Agitation 3.2: Hand to Hand

Source material: Worm, Agitation 3.2

Originally blogged: April 16, 2017


After last chapter took a sharp turn from fluffy fun to Harpy drama, Taylor noped the fuck out of school for the day and is now headed for the Docks. I presume she’s going to the Undersider HQ, but what, and whom, will she find there? This chapter could go in a lot of directions.

As I mentioned at the end of the previous chapter, we might be in for more development between Taylor and Rachel, or it could go a totally different route. I’d be interested to see more of Lisa and/or Alec.

There’s also a chance that I’m wrong about Taylor going to HQ. Maybe she’s planning on some daytime heroics? But then she’d have to go home for her costume first, and it’s not the best idea to do heroics at a particularly visible time while undercover as a villain. Those are things Taylor would’ve thought through even while noping the fuck out, so I doubt that’s what she’s up to.

Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to finding out, so let’s get into it!


I was pleasantly surprised to find that the bus line that ended at the old ferry put me only a fifteen or twenty minute walk away from the loft that Lisa, Alec and Bitch called home.

Ah, good, we are going there.

I could be spending a fair bit of time there before I gathered enough information or earned enough trust from them to turn them in to the authorities, so the convenience was nice.

You keep telling yourself that’s why you’re staying if you wish.

It was a nice day, if a bit windy. The air was crisp and cool, the sky was a brilliant and cloudless blue that was reflected in the ocean, and the sand of the beach sparkled in the light of the sun.

That’s nice. Rather bright and happy. 🙂

What does “cloudless” mean?

Tourists were already crowding the railings or migrating to the beach, pinning down the corners of their beach blankets under picnic baskets and shopping bags. It was too cold to go in the water but the view was spectacular.

This really doesn’t sound like the Docks. Is this the Boardwalk?

I enjoyed it for a few moments before venturing into the crowd. I walked with my hands in my pockets, as much to protect the stuff in my pockets as keeping the worst of the chill out.

I found myself using the same protection tactic when I was in Rome. I have it on good authority that the city is full of pickpockets, but they’re gonna have to try hard to sneak something out of my pockets when I’m practically holding it in there.


Maybe bad timing for a “What does ‘cloudless’ mean?” joke when I can’t see a single cloud outside my window.

I guess.


Living in Brockton Bay, you learned stuff like that. How to protect yourself, what to watch for.

Sometimes I feel lucky living in a small city in Norway. (Seriously, I’m not sure it would even be a town by American standards.)

[“City” is a generous description, even here.]

I knew that the Vietnamese teenagers who were leaning against the railing of the boardwalk were members of the ABB, even if they weren’t wearing their gang colors, because the only Asian kids in Brockton Bay that had that much swagger were already part of Lung’s gang.

Honestly, it’s more impressive that she recognized them as specifically Vietnamese.

I knew the tattoo on the arm of the guy lifting boxes into the florist’s van that read ‘Erase, Extinguish, Eradicate’ meant the guy was a white supremacist because it had the letter E repeated three times.

I don’t know what three E’s have to do with white supremacism (unless it’s just as a shortening of what the tattoo reads, but then pointing it out makes little to no sense), but it’s not exactly subtle what (whom) the guy wants to Erase, Extinguish, Eradicate.

[Come on, past me. Victoria called the Empire 88 the “Triple-Es” literally two chapters ago.]


The man in the uniform who was talking to a shop owner wasn’t a cop or security guard, but one of the enforcers the merchants of the Boardwalk hired to keep the undesirables from making trouble. They were why the Boardwalk didn’t have beggars, addicts, or people wearing gang colors hanging around.

So kind of like a security guard, but not quite?

If your presence offended or worried the tourists, they would step up to scare you off. If someone shoplifted or panhandled in the Boardwalk, they ran the risk that one or two enforcers would drag them behind one of the shops and teach them a lesson.

They don’t sound entirely lawful, though, do they.

