FUCK. I just remembered, while making the post-chapter Patreon post, what quote the “not with a bang, but a (…)” bit comes from. Jack, you sneaky fucker.

So this is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

…and while I knew the quote, I didn’t know where it was from or how it’s actually supposed to end. The last word was a blank for me – I think it’s through Cards Against Humanity I’ve picked it up, actually. Anyway, I just looked it up, and apparently this is how it originally ends. So it’s not quite as subtle as I thought if you know the whole original quote.

Still, though. Jack totally managed to sneak that reference to his departure meaning the end of the world past me for a few minutes. It’s a really neat way of saying it, too.

End of Prey 14.11

Not a bang but a whimper.

This chapter… didn’t add much, except an opportunity to find this note, a fate for Cherish, and the kissing scene. (The kiss-punch moment with Rachel was wonderful.)

Okay, so it added a bit. Still, though, I’m not sure the whole tracking down the Nine was entirely necessary? I don’t know, it feels a little weird, like this is a dénouement but not really?

But to be fair, it’d be strange for Taylor to give up on it that easily, and leaving the note wouldn’t work as well with the more dramatic escape we had last time.

Also, I’m not even entirely sure this is the end of the Arc. For all I know, we might have another chapter, of the Undersiders trying to figure out how to take this, especially with their knowledge of the prophecy in play. I guess I could check the link later in this post.

If there is a 14.12, it’ll probably be characterized by bittersweetness. They won, didn’t they? So why isn’t Taylor happy about it?

That’s if it’s not Taylor trying to stop Jack from leaving. Though I feel like we’re not going to see the Nine again before they leave – it’d mess with the finality of this letter.

If it’s an Interlude… fuck, Interludes are so difficult to speculate on. Maybe we’d have a look at what someone else has been up to under the miasma’s effect? Ooh, maybe we could get Legend’s perspective on the miasma and his head clearing? Though I do feel like if Wildbow had had a Legend Interlude planned around the time of Interlude 13, he might’ve saved the details on Legend’s family life for Legend’s own Interlude.

Another option is that we might follow one of the Nine – Bonesaw, Siberian or Mannequin if he’s alive – and seeing how they feel about the retreat. That feels wrong, though, due to the finality issue.

Alright, let’s take a look at the link.

Interlude 14.

Good. I think adding another dénouement chapter to this Arc would drag out a bit, and this letter deserves to be the end of an Arc.

So yeah! See you in the Interlude!

I saw drag marks in the sand, leading to the water.  Who had that been?

…did one of them decide to drown themself to get out of this? Or attempt to swim out while partially paralyzed?

The knife was the last thing I spotted.  It had been slammed into the metal hull of the boat.  I stepped over the chain and collar that had probably been attached to Cherish.

Ah, so it was the right place, then?

I pulled the knife free of the wall and used my bugs to catch the note before it fluttered to the floor.

Ooh, this sounds interesting.

We concede our loss to you, Brockton Bay.  As per my agreement with Miss Amelia, we’ll be leaving your fascinating city.  It was fun.

VICTORY!

Except, y’know, the end of the world.

But VICTORY!

Don’t worry about Cherish.  She’s sleeping somewhere at the bottom of the bay.

Oh.

…literally or figuratively? Bonesaw could make the former happen.

Bonesaw was kind enough to crank up her receptive range toward negative emotions and remove her filters.  The girl will personally experience every awful feeling Brockton Bay’s inhabitants do- and with the benefit of Alan’s tech, she’ll get to do it for a very, very, very long time.

What a wonderful life she’s going to have from here on out.

Alan’s tech… did they have bits of it, or did Mannequin actually survive?

At this point, though, it’s looking like it won’t matter too much whether or not he did (unless Taylor gets into a fight with the Nine while trying to stop Jack from leaving the city), which leans the odds towards him being dead.

A departure marked not with a bang, but a whimper.  I’m sure you understand.

I mean, the miasma was a bit of a bang, but I suppose you didn’t see that as marking the departure.

Yours truly,

Jack.

Goodbye. It’s been fun.

I withdrew my phone and called Tattletale.

“That was fast.”

“It’s not the Nine.  Decoys.”

Yep.

I stared at them.  The disguises had been rushed but thorough.  Jack and Bonesaw had clearly changed clothes with the people in question, and Bonesaw had whipped up something approximating Mannequin’s armor for one of the men.

Because she didn’t know Mannequin is supposed to be dead.

“Call Coil, get medics here.  It’s Bonesaw’s work, so he might need to call on some expert surgeons to undo whatever she did.  I’ll use my bugs to mark out the traps that Bonesaw set up inside.”

Sounds like a good plan. Let’s help these poor fuckers.

So was Cherish making sure Taylor would go in there so that she’d find out about this? I don’t imagine that would be out of compassion for the victims, though.

“On it.”  She hung up.

Paralysis, compulsive movements.  Puppets.  Decoys.  Had this been Jack’s attempt to make me betray my morals?  Setting up decoys with the idea that I’d attack first and check later?

Makes sense. He might’ve taken some interest in that now, since he failed to do that a couple chapters ago.

If I’d gone with my first impulse and tried to kill them, I’d have seven civilian deaths on my hands.

Which raises the question of why you didn’t go with your first impulse. What gave you that gut feeling? Or rather, who?

“Help is on the way, guys.  I’m sorry about this.”

“Thank you,” the twenty-something woman I’d guessed to be Cherish spoke.  The others were mute.

