Source material: Worm, Agitation 3.1
Originally blogged: April 13, 2017
Agitation! Agitation? Agitation.
Well, the obvious question is, quite obviously, who is getting agitated? I think we already know the answer: Fucking everybody.
After Interlude 2, it’s clear that we’re headed into war. Pretty much every villain in town wants a piece of the Docks, and chances are some of the first ones are going to come into play already in Act 3. There’s a power vacuum and a lot of competition, so it’s time to act fast.
That said, I’m not ruling out the potential for multiple meanings coming into play. On a more personal level, it might also refer to, say, the still contentious relationship between Taylor and Rachel. Or maybe the agitation of Lung and his subordinates towards Taylor.
So what is Taylor’s position in the war? Well, fortunately staying undercover and sabotaging other villains’ attempts at the Docks are objectives that might work well together, depending on how confrontational the Undersiders are willing to be. Taylor might be able to do some hero work while still maintaining her cover!
Anyway, that’s enough blabber. Let’s actually get to reading Arc 3 of Worm!
Tuesday morning found me running again, first thing. I woke up at my regular time, apologized to my dad for not having breakfast with him, and headed out the door, hood of my sweatshirt up to hide the mess of my uncombed hair.
Danny, shouting after her from the door, holding two plates of pancakes up in the air: “TAYLOR, WAIT! MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAAAYYyyy”
There was something appealing about being out and about before the city had woken up.
My dad would agree. He especially likes watching as it does wake up and become more trafficked.
I didn’t usually get out quite this early, so it was a refreshing change. As I headed east at a brisk jog, there were no cars or people on the street. It was six thirty in the morning, and the sun had just finished rising, so the shadows were long.
That’s about when I wake up on half my school days. The other half I get up at eight because school starts later.
Weekends and vacations are, um, a different story.
The air was cool enough for my breath to fog. It was like Brockton Bay was a ghost town, in a good way.
And then there’s the Docks, a ghost town in a bad way.
My training regimen had me running every morning, and alternating between more running and doing other exercises in the afternoons, depending on which day of the week it was.
Oh, so it’s not just a habit she has because she enjoys routine and running. She considers it part of a fully fletched training program. Which is almost the same thing, I suppose, except less about enjoyment and more about actually improving your body and its health. And hey, if you’re lucky enough to enjoy training, I guess it can be both things.
The primary goal was to build my stamina. In February, Sophia had goaded some boys into trying to catch me, I think the goal had been to duct tape me to a telephone pole.
I guess this isn’t an all that unusual bully plan, but maybe, just maybe, she’d been watching reruns of Veronica Mars. This happened to one of Veronica’s buddies in what I believe was the first episode – she befriended him when she freed him from the duct tape.
(Remembering the name of that show wasn’t easy. Thank you, Google, for recognizing the similarity between “Veronica” and “Victoria”.)
So wait, February. Isn’t this around the time of the Incident, or was that in January?
I had escaped, helped mostly by the fact that the boys hadn’t really cared enough to run after me, but I found myself winded after having run just a block. It had been a wake-up call that came about just when I was starting to think about going out in costume. Not long after, I had started training. After a few starts and stops, I had settled into a routine.
I mean, that’s fair. If you’re going to be a superhero, you ought to be more fit than, ahem, a certain other person on this blog.
And hey, we’ve established that the Heberts are creatures of routine!
I was more fit, now. While I could hardly say I was heavy, before, I’d had the unfortunate combination of a slight bulge for a belly, small breasts and broomstick-thin arms and legs. It had added up to me looking something like a frog forced to stand up on its hind legs.
Ahaha, that’s one way to put it
Three and a half months had burned away the body fat, leaving me very lean, and had given me the stamina to run at a steady jog without leaving me panting for breath.
I didn’t aim to just jog, though. I steadily increased my pace with every block I ran as I headed towards the water. By the fifth block, I was running.
Gotta go fast! Gotta go faster, faster, fasterfaster Taylor X!
