Agitation 3.8: Ca$h and Cuddleslaps

Source material: Worm, Agitation 3.8

Originally blogged: May 28, 2017


Alright, Strider, let’s do this thing.

Last chapter, the bank robbery actually started! I didn’t even have to eat any hats, imaginary or otherwise. So far everything has gone to plan, although Taylor isn’t exactly happy about her part in that. I suspect this chapter is where things might start falling apart more, perhaps thanks to the arrival of the Wards.

So who are going to show up? Looking through the list in 3.3, I stand by what I said back then: Aegis, Clockblocker and Vista are likely all going to show, and Shadow Stalker is a near-certainty, though she might not show up together with the others. Not so sure about Gallant and Kid Win, and they did say the Wards would likely not send that many of them.

However, more than expected showing up is one of the potential ways to make things start falling apart, and we do have a character with the authority and potentially the motivation to make that happen.

Let’s get on with it and see what Wildbow has in store for me!


Also, remember how last chapter, I indicated vaguely remembering Taylor talking about using her bugs to keep hostages subdued in 3.3? Turns out it was me, not Taylor:

“What would I be doing?” I asked, nervously, hoping to stall or find holes in the plan that I could use to argue against it.

Dude, girl, no, that’s weak. There are plenty of uses for someone with your powers in this job.

Say for example you find some form of flying insect with venom that incapacitates without doing too much actual harm. I don’t know bugs well enough to know if you can find something like that around Brockton Bay, but this is just an example, so let’s say you do. You can then have one of those follow each hostage around and tell them to attack if the hostage tries any funny business. Doing it this way also means you’ll have more control over whether anyone gets seriously hurt.

So hey, I totally called that!

(And promptly forgot about it.)


Alright, back to 3.8!

“Any trouble?” Grue asked Tattletale.

“We’re okay for now.”

We’d gone over the plan until I’d been worried I would start murmuring about it in my sleep.

I’m sure that would go over well if Danny heard it.

I joined Tattletale, Grue, Bitch and the largest of the three dogs as we headed to the sealed vault door.

How are you gonna break that op– oh wait…

Yeah, getting this thing open shouldn’t be an issue. Tattletale probably Knows how to open it, and failing that, Taylor’s got plenty of leverage over the employees.

So does Bitch, for that matter.

Regent watched at the front doors with the two other dogs. His power had a good enough range that he could delay any approaching opposition long enough for us to get into position.

Ooh, that’s handy.

…I imagine he uses it on random passers-by just to pass the time.

Wait a minute – how can Regent see anything outside? The surfaces of the windows and doors are still covered in Grue’s darkness, or at least I haven’t seen anything indicating it has gone away! Is he standing outside, or…?

[I’m fairly sure it was only the windows that got blocked.]


Tattletale took hold of the stainless steel wheel that jutted out from the front of the vault and spun it, then stopped it. She repeated the process, going right, then left, then right again, for an indeterminably long time.

I know how it is with time being indeterminably long. *glares at ADHD*

Just when I had the hopeful thought that maybe she wasn’t able to get in, there was a sound of something heavy shifting inside the door.

I never doubted you, Tattletale!

The four of us hauled the door open, and Tattletale sauntered off to where the bank manager worked. She sat herself down at the computer, putting her feet up on the corner of the desk, and began typing away.

Can I just say, I love Tattletale’s attitude? Just look at her, acting all casual and right at home in the bank manager’s chair, and maybe a bit cheeky. I really enjoy characters like that.

From there, she could keep an eye on the media, watch the surveillance cameras and remotely control the door locks and alarm systems. All with the right passwords, of course, but that wasn’t a problem for her.

Tattle’s in charge now, bitches!


Grue, Bitch and I started strapping a canvas harness onto the one dog that wasn’t standing at the front doors. I was gradually working out which was which. I think Bitch called this one Brutus. He was the biggest, with the meatiest body, and he had a shorter snout. He’d been the Rottweiler, before.

