Shell 4.8: Liquefy

Source material: Worm, Shell 4.8

Originally blogged: July 5, 2017


The Undersiders are fucked. Let’s see how they get un-fucked.

…I was gonna use that as just the intro line to this post, but it basically summarizes everything I could say here. I really don’t know how they’re gonna get out of this one.

I suppose they could get help from someone unexpected? For a while in Interlude 3½, I thought Purity was being set up to help them, but then she went to see Kaiser instead, and I don’t think she’s about to return to the Docks right now. In a similar vein, I’ve already speculated on the possibility of getting the “recruits” to stand up against the ABB, but I severely doubt both the viability and the effectivity of that tactic.

There’s of course a chance that the Undersiders won’t get unfucked in this location – that Bakuda was aiming to herd and capture rather than kill. That doesn’t make that much sense alongside her carpet bombing tactics, though.

I just… don’t know. So it’s time I let Wildbow show me!


I’d discovered facing down more than a dozen gunmen, thirty or so people with improvised weapons and a mad scientist with a fetish for bombs made me really, really appreciate what Bitch brought to the team.

Heh. Yeah, her dogs are the main firepower on the team, besides the bugs. With her missing and the bugs limited, the Undersiders are in quite the trouble.

Incidentally, with the chapter opening like this, reminding us that Bitch isn’t here, I wonder if this is when we’ll find out what happened with her.

“All of this,” Tattletale spoke very carefully, “You were toying with us.  It’s why you didn’t have your people shoot at us from the start.”

Maybe she was looking to capture them? I know she used carpet bombing tactics on the darkness last chapter, but we don’t actually know if those bombs did anything. She may well have some way of detecting them through the darkness, and thrown those bombs just to help with the herding.


She shook her finger at Tattletale like she was scolding a dog.  “But I think you, specifically, should shut up.  Boys?”

She’s seen Tattle in play against Über and Leet, and she may have figured out that Tattle Knows more than she should, so she might be preventing Tattle from saying things that’d cause trouble for her.

She rested her hand on the head of an ABB member standing in front of her jeep with a pistol in his hands.  He flinched at the touch.  “If the blonde opens her mouth again, open fire on their entire group.  I don’t care what the others have to say, but she stays quiet.”

This is a reasonable thing (for a villain) to do to stop her from talking. Without this kind of threat lying over them, Tattle would absolutely keep it up.

Her soldiers adjusted their grips on their guns, and more than one turned the barrel of their weapons to point towards Tattletale, specifically.  Glancing at Tattletale, I saw her eyes narrow, her lips press together in a hard line.

She took the hint.


“Yeah,” Bakuda straightened up, put a foot up on the top of the Jeep’s door and rested her arms on her knee, leaning towards us. “You’re the only one I don’t get.  Don’t know your powers.  But seeing how you and the skinny boy baited my ineffectual mercenaries, I think I’m going to play it safe and have you be quiet.  Maybe it’s a subsonic thing, altering moods as you talk, maybe it’s something else.  I dunno.  But you shut up, ‘Kay?”

Well, she at least caught on to how Tattle uses it.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Tattletale give the slightest nod.

“Now, I’m in a bit of a pickle,” Bakuda hissed, examining the back of her hand.  It seemed she wasn’t just compensating for the mechanical voice with body language; she liked to talk.  Not that I was complaining.  “See, Lung taught me a lot, but the lesson I really took to heart was that being an effective leader is all about fear.

Hm. I wonder if Lung personally taught her specifically with her being a future leader of the gang in mind, or if this is more the kind of teaching where Bakuda has just been paying attention to Lung doing his thing.

Either way, Bakuda has surpassed her mentor on the “all about fear” front.

She’s utterly failing on the “don’t monologue to the enemy or they’ll figure out your plan and also have time to get loose while you’re distracted” front though.

Career like ours, people are only truly loyal to someone if they are terrified of them.  Enough fear, and they stop worrying about their own interests, stop wondering if they can usurp you, and they dedicate themselves entirely to making you happy.  Or at least, to keeping you from being unhappy.”

Considering the vast difference between how Lung’s Archer Biting Babies acted compared to Bakuda’s, it seems like Lung’s were loyal for different reasons. I’m not sure she caught the whole lesson.

