Queen 18.3: Catching Up

Source material: Worm, Queen 18.3

Blogged: July 5-7, 2020


Righty-o! Let’s take another stab at 18.3, this time with fewer characters who are the most powerful people in the world.

I think I’ve made my expectations for this chapter fairly clear by now, but basically, I think we’ll be trying to hash things out with the Protectorate and Wards, attempting to get everyone on the same page. That may be difficult with the heroes having every reason to distrust what the Undersiders say right now, but they’ve got Tattletale… Protectorate agents are instructed to not listen to her, but she’s got a way with forcing them to listen.

That said, I think Skitter will have to take point here as best she can. That should be interesting.

If the chapter stretches that far, we might also get our first glimpse of Draconia Blaze, the Spine Twister.

Let’s get into it!


Miss Militia didn’t respond.

Heh. Ending the chapter on a line of dialogue, crossing the Atlantic for a five thousand word Interlude, and starting the next chapter right where he left off as though nothing happened.

It’s not as huge as when he did this with Migration, but still, that’s kind of funny.

That said, if I hadn’t just done so to confirm my memory that Skitter was taking point on this discussion, I would have had to page back to 18.2 here to recall the exact line Miss Militia was failing to respond to.

She stared down the length of her gun at Tattletale.  I could believe that if we gave her cause, any of the rest of us were an instant away from getting shot.  We had bulletproof armor, but there wasn’t anything saying she wasn’t using the fanciest armor-piercing rounds.  Her power supplied whatever hardware she wanted.

From one distressed mother to another. Miss Militia isn’t literally Vista’s mother as far as I know, but she probably feels a similar sort of protectiveness over the Wards, and especially Vista.

“We didn’t take Vista,” I told her.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Tattletale said, “We’d take her, do that sort of damage, and then come back?  Approach you guys peacefully?”

Yeah, see, Lisa’s making a good point that might get through to them.

“I’m beginning to see why Armsmaster was so frustrated with you, Undersiders.  Every time we run into you, we’re left in the dark, vast amounts of information missing from the overall picture.  There’s always surprises.

What do you expect? They’ve got Grue whose power is to black out the world, Tattletale whose power is to give the Undersiders an edge on the information front, Skitter whose power lets her analyze a scene effectively even when Grue’s power is at work, Imp whose power is literally to not be known… They’re very much a team that’s all about information control.

So I’m paying very close attention to what you are saying.  Case in point, you say Vista was taken, and not murdered.”

Yeah, uh. It might have death as a side effect.

“I don’t think she was killed,” I said.  Tattletale nodded.

“That’s good to know,” Miss Militia said.  She sighed, “When you’re going on the offensive, there’s nothing held back, you don’t pull any punches, short of murder… and you apparently came damn close with Triumph, Skitter.”

That’s true. They hold back just enough to avoid killing people, but no more, and even then there are moments like telling Sundancer there weren’t any civilians.

Triumph folded his arms.

She continued, “If you’re not trying to kill us, you’re approaching us with open arms, asking for help, putting us in a situation where we can’t accept without breaking our rules, but refusal comes at a cost.”

Yeeeah, that’s a bit of a double bind.

But that’s where villainous good guys get to shine. When the rules are in the way of saving the day.

“It’s that second bit,” Imp said.  Some of the heroes wheeled around to find her standing on the opposite side of her group.  I managed to hide my own surprise.  Imp added, “We’re here because we need help.  This is a nasty one, too.”

Pfft. I know it’s partially because showing herself is a conscious effort, but I find it a little funny how she uses her power like this even in moments where it’s not needed, and doesn’t even acknowledge it.

Miss Militia turned back to me, and her voice was a little harder.  “I thought so.  It’s your pattern.  Except there’s always information missing.  Information withheld.  You said you were indirectly responsible for this?”

Look, Miss Militia, I have this booklet here with some of the context you need. It’s called “Migration”.

…actually that wouldn’t help that much to explain the Undersiders’ involvement.

“You caught that,” Tattletale said.  She looked at me.  “Should we dish out the dirt?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Have to anyways.”

“Full disclosure,” Tattletale said.  “We were working for Coil.  The Travelers were too.”

Full disclosure is good. Full disclosure is needed here.

Everybody tells me gem stuff’s dangerous…

Miss Militia didn’t move a centimeter.  Some of the other heroes did.

“He’s dead, in case you weren’t aware,” Tattletale said.  “And the Travelers are a little upset, because they were counting on him to help them out.”

I could imagine Tattletale smiling.  She’s misdirecting them.  They think he died at the debate, but she’s talking about the real death.  The death at my hands.

Ahhh, that’s the good stuff.

Taylor sounds a little regretful about having actually killed someone, even Coil, but she hasn’t really had much time to really stop and think about it.

Miss Militia shook her head.  “I doubt this was the Travelers.  We heard howling, and this wasn’t Genesis.  Analysis of her file by some of our top guys suggests she has limits to the strength of whatever forms she’s chosen.  Strong, yes, but not enough to tear half the wall off the front of a building in the time the witnesses described.  I would, however, believe Hellhound’s dogs could do it.  Besides, Genesis has never been on record shapeshifting to resemble someone or something.”

Hold your horses, Hana, there’s still a lot more to this.

Technically it was the Travelers, though. Technically.

Never? I thought.  She crafted her bodies in a dream state.  I knew she’d made a body that resembled her real self, but the rest…  Did it take too much effort to get the aesthetic details exactly right, to the point that it cost her in other departments?

That does make some sense. If she focuses on resembling someone or something, she loses time to do other things with the form.

“When the Slaughterhouse Nine attacked,” I said, “Do you remember who they targeted?”

“Armsmaster, Regent, Hookwolf, Panacea.  Two more.  With the appearances Mannequin and Burnscar made in the Boardwalk, we belatedly discovered Hellhound was another, and we were theorizing you were the last of them, Skitter.”

Close enough, really.