My general approach was not to get too worried about counting the miles or measuring the times. That just felt like it was distracting me from my own awareness of my body and its limits. If it felt too easy, I just pushed myself a step further than I had the previous day.
I think Taylor’s doing the right thing here. Your body’s limits can change from day to day, so if you stick too much to the exact numbers and expect to be able to do exactly the same each day, you risk overdoing it on the days when you aren’t.
The route I took varied every day, at my father’s insistence, but it usually took me to the same place.
Makes sense. “That girl comes by here every day. She’s an easy, predictable target.”
In Brockton Bay, going east took you to one of two places. You either ended up at the Docks, or you ended up at the Boardwalk.
Earlier I expressed confusion about where the Boardwalk and the Docks lie relative to each other, and this seems to support what at least one asker suggested: They both lie along the coast, just different stretches of the coast.
Because most areas of the Docks were not the sort of place that you just breezed through, given the vagrants, gang members and general crime, I stuck to main roads leading past the Docks and to the Boardwalk. It was usually close to seven by the time I got to the bridge that went over Lord Street. From there, it was a block to the Boardwalk.
Lord Street is a cool street name. I hope it’s at least somewhat common, because a lot of places ought to have a Lord Street.
I slowed down as the sidewalk ended and the wooden platform began. Though my legs were aching and I was out of breath, I forced myself to keep a low and steady pace rather than just stop.
Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. This isn’t so bad. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.
Along the boardwalk, people were starting their day. It was snowing and raining so there was no sun, which I was very happy about. A lot of preps stared at me. I put up my middle finger at them.
Anyone who accuses me of tampering with the quote can’t prove a thing.
Along the boardwalk, people were starting their day. Most places were still closed, with the top notch security systems, steel shutters and iron grates protecting all of the expensive stores, but there were cafes and restaurants opening up. Other stores had vans parked in front, and were busy loading in their shipments. There were only a few people out and about, which made it easy to find Brian.
Brian was leaning on the wooden railing, looking over the beach. Balanced on the railing next to him was a paper bag and a cardboard tray with a coffee in each of the four pockets. I stopped beside him, and he greeted me with a broad smile.
I know they’re only, text but even so, I’m not getting tired of Brian’s broad, welcoming smiles anytime soon. Just, the general attitude they represent makes me happy.
“Hey, you’re right on time,” Brian said. He looked different than he had when I saw him on Monday.
I.e. the day before, since this is happening on Tuesday. Is there any particular reason we’re paying more attention to the weekdays all of a sudden?
He was wearing a sweater under a felt jacket, his jeans didn’t have any rips or tears in them, and his boots were shined. On Monday, he had given me the impression of a regular person who lived at the Docks. The fashionable, well fit clothes he wore today made him look like someone who belonged on the Boardwalk alongside the customers who shopped in stores where nothing cost less than a hundred dollars.
I guess he dresses for the location. He and the other Undersiders have plenty of money, thanks to their… shenanigans, but if he dresses like it while in the neighborhood around their base, he’ll stick out like a sore thumb.
Come to think of it, that’s an odd expression. Why would a sore thumb stick out any more than a healthy thumb?
The contrast and the ease with which he seemed to make the transition was startling. My estimation of Brian rose a notch.
This is a man who can wear anything and look good, isn’t it. And if he wears something that doesn’t look good, he can keep you from seeing it.
“Hey,” I said, feeling just a touch embarrassed at having taken so long to respond, and feeling painfully under-dressed in his presence.
Huh. It looks like the butterflies are already stronger than I thought.
I hadn’t expected him to dress so well. I hoped my being out of breath was enough of an excuse for the delay in response. There was nothing I could do about feeling unfashionable.
Pfft. I mean you could just say it as it is, that you’re dressed for your daily exercise.
Anyway, the coffees suggest that the others are coming along too. If not for that, I’d be implying even more about this situation.
He gestured towards the paper bag, “I got donuts and croissants from the cafe over there, and a coffee if you want it.”
