Shell 4.7: Checkmate

Source material: Worm, Shell 4.7

Originally blogged: July 3, 2017


When last we left our heroes… uh, villains… villainous heroes, they were in quite a sticky situation – Rachel is missing, the rest of them are surrounded by Admiring Bakuda Buddies and Bakuda herself, and Taylor has a very limited supply of bugs to use.

Certain things point towards Bakuda being a more competent gang leader than Lung was, and Lung was implied to be rather competent to begin with. Lung was noted as capable of keeping an unusually heterogeneous gang in line, and Purity says the Absolutely Bodacious Bastards have only gotten stronger and more organized since Bakuda became the gang’s leader (though Purity doesn’t know about Bakuda’s involvement).

But is she a more competent fighter? Probably. Not only would it make sense narratively to up the stakes, but she’s also got a more offensive than defensive power, which would force her to get more competent at actually taking out the enemy and defending herself in other ways, instead of letting her just tank the hits like Lung did.

I guess there’s just one way to find out, though. Without further ado,

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Grue raised his hands and blanketed the entire area in darkness.

Hm, good start.

It wouldn’t help much. Even if they hesitated or got confused in the darkness, the crush of bodies would eventually stumble into us, and we’d be beaten and battered under the sheer force of numbers.

I suppose that’s true, but in the process, they’ll probably beat up some of their own too.

The only real advantage was that if any of them had guns, they probably wouldn’t shoot, for fear of hitting their own guys.

Oh yeah, that too.

I felt hands seize my waist, and lashed out with my baton.  The hands let go, and the baton hit only air.  After a moment, I felt the hands grab me again, the hold gentle.  Not an enemy.  Grue, I realized.

Good reflex, but it’s probably best to know whom you’re trying to hit. Fortunately Grue could see the reaction.


“Sorry,” I muttered.  He could hear inside his darkness, couldn’t he?

(As I recently forgot he could.)

He hoisted me up into the air, and I immediately understood his intent.  I reached up and felt brick, then found the corrugated metal of the roof.  I hauled myself up and turned around to reach for the next person, one hand gripping the edge of the roof to keep myself in place.

Ooh, pulling the Undersiders up on the roof so the Airborne Battle Boats don’t stumble into them. Smart!

I found Regent and Tattletale’s hands in the darkness and helped haul them up.  I knew neither was Grue, because they were too light.  Five or six seconds long, tense seconds then passed before Grue took my hand and hauled himself up.

“seconds long, tense seconds” – ahh, the good old typo born from forgetting to erase something when you decide to add something before it.

I guess Grue led Regent and Tattle over to where Taylor is first.

We climbed down the far side, and Grue banished the darkness around us.

Nice work, Grue!

So is this a bubble of non-darkness inside the darkness, or did he just make them visible to anyone looking from above?


There were three ABB gang members standing at one end of the alley we’d just entered, and a fourth, lone member on the other.  Both groups were looking the wrong way, and were standing still, which was as good an indication as any that they hadn’t noticed us.

Second option it is. How about Bakuda, though, is she inside the darkness?

The sheer number of soldiers we’d seen didn’t fit, and I said as much,  “What the fuck?  How many people was that?”

The number indicated in 3.6 seemed to be about consistent with how many people were present at Taylor’s fight against Lung, plus some – and we do know not all the Arcane Basket Balls were present then, since some of them were with Oni Lee…

Grue was apparently thinking along the same lines. “The ABB shouldn’t have that many members.”

I guess there were more lockers with multiple people in them than I thought.

“They do now,” Tattletale glanced over her shoulder at the ABB members behind us, then back to the lone one in front who still hadn’t reacted to our approach, “Trap!  Down!”

So this is another way they’ve gotten stronger.

…trap?


She practically shoved me to the ground, then took cover herself.

The lone figure in front of us shimmered, then disappeared.

Well shit. Is this Oni Lee? He was said to be quite recognizable, but if it’s a premeditated trap, it’s not far-fetched that he could’ve disguised himself as a more common Antithetical Bottle Breaker.

In his place, for just a fraction of a second, there was a cylindrical object the size of a mailbox.  Knowing what kind of devices Bakuda specialized in, I drew my legs close to my body, screwed my eyes shut and covered my ears.

Good call.

Maybe Bakuda’s got bombs with holographic gang members around them?

The force of the explosion hit me hard enough I could feel it in my bones.  It  lifted me clear off the ground.  For a moment, it felt like I was floating, carried by a powerful, hot wind.  I hit the ground with my elbows and knees first, and they thrummed with agony at the impact.

