Agitation 3.9: Clockblocker Will Never Look at Bugs the Same Way Again

Source material: Worm, Agitation 3.9

Originally blogged: June 1, 2017


Things are heating up around here! The exits to the bank have been blocked by a total seven heroes – Aegis, Clockblocker, Vista, Kid Win, Gallant, Browbeat and one unknown on the roof – and Taylor has suggested that the Undersiders catch the heroes off-guard by fighting them directly, five against seven, instead of just trying to escape.

I think this is a pretty bad idea. In an actual fight, several of the Undersiders will be at a disadvantage to the heroes because their powers are not combat-oriented by nature, and the heroes have numbers on their side. And that’s before considering whatever powers the unknown on the roof may be packing.

Still, I do suspect the battle will go the Undersiders’ way in the end, unless Wildbow intends to show Taylor the way villains are treated in the justice system more personally.

And let’s face it: Bad idea or not, I’ve been wanting this fight since the prospect of the bank robbery was first brought up, so why don’t we get cracking and see how it goes? 😀


I can imagine how it looked to the Wards. One moment they were standing in the rain, waiting with a tense readiness. The next, the front doors of the bank slammed open, revealing nothing but total darkness. Just a moment later, eight hostages came stumbling through the darkness, out the doors and down the stairs.

Hm. Why are they sending hostages out? To show that they have them, and/or send a message? I don’t know what kind of message that would be. It can’t be “we’re gonna fight you”, or it wouldn’t catch the Wards off guard.

Another option is to get them out of the way so they don’t get hurt in the impending parahuman fight. Seems like something Taylor would suggest.

Aegis’ eyes opened wide behind his mask.

How can Taylor, the narrator of this story, know that Aegis’ eyes widened?

He turned to look at Clockblocker, who gestured madly towards the ground. Turning back to the scene, Aegis bellowed, “Everyone leaving the bank! Get down on the ground now!”

I suppose this makes sense. The Wards have no way to tell if some of the hostages coming out are the culprits in disguise or civilian form.

He didn’t get a chance to see if they listened. Darkness swelled at the bank’s entrance, then flooded into the street like water from a broken dam. In seconds, the hostages were hidden from sight and the Wards were forced to retreat several paces to keep from being swallowed up.

Damn, Grue, if there’s one thing you have, it’s style.

I still love the way the darkness is portrayed as moving and interacting with the world around it, by the way.

Inside the bank, Grue mused, “That should give them a reason to think twice before blindly opening fire where they can’t see. I’m liking this. We ready for part two?”

Ooh, that’s pretty smart. Especially considering that the Wards didn’t get to see if the hostages did as told.

“Just don’t hurt the hostages,” I said, glancing back at the thirty that were still inside.

Of course.

Also, I’m still calling bullshit on how the Undersiders besides Grue appear to be seeing what’s going on outside. Well, I suppose Taylor would be able to if she let a few of her bugs out, but even then it’d be limited by the risk of sensory overload.


“The ones we sent out are staying put?” Grue asked.

I felt out with my power. The bugs I’d put on the hostages couldn’t see or hear anything, and I wasn’t sensing movement.

See, this form of seeing what happens outside, I can accept, because it’s established and makes sense.

…but how is Grue not seeing where they are? He’s capable of seeing through the darkness… I guess he’s not by the windows anymore.

“They’re doing as we told them. They ran as far as they could before your power hit them, and then they lay flat on the ground, hands on their heads.”

So that if the Wards do shoot blindly, there’s a lower risk of actually hitting the hostages. All the Undersiders need is that the Wards think some of the hostages may still be standing.

“Then I’m going,” Bitch announced. She grabbed a bone spike that was jutting out of Judas’ shoulder and heaved herself up to a sitting position on his back.

“No,” Tattletale said, grabbing at Bitch’s boot, “Wait.”

Oh, Judas, that’s what the third one was called. Brutus, Judas and Angelica. I now see what Taylor meant by Angelica not fitting the naming scheme – the other two are famous traitors.