There were only four visible coffees. Either Brian has already had his coffee, or he knows that one of the Undersiders (possibly himself) doesn’t want coffee. Or that one of them isn’t coming. Is Rachel skipping out again, like with Taylor’s recruitment?
“I want,” I said, then I felt dumb for the awkward lapse into caveman speak. I blamed the early hour of the day. To try and save face, I added, “Thanks.”
Could there perhaps be other forces in play? 😉
On a more serious note, I suppose Taylor is somewhat out of practice when it comes to interacting with friends.
I fished out a sugar-dusted donut and bit into it. I could tell right away that it wasn’t the kind of donut that was mass produced at some central factory and delivered overnight to the shops for baking in the morning. It was freshly made, probably right at the store a block away, sold right out of the oven.
Plot twist, Alec baked them.
Yes, fine: if they were to be baked by an Undersider, Brian himself is the more likely option. I just like the mental image of Alec in an apron, happily baking donuts in the Undersider HQ kitchen.
“So good,” I said, sucking the sugar from my fingertips before reaching for one of the coffees. Seeing the logo, I looked over at the cafe and asked, “Don’t coffees there cost, like, fifteen dollars a cup?”
Brian chuckled a little, “We can afford it, Taylor.”
Taylor definitely isn’t used to having a fuckton of dirty money available to her yet… Though $15 a cup is not so much “steep” as a 50-foot straight cliff side.
It took me a second to process the idea, and as I made the connection, I felt like an idiot.
It seems you’re feeling like that a lot today, Taylor. Could it perhaps have something to do with the person you’re being adorably imperfect in front of?
Seriously, this is heading rapidly down No Denying It Lane. I can already hear Susan Egan singing in the distance.
These guys were raking in thousands of dollars on a given job, and they had given me two thousand dollars up front. I wasn’t willing to spend the money, knowing where it came from, so it was just sitting in the cubbyhole I kept my costume in, nagging at me. I couldn’t tell Brian that I wasn’t spending it, either, without risking having to explain why.
Okay, fair enough, she’s also concerned about her cover for this particular instance of feeling like an idiot.
I’m not surprised to see her refusing to spend the money. She’s presumably planning to hand it in when (if.) she betrays the Undersiders.
“Yeah, I guess,” I said, eventually. I leaned my elbows on the wooden railing beside Brian and stared out over the water.
Mirroring, a common subconscious way of indicating attraction. Also the natural thing to do in this situation regardless of what the butterflies say, and not necessarily something to read into. Take your pick!
My comments on the way Taylor is acting around Brian aren’t entirely motivated by shipping. The thing is, I genuinely think Wildbow is setting up Taylor/Brian (regardless of how I feel about the ship), and if I’m right, I want to highlight how well and how adorably Wildbow is representing Taylor’s budding feelings about Brian without actually stating anything about it just yet.
Or maybe this is where you guys get to laugh at how off-base I am and how I’m reading into things waayy too much. It’s win/win either way.
There were a few diehard windsurfers just getting ready to start the day. I guess it made sense, since there would be the occasional boat going out on the water, later.
Wildbow thinks of everything.
“How’s your arm?” He asked.
I extended my arm, clenched my fist and relaxed it to demonstrate, “Only hurts when I flex it.” I didn’t tell him that it had been hurting badly enough to cost me some sleep last night.
And of course she’s downplaying the hurt. I might’ve made a crack at doing that in front of her probable crush, but honestly I think she’d do that in front of anyone. It’s consistent with what we know of her. Even more so after what happened yesterday, when a moment of visible vulnerability from years ago was thrown back in her face.
“We’ll leave the stitches in for about a week, I think, before we take them out,” Brian said, “You can go to your doctor and have him do it, or drop by and I’ll take care of it.”
This isn’t Brian’s first medical tango.
Going to the doctor of course means she might have to make up an explanation for who stitched the wound and why. Legally the doctor shouldn’t be able to tell on her whether she told the truth or not, but one outsider in the know or with suspicions is one too many.
