Shell 4.4: Aisha and Amber

Source material: Worm, Shell 4.4

Originally blogged: June 25, 2017


OH SHIT IT’S A LIVEBLOG

I’ve got something to drink, great music over my head and the next chapter of Worm open on the other 40% of my screen, and I’m hyped to get reading! Today we’re getting the grueful tale of how a boy got the ability to shut the lights off before he eats people. Er, maybe not that last part. Definitely shutting the lights off though.

Last chapter I theorized about how this went down, and since nothing’s changed, I’m just going to quote myself:

I imagine he ended up in a situation where all he wanted was to hide from everything else, and maybe shut out the sound too, like how Taylor was in a situation where her mind reached out for something, anything, she could have some control over.

What exactly this situation was, I don’t have concrete ideas for though. I hope to find that out today, so let’s get on with it and read Shell 4.4!


An evening crowd had started to file into Fugly Bob’s, large groups that were grabbing beers and moving tables together to accommodate their individual crowds.

I can’t help but imagine them as filing in to act as an audience for the story, even though I know Grue can’t let any of them hear it.

As one group began dragging tables into one long row in the middle of the patio, not far from where we were sitting, Brian asked, “Want to go?  I’ll share my bit on the way back.”

…case in point.

There were no arguments, so we paid our bill and left.

Goodbye, Fugly Bob’s. I hope we’ll see you again someday, though I’m not sure the characters’ hearts can handle it.

I bet Aegis eats here every day.

Brian was gracious enough to carry some of Lisa’s and my bags, in addition to his own, lightening our load.

And they say chivalry is dead.

Seriously, though, Brian would fit in nicely as a knight in a medieval AU, and not just because of this.

The Market itself had mostly emptied, with the various merchants and shoppers having left to get their dinners.  Only the stalls and venders that were selling food were sticking it out.

People do need food at all times of day. Except the Undersiders right now, they’re probably good for a couple weeks.

Brian apparently deemed it safe to begin.

Here we go 😀


“For background, I guess it’s important to mention that my parents split up when I was thirteen,” Brian told us, “I went with my father and my sister Aisha went with my mom.

“father”, “mom”… Remember back in 1.1 (ugh, looking through that liveblog for the relevant post is unpleasant to say the least) when I took note of Taylor going “mother” and “dad” and how it implied a warmer relationship with her dad than her mom? (Which I nowadays believe to be a result of the fact that her mom had been dead for a while.)

I’m still not entirely sure how much thought Wildbow put into it that time, but I feel like the same kind of thing might be going on here. Combined with the fact that Brian considers the separation relevant to his trigger event story, I’m inclined to theorize that Brian’s father wasn’t the best of people in his life.

If my broad-strokes hypothesis about what the trigger event was is correct, we need something or someone for Brian to hide from. We might’ve already found it.

Aisha and I kind of stayed in touch, but there’s four years difference in our ages, our interests were completely different, so there wasn’t a lot to say.

That’s unfortunate. 😦

Which way was the age difference? I’m guessing Aisha is younger than Brian, but that’s just a hunch.

I’d send her a text message about how my day at school had been painfully dull, and a few days later, she’d send me an email about a cartoon she liked.  Or she’d ask me for advice on what to do when she got an F on a spelling test.

A good hunch, apparently.


“We weren’t close.  It wasn’t really possible, since I was living at the south end of the city and she was up here.

I’m honestly concerned something really bad is going to happen to Aisha by the end of this story. At least the present tense “there’s for years difference in our ages” implies she’s alive, but still.

Hmm… Wasn’t Brian a bit older than the other Undersiders? If that hadn’t been the case, I’d speculate on the possibility of Aisha just so happening to be Vista.

But one night, I got a text from her.  Two words: ‘Help me’.  I called, but the line was busy.

Oh boy.

To this day, I don’t know why I took it so seriously, but I got over to my mom’s place as fast as was humanly possible.

Why wouldn’t you take it seriously, though? This is a dangerous city.

Ran out the front door, sprinted two blocks to Lord Street, downtown, and grabbed a cab.  Left the cab driver shouting for his money as I charged through the front door of my mom’s place and found my sister.

Hi.


