Agitation 3.7: *hacker voice* We’re In

Source material: Worm, Agitation 3.7

Originally blogged: May 26, 2017


It’s time for more Worm!

I know I’ve been wrong about this so many times by now, but the Undersiders (at least some of them) are literally right outside the bank, so if we’re not getting started on the bank robbery itself this time, I’m gonna go eat a hat.

Let’s just dive right into it!


Grue was already out of his vehicle and halfway to us by the time Tattletale and I had shut the doors of the van.

Hi, Grue! Good to see you.

He was using his power at a low degree over the entirety of his body. The darkness soaked into and through the porous leather of his costume, making him look like a living shadow.

…or, well, maybe not quite see you?

(Better watch out for Peter Pan!)

Brian had showed me how the visor had vents at the edges, to direct the effect of his power around the sides and top of his head, so it wouldn’t obscure the face. It wasn’t that he couldn’t see through the effects of his own power – he could. He’d explained that the vents were there to create an effect where you could see glimpses of a black-painted skull floating in the vaguely human shaped form of even darker black.

Oh man, that’s awesome. Kudos to you, Grue, for clever costume design.

When he had the money to spend, he had told me, he was going to get a more complete costume custom made for him in the same way, to expand on the effect.

So would that involve making his body look like a spooky scary skeleton?


“Let’s move fast.” His voice echoed, reverberated, with a hollowness to the sound, like something alien and far away. He was using his power to play with the sound,

Seems like a good call to distort his voice, in case any kind of surveillance has microphones or there happen to be hostages that could recognize it.

“Tattletale, see to the door. Bug, with me.”

Does Tattle actually need to do anything to know if there’s trouble at the door?

Together with Grue, I returned to the van Lisa had been driving.

Lisa, because that’s who she was when she was driving. Tattletale wasn’t there for their bonding, just friendly, human Lisa.

Grue grabbed the handle of the sliding door and hauled it open, then scrambled out of the way as the contents came pouring out.

Jeez, man, how much did you even need to cram in there?

I chuckled at the image of this spooky supervillain being caught off guard.

Hehe, yeah, it’s incredible how expressive even a walking shadow with a skull for his face can be.

I’d packed the entirety of the van, minus the driver and passenger seats, with bugs. As the door opened, they spilled out to pool on the wet pavement beneath the door.

oh my cod ahaha


“Got enough?” his voice echoed. I thought maybe I caught a touch of humor in his tone, behind the influence of his power.

I smiled behind my mask, “Let’s hope.”

Depends whom you’ll be fighting, I suppose. Lung had a double type advantage, so that fight took a lot of bugs. If you end up fighting someone made of grass, you’ll win way faster.

A drive earlier in the morning had given me the opportunity to gather this swarm. It was surprising how many bugs there were in the city, hidden from sight.

I’d imagine it’s less surprising to you, miss “I can sense and control bugs”.

Still, good to know you won’t run out of soldiers for a while.

At any given point in the city, I could generally draw out tens of thousands of bugs from inside walls, sewers, attics, lawns, trees and even places you would think were too clean or occupied to have any creepy crawlies lurking about, and I could do it over a matter of minutes.

And if you give her more than a few minutes…


These weren’t just the bugs I could draw in at a moment’s notice, though. Traveling the city had given me the chance to be picky. These were the good ones,

Elite soldiers!

each of them fast enough to keep up with me, or capable of being carried by those that were. More than that, though, the majority of them were either durable sorts like the larger centipedes, cockroaches and beetles, or capable of stinging and biting, with bees, wasps, ants and blackflies making up their bulk. To round out their number, I’d gathered moths, houseflies, and mosquitoes, who weren’t the best attack bugs out there, but were easy enough to get, and served to distract the enemy or bulk out the swarm.

Sounds like a good army.

I notice she’s not bringing any brown recluses this time…


There were three hundred and fifty cubic feet inside the rear of the van. Tattletale had told me that.

Of course she knows with accuracy. It’s her thing.

Let’s see…

Not bad.

When they were packed in just tight enough that they wouldn’t damage each other or spill past the barrier and into the front seats, it added up to a pretty amazing amount of insects.

Yeah, I’m sure you could get a pretty good density!

I called them out of the van and watched as their mass seemed to expand as they spread out.

Well I mean their mass wouldn’t…

I can imagine this would create quite the cloud though.


We joined Tattletale at the side door of the bank. I had to admit, I admired the sheer change she was capable of pulling off when donning her costume.

Change? Of personality? Aesthetic?