“I got in their way too many times,” I said.  “But they didn’t want me.  But the last one was Noelle.”

Her gun shifted a fraction towards me.  I wasn’t sure she was aware she was doing it. “Noelle?”

Tattletale spoke up, “The Travelers have two other members who don’t see much action.  Oliver handles their day-to-day stuff.  Finds and prepares places for them to settle down, gets food, looks after Noelle.  Noelle…”

Man, imagine how much more powerful they could be if they let Oliver use his power in battle!

“New York,” Miss Militia interrupted.  “She’s the one that’s responsible for the disappearance of those forty people?”

Noelle ate forty people. That’s as many as four tens.

Imagine if Ballistic had stuck around for this.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Tattletale said.

“The reason the Travelers have been operating like they are,” I told Miss Militia, “Going for the quick and easy cash grabs and constantly moving, it’s been for her sake.  Trying to find someone who can help.  They found Coil, or Coil found them, and they thought they had the answer they needed.  Except now Coil’s dead.  Noelle’s snapped, and it’s very possible Vista was her first captive.”

I wonder if Miss Militia has noticed that with the misdirection Tattletale was doing, this would imply the Undersiders were somehow responsible for the disastrous outcome for Coil at the debate.

“What does she-” Triumph started.  He stopped as Miss Militia raised one hand.

“You’re good at this, Undersiders,” she said.  “But I do learn my lesson.  I won’t get caught up in your story, I know you’ll have to give me the details, if this situation is as serious as you say.  But let’s postpone that for a minute.  Why don’t you start off by explaining how you’re indirectly responsible for this.”

She did! We’ll make a Homestuck and Wheel of Time reader of you yet, Hana.

I turned to Tattletale.  She gave her head a small shake.

“What aren’t you telling us?”  Miss Militia asked.

Why doesn’t Lisa want Taylor to admit to being responsible for Coil’s death? Is it because that takes them past the edge of “they only get close to murder” that allows the heroes to truce with them to some extent?

“Stuff,” Tattletale said.  “Surrounding the circumstances of Coil’s death.  But getting into the particulars would create more problems than it solves, for you guys and for us.”

All of a sudden those darn rules would come back into play.

“I dunno,” Assault said, from behind Miss Militia, “I doubt staying quiet is going to help you much.”

So, what’ll it be — lose the support of the heroes, or admit to murder and potentially lose the support that way?

“Did you have something to do with the explosion at the town hall?”  Miss Militia asked, and there was a note of anger in her voice, “The way things went wrong?  The deaths of those reporters, the injuries sustained by the retired Director and the candidates?”

“No,” I said.  “I swear on everything I stand for that I, we, didn’t play any part in planning or setting that in motion.”

Of course, admitting that she was injured too as a bystander could be an issue on account of hospital records.

“You can understand if we don’t take you at face value on that, nice as it sounds,” Assault said.

“If it helps,” Tattletale said, “Get your hands on the evidence from the scene, some of the blood and bits from the bodies.  Send them out of town.  Discreetly.  Get another lab to run DNA tests.”

To prove that Coil wasn’t actually there?

“Why?”

Tattletale shrugged.  “It’s pig meat.  Almost all of it.  Glued together with transglutaminase.  Human bone, and human blood, probably, but if you look for it, you’ll find antifreeze.”

Right.

“Antifreeze?”

“Glycerol.  It’s how they store it at blood banks.”

“You’re saying it was staged,” Miss Militia said.  “Despite the fact that we had Wards on scene, innumerable witnesses.”

“Despite that.”

Coil was a crafty fucker.

Miss Militia straightened a fraction, “And of course, we can’t check it now.  So you’re expecting us to work with you in the meantime, help you with whatever problem you’re suggesting you’re partially to blame for setting in motion, and when the lab tests come in, long after the situation’s resolved, we’ll find you were lying.”

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up, aside from that last word.

Assault added, “And somehow, conveniently, you come out ahead when all’s said and done.  A handful more of your enemies injured or dead.”  There was a hint of emotion punctuating the end of the statement.  Battery.

Ouch.

Now, to be fair, Battery was one of the least enemy-ous out of all the Undersiders’ enemies.

“Telling the truth,” Tattletale said.

“This situation’s serious,” I told Miss Militia, “And if you do what we’re suggesting, I can assure you, we don’t wind up in a better position at the end of this.”

“Why’s that?” Miss Militia asked.

Because it incriminates them with regards to Calvert?

It was Grue who answered her, breaking his silence with his deep, eerie voice, “Because we’re recommending you call in the big guns.  Call in everyone.”

Ahh.

Yeah, it’s time for another mass boss battle if they can get this working.

Though that might not be the best of ideas. That’s more people, more powers, for Noelle to create evil wielders of.

“Class S threat,” Tattletale said.  “Or damn near.”

The tip of Miss Militia’s gun wavered as she started to react and then stopped herself.  Neither she nor any of the heroes moved or spoke for long seconds.

YEAH. That is indeed cause for some wavering.

When she did speak, she said, “There’s six class S threats active in the world at large.  The Endbringers make up three of them.  The Slaughterhouse Nine as a group are a fourth.  You’re saying this Noelle is on par with one of them?”

I’m guessing Nilbog’s spawn is the fifth, which leaves one mystery slot. Now that’s very interesting.

Although if Nilbog is the fifth class S threat, that means there’s an unusual concentration of them in the United States. Maybe the sixth S-class threat is wrecking shit locally in, like, Australia or something.