Ow.

That’s more like how you would expect an explosion to feel, isn’t it, Taylor?


Chaos.  The four or five storage lockers that had been closest to the canister had been  reduced to chunks of flaming brick, none any bigger around than a beachball.

Bakuda could’ve easily taken out the Undersiders if she hadn’t pulled the Über and Leet ploy and stuck all the ABB members in the lockers. Provided Tattle didn’t Know the bombs were there first, that is.

Other lockers near those had doors, walls and roofs blown away.  More than one locker had been actually used, because the blast had emptied them of its contents.  Pieces of furniture, boxes of books, clothing, bundles of newspaper and boxes of papers filled the alley.

What a mess you’re making, Bakuda. I bet you hated cleaning your room as a kid.

“Everyone okay?” Grue asked, as he staggered to his feet.

“Ow.  I’m burnt.  Fuck!  She was expecting us,” Tattletale groaned.

Well, duh. Of course she was expecting you, the entire thing was obviously (in retrospect, that is) a trap to get you out of your base into a place where the ABB and Bakuda could lie in wait.

However bad her burns were, they weren’t severe enough to be seen through the smoke and dust. “Set traps, had her people waiting.  Shit, we were only a half hour later than we planned.  How?”

They did get Rachel somehow, or at least find the location by following her. Who even knows how long they’ve been waiting.

“We have to move,” Grue urged us, “This gets ten times harder if she finds us.  Tattletale, watch for-”

“I already found you,” Bakuda called out in what could have been a sing-song voice, if her mask didn’t filter it down to a monotone, rythmless hiss.

Well, shit. Should’ve gone with the bubble of non-darkness.


She emerged from the smoke that billowed from the explosion site; her hood was pulled back and her straight black hair was blowing in the wind.  The lenses of her dark red goggles were almost the exact same color as the sky above her.

This is very dramatic, but the mention of the hood reminds me that she’s still dressed as Bomberman.

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There were five or six thugs just a step or two behind her, a middle aged guy that didn’t look like a gang member, and a skinny boy who was probably younger than me.  I was glad to see none of them had guns, but they were all armed with weapons of some sort.

Imagine if that middle aged guy isn’t a gang member, and just happened to walk into the Trainyard while all this was going on… like, “Hi guys, what’s happening over here?” And then one of the thugs answers in a friendly tone, “Oh, we’re just about to kill some kids who’ve been a thorn in our side for a while.“ “Oh, I see… wait, what?”

“Not that you were hard to find,” Bakuda continued, sweeping her arms out to gesture at the devastation all around her.  “And if you think this only gets ten times harde-”

Grue blasted her, shutting her up,

Grue has no respect for the sanctity of villainous monologues.


and his darkness billowed into a broad cloud as it struck her, enveloping her group.  We took advantage of their momentary blindness to scramble for the other end of the alley.

His disrespect can be excused, though, as a pragmatic ploy to, y’know, live.

So, in the boss battle of Agitation, Tattletale got to shine. It seems like this time it’s Grue’s turn.

We were only halfway down the length of the alley when there was a sound behind us, like the crack of a whip.  It struck me as deeply wrong, since we shouldn’t have been able to hear anything through Grue’s darkness.

Uh-oh. Hm.

All at once, it was like we were running against a powerful headwind.

Things are getting strange.

Except it wasn’t wind.  As I looked for the source of the noise, I saw Grue’s cloud of darkness shrinking.

Shit. Did he get knocked out?

Debris began to slide towards the epicenter of the darkness, and the wind – the pull – began to increase in intensity.

“Grab something!” Grue bellowed.

Oh, no he didn’t.

Did Bakuda make some kind of… attractor bomb? It’s acting almost like a black hole, which is just a mass with a strong gravitational pull.

Breaking posture and lunging to one side was like forcing myself to leap over a hundred foot chasm.  I don’t know if I misjudged, or if the effect that was pulling on me increased in strength as I leaped, but my hand fell short of the doorknob.  I missed the one on the neighboring locker as well.

Eep. You can do it, Taylor!

I knew in an instant that even if I managed to get my hand on something, the force of the pull would yank me from it before I secured a grip.

Welp. Into the attractor we go!


I grabbed my knife from its sheath at the small of my back and swung it with all the strength I could spare for the next door I saw.  It bit into the wood, stopping me from being dragged backwards, or falling sideways.

Phew! Nice work.