I nodded. A turn of the salt-water and seaweed scented wind blew my hood back, and I took a second to push my hair out of my face and pull my hood back up. “I’m sorry for Rachel and that whole incident last night” Brian said, “I wanted to apologize sooner, but I figured it would be a bad idea to bring it up while she was in earshot.”
“It’s okay,” I said. I wasn’t sure it was, but it wasn’t really his fault.
Yeah, as far as I recall, he did his best to stop it.
I tried to put my thoughts into words, “I think… well, I guess I expected to have people attack me from the moment I put on a costume, so I shouldn’t be surprised, right?”
Brian nodded, but didn’t say anything, so I added, “It caught me a little off guard that it came from someone that’s supposedly on my team, but I’m dealing.”
Taylor clearly hasn’t seen Captain America: Civil War(which makes sense considering this is set long before its release) or any of the many other movies where superheroes on the same team duke it out.
Actually, that reminds me. What’s the status of superhero movies in this world where superheroes are a reality? If they’re still a thing, do they hire real parahumans to play the roles?
“Just so you know,” Brian told me, “Just from what I saw after you left last night and as people were waking up this morning, Rachel seems to have stopped protesting quite as loudly or often about the idea of having someone new join the team. She’s still not happy about it, but I would be surprised if there was a repeat performance.”
“Alright, fine, after the part where I got to scratch her up and she got to beat me up, she wasn’t all bad.”
I laughed, a little too abruptly and high pitched than I would have liked, “God, I hope not.”
Brian: “Wait, did you just giggle?”
Taylor: “I did not!”
Brian, grinning: “You did!”
Taylor: “I don’t giggle!”
Brian, mischievously: “Oh yeah? What if I do this?” *raises his hands in the tickle position*
Taylor: “Oh God, don’t you dare!”
Alec, to Lisa: “What are you grinning at?”
(#shit i ship them #hard)
“She’s kind of a special case,” Brian said, “I think that growing up the way she did kind of messed her up. No family, too old and, uh, not really attractive enough to be a good candidate for adoption. I feel bad saying that, but that’s the way those things work, you know?” He glanced over his shoulder at me.
This web of entertaining lies comes filled with uncomfortable truths.
“So she spent a good decade in foster care, no fixed place to live, fighting tooth and nail with the other foster kids for even the most basic luxuries and possessions. My guess? She was screwed up before she got her powers, and with things happening the way they did, her powers pushed her into the deepest end of the antisocial pool.”
I still don’t really know how people get their powers, but so far it seems like most parahumans weren’t born with them. That might change, though. Especially considering the whole family thing the New Wave has going on, with Victoria and her as far as we know biological mother both being parahumans. There’s also the guy from Interlude 1, the first publicly known parahuman – what was he called… ah, right, Scion. With Scion it was unclear whether he was human at all; he acted like a straight-up alien.
I guess the setting could have multiple sources of powers like most major superhero settings, but the difference is that the major superhero settings have many writers and many franchises, whereas Parahumans is one franchise with one writer. One who seems to value even the tiniest details making internal sense. As such, I think if there are multiple sources of parahuman powers, they’re all going to be connected somehow.
The fact that we have a definite point in time when parahumans showed up publicly only seems to support that.
“Makes sense,” I said, then I added, “I read her page on the wiki.”
She already volunteered that she’d done research on Brian, so I can’t imagine this comes as a surprise to him.
“So you’ve got the gist of it,” Brian said, “She’s a handful to deal with, even for me, and I think she actually considers me a friend… or as much a friend as someone like her can have, anyways. But if you can at least tolerate her, you should see we’ve got a pretty good thing going with the team.”
“Sure,” I said, “We’ll give it a shot, anyways.”
*“Living on a Prayer” plays in the distance*
So if you’ll excuse the Homestuck terms, I have ships for three of Brian’s four quadrants already. Moirail for Rachel, kismesis to Alec and matesprit to Taylor. You could also argue that he auspistices between Rachel and Taylor here, but that gets in the way of two of the other ships.
