Queen 18.1: Petting Odds

Source material: Worm, Queen 18.1
Blogged: May 1-3, 2020


*writes up a big thing in the Between post*

*takes a half hour break to eat before starting the blog proper*

*comes back to see that his liveblogger buddy Loreweaver has posted this in the meantime:*

Screenshot_20200501-215508__01

[Tumblr post] loreweaver-universe:

[screenshot of opening credits for an episode of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, giving writing credit to series creator Noelle Stevenson]

Woo, it’s Noelle again!

Woo, it’s Noelle again!

So, this chapter, I suppose we’ll be attempting to warn the populace, which means contacting the PRT. They’re kind of missing a leader at the moment, and don’t even know it, which could prove to be a problem if they don’t have proper second-in-command procedures for a situation like this.

And even if they do, I have my doubts the second-in-command will be much more helpful than Piggot would have been.

We’ll also likely see some of the first clones having been made, especially if that part of the power can be used on mundanes.

But enough talk. Have at ye!


The empty vault loomed before us, dark and fetid.

“It’s that bad?” I asked.  “Do we need to contact the PRT and Protectorate?  Get the heroes on board?”

Wow. Picking up exactly where we left off. Like, it’s implied that not even a single line of dialogue happened between 16.13 and 18.1.

“No,” Dinah said, quiet.  “Not immediately.”

Oh, that’s right, we’ve got Dinah. If she’s willing and able, she could be a great asset here.

Especially with the new information from last chapter that precogs cancel each other out. It’s a little unclear if that applies to omnicogs… but then again, at this point it’s also unclear whether the Simurgh is an omnicog or “just” a really powerful precog with a good grasp of the past and present through mind-reading and previous uses of precognition.

The others looked at her.  I couldn’t see her, but I had a pretty distinct mental picture.  A pre-adolescent girl, thin, with straight brown hair.  Cursory inspection with my swarm suggested her hair was tied into a braid, but many strands were coming loose.  Unless a lot had changed since I’d last seen her, Dinah would be pale.  My mental picture of her was of a girl that was almost ghostly.

Poor thing.

So, about “not immediately”… Would that be because now is a bad time? Maybe because they haven’t noticed Calvert’s missing yet? Because they’d rush in before learning what Noelle’s power actually does and get themselves cloned all over the place?

It said something that she was still able to command our attention with a few quiet words.

“One point seven percent chance she does any serious damage before dawn.  We have time.”

Huh. Why dawn?

“Thank you,” I said.

“Useful to know,” Tattletale said, “But this is bad enough that we may have to go running to the heroes, eat crow and ask for their assistance, get it sooner than later.”

Regent had followed Grue, Dinah and I down the stairs.  He peered into the darkness, then said, “I don’t think we’ll have much pull with the white hats.  Among other things, we’ve conquered the city, gave their heroes a series of spankings, gave the world-reknowned tinker a very expensive spanking, kidnapped one of their Directors and if I just heard you right, you just offed the replacement director.”

Yeah, that’s a pretty good and mildly kinky summary. You’re not gonna be particularly popular at the moment.

He stepped back, moved his mask and whistled.  I had to step back to see Rachel on her way from the entrance, her dogs following behind.

I know this is a bit of a non-sequitur to this quote, but… as much as I enjoyed Migration, it’s kind of nice to be back with Taylor and the gang.

I couldn’t help but cough at the rancid smell from the vault, which made me cough more.

“Hospital,” Grue said, for the umpteenth time.

Yes. If you’ve got some hours, that’s probably a wise place to spend them after the gauntlet that has been the last few Arcs.

“Soon,” I said.

“The heroes don’t know we offed Calvert,” Tattletale said.

True. That literally just happened seven months ago.

“Yet,” Regent added.

“My question stands.  Do we need to contact them?” I said.

“Maybe.  I don’t know,” Tattletale shook her head a little.

“What do you know?” I asked.  “Because as far as the rest of us are aware, there’s a teenage girl that’s capable of tearing through two vault doors like they’re nothing, and she’s free, and she’s pissed at us.  Quite possibly at me, depending on how much she heard.”

It’s actually kind of interesting that she had no trouble with the vault doors. Kind of suggests they weren’t there to keep her in. Or that Coil underestimated her.

“Coil sent the Travelers to me for help.  She’s had some physical changes,” Tattletale said.  She traced one of the creases in the crumpled vault door with her gloved fingers.  “They wanted to get a better idea of what was going on, so they could maybe change her back.”

“some physical changes”

Lisa. Stop being cagey for a second.

“And when I asked about her before, you brushed me off.”

“Don’t like admitting I don’t know something,” she said.  “And I don’t know the full story.  They were working on the assumption that she’s turning into an Endbringer.”

There we go.

Is Lisa going to address the contradiction with Leviathan supposedly never having been human?

That gave us all a moment’s pause.  Rachel had just descended from the walkway in time to catch the last part.  She grabbed Bastard’s chain to keep him from venturing into the vault, but her attention was on Tattletale.

The wolf wanting to go into the place that stinks of meat is a nice detail.

Seriously?” Regent asked.

“No.  Well, it’s what they were thinking.  It’s not what I think.”

Then what do you think?

“Elaborate,” Grue said.

“When I saw Leviathan, I got the distinct impression that the Endbringers aren’t human and never were.  Noelle?  She’s human.  So I’ve got two running theories.  Theory one is that she is turning into an Endbringer, with her body serving as the host to a growth that’s eventually going to shed off the Noelle bits and go full-monster.”

Hm. A parasitic relationship, where the Endbringers weren’t human, but may have been attached to humans for a while. That would get around that little issue.

And the other, much more likely to be somewhat accurate by writing conventions, theory?

“And theory two?”  Grue asked.

“Someone’s doing their level best to make their own Endbringer.”

…Terminus project?

Another project was also mentioned immediately after that, as a prerequisite… Something that needed “the right individual” to be found or made. I still believe this individual may prove to be Theo, but maybe that project involves this sort of experimentation.