Also, with Noelle added to the list, that makes seven. That could be relevant to the religious allusions surrounding Zion and the Endbringers. Perhaps the seven trumpets:

  1. “The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.”
    • Behemoth.
  2. “And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.”
    • Leviathan.
  3. “And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”
    • The Simurgh. It’s still water themed, but poisoning rivers and their sources metaphorically matches the way she poisons time.
  4. “And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.”
    • This one’s kind of weird, especially ’cause the closest match I can think of in Worm is Grue.
  5. The fifth trumpet brings the release of “locusts”, weird human-horse-lion-scorpion monsters. That would be Nilbog, I suppose, though apparently the author of K6BD orders them to torment rather than kill.
  6. The sixth trumpet releases four angels and their 200 million “horsemen”, except the horses sound an awful lot like dragons. They’re supposed to kill a third of humanity. But it seems unlikely that the final threat has a proper S-classification yet, and for it to be among these harbingers.
  7. The seventh trumpet… involves its angel commanding John to eat a book? What? Apparently the book contains the truth of the mystery of God, as revealed by the “seven thunders”, suggesting that the third woe (trumpets 5-7 are referred to as woes) is knowing what was revealed there I guess? Yeah, no, if there’s anything I can connect this to in Worm, it’s Tattletale and that doesn’t seem right even with one of the others matching Grue and another involving “locusts”. It certainly doesn’t seem to match Noelle.

So that was a mixed bag, but certainly interesting. And hey, I got to find out the bible has 200 million dragons, so that’s cool.

“She’s a nascent Endbringer,” I said.

Something like that, at least.

“Bullshit!”  Triumph shouted, not a half second after I’d said it.

“Fuck me,” one of the Wards said.  It was only after he opened his mouth again that I saw it was Weld.  “Please tell me this is another one of Tattletale’s mind-games.”

Yeah, this is one of those things people don’t want to believe.

My only regret is that Triumph didn’t accidentally use his power on something with that outburst.

Also can we take a moment to appreciate the fact that a guy I briefly shipped with Taylor just said “Fuck me” in response to something she said? Thank you.

“Explain.” Miss Militia demanded.

“She’s maybe a nascent Endbringer,” Tattletale said.  “It’s one theory.  Her powers are transforming her, and she’s getting less human, getting tougher and more desperate every day.  Coil was keeping her contained, with heavy vault doors and promises of a fix.  Now she’s free and she’s pissed.”

Skitter for reactions, Tattletale for elaboration.

“It’s very likely she has Vista,” Tattletale confirmed.  “Coil’s precog said she wouldn’t cause any real damage until dawn.  That’s… one hour and twenty-nine minutes from now.  I guess this kind of incident doesn’t count as anything serious.”

The problem is, of course, defining the line of “major damage”.

Also Tattletale totally did not look at a clock right now.

“You have Coil’s precog in your custody?”  Miss Militia asked.  “Dinah Alcott?”

Not anymore.

“I took her home,” I said.  “Her powers are currently disabled, so resist the urge to go to her and ask her for help with this situation.  Everything she’s been through, she deserves some peace.”

Yeah, she really does. She’s been through so much, and she knows there’s still so much yet to come.

“Assault,” Miss Militia said, “Let’s get some confirmation that at least some of what they said is the truth.  Get in touch with the Alcotts.”

“On it,” he said.  He drew a rugged smart phone from his belt and put it to his ear.

“I think it’s time you guys offer the particulars on this ‘Endbringer’,” Miss Militia said.

There’s a lot in this chapter that is technically recappery to the reader, but I think we needed to see this anyway. The specifics of how the information is conveyed and how the heroes react to it are still very relevant.

And hey, Dinah will be able to confirm that Skitter has been doing everything she could to free her, perhaps brightening the heroes’ perception of Skitter a little.

“She’s as strong as Leviathan, physically,” Tattletale said, “She’s not as tough, based on what I’ve seen.  Have you read the notes on what I told Alexandria after Leviathan’s attack?  About the density of Leviathan’s body?”

Ooh, good to have it confirmed that Tattletale did pass on that information.

Miss Militia nodded.  “Higher density as you penetrate deeper to the core, to the point that it bends the rules of how molecules and atoms should work.  It makes sense.  Armsmaster had a molecule-severing weapon that couldn’t cut through all of Leviathan’s hand, and it explains why nearly all the damage we do is so superficial.”

Can’t penetrate toughness by severing molecules if the molecules themselves are ridiculously tough.

“Noelle doesn’t have that yet.  I’m not sure if she ever will.  We don’t know if she’s really becoming an Endbringer or not.  What I’ve seen of her was only partial, a camera feed with dim lighting on the other end,” Tattletale said.  “But everything she eats gets added to her biomass, and I think she’ll probably reach a critical point and stop growing, start fortifying what’s already there instead.”

At least they have reason to believe Noelle hasn’t added Vista to her bodymass yet.

Which does raise the question of what exactly Vista’s status is. Is she conscious?

“She’s big?”  Weld asked.

“She’s big,” Tattletale said.  “And if she gets her hands on you, she’ll eat you whole.  Spit you out along with a copy.  Copies with powers like yours.  Stronger, tougher, meaner.  Understand?  When this fight starts, it starts for real.”

Ah, right, I forgot she spits you out when she does that, what with the thing about touching her amounting to her eating a few cells of the part that touched her.

“She duplicates people,” Miss Militia stated.

“And the duplicates aren’t on our side,” Tattletale replied.  “You’re going to have to call for backup at some point, it’s just a question of whether you do it before shit goes down or after.  When you do get in touch with the PRT heads and get the a-ok to call a red alert or whatever it is you do, you’re going to want to be very careful about the kind of cape you request, because we might wind up fighting them.”

Yeah, that tracks.

At least Scion should be immune to the power, if he decides to show up (and possibly try to kill Noelle, after what we saw last time).

Assault had finished his phone call and was waiting for Tattletale to finish talking.  Miss Militia turned her attention to him, and he said, “Story checks out.  Kid’s at the hospital, recovering from a long stint of drug abuse.”

“The situation they’re describing is too dangerous to be ignored.  We’ll move forward with this.  Tentative cooperation,” Miss Militia announced.  “In exchange for our trust and our assistance, the Undersiders will give us one hostage.”

