Shell 4.5: You’re LIVE!

Source material: Worm, Shell 4.5

Originally blogged: June 27, 2017


Worm? Worm… Worm?! Worm.

Worm!

Wooooorm.

Let’s read some of that, shall we?

So. Last time, the Undersiders got a nasty surprise in that Rachel was nowhere to be found, nor reachable by phone. Brian thinks checking on the money is a very good idea at the moment, but if Rachel intended to betray the Undersiders permanently like I first thought when he said that, then why would she leave two of her dogs behind?

In short, I’m not sure what has happened with Rachel. I suppose it’s possible that she’s in trouble rather than being the trouble, but she almost certainly left the building of her own accord. Otherwise the remaining dogs wouldn’t be quite so peaceful, it would imply someone had found their hideout somehow, and there’s probably be signs of a fight. So if Rachel has gotten in trouble, it presumably happened after she left.

(What ever happened to “in short”? Geez, Krixwell.)

Also, we still don’t know for sure if the money is in fact gone or not, though the placement of Brian’s suggestion about checking strongly implies that it is.

I guess it’s time to find out!


Sunsets are always best after a spell of bad weather.  Today was no exception.

What, you’ve had a bit of bad weather and when the sun finally shows up behind the clouds, you’re especially happy to see it go away again?

Following the day and a half of heavy rain we’d just suffered through, the sky was turning vivid shades of orange and crimson, with purple highlights on the thin clouds that were moving briskly in the strong wind.  It looked especially amazing as we approached the water of the Bay, but none of us were really in a mood to appreciate it.

It seems we’ve skipped over the checking of the money.

It was like we were an entirely different group of people from the group of friends that had walked from the market to the loft.  There was no conversation, no joking, no bonding.  We were all thinking the same thing: that something was wrong, that something had happened.

Well, something is clearly wrong when Rachel’s phone is out of service like that, but the question is what.

Nobody voiced their suspicions, though, as if there was the unspoken agreement that we would only make it come true by saying it aloud.

The suspicion that Rachel has betrayed them? Or the suspicion that something bad has happened to Rachel, or maybe to innocent bystanders?


In silence, we caught the bus at the ferry and got off at the Trainyard, the part of the Docks that sat opposite to the Boardwalk.

Sounds like a graveyard for broken trains… This being the Docks, I could see that being a thing they’d have lying around.

As a group, we walked a half block from the bus stop, around the back of a derelict building, and stripped out of our civilian clothes.

Worm: Hot stripper action.

The storage facility was just a block from the Trainyard.  Just past the chain link fence,  I could see long abandoned boxcars sat like oversize, crumbling tombstones, overgrown with weeds, surrounded by discarded bottles and makeshift shelters.  The entire area was desolate, empty.  It was hard to say why the bus even came this way.

I guess it really is what the name sounds like. Seems like a good place for criminal trainsactions.

I supposed maybe there was a skeleton crew of employees maintaining the rail for the trains that happened to pass through.

Seems reasonable.


We descended into the maze.  Each storage locker was only about ten feet by ten feet across, but there were hundreds of them, each one joined to the one beside it, organized into disorganized rows of ten or twenty brick shacks.  It was a common enough sight; places like this were scattered all over Brockton Bay.

Huh. That’s really handy for transactions like what the Undersiders were planning to do today.

Decades ago, as unemployment rates skyrocketed, people had started using the storage lockers as a place to live.

Sounds a bit cramped, but if it works, that’s better than nothing.

Some enterprising individuals had caught on and storage blocks much like this one had appeared in the place of dilapidated warehouses and parking lots.  It was, in an off the books sort of way, the lowest budget living accommodations you could find, a way for people who’d had apartments and homes of their own to keep their most cherished possessions and sleep on a bed at night.

…not a bad idea. I mean it’s hardly up to standards or anything, but it’s still a mutually beneficial arrangement.

I’d be less pleased with it if they had taken over the original storage blocks and started charging people for seeking shelter there, but setting up new ones as super low-budget “apartment complexes” helps out those who couldn’t find an existing storage block to live in, even if they now have to pay a little for it.


But things turned sour.  These storage facilities became drug dens, gathering places for gangs and areas where the crazies would congregate.

Welp.

