Source material: Worm, Monarch 16.10
Blogged: July 21-23, 2019
It’s Worm time!
Last time, we learned that Thomas Calvert is still around and has been slithering around under our nose the whole time. Now it’s time for the Undersiders to pay him a visit to ask “hey dude what the fuck”.
Oh, and to ask him to release Dinah already.
This is going to go poorly. Coil likely won’t take kindly to the Undersiders seeking him out, less kindly to Tattletale breaking his trust, and when they then top it with demands for Dinah? He’s good at keeping his cool, but that doesn’t mean he’ll like it.
And then the question becomes whether he thinks he still needs the Undersiders.
Other than all of that, we might get some insights from the snake’s mouth about how exactly he wants this all to play out from here.
I pushed open the rusted metal door that marked the first real barrier to entry for Coil’s underground base.
Oh, right, we’re going to meet up with the other Undersiders here first, right?
It was unassuming, if secure, easy to ignore for anyone who happened to find their way underground. It swung open without resistance; unlocked.
Every door was unlocked as I made my way through the series of checkpoints and gates.
At some point that just becomes ominous. Did Coil mean to move out of here permanently, since “Coil is dead”, and thus didn’t give a shit about base security anymore?
There were no guards, and the cameras in the final room before I entered the base proper didn’t move to track my movements.
I pushed on the final door and let it swing open. The base was empty. Except empty wasn’t exactly the right word. It had been cleared out.
Yup, looks like it.
The on-duty squads of soldiers were gone, as were the trucks, weapons, supplies and furniture. The entire ground floor was desolate, with clean patches in the dust where furniture and crates had been.
And setting this whole place up in the first place was presumably part of the illusion. Making it look like he wasn’t planning to fake his own death by making large-scale preparations for a time that would never come if he died.
In groups big enough for me to get full coverage of the area, my swarms took turns roving over my surroundings. They couldn’t pass through closed doors, but they gave me a sense of my surroundings that my eyes couldn’t.
Is Noelle here?
The results were almost the inverse of what I might expect from my eyesight. There was no grasp of color, beyond what I could guess from the various clues I got from my other senses, but I had a keen sense of textures. Where my eyes would have been capable of focusing on one thing at a time, my swarm-sense gave me the ability to pull together complete mental pictures from a thousand different points of focus.
It’s a really cool contrast! It’s what makes the swarm sense feel not just like omnipresent vision.
I could ignore line of sight, sensing around objects, and even though my bugs’ senses translated poorly, the sum total of their awareness gave me a sense of the little things, in addition to the big picture. I could sense where the air currents were traveling and the force with which they moved, the thickness of the dust in one area versus another, and where temperatures where higher, if even by a fraction.
None of this was new, exactly. I’d always been aware of it to some small degree, but my core senses had always been there as regular, reliable fallback. I’d never researched the subject, but reports seemed conflicting when it came to the topic of blindness making other senses sharper.
There’s probably a lot of psychology in that whole thing, as in everything seeming sharper because you start using it more consciously, but what the hell do I know. I’m neither blind nor an expert on senses.
With only half of a day’s experience, I was beginning to think that maybe it didn’t improve my other senses, but seemed to free up the semi-conscious, semi-unconscious intake that my eyes typically used as my dominant sense.
Yeah, pretty much.
The eyes use a fair bit of brainpower.
The brainpower that was usually allocated to idle glances, comparing and contrasting, or just taking in ambient sights while my thoughts were preoccupied with other things? It was freed up to be used for listening and my swarm-sense.
I wonder if the reallocated brainpower could enhance the other parts of her power use as well?
The Travelers were here, I noted. I wasn’t startled to note their presence, but I was somewhat surprised.
They’d gathered in one room above the vault that Noelle was presumably being kept in. They’d noticed the bugs and were venturing outside onto the walkway. I met them halfway between their apartment and the entrance.
Have they been informed about Coil’s survival?
They were in civilian wear. Trickster and Ballistic were in regular shirts, jeans and shoes, but Sundancer was wearing what I took to be pyjamas, her hair tied back in a bun.
…were they napping when it happened? It wasn’t that late, so it was probably not a night sleep.
But what the hell do I know about sleeping at night.
Genesis was in her chair, a blanket on her lap, with Oliver standing just behind her.
“Skitter,” Trickster said, “You’re here alone?”
Huh. I would’ve assumed Lisa was with her, but no wonder there hadn’t been any dialogue yet if she wasn’t.
Is she waiting outside?
“My teammates are upstairs. We wanted to have words with Coil, but he wasn’t free to talk until sundown, so we’ve been killing time and waiting around.
…oh, okay. Not going straight to the home invasion tactic.
There’s still a bit of time, I sensed some movement down here, I needed to stretch my legs to keep my injuries from earlier today from stiffening up, so I decided to take a bit of a walk.”
Hm. She sensed movement, but she was surprised (though not startled) to find the Travelers here?
Did she expect someone else, or is she lying?
“And they’re staying put?” Ballistic asked.
Why, you don’t want other interlopers for whatever you’re doing down here?
“I can signal them in a heartbeat if I have to,” I responded.
“Don’t fucking threaten me.”
“Just saying, but you know Coil’s dead, right?” Trickster asked.
Yeah, about that…
“I saw it happen,” I answered him. I chose my words carefully, “So I have a very good idea of how dead the man is.”
“And you guys?” I asked. “You’re keeping eyes on your teammate? Noelle?”
“Noelle’s fine,” Trickster said, “You don’t need to concern yourself over her.”
There was just a touch of hostility here. I turned my head to face the two girls, using my bugs to figure out the orientation so I could appear to be looking at Sundancer and Genesis.
I love how while she can hide that she’s almost blind, she might not be perfect at it, making motions like this possibly fall into the uncanny valley. It might even get worse if someone knows she’s almost (or entirely, if it gets to that) blind and she still does this.
The two of them were, I figured, the closest thing to allies that I had among the Travelers. That wasn’t to say I was on good terms with them; Sundancer was especially wary of me and had been since I’d carved out Lung’s eyes, and Genesis had been a little weird in how she related to me when I’d delivered Trickster to her at the mayor’s house.
Yeah, sounds about right. She’s pissed off Ballistic and Trickster is… relatively hostile too, especially when team secrets are on the line.
Part of that might have been a reflection or a response to my own paranoia, where I’d thought they were planning to kill me. Either way, they hadn’t given me the impression of dislike or hostility to quite the same degree that I was seeing with Trickster and Ballistic right now.