Imp. I’m sure they wouldn’t accept that, but I just find it hilarious to picture them giving up Imp as a hostage only for them to immediately forget about her when faced with the need to hover the fact they have a hostage over the Undersiders.

“How about me?” Imp offered.  Her tone was light, joking.

YES

“Someone who we can keep track of,” Miss Militia said.  “Rachel Lindt.  Hellhound.  If you’d please step into the van?”

Oh come on, she’s their primary firepower.

Well, as long as she gets to use it, I guess.

“Fuck that,” Rachel replied.

“That’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Grue said.  I couldn’t help but nod in agreement.

Yeah, for like five different reasons.

Tattletale is probably the best bet here.

“You, along with Skitter, are problematic due to the sheer amount of damage you could do in the enclosed space of a van.  Tattletale’s more damaging in other ways.  It would help if we knew exactly what her powers were…”  Miss Militia trailed off, inviting a response.

She’s been getting less and less subtle about it. You should be able to figure it out by now.

“Not sharing,” Tattletale said.  “And I just had my turn at being a hostage.  Not sharing the details on that either, for the record.”

Hah, right, good point.

“Regent’s too dangerous.  We don’t know exactly how long it takes for him to achieve full control, and our records suggest he can regain control instantly.  Even if we assume it takes an hour or more, we can’t trust that we won’t end up in a crisis situation where Regent’s being kept in custody for an extended period and gets the opportunity to use his power on someone.

Yeah, that’s fair enough.

I guess Rachel really is the best option. Parian’s here too, but she’s not quite on the team enough for this… I suppose at least Parian, especially if they can convince her to fight, will have to be our Bitch for the day.

Separated from her dogs, Rachel Lindt is the least threatening and most vulnerable member of your team.  The optimal hostage, if you will.”

She’s right. It’s super weird, but she’s right.

“And she won’t accept being separated from her dogs or being kept in custody,” I said.  “I will.  I can hand you my weapons and send my bugs away.”

Not gonna lie, though, Skitter is probably the most interesting option here, as far as narrative goes. Seeing this unfold from the perspective of Skitter surrounded by the heroes, seeing her interact with them… yes please.

Though she’d likely have to be forced to use her bugs anyway, to give her some agency here.

“Skitter,” Grue said, “No.”

Miss Militia folded her arms, unconvinced.

I reached over my shoulder, slowly, and unbuckled my utility compartment.  Tattletale grabbed it for me as it came free, and the straps fed out through the rings beneath the shoulder panels.  She handed it to me, and I drove away the bugs I’d gathered inside.  When they were gone, I sent away the bugs that were nestled in the midst of my hair, beneath each of my other armor panels and the ‘skirt’ of my armor, where it covered the scorched leggings of my costume.

She still hasn’t had an opportunity to fix the leggings. Damn, that feels like it happened so long ago, but it was, what, a week ago in-story? If that long?

“So many fucking bugs,” Clockblocker said.  “They have to weigh as much as she does.”

and it’s Clockblocker who gets this line ahaha

I wonder if he and Triumph ever just sit down together and commiserate about bug trauma.

“No, not as much as you’d think,” I said.  I turned to Miss Militia.  “Satisfied?”

She extended a hand for the concave, spade-shaped piece of armor, her gun turning into a handgun in the meantime.  “Triumph, pat her down.  Everyone else, get ready to mobilize. Assault, you’ll be riding my bike.  I’ll sit in the van.  Weld, Clockblocker, Flechette, and Kid Win, with me.”

Could have given the pat-down task to Flechette.

I waited while Triumph roughly pat me down, running his fingers into the folds and crevices of my armor and beneath my belt.  He found the two pieces of paper I’d folded and tucked inside, shook them out as if there might be powder inside, unfolded them, read them, then put them back the way I’d had them.

*looks back at 18.2*

Right, Dinah seemed to have left these, and Taylor still doesn’t know what they say.

Apparently it’s not something Triumph thinks she shouldn’t have, though perhaps that’s not saying much.

I felt like saying something to him, but wasn’t sure what.  Sorry for attacking your family and nearly murdering you?  It sounded almost taunting.

He probably has all sorts of conflicting emotions about Skitter after learning she brought his cousin home.

Miss Militia led the way to a containment van, and I followed, feeling oddly lightweight.  She opened the back, indicating we should gather inside.

That’s what happens when you get used to carrying (not quite) your own weight in bugs.

They arranged themselves with Clockblocker and Weld sat to either side of me, Miss Militia, Flechette and Kid Win opposite me.  The door slammed shut as Kid Win got himself seated.

I had only a few bugs in place to get a sense of their positions.  Few enough that I might have lost track of who was who if I wasn’t careful.  Using one of these bugs, I did a minor, peripheral sweep.  They didn’t have weapons pointed my way, but Flechette and Kid Win did have weapons on their laps, a crossbow and laser blaster.

She’s in a context where people will be actively on the lookout for bug shenanigans, so justifying the heroes not noticing some of these bugs is more relevant than ever.

“You’re shorter, looking at you like this,” Clockblocker said.  “Tall for a girl, but… not tall.”

“Sorry,” I said.

Hah. What else do you say to an observation like that?

And yeah, people do tend to appear less imposing while submitting.

“You didn’t get rid of all your bugs,” Clockblocker commented, as the truck started moving.  He was looking in the direction of the patrolling mosquitoes and no-see-ums.

I wonder if giving up the fact that she needs a couple of bugs now would be worth it.

He noticed.

No shit. I already had trouble believing people wouldn’t notice all the bugs from time to time, and now you’re surrounded by people who have reason to be actively paying attention to that. Of course someone noticed.

“Not all,” I agreed.

“Why not?”

Because I’m blind, and I’m utterly helpless if you take all the bugs away, I thought.

“Too much of it’s automatic,” I said.  “I got in the habit of using my power to survey the situation, and now it happens even without my thinking about it.”

Nice. I like this truth-lie.