Uh, I guess a lot of you aren’t Homestucks and can’t follow that. Somewhat simplified, what I’m saying is I ship Brian as Taylor’s boyfriend, Rachel’s pacifier and Alec’s rival. You could argue that he’s also preventing Taylor and Rachel from going into the sort of romantic rivalry he has with Alec, but that clashes with the other ships in the framework I’m using here.
Anyway! Brian is right – the team seems like a generally good thing, with the exception of some of the clashes between Rachel and the other members.
Honestly, I apologize for how shippy this chapter’s liveblog has been. I don’t mean to let it get in the way of more insightful commentary on what’s actually happening and being said.
He smiled at me, and I dropped my gaze, embarrassed.
THAT BEING SAID
I spotted a crab scuttling across the beach almost directly below us. I reached out with my power and stopped it in its tracks. Though I didn’t need to, I extended my finger and pointed at it, then waved my finger lazily as I made the crab follow where my my index finger was pointing.
Apparently crabs fall under Wildbow’s definition of bugs. Or at least Taylor’s power’s definition of which animals can be affected – the observation that most of them are insects is one Taylor has made, after all.
Since Brian and I were both leaning over the railing, and there was practically nobody on the Boardwalk that wasn’t busy with work or getting their store opened for the day, I was pretty certain nobody else would figure out what I was doing.
If someone saw it, they’d probably assume you were following the crab with your finger rather than vice versa. So I think you’re safe to cut loose and make the crab do the Macarena. 🙂
Brian saw the crab dancing in circles and figure eights and smiled. Conspiratorially, he leaned closer to me and whispered, “You can control crabs, too?”
Oh, we’re actually addressing this?
I nodded, feeling just a bit of a thrill at how we were huddled like this, sharing secrets while the people around us were totally in the dark. I told him, “I used to think I could control anything with an exoskeleton or shell. But I can control earthworms too, among other things, and they don’t have shells. I think all it takes is that they have to have very simple brains.”
I mean, that’s a rather reasonable way to define what can be affected by what is essentially animal mind control.
I’m guessing they do need to have some form of brain, though, making jellyfish and microorganisms, etc., out of Taylor’s jurisdiction.
[Here, I posted a link, labeled “Quick question”, to a poll about which sounded cooler out of “I control bugs.” and “I control simple-minded creatures.” Stand by for the results!]
I made it run in circles and figure eights for a short while longer, then released it to go about its business.
Bye bye, little crab friend!
“I should bring the others their morning coffee before they come looking for me. Want to come with?” Brian asked.
I guess I was half-wrong about the coffee. It didn’t mean the others were coming along too.
I shook my head, “I gotta get home and get ready for school.”
“Ah, right,” Brian said, “I forget about stuff like that.”
“You guys don’t go?”
“I take courses online,” Brian said, “My folks think it’s so I can hold a job to pay for my apartment… which is kind of true. Alec dropped out, Rachel never went, and Lisa already applied for and tested for her G.E.D. Cheated using her power, but she has it.”
Is it really cheating if you actually have the knowledge available in your brain?
“Ah,” I said, my focus more or less dwelling on the idea that Brian had an apartment. Not the fact that Grue the successful supervillain had an apartment – Lisa had mentioned that to me – but that Brian the teenager with parents and schoolwork to focus on did. He kept changing my frame of reference for trying to figure him out.
It does raise the question – why does he have an apartment? Why not live with his parents? I suppose one explanation is that it’s to hide his villainy from his parents. Or maybe he just wants privacy, I guess. It’s not wrong to want to move out around Brian’s age, or anything.
“Here, a gift,” he said, as he reached into his pocket and then extended his hand.
I felt a moment of trepidation at the notion of accepting another gift. The two grand they had given me was a weight on my conscience already. Still, it would look bad if I didn’t accept. I made myself put my hand under his, and he dropped a key with a short beaded chain looped through it into my palm.