Anything more serious than shoplifting or panhandling, well, there was always someone on duty in the floating base of the Protectorate Headquarters. Any of the store owners or employees could call the likes of Miss Militia, Armsmaster or Triumph in, given a minute.

I suppose there’s time for that kind of thing in between the superpowered villain antics, especially with so many heroes on duty.

We’ve got some new names here – Miss Militia and Triumph.

Miss Militia sounds like she’d have a military background. Maybe her power is summoning/creating soldiers, or something like that? Or maybe she’s a weapons Tinker?

Triumph… isn’t giving me a lot to go on. “The power to win” would be cheating, and also very abstract. I really don’t know.

The tourism revenue the Boardwalk picked up earned a lot of goodwill from the government and government sponsored capes.

Makes sense.


I headed off the boardwalk and into one of the alleys leading into the Docks. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw one of the uniformed enforcers staring at me. I wondered what he was thinking. Good kids didn’t hang out in the Docks, and I doubted I looked the part of a guileless tourist.

Maybe I should’ve saved that My Immortal joke from last chapter.


The abandoned factories, warehouses and garages of the Docks all blended into one another very quickly. The colors of the building exteriors weren’t different enough from one another to make buildings recognizable, and the people or piles of garbage that I had been unconsciously noting my previous visit had all shifted locations or been replaced. I found myself glad for the artistic graffiti and the row of weed-entangled power lines that I could use as landmarks. I did not want to get lost. Not here.

Handy to have some sort of landmark.

Plot twist: The Docks are an eldritch location with non-Euclidean geometry. You’re never getting out if you follow a straight line.

As I arrived at the foot of the huge factory with the Redmond Welding sign, I found myself wondering whether I should knock or just go on up. I didn’t have to decide – the door opened just a second after I’d come. It was Brian, and he looked as surprised to see me as I was to see him.

“Hey,” he said, “Lisa said you’d arrived.

“My door is not fitted with a peephole either. Those without eyes or without limits to their knowledge have no need for peeping, and I am without either. I have never once peeped at or through something, and I doubt I ever will.”

Hell yes, Brian and Lisa are here, at the very least.

I thought you had school.”

It does mean Taylor’s gonna have to come up with an explanation for this. Then again, these aren’t exactly the most lawful of folks, they’ll probably accept “I decided to skip it” without prying too much. At least for the ones who would actually need to pry to find out.


It took me a few seconds to get my mental footing. Any demonstration or mention of Lisa’s power kind of had a way of doing that to me, and that was on top of having a conversation sprung on me without a chance to prepare. “Changed my mind,” I said, lamely.

Lisa’s power remains a bit unnerving to Taylor. No surprise there.

“Huh. Well, come on up.”

So is anyone else home?

We headed upstairs. I saw Brian was wearing different clothes than what he had been wearing earlier in the morning. What he was wearing now bore a closer resemblance to his clothes from the day before – a green sleeveless t-shirt and black slacks with a lightweight fabric, like yoga pants or something.

I guess he really was dressing for the location.

Alec was waiting, leaning against the back of a couch, as we entered the living room.

Hi, Alec!

He was wearing a t-shirt with some cartoon or video game character on it and basketball shorts. He stood straight as he noticed us.

Very casual, I like it.

“Alec and I were sparring,” Brian told me, “Lisa’s on the phone in the kitchen. Rachel and her dogs are in her room. You can watch us, if you want, but no pressure. Feel free to use the TV, put on a DVD or play a video game.”

Sparring? Fuck yes, I wanna see this. Both of their powers involve fucking things up for the other, which could be really fun. My money’s on Alec.

“Don’t save over any of my files, dork,” Alec said. He’d started with the ‘dork’ thing last night. It wasn’t exactly malicious, but it grated.

Seems like he might mean it affectionately, but who knows. But if Taylor doesn’t like it, then he should stop.

“My name is Taylor, not dork, and I wouldn’t do that,” I told him. Turning to Brian, I said, “I’ll watch, if it’s cool.”