The one-hundred and twenty pound body hanging off of it was too much, though, and almost immediately, the knife began to slip from the hole.

Oh for cod’s sake.

It had slowed me down enough, though.  As the force of the drag increased to the point that my body was parallel to the ground, I waited with my heart in my throat, watching the area where the knife met the door, seeing it slide out millimeter by millimeter.  The moment it slipped free of the wood, I grabbed the doorknob that had been just a few feet beside my toes.  My arm jolted painfully, but I managed to hold on and jam the knife into the gap between the door and the frame.  Even with two things to hold onto, it didn’t feel like enough.

Good work.

So the attractor is getting more powerful. A gravitation-inducing mass (including black holes) gets stronger the more it scoops up, but normally the debris being sucked up here shouldn’t be enough. Maybe whatever Bakuda used somehow alters the gravitational constant when interacting with the attractor?

Or maybe it’s just like a giant vacuum cleaner.

All at once, the effect stopped.

Bakuda: “Who pulled the plug on my vacuum cleaner?!”

My body collapsed to the ground at the base of the locker, and I pried stiff fingers from the knife handle and knob.  All up and down the street, massive clouds of dust rolled towards the point her device had gone off.  The parts of the lockers that had been set on fire had been extinguished, but were still smouldering enough to send columns of dark smoke into the air.

That was quite something, alright.


Regent had found a grip on the edge of a locker’s roof; it had either been bent prior to his getting a grip on it, or the force of the pull had bent the metal as he clung to it.  Tattletale and Grue had apparently gotten a door of a locker open, because they exited as a pair, Grue limping slightly.

“What the fuck was that?” I panted, “A miniature black hole?”

Tattletale chuckled, “Guess so.  That was brac-”

Brac-? Bracketed? Brac Obama? Bracchiosaurus?

From the other side of the storage lockers, a canister arced through the air, clinked off the metal roof of a storage locker and landed in the middle of our group.

SCRAM

I don’t think ducking’s gonna help for this one.

Grue was on it in a heartbeat, using his foot to slide it across the ground and into the locker he and Tattletale had just left.  Without stopping, he opened his arms wide and ushered us all away as he ran away from it.

Niiice. It really does seem to be Grue’s time to shine.

Even with brick and concrete in the way, the blast knocked us off our feet.  That wasn’t the scary part.  As the initial blast passed, the remainder of the explosion seemed to happen in slow motion.  Shattered chunks of the brick shack drifted through the air so slowly you could barely tell they were moving.  As I watched, I could see them actually slowing down.

Wow, that’s actually a really cool effect.

It would make for a hell of a sight for Bakuda if it had actually blown up the Undersiders. Ew.


Then I looked forward and saw plumes of smoke in fast motion and rubble bouncing across the ground at twice the normal speed, just ten feet ahead of us.  It took me a precious second  to realize why.

We were still in the blast area.

Oh boy. Too far away to get seriously hurt, but close enough for the slow motion effect to apply, which means Bakuda and her bombs will now be very fast relative to them.

“Hurry!” I shouted, at the same moment that Tattletale yelled, “Go!”

We lunged forward, but I could see things continuing to speed up just in front of us.  Which meant, really, that we were slowing down.  Slowing to an absolute stop.

Somehow, I didn’t think this effect would end in a matter of minutes like Clockblocker’s did.

Well, shit.

We broke through the perimeter of the effect with what felt like an abrupt change in air pressure.

Oh, that’s handy. It’s within the radius, not tied to what was in it when the blast went off.

I didn’t have a chance to check to see how close we’d come to being trapped in time forever, because Bakuda was behind the row of locker, launching another salvo – three projectiles that arced high into the air, plumes of purple smoke trailing behind them.

I wonder if the bombs will continue to have effects specifically based on spacetime. The gravity bomb would work by curving spacetime, the slowdown bomb by stretching it out or compacting it…

Grue shot blasts of darkness at them, probably in hopes of muffling the effects, and gasped, “Over the lockers!”

I’m not sure that will work, but at least it should help people’s ears take less of a beating.


Regent and I were up on the row of lockers first, much the same way as we’d done it when the mob had been after us.  Once Regent had climbed down to make room, Tattletale and I helped Grue up, and we climbed down the far side.

Again, on each end of the alleyway, there were members of the ABB.  They weren’t moving, which meant they either hadn’t noticed us, or they were just holographic images hiding traps.  My money was on the latter.

Yeeah, better get out of their way in either case.