“That’s to our place,” he told me, “And I mean that. Ours as in yours too.
“Woah, Brian, isn’t it a bit early to suggest that we move in tog– OH youmeanthefactoryofcourseyoudowhatelsewoulditbe” *physically contorts her body to put her foot in her mouth*
Okay, seriously though: This is a nice gesture. He knows she doesn’t feel like a part of the Undersiders yet, so he goes out of his way to reassure her that she is.
You’re free to come by any time, even if nobody is there. Kick back and watch TV, eat our food, track mud on our floor, yell at the others for tracking mud on the floor, whatever.”
“Thank you,” I said, surprising myself by actually meaning it.
Feels good, doesn’t it? To have a place where you can feel welcome.
“You going to come by after school, or should I meet you here again tomorrow morning?”
Ooh! Make it a tradition!
a romantic tradition
I thought on it for a second. Last night, not long before I’d left, Brian and I had gotten to talking about our training. When I had mentioned my morning runs, he had suggested meeting me regularly.
So that’s when they agreed on this. Brian did make it clear earlier that this was an arranged meeting and not just the two of them happening to run into each other, which is part of why I thought the others would also show up.
Is that why Taylor ran out without eating breakfast, then? So she’d have time to spend with her new friend?
The idea was to keep me up to date, since I wasn’t living at the group’s hideout like Lisa, Alec and Rachel were. It had made sense, and I’d agreed.
Yeah, sure, that was totally Brian’s only motivation.
It didn’t hurt that I liked Brian the most of anyone in the group.
Do I even need to say it?
He was easier to relate to, somehow. That wasn’t to say I didn’t like Lisa, but just being around her made me feel like I had the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head.
I think a lot of people would feel like that around her even if they weren’t actively keeping up a façade with intent to betray.
“I’ll come by later,” I decided aloud, knowing I might chicken out if I didn’t commit somehow. Before we could get caught in another thread of conversation, I gave him a quick wave and started my run back, the key to their place clenched in my hand.
Aww, not making it routine, huh? I kinda have a feeling Brian will be there again soon anyway though.
Heading back home and preparing for school left me with a gradually increasing feeling of dread, like a weight sitting on my chest.
Aaand the moment we leave super happy fluffy shipper sunshine land, it’s right back to drama. Here we go.
I’d been trying not to think of Emma’s taunting and my fleeing from the school with tears on my face.
A moment of visible weakness brought on by getting taunted with a previous moment of visible weakness, you better believe the Harpies are gonna use that as fuel.
I had spent an hour or two tossing and turning in bed, the event replaying over my head while the throbbing of my wrist jarred me awake every time I started to drift off.
No wonder Taylor was up early. This clearly wasn’t the kind of night that makes you go “no mommy, five more minutes”.
Beyond that, I had been pretty successful in avoiding thinking about it. Now that the prospect of going back was looming, though, it was impossible not to dwell on the subject as I headed home, got ready and caught the bus.
“got ready”, you say. “got ready”, you did. But ready, you’re not.
I couldn’t help but dwell on the coming day. I still had to face the consequences of missing two afternoons.
At least the faculty knows there are reasons for the way she’s acting, but will that help? Probably not.
That was a biggie, especially since I had missed the due date for handing in my art project. I realized my art project had been in my bag, and the last time I had seen my bag had been when Sophia was standing on it, smirking at me.
RIP mysterious art project, 1.1-2.3. You were mysterious.
There was also the issue of going to Mr. Gladly’s class. That usually sucked enough, what with Madison being in that class and my having to do group work with the likes of Sparky and Greg. Knowing that I had to sit there and listen to Mr. Gladly teach when I’d seen him blatantly turn his back to me when I was being bullied… that sucked more.
My interpretation of Mr. Gladly’s action, or rather inaction, remains “she doesn’t want my help.” Doesn’t mean I think it was right, though.