“Thinker one,” Weld said.  “Because your bugs let you sense things to the point that you might be a short-range clairvoyant.”

Yup!

“That’s about what the Director said,” I replied.

I heard a click, and bugs moved to the source of the noise to investigate.  Miss Militia had my utility compartment in her lap, and she was holding a handgun.  Mine.

Uh oh. She might be able to tell it was recently used. There might even be blood splatters on it.

“Only one shot remaining.  Two reasons that might be the case,” she said.  “Saving it for yourself, or it was used and you haven’t reloaded.”

“The latter,” I replied.

Skitter must come across as such a strange villain to the heroes sometimes and I love it.

“Who have you been shooting?”

Your Director.  “Mannequin.  And shot through some boards so I could break them.”

True enough. I like how she’s sticking to the same lie-tactics as she’d use with Danny.

(I’m a fan of this kind of lies in fiction in general, too.)

“Oh?”

“Long story.  I haven’t really thought to reload it.  I don’t use the gun much.”

“Obviously,” she said, but she didn’t elaborate.  “String?”

“Can you leave stuff where it is?”  I asked.

“I have a very delicate sorting system…”

“I’m curious why you have coiled string in your backpack here,” she said.

I’m drawing a blank on whether this was an established thing, so my main thought is it’s for first aid.

“It’s a utility compartment, not a backpack.  It’s so I don’t have to have the spiders make it in the middle of a fight.”

“Spider silk,” Kid Win spoke his realization aloud.

Ahh.

Miss Militia continued, “Pepper spray.  Changepurse with… cotton swabs?  I see, it’s to mask the rattle of spare change.  And smelling salts, needles.”

“Please leave everything where it was,” I said, a little firmer.

Now we’re getting to the first aid stuff.

I’d collected a few bugs on the various objects she’d withdrawn from the interior of the compartment.  I sensed her putting things back, watched to make sure she was putting everything back properly and in the right place.

Clockblocker, though, leaned across the back of the van and picked up the baton.

Oh man, the baton, it’s been a while since that saw serious use.

“You’ve got stuff like this that’s high quality, but then the other stuff’s so mundane,” Clockblocker commented.  “Odd for someone half the nation’s paying attention to.”

Oooh. I don’t think Taylor ever realized just how infamous the Undersiders would have become nationwide over these past few months.

“I wouldn’t know,” I said.  “Not really watching TV these days.”

“You guys took over the city, which is something that’s usually limited to psychos like Nilbog or the third world nations.  I guess with Coil gone, you’re queen of the local underworld.  Or is it Tattletale who’s taken that position?”

Title drop! And yeah, that’s the question, isn’t it? There’s a strange co-leadership at the moment, with Tattletale claiming Coil’s empire but Skitter leading the team Tattletale is part of… it’s a political arrangement that feels right out of a fantasy novel.

Or shogunate Japan??

But who’s the shogun and who’s the empress?

“We’re partners.”

“You sound so matter of fact about it,” Clockblocker said.  “You’re not ashamed?  Guilty?  Or proud?”

Skittletale shippers take note, Taylor just said something that can be misinterpreted shipways. 😛

Under that interpretation, Clocky sounds like he’s reacting to Taylor coming out as gay.

“Stand down, Clockblocker.  She was gracious enough to be our guest.  Don’t provoke her,” Miss Militia ordered.

“I’m not bothered,” I said.  I’m more annoyed at you picking through my equipment.  “And I don’t feel anything about being in charge.  It is what it is.”

It’s what the world has come to.

“And you’re not afraid at all, being a hostage?” he asked.

“Should I be?”

Given the track record of heroes and authorities in this story? Yes. Because there’s absolutely a chance someone will try to use this to arrest you at the end, even if it’s analogous to taking advantage of an Endbringer situation. I don’t think anyone here is the type to do so, but it’s a genuine risk you’re taking.

“You violated the code by association when you took someone, took control of someone.  The same someone who you saw unmasked.  You violated the code again when you attacked Triumph’s family.  So what’s stopping us from tearing off your mask right now?  The same code you’ve disrespected and broken?”

To be fair, she didn’t know Triumph’s family was Triumph’s family until she found Triumph there.

But yeah, Clocky’s got a point, but somehow the fact that he’s bringing it up also showcases how they won’t do it. At least at the moment.

“Look me in the eye,” I told Clockblocker, turning my head to face him, “And tell me you don’t think Shadow Stalker was a deeply damaged, broken person before we ever got our hands on her.”

Look me in the eye

says the girl who a) couldn’t see Clockblocker’s eyes even if he weren’t wearing a mask and b) is wearing a mask that hides hers under yellow goggles

just for the sake of making the point

I love that

He faced me square on, “She was also a hero.”

“She was a hero because the other choice was juvie,” I said.  “In the months leading up to our kidnapping her, she was using real crossbow bolts.  Shooting them at people, Grue included.  If I remember right, she wasn’t supposed to have or be using any lethal ammo, on penalty of jail time.”

I wonder if they could still investigate and put her in jail for that… Flechette, care to testify?

“Do you have evidence?” Miss Militia asked.

“Would it matter?  Does it matter?  Judging by what I saw, in my limited interaction with her, she was pretty psychotic. 

“limited interaction”, yes…

There’s no way you guys spent all that time with her without something crossing your radar.  The night we took her, I baited her out and she tried to cut my throat.”

“I understand where you’re coming from,” Miss Militia said, “But again, I have to ask for evidence.  I can’t take you at your word, there’s procedures to be followed.”

Flechette?

“Procedures that tie your hands,” I said.

“And they protect us at the same time.”

“If you’re looking for a reason why we’re in charge,” I said, turning towards Clockblocker, “That’d be a good place to start.  You guys knew you had someone bloodthirsty and fucked up working beside you.  You accepted it, probably accommodated her.  Probably cut her slack in other areas, because I doubt she was an angel outside of costume, either.”