“Again,” I panted, “Over.”  We couldn’t risk another trap, another bomb blast too close to us.  So we crossed the alley again and climbed on top of the next row of lockers.

Good move.

We found ourselves staring down at a half dozen armed members of the ABB.

…well. Probably better than the bombs.

Except they weren’t your typical gang members.  One of them was an elderly Chinese man, holding a hunting rifle.  There was an girl who couldn’t have been much older than twelve, holding a knife, who might have been his granddaughter.  Of the eleven or twelve of them, only three had the thuggish look to them that really marked them as members of the gang.  The rest just looked terrified.

Hm. Wasn’t there a bit about Lung forcing any Asian people he could to join the gang? The difference might be that Bakuda is actually pulling the non-gangstery members out to fight.

The old man trained his gun on us, hesitated.

A thug with a tattoo on his neck spat out something in an Eastern language I couldn’t place, the phrase ending with a very English, “Shoot!”

I swear, if this ends with the thug grabbing the gun, shooting the elderly man in front of his granddaughter and then trying to use it on the Undersiders…

We were down off the other side of the lockers before he could make up his mind.  Grue created a cloud of darkness over the top of the lockers, to discourage them from following.

Okay, good.

Good luck, old man. You really didn’t seem to want to be there.


“What the fuck?” Regent gasped.  We hadn’t stopped running or struggling since Bakuda had sicced the crowd on us.

“They’re scared, not loyal,” Tattletale spoke, not as out of breath as Regent, but still definitely feeling the effect of the last few minutes of running and climbing, “She’s forcing them to serve as her soldiers.  Threatening them or their families, probably.”

Lung’s ABB was more on the loyal side of the spectrum, it seemed, but as I mentioned, I do seem to recall him being mentioned doing something similar.

“Then she’s been working on that for some time,” Grue said.

“Since Lung got arrested,” Tattletale confirmed, “Where the fuck do we go?”

“Back over the same wall,” Grue decided.  “I’ll blind them, we cross over at a different point in case they open fire where they last saw us.”

Huh, I suppose that’s a decent tactic.

Before we could put the plan into motion, there was another explosion. We staggered into the front wall of the storage locker we’d just climbed down from, collapsing in a heap.  My entire body felt hot, and my ears were ringing, and we hadn’t even been that close.

Oh boy, what does this one do?

As I raised my head, I saw that one of the storage lockers across from us had been leveled.  Through the gap, I saw Bakuda standing astride the back of a jeep, one hand gripping the roll cage that arced over top of the vehicle.  She was saying something to the thugs in the front and passenger seats, but I couldn’t make it out over the feedback noise in my ears.  They peeled off to the right, and for just a fraction of a second, she looked at me.

Well, shit.

I wonder how much she does know about the night Lung was arrested.


I reached for my bugs and directed them towards her, but she was moving too fast.

Oh hey, first use of the bugs in this battle.

I wonder if the blinded Snitch is still there, and whether she called the bugs that were blinding it too.

That left me the option of spreading them out so they were in her way, in the hopes that she would run straight into them, and maybe enough would survive the bug-against-a-windshield impact to give me a sense of where she was.

It’s not a bad plan, I suppose. You’re low on bugs as it is, though.

“She’s going around,” I said, grabbing at Tattletale’s wrist, “We can’t go over the wall.”

“We gotta keep running,” Regent panted.  I was having trouble hearing him.

“No,” Grue stopped him, “That’s what she wants.  She’s herding us into the next trap.”

Grue’s right, I think. She’s been basically toying with the Undersiders so far.

“Where do we go, then?” Regent asked, impatient, “Fight her head on?  Catch her by surprise?  If I can see her, I can mess with her aim.”

Interesting. Regent’s power requires a line of sight? Unless it’s just that he needs to see where she’s already aiming to know which way to mess with it and when to do it.

“No.  She’s got enough raw firepower to kill us even if she misses,” Grue shook his head, “We don’t have many options.  We go over this wall again, we won’t just have to deal with the thugs and the old man.  We go down either end of this alley, we’re walking face first into a bomb.  So we have to backtrack.  No choice.”

Thugs and old man it is!

I notice he doesn’t mention the young girl. Maybe he’s counting her among the thugs.


I wished there was another option.  Backtracking meant moving back toward the center of the facility, it meant prolonging our escape, and possibly running headlong into ABB troops.

We headed for the gap that Bakuda’s latest explosion had created in the lockers, and Grue filled the alley we were leaving with darkness, to help cover our escape.  The little road was empty, except for the still figures at either end.

