Queen 18.2: When Night Comes Knocking

Source material: Worm, Queen 18.2
Blogged: May 4, 2020


Hey, let’s sneak in one more Worm chapter before we return to Allison!

So, 18.2… I don’t really have anything to add to last night’s predictions, so let’s let Pastwell take this one:

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?

Let’s get into it!


“They won’t take me back.”

…? Is this Dinah talking about her family??

Oh, or maybe it’s Ballistic about the Travelers.

“They will.”

“I saw it,” Dinah whispered.  “Before I ever met Coil.  The fear in their eyes.  When I said the numbers and I was right.  They’re scared of me.  They were relieved when I got taken.  They won’t want me now that I’m free.”

Yowch. Maybe we’re heading for a little sister adoption after all. That has to be Dinah’s decision, though, especially after the exchange at the end of 18.1. For anything like that, where Taylor keeps Dinah around, Dinah has to grow to actually want that.

“They will want you.  Just wait,” I said.  “They’ll welcome you with open arms, and there won’t even be a hint of fear.”

As much as I do love the idea of a sisterly relationship between Taylor and Dinah, I really do hope Taylor’s right here. But I’m not sure even she believes it, with the track record of this universe.

“I look weird.  My hair’s all dry and dull, and I haven’t been eating that much.  I always felt sleepy, or edgy, and was never hungry, even when my stomach was growling.  And maybe I didn’t eat some because it was my only way of fighting back, the only time I could choose something, even if it was bad for me.”

Ouch. If anything, though, I’d think that would make them fear you less. You’re very clearly a victim here.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does!”  There was a note of desperation in her voice.  “They’ll see me and I’ll look different and they’ll think about all those moments when I left them feeling nervous and how there’s a bunch of stuff I haven’t even mentioned because it’s that bad.  I’m not even human anymore.”

Parahumans are all too human sometimes.

“You’re definitely human, Dinah.”

“Then why do they call us parahumans?  Doesn’t the ‘para’ part mean half?  Paraplegic, only half your body works.  Parahuman, half human.”

Is that what it means? I’ve always seen the “para” prefix as meaning something is kind of “on the edge” of the rest of the word (never thought about paraplegic though), so like things that are paranormal are on the edge of normality, parahumans are on the edge of humanity, paratroopers are on the edge of troopers… I don’t know.

“Not exactly.  It means beside, which is how it’s used with paraplegic, or paragraph.  It can also mean extra or beyond, like paranormal.  We’re next to human, or more than human, depending on how you look at it.  I think it’s pretty apt.

Right, that’s a better way of putting it.

I really like the term “parahuman” as opposed to “superhuman”, especially as used in Worm, because it highlights one of the biggest themes of the story. The capes in Worm are not “superior” to other humans in any way but power. So the term parahuman does distinguish them from other humans in a way that gives the sense they’re not entirely like your average human, but they’re not entirely not humans either, and they’re certainly not above them.

Powers, in a lot of ways, make the best and worst parts of our humanity stand out.  And that depends on the choices we make.  Your parents can’t judge you for stuff you didn’t choose.”

…now if a certain someone could just apply that logic to the consequences of things she didn’t choose and in fact actively made choices to counteract as best she could…

“How… how do you even know that?”

Having the option to check and see all the bad outcomes just as easily as all the good has a way of fucking with one’s worldview, and making someone less receptive to reassurances like this from people who don’t have that option.

It’s no wonder Dinah would be prone to anxieties even before Coil.

“Which?”

“The meaning of the words.”

Oh… I guess Taylor has been looking things up…?

“My mom taught English,” I said.  “So I was always sort of introduced to that stuff.  And after she passed away, I maybe started paying more attention to it because it’s the sort of thing she would have done.  A way of remembering her.”

Oh! Right!

It’s kind of like how I have a fairly decent grasp of photography and radio electronics thanks to my dad.

(The last part doesn’t apply; he’s still around.)

“Are you an orphan?”

Oh fuck, we’re getting into Danny.

“My dad’s alive.  I don’t have as much contact with him as I should.”

“Why not?”

“It seems like every time I get closer to him, he gets hurt or put in danger.  Or I only get close because of the hurt.  I don’t know.”

I mean. That’s once for each, right? Plague, Taylor only got close because of the Shattering, and he only survived that because she got close to him in Infestation. Monarch, Danny got put in danger, except that would have happened regardless of Taylor’s presence. I can’t think of any other instances of this.

So… bad excuse, Taylor. Try again.

“You should get back in touch with him.  Parents are important.”

“I know.”

I do have to wonder when exactly Danny figured out who Skitter was. Assuming of course that he has; it’s still possible that he hasn’t but I don’t want to believe that.

My parents won’t take me,” she said.  She made a croaking noise, and I touched the bucket she was holding to ensure it was in position, held her braid so it wouldn’t get in the way as she tried to empty her stomach of contents that were no longer there.

Is she just operating on her assumptions, or has she actually run the numbers on this?

