Source material: Worm, Queen 18.4
Blogged: August 2, 2020
I’ve got a sweet triple screen setup, soda and chips, music playing at half speed, two hundred posts in the trash, a fan to save me from the moderate heat of summer and a comfortable bed with more pillows than strictly necessary. I think I’m ready to read some Worm!
So, last time, the heroes and villains hashed out some of the past. Now it’s time to look forward, to plan for how to deal with Noelle and see how many people they can get on board to help out. I’m sure tensions between the groups will continue, but almost everyone present is professional enough to mostly put those to the side in a crisis like this. Especially having lived through the Brockton Bay Boardwalk Bash.
The issue of Coil might come up on account of Director Calvert’s absence messing with the chain of command in the PRT and its hero teams, but if Miss Militia can’t deal with that then I don’t know what they’re doing at Protectorate training.
Maybe reports come in midway about early Noelle sightings? I don’t know, just trying to think about how this planning session would lead into what happens next.
One way to find out, I suppose. Let’s dive in!
I didn’t actually turn the page until now. Would’ve felt pretty silly if I’d written up all that and then learned that this was actually Interlude 18y.
We had to take the elevator in two trips, due to the size of our group, and that meant splitting us up. The heroes were too wary to leave any number of us unsupervised, whether it was on the ground floor or upstairs.
Yeah, that would be reasonable even if the Noelle story wasn’t still unconfirmed. And since it is, this could for all the heroes know all be a ploy to get inside the PRT HQ unopposed.
I entered the elevator in the company of Parian, Regent, Bitch, Bastard and Bentley, Miss Militia, Weld, Clockblocker, and Triumph.
That’s still a whole lot of people in one elevator. But I suppose they do have big elevators.
Did Parian park the giant dog outside?
It seemed to be an advanced design, the elevator offering so smooth a ride that I might not have been able to tell it was in motion if it weren’t for the bugs elsewhere in the building.
Tinkertech elevator. They’ve got Lucas Adventurezone Miller working with the PRT.
We exited at the third floor. I could use the bugs that had gathered near the waste bins or in the walls to try to get a sense of who and what was around me. I recognized the area as the site where I’d entered via Trickster’s teleportation: desks, cubicles, computers and paperwork.
Fun times in a decidedly funless room.
I could sense some people heading into back rooms to rouse people who were sleeping in the office, on benches and in chairs. All of the officers and out-of-uniform PRT operatives were gathering to look.
Yeah, an unannounced visit of the biggest villains in town on… not exactly friendly terms but certainly less aggressive terms — that’s gonna draw some curiosity.
One of them stepped forward from the rest of the crowd.
“Deputy director,” Miss Militia said, standing straighter.
Oh, hello. Another Director character, who’ll likely take over when they figure out that Calvert’s not coming back. We’ve had overly-aggressive bitch and secret villain, so what’s this one’s deal going to be? Dangerously incompetent?
“I’m too cynical to think this is an arrest, or to hope that it’s anything more than another ruse,” the Deputy Director said. “And I can’t help but note these villains aren’t in restraints.”
Do they worry that Regent is controlling everyone now?
“It’s not an arrest, and I hope it’s a trick,” Miss Militia replied.
Would be nice, wouldn’t it.
“You hope it’s a trick?” the Deputy Director asked.
“Because I like the truth even less. A new class S-threat.”
Every officer in the room reacted, a general murmur punctuated with swearing and exclamations.
I don’t know about that hyphen placement in “class S-threat”. I mean, I understand the logic behind it, but it seems to me that “class-S threat” or “class S threat” would both be clearer.
“An unknown. Possibly a fourth Endbringer, not yet fully grown. I’d like to get in contact with PRT thinkers to verify.”
“Waites,” the Deputy Director called out, over the noise from the gathered police, “Doyon. Get on the phone. Patch them through to me as soon as you get hold of someone.”
So far they seem competent, at least.
(Has the Deputy Director been mentioned before? Because I would have expected some establishment of apparent gender by now otherwise, especially if Taylor didn’t know of them… I’m picturing a man but I’m using “they” to be safe.)
“We should wake people up,” Miss Militia said. She glanced at the nearest clock, “It’s four twenty-four in the morning. If this is real, we’ll want the heaviest hitters ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. There’s a chance this may be our one chance to kill her.”
Ah, there’s that issue again. Taylor would like for it to not come to that, but can they actually afford to take that chance?
“You’re killing her?” I asked, quiet.
“No,” Miss Militia said. “Nothing’s set in stone. But there’s a chance it may be our only opportunity and our only option. If we’re going to do it, I want to do it successfully.”
Yeah, that’s fair enough.
“No word from Director Calvert?” the Deputy Director asked.
One of the guys in plainclothes spoke up, “He’s gone silent, sir.”
He’s just taking a very, very long nap.
Where is his body, anyway? When the Travelers woke up, it had been removed, presumably by now-Tattletale’s soldiers. Did they toss him in the sea? Store him cold somewhere? Incinerate him?
I didn’t miss the fact that nearly a third of the local officers glanced my way. We were apparently the prime suspects. Which wasn’t wrong, per se.
…hehehe, yeah, they have no idea how right they are.
The Deputy Director ordered, “Militia, join me in the Director’s office. Triumph, see to it that the villains are detained and separated. Interview rooms one and two for Regent and Skitter. Conference room for Hellhound.”
Did they run out of interview rooms or do they just feel more comfortable giving Bitch some more space? 😛
I could sense Rachel shifting position.
“If I may make a suggestion, sir,” Miss Militia cut in, “I think we should put Skitter in the conference room? She and Tattletale are our main sources of information.”
I might not be getting the exact practical distinction between the interview and conference rooms.
“Not complaining,” I said, “But Bitch, or Hellhound if you want to call her that, may be more comfortable in my company. Her dogs are their normal size. If she uses her power, you’ll be able to see. Miss Militia already saw to it I was disarmed.”
“This sounds like you’re positioning people for a maneuver,” the Deputy Director said.
Hey, you’re already positioning people. Three people can play at that game.
Also, just noticed Miss Militia addressed the Deputy Director as “sir”, so I can probably switch to “he”.
“No. Just trying to keep things as copacetic as possible,” I said.
“I’d okay it,” Miss Militia said.