Rather, I should say, I admired the effort she’d gone into as Lisa, that made her so different from her Tattletale persona.

Or is it the effort Tattletale has gone into to make herself so different from Lisa?

Her mask was narrow, only really surrounding her eye sockets, covering her eyebrows, some of her nose and some of her cheekbones, but it hid the freckles on the bridge of her nose and changed the apparent lines of her face. Her hair was down and loose, damp from the rain, in contrast to how it was always in a ponytail or braided when she was ‘Lisa’. Her costume was skintight, beaded with droplets of water, lavender with bands of black across the chest and down the sides of her arms, legs and body. An image of a stylized eye, only visible in the right light, given it was dark gray on black, was worked into the costume’s design. A compact ‘utility belt’ sat diagonally across her hips, sporting a variety of compact pockets and pouches.

I like Tattle’s outfit, though it’s not as easy to cleverly integrate her power into her costume as it is for Taylor or Grue, so it does feel a tad more generic.

By the way, lavender is one of my favorite colors.


Regent was keeping watch, a few feet away.

Hi!

From what I’d seen while we prepared, I now knew his costume was deceptive.

Interesting. Deceptive how? Also I’m not ruling out the possibility that the clothes being deceptive reflects him being deceptive in some way, for now.

He still wore the hard white mask with the silver coronet, but he had shown me how the interior of the mask had foam shaped to the contours of his face, with only his mouth left free, so he could talk without being muffled.

Huh. Hard mask outside, soft inside, making it much more comfortable to wear.

Considering Alec has been one of the more inscrutable Undersiders and hard to get to know, I’m definitely thinking that’s representative of his personality. Soft heart guarded by a hard facade of lazy semi-jerk?

In a similar vein, the loose white shirt he wore covered up a mesh vest that was molded to the shape of his body.

A loose white shirt that makes him look lazy and uncaring over his real gear. As far as I can tell, a mesh vest isn’t all that protective, but it still ought to help more than just a loose shirt, and that’s before we consider that this one is probably customized in a lot of ways.

He was idly twirling a scepter in his fingers. The scepter wasn’t purely thematic – apparently the crowned orb that topped the scepter had two electrodes built into the tines, for the taser that was built into it.

Oh, that’s where he keeps it! That’s kinda cool.

By the way, did you know that TASER stands for “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle”? The device was named after the book “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle” by Victor Appleton.

It was all about misdirection, misleading and giving the impression of vulnerability.

It kinda ties into his power. His power is making people make mistakes, physically forcing them to by messing with their nerves, and here he is with an outfit that makes people make the mistake of underestimating him.

Also the taser is for sending electricity through people’s bodies, and that’s exactly what a nerve signal is.


“The fire exit at the back is protected by a digital passkey,” Tattletale explained while she crouched at the keypad, staring at it, “Every employee has the number to get in if they need to, but that rarely happens because opening the door sets off a bunch of alarms. That password is easy.

Hopefully you only need the password if you’re trying to get in through the fire exit. I mean, what if there was a fire and people got separated from the employees?

The interesting thing that the employees don’t even know is that the capes and SWAT teams have a special code they can put in if they need to make a quiet entrance with no alarms going off.

Huh, that’s handy. I can see how that would be useful for hostage situations.

To do that, you punch in the regular code, 3-7-1, but you hold the one down, then press the number sign and the asterisk keys down at the same time… Voila. Try it.”

3-7-1111111*#

*hacker voice* i’m in


Grue pulled on the door. We waited in tense silence for a moment for the angry blare of the alarm, but none came. Tattletale grinned at us. “What’d I tell you?”

Don’t let anyone ever tell you knowledge isn’t power.

Grue signaled, and we were joined by Regent and Bitch with her three dogs.

Heya! Been a while.

The animals were the size of small ponies,

You can’t say that and honestly expect me not to think of MLP:FiM.

their flesh having swelled and expanded enough that their fur had split at the seams. Muscle and bone showed beneath, and the arrangement of said anatomy wasn’t exactly typical. The change was slow enough that you couldn’t see it if you were looking for it, but if you looked away and looked back a moment later, you could tell they were bigger, that bone at the shoulder was longer, the eyes were deeper set, and so on.

Sounds like the opposite of change blindness is in play here… not sure if it has a name.

Imagine someone not noticing the change…

Spikes, spurs and an exoskeleton of bone growths had appeared to fill or cover gaps and grow in at places where the bone was already close to the skin.

Do they still have an endoskeleton, or… is this whole process basically turning the dogs inside out?