I sighed, waiting until the worst of it had abated.  When it looked like she might tip forward and fall with the puke bucket into the space between the back seat and the front seats, I caught her shoulders and leaned her back, carefully.

That’s one way to establish we’re in a car now.

“How’s the pain?” I asked.

“It ends later.”

I think Dinah would relate to Sapphire from Steven Universe, especially in Keystone Motel.

“I know it ends.  But how is it now?”

“Hurts all over.  Painkillers didn’t do anything.”

“Yeah,” I said.  They couldn’t give her anything narcotic, not with the way the doctor was suspecting that Coil had dosed Dinah with a mixture of opiates and tranquilizers to keep her artificially content and mellow.

Makes sense.

“They’re not going to take me.”

So where are we heading right now? To them? Or to the remaining Undersiders?

It was becoming a refrain.

“They will,” I said.  “I know you can’t use your power right now, but they will.”

“And even if they do take me, it’ll be weird, because they can’t ignore my power now.  They pretended I didn’t have one.  Pretended I was an ordinary kid.  Pretended the headaches didn’t mean anything, like they pretended the heart disease wasn’t a thing.”

Hey, parents? Don’t do this.

This seems analogous to pretending your kid doesn’t have a mental disorder like autism or ADHD, and that’s one of the worst things you can do short of actively abusing them for it.

“Heart disease?  You?”

Dinah shook her head.  “Not me.”

Someone else in the family?

She didn’t elaborate.  Related to her trigger event?

Maybe the pretension caused a death that Dinah couldn’t see coming, or left her uncertain about what the chances were, and that led to her being granted the power to always be certain about the chances of future events?

“Don’t worry,” I said.  I might have gone on to try to reassure her, but I wasn’t sure what to add.  I didn’t know her parents.

Only her uncle and cousin, and that’s more of an… acquaintance than anything.

“They’ll turn me away.  I’ll have to come to stay with you.  Or Tattletale.  And then it’s like it was with Coil.  Not as bad.  No drugs, no being locked up.  But I’ll know I can never go home.”

I suppose if it gets to the point where living with Taylor or Lisa is home…?

Maybe you could stay with your uncle, after he’s recovered?

She was shaking, I realized.  Trembling.

“Dinah, listen.  That’s the drugs talking, okay?  That’s all it is.  As relaxed as they made you before, they’re making you rattled now while you’re in withdrawal.”

She made an incoherent noise in response.

😦

I leaned towards the front seat.  “Do you have a brush?”

The driver, supplied by the doctor’s office, responded with only one word, “Comb.”

Wait, why aren’t they in the car they came to the doctor’s office in? Did they split up with Brian and Rachel?

“Comb will do.”

He opened the glove compartment and reached back to hand me a small comb, not even as long as my hand.

Does anyone ever actually keep gloves in their glove compartment?

“Here,” I said, “Let’s get you more presentable, so there’s one less thing to worry about.”

I pulled off the elastic that held her messy braid together and began combing it straight.

They are such sisters.

There wasn’t much time left, and still so much I should be saying, doing or asking.

Do we come out of this okay?

Who’s “we”, and what’s “this”? The obvious answers would be “the Undersiders” and “the Noelle situation”, but it could easily be wider than that.

We’ll come out of this okay.

Good, keep up the hope.

Can we stay in touch?

I’m sorry I played any part in this happening to you.

I like the idea of Taylor and Dinah staying in touch even if Dinah does get to return home.

Either I didn’t have the courage or I couldn’t find the right words.  Dinah wasn’t in much of a state to converse, either.

This is such a mood.

I settled for tidying her hair, braiding it from scratch, and putting the elastic band in place.  Maybe it wasn’t as nice as it would be without the braid, but this would be easier to manage while she was recovering.

Easier to keep out of the way.

Not even a minute later, I was holding that braid back while she hung her head over the bucket, the both of us waiting to see if she would start heaving up mere teaspoons of bile or if this latest spell of nausea would subside.  I was avoiding putting bugs on her skin, but I was aware of how she was drenched in sweat to the point that it was soaking through her clothes.  She was feverish, too.  My swarm could tell the difference in her temperature, even through her clothes and scalp.

Poor thing.

At least it will probably only be once, when she goes through it the hard way.

The car pulled to a stop.

Dinah startled, as if shaken by the realization of what it meant.

“Can you go on your own?” I asked.  “Or maybe we could sit you down on the edge of the front lawn and beep to signal your parents?”

I was picturing Taylor explaining a few of the details to her parents, but I suppose they probably wouldn’t take too kindly to a known supervillain showing up at their door.

“Go,” she said.

“What?”

Dinah seems to think that’s a better idea, though.

“Go.  I’ll stay in the car.  You see if…”

She paused.  I wasn’t sure if it was because of nausea or something else.

“If?”

“If they want me?”

Oof.

That’s gonna go over well, though. “Hi, I’m Skitter the supervillain. I have your daughter, and I was just wondering if you want her back?”

