They were as insecure as the rest of us, Sierra thought.  Not that it excuses their behavior.

It really doesn’t.

“Hand or knee?” Skitter asked.

Ohhh.

Going for karmic retribution.

I like it!

“Fuck you!”  Yan shouted.

Then she convulsed.  She thrashed, dragging her hands against the pointed forelimbs with such violence that she opened ragged cuts in her palms.

Oh wow. What just bit her?

She stopped as quickly as she’d started, her eyes going wide.

She’d been bitten, more than once.

Was it the brown recluses?

Also, did Taylor go for “both” when Yan refused to choose?

“Shaggy-hair, hand or knee?”

Looks like that’s what happened, yeah.

Your turn, Jay.

Jay’s eyes went wide, but he very calmly stated, “Hand.”

Not bad, managing to stay calm after seeing what just happened to Yan. Does he think Skitter is bluffing, that the convulsions were just for show?

His eyes went wide as a spider crawled down the length of his arm to the back of his hand.  He jumped like he’d been electrocuted.

Yeah, looks like he didn’t expect that to actually happen.

Y’know, I kinda hope Taylor takes the time at some point to mention that she did this to Lung’s dick, but even if she doesn’t, I like the parallels. The progression from that revelation horrifying her, to her doing this casually to three people who didn’t get anywhere near Lung’s supposed level of shittiness.

I say “supposed” because the only things we’ve really been shown of it are that his operation dealt in drugs and that he was willing to kill powered kids.

“Anyone that’s still in the city probably has some reason they can’t go.  But things here aren’t good.”

…fair point.

“We can fix that,” Skitter said.  It sounded more like she was talking to herself than to anyone in the room.

I think she is.

It would have been reassuring if she hadn’t been staring down at Yan.

Oh, yikes.

“What are you going to do?” Yan repeated herself.

“Charlotte, would you take the children into another room?”

Second time asked, second time ignored.

And yeeeah, that’s not gonna be a reassuring sentiment for Yan.

Charlotte seemed relieved to have the chance to escape.  Every child that was present flocked to her and she hurried into the bedroom.

Charlotte has always been the more skittish of the two original drones, so I can imagine she doesn’t want to see what’s going to happen either.

That’s on top of wanting to get away from Sugita, of course. I’m sure that’s her main concern.

Yan raised her voice, “You left!  You abandoned us!”

Trying to play on her guilt? I’m not entirely sure that’s going to work right now. Later, sure, but right now she might be too exhausted to acknowledge the guilt below extinction-level.

…then again, she just did.

She lifted her foot, Yan unclenched it, and the beetle stabbed down with another pointed forelimb to pin it to the ground.

Another thing that helps show how out of it Taylor is: She’s casually inflicting pain, barely even acknowledging what she’s doing, while carrying an unrelated conversation.

To be fair, she is good at multitasking.

“What are you doing?” Yan asked, a note of desperation in her voice.

It kinda looks like you’re getting crucified. To the floor. Which kind of disqualifies it from being called crucifixion, but still.

At the very least you’re being restrained.

Skitter didn’t respond.  “Sierra?  Charlotte?”

Charlotte didn’t venture a reply, but Sierra managed one.  “Yeah?”

Were it not for the accompanying buzz of the bugs, Sierra suspected she wouldn’t have heard Skitter speak.  “You’ve been working hard.  Thank you.  I didn’t expect to have anything to come back to.”

Oh man, those are some words that say a lot.

We’re getting a really good look at Taylor’s feelings here despite not being in her head. They’re easier to understand than most times this sort of thing happens because we’re used to the way her mind works, but she’s still being incredibly expressive in her lack of expression, if that makes any sense. She’s so mentally exhausted and that’s before you add her concern over being responsible for the world ending sooner.

Which she’s not. But that rarely means she’s not going to beat herself up over it, and that’s exhausting in its own way.

“It’s okay,” Sierra said.  The words were a bit of a non-sequitur, but Skitter seemed to accept them.

The words, perhaps, but not the sentiment. It feels like Sierra picked up on the implicit “I’m sorry I left you to deal with my mess” and responded in kind, even if she doesn’t quite consciously know why.

