Agitation 3.6: Car Talk

Source material: Worm, Agitation 3.6

Originally blogged: May 21, 2017


Last chapter, Taylor got some harsh truths thrown at her by Armsmaster, but of course that only strengthened her determination to go through with the Great Undersider Information Heist, and the bank heist it involves. I believe that this chapter will finally cover the beginning of the latter heist.

I’ve said that a few times now though, since I seem to misjudge the pace of the story quite frequently, so who really knows what Wildbow actually has in store for me tonight.

You. You do. And it’s time for me to find out!


“Think of it as a game,” Lisa said, “A high stakes variant of cops and robbers.”

Last time I recall playing cops and robbers, I ended up with a phobia of buzzing insects that I’m only now beginning to get over almost a decade later.

Let’s just say you should be careful where you put your hands while in jail.

A steady downpour of rain thrummed against the outside of the van Lisa was driving.

She’s not old enough to get a real, legal license even by cheating, right? Not that I think they’d feel a need to get her one, let alone a real one.

The rain drowned out all other noise of the traffic around us and muted our view of the surroundings, making the interior of the car an island in the midst of downtown.

Handy for saving on special effects, no need to make things visible through the windows.

…what do you mean “this is a text-based story”?

Traffic was at a deadlock, so bad that Lisa had put the van into park and turned off the engine.

As long as it’s not like in that one Doctor Who episode, you’ll be fine. Hopefully.

To break the silence, I had asked Lisa why some villains didn’t get their secret identities revealed when they got caught, and I’d apparently stumbled into one of her favorite topics.

Ooh! Exposition!

I supposed it was good that she was in a mood to talk, because I wasn’t.

“I think,” I ventured, “That it’s a little closer to real cops and robbers than the schoolyard game.”

Oh, I see, that first line was part of Lisa’s reply. I guess it’s sort of a nemesis thing where it’s kinda fun for the heroes too and revealing the identities would end it? Although that would be kinda fucked up.


“No, no. Hear me out. Grown adults running around in costume? Making up code names for themselves? It’s ridiculous, and we know it’s ridiculous, even if we don’t admit it out loud.

Heh, ain’t that the truth. It reminds me of Glory Girl’s insistence on Panacea using their hero names.

So there’s capes like you and me, where we go out in costume and it’s fun. Maybe we have some agenda or goals, but at the end of the day, we’re getting our thrills, blowing off steam and living a second life.

Welcome to the beautiful city of Escapism Bay!

Then there’s the crazies. The people who are fucked up in the head, maybe dangerous if there’s not something or someone to help keep them in line.

Lung… Bakuda… Rachel?

The people who take it all too seriously, or those guys you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of, even if they didn’t have powers. Lung, Oni Lee, Heartbreaker,” she paused. “Bitch.”

Heh, Wildbow pulled the same thing!

Heartbreaker’s a new name. Maybe some kind of anti-Cupid villain, spreading hatred like Miraculous’s Dark Cupid?

Also I refuse to believe that there aren’t at least one or two of this sort on the heroes’ side too.


I nodded.

“And there’s the monsters. The really dangerous motherfuckers, who are barely human any more, if at all. The Slaughterhouse Nine, Nilbog-”

“The Endbringers,” I interjected.

Yikes.

I wonder if the Endbringers actually have an apocalypse as their goal. Like, not necessarily an “end of everything” apocalypse, but a major upheaval that could be seen as the end of civilization as we know it?

Also Nilbog is “goblin” backwards. Or maybe they just hate that one type of wetland and want to make it nil.

The Slaughterhouse Nine doesn’t tell me much, other than that there are probably nine of them. Maybe they all happen to be butchers.

(The Fellowship of the Meat)

Lisa paused, “Right. But you have to understand, ninety percent of what goes on when you’re in costume? It’s the first group. Adults in costumes playing full contact cops and robbers with fun-as-fuck superpowers and toys.

Honestly this is a fun way to look at superhero fiction. It also fits well with Lisa’s cheery attitude – it’s all a game, to her. Not so sure if others, such as Armsmaster, see it that way, though that seems to be what Lisa thinks.