Or maybe Noelle was the right individual, unbeknownst to everyone, and that’s why she’s going through all of this but Oliver gets a normal if relatively useless power from the same dose of the same vial?

“Who?” I asked.

Tattletale shrugged, “No clue.  Could be any of the major players.  To figure out which one, I’m going to need time with the database on capes we downloaded from the PRT.  Even then, I’m not sure it covers the high-clearance stuff we need.”

Yeah, Cauldron is definitely high-clearance stuff.

“Off the top of your head?”  I asked.

“Who could it be?  The Protectorate might have been aiming to make an Endbringer with the idea that it could fight the other Endbringers, only for things to go sour.  There’s the group that made people like Gregor the Snail and Newter,” Tattletale looked at me, “You remember that paperwork we found when we infiltrated the Merchant’s party.”

All of the above? That could explain why Alexandria is cool with the Terminus project.

I say the Doctor has been watching too many “Godzilla vs” movies.

“Cauldron.”

“Yes.  There’s also any number of megalomaniac tinkers out there who might have tried something. Bonesaw, Rattenfänger, Jamestowner, Blasto, Mosaic, Monstrum, some non-tinkers like Chrysalis and Nilbog, bunch of others.”

Ooh, I wonder how many of these will turn up later. Hi, Blasto!

Rattenfänger… rat catcher… musical tinker, to go with the pied piper? A quick wiki check tells me the pied piper is actually called der Rattenfänger von Hameln in German, too.

Monstrum sounds familiar… isn’t that one of the ladies in the Birdcage? No, blog search says I haven’t come across the name before. Guess I was thinking of Lustrum.

As far as tinker names go, Mosaic is a good generic one for someone who puts things together out of smaller parts. But what the hell kind of cape name is “Jamestowner”? Which Jamestown? The one on Newfoundland, maybe?

Chrysalis is queen of the changelings the most likely of all of these new names to be relevant at some point, since her their name implies a thematic connection to insects. Though given the context it’s more likely they’re named after a power that causes some sort of transformation.

Nilbog is an interesting inclusion given the similarity between his creatures, the mutations on the clones and the… rejects that fell from the sky in Madison. I don’t really think there’s much chance of him being directly involved, though.

“Too many,” Grue said.

“But their powers don’t fit this scenario that well, so it would have to be some alliance between two of them, or one would need to get ahold of the tools and blueprints from one of the others and reverse engineer it, or one had a second trigger event and their powers expanded.”

There are so many crazy ways this could’ve happened, and nobody’s going to think “hey, maybe she drank superpower juice in a bad dosage” right off the bat. And even if they do, there are still some huge questions, especially once you bring Oliver into it.

One thing of note, though… did they seriously not tell Lisa about their backstory and how Noelle got half a vial? You’d think that would be a huge arrow pointing towards Cauldron.

“A lot of ‘ors’,” Grue said.

“Too many possibilities,” Tattletale said.  “We could beon the complete wrong tack, where I’m overthinking it, or I’m overlooking the most obvious possiblity, that she’s just unlucky.”

So far, trigger-based powers have largely seemed to have minor or hidden physical effects if any, while Cauldron has a significant percentage of test subjects affected by “monstrous” mutations.

“What if we ask the kid?” Regent asked.  He turned his attention to Dinah.

“Only if she’s up to it,” I said.

Hm. I suppose she could pull a Garnet and look for a timeline where they find out the answer? Although that threatens to become the sort of “looking into” timelines that burnt her out last time (and an untold number of times in discarded realities).

“Head hurts, still fixing things, putting all the worlds in the right places,” Dinah said.  She was clutching my wrist as though I were a life preserver and she was going to drown if she let go, but she stared at the ground as she spoke.  “But I’ll help now.  I fear I won’t be useful for much longer.”

…which means what exactly

Does she see a lot of dead-end timelines from here? As in timelines where she ends up dead quickly?

Or is it just the headaches?

I fear?  Who talked like that?

Coil. Coil talked like that.

That’s eerie, Dinah having picked up speech habits from her captor.

“Why not?” Regent asked.

“I’ll get sick without the candy.  Soon.”

Ahh, right, the withdrawal.

Which I guess puts the Undersiders in a tricky situation. Do they drug the kid to keep her useful, just like Coil would, or risk lacking important insights against Noelle? Taylor would obviously pick the latter, but if Dinah actually asks for the drugs, some of the more pragmatic or devil-may-care members of the group might disagree, just for the moment.

“Withdrawal,” Grue said.

Dinah nodded.

“Fuck,” I said.  “We need to get her to a hospital so they can see her through it.”

Heh. Taylor dismisses her own need to go to the hospital with “soon”, but the moment it’s about someone else, particularly Dinah, she’s immediately on board with the hospital idea.

Either way, it seems we have a clear destination.

“Fuck,” I said.  “We need to get her to a hospital so they can see her through it.”

“I can see it,” she said, and her voice was smaller.  There wasn’t any inflection when she spoke; the only indication that she had any emotion at all was the changing volume of her voice, more volume as she got more confident, less as she drew into herself.  “I see myself getting sick, and it’s so clear a picture, so many pictures it’s almost as bad as being sick right here and right now.”

Yeah, that part of her power really isn’t so fun, huh.

“There’s ways they can help you through it,” I said.  “I looked it up.  The hospital can put you under, so you’re not awake for the worst of it.”

She squeezed my wrist a little tighter.  “It’s okay.  I can see the chances and I know I’ll be okay.  So long as it’s just once.  Ask me questions.”

Oh, that’s nice. It works both ways. She can see the bad stuff coming, but she also has reassurance that it will be okay in the long run.

And “ask me questions”.

Ask me questions.

Now that Coil isn’t looming over her, now she actually wants to use her power to help.

Tattletale glanced at me.

“Go ahead,” I told her.

“Chance she’s turning into an Endbringer?” Tattletale asked.

Good first choice.

“Those aren’t the kind of odds I can give,” Dinah said  “It has to be something I can picture.  Scenes.”