She hopped down from the jeep and grabbed the hair of a taller, longer haired Japanese guy from a group of twenty-somethings.  Winding his hair in her hands, she made him bend over until his ear was right in front of her, “Isn’t that right?”

Now I can’t help but imagine Bakuda as being about 1-2 feet tall, like she looks in that joke image I made of Bomberman with her mask. Hopefully she’s back to normal size in my head when I read the next paragraph.


He mumbled a reply and she released him, “But it goes further, doesn’t it?  See, I may have inherited the ABB-”

It was almost imperceptible, but I saw a flicker of movement around Tattletale’s face.  A change of expression or a movement of her head.  When I glanced her way, though, I couldn’t guess what it had been.

Hm…

Bakuda continued without a pause, “But I also inherited Lung’s enemies.  So I have a dilemma, you see.  What can I do to you that’s going to convince them that I’m worth steering clear of?  What gesture would be effective enough that it would have their people running for the hills when they see me coming?”

Bakuda is attempting to control her “friends” and her enemies in the same way. While that may work in some cases, ultimately that will make the two groups more similar than is good for her.

She wheeled around and grabbed a pistol from the hands of one of her thugs, “Give.”

She then strode forward into the midst of the crowd.

…eep.

“There’s not enough bugs here.” I took advantage of the pause in her monologue to whisper under my breath, hoping the others would catch it, praying I wasn’t being too loud.  At least my mask covered my face, hid the fact that my lips were moving, “Regent?”

“Can’t disarm this many guns,” he whispered his reply. “I mean, I-”

Yeaah, this is still a very bad situation.


“You.” Bakuda called out, startling us.  She wasn’t paying attention to us, though.  A Korean-American guy in a private school uniform – from Immaculata High, in the nicest part of the city – was cringing in front of her.  The crowd slowly backed away, clearing a few feet of space around the two of them.

Oh cod. Was I right about this guy not being with the ABB?

“Y-yes?” the boy replied.

“Park Jihoo, yes?  Ever hold a gun before?”

“No.”

Well, she knows who he is, so I guess he is with them. Presumably not a high-ranking member, though.

“Ever beat someone up?”

“Please, I never… no.”

“Ever get in a fight?  I mean a real fight, biting, scratching, reaching for the nearest thing you could use as a weapon?”

“N-no, Bakuda.”

She’s gonna initiate him, isn’t she. Have him do the dirty work of killing an Undersider, his first kill.


“Then you’re perfect for my little demonstration.”  Bakuda pressed the pistol into his hands, “Shoot one of them.”

The guy held the gun like it was a live scorpion, with two fingers, at arm’s length, “Please, I can’t.”

At least there’s a good chance this guy’s gonna miss if he actually tries to shoot with this attitude. But then the question becomes what, or whom, he’s gonna hit instead, and whether Bakuda will have him try again.

“I’ll make it easy for you,” Bakuda might have been trying to coo or sound reassuring, but mask didn’t allow for that kind of inflection, “You don’t even have to kill them.  You can aim for a kneecap, an elbow, a shoulder.  Okay?  Wait a second.”

She left the gun in the guy’s hands and stepped away, pointing to one of her thugs, “Get the camera out and start rolling.”

As if the existing performance anxiety of doing this in front of so many people, and the general anxiety of doing it at all, wasn’t enough.

(“held the gun like it was a live scorpion” – Taylor can’t control metaphorical bugs, right?)

As ordered, he reached for the side of the jeep and retrieved a small handheld camcorder.  He fumbled with it for a few seconds before holding it over his head to see past the crowd,  looking through the flip-out panel on the side to make sure the camera was on target.

“Thank you for waiting, Park Jihoo,” Bakuda turned her attention to the guy with the gun, “You can shoot someone now.”

Can he, though. Can he, Bakuda.

And what will you do to him if he can’t?


The guy said something in Korean.  It might have been a prayer, “Please.  No.”

“Really?  They’re bad people, if you’re concerned about morals.”  Bakuda tilted her head to one side.

They seem like good people.

He blinked back tears, staring up at the sky.  The gun fell from his hands to clatter to the pavement.

“That’s a no.  Shame.  No use to me as a soldier.”  Bakuda kicked him in the stomach, hard enough to send him sprawling onto his back.

“No!  No no no!” The guy looked up to her, “Please!”

So, the question is…

Is she just going to have him beat up?

