, but he might not be in a great emotional state in such a timeline.)

But I say we should take anything we can get, and that includes approaching him on a good day.  Choose your words carefully, by the way.  There’s bystanders.”

This warning reminds me of a minor Thinker power from El Goonish Shive. It’s a spell that tells the caster how many people are looking at her at the moment.

Not particularly useful for a Worm cape in anything but stealth. A shoplifter might find it useful, but it probably won’t help much beyond that level.

I nodded, but I didn’t follow as she tugged on my arm.  “Can we check on my dad before we go?”

If Lisa’s not down with this, it might indicate that Danny is hurt worse than has been let on.

“They were moving him when I poked my head in.  I peeked at his chart, and it looks like they had queued him up for an MRI, what with his recent internal injuries from Shatterbird’s attack.”

Ah, fair enough.

I winced.

She went on, “I told him I might take you to my dad’s clinic, where the load won’t be as high, if you were okay to be moved.

Ohh, nice.

Surprisingly enough I actually do remember the background for this particular fib. Back in Shell, Lisa told Danny that Dr. Q was her father, to explain Taylor having been treated.

Again with characters I’d love to see more of!

If I did take you, it’d mean you were okay.  He didn’t like that, but he agreed.  That doesn’t mean we can’t stay if you want to stay.  Like I said, it won’t make a huge difference if we get in touch with our boss now or two hours from now.”

Yeah, fair.

“But it’ll make a difference?  A bit of one?”

“I think so.”

Do you suspect his mood might be getting soured?

I thought back to my earlier feeling, that leaving my dad just the one more time might mean some kind of terminal break.

Aw fuck.

Of course that’d come back to bite us here.

Stacking that up against everything I’d done with the end-goal of getting Dinah out of captivity, though… not even Dinah, exactly.  I barely knew her.  No, this was more selfish, I had to admit.

Because you know
I’m all about that guilt
’bout that guilt
No treble

I was thinking of my own sense of guilt, about my own responsibility, and the crimes I’d committed in getting this far.  The terror, pain and distress I’d caused in the course of being Skitter.

So, will you be Taylor tonight, or Skitter?

Fifteen and a half years spent growing up with my dad versus two months as Skitter.  My dad was there, though.  He’d always been there, and the only thing I had to suggest that he wouldn’t was a vague feeling.

Vague feelings are hella dangerous in fiction, Taylor. Damn flags…

Just like there was only the vaguest possibility that our going to see Coil now would make the difference in him setting Dinah free.

I mean yeah, that vague feeling is a little less reliable.

Unless you choose not to pursue it.

“My dad’s going to be okay?” I asked.

“He was fine.  No sign of any deeper problems or pain.”

Good to hear, even if it won’t last. 🙂

“Then let’s go.”

We made our way out of the hospital.  I could hear the cries of pain.

So at this point this chapter runs parallel to several previous ones, most notably 8.6 and 6.9.

8.6 is being reinforced by way of this chapter highlighting the other side, of highlighting the lack of the things 8.6 cared about when it came to treatment of villains, in a situation where Taylor is there as Taylor rather than Skitter.

More interestingly, though, 6.9 is being echoed. Again, Taylor is forced to make a choice between her cape life and her civilian life as represented by going with Lisa instead of staying with Danny, with a sense that it might very well be the last time she sees Danny (remember how I speculated on his death right up until his reappearance in Infestation?).

Here, Taylor wakes up with a disability that – for now at least – means she has to rely more on her parahuman sense of bugs than her human sense of vision, spends a scene using her experience as a parahuman to cope with a situation where she is very much a victim in civilian guise, then is faced with the choice of relieving her parahuman guilt of allowing Dinah’s capture or her human guilt of leaving Danny.

And so while it’s not literally Danny crying for her to stay this time, her departure with Lisa is once again set to a backdrop of haunting cries.

“Are we to blame for this?”

“No.  Don’t set yourself on this path.  We didn’t know, we couldn’t know, and we weren’t complicit in any way.”

Oh cod, it’s Dinah all over again.

“I was there.  I could have stepped up and done something, but I didn’t.”

You had very valid reasons to believe that would end badly for you and possibly others.

“Done what?  Fought back?  Helped the wards?”

Yes.

“No.  Best case scenario, you might have tripped him up.  But it wouldn’t have been worth it.  Watch your step.  Stairs.”

Thank you, Lisa.

I had no problem identifying the spots I was supposed to step down.  There were spiders on the underside of the stairwell, and I sent a few flies forward to alight on the underside of each stair to check the footing.

Sweet.

“It’s funny,” Lisa murmured, lowering her voice, “I’ve been meaning to suggest a training program.  That you should spend a while blindfolded, see if we can’t force you to rely on your power to see, get your brain to the point that you can actually process that info.  Guess you beat me to the punch.”

Hah!

I mean, it’s not a bad idea, really.

“It’s not that funny,” I said.  I didn’t like thinking about what might happen if I was still blind when the next disaster came along.

It’s a little funny. But I suppose irony was never really Taylor’s taste in humor.

“Stepping outside,” she said.  I felt the warm air sweep past me as the door opened.  “Car’s just over here.  Nice thing about the city being in this state, it’s easy to find parking spots.”

Hehe.

(Taylor might not find that funny either.)

She sounded so jovial, cheery.  I wasn’t nearly so optimistic.

That’s why she’s so jovial, Taylor. She’s trying to cheer you up.

She led us to the car, and opened the door for me.  “We’ll stop by your place so you can grab your costume and meet up with the others.  Then we’ll find Coil.”