“She’d been crying, but she wasn’t saying what was wrong.  I didn’t bother asking a second time.  I gave her a hug, picked her up and started to leave.  A man I didn’t recognize got in my way.  My mom’s new boyfriend.

I wasn’t completely off-base, okay?

“I knew he was the reason she had texted me for help, from the moment I saw her reaction.  Maybe I’d suspected there was something going on even before that, from the way her emails and texts had changed in tone.

I suppose it would probably take a little while for Aisha to get to the point of actually sending the text.

It would explain that gut feeling I’d had that made me get over there as fast as I did.  I saw her shrink back, I felt her hold me tighter, and I went cold inside.

I like how this is being presented. The new boyfriend hasn’t been described as doing anything other than get in Brian and Aisha’s way, but from the way Aisha is (wordlessly) reacting, Grue and the readers all know he’s a douche or worse. It’s excellent writing.


Maybe Wildbow just doesn’t like using “mother” and “father” together because they both end in -ther and it sounds too much like repetition?


He paused a second, just walking in silence.  I almost thought that he was done, somehow, until he suddenly turned to me.  “I think I mentioned, Taylor, that my father had been a boxer, while he was in the service?”

“Yeah,” I replied.

Oh right, that was a thing.

“Well my father is a hard man.  Not the kind of man that’s meant to raise a son alone.  I wouldn’t say he was abusive, but there’s never been any warmth to him,

Hey, look who spoke too soon about being “off base”!

no charming anecdotes, no fatherly wisdom, no throwing baseballs in the backyard.  The extent of our bonding was in the gym, him holding the punching bag in position while shouting at me that I was doing something wrong, staying grimly quiet if my form, my timing, the raw power of my hits were all flawless.

Ugh.

Or we’d be in the ring, with boxing helmets and gloves on, a thirty five year old man in peak physical condition barely holding back against his fifteen year old son.  He just expected me to keep up or take the hits, and I didn’t have much choice in the matter.

Maybe you “wouldn’t say he was abusive”, but it’s dangerously close. It sounds like it’s mostly from a point of ignorance, but that’s not an excuse.


“So even if I was only fifteen, I was tall for my age, I was fit, and I knew how to throw a punch.  I didn’t say a word, didn’t make a sound.

Ahh, I was lowkey wondering why there was such a sudden shift to talking about his father. It was to establish why he was capable of taking on the new boyfriend.

So yeah, I was wrong about his father being the thing Brian would hide from, but the logic behind that guess holds true.

I put my sister down and beat my mother’s boyfriend within an inch of his life, my mother screaming and wailing the entire time.

Notice how she’s his “mother” in this specific moment, when he doesn’t care as much about her concerns because he’s focused on bringing her boyfriend to, uh, justice.

When I was done, I picked my sister up and returned to the cab.  We went to my father’s that night, and we went to the police station in the morning.”

I presume at some point in between those things, she told you what the boyfriend had done. Would be embarrassing to come to the police and then have her explain what it was and find out it was nothing technically illegal.


“When you throw a punch barehanded, it doesn’t leave your hands pristine.  A few good swings, you connect solidly with someone’s face, someone’s teeth, and it tears the fuck out of your knuckles.  It was at my father’s place that night, washing and cleaning my hands, when I saw it.  It wasn’t just blood leaking out of my torn up knuckles, but there was the darkness too, like wisps of really black smoke.

…well that’s one way to find out you’ve got powers now.

I guess my “hiding from something” theory doesn’t hold true. At no point in the story so far has Grue been in a situation that would fit the outline I predicted, but something in here has been the trigger event. Presumably the fight itself.

…also did you ever pay that cab driver?

You hear about the trigger event, you might think it’s all about rage or fear.  But I’m a testament that it can be just the opposite.  I didn’t feel a fucking thing.”

“Wow,” I said.

Actually… I think it might’ve been protectiveness. The fight itself might’ve been the trigger event, but it’s also possible that it was actually the whole sequence about Brian going there – the desperation to protect Aisha against whatever it was she sought Brian’s protection from. I guess the whole bit from “Help me” to “returned to the cab” could be considered one trigger event.

In a sense, Brian’s power coming out after a moment of intense protectiveness is fitting. The darkness is a power that can be considered defensive (even though Brian did use it somewhat offensively during the battle for the central bank – compare with Steven Universe and Captain America, heroes who wield shields but can use them offensively), and he can protect others by covering them with it.