One of whom was motivated primarily by money. Remember how unkeen Rachel was on sharing the money with a fifth member?

(I’m not sure Brutus’ motivation, concern for the fate of the Roman Republic under lifetime dictator Julius Caesar, is quite as relevant.)


Bitch glared down at her, clearly annoyed.

“That hesitation before Aegis gave the orders to the hostages… it didn’t fit.”

Fit? Hmm. He’s the leader of the Wards, so he’s probably used to giving orders. But he had to be prompted by Clockblocker to give this one…

Maybe that isn’t Aegis at all? Maybe the real Aegis is on the roof and this one is someone with the power to disguise themself?

[So close…]

“If you’ve figured something out, spit it out,” Grue spoke in his echoing voice, “We need to move now, before they get reorganized!”

“Bitch, you’re going after Clockblocker. Stay away from Aegis, got it?”

Wasn’t staying away from Aegis part of the plan to begin with?

[No.]


Bitch didn’t even respond, digging her heels into Judas’ sides and ducking her head to avoid hitting it on the top of the door as they raced out.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Grue growled, “She’s going-”

To fuck him up? Or get fucked up? Both?

“They switched costumes. Aegis is wearing Clockblocker’s costume and vice versa.”

Ahhh. Hey, I was almost right!

That explains why Clockblocker was the one gesturing, too.

I would have liked to see the expression on Brian’s face, but as Grue, his mask covered everything. He just turned his skull-helmet back to the window, silent.

It dawned on me how badly that could have fucked us. Bitch’s dogs would have attacked the person they thought was Aegis, and gotten tagged by Clockblocker instead. In one fell swoop, we would have lost the majority of our offensive power.

Yeah, that was a pretty solid tactic on the Wards’ part.


“Good catch,” I told Tattletale, before raising my hands and directing a good portion of my bugs to drop from the ceiling and flow out the door.

Imagine how much damage one of Taylor’s bugs could do if Clockblocker tagged it… It’d be easy to miss a bug frozen in the air in front of you, and run straight into it.

And hey, if the increased Ward presence isn’t because Armsmaster informed them, they won’t know about Taylor being on the team.

Tattletale only grinned, before she made made her way back to the computer to continue her mad typing.

…what are you doing on there?

Grue and Regent headed out the doors, leaving Tattletale and I alone in the bank lobby.

For my part, I walked to the corner of the bank and peered out through one of the tall, narrow windows by the loan officer’s desk. Tendrils of Grue’s darkness still clung to the window, but I had a pretty decent view of the battlefield.

Oh, so it’s cleared up a bit. Thanks for establishing that.

(Or reestablishing it, if this is just me being dumb and forgetting.)


As I watched, that view distorted, as if I was looking into a funhouse mirror, or through a drop of water. The street, including the area with the darkness covering it, began swelling, broadening, and widening until the two sidewalks on either side of the street were more like semicircles than straight lines.

Hi there, Vista.

So if the sidewalks are more semicircles than straight lines now, do they meet up in the back? If you started escaping to the east (if we assume the street is oriented east-west), would you end up approaching the bank from the west?

It hurt my head to think too much about how Vista’s powers worked. Or maybe the headache I felt looming had something to do with the fact that I was sending my bugs into the area Vista had distorted.

Ow.

It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that my brain was having trouble relaying my bug’s positions to me as well as it should, in that area where geometry wasn’t working quite as it should.

It could potentially cause trouble in controlling the bugs too.

Taylor: “go west”

Bugs: “??? what is west? which west?”


Either way, something was getting to me. I raised my hands to rub my temples, remembered my mask, and sighed, folding my arms instead.

Oh, it’s just your antennae starting to grow.


I sent my bugs through the darkness and the warped space of the street. Each time they collided with someone inside the cloud of darkness, it took me a moment to figure out who the person was.

You’d need a large number of bugs on each person to get even a silhouette, I suppose, so the fact that you’re able to figure it out at all is impressive.