I thought about arguing.  About assuring her that they would.  Then I reconsidered.  I got out of the car and crossed the front lawn to the front door of her house.

Time to meet the parents.

I hit the doorbell, but neither I nor my bugs could hear a sound.  No power, or it wasn’t hooked up.

I gripped the heavy iron knocker and rapped on the door.

Two stray fruit flies found the parents in a bedroom on the ground floor.  They stirred, one sitting up, but they didn’t approach.

“Probably just a midnight door-to-door salesman, honey, go back to sleep.”

I knocked again.

The dad got a cast iron pan for an improvised weapon.  It was almost comical, cartoonish.

I suppose it makes sense, after everything this family has been put through, that they’d be wary of midnight visitors, even if they knock politely.

Through my swarm, I could almost make out his words as he assured his wife,  “…don’t know…”

Whatever started or ended the sentence, I didn’t catch it.

I stepped back before he cracked the door open, pan held like a weapon out of sight.

“Good evening, mister Alcott.”

“Evening? It’s four AM…”

He saw me and slammed the door shut in the next instant.

Yeah that’s about what I expected.

I pushed the door open before he could lock it, winced at the pain that caused with my fractured rib.

He moved as if to swing at me, then dropped his arm as he reconsidered in the face of the thick cloud of bugs that stirred around me.  I wasn’t sure how much he could see.  There weren’t any streetlights, or lights on inside, but I would be backlit by moonlight.

Spooky lighting on top of everything, ahahaha this was such a bad idea and I love it

“I’m not here to cause trouble, Mr. Alcott,” I said.  “And I don’t mean to scare you.”

“What do you want?”

“I have your daughter. If you want to see her again– woah woah, put the pan down, I was going to say I could go get her from the car, jeez, calm down!”

“I brought Dinah.”

He froze.

“If that’s alright,” I said.

If that’s alright please I’m dying here

This scene has no right to be this funny, thank you, Wildbow.

Not turning away from me, he shouted, “Anna!”

His wife exited the bedroom to stand in the doorway, peering out into the hallway.  She reacted as she saw me.

Anyone would.

“Extortion?” he asked.  “We don’t have anything.  You can take anything we have here, but it’s not much.”

Interesting. I guess the riches all went to the mayor’s side of the family.

“Not extortion.  The man who took her died.  I’m bringing her back.”

“Please,” the mom said.  “Where is she?”

“Before I go get her,” I said, “You should know.  There’s no sign he touched her.  He didn’t hurt her, not physically.  He did everything he could to take care of her, in a utilitarian sense, but she was still a prisoner.”

I don’t know, I’d say the drugs are hurting her physically. But he didn’t, like, attack her.

Without working eyes, I couldn’t see their expressions.  Horror?  Grim acceptance?

“She was drugged, often and heavily.  She’s in the middle of recovery, and it isn’t pretty.  No narcotics, no painkillers, and no tranquilizers, maybe for the rest of her life.”

Yeah, see, this is why I expected Taylor to go with her. To explain these things better than Dinah would, in a way the parents would be more likely to listen to.

The mom made a subvocal noise.

“She’s an addict?” the dad asked.

We’re working on that issue, but yes, unfortunately.

“Yes.  And she’s a touch malnourished, and above all she’s scared.  I wouldn’t have brought her yet, but I thought it was more important that I get her away from anyone who would do what Coil did, using her for her power.  I wanted to get her home.”

That’s really the most important thing.

Taylor has been working towards this chapter since Arc 10, and she finally gets to say she did it. She succeeded. She can live without Dinah weighing too much on her conscience.

As long as this scene doesn’t end up going horribly wrong, of course.

“She has abilities, then?” the dad asked.

Why else would Coil take her and keep her?

I mean, kidnapping happens in our world too.

An ability, to be specific,” I said.  “Does it really matter?”

The dad shook his head.

It kind of seems like Dinah was wrong about the parents pretending it didn’t exist. It’s not that they were pretending, it’s that they didn’t believe her.

“I’ll go get her, then.”

I walked out to the car and opened the door next to Dinah.

“They don’t want me.  They won’t.”

They clearly do.

“Come on,” I said.  I extended my hand.

“Maybe we should wait until I’m not sick anymore.  If they see me like this, they might have second thoughts.”

😦

“They won’t.  And we agreed you should go home sooner than later.  Come on.”

She put her hand in mine, and I could feel it shaking in the half second before I got a firm grip.  I supported her as she got out of the car, then walked her back toward the house.

If something does go wrong here, it’s likely to be Dinah herself running off.

Mrs. Alcott made a noise somewhere between a moan and a cry as we approached the front door.  I moved my bugs out of the way and let go of Dinah the second her mother embraced her, right in the middle of the front lawn.  The father was only a step behind, dropping to his knees to wrap his arms around them.  A family reunited.

yesssss

It was a rare thing, I was finding, that a family was both intact and functioning.  Too many of the people I’d interacted with so far were separated from the families they should have by death, by pain, misunderstandings or abuse.