Nice. I remember back during 2.8, I wanted to know which was which, and I’m glad to see that being addressed.

He turned his massive head towards me, until the deep set eyeball was just to the left of my head. The pupil narrowed into a dot. There was just the bloodshot white of the eye and the yellow-gray of an iris as broad as my handspan.

“Hey, didn’t we fight you before?”

I’m not sure if the fact that it still has a white of the eye, as logical as that is, makes it more creepy or less.

I knew the worst thing to do would be to show fear or nervousness, so I was careful to breathe slowly and focus on buckling the straps and making triply sure they were fastened tight. I was maybe being a little too firm, just to ensure the Brutus didn’t think I was weak or shy. Not that it mattered. I seriously doubted I could make him flinch, even with one of my weapons in hand.

Plot twist: The dogs are big and scary but when it gets down to it, they act like puppies.

Y’know, puppies that wrecked what was left of Lung.


With the harness securely fastened, we headed into the vault, Brutus standing at the door. The vault was stainless steel from top to bottom with neatly banded bundles of bills organized into stacks. The stacks, in turn, were organized by the size of the bill, all neatly set up against the wall.

Objective complete: Locate CA$H

On the wall opposite the stacks were drawers like an elaborate filing cabinet. They were pretty much just that. The bank kept copies of all important documents for the local branches here, in a fireproof vault, in case of disaster.

What kind of disaster are you thinking of? Because with a fuckton of parahumans around, the options for that are much more plentiful than usual in our world.

The far end of the vault had another door, opening into an elevator that went down to the garage basement, where the armored trucks could be loaded.

Ooh, a handy escape rou–

It was a shame it wasn’t an option for an escape route.

Oh.

The door, the elevator and the garage itself were all firmly locked outside of specific times and days.

Times and days that wouldn’t be ideal for a robbery, I’d presume.

So Tattle can’t unlock them from the bank manager’s computer, then?


Bitch dumped an armload of bags onto the ground, and she and I got on our knees on either side of the pile and began stuffing one of the bags with cash. She took off her mask to see what she was doing better.

You can do that when people already know who you are and your mask is purely cosmetic. It’s not a luxury the others have… Although I suppose Grue could surround his own head with darkness (more than he already has, I mean) and take off his helmet.

Grue, for his part, withdrew a short crowbar from within the darkness that smoldered around his body. He set to cracking open the filing drawers with the squealing noise of metal creaking and bending.

What do you even want those documents for? Intel that Tattletale’s power doesn’t already provide?

As Bitch and I filled the first bag, we buckled it closed, cinched the accompanying strap tight around it, and with mutual effort, slid it across the slick metal floor towards Brutus. Grue turned away from the drawers to grab the bag, haul it up and attach it to the dog’s harness.

That’s a neat use of a giant hellhound.

It was a staggering amount of money. As Bitch and I worked, I started trying to count the money I was putting into the bag. Five hundred, one thousand, one thousand five hundred. Bitch was working just as fast as I was, so I could double that. Just taking a second to wrap my head around what the total amount would be per bag made me lose track.

Things go a lot slower when you try to count as you do them, so I’m not sure you should focus on that right now.


We filled a second bag and slid it towards the door. Grue grunted as he heaved it up to the opposite side of the first bag and clipped it in place. While we filled the third bag, he clipped on one more – a bag filled with the contents of the first drawer he had opened. According to Lisa’s briefing, the drawers would hold deeds, liens, insurance forms, mortgages and loan information. Apparently our employer was willing to buy these from us.

Well that answers that question.

So the boss has an interest in these kinds of documents. That implies he has a use for them. But what? He could just be selling them on to other people with shady goals, but I suspect there’s more to it.

I’d speculated about why –

Of course she has.

the most obvious possibility was that he could ransom them back to the bank.