Grue was the first I ran into, and the easiest to identify. Some of my bugs had tiny hairs on their bodies that could sense air currents, and the steady output of darkness around Grue generated something like a steady air current around him.

Huh, interesting. Again, I like that his power is treated as a sort of gas.

I know the darkness blocks hearing when you’re inside, but can those outside hear those inside? Are you immune to that side of the gas’ effects if you don’t breathe it in?

Regent was harder – I almost mistook him for a hostage – but he was wearing the hard mask over his face. I left him alone.

I still wonder if Regent can sense nervous systems like Taylor can sense bugs. Otherwise, he’s not going to be much use inside the darkness.

I found the person I was looking for, Bitch, and tracked her movement through the darkness. My bugs could feel the vibrations of the dogs’ footfalls on the street, the hot, moist huffs of air from Judas’ nostrils, and the smells of the dog. His smell made a dozen instincts of mosquitoes and carrion flies kick into action, his scent was one of blood, meat and gristle, the vaguest hints of diseased flesh. I shivered.

Ew.

Rachel probably loves it.

As Bitch and her dogs burst from the darkness, towards Aegis and Clockblocker, I had my bugs follow immediately after them.

She was going straight for Clockblocker, who was dressed as Aegis.

Oh cod dammit. Wash the darkness out of your ears and listen to Tattletale!

I guess she could be following the order she was given, though, if she figured out what Tattle was on about but not that Tattle was giving her orders with the names still swapped.


“No, no, no,” I muttered, “You idiot.”

At the last possible second, she changed course and went for the real Aegis.

Nice! Fooling them into thinking she had fallen into their trap, then catching Aegis off guard!

Aegis bolted the second the dog changed course, but it was too late. As he tried to fly out of reach, Judas leaped, nearly twice as far and high as I might have guessed something as big as he was could.

These dogs are just full of surprises, aren’t they, Taylor?

The dog’s prehensile tail wrapped around Aegis’ torso. As they all fell, mount, rider and ensnared captive, Bitch shouted something I couldn’t hear, and Judas whipped Aegis straight down, adding the force of the throw to the momentum of the fall.

Good dog. Best friend.


I thought I might have heard the impact from the interior of the bank. Or maybe it was as auditory illusion and my bugs were the ones who heard it. Either way, Aegis hit the ground hard enough to kill an ordinary person.

But of course, Aegis is an eldritch Duracell bunny, not an ordinary person.

He wasn’t down for one second before he was on his feet again.

Case in point.


In the same motion he used to get to his feet, he lunged for the dog and swung a fist at Judas’ snout.

Don’t punch the doggo! 😦 That just threw you into the pavement with enough force to kill normal people.

He might have connected, but Bitch was already steering her steed back into the cloud of darkness. She flipped Aegis the middle finger before disappearing from view.

Pfft, I love this.


At the same time, Clockblocker was fighting off the bugs I’d sent out. Within a fraction of a second of a bug making contact with Clockblocker or his costume, he froze it.

…is he going to end up stuck between frozen bugs on all sides? 😛

My power simply stopped telling me the bug was there, as if they had disappeared from the face of the planet. In reality, they were just suspended in time. Stuck in the air, immobile, untouchable.

In the reference frame of the Earth, that is. From the reference frame of literally any other celestial body, or anyone who moves around in the area, the bugs are totally moving.

But that same power could work against him, I was thinking. I made my bugs surge forward, surround him, aiming to cover his entire body.

Oh hell yes, I think Taylor had the same idea I did!

I was pretty sure he couldn’t disable the effects of his power, so if he wanted to freeze all of the bugs I had crawling on him, he’d trap himself in a prison of his own making.

She did! 😀


He was good at thinking on his feet, though, or he’d faced similar tactics before, because he had an answer for that. Clockblocker spun in a tight circle, freezing the bugs as his body rotated, so that they were only affected when the part of his body they were on was facing away from the bank. The result was that a cluster of bugs was left frozen behind him, and he was free to dash straight towards Aegis.