I don’t know, maybe I’m being too defensive of my theory that there’s a connection between what your power is and your state of mind during the trigger event.


“That’s my story,” he said.

“Um, I can’t think of a nice way to put this, but why aren’t you in jail, after thrashing that guy?”

That’s actually a valid question. Especially considering they went to the police.

Brian sighed, “It was a close call, but the guy I beat up had violated the terms of his probation by not going to his narcotics anonymous meetings and Aisha backed me up as far as us saying, well, it was well deserved.

Nope. Not buying it. Deserved or not, that was totally an assault that should’ve landed you in jail.

He came across as the bad guy more than I did.  He got six months in jail, I got three months of community service.”

Ah, fair enough. Just as long as you didn’t get off scott free.

“And you’ve been as good as gold ever since, haven’t you?” Lisa grinned.

Heh. As far as law enforcement knows, maybe.


Brian smiled at that.  “These guys know already, but I don’t think I mentioned it to you,” he said to me, “I got into this for Aisha.  My mother lost custody of her after child services stepped in, so Aisha’s living with my father now.

Which means… that your father had another kid to take care of on his own. So you’re doing this so they’ll have enough money? Or maybe so you have enough money to take care of yourself so your father doesn’t have to?

Problem is, he’s not an ideal parent.  It’s been nearly three years, and he still doesn’t know what to do with a daughter, so they mostly ignore each other.

:-/

Still better than what happened with her mom’s boyfriend, but still far from a healthy relationship. I’m not sure which is worse, the relationship between Brian and their father or between Aisha and their father. I’m leaning towards the former because where Aisha gets next to no reinforcement, Brian got only negative reinforcement, but I don’t know. This is yet another area of life where I’ve been damn privileged (even by Norwegian standards, I think), so I can only go off logic and what I’ve heard about other people’s parental relationships.


I’m operating on a policy of being honest about how privileged I actually am. I hope me bringing that topic up repeatedly isn’t coming off as “oh look at me and how great my life has been”. It’s intended more along the lines of “I acknowledge that I’ve had a good life and can’t personally relate to most of the social problems in Worm, so sometimes I’m gonna be talking out of my ass”.


But she’s acting out, getting into trouble, and she needs someone watching over her that isn’t him and isn’t our mother.  I turn eighteen in June, and when I do, I plan to get my mother and father’s parental rights terminated and apply to become Aisha’s guardian.  To do that, I’m going to need money.”

Ooh, that’s a good plan!

“Thus his current, rather lucrative, form of employment,” Lisa pointed out.

I’ve certainly heard worse reasons to become a supervillain.

Brian stuck his hands into his pockets, “My father has given me his blessing as far as my taking custody of my hellion of a sister.

tumblr_inline_os4ahyJ1LX1sxgvvn_540.png

I’m guessing he’s going by the third noun definition.

My mother made it clear she’s going to fight it every step of the way.  That means legal fees.

Why does she want their father to take care of Aisha? Does she not trust Brian to do a good job? Or is she under the delusion that she has a chance to get the custody back?

It means paying a private investigator to get proof that my mother hasn’t kicked her habits as far as the drugs and the fucked up boyfriends.

Oh cod, it’s a habit.

I’ll need an apartment that’s going to pass inspection, with a space ready and set aside for Aisha.  More than anything, I’ve got to present myself as someone that’s financially secure and responsible enough to make up for the fact that the other option is Aisha’s own mother.”

You’ll need to get a legal job eventually, because of course they’re going to ask how you are so financially secure.


“The boss is helping on that last bit,” Lisa said, “The allowance and a share of the other income Brian is getting is coming back to him in the form of a paycheck from a legitimate company, and the manager of said company is both willing and able to provide a glowing recommendation on his behalf.”

Oh hey, looks like they thought of that. That’s considerate of the boss to help like that.

“Which I’m less than thrilled about,” Brian admitted, “It’s… convenient, I don’t know how else I’d manage it, but I don’t like being so reliant on someone I don’t know at all.  He could walk away with that forty thousand dollars, I’d deal.  But if he fucked me on this…”

That’s a lot of… potential blackmail material the boss has over Brian.