Or are we about to see the story’s first “on-screen” death?

Bakuda half-stepped, half skipped back a few feet.  The people around them took that as their cue to get well away from him.

She didn’t do anything, didn’t say anything, didn’t offer any tell or signal.  There was a sound, like a vibrating cell phone on a table, and Park Jihoo liquefied into a soupy mess in the span of a second.

Dead.  He’d died, just like that.

*sigh*

Rest in peace.


The music over my head during that moment wasn’t exactly appropriate.


So. We’re quite a bit into the story, and while there have been characters with intent to kill and mentions of deceased characters, this is the first onscreen murder in the story. It’s a moment I’ve on some level been expecting – this is a dark story even besides the deaths, so it would seem odd to me if Wildbow was going to stay shy of people dying onscreen forever.

I think Wildbow has saved this until now as a way to say “shit is getting real”. This is the point where it becomes absolutely clear to not only Taylor, but also the reader, just what kind of stakes we’re dealing with here, and what kind of characters.

On the character level, Bakuda filmed the whole thing to establish herself as a ruthless killer to be feared. She didn’t expect Park Jihoo to actually go through with what she was asking – she wanted him to refuse so she could make him an example. For the Undersiders, for the ABB, for her enemies, for the people of Brockton Bay, and for the reader.

Wildbow showed this to us for exactly the same reason. I believe this is a moment meant to establish not only the character of Bakuda, but the character of Wildbow as an author: “this is something I’m willing to show my characters doing; this is something I’m willing to write”.


Earlier in the Arc, Taylor and Brian’s reasons for capeing were explored. Now Taylor has been confronted with the death of an innocent man at the hands of a villain who came to power because of Taylor’s own actions, and who wants to do similar things to her and her friends. Taylor is seeing the stakes, which should be reminding her that it’s not something you do for fun (despite Tattle’s insistence otherwise), but she could react in two very different ways. She could resign and withdraw from the cape life (and get pulled back in because otherwise we wouldn’t have a reason for the story to be about her) to protect herself, or she could get motivated to find other reasons to fight than simply “escape” and start fighting harder than ever to protect people like Park Jihoo.

Knowing Taylor, I find the former option unlikely.


Let’s get back to the actual chapter now, shall we?

It was hard to hear over the screaming, the wailing, the outraged shouts.  As the crowd scrambled to back away from the scene, all trying to hide behind one another, one of the thugs fired a gun straight up into the air.  Everyone stopped.

One, firing a loaded gun straight up into the air is a very bad idea. The projectile will come back down at roughly the same speed it left the barrel with, at an unpredictable location.

Two, there’s not just fear here – many of these people probably knew Park Jihoo personally. There’s fear, there’s outrage, and there’s grief.

After the shrieks of surprise, there was the briefest pause, long enough for one sound to bring everyone to a stunned silence.

What now?

It sounded like the noise you make when you rake up dry leaves, but louder, artificial in a way that sounded like it was played over an archaic answering machine.  All eyes turned to Bakuda.  She was doubled over, her hands around her middle.

Laughing.  The sound was her laughing.

Hoo boy. That’s gonna go over so well with the crowd.


She slapped her leg as she stood, made a noise that might have been an intake of breath or a chuckle, but her mask didn’t translate it into anything recognizable – only a hiss with barely any variation to it.  She spun in a half circle as she crowed, “The six-eighteen!  I forgot I even made that one!  Perfect!  Better than I thought!”

Wait, she forgot about the bomb she used to kill Park? …How many bombs did she have on him?

If her job was to terrify, she’d succeeded.  With me, at least.  I wanted to throw up, but I’d have to take off my mask to do it, and I was afraid that if I moved, I’d get shot.  The fear of the guns was enough to override my welling nausea, but the end result was that I was shaking.  Not just trembling, but full body shakes that had me struggling to keep upright.

Yeah… she’s done a good job at that.

“That was pretty cool.”

Uh?

With those words, Regent managed to get as many wide eyed looks than Bakuda had with her laugh.  He got one from me.  It wasn’t just what he said.  It was how calm he sounded.

Oh man, this could get good. Regent, whatcha got up your sleeve?


“I know, right?” Bakuda turned around to face him, cocked her head to one side, “I modeled it off Tesla’s work in vibrations.  He theorized that if you could get the right frequency, you could shatter the Earth it-”

Resonance. The bane of bridges.