By having turned them into a sculpture to their own beauty…

I turned to leave.

“Thank you,” the dad called out.

You’re welcome.

I wonder if Taylor feels she can accept the thanks, after being an unwitting part of making it happen in the first place.

I almost stopped.  Then I kept walking towards the car.

“Don’t thank me,” I said, without looking back.  I wasn’t sure if I was loud enough for him to catch it.

It didn’t feel good, but it didn’t feel bad, either.  I’d played a part in her being taken from her family.  Maybe a small part, but a part.

Exactly.

This is also why I said “without Dinah weighing too much on her conscience”. Because there will always be a part of Taylor that blames herself for Dinah being taken in the first place.

I’d done something to make up for that.  The real sacrifice, the real atonement, would be dealing with what came next.  Dealing with Noelle and the end of the world without using or abusing Dinah’s powers.

Sure, that checks out. As long as Taylor doesn’t feel she has to blame herself for it forever.

I wasn’t sure I felt good about that.  I’d gotten this far by making the most out of every resource I had available, and by being smart about things.  This was throwing away a resource, tying my own hands.  The decision felt dumb, even as I knew it was the right thing to do.

Yeah, see, this is precisely why you have to do this.

I climbed into the car.  Settling into the middle of the back seat, I swept my bugs over the area as a matter of habit.

Maybe Dinah will send a goodbye via the bugs?

Two folded pieces of paper were stuck in the flap behind the driver’s seat, where they hadn’t been before.  I picked them up, tried to view them with both my regular eyes and my bugs, then settled for tucking them into my belt.

Hmm?

We’re gonna need someone who can read here.

Had to get someone to read them for me later.

“Where to?” the driver asked.

“Downtown.  I’ll tell you where to stop.”

Alright, now with that book-long plotline neatly wrapped up for now, let’s check on the other book-long plotline!

The others were gathered outside Tattletale’s new headquarters.  The Undersiders were all there, Bastard and Bentley included.  Ballistic was present as well, though I hesitated to call him a member of the group.

That all depends on how this Arc turns out, I think. It’s entirely possible that Ballistic will end up reuniting with the Travelers or get killed in a blaze of glory before this is over.

Notably, he barely fits into the Undersider team theme. The fear of getting crushed by a flying car doesn’t sound quite as snappy as the other fears.

Even Parian fits better due to the prevalence of creepy dolls.

There was also someone who I hadn’t expected.  Parian.

Speak of the doll! I swear I didn’t see her name before scrolling.

My recruit, after a fashion, the doll girl was dressed in a crisp new frock, accompanied by a giant stuffed penguin fashioned from cloth.

NOOT NOOT

“You’re late,” Ballistic said.

“Had an errand to run.”

“Sent the girl home?” Tattletale asked.

Finally. She finally sent the girl home.

“Yeah.”

“Good,” she said.  “Feel better?”

“Some,” I replied.  I turned to Parian.  “Didn’t expect to see you here.”

Parian is cool because she and her power seem so soft and nonthreatening but she was one of the biggest hurdles to Leviathan back in Extermination. She could be a very valuable asset against Noelle, especially given the difficulties of meleeing the latter without her spitting clones all over the place.

“Tattletale got in touch.  I… I apparently missed a lot.”

Yeah, uh, things have gone down.

“You’re up for this?”

“No.  But I want to know what’s going on, in case it affects my territory.”

That seems fair.

“She’s taking over my shelter and the surrounding area,” Tattletale said.

“Makes sense,” I said.

That way Lisa won’t have to manage a territory on top of managing the whole enterprise. Good call.

“Glad everything’s getting sorted out,” Grue said, “But we’ve got an hour and forty minutes until dawn, and we really need to deal with the present situation.”

Tattletale said, “Let’s talk as we walk, then.  We have one sighting of Noelle.  She left ten minutes ago, and I doubt we’ll run into her, but we could get info, something that’ll let us track her, or we’ll at least be in the right general area.  Sorry, Skitter.  We found Atlas, but he’s stashed halfway across the city.  So transportation might be a little awkward.”

At least if you do catch up to her, she’s got plenty of nooks and crannies to stick bugs in.

When did we last see Atlas, again? *blog search*

Right. Taylor set him down outside the fake Alcott residence in 16.10, but when she came back there after escaping Coil’s death trap, he wasn’t there.

I only nodded.

Parian took the penguin apart and created a longer, broader form: a dachshund, in black and white.

Rachel growls at it.

“This is so lame,” Imp said.  “How are you supposed to build a decent rep if you’re caught riding a wiener dog?”

By having that wiener dog hold its own against an Endbringer.

…imagine if it had turned out Rachel’s power worked on it.

“It’s the only thing long enough,” Parian said.

It’s not like this group is unused to riding dogs. Speaking of which, why are they not riding the hellhounds? Is it just that there aren’t enough of them?

“Snake?”

“Too much wear.”