“Thought you would have left,” Skitter said.

That’s.

Actually a good point.

They both could’ve left, easily, if they thought Skitter wouldn’t return. In theory, Skitter was supposed to be the only thing keeping them here. But they stayed and made the most of it, tried to take care of people and restore the community.

They too have grown to care about this place and its people.

“You mean they won’t attack anytime soon, or-”

“They’re dealt with.  Burnscar’s dead.  Crawler’s dead.  Mannequin’s probably dead.  Cherish and Shatterbird wish they were dead.

Heh.

Found Siberian’s weak point, and it’ll be international news soon, if it isn’t already.  She, Jack and Bonesaw ran.  Tried to pursue, couldn’t track them.  It’ll be a while before they bounce back.”

Good fucking work.

“You took on the Nine and won?”

Skitter ventured toward Yan, then used one foot to hold the girl’s arm down against the ground.

And she just leaves that question hanging, like it’s no big deal. For now, anyway.

Man, she sounds so exhausted.

The beetle pinned it there, pressing the point of one forelimb into her palm with enough pressure that a bead of blood appeared.  Skitter stepped around the girl so the beetle could do the same.

…what are you doing now?

When Yan clenched her fist, Skitter stepped on her fist, crushing it underfoot.

Is this just about restraining them?

She took her time responding.  When she did speak, all she said was, “I didn’t say we won.”

…right. Victory for Skitter would mean wiping the Nine out completely. At the very least Jack, not letting him escape.

Taylor has a history of blaming herself for the actions of antagonists if she fails to stop them. If she does that here, she’s going to be blaming herself for the end of the world coming in two years rather than 15+ (even if I’m right that she never had the opportunity to change that).

Fuck, that’s a heavy burden.

“I hope the rest of you are okay?”  Skitter asked.

You arrived right in time. A moment later and they wouldn’t all be entirely okay, physically.

Mentally, I don’t think Charlotte’s in a great state.

“Where were you?” Sierra returned the question with one of her own.

She was doing her best to save literally everyone downtown.

“Dealing with the Nine.  They’re not a concern anymore, at least for now.”

I like how matter-of-factly she says that.

It was surreal, hearing the girl talk about dealing with the Slaughterhouse Nine.  They weren’t in the same category as your average villain.

That wasn’t even the part I was talking about, but yeah, the matter-of-factness of that part is great too. Skitter just earned herself some major badass points with Sierra, I think.

They were like monsters from horror films, the killer who always got up at the end of the film, the monster who never died.

Fuck.

That’s been the theme of the group all along! Of course it has! How the hell did I not catch onto that, only applying the connection to that genre to Crawler?

I’ve had plenty of time!

Literally every one of them fits into some sort of horror trope!

I stopped thinking about this, didn’t I. After my first guess for the group’s theme (historical serial killers) didn’t pan out. The only time I’ve taken time to speculate on a wider theme for the group since that, as far as I remember, was when I pointed to most of them having great potential wasted on evil.

Yan glanced down at her body.  In that same instant, the beetle took flight.  It crossed the room in the span of a heartbeat and slammed into her.

“Don’t look for them.”

Its blade-like forelimbs caught around Yan and pulled her to the ground.

“Also the beetle is very capable of killing you faster if I need to.”

There’s also the fact that Skitter just knocked down the one with the gun, possibly disarming her.

Sierra turned her attention to the other two, saw Sugita lunging to one side.  She practically threw herself between him and the countertop where the knife still lay on top of the cutting board.

Skitter: “Look, I’ve faced way more skilled knife-wielders than you today.”

Jay drew his knife, but dropped it in the same motion.  His other hand clutched his forearm as his eyes went wide.

Regent here too?

Or maybe Taylor just paralyzed his arm with a bug of some kind?

“That’s one bite, Shaggy,” Skitter said.  “Giving you two seconds to kick the knife under the stove before I give you another.  One-”

Oh, maybe it was just that it hurt in the moment. Makes sense.

But was it actually a brown recluse?

Jay kicked the knife across the kitchen floor.  It slid out of sight.

“And you, I think you were the one with the bad accent?  You can step away from Charlotte now.”

YES. PLEASE DO.