“Fine. Hellhound and Skitter in the conference room-” the Deputy Director paused as the elevator opened with nearly all of Brockton Bay’s remaining parahumans. “Tattletale to the conference room. Parian in the legal room. Grue and Imp in interview room two. Put police tape and a sign on the door with a notice of Imp’s stranger classification to remind people why it’s shut and staying shut.”
Good call. Of course, if she wanted to, Imp could easily have ensured that he’d forget to make such arrangements.
I forgot to mention it earlier, but I noticed that Parian and Flechette did not ride in the same elevator. I wonder how much choice each of them had in that.
“Relax, Imp,” Grue said. “You want to confirm this is alright, Skitter?”
“So long as my teammates go free when trouble starts,” I said. “But yeah. I understand the paranoia.”
It’s quite justified.
And I think we could break out if we had to, I thought. I didn’t say that part.
“This sucks,” Imp commented.
“Suck it up,” Grue responded. “Come on.”
Imp really doesn’t like getting locked up and accounted for, huh. I wonder if some of that attitude ties back to the specifics of how she triggered with a power that makes her hard to account for.
We split up, with Rachel, Tattletale and I settling in the conference room, at the end furthest from the door. Triumph stood watch, and the blinds were left open, leaving us visible to the countless officers who were now on their computers and phones. There wasn’t one of them who wasn’t casting us suspicious glances every minute or so, or peering through the windows of the interview rooms at Regent, Grue and Imp.
In other words, this is not the room they’d put Trickster in.
I also noted the fact that there were nearly a dozen PRT officers fully suited up in their combat gear, complete with the full-face helmets, the chainmail-mesh covered body armor and containment foam sprayers. They kept out of the way. If I was using my eyes and I didn’t have my swarm sense, I wouldn’t have known they were there.
Better safe than sorry. As distrustful as the PRT comes across here, they have every right to be.
“Sorry, by the way,” I told Triumph.
Hm. Maybe work on your apology game.
“The fuck you apologizing for?” Rachel grumbled. She’d settled into a chair, feet on the table, Bastard curled up in her lap. One hand dangled, resting on Bentley’s head.
I suppose to Rachel, apologizing like that is a show of weakness.
Loving the irreverent seating style, by the way.
“I attacked his home, remember? Didn’t know it was him, but Trickster threatened his family. A fight broke out and I nearly killed Triumph.”
“They know?” Triumph asked. “You shared the details already?”
“They know” as in the Undersiders know about that event? Or “They know” as in “Speaking of the Travelers, did you inform them”?
Actually, I suppose the latter doesn’t make much sense because the Protectorate have no reason to think the Travelers wouldn’t know yet.
“More or less,” I said. “Bitch doesn’t care and isn’t the type to use it against you, and Tattletale would have figured it out anyways.”
Oh yeah, I suppose there’s the issue that telling them about that involves telling them who Triumph’s civilian self is.
“Fuck,” Triumph swore. “Weld was right.”
“Anyways,” I said, “It… there were better ways to do it. So I am sorry.”
Must be strange to hear this, for Triumph.
“Didn’t need doing in the first place,” Triumph said, sighing. “I was prepared to risk my life the day I graduated from the Wards. Knew what I’d be getting into. Week I had clearance, I watched all the video we have of the class S threats. Leviathan, Simurgh, Behemoth, Slaughterhouse Nine, Nilbog, Sleeper. I knew what I was getting into. So I’m not shocked or horrified at the attempt on my life.
Sleeper. That’s a very interesting name that could have a number of interesting implications.
One is literal sleep-based powers, such as putting everybody around them into a hibernation state, or driving them insane through dreams, or any number of things Neil Gaiman’s Sandman can do.
Another is the concept of “sleeper agents”. That’s territory that quickly leads to something too similar to the Simurgh, though.
And then there’s the possibility that Sleeper is themself “sleeping” and you don’t wanna be around when they wake.
But remember the seven trumpets speculation? I found it strange that even with that one asker’s adjustments, the fourth angel didn’t fit in because Grue is certainly not S-class.
“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.”
Sleeper is very likely night/darkness-themed, especially if their powerset really does involve literal sleep, and they may very well have the power to blot out the sun too.
Which means that all in all we have:
1. Behemoth burning trees
2. Leviathan flooding the world
3. Simurgh poisoning the river of time
4. Sleeper blocking out the sun
5. Nilbog releasing the locusts
6. Noelle making a clone army
7. Jack revealing the truth of the mystery of Wildbow
(Also hey, I was right about Nilbog being considered S-class.)
What gets me is what you did to my dad. Set his career back years, if it’s even recoverable, by forcing him to take that stance. The whole thing, start to finish, was unnecessary.”
“He’ll recover,” Tattletale said, “I’d argue his career was already pretty fucked after the way things went down, here. Not saying he was to blame, or that he wasn’t, but it’s hard to graduate from mayor to governor when your legacy is a flooded ruin of a city.”
Fair point, but I dunno. A few years ago almost half of Americans decided to entrust fixing their economy to a guy whose legacy was half a dozen bankrupt businesses in less than 20 years. From there he’s only ruined more, on a scale of hundreds of thousands or even millions of lives, and yet it’s still a genuine possibility that he’ll get reelected in a few months.
(I try not to get political here very often, but… Come November, if you’re American, please vote if you can, and vote Biden. I know Biden isn’t perfect, but you need to get that fascist pig out of your office before he breaks your country and/or starts a major war. I’m not sure you’ll get another chance.)
“It’s not that bad,” I said.
Tattletale shrugged, “Not if you’re here, but the photographers and reporters who are getting pictures and video footage of Brockton Bay aren’t going to take pictures of the barely affected areas. They’re going to get the beaches, the south end and the crater. Because that’s what sells.
True. And that’s what matters for public perception of the mayor’s legacy.
The people outside the city only see the worst bits. When we’re talking public perception, it’s not what is, it’s the picture that’s painted.”
“And the picture is of a handful of scary and powerful supervillains running a fucked up city,” Triumph said. “Which is about to get more fucked up if you aren’t pulling our legs. So yeah, not a good legacy for my dad.”
Taylor really hasn’t given much thought to how the outside world sees the Undersiders and Brockton Bay.
“We have no reason to pull your leg,” I said.