Let’s just hope the boys haven’t converted them.
Part of that might have been a reflection or a response to my own paranoia, where I’d thought they were planning to kill me. Either way, they hadn’t given me the impression of dislike or hostility to quite the same degree that I was seeing with Trickster and Ballistic right now.
It’s nice to see Taylor analyzing both the pros and cons of her sensory situation (though having both senses available was obviously the optimal state, “sharpened” senses or otherwise).
Time and effort spent trying to figure it out was taken away from my ability to plan and follow the conversation. It was sort of like talking to an answering machine; I was left trying to hold up my end of a conversation without the ability to assess what the person on the other end was making of it. End result? I was left there, silent, while none of the Travelers were volunteering anything.
Sundancer, after twenty seconds of awkward silence: “Uh, beep?”
“If you’re done checking up on us, or visiting, whatever you want to call it,” Trickster said, “You could go. Your duty’s done, you’ve paid your respects to the other team while you’re in their territory.”
Just come out and say it, dude. “Hey, you’re kinda interrupting something private, could you please go somewhere else? k thx”
That’s something we’re supposed to do?
Also of note: Trickster reinforcing the idea that the Undersiders and Travelers are separate.
“I don’t want us to be enemies,” I said.
“We’re not,” Trickster replied, but his tone was far from friendly. “We’re on the same side.”
“As long as you fuck off.”
“But?” I asked. “It sounds like there’s more to that.”
“We’re not friends, Skitter. Let’s not pretend like we are. You’ve got your goals, we have ours.
That’s fair enough.
You want to work together to tackle a situation like the Dragon thing? Fine. Great. You want to backdoor Ballistic, going to the boss to recruit that cape he was trying to take down? Hey, that’s fine too.”
Ahh, right, of course that would make its way to Trickster soon enough. Probably learned about that when he went to talk to Coil after the Dragon debacle.
Ballistic folded his arms.
Trickster went on, “Really. We’re doing what we have to do in order to make this thing work. I don’t love what you pulled, I’m not jumping for glee, but I get it.”
“So we’re business associates, but not friends.”
“There has to be more common ground there. We can’t meet, share a box of donuts and talk about ways to mutually benefit our territories?”
I get the sense that Trickster is a lot less up for that than he would be before he learned about the Parian trick.
“The fact that you have to ask that is a pretty good indication of how clueless you are about this. Let’s count the ways. One, I don’t give a ratfuck about my territory or the people in it. None of us do.”
ratfuck, noun: what Skitter did in her territory at the beginning of Infestation.
I could feel Sundancer turning slightly away from him. Was there disagreement there?
Out of all of them, Sunny is definitely the one most likely to care about her territory’s people.
Definitely cares enough to avoid killing them, as we’ve heard.
“Two,” he continued, “We don’t plan to be here much longer anyways. Either Coil fulfills his end of the bargain and we’re out of this hellhole, or he doesn’t and we take a hike anyways. Take our chances elsewhere.”
Good on you. Don’t let him string you along.
I could remember how Ballistic had talked about his frustration with the group, the idea that he might stick with this gig regardless of what Trickster and the others did. If I brought it up, would it refocus the discussion to the point that Trickster wasn’t opposing me, in an abstract sense, or would it derail it with the ensuing drama?
And which thing would be better for you?
I kept my mouth shut, and I was sort of glad that I couldn’t see, or I might have given in to my impulse to glance at Ballistic and give something away.
Are you sure you aren’t subconsciously doing that anyway?
Maybe it wasn’t worth worrying about. I was wearing my full costume, including the additional pieces I’d accumulated over time; I wore the tattered cape,
the ragged semi-dress over my leggings, and a heavy carpet of bugs clung to the black fabric and armor panels. My goggles would hide my eyes. Nobody would see any tell, if I could see, and I doubted they’d notice I was essentially blind.
And if they do, they might start doubting because you’re playing it off nicely.
Trickster took my silence for an excuse to go on, “Three, again, there’s no common ground to be found, and I’m not interested in hunting for it. There’s two things I want in this world, and being part of Coil’s thing was my way to get those things. You were useful only as far as you helped make Coil’s thing work, and that’s over now. To put it bluntly, you don’t have anything to offer me.”
I assume one of those two things is curing Noelle and the other is protection
possibly from an organization that is closely watching Coil.
“I get the picture,” I told him, cutting him off before he could continue. “Okay. Friendship’s off the table. Even a friendly business relationship would be pushing it.”
He nodded once.
I sighed a little. “Okay. That said, as one local warlord to another, I’d like to extend an invitation. We’re going to talk to Coil, and I’m saying you’re free to come.”
I got the sense that Trickster still doesn’t believe Skitter that Coil is alive.
“Coil’s dead,” Ballistic made the words a drawl.
That was getting old fast. “Do we really have to maintain this charade?”
“Coil went to a lot of effort in putting together his grand plan. He died in a blaze of glory and violence, just like he wanted. Do you really want to spoil that by going on about how he’s still alive?”
Don’t you come here and pretend this is about respecting the wishes of the dead.
“Like you said,” I retorted, “We’re on the same side. If you didn’t know, you’d be more upset than you are now.
I mean… maybe. They seemed to be starting to doubt Coil’s helpfulness anyway.
Why pretend he’s dead when he’s alive? Especially when it’s getting in the way of the larger conversation about the man and my invitation to come hear what he has to say?”
Trickster leaned against a wall and fumbled in one pocket for a cigarette. “You mean outside of the possibility that you’re wired and my saying the wrong thing could out him? Whatever.
…fair. Unlikely but fair.
I don’t have anything to say to him that I haven’t already said. Maybe you aren’t getting the point. We went out of our way to help you once, rescuing Grue, and it nearly got us carved up by Bonesaw.”
Your plan, I thought.
Uh. His plan, sure, but you were the one who got you all captured.
He went on, “I don’t care about the Undersiders. I don’t care if you get a hundred trillion dollars and wind up kings of the planet, and I don’t care if Coil kills you. We’ve wrapped up our business with Coil, and that’s as far as my interest goes.”
The apathy is strong in this one.
“Alright,” I said, raising my hands, “Point taken. Listen, I get that maybe we haven’t gotten along so fantastically, but I really do wish you guys luck with your circumstances, whatever they are. I hope you get what you’ve been looking for.”