Epidemics of the flu and strep throat had swept through these ‘neighborhoods’ of closely packed, unwashed and malnourished groups of people, and left people dead in their wake.

Poverty’s a bitch.

Some who didn’t die to sickness were knifed for their belongings or starved, and corpses were left to rot behind the closed doors of their rented storage lockers.  In the end, the city cracked down, and the lockers fell out of favor.

As I said, really not up to standards. Still slightly better than the homeless sleeping outdoors, but far from good.

Now that I think of it, the concept reminds me a lot of Hoovervilles. I suppose they both fall under the category of shanty towns.

By then, the local industry had crashed enough that the homeless and destitute were able migrate to the abandoned warehouses, factories and apartment blocks to squat there instead.  The same general problems were still there, of course, but at least things weren’t so densely packed into a volatile situation.

A lot more space, better infrastructure in the forms of proper walls and roofs… definitely sounds better.


That left these sprawls of storage lockers scattered over the city, particularly in the Docks.  They were largely unused, now, just row upon row of identical sheds with faded or illegible numbers painted on the doors, each with a corrugated steel roof bolted securely on top, slanted just enough that people wouldn’t be able to comfortably walk or sleep on top of them.

Can I just say that I love how much thought Wildbow has put into the history of Brockton Bay and how it defines what the city is like today? It really makes the city feel alive and real.

“We’re looking for thirteen-oh-six,” Grue spoke, breaking the silence that had hung over us for half an hour.  It took us a few minutes to find. There wasn’t really any rhyme or reason to the layout of the lockers or the numbering.  Probably, I guessed, the lockers had been set down where there was room, and given the first number that was available.

Makes sense. The whole thing wasn’t exactly planned out, by the sounds of it.

The only reason we found the locker as fast as we did was that Brian had been here before with Rachel.  The vastness of the space and the disorganization was a large part of the reason we had stashed the money here, of course.

Ohh, they’re not here for the transaction and we haven’t skipped over the checking of the money. This is where the money is. Or was. Depends whether something’s happened to it or not.

If we had trouble even when we knew where we were going, then someone who knew the number and got the key from us would find it even more time consuming.

That’s pretty handy. If someone were to, say, force it out of you and then leave to go find it, you’d still have a chance to break free and stop them before they found it.


While Grue fiddled with the lock, I glanced down both ends of the alley we were in.  Except for a forklift parked a short distance away, it was eerily quiet.  A ghost town, I thought.  If ghosts existed, they would reside in a place like this, where so much misery, violence and death had occurred.

This is a setting with what seems to be a form of biological magic. Maybe you wouldn’t have ghosts, but I wouldn’t rule out zombies or vampires popping up. And that’s before considering the possibility of parahumans with powers similar to those of vampires.

Those of you who read my April Fool’s shenaniganry this year (I think it was funny, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for skipping it) may remember that I pretended to speculate on that being the case with Ebony, and while that was a joke, it’s absolutely something that could pop up in the story proper. Hell, Lung was based on dragons, so it’s not far-fetched to have more fantasy-based parahumans.

“Shit,” Grue said, as the door swung open.  My heart sank.

Is it all gone?

I stood on my toes to get a look inside.  The locker housed only a broad smudge in the thick layer of dust on the floor, a single lightbulb dangling from a power cord, and a dark stain in the corner.  No money.

So wait. One dog wasn’t enough to bring it all along last time, was it? Even in hellhound form, it was a bit much, and Rachel wouldn’t overload Judas if she could help it.

Someone’s taken the money, but I don’t think it’s Rachel.


Or at least not Rachel alone… Maybe she has associates. But even in that case, my point about leaving Brutus and Angelica behind still stands.


“I vote we kill her,” Regent said.

My eyebrows went up, “You think it was Bitch?  Would she just take the money and run?”

Oh, good, seems like Taylor’s with me in thinking that it might not have been Rachel.

“If you asked me five hours ago, I would’ve said no,” Regent replied.  “I would have told you, sure, she’s a loose cannon, she’s reckless, crazy, she’s easily pissed off and she’ll hospitalize those people who do piss her off… but I’d have said she’s loyal, that even if she doesn’t necessarily like us-”

“She doesn’t like anyone,” I interrupted.

That’s not quite true. She likes her dogs…

“Right, she doesn’t like anyone, us included, but we’re the closest things she has to friends or family, besides her dogs.  I wouldn’t have thought she’d throw that away.”