I mean. Like I already mentioned, it would be a good way to get behind enemy lines largely unopposed. It wouldn’t even be the first time they got the heroes to take them back to HQ on false premises.
“Getting access to something else that’s confidential? Covering your kidnapping of Vista so you’re clear to use Regent’s power on her later?”
“Why would we want her?” Rachel asked.
Are you kidding me, Rachel? Think for half a second about that spatial warping power, which is really good on its own, and how well it complements almost every other power on your team.
- Skitter: Get bugs where they need to go quickly, trap people in a space bubble with the bugs, etc.
- Grue: Use the darkness to hide exactly how the space is warped, use the space warping to make the darkness spread faster…
- Tattletale: Functions best when within talking distance but unreachable. That can be achieved by spatial warping.
- Bitch: Imagine sending your dogs at a target thirty meters away and having them arrive instantly…
- Regent: …while the target trips over both the space around them and their own body.
- Imp: She’s already hard to predict, but imagine if she could move around far more effectively. A little harder to pull off because Regent would forget that she was there and needed him to set it up.
“Bitch’s question is a good one,” Tattletale said. “Yes, Vista’s strong, but why would we want her? It’d be putting ourselves at risk, for no particular gain. If we wanted raw power, we’d have kept your cousin. There’s nothing left in the city that we want or need, so it’s not like we really need her assistance to get a job done. We have money, we have resources, and anything that’s worth anything is destroyed or taken by now.”
Which really raises the question… what next?
“Then what do you want?” Triumph asked.
“Security. We have all of the basics. Shelter, food, warmth, companionship, money. Anything we do from here on out’s going to involve better securing ourselves where we’re at. We want to stop visiting villains from getting a footing anywhere in the city unless they’re joining us. Keep the peace so we keep you guys off our backs. I wouldn’t mind a system like the Yakuza of Japan’s yesteryear, where we support and involve ourselves in local business, legally, to the point that nobody will be able to shake us.”
I can absolutely imagine Tattletale as yakuza.
“That’s terrifying,” Triumph said.
“Why? Because we’re bad? Ooh, spooky,” Tattletale waggled her fingers at him. “If we do it right, we won’t have to extort anything from the locals. We can do more to stop the drug trade than any of your guys. Then we disappear into the background, make enough money off the side benefits of our powers and investments to live a life of comfort. Mobilize only if and when there’s a new threat. Build trust with you guys, ensure that any new parahumans go to either your group, go to ours, or they get dealt with some other way. Ensure that anyone like Hellhound who needs more elbow room or freedom is somewhere they’re comfortable, where they won’t do any real harm.”
They really wouldn’t be all that different from the heroes.
This is pretty much exactly what Taylor wanted from Coil.
“And she’s okay with that?” Triumph asked, “Being benched?”
“okay with” might be a strong term.
“Give me my dogs, don’t bother me, don’t get in my face, I’m okay with whatever,” Rachel said. Her arm was moving. It took me a second to realize she was scratching Bastard.
“Calmer than you were a week and a half ago, if that’s the case,” Triumph said.
A lot has happened over the last week and a half.
“Dunno,” Rachel replied. “That was then. This is now.”
Weld and Clockblocker joined us. Clockblocker handed Triumph a can of coke or something like it.
I wonder if a dry, hoarse throat would prevent Triumph from using his power.
Speaking of which, I’d still like to see that Triumph / Barker rap battle.
“They behaving?” Clockblocker asked.
“Pretty much. Tattletale mentioned Dinah, but it wasn’t to fuck with me. We were talking about their master plan, if you can call it that. Not much else.”
Clockblocker looked at me. “Skitter and I had a discussion on the way over.”
“And you won’t have another,” Miss Militia cut in. She’d stepped out of the Director’s office next door and into the doorway. “We’re not here to socialize.
“I swear I’m the only one who’s even trying to keep our discussions of this highly delicate situation on topic.”
We got in touch with some thinkers. Eleventh Hour says he gets an ‘eight’. Appraiser’s read says we’re ‘purple’. Rule for any pre-situ call is we get three points of reference, going by thinkers alone, that means a third thinker.
You technically have that, with Tattletale. Four if you count Taylor’s unrelated Thinker rating.
Presumably Eleventh Hour gauges the disaster status on a scale from midnight to noon. Or noon to midnight?
The first they were able to get in touch with was Hunch. Your old teammate, Weld.”
That’s not a very reassuring thinker name, but at least they’re not named Eight-Ball.
“Didn’t think he rated, yet,” Weld said.
“Chief Director Costa-Brown gave the a-ok, and Hunch says it’s bad. All together, we’re calling this a threat level A.”
Alexandria is aware of this now, noted.
She may have been quite aware of Noelle’s situation already, of course, but this alerts her to the fact that shit’s going down.
“No shit. The Undersiders are for real?” Triumph asked.
Tattletale didn’t wait for him to get an answer, “That’s threat level S. S-class.”
A is as close as you can get before officially lumping it in the reserved class, so unless there are specific rules that you can’t treat an A-class much like an S-class, it seems close enough for things to be taken seriously.
“The Chief Director of the PRT determined it was an A-class threat.”
I would say “but what would they know” if it were literally any other PRT person.
- Alexandria doesn’t know the details of Noelle,
- Alexandria knows but doesn’t believe Noelle is truly on the Endbringer level, or
- Alexandria has shady reason to undersell Noelle’s threat level.
“Bullshit,” Tattletale said. “S-class. I know Appraiser offered a purple-velvet diagnosis for his previous ratings on Endbringer attacks, so that’s not the reason it’s so low. Eleven’s score of eight has to be above the seventy-five percent mark, and an answer as vague as Hunch’s is going to be a seventy-five percent exact, as per section nine-seven-six, article seventy-one. That’s three values that have to be above the threshold for declaring a threat level S situation.”
Judging by the name, I’d say an eight is probably either a 66% or a 72%?
“How the hell do you know all that?” Weld asked.
She has her ways.
(But I suspect at most half of that actually came from her power.)
Tattletale waved him off.
“The Chief Director made the call. We’re standing by it,” Miss Militia said.
“We’re talking class-S, even if you ignore pre-situation verification. Section nine-seven-five, article fifty-seven. Classifying high level duplicators and villains who operate to any exponential degree. Nilbog and Simurgh both count, and Noelle does too.