This mindset applies to the people without powers too. Way I see it, having a local team of superheroes is like having a sports team. Everyone’s rooting for them, they make for great media that isn’t about wars or the water crisis or whatever, there’s merchandising and tourists… all good shit that the local government loves.

Hm, yeah, that actually describes the attitude we’ve seen towards the Protectorate, particularly from Taylor, rather accurately… Which makes Taylor analogous to a huge sports fan.

I hope someone has drawn her, in her costume, with one of those “#1″ foam fingers and a beer hat filled with soda.

But what good is having a team if there’s no competition?”

That really summarizes why supervillains exist in almost all superhero fiction. Even if the story is about how awesome a particular superpower would be, it’d quickly get boring if there wasn’t an opponent who could stand a chance against the hero.


“Which is where we come in,” I figured out where she was going.

“Exactly. At the end of the day? We’re not doing much harm. Property damage, theft. A few civilians get hurt if they don’t move out of the way fast enough.

The occasional ball hitting an audience member at the stadium.

But insurance payouts cover that stuff, and people aren’t that much worse off. The property damage is covered and the injured bystander has a great story to tell at the water cooler.

She has a point here. It’s not legal fun and games but it isfun and games.

The difference, though, is that the audience at the stadium asked to be there.

The city gets revenue in an indirect way, from merchandise, tourism and the rising property that come with being an exciting city.

Crime rates are high – cool, let’s go there!


“Compared to the psychos and the monsters out there, it’s almost in the city’s interests to keep us in circulation. Far as I see it, we’re not that much better or worse than the so called good guys. We face more risk at the end of the day, with the possibility of jail time and physical danger, but we get a better payoff. We just took the path that was higher risk, higher reward.”

Hm. I suppose so. Higher risk, higher reward, lower morals.

“I’m not sure,” I said, carefully, “That I buy all that.”

“No? Then why don’t they send people like Über straight to the Birdcage after his trial, like they are with Lung?

Über: Barely a B-list villain, teamed up with Leet. Both video game-themed.

Look, I can remember some of these characters! 😛

The amusing but relatively harmless villains get a regular jail cell, they inevitably break out before the trial concludes, and the cat and mouse game starts again.

Some powers of course make that easier than others, like anything involving teleportation.

Sure, there’s the three strike rule, and he’ll get sent to the Birdcage eventually, but the people in charge have to maintain some plausible deniability.”

Three strikes and you’re out. I was already thinking of the sports metaphor as baseball…


I didn’t think there was a way I could argue against Lisa’s theory without giving too much of my own perspective away.

What kind of arguments would you even give? I mean, there’s the part about Armsmaster’s attitude to the whole thing, but that’s of course not something Taylor can mention.


I just kept my mouth shut and turned my new knife over in my hands. Direct from our anonymous ‘boss’, it sported a blade a little over six inches long and a textured handle with three symmetrical indents on each side, for grip.

people on this site will make the biggest scene whenever any of the undersiders has the tiniest flaw but i don’t see ANYBODY talking about all of the innocent people taylor callously stabs per chapter ..? :/


According to Lisa, it was strong enough to use as a miniature crowbar, if I had a mind to. My extendable combat baton was tucked away in the panel of my armor where I kept my pepper spray.

If there’s one thing Taylor is, it’s prepared.

“But the real evidence to my ‘cops and robbers’ theory,” Lisa continued, “Is the reaction you see when someone crosses the line.

When someone breaks the rules of the game…

You’ve heard about it happening. Someone finds out another cape’s secret identity, goes after the cape’s family. Or a cape wins a fight and decides his downed opponent isn’t in a state to say no if he’s feeling lusty?

Yikes.

Word gets around, and the cape community goes after the fucker. Protecting the status quo, keeping the game afloat. Bitter enemies call a truce, everyone bands together, favors get called in and everyone does their damndest to put the asshole down.”

That’s about how it works in schoolyard games, yeah. This theory is looking pretty solid.

Hopefully it’ll help Taylor feel more right about staying among the “bad guys” when decision time comes around!