Huh.

Well played, Clockblocker.


While I’d been distracted by Clockblocker, Bitch had set Brutus and Angelica on Aegis. He was fending the two dogs off, but the white pane of his helm – Clockblocker’s helm – was shattered, now, and his costume was torn with one piece of ruined armor dangling by a string of cloth at his armpit.

“Dammit, Clocky’s gonna be so pissed at me after this.”

Brutus lunged for Aegis, but as he passed over the edge of the area Vista had distorted, he fell short. The dog’s jaws clacked shut a foot away from Aegis’ face, spittle flying.

And this is why one must take into account relativity when traveling.

Aegis responded by slamming both fists, fingers interlaced, into Brutus’ snout. The dog crashed onto its side, giving Aegis the time to take flight once more, heading straight for the sky.

Ow! Poor doggo. 😦

Angelica followed, leaping through the air just like Judas had a minute earlier. She missed,

Even without Vista’s space warping, Angelica probably has limited depth perception.

and hit the side of a building hard enough to make the windows around her explode in a spray of glass. I waited for her to fall, but she apparently had no plans to do so. She gripped the stone of the building and windowsills around her with her four claws, tensed, and leaped again from the side of the building.

The target is going up. The hunter will go up, dammit.

Wait, is this updog?


If I was surprised to see that display of acrobatics from one of the dogs, I doubted there were words for what Aegis’ must have felt, just then. Angelica seized the teen hero in her jaws and they plummeted together.

If I recall correctly, Aegis feels no pain, but that still can’t feel all that good.

Angelica didn’t land with all four claws beneath her, and she sprawled as she hit the ground. When she stopped, though, she still had Aegis, one of his arms and half his torso clasped between her teeth.

For a moment, before I reread the last sentence, I thought she’d ripped him in half. Yikes. But since she didn’t, this is probably only a minor setback to him.

She whipped him around like a dog might shake a toy.

Is that not what she’s doing?

When she paused, he was still fighting her, slamming his free hand against the side of her head over and over. Loops and strings of drool mixed with blood hung from her mouth. At least, that’s what I thought it was, from my vantage point inside the bank, peering through gloom and pouring rain.

Taylor basically has the best possible position to narrate this whole fight from.


Clockblocker had slowed down as I started throwing more bugs in his way. I kept them between him and Aegis, so he couldn’t close the distance and touch the dogs. He’d responded by ducking, weaving, spinning and swatting or brushing them off with his hands, so he could freeze them without setting barriers in his own way.

Unlike Aegis, you might be able to exhaust Clockblocker…

Then he decided to try ignoring the swarm. I seized the opportunity to bite and sting him twenty or so times. The surprise and pain distracted him from his evasive maneuvers,

“Fuck this, I’m outtAAAAAAAHHHH!”

and he wound up clotheslining himself as he froze the insects on his face while still running forward. He went from a head on run to landing on his back with his feet still in the air.

Ahahaha!

I probably wouldn’t get a better chance. I set the majority of the swarm on him while he was lying on the ground.

Clockblocker, you’re fucked.

(Might want to cover your privates.)

Keep them on the defensive, Brian had told me, while we sparred. Keep them guessing, change the way you attack.

What have you got in store for us, Taylor?


I realized too late that Clockblocker covering his privates to protect them from Taylor’s bugs would be Clockblocker blocking his cock.


I directed the bugs to the areas where his skin was exposed, and piloted them into the gaps between his skin and his costume.

Oh boy.

Literally a skin-crawling experience.

Even with innumerable insects biting and stinging him over and over, he managed to climb to his feet and return to his attempts to reach the dogs.

Dude, I think you have bigger problems right now.

He knew as well as I did that he couldn’t freeze them now that the bugs had made their way inside his costume. He’d have to rip his costume with his own strength if he did. I doubted it was that easy to tear, either.