And that anyone who might be looking for you don’t.
(Though if I’m right, they already know you’re here.)
“Sure,” Trickster said. He turned to leave, making his way to the doorway that led to the pseudo-apartment they stayed in when they weren’t in their individual headquarters. He beckoned for his teammates to follow, and they did.
Well, that was… unpleasant.
Only Genesis lagged behind, her hands on the wheels of her chair.
Ooh, you got something to say?
After Trickster had rounded the corner, she said, “He’s tense. Too much comes down to what happens in the next forty-eight hours.”
Why 48 hours, though?
“Believe me,” I replied, “I get that.”
“Then good luck with your thing,” she said. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope I never see you again.”
Pffft. What’s the right way to take it?
I guess it’s because she wants to leave.
How the hell am I supposed to take that?
I didn’t respond as she wheeled herself to the corridor.
Okay, I thought, learned what I needed to.
Did you really?
Whatever the terms between Coil and the Travelers were, he hadn’t seen fit to invite them to the meeting place. I’d had to think for some time before making the offer to join us for the meeting.
Ahh, I see, she was testing how much Coil trusted them?
I knew that whatever Coil had planned, inviting the Travelers wouldn’t hurt.
If Coil fully expected to cooperate, to give us the answers we needed and hand Dinah over, then it didn’t matter if the Travelers were there. If he was expecting conflict and he had planned to invite them, then we only gained the benefit of knowing in advance that they’d be there.
Finally, if he’d expected trouble but he hadn’t invited them, there was probably a reason, and that reason would be something we could exploit in a pinch.
So then the question becomes, what is that reason?
They hadn’t accepted my invitation anyways, and I hadn’t sensed anything sinister when Trickster had rejected the offer. He’d been too self-centered.
Funny, as I thought on it, how easily he seemed to slip between talking about ‘I’ as in himself to talking about ‘we’, the group.
He does seem to have a habit of speaking for them all, even if they don’t agree with what he’s saying. And then the others have to pretend to agree in order to not undermine his leadership.
It was as if he assumed everyone in the Travelers was on the same page as him, and my discussions with Sundancer and Ballistic had suggested anything but. Even Cherish’s taunts had pointed to some strife within the ranks.
Yeah, they’ve never come across as the most cohesive of teams.
The second major piece of data that I’d gleaned from my detour was that Dinah wasn’t here. There were a handful of locked doors my bugs hadn’t been able to slip past, but the room Dinah had been in when we’d first visited was empty. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure that Dinah wasn’t still in Coil’s underground base, but I had a hard time believing that Coil would leave her there with no armed guards.
She was too valuable to risk losing her to one of his enemies or losing his bargaining chip he had in his dealings with me.
We’d agreed that if I could prove myself as a valuable asset, he’d accept my fealty in exchange for Dinah’s freedom.
Clearly never believing she’d be able to prove herself that well.
I hadn’t earned him any money, not directly, but that had never really been his goal. He had money, and he could get more by exercising his power in some high-risk, high-reward ventures.
He’s probably been doing that in the background, too, buying and selling stocks like he described having previously done, back in his Interlude.
I had gathered more followers under my wing than all of the others put together, with the possible exception of Tattletale. I’d put life and limb at risk, partially for his benefit. I’d proved myself as a leader, a soldier and a problem solver. I’d put up with every challenge he’d set in my way: the false death threat he’d put on my head, convincing the mayor, dealing with Dragon and going up against the Nine. Hell, I’d tended to my territory while my dad lay bleeding in the hospital.
There’s no doubting that she is a valuable asset.
It’s just a question of how highly Coil values those things, how highly he values Dinah, and how true he’s going to be to his word.
I couldn’t say for sure whether Coil would actually follow through with his end of the deal. In his shoes, ignoring what the right thing to do would be, if only because it was pretty fucking obvious he didn’t put much stock in right and wrong, I wasn’t sure I’d give Dinah up.
Her power synergizes so damn well with his own, and both powers are extremely valuable to begin with.
For a guy like Coil, who did things from behind the scenes, playing the long game and orchestrating events to get the best possible results, Dinah’s power was invaluable.
Trickster had used a chess metaphor, back when the thing with the Nine was just beginning. Would I be considered a bishop?
I forget exactly what bishops were in his chess metaphor, but the way I think of them – long range, prone to attacking from unexpected directions, but somewhat stuck in their ways – she’s not far off.
Hell, even if I thought of myself as a queen, I wasn’t sure Coil would value having me on his side of the board over having Dinah.
In a chess analogy, Dinah is a chess computer set to guess the opponent’s next move. That’s pretty damn powerful.
Dinah let him rig the game.
Yeah, especially when combined with his own quantum chessboard power.
I ventured outside and made my way to the flights of stairs for the building that was still in progress. It had proceeded nicely in recent days, and the outside was partially complete. The sun was setting, and my bugs could see and feel the warm light that streamed in through the openings in the outside, where tarps had come free. The thick dust of concrete and shorn wood layered the area and formed clouds wherever the wind made its way inside.
This is nice.
I’d climbed the stairs to the meeting place only an hour ago, and I’d ventured all the way to the bottom to investigate Coil’s base. That made this my third trip over the twenty flights of stairs, accessing the roof.
Shame you couldn’t use Atlas.
On my third trip, my aches and pains from being tossed around by Coil’s explosion were most definitely making themselves felt.
In a way, I didn’t mind. I felt restless, and moving made me feel better. Nervous wasn’t the right word.
Filled with antici?
Nervousness implied there was uncertainty, and I was pretty sure this wouldn’t go the way I hoped. Trepidation wasn’t right either. I might have settled on ‘a sense of encroaching doom’ but that felt over the top.
Hah. That’s too dramatic for Actressface McSkitterson. She’d rather go for “the feel of a million flesh-eating bugs crawling in towards a victim (who can’t control arthropods) from every direction while holding lit matches”.
Then again, this was someone’s life on the line. Maybe our lives too.
Was it possible to be over the top when the stakes were this high?
Ask Mouse Protector.
Although Mouse Protector might not be okay with Skitter having personally performed a ratfuck, among other issues with that plan.
The others had arranged themselves around the roof. Bitch was in a half-sitting, half-lying down position, leaning back against Bentley’s side, Bastard sleeping on her lap. Tattletale and Regent were having a discussion at the top of the stairwell, while Grue and Imp were at the edge of the building.