I wonder if there’s any degree of truth to the idea that it could work on people. Probably not entire people, I’m thinking, but perhaps individual substances inside them, like bones.

“No offense,” Regent said, “Well, I’ll rephrase: I don’t really care about offending you.  Don’t shoot me though.

Heh.

I just want to stop you there and say I don’t care about the science stuff and all the technobabble about how you did it.  It’s boring.  I’m just saying it’s kind of neat to see what a person looks like when dissolved down like that.  Gross, creepy, fucked up, but it’s neat.”

You almost had her off-guard, Regent, come on.

Regent totally likes horror movies, doesn’t he? It might’ve been mentioned before, actually, but the only specific movies I remember him being mentioned as watching were the Earth-Aleph Star Wars prequels, which he watched with the others.

“Yes,” Bakuda exulted in the attention, “Like the answer to a question you didn’t know you were asking!”

Looks like she’s still off-guard a bit. I guess she relates to that other part of Regent’s approval too.

“How’d you do it?  You stuck bombs in these civilians to get them to work for you?”

“Everyone,” Bakuda answered, almost delirious on the high of her successful ‘experiment’ and Regent’s attention.

Including the ABB members, then?

She half skipped, half spun through the crowd and leaned against one of her thugs, patting his cheek, “Even my most loyal.  Bitch of a thing to do.  Not the actual procedure of sticking the things inside their heads.

inside their heads

After the first twenty, I could do the surgeries with my eyes closed.  Literally.  I actually did a few that way.”

Wow, she gets crazier by the paragraph.


She pouted, “But having to tranquilize the first dozen or so and do the surgeries on them before they woke up, so I’d have the manpower to round up everyone else?  One after the other?  Really tedious once the novelty wears off.”

I mean… fair enough.

“I’d be too lazy to do that, even if I had your powers,” Regent said, “Can I approach the body?  Get a better look?”

I wonder if Regent is to some degree sincere here, or if it’s all a ploy.

do think it’s a ploy, but the question is to what extent.

Her mood changed in a flash, and she angrily jabbed a finger in his direction. “No.  Don’t think I don’t know you’re trying something.  I’m a fucking genius, get it?  I can think twelve moves ahead before you’ve even decided on your first.

Well, that went well.

It’s why you’re standing there and I…” she hoisted herself up so she was sitting on the side of the Jeep, “Am sitting here.”

Heh.

Incidentally, at this point I don’t think she’s going to be defeated with finality in this arc. I think we might be looking at a long-term antagonist here. I kind of hope so, actually.

See, Bakuda is a crazy, ruthless villain, but she’s a very entertaining villain.


“Chill the fuck out,” Regent replied, “I was just asking.”

Regent’s chillness in this scene is quite entertaining too. 😛

I could see from Tattletale’s expression that she was having the same thoughts I was.  Give the lunatic bomber a little respect.  I quietly voiced what Tattletale couldn’t.

“Tone it down a notch, Regent,” I whispered.

It might be a little bit much.

“Whaaattever,” Bakuda drew out the word, “Skinny boy just lost any goodwill he’d earned for appreciating my art.  Or at least being able to fake it convincingly.”  She tapped the guy with the camera on the shoulder, “You still filming?”

Oh boy, this is not good.

The man gave a short nod.  As I looked at him, I saw beads of sweat running down his face, even though it was a cool evening.  It seemed her thugs were pretty spooked, too.

Might have something to do with the way Bakuda just said she’d implanted bombs in their heads, and the way she just liquefied someone who was supposed to be on her side.


“Good,” Bakuda rubbed her pink-gloved hands together, “We’ll edit out the talky parts later, then we put it on the web and send copies to local news stations.  What do you think?”

The camera-guy answered in an accented voice, “Good plan, Bakuda.”

There’s one of the problems with running your gang through fear. If someone actually had a genuinely good point about one of Bakuda’s plans not being as good as it could be, they would have to tread incredibly carefully if they wanted to help her out by expressing those concerns, or risk Bakudiavelli here blowing their heads up in new and amusing ways.

She clapped her hands together.  Then she pointed into the crowd  “Alright!  So, you…  yeah you, the girl in the yellow shirt and jeans.  If I told you to, would you pick up the gun and shoot someone?”