I do wonder how much of North America is covered by Nilbog’s spawn.
If the powers generate more instances of power generation or recurring effect in an epidemic pattern…”
The real reason most parahumans wear face masks.
“She’s not a self duplicator,” Miss Militia said, “And yes, she’s creating powers, but they’re copies of other people’s powers. They’re not exponential or self-recursive in effect.”
What if she copied Nilbog?
“You’re splitting hairs.”
“And,” Miss Militia said, “She doesn’t create more powers on her own. She has an intrinsic requirement of needing contact and time to absorb. She doesn’t meet the criteria as they stand.”
That is a fair point. It means her epidemic can theoretically be contained. Quarantined, if you will.
“Still splitting those hairs,” Tattletale said. “Her threat level zooms up to S as soon as she gets her hands on anyone who can enable something like that. Like, say, any tinker.”
“I don’t know why we’re even discussing this, when you seem to have our operations manual memorized and you’re capable of realizing it for yourself,” Miss Militia said, “but it doesn’t bear dwelling on. The difference in our response to a class A crisis and a class S one is minor at best. Some tertiary protocols change, we won’t necessarily have Alexandria, Legend or Eidolon assisting, and there’s no penalties for anyone who subscribed to the critical situation roster if they sit this one out.”
Hm. Now there’s a potential motive. If the Triumvirate always have to show up for S-class threats, Alexandria might have set it to A-class specifically so she and Eidolon wouldn’t have to.
But that would imply Cauldron wants Noelle to succeed, which doesn’t mesh with my tentative reading of their desire for Coil to “succeed” as being about curing Noelle.
Or maybe it’s that this situation requires Alexandria elsewhere?
“Which they will,” Tattletale said. “You’re ignoring the fact that people are inherently selfish. It takes something to shake them from that reality, and that’s not common.”
“I think you’re underestimating the inherent goodness of people who dedicate their lives to heroism. I know for a fact we have ample volunteers already informed on the situation. They’re en route.”
They’re both right.
“If the heroes aren’t showing in full force, others won’t either.” Tattletale said, “And there’s no epidemic protocols with a class-A.”
“We have one tinker,” Miss Militia said. “Kid Win. Armsmaster is no longer on the premises. We have no duplicators. The risk is one we can control, either through the organization of our forces or turning any combatants with problematic interactions away. Epidemic protocols are unnecessary.”
There is the issue of Noelle’s power slightly altering the copies’ powers. Do make sure you account for powers that can be tweaked in problematic ways.
“Maybe not, but that’s the word from above. I’m not interested in debating this further, Tattletale.” Miss Militia said. She turned her head slightly toward me, clearly expecting me to comment along the lines of what I’d said in the containment van, about authority tying one’s hands.
Evidently you don’t even need to say it.
The first phase of the response will be teleporting in momentarily, but our best mass-teleporter died in the Leviathan attack, and the process is slow. I’ll be releasing the rest of the Undersiders to join you soon.”
RIP Dave Strider.
(Dang it, Timmy.)
“As soon as you have enough extra bodies to watch us,” Tattletale commented.
“Yes,” Miss Militia said, terse. She looked at the three young heroes who had gathered at the wall by the door. “Be good. Excuses or no excuses, it looked bad when we had the last incident with a break in the truce. Don’t let Tattletale provoke you, don’t provoke them.”
Lookin’ at you, Clocky.
“You can’t blame them if they get emotional,” Tattletale sighed. “It’s only natural, three young men, three young women, a possibility of Capulet-Montague forbidden love between hero and villain…”
This would be hilarious enough on its own without the added fact that I briefly shipped Weld and Taylor because of their tiny interaction at the start of the last S-class event.
“My warning goes for you too, Tattletale. I already instructed Triumph to shout at the first sign of trouble.”
And this too, I love the double meaning of “shout” here.
“I’ll be angelic,” Tattletale said.
By which she means she’ll sprout an uncodly number of wings and legs and morph into a giant flaming wheel.
“Good. You should also know that Parian is leaving. She asked me to tell you, and to let you know she’ll be at her territory.”
Aw. Fair enough.
Let’s hope Noelle doesn’t find her way there, by which I mean let’s absolutely hope she does because that would force Parian’s hand and probably be interesting. Plus we might get evil stuffed plushies.
Is this how Li’l Cal makes his way to the Wormverse?
Parian was gone? Shit.
“I wouldn’t have let her go,” I said. “For a lot of reasons.”
“It’s unfortunate, I agree,” Miss Militia said, “But we’re not in a position to stop her, short of fighting her. She was adamant about not wanting to participate in this fight. Flechette is escorting her back.”
At least the two of them get a chance to talk, then.
“And however Noelle found Vista, she might find Parian and Flechette and target them the same way,” Tattletale said.
“Maybe. They both have devices to alert us. In the worst-case scenario, they can inform us if something’s happened. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to prepare.”
Miss Militia didn’t wait for a response. She was already striding down the hall, gesturing to get someone’s attention. Someone too small and too young to be a cop.
Dammit, please tell me that’s not Dinah.
The three boys at the other end of the long table started talking among themselves.
“This is falling apart before it begins,” Tattletale commented.
“I get the impression Miss Militia’s spooked,” I said. “She’s tense.”
“Anyone would be,” Tattletale replied. “Doesn’t help that the last Endbringer fight ended her predecessor’s career.”
Her predecessor ended her predecessor’s career. Leviathan barely had anything to do with it, when you really get down to it.
“Our muscle’s going to suffer in this fight,” Tattletale said. “Your bugs, Bitch’s dogs, they can’t hurt her, if she absorbs things on contact. Not unless we want clones of Bitch’s dogs running rampant.”
Hmm. If Noelle absorbed Taylor’s bugs, could she then spit out evil bug clones, and would Taylor be able to control those?
“The heroes have long ranged fire,” I replied. “Kid Win, Miss Militia, Triumph. So Bitch and I adopt a support role. The dogs get our key players around the battlefield, if Bitch is willing.”
You’re also going to need muscle targeted at the clones.
Rachel grunted something that could have been agreement.
“And I might be able to tie Noelle up without the bugs touching her. Grue can slow her down, Regent could do the same.” I finished.