Imp sat with her legs dangling off the side of the building, while Grue showed more caution, standing a distance behind her.
Grue can’t help but look at Imp’s seating every few seconds.
Okay, we’ve clearly reached the second part of the chapter and I’m rather hungry, so that’s where we’re ending for now. See ya!
“You should be careful,” I spoke up. “If you’re standing too close to the building’s edge, you’re making yourself a prime target for a sniper.”
…yeah, see, this is not what I had in mind when I talked about Grue being a little nervous about her position.
“You said these suits were bulletproof,” Imp said. I noticed how she didn’t move.
Which doesn’t mean they won’t hurt at all.
“I said they might be. But judging by the fact that mine let some non-metal shotgun pellets through, I don’t think they’ll stop a bullet. Either way, I’d really rather not start experimenting tonight.”
Imp pulled herself to her feet and retreated from the edge of the building. I could feel Grue’s shoulders drop slightly as he relaxed.
I knew it!
Grue and Tattletale drifted my way, while Regent, Imp and Bitch each sort of moved to the periphery of our huddle. It was Grue who asked, “You think he’s going to take shots at us?”
I wouldn’t rule it out. He’s got every reason to at this point.
“I feel exposed,” I said. “If he opens fire on us, are we really in a position to take cover? Or if he bombs out the first floor of the building? Or calls in the teams of heroes he’s in charge of? Could we really get down?”
Damn, that’s a good point, Coil is now absolutely in a position to call the remainder of the Protectorate down on them.
The Wards too, but he might have more trouble with them considering what they’ve just been through.
“I’m not getting that vibe,” Tattletale said.
“But he’s figured out how to trick your power,” I pointed out.
“Any solutions?” Grue asked.
Right, Lisa’s power is unreliable when we’re up against Coil. That’s not very helpful.
“Yeah. I’ve been working on one, but I’m not sure it’ll work.”
If you’re not about to explain it, you’ll have much better chances.
I extended one hand, and a wasp took flight, bearing a trio of spiders.
Now we just need Amy to fuse them into a winged triple spider with a stinger. Creature of horrors.
It was forced to turn and fly in circles to slow its forward movement to account for the speed at which the spiders were spooling out thread. The ends of the thread were already wrapped around one of my fingers.
Coil getting coiled would be nicely ironic.
It took a minute before they reached the other formation that was doing the same thing. I began reeling in the thread, until I’d raised a length of cord to the edge of the roof.
Hm. Tripwires, like she used against Mannequin?
Bitch ventured over to see what was going on, and then spun around, “No.”
Hm? Does this idea involve the dogs?
“My first night out in costume, I got stuck on top of a building. I’m not going to make the same mistake twice.
“But there’s a fire escape over here.”
“Screw fire escapes.”
We called Thomas Calvert, he agreed to meet us, but just in case he decides to level the building rather than have a conversation, I want us to have a way down.”
So if I’m getting this right, it’s basically a rope to climb down? Doesn’t sound like a greatly practical thing, but might come in handy.
Just don’t try climbing up any ropes. Coil has a certain track record with that.
“A way down?” Grue asked.
“I’m pretty sure I got the lengths right. I hope I got the lengths right, because I used up a lot of silk here.
Did you make it a rope ladder? Because that would increase the irony levels even further.
Eight cords, we each hold one, or tie one around our waists, and then jump off the side of the building. Swing out over the intersection.”
Bitch doesn’t want to be one of the Tarzansiders.
“Awesome,” Imp said.
I have a feeling Grue disagrees.
“Pretty sure?” Grue asked.
“Pretty sure,” I admitted. “I’ve tried to stagger it, so the silk stretches out over horizontal lines I set out between buildings, so we aren’t just dropping straight down to the street. But it’s elastic, and I can’t account for how much stretch there’ll be in the material. Or how much stretch won’t be there.”
Welcome to the world of bug-gee jumping.
“And if he’s got gunmen, too? We’re left there dangling out over the middle of a street?”
“It’s one option,” I said. “One. We’ll have your darkness so they won’t necessarily have clear shots.”
“And you have your bugs,” Regent said.
Which can be used to detect and take out gunmen from a distance, hopefully. Though Coil would absolutely plan for them.
It’s also worth noting that whatever happens here, there’s probably a timeline where it goes better for the Undersiders. Which sounds good in theory, but the point is this isn’t that timeline.
“Our opponent here knows exactlywhat we can do. He’s worked with us and observed us for weeks. Excepting Imp and I, he’s worked with you guys for months. Over a year.
Imp might be the MVP here, because while he would be able to prepare for her, once she’s actually in action he won’t remember why.
So no, he’s not going to do something like underestimate the range of my bugs. He’s going to have snipers that are just beyond my usual range and I won’t be able to fight back.”
And this situation isn’t likely to cause a range boost.
“Your relay bugs?” Regent suggested.
He’s clearly been paying attention to her tools, but does he remember how limited those are?
“Dying. But yeah, I’ll bring them out. I suppose a night like tonight warrants using up the last of their reserves.”
Seems about right.
“And you can fly,” he said, pointing straight up, where Atlas was in the skyline, circling around a stationary Shatterbird.
Atlas! Good to see him back in action. 😀
“I can, but I’d almost rather use the cords and swing down to the street level. If I’m flying and they get a lucky shot off, I’m pretty fucking screwed. They hit me, Atlas won’t ease me to the ground. They hit Atlas, nothing I can do to stop falling.
If they knock her out, Atlas will probably just keep flying forwards. Or did she fix that by now? I forget.
Besides, being on the ground means I have the utility Atlas brings to the table. Being mounted on him means he and I are essentially one unit.”
Yeah, that’s a fair point.
It’s like spider jockeys in Minecraft. That’s a rare spawn of a skeleton riding a spider, and it’s… moderately scary if it gets the drop on you, but a skeleton and a spider attacking you separately is actually way more dangerous (unless one of the skeleton’s arrows hits the spider, causing the spider to leave you alone and kill the skeleton instead).
Now, a custom jockey of a creeper riding a spider? That’s scarier than the sum of its parts.
“I think you’re overthinking this, dork,” Regent said.
“No,” Grue and I said together. Grue didn’t say anything more, but I added, “We plan for every possibility and we’re wrong? We don’t lose anything. If we plan for a situation that doescome up? We’ll be glad we did it.”