Aw, dang it. That makes sense, though.

(missing a period there)

“I thought so.  And that’d mean I can’t really use it to pin down who’s behind Noelle’s situation.”

Dinah shook her head.

That would require looking into the past.

“Chance of trouble in the next twenty four hours?” I asked.  “Violence, she attacks us, she attacks other people…”

Probably pretty damn high.

“Ninety-nine point three four six three zero one percent,” Dinah said.

“What happens in that not-even-one-percent chance?” Regent asked.

That would be looking into the timeline, wouldn’t it?

“I can’t go looking.  I have to ask, and figure it out from there, which hurts if I do it too much, or someone else asks, which makes it hurt less, because I can focus on the numbers and just the numbers.”

That’s an interesting restriction. Kind of forces her into a support role, since someone else using her power via asking her works better for her than her using the power for herself.

…speaking of someone else using her power, would Brian be able to give them a few more questions’ worth of insight when Dinah’s headaches start getting worse?

“Okay,” Tattletale said, “Chance she runs? ”

“Twenty-three point three one one percent.”

(stray space… just so you know I’m only calling out these typos because Wildbow reads or has read the blog and might want to fix them; my intent is not to nitpick)

Runs… out of town?

“That doesn’t add up,” Regent said.  “Unless I’m way worse at math than I thought.”

No one said running and violence were mutually exclusive.

“She does some damage and then flees,” Grue suggested.  Tattletale nodded confirmation.

“Chance someone stops her?” Tattletale asked.  “Defeats her, kills her?”

Dinah shook her head.

None whatsoever? Damn. I mean we knew she was pretty much invulnerable, but still. Not even something else that could count as a defeat?

“You don’t know?”

“I can’t see it.”

So not in any timeline where Dinah survives.

“Okay,” Tattletale said.  “That means we probably can’t stop her with sheer firepower.”

“Didn’t see it.”

“Okay.  Thank you, by the way,” Tattletale said.  “Appreciate it.”

Coil may have said “Thank you, pet.” a few times, but I doubt he ever meant it.

“You’re quite welcome,” Dinah said, dropping her eyes to the ground.

Quite welcome.  Dinah kept phrasing things in a funny manner.  An old fashioned or proper way.  It wasn’t quite like how Coil spoke, but there were similarities.  Was it a side effect of spending way too much time around Coil?

I think so, yeah, and I love it. I also hate it, but I love it.

I didn’t like the idea of that.  That either Coil had molded her, or that she’d spent enough time in a pliable mental state that she’d adopted his speaking patterns.

I know, right? It’s so good.

“This situation is bad,” Tattletale said.  “We can’t take her on, but we don’t know enough about her to plan against her.  I was going to reposition everyone so our territories covered the entire city, under the assumption that the Travelers were leaving.

Yeah, uh, you should probably get the Travelers up to speed on this. And also try to make sure they don’t retaliate.

Now I’m suspicious they’ll be staying, which complicates matters, and I don’t want us spread too thin, either.”

I’m not sure the territories will survive this Arc, but yeah, that does complicate matters.

“We could get hold of Ballistic,” Grue said.  “Get his version of events.”

Yes, please. Lisa needs to be filled in on the major background details that appear to have been stupidly withheld from her.

“We could get hold of Ballistic,” Grue said.  “Get his version of events.”

“He went back to his territory.  I’ll make calls and see if we can bring him on board,” Tattletale said.  “I have two squads of soldiers that I’m keeping on retainer.  They’ll serve as my hands for right now, while I try and get myself sorted out here, establish this as my new headquarters.  If you guys want to go to the hospital, maybe see about getting Skitter and Dinah looked after, I’ll handle things on this end.  We regroup at least an hour before dawn and we plan with whatever new information we have.”

I do kind of wish that it had been recapped what time it is now. How many hours till dawn?

In any case this situation is way less of a rush than I expected, even before knowing what Noelle could do.

“No sleep tonight?” Regent asked.

“No sleep,” Grue confirmed.

And I’ll take that as my cue to go the fuck to bed.

Well, okay, I’m already sitting in it, but you know what I mean. Gotta get up early tomorrow, I have a store to open.

 


 

[Session 2]

One supremely fucked sleep schedule later, let’s get back into this!

I turned to Tattletale, “We don’t have access to all of Coil’s resources, now.  Or Calvert’s, for that matter.  Can you find us a doctor who we can trust?”

“I mean I know this one guy from out of town, but I’m not sure fire can fix my eyes, green or otherwise. My face is already symmetrical enough. So it’s probably better if you do this.”

It’s worth noting that we have the fact that “We don’t have access to all of Coil’s resources, now.” acknowledged right at the beginning of this Arc, because I really think that’s going to be a concern going forwards. Especially if the territories survive.

“Someone you can trust?  No.  But I can find someone not altogether untrustworthy.

Good enough.

We were just finishing sorting out who was going where when Tattletale called us with a name and an address.

I suppose this all means we’re not getting more visits to Dr. John Cleese, which is a shame, but I have a good feeling we’re about to meet a neat character in his place.

The group heading to the hospital consisted of Me, Grue, Rachel and Dinah.  I had the smoke inhalation and breathing problems, as well as the pain in my chest and my eyes to look after.  Grue and Rachel had been shot.  As for Dinah, we needed to make sure there weren’t any severe problems before we sent her home.  Regent headed back to his place with Imp for backup.

I do have to wonder just to what extent medical services on Earth-Bet make accomodations for anonymity. Seems like a necessity with all the vigilante heroes running around.

I hope we’re not going to spend too much time on the specifics of the medical attention here — I usually don’t particularly enjoy those scenes, since with liveblog pacing they tend to drag unless coupled with a distraction (like when Taylor talked to Parian while being operated on) — but actually getting it is very much a necessity at this point.

Would’ve been nice if the Undersiders had picked up a healer for their team a few Arcs ago, wouldn’t it?

Dinah, Rachel and I settled in the back of one of Coil’s trucks with Bastard and Bentley.  Grue took the wheel.