Taylor’s not lying here. This genuinely is a major part of why she returned to the Undersiders, which is a major element of how they ended up in charge.

I let that sit with them for a moment.

“Yeah,” I said.  I shifted positions on the bench.  “We aren’t limited by oversight and bureaucracy, and we don’t pretend our lunatics are kid-friendly.”

Not Hellhound. Bitch.

“And without that oversight, you’re free to kidnap people like her and subject her to torture,”  Clockblocker said.

“Exactly! ^u^”

“That’s enough,” Miss Militia said.  She wasn’t quite as sharp as before, but her words were somehow more effective.

We rode on in silence for a few long moments.

Probably a good point to cut that off at.


No pun intended.

[End of session]


[Discord]

Big-Mood McCormick [me]:
Hey, do we have someone around who hasn’t read Worm and would be willing to act as a guinea pig for something?
Basically, I’m getting asks on my liveblog that suppose that the latest chapter I read would work really well as a standalone short story, but one of the askers mentions not having found a suitable guinea pig to test it on.
Would one of you be willing to read it without Worm context to see what it’s like, and report back?
https://parahumans.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/interlude-18x/

Spotted Malmar:
I can give it a go in a bit

Big-Mood McCormick [me]:
Excellent, thank you 😁

Spotted Malmar:
@Big-Mood McCormick finally free to go over it. The question is is the linked story enjoyable without any context so that it could be published as a standalone, right?

Big-Mood McCormick [me]:
It’s not a serious consideration (the author isn’t even involved); mostly we’re just curious about how it comes across. So yeah, I guess that’s a good summary.

Spotted Malmar:
That actually reads as a decent short story. There are a bit many things that come out of nowhere but nothing that would damage it too much

Big-Mood McCormick [me]:
Nice 🙂


[Discord, in a conversation I saw about Steven Universe]

Gabby:
i just had the thought that because pearl can control sand and ruby fire, their fusion (and probably by extension all rhodonites, including the canon one) could, as their special fusion power, control glass
that would be neat, though i don’t know how useful

Thunderplunk:
oooooh

Smugg:
Who cares about useful, it would look beautiful.

Thunderplunk:
oh wow, Rhodonite making these really intricate glass sculptures…

Quetzalrofl:
and stabbing people with them

Gabby:
actually my cousin who works in construction just told me glass manipulation could be really frekin’ useful so I guess points all around

even beyond the power… why does Shatterbird being a Pearl/Ruby fusion make so much sense


[Session 2]

“You smell like smoke,” Clockblocker said.

“You like it? It’s my new perfume, Eau de Fauque Coil.”

“Clockblocker,” Miss Militia said, “I reserve every right to adjust your patrol schedule if you won’t stop engaging Skitter.”

Once upon a time, the threat in that would have been the risk of getting paired with Shadow Stalker, which goes a long way to prove Skitter right.

“I’m really okay,” I told her, keeping calm.  If I’m ever going to shake the idea of Skitter being this unpredictable, dangerous felon, it’s now.  “I’m not going to flip out and hurt someone because I don’t like what they’re saying.  When I said I shot some boards, it was to escape a burning building.”

She’s actually trying to somewhat get along with them, which is nice. Clockblocker is confrontational, but that’s oddly helpful here.

“Coil wasn’t lying when he said he set your headquarters on fire,” Weld commented.

…yeah, sure, let’s go with that.

“He was,” I replied.  “This was something different.”

Or not. Close enough, though.

“Fuck it, give me shit patrols,” Clockblocker said.  “I’m not going to just sit by and obey orders, when I have a chance to get answers.”

Oooh, it sounds like he cares more about this than just wanting something to pass the time.

Clockblocker passing the time, hah.

“Clockblocker,” Miss Militia said the name in a warning tone.

“That’s the kind of attitude I’m talking about,” I muttered.  “Recognizing when the bureaucracy is hindering more than helping, pushing against it.  I can respect that.”

Clockblocker joins the Undersiders when?

“Don’t compare me to you,” Clockblocker said.

“Okay,” I said, smiling a little behind my mask, “I won’t.”

Fair enough 😛

“I’m wondering how the fuck you can justify doing any of the shit you’ve pulled and act high and mighty.”

“I won’t deny I’ve done stuff,” I said, “But I somehow doubt it’s the same stuff you’re thinking about.  But I had reasons for everything I did.  If you want to tell me what you think I’ve done, I can try my hand at explaining myself.  Provided you’re willing to hear me out.”

This should be interesting. Clockblocker’s stirring up some good shit here.

“Clockblocker,” Kid Win said, “Listen to Miss Militia.  This is the kind of stuff that goes on your record.”

Look, I appreciate you trying to lower tensions, Kid, but also please don’t. I’ve been waiting for something like this for most of the story so far.

Clockblocker shook his head.  “Fuck my record.  Let’s start with the takeover.  Justify that.”

“It put me in a position to help people.  Visit my territory.  People there are healthier, happier, safer, because of what I’ve done.”

“Except the ones Mannequin and Burnscar killed.”

I didn’t have a ready reply to that.

Oh fuck you, that’s a low blow. They may have come there because Skitter and co. were there, but it’s not her fault they killed people. She did what she could to reduce the damage, which is more than can be said for the heroes in those specific cases.

“No comment?”

“I tried,” I said.  “I did what I could to help the people in my territory.  Maybe my being there did more harm than good.  I don’t know.  But I tried to help.”

y e s

“Let’s call that one a draw, then.  What about how things turned out with Panacea and Glory Girl?”

Not even remotely Taylor’s fault, though the heroes understandably enough believe it to be.

(Despite there being plenty of opportunity for Amy to tell her side of the story.)

“I already quizzed her on this,” Flechette said.

“I want to hear it from her myself.”

“That was Jack, not me,” I said.  Flechette nodded, snorted just loud enough that she knew I’d hear it.  It was very ‘I thought she’d say that’.