“She didn’t,” Tattletale spoke, “It wasn’t her.”

I honestly wasn’t expecting that to become clear so fast, and completely forgot about Tattle’s ability being able to spoil that part of the crime mystery for her. That really shows how handy it is to have someone like her on your team!

But yeah, nice work with the misdirection on Wildbow’s part. It successfully fooled me until I caught on to some of the similarly well-done clues towards the fact that Rachel didn’t do it – I especially like how he spun “Brutus and Angelica are here” into “Judas isn’t here”, leaving the hint in plain sight but making the careless reader (e.g. myself until the end of chapter post) come to the opposite conclusion.


“Who was it?” Grue asked.  The haunting echo of his voice had an edge of anger to it.

“A cape,” Tattletale replied, almost absentmindedly, as if she was focusing on something else, “Someone who can pick locks.  That door wasn’t forced.”

Hm. Or someone who can teleport? The door wasn’t open when they came, so whoever did it either didn’t unlock it at all, or locked it again when they left. Can you even do that with a lockpick?

Whoever did it would also need to know that the money was there in the first place. Maybe they forced it out of Rachel somehow? I say somehow because I really don’t see Rachel giving it up easily, especially with Judas with her.

“A villain?” I asked.

“A villain,” Tattletale echoed me.  I couldn’t tell if she was clarifying what I’d said or if she was just echoing my words while she paid attention to something else.  “More than one.  And they’re still here.”

…oh shit.


A soft clapping answered her.  It was slow, unenthusiastic to the point of being sarcastic.

…I can’t help but imagine Aquamarine from Steven Universe.

“Brilliantly deduced,” the same person that had been clapping spoke out.  As Tattletale whipped her head around, I took a few steps back from the storage locker, to get a better look at the two people who stood on the roof.

Hrm, these people have now seen Tattle in action, using her power in a way that’s clearly not reading anyone’s minds. Let’s hope they don’t spread the word.

They were standing with one leg higher than the other, to keep from sliding off the angled roof, and both were wearing identical costumes.

Could these be Über and Leet? I mean, I don’t have any evidence for that than them being a themed duo, but still.

The costumes sported blue man-leotards with broad belts cinched around their waists, skintight white sleeve and leggings.  Their hoods were elastic, clinging to their heads so they left only a window for the face, and each sported a single white antenna.

Antennas? Interesting. Could be aesthetic and possibly be evidence towards these two actually being Über and Leet, or functional and do… something. Or both.

Of all colors, their gloves, boots and the balls at the top of their antennae were bubblegum pink.  Their faces were obscured by oversize goggles with dark lenses.

One thing’s for sure, they’re colorful characters.


Other than their costumes, though, they couldn’t have been more different.  One of the figures was scrawny, with a weak chin and a bad slouch.  The other had a sculpted physique, broad shouldered and tall, the lines of his muscles clearly visible through his skintight costume.

Reminds me of the Insane Clown Posse, but the scrawny one sounds a bit smaller than Shaggy 2 Dope.

“Über and Leet,” Tattletale greeted them,

Oh hey, it was them!

“I can’t tell you two how relieved I am.  For a few seconds, I thought we had something to be worried about.”

#rekt


“Rest assured, Tattletale, you do,” Über proclaimed.  He was the sort of person who proclaimed, announced, broadcasted and declared.

Ahaha, I like him already.

Just like Grue’s power altered his voice to make him sound haunting and inhuman, Über’s power made him sound like the guy who narrated trailers for action movies or late night commercials.  Overdramatic, intense about everything he said, no matter how mundane.  Like someone overacting the role of a gallant knight in a kid’s movie.

That’s… not his only power, right?

I suppose you could fit this into “video game themed” by saying he’s the guy who goes “ROUND TWO – FIGHT!” in fighting games or something.

Also I’m now thinking of Jamie from SU.

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I looked around for what I thought of as the snitch.

The… golden snitch?

I finally spotted it as a small round shadow against the backdrop of the sunset-red sky, just above the glaring sliver of sun.  It was a camera, mounted in a golden sphere the size of a tennis ball.

I guess one of them controls the camera in the game of life. The universe didn’t trust Lakitu anymore.