I wonder how many of the holo-traps Bakuda put out in the area.

As we started to climb over the next row of lockers, we felt rather than heard a series of explosions rip through the area behind us.  Bakuda was bombarding the cloud of darkness with a series of explosives.  I guess you didn’t need to see if you could hit that hard.

She seems to have plenty of ammo, too.

We climbed down from the lockers and found ourselves in the same place we’d been when we escaped the mob.  There were three still figures at one end of the alley, doubtlessly a concealed bomb, and the destruction caused by the explosions and the miniature black hole in a can on the other.

Bakuda’s certainly a villain who leaves a trace.

If we climbed over the locker, we faced the risk of throwing ourselves straight into the mob we’d fled.  We’d have the element of surprise, but we’d be outnumbered, and our firepower was virtually nil.

That’s a good point. The bugs are off around Bakuda, and the only other power they really have that could directly hurt someone is Regent’s.


By unspoken agreement, we headed towards the end of the alley where the hologram-bomb had gone off, where plumes of dust were still settling.

We were greeted by the sound of guns being cocked.

Shit.

My heart sank.  Twenty or so members of the ABB had guns of various sorts trained on us.  Kneeling, sitting and crouching in front of the two groups, so they were out of the way of the guns and out of sight, were thirty or so other people Bakuda had ‘recruited’.

It seems Bakuda accounted for them catching on to her herding and decided to herd them elsewhere.

There was a businessman and a woman that could have been his wife, a girl wearing the Immaculata school uniform, from the Christian private school in the south end of the city, about my age.

Ooh, a third school.

There were two older men, three older women with graying hair, and a group of guys and girls that might have been University students were standing together.  Everyday people.

And a University.

They weren’t gang members, but I could think of them as her soldiers; Every one of them held a weapon of some sort.

Holding a weapon doesn’t make one a soldier. Being a soldier requires training and a particular attitude focused on performing the task you’ve been ordered to accomplish, especially as a team.

There were kitchen knives, baseball bats, pipes, shovels, two-by-fours, chains, crowbars and one guy even had a sword that was, oddly enough, not Japanese.

I mean, not everyone with Japanese ancestry is going to focus on Japanese weaponry.

There was a look of grim resignation on their faces, circles under their eyes that spoke of exhaustion, as they watched us.

They really don’t want this.


Behind their assembled group, standing astride the Jeep, one foot resting on her modified jeep-mounted mortar launcher, an altered grenade launcher danging from one strap around her shoulders, was Bakuda.  All around her were boxes of her specialized grenades and mortar rounds, bolted onto the back of the Jeep, blinking with various colored LEDs.

Plenty of ammo.

She put her hands on her grenade launcher as she tilted her head to one side.  Her robotic voice crackled through the still air.

“Checkmate.”

Huh. That’s really what this has been all along – a game of chess where one side has a massive material advantage over the other side, which almost only has the king left. The king, a piece with very limited firepower, who can’t do much other than escape, one space/alley at a time. For the side with the material advantage, it’s all about forcing the king into a particularly threatened position, where any move will only put it in danger again.

Well, fuck.


End of Shell 4.7

Checkmate.

This chapter was interesting. I’ve never seen the “Checkmate.” one-liner used this accurately outside a literal chess game situation, but the similarity to a chess game is only clear in retrospect once you hit that line.

I also really liked the different effects of Bakuda’s bombs, and the way they established how much she’s not someone to fuck with. The gravity bomb in particular was fantastic.

And then, of course, there’s the whole deal with the “recruits” – innocent people forced into fighting for the Actual Bad Boys, showcasing the differences between how Lung ran the ABB versus how Bakuda runs it. It might be possible for the Undersiders to sway these recruits into standing up against the ABB, but I doubt they’ll manage to do that. These people are terrified, the regular gang members are a real threat to them too if they try something funny, Bakuda is there, and the Undersiders are known villains themselves.

So yeah. The Undersiders are currently, to use a fine term, fucked. It’ll be very interesting to see how they get out of this mess.


[postscript]

It just occurred to me that the power vacuum, which was a significant part of the subject of Interlude 2, isn’t actually there. Bakuda filled it very quickly after Lung was arrested. However, Purity didn’t know about that, and I have a feeling Kaiser and the other gangs interested in the Docks don’t know it either, so we might still get a War of the Docks to fill a power vacuum that isn’t there. That might make the whole thing even more of a mess than it already was going to be.

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