Do you… want him to? *waggles eyebrows*

It was ironic. I wouldn’t have been able to do this if he hadn’t switched costumes with his teammate. Clockblocker’s usual costume covered every inch of his skin, like mine did. Probably for much the same reason.

To avoid knifes and bugs and other things that don’t belong going in there?


“I’m so sorry,” I murmured, just loud enough that only I could hear it. I gave the bugs a new order.

I think Taylor’s going in for a devious coup de grace!

When the bugs started crawling up his nostrils with relentless intent,

oh my cod no

taylor no

he managed to keep going, pulling himself to his feet and resuming his efforts to freeze the bugs while advancing towards the dogs.

Damn, this guy is persistent. He just keeps moving forward, like the hands of a clock. When he’s not spinning around, that is, like the hands of a clock.

He snorted to try and clear his nose so he could keep breathing, but then he was left with the problem of needing to inhale. He couldn’t do that without bringing bugs further into his airway, so he made the mistake of opening his mouth to breathe.

oh cod no


When a mass of bugs forced themselves into his open mouth, he staggered and fell. I think he was gagging, but couldn’t see or hear well enough from my vantage point to tell.

who wouldn’t be


At my instruction, more bugs forced themselves under the gaps in his costume and into his ear canals. Yet others, smaller ones, crawled in and around his eyes, using deceptive strength to try and force themselves in between and under his eyelids.

how many holes do you need to infiltrate

I couldn’t imagine what that felt like to him. Everyone had probably experienced the sensation of having a lot of bugs crawling on them, but these bugs were operating with a human intelligence backing them, to penetrate his eyes, ears, nose and mouth. They were working together, with a single minded purpose, instead of mindlessly crawling where their instincts directed them.

fucking hell

that’s what it feels like.

I’m so glad I don’t usually lose sleep from things like this. I have a final exam tomorrow, I can’t afford not sleeping tonight.


I don’t know if it was calculated or something he did in a moment’s panic, but he used his power. Every bug that was touching him disappeared from my reach.

Dude

You just trapped yourself with immobile insects in every orifice except the two down below

Including under your eyelids

This was a supremely bad move

But at least they’re not crawling anymore. For now.


Once I’d realized what he’d done, I pulled away every bug that wasn’t affected. I didn’t want to suffocate him, and he’d effectively pinned himself to the street with his power. The worst thing that could happen now was that he’d panic and throw up, choking on his own puke. I could do my part to avoid that.

Good sport Taylor.

Yeah, no, I can’t say that with a straight face after what she just did.


I’d won. I wasn’t sure what to feel. I felt a kind of elation mixed with the quiet horror of what I’d just done to a superhero.

Does it even matter that he’s a superhero in this case?

Would you have been totally fine doing this to, say, Emma? Or Lung?

I could settle that inner turmoil later and decide on a way to make amends to Clockblocker at the same time. There were still five Wards and a stranger on the rooftop to be taken out, if I wanted to stay out of jail.

One down.


End of Agitation 3.9

Holy shit

Taylor, you may (claim to) have a moral compass but you clearly have few qualms doing terrible, terrible things if you feel like you have to.

And on one level, as disgusting as this was, I actually kind of appreciate that. Taylor is a fantastic character with some very interesting flaws, and it’s neat to see a story where even the main protagonist gets to be a horrible person from time to time.

Other than that, I liked how Taylor’s placement allowed for an overview of the entire battle, although some characters did get overlooked for now (Kid Win, Gallant, Browbeat, Grue, Regent and the stranger on the roof) since Taylor had enough with focusing on the part of the battle she herself was involved with. This placement greatly aided her role as narrator, while actually making sense because her power is remote and her body fragile.

All in all, this was a good, if disturbing, chapter.


[postscript]
Look, I ended up with a phobia from being stung by a single wasp, and it didn’t enter my body with anything other than the tip of its stinger. I don’t even know what Clockblocker will be liable to do the next ten thousand times he sees an insect.

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