Yes. Fuck yes. Hell. Fucking. Yes.


Brian smiled and nodded, while I moved to kneel on the couch and watch them over the back of it.

As it turned out, it was less of a ‘sparring’ session than an attempt on Brian’s part to give a less than fully committed Alec some basic lessons on hand to hand fighting.

…aw.

It was one-sided, and not just because Alec wasn’t trying very hard. Alec was a very average fifteen year old guy in that he had little muscle worth speaking about. Brian, by contrast, was fit.

At least Alec’s power is based on making the opponent fuck themselves up without him having to do it. Brian’s power is more geared towards giving him an advantage in hand-to-hand combat, while Alec likely avoids it entirely.

He wasn’t big in the sense of a bodybuilder or someone who exercised just to pack on muscle like you saw with some of the people just out of prison. It was a little more streamlined than that. You could see the raised line of a vein running down his bicep, and the definition of his chest showed through his shirt.

You like what you see, Taylor? 😉


Besides the difference in raw physical power, there was also the age and height gap. Alec was two or three years younger and nearly a foot shorter. That meant Brian had more reach – and I’m not just referring to the length of his arms.

Okay, I’m just gonna say that my first thought was not legs.

That’s my second thought, though.

When he stepped forward or backward, he moved further. He covered more ground, which put Alec on the defensive, and since Brian was stronger, that put Alec in a bad position.

I’m fine with being short (5′5″), but that is one disadvantage.

Not to say that I do much fighting. It just would’ve been nice to walk a little faster.

Brian stood without much of a fighting stance, hands at his sides, bouncing just a little where he stood. Twice in a row, I watched Alec swing a punch, only for Brian to lean out of the way. The second time Alec’s arm flew by, Brian leaned in and jabbed Alec in the center of his chest. It didn’t look like much of a punch, but Alec still sort of woofed out a breath and stepped back.

And here I thought Rachel was the dog person.

Doesn’t sound like a super exciting fight, really.

“I keep telling you,” Brian said, “You’re throwing punches like you’d throw a baseball.

That sounds ridiculously ineffective.

That said, baseballs can be thrown with some serious force, so maybe there’s something to it.

Don’t bring your arm so far back before you punch. You’re just broadcasting what you’re about to do and it doesn’t add enough power to the hit to be worth that.”

“What am I supposed to do, then?”

Punch hundreds of times, so fast that it looks like one punch.

Super effective against figure skaters.

(#if you know what the refrance #you get a cookie #as far as supplies last)


“Look at how I’m standing. Arms up, bent, then I just extend my arm, wrist straight. Fast enough that whoever I’m hitting generally can’t step out of the way, so they’ve got to either take it or block it.”

Saves you time, too, so you can hit more often.

“But you weren’t standing like that ten seconds ago when I was punching you,” Alec complained.

“I left an opening to see if you would take advantage of it,” Brian replied.

“You fucked up.” “I fucked up on purpose.”

“And I didn’t,” Alec noted with a sigh.

Brian shook his head.

It takes a lot of practice to spot the openings in any context, really.

“Well fuck this then,” Alec said, “If you’re going to go easy on me and still kick my ass, I don’t see the point.”

The point is to get your ass kicked to the point where you no longer get your ass kicked.

“You should learn how to fight,” Brian said.

“I’ll do like I have been and bring my taser,” was Alec’s response, “one poke and they’re out cold. Better than any punch.”

I mean, that’s not a bad idea. As long as you don’t go up against someone with a type advantage against electricity, at least.

“And if the taser breaks or you lose it?” Brian asked.

Also a good point.

He needn’t have bothered. Alec was already sitting himself down in front of the TV, remote in one hand and game controller in the other. Brian’s disappointment was palpable.

Alec’s nonchalance is gonna cause him a bit of trouble sometime, I’m sure.


“Mind giving me a few quick and dirty pointers?” I asked.