Hopefully Grue covering her in darkness doesn’t automatically create a power link even if he doesn’t actively use it. Last thing we want is him accidentally being affected by whatever fuckery is happening with Noelle’s power.
“Regent couldn’t use his power against Leviathan. Can you imagine him getting Leviathan under control?”
That would be sweet as hell.
“I’d rather not,” I admitted. “There’s a sweet spot as far as rep goes. Having a pet Endbringer puts us in the ‘too scary to be allowed to live’ category.”
“We’d have to do what the Slaughterhouse Nine do, win frequently enough against high odds that people can’t afford the losses.”
Counterpoint: Having a pet Endbringer would mean one less Endbringer ravaging the world and that taking you Regent would release him. He’d make you too scary to be allowed to live, but not allowing you to live would be even scarier unless you started using him.
“Would mean we have to go mobile,” I said. “So we have time to recuperate while the enemy tries to track us down. Anyways, enough ‘what if’.
You’d have to stick to the coast, because Regent has a range and I guarantee they’d find you if you started traveling inland with Leviathan in tow.
Let’s get back on topic.”
Tattletale nodded. “Imp?”
“For this coming fight? Rescue,” I said. “The enemy won’t target her, they might not target anyone she can get in contact with. Fallen allies, captives, Imp gets them to safety.”
Tattletale nodded. The tone of her voice shifted fractionally as she said, “You guys can chime in at any point here.”
The young heroes had stopped talking and were listening in.
“I don’t know what you want us to add,” Clockblocker said.
For starters, thoughts on how the heroes’ powers could synergize with the Undersiders in ways that would help in this particular fight.
“Interactions,” I said. “Maybe we put you on Bentley’s back. We won’t have to kill Noelle if you can tag her. We’ll be able to keep her frozen long enough for us to erect some form of containment.”
That might work, but you’re asking him to make contact with an enemy that absorbs and duplicates whoever she comes into contact with, and to do so while riding a beast you also don’t want to come into contact with Noelle.
“Me? On the dog?”
“You scared?” Rachel asked.
Seems like the third fastest way to not be allowed to ride.
“I think anyone would be a little scared. You can’t tell me they aren’t a little intimidating.”
“Your power nullifies any threat they could pose,” I said.
Let’s not forget that Clockblocker’s biggest crowning moment of awesome so far was to use his touch range power on Leviathan, getting himself stuck inside the water echo.
“If it closes its teeth around my arm, the fraction of a second it takes my power to kick in is going to buy it time to dig in just a little. Jaws clamped on my arm, I freeze it, sure, but then every time it unfreezes, it closes a little more before I can freeze it again. No thank you.”
“He’s scared,” Rachel said. She scratched the top of Bastard’s head, and I realized she was talking to the wolf cub that was sleeping in her lap. “You’re the stuff of nightmares.”
Clockblocker snorted, then got caught up in a murmured conversation with Weld and Triumph. They were facing our way as they talked.
I tried to ignore them, focused on taking deep breaths, controlling the intake so I wouldn’t start coughing and humiliate myself in front of the local heroes.
It’s okay, she’s wearing her mask.
“You okay?” Tattletale asked.
“Coughing less. I feel like I’ve maybe got the worst of it out of my lungs and throat.”
“I meant you. You’ve been quiet. You weren’t saying as much as you normally might when I was talking to Miss Militia.”
I read that mostly as Taylor letting Lisa take point on that discussion.
Was there more to it?
“Important you keep doing that,” she said. “But not if it’s getting you like this. Unless you’re putting together a master plan.”
I shook my head. “No plan. Just fatigue and-”
How many Arcs has it been since Taylor got any semblance of rest?
I stopped. Each and every officer in the next room was turning their heads. I used my bugs to feel out the subject. A hood, with the warmth of a faint natural glow from beneath, with the same effect around his hands, with his loose sleeves.
Or did Lisette give Scion a new style?
I noted that a glass helm like the one Clockblocker wore fit over his face beneath the hood. People went out of their way to clear out of his path, to such an extent that I might have thought they were in front of an elephant and not a man.
Defiant didn’t have a hood, did he? And the people here would probably have seen him last time he was around.
Of course, the first character to come to mind with the mention of a hood was Myrddin, but this really doesn’t feel like Myrddin.
Eidolon entered the conference room and grabbed the seat just to the right of the one at the far end of the table. He swept his cape to one side before he sat down.
Okay, Eidolon it is. This should be interesting, especially if he and Alexandria are at odds about this situation and Cauldron’s involvement.
“Didn’t think you were coming,” Tattletale said. “With it being just a Class-A threat.”
“The infamous Undersiders,” Eidolon spoke. His voice reverberated slightly, an effect similar to Grue’s.
Like you’d expect of a spirit.
Maybe that’s something he only gets when his power decides he needs to sound spoopy.
“And the famous Eidolon,” Tattletale retorted, “while we’re doing the reverse-introductions. I thought I told Miss Militia that we shouldn’t bring in anyone we can’t beat in a fight.”
One space between sentences? Good, reasonable, what I do. Two spaces? Stylish, logical, not my thing but a valid option.
Six? That might be a bit much.
“Don’t concern yourself over it,” Eidolon said. “I can render myself immune.”
If your power decides you need to be, right?
“We won’t know until it happens,” she replied.
There was a pause.
Was he taken aback by her seeming aware that it’s not fully under his control?
“Tattletale. Are you looking for a chink in the armor?”
“You can’t blame me, can you? If we wind up having to fight you, then it might be all over. So I’m gathering intel.”
Seems like fair play to me.
Eidolon didn’t reply.
“Okay, sure. Fine,” Tattletale raised her hands in surrender. “It’s cool.”
Eidolon turned away to follow the murmured conversation between Weld, Triumph and Clockblocker. Tattletale rested her elbows on the table, rubbed at her eyes.
Taylor’s not alone in having had little to no rest lately, but the tension here feels… personal somehow. Is Eidolon involved in Tattletale’s backstory?
“Tired?” I asked.
“Exhausted. Been using my power all night, my head’s throbbing, and this whole business with Noelle hasn’t even started.”
It’s been a real gauntlet, and apparently Arc 18 isn’t even the end of it.
“Take a nap,” I suggested.