I focused on canvassing the area with my swarm as Grue drove.  Dinah had assured us that things were safe for the rest of night, but I couldn’t ignore the existence of a dangerous pseudo-Endbringer with a very good reason to want to hurt me.

Yeah, that’s reasonable. And I mean, Noelle’s situation is very much orchestrated by the Simurgh, whose involvement is apparently supposed to cause trouble for precognition (even as the precognition causes trouble for her schemes).

Though it’s possible that Dinah’s particular brand of probability-based precognition works around that? Coil seemed to trust her power beyond what is typical of precogs (“notoriously unreliable”).

You’re quiet,” Rachel said.

Of everyone, it’s Rachel who points that out?

I turned my attention to her, then realized she was talking to Dinah.

Oh. Huh. That’s… I don’t know what dynamic to expect here. Maybe Rachel ends up treating Dinah like a puppy, unexpectedly showing her softer side?

“I considered saying something, but you would get upset,” Dinah said.  Again, the low volume.

Pfft. “I have the map, and I steer the ship.” Dinah’s trying to Garnet her way through interacting with Rachel.

(Unfortunately Garnet is terrible at social interaction. Let’s see if not being a literal alien helps.)

“Huh,” Rachel said.  “Why?”

Dinah paused for long seconds.  I wondered if she was trying to work something out with her power.  “I was going to ask if I could pet your puppy, but it’s… not my place.  He’s not mine.”

Wait, how exactly did she work out not only that Rachel would be upset if she asked, but why? Seems like she’d have to ask a fair few questions to figure that out beyond “chance that she’ll let me pet the puppy if I ask”.

Though I guess the last part could be conjecture.

Dinah and Rachel could have quite the interesting dynamic if this keeps up, what with Dinah having the tools to figure out how to best interact with her without having to study up on dog psychology like Taylor tried to. I think Rachel will appreciate that Dinah actually understands this.

“He’s not a dog.  He’s a wolf.  He doesn’t react like a dog will.  And I’m trying to train him before he’s old enough that he won’t listen, and I don’t need people mucking that up.”

Yeah, makes sense. Rigorous training.

And yeah, down this route, Rachel seems calm and almost downright chatty.

“Okay,” Dinah said.  There was no fight there, no resistance, total compliance.

Rachel put one boot against the edge of the bench across from her, a foot to the right of Dinah.  As far as I knew, Rachel didn’t take her eyes off the girl.

I like how the bugs allow blind Taylor to still describe things she’d normally need eyes to notice, but at the same time there are things she can only assume. Like the direction of the eyeballs — to track that, Taylor would need to put bugs on Rachel’s eyes, and that would probably not go over well.

Which means that to Taylor, everyone is currently relatively faceless.

“Rachel,” I said.  “Just curious, but you’re hoping to eventually adopt your dogs out, right?”

I doubt she’d do that with all of them, but she’s seemed positive to such in the past, as long as she knew the adoptive owner would genuinely care for the dogs in a good way.

“To good owners.  So?”

“Just saying, but as much as the owners need to adapt to the dog and understand the dog, the opposite is true.”

So you’re pointing out that Rachel should probably train the dogs to be a little less hostile?

Much like Rachel herself, to get along with people better, could stand to be a little more willing to adapt.

(She’s been doing pretty well relatively speaking, but I mean. Look at her original territory.)

I couldn’t read Rachel’s expression.

“The dog has to adapt to the owner?” She asked.

“Right.  And that means the dogs need a chance to get used to people.  Dogs and humans have a partnership, right?  So they need to meet halfway in that understanding.  Mutual understanding.”

This is a big part of why I was harsh on Rachel early on. Taylor went to great lengths to get and stay on her good side, but Rachel barely ever seemed to make any effort of her own to make things work.

Enough time passed that I wasn’t sure if she’d picked up on my meaning.

“You want to pet Bentley?” Rachel offered.

Eyy!

It’s progress, on multiple fronts. Dinah gets to pet a doggo (just not the wolf, because Rachel did have a valid point about him), Bentley gets pets and “a chance to get used to people”, and Rachel gets valuable experience in social interaction and the “give” part of “give and take”. Nice work greasing the wheels, Taylor.

“Very much,” Dinah replied.

“Bentley, go.  Up.”

Bentley hopped up between Dinah and I on the bench.

😀

“Relax.”

The bulldog turned around once, then flopped down on the bench so his head was pressed against my hip.

“Give him a sniff of your hand before you touch him,” Rachel said.  “Bentley’s a good boy, but it’s a good habit to get into with dogs.  You don’t want to surprise him and get bitten.”

And Rachel gets to teach interacting with dogs!

This is really a win-win-win-win scene.

I kept still while Dinah took Rachel’s suggestion and extended a hand.  Without standing, he twisted himself around until his oversized head was in Dinah’s lap.

Months since she’s seen a dog, let alone touched one.  How would that affect her in the long run?  I hoped she wouldn’t be in therapy for the rest of her life.

Hush, Taylor, we’re having a wholesome scene over here.

I turned my attention to scanning the area, while Bentley reveled in the attention and affection.

Good doggo gets pets! 😀

It was another five minutes before Grue stopped the van and we had a chance to get out.

“Chance of trouble?” I asked.

“Fifteen point three three percent,” Dinah answered.

Significant but not terrible.

“Can you tell me who causes the trouble?”

“I only know we’ll be in there, so I have to look at each of us, one by one, and then I see the number.”

“Okay.”

Huh.

“When there’s trouble,” she said, “It’s you.  Eighty percent of the time.”

“Me?” I asked.

Well, that summarizes a lot of the story, doesn’t it?

Comes with the territory of being the main protagonist.

She nodded.

“Okay,” I said.  “I’ll try to be good.”

With ‘Doctor Q’, the man Coil had always referred us to, it had been one man operating solo.  He’d known his stuff.  But he’d been Coil’s man, and we couldn’t trust him until things had time to settle down.

