“So you focus on helping my sister.”

“I’ll help anyone that needs it,” I said.  With one false start, I managed to take off.

Taylor is good like that.

I stayed low to the ground for as long as I could, to try to judge what Amy had done to the beetle.

There was some underlying logic, but it wasn’t the same sort of instinctual behavior I was used to.  As far as I could tell, she had set him up to continue whatever I’d last instructed him to do, so I didn’t need to maintain focus to keep him going.

Ah, so a game of Snake. Sure, that works. Just try not to ask him to travel in a direction real fast and then fall off.

“Take this,” Trickster said.  He drew a small handgun and handed it to me.  He pointed as he explained.  “Ten rounds.  Thumb safety.  Grip safety.  It’s my spare.”

“It’s dangerous to fly alone.”

But yeah, I doubt a handgun is going to do anything against Mannequin. Maybe even less against Jack or Bonesaw.

It was heavier than it looked.  There was also a weight to it that had more to do with what the gun meant.  I stuck it through one of the loops in my utility compartment that I hadn’t used since I started out, then double checked it was firmly in place.

Does the gun really mean any more than the grenades do, when it comes down to it?

“Thanks.”

I turned and climbed on top of the beetle.

Damn it, Taylor, you’re in for so much more chaos than you think.

“Can’t make any promises, but flying should require less of your attention,” Amy said.

Thank you.

“Okay,” I said.

Well, at least she didn’t completely ignore her?

Still. *holds bug spray towards Taylor threateningly*

“Right now, Mannequin and Crawler are attacking the Wards.  Your sister is with them.”

Let’s see if Amy’s confidence is partially related to her having spent some of her off-screen time thinking over what Victoria said and deciding that “fuck it, maybe I don’t want her to be my sister either”.

I could see her expression change at hearing that.

“She’s tough, she’ll be okay.”

Okay, good, looks like she didn’t have that big piece of development off-screen.

“Not in this case.  She was stored away in some other dimension by Cache’s power.  If he dies before he gets her out-”

She paled.

Yeeeeeah.

“Idiot,” I muttered.  “Can’t waste any more time on you.”

Taylor, you’ve been making so much progress with Amy. Don’t throw it away like this.

Before she could reply, I turned to my teammates, “I need bombs.  Grenades, something I can drop from above and do some damage.”

Okay, yeah, that ought to work better than simply “something heavy”. Though I do stand by what I said about Mannequin reinforcing himself against explosions.

“Here,” Ballistic said.  He undid one of his belts and handed it to me.  Six grenades were placed around it.  It was too wide for my waist, so I hung it around my neck instead.

A badass necklace like few others.

Amy stepped forward and put her hands on my bug.  I went out of my way to ignore her.

*spritzes Taylor’s mask with bug spray* No. Bad Taylor. Be nice.

“What?” I hurried to get off him.  “Is he okay?”

“It’s a he?”  Tattletale asked.

Taylor seems to have decided so. But whether she did it arbitrarily or based on bug genitalia or other sexual characteristics of some kind, I can’t tell you.

Amy stepped forward a little, “Its legs work through something like hydraulics.  When it’s flying, it diverts those fluids to the flight system.  Do you know how hard it was to make that thing able to fly?  It’s not like I’ve practiced this sort of thing.”

Ahh. So it’s walk or fly with this one. That probably contributed to the takeoff troubles, too.

Also, thank you, Amy. You did a fantastic job. 🙂

“It’s fantastic,” I said.  “Really.  Thank you.  Do you think you could work on making him a little bigger while I get prepared?  I can supply the bugs.”

Hmm. That sounds difficult, but hey, making the whole thing in the first place was probably way more difficult.

“No.”

That’s fair.

I was midway to turning towards Tattletale when Amy refused me.  “No?  If it’s the physical limitations of something that big, then maybe the nervous system, or if you could copy over some flight instincts so I don’t need to devote so much focus-”

I was unsure about whether it was the physical limitations or Amy limiting how much she wants to help these villains, but judging by this paragraph, I take it it’s the latter.

“No, Skitter.  It’s not that I can’t.  I won’t.”

Yeah.

Also, she sounds way more confident right now than we’ve heard her ever since Interlude 11h. That seems like a good sign.

I turned back to Amy.

She shook her head, “This isn’t a luxury.  It’s not a present from me to you.  You said you needed some help escaping, you needed some mobility?  Fine.  This is it.”

That is very fair. Don’t look a gift beetle in the mandibles, Taylor.

I turned around and headed for my companions.  I withdrew my cell phone.

“Need gear,” I told Tattletale.  “Mannequin’s attacking the heroes and Crawler’s approaching.”

Gear?

“Got it.”