Wait, that wouldn’t count as costumed antics, would it?

“Find him?  He’s not at his base?”  I raised my voice to be heard as she walked around to the other side of the car and opened the door to get into the driver’s seat.

Maybe he’s trying to hide that he’s not actually dead even from his employees?

“He’s not at his base.  As of now, Coil’s dead and gone.  He’s sticking to his civilian identity.  Which is going to make meeting him and talking to him sort of difficult.”

Ahh. He’s going all in on this con, claiming the city publicly but also running it from the shadows in such a way that he won’t attract heroic attention from everywhere else?

I paused.  I’d been thinking over the scenario, calculating Coil’s overarching goal.  “Is he Keith Grove?”

Hmm.

That would mean the first Coil, the one who staked his claim, was also the body double.

“No,” Lisa said.  “One sec.”

The car started up, and there was a shuffling sound as she dug through a container.

Hmm? Got something to work with in there?

A recording played over the car’s sound system.  Lisa shifted the car into gear and reversed out of her spot.  I listened.

A town meeting with hundreds of Brockton Bay residents was interrupted by a terrorist attack by a local villain just earlier today, an alleged assassination turned to even greater tragedy as a superhero-made piece of technology exploded unexpectedly.

…what if Coil wants to fuck with parahuman PR by making Brockton Bay a warning sign?

Except that doesn’t really mesh with his actions up until now, I think.

This tragedy joins countless others that have recently befallen Brockton Bay, a city that was recently the subject of national discussion, where the United States Senate debated condemning the city, evacuating the remaining citizens and abandoning it as a lost cause.  A local crime lord headed a small group of supervillains in an attempt to assassinate Mayor Christner, Mayoral Candidate Keith Grove and Mayoral Candidate Carlene Padillo.  When local heroes intervened, however, a device owned by local Wards member ‘Kid Win’ malfunctioned, ultimately exploding in the lobby of the building.  While the number of casualties is yet unconfirmed, we can confirm that WCVN’s own on-site reporter and camera crew perished in the blast.  More information will be forthcoming as we have it.

All of this sounds like a PR nightmare for Piggot, if she lives.

Also way to fuck over Kid Win, jeez.

First reports from the site report allegations of sabotage on the part of a known double agent within the group of junior heroes.  No members of the Brockton Bay PRT, Protectorate or Wards teams were available for comment, but sources inside the organization report that Director Emily Piggot, manager of the city’s PRT and government sponsored hero teams, is being put on leave pending a full investigation.

Makes sense. Besides recovering from dem stabs, she’s to be held responsible for allowing Chariot onto the team while knowing he was a double agent.

“Sources inside the organization” is an interesting phrase. Considering they just said no members of the PRT were available, that makes it sound almost like WCVN has its own spies inside the PRT. Though I’m sure that’s not literally what they mean. 😛

Filling in for the interim is Commander Thomas Calvert.

…huh.

Okay, so he’s not the same guy as the Thomas Taylor left to die. On one hand that’s a shame, because I liked the irony of him dying like that, but on another, I’m intrigued to see what a man like Calvert might do with his newfound power as Temp Director.

When asked about this new placement, the PRT reported that Commander Calvert served as a PRT field agent before an honorable discharge.

honorable?!

For the past several years he has offered his expertise to the PRT as a paid consultant in parahuman affairs for New York, Brockton Bay and Boston, later serving as a field commander for the PRT strike squads.  The PRT expresses full confidence in Commander Calvert’s ability to handle the daunting task of Brockton Bay’s parahuman-”

Wait. You’re not suggesting Thomas Calvert is Coil, are you?

Playing both sides does seem like a Coil-like tactic, and if he was lying when he said he didn’t trigger back in Nilbogville, he might’ve been using his power to survive and come out of the whole situation with his “honorable” discharge.

The sound cut out.  Lisa had stopped the recording.

“Thomas Calvert,” I said.

Damn. Damn, Wildbow, that’s well played.


End of Monarch 16.9

This was very nice. We have Taylor dealing excellently with the repercussions of the previous chapter – including a blindness that might last for a while – using the experience from her cape activities, doing her best to help out despite being one of the victims, some nice Taylor/Lisa dialogue, echoes of one of my favorite chapters (it was nice knowing you, Danny), followed by a well-played twist that makes the Nilbogville Interlude even more interesting than it already was.

Killing his captain to get up the rope faster. So much for Coil being an honorable man. Back then, it showed Thomas’ shamelessness when following his selfish desires, though, and I can absolutely see that applying to Coil today.

And hey, Coil’s power makes total sense as something someone might get from Nilbogville. A super chaotic situation where a wrong choice is likely to lead to your death and you don’t have time to think? Why here you go, young human, go ahead and take both options and pick your favorite!

There was probably a timeline, once upon a Coil, where Thomas didn’t shoot his captain and was killed by the gremlins, but the fact that the timeline where he did exists still shows that he was willing to even think about that. And he was still shameless about it afterwards, which was the really offputting thing.

So… next up is tracking down Commander Thomas Calvert, whose name reminds me of Stephen Colbert even more now that he has a known alias involving “Co” shortly followed by “l”, in… his home? In the PRT building? Wait, was he the “source inside the organization”?

I doubt Coil will take kindly to the Undersiders seeking him out like that, especially in costume. But then, they might not take so kindly to his current antics either.

Should be fun!

But that’s next time – for now I have an image of Stephen Colbert to go edit. See you soon!

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One thought on “Monarch 16.9: Sans Voir Chess

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