Yeah, that’s fair. He does seem the type to put providing medical attention above his loyalties, but who knows how far that extends. Especially if Coil was providing him with resources.

But maybe we’ll get more John Cleese when things have settled dahahaha things settle down what a joke

So I take it this new source of medical attention is not one man operating solo?

This doctor’s office had a staff, and they didn’t even react as we entered.

“What do you need?” a woman asked.  She had a musical voice that was almost irritatingly sweet.  Condescending, like a kindergarten teacher or a character in a show for very young kids.  Not to the point that I saw myself causing any trouble, but… yeah.

MLP characters don’t generally have this in G4, but this still has me picturing several of them. Most notably Cheerilee (who is a teacher for young kids in a show for kids) and Sour Sweet (a human teen who flipflops between condescending sweetness and wearing her true sourness on her sleeve).

“Three of us took gunshots, but they didn’t penetrate.  Costumes stopped the hits, but I want to be sure there isn’t lasting damage,” Grue said.  “The little girl needs a full checkup and maybe a brief stay, while she suffers withdrawal from some unspecified drugs or drug cocktails.  And we’ve got one case of smoke inhalation coupled with severe chest pain.”

And the eyes. Wait… did Grue ever actually find out about Taylor’s blindness?

“Understood.  Your bill has been paid in advance.  My mother and I will be looking after you,” the young woman chirped.  “Please come this way.”

Family business, eh?

I guess Lisa paid the bill.

We followed.  The place was like any old doctor’s office, but I noted statues and innumerable picture frames, and the floor was tiled.  Going by my swarm sense alone, I got the impression the place was upscale.  And it was empty.

This is probably one of the places the swarm sense is somewhat limited. Can’t have bugs running over everything.

Remember Cleese’s reaction to Taylor’s power filling his office with bugs? 😛

“You don’t seem bothered to have supervillains coming through.”

“Wait, you’re villains? I thought you were just having a Halloween party that got a little out of hand.”

“…it’s June.”

“A lot out of hand, then.”

“We’ve dealt with supervillains before,” she said, and the way she said it suggested she didn’t plan on elaborating.  “You’ll need to remove your costumes and masks.  You can each have a separate room to disrobe, and we’ll be seeing each of you in turn.  Rest assured, your privacy and safety is our top concern.”

Now, Taylor, stay in your room this time.

I could feel Dinah’s deathgrip on my arm.

I bent down and murmured, “Do you want a separate room?”   She shook her head.

(triple spacing?)

Yeah, I don’t think she wants to be alone at the moment. She’s just been freed, and even if she rationally knows she’s safe-ish, can see the chances of anything bad happening to her, I can imagine she wouldn’t feel safe and free if left alone in a strange room. Especially with her eventually being attended by medical professionals much like Dr. Pitter.

I straightened and told the woman, “We’ll share a room.”

“Neither of you are bashful?”

“I’m blind,” I said, “And no, I guess I’m not bashful.”

Not with Dinah, at least.

Meanwhile, Grue: “Wait, you’re what?”

“Blind?” Grue said, his head snapping around as he looked at me.  Rachel did as well.

Ahaha I was right he didn’t realize

“Tattletale didn’t mention it?”

“No.  And you didn’t either.”

“Well, it’s barely even a concern, so…”

“You’re blind, how is that not a concern??”

“I’m functioning.  I probably won’t when I can’t use my power, but yeah.”

“Is everything all right?” the young woman asked.

“It’s fine,” Grue said, heading into one of the rooms.  He stopped in the doorway, turned to me, “We’ll talk after.”

He seems to be a little upset that Taylor didn’t say it, but to be fair, she did apparently expect that Lisa had already told him.

I bobbed my head in a nod, then led Dinah into an empty room.  As far as I could tell, everything was as one might expect for a doctor’s office, down to the jar of tongue depressors and a bowl of lollipops.

Oh please someone try to give Rachel a lollipop when they’re done here.

(And of course Dinah, if she wants one. She might be done with anything that could be called “candy” though.)

“How’s your head?” I asked.  “Headaches?”

“Getting worse.  But I’ll get sick tonight, before the headache gets too bad, then it won’t really matter.”

I guess the headache barely registers on top of the other withdrawal symptoms.

“Oh.”

“Do you have more questions?”

“Some, but I don’t want to burden you, or make you feel like I’m using you.”

“Go ahead.”

I like this. That Dinah gets the chance to willingly use her power to help, that she seems to want to, presumably out of gratitude.

“The end of the world.  Did Coil ask about it?  Did he get more details on what happens?”

Ooh, juicy topic.

“He would ask how the number changed, some mornings when he asked the usual questions, before Crawler came and I couldn’t use my power for a while.  He wanted to figure out what happened, but the only way to do that was to make guesses and see the numbers with my power.  Every day, he’d always asked the same sorts of questions about whether one thing was safe or whether another was safe and chance of success for this plan or that.  There weren’t many questions left for the day after he was done asking all those, so it was slow.”

Probably not as slow as you’d think, though. Coil pretty much had a free pass to ask many more questions than the allotted ones. Then again, being in a timeline meant to be discarded might mess with the numbers.

I worked to take off my armor, unstrapping the armor to uncover the zipper.  It wasn’t easy, with the pain in my chest, and when it hit me, I’d have to suppress coughs to continue listening to Dinah.  “I guess he figured he’d be around long enough to figure it out.”

…that comes with the implication that he’d keep Dinah for that much longer, too.

Dinah didn’t respond.

“What’s the chance the world ends, Dinah?  That these billions die because of something Jack Slash does?  Has the number changed?”

“because of something Jack Slash does”… does that count if he’s already done it?

“It’s changed.  Ninety-seven point seven nine zero seven three percent.”

Ninety-seven point eight.  It’s higher.

Oof.

“What did you and Coil figure out?  In terms of twenty questions?”

“People are spread out.  I know you’re there.  You’re different but you’re there.”

That’s actually a very significant prediction in-universe. Out-of-universe that’s basic main protagonist stuff, of course, but in-universe Dinah just told Taylor the chances of her dying in the next two years or so are very slim.