Yeah, it was a joint effort of Crawler, Jack and Amy’s broken mind.

“But you were one of the last people seen with Glory Girl.  You were sighted in Panacea’s company,” Clockblocker said.

“I tried to help her.  Talk to her.  We invited her to join the Undersiders, because she was in a bad headspace, she needed other perspectives beyond her own.  But she finished giving Glory Girl medical care after Crawler’s spittle had burned through half her body, she refused our offers to help and refused Tattletale’s suggestion that she fix what she’d already done to Glory Girl’s head… Tattletale knows the full story there, though I have suspicions.  The next time I saw her, she was talking to Jack, and he was getting to her, fucking with her head.  Stuff happened, I went after him, and it was the last time I saw her.”

Once again, this chapter is veering into territory that is technically recappy, but worth it just to let us see the heroes’ reactions and get them caught up on the Undersiders’ perspective.

“She had a freak-out, you know,” Clockblocker said.  “She was in a bad headspace, sure, but she was a good person.  Healed people I really care about when she didn’t have to.

Oooh! I think that means she did get around to healing his dad before shit fell apart. That’s good to hear.

That’s why I’m pressing you on this stuff, no matter what Miss Militia might put on my record or do to my patrol schedule.  Because Amy deserves to have someone stand up for her, in her absence.”

I appreciate that. Thank you, Clocky.

“It was bad.  She took Glory Girl with her, you know.  When Gallant died, Vista saw the body.  When Aegis was mashed to a literal pulp by Leviathan, to the point that he couldn’t function anymore, when he died, despite his power?  I got to see the remains to verify for myself.  But Victoria Dallon was still alive and they didn’t let us see.

Ooof, yeah. That’s honestly for the best.

A select few adults and family members got to see her, they carted her off to a parahuman asylum and none of the rest of us got to say goodbye, because the end result was that fucked up.”

The freezer gruem comes to mind, as a Bonesaw counterpart to this.

“I didn’t know, I’m sorry,” I said.  “But that wasn’t my fault.”

“Fine.  I’ll concede a point for you, then.  You tried, maybe.  One-naught.  What about Battery?”

She didn’t know it was Battery and didn’t know it was happening.

“I was with Jack and Bonesaw, affected by the miasma, thought they were my friends.  Battery was giving chase.  Around the time I figured out what was happening, she got attacked by the mechanical spiders.  She was fine when I left her.”

“Assault blames you.  Probably why Miss Militia didn’t have him riding in the van with us.”

I feel like Miss Militia might take issue with Clocky admitting that last thing, but keep it at grumble level. It’s clear by now she’s not stopping this.

“Okay.  If I’d been in a better headspace, I would have backed her up.  But there was the possibility Jack would get away, and the miasma-”

“It fucked with all of us.  Fine.  Let’s call that another draw.  Can’t judge you either way with that stuff in play.  Triumph?  His family?”

…okay, with Triumph I’ll go 1-1. Taylor went pretty far on that one. She had her reasons, but still.

It’s also not as bad as they think with respect to the unwritten rules; they attacked Triumph because of his family, not the other way around.

“Didn’t know he was Triumph until we were in the thick of it,” I said,  “But I did it for Dinah.  It doesn’t excuse it, but I did it for her.”

“How’s that work?”

“To get into a position where I could free her, I had to get close to Coil.  He’d already clued into the fact that I was planning on betraying him if he didn’t let her go, put the screws to me, basically.  Forced me to do what I normally wouldn’t.”

A delicate situation that brought insects up Triumph’s dick.

“It had nothing to do with keeping control of the city?”

I hesitated.  “I didn’t say that.  I could try to justify it, explain how I really felt like I was doing more good than harm and what all that meant, but it would take too long, cover too many details I’m not willing to share, and I’m not a hundred percent convinced I’d buy it myself.  I’ll concede that one to you.  Not in a position to defend or explain it.”

Yeah. 1-1.

“One-all, then.  Let’s talk Shadow Stalker.”

“We’re back to that?”  I asked.

“She was an asshole, dangerous, didn’t even like her, but she was still a teammate of mine.  Some of your teammates might fall into that camp, so maybe you know how I feel.”

Rachel, until recently… Hm. That’s a parallel I hadn’t considered. I wonder how Taylor will feel about the idea that her befriending Rachel is like the Wards befriending Sophia.

I think Sophia was way worse than Rachel, but it’s an interesting similarity to confront Taylor with.

“Maybe.  But like I said, we weren’t holding ourselves up as paragons of virtue.  You guys were.”

Hm, yeah, there’s definitely that.

“Our focus right now is you.  You, who drove Shadow Stalker into a corner, to the point where she flipped out on her mom and tried to hang herself with an electrical cord.”

Oooh, that’s right, Taylor still didn’t know about this part! Her only clue was Regent making a vague joke about everything he did for her.

What?

“…I’m not sure how to respond to that,” I said.

Is she actually figuring out that that’s so unlike the Sophia they “released” that Regent must have kept control?

Also… Sophia didn’t tell the heroes that she had still been under his control?

“Do you feel bad about it?  I’m genuinely curious.”

“I feel… less bad than I should,” I said.  “But yeah.  It isn’t nice to hear.”

Of course, they don’t know just how personal this was.

“Because of what happened, because she was still reeling from the time she spent as your meat puppet, she attacked her mom, who called the authorities.  They caught up just in time to catch her in her room, electrical cord around her neck.  Cost Shadow Stalker her probation, meaning she got stuck in some parahuman detention center until she’s eighteen.  And word is her mom doesn’t want her back when she’s finished the three-year sentence.

Whoof. I figured she’d just been evacuated because of the whole “Regent can regain control at any time” part.

But hey, that’s where she should have been all along.

Last straw and everything.  Her life, put on hold, her family shattered.  Maybe she was damaged like you said, but you took her captive and tormented her until she went off the deep end.”

They do seem to be putting a lot of what the Undersiders as a whole did on Taylor.