Ooh!

Alec sniggered, Beavis and Butthead style.

Oh come on, Alec, it’s not a bad idea.

…or maybe you’re just sniggering at the idea of Brian and Taylor being “quick and dirty” with each other.

“Grow up, Alec,” Brian said, “If you want to quit, fine, but don’t be a dick.” He turned to me and flashed that boyish smile. Then we started.

Here! we! go!


I knew he was going easy on me, but he was still a damn tough teacher.

“Make two fists. No, don’t wrap your fingers over your thumbs. You’ll do more damage to your hands than you will to the person you’re hitting, if you do that. That’s better. Now jab at me, okay?”

That’s a pretty common piece of advice to come across on the internet, but there are still a lot of people who don’t know it. If you gotta punch someone, don’t put your thumb inside the fist, or the thumb will take the brunt of the impact.

I tried to emulate what he’d been describing to Alec. Arms up, bent, and extending my fist with a snap. He caught my right hand in his left.

D’aww, look, they’re holding hands

“Okay, now you’re going to do two things different. Step into the jab so you’ve got your body’s momentum behind the hit, on top of your arm’s power.

This can be trickier than it sounds, really, at least if you’re not practiced. Not just for punching, but other activities like kicking or throwing too.

Second, I want your left arm up as you’re jabbing with your right, and vice versa. If I see the chance, I’m going to pop you one on the shoulder or ribs, so be ready to fend me off.”

A good offense might be the best defense sometimes, but if you’re too distracted by your offense to pay attention to defense, it becomes an opening.

I winced at the idea, but I played along. I jabbed, he stepped away, and he jabbed me in the shoulder. He didn’t hit as hard as he could have – I think he only hit as hard as it took to make it hurt and drive the lesson home, but I suddenly felt a stab of sympathy for Alec.

Brian strikes me as very in control of what he’s doing. He knows how hard to hit, in order to hurt without doing damage, or in order to incapacitate without rotting the target’s dick off.


Things continued in that vein. Brian didn’t stay on one topic for long. When I started struggling with something, he shifted gears to another area that complemented or built on what I was having problems with.

Have you considered becoming a personal teacher, Brian?

When I failed for the fifth time to fend off his retaliatory jabs at my shoulders and ribs, he started talking about posture.

“Rest your weight on the balls of your feet.”

So are we talking American or European foot balls here?

I tried it, then told him, “I feel like I’m going to tip over backwards if you hit me.”

American foot balls, got it.

He bent down to check, and I lifted my toes two or three inches off the ground to demonstrate how I had my weight balanced on my heels.

“No, Taylor. The balls of your feet. He raised his bare foot and pointed at the padded part between his toes and the bridge of his foot.

“How is that a ball?” I asked, raising my own foot to point at the vaguely spherical part of the foot where the ankle met the ground, “this is the only part that looks ball-like.”

She has a point there.


“You guys are so lame,” Alec chimed in, without turning around. Brian swatted him in the back of the head.

Which kind of football do you prefer, Alec?

We moved on from posture, Brian’s recommendations on balancing did help, to self-defense again. From there, we changed topics to the mental side of things, both for me and my opponent.

Considering how people tend to feel about giant swarms of insects, Taylor has the potential for an advantage here.

“So I throw a punch like I’m aiming to put my fist through them?” I confirmed.

“Right,” Brian said, “Instead of just trying to make contact with the point where your hand meets their body.”

I’m not even fighting her but I’m still vaguely scared of her punching me now.

“What about when they’re attacking me?”

“Best bet? Don’t give them a chance. Stay aggressive and keep them on their heels.

As we’ve just established, that’s a posture you don’t want to be stuck in.

If neither of you have formal training, then that’s going to give you the best odds. They won’t be able to turn the tables on you unless you make a mistake or they can guess what you’re going to do as you do it. Which is why you mix it up.

The essence of Drunken Master fighting styles. Other than alcohol, I suppose.