“No time. And I do want to make sure I have some ideas in advance, for anyone we might have to face. Noelle is going to target Eidolon. If we fight him, we’ll have to use his weaknesses against him.”
Weaknesses that, if you’re unlucky, the clones might not even have.
“Tattletale,” Eidolon cut Clockblocker off mid-sentence, his voice carrying across the room. “Could you elaborate?”
So he wants to gauge how well she has been able to gauge his weaknesses?
“Don’t worry,” she said, “No weaknesses you don’t already know about.”
“Is that so?”
“You’re losing your powers,” she said. “Not fast enough that it matters today, but enough that the difference is appreciable.”
That doesn’t seem useful for taking down Eidolon clones.
It was hard to read Eidolon’s body language with the few bugs I’d permitted myself. He was leaning forward slightly, and his upper arms pressed against the fabric of his costume as he flexed or clenched a fist.
–my muscles, my muscles, involuntarily–
Oof, my browser just crashed. Really glad the autosaving is working now.
…twice. Note to self: Do not type “star” into Maxthon’s address/search bar.
“And how would you know this, if it were true?”
“Because any other day, with you heroes being as short on teleporters as you are, you’d be helping bring people in. You’re conserving your strength. It might even be a long term fear, like you’ve only got so much power to use over your lifetime before it’s all spent. Candle that burns twice as hot, or something.”
Sooo regular Eidolon is holding back and we can expect clones of him to go all out in a way he wouldn’t normally. Great.
There is some truth to the “candle that burns twice as hot” idea, on a cosmic scale. Smaller, colder stars generally last much longer than bigger, hotter ones. The bigger ones need to glow brighter to stay alive because they have more mass they need to keep from collapsing in on itself, and so they run out of fuel more quickly.
“Simple deduction? Did you consider that I am not teleporting people because there’s a shortage of volunteers?”
“That would contradict what Miss Militia said, and she wasn’t lying. And it doesn’t fit the overall picture. Alexandria-”
–is making some very suspicious decisions right now.
Eidolon slapped his hand down against the table. A forcefield expanded from the impact site, forcing Rachel and I out of our chairs and against the wall. I slumped down to the ground, grabbing my rib, and coughed painfully.
Miss Militia, we need you to come keep another rowdy boy in check.
(*Rachel and me)
The forcefield had kept Rachel and I out, but Tattletale was inside with Eidolon. The sounds from within were muffled.
Yeeah, if you don’t want your secrets revealed to everyone in earshot, don’t literally ask Tattletale to say them out loud.
But I had bugs on both Eidolon and Tattletale, and I could almost make out their words.
Ooh, yes, get some training.
Also, this implies Eidolon had to decide who/what the forcefield should work against, not who it shouldn’t work against. That’s a major vulnerability for any forcefield.
Tattletale was speaking. “…reason you … this situation a class-A threat isn’t because it doesn’t fit. …did it is because Alexandria wanted an excuse not… … You came because you needed to prove something to yourself. Test … measure of your power in a …nse situation… work best when… danger. This is best challenge you’ll have…”
Yeah, Lisa has the whole Alexandria thing figured out.
“…treading dangerous waters,” Eidolon spoke. There was no growl in his voice, no anger, irritation or emotion at all. Only calm. It made him easier to understand.
He seems to have regained a sense of control of himself.
“…can live with danger, … it’s interesting. Awfully interesting… why Alexandria’s not coming… … me? …secret.”
Alexandria’s not coming… because of Tattletale?
Eidolon said something, but his tone had changed and I wasn’t able to switch mental gears fast enough.
“…you?” Tattletale asked. “Years…-”
“The fuck!?” Rachel snarled. Bentley growled as if to accompany her words. He was already growing.
Shh, Taylor’s trying to listen.
“Relax,” I said, before I started coughing again. “They aren’t fighting.”
“He knocked me over!”
I could see Miss Militia and Assault at the other end of the room, but the forcefield bubble was blocking us.
Yeeah, the forcefield bubble is really just plain rude. If he wanted to talk to her one-on-one, he could just have brought her to another room. No need to be so forceful about it.
No pun intended.
“What happened!?” Miss Militia shouted.
I tried to respond, coughed instead. My voice was weak with the fresh rawness of my throat as I did manage to utter a reply, “Eidolon flipped…”
Yeah, pretty much.
“Eidolon attacked!” Rachel yelled.
“Did she provoke him?” Miss Militia asked. Her gun was raised.
“No,” I managed only a whisper.
The forcefield winked out. Eidolon was still sitting, he hadn’t moved except to slap the table with his hand, but Tattletale was standing.
Eidolon strikes me as a man with little outward subtlety. He’s imposing and he knows it, and there’s no “medium” setting on what he does.
The Doctor mentioned that he had reacted badly when he found out about some of Cauldron’s further plans, and I imagine that looked something like this. He found something disagreeable, so he probably disagreed with it forcefully, because it seems like that’s how he does things. (He was clearly convinced eventually, though.)
In a way, it reminds me of Bitch.
“Just wanted to have a private conversation,” Eidolon said. “I’m sorry. I’ll be getting some fresh air.”
You know you can have a private conversation without breaking anyone’s ribs, right?
With that, he stood and strode out of the room. He made his way to the stairwell and I could track him moving to the roof.
(Watch out for the stairs.)
I picked up my chair and sat, still coughing intermittently. Rachel was still standing, and her dogs were still growing. I gestured for her to sit.
It’s interesting how “stand down” is a phrase almost entirely unrelated to “sit down”, “sit up” and “stand up”.
She just glared across the room.
I gestured again, but the force of the motion made my chest hurt and I started coughing. Before I recovered, Rachel sat with an audible thud. She kicked her boot against the edge of the table, hard, and left it there.
Rachel also sits forcefully.
“What did you do?” Miss Militia asked. She was facing Tattletale. I could see the other Undersiders behind her.
Nothing he didn’t directly ask her to do.
“Was just commenting that it seemed odd he wasn’t helping you guys out with teleporting people in,” Tattletale said.
“You said more than that,” Weld noted.
True, but I’m sure even the heroes in the room could see this wasn’t entirely Tattletale.
“I’m tired, he’s tired, we talked it out. All copacetic,” Tattletale said. She leaned back and stretched.
“I’m not so sure,” Miss Militia said. “Skitter, are you alright?”