Makes sense. Don’t want your ride slithering along the ground, getting caught on stuff and unraveling.

“If you don’t like it,” Grue said. “You can walk.  It’s functional.”

“You’ve fallen so far, man,” Regent murmured, wry,  “You used to care about these things.”

Ahahaha

“Because they kept us alive, kept our enemies off our backs.  I don’t care too much about anyone dumb enough to ignore the fact that we own this city but care about how we travel.”

“I could ride Bentley,” Imp suggested.

Imp, you’re literally the one with the power to make people forget that they saw you riding a giant dachshund.

Regent commented, “You’re calling him by his real name, now?  Didn’t you call him slobberjaws, just a little while ago?”

Was Rachel around to hear that?

Rachel was looking at Imp.  Glaring?  “You’re not riding him.”

Regent did that on purpose. 😛

“You really care?” Imp asked.

“Not about the name,” Rachel said.  “About respect.”

Yeah, expected as much.

Imp groaned audibly, and Regent laughed.

My bugs helped me catch the muttered exchange between the pair.

“Why?”  Imp asked, in her most wounded voice.

Isn’t it obvious? This way you’ll ride together.

“Payback.” Regent replied.

Pfft. For what? I’d love to see what these two get up to off-screen. Not even in a shippy way, I just want to watch them hang out.

Rachel was looking at me, the offer unspoken.

Ooh, Taylor does get to ride in style?

I accepted it, reaching up to take Rachel’s hand and using her help to climb onto Bentley’s back, settling in behind her.

Give and take. Rachel’s learning the give.

We walked briskly alongside the cloth dachshund that bore the burden of the rest of the group; Grue, Tattletale, Regent, Parian and Ballistic.

“Everyone’s kosher with me taking the seat of power?”  Tattletale asked. “This isn’t me being manipulative like Coil, but I do consider us partners, I want us working side by side, even if our roles are different.”

Whose “jurisdiction” would this be? It’s a threat to the whole city, but one that is amplified towards the Undersiders…

“Partner?  You’re in charge, aren’t you?” Ballistic asked.

“I’m… headquarters.  Ops.  Management.  Skitter’s our real leader, our field commander.  If it comes down to it, she can call the shots.  I’ll back her up.”

Makes sense. Lisa can call on them to do the thing, Taylor decides how they do it.

“If she’s up for it,” Grue said.  “She’s blind, and neglected to mention it before the events earlier tonight.”

Brian really didn’t take that well, did he.

“It doesn’t matter that much.  I don’t need my eyes when I can use my power,” I said.

Yeah, no, that attitude is going to come back to bite her hard by the time this Arc is over. Either by giving her a situation where the power doesn’t help (reading comes to mind), or by taking away the power. The latter seems more likely because of the way Taylor’s been putting it both here and in the previous chapter.

“I’ll have to take your word for it.”

“What are we up against?” I asked, aiming to change the subject.  “Ballistic, can you fill us in?”

And then the Undersiders were directed to parahumans.wordpress.com and asked to read the Arc titled Migration.

“It’s why I’m here.  Consider Noelle a triple threat,” he said.  “She’s strong, she’s got nothing to hold her back, now, and she’s smart.”

“She was your team leader, right?” I asked.

“She was the leader before all of this started, yeah.  You have to understand, she’s a natural tactician, and tacticians come in two varieties.  There’s the strategists that think things through, innovate, and analyze.  Then there’s ones that go by instinct.  Noelle’s the latter.

Reminds me a lot of Leviathan.

And Skitter, but she’s less going by instinct directly and more being… instinctively analytical.

Not to say she isn’t good if given a chance to plan, but she can get a sense of the current dynamic on an intuitive level, play things by ear while making spur of the moment calls.  Those calls turn out to be the right ones, not because she’s lucky, but because she grasps the situation so quickly that it looks like she didn’t give it any thought at all.”

Whoof.

“She’s quick witted, then,” I said.

“Not exactly what I meant.  Might be that I’m extrapolating too much from too small a sample of info.  Far as I know, she’s never been in a serious fight, but when you add that to the whole strong and desperate bits I just mentioned, it makes for a scary combo.”

That’s true. Just like how Leviathan’s intellect is a scary combo with his being strong and aggressive. But even moreso.

“How’s that?” Grue asked.

“Right now, she’s scared, angry, desperate and frustrated, except all the dials are turned up to eleven,” Ballistic said.  “She can’t hold back her emotions like she used to.  She goes berserk at the drop of a hat, and this?  Losing what she sees as her last shot?  That’s more than a dropped hat.

04265

If she were a person who relied on her brain in a crisis, she’d be at a disadvantage, because she’s not in any position to think straight.  The way she really operates, though?  She won’t be any less effective because of that fear and panic.  I don’t plan on getting in her way.  I’m sitting out on this fight, for the record.”

…really, dude? I mean, I get it, but really?

“You’re out?  You’re not working with us?” Grue asked.

“I’m holding territory, but I’m not a member of the team.”