The tail of the smallest dog – Angelica, I think Rachel called it – was twice as long as normal and prehensile, now, and the other two were well on their way. It looked like someone had torn out a pair of human spines, the meat still hanging off them, and attached them one to the other before tacking the end to the dog’s hindquarters.

“the” meat? Wouldn’t the meat you could consider attached to a human spine include basically the entire body? 😛

(#that’s a joke – i know what she means)


Bitch, for her part, was just wearing a jacket with a fur ruff collar and a cheap, hard plastic mask of a bulldog.

I’m surprised she even bothers with a mask. I guess it’s just aesthetic.

The dogs had been given the rear of the second van, allowing Bitch to work her power on them as Brian drove. Being able to do the change more slowly meant she wouldn’t prematurely exhaust herself or the animals by rushing the job on site.

Interesting. So either it takes more energy overall to do it quickly, or it replenishes. Leaning towards the former.


We made our way into the back hallways of the bank’s ground floor,

*hacker voice* “we’re in

“could you give that a rest, regent”

“sorry”

Bitch’s dogs leading the way, my swarm pulling up the rear.

Those hallways are gonna be pretty chock full of bugs, even if she compresses them again.

The clock had started running down from the moment we’d parked in the alleyway; that was the point where people might have thought something was up. Now that we were inside, though, someone knew, or would know any second.

Tattletale probably does. Oh wait.

But yeah, I suppose it’s gonna be hard to miss four costumed kids, three hellish beasts and a giant swarm of insects moving around on the CCTV footage of the back hallways.

At this very moment, chances were, some guard in the room with the security cameras would be making a call to 911 and reporting a crime in progress by costumed criminals. If Tattletale was right, the Protectorate was too far away to be called in, so they would contact the Wards. We had five or ten minutes before trouble showed.

Oh, so about two or three chapters, then.

Hm… There is one thing that could cause an issue. Taylor told Armsmaster that the Undersiders were planning something, so maybe he had one or two Protectorate members stay behind… though he did ultimately agree to not act differently because of what she’d told him, and I suppose Tattle would know if he had done so.

Another potential plot twist: Trouble shows up in the form of Oni Lee or someone like that. Even if Lee doesn’t know that Taylor was behind getting Lung arrested, Lung didn’t call off the order to try to kill the Undersiders…


Each time we passed a room, Grue, Regent and I would double check it. The first few were empty, but as we reached one room, a dog took notice, and Grue raised a hand to plunge the room into darkness. A second later, he stepped back into the hallway, twisting the arm of a cringing thirty-something man in a gray suit behind his back. I hadn’t even realized Grue had entered the room in the first place.

Nice work!

In the next room, Regent grabbed another hostage. I caught a glance of the man, graying hair and thick around the middle with a pink dress shirt and no jacket, staring at us with eyes wide.

Rocking that pink, dude

He opened his mouth, I think his intent was to cry for help, but broke down into coughs and sputters instead. A second later, he keeled over and collapsed onto the floor. He tried to climb to his feet, but his elbow buckled and he hit the ground a second time.

Let me guess, Regent’s using his power to keep the guy down.

Will Taylor be up next?

While he continued to struggle, Regent strode into the room with an almost lazy air, grabbed him by the collar and shoved him towards the hallway where we stood. Defeated, Pink-shirt didn’t resist, half-walking, half-crawling forward as he joined us. He met eyes with the other employee, but didn’t say anything.

“Well, Bob, this sure sucks.”


We only passed a dozen offices, but it felt like three times that number. Grue was on point, glancing into each room and watching for danger from up ahead, with Regent keeping an eye on rooms to our right. That meant I was paying attention to the rooms on the left, as well as keeping an eye out by way of the swarm to our rear.

Nice teamwork here. I mean, Taylor is pretty clearly just going along with it and doing what she’s supposed to, but still.

So what are Bitch and Tattle doing?

Each time I looked into an office, lunchroom or conference room, I prayed it would be empty. I didn’t want to be any more responsible for all this than I had to.

That luck’s gonna run out soon enough, I think.

When I saw the last office on the left was vacant, I was relieved enough that I nearly forgot my role in the next stage of the plan.

But not here, apparently!


We reached the front lobby of the bank, and Bitch’s dogs charged into the room. They were nightmarish, barking, growling and shaking themselves in a spray of bits of fur and blood as they abruptly grew another foot taller at the shoulder.

That’s gonna spook some of the customers!

…huh, come to think of it, coming in from the back is a good thing if you’re looking to avoid hurting civilians. It lets them run out of the bank when they see a horrible beast.