It took me a second to spot the girl, at the far end of the crowd.  She looked at Bakuda with a stricken expression and managed to answer, “The gun m-melted too, Ma’am.”

…not a bad answer.

“You call me Bakuda.  You know that.  Nothing fancy.  If the gun was still there, would you shoot?  Or if I told someone to give you a gun?”

“I-I think I maybe could,” her eyes flickered to the puddle that had been Park Jihoo.

In a similar vein to what I said above, Bakuda’s tactics encourage even those loyal to her to lie to her. Bakuda would not be able to send this girl out on a mission and trust that she could actually do it.


“Which concludes my demonstration,” Bakuda addressed our group, “Fear!  It’s why Lung went out of his way to recruit me.  I always understood deep down inside, that fear was a powerful tool.  He just phrased it so well.  True fear is a blend of certainty and the unpredictable.

Bakuda did, seemingly before meeting Lung, start out as a terrorist, and that’s exactly what she still is. One who uses fear to motivate victims to do what she wants.

My people know that if they cross me, I only have to think about it to make the bombs in their heads go kablooie.  Boom.  They know that if I die, every single bomb I’ve made goes off.

Oh boy. And now the Undersiders can’t kill her either. She can let heroes in on this too, and keep much of the Asian population of the Docks hostage even if they’re not present.

Not just the ones I jammed into their heads.  Every single fucking one.  And I’ve made a lot.  Certainties.”

And possibly the entire city.

I guess the unpredictable in this comes from the “how”?

Lisa reached out and grabbed my hand, clenched it tight.

“As for unpredictability?”  Bakuda kicked her legs against the side of the jeep like a grade schooler sitting on a chair, “I like to mix up my arsenal, so you never know what you’re going to get.  But you’ve also got to keep your people wondering, right?  Keep them on their toes?  Case in point: Shazam!”

Shit, is she about to blow up another civilian? D:

The word coincided with the start of a very real explosion that was closely followed by something like thunder, but Lisa was already pulling on my arm, pulling me away.

I saw a glimpse of chaos, of screaming people running from the place the explosion had happened in the midst of Bakuda’s own group.  The fleeing people were obstructing the view of the people with guns.

Bakuda, did you just create a chaos that allows your captives to attempt an escape as part of your monologue? Jeez, at least the average villainous monologue doesn’t actively help the enemy get loose.


Regent stuck his arm out, swept it outward, sending ten or so people stumbling into one another, turning the crowd into a disordered mob.  I heard the too-loud roar of guns being fired, saw Regent grab the shoulder of a limp left arm, couldn’t be sure the two were connected.

It seems to be Regent’s turn!

Finally, there was Bakuda, still sitting on the side of the jeep.  She was either shouting something or laughing.  She was letting us slip from her grasp, her people were on the verge of killing one another in mindless panic, and she’d just killed at least one of her own people on a whim.  From what we’d just seen of her, I was willing to bet she was laughing as it all happened.

Sounds about right.

Almost without my noticing, night had fallen, and as if to invite us deeper into the maze, the light poles flickered and turned on above us.  With Grue covering our retreat in a curtain of darkness, we ran.

Goodbye, Bakuda.


And through all of this, she was still dressed as Bomberman.


End of Shell 4.8

So this was quite a ride.

It seems we’re back to the fantastic chapters again, because this certainly was one. The entire chapter was spent on establishing a very entertaining probably-long-term antagonist, and the raised stakes she brings. I loved it!

The one thing I’m not super thrilled about is that the Undersiders ended up escaping via the idiot ball. Bakuda let them escape by creating a chaos for them to slip out in, after all that effort to capture them. But then again, maybe she considered herself done with them for now – she’d successfully put the fear of Bakuda in them, and the way she’s trying to control both her “friends” and enemies through fear, she might see that as enough to consider them dealt with.

But even if that’s not the case, that final moment acted as another fantastic character-establishing moment: Bakuda is, quite frankly, crazy.

A quick check of the “next chapter” link tells me this is not the end of the Arc. I suspect the next chapter (if Bakuda doesn’t come after them again, which I doubt) will be the Undersiders, and more specifically Taylor, dealing with what they’ve just experienced. Also, we’re still missing a member – where the hell is Rachel? Did… did Bakuda blow her up?

Maybe we’ll find out next chapter. See ya then!

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