Then he’d also have to contact the bank, make it apparent to law enforcement (Protectorate included) that the Undersiders have a boss, and risk being tracked. And since these are copies, the reasons the bank have for wanting them back are limited to protecting the information and to save on ink and manhours.

More intriguing was the thought that he wanted the information itself for his own purposes. Or, on a similar note, maybe there was something specific that would be found in the midst of the paperwork, and he was willing to buy it all if it meant keeping his true intentions unclear.

Those really are more intriguing options. Doesn’t get me much closer to actually figuring it out, though.


“I’m going to be sore tomorrow,” Grue groaned, as he recovered from strapping the bag of papers into place, “And we haven’t even been in a fight yet.”

A banknote may be light, but if you’ve got a lot of them…

“Sore and rich,” Bitch spoke. I glanced at her and saw her grinning.

Oh hey!

Bitch has been very quiet for a while. Haven’t seen much personality from her in this arc.

It was disquieting. I’d only ever seen her sullen and hostile, so any smile would be kind of creepy. It was worse than that. Hers was the kind of smile you’d see from someone who had never seen one before and was trying to replicate one from what they’d read in books. Too many teeth showing, I suppressed a shiver and focused on the work.


We slid the third bag across the floor. Grue hooked it into the harness.

“We can’t put any more on here without it being a problem,” he decided.

“The weight is even?” Bitch asked.

“Close enough.”

This moment shows that these two have worked together for a while; Grue knows how much the dogs can handle.

Bitch stood and crossed the length of the vault to where her creature waited. She rubbed her hand on Brutus’ snout like you might see a horse owner do, except Brutus most definitely wasn’t a horse. She was rubbing her hand on exposed muscle, calcified tatters of flesh and bone hooks that jutted out of gaps and knots in the muscle. She managed to look almost affectionate as she did it.

This is something I like about Bitch – as horrifying as they might be and as antisocial as she is, she clearly loves her dogs deeply regardless of their form at the given moment. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this and I’m sure it’s far from the last.

“Go, baby. Go,” she commanded, pointing to the front door. Brutus obediently loped off to the front of the bank and sat, his prehensile tail absently coiling around the door handle.

The front is where the other two dogs are, along with Regent. I guess they’re planning on leaving through the front… I’d say door, but honestly the dogs might be to big for that by this point in time, so I guess just front.

In fact, they seem to be just about done here. If the Wards are to come and stop them from leaving, they’ll have to come fast.

I suppose that’s another way this could go – Armsmaster coming through after all by holding back the Wards for Taylor’s safety. That’s still not a great idea considering it’d potentially tip off Tattle to Taylor’s meeting with Armsy (if she doesn’t already know), but Armsy doesn’t actually know how Tattle’s power works and may have underestimated her ability to figure it out based on his actions.


“Hey!” Bitch called out, then whistled twice, alternating between short and long. The smallest of the dogs, who was only recognizable now by her missing eye, bounded towards us in her excitement. Some of the hostages screamed in alarm at the sudden movement.

So is this one Angelica, then?

I winced. I didn’t want to think about the hostages. They were already heavy on my conscience, and they were constantly on the periphery of my attention, as long as I continued using the bugs I’d planted on them to keep alert for any movement or talking.

The fact that Taylor has been avoiding thoughts of the hostages has actually shown in the narration so far in the chapter, by the conspicuous absence of anything involving them up to this point. A reader who didn’t keep them in mind could easily forget that there are about 40 people in the front lobby right now, rather than just the Undersiders.

“That’s the one you call Angelica?” I asked, to distract myself. “The name doesn’t seem to fit with what you call the others.”

“I didn’t name her,” Bitch said.

Ooh. Who did?

As the creature approached her, Bitch slapped her a few times on the shoulder, hard. It didn’t hurt the animal though – Angelica just lashed her tail in what I realized was a warped way of wagging her tail. Bitch snapped her fingers twice and pointed at the ground, and Angelica sat.

I was about to call Bitch out on treating Angelica harsher than I’d expected, but… I suppose that’s just how pettinghas to work with these hellhounds?