This wasn’t the first time I’d needed to psych myself up to going to school. Deceive myself into going and staying.
Yeah, we’ve already seen that yesterday.
The worst days had been back in my first year at high school, when the wounds of Emma’s betrayal were still fresh and I wasn’t yet experienced enough to anticipate the variety of things they could come up with.
On one hand, you get surprised by what they come up with. On the other hand, your mind can conjure things way worse than what the Harpies would actually do. And both hands are punching you in the face.
Back then, it had been terrifying, because I hadn’t yet known what to expect, didn’t know where, when or if they would draw the line. It had been hard, too, to go back in January. I’d spent a week in the hospital under psychiatric observation, and I’d known that everyone else had heard the story.
Again, visible moments of weakness being fuel to the fire.
I stared out the window of the bus, watching the people and the cars. On days like this, after being publicly humiliated, getting myself to the point where I was willing to walk through the door was about making deals with myself and trying to look past the school day.
Look forward to what you’ll do when it’s over.
I told myself that I would go to Mrs. Knott’s computer class. None of the Trio would be there, it was usually pretty easygoing, and I could take the time to browse the web. From there, it was just a matter of convincing myself to walk down the hall to Mr. Gladly’s class.
Oh hey, it’s the recently de-transphobified Mrs. Knott! And the less pleasant Mr. Gladly.
So assuming Taylor makes it to Mrs. Knott’s class, are we in for more research, perhaps on some of the villains the Undersiders mentioned during the recruitment?
If I just made myself do that, I promised myself, I would give myself a treat. A lunch break spent reading one of the books I’d been saving, or a rare snack bought from the store after school.
You can do it, Taylor! I believe in you!
For the afternoon classes, I’d inevitably come up with something else to look forward to, like watching a TV show I liked or working on my costume. Or, I thought, maybe I could just look forward to hanging out with Lisa, Alec and Brian.
Of course, Rachel is missing from that list, at least for now.
Outside of the part where I nearly got mauled by Bitch’s dogs, it had been a nice night. Thai food, five of us lounging on two couches, watching an action movie on a huge entertainment system with surround sound.
“Oh, I almost got brutally injured, but other that that, it was nice!”
Really, though, that does sound nice.
I wasn’t forgetting what they were, but I rationalized that I had no reason to feel bad about spending time with them when we were – for all intents and purposes – just a group of teenagers hanging out. Besides, it was for a good cause, if it meant they relaxed around me and maybe revealed secrets. Right?
She’s still in denial about what she’s actually doing among the Undersiders.
As I got off the bus, a pair of old notebooks in one hand, I just kept all that in mind. I could relax in Mrs. Knott’s class, and then I just had to sit through three 90 minute classes. Maybe, it occurred to me, I could try and find and talk to my art teacher over the lunch break.
Woah, Taylor actually seeking out an authority figure to talk about her problems, or at least how they impact that particular authority figure…
It would mean staying out of the trio’s way, and I could maybe work something out as far as doing another project or at least not getting a zero. My marks were okay enough that I could probably manage a passing grade with a zero on the midterm project, but still, it would help. I wanted to do more than just pass, especially with all this crap I had to put up with.
Taylor deserves more.
Mrs. Knott arrived at the classroom around the same time I did, and unlocked the room to let us file in. As one of the last of fortyish students to arrive, I’d wound up at the back of the crowd.
Everything is so much better in those cases where you’ve got either an open door before the teacher arrives or a small group to bottleneck through the door.
While I waited for enough space to open up at the door, I saw Sophia talking to three of the girls from the class.
Uh oh, that’s bad.
It looked like she had just come from her track practice. Sophia was dark skinned with black hair normally long enough to reach to the small of her back, though she currently had it in a ponytail. I couldn’t help but resent the fact that even with her being sweaty, dusty, and a notorious bitch, pretty much every guy in the school would still pick her over me.
Y’know, I’m not sensing a lot of respect for guys’ ability to actually consider their mates based on more than just looks.