“You’re different but you’re there.” Our little bug has a long growth ahead of her still. Perhaps also some form of literal transformation (would tie into pupation)? Who knows.

“And the others?”

“Sometimes there.”

So their plot armor isn’t quite as tough, being supporting protagonists.

“Can you give me more details?  How am I different?  Which of the others are there?”

“I don’t know.  There’s too many capes and too many capes with powers that make it fuzzy, because some powers make it harder and a bunch of those powers together make it impossible.

Precogs, power immunity, that kind of thing?

I don’t know what happens to start all of it and I don’t know much of what happens during, but billions are dead afterward.”

No, no, Dinah, I’m pretty sure this happens before Ward.

Damn.  “Okay.  You said we’re spread out?”

“Yes.  Five big groups, lots and lots of capes from all around the world, and armies.  Coil asked a lot about that.  He wanted to know about his chances for survival or the total number of casualties if he focused on one area over another.”

Really thinking far ahead of himself, huh. But at least he was trying.

So are all these factions teaming up against the one threat, or is there a lot of infighting?

“He wasn’t interested in stopping it?”

I doubt he thought he could.

Though there’s that 2.2% wiggle room, and the possibility of other routes to victory in timelines where Dinah doesn’t make it.

“He asked about that at first.  But nothing changed the numbers enough.  He said it was better to accept that it’s going to happen and do what he could to minimize the damage.”

“Five major groups,” I said.  “You don’t know why?”

She shook her head.

Elves, dwarves, lakemen, eagles and orcs.

Hmm… worm cultists, heroes, villains, pillagers, mundanes? No, that doesn’t sound right.

I’m guessing the five groups, whatever defines them, might return as major factions in Ward.

“Do you know if it’s like, a natural disaster sort of mass-death, or death by violence, or…”

I trailed off.  Dinah was already shaking her head.

Unfortunately I was already spoiled on there being some kind of threat, possibly worm-shaped and with spacetime powers, which sounds distinctly like a fourth and final Endbringer, but I don’t know if that’s going to be the whole of the situation. Worm was never all about the powers and battles, so people’s reactions to the whole thing and other social factors are likely to play a major role in its climax, especially with this five groups business having developed.

“Alright,” I said.  I finished pulling my costume off, grunting at the pain in my chest, then sat on the bed in my bike shorts and tank top.  Dinah sat beside me.

She looked up at me, and there was a hint of surprise in her voice.  “You’re burned.”

Right… there have been several things lately that could inflict that, too.

“Yeah.  Just a bit.  Is it bad?”

“Not bad.  But it looks painful.”

“My chest hurts more,” I said.  Then, as if I were reminded of it, I coughed, hoarse.

With that cough, maybe you should be in quarantine… I know it’s not covid but…

We sat.  I could sense the Doctor talking to Rachel, and ‘heard’ Rachel’s raised voice with the bugs I’d placed on her.  I didn’t envy the doctor for having to deal with her as a patient.

I… don’t think that first “Doctor” is supposed to be capitalized. If it should be, that’s probably a twist best sprung before doing so (and not only because Taylor wouldn’t know to capitalize it until it was sprung).

“Theoretically speaking,” I said, “Just in the interest of problem solving, or figuring out what’s going to work or not, would the chance of this happening change if I just drove around America and killed everyone in my power’s reach?”

That’s certainly a tactic you have there.

“Not really,” Dinah said.

“Damn,” I replied.  If she’d said yes, I could have narrowed it down to maybe the eastern United States or the west, then cut it in half again with north versus south, or narrowed it down to certain states.

Heh, fair enough. Probably not the most effective way to deal with things, but sure.

“What if I started with Brockton Bay?”

Home in on the person or people that the problem centered around, dealt with them one way or another

Except that wouldn’t work.

(missing punctuation)

You’ve already tried this with Jack…

“Would you?”

“What?”

If you had learned that the world would be saved if you’d actually gone on a country-wide massacre that would make Jack proud, would you?

I don’t think Taylor would, especially if you asked her a few Arcs ago. Remember when Taylor couldn’t bring herself to kill the Nine back in Plague?

“Kill all those people, if you had to?”

“No,” I assured her.  “I’m not that kind of villain.”

“You killed Coil, didn’t you?  I saw.  Thirty-two percent chance it was you who did it.  Five percent chance you couldn’t and asked someone else to.  Sixty percent chance you were dead.”

That leaves only 3% chance of her being alive and not responsible for Coil’s death either directly or by request.

“I killed him,” I admitted.  “But that was a special case.”

“Okay,” she said.

What I wouldn’t have given to be able to read her expression.

Taylor, at the moment, is lacking a mundane human sense and making up for it with her parahuman power. It leaves her functioning, but it stunts her perception of certain cues in ways that her power can’t quite make up for, such as expressions. Replacing a mundane sense with a parahuman one messes with mundane human interaction.

(Of course, she’s still better off than mundane blind people.)

“Does that bother you?” I asked.

She shook her head, but she said, “It did at first, when I first saw that possibility.  But I had a lot of time to wait, and eventually the idea of being rescued mattered more than his life did.”

Yeah, I can see how he’d wear thin like that.

“That’s… pretty grim,” I said.  I didn’t get a chance to say more.  The female doctor was leaving Rachel’s room, and Rachel was storming out.

Ah, shit. 15%?

Funny thing is, when Dinah said Taylor caused the trouble 80% of the time, I considered saying the other 20% would be Rachel.

Both Dinah and I turned toward the door before the doctor had even touched the handle.

The woman entered and hesitated a fraction when she saw us staring.  Her voice was just as cheery as her daughter’s.  “Hello!  I’m Dr. Brimher.”

Doctor Brinner, ghost psychiatrist! We finally found you! …You’re female in this world?

00893

“Hello,” I said.  “Have trouble with my teammate?”

“She was uncooperative.  I suppose we’ll have to refund the amount that was already paid for her care.  I hope that’s alright.  Everything indicated she was fine, healthwise.”