Rights, lefts, punches, jabs, elbow, knee, kicks and if you’re bigger and stronger than them, you can try tackling them to the ground. With all of that, you stay on them until they aren’t in a position to fight back.”

Right foot, left foot, now go even faster

As you’re moving backwards, keep your eyes on me

“Are you formally trained in anything?” I asked. I suspected he was, since the only other way for him to know as much as he was demonstrating was to have actually been in a good number of fights, and I wasn’t thinking that he seemed the type to fight without reason.

Brian does seem to know what he’s talking about.


“Ehhh,” he hedged, “Some. My dad was a boxer when he was in the service, and he taught me some when I was little.

That’s not strictly formal training, is it? Still counts, though.

I moved on to other stuff on my own – Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Krav Maga – but nothing really held my interest. I only took a few weeks or a month of classes for each.

A jack of all trades, but a master of none; better than a master of one.

I know enough and keep in shape, which is enough to hold my own against anyone who isn’t a black belt in whatever, which is the important thing, I think. Keeping up with the more serious martial artists is a full time job, and you’re still going to run into people who are better than you, so I don’t see the point in stressing too much over it.”

Being a master is overrated.

I nodded.

We moved on to key areas to attack.

Such as the dick?

Brian pointed to the body parts in question as he explained, “Eyes, nose, temple, chin and throat are the areas above the shoulder. Teeth or ears if you can hit hard enough. I can, you can’t.”

Lots of weak spots on the head.

Taylor may not be strong enough to effectively hit the ear, but she sure as hell can kick it.

“Sure,” I said. I wasn’t offended by his bluntness. He was stronger than me, so he had more options. Tip toeing around it didn’t do either of us any favors.

Yeah, the physical difference is just a fact.

“Below the shoulders, diaphragm, kidney, groin, knee, bridge of the foot, toes. Elbow is a good one if you can do anything with it,” he took my wrist in his left hand and my shoulder in his right, extending my arm straight as he brought his knee up to gently tap the outside of my elbow. I could see how he would have screwed up or broken my arm if he’d done it full strength. He went on, “But in my experience, it doesn’t come up often enough to worry about.”

We all know how painful it is to accidentally hit something right on the elbow!

It was a little disquieting to hear Brian methodically describing how to break a human being. I saw him as a nice guy, if I ignored his career choice.

Violence as a career can be weird like that.


Not entirely by accident, I changed the subject, “I was thinking about investing in a weapon for hand to hand. When I was fighting Lung, fists were no good and I found myself really wanting a knife or a baton or something. Don’t know if they would have been any good against his armor, but you know…” I trailed off.

I doubt the baton would be, but if you could find openings in the armor and hit them accurately, a knife might work. Then again, that would bring your fist very close to the flames enveloping his body.

Brian nodded, “Makes sense. You don’t have a lot in the way of upper body strength, no offense.”

“None taken. I tried to get something like a push-up routine going, but I got sick of it fast. At least with running, there’s that sense of going places, you get the scenery.”

I will say, out of all the different exercise regimens you could do, running is one of the better ones.

“Push-ups get repetitive, yeah. Well, the boss is good about supplying us with gear. Lisa’s the one who talks to him, she’s talking to him right now, in fact.

Oooh, more info about the boss! Apparently it’s a “him”.

Put in a word with her if you want something like that. It’s untraceable too, so the good guys aren’t going to be tracing any serial numbers or whatever from your weapon back to your purchase.”

That would be a concern for Taylor under other circumstances, so that’s good to know.


The fact that Lisa was talking to their boss made me very curious, all of a sudden. That said, I couldn’t really traipse in to eavesdrop without being suspicious. Instead, since Lisa was out of earshot, I thought I’d seize the opportunity to ask, “So who is this boss of ours?”

Please give a straight answer, please give a straight answer, please give a straight answer…

Brian and Alec exchanged a look. When they didn’t immediately say anything, I wondered if I’d pushed it too far. Had I been too nosy?