Sugita scowled, but he did as he was asked.  He backed away from Charlotte until he stood beside Jay.  Charlotte let one sob escape before she hurried across the kitchen and moved to stand behind Skitter.

You’re safe…r now.

She’s been through something, Sierra thought.  She knew Charlotte was staying in town only because of her family, that she’d been captured by the Merchants and held for at least a short while… and there was some reason she couldn’t explain that to her family and just leave the city.

Hmm. Maybe she got romantically involved with someone bad or something?

Also, wasn’t the explanation she gave at John Cleese’s office something about a family member she needed to take care of? Was she lying?

Yan pointed the gun at Skitter.  “You’re back, huh?”

I hope this is a fake Skitter and Yan tries to shoot her.

I’m not sure what would be better, the decoy feigning death at the gunshot so that Yan thinks they don’t need to worry about her anymore, or the bullets just going right on through, causing Yan to start worrying when her gun isn’t the all-powerful tool of intimidation she’s been using it as.

Then again, if this is a decoy, then what’s with the glass? Did Taylor decide to pick that up with the bugs to make it look more real?

Because if so, she’s succeeding. It’s not even the only thing that makes this look more real than most of her decoys.

I’m thinking there’s a 20% chance of this being a decoy, maybe.

The villainess didn’t speak.  She pointed to her right instead.

The lack of speaking on “Taylor’s” part is a pretty big indicator that it might be a decoy, though.

Fuck it, let’s say 40%.

Advancing toward the group was a beetle the size of a small pony.  It didn’t use its forelimbs to walk, but held them up so the razor edge was both visible and ready to strike.

Hell yes.

“Call it off or I shoot!”

I’m becoming more and more sure that shooting wouldn’t do much. You’d be better off shooting Atlas, if I’m right.

“Shoot and you die,” Skitter’s voice was distorted, not really resembling a sound from human lips.

Yeah, that’s because she’s not making it with human lips.

Also Skitter is really threatening to kill someone here. I wonder if she means to back it up.

She’s had a bad day at work.

The beetle seemed to offer a deep buzz to accompany the ‘oo’ sounds.  “It won’t be pretty.  Brown recluse venom makes your muscles necrotize.  That means it decays while you’re still alive.

Oh man, going into detail on the gruesome way she’d die. Fantastic for intimidation.

I don’t think Skitter is seriously intending to do this if she doesn’t get her way, but damn if she isn’t going to make Yan and co. think she is.

It takes days, but the only real cure is taking a knife to the area around the bite.  That might be okay if you have one bite, carve out a half-pound of flesh, let the wound drain, stitch it up.  But what if you have three or four bites?  Or ten?”

“Just ask Lung, he knows what it’s like.”

“You’re bullshitting me,” Yan spat the words.

Skitter ignored her.  “It’s excruciatingly painful.  Nothing you experienced during your initiation into the ABB even compares, I can guarantee it.

How much does Skitter know about ABB initiation rituals?

You’re rotting alive, your flesh turning black as it liquefies.  So maybe you shoot me.  Maybe you even kill me, though I doubt it.  Either way, whether I walk away from here alive or not, you get bitten.  They’re already on you.  All three of you.”

Hm. I was going to say I was sure she’s telling the truth, because she can easily do this, but it might actually be more effective to tell them there are spiders on them that they can’t find.

The disconcerting part was the girl’s face, or lack thereof.  Her expression was masked behind a shifting mass of bugs that moved in and out of her hairline.

Hang on. Is any of the suit actually visible beneath the bugs?

Skitter has been known to use decoys, after all.

Sierra couldn’t even tell where the bugs ended and the scalp began, as the small black bodies crawled into and onto the black curls.  There was a hint of something like glass where Skitter’s eyes were, but the bugs ventured far enough over her eyelids and around the frames that nothing was visible in the way of goggles, glasses or skin.

Alright, it looks like it’s really her.

Skitter hadn’t made a sound as she entered.  She hadn’t spoken, and her footsteps had been quiet.

…or is it?

It would make sense for her footsteps to be quiet if she didn’t have any.

But I suppose they’d hear the buzz if the bugs were flying.

Maybe it’s another situation where they’re holding each other up from the bottom?