I had already partially filled a bag when Bitch rejoined me.

“She had previous owners then.”

“Fuckers,” Bitch swore.

“They were the ones who made her lose her ear and her eye?” I asked.

“What? You think I fucking did it?” She dropped the money she had in her and and stood up, clenching her fists.

Once again: Bitch cares deeply for her dogs and I really appreciate that. 🙂

So… did Bitch coming into possession of Angelica involve bodily harm towards the previous owners?

“Woah, no,” I protested, shifting my weight so I could move out of the way if she got aggressive, “Just trying to make small talk.”

She took a step toward me. “Coward. You know you can’t take me in a-”

I mean, Taylor kinda already proved that she can.


“Enough!” Grue shouted. Bitch turned on him, her eyes narrowing.

“If you can’t work over there, then take over here.” His voice was steady, firm. Bitch spat on the floor and did as he asked, taking the offered crowbar from his hand as they passed each other.

Better luck next time, Taylor.

Grue took over the bag filling where Bitch had left off. We quickly got a rhythm down, and four more bags were filled in a matter of minutes.

Fun date idea: Filling bags with money that isn’t yours.

“We want to stay to load up the third dog or run for it?” I asked Grue, then added, “No use getting greedy.” I would be happy to leave as soon as possible. I wasn’t interested in the money, and I definitely wasn’t interested in going to jail for it.

Taylor does have a point, too. The longer they stay, the more time the Wards have to deploy.

“How much do we have?” he glanced over in Angelica’s direction.

Tattletale answered for me, from where she stood at the door to the vault, “Forty one thousand, eight hundred. It looks like that’s as much as we’re going to get. The white hats are here, and it’s not looking good.”

So with the boss’ offer to triple their sum, that’s $125400. Hot damn.

And hey, we got visitors! Who’s here?


We were out of the vault in a flash, and we joined Regent at the front doors, peering through the gaps in the wall of darkness.

Tattletale hadn’t exaggerated. Our opposition was lined up on the sidewalk across the street, the colors of their costumes bright in the midst of the gloom of the rain and the gray of the city. Aegis, tan skinned, was wearing a rust red costume with a matching helmet, both with silver-white trim and a shield emblem. The cockroach, I’d come to think of him. The boy with no weak points.

Huh, yeah, that’s fitting. Also, I’m not at all surprised that his emblem is a shield.

So, reminder, my expectations were 1) Aegis, Clockblocker, Vista and Shadow Stalker, 2) all of them, or 3) none of them. The last option is obviously out. (In retrospect, Shadow Stalker would probably still appear with that one.)

Given that it’s not looking good, I’m leaning towards #2.

A dozen or so feet to his right was Vista, wearing a costume with a skirt, all covered in wavy, swooping lines that alternated between white and forest green. She had some body armor worked into her costume design. Her breastplate was molded to give the illusion of a chest, but that didn’t do anything to conceal the fact that she was still young enough that I could have kicked her ass in a straight up fistfight. If she was older than twelve, she was a late bloomer.

It’s been explicitly stated in 3.3 that she is indeed twelve.

I guess she wants to appear more mature than she physically is. Some insecurity about her age compared to the others, maybe?

Clockblocker stood to Aegis’ left. He wore a white costume, skintight, with interlocking panels of glossy white body armor placed wherever they could give him protection without inhibiting his movements.

It makes sense to value dexterity and speed for the outfit of Mr Freeze Tag over here. Lets him catch you more easily.

I couldn’t see it through the rain, but I knew from TV that the armor had images of clocks on it in dark gray. Some of the images on the armor were animated so they drifted across the surface, while others were fixed in place with hands ticking.

Man, that’s cool.

His helmet was faceless, just a smooth expanse of white.

Slenderblocker.

So far I’m three for three on the Wards, but these are the ones they said were most likely to show up.