It was capable of moving like a hummingbird, staying safe, always recording.  Über and Leet streamed all of their costumed activity online, so people could tune in whenever to see what they were up to. I was pretty sure they had a time delay, so events that the camera recorded would play out online in a half hour to an hour.

Huh. That actually sounds like a really cool use of their powers. It makes them sound more like entertainers than villains, which fits well with their reputation as “not really a threat”.

Still, the Undersiders are gonna want their money back.

I could admit I had watched myself, a couple of times, which was how I knew about the ‘snitch’.  Each time I’d tuned in, I had been surprised to see there were thousands of viewers.

I’m honestly not surprised to read that. Watching a pair of goofy villains in action sounds like fun.

I’d stopped because it wasn’t feel-good watching.  They were real underdogs, struggling to succeed, which made you feel sorry for them, made you want to root for them, until they did something despicable.

By succeeding as villains, they might actually succeed less as entertainers, as people’s morals start overweighing their curiosity and willingness to root for villains.

Then you found yourself looking at them in a negative light, looking down on them, cheering whenever they failed.  It felt a little too much like I’d been looking at them in the same way Emma, Madison and Sophia looked at me, and that had been a major turn-off.

Ah, yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

I watch a lot of let’s players, and I’m not always cheering for them to succeed – sometimes it’s more entertaining when they don’t, though that’s more because of their reactions than because I don’t like them (if I don’t like them, I stop watching, like Taylor here did). And even then, I do usually want them to succeed eventually so they can move on to get frustrated by the next part of the game.

That’s, quite frankly, one of the reasons you don’t have to be a good gamer to do let’s plays. You need to be a good entertainer. Similarly, Über and Leet aren’t skilled as villains from what we’ve heard, but they’re able to keep a huge crowd of viewers entertained. Über’s voice power and overdramatic nature is very fitting for that.


After spotting the camera, which was no doubt positioned to catch a view of us looking up at the two villains, our shadows long behind us, I turned my gaze back to the pair.  With my power, though, I sent a collection of flies to congregate around the camera.  It didn’t take long for the camera to start going spastic in the periphery of my vision, as if it were trying to shake them off.  I smiled behind my mask.

Aw, spoilsport.

…how much you wanna bet the Protectorate have people watching Über and Leet’s streams to see what they can figure out about other villains?

Leet frowned and turned to the camera, “Is that really necessary?”

“You fucked with us,” I replied, “I fuck with your subscriber base.”

Heh.

Tattletale and Regent grinned and chuckled, respectively.  Only Grue stayed quiet.  He was standing very still, but the darkness around him was roiling like a stoked fire.

I think

someone

has angered the Grue.

They’ve taken away money that would’ve provided a massive addition to Grue’s “take responsibility for Aisha” funds. He’s not gonna be happy about this.

“What’s the theme tonight?” Regent called out, “Your costumes are so terrible, I can’t look directly at them long enough to try and figure it out.”

Oh, they change costumes for each stream? That suggests they already have quite a bit of money to spare even though they tend to fail as villains. After all, most costumes are going to be fairly expensive.

Leet and Über glared at him.  Their entire schtick was a video game theme.  With every escapade, they picked a different video game or series, designing their costumes and crimes around it.  One day it would be Leet in a Mario costume throwing fireballs while Über was dressed up as Bowser, the two of them breaking into a mint to collect ‘coins’. Then a week later, they would have a Grand Theft Auto theme, and they would be driving through the city in a souped up car, ripping off the ABB and beating up hookers.

I love it. Well, not the “beating up hookers” part, but the general gist of this.

Let’s see. Blue on their torsos and crotches, white on the arms and legs, bubblegum boots and gloves, antennae, oversized dark goggles… There’s something familiar about this, I think, but I can’t place the design.

Like I’d said.  Despicable.

I assume she’s thinking specifically about the “beating up hookers” part.


Über approached the edge of the roof and stabbed his finger in Regent’s direction, “You-”

He didn’t get to finish.  Regent swung his arm out to one side, and Über lost his footing.  I joined the others in stepping back out of the way as he fell face first onto the pavement at the base of the locker.

Shouldn’t have stood on a precarious surface while facing a guy who can force you to make a misstep.

“Too bad you’re fucking with the camera,” Regent commented, tilting his head in my direction, “I would have liked to see how many hits that clip would have gotten on Youtube.”