At least you don’t have to work with her through treatment.

“So long as she was fine.”

She perked up a little at that, “Well then!  Who’s first?”

“Her,” Dinah said, before I had a chance to speak.

Heh. See, Taylor? You’re not the only one who can put the health of others ahead of yourself!

The overall checkup went much as I’d expected.  I was diagnosed with a fractured rib, the smoke inhalation was apparently something that should have been treated earlier, but I wasn’t showing any lingering signs of mental or personality changes, and I wasn’t dizzy, so she let me off with instructions to breathe deep.  I got a cream for my burn and three bottles of eye drops for my eyes.

Ahh, now this is how you do it. A paragraph, quick and easy.

“Once every two hours,” she said.  “And as for you, little miss, you seem undernourished.”

“I haven’t had much of an appetite for a while.”

Oof, yeah, comes with the territory, I suppose.

“Infection?”

“Involuntary incarceration,” I said.

Intensely intriguing information.

“Ah.  Well,” the woman’s voice jumped up a notch on the cheeriness scale, “None of my business.”

I mean it probably should be? Not necessarily how it happened, but stuff like how long it’s been happening and what was done to her during that time could have medical relevance.

“It wasn’t me,” I said.  “We weren’t keeping her prisoner.”

“Of course.  I wouldn’t act any differently if you had been.”

“Really?” I asked.

Dinah grabbed my hand.  I forced myself to shut up.

“Oi, there’s a chance of trouble down this road.”

“Well.  What drugs were you taking, sweetie?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can you describe what you felt when you took them?”

“Felt good.  Calm.  Relaxed.  Very sleepy, thinking through a thick soup.”

The woman was scribbling with a pen.  She shook it to banish the fly that I’d landed on the end.

“Hey, don’t chase my eyes away.”

Does the fly actually go away? I mean, Taylor can easily make it keep sitting there.

“And now?  You’re a little flushed.”

Was Dinah showing symptoms that I couldn’t see?

“I’m hot, and my legs ache.  I’m sweating, but that might be because I’m hot.  That’s all for now.  Later, I’ll be throwing up, and crying.  I’ll be very tired but I won’t be able to sleep.”

Ahaha, now that’s gotta be a new one for the doctors. A patient who can reliably tell them of symptoms they’ll be having later, without having been through it before.

“You’ve been through this before?”

“No.  Not much past this.  This will be the first time.  Hopefully the last.”

“I… see.  The time of your last dose?”

Dinah, chance of you relapsing?

“I don’t know.  I couldn’t see a clock.  But things start getting bad in one and a half hours,” Dinah said.  “They get to the very worst in one day.”

I fucking love how confused Dr. Brimher, ghost psychiatrist, must be in this scene.

“No.  I wouldn’t feel confident in doing that without knowing the substances in her system.”

Right, that would be an issue. Would it help to hear some percentages?

…can she even get percentages for things that would happen while she was unconscious?

“Then do a blood screen first,” I said.  “If it’s a question of money-“

“No,” Dinah was the one who spoke.  “Has to be the hard way.”

“Why?” I asked.

Less chance of a relapse that way?

“Because there’s a seventy point one five nine percent chance that I relapse if I don’t.

Bingo.

Doing it the hard way means going through the pain, but only once, because she’ll always remember what it was like.

The cravings get too bad and I can see more cravings in the future and it gets to be too much and I go looking for some eventually,” there was a hint of hysteria in her voice.

I sighed.  “Okay.  No induced coma.”

Much like seeing the sickness coming makes her already feel sick, cravings from the future can make her crave it more. This girl is full of feedback loops.

“One bad week,” Dinah said.  “Six days.”

“Okay then,” the doctor said.  Still chipper, strangely sounding pleased at this situation.  “I’ll go prepare a room so you have a place to rest.  I’ll grab some things to help quiet your tummy, too.”

Maybe it’s the certainty that things won’t go south in a hurry? Or maybe she’s just mildly psychopathic for a doctor.

A moment later, she was gone.

“I can stay with you,” I said.  “At least tonight.”

“You need to go and help the others with Noelle.”

Yeah, you do kinda need to take care of that little issue.

“I will.  But first I’ll see you through tonight, okay?”

She nodded.

Nice. 🙂

If Dinah didn’t already have a family to go back home to and a life to continue with them, I’d be all for Taylor pretty much adopting her. I suppose more as a little sister rather than a daughter, but yeah.

We sat in silence for a few long moments.  The doctor stopped in to say something to Grue, and there was something about her voice, the higher pitch…

Is this something I should be getting suspicious about?

“Hey, Dinah, since I can’t see, can you do me a favor and tell me if you see anything around here that says ‘Medhall’?”

Oh for fuck’s sake.

…so which one would she be? Othala? She doesn’t really sound like Othala did, but she could be putting on a voice in an attempt to avoid recognition.

If she’s Othala, though, her name would likely have been mentioned back in Buzz… *goes a-blog-searching*

Okay, no, the name Brimher hasn’t been mentioned before, but Othala also wasn’t associated with a given civilian name we got to read.

Is the daughter Rune, by any chance? It wasn’t really made clear if there was a relationship between Victhala and her, but…

“Medhall?  No.  I don’t think so.  Why?”

“These guys are too comfortable around supervillains, and this place is too expensive.  Medhall was the company that Kaiser ran, and he also ran the biggest gang of villains in town, before Leviathan came.  I’m just wondering if this was the place the white supremacists went to when they needed medical care.”

Also a fair theory. Works better with Victor and Othala apparently having a desire to skip town even before the rest of their team did.

“Oh.  I don’t know.”

“If it is, I’ll have to have words with Tattletale.  And I guess I can see why you saw me possibly causing trouble.  If they said something to Grue, that’d probably do it.”

Yeah, checks out.

Dinah nodded.

I sighed.  “A week to recuperate?”

“Six days.  Eight percent chance I need another day to rest,” her voice seemed a touch tight, maybe a little anxious.  I wasn’t sure I could blame her.