“Figured you’d ask,” Brian said, “Thing is, we don’t know.”

Yeah, fair enough. That is a straight answer.

It’s not all that surprising, really. They’ve been so vague about the guy so far. Besides, the motive behind his payments to “stay active and together” is kind of mysterious already, so having the man himself be mysterious is not a huge leap.

(Plot twist: It’s Danny Hebert.)

“What?” I asked, “We have an anonymous sponsor?”

“It’s really fucking weird, yeah,” Alec said, then he hammered a button on the game controller, “Boom! Triple headshot!”

“Alec, stay focused,” Brian sighed the words, with a tone suggesting he didn’t expect to be listened to.

Hehe.


Alec bobbed his head in a nod, his eyes not leaving the television, before adding, “It’s weird but it’s basically free money, a good team, contacts, access to everything we need for stuff, and pretty much no drawbacks.”

The real question is of course, what does the anonymous sponsor gain from this arrangement?

“Lisa knows, I think,” Brian grumbled, “But she says that when she joined the Undersiders, she made a deal that she was going to keep quiet on the subject.

…of course she does.

Hey, didn’t I comment before that Brian and Lisa seemed somewhat at odds with each other when it came to the boss?

*checks 2.6*

Ah, found it:

Lisa ignored Brian’s question and winked at me, “Girl’s gotta have her secrets.”

“Lisa’s half the reason we haven’t failed a job yet,” Alec said.

“And our boss is a large part of the rest,” Lisa finished for him.

“So you say,” Brian grumbled, “But let’s not go there.”

Hrm.

Brian seems to be harboring some animosity for the boss, I think? Or he might just be a little irritated by the way Lisa implies that he and Alec aren’t that important.

I think Brian is rather frustrated with the secrecy. Somewhat ironic for the guy whose power is hiding things in a voidy gas.

I’m not sure if that means she knows who he is or if it’s just to keep her mouth shut if her power tells her.”

I suppose that’s a possibility too, but I’m leaning towards her actually knowing, given the extent we’ve seen from her power so far.


“So let me get this straight,” I said, “This guy gathers you all together, offers you a salary and what? Doesn’t ask for anything in return?”

Honestly, after watching Steven Universe for a few seasons, Taylor is rather refreshing. She actually asks the important questions. (Though Steven is improving on that front.)

Brian shrugged, “He asks us to do jobs, but most of the time it’s stuff we’d do anyways, and if we say no, he doesn’t make an issue of it.”

“What kind of jobs does he ask us to do?” I asked.

Lisa’s voice just behind me startled me, “This. Pull up your socks, boys and girl, because we’re robbing a bank.”

Oh fuck yes things are heating up!


End of Agitation 3.2

Well that ending just got me really excited for the next chapter!

Agitation 3.2, was a chapter of downtime, in a sense, but that doesn’t mean nothing happened. We got to watch Taylor, Alec and Brian hanging out, Taylor learned some hand-to-hand fighting skills, and we got some more juicy deets on the mysterious boss of the Undersiders. It was calm and nice.

And then bam, come on, get hyped, we’re robbing a fucking bank next chapter

I’m really looking forward to that, because it most likely means we’ll finally see everyone’s powers in full action, and how they work together in a heist. It also means we’re gonna see how Taylor handles doing villainous deeds to keep her cover. Maybe we’ll even get a confrontation between the Undersiders and one or more members of the Protectorate, possibly including Armsmaster. Can you imagine if Armsmaster comes to the scene and spots the bug girl who took down Lung working together with the Undersiders, and with her having no time to explain that she’s undercover?

You probably can, especially if it happens. Either way, I’m very much hyped. See you then!


[postscript]

While looking for that bit from my liveblog of 2.6, I noticed this quote about Lisa:

Lisa still had a bit of a smile, but I was getting the impression that was her default expression.

and it made me realize whom exactly Lisa reminds me of:

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