“You said it earlier,” Lisa assured him, “He has no reason to.”

“True.  It doesn’t make me feel much better.”

He has no reason to unless you give him reason to.

“I think what you’re doing is very noble,” I said.

“No,” Brian almost sounded offended at the idea. “I’m just doing what I have to.  She’s family, you know?”

“Yeah,” I said, “I know.”  I could understand how family was a priority.

That’s kind of why it’s noble.


We fell silent for a minute or two, only partially because some mothers with oversize strollers had turned a corner and were walking in front of us, putting them easily in earshot.  The other reason was that there hadn’t been too much more to add to the conversation.

So where do we go from here?

I was relieved when the two moms parked their strollers and stopped to look in a store window, because it let us get ahead of them.  Groups of people who take up the entire sidewalk so you have to step onto the road to go around them are a definite pet peeve of mine.  Oblivious people who block the entire sidewalk and walk slowly enough that you’re forced to dawdle, yet fast enough that you can’t walk around them?  They make me fantasize about bringing swarms of bees down on their heads. Not that I would actually do it, of course.

How much you wanna bet this is a pet peeve of Wildbow’s too?

When we were free to talk again, I found myself struggling to think up a new topic of conversation.  I glanced at Brian, trying to gauge how he was feeling after telling his story.  Was he really okay, or was he just really good at repressing his feelings?

Hm. I mean, he did just tell the story of one of the worst days in his life, didn’t he. But I guess it helped that he’s had time to process it, and he claims he didn’t feel a thing during his trigger event (which might just mean his brain has forced itself to forget the feelings), so… I dunno.

He looked totally normal, as relaxed as one could expect from someone who was carrying as many shopping bags as he was.

Heh.


“Hey, what did you buy?” I asked him.

“Some stuff for my apartment.  Placemats, a piece of art I gotta to put in a frame.  Kind of boring.  I found a neat statue, the guy said it was a concept sculpt he did for a horror movie that never panned out.

I wonder if that horror movie did happen in our world.

I was thinking it had a freakish looking face, and since I’m thinking of updating my costume, I was considering using the statue as an inspiration for a new mask.  Move on from the skull.”

“You’ll have to show me,” I said.

“Actually,” he paused, “You’re the person I was most interested in showing it to.

Oooooh 😉

Your costume is pretty cool, and I was wondering if you had any suggestions on where to go?”

Looking for fashion advice from the Taylor?

“Where?”

“For costumes.”

Oh, he doesn’t realize she made it herself…

I stared at him blankly for a few seconds, trying to piece together what he was saying.

“Having my power is really frustrating, sometimes,” Lisa complained, “It’s like being the only person with eyes in the land of the blind.

Pffft, ahaha

Remember how I was talking about Lisa enjoying the comedy of real life dramatic irony? Here’s the other side of the coin: the viewer who frustratedly yells at the screen to tell the characters what is blindingly obvious to the viewer.

Taylor, Brian is asking you where you bought your costume.  Brian, she didn’t buy her costume.  She made it from scratch.”

“No shit?” His eyebrows raised.

It is impressive.


“It’s spider silk,” I said, “So it’s got a tensile strength that’s only a hair less than steel,

“only a hair less”… does that count as a pun in this context?

but it’s a fraction of the weight.  It’s not as strong as kevlar, but it stretches, which means it’s going to handle regular wear and tear better than a costume made with steel, kevlar or rubber would.  Making it was kind of complicated, because of how I needed to manage the spiders and weave it, but I basically had the spiders do the work while I concentrated.”

It’s a fantastic material worked with in an impressive way.

Brian nodded, “That’s pretty damn cool.  Would you make me one?”

That gave me pause.

The fact that Brian is asking Taylor to be his tailor is not lost on me. :p

“I wouldn’t expect you to do it for free,” he added.

“How much are we talking?” I asked.

“Name a price.”

I thought on it.  “Two thousand?”

He chuckled, “No discount for me being a team member and a friend?”

Heh, nice try.

“That is with a discount,” I said, “It takes time, long hours of having to be in general proximity to the bugs as they work, which I can’t do all the time, because my dad would see if I left them out while he was home.  Plus I have to rotate the spiders so I constantly have a fresh supply of silk, but I can’t have so many in the neighborhood that people would notice… it’s not easy.”