Heh, I like the unison. And yeah, that’s fair enough.
Regent might not realize that she’s like this all the time. She just usually doesn’t vocalize everything like this.
“You’re going to drive yourself insane worrying about it,” he retorted.
“If she hasn’t already, I don’t think she will in the next ten minutes,” Tattletale said. “You sense them on the ground, Skitter?”
Oh, she’s had plenty of time to go insane from worry.
I shook my head. “My power’s radius is like a bubble, and the bottom end isn’t covering that much ground.
…a radius is a one-dimensional value and doesn’t refer to the three-dimensional sphere defined by it. When an object is “within the radius”, it refers to the fact that the distance to the object is within, i.e. lower than, the one-dimensional radius, which also places the object inside the sphere.
(I’m not seriously bothered by this, just channeling one of the worst characters in MLP:FiM. Though his recent second appearance did actually succeed in making him genuinely funny, so maybe that’s an unfair description.)
I should have been waiting at a spot lower in the building.”
“They’re on their way up.”
Spot lower in the building: Currently contains Coil’s people.
I could sense them as they reached the base of the building. Thomas Calvert would be the man who led the way, and the men who followed him were outfitted in PRT gear.
So wait, are they banking on Coil not realizing that they know he’s Coil? Did they request the meeting on a “villain group negotiating with the PRT” basis?
Except didn’t Lisa know his identity from early on, through her power, and he knew that she knew?
Wait, no, they were looking for clues recently. I guess her knowledge going that deep was only implied and wrong.
It took time for them to ascend. The building was only partially complete, with floors, some walls and the steel skeleton of beams with tarps stretching between them for the remainder, but no elevators.
Shame they don’t have giant beetles.
Without discussing it, we arranged ourselves on the rooftop, preparing to meet them. I was a little surprised that Grue and Tattletale positioned themselves so they were each just a little behind me, with Imp, Bitch and Regent behind them.
The pins have been set up and we’re ready to bowl!
This is exactly how the group hierarchy works now, yeah. Skitter leads, Grue and Tattletale act as her left and right hands, and the rest are the backup.
Bentley prowled at the perimeter of our group, three-quarters of the way to his typical ‘monstrous’ size and slowly growing.
Oh hey, he’s here. I’m surprised Bitch hasn’t asked about how they’re supposed to get him down if they have to bungee tarzan it. But given Tangle, perhaps he can tank it.
Thomas Calvert was the first to cross the threshold. Annoying that the first time I would ‘see’ Coil unmasked, I would be blind.
I suppose it’s fitting, though.
He waved one hand to brush away my bugs as they passed over him, but I managed to pick up the essential details. Close cropped, coarse hair, trimmed eyebrows, thin lips and a cleft chin. He wore the body portion of a PRT uniform with an insignia stitched onto his sleeve that I couldn’t make out with my swarmsense.
Yeah, that sounds about right for Coil.
Most of the squads remained below, but he was joined by a handful of soldiers and three young men in plainclothes, one of whom looked like a bodybuilder.
*squints suspiciously at the three mean in plainclothes*
Who do we have here?
Also, I’m just picturing all those people who memed about the return of Browbeat reading this.
“Yo, Frenchy,” Tattletale said. “Sup?”
…I know a guy with the surname French. Maybe I should greet him with this quote at some point. Though considering the nicknames you can make from the rest of his name, that might just be the tame one.
One of the uniforms nodded a slight response. Was he backed up by a ‘PRT’ squad or two consisting of his hired mercenaries?
Makes sense. Wouldn’t want the Undersiders to out him to regular PRT soldiers.
“Undersiders. After your last interaction with Director Piggot, I assumed you would want to speak to me and try establishing ground rules?”
Coil’s electing to ignore Tattletale acknowledging that his PRT squad has someone she knows is one of his mercenaries.
Also, dude, if the jig weren’t already up you’d be so busted already. You’re a bad actor, you know that? Your speech pattern is hella recognizable, and that’s before adding Lisa’s power to the mix.
I say, knowing that it’d probably take more than that to tip me off.
“We know it’s you, boss,” Regent said.
Aww, I wanted to see how long he’d stretch it.
But thanks for cutting through the bullshit. (That’s part of what Regent’s personality is so good for in dialogue.)
My bugs caught the slightest exhalation from Director Calvert’s nostrils, a minor expression of annoyance. “The Travelers were a little more circumspect.”
Hah. So they’ve already talked to him, then?
I suppose he’s annoyed because they’d just have messed things up a bit if his PRT squad had been real. And because lack of circumspection here could prove indicative of something that might be dangerous later.
“Circum-what?” Imp asked.
It means the Travelers cut open Coil’s belly to get the baby out.
I couldn’t tell if she was genuinely wondering or if she was being intentionally obtuse.
“Tone it down, guys,” I said. They’re the types to go after any weakness in authority figures. They’ll nettle him until someone gets in trouble.
(Also, Imp asking about a word like this reminds me of a bit from MLP where the swindlers Flim and Flam use the word “nonpareil” in the chorus of a song, and Pinkie goes “nonpa-what?”. Cue Flim just saying “nonpareil, and that’s exactly the reason why, you see”, acknowledging the confusion but not doing a damn thing to answer her question. Almost like he thought she’d simply not heard what they said, but it’s clearly intentional.)
“Director Calvert. Would it be too much to ask for you to ask your squad to wait downstairs?”
Probably. He can’t trust them any more than they trust him right now.
There was an extended pause before he offered a slight nod to one side. His squad turned to return downstairs, and I followed them as they took position by the base of the stairwell.
“I asked you to stay out of costume until further notice,” he spoke.
“With all due respect, Director,” I said. Tattletale had coached me; I would stroke his ego by reinforcing his new position. “I was injured as a bystander in Coil’s attack. I wouldn’t have been hurt if I’d been costumed. Until everything cools down, I think my team and I will play it safe.”
Damn, this is a nice, layered line.
We’ve got the ego-stroking, yes, but at the same time Skitter just laid out in no uncertain terms that she no longer trusts Coil and it’s his fault. All while staying perfectly civil. This is the kind of dialogue I expect in Wheel of Time, not here (Worm usually has a more direct type of good dialogue), and it’s excellent.
“I see. I can respect that. Nothing serious?”
Just the near-complete removal of a major sense, potentially permanently, no biggie.
Seriously, though, I think Taylor will, and should, hide that, since it’s a weakness.