Six is bad enough.

“I’m not leaving you in their care, okay?  We’ll spend enough time here for me to get the details on what to do and what to look out for, and then we’ll find another place to rest up.”

“Okay,” she said, and her voice was far quieter than it had been since we’d rescued her.

Maybe check the chances of something going wrong?

But yeah, I suppose Taylor is right to not trust them fully. We really don’t want Dinah in the hands of the white supremacists, even if their parahuman teams have left.

It caught me off guard.  The quiet.  I’d pegged the changes in volume as being tied to her confidence, but the way she’d dropped her voice, it suggested she was anxious about something.  Something she apparently wasn’t sharing with me.

Hopefully she’s not anxious about you.

“Mind if I run a few more questions by you?”

“I should save my strength, so only a couple more?”  She was still quiet as she replied.

Fair.

I wasn’t sure if Dinah was aware, but the bugs I’d placed on her shoulders sensed the movement, the way she drew her shoulders in.

She was afraid?  Was it the impending withdrawal?

“Okay,” I said.  “Chance we come out of this okay?”

I wonder if she has asked herself for the chance that Skitter’s care becomes another form of her old captivity.

“Sixty four point two percent chance.”

“And chance the rest of the city does?”

“…Not as high.  It depends how I ask the question, but if I do-“

What does “the rest of the city” actually mean in this context? The buildings? The people? Both? Would a total destruction of infrastructure but no loss of human life count as the city coming out okay?

“No.  I get it.  If you could ballpark it?”

“Eighteen point two two five eight percent.”

Oof.

(Love how even the ballpark estimate has four decimals.)

“Okay.  There’s going to be some catastrophic damage, then?”

“It’s very likely.”

I sighed.  I still had to figure out what we were doing about Noelle.  There were roughly eight hours before we had to address that issue.  Five or six hours before we really needed to act on the knowledge, calling in help, hiring assistance or notifying the heroes.  This was a threat just one step below an Endbringer.

On the surface of it, following up Leviathan as a boss with a boss one step below an Endbringer might seem like a strange story progression, but it seems like the Undersiders will have significantly less backup this time around.

Hopefully Ballistic would brief us on her powers, and Tattletale could get us on target as far as her location or weak points.

Tattletale might have been the ruler of Brockton Bay in a general sense, but I was still team leader of the Undersiders.  I was blind, we had a pseudo-Endbringer to tackle, and the lives of everyone in the city potentially hinged on it.

Ooh, here we are with the leadership stuff. Lisa rules Brockton Bay, Taylor rules the Undersiders. Two queens with somewhat different spheres of influence, which could cause conflict between them at some point.

Just had to consider my options.

“Fifty eight point five,” Dinah said, and there was a hint of emotion in her voice.

“What?  What’s that number?”

Hmm?

Chance of something really bad happening with respect to Noelle?

“It’s my chance of getting home.”

Oh. Well, fuck.

“Why is it so low?”

She shrugged.

Did that mean she didn’t know, or she wasn’t willing to use her power to find out?

I think she might say if it were the latter? At least if she had a good excuse.

Then I sensed her lean slightly away from me, and I got an inkling why.

80% of the time…

Me.

It was so seductive, when I thought about possible risk to my dad, to the people in my territory, to my teammates and friends, and even to me, to think about drawing on Dinah’s assistance.  With Dinah’s help, we could avoid the worst case scenarios.  And maybe in some not-quite conscious way, I was thinking about how to retain her help, one way or another.

It still seems really odd to me that Taylor would have a 42% chance of acting on this, though, even if she hadn’t been indirectly called out on it.

If she was sick, after all, I could look after her while dealing with the situation.  Just a week of keeping Dinah close, drawing on her abilities to help everyone, and to ensure her safety.  With that in mind, and the way she’d clutched at me for security, I’d been assuming she’d stay with me for just a little while.

And then.

Let’s not forget that this is Taylor Hebert, queen of self-rationalization. She’s really fucking good at talking herself into doing things of questionable morality if she thinks it serves the greater good. A week here, a few days there, one threat that needs input from Dinah gives way to another…

She knew that.  She saw the numbers changing.

And just with that, there was a breach in trust.  The savior wasn’t quite what she’d expected?  Dangerous, even?  It explained why she was anxious.

Yeah, no wonder.

“Dinah, listen,” I said.  “I can guess what you’re thinking.  I don’t want to be that person.  I don’t want to trick myself into believing it’s right or better to keep you, that it serves the greater good or whatever.  Because that’s a slippery, fast road to doing what Coil was doing.”

You know what one of my favorite traits is in people? Self-awareness.

(In characters, it can sometimes be the other way around, that I enjoy a lack of self-awareness more. But that’s usually because it can act as a compelling flaw, either for drama, laughs or both.)

“We’ll get you home as soon as possible, okay?  Within twenty-four hours.  And if there’s more risk, if there’s more danger to me, or to you, or everyone?  I’ll shoulder that, okay?  I’ll make sure we come out of this okay.  You can go home.  You deserve to go home.”

I hope this gets her running the numbers again and saying another, much higher number. Possibly still lower than ideal because of Noelle, but higher.

A full minute passed before she responded with a murmured, “Thank you.”

Aw. I think it helped, at least.


End of Queen 18.1

This chapter was not at all what I was expecting, but it was very good.

Noelle is apparently much less of an immediate threat than I thought, but she still has the potential to cause massive damage to the city if left unchecked. Additionally, we’ve got a secondary objective: Get Dinah home before the withdrawal symptoms get too bad.

I really liked Dinah in this chapter. It was very nice to see her with more agency and an actual want to use her power to help out, and to see her bonding with Rachel of all people.

Next chapter, I suppose we’re either trying to get Dinah home before dawn, or meeting up with the other Undersiders to figure out what to do with Noelle. And chatting a little about Taylor’s blindness (possibly before meeting up). Then maybe the first signs of trouble show themselves?

Sounds like fun. See you there!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s