Okay, so he’s intending to be on a similar level as Parian, then.

“Same,” Parian said, “Sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry,” I said.  “But I think you’re underestimating how bad this situation could be.  I don’t think we can afford to have anyone sit out.”

It kind of sounds like he’s sitting it out because he’s aware of just how bad it is and is very much putting his own survival first.

“She’s scary,” Ballistic said.  “Let’s settle for that.  You don’t get within Behemoth’s range, you don’t aim for the long fight against Leviathan, and you don’t send everyone against the Simurgh at once, or you’re screwing yourself over.  Trust me when I say this is better all around if I skip this fight.  She knows me, and she’ll use me against you.”

Okay yeah that much is fair. She knows how to get ahold of Ballistic, and how well his power meshes with the other effects of cloning.

“You talk about her being clever, but she didn’t seem that on the ball when we talked to her over the phone, back in your base,”  I said.  “You guys were lying to her about Tattletale, about Dinah, and other stuff.  If she’s that clever, why didn’t she pick up on it?”

Different kinds of cleverness?

Ballistic sighed.  “Honestly?  She put her trust in Krouse, in Trickster.  He betrayed that trust, and he did it pretty damn well.  I don’t fault him for it, exactly.  She couldn’t know the whole truth, or we’d be in exactly this situation, just at a worse time.”

Y o u   c a n ‘ t   h a n d l e   t h e   t r u t h !

“But you do fault him for something,” Tattletale said.

“He became team leader more because he’s fast at thinking on his feet than because he’s good at making the right call.  He took it on himself to make a whole lot of wrong calls.

Creating a contrast against Noelle, who does the same thing but makes good decisions.

I let a lot of that slide because he used to be a friend.  And maybe because they weren’t blatantly wrong.  Just a little wrong, a little disagreeable.  But at some point every call was a disagreeable call and every word out of his mouth became a white lie.  He started lying to us for what he saw as our own good.  Not Noelle with her delicate state, but us.”

Hey, remember that one time Noelle ate some people?

“And you realized he was never going to change,” Tattletale said.  “His focus would always be on Noelle and himself, no matter what happened.”

It always was.

“Yeah.  We shouldn’t discount Trickster, by the way.  Either as a threat or as a possible solution.”

I think he definitely needs to be involved, one way or another.

“I hadn’t forgotten the possibility that he’d stick around and make life harder on us,” Grue said, “But solution?”

“Yeah.  Whatever else, I’d say Noelle still believes in him.  We can use that.  If we’re willing.”

It could be key to calming her down.

“And that’s only if we can get him on board,” I said.

Ballistic nodded.

I think he’ll be pissed, but put Noelle first. Which means he might be willing to work with the Undersiders to undo some of the damage, but he might just mobilize the Travelers to try to stop her separately? And then we get a mess as the Undersiders and Travelers get in the way of each other’s planning.

“What does she do?” Grue asked.

Ballistic sighed.  “Besides the ridiculous super strength, durability and the regeneration?”

Yes, besides that.

“Besides that,” Grue said.

“To put it briefly, if it’s dead, she absorbs it and it becomes a part of her-“

“Powers included?” I asked.

Oh fuck, that’d be a huge problem. She’s scary enough as it is.

“Don’t know.  Haven’t had cause to believe it.  In terms of raw material, raw mass?  Yeah.  She eats, she grows.  But here’s the thing.  If she absorbs something alive, she clones it.  More clones if she’s angrier, we think.  We don’t have a large sample size of incidents.”

If she absorbs… okay I suppose just a few cells is enough?

“Clones?” I asked.  “Isn’t that an advantage for us?”

“No.  Because whatever they are, the extras come out wrong.  They come out ugly, their powers don’t always work exactly the same way, they’re screwed up in the head, but all that aside, they’re stronger, tougher, they have the memories of the parent.  Sometimes that means they’re just homicidal.

At least their aggression makes the morality of eliminating them a little more clear cut, and the difference in appearance makes it so you don’t have to get them all watching paint dry so you can figure out which one is the original and massacre the others.

That’s a My Little Pony reference. That literally happens in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, of all shows. That’s a thing the good guys do. I have a fic about a clone who escaped that mess and she’s scared shitless of Twilight Sparkle.

Other times, it means they’re just as sane as you are, but their priorities are reversed.  They want to end your existence, kill everything you want to protect, hurt everyone you care about, and dismantle your life.”

Well then. We might not be done with Dinah for this Arc after all. If Skitter gets cloned, and being the main protagonist there’s a really high chance she does, the clone might go after the Alcott residence.

That or Danny, given the talk of him earlier, but Dinah seems more immediately relevant.

“Evil twins,” Regent said.  “She makes evil twins.”

Pretty much.

(The clones I mentioned from MLP were also a little different from the original — thus the paint drying to identify the original — but they weren’t outright evil like these appear to be. They lacked the memories of the original and had certain elements of their personality emphasized, which meant the more generations of recursive cloning they had behind them, the more flanderized they were compared to the original. Thus, many of the clones only cared about FUN with no concern for the other ponies around them.)