“Serious? Yes. But it’s nothing life threatening and nothing that can’t be fixed.”
Fair enough. This way she maintains the blame on him while not informing him specifically of her new weakness.
Thomas Calvert reached beneath the armored panel of his vest and withdrew a small remote. He stared at it for several long seconds before putting it away.
…you okay there buddy
Don’t tell me you grew a conscience, I don’t buy it. Are you thinking about how letting Taylor become a victim might’ve been a mistake?
Incidentally, there’s no reason for him to keep a second copy of the remote used at the debate, so this one presumably does something else. Did he have any opportunity to boobytrap this place? Set up mechanical snipers? Anything that’d harm the Undersiders if he presses the remote?
That done, he clasped his hands behind his back. It was a position that was very ‘Coil’. It was obvious and direct enough that I suspected he was dropping his Director persona and admitting his true nature. “My apologies. I am not infallible.”
That much is true.
But what you are is uncaring. You had your chance to prevent it and you literally waved it away in favor of your bigger plans.
You let a dozen or more people die and left twice that many people injured in some way. No, you’re not infallible.
I kept my mouth shut.
I’m not sure he’d even count that towards his fallibility.
“I just checked for listening devices. You aren’t recording this, which means I can answer any questions you have.”
Ohh, that’s what the remote was for?
I am a criminal warlord who faked my own death to become Director of the local PRT and ensure the election of one of my puppet mayors while people think I’m too dead to be in charge of the city, AMA
“How much of that was planned?” I asked.
“More than you might suspect. Every person in that room who was not in the audience was accounted for. Mr. Grove and Mrs. Padillo were selected and recruited well in advance. Circus and Chariot were hired nearly a year and a half ago, their actions and development in the public eye carefully orchestrated.
Alright, that settles it, I was wrong. Chariot being with Coil is confirmed.
Über and Leet were recent acquisitions. I needed a heavy metal suit that could carry a package, and Trainwreck died at an inconvenient time. Most reporters were selected and stationed well in advance, claiming the rear of the room where they would bear the brunt of the attack, so to speak.”
So he deliberately set the reporters up to die. Reporters with opinions he didn’t like?
“They didn’t die?” I asked.
“As with Circus, Über and Leet,” Director Calvert nodded in the direction of the three individuals in civilian clothes.
(Seems Circus is masculine enough that Taylor took her as male with the bug sense. I wonder if this scene has caused trans headcanons.)
So does that mean the bomb… teleported them? Or something?
“Wait, Circus is a guy?” Regent asked.
Aaand if Circus is a transgirl Regent just blurted something pretty insensitive.
Though honestly, “crossdressing” without being trans might also kinda fit Circus’ themes. And can be good for secret identities in general.
“Depends on your definition of guy,” Tattletale said.
Looks like we are getting into some trans/nb/fluidity stuff. Nice!
“If you’re talking biological or what Circus identifies as. Not that I have it pinned down; I can’t tell if you’re a guy posing as a girl when in costume or a girl who poses as a guy when in plainclothes.”
It seems natural to me that the presentation in costume would be the most genuine one, but who knows.
Gender fluid is also an option.
Circus spat, directing a loogie to shoot a horsefly out of the air. “I’ll take that as a compliment, I guess.”
They speak! Pretty sure they haven’t gotten any actual lines before, but I loved the implications of their personality back when the Undersiders talked about trying to recruit them.
Also I love that they target one of the bugs. Nice work.
“The three of them and most of the reporters were removed from the premises in time,” Coil said. “The reporters, as I said, were plants. I needed news reporters in place who would be sure to catch the details I wanted them to catch.
By “removed from the premises”, surely you must mean you teleported them somehow. Did Leet make you the tech for that?
Some editing of the footage just prior to it being sent to the news stations served to smooth rough edges and highlight key points.”
“Making Piggot look worse, for example,” Tattletale said.
PR-focused Piggot, undone by PR work. Irony strikes again.
“Among other things. Appearances are one of the most important things, here. With Chariot’s help, we created a rough emulation of Trickster’s power.
Tinkers! Creating emulations of powers! It’s a thing and I love it!
I really do need to write more about Eris, if only so I can formally introduce you to Minus’ power.
The reporters were swapped out, a sufficient amount of raw biological matter was swapped in.”
To make it look real afterwards.
Where did you get the “raw biological matter”? Pig guts?
“Human matter?” I asked.
The problem with pig guts, of course, is that on scientific analysis of the crime scene, they would be able to distinguish it from human matter unless the explosion broke all the DNA.
“That is what the paperwork will say, which is the most important aspect,” Director Calvert answered me. “Rest assured, no serious harm was done. Circus’ abilities allowed us to place the knives in nonlethal areas.
What about the civilians closest to the reporters?
Better that Director Piggot looks as ineffectual as possible than simply perish. The same applies to the mayor. Thomas Grove and Mrs. Padillo will recover, but Thomas Grove will concede the election, supporting Mrs. Padillo, despite his strong showing. It will help shake the notion that things were staged.”
You did pretty well here, Coil, I have to hand it to you.
“But they were. Every part of it,” Tattletale said.
“Every part of it.”
This is the point where the listening devices would be revealed in many plots, but Coil’s savvy enough to have already ruled that out. And since this is a roof, it’s unlikely someone’s watching from the bushes.
“The bomb?” I asked.
“The sabotaged power supply was real, but Über’s metal suit housed a teleportation apparatus to detect when it was removed from the premises, so a replica could be brought into the lobby.
So that’d be the “package”? The teleportation apparatus?
The initial detonation was little more than light and a shockwave primed to make the most of the Manton effect, leaving my agents with little more than bruises and scratches. They were teleported out, as I already said, just before the final, true detonation.
The one that hurt.
We estimated how fast the evacuation would proceed and calculated a blast radius that would leave the building standing and the crowd largely untouched.”
You’d almost think he had a heart.
But seriously, it does seem like he did a lot to minimize casualties here. You’d almost think Skitter planned it, except she wouldn’t approve of hurting the civilians at all.
I could remember Tattletale mentioning how there were less killed or injured than I might have thought. Had she guessed this much?
Perhaps, but she could’ve said it. Unless she worried that might tip Coil off to something?
“Every action I’ve carried out has been carefully weighed, with attention given to the aftermath. Circus, Über and Leet will be leaving Brockton Bay with a sizable reward for their efforts.