See: “impressive”.


“If that’s the big issue, then change locations,” Lisa suggested.

“To where?  It has to be a place I’m spending a lot of time, some place with room to work, where I can keep a few tens of thousands of spiders without anyone noticing.”

…the loft?

“The loft?” Lisa shrugged, “Or to be more specific, the area under the loft?”

That stopped me.  It made so much sense I could have kicked myself for not thinking of it the instant Lisa suggested changing locations.

I sure am glad I thought of it, or I’d be right there with Taylor feeling dumber than before.

“Woah, woah, woah,” Alec cut in, “Tens of thousands of spiders?”

That is quite a lot.

“If I want the work to be relatively quick,” I said, “Yeah, we’re probably talking about that much.  Especially since I suspect Brian is going to want something a little heavier. The floor under the loft could definitely work.  I mean, it’s not like a few more cobwebs will attract attention if anyone sticks their head in, right?”

True that.

Just, try to keep them out of the living area upstairs.


Alec ran his fingers through his hair, which I took to be a sign of stress or worry.  It was a rare thing, to see him as anything but bored or half distracted.

Is Alec afraid of spiders?

As if to confirm my thoughts, he said, “I don’t want tens of thousands of spiders just lurking below me, making spider noises and climbing upstairs to crawl on me while I sleep.”

That last part definitely sounds like the words of someone who’s afraid of spiders.

I tried to reassure him, “Black widows don’t tend to roam, and they’re more likely to devour each other than they are to bite you.  I mean, you wouldn’t want to provoke one-”

“Don’t worry, they’re cannibals.”

That’s one sentence that would be much less reassuring if it were about humans.

“Black widow spiders?” Alec groaned, “This is the point where you say you’re messing with me.  It’s cool, I can take a prank.”

Sorry, Alec! No prankster’s gambits in play here.

“They have the strongest dragline silk you’ll get from any spider around here,” I said, “I’d love to get my hands on something better, like a Darwin’s bark spider.  They’ve got the strongest silk of any arachnid or worm out there.  It could make fabric five times as tough as kevlar.  I’d ask our boss to see about getting me some, if I thought they could survive in this mild climate.”

…that said, Taylor might actually be messing with Alec by staying matter-of-fact despite having figured out his phobia.

“You’re not kidding about the black widow spiders.”

“Remember the ones I brought to the bank robbery?  I brought them from home.”

I.e. where she made the last spider-woven suit.

“Fuck,” Alec said, then he repeated himself, “Fuck. And now Brian’s going to insist on that costume, so this is probably going to happen.”

“Arachnophobic?” I asked, just a little surprised his reaction was so strong.

I thought you’d figured that out, like, six paragraphs ago.

“No, but I think anyone would be spooked by the idea of tens of thousands of black widow spiders being in the same building as them.”

…fair enough. I’m not arachnophobic, but I’ve never been especially comfortable around spiders either, even before my insect phobia came into play.

(My sister, on the other hand, had arachnophobia. She went to the hypnotist I’ve been talking about, before recommending him to me, and she told me that she now goes into a trance until she’s gotten rid of the spider.)


I considered for a moment, “I could have cages, if it would give you some peace of mind.  It probably makes sense to have it anyways, since they’re territorial, and would kill each other when I wasn’t there.”

How would you keep them in cages? And that last part suggests you might need a cage per single spider… Sounds like a hassle.

“We’ll work something out,” Lisa grinned, “Think you could micromanage enough to make me one too?”

It struck me that I was thinking seriously about putting together some high quality costumes for villains.  I wasn’t sure how I felt on the subject.

Hey, villains need tailors too. 😉

“I can micromanage my bugs enough to make two at once, sure… but it’s really just such a pain in the ass.  I was so relieved to be done my own costume, I’m not looking forward to the idea of doing two more.”  All true enough.  “Let me think on it?”

That’s a pretty decent excuse to put off the decision.


“One thousand five hundred,” Brian said, “I’ll go that high, now that we’ve come up with a way to maybe handle the logistics of it.  I think it’s a fair offer.”