“Tattletale,” Grue growled in his echoing, reveberating voice, “You know how I say you’re a fucking dumbass sometimes?”

Pfft. This was her idea.

The three weren’t alone. Kid Win was floating in the air to one side of Clockblocker. His brown hair was damp in the rain, he had a red visor and body armor in red and gold. His feet were firmly planted on his flying skateboard, which had a ruby glow radiating from the bottom. His hands were gripping matching guns. Laser pistols, or something in that vein. Kid Win was saying something to Gallant, who was standing a ways to his left. Gallant was an older teenager in a gunmetal and silver costume that blended the appearance of a pulp science fiction hero with a medieval knight.

Ah yes, the two I was uncertain about. We’re getting quite close to option #2, “all of them”, here.

Heh, would you look at that. I compared these two to Iron Man vs. the Iron Patriot back when it was suggested that Gallant just wears Tinker-made suits and isn’t himself a Tinker, and look what colors they show up in!


On the opposite end of the line was someone I didn’t know. He was big in a different way than Grue was big. The kind of bulk that made you think powers were at work.

Someone you wouldn’t like when he is angry?

His muscle laden arms were bigger around than my thighs, and I thought he could probably crush cans between his pecs.

A little less bulky than that other guy I was thinking of, then.

His costume was little more than dark blue or black spandex with a diamond print. His mask was full-face, except for the eyes, and had a crystal attached to the forehead. He was the only person standing there who didn’t have body armor. He didn’t look like he really needed it.

Diamond print, crystal on the forehead… Probably has some sort of gem-based power, or maybe he’s just diamond-themed because he’s strong and hard.

“Who is he?” I asked, pointing.

“Browbeat,” Tattletale sighed, “He’s a point blank telekinetic, which means that he can move things with his mind, but only if they’re within an inch or so of his skin.

Really.

I mean, I suppose that’s useful for lifting heavy things, or propelling them depending on how strong a force he can apply before the object leaves his range of power, but compared to general telekinesis, it seems relatively low on the scale of usefulness.

He can use it to throw punches that hit like freight trains, or shield himself from incoming attacks.

Wait, how do the punches work? Can he use the telekinesis on his own hand or something?

Blocking incoming attacks seems like it would take quite the precise use of the power.

He’s also packing personal biokinesis, which means he’s got a kind of ability to manipulate his own body.

See, the punches seem to make more sense under that category.

He can heal just by concentrating on an injury, and he’s used it to bulk up. He might be capable of doing more on the fly, depending on how much he’s trained since we saw him last.

This seems way more useful than the telekinesis.

He’s been a solo hero in Brockton Bay for a little while.”

But now he’s working alongside the Wards?

“What the fuck is he doing here?” I asked.

“We crossed paths with him once, Regent and Bitch beat him. Either he’s here for revenge or he’s joined the Wards very, very recently. My power’s suggesting it’s the latter.”

It could be both, I suppose.


“That’s is the kind of thing you’re supposed to inform us on well in advance,” Grue hissed at her, “And there’s not supposed to be six of them.”

Still not ruling out Shadow Stalker coming separately from the others.

“There’s seven,” Tattletale said, wincing as Grue slammed his fist against the wood of the door. “There’s someone on the roof.

Aha!

I’m not sure who, but I don’t think it’s Shadow Stalker. Might be a member of the Protectorate.”

Oh.


“There’s not supposed to be six or seven!” Grue roared in his unearthly voice “There’s supposed to be three, four at most!”

“I made an educated guess,” Tattletale spoke in a low voice, “I was wrong. Sue me.”

Even the nearly all-knowing can be wrong.

Besides, there’s a good chance this happened because of certain circumstances that arose after Tattle made that guess.

“If we get out of this in one piece,” Grue spoke, his tone low and menacing, “We’re going to have a long conversation.”

I rested my forehead against the window. An armored section of my mask clinked against the glass, “Educated guess. It would have been nice if you had said it was an educated guess, way back when we were planning this.”