They’re supposed to be dead, so you’re gonna need to make sure they don’t resurface somewhere else with those identities, or the PRT might ask some questions.
I don’t expect they will need to return to a life of crime, but I believe they will use a different identity and modus operandi if they do?”
Yeah, you should hope so.
He’d made it a question, and Über answered, “Yes, sir.” I could feel Leet and Circus nodding.
Describing it as “feeling” them nodding is vaguely hilarious in this kind of scene. Most people only feel others nodding when they’re waaay more intimate than anyone in this scene.
“Good,” Director Calvert spoke. To us, he said, “It just isn’t worth killing good help. Should my ultimate plans here fall through, it’s better to have individuals like them on reserve.”
Fair. Ominous considering the Undersiders might have to make your plans fall through, but fair.
“And us?” Grue asked.
“Your part in Brockton Bay isn’t entirely over, yet. I established you here for a reason. As Director, I will lead a slow but successful campaign against Brockton Bay’s villains. The Travelers will be the first. I expect a strike squad of my PRT agents will catch them off guard, but they will ultimately escape capture.”
Aaand that means leaving town and territory. Skitter’s not going to like either part of that, if we assume the same is to happen to the Undersiders.
“How unfortunate,” Tattletale said.
“Indeed,” Director Calvert replied. “Doubly unfortunate if other villains should establish a presence in Brockton Bay’s south end, forming a loose alliance with the Undersiders, who maintain a firm hold on the flourishing North end.
Oooh, interesting. These would be real other villains, right? A rebranded group of Travelers would be so easy to catch out.
Oh, rest assured, you Undersiders will lose your hold on this city over the course of months, but it won’t be quite as bad as it sounds.”
Fair enough. Gotta reunite the city before you can rule it singlehandedly.
Though again, Skitter probably won’t like giving up her territory at this point.
“We’ll avoid being captured, probably,” Tattletale said, “Or we’ll get captured and break out before there’s an issue. And then we don’t come back to Brockton Bay. We wind up establishing presences in nearby cities. One or two Undersiders with a firm grip on a given city with other villains under us, establishing a new kind of villainy, and you, Director, as the valiant hero on the opposing side.
…and then the Director’s influence expands to follow them into other cities?
Your power grows in a way the public is very much aware of, and, well, we’re not losing quite so much as it seems, so your power grows in other ways too.”
Before you know it, New England merges into the Independent State of Calvertopia.
Thomas Calvert spread his hands, “It seems you have a firm grasp on what’s going on. I won’t waste our time reiterating. Any questions?”
“Thank you for coming to my TED talk.”
“Why become PRT director?” Grue asked. “Why not mayor?”
Mayors have to be reelected, and when he’s got a puppet in the mayoral office anyway, he’ll have more power than ever when he controls both the local government and the government of the heroes.
“All eyes will be on the mayor after the recent fiasco. Mr. Grove will serve as a red herring, drawing all suspicious eyes to him before he defers the election to Mrs. Padillo. Besides, who would you rather rule? A dozen capes or fifty thousand unpowered civilians?”
The way Coil acts as something of a foil to Piggot is interesting. He’s all charismatic scheming and seems to value capes over mundanes, while she’s uncharismatic badgering and values mundanes over capes. Coil is a villain of honor while Piggot is a hero of none.
There are similarities, too, as in any good foil pair — they’re former PRT soldiers who went through Nilburg, they both have a penchant for chessmastering (though we’ve seen more of it from Coil), they both employed large numbers of trained mundanes in addition to a number of capes…
When I do a reread of Worm, I should keep an eye on Coil and Piggot with this all in mind.
“I see,” Grue said.
“The fear this event creates among the public will make requisitioning additional capes and resources that much easier. The remnants of Coil’s personal army will remain in the city, a sub-gang of highly trained individuals who will serve as an excuse for why the forces of the Undersiders do not grow beyond a certain point.”
Ooh, ooh, will they get a cool new name?
The Serpents? Except they’re not like the big Serpent himself, so maybe something smaller, like… The Worms?
They can claim they’re named after the game series.
“You said the Travelers will be the first to be ousted,” I said. “Does that mean you’ve found a solution to their problem?”
They seemed interested in leaving regardless. But yeah, I doubt it.
“No. But we have several last resort answers, and those will be exhausted soon.”
With my bugs, I noted Tattletale making a hand gesture. Left index finger and middle finger pressed together, she tapped her thumb against the tips of the other two fingers.
You telling Taylor to ask what’s in it for the Undersiders?
“Any other questions?” he asked.
“Dinah,” I said.
Ah, right, here we go.
“Mr. Grove’s concession to Mrs. Padillo will involve an offer. He will push for his constituents to support Mrs. Padillo if she accepts his terms.
…which has what to do with Dinah? She was Christner’s niece, not Grove’s, right?
Among these will be a restoration project for the North end, employment stimulation for the laborers and a restoration of the ferry service. In exchange for your continued cooperation, I can give you executive powers in naming the measures you’d like to see pass. I am well aware of what I agreed to, but I would offer this as a compromise in exchange for a one year delay on that term of our contract.”
Skitter: “Fuck that.”
Coil wants to restore the ferry service oh my cod he really is Danny 😄
“No,” I told him. “I’m sorry, but you’ve got to let her go.”
“Then I will. I’m disappointed, but I won’t have it said that I’m not a man of my word.”
When will you let her go.
My heart was pounding. Just like that?
Director Calvert clasped his hands in front of him, “How would you have us resolve this? I can return her to her family, or pass her on to your custody.”
Family sounds good, but man of honor and word or not, I don’t trust you not to subsequently kill her because she knows too much. Or to not use your power as PRT Director to pull her in that way behind Taylor’s back. At least there’s no masquerade — everyone present knows who’d be responsible if she did get pulled in by the PRT.
That doesn’t mean they’d find out.
I didn’t think this far ahead. “Her family, then.”
“Very well. With your permission, we’ll release her to her parents, with some covert surveillance to ensure she does not reveal any details of my greater mission.”
Alright. Sounds good, you slimy-tongued son of a bitch. Thank you.
“My officer will take you to her.”
You don’t want to be there for it?
“Your teammates can join you, if you don’t feel secure.”
Grue placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Thank you, Director,” I said. “I don’t mean to impugn your sense of honor, but I didn’t expect this.”
I do think this’ll be a little disappointing for Coil to hear. As much as I don’t trust him these days, I think the honor thing is genuine.