“Evil twins,” Regent said.  “She makes evil twins.”

Ballistic nodded.  “And that’s why I’m sitting this one out.  She’ll come after me if she sees me, especially if she heard the bit about my defection.  If she gets me, that’s even worse, because the clones she’ll get are capable of killing anyone and everyone here, easy.”

Yeah, that checks out.

Now if she gets Brian, that’s when the fun starts.

Bitch spoke for the first time.  “Animals too?”

Very good question. Also, would cloning a hellhound result in a hellhound or a normal dog?

“Animals too.  And microbes too, based on stuff she’s said before, though she might just treat them like she does dead material.  I don’t know.  For all we know, it ties into some other power.”

…that’s why her skin fizzed, isn’t it. She was absorbing microbes.

“Do the clones have an expiry date?”  I asked.

“Not as far as I know.  Any time we’ve had to deal with them, we were pretty ruthless in putting them down.  They sort of made a point of being too problematic to be left alone.”

You hear that, Ellen Dunkel? You’re not going to disappear in a month. Probably.

“They’re still people,” Parian said.

I can’t say I’m surprised we are getting into the morality of it. It’s Worm. But the necessity is pretty clear and for many intents and purposes these are people who are doing their damnedest to fuck you up. It’s self defense.

“No,” Ballistic replied.  “They really aren’t. Trust me on that count.”

“I’ve got soldiers at key locations, keeping an eye out,” Tattletale said.  “Just a few guys, and I’m paying them an astronomical amount.  I won’t be able to keep it up for more than a few days.”

Risk pay, in this profession? Yeah, that’ll drain ya.

“Which is how you got this lead?” I asked.

She nodded.

“Okay,” I said, “Good.  But we’ll need a way to deal with her.  Ballistic, you said she regenerates?”

“Not that fast, but fast enough.  Her lower body is tougher, but her upper body isn’t exactly vulnerable.  I’ve seen her take bullets and barely even flinch, and that included one to the head.

So she isn’t invulnerable, at least.

They do damage, maybe, but it heals too quickly for it to matter.  And I think she’s gotten bigger and tougher since I saw her last.”

“When was that?”

“Maybe a week after we got to this city.  A while before Coil put in the first vault door, there was just a garage door.

It really has just been Krouse, huh.

I didn’t want to risk getting too close, not with the lethality of my power and the damage she could do.  Her appetite’s increased, so it might be a pretty dramatic difference in strength from the last time I saw her out and about.  You guys are going to have your hands full trying to kill her.”

Re: lethal powers, if Krouse mobilizes the other Travelers and Sunny gets within cloning range, Brockton Bay is in big trouble.

Especially if the “more clones if she’s angrier” thing is accurate.

Kill her, you say? Yeah, no, not gonna happen.

“I don’t want to kill her,” I said.  “Not unless we absolutely have no other choice.”

Ballistic turned my way, and he had a funny tone in his voice as he asked, “How do you think you’re going to handle this?”

I suppose there would be a chance that it could come to that, as the next step of Taylor’s spiral after the justified villain killing of Coil. But we did get a fairly big indicator that it won’t from Dinah.

She did also indicate that there’s pretty much no chance of any form of “defeat”. That, or that it’s in some way that hides itself from her power, like with Scion.

“Containment,” I said.  “If I get enough spiders together, I could try to surround her in web.”

That… no. The web is strong, but I suspect you’re dealing with strengths beyond Crawler.

“Not going to work,” Ballistic said.

“It almost worked against Crawler.”

Exactly. It almost worked.

“She’s stronger than Crawler.”

“Then we go to the heroes.  We get their assistance,” I said.  “Containment foam on top of my web.  Vista to slow Noelle down, Clockblocker to put her on pause.”

If you can get them on board. Maybe hold off on Clockblocker, though? That worked against Leviathan, but you really don’t want a touch-range power against Noelle.

“Tattletale told you, didn’t she?  That we think she’s turning into an Endbringer.  Why is lethal force okay against Leviathan but not against Noelle?”

Well, for one thing almost no one expects Leviathan to actually die from it. For another, he’s treated more like an animal. For a third, his kill count is in the millions so there’s absolutely no question that it would be moral to take him out. For a fourth, there’s doubt about that theory.

“She’s still a person, under it all,” I said.  “She deserves a chance.”

“You don’t seem to care at all about the subject of killing a friend, Ballistic,” Tattletale added.

Yeah, uh, Luke’s kinda hard on this.

“She’s not my friend.  She’s not the person I knew.  Maybe she has the same memories, fragments of the same personality, but that’s only surface stuff.  Because even the bits that look like Noelle aren’t really anything resembling the original.  She wouldn’t be able to heal bullet wounds like she did if they were.  Stands to reason the bits that think like her aren’t either.”

So… he’s pretty much seeing her the same way he sees the clones.