I for one thought that was clear from the way she phrased it, which was:

“Since they can’t have all six or seven of the same kids disappear from class every time the Wards go off to foil a crime without giving away the show, chances are good that we’d go up against a couple of their strongest members, or one of the strongest with a group of the ones with less amazing powers. We can beat them.”

I understand Grue and Taylor being upset about this, but Tattle did phrase so as to indicate it was an educated guess.

I’d hate to be in Tattle’s position right now. As someone who is known among my peers to know a lot, I’m a little bit paranoid about being misinterpreted as absolutely certain and unquestionably right about whatever I’m talking about. It manifests in the way I tend to throw constant qualifiers of uncertainty into what I say.


Of our group, Bitch seemed the least daunted. “I can take them. Just let me go all out.”

Yeah, no, that ain’t gonna happen. Also I doubt three hellhounds versus six superpowered people is going to work out.

“We’re not going to fucking risk killing anyone,” Grue told her. “We’re not maiming anyone, either. The plan stands. We have the money, we run for it.”

I guess for the sake of not maiming anyone, it helps that a few of the enemies have defensive powers.

Tattletale shook her head, “That’s what they want. Why do you think they’re lined up like that? We bolt with the money from any of the exits, the person on the roof tackles us, incapacitates us or keeps us busy while the rest close in. Look at how they’re sort of spaced out. Just far enough apart that if we try to go between them, one of them can probably close in fast enough to nab us before we get away.”

These are professional team players.

I wonder, could you dig a tunnel using the dogs?

“With my power-” Grue started.

Seems a bit tricky to use in broad daylight and an open space. I guess if you spread it out far enough, it might help.

“They still outnumber us. There’s at least five ways they could take one of us down while we’re running, even if they were going in blind… and Vista’s in the equation. Figure any distance we need to cover is going to be much farther than it looks, and things get ugly. It wouldn’t be a problem if there weren’t so many of them.”

“Fuck,” Regent groaned.

Yeeah, this is a tricky situation.

Hey, I told you this would be where things fell apart!


“We can’t just stay here,” Grue said, “Sure, they’re getting cold and wet, but our odds aren’t much better if we force them to come in here after us, and if we wait too long, the Protectorate might show, too.”

If they come in, there’s a much higher chance of a hostage or five getting hurt, so Taylor in particular should be averse to that.

“We have hostages,” Bitch said, “If they come in here, we take out one of the hostages.” Somewhere behind us, someone moaned, long and loud. I think they’d heard her.

And then there’s Bitch.


I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. It was a bad situation, and worse, I was afraid it was my fault. I’d warned Armsmaster something was going to happen. I could believe that he’d told the teams to be ready to go out in force.

Theory validated! 😀

Not confirmed, but having Taylor also consider it does strengthen it.

Even worse, he could be the unknown person on the roof. If that was the case, and Tattletale caught on, I was supremely fucked.

Fuck.

Hrm. I suppose that is a possibility.

“We need to catch them off guard,” I didn’t realize I was speaking aloud until the words left my mouth.

Ooh, planning Taylor is coming out…

“Sure, but how are we going to do that?” Grue replied.

“You guys are masters at the getaway, right? So we change gears. We fight them face to face.”

Well at least that ought to make Bitch happy, but seriously, I don’t think that’s one of your better ideas, Taylor. You’d better know what you’re doing!


End of Agitation 3.8

That was about what I expected: Things went according to plan for most of the chapter, and then Wildbow shook it up at the end. This is where the fun part begins!

And let me be clear on one thing – that I don’t think Taylor’s idea is smart does not mean I’m not hyped for the upcoming 5v7 parahuman battle it entails! This could get quite interesting.

Incidentally, I’m surprised we didn’t see Shadow Stalker. I guess she’ll come around at a later point in the story, because with a setup like that, there’s no way she won’t show up eventually. She’s a walking Chekhov’s Gun.

See you next time!

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