“I have a healthy respect for paranoia, Skitter. Go. Tattletale, could I borrow a few minutes of your time? The Travelers grow anxious, and you can offer some more answers about Noelle’s situation.”
I wish I could listen in on that.
Tattletale turned our way, “Your call, guys.”
“Take Regent and Shatterbird with you,” Grue said.
Seems fair. Coil is dividing them, but they are very aware that they shouldn’t be alone with him.
“If he respects paranoia, he’ll respect the fact that I’m as worried for your well-being as I am for Skitter’s.”
“Aw,” Tattletale gave Grue a pat on the cheek, “You’re not a very good liar. I appreciate the sentiment, though.”
I felt entirely out of my element. For weeks, months, I’d been bracing myself to hear Coil say no. To hear him say ‘I promised I’d consider it’ or ‘I promised to release her when my plan reached its conclusion, and that won’t happen for another year.’
It’s good that she was aware of and prepared for these loopholes, even if Coil didn’t use them. Skitter liveblogs Wheel of Time when?
I didn’t know what to do with my hands. If I’d had pockets, I’d have jammed them in there, but I didn’t. My belt didn’t really suit itself for me hooking my thumbs in there.
Any decent outfit needs pockets.
[El Goonish Shive panel]
Sam: I have too many pockets to make mistakes.
I didn’t even trust myself to speak, with the possibility that I could say something to ruin this.
Best to play it safe.
No, it was better to be on my guard. I swept the area for threats, with bugs on every set of gloved hands and every weapon.
But the PRT uniforms climbed into their vans and the doors slammed shut.
Sometimes paranoia is very justified, even when it’s a distraction from uncertainty.
Director Calvert stayed at the gates that marked the construction site from the roads beyond, Tattletale and Regent beside him.
“In the truck,” the remaining PRT officer told us.
Let’s go free Dinah.
“If it’s alright,” I said, “We’ll ride.”
He looked to Coil, who nodded.
I climbed onto Atlas, and Grue settled behind Bitch on Bentley.
A good party, mounted on a van, a bug and a dog.
It was a fifteen minute flight, following the truck, and I was on edge for every second.
We stopped outside of a brick building, and the driver of the truck stepped out. I swept the area with my bugs, then swept it again.
She’s getting even more on edge as we go along.
The interior featured modest living accommodations, a squad of armed soldiers, a man who wasn’t armed and a little girl.
Is the man who isn’t armed Dr. Pitter?
I set Atlas down and waited outside, bugs poised to attack. The door opened, and the soldiers stepped out, parting to let Dinah go free.
The bluebird has left the building.
The little girl stepped out, hesitant, then stopped. Nothing gave me any indication that she was unhealthy or hurt, but she wasn’t lively either. She was dressed in a skirt, sweater and uggs, her hair thick with chemical smells that told me it had been recently washed.
Did Coil call ahead to have them make her more presentable?
“Want to go home?” I asked. I reached out.
Her hand found mine, and I clutched it tight.
Couldn’t leave on Atlas. I turned, and she stepped to follow.
Through my bugs, I could feel the thrum of the truck as it started up, I could feel the mild heat and see the flare of light as the highbeams shifted on. If I could see, they would have been blinding.
There’s something beautiful about a sentence that is essentially “if I could see, I wouldn’t be able to see”.
I tried to squeeze Dinah’s hand, to reassure her, and found myself clenching an empty fist.
Ah fuck. She’s unsure about leaving with Skitter? Or at all? Please don’t tell me she developed Stockholm syndrome in the latest few Arcs?
My bugs weren’t where they were supposed to be. I was momentarily disoriented as I tried to map my surroundings.
What’s doing this?
The really trippy thing would be if someone just had a trigger event somehow and Taylor’s going through a Dandelion scene while blinded. Though honestly, I think she’d be able to see in such a case. Theatre of the mind and all.
When I felt hardwood beneath my feet, I scattered the bugs from beneath my costume. Containment foam, all around me. I’d been teleported.
He released her.
For all of two seconds.
And Calvert. Calvert and a squad of his people.
“You bastard,” I said.
There was no response. I could feel how his arm was outstretched, sense the general shape of the weapon in his hand.
Time to squash the irritating bug, eh?
The others had weapons too. I could attack, but it would only make them open fire.
“No monologue?” I asked, “You’re not going to explain how you did it? How you’re going to deal with my teammates or explain what happened to me?”
Too genre savvy?
He answered with a pull of the trigger.
And that, my friends, is why we had a reminder that the suit isn’t bulletproof at the beginning of the chapter.
I do question the ability of bullets to penetrate the containment foam, though.
End of Monarch 16.10
RIP Taylor Anne “Skitter” Hebert. You will be missed, but not by the arthropods. You kinda led millions of them to their deaths, they’re a little peeved about that. I suck at eulogies. Rest in pea– wait fuck I already said that. Uh. Sleep well?
This was a good chapter. Some awkward and unpleasant Traveler near-wrap-up (I won’t consider them fully wrapped up until we get some better info on Noelle and their background), followed by a nice AMA explaining how Coil actually minimized casualties and how he expects things to go ahead from here, and a really good bit of heart-tugging as Coil stages the release of Dinah only to pull the rug out under her feet and shoot her.
So, short of the story switching to a new main protagonist, like perhaps Greg, it seems we need a way for Taylor to survive an execution by firing squad. The first thing that came to mind was the foam. It needs to stop villains with abilities much more powerful than guns who may also have guns, so it might be able to stop bullets, or at least slow them to the point where Skitter’s costume can. But Coil is the type to research things like that first.
Surviving bullets is only the first step, of course, as she needs to get out of wherever this is too, but if she can stay protected, it’ll give her a little time to go on the offensive.
Then there’s the method of teleportation to deal with. If we’re lucky, it’s just a device like the one used at the debate. If we’re unlucky, it might be Trickster, and if we’re really unlucky, all the Travelers are involved.
Wait, did Genesis know this was a possible outcome? Did she hope not to see Skitter again because it’d mean she was being involved in this?
It seems that what’s up next is going to be a doozy either way. I’m looking forward to it! See you there!
(For the record, the chapter title is a pun, not a misspelling.)
One thought on “Monarch 16.10: Feint Hope”
[…] with her employer. For predictions on that front, you should probably just look back at the end of 16.10, because this Interlude changed nothing about those […]