Sundancer’s orb appeared in the sky, flickered, and disappeared.  A flare.  I headed in that direction.

That’s a pretty nice use of the power.

As Tattletale had said, Sundancer was using her orb to try to clear the way.  Grue was also using his darkness, oddly enough.

Hmm. Looking out for the Nine, maybe, or other capes whose powers may come in handy?

The others stood by, watching, arranged so they were watching all potential avenues of attack.

I appreciate that they haven’t let their guard down just yet.

I landed, and I couldn’t get the beetle’s legs under him to brace our landing.  He hit his stomach, his legs squashing against his underside.

You’ll get the hang of it.

I had to remind myself he was a specialist in hostile environments, and they didn’t get much more hostile than this.  He was a genius, a problem solver, and a survivor.  He was relentless, and as much as I’d managed to take the advantage in our previous confrontations, that was because he’d been out of his element, taking us on directly.

And this time… he’s in his element…

Yeeah, maybe avoid direct confrontation if you can help it.

This was Mannequin’s specialty: attacking from the indirect angle, at the unexpected moment to target the weak.  He favored Tinkers both because they were often vulnerable if you caught them without their gear, and for his own neuroses.

Makes sense.

Weld managed to push the car that was pinning him from the side.  Holding the stack of vehicles up over his head, he found a point where he could set his foot without the scorched frame collapsing and kicked the car away.

Woo, go Weld!

As he tried to figure out how to manage the pile of flaming cars that sat atop him and his teammates, Mannequin struck.  Like a piston, Mannequin slammed into him, thrusting him away, then danced back into the cover of the flames and smoke.  Weld slid on the pavement until he collided with a car, and the cars that he’d been supporting collapsed.

And yeah, here Mannequin goes with his carefully and unpredictably timed attacks.

At least one fell so that Cache’s upper body speared through its undercarriage.  The top one tipped over and landed so it was propped up on a diagonal.

You know, normally, the idea that someone’s “upper body speared through [a car’s] undercarriage” is not a good thing. But here it means Cache avoided death by not having been unfrozen yet.

What could I do?  I didn’t have a long ranged weapon.  I didn’t trust my beetle’s ability to hold me and some heavy weight I could drop on Mannequin from above.

Not sure you can carry anything heavy enough to make much of a difference anyway. Maybe Bailey could, if he weren’t carrying you, but it’s a stretch.

Cache and Clockblocker wouldn’t be frozen forever.  It could be as short a time as thirty seconds.  If Cache or Clockblocker emerged from the effects of Clockblocker’s power, and there were two cars piled on top of them?  It would be grim.

Ahhh, yeah, that’s not ideal.

Clockblocker might be okay, freezing the bottom car the moment he’s free, but Cache might not be so lucky if he unfreezes before Clocky.

Worse, Cache was storing a number of the other heroes in his personal dimension.  What would happen to them if he died?

That’s a damn good question.

In some ‘verses I’d say the answer would be [EJECT]. But this is Worm. I’m inclined to think Cache a) acts as a gateway and they might be stuck in there until they die of thirst if he doesn’t survive to get them back out, or b) acts as a container and if he goes squish, so does the pocket dimension.

They had to have anticipated the possibility of Crawler interfering before they all recovered, but Mannequin?  I was surprised he was able to function in the midst of this blaze.

He probably took measures to be more resistant to explosions and fire after the gas encounter.

So when a piece of metal gets stuck to Weld, does it immediately become part of his body and thus likely to attack to any other metals it touches? That seems likely to me.

Weld pushed hard against the flaming hulk of the car, attempting to make room to free himself, but another car sailed through the air to land on top of Cache and Weld.

Shouldn’t the first car be stuck to his body anyway? And to his hands as well, now? At least if I understood Weld’s state of dress correctly.

Maybe the polish helps.

While Weld hacked at the cars, shearing through the undercarriage to make for pieces that were smaller to move, Mannequin began moving through the parking lot, pushing at more cars to get them closer to Weld and his teammates.  A minivan, a sedan, a pickup, pushed into Weld’s immediate surroundings.

He’s almost swimming in cars at this point… this must be what they call a carpool.

There was no swagger, no monologue, nothing from Mannequin but the methodical execution of his simple plan.  He approached the front of the pickup, tore off the hood and grabbed the engine block with all four arms.  Again, the billowing vapor and that explosive strength, as he brought it over his head and down on top of the second car he’d thrown, stacking them two high.

Hmm. This vapor… a byproduct of whatever he’s added that makes him so strong? Maybe something that can be used against him.

He crouched beneath the sedan and prepared to launch it as he had with the first two cars.

Poor Weld is going to come back to the Wards HQ struggling to carry like five cars that are stuck to his body.