“Like we do with the Endbringers,” I said. I sheathed my knife.

“Holy fuck,” Lisa said, slapping the sides of the steering wheel with her hands. I think if the van had been moving, she would have hit the brakes for emphasis. Traffic was starting to move, though, so she started up the car and put it into gear, “Twice, you bring up the Endbringers in as many minutes. You’re being morbid. What’s going on?”

I get the impression that the Endbringers are not to be discussed. It’s morbid to even bring them up, really? Damn, they’ve got to have quite the reputation to get this kind of response!

I stared out the window at downtown Brockton Bay, hundreds of people with umbrellas and raincoats, a few intrepid individuals bolting down the street with a briefcase or newspaper over their head, to ward off the downpour as they made their way to or from their work on their lunch hours.

Taylor is acting a little odd, like she’s got a lot on her mind all of a sudden that she hasn’t told us readers about.

It was hard to talk to Lisa, as much as I liked her as a person. I felt like I was walking on eggshells. If I said something, would that give her the puzzle piece she needed to figure me out?

It could be the conversation with Armsmaster last night, but what would the Endbringers have to do with anything?

I had been lucky so far, but relying on luck sucked. I was counting on this ruse continuing, whether it was because I enjoyed the temporary companionship of Brian, Lisa and Alec, or because I wanted to get Grue, Tattletale, Regent and Bitch carted off to jail and prove Armsmaster wrong. I was aware how paradoxical those two interests were.

I like that she’s admitting to herself that the former is an interest she has. Also it’s kinda telling that she uses legal names for the former and villain names for the latter – she likes their human side, not so much their villainy.

Oh and of course she excludes Rachel from the former.

…speaking of whom, we’ve barely seen Rachel at all in this arc. What has she even been up to?


But right now, maybe for the first time since Bitch had set her dogs on me, I felt painfully out of place in the group dynamic. We were robbing a bank, and I was the only one who was guilty about it, apparently the only one who was worried about the safety of the bystanders and hostages.

The others are used to this side of the game. You’re a newbie who thinks you’re on the other team. Of course you’re gonna feel out of place!

Then there was the fact that Armsmaster had said that two members of the Undersiders were murderers, and doubt was tainting every interaction I had with these guys. When I was smiling about a joke Alec made, was I enjoying the joke of a killer?

Quite possibly.

I liked Brian, but now I was looking back on how he had pointed out how to brutally disable someone in a fight, and I was wondering if he’d ever gone that one step further and snapped someone’s neck.

He could if he wanted to. Or had to.

I doubt the Protectorate don’t also have a few killers in the mix. It’s not always a matter of cruelty.

It wasn’t a hundred percent impossible to imagine that one of the secrets Lisa was so fond of keeping included murder, either.

I actually don’t think it’d be Lisa if it wasn’t an accident or self defense. I think she’d see murder as a serious breach of the rules, and only do it if necessary.

I felt like every interaction with these guys was spoiled, now, and there was nobody I could ask to clarify the lingering questions.

“So hey, that jackass Armsmaster told me one of you guys killed someone, gimme all the juicy deets!”


Still, staying quiet now would only make her more suspicious, and if she turned the full extent of her power on me, I doubted my undercover ruse would withstand her attention.

Yeah… better not get her thinking there’s more to know about you.

I confessed with a half truth, “I got in an argument with someone last night. I think it was mutual disappointment, got pretty heated, hurtful. I guess I’m a bit angry, and my confidence is a little shaken.”

For those of you keeping track at home, the question being answered here happened five paragraphs ago and was “You’re being morbid. What’s going on?”

Let’s just hope it doesn’t occur to Lisa to wonder whom Taylor got in that argument with.


Actually, you know what, it’s time to air a thought that’s been brewing up in the back of my head for a bit. What if Lisa already knows about the whole undercover thing, and is taking a risk in trying to convert Taylor to their side because she knows there’s potential?

Like, she’s said that she doesn’t really use her power on other people’s intentions much, but it would be very careless of her to not do it when inviting a new member they knew practically nothing about except for what Lisa’s power told her. I don’t think Lisa is careless.