“Recent injury,” I managed. “Will be fine in a minute.”
That is probably something the group as a whole should be informed of, in case it comes up in the actual fight. Which, let’s be real, it will.
Miss Militia nodded. Not much sympathy, but I couldn’t blame her. “Then let’s get things underway. Everyone, please get seated, or find space to stand.”
Grue, Regent and Imp joined us, and Grue set his hands on my shoulders as he stood behind me. He rubbed my exposed back where the armor panel was missing as I coughed hoarsely once or twice.
It only took about 80% of the chapter, but it’s time to start thinking strategy.
And time for me to go find some chicken. I’m going to finish this tonight, but to do that, I need food.
Food acquired and c o n s u m e d. Let’s do some planning!
I counted the people in costume with my swarm. It wasn’t nearly as many reinforcements as we’d had against Leviathan. I saw Chevalier and Myrddin, but didn’t recognize anyone else. There were the Wards and Protectorate members from Brockton Bay, with perhaps twenty more.
Aw, Greenfire didn’t show up.
“Tentative ratings, based on what we know, we have her down as a brute eight, a changer two and a combination of striker and master with a rating of ten.”
Hmm, yes, that sounds about right. Brute 8 because she’s really strong and tough but not completely invulnerable or strong enough to start tossing buildings around. Changer 2 because she has changed but aside from the form it left her in the ability to change shouldn’t affect the battle much (unless the battle itself turns out to abruptly trigger the next stage somehow, in which case, fuck). Strikester 10 because using her Striker power she can Master up some really powerful minions.
“Too low,” I heard Tattletale murmur.
I make no claims to having a good sense of what’s a low or high rating. There’s a reason I rarely put a number beside my classifications.
I suppressed a cough, managed only a choke. It drew more attention to me, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone was already paying way too much attention. I was wearing my older costume, and somehow felt more juvenile, more exposed. I didn’t have the covering of bugs over the exterior of my costume like I was used to, either.
Remember back in Buzz, when she was still squeamish about putting bugs on her body? Granted, that was about direct skin contact, but still, she’s gone way past that point.
“Her ability allows her to create clones of anyone she touches. The PRT office believes she’s a class-A threat, but Tattletale’s expectation is that this individual has the potential to become an Endbringer. We’re moving forward with extreme caution.
Hey, at least she’s acknowledging the dissent on this.
Miss Militia really is a very competent leader, even if she does let her expectations color her judgment sometimes.
“Our primary issue at the moment is that we can’t yet locate her. She has one hostage, a young member of the Wards. The girl was attacked en route to her home. Locating our target quickly is paramount, but we should also be careful to avoid giving her a chance to use her power on us. For the time being, we will be operating with the same protocols and plans that we employ against Hadhayosh. Hit and run, maintain a safe distance as priority number one, and employ continuous attacks. We’ll be dividing you into teams-”
Kurdish Hana / Hannah, for all that she’s embraced American culture and patriotism, uses the Persian name of Behemoth. That’s a nice touch.
Miss Militia stopped short as an officer pushed his way through the people near the door, Chevalier included. He handed Miss Militia a phone.
I didn’t expect this meeting to go cleanly uninterrupted even before it took 80+% of the chapter to even get started, but I didn’t think it’d be interrupted this quickly. So what’s up? Has Noelle been spotted?
She turned around and pressed a button on the wall. The faux-wooden panels separated to reveal a widescreen television.
It flickered on.
Fancy. And apparently enough of a priority to replace after the Shattering.
How long ago was that, again? One week? Two?
“Her?” Kid Win asked. “That’s the class-S threat?”
Only shows her waist-up, I take it.
“She’s bigger than she looks,” Tattletale commented.
I was disappointed I couldn’t see. I tried looking at the screen with my bugs, but they saw only a rectangular glow.
“Quiet,” Miss Militia said, “It’s a webcam feed. I’m setting it so we’ll be transmitting audio only… Hello, Noelle.”
So Noelle still has access to the webcam equipment she used to talk to the Undersiders in Plague, and she’s decided to use it to address the heroes?
And she may well have reason to tell them about Coil’s death.
“Who is this?” Noelle asked.
Or… they managed to contact her?
Well, might be the former, with this being Noelle confirming she got the right people, what with the audio-only feed.
“She talks,” I heard someone whisper.
Unlike the other Endbringers. Yeeah, that’s gonna be disconcerting to some.
“Miss Militia,” Miss Militia said, louder.
“The gun woman. Who else is there?”
“Other local heroes,” Miss Militia replied.
“Oh. There aren’t more? The Undersiders didn’t get in touch with you?” Noelle sounded funny. Her voice was hollow, almost disappointed.
Interesting. So she totally called that upon finding out about her absence, Tattletale would try to call in the big guns.
“It’s just us right now.”
“Because I smell more,” Noelle said. “Which makes it hard to believe you. But you can lie if you have to.”
Oh that’s lovely
I mean it, this is a really effective line. Noelle is coming across as just this sweet innocent girl and then this line hits to a) drive home that there’s something fundamentally different to her now, and b) imply that she might be close or that she’s capable of smelling at a huge range or that she can somehow “smell” them over audio (in which case the smell is probably a less literal sense), any of which can further drill in the disturbing factor.
And then “But you can lie if you have to.” Noelle is used to it. She’s been lied to by Trickster, by Coil, by Tattletale, all ostensibly for her own well-being and everyone’s safety. I think to some extent she’s resigned herself to the idea that everyone around her lies.
Which does not mean she’s actually as okay with it as she sounds.
“You can smell us.”
“Not you. But it doesn’t matter,” Noelle’s voice broke. She stopped.
Is that a singular you? As in, she can’t smell Miss Militia specifically? That’s very interesting. Something to do with the way Miss Militia’s power works?
Can she smell Grue, the Scentless Man?
“Are you there?” Miss Militia asked.
“I’m here. I was telling you it doesn’t matter. I only called because… I killed her. The space-warper. I’m so bad with the names. So many names for you capes. I only ever paid attention to the powers.”
Ouch. RIP Vista.
Noelle only paid attention to the powers. What they could do, rather than who they were. Just like how her clones take more from what the originals can do than from their identities and personalities.
(Though frankly the Perdition Trickster fought wasn’t that different from the real deal.)