I was just about to say, the subscribers would probably enjoy that! :p

“Give me some advance warning next time,” I told him, “Maybe a hand signal?”

Hehe.

We had backed away from the locker as Über fell, and we retreated another few steps as he stood.  Leet hopped down to stand beside him.

“Well, guess we’re going down there now.”

“The money,” Grue spoke, “Where is it?  How did you find it?”

“Your fifth team member led us straight to it.  Lucky happenstance, really,” Leet grinned, “As for how we found her…” he trailed off.

Yes, please elaborate. So Rachel was going here?

Grue spoke in a low voice that wouldn’t carry to the pair of villains, “They did something to Bitch, they’ve got the money.  If we don’t get a decisive victory here, our reputation is fucked.”

Honestly “lost to Über and Leet” might be enough to do that on its own, money taken or not.

“No holds barred?” Tattletale murmured.

“Leave one of them in a state to be interrogated.  Make it Leet, since Über’s powers make him annoying to keep contained.

Annoying because he keeps proclaiming and announcing his woes?

Give him a chance and he can figure out how to do anything like he’s a goddamn expert at it, and that probably extends to escaping from ropes or handcuffs.  Alright?”

Ohh, interesting. I guess he’s done that with lockpicking.

I suppose this ties in with skill leveling in video games. Über essentially hacks his way to the max skill levels.


“I’m game,” I answered.

…is that a pun, Taylor? :p

I was surprised at how excited I was.  This was the sort of thing I had put on a costume to do.  Sure, the context wasn’t what I would have chosen, but going up against bad guys?

I smiled behind my mask and reached out for my bugs.

And hey, didn’t you say you wanted an easier target? According to their reputation, these two should be just that.

Should.


End of Shell 4.5

Oh, huh, that was the end of the chapter.

So, we finally got to meet Über and Leet, whom we’ve heard about in previous chapters. They’ve been set up as relatively pathetic villains, but I suspect the Undersiders might find themselves surprised in the next chapter, because otherwise, where’s the tension?

I find it interesting that while we’ve gotten information about Über, there’s been little about Leet. All we really know is he can shoot fireballs, and that might only be while “in character” as Bowser or another fireball-armed character. That might be his power; exhibiting the powers of video game characters while he’s in character as them, but then why doesn’t he just tap into the powers of stronger bosses? Or even NPCs, if the power extends to that, who happen to be cosmic gods or similar?

Another thing is that it seems a little early to get into a proper boss battle, what with how much longer the arcs have gotten since Gestation (in which the boss battle ended in 1.5), but who knows (you do). Maybe Shell is a short arc. I’m inclined to think there’s going to be at least one more battle after this one, though, and it could even be against Rachel. Then again, she did leave Brutus and Angelica at home. That isn’t a thing that stopped being true.

Also, I know the arcs so far have started out with the Harpy subplot and then moved over to the cape plot, but maybe we could still get to see the effect of the shopping trip with Tattle on the Harpies before the arc ends? It seems like it should fall under this arc title.

Anyway, this was a decent chapter. Not as fantastic as they have been for a while, but still pretty good, so I’m not sure I’d say the streak is quite broken yet. I’m willing to just call it a weaker link if we’re returning to the fantastic chapters for the next few.

See you for those!


[postscript]

Oh, I forgot to mention a thing I was thinking about earlier today.

Brian is supposedly pragmatic rather than cautious, and I think there’s an instance where that really shows: The Undersiders inviting Taylor in the first place. There was nothing cautious about that situation. Even with Lisa’s power, I don’t believe they had much to justify them trusting Taylor to the degree they did in Insinuation. If Brian had been as cautious as Taylor is, he would most likely be against the job offer.

And guess what? If there had been a cautious Undersider in that situation, they’d be right. By trusting Taylor way too much to really justify, the Undersiders ended up inviting someone who defined herself as a heroic cape and enemy of villains into their ranks, allowing her to easily take advantage of all the information they were giving her access to even before she accepted the offer!

So while the story does seem to be progressing towards Taylor ultimately staying an Undersider, the initial decision to invite her was still incredibly irresponsible.

[Another thing that I think I had forgotten by the time I wrote this: The Undersiders appearing out of costume was Brian’s idea.]

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