Dude, she’s literally the only person capable of making this, to our knowledge. She has one of the monopoliest monopolies to ever monopoly, and she doesn’t need nor want to do it. Haggling isn’t going to get you very far in this situation unless she’s feeling kind.

“Okay,” I said.  Money didn’t hold any sway over me, really.  I mean, big numbers could make my eyes widen, but at the end of the day, I had no plans to spend my ill-gotten gains.

Fair enough. Although this particular money wouldn’t actually be ill-gotten, unless you consider it enabling villains. It would be a legal tailor job.


All in all, it took us maybe an hour to get back to the Loft.  I didn’t mind.  My training meant the hike didn’t tire me out much, and the company was good.

*whistles*

As we made our way into the building and the others headed up the stairs, I stayed behind to look at the factory area on the first floor.  If I could maybe secure some plywood to the frames where there had been treadmills, it would mean I would have several long countertops for my bugs to work on.  Add some sort of cage at the back, to house them… but where would I find the sort of grid of cages or containers that could house thousands of individual spiders?

She may not be thrilled about the idea of providing armor for villains, but she sure is still considering how she’d go about it…

It was something I could figure out.  Whether I settled on egg cartons or built the entire thing with the help of bug labor, I knew it was doable somehow.

The question was, did I want to do it?

I’m guessing that on some level, yes she does.


I made my way upstairs, deep in thought.

“Where’s Rachel?” Brian asked, as he returned from the other end of the loft, Brutus and Angelica trotting behind him, tails wagging. “Only two of her dogs are here.”

Hm.

“We’re twenty minutes later than we said we’d be,” Lisa pointed out, “Maybe she went ahead?”

Went ahead for what?

“You guys get ready,” Brian directed us, “We told our employer we’d hand the cash over at some point tonight, and if we take too long, it’s going to reflect badly on us.

Oh, for that.

I’ll take care of calling Rachel to see what’s up, since it doesn’t take me as long to get my stuff on.”

Seems logical enough. <>


Alec, Lisa and I headed towards our individual rooms.

Has Taylor actually been in her room at the loft before? Maybe it was just quickly mentioned and I’ve forgotten it.

After shutting the door, I got my costume from the bottom drawer of my bedside table.  I laid it out on my inflatable mattress, then gathered and lined up my arsenal for my utility compartment: pepper spray, knife, telescoping combat baton, notepad, Epipens, a change-purse with some spare change and a twenty inside and an unused, disposable cell phone.  Everything I’d been able to think of, for what I’d want to keep with me.

That’s a pretty solid kit.

Pen, I realized.  It was a little thing, but a notepad did me little good without a pen.

Heh, relatable.

I headed for the dresser and stopped short.

On top of the dresser, there was a crystal.

Now what’s going on here?

Except crystal was the wrong word.  It was a teardrop shaped piece of amber, polished smooth, almost a foot tall, set into a stone base so it stood upright.  Inside was a dragonfly.

Woah! …is this the statue Grue was talking about?

Would that make the horror movie that didn’t pan out Jurassic Park? Except that was a mosquito. Dragonflies wouldn’t be able to carry dino DNA in the same way.

Although come to think of it, this being that statue doesn’t make a lick of sense. Carry on, then, Taylor.

The dragonfly was so large it almost didn’t fit – it wouldn’t have fit, even, if the wings hadn’t curled inward at the tips as the amber set.

Okay but seriously, is this related to the premise of Jurassic Park? I know dragonflies can get pretty large, but this sounds more like the sizes I’d imagine you’d find in dino times. (Insects were larger back then because the makeup of the athmosphere was different.)

Either way, it’s a hella cool decoration for Taylor’s room.

Where the light from the loft’s windows touched the crystal, it cast the top of the dresser and some of the wall in deep shades of yellow and orange, with hints of dark blue where it passed through the dragonfly’s translucent wings.

Amber is such a cool material, I love it. Dragonflies are really cool too.

There was a note beside it.  ‘Saw it, seemed very you.  Consider it a belated welcome present.  Brian.’

Very thoughtful of him. 🙂

(kiss kiss kiss kiss)


I was stunned.  He must have left it while I was still downstairs.

Quick work, then.