I see. They needed one of them to be speaking because all of them screaming or none of them talking would be even more suspicious.

I heard sobbing.

One of the people Bonesaw used to fake the Nine breaking down?

Or maybe it’s Cherish, trying to paint herself as the victim.

I stepped through the doorway and took in the room’s interior.

The floor sloped one way.  Half of the room was metal flooring covered in sand, the lowest half was submerged.

This city in a nutshell: Even in places specifically meant to keep water out, nowhere’s dry.

And if anyone says they found a dry spot, they’re lying. Just hallucinations caused by the miasma, surely.

Three men, three women and a girl.  The man with knives in his belt stood, then began the ritual pacing once again.  His feet were raw where the rusted metal deck had cut at them.  The others sat and stood in various points around the hull.

By “stepped through the doorway”, it sounds like Taylor should be in plain sight here. Which only reinforces the idea that that ain’t Jack, along with the fact that Jack wouldn’t walk his feet to bloody pulps if he didn’t have to. Whoever or whatever this “Jack” is seems to be pacing like he’s been programmed to do so.

Atlas and I crossed the gap to the ship.  I waited for the hit of Cherish’s power, but it didn’t come.

But is that because she’s unaware, because she wants you to come, or because she’s not there?

My bugs sensed more of Bonesaw’s traps – areas heavy with fog, or where vials had been thrown, placed or dropped.  I was glad there wasn’t any of the extermination smoke.

I suppose she probably spent her supply on that shell game in their escape.

I set foot on the tilted deck and began slowly making my way into the ship.  My soft soled costumed feet were quiet, barely audible to myself.

Nice.

I drew my gun, readying myself to fire the second I was in range.  If Cherish was setting up the Nine for me, I was pretty sure I could hit one and get away before trouble arose.

Yeah, but how much would it accomplish? Probably not enough to be worth the risk just for that.

It was a feeble thought – even Jack, one of their most vulnerable members, hadn’t fallen to gunfire.  Still, it was reassuring.

Fair enough.

More traps forced me to make slower progress through the labyrinthine ship’s interior.  It was a while before I could stop at the outside of the door at the lowest point of the ship.

Skitter: *knocks twice*
Jack: “Who’s there?” 
Skitter: “Skitter.” 
Jack: “Skitter who?”
Skitter: “Skitter Rose Hebert.”
Jack: “Oh, that Skitter! Please, come in.”

“Go, then.  Call me as soon as it’s safe.”

I nodded.

Safe?

At this time of year, at this time of day, in this part of the country, localized entirely within the Boat Graveyard?

…may I see it?

She headed out of the graveyard with Bentley.  I waited a few minutes, until she was out of my power’s range.

See ya, Lisa.

So, Taylor. Do you have a plan?

“You’ll have to explain how all that happened at a later date.  Jack’s good at fucking with people’s heads.  It could still be a trap.”

Alright, looks like she’s sticking to her side.

“It could.”

“But?”

“I’ve got this feeling in my gut, like I had when I was around Jack and Bonesaw, and I wish I’d trusted it then.  I don’t want to doubt it now.”

Ahh. Just don’t go the other way and get overconfident in it.

Hmm. Maybe the amount of people in there, real and/or fake, is meant to dissuade attacks?

“A gut feeling?”

I nodded, once.

Admittedly, Taylor’s gut has been right before.

She sighed.  “What can I do?”

“Get out of here.  I don’t want to hurt you if I fall under Cherish’s control, which is supposed to be pretty short-lived.  In case she plans to make it more long-term, maybe call the PRT director and arrange a firebomb if I don’t report back?”

Yikes. Taylor is asking Lisa to arrange for her to very likely get killed if she’s compromised.

Tattletale made a face.  “This is dumb.”

“I’ve done dumb things.  I somehow don’t feel like this is one of them.”

The possibility that Cherish is closer than they think and messing with Taylor’s head is still on the table, but it’s increasingly unclear whether she’d be pushing Taylor towards attacking or away from it.

“That’s not your real reason.”

There is also the whole end of the world thing, but that’s not what this is about either, is it.

Hm…

Guilt over getting fooled by the Nine earlier?

“And I feel like something’s wrong.  The details don’t jibe.”

“That’s a less than stellar reason to put yourself at that kind of risk.”

It’s actually a damn good reason not to.

“There’s a chance Siberian isn’t here, or isn’t in a state to defend her allies.  But… I can’t bring myself to attack.”

Is Cherish actually within range?

But if she’s closer to Taylor’s current position, why would she keep Taylor from attacking the people or fake people in the ship?

“This is a shitty time to have an attack of conscience.”

I don’t trust that that’s what it is.

“You sound like Jack.  He tried to push me to kill while I thought he was Grue.”

Oof.

But… this seems like a slight overreaction to what Lisa said. And Lisa’s line sounds like she’s about to start arguing for the opposite side to what she was just arguing for.

How much is Cherish messing with them, and to what end?

“She’s resting.”

“You think.”

Resting, or sleeping? There’s a big difference here.

“Not sure which person she is, but her breathing is really regular, has been for a while.”

Yeah, but is that because it’s restful, or because it’s fake?

“And she could be faking it, a hundred percent aware that you’re thinking what you’re thinking.”

“Yeah,” I admitted.

Another good point.

“Why are you so fixated on this?  On going in?”

“I want to end this.”

That’s really all Taylor has wanted for a while.