Now, let’s take a moment to reflect on the fact that everyone here, Ballistic included, can do things they shouldn’t be able to do.

“Pretty cold,” Tattletale said.

“Fuck you,” Ballistic replied.  He slid off the stuffed animal’s back.  “I hope what I said was useful, and I wish you luck, but fuck you.  You don’t get it.”

Y’know, Luke has fallen so far. He was cool in those first two chapters of Migration, but honestly he’s my least favorite Traveler at this point. Even Oliver is a step above him — and I actively don’t give more than half a shit about Oliver — and Cody at least made for some solid conflict and had a cool power.

Parian’s animal had stopped, but Ballistic was already striding away, in the general direction of his lair.

“Go on,” Tattletale urged Parian.  The stuffed dog started walking again.

I still love the dachshund though.

“You told me I could protect people,” Parian said.  It took me a second to realize she was addressing me.  “How do I do that?”

You’ve already put on a good showing of that in Extermination and in your territory…

“We could use your stuffed animals.  If she can’t absorb them, then they’re frontline combatants we can use.”

“I don’t want to fight.”

The thing is… sometimes you have to. For everyone.

“I really don’t think we have a choice.  You fought Leviathan,” I said.

Parian shook her head, “I almost wish I didn’t.  I only did it because I promised myself when I was a kid, when I first learned about the Endbringers, that I would fight them if I ever got powers.  That’s why I did it, because I didn’t want to betray the kid version of myself.”

Aw, that’s kind of adorable.

“Wouldn’t your child-self want you to do this?”  I asked.

“I don’t know.  But I didn’t make any promises to myself about this.”

Tattletale cut in.  “Heads up.  I don’t think we’re the only ones checking out the scene.”

Travelers?

“Who?” Parian asked.

“The Protectorate.  The Wards.  If you’re not up for a potential fight, this is the time to back off.”

Oh, hello. Yeah, I suppose by now they would have gotten reports of the eldritch monstrosity roaming the night.

“The Wards?” Parian asked.

Tattletale nodded.

Oh yeah, that could be a bit of a sticking point for her. She definitely doesn’t want to have to fight Flechette.

But maybe she could act as a mediator?

“I’ll stay.  I won’t fight, but I’ll stay.  I made my decision and I’ll own up to it.”

It’s at least one more body on our side, giving them less reason to pick a fight.

True. But I think she could be genuinely useful for getting the Wards to consider what you’re saying.

“We do this peacefully,” I said.  “We need their help, so we avoid confrontation.”

“This isn’t going to work,” Regent said.  “Just saying.”

I wonder if they’ve figured out what happened to Calvert.

Or rather, that something has happened to him.

“We’ll try it anyways,” I replied.

I could sense the heroes well before we reached them, gathered by a ruined building.  I used my bugs to get their attention before we appeared around the corner.

“HELLO”

“Undersiders,” Miss Militia spoke, rifle raised and pointed in our direction.  The other members of the local hero teams were at the ready just behind her.  I noted Flechette gesturing, Parian shaking her head.

“Come over here!” “No, I’m staying here.”

Y’know, a rifle isn’t a very polite greeting.

“Miss Militia,” I responded, when I realized none of the others were responding.  Should have hashed this out with Tattletale.  She can do the negotiating with hostile parties better than I can.

True, except the Protectorate are also explicitly instructed not to talk to her.

“You do this?”  She jerked her head in the direction of the wreckage, not moving the rifle.  Her voice was hard.

“Indirectly,” I replied.  “But not really, no.  I don’t know what that is, exactly.”

“I find that hard to believe,” she responded.  “A hell of a lot of damage, reports of howling eerily similar to the reports we’ve had for Hellhound’s animals, and let’s not forget your penchant for kidnapping the good guys.  Shadow Stalker, Piggot, Calvert…”

Wait, they think the Undersiders kidnapped Calvert?

Kidnapping heroes?

–ah, fuck, Noelle already got someone, didn’t she?

With my bugs, I did a head count.  Someone was missing.

How?  Dinah said Noelle wouldn’t do any major damage before dawn.

Well, that depends on what you mean by major damage, does it not? In the long run, a missing hero or two isn’t major compared to what Noelle might inflict on the city.

“Vista,” I finished Miss Militia’s thought.  “You’re talking about Vista.”

Let’s pray to the Dandelions that Skitter wasn’t onto something when she said Noelle absorbed the powers too. Oof.


End of Queen 18.2

This was a fun one. Dinah’s return home has been a long time coming, and was very satisfying — and surprisingly hilarious at points. Then Imp and Regent provided the comic relief I didn’t realize I was missing so badly in Migration. Ballistic… did his part, I guess. And Parian is an unexpected but very welcome addition to this Arc.

Next chapter, it’s time to negotiate with the heroes and try to sort things out. Could be easier said than done, depending on how exactly their side of the story looks, but I think they’ll come around enough to lend some support against Noelle.

First up is a few chapters of K6BD, though. See you soon for that!

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