I hurried to get into my costume, found a pen in the dresser and put the contents of my utility compartment in place.  When that was done, I pulled on some jeans, a sweater and a jacket over top of the costume, finishing up with a nearly empty backpack to cover the slight hump of the armor on my back.

Clever. Also handy if you ever encounter a hungry troll.

It was only after I was totally ready that I headed out of my room and found Brian on the couch.  While I was sure he’d be gracious either way, I was assuming he would appreciate it more if I got ready first and then thanked him, instead of the other way around.

Makes sense.

He was still in the living room, pulling on his leather motorcycle jacket over a protective vest.

“I-uh, don’t know what to say.”

His forehead creased, “Is it okay?  I was thinking, maybe giving you a rock with a dead bug inside it wasn’t the nicest-”

It was a great idea.

(Also please let that cut-off be because Taylor gave him a hug)

“It’s perfect,” I interrupted him, “Really.  Thank you.”

(Eh, close enough.)

I never knew what to say when getting a gift.  I always worried my thanks sounded false, forced or sarcastic, even when they were genuine.

Now that’s relatable as hell.

Impulsively, I gave him the briefest of hugs.  It seemed like the only way I could make my gratitude clear.

YES

“Hey!” a voice from behind me startled the wits out of me, “No romance in the workplace!”

AHAHAHA

Fuck yes

And you know what? Having it explicitly called out like that is a good sign, because it means Wildbow recognizes it as at least looking like romance, and thus that I haven’t just been reading way too much into things.

I mean, I might still have been doing that, but it wasn’t just that.


I turned around to see Alec and Lisa standing in the hallway, grinning.  In Lisa’s case, grinning more than usual.

I must have turned beet red.  “It’s not, no, I was just thanking him for-”

“I know, dork.  I was with him when he bought it.”

Hehe. I’m “grinning more than usual” myself, too. 😀


Mercifully, Lisa changed the subject, “Any word from our resident sociopath?”

Brian frowned, “No.  Her phone is out of service, which it shouldn’t be, since I was the one who turned it on, activated it and gave it to her earlier today.  Something’s up.”

Uh oh.

The good natured mood from moments before was gone.  We exchanged looks between us, and nobody was smiling now.

Yeeeah I’m not so sure about that “mercifully” up there.

“I think…” Brian said, weighing his words carefully, “It would be a very good idea to check on the money, ASAP.”

oh boy.

He seems to be suggesting that Rachel has finally decided to break with the Undersiders and take the money. Welp.

(I was going to say that it would make more sense to wait for the returns from the boss, but three divided by five is still only 60% of the full haul.)

So if Rachel is actually breaking ties with the Undersiders by doing this (which we don’t know for sure that she actually is, but the fact that the chapter ends here is a strong indicator that Brian’s conclusion is correct), that actually explains quite a bit: Throughout the story so far, Rachel has been largely excluded from the socializing Taylor has been doing. She has been thought of as separate from the other three by Taylor, as a result of how she’s been acting towards the latter. She’s been an Undersider, but not one of Taylor’s Undersider friends.

Narratively, Taylor has had a personal arc about getting to know the Undersiders and befriend them, but for the purposes of that arc, Rachel has been excluded. In Insinuation, she was an antagonist. For most of Agitation she wasn’t present even though it would make sense for her to be. In this arc, she has still been absent, but at least it had a natural explanation.

Essentially what I’m trying to say is that while Rachel has technically been an Undersider, the narrative hasn’t treated her as one, and that might make more sense if she’s now about to no longer be one.


End of Shell 4.4

Brian’s backstory and motivation, the concept of Taylor the Undersider tailor, a fantastic bit of workplace romance and the twist that Rachel may have ditched the Undersiders at the very end…

Seriously, what’s not to love about this chapter?

Next chapter, I guess the Undersiders are gonna have to deal with Rachel’s apparent betrayal (I say apparent because there’s an incredibly slim chance that’s not what happened). How? I have no clue. I suppose they could try to catch up with her, but they so far have no idea where she is and no way to move faster than Juda– oh hang on.

Rachel only brought Judas. If she were leaving permanently, voluntarily, she would never leave Angelica and Brutus behind!

Well then, that shakes things up a bit. What the hell is Rachel doing?

I guess I’ll have to find out in the next chapter!

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