“I’m not happy she was pushed that far,” I said, “That’s ugly.  You’re right.  But getting her off the streets?  Yeah.  That’s worth it, at least.”

Draw?

“What I don’t get is… why?  Was the data from that computer really so important?”

We don’t really know yet, do we? Last we heard it was still getting cracked, if I remember correctly, aside from the little they had on the Nine already.

“Coil needed it, and I needed Coil happy.  Either he’d like my work enough to free her on my request or he’d trust me enough that I could catch him off guard and help her escape some other way.”

“I’m sure Dinah would be thrilled to hear that,” Clockblocker said.  “Some other girl’s life ruined for her sake.  How does a supervillain warlord react to that sort of news, by the way?

At this point you might as well admit there was a personal element to it too.

Finding out a heroine tried to hang herself?  Do you sit in your swivel chair, stroking your tarantula and pull off your best maniacal laugh?  One more enemy out of the way?”

Please tell me there’s fanart.

“I didn’t know,” I said.  “Not until you told me what happened to her.”

“That seems to be a recurring theme,” he commented.  “You do stuff, you have reasons, like your apparent feeling that, oh, it’s okay because she was a violent personality, but you don’t pay attention to the ending, to everything that comes after.  A whole lot of people have been screwed up and hurt in your wake, Skitter.”

It’s an occupational hazard of being a main protagonist. Even a heroic one.

Man, remember when it was implied that Leviathan attacked Brockton Bay because of the conflict with the Anachronistic Bed ‘n’ Breakfast and the one between Coil and the E88, and I pointed out that some of that could technically be traced back to Taylor?

“I react like you see me reacting.  I don’t enjoy it.  No maniacal laughing here.”

“But you plan to continue doing what you’re doing.”

“I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing in the future,” I said.  “Aside from stopping Noelle.”

Well, presumably you’ll be making a major difference against a threat likely to kill at least a third of the population, but that’s still a ways off.

“That’s a good point to end this particular discussion,” Miss Militia cut in.  “I will be adjusting your patrol route and noting this minor infraction on your record, Clockblocker.  I hope you’re more or less satisfied with this discussion.”

Worth it.

“More or less,” Clockblocker said, handing the combat baton to Miss Militia.  “Unless our local Supervillainess-in-chief wants to pursue further debate.  I think I was ahead by one.  Two-one.”

I like how the baton is being used as one of those group therapy talking sticks.

“No, that’s fine,” I said.  I left it at that.  No, I’m not entirely sure I want to hear the full details on any of the other stuff.  Quit while I’m only a little behind.

Oof. Looks like Clocky did get through to her on the unseen consequences point.

If he knew me a little better, I wondered just how targeted those questions could get.

Oh, he gets a lot of practice for this kind of thing, it seems. I’m sure his prodding could get really sharp.

Lisa x Dennis???

I’d killed a man, and I still didn’t feel bad about it.  I didn’t feel anything in particular when I thought about it.

I mean, to be fair

In a way, I’d taken the perspective that I didn’t feel bad about it because it wasn’t wrong.  He was a bad person, irredeemable, and it had been the only option.

Can you even imagine keeping Coil captive? It’s certainly easier than some other characters, but you’d have to prevent him from doing anything to affect the outside world.

It’d be far from impossible, but… would there be any point to it?

Except now Clockblocker’s words and his tone were resonating within me, and I was left just a little less confident about the conclusions I’d come to, in terms of the stuff we’d discussed and all the little events that had added up over time.

It’s interesting how Taylor suffers from both overconfidence and self-doubt. She’s really good at talking herself into confidently believing what she does is right — a trait that was solidified by what she did to Clockblocker, ironically enough — but it doesn’t take much for her to start doubting it when it’s too late and then blaming herself for anything that went wrong.

I’d made peace with who I was and who I was becoming in part because my peers were limited to other villains and civilians who I could dismiss because they didn’t have the full perspective of life on the battlefield.  My dad was among those civilians, it almost pained me to admit.

Life on the battlefield.

It’s all the battlefield now.

I wasn’t entirely certain I felt so peaceful now.  Most things, I couldn’t imagine I’d really do them differently, given the circumstances and the knowledge I’d had at the time, but the decisions weren’t sitting quite so easily as they had been.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The weird thing is this is what was so powerful about Coil’s ability. He had to lock his choices in eventually in order to use the power again, but in the meantime, he could make a choice and not have to worry much about immediate hindsight and unforeseen consequences. He used the power enough that it wouldn’t help with something as far back as what Taylor is thinking about, but it’s the same basic concept.

It was several minutes before the van stopped.  Assault was the one who opened the door, and Clockblocker held the front door of the PRT offices open for me, in a very ironic manner.  My team was already waiting in the lobby.

I really like Clockblocker in this chapter. He didn’t leave the best impression in Sentinel (although Vista helped calm him down), but this chapter is showing where his confrontational personality can be used for good.

I’d entered once as a prisoner and thief, once as an invader and kidnapper.  It was an eerie thing to be entering as ally to the good guys, when I’d never felt further from being one.

I like how both of those “once”s are the same time.


End of Queen 18.3

This was really good for a chapter that was like 40% recap. The heroes are now in the loop, somewhat, and Skitter is left in an interesting position that gets her peacefully interacting with the heroes more than ever, allowing Clockblocker and others to challenge her, and vice versa. I very much like how Clockblocker’s personality fed into this. It’s time for Taylor to have some serious thoughts about how she came to be Queen of Brockton Bay.

Next up, it would seem it’s planning time. How much manpower from elsewhere can they get in on this, and how do they best approach Noelle to keep her from duplicating everyone? Will the heroes be able to work well together with the Undersiders? Will we learn that the heroes have been making silly faces at Taylor through the entire trip without her noticing due to the lack of vision and bugs? Will Dennis and Lisa share a tender kiss to the confusion of everyone around?

One way to find out!

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