“You killed Vista,” Miss Militia said. “Why?”
“Because I could. Because I was hungry, and I’d already used her up. See?”
Used her up… to make a whole army of Draconia Blazes?
There was a brief pause, then a number of gasps and breathless words all at once. One of my bugs caught a noise from Clockblocker, deep in his throat.
I thought for a moment this meant the bug itself had managed to find its way into Clockblocker’s throat (and caught the noise there), and I was like “Taylor please”.
Grue leaned close, whispered in my ear, “Five Vistas. All but one of them have faces more like masks than skin and muscle. Hard, rigid.
There’s a lovely irony in Grue, the guy whose whole deal is depriving people of sight and hearing, providing image descriptions for the blind.
Wearing borrowed clothes, not costumes. The fifth one might be taller than I am, and her bones look curved.”
- Draconia Blaze, the Spine Twister,
- Draconia Blaze, the Spine Shredder,
- Draconia Blaze, the Spine Wrangler,
- Draconia Blaze, the Spine Gobbler, and
- Draconia Blaze, the Spine. Just the Spine.
I am probably not going to be able to keep track of which is which, except for Draconia Blaze, the Spine, who appears to be quite visually distinct from the rest.
The fact that the clones apparently come out without costumes could be a little awkward, but also leave them more vulnerable than their originals.
There was a thump from the microphone on Noelle’s end, presumably as she turned the camera back to herself.
“Just wanted to let you know that. I’m sorry. This isn’t like me. It’s the stuff that’s growing on me. I have my memories, and when I think, it’s always my thoughts, but it feels like it’s taking over my subconscious, and when it wants something the hormones and adrenaline flood into my body and my brain, so I feel what it feels. Twists the way I think.”
Much like Draconia Blaze would twist a spine.
This is doing a really good job of illustrating both why Noelle doesn’t inherently deserve death and why it may be necessary at the same time. And how even when not at her worst, it does still appear to be affecting how she thinks about these things.
In many other works, the solution here would involve separating what Noelle describes as “the stuff that’s growing on me” from her, but in Worm? I don’t believe that will be possible.
“She was alone. And could smell how strong she was. Read about her online, too. Internet was all I had for a long time. Now I’ve got them. They’re pretty obedient, and it’s nice to have company. I haven’t had any physical contact with anyone for a while, and they like giving me hugs. Except the sixth.”
Yeah, see, this is exactly what I mean. She may be more in her right mind like this, but she doesn’t seem to see any part of the whole “cloning the girl she captured and eventually killed” thing as disturbing. They’re company. She took Vista away from everyone else by killing her, knows intellectually that that’s a bad thing, and as a courtesy wants to let them know she did it, but I’m not sure she’s actually sorry to Vista. Or to herself.
So the sixth… probably especially disturbing, since we’re going through this “surprise, there’s another one“.
“Sixth,” Miss Militia said.
“Not as obedient. She ran off. Gibbering something about killing her family.”
It seems we have our first destination. Gotta send a team to Vista’s family to protect them from Draconia Blaze, the Spinosaurus.
Miss Militia thrust her index finger toward the door, and the Wards were gone in a flash, running for the stairwell.
“Can we negotiate?” Miss Militia asked, her voice oddly calm given the ferocity of the gesture and the threat against one of her colleagues’ family.
Miss Militia is very good at this kind of professionalism.
“Not really a negotiation… but I can offer you a deal.”
“What’s the deal?”
“Kill the Undersiders. Or hand them to me so I can torment them before I kill them. You can do it any time you want to. Just… knock them out, or hurt them, or find a way to tell me where they are. If it’s a choice between hurting one of you or hurting one of them, I’ll hurt them. I promise. If I’ve taken someone hostage, you probably have a little while before the hostage is dead.
Yeah, no, Noelle the sweet innocent girl is no more. Or at least, her grip on reality is rather shaky, thinking the heroes might find any of this reasonable.
Just know that I’ll trade you any of my hostages for any Undersider, any time, any situation. When the Undersiders are all dealt with, I’ll sniff out and kill all of the clones I’ve made, then I’ll let you try to kill me. Or imprison me. Do whatever. I don’t care anymore, because I don’t think I’ll be me much longer. I don’t think I’m even me right now. Not the me I was… I’m rambling.
And she’s even self-aware about it. I love this.
And I’m gonna toss out a recommendation to read the Wheel of Time series, for no particular reason. (There is absolutely a particular reason.)
So basically the heroes are now in a weird reverse hostage situation. The enemy will give herself up if they kill the “hostages” they’re keeping for her, or let her do it.
Among the thirty-ish people in here, there may very well be some who would take that deal, actually.
“They took away my only chance. My only chance to get well. Until they’ve paid for that, I’m going to make this hard on you, heroes. I don’t think I can die, and I don’t think I’m that easy to stop in other ways. I’ll hunt you down, I’ll copy you until you’re all used up, let your copies ruin your reputations and your lives, and then I’ll eat you. I’ll do it to each of you, one by one, until you realize it’s easier to go after the Undersiders than to come after me. Give me my revenge, and this ends.”
Ooof. Yeah, this… this is a tricky situation, especially after all the work Tattletale has put into trying to convince everyone she’s an S-class threat.
Y’know. The kind you’d be globally lauded for stopping permanently by any means.
(Is the limit six clones for every cape or does it vary, perhaps by power strength?)
End of Queen 18.4
Well! That was an A-class chapter.
Lots of good stuff here, from Triumph and Skitter talking stuff out about the mayor attack, to the name drop of the mysterious fourth trumpet S-class Sleeper, to a lot of excellent interactions between Tattletale and the heroes, to Alexandria making questionable and suspicious decisions (seemingly just so she could stay out of things?), to Eidolon’s notably unsubtle entrance and effective characterization (we’ve seen snippets of him before but none seemed quite as clear about what his deal is as this), to the absolutely fantastic webcam scene… for how relatively lowkey it was, this chapter was densely packed with great stuff, and I haven’t even mentioned all of it.
Next up… the remaining heroes and the Undersiders process what just happened. That’s the chapter. It’ll be Noelle saying “okay bye” and then six thousand words of everyone just sitting there in stunned silence. Then someone breaks the silence by saying “Bruh.” and the chapter ends.
See you there!
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