Which, I mean… In some cases Taylor’s right, yes. I’m pretty sure they’re not the majority, though, and Taylor’s attitude towards it is beginning to get a little irritating.
That said, I don’t consider it a fault of the story or of Wildbow. Unlike the Mrs. Knott fiasco, it’s actually clear in this case that this one’s on Taylor.
And I can’t really fault her for it either – it’s a somewhat reasonable conclusion to make based on everything society feeds girls her age about boys her age, and based on her own perspective, which is biased against her own likability.
She said something, and all of the girls laughed. Even though I knew, rationally, that I probably wasn’t on the list of their top five things to talk about and that they likely weren’t talking about me, I felt my heart sink.
The fact that she’s here at all is a bad sign.
I moved up towards the jam of students waiting to get into the door, to break the line of sight between myself and the girls. It didn’t quite work. As a group of students entered the room, I saw Sophia looking at me.
She made an exaggerated pouting expression, drawing one fingertip in a line from the corner of her eye down her cheek like a mock tear.
…well. Could be worse. Probably gonna get worse.
One of the other girls noticed and chuckled, leaned closer to Sophia as Sophia whispered something in her ear, then they both laughed. My cheeks flushed with humiliation. Sophia gave me a final smirk and turned to saunter away while the other girls filed into the classroom.
Oh cod, what are they planning.
Kicking myself even as I did it, I turned away and walked back down the hall towards the front doors of the school.
…Actually you know what, sure. Nope the fuck out of there, Taylor.
I knew it would be that much harder to go back tomorrow. For one and three-quarter school years, I had been putting up with this shit. I’d been going against the current for a long time, and even though I was aware of the consequences I’d face if I kept missing school like this, it was so much easier to stop pushing so hard against the current and just step in the other direction.
The one problem here, aside from what will happen to her grades: The bullies win.
My hands jammed into my pockets, already feeling an ambivalent sort of relief, I caught the bus back to the docks.
The Docks, huh? Are you going to the Undersider HQ a bit earlier than Brian would’ve expected?
End of Agitation 3.1
And what Taylor does in the Docks becomes a matter for the next chapter.
Agitation 3.1 was… divided. There’s a very specific point where the tone of the chapter does a complete 180:
Before we could get caught in another thread of conversation, I gave him a quick wave and started my run back, the key to their place clenched in my hand.
Heading back home and preparing for school left me with a gradually increasing feeling of dread, like a weight sitting on my chest.
The first part of the chapter was, as I described it, “super happy fluffy shipper sunshine land”. I may have been overwhelmingly shippy during this section, and I apologize to those of you who don’t like the ship.
It’s rare that I ship something this intensely, actually.
Anyway, super happy fluffy shipper sunshine land was a very pleasant section, a nice relief from the usual dark tone, in which the characters were being utterly adorable and (if I’m right) Wildbow did a fantastic job at portraying a budding crush without actually saying a word about romance explicitly.
Then BAM. The moment Brian was left behind, the metaphorical clouds grew darker as we reentered the world of Taylor’s personal hell and the Harpies that inhabit it. The way Taylor tried to force herself through the day (again) was rather well written, and I don’t think a lot of people are going to blame her for ultimately noping the fuck out.
By the sound of things, at the end of the chapter, Taylor is headed to the Undersider HQ. I suppose the tone of the next chapter depends entirely on whom she finds there. Will she get to hang out with all the others again? Will there be nobody home? Or maybe only Rachel will be there, and the girls are forced to talk through some of their issues?
Actually, maybe that’s going to be one of the main focuses of this arc: Rachel’s Agitation? I don’t know, but part of the actual dialogue in super happy fluffy shipper sunshine land was reiterating what Rachel’s deal is, so maybe she’ll be getting some focus in this arc.
And hey, if that happens, we might be in for one arc for each Undersider, perhaps ending with Taylor’s decision on whether she’ll stay or betray?
Well, I’ll see when I get there. Good night!
The people have spoken.