I had a moment’s glimpse of twenty or thirty bystanders and another six or so employees of the bank before the lights went out. Grue used his power, and the room was plunged into darkness, the volume of the screams and wails dropping to utter silence in a matter of seconds. We stood in the entryway to the lobby, and there was only nothingness where the bank lobby had been.

…unless you do this.


“Your move, Bug girl,” Tattletale said, reaching forward to put a hand on my shoulder.

Here we go!

I closed my eyes. With a mental command, my bugs flooded into the room from the hallway behind us, flying and crawling over, under and around us to spread through the room. I noted each person in the lobby as my bugs made contact with them, and left several bugs crawling on each individual. I took five seconds to double check I’d gotten everyone, and belatedly remembered the two employees we had brought forward from the back offices. A group of bugs returned from the darkness, brushing my skin on their way to make contact with the pair.

Handy, now you know where everyone is. I don’t know if Alec can sense the locations of people’s nervous systems, but if he can, I guess that leaves Bitch and her dogs as the only ones without that benefit (I’m assuming Tattle Knows where people are).

“Done,” I said.

Grue swept his arms forward, and the darkness parted.

Uh

I guess I was wrong about the purpose of those bugs! I guess they’re leverage, like, “try something funny and my bugs will mess you up”. Didn’t the story mention something like that at some point in the planning, actually?


We moved into the room as a group. Pink-shirt and the younger guy collapsed to the ground as we walked. I supposed it was Regent’s work there.

Why did he do that? Just so they wouldn’t be in the way?

Some of Grue’s darkness clung to the surfaces of the doors and the windows, but the room was otherwise clear in a matter of moments, lit only by the florescent lights.

Smart move, covering up the windows so law enforcement can’t look in.

Everyone except for us was lying on the floor, crouched behind a desk, or huddled in the corners. Two of Bitch’s dogs were standing in front of the main entrance, while the smallest was standing near the vault. All three of the monsters were the size of cars, now.

Damn, these things just keep getting bigger. Also I suppose this explains Regent tripping the hostages. Did he trip the rest during the darkness, or did they just all decide to lay down?


“Fifteen minutes,” I called out to the room, my heart in my throat, “We won’t be here any longer than that. Stay put, stay quiet, we’ll be gone before fifteen minutes are up. You’ll be free to give your statement to the police and then go about your day as usual. This isn’t a TV show, this isn’t a movie. If you’re thinking about being a hero, don’t. You’ll only get yourself or someone else hurt.”

Making it very clear how to get out of this unhurt, I like it.

I held up my hand, finger outstretched, a familiar spider perched on the tip, “If you are thinking about running, making a phone call or getting in our way, this is a good reason to reconsider. This little creature and her one hundred sisters that I just brought into this room are under my complete control.” I had the spider drop from my fingertip, dangling by a thread, by way of demonstration.

“She’s a black widow spider.

Oh so she did bring spiders. Any brown recluses stationed on private parts, though?

A single bite has been known to kill a full grown human, or put them into a coma. You move, talk, try to find or kill the spiders I just put on your bodies, in your clothes, in your hair? I’ll know in split second, and I’ll tell them to bite you several times.”

Wow, way to go. I don’t think anyone with a brain and a healthy dose of un-skepticism will move a muscle after that.

I stopped to let that sink in. I looked over the room. Forty or so people. I saw a full grown man with a tear rolling down his cheek. A teenager with freckles and brown curls was glaring at me with raw loathing in her eyes. At one of the counters, a matronly bank employee was shaking like a leaf.

Not really the response you wanted to see when you first made that costume, is it.

My taking hostages like this? It had been my idea, so help me. As horrible as it was, it had been necessary. The worst case scenario was some regular schmuck in the bank pulling some stunt and getting themselves or others hurt or killed. I couldn’t let that happen, if I was in a position to help it. If it meant keeping them quiet and out of the way, I was willing to terrorize them.

There’s a certain irony to this. “I’m only threatening to kill you to keep you safe!”


As I saw the effect I’d had on these people, that justification felt really thin.

I was going to hell for this.

Hey, you’re an Undersider. It stands to reason that you belong on the Underside.

(#hell is better than heaven anyway

#except for the heat)


End of Agitation 3.7

And thus ends the first chapter of the bank robbery!

It did not disappoint, though it wasn’t that much to talk about either. I do think this will get much more interesting over the course of the next few chapters. What we’ve seen so far is just the part that goes right, entirely as planned. I’m sure we’ll be seeing some complications, possibly beginning at the end of the next chapter.

See you then!

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