Plus, there have been other opportunities for her power to give her information pertaining to what Taylor is up to.


“Well, fuck them,” Lisa stated. I raised an eyebrow in response.

She went on, “See, I know you. Believe it or not, I likeyou.

Question is, how well do you know Taylor? I’m leaning towards “better than Taylor knows herself”.

Did from the time I saw you on that roof, opposite Lung. You know how we fear the unknown? Well, I know stuff, that’s my whole thing, and that motherfucker is one of the very few people who can spook me.

We still don’t quite know why Lung was going for the Undersiders, but we do know they were terrified. They were going to face their fear, but they were terrified.

Also I like the “fear the unknown” thing being tied into Lisa’s power. That’s clever. 🙂

You, Taylor, stood up to him.”

She did, and she did a damn good job too!

I wonder, does Lisa know why Taylor did it? That is, to save the Undersiders?


In a manner of speaking, anyways. The way I remembered it, I’d been curled up in a fetal position when the Undersiders came to my rescue. I didn’t correct her.

Pfft, I actually thought about that too. Only reason I didn’t say anything is I suspect the Undersiders were watching for a while before the fetal position was assumed.

“So this guy or this girl that’s got you down in the dumps? I say fuck them. They don’t know you. They don’t know what you’re capable of.”

Well. Kinda true. Kinda not.

I would have stopped myself if I could have, but the irony of her statement was too rich. I grinned, looking out the window to hide the expression from Lisa.

“I saw that. Don’t think I didn’t. So I’ve shaken the doldrums from you. Good. Now look to our left.”

Ooh, are we arriving at the bank?

“Who uses words like doldrums, anymore?” I voiced my thoughts as I obeyed her instruction. She only chuckled in response.

Pfft.

Maybe Lisa just needed to look at a thesaurus once to know all the words in it.


As I realized what I was looking at, through the rain and the past the traffic, I swallowed hard. It was a stone fixture six stories tall, with crenelations on the roof and balconies, stone gargoyles at the corners and iron grilles on the windows. The entryway had wide stone stairs like a courthouse, with statues of rearing horses with wild manes on either side. The name of the institution was etched into the stone above the doors. The Brockton Bay Central Bank. A virtual castle.

Fancy!

“In twenty minutes or so, we’re going to be leaving there, tens of thousands of dollars richer, the adrenaline rush of victory pumping through our veins,” Lisa’s voice was barely above a whisper, “Now tell me. Can you visualize that?”

Not really.

“Yes,” I tried.

You’re talking to someone with a lie detector that should be better than Armsmaster’s. Half truths have been fine so far, but be careful.

Unless of course Lisa already knows.

“Liar,” she said. Then she winked at me, “It’s okay. An hour from now, you’ll be rolling in money and laughing about how pessimistic you were. Promise.”

Told you so!

So is Taylor going to freak out internally about Lisa catching her in a lie?

Lisa pulled the van around to circle the block, then pulled into an employee parking lot behind a restaurant.

Apparently not so we can see it, at least.


Lisa pulled the van around to circle the block, then pulled into an employee parking lot behind a restaurant. As she pulled into the parking lot, bringing us right to the back corner of the bank, I pulled on my mask.

It’s happening!

Lisa did the same, then took a few seconds to smear her eyelids with black facepaint so they blended in with her mask. I wasn’t so lucky as to have any final touches to apply, so I watched the rearview mirror nervously. It felt like an eternity, but was probably closer to a minute, before Brian pulled a second van into the alley that led into the lot. He parked his van halfway down the alley, blocking anyone else from coming through.

Smart move. The less interference, the better.

As I opened the car door and hopped out into the pouring rain, I managed to say the words without choking on them, “Let’s go rob a bank.”

Lisa grinned.

LET’S FREAKING DO THIS!


End of Agitation 3.6

This was a nice chapter. Outwardly, not much happened other than “Taylor and Lisa drive to the bank”, but in the process, we got some nice Lisa-Taylor bonding and a neat look at Lisa’s worldview.

Next chapter? Where doing it